Spray Valley 10 – The Conclusion

Part I and Part II


We gave ourselves the luxury of an 8 hour sleep on day 3.  Neither Arielle nor I could stomach the thought of another 4am wake up call.  Both of us were feeling the effects of the last two days, and we took some extra time in the morning to tape up any hot spots on our feet and massage our sore joints back to life.

We left the campground at 8:30am and 10 minutes later we were hiking up Rimwall.  Oleg led the way up the mountain, and with his expert route-finding we made it to the summit without issue.  I was impressed with the efficiency of our movement, maybe it would be a short day!  I began to dream about a shower and a soft bed.

The scree run down Rimwall was super fun and we were laughing as we flew down the mountain.  It was the calm before the storm.


 

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Fun times running down Rimwall!


I don’t remember exactly when it started, but at some point Arielle began to complain about some pain on the inside of her knee.  As soon as she described the pain in detail I knew what it was – pes anserine bursitis.  I have had this condition a few times and it is very painful.  The only way to relieve the pain is with ice, but we had none.

The condition is aggravated whenever you have to lift your leg more than a few inches off the ground.  Seeing as we were scrambling over boulders and up steep mountain terrain, this meant it was aggravated with every step.


The route up The Orphan begins in a dry creek bed which is littered with flood debris. Normally this kind of boulder hopping would be fun, but Arielle was soon in tears.  Every step was agony.  We found a cold stream and took some time to ice the knee.  I tried to comfort Arielle by telling her that this was not a long term injury.  My experiences with the same condition had never lasted more than a few days. I’m not sure that my words helped.

Arielle soldiered on up the steep slope to the summit of The Orphan.  It was our 9th mountain of the weekend and we were both ready to be done.  One more to go, we told ourselves.  We could do it.

The steep downhill was agony for Arielle and she would break the silence every once and awhile with a scream of pain.  If this was her coping mechanism, that was fine with me.  Just let it out!

We stopped at another cold stream to ice.  Arielle looked so determined.  I would have been totally okay if she had thrown in the towel after hobbling down The Orphan and called it quits, but she never mentioned stopping.  Her determination was so inspiring.  I thought about all the times that I’ve given up when things have gotten harder than I’d bargained for.



I was apprehensive about going up Big Sister.  Big Sister is not an easy mountain.  It is relentlessly steep with tons of slab and Arielle’s knee was going to hate her. Not only was Arielle moving like a peg-leg, but I was also having my own issues.  My mind was completely spent.  It was like I had used up all of my emotions and now I was reduced to a walking zombie.  If shit happened I didn’t trust myself to make any rational decisions.  I kept these reservations to myself, trusting Vlad and Oleg to make the rational decisions for us.

We followed Vlad and Oleg up the mountain, with Oleg keeping a careful eye on Arielle and acting as the ultimate pacer.  Thunderstorms swirled around us, but Big Sister remained dry.  It felt like we had some sort of higher power watching over us.  Eventually we made the summit, and enjoyed a muted celebration.  We weren’t done until we made it down.  We all knew that the down was going to be ugly, but at least we also knew that every step was leading us closer to the finish line.

I must have fallen 10 or 20 times on our way back.  They were controlled falls, but still … my coordination by this point was completely deteriorated.  I felt stoned and drunk.  I could only imagine how Arielle must have felt.

As we neared the bottom Oleg asked me how I felt about completing this adventure.  The truth was, that I didn’t know.  At the moment I didn’t feel anything.  And to be honest, I rarely feel much of anything (besides relief) when I reach a finish line.  I am so process oriented that I get nearly all of my joy out of the hard work and preparation which goes into eventually (hopefully) succeeding at a goal.  To borrow a quote I recently read on Amelia Boone’s Instagram “If you love the process, the results will follow. And if the results don’t follow, it doesn’t matter because the fulfillment and joy was always in the process itself.”

In the weeks leading up to this event I loved mapping out the route, scouting out the trails with Arielle, figuring out what gear we would need, putting together a team of committed friends, and getting as much vertical as possible into our legs in an attempt to make them unbreakable.  During the SV10, I loved the problem solving Arielle and I had to do as we ran into unexpected road blocks.  I even value the mistakes we made, such as not going back to the campground to get the right equipment or my epic bonk on the first day, because those mistakes are learning experiences for future adventures. I didn’t enjoy seeing Arielle in pain, but I loved seeing her unshakable determination.

