The Inaugural WAM 100

“The WAM 100 mile race is hands down, all at once the most stunning ultra in Canada and the most challenging race in the country, in fact it ranks right up there as one of the toughest 100’s on the continent.

167 kilometers of incredible terrain, up and down the two major mountains on the east side of the Whistler valley: Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain…while doing Whistler Mountain twice! All while covering over 9500 meters (31,000 feet) of climbing and descent, and skirting no fewer than a half dozen alpine lakes along the way, including Jane, Jake, Logger’s, Cheakamus, and more. We’ve even thrown in three suspension bridge crossings for good measure.

This is as much an adventure as it is a run. The course is unrelenting, but it has a high “reward value” in that we don’t have long sections of suck while you’re waiting for the few highlights to present, rather the highlights are plentiful and you’d have to close your eyes to eliminate the beauty of the area from constantly coming at you.”

~excerpt from the WAM website~


 

I came into this event ready and excited to race.  Last year’s running season did not go particularly well, and my opportunity to truly race at Bighorn earlier this year went up in literal smoke when I hit a buck during our drive down to the event. Standing on the WAM start line I felt fit, healthy and rested. I hadn’t felt that good in a very long time and I had to work hard to temper my enthusiasm.

Whistler Alpine Meadows 2019. Photo by Scott Robarts

Standing at the start line, not sure what’s up with that expression 🙂       PC: Scott Roberts Photography


Meadow Park to Alta Lake – 14.5km, 733m ascent, 696m descent 

I ran most of this leg either with Jessica (a strong runner from Edmonton) or on my own.  The leg began with a climb and Patrick and Chris went on ahead.  I was trying to keep my effort very easy, and keeping up with the boys on the climb would have taken me out of that zone.  The leg finished with a very cruisey downhill section with 27 switchbacks.  Anyone who has ever run trails with me knows that I like to corner, so this was right up my alley. I let my legs go, passing several runners and catching up with Patrick and Chris in the aid station.  The aid station was a few kilometres sooner than advertised (and I was moving faster than expected) so Matt wasn’t there.  I grabbed some candy from the well-stocked aid station and began to hike up the hill on the next leg of the course.  As I hiked, I sent Matt a quick text so that he would know that we had missed each other.  It was a nice luxury to have cell service on a race course.

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Views over Whistler on Leg 1.  I think that might be Sean Blanton hang gliding!


Alta Lake to Function – 11.5km, 632m ascent, 711m descent 

 

Chris hiked up ahead, while Patrick soon caught me from behind.  Patrick ran with me for awhile, and then all 3 of us were running together through the Function Junction section.  I was surprised that we were all moving at the same pace, but I enjoyed being part of a “team.”  Soon we were at the second aid station.  The distance for this leg had been correct, but we were still running much faster than I had anticipated.  Matt was there to help crew me and I had a rice ball (rice, egg, cheese, soy sauce) from our cooler.  It was nice to have something other than candy.  The 3 of us left the aid station in close succession but I took it super easy on the crushed gravel path, falling behind the rest of the Team.  I was very concerned about all the running we had been doing this far into the race and I thought that I needed to figure out some sort of walking strategy to slow myself down.

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Running along a raging river as we head into Function Junction.


 

Function to WAC – 19km, 1071 ascent, 1061 descent 

 

The course turned off the crushed gravel path and onto an ATV road.  The ATV road angled uphill, and the grade slowly got steeper as the path got rougher.  I made a conscious effort to slow down and just focus on being relaxed, eating and drinking at regular intervals.  Jessica caught up to me and we talked for a bit before I found myself moving ahead again.  I really enjoyed this climb because it felt like it gave me a chance to reset from all the running we had been doing.  I was a bit sad when the climb ended, but I didn’t mourn for long because the course turned onto what looked to be a brand new mountain biking trail.  The trail was cut into the mossy undergrowth of the forest and traversed between a couple of picturesque mountain lakes. It was gorgeous! This is where I met my new friend James, a runner from Squamish who had wandered off-course and just made his way back.  WAM was his first hundred, but he had plenty of leg speed having just run a 34 minute 10km the previous weekend!

 

I loved this forest section. I had good company to run with, and the route had taken on much more of a wilderness, mountain feel. I no longer was fighting to force myself to slow down, I simply had a big grin on my face and was fully embracing the forest bathing.  The forest section ended with a downhill mountain road before turning back onto some rockier single-track.  The good vibes continued and I broke out a bag of Cheetos to celebrate as the trail came to a lookout over another mountain lake.

 

Shortly after the lake I ran out of water.  This leg was definitely longer than advertised, but I wasn’t overly concerned.  I knew we were going to have to make up for that short 1st leg at some point. Eventually we came to the top of a climb and began a technical descent down towards what I assumed would be the aid station. This descent was where I saw the first of the “DANGER SLOW” signs.  I chuckled to myself, how many more of those would I see today?  A kilometre or two later I ran into the WAC aid station and Matt was there to crew me.  I had a rice ball and a yogurt tube before heading back out.  Patrick was just ahead of me and I caught up to him as he was finishing off a bottle of Coke.

 


 

WAC to Village – 15km, 755m ascent, 601m descent   

 

The next section is a bit hazy for me.  I recall Patrick and Chris moving ahead on the initial climb, but then somehow I caught up to them and I was leading the Team.  I was feeling really good and just enjoying cruising along.  At one point I was enjoying the view a little too much and completely missed a turn.  Thankfully Chris was there to set me straight.  The course was impeccably marked, but you still have to pay attention.

 

Apparently we made good time on that leg, because we arrived at Whistler Village just as our crews were setting up.  This was a planned longer aid station break, as we prepared to head up Whistler Mountain and into the night. I ate more rice balls and yogurt, changed my socks and shorts, and re-lubricated areas that were threatening to chafe. I also packed an extra headlamp. We left Whistler Village as a team of 4, having picked Mike up (another runner from Calgary), at the aid station.  I had been looking forward to the long walk up Singing Pass to Whistler Mountain all day.  It signaled the end of the running and beginning of the adventuring!


 

Village to Whistler Mountain – 19km, 1720m ascent, 460m descent 

 

My focus during the walk up Singing Pass was eating.  I ate a Mars bar, and a couple of slow burning Muir gels.  I probably also had a bunch of gummies and jelly beans, maybe some Oreos.  It was a constant snack fest. Chris dropped off the back of our train for a bit at one point, while I lagged behind Mike and Patrick on the steeper sections.  I was feeling really good on the flats and downhills so I would quickly catch up to them on any of the undulations.  The trail became more technical and undulating as we left Singing Pass and went over the Musical Bumps.  Technical, undulating terrain is a strength for me, so I soon moved ahead.  It was dark out and although the route was extremely well marked, it was still easy to wander off course. At one point I missed a turn, but thankfully I quickly realized my error.  I climbed back up to the missed turn and waited at the corner to warn the other guys. But if I’m honest, I am not good at waiting and I soon decided that they could probably figure it out just fine on their own.

 

Eventually I made to the summit of Whistler Mountain.  The volunteers had some good tunes going and the aid station was well-stocked with candy, including M&Ms! I’ve had a bit of an addiction to M&Ms lately so I filled a ziplock with the tasty treats.  I asked the volunteers if they had pancakes, but they told me they weren’t cooking them up until the morning.  This was a bit of a bummer because I knew Patrick had been looking forward to those pancakes since last year’s WAM.


