Mt. Lindsey (September 7, 2014)

September and October are the best 14er months of the year.  The trails quiet down, colors start to change and little bits of snow dot the trails.  Kris and I set out to complete our first Class 3 climb together, Mt. Lindsey, in the Sangre de Cristo range.

The drive down the night before is easy, but boring.  It was different heading out to climb a 14er and the only major climb of the drive was the Palmer Divide.

We headed down the night before and we’re greeted with scattered rain showers and a pot o’ gold that we just couldn’t reach.

_MG_4053 _MG_4055It’s a long slog from Gardner to the trailhead.  The road is easy, even when it turns to dirt until about 6 miles out from the TH.  Once you get past the Aspen River Ranch, the difficulty increases and there are some rocks that require navigating, but it can be done by 2WD.  We crossed quite few puddles as well.  I tried to hit them with as much vigor as possible to maximize the dirt on the car…much to Christine’s chagrin.

We camped the night in a cloud and woke at 4 am to get climbing.  It was chilly, but perfect for a hike.  With a hot breakfast and coffee in our bellies (Thanks to Kris’ new Jetboil), we hit the trail at 4:55 AM.

The trail initially drops down a bit and then maintains a flat profile for the first 1.3 miles.  It’s a great way to start a hike, especially early.  Lets the legs get warmed up and the mind get awake.  After 1.3 miles though, those legs need to be warm because it is time to start climbing.  And it’s gonna happen quick.

As you start to climb, a boulder field emerges on your left.  From 1.3 to 2.3 miles, you pick up 1200 feet from 10,800 to 12,000 ft.  The trail is solid and you can climb quickly if you’ve got the quads.  Kris and I mad decent work of it, only stopping to take off some layers.

Around 11,400, we crossed over the top of the creek.  The crossing was dry, but the water was rushing below us.

Crossing above the creek later in the day.

Crossing above the creek later in the day.  Looks quiet now, but gets going lower down.

As you approach 12,000 feet, the trail plateaus a bit and you work your way across a basin to approach the climb up to the saddle.

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The sun slowly rises with Lindsey (the pointy peak) in the distance.

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Hiking across the basin and approaching the climb to 13,100. Lindsey pokes her head above the ridge.

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Looking towards Little Bear, Blanca, and Ellingwood as the sun creeps into the valley.

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The trail returns to a steep grade, but that is to be expected up this high.  In .75 miles, you reach the 13,100 foot saddle that leads to decision time.  Take the “Difficult Class 2″ route to the left or attack the Class 3 ridge that we had planned to, even though there was spotty ice and snow.  It really wasn’t a decision.  We headed towards the ridge.

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Approaching the saddle, the ridge route becomes clear. The crux is obvious before you even approach the ridge.

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Climbing towards the saddle, we rose above the clouds.

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The ridge is a great mix of class 2 and class 3 rock.  Almost everything is stable but there was a good bit of ice around so we kept our eyes peeled and made sure our footing was solid before making a move.

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Beginning the ridge, the crux is obvious in the upper left of the picture.

As we worked our way to the crux of the climb, Kris and I found ourselves on the class 4 knife edge.  We worked our way backwards from it as the only way forward was back unless we were comfortable with a brief leap of faith.

Once we were a bit lower, the route was straightforward and we hopped across a few rocks to reach the base of the crux.  This area isn’t challenging, but there is some nasty exposure.

 

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If you get this high before the crux, you’ve gone too high!

IMG_2200 IMG_2203Back on trail, we headed up the crack in the middle of the crux wall and tried to stay to the left to keep it class 3.  Easier said than done with the snow/ice on the rocks, but we reached the top and were left with one more move to reach the summit ridge.  It was a simple move, but required some one legged bounding (who know that XC drill would actually come in handy) through a crack in a rock with major exposure running out to the bottom of the basin almost 1,000 feet below.

Making the move off the top of the crux.

Making the move off the top of the crux.

Once we reach the top of the crux, it was relatively straightforward hiking to the summit.  There were a few more moves to get to the class 1 trail, but my memory of this part is vague.

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The final steps to the summit.

IMG_2204 We reached the summit at 8:45, 3:50 after leaving the trailhead.  The class 3 ridge was a blast and I enjoyed the challenge of finding our way through it.  Having never done a class 3 before, it was the perfect introduction.  Might be a good idea if you’re skittish on exposure to avoid anytime with ice on it though.  We were forced into a few decisions that led to some more “airy” moves because of the slickness of some rocks.

On the summit, we met up with a couple who had come up from the gully and we compared perspectives on the route.  We also soaked in a view of life above the clouds as well as the Crestones and humble Humboldt off to the north.  No Sand Dunes today though.  They were tucked beneath the clouds.

_MG_4122 _MG_4107 _MG_4106 _MG_4108 _MG_4127 _MG_4099 _MG_4100 _MG_4102We chose to take the class 2 gully back to the saddle.  The ridge just seemed too slick to safely down climb.  As we descended, we were very happy not to have come up this way.  The rock is loose and solid footing is hard to find.  There are two sections where you have to work your way through some tight rock, but there is no exposure so as long as you are patient, its OK.

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Dropping into the 2nd gap.

IMG_2214The hike out was one of my favorites.  The basin was beautiful in the full sun.  Little Bear and Blance loomed to our west and unique peaks emerged to our right.  The descent was slow going, but as we reached the basin, we opened our legs and pushed the pace.  The steep drop was tough on the knees, but knowing we had a flat last mile let us push the pace.  It would serve as a sort of cool-down.

IMG_2215 IMG_2216 IMG_2218 IMG_2219 IMG_2221We arrived back at the trailhead at 11:47 am, just sneaking under the 7 hour mark for a total climb time of 6:52.  Our total elevation gain was 3755 and our mileage was 9.2 miles.  We are intrigued on the miles as, 14ers and Roach have the route at 8 miles.  While we had to do some backtracking, it wasn’t 1.2 miles worth, so if anyone has any ideas, let me know!

