Wild Bruce Chase vs. The Bruce Trail: FKT

by: Chantal Warriner

18 Women from Ontario, Canada with One Goal

901.5 km / 563 Miles (with detours at time of relay)

Wild Bruce Chase logo

The Bruce Trail was built in the year 1960 and is known as Canada’s oldest trail. It also happens to be Canada’s longest marked footpath and provides access to the magnificent Niagara Escarpment. It is entirely built and maintained by volunteers who share a dream to secure the continuous conservation corridor that stretches along the escarpment from Tobermory to Niagara Falls, Ontario.

The trail attracts thousands of outdoor enthusiast

every year. It’s only logical that these hikers and runners would want to set end to end records. Isn’t that human nature?! There are

men’s/women’s solo records, ladies team records and coed team records. Not forgetting the many others who share bragging rights.

On May 5th, 2016, a friend of mine emailed me about this “once in a lifetime opportunity to set a Bruce Trail ladies relay record”. The email was very motivating. It stated things like “YOU could be a Bruce Trail Record holder!; Are you in? Will you break the record with us??” How could anyone say no to that, right?!. Needless to say, the team was built and runners committed very quickly.

The fastest known time (FKT) for the ladies relay we were trying to break was reported at 5 days, 17 hours and 56 minutes. Our team, named Wild Bruce Chase, was hungry to break the record. The organizer of the event, Erin Dasher, Ontario’s 5 Peaks Race Director, had tirelessly planned and meticulously detailed the logistics of the end to end continuous relay event.

With almost 70 legs ranging from 5 to 15 miles, each runner spent hours researching their routes and maps in order to efficiently run the terrain and perform exchanges without a hitch. Team members also ran group and route specific training runs to prepare. This preparation, in addition to fitness and generous resources highly influenced the outcome of this richly rewarding adventure.

Less than two short months later, we began on July 1st, 2016. There’s something to be said about beginning such an epic attempt on our national Canadian holiday ­ Canada Day. We were feeling patriotic, confident but also nervous to see how the long weekend was going to be executed. If you’re picturing a beautiful morning of blue skies, birds tweeting and a big orange sun cresting the horizon, you couldn’t be more wrong. Our relay began at 5 am on July 1st, but the 1st of our 18 courageous ladies started the relay and 400m into the leg, it began to treacherously downpour! We began the 563 Mile Fastest Known Time attempt and our runner couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of her. Great!! It got real, real fast!! Gulp.

Bruce Trail    Heather & I

The following days past in a blink of an eye. I got to know my teammates at base camps during the shifts I wasn’t running. It’s amazing to share such an experience with a very diverse group of women. 18 women in close quarters for 4 days, sounds like a setup to a bad punch line, but in all honesty, we got along pretty darn well considering the high mileage, sleep deprivation, long shifts, dehydration and calorie deficits.

These bonds will never be broken. I sincerely love and respect every one of them. The funny stories from the weekend are endless. However, most are probably not appropriate to mention on a blog post. The team will keep those close to our hearts.

This bracelet went from runner to runner and travelled the entire trail. Yes, it was pretty crunchy and very smelly at the end. team arms and baton

Here I am on Day 2 sneaking in a cat nap in between runner exchanges. (photo credit: Denise Brady) It wasn’t long before my mat was nicknamed “big blue”. I don’t think I slept more than 2­4 hours at a time at base camp, so these few moments of stolen slumber were very welcomed.

Me Sleeping WBC

There was always a runner on the trail. The weekend highs of 86F (without humidity) brought some challenges, but we continued to the push the pace! Some of the ladies have never ran at night before. Luckily the only bear was seen in the daylight. Every night runner tied up their shoe laces, put on their hydration vests, sported their headlights and ran their butts off without a word of complaint. Truly commendable sportsmanship. No one wanted to let the team down!

So what was the motivation behind the incredible challenge that brought runners through water, mud, slick rocks, uneven terrain with views of breathtaking escarpments? It’s quite simple really: “We’re just a group looking for a good challenge!” says Dasher. Although the team is diverse in age, experience, and geographical location, all the women on the team would agree that we were are all looking for a great challenge while having fun along the way. And that my running friends, is what we did! Hands down!

