Mt. Stuart via Ice Cliffs Glacier (aka Go Get A [excessive expletives] PLB)

received_10156043875193056

The cornice at the top. At least 20′ tall

“Maybe I should have renewed that SPOT subscription.” “I mean we’ve only been talking about it for the past 5 weeks right?” “Yeah… it would be nice to have right now.” “I’ll take a space heater, a hot shower, and a down comforter with my beacon please. And a foot massage.” And there we were, in a nice ice ledge/snow cave we had dug halfway down the Sherpa glacier, staring at the snow lit up by the moon and wondering how fucked we’d be when I wouldn’t show up to work at 9am and no one would know why. How did we get to this point, you ask? Let’s find out. Climbed 5/6-5/8.

  • Distance: ~20mi round trip
  • Elevation: 7200ft gain (9,416ft highest point)
  • Weather: 30’s and sunny? Random snow squalls
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30
  • Did I Trip: Many, many postholes. And shattered dreams.
IMG_20170507_060635566

Come on it’s hilarious. Especially when you ring the bell.

We got to the trailhead at 7pm. Well I did, JT showed up at 10 and insisted on doing the approach. Nope, it’s like a 6 hour approach without the road, with plenty of creek crossings and no trail and I figured it’d be easier in the morning. We had time. JT begged but I was committed, I needed sleep. Call me lame.

IMG_20170507_101630363

First glimpse!

We got moving at 6am. JT had brought a hilarious electric fatbike, so we strapped our packs to the bike and he started to take them up. Don’t worry, the bike has a bell you can ring in case you need to pass anyone at your top speed of 3mph. We figured we’d leapfrog and take turns with the bike, which if it didn’t save us much time at least provided comic relief for the four miles of dry, easily driveable road. I left my trail runners on for the 2 miles of Colchuck trail we needed to follow, no traction or anything. When we branched off onto the Stuart Lake trail it started getting a little more postholey, and when we finally started the cross country trek, it got real postholey. We were hoping someone else would have broken trail but of course not. We came along an old skin track that we followed on and off, but all of the creek crossings were different. Many logs, not many good access points. The snowbanks made it awkward, since youd’ have to drop down two feet of snow and hope to land your ass on the log. Lots of shimmying. It was a lot more fun when you’re a kid, and not carrying 50lbs with skis attached to your park. I clotheslined my skis at one point because I was so worried that when I sat on the shimmy log they’d stick in the snow behind me and tip me forward and thus off the log, leading to my untimely and mildly embarrassing demise.

IMG_20170507_160619808

Route on the left, JT ready to ski!

But we survived the river crossings and honestly that was probably the hardest part of the approach. We camped just above the trees at the base of the route. We skinned up to check it out, figuring if it looked too intimidating we’d do Sherpa instead. But Ice Cliffs looked dope, and well within our abilities, so we decided to go for it. We made some turns on the way back to camp, perfect mellow green run for baby skiiers like me. Look at those S’s baby. Someone’s learning.
received_10156043878973056

That’s a 5 star bivvy. Best night of sleep in months.

We dug out our bivvy spots back at camp. I walked up to some avvy debris piles to collect branches as ground insulation, because we had time and I wanted to be warm and have everything smell like Christmas. We left tracks all over that basin (this was problematic later). We melted water, watched a climber get plucked off the North Buttress Couloir on Colchuck, and went to sleep as the sun set.

We got up around 5 and started up to the couloir. There was avvy debris mixed with chunks of glacial ice from the icefall at the base of the route, frozen solid, like a talus field except snow and ice. Soon enough, the steep snow starter. We knew if we stayed left of the icefall there would be a nice snowy couloir that would lead us up to the mellow, flat section above the falls. From that section, it would be steep snow to the cornice, and…. well, we’d deal with that when we got there.
received_10156043879083056

Baby turns!

IMG_20170508_080304075

Already in heaven

Luckily, it was fucking freezing. Everything was rock solid. We placed no pro, until one spicy section I was halfway up when I realized I was hanging on by like 1cm of ice pick and 5mm of crampon frontpoints. I looked up at JT. Same deal. Oh, good, we’re on ice. With no protection. With a thousand feet of terrible runout. Well. Not much we can do now. I swallowed and wished for JT to move quickly and blanked out the consequences. 30 feet later it was soft enough to at least get an inch of boot in, and 30 feet after that I was back to walking up with some variations on french technique. There are two advantages to being horribly duck footed. Breaststroke, and climbing steep snow. I have found my calling.

IMG_20170508_104048109

For once I was thankful for clouds

We took a quick break on the flat section after some traversing (which I hate, and will always hate, because it is arguably more tedious and less comfortable than downclimbing). We placed a picket for protection just in case since the runout was a nice slide down to the icefall followed by a i-don’t-want-to-know-how-far drop. I destroyed some sour patch watermelon and some goldfish. It was a short walk to where the final steep snow slope began, and we decided to start placing running belays here just to be safe. I’m still not sure it was necessary, and we’ve rehashed it several times. It slows you down a lot, but if someone’s tired, you should probably place it. So we did. One time the rope got stuck, and we took turns whipping it to get it loose. Naturally this resulted in me singing Whip It Good for the rest of the way up. Isn’t that what you sing when you’re in the middle of nowhere slogging up snow?

And that meant the pace was slow enough I could take tons of pictures. The bummer is that my phone started this trip at 7% battery, I had left the camera in the car, and that meant I had to ration photos. Ugh, the horrors.
IMG_20170508_083452519

Living the freaking dream

received_10156043875368056

I saw that #1 cam crack from 50 feet away I was so proud

We mixed pickets and some rock pro as anchors. We stayed to the right since the majority of the falling debris that passed us was on the left (I think this contradicts what summitpost says). We took a break on a sweet snowdrift next to the rock, and finally hit up the last stretch. The cornice was MASSIVE. We had been pumping ourselves up to burrow through it, but upon seeing it, we could either spend 4 hours trying to burrow or we could suck it up and test out the mixed chimney that was in the middle. Survey says? Let’s try the chimney.

IMG_20170508_122314264

JT at our last break

JT made a bomber rock anchor below the chimney. Yeah, I wasn’t leading that. Maybe if our lives had depended on it. It didn’t look bad until you were in it. I could tell he was panicking too (sorry JT) as I belayed him up. And he wasn’t sure the pickets he placed halfway up would take a fall. But 15 minutes later, he was whooping on top of the ridge, and I was throwing my entire body weight upwards on the picket trying to get the damn thing out of the snow cursing his fucking indestructible placement because this thing was $25 and I’ll be damned if I leave $25 in this god forsaken chimney (this is foreshadowing).

received_10156043878173056

Final stretch!

I finally got the picket out and made the spicy mixed move to get out of the slightly overhung chimney. I looked up at JT who was laughing as I dragged my fat tired ass over the edge. We organized our gear and started walking up towards the summit, jealous of the skiiers heading down Cascade Couloir, which looked so mellow and easy and fun.

It took maybe an hour to get to the top. JT was ahead of me. More front pointing on hard snow, man I’m sick of hard snow and it’s going to be a pain in the ass to downclimb this. I look up at JT as we got close. “Fuck.”
received_10156043875363056

HAHAHA ahaha haha ah no.