 

Whistler Mountain to WAC – 14km, 158m ascent, 1572m descent 

 

All good things must come to an end, so I reluctantly left the aid station and started down the extremely steep and technical descent trail.  Having been on this trail last year, I knew what to expect and I was apprehensive.  I was fearful my legs might not be able to handle this kind of trail after 80km and 4000m of climbing, plus this time I was doing it in the dark!  My shoes handled the rock and mud well, but I didn’t do so well on the boardwalks.  After one particularly hard fall on a boardwalk I was extremely careful navigating the rest of my way down the route.  There were several of those “SLOW DANGER” signs, but I think they could have just posted one at the top of the trail and called it good.

 

Eventually I got onto more runnable trail and I enjoyed the easy cruise down, occasionally crossing paths with one of the lead runners who were on their way back up.  I counted the men and the ladies as I passed them. The lead lady was in 10th and looked very strong.  I was in roughly 20th place overall and 2nd lady, about an hour behind 1st.  I took some extra time at the aid station, feeling very sleepy (it was just after 1am) but otherwise in good spirits. I had some coffee, broth and snacks, dropped off one of my headlamps and began the slow shuffle back up the trail.  I had spent about 20 minutes in the aid station and was surprised that none of the Team had made it in yet.  I didn’t worry for long though, because I ran into Patrick a few hundred metres out of the aid station, and then Chris few minutes later.  They both looked to be in very good spirits.


 

WAC to Whistler Mountain – 14km, 1572m ascent, 158 descent 

I was dreading the climb back up Whistler Mountain.  It was SO TECHNICAL and STEEP!!  I ran into Jessica a few kilometres out of the aid station and we stopped and talked for a few minutes.  She had a sore foot and had decided to drop to avoid a more severe injury.  Then I ran into Mike who was walking like a zombie.  He did not look like he was interested in continuing the torture.  Near treeline I ran into a dense patch of fog as I climbed up through the clouds.  It made spotting the flagging tape much more challenging.  The fog continued above treeline and suddenly I realized I was off-course.  I looked around me for any markings but I didn’t see a thing.  Thankfully I remembered my watch had a breadcrumb feature and I was able to use that to get back on route.  I was borrowing the watch from my friend Katie and I made a mental note to send her extra thanks for saving my race.

 

I didn’t think it was possible, but I had ascended the mountain too quickly and I reached the aid station well before sunrise. We were above the clouds now and I could see that sunrise was going to be accompanied by a spectacular inversion.  I decided to lollygag a bit at the aid station – if I moved slow enough maybe I would get to see the sun.  I ate a full cup of noodles in front of the aid station heater, and then I spotted the big box of bananas.  I knew that I don’t handle bananas well when I’m racing, but I also wasn’t thinking very clearly.  All I could think was that those bananas looked delicious!


 

Whistler Mountain to Base 2 – 19.5km, 482 ascent, 1772m descent 

 

I scarfed down a full banana and then made my way off the summit towards the Musical Bumps.  Not even 10 minutes later I had thrown everything up on the side of the trail.  I checked my watch, I had made it 19.5hrs without puking.  Not bad!  I was sad to see those noodles go to waste, but I felt much better after puking. Unfortunately, even thought I was feeling better my brain was truly checked out at this point and I proceeded to miss another very well-marked corner and wander off route.  A few minutes later I realized my mistake, and once again used the breadcrumb feature to get back on track. Now I was back on very technical trail, and I had to be alert to follow the course markings.  I was so focused on the markings that I hardly ate during this section and my pace slowed significantly.

 

The upside to all of this is that the sky started to lighten and I got to see the sunrise! The sunrise was so beautiful, that I found myself full of gratitude for the comedy of errors that had slowed me down. Soon I was shuffling my way back down the Singing Pass trail, smile on my face but starting to feel very stiff and tired.  Puking always takes a lot out of me, and I was so stiff by this point I couldn’t manage a full stride. I noticed a tightness in the back of my right calf, and a memory tried to trigger, but I couldn’t quite place it.  I ignored the tightness and pressed on.  It was around this time that I started to pee constantly. I was thankful that I was on my own because it felt like I was peeing every 10 minutes and I wouldn’t have wanted to have to move far off-trail.  I tried increasing my salt-intake to help with some water retention but it didn’t seem to make a difference.  I was peeing far more than I was drinking, and I found myself not wanting to drink because I felt like it would just trigger more peeing.

 

Eventually I made it to the Base 2 aid station.  I was very tired and happy to have a seat.  I had a rice ball, some yogurt, salted potatoes and some delicious bacon kindly offered by a random bystander.   Nicola was at the aid station volunteering, and when I complained about my constant peeing she had said that she’d heard it was related to protein intake.  Hopefully the bacon would help.  While I was sitting there Patrick and Chis came running in.  They said they were tired, but they looked great!

 

 


 

Base 2 to 7th Heaven – 4km, 848m ascent, 6m descent 

 

I walked out of the aid station and began the steep climb up the Blackcomb Ascent Trail.  My calf had tightened up to the point where it was painful on every step and I was not moving very quickly.  Patrick and Chris soon passed me, and I was happy to continue at my slow and steady state.  The trail went up and up and up, but eventually I reached the aid station.  I had slowed down but I felt like I was still in good spirits and moving okay considering I’d been running for 24hrs straight.


 

7th Heaven to 7th Heaven – 12km, 758m ascent and descent 

 

The volunteers warned me that the next section was very slow going.  Apparently even the lead runners had taken over 2.5hrs on this section.  I think their warning lit a little fire under my ass because I was able to run the next portion of gravel road.  From there the route turned straight up a ski hill, it wasn’t even on a trail and I laughed out loud. It was time to Minotaur!  I love a little bushwhacking and I took joy in the fact that I probably loved that section more than anyone else in the race.

 

The bushwhack was short and soon the course turned back onto well-developed trail. I didn’t know anything about the Blackcomb alpine and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much more than random mountain biking trails.  So you can imagine my surprise when the trails turned out to have some of the most stunning views on the course!  We had climbed just above the inversion and were dancing with the clouds.  Marmots whistled, and the trail wound its way around alpine tarns and boulder fields. Glaciated peaks popped in and out of view.  I was happy.

 

SidenoteI do have one complaint about this section of the course, and this is that we were doing the loop backwards.  The best views were always behind me so I found myself constantly wanting to stop and look back, but I couldn’t do this because I was in race and I was trying to move efficiently.  There were also a ton of people up there travelling the opposite direction, so they were constantly having to move out of my way.  I feel like if I was moving in the same direction as them I could have just hopped on the boulders to move around them, and not make them feel like they had to make way for me.  But I digress...

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7th Heaven to Green Lake – 17km, 495m ascent, 1420m descent 

 

I find I move quickly when I’m happy and I finished the 12km loop faster than expected, catching back up to Patrick and Chris as they were leaving the aid station.  Now there was only 25km left to the finish line with no significant climbs.  My energy levels felt good and I was ready to give a good push, but my calf wouldn’t allow me to run.  I decided to ask the aid station staff for a tensor bandage to see if wrapping the calf would make it feel any better.  It turns out one of the volunteers, Adam, was a bit of a guru at this type of thing and he did an amazing job.  The tape job definitely didn’t get rid of the pain, but it seemed to slow the progression down.  Up to this point the calf and been getting progressively more painful, but now I was able to shuffle (slowly) down the ski out without feeling a significant increase in pain.  I tried to take a full stride, I wanted to force myself to do it out of sheer will power, but I found that I couldn’t.  Just like at Bighorn, I found that I have an upper pain threshold and I can’t seem to push through it.  But (unlike at Bighorn), I was still moving at an okay pace and my spirits were still good.  The road for the ski out was very firm and I found myself wishing for a softer surface.  My wish was granted when a minute later we were directed off the ski out onto a very squishy, technical downhill mountain biking trail. This was not exactly what I meant by softer surface.  The terrain was steep and slippery, and the going was extremely slow.  I found myself cursing Gary under my breathe.

