Last year a little running tradition began when Solana planned a wicked 29km trail run to celebrate her 29th birthday. Since then we’ve tried to celebrate birthdays with some kind of fun birthday run but mine is always tough since it falls mid-May and May is just one crazy-busy month when it comes to running.
Our solution? Do it a month early and since that landed close to another good friend’s birthday we combined it with hers to plan Nikki & Marijke’s Ridiculously Rad Birthday Run. The only input I gave was that I wanted a view and Solana planned the rest.
We were guaranteed lots of climbing, the potential for two amazing views (if the weather cooperated) and tons of fun.
We planned to meet in the Cypress Mtn parking lot around 7:30 and when Marijke and I got up there we were a bit panicked to find fresh snow. I guess I didn’t pay close enough attention to the forecast because I felt a little underprepared even though I had more than enough warm layers.
We left one car at Cypress and drove a few exits down the highway to park where the iconic Kneeknacker trail race starts, just outside of Horseshoe Bay. I was kind of excited to be running part of the Kneeknacker course so that I could see just how tough some of it is. We threw on our packs, set our watches and off we went. Pretty much straight uphill right from the start.
Given the amount of climbing I knew we’d be doing, this was going to be more of a power hike with some running thrown in which was great for me since I’m really trying to get stronger on hills. We had 5 runners in our group, with 3 of them far more advanced than me so I had lots of encouragement to keep my butt moving.
We pretty much just chatted and visited and climbed and climbed our way through some really beautiful trails. And they were all new to me too so I was especially enjoying seeing some new places. Some of the forested bit we ran through were just so peaceful with huge trees, random big boulders and a light mist – beautiful.
Not long after the inukshuks we hit a small boulder field and Solana kind of laughed at me when I said I was a bit nervous to climb it. Apparently the ‘real’ boulder field was yet to come. Gulp. And when we finally arrived at the ‘real’ boulder field, I immediately understood why she laughed. Suddenly we had jagged, angular boulders as far up ahead of us as the eye could see. The slope was very steep but thankfully the shape of the rocks made it easy to find footing so up and up we climbed.
For not being a climber of any sort, I think I did pretty good. I used my hands lots to steady myself as I climbed and slowly made my up. I full admit however, just moments from the top I had a bit of a panic moment. I stood up straight and all of a sudden had visions of falling backwards and my knees started to shake. It’s funny how in one second I suddenly felt frightened, thankfully it was just a few steps further and I was at the top. Phew!
We carried on, up and up, through more beautiful forests cloaked in fine mist. Despite our varied levels of strength and experience, our little group ran well together and the time passed by so quickly. We finally made it to the final push before our first big viewpoint, Eagle Bluffs.
We hadn’t really hit any of the snow we saw from down in the parking lot but it was definitely getting cooler as we got closer to the bluffs. There were no more boulder fields to pick our way over but we had to climb up some pretty exposed rock faces. The footing was pretty good for the most part but there were a few steps I found a bit scary so I tried not to look behind me and just keep focusing on my footing and moving onward and upward.
We only stopped here for a few moments because it had gotten so cold and being exposed, was quite windy too. Despite the cool temps, the wind and the lack of any view today, it was still a beautiful milestone.
We carried on from Eagle Bluffs to snow on the ground and some lightly falling. Even though I’m sure the temperature was quite cool, we were all staying easily warm with the layers we had. As we climbed further into Cypress Mtn, the snow got thicker and deeper and the trail got muddier!
There’s a section through here that I’ve run before in the 5 Peaks Cypress Mountain race and there’s a string of little lakes with boardwalks and bridges. They were pretty in the summer but just stunning in all the snow and we were even treated to some beautiful sun as we ran through this section. I couldn’t believe the variety of conditions we’d run through and we were barely half way through our run!
Once we got down Cypress Mountain we got ourselves onto a new trail that would take us back up the other side of the bowl to connect with the Howe Sound Crest Trail to our second destination of the day, St. Mark’s Summit. After all that downhill, we suddenly found ourselves trudging up some fairly steep but very nicely groomed gravel trails.
As we continued to climb we hit snow once again and it got pretty thick pretty quickly. The trail started off as a very groomed, easy surface but had given way to a much more technical, rooted climb that was kind of slick in all the snow and mud. It was no trouble to pick my way along but I definitely had to be careful not to slip on any of the roots.
On and on we went and the snow got deeper and deeper. We heard a few hikers talking about having to turn around up ahead because of the snow and my heart fell. This summit was the main thing I was looking forward to on our run and I would be so sad if we had to turn back. We all agreed we’d just keep going until if and when we thought things were getting too hairy but thankfully, we never got to that point.
When you finally get to St. Mark’s Summit there a few different side trails you can take to various viewpoints. Even though this wasn’t the most unobstructed of them, I was amazed by how beautiful it was up there. As we neared the summit, the skies were clearing and it was getting sunnier and warm. We had totally lucked out and the weather seemed to be cooperating with us.
There was one particular viewpoint I really wanted to reach because it has this big rock face that I’d seen in many a Facebook photo. We figured out where the viewpoint was but we had to get down a pretty sketchy rock face that was covered in snow and ice and with hardly any footing. I didn’t think I could do it and looked for another way around but came back to the sketchy rock face and mustered up my courage.
The drop was only about 8-10 feet with a soft snow landing beneath it so I grabbed onto the trees and slid my way down and guess what? It really wasn’t that bad. I skipped and hopped my way over to the viewpoint and just about died when I saw how breathtaking it was.
The skies had totally opened up for us and we had the most beautiful 180 degree view of Howe Sound beneath us. There are not adequate enough words to describe how it felt to be standing there with such a beautiful view beneath us. I literally did a little dance and hugged my friends because I was so happy to have gotten there and in such perfect conditions.
Ever since Solana told me we’d be heading for St. Mark’s there was one picture I knew I wanted to get. A picture on the rock. When I saw where I had to sit, I was admittedly a bit nervous but had come so far I wasn’t going to leave without trying it. There’s actually a pretty big, flat area to sit so I sat down, inched my way back and slowly swung my legs around over the edge.
As you can see from my not-quite-so-wide smile and kind of glazed-over eyes, oh and those hands clutching my thighs, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I’m not typically afraid of heights if I have a safe place to sit but looking over the edge past my feet made my stomach do a few flips so I quickly turned around and climbed back in again.
After sliding down that icy rock face my hands and bum had gotten pretty cold so I added a few more layers as we got ready to start making our way down. But only after one last picture of course…
I think we were all pretty elated to have gotten such a magical moment up at the summit and we were pretty pumped as we started our way back down the trail. It was still warm and sunny and oh so muddy but we made quick time on our way back.
When we finally cruised back into the parking lot at the Cypress Mountain ski area, we had been out for about 6.5 hrs. It sounds like a long day but surprisingly, I felt pretty good. My legs were a little sore from the long downhill run at the end but otherwise, I felt great.
We’d just run the most amazing, multi-peak, scary boulder field, exposed rock face, muddy trails, straight uphill, foggy, misty but surprisingly crystal-clear viewpoint beast of a run and I honestly loved every single moment of it. I couldn’t have asked for a better day to celebrate our birthdays and I was thankful to be out there with some of my favourite trail friends.
It really was the perfect day.
After peeling off our muddy clothes, we piled into the car and drove off to the drop point to grab my car. We were going to head out to the pub but since it was pretty late in the day, we made our way back home again, with a stop for fries along the way of course!
Sending a huge thank you to Solana for organizing this ‘ridiculously rad’ birthday run, to Jay and Chris for tagging alone even though they could have run circles around us and to Marijke for sharing her birthday with me!