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.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Crescent to Pyramid tour in the Swans

This post is a few months late, but I already miss ski season.  With generous help from a close friend, we were able to get out of the house super early on a beautiful, hot May day, intent on getting the tour done in time for day care pick up.
Leah skiing off the summit of Pyramid peak.
We left the car at the Morrell creek bridge around 5:15 am, and made an efficient push up Crescent.  We walked to about 6,500 feet, and from there the snow was firm enough that we were able to walk most of the remaining climb in ski boots. We had packed all manner of tasty treats, and ate like royalty on each summit, which was a nice diversion from an entrenched pattern of endless bars and sesame sticks.  From the summit of Crescent, we skied good corn on the Southwest face to the bottom of the main avalanche path.
Keeping an eye out for Morrells during the approach through the Rice Ridge fire.
Leah topping out on Crescent.
Near the bottom of the Crescent run.
The climb up West Marshall was quick and still relatively cool.  We skied the skier's left of the two main avalanche paths, which was excellent and conveniently deposited us high enough to simplify the next climb.  By this higher route, the push up Pyramid was blissfully easy.  I pushed the last climb a bit and took a cat nap on the summit before rejoining Leah.  We traversed down the west ridge of Pyramid before dropping into the longest, cleanest of the avalanche paths, which had good corn top to bottom.  We ran out of snow shortly after hitting the trail, which made for a relatively long walk out, but it was enjoyable.  We easily made it back in time for day care pick up.
... and back up to West Marshall.
Leah eating tasty snacks on West Marshall.
Good turns heading toward Pyramid.
Good turns heading home.
Such a good day.  It would be nice to add runs in along the way, but I think we pretty much nailed the most logical link up.  I think it is one of the very best outings around Missoula, even with the challenging road access.  7,000 vertical feet, done in about ten hours car to car.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Cliff Lake, Binocular bounce

I spent a great afternoon in mid May at Cliff lake doing the Binocular bounce tour.  The basic idea is simple: traverse out to Binocular peak, then bounce back, skiing as many North facing bowls as possible.  There is enough skiing right around Cliff lake to keep one busy, but this tour is a great way to see a lot of country, and the route finding is just tricky enough to make it an engaging outing.
Looking out from the low pass at the beginning of the day.
Binocular peak is in the far background.  
I started off by climbing to the low saddle directly below Cliff eagle peak and schussed down the ramp to the next peak east.  From there I got on the Stateline and followed it out to Binocular peak.  It was a bit of a slog, but I was poised on Binocular soon enough, ready to bounce back.  Binocular, unnamed bowl above Hidden lake, unnamed bowl behind Eagle cliff, and the Diamond chute to return home.  Each run had good snow and skied well.  I took short breaks and pushed at a solid moderate pace, and each run took about 45 minutes.  Soon enough, I was working through tricky thin snow at the bottom of the Diamond chute.
Binocular peak.
Looking back at the Binocular peak run.  This time I skied the obvious run right off the high point.
Unnamed peak above Hidden lake.
Looking back at the Hidden lake run.
Fun skiing at the top of the Diamond chute.
One of the nice aspects of skiing at Cliff lake is the delightfully quick egress, and sure enough I was back in flip flops about ten minutes after starting the dry land egress from Diamond lake.  Somewhere a little north of 5,000 vert, done in just under 5 hours car to car.
Approximate route.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Running races, 2018

An ongoing summary of summer running races.  All the standard race disclamers apply.  Going into running season, I am honestly a little burned out with racing.  Not in a bad way, more that I am not super fired up to work hard to produce top level performances, and am trying to give myself a little psychological break and just train for fun.  I have had a few minor tweeks going into the running season (foot and groin), so I would rather get on a better injury trajectory than worry too much about fitness.