“What? Is it not the summit?” “It’s definitely not the summit.” “Are you sure??” “Well unless there’s a bigger, taller peak right next to us… yeah, I’m sure.” I hurried up beside him and we both just burst out laughing. The real summit of Stuart was another hundred feet higher, with more hard steep snow, which meant more frontpointing and more downclimbing that shit and random snow squalls kept happening and there was just no way either of us were going up there and we didn’t even have to say it outright, we just knew. We sat down and kept laughing at how humbling it was and had some snacks. And soon enough, started the downclimb, crossing out fingers that entry to the Sherpa couloir would be easy.

received_10156043875178056

Looking out at Sherpa and Balanced Rock

And it was! I lay on the edge of the couloir moaning about how much of a pain in the ass downclimbing was going to be, until I started laughing again. Look where we are! We’re on top of the world, and I’m still finding a reason to whine. We started down, I was pretty tired and I told JT to go first and kick great steps. Great steps meant like 1″ of purchase, if that. Ugh. Damn my weak winter calves.

So we kicked, or tried to, if you can call that kicking steps. After a few hundred feet there was no more kicking, just frontpoints, and laser sharp focus. Half an hour later, there was just sharp focus. An hour after that, there was blurry focus, and while my body physically felt fine, I was mentally losing it. The bottom looked so close. Maybe two rappels, if we set up an anchor and just left it? Yeah, that looked about right. JT was talking to himself as he downclimbed. “One foot now, two points in, next foot now, two more points in, now the first foot, now the second foot, just keep going, second foot, first foot, making steps.” I was singing that song that the parrot in the Lion King sings in his bone cage, somthing about I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts do do do do do do there they are all standing in a row, big ones small ones some the size of your head! I finally made a joke about bivvying.
received_10156043874718056

I mean, you have to laugh a little at the situation

And that joke about bivvying basically shut us down. I hear when pregnant women make it to restrooms, they don’t always make it to the toilet. Their brains are like HEY WE’RE HERE LET’S GO! That’s how the bivvy was. My brain heard the joke and was like HELL YEAH WE’RE DONE! and I could feel myself crashing as we anchored ourselves with pickets and shoveled the biggest ledge we could after chopping through the surface ice with our tools. I put on all my layers, sat on my pack, we undid our coils and used those as ground cover too. Shivver bivvying at its finest. “Do you think there’s something fucked up in our heads?” JT asked. “No, no way. We’re normal. We’re awesome. Why?” “Because.. .we’re stuck outside and we’re exhausted and we’re spending the night here and we’re still having fun?” I mean, you have a point. I was pondering a different, slightly related, equally hilarious (to me) question. “Do you think our parents would be proud that we’re making the safe call to stop and rest here, or do you think they’d just be pissed we got ourselves here to begin with?”

received_10156043874643056

Time to get moving and warm up!!

There’s not much sleeping when it’s like that. You’ll start to doze and then your body remembers you’re fucking freezing and starts to shiver and you wake yourself up again. So we watched the snow get lit up by the moon, I wondered how long it takes trenchfoot to set in and thanked the sweet baby jesus for telling me to wear ski boots instead of mountaineering boots (toasty liners), and occasionally I had some snacks. We had plenty of food and water at least.

As soon as sun rose we were moving. We had already decided to rappel off gear and just leave the gear behind. Two rappels right? No, I suck at distance judging and we all know it. 2 raps turned into six. I couldn’t get pickets in through the ice, but it was still too thin for a v thread. Snow bollards were an option but I thought they’d take too long to make since we’d have to cut through all the crust. A chunk of ice broke my helmet (not a split, just knocked a plastic piece loose, but that was enough to render it useless). Great, we’re bailing. Fuck the pickets with two flat ends, always get the ones with one sharp end. It was impossible to get the flat end ones in the snow even after I chopped a starter hole. Pound that picket in harder, Eve. What happened to your swimmer triceps and shoulders?! Bro do you even lift?!? (no. but i should.)
received_10156043874323056

Somehow the snow still hadn’t softened up, here I am happily rappelling down

We finally reached the bergschrund, which was nicely covered with avvy debris. One last rap to get over it, and we were walking off! Woo! JT looked down as he was crossing. “Oh, I can get my sunglasses!” I started laughing. He had dropped them sometime on Monday, and I figured they were toast. I belayed him into the crevasse to retrieve his brand new Julbos. Small miracles!

received_10156043874113056

Glacier glasses that (on their first day in the wild) were nearly abandoned in the crevasse

We walked back to the sunny soft snow where I had one of the best glissades of my life back to camp. We boiled water, had the best alpine cider ever, and started to pack. Soon we heard helicopter blades chopping through the wind. Damn, there must be another rescue! Busy weekend.

Except then the helo came and hovered right over us. And then it flew right over the ice cliffs route, and down the sherpa route. “They just… do you think they’re looking for us?” “Well they just flew literally right up ice cliffs and right down sherpa, so…. yes?” It was 10:30. Would my office have seriously called SAR at 9:01 sharp? I’ve been late to work after climbs before, this isn’t exactly the first time I’ve had an unplanned bivvy. I mean, maybe?
We stood by our stuff and stared at the copter, who hovered next to us for another 5 minutes before flying off. They definitely saw us, right? They’ve got to be going back to tell everyone we’re okay. I mean we’re standing on snow wearing bright orange and blue packing up our skis, there’s no way they didn’t see us.
received_10156043873943056

The Shimmy

We started the trek out, which involved more postholing and somehow more log shimmying than the way in. Helicopters continued to fly around us, one flew next to us and we waved as they pointed while we crossed the swampy section right where you cut off from the Stuart Lake trail. Half an hour later, back on the Colchuck trail, we saw two more helicopters. “There’s something bigger than us going on out there,” JT said. I hoped he was right, but I was freaking the fuck out. Yeah we know we’re fine, but my office doesn’t. And if they called my family, then there’s at least 20 people who are panicking right now. But they pointed at us in the swamp, and they hovered right next to us on the snowfield. They must be looking for someone else and figured out we weren’t the ones they were looking for. But the thought was still in my head, and my body was on fire with anxiety and I was flying down the trail trying my best to not leave JT behind. He broke trail like all the way through the snow, and I had been lazy. But I had to get back to cell service before anyone called my family.

received_10156043880218056

Shattered Dreams

We got to the Colchuck trailhead, which had been recently cleared of downed trees, bathrooms cleaned, and even restocked with fresh toilet paper. Best bathroom experience of my life. Plus, this must mean the road is open!! Great, JT take the bike and the packs, I’ll start walking, get the car, and meet me halfway up the road. Helicopters continued to fly over. I waved to one as I walked down the road. That one definitely didn’t see me. No one waved.

A few hours later, I hear an engine. And I see an FJ come around the corner. Woohoo, JT!! The road is open!! Except… behind him is a huge pickup truck. With a huge label on the side. In all caps. “SHERIFF.” Oh, shit. So they were looking for us. That helicopter was for us. All day, that helicopter was looking for us. JT had gotten back to our cars, each of which had a note saying “you’ve been reported as overdue, please call the sheriff.” So he drove to cell service, called the sheriff, who opened the gate to the road and let him come pick me up. You know what’s great about a having bright yellow xterra? They saw it from the sky immediately and said yep Eve’s car is here. Nothing subtle about that.
IMG_20170507_141326290

This is really getting in the way of our self rescue

In my state of mixed guilt and embarrassment and shame and humiliation I wasn’t sure what to do. How could the best route of my life and a simple overnight bivvy have caused all of this? We felt like we had everything under control 100% of the time. At no point was I concerned for our safety, or scared, or even stressed. I was more anxious about being late to work and missing EMT class than anything else. Sure the bivvy wasn’t ideal, but it was absolutely the right call. Tired, on a tedious 40+ degree slope with another 600ft to descend with only our crampon points, already late, and one misstep if we tried to push it would have resulted in a fatal fall. So we stopped, and got up a few hours later, surprisingly refreshed once we loosened up stiff frigid limbs.

