Category Archives: Running

Running the GR11

Since spending a week training for Hardrock 100 in the Pyrenees 2013 during a break between work trips to London I have wanted to get back to the Pyrenees to run the GR11 trail (this is part of the Grande Randonnee long distance trail system in Europe). Emily and I started to plan a run across the GR11 over 10 months ago. Or original plan was to run the entire trail (when we thought it was ~500km during initial research). After more detailed research, and learning that it was an 800km trail, we planned to run the best 500km from Candanchu in the west to the Mediterranean Sea. With help of local Catalan friends Gemma and Jordi, we put together a great route utilizing a combination of huts and villages for an 11-day running adventure. As winter and plans progressed, Emily was sidetracked from training with a pulled hamstring from skiing. Plans were once again modified and reduced to a 300 km and 8 day run that would start further west, but be equally beautiful. Since we were no longer covering as much of the GR11, we also modified plans to visit some key locations off of the GR11 (like visiting friends Marta and Gerard who run the Refugio de Colomina a 1-day run south of the GR11). Spring work schedules were busy, Chad’s work travel schedule was unrelenting, training was not what it should have been, Emily’s hamstring was not healing, and the day before leaving my back went out once again leaving our trip and all of our running plans in question. Some good drugs for Chad, a change of plans for Emily to do fewer running days and do some biking with Gemma and we decided that we would see what happened on the GR11 and best case I would do 250-300km and worst case we would have to bag those plans and just have a good Spanish holiday.

I had visited Gemma’s home village of Guils de Cerdanya in 2013 and could not wait to return to the village. It is a small place of ~100 homes on a hillside overlooking the town or Puigcerda and the beautiful mountain valley.

View from Gemma's house
View from Gemma’s house
Shake out hike with Gemma and her nieces
Shake out hike with Gemma and her nieces
Hiking the lakes above Guils de Cerdanya
Hiking the lakes above Guils de Cerdanya

A couple days were planned in Guils to recover from travel. Gemma treated us to amazing hospitality, a rapid adjustment to Spanish time (dinner at 10PM), and a reminder that we are not as young as we used to be and just can’t party till 5AM any longer.

Partying all night at the Puigcerda festival
Partying all night at the Puigcerda festival

After a short night sleep after the Puigcerda festival, we were on our way to Gavernie, France where we would spend the first day running to the GR11, but also get to take in some great Tour de France history as Gavernie is at the base on Col du Tourmelade one of the famous TdF climbs.

We started out climbing past the highest waterfall in Europe (Le Grande Cascade) to Refugio des Seraradets, Passamos de la Brecha, Collado del Descargador and finally to our resting spot of Refugio de Goriz.

Day 1: Gavernie to Goriz; Les Grande Cascade - highest waterfall in Europe
Day 1: Gavernie to Goriz; Les Grande Cascade – highest waterfall in Europe
Day 1: Gavernie to Goriz; Les Grande Cascade - highest waterfall in Europe
Day 1: Gavernie to Goriz; Les Grande Cascade – highest waterfall in Europe
Day 1: Gavernie to Goriz; climbing to Refugio des Seraradets
Day 1: Gavernie to Goriz; climbing to Refugio des Seraradets
Day 1: Gavernie to Goriz; Passamos de la Brecha
Day 1: Gavernie to Goriz; Passamos de la Brecha

I continued from Goriz to the summit of Mt Perdido while Emily and Gemma went on a shorter run.

Day 1: Goriz to Mt Perdido back to Goriz - Summit of Mt Perdido
Day 1: Goriz to Mt Perdido back to Goriz – Summit of Mt Perdido (3365M)

We were all tired after a lot of climbing on day 1

Day 1: Gavernie to Goriz; Emily tired out and cathing a quick nap on a comfortable rock at the refugio
Day 1: Gavernie to Goriz; Emily tired out and cathing a quick nap on a comfortable rock at the refugio

Day 1 Recap:

  • Route: Gavernie – Refugio des Seraradets – Passamos de la Brecha – Collado del Descargador – Refugio de Goriz – Mt Perdido – Goriz
  • 24km, 2720M ascent, 1790M descent, 2 passes, 1 summit

Gemma returned to Gavernie and Emily and I continued to Parzan. Gemma was going to pick up Emily in Parzan for a couple days of road biking in the Pyrenees with her friend Enrique. It was day 2 where I realized how slow going the ‘running’ was going to be. The ascents and descents were all very steep and there would not be much running on these. I also quickly realized that I did not want to move fast as I wanted to stop and enjoy the amazing mountain scenery and take photos.

Day 2: Goriz to Parzan - Route from Collado de Goriz o de Arrablo to Collado de las Olsd o de los Maquis
Day 2: Goriz to Parzan – Route from Collado de Goriz o de Arrablo to Collado de las Olsd o de los Maquis
Day 2: Goriz to Parzan - Route from Collado de Goriz o de Arrablo to Collado de las Olsd o de los Maquis
Day 2: Goriz to Parzan – Route from Collado de Goriz o de Arrablo to Collado de las Olsd o de los Maquis
Day 2: Goriz to Parzan - Collada de Anisclo
Day 2: Goriz to Parzan – Collada de Anisclo
Day 2: Goriz to Parzan - descending to Refugio de Pineta
Day 2: Goriz to Parzan – descending to Refugio de Pineta

Day 2 Recap:

  • Route: Goriz – Collado de Goriz o de Arrablo – Collado de las Olsd o de los Maquis – Collada de Anisclo – Refugio de Pineta – Collodeta Plana Fonda – Collata las Coronetas – Parzan
  • 33km, 1560m ascent, 2600m descent, 5 Passes

I would spend the next 2 days covering long distances alone. I was looking forward to some mountain solitude. My back was doing ok. I was able to go a little further each day before the pain and sciatica started. By day 3, I was up to 4 hours pain free (which meant 5-6 hours in pain). My legs were tired and I didn’t have the ‘pep’ in my step that I had hoped for. It was also very hot and the heat was taking a toll on me and preventing me from sleep. I was going into day 3 with about 10 hours of sleep in 3 nights.

Day 3: Parzan to Puen de San Chaime - Collado de Urdiceto
Day 3: Parzan to Puen de San Chaime – Collado de Urdiceto

Day 3 Recap:

  • Route: Parzan – Collado de Urdiceto – Refugio de Biados – Puerto de Chistau o de Estos- Puen de San Chaime
  • 42.5km, 2460m ascent, 2140m descent, 2 Passes

Emily spent the day biking and had an amazing time riding TdF cols.

Emily's day 3 bike ride with Gemma and Enrique
Emily’s day 3 bike ride with Gemma and Enrique
Emily's day 3 bike ride with Gemma and Enrique
Emily’s day 3 bike ride with Gemma and Enrique
Emily's day 3 bike ride with Gemma and Enrique
Emily’s day 3 bike ride with Gemma and Enrique
Emily's day 3 bike ride with Gemma and Enrique
Emily’s day 3 bike ride with Gemma and Enrique

Day 4 would be my hardest day. I caught a 5AM bus to get 4km of road out of the way. I was exhausted with another night of 4 hours of sleep and since it was still dark when I got off the bus, I curled up on the side of the road and slept for another hour. Waking up at sunrise freezing cold, I started the ~1800M and 10km climb. I just could not get moving and for the first couple hours had a hard time staying awake on the trail. I continued to slog upwards trying to gain motivation from the mountain beauty. I never really got moving this day and what I thought would be an 8 hour day took over 10 hours to get to Refugio dera Restanca where Emily was meeting me. I slogged in and started the normal ritual of stretching, eating, drinking, and attempting to recover. I realized that this time that I had 2 huge days of over 50km and 3300M ascent planned and that there was no way I would be able to complete these days. We did some re-routing and I decided that after day 7 I needed a rest day and since Gemma had left her car for us by Espot, Emily would drive me to Andorra and I would cut out about 75km of difficult terrain.

