Before reading this, be advised that it is a long winded account of my Millwood adventure. It's as much a personal journal to remind me of the good times I had as anything else. For the abridged version, you can scroll to the very bottom and read the Random Details section. Thanks for reading!
Back in 2010, Jared Campbell -Hardrock winner, finisher of Barkley Marathons, and all around good guy-put together another of his infamous "routes" He labeled this one Millwood, because it traveled through Millcreek, Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons. On par with his WURL, Wasatoja, and Zironman ideas, Millwood looked to be epic. Christian, Greg, Jay, Peter and I made plans to tackle it last year, but due to heavy snows and a late spring, sections of the course were still covered in upwards of 10 feet of snow on the planned date, so the idea was scrapped. It has tugged at the back of my mind since then, and when I did not get selected in the Wasatch 100 Lottery back in February, I knew what my 100 miler for the year would be.
After much planning, looking at maps and running as much of the course as possible, the start day finally arrived. At 3 am on Sat July 7, I met Pete Stoughton and Jason Berry at the Neffs Canyon trailhead and we set off on what I hoped would be a most excellent adventure. My legs felt fresh, my mind was sharp and it felt really weird to be walking/hiking up the relatively gentle incline that started up Neff's. I had to keep reminding myself that this would be a long day and a half and there was no need to head out too fast.
With the help of Jared and Christian I had put together some rough splits, and being completely ignorant of what I was getting myself into, I was hoping for a finish of around 32-33 hours. 3 mph didn't seem to unrealistic, right?
I enjoyed the climb up Neff's with Jason and Pete, sharing stories and jokes and enjoying the cool early morning air. By the time we dropped into Millcreek canyon and my first drop bag at Church Fork, Pete had dropped behind to tend to some business and I discovered that some critter had found my PB & J to be irresistible, tearing into the drop bag and eating the sandwich. I hope it was enjoyed!! The climb up Grandeur was as good as it ever gets in the early morning light, and I was happy to see Nate Remnyse halfway up taking pictures. Arriving at the Summit, I was pleased to see Pete again. I was worried that we hadn't seen him since Thayne's canyon. Turns out he had rolled an ankle and rather than trying to chase us down, decided to meet on the summit coming from Church Fork.
Oquirrh Mts from Grandeur Peak.
Photo: Nate Remynse
West Face Grandeur
Heading along the Pipeline trail in Millcreek Canyon-one of the few flat sections of the entire course, and made buttery smooth by countless REI trailwork activities- I caught a toe on one of the two small rocks overlooked on the entire trail. I took a tumble and my right knee smacked the only other rock-right in the middle of the patella. Ooooh, that hurt, and continued to hurt for the next 30+ hours!
I parted ways with Jason and Pete at the Birch Hollow trail. What awesome friends to get up at 3am to get me going on this adventure. They are testament to the unique nature of camaraderie present in the Ultra community. Thanks!! At the top of Birch Hollow, I came upon the biggest Horny Toad I have ever seen in my life. I briefly entertained the idea of catching it to take home for my kids, but where to keep it? The scramble along the ridge was entertaining and quicker than I expected, I was heading down the trail to Elbow Fork where I met up with Matt Hart and Ben Lewis, who would be accompanying me for the next 20 miles or so. Running from Elbow Fork, to the Terraces, up Bowman Fork, traversing to Alexander Basin and up Gobblers Knob, along the Desolation trail to Dog Lake and down to the Big Water trailhead proved to be an awesome section. I was starting to get a little tired at this point and decided that I would let Ben and Matt do some talking and I would listen and get in the groove. Listening to those two was better than any talk show or podcast I could have put together. The subject ranged from the vast array of fantastic runner's that Matt has rubbed shoulders with, to Ben's upcoming Tahoe Rim trail FKT attempt with Gary Gellin and others, to the abuse of adderall among college students to focus better while studying. Fascinating subjects!!! We soon found ourselves on top of Gobbler's Knob and I was amazed with how many people were up there enjoying a fine Saturday afternoon! I remember commenting to Matt and Ben that we were 11 hours and 33 miles into the adventure at this point!!!