Runner coming through to the last exchange in Niagara Falls. Most of team then ran the last 4 miles together to finish the 563 Mile relay in the early morning hours of Tuesday, July 5th, 2016. Last Exchange - Chantal

A well deserved celebration: official finish time of 4 days, 1 hour and 39 min to claim the Ladies Relay Fastest Known Time. How do I feel about this you ask? I’m ecstatic of course!! It’s amazing to think what strong women with a similar goal could accomplish. It’s so surreal!
End of Relay Celebration

There isn’t any doubt that each lady was an essential part of the success of the relay, but I can’t go on without mentioning the charitable support demonstrated on this Canada Day Long Weekend. Many spouses, parents, family members, training partners, and club members generously donated their time to assist in cooking, driving, pacing, and supporting the team. Also, the outpouring of support these amazing companies (left) gave us was paramount. Without this support, our journey wouldn’t have been as successful! On behalf of WBC, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you so very much to every single one of you and your team members! We are beyond grateful! Thank you signatures

So what’s next? I look forward to the next challenge our Wild Bruce Chase will tackle. (There’s been plenty of talk, so stay tuned). On a personal level, perhaps an attempt to break the Women’s Solo Bruce Trail’s FKT record. Cough, cough… ;P

 

Unsupported Longs Peak Triathlon FKT

IMG_8429On Tuesday, Stefan Griebel and I completed an unsupported Longs Peak Triathlon—biking 40mi from Boulder to Longs Peak, running the 5mi up to the base of the Diamond, climbing the seven-pitch Casual Route, continuing to the summit, running back down to the trailhead, and biking back to Boulder—in 9h06m. It was deeply rewarding, and super fun. I have a few thoughts on this.

Almost exactly a year ago, I climbed Longs Peak’s Diamond for the first time with my friend Bill Wright. We had climbed together all summer in Eldorado Canyon outside of Boulder, gradually working our way through a series of routes that Bill deemed proper preparation for being able to proficiently make our way up the Casual Route, at 5.10a the easiest route on Longs’ iconic, high altitude, sheer 1700’ face. Climbing the Casual last August with Bill was very satisfying because it had been a long-term, in-the-back-of-my-mind goal that we achieved through focused preparation and a summer-long commitment to the objective. Our day on the mountain was rewarding, but sneaking in at just under 12hr car-to-car, I was exhausted and even a bit dejected that getting up the Diamond was so draining.

However, getting that first lap in under my belt was crucial to allowing me to dream of one day being competent enough to complete the much-vaunted Longs Peak Triathlon. The week before heading up there with Bill, I had completed a JV version of the LPT via the much less committing but still 5th-Class Kieners Route. The proudest and most proper Triathlon, however, requires climbing a route on the steep, sustained, and exposed Diamond itself, not just skirting its edge the way Kieners does. These outings last August planted the seed: ok, maybe one day this will be possible. This week, I was actually able to make it happen.

A few weeks ago I pretty randomly watched the new Netflix documentary Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru. I vaguely knew of Tony Robbins through an episode of the TED Radio Hour podcast I listen to, and had been intrigued by his confidence, gravelly voice, and role over the years as personal advisor to such high-powered celebrities as Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela. I came away from the documentary with a much clearer picture of Robbins as a self-help motivational speaker and also lots and lots of skepticism. I was a little surprised at his methods and that people pay for his seminars. But he did say one thing in the entire documentary that resonated quite deeply with me, that a key to happiness in life is continual growth and a sense of progression.

This is a pretty obvious tenet of modern society. It’s why jobs or careers with an unbreakable ceiling are considered unsatisfying or “dead-end”. It’s why billionaires continue to amass wealth. (Well, probably some unadulterated greed occasionally sneaks in there, too.) Nevertheless, it seems that if growth and progression are ignored in certain contexts, it’s too easy to become comfortable—stagnant—in the status quo, and one day wake up and wonder why you’re so uninspired and even unhappy.

This tangible sense of growth and progression is, I think, one of the big reasons that my first LPT via the Casual Route was so enriching. Here was something that even just a year ago seemed nearly impossible, and yet, through diligent focus and development of new skills and amassing of new experience, this year I was able to pull it off.

Stefan had completed the LPT four times previously, with four different partners, so it wasn’t nearly as big a deal for him, but after climbing together in the alpine a couple of times earlier this summer, I knew we’d be a good fit. Mostly because Stefan is a very strong climber who is also psyched for silly endurance activities like biking and running.

The one wrinkle that I threw into the mix—to hew as closely as possible to my personal style preferences, but to also add a new twist that might pique Stefan’s interest—was to complete the LPT unsupported, i.e. no outside crewing or aid and carrying all of our equipment from start to finish in Boulder. When I had completed the LPT via Kieners last summer and the Longs Peak Duathlon via the Cables this past winter, I had gone unsupported, so it just seemed natural to do the same on the LPT via the Diamond. Except that climbing the Diamond generally requires a whole lot more equipment—a rope and rack of protection—and biking and running a total of over 11,000’ uphill with any extra weight is exhausting.