After some reflection, I would say that I feel pretty good about this adventure.  It has been a great learning experience which can be used as a stepping stone for other projects.  It is another part of the process in the push towards finding my own personal limits.


The rain began to fall a few minutes before we reached the parking lot.  It was a refreshing way to finish our journey.  Vlad and Oleg went ahead, while
Arielle and I reached the parking lot together.  We were too tired for a  jumping photo, but we did manage a synchronized handstand shot.

Total Distance – 135km

Total Elevation Gain – 12 000m

Total Time – 13hrs + 18hrs + 12hrs = 43hrs of moving time.  65hrs elapsed.  Just a little longer than planned 😉



Thank you to everyone who has supported us throughout this journey.  We could not have done it without you!

  • To the friends who joined us along our journey: Patrick, Ryan, Andrew, Colin, Vlad, Alex and Oleg
  • To our crew who took care of us when we were too tired to take care of ourselves: Matt and Elena
  • To Ian and Susan for supporting us throughout this journey
  • Icebug (shoes)
  • UltrAspire (packs and hydration bladders)
  • Swiftwick (socks and arm sleeves)
  • Veriga (crampons)

 

Spray Valley 10 – Part II

If you haven’t already read Part I, you can find it here.


2:55am came early on Saturday morning.  Who’s bright idea was this again?

I rolled out of the van and turned on the stove.  Today’s breakfast would consist of Aussie Bites and coffee, as we were too tired to think of cooking anything else.  Besides, Aussie Bites are amazing.


An hour later we rolled into the Sparrowhawk parking lot and found Colin already waiting for us.  How amazing is it that two days in a row we have friends willing to get  up at 2am so that they can join us for a sunrise mountain ascent?!

It was great to have Colin along for the journey.  Colin and Arielle have a similar sense of humour, so they could banter while I just settled into the steady rhythm of a steep power-hike.  I do a lot of solo mountain trips so I’m used to not talking.  Even when I’m with a friend I won’t necessarily say much, I prefer to listen.

The climb up Sparrowhawk went smoothly.  Both Arielle and I were moving well considering the 45km of mountainous terrain we had covered the day before.  As was our theme for the entire weekend, the temperature dropped dramatically as we ascended and we were soon bundled up in all of our layers.  The summit block was covered in clouds, obscuring the views, but as soon as we dropped back down beneath the clouds we were treated to a breathtaking sunrise.

We finished Sparrowhawk right on schedule and feeling optimistic about the day.  It was time to empty the rocks from our shoes and head over to Bogart 🙂



The original plan was to do Bogart and then traverse over to Sparrowhawk from the Sparrowhawk Tarns trail.  We changed that plan when we weren’t able to finish the full route on Friday; deciding that it would be better to hike up the steep trail to the summit of Sparrowhawk first, then traverse over to Bogart and enjoy a cruisey run down the Sparrowhawk Tarns trail.  None of us had ever dropped down to The Tarns from Sparrowhawk before, so this route was a bit of an unknown.  Needless to say, there was some routefinding involved, and we took a typical “shortcut” which wound up extending our run time significantly.  The pace slowed, and I got frustrated.

The mental dialogue going on in my head at this point was not very nice.  If we didn’t pick up the pace there was no way that we could finish 5 peaks on Saturday.  I was in the lead and I tried to hike faster in order to influence the others, but whenever I picked up the pace Colin and Arielle seemed to drift further behind.  I didn’t know how to tell them to hurry up without being a jerk about it.

Just then Colin piped up, “wow, look at how late it is!  I wonder what is taking us so long?”

I couldn’t resist, and tried to word my response nicely.  “Well, we are moving at a rather casual pace …”  I immediately regretted my words. These were my friends, we had a huge mountain ahead of us (the biggest of the entire SV10), and I wanted us to move as a cohesive unit.  Now I was risking driving a wedge between us with my impatience.

Thankfully Colin and Arielle are good sports.  They saw the truth in what I was saying and picked up the pace.  We were able to laugh about it and I was relieved that we could move on without issue.  I should have more faith in our friendships.

