Re-Wilding: A Report from the Territory Run Camp

Every fall Aspire hosts the Territory Run Camp. Runners from across the country occupy the rustic Mount Baker Lodge for 5 days. By day they have their choice of trails on the glaciated and berry filled shoulders of Mount Baker. By night we gather around dining tables and fire places for meals and in-depth talks on the flora, fauna, ecology, and history of the North Cascades. This past year we were joined by Ian Ramsey, a Territory Ambassador, educator, and writer who shared his experience of camp, in this compelling trip report. All of the photos come from the lens and studio of Nick Danielson. 

Descending through Ruth Canyon with big views of Mt. Sefrit

Jakob, JD, Danielle, Nick and I bomb down the trail.  Muddy, grinning, and whooping we feel utterly alive. In the previous hours we had marched through drifts of knee-deep snow, navigated across jaw-dropping ridges in North Cascades National Park and glimpsed views of Mount Baker through passing clouds.  We’d huddled behind a fire lookout tower to eat snacks out of the wind, shared clothing to stay warm, and spent several suspended minutes in awestruck silence in the falling snow watching a black bear grazing in an alpine meadow.  

Black Bear

I thought of Alaskan writer Kim Heacox’s quote:

“Bear or no bear, it’s not the bear itself but the possibility of seeing one that makes us see everything else in greater detail.”

Kim Heacox

And the bear, the intensity of the weather, the steep mountains, and the commitment of traveling together by foot in a big wild place had all conspired to help us see and feel in greater detail, greater intensity.  What a joy, to feel so alive and to share it with others. 

We were at Territory Run Camp, a five-day running gathering for adults in Washington’s North Cascades, co-sponsored by Territory Run Co and Aspire Adventure Running.  With a small tribe of twenty people of all ages and experience levels gathered from around the United States, we spent our days running in big wild places, but also sharing food, sitting around the fireplace, laughing, looking out at light shifting on the glaciers of Mt. Shuksan, assembling puzzles, foam rolling and telling stories.  

Upward to Hannegan Peak

We were staying at the Baker Lodge, a historic bunkhouse high in the mountains.  Big windows looked out across an alpine lake at a horizon of mountains.  Wooden skis and old photographs hinted at the PNW’s rich history of mountain culture.  Each night a different speaker presented on a different mountain-running-related topic: the history of fire lookout poets in the surrounding North Cascades, glaciology in the Pacific Northwest, and the challenges of overcoming negative self-talk.  

After each day’s adventuring we were greeted with delicious food that accommodated a wide variety of dietary needs and preferences. Local beer and kombucha on tap.  Lots of coffee and tea. After ample breakfasts to prepare us for big days on the trails, we would make our lunches from a big spread that not only included sandwich and other makings, but gels, trail butter packets and electrolyte drink mixes. We ate well, which allowed us to run well.   

Dinner Crew with Veg, Vegan, Chicken Enchiladas, Hicima Salad, and Guacamole

And then each day we’d head out, organically self-selecting group routes that allowed each person to push their limits in whatever way felt authentic: steep, snowy twenty-mile mountain routes to equally beautiful 5 mile runs just out the door of the bunkhouse.  Each group had a local running guide with GPS communication to lead the route, and a van allowed more ambitious groups to head up bumpy fire roads to more remote trailheads. Deep in the North Cascades, surrounded by glaciated peaks, it was impossible to make a bad choice.  Here in “America’s Alps,”, you could take a different route every day for a month, and you’d always be surrounded by dramatic horizons, mountain goats, stunning alpine meadows, rocky spires, and distant glaciers. 

Best of all, there was no ego and no sense of superiority, just a respectful honoring of everyone’s different places, desires and needs.  The whole experience offered a chance to slow down, to meet like-minded trail runners and to learn from each other. Trails don’t run straight, and neither did our conversations. Our shared passion, along with the amount of time together and intensity of the activities allowed us all to slow down, share and listen in a way that is impossible in day-to-day life.  We talked about things that mattered. I have no doubt that I made life-long friends in those few days, sharing lasagna, big climbs, van rides, bad jokes, jaw-dropping sunsets and intimate life stories. 

Ruth Mountain looming on the horizon

We celebrated one runner’s 60th birthday with a cake and celebrated another runner’s recent record-setting multi-day run on a prominent northwest trail.  We volunteered to help with dishes and gathered each night to gape and giggle like children at the alpenglow on Mt. Shuksan’s glaciers, reflected in an alpine lake and framed by autumn colors.  Within a day or so, we had become a tribe and it was like we had always been at the camp, sharing these experiences. 

On the last morning, we all woke early to climb Table Mountain and watch the sunrise together before heading out to our various drives, flights and responsibilities.  We climbed together in the dark, talking and joking and wishing for coffee, our headlamps a tiny string of light up the dark ridge. By the time we reached the top, the dawn was lighting up the surrounding mountains. We huddled together, shivering and joking, looking out at Mt. Baker’s giant flanks, surrounded on all sides by big wild mountains and new friends.  

Early morning crew heading up Table Mountain

As I stood there, utterly familiar with these people I had only met a few days before, it occurred to me that not only was I feeling joy, but also that anything seemed possible. That the immeasurable wilderness that we had spent the last few days adventuring inside had adventured inside us and we’d be carrying it back into our everyday lives, a little stronger, a little happier, a little wilder. 

Ian Ramsey is a musician, writer, educator, and Territory Run Co. ambassador.