As such, Stefan and I meticulously trimmed our gear to the bare minimum. We would bring only a 30m rope. We each wore harnesses that weighed 95g—most harnesses easily weigh four or five times as much. And we calculated our rack down to the last carabiner:

– four cams (0.4, 0.75, #1, #2)
– four lightweight quickdraws
– four shoulder slings with one carabiner each
– three MicroTraxion progress-capture pulleys

Since I was leading the first half of the route, I brought a Petzl Reverso belay device so that I could put Stefan on belay at the end of my block. Stefan would lead the top half and would just continue running the rope past the end of the route, belaying me off of tension after I removed the final MicroTraxion; he didn’t even pack a belay device. For extra clothes, I brought a long sleeve base layer and a 3oz wind shell. Even carrying the rope, my pack for the day weighed only 9lbs. Lucky for me, Stefan loves this refinement and revision aspect of the game as much as I do; it’s part of what makes a multi-discipline mountain objective like this so much fun.

Waiting for the sun to give us just a little bit of light in the Bustop parking lot. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

Waiting for the sun to give us just a little bit of light in the Bustop parking lot. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

We rolled out from the Bustop Gentleman’s Club in north Boulder at 5:29am, waiting for just enough light to see, as we didn’t want to take headlamps. To me, it felt like we were hitting a pretty hot pace right from the beginning, but I never ride with other people (drafting and trading pulls isn’t completely foreign to me, but it is very rare) and despite riding the three miles from my apartment to the Bustop, it always takes me a while to warm up and get going. Any time I was drafting off of Stefan, I felt like I was on the edge of getting dropped.

There was the customary early morning headwind heading up South St Vrain Canyon, so Stefan and I continued to trade pulls, and I continued to feel like we were going quite a bit harder than I would have on my own—a huge benefit of doing this with a partner! Stefan finally seemed to start tiring a bit as we neared the Peak-to-Peak Highway junction, and the rest of the ride over to the Longs Peak Trailhead was much more comfortable for me. On the last steep climb up to the trailhead I pulled ahead by a couple of minutes because I knew my transition—changing out of bike shoes into my La Sportiva Helios SR’s for the trail—would take longer than Stefan’s, who was wearing La Sportiva Mutants on platform pedals.

Cranking out the approach, with the big mountains in the distance. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

Cranking out the approach, with the big mountains in the distance. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

I hit the trailhead at 2h42 and we were both overjoyed to see the new water spigot right at the start of the trail. We chugged some extra water here and filled our bottles, meaning we ended up leaving the TH right at 2h49.

Despite the bike ride (with ~5k’ of vert already) in our legs, Stefan and I ended up hitting our usual splits on the approach to the base of the North Chimney. Some of this was no doubt aided by doing the approach in daylight and nailing the devious route-finding at treeline. When we stopped for water at our customary spot on the grassy knoll just before the talus below the North Chimney, we actually put on our harnesses here and I took the rack, knowing that I would scramble the 500′ North Chimney faster and in my running shoes (Stefan changes into his climbing shoes for the NC). As such, since I wouldn’t be placing any gear on the customary first pitch up the D1 Pillar anyways, I could already be a full pitch up the climb before Stefan even tied into the rope.

Filling water at the grassy knoll. Helmet and harness already on. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

Filling water at the grassy knoll. Helmet and harness already on. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

Which is exactly how it worked out. I arrived at Broadway at 1h45 from the trailhead (and 4h34 from Boulder), tied into the rope, flaked it, put two of the MicroTraxions on it, changed into my climbing shoes, and started up right at 4h40. Stefan reported tying into the other end of the rope right around when I clipped the first piece (fixed slings at the top of the first pitch). Perfect.

The only problem now was that there was a climber halfway up the 2nd pitch, in the middle of the 5.9 finger crack, with several loops of rope dangling and seemingly not moving at all. At first I thought he was belaying his partner who was out on the 5.7 traverse pitch, or maybe in the 5.8+ slot after that, but it turns out this guy was rope-soloing and was in the process of jugging and cleaning this pitch. He was adamant about us not passing him. Bummer.