 

 

 

 

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Leadville 100 MTB Race

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Don’t ask me how I ended up holding this bib on the Friday before the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race, but here I was.  Checking in downtown Leadville for a 100 mile race.  Not just any 100 miler.  Leadville.  The Race Across The Sky.  At 6 am tomorrow, I would be staring at 100 miles and 12,162 feet of climbing.

Rewind to 2 weeks prior.  I’m preparing to climb Mt. Columbia, a 14,078 foot 14er to finish out the Sawatch Range (with the exception of Elbert which I’m saving for my finisher).  My wife Christine calls me the night before the climb and asks if I’m willing to accept a free entry on behalf of Transamerica to the Leadville 100.  It was an offer I couldn’t say no to.

The Leadville 100 was on my bucket list and I had planned to do it next year.  I had down the Silver Rush 50 twice and had thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.  However, training had been spotty since the Silver Rush because of our honeymoon in Alaska so I was a bit nervous about attacking this challenge.  I couldn’t turn the opportunity down though.

Fast forward 2 weeks of getting my legs ready to roll again and here I has in the middle of downtown Leadville at 6 AM.

**Also, big thanks to Jeremey Brouwer for crewing and taking the majority of pictures you see here!

Wrong corral but ready to make it work.

Wrong corral but ready to make it work.

Christine’s co-worker Cisco had also received an entry and he was along for the race as well.  He had gone this far before, so I was looking forward to racing with him and had drawn on his knowledge prior to the race.

Cisco.

Cisco.

For me, I had mentally broken the race into 8 parts:

1. The start/climb to Carter Summit
2. Carter Summit-Pipeline Aid Station
3. Pipeline-Twin Lakes
4. Twin Lakes – Columbine Summit
5. Columbine Summit-Twin Lakes
6. Twin Lakes-Base of Powerline
7. Base of Powerline- Carter Summit
8. Carter Summit-Finish

Start-Carter Summit
The start is a rude awakening.  No way around it.  It’s early and it’s cold.  Oh and it’s aggressive.  The first couple miles are downhill on pavement with 2,000 people jonesing to ride fast.  We we’re cruising.  Before long, we were on dirt road as we approached the base of the climb to Carter Summit.  The climb begins in earnest at 6 miles.  It’s challenging only in that you are surrounded by riders, many who lack technical biking skills needed to deal with the tight surroundings and uneven terrain.  I reached the summit of the climb at 1:03:26, right on schedule (target 60-70 minutes).  I had been unsure of how the start would go down, so to be on pace was comforting at the time.  94 miles left.

Carter Summit – Pipe Line Aid Station 

Leaving Carter Summit, you quickly descend down pavement.  It’s an opportunity to gain some separation from the pack if you’re willing to attack the descent.  It’s also the first chance to eat.  As we began the descent, I crammed a Lara Bar down.  Another racer ate as well, but both of us wondered why no one else was taking advantage of the opportunity.

4 miles later you find yourself at the bottom of the next climb.  The backside of Powerline.  It’s a relatively straightforward 5 mile climb, but the rock does get progressively looser towards the top.  As you top out, you start to become aware of the nastiness of the Powerline descent.

The Powerline descent.  Keep those arms loose!

The Powerline descent. Keep those arms loose! (Photo not mine)

The 1400 foot descent drops you onto pavement at 23 miles.  I wasn’t running GPS and my sense of mileage was off (future note: ride with GPS less) so it felt like I should be coming into the Pipeline Aid station relative quickly after bottoming out on Powerline.  Wrong.

Once you hit the pavement, its more than 4 miles to the aid station.  Not unreasonable or overwhelming by any means.  But when you’re not mentally prepared for it in a 100 mile race, it takes its toll.

We left the protection of the trees and found our way onto the open plains east of the Sawatch range.  We also made friends with the wind here.  It was challenging enough and I didn’t want to end up alone so I forced myself into a pack that was riding a bit faster than I was comfortable with.  I latched onto the back and told myself that even though they were faster than I wanted them to be, it was less effort to be in a pack than solo.

It got to the point where I thought that I missed the Pipeline aid station but eventually I came upon it.  Cisco’s wife had set up camp and I quickly grabbed a little bit of banana bread for breakfast and replaced my waters.  77 miles to go.

Pipeline Aid Station – Twin Lakes

The terrain from the first aid station to Twin Lakes was one of the most challenging parts of the race for me.  Mentally at least.  I knew that it was rolling, but it required constant focus as it switch from double track to single track and then road.  There was no protection from the wind and you had to work to stay in a pack.

I’d also recommend being aware of when the course goes to single track.  It seems a lot of riders are uncomfortable with aggressive descents on single track.  I was stuck behind someone who struggled with that and lost several minutes here.

Eventually you bottom out and you start a gentle climb around 36 miles that brings you into the Twin Lakes aid station.  The climb is smooth and leads to a short descent to the dam.  If you’ve got a support crew, I highly recommend them setting out their tent at the station the night before.

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The cutoff at Twin Lakes outbound is 4 hours.  For some reason, this cutoff worried me.  I felt like I could be well below the cutoff on Twin Lakes inbound and at Pipeline inbound, but 4 hours was an aggressive start.  Thankfully I came in at 3:34.

I had been a bit behind at Pipeline but had pulled back all but 4 minutes coming into Twin Lakes.

Twin Lakes is a unique position.  You’re 40 miles into the race.  40% done with the day.  However, the 3,000+ foot climb up Columbine is staring you in the face.  All that climbing in less than 10 miles.

Twin Lakes – Columbine Summit

Talk about a climb that is outrageous.  As you ride out of Twin Lakes you have a quick small climb, but then a couple miles of rolling hills as you approach the base of Columbine.  After 2.5 miles, the climb begins in earnest.