Day 4: Puen de San Chaime to Refugio dera Restanca - Ibon Alto de Ballibierna
Day 4: Puen de San Chaime to Refugio dera Restanca – Ibon Alto de Ballibierna
Day 4: Puen de San Chaime to Refugio dera Restanca - Collada de Vallibierna
Day 4: Puen de San Chaime to Refugio dera Restanca – Collada de Vallibierna
Day 4: Puen de San Chaime to Refugio dera Restanca - struggling on the final climb up to Refugio dera Restanca
Day 4: Puen de San Chaime to Refugio dera Restanca – struggling on the final climb up to Refugio dera Restanca

Day 4 Recap:

  • Route: Puen San Chame – Collado de Vallibierna – Refugio de Cap de Llauset – Collado de lid Ibones – Refugio de Conangles – Port de Rius – Refugio dera Restanca
  • 40km, 2702 m ascent, 2053 m descent, 3 Passes

I awoke on day 5 feeling good and felt like I had probably gotten over the ‘hump’ of big days and I was starting to get into the rhythm of my days. We left Restanca for an amazing day to Colomina. The terrain was challenging with lots of scrambling, and steep descents, but I was happy to have company again and we would spend the night in the presence of friends. It was great to see Gerard (Marta was doing an adventure race and was not there) and spend some time catching up with him.

Day 5: Refugio dera Restanca to Refugi de Colomina - Leaving Restanca
Day 5: Refugio dera Restanca to Refugi de Colomina – Leaving Restanca
Day 5: Refugio dera Restanca to Refugi de Colomina - Coret d'Oelhacrestada
Day 5: Refugio dera Restanca to Refugi de Colomina – Coret d’Oelhacrestada
Day 5: Refugio dera Restanca to Refugi de Colomina - Hiking up to Coll de Contraix
Day 5: Refugio dera Restanca to Refugi de Colomina – Hiking up to Coll de Contraix
Day 5: Refugio dera Restanca to Refugi de Colomina - Coll de Contraix
Day 5: Refugio dera Restanca to Refugi de Colomina – Coll de Contraix
Day 5: Refugio dera Restanca to Refugi de Colomina - Coll de Contraix
Day 5: Refugio dera Restanca to Refugi de Colomina – Coll de Contraix
Day 5: Refugio dera Restanca to Refugi de Colomina - Collada de Delluir
Day 5: Refugio dera Restanca to Refugi de Colomina – Collada de Delluir

Day 5 Recap:

  • Route: Restanca – Coret d’Oelhacrestada – Refugi Ventosa i Calvall – Coll de Contraix – Refugi d’ Estany Llong – Collada de Delluir – Refugi de Colomina
  • 27.5 km, 2150 M ascent, 1750M descent, 3 passes

With the re-route, day 6 would be my shortest day and Emily and I would drive to Andorra to enjoy a relaxing afternoon and a much needed good night sleep in a hotel. The weather forecast was for afternoon storms so we got an early start and decided to summit Pic de Peguera on our run to Espot. This turned out to be a pretty bad decision as the storm moved in 3 hours early and we hit the summit as the clouds blanketed us. We had a difficult time down climbing off the summit in minimal visibility and hit Collado de Monestero just as the lightening and hail started. We started down the steep col as quickly as possible and finally found a large rock to escape the now marble sized hail and put on rain pants. We spend the next 10km running through a torrential downpour. We were able to easily hitch a ride with a couple other runners from Espot to la Guingueta d’Aneu where Gemma had left the car and after a short lunch stop we were on our way to Andorra.

Day 6: Refugi de Refugi to Espot - Coll de Peguera
Day 6: Refugi de Refugi to Espot – Coll de Peguera
Day 6: Refugi de Refugi to Espot - scramble to Pic de Peguera (2982M)
Day 6: Refugi de Refugi to Espot – scramble to Pic de Peguera (2982M)
Day 6: Refugi de Refugi to Espot - Pic de Peguera (2982M)
Day 6: Refugi de Refugi to Espot – Pic de Peguera (2982M)
Day 6: Refugi de Refugi to Espot - Collado de Monestero
Day 6: Refugi de Refugi to Espot – Collado de Monestero
Day 6: Refugi de Refugi to Espot - Descending from Collado de Monestero in the storm
Day 6: Refugi de Refugi to Espot – Descending from Collado de Monestero in the storm
Day 6: Refugi de Refugi to Espot - Lunch in Llavorsi after a wet run
Day 6: Refugi de Refugi to Espot – Lunch in Llavorsi after a wet run

Day 6 Recap:

  • Route: Refugi de Colomina – Coll de Peguera – Pic de Peguera (2982M) – Collado de Monestero – Estany de Saint Maurici – Espot
  • 18.6 km, 670 M ascent, 1750M descent, 2 pass

We had an early start in Andorra La Vella where Emily planned to run the first 2 hours (all uphill) with me, then return to the car and drive to Guils. The climb out of the town was over 20% and was slow going. I would spend this day running almost the entire way across Andorra and ending at Gemma’s house. It was amazing terrain and scenery, but on and off rain, strong wind, and cold temperatures until the afternoon. I enjoyed the run through the cattle pastures and was excited to see Emily and Gemma as I approached Guils.

Day 7: Andorra La Vella to Guils de Cerdanya - Coll de I'llla
Day 7: Andorra La Vella to Guils de Cerdanya – Coll de I’llla
Day 7: Andorra La Vella to Guils de Cerdanya - Emily and Gemma meeting me for the final descent to Guils
Day 7: Andorra La Vella to Guils de Cerdanya – Emily and Gemma meeting me for the final descent to Guils

Day 7 Recap:

  • Route: Andorra La Vella – Refugi de Fontverd – Refugi de Riu dels Orris- Refugi de I’llla – Coll de I’llla – Cabana dels Esparvers – Portella d’Engorgs – Refugi de Malniu – Guils de Cerdanya
  • 38.5 km, 2450M ascent, 2075M descent. 2 Passes

Gemma had invited us to her friend Chavi’s birthday party on Saturday night and while being tired, we couldn’t pass up the invitation and this turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. We arrived at normal Spanish dinner party time (show up at 9PM for 10PM dinner) to a long table set for 28 people. There was traditional Catalan foods (salad, meets, bread, olives, chips, wine, beer) and a group of amazing people that treated us like old friends and loved the chance to practice some English. The night was capped off with Zac playing accordion for the entire group. This was like something out of Bon Appetite for both of us. We capped this night off with another festival in a small village of just a couple dozen houses that had drawn about 400 people. Another 4:30 AM night and we had mixed emotions of if we could really make good Catalans or if we were too old for this.

Chavi's birthday party
Chavi’s birthday party
another late night festival in Travessares
another late night festival in Travessares

Sunday was a rest day with a long hike through the hills around Guils followed by late Catalan lunch with Gemma’s parents and grandma (none of whom speak English). Gemma’s mom taught us how to make Paella (which was amazing) and we had a traditional salted code salad (also amazing). It is too bad the Norwegians cured their cod in lye and not salt as if lutefisk tasted like this salted and reconstituted cod, I would be much more eager to eat it at Christmas.

The last day of running became a short day on the GR11 with a focus of running 4 of the peaks and ridge line visible from Gemma’s house. This also took us into the ski town of Nuria named after the virgin Nuria that so many Catalan’s are named after.

Day 8: Peaks and Ridge visible from Guils - Puigmal de Llo
Day 8: Peaks and Ridge visible from Guils – Puigmal de Llo
Day 8: Peaks and Ridge visible from Guils - Pic de Segre (2843M)
Day 8: Peaks and Ridge visible from Guils – Pic de Segre (2843M)
Day 8: Peaks and Ridge visible from Guils - Pic de Segre to Coma de Finestrelles
Day 8: Peaks and Ridge visible from Guils – Pic de Segre to Coma de Finestrelles
Day 8: Peaks and Ridge visible from Guils - Puig de Coll de Finestrelles (2827M)
Day 8: Peaks and Ridge visible from Guils – Puig de Coll de Finestrelles (2827M)
Day 8: Peaks and Ridge visible from Guils - Puigmal d’Err (2909M)
Day 8: Peaks and Ridge visible from Guils – Puigmal d’Err (2909M)

Day 8 Recap:

  • Route: Puigmal de Llo (2801M) – Pic de Segre (2843M) – Coma de Finestrelles – Puig de Coll de Finestrelles (2827M) – Nuria – Puigmal d’Err (2909M) – Tossa del Pas dels Lladres
  • 21 KM, 2050 Ascent, 3 passes,4 summits

We did our last laundry, packed up, had an amazing last meal with Gemma and on Tuesday morning we were on our way to Tossa de Mar for the next stage of our trip. Looking back, we had such a wonderful experience being taken in by friends and friends of friends. We met so many people and truly go the experience we strive for when traveling (to be able to live like a local). This is something that will always be a highlight of this trip for us.

