Monday, September 28, 2015

Castle Crag and Sheafman points

Leah on the upper ramparts of Castle Crag.
Leah and I were finally able to link up Sheafman points and Castle Crag, a loop that I have been meaning to do for a very long time. On the heels of an excellent out and back run to Sky Pilot the previous day, we set out a leisurely pace, working our way up the drainage and enjoying early signs of fall. We left the trail just before the second creek crossing and climbed into and up the main gully seperating East and West Sheafman points.  A quick jaunt put us on top of East Sheafman, and another quick traverse put us on West Sheafman.  There is quite a bit of boulder hopping and mild bushwacking on the way to the West Sheafman/Castle pass, and we passed the time by discussing Leah's new work with the Global Landscapes Initiative.
Aspen are rare in the Bitterroot, so it was especially exciting
to catch a few trees displaying their full fall colors.
Our ascent route to the Sheafman points.
Someone needs to go ski this thing and invite me along. 
Leah boulder hopping between the Sheafman points.
Back in familiar terrain, we made the easy choice to continue to the summit of Castle crag via the normal southeast ridge route.  It was a big push, but we did it, and were soon oggling at what is one of my favorite views in the range.  The descent to Knaack lakes and subsequent jog out were quick and enjoyable.  Aside from being a bit scrappy between West Sheafman an Castle crag, this little link up was everything I had hoped for, and it was wonderful to spend a perfect fall weekend out in the mountains with Leah.  At a casual pace, we did the circuit in under 10 hours hours car to car.
Looking to Castle Crag from West Sheafman.
Leah powerhiking up granite slabs below Castle Crag. 
Psyched for another Castle crag summit

The route.  The first few miles of the Sheafman trail are not shown.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rattlesnake Traverse in summer

Classic Stuart photo showing most of the traverse to Murphy Peak.
Murphy is the peak on the left skyline.
I was able to spend a mid-week afternoon out in the mountains enjoying our backyard Wilderness playground. I left the truck parked at Snowbowl and biked back down the dirt road to Grant Creek, then up to Ravine.  It felt somewhat cavalier to leave the trailhead at 2 pm, and more than one person just shook their head when I mentioned I was going to end up at Snowbowl. I was on the cusp of getting sick, but just ignored my body and ran fairly aggressively up to Stuart. I went out to the summit, then continued on the trail to Mosquito.  I did take one major wrong detour off the trail, but corrected soon enough and proceeded to the summit of Mosquito, where I downed most of the remainder of my water, slowly coming to the realization that the second half of the traverse was going to be a thirsty one. 

Big Lake and beyond from Mosquito.
After less than a mile, the trail drops to Glacier lake, so I left it and walked easily to the summit of Sanders peak.  The terrain between Sanders and Murphy is fairly rugged, but I worked through it, generally staying just west or south of the crest.  I bypassed large portions of the ridge crest on the Northwest ridge of Sanders, on the scrappy rugged ridge west of West Sanders, and on one notably unappealing gendarme on the East ridge of Murphy.  I also made one substantial routefinding blunder by climbing West Sanders, as it would have been faster and more pleasant to bypass the entire peak on the south.  It was fun puzzling through, and I was soon on top of Murphy, sipping the last of my water.  The traverse to Point 6 was delightful (it always is), and the descent of Snowbowl via Second Though was quick and to the point.  I returned to the car a few minutes under 6 hours, promptly downed a liter of water, and quietly celebrated a fun little afternoon of running and adventuring. Also, the outing didn't exacerbate my sickness, so I'm psyched.

Getting into the technical and scrappy bits beyond Sanders.

A little tired and a lot excited on Murphy.

The final section from Murphy to Point 6.

Shadow dancing on Point 6.
This is a great outing, and it should be repeated often in summer and winter. The shuttle is super easy, and it all flows together quite nicely.  The route could be tightened up to a simple 5 hour affair, especially if you start at Snowbowl and skip the summits.  Go to it. As often as possible!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sweeney to Lolo traverse