As you work your way through the initial ascents, the climb is steep but smooth.  You quickly make friends on the climb and work together to reach the top.   Depending on where you are in the race, you also must deal with descending riders.  Some of them just don’t give a damn about anyone else on the course.  Keep that in mind riders!

As you approach tree-line, the course become more challenging and works it’s way towards single track.  Eventually you hit the Goat Trail at 49 miles.  Talk about a long last mile or two.

Once you break treeline you can see the turnaround.  For those of you that have spent time above treeline, you’ll understand just how far away it can feel.

I arrived at the turnaround (slightly over 50 miles) at 5:58, just under 6 hours.  Although it is somewhat counterintuitive, the course is faster on the way back.  Let’s put it this way: on top of Columbine you’re looking at a 10 mile descent instead of a climb.

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Helicopter shot from Columbine

One of the main pieces of advice given to me before the race was to get food as quickly as possible and get off the summit of Columbine.  Any time above tree line takes its toll in a cumulative manner.  Not to mention the risk for storms up that high.  I grabbed a sandwich and a little bit of Coke and worked my way up the quick climb out of the aid station.

Columbine Summit – Twin Lakes

Not much to address here other than be aggressive on the downhill.  It’s tough initially above tree line as the trail is a bit narrower and you are dealing with 2 way traffic, but once you get back in the trees you can let loose on the smooth road.

My 2h41m climb took a little more than 42 minutes to descend.   Now we were talking.

I rolled into Twin Lakes Inbound at 6:49, almost an hour in front of the cutoff time of 7h45m.

Coming back through Twin lakes inbound.  Let's go home!

Coming back through Twin lakes inbound. Let’s go home!

Twin Lake – Base of Powerline

This was the slog of the race.  I had rolled into Twin Lakes with a lot of gusto and excitement from completing Columbine and getting back a lot of time on the cutoff.  That quickly came to an end though as I worked my way onto the wind swept pavement.

I was able to prepare myself mentally for the single track climb, but the endless up and down took its toll.  I worked my way into a group and we just put our heads down and worked our way through piece by piece.

The Pipeline Inbound station seemed to never arrive.  I kept looking for it around the next corner, but it never seemed to be there.  I was mentally in a dark place, considering quitting the race, wondering I was even out here.  It’s not like I was racing for a team or anything.  No one was depending on me.

I went through Pipeline expecting to see my crew, but they were no where to be found.  I made a huge mistake and rolled right through, not stopping for water, even though I was down to 3/4 a bottle.  I was tremendously underestimating the Powerline climb at this point in time.

Race time was 8 hours as a I crossed underneath the Leadville banner at Pipeline.  4 hours to ride a little over 30 miles.  Did I have it?

I was frustrated and down as a I left the station.  I came back out onto pavement and once again worked my way into a group.

Just short of 80 miles into the race, I was greeted with the most welcome sight of the day: Jeremy, Christine, Mom Benetti…and some guy with a megaphone chanting for me.  They quickly re-stocked my water and Jeremy advised me to put my head down, accept that this little climb on the road in front of me sucks and get my ass up Powerline.

Rejuvenated, I headed out towards the Fish Hatchery and the base of Powerline.

Base of Powerline – Carter Summit

I was in the home stretch now.  20-25 miles to go…depending on who you ask.  (Side note…take everyone’s computer readings with a grain of salt…they vary).  I was mentally prepared to hike a bike up much of Powerline.  The descent was gnarly…and that was 6 hours ago.  The terrain is steep and rutted out.  Rideable if I was fresh and not surrounded by other riders.  I was neither at the time.

I rode the initial mile or so, and then settled into a strong hiking pace.  I looked forward to the final climb up to Carter.  It was all road.  I knew if I could hold my pace up Powerline, I had a good shot to Buckle.  There was still a lot of work left though.

Powerline is nothing but a slog.  There are false summits galore (5 I think) and plenty of slippery slope.  Each time you summit, you hop on to ride and get 30 seconds back, but you are off the bike as quickly as you hopped on.

Finally I was on the 11,000 foot summit and ready to get down.  The descent from Powerline is loose but manageable…unless somehow your front shock got turned off somewhere on the last climb…and it takes you a mile or two to realize it.  Then, in that case, your shoulders and arms are super tired!

It’s a quick descent from the top, with the bottom half being pavement and soon you find yourself at 10,000 feet, staring at your final 1,000 foot climb of the day.  And you say thank you…because it is paved.

The climb is a bit more than 2 miles, straight road.  Get on someone’s wheel and climb.  Enjoy it.  It’s the end of the suffering.

Carter Summit – Finish

I rolled over the top of Carter Summit, grabbed some water and headed down.  I needed the hydration, but was also ready to be done.  I talked with an aid station volunteer (Thank You!) who told me that there was about 10 miles left…the majority of which are downhill.

I attacked the descent, which took a mile or so to get going.  I don’t remember the top being rolling hills, but it was.  A little over 2 miles later, I was in full free fall.  I passed quite a few people on this descent and continue to be amazed at the lack of downhill ability in this race.

With about 6 miles to go in the race, the course flattens out and you dig deep across the final flats until the finish line climb.  You may remember that at the top of Carter Summit, I asked how much was left and was told 10 miles.  I asked this question again at the flats and was greeted with the answer: 10.  Upon further clarification, this meant 10 kilometers.  Moral of the story, clarify before you ask or be prepared to flip out!

After attacking the flats, around 100 miles, you turn let and head up the final climb.  Yes, you may be asking why start a climb at 100 miles when you only have a 100 mile race?  Me too.  But Leadville does Leadville wants.

The last climb hurts, but it’s a hurts so good type pain.  It’s not steep and it’s not long.  I spent much of it coming to terms that I was going to finish in under 12 hours and Buckle.  And not just under 12 hours, but probably in the lower 11s.

