Friday, September 2, 2016

Missoula running circuit time trials

My post to track hard running efforts on Missoula's most popular runs.

SHEEP - out and back from Woods 20 mi and about 5,000 v.f.

9/1/2016 :  It is almost comical to bill my Sheep mountain times as fast, as the standard cadre of fast Missoula runners could clip this run off in sub 3 hours without working too hard. In any case, I shaved another two minutes off my time today.  I went out at a full race pace and hoped for the best.  I was right on my previous splits the entire climb, but had to work disconcertingly hard to hold the pace.  I didn't stop for a break at the top, and was soon cruising at my fastish and smoothish hard pace back to the car.  I climbed to blue point a minute ahead of last time and kept things rolling a razor edge below the cramp threshold.  I made it out totally spent and passed the evening holding sam on the couch, drinking liter after liter of water.  It will be hard to go faster without better fitness.  This was my first hard post-fatherhood effort, and it felt good to clean out the engine a bit. 3.10.46
Cheesy self portrait on top of Sheep, 2014.  The 2016 edition was about the same,
 except with a more defined pain cave grimace.
2016 Splits:  Three Larch road: 23; Top of first hill: 44; Blue Point: 1.14; Top of next to last hill; 1.44; summit 1.52.  Blue point on return: 2.24; Top of first hill downhill: 1.45; Woods 3.10.45

HR - avg 163 up, 145 - 155 down.  Slight increase over both halves.

SENTINEL - Sentinel Hill climb course
I have not been able to challenge my time since fall 2013.  My best time was running with Doug Brinkerhoff the week after the Rut. We pushed each other to the point of breaking.  23.45

SENTINEL - My favorite run
Route:  Up to North Sentinel however you like.  Down to Hellgate saddle, Up and down Radio Tower via Chopsticks/Ridge trail.  Out Hellgate.  Good in either direction, but I think this is the fastest. Good steep run.  I absolutely love it and much prefer it to the Pengelly Double dip course.  Start and stop is at the Kim Williams bridge near the Adams Center.

5/2015 - I have slowly chipped away at my time over the years, and was surprised to best it this year.  I out at a tempo run pace (HR in low 170s) and topped out on Sentinel around 26.30.  I don't remember my split to the top, but it was probably just under 55.  More notably, I was hang on to the tempo run pace.  I hit it hard on the downhill, keeping the HR around 165.  I did have to stop a few times to stretch out my calves, since they were in a two week period of being problematic, but otherwise the whole thing went off about as fast as possible. In the end, I shaved about 3 minutes off my time, mainly on the Radio Tower climb and Hellgate descent. 1.24.59

JUMBO - Ascent via L
10/27/2015 - I have done a few Jumbo time trials this summer, and have not been able to bese my previous time, but I still haven't had an all-out, hurting bottom to top effort.  This time I just pinned it from the bottom and held on, which yielded a new best time, if only by a mere 10 seconds.  I have had mixed results with speed work over the past few months, but occasionally I am feeling good, and today was a good example.  I was rested and my body responded favorably to the stiff pace, so this will be a hard one to beat without better fitness.  22.41

STUART - out and back from the Corridor
Route - Out and back from the Corridor.  I stay on the trail the whole way, even though cutting switchbacks on the upper portion would save as much as 5 minutes.

8-2015 I had a good hard go at running Stuart Peak for time the other day. I still contend a mountain bike is the best tool for cruising around in the Rattlesnake, but irregaurdless, Stuart is still a great long run. 

Twin lakes and the Rattlesnake from Stuart.
I have been trying to avoid long hard efforts in favor of smarter training tactics, but I went for it anyway, had a blast, and perhaps honed in my pacing strategy for the Rut 25K.  A quick recovery is also yet another encouraging indicator that I am finally fully recovered from the Beaverhead race.  After 5 mins of warmup jogging, I was able to sustain a near-skimo race effort for the duration of the run, and was surprised to have enough gas in the tank to run the last few miles at near threshold effort.  I returned to the car in a magnificent state of fatigue.  Unfortunately, a weird blood sugar dip or something relegated me to an evening lying on the couch.  Sorry for the poor company Leah, Joshua and Amy!

