Sphincter Level 5 – Mount French

I’m not really into writing trip reports.  There is tons of info already on the internet if you take the time to look for it, and I’m always happy to share a GPX track if someone requests it.  That being said, I go a lot of places where I don’t really recommend other people to go.  I end up off route and bushwhacking on most of my solo trips.  It’s rare that I finish a trip where I don’t have at least a few cuts and bruises.  I don’t feel the need to inflict those wounds on other people.

Today I will make an exception to this rule.  I had such a good time on Mount French that I feel the need to share my joy.  This was easily one of my favourite mountain outings ever!

(Small caveat here, I went through a bit of a mountain withdrawal while I was working on my road running, my joy at being back in the mountains is definitely exaggerated right now.)


One week out from my Trans-Alberta adventure, I wasn’t sure if a big scrambling trip up Mount French was a good idea.  However, I had been eyeing this mountain for 3 years and if I was serious about it I likely wouldn’t have a better opportunity: the weather was perfect, the trip was being lead by experienced peakbagger Brandon Boulier, and we would be moving at a hiking pace so it shouldn’t be too intense.

I messaged my friend Philippe who always seems to be up for crazy adventures and he agreed to tag along.  Brandon brought along Sheena, another scrambler, which made our party a team of 4.  We arrived at the Burstall Pass trailhead at 5:30am, just as the sun was rising.  The views were already breathtaking.

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The trail up to French glacier was recently maintained, with fresh flagging and much of the deadfall cleared.  It made for a very pleasant walk in the crisp morning air. 2 hours into our hike we had reached the toe of the French glacier.

The snow was frozen hard and I’m a chicken so I immediately put on my microspikes.  Brandon is more confident that I and he was able to hike up without spikes and no issues.  The views opened up as we climbed up to the pass and when we crested the top I was blown away by what we saw!  The Haig glacier had been groomed for cross country skiing and there were about 20 skiers out for their morning workout.  I knew this facility existed, but seeing it in person was a whole new experience.  I would highly recommend  this hike to anyone who cares to put in the effort, just make sure you get there early before the snow gets slushy so that you can see the skiers. I promise you won’t regret it!

 

Now comes the part of the trip which I would not recommend to most individuals.  This route has a lot of hazards, and is only appropriate for experienced scramblers.

After ogling the skiers for a few minutes we began our ascent of Mount French.  The slope is very steep and loose, so we had to be careful not to kick rocks on each other.  The scree up to the summit ridge is horrible.  We did not find a good line and there was a lot of treadmilling going on.  At one point Sheena wondered if she was even moving at all.

Just as our frustration level with the scree was reaching a maximum, we crested the summit ridge and all of our effort was worth it for that view!

The summit ridge is narrow and very exposed at times.  The rock is loose and you must be careful to always push into the mountain instead of pulling on the rocks.  Route finding is very simple, in most cases you only have one choice for where to go.  The entire ridge is over 3000m, and I have not been in the mountains as much as usual.  I could feel that my heart rate was much higher than normal, but it’s hard to say if that was due to the altitude, or just adrenaline from the exposure.

I felt surprisingly comfortable for most of the scramble.  Everything appeared worse than it was.  My least favourite section was not the narrow ridges, but rather a loose, narrow ledge we had to walk along.  I felt like someone should come up here with a broom and sweep all the loose rocks off.

The final challenge during our summit ascent was a short chimney.  We weren’t sure if it would be filled in with snow and ice, so we were happy to discover that you could ascend it by climbing on dry rock.

After snacks and photos on the summit block we made our way back. We were elated to have successfully navigated the ridge, but a little apprehensive about having to do it all over again in reverse.  The return trip on the ridge proved to be a little tougher – exposed downclimbs are always scarier than exposed upclimbs – but we all managed by taking it very slowly.

The scree route down was much easier, and the rest of the trip was just a very nice walk down through the valley.  It was a hot day, and the mosquitoes were out in force so we did not lollygag. 12 hours after we started we were back in the parking lot, sunburnt and high on life.

It will be hard to top this trip, and I enjoyed it so much that I am pretty sure I will do it again.  Maybe as a point to point trail run via Turbine Canyon, just to keep things fresh.  Who wants to come with me?

Happy Trails!

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Not Running Across Alberta

If you followed along on any of my social media feeds, you will know that I did not make it across Alberta.  On the plus side, I did succeed in setting a new personal distance best of 210km.  I started to write a novel of a blog post outlining everything that happened on this adventure, but it was bland.  Instead, I’ll highlight some of my observations.

