Saturday, August 27, 2011

Gannett Peak Solo Run, IAD

View from Gannett summit
At 13,804 feet, Gannett is the highest point in Wyoming.  That always disappointed me because I thought the Grand should be the highest.  Well, it turns out Gannett is a worthy mountain.  There aren't a lot of easy options when it comes to actually getting to the peak so it is oft referred to as the "hardest" of the lower 48 state high points.  

My pops was heading up to climb it with a local climbing club over 3-4 days.  I thought it would be fun to run the peak in a day and on the way in and out stop by their camp, shoot the breeze, and receive a morale boost from seeing friendly faces over a long solo effort.

Check out the Jay Z tribute/budget Gannett running movie...

Gannett Peak solo in a day from andy dorais on Vimeo.

The route was the long standard path from Elkhart on the Pole Creek Trail, to the Seneca Lake Trail, to the Highline Trail, past Island Lake, into Titcomb Basin, over the Dinwoody/Bonnie Pass, across the Dinwoody Glacier, up the lower ridge of the Gooseneck Pinnacle, across the Gooseneck Glacier, over the berschrund, and then up to the summit along the beautiful thin ridge line.  The exit would be the above in reverse.  

Round trip distance 42.2 miles with near 10,000 feet of gain.  

My goals at the outset were to not get benighted, to not get caught in one of the frequent afternoon electrical storms, to get good pictures and video footage on my point n shoot to make the above movie, and to make the summit of course.  I was faintly aware that the "fastest known time" for Gannett was 12 hours and some change from one of the shorter trails but I wasn't going for speed.  I tried that last weekend and just ended up with a sprained ankle.  Plus, I'm not accustomed to 40+ mile efforts...yet.  

I made the drive through scattered thunderstorms on Thursday and was surprised that it's less than 5 hours to the TH.  I packed up a hefty heap of junk, thinking that since I was solo I should do like the boy scouts and "be prepared".  This led to extras like a puffy, pants, rain shell, roll of tape, lighter, extra food, etc, being added to the pack.  Not cool.  

I chatted with a really kind couple from New York for a few minutes before retiring to my favorite place to sleep - the back of Subaru (if I'm sleeping there, an adventure is imminent).   Constant bursts of lightening resulted in a fitful few hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 3:30a.  A cold breakfast and half an hour later I was off, armed with the memorized directions, chasing the beam of my headlamp.   I ran by feel, judging the gradual ups and downs by my breathing, trying to move at what Jared calls "guide pace" i.e. all day pace.  

Finally getting light
After a couple hours, it was light enough to turn off the lamp and I was struck by the austere beauty of the high alpine lakes and rugged terrain.  Another hour and I intruded into a campsite with a familiar tent and called out my dad's name.  It was 7:00a and I woke the poor guy from what was certainly a poor night's sleep.  We chatted for a few minutes and he pointed me in the right direction.  His summit bid was to be the next day.  I told him I wouldn't do anything stupid like cross a sketchy snow bridge or fall in a crevasse.  

An hour and twenty minutes later, I caught my first glimpse of Gannett and started rock hopping down to the Dinwoody Glacier.  Following in the tracks of prior parties to avoid the very small but present crevasses, I ran across the glacier and obtained the lower Pinnacle Ridge, which served as an easy scramble to the Gooseneck Glacier.  

View from Bonnie Pass, looking toward Gannett
There, I bumped into Tom Egan of JHMG and his two clients.  Tom was one of the nicest guys you could meet in the mountains, offering chocolate then and food in camp later.  I thanked him and said I had a lifetime supply of unpalatable gels and was quickly off to investigate the snow bridge that allows easy passage over the bergschrund.  

The 'schrund was impressive and the snow bridge seemed pathetically small from below.  From above though, it had fallen in on itself and seemed solid enough.  Then, it was a quick scramble/snow traverse along a most gorgeous section of the continental divide to the summit.  6:30 minutes after starting down the dark trail, I was on the summit looking west.  The Tetons were clearly visible but shrouded in dark clouds, motivating me to get out of the high alpine.  

Looking west from Gannet summit toward stormy skies over the Grand Teton

Mistimed this self portrait

First rule of glacier travel...
Reversing the route, I was captivated by a butterfly, partially frozen in the ice, fighting for its life.  Then I poked my leg through a crevasse.  I was getting complacent, thinking I was through any perilous terrain. I still had to go over the pass and try to make it out 20ish miles before the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in.  

Life and death struggle
Back in Titcomb Basin, I stopped by my dad's camp and warmed some water for a 'cup of noodles' that I had brought along.  I casually mentioned that the "Fastest Known Time" for Gannett was 12 hours and change but from a different trailhead.  He tried to convince me to rally out of there since I was at 9 hours and it had taken me 3:15 to get to that point earlier that morning.  Not my goal and feeling like I'd be unlikely to keep that same pace out, I sat down and enjoyed the Ramen noodles.  We chatted a bit longer for a total of around 20 minutes between both stops through his camp.  Then I was off, running and shuffling and running.  

For a while, it looked like I was going to get caught by some gnarly looking storms but the dark clouds miraculously parted, leaving the sun to dehydrate me further.  Around 8 miles to go, I ran out of water and therefore couldn't eat anything else.  Not that I'd done a good job eating since leaving my old man's camp.  Too many gels earlier left me with a sour stomach.  I did my best to hike the rolling up hill and run the rest.  I figured there was no rush since I thought the FKT was out of the bag.  

I began seeing more and more tourists and could feel the end.  Then I could see it.  Then done.  

Final time: 12 hours and 45 minutes and 55 seconds.  
My big watch

Decent for a fun run in which I was able to visit with my dad and other hikers, try and make a budget home movie, and never really rush things.  Turns out, I should have stopped less and run harder since the current speed record is 12 hours and 39 minutes by Peter Bakwin in 2009.  He however, ran the shorter Tourist Creek trail, which measures around 36 miles with less overall vertical.  As an unexpected consolation prize, I'm guessing my run was the fastest to date from the standard trail head.  I think that speaks to the relative paucity of attempts at running Gannet fast.  

Brian Harder has dubbed all things fast regarding the Grand Teton, the Grand Teton Speed Project or GTSP.  Will we see a GPSP?  Sub 9 or 10 seems completely reasonable for a "real" ultra runner, and I know of dozens that are capable.  

The obvious difference between the two is the distance, with Gannet being three times as long.  Also, with significant time on snow/glaciers, I opted to bring along crampons and an ice axe.  Going solo led to me carrying extra gear.  Water is abundant, but over the first/last 10 miles, it was quite stagnant and I chose to suffer in the moment instead of run the risk of future GI discomfort. Longer time out means more risk of being caught by storms.  So many factors must be entered into this equation but at the end of the day, it's just going for a run.


12 gels
2L Gatorade
1 packet Cytomax
Hammer salt tabs
Stale bagel

La Sportiva Skylite running shoes
Mountain Hardware Fluid 18 pack
Kahtoola aluminum crampons
Black Diamond carbon Z poles
Camp Corsa axe
80s glasses
Big Garmin watch

and a bunch of other unused clothes/food/junk

Thursday, August 25, 2011

SHTC: Pfeifferhorn Group Run

The club is growing.  Last night we had 6 come out to "run" the Pfeiff.  3 more showed up late and so the trail was littered with our posse.
Josh, up in the Wasatch alpine for the first time and loving it.

Most tagged the summit but others did not due to time constraints.  Who cares...  It was a fun run and the weather was perfectly cool high above the valley.  

Next up: A trip to the Wind River Range.  Hopefully I'll get some good pics/video and will post up when I get back.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Grand Teton Time Trial

Very happy to be done
Total time: 4:12:14.  Decent for our first attempt, but we fell short of our goal, which was to run the Grand Teton, car-to summit-to car, in less than four hours.   Here's how it played out for those interested in a long winded description of a long run.

Jessie and I drove up the day before and had a relaxing time before Jason picked me up the next morning at our hotel. Driving into the park, dark clouds threatened the high peaks and rain drops splattered on JD's cracked windshield.  Early morning light set the valley ablaze and a rainbow hung over the Village.  Thinking we were about to get weathered out, Jason suggested we go on a rainbow hunt instead of climbing mountains.

We went climbing.  Actually, we went running, hiking, and scrambling.  Leaving the Lupine TH just before 8:00a, Jason set the pace at just over 6 minute miles.  I immediately dug myself a hole and stayed in it all morning.  He slowed and settled into a rhythm as the trail kicked up, but I was near threshold the entire time.  45ish minutes later, we arrived in the Meadows and I got a chance to somewhat recover on the flat before heading up the summer trail toward the Moraine.  We both choked down our second gels and even though I was slowing down, I felt like we were making reasonable progress.

The boot track up the snow field was the way to the Lower Saddle and on arrival, the watch read 1:40.  Good.  We had some splits from Professor Harder and Speedy French to shoot for, and we thought we were in good position...

Then I blew up.  Head bumping, feet catching on every shard of rock, I encouraged Jason to move ahead and leave me for dead.  He had never climbed the Owen Spalding and wasn't sure of the route and figured it would be just as fast to match my pace and follow me through the rock above.  

The scrambling went smoothly as we took the Catwalk variation at Harder's suggestion.   Finding ourselves on the summit in 2:35, this was easily the worst leg of the run.   We lost around 10+ minutes while I struggled to regain my manhood over this dark stretch.  On top, I choked down my fourth gel, felt like throwing up, then started down.  I didn't once look at the view.  

We down climbed slowly, not willing to take big risks to save time here.  Still high on the mountain, someone asked us if we were impervious to cold.  Hardly, but short shorts and T-shirts make sense when trying to move as fast as possible (same for tights in the winter).  After a couple dead ends on the way down to the Lower Saddle, we found our way and were soon trying not to take a glissade for life as we tread carefully in the boot steps of others down the headwall.  

Then we were running again over the snow field and back onto the Moraine to catch the summer trail down to the Meadows.  Running until Jason felt a twinge in his adductors that turned into a full blown refractory muscle cramp that held him up for 5 minutes or so.  I jogged ahead, preferring slow movement to standing still.  Then while exchanging pleasantries with another party, I rolled my ankle.  I hobbled about before it felt strong enough to start running, forced down my fifth and final gel, and walked a bit, looking for Jason's red shirt.  

He caught up soon enough and we were off charging through the Meadows, looking forward to the smoother trail out of Garnet.  Then my right ankle gave way and I felt my lateral malleolus touch the ground.  Some minutes and much swearing later, I was again running, paying supreme attention to the footing and my gimpy ankle.  

Like two 1/2 Asian bowling balls, we rolled down the trail as tourist and heavy laden climbers jumped out of the way.  The watch continually read under 6 min mile pace.  Our sub 4 hour goal out of reach, we were now pushing to go under Brandon's time of 4:20.  At the Amphitheater Lake turn off, Jason began to pull away a bit as I felt the lead return to my legs.  

Running and running and running.  

Then done.  


Jason was waiting at the trailhead, having arrived 59 seconds earlier.  We chatted with some friends in the parking lot, drank and drank, and kicked off our shoes, letting our feet breath.  Then it was off to meet our lady friends, who kindly provided us with an abundance of food, and then to the lake to cool our weary legs in the crystal Teton water.  

Here's a cool recap from Jason's watch:

How to go faster:
1. Run more.  This is simple.  I need to run more and spend a greater percentage of my running in the mountains.  The roads are convenient but don't translate.  Higher milage and better endurance would allow a more sustained pace.  Time at altitude would also help. Time advantage - 20 minutes? 

2. Now that we are more familiar with the route up to the Upper Saddle and the OS, a few minutes could be shaved. Time advantage - 3-5 minutes?

3. Start slower.  I buried myself at the beginning and was never able to pull back out.  A more metered effort would ultimately be faster.  But, this goes back to better fitness and point number one.  Time advantage - 3-5 minutes?

4. Have a clean run.  No cramping (Jason), no rolled ankles (me).  Time advantage - 5 minutes?

5. Cooler weather. It was warm up to the LS and then back down.  I prefer slightly cooler temps.  Time advantage - 2 minutes?

6. Better conditions.  This one is a mystery.  I think the summer trail is the fastest but one can't argue with the speed of a nice glissade and low impact running over snow fields rather than boulder hopping.  However, I'm sure I'd lack the courage to jump headlong into a glissade sans piolet.  Time advantage - ??

Add it up and with perfect training, conditions, and execution, I think 37 minutes might melt off.  Still no where close to Bryce Thatcher's 1983 record of 3:06.  It makes for a fun project though.  Finding my personal limits on such an iconic mountain continues to capture my attention and imagination.  

La Sportiva Skylite running shoes - Light with sticky rubber but retains a running shoe feel.
Nathan waist belt for water bottle
Very short shorts 

5 Powergels
One bottle of Cytomax
One bottle of Gatorade
One mouthful of Shot Bloks that I couldn't even chew let alone swallow.  

Something to think about...

Running Grand Teton trailer from Teton Movie on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hidden Peak Threshold "Run" and the SHTC

Yesterday for "track practice" a group five strong headed up to Snowbird to put in a threshold effort from the tram deck to the top of Hidden Peak.  I drove up with Double D and met the Sherpita, Jake T, and Jon S around 6:30p.  Sans warm up, we were off, quickly finding Peruvian Gulch Trail, which we took to the cat track on Chip's. 

Relaxing on the summit by throwing rocks. 
Cat tracks are boring, so we jumped on the Cirque Trail and took the ridge to the summit.  A little running and a lot of "fast hiking" on the steeps landed us on the summit, tagging the warming hut in 46:33.  That's the fastest I've gone but I think keeping to the cat track would be the fastest.  I'll find out another day. 

We regrouped on top and threw a few rocks like little kids on a summer day before shuffling back down to the car. 

Runs like this are great prep for bigger projects like the Grand Teton Speed Run, which has seen a rejuvenation of interest this summer.  With the record being an insane 3 hours 6 minutes, and standing since 1983, we're not going to touch that.  But, we will try our hand a couple times to smooth out the route and try to run as fast as we can.  More later...

That's were the Sugarhouse Track Club comes into play. A solid group has been meeting once a week for intervals in the park or a mountain type run as well as daily easy runs around the city or convenient trails.  The idea is to maintain/improve fitness for winter and to prepare for some impending summer/fall projects such as the GT, Trans Zion, and Rim to Rim to Rim.  The more the merrier so if anyone is interested, contact me here or at and I'll add you to the list of folks that get the invites.  

Happy Running