I didn’t get a lot of writing done this year. We moved, bought a house, changed jobs, traveled the world, traveled the west, got a dog, and celebrated family. A few photos just for the photo, a few photos just for the moment and the people. I’m just a damn lucky dude.
Fall has burst onto the city like a trap, summer is suddenly overshadowed by color in the trees and the crisp air of an early sunset. After an amazing wedding and lovely honeymoon, the professional responsibilities we happily shirked have surged out of the closet with fervor.
I met Michael during my interview in 2015 and I hoped we would become friends regardless of what job I worked. I am grateful to be right, and our early friendship has since been nourished by miles of trail and late nights at the office. No surprise either that he also loves to suffer in the gym, and has been a reliable motivator to work on our weaknesses together. A few weeks ago, both of us were headed for a late night at the office but managed to shift towards a different plan, well honed over the past years. We dropped into the company gym around 630pm and got dinner at a local joint around 8pm. There is nothing like an old school ass-kicking to shed the weight of an overly full workday. Conversation, when possible, ranges from business to art to the delicate balance of living in the city.
I haven’t written as much as he deserves, but our friendship has been one of the distinct highlights of my experience in the city. Seriously intelligent, both deeply passionate and empathetic, and always a pleasure to spend time with. Michael has supported me (and Abigail) in many great ways since we arrived here. Tonight I stopped by his desk around 6pm and encouraged him to get out of the office- and to ride together for the short common section of our commute home. He obliged and insisted on riding far out of his way, just for the joy of picking our way through Seattle traffic and catching up on life a bit. For a commute that I have regularly begrudged, I appreciated every moment.
Thanks for jumping at the chance, buddy. To many more.
Working hard up Headwaters Ridge, the wind pushed through my T-shirt and I thought to myself “enjoy this, it will be the last time today that you are cold.” Being right is over-rated.The 2016 Rut 50km race got cut short due to snow. The 2017 race was about performing in the heat. I am in no way a hot weather animal, and September 3rd was a warm one. With some experience though, I picked an appropriate motto for the race and shared it eagerly with spectators and other racers- “today is still the best day.” After a long summer of training, race day was both a joy and a relief.
I was lucky to have a deep bench of support this year. Devon ran the 28km on Saturday, his wife Katie ran the 11km on Sunday, and both Michael and Abigail lined up for the 50km with me. Our little crew shared a house just down the valley from the mountain, and the stoke was high all weekend. Bonus stoke from seeing Missoula peeps like Evan, Brink, Nick, and Damian.
I had a clear training plan throughout the summer, and a detailed spreadsheet that paced me to my goal of breaking 7 hours, but once it got hot, that just didn’t seem as important as running smart and strong. I did a good job eating and drinking early, and made the wise decision to put a hydration pack in my drop bag at mile 18, before the big push over Lone Peak and Andesite Mtn. I felt great and stayed on pace out to approximately mile 22, but after a pounding descent and a little route finding, the heat caught me off-guard. I fought desperate cramping in my quads and hamstrings for the rest of the race- many others faced the same demons.I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. I never ran out of water, my head was clear for the whole race, and my heartrate average was below 150bpm. I started taking salt tabs early in the race (and ended up taking 12 in total), and stayed on a disciplined slow pace early on. Other than the cramping, my legs felt strong all the way through, but the warm temperatures and full sun exposure on many parts of the course simply took it out of me. I finished as the 51st male- 15 places and 22 minutes better than my previous bests, and I feel pretty good about that.
I also absolutely must call out Abigail. It was her first 50km race, and her goals were simply to have finish and have fun. She was the 13th woman and probably ran the best race of all of us. She even had enough left in the tank to play with a puppy as soon as she crossed the finish line. Holy smokes. The photos just after the finish line tell all:
Once again, The Rut delivers a superb racing experience, community, and sense of accomplishment in the face of adversity. Doubly cool to work with Devon and Michael, people you want to run something hard with.I love this stuff.
Copyright: Skander Spies, 2017
Despite my last posts, I had no clue just how short this season was about to feel. Abigail and I drove east to Big Sky on Thursday of Labor Day weekend under thick clouds- to run The Rut race. The weather was unseasonably brisk, even for Montana. While our recent adventures may allude otherwise, neither of our bodies have been in perfect running order. Her IT band, and my hamstring have been out of sorts for months. A week before the race I sprouted a nagging sinus infection that carried up to race day.
