Justin Simoni: The Sub 48 hour Dirty 350 Run and Cycling Adventure

3:00am is a pretty early time to wake up for any sort of activity, but today was the Golden Gate Dirty 30! 2016 would be my second running of this race. My first was last year which was also my first sanctioned trail running ultra. That’s a funny sentence to write; I’ve done so many self-supported style FKT challenges, I’m not exactly new to all of this, I’ve just been a little more underground with my events. I’ve found though that the Golden Gate Dirty 30 gave me a great goal to hit for getting into the running form I needed for other challenges later in the year, like Nolans 14.

Except this year, I had injured myself while bouldering. One evening last December, I tried a tricky dyno move to a far-reaching hold. I swung out onto it with a bit too much, let’s say: passion, and found myself swinging right off, and landing a little disorganized and crumpled. Crunch! A bad high ankle sprain, followed by some peroneal issues further down the road really changed my Winter training goals. I didn’t think too much of it when it happened: I even ran the few miles home that very night. But the pain persisted, so running hard was out, but hiking (in time) seemed fine and cycling caused me no pain at all. So, this past Winter I’ve focused a lot of my time outdoors cycling, even doing a few overnighters and a few quick trips to the local Front Range 14ers.

By late Spring, the ankle still wasn’t 100%, but I still wanted to run the Dirty 30, even though my goal of being competitive – and at the very least beat my time from last year by a good margin (I was hoping by 30 minutes) was out. What to do? Why not ride to the event, run at a pace I thought was sustainable given my touchy ankle, then ride home? My cycling fitness seemed pretty good, so let’s make this more interesting: if I was to run a 50k, why not stretch the ride into a complementary 300km – and since I’m sort of in the area, let’s summit a 14er: Mt. Evans! Evans conveniently has a road to the summit that just opened. My kind of trip!

The Route.

The Route.

With my plans finalized, I was packed and out the door at 3:30am. The race, a full 38 miles away from my house in Boulder, started in only three and a half hours. If it wasn’t for the 4,000+ feet of elevation difference to the race start, I’d say this would be no big deal. But I quickly found myself already riding with a bit of vigor to make sure I wasn’t late.

While riding, the environment around you before the sun starts rising seem particularly beautiful: the colors are muted and the sometimes jarring activity of a city is silenced. It’s one of benefits of these super early starts. I made good time riding from North Boulder where I live, to outside the southern borders of town, passing Eldorado Springs, and onto Highway 93, straight towards Golden. This highway isn’t always the funnest to ride in the daytime, as it’s fairly exposed to the sun/wind and the traffic can be heavy and loud. Even with my loaded down bike, I was flying down the road, and before long, I was staring up Golden Gate Canyon Road… but with only two hours left to get to the start!

The Rig.

The Rig.

The sun was certainly starting to rise as my anxiety that I was going to pull this off without being late and my pace slowed down in tight correlation with the grade of the road going up. I worried that traffic from the race itself would make the ride a bit more touch and go, but this didn’t turn out to be the case: traffic was very light indeed, allowing me to focus on the task at hand.

My cycling this Winter has almost exclusively been hunting down the steepest roads I could find (the road to Gold Hill outside of Boulder being a favorite), and my legs gave me good sensations, while I tried to make quick work out of this particular ribbon of tarmac. The higher the sun rose, the more features of the canyon I could make out, and the more anxious I became in getting to the start. Grind, grind grind: upwards!

2hr 50min into the ride, I finally crested the high point of the route, and I could see the southern side of Golden Gate Canyon State Park before me. Beautiful! With little hesitation, I cruised the last 5 miles down, losing 1,000 feet of elevation in the process in a flash. I found a place to stash my bike in the horse stables, I grabbed my race number, wolfed down some candy (nutrition is important!), put some sunscreen on, and did a quick costume change into my running outfit. I hurriedly put on my short shorts, a singlet and cinched on my Timothy Olsen Race Vest with a single Body Bottle Plus. All of which I had stashed in the back pocket of my cycling jersey. I crossed the street to loiter around the start with everyone else as if it was no big deal, all with ten minutes to spare! My prologue was over, time to race.

My legs were certainly feeling a little more stiff than I would have liked, but given that I just put 50km on them already while cycling, and was looking immediately at another 50km run, my spirits were pretty high. In the back of my mind though, I was already thinking of the 250km I had still promised myself I’d do after the race! Funny how ideas a week before turn into bad ideas when you’re about to do them, and then hopefully transform into GREAT ideas after it’s all said and done!

