Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Great Burn, Heart Lake to Clearwater Crossing run

I finally was able to find willing cohorts to pull off a Great Burn traverse run.  After too much logistics planning, Leah pounded out an almost 30-mile day in the reverse direction and met us all at the Heart lake trailhead for an enjoyable night of family camping.
Heart lake.
Jeffrey and I rolled out of the Heart lake trailhead at a remarkably civil 8:30 am.  I was still recovering from sickness, but felt OK to engage a long day as long as we went slowly.  The run up to Heart and Pearl lakes went quickly, and we were soon in new-to-us country on the Stateline.  After a long descent to Goose lake, we promptly lost the trail (in retrospect, we went around the wrong side of the lake).  Instead of backtracking, I forced an obstinate bushwack, but it ended up working out just fine.  The ridge section from Goose lake to the West fork trail was by far the highlight of the run.  It is a beautiful few miles, with fun runnable trail perched above Straight lake, Siamese lake, and countless striking small tarns that are so characteristic of the Burn.  Plus, as I had hoped, the fall colors were beautiful.  We arrived at Fish lake, our halfway point, tired but sufficiently motivated to continue on to Indian creek.
Nearing Pearl lake. 
In the fun stuff.  This photo does not come close
to displaying the striking character of the Stateline between Goose and Fish lakes.
The Stateline trail over Admiral peak to Mud lake was not as spectacular as the previous section, but it was worth wile and fast.  We were both tired by the time we dropped into Indian creek, and it was an easy call to not continue out to Schley peak.  The trail down from Mud lake was overgrown and slow for the first few miles, but we were soon on more runnable trail.  I was quite tired by this point, but it was actually kind of fun to spend a few hours grinding out miles in a magnificent state of fatigue.  The run out was uneventful, and we returned to the car happy after a long and beautiful day in new country close to home.  We had something close to an epic with a flat tire on the drive home, but that is a story for another day.  For stats, 35 miles, a dad under 7k vert, and done in 9 hours, 15 minutes at an all day running pace.
Admiral peak section.
Last few running steps before fording Fish creek and taking shoes off at the car.
It is marvelous to be healthy enough to be able to confidently do long running days like this.  I need to go back and to what appears to be the most logical 30-mile North Fork/Stateline/West Fork Fish loop from Clearwater crossing.

I hope to get a few more days in the mountains, but fall colors are pretty darn nice.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Summer running and scrambling, 2018

I have been doing a lot of fun days in the mountains this summer, but have not been recording them since I don't feel they add much to the knowledge base for Missoula based running.  My intent is to use this post to summarize especially fun or interesting days. To be updated through the fall.

Big St. Joe:  With my dad graciously watching Sam, Leah and I had another great day in the mountains with Jeffrey.  We ended up doing Big St. Joe as an out and back.  After a quick climb up Little St. Joe fueled by dispirited political discourse, we made the slow trek out to Big St. Joe.  I did a poor job routefinding, spending way too much time on the north side of the scrappy ridge before the peak, then picking a slightly too technical route through the mixed cliff bands to gain the summit ridge.  On the descent, we took the Southeast gully, and passed the long scrappy gendarmes low on the South.  This was a much better route, and one I will probably use in the future.  We drove all the way to the trailhead, and although it felt a little glutenous, it was quite nice to start a few thousand feet above the valley.

Lolo Peak loop:  Leah and I took a mid-week day off and spent a joyous day together in the mountains.  Lolo peak is open after being closed for post fire trail work most of the summer.  We did the normal Lantern ridge/Lolo Peak/Carlton ridge loop from Mill creek.  It was extremely enjoyable to spend a crisp fall day with Leah.  We had time to to out to the main South summit, and made our way back through the Reid lake basin before returning on the scorched Carlton ridge trail.  The larch were popping up high.  It took us about six hours at a moderate climbing pace with a lot of breaks.