  1. Dave is superhuman. I am honoured to have been able to join him for just a glimpse of his journey, even if I was only able to keep up for 68km 🙂
  2. It’s hard to quit when it feels like the entire ultra-community is willing you on to succeed.  I was incredibly touched by the amount of support I received, either through social media, text messages or people meeting me on the side of the road.  Thank you for all your support.
  3. When choosing a pace, always listen to your body. Don’t look at your watch. Don’t follow someone else’s pace.  Don’t set arbitrary timelines. The more you can follow your own internal clock, the more successful your adventure will be.
  4. Ice Caps are right up there with beer for magical ultra fuel. Thanks mom, you made my day!
  5. Along the same lines, milk is the ultimate recovery drink.  After my second long day on the road my muscles were in pain and I was having difficulty even lying down to sleep.  Matt gave me a large glass of milk and 30 minutes later the pain was gone!  I was ready to run again.
  6. I have a pretty wonderful partner in crime. Our last 3 wedding anniversaries have been spent staying up all night at Sinister 7.  This year was not much different, as Matt spent the night following behind me in a car as I ran through the night to try to catch Dave in Chestermere.
  7. If you are repeatedly puking, take the time to stop and reset.  Continuing to run depleted will just dig yourself into a deeper hole.  I was puking on the morning of day two for no obvious reason, although I think I was still recovering from the heat on day 1.  We stopped, ate some food and then sat there for 30 minutes to allow the food to digest.  After that, no more puking!  I was able to eat and run again!
  8. The human body is incredibly resilient IF you have the patience to let it adapt.  In 2010 I had a metatarsal stress fracture in my foot which occurred while running a marathon, I thought my body couldn’t handle long distances.  This past week I ran 210km and I got really tired, but suffered no injuries.  This resilience has been built up through years of consistent training and fueling my body with the nutrients it needs.
  9. Know when to call it quits.  After running for 210km, including a 4.5hr stretch through the night, I was exhausted. I needed to regroup and have a nap.  Upon awaking from the nap, Matt and I did the math.  There was no way I could make it to the Saskatchewan border before I had to get back to work.  We decided to cut our losses and head to the woods for some much needed R and R.
  10. Gratitude. These endurance attempts are not a solo project.  I would not be able to chase these dreams without the support of so many people:
    • To Wayne, Trish and Dave.  Thank you so much for letting us tag along.  I’m so sorry we weren’t more helpful.
    • To my sister Ellycia.  Thank you for taking care of Moxie for us while we attempted to this ridiculous stunt.
    • To the staff at the Canmore Hospital.  Thank you for assessing me and giving me the confidence to know that I could continue to push myself without worrying about permanent damage.
    • To Salming, Altra and Spry.  Thank you for your support, without which I would never have even began this journey.

Gear and fuel (because people always ask me about this stuff).

  • Climb On bar for anti-chafing.  I applied this to my feet and other typical problem areas a couple of times a day.  I had no blisters and no chafing, which is amazing because I chafe more than almost anyone I know.
  • Salming Speed 6 for the first 53km.  When we left Lake Louise at 5am it was low light and these shoes are super reflective.
  • Altra Escalantes for the last 157km.  These shoes have a nice, wide toe box and cushioned ride.  They feel like slippers on my feet.
  • Swiftwick Socks – These socks never bunch or slip, are seamless and incredibly durable.  By far my favourite socks.
  • Ultraspire Spry 2.0 vest – This is the lightest hydration vest I own.  It was perfect for holding 1.5L of water, my phone and a few snacks.
  • Smithbilt Outrun Rare hat – I highly recommend wearing this hat on hot or rainy days.  It is very comfortable and you can throw a handful of ice in the top.  The cool water will melt down your head as you run.  Not recommended for winds over 50kph.  A portion of the proceeds go towards the Rare Disease Foundation.
  • Jujubes, Sour Dinos, Timbits (various flavours), Doritos, Iogo drinkable yogurt, Clif Bars, Oreos (various flavours), diluted Gatorade (lemon lime), Tim Horton’s Iced Cappucinos, Miller Genuine Draft, Gu Roctane electrolyte tablets, water, coffee with lots of milk and sugar.  Twice I attempted to eat a sandwich, those instances ended badly.

And now, I will head back to my home in the mountains.

Please follow along as Dave continues to run across Canada at http://www.outrunrare.com

Happy Trails!

Magic

“Whatever you can do,

Or think you can, begin it.

Boldness has power, and genius,

And magic in it.”  ~Goethe~


 

In life, it is rare to fully commit to anything. We are taught that it is wise to always have a backup plan; that an all-or-nothing approach is rash.  Perhaps this is true, but I think this approach also misses out on the magic.  Dave’s record attempt is bold and full of magic, and I aim to capture a piece of that with my run across Alberta.

 


Running takes a lot of time.  When I’m not running, such as during a taper, I often find myself with more free time than I know what to do with. It can make me anxious and grouchy. I dislike tapering so much than I often just don’t do it.

Going into the run across Alberta, there’s no question that I need to taper.  My last training block left me feeling completely spent, often spending the first few minutes of the day limping around the house until my ankles had loosened up enough for me to walk normally. Likewise, the first few kilometres of any run had me feeling like an elephant lumbering along the asphalt. I am nothing if not stubborn so I kept pushing on. Now that the taper is here, I am happy to take a break from lumbering and spend a week hibernating.