As per usual, not a fast time for fast runners, but a good solid personal effort, and a good confidence boost leading up to the Rut.  Splits:  Overlook trail outbound 39 mins, Upper culvert crossing: 59 mins, Wilderness boundary; 1.23?; Stuart summit 1.45; Wilderness inbound 2.01; Upper crossing 2.14; Overlook inbound 2.24. CTC 2.50.30.

BLUE MOUNTAIN - Deadman Loop

Route:  Loop up Deadman trail and down through the Recreation area.  There isn't really a clear fastest direction.  When running for time,  I cut a lot of switchbacks on the recreation trail above the recreation area on a combination of game trails and old timber units.  The Forest Service rerouted the Deadman trail in summer 2015, so the rowdy downhill is no longer in existence.  


The stars finally arrived for an opportunity to challenge my 2013 time on Blue Mountain.  I consider fall 2013/Winter 2014 the time when I was in the best shape of my life, so any improvements in time would have to come from better pacing, downhill running, and dialing the route.  After playing it perhaps too conservatively at the Rut 25K (???), I went ahead and ran out hard from the car, slowly ramping up until my HR was around 170.  I did the run in reverse from past efforts, climbing Deadman and descending the horse recreation trail.  I think it is faster in this direction according to the climb-ladders, descend-ramps theory, but the routefinding is trickier.  In any case, My HR faded from 170 to an average around 164 over the course of the climb.  I saw a few motorbikers as per usual, but they were adequately polite, and it was nice to chat with them for a few minutes on the summit.  

My legs were surprisingly jankey from the outset, and they were already a little hammered by the time I started the descent.  I ran the descent hardish, with HR 140 – 155 depending on the technicality of the descent.  I cut a lot of switchbacks in this direction above the main recreation area cross country and on climbers trails, and if you don’t like that, feel free to tack 10 minutes on to my time as a basis of comparison.  I had a few minor calf cramps on the descent, not enough to have to stop, but enough to validate I had put in a hard uphill effort.  In any case I ran out to the car in 2.14.40, just below my previous 2.18 best.  I think there is some room for improvement.  For one, I want' all that fresh.  Also, I think it would be a bit faster to take it out a touch slower for the first half of the climb, pin it to the top, then really focus on running the entire downhill evenly and fast. 2.10 is realisic, sub-2 would require better fitness.

Splits:  Leave 2.14? trail 11.30.  Start up Deadman – 23?; Summit 1.24; Road in Recreation area 1.57.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


Our son Samuel Milo Story was born on a crystal clear August morning.  I realize hundreds of thousands of people give birth each day, but Leah's labor was the most inspiring show of determination and physical endurance I have ever personally witnessed.  But we made it through, and lying in bed, exhausted, with a new human in our arms, was an experience that will always be filled with wonder in my memory.
Mom and Sam.
Dad and Sam.
Samuel is a strong and healthy, and learns a new trick or two each day. For now, we are engrossed in sleeping when we can, leaning heavily on support from family and friends, and spending hours a day cuddling and staring at the little guy in amazement. I can't wait to see who he will become.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Final countdown days

I have been trying to scrap together as many pre-fatherhood days in the mountains as possible over the past few months.  Here is a quick summary.  Outdoor ambitions have been scaled back to meet the demands of buying a house and spending time with Leah.
Counting down the days.
Photo: Susanna Girolamo and Joshua Phillips
Kootenai to Bass run