St. Mary to Heavenly Twins:  I did this as a hike with Leah a few years ago, and have been meaning to "run" it ever since with an informal goal of cutting our time in half.  I had planned a longer outing this weekend, but ended up aborting due to weather uncertainty.  Which translated in a very tardy 1:45 pm departure time from the car.  I made it into as much of a loop as possible, taking the non system trail to McCalla lake to start things off, then climbing to St. Mary's South ridge.  I then summited Disappointment and fought loose scree on the North side of the peak before scampering up through the majestic alpine basin to the North twin (3.40).  I was really tired at the beginning of the day, but fortunately my energy improved for the duration of the outing.  The traverse to South Twin was quick, as was the return over the South ridge of Disappointment.  I scrambled up the fun South ridge of St. mary, summiting at sunset.  The run out to the car in the dark was actually quite enjoyable, and I returned right at the 7 hour mark, done at a responsible pace.  I did't cut our time in half, but a fast runner could. I really like this link up.  I would, however, summit Dissapointment on the return trip next time instead of the way out since I think it would make the trip smoother.
Starting up the North Twin from the Disappointment col.
This is one of the most alpine feeling cirques in the Northern Bitterroot. 
Looking out to the twenty minute ridge to South Twin.  I spend most of the first half
on the East side, and the most of the second half on the West side, and the going is reasonably fast.
Early fall colors in upper St Mary creek.
Sunset on the last few steps to the summit of St. Mary.
Missions, ESM,WSM, Lowry:  I maximized a Saturday afternoon by doing this fun link up.  I did it as a last run before the Rut and felt great the whole time.  I went out to Lowry first, descended into upper Sonielem creek, then took high ledges until they intersected low on the East ridge of WSM.  I was surprised at how quickly the link up flowed together.  I also ran down reasonably hard from ESM and did the entire descent in under 45 minutes.  It was a great day and good confidence booster going into the Rut.

Just another day gawking at the West face of Greywolf.

This is the high connecting ramp to the East ridge of WSM.
Just another East Saint Mary from West St. Mary photo.
Trans Teton run:  On our way home from the Tetons, I ran up Cascade creek and out Teton Canyon to within a few miles of Driggs via Table mountain.  I had an extra few hours and tacked on a traverse of the Bivouac peak group, an chossy and untrammeled corner of the range.  It was a little sad to do a Teton trip without venturing into Garnet canyon and touching a single chunk of golden granite, but I had a lot of fun.
Nice views from one of the Bivouac peaks.
Choss bashing along the ridge.  Just as bad, if not worse than it looks.
Nearing Table mountain, looking back at the ridge, chasing rain.

Bear Creek loop + Sphinx:  I ran up the N. fork of Bear creek, summited the Sphinx from the saddle with the Helmet, then took the normal route down during a very extended driving break to Jackson.  It was a splendid morning.
Nice trail climbing out of the North Fork of Bear creek.
The Helmet.
The Sphinx is one of the only mountains I ever climbed with my mother.  I also skied it the day after seeing her for the last time.  It was an emotional outing.  I miss Catherine dearly.

Murphy from Snowbowl:  I rallied from the car at 6 am for this classic close to town mountain scramble.  I have been using an off trail cutoff between the cliffy section of the Beargrass highway and the shack at the top of West Ridge to make the outing faster.  I went up Beargrass, up the cutoff, then out to Murphy.  I bopped to the top of Point 6 on the way back, then took the Second Thought descent.  Right around 3 hours at an aggressive aerobic pace.  Quads were still recovering from the Swans, so took some caution on the downhill.

West Fork Butte to Elk Meadows loop.  Road bike ride in Lolo creek.  The longest outing that seemend reasonable the weekend after the Swan traverse.  Took about 2.5 hours, and was super fun.  I was a little worried about re-aggrevating my quad strain from the Swans, but no problems.  I hope my knee continues to cooperate with biking, so I can do more Lolo creek road loops this fall.

