Sarah Bradham is my sister-in-law. She’s very active in the Mazamas, and in early 2014 asked me and Amy for some feedback about a new running camp she was spearheading. She thought we’d be good to ask for an initial reaction to the camp since we were both runners and Mazama members. I read the prospectus for the camp and replied:
I would totally do it, and the price point is unquestionably good. Checking into a hotel for 2 nights to use their gym would be more expensive, and that doesn’t include meals. Sounds like a great schedule, too!
Signing Up for the Mazamas Mountain Running Camp
Fast-forward to March of this year, when my wife Amy emailed me and proposed a mini-vacation. This year’s Mountain Running Camp (the 4th annual) fell mostly during a week where Xander was away at camp, and Elizabeth was old enough to stay home with her shiny new driver’s license. We talked about it as a family. Elizabeth was comfortable with staying home alone, spending time with grandparents, having a friend over and picking up her brother from camp. Oh, the joys of another licensed driver in the house!
On the camp’s registration questionnaire, I completed a few of the open-ended questions as follows.
Why are you interested in this camp?
We LOVE Oregon, and the chance to spend a few days running at Hood sounds like an ideal active vacation. Plus, Sarah Bradham’s pretty cool.
What do you hope to get from the camp?
I want to get some tips for running trails better, and have a great time doing it.
What are your specific running-related goals for the end of 2017 or 2018?
I’ll run Cayuga Trails 50 earlier in 2017, so will focus on the other extreme in the end of the 2017 season: adult XC. That, and maintaining a good base of fitness trail running.
Welcome to Portland!
The next four months flew by, and we were on our way to Oregon for camp before I knew it. Thankfully, we were leaving the monsoon-like weather in upstate New York behind for a drier, sunnier Oregon climate. It had been so wet and humid in late July, it was as if we lived in a rainforest climate! We connected from Syracuse to Portland by way of JFK in New York. Our Thursday evening layover was just long enough for us enjoy a dinner at Terminal 5’s “Loft” restaurant, where you order your meal using an iPad. We sat at the bar and enjoyed a beer, some guacamole and chips, and a burger with fries. Our flight to Portland boarded on time. As we settled into our seats, Amy and I cast each other doubtful glances as a family with a restless baby sat across the aisle in our row. The poor child was in distress for the first hour of the flight, though we had noise-canceling headphones to help dull the noise. We watched a few episodes of the Ozarks on Netflix to pass the time. The flight from East to West is always frustrating, as it’s longer due to having to fly against the jet stream. We arrived just before midnight, got a picture of the PDX carpet for good measure, and retrieved our bags. There were no delays for us this trip, and Sarah picked us up to drive us to her house for a restful remainder of the night.
Camp Day 1: Mazama Lodge and Silcox Hut
We took advantage of our free Friday morning at Sarah’s house to pack just what we needed for camp and do some Les Mills on Demand BodyFlow (yoga). Stretching felt so good after being cramped in a plane for so long! At lunchtime, we dropped Sarah off at the Mazama Mountaineering Center (MMC) and went out to get some Whole Bowl for lunch. We brought hers back to the MMC while she was checking people in for camp, and we walked our lunch over to Laurelhurst Park to enjoy it at a picnic table. We wandered slowly back to the MMC as the warm Portland sun shone down. We enjoyed talking with our fellow campers as they arrived, and met instructors Yassine Diboun and Jason Leman too. Once we’d all arrived, we loaded into nondescript white cargo vans for the drive to Mount Hood’s Mazama Lodge.
Yassine introduced us all to Charles, the Mazama Lodge’s caretaker. The building is rustic yet beautiful. There are several sleeping rooms upstairs with common bunks, so Amy and I chose two adjoining bunks on the bottom level so we could sleep near each other. We spread out our gear and clothing on a third unused bunk. The vans shuttled us 5 miles uphill to Timberline Lodge, where we hiked another mile up to Silcox Hut. The views of Timberline and the Cascade range to the south are spectacular from this vantage point.