We arrived Friday evening so Abigail could run the 28km race on Saturday, and I could rest one more day before the 50km race on Sunday. The big sky in Big Sky was pretty full of clouds, but we stayed optimistic. Abigail “just wanted to finish”, so she started at the back of the first wave, and promptly proceeded to pick off competitors one by one.
I hiked up to cheer on racers around mile 7 and saw the front runners come through- but when Abigail passed, I realized she was still probably in the top 20 women. Go Abigail!
The skies cleared off, and Abigail got the full Rut vertical experience, holding her place and picking her way along the exposed ridges that makes the rut The Rut. The final results list her as the 17th overall woman- no joke for her first real mountain race, and being behind 7 or 8 pro runners from Europe and some wicked strong locals from higher elevations.
My race was less flattering. Last year, I went out too fast and burned out early. It was not pretty. I wasn’t any fitter this year, and between sickness and injury I felt unsure of myself right up to race day- but I was determined to run a smarter race and do the best I could.
The weather system that was supposed to hit the 28km race waited for me, and I left the condo in 40 degree spitting rain. Hydration would not be a problem. They closed the upper mountain due to risks from both lightning and snow, so my 50km with 10,000ft of vertical became a 42km with 7,000ft of vertical. Much faster, lower elevation, and frankly, easier. I picked my layers carefully, and started with the 2nd wave of runners to keep away from the peer pressure to go fast. Abigail found ways to cheer me on early in the race, and I felt solid well past where things started to fall apart last year.
Mercifully, it didn’t start raining hard until 2 hours into the course. At 3 hours and at 9700ft above sea level, there was an inch of snow on the course. Moving was necessary for warmth, but careful pacing and diligent nutrition kept me in good shape. I felt a little weary on the long downhill between miles 16 and 20, but worked my plan, gave up some speed and stayed strong.
I finished 30 places faster than last year, and in the top 25% of finishers. Plus, I wasn’t a puddly wreck of exhausted muscle fibers which makes me think my plan to run smarter worked well. We even managed to sneak away from the race and celebrate my friends Maggie and Chad getting married in Bozeman that night- cheers to them tying the knot!
Suffice to say- I’m still eager to run the full course next year, hopefully in better health, and with a better plan. Hopefully the course won’t look like this (from our drive home on Monday):
A couple times a year, my life just hits fast-forward. I got back from Alaska and immediately started packing to move house the next weekend.
After the move, I started unpacking while simultaneously digging out gear for my first 50km trail race, The Rut. I left work at noon on Friday before the Sunday race and drove to Missoula- my pre-race team was second to none:
The Rut was really hard. My training took a nose-dive in August due to other constraints, and my shoes were too lightweight for the course. Lots of lessons learned: I took the first downhill too fast, I added some glue to the shoes to alleviate a soft spot (and found that hard spots are worse), and for the first time, really actually wanted the dubious “mini-soft-shell gaiters”. Also, poles. Poles would be not stupid on this course. Double also, crew. Having a crew person is rad. Thanks to Paige, Jess, Tod, and Amanda for pinch hitting in that regard.
I got a truly gnarly set of blisters by mile 11, which made the race a lot grittier than it needed to be. Early nutrition and cheering volunteers kept my spirits up. Once we got into the steeper terrain I stopped getting passed and the scenery got a lot better. After adding a full roll of tape to my feet at mile 18, I was ready to fight for the finish. Around mile 25 the blisters were screaming and I dug two painkillers out of my jacket pocket, just to take the edge off against the remaining miles. I’m not proud of needing the pills, but it felt like the right call at the time. I finished in 8hr 4min 10sec. Not the sub-8hrs I hoped for, but for a few long hours afterwards I felt full, that simply finishing was enough. I’m not afraid of the distance, or my feet, any more and
I had a wonderful night of recovery (2 dinners!) staying with Jordan and Cari in Bozeman before driving back to Seattle in one go on Monday- it took 3 tries to get out of the car at the first gas stop. Despite the stiffness in my legs, it was a beautiful drive, which was good because I jumped straight into a 11hr workday, and then onto a flight to Chicago for the 2015 North American Passive House Conference (NAPHC) on Wednesday.
What’s wrong with me that this:
is almost as much fun as this:
It was a great conference. I linked up with some old colleagues, some new potential clients, and got a lecture from a few of my heroes.
After the last 6 weeks in fast forward, I’m officially ready for a weekend at home.