I waited for maybe 3-4min at my second piece of pro—a 0.4 cam at the base of the 5.9 finger crack—before he started moving and I figured I could climb to the top of the 5.9 crack without being impeded. I did this, taking my time so as not to crowd him, and I’ll admit, it was actually kind of nice to not have to rush through this. On this section of rock I only clip a single fixed piton near the top of the pitch, and then clip a MicroTraxion to the fixed sling at the top of the crack/start of the leftward traverse. This Micro acts as a pulley, limiting the drag created by this 90deg angle (not that there’d be much anyways with the short rope and limited gear) and protecting Stefan for the 5.9 climbing.

It was a little bit frustrating, however, to have to climb the 5.7 traverse so slowly as I was super fired up and completely in the groove, feeling 100% comfortable on the rock. On this rising traverse I clip the two pitons and that’s it until I get to the crack below the slot, where I place the #1. Maybe because I was forced into doing the traverse so slowly and methodically, I felt completely solid at this transition this time and lamented bringing the #1—it didn’t feel necessary.

The squeeze slot above there is definitely one of the cruxes on the route, but this being my sixth time on it in the past two months, I have the beta dialed and I felt completely solid, placing the #2 as high as possible in the slot (to Stefan’s chagrin, cleaning it) and mantel-wriggling back out onto the face. Just above here I placed our last cam—the 0.75—so as to protect this slot with a Micro for Stefan.

After the slot, the rope-soloist was happy to let us pass and I cruised by as quickly as possible, clambering up the easy cracks to the fixed anchor—recently refreshed with new cord—at the dihedral ramp, where I finally put Stefan on belay, four guidebook pitches and roughly half-way up the route.

Stefan, of course, cruised all of this, and 40min after I’d left Broadway he was leading away from me, up the 5.8 corner. Of course, since we had the rack completely dialed, the transition consisted of me unclipping the Reverso from the anchor and clipping it to my harness belay loop. Done.

I find this corner to always be the mental crux of the route, simply because it’s so sustained and consistent at the grade. It’s an absolutely beautiful pitch, 200’ of immaculate stemming, liebacking, and jamming through 5.8 finger-to-hand crack. On this day, though, I finally climbed it without Stefan ever pulling the rope completely tight on me, which I was even more proud of because Stefan placed literally two pieces of gear on this entire 200’ (a #1 and a 0.75, putting a Micro on each), and clipping a single fixed nut. Which means it was virtually continuous movement, never getting to stop to rest. Having someone comfortable leading something that sustained on three points of protection in 200’ is super key to being able to do this route so efficiently while carrying all your gear from Boulder.

I did get a rest, however—and step back into the sun—at the top of the corner on the Yellow Wall Bivy Ledge, while Stefan was leading the crux pitch of 9+/10a climbing above me. A lot of people consider the 9+ inset the crux of the whole route, but its technical feet lends more to my strengths as a climber—I start flailing pretty quickly on almost anything that goes beyond vertical—than the short but steep 10a crux bulge at the top of the pitch.

I was on-point today, though, and jammed through this quickly, having to take extra time on the Table Ledge traverse actually, as Stefan had pulled all sorts of shenannies here with our anemic rack—girth-hitching a piton, clipping a locker biner to another, clipping the #2 cam biner to the last piton. Not super efficient to clean.

Last pitch---following the Table Ledge traverse. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

Last pitch—following the Table Ledge traverse. Photo: Stefan Griebel.

I reached Stefan at the end of Table Ledge at 6h01 from Boulder (1h21 on route, even with being slowed in the first half), and took 7min to organize and pack everything and change back into running shoes for the dash up upper Kieners to the summit of Longs. In the process, Stefan actually fumbled his full 26oz bottle of water, tossing it off the edge of the Diamond. Dang it. No worries, I had a near full half-liter flask that I knew I wouldn’t be needing, and we charged to the top, reaching the summit in 6h17 from Boulder and leaving at 6h19.

I was super excited at this point by how far ahead of expected pace we were (I had thought we’d be literally about an hour slower here) and took off down the north face to the Cables feeling full of energy. After the quick downscramble of the Cables themselves (wet, but no longer icy), the descent turns into an extended session of talus and boulder hopscotch all the way over and down the shoulder of Mt Lady Washington before we’d hook into the historical Jim Grove trail to take us to treeline.

My left IT band had been tight on the uphill approach (courtesy of the high-intensity, uphill cycling), and this boulder-hopping nearly put it over the edge as I did my best to manage more than a few sharp pains and had to deliberately favor it. Luckily—as has been its wont, lately—it improved markedly the instant we were able to return to a more natural running gait on the trail descent, and I had little more issue with it until much later in the day.