But still: my ankle. Wanting to be as kind to it as possible, I decided to start the race off slow, way slow. I probably was one of the very last people to hit the single track, walking the first kilometer in, as the course hits its initial choke point towards the singletrack. Surprisingly, I found myself really enjoying hanging back for the first couple of kilometers, meeting people I only knew/followed online, chatting, and testing out my slowly warming-to-the-task ankle which seemed, surprisingly, to be handling things quite well.

Feeling a little sheepish to be so far back with a low race number, plainly labeled, “Elite” pinned on my shorts, I reminded myself that I should give this day more than a simple phone-in performance, and run it smart. I can’t walk the whole thing, anyways – I had things to do! As my group approached the first rocky, technical descent, I found it impossible not to go full gas down the trail – it looked like too much fun! Away I cruised, passing people with gentle abandon. Being able to set my own pace was important – even on the downhills, as I knew what could potentially aggravate my ankle.

I had perfected my downhill skills to new levels this Winter, as my ankle would tell me right away when I plunged down too eagerly, or my stride was too long. I now skittered efficiently down the wonderful trails of Golden Gate Canyon State Park, towards the first aid station. For the rest of the race, I was able to get into a classic rhythm through the course: power hiking the ups, running the flats, and bombing the descents (probably a little too fast!), getting food and water at the aid stations – but not lingering too long. Compared to last year, where my goal was to positively bury myself, this go around felt like pure fun: a perfect training run!

Before I knew it, I was already power hiking up to the summit of Windy Peak – the last major hill of the course, and retracing my steps for the last super fun descent to the finish line. I felt strong, and happy that my ankle held out, and that my all-day fitness was coming on form. A little after 7 hours before I started the race, and 10 hours since I started the day propelling myself from my house, I crossed the finish line for my second Golden Gate Dirty 30 finish! Even though my time wasn’t what I had initially targeted I did hit my goal of not hurting myself from just completing the course, as well as cycling to the course itself. Hurray!

Now with food and beer in hand, I took a breather while soaking my poor feet in the creek. Ahh! Not too long after finishing lunch, I said my goodbyes, changed back into my cycling kit, and was already pedaling up once again up towards Highway 119. I took a quieter gravel/4wd track detour I had reconnoitered this Winter south to avoid the not very bike-friendly towns of Blackhawk and Central City and found myself on top of Two Brothers Road high above Idaho Springs ready for one of the best descents in the area, complete with tight switchbacks and sweeping views of the Mt. Evans massif, with its road leading up to the summit. Which, incidentally, was my next main objective.

Mr. Turtle

Mr. Turtle

Barreling down into Idaho Springs, stopping again for food ad topping off my bottles, I started riding up the Little Bear Creek gravel road, as the sun quietly began to set. As night settled into the area, I found a good spot to tuck away for the night off the main road in National Forest, perfectly close to the road, but hidden enough to feel like I was a thousand miles away form everyone. I unrolled my ultralight sleep system I brought with me, and bedded down. This is one of my favorite times of the day on trips like these. I love to reflect a bit on the wonderful day I was having and anticipate just what the next day will bring. Within a few minutes, I was out!

In the morning – well, after sleeping in a little while more than I had planned, I gathered what little gear I brought, lashed my sleep kit back onto my handlebars, and finished up towards the Echo Lake Lodge at the base of the road up to Mt. Evans and treated myself to one of the lodge’s amazing cinnamon buns – and about 5 cups of coffee. Then, it was up the 14 miles and almost 4,000′ additional gain in altitude to the top of Mt. Evans (14,264′). My legs felt pretty good all things considered, I may not be the fastest 50k runner in my best form, but I enjoy having that diesel engine that never quits. The weather was holding out well with only a slight breeze to accompany the unlimited visibility before me. I’ve done this ride at least a dozen times on all sorts of bikes: from loaded down touring bikes, to fixed gear’d track bikes. As road riding goes, it’s one of the best in the world.

The road and the surrounding slopes were busy with a cacophony of activity. Skiers skiing down, runners running up, cyclists everywhere and tourists in cars, wherever there wasn’t skiers, cyclists, or runners. I passed each mile marker with great enthusiasm, as I inched up the Evans Massif. To keep the stoke, I’d yell out the numbers as I passed them: “ONE!”, “TWO!”; and finally: “FOURTEEN – WOO!”.

