Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Speedgoat 50K, "The Toughest 50K in the U.S."

I registered for the Speedgoat (Toughest 50K in the U.S. according to race director and ultra running stud, Karl Meltzer) back in March or something, thinking I'd have plenty of time to get my milage up and actually prepare for the race.  Last year was a bit of a disaster, with the result being me on the ground on my driveway in full body cramps calling my wife for assistance into the house.  This year, a full work schedule and a huge snow year conspired to prevent a lot of sport specific training.  

We have managed a few good runs (Trans Zion, Ragnar as an ultra, and a couple in the 20 mile range with JD, Layne, Tanner and the Samurai), but the rest (a couple/week) have been of the 30-45 minute range as convenience dictates after work.  Thus, it was to my great surprise that today's race went about as smoothly as I could have hoped.  


The race was full with 250 participants.  The weather was forecasted to be warm but overcast skies and the threat of rain kept temps in a reasonable range. 

Start: 6:30AM

First Climb to Hidden Peak: 1:48.  I ran this section mostly with Chris C and Chuck K.  We kept it conversational and tried not to get ahead of ourselves.  The snow section above the Little Cloud lift was completely manageable with kicked steps and softish snow.  A fixed rope was in place for those unaccustomed to snow travel.  

Descent into Mineral Basin:  I lost a lot of time here as CC ran away from me.  The goal was to "manage" the down hill in an effort to save the legs.  Not sure that was worth it.  

Climb out of Mineral/Descent into Mary Ellen: From the aid station, I could see the leaders climbing back up Mineral in the wrong direction.  They missed the fairly well marked turn and lost 15+ minutes.  The descent into Mary Ellen Gulch was rocky and steep but better than the wrong turn we all took last year. 

Turn around (Pacific Mine aid station): I was still feeling pretty good at this point.  I drank some broth, ate a popsicle and was back out on the trail.  Last year, I sat down on a lawn chair and couldn't be persuaded to get up for quite some time.  

Climb back to Mineral Basin: This is a LONG rocky uphill section that most people fast hike.  There were very few runnable sections.  Near the top, the sun poked out and I managed the heat by packing snow in my shirt.  

Climb out of Mineral and to the tunnel:  For some reason, Karl put a 500+ ft "booter" up a 40 degree grass slope.  This made me feel more at home even though there wasn't any snow.  

Descent from the tunnel and climb back up to Hidden Peak: Steep down, steep up.  I made the decision to leave my pack at Hidden Peak the first time through and only had two gels for the whole race (on top of the aid station provisions).  Could have used an extra on this final climb.  

Descent from Hidden Peak to finish line: CC, Jason from OR, and I left about the same time.  Pretty soon it became apparent that I was going to bring up the rear of this trio.  A stitch kept the pace at bay but the legs were willing.  

My time was 6:35 and change, which was 45+ minutes faster than last year and good enough for 7th place today.  

Big ski days and a few long runs saved the day.  Next year with more specific training...??

Full results here.

And here's a hand drawn topo from the race website which very accurately shows the steepness of the ascents and descents.

I'll post more pics/links as they become available. 


~31 miles
10-11K(?) vertical climb
Pre race McSkillet burrito from Micky D's
12 electrolyte tabs
3 Liters EFS drink
Orange slices
Potato Chips
Shots of Coke, Red Bull, Sprite, and ginger ale
3 gels
PBJ sandwich bites
1 popsicle
And a few gulps of water from an irresistible stream.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Black Ice Couloir, GTNP

I have four days off this month so in an effort to maintain my sanity, I made another sleep deprived mad dash to the Tetons.  I was teaming up with locals, Nate Brown and Brian Harder, for the Black Ice Couloir and then anything else for which we had time and energy.  

Eating lunch prior to making the drive to Jackson, my fortune read as pictured to the left.  While not necessarily "bold", the BI goes at the modest grade of IV, AI 3-4, 5.7.  However, I think most will agree that it is more serious than the rating given the lengthy traverse/route finding to the base and the significant objective hazard.