Once we’d passed the navigational issues at treeline, I again ran ahead down to the bikes knowing that my transition would take longer than Stefan’s. And as I got there (at 7h18 elapsed, 4h29 for the bike-to-bike roundtrip of Longs via the Casual) it was in a light rain. I was really happy we were as fast as we were thus far. Topping out Longs in the rain wouldn’t have been very pleasant.

Stefan arrived a few minutes later and we rolled out of the parking lot at exactly 7h26m. We were both hooting and hollering with adrenaline and endorphins at this point and given the rain-slickened road, hit the initial steep downhill just a little too hot. I drifted wide on a curve, afraid of my tires slipping on the wet pavement, and in the process forced Stefan into the ditch just behind me. Whoops, ok, let’s watch ourselves here!

The rest of the ride was without incident and though it downpoured briefly, the rain stopped after only a couple of miles. I was intent upon squeezing every minute of time out of our effort, though, and mashed the pedals with a vengeance the whole way back, cranking as hard as I could into the headwind with Stefan hanging behind in the draft, resting up for the soul-crushing rollers on the last 10mi from Lyons to Boulder.

Stefan's view the whole way back to Boulder ;-) Photo: Stefan Griebel.

Stefan’s view the whole way back to Boulder 😉 Photo: Stefan Griebel.

This was going really well and there was even a brief window of time where it looked like sub-9hr was going to be in play, but in those last 10mi Stefan had a micro-instance of cracking, where I inadvertently rode him off my wheel for a couple minutes, and then right at the Lefthand Canyon junction my left knee finally issued a serious lightning bolt warning shot of pain and we were forced into just spinning easily into the finish over those last 5mi, reaching the Bustop 9h06m after we’d left it. Done!

Bustop parking lot Oskar Blues Old Chubs and war stories. Stefan gets into it. Photo: Alton Richardson.

Bustop parking lot Oskar Blues Old Chubs and war stories. Stefan gets into it. Photo: Alton Richardson.

Just as every other alpine outing I’ve had with Stefan this summer—a three-tower link-up in the Skypond Cirque and an evening dash up the Casual in June, even an early morning tune-up lap of the Casual in late July where we were back at the trailhead by 9:30am—we toasted the outing with a pair of ice cold Oskar Blues Old Chubs in the parking lot, courtesy of Mr. Griebel. I deem this an important tradition worth continuing.

The Old Chub certainly helped, but the real buzz we were feeling in that parking lot was far more potent. It’s the kind of buzz that, for me, I’ve come to realize is at least partly a result of working towards things that initially seem out of reach, maybe even impossible. But, through focused preparation and a stepwise process of intermediate goals, the resolution on that seemingly lofty objective gradually sharpens and suddenly the dream is doable, offering a tangible indicator of growth and progression. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back to give it another crack next year.

Big Day in the Park

jed_TLAs a pretty weak climber, I tend to try and leverage my strengths that come from 22 years experience as a runner when I’m dreaming up mountain objectives. The problem is usually finding a partner that harbors a similar interest in mixing A) moderate alpine climbing, and B) linking together lots of it. Most of the climbers I know who are strong enough to move quickly on 5.8-10 terrain are more likely to want to spend their time challenging themselves on harder routes and minimizing the amount of enduro foot travel (this tendency is totally understandable). Enter Jed Brown.

Jed and I climbed the Diamond together back at the end of June and had a great time. Jed is one of the more impressive mountain athletes I know—Alaskan-born grit, endurance sport enthusiasm and experience, unwavering mental composure when things start to go a little bit sideways, doesn’t mind running with a climbing pack, and, oh yeah, recipient of a Piolet d’Or. He’d never tell you.

But then he spent the entire month of July on an expedition to a 7000m peak in India, so we never got out again. When he got back last week, he texted me saying he had three weeks before school started again (he’s a Computer Science professor at CU-Boulder—some people are truly next-level human beings) and was psyched to get on some alpine granite. In typical fashion, a casual text rapidly and inexplicably snowballed into an out-sized objective: a link-up of Longs Peak, Spearhead, Chiefshead, and Mt. Alice in Rocky Mountain National Park. And, it makes the most sense to complete the loop via bike, too.

This would be a notable and big day as a simple run. And in the past I would’ve been super psyched on this as just a run. However, a big part of my motivation with climbing has always been to mix it with running into an engaging amalgam of mountain movement that covers inspiring, remote terrain via challenging, aesthetic routes. Rocky Mountain National Park is the perfect arena for this type of thing. Hence, we would be spicing things up by climbing each peak via a technical rock route.