IMG_20170507_104157162

Good look at Stuart over the swamp on the left

We thanked Chelan Mountain Rescue profusely. These guys dropped everything they were doing to send out a helo to look for us, and to be fair, from the air it looked pretty bad. They saw the bivvy ledge, the bail gear, the bergschrund, and a ton of avvy debris from earlier in the week. The bail gear ended just above the bergschrund, and it probably looked like either 1) we were hit by an avalanche and were nicely buried or 2) we were trying to bail and we rapped off the end of the rope or something failed and we fell into the schrund. They thought it was a recovery.

Luckily, neither of the above even came close to happening. We just left an awkward trail of bail gear. While they were changing plans from rescue to recovery, we were bitching about postholing and why did we carry skis and shit none of these logs are good for crossing the stream and can you believe that buttered popcorn jelly beans are still disgusting after 3 days of climbing? I’m like at least 2 days from starvation if those still taste like shit.
IMG_20170507_140849501

Sherpa Glacier on left, our route on right behind the center crag

If we had had a messaging beacon, we’d have been able to send out a text as soon as we set up the bivvy saying hey, we’re fine, just going to be late. If we had a true PLB maybe our friends would have felt a bit safer knowing we hadn’t hit SOS yet. Instead, no one knew what had happened. My coworkers knew my intended routes because I wouldn’t shut up about it all week, but none of my immediate climbing friends did, and that caused a bunch of confusion when they started wondering why no one had heard from me. Should we have flagged down the helicopter? Yeah, but I’m still not sure what the sign is for “hey, you’re looking for us, but we’re fine, gonna hike out!” In our heads, we were barely even overdue at that point (a few hours, we knew we’d be getting to the trailhead wicked late on Tuesday), and we definitely weren’t lost. Turns out they saw us and assumed we were hikers, not the people they were looking for. There were tracks all over the basin, they had no way of knowing which were ours (answer: all of them). And given the bail gear pattern, holy shit I’d probably have thought the same.

IMG_20170507_161145397

Colchuck Peak, the lone climber’s rescue foreshadowing our own epic

Get a beacon! One beacon could have saved all of this confusion, all of the effort on SAR/CMR’s part (god forbid someone else get injured looking for me, especially when nothing’s wrong with me to begin with), and all of the ensuing feelings that I, my friends and family, and coworkers all went through in the 12 hours I was missing. We had been discussing it for over a month and I was too cheap to buy my own. I always pictured beacons as purely “SOS” function, not the “hey everything’s fine but we’re going to be late” heads up to the real life friends and coworkers back in the city, and that’s what you’ll get with the satellite messenger beacons. You never think it’ll be you, until it’s you.

I have no idea if my office called that a vacation day, a personal/sick day, or is turning the other cheek. I was brainstorming my apologies and excuses while we were bivvying. “Call it a vacation day, call it two vacation days, I’m so sorry I’m so embarrassed” blah blah blah. I got into work and no one cared, everyone wanted to hear the story, and everyone was just relieved I was okay. Everyone had rallied and called in personal favors to anyone they knew who climbed or could stir up a rescue. That’s an awesome office right there. And there I was, back to spreadsheets. Spreadsheets never made me bivvy in a snow cave, or rap off $300 of gear, or resort to eating butter popcorn jelly beans. Tough choice between those and turds.
received_10156043878993056

So proud of my bivvy branch collection. Good thing I got such good sleep on night #1

Huge, huge thanks to CMR and SAR for coming after us. As embarrassed as I was, it’s amazing knowing an entire community is ready to jump on it 90 minutes after someone calls us in as overdue. Thank you to everyone who called, everyone who pitched in with information, everyone who got up right away to put the search into effect. And huge thanks to JT for suffering through all of that with me, and thanks to Mt. Stuart for being a coy bitch, and thanks to everyone for not making me feel tooooo guilty upon my return.* And lastly, thanks to my family back in Boston who put up with my questionable hobby. I can’t apologize enough, nothing I say will change anything, just know we do our best to be safe. From here on out you’ll get the “we’re okay, just going to be late” messages at 3am. You guys are the best, don’t ever think I take you for granted.

So go get a PLB. Don’t talk to me until you have one.
*You now have permission to make jokes at my expense.

Spring Training

DSC05927

Winter slogs reward you with great sunrises (sometimes)

No, not baseball. This is way more exciting than baseball. Everyone wants to know what to do to stay in shape through the winter, or to ramp up training in the spring so they can be ready for whatever ambitious climbs they’ve been dreaming about for 6 months. I have never hiked Mailbox or Si or Cable Line for conditioning because like many others, I hate people I go to the mountains to escape, and those trails have a lot of traffic. While slogging up Granite a while ago, I had a moment of clarity where I realized what works best for me (which probably means delirium had set in from exhaustion). Here are my general guidelines.

1) Don’t get out of shape. But who are we kidding. I like egg nog and you like hot chocolate and we both like rumchata and ever since I discovered you can mix them all together my holiday winter standard diet has gotten out of hand. So this is a fake #1.

Here’s the real #1.

dsc08460

Ass deep in shattered dreams (Granite)

1) Ditch the snowshoes. They’re impeding your progress to Greek body glory and double Rainier summits and one day multi peak slams. Pushing through thigh deep powder on a 30 degree slope will burn like 200 calories per step (non-scientific estimation). Offer to always break trail for your friends, unless they’re in way better shape than you and need something to slow them down (cough, JT). Just remember to step carefully when you turn off of a well packed trail or you’ll faceplant immediately, which may provide comic relief to your equally exhausted trailbreaking friends, but will not help you.

12933033_10209144092057209_2139298346778896401_n

Why would I skin all of this? (Hidden Lake Lookout, recommended winter summit)

DSCN3518

“Logs of Sorrow” aka a great core, butt, balance, and don’t-cry workout (Eldorado)

2) Pick up skiing, but don’t actually learn how to ski. Or splitboarding, but again, don’t really ace it. Obviously, this is why I’m still bad at skiing. Make sure your ski/snowboard boots are uncomfortable enough that you always carry approach shoes, mountaineering boots, and the ski/splitboarding boots. And throw in some down booties because your ski boot liners will start to smell like death so you shouldn’t wear those in the tent or in the lookout. And overpack every time. Between carrying the skis, extra food, extra puffies, down booties, the ten essentials, I don’t know, some beer, it’ll add up.

