Saturday, May 26, 2018

Cruel Jewel 100

I signed up for the Cruel Jewel 100 for a few reasons. First, it’s hard race mostly on singletrack with a ton of climbing. Second, it manages to evade the fluff that similar races seem to have such as lotteries, huge costs, required gear -- it’s just tough hundred mile race in the mountains, plain and simple. Third is that I’ve heard plenty about how the East is far gnarlier than us pretentious Coloradoans seem to give it credit for. As bonus, the race gives you UTMB points and qualifies you for the Hardrock 100 lottery too!

"Steampunk Dragon" was the art piece made for the race by a local artist Grant Searcey. So yeah, the t-shirts were pretty cool!

My training was a lot less volume intensive than I usually aim for. Having done (for myself) a lot of very long runs in the past couple months, I was confident that I didn't need to have crazy high mileage. I mostly just maintained myself as a runner and tossed in a few long days at high effort level. This mean that by race week, I was mechanically sound, physically rested and mentally ready for the challenge I signed up for.

Abby and I made our flight to Atlanta by about 30 seconds. I made it first to the gate and breathed "one more behind me", to which the ticket-checker responded "she's got about 45 seconds". We were staying with her parents and some family friends at beautiful lake house in Blue Ridge. The house was luxurious, and a near comical reprieve from what 100 miles in the Blue Ridge mountains would be. Here we were able to prepare my gear, crew bags and food in peace and most importantly, with a fully equipped kitchen.

The joy of collapsible trekking poles before the start

The race start was at noon; unique, but I think it makes a lot of sense. Starting at noon ensures that everyone has to suffer through the night out, even the lead male. I was somewhat on the fence to start with poles (clearly, I was confused), but I made the correct decision to use them the entire time. The gun went off (by that I mean the RD said "go") right at noon and we were off to the races. I held back, as it seemed who would finish well did, besides the leader Andy Pearson, who was on fire start to finish. After a forgettable section of road the climbing began as did the hiking for most, myself included. I don't much like a lot of chatting when I race so my patience was quickly exhausted hiking along in a large group. We rolled through the first water-only aid, I stopped in the bushes (accidentally in full view of some hikers, oops), and fell back further in place -- not that it remotely mattered at this point.

The foretold steepness was upon us. I moved up steadily between little pods of runners, not really chatting much besides with Gavin. When I first got into this silly running stuff, I, by chance, was on Mt Shavano when Gavin finished Nolans 14. I remember shaking his hand and thinking it was the coolest and most inspiring thing I had ever witnessed. He later asked "didn't you try Nolans a while back?", to which I responded "yes, it was glorious disaster. I learned a lot!". Funny how these sort of connections play out in a small community.

I moved up in the field steadily until I was in about 10th or so, as fast I was willing to run at this point. I met Abby at around the 20 mile mark at Skeenah Gap for the first time where I changed out of my 215 gram racers into a burlier shoe along with a fresh pair of socks (fear the humidity!). I was able to see her again at the Wilscot Gap as I followed the infamous Duncan Ridge trail (also known as the Dragon's Back) over endless mountains and knobs. I stayed by myself through this section, doing my best to keep the calories, electrolytes and water coming. It was super convenient that every aid had Tailwind; I probably drank 40 or so bottles total!

Pit stop before the night. Photo by Matthew Farina
At Old Dial Road, Abby prepped me for the coming night with a dry shirt and headlamp. A short descent off of Benton MacKaye Trail put me on the road itself. I've found that by running roads one or two times a week, that it was more than a lot of the other runners I spokes with. So on this next section of road, I was able to move up a couple positions then came into the aid station at Stanley Creek TH tied for 7th. Leaving the aid station, headlamp now on, I was able to build enough of a gap with a consistently strong hiking pace that I was alone for the meandering descent towards Deep Gap. I moved into 6th position just before entering the aid station. Despite feeling good, I made a point to spend some time at Deep Gap to eat my first of many potato floats (boiled potatoes in a cup covered with coke) and confirm the directions for the lollipop loop as I had read about prior confusion. I wasn't too concerned though, I was well prepared with the route on my Suunto should I get confused or miss a turn.

