Friday, June 29, 2012

Rock Voyeur: Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

A visit to Utah is, for a midwesterner, almost like visiting another planet. In fact, the first two times I was taken into the state I was, at twelve years old, suspicious that Uncle John had somehow found a way to get me out of the country or even out of this world.

Such is the adjustment from dense green forests, rolling corn and bean fields, and endless stretches of flat, pre-sewn dirt to mundane arid plateaus, deep and wide canyons, colorful jutting rock relicts, seemingly implausible rock formations, and gravity defying rock arches.

While making my journey from northern Wyoming to isolated Lake City in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, I was able to squeeze in a couple of agonizingly quick drive-throughs of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. I reached Arches just before a sunset and then followed up with a morning visit to Canyonlands.

Yes, I am getting my money's worth from that Annual National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass that I purchased at the Badlands. To date, I have visited five national parks and three national monuments. And, I have eleven more months to use the card!! More visits are on the horizon.

Here are a few of the photos I took while visiting Arches and Canyonlands. While I have spent sufficient time running, yes running, around Arches to consider myself quite familiar with the topography and features, I know that I will not be satisfied until I spend some quality time running and riding through the lower valleys and box canyons of Canyonlands. I already want to return there. Perhaps I can run one of the scenic and challenging road or trail runs near Moab someday.

Suset at Arches NP.

"Climbing K2 or floating the Grand Canyon in an inner tube; there are some things one would rather have done than do." - Edward Abbey

Monday, June 25, 2012

Passing Through the Tetons

Inspiration Point along the Cascade Canyon Trail
Upon leaving Yellowstone I drove south to Grand Teton National Park. This was my third visit to this ecologically diverse park and I envision going back whenever time and opportunity permit.

The Teton range creates a "wow!" effect because of its monolithic verticality. Surrounding that intense ruggedness are the billowy wildflowers of the lower mountain sides and valley, the crystal clear waters of several lakes, and the ever-present animal population. When absorbed by the senses, these factors create a landscape that is intoxicating, soothing, and, for people like me, adrenaline producing.

To satisfy my desires and to test my still healing feet, I chose to hike/jog up into Cascade Canyon. Starting from a lot along String Lake, I hiked around Jenny Lake until I reached the trail system going up into Cascade Canyon. Dozens of other "hikers" who had just ridden shuttle boats across the lake were on the trail at this point. As I moved further away from the lake and up into the canyon, the crowd thinned out.

I saw a bull moose resting under a tree near the site where I saw a cow and calf back in 2006 before a guided climb of the Grand Teton. Though I was nowhere near the end of the canyon, I turned back when the Polar RCX5 told me that I had traveled more than four miles from the car. What a nourishing hike this was!

Below are some pictures I took along the trail and on the roads. Enjoy them and make plans to visit this magnificent park.
Mount Moran
The shrouded Tetons
Looking southeast across Jenny Lake
Fire ravaged forest next to Jenny Lake
Trying to find my way . . .
Lake along Cascade Creek
Refueling at Snake River Brewing Company

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Colorful Yellowstone Revisited

After dragging my tired arse and mangled toe out of Dayton, WY I set a course for Yellowstone National Park. This required me to first drive over the beautiful Bighorn Wilderness and then across a wide valley to Cody, WY near the eastern gate of the park. I camped in Buffalo Bill State Park nine miles west of Cody and forty miles east of Yellowstone's east gate.

After going down under a magnificent cluster of Milky Way stars I was awakened by a devilish wind that lifted and tossed the tent. While closing the fly I'd left open to welcome in a soft breeze, the gale thrust a bucket full of dirt down my throat, up my nostrils, and into the cores of my eyeballs. For those interested in such things, WY dirt does not taste good. And chewing on it for hours is not on my list of fun things to do.

 If you are American and you haven't been to Yellowstone, then get your own sorry arse out there to see it. Make it happen and you will be forever glad you made the effort.

I spent two days in Yellowstone, traveling in a figure eight around the park's road system and visiting most of the "hot spots" while using a campsite in Bridge Bay campground as a home base. As was the case in the Badlands and at Buffalo Bill's, the wind played a key role in this visit. Cold temperatures that ranged from the 20s to the 60s combined with 20-30+ mph winds to create an almost constant chilling nuisance. The uniquely mind numbing beauty of Yellowstone easily overcame all of the discomforts.

There is a story I can relate. Just before reaching my campsite one evening the rented RV (RV1) in front of me came to a stop. A lady jumped out of the passenger side and started knocking on the side door of another rented RV (RV2). Apparently, RV1 had been assigned the very campsite that RV2 occupied. After a few seconds a man walked from the front of RV1 and also started knocking on the door of RV2. Meanwhile, RV1 started to drive away. Wait a minute! It crashed into the side of RV2 and ground to a halt as the knocking man, who apparently had been in the driver's seat, ran around RV2 with his hands to the sides of his head just in time to see his rig smash the side windows out of RV1. Mayhem! Luckily, no one was in RV2. I soon learned that the driver of RV1 was French and the renter of RV2 was a Spaniard. Luckily, they both spoke English, because neither one of them spoke the other's language. And that, folks, is why we have insurance!

