Sunday, March 5, 2017

Longs Peak Winter Duathlon

I finally got my bike up and running after a huge mess of converting to tubeless by various methods on February 17. After a brief trip to Moab, I haven't driven my car since -- for me at least, this is a long time to go car-less and I'm quite proud! So, it made sense that when I saw a weather window for Longs Peak that aligned with a day off from work that it would have to be a go at a winter duathlon.

Looking haggard on Kieners during my previous/first/only LPT
The summer duathlon which has seemingly become more and more popular is now being followed by the next logical step of doing the duathlon in winter. Thus far, 3 people have summitted Longs self-powered from Boulder: Justin Simoni (19h46m), Tina Lewis (18h42m) and Anton Krupicka (8h51m). I had really hoped to get it done before Tony last year as I was certain I could go under 18 hours, but then Tony blew it out of the water on a beautiful day with a near untouchable time for me.

All times are measured from the Bus Stop strip club -- I know right -- on the northern edge of town where Broadway joins HW36 (though most people have to add on some miles given they don't live at a strip club). Given Abby's apartment is about 2.5 miles closer to that intersection than my house, and she made a rash decision (which I'm sure she later regretted) to wake up with me at 3:30AM and make me oatmeal it made the most sense to start from there. I slimmed down my pack to bare essentials which was:
  • Salomon X-ALP 20 backpack
  • Salomon XA Alpine running shoes
  • Bike shorts, insulating tight, windstopper tight
  • 2 pairs of Swiftwick socks
  • Insulating layer, Salomon Half-Zip, down coat, wind/water-proof jacket
  • 3 gels, 7 bars, 1 Hot Shot, 3 bottles of Tailwind (filled individually from creek as needed)
  • Balaclava, Salomon hat, buff, sunglasses
  • Suunto Ambit
  • Kyle's ice axe which is lighter and smaller than mine
  • Camp Stalker step-in crampons
  • "Holy-Hell-Its-Cold" caliber mittens, generally warm gloves
  • 2 luxurious handwarmer packs
  • Buncha lights so as to not get hit by cars
  • Bike
Pedaling out of town in the darkness, the roads were nearly vacant, especially outbound from Boulder. I made sure to bundle up right away, knowing full well that staying warm was going to be key if I had any chance of completion. Handwarmers in the gloves from the start I cruised into Lyons, 12 miles into the day and was already behind schedule due to an excessively cozy breakfast for the impending misery as well as, well, biking slowly. I stashed my bike behind a gas station and used their facilities. Walking back outside my feet were a touch cold.

The sky began to flicker with pinks and blues, the pedals kept turning and my feet kept getting colder. The climb up South St. Vrain is never particularly steep, but it is sustained and long. My mind felt drowsy, its normally asleep at that hour and my feet kept getting colder. At a certain point my feet didn't feel cold anymore, the sun had crept lower on the canyon walls with each bend of the road until I was just seeing my shadow along the shoulder of the road. I stopped briefly to grab a cliff bar; putting my feet on the ground, I didn't feel them at all. Well, that's sub-optimal. I had brought two small plastic bags (cheap Goretex, really) for the descent but figure the ascent wouldn't necessitate them. I pedaled on, reaching a moderately windy HW72, but the views into Wild Basin in the winter at sunrise are inspiring enough to forget about any petty incline or uncomfortable toes.

Stealtha at the trailhead
Its longer than I think to the turn-off for the Longs Peak TH, but I expected that to be the case. I decide to jog my bike up the last couple turns to the TH to get some blood moving into my toes, they are numb to just above my ankle. There wasn't much of a transition to be had to hiking mode, so it went quickly -- pausing only to down a gel. I immediately hop over the creek on a packed down shortcut trail and carefully fill two soft flasks already loaded with Tailwind powder. My legs feel surprisingly good after the 4 hours of riding, so I try jogging. Okay, not that good. Further shortcuts weren't yet broken so I opted to keep a quicker cadence on a packed trail, my feet have basically regained total feeling at this point.

Nice weather at timberline, summit in the background
Emerging from treeline, the snow beneath my feet is rock hard wind slab. I rarely break through the crust on the slog through Jim's Grove, across the standard trail and around Mount Lady Washington's shoulder. My plan of ascent is via the North Face -- the most direct line to the summit. It looks snowy and I remind myself that its okay to turn around if my gut tells me its not safe. Below the Cables dihedral is a large wind slab, I opt to circumvent this by traversing higher left towards Chasm View which puts me right at the base of the technical climbing. I don my crampons and axe and begin climbing. 

The cables route ascends the far left of the North Face, just before it tranistions into the Diamond.
The opening moves of any climb can seem daunting, its an abrupt transition from mobbing up a snow slope. The moves engage me physically and mentally. I don't feel vulnerable or scared, I'm certain in each movement whether I move onto rock or snow. the dihedral itself is choked with ice, but plenty of holds surround the typical summer hand and foot jams to allow a pleasant climb. The final move traversing around the low-angled dihedral corner puts me on dry rock, an odd feeling in crampons and certainly my technical crux. Pulling around the edge I'm now beyond the short technicalities of the day.

Snowfields on the upper North Face
Just below the summit, the snow dries up and I pause to remove my crampons but the feeling in my right hand prevents me from doing anything. I've heard of the "screaming barfies" and I've felt a painful rewarming in hands before, but this sensation completely overcame me. I couldn't use my other hand or think about anything else besides tolerating the fire burning inside my hand! Of course, it was only temporary and I used this forced break in the place of my summit break. I had a drink of Tailwind and a cliff bar and briefly removed my crampons. On the summit I walk straight to the top of the keyhole route and put my crampons back on.