Final dinner with Gemma
Final dinner with Gemma

I have done a few 2-3 day fast pack trips, but never a long trip with refugios and villages so it took some planning to figure out what to take. We wanted to pack as light as possible while still being able to be semi-self-sufficient if things went bad. In the end, we decided that we would pack a space set of running cloths and a mylar bivy so that if the shit really hit the fan, we could survive a night out although it would most likely be type 3 fun. My total pack weight was around 6Kg.

Transitions – Summer 2015 Recap

Fall is the Wasatch is a great time.  Cool temps, the overgrown trails start to die back for good running, quick desert trips to remember what summer is like,  and a huge drop in running miles in favor of duck and elk hunting. By October my body is ready for a break from running so the relaxed pace of hunting is a perfect transition season for recovery before ski season starts.  With any luck, the seasons transition perfectly with hunting ending at the end of October and skiing starting the first of November. If the snow doesn’t come early, by November Emily and I are usually both ready for an long weekend of running in the desert.

While not racing much this year, I had some great runs and other fun times (and a few not so fun times with my uncle’s death). As I was looking through photos from the summer, I thought a summer photo recap would be a great seasonal transition.

A great view while running through Valley Forge National Park
A great view while running through Valley Forge National Park.

I spent several months working 1 mile from Valley Forge National Park and was able to do some great training (even on dirt) for Jemez 50.

 

The last climb of Jemez 50 in May
The last climb of Jemez 50 in May

I suffered through Jemez 50 as much as it looked like in the photo.

 

Maah Daah Hey Deuce Trail in ND in July
Maah Daah Hey Deuce Trail in ND in July

 

Maah Daah Hey Deuce Trail in ND in July
Maah Daah Hey Deuce Trail in ND in July

I burned up in the ND Bad Lands trying to run the new section of the Maah Daah Hey Trail in hopes of connecting the entire 140+ miles in a single push in the near future.

July in ND and seeing if I can still ski
July in ND and seeing if I can still ski

July in ND and seeing if I can still ski

July in ND and seeing if I can still ski

The 4th of July at Lake Metigoshe is one of the few true traditions we have. It is always hard to miss it.

Nebo Traverse in August with Eric and Tom
Nebo Traverse in August with Eric and Tom

Helping Tom Diegel train for his first 100 was fun.  We got in some great vert  and technical scrambling on a Mt Nebo Traverse.

Hanging out with 2 of our favorite girls - Berkley and Mischa
Hanging out with 2 of our favorite girls – Berkley and Mischa

Not much more needs to be said about these 2 girls.

 

Mill B run through amazing wildflowers in July
Mill B run through amazing wildflowers in July
Mill B run in July
Mill B run in July

Probably the most amazing run I have ever done through wildflowers was Mill B in July.

Our first trip to the Wind River Range in August
Our first trip to the Wind River Range in August

We took up fast packing and had 2 fun trips to the Wind River Range (our first time ever visiting the range)

September in the Uintas
September in the Uintas

The Uintas is my favorite place in Utah.  I didn’t get there enough this year, but was at least able to get a little trail time out there.

 

My first ascent of the South Ridge of Mt Superior with Nina, Pete, and Dom
My first ascent of the South Ridge of Mt Superior with Nina, Pete, and Dom

My first ascent of the South Ridge of Mt Superior with Nina, Pete, and Dom

My first ascent of the South Ridge of Mt Superior with Nina, Pete, and Dom

After 13 years in Utah, I finally climbed the South Ridge of Mt Superior.  It was a first for Nina, Pete, Dom, and I.  Sticking to the ridge like we did definitely increases the pucker factor.

 

Wind River Range Titcomb Basin Camp
Wind River Range Titcomb Basin Camp

Chad & Ryan McDermott Relaxing in Titcomb Basin in the Wind River Range

Chad & Ryan McDermott Relaxing in Titcomb Basin in the Wind River Range

Chad & Ryan McDermott on the Dinwoody Glacier During out Gannett Peak attempt (Wind River Range)

Chad & Ryan McDermott on the Dinwoody Glacier During out Gannett Peak attempt (Wind River Range)

An amazing trip to the Winds with a failed Gannett Peak attempt.

Celebrating Uncle Gary's life in a style he would have liked
Celebrating Uncle Gary’s life in a style he would have liked

We had a hard 2 weeks in late August and early September as Gary passed away.  The night after his passing we honored and toasted him with an amazing bottle of bubbles.

Chip Duross at mile 55(ish) of Bear 100 en-route to complete his first 100
Chip Duross at mile 55(ish) of Bear 100 en-route to complete his first 100

I was honored to pace Chip Duross for just over 30 miles of his first 100 (Bear 100)

Chad Running up Mudd Creek In Steamboat
Chad Running up Mudd Creek In Steamboat

Proud parents (Galen and Ashley) and God parents (Emily and Chad) with Ben and Emma

Proud parents (Galen and Ashley) and God parents (Emily and Chad) with Ben and Emma

Maddie Selzler's Baptism
Maddie Selzler’s Baptism

And to wrapped up summer (or at least this got us to 05 October) celebrating Maddison Ashley Selzler’s baptism in Steamboat.  We were honored and thrilled to be asked to be her God Parents.

With the middle of October having started, we are running the Corner Canyon 50K which is benefiting our best friend Christian Bacasa from his 4+ year ordeal with lymphoma, then directly after the race I am off to the airport for a 2 week work trip in Europe from which I get home and 16 hours later head to Indianapolis for a 4 day work trip. So, it is only 16 October, but I miss the best season in the Wasatch and hopefully it will be ski season when I return.

Running in the Wind River Range

We have wanted to visit the Wind River Range in Wyoming for years as friends always talk about how amazing it is. We planned a quick weekend with a short run Friday, then a 50+ mile loop fast-pack style for Saturday and Sunday. Our friend Eric Bunce decided to join us for the Saturday/Sunday loop. We were excited to see a new place and to try out some new fast packing gear (especially our new CAMP Raid packs).

Friday’s run was a beautiful cross country run from Half Moon Lake

Half Moon Lake Run
Half Moon Lake Run

After a great run on Friday, we setup camp (ie, parked the truck) at the Elkhart trailhead and got gear ready for an early Saturday start.  The forecast had been hit and miss all week with storms forecasted, then clearing.  We woke on Saturday to grey skies and left the trailhead in a light rain.

Leaving Elkhard Trailhead in the rain
Leaving Elkhard Trailhead in the rain

Based on the forecast, we assumed the weather would clear.

Photographers Point (too bad we can't see)
Photographers Point (too bad we can’t see)

Unfortunately, the weather only got worse and it eventually started raining very hard.  On our climb up to Lester Pass the rain turned to snow which turned to a full on blizzard.  We were now running in winter conditions and packed for summer conditions.  We were all saturated through and cold.  We dropped off Lester Pass and reached a trail junction 16 miles into our run.  Right would take us ~10 miles up to Titcomb Basin and eventually to Peak Lake where we planned to bivy for the night.  Left would take us ~12 miles back to the trailhead and try gear. None of us wanted to make the smart choice but we all knew that left was our only option as the weather appeared to have set in hard and going right could quickly be Type 2 or Type 3 fun. Of course by the time we dropped 1500′ to the trailhead the weather had cleared down low, but the high country still was socked in so we were glad we turned around.  We ended up with a great 28.5 mile run.

We started to re-plan Sunday.  Do we run in a few miles Saturday night or stay at the trailhead for a longer run on Sunday.  We ended up staying at the trailhead and had options for anything up to ~45 miles for Sunday.

Sunday we woke to great weather and headed up to Titcomb Basin.  We decided it would be great to see the basin and scope out that as a route to Gannett Peak (the highest peak in Wyoming). We ended up with a 36.5 mile out and back into the basin and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves along the way.  We took our time on the run up enjoying the sites and taking photos.  After turning around, we kept a decent pace trying to make time back to the trailhead knowing we had a 4 hour drive back home.

The Winds are as amazing as everyone says and we can’t wait to get back (hopefully with better weather).