When we did finally begin our ascent of Bogart it went very smoothly.  We ascended much quicker and with less effort than our ascent of the previous week.  It felt so good to feel like we were back on track.  Unfortunately the descent off Bogart was not quick; it’s simply impossible to descend Bogart quickly (as much as you might want to).  The rock is too loose for reckless movement, and if you aren’t careful with your foot placement your fun mountain adventure will quickly turn into a search and rescue mission.

We got back to the parking lot in good spirits, but 2hrs behind schedule.  Vlad, Alex and Matt were all there waiting for us.  None of them seemed surprised that we were so late – we had been on an ambitious schedule 🙂



We said goodbye to Colin, and after enjoying a sandwich and a Gatorade we began to run down the High Rockies Trail towards the Lougheed trail head.  It was hot and we both had a bit of a headache.  We found a creek to dunk our heads in and immediately felt better.

The trail up to the Lougheed meadows seemed to have more uphills than normal, but we made good time.  Vlad and Alex had gone up ahead of us and were waiting for us in the meadow with delicious fresh cherries. We were happy and feeling good.

The climb up Lougheed went smoothly, even though we were both definitely starting to feel the effects of fatigue.  Vlad led the way and I enjoyed being able to follow his feet rather than finding my own route.  Arielle and I were stoked to make it to the summit only 10 minutes slower than last time we climbed Lougheed.  Not too bad for our 3rd, 10 000 ft+ peak of the day!

We enjoyed some hot tea and cheese sausages on the summit before heading down.  I had brought a wind shell up with me but had foolishly left my warmer jacket at the bottom of the mountain since it had been so hot in the valley.  I soon found myself shivering on the mountain top. Thankfully Vlad lent me a warm vest and I was soon nice and toasty as we began our descent of the mountain.



Arielle began the descent by running down the mountain in the wrong direction and I followed suit by missing an important cairn 15 minutes later.  In both cases Vlad did a good job of yelling at us to get back on the trail.  Getting off route was a good wake up call for me, it highlighted my fatigue and need to stay alert.  My brain was obviously not operating at 100%.

As we descended Arielle drifted further behind.  This is not typical of her so I knew something was up.  We got down to the meadow and she confessed that her back and ankle were bothering her.  I tried to hide my disappointment, as I worried that she might not be up for climbing Windtower tonight.  My mind was stretched thin and I didn’t have much more positive energy to give her- I felt like I needed to keep it all for myself.  Thankfully the  logical part of my brain was still working and I recognized her symptoms as likely being caused by dehydration.  We refilled her camelbak and she took an electrolyte supplement, as well as an Advil and a Tylenol.  Might as well cover all the bases.

It’s dangerous to take NSAIDs during extreme endurance exercise, so we both agreed that this is the only Advil she would take.  Better to deal with pain that have permanent kidney damage.

Arielle’s pain subsided quickly but my mind was still in a fog.  I tried to express my feelings to Arielle, but I’m not sure that I did a good job.  I just felt empty, and a little dizzy, and all I wanted to do was cry.  I think the attempt to express myself helped, because by the time we got back to the High Rockies Trail I was feeling a little better.  We were both determined to continue on to Windtower.

We reached the HRT, and  found Oleg waiting there with Elena.  They had set up a huge aid station; complete with beer, cheese, homemade chicken noodle soup, coffee, potato chips and banana bread. I wasn’t expecting them, but seeing them was exactly what I needed.  I burst into tears of gratitude, and pulled my hat down low to avoid embarrassing myself.

As soon as I saw the beer I knew it would be the cure for my weird headspace.  Beer during a long run has never failed to make me feel better.  We spent the next 10 minutes sitting and eating and talking.  It was such a great mental reset, I felt like I could do the whole day over again.  We finished our feast, and now it was time to head to Windtower.


Oleg said he would join us for the rest of our adventure.  This was a huge relief for me as I no longer felt like I had to be the leader.  Now I could just follow his feet and he could be in charge!  Arielle was also re-energized and we were able to get up and down Windtower quickly before the sun was fully set.  We finished the day running and singing our way down the trail, excited to “only” have 4 more mountains to climb on Sunday.

Total time: 18:00

Total Distance: 58km

Total Elevation Gain: 5300m


Spray Valley 10 – Part 1

“What about Sunday?”

