Sunday, September 29, 2013

Yellowstone Running

Happy runner in Yellowstone.
Leah and I escaped to Yellowstone for a weekend of running and camping with Missoula friends. On the first day, we ran Electric peak from the Glen Creek trailhead. This superb 20-mile outing had us running endless smooth trail on the approach, then scrambling the clean, engaging southeast ridge in full gusty winds. Electric peak is certainly the most commanding peak in the Gallatin range, and it was great to share my third voyage to the summit with Leah.  The run out was equally enjoyable, and Leah was gracious enough to let me run over Snow pass and directly back to Mammoth among bugling elk and down through the expansive Mammoth hotsprings. The evening was spent soaking in the Boiling river and relaxing.

Leah starting the long run in to Electric Peak.
Leah floating down the Southeast ridge of Electric peak.
The Missoula crew, heading to the Boiling river.  Photo: Amy Groen
On Sunday, we ran Mount Holmes. Feeling the effects of the previous day and the Rut the previous week, Leah opted out of the summit, so we parted ways about half way into the run, and I made a hard summit push. Having only been to the summit in the winter, it was good to return and see the area without full snow cover. Thanks everyone for making the trip happen.
Mount Holmes.  I ran up the trail, which circles around the backside of the peak,
then descended directly down the talus ridge on the left back to the trail.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Rut 50k 2013 race report

Leah and me, all smiles at the finish line.  Photo: Amy Groen

I  had a blast racing in the inaugural Rut 50k race at Big Sky last weekend.  I went in with mixed expectations:

Good training base
The course has a lot of climbing, which suits my style
Good taper, good sleep the night before, and good rest the previous week

I had never run more than about 25 continuous miles
I had never raced more than a flat half marathon
I was testing out new shoes
I am almost guaranteed to get too competitive, go out too hard, and spend the rest of the race just trying to hold things together.

It was raining at the start, but the race organizers let us run the original course, so we all started out in the rain.  I lined up in the second row, which in retrospect saved me from the traffic jam farther back in the pack.  The pace up the initial trail was bright, and I let about 10 runners break ahead and kept it way under control.  At the top of the first descent, I was immediately passed by about 5 people blazing down the steep, loose singletrack.  Resolved not to push it too hard on the downhills, I let them go.  Fortunately, I was able to keep them in sight, and reeled them in through the rolling terrain after the first aid station.  I was able to move well on the long, moderate climb to the tram base, easily passing several people.  I arrived at the tram base in about 10th place, a little worried that I had pushed the first half of the course too fast, but otherwise feeling great.

Climbing to the Tram dock.  Photo: Crystal Images
I stopped to switch socks at the aid, but it took too long, so I only switched one.  A quick run down from the tram base and traverse put me on the Bonecrusher climb to Lone Peak.  Once again, I was able to climb well, and passed 4 people on the climb, including Doug Brinkerhoff.  I arrived at the summit in great spirits, fully energized by the cold, misty wind and beautiful alpine exposure.  Little did I know that the descent would be the toughest part of the race.  My lack of technical descending skills was made plain as I was passed by about 5 runners on the long off trail drop.  In addition, my inner thighs and calves started cramping, so I kept it slow, stretched several times, and tried to ignore all the runners fading into the distance.  I also crashed hard on the descent, bruising my ankle and scraping the tip of my nose.  Oh the shame!

Fortunately things turned around once I got back on the road, and I was able to reel in Tim Hartmuller ever so slowly.  Eventually, he stopped to fuel, we ran within 10 seconds of each other to the base of the Africa climb.  I was feeling strong at the start of the Africa climb, so I pushed hard, dropping Tim, and, much to my surprise, fully reeling in Jesse Langner, who had been about 3 minutes ahead of me at the base of the Lone peak descent.  I moved quickly through the aid, and was out about 30 seconds ahead of Jesse.  Battling cramps, I took the intial steep trail slowly, but was able to push hard as the trail flattened.  By the time I reached the base of the final short climb, Jesse was nowhere to be seen, and both Casey and Mark were at least a minute ahead.  I felt great once again on the final climb, but was unable to reel anyone else before crossing the finish in 6.09.

I had a great remainder of the afternoon, watching friends come in.  Of note, Leah had a great run, coming in just over 8 hours, much faster than her time goal.  I think we are both hooked on this running thing.  I would like to keep running races like this.  With a consistent training base this summer, my body is finally capable of comfortably running longer distances.  For racing performance, I just need to get better at running, especially downhill.  Also, the thrill of racing against fast competitors is absolutely addicting.  A big thanks to Mike Foote, Mike Wolfe, and the Runner’s Edge for organizing the event.
Team Missoula, looking tough at the finish line.  Photo: Amy Groen
One other item:  shoes.  I used Hokas for the race, and aside from delivering a massive instep blister, they worked well.  I attribute my relatively strong showing in the last third of the race in part to reduced pounding from the Hokas.  However, the shoe last is too wide for my foot, they are slippery and unstable on rugged off trail terrain, and they allow for sloppy, heel strike running on the downhills, which is not the direction I want to take my running.  I’m currently of the mindset the Hokas are good for long trail runs, but that conventional shoes are better and more stable for off trail and scrambles.  Similar to powder skis versus skinny mountaineering sticks, or a full suspension bike versus a stripped down hardtail 29er, I have consistently been drawn to gear that is agile in the mountains for both aesthetic and performance reasons.  In any case, I’m excited for some cool fall weather and the opportunity to get out see what works.  I’m sure there will be many crisp mornings, vibrant fall colors, new mountain vistas, and reflective moments along the way.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Montana Headwall short article

I was recently quoted in a short Montana Headwall article.  I had a beer/interview with one and only Ben Horan several months ago, and he was able to capture my thoughts pretty well.  I have a fairly clear opinion of FKTs as the relate to skiing in Montana, which goes something like this.