So our plan was this: on the drive to the Longs Peak TH, stash bikes at the Wild Basin TH; climb the Casual Route on Longs Peak’s Diamond, Syke’s Sickle on Spearhead, Central Rib on Chiefshead (really just the most logical means of gaining the Continental Divide), and Central Ramp on the East Face of Mt. Alice; run the 8+ miles out to the WBTH; bike the 8 miles on the road from there back to my truck at the LPTH. Do it in-a-day, preferably without extending it too far into the nighttime.

There was precedence for this kind of thing, by much stronger climbers than myself. In 2003, Jonny Cop and Kelly Cordes established the “Triple Lindy” linking what they determined to be the three biggest faces in RMNP (the Diamond, Chiefshead NW Face, and Mt Alice East Face) in 22h42min car-to-car. In 2011, Scott Bennett and Blake Herrington upped the ante by climbing some slightly harder routes and adding the NE Face on Spearhead, completing the loop car-to-car in 23h45min.

I’m not a good enough climber to efficiently get up any of the 5.10-11ish classics on Chiefshead (there doesn’t appear to be anything of quality at a more moderate grade on these faces EDIT: the Flight of the Kiwi route that Scott and Blake did during their link-up actually looks pretty reasonable, something to think about for 2016…), so I settled on simply climbing Spearhead and linking along the obvious ridge to the summit of Chiefshead (its Central Rib).

A key piece of our strategy of fitting all of this terrain into a single day was the equipment we planned to carry. Or maybe, the equipment we planned on not carrying. Jed and I each carried <20L packs—day packs, really—mine was a prototype of Ultimate Direction’s forthcoming 18L Skimo race pack. I prefer it for its sleek profile, low center of gravity, and durable materials.

We kept our packs trim by bringing almost no extra clothes—I had a longsleeve baselayer, a pair of cycling leg warmers, and rain shell—a 30m rope, and a trim rack of nine cams (doubles 0.3-0.5 and one each of 0.75, #1, #2) and maybe half a dozen finger-sized nuts. And three Petzl MicroTraxion progress-capture pulleys. These would be key to keeping our strategy of simul-climbing all day as safe as possible. Jed didn’t even bring leg coverage, spending the entire day in essentially his underwear. But, then again, he’s Alaskan. With food (~1300 calories of bars and gels) and water (a half liter flask was my total capacity), my pack weighed in right at 10lbs, carrying the rope (Jed had the rack).

After locking up our bikes in the dark at the Wild Basin Trailhead, Jed and I drove to the Longs Peak TH and started up the trail at 4:06am. A little bit of a late start, to be honest, but the sun is rising later and later these days, so it worked out pretty well. The approach was uneventful, other than finally nailing all the below-treeline shortcuts in the dark but then losing ~5min to extra bathroom breaks. As we rounded Chasm Lake, the early breezy conditions abated and the sky was clear, and we could see a pair of headlamps already high above us on Broadway and they seemed to be hovering right around the center of the face, at the start of the Casual Route. Bummer. Oh well, with our plans of simul-climbing, we hoped passing would be easy.

Jed scrambling the North Chimney earlier this summer.

Jed scrambling the North Chimney at sunrise earlier this summer.

After scrambling the North Chimney, I arrived on Broadway first and was surprised to see the headlamp party still camped out at the base of the Casual. Seeing that these guys clearly weren’t in much of a hurry, I immediately set about flaking and tying into the rope. By time Jed arrived all he had to do was hand me the rack and I started climbing, 2h05 after leaving the trailhead.

We basically planned on climbing each route in two pitches. I’d lead the first half of each one and Jed would lead the second half. This was my fifth time climbing the Casual Route this summer, so I have it pretty dialed and moved through the first four pitches in 38min, placing four cams and clipping five fixed pins and/or anchors, protecting the 5.9 sections of climbing with the Micro Traxions.

Jed reaching my belay in the long corner in the middle of the route.

Jed reaching my belay in the long corner in the middle of the route.

Butt shot of Jed leading up the corner---at least he's sporting the stars 'n bars!

Butt shot of Jed leading up the corner—at least he’s sporting the stars ‘n bars!

Jed is a stronger climber than me, so he, of course, never held me up in following and 50min from Broadway he was leading up the magnificent, long 5.8 dihedral that makes up the meat of the middle part of the route. I got a bit tired in this corner, which seems to be the norm for me, but got a bit of a break when Jed hit the crux 9+/10a climbing above and 1h48 after leaving Broadway we were both at the end of the route, on Table Ledge, just before 8am. So much fun! The weather was perfect and our energy and spirits were high. Onwards.

