Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Breaking trail

The other day, while I was musing about starting to train for the Susitna 100 and/or the White Mountains 100 (i.e., my winter bike race season), a friend asked me if I planned to start doing intervals. I avoided the question, unwilling to admit that I was still planning on training for real races that involved bikes by doing whatever I felt like doing, which recently hasn't involved nearly as much cycling as my previous winter bike race seasons, and even less in the way of something resembling an interval. "There must be a way," I thought, "to incorporate strenuous, lung-busting workouts, like the kind you get when you sit on a bike trainer and pedal really hard for three minutes and more slowly for one, into an winter outdoor activity that is actually fun."

I think I found it.

Snowshoeing. Now stay with me here. You take a layer of bottomless fluff and spread it over a slope that varies from 30 to 60 degrees. Then you try to climb it, for two and a half hours. The result has all of the upper-body thrusting of swimming, the lactic-acid-generating leg work of speed-interval cycling, and the raw power of running. My heart still hurts.

I tried for the top of Mount Jumbo today, stupidly thinking that if I gave myself an extra hour than what it usually takes me during the summer months, maybe I'd make it to the top. I didn't even come close. Trekking poles may have helped, but not much. I worked close to my maximum capacity for much of those two and a half hours, weaving up the steep slopes and swimming straight up hill when the trees closed in, stopping frequently to catch breaths, then hitting the max again. I made it about two-thirds of the way up to mountain, to about 2,500 feet, before I absolutely had to turn around to make my work meeting. It ended up taking me about 55 minutes to descend what had taken me two and a half hours to climb (and would have been less had it not been for the icy exposed roots below 800 feet.) My summer split between climbing and descending this mountain is almost exactly 50-50, and the hike rarely takes me more than three hours total.

Weather permitting, I am strongly considering going back to this same mountain tomorrow to take advantage of that nice trail I broke, and aim for the top.


  1. Yes Snowshoeing! You are speaking my language now!!!

  2. Sounds like it works!

    lovely pics as always

  3. Looks like you are having a great time in the hills. I just read the book "Snowstruck" by Jill Fredston and found it to be very interesting and insightful, I highly recommend it if you have not already read it. Sounds like there are some big slide paths that threaten parts of town. The book made me think of your solo travels and what you do to negate this danger as the snowpack continues to increase. Not judging, just curious.

  4. This is perfect. I just told Fatty he should take up snowshoeing in winter so he wouldn't hate it as much as I do.

  5. Looks like plenty of snow over on Mc Donough Peak - its a fun ridge hike over there in the summer if you can avoid all the landmines left by all the deer(?) on the way over.

    I know you like your Jumbo trail, but there is another way up Jumbo in the winter - follow the trail from Gastineau meadows and you should see skin tracks continuing to head up once you cross the ditch trail. It's got some unique views along the way. The trail connects a few meadows down low, then climbs several knolls until you reach the jumbo shoulder.

    Not talking down on snowshoes, but skins with skis or a splitboard can open up a lot of possibilities - they are quicker on the way up and quicker on the way down so you can actually get to work on time.


  6. Loving your winter pictures. The shot back on town is awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Jeff ... I have read that book. I've been reading up on avalanche signs. Mostly I stay away altogether when avalanche danger is high, such as after that big rain/windstorm. I also avoid big slide paths. Of course snow can go out any time, anywhere. I think of it as similar to riding a bicycle on a road. You can do everything in your power to avoid getting hit by a truck, but it can still happen.

    K ... Thanks for the tips. I followed the only tracks I could see, which didn't quite follow the summer trail but close. They stopped just as the snow was getting deep and I kept going a little ways beyond. Is that winter trail close to the snowmobile route? The one that goes up to the bowl below Jumbo? Just curious. I'm having a hard time picturing it. Lots of exploration possibilities for sure. I like to stick to familiar stuff when I am alone.

    I love the idea of skis and skins, but I have to learn to ski first. One step at a time. Snowshoes are great for beginners like myself. I do plan to start dragging the snowboard up to the Douglas Ski Bowl soon enough.

  8. Eggcellent pics love'm!!!

    We use to snow shoe in the winter and dig out the trail system...

    Gotta have the correct weather though to ride.

    So so sweet it is when the correct weather kicks in - rain in winter and the followed by freeze.
    Go out the night before and shovel out 15km worth of trail or so...
    Wait until it freezes up ...
    then ride!
    Fast fast riding... like a luge!!!
    Love it!


  9. Hopefully you have chosen decent snowshoes ... some, like MSRs, have televators that help considerably when climbing steep slopes.
    On another note, love your pictures! We'll have to wait until January before our Adirondacks look like that.

  10. Sigh...

    Your winter/snow pics are making me long for snowboarding.

    So, you are doing the Susitna this year?

  11. Yup. You are right. That definitely looks like it beats using the trainer indoors.

  12. Been thinking of your post since yesterday, a flatlander at work has to have something to think about. So 2500 vertical feet is 250 stories in knee to hip deep snow must have pushed your heart rate into the 100% zone. ever use a heart monitor? VO2 max has to be up there. Cool pics as always, stay safe.


Feedback is always appreciated!