Seneca Lake
Emily running past Seneca Lake

 

Looking into Titcomb Basin and the Wind River Range high country
Looking into Titcomb Basin and the Wind River Range high country

 

Eric with Island Lake
Eric with Island Lake

 

Emily and Eric in Titcomb Basin
Emily and Eric in Titcomb Basin

 

Emily at Titcomb Lakes
Emily at Titcomb Lakes

 

Emily and Eric running through the amazing wild flowers
Emily and Eric running through the amazing wild flowers

 

Emily and Eric
Emily and Eric

 

 

Getting Aced by The Deuce

Ever since running the first section of the Maah Daah Hey trail through the North Dakota Badlands, Emily and I have wanted to spend more time running there.  When the second section known as ‘The Duece’ was finished (I believe just last fall) I knew it was time to plan on finishing the rest of the trail and then putting together plans to run the entire ~145 miles in 1 push.

Emily and I decided we would do this during our trip home to visit family over July 4th.  July isn’t the best time of the year to head out on a 47-mile run through the treeless, shadeless Badlands, but how bad could it be? The only day we could do this ended up being the hottest day of the year so far with temperatures hitting 85F by 8:30 AM and topping out at 96F in the afternoon. We quickly learned that it could be REALLY bad. The weather put the decision to run The Duece into my ‘Top 5 Bad Decisions Ever’ list (running the Highline Trail alone in bad weather may top this list).

The start of Maah Daah Hey The Deuce
The start of Maah Daah Hey The Deuce

Our morning started out amazing with fog in the low draws and 57F temps.  We made great time on the first 13 miles before meeting Emily’s parents at our first ‘aid station’. The trail was amazing. Well marked, in great shape, and perfect for fast running.

Early morning light on The Duece
Early morning light on The Duece
One of the ~20 gates on The Duece
One of the ~20 gates on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece
Our great crew at Plumely Draw
Our great crew at Plumely Draw

By 8AM, an hour into the next section, it was starting to get warm. We slowed our pace to account for the heat and increased our fluid intake (from drinking every 15 minutes to drinking every 10 minutes). The trail and views continued to be amazing. We were seeing cattle, pheasant, pronghorn, rabbits, and luckily only 1 rattlesnake. By mile 24.5 at Bear Creek, our 2nd ‘aid station’, we were really starting to get cooked.

The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views on The Duece

Emily had developed plugged ears from congestion and sweat and decided to sit out the next section of 7 miles to Tom’s Wash. My pace to Tom’s Wash dropped significantly as the temperatures approached 90F. Instead of the 1.25 hours I had planned on this section, it took me over 1.75 hours for this section and I was completely cooked when I got there. I sat down and drank about 2 L and dumped another couple over my head.

The only things we shared the trail with
The only things we shared the trail with
The amazing views on The Duece
The amazing views of the Badlands on The Duece

 

Even with 2 coats of sunscreen, I was starting to get burnt so I put on another thick coat and followed it with a healthy dose of DEET to help keep the nasty, persistent horse flies away and then I headed out on the next 8 mile section to Third Creek. This was an amazing section that was almost completely ‘cross country’ just running trail marker to trail marker. I made it about a mile into this section and started to completely melt down. I was suddenly no longer sweating, unable to run at all, and struggling to maintain any type decent of walking pace. After 1.5 hours I was out of water having drank 44 oz and I was still 3 miles from my crew. Emily was going to run out to meet me part way so I was counting on this. I was starting to have trouble following the trail markers and getting clumsy and dizzy from the heat and dehydration. I knew I was walking a fine line. I had to keep moving, but couldn”t push it. I came to Hanley Creek and it thankfully had a couple pools of rusty red and yellow water (or rather a mixture of cow piss and water based on the smell). I slid down the steep sandy bank and sat in the 8” of water soaking my legs up to my waist. I sat for 5 minutes getting my core temperature down and then climbed back out and headed on. I felt like a new person. I was still out of water, but at least felt good enough to maintain a good walking pace for a while. After another 15 or so minutes I met Emily and she had 2 bottles of water. I quickly drank 1 and nursed the other. We hiked the next mile to where the trail crossed a road and were met by Emily’s dad who had driven up looking for us. We bailed with 1 mile left to Third Creek and called it quits. The temps were now in the mid 90’s and there was not a cloud in the sky to offer any reprieve. I wasn’t happy to be quitting before Burning Coal Vein (the end of the trail), but there was not safe way to continue in those temperatures after already getting so dehydrated.

We enjoyed the shade of an old cottonwood tree along the creek (the largest tree I have ever seen in the badlands) while I recovered. I had 3 packets of Recoverite, another few liters of water, some food, and a beer. After about 30 minutes I was feeling good after having cooled down and rehydrated. It was tempting to head out for the next section, but we knew what the results would be so the last 9 miles will be saved for another time.

It was an amazing run and we couldn’t have done it without Emily’s parents being a great crew for us. One of the most amazing things of the run is that we ran for 9 hours and didn’t see another person the entire time. It is so great to be able to have long time of solitude in such a beautiful place. With a detailed GPS track for all but the last 9 miles of the ~145 miles of trail, I am excited to get back and link it all together. An early June attempt would be great as the temps would be cooler and the days long (less than 6 hours of darkness).

Jemez 50 – an amazing race

In mid March Emily and I decided to do Jemez 50 in Los Alamos New Mexico. It was still full on ski season and I had not even started to think about running yet. I had run ~30 miles so far in 2015 when we decided to do the race and only had 9 weeks to train. I put together an aggressive, but attainable training schedule and quickly got excited about doing a new race in a place we had never been. As the race got closer, we realized it was going to be a very fun weekend with a lot of Wasatch runners going down for the race.

The race is known to be hard, but I definitely underestimated how hard it really would be. With ~12,000′ of climbing and 3 climbs making up the majority of that vertical gain, it didn’t seem too bad. When we arrived in Los Alamos on Friday afternoon and did a quick shake out run on a portion of the course, the difficulty really set in. The course was going to be VERY technical and rocky with 90% trail and 10% cross country (no trail at all).

Jemez-elevation-profile-2014-50mile-mockup.jpg
I think the hardest part of ultra’s is the ridiculous time the alarm clock goes off on race day. On Saturday morning, our alarm rang at 3:20AM. We were out of the hotel by 4:15 on our way to the race start. The weather was looking to be perfect. Starting temps of around 40F with highs of around 60F with a slight chance of rain, but strong winds up high.
At 5AM we were off with a fast pace (~7min/mile) until we got onto the rocky single track where the pace quickly dropped in the dark. My body was feeling good and I was on a great 10:30 pace until the top of the ski hill climb (the first ~3000′ climb) where I got off trail and descended about 0.5 miles before realizing my error and having to turn around and climb back to the top of the ski hill. I lost a little over 15 minutes and had added 1 mile. The descent to the ski lodge aid station was steep. I took it easy not to trash my legs and was met by Brent to help refuel and get back on the trail. It was shortly after leaving the ski lodge that my chronic sciatica kicked in with full force. All of a sudden my right leg from my waist to my ankle ranged from mild tingling to extremely sharp pain (to the point of almost passing out on the second climb up the ski hill).

Here is a great photo of me from Jim Stein: http://www.jimsteinphotography.com/Sports-1/TrailRunning-1/Jemez-Mountain-Trail-Runs/Jemez-Mountain-Trail-Runs-2015/JMTR-2015-50M-50K/i-8L6gPS6/A

My pace slowed and I kept plugging along. Around mile 22, David Hayes caught up to me and I was happy to have someone to run with and take my mind off my back/leg for around 8 miles. We ran together through the most spectacular section of the race the Caldera (Valley Grande). We were treated to 2 beautiful bull elk running across the trail in front of us and watched them continue across the expansive valley. A very steep cross country climb out of the Caldera and we had a long descent to the Parjarito Canyon aid station. With my back issue I had not chance of keeping up with David on this long descent so I would be alone again for quite a while. The Pajarito aid station started the second climb to the top of the ski hill. My legs felt find (muscle wise), but the sciatica was becoming excruciating at times. I suffered up the climb and was able to find some relief on the steep descent. I took 5 minutes to get my head together at the aid station and was back on the trail. I covered the next 2.8 miles faster than the first time, and then was happy to know that most of the climbing was behind me.

