Monday, July 24, 2017

McCall Trailrunning Classic 40 Miler

I punched a ticket on the pain-train and ran my first ultramarathon. I'm a casual runner. To put it in more simple terms; there are the elite, the sub-elite, and then there is me, perfectly happy in the back of the pack.

Date: July 15, 2017.

Objective: Go 40 miles in under 14:30. Peak 1 - Jughandle Mountain 8,310. Peak 2 - Boulder Mountain 8,377.

Stats: 40 miles, approx 9,000ft gain in 13:13. Rough and tough technical trails. Note; a software glitch/update erased my GPS track and stats, hence no Strava link. (Cue sad violin music and sobbing.)

GoPro video coming soon!

Route map. Photo: Deez.

Before I go any further I want to give mad props to Deez who went far beyond anything that was asked of her. She ended up playing an impromptu role of crew and aid station volunteer. She even managed to snap some really good photos! I also want to give a shout out to all the aid station volunteer's. Thanks for being out there! Last but not least, thanks to the RD's Jeremy and Brandi for a well organized event. Before any of this sounds impressive I'll tell you the top finishers came in under 8 hours. My focus was finishing, not placing. Everyone I told that this was my first ultra said the same thing... Well you picked a tough one. 

I'd been sucked into the idea of running an ultramarathon this year. Specifically, I was training for about 50k/31.2 miles. I had a few races in mind but my selection criteria was not very firm. Ideally I wanted to run in a new area, obviously to some absurd distance and hopefully tag a peak or two, or three... you get the idea. I settled on the MTC 40 after confirming the peaks on the course were legit on Lists of John and the timing seemed to fit.

I've put in a few miles recently, as well as over the last couple of years, including another excellent race by the same awesome RD's; The Legend of Bear Pete 30k. I knew I was picking a very tough course for my first ultra, so I allowed my decision to be guided by faith and not by fear. I love running, I love mountains and I love long hard days; this had it all. I decided to try this based on love, not based on ego.

The elites finished in half the time that I did, but the fact that I finished was all that mattered to me. I wasn't planning on filming/shooting the whole thing, but since I do have some pictures and videos, I'll do my best to recount the day and not bore you (the three readers) to death.

In the pre-race meeting on Friday evening, we went over a course walk though, questions, comments and safety concerns. We found out one guy just finished at Western States 100. We also find out that another guy set the speed record on Mt. Rainier last year. I was honored and humbled to be standing next to some seriously legit mountain runners (of which I am not).

Saturday morning, time to gear up. Once the Body Glide goes on, there's no turning back.
We hit the pre-race check in, I pinned on bib #7 and stood in the back of the pack waiting for the gun to go off. Denise did her best to break my apparent anxious demeanor, albeit unsuccessfully.

Race strategy: Run if you can, walk if you need to, crawl if you have to.

At 6am sharp the horn blew and we were off.  The field spread out quickly and the elites were long gone. I was off to a slow start as planned. I felt good and had to remind myself to slow it down a few times. Eventually the pack spread out enough that I could no longer hear voices in front of me, and I couldn't see the other runners behind me. I spent a lot of time alone on this beautiful and very hard course. I really can't give a mile-by-mile account, so I'll let the pictures tell the story and fill in what little bit of detail I can.

Just before the horn blew at 6:00am. About 30 people started and all but 2 finished. I planned to be in the back of the pack, so that's where I started and that's where I stayed.
Photo: Deez.

Past the first aid station and heading to Jughandle Mountain.

Along the ridge of Jughandle Mountain, after Stupid Hill.

Summit of Jughandle.

Looking down the descent route of Jughandle. Note the pink ribbons.

View from Jughandle. Boulder Mountain is on the right and was the next peak of the day, after about 10 more miles of running.

View over Jug Mountain Ranch.

Louie Lake from the top of Jughandle.

Boulder Mountain from Jug.

Louie Lake Aid Station, mile 12. Denise had hiked about a mile and a half to see me here.
Photo: Deez.

Photo: Deez.

From Louie Lake to Boulder Aid we had to go up and around twin peaks, to Boulder Lake. It was uneventful but the trail had a lot of rocks, large boulders and roots just waiting to throw me off my feet and laugh at me. My mantra here was If you look up, you're going down. Deez hiked back down to Boulder Lake Aid Station and hung out there. 40 milers went through Boulder Aid twice at mile 16+ and mile 31+.