After running out of road, I took the quick hike up to the very top for the amazing views of all the snow capped peaks to the west: The Tenmile, Mosquito, Gore, and Sawatch ranges taking the spotlight. I thought of all the future trips and adventures to be had on the spread of peaks in front of me. But soon enough, it was time to go down – way down: back to Boulder, more than 8,500′ below me. The anticipation alone of losing all that altitude in one enormous downhill is enough to forget how sore my legs were becoming. Nothing another cup of coffee can’t take the edge off!

Mt. Evans Summit

Mt. Evans Summit

All I had was 60 more miles to go, to wrap up a sub 48 hour romp in the Front Range: 50km of trail running, and 300km of cycling. Within a couple of more hours of pedaling, I was home. The sub 48 Dirty 350 micro adventure was complete!

Longs Peak: Four Hours, Four Routes

chasm The last time I’d been up Longs Peak—the last time I’d been to 14k’—was back in early March for a Winter Longs Peak Duathlon effort. Shortly after that, my illiotibial bands—in both knees—started giving me fits and haven’t really let up since. Late last week, an attempt to use a bike approach to a day of high-altitude scrambling was cut drastically short by a critically sore right knee that had me literally crawling on all fours back down to the 4th of July Trailhead from South Arapaho Peak. Ugh. Well, at least I learned that biking and running are equally aggravating to my knees and I can’t accelerate said aggravation by compounding the activities.

So, no bike approach for Longs Peak this morning, which means I had a pleasant 5:15am wake-up, a leisurely breakfast of eggs and coffee while reading my book, and then drove to the trailhead like every other self-respecting, fossil-fuel guzzling citizen of this country (except Justin Simoni). Damn you, knees!

Of course, when I pulled into the trailhead parking lot, I was greeted by my buddy and regular climbing partner Kyle Richardson. Not really a surprise. Yesterday had been his first time ever up the Kieners Route and first time scrambling a (relatively) dry Cables Route, so he was back today to get the Cables dialed in. I smiled as I recounted the story of how when Buzz and Peter had showed me Kieners four years ago I’d been so inspired that I’d done it the next three days in a row, culminating in a 2:28 car-to-car FKT effort on the final day. Some people just can’t get enough of the good stuff, and Kyle seems to be cut from a similar cloth.

I was planning on at least Kieners myself this morning, and told Kyle I might even go for a link-up that I’d been contemplating for a couple years—up Kieners, down Cables, up Keyhole Ridge, down the Skyline Traverse to the Loft and back to the trailhead. Four of the best routes and two summits of my favorite mountain in the state, maybe the world. Knees, shin, fitness, and conditions all willing, of course. With my near-constantly infirm legs, I try to maximize my opportunities.

Kyle and I started out together but when we popped onto the long straightaway of the approach trail at Goblin Forest I was super psyched by the fact that I was on Longs Peak and gradually accelerated away, chomping at the bit to get up to the Chasm Cirque.

I felt good on these approach miles, picking spot-on lines through the forest and boulders and really enjoying myself. The weather was absolutely perfect—sunny, warm, windless—and my body was responding with surprising energy and a pain-free stride. Goddamn, life is good!

After traversing around the north side of Chasm Lake I had to kick up a few steps of snow in the approach gully I use to access the Glacier Rib (the ridge of rock adjacent to the Lambslide Couloir on the climber’s left side), and there were a few wet spots and patches of snow on the rib itself, but I was psyched to find that at 9:15am the snow of Lambslide itself was the best I’d ever seen it. Easy step-kicking all the way across to Broadway with no patches of ice.


Two of the four climbers I encountered on Broadway are just past the snow.

Broadway itself still held a good amount of snow in the draining spot just above the Yellow Bowl and it required attention and care to find stable foot plants and not release any detritus down the rock face below. Just after that I encountered a roped-up party of four (!!) and was held up for a few minutes as one of the members in this group negotiated the crux bulge on Broadway. She was a bit nervous but was solid and pulled through it well, especially considering she (as was everyone in the group) was still wearing her crampons! That had to be a little awkward on all the dry ground.

There was still snow to the very bottom of the Notch Couloir so I had to climb a couple different cracks and chimneys than I normally do to start Kieners proper, but it went great and I was grinning ear-to-ear with just how incredible this mountaineering route is—such fun scrambling in an improbable position on a magnificent mountain.

