Stuke Sowle: #everysinglesummit

Glacier Peak C2C July 2018
Backcountry travel

Although 44-year-old Stuke Sowle has only been running for about five years, he has been feverishly working on ambitious projects that are animating the PNW running community. He dubbed his most recently completed adventure #everysinglesummit.

The #everysinglesummit idea was based on a Strava trend in which folks cycle every single street in their cities. Inspired, Stuke looked out his back door in Issaquah, and thought he could do the same thing with the trails and peaks within striking distance (on foot) from his home.

Map of #everysinglesummit
Map of #everysinglesummit

Stuke currently describes himself less as a trail runner, and more as an “outdoor enthusiast.” As a kid, and up until age 20, he did a lot of backpacking and mountaineering with his dad. In his 20s and early 30s he lived in Portland, where his social circle didn’t include athletic or outdoorsy people, and he was disconnected from the outdoors.

Stuke felt he needed a change in his life, so he moved from Portland to Olympia. In Olympia, where Mount Rainier dominates the eastern horizon, he was constantly reminded of when he climbed it with his dad when he was 16. Finally, the memories were enough to get Stuke out the door and back into the mountains–hiking and then mountaineering. During that first winter, he took up road running as a way to stay in shape. But, he quickly realized he was just “chasing numbers,” and wasn’t experiencing the joy he felt when he was in the mountains.

Backpacking in the Seven Devils
Backpacking in the Seven Devils

While hiking Tiger Mountain, Stuke crossed paths with a trail runner. It immediately dawned on him that the combination of running and mountains just might be what he was truly looking for in his outdoor experiences: “the light bulb went off about the joy of trail running. One of the things I love most about trail running is looking back at how far I’ve gone using my own feet.”

Days later, he went on his first trail run, using his smallest pack and road running shoes, and was instantly hooked. A couple years later, he and his partner relocated to Issaquah to be closer to these trails.

Tiger Mountain Trail on the approach to Middle Tiger
Tiger Mountain Trail on the approach to Middle Tiger

Stuke still experiences a tension between an objectified Strava orientation to running, versus movement for sheer pleasure. To explore that tension, he recently posted this quote from Alan Watts on his Facebook page:

“What happens if you know that there is nothing you can do to be better? It’s kind of a relief isn’t it? You say ‘Well, now what do I do?’ When you are freed from being out to improve yourself, your own nature will begin to take over.”

Stuke’s response to Watts:
I’m beginning to finally understand these questions. No more goals. No more abstract timelines to adhere to. Moving forward everyday is just a blank slate for me to immerse myself in nature as I see fit.

Cougar Mountain during the #everysinglesummit project
Cougar Mountain during the #everysinglesummit project

Stuke admits he Initially got caught up in the competitive vibe of Strava and still uses it, but now it’s more as a way to see what others are up to, and a source of motivation.

I used to have annual or monthly goals, but as the years have progressed, my focus is just to consistently get outside. To see what is possible. The #everysinglesummit project is the kind of thing that keeps me engaged. I love numbers, but they are not a driver. Now I follows my own flow on any given outing. If I feel like slowing down to better enjoy the view, I do it. I’ve learned that a constant comparison to others leads to burnout.

West Tiger 3 Trail during the #everysinglesummit project
West Tiger 3 Trail during the #everysinglesummit project

His background and comfort with trails and mountains have served as a foundation to move towards increasingly adventurous trail running projects. A lot of his “trail running” projects are actually a mix of mountaineering and trail running, aka “ultraneering” (see: our ultra lexicon.) In his progression, he has had to unlearn and rethink his old school approach to moving in the mountains. Instead of heavy duty boots and a heavy pack, his gear choices now optimize for speed and efficiency.

Three factors contributed to how his #everysinglesummit project came together:

1. Heading into winter in the PNW, Stuke has always struggled with getting out in January and February. This new challenge was a way to refresh things.

2. He had to be able to do it from his home in Issaquah. This stretched out the challenge, and it meant he had to run a little pavement.