8 years ago I read a trip report about Mt. Goode from my desk in Portland. It inspired me, and made me realize how much I had to learn about climbing. Other objectives lured me away over the years and the out of reach dream didn’t stick. I haven’t often really bit off more than I could chew in these climbing adventures, and there is only one way to fix that.
“Car to car” typically means that you don’t carry sleeping gear- you just expect to be on the move no matter how long it takes. The risk of spending a cold night out is off-set by packs made lighter without sleeping gear. It is also a good way to guarantee an adventure.
Running has always come naturally to me, and given that I’m nursing a shoulder injury, it makes more sense to combine long days and more moderate climbing to get my adventure fix. Doing the standard route on Mt. Goode car to car seemed like a laughably audacious goal. A 30 mile round trip with 3,000ft of gain on the approach, a glacier crossing, and a 3,000ft rock buttress? If I wanted to fail, at least I picked something worthwhile to fail at. I wasn’t so sure myself, so I picked a partner that has always inspired the best in me. In both climbing and life, Ky has shown me how to be stronger than I think I am- and he was just as game to find his endurance limit as I was. The goal was just to keep moving.
We left Bellingham at 8pm, and got to sleep at 11pm. Up at 430a and jogging down the trail at 530a. There was already more than enough daylight. Confident, we raced the warming day until we reached the trail junction from the Pacific Crest down to Stehekin. We pounded a little food and I checked the map. Despite both reading the route description to each other while looking at the map, we had mistaken which trail led to the North Fork of Bridge Creek. Our elation from the fast travel faded into disdain for having added an extra 5.4 miles onto our already marathon day.
We kept moving.
Back to the previous junction and up the correct drainage. We continued to put down miles and race the heat. Due to the location of the route on the massif, you cannot see any of the route or approach until you are standing directly below it. The guidebook says “cross the creek, ascend the talus slope, and gain the glacier to access the bottom of the rock buttress.” Somehow, I think we both figured the 21 miles of approaching was the hard part, and we were wrong. Even from the creekbed 2,000ft below, just getting to the base of the cracked up, barren glacier was going to be the real adventure.
We couldn’t bail without taking a look, so we slathered on some sunscreen and- kept moving. The east face baked as the clocked ticked past noon, then 1pm. Slick granite slabs gave way to vertical bushwhacking through head-high alder. It got hotter as we climbed. Despite plenty of daylight, mid-afternoon is a terrible time to cross a glacier, especial one with many cracks and not much real snow. We found a single unlikely lead up about a 1/2 mile east of the rock route we were hoping for. Any remaining hope of rock climbing was instantly swallowed in the enormous, complex bergschrund crossing that guards the entire face.
Worked and sunburned, downclimbing the approach was nothing to look forward to. Shaky legs make downclimbing even spicier, and we started setting rappels as soon as we hit the lower granite slabs. Thank you to the others that have obviously done the same and left some rappel tat for us.
Our tiny rope set up gave us just enough to work with. We kept moving.
We made it back to the creek at 545p. Once on the trail, it was just a mental game to keep turning the legs over. Blood sugar dropped, blisters rose, and nightfall set in. We kept moving.
It was a push to make the car, but that was the point. At 1045pm we tore into the maple bacon potato chips and sat heavily on the tailgate of Ky’s Subaru. Bailing didn’t honestly feel like much of a failure at all. We had covered 38 miles, used almost everything in our packs, and enjoyed an authentic Cascade experience. It was my longest day in the mountains to date, and I do think it’s possible to summit with a little better preparation and conditions. Many thanks to Ky for the amazing day out, and powering through the drive home so we could have cooked breakfast the next day- I couldn’t ask for a tougher, or better partner.
This isn’t a post about philosophy, politics, or even really pushing the limit of anything. It’s about climbing and autumn. No question about it- fall is my favorite season. A few months ago I went on a lovely walk with some technical gear and got surprised by how far back our goal was. While we didn’t summit, we had a beautiful day out, and I got fully hooked for the objective.
I knew this would be one of the last weekends to tick Canyon Peak, and suspected the colors would be pretty spectacular too. Based on what we found, I was right on both counts.
The approach is long, and somewhat steep for a single day adventure. Evan and I left the car in trail runners and jogged to the base of the steep hiking. We each carried layers, food, and a climbing harness. We took (7) nuts, (1) hex, (5) runners, (1) 30m dynamic rope, (1) 25m static line, and bail tat. Evan had approach shoes and tights, I chose proper rock shoes and no pants. Evan is a wiser man than me.