The word the last few years is that the Black is back after a warm spell in which the ancient glacial ice melted, leaving a chossy gun barrel.  So, with that in mind, Nate called up the ranger station to inquire about recent conditions and was told it was "out".  On further questioning, the ranger replied it was "sloppy" and generally best avoided all together.  Luckily, NB and BH know a lot of people up there and got the real story.  

After some debate, we decided to meet at the trailhead at midnight rather than haul the bivy gear up to the saddle to spend the night with the rest of the herd headed to the GT.  I planned on sleeping a couple hours but laid in my car listening to thunder and rain percuss the roof.  At a quarter till, BH called wondering what the hell the weather was doing.  Then NB rolled in and laughed it off.  That's one reason I like threesomes in the mountains - someone is always willing, and it's harder to talk two out of an objective.  

Walking in running shoes to the meadows, we made good time before donning the big boots and crampons for the slog up to the lower saddle.  Well under 3 hours after leaving the cars, we stashed our extra gear (shoes, poles) and began probing for the Valhalla Traverse in the dark.  The boys had done it before and we more or less found our way without mishap or detour.  
BH negotiating hard snow on the Valhalla Traverse
Erroneously, I had imagined the traverse to be a stone throw from the saddle.  Well over an hour later after crossing the third or fourth gully/ridge system, I better understood it's reputation.  As the day dawned clear, the ominous foreboding gave way to awe as I looked at my favorite peaks from a new vantage.  

Contemplating an airy step in crampons over a couple thousand feet of exposure on the Valhalla.

BH (red jacket) traversing under the Enclosure Couloir after waiting to take pictures of us getting established under the Black Ice Couloir.

The route via the VT begins after crossing under the Enclosure Couloir.  First a small snow/ice field is crossed to reach a 200 foot 5.7 rock pitch.  We were planning on soloing as much of the route as we deemed acceptable to mitigate the time exposed to rock fall, but I was relieved when Nate agreed to pull out the ropes.  We brought two 100 foot pieces of 8 mm half rope which served to part belay, part simul climb this casual (in hindsight) rock step. 

BH in red and NB in black

The pitch begins at the top of the left/middle snow field.  

And then we turned the corner and found beautiful alpine ice, weaving its way through that huge NW face.  
The boys getting started.
As pictured, we were all rocking tights, which are the only way to move in the mountains and make all butt shots that much better.  

It was unanimous that we group solo the route, particularly after getting strafed by a golf ball at the top of the rock pitch.  From there on I was wide eyed and full of respect for our position.  The argument can be made for roped pitches since getting hit might only maim instead of kill, but to us, the stronger argument was to get the hell out of there as fast as we could, which meant soloing.  
NB rapping Eminem in the BI.  "Shady...will ----- kill you..."

AD and NB probably starting to wonder if our calves are ever going to get a break. (photo by BH)
 Here are a few candid photos that catch the respect for potential rock fall in our eyes...

Photo by BH

Photo by NB
And a bunch more to display the fun nature of the icy ribbons and mixed sections...

BH butt shot.  Delicious.

This part was super fun with the rock providing decent rests and more interesting climbing. (photo by NB)

Photo by NB

Next series by Nate Brown

Then Nate shot a sequence of me and Brian almost completely in sync.  By this point, I was reeling from lack of sleep and trying to keep up with these guys, who on rocky mixed terrain are superb athletes.   In fact, now is probably a good time to mention that BH is older than dirt but still FLYS!  He has found the fountain of youth in those hills and now runs about punishing all comers. 

With the couloir narrowing and the crux impending, we decided to climb one at a time.  Brian leapt ahead while Nate and I found a relatively flat island of safety.  We heard a couple grunts from above and I peered out into the line of fire to see BH stemming up the crux to pull the chockstone.  That was enough to opt for the mental crutch of the half rope again.  Nate was kind enough to grant me the lead, telling me to get some gear in early since his anchor was "unreliable".  A garbage cam and a rusty piton were all I found until just before the crux where I actually wanted something.  Arms and calves protesting, I scratched my way awkwardly around the bulge and joined Brian at a small stance and brought Nate up.  