The Keyhole is the peculiar rock feature on the right side of the ridge.
I had hoped to feel confident enough going up Cables to also downclimb them, but it didn't feel like the safest option so I opted for the contrived yet easy keyhole route. With plenty of snow I was able to march down relatively quickly in crampons all the way to the keyhole where I stashed the crampons and axe for good and semi-jogged across the boulder field. I was home free in a sense -- all that was left was a short downhill hike and a bit of biking. With my feet already wet, I didn't hesitate to break through knee deep snow on the shortcuts through the tress that I know are lurking beneath the fresh coat of snow. This descent is unbelievably fun in winter. I pause at the creek before the trailhead to fill up some bottles for the ride home, I arrive back to my bike after a 6h51m climb of the peak.

Mount Lady Washington from the Boulderfield
I was most scared of plummeting back through the cold canyon on my bike so I now broke out my secret weapons. First, I peeled off my soggy socks and replaced them with crisp clean ones, then inserted my feet into plastic bags before putting them back into my shoes. This makeshift wind barrier works surprisingly well. I then insert fresh handwarmers into my mittens. Fifteen minutes of transition and I'm ripping back down the road!

The ride home is downhill, yes, but there are a few deadly little climbs before the real descent begins. I know these climbs are coming, I embrace them and they pass by quickly and efficiently spinning up in my lowest gear. The long winding descent to Lyons is a blast, somehow I don't get passed by any cars so I have the entire right lane to myself -- its quite a bit of real estate for bicycle -- so I can hug the turns tightly and safely. Nine-thousand feet below the summit of Longs Peak, Lyons is much warmer, so I take a brief pit-stop to shed layers before the annoyingly rolling highway back to Boulder. But the sun is setting, the sky is purple, and knowing its in the bag I'm too happy to mind whatever the ride home will hold.

The route from Boulder
I roll into town just as the dark of night has set in. I reach the infamous strip club parking lot at 6:47PM, making my official round-trip time 13:39:54, but I still have 30 minutes of riding to get back to Abby's appartment. With my red. rear blinky light out of battery I coast along the sidewalks and less busy roads and before I know it my bike is locked right where it was 14 hours and 16 minutes ago and I'm trudging up the stairs to my girl and a hot meal.

Fifty miles to the northwest, Longs is unchanged. My snowy tracks have vanished with the wind, I never signed the summit register and the monolith of granite does not care a bit. Recounting the day with Abby however, my excitement is tangible. I wasn't the fastest or the slowest but I moved myself from the doorstep to the summit of a mountain. I saw the sun rise and set, I was warm and cold, nervous and excited, and now only my own memories remain as evidence of the day's adventure.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

February 20 - February 26

Monday, 2/20 - Hidden Valley - 7 miles, 1300', 1:24
Joggin' around the best cruiser running trail in Moab with Abby. We found an unmarked spur of trail that led us to a ton of petroglyphs that were super cool!

Tuesday, 2/21 - 1st & 2nd Flatirons + Salomon Group Run - 6 miles, 2200', 1:42
Got to Chautauqua early and to scramble the 1st. I decided to downclimb all of Free For All (second time ever). I left the Pullman way to early which burned a ton of time but otherwise it went pretty smoothly. It definitely sounded like someone was yelling "help" but I jogged down the rest of the route and found no one in need of help. Back at the Salmon Run Club afterwards!

Wednesday, 2/22 - Regarchifthist + Green Mtn + 2nd Flatiron - 5 miles, 3100', 2:17
Declaring the linkup of Regency-Royal Arch-5th-Fist to be called "Regarchifthist", its such a good one and is especially convenient for scrambling on windy days (though today was calm) as its very sheltered by the mountain. I descended to the 2nd and downclimbed the plain old Freeway to save time.

Thursday, 2/23 - NCAR Tempo - 13 miles, 1000', 1:38
Warmed up with Abby in a light snow that was melting on contact. We made a loop around the CU-XC course before she headed her own way and I launched into a tempo effort from the tunnel under Broadway at Table Mesa. With 2.5 miles up and down the NCAR road hill it made for a nice 5 mile tempo. The ascent was tough as the snow got heavier and began to accumulate but I manged, trying to run hard going down I unfortunately got a terrible side cramp that made me slow down a ton, but the uphill effort was the important part. Jogged around with a bathroom stop in a CU building for a longer warm down.

Friday, 2/24 - Green Mtn - 7 miles, 3000', 2:00
Easy with Jack for the second tracks up the hill in slick, knee deep powder. Tired legs and slow conditions so we just chatted along at a conversational effort.

Saturday, 2/25 - Poorman Rd - 12 miles, 1700', 1:23
Tempo effort from BRC up Sunshine Canyon down Poorman's Road and back the exact same way. I was hoping for Gold Hill but thought I wouldn't have time -- with the energy I felt I should have just gone for it, 8:30's going up and 5:30's going down should have been plenty fast enough for the full loop. Ah well, good run.

Sunday, 2/26 - 3 x Green Mtn - 13 miles, 7300', 3:51
Good two laps with Kyle then one easy one on my lonesome. Happy my phone held onto 1% battery life for the entire third lap so I wouldn't quite be alone.