Sky Pilot from Bear Creek.  Jeffrey rallied with me for a very early run to Sky Pilot.  The Bear creek trail is a little rocky and slow, but it is runnable enough.  After a very early morning start, it was rewarding to catch early morning at Bryan lake, cruising by backpackers still in their tents.  The scramble from Packbox pass to the peak is scrappy, but not so bad that it is unenjoyable.  The run out was slow on the rocky trail, but run, and it was nice to get out in time to rendezvous with the family at Como lake. 
On Sky Pilot.
Hidden lake peak:  I had some extra time, so tacked about 2.5 miles of biking up the Glen lake road onto the front of the outing.  Up high, snow made for fast going, but the scrambling from Glen lake point west to Hidden lake peak was pretty slow and Bitterrootey in a bad way.  I have lost my climbing head and spent an embarrasingly long time puzzling a route through the 4th class summit block.  A good but not great outing.  It would be amazing to backpack out to Hidden lake in the fall when the larch are changing.
Looking out to Hidden lake peak and the Sweathouse spires from the summit above Glen lake.
Little St. Joe:  I really like this run.  Ran the road for the first complete switchback up, and the last two switchbacks down.  About 3.10 at a responsible pace.

California, Trinity Alps:  We did a three day trip around the classic Four lakes loop during a family trip.  The back trip itself was great, and provided a great re-set after a busy spring.  I did eke out a 4-hour mountain run the second morning, looping from our camp at Echo lake to Granite peak, then back along the ridgeline to camp.  The trail miles were fun, and the ridgeline was quite enjoyable, with some nicely exposed 4th class climbing on the last peak directly above the lake.

Bass Lake:  I ran up to Bass lake and tacked a few extra miles on in the Larry Creek campground to make a round 18-mile outing as a last training run for the Governer's cup Marathon.  I ran two miles at the end at marathon effort, which was very hard and made me scared for the race.  The entire run took a little over 3 hours.  I really like the Bass lake run, and need to it more often.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Complete Alpine Swan Crest traverse