I look up at Oleg.  Oleg is a bit of a mountain guru.  If he’s asking this question it means that he’s fairly certain that we won’t finish in two days.

“I hope we aren’t still going on Sunday … but if that’s what it takes … I guess we keep going.”   Famous last words …


It’s Wednesday and we have gathered at my place for dinner and a planning session.  We hash out the logistics, and by the time the evening draws to a close Arielle and I are feeling much better about our weekend adventure.  We have drawn up a tentative schedule, and it looks like we will have support throughout the entire journey.  We could not have asked for a better scenario, and I find myself feeling overwhelmed with gratitude towards this fantastic trail running community.


Thursday evening comes quickly.  I work until 6pm, and it’s well after 7pm by the time we’ve finished dinner and are ready to head out to our campsite for the night.  The air smells of smoke from the nearby forest fires and the sunset is hazy.  Arielle and I are concerned about our lungs – I’m not always the best at managing my asthma and smoke could cause it to flare up badly.  We see some massive storm clouds gathering on the south end of the lake and hope that the rain will wash away the smoke.


That night it stormed violently.  It was so loud that neither Arielle or I were able to sleep. When we woke up at 2:55am on Friday morning the air was smoke-free.  All the pieces were falling into place.

We guzzled down some coffee and drove down to the Buller Pass trailhead for a 4am start.  Patrick and Ryan were already there waiting for us, they had left home at 2:30am to meet us there.  Thanks guys!

At 4:12am we said goodbye to Matt (who would be crewing us all weekend from the van) and then headed up the trail.


That morning was dark and chilly.  I could see my breath in the light of my headlamp and my pack felt heavy. In addition to our extra clothing, we were each carrying 2L of water, a helmet, trekking poles and enough food to last us the next 7 hours.  I started to drink water early – the more I drank the lighter my pack would get. We soon turned off the trail and began the steep bushwhack up to the ridge of Mount Engadine. Patrick picked a good route up through an old forest fire burn scar, and we soon found ourselves picking our way along the base of a cliff, looking for a weakness so that we could gain the ridge.  The slope was very steep – at one point my foot slipped and I caught myself on the rocky slope with my face.  Mmmm, dirt for breakfast.

We gained the ridge and discovered that the temperature was so cold that the rubber on our shoes was frozen.  We had to be careful with every step to not slip; Mount Engadine is considered a difficult scramble, and a fall could be deadly. Some of the rocks were coated in ice and a thin layer of snow frosted the top of the mountain.  We were not expecting winter in July, but here it was!  The sun crested the horizon as we reached the summit and suddenly the early morning was worth it.

1 summit down, 9 to go.


We made a hasty exit off the peak.  We were freezing!  The snow highlighted a bit of a trail down through the scree, and we were able to descend quickly.  We decided to take a different (hopefully quicker) route down via a drainage.  I was feeling good and found myself leading the group with Ryan close behind me. Patrick and Arielle were a little ways back but I tried to make sure to keep them in sight.  Ryan and I scrambled down a little waterfall and then descended a little further so we could empty rocks out of our shoes while we waited for Patrick and Arielle to catch up.

We had turned a corner after descending the waterfall so we didn’t have line of sight to see up the mountain.  We waited for a few more minutes but still Patrick and Arielle did not appear; I realized I had made a mistake.  Arielle has amazing endurance, but she takes awhile to warm up, and she had been struggling to keep pace on the way up the mountain.  Now I had gotten too far ahead and she probably felt totally abandoned.  I felt like a total jerk, and I’m certain she was thinking that as well.

Soon Patrick and Arielle reappeared and we were able to make our way down the rest of the mountain.  They both let me know that I was an asshat … and then they forgave me. Friends again, we ran back down the trail to Buller Pass where Matt was waiting for us at the trail junction with water and snacks.

Total time: 4:20 (10 minutes ahead of schedule)

Total Distance: 9.7km

Total Elevation Gain: 1200m



The route up Buller was uneventful.  There is nothing much to this mountain, except that it’s really steep.  Arielle had finished her warm up and was moving really well; nothing like a 5 hour warm up to get you moving 🙂

Once again the summit was really cold and we hurried off the peak in search of warmer temperatures.  I slipped and fell on some loose rubble, jarring my shoulder and hearing something snap.  After a few deep breaths to manage the pain, the shoulder seemed okay.

