Friday, February 23, 2018

2018 Bridger Skin to Win

After missing the bridger race last year, I was excited to return this year.  From what I had gathered they were having a good winter and it’s one of the best race courses I’ve done.  I had a perfect execution of my pre-race plan and a second place finish.  Read on for a full recap.
at the finish with brian in close pursuit
I was slow off the line in the le mans start (fiddling with leashes as the race organizers insisted), but pushed the first climb HARD to quickly move up into 5th place.  I passed several rec racers on the ridge bootpack and maintained 5th position to the top of hidden gully.  I arrived moments after 2nd and 3rd place had departed, exactly as I had hoped for.  The plan was to then use the downhills and steep technical climbs 2-4 to make moves up into second place, as I knew Foote would be untouchable off the front. 

I had a good transition and skied hidden aggressively to arrive at the next transition with Brian, who was 6th to the top of hidden but skied it recklessly fast to also pass alan, sam atkins and another unknown racer from Bozeman.  I had a quick ski to bootpack transition and was surprised to have already moved into second place as I started up the booter with brian, alan and a third racer in close pursuit.  I employed old wall to wall skins for the super steep climbs 2-4 but still found myself slipping, sidestepping and clawing my way up ridiculously steep sections.  I pushed hard on climbs 2 and 3 and eased back a bit on the downhills, making sure not to crash and be passed.  On the fourth climb to the ridge, I could see Brian had dropped the others and was still within striking distance if I made a mistake.  By the time I ripped skins near the top of slushman’s lift, I seemed to have a comfortable gap to brian as I skied the wind rollers down the ridge to the final bootpack.  Brian seemed to have really dropped the hammer as I was surprised to see him arrive at the final transition as I was dropping in for the final descent. 

I was horrified to feel some cramping in my right hip flexor as I tried to ski as fast as I could, worried that brian would catch me.  At the bottom of the run and the first of two little uphill skates, I felt my hip flexor cramping worsen and with brian moments behind, I was sure he was going to cruise by me.  I somehow stayed ahead on the first skate section and then furiously poled along the cat track, thankful to have waxed my skis a few days prior.  On the final uphill skate to the finish, I didn’t dare look back to see how close brian was, I just franticly skated as best my cramping hip would allow, hopeful I could hold him off.  Thanksfully I did by 23 seconds although at the time it felt much closer than that.
bringing home the bacon
Overall I had a blast and was stoked on how well I was able to execute my race strategy.  Thanks to brian for the exciting battle near the end and props to Foote for the commanding win.  Full results here.  I rounded out the day with some skiing with bria til awards and then some cragging in hyalite the next day before heading home.

Rose: perfect execution of my race strategy
Thorn: cramping hip flexor on final descent and skates and sense of despair of brian blowing past me
Bud: a great start to my racing season.  I’m excited for more.
neither Bria nor I are good at ice climbing but we had fun visiting hyalite for our first time

Thoughts: the skin tracks at this race are ridiculously steep, a notion that the race organizers seemed to be proud of at the pre-race meeting.  I recommend cutting down an old pair of skins to wall-to-wall size for your race skis.  useful not only for this race but also when using race skis in the backcountry.   The race organizers do a great job putting on this event and the included hot lunch at the finish, lift ticket, beer coupon, generous podium prizes and large raffle make it an excellent value.  Highly recommended.   

Monday, November 13, 2017

Fall Biking

Back in early summer, I bought a cyclocross/gravel bike.  A new toy/tool for adventure.  I’ve been having a blast getting out on some longer rides, daily bike commuting and shuttling myself between trailheads for point-to-point mountain runs. 

Three recent noteworthy rides include JayP’s gravel pursuit 60mile race, riding the tetonia to ashton rail trail as well as my first century ride, “around the block.”

Although JayP’s 60 and 120mile gravel bike races outside Island Park, ID were on my radar all summer, I didn’t commit to racing until the day before.  With crappy mountain weather in the forecast for the weekend and knowing some friends would be there, I gave in and decided to dabble in a completely new venue of racing. 
Needless to say, I was well out of my comfort zone as racers zoomed past me in the initial rough mile, dodging huge potholes and mudholes as the group of approximately 60 riders in the 60 mile race splintered apart.  As the course changed to better gravel, I started to find a rhythm and slowly start passing some riders.  The first of two climbs of the course was paved and not really knowing the etiquette or proper execution of drafting with other riders, I rode alone, pulling away from the group of 3 that tried to group up behind me.  Not long into the first major descent (now gravel), I suffered a front pinch flat and spent the next 14 minutes changing it.  Miserably slow from a racing perspective I know, but hey, it was my first real time changing a tube (other than practicing in my living room while watching a how-to video the first week I owned my bike). 

