Showing posts from July, 2012

The Zion Narrows

As the echo of a distant jet thundered through the canyon, I thought of a metaphor for the unique experience of hiking the Zion Narrows — it's as close as I'll likely ever get to the sensation of being swallowed by the Earth. The route begins at a bucolic ranch in an grassy valley, a place not unlike any of the cow-populated properties spread throughout the American West. A sun-baked jeep track parallels the Virgin "River," which is little more than a gurgling brook at this elevation. Were it not for the red cliffs surrounding the valley, this place could easily be mistaken for Montana or Wyoming or even central California. The setting lulls me into a sense of complacency until the road ends and we wade into copper-colored, ankle-deep water. This is where the effort ceases to feel like hiking and more like a balance exercise.

The river crossings become more numerous until my focus narrows to the obstacles directly in front of me. So engrossed am I in the fine detail…


Beat's and my trip to Utah was exceedingly short, so much so that we spent more time en route to Zion National Park via plane and car than we did actually in the park. Still, we thought we could squeeze in a quick "training hike" up Mount Olympus in Salt Lake City on Friday morning before our 11 a.m. departure for Springdale. Although not the most majestic climb in the Wasatch Range, the main route up Mount Olympus ideal for mountain training — it starts less than twenty minutes from most anywhere in the Salt Lake Valley, gains 4,200 feet in 3.5 miles, contains about three quarters of a mile total of class-three scrambling, and ascends to an elevation of 9,026 feet. We optimistically estimated we'd need three hours to wrap up the hike (I hoped for 1:45 up and 1:15 down), and hit the trail at 7 a.m.

We had some difficulty route-finding during the final half mile of scrambling and had to backtrack (not to mention I am out of practice with the whole scrambling thing, n…

Social ride

On Wednesday morning, my friend Jan invited me out for a "social ride." Knowing Jan, it seemed likely this nice, easy ride would include at least 5,000 feet of climbing, so I showed up prepared with a few energy bars. We set out from Woodside to ride new-to-me trails in Purisima Creek Redwoods. I love the simple surprises afforded by exploring new places. Even though I've lived in the Bay area for more than a year, there are still large tracts of open space within a twenty-mile radius that I have yet to see. Each new discovery continues to surprise me, both in the reminder that I'm far behind the curve in my hometown explorations, and the fact that there is so much scenic park land within spitting distance of a population center of seven million people.

 Jan is currently searching for a new job in the biotechnology sector, which has been a source of both frustration (that he seems to vent by going for awesomely tough bike rides) and inspiration. As we discussed som…

Family vacation

I get the hint that the remnant readers of my blog don't really care about my UTMB training. This makes sense, of course, and I thought I'd give fair warning that August 2012 may contain little else. Just in case anyone was looking to clean out their blog reader ...

 With the exception of my first showing at the Iditarod 350, I don't think I've ever felt so insecure about one of my goals. Even my first Susitna 100, when I had never even entered a race before, my attitude was "Why shouldn't I be able to ride my woefully inadequate mountain bike on slush trails for a hundred miles?" And then there was Susitna 2011, when I was still struggling to eke out seven-mile "practice" runs, and when I was so bad at running that I sprained my ankle while jogging along a perfectly smooth, flat trail — I still held onto the delusion attitude that "I already finished this with a woefully inadequate mountain bike. Why shouldn't I be able to do the same…

Summertime lulls

It's come to that point again, the one where Beat points out that my blog is going stagnant. I reasoned that "I haven't take a good photo since we came home from Colorado." I haven't taken any photos since we came home from Colorado. I've fallen back into my routine, including baby steps back into training. But now, I have an icy fear in my heart — almost frigid enough to break through the ninety(+)-degree weather we've been having, but not quite.

Spending a weekend at the Hardrock 100 was that cold shot of reality. Tip-toeing around the perimeter of that race was enough to realize that my own odds in such an endeavor were likely quite small, and yet I'm slated to line up for a similarly unruly event in less than six weeks. The Hardrock 100 stats are 102 miles of mountain travel on foot, with 34,000 feet of climbing. Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is 103 miles with 31,000 feet of climbing — and, based on reports I've heard and small portions of the ro…

Hardrock from the sidelines, part 3

The night before the Hardrock 100, I left Beat alone to his pre-race fretting, jogged away from our riverside campsite, and climbed Kendall Mountain. This was perhaps my favorite hike/run of our visit to Colorado, despite its lowly status. The path up the mountain was a nondescript jeep road that's still open to vehicle use. The mountain itself was really just a broad ridge towering over the town to Silverton, a benchmark with an elevation of 13,066 feet. The only wildlife I saw was a frantic marmot who had excellent running form. The only other hiker I saw was another Hardrock bystander who climbed up an avalanche path to reach the peak, got spooked by the exposure on his route, and then balked at me when I told him the road down was six miles long. He wanted to return to Silverton in time for the pre-race spaghetti feed, so he set out in another direction to look for a trail (good luck with that.) I too wanted to descend the mountain in an hour or less, so I made like Marmot an…

Hardrock from the sidelines, part 2

Crewing for an ultramarathon can be an unrelenting job, especially when it stretches out for nearly two days. Luckily for me, Beat is really low maintenance (probably too much so, because I didn't pick up on the red flags of his food problems until it was too late.) So for me, crewing was just a good excuse to travel to the different communities of the San Juans and spectate the race in the best way possible — by hiking against it.

My first chance to see Beat was at mile 29, in Telluride. I last visited Telluride in 2002 during a bike tour, and still retain many wistful recollections of the little town tucked away in a nook surrounded by huge mountain walls. My return did not disappoint — skies were blue, temperatures were warm, and the race checkpoint was buzzing with excitement as volunteers and other crew members awaited the first runners. When I visited Telluride ten years ago, I remember looking up from the campground at a trail switchbacking up an adjacent cliff. We had too…

Hardrock from the sidelines

After two hours of sleep I was back on the circuitous crew course, bouncing a Ford Fusion up a boulder-choked jeep road. The narrow road hugged a rock wall on one side and a yawning black abyss on the other. When there wasn't a good line down the middle, I just gunned the gas and drove the tires directly over the larger boulders rather than risk severing the car's exhaust system. I was glad Beat wasn't around to see me driving the rental car this way — although I wondered if he'd even care at this point. Say what you will about the complete irrationality of a hundred-mile mountain traverse, but there's real merit to the simple yet profound realizations that emerge when you reduce yourself to survival mode. For example, one might realize just how silly it can be to fret about car rental insurance fees, and just how powerful of a gift it can be convert a lukewarm cup of soup into the energy to run up mountains. When you've lost the ability to do the latter, the …

Evening on Peak One

From the spare bedroom where Beat and I are staying, the window frames an unobstructed view of a pyramid-shaped peak that captured our attention. When we asked Daniel about it, he said "Oh, that's Peak One. There's a trail you can access from here. It's steep, though." 
Peak One, elevation 12,805, is the unimaginatively named first peak in Colorado's Tenmile Range. Beat and I liked the idea of climbing a mountain straight from Daniel's house, so we made it the objective for our casual Tuesday evening after-work jaunt — which turned out to be a rather strenuous affair. It was beautiful, though. I took a lot of photos I liked, so I'm indulging in another picture post. 

We left the house at 6:15 p.m., and by 7:15 we had gained more than 2,000 feet elevation. 

 There were a few storm clouds that we managed to dodge.

Late evening shadows over the valley.

 At 7:30, the scramble is about to begin.

The boys kept a solid pace that I struggled to maintain, and …