Sunday, July 17, 2011

Utah Triple Crown FKT

This time last summer, Christian, Erik, Greg, Peter and I were on a long Saturday run and Christian began describing a run that had been reading about, the Utah Triple Crown. He went on to describe how Craig Lloyd linked together Utah’s three tallest peaks into a 29-mile run. We all agreed that it sounded like a potentially grand adventure and we added the Utah Triple Crown to our list of “to do” runs.

On July 16th, Peter, Erik, and I had a “window” where nobody was racing, working or had family obligations. We were off to the Uintas! Our plan was to follow Craig’s route.

We drove to the Henrys Fork Campground the night before and camped under a full moon. Our plan was to be on the trail at first light. By the time we had broken camp, fueled ourselves and completed all requisite pre-running business (Don Pedro)– it was 6:21 am. We were off on our grand adventure.

Erik and Jay at the trailhead ready to go

The first milestone of the route, Elkhorn Crossing, is at 5.3 miles. Craig reached Elkhorn in 1:02. Somehow we missed the turnoff and ran a half-mile or so towards Sawmill Lake before realizing our error. After consulting the map, It was then back to Elkhorn Crossing where we walked the stream bank looking for a safe place to cross. The heavy runoff this year had washed away the bridge. The swift current made crossing a dangerous challenge. I began an attempt to cross and turned back to the bank when I became doubtful I could keep my feet underneath me. The river rock was slick and the current was strong. Erik then tried and made it successfully across. Peter crossed and I had no choice… I made it! Our time to Elk Crossing was 1 hour 3 minutes, before the wrong turn and 1 hour 26 minutes before our cold wet asses were across the "creek".

Trail looking at the peaks after Elkhorn crossing

The run along Henrys Fork was spectacular. First light was casting a spotlight on a variety of flowers. A rather large bull elk ran across the trail in front of us. Splashing through intermittent streams and bogs was invigorating. Good company in a spectacular environment made for a wonderful morning.

Basin between Gilbert and Gunsight Peak

We reached Dollar Lake and turned east to begin the climb up to the first of the three peaks that comprise the Triple Crown; Mount Gilbert (13,446). We stopped several times to discuss how we thought Craig had approached the peak and what constituted the best route. After climbing up the ridge and reaching a meadow I erroneously began to lead the group towards Gunsight Peak. As we reached the base of the peak we realized our mistake and turned back and began the climb to Mount Gilbert to the Northeast. As we climbed Gilbert strong gusts of wind made climbing the rocks difficult. The wind was causing my eyes to water and I was having trouble seeing. Intermittent gusts would knock us sideways; requiring quick rethinking where feet and hands would next make contact. This was not a place to have a fall!

We reached the top of Gilbert in 3:10, 10 minutes behind Craig’s pace. We quickly took some pictures and hurried down to get out of the wind AND try and make up lost time.

Peter and Erik on Gilbert Peak

Gunsight Peak

On top of Gunsight Peak, Jay and Erik study the route to Kings Peak

Looking back at Gunsight Peak from Gunsight Pass (the photo doesn't do much to show the difficulty of the descent)

We next climbed Gunsight Peak and began the treacherous descent to Gunsight Pass. Staying on one’s feet was a challenge and we took several spills on our way down. What the F#&* was Craig thinking?? We reached Gunsight Pass at 4:23, we made up a little time and were now just five minutes behind Craig’s pace.

From Gunsight we climbed up the cutoff trail towards Anderson Pass. We filled up with water from an impromptu spring in the middle of a snow field and worked our way across the meadow beneath Kings Peak (13,528), our next climb and the second peak of the Triple Crown. There were several small snowfields on the climb. We were hopeful that climbing up the snow would be faster than climbing over the rocks. Wrong! The snow was soft and was melting from beneath causing us to drop through to our knees and sometimes hips. We laughed at Peter as he literally had to roll and crawl serpentine style off the snow as each step he was dropping to his upper thighs. We reached the top at 5:40, exactly on pace with Craig.