 

The rest of the race course was just plain cruel. After the downhill mountain bike trail we meandered up and down and around for what felt like hours!  Jamil Coury caught up to me and we hiked together for a few miles before he went ahead to finish the race strong.  We both thought the meandering trail was ridiculous, especially when it became clear that this was another one of those legs that was longer than advertised.  Jamil ran ahead and I hobbled on as quickly as my legs would allow me, eventually reaching the final aid station.


 

Green Lake – 8km, 275m ascent,  285m descent 

 

I had it in my head that I really wanted to break 33hrs, but if the last leg was actually the 8km advertised there was no way I could do it.  I asked the volunteers if the last leg might be short – I was already at 164km on my watch and the race was only supposed to be 167km long.  They said no, the last leg was a full 8km.   Oh well – I held onto my hope that the volunteers were wrong. I filled up my soft flask with coke and pushed as hard as my legs and lungs would let me to get to the finish line.  I left Green Lake at exactly 32hrs and if I didn’t reach the finish line in 33hrs I could allow myself to slow down and walk it in.

 

I wasn’t able to run the hills so I walked them all.  I also wasn’t able to run the downhills particularly well, so I just moved as best I could.  The flat sections felt okay. The trail was totally smooth crushed gravel and I was in love with the friendly surface.  Why couldn’t the whole race be like this??  I pushed hard, there was a guy behind me and I told myself I wasn’t going to let him pass without a fight.  The minutes passed by and it became apparent that I wasn’t going to make it in under 33hrs but still I kept pushing. Something in my mind told me this leg was going to be short.  We came onto a road and Ellie Greenwood was volunteering at a junction, “1km to go!”   The leg was short!!

I looked at my watch, maybe I could do it …

 

That last kilometre was the longest kilometre of my life.  I ran as hard as my legs would let me, even though Strava says it was only a 6:06km.  Whatever, it felt fast !!  I crossed the finish line in 32:59:14, less than a minute to spare on my arbitrary timeline.

Whistler Alpine Meadows 2019. Photo by Scott Robarts

I think WAM may have eaten my soul.  Finish line relief.  PC: Scott Roberts Photography



 

The Aftermath 

 

Chris, Patrick, Matt and the crews were all at the finish line waiting for me.  Marieve, the ladies winner, was also there to congratulate me at the finish line.  I thought that was a very classy thing to do, as I know I am usually too destroyed after a race to think of anyone except for myself.  Gary was there with a finish line hug, and I was so happy to be done I forgot to ream him out for making us run around in circles for 10km.

 

Overall, I am very happy with this performance. I still haven’t raced my perfect hundred miler but I think I’m getting closer.  I didn’t puke until almost 20 hours into the race, and even then it was just a one time thing. I took care of myself when things went sideways.  I slowed down when I had to, pushed when I could, and when I got hurt I took the time to treat the injury, which definitely enabled me to move faster in the end. I had no blisters and there was no crying. I didn’t take any naps.

 

There are a few things I could do to improve for next time:

  • I could improve by remembering my poles.  I think poles would have definitely helped me from Base 2 to the end when my calf quit working.

 

  • I also could improve by not eating that stupid banana.  Puking lead to a minor bonk, as well as dehydration and associated muscle stiffness.  I was running downhill totally pain-free before that banana.

 

  • I also could improve by figuring out why I was peeing so much. I did seem to pee less after having some protein …

 

Thank you:

  • Matt – for being the best support crew I could ask for.  Not only on race day, but supporting me throughout my endless hours of racing

 

  • Patrick – for being an awesome training partner and finding us a sweet place to stay in Whistler.  I hope your feet heal up so we can get back out adventuring!

 

  • Gary and the CMTS team – Thank you for organizing this ridiculous race, even if I was cursing you at times.  The swag was awesome and organization impeccable.

 

  • Spry – your continued support enables me to pour my heart into this sport and lifestyle I love so much.

 

  • Katie – thanks again for lending me your watch all summer!
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Meet the Minotaur 2019

I was really excited to race Meet the Minotaur this year.  I was healthy, there was no smoke, and I was eager to test myself on some true mountain terrain.  Admittedly, I hadn’t specifically trained for Meet the Minotaur. While I had lots of mountain time in my legs, I had done zero high intensity training and I worried the race would be too short for my diesel engine.  I also had just put in a big effort with the LRT the previous week, and it was likely that I still had deep lingering fatigue in my legs.  I didn’t give these detractors a lot of thought, and instead I lined up on the start line intent on racing hard and having fun. 

 

I knew several of the racers this year, and we were in mid-conversation standing on the startline when the race suddenly started and the runners surged ahead.  I was eager to push myself hard on this race course and I definitely started out too fast.  I followed last year’s winner Anna Koevoet as the pin flags led us through a non-trail section of forest. There was plenty of deadfall and several of the runners were running along stepping on top of the logs.  I’m paranoid of logs snapping and getting a stick through the leg (I’ve seen it happen) so I was the odd one out, stepping between the logs and practicing my hurdling skills.  I kept up okay, but I think my strategy was a little less efficient. 

 

It soon became apparent that the opening pace was way too quick if this was going to be a 4hr+ race. I was only 20 minutes in and already feeling hot, nauseous and light-headed.  My campmate Melody had decided to pull out of the race earlier that morning because she wasn’t feeling well and I wondered if I was also coming down with something.  I slowed down to a walk and let racers pass me.  Svenja caught up and jogged with me for a bit before moving ahead and I resisted the urge to give chase.  If I wanted to do well in this race I needed to get my effort level under control. 

 

I began to feel better and I slowly started to up the effort level. I was running my own race now and I felt much better for it.  I began to pass people back.  I was feeling good and everyone I was passing sounded like they were working very hard.  We were were climbing up a very steep slope to the unofficially named “Fish Peak”, and I enjoyed getting into my element.  At some point I passed Anna (I can’t remember whenbut I knew it would be difficult to catch Svenja. She is an experienced distance runner and over the last couple of years her mountain running skills have greatly improved.   

 

At the top of Fish Peak I passed by Abi who was volunteering, and Susan one of the RDs who was manning Checkpoint 1.  Now it was time for a very steep descent and I let myself run with joy, passing a few guys until I lost the flags and had to come to a screeching stop.  The runners behind me caught up, and then one of them saw a flag and we were off again.  This happened a few times on the descent (learned later that some sheep had been eating the flags), and I definitely lost a few minutes on this section.  This was also some of the steepest descending I’ve ever seen on a Minotaur course and I laughed to myself, thinking Ian must have been responsible for designing this section of the course.  We descended into the brush and I worked together with another runner, Jeff, to navigate the course.  Two pairs of eyes were definitely better than one and I enjoyed the company.  Before we knew it we were at checkpoint #2 and headed up our second big climb of the day. 

 

Jeff initially passed me on the climb, but soon I found my legs and I caught back up to him, passing several other racers as well.  I could see Svenja far ahead, but she appeared to be moving effortlessly and I couldn’t make up any ground.  I didn’t have the power in my legs that I’m used to on steep climbs and I couldn’t help but think I might be feeling some residual fatigue from the LRT.  I thought back to all the scrambles Svenja and I had done together, of all the times I had waited for her as she learned to move more efficiently on steep terrain.  I berated myself for teaching her too well!  Honestly though, it was super cool to see her kicking ass and I began to feel comfortable with the idea of second place. 