The march up upper Kieners was about as tough as it always is, but I seemed to be feeling less affected by the altitude than I expected, and after pulling around the Diamond Step I was tagging the summit a couple minutes later at 1h45. Not my fastest, but certainly not my slowest either and my fitness proved to be at a bit higher level than I’d assumed. That’s always nice.

Except for a couple quick snaps and the few minutes of being paused on Broadway, I’d been giving it a continuous, focused effort up until this point, so on the summit I hung out for 5min, taking some pics and generally just buzzing with that specific high mountain euphoria.

On top.

On top.

Descending the north face down to the Cables was a bit heads-up with a lot of loose rock, wet slabs, and a few big patches of snow and ice still. A few minutes below the summit I ran into Kyle, who’d just come up the Cables and was having a slow, tired day. We chatted for a minute or two and continued our separate ways.

The Cables were running with water, but not a big deal and I was off them 11min after leaving the summit. The most exciting thing to me was that the snow field below the Cables was perfect for plunge stepping and then I only had a few steps on rock before I could kick all the way across the Dove and link into the Keyhole Ridge after the 3rd Class ramp at the base of the 2nd tower.

Line of steps I kicked across the Dove.

Line of steps I kicked across the Dove.

I’ve always thought this tower is the crux of that ridge and today it proved to be the same. The thing to remember is to trend climber’s right in search for the path of least resistance. It’s pretty easy to get into harder-than-5.6 terrain if you go too far left out onto the face.

Looking back at the Second Tower with the downclimb in shadow.

Looking back at the Second Tower with the downclimb in shadow.

The downclimb off the 2nd tower has a microwave-sized death block that provides obvious and super tasty jugs for the steep moves, but today I was able to avoid weighting it by jamming and liebacking on the descender’s left side for a few feet. The rest of the ridge was uneventful, with the crux 5.6 pin face being less steep than I remembered it.

summit 2nd tower

Looking up the rest of the Keyhole Ridge from the summit of the 2nd Tower.


Ancient piton at the crux face of the 3rd Tower.

On the way up the upper ridge I even bootied a purple BD stopper, which fills a gap in my rack that was created when Kyle and I got that size stuck on the upper pitch of Over The Hill in Eldo a few weeks ago. Karma!

Looking up the Stepladder pitch that I downclimbed to get into the Notch.

Looking up the Stepladder pitch that I downclimbed to get into the Notch.

Back at the summit of Longs for the second time (still no one else around), I didn’t stop at all and launched directly into the fantastic ridgeline that leads down to the crux Stepladder pitch of that descent. This was only a little wet—no snow—and once I dropped into the Notch itself there was a nice patch of snow on the south side that covered what is usually a lot of loose scree and talus.

Gorrell's Traverse---the key to getting in and out of the Notch from the Beaver.

Gorrell’s Traverse on the near wall in shadow—the key to getting in and out of the Notch from the Beaver.

After dropping maybe 50-100’ I cruised through the Gorrell’s Traverse that leads into the low-5th Class gully that accesses the Beaver. Once I popped out of that onto the boulders it was a quick bop down to the Loft where I found the 3rd Class sneak ledge and at 11am was excited to still be able to glissade a large chunk of the descent back down to below Chasm Lake.

Still some glissading to be had on the Loft descent.

Still some glissading to be had on the Loft descent.

I stopped for a few gulps of run-off through here, but otherwise I was still feeling great, both energy-wise and knee-wise. As such, I turned on the jets a little for the descent back down to the trailhead from Chasm Junction and had so much fun letting loose on a varied, techy descent.

It’s been a good nine months since I’ve been able to do that, and, basically, I was reminded of the sublime joy that comes from a proper alpine run. Completely unfettered, continuous movement over a wide variety of terrain—buff trail, forest ‘schwacking, boulder hopping, talus surfing, kicking across snowfields, scrambling technical rock, glissading—is the best thing in the world. I do a lot of different things in the mountains, but today was an outstanding reminder that the most simple and pure will always bring the most joy.

Even with my second-half leisure and 18min of casual stops for photos and chatting, I was able to sneak under four hours car-to-car (3h56—3h38 moving time) for a satisfying symmetry in my outing: four hours, four classic routes on Longs Peak.