The rest of the trip down went smoothly.  We got back to the van so quickly that we found Matt having a nap.  He hadn’t been expecting us for another half hour!

Total time on Buller: 2:45 (30 minutes ahead of schedule)

Total time on the trail: 7:09

Total Distance: 19.1km

Total Elevation Gain: 2250m



Back at the van, we decided to take some extra time to get in some calories and prepare for the long, route ahead.  We each ate a sandwich, drank a Gatorade and changed our shoes.  We had been wearing very lightweight shoes, but now we were headed out on a more remote and rugged, 3 peak loop so we needed something more robust on our feet.  Unfortunately, when Arielle went to change her shoes she discovered that she had put two right shoes in the van (which meant that there were two left shoes back at the campsite).  Rather than lose an hour driving back to the campsite we decided to just continue on with her wearing the light shoes.  This was a mistake.


The 7km run from Buller to Red Ridge was actually more like 10km, I am famous for underestimating distance. We were both a little grouchy at the seemingly endless trail, but grouchiness at this point was expected.

Eventually we got to Red Ridge, and the infamous boulder field.  Red Ridge has amazing views, and I think it would be a popular hike if it wasn’t for the boulder field slog.   The rocks are very loose, and you have to take care with each step or a boulder may suddenly start falling down the mountain, crushing you underneath. We had been up Red Ridge twice before, but now it felt like the mountain was MUCH taller.  We joked that it must be on steroids.

At some point we reached the ridge and were moving along towards the summit when suddenly Arielle yelled that her shoe had busted.  We had gambled on bringing the wrong gear, and now we were paying for it.  I had brought some duct tape along for emergency repairs, but it soon became shredded on the sharp rocks.  Now we really had to put our creativity to the test.  We had several extra buffs on us, so we used two of them to wrap her shoe like a slipper.  It worked like a charm! Buffs have got to be one of the most useful items to bring up a mountain.  I never go up a mountain without one.

Our friend Andrew had climbed up Red Ridge ahead of us so that he could get photos. Now he met us at the top, where he shared his peanut M&Ms and summit bacon.   Mmmm, bacon.  With Arielle’s new shoe/slipper contraption we were able to run/shuffle back down the mountain to Andrew’s car.  Thank goodness Andrew was there for us, or we would have had to find a way to hitchhike back to the campsite!

When we finally got back to the campsite we found Matt hanging out in the van and Arielle was able to reunite her right and left shoes.  We didn’t have enough daylight left to go back out and finish our 3 peak loop, however he did have enough time to go out and scramble Big Sister of the Orphan.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  Once Arielle had her shoe troubles, I shifted all my focus to her and I stopped eating and drinking.  By the time we got back to the campsite I was in the middle of a big fat bonk.  I started shivering uncontrollably and my stomach turned sour.  I changed into warm clothes, ate some food and tried to recuperate, but I felt like hell.  I worried that I would start puking  my guts out before we got half way up the mountain. Oleg’s voice echoed in the back of my mind.  “Be safe girls.”  “The mountain always wins.”  The decision was made to spend the rest of the day recovering.  We could push hard again on Saturday.

Total time on Red Ridge and the approach trail: 5:50

Total time on the trail: 13:00

Total Distance: 45km

Total Elevation Gain: 3250m



 

Peaks 7 & 8 – Bogart and Red Ridge

I’ve decided to clump Bogart (the highest peak in the SV10) and Red Ridge together because they really are part of the same route.  To ascend Red Ridge we follow a narrow single track trail which parallels a creek.  This trail ends at a large boulder field, which we scramble straight up to gain the ridge.  The ridge route is straightforward and has great views of the Spray Valley.  From Red Ridge we descend to the col and run down a scree slope to the Sparrowhawk Tarns.  The view of the Tarns from the Ridge is incredible!

From the Tarns we begin our ascent up Bogart by climbing through a series of rock ledges on loose scree.  The climb is not technical, but the rocks are very loose and you have to be careful not to be crushed beneath them.  Once we gain the ridge on Bogart the route is fairly simple; stay on top of the ridge as much as possible and skirt to the right side when needed.  Continue to watch for crazy loose death boulders.  Bogart more than makes up for the loose rock with amazing views!  It is my favourite peak of the SV10, although I may have a different opinion when we climb it on Friday 🙂

1800m of vertical in 8.5km.  This will be the crux of our first day.