 

We gained the ridge heading up to the summit of Deadman Pass Peak where Ian was hanging out, monitoring a particularly exposed section of the route.  He egged me on, telling me I could catch Svenja on the descent.  I seem to be very susceptible to external encouragement and I took his words to heart. I kept Svenja insight for the rest of the climb and then worked on reeling her in as we descended the mountain.  I don’t think I made up any ground on her with this initial descent and I wondered if I should even bother.  Then the course turned onto a delicious ridgeline and we were able to cruise down the mountain with a full stride.  I let my legs go, and was surprised to find that my legs were very happy to run.  Svenja was still well ahead but I felt that I was moving quickly and I knew that I had to be making up ground on her.   

 

For the last several minutes I had been running neck and neck with my new friend Pascal. Pascal and I reached the last checkpoint just as Adrien and Svenja were taking off on the final descent back to the finish line. Pascal reached the checkpoint before me so I had to wait as he took a few more seconds than I would have liked to punch his card. Svenja was running away while I was waiting for the hole punch and I was impatient.  I punched my card as quickly as possible and took off, running around Adrien as he jokingly put his arms out to stop me.  I said a quick hi to Svenja, but I was intent on passing and putting as much distance between us as possible.  I knew that if there was any road running during the final kilometres that she would catch me.  I needed a buffer. 

 

I ran as hard as I dared, creating a bit of a gap, and then slowing down because of fatigue, and also because I was out of water.  Pascal caught back up to me and we worked together spotting flags through the deadfall as we worked our way back to the finish line.  The race organizers were a bit cruel on this section, we could have returned to the road and ran the last mile back to the finish but instead they made us bushwhack through the forest.  This worked to my advantage as I think if we’d had any more running Svenja would have caught me and we might have had a sprint finish.  As it was, I managed to hang on for the win with barely a minute to spare. 

 

After the race all of us hung out at the finish line for a few hours, drinking kombucha, eating tacos and cheering on runners.  I think Svenja and I are both looking forward to a rematch next year.  Meet the Minotaur is truly a unique event – if you have any interest at all, I highly recommend you sign up.  I promise it will be unlike any other race you’ve ever done.

 

  • Check out Svenja’s race report here, to hear her perspective of our battle on the Minotaur course.

 

The Livingstone Range Traverse

Over the past several years Matt and I have fallen in love with the Crowsnest Pass area of Southern Alberta. The land in the pass is wild and undeveloped. While most mountains in the region have routes to the summit, few of them have actual trails, and even fewer have trails that are marked on a map.  I love the lack of formality. 

 

It’s a 2.5hr drive from our place in Calgary to Crowsnest Pass, and I always know when we are getting close because a distinctive rocky, ridge rises into view west of the highway.  The wall of rock extends for 35km, beginning at the Oldman River and finishing at Hwy 3 near the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. The ridge is called the Livingstone Range, and it includes 5 mountain summits – Thunder Mountain, Lightning Peak, Centre Peak, Cauldron Mountain, and South Livingstone Peak.   

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The LRT in the distance, as seen during our drive down to The Pass.

The first recorded Livingstone Range Traverse (LRT) was completed by Rick Collier. You can still find Rick’s trip report on Bivouac and I have read it several times with interest, wondering if I would be able to follow his footsteps.  Rick completed the traverse in 3 days, losing elevation each night in order to find a camp with a source of water.  This style of travel sounded miserable to me, and I knew immediately that if I were to complete this traverse I would want to complete it in a day. 

 

A couple of years ago local athletes Andrew Fairhurst and Troy Misseghers completed the LRT in a single push.  When I saw the route pop up on my Strava feed my head nearly exploded.  Andrew and Troy are on a much higher fitness level than me, but seeing their adventure made this dream of mine seem more possible. The following year Andrew and Troy completed the traverse again, smashing their previous time and completing the route in just under 12hrs! My dream had now become a goal, and I asked my adventure partner Arielle if she would want to attempt this route with me.   

 

Our first attempt on the LRT failed quickly.  It was May 2018 and the ridge was engulfed in cloud with a fresh layer of snow and verglas up top.  We made it up Thunder Mountain, but the ridge over to Lightning Peak was clearly impassable in these conditions.  We decided to bail and comeback on a better day. 

 

Our second trip up to the LRT was with our friend Philippe.  We were hoping to scope out the section from Thunder all the way over to Centre Peak, but route finding proved to be trickier than anticipated and after 6hrs of scrambling we had only made it to Lightning Peak.  This was a very enlightening day for us.  Originally we had thought that 16hrs would be a reasonable time for the traverse, but now we were thinking it would take 20hrs+.  Ugh, I don’t particularly enjoy sleep deprivation. 

 

On July 28th, 2019 the weather and route conditions finally lined up on a day when both Arielle and myself were free.  It was time to give this a serious go.  At 4am Arielle and I began our hike up Thunder Mountain.  We were travelling by the lights of our headlamps, but this was our 3rd time up this route so navigating was seamless.  By 5:30am the sun was rising and we were taking our first summit pic.  As we gazed across at the jagged ridge leading over to Lightning Peak, we hoped we would have better luck with our route selection this time around. 

Following the advice from Andrew and Troy we aimed to stay on top of the ridge as much as possible, only dropping down when it was necessary and following goat trails until we could regain the top of the ridge.  We made good decisions and moved efficiently, reaching Lightning Peak in roughly 5hrs.  We were stoked with our progress and excited to explore the next portion of the ridge which was entirely unknown to us.  Arielle’s boyfriend Vlad was going to meet us at Centre Peak with more water, however we were moving so well that we thought we would beat him there.  We sent him a text to tell him not to bother, and he decided that he would start at the south end of the ridge and meet us from that end.  Arielle and I had both started with 3L of water and the weather was quite warm so we conserved as much as possible. 

The traverse over to Centre Peak took forever! Our text to Vlad proved premature, as we did not make it up to the summit until well after our overly optimistic time estimate. We were still moving efficiently, but the ridge is just so long and slow!  sections of the ridge are extremely exposed with cliffs on either side, while at other times we would be forced to drop off the top of the ridge and find routes around pinnacles.  There was absolutely no running and every step was taken with care.  Eventually we found ourselves on the summit of Centre Peak; there was no celebration, just a sense of relief. 

We knew from talking to Troy and Andrew that the real difficulties of the route lay on the south half of the route.  Apparently there was some difficult scrambling with high consequence, and we wondered what was in store.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) Arielle and I were so used to exposure by this point that nothing phased us.  I could have walked on a 2×4 plank, 100m above the ground and I don’t think it would have phased me.  We continued our constant forward progress, eventually reaching the summit of Cauldron Peak.  Arielle sent Vlad a text letting him know that we were in fact still moving, and I stopped to tape some hot spots on my feet.  This is when I realized that large holes had ripped open the uppers of my Scarpa approach shoes.  Oh well, that’s why I brought duct tape 😊   I taped up my shoes the best I could and on we went.  1.5km later we found Vlad lounging on a sub-peak.  He had had hiked up with 5L of water for us from the south end of the ridge.  Neither Arielle or myself were out of water at this point, but it was nice to stop conserving and be able to drink as much as we wanted. I had felt mildly thirsty (drinking just enough to keep my stomach happy) for most of the trip. 

The next portion of ridge was extremely undulating with a few tricky sections. The 3 of us hiked mostly together until we finally reached the summit of South Livingstone. Arielle’s stomach was giving her a bit of grief so she held back a bit but was still moving at a good pace. Just like Centre Peak, the summit of South Livingstone seemed to take forever to appear and when we finally crested the top it was with a huge feeling of relief.  Vlad took a couple of photos of us and then we were off running to the Interpretive Centre.  