A depressingly large number of racers cruised by while I was working but nearly all were nice enough to yell and make sure I had everything I needed.  With a 14 minute stop, the racing aspect of my day was clearly over but I continued on, determined to still enjoy the rest of the ride.  I spent nearly the entire remainder of the race alone, trying to remind myself I was racing and should push hard.  However no-mans land is an easy place to slack off and my pace on the second climb was certainly easier than it could have been.  I made contact with 2 riders in the final couple flat miles and was excited to have a brief battle with one in the rough final mile and out sprint him to the finish. 
double rainbow at the finish
Despite my flat and poor finishing time, it was fun to ride at a hard effort for my first time and get a taste of gravel bike racing.  If I try racing again, I need fatter tires to allow for bombing over rough terrain with seemingly reckless abandon with other/faster riders.  The overall organization and vibe of the event was great and definitely recommended for novice or experienced riders alike. 

Tetonia to Ashton Rail Trail

A week later, I decided to check out the 30mile old railway trail between tetonia and ashton.  With high winds (20-30mph, gusts to 40) in the forecast, I hoped for the best and set out from the house, riding ~10 miles of mostly dirt roads to tetonia to the trailhead.  The ride to ashton went well with mild winds and spectacular fall foliage and 3 large trestle bridges.  
trestle bridge and golden aspens
longest of the three trestle bridges on the right
I refueled at a gas station in ashton before reversing my route home.  The forecasted high winds arrived and made for a slow, oftentimes brutal ride home.  Despite having railings, it was downright scary riding across the trestles given the intense crosswinds threatening to blow me off my bike.   There was also a memorable hill I tried to coast down but given the strong headwind, I found myself having to pedal in order to keep moving.  Downhill.  I spent far too much time cranking in a low gear despite the flat grade just to keep moving forward at a snail’s pace.  I had to stop in groves of trees several times for a break from the wind, but kept on battling and eventually made it home.  Excluding race pace efforts, this was the most spent I have felt in a long time.  Lesson learned on riding 80 miles on a windy day.
this is easily the best time of year to do this ride
Around the Block Century Ride

On the last weekend of nice fall weather, I opted to checked out the area’s single most classic century ride – a paved 110 mile loop from jackson to victor to swan valley to alpine to hoback junction to jackson.  Living in driggs, I naturally chose to start and end my ride in victor, which would mean I would end with the steep ascent of teton pass at ~mile 90.  The weather was perfect, I had just enough layers to stay warm on the fast, windy descents and had a great 7 hour ride.  I carried minimal food and a credit card and stopped at swan valley, alpine, hoback and wilson gas stations for snacks and to refill on water.  The small climb up pine creek pass was a breeze and although it was hard and slow, the big climb up teton pass at the end of the day wasn’t as brutal as I feared.  Although I am in no rush to spend 100 miles on pavement again in the near future, it was rewarding to tick off a worthwhile century ride. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

RUT 2017 - VK and 50K

The 2017 RUT was easily the most memorable and enjoyable of the three years I’ve taken part.  And this was despite being on the tail end of a cold, complete with a hacking cough and flowing sinuses.  Bria and I drove up Friday morning to check-in and shake out our legs before the 1pm VK.  I love how simple in theory yet painful in execution a vertical kilometer is – find a mountain that is at least 1000m of elevation gain, and race to the top in the shortest and steepest path.  I gave it all I had but didn’t feel as though my sickness allowed me to get into my “highest gear.”  I finished in a disappointing 1:02:24, shy of my goal of breaking the hour one mark.  I hung out on the summit above the smoke and cheered on other finishers til Bria arrived – who dispelled her skepticism with a great showing in her first ever running race.
paincave during the vk (crystal images photography)
post-vk smiles
Saturday was spent cheering on friends and family running the 28k, including Abby from Chicago and two cousins from Dallas and DC area who came to get a taste of Montana mountain running.  Suffice to say I think it was an experience they won’t soon forget…