Week Totals:
62 miles

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

February 13 - February 19

Monday, 2/13 - Animal World - 2:00
Got up the crag in the fine February weather with Jack. I lead Joint Venture (5.11a) and almost got it clean except for I botched my feet at the bolt right before the arete. After his turn we moved over to Free Willy (5.11a); I took the lead and got it with two hangs. Man, I really could have gotten the onsite of this but got hung up on one sequence which alone made me have to take, but I still held on long enough to get pumped. Still, the final move and the bolt to clip is a doozy on lead.

Tuesday, 2/14 - Boulder Valley Ranch - 7 miles, 500', 0:56
Easy jog on flat North Boulder trails.Yoga in the evening.

Wednesday, 2/15 - Ruper - 1000', 3:02
Met Tony in a cold Eldo parking lot and did an easy climb of Ruper. He was soloing this route last year but wanted a "rust buster" so we did it in "normal" style. Some heavy ropedrag while simuling pitches 4, 5 and 6 slowed us down (he thought I was sketched and I thought he was). The route was in the sun and we were plenty warm -- good to be in Eldo in February! Some bouldering and a yoga class in the evening, too.

Thursday, 2/16 - Spyronette - 3 miles, 1700', 1:26
Easy scrambling with Jackson. Today was his first time up the route (1st Flatironette, Spy, North Arete of the 1st) so we kept it nice and casual.

Friday, 2/17 - Eldo Scrambling - 1200', 1:46
With my bike finally fixed up with tubeless tires properly I was able to get back to Eldo for some scrambles on the Wind Tower before the drive to Moab. Boulder Direct, West Overhang, Calypso, Wind Ridge.

Saturday, 2/18 - Moab Red Hot 33km - 21 miles, 3000', 2:42
Mile and a half warm up. The race started off well enough, I think I was around 5th-8th for the first half which was mostly on jeep roads. It was a struggle to keep up with those around me but I was able to make up lost ground on the "technical" downhills. Thanks for keeping me ready for that Boulder! A few route finding errors (everyone got lost it seemed) in the slickrock shuffled up the positioning and I think I got passed by one or two guys during my relocation of the course. In no man's land for the third quarter of the race I fell off the try hard train and had to push the final road descent to not get passed before the finish. 8th place, good to see where I stand and what needs work.

Sunday, 2/19 - AM: Delicate Arch - 3 miles, 800', 1:16 - PM; Negro Bill Canyon - 5 miles, 500', 0:47
Easy hike in Arches NP with Abby (who got 6th in the 55km so had more so legs than I) then an easy jog up a canyon on my lonesome afterwards.

Week Totals:
41 miles
16:06 (total including bikes/climbs)

Lower volume week with the race, but progressing along.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

January 30 - February 12

Been through a variety of things since last post (failed 100 miler (again), failed attempt on the JMT, overuse injury (not a surprise) and in general, too many big days), I wrote some drafts of posts but never quite felt like writing the whole schpeal up, nor that it was particularly interesting from a reader's perspective. Hopefully, this post gets me back in the swing of things.

Monday 1/30 - 3rd Flatiron, Green Mtn, Bear Pk - 12 miles, 4500', 3:10
Commuted home from Pearl to Table Mesa via a final lap of the 3rd (rapotr closure Feb 1 - Aug 1) until August and a summit of both Green and Bear. Fun point to point.

A photo posted by Cordis Hall (@cordisimo) on

Tuesday, 1/31 - 2 x 5km - 13 miles, 400', 1:35
30min warm up including 5min of stretching. The first 5km ended up being downhill with a tailwind so I flew through in 17:58. 8min of rest was enough, but it did nothing to lessen the gradient or headwind on the second 5km. Feeling like I was working way harder I labored to a 19:50 second interval. I should probably be at 18:40's for this workout on flat windless terrain, so the weird times make sense.

Wednesday, 2/1 - 7 miles, 300', 0:56
Easy with Jack around the XC course and back on Cherryvale Rd.

Thursday, 2/2 - South Boulder Creek/Community Ditch/Cherryvale Rd - 13 miles, 800', 1:41
Wanted to do a tempo run today but ice was covering everything so I ended up going a little longer than planned at slightly above normal pace. The last couple miles were on pavement so I was able to push more there. 45min of climbing and 1h15 of yin yoga in the evening.

Friday, 2/3 - Green Mtn - 9 miles, 2900', 1:47
Went up the hill with Kyle and Len. I was completely wrecked from the past few days so I basically just struggled to stay within visual range the whole time. Sweet inversion on top made it all worth it though.

A photo posted by Cordis Hall (@cordisimo) on

Saturday, 2/4 - Walker Ranch - 10 miles, 3100', 1:46
Easy jogging around Walker Ranch with Jackson. We really didn't have much of plan besides getting outside in the beautiful weather and not slipping on ice. Good times.

Sunday, 2/5 - Mount Lady Washington - 8 miles, 4000', 6:45
Fun hike with Elliot up a proud satellite peak of Longs. Windy above treeline, but really got pummeled on the top with the increased exposure. Always a pleasure to be around Longs.

Week Totals:
72 miles

Monday - Regency, Royal Arch, 5th, Green Mtn - 8 miles, 3200', 2:11
Wanted to scramble, but didn't quite feel like doing the 1st (hoping to branch out more this year). So I took the central route of scrambling up the East side of the mountain. The 5th ended up having a healthy amount of snow at the base, so that took some extra time and convinced me to forgo the Fist (which usually ends this linkup). From the topout on Green I felt like running quick so I put in a little extra effort descending West Ridge-Long Canyon-Gregory Canyon.

