When 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.
Well, that was worthwhile.
It’s not like I’m realizing anything ground-breaking here—in fact, mountain and ultrarunners crossing over to skimo in the winter months is treading perilously close to the tipping point of being cliche—but holy shit, what an absolutely fantastic sport! If you like moving quickly and efficiently* in the mountains, this style and format of activity is the only one that makes sense in the winter. *(I prefer the “efficiently” adverb, because I believe it is one’s mindset and intent—not absolute velocity—that positively or negatively shapes the experience.)
Of course, the Euros have known this for a long time; they have a deep, intense pool of athletes over there who have been going at this for decades. Backcountry skiing or alpine touring in general is certainly nothing new here in the States, but it is definitely a growing sector, and with big advances in lightweight gear, runners (and others) with a bent for the mountains are increasingly being attracted to the sport’s extreme light-n-fast sector—skimo racing. So it shouldn’t come as much surprise that Ultimate Direction is making the logical cross-over, too. Garment-like hydration vests/packs with front carrying capacity have become the norm in running; why not apply the same design principles to skimo-specific packs? I’ve certainly been enjoying testing the new products.
Last month I was out at dinner with some friends when my friend Roch started talking about his hope to one day ski the length of the John Muir Trail. The JMT—the classic 200+ mile route through the High Sierra from Mt Whitney to Yosemite Valley—is an extremely popular summer hike, but Roch figured it had only been skied a couple of times. This conversation was quite inspirational for me—Roch is an undeniably compelling and confidence-inducing orator— and I started thinking about the kinds of things I could reasonably do on skis.
I doubt I’ll ever have the skills or confidence to be scratching and jump-turning my way down the really steep stuff in the mountains, but the thought of covering a lot of miles over the mountains on more mellow terrain holds a distinct appeal. More “ski touring” I suppose, than “ski mountaineering”. This appeal is facilitated in no small part by the fact that such activity relies on a physical capacity—all day endurance—that I’ve been honing my entire life, as opposed to the more skilled and technical requirements of steeper descents. Skills I certainly don’t currently possess. Maybe I’ll get there one day.
I knew it was a different morning on Longs when I left the parking lot with a bare head and bare hands. Usually I’m pretty chilly at the trailhead, but on this day the sweat was pouring off my eyebrows and nose on the very first steep cut up through the trees, and instead of dreading the breeze at treeline I welcomed it for its cooling properties.
Whenever one has a mishap in the backcountry, the chain of decisions and events that led up to it always seem so obvious in hindsight. But I suppose that’s just the way it works. I was battling a bit of a head cold and was feeling beat down from a previous 10 days of high-volume outings, so on this morning I resolved to just wake up whenever my body wanted, not interrupting my slumber with the typical 5am alarm that I set when I’m planning on an ascent of Longs Peak. As such, I arrived at the trailhead an hour later than usual, and on top of that it was a gloriously warm day—temps in Boulder later in the day would reach the low-70s.
I was fortunate enough to achieve many of my adventure running ambitions in 2012 (including three outings that were so good that I am determined to repeat them in 2013: the Ten Mile Range Traverse, the Glacier Gorge Traverse in Rocky Mt. Nat’l Park, and Gannet Peak IAD (in-a-day) in Wyoming), though I was just beginning to realize the potential for fun that exists when one combines running and moderate technical climbing; in 2013 I am excited to further explore this hybridization of activities and tackle some even bigger and more committing objectives.
The other day I was thinking about what it is that compels me to maintain Boulder, CO as my home base (i.e., my winter crash pad and touchstone of all things urban and civilized in the summer season). Aside from the fact that I have friends here and I enjoy the compact layout of the city, more and more my motivation has become the city’s iconic Flatirons. Not the trails that surround these 50-55 degreed slabs of stone, nor the pair of peaks (Green and Bear) upon which they reside, but rather, the towering chunks of rock themselves and the proximity they have to a thriving city center. Quite simply, if I lived anywhere else on the Front Range I know that I would spend most of my time dreaming and scheming as to when I could make a trip to Boulder to link together a few thousand feet of scrambling. Makes a lot more sense to just continue residence and save myself all of that inevitable stressful yearning.