Riverbank 10k  I signed up just a few days prior and didn't really taper.  I had a great race for so early in the running season.  I settled behind much-faster Cory Soulliard, and just tried to hand on as he cranked out my goal pace 5.55ish miles.  It hurt a lot earlier in the race than I am used to, but I successfully hung on, running about as fast as realistically possible.  The last mile was a nightmare of pain.  36.35 or so.  Thanks to Leah and Sam for cheering on, and for joining me for a Snowbowl skin later in the day.

Governer's Cup Marathon  For a few disparate reasons, this race fit well into my schedule.  It is really early in the year to expect a great race, as I had only done two proper long runs prior to toeing the line.  On the flip side, ski season aerobic base is great, my body is accepting running quite well, and even later in the year I don't really want to put in the flat miles required to properly train for a road marathon.  So, I set of at 6 am on race day with a single goal of sub-3 hours.
The start.  I am half visible in the orange shirt behind Nico Composto, the uncontested winner.
The race went well, and I had a lot of fun.  The first few downhill miles were easy, but I was already distressingly taxed at the top of the biggest hill at mile 5.  From miles 5 to 16, I banked 10-15 seconds a mile on goal pace, and was running hard but not all out (HR in the mid 150's).  I kept the calories and water coming in, and to my delight I never bonked.  The field was quite thin, and I ran the first 25 miles a stubborn two minutes behind third place. There are a lot of hills in the second half of the course, and I was losing more time than I liked on each one, but I was already having light hamstring and calf cramps, so it seemed unwise to try to run any harder.  After reading about endless tales of getting crushed around mile 18, I rolled through 18, then 20, then 22, then 24 in mild terror, but nothing bad happened.  Coming out of the last hill around mile 24 I was about a minute behind goal pace, and although it was unrealistic to gain that time back, I at least tried.  My effort was enough to pass the 3rd place runner, but it was not enough to get under the 3 hour mark, and I crossed the line cramping and totally knackered in 3.00.40.

Although I missed my time goal, I am satisfied with race day execution, and don't really know where the 40 seconds could have come from without taking even more cramping risk.  The road running was much less monotonous and painful than I had feared, and recovery has been faster than expected.  With a larger running base, I think sub 3 is possible, but I'm not sure I want to try.

Beaverhead Endurance Runs 55k  I was excited to run an ultra after a two year hiatus.  I showed up well rested and reasonably fit, hoping for a fun race.  The first half of the race is very runnable, and I slowly moved up from about 30th place to about 10th.  I was working pretty hard with heart rates consistently in the mid-150s, but it seemed conceivable that I could hold the pace for the remainder of the race.  About half way between the Cutout and Janke lake aid stations, my nemesis adductor cramps set in, and I had to stop about five times to let them subside.  Although it was not the way I wanted my race to go, I remained committed to finishing, and decided to slow way down until the cramping resolved.  I was enjoying the back and forth with Andrew, and it was unfortunate to watch him run off, but so it goes.
In the heart of the stunning middle third of the course.  Shortly before cramping. 
Photo: Andrew Mayer.
After taking in a bunch of fluids and sodium at the aid, I took it easy and walked the entire off trial section.  Fortunately, the terrain was slow enough that I wasn't really hemoraging too much time.  I was able to run once I got back on the trail, but I kept it nice and easy, coasting into the final aid station and once again taking in lost of fluids, sodium, and generally taking as much care of my body as possible.  I was able to run the last six miles, gradually speeding things up as I approached the finish line.  I crossed in 7.25, about forty minutes behind my time goal.

Three things I am happy about:  I had a great time.  Since I wasn't able to hammer the last half, I recovered really quickly, which was nice.  All of my medium and long term injuries and niggles are pretty much clear, and it is really nice to feel healthy and strong.  I am, however, super frustrated about the adductor cramping, since it is such a chronic race killer and seems to set in well before I have the chance to push to my body's potential.  I have a few new ideas to address the cramping, but none of them seem terribly robust, and to be honest, I'm a little stumped on how to get back to feeling like I can race to my potential for events over about three hours.