Tuesday - Mt Sanitas - 6 miles, 1900', 1:10
Set out to do a tempo of the South ridge, with a warm up up Sunshine Canyon. I ended up PR'ing (somehow, I felt terrible), but I should be able to go a couple minutes faster. Descended down the valley.

Wednesday - Green Mtn, Bear Pk, SoBo Pk, SoBo Pk, Bear Pk, Bear Pk, Green Mtn - 18 miles, 10,500', 6:16
Wanted to focus on vert and mountains this week so the long run reflected that. Started by headlamp up the Northeast ridge of Green, a descent of Bear Canyon lead me to an expedition up the North ridge of Bear which I will not be doing again, particularly with the presence of snow or wind -- still happy to have investigated it though. Bopped over to SoBo then down and up Shadow Canyon. Returning to Bear I then did a down and up of Fern Canyon. Opted for not tagging SoBo a third time and went straight into the descent of the West ridge to link back up to Green for my seventh summit of the day. Descended down to the 1st/2nd trail and meandered about just a tad to ensure I would get over 10k climbing for the day. Wasn't particularly fast -- okay, given the bushwhacking and horrendous ice in certain locales -- but not particularly slow either. Progress.

A photo posted by Cordis Hall (@cordisimo) on

Thursday - 1st Flatiron, 2nd Flatiron, 4th Flatiron, GMP, Challenger, Green Mtn - 7 miles, 4300', 3:03
Didn't push the pace too hard today but the legs felt pretty good considering yesterday. My scrambling form is still lacking so slow splits, (18:30 up the 1st, 14:xx down the 2nd) but that'll come with persistence. A bunch of snow in the hanging garden on the 4th made things interesting there before leaving the worst of the numbered flatiron for the absolute gems alongside it (Green Mountain Pinnacle and Challenger, so good). Finished to Green and descended Ranger-EM Greenman-Saddle Rock for some extra miles and vert.

A photo posted by Cordis Hall (@cordisimo) on

2/10, Friday - Give Up - 3 miles, 200', 0:22
Set out to run out on the dirt on the plains but the ridiculous wind putting dirt tornadoes in my eyes and mouth convinced me to turn around almost immediately.

2/11, Saturday - Bear Peak & SoBo Peak - 7 miles, 3400', 1:47
From Cragmoor TH with Jack and Jackson we made good time to the summit of Bear (0:41 for me, followed by Jackson then Jack who is still recovering from a marathon last weekend). Jack, under a time crunch headed back down Fern while Jackson and I tagged South Boulder Peak before ripping the descent of Shadow for the hell of it. Mesa trail back to the TH.

A photo posted by Cordis Hall (@cordisimo) on

2/12, Sunday - Creek Path - 12 miles, 400', 1:15
Set out for a moderate 10 miles around town but fell into a nice groove at 6:15 pace. Feeling strong, I went with it and was able to PR for 10 miles (1:04:17). At the 10 mile mark I felt it prudent to ease off of the accelerator a tad for the last mile point five home.

Week Totals:
61 miles

Signed up for Red Hot 33k at 11:30PM Saturday night -- 30 minutes before it closed -- since I knew I was going to be there anyways. Excited to see how that pans out as I feel surprisingly ready and fit for the time of year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nolan's 14

Nolan's 14 is a linkup of fourteen 14,000ft+ mountains in the Sawatch Range -- its about 90 miles with around 45,000ft of climbing and the challenge is to finish in under 60 hours. There are some alleged "rules" to Nolans such as no pacers, no gps, no mechanical aid (besides poles) as well as some gray area as to whether the clock stops at the last summit or the final trail-head. The "rules" are completely arbitrary and it seems like no one actually cares that much the style you choose -- even if you drove between every peak's trailhead its still really hard! The style I would pursue would be to have a supported and paced attempt going south to north but with no GPS guidance. Just the style that appealed to me the most.

The weekend started terribly with the expected Labor Day traffic. The night was salvaged with my absolute favorite pizza at Amica's in Salida with Jack, Kyle, Derek and Abby. We camped for the night at the Shavano TH; I slept about as well as you can the night before something like this. Lying awake I could here intermitent rain showers which remained when the alarm went off at 4:00AM. I had already chosen exactly the gear given the conditions while I was supposed to be sleeping. By the time I was dressed, Abby had a burrito which had an average temperature of warm, though in reality one end was burnt and the other was cold. Its hard to heat a burrito in a pot with a camp stove!
Gearing up in the rain at 4AM (Photo by Elliot)
Heading out. (Photo by Elliot)
I set off with Derek into the darkness at 4:32AM. I was a bit warm in the trees but was thankful to be "waterproofed" when we popped out of the trees an hour later. Thick clouds obscured the summit as glimmers of light poked over the horizon. The final several hundred feet to Shavano the sun lit up the surrounding clouds, the flakes in the air as well as the snow on the ground. It was magical.

Summitting Shavano (Photo by Derek)
Summit of Tabaguache (Photo by Derek)
We paused for a few seconds on the summit for a quick picture and then began the short traverse to Tabaguache (which we renamed Taba-Gucci). Another quick tag and we were on the descent. On my scouting run of this section I descended a truly miserable section of talus but noted what appeared to be much better way. We suffered only a few feet talus on route to the trees which naturally guide you in the right direction. I fell once on a wet rock, landing on and bending my right pole. Oh well, now they're both bent! I made one minor mistake here trying to shortcut a turn which lead to some willow whacking but we didn't lose much time at all grunting up the relatively short climb to Antero from Brown's Creek.
Summit of Antero. Luckily the fashion police weren't present to arrest me for this atrocious look. (Photo by Derek)

With a wall of clouds closing in we didn't waste time starting down the North ridge. A couple rumbles of thunder accompanied by hail and I picked up the pace. I have never been on the North side of Antero before, I chose an arbitrary point to drop off the ridge. The talus was quite large, quite loose and now quite wet. I stashed my poles and slipped down the rocks leaving Derek who wasn't felling comfortable on the wet loose rock. I got pretty soaked in the rain jogging down the Antero road which I joined around 10,000ft. Abby drove up right as I was getting to Alpine: I changed into dry clothes, chugged some water and ate some food.

