Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bighorn 100, 7th place, 22:00:44

Hello future self. I wrote this for you. You’re probably gearing up to take another crack at a hundo and you’ve forgotten the important lessons you learned at Bighorn, your first 100 mile race.

You were super fit, probably the best block of training you’ve ever had, and you avoided injury. You nailed some tough training runs and felt strong and confident. You thought a podium finish was well within reach. Your plan was to be efficient, patient, and stay hungry late in the race for a strong finish.

Here’s what really happened. You were about as patient as a squirrel on a busy highway. You were supposed to run the first 50 miles relaxed and then start racing. Instead, you got off course early on and then pushed too hard to make up time during the hottest part of the day. You didn’t respect the altitude. You didn’t really care about anything the last 20 miles. And then you finished.

Having a solid race plan is a good thing, but it’s just a vessel to hold whatever you can pour into it on race day. The real lesson here is that you don’t really know anything. You’re a newb at this. You have more learning to do.

Bighorn was crazy hot, especially for your pansy PNW thermostat. But you got wet at every stream crossing. This was huge. You managed the heat really well. If you’re racing in the heat again, get wet at every opportunity. It’s worth the small time penalty. And don’t forget to eat lots of salt if it’s hot. That’s what works for you.

Your nutrition was solid. You tried a bunch of new things in training but nothing seemed to work better than the standard. So you ate 67 gels. That fucking sucked. But it worked. You also had broth, lots of oranges, and a few bars thanks to the efforts of generous volunteers. The stomach stayed OK and you never puked. You did somehow manage to carry meager calories during a long and steep nighttime section. The resulting bonk was concussive. You licked wrappers. It was sad, and really dumb. Lots of wasted time. Always be willing to boyscout extras whenever you’re not sure.

You carried two Simple bottles the whole race. Running hands free and being quick at aid station transitions is a big advantage. Thank you Simple Hydration. The other stuff in your kit worked really well too. Altra Olympus, Injinji socks. No blisters. No fuss.

And finally, here’s the most important takeaway. In the end, racing 100 miles isn’t really about racing at all. Nobody cares about your time or place or your ego massage anyway. At Bighorn you shared an adventure with a community of amazing runners and supporters, weaving your own experience into a larger collective fabric. Your brother was there with you, driving, crewing, pacing, and continuing the long thread of running that you’ve shared together for most of your lives. In the end, running 100 miles through the Bighorn mountains was mostly about just seeing the bigger picture.

Chillin' in Missoula before the race.

Now that's a tent! Setting up at the high school in Dayton, Wyoming.

Bighorn eve. Stormy skies to the north.

Race time. (photo: Patrick Donnelly)

photo: PD

Gearing up for some night running at the turnaround (~mile 50).
(photo: PD)

photo: PD

A final lesson. Next time don't bother with an elevation tattoo. You didn't look at it once.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Bailey Traverse in a Day (Roughly)

Last month I traversed the Bailey Mountain Range across Olympic National Park with my friend Willie McBride. Our route started on the north end of the park at Sol Duc Falls trailhead and ended on the southern side at the North Fork (Quinault) trailhead. In between, we ran, scrambled, side-hilled, hiked, climbed, and crawled 60 miles in a single push of 24 hours 38 minutes. It was a very big, wild, and memorable day. It was cool to go so deep into the remote mountains, off trail and in such a beautiful place. It was also very cool to do this adventure with a rock solid partner well versed in route finding, climbing, and glacial travel. It’s hard to explain trips like this one. It was special. Here are some photos.

We rolled out of Portland at around 2pm on Friday with Willie’s friend Matt Smoot at the wheel. Matt’s plan, besides shuttling us fools, was to surf along the peninsula coast while making his way south to pick us up. Road trip!
We eventually made it to the trailhead well after midnight, caught a few shooting stars, and then crashed out for about two hours. We started at 2:47 am.

The sun hit the peak tops as we approached the end of the High Divide trail. We climbed some very exposed, low fifth-class rock up to the start of the Catwalk. I think we missed an easier route up but were trying to avoid a mom and baby goat we’d been following. Nothing wakes me up in the morning llke a few thousand feet of air below my heels. photo by WM

Looking across the Catwalk, a narrow and somewhat exposed spine that rises up to the shoulder of Mount Carrie.