I took a Friday off of work and went for a run.  Without a lot of time to plan, I rolled the dice on a loop from Kootenai to Bass creeks in the Bitterroot.  This is an obvious close-to-town loop on the map, but the historical trail connecting the drainages has been lost to vegetative recovery, and the connection is notoriously heinous.  I chose to make the connection over Bass peak, which allowed me to spend much of the day above snowline and out of the brush.
Emerging above snowline on the way to Bass peak.
Heavenly twins in the background.
After a delightful crisp early morning bike shuttle from Bass to Kootenai, I started running.  The first four miles had been cleared by volunteers this year, and were enjoyable.  The next two or so have not been cleared in several years, but after a half hour of heavy downfall, the trail opened up enough to make decent time.  I left the trail well before Kootenai lakes, and climbed Bass peak via the Southeast ridge.  The bushwacking to snowline was not bad, and the climb to the summit was long and enjoyable.  I did several awkward detours on both sides of the ridge to avoid scrappy gendarmes, but they weren't too bad.
There is a trail under there somewhere.
Kitted out for bushwacking and wet brush.
Closing in on Bass peak.
On Bass peak.
After taking a minute on top, I backtracked about 100 yards on the Southeast ridge before finding a suitable break in the cliff band.  Established on the East face, I made a high traverse to the Northeast ridge before glissading quickly down to snowline.  In a stroke of poor judgement, I passed Bass lake on the South/bad side.  It took a while to negotiate, but I made it to the dam by early afternoon.  The run out on the trail was enjoyable - it is always fun to spend some time in Bass creek in summer, as there is a lot to see that is obscured in winter.
Gear drying and relaxation at Bass lake.
This being early June, I spent much of the day reflecting on the loss of friends and family.  I do this annually, and it is bittersweet to reflect on death in the season of rebirth.

Anaconda-Pintler Hiline loop + Warren

I celebrated the 4th of July and unwound from a long week of house moving by running the Hiline loop in the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness.  The previous day, Leah and I did a long walk from Phyllis lake to Johnson lake, also in the Pintlers.  It was fun to get another long mountain day in with Leah, and it was pretty cool to do what for most people is an overnight backpack trip in a day, deep in the third trimester of pregnancy.

I have wanted to do the Hiline loop for a long time.  Since we were camped in Rock creek, I started at the Moose lake trailhead and used the previous days' driving to drop a car off at the main Rock creek trailhead.  With the shuttle in place, the run ends up being about the same length as the standard loop from Carpp.  The morning hours were spend working up the drainage below Carpp and Tamarack lakes, and running the interminable, low grade switchbacks all the way to Cutaway pass.  The morning light on Warren and the surrounding mountains was striking.  From Cutaway, the descent into La Merche creek and subsequent climb to Warren lake were enjoyable.  The day was heating up as I descended into Fishtrap creek and climbed out toward Rainbow lake, but I was still feeling good, pushing at a moderately hard but sustainable pace.  I made a game-day decision to climb Warren from a point on the trail about a mile shy of Rainbow lake (instead of from the pass), and it ended up working flawlessly.  The climb to Warren was long, but it actually felt great to take a break from running and just hike and scramble.  By my memory, this was my thirteenth Warren summit.  Why I spend so much time on a mountain covered in hideous talus is beyond my comprehension.  The descent to Edith lake involved loose scree high on the peak, treacherous steep beargrass, and just a touch of unpleasant tree hopping and bushwacking.  Standard mountain fare, and I enjoyed it all.  Having never been to Edith lake before, I took a minute to chat with some super nice hikers and enjoy the ambiance.  I took my time running easily on the trail exit to the car.  Roughly 30 miles and done in about 9 hours car to car.

By all accounts, this is a stellar run.  There are several variations (taking the Hiline extension to Carpp lakes instead of bypassing them and various ridgeline extensions, including my Warren extension).  To my surprise, the Warren extension added less than an hour to the day.  The trails had not been cleared yet this year, but the downfall was quite manageable.  The trail tread and grades are for the most part conducive to fast running, the views along the route are top notch, and the committing nature if wrapping behind Warren peak is compelling.  While I returned to the car feeling good, in retrospect the day took a toll on my body, and I ended up taking four days off of running for everything to come around.