Refueling in Alpine (Photo by Abby)
A experienced friend who shall remain nameless got a message to me saying "keep it steady, slow the f*** down!", so I took it down a notch heading up Grouse Canyon. This segment is quite enjoyable, especially considering the beast you're climbing. I marched alone to making a couple rounds through all of the Infected Mushroom songs I had on my iPod. I stopped on the summit of Princeton only to stash my poles. I tried a slightly different route down to Maxwell Gulch than I had scouted, it was a bit better but not great. I'd guess there is some gully that you could cruise down with either stable rock or unstable but smaller rock, but I never found one and my route isn't that bad. I joined the Colorado Trail, hiking anything remotely up and jogging the downs. I crossed paths with Megan Hicks and had a brief introductory conversation. I nailed one last shortcut then hopped onto the Cottonwood Pass road to find Kyle and Abby waiting for me. At Avalanche Gulch I could tell I had about 10,000ft of climbing in my legs but felt ready for more.
Marching up the road with Yale (the peak on the right) looming in the distance (Photo Abby)
Eating some soup in the parking lot. The man on the left (who was crewing for Julian Smith) made it to Harvard before quitting a couple days later, we decided we earned a "team finish"! (Photo by Abby)
I readied for the coming night and began the march up the Colorado Trail with Abby and Derek. We maintained a proper pace to where we left the trail to join the East ridge of Yale. Abby turned back here and hustled back to the trailhead -- she had no headlamp and darkness was coming soon! Derek and I marched on into the night. This climb is about 5,500ft and coupled with the darkness, cold and numerous false summits was really tough. I sat in the cold behind some rocks for a bit on the summit and then remembered I was about to do the descent alone. Crap. Derek headed back the way we came and I began down my own route. I put my music back on and stayed on the East side of the ridge to stay out of the cold wind. This descent is easy when done right, but is very easy to mess up. I did the best I could from memory but confused one ridge for another and ended up veering very far off course. I swam through willows and some very dense deadfall before finding Silver Creek. At the time I had no idea where I was; I guessed somewhere East. I yelled for Abby and Jack only accidentally wake some campers (it was maybe 3AM?). They informed me I was on the Colorado Trail and that if I hiked downhill I could get to the North Cottonwood trail. Sucks, but watchya-gonna-do. It was a long while before I joined the road, well out of water and stubbornly unwilling to eat without liquids I slowly hiked the mile and a half towards the Harvard & Columbia Trailhead.
Heading up with Abby and Derek (behind the camera)
Food pause on the Colorado Trail (Photo by Abby)
Trying to warm up my hands on Yale's summit (Photo by Derek)
Shortly before the trailhead I saw headlights coming down the road, it was Eric. He guessed pretty quickly what happened to me then got me some food and water. I feared the journey was over here but he quickly got that idea out of my head. I was on a good pace before and was still well capable of finishing under 60 hours. I took a 20 minute nap in the back of his car while he ran back up to alert my slightly worried crew that I was alright and to bring some stuff down to me. I woke up and started hiking up the road and met Kyle, Jack and Abby a few feet into the trail. The nap did wonders, I felt strong on the next couple miles to where I should have met them. To my surprise I found a whole party primarily fueled by Clare, Ginna and Dan who drowned out all others. An overwhelming amount of support sent me back out onto the trail with Jack heading for Columbia.
Overwhelming support. Truly, it was almost too much. Only because Clare was trying to put socks on my feet and check "check my pits" to see if I needed a dry shirt.
Heading off with Jack
I had some trouble breathing on the upper reaches of Yale but didn't think much of it. Now however, as we got higher and higher my breathing was short and increasingly inefficient. I couldn't inhale fully without a massive coughing fit and even then it felt like no oxygen was even getting processed. I tried sleeping one more time under my emergency blanket, I woke feeling better but it was short lived. Another mistake was not bringing more warm clothes, I was absolutely freezing head to toe and sleeping didn't help that. It was one step, five breathes for another hour. Even at the pace of a snail I was putting out an effor that felt like an all out sprint. I tried sleeping again, but woke up feeling the same. Sunrise came, my mind felt refreshed, I tried to stay positive but I still could neither breathe nor move uphill. Writing it now, it feels like such a give up, but I know Jack wouldn't have let me bail if he thought I could keep going. We made the decision to turn around 800ft below the summit, my condition was worsening severely and the next segment was very remote, getting help back there would probably require a helicopter. It was long sad walk back to the car. My decision to drop was reassured when I had to sit down and catch my breathe after an 8ft uphill roller on the way down.