Running into Boulder Lake Aid station.
Photo: Deez.

From Boulder Aid at mile 16 was a hot, short but steep climb to Shaw Twin Aid at mile 20. After Shaw the course went up and over Boulder Mountain. Thankfully a little thunderstorm rolled through with some wind and light rain. That kept the blazing sun off my back and kept the temps down but I still hiked most of this section.

Going up Boulder Mountain.

Looking back at Jughandle from Boulder.

Summit of Boulder Mountain.

After topping out on Boulder, it was a very steep and fast descent to the Buckhorn Aid Station where the pack goats were hanging out.

Goat selfie at Buckhorn Outbound Aid station. Mile 24ish.

From Buckhorn Aid we did a 2.2 mile out and back section with 1,300 feet of gain for a 4.4 mile round trip to Buckhorn Summit at mile 26 and back Buckhorn AS. That section wasn't too steep but it was a very rocky and hard to run up or down. From that point on it was officially an ultramarathon, and in theory it was all downhill from there.

From Buckhorn AS, the course descended the same rocky trail back to Boulder Lake Aid and the 50k mark. The second time down this was mentally taxing, but this time I knew were to slow down and where I could cut it loose a bit.

Pulling into Boulder AS again was a bit of blur, but Deez caught a moment of it.


I was there long enough to slurp down a few goodies and change socks, which required an almost embarrassing amount of assistance from Deez. I was starting to cramp pretty good. 

Photo: Deez.

After that I plugged into the iPod and rocked out to the sonic bliss of TOOL to grind out the last 8 miles to the finish; most if which I do not remember. Other than the last checkpoint at what was our first aid station that was now just a water drop, I was totally alone. I kept looking over my shoulder thinking there was someone behind me about to pass, but there never was. I was going to bust out the GoPro to film crossing the finish line, but by the time I saw it I was pretty spaced out. Priority; finishing the race. Non-priority; filming the finish. When I saw the finish, instinct kicked in and my only sprint of the day resulted.

Photo: Deez.

Photo: Deez.

After a return greeting from Deez, the RD's and what remained of the people in the party tent, my main focus became not vomiting. The baked potato bar looked good, but I couldn't eat. The beer was cold but I couldn't stomach it. An ice cold Sprite ended up being the ticket to getting my stomach under control. I was glad to be there to see that last few 40 mile warriors make it in. This course is definitely tough and I was definitely under trained. Doesn't matter, finished ultra.

It might have been a long, slow day on the course but I was soon on the fast track to recovery with pizza and beer.

Happy trails!

Friday, June 30, 2017

25 Miles To Nowhere

Yet another harebrained scheme of mine, also known as an adventure run to bag another insignificant local peak in the Boise Mountains.

Date: June 24, 2017.

Objective: Gardiner Peak elevation 6,500ft.

Stats: 25.2 miles and 4,990ft of gain round trip. Class 1. Strava track.

Partners: N/A.

Links: See Super Daves report for a better description of hiking the peak.

Gear notes: Self supported runs at this distance are tricky because you leave the trail head carying everything you'll have. That's the long way of saying 2 liters of water was slightly not enough.

Gardiner Peak is another one of those peaks where the drive is longer and probably more difficult than the hike itself. I was looking to run about 18 miles but no more than 20, but when I mapped out this route, it looked to be about 22 round trip. I had already missed a key long run a couple of weeks before so I was definitely a little under trained for this distance at this current point in time. I had also wanted to check out the Mahalo Trail, which would add a few more miles than I needed. I decided to go with the primary objective of tagging Gardiner Peak and getting in those 20+ miles as I work up to marathon-plus distance during this training cycle. I figured I could feel it out after tagging the peak and add a few more miles if I felt up for it. I kept a conservative pace and just kept moving forward. Other than stopping to fiddle with the GoPro, that is.