Bypassing gendarmes about half way through the traverse.
On one of the smokiest days of the year, Leah and I did the Sweeney to Lolo traverse.  I have been meaning to do this one for a long time, and it seemed reasonably prudent to give it a go with the optimistic thought that we might be above the smoke. And we were... for the morning at least. Since a primary goal was to stay as high as possible, we did the full Carlton to Sweeney car shuttle, which took over an hour on both ends, and could be truncated by parking down at Mill creek and stopping lower on the Sweeney road.
Plateau cruising west of Sweeney.
The hike up to Sweeney was quick and enjoyable. Much to our delight, the smoke had cleared significantly, and we were able to see peaks of the southern Bitterroot and sort-of-kind-of not choke on smoke for a few hours. The traverse to Lolo was new to me, and we just nosed our way through it, staying on or near the ridge the entire way except the corner where the Sweeney ridge abuts the crest of the range (which we bypassed on the north). I found the route to my liking, with lots of easy scrambling intermixed with open plateaus and some krumholtz to keep things appropriately scrappy. We hit the main Lolo summit about 2.5 hours after leaving Sweeney peak, and the North summit not much later.  The smoke rolled in during the egress, but was not bad enough to smother our spirits after a good day in the home range.
Leah descending from Sweeney peak.
Weaving around scrappy trees with Lolo peak in the background.

We were back in the smoke by the time we hit the North summit.
This is a good outing.  With the full car shuttle, it is only a few hours longer than doing a simple out and back to Lolo peak. No matter how you skin the shuttle cat, it is very reasonable day as long as you run the downhill trail sections.  Although I believe detailed route description is available on Summitpost, the routfinding is intuitive.  7.5 hours car to car at a moderate pace, except the ridge scrambling, which was relaxed.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to wonder if starting the day farther afield (Bass creek?  St. Mary's to Heavenly Twins?!) would make for a worthwhile long outing...

Friday, September 11, 2015

2015 race reports - running

The Rut 25K
Runners at the beginning of the technical Headwaters descent.  Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer
I had a great time at the third iteration of the Rut.  After a rough race last year, I returned with high hopes for a good run on the new 25K course.  I went out quite a bit harder than I would for a 50K, but was still in the back of the first wave.  I settled in with a few runners pushing at my pace, and the long first climb to Headwaters went off without much fanfare. After topping out, I went ahead and pushed the downhill but was not able to start moving up until about half way down.  Rolling up into the Swiftcurrent aid, I felt about as good as can be expected, and had moved up from somewhere around 50th to 42nd.  I had a great second half of the race.  The climb to Lone peak went well – I faded a little near the top, but still passed and opened at least a minute gap on about 4 runners.  The descent went even better.  While I consider my downhill running merely adequate, my legs still had enough fight to run the downhill well, which allowed me to move up several spots while having a blast careening down this beast of a mountain.  After a quick stock up at the last aid, it was off to the Africa climb.  This steep climb broke me last year, and this time my left adductor cramped magnificently, but only once, and a quick stop was sufficient to get it loosened enough to punch up to the service road, which I ran, re-passing Scott Marron.  My legs had a little rally on the final steep downhill, and I was able to re-pass Philip Slama on the way to a 4.23 finish.

I really enjoyed the new course.  It has all of the technical alpine running of the 50K, and flows together in a logical, challenging fashion.  It is pretty cool to race over an 11,000' peak on talus. The shorter distance was also nice, allowing one to push the whole time and run the technical sections well. Also, the reduced recovery time was nice, about four days faster to full recovery than a 50K, and over two weeks faster to full recovery than the Beaverhead 100k. 

My run was about as good as can be expected.  I showed up legitimately well rested, and stuck to a successful race strategy.  I think that saving some energy for Lone Peak played out in my favor.  However, looking back at results, I do have a few thinks.  First off, I was kind of slow, especially compared to the leaders.  On the flip side, I felt good about my time relative to the always-fast Jimmy Grant, and I did outkick Scott Marron a local runner who ends up consistently running exactly my speed, so I think my time was good but not great.  More interestingly, I was one of only a handful of runners who negative split the second half, and I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have been faster to push it early on, where I had enough energy to cut out something like 5 minutes to the top of Headwaters.  Not that I think I made a bad decision – the pace in the first half felt quite hard, and I was flirting with a substantial blow up on the last climb. But it’s hard not to wonder.  That might be a wrap for races this year, although I am fully recovered and hungry for more, so perhaps I’ll find a shorter race this fall to participate.
Beaverhead 100K

Finishing the Beaverhead 100k.  Photo: Leah Samberg Story
I had another successful race at the Beaverhead 100k near Salmon, Idaho.  The race is put on by a dedicated pair of runners from Salmon who seem to recruit the entire town in their effort.  The end result is a remarkable event on a striking mountain course.  This is the longest race I have done, so I went into it with a primary goal of finishing comfortably and a strong secondary goal of beating 14 hours.