I left the aid alone and wouldn't see a soul along the whole lollipop loop. Despite being (allegedly) 5.4 miles, the distance really seemed to drag on. It felt like ages before I even made the cut across the river and began ascending back up. Staying vigilent for the reflective course marking flags, I just kept my head down and eventually popped out of the loop and back into the Deep Gap aid station.

The next section consisted of a short bit of road running so I packed up my poles and opted for single bottle. I always know that on these road sections you just need to keep running all that you can, as they are the easiest miles you'll get the whole time and a great place to make some time. I moved into 5th place just before the Camp Morganton aid station where I met finally met Abby again. She tended to my feet (gross) while I tended to a burrito and a cold brew coffee. I left the aid in 6th, but quickly reclaimed 5th with my eyes on 4th (who apparently was actually in 2nd, but that's another story).

Consumption as an art form, Abby lurks behind keeping the pipeline full. (Photo Matthew Farina)
I had some more potato floats at Deep Gap and left in 5th place. Shortly after starting my second loop around the Flat Creek Trail the skies suddenly opened up with the fury that had been forecasted. I just barely able to get my coat out in time! I plodded along the now puddled and saturated trail with bullets of rain tickling my hood. There were plenty of folks out on their first lap which gave me some people to chase and keep the monotony at a minimum. I caught up to Gavin at the end of the lap and slowed to chat with him for a couple minutes before pushing on towards my fourth and final pit stop at Deep Gap.

The rain wouldn't relent. Ahead was a moderate ascent and then what I thought would be a short bop over to Weaver Creek. I moved into 4th place on the climb. Ouch, should have checked the elevation profile here as it was actually 1500ft descent to the aid station. On this out and back spur, I measured 2nd and 3rd to be a bit under an hour ahead of me; but 5th, a guy I had passed hours ago had come out of nowhere to just five minutes behind me. I tried to put my head down on the ascent out of the lonely aid station both to catch and hold on. In hindsight, I let my calorie intake waver in this section trying to stay dry (which I failed at, anyways). I made it to Abby at Stanley Creek just as the sky was barely letting go of the darkness. I was getting a bit antsy about placing here, but Abby centered me and forced me to inhale the rest of a coffee, some coke and (homemade!) potato soup.

I dashed out onto the final road section with high hope of holding a steady run. My mentality wavered and my legs followed, my legs were definitely sore but I sort of gave myself a bit too much liberty as I turned up Old Dial Rd. I took a couple walk breaks, but per usual walking doesn't make you feel much better, you just go a lot slower. I plodded along towards Wilscott Gap, beginning to seriously feel some fatigue. I arrived at the aid station with Abby armed and ready to both continue crewing and pace the last 30 or so miles to the finish.

Early morning uphill grind, finally with Abby keeping me engaged (and photographed!)

My pace was pathetic, but Abby got me moving a bit faster. It wasn't until we had moved a few miles to the next aid, Skeenah Gap, and saw 5th place Walter flying up behind me. Something clicked in my brain and I met his pace as best I could. We stayed relatively as a pack of three (myself, Abby and Walter) into Fish Gap. We left simultaneously from the aid, but I just couldn't hang with Walter's pace -- especially on the downhills, my quads just didn't have it anymore.

Grinding out what I could on the uphills just after dawn

I was now running scared, clinging to the back of the top five, I didn't know if 6th was just behind me or an hour back. White Oak Stomp was about a touch over an hour away on the out but Duncan Ridge had no mercy for those returning to it's ground. The ridge is truly natural work of art, masochistically speaking. Whatever you trained on, it's not as steep or barely as steep as this, it's glorious and it takes forever. I had to remember that it was a moment like this why I was here in the first place. Head down and legs churning on the uphills, shuffling what my trashed quads could on the downhills. We arrived at White Oak Stomp to find that I was just over an hour back of 4th (who Walter had already passed) I just needed to hold on a bit longer!