We were close to the Palmer Glacier where the kids have gone to summer ski camp, and I enjoyed seeing the groomers going up and down the mountain, preparing for the next day of skiers.
We sat at the back of Silcox Hut as the sun started to set, going around the group introducing ourselves and sharing embarrassing stories. I had a PG story ready to go, but when people before me had set the stage with stories of bodily functions gone bad, I shared about Xander getting sick at one of Elizabeth’s piano recitals. Truly a gross memory to recount! The group ran back down the trail to the vans, and Amy Sproston (one of the instructors) said she was going to continue running down to the lodge. She had several takers, including Amy and me. It was almost 6 miles of downhill, on pavement no less, and we found our quads a bit worse for wear as we walked into Mazama Lodge for the evening.
Dinner was fabulous. The kitchen staff served up portobello mushroom burgers, trout and salad. I chose a bowl of Maui Waui sherbet for dessert. We’d had our fill, and were ready to wind down for the evening. We all gathered around the common area for a quick orientation. Sarah reminded us all that our camp registration came with a t-shirt, but sadly they weren’t able to get one together. Instead, she surprised us all with Leki Micro Trail Vario running poles and Patagonia Houdini jackets. These sponsors had come through for the camp in a HUGE way! The value of the camp swag was not lost on the participants, and we all gleefully tried our our poles and donned our windbreakers before turning in for the evening.
Sarah asked where we’d set up our sleeping bags, and then told us that we could spread out. We moved our stuff to a smaller room called the Ape Cave that had 3 bunk beds. It would turn out to be a private room for us for the weekend, complete with a power strip so we could charge our phones and sport watches.
Day 2: Boot Camp and Education
Sleep was somewhat elusive given the time change and bunk accommodations, but I did get a decent night’s rest regardless. I was up at 4:45 local time naturally, due in large part to the schedule I keep back home. “Sleeping in” until 7:45 would be luxurious! I put on some shorts and headed downstairs to the lodge’s expansive common area. Nobody else was around, and since the windows had been open all night, it was cold. 50 degrees. I got a sweatshirt, put on a pot of coffee, and set about doing the things I like to do daily: the daily New York Times crossword mini, stretching, pushups, finding cool people to follow on Twitter, Spanish on Duolingo and some reading. Amy came downstairs and I prepared an iced coffee for her, filling a mug to the top with ice and pouring the hot coffee on top. Presto!
The rest of the lodge awoke and we headed out on our scheduled dawn patrol run. Since it was a chilly start, I opted to wear my new Patagonia Houdini. We set off in two groups, and I chose the somewhat faster one. We’d shoot for an hour of running, out-and-back. I kept pace with Amy Sproston, reveling in the opportunity to “keep up” with an elite runner as she no doubt ran a conservative pace. I felt the same way when Yassine Diboun had been in Ithaca doing a hill running clinic a few years prior. We ran a downhill stretch together, and it was sheer bliss to run with such an experienced, knowledgeable athlete. When we arrived back at the lodge, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of French toast, bacon and eggs. And of course, more coffee.
We broke into two groups for the rest of the morning. Amy and I grabbed our fleece blankets for the indoor portion, since it was still in the 50s. Amy and Jason talked us through ten essentials for trail safety. Since we’d been hiking so much as a family, not much of this came as a surprise to us, but it was cool to see the advances in technology, especially with water filtration. We used to use a clunky mechanism with a hand pump, and now you can literally drink through a straw using something like the Lifestraw or the Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System that we had back home in our camping gear.
We headed outside next for boot camp with Yassine and Joelle Vaught. After a few minutes of dynamic stretching in the sun we headed into the shade to work with tossing medicine balls and cycling through stations for dips with torso extensions, walkout pushups and step-up knee raises. We also ran down a trail to another spot to learn about the unweighted iron cross, something I’ll definitely be adding to my fitness regimen. You should try it: it’s harder than it looks! After all of that, we enjoyed a little volleyball before being called inside for lunch.