The trail out to Gardiner was overgrown but not hard to find and stay on. There were a few open areas that provided a nice view all the way to the edge of the Sawtooths. At the saddle just west of the peak, I found a small break in the brush that lead to a faint trail to the top with minimal bushwhacking. There was a cairn and a register at the highpoint, but no rewarding view. Lots of flies cut my time at the top short and soon I was at the junction for the Mahalo Trail. Deep down inside I knew it was a lousy idea, but I went for it. The climb out was steep in places and mostly shaded but still reduced me to hiking. Its a beautiful trail with some fun terrain. Running back down the ridge road was hot and dusty. Descending into Shingle Creek was hot and I had a couple of stops to cool off and splash some water on my face. I'm a total wuss in the heat so I took the last few miles as slow as I needed to.

Shaky GoPro video below.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Couch Peak

We took a casual and scenic stroll up Couch Peak in the Soldier Mountains.

Date: June 17, 2017.

Objective: Couch Peak aka Elk Ridge 8,551ft.

Stats: 6.4 miles and 2,339ft gain in 5:40 round trip. Class 1/2.

Partners: Deez and Ketchum.

Gear Notes: N/A.

Links: Big Dan's report with driving directions. Splattski's hike.

Couch Peak, aka Elk Ridge from the road. The summit is the second point from the right.

I was looking for a peak that was close to town that wouldn't be too hard to cram into a half day trip. Since Big Dan and Splattski have pretty much done every peak I've ever looked at doing, it didn't take long to dig up some great beta on Couch Peak. I figured that the views would be pretty fantastic since the summit was a USGS triangulation station. The only other criteria I set for this hike is that I did not want to have to use the words post-hole or bushwhack to describe it. We crossed our fingers and set out with a promising weather forecast and a sub-alpine start.

Smoky Mountains with Big Peak on the left.

Wells Summit parking area.

We left the small parking area at Wells Summit just before 11am. The views were already proving to be worth the visit.

First section of trail.

The fist mile was a little steep and rocky but the trail was obvious.

Looking toward Fairfield.

Wild flowers.

A few snow patches lingered and the wild flowers were in bloom which added to the scenery.

Ridge to the summit.

The route headed north along the ridge so we were never without a fine view and a slight breeze to cool us off.

Smoky Dome in the Soldier Mountains.
 The main crest of the Soldiers was visible.


We bypassed some of the up-and-down-again stuff where it made sense too. Most of the time, we just stuck to the trail.

Looking northeast over the valley.

In addition to the fine views in every direction, we also got a nice peek into the Pioneer Mountain's as we discussed our plans for a trip into Big Basin, just a month and a half away.

False summit.

After passing the last hill on the ridge, the true summit was not much farther. The high point was obvious and had some type of radio equipment on it.

Deez on the snow.

Deez and Ketchum almost to the top.

Summit 360 Video

Summit of Couch Peak.

Pioneer Mountains from the summit.

After sitting down to a nice break and some lunch on (the) Couch, we started down with the intent of cutting out as much uphill hiking as we could. The small lingering snowfield made for some fun low angle boot skiing to shave a few minutes off the descent.

Ketchum enjoying the view.

Deez on descent,

Looking back on the route.

For being a small peak not far from Boise, its a very pleasant hike with great views and an alpine feel to it. There was one last big hill we had to go up and over to avoid a terrain trap that would be quite costly. Then the flies came out for the hot and steep 900+ foot descent of the initial rocky section just above the parking area; the days only minor disappointment.

Up and over, one last time.

Big Peak.

I'll admit that I spent a fair amount of time staring at Big Peak in the Smoky Mountains. It beckoned me the whole day and now I have another peak to add to the very, very long list of peaks I want to do. Not that its a bad thing, but you know, time...

Happy trails!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Shut Down On McGown

We took a shot at climbing the famous North Couloir on McGown Peak in the Sawtooth Range.

Date: June 3, 2017.

Partners: Josh and Mark.

Objective: McGown Peak 9,860ft.

Stats: 8.5 miles and 2,400ft gain in 8.5hrs round trip. Snow climb up to 50 degrees. Strava track.

Gear notes: Carried rope and pickets that we never used. Should have brought chest high waders and/or a raft.

Links: Idaho: A Climbing Guide.

McGown Peak in the morning.

Josh and I set out from Boise at 3am to rendezvous with Mark at the Stanley Lake trail head at 6. We had seen that another group had great conditions on Peak 9,115 a week before, but we knew that didn't mean jack to us. I wasn't sure if we could even reach the base of the peak and realized I didn't have a plan B if that was the case.

The adventure begins when you don't know what will happen next.