And, my camera was out of batteries, so photos will have to wait until next time.  Which is a shame, because scenery along the way is one of the main highlights of the outing.

Lolo Peak - Lantern/Carlton loop

7/8 I devoted a splendid Friday morning to one of my two favorite runs in Missoula (the other is the simple University/N. Sentinel loop).  There is just enough running for this to count as a long run, and the rest of the outing is steep, technical, and wild.  Once all of the morning sleepies were out of the system, and the short section of downfall was surmounted, I put in an hour long hard effort, which put me at the miner cabin on Lantern ridge satisfactorily whooped.  The remaining walk to the summit was quick and enjoyable, and I had ample time to reflect on all of the support Leah and I have received over the past month as we move into our new house.
Quick descending on Lolo peak.
The descent off the peak was more enjoyable than normal, since there is still enough snow to glissade much of the peak.  During the run out from Carlton ridge, I damaged my foot, and had to limp run the last four miles to the car.  A PT appointment at Sapphire and week off of running later have not resolved exactly what I did to it, but it seems to be either stress in the muscles deep in the forefoot, muscle stress to my middle toe, or perhaps just a bruise in the forefoot.  Not resolved a week later, but the foot is certainly on an upward trend, and I have had quite the week of biking on Missoula's impeccable trails.  Before the foot tweek, I was on track to do the loop in about 3.50 at a moderately bright pace with an hour threshold effort thrown in (2.10 car to summit).

7/30 Jeffrey and I ran the loop in the backward direction on a scorching Saturday morning.  I have been doing all of my outings alone recently, and it was nice to have company.  We climbed at a stout pace (2:30ish to summit), and descended at an average speed, with some wandering to find the climber trail on Lantern ridge.  4.10ish.  Nice morning.
Jeffrey near the summit.
Sheep Mountain loop
I ran the E. Fk/Sheep Mountain/Woods loop on a hot Sunday morning.  I must have rolled out of the wrong side of bed that day, as I was exhausted the entire run.  Just biking to the trailhead was a slog! After cresting the peak about 20 mins behind normal, my body finally woke up, but then I re-aggravated my left foot on the run out.  What a beat down!  Still, it was great to find time for this fine outing so close to town, and an hour and a half nap chased by a few cups of coffee put me in good position to help out with house chores in the afternoon.  I don't feel like I have been pushing too hard physically the past month or so, but perhaps my body is begging to differ.  Need to be careful. 4.50

Shadow rolling high on Sheep mountain.
Murphy/Beargrass Highway
6/30ish  Ran the Second Thought/Murphy/Pt 6/Beargrass loop at a (slightly too) hard effort.  I really like this outing - plenty of running and elevation, but also some fun technical ridge walking and a nice summit.  My new favorite La Sportiva Helios shoes were inadequate to protect my feet from all of the pokey rocks.  3.05.

7/29  Ran the loop backward to save my foot from the fast 5-mile Beargrass highway descent.  Nice to get this done in the morning before the day got too hot.  Foot held in there, and it was nice to stride it out a bit on the way down.  I now have the off trail route dialed, which makes the outing more routine than ideal, but it is still an all time favorite close-to-town long run.  3.00

Due Date run
8/14  Today was Leah's due date, so in addition to being on a very short leash, I have been trying to bank sleep and energy.  After brunch, I set out on foot to do a long run close to the house.  Ended up running Smokejumper/University/N Sentinel/Jumbo via L/Down S. ridge to Mountainview/N hills/Orange Street and home.  The pace was adequately relaxed, and I took two water breaks in the Clark fork, but I still got a little beat down by the heat. My shorts were stained with salt, and I was ready for a 90 minute nap by the time I returned to the house!  In any case, felt good to get a long run in, and foot held up marginally. 4.15