Eventually you ride past Leadville High School and you can hear the cheers of the crowd.  You cross through the neighborhoods of Leadville where fans offer any help they can give you, including quick turbo boost pushes and then you see that finish line.  It’s downhill with a quick up, but you don’t notice.  The red carpet rolls out.  My name is called.

11:26.04

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Mt. Columbia (July 27, 2014)

Kris and I had dread climbing Columbia for a while.  The scree slope sounded nasty and the alternative route lacked a clearly defined trail and was a long time above treeline.  Not to mention our adventure on Harvard a few years back (http://14000feetandabove.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/mt-harvard/)

We camped at the trailhead the night before so that we could get an early start on the climb.  The trailhead is well marked but smaller than a lot of the other trailheads on the road, so it was a bit harder to find.  We passed it and realized our mistake relatively quickly, so we turned around and headed back.

Camp was quick and easy to set up.  With the tent established, we thought about starting a fire, but it had rained a good while earlier and everything was wet.  Oh well, off to bed it was.

3:30 AM….Alarm.

Coffee…food…hike.  We we’re out of camp at 4:03 and on the trail.

Initially, you follow the Colorado Trail for the first, but around 10,000 feet you head northwest off the trail.  It is not clearly marked, or marked at all for that matter, but once you find the initial movement, you can pick up segments of a trail here and there.

We worked our way through the forest.  Occasionally on trail.  Occasionally not.  Our GPS was incredibly handy here and saved us quite a bit of exploring, especially in the dark.  We had been hiking for around an hour when the sun first began to peek above the horizon, but our surroundings remained dark.

As we approached tree line, we had picked up a trail, but were met by 2 glowing eyes in our headlamp beams.  We quickly turned a hard left and took another route up.  I occasionally glanced over to see the eyes, watching us, but appearing to maintain their position.  It wasn’t until a couple minutes later that I felt like we were safe.

As we reached tree line, we found a rock outcropping that offered an incredible view of the sunrise in the east:

_MG_3844  _MG_3847 _MG_3849 _MG_3852As the sun rose, we approached the stand of dead trees.  In the pre-dawn light, it was eery to work our through the shadows.  We were able to maintain the trail, but at times, it was challenging with the variety of deadfall and the meandering nature of the trail.

As we left the trees behind, we found ourselves on decreasingly less rocky terrain.  This was in reverse to your standard 14er where the rocks increase the higher you go.

We followed the ridge line and skirted the 1st peak to the south.  It’s easy to dodge it.  All that needs to be done is to aim for the saddle.  At this time, your objective is clear.  Initially, you need to find your way onto the ridge directly in front of you, and then you work your way over to Columbia, which is in view to your right.

_MG_3865 _MG_3864 _MG_3863 _MG_3869We reached our first bump on the ridge at 12,800 feet at 6:41 AM, 2:37 into the hike.  From here, the terrain becomes a mix of smooth trail and large rocks.  We could see Columbia and the ridge we needed to follow so we put our heads down and worked our way across.  The day was beautiful so far and the weather was calm.

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There was the occasional steep section.

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Areas like these reminded me a lot of the glacier carved bowls of Alaska from a few weeks prior.

_MG_3879We worked our way around the ridge and finally found ourselves pointing North at the summit of Columbia.  It was getting a bit later in the morning, but we had only seen 4 other people on the hike.  We would run into 2 of them on the summit.  We assume the other 2 traversed over to Harvard as we did not see them again.

As we took aim at the summit, our morale increased.  We had been above 13,000 feet for quite a while.  Above tree line for even longer.  I was stoked as I had the Leadville 100 MTB coming up in a few weeks and the altitude had kicked my ass back in the 50 a few weeks ago.

We picked our way through the ridge and found ourselves on the final summit approach quickly.

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The summit approach

_MG_3913Around the point of the picture above, we met up with the standard route on Columbia, but still did not see any climbers.  Oh well…Kris and I have gotten used to having peaks to our relative lonesome.  Not a bad thing!

The approach to the summit, is a bit of scramble, but nothing beyond your standard class 2.  We made relatively quickly work of it since we felt strong and found ourselves on the 14,073 foot summit just over 4 hours after leaving the trailhead.

The weather was still clear and beautiful and we had the summit to ourselves so we took some time to enjoy the view.  We also refreshed our acquaintance (hatred? love?) of Harvard a few miles away.

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We did have some company on the summit…

Marmot!

Marmot!

He tried to be casual…but he was not so casual…or sneaky.

We spent almost 30 minutes on the summit.  We finally found the motivation to head down a little after 8:30. The ridge hike down is straightforward, but I do recommend you be willing to hit each of the points on the way back.  We tried to skirt a few of them to the south and found ourselves hopping around some nasty rocks and making life much tougher on ourselves.

It’s also tough to maintain the trail as you head below the dead trees.  We ended up rock hopping and bushwhacking until we found our way onto the path.  Once we get past those rocks, it is smooth sailing.  Kris and I were able to run our way back to the trailhead form there.  It is one of those trails that is too steep to walk so you might as well just open it up and cover some ground.

At 11:40 AM we rolled back into the trailhead, 7h37m after we started.  We covered 12 miles, with close to 5,000 feet of elevation gain.

We had dreaded Columbia, but walked away from it having enjoyed the experience much more than anticipated.  The Southeast Ridge route offers a challenge by way of route finding and steepness.  The amount of time spent above tree line raises the risk of the hike, but if you give yourself enough time to dodge the storms, it is well worth the trip.

 

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Leadville Silver Rush 50 (2014)

With great anticipation, I returned to the base of the Dutch Henry Ski Hill with my sites set on a sub 6:00 race.

_MG_3305 _MG_3304Drawing on my experience from last year, I was much more aggressive in finding a position towards the front.  I wanted to be able to attack the hill and be in front of the bottleneck that occurs a few miles in.