I'm not sure how exactly it happened but I had most of the symptoms of HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema), essentially fluid in the lungs. Maybe I got too cold, or worked too hard or wasn't acclimated enough or didn't drink enough water. Whatever the cause, its serious thing and I'm confident I made the medically correct decision. I knew Nolan's was big, ambitious and hard but I have even more respect for it now. Its a journey that can take years to finish and that's the beautiful thing about it. Its hard and you'll probably fail. Failure feels even worse when even to not succeed you can do so much. I made it to 5 summits, was outside for 28 hours, covered 52 miles and ascended 23,000ft -- that's not even halfway. I learned so much and experienced more than I imagined I could. I'm so thankful for everyone who so selflessly gave their weekend to help me chase a distant dream, it really is a team effort to get a human being through this whole thing.
A beautiful moment descending Tabaguache (Photo by Derek)
Can't wait till next year.

Monday, August 8, 2016

July 25 - August 7

7/25, Monday - Green Mtn - 6 miles, 2500', 1:46
Easy with RMR, everyone seemed to be tired (even Smith and Sage) so it was a casual chatty run/hike to the top. Knee and hip were still pretty sore on the downhill.

7/26, Tuesday - Buff Course - 5 miles, 0:37
Easy around the CU XC course that I now live right next too, heavy legs.

7/27, Wednesday - Climbing: Bastille Crack & Ruper - 3:15
Met Anton dark and early (5:15) before work for an intro to Eldo. First we did the Bastille Crack, an ultra-classic line right off of the road, I was nervous going in (Eldorado Canyon grades are way harder than Boulder Canyon) but it felt super secure and the first pitch was fantastic. I had heard horror stories about sprinting up talus fields on the approach from Kyle; we went at a good clip but never uncomfortably fast, over to Ruper. Ruper is a 6 pitch, 5.8 line that felt like a Boulder Canyon 5.9. Tony shot up the route barely placing any protection for himself. I found the wide crack on the 2nd pitch to be the crux for me, just need to stick your entire arm into it to find a hold. By simul-climbing we were able to do the whole route in just 2 pitches, the second being very long. Awesome first day in Eldo!
Finishing off the last moves. Photo: Anton
5/28, Thursday - Climbing: Cascade Crag - 4:50
First with Jack, I lead Smallville (5.10b), with several hangs at the tough roof where I had to use almost a shoulder deep jam. We then moved the anchor and did two laps on Thunderhead (5.10a) to get it dialed. I then dropped off Jack and picked up Abby and went back to Cascade. I lead up Erika, she followed then we both top roped Thunderhead.

7/29, Friday - Bike: NCAR, Flagstaff, Boulder Creek, Finkel & Garf - 52 miles, 3700', 4:00
Warm-up climb on NCAR before biking up Flagstaff Road to the amphitheater turn-off. On the descent I stashed the bike and did a few pumpy climbs up the Beer Barrel boulder which is an easy V0 50ft from the road. Then I descended the rest of Flagstaff and up a bit of Boulder Canyon to the dome for 3 quick laps. In the evening I then biked to meet Abby, then to Finkel & Garf Brewery with her, and back, and back to my place. Bike commuting is fun!

7/30, Saturday - Off

7/31, Sunday - Climbing: Eldorado Canyon - 2:15
Kyle led Long John Wall which we stretched to 2 pitches then we ditched rope and romped up Boulder Direct, an easy scramble. We then went ropeless for Wind Ridge, the start I guess is a 5.8 but its 4ft off the ground and very secure, the second crux would be really tricky if you didn't know to use your bum and sit against this flake, but with Kyle feeding me the beta it went fine. Can't wait to link these into my Boulder bike/climb circuit!

8/1, Monday - Bike/Climb: Eldorado/Flatirons/Flagstaff/Boulder Canyon - 48 miles, 6100', 6:40
Met Kyle at 5:30 on the bik for the ride to Eldo. We went through Boulder Direct and Wind Ridge then made the long hike over to Icarus. Icarus is a 6 pitch route with sustained moderate climbing and finished with an outrageous arete. Absolutely phenomenal. We then biked to NCAR and jogged over to the Backporch for a scramble in rock shoes and we were happy to have them, it was a tough route that you also have to downclimb (gross). Kyle then had to split for his own obligations, so I ventured up Flagstaff Mountain by myself (with a stop at Chautauqua to chug some water). I turned around at the amphitheater itself and did 3 reps on the Beer Barrel before descending to Eben G. Fine park for more water. I then biked up the canyon a bit further, climbed the Dome 3 times by East Slab then took a slightly circuitous route back home.
Kyle downclimbing near the top of Tower One
8/2, Tuesday - Bastille Crack, Boulder Direct, Wind Ridge - 4:00
Jack lead the first two pitches and I the second of Bastille, it was my first ever trad lead and I definitely did not extend the pro enough. You needed an amount of force to alter the earth's orbit to overcome the rope drag, but with the help of Jason who simuled over us the pieces in question were removed and the slack was pulled through. Great strength workout! Hiked back down and saw Tony's shoes at the base with him soloing up, that's bold. Put away the rope and went up Boulder Direct with Jack then he elected to not scramble Wind Ridge, but I did and we hiked down together once I was done.