The shuttle went off without a hitch, and after a slightly off camber rendition of the national anthem, we headed out from the start line at Bannock pass by headlamp.  A group of about ten ran off the front, and I settled into a “feels easy but is probably still too hard” pace with a group of about twenty runners. It was enjoyable to run with them to the first aid station as they swapped stories of 100 mile race epics.  Contrary to normal patterns, I had slept poorly both Thursday and Friday night, and consequently did not really ever feel good, which was unfortunate, because the morning was beautiful and the early miles were stunning.  I held on to the pace past the first two aid stations, advancing slowly through the group.  The tread changes from singletrack to jeep trail about eight miles out from Lemhi pass, and after passing one last runner, I ran alone, as I would do for the next twenty miles.  The running was easy, so I passed the time just grinding it out and trying desperately to keep the pace in check.  I arrived at Lemhi Pass at 5:15, about 15 minutes ahead of my time goal. 

By this point I had experienced a few minor twinges, my left hamstring was surprisingly shot, and my stomach was still a little off, but overall I was feeling OK.  The breakfast burritos at Lemhi were awesome. The first 15 miles out of Lemhi was one of the best sections of the race for me, and I clicked off mile after mile of runnable terrain, generally enjoying the trail as it snaked along through the lodgepole forest.  The “think I’m moving well” theory was validated when I emerged at the Cutout aid within striking distance of Craig Herz.  The long stretch to Goldstone pass climbs into the alpine, and it was good to experience some more rugged terrain. I started fading on the climbs to the Janke aid but still arrived about 45 minutes ahead of schedule.  From Janke, the course leaves the trail and traverses three minor summits on the continental divde.  Fortunately, my legs were not cramping, and I was too tired to push the pace much, so this section served as a rest. It was not ideal to have eyes glued to the challenging terrain since the route and views were so striking, but I had a great time bopping along, passing 55K runners every 5 minutes or so.  The trail down to Bohannan was extremely steep, true mountain running, and I loved it.  The last six miles were much more painful than I had anticipated.  My energy level was adequate and nothing was out of wack, but my core and hip stabilizers had been shot for miles, my joints were just hammered, and the rocky jeep trail was relentlessly jarring.  I set a relaxedpace and just ran it out to the finish.  I was pleased finish under 13 hours, and even happier to see Leah. I crossed the line appropriately thrashed.

For analysis, I was pleased with the race, and I learned a lot about how my body handles the longer running distances. My overall pace was consistent, and I did not have any acute problems. I think I could have run a little faster if my body had a great day, but overall I am satisfied. In addition to normal muscle soreness which worked its way through in a few days, I have had some post race hip pain and pain in the arch of my right foot.  My unprofessional diagnosis is that both are muscle and tendon related, and will work their way through.  I am granting my body a generous recovery period, and am hopeful to return to hard running next week at least 95% recovered.

Looking forward, there are no races on the horizon for about 6 weeks. I am pleased with my overall running and fitness level. Of note, my body is accepting running well, I have been continuously healthy since early May, and most importantly, my general stoke and gratitude level to be out has been very high every day.  It would always be fun to run faster, and will continue to work on my weaknesses, especially form, and also try to maintain an always-helpful robust aerobic base without obsessing about getting miles in. I am also motivated to try and rebuild some high end fitness loosely in preparation for the Rut 25K and ski racing season.

For philosophy, it was interesting to run another race at a true ultra distance.  In addition to the satisfaction of having covered 100k on foot, the physical endurance and mental challenge associated with the increased distance was rewarding.  Running 100k without issues certainly opens the door conceptually to running 100 miles.  On the flip side, I have never placed much intrinsic value in running extremely long distances and have no plans to sign up for a 100 mile race in the near future.  Currently, I am much more motivated to get out in the mountains.  I have a long list of adventures and am excited to chip away at them over the rest of the summer.

Leah had another great run in the 55K, finishing second.  She has had some ongoing IT band issues, which were exacerbated by the race, and is going to take a little while longer to come around.  Leah has had a string of consistently strong races, and I am proud and inspired. 

Old Gabe 50K

Old Gabe was fun.  The race organizers have kept the event as low key as possible, doing just enough to keep everyone safe and happy. The course is a few miles under 50K, but with 11,000 vertical, it is certainly steep and challenging.

