credit: Brynn Searcy

Angel’s to Alpine: The New Ultimate Thru Trail of the Columbia River Gorge

I dare you.

This morning, the wind pounded at my window, 40 mile-per-hour gusts bending trees against its power. I woke up to the wild applause of aspen leaves and the wild dancing of the flag next door. But of course, this happens every morning. We’re in the wind capital of the world, after all, the Columbia River Gorge.

Windsurfers, kite boarders, mountain bikers, backpackers, and skiers have dreamed of coming to my little town east of Portland for as long as the mountains had snow and the river had wind.

Sandwiched between mountains, Washington and Oregon split by the Columbia River, the Gorge boasts one of the most play-worthy (and happenstance, scenic) spots in the Pacific Northwest.

Every summer, waterfalls and wildflowers litter the landscape while foreign license plates clog the downtown streets. But this is my hometown. Where I learned to backpack and where I took my first ski lift, where I stand-up paddle and scoop ice cream.

A couple weeks ago, I was clicking through the REI website, thinking up adventures and dreaming up gear. On their events page, I saw something advertising “…the slopes of Mount Hood…” so I pressed the “more detail” button. On Monday, July 10, REI was hosting a presentation at a Portland brewery about this new long-distance hiking and running route called Angel’s to Alpine.

What?! As a long distance runner and trail runner, I was excited to know what this was about! This trail seemed to run right through my backyard, so, I did a little research….

Sometime Late July 2016.

A local trail runner, Kate McElroy, was training for her first 100-miler. The Mountain Lakes Sierra 100 around the lakes in Yosemite. But then, McElroy received an email from her. It was the schedule for her project presentation. On race day.

In the Oakland Airport, McElroy tentatively explained to Willie McBride the unfortunate details of her work conflict. McBride is a Wilderness First Responder and the co-founder of Wy’East Wolfpack, a wellness and training team that encourages folks of all abilities, size, age, ethnicities to explore the outdoors and get moving. He was helping McElroy through her training.

How could she just give up, six weeks out? She was devastated.

“You don’t have to run the race to run a 100 miles,” he said.

Over some IPAs the following day, McBride brought out and stack of local maps and some colored pens. Then, he started to unload his idea.

And so, Angel’s to Alpine was threaded together. 104 miles of trails through the Gorge, connecting the Angel’s Rest trailhead up to the front door of historic Timberline Lodge, gaining 27,000 feet of elevation, winding through Eagle Creek and passed Wahtum Lake, merging onto the Pacific Crest Trail, and finally trekking up Mount Hood until you reach the top (almost).

Wowza. This felt like my dream trail. As I poked around on their website, my heart started to race and my mind was whirring. This was an expedition I was all in for. And the awesome thing is the Angel’s to Alpine website has a registry. They ask you to pledge a start date, then finish it any way you can, taking 3 days or 3 years. This trail is for everyone.

October 1, 2016.

In the wee hours of the morning, Kate McElroy took off on her “self-planned 100-mile adventure route.” She had friends and family there to support her, setting up aid stations, bandaging blisters, running alongside her. She finished in 38 hours and 40 minutes, becoming the first finisher of the Angel’s to Alpine course.

Kate went for her dream, finishing a 100-mile trail run. Things didn’t go according to plan, but she finished, and that’s an unmatchable feeling.

I’ll be out there this summer. Will you? Whatever your goal is, whatever your ability is, go check out Angel’s to Alpine, make your goal, pledge your start day.

I dare you.