I was up early Sunday morning for my third go at the Rut 50k.  Before sunrise it was already warm and evident we were in for a hot day.  I tried to run the initial 15 “easy” miles to the base of headwaters harder than prior years but in retrospect I think there is still room for improvement there.  I lost contact with jeffrey at the first aid station when I had to stop at the porta-potties to address some GI issues.  This happened once more in another ~30 minutes but then things settled down and were fortunately a non-issue for the remainder of the race.  I had an absolute blast on the headwaters climb and descent, easily my favorite part of the course. 
headwaters (crystal images photography)
approaching swift current aid (bria photo)
top of africa climb (bria photo)
It was great to see family at swiftcurrent aid and drench my head with cold water before starting up the bonecrusher climb to the summit.  The ~6mile descent and small amount of climbing to the base of the Africa climb again felt way longer and slower than the mileage suggests but I was pleasantly surprised to pass a number of people on this descent, as it’s rare that I pass people on a downhill.  I was surprised to reel in Jeffrey on the road coming into andesite aid, who had started hard and was now suffering a bit.  The aid station crew at andesite did an outstanding job cooling down runners and catering to any and all needs of those suffering from the heat.  Thanks for your hard work!  I was anxious to finish and get out of the sun so I exited quickly for the final 5ish miles to the finish.  Fiore caught me on the long winding switchbacks and it was fun to chat with him for a few minutes before he dropped me, despite having ran both the VK and 28k in prior days.  What a crusher.  I would go on to finish a few minutes behind him, in 7:41. 

I was again shy of my race goal (sub 7:30) but given the heat and less than full health, I couldn’t complain.  I ran a smart race and moved up through the field (79th at moonlight aid#2, up to 49th at finish).  All race results here. 
chocolate milk and an ice bath jacuzzi - post race heaven on a hot day
Sipping chocolate milk in the ice bath Jacuzzi may very well be the best immediate post-race activity ever I’ve yet enjoyed (and a stark contrast to last year – a dash to the hot tub to stave off the shivers).     The remainder of the weekend was a great mix of friends, family and good food.  As usual, a big thanks to Foote and everyone else for all their hard work putting together another memorable RUT weekend. 

Rose: too many to choose from
Thorn: sickness
Bud: I’m ready for a new RUT challenge – 28k next year or vk/28k/50k triple crown?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Alaska Basin Eclipse Weekend

It’s been a month now since the eclipse but those few precious minutes of totality are forever cemented in my mind as one of the coolest phenomenons I’ve ever seen.  Bria and I spend the long weekend up in the alaska basin and had a great couple of days.  The hike in Friday evening after work went smoothly and we set up camp just before dark. 
entering the basin with buck glowing in the evening light
We spend the next day taking a leisurely hike up to hurricane pass, to take in one of the best views in the range.  Sunday was spent scrambling the east ridge of buck, with a long, slow descent linking together ledge systems down the east couloir from the notch below the south ridge.  But we persevered, bootied an old rap station along the way and eventually made it back to the buck-static saddle and onwards to camp. 
top notch wildflowers (bria photo)
remnants of a marmot, melting out from his cold grave
atop hurricane pass
approaching the east ridge of buck 
jammin' up buck (bria photo)
buck summit
weaving our way down 
had to get creative to get around the bergschrund (bria photo) 
imbibing on the bergschrund runoff
Monday morning we broke camp and moments after hitting the trail, were pleasantly surprised to bump into jeffrey, out for a pre-eclipse run.  We continued up the sheep steps to the devil’s shelf and started trending west towards the devil’s stairs til it was time to post up for the eclipse.  We were both taken back by the big temperature drop as we slowly added layers til we were both bundled in puffys and hats.  I’ll never forget how incredible totality was, with the orange sunset-esque glow to the west, the twinkling planets and the surreal feeling of being in a sci-fi film with a black orb blocking out the sun. 
not a bad spot to lounge and stare at the sun (bria photo)
sunset-esque glow to the west (bria photo)
moments later (bria photo)
hiking out through waist deep wildflowers 
Soon after totality passed we hit the trail, largely in part to warm up.  We would periodically stop to glance at the progress of the remaining partial eclipse but quickly agreed that partials are nothing exciting once you’ve experienced a total.  The main teton canyon trail and the park lot were a crowded mess (cars were parked along the road for nearly a full mile before the trailhead).  We made it home in a half hour (instead of the customary 20-25min), discussing how far we would have traveled (like most people) to see totality.  The answer was far, since it was truly such an amazing, unforgettable event. 

Rose: must I say it again…totality was spectacular
Thorn: over an hour of “will it go or are we cliffed out?” on our buck descent
Bud: maine or vermont in april 2024??

Friday, September 8, 2017

Kit Lake


I spent the anniversary of Kit’s death alone in the mountains, traveling to kit lake, the 2nd highest lake in the tetons.  The weather felt in tune with my emotions – a mix of dark threatening clouds, rain, hail and sunshine.  I made a loop of it, starting with table mountain, to hurricane pass, to kit lake, to sunset lake, to alaska basin, to devils shelf, down to the trailhead.  I spent awhile at the shore of kit lake til rain prompted me to get moving again, thinking about my life since his passing, but I won’t even try to put those thoughts and emotions into words here.