(Strava file)

Brandon Yonke: An Adventure to Reach the Summit

When I arrived to Leadville, I stopped to grab a late-afternoon cup of coffee from City on a Hill, partly for the roasted goodness, but more to bother the locals for beta on the proximate 14ers. Mt. Elbert, Leadville’s backyard mountain, and Colorado’s tallest peak, was just begging to be climbed as the sun silhouetted the mountain from the other side. The orange horizon was interrupted only by the jagged outline of the Sawatch range, with Elbert piercing the sky.
“Yeah, I have beta. It’s a mess.” exclaimed the barista as she handed over a steaming dark roast. “I was there yesterday. It’s waist deep postholing all the way to treeline.” We talked about the conditions a little while longer. I thanked her for the info, and pointed my wheels toward the national forest for a night of camping at the base of the mountain.
Seven miles into the forest, I found a backcountry camping spot along a river, where the last rays of sunlight and the shadows bounced across the valley and against the mountains on either side. The sound of rushing water echoed through the increasingly chilling air. Not long later, the only light left was that of the rising moon, and a small, crackling fire I had made to cook up a gourmet ramen noodle dinner. 
I woke in the morning in the back of my Jeep, windows frosted over from a sub-freezing night. I scratched off a layer of frost, and peered outside to see the moon casting shadows over the mountains beside me, and making the river sparkle like a thousand diamonds. 
After sliding on my shoes and strapping my ice gear to my Ultimate Direction SJ pack, I began the short hike to trailhead. My frozen breath floated through the air gently beside me as I rounded the corner into the parking lot. Just after getting on the trail, my headlamp illuminated a sign for the Continental Divide Trail. I followed it to the fork near 10,800ft, and split right to keep on my way toward Elbert’s summit. 
The snow started here. With a rare dose of luck, the snow was frozen enough to prevent the foretold postholing. I was relieved, as I could see footprints from days before where somebody had sunk well past knee deep. I was able to avoid postholing up until about 200 feet below treeline. I had my first and only break-through of the day there. 
The first drops of the day’s sunlight hit me at just about that time. Within moments I had reached treeline, and could see the top of Elbert, still some 2,500 ft. above me. As I gazed up, I saw a snowboarder carving their way down the mountain, and was barely able to hear them yell a living-the-dream shout of excitement. I’m sure it took them minutes to go down what would take me hours to climb up.

Brandon Yonke approaching the summit.

I stopped to swap my hiking poles out for crampons and a mountain axe; the snow, though only a few inches deep, was slick and steep. As I adjusted my gear, I gazed out into the distance. Leadville’s lights flickered gently, dozens of miles away. A couple of lakes glistened off in the distance, while another, just beneath, was a black sheet of ice. 
I dug my crampons into the frozen snow pack beneath, and placed my axe into the snow above me as I navigated the slippery final stretch of the mountain. The snow was starting to get a bit softer, and a couple of times I had to lean into the axe to keep my position. At just over 14,000ft, even slow movement was becoming an arduous task. I crept my way to the geographic marker sign just 50 feet shy of the summit. Weathered from the elements and the test of time, the sign corroborates the effort necessary to get to the top of the mountain. 
Just ten feet above, I stood on the summit. The blue skies contrasted the hundreds of snow covered peaks in every direction. Shadows rolled across the contour of the landscape. My jacket whipped across itself, making a buzzing sound as a result of the wind funneling up the side of the mountain. But, in this moment, in a way, everything was silent. Everything was still. This is the reward of the mountains. These are the “good tidings”, as Muir would have said. We may not have control of everything in our life, but if we can endure everything above us on the way to the summit, we have done everything we must do to reach the reward at the top.

Brandon Yonke on the Summit of Mt. Elbert.

Canadian ski traverse: When wolverine has an ultra-light skimo vest but you got a pound of cheese

By: Stano Faban

As I am listening to Prince’s Fury followed by Purple Rain for the 100th time in three days it reinforces one truth – that there are times to play fast and there are times to play slow, in the mountains that is. In ski mountaineering, there are occasions that call for the best ultra-light gear and then there are trips where a pound of brie goes a long way J

Since the last race on the Canadian calendar, back in March, I kept talking to my friends about jumping on a challenging week-long ski traverse in the heart of British Columbia. The first time we discussed it was few years ago but this spring it looked like all will finally come together. At the end, we had to opt out again as the weather became questionable with the departure day approaching. But the packs were packed, the gear and food was ready, and we had a couple of days to kill. Then after Reiner couldn’t drive to the coast (originally we were supposed to drive north to his neighborhood) Peter and I decided for a more casual trip starting in Whistler.