My big adventure on the still aching toe was a "climb" up Mt. Washburn. This 6.4-mile jog/hike was a glorified easy hike, really, since it only ascended from 8800 ft to 10,243 ft over three miles. The views from the summit tower made the jaunt worthwhile.

Enjoy some of the photos from those two days.
Seen in the Bighorn. 
Feeling lost or a bit out of place . . . or just plain cool?

Fashionably late, but still mind blowing.
Up from a nap.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone . . .
Snowbound trailhead sign.
Several long snowfields along the road.
The Mt. Washburn tower. Super windy!
Traffic jam maker.
Isolated beauty.
Up next is a photo post from Grand Teton National Park.

Bighorn 100 Race Report

My arrival in Bighorn country was long anticipated. Though the drive west was exciting for me, since I have long wanted to drive through South Dakota and Wyoming, my mind often wandered to and wondered about what I had gotten myself into.
Medical Check-in

Drop bags awaiting delivery to aid stations
Luckily, the group of Idiots I stayed with in Dayton, WY was made up of people with a lot of mountain ultra experience, including the Bighorn 100. I learned much from them about the course, the contents needed for drop bags, and about long-term nutrition. I feel extremely lucky to have hooked up with them. I hold a mountain of gratitude for Chris for bringing me into the group and for Kari and Sheri for sharing so much of their knowledge with me.

I am also thankful to have met Alan and Mike. They recently started a new company, Vi Endurance, that makes an endurance gel. The formula for that gel, I believe, contains many ingredients that are helpful when the body is engaged in long-term active stress. Mike and Alan set me up with enough gel to get through the race. And get me through the race it did! Vi gel made up more than 85% of the calories I consumed during the Bighorn 100. Because my energy levels never waned, I am sold on this product. Period. Thanks, Mike and Alan!!

Before I get to the story of the race, I must say that the event was expertly organized and carried out. There were plenty of aid stations manned by kind and helpful volunteers. This enabled me to complete this event with minimal crewing and no pacing. I highly recommend this race to anyone hoping to complete a 100-mile mountain event.

The short story on the course is that it is TOUGH! The footing is almost relentlessly brutal, varying from narrow, hoof-imprinted, horizontal and vertical animal paths to rocky, rutted single track to rutted jeep trail to muddy, swampy slicks to snow fields. With 17,500 ft of ascending and 18,000 ft of descending, the course has its ups and downs. Some are shallow and runnable by the masses while others are nearly vertical and poorly footed.
Superstitious? Pre-race 100 Mile Stout
Minutes before the start.
Mike and Alan of Vi Endurance. Mike ran the BH50 Alan the BH100
Two nights before the race I was peppering the Idiots with questions when Kari bluntly stated that the BH100 is "much more difficult than the Leadville 100 because of the ruggedness and the footing. Leadville has flat sections and road sections! It is SUCH an easy course!!" Chris turned red and suggested that she was crushing my spirits - because he was in the LT100 in 2008 and, in fact, passed me when just before I was pulled for hypothermia.

No problem. My path, rugged and unforgiving, was set. I knew I would finish the BH100 unless I broke a leg (still 10-20% chance of finishing :) or actually died en route.

I ran a smart, patient race, even stopping frequently to take 83 photos. My HR was held in an acceptable zone for the first 5.5 hours while I climbed in the heat of the day after the 11am start. My Polar RCX5 screen displayed only average HR and calories burned per hour. After 5.5 hours I slowed a bit to drop the HR by 12-15 bpm to increase the percentage of fat calories burned. With that adjustment, seen clearly on the Polar RCX5, I knew that I would have the energy to make it through to the finish as long as I consumed 250-270 calories per hour. Again, the Vi made that possible.

It was while climbing the first face that one of the talkative runners in a pack I was part turned to ask my name and where I was from. When I told him, he lit up and proclaimed, "I read your blog. You've got F'ing balls, man!" To which I replied, "Maybe so, but I am worried about what I've got on my shoulders."
Ascending through the canyon early miles.
Ascending the wall
Still climbing . . .
Hot stretch of road on top of the mountain. 
Animal path on top of mountain.
At the mile 30 Footbridge aid station I was surprised to meet up with Ning, an Idiot who was waiting to start her pacing duties. She helped me make the big changes, including the addition of three layers of clothes (tied around my waist) and a bright PTEC Byte headlight for cold night travel at high (9000 ft) altitude. I left the aid station within the time frame I had envisioned.

The 18-mile climb to Porcupine went relatively smoothly. I was able to negotiate the trail with a lot of running due to the moderate incline. The trail varied from rocky escarpments to soft pine needles to those narrow, hoof printed paths to slippery mud bogs to soft snowbanks that occasionally swallowed me to my knees or waist. On the way up I literally saw thousands of places where I could turn my weak ankle on the return during the dark, moonless night. I reached the 48-mile aid station/turn-around just after sunset, in 11:35 minutes.

