Chelan brothers set to run entire length of Washington PCT
By Steve Maher
WENATCHEE — Last winter, when Niles and Cyrus Desmarais first started tossing around the idea of running the length of Washington’s Cascades, they pondered doing a high-mountain traverse from Canada to Oregon.
But the more the twin brothers discussed it — the pros and cons, and the logistics of pulling off such a feat — the more they settled on the Pacific Crest Trail as the preferred route.
As if that would be all that easier.
This coming Monday, just two days after a major storm is forecast to have blown through the Northwest, the two Chelan ultrarunners will begin their challenging 462-mile journey at Hart’s Pass near the Canadian border. The 24-year-old siblings expect it will take 19 days for them to reach the Bridge of the Gods at the Washington-Oregon border.
The expedition is being sponsored by RunWenatchee.
“It’s going to be really great to experience the fall colors on the PCT,” said Niles Desmarais, who works as a math and biology tutor at Wenatchee Valley College. “The Washington section (of the PCT) holds more of an allure for us. We feel it’s the prettiest section. And being from Washington, it’ll be great to complete it.”
Asked why he and his brother decided to embark on such a long adventure, Cyrus said the main goal is to promote trail running in North Central Washington — and the health benefits gained from the sport.
“A few (trail running) pioneers have done it, but not many,” said Cyrus, who recently left his job as a lab technician at the U.S. Department of Agriculture station in Wenatchee.
“There’s definitely the personal aspect. It’s a way to experience one last hurrah (before winter sets in),” Niles said. “But it’s not about us. We want to promote trail running and getting outside.”
Both believe the trail running scene in North Central Washington doesn’t get the attention it deserves, particularly when compared to places that are considered trail-running meccas today, locales like Colorado and Oregon.
“There are so many great trails around here,” Niles said. “There are mountains everywhere. There are unbelievable places here. We have great stuff in Wenatchee and Leavenworth.
“I like road running. But I like trail running more now,” he added. “There’s more diversity to it. You have so much variety. You feel you are going out to explore.”
That the twins, graduates of Chelan High School and of Gonzaga University, will be hoofing up and down the Washington Cascades in late October, is amazing in itself. That 2016 is their first full year of trail running makes it even more remarkable.
Their interest in the sport began in early 2015 when Cyrus ran the 50K Yakima Skyline Rim trail race. Niles helped support him and was soon hooked.
This year, the pair completed several trail races, including the Yakima Skyline Rim (Niles finished sixth and Cyrus 15th), The Rut (a 50K event at Big Sky, Mont.). and RunWenatchee’s own Red Devil 25K Trail Run near Cashmere in May. At Red Devil, they crossed the finish line together in first place.
When they attended Chelan High School, they ran cross country their junior and senior years and then played baseball in the spring. In college at Gonzaga, they competed in triathlons.
This year’s trail races, plus hundreds of miles of training runs along the east slopes of the Cascades, has prepared them for the arduous adventure that awaits.
They have purchased 15-ounce sleeping bags and a light tent. Along with running gear, dried and dehydrated food, and a few other essentials, they anticipate their packs will weigh no more than 15 pounds each.
To minimize gear and ease the load, they have arranged for volunteers to drop food and clothing at eight spots along the way.
They anticipate consuming 3,500 calories in food a day.
They are prepared for snow and will carry a GPS unit, maps and a locator beacon.
This weekend’s expected storm, which is forecast to slam into Western Washington with heavy rain and high winds on Saturday, hasn’t altered their plans. In most years, other than an occasional early snow, the PCT is passable in mid- to late-October.
“It’s not ideal,” Cyrus said of the anticipated weather at the start of their journey. “We’ll go with it and eventually the sun will come out.”
Added Niles: “I think it’ll be cool to get that late fall and that first bite of winter. It’ll be different.”
Niles believes the toughest section for the trail running pair will be from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. Neither is overly concerned about the elevation gains and losses they will face in the Cascades.
“We do a lot of training for vertical,” Cyrus said.
If all goes as expected, they will emerge from the wilderness on Nov. 4 at the Bridge of Gods on the Columbia River.
But if you think the Desmarais brothers will be taking a much-needed rest then, think again.
“You know what’s funny? On Nov. 5, we have a race. It’s in Bellingham. We’ll see what happens,” Niles said.
Editor’s note: For updates on how the Desmarais brothers are faring as they run the Pacific Crest Trail, visit the RunWenatchee Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RunWenatchee/.