Sadly I’m not a bear, so it quickly became evident that hibernating for an entire week was not a viable option.   To fill my non-sleeping, non-running void I decided to go to the library and get some books.  During my taper I have read:

  • Running on Empty, the story of Marshall Ulrich’s trans-America record attempt
  • North, Jenny and Scott Jurek’s account of setting the Appalachian Trail FKT, and
  • The Perfect Mile, an historical novel about the rush to break the 4 minute mile.

Each book contains fascinating narratives about the strength of the human spirit and the physical limits of endurance.  The characters went after impossibly bold goals without reserve.  Not all of them succeeded, but each runner gave themselves 100% to the task and saw it through to the end.  I dare you to read these books and not be inspired.

At this time next week I will be going after a big, bold goal.  I don’t know that I can do it, but I think I can.  I am chasing the magic.

 

Training update

My philosophy in training for the Alberta run goes something like this: 

  • Run lots 
  • Don’t get hurt 
  • Eat all the food 

In reality, not getting hurt is the most crucial part of this whole training thing.  I’ve only partially succeeded in this goal: 

  • Several weeks ago I developed a blister on the back of each of my heels from my xc ski boots 
  • I made these blisters worse by trail running on them with the wrong socks 
  • The blisters were lonely, so I decided to develop a second set by allowing ice to build up on the inside of my hiking boots. 
  • I made these blisters totally raw by post-holing along a ridge for 8 hours. 
  • These blisters refused to heal until Gord sent me to Kenron pharmacy, where they sold me a magical bandage called MeFix. 
  • The blisters are now 90% gone, but limping around for weeks has given me massive knots in my calves and rather tender Achilles tendons. 

I’m an idiot because this entire cascade of events is preventable; I’m a stubborn idiot because I kept pushing through it.  The stiffness in my calves/ankles caught up with me on Saturday when I attempted to run 100km on trail in Bragg Creek.  My sore ankles were affecting my biomechanics, and 10km into the run I twisted my knee slightly and something pinched.  It was a painful, unnatural feeling, instantly filling me with dread. I ran on for another 10km hoping the pain would subside, but it only increased.  I decided to stop being a stubborn idiot and packed it in.   

The next day I iced the knee a bit to try to get the swelling out, walked around the neighbourhood for about an hour, and played some casual frisbee.  I also spent some time with the lacrosse ball, massaging out my giant knots. The knee felt tight, but there was no pain.  

After another rest day and some quality time with the lacrosse ball, I tried a 1 hour run on the trails with my friend Kim.  The knee felt fine.  It seems I have dodged a bullet, but my body was giving me a warning shot. My daily routine now includes regular dates with the lacrosse ball and proper foot care to prevent further damage to my poor heels. 

 

Some training highlights since my last post include: 

  • A 49km run from Bowness to Fish Creek.  Including my first ever ice cream from Village! 
  • A 30km lack-lustre MEC race where I was reminded that there is a reason why I never race with a watch 
  • A 46km trail run with some speedy guys 
  • Fun scrambles up Limestone, Yamnuska and Burke. 

Upcoming challenges include: 

  • Pacing the 3:45 group at the Calgary marathon 
  • More mountain days (because they make me happy) 
  • Some longer road runs in the 6-7hr range.  I might try this with a 20 minute lunch break in the middle to test out my stomach. 

5 weeks of training left! 

What’s up with all the road running???

Pushing my limits. Stepping out of my comfort zone.  Getting comfortable with failure … or maybe just reframing how I view failure. These are things I’ve been working on for a few years now.  Last year was characterized by some of my biggest successes and most spectacular failures (or learning experiences as I prefer to call them).  It was exciting, and it made me want to test my boundaries in new ways.  Maybe I could fail even more spectacularly!  Or maybe I would discover that I am stronger than I ever dreamed possible. 

 

This summer Dave Proctor will be exploring the limits of human endurance by running across Canada on foot, setting a world record in the process.  His goal is to complete the crossing in 66 days, averaging 108km/day, and raising a million dollars for rare disease.  I’ve always been enamoured by the idea of running across Canada (Terry Fox was my childhood hero), so I immediately wanted to be involved in some way with his record attempt.  I mentioned to Dave that I would love to join him for a portion of the run and he suggested that I run across Alberta with him.  That way I could run with him AND get a record for the fastest (female) crossing of Alberta.  At first, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of running across the flat Prairie from Calgary to the Saskatchewan border, I wanted to join him for a more mountainous leg, but gradually the idea took hold.  What better way to challenge myself? This was an opportunity to redefine myself as a runner and learn about myself as a human being.  Sure, I can hike up hills all day long, but did I have the mental fortitude to keep my feet moving, one step in front of the other on the endlessly flat prairie?  I decided that I wanted to find out.   