The traverse along the Desolation trail was beautiful as always, but it was really starting to warm up and I was running low on water. Descending from Dog Lake we ran into my friend Jerry and his family, and it was kind of fun to talk with him for a minute, knowing that he had no idea what I was doing other than being out for another of my "crazy-ass trail runs". Big Water (top of Millcreek canyon) was a welcome rest area. I was surprised and psyched to see my brother Steve, my mom and Paul all there waiting for me. They pulled out the stuff Pete had stashed for me, plus their own assortment of food they thought I'd enjoy. I'll be honest, the grilled cheese my mom brought hit the spot!! I chased it with a coke and ginger ale, and I was ready to keep going.
Matt and Ben decided to keep going with me to Red Lovers Ridge and the company was welcome. Soon after starting our hike, the weather turned, and we were caught in a monstrous downpour that turned into hail. The trail turned into a creek and we tromped happily along. What a change!! Not too long ago I had been hot and dehydrated, and now I had numb fingers and blue lips!! I was reminded of how insulated we have become from Mother Nature and there was no place I would have rather been at that point than experiencing the rolling thunder and moisture that she was lavishing upon us!
Just before Red Lovers Ridge, Matt and Ben turned around and I continued along on my own for the next few miles. I welcomed the solitude and the chance to soak in the landscape that had been recently scrubbed clean by the rains. As I got to the bottom of Bear Trap Fork, I was happy to see that 50 miles into my adventure, I was exactly on the pace I had mapped out. It was 5 pm and I had been out for 14 hours. I felt relatively good at this point and then I got to the Spruces campground and my spirits were lifted even more to see Kevin Shilling waiting there with my next pacer, Tyler Lamprecht. Kevin suffered a stress fracture in his right foot a few weeks ago, and even though I knew it was killing him not to be out running in his backyard, I was psyched to see him out hobbling around in his boot. I ate the popsicle he had for me and Tyler and I headed up Days Fork.
This is where I officially started to feel the effects of what I had run so far. While I never had thoughts of quitting, this next section is where I felt the most overwhelmed with what I still had to accomplish and it took a few hours of shambling to get past this mental and physical low point and get back on track. Tyler proved to be a perfect companion through this section. Although I had to ask him at one point to stop asking questions because I didn't have the breath or energy to respond (sorry Tyler!), Tyler kept entertaining and distracting me with stories, commentary and positive mental energy. I loved being able to show him the beautiful views into Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons and show him the Prince of Wales mine as we scrambled into Silver Fork. The short loop up around Willow Lake proved to be not so short as we got off course and ended up bush whacking all over the place, and then the same thing happened as we headed up through Solitude Resort to Silver Lake. By the time we got to Silver Lake, I was ready to sit down and re-group!! My mom and Paul were patiently waiting for me with Rich McDonald and Nate Remnyse as I got there about 2 hours later than I had planned. Nate and Rich had a cheeseburger which was the best thing I had eaten in a long time, cold and congealed as it was. Thanks guys!!
The next section was going to be interesting through the night and I was happy to have Rich and Nate with me. True to form, Rich quickly livened things up by blasting Eye of the Tiger through the speakers he had on his pack, and we headed towards Twin Lakes Pass. Unfortunately for all of us, something Rich had eaten during the day wasn't sitting well, and by the time we got to Twin Lakes dam, he was wheezing, nauseated and then dumped his stomach on the wildflowers. We decided that his best option was for him to turn around and call it a night. I was bummed because I had looked forward to running with him!! Fortunately, Nate was there and we enjoyed quite the adventure together! Note to self -Patsy Marley summit is not Mt Wolverine. I pulled out the map and consulted it many times as we scrambled along Wolverine Cirque, and even though it didn't look quite right, I convinced myself that the Patsy Marley summit was indeed Mt Wolverine. Nate and I started to drop off into Little Cottonwood and quickly lost the trail. Thinking that we were close to Catherine's Pass and the trail into Albion Basin, we erroneously continued down. We eventually made it to the correct trail, after traversing boulder fields, bushwhacking steep hillsides of mountain mahogany and getting a too close for comfort view into an open mine shaft. Millwood was proving to be every bit the adventure I thought it would be! The climb past Cecret lake, through Alta and to Mt Baldy was really enjoyable. Two experiences stand out, the first being an up close (10-15 feet) encounter with one of the biggest mule deer bucks I have ever seen. He lay there on the side of the trail calmly chewing his cud with our headlamps blinding him, with his two smaller-but still big- buddies behind him. So cool!! Then, as we were climbing the technical section of Mt Baldy included in the Speedgoat 50K, Nate received an email from Karl saying there were three weeks to the Speedgoat, and we should get out on the course and train. Ha!!! Nate took this picture and sent it back to Karl, saying that's exactly what we were doing.