Shortly after the Guaje Ridge aid station, I was caught by Cody from Silverton and together we pushed our pace much harder than either of us could have maintained alone. We rang the final ~7 miles together at a strong pace down some amazing single track. With about 1 mile to go, we caught David Hayes and the 3 of us ran into the finish line together.
My goal time was 10:30 and I ended up finishing in 11:46 for 33rd overall (30th male) out of . I wasn’t thrilled with this time, but considering how my back/sciatica felt and my 1 mile detour, and the fact that the race was close to 54 miles (no including my detour) I wasn’t that disappointed either. It was great to have Bethany, Brent, Emily, Leslie (David’s sister) and other familiar faces cheering at the finish line.
After recovering (a little) and getting some food, we waited for the rest of our Wasatch crowd to finish.

Jemez 50 - 23May15 The final climb to the finish. Photo by Brent Mitchell

Jemez 50 - 23May15 The Legendary Roch Horton finishing

Jemez 50 - 23May15 Emily Finishing
After getting cleaned up, we were treated to fantastic homemade lasagna at David’s moms house.
We were looking forward to Sunday and Monday in Santa Fe. Since neither of us had been to New Mexico, we decided that it would be fun to spend 2 days there. We got into Santa Fe around 11 on Sunday and walked around town looking at galleries for several hours. We then relaxed by the pool and had a much needed nap (I had only got 12 hours of sleep the previous 3 nights combined). We had an amazing dinner at Pink Adobe and after dinner drink and dessert at Coyote Cafe. Sunday morning was had a great hike/jog on the trails around Santa Fe, a little more relaxation, followed by some more galleries, dinner and tequila tasting at Maria’s and then we headed back to Albuquerque for our 6AM Tuesday morning flight.

Recovering from Jemez 50 in Santa Fe Recovering in Santa Fe

Food consumed during the race (~2800 calories)

  • 3 servings Herbalife Prolong (100 cal)
  • 3 Hammer Nutrition Fizz
  • 9 Hammer Nutrition Peanut Butter Gels (900 cal)
  • 3 Stinger Gels (300 cal)
  • 3 servings Hammer Nutrition Sustained Energy (300 cal)
  • 8 Hammer Nutrition Endurance Aminos
  • 14 Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes
  • 3 handfuls potato chips (100 cal)
  • 1 mini snicker (50 cal)
  • 1 Stinger waffe (150 cal)
  • 1 Pizza portable (150 cal)
  • 3 watermelon slices (200 cal)
  • 4 orange slices (200 cal)
  • 2 peanut butter chocolate cookers (200 cal)
  • 1 can Red Bull (150 cal)
  • 8 oz Coke
  • 4 Advil

Spring – Ski or Run???

We had a crazy winter in the Wasatch.  We set a record for the least amount of snow – EVER.  As everyone complained about the skiing,  I had an amazing ski season with lots of great ski days, not as much skimo racing as I would have wanted, a great trip to the World Ski Mountaineering Championships in Verbier, a chance to ski in Chamonis, and too much work travel for my new job with PwC. Thanks to all the hard work that we (Emily, Nick, Eric, and myself) put into the Powder Keg, we had another very successful race.

I have had a hard rule for at least 10 years that I would not skip a Saturday or Sunday of skiing to run except for BoSho Marathon no matter how early I had a race.  With the low snow year, for the first time I broke my rule and transitioned to running earlier than normal to try to get back into running and do the Jemez 50 race on 23 May. In March, I kept my rule slowly increasing my miles during the week.  Starting in April, without much skiing motivation, I transitioned into running mode. Since the snow was marginal (at best) I wanted to take the extra time to ensure I was ready to run long after last year’s injury.
On 18 April, I ran BoSho Marathon.  As usual, the race was hard and it made me wonder if I could get into running shape.  I had my 2nd slowest time, but I was thrilled to be able to run with no pain in my back or leg.  It probably didn’t help that I only had 5 weeks of training going into the run and this run accounted for just over 12% of my entire annual mileage.  It was a great test of where the recovery from the pinched nerve in my back is at.  With a busy travel schedule and some family commitments, this weekend is my last chance for a long run so I will do 50K in the rain and snow on Saturday to really find out if i am ‘ready for a 50′.
My crazy travel schedule that I am trying to cram ultra training into has been/is
  • January:
    • 2 weeks in Chicago for work
  • February
    • 2 weeks in Europe for World Ski Mountaineering Championships
    • 2 weeks in Chicago
  • March
    • 1 week at Brighton for Powder Keg
    • 1 week in Chicago
    • 1/2 week in Denver
  • April
    • 2 weeks in Philadelphia
    • 1 week in Detroit
    • 1 weekend in Scottsdale to visit family
  • May (planned)
    • 3 weeks in Philadelphia
    • 1 weekend in Scottsdale to visit family
    • Long labor weekend in New Mexico for Jemez
  • June (planned)
    • Unknown work trips
    • 1 weekend at Pocatello helping out
    • 1 weekend visiting friends in Steamboat

If you overlap Emily’s work travel on top of this, our paths crossed only 4 days in February, we were only home together 8 days in March, and 2 days in April!

Here are a few photos from March and April.  Maybe I will start snapping a few running.
Powder Keg Week
Powder Keg week
Chipman Peak into Dry Fork with Tom and Blake
Thin snow on the ridgeline to Pfiefferhorn on our way to ski corn into Dry Fork with Blake and T-Dawg
Red Baldy to Tibble Fork with Andy
Skiing Icefall off Red Baldy with Andy – this might be the best corn run in the Wasatch.
Red Baldy to Tibble Fork with Andy
Cooking on our climb out of the Icefall – shirts off skinning at 11K in March!

Powder Keg

Skiing with Sarah and Blake after a 40″ April storm.  Best powder day since Christmas.

Reflections – Part 2

If you haven’t read, Part 1, please reach that first.

Taking a quick step back to May, we also started a large house remodel as soon as the snow melted. We extended our master bedroom above the 2nd garage (which had been a scab on at some point). The construction wasn’t without challenges. As with most remodels, there were a lot of unknowns as they began to tear into things and we encountered numerous setbacks in the first few weeks. Thanks to our great architect and friend Blake and Noah Bigwood our builder for doing such a great job. We now have an amazing master suite and my pride and joy of a gear room.

IMG_3239.JPG

IMG_4093.JPG

IMG_4094.JPG

IMG_4095.JPG

EMGT was Emily’s last long run before Wasatch 100. Unfortunately, this was her first DNF as a slip at mile 6 caused a glute muscle pull that by mile 60-ish was no longer bearable. Your first DNF is always hard and Emily struggled for several weeks accepting it. Luckily, her glute recovered fairly quickly and she was able to enjoy a fall of fun running.

Summer and fall were a mix of things going on. I was working on getting a new job going back to work with some old colleagues from Accenture. I was excited about an opportunity to work in healthcare technology consulting, but getting the job finalized became a long engagement. I finally started the new role on 01 December. Our friend Stephanie who had gone through breast cancer 3 years ago was re-diagnosed with cancer and has been undergoing rigorous treatments. Christian’s health continued to yo-yo with a couple more hospital stays and some challenging times for him. My uncle was also diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and began a rigorous treatment regiment. All of this lead to a busy, stressful, and sometimes sad fall. It is amazing the impact that the health of close friends has on a person.

Fall also had fun times with Nick and Brita’s wedding in Tellurirde, Coyote running, and seeing family.