A leisurely start meant leaving the car at 11:15am- we made the lakes in 2 hours, refilled water, and made the col at 2:30p. The north ridge is obvious, but there isn’t really a clear line- I stayed back from the edge to mitigate issues with loose blocks. We stuck to the ridge and kept eyes out for rappel slings- the summitpost description is about as good as it gets. Class 4 might be fitting, but there are many variations – e.g. ways to make it harder on yourself.
The rock had started its winter transition- frozen lichen, thin ice in cracks, and snow on most of the ledges made all of the climbing pretty “heads up.” If you caught this on a hot day in mid-summer, the climbing would be substantially easier. We found moves up to 5.7 on solid but dirty rock. We mostly simul-climbed, with a few belayed bits around hard moves for the leader. Wind, ice/snow, and my choice of running shorts as my only leg-wear made for cold climbing, but I couldn’t have been more stoked to be on the sharp end pulling the ridge. We made it to a small ledge just below the true summit plateau at 4:45pm and realized we had both gotten what we came for- it was time to head home without the true summit.
The rappels are perfectly set for a 60m rope, but we made due being 5m short. We were walking again at 5:45pm after 4 rappels and some downclimbing. We refilled water again at the lake, and dropped most of our elevation before dark. I was embarrassed to not find a headlamp in my bag, but I kept on Evan’s heels and we made the car just before 9pm. A full day out, with a perfect partner and weather. This is what fall is about.
“This feels good man, just real good.” I bounced past a mountain biker, and a few minutes later, past the spot where I had bonked on the trail last September. Nick and I were out for a run and the stoke was high. That morning he had suggested “let’s just get out and turn over the legs for 3 hours,” but earlier in our planning Nick had mentioned my favorite words – “I want to get out and suffer.”
I was in 7th grade when I discovered I loved endurance sports. I ran every single day that year. I ran in hiking boots in the Chicago winter, and lived for summer runs along Lake Michigan. I loved that it made me lean and quick. Even then I knew, I wanted to move fast and light in the mountains.
After last weekend, I’m just not worried about my foot holding me back much any more. I started my 4th of July at 430am, rolling out of bed, throwing a carefully packed bag in the car, and meeting Martin by 5. I’ve wanted to get high in the Missions since I first saw them, and Martin had been itching to get on top of McDonald Peak. I left the car in running shoes with simple bivy gear, boots, and ice axe on my back.
We made good time on trail, and kept moving across excellent snow conditions- supportable, but not icy. The last few slopes were a slog but the final summit ridge took a little rock climbing savvy to tick the peak in 7hrs 20 from the car. We had dropped the bivy gear at the last basin, descended back to it and looked forward to a comfortable night in the range.
While stoked on the event, the summit, and the experience, I got back to Missoula knowing I had a little more in me. Nick texted, and Sunday morning we headed up to the Rattlesnake to try beating the heat that was sinking into the valley.
We didn’t really intend to summit Sheep Mountain, it just kinda happened, and it only took 2 hours of running. The only problem was I really wasn’t prepared for the return. A 4 hour run requires some planning, particularly around hydration and nutrition. I had packed 260 calories, and one hand bottle of water- barely enough for the 3 hour run Nick and I had originally planned, but not nearly enough for the 4 hour endeavor it became. I bonked the first time at 2hr 30, but was able to get up, get moving, and fire off quite a few more miles.
About 1 1/2 miles from the trailhead the bonk hit hard. The heat takes it out of you. Nick put my arm over his shoulder and we walked together, one step at a time towards the water in the car. We crested the last hill and I let go, coasting down to the car under my own power, but humbled by the harshness of finding my endurance limit. Nick, of course, was still going strong. Together we covered 22 miles and 3,500 feet of vertical gain (and 3,500ft of loss). It was the longest duration I’ve ever run (Chicago Marathon only took 3hrs 13min, but it was flat). I laughed at myself after a soak in the creek and a burrito.
Its been a long time since I tried something hard and really failed, but I think in finding a limit, there was a certain success. Nick is an ultra-marathoner that I deeply respect. Sharing my limit with him was a privilege, and I hope to return the favor some day. “Ultra” is a state of mind, and I think I’m just starting to understand what that looks like. To both Martin and Nick (and Madison, the dog) thanks for reminding me of some of the things I loved the longest. Life is a long game, it’s fun to practice playing.