Suffice to say I hope I am leading a life today that he would be proud of.
kit lake, snowdrift lake and mt wister

Sunday, August 27, 2017

HURL 53miler race report

With great excitement and some nervousness for my first 50miler, I found myself running in the chilly morning air by headlamp out of the Willard Creek trailhead in the Elkhorn Mountains outside of Helena.  Having never ran further than ~34miles, my race plan for the day was a conservative start for the initial 30miles and 8000vert to the town of Elkhorn.  For these 6 and a half hours, I was feeling great, enjoying the surprisingly cool overcast conditions as the miles clicked by at an easy pace, hiking most of the climbs and slowly moving up through the field from approximately 13th to 8th place. 

I switched to fresh shoes/socks and stuffed my face at the Elkhorn aid station, excited for the big 3000ft climb ahead.  After a few minutes of hiking, there was a mile or so stretch of flat road running that took me by surprise, and having just eaten a ton of food, my stomach took a nasty turn from totally fine to super upset in a matter of minutes.  What would ensue was nearly 3 hours of GI issues and some nausea that slowed me way down, forcing me to lay down on the side of the trail several times, able to eat little to no calories.  I was feeling a little better by the aid station at mile 36 and was able to stomach some salty foods. 

By aid at mile 42 my stomach was mostly settled and back to normal so I was able to mentally switch gears from simply “keep moving” to actually pushing hard/racing.  In doing so I was able to catch and pass a few racers that had overtaken me when I was hurting and moving slow.  I reached the aid station at mile 46 feeling the best I had in several hours and pushed hard on the remaining ~7 miles (mostly downhill) to the finish.  I was behind schedule with what I had told my mom for anticipated finishing time so it was a great surprise to see her cheering about a mile before the finish.  I ended up 8th overall in 13:08, well behind my race goals of sub 12 hours and top 5 male.  Oh well.  I was excited to have finished so strong, rather than limping (figuratively) across the line.
start/finish area - great low-key race environment
low quality picture before they took the banner down
strawberry lookout the next day
My mom and I had a great evening cheering on other finishers and camping that night.  Hot sunny conditions ensued on Sunday but we got in a nice bike ride together to Strawberry Lookout before parting ways and heading home.

Stats: about 53miles and 13,500 vert in 13:08

Rose: closing strong on my first 50miler
Thorn: my ~3 hours of GI problems and ensuing snail’s pace
Bud:  this was a big boost in confidence for me to tackle longer outings in the future (teton crest trail in a day, gannett peak in a day, etc) 

Chouinard Ridge - middle teton

A week after climbing full exum, I found myself back in garnet canyon, headed solo up the south fork to the south side of the middle teton.  
standard middle teton view from the garnet trail
As I hiked past several people and small groups also headed for the middle, I hoped no one would blindly follow me, assuming I was headed for the standard SW couloir route.  Instead I deviated to the bottom of continuous snow below the ellingwood couloir, where I put on microspikes and slowly kicked switchbacks up the semi-steep snow to reach the base of the chouinard ridge.  
from L to S - chouinard ridge, chouinard couloir, SE buttress, ellingwood couloir
I spent a solid 15 minutes on a large ledge below the route to dry out shoes/socks and refuel.  Above me lay over 1500 vertical feet of scrambling, reportedly up to 5.4 in difficulty.  I was stoked.  I slowly worked my way up the broad ridge, enjoying the solid rock and choose-your-own-adventure wide array of route options/difficulty.  
bottom of chouinard ridge
the SE buttress (III 5.7) looks worthy of a return trip
midway up the route
Route finding was fairly straight forward but there were a few steep sections where I had to downclimb and look around to find a more reasonable route.  I was surprised to find myself feeling a little relieved as the difficulty eased off and the route more-or-less deposited me in the upper SW couloir about a hundred feet below the summit.  I arrived on the summit about 5 hours into the day and enjoyed another long break of food, views and the company of those that had come up the SW couloir. 
upper portion of route
the crux of the way i went
the GFT
iceflow lake to the west 
I then descended the SW couloir and rock hopped and boot skied the snow patches of the south fork down to the meadows.   Despite hiking the entirely of the egress to the trailhead, I still had to pass and dodge countless hikers along the way.  A stark contrast to the solitude of the chouinard ridge but a small price to pay for playing in such an incredible mountain range.

Stats: roughly 13mi/6k vert/scrambling up to 5.4 in a leisurely 8.5 hours roundtrip

Rose: routefinding on the fly on very good rock
Thorn: crowds on the lower trail on the way down
Bud: the adjacent SE buttress with a partner and a rope

Thoughts: while I would definitely recommend this route to others, its worth noting that there is mandatory exposed 5.4/5 climbing (particularly on upper half) and is more routefinding intensive and committing than the CMC route on moran.  Also – descending the south fork of garnet is MUCH nicer the more snow there is