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My lovely wife. First race as a married man!

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My brand new mother in law. Crewing her first race today!

With almost double the training (literally, double the miles), I felt much more confident in my ability to excel in the race.

As the gun went off, I attacked the bottom half of the hill and found myself panting and out of breath about halfway up.  I backed off the pace but continued to be aggressive.  I didn’t want to get caught in the back when the trail goes to single track.  I lost too much time there last year.

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Get to this turn as quickly as possible. It will save you minutes.

_MG_3322 _MG_3324 _MG_3326 _MG_3328 The course meanders for the first few miles but after a steep drop, the climb begins in earnest.  From miles 3-10 you climb from 9,950 to 12,000 feet along a gradual 4WD road.  As you approach the top, it gets steeper and there are spots where I was forced to hike a bike.  I reached the top in 1:23, my goal had been 75 minutes so I was a bit behind but not terribly.  I quickly descended down to the first aid station and arrived only 2 minutes behind my goal of 90 minutes.

Christine getting me restocked.

Christine getting me restocked.

The big climb down, now it was time for the short, steep ones.

The big climb down, now it was time for the short, steep ones.

_MG_3349   _MG_3362 _MG_3368 _MG_3367 _MG_3370 _MG_3372 I was feeling good.  Nowhere near as cooked as last time.  I grabbed what I needed and rolled out.  It’s a fun descent out of the aid station and then the climb begins.

The climb was tougher than last year.  It seemed to be more rutted out and more loose than I remembered.  There was definitely more hiking for me and I started to fall off my goal splits.  I hit the turnaround 20 minutes behind schedule at 3:04.  It’s a faster course back, so I wasn’t tremendously concerned, but I knew the climb out from Stumptown was going to be tough.

Several of my amazing crew for the day.

Several of my amazing crew for the day.

Approaching the 2nd aid station.

Approaching the 2nd aid station.

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Storms were building and I was nervous about getting wet, but I decided to forego the rain jacket.  The climb back out from Stumptown is steep and can be quite a bit sketchy with riders coming down the steep single track from the summit.  I practiced my mantra of RFM..Relentless Forward Motion.  I had a bit of hole to dig out of, but I wasn’t done yet.

As I summited the the climb out of Stumptown, the wind was starting to pick up so I hustled my way off the 12,000 foot pass and into the trees.  There is a quick climb again before the long descent to 32 mile mark.  It’s only 300 feet, but if you’re not mentally ready for it (I wasn’t last year), it hurts.

I opened up the throttle on the descent and really noticed a difference in my full-suspension vs. the hard tail I rode last year.  I was also a much better downhill rider than last year.  Both of these helped my time significantly.

As I reached the beginning of the final climb, I doubled down and focused on pedaling.  The aid station at Printer Boy breaks up the climb nicely and that was my primary goal.  Try and gain as much time back before Printer Boy and then work my way up to the base of Mt. Sherman.

I got to Printer Boy at 4:36, only 19 minutes ahead of last year.  I was concerned sub 6 hours wasn’t going to happen, but the opportunity was still on the table.  As I climbed back up to 12,000 feet, my legs began to cramp up a bit and I had to stop occasionally to stretch them out, but I was able to continuously climb.  It’s straightforward and smooth, just long. You can see much of it the entire time.

I reached the summit at 5:16, 24 minutes ahead of last year.  I just needed a little bit more time to get under 6.  It was going to be an aggressive descent!

I let loose and tore down the hill.  The next 7 miles were covered in 26 minutes, putting me at 5:42 with 3 miles to go.  The final 3 are rolling hills that require your attention in shifting as well as digging deep to get up the small climbs.  I attacked with everything I had left and forced water down to keep fueling me.  I was cutting it close and I knew it.

To get to the finish line, you go on top of Dutch Henry Hill and down a trail just north of it.  I sprinted across the top and knew that I was under 6, but I pushed just to make sure.

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The clock read 5:57:11, almost 3 minutes under my goal.  Cut it close, but got it done!

_MG_3401 _MG_3404 _MG_3405 _MG_3402 _MG_3407 _MG_3409 _MG_3413 _MG_3412With my goal accomplished, we enjoyed dinner and a beer in the race expo.  The difference between how I felt this year vs. last year was night and day.  Last year, I was tanked and exhausted.  This year, I could feel that I had undergone a big effort, but I wasn’t dead.

Little did I know, I was going to need that feeling in a few weeks.

 

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Day 7: Touring Anchorage and Red Eye to Denver

On our final day in Alaska, we finally slept in.  Being a more active honeymoon, we had been up pretty early on each of the days before.  We took our time getting out of the room and the Hilton was very kind to give us late checkout at noon and free breakfast without us even asking.  Before we left, we got our things packed up and ready to go.  We didn’t want to deal with it when we got back.

We went out for an early lunch at Orso (http://www.orsoalaska.com) to get our last fix of Alaskan seafood.  The restaurant was quiet but the food was good.  The asparagus and egg was a bold choice, but I would recommend it.  

Afterwards, we made our final trip to REI to return the bear spray canister we hadn’t used.  We felt kind of guilty about it, but it was $50 and we couldn’t bring it back with us per TSA rules.  When we walked up to the return counter, the customer in front of us was returning at least 10 canisters of bear spray.  Seeing that, we felt decidedly less guilty about our return.

Afterwards, we head out to Chugach State Park for a short afternoon hike.  We didn’t have a specific plan, but stumbled upon Flat Top Mountain, which offered amazing views of Anchorage and the surrounding peaks and bay.  

The trail varies.  Sometimes uber steep (like the start) and other times very gentle and wide.  We were disappointed by the condition of the trail.  Many people were just hiking anywhere with no regard for the mountain.  We even saw a group sliding down the tundra from the peak on their butts.  