DSCN3742

Look how happy I am!! It’s because I thought we had 10 essentials and would be down in an hour! (Cutthroat)

3) Forget at least 2 of the 10 essentials. Now I know this may cut down your training weight, but it increases the chances that you will be stranded and moving through the night, or unreasonably cold and therefore burning more calories via shivering, or expending calories melting snow with your body heat, or not eating enough fuel in general. Okay forget the second one, bring enough layers. No one likes being cold. Maybe make your friends forget the essentials and you can be the hero with effectively the same results.*
IMG_8754

Huddling for warmth hours later because WE DIDN’T HAVE HEADLAMPS (Also Cutthroat)

4) Mentally resign yourself to turning around all the time. Part of getting in shape for mountaineering is mental, and this is your mental training. You aren’t going to summit on those winter snow plow trips. If you do, it’s an added bonus. But this isn’t about the summit. This is about slogging and suffering and getting dehydrated and cranky and impatient and testing your friendships and climbing compatibility because no one likes climbing with assholes unless they’re snarky and hilarious. 70% of mountaineering is being generally uncomfortable for extended periods of time, and that’s part of training. The boring, tedious, yet somehow exhausting slog. And if you get used to turning around now, it’s easier to turn around in the summer too.

DSC05747

Wow, look how not even close we are after six hours of agony!!! (Baring)

brecciasummit

Woohoo! Views! (Breccia)

5) Round up your good friends to join you. I have several who have seen me at rock bottom. Tony, while I was facedown on the Colchuck trail clothesline-carrying my skis after taking a tree to the face. Tony when I snapped that no, he may not make coffee after a night stuck out on Cutthroat because it’s 8am on a Monday and I need to get to work. Tony when I made it to Winchester Lookout at 5am after a 11pm start and asked that he take pics of sunrise for me before deciding I was being wimpy.

DSC06474

Psych! You’re gonna get lost and lose your hat bushwacking for the next 9 hours because all of your nav stuff died and why would you bring a compass?! (Snowfield)

Okay, so mostly Tony. But Sam’s had his moments (me, staring blankly at an impassable downed log when we got lost on the way down from Snowfield) and JT (also bushwacking down from Snowfield, or crawling back from Formidable), and Kacie who realized that any time I’m being extra nice it means I’m 9/10 pissed and Cheryl who combined with Simon and whiskey makes anything funny and Calvin who will never forget the one goddamn time I didn’t bring a headlamp and taught me many new versions of the f bomb. Who’d I leave out?! You’re probably in the lucky bunch. Point is, you need to make sure you have a good crew, otherwise you’ll be ass deep in posthole with your foot stuck under a branch falling downhill because your skis make your overnight pack too heavy and you can’t sit up while you wonder why anyone does this shit for fun and why the world has betrayed you.

Bonus: turn the heat off in your apartment. You’ll save money, and prep your body for cold weather. It’s called “cold training.”
DSC05709

Why go around… when you could go through? (Colonial)

Another bonus: Have your roommate/SO/kids/dog eat all the junk food. That way you aren’t being wasteful, but you also aren’t eating it yourself, and you seem like a nice person.

You can also be normal and go for runs, or load up a pack and hop on the stairmaster if it’s gross outside (or if you live in the flat half of America), or lift weights. Squats and lunges, buns and thighs! Cardio helps, but a lot of mountaineering is power muscles. Cooking? Warrior II while that sauce simmers, sunrise salutation while the pot boils. Doing laundry? Carry both loads up and down the stairs at once, don’t take two trips. Wash your sheets more often. Oh, you have in-unit laundry? Great, escape the lap of luxury and help me carry mine you spoiled bum. Binge watching Westworld or Stranger Things or whatever the cool folks are marathoning? 8 minute abs! Put the beer down, you know if you have three of those then you’ll end up eating the cheetos in the cabinet that you didn’t offer your roommate in the bonus step.**
DSC06241

The fog cleared for a miraculous 15 seconds, long enough for the real summit to say “ha, suckers!” as we sat on the wrong summit (Cashmere)

Basically, do anything. Anything is better than sitting at your desk for 10 hours straight and then going home to sit on the couch which is exactly what I’m doing tonight no, I’m going for a walk, and now I have hundreds okay, dozens of readers to hold me accountable. Doing laps on Si or Mailbox or Cable Line is fantastic if you have enough breath and patience to stop every few minutes to talk to hikers on their way down. Stuck in the city? Go hit up Denny or Queen Anne Hill or jog up and that hill downtown between Alaskan Way and 2nd and laugh at everyone who can’t do hill starts in their cars.

And fine, just because there has to be something useful in this post, here are my personal top 10 get-in-shape hikes for spring and early summer. That means elevation gain, baby! None are tougher than a class 2-3 scramble, snow level varies but hey you’re going to be mountaineering so you better get comfortable with those boots and that ice axe. And just for the record, self arresting with a 50lb pack on is a hell of a lot harder than when you’re wearing nothing. Practice it, you’ll get a nice ab workout and feel like you got hit by a bus the next morning.
I’m going to put these in roughly seasonal order depending on when you can start them. Some are dependent on snow melting. Hibox and Pugh will likely not be fair game until July, but most guided summits are June, July, and August, so I was lenient and gave them a spot. I wanted to break the mold from the usual recommendations and get a bit more adventurous.
*disclaimer: all of these have avvy danger. You’re in the alpine in the winter on fresh snow. Be smart.
Five Four (shut up, I proofread) FIVE!! trails get Honorable Mention, because I haven’t done them personally but I know they’re awesome:
  • Mailbox  – The old trail obviously, the new trail is all downhill
  • Mt. Adams – Road currently snowed in. More slog!! Except it’s like 20 miles of slog which is too much even for us. So maybe wait for May on that one. Good for carrying skis (skinning is too easy).
  • St. Helens – road closed at the moment, several miles of more slog!!
  • Ruby Mountain – the slog of all slogs with great views of highway 20
  • Teneriffe – Close to seattle! Less sloggy, still steep.
DSC05516

She’s better at climbing than I am (Vesper)

And these three are trips I didn’t blog about, but are good to practice off trail navigation and wallowing in forested powder in the dead of winter (like December and January). These are all below tree level, which helps a bit with avvy risk. Oh, and no snowshoes allowed. If your friend brings snowshoes and the other 3 of you are booting it, steal his snowshoes and whack him with them and cast them away from thyself. Haven’t we been over this?
  • Low Mountain – WTA
  • Round Mountain – sneaky WTA
  • Excelsior Peak – WTA
  • Stettattle Ridge – Basically Sourdough but go left and up the ridge instead of following the trail right when you hit the national park sign (well this one I turned around on before the ridge because I was alone and wallowing alone is no fun – see rules 4 & 5)
dsc08438

Granite (winter summit)

Finally, here’s a link to one of the best winter resources, the Mountaineers’ list of winter summits. Don’t look for what days they’re doing which climbs on their website, because then their massive 12 person groups will have broken all of the trail and that violates rule #1. You. Always. Break. Trail. Stop. Whining.

dsc08274

McCausland (another winter summit)

One of my friends made a facebook post earlier today about losing weight, and my friend AJ had my favorite advice on there. “Just keep pushing, every day. The scale is useless, what did a scale ever do for anyone? Just do do do and go go go and wake up one day five months from now and ask yourself how you feel.” Because that’s what getting in shape is. It’s waking up after 5 months of slogging, grinding, feeling shitty, and thinking hey, I feel pretty strong today. You don’t notice it on day 3, or on day 8, or even on day 30 if all you’re doing is comparing day to day. And that’s how my spring training is. Get in a routine, space out, every weekend is physically punishing, but then June comes around and I think whoa, I can do some pretty cool things pretty easily.