The South Livingstone trail was overgrown and much of it was not exactly runnable.  I did not take the most efficient line and 20 minutes later the 3 of us were all back together, even though Vlad hadn’t run a step.  How demoralizing. Vlad suggested we follow a drainage down, promising that it would lead us to the road to the Interpretive Centre.  Arielle and I ran off ahead again, eager to get somewhere with decent footing so that we could finally open our strides and run.  The drainage proved to be a bit bushwhacky, but the flowers were beautiful and we were in pretty good spirits considering we had been moving for over 13hrs.  If we didn’t get lost we might be able to finish in under 14hrs, a time that neither of us had thought was realistic at the start of the day. 

 

Finally, we reached the dirt road and we knew we were only 3km to the finish line!  Now it was Arielle’s turn to wait for me as she is a much stronger road runner than I am.  I did my best to keep up a good pace and we even managed to run a sub 5min kilometre (downhill).   The final 800m was uphill on paved road to the parking lot and Arielle pulled ahead trying to encourage me to run faster, but pavement saps all the energy from my legs and I had nothing left to give.  We finished the route in 13:55, super excited with our time and the efficiency that we had moved with throughout most of the day. 

 

 Post-script: 

A few days later, after we had submitted our run to the FKT pro-board, Troy sends me a message.  “Hey, did you know that we finished at the highway, not at the Interpretive Centre when we did our FKT?”  

Long story short, there was a misunderstanding with the location of the finish line and Arielle and I took an unintentional shortcut.  The true FKT route stays on the ridge the entire way to the highway, rather than turning off the ridge and heading to the Interpretive Centre.  Our route was a few kilometres shorter than the true ridge route and had less bushwhacking, it was also the route that Andrew had given me with his GPX track from their 2017 traverse.  I still feel like we completed the spirit of the route since the crux of this route is really about scrambling along an endless rocky ridge, not about bushwhacking to a highway.  However, anyone who considers a future FKT attempt should take this information into account.   

 

We refuelled from our long day out with burgers, fries and root beers at A&W. I definitely feel that this should become part of the LRT FKT tradition.  A&W is basically located at the termination of the ridge so it’s meant to be 😊  

Bighorn 2019

Let me start off with an apology.  This is going to be a very long race report.  You’ve been warned. 

 

Bighorn 2019 was a race that almost didn’t happen for me.  On the morning of June 13th (the day before the race) I woke up with the sun, walked the dog and began the last part of our drive down towards Sheridan.  We had spent the night sleeping in our van at a rest stop, and Matt was still sleeping in the back of the van when I drove around the corner and came face to face with what is quickly becoming my least favourite animal. The deer was standing in the oncoming traffic lane and I had a brief second of hope that it would stay where it was before the young buck stepped in front of the van. I didn’t swerve, I barely had a chance to brake, and in an instant our van was demolished and the deer was lying in a heap on the side of the road. 

 

In shock, I pulled the van off to the side of the road and stepped outside to survey the damage. The front end was crumpled from the impact and leaking radiator fluid was steaming in the cool morning air. I sat down on the road and began to cry. We only had liability insurance on the van and we were in a foreign country.  At the time I wasn’t sure of what the ramifications were of getting into an accident in the US vs Canada, but I was pretty sure we were headed into a logistical and financial nightmare. 

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Matt came out of the van, took one look at the damage, and asked me what we were going to do. I normally like to be in control and have the answers, but I had no clue.  A truck came driving by and I waved them down.  They immediately came to a stop and offered to drive me to an area with cell phone coverage so I could phone for a tow truck and report the incident to the police.  My phone wasn’t working so they kindly let me use their phone as I arranged to get help.  Then they dropped me off back at the van where Matt and Moxie were so we could wait for help to arrive.   

 

We waited and waited, 2hrs later a police officer eventually showed up. When I had reported the incident, I’d said that we were at about mile marker 10, but we were actually at mile marker 9.  The officer had been looking for us for an hour. The waiting game continued and the tow truck still failed to show. The officer drove me to cell range where I was able to contact AMA to ask them what was up.  It turns out they had sent the tow truck to the wrong location, about 500km away from where the accident took place. 

 

3.5hrs after that initial phone call, the tow truck finally arrived and we were on our way back to Great Falls, Montana.  The tow truck driver suggested that we look on Montana Auto Trader on Facebook to see if there were any cheap cars for sale.  A 2001 Ford Focus had just been posted 10 minutes earlier for $1200.  I sent a message to the seller. 

 

At the junk yard, Matt dealt with the vehicle while I made endless phone calls hoping that we might be covered at least partially by insurance. Insurance was a dead end, so then I called Enterprise hoping to find a reasonably priced rental vehicle that could fit all our stuff and get us back across the border. There was nothing available.  I tried to get a vehicle that could take us from Great Falls to Sheridan, in the hopes that I could ask our Calgarian friends in Sheridan to drive us home after the race.  Enterprise quoted me $600 USD, it would be cheaper for one of us to fly home and then drive back with our other car. At this point I was ready to give up hope. I got back in contact with Jeremy, the guy who was selling the Ford Focus, and arranged to meet up.  He showed up at the tow truck shop, and Matt gave the car a short test drive.  I contacted my insurance company and they told me I could swap the insurance on the van with the insurance on the car. I would have 14 days to get the car registered in Alberta. Things were starting to look up!  Matt bargained the price down a little, and then Jeremy and I went off to the bank to wire him the money.  We didn’t realize that you can’t wire money from Canadian to US banks while you’re in the US, I would have needed to initiate the process from my bank in Canada. I won’t bore you with all the details, but eventually we found a solution at an ATM which allowed me to make multiple withdrawals of $300. We signed over the wreck of our van to the junkyard and finally we were off to Wyoming! 

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We had been planning to sleep in our van for the weekend, but now that we were without a van our friend Leo invited us to stay with him at his Air BnB. Leo also spoke with the Bighorn RDs on my behalf since I had missed the mandatory pre-race meeting. His help was key in lowering our stress load to something a bit more manageable.  Having missed the pre-race meeting, I wasn’t able to set up drop bags.  It is essential to have crew or a drop bag at the Footbridge aid station, but Matt would not be able to make it there without a high clearance vehicle. Thankfully another friend from Calgary, Jamie, offered to shuttle a drop bag to Footbridge for me. Everything was set, now all I had to do was run. 

 

 

The snow level on course was reported to be higher than normal, with some of the minor aid stations being inaccessible to the volunteers.  As a result, the race start was moved up an hour (giving us an extra hour to finish), and mandatory gear was instituted from Footbridge to Jaws.  Matt planned to meet me at the Dry Fork and Jaws aid stations, and I would have access to my drop bag at Footbridge.  However, I knew from experience that none of these scenarios were certain and it was very possible that our junker of a car would break down somewhere on the highway, or that Jamie would not be able to access Footbridge. As a result, I decided to carry all of the mandatory gear with me from the start, as well as a couple of headlamps.  Knowing I was running with extra weight and that I had depleted my mental energy with the effort of just getting to the start line, I forced myself to give up on my competitive goals and lined up in the back half of the pack.  I knew that the trail would bottleneck, but I thought the forced slow pace would enable me to let go and just enjoy the adventure.  Leo joined me, and we ran together at a relaxed pace for the first several hours.  Along the way we met some friends including Beat and Stephen, two seasoned ultraveterans.  The energy in the group was fantastic, and I enjoyed learning about the other runners’ goals and past exploits.  Beat introduced us to the concept of the“Freedom Step”. Early in the race we were carefully tip-toeing around puddles and muddy patches, trying to keep our feet dry.  We knew there would come a time when wet feet would be unavoidable. That moment, when your socks and shoes become fully saturated and you no longer have to worry about avoiding the water, that is the Freedom Step. 