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It was a 1.6 mile climb to the top, covering about 1300 feet of elevation gain.  It was a perfect workout and we found ourselves on the summit in a little over an hour.  There was a nice little section that bordered on class 3 just below the summit.  It was a bit sketchy with the a lot of rocks being kicked down on us from hikers above.  We almost turned around so make sure you choose your time and place wisely on this climb!

We made quick work of the decent and got back to our car around 50 minutes after leaving the summit for a total hike time of 2:03, covering 3.6 miles.  

Afterwards, it was off to King Street brewery (http://www.kingstreetbrewing.com), our sole remaining brewery to visit.  We had enjoyed their IPA in the tall boy cans throughout our trip so it was great to visit it’s home.  The brewery is small, but has a great tap room tucked away in an industrial park near Adventure Appetites (http://www.adventureappetites.com) where we had gotten our dehydrated food from a few days ago.  

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Our next stop was back to our favorite brewery of the trip, Midnight Sun (http://midnightsunbrewing.com) for some food and a couple more brews.  Fittingly enough, we sat at the same table we ended up on our first visit at the beginning of the trip.  We highly recommended this brewery as well.  It’s tucked away in an industrial park (different one than King Street) and has a great patio and a big variety of beers.  On our way out, we picked up an Arctic Sun Barleywine to cellar for a year and open next July to celebrate our honeymoon.    

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After this, we headed to the airport.  We were ready to sit still, even if it was a bit early.  We figured we could check in and grab a beer or two.  Not so.  Frontier doesn’t staff their check in desk until 2 hours before the flight.  So instead of being past security and relaxing, we were stuck in the check in area with 50+ other people who had the same idea.  Add on a 45 minute wait once the clerks finally showed up because everyone had to check in at once.  Frontier’s trend towards Spirit Airlines is not a good thing.  Cheap flights are great and all, but not at the expense of wasted time.

Once we were finally through, we found a spot and watched some of Captain Philips, which we ultimately finished on the plane.  Great movie if you haven’t seen it.

With that, we were back off to the Lower 48 and the wonderful state of Colorado.  Alaska is an expanse of wilderness that is unparalleled in anything that I have seen.  We spoke with a couple on our flight back that had spent the same 7 days here but had a completely different experience.  We look forward to returning and experience more of what The Last Frontier has to offer. 

 

 

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Day 6: Denali, Denali, Denali!

We woke up in our fancy pants hotel in Talkeetna after a phenomenal nights sleep in a warm, dry bed.  We had explored a bit of the town (it took a couple minutes to do so) last night, but we wanted to check it out when we felt a bit more fresh so we headed down to town for breakfast.

We got ready and headed out the front door of the “non-view” side of the hotel.  Quick detour here.  When Christine had booked the room the night before, they had asked if we wanted a view side or non-view side.  It was a $50+ difference so we said, non-view and were greeted to a view of rolling hills and green forest.  We chuckled that this qualified as non-view.   We were about to understand why.

We rounded a corner on our way into town and noticed a bunch of RVs pulled off the side of the road.  We wondered why and may have made fun of them…until we rounded the corner and got smacked in the face with a massive view of Denali.  Our response to it was pure awe mixed with a “holy shit!”  We pulled over as fast as we could and tried to take pictures with our cell phones…which quickly revealed themselves to be incapable of capturing her magic, so we drove back up the hill to our hotel to grab my camera.  This is what ensued:

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Talkeetna pilots were taking off like crazy with the views.

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Hard to captures faces in the foreground and Denali in the background but here is our best effort!

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To put into perspective what we were seeing (because the pictures certainly do not), the peak immediately to the left is a 14,000 foot peak and the far left is 17K.  This was mid-July and they are completely snow covered.  Quite the adjustment from Colorado where 14ers are bone dry this time of year.  And we’re a good distance away (50+miles?) as well.

We spent quite a bit of time gawking at the peak but finally decided to head down into Talkeetna for some food.  We ventured into the Wildflower Cafe (http://www.talkeetnasuites.com/wildflower-cafe.html) and just best the breakfast cutoff.  The shrimp omelet special was out of this world and needs to be in my life more often.  After breakfast, we took a little walk around town and stumbled on some fun/touristy places.

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Christine touristing.

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After wandering around Talkeetna, we headed back to pack up and make our way towards Anchorage for our last night in Alaska.  After packing, we considered driving back to the Denali viewpoint we had passed on the south side of the park, but as we were driving that way we noticed 2 things:

1. It was getting progressively cloudier.
2. It was a lot farther than we remembered.

So a little ways in, we turned around and pointed our car towards Anchorage.  I had been driving most of the way, so Christine took over and of course on the way out of town spotted a moose…while driving. I, the passenger, missed it!

Our moose.

Our moose.

The drive back to Anchorage was pretty straightforward, but we did finally hit up one of those espresso shacks in Wasilla…and it was delicious!

IMG_1718We also joined these folks in celebrating America.  Every. Damn. Day.

Down goes Britain!

Down goes Britain!

Once we got back in Anchorage, we check in at the Hilton (http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/alaska/hilton-anchorage-ANCAHHF/index.html) which promptly took great care of us with a few upgrades since it was our honeymoon.  I was exhausted so I took a lovely 5 PM nap while Christine venture around Anchorage at a local market of sorts.

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Reinder = Caribou.

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Alaska…Pissing off Texas since 1959. HA!

_MG_3776 _MG_3777 _MG_3778 _MG_3779 _MG_3783 _MG_3784 _MG_3785As I awakened from my doldrums, we worked out an evening plan to head over to Humpys (http://humpys.com/anc/) which was going to turn out to be an even better choice than we though.  We ended up sitting at the bar on open mic night with 30+ beers in front of us (http://humpys.com/anc/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/BEER2010-2.01.pdf).  Let’s just say we did alright.