 

Running across Alberta with Dave means I will be running 550km in 5 days. This is far beyond anything I have ever attempted.  I’m not sure that it is even within my physical capabilities, but there is only one way to find out.  I have been training and testing myself to see where my breaking point is.  I started out this fall by joining my friend Leo for a circumnavigation of the city bike paths (see Strava).  I reasoned that if I finished the run and I wasn’t completely destroyed, then the trans-Alberta attempt may be possible. The run was not entirely smooth, but it wasn’t terrible. Some cold weather moved in during the afternoon, my asthma acted up a bit, and I started to feel sorry for myself.  Luckily, I was saved by a couple of angels named Rich and Kristy who fed me hot soup, cheeseburgers and Timbits.  The soup soothed my lungs and the calories fueled my legs.  I finished that run feeling strong! 

 

My goal for the last several months has been to slowly increase my road miles and decrease my trail time.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature has had other plans.  This has been one of the snowiest, coldest winters on record.  It seems like every time I try to go out for a road run, the paths are snow and ice covered.   It makes me wonder why I don’t just go trail running.  On top of that, my asthma has been very bad in the cold weather.  I can handle low intensity hiking or xc skiing, but running in the cold just destroys me.  A couple of months ago I gave up the fight against Mother Nature and decided to just go with the flow. If the weather and conditions weren’t conducive to long road runs, I would simply ski, hike or snowshoe instead.  When I made this shift in attitude it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.  I went back to spending lots of time on my feet (not necessarily running) and I felt like my endurance began to build back up. 

 

Over the last few weeks Spring has made a few appearances.  The trails are still very snowy, but the city paths are mostly cleared of snow and ice, and the temperature is warm enough to breathe.  I have started to introduce some longer adventures and I’ve really enjoyed them.  A month ago, we xc skied 50km and followed that up with a couple of laps of Moose Mountain Road.  Three weekends ago I did a 10hr snowshoe followed by a 31 km road run.  Then, when we were hit by yet another snow storm, I joined Dave and Tristan for a treadmill marathon.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would run a marathon on a treadmill, and yet there I was, running on a treadmill AND enjoying myself!  Last weekend I endured 4.5 hours of snowy trails on Saturday, followed by 50km on the road on Sunday, accompanied by my friend Philippe. I was feeling pretty stiff by the end of the road run, but we maintained our pace and my recovery seems to be okay. Having never trained for anything like this in the past, I’m not sure where I will want to cap my volume at, but I plan to listen to my body and back off when I need to.  I also plan to continue to incorporate trails/mountains into my training; at least one mountain and one trail run per week will keep me a happy camper 🙂 

 

Hydration and fueling with lots of calories will be key for the trans-Alberta attempt.  My focus for the long runs is to drink regularly and eat as much food as possible without getting nauseous.  I’m also trying to increase the variety of what I eat.  Things that work really well include: Timbits, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Mars bars, peanut butter and banana wraps, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, Honey Stinger waffles, rice noodle wraps with soy sauce, Sour Dinos, Oreos, pudding, and every flavour Jelly Beans. I also think potato pancakes may be a good item to add the mix.  What food do you like to eat while you run?  I’m interested in easily digested carbs that won’t melt. 

 

That’s it for now. Expect a few posts about some very long runs in the next couple of months. 

 

Happy Trails! 

2017 Adventures Part II – Backpacking!

*I killed the phone which I brought along to take photos during this adventure.  Hence, no photos 😦


I hadn’t done a ton of backpacking in my life, and all of the backpacking that I had done was with family, where someone else is doing all of the planning.  But, the more I adventured and explored with my trail running, the more I wanted to try backpacking on my own.  Still, I kept putting it off … I think I was scared.

Via Facebook I have watched as my friend Leslie adventures around the world on solo backpack trips. Following along with those excursions gave me courage to try a (mini) adventure myself. I bought a tent and a Jetboil stove, mapped out a route, and set out on an adventure. I didn’t have a lot of time, so here was my itinerary.

Friday – finish work at 6pm.  Get out hiking from the Elbow Day Use Area by 7:30pm.  Camp at the North Fork of the Elbow. (Distance and elevation were not calculated beforehand.)

Saturday – hike over Paradise Pass, through the valley and up over Piper Pass.  Continue down to Little Elbow Trail.  Follow Little Elbow down to Romulus Campground.  Hike up to Talus Lakes to spend the night. 45km, 2400m+

Sunday – Scramble up Mount Cornwall.  Hike back to the car via the Glasgow drainage and the Big Elbow Trail. 20km, 1000m+


Friday

I wasn’t really thinking when I came up with this plan. 7:30pm is very late to be setting out on a backpacking trip.  Also, I was headed into terrain which had been heavily affected by the 2013 flood and I didn’t have any recent beta.  I ran (shuffled) most of the first 11km, knowing that I would soon run out of daylight.  It felt a little weird to run with such a large backpack, and there was definitely some chafing going on, but it wasn’t too bad.

