Saturday, August 12, 2017

Big Basin

We hiked in a few days worth of supplies and explored Big Basin in the Pioneer Mountains.

Date: July 28-31

Partners: Deez.

Objectives: Old Hyndman Peak - Lists of JohnJacqueline Peak - Lists of John. Area overview.

Stats: Totaled approx 20 miles and 6,500ft of gain. Individual stats listed below.

Gear notes: We brought the kitchen sink.

GoPro Video.

Trail head.

Every year we have the great debate; should we hike up to a base camp and tag peaks, or go walk around in a big circle and tag peaks. This year we chose to base camp, and I dialed up Big Basin. Its a wonderful area in the already fantastic Pioneer Mountain Range. The area showcases several peaks such as Old Hyndman, which was on my short list for the year. We'd also talked about getting Deez up an 11er and Jacqueline Peak has a great route from that side. The basic plan was to get up there and play it by ear.

Day 1 - Hike to Big Basin 4.9 miles and 2,000 feet of gain.

Other than the bugs the hike in was rather pleasant. We had some low clouds and expected a storm on the hike in with rain gear at the ready. The spot where the trail splits to Big Basin was easy to find and the creek crossing was cold but not difficult. To our astonishment, there was no downfall, none, zip, nada. The thunderstorm started up about the time we were ready to pitch the tent. We got some rain, but the skies quickly cleared. Despite the nice evening weather, we were quick to call retreat and dive in the tent. Those blood sucking vampire bugs also known as mosquito's, were out for, eh-hem, blood.

Low light view of Jacqueline Peak from camp.


Looking up the valley.

Day 2 - Old Hyndman Peak 4.6 miles and 3,000 feet of gain, 5 hour round trip.

In the battle of sleep Vs. early start, sleep won. I didn't set an alarm even though I knew there was a chance of afternoon thunderstorms. I'm usually up early anyways, so I didn't worry about it. I was up early and most of the night, actually. For some reason, neither of us slept well that first night. Quite a rare event. I left camp at 10am which is on the late side for me, but at least the hike was relatively short.

I chose to approach further up the valley and then head up the north walls to the upper cirque that leads to the saddle.

Heading up to the cirque.

Looking down.

I've found that some people refer to the small lakes in the upper cirque as Cobb Lakes.

Upper cirque.

The hike though the upper valley was beautiful. Gaining the saddle to Old Hyndman required crossing a fairly long snow field which was fine by me. My feet had been extra sore lately and the snow made for easy walking compared to the other options of talus and scree.

Snowfield to the saddle.

Cobb Peak.

The day had started clear but the clouds were now gathering fast. The route from the saddle is fairly direct and quick, so after a short break I was headed up the Black Rock Dike and to the summit.

Old Hyndman. Nearing the saddle.

Black Rock Dike.

It was a fun scramble on solid rock to the top of the Dike, then it was just a short jaunt up and over to the airy summit. From there you can see many luscious peaks.

North Ridge of Cobb.

Hyndman Peak.

Mac, Jac and Gray's.

Looking Southeast-ish.

Summit log.

I could also see the impending clouds, fat with rain and headed my way. I was eyeing the traverse to Big Basin Peak, but that was quickly abandoned. Time to book it down! I had some light rain and a bit of thunder on the way back to camp. We spent the rest of the day hiking around the area, but we never did see an established camp site. Good evening weather; too many bugs; lots of time in the tent. Thankfully, Deez had downloaded a couple of movies to her phone so at least we had entertainment while we sipped wine.

Day 2 - Jacqueline Peak 3.2 miles and 1,500 feet of gain, 4 hour round trip.

We opted for the lazy start once again even though we knew there would likely be thunderstorms in the afternoon. After breakfast and a few chores we left camp a bit after 9 and headed up the valley once more.

Jacqueline Peak.

Heading up.

The plan was to head up the trail high enough that we could get over the creek without an issue, and also to skirt up through a stand of trees to get above some horrendous looking scree and talus that lead to the saddle.

Looking down Big Basin.

Heading up to the saddle.

Deez nearing the saddle.

The plan worked. We gained the saddle ahead of schedule and had a nice break to take in the views. From here I surveyed the route. I had been up Jacqueline Peak before, but not from this route. I hadn't done too much research as the route seemed fairly straight forward. Instead of climbing the point between the saddle and Jacqueline, I aimed to shoot straight for the next saddle just below the peak.

Upper slopes of Jacqueline Peak.

Deez climbing.

Summit of Jacqueline. Taken below our highpoint before we turned around.

This seemed like it was going to work until we more or less got cliffed out. The next move proved to be the best. We climbed straight up a class 3 rib to the upper slopes of the point. From that point there was a clear path to the saddle which led to the last short pitch below the summit. I had one eye on the weather all morning and could see a thunderstorm was eminent. We were still on schedule and moving forward but the skies quickly went dark and a strong wind came up; an ominous sign. I turned to Deez to begin the conversation about how bad we wanted this summit. The desire was absolutely there, but the conversation ended as soon as we heard thunder. It was loud which meant it was close. We had to get low and we had to do it fast.

We descended as quick as we could manage, moving between islands of shelter in the trees. The claps of thunder grew closer, the wind got stronger and the rain came at us from every angle. Hunkered down under a tree, all we could do was laugh at our present situation and enjoy the experience for what it was. I had never been caught in a thunderstorm so high on a peak. I don't think I felt a static charge, but my heart was racing and I definitely felt a buzz. Hopefully that's just the Adrenaline talking.

Fear can be a healthy emotion, but there are two types. The first is a rational fear, something that can actually kill you if you are not paying attention. This type of fear should bring about focus and clarity; a survival instinct kicks in. The second type is irrational that only causes panic instead of focus. We were not in immediate danger, no need to panic, but definitely time to focus.

Move smart and move quick.

Eventually we got to a spot where we could wait out the fast moving storm.

Waiting out the storm.

Waiting in the rain.

After the thunder grew distant and the skies began to clear we decided it was best to save the summit for another day. We had descended quickly over some steep and rough terrain. It was going to take a lot of effort to regain a position worthy enough to even consider going for the summit again. Traversing back to the saddle was a little tricky on slick rocks after the rain.

Back to the saddle.

Looking down Big Basin.

Back at the saddle, we were able to chill out a bit, eat lunch and enjoy the view. I figured, even if we had left camp 2 hours earlier, we still would have been caught in the storm. Only we'd be here, completely exposed at the saddle. Hmm..........

Looking up Big Basin. Old Hyndman on the left.

Cobb Peak on the left. Old Hyndman in the center.

With no particular rush to get back to camp, we adopted a slow pace and soaked up the sun. By now, the evening routine was familiar. We dove into the tent when the vampire bugs became unbearable. It became an impromptu back country hike-in movie night yet again.

Day 4 - Hike Out 4.7 miles, 1,900 feet of elevation loss.

Another not too early start and easy walk out. The section of trail just before the creek and trail head was awful. I had to endure the two things I don't do well with; bugs and heat. Lets just say that we were happy to get back to the car. The first stop we made was Albertsons for some Cortisone cream. The second was the Wicked Spud for some fresh food.

What a great trip. I'd be very happy to go back and attempt Jacqueline Peak from that route again.

Happy trails!

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.)


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!