We came into Dry Fork (13 miles) well back in the pack and Matt commented that I really was taking things slow.  I wasn’t concerned.  I was feeling good and I wasn’t near the cutoffs.  Our group splintered at Dry Fork as we all stopped to take care of our individual needs, and when I left the aid station I was on my own.  I normally enjoy running on my own, but I quickly discovered that on this particularly day I was craving social interaction. Oh well. I got into a rhythm and the brief pang of loneliness quickly dissipated. Eventually I caught back up to Beat, and then to Leo, but I was now running at my own pace and I found I wanted to go ahead a bit.  I kept the pace easy, but I seemed to be handling the muddy sections much better than the other runners and I began to move up the field.  The trail got muddier as I got closer to Footbridge, and at one point I lost a shoe in a deep bog and had to fish it out.  I wasn’t upset or frustrated, I just thought it was hilarious.  Freedom! 

 

The fields of wildflowers on the descent to Footbridge were as spectacular as I’ve ever seen them. Sadly, I don’t have photos because I had put my phone away earlier in the run to protect it from the intermittent thunderstorms.  The descent was very eroded with alternating mud bogs and rock steps.  I passed several runners.  I wasn’t running hard but I was running with a heart full of joy. 

At Footbridge (30 miles) I took the time to wash my feet, re-lube, and change into my Goretex Icebug Oribis. Jamie had successfully delivered my drop bag and I was very happy to have the fresh shoes and socks. The upcoming trail was supposedly muddy and snow-covered and I thought the studded shoes would help my traction.  I also ate a napkin full of pretzels and drank some Ginger-ale.  I was so proud of myself for actually taking the time to take care of myself! 

 

I left Footbridge feeling optimistic. My legs still felt great and I was happy.  The trail was quite rocky, but the studs on my Icebugs did not bother me at all and I found I was once again passing runners.  I didn’t bother filling any water at the next aid station and instead ran straight through. I was on a roll.  Shortly after the aid station I caught up to Colleen and Enrique.  This was Colleen’s first 100 and Enrique was pacing her until she could get up to Jaws and pick up her actual pacer.  They were moving very well and I stayed with them for quite awhile, enjoying the conversation. 

 

At some point I decided to move ahead.  We had been walking the flats, and my legs felt like they wanted to jog so I decided to listen to my legs.  2 miles out from the next aid station I ran out of water. Every time I run out of water, I wind up with GI issues and I gave myself a mental reprimand, I should have filled up at the last aid station.  I caught up to a few other runners, they were out of water as well. Eventually I made it to the next aid station and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had lots of goodies in addition to water.  Apparently, the aid stations were more accessible than expected!  I filled up my water and enjoyed a few pieces of beef jerky before continuing up the trail. Up to this point the trail had not been particularly muddy and there was no snow, I was beginning to wonder if I was wearing studded shoes for no reason! 

 

As a result of my dehydration, I was now feeling a bit nauseous. I lowered my effort level and continued my steady hike. I could see other runners were suffering on the climb as I slowly reeled them in, even at my reduced effort.  The next aid station was fully stocked and I enjoyed a couple of pickles and a cup of ginger ale. As I ate, I gazed across the valley at the most amazing rainbow I’ve ever seen.  What a spectacular day!  I was truly loving this experience. 

 

I was now only 5 miles away from the turnaround point at the Jaws aid station (48 miles). The mud began to become more consistent and soon I found myself wading through deep puddles.  I was in a good mood and I truly didn’t care. About a mile or two outside of Jaws I saw the first lady on her way back.  She warned me that conditions ahead were really bad, but I wondered how bad could they really be? That’s when the snow started.  

 

To be honest, I didn’t find the snow particularly terrible. I post-holed in a few sections and the water flowing underneath was very cold, but there was no sustained post-holing.  It was much better than I had mentally prepared myself for.   I reached the road and shuffled towards the Jaws aid station. It was getting dark, but I had managed to make it there without a headlamp. I gave myself a mental pat on the back. 

 

I knew from experience that I had to get in and out of Jaws as quickly as possible.  The temperature drops very quickly up there, and the possibility of hypothermia is likely. I started shivering as soon as I sat down in the tent next to the heater.  Matt got me coffee and broth while I put on Goretex pants and a jacket.  Then I switched out for an even warmer jacket.  I was freezing. 

 

Toque on, headlamp on, gloves on.  I did a quick interview with the medical staff so they could determine that I was coherent and paid a quick visit to the bathroom before heading back down the trail.  A storm had moved in and it was raining steadily.  My energy level had dropped but my spirits were high.  I was still fighting waves of nausea but I tried to trickle in calories. Back on the snow field, I crossed paths with Leo, Derrick and Beat. They seemed to be doing well.  

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Leaving Jaws in the pouring rain.  It was cold.  Photo credit – Mile 90

The snow was much more difficult to navigate in the dark and I felt bad for the people who were still on their way up, it is definitely an advantage to get to Jaws in the daylight. As the rain poured down the mud got worse. I continued to view it more as comedic relief than as something to get frustrated about. The studs in my shoes provided excellent traction and I only slipped twice in the entire race.    

 

I made it back down to the Elk Camp aid station and enjoyed some hot broth, ginger ale and more pickles.  I noticed that broth seemed to have an almost instant effect on my nausea.  Also, ginger ale was continuing to go down very easily. I continued on my journey, mostly on my own but occasionally seeing other runners. I was not moving particularly quickly, but at least I was moving.  I was peeing a lot, which was weird because I wasn’t drinking a ton and I normally don’t pee more than once every 8hrs during races.  I got back down below treeline and I was overcome with a deep fatigue. I had made it through the exposed portion of the course in one piece and now I could relax. All the stress of the last two days hit me at once and it was all I could do to resist the urge to curl up in a ball on the side of the trail and sleep. I don’t think I have ever felt so sleepy in a race. 

 

Still feeling a bit nauseous, I carefully monitored my effort on the uphills, not wanting to push too hard.  The next aid station had broth and I allowed myself to have a seat by the fire and enjoy a cup. The broth worked its magic and I decided to push a little harder on the uphills to see what would happen.  Magically the nausea did not increase, and by the time I made it back to Footbridge (68miles) it was almost gone. 

 

I washed my feet, re-lubed and changed my socks. The only pair of clean socks I had were wool so I put those on.  Something triggered in the back of my mind that this might not be a good idea. But my brain was foggy so I ignored the dull warning signal.  I drank a cup of ginger ale and filled my bottle up with more ginger ale to-go.  I was still feeling really sleepy and not looking forward to the steep climb out of Footbridge, but the sun began to rise as I climbed and the sleepiness slowly subsided. The wildflowers illuminated by the dawn light were spectacular and this time I took the time to get out my phone a capture a photo. 

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Moving slowly, a group of us were hobbling down the trail. We didn’t say much to each other, united in fatigue. The mud was extremely slippery and was of a shoe/pole sucking consistency.  I snapped my pole when I tried to pull it out of the suction.  It seemed that a lot of people were breaking their poles.  My wool socks came back to haunt me and my feet began to hurt.  I kept moving but I couldn’t bring myself to run. I continued to have to pee frequently, but it was tough to find anywhere out of sight in the open meadows.  I was surrounded by guys and I was unreasonably jealous of their ability to pee standing up. 

 

I realize that my last paragraph sound quite negative, but overall I am super happy with my attitude during my slow crawl towards Dryfork.  I was moving slowly and I was uncomfortable, but I was still grateful for the experience and I didn’t feel any of the bitterness that had consumed me during this same section at Bighorn 2017.  