The final and near eternal-feeling mega climb to Coosa Bald

A blurry eyed perspective of the trails winding down to Wolf Creek

The final stretch as I suspected, had grown immensely since I had ran the other way. After a final grunt up Coosa Bald it was long descent to the unmanned Wolf Creek water station. The downhills remained a problem but the new problem was finding strength to run the scattered relative flats in this next section. I'm learning that at the end of these things, it requires seemingly herculean effort to accomplish near anything so you might as well run if it's remotely possible. This is observation made in hindsight as at the time I was less enthusiastic about my abilities. The trail wound up and around seemingly pointlessly to nowhere. I couldn't remember what the beginning (now end) of the course was like, but when we crossed pavement I knew we were close.

Feet from the finish, relieved. (Photo by Matthew Farina)

My downward shuffle scooted me along the final wooded section until the glimmer of Vogel Lake peaked through the trees. Gaining pavement, I knew the end was less than a mile out. I looked behind me to see a woman moving extremely well, I did not want to have to sprint to the finish to stay in front of the lead woman! "I'm not in the race!" she belted out -- thank goodness -- she caught me a few seconds later, just a volunteer heading back to the finish. Still, you always need to finish strong, which in this case mean under 10min/mile pace. I thanked Abby for crewing and pacing as the roaring crowd of 20 spouses, parents and friends tricked into spending their weekend at a 100mi race greeted me into the finish, I could single out the cheers of Abby's parents as well as our Blue Ridge hosts. You really can't top these moments.

Stupid and happy.

Promptly after crossing the line I found a chair, as instinct tends to help you out on these type of finishes. The belt buckle was colossal, you would need a separate belt system simply to hoist and suspend the Cruel Jewel buckle. There truthfully isn't a good way to describe why it's fun to do this, why these moments are unforgettable and practically life changing. It's like asking somebody why a food tastes good, it just does. Maybe someday I'll have a reason, but for now I know I just really like this stuff.

Abby kept me going for 28 hours all by herself! Having to both crew and pace (especially 30 miles of the Dragon's Back) is not to be underestimated!
We spent the rest of the weekend lounging on Blue Ridge Lake and at the lake house itself. It was such a privilege to meet new friends with such a beautiful place to stay while others had to retreat to their soggy tent in the state park. Amazingly, I came out of this thing completely injury free, just very, very sore with a couple blisters on my toes. I didn't know what Georgia was going to deliver with the Cruel Jewel, but I can't have imagined a better taste of the eastern ultra-running scene is all about.

Sunday, March 4, 2018


Transgrancanaria is really cool. The race crosses the island beach-to-summit-to-beach by a meandering route which dashes through unique sub-biomes and quaint Spanish towns. As far as destination races go, this one has got to be near the top -- I can’t think of a much better way to experience the island! So Abby and I scheduled a full 10-day getaway in order to take in all that Gran Canaria had to offer at a slower pace for a few days before we both took on the challenge.

Typical view on the island. In this case, looking up towards Roque Nublo from Artenara

Getting to Gran Canaria ended up being the first major obstacle. After our first flight, the next three flights would not allow us to check in until moments before and
then would not accept our boarding passes. We did, eventually after several stressful layovers (including wasting a sickening amount of money on an airport hotel) and renting a car, reach our quaint abode on the west coast of the island. Our bags joined us 36 hours later. We had wanted to run more before the race, but after days of travel which necessitated a few 10+ hour nights of sleep we opted not to push it. This may have actually saved us from the trap many Americans fall into when arriving at the massive playgrounds which host many European races.

Abby doing her best to not get overzealous in the days before the race. Our little home in El Risco is below!
The island of Gran Canaria is pretty amazing. From our rental on the west coast, we were clear from the more typical beachfront resorts you can find at any tropical locale. Instead, we found small agricultural communities nestled into valleys and mountainsides. To our surprise and the, Americans’ presence is a rarity. We spent our days mostly hopping in our little car and driving the winding roads to whatever view or lunch spot seemed fit for the day -- for the most part, we put the race out of our minds.

