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!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hardrock 100 Race Report - 2011

The 2011 Hardrock Endurance Run wasn't pretty and it was not the race I had planned on having but I finished and that was the number one goal heading in.

The short version: With support from my amazing wife and family, plus my good friends Greg and Marge, I recorded my first Hardrock 100 finish in a time of 37 hours 38 mins.

See all of Greg's pictures from the race on Flickr.

With all the nervous anticipation I had, the race couldn't begin soon enough for me. Once we started up the trail my nerves truly calmed and I broke off into a light jog along with the other 140 runners. The opening few miles were pretty uneventful as we slowly climbed up King Solomon mountain. At the top of Dives Little Giant we were rewarded with our first sunrise of the race and a view to the other side of the canyon. A quick descent of 2,000' to Cunningham at mile 9 and I was able to grab a few supplies and see my family and friends for the last time until mile 42. According to my watch I was about 10 mins ahead of schedule. I took note and dropped my pace just a bit as I caught up to Ryan Cooper.

Feeling good at Cunningham Aid Station
L-R, Betsy, Cheryl and Mindy, Support crew extraordinaire.

The next 20 miles felt like I was in cruise control as I just made sure I was relaxed and calm. The heat of the day was coming on and I turned my focus to staying on top of my hydration and calories. Soon I was on the cruiser descent into Sherman which reminded me of some of my favorite trails in the Wasatch. I took my time at Sherman (mile 29) and made sure I had plenty of supplies for the long climb up Handies Peak. The road leading to the trail up Handies is very runnable and like a fool that's what I did. Even though I felt fine the heat was getting more intense and I was becoming dehydrated.

I hit the wall on the first steep pitch in the trees. It suddenly felt as though my head would explode and my stomach would erupt. Over the years I've had plenty of issues with this sort of thing but for some reason it came on much faster this time. Maybe it was the altitude or maybe it was a lack of respect for Hardrock. Either way I knew I was in trouble. I sat down on a log and collected myself. Every runner that passed by offered their help, but I had everything I needed, I just couldn't keep it down. I finally decided to purge my stomach contents and ride the euphoria as long as possible. Immediately I started hiking strongly, fixing my gaze on the 14,000' peak in front of me. Forty-five minutes later I was walking, which quickly turned into a stumble and then I had to sit down again. My thoughts grew dark as I struggled to walk 50 steps at a time. On the upper steep sections I could only manage 10 steps at time except when I was within striking distance of the summit, where I made a big push of 60 steps or so and promptly puked on the peak.

Ben Corrales, a fellow runner and friend from Utah, had passed me just before the peak and wished me well. I could see him running off the peak as I contemplated rolling off the edge. Then I noticed someone walking up the ridge toward me, it was Shane Martin another runner from Utah. He had come down to pace Ben but saw me struggling and came over to help. Shane encouraged me all the way down to Grouse and I was happy for his help but I had made up my mind, I was going to quit.
Feeling rather grim at Grouse Gulch aid station

Initially Betsy and Greg wouldn't even let me talk as they had devised a plan prior to my arrival. Later, they politely listened as I tried to explain how it was hopeless and how the altitude was killing me. But all the while they were pushing soup and broth into my lap and encouraging me to drink it. Slowly I came around and after a little over an hour I stood up to leave and start up the long road toward Engineer Pass. I was still uncertain I could finish, the climb up Handies Peak, as well as the descent, had left me in the darkest place I can ever remember during a race.

This is the reset button I told myself, time for a resurrection. Now I turned my focus to the road directly in front of me and getting to the town of Ouray at mile 56. I could see many runners with their pacers in front of me as the daylight started to fade but I could not see the top of the pass located just below 13,000'. Just then the sky lit up with a bolt of lightning followed by a massive thunderclap, the temperature dropped and the rain began to pour down. I began to feel sorry for myself and dark thoughts started swirling around in my head, then I realized I could be in control if I wanted to be. It was time to rally. I didn't exactly start running but I began to hike with a purpose and soon I was passing other runners. Soon I hit the top of the pass, the wind was howling and I was very cold, but the rain had stopped as I let gravity do it's thing on the way down. The descent to the remote Engineer aid station at mile 49 was more of a controlled fall than a run. All the rain had left the big meadows as slippery as the snow we had passed through at the top. I downed some soup and continued the descent to Ouray, anxious to have Greg's company for the remainder of the race.