 

Eventually I made it to Dryfork. What a relief! Matt was there and we were able to change my socks and shoes. My feet were a mess and we debated what to do with them.  In the end we decided to clean and lube them, but in retrospect I think we should have attempted to drain some blisters and bandage the ones that wouldn’t drain. Learnings for next time.  I decided to wear my Altra Escalantes for the remaining 18 miles to the finish line.  I thought my feet might appreciate the extra cushion and space.  Now that the sun was up, the trails had dried and I wasn’t concerned about traction on the mud. 

The final 18 miles took me more than 6 hours.  At first I could run a little bit, but my feet became progressively more sore and my hobble more pronounced.  Runners were streaming passed me; a combination of 50 milers, 50km runners, 18 milers and the occasional 100 miler. There were far too many runners for me to step aside, so I opted to own the trail and make everyone run around me.  98% of the runners understood what I was doing, but a couple of runners were quite demanding that I get out of their way. I had to fight hard to contain my frustration. 

 

The last downhill was unbelievably steep, it seemed to have transformed overnight. My feet were screaming at me, and I was unable to compartmentalize the pain.  I sat down beside the trail and tried to apply more lube, but it didn’t help and the tears started flowing.  I had almost had a puke-free, tear-free race, but I guess crying is my thing. Maybe it was good to let some of that emotion out, or maybe I’m a wimp. I’m still not sure. 

 

I made it to Lower Sheep Creek (7 miles from the end), re-applied sunscreen and loaded up on apricots, plums and ginger ale. Beat caught back up to me as I hobbled towards the Homestretch. He was followed closely by Leo.  Leo opted to stay with me as he had, “nothing better to do.”  He helped me to search for solutions to my sad foot situation, rather than just giving into it as something that was unchangeable.  We soaked my feet in some piss-warm water (it didn’t work) and then took time at the Homestretch aid station to get some treatment from an EMT.  The EMT attempted to lance my blisters, but my skin was too tough to be punctured by either needles or safety pins so she bandaged up my feet instead.  I didn’t think the bandages would make much difference, but they seemed to help. 

 

The long slog 5 miles down the road to the finish line was not so bad.  With Leo’s coaxing I slowly began to run more and walk less.  We found a friend and I enjoyed listening to his stories, I was actually kind of enjoying myself.  A blister suddenly formed beneath my middle toe and shooting pain went through the ball of my foot. In an instant I was slowed back down to a walk. Once again Leo coached me to find a different way to run, slightly pigeon-toed this time, and we were able to pick up the pace.  Amazingly, we ran the last kilometre to the finish line. The finishing chute was lined with spectators cheering for us as though we were winning the race. We crossed the line together, smiles on our faces, happy to be done.

 

Final thoughts: 

Despite the tears and blisters, I am very happy with how this race went.  It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty, but I ran happy for about 80% of the race, in zombie mode for about 15%, and was only unhappy for about 5%.  That is an excellent ratio.   

 

I did not get to scratch my competitive itch, so I am now more motivated than ever to have a strong run at WAM. 

 

I should probably get a pedicure. 

 

The people of Montana are extremely kind and helpful. 

 

I am retired from Bighorn … I think. 

 

The next 3 months are dedicated to mountain adventures and chasing my 1 million feet of vert. I couldn’t be more excited! 

 

 

Happy Trails! 

In Search of Dirt (May in review)

May was an interesting Month.  It started with snow, continued to snow with some intermittent patches of sun, and finished with intense smoke.  I refused to let the snow get me down, so I escaped to the sun with a backpacking trip, a camping trip, and a backcountry ski up the highest mountain in Alberta.  Each of these adventures could have been a blog post in and of themselves, but I don’t have time for that so here is my synopsis.


  1. Minotaur Thursdays Continue! I am loving these group mountain run/bushwhack/scrambles. The number of people coming out has been increasing and everyone has really embraced the sense of adventure.  In May we climbed up Limestone Mountain, Engagements Mountain/Razor’s Edge, Nihahi Ridge, Mt Kidd Lookout and Wasootch Ridge.
  2. Solo Backpack in Crowsnest. The weather was nice for a few days and I decided I needed to take advantage. Unfortunately Matt couldn’t join me, so I went out on my own for a solo backpack exploration in the Crowsnest area.  I was stoked to try out my new sleeping bag and pad from Spry, and I’m happy to report that it was a super lightweight, warm and comfortable set up. I didn’t really know where I was going so I downloaded a topo map of the area and tried to keep my route to the sunny slopes where the snow had melted. At times I did well with my route selection, but I wasn’t perfect and I spent a couple hours doing some extreme bushwhacking.  I also did a lot of post-holing/crawling in my determination to spend my first night camped on top of Tent Mountain.  Alas, I had to give up on my quest only 100 vertical metres from the summit.  The snow was simply impassable.  On the bright side, I found a lovely snow-free spot to pitch my tent and I got to watch a spectacular sunset.  The next morning was spent wallowing in snow as I made my way back down the mountain and then followed a snow-mobile route back north to the sunnier trails.  At least I was moving a little easier than the bear I was following (see photo).  On the afternoon of my 2nd day I scrambled 1000m up the ridge of Ptolemy.  The scramble was super enjoyable and I sat on my perch sipping wine, watching avalanches and feeling like the luckiest person in the world.  On day 3 I returned to my car, dropped off my camping gear, and then scrambled up Mount Sentry.  I knew nothing about this route, but it wound up being super enjoyable.  The top section had some exposed scrambling with a little ice still clinging to the rocks, which made route selection a bit spicy.  From the summit it was obvious that there are multiple routes up/down this mountain, so I opted to avoid going over the ice again and take a massive scree run off the top. It was the perfect end to an excellent weekend.
  3.  Mount Columbia! My third big adventure in May was a backcountry ski trip up Mount Columbia.  I had never camped on a glacier before, and I hadn’t been on my skis in a month so this was a very novel experience for me.  The weather was about as good as it gets, with hot temperatures at the lower elevations and bluebird skies.  Hanging out at our glacier camp was absolutely stunning and I had a hard time going to bed. The morning of our summit attempt was freezing cold, but we soldiered on regardless and the temps were much more reasonable once the sun came up.  The summit block on Columbia was wind blasted and the bootpack up was a bit intense. Thankfully the summit ridge was sheltered from the wind and we were all able to collapse on the snow and catch our breathe. This was only my 3rd time using crampons and it was the biggest snow slope I’ve ever climbed.  We celebrated with a little prosecco on the summit, and then a bit more when we were in safer and more hospitable conditions. What an incredible experience!
  4. Camping in BC. The weather at home sucked, so I booked Monday off work and drove out to the BC side of Assiniboine (near Nipika Mountain Resort) where the sun was shining. We had never been to this area before, but I had been looking at maps and considering backpacking out this way in the summer.  We found a fantastic camping spot along a creek where Matt could cook a roast, Moxie could play with her rocks, and I could explore the trails.  It was warm down in the valley, but I soon found the snow line about 500-600 vertical metres above camp.  There was also a ton of avalanche debris on the trail and I spent a lot of time bushwhacking.  Every time I came back to camp I would have fresh scrapes and bruises.  It was a successful training weekend in that I spent a lot of time on my feet, but I wasn’t able to get in as much vert as I’d hoped.  This shoulder season is endless.
  5. Not Winning #Capravert. Capra Running store in Squamish was having a vert challenge for the month of May.  I was leading the field and feeling pretty good about myself, especially considering the amount of snow I had to deal with in May compared to all the other runners out in Squamish.  On May 31st I knew I would have to put in a big day, however the smoke from the fires in Northern Alberta blew in and the air quality was terrible.  Some people seem to be able to handle smoke, but I am not one of those people.  I decided to take a rest day instead of pushing for the win.  I felt good about that decision.  I feel like I’m growing up 🙂

As I write this, Bighorn 100 is less than 1 week away!  Despite my relative lack of running I am feeling fit.  I have a lot of time on feet, and I’m banking on the fact that being able to run fast really isn’t that important in 100 mile mountain races.  My stomach feels better than it has in years and I think (hope) I have a good mental mindset.  Competitive goals seem to make me anxious, so this year I have decided to focus on celebrating my ability to participate in these ridiculous events.  I aim to run with gratitude, to embrace the pain as an opportunity to explore my limits, and to enjoy the community that surrounds this event.