At an unbelievable cactus garden and cafe we stumbled upon in San Nicloas

Snacking on what seemed to be a local favorite (potatoes in red "mojo" sauce) in Teror

We have no problem being tourists walking the boardwalk in Agaete.

The race was at hand soon enough. On Thursday, we collected our bibs, submitted our drop bags, verified what aid station food was vegan (water only, it seemed) and confirmed that there was still no explicit list of required gear. The race is pretty big, there were about 4000 registered runners combined across the five categories ranging from 265km to 15km. Transgrancanaria is by far the most popular with 1200 (1100 men, 100 women) entered. Even more apparent from the get go was the sheer monopoly Salomon has on the trail running market -- especially in Europe -- but hey, they make some pretty nice stuff!

Friday morning we woke up to no power because I blew a fuse trying to charge my headlamp with a converter. We put our stuff together and ate our remaining food at home before beginning a motorized near-double circumnavigation of the island before the race even started! Abby and I ate dinner at La Hierba Luisa, a fantastic vegan restaurant we found the night before to cram in as many delicious calories as we could, money no object. We parked the car about a quarter mile from the eventual finish line in Maspolamos and got in line for a bus that would take us to Las Palmas. In the 60 seconds before we boarded the bus, it poured rain so the ride north was spent mostly trying to dry our clothes and sneak in one last nap. In Las Palmas, a host of nervous spandex clad runners swarmed the proximal cafes to force down some final calories and sip on espressos -- Abby and I being true Americans, opted for Americanos and a family sized bag of potato chips.

The 11PM start was truly all that European racing was hyped up to be: a live band, announcers lauding the top runners (Abby included, myself excluded) and “fans” (tourists which happened to be out, locals with nothing better to do and spouses tricked into crewing, I’m guessing) lining the streets. As the corral proceeded forth, I made sure to start slow; I let Abby pass me right away, she’s certainly the better pure runner of the two of us. The leaders’ pace was ruthless at high-five-minute miles, contently I putzed along until I could find some hiking ascents and out-of-control descents -- that’s why I was here anyways!

The herd departed the sandy beach after a couple miles and began to thin as it climbed an eroding and poorly paved road. Rolling dirt trails and small city streets put me in the first aid station soon enough. I topped off my fluids (soft flasks vastly over-saturated with tailwind so each water refill would offer a progressively lesser concentration) and snacked on a couple bananas as I left the aid. Abby entered the aid right as I left. The field thinned more as we made a net ascent to the quaint city of Teror on similar terrain as which led us to the first aid. I can’t remember much interesting on this stretch.

Abby and I in the bottom left corner
No starting gun, just fire works.
The herd progresses forth
At this point I found myself leap frogging with a man with fantastically strong looking hamstrings wearing Hokas -- let’s call him Ham-Hoka. The trail wound steeply uphill, narrowing to single track until it seemed we were on the edge of Tamabada. After a short section of road, the trail abruptly dropped. Sensing my opportunity I was able to cut a short corner (Euro racing, am I right?) and was ripping the descent exactly as stupidly reckless as I hoped I would. With my headlamp as bright as it could be, I barely maintained traction on the wet dirt and rocky steps. Some sections of the trail were in a tunnel formed by sagging foliage only a few feet tall. Cackling in delight I was able to gap the entire pod I was running with, besides Ham-Hoka. A ~20 minute ascent immediately followed the drop. Looking across the canyon, I could see a solid stream of headlamps pouring down the mountainside.
Typical trail (may have actually been on the course) on this section before the huge descent.
Ham-Hoka and I left the aid station at Presa de los Perez at the same time, I almost forgot to get some food for the road and had to double back for a handful of bananas and figs. We hiked steadily at the edge of the pace I thought I could hold. The climb went on for a long while, with my head down and hands on my knees. I really wished I had some poles -- my quads were going to pay for this sooner or later. The gradient eased and we jogged along rolling trails in the pine forest as the sky hinted at daylight. In Artenara I had to let Ham-Hoka go as I made use of the toilet facilities. Looking for food in the aid, an Englishman was already quite angry that there was no source of salt besides a colossal pan of paella. I choked down some more dry fruit (the taste of bananas now making me gag) along with a couple requisite cups of cola. Leaving the aid I couldn’t stomach much solid food so I filled my bottles with two-thirds cola and the rest with water. Calories are calories.