8/3, Wednesday - AM: Sharkstooth - 9 miles, 3200', 3:34 || PM: South La Plata Scout - 5 miles, 900', 0:48
Kyle and I got a relatively late start so we ended up having to park in the Bear Lake parking area rather than the Glacier Gorge, it only added a half mile though. The approach is pretty straightforward and after some boulder crawling we were changing into climbing shoes at the base of the Northeast Ridge. The route up was sustained with great exposure; the crux is about halfway up getting through a stemming to handcrack move, easy once the holds and sequence was found. The summit was Longs-esque, beautiful route to a relatively boring summit. The best views of the Sharkstooth are from Andrew's Tarn. The downclimb was a bit grungy but its well worth it for the route up.
Kyle working up the boulderfield on the approach
Kyle enjoying the spectacular position two-thirds up the tooth.
8/4, Thursday - Belford, Missouri, Huron - 16 miles, 8600', 6:27
Slept in the car at Winfield then rode my bike down the road to the Missouri Gulch TH. Already on Belford I was wearing everything I brought for warmth minus the poles I forgot with the bike start. Missouri's East Ridge was once a grim prospect, but is now my favorite line in the Sawatch with the line totally memorized. I descended to a saddle with Iowa Pk and surfed down prime scree to a grassy basin, but it felt a bit slow, I think the standard trail would be faster/easier (especially at night). I found a great trail on the west side of Clohesy Lake that took me to treeline but then I made the mistake of taking ridge listed as "class 2+", the plus in this case meaning 2-3 more classes. So, that wasted a ton of time and got me pretty cold. I descended the standard trail to Winfield and bailed on La Plata with the weather and my available gear.
The rotten rock band on Missouri's East Ridge
Looking back towards the Clohesy Lake drainage ascending Huron. Moody.
8/5, Friday - Bike & Eldo - 19 miles, 2900, 3:07
Biked to Eldo and tried to buy an annual pass but they wouldn't let me because I didn't have my car to put the sticker on and they thought I would just pass around the sticker to my friends. Come on, lame! So since I was already talking with the ranger I couldn't even sneak in, so I had to pay the three dollars for a day pass. So dumb! Warmed up with Boulder Direct then went through the motions on Wind Ridge. I can almost do the enitre route in one flow aside from the mega-flake you sit on I have to briefly pause for. After some surveilance I found the West Chimney and scrambled that to the Red Ledge and finished to the top of Tower One with Icarus. wove my way down the East Slabs and biked home.
8/6, Saturday - Bastille + Calypso x 3
Early in Eldo with Kyle before work. We pitched out Bastille awkwardly in 3 pitches, I lead the second and felt solid. We then took turns on Calypso getting the moves dialed.
Kyle leading Calypso.
8/7, Sunday - Off
Felt like death last night and despite waking up feeling miles better I took the safe route with an off day.

With widespread activities I can't even judge weeks on numbers anymore. I was pretty tired by the end of the week though, so success.

Monday, July 25, 2016

"Fast Pfiffner" Traverse

The Pfiffner Traverse is described in Gerry Roach's guide to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, although it includes a bit more than just the Indian Peaks. The start is at Milner Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park and traverses 70 miles south along the continental divide to the next paved road, Berthoud Pass. Along the way awaits numerable summits, peaceful meadows, ridge scrambles and very few people. There a few notorious sections along the divide where the tundra morphs into steep and jagged knife edges, the "Fast Pfiffner" avoids these sections by dropping into basins to the West then returns to the divide once the coast is relatively clear.
The route.
We weighed our options quite a bit on whether or not we would plan for sleep. Its a long ways, but carrying extra gear for just a couple hours of what would likely be sub-par sleep seemed silly -- you can sleep when you're dead. There is only one other completion of a single push on this route (that I'm aware of), and thankfully, I know the man! Mark Oveson completed the route in 37 hours in 2011 and graciously responded to a bombardment of questions promptly. He said the route for him was an experiment pre-Hardrock, and hey what-do-ya-know Abby and I both need that same sort of experiment -- no sleep it is! He also volunteered to meet us at Monarch Lake, roughly the halfway point, at what would likely be a very dark hour of night.

Inspirational words at the Pearl Dragon restaurant the night before in Granby
We dropped one car at Berthoud Pass Friday night then attempted to get some sleep in the car at a trailhead parking lot only to be kicked out around midnight. The ranger was nice and recommended us another place to sleep outside the park. The impact though was that with the commute to location number two we got maybe 2 cumulative hours of sleep, maximum.

The highly official permit the ranger told us to right down and leave on our windshield. Ranger 421 for the win!
We began our journey just after 5AM Saturday morning by headlamp followed by sunrise up to the first peak, Mt Ida. It was a very moderate gradient which would be the theme for the next several peaks. As the sun rose in the sky further, we made our way across 7 more gentle summits, passing through a massive heard of elk and trekking through bountiful wildflowers. Hallet Peak, our 8th summit, marked the end of the first section of the continental divide.

Abby nearing the summit of Mt Ida
A rather large herd of Elk on the way towards Flattop Mountain
Refilling water from some snowmelt along the divide.
We descended on good trail west for a couple miles toward the North Inlet before turning south -- our last segment of trail for many miles -- to Lake Nokoni and Lake Nanita. On this section I felt very tired; heavy eyelids and cloudy mind. I found my rescue from the doldrums to be singing to myself out-loud for a bit -- a bit weird I suppose, but it worked. Abby was feeling the same way here, but I figured she would be fine pulling herself out of it as I had. Nokoni and Nanita were stunning to say the least. We made our way over a small saddle just northeast of Andrews Peak, through a small basin and then down a rather nasty bushwhack to the East Inlet drainage.

Just above Lake Nokoni
Ptarmigan Mountain from Lake Nanita
Unnamed drainge northwest of Andrews Peak
Upon finally reaching Fourth Lake, Abby's condition hadn't improved much but she remained far more upbeat and optimistic than I could have expected. Maximum stoke. We found a very faint social trail which lead us to treeline, but here the weather turned a bit sour. With a long climb ahead of us and rumblings of thunder we elected to play it safe and wait out a short storm under an overhanging boulder. The scenery was still unbelievable and despite the setbacks the journey thus far had been phenomenal. It wasn't long before the clouds parted for us to continue on. We had lost even more time here though and I was beginning to get apprehensive about how late in the day it was, we still had many miles ahead before we even got back to a trail, and then several more miles of trail to Monarch Lake. I voiced my concerns and began trying to accelerate our pace.