By this point, I was imploding...again.  Last time, it was also the combination of a lack of sleep and Brian Harder.  Today, the mental strain of knowing climbers were mucking about on the Owen Spalding unwittingly firing shots our way, only exacerbated my fatigued state.  The other guys were upbeat, singing, rapping, and dancing their way up the ice.   Moving more slowly, I was the last to top out.

Just above the crux of the BI.
Stumbling onto the upper saddle, I let out a whoop of relief and joy.  The guys were smiling and my mood went from desperate to relaxed in a heart beat.  I shed my pack, ate some gel and marveled at the wild arena where we had spent the morning.  I'm not sure how long we were climbing, BH would know better, but looking back it feels ephemeral.  

Leaving our packs and gear strewn about, we took a stroll up the Owen Spalding, my first time on that route, and tagged the summit.  Basking in the sun like lazy lizards, I wanted to take a nap.  Nate or Brian, I'm not sure now, urged me up and down to the packs.  I think the other guys would have liked to enchain some other classic lines but I was wasted.  Plus, my day wouldn't be done until back in SLC. 
GT summit!  This is a funny pic b/c Nate looks like a little kid. 
Nate down climbing the OS on the GT
A few hours later, we were sitting amongst the tourists at Dornan's, happy not to be choking on gels anymore.  Then came another epic drive back to SLC and some long awaited sleep, which for a couple days had been traded for another grand adventure.  I'll trade a transient dream for the real thing any day.

Gear list:

La Sportiva Baturas
Petzl Darts
Running tights with Crazy Idea over tights
BD Couloir Harness
BD uncomfortable heavy pack
Camp Speed Helmet
Grivel Quantum Tech Ice Tools
BD Spinner Leash
Edelweiss 8.2mm Half Ropes 2x30m
Various slings and a few cams/nuts/pins/unused screws

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Circle of Life

Me and JD (photo by CJ W)
The skiing has come and gone...8 months in a flash.  I went up with brother JD and his buddy CJ to ski Suicide Chute a couple days ago.  We only had to walk about 8 steps on dirt before reaching "snow" on the slowly melting Superior apron.  In the chute, we found mild runnels, a now double fall line, scattered rocks, and a persistent cornice. The skiing was, as it always is, thoroughly enjoyable.  
I skied in short running shorts and tucked my jacket in them (a la Jared Inouye) to keep my skins from falling out as I didn't even carry a pack.  JD was in the customary tights and CJ was bashing his uncovered knees on the ice while making wild tele turns.  I didn't know the man, but it felt like an appropriate way to honor Bean Bowers, who at the end of this tribute, gives some great life advice...

"... and this week I’m just really appreciating life. Friends, health, the colors in the sky…. The experience was simply a vivid reminder that all is good and mundane and seemingly going your way until suddenly it is not, and then luck or the lack thereof steers our inevitable destiny. I am taking my winnings to go live fully through a few more, and trying hard to remind myself to keep it nonmundane and dynamic, always. Go do something wild today."

Not very wild, but it was the best we could muster on a week night with work early the next morning. My imagination is another story as I now shift my attention to long climbs and long running. Both of which will hopefully leave me better prepared for next season.

But for now, I'm left pondering the last 8 months and near countless days on snow. And, although many goals were left unfulfilled, other accomplishments, both planned and otherwise, have left me feeling supremely blessed. Blessed to have seen and gone to these wild places that we chase and to have gone there with so many solid partners.

So thanks to all 40+ of you who this last year made moving through the mountains that much more fun.

Here's my top ten list for the year. It's just a simple list of my favorite days. Links provided if available, specifically to other sites so my partners can share their perspective. Enjoy!
Honorable Mention: Too many to even mention.

10. Timp Traverse: here and here

9.  Roger's Pass: here and here

8.  Pfeifferhorn, NE Face or the Pfeifferhorn N Ridge ...can't decide.

6.  High Sierra - Split Mountain, Split Couloir

3.  Hulk Hogum, here and here

2.  Grand Teton Speed, here and here and here

1.  4/1/11: The day that for sure will change my life more than any of these others.  The day Jessie told me that we are expecting our first child.  A lot of you are great role models and have stated without reservation that kids enrich one's life more than any of this other stuff.  We've since found out it's a boy and we are torn on names.  Any suggestions?  