The sun rose as I focussed on maintaining a strong hike up to the ridge forming the uppermost caldera of the island. Finding myself next to a Scottish runner living in Chamonix, it was nice to speak in English for a bit. The sun was rising and a current of clouds were rumbling over the ridge opposite ours with the sun tickling the upper surface of the inversion into a pink mist. It was an incredible sight. We kept a steady pace until I had to pull into the trees for my usual morning business (bathroom breaks are a more than frequent occurrence both during and outside of running for me -- too much fiber, I suppose). Returning to the trail I suddenly found my mojo gone. I missed a turn and checking the route on my watch had to traverse cross country across a slight ridge and lost several minutes. It felt as if I hadn’t eaten enough over the past 7 hours; in retrospect,that’s probably exactly what was happening! I did my best to not let up on the descent to Tejeda.

Smiling heading down from the Roque
In Tejeda I found some potatoes in red sauce. They were far too decadent for an aid station, I thought, but I plowed through as many as I could since they tasted salty and I hadn’t had any of that in a long while. I held myself strictly to a run, hoping to rebound from the doldrums I was in. Three runners trailed close behind: two men running together and a lone woman. I made a pact with myself to not let them pass on the pending climb to Roque Nublo. I beared down and gritted my teeth, but at certain point could no longer justify the aerobic debt I was putting myself into. Offering their encouragement, all three passed me before I could waddle up to the island’s summit. I felt terrible, but all things considered was doing just fine. Knowing my drop bag was minutes away I did my best to not slog like a miserable and sullen weakling. If I’m going to suffer, I’m going to be damn proud of it and march to my demise with a smile on my face!

In Garanon, a barrage of marathon runners cascaded around me as I took my time to gather my drop bag, eat a bowl of pasta, re-load my gels and of course stiffen up my legs as much as I possibly could. Leaving the aid I tried emptying a packet of tailwind into my bottle but instead tore it open and coated my already damp hands and clothes with powder. A volunteer took pity on me and did it for me. Sensing a serious lowpoint if I didn’t turn things around soon, I forced my stiff legs back to a run. It was a near 6,000ft net downhill to the finish “I came here to push, so let’s go for it”, I thought. Endless technical cobblestone trails flew underneath me, doing my best to keep up with -- or at least stay out of the way of -- marathon runners. I had five gels to take me to the finish, they wouldn’t last the whole way but I could figure that out later. Keeping the sugar coming I inflicted all my legs could bear and moved through the Bartolome aid station with a water top-off and a couple cups of cola.

“Okay, two more climbs. Just keep running, don’t you dare think it’s okay to hike! It has to end eventually, right?”, I thought to myself. Well, I was hiking sooner than I had hoped. The climb was short and the following descent was a blast. Running in the women’s top ten, the competitiveness was tangible. Despite being far from the top ten myself, the atmosphere was contagious. We streamed into Ayagaures, the final real aid station and moved just as quickly out.
A lot of this.
The woman I had ran the majority of the previous ascent with shot off like a rocket. An impressive and highly decisive surge that the other women and myself couldn’t match. The final climb was larger than I thought. Eyes glazed uphill and gel- and cola-sticky hands pressed to my knees I marched on. I probably could see Maspalomas from the top, but I didn’t bother to get my hopes up quite yet. The horror stories about the end of the race were worse than true. After a short trail to the bottom of a canyon, the trail wound through a water polished boulder field drainage. “I can’t run this” I thought, and fell into a walk, “This feels just as bad but slower”.