Afterwards we paid a visit to the Snow Goose/Sleeping Lady Brewing Company (http://www.alaskabeers.com) which had just run out of IPA :-(.  However, the view was incredible as it overlooked the bay and we had a sunset view of Denali way off in the distance.

Despite the well-lit evening, we headed back to the hotel and fell asleep.  Sad that this was our last night on the Last Frontier but content with how we had spent our time.

 

 

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The Last Frontier Honeymoon: Honeymoon Day 4 and 5

Our final morning in Girdwood rolled around and we were ready for a change of scenery. The plan was to drive up to Denali State Park and hike Kesugi Ridge (http://www.backpacker.com/june-2012-life-list-kesugi-ridge-denali-state-park/destinations/16630) and hopefully get some views of Denali.

We started off the day with a visit to our favorite restaurant, the Bake Shop for the last time. With the weekend arriving (it was Friday), we had noticed a significant uptick in the population of the town and we managed to sneak in just before a line formed out the door for breakfast.

We of course had to make another stop at the Anchorage REI on our way through. The forecast called for rain so we picked up some rain covers for our packs as well as bear spray (that stuff is EXPENSIVE…but returnable!) and some food odds and ends. We had also read about a place called Adventure Appetites (http://www.adventureappetites.com) that made incredible dehydrated meals. The rumors were correct, but more on that later. I do recommend giving them 24+ hours notice though. They were able to squeeze us in on short notice, but it is definitely easier to call ahead.

A little preview of Adventure Appetites...and the rain to come later.

A little preview of Adventure Appetites…and the rain to come later.

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Tucked away in an industrial park.

Tucked away in an industrial park.

We finished our errands and headed up towards Denali.  The Alaskan interior is an interesting mix of suburban strip malls and wilderness encroaching on each other.  Oh…and copious amounts of espresso shacks on the side of the Parks Highway.

It’s a 3 hour drive from Anchorage to Denali State Park (2 or so if you’re Sarah Palin in Wasilla), so we just pumped up the tunes and kept watch for moose and bears (no luck).  We did however take a quick detour down the Talkeetna Spur to visit the Denali Brewing Company production facility/taproom (http://denalibrewingcompany.com) which is separate from their brewpub but was perfect for what we needed.  Denali makes an excellent blonde and Chuli Stout if you can track them down!

Late in the afternoon, we made our way to the Coal Creek Trailhead (George Parks Highway, Mile Marker 164) and started preparing to backpack.  It was great not to be worried about light.  We knew we had plenty of time to work our way to a decent spot for camping.

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Signing in.

Signing in.

The hike starts off gently climbing but quickly increases in steepness.  It was hot and muggy and the mosquitos were brutal, but the scenery was beautiful and took our minds off the negative.

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One of the biggest differences between here and Colorado was the amount of water.  We constantly heard the sound of rushing water and passed a pond as well.  There were only a few cars at the trailhead, but we did pass one large group who had made a day trip up to treeline and back.  We also came across some fresh bear scat around the same time we saw them.  It was nice to be around quite a few people at that time.

As we gained treeline we started to get hungry and search for a spot to eat.  The wind had also picked up as we became more exposed.  We were able to find a spot to tuck away by a creek.  The mosquitos swarmed us but we were at least out of the wind.  The bowl we were tucked in was eerily silent but occasionally voices would carry in from an unknown location.  Definitely added a bit of creepy factor to it.

Christine quickly went to work on dinner and I chilled the beers in the creek.  It’s debatable which side was more important.

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Thing were starting to get tougher.

Thing were starting to get tougher.

Dinner was incredible.  We had hiked a little more than 4 miles, but knowing that if we wanted to leave a reasonable last 2 days, we needed to get to at least 6 miles tonight.  After dinner, we loaded back up, slightly lighter with less food and beer and continued on our way.  The trail is not challenging terrain wise.  Once you gain treeline, its rolls gently as far as the eye can see, but the weather can definitely increase the challenge factor.  This was the case with us.

Clouds were rolling in and out and with them came varying levels of moisture.  We would have been capable of getting to 7  or more miles, but the weather took its toll and we set up camp just past 6 miles.

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We got things set up and chilled a few more beers to enjoy once we were done.  We were fairly protected below the trail so it was quite pleasant.  Once the tent was done, we sat and enjoyed our beers overlooking where Denali would be.  While Denali was hiding, we could see her foothills and the beautiful rivers that flow beneath her.  Before bed, we packed our bear canister and I buried beneath a bunch of rocks about 200 yards away from the tent.

Find the bear canister!

Find the bear canister!

Despite the light hours, bed time arrived.  With it came the wind…and eventually the rain.  We would awake to a much different weather pattern in the morning.

Throughout the night, our little protected area became increasingly less protected.  I was woken up frequently by the wind (my bear paranoia didn’t help) and the rain seemed to be coming down increasingly harder every hour.  I was nervous to step outside in the morning.

We woke pretty later for camping, somewhere in the 8 o clock hour and immediately got to cooking breakfast.  We knew were going to need some fuel for the day so we chose the caribou (or is it reindeer?) and egg burrito option.  Cooking in the vestibule is a no-no, but we did it.  There was no chance we could have cooked in the rain.

Getting breakfast ready.

Getting breakfast ready.

We had a decision to make.  It was raining steadily, but we weren’t at risk for storms.  Were we willing to tough it out to see if it cleared up (the forecast had no indication of clearing up) and we could maybe salvage some of the hike?  Or, should we turn around and head back to the car and just call it.

We had a bail out point planned at Ermine Hill if it was needed.  It would be a big day mileage wise (15+ miles), but we had a big day ahead either way.  The other catch would be getting back to our car.  We would either have to hike 6 miles of road or hitchhike.

We chose to hike on.  We figured, we’re in Alaska, most of the steepness is done and who knows how the afternoon would be.  We could deal with wetness.