IMG_3791.JPG Mt biking with Eric and Jackie in Telluride

IMG_3817.JPG The happy couple

Starting in November, my back started to do much better and the last 2 months have been the best of the year for my health. This allowed us to once again enjoy our long weekend of Coyote running antics. This year we were in St George and Zion. Jared Campbell treated us to an amazing Zion run that required wetsuits, ropes, and harnesses. We also had some great runs around the St George area.
IMG_3892.JPG
Coyote Running
November became the month we really weren’t home with 2 trips to Arizona to help care for my uncle and grandma. It was great to spend so much quality time with them and to be able to help my uncle through this challenging time.
We scrambled to get moved back into our house by Thanksgiving when Emily’s parents, sister, and nieces came to spend the week. By the time Emily’s family arrived, we hadn’t both been home at the same time for 3 weeks and our stress was increasing. Adding to the stress, I would start a new job on 01Dec, but be flying out the Sunday of Thanksgiving. I would be getting home and we would turn around and go to Crested Butte for the first skimo race of the season, then I would leave again that Sunday for another work trip. When I finally got home on 11Dec, we were both excited to have no travel plans and be able to spend some time recuperating, skiing, and finishing up working on the house. It had been since 04Nov since we had both been home and had time together. Another level of stress for both of us.
IMG_3957.JPG Skimo training at PCMR under the snow guns
We spent a quiet Christmas with friends and we were treated to a 70”+ storm over the Christmas week leading to some of the best skiing in 2 seasons.
IMG_0876.jpg
Amazing powder skiing over Christmas
The key I had been learning all year was how to no let all the different types of stress affect my health. It has proved to be a constant journey that is never simple. The new year is going to probe to be very busy with work, skiing, racing, Powder Keg, USSMA, and all of the other hobbies that we have. With hopes, I will keep the lessons I learned in 2014 close to me and be able to manage all of the responsibilities and stresses without letting it affect my health.
Here’s to looking forward to sunny days, powder skiing, friends, and family in 2015!
Mineral Fork Powder - 29Dec14

Reflections – Part 1

It has been a quiet year of blogging as it has been a challenging year. Unfortunately, that means that this post got a little bit long so I broke it into 2 parts. It was a challenging year for me physically and mentally. I started the year off with great fitness ready for a good ski and skimo racing season. That worked out very well with great race finishes (PR’s) at the Targhee and Jackson races. The Targhee race had decent weather but the Jackson race had sub-zero starting line temperatures with 40 mph winds at the top. Most of us were treated to a nice case of frostnip (or worse).

Chad-on-Corbetts-Ladder

Climbing Corbett’s Couloir at the Jackson Skimo Race

What wasn’t readily apparent to me going into the new year was my stress level. Work had been crazy with over a dozen trips to Europe during the year including a last minute 48 hour round trip to Oslo. Add to this stress the natural holiday season stress and the training the skiing I was doing and I was setting myself up for a giant fall.

The week after Jackson, we were off to Heathen Challenge in Sunlight Colorado. The race was fun and post race I was driving to Denver to catch a Sunday afternoon flight back to London for work. A great run with Matt and Walter, a quick shower and off to the airport. This was supposed to be a great trip that would involve a hard week of work followed by a quick weekend in Verbier to race a skimo World Cup race. Little did I know that my giant fall would come that week. On Wednesday I was stretching in my hotel room before going to work and felt something in my back ‘pop’ and then felt sudden excruciating pain. I have dealt with back issues for 20+ years so I didn’t think much of this. The pain increased during the day and I was able to find both a masseur and physical therapist over the next 2 days. By the time Friday came and I was supposed to be heading to Verbier, I could hardly stand up straight and carrying my suitcase and ski bag was miserable. I made it to Verbier, met Meredith and Bill and we had an easy skin to see if my back would behave. It wouldn’t. There would be no racing for me. I went out the next day and Bill and I cheered Meredith on at various location of the course. Sunday morning I could not get out of bed and was in the worst pain of my life. By the time the vertical race ended, I had made it out of bed and packed my bags. We were headed to Chamonix and then I would fly out of Geneva Monday morning. Lots of pain and drugs later, I finally was back in the US hunched to the side and barely able to walk. This is what started the next 10 months of rehab for me. My much looked forward to ski season would end up being only easy climbing on groomed runs for 6 weeks.

In normal fashion, I did race the CROWBAR and Power of Four races off the couch. My fitness was poor, but I still enjoyed racing and not pushing myself so that I would get hurt worse. I was able to complete my Level 3 Avalanche class in light of my back issues. I was concerned I would not be able to complete the class, but was extremely happy to have been able to expand my avalanche knowledge to this level. This all brought an end to February.

Wasatch Citizen Series Race - 25Feb

Our nighttime skimo race series

IMG_2275.JPG

Sarah and Emily finishing Power of Four

March started crazy busy with the Powder Keg. We were the North American Championship Race and also was an ISMF Sanctioned Race so we had a huge turn out and our most successful race ever. It was in March that I finally started to put the puzzle pieces together and realize the root cause of my back issue – the combination of stresses (work, physical, personal). I had a good learning lesson and really appreciated the book Back Sense and the lessons it has to offer for anyone with chronic pain. After the Powder Keg, I was able to start skiing again, but being cautious while still trying to have fun. This allowed some fun objectives like Mt Nebo, the Sliver, and others.

Sliver-025.jpg

Skiing the top of the Sliver

I normally start training for running after the Powder Keg, but this was still out of the question with my back so I decided to continue skiing as long as I could. Emily and I planned a trip to Sayulita for April. This would be our first ever destination beach trip and we were both excited to do something completely different. I have done a little bit of surfing over the past few years so I was excited to be able to get in a full week of surfing. The day before leaving, we Paul D joined us for a ‘Whiskey Tour’ (Alta to High West Distillery in Park City).

IMG_2499.JPG

We left the next morning and had a great week of fully relaxation with lots of surfing, a day of scuba diving, great fish, and the chance to see our friends Chris and Ashley (and their kids Alex and Trace) who had moved to Sayulita a few years earlier. This was a great vacation for us. No racing. No plans. No stress. I felt better after this trip than I had felt all year. Things seemed like they were (hopefully) turning around for my back.

Sayulita-037.JPG

True R&R in Sayulita

I still wasn’t running in May so skiing continued. A couple of standout adventures on Bald Mt, Mt Wheeler and Twin Peaks. Not nearly as much skiing as walking, but fun none the less.

Bald Mountain Skiing Wheeler-Peak-020-1.jpg Skiing NW Couloir of Twin Peaks

Gemma climbing Bald Mt; Chad hiking off Wheeler Peak in the rain/snow/sleet; Mark wading down Deaf Smith Canyon off Twin Peaks

June was still limited climbing so Eric and I went to the NW for a couple of volcanoes. We skied Mt Adams and Mt Rainier in 2 days for a total of over 20,000’ climbing and pretty much horrible snow and weather conditions. I had the worst frostbite of my life in June on Mt Adams. Skiing quality aside, it was a great trip. Thankfully we had Goliath (Eric’s Sportsmobile) to shelter us from the weather and provide a great base camp.

Volcano-Ski-Tour-036.JPG

Rime storm on Mt Adams

Volcano-Ski-Tour-101.JPG

Freezing on Rainier

Ski season had ended and I really wasn’t doing much running. I enjoyed short runs and some great mt bike rides through July and August. My work had been going through lots of changes so starting in April, my work load was very small. This was fun, but also added some stress as I never really knew if I would be laid off as several other’s on our team had been laid off and then they had dismantled our team. More stress was added when Christian’s health started going up and down. Christian is our best friend who has been dealing with lymphoma and all the treatment side effects for over 3 years. I tried to keep the lessons learned from Back Sense in mind and deal with those stresses ‘healthfully’.

In July I was invited on a Canyoneering Trip by Paul and Tom. A little unsure of my abilities, I was hesitant, but was ensured that the pace would be slow so it would not hurt my back. This turned out to be an amazing trip doing Ice Box, Heaps, and Pine Creek Canyons in 3 days (video). I am definitely hooked on canyoneering. I did sustain a nasty hematoma on my shin that would end up taking over a month to heal.

IMG_3297.JPG

Bashed shins

Heaps Canyon Canyoneering Trip with Colter, Paul, Tom

Final 300’ Heaps rapel into Emerald Pools

I also did the Pie N Beer marathon. I definitely wasn’t ready for that distance and just wanted to go out and have fun doing an easy paced long run. Unfortunately, I learned a side effect of the leg weakness caused by my back issues – extensor tendonosis. I was hobbled for about 15 miles by foot pain. This was a huge mental setback for me. I was planning to do the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse Run on August 19 and I was not very unsure if I would be able to do that. I rested until EMGT and 8 miles into that 40 mile race, had the same tendonosis break out. To add to this, we were running from Crested Butte to Aspen and had no planned return. We had a hotel reservation and a planned running route for the following day. After a good night out with friends and a few too many margaritas, I was able to hobble back to CB the day after the race. It would have been a tough day had it not been such a beautiful trail full of wild flowers as we went over Triangle Pass.