And, on a random philosophical note, aside from the condescending title, my thoughts on running with music and/or podcasts align well with this article.  I usually find simply connecting to the experience the most valuable way to spend time on the move.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Scapegoat - Echo to Mineral Hill run

A free mid-week day materialized in late July, and I was able to check out an entirely new-to-me corner of the Scapegoat. With time and intellectual energy pointed toward domestic pursuits, I pretty much just rolled out of bed earlyish, grabbed my running stuff and a map, and just went for it, hoping for the best.
The route, and a fence from the road. Echo, Iron, Unnamed, and Mineral hill from right to left.
It was a fun day, and I was cruising up the well graded Dry fork trail less than two hours after leaving the house.  After an hour plus of movement, I emerged on the northwestern flank of Daly peak and began the overland journey.  It was interesting, if not a bit slow, to climb along the edge of an old wildfire and see the remnants of what looked like a fairly expansive hand suppression effort.  Before too long I was above the fire, and a consistent push put me on top of Daly peak a little over two hours into the day. Racing the heat, I kept moving all day, stopping only to refill water, fill my hat with snow to keep cool, and occasionally snap photos. The traverse to Iron and Echo had more krumholtz schwacking than ideal, but it wasn't too bad clad in bushwacking socks.  

Echo from Iron mountain.  The going became less scrappy as the day progressed.
Unnamed and Mineral hill from Iron mountain.
From Echo, the going became more clean and elegant, and I enjoyed moving easily over the uncomplicated terrain.  From an unnamed summit just south of Windy pass, I dropped over a thousand vertical of steep grass and scree to the pass.  I ended up following the system trail North out of Windy pass for a few minutes before starting the climb to Mineral Hill  A good solid push up the south ridge put me on the final summit, roughly 7k of climbing into the day, still feeling pretty good.  The return to the car was surprisingly quick and pleasant.  I was able to stock up on snowmelt water, and a few stops at water crossings to manage heat allowed for a comfortable exit on a very hot day. The trail was surprisingly runable and enjoyable, especially near Windy pass.  The Bob is ecologically complex, and it was interesting to drop from the sub alpine to the valley through old burns, spruce, larch, lodgepole, ponderosa and aspen stands.  This being the first longer outing since a minor foot injury, I took it easy, and everything felt great all the way to the car.  About 7 hours car to car at a moderate, steady effort.
On Mineral Hill, ready to head home.
Looking back at the traverse.
Nice trail running on the way out.
Thoughts:  I think this is a fun loop, but it is a little too scrappy and the peaks are not commanding enough for it to quite rise to the status of must-do.  Still, a great day and fun to explore a new wild corner of the Bob close to town. I think running the shuttle is simplest, but a bike or car shuttle to the Bear creek trailhead to eliminate the weird return around Cooper lake.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

North Trapper, Cowboy ridge loop for time

Leah and I spend a glorious weekend in the southern Bitterroot, and on the first day I did the classic North Trapper/Cowboy ridge/Trapper circuit for time.  This is one of the only high quality established alpine routes in the Bitterroot, and I have been wanting to give it a hard go for several years now. I have not been climbing recently, and the thought of quickly downclimbing past rappel anchors seemed a bit arrogant. But, the technical difficulties are not too bad, so I decided to give it a go, with caution.

I left the car at a hard but reasonable pace, and just stuck to it all the way past Baker, Middle, and Gem lakes, and up to the notch at the top of the basin.  The descent to the N. Trapper basin is relatively complex, with two couloir systems and some routefinding and tricky downclimbing, but I made it in without botching anything too badly.  The ascent of N. Trapper went quickly, and it was fun to romp up the clean slabby lower flanks of the peak.  The upper peak went quickly, and I was on one of my all time favorite peaks well ahead of schedule.