Did I mention how cool it was that they had a kitchen staff preparing super healthy and delicious meals? We were treated to a homemade carrot and tomato soup, salad, and sandwiches with meat, cheese, lettuce and avocado. It was only appropriate that after such a fantastic lunch we’d be treated to a siesta time. I spent the hour hanging out in an Adirondack chair in the shade. I read, drew for a bit, and enjoyed the sounds of nature.
We were in groups again for the afternoon, starting with working with our new Leki poles. Amy and Jason walked us through the basics of clipping in and out of the poles, and how to use them for running up and down hills. Then we stashed our poles away and headed out with Yassine and Joelle to work on uphill running (and power hiking) technique. We came together as one big group again and went out for a longer run up and down hills near one of the many nearby ski lifts. On the way, we came across a campsite with a bag chair, an axe in a log and half a liter of rum. It was so random that we had to get pictures! With our afternoon workout complete, we ran back to lodge. I enjoyed running and chatting with Yassine as we headed back.
The day’s activities were not yet over, though. We hopped in the vans again and drove a short distances to Trillium Lake. The views of Mount Hood are spectacular from here, and I was sweaty enough to want to jump in the water with my running shorts on (I neglected to bring a bathing suit). After toweling off, Amy and I sat together and took in the scenery, along with a few mountain selfies. We retreated into the woods for about an hour with the group before leaving, using the time to talk about training plans, running philosophies and life lessons with the four instructors.
Dinner and a Movie (or six)
Dinner was a fantastic blend of two varieties of rice noodle stir fry, homemade spring rolls with peanut sauce and chocolate-dipped fortune cookies. It was movie night, so we settled in on a comfortable couch and watched a few shorts featuring some of the instructors. If you have the time, these are all fantastic and inspiring:
- Zion Traverse FKT with Amy Sproston and Joelle Vaught
- UTMB: Endure with Amy Sproston
- Mt. Marathon (Salomon TV)
- Trail Dog (Salomon TV)
- Maroon Belles: a Thriving, All-Women’s Running Group in Carbondale, Colorado
We finished movie night with a final feature of Yassine and friends setting the assisted record for running Oregon’s stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail (see One Step at a Time). Ultra running campers were here for movie night, too, but they had to be up early in their morning for a 42-mile circumnavigation of Mount Hood. We mountain running campers would be doing a shorter 14-mile run from Timberline Lodge to Ramona Falls. Off to bed we went, especially tired due to the time change.
Day 3: Timberline Lodge to Ramona Falls
After another quasi-restless night of sleep I was ready for another day in the mountains. I was up about the same time and enjoyed coffee and quiet time down in the lodge’s common area before everyone else woke up. There was no pre-breakfast run today since we’d be running long. I enjoyed eggs with spinach, sausage and English muffins before getting ready to head up to Timberline. Once up at Timberline Lodge (and if you haven’t put it together, 1980’s The Shining used aerial shots of Timberline Lodge as part of its opening scene, and exterior footage for the fictional Overlook Hotel) we separated into two groups again. They wanted a fast group, and a not-so-fast/cool group. I stepped over to the fast side with 3 others. Since the forest service rules state you can’t travel in groups larger than 12, we needed to equalize things a bit. We managed to coax 8 others to our fast group. Now that we were all grouped up, we were off!
The longish run from Timberline to Ramona Falls was the main event of our camp. I thought it’d be easy since I’d finished Cayuga Trails 50 (and the requisite training) not long ago. I was wrong! The elevation gain, while modest, added up to 1,748 feet, and the trail had a lot more twists and turns compared to trails back home. I loved every minute, though. Early in the run we crossed Little Zigzag River where I’d seen the stream “start” during a prior hike. I tailed Amy Sproston the entire run, enjoying watching her foot placement and keeping up with her cadence. Ascending to Paradise Park was a workout, but we were rewarded with tons of wildflowers and spent some time taking silly jumping shots with Hood in the background.