South Kings Peak

South Kings Peak

After some quick pictures and a snack we were off to our third and final peak, South Kings Peak (13,512). Moving across the loose boulders was slow, occasionally large rocks would tip or move under foot challenging balance and control. More than a few scrapes were had navigating the rock fields. All we wanted to do was run (very little of the route had been runable since the climb to Mount Gilbert). We were cursing the poles we had brought which were of almost no use. We needed our hands to provide stability over the large rocks. There was an unspoken unease about how we would descend from the peak given the poor quality of the snow. We summited South Kings Peak at 6:08, we were now 15 minutes ahead of Craig.

Moments before we stood on top of the ridge negotiating the best route - which happened to be straight down

Looking back at the snow field (right side of photo) we descended. It is as steep as it looks.

We followed what we understood Craig’s route to be, glissading downward from the saddle between Kings and South Kings Peaks. The snow quality was better than we anticipated and we had a nice run/slide off the saddle. We then worked our way towards a saddle in the ridge dropping to the east of Kings Peak. As we crested the saddle there was silence among us. We were in a spot with no great options. A tricky traverse along a cliff band that would maintain enough elevation to reach the meadow below Anderson Pass. Or, an extremely STEEP glissade down into Painter Basin. We opted for the glissade. After many pucker moments, frozen hands, and snow compacted into a variety of orifices we made it to the bottom.

From this vantage we could see Craig’s route. He had traversed to the north and had come down a nice (as a matter of perspective at this point) snowfield underneath Kings that allowed him to cross the meadow below Andersons Pass to Gunsight Pass. We realized we made a big mistake and began to work our way towards the trail in Painter Basin that would ultimately take us back to Gunsight Pass. After several more small snow fields and navigating through marsh and brush we found a trail that took us to the climb back to Gunsight Pass. We were discouraged and beating ourselves up for our navigational mistake.

We reached Gunsight Pass in 7:46. Eighteen minutes behind Craig’s pace. We quickly did the math and realized that if we were able to keep up a moderately brisk pace over the last 10 miles we would be able to finish under Craig’s time of 9:41. After a creaky half-mile or so to get the legs used to running again, we all got into the zone. It felt good to be able to run. In fact, it was fun to be able to run. We crossed the stream at Elkhorn without event and continued to make good time back to the trailhead. We reached Henrys Fork Trailhead in 9:21, 20 minutes under the previous FKT.

At the car ready for a milkshake

We took off our shoes, soaked in the stream and shared our respect for Craig. This was a tough route! That he studied and knew the terrain well enough to develop this route was impressive. That he had completed it alone was ballsy. His solo effort is a remarkable achievement (follow this link to read his full report).

As we drove back to Salt Lake we recounted the day; laughing about our navigational errors, our fine dining at Don Pedro, and the absurd route, but oohed and aahed over the stunning vistas and scenery we had experienced. Yes, it was a grand adventure!


jun said...

Yay!!! So happy you guys were able to get the FKT. That's a huge number considering the wrong turns and set-backs. I definitely see a sub-9 in the future. A few thoughts:
1. You guys give me way to much credit. I was only able to do it because I've been up there so many times. It's like my second home for trails. Ha.
2. Yeah, poles are worthless up there. You think they are going to help, but the only place they actually do help is going up the first part of Gilbert.
3. The descent down the south slope of Gunsight is a bit nuts, no lie there.
4. The end result is that you crushed my time, something I expected. You guys are much stronger in the mountains and I was into a walk-run the last 6 miles when I did it, which I knew would hurt my overall time by quite a bit.
Anyway, congrats, that is really awesome. So happy it is getting some attention and people are wanting to try it; it is a ton of fun.

Erik said...

A few thoughts of my own:
1)Excellent write up Jay! Now that the memories of white knuckled terror are starting to fade, and the boulders don't seem to have been that big, or shifty, I might consider giving it another shot sometime.
2)An important detail that Jay failed to mention was him kindly stopping every 15 minutes to wait for my sorry rear to catch up.
3)Craig- You deserve more credit than we give. Thanks for inspiring such incredible adventures!!

Scott said...

Record or not, that is a sweet place to go for a run. Wish I could have been there. I had to settle for Bryce Canyon this weekend... not a bad option either ;)

Congrats on the run!

kgriffiths said...

Beautiful scenery. Was this trip 2011 or last year 2010?

Jay said...

July 16, 2011