Racing at Lake Louise with the new awesome Ultimate Direction Skimo 8 vest.

Few days later, by then the end of April, we found ourselves riding a chairlift up Blackcomb Mountain which is part of the world famous resort. This felt very out of place and we got some strange looks as our packs obviously weren’t carrying an afternoon granola bar. Once finally skinning up the first climb, with stormy weather coming and going, our packs felt heavy and we started to feel free. We were on a ski traverse again.

Objectives for our trip were to do a couple of side trips as this traverse is not that long and we just wanted to enjoy time in the mountains.

The first day took us down a long valley where we had to crisscross a raging creek a couple of times. We were lucky to somehow always end up on the better side which kept us skiing to a low pass where the snow was melting quickly. From there we started our long ascent in hopes to reach a big flat glacier that night. Fortunately, we messed up with navigation and lost an hour (usually happens on the first day), thus, being “forced” to pitch our tent at one of the best spots we ever had.


What do you say, could you build a B&B at a better place?

Next day we picked up some fresh wolverine tracks that turned out to be our companions for the rest of the trip. The only explanation could be that the animal must have possessed the same guide book as we had, and obviously a much smaller pack.


Wolverine resembles a ski mountaineer – it is very adventurous, routinely climbs high peaks and travels across big glaciers. We followed its tracks for 3 days.

Our first side trip led us up an exposed ridge to the top of Wedge Mountain, the highest peak in the area. Unfortunately, clouds were building the higher we went and visibility turned bad by the time we reached the summit. With that, we came up with a short poem: “Going up is trouble. Going down is double.”


Skiing down the exposed ridge wasn’t super fun due to tricky flat light.

Skiing down the exposed ridge wasn’t super fun due to tricky flat light.

Another great camping spot with the Wedge Mountain in the distance.

Another great camping spot with the Wedge Mountain in the distance.

The third day, we spent the morning rolling around in the tent as a small spring snow storm went over us. After it passed, we went on a tour to explore but didn’t get up to anything exciting, the weather was difficult to predict. In the afternoon, we decided to move on and skied the big yet mellow glacier super slow as at times we couldn’t see whether we are going up or down.

Peter posing after the weather finally cleared and we could see the big glacier in the distance behind.

Peter posing after the weather finally cleared and we could see the big glacier in the distance behind.

We skied around the Owls, one of the most dramatic peaks in the area, and marveled the steep ski lines on them. For example, the diagonal ramp off the top and the steep slope down to its left have been skied before!

We skied around the Owls, one of the most dramatic peaks in the area, and marveled the steep ski lines on them. For example, the diagonal ramp off the top and the steep slope down to its left have been skied before!

After another dinner and night in the high alpine we decided to push for an earlier exit as the weather just kept on surprising us. However, during the long day out, we managed to summit and ski another high peak in the area, Mount Currie. Once again, thick fog came in quickly as we climbed the mountain and didn’t dissipate while we waited at the summit.

Getting ready for the final descent.

Getting ready for the final descent.

Ski traverse exists in the Canadian mountains are usually finished by long walks in ski boots down wild forests and this time wasn’t any different. After 1300m of descending, regular mosquito attacks and 4h of f#*@ing around in the bush we finally emerged on a logging road. It could have been much worse.

Here’s a rough map of our trip, the Blackcomb to Currie traverse. We covered about 60km and 4000m including the side trips. Feel free to contact me if you would like to do a ski traverse in Canada and need some help with choosing the right one for your abilities.

Here’s a rough map of our trip, the Blackcomb to Currie traverse. We covered about 60km and 4000m including the side trips. Feel free to contact me if you would like to do a ski traverse in Canada and need some help with choosing the right one for your abilities.



Leor Pantilat: Big Sur Waterfall Project

Discovery Falls

Discovery Falls

When I was in first grade my family moved to a home next to a greenbelt with a lush canyon and “The Creek” at the bottom. This perennial stream with a small salmon run was the source of my first adventures in creeks and I loved it.  It was an escape where hours exploring the canyon felt like minutes. I’ve always enjoyed the flow of water, particularly in the form of waterfalls, but I took a hiatus from exploring creeks for over a decade. In the last couple years I rediscovered this joy in the rugged and mystical canyons of Big Sur.