Can't wait till next year...

And to those of you who run in the SLC area, we are running most evenings around 6.  And by we, I mean the newly minted, four member, Sugar House Track Club.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Grand Rejection

The Middle on fire
Tuesday, July 5th was to likely be my last hurrah for this ski season.  Jon S and I both had the day off and we decided (with the gracious support from our wives) to make a sleepless trip to visit the object of my recent affection, the Grand Teton.

Jon has never skied the GT and was psyched.  He's always psyched though.  That's what makes him a great partner.  Anyway, a 10 PM departure from SLC, after we had both worked all day saw us driving into the night and arriving at the Lupine TH at 3:00 AM. 

We packed up WAY too much gear and set out at a brisk hike up to Garnet, passing numerous mountaineers.  That should have been our first clue that the season was closing.  If those trains of people think they can walk up the trail, over the summer snow pack, and then scramble up dry rock, then what I'm I doing trying to go skiing?  

The day dawned as we worked our way up to the JHMG high camp.  Brilliant rays of pink and orange were split by the peaks creating the morning play of light.  We skinned on a firm base but soft surface that allowed fast travel if one were inclined.  The name of the game that morning was slow and steady. 

Booting only a few steps out of the thousands of feet from the Meadows, we arrived at the Glencoe Col happy to get on with some semi technical climbing.  Our plan was to follow Bill Briggs' tracks and climb the Stettner, boot the East Face, tag the summit, and then flip it for the ski down.  Jon hadn't ever climbed ice and was about to get a crash course in one of the most stunning class rooms around.  I pulled the corner to the shadowy Stettner and was horrified to find that "our" wintery secret garden was now a deep rock strewn slushy goulotte. 

"Hmmmm," I thought, "better go up anyway and take a look."  

Jon came around the corner and was quiet.  I had him wait at the lowest fixed anchor in a safe alcove and scrambled up, hands and knees getting wetter with each step.  While running with water and bare in many places, I thought we could at least climb the thing if we were fast.  Then I reached a larger rock step with free flowing water that was percolating through the upper Stettner.  

Not the place to be as the sun was getting higher and higher.  

My favorite ski descent a few days too late
Looking down the Stettner.  Look closely, Jon is peaking out from his safe spot. 

My inner monologue continued for a minute or two while water splashed my lightweight red MH jacket and I snapped the above photos.  

"Well, maybe we can ski from the summit. It's sure to be fantastic corn... Ahhh, but then we'd have to rap down this gun barrel as it gets hot... So what, the anchors are all in relatively safe spots... Damn it.  Who am I kidding?"  

I quickly down climbed to Jon and relayed the bad news.  Here's part of our conversation.

Untitled from andy dorais on Vimeo.

Jon was a good sport and was more than happy to support the decision.  And, as he said, "Live to ski powder another day."  In fact, he was content with the day from the moment we stepped out of the car and the intense stars caught his attention unlike the dull night sky in SLC.  Good partners make the day.  A lesser person would have been resentful for the outcome. 

Jon, smiling ear to ear in spite of just finding out that we would not be tagging the summit.

I guess this was why.  That man loves skiing and he realized he had a few thousand feet of corn at his feet.
Bill's route heads down the East Face before cutting back into the Stettner (bottom right)
While I would have loved to have forced the day and skied the Brigg's Route, I'm happy with the decision to listen to the mountain screaming at us to go home.  In the Alstrin film, Higher Ground, I think it's Sean Issac who talks about how there is no feed back for the alpinist who makes the right choice.  A wrong decision leads to a broken leg or worse.  The right one?  A long car ride of "what ifs".  

Oh well.  As new friend Christian said afterwards, "The Grand's not going anywhere."  Then he posted this and now this addict is about to go through a 4 month agonizing withdrawal. 

169 days till winter