Tag Archives: scrambling

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 ūüôā¬† 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 ūüôā¬† 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!

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Sphincter Level 5 – Mount French

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

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

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


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

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

20180715_054651

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Trails!

Meet the Minotaur

What is Meet the Minotaur??? 

I must have been asked this question 50 times during the lead up to this¬†race¬†(which¬†was in¬†its¬†inaugural year).¬† I didn’t know anything more about the event than what was posted on the website, so my answers were pretty vague.¬† I knew it was off-trail, that the route was a secret, and that there would be plenty of climbing.¬† I’d been out with the race directors on a couple of runs so I had an idea of what kind of bushwhacking they preferred. Mainly, the most direct line possible.¬†

I was excited for the adventure side of this¬†race. I love long steep climbs, I enjoy bushwhacking, and I found the “mystery” of the course to be intriguing.¬† I wasn’t so keen on the competitive side of this event.¬† I felt a lot of pressure (completely self-imposed) to do well. I was the poster athlete on the Meet the Minotaur website, and¬†Icebug¬†was the primary sponsor of the event.¬† Plus, I feel like I have a reputation as a tough mountain chick, and I didn’t want to let that reputation down. ¬†There was no entrants list to give me an idea of who my competition was, but I knew that the local athletes would be very strong. I had gone¬†out with a Meet the Minotaur training run back in May, and I had been¬†impressed with how strong all of the runners were. ¬†¬†

 


The night before …¬†

Arielle and I gave a slide show presentation on our Spray Valley 10 adventure during package pick up. ¬†We talked for about 45 minutes, describing the ups and downs of our adventure and answering any questions. ¬†If I wasn’t feeling enough pressure before, I¬†sure¬†was now! ¬†¬†

We followed up our talk with pizza and beer at one of the local restaurants. ¬†I always drink beer before my races and getting back into my carb-loading routine had a calming effect. ¬†I couldn’t control the competition, all I could do was take care of myself and see what would happen.¬†

 


Race morning … 

Race start wasn’t until 10am, with a mandatory pre-race meeting at 9am. ¬†I normally stop eating 3 hours before a race to prevent any stomach issues. ¬†Since most races start at 6am this means I will wake up at 3am to slam back a¬†Clif¬†bar or two before going back to bed. ¬†With the 10am start, I was able¬†to have a normal breakfast!¬†¬†I have decided that I¬†am a big fan of late race starts.¬†

The mandatory meeting covered all the relevant race information for the day. ¬†Since this race was entirely off-trail there were more items to go over than in a typical race:¬†helmets were mandatory from checkpoints 2-4 (there would be signs), gloves were highly recommended for the entire race, if you don’t see a flag you’re off-course, don’t kick rocks down on other runners etc. They also added a fun twist to the course where you would have a choice of which route you would want to take. ¬†One route might be tougher but more direct, and the other route easier but longer. ¬†They called these options “labyrinths.” ¬†Lastly, there was no food or water on the course. ¬†If you accepted aid from a race volunteer then you would be recorded as a DNF. ¬†Aid from other racers was allowed and encouraged.¬†

 


Race start … 

The race began with about 10¬†metres¬†of flat before we hit a steep slope up through the bush. ¬†Essentially it was like running into a wall. ¬†My friend Arielle got a video of it and it’s hilarious! ¬†Racers were pushing on¬†each other’s¬†backs to try to boost them up the hill.¬†

The course was a little backed up for the first few minutes as racers settled into their pace. ¬†I tried to be patient and not expend too much energy passing people. ¬†The race would probably¬†take around 4 hours, I couldn‚Äôt afford to redline from the beginning. ¬†I took the shortcut through the woods at the first labyrinth as the bushwhacking didn’t look super dense, the other option was to go around on a trail.¬†¬†I was following a couple of¬†other¬†guys, so I was able to just concentrate on my feet while they looked ahead for flags.¬†

The two branches of the labyrinth joined back up and I found myself running in a group of local guys and a lady named Christine who I had heard rumours of being a very strong mountain athlete.  I decided that I would try to stick with her for as long as possible.   

I wasn’t paying much attention to the flags, assuming the runners around me were doing that job for me. ¬†Suddenly we realized we were not on route. ¬†We had been¬†power hiking¬†up a steep slope, but the race route had taken a sharp¬†right at the base of the hill. ¬†We quickly got back on course, losing only a couple of minutes and adding 20 or 30¬†metres¬†of climbing to our race.¬†After that mishap I was paranoid about getting off route, and I didn’t trust anyone to find it for me. ¬†With no trail to follow you couldn’t just put your head down and¬†run,¬†you¬†had to constantly be scanning ahead.¬†

I wasn’t wearing a watch of any kind so I was fueling by feel. ¬†Drinking when I wanted and eating as much as I felt I could handle. ¬†We reached the first checkpoint, and I had already eaten 3 sour¬†dinos¬†and an Oreo. ¬†The volunteer told us our time –¬†it was¬†only 36 minutes into the run!¬†¬†I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that much so early in race, but I was working hard and I was worried about bonking. ¬†Thankfully my stomach seemed to be handling the food just fine.¬†

Helmets were mandatory after checkpoint 1 due to rockfall hazard. ¬†I stopped to put mine on, but Christine had been wearing hers from the start¬†so she passed by me. ¬†The route turned up a steep, grassy mountain slope. ¬†You could see runners snaking up the slope for what seemed like forever! ¬†I gave myself a pep talk –¬†this was my opportunity, and now was my chance to start catching the other ladies.¬†