The Big Sur region has incredible topographical relief spanning over 5,000 vertical feet from the rocky shores of the Pacific Ocean to the summits of the Santa Lucia Mountains. It should therefore come as no surprise that the rugged canyons draining the peaks hold many amazing waterfalls. In fact, almost every major stream and drainage contains a waterfall, or in some cases a handful! The falls range from delicate 15 ft falls to towering 200+ ft falls. The setting of the falls is equally varied including coastal falls onto the sand, lush redwood-filled canyons, rocky slopes with endemic Santa Lucia Firs and ephemeral falls in the drier chaparral zones. The waterfalls range from cataracts deep in the most remote and wild corners of the wilderness to the easily accessible falls near the highway. Other intricacies include varying degrees and type of mineral calcification, rock types, and the depth and size of plunge pools. Every waterfall is different!

My fascination with Big Sur waterfalls has evolved into a project to discover, document and catalog as many waterfalls in the Big Sur region as I can. So far, I’ve cataloged over one hundred waterfalls and there are likely several dozen more waterfalls to see (https://pantilat.wordpress.com/big-sur/waterfall-project/). The project only takes into account falls that I’ve subjectively determined to be worthy (there are dozens, if not hundreds, of truly ephemeral falls that only appear immediately after heavy rain, which I generally exclude).

Inspiration Falls

Inspiration Falls

Only a small subset of the falls are accessible by road or trail and the remainder lie in remote reaches of the wilderness, often entailing many miles of trail running followed by off-trail adventures. Many of the falls are within the immense Ventana Wilderness, which covers over 240,000 acres and is one of the greatest unspoiled coastal wilderness areas in existence. The Ventana has a long history pioneering and exploration, but the range has largely been overlooked in recent decades leaving many hidden treasures for the modern day adventurer to discover. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and naming many falls with no prior evidence of visitation by humans, which I call a first known sighting (FKS). I imagine many of the FKSs had been visited by Native Americans and early explorers, but the passage of time and the lack of documentation or evidence makes them modern day discoveries.

In order to find and locate potential falls, I use topographical maps and Google earth satellite imagery and then carefully plan my route to reach the destination as efficiently as possible. As good as the maps and satellite are these days, they only tell a small part of the story and I’m never quite sure what I will find until I’m there on the ground. Sometimes the waterfalls far exceed expectations while other times they are a bust. This is because the maps often do not pick up micro-features of the rugged canyons or the falls are shaded by relief or forest canopy. Off-trail travel in the Ventana is particularly arduous with the primary goal to avoid bushwhacking through dense chaparral that is virtually impenetrable and covers the vast majority of these mountains. In addition, one must contend with the “terrible five” of the Ventana – sharp yucca plants that can slice skin upon contact, biting flies, ticks, poison oak and rattlesnakes. Often times, the most efficient route is by wading in the creeks, but creekwalking can be arduous and technical with high water flow, deep pools, log jams and slick rock.

While many of the falls require quite a bit of effort and planning to reach, the waterfall project has become one of the most rewarding and enjoyable endeavors I’ve pursued. In this in this day and age of sophisticated technology and infrastructure it’s not easy to find places that have not been domesticated or mapped so I treasure the opportunities for true adventure and a sense of pioneering that I’ve found in the canyons of Big Sur. At the same time, I’m also cognizant of preserving the wild and unspoiled nature of these canyons so those that follow can enjoy the same sense of adventure and exploration.

Happy Mothers Day!

Mothers Day is May 8!  
Since there are now more female runners in the US than male – 21.8 vs 20.2 million – and 57% of race entries are women (!) – Mothers Day is more noteworthy than ever.  Obviously, mothers comprise only a percentage of these overall numbers, but we wondered:  What are the challenges?  Can you raise children and lower your race times at the same time?
For this very non-comprehensive survey, we asked Pam Smith and Sarah Lavender Smith (no relation!) their esteemed thoughts – – –
Now that's what I'm talkin' about ...

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about …

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Ultimate Direction welcomes new Ambassador

April 1, 2016
For Immediate Release
Boulder, CO –

Ultimate Direction, manufacturer of market-leading hydration systems, is pleased to announce the signing of a new Athlete, Katniss Everdeen.