Aspen to Crested Butte Run  

Elk Mountain Grand Traverse – Summer Edition

I did my first Elk Mountain Grand Traverse (EMGT) race in 2006. I repeated the race in 2007 and 2008. At that time, the race was still a nordic race and we competed on metal edge, pattern based nordic skis with NNN bindings and boots. Since that time the race has changed as significantly as the gear. The race is now a full skimo race with competitors on the latest and greatest super light skimo gear. The winter EMGT starts from Crested Butte at midnight and you see very little of the course in daylight. When Wick and the rest of the Elk Mountain Events crew decided to start a summer EMGT in 2013, Emily and I registered right away. I was excited to see this terrain in the daylight and do it as a run. Unfortunately, the 2013 race was cancelled. We were excited when the race was once again scheduled for 2014. With the pinched nerve from my back still causing me issues with my right foot, I was not sure I could run 40 miles this summer, but we wanted to be part of this first year event so we registered and I figured that worst case I could walk the 40 miles and still finish within the cut-off times. To add a little excitement to this, we thought it would be fun to spend the night in Aspen and run back to Crested Butte on Sunday via Conundrum Hot Springs (this seemed like a much better idea than it actually was). The timing of this long weekend of running would work out great for Emily’s Wasatch 100 preparations as it would provide her long and hard miles 3 weeks before the race and allow her to go into her taper feeling well trained.

I love spending time in Crested Butte in the winter and over the past 2 winters have been lucky enough to spend several days there each winter racing and touring. I had never been to CB in the summer so I was excited to see it as everyone always told me summers were better than winters. I would disagree with this if the winters weren’t extremely cold in CB.

We arrived in CB before lunch on Friday and had a good shakeout run. We caught up with friends at racer check-in, then spent some time relaxing and getting gear ready for the race and the return run. We ended up lucky that our friends Emily Sullivan and Liz Gleason decided to run the team’s race. This meant that Brent and Stu would be able to take a bag to Aspen for us so that we had a fresh set of cloths and gear for the return run on Sunday and we would be able to all go out for a good dinner in Aspen after the race.

With a 6AM race start, we were in bed early for what unfortunately turned out to be a second night in a row of very poor sleep. The morning was chilly and the race started downtown CB as the sun rose in the east and the steam rose off the creek beds making for a beautiful race start. I felt great in the morning and the week prior to the race I had some of the best runs I had all year. The pace was hard as we traversed around Mt Crested Butte. As we approached Brush Creek around mile 6, I started to have a recurrence of the extensor tendonitis in my right foot that first reared it’s head as yet another side effect of my nerve damage during the Pie-N-Beer Marathon at the end of July. The pain continued to worsen as I ran on. At the Brush Creek Aid Station (mile 9.5) I wanted to drop, but decided that I would at least push on to Taylor Pass (mile 22) so I could get a ride down to Aspen. At this point, I continued to let people pass me as I maintained a slow but steady shuffle trying to find a way to reduce the pain in my foot. It only grew worse and would eventually lead to pain all the way up my shin (the anterior tibialis muscle in my right leg has been one of the most affected areas from the nerve damage and this is the muscle that was now in pain). I spent most of the run to Taylor Pass on my own, but leap frogged with Emily S and Liz several times which broke up the time alone. They would pass me on the downhills (I was unable to run downhill) and I would pass them on the uphills (I could still run and power hike these).

The scenery was AMAZING. I tried to spend as much time enjoying the beauty of my surroundings and not focusing on my foot and leg pain. I was enjoying identifying some of the areas that I had ski raced past and was even able to identify the 2 areas where I got lost during the 2007 and 2008 races. At Taylor Pass, I decided to keep moving as I could walk the 18 miles to Aspen faster than waiting for a ride down when the aid station would close 4 hours later. Since I couldn’t run down, my plan was that if the pain got too bad, I would drop at the top of Aspen and take the gondola down. I restocked my food from my drop bag, had 4 Advil and a 5-Hour Energy, then was off. There were a series of steep descents and climbs after the aid station and by the time we hit runnable terrain, my ‘cocktail’ had kicked in and I was able to run. I didn’t expect this to last so I pushed the pace as hard as possible. By mile 33 my quads and right calf were starting to cramp and I was out of electrolytes. I pushed on focusing on everything but my body.

As we ran down Richmond Ridge I kept thinking of how much this section sucks during the ski race. I was also now starting to recognize much of the terrain from the Power of Four Race and I knew the Aspen Sun Deck was very close. I grabbed some food and water from the Sun Deck Aid Station and started down to the finish line. By this time I couldn’t justify dropping, I was too close. I was not at all looking forward to this descent and with my cramping quads and calf I knew this was going to hurt. It was ~5.5 miles and 3500’ down to the finish line. The trail started out great single track and I was able to keep a good pace. After about a mile, I caught my right toe on a rock (something else I commonly do because of the nerve damage). As I tried to catch myself, my right calf completely cramped with my toe pointing straight down. This caused me to fall as I could not put weight on my foot. I was rolling on the ground screaming from the cramped muscle trying to work it out. After about 30 seconds I was able to get up and hobble a few steps, then work myself up to a run. By now the trail had gotten quite steep so with my camped muscles, I had to really push through some pain. One more toe catch (but luckily no cramping) cause me to go down hard on a tight switchback and 10 minutes later the finish line was visible. I pushed through the finish and just wanted to sit down. Brent and Stu had just arrived and I knew the girls were not far behind me (only about 15 minutes at this point) so we waited to cheer them through as the first place team. Emily would come through a couple hours later. We all agreed that the race was much harder than we had expected it to be, but we all had a great time.

I finished in 8:05:35, Emily S and Liz finished in 8:19:10, and Emily finished in 10:26:02

EMGT Race

Benn congratulating Emily at the finish

EMGT Race

None of these guys teams knew that had been ‘chicked’ until awards and the announcer made it very clear to them what had happened.

We all enjoyed a few beers from Aspen Brewing Company and some BBQ, then headed off to the hotel that Emily and I had booked. All of us got cleaned up, then have dinner together. Brent, Emily, Liz, and Stu then headed to rifle to climb on Sunday and Emily and I spent the night in Aspen to run back on Sunday. We had a great Mexican dinner filled with far too many margaritas, then it was time for everyone to take off. We made sure we had all our gear we needed and sent our wet, dirty, and smelly gear from the race home with Brent and Emily (I am sure it will smell great when we finally unpack it on Wednesday). Emily and I were tired and after 2 bad nights of sleep in a row, we were hoping for a good night sleep.





After another poor night of sleep, we got up Sunday morning tired with sore legs. Due to the cramping and tendonitis, my right foot, right calf, and both quads were very sore and even tender to the touch. We were questioning the wisdom of running back to Crested Butte, but at this point we had no option. We had our left over Mexican food for breakfast, packed our running packs, then grabbed a cup of coffee and headed to the bus station. We took the Aspen City bus a few miles to the Castle Creek Road, then hitchhiked the 5 miles up to the trailhead. We were lucky enough to get picked up quickly and before we knew it we were power hiking up the trail trying to get our legs warmed up. Emily was warming up quickly, but my body was completely rejecting the idea of any type of running. Finally around 5 miles in I found a nice easy shuffle/jog and we worked our way up to the hot springs. The trail was beautiful. After 8 miles we reached the hot spring and enjoy a quick 20-minute soak, ate some food, then continued the 2 miles up to Triangle Pass. This section of trail was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The wildflowers were absolutely amazing. We were running through a beautiful alpine meadow with flowers in full bloom and massive peaks all around us. We had great views of peaks like Hunter, Reefe, Hillard, Cathedral, Conundrum, Castle, and many more.

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Aspen to Crested Butte Run

Triangle Pass

The run off Triangle Pass was rocky which kept our pace slow (and made me happy). My legs were still crampy from Saturday so I stopped several times to stretch my calf and quads. By the time we got to Copper Creek, I was ready to be done, but we still had about 6 miles to go. We enjoyed our slow pace and eventually reached the trailhead just above the ghost town of Gothic. Luckily there were several cars there and a mt biker was just loading his bike and agreed to give us a ride into CB (the last thing we wanted to do was run the 3 miles of slightly climbing gravel to Mt Crested Butte, then run the 3 miles of asphalt down to CB). By 4PM we were in CB and went directly to Sherpa Cafe for some much needed food.

After a huge meal and a shower we went to Montanya Distillery for some of their amazing rum cocktails (this has become a post race CB tradition for me). Three cocktails each later and it was well past time to go home. We were lucky enough to be staying at our friend, Allen Hadley’s place so it was nice to not be relegated to a hotel room.