CAPTION THIS PHOTO!
We received an incredible response to that question on our Facebook Page – over 850(!) of you wrote what you thought they were thinking, over 100 people Shared it on their own FB Page, and over 20,000 people viewed the photograph and your proposed Captions, some of which were hilarious. Good job!
The photo is from the Leadville 100, where Scott Jurek paced Anton Krupicka the last 25 miles. The look on their faces is so striking, Scott asked me where it was from – and even though I (Buzz) took the picture, I had no idea either – none of us could remember this moment – so your Captions are just as good as ours!
The Caption with the most “Likes” will be awarded a Signature Series vest of their choice when they become available late this year.
After a hot, mostly flat, nearly 5hr, post-Speedgoat 50K drive from Salt Lake City to Jackson, Frosty and I suffered through the downtown tourist traffic (such novices! take the side streets to skirt the masses!) and headed directly to Teton Mountaineering where, with nary a pause, I dropped $40 on A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range (3rd Edition), justifying it as a birthday present to myself. The cashier quipped, “Getting the bible, eh?” I didn’t need to, but I like books and I like mountains, and this book is an exemplary nexus of the two.
UPDATE 8/23: Andy Anderson just took 59 seconds off Kilian’s time … the Grand FKT stood for 29 years until finally surpassed by Kilian, which only lasted for 12 days!
THE MEN’S COURSE RECORD …
Kyle Skaggs left his indelible print on the event in 2008, when he blew away the course record by over 2 1/2 hours. Just four years previous, the race was won in 30:39 – Kyle did it more than 7 hours faster, and remains the only person to go under 24 hours.
So how did he do that?
Kyle was extremely dialed that day – he spent way less than a minute at nearly every aid station. I was there. I was supposed to pace him, but about 10 days out from the race I developed an angry neuroma in my foot, so was reduced to crewing, along with Nate and Petra McDowell.
That was the third summer in a row he lived in Silverton and trained on the course. That year he moved to Silverton on April 23rd -I remember the date, because we had been roommates since January and had been trail-bumming in northern Arizona. On that day he got fed up with the Grand Canyon’s heat, booted me from his Toyota Corolla station wagon (the “Deerslayer”) in Flagstaff, and drove off for the high country. Two and a half months of acclimation allowed him to move faster on Hardrock’s alpine course – and allowed him to keep his stomach solid at those altitudes on race day, eating nothing but gels and one PB&J.
But none of this is why Kyle crushed the course with a 23:23:30.
Instead, it was simply that Kyle went in with no preconceptions on what a reasonable pace was. He ran off of effort. And he kept his mind steady.
While the Sawatch Range in central Colorado is impressively high–it’s home to 15 peaks over 14,000′–it’s not a very technical group of mountains. Most routes are Class 1 or 2 walk-ups, and the mountains themselves have often been accused of not really being much more than giant talus piles. (This reputation is not without basis, but I happen to enjoy talus fields.)
One of the notable exceptions to this is the uber-classic Ellingwood Ridge (really the mountain’s northeast ridge) on La Plata Peak (14,336′). This burly sawtooth of a line looks incredible when lit up in soft evening light, but no matter what time of day it is it commands one’s attention, whether viewed from the trailhead parking lot, Independence Pass, or the crest of the NW Ridge on La Plata’s standard hiking route.
Although the guidebooks allow that most major difficulties on the line can be kept to Class 3 with some creative route-finding and some humble descents below the actual ridge, these same guidebooks also warn about just how long the ridge is (2mi), and thus, how much time it takes to summit (a lot). Sean O’Day’s trip report from almost exactly a year ago–while completed in markedly different snow conditions (Colorado is incredibly dry this year)–cites 9hr just to make the summit! And Sean is a strong trail/mountain runner and experienced mountaineer.
I didn’t see how that could possibly be the case, though, so only compromised my usual bare-bones approach by bringing 13oz of water and a gel…just in case (I would consume both).