From the summit, I embarked on the traverse.  Accepting my rusty climbing skills and head, I took my time and tried to just move in an efficient, unhurried fashion through the traverse.  Even though it felt like I was moving slowly, I only botched one section and ended up pushing through the technical portion of the traverse in reasonable time.  I also found a new sneak around the second chimney, further ironing out bugs in the route.  I made up a lot of time on the non-technical climb to Trapper peak since my legs still had quite a bit of pep.  From the summit, I promptly lost the trail on the South side, but made adequate time off trail.  Once on the familiar faint climber trail above Baker lake, I just ran it out down to the lake, then out to the car.  A minor foot injury the previous week left me with no confidence to push the pace, so I ended up just cruising it in, feeling great. Total time 3 hours, 38 minutes car to car from the Baker lake trailhead.  This was an absolutely delightful outing in the most alpine region of the Bitterroot.

The rest of the weekend was spent camping, hiking, and enjoying time with Leah.

First off, I forgot my camera, so apologies for the lack of images.  Even though there is not a lot of technical climbing, this is a great alpine route full of easy 4th class climbing, exposed ridgeline traversing, and tricky-ish routefinding.  For those uncomfortable with routefinding, it is very much worth bringing a rope and very light alpine rack with slings.  There are typically rap slings at each of the west side chimneys for belays or raps.  As for time/effort, I was pushing at a hard pace, but it was never super desperate or painful.  I probably lost 10 minutes total to routefinding blunders, and took the entire last downhill fairly easy to preserve my left foot, so there is room to go faster.  Still, everything went flawlessly, and I am confident that this is a quick time, if only through a small triumph of efficiency.

Here is a very crude route description of the Cowboy traverse from N. Trapper to Trapper.  The route is of similar difficulty in the reverse direction.  The main takaways are that one is on the crest except for three spots North of the saddle, and the obvious cliff section South of the saddle, all of which are fairly intuitive:

From the N. Trapper summit, traverse south on the crest several hundred feet until it drops off steeply, and a minor sub ridge drops off to the west.  Downclimb west into an obvious gully system.  After about 100 feet of easy downclimbing, you will be on a small ledge with a large chockstone step directly below.   There will usually be rap slings above the chocksone. The chockstone can be downclimbed back down to the gully system (10 feet of easy 5th), but it is easier to traverse south on the ledge and downclimb a shallow ledge system.  Once on the lower ledge system, follow it back South to the main ridge.  Continue on the main ridge system until you encounter another steep drop on the crest. This can be easily bypassed on the west via an obvious vertical chimney.  There will usually be rap slings here.  The chimney is vertical for about 20 feet, but it is secure.  Once below the chimney, continue south on ledge systems to the crest.  Shortly before reaching the N. Trapper/Trapper saddle, one final steep step is encountered.  The easiest bypass is a narrow ledge/gully system on the East side which drops from the crest almost 100 feet north of the step.  It is likely that you will have to backtrack a bit to find it, but it is the easiest way down.  The alternative is to make a few exposed slab moves just east of the crest, then downclimb a 4th class chimney east of the crest.

From the base of this step, one can scramble to the saddle, then up easy west facing ledges to a large grassy plateau.  From the top of the plateau, the cliffy lower half of the North ridge of Trapper peak is bypassed on the West.  Take a sandy ledge system down and across the west face (several ledges go).  Stay on the easiest ledge system for several hundred feet until you arrive at a large open gully/ledge system which climbs to the skyline ridge.  This system is past most of the sheer west facing cliffs of the lower North ridge of Trapper, and just before the ledge systems shut down farther out on the west face.  Work up this open gully/ledge system, following the line of least resistance all the way to the crest.  From the crest, it is an easy 300 vertical foot class 3 climb to the main Trapper summit.

Splits for future reference:
Baker lake: 0.17; Notch ~0.45; Base of North Trapper 1.00; N. Trapper summit 1.35; Trapper summit 2.45; car 3.38