When June rolled around I was excited for my summer gig, a job that had me road tripping around the Western US with the #yourlead van for three months. I was going to run all the trails + pile on the miles. With two big races scheduled for my fall I figured I would have no problem getting in my training. Little did I know how hard it is to fit running in with traveling!
by: Chantal Warriner
18 Women from Ontario, Canada with One Goal
901.5 km / 563 Miles (with detours at time of relay)
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 enthusiasts 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.
On 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.
As 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Remote 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
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 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.
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.
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).
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.