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Johnson, Malcolm, Koppen, not DeRoux – 8/5/18

I love the Teanaway. Expansive views, cool trees, bright lichen, awesome weather – all of it. I needed a 20 mile training run, and put together a loop of Johnson, Malcolm, Koppen, and De Roux. Two birds with one stone – explore some peaks and get in some miles. And, I’m quite proud of hitting a new PR distance 🙂

This was hard. It turns out none of the trails are super great for running. The walkups are mostly class 2 and full of choss. There’s plenty of bushwhacking to be had, either mandatory (the trail’s overgrown) or optional (I took several wrong turns). There’s no water along the ridge, and 20 miles is a long ways.

I learned a lot on this trip. My technical comfort limits are way different when I’m alone vs when I’m with others. Class 2 and most class 3 is no big deal for me, usually. Here I found myself getting sketched out on dirt. I packed a lot of music, audio books, and podcasts, thinking that I’d get bored or get too in my mind. I didn’t need any of that until I spent the last 6 miles on road (Dropkick Murphy’s, a lifesaver). I also learned that I can go for a lot longer than I thought. At mile 10 my legs hurt, and at mile 12 I would have described them as shot. But I had 8 more miles to go and pushed through it. Sure, I walked some, but I also ran a lot. These are just small vignettes. As I continue to push myself I’m amazed at discovering that some preconceived limits aren’t big deals, while other things I never would have imagined to get in my way absolutely do.

I’m going to whine a bit describing the trail, but understand that looking back on it I think it wasn’t really so bad. I’ll go back again. Probably not this year.

I took a clockwise loop starting at the Johnson Medra trail. This was easy and fun running. Take a left on the Jungle Creek trail and you’ll find that the trail lives up to the name: it’s overgrown. I was soaked within 1/4 mile. You quickly climb out of this, though, and start heading up toward the ridge with Johnson Mountain on it. The trail here is in great shape, and since the trees open up you are rewarded with increasingly wonderful views of the surrounding mountains. And Johnson, which is impressively far away. This trail was touched by the Jolly Mountain fire in 2017, and while there is definite evidence of fire the trail itself is in great shape. Cherish this, as this is some of the best trail you’ll have all day. Follow the trail until it gains a saddle just west of the summit. Gain the ridge and scramble up some scree until you get to the summit ridge. From here it’s a ridge walk. A route mistake I made here was to take the obvious bootpath. That’s a trail that takes you on the south side of the mountain. Getting off of that was a pain, so just follow the natural ridge line until you pick up the boot path. 3.96mi, 2195′ gain, 1:40 to the summit.

Descend the way you came, finding the right boot path, and head on the trail toward Malcolm. The trail becomes difficult to follow at times, in part because it traverses across slopes that easily wash out from the snow and rain. Cross a few knobs on the ridge, and you find yourself looking at Malcolm. There is an obvious boot path from about 5000′ that traverses up an open slope. Don’t take that. Continue on the trail for another 100 vertical feet of gain and hop onto the NE/SW ridge. You’ll avoid some steeper stuff and get onto a nice forested plateau. Follow obvious boot paths to the summit block, which loose and a little steep-ish. I came down a slightly different way on the summit block, and that was a mistake. Plenty of loose scree and small clifflets made for some tense time. Descend the way you came, or maybe just be better at walking on scree. 6.07mi, 3160′ gain, 3:00 to the summit.

Here is where the trail really degrades. Try to keep on the trail. If you lose it, look around and search for it again. Once you get north of the Johnson Medra trail intersection again, heading toward Koppen, the trail really becomes a lot better and a lot more runnable. Be careful which boot paths you follow (oops) and you come to the last saddle before Koppen. Koppen from the south is a fun scramble, mostly easy class 2, but with the only real class 3 move to be made. Fun stuff. It’s boot path from there to the summit. 10.25mi, 4750′ gain, 5:30 to the summit of Koppen.

I had noticed rain clouds coming in, and having walked plenty of narrow(ish) rocky ridge sections I wanted trail. I decided to keep an eye on them, and if they were still there when I was going to get off the trail to follow the East ridge of De Roux, that I would bail and just stay on the trail. Well, I got to the intersection of the Koppen Ridge trail and the De Roux spur trail, and couldn’t find any further evidence of the trail toward De Roux. I know people have done it, but I searched for about five minutes and that was it. Mentally I was done, and I was really tired of side hilling without trail (plenty of that before …). I descended down the spur and onto the main trail. Here, at about mile 13, is the first real source of water. I was out at this point, so I stopped, drank my fill, filled up a liter, and made my way back, reaching the De Roux campground at 14.25mi total, and 4788′ gain. I knew what had to happen – I had to make 20 miles, and I had to get that gain above 5000′ 🙂

To make this a loop I ran the road from the De Roux campground to where I started. On the forest service maps I saw a trail north and east of the road. I scouted some Saturday and couldn’t find any evidence of the expected exit, so I decided to play it safe and stay on the road. I mostly jogged here. My legs hurt, and I was surprised I could keep it below 15 minute miles for a bit. I made it back to the car at 18.4 total miles, so kept going until I hit enough mileage to turn around. Back at the car at 8:30, having gone 20.05mi with 5025′ total elevation gain. Very happy to be done, I tucked into some chips, some Gatorade, a soda, and made my way back toward civilization.

Running in the morning light through fire touched terrain. Kinda cool how the disturbed dirt next to the trail leads to better vegetation growth. Not too many blow downs through here.
One of the more nasty blow downs on the trail. I tried to crawl through it, failed, and then just descended below it.
Pano from the summit of Johnson; this is the drainage I came out of. Not shown: super steep loose scree (take the correct boot path, not the obvious boot path).
Summit selfie from Johnson. It's cute, I still had a lot of water here.
Summit selfie from Johnson. It’s cute, I still had a lot of water here.
Views of Malcolm, from the trail. The obvious boot path takes a rising ascent from 5000′ on that clean dirt slope and gains the plateau of the ridge. Don’t do that, keep on the trail some more and then look for a boot path where the trail crosses the ridge at approx. 5100′. Trust me.
Smoky views on the way toward Malcolm.
Smoky views on the way toward Malcolm.
Selfie from the top of Malcolm. I didn’t really like getting up here, can you tell? Ingalls and Stuart covered by my head.
Pano from the summit of Malcolm.
Pano from the summit of Malcolm.
The ridgeline leading toward Koppen (the hump in shadow in the right, not the cool thing way in the distance).
I thought this lichen tree thing looked like a frog. Oh, btw, I’m on the trail at this point. Do you see it? The trail from Johnson -> Malcom -> Koppen was progressively worse and worse.
Summit of Koppen. Coming from the south the scramble has one easy class 3 move. Going off the north is a walk-off. Rain clouds were rolling in which scared me off of going for De Roux. Notice the notable less water here. I still had about 1.2L at this point, but was getting thirsty.
View toward Koppen (in the sun, center-right), and the swarm of gnats that buzzed me just getting off Koppen.
Back in the vegetation lowlands of the De Roux trail. Sweet runnable trail. Post filling up with water at the De Roux creek, and very happy to have done that. Here I know I’m getting close to the road, which was awesome. Shortly after this I saw my first people for the day, a couple heading up the trail. They looked confused at where I had come from. I just kept on running.

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