I finally traversed the alpine crest of the Swans from Swan peak to Morrell mountain.  The trip was just as challenging as I had feared, and more beautiful than I could have imagined.
High in the Swans.
Day 1:  Conor and I rolled out from the Squeezer creek trailhead at first light after a good night of sleep.  The trail has been cleared this year, so we made good walking time to the lakes, and reasonable time to the summit.  The traverse into the head of Lion creek was slightly more challenging than a week ago, with firmer snow at the cruxy pinch, and less easy snow for glissading.  Nevertheless, it went quickly enough.  I modified our route to Lion pass, dropping way off the ridge to the main trail shortly after the nice alpine tarn walking deteriorated.  This blue collar variation still had a lot of beargrass and general slowness, but it worked well enough, and we were soon plodding up to Lion pass, then walking a good trail above the lakes in the head of Palisade creek.  This is the section where my stomach rebelled the previous trip, and it was simply marvelous to be moving easily and happily.
Steep hiking in Squeezer creek.  All photos of me are taken by Conor Phelan.
Over Swan peak, and into the head of Lion creek.
Nice off trail hiking in Lion creek.
Conor near Lion pass.
We kept plodding to Owl peak, worked our way down the scrappy West side, and plodded through a few hours of nondescript but passable easy bushwacking to my previous bail point.  The Union alpine section was awesome.  We weren't really tired yet, and it was fun to just kind of float along.  I tried a different descent off the unnamed highest peak.  Unfortunately, it was terribly loose and scary, and took us a lot of time.  Next time I will try going even farther down the east ridge before turning south to get off this vexing peak.  We returned to the ridge for the last few peaks before Smith creek pass.  The day was getting late, and Conor was OK with conceding the summit of Cooney peak, so we descended to a treeline camp directly below Cooney.   As would be the trend each day, we arrived at camp at dusk, ate a few cold food calories, and immediately tucked into sleeping bags for the night.  I slept well.
Interesting loose and steep downclimbing coming off Owl peak. 
Heading into the alpine near Union peak.
In the fun stuff near Union peak.
Looser and more terrible than it looks downclimbing near Smith Creek pass.
Sunset at the end of Day one.
Day 2: We were up at first light and walking by 6:30.  Conor's ankle was very stiff, but fortunately it loosened up, and he was able to continue with me to his planned exit point at the Holland lookout. It only took an hour to get up to the crest, and we were soon cruising along the immaculate section above the Albino basins.  Conor was nervous about the exposure, so we worked through all of the tricky bits together.  Conor also spotted a pair of bears grazing on moths in the basins west of Albino. The morning was delightful, and we summited Holland by mid morning.  Now in familiar terrain, we worked over Buck and Woodward, and were soon at Conor's departure point.  It was sad to see him depart, but he still had to get out and run a 20+ mile bike shuttle before driving home. I dropped down to the trail and jogged down to upper Holland lake, taking a few stops to refill water and cool off in the creeks.
Conor getting things rolling on day two.
On the long exposed ridge leading up to Holland peak.
Conor at the technical crux of the ridge north of Holland peak.
Easy climbing but very exposed.
On the standard descent off Holland peak.
On tap for the second half of the day was a rather audacious plan to traverse the Clearwater group, and I immediately got to work walking briskly up the trail to Gordon pass, then off trail to the base of Carmine, then up clean rock slabs to the summit. I topped out on Carmine at 3 pm, ready for more impeccable ridglines!  Much to my surprise, I saw a lone figure scratching his way up Carmine.  It ended up being a Missoula acquaintance, and it was interesting to compare notes as our paths crossed.  Also to my surprise, I started getting some twinges in my right quad.  I was of course immediately concerned, and cut out all downhill running. Wolverine came quickly enough, as did Ptarmigan point.  My quad was definitely tweekey, but it seemed manageable.  There is one easy 5th class chimney step on the North ridge of Ptarmigan peak which was more challenging than I remembered.  I had hoped to find a work around, but didn't, and ended up just carefully working through the easy 5th class chimney with suspect rock.  This 20 foot step is substantially more difficult than anything else in the Clearwater group, and I need to go back and puzzle out an easier route,  It must exist.  Anyway, at this point, sunset was only an hour away, and there is a lot of ground to cover on the way to Fisher, so I walked over the summit without stopping.  Fortunately, all of the tricky routefinding decisions on the traverse to Fisher went down without a hitch, and I pulled up onto the summit ridge of Fisher just after sunset.  I was too knackered to mess around with unknown terrain in the dark, so I immediately dropped into the headwaters of Babcock creek without climbing the last 100 vertical feet to the exact summit.
Trail running to Necklace lakes.
Through Holland creek, ready to climb Carmine peak.
On Wolverine, looking to Ptarmigan point and peak. 4 pm and still a long way to go.
Nearing the North ridge of Ptarmigan peak.
Finally closing in on Fisher.
My quad was quite painful on the descent to camp, and  I had to to a lot of compensation with the other leg.  After a quick tasty bite dinner (heavy but delicious), I went to bed fairly worried about completing the trip the following day.  I didn't sleep as well the second night because a buck deer spent much of the night ranging around my bivy site and I was worried he would eat my shoes.