The southern geology of the East Inlet drainage. The prominent arĂȘte just right of center is Aiguille de Fleur, a promising looking alpine scramble I'd love to check out.
A distant Abby climbing out of the Andrews-Alice col
Refilling water and while waiting for Abby to finish the climb to Isolation's west ridge. (Sponsor Plug:) Loved the gear choice for the day: X-Alp 20 pack was perfect, I used the dedicated crampon pocket as a dedicated food pocket! Would never attempt something like this without my trusty wizard sticks either!
We slowly made our way around the loose southwest slopes of Isolation Peak. The sky adopted a tint of orange as we rejoined the divide and after weighing our options I decided to start making executive decisions. Abby was only getting deeper into mega-bonk-land, the primary goal now was to get her moving as fast as possible and dig her out of the hole. We stopped briefly on the divide: I made her drink as much water and eat as much food as she could stomach then took her pack to carry myself. I told her to just keep hiking south on the divide and I would catch up in a few minutes. I changed into my warmer clothes in preparation for night and prepared her warm clothes. I then caught back up to her so she could gear up for night. I had been very thoughtful about my nutrition and maintaining a positive mental state and was glad to be feeling almost the same as I had 15 hours earlier.

Shadows getting longer heading further up Isolation Peak. Longs looms tall in the background.
Longs poking out from the beautiful west face of Isolation Peak.
We had to bop over two more mountains before we could start the long descent, they are very moderate inclines but forward progress remained slow. We reached the (almost) summit of Ogalalla in complete darkness. Abby was barely awake, we had one short climb left and then we could descend significant elevation which I hoped would help immensely. I stood on the summit of "Ooh La La!" a little after 10PM and took in the moment. It was both surreal and intimidating. Miles to the east and nearly 8,000ft below the city lights of the front range twinkled; to the west I could see Abby's light traversing just below the summit (uphills were on the edge of impossible, so she skipped the true summit), what appeared to be a lone campfire in the distance and very far away, the few lights of Frasier Valley marking our eventual endpoint.

The final rays of light behind the Never Summer mountains to the northwest from the south ridge of Isolation.
The next section was terrible. Completely off trail, we needed to descend to a saddle east of Cooper Peak, contour around a small tarn, then around Island Lake, over a small rib then down to Gourd Lake where we would rejoin trail. Some remaining snowfields were a godsend to shoe ski down with ease but the final half mile wound its way around short slabby dropoffs and painfully healthy fields of willows scattered among trees. I had the route well committed to memory on a macro scale as well as the navigational operations on my watch, but the nuances of hiking through the complicated terrain was immensely time consuming trial and error without the ability see more than 20ft in front of me. I'm not sure I've ever been so frustrated! It was very mentally taxing to be so focused on route finding, making sure Abby was moving well and safely and trying to remember to keep my own self in good condition.

A daylight picture taken from SummitPost of the complicated terrain below Cooper Peak (there is even more not pictured above too!), many curses were said.
After what felt like a year we finally rejoined the trail, it was the homestretch, Abby's condition was starting to improve and the overall mood was drastically more positive. Still, we had a long 10 mile hike out to Monarch Lake to meet Mark who we had been in radio contact with intermittently throughout the journey. By following our SPOT he had been able to keep track of us all day long. It would have been nice to jog back out, but running wasn't quite in the cards so we marched along as quick as walking allows. At the Cascade Creek (Pawnee Pass trail, essentially) I was happy to see Abby moving much easier and complaining less of of "almost falling asleep every 5 seconds" and "seeing less faces in trees and rocks". Stellar, but we weren't done yet. The remaining 4 miles were easier flatter trail and we were able to jog a few sections. My watch started beeping, I looked down and realized the time was 4AM, it was my wake-up alarm from 24 hours earlier. We passed the Arapaho Pass junction, went around Monarch Lake and after 23 hours and 31 minutes were finished.

Despite the horrible time of day, Mark was patiently alone in the parking lot on a fold out cot with water boiling and a pot of hot soup. I can't express how thankful I am for his immutable generosity and support. I wolfed down the soup and tripped over my now untied shoe lace and took an actually very hard fall in the parking lot, spilling a cup of hot chocolate  and cutting my knee and elbow. An ironic and fitting conclusion.

Well, we didn't finish the whole traverse, Monarch Lake was 45 miles into the ~70ish mile route and is the same place Mark bailed the first time he tried the route. The vert was only around 11,000ft but Mark agrees that on paper the route looks a lot easier than it feels in real life. Out of two Hardrock 100 finishes in two attempts, the Pfiffner took Mark one DNF and a time longer than both Hardrocks when he did finish it. I can't wait to get in the ring with this traverse for a rematch next summer! The overall experience was amazing, the scenery far exceeded expectations, the company was great and I was able to gain tons of experience and confidence going forwards.

Looking back north from Hallet Peak
We summited 10 peaks : Mt Ida, Chief Cheley Pk, Cracktop, Sprague Mtn, Knobtop Mtn, Ptarmigan Pt, Flattop Mtn, Hallet Pk, Ogalalla Pk, (well, apparently we just missed the summit of Ogalalla in the dark, but pretty close) and Ooh La La!