Again, the volunteers and crewing were superb at Porcupine. Some warm soup and those three layers of tops warmed me up as I prepared to run the descent. I was psyched because I had never felt so good after running that many miles. In fact, I was telling myself to contain my pace until after I had climbed out of Footbridge near sunrise.

It was about two miles down from Porcupine when I turned the ankle severely for the first time. The tape I'd applied before the race had prevented about a dozen turns up to that point, but a rock rolled off of the side of the trail under my right foot and the ankle rolled at least 90 degrees. Unfortunately, the right achilles began to ache immediately. I slowed a bit, but continued to run. Only after 15 miles and another dozen twists of the ankle did I find a shuffle that seemed to limit the likelihood of turning the ankle. I found it somewhat bemusing that I had to stop 12 times to pee during the 18 mile descent.  Too many glasses of water at Porcupine? Too much salt? I left the mile 66 Footbridge aid station just before sunrise.
Ankle hazards everywhere!
One of several log bridges
The climb that followed was by far the most difficult of the race. It was several miles in length and, near the top, insanely steep. My achilles did not like the stretching, but the ankle didn't roll one time. On top of the mountain I found heavy frost on all of the sage brush. The aid station workers had endured a cold, windy night on the mountain. I took in water and another hot soup near the top of the climb. Honestly, I couldn't believe how strong I felt after running through the mountains all night. I was NOT trained to do this. Perhaps my failures at Leadville had steeled my mind to ignore all types of pain this time around.

Nearing the mile 82.5 mile Dry Fork Ridge aid station I began to get really hot. My water supply was running low. This was not aided by the fact that I joined a group which backtracked 0.78 miles because someone thought we were off course. Yes, this added 1.56 miles to my run. Sigh.

I had repeatedly filled a pint bottle at the aid stations and at the natural springs along the route. In the heat of the  second morning I gladly filled it with cold water from the "bathtub," which really seemed to be a cattle watering pool.
Kari and Chris at the Dry Fork 82.5 mile aid station.
My approach to Dry Fork.
After Dry Fork I began to struggle for the first time. It wasn't a loss of energy or a bad attitude. It was my left big toe. Hours of favoring the right ankle/achilles had caused the left foot to repeatedly pound into the front of my La Sportiva Skylite. My left foot is slightly larger than the right, so that toe was already a bit close to the front of the shoe. During the closing miles it only took a slight descent or a light kick of a stone to cause excruciating pain.

Unfortunately, there was a five mile stretch of trail down a ridiculously steep mountain face. It hadn't seemed tough going up that face the previous day, but it sure was agonizing to descend with that beat up toe. I stopped many times to collect myself after kicking rocks or running short stretches. It was with much relief that I looked back at the entrance to the canyon to see that I had left that steep face behind. Unfortunately, I had given up 45-60 minutes to my pace on that face. No longer could I break 27 hours, and I was wondering if I could break 28 hours. Without a doubt, the descent of the last face was the most painful and woeful physical challenge I have ever endured. And that includes the drilling of my jaw without anesthetic.

After the Africa hot canyon I stepped on the 5.5-mile stretch of gravel road to town with a big sigh of relief. Within minutes I was running along at a descent clip. In fact, I ran the last two miles in just over fourteen minutes. Hell, I just wanted to get done. Twenty eight hours is a loooong time to be going at it.

The finish!
The crash!!
The TOE!!!
I finished the Bighorn 100 in 27 hours, 50 minutes, and 43 seconds, crossing the line 42nd out of 118 finishers (Not sure, but heard there were over 170 starters). In doing so, I completed a life goal that had been on my list since I first saw a Leadville Trail 100 documentary in 1991. As I write this, I am wondering if I will ever line up for another 100 mile run.

Upcoming posts will exhibit some of the many photos I've taken since the BH100 at the following national parks: Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, and Canyonlands. Its been a mind-numbing trip during which I have seen an incredible quantity of natural beauty. And I am not done. I write this from beautiful Lake City, CO, which is tucked inside of the picturesque San Juan Mountains of southwest CO. Still loving this incredible world! Later, ST

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Monuments and Mountains

My progression west has taken me through the southwest corner of South Dakota where I experienced the magnificence of the Black Hills and the colossal monuments within them.

I also climbed Harney Peak, the highest summit between the Rockies and the Swiss Alps. The summit 7840-ft summit sits atop building-sized boulders, but the park service built a granite stairway to the top and topped it off with an fire-turned-observation tower. What a treat, especially considering the fact that I summited just before the once sunny sky created and unleashed a wicked rain and hail storm on me. I jogged the seven mile round trip, ascending only 1200 ft, at a pace close to the one I hope to maintain in the Bighorn 100 this weekend. The sights along the way were on par the sacred Black Hills.

I stayed two nights in the Blue Bell campground in Custer (spit) State Park. It was peaceful and cozy. If I return, I will also reserve a site at the Sylvan Lake campground due to its proximity to all of the notable sights.

Enough words. Check out these photos and start planning a trip.

Rushmore through a mountain tunnel.
Crazy Horse - All of Rushmore is smaller than his head.
Cathedral Spires along Harney Peak trail.

What storm?

See the climbers near the summit?
See them now? Right of center.