It’s Time

 

It’s time.

The weather looks okay, we both can get the day off work, and we’ve scouted out the entire route.

This Friday at 4am, we run the Spray Valley 10.


A look inside Arielle’s head: 

There is so much going on in my head that it is hard to simply sum it up. 
Everything about this adventure scares me and excites me. Its hard to believe that we are only days away!
There is a lot of unknown, so I feel that being both mentally and physically ready to take on the suffer and dig deep will be important. But, what I feel will be even more important is focusing on the the logistics and the process. When Joanna and I take on our adventures and focus purely on the process, 9/10 times they turn out better than we ever expected.
SV10 is just a really long adventure, so if we stick to the process we will get to enjoy every mountain high and valley low!

A look inside Joanna’s head: 

This adventure scares me.  With back-to-back 18hr days planned, the timeline is really tight.  We will have to be diligent with taking care of our bodies (no blisters, no puking, no bonking), and with respecting the terrain (no getting lost,  no falling off the mountain, no getting crushed under a boulder). There is very little room for error.
I like being scared.  I like adventures.  I like the uncertainty of not knowing whether something is possible, but trying to do it anyway.  I used to be ruled by the fear of failure, but now I’m motivated to explore the possibilities.

 


There is only occasional cell phone reception along the SV10 route, but we will try to keep you updated as often as possible.  Follow along on Facebook and Instagram using #SV10.

Big thanks to Ian and Susan at Rockgear Distribution for making this adventure possible. We will be using Icebug shoes (Oribi and Anima), Swiftwick socks, and UltrAspire packs (Zygos and Velocity).

Lastly, we would like to make this adventure about something that is bigger than ourselves.  For myself, this is partially a selfish motivation because it will help keep me going when I’m tired and I want to quit.  But also, we want to do this because we have been blessed with the incredible good fortune to have fit, healthy bodies and an amazing mountain playground in our backyard.  We are grateful to have this opportunity to explore our limits and would like to use this opportunity to give back to those who are not so lucky.  Please show your support by donating to MitoCanada, running for those who can’t.

Learn more about MitoCanada by watching this heart-warming video.  You can learn more about MitoCanada by visiting their website here.

Peak #6 – Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk is a very steep, but relatively simple peak.  Basically you go straight up on mostly well-defined trail, gaining 1400m in 5km.  The summit views are amazing, and the relatively simple scrambling will be a welcome way to end the day after struggling through the more difficult scrambling on Engadine and Bogart.  We plan to ascend Sparrowhawk from the Sparrowhawk Tarns, after descending to the tarns from Mount Bogart.  Depending on how quickly we are moving, we expect to see the sunset from the summit. I’m really hoping we don’t have to scramble up this route in the dark, but the navigation is straight-forward enough that I don’t think a night ascent would be particularly dangerous.

After descending Sparrowhawk we will head back to the van for dinner and a nap before our early morning ascent of Lougheed.

 

Peak #5 – Lougheed

I’ll be honest, I’m still not entirely sure which route we will be taking up Lougheed.  Last year when I did this route I went up the far, rubble filled bowl first, climbed up to Lougheed 3, then ran over to the main peak and down via the usual trail.  The down route was “interesting” with lots of loose rock and navigation challenges should I fail to notice a cairn.  I’m not sure I would want to come up that way, I feel like the loose footing would be very frustrating and the rockfall hazard would be more than a little terrifying.  That being said, going up the back bowl was not great either.  The bowl is filled with frustrating, ankle busting talus and has more distance and elevation.  We are hoping to be able to check out Lougheed this weekend before our SV10 attempt, but if that doesn’t happen it will likely be a game day decision.

The approach trail for Lougheed is lovely. It’s not too steep and you enter a magical, marmot-filled meadow before scrambling up the steep slope to the summit.  We plan to get to the meadow around sunrise on our second day, and I’m fairly certain that seeing those first few sun rays reflect off the morning dew on the wild flowers will be a highlight of  our adventure.  13km, 1400m of gain if we take the route directly to the main summit.