I did the first climb with Leah and a group of 5-10 other runners.  The pace felt easy, but it was still probably too fast. I topped out on Saddle saddle in about 12th place. I started feeling some fatigue about half way through the long descent across the Bostwicks and down Truman and immediately scaled the effort back to a pace which seemed sustainable for the remainder of the run.  This de-throttle ended up saving my race. The run across Bostwicks and out Truman is quite enjoyable, and I tried to just cruise it with minimal effort. The first aid didn't have any food that I could stuff in my pockets, so I spent an extra minute or so stuffing my face with M&M's and jerkey before heading up.  I was psyched to see Leah shortly after leaving the aid only about 5 minutes back and in 2nd or 3rd place. I would later learn that she pushed the downhills much harder than normal, which played out well.

I tried to move sustainably on the climb out of Truman, spending a few minutes moving and chatting with Nick on the ascent, and spending a few minutes running and chatting with a spirited Christian during the technical descent back to Middle Cottonwood.  It was fun to see my dad cheering at Middle Cottonwood.  On the climb back out, I was pleased and surprised to see Leah cruise by to a win in the 25K. Nice work Leah!  I felt pretty good on the climb out of Middle Cottonwood, and was able to pass two runners and close the gap to Christian and Becky Wheeler.  I passed both of them on the descent, but also had quite a few adductor and calf twinges before emerging at the Sypes aid. Becky Wheeler didn’t stop at Sypes, so I headed out with the goal of reeling her in.  Fortunately my legs cooperated, and I was able to push the entire climb, re-passing Becky and passing Joshua.  I was in a good position at the top of the last descent, so I stayed as relaxed as possible.  Fortunately, Joshua didn’t quite catch up, and my legs allowed me to cruised it in without any mishaps.

I felt very good about the run. It would always be nice to show up with more fitness, and to not flirt with cramps for hours, but within those constraints, this is about all I’ve got. I started too hard, but realized my error early and re-jiggered the pace accordingly.   My biggest learning experience was that a race can be salvaged even if I go out too hard if I can just stop pushing the pace. The rest of the race was kind of a slow fade, but my splits and effort were even enough to move up several places over the last half of the course, and my adductors held in there on all of the steep climbs.  Also, I ran a strong second half relative to those around me, and also relative to Jeff Rome and Jenny Pierce, two local runners who tend to close strong.  

The course itself was great.  It is steep and rocky, for sure, but there isn’t anything too technical, and the West Bridgers are a beautiful place.  On a philosophical note, I would perhaps contend the 25K is the premier distance, since the course is super logical and beautiful and long enough to be hard.  I am also psyched to be recovering quickly, which is good ‘cause I am hungry for the next adventure.

Dirty 30 50K

Rolling to the finish around mile 31. Photo: Glen Delman
I had a great time at the Dirty 30 race. The goal from the outset was to start at a reasonable pace and push it in the second half if possible.  I started out slowly, according to plan, settling into the second climb at a pace that I thought I could keep for the duration of the race. I was in about 70th place.  The middle third of the course is a series of short climbs and descents, with a short section of technical trail just before the third aid. I ran this section with a small group of runners, and we advanced a few spots along the way. I made a quick transition at the third aid and pushed the next long climb fairly hard, which yielded another few spots, but also had my legs near cramping by the top (Mile 20).  By this point I was tired and unsure about my ability to maintain my position.  Fortunately, a good burst of energy allowed me to maintain an even effort and pace over the last 10 miles, including the Windy peak section.  This allowed me to pass someone every fifteen minutes or so with a small pad of gas in the thank. I finished in 6.04, tired but in great spirits.

Race strategy was good. It was disconcerting to start so far back in the pack, but I was worth it to keep an even effort for the duration of the course, and this felt like my first solid 50K.  I have an unconfirmed theory that it is a little faster to go out about 10% harder and roll the dice with keeping it together, but it is a risky strategy that has the potential to backfire mightily, especially when the backfire mechanism is usually hateful adductor cramping. I finished with some energy left in the tank, but even in retrospect, it seems that it would have been unwise to push harder given the threat of cramps at mile 20.  I used a HR monitor, and ran the first 5 miles in the upper 150s and ran the remainder of the course between 145 and 155, both up and downhill.  I was pleased to be able to keep my HR above 150 on flats and uphills over the last 10 miles. Everything else (clothing plan, appetite, hydration, gear issues blistering/rubbing, fatigue from sheer pounding, joint pain, etc) went flawlessly.  I didn't even take a digger.

Leah does consistently well at 50K's.  This time was no different. She started aggressively, burned all the hay in the barn but held it together, and finished just over 7 hours, which was good enough for 15th place.

Ski racing tends to favor my meager speed talents, so, it was predictably disconcerting to finish below 50th place, even after a great few months of solid training and what felt like a great race. But so it goes, especially at early season races. I was also pleased to recover fully in less than a week.