Day 3:  I was up at first light again, walking before 6.  To my delight, my quad was much better, and it seemed reasonable to proceed as long as I used poles to compensate on downhills and didn't run.  The first hour through Grizzly basin was magical.  As soon as the terrain got complicated, I made a series of routefinding blunders that cost me almost two hours.  To make a frustratingly slow morning brief, I did a lot of nasty sidehilling in Morrell creek, and monkeying around in the steep rock steps just before Crescent.  Nevertheless, I summited Crescent by late morning.
An hour into the day.  Sunrise in Grizzly basin. 
More early morning light in Grizzly basin.
After too much slow going in Grizzly basin, I finally topped out on the ridge near Crescent.  
And promptly spent about two hours monkeying my way there
Concerned with finishing in one piece in the daylight, I bypassed both Marshall summits and proceeded straight to Pyramid peak.  It took a while to get there, but I was in familar terrain.  From Pyramid, a quick bop down to Pyramid lake had me ready for all new country on the traverse out to Morrell Mountain.  I had planned to skip Divine peak on the unmaintained trail that eventually connects to Youngs pass, but somehow got on the wrong trail.  By the time I realized my error, I was on the wrong side of Divine.  I made a snap decision to just punch it up to the summit and figure out  the rest of the route from there.  So I did.  Fortunately, I could clearly see the correct trail from the summit.  A quick descent put me on the trail and the home stretch.  By this point, eight of my toes had blisters on both the tops and bottoms (my ring toes were mercifly spared, don't ask me why), so each step was accompanied with a nice little stab of pain.  But blisters heal, my quad was feeling good, and I was going to finish one way or another.  The fiveish miles of trail were actually quite pleasant.  There was a lot of water, and I stopped a few times to re hydrate and keep the shirt soaked.  The mental break from routefinding was refreshing, and it was fun to see a lot of new country.  Soon enough, I departed the trail and hopped on the extended North ridge of Morrell at the headwaters of Blind Canyon.  Aside from the extremely sad state of my toes, the ridge to Morrell was fun and fast.  My energy was good, and the high points started clicking off quickly one after the other.  Soon enough, I was on Morrell mountain proper, chomping my last Gu Chomp, and generally enjoying the last little bit of foot powered travel.  A quick hobble was all it took to return to my bike, stashed near the lookout cabin.  I had left my car at the Seeley creek trailhead in case I had to bail, but the 15-mile bike ride took less than an hour, and provided a nice little cool down from the adventure.  Back at the car, it was delightful to finally sit down and gingerly peel socks off blistered feet.  It was even better to make it home and see the family, since three days away from our little one is about as much as I can handle these days.
At the pass between the Marshall summits, looking back to Crescent.
On Pyramid.  Morrell mountain finally visible in the distance.
Blistered trail walking on the way to Morrell. 
Celebration number one on Morrell, 15 minutes from the bike.
Celebration number two back at the bike.
My feet hurt like a bugger, and I was more than ready to coast it in to the car and excited to see my family.
Thoughts:  What an incredible trip.  It was amazing to see so much wild country, and I had an absolute blast.  Being a little burned out on racing, it was gratifying to complete a challenge that tested my physically and psychologically with an adequate buffer of safety.  I did not complete the route in perfect style, bypassing both Cooney and Marshall peaks, and not summiting Fisher.  I am personally satisfied with the trip, but there is a lot of room for someone to improve on my route in terms of time and style. 

It was a little bit disconcerting to end the trip so smashed physically, but I learned a little bit about durability, and only had to take one day off of walking, so no worries. My body has been a lot healthier this summer than last year, and it is wonderful to be able to be able to put in long efforts like this.  Overall recovery timeline was similar to the few long ultras I have done: back to walking in a day, back to easy runs in three days, back to moderate workouts in a week, about two weeks to to full physical recovery.  Three weeks out, I'm still not mentally recovered, which is fine.  A huge thanks to Leah helping with the shuttle, and for all of the support in allowing this trip to happen.

The route itself was pretty awesome, however all of the connecting segments require blue collar schwackery, and detract from the overall quality of the outing (Swan to Lion pass, Holland lookout to Carmine, Fisher to Crescent, Divine to Morrell).  Fortunately, each alpine section makes its own nice long day trip.