Now start dreaming and savor the 10pm motivation that you’ll probably have forgotten about by 8am tomorrow!
*Guys don’t actually do this
**Owen there are not actually cheetos in the cabinet but go do some work on those damn girl scout cookies
DSC06326

One of many stunningly beautiful turnaround points (Black Peak)

Granite Mountain via the ‘Wind Scoured Ridge’

dsc08428

The lookout!

“Should I hike Granite Mountain?” you ask? I’m going to go with a resounding “no,” unless you like postholing and slogging through massive amounts of powder and have decided you need a good workout. Or if you have an AT setup, you can skip all of the suffering and just have a freaking blast, besides the stream crossings on the snowshoe-trampled trail. But hey, gotta get in shape for spring climbing, right? I nearly bailed since I had heard miserable stories about the ice crust with a few inches of fresh snow the day before, and Aaron didn’t have snowshoes or skis so we’d just be booting. And the only thing worse than struggling through several feet of powder is struggling through several feet of powder with a two inch thick layer of ice on top that you may or may not break through every time you take a step. But spring is quickly approaching, and I can’t sit on my ass on a sunny Sunday, so bring it on, Granite. Hiked 1/12/2017.

  • Distance: ~5 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 3800ft gain (5633ft highest point)
  • Weather: 30-40’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 55 minutes without traffic
  • Did I Trip: the real question is “how many steps did I take without tripping” because the ratio of tripping to walking was very high

First of all, here is a map. The red line is roughly your route from where the standard trail first meets the gulley. Don’t follow the green line. If you’re a solid skiier and comfortable in avvy territory, it did look like a great ski all the way down the gulley to the tees. This was taken from a discussion on nwhikers.net.

2295866491_d1bb9f2fc3_o

Red is your route

dsc08411

How most of the lower hike went (calf to knee ish)

Well I was originally hoping to do Pratt Mountain, a popular winter snowshoe that happens to share a trailhead with Granite Mountain. But we got to the trailhead and there was a group of 12 mountaineers that had just started, followed by a group of 12 folks from the Outdoor Adventurer’s meetup group. Shit. Okay so we’re not doing Pratt. Well I think I know a route up Granite that’ll avoid avvy territory, want to give it a shot? Aaron was down. He looked at it from the highway and laughed. “You chose this?!” thinking it’d be a few hours of quick easy hiking. Psych!

dsc08410

The first of several avvy gullies on Granite. Be wary.

As usual we had maybe 7 essentials between the two of us. Aaron didn’t bring traction. Okay, take my microspikes, I can use crampons. He didn’t have an axe either. Or poles. Okay take my extra pole. I didn’t have waterproof pants, and would look ridiculous wearing full on crampons on the trail, so I stuck it out in boots. And my avy beacon was broken. Great. 1=0 when it comes to beacons, so we knew we’d have to be conservative.

We started up the trail, which was basically plowed by all of the foot traffic. No ice, just compact snow, totally fine in plain old boots. At the turn off to either Pratt Lake or Granite, we officially decided to give Granite a run rather than follow the 30ish folks ahead of us on the way to Pratt. We figured if we were fast, we could do both! This thought became progressively more hilarious as the day went on. But hey, best case we summit, worst case we get a workout and turn around. Let’s do it!
dsc08415

The view as we broke out of the trees!

The snowshoe trail continued a little bit further until the gully. Well we sure as shit weren’t going across the avalanche gully, so I have no idea where the tracks went. I don’t think they knew the winter route and we never came across them higher up, so I’m guessing they turned back. We started heading directly up through the trees, paralleling the gully well to our right. Upon stepping off the snowshoe tracks, we were met with knee deep powder with an ice crust exactly as predicted. Ohhhh boy.

With every step, you go through frantic questioning. “Will it hold? Will it break? How deep will I posthole if it breaks? Will I slam my shin into it and get a bruise?” Nine out of ten times the answers are “no,” “yes,” “about 18-24 inches,” and “probably.” We tried switchbacking up but quickly realized it wasn’t that much faster than going straight up since you were wallowing in powder either way. Straight up it was. How else are we going to get in our daily cardio?
dsc08417

McClellan Butte is the pointy one

We were losing hope after maybe 90 minutes of this shit. I knew what I was getting into, I had specifically chosen a snow slog knowing I had to get in shape and needed hours of breaking trail. I don’t think Aaron realized what he had signed up for. Either way, repetitive stomping in powder with no views and no excitement gets old very quickly. We decided to head to the edge of the gully to see how far away the ridge looked.

“Well…. according to the GPS, it’s wicked far, but according to my eyes, it’s like right freaking there!!” I announced. The GPS app had us like halfway up the slope with so far to go, but looking at the ridge I was like that can’t be more than an hour. Is there a false summit?? I had done Granite before and I didn’t remember a false summit and the topo map didn’t show a false summit but something wasn’t adding up. We kept going up through the trees, planning on getting some views, having a snack, and re-evaluating.
dsc08419

It wouldn’t be bad if you had crampons

As usual, we broke out of the trees, team morale spiked with the sun and excitement and views, and we took a quick break and kept moving. From the trees it’s a short jaunt to the exposed rocks, which you follow to the true “wind scoured ridge.” Stay on the rocks and you are free from peril (probably, no guarantees). We hopped up on icy rock after icy rock, occasionally requiring hands and at times just booting it through snow or slippery heather. The snow was a fresh inch or two on top of ice which made it tricky, especially for Aaron who was down to one microspike. Where was the other one?! We had no idea. He had noticed he was down to one when we were still in the forest, but it wasn’t an issue until now. It must have popped off in one of the eight million postholes we endured on the way up. Oh well, we’ll find it on the way down.

dsc08423

Neat sky behind a tree

dsc08420

Obligatory Rainier shot

Crampons and an ice axe were very helpful. One microspike was not. So Aaron stuck to the rocks and softer snow while I booted up whatever I felt like booting up. I finally looked up and saw the lookout. Holy shit, it’s right there!!! We’re going to make it! I had still been having doubts thanks to the topo map. But now it was within sight, and it really WAS close. Eventually we crested the ridge below the lookout, and reveled in our views of Kaleetan, Chair, and Bryant.