At one point we approached the ridge overlooking the Sandy River. It was quite a drop-off, and somehow we missed the turn of the PCT. It was dangerous hiking along the sandy ridge line, so we dropped into the woods to do some cross-country hiking. I pulled out my Gaia map after a few minutes to get us oriented. It was so nice to have a GPS fix along with a topo map!
We were back on the PCT in short order, descending to the Sandy River. There was no practical way to get across without getting wet, so I just embraced my inner trail runner and traversed carefully through the water. In doing so, my shoes had so much silt deposited in them from the force of the river. On the opposite bank, I found a rock to sit on and squeeze out my socks. I had a near-tragedy when I dipped my shoe in the water and almost lost it! Luckily I was not in the main part of the stream and it was easy to retrieve my shoe before it traveled more than a few inches. Once we were all assembled, shoed up and hydrated, we continued the short remaining distance to Ramona Falls.
Ramona Falls is such a beautiful, cool place so we didn’t mind lingering and taking in the scene. It wasn’t too long before the other group (the one with the cool kids, including Amy!) arrived. We got a few pictures before heading out once more, with just 3 level miles between us and the parking lot.
Cheribundi and chips waited for us all as we arrived at the end of the trail. It was a delicious end to our run! We said our goodbyes as people loaded into vans for the ride back to Portland or the lodge. Amy and I were happy to get a photo with Yassine.
Yassine got his start as a professional trail runner while living in Ithaca, so we have a special kinship with him. He’s a generous guy: not only is he so humble and interested in the lives of others, we saw an interaction he had with another camper that showed us what we already knew. The other camper had a shoe mishap, so Yassine had lent him a pair of Inov-8 shoes for the run. Inov-8 sponsors Yassine, so he has a lot of their gear! Yassine asked how the shoes were, and then asked if the camper wanted to keep them. Of course he did! Such a classy guy, and we’re happy to know him.
Since we were staying an extra night at the Mazama Lodge, we got dropped off at Mt. Hood Brewing Company in Government Camp (affectionately “Govy”). Given that we were on foot for the afternoon, it wasn’t hard to convince Amy to split a pitcher of beer. She opted for chili and I got a cheese and fig platter.
After our indulgent lunch, we walked through Govy to get some snacks for hiking the next day. We passed the afternoon quietly at the lodge since the ultra runners were out on their all-day run. We were basically alone to nap, play piano and read. As evening approached, we drove with Sarah up to Timberline to help shuttle ultra runners back down to the lodge. Amy Sproston had finished her circumnavigation after leaving us at Ramona Falls, so I was fortunate to get a picture with her. Back at the lodge, we enjoyed a late dinner of Mexican food with churros for dessert (mmm).
Our last morning in Mazama Lodge had arrived too soon! We’d be flying back on the redeye, but had a day of hiking and hanging out ahead of us. Sarah let us borrow her car, and we hiked to Tom, Dick and Harry via Mirror Lake. It was a wonderful hike with fantastic views, and the Leki poles were fantastic for hiking!
Lunch was atypical for us: we had Joe’s Donuts and some Starbucks coffee to help usher in our return to civilization. Back at Sarah’s house, we got cleaned up and did some laundry. She had us meet up with her at the Patagonia store in Portland, where we got to see Yassine and Kriss Moehl once more.
Adult Summer Camp (you were over too soon!)
We said several times during the weekend that this was just like adult summer camp. It really should have its own hashtag: #AdultSummerCamp. If you’re a runner and enjoy the mountains, you can’t go wrong reserving a weekend with the Mazamas. Many thanks to Sarah Bradham for organizing such a top-notch event, to the staff at the Mazama Lodge for making us feel so welcome, to our instructors Yassine Diboun, Amy Sproston, Joelle Vaught and Jason Leman for a positive, informational, experience-jammed weekend, and to our fellow campers for all of the fun and fellowship. Run on!
You can read Amy’s recap of camp over at skirtrunner.com. I love that we have these shared experiences!
Jacob Raab Photos
Jacob took some great photos during the weekend, too! Here are a few of my favorites:
If you’d like to see where all of this magic went down, here’s a recap of the Strava tracks we laid down: