Nov 20, 2016

Late Season

I've been idle the past month, running and hiking around 50km per week and not traveling very far from home.  It's been a good respite letting my body and mind focus on different things.  This past weekend was my final weekend in that mode before the upcoming winter and I wanted a quiet and peaceful trip.  I drove up to the Southern Sierra hoping to reach the summit of Mt. Whitney via the Main Trail with a night camping at Trail Camp at 12K ft.  I've summit Whitney nine times but never have I camped on the way up the eastside so it was to be a different experience.
There was a death on the Mountaineers Route this past Tuesday and predictably I got the "you might not return" spiel from a ranger at the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center.  I started my 2-day backpack at 4pm at the desolate Whitney Portal.  I prefer the Mountaineers Route but not knowing the conditions as well as being alone I decided to stick to the easy and mindless trail.
After packing my (very) cold clothing in my pack I headed out on the main trail at 4pm and to a crisp 37 degrees.  There was hardly anyone out on the trail much to my delight and I hiked for 3.5 hours, 2.5 of which were in the dark.  The moon had not come up allowing the stars to show their brilliance on the hike up.  Unfortunately, thinking I was going to breathe some fresh mountain air on the way up, the air had a tinge of smokey smell to it much to my disappointment and at sundown could see the Owens Valley streaked with a thin layer of smoke.  I donned microspikes at 11K to navigate the hard snow and weaved my way up to Trail Camp which I saw 2 individuals camping for the night.  By this time the wind was constant with strong intermittent 60mph gusts.  I tried to find a protected spot but there was no hiding from the erratic winds.  It turns out my 3-season tent was not up for the challenge.  All night I tended to the tent, placing large rocks inside the corners of the tent while tying down the fly.  Even then the gusts would toy with the rocks and it made for a sleep deprived night.  I got up early, hid my tent and sleeping bag in some rocks and headed up.  Microspikes and all my (5) layers were adequate.  Strong easterly winds were piercing and although I don't know the exact temp my water froze in my bottle after a short time.  I would venture to guess it was single digits with wind chill.  My toes even in my more substantial Salomon X-Alp were getting painful and once I reached Trail Crest at 13600 ft the winds were even more ferocious.  It made me off balance as well and didn't make my feet any better.  After descending from Trail Crest to the west side of Whitney a short way, the gusts with debris stopped me cold a couple of times.  Knowing I had a 4.8 (2.4 to/from) miles of wind exposed trail to go before reaching the summit (and returning to the same spot) I didn't think I could have remotely enjoyed being blasted by the wind for the next 2-3 hours so I turned back.  The speed of the cloud cover moving over the Whitney Massif was alarming partway down so I figured it was a good decision, looking for any rationale.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed my quiet hike down back to the Portal.  I'll come back in the winter to attempt a summit bid via the MR route. 

(FYI, on the way back on Hwy 395 there was a massive smoke plume coming from the (way) southern Sierra near Olancha.)

Anyway here are some photos:

Smoke in the distance

Wind shaped clouds


Didn't stay here much longer.

Oct 17, 2016

Final Sierra Weekend?

Another opportunity to head out to the Sierra for a few days before winter chill? Most definitely.  A big storm was coming off the Pacific and hitting the central and northern Range of Light but sparing the southern end.  Instead of snow there were 30-50mph winds all weekend without fail but with fairly clear skies.  That allowed a Langley summit, amazingly only my second time up the "easiest" Sierra 14er but boy that frigid wind was piercing.  A stunning view of the Whitney region greeted me at the top and I hunkered down away from the wind long enough to not get frozen and down a bag of chips.  Down "Old" Army Pass and back to Horseshoe for another windy night by the fire.  It turns out most of the Sierra got dumped on with the hope of good things to come.  If this was my last weekend out there until next year then I'm happy I came out.  I've come to the realization I didn't backpack one night this year (although car camped a fair amount) and that is somewhat disappointing.  That will change next year.   I would like to climb Whitney in the winter early 2017 but I need to educat myself more on traveling in avalanche terrain first.  I should take an AVI 1 course in Mammoth or Bishop this winter.  Anyway, here are a few photos from the weekend:

Never seen that before. Legit cairns?

Langley summit

Cottonwood Lake #5

Looking back at Army Pass

Cottonwood Lake #3

Oct 9, 2016

(Polar) Bear 100

Satisfied and not satisfied.  That’s how I feel about my race.  29:52 was not indicative of my fitness, the training I put in, and just the general time I spent in the mountains.  But that’s what I earned.  Although my game plan was to manage the weather with clothes changes when possible, I wasn’t prepared (clothing-wise) for the last snowstorm just before midnight with sub-freezing temperatures (#4 on the day) at mile 75.  It turned out to be a costly mistake.  Arriving at Cowley Aid downright frigid, ice blocks for feet, I hunkered down in a canvas tent with a propane heater the size of a small TV, after initially leaving and turning back to the aid after .1 miles.  That intended short stay to get warm and feel my feet again turned into six hours.  I’m still not sure how that happened.  I guess I didn’t think I would warm up or the potential for hypothermia was real and it wasn't worth the risk.
Yet other runners persevered through that weather and it made me question my mountain credentials.  Others gladly took a 4x4 ride out of there and dropped but that doesn’t make me feel any better.  I like to believe that with rain pants, dry shoes, and socks my stay would have been shorter.  As it was not a crew access point (this year) I simply couldn’t pack every drop bag with dry gear.  I just didn’t have enough to go around and plan for every situation.  But I’m making excuses.  As much as I don’t want it to define my race, it’s what I’ll associate it most with. 
After emerging from my cocoon at 6am I made a nice push the last 25 finishing it 5:52 allowing me to get under 30 hours.  I’m not sure how to categorize the race but I’m actually fairly happy with the race, when I was running. 
Besides the running I want to mention the beautiful and peaceful scenes during first snow where red-yellow autumn colors along with the evergreens created an amazing contrast to the the rapidly, but quietly, falling snow.  I secretly wished a photographer was out there to capture those moments.  It’s something I won’t forget. 
Or the non-stop rain or snow that started from the start and made it a race to remember.  Temperatures were low most of the race.
Or the yipping from the coyote farm (yes, those exist for whatever reason) in the early miles. 
Or the sticky mud that piled under my shoes and the muddy goop that was fun to splash in, especially coming down from Tony Grove Lake. 
Or the good conversations with new acquaintances, each on their own journey. 
Or the nutrition plan that finally worked where I didn’t have major lows of any sort (plan: eat more. duh). 
Or how good the running felt; probably the best I ever felt in a 100 miler. 
Or not being completely demoralized when I missed an out-n-back to an aid and mile 67 costing me 3+ miles. 

That’s probably why I love 100 milers.  You just never know what to expect, which makes it all the more exciting.  I’ve recovered so well that I think another 100 is on the horizon, but I’ll decide in a little while.  I’m definitely coming back to run The Bear again at some point, to experience the original point-to-point course (it was rerouted into a 50 mile out-n-back because of the weather).  Thanks to Marshall and my wife Megan for being out there pacing and crewing making sure I was dry, warm, and fed.  There aren't many photos but here are a few:
Frigid hands at mile 20: Leatham Hollow
Right Hand Fork, mile 37

A little over half way: Tony Grove (mile 53) Snowstorm #2

From Bear 100 FB page.  This is what the next morning was like.

Last few yards to the finish

Final Sierra Weekends

Weekends are now synonymous with leaving town.  It’s become natural to leave, as I just don’t want to be in LA Friday though Sunday if I can help it.  The more I leave on these weekends the more I want it to be permanent. 
Andy came along for the ride (not that he needed convincing) and we spent a nice weekend enjoying the final autumn days before Sierra Winter comes around.  I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would like in the Sierra this summer but other mountains called.  Time to make up for some of it.  As Andy was in taper mode (read: having nightmares) for his Big Backyard Ultra in Tennessee and I was still in recovery mode we planned to take the weekend slow.  We camped at Lake Sabrina Friday night and took in the palette of fall colors the aspen groves showed off.  The next morning we headed off on a mellow hike/run on the trails passing several lakes until basking in the warm rays of the sun at Hungry Packer Lake.  If only everyday could be like this.

Lake Sabrina

Andy running happy

Sierra Golden Trout

Hungry Packer Lake w/ Picture Peak

Winter is coming

After our 13.7 mile fun we headed to Schat’s Bakery for lunch and bread purchasing (they finally had the whole wheat bread in stock!).  On the way to Horseshoe Meadows to spend the final evening it was the perfect opportunity to visit the Manzanar Internment Camp, which is now a historical site.  I remember one of my classmates in high school reading Farewell to Manzanar and that name always stuck.  I’ve also passed it countless times with never a moment to spare to visit.  Today was not one of those days.  I encourage anyone to visit this important piece of American and Japanese history.
A nice and quiet night by the fire was spent at Horseshoe Meadows where the occasional coyote howls and sparkling cosmos highlighted the evening.

Horseshoe Meadow Rd & Whitney Portal Road Junction

Sep 17, 2016

Missing - Part I

It's been a long while since I posted anything.  Over a year in fact.  That seems to be the case with blogging and the like for some unknown reason with me.  However, I'm inspired to write again and to record my exploits with whomever is interested, even if it's just me.  It's hard to succinctly sum up what has happened in the last year without writing a few pages but I'll touch up on some of the more significant things (Part 1/2).
Shortly after AC100 last year, I spent several long weekends in the Sierra and climbed some peaks.  Namely, Mt. Tyndall (14er), Mt. Julius Caesar, and Red Slate Mountain.  Each one of those peaks offered new trails, x-country travel, and spectacular views.

Mt. Tyndall view from summit

View from Red Slate Mountain
Annotated view from Mt. Julius Caesar

 After the Sierra snows came I started rock climbing at an indoor gym close to my apartment in downtown, Stronghold Climbing.  I became mildly obsessed (as I seem to do with most things I get interested in) and started going 4 days/week, making friends, and venturing outdoors.  That soon got me interested in trad climbing and I took a 5-day course in March with Vertical Adventures that included learning about anchoring, learning to lead, and self-rescue.  It was invaluable and a great 5 days spent in Joshua Tree National Park.  I soon led my first single-pitch trad climbs in Boulder and Eldorado Canyon SP in Colorado, right before witnessing and being part of the rescue of a gruesome climbing accident.

Rappel down 3rd Flatiron, Boulder (photo: Joel Peach)

Climbing partner Jen Sanders, "The Cursing Southerner"

Trad lead after the accident in Eldo SP

Before I get too ahead of myself and dive into Spring, the winter entailed my training for my 5th L.A. Marathon.  The training was probably the hardest I had ever worked for a marathon with emphasis on tempo mile repeats but I got sick three times and with one being at the inopportune moment of Wednesday before the race.  Marathon training is very demanding and my immune system was clearly the victim.  My fever broke the night before the race but the writing was on the wall and I was sapped.  I eeked out a sub-3 thanks to chasing my training partner Marshall the last 3rd of the race.  We fittingly finished together in 2:58:30 but more could have been had there.  Another time hopefully.  During that training I summit Mt. Baldy six times with actual snow on top via the Baldy Bowl.  It was great.  Also prior to that attending the Marathon Olympic Trials in Downtown L.A. was amazing to witness.

Sunday Silence atop Mt. Baldy

Hurting and Happy

 After the marathon a couple road trips to Death Valley and the Grand Canyon happened as well as the climbing course in J-Tree (see above).

Wildflowers in Badwater

Ribbon Falls, Grand Canyon NP

I'll be back Sunday to finish up.

Denali Expedition Recap

Summit Ridge I won’t be writing about the day to day as that was succinctly put in the twelve “Denali Transmit” posts which you ...