We arrived at Alta Happy to see Christian Johnson and Mick Jurynec, who would be accompanying me over Cardiff Pass and past Kessler Peak. If there was any section of the course that worried me, this was it, and if Mick and Christian really knew what was in store for them, they would have stayed home. I had run this section once with Jared a couple weeks earlier, but we had approached it from Big Cottonwood, and not over Cardiff Pass. Jared had patiently explained the intricacies, random trails, and many bushwhack sections and I committed them to memory. No problem, right? Unfortunately, 2 weeks, fatigue and the middle of the night can addle the brain a little bit. At Cardiff Pass, I lay down for a 5 minute nap, and when I got up, I mis-read my mileage chart. We were to descend 1.3 miles and take a sharp left to begin the ascent to Carbonate Pass. Unfortunately, my sleepy eyes read 3.3 miles, and so down we headed....... 3.3 miles. It was an exciting descent, with nose to nose encounters with Bull moose and the exhiliration of seeing the sky begin to lighten. Unfortunately, as we started to see the canyon walls around us, it didn't look right to me. Christian and Mick pulled extra duty by going up and down the road, exploring side trails and consulting the map. Finally common sense took over, I pulled out the mileage chart and realized my error. 2 miles back up the dirt road and we finally saw the big ore bin I had been looking for and got on the right trail again. Even then, it was much scrambling and route finding until we got to the rough miners trail taking us to the top of Carbonate Pass. Those old time miners were tough dudes!!!
Me and Mick-Carbonate pass Reed and Benson Ridge in background
Then the adventure started again as we dropped off Carbonate Pass and started side-hilling across scree fields and through cliff bands linking up old deer and miners trails. We spent a good hour staring at the map as I tried to convince Christian and Mick that the saddle we were crossing through was wrong and we needed to drop lower, even though that didn't seem quite correct either. Christian had cell service at this point and dialed up Matt Hart. Matt checked out our location on SPOT and spent 15 minutes convincing Christian and me that we were exactly where we needed to be and we should continue through the saddle and down the trail. It finally clicked and my fatigued brain recognized that we were indeed in the right place. Apparently one recon trip isn't enough to figure that section out. I can only shudder to think what would have happened if we had tried to do it during the middle of the night which was what my original schedule had called for. A proposed 3 hour section turned into almost 6 and Christian and Mick were happy to be done. I can't thank them enough for their patience and good spirits as we figured that section out.
Greg Norrander was waiting for me at Mineral Fork, and after a PB & J and some good laughs over the previous 6 hours, we headed up the next to last climb. Finishing was finally starting to seem like reality, and I knew that no matter how ling it took, as long as I kept making forward progress, I would finish sometime that afternoon. Forward progress at this point is a somewhat relative term. The cloud cover of the day before was non existent, and Mineral Fork was devoid of shade. My pace started out fairly good, but as we got higher, the air got thinner and I got slower. Apparently, Greg had a suspicion that I would be moving slow at this point and brought his big, fancy camera along to take pictures. Of the few hundred that he took, I remember him saying that he would get maybe a dozen that were satisfactory. They are more than satisfactory and you can see all of them here. Mineral Fork is one of my new favorite places to be and I kept looking around thinking to myself how fortunate I am to experience such a remarkable part of the world. As we neared the top of the climb, I was getting fairly light-headed and at one point when Greg asked me a question, I couldn't formulate how to answer him. I figured it was a good time to sit down for a minute and Greg captured it perfectly.