Montanya Distillery

Emily rehydrating at Montanya

After a 4th restless night of sleep, we got up Monday morning, decided against a run up Red Lady like we had originally planned and instead hit Camp 4 Coffee for a caffeine fix and then hit the road for the long drive home.

My Introduction to Zion Canyoneering

I planned this summer to be a summer of fun and adventure. I was not planning on much racing and my back/leg nerve issues this winter solidified that decision. Luckily, it did not have much of an impact on my adventure plans (other than shortening the duration of the adventures). My head has been filled with all kinds of ideas for the summer, but other than the volcano skiing, the best ones have been unplanned.

A couple weeks ago I had an email from Tom Diegel asking how long the rope we use for the Powder Keg fixed line up Mt Millicent was. Always curious, my response was 250-300M and what type of adventure are you scheming? This was enough to get an invite for a weekend of canyoneering in Zion National Park. There were no exact plans so we put in for last minute permits for Imlay and Heaps Canyons for Friday and Saturday and figured we would fill in other canyons or runs on days we didn’t draw a permit. Jared Campbell spends a significant amount of time in Zion linking together amazing adventures. My first call was to Jared to find out what I was getting myself into, if I was in above my head, and if I could borrow some gear (pack, wetsuit, rope, etc). As usual, he had a plethora of information and gear and was eager to encourage me. Not wanting to purchase much gear, I was able to remove the soles from an old pair of New Balance MT1210 running shoes and glue on Five Ten Stealth C4 Dot soles. I knew this wouldn’t be perfect, but it would have to do. My timing wasn’t perfect and I ended up cutting and sanding them at our Thursday night campsite.

Shoes-blog.jpg

Shoe grinding at our campsite

Tom, Paul Diegel, Colter Leys and I loaded a ridiculous amount of gear into my truck on Thursday and as we were read to leave the city we got our permit lottery results and finalized our plan. We would get a walk-up permit for Icebox Canyon int the Kolob section of Zion for Friday, pick up our lottery permit for Heaps Canyon for Saturday, and play Sunday by ear.

We had an amazing campsite on Thursday night overlooking the Kolob and were treated to an amazing full moon.

Icebox Canyon Canyoneering Trip with Colter, Paul, Tom

The Kolob from our campsite

I had had only been canyoneering twice before and both times were on guided trips when I was out of the country (Australia and Nepal) so when we got up early on Friday I was a little bit nervous. Luckily Icebox canyon had some familiar terrain, our 7+ mile walk out would be on the trail from Kolob Arch to Lee’s Pass Trailhead a section I have run a few times. We loaded gear and we were off quickly headed down the trail, then bush whacking and scrambling to the North Pass entrance. Not being much of a climber any longer, I was a little nervous on the first rappel, but quickly settled into the groove of quickly moving in and out of rappel stations and getting ropes setup. Canyoneering is a very different mentality than climbing and I continually looked at anchors and gear and questioning it. In climbing, you are taught to have 3 points of protection. Many of our canyoneering anchors were a single bolt or 1-2 pieces of webbing slung around a rock or tree. In climbing you use 10+mm ropes and usually rappel on a double rope. In canyoneering, in order to save time we only let out enough rope to reach the ground or water and then tied it off with a ‘biner block’. As a precaution, I had learned an ‘auto block’ using a prussick to backup my rappel. Most accident happen on rappels so I wanted to be sure I was doing everything in my control to be safe. I ended up using this technique on all rappels that didn’t drop us into pools. Icebox was a lot of fun, we took our time, enjoyed the sites, took lots of photos, had relaxing snack breaks, and then cooked in the sun for the 7+ mile hike out. This was a great introduction canyon. It was not overly challenging and had the perfect amount of rappels, swims, scrambling, and down climbing to get me ready for Heaps.

We reached the trailhead, rehydrated with a beer, ate a little food, then headed to Springdale. We were able to complete Icebox in an easy 9 hours to cover the 12+ miles.

It was late afternoon and we still had to pick up our Heaps permit and stash the long rope at Emerald Pools for our last 300’ rappel out of Heaps. Tom and Colter stashed our rope while Paul and I took over 3 parking stalls in the afternoon sun to dry our gear. We got done with all of this at 8:30 and started looking for dinner. Being a weekend, of course Zion was packed busy. It was 10PM before we finally got to where we were going to camp and still and to get gear packed up and ready to leave by 4:45AM.

Heaps would be a completely new beast. It had a long approach with over 3000’ of climbing; it had long, dark, wet sections; significant amounts of scrambling, and a massive 3 rappel exit with the final rappel being 300’ (and free hanging).

Heaps Canyon Canyoneering Trip with Colter, Paul, Tom

Final Heaps Rappel to Emerald Pools

We had a great hike up to the West Rim Trail from The Grotto and were treated to sunrise just before the rim. After about 3 hours we reached the start of Heaps which was a 65’ rappel, a knife ridge scramble, the a 205’ rappel. This canyon was going to start ‘full on’. We then had a great hike down to the bottom of the wash followed by some great slickrock hiking. From the wash, the real fun of Heaps would being. We donned wetsuits, gloves, and hoods and headed into the dark and wet narrows. We would spend the next 5-ish hours rappel into pools, swimming and wading, crawling out of potholes, down climbing into more pools to eventually find an exit that was still high above the canyon floor. There had been rain causing flash floods several days prior so the water in the narrows was high and full of debris. This was great for escaping pot holes as we didn’t have to deal with any challenging escapes, but it meant we spent more time cold and wet. The narrows were an amazing corridor carved into the sandstone with sunshine visible a couple thousand feet above our head at the canyon rim. It was truly amazing. After 10 hours of hiking, rappelling, scrambling, and swimming, we arrived at the exit point. We got out of wet and cold wetsuits, snacked, warmed up, and then got ready for a short 5.4 climb, then 3 massive rappels out of the canyon to Emerald Pools. We talked through our plan in detail for this exist as there was very little room for error and we would be very space constrained on the rappel ledges so we needed to have things planned and organized. The first rappel dropped us into a small crack with a tree anchor. It was small, but plenty of space for 4. The last rappel station (above the 300’ rappel) would be a small 3’ x 1’ ledge. We talked through our plan of rope management, pack management, etc and headed down. Tom, me, Paul, then Colter. Once Colter was firmly on top of us (there really wasn’t anywhere else for him, we commenced setting up the final rappel. We were all getting tired so we talked through each step, checked and double checked ropes/anchors/knots, then proceeded with caution. We would tie our 120’ and 200’ ropes together, belay Colter down on the 120’ rope, then he would be tied in below the knot and rappel the 200’ rope. He would then get our 250M rope from where it was stashed, we would pull it up, rig it then the 3 of us would rappel on a single strand of this long rope. We had been warned that if we did not plan fully, this could take 4 hours. It was definitely time consuming and we were all stuck in uncomfortable positions on this ledge. It took us 3 hours from the start of the exit to Emerald Pools and 1.5 hours just for the last rappel.

We were all happy to be on the ground. We had a snack and loaded up all our gear for the ~2 mile hike back to the trailhead. We were all giddy on the hike out over the amazing experience we had during the day. After 20+ rappels, lots of swimming and scrambling, and 13.5 hours, we were back at The Grotto trailhead. I found it more mentally exhausting than physically exhausting. We snacked, had a beer, and headed into Springdale to find much needed dinner (and more beer).

After another late night, we were back at a campsite with a plan to do Pine Creek on Sunday. We would hopefully be able to get a walk up permit on Sunday morning. This would be a great canyon as it would take less than 3 hours which would allow us to get home by early evening.

Arriving at the Zion Visitor Center on Sunday morning, I immediately saw Adam and Lindsay from Sedona Running Company. It turned out they were also planning to do Pine Creek. We spent some time catching up both while getting permits and at the trailhead, then we moved on. We had a long drive ahead of us. Pine Creek was a beautiful slot and a nice and easy excursion after the prior 2 days. We enjoyed taking it easy through the canyon with 5 rappels and about 30% water. We enjoyed ourselves and took it easy on our hike through. It was amazing how different all 3 canyons were. We were in a small area and yet each was as diverse as they could be.

My introduction to canyoneering in Zion was amazing. I can’t thank Tom enough for the invite and I can’t wait to return.

Instead of posting a bunch of photos, I merged them into this video of the 3 canyons.