The cornice up there is a good size, a little taller than I am. We walked over to the end of it which was risky, especially given its size.  Cornices can break off and take a section of snow on what looks like the non-corniced side of the ridge with them, so you really need to give them a wide berth. The lookout was locked as it is in the “offseason” so we just snapped a few pics and started to head down. Plus, it was almost 3. It had taken us 5 hours to get to the lookout. Holy crap. So much for being back by 5.
dsc08437

Kaleetan, Chair ,Glacier (snowy peak in back), and Bryant. Who knew!?

dsc08435

Chickamin, Lemah, Summit Chief

The views were awesome. I had no idea, the only other time I had been on Granite we were socked in by fog. Everything looks better with a dusting of snow, but the views to the north and east were epic regardless. It was tough to head back down knowing it was one of my few weekends in the mountains, but I wanted to be back at a reasonable hour. Luckily, going down went faster than going up, though we had to play it safe with Aaron’s single microspike. I gave him an extra pole so I could walk down with a pole and an ice axe and he’d have two poles, which helped a bit. Self arresting with poles is spicy. But the slopes were mellow for the most part, until we made a decision that is a great example of “what not to do.”

dsc08434

Nice cornice

We descended too far on the wind scoured ridge instead of following the rocks east to the trees we had come up through. We could have kept going straight down, but then we’d have had to navigate a bit instead of following the (surprisingly efficient) route we had taken up. And I’m lazy. So instead, we chose to cross the definition of an avalanche slope, facing the south, on a sunny day, on a notoriously avalachey mountain. While the snow seemed fairly consolidated besides the few inches on top of the ice crust, and we hadn’t seen any serious red flags for an avalanche, it was still unnerving. Did I mention that the previous day in SAR we had been looking at pictures of bodies buried in avalanches on Granite? Yeah, it was on my mind. Welp, one at a time, move quickly, and don’t trip. Let’s get this over with.

dsc08438

Heading back to the lookout

dsc08458

Glissading down

Spoiler alert, we were fine. But you never know. .01% chance something goes wrong, 99.99% chance of a horrible outcome if something does go wrong. That’s how a lot of mountaineering is. Sorry mom. Next time I’ll go back up and over instead of across. But it was quick. From there on out we were back on the rock, and soon enough we were in the trees were we glissaded down our tracks (destroying every beautiful staircase we had made on the way up so you all have to break your own trail, suckers) which flew by if you ignore my immediately numb ass. We were almost back to the snowshoe tracks when I saw something curled up in the bottom of a posthole. Could it be?!

dsc08460

A close call with a double posthole

I started laughing. “I found the microspike!!!” We couldn’t believe it. Just saved ourselves $70! We stashed them and continued down to the snowshoe tracks, which were a relief after all of the postholing and frigid glissading. Somehow the snowshoe trail was way longer than we remembered. My legs were still fresh, though that suddenly deteriorated when we hit the parking lot.

The rest of the cars had left. I’m sure the trail to Pratt was a highway of trampled snowshoe shaped steps, but we chose the route less traveled. Why snowshoe on a highway when you can flounder in powder for a few hours and enjoy a winter summit of a crazy popular summer peak? I had been up Granite a few years ago, but socked in by fog. Here’s a rare link to one of my early blog posts before I became so wordy. I’d say it was a hell of a lot better this time around! And did I mention it’s barely an hour from Seattle? Check out those views!
dsc08429

Crossing the last saddle before rising to the lookout

Mt. McCausland Ski

 

dsc08249

Bish coming up from the saddle with Lichtenberg in the background

Guys I swear I’m still here. I have just been boring the past few weekends months, with SAR training (going well) and a WFR class (went well) and some lazy Sundays (did not go well, I was bored by 8:30am) and some ski lessons (okay, only two). But finally, a weekend where I was free, weather was good, avvy conditions were good, and shit, I hadn’t been backcountry skiing AT ALL yet. I had two days at Stevens Pass, where I falsely inflated my own ego because groomed runs are wicked easy. So I needed to be humbled. And humbled I was, thanks to an old favorite, Mt. McCausland! “Skiied” 1/14/2017.
  • Distance: 9ish miles?
  • Elevation Gain: 3,300ft (5,700ft highest point)
  • Weather: Single digits and sunny! Dreamy!
  • Commute from Seattle: 1:45, unless roads are frosty/snowy/covered in spun-out cars
  • Did I Trip: I wiped out on skis many times and one time hugged a tree to save myself
  • Rough map (from an old meetup post) for McCausland (north peak) and Lichtenberg (south)
We were planning more ambitious peaks (I had them listed here but decided I’m not going to tell you because I’m selfish and sneaky) but unfortunately, some of us overslept. Which was okay, because Bish only had boots (no skis or snowshoes) and we had decided to #BootforBish (come on that’s adorable) and our original plan would have been a true trailbreaking sufferfest.
dsc08226

Finally off the road!

We were going to meet at 6. I woke up at 5, rolled over, said “meh” and hit snooze. I texted JT asking when and where he was meeting Bish, who I thought was in Seattle. Woke up again at 5:30. No response from JT. Hit snooze. Woke up at 5:40. Shit, I didn’t actually text JT, I just dreamed that I did. Okay, I actually texted JT. “ETA… 6:30.” Okay, well now I’m up, so I’ll… have…. tea…? “ETA…. 7.” Well if they take that long I could go to the cafe that opens at 7… “ETA…. slow.” Hell yes, cafe time. So I left my apartment, ice axe in hand, and went to the cafe, where I sipped my earl grey looking not unlike Seattle’s homeless population fabulous.

JT and Bish pulled up around 7:40, and we brainstormed alternatives. I pitched Lichtenberg and McCausland off of highway 2, knowing it was a much shorter drive than the original plans with less elevation gain and less navigation and a large chunk of the travel would be on a road. Bish and JT agreed, and we went to seek out a pair of snowshoes for Bish while JT and I piled ski gear into the car. Woo! We took off, found some snowshoes thanks to Haley (who lives in Florida as of yesterday and will not be using those snowshoes), and soon enough were at Stevens Pass.
dsc08228

Snow tree curls

2 degrees is what the thermometer said. We piled on all of our layers, no skin visible, eyelashes and snot freezing, and started skinning. I lasted about 15 minutes before taking off the first layer. Another 15 minutes before I took off my second layer (three puffy jackets was excessive) and JT ditched his puffy layer. By an hour in, we were all down to one or two layers.Toasty warm, except for my camelback, which was frozen. The Day of Dehydration had begun.

 We followed the usual winter route, which follows a valley heading southwest from the second switchback in the road (the furthest switchback to the west). From there, we were on snowmobile tracks for a hot minute, and finally were on our own breaking trail. I laughed as we left the snowmobile tracks behind. “First day of the rest of the season!” Time to learn how to suffer again.
dsc08238

Bish in the trees below Lichtenberg

But when I saw we broke trail, I mostly mean JT. I think I broke trail for like 200ft. Dammit. And it wasn’t exactly challenging terrain. But that’s okay, gotta start the season somewhere and I was feeling good. We followed a snow covered creek up to the saddle between Lichtenberg and McCausland overlooking Lake Valhalla, and set our turnaround time at 2pm. We don’t often do turnaround times, but we wanted a true day trip, so we figured we’d see what happened. I was sick of being in the trees, needed a snack, and was very thirsty. Grumpy Cat was back.

dsc08243

Doesn’t look so far from here right?