 

Happy Trails!

A little bit of everything (April in review)

I’m really enjoying writing these monthly recaps.  They’re good reminders that I am putting in the work, as it’s easy to feel like I should/could be doing more. They also are a fun walk down memory lane, reliving all my adventures from the past few weeks.

April weather was a little mix of everything and I found myself doing all the mountain sports: running, scrambling, and skiing. My monthly vertical is getting closer to where it needs to be, but I’m still about 60,000ft behind schedule if I want to make my goal of 1 million feet this year. I take comfort in knowing that January-April are usually the most awkward, snowbound months for climbing mountains.  It should all be uphill from here!


April highlights:

  1. Minotaur Thursdays have started! Every Thursday Patrick and I lead a group of adventurous runners up a front range peak.  We try to keep the runs (more like power hikes), to around 2hrs and I find it super enjoyable showing local runners obscure routes in their own backyard.  In April we went up Baldy, Wasootch Ridge, Doorjam/Loder and Iyarhe Ipan.
  2. Pincher Ridge to Victoria Ridge to Drywood Mountain. This was my first big scrambling day of the year and it was perfect. Phil came up with the route idea, and Philippe and I came along for the ride. 29km, 2400m of gain and nearly 9hrs of pure mountain exhaustion.
  3.  Almost White Pyramid. This was another long ski day and a good introduction to spring skiing in the Canadian Rockies.  Snow quality in the valley was terrible (crust on facets in the morning, ice or isothermic snow in the afternoon), but the skiing up high was really nice.  Our route took us beneath towering glaciers and we were able to catch a glimpse of the stunning valley beyond before we were engulfed in a whiteout.  The whiteout conditions were not conducive to a summit bid and we turned back only 100 vertical metres from the top.  I had never attempted to ski in conditions like that and I was extremely cautious on the way down the steep slope from the col. Memories of Delirium Dive were still fresh in my mind.  Once we hit the more moderate slopes the skiing became super fun as I learned how to react to the terrain changes in low visibility.  I’m looking forward to working on these skills next season.
  4. 9x Prairie Mountain. This was supposed to be 24hrs of Prairie Mountain, however a significant snow storm blew in after about 13hrs and footing was getting bad. The sun was about to set and I did not want to slip slide my way through the night.  Leo and I were hiking together at this point and we decided to call it a day.  9 is my record number of Prairie repeats, and 6300m of climbing is my new single day record.  My legs felt quite reasonable, my stomach was good and my breathing was okay.  Overall, the day was a success. After 3 attempts at this project, I am totally at ease with putting this particular dream to rest.
  5.  Grizzly Peak the fun way. This wasn’t a big day, but it was such a nice trip that it deserves to be in my highlight reel. Two days after my Prairie repeats I was itching for a shakeout, so Patrick and I went out to Grizzly Peak.  In a spur of the moment decision we decided to take the scrambler’s route up instead of the usual hiking trail. We didn’t have much beta other than a line on maps.me, but I think that’s part of what made this trip so fun. Every time we thought we might hit an impassable line through the cliff bands, another weakness in the rock would appear and we would be able to make our way up.  It felt so good to be scrambling again and we finished the trip with huge smiles.

With another month passed, I’m feeling eager and excited to get out running on the trails.  The snow is melting and I can feel the dirt underneath my feet, even if I can’t see it yet.  This is shaping up to be the best May yet!

Happy Trails!

Hello Spring! March in Review

March has felt like a rebirth of sorts.  The polar vortex slowly relinquished its grip on Alberta, and I’ve found myself filled with a sense of hope and optimism. Not that I was feeling particularly morose earlier in the year, it just feels like the happiness factor has ticked up a notch 🙂  As a bonus, I am pleased to say that I managed to make it through the entire month without spraining an ankle or falling down a mountain.  Winning!

There are few things I love more in life than putting on a pair of shorts and jogging down a single-track trail.  I spent most of February wearing two pairs of pants and I found them frustratingly restrictive.  Shorts are analogous to freedom and I’ve been loving the ability to take a full stride without resistance.

There are so many highlights from the past month, but here are a few of the standouts:

  1. Helena Ridge ski tour followed by a run up Sulphur Mountain (Sanson’s Peak). The start of the tour up Helena Ridge was actually our coldest tour to date.  The temp during the drive out dipped down to -33C, and as we bundled to head up the trail we were questioning our sanity.  Thankfully, the temperature warmed throughout the day and by the time we started running up Sulphur mountain it was a balmy -11C!  Almost shorts weather 🙂  I did not feel particularly strong during the tour on Helena Ridge; my confidence was shot from my fall on Delirium Dive the week before.  In addition, the snow was inconsistent and full of facets, and the tree skiing was a bit dense for my liking.  Still, it was a gorgeous day and the perfect way to build my confidence back up.  The run afterwards was icing on the cake as it felt so good to just let my legs run free on the perfectly packed trail.
  2. Mount Hector. I almost didn’t go on this trip.  My skiing felt so tentative on Helena Ridge that I thought I may have to spend a few days at the resort relearning how to ski before touring again.  I decided to head out to the Skimo night at Norquay on Friday for some practice laps, and discovered that part of the problem was that my boot was broken.  We were able to repair it at the rental shop, and then I did a few very shakey laps down the giant moguls.  By the 3rd and 4th lap I felt a little bit better about myself .  I could at least survival ski down the mountain.  On Saturday Vlad and Arielle gave me a crash course on crevasse rescue, and on Sunday morning I found myself touring up Mt Hector.  The mountain was very busy with a few other groups taking advantage of the perfect weather, as well as a guided group of about 15.  I didn’t care about the relative busy-ness, because the scenery was absolutely incredible!  This tour is in my top 3 mountain days of all time.  If  you have the opportunity, I highly recommend you check it out.

    3. Willoughby Ridge. On St Patrick’s day I drove down to Crowsnest Pass to tour with Ian, the owner of Spry.  Spry has been very generous to me over the last few years, helping me out with this “simple and inexpensive” sport. Ian is a genuine mountain man and we have a lot of fun whenever we are able to get out for an adventure together.  The weather was quite warm, and the snow turned to slush and stuck to our skins.  But the pain was worth it, as we were able to find some good snow with smooth turns on north facing aspects.

    4. Weekend in Revelstoke. My elevation gains and quest for a million feet took a bit of a hit with a weekend trip to Revelstoke.  The training sacrifice was worth it as it was so nice for Matt and I to chill out and visit with my brother and his wife. We went to the local hockey game, skied at the resort (slushy conditions) and went touring in Roger’s Pass.  This was Matt’s first ever tour, so he used my brother’s spare splitboard.  The spring conditions were far from optimal but it still was a blast.

    5. Moose Mountain, the fun way. Moose Mountain via Ing’s mine is becoming an annual tradition. It’s a fantastic spring scramble and a great way to kick of the peak-bagging season.  This year there were 5 of us out playing in the snow; Patrick, myself, Svenja, Adrien and Justin.

     

Once again I am finishing the month behind on my elevation gains, but I can feel my fitness building. I’m excited for the snow-free mountain adventures that I’m sure are just around the corner!