Monday, November 5, 2018

Grand Canyon R2R2R

Bria and I took a week off in late October to go play in the desert.  We visited bryce canyon, zion, the grand canyon and spent several days climbing in red rock canyon outside of Vegas.  While at the grand canyon, I planned to tackle the classic double crossing of the canyon (R2R2R) in a day, one of the most iconic non-race ultra distance runs in the country.  Given the rest of our trip itinerary, we visited the more remote north rim.  My day started just after first light, running the 14 mile and 6000vert descent down to the colorado river.  
initial descent into the canyon
down down down
There was a 60% chance of rain/thunderstorms in the forecast so I started to worry about flash flooding when it started to rain as I was running through “the box” before phantom ranch but fortunately nothing more than ten minutes of a drizzle materialized all day.  I stopped to refill water at bright angel campground just before the river, 2:20 into the day, feeling great and excited for a change of pace, i.e. start climbing.  It felt weird and a little concerning to be 14 miles into a run with 11,000feet of climbing and having not yet done any climbing.   
unfortunately this is my only picture of "the box" north of phantom ranch 
the mighty colorado river 
I opted for the longer bright angel trail instead of south kaibab due to the presence of year round water halfway up the bright angel trail.  I crossed the river and ran another mile or so til the trail steepened and I switched to a primarily hiking cadence.  Back in 2012 I had visited the south rim of the canyon and done a hike to the river and back (down south kaibab, up bright angel) so I was now in slightly familiar terrain.  I stopped for more water at the beautiful indian garden oasis as the number of people on the trail continued to steady grow as I climbed towards the south rim. The upper three miles of the trail was downright crowded but fairly easy to pass as the trail is nearly 4ft wide for the most part.  I reached the S rim in 5:15, fifteen minutes later than planned but feeling well.  I hit the bathroom and water spigot and had a snack before starting back down.  
the trail construction in the canyon is a remarkable feat
half way..
pictures can't do justice the size and splendor of the canyon

approaching the river for the second time
I got a lot of interesting looks and comments as I ran down past people that I had passed earlier on my way up.  The descent to the river took longer than expected but I arrived around the 7 hour mark feeling tired and with heavy legs.  The approx. 7 mile stretch from the river to cottonwood campground was the low point of the day as I was forced to strictly ration my remaining calories to stretch for another 5 hours of exertion, the sun was out and beating down on me and despite the flat to low angle grade of the trail, my legs weren’t tolerating much running.  There was over an hour long period in which I gave up on my sub 12 hour goal and just plodded along.  I was surprised to see running water at the cottonwood campground spigot as it was a week past mid-october which was the stated time of this water being turned off for the winter season.  I was also glad to see the trail steepen so I didn’t have to feel bad about hiking instead of running.  
looking back at the trail above roaring springs 
At the junction for roaring springs (4.7mi from the N rim), a random woman from a group of backpackers sitting along the trail offered me some candy and my first instinct was to say no.  A moment later I realized I wasn’t racing and could accept aid so I gladly took a mini bag of skittles from her.  The skittles and her words of encouragement when she learned I was nearing the end of a R2R2R outing lit a fire under my ass and I mentally recalculated my remaining time and mileage and realized sub 12 hours was still within grasp.  I proceeded to drop the hammer as best I could, needing to power hike sub 20min miles up the steep remaining miles to hit my goal time.  I was feeling much better than the earlier section from the river to cottonwood so I cranked along at race-ish pace (last 15min in the dark), reaching the trailhead in 11:54 elapsed, happy to be done and thrilled to have rallied and hit my goal time.

Stats: about 48mi and 11,000vertical in 11:54 round trip 

This was my longest outing to date in a non-race setting and my second longest outing ever and my body seemed to handle it well.  Most of the suffering was self-inflicted with the stout pace at the end of the day and had I not cared about time, could have finished much more comfortably in 12:30

Rose: the beauty of the canyon as well as rallying the last couple miles to break 12 hours on this iconic outing
Thorn: mental low climbing from the river to cottonwood, not bringing enough food
Bud: I’m intrigued about pushing myself mentally and physically over longer distances/times and am excited to tackle a 100k race next summer as well as more 40+ mile non-race adventure runs                         

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Summer 2018 Races

I don’t care nearly as much about running races as I do skimo, but I still generally do about two running races a summer.  This summer, I did the beaverhead 55k in july and then the rut 28k and baldy hill climb in September.  Read on for a brief recap of each.