I focused on small, quick steps; trying to be as efficient as possible. ¬†The climb became a grind and I began to pass competitors. ¬†Christine was ahead but I could see that I was reeling her in. ¬†Halfway up the slope I finally passed her¬†and I made sure to keep up the pace. ¬†I didn’t want her to try to tag along as I wasn’t sure how long I could sustain this effort¬†level. ¬†Another lady was further up the hill, but she looked tired;¬†taking large steps and resting for a second between each one. ¬†I caught up to¬†her just before the top. ¬†At this point I didn’t know how many more ladies were in front of me, but I was running scared, terrified of being caught from behind. ¬†¬†

The route plummeted down a scree slope¬†before turning straight back up a very steep and rocky slope. ¬†I pushed hard, but half way up the hill I had to pause¬†for a few seconds. ¬†My body¬†was hurting and I needed to give my glutes a break. ¬†I¬†allowed myself¬†a brief¬†look¬†back to see if any ladies were on my tail. ¬†I didn’t think I saw any, but couldn’t be¬†100% sure since everyone was wearing helmets.¬†

The climb continued and I put my head down as I pushed up towards the saddle.  Whenever I looked up the sun was shining right in my face and all I could see was the silhouette of a volunteer waiting at the top, so I aimed for the silhouette. 

The silhouette turned out to be Ian (one of the Race Directors) and he pointed across the valley to the next section of course.  There was a steep scree run down, a long traverse, and then a grueling climb back up to another saddle.  Once you leave checkpoint 3 there is no turning back, as there was no way you would want to climb back up that scree slope.  I downed a Honey Stinger gel and threw myself down the scree slope.  The run down was super fun! 

MTM me slope 2

Slogging up the 2nd steep climb of the day. PC: Ryan Peebles

MTM scree down

The scree run down. PC: Ryan Peebles

I felt so slow during¬†the traverse across the mountain. ¬†It was a lot of side sloping, something I try to avoid when I’m out scrambling on my own since I find it tedious.¬†¬†I was leading a group of guys, but none of them seemed to want to pass. It was impossible to push hard on¬†this part of the route,¬†mostly because I was too focused on¬†trying to stay upright and on course. ¬†After what felt like forever we began a steep grind up a scree slope to another col. ¬†The climb was¬†hot and relentless. ¬†My glutes and lower back were letting me know that they wanted to be done, so¬†I ate some Sour Dinos¬†and drank more water in an attempt to get them to shut up. ¬†That seemed to do the trick as the second half of the climb felt much better.¬†

We reached the top of the grind and now it was time to follow some¬†fixed ropes down a small cliff band before our final descent.¬†The scrambler in me loved this section and I found myself wishing¬†there was more of it. ¬†The rock was solid, and the rope was mostly¬†unnecessary, but it was¬†good reassurance if you weren’t used to this type of terrain. ¬†The rope section was followed by our last scree run of the day.¬†Wheee!¬†

MTM ropes

Runners headed down the rope section from CP #4

I was excited to run downhill, and I was hoping to push hard to the finish, but that wasn’t to be. ¬†The scree run was followed by a bushwhacking traverse¬†with very tricky footing. ¬†I couldn’t run this section without feeling like I was going to break¬†my ankles, so I just hiked as fast as I could. ¬†Several guys passed me, apparently traversing¬†is a weakness I need to work on. ¬†With so many guys passing me¬†I kept thinking that the ladies¬†were going to catch up to¬†me too, but¬†that never happened. ¬†I found myself in no-man’s land, with nobody to see in either direction.¬†

There was a 2nd¬†labyrinth ¬†–¬†up and over, or contour around.¬†I chose the most direct line, up and over the¬†hill. From there the course angled¬†back to the first checkpoint and I knew I was getting close to¬†the finish. ¬†With no racers to follow I found myself taking extra care to stay on route, following the flags but never able to really open up my stride for fear of missing one. ¬†(There¬†were¬†flags every few¬†metres, I really shouldn’t have been so¬†paranoid).¬†

I passed my friends Arielle and Jessie who were hiking part of the course as I raced back to the finish.  They let me know I was first female and now I knew it was my race to lose, so long as I could stay upright and not get lost. 

I crossed the finish line in 3:20,¬†exhausted and happy. I felt like I been able to sustain a good effort throughout the race, and I hadn’t¬†imploded¬†under the weight of my¬†self-imposed expectations.¬†

 

MTM finish

Happy to be done ūüôā

 


Post-race … 

After the race we hung out for a few hours. ¬†There was kombucha, a barbecue with hot dogs and corn on the cob, baked treats from the Stone’s Throw Caf√©, fruit and chips. ¬†It was a great atmosphere to sit and cheer on the other runners as they came in.¬†

I’d highly recommend¬†Meet the Minotaur¬†to anyone who is curious about it.¬†¬†I loved the challenge of this¬†event; the secret route,¬†the steep climbs, the¬†exhilarating¬†scree runs, and even¬†the¬†tedious,¬†side-sloping¬†traverses.¬†¬†Next year there will be a new course,¬†and I‚Äôm sure it will be even better.¬†

¬†Here’s an awesome video of this year’s event.


Thank you…

  • To the Meet the Minotaur organizers – Andrew, Erin, Ian, Susan and everybody else behind the scenes. ¬†This was the most fun I’ve ever had at a race.
  • To Icebug – for supplying me with shoes for all my mountain adventures.
  • To my husband Matt – for enabling my serious mountain addiction.
  • To Arielle – for being such an awesome adventure partner and for pushing me to have more confidence in my own ability.

 

Happy Trails and I will see you all next year for the 2nd annual MTM!

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 ūüėČ



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 ūüôā



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 ūüôā



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 ‚Ķ


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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď 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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā

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