Figuring things out-Mineral Fork
Last Scramble to Mineral Fork Pass
5 Minute shut eye at the pass
Lake Blanche and Mill B South
Photos: Greg Norrander
At the Mill B trailhead in Big Cottonwood Canyon (the S-Cuve) I was overwhelmed with how many people were there. What an amazing show of support and encouragement. My last pacer would be my good friend and neighbor Jesse Harding. I had asked him to bring a pizza, and as Greg and I were descending past Lake Blanche, I commented that I'd rather have a popsicle than Pizza. Jesse's wife Erin must have read my thoughts or something, because along with pizza, they had a cooler full of popsicles!!! I sat down, had a couple slices of Pizza, 2 popsicles, a ginger ale and got ready for the last big climb.
Photo: Jesse Harding
It was going to be long (about 3500 ft vert) and hot and exposed in the heat of the afternoon(temps in the Salt Lake Valley were in the high 90's). Just as Jesse and I got ready to leave, Matt Hart came trotting in ready to run as well. He had just done the section in reverse, and was going to accompany us back up and over to the finish and his car. Maybe it was knowing that it was the last climb, or maybe it was the pizza and popsicles, but my legs felt good and I was ready to move. We set a steady pace, and just as with Matt and Ben the day before, Matt and Jesse kept the conversation lively and all I had to do was put it on auto pilot, listen, enjoy the view and relish the fact that I was going to be done soon. Before I knew it, 2 hours had passed and we were at Bakers Pass dropping onto the Desolation trail.
Beautiful Millcreek Canyon- my Backyard
Photo: Jesse Harding
I forgot just how many switchbacks this traverse had and it literally lasted for ever. At this point, and out of nowhere, my right knee (insertion of quad femoris on medial aspect of tibia) was really starting to hurt, and I was having a tough time running. I had fully expected to hammer this last 5 miles knowing there was nothing more to save my legs for, but all I could do was walk with the occasional trot aided by my poles. Frustrating!!! Finally, Thaynes Canyon. 2 miles of technical, brutal downhill (thanks Jared for making the finish so gentle) and then I saw my brother and nephews on the trail, and heard the cheering of friends and family at the finish. I had to choke back the emotion as my mom gave me a hug and I saw so many people that had run, encouraged, sent good thoughts and supported me on this adventure.
Video: Matt Hart
Pacers: Greg, Jesse, Tyler, Me, Nate, Mick, Christian, Matt
Missing:Ben, Pete, Jason, Rich
As I sat down and enjoyed a milkshake, I was again overcome with how fortunate I am to live in such a remarkable place to allow experiences like this, to have a community of fellow runners and friends that would sacrifice to join me, and above all, to have a family that understands and supports me on these endeavors. Most of all, I want to thank Brooke and my kids for putting up with, supporting, encouraging me and being my biggest fans. Although they were on vacation and not there physically, I could feel their love every step of the way. I love you guys!!!
I also want to thank the Wasatch Running Center, Altra Footwear, and Gregory for their good gear that was all rock solid.
Here's some random details if you're interested:
38 hours 56 minutes. A very soft time-I can't wait for someone else to crush it!
36-40K feet vert depending on what you use to measure. It was a lot, regardless!!
12 Major climbs of 1500-3500 ft.
First time it was finished in one push.
2. Enjoy every minute of the experience
These were my only concrete goals and I'm happy to say that they were both accomplished!
Gregory Tempo 5L pack (look for it next spring-it's awesome!!)
Black Diamond Z poles
Altra Lone Peak shoes
Darn Tough socks
Altra Trail Gloves (first time ever with gloves and I'm sold!)
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
Black Diamond Roch Horton special edition Headlamp
Food: (as best as I can remember)
6 Peanut Butter sandwiches
7 Snickers bars
1 Pro Bar
8 packages Sezme Sesame Snaps
8 bottles Gu Brew
6 cans Ginger Ale
3 cans Coke
2 slices cheese pizza
1 grilled cheese sandwich
3 cups broth/noodles
A couple handfuls of Wint-O-Green lifesavers.