I made it 11km to the Romulus campground before the sun had fully set.  I briefly contemplated just camping at Romulus, but I was determined to random camp.  In my eyes, tent pads and bear lockers were cheating.  I couldn’t find a way to ford the Elbow River without getting my feet wet, so after wasting a few minutes I just walked across in my shoes.  I knew that this meant I would likely spend 3 straight days in wet shoes, and I wondered how was that going to feel.

After a little bushwhacking I found a trail heading in generally the right direction higher up above the valley.  I didn’t want to follow the official Evan Thomas Trail down in the valley because I was certain it would be covered in flood debris with multiple river crossings.  The alternate trail I found was too steep/narrow/technical for running so I just hiked as quickly as I could. The sun set and I found myself tripping over roots.  Time to take out my headlamp.

It soon became apparent that there was no way I could possibly make it to the North Fork of the Elbow tonight.  It was time to find a place to camp in the woods.  This proved to be tougher than I had anticipated as I was traversing across a densely forested steep slope.  Finding a flat clearing big enough for a tent took me nearly 30 minutes!  Now it was time to hang my food.

I had never set up a bear hang before, but before heading out on this trip I had practiced on our backyard tree.  I put a rock in a sock and tied the sock to one end of the rope.  I found the perfect overhanging branch over a dry drainage and succeeded on my first throw.  Wow!  I am a pro at this! My forest camping spot was surprisingly cozy and I slept like a log. Day 1 totals = 16km, 600m+

The next morning I woke with the sun and headed straight out on the trail, sights set on getting up Paradise Pass.  I have only been to Paradise Pass once before, and it left a lasting impression as one of the most beautiful alpine meadows in Kananaskis.  My trail continued to traverse across the steep slope towards Evan Thomas Pass, occasionally it would be interrupted by old avalanche paths.  I would have to climb up and over the steep edges of these paths and across very loose rubble.  I discovered that scrambling with a tent on your back is not as easy as scrambling with a running pack.

After what seemed to be an eternity I made it to the Evan Thomas Pass junction.  Here I took a left and began my hike up towards Paradise Pass.  The meadow was beautiful and I was in good spirits – it was time to reach my first obstacle.  The area below the pass is a marsh filled with shrubs, and I soon lost the trail as the shrubs obscured the path.  I could see the pass up ahead, so the lack of a trail didn’t bother me at first.  Unfortunately the marsh proved to be very challenging terrain, with small, knee deep streams meandering their way around islands of of soft, muddy, shoe-sucking moss.  I don’t possess the vocabulary to describe it accurately.  By the time I made it to the other side I was very wet, very dirty, and maybe even a little grouchy.  It was time for a break.

I took out the Jetboil and brewed up some instant coffee.  It was amazing!  This is when I learned a crucial backpacking lesson – do not attempt to navigate before drinking at least one cup of coffee.  The coffee was accompanied by a few Oreos and some trail mix.  Breakfast of champions!

The rest of my hike up to Paradise Pass was seamless.  The views were as spectacular as I remembered and I took a few moments just to soak it all in.  I ran down the steep slope with pure joy, filled with gratitude to be able to go on this grand adventure!  Part way down the slope I found a very good horse trail which led me through the forest to the valley.  In the valley there was more flood debris, so I spent some time bushwhacking, but I soon found a reasonable enough looking trail. The trail led me through alpine meadows, with mountains towering on either side.  The bushes were loaded with bear berries so I sang as I hiked.  Thankfully no bears were to be found anywhere.

The further I hiked, the more faint the trail became.  Soon the trail was indistinguishable and I found myself bushwhacking up very steep terrain.  I checked my map – it showed the trail heading straight up the drainage, so I angled right and soon found myself hiking along a gurgling stream.  The valley narrowed, with cliff walls on either side. An avalanche had come through here earlier in the spring and the drainage was choked with the remnant, very icy snow.  It was August and I hadn’t thought to bring my spikes.  I scrambled over the steep snow very carefully.  I could hear water rushing through underneath me and I envisioned myself falling through the snow into the icy water at any moment.  When I reached the top of the slope I breathed a huge sign of relief.

I scrambled up into the bowl below Piper Pass, my mind set on relaxing for a few minutes and enjoying some lunch.  I looked across the mountain tarn and was surprised to see people?!  I hadn’t seen or heard anyone all weekend.  I think we were all equally shocked to see each other.  The group continued their hike up to the pass while I enjoyed some coffee and Oreos dipped in pistachio pudding.  It was heaven.

I still had a long way to go before reaching Talus Lakes so I couldn’t take too long for lunch.  I scrambled up to the top of the pass, passing the group of backpackers and ran down the other side.  At one point my path was blocked my a family of bighorn sheep.  They did not seem at all interested in moving out of the way so I walked straight through the middle of them.  It was my only wildlife encounter of the weekend.