Climbing onto Mount Carrie.

We followed a well-established goat trail, side-hilling toward Stephen Peak and Cream Lake basin. Although the trail was easy to follow in this section, it continually plunged down into steep gullies and climbed up and across loose and loamy slopes.

Willie goats.

After hours of side-hilling we entered Cream Lake basin. The game trails grew faint and progress slowed. We made our way around cliffs and dense, steep bushwhacks. In hindsight, our high traverse around the basin was a sketchier but likely faster route. Mount Olympus in the background. All day long.

Crossing this felt like a big accomplishment. Looking back you can see our high route along the tops of the trees in the red area (from left to center). After that we dropped straight down through the valley. The furthest mound in the far away notch (far left) is where we started our day on the Catwalk. I think it was about 1 pm at this point. We were maybe 20 miles in. We shook our heads and put on our big boy pants.

We climbed up a couple thousand feet onto the saddle of Mount Ferry. From here we could start to see the endless high ridgelines and saddles of the Bailey range.

Ridgeline. Saddle. Repeat. Forever.

We took a high route across this heavily crevassed and liquified glacier. Etch-a-sketchy.

Some serious karma points were transferred from me to Willie when my phone decided to go skipping down an icy slope and into a crevasse. There was nothing stopping it except for ol’ magic hands. This photo would like to thank him for being here.

photo by WM

After Bear Pass we dropped down into the Elwha drainage, which descends into the shadows below Mount Queets, the high peak in this photo. We were pretty stoked to make it here well before darkness. photo by WM

Then this tried to eat us. So we climbed over it.

When I called the ranger station before the trip to ask about conditions, I was told the Elwha snow finger was completely melted out. I differ to beg.
Just a Bailey speedbump.

And this is the last photo I took. Notice the tree stuck in the ice (upper right). We still had about five miles of crazy waterfalls, log crossings, cliffs, and bushwhacks to chew on before we reached a primitive trail. We happily found it just as darkness caught us again. After that it was a 27ish mile run through the night. We finished at three something in the morning, found Matt, and slept a few hours before starting our trek home. What a day (roughly).

Gear list:
Altra Lone Peak 2.5s (perfect shoe for this route)
Salomon running pack
Black Diamond Z-poles
Simple Hydration bottle
Bladder (2.5L capacity)
Laminated maps (from magic hands)
Phone set up with GPS maps

GoPro 2 without housing
Petzl Nao headlamp
Spare Fenix E11 flashlight
Houdini jacket/pants
FAK and bivy blanket
Kahtoola crampons (didn’t bring)
About 3.5K calories worth of food
(Willie carried a spot)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Coldwater Peak and Mount Margaret

The road to the Johnston Ridge Observatory re-opened last week. It was a good time to check out the trails to the north of Mount Saint Helens. This area has been on my to-do list for a while but always gets eighty-sixed in favor of the nearby Loowit trail around Helens, one of my all-time favorite places to run.

Continuing the field guide theme of my last post, I'm writing up this route to help inspire any nearby trail enthusiasts. Put it on your bucket list. It's that good. It's rugged, exposed, and the views are magical. On a clear day, you'll play an endless game of volcano peek-a-boo with all of your Cascade favorites. The majority of the route is between five and six thousand feet, a perfect elevation when most of the PNW trails above six thousand feet are still melting out this time of year.

I ended up running about 21 miles with about 5,000 feet of vertical. I turned around a mile or so after Mount Margaret due to tedious post-holing and steep snow fields. I summitted Coldwater Peak a second time on the return. Bring plenty of water. The route is mostly on exposed, dry ridgelines.

Here's a general map and some photos. Be safe.

I knocked out the two-hour drive from Portland the night before so I could get an early start. I arrived at the observatory at dusk, snapped this photo of Helens, and then may or may not have stealthily slept next to a 'no overnight camping' sign.

Starting the day off right with some delicious tailgate coffee.

Stairway to Helens

Arch Rock

Mount Adams

Saint Helens Lake

Spirit Lake and Helens

Mount Ranier's crown

Mountain goats. Saw a bunch of elk, too,

Summit of Mount Margaret, 5868 feet

I turned around here. Got tired of knee-deep post-holing. It'll melt out soon, though.

The 1980 Helens blast released energy equal to 24 Megatons of TNT. Take that trees.

My happy place