Hitting the saddle, I voted to push it a bit further to the top of a knoll for some good views before taking a break. As usual, we got to the top of the knoll and kept going as views opened up below us and sunny blue skies egged us on. “The trees would be easier but the face.. I mean the face looks more fun.” I looked up at JT. I had already said it earlier that day when JT chose the toughest path up a gully for whatever reason. “Why would we ever take the path of least resistance? Let’s do the face!” And JT took off making zig zags up the face while I snapped pictures of Bish coming up from the saddle with my recently-thawed camera. Well, almost thawed. There were still some blurry frost patches.

dsc08251

Oh how I missed the Z’s

I quickly followed JT where I got the first true kick turns of the season under my belt. The wind scoured snow was scalloped and everything was almost blue in the light. I remember looking up at JT and just laughing. “I love this shit.” It had been way too long.
Mt. McCausland was one of my first hikes in Washington. Which basically means it was one of my first hikes ever. I didn’t know what a “scramble” was, and I hadn’t heard of Glacier Peak. Mt. McCausland introduced me to both of those, though of course now the legitimacy of the “scramble” label is in question. I also was worse at photography, which you might not think is possible, but believe me it was. Go see my old post for proof. No, I didn’t ever learn how to edit the sky in photos. Someday.
dsc08263

Don’t say anything WHC

There was a very neat somewhat corniced ridge as we topped out, and of course we wanted to see Glacier Peak, so we ditched the skis and went to boot across it. That’s the mountaineering I’m used to. The summit register I had found two years ago(!) was likely under 8+ft of snow, so we didn’t even try. It was windy and frigidly cold up there. JT wanted pics of Bish and I across the cornice, but his hands kept freezing when he tried to take pictures, and I was miserably cold and bitching openly about it until I realized I was wearing my entire fucking pack which contained all of my layers. Duh and/or hello?! So like a wise man, I shut up, stopped whining, layered up and booted back to my skis.

dsc08267

Finally at home

I’ll have you know I did not put skins back on my skis from the summit all the way back to the car. Yeah you heard that. I strapped the skis on, jumped off the top, took a sweet turn, and immediately wiped out. Overconfidence at its finest. Confidence newly destroyed, my next turns were true backseat skiing. I couldn’t handle the wind scoured snow, but as soon as we were on more mellow powder I remembered how to use my legs. Unfortunately, in the backcountry, you don’t get a warm up, and on peaks like McCausland, you don’t get much vert before you’re back in trees. And me skiing through trees is like this dog, except I don’t have the excuse of having a box on my head. I just slowly go in confused circles and hit everything.

dsc08273

JT taking pics with frozen hands

Bish had booked it down from the top, assuming we’d catch up (I think he forgot that I don’t know how to ski). I finally stopped to have a mother fucking snack because I hadn’t eaten anything since those damn cheezits for breakfast in the car and I was getting hangry. Yes, that’s hungry + angry, if you aren’t familiar with the term. *Side note, honey stinger waffles taste way better frozen. And then I couldn’t figure out where Bish and JT had gone. I figured I’d follow the tracks we had put on the way up (there were a bunch of new snowmobile tracks now) and just holler every once in a while. Soon enough JT responded. Woo! We roughly followed Bish’s fresh snowshoe tracks. I finally had to boot it for 15 minutes through a steep section I remembered from the way up. Sam, we need you back. Booting is way less fun when you’re postholing hip deep alone.
dsc08274

Patiently waiting on top of the world

I finally got to a place where I could strap the skis back on. The worst part about leaving the skins off is the uphill parts. There was one where I thought I could pick up enough speed to make it up the slope at the bottom, but didn’t quite get enough so naturally I tried to dive for it. Which didn’t go as planned, considering I was wearing skis. One got stuck on a tree, the other was on the opposite side of the small mound, and I was floundering unable to get traction in any direction. Luckily no on was there. They gave the newbie some privacy.
dsc08276

Easy section on the way down where I could pull my wits together

I caught up to JT putting his skins back on. I refused, and kept moving. He caught up to me immediately, because we hit a 10ft steep hill that was very difficult with no skins and my level of coordination (very low). The trees were too close to sidestep. While I grappled with the slope, JT skinned up it and took off. Sucker, I got to fly down the road without skins and finally caught  back up to him and Bish, who has established himself as the fastest snowshoer I know. We told him by the end of the day he’d want an AT setup but I don’t know. Also, “fly” is subjective. I was like juuuuuust fast enough to just and and not need to walk.

dsc08278

Turns out you shouldn’t jump off boulders if it’s a flat landing

We were approaching the car and JT made a good point. “I think this is the first trip we’ve done where we’ve been back before dark.” I thought about it for a minute and… he was right. Our trips have all been sufferfests, and this was a mild 6-7 hour outing that wasn’t rushed or stressful or anything. And you know what? It was amazing!! After so long not being in the mountains (ski resort doesn’t count) it was refreshing to get out even if just for a day. And to think that our casual trip was something I wouldn’t have thought of doing myself two years ago when I didn’t know anything about snow/avvy conditions or winter navigation. Damn I’m lucky.

dsc08259

Bish coming up McCausland once more with Lichtenberg in the back

Oh, and we topped it all off with a free dinner at Haley’s house because she had cooked ham and potatoes and pretzel buns and had too much left over. I announced that the day had almost gone too well. Smooth trip, successful summit, back by dark without stressing or hustling, and a free yummy dinner. Everyone freaked and told me not to jinx it, we still had to drive back to Seattle and Tacoma. Spoiler alert: we made it!

Moab Trail Marathon: How to Fake Run a Marathon

dsc08166

Top of mile 15 baby!

Okay, we still ran most of it, miraculously. Leading up to it I had done a single 19 miler (but much of that was walking), and I don’t think my father had run more than like 8 miles in two years. So there was a lot of walking involved, and some scrambling, and some “arm rappels” or whatever you want to call those. And some cramps and muscle spasms, and some whining, and some “shut up so I can count my steps” (which is code for “I’m dying”) and luckily a real life voice doppleganger of Charlie Day from Always Sunny who carried us through mile 23. Oh, and a rogue cactus that nearly did me in at mile 24.

dsc08127

And we’re off! Who needs to run when you can take photos every 25 feet?

It’s easy to forget that I originally moved to Washington for trail running, especially with all of the climbing/mountaineering/pretending like I know how to ski. But once upon a time I was a runner. Now I’m a lazy person with a boring desk job who happens to climb mountains and occasionally goes for slow jogs, primarily motivated by upcoming marathons and Pokemon Go. And one morning back in September, I woke up and realized I had a marathon coming up in five weeks. Shit!

dsc08134

The Wave of Plebs

My dad was anxious. His question wasn’t “how much of these 26 miles will I walk vs run” or “will I finish” it was “do I bail at mile 9 and walk 4 miles to the start, or bail at mile 17 and walk 6 miles to the start and hopefully get there before she finishes the last 3?” But there we were at the starting line, laughing at how unprepared we were, surrounded by insanely good runners, wondering just how much pain we’d  be in after a few hours. I forgot my camelback, so I stuffed plastic water bottles in my pack. My father carried a plastic bottle in his hands. I left the salt tabs at home. I had strongly caffeinated Gu in preparation for the unavoidable bonk. First tip: start slow. So slow. We were in the fourth wave, the Wave of the Plebeians (okay, the second to last wave). And off we were!

dsc08140

Sweet cliffy single track

dsc08141

Awesome single track

Oh, did I mention that the one day I fly to the desert is the one day it’s cloudy/drizzly in the entire second half of 2016? Yeah, it was rainy. In Moab. The desert. But that packed down some of the dust, and made the sandy parts easier to run. I had popped aspirin which is my only hope of easing my calf issues, and it kept them at bay, like a 5/10 on the swollen scale instead of 9/10 like a few of the past runs. And of course, mentality has a huge impact on any race. Everyone was jogging, we were darting to the sides of the trail to take photos and marvel at views and for once I did not bitch when there were bottlenecks in front of us, which is an unfortunate reality with any single track trail race, especially one that has a few scramble sections. Second tip: Take all of the photos. It’s a break without admitting you’re taking a break.

dsc08131

Natural Arch (I’m convinced it’s at mile 4 but I don’t think it is)