I knew this part of the route well and it passed quickly as I combined a mix of running and walking, depending on what my legs felt like doing.  Soon I was down on the Little Elbow Trail and headed up to my 4th pass of the day.  I stopped and chatted with a couple of mountain bikers before jogging the 5km down from the pass to Romulus Campground.  This trail is quite boring, but if you run it is not so bad.  From Romulus I only had 4 or 5km up to Talus Lakes.  By this point I was tired so I stopped for a dinner of Triscuits with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni sticks.  Some cyclocrossers stopped by and we compared notes.  I had hiked 40km, with 2000m of climbing – they had cycled from Canmore all they way over here and around the 42km Elbow Loop!  An epic journey which combined pavement, gravel and trail.  Honestly, I didn’t even know covering that kind of terrain in a single day on a bike was possible.  I was (still am) very impressed.

I reached the Talus Lakes at sunset and set up my tent on the edge of the upper lake.  I had it in my head that I would wake up to an amazing sunrise on the lake, like I’d seen on Instagram.  I soon learned that there is a reason why campsites are normally set back in the trees.  The trees provide shelter from the wind.  I was exhausted from one of the longest days of hiking in my life, but I hardly got any sleep because my tent was blown sideways in the high winds.  The Talus Lakes are a beautiful backcountry camping destination, but I highly recommend that you camp at the lower lake, back in the shelter of the trees.

Sunday morning came, cold and smoky.  The wind had blown in the forest fire smoke overnight, and I could taste it with every breath.  Having learned my lesson from Saturday, I took the time to drink a couple of cups of coffee before breaking camp.

I wasn’t sure how today’s route was going to go.  Would scrambling with a large pack prove to be too much?  I decided to ration my food in case going over the mountain proved to be too difficult, and I would have to turn around and detour around the mountain.  Going around the mountain would add many kilometres to my route.

Scrambling up Cornwall ended up being one of the highlights of my trip.  The rocky bowl was beautiful with interesting rock formations, a gurgling stream and breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks.  Even the scree was not particularly challenging, and I reached the col between Cornwall and Outlaw without issue.

The hike up to the summit of Cornwall was cold and smokey.  The air was thick and I could barely see the sun.  My spirits began to lag a bit, but then the smoke eased off just as I reached the summit. I was able to enjoy my final Triscuit sandwich in the sun before my last descent.

The scree run down was fun, and I crossed paths with some scramblers who were headed up to do the Glasgow-Banded Peak Traverse.  They seemed to be starting quite late in the day (and a little off-route) but I’m sure they figured it out.

The hike down the drainage was terrible.  It just dragged on … and on…. and on…  Down-climbing the waterfalls with my backpack also didn’t seem like a very intelligent option, so I spent significant time route-finding in the brush.  Note to future self: there is no reason to ever hike this drainage again.  Just stick to the Glasgow ridge and everything will be better.

Eventually I reached end of the drainage.  Now it was just a few kilometres back to the car via the Big Elbow Trail.  I was out of food and eager to get back so I jogged the rest of the way.

Overall, a very successful weekend out. I’m really looking forward to building on this adventure!

 


This was a very enlightening trip for me.

  • My Saturday hike was a BIG day, and I am certain that I could not string many days like that together.  I don’t know how Leslie does it.  I definitely need more practice.
  • Scrambling/bushwhacking with a bigger pack is not terrible.  I wouldn’t want to be on difficult scrambles like that, but moderate terrain is okay.
  • All food tastes amazing when you’re backpacking.
  • Surprisingly, I didn’t miss not having a fire.  There was fire-ban during this trip, but I don’t think I would have taken the time to build one anyway.
  • I’m looking forward to getting out for more trips like this, but going longer.  The longer you go, the more opportunities to problem solve.

Before I Forget – Colorado!

I don’t feel the need to do a 2017 year in review, but I do have a lot of awesome 2017 memories that are slowly fading away.  I want to take the time to record these experiences before they are completely lost.

ColoRADo

It’s hard to believe I haven’t written anything about our Colorado trip on my blog.  It’s time to rectify that situation. I lost my photos from Colorado when I destroyed my phone, so this blog post is all I have left other than the photos I uploaded to Strava.  Thank God for Strava 🙂

Matt, Moxie and I drove down in our Toyota Sienna minivan (aka Lucy), which we have converted into a camper van.  Out of our 2.5wk road trip, we only spent one night in a hotel.  The rest of the trip was spent exploring the National Forest.

Our first majour stop in Colorado was in the Crested Butte area.  The landscape in this area is stunning and Matt and I had lots of “wow” moments.  Unfortunately there was still a lot of snow hanging around so we weren’t able to find a spot to camp higher up in the mountains.  There were a few areas where our poor van almost got stuck in the snow as we explored up and down random gravel roads, trying to find a good spot to spend the night.  Eventually we settled on a camping spot along Cement Creek.  It was very hot out, so it was nice to camp next to a cold, raging stream. The next day we bushwhacked up to the top of the mountain we were camped on.  The offline map I had downloaded told me the mountain’s name was Double-Top.

Our first Colorado summit, and first time over 12 000ft!