  • Most skiers aren't interested in pursuing FKTs, or skiing with a racing mentality.  Nevertheless, I highly encourage skiers to find ways to speed up.  With some attention to fitness, gear weight, pacing, and effieiency, most, if not all backcountry skiers can go a LOT faster than they think, which means a LOT more powder!
  • FKTs are arbitrary and silly, but they provide a great community challenge.  If you don't like them, that's OK, just focus skiing in a way that makes you happy.
  • The perception about excessive risk taking when attempting skiing FKTs is generally overblown as long as objective hazards are adequately considered.
  • I think the honor system for FKTs in Montana works well since the community is small.

Check it out if you like.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bear to Big Creek traverse

A winter view in the summer.  Bear Lake and the Sweathouse spires from Sky Pilot.
I received a text over Labor Day weekend from James who had just completed the Ranger group traverse in Big Creek.  Inspired, I ran out of the Bear Creek trailhead at 8:30 am a week later, hoping for a logical extension to James' traverse.  The end result was a run up Bear Creek, a ridge traverse from Sky Pilot around the head of Big Creek and the Ranger peak group, and a run down Big Creek.  I did not do my due dillegence with trip research, so I pretty much just winged it, which was not a bad way to explore another magical corner of the Bitterroot.

The day started off with an hour long bike shuttle from Big to Bear creek. From the trailhead, the run up Bear creek to Brian lake was relaxed and fast enough. I filled water bottles just above the lake before pushing up to the pass and scrambling to the summit Sky Pilot.  Having visited Sky Pilot many times in the winter, it was rewarding to see a familar view without snow.  For future reference, the scramble up Sky Pilot from Bear Creek was quite enjoyable, and would make a great ~5 hour out and back run/scramble.  A quick descent and climb put me on the summit of the peak above East Fork lake in good spirits.  However, a preliminary look out to Ranger peak revealed a characteristically complex and slow ridgeline, so I mentally prepared for a long, scrappy grind before setting off.  The ridge turned out to be every bit as slow as I had feared, but I worked it out, making many deviations on the east and west sides, and fighting a little bit more scrub brush than desired.  In retrospect, it would have been faster and perhaps more elegant to drop to the Pearl lake group and bypass most of the ridgeline on the east.

Looking out to Ranger peak from the point above East Fork lake.  This is going to be slow.
Soon enough, I was on Ranger point, and the traverse to Ranger peak was clean and ejoyable, as was the knife edge ridgline down to Old Stormy.  I managed to find a trickle of water before Old Stormy and took a generous break, downing well over a liter of water before heading down to Big Creek lakes.  I was able to follow rock slabs most of the way to Big Creek lakes, and a surprisingly short and tame bushwack was all that was required to regain the lakeside trail.  From the inlet of the lake, I refilled water for the last time and started down the trail.  James had told me that the Big Creek trail was fun running, and I certainly agree - lots of techy but runnable sections in the upper few miles, then miles of buffed trail through dark old growth Cedar forest.  I had a blast cruising out, and was even a little reluctant to see the car at the end of the day.
Looking back to Sky Pilot from Ranger peak.
Looking east to Big Creek lake and the Heavenly Twins from Ranger peak.
I never tablulated stats, but the run was at least 20 miles on trail with perhaps 5 miles and about 4 hours of scrappy ridgeline traversing, and 7,500 vertical feet of so of climbing.  I ran at a brisk but moderate pace, and was out for 9 hours, 36 minutes, not including the 1 hour bike shuttle.

The route is in yellow (red and white are ski routes).
Happy feet at the car.
Viva la Bitterroot!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Radio Interview on The Trail

I was interviewed for an evening program on 103.3 the Trail.  They asked a few left field questions, but the final edited product is good.  Unfortunately, they edited out most of the music I selected, which is a shame, because it was awesome music.  Check out the radio interview here, or better yet, check out the music:

Keith Jarrett
John Scofield with Medeski Martin and Wood

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sawtooth photo report

I have been busy, so here's a quick photo overview of a great Labor day trip to the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho.  Leah and I ran Mount Regan from Iron Creek the first day, and the remainder of the trip was spend climbing at the Elephant's Perch.  We got pretty worked on the Direct Becky (V 5.11), and I did a lot of whipping, whimpering, and aiding.  We didn't come close to making a free ascent, as I pulled on gear or fell on about 5 of the 12 pitches.  But we stayed safe, topped out before dark, and it was an amazing route.  The second day, we had a great jaunt up Astro Elephant (IV, 5.10-), and were lucky to share a rope with Jeannie Wall.  A few thoughts:
  • Running in the mountains is incredibly fun.
  • The run up to Sawtooth lake is impeccable, but the scramble up the Southeast ridge of Reagan was loose and convoluted.  
  • The good ski terrain in the Sawtooth is by no means confined to the areas in the vicinity of the yurt system.
  • The climbing at the Elephant's Perch is stout.
  • The climbing at the Elephant's Perch is also brilliant.
  • I can't wait to get back to the Sawtooth.
Sawtooth and Mount Regan.
Regan summit photo.
Starting down Regan.
Leah running around Sawtooth lake.
Leah working hard at the crux of Astro Elephant.
Starting up pitch two of Astro Elephant.
Also, Leah has been training consistently for the Rut 50k.  In addition to being in some of the best shape of her life, she is moving well through the mountains right now, and I'm really proud of her.  Nice work!