Katniss, a Tribute from District 12, is the Winner of the 74th Hunger Games, plus an entire civil war, and is well known for her extreme endurance, toughness, and problem-solving, in addition to archery skills.


“The Girl on Fire is the perfect addition to our Ambassador Team”, says Buzz Burrell, UD Brand Leader. “Along with Krissy Moehl, Nikki Kimball, Devon Yanko, Michele Yates, and others, we unquestionably field the strongest women’s team ever in the sport.”

Katniss-run“I really look forward to running with Katniss”, says Krissy, who along with Kilian Jornet is the only winner of both the Hardrock 100 and the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. “I’m a little faster than she is, which I know is hard to believe, but she has backcountry skills that will really help me on my upcoming trips to the Sierra’s and Peru.”

“Roasted Squirrel is the next energy food”.

Scott Jurek, 7-time winner of the Western States 100 and supported FKT holder on the Appalachian Trail was more measured in his welcome. “While I admit red berries are not the ideal snack, due to complications stemming from certain and excruciating death, a more plant-based diet could probably enable The Mockingjay to achieve her true potential.”

Brian Metzler, Editor of Competitor Magazine and Founder of various other projects we can’t yet mention, believes the timing is perfect. “The Hunger Games have joined the IAAF, where their unparalleled record of horrific graft and profiteering were welcomed with open arms, and have petitioned for inclusion as an official Olympic Sport. Having a vicious fight to the death among young teenagers would be a lovely way to close out the Olympics, as it would bring the crucial Millennials demographic back in front of the TV, and be far more interesting than some boring road Marathon.”

“I look forward to doing a 3 minute video interview of her”, said Bryon Powell, co-owner of iRunFar.com, “as soon as she finishes in the top 3 of some race in Europe no one has heard of or can pronounce.”

“I’m not sure if she qualifies for ‘Ultra Runner of the Year’ voting”, noted Karl Hoagland, owner of Ultrarunning Magazine. “Her results seem to all have taken place in Panem, while we only include those from the United States”. Realizing this will set off the usual fire-storm of protests from ultra runners with too much time on their hands, Karl added, “But our committee of really old people who used to run will take a careful look and see what we can do. Or not.”

Despite the flurry of speculation taking place on social media forums, Ultimate Direction is declining to confirm when the new “KE Survival Vest” will hit the market, because as all their other product introductions have been late, they don’t want to catch more flak when this one probably arrives late as well.

Katniss Everdeen field-testing the KE Survival Vest prototype

Katniss Everdeen field-testing the KE Survival Vest prototype

Who is Jared Campbell?

The Legend: Jared Campbell PC: Buzz Burrell

The Legend: Jared Campbell PC: Buzz Burrell

Who are the silent badass athletes in the outdoor arena? Ultimate Direction Ambassador Jared Campbell comes to mind. Most outdoor enthusiasts have never heard of Jared (unless they have watched the new Barkley Marathons documentary on Netflix!)

So, who is Jared Campbell, and why has he done more adventures than anyone you’ve never heard of?

UPDATE:  On April 4, Jared became the first 3-time Finisher of the infamous Barkley Marathons …

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Winter Longs Peak Triathlon

DSC02919When I did a Longs Peak Triathlon last summer, I remember thinking it was only logical to apply the same tactics in the calendar winter season. Maybe unsurprisingly, there simply didn’t seem to be many attempts at such a thing, let alone actual completions of the task. To be sure, even in the age of the Internet, we don’t always know what exciting things people have been up to, but the only completions I could find were by Justin Simoni (a constant inspiration when it comes to bikes and mountains) and Tina Lewis, both in the 18-19hr range. Maybe I’m weak for wanting to wait for at least decent conditions—call me crazy, but this seems to be an important part of the tradition of mountaineering—but I couldn’t figure out how it should take quite that long. And riding dark roads at night doesn’t hold a huge amount of appeal for me. So I waited for good conditions.

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I Love My PB

With Stephanie Ehret and Peter Bakwin

“I think we met while drinking whisky out of a bottle and wrestling on the couch. I accidentally poured some in Peters eye.”
“It stung.”

That was in the 10th grade – 37 years ago – and this ultra couple has been together ever since, celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary this last December.

Peter Bakwin is of course, the signature on the award-winning “PB Adventure Vest”. But he’s not on Facebook, ignores all social media, and never speaks of himself. So who is PB??

PB Garage

PnS 1

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