Beaverhead 55k

I went into the race with little knowledge of the course, only ramblings about the “runnable first half” and then the several miles of “horrible talus on the ridge.”  The initial half was in fact completely runnable, more so than the type of terrain I most enjoy.  I spent a lot of miles running in a loose group of several guys, til the trail got steeper and forced us to a hiking pace and I made a point of dropping them.  The only person who caught me was brian and we enjoyed a couple miles together before he started to cramp and had to slow down as I ran on.  I soon caught and passed another runner to move into a surprising 4thplace.  I ran the entire “horrible talus on the ridge” section all alone, thoroughly enjoying the technical terrain and outstanding views.  
Brian, close to where the course exits the trees and truly starts to become good
the highlight of the course is the several miles along the ridge
From the final aid at bohannon creek, I was worried brian or another runner was going to run me down but I kept on chugging along, feeling ready to be done.  The final two miles dragged on in full sun and rising temps but I eventually caught sight of the finish area and was happy to cross the line and relax in the shade.  My rough goal time coming into the race was sub 7 hours and I finished in 6:55, which was surprisingly good enough for 3rdmale/4thplace overall (the female winner was fast and crushed the female course record by 25 minutes).   Results here.  The low key vibe and food at the finish area cheering on other finishers was great before catching a shuttle back into Salmon.  I had heard great things about this race in years past and it did not disappoint (although the first half is too easy and runnable for my taste).  

RUT 28k

This was my fourth year at the Rut and I was ready for a change so I ran the 28k for my first time instead of the 50k.  I had a blast and enjoyed the shorter course that still includes all of the steep and technical terrain of the 50k.   The weather was perfect in contrast to the two previous years (rain/cold in 2016 and hot/sunny last year).  I was surprised not to pass anyone during the headwaters climb but managed to pass several folks along the technical running on the ridge, which I seem to be faster on each year.  I caught sight of john fiore on the road up to swiftcurrent but was unable to catch him til the descent off lone peak.  
photo: crystal images
photo: crystal images
We descended several miles chatting together before he dropped me during the downhill road running before the last aid station.  I had a few minor cramp twinges on the final climb up andesite but nothing too major. I though I was running the final downhill hard but the 2ndplace woman bombed by me as if I was standing still.  I finished in just under 4:17, hitting my pre-race goal of sub 4:20 but about 2:30 behind john.  Results here.  The afternoon was spent cheering on Bria and other friends in the 28k.  I must admit it was nice on Sunday to be able to sleep in and go for a mountain bike ride instead of toeing the line in the dark at 6am for the 50k start.  Overall the Rut continues to be an excellent weekend of friends and family, racing and now that I own a bike, mountain biking.  I’ll definitely be back.        

Baldy Hill Climb (VK)
a couple seconds into the race.  i felt overdressed with a shirt and vest (to carry my phone)  photo: bria
Although it is only advertised as the “baldy hill climb”, it is nearly a VK, climbing 3200vert in just 1.9 miles, straight up the warm springs ski run.  It had been on my radar for several years but I finally made it out to sun valley this fall to battle against a bunch of fast nordic skiers.  I was a little sick on race day but pushed hard anyways, taking 9thplace in just under 46 minutes.  I used poles as I just recently bought a fancy collapsible carbon pair which were great for the steep, sustained grade.  I was only two for four on my pre-race goals: top 10 and don’t get chicked.  The two I failed on were losing to a teenager and I didn’t break 40min (in retrospect this was too ambitiously fast for me).  I could definitely break 45 or maybe 44 minutes if healthy but the top several guys were wicked fast and way ahead of me.   Sun Valley was beautiful with the fall foliage so maybe I’ll be back to give it another go.  Full results here.   
fall foliage the next day

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Grand at race pace

With great conditions up high in the park stretching into mid-September and beyond, I’ve been making a point of getting high while conditions last.  I finally climbed Mt Owen last weekend (the last major summit in the park for me) and this past weekend threw down on a hard race pace effort on the Grand.  I was aiming for sub 5 hours round trip, based on trip reports from the late Steve Romeo as well as Brian Harder.  I got a casual 10:30am start from the trailhead and had great weather, and was able to stay just warm enough without having to put on a shell or gloves on the upper mountain.   The day ended up being more fun and less suffering than I was expecting.  I pushed hard but could probably cut a little time (10min?) next time, but doing so is low on the adventure list.   Having climbed the OS a few weeks prior and having the routefinding fresh in my head was huge for moving relatively quickly (yet still slow enough to be safe) on the upper mountain.
summit in 2:55.  hard to believe both andy anderson and kilian jornet can go car to car faster than i can summit
Splits: 60min meadows, 1:55 lower saddle, 2:55 summit, 3:25 lower saddle, 3:56 meadows, 4:40 trailhead