The Ouray aid station wasn't exactly a vibrant place at 1am, so I downed some more soup and hit the trail with Greg. On the climb up to Box Canyon we had a bat dive bomb us a couple of times in the tunnel, flying directly into the beam of the headlamp which was really weird. I ran small sections of the Camp Bird road on the way to Governors Basin but mostly stuck with a steady hike as I was well aware of what was waiting for us after the Governor Basin aid station. More soup at the aid station and we began the steep hike up to Virginius Pass, site of the most unique aid station in the race, Kroger's Canteen.
Roch Horton in the center, I'm sitting on the right at Kroger's Canteen

Greg and I passed a couple of runners as we made our way into the upper basin. I was feeling good as we hit the first big patches of snow and noticed the dark outline of the mountains against the star filled sky. The basin was so full of snow that I had a hard time recognizing the three distinct pitches leading to the pass. Finally, after climbing the second pitch the pass came into view. The scene resembled something out of a mountaineering film with all the snow and headlamps dotting the way up. Then the sun started to just come up and provide just enough light to illuminate the entire basin. The scene was very surreal. Next thing I knew I was sitting next to Betsy Nye enjoying a pirogi given to me by the infamous Roch Horton. "4,500 feet down to Telluride, don't trash your quads and enjoy the rest of your run" were the words I left with from Roch as I skied down the scree field off the pass.

The descent to Telluride was smooth as I passed a few more runners. I was grateful that I could still run downhill since the ups were feeling really slow to me. Betsy was waiting for us in Telluride at mile 73 and I took the opportunity to change my shirt and socks. I bid her farewell to start the big climb up the re-routed section of the course into Bridal Veil basin. Before race day I scoffed at the extra 2 miles this section would add on to the race, but I wasn't scoffing at the extra distance now. Once we got up in to the basin we could see the true size of it and it just kept going and going. This prompted me to start a new game called "Guess that pass". From here on Greg and I would guess which pass it was we would be going over. I usually guessed the closest one and I'm quite sure I was always wrong.
GOPR0052 - Version 2
Slowly making my way up into Bridal Veil Basin

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Impromptu aid station stop in Bridal Veil Basin

Oscar's Pass was the name of our next high point and I remember Karl Meltzer telling me how awful the top of the descent to Chapman was. Karl was right. The rocky descent was an ankle breaker and I took my time until the rocks relented and I could run again.
Heading off Oscar's Pass on the rocky descent, Grant Swamp Pass in the distance

Next up we pulled into Chapman at mile 82 where I chatted with Ryan Burch and his wife while they waited for their friend. Greg and I stocked up for the long haul up Grant Swamp Pass and down the KT aid station at mile 89. Chapman represented the beginning of the end. There were now less than 20 miles to the finish. The climb up to Grant Swamp became a real slog. By the time I hit the final pitch I was moving pretty slowly, as I was most the time above 12,000'. The lack of oxygen started giving me low grade headaches and made me feel like my energy was really low. Thankfully my legs still felt good, but I just could not summon a consistent hike out of them.
GOPR0070 - Version 2
Greg's self portrait with Grant Swamp Pass in the background

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Me on the descent side of Grant Swamp, Island Lake in the background

The final pitch up to Grant Swamp Pass is just about the cruelest thing I have ever seen in a race. Each footstep would sink into the scree and if it didn't slide backward I would celebrate. I was completely stoked to see Island Lake on the other side and told Greg how he needed to take a picture. "No time" he replied and pointed to the dark clouds building behind Grant Peak. I began to shuffle down off the pass and felt the first couple of raindrops. I stopped to put on my jacket and just then the air around us sizzled with a the crack of a lightning bolt. I turned and ran faster than I ever thought was possible, looking for the trees. The lightning and hail kept me motivated as I was breathing harder than I had in nearly 24 hours.