No matter; we were there and we were all in. We wore shoes for the approach hike since we planned on there being some standing water on the trail. Well, there was a lot of it. We waded calf deep in the frigid water, in the crisp morning air, headed for our peak.

Along the trail.

We found the creek crossing of Stanley Lake Creek with little trouble because it was wide and raging. As we poked around looking for a way over it that might keep us dry, we were burning up precious time. If we were going to cross the creek to the other side, we knew we'd have to do it again on the way back.

We're already all in, why not go balls deep.

It was a matter of desire at that point and we still wanted a crack at our peak. After stripping down to our skivvies, I went across the raging torrent first. Half way across and not too bad, then I found a deep channel on the far side that dropped me a bit more than waist deep and snagged my trekking pole. A bit startling, yes. Mission critical, no.

Then Mark and Josh made it across. We were soggy and cold but we quickly righted ourselves and continued walking, err... wading down the, 'eh-hem... trail.

Switching out soggy shoes for dry boots.

So there we were; at the base of the peak. At the point where our route left the trail we switched out our soggy shoes for dry socks and boots. What I hoped would take us a little more than an hour had taken almost three, but we weren't ready to throw in the towel yet. We still had about 3,000 feet to climb to reach the summit and I figured we'd make good time once we hit the snow. 1,500 feet per hour seemed tough, but certainly not out of the question.

Finally gaining some elevation.

We left the trail and headed up the gully to reach the snow field at the base of the couloir. This section was steep, but at least it was above water. It slowed us down a little, but we were still going to give it all we had. Once we hit continuous snow our pace picked up a bit. My toes had felt cold, but now they felt numb; not good. I did get the feeling back fairly quick. It must have been a bad combo of cold feet in cold boots laced too tight.

Approaching the snow field.

The hike to the upper snow field was a welcome change of terrain, pace and scenery.

Josh in front of McGown Peak.

We got to the base of the couloir at 11am. My best-case scenario had us high-fiving on the summit about now. The consensus was we would head up as far as we could. We were feeling good and hoped the snow would be firm up the couloir. Climbing up 45 degree mashed potatoes made our crampons useless and our legs tired.

Leading up to the Couloir, Photo: Josh S.

When we reached the shade of the couloir, the snow was still too soft and the day was only getting warmer. The sun would eventually be on the already sloppy snow.

Mark (left) and Josh (right) pause for a moment before turning back.

Booting up the soft snow was one thing, but cracks in the snow were another. They weren't shooting cracks under our weight; they were horizontal across the whole slope above us. There was no way I could justify climbing above them, only to descend the same slope later in the day.

Close up of the crack. Photo: Josh S.

Cracks and cornice's.

That was our high point of the day. Right at the base of the couloir with the best part of the climb still above us.

Stanley Lake.

Nothing left to do but survey the scene before heading down.

Mark taking pictures before heading down.

Josh heading down.

Plunge stepping and glissading back to the trees was a bit of a relief. At least we knew what lied ahead from that point on. We descended though old avalanche debris and mature trees that were snapped like toothpicks.


Back at the trail, we put on our walking/wading shoes and steamed full speed ahead for the car. The spot of the creek crossing on the way back was not near as bad, or as cold as the first. We kept our pants on and plowed right through in anticipation of cold beer and dry clothes at the car.

Mark crosses the creek.

Hiking out.

The trail was actually pretty easy to find; just look for the running water.

Mark post-holing into the creek.

Mark was wondering what post-holing in the water would be like and his suspicions were soon put to rest.

Log hopping.

Mark, Josh and I soldered through the long, wet, cold and sloppy slog back to the parking lot. Nothing else to do but grin, bear it and crack a joke or two.

Wild flowers along the trail.

You'd think it would be easy to complain at this point, with the tough conditions, no summit and all; but no one ever did. Back at the car, we enjoyed a couple of cold one's and changed wardrobe. No worse for wear and all smiles. And a few mosquito bites, too.

McGown close up. Our route was the obvious finger of snow up the middle of the peak.

This was Type II fun, no doubt. You could classify it as Type III, but we did enjoy it. The adventure means more than the summit. In the end, the mountains always win and that's the way it should be.

McGown from the road.
Someday I'll be back to finish it off. Timing was the piece of the puzzle that we were missing.

Happy trails!