One evening earlier this month, 12 runners set out from Bellingham Bay for the top of snow-capped Mount Baker in the distance.
To get there and back — a round trip of 108 miles during a hot, sunny weekend — they ran, hiked and climbed to the 10,781-foot summit of Mount Baker over two nights and two days. Eleven of them completed the arduous journey, a trek known as the Mount Baker Ultra Run.
Wondering if you’re tough enough to do what they did?
You can test your resolve once Daniel Probst, the Bellingham ultra runner who organized the event, posts details about the route. The GPS data already is online at cascademountainrunners.org, with more details to come.
Probst posted the route online because he wanted to open the adventure to all, much like his work to create a 50-mile trail to connect Bellingham Bay to Mount Baker.
“The trail is going to be for everyone,” the 37-year-old Probst said. “We’re building this trail to help link everything together.”
The proposed trail is still some years off, though he already has put three years into the effort.
Meanwhile, here’s a look at the ultra and some of the runners’ exploits this year.
What is the Mount Baker Ultra Run?
It’s part adventure run and part gritty PR campaign.
The event this year was one of six such runs organized by Probst, who has taken part in all of them going back to 2013. He also is the founder of the nonprofit trail advocacy group Cascade Mountain Runners.
The group’s route followed the proposed Bellingham-Mount Baker Trail, which would go from the city’s shoreline to the Easton Glacier on Mount Baker.
Probst has organized the runs to build support for that trail and to bring attention to his effort to one day revive the historic Mount Baker Marathon as a 100-mile footrace, called the Mount Baker Ultra Marathon. (The storied Mount Baker Marathon, a competition that lasted from 1911 to 1913, was the forerunner of the annual Ski to Sea race.)
Who participated this year?
The run was limited to 12, the first time Probst has gotten that many to participate, because part of it goes through wilderness. Seven runners were from Whatcom County; one was from as far away Melbourne, Australia.
The 11 who completed the course this year made it the most ever to do so.
“The group kept a good attitude,” Probst said, “despite the suffering.”
The hurt included tendon pain, sleep deprivation and mild hallucinations. And running over 85 miles of road, about half of which were pavement and the other half gravel.
That’s a lot of road for runners who prefer trails, which underlines the need for the Bellingham Bay to Mount Baker Trail, Probst said.
This year’s ultra run marked just the third time that participants have been able to complete the whole route.
6 Number of times Daniel Probst has attempted Mount Baker Ultra Run
3 Number of times he’s completed it
570 Number of miles he’s covered in six runs
Probst has been the only person to successfully complete the route three times. That’s 324 miles, if you’re keeping count.
Add the failed attempts, and the number of miles he’s traveled over are even higher.
“I have now run 570 miles total over the six runs,” Probst said. “I was fearing this year a little — not that I wouldn’t be able to do it but that it may be mentally tougher. Each run has its own challenges. The physical challenge is only one part.”
All together 17 runners have attempted the run since 2013, for a combined distance of 2,780 miles.
How long did it take them to complete the run this year?
The time was 41 1/2 hours this year.
They started from a beach off Cornwall Avenue at 6 p.m. Friday, June 3.
They finished Sunday, June 5, about 11:30 a.m.
Probst and two other runners, Aaron Poh and Beat Jegerlehner, were the first to complete the route. That was on Aug. 3, 2014.
Three runners completed it June 5, 2015. Among them was Belling resident Suzanne Lundberg, who became the first woman to do so. But she dropped out this year as the group was heading back to Bellingham after climbing Baker.
Lundberg was recovering from a bicycle crash during Ski to Sea the week before, and suffering from sleep deprivation and blisters.
Did they sleep at all?
Yes, for an hour the second night they were out.
They stopped to nap at a gravel pit at Mosquito Lake and Middle Fork roads during their run back.
Well, most of them did. Probst, who was busy tending to Lundberg, didn’t sleep at all.
Birch Bay resident Emily Caseria, 27, struggled to stay awake that second night. She was having a tough time physically and mentally and was helped by her husband Dusty, 29, who talked her through the rough patch until they could sleep.
“We got to take a nap,” she said, “ that made everything better.”
Bellingham resident Michael Plummer, 42, said one of the harder parts was the sleep deprivation.
Sometime between 2 and 4 a.m. on the second night, Plummer was hallucinating.
“You see a shadow and in my mind it was a black cat running across the road,” he said.
The couple that runs and climbs together ...
Emily and Dusty Caseria were the first married couple to complete the route. You can see them in a picture taken at the end, where they were holding hands.
“Completing it with him was a special thing for us,” Emily said.
For some, the run marked their first time climbing to the summit of Mount Baker.
Not for the Caserias. They’ve climbed to the top of the mountain before. Back in 2014, they got engaged at the summit.
“It’s a special place for us in many different ways,” she said.
This wasn’t the first Baker Ultra for them, either. Dusty was part of the first attempt but couldn’t do it the next year because an Achilles injury kept him from training. Emily was part of the second attempt. Both were unsuccessful because of bad weather.
But now that she’s done it, Emily doesn’t expect to repeat.
“I probably won’t do it again. But it’s a pretty cool thing to accomplish,” she said. “There are not many people that are crazy enough (or) want to accomplish something like that.”
... with a little help from my friends
Plummer nearly stopped a few miles from the end. His mountaineering boots had pressed on the tendons on the front of his right ankle, and it worsened after he got off Baker and continued the run back to Bellingham.
“I got quite a bit of swelling. The pain got worse as we were descending Stewart Mountain; that pounding coming down that steep grade made it even worse,” Plummer said.
Two runners supported him, one on either side, until he could limp-run the last couple of miles to the finish. The rest of the runners slowed down as well.
“I got quite tearful because it was a powerful experience to have these two people helping me,” Plummer said.