We came around the first bend in the trail and I laughed. We had been complaining that red rock canyons look way better in sun, and this year might be boring with the clouds. False. They’re still pretty damn awesome. The first few miles climb, and then you come out near the top of the canyon and follow a single track trail which is glorious. There are rest stops every 5 ish miles, stocked with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, oreos (rip off oreos this year, come on!!) more salt tabs, gatorade, soda, and lots of peppy volunteers. Some of the stations were accessible by mountain bike, some by car, and some by huge ridiculous ATV. It’s amazing seeing how far this race has come in the past few years. Third tip: EAT EVERYTHING IN SIGHT. There’s a joke that ultramarathons are more eating competitions than running. Treat long trail races like that too.

dsc08190

Gonna be a bumpy evacuation!

dsc08145

Approaching the bottleneck

At mile 8 was the infamous bottleneck, which wasn’t awful this year, probably due to all of the shorter bottlenecks leading up to it. It’s basically two third class scramble moves, and you can pick your poison. Small chimney with great jugs, or slabby exposed shit, perfect for the “butt scoot” technique. I went with the slabby exposed shit, because no one else was, and I’m impatient. They have volunteers standing at the base of each to spot people, but not everyone is comfortable on a spicy 3rd class downclimb after running 8 miles. And if you slip, you’ll just take the volunteer with you. One woman got stuck in the chimney, so my father helped spot her while I waited, my slabby shortcut now a moot victory. Past that, it’s down to the canyon floor, where the half marathon splits off at mile 9 and you are left likely by yourself to continue the marathon.

dsc08146

Neat mini tunnel on the out and back

There’s an out-and-back right after the half marathon splits off, and once you’ve finished that (~2 miles) you’re back on track for the rest of the marathon. It’s amazing how many people just do the half. You go from being in a line of people along a single track to maybe having 3 people in your field of vision at any moment. Suddenly the scale of the canyons is real, and you can tell how enormous everything is.

This is where you can get pumped for mile 15. You think you can see the entire climb from the base, but you can’t. You wrap around the top corner, only to continue climbing. It gains something like 1300ft in one mile, which is just peachy after you’ve run 15 miles.You’re tiny, the guy hundreds of feet in front of you is dwarfed by the distant pillar, the people behind you are a trail of ants, the trailer at the base of the climb gets smaller and smaller as you ascend to the canyon rim. Tip four: Enjoy the views. Look around. Just don’t trip.
dsc08156

The climb that is mile 15

The first year, we tried to run the whole thing. I died. The second year, we hiked it. My dad had cramps and bailed at the top. This year, we hiked it again. And groaned about it. And complained at every corner even though we already knew there were false corners and top outs. And chatted with those around us (my dad picked out a guy’s South African accent after three words, amazing) as they trudged up the same death climb. Between his weight lifting and my mountaineering, we were actually pretty damn prepared for this section. As usual we snapped our picture at the top, for once both looking happy instead of me dead (first time) or dad dead (second time). And from there, your’e on top of the world, cruising across desert with towers and huge drops in the background and an expanse of slick rock mountain biking trails ahead of you. Hope your shoes have good tread!

dsc08160

Looking back about halfway up the mile 15 climb

dsc08168

And this is where you end up. Cruising on another planet

This is the best part of the race. The beginning is cool, the climb at mile 15 is amazing because you watch the close landmarks shrink as mountains and canyons grow in the distance, but miles 16-23 are just phenomenal. So keep your mental game strong, because this is where you want to be alert. Rolling slick rock, awesome rock formations, a windy trail that occasionally disappears (it gets more and more well marked every year, we definitely lost it the first year), and the runners are so spread out you really only have to deal with one or two other people at a time. It’s just you, cruising through unbelievable terrain, and that’s why I trail run.

dsc08172

Even I barely fit through the end of this. Turn sideways and scoot.

It got tough around mile 18. We saw the sign for mile 18 and my dad said “oh thank god that’s a mental boost.” I made some joke about feeling pretty good, and he responded “yeah well I’d like to lie down and vomit.” A mile or so after, I started to feel it. The rolling slick rock goes from super easy to run (slabby, mellow downhill) to difficult (slabby sidehilling or uphill or quick pivoting turns) to nearly un-runnable (some low class scramble moves). Eventually, I am interrupted while blabbing away about something, and I head “I am going to count my steps. Don’t talk to me for a few minutes.” So I shut up, and let my dad count his steps while I trailed along behind him. Bring on the caffeinated gu! (Tip Six: Caffeine) Luckily, around mile 21 or 22, you pop onto a smooth trail that runs downhill along the river, and that’s where we found Charlie Kelly. (Tip Seven: Find Charlie Kelly)

dsc08175

Such neat terrain

Anyone who watches Always Sunny immediately knows who I’m talking about. Through our mile 22 tunnel vision comes Charlie’s voice, floating up from behind us, talking about how miserable it is that you have to run past the finish line and do a 5k loop to actually finish the marathon. How he tried so hard through mile 23 last year and then crashed when he realized there were still three miles left past the finish line. Setting everyone’s expectations as low as possible. And I remember those last three miles, because it sucks running past the finish line and listening to the top runners finish while you’re slogging up a sand dune. And a waist deep river to cross, which my father had been praying for. IT’s like a short ice bath for sore legs. Except this year, it was a dry puddle of mud. Damn you, global warming. Okay, tip Eight: Coca Cola. Just chug some coke at this rest stop and you’ll basically be in heaven.

dsc08176

Just so cool to run

dsc08191

Ladders! We stuck with the same group of  ~4 for the last three miles. The guy in front is basically Charlie Kelly.

The last three miles are a mini obstacle course, with ladders and hand lines and pipes to run through and neat caves that I always forget to photograph. Oh, and a nice prickly pear cactus that I did not notice until it was sticking through my foot. I couldn’t even tell what had happened besides feeling like flames were shooting up my foot until my dad yelled “You stepped on a cactus!” and my brain worked it out. The spines had gone straight through the bottom of my shoe and into my foot. Painful and quite surprising. I hobbled to the side of the trail in a cactus free zone to start plucking the spines out.

dsc08194

“Look like you’re running!”

Shortly after, my adducter seized, which is an interesting feeling. I don’t usually get muscle spasms, but they’re a pretty well noted side effect of Accutane, not to mention I was probably dehydrated or low on salt despite my best efforts. Whatever, it was the cactus leg, and who needs an adductor or a foot? We only had like a mile left, and it was the mile through the parking lot, which means shut up and count your steps  (tip Nine: Learn to enjoy rote tedious activities while in mild amounts of pain) and then make sure you look good crossing the finish line (rule #1 is always look good, right? #2 is don’t die, and #3 is if you do die, look good doing it). We didn’t quite nail the looking good part, but who cares! We had finished, and despite zero training, we had done almost the exact same time as the previous two marathons. We may not have been as in shape, or as well trained, but we ran a smart race.

dsc08195

The worst stretch. Going through a parking lot.

So I guess the answer to “How to run a fake marathon” is lots of caffeine, lots of salt pills, walk all the uphills, take tons of pictures, and have Charlie Day help you along for a few hours. Bonus points if you sunburn your terribly Accutane-ravaged nose in your 6 hours in desert drizzle. Crap.
dsc08197

Woo!