And that’s about how it went. I resigned to let whomever pass me so long as I didn’t dare walk. Still, I would occasionally falter: a muscle would cramp, my foot would tweak or I would get down on myself and walk a couple steps. A water station greeted us at the end of the road, I quickly downed a cup and kept on. “Just don’t WALK!” I screamed at my legs. Onwards, the gravel road turned into an “urban drainage” -- essentially a cobblestone Los Angeles river. One last aid station offered a reprieve from the pain, the allure of a chair in the shade was overwhelming. Two cups of coke and I was out of there before I had the chance to look for an open seat.

I could taste the finish! Running alongside a marathon runner who appeared to be in a similarly damaged state, we pulled each other along; each demanded the other keep running whenever we even hinted at walking it again. Doing my best to hold the pace, I succumbed to letting my fellow runner with 50 fewer miles in his legs take the lead to the finish. Turning the corner I let the last of my efforts spill across the red carpet beneath the archway. Utterly exhausted, I sauntered out of the finish area. Apparently needing to be off my feet more than food and water, I plopped myself down in a patch of grass. Delighted, I cast my windbreaker over my face and fell asleep.
The highest resolution of my finish photo I could glean from the internet without paying.
After several hours consisting of:

1. Being unable to get back on my feet and not knowing how to ask for help in Spanish
2. Falling asleep in the rental car
3. Weighing the effort needed to get to food, water or a bathroom and whether I needed it
4. Propping myself up against a palm tree watching finishers

Abby darted around the corner, I could tell she was looking for me but stand up I could not. I made some sort of semi-audible chirp that resembled a cheer as I rolled around trying to get to my feet. We met outside the finish area. She had fallen around mile 14 and bore the beginnings of black eye to match her legs covered in dried blood and scabs. At 21 hours, she had just barely accomplished both of our real goals for the race: don’t get your headlamp out twice. There was too much to share, neither of us knew where to begin! The only thing we could settle on for sure, was that it was one of the greatest adventures of our lives.

Will we be back? Maybe.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Wild Basin Traverse

Labor Day weather was looking phenomenal so I was also assuming that anywhere popular and accessible would be a swarm. Lately, I've been interested in the Middle St. Vrain which comprises a spectacular, overlooked and remote section of LA Freeway which is feeling more and more possible the more I learn about the line. When I found out Jack would need a car shuttle to move his car back to Boulder while he and Kiri ran across RMNP to her cabin in her Grand Lake I realized I had a convenient car shuttle for the Wild Basin Traverse!

Only known to be fully completed by Peter Bakwin, the full Wild Basin Traverse crosses 15 peaks in a 30 mile loop. Wild Basin is also a great destination on a busy weekend as the approaches are rather long and a few obstacles along the Continental Divide prevent easy access. Important for this day was that I would be dropped off at the Sandbeach Lake TH and finish at the Wild Basin ranger station 2 miles up the road where Jack would leave the car!

I slept through my alarm, woke up to a phone call and was picked up minutes later. Again, the weather looked perfect so sunscreen and a shell was all I needed for the day. For my pack I opted for a two-liter bladder over bottles since I wasn't going to be finding any running water and I would need to have more than two soft flasks would provide. I was then able to use upfront storage for food which prompted me to eat a lot more than I normally do. For shoes I wore the S-Lab Wings 8 Soft Ground, they run well, climb well, look rad and the 2017 model can seemingly take a huge beating and stay in fine condition!

Looking east from the slopes of Lookout Mountain
I left the Sandbeach Lake TH at 6:10AM and walk-jogged the trail until Peter's GPS left the trail -- I would heavily rely on this handy file most of the day! Lookout Mountain is actually a cool little pinnacle on the south ridge of Mt Meeker though is utterly dwarfed by every other peak along the route. The summit is marked with a mushroom like tower with expansive views to the enormity of Wild Basin. I didn't waste time lingering here, after a short descent I began the giant 4,000ft climb to Mt Meeker. The final ridge traverse to Mt Meeker is a gem, an exposed knife edge with great secure holds the whole time.