Longs Peak summit.

Longs Peak summit.

We topped out Longs Peak (via upper Kieners) at 8:23am and snacked for a couple minutes amidst a crowd of hikers that were steadily making their way up the Keyhole Route. Both Jed and I were a bit worried about how our knees were going to hold up with the 10k’ of descending we would encounter on the day, so the next nearly 3000′ drop down the Trough on the west side of Longs to the base of Spearhead in the Glacier Gorge would be a good test.

Spearhead (right) and Chiefshead (left), our next two summits.

Spearhead (right) and Chiefshead (left), our next two summits.

It went well. I was feeling really high energy through here so got a bit ahead of Jed and when I got to the base of Spearhead I remembered the guide-book mentioning being able to take an alternate start at 5.6/7 for Syke’s Sickle from the left to get to “Middle Earth Ledge” a pitch up. At first I thought it looked like easy slabs, but these slabs turned out to be relatively feature-less and there were a couple cruxy sections in running shoes, working a dirty finger crack. Once on the ledge, though, it was an easy scramble up to the base of the next pitch on Syke’s and we roped up here, with me taking the lead again. The first few rope lengths were fun but not very challenging climbing in the 5.6 range. I had to remember to have at least one piece of gear between Jed and I, otherwise there was no point in having the rope out at all.

Our route up Syke's Sickle.

Our route up Syke’s Sickle.

Eventually, though, the face steepened and the climbing became much more interesting, especially when we got up into the “Sickle” feature of the route and Jed took over the lead. The position and exposure here at the crux stemming 9+/10a roof section is spectacular and my impression of the route became much more positive—it suddenly felt like it deserved all its acclaim of classic status.

Final move onto Spearhead's summit.

Final move onto Spearhead’s summit. Photo: Jed Brown.

Once I’d grabbed the thank-god fin/arete, it was a quick (albeit, run-out) romp up the final slab, and right at noon Jed and I were standing on the summit of Spearhead.

Psyched on the summit of Spearhead. Photo: Jed Brown.

Psyched on the summit of Spearhead. Photo: Jed Brown.

The next section of the route is a bit of a trudge up the connecting ridge to the Central Rib headwall of Chiefshead, and I definitely felt low-energy through here, letting Jed set the pace. In retrospect, I think I was just feeling the altitude. I was happy to get to the steeper, more technical sections on the headwall as this offered a break from the cardio action, and Jed and I had fun following our nose looking for the most direct line still in the 5.6-7 range. We certainly weren’t going to go to the trouble of breaking out the rope and rock shoes for this section.

Some of the 5.6-7 scrambling on the Chiefshead Central Rib.

Some of the 5.6-7 scrambling on the Chiefshead Central Rib. Photo: Jed Brown.

Once on the summit of Chiefshead at 1:06pm, the day’s weather had definitely taken on a different timbre. Low, grey clouds darkened the skies to the south and east, and an insistent cold wind made us each don an extra layer. Nevertheless, things were actually looking pretty favorable with patches of blue to the north and west, so there was really never any question of whether we were headed over to Mt. Alice. Of course we were.

Jed running the grassy ridge on the Continental Divide, leading to Mt. Alice.

Jed running the grassy ridge on the Continental Divide, leading to Mt. Alice.

After a couple minutes of talus hopping, the Divide turns into a beautiful grassy ridge and an east-extending rib of this offered perfect access down to the base of the East Face of Mt. Alice (along with some scree plunging, shoe skiing, and boulder hopping, of course). Jed and I were both distracted through here by a whole herd of big-horned sheep—an exciting reminder that the Wild Basin is a much more remote and less-visited corner of the park than Longs Peak and the Glacier Gorge, whence we’d just come.

Neither Jed nor I had ever climbed on Mt. Alice, though just the previous week Jed had done a long run looping over the summit of the mountain. A prominent 4th Class ledge defined the base of the East Face and offered convenient access to the start of our Central Ramp route, which allegedly traced the lefthand edge of the East Face itself.

East Face of Mt. Alice with the ledge system that we used to access our route.

East Face of Mt. Alice with the ledge system that we used to access our route.

I was starting to get pretty tired at this point—sleepy more than anything—and was reluctant to put rock shoes back on. We eventually found the base of the route—a choice between a 5.8 dihedral and a 5.5 chimney—and started up. Things soon became inobvious, and, being on the sharp end, I was getting frustrated with the uncertainty of route-finding and not knowing whether I’d find gear or not.