Strava


I noticed a high mountain lake on the map which appeared to have a road going to it.  Naturally, I suggested that we head there for our next camping spot.  After 20km of gravel road we finally reached the lake.  It was hot and I was looking forward to a swim, but when we walked over to investigate the lake we found it was filled with thousands of giant, mutant tadpole looking things.  Needless to say, I decided to forgo the swim.

The next day I woke up early and ventured out to the closest mountain, labelled Baldy Mountain on my map.  There was a LOT of snow and the trail was completely obscured. Thankfully the snow had a thick crust, if I walked carefully I did not break through.  Eventually I found my way out of the forest to a mountain pass.   Here, the snow had melted and I was walking through a river of melt-water.  I could see Mount Baldy high up to my right so I power-hiked up a steep, mostly snow-covered slope.  The summit of Baldy is connected via a ridge to several other summits.  I had hoped to traverse the ridge but I was worried about the sun softening the snow.  My hike had begun at 6am so there was still tons of daylight left, but if the snow softened my trip back to the campsite would be nearly impossible.  I reluctantly turned around.

Strava


Matt and I spent the rest of the day driving towards Telluride.  As we approached the San Juan mountains one peak rose above the rest.  It seemed to be calling to me. I looked on my map – it was called Mount Sneffels.  I told Matt I was going to climb it and he replied, “of course you are!”

We never actually made it to Telluride.  Instead, we found an interesting gravel road and followed it up to the Blue Lakes trailhead.  Matt maneuvered the Lucy off-road to an awesome campsite next to a creek.  This was our first time camping with neighbours, but our neighbours were awesome!  The dad was a mountain enthusiast himself and he told me what to expect for my hike up Mount Sneffels.  I was concerned about possible avalanche risk but he didn’t seem to think that would be an issue.

I set out at sunrise the next day on the Blue Lakes trail.  The trail was very well-maintained and it wasn’t long before I found myself at Blue Lakes – a popular camping and hiking destination.  From the lakes I continued up to a high mountain pass. The trail was obscured by snow at times, but the route seemed pretty straightforward. I caught up to a Colorado native who was also headed up to the summit and asked him if he minded if I tagged along.

We climbed the rest of the way up together – across an awkward boulder-field, up a snow-choked couloir, and along some exposed slab to the summit.  I had planned for this trip to take me all-day, but it was actually super-straightforward with no majour issues.  The view at the top was spectacular and we spent some time taking photos before heading down.

I ran down ahead of my new found friend.  The snow in the couloir was super fun and I couldn’t resist a little glissading.  Unknown to me, Matt and Moxie had hiked up to Blue Lakes while I was up on the mountain.  I missed them on the way down and spent quite a bit of time back at the camp napping in the hammock before they got back.  I had expected the trip to take 12 hours, but I had been gone for less than 8.

This was my first time climbing over 14 000ft and it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Strava


The summit view on Sneffels had awakened my imagination.  From up there I could see several other 14ers and I wanted to see if we could get to them without an off-road vehicle.  We left our Blue Lakes campsite and headed towards Ouray. We were both really tired and filthy so we decided to find a cheap hotel.  Eventually we found a hotel in our price range ($50/night) and we enjoyed a nice evening in town.  Ouray is one of the most beautiful towns I have ever visited.  Set in a deep valley, the sunset lit up the surrounding mountain cliffs in brilliant shades of pink.  This is definitely a town we will come back to.

The next day we drove out to Silverton. What a tiny town!  I loved it! It was cool to see all of the old rocks from past Hardrocks and imagine myself possibly running that race one day.  We spent the day exploring roads not meant for a minivan. We pushed Lucy to her limits, scaring ourselves sh*tless at times.  Eventually we settled on an awesome campsite next to the creek and not far from town. We were camped across from a mountain ridge and after reviewing my topo map I made plans to run the ridge and tag as many peaks as I could the next day.

My ridge running day was much easier than I had anticipated.  I discovered a trail up the nearest mountain and so I was able to summit without any bushwhacking.  The only problem was that I had apparently left my brain back at the campsite.  I had bags of Oreos, Sour Dinos and Starburst with me.  I left my bag of Oreos on the first peak, Sour Dinos on the second and Starburst on the 3rd.  I am embarrassed to admit to so much littering. I tried to make up for it on the rest of the trip by picking up every bit of litter I saw.

My ridge running route was excellent, but due to my excessive littering I decided to head back to the van after my 4th peak. I was out of food and I still had a long way back.  My original plan had been to follow the jeep road back to the campsite, however the jeep traffic looked to be out of control, so I opted to bushwhack down an alternate route. Not for the last time, I discovered that Colorado bushwhacking is not that fun.  There are thorns on the bushes!  Oh well, I survived and eventually made it back down to where Matt and Moxie were waiting for me.