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The ridge itself is beautiful.  The low handing clouds completely socked is in and gave an eerie feeling to the hike.  It was something different and we actually enjoyed it initially.  Things however were about to get a lot tougher.

I had made fun of the ridiculous amount of cairns earlier in the hike for such a relatively straight forward trail.  It was in the clouds that I realized the necessity of them.  We could only see the next cairn the majority of the day.  It helped to keep us on trail as it sometimes faded away.

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The trail meanders for a while but then begins a decent climb around the 10 mile mark.  It’s only 300-400 feet, but in the rain with our packs on, it took its toll.  We also emerged on an exposed ridge that was just getting destroyed with wind.

Christine and I approached it and from a protected area, you could see that the wind was significantly worse.  You could hear it howling and see the rain blowing sideways.  I told Christine to put her head down and just hike.  She looked at me in disbelief and said “what do you think I’m doing??”

Approaching the ridge of suffering.

Approaching the ridge of suffering.

It was a tough 10-15 minutes and by the time we reached a protected area, we needed a break.  Thankfully we found a creek we could set up at and cook up some hot miso soup and pump water for the rest of the day.  The mosquitos were brutal (no joke in Alaska), but it felt awesome to sit down and get something warm in us.  At this point, I was pretty soaked through and realizing that it was time for a new rain jacket.

Christine wandering how we've arrived in this on our honeymoon.

Christine wandering how we’ve arrived in this on our honeymoon.

From here, the trail starts a long, gradual decent into the Ermine Hill junction.  Thankfully, the lower we got, the more the clouds started to break up.  We were greeted with the occasional view of the surrounding peaks, but only in our immediate vicinity.  Still, it was nice not to be hiking in a cloud anymore.

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What’s a little more water?

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Starting to enjoy ourselves a little more.

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Wait…there are things around except for the trail?!

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The mileage on the trailhead signs was a bit off and we found ourselves rolling into the Ermine Junction well over a mile past what we thought it would be.  This along started to break our spirits a bit.  We just wanted to sit and eat!  We ran into a group of high schoolers and asked them if they knew where it was and they told us it was right around the corner, which it was, but first we had the privilege of walking out onto an outcropping and getting to eat with a beautiful view that was finally starting to free itself from the clouds.

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What we wanted all along…and maybe that King Street IPA was pretty good too!

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We rested for a bit and made the final decision to bail down to the Ermine TH.  The clearing weather had made us reconsider bailing.  We really wanted that view of Denali, but our current state of being drenched was the final nail in the coffin.  There wasn’t an opportunity for us to dry anything as their was still plenty of moisture around (it would rain on us later) and we had no desire to wake up drenched again on our honeymoon.

Down to the junction involves a far bit of bushwhacking and a marsh crossing that someone has built a high tech bridge of 2x4s across.  With the rain gone, it was rapidly getting hotter and muggier.

Christine demonstrates her impressive dry trail finding skills.

Christine demonstrates her impressive dry trail finding skills.

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We hit the official trail junction and confirmed our trail on the map.  5K (3.1 miles) to the TH…downhill.  We could do that.  We would be on the road in 1-2 hours.  Not.

Lies.  Damned Lies.

Lies. Damned Lies.

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Beginning the descent to Ermine TH. The clouds were starting to break up and awarding us some views as we snuck under them.

The trail is tight through here and we found ourselves brushing up against wet leaves frequently.  It can rain for hours but nothing gets you wetter than brushing up a leaf holding water.

As we dropped back into the trees, we came to a shortcut opportunity.  The trail cut off some sizable switchbacks.  We decided to take it (it was a posted short cut after all).  The trail was steep and would be manageable for someone with a lighter pack on, but it wasn’t worth it with our heavy backpacking packs.

The shortcut.

The shortcut.

We finally came to a creek.  It was at this point that we realized we were probably going to have to hike up to get back to the road.  There was a sizable hill in front of us and we could hear the road on top of it.  This was not a happy time for the newlyweds.

Yes...it's called Giardia.  No we didn't drink the water.

Yes…it’s called Giardia. No we didn’t drink the water.

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Still having fun!

We started to trudge out, noting that we had passed the 3.1 mile mark with plenty of uphill left in front of us.  We were trying to keep our spirits high, but it was getting late in the day and I was dreading the road hike back to the car.

I was also increasingly paranoid for bears.  We were in dense forest that had a very narrow trail through it.  We were tired and I didn’t want to get caught off guard.  Christine and I made a point to keep talking and be loud.  It kept our mind off the hike as well.

We finally came out on the trailhead over 4 miles from the trail junction.  My shoes had struggled to dry (don’t buy Patagonia shoes!) and I immediately set to taking them off.  I changed my pants as well as I figured most people don’t want to pick up a mud-caked hitchhiker.  Christine dropped her pack and immediately set out to hitch a ride.

Amazingly enough, I hadn’t even finished changing and she had already gotten us a ride.  It took all of 4 cars going by and an older honey bee farmer on his way from Anchorage to Fairbanks picked us up.  We excitedly hopped in and found our way back to the car.  Major thanks to him as he saved us 3 more hours of work and was very generous in giving us water and some food.

18.5 miles of backpacking in 24 hours and 6 miles of a hitch-hiked ride later, we were back at our car.  Sad to have had our backpacking plans foiled, but at the same time, so glad to be heading somewhere dry.  It was our honeymoon and my birthday after all!

This is what happens to a hotel room when you come in from 24 hours of wetness.

This is what happens to a hotel room when you come in from 24 hours of wetness.

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Birthday dinner in Talkeetna.  The other DBC!

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Ate every last bite.

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The Sarah Palin Burger

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Our lodging for the night. The only room left in town!

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Thanks Caitlin and Tom for the camping wine glasses…we put them to good use in our dry bedroom!

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