On top of the Lookout Mountain pinnacle

The mushroom cap to Lookout Mountain

The knife edge ridge leading to Mt Meeker. "The Beaver" and Longs Peak on the right.

From Meeker I was excited to make my first trip up "The Beaver" or "Southeast Longs", the opposite side of the Notch from the actual summit. From the Beaver, you could say hello to the crowds on the summit of Longs -- however, the Notch makes it rather difficult to get there. Using Peter's GPS, I identified a chimney that I believed to be Gorrell's, the 5.5 downclimb to reach the bottom of the palisades directly. It went well at first but I hit several dead ends and wasted a bunch of time before finally reaching the talus beneath. My struggles seemed to be well enjoyed by those ascending the standard Clark's Arrow route below -- though some were horrified asking if they had climb up that way (did you even look at the route or map before heading up!?). I wrapped around through the east side of the Notch and took the stepladder scramble to the summit. Longs was predictably crowded so I slapped the summit marker, bombed down the Homestretch (looking around unsuccessfully for my friend Joe who I knew was up there somewhere) and skirted off of the Narrows towards the Longs-Pagoda saddle.

The prominent tower of the Keyboard of the Winds
Getting to Pagoda I was able to get a close-up view of the Keyboard of the Winds; I noticed two climbers on top of Pagoda, when I saw them leave the summit to the West I suspected I would either know them or they would soon be retreating back over the summit, stymied by the complicated west side. I tagged the summit of Pagoda just over 30 minutes after leaving Longs. Getting off of Pagoda to the west is notoriously difficult: the ridge direct goes at a radically exposed 5.7 that I don't wish to solo -- down, no less -- in running shoes. Kyle and I found a line earlier this summer that went a little easier but today I was armed with Peter's 3rd class sneak route! As I began traversing back southeast towards the sneak the two climbers yelled out to me, it was Bill and Dereck just starting a multi-day attempt on the LA Freeway. They weren't exactly sure what line to take but after some trial and error we all found the wonderfully simple downclimb to the ledge that would safely transport us to the Pagoda-Chiefs Head saddle. Motoring away, the last I saw they were just a bit behind me heading to Chiefs Head.

Look really closely and you can see Bill and Dereck following the ledges across to the downclimb off of Pagoda

The Broadway-esque ledge providing easy passage off of Pagoda

Bill and Dereck dwarfed in Pagoda's Southwest face

Looking back into Glacier Gorge from the summit of Chiefs Head

Looking towards Alice (left) and McHenrys (right) from Chiefs Head

Mt Alice is a big mountain, its separation from Chiefs Head consists of a talus descent followed by a long stretch of tundra and then a section of easy but steep hiking to the summit. I felt really tired here so I just put my head down and tried not to ever stop. The summit came soon after, marking just about the halfway point of the traverse after 7 hours. The next peak Tanima is perhaps the most annoying summit to tag as it sits on a peninsula 0.75 mile out from the general line of the divide. The summit is nevertheless worthy as a vantage point to the entire basin.

Tanima (left) offers a long tundra jog between Alice and Isolation (big complicated looking peak in the distance)
Moving from Tanima through the Cleaver to Isolation Peak was new terrain to me. Despite its profile and position, the Cleaver went at an exposed but simple 3rd class. The north ridge of Isolation looked like a great route but certainly requiring some careful route finding on steep 5th class terrain. Instead, I took Peter's advice and took ledge along the west face until a grassy gully opened above me. Although I added a 100ft or so of elevation change, this hiking route was surely faster and way safer than slowly moving up the true north face. Even after regaining the ridge, the summit of Isolation felt like a real slog. It was fun to look west at a new perspective of the Fast Pfiffner Traverse route which climbs the west ridge of Isolation after descending to between Fourth Lake and Fifth Lake from the Alice/Andrew col.

The North Face of Isolation Peak, the west ridge sneak is visible on the right.