Finally we came to the bottom edge of the trees and the last bit of cover. I knew the Kamm Traverse was very exposed and with all the lightning I told Greg I wanted to wait it out. He agreed, but after 10 minutes or so we were shivering uncontrollably and decided we needed to run to keep hypothermia at bay. A mile or so later we were at the KT aid station as the rain finally stopped. Much to my surprise Ben and Shane were there warming up so I suggested we tackle the last 11 miles together. Everyone agreed, and after downing the best soup of the whole race we were off.

Almost immediately we had to cross the upper Mineral Creek which is normally quite a bit lower. However, with the recent storm and high snow it was waist deep and I struggled to keep my feet underneath me. The next climb went well and I felt like I was finally full of energy again so I pushed a little harder to get to the pass. I should have known better. We still had a cross-country route to climb up to a ridge that could not be seen. Again, cruel. I finally topped out and just kept it moving as we made note of another storm bearing down on us.

First the rain came down followed guessed it; the hail stones. Once again I was descending much faster than I thought I was capable of. My quads were fried. The previous descent had sapped all my strength. I focused on keeping it upright and looking for the trees where the Putnam aid station was located.
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On the final ascent of the race

The rain starts coming down on the descent to Putnam aid station

Finally a big yellow tent appeared and we climbed inside seeking shelter from the hailstorm outside. Three aid station volunteers along with Blake Wood and his daughter were inside. The four of us joined them as we waited for the storm to relent. Soon four more joined us inside. I was growing frustrated since we were so close but I was unwilling to risk hypothermia for a finish. About 30 minutes after reaching the aid station the hail finally turned to rain and we left.

We made quick work of the descent as we picked up Brian Beckstead who had hiked up to meet us (another Utah runner who had paced Ben earlier in the race). Finally we arrived at the final river crossing. First I watched Ben get across Mineral Creek then I followed. I was a bit nervous but managed to keep my feet underneath me as the swift current pulled at my legs. Ben and I took off running since we knew Greg and Shane would catch up to us. I fell into a trance and tried to fight off the emotion that was welling up inside of me.
The final approach to the finish, L-R Shane, Ben, Christian

The final mile or so was a blur as my mind flashed over the previous 37 hours. Ben and I ran up the final chute together and kissed the fabled rock. And just like that it was over. The longest (time wise) and hardest journey I've ever done. Out of 140 starters there were only 80 finishers, one of the highest attrition rates ever for the race. No doubt about it, I would not have finished without the support of my ever supportive wife Betsy, my kids Mason and Paige, as well as my good friend and pacer Greg Norrander.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hardrock Prep

Back in 2009 I left Salt Lake City bound for Silverton and the Hardrock 100 while sitting at number 6 on the waitlist. I made it to Silverton but not off the the waitlist. That may have been a blessing in disguise as I had an incredible experience pacing Scott Jaime that year and soaking in the atmosphere.

This year I found out in February that without a doubt I was in. My name was one of the lucky few drawn in the lottery and started training with a new found purpose (and pretty much stopped skiing during a record snow season). I even made plans to head down two weeks early to acclimate and check out the course.
About this same time we decided to put our house up for sale. I must admit I was a little nervous about selling the house with Hardrock looming but I figured the chances of an overlap were slim. Well, it turns out I should have been in Vegas all spring as anything to do with a lottery or slim chances has paid off. Our house is sold and we close on July 11th. Hardrock starts on the 8th. That being said, my taper has included the right amount of running and more than the normal amount of upper body/back work (thanks to all the help we've received over the last few weeks, it was invaluable). Another casualty of the house being sold was the early trip to the San Juans. Looks like it will be show and go for me. Currently the nerves are running a bit high and I've been battling a good case of self doubt but as my good friend and Hardrock pacer has told me, I am my own worst enemy.

Thanks to my friends the "training" has been a ton of fun this spring. From running out in the west desert to trudging through mud and knee deep streams to glissading from the top of the Wasatch, without their help I wouldn't be in the best running shape of my life. Thanks guys. Here's some evidence of the training fun from the last month or so...See ya after Hardrock!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Happy 4th of July

While I do not choose to drink alcoholic beverages, and I am definitely not endorsing Pabst Blue Ribbon (from what I hear, I'm not sure anyone would!), I think we can all learn a thing or two about patriotism in the following video. Happy 4th of July and God Bless America!!