I need to statistics, but it was around 60 miles, and around 28k vert.  I was out for sixty one hours, and spend 43 hours moving.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Failure in the Swans

Wretched definition: (of a person) in a very unhappy of unfortunate state.
Scaled to first world standards, that pretty much sums it up. 
With generous help from family and friends, I started hiking up Squeezer creek at 8 pm on a random Monday evening, hoping to traverse from Swan peak to Morrell mountain the Swans.  I had a fun dusk patrol hike in to the lower lake, slept well, and was on the summit of Swan peak the following day before 9.  Unfortunately, something didn't settle in my stomach, and my condition deteriorated as I moved along new-to-me terrain to Lion pass and above the unnamed lakes near Owl peak.  By late morning, my body bottomed out, and I puked and lay down for a 3-hour nap.
Fun, fast travel coming off Swan peak.
Striking tarn in the headwaters of Lion creek.
Eventually, I got up and got moving again, but staying hydrated post-puking was challenging, and honestly, just staying upright on my feet was a chore as I slogged over Owl peak.  Overwhelmed by the daunting length of the outing given my deteriorated condition, I decided to bail by mid-afternoon.  The remaining daylight hours were spent slowly crossing the headwaters of the South fork of Lion creek, and descending to the road below Pony lake.  The following day, I felt much better and jogged out to the highway, hitched to Seeley, retrieved my bike, and returned home by mid afternoon with my tail tucked firmly between my legs.

Thoughts:  I am committed to getting out of the mountains safely every time, and made the right decision to bail.  The stomach distress was a one-off, and it was not realistic to complete such a daunting outing in my deteriorated state.  That being said, I am bitterly disapointed.  Having failed at several multi day outings over the years, and at a string of races in the past year, it is hard not to wonder if I have the mental toughness to execute long and challenging outings like this.  On a positive note, I am recovering very quickly, and am excited at how much healthier my body is overall this year compared to last year, especially my knee.  And, I think I have gear dialed and sufficient motivation to give it another go.

Stay tuned for a rematch! 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Northern Swans, Union to Cooney traverse

It is time to get back to summer mountain scrambling.  I got the short summer season rolling by checking off the last portion of the high Swan crest that I had not yet seen.  It was a great day, and it was good to finally summit the beautiful Union peak, which is the last of the major peaks on the Swan crest that I had not previously climbed.  

I started the day by biking the easy 6-mile shuttle and following the good climber's trail to Pony lake.  I jumped up onto the ridge at the lake, although in retrospect it might have been quicker to bushwack a little farther up the drainage.  The climb of Union peak was straightforward and fun.  There were a lot of slow sections between Union and the crest, and it took about an hour more than expected to reach the Swan crest.  In retrospect, I should have hopped down on snow and passed the slow sections on the North.  
Nearing the final ridge to Union peak.  Pony lake in the background.
Union peak on the right, and the traverse to the crest off the looker's left ridgeline.
The first few peaks of the crest were fast, clean, and fun.  The South ridge of the highest peak is steep and cliffy, and it took quite a bit of route sleuthing, some very solid 4th class downclimbing, and lots of scree and choss management to make it down.  To my surprise, the next section of ridge was steep and scary, so I bypassed it on the East.  In retrospect, I think it might be better to take the easiest Southeast gully off the high peak, bypass the technical ridge section, then climb back to the crest for the last two peaks.  
Looking out along the best part of the ridge from the crest.
Looking back at the first half of the ridge.
Downclimbing crux.
Steep snow, with the tricky Southwest face of the high peak behind.
The remaining traverse to Smith creek pass was fast and enjoyable.  I had an extra few minutes, and used all of them summiting Cooney peak, which adds about half an hour over just heading down the trail from the pass.  The 5 mile trail run out was downfall free and a blast.  I did take one tumble, shattering the screen on my cheap camera.  This is why I have always just used cheap digital cameras.  
Fun, fast travel near the pass. 
On Cooney, ready to head home.
Rolling home.
The drive back was quick, even with the shuttle, and I was back in town just 3.5 hours after leaving the summit of Cooney.  I have been re-doubling my efforts at spending more time at a true nose-breathing easy aerobic pace, and spent the day not too much above that effort level.  I was pleasantly tired by the time the truck came into view at 8 hours, 50 minutes bike to car, not including the 30-minute bike shuttle.  Just under 8,000 vertical feet.