Summit of the Cleaver, Tanima behind

The west face of Isolation, Fifth Lake and the East Inlet
Descending Isolation I began to have a pity party and seriously considered bailing to Pipit Lake. The prospect of exploring the Ogalalla - Elk Tooth ridge re-engaged me though, and I found a well of energy that enabled me to actually run a good bit of even the uphill tundra. Ouzel and Ogalalla pass quickly, at 4:30PM, this is actually the earliest in the day I've ever found myself on Ogalalla Peak. By any route, Ogalalla is big day and today I was happy to not be so pressed for time as to not take in the beauty of the cirque of the Middle St. Vrain. These mountains are gentle on the west but fall sheerly to the glacier beneath on the east. The scale is so breathtaking I briefly consider hiking to Buchanan pass to fully experience the area.

Descending Isolation's south ridge and looking towards Ouzel (bump on the left) and Ogalalla (distant high point)

Shoes and tundra

Looking towards Copeland (far left) the Elk Tooth (center, distant) and Ogalalla (right highpoint)
I begin downclimbing the east ridge of Ogalalla towards the Elk Tooth. The rock is in poor quality so I engage bypasses whenever possible rather than traversing each tower. I found in general, the south side of the ridge to be the safer and easier option. Still, care must be taken and I get cliffed out a few times on ledges covered in sand and loose rock. Cautiously, I regain the ridge at the saddle and stay generally along the crest in my final scramble to the summit which seems to be the last pinnacle still basking in the evening light beaming through notch formed by Ouzel and Copeland.

4th class slab leading from Ogalalla to Elk Tooth. Wild Basin to the left (featuring Copeland) and Middle St. Vrain and the Indian Peaks to the right

Same as above but with me

The Elk Tooth rising above Middle St. Vrain

At 6:00PM I am tired and hopeful to get back to Boulder for some dinner. The final two peaks look to be grassy knolls on a map but in reality look quite ominous after 12 hours and 13 other summits. Armed with the entirety of trails in Wild Basin mapped on my watch I decide to descend to the Hutchinson Lakes trail which ends up being a bit more complicated than I had hoped. I skirt through some cliff bands and find the trail to be in obsolescent condition. Nearly impossible to follow without GPS, a cairn only every 400ft and overgrown willows and krumholtz  make travel extremely slow. When I finally reach Pear Lake I know the ranger station is only about 4.5 miles away. Unfortunately, the trail takes me on an eight mile wandering with needless ascents, twists and turn. Exhausted, I resign to my headlamp at Finch Lake and continue pouting along the trail. As darkness fully takes over I somehow find even more motivation to be done and again dig into a well of energy to jog the final miles to the car. In the end, it probably wouldn't have added that much more time to just add on the last two summits.

Copeland standing proud of the Hutchinson Lakes (lack of) trail

Pear Lake

It was a great day! I summitted 13 named peaks in just under 15 hours. I was alone the entire day aside from the crowds on Longs and seeing Bill and Derek on Pagoda. I was most happy to really come to understand the routes which sneak around the dangers and perils of the more unsafe sections of the LA Freeway. Peter also bailed at Elk Tooth the first time he tried to traverse Wild Basin, finishing in almost the exact same time. Hopefully, it doesn't take me that long to return! If I can learn Gorrell's traverse better and having already figured out Pagoda, Isolation and Elk Tooth, I know I'll be able to move much faster on my next go -- whenever that is.

With all of the hype on seemingly a few overly classic and iconic mountains and routes its reassuring to know that a route of this magnitude, remoteness and obscurity is only a short 45 minute drive away. If you want to have an adventure away from the crowds, you need to get far away from a trailhead, on something technical and on something committing -- so basically, Wild Basin.


Lookout Mountain - 10,715'
Mt Meeker - 13,911'
The Beaver - 14,060'
Longs Peak - 14,255'
Pagoda Mountain - 13,497'
Chiefs Head Peak - 13,579'
Mt Alice - 13,310'
Tanima Peak - 12,420'
The Cleaver - 12,200'
Isolation Peak - 13,118'
Ouzel Peak - 12,716'
Ogalalla peak - 13,198'
Elk Tooth - 12,848'