The first round-trip run from Bellingham Bay to Mt. Baker’s summit
By Dan Probst
Editor’s note: On August 1, Daniel Probst, Beat Jagerlehner and Aaron Poh set out from Cornwall beach on Bellingham Bay to run to the summit of Mt. Baker and back. Two days and 17 minutes later, they returned successful. The 100-mile journey was the first ever roundtrip run to Mt. Baker, and a nod to the Mt. Baker marathons of 1911, 1912 and 1913. Probst is now organizing the route into an annual ultra-marathon. The following is his account of the historic run.
We had breakfast at Mount Bakery Cafe (one of our sponsors) on Friday morning, filling up on waffles and crêpes piled with fruit.
Friend Brent Molsberry dropped us off at Cornwall Beach after a boat ride across the bay to get a good look at Mt. Baker in the distance. A few miles into the run, Beat commented we had started below sea level.
A crew from Kulshan Brewery, the founding sponsor of the run, had come down to send us off along with many friends. The Kulshan crew had planned to summit Baker with us but injuries and schedule conflicts got in the way.
We started running at 12:15 p.m. Friday. It was an extremely hot and humid day. Friends met us at the North Lake Whatcom trailhead with drinks and popsicles for the climb up Stewart Mountain.
After descending the other side of Stewart, we stopped at Acme Diner for bacon, eggs and milkshakes.
Mike Diehl was our crew from Acme out Mosquito Lake Road and past where Heisler’s Ranch once stood on Forest Service Road 38. Heisler’s ranch is where Diehl’s great grandfather dropped Joe Galbraith off to start the on-foot portion of the Mt. Baker Marathon in 1911 (the race pit the train against the automobile as well as runners against each other).
We arrived at the Ridley Creek trailhead at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday. Beat had been feeling nauseated until he had a sip of Kulshan Dude Man Wheat at mile 33. After regrouping, we set off for the mountain just after 3 a.m. Saturday.
The start of the Ridley Creek trail required a sketchy log crossing over the Middle Fork Nooksack River in the dark. Then we ran up the unmaintained trail once used in the original races.
After about 2.5 miles up the Ridley Creek trail we turned off the main path to bushwhack three quarters of a mile to Mazama Lake. We followed the original route, passing by the lake. Friends Steve and Shannon Zellerhof were waiting near the lake and cooked us bacon, which I piled on my Rocket donut maple bar.
Friends Chris Duppenthaler and Max McHale ran up from the Ridley Creek trailhead to join us for the mountain section. They chose to carry skis to more easily get around on the mountain.
We reached the Easton glacier around 9 a.m. We fastened our Kahtoola crampons (another sponsor) to our running shoes, formed a four-person rope team and headed up the glacier.
We were all feeling excited to be on the mountain with good weather and amazing views all around. This was the first time on a glacier for Aaron, Beat and Jill. I led the team up the glacier.
At the lip of the Sherman Crater we took an old boot path that led us up to a giant crevasse at the base of Sherman peak. We traversed to the left and had to carefully cross the crevasses before reaching the edge of the crater. Everyone was a little nervous at this, but going back down and around was not appealing to anyone.
We took our first rest at the crater and got maybe 15-20 minutes of sleep.
We then pushed on to the summit and arrived at 2:25 p.m.
In honor of our founding sponsors we each enjoyed a can of Kulshan IPA on Koma Kulshan! I surprised everyone with an entire box of Rocket donuts that I had carefully packed up the mountain.
After another rest we headed down the mountain. Now midday, the snow, as Jill put it, was “molten lava snow,” because it reflected the hot sun in our faces. It felt like being in a microwave.
We kept noting the difference from the past run when it was freezing cold and soaking wet. We were now burning hot and couldn’t wait to get out of the sun. The views out over the bay were incredible, as the sun reflected off the water far off in the distance. We were all feeling extremely exhausted but greatly satisfied that we had made the summit. The rest was all down hill from here… sort of.
I had my lowest point heading back down the scramble and the Ridley Creek trail as the orange glow of the sunset faded to dark. My pack felt like it weighed a ton and was crushing my shoulders. Dehydrated and still burning and overheated from the climb, I pushed as hard as I could to get back to the trailhead. I didn’t stop to pull out my light and hiked the last bit of the trail in the dark. We once again crossed the log in the dark and stumbled into the trailhead.
I pulled out my sleeping pad and bag, grabbed a bag of chips and something to drink and immediately started to shiver. After some time in my sleeping bag, rehydrating and putting down some calories, we rallied and headed off at midnight Sunday for the long 20-mile stretch back to Acme.
We all had some caffeinated beverages before we left the trailhead but the sleep monsters were quick on our heals. On Mosquito Lake Road Beat started falling asleep while walking and would start walking off the road or into Aaron. No one wanted to stop and sleep, but I knew I had to. We found a grassy spot along the road and set the alarm for 15 minutes. I guess I heard the alarm first and, still in a dream-state, I yelled “Hey!” waking the other two up in a hurry.
I had to stop one more time before daybreak for another 15-minute nap while the others continued. Cindy Pfeiffer-Hoyt (an Acme resident and friend) ran the last mile into Acme with me. She and her husband Russ had brought homemade pizza and Acme ice cream for us at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning. The pizza and ice cream hit the spot for all of us.
Refueled and with the sun now up, we were ready to make the 25-mile journey back to Cornwall Beach. We all had smiles on our face, knowing the most challenging part was behind us. The view of Baker looking back was surreal – to think we had just been up there.
Even though the sun was blazing down on us by early morning, we kept a good pace and all enjoyed running down the single track dirt trails on Stewart Mountain within the new Lake Whatcom reconveyance lands.
The North Shore Road back to town was extremely hot. We pushed as hard as we could, and ran back from Stewart Mountain faster than we had run to the mountain so many hours before.
As we ran the final mile down Cornwall Avenue with energy to spare, we heard the bells of the railroad crossing and the sound of the train whistle coming closer. Without pause and with the train still out of sight, we made a run for it to cross the tracks. A gathering of friends was waiting at the beach in anticipation of our arrival. We just made it through and the coal trail roared behind us as we ran the last 100 yards to the beach to finish back where we had started.
We waded back into the water and celebrated with another Kulshan IPA and giant slurpees that a friend had brought for us. We completed the roundtrip in 48 hours and 17 minutes.
Probst and the Cascade Mountain Runners are hoping to rebuild the upper portion of the Ridley Creek Trail, the original trail used for the Mt. Baker marathons, in partnership with Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and the Washington Trails Association. To volunteer as a trailbuilder, send an email to email@example.com. For more information, check out the Cascade Mountain Runners Facebook page. x