Stats: about 14.5mi and 7200vert in 4:40 round trip

Rose: breaking the 5 hour mark on this local testpiece on a beautiful fall day
Thorn: feeling like a dick yelling and bullying people off the trail so I could pass
Bud: next time I’ll be up the grand will be with skis

Saturday, August 18, 2018

the Grand from Driggs

Well clearly I’ve been busy and the blog a low priority as it’s been six months since I last updated it. Oh well.  Let's cut to the chase, a writeup of a recent noteworthy adventure.  On a rare smoke-free day in mid-August, I managed to fulfill a goal of mine since moving to Driggs last summer – the Grand in a day from the house under human power.  
distorted panoramic from atop hurricane pass
I left the house at first light and rode an uneventful hour to the teton canyon trailhead.  I then stashed my bike and swapped shoes before starting up the trail to hurricane pass.  The classic view of the tetons from hurricane pass felt a little different than usual…perhaps cause I was about to try to cross this rugged trail-less terrain straight to the Grand?

I made sure to enjoy the mile or so of trail down to the south fork of cascade creek before crossing the creek, filling up on water and starting the off-trail odyssey to the lower saddle.  Gaining the ridge just west of the Dartmouth basin wasn’t bad but the descent into the basin was a challenging mix of scree skiing, boulder hopping and steep dirt sliding. The Dartmouth basin felt like a barren wasteland of rock and snow that rarely sees human traffic.  Once across, I started up the Dartmouth couloir which proved to be the mental lowpoint of the day, again a challenging mix of stable talus, shifty talus and loose scree.  I slowly willed myself onwards and upwards until cresting the ridge near the black dike, a few hundred vertical feet above the lower saddle.  I spent several minutes sitting, eating, drinking, etc and mentally recharging.  
a picture from a different/smoky day, showing the climb to the ridge west of the dartmouth basin, as well as the prominent dartmouth couloir which splits the black dike just left of the lower saddle
looking east across the dartmouth basin 
lower saddle from the dartmouth basin
up the dartmouth couloir.  about as fun as it looks
I then launched upwards on the climber’s trail, thankful for a trail and to be feeling and moving much better (cause and effect perhaps?).  I got several funny looks and comments from the hordes of guides, clients and other climbers descending the trail.  Once at the upper saddle, I paused for a minute to check my shoes, let my heart rate drop and to mentally switch gears to safe/slow climbing mode.  I carefully made my way up the OS route, which I was a little concerned about doing in running shoes for my first time but ended up being a non-issue.  I spent a few minutes on the summit chatting with other climber’s before starting down. This was my fourth time descending the grand and I finally didn’t get lost trying to find sergeants chimney or other landmarks of the way down.  Once safely at the upper saddle, I knew I had it in the bag, it was just a matter of grinding out the off-trail section before a relatively easy climb and descent of hurricane pass (on a trail!) and a downhill bike ride home… 
top of the couloir!  the east face of table mt is the prominent rock buttress in the background
looking west to hurricane pass on the way home
Crossing Dartmouth basin the second time was torturous due to the sounds of running water under the rocks but I was never able to find actual access to running water.  The climb out of the basin proved easier than expected.  Mid-way down the descent to cascade creek, I finally had access to water (the first in several hours) and guzzled down the cool water as if I hadn’t drank in days.  Once across the creek and back on a trail, my enthusiasm for the day continued to soar as the remaining miles were easy and I knew I was on pace to hit my goal of sub 12 hours round trip.  I ran into two moose (momma and baby) coming down from hurricane pass but otherwise just cruised down to the trailhead, hopped on my bike and hammered out the hot, dry, dusty ride home.  Although the view of the grand from my driveway was the same as always, I had a deep sense of satisfaction with what I had just done.
the grand from my driveway on a different/smoky day.  i lucked out with the clear skies i had
Stats: about 22miles and 900vert on the bike, 18mi and 9500vert on foot.  6:38 from house to summit, 11:43 round trip.  If anyone wants specific route info for accessing the grand from the west side, just holler.    

Rose: a goal fulfilled – the Grand from my house under human power 
Thorn: mental low in the Dartmouth couloir  
Bud: teton trifecta from the house?  (a low priority on the list but on the bright side, descending the west ridge of the south teton would be way easier than dropping into the Dartmouth basin and having to climb out of it again on the return to hurricane pass)

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?