3. He wanted a way to celebrate the trail systems around Issaquah, and the people who have made it happen.

Black Peak, North Cascades Credit: Tiare Vincent
Black Peak, North Cascades Credit: Tiare Vincent

Stuke recounted the project:

I’m a huge fan of the foothills surrounding Issaquah that are affectionately known as the “Issaquah Alps”. I spend the majority of my winter and spring on the myriad of trails that can be found crisscrossing the flanks of these forested areas. All those miles and gain are an investment in my conditioning for the more alpine routes that open up in the summer and fall.

As we moved to the end of this year, I decided I wanted to celebrate these green spaces that were fought so hard for over the years by so many dedicated individuals. I decided on Winter Solstice, to start the celebration with a 16+ hour meandering jaunt on some of my favorite trails on Cougar, Squak and Tiger Mountain. It was a magical experience and I won’t soon forget the hours spent roaming the forest under a nearly full moon.

After a rest day and a two shorter days to feel out my legs, I felt my body was ready to kick off the second part of the celebration. On Christmas morning, I began a project I had titled #everysinglesummit. The goal of this project was to summit 16 different high points in the “Alps”. The only stipulation to the challenge was on each summit trip I had to start and finish from my front (or back) door. That meant 16 individual trips to those high points I had selected. 14 of the 16 summits were done as out-and-backs. The two exceptions were, New Year’s Eve when I did a loop that hit 13 of the high points (I only counted one though) and my final summit, East Tiger, which I completed yesterday as a loop.

I set several smaller goals to try and achieve during the 30-day stretch and managed to accomplish them all, including the #everysinglesummit project, setting a new best for highpoints in one push (13) and averaging a half marathon per day over a thirty day period–I averaged 14.9 miles.

During the 19-day period that started on the Winter Solstice, with the exception of New Year’s Day when I went out with my partner, I didn’t drive to a single trailhead. During that span I was on foot for 86 hours, covered 320 miles, had 76,000’ of gain, and summited a total of 42 high points. But, more importantly, I gained an even deeper appreciation for the foothills surrounding my home as well as though who have so tirelessly fought to keep them green.

Of course, with the completion of one project, there is always another in the works:

“The wheels are turning for what comes next to continue the momentum I have started building. Coming up soon, the #everysinglesummit project expands to peaks in the North Bend Area, and I will start an Issaquah Alps edition of #everysingletrail as we head into spring.”

What’s next his to-do list?

Early on in the #everysinglesummit project, I knew that I would want to expand the challenge beyond the Issaquah Alps and to the peaks surrounding the North Bend area. As they are about 22 miles one way on foot from my front door, adding them certainly increased the difficulty of the challenge but is still feasible. At the same time, I find myself motivated by individuals like Anton Krupicka, Justin Simoni, Joe Grant, and locally, Richard Kresser, who use cycling as a means to travel to and between summits. I decided that adding cycling to my outdoor skillset would open up even more mountains for the project so I purchased a bike and am looking forward to biking to and then trail running up more distant mountains.

In addition, again inspired by the #everysinglestreet concept, I have begun looking at a #everysingletrail project for the Issaquah Alps. While I have run all the trails dozens of times, I have never looked to do it in a very short time period, for instance two weeks, so that is on my horizon now as well.

Lake Ann from the Maple Pass Loop Trail
Lake Ann from the Maple Pass Loop Trail

Since you are relatively new to trail running, and the transition is fresh in your mind, what tips do you have for folks new to Seattle or to trail running?

When I began trail running, I felt intimidated. I had a very small social circle, not much social media presence and as such, learned about trail running on my own. Because of this, I made some incorrect assumptions about trail running. For instance, I thought you had to run the whole time! Fortunately, I quickly understood this was not the case. Trail running is only as hard as you make it. For those looking to go on their first trail runs I suggest just taking it slow, running when you feel like it and don’t worry if you find yourself walking. Run familiar trails so that you can experience them in a new way and see how the experience speaks to you. There are several trail running groups, like Seattle Mountain Running Group on Faceboook, that frequently go out in areas like the Issaquah Alps. I highly recommend joining this group as I have found them to be the most helpful, friendliest group of folks on the Internet.

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