After only a few hundred feet of stop and start rambling, I made a hasty belay, brought Jed up and told him he could take over. Really, more than anything, my feet were killing me and I wanted a chance to slip out of my shoes.

Jed, of course, persevered without batting an eyelash (though, notably, he did agree that his feet were quite painful as well), and he continued moving the rope up the face. A long stretch of moderate terrain soon turned into a steep and tricky crux section that was punctuated by a handful of closely-placed, old pitons. Thankfully, Jed set a belay at a large grassy ledge above there and brought me up before continuing up the final couple pitches to the top.

At this point, I finally noticed the gathering dark clouds and rumbling thunder became more insistent. Just after Jed had run out the first 100′ of rope things became much more dire with gusty winds and suddenly it was raining and then sheets of hail were coming down. I looked up to see Jed thrutching through a steep chimney, but he continued charging and with all the atmospheric theatrics I followed just as quickly as possible.

I arrived at the top to find Jed hunkered down just below the ridge, saying that the rocks on the ridge itself were buzzing and that we should probably wait it out here for a minute. No argument from me, other than avalanches and rockfall, electrical storms in the high peaks are really the only other thing that get me nervous.

Thankfully, despite the wrathful intensity with which the storm had initially hit, it had mellowed considerably by time we got the rope and rack packed away and changed back into our running shoes. During this process I put on every piece of clothing I had with me; Jed persevered sans long pants without a word.

Psyched on the summit of Mt. Alice. I was in too much of a hurry to take my helmet off.

Happy the rocks are no longer buzzing on the summit of Mt. Alice.

When we emerged from our alcove it soon became apparent that things were subdued enough to actually go and tag our final summit (at 5:49pm) and descend to the south via Boulder-Grand Pass and down to Thunder Lake. Just as we dropped into the pass the skies opened up again in earnest and thunder was cracking over our heads—we were pretty psyched to be off the Divide.

While I’d been dreading it a bit when we were up high on the Divide, the run out the Wild Basin (a full 7 miles of trail from Thunder Lake down to our bikes at the road) ended up being one of the highlights of the day for me. As has been the case the second half of the summer, on a long gradual downhill like that my IT band actually feels better and better the faster I go, so I opened up my stride and enjoyed the perfectly graded, often cushy trail. Running along at dusk in mid-August in the evergreen forest at 10,000′ on springy trail after a rain, after 15 hours on the move and feeling some finish line fever…I had distinct flashbacks of joy and nostalgia to running the Colorado Trail around Turquoise Lake at the end of the Leadville 100, which I’ve done so many times. In that moment, I really missed racing, but at the same time felt thankful for the opportunity and ability to challenge myself in an all-day adventure of a different tenor.

Gear explosion at the Wild Basin TH before boarding the Reeb Cycles adventure rig.

Gear explosion at the Wild Basin TH before boarding the Reeb Cycles adventure rig.

An hour of running from the lake, we reached the Wild Basin Trailhead 15h48m after starting our day and were just left with the task of biking the 7.5 miles back up the highway to my truck at the LPTH. Jed got a couple minutes headstart as I was re-packing my bag and proceeded to crush the ride—I never caught up. I was also dawdling like a granny, even weaving at times due to some serious bonkage; I’d hit my last gel back at Thunder Lake, high in the Wild Basin.

All in all, this was an outstanding adventure with a truly top-notch partner. The Mt. Alice route was a bit of a disappointment, but it’s a beautiful mountain and worth including as an aesthetic extension of the loop. On that day, I said I had no desire to ever climb it again, but right now I’m pretty sure I’m gonna have to give this thing another shot next year, if only to do a proper route on the spectacular NW Face of Chiefshead. Time to up my climbing game.

Jen Segger: Running Canada’s Iconic West Coast Trail

IMG_4862Remote on Vancouver Island hides one of Canada’s most incredible treasures.   For decades, people from around the world have come to hike the rugged and challenging West Coast Trail, one of 3 parts of the Pacific Rim National Parks System, originally called The Dominion Lifesaving Trail. It was built in 1907 to facilitate the rescue of survivors of shipwrecks along the rugged coastline. Today, the 75km trail stretching between Bamfield and Port Renfrew is maintained by Parks Canada. In order to preserve the balance of visitor use and the environment, a permit to use the trail is required and merely obtaining one is difficult, as reservations sell out fast. Continue reading

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.

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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.

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Brandon Yonke: An Adventure to Reach the Summit

ElbertFireHDR
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.

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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.

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

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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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