Strava


From Silverton we went for a long drive to Lake City.  I really wanted to check out Handies Peak and run on part of the Hardrock course.  We scouted around, Matt did some fly fishing, and we found another great camping spot.  After freaking ourselves out with the Jeep roads in the Silverton area, we decided that I would run the road to Handies Peak instead of attempting to drive there.  It turns out the road to Handies peak is fine for a minivan, but I didn’t mind the extra running.  It was early and the Jeeps weren’t out yet.  I kept the pace really easy as I was planning to summit 3 14ers in a day, and I wasn’t sure how my legs were going to hold up – turns out my legs were fine.  The trail up to Handies Peak was beautiful and I especially enjoyed the meadow, which was filled with marmots and wildflowers.  After reaching the summit I ran back down the trail and across the valley to the Sunrise and Redcloud trail.  This trail was not as lush as the Handies Peak trail, but I loved the arid landscape and red rocks. When I reached the col which lead to the summit I looked over to the other side for a possible alternate descent route.  There weren’t any obvious hazards, and the drainage led almost directly back to our campsite.  I wasn’t looking forward to running back along the busy Jeep road, maybe this would be a better option.  I still hadn’t learned …

Sunrise and Redcloud are two 14 000ft peaks connected by a 1 mile ridge.  I had the trail to myself, and I enjoyed dancing along the red shale while soaking in the views.  Unfortunately my trip off the col and into the drainage was not so smooth.  Before dropping down I studied the terrain carefully and examined my topo map.  It looked like I could get cliffed out at the confluence of two drainages, and I needed to do a lot of side traversing to get over to a rib and avoid getting sucked into steep terrain.  It’s amazing how even when you know better, you still make the same mistakes.  I did not enjoy the side traversing and so I allowed myself to get sucked into the confluence. I didn’t get cliffed out, but I did have a very awkward descent and I spent a lot of time battling some very aggressive, thorny bushes.

Eventually I made it back to the campsite, dusty and a little bloody, but otherwise in good shape. I was on schedule but Matt wasn’t there.  I looked around, he had thoughtfully left out a chair and Gatorade, so I made myself comfortable.  My adventure had covered over 45km and had taken 12 hours, so I was happy to relax 🙂  Matt showed up 30 minutes later, after getting some supplies in town.  Wanting to explore other areas in Colorado, we had a brief discussion about where to go next.  We decided on Colorado Springs, so I jumped in the van and off we went.

Strava


The next day we spent some time exploring the Garden of the Gods, which is very neat, and attempted to visit Pikes Peak so that Matt could summit a 14er.  Unfortunately we don’t have much patience for tourist attractions, and when we discovered a long line up of cars coupled with a $50USD toll rate we bailed on that idea.

The Colorado Springs traffic was a nightmare and we spent the next few hours lamenting our decision to leave the San Juans.  Eventually we made it up to Boulder where we breathed a sigh of relief to escape the big city.  The drive up through the mountains out of Boulder was nice, but there weren’t any places to camp so we just kept driving.  We drove through lots of defunct mining operations and Central City, the craziest town I’ve ever seen!  Central City is entirely composed of casinos and marijuana dispensaries.  There doesn’t appear to be anyone that actually lives there, and we wondered if there were any patrons in the casinos.  I feel like the town must be some kind of massive money laundering scheme.

We kept driving and found a beautiful campsite near Jones Pass. The next morning we went for a family hike up to the pass.  There were tons of marmots and Moxie had a blast.  There was too much snow to reach the summit of the pass, but we made it pretty close.  It was a good farewell to Colorado.

Strava


Matt was eager to get back home so we packed up the van after our hike and drove north to Wyoming.  That evening we found a beautiful campsite just outside of the National Parks and I went for a sunset run up to the nearest pass.  On my way back I discovered very large, very fresh grizzly tracks headed in the same direction as me. I slowed to a walk, not wanting to catch up to the bear.  Wyoming is so wild!  I think it’s my favourite state.

Strava


The next day we braved the tourists and visited Yellowstone National Park.  I had always wanted to visit Yellowstone and now we were finally here!  The hot springs were cool, and I am sure we would have been totally awed by them had we not been to Iceland last year.  As it was, we were suitably impressed but I couldn’t help comparing them to last year’s adventures.  In Yellowstone there are hordes of people everywhere and boardwalks to prevent you from getting too close to the hot pools.  In Iceland there are also hordes of people, but it’s very easy to get off the beaten track and you can easily find hot springs with no people around.  There are no boardwalks to keep you safe, you could jump right into the boiling water/mud pits if you were so inclined.

As we exited the park there were really cool rock formations formed by mineral deposits from the hot springs.  I would have loved to explore this area but the parking was full, so we continued to drive north to Montana.


After some creative navigation, we found a camping spot near Boulder, Montana.  This was one of our favourite campsites of the whole trip!  The forest was filled with piles of massive boulders that seemed to materialize out of nowhere.  We spent the evening doing forest parkour, scrambling up, down and around the giant, granite rocks.   I think we could spend a week there and not get bored.  Alas, it was time to go home and the next day we drove back to Canada.


See you again in 2018 Colorado, and this time I will back up my photos!

Happy Trails!