Aug 29

Southbound on the John Muir Trail (JMT)

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So it’s taken me a few weeks to put this together, not because I haven’t been excited to tell people about the trip. If we grabbed coffee I could monopolize the conversation by talking about the trip the entire time. My delay has more to do with accurately capturing the experience. Just as pictures don’t often do justice to what our eyes see, so also it is hard to capture what truly is the most beautiful place I have ever been with words. So what follows is a simple write-up with pics that give a general idea of the immense, unspoiled beauty of the John Muir Trail. And if by chance you like hiking I would say, “Go see it for yourself!” (By the way, you might want to read this on a computer as the pics look far better on a bigger screen than they do on a mobile device—just a thought!)

 

Hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT) became a bucket list for me a few years ago so when my friend Amber asked if I would like to join her and her daughter Hannah and hike it this summer I jumped at the opportunity. We spent 10 months prepping for the trip as all three of us were green when it came to backpacking. Soon we were researching gear, attending REI Garage Sales, dehydrating our own food, taking a map and compass class, training with weight on our backs and incorporating some local overnight backpacking trips. I learned so much in preparation for the trip and thoroughly enjoyed the process.

 

For those who are not aware the JMT is ranked as one of the most beautiful trails in the US and the world. The trail begins in Yosemite Valley and ends on top of Mt Whitney—209 miles. Of course, you have to get down from Mt Whitney which adds another 11 miles bringing the total to 220 miles. Our plan was to tackle it in 17 days with a side-trip to Half Dome thrown in for an extra 4 miles.

 

Day 1: Happy Isle to Little Yosemite Valley—Mile 4

Our permit required us to stay in Little Yosemite Valley on the first night which meant we only hiked four miles the first day. Considering started, it was hot, there was a lot of elevation and we were getting accustomed to carrying a full pack, we were fine with the low mileage. The hike was gorgeous with great views of the falls. After we set up camp we spent the afternoon swimming in the river where a snake joined us—no joke, a snake swam right up to us! Crazy! Such a fun afternoon!

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This is where we were swimming when a snake came swimming up to us. Never had that happen before!

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Day 2: Little Yosemite Valley to Sunrise Camp—Mile 13.2 (plus a side trip of 4 miles to Half Dome)

We were on the trail by 7am and hiked 2 miles up to the Half Dome Junction where we detoured and hiked the 2 miles to Half Dome. We ditched our backpacks before the climbing got rough and took just the bare necessities up to the summit. It was beautiful and nice to be up there before the masses that would be coming later from the valley floor. After backtracking to the JMT we headed out to Sunrise passing through a really sad burn section in the heat of the day which we all agreed was “soul sucking”. We climbed most of Cathedral pass before calling it a day at Sunrise.

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Half Dome! The little specks are people climbing up the cables.

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A little yoga session on the top of Half Dome!

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Beautiful day with beautiful friends!

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The view going down the cables! The little specks down there are people!

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We called this the “soul sucking” section”. So sad to see it burned. Hiking it in the middle of the day in the heat made it worse.

Day 3: Sunrise to Vogelsang Trail Junction—Mile 29.4

What an amazingly beautiful day! We had some climbing and a technical downhill, but most of the day was spent hiking across flat and fast meadows filled with wildflowers, chipmunks, streams and lakes. Late in the morning we picked up our first re-supply in Tuolumne and filled our bear canisters with food. What didn’t fit in the canisters we gave to a group of teenage boys from the east coast who were more than happy to make extra space in their gear and pockets for our left over Snickers bars, etc. We headed back out to the JMT but we did not get far before the river began calling us. So we ditched our packs in favor of going for a swim. Eventually we finished up our day by camping at a great spot in view of the water where we encountered quite a few deer and a fawn. We fell asleep to the sound of the river in the background—so soothing!

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We stopped to swim here–so refreshing! Water was pretty cold!

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One of my favorite pics! We camped about 100 feet from here. So beautiful!

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Look close and you will see the fawn hiding in the bush.

Day 4: Vogelsang Trail Junction to Thousand Island Lake—Mile 43

The first couple of miles were flat and beautiful as we followed the river. Then the trail began to ascend and we climbed Donahue Pass. It was our first big pass at over 11,000 feet and it was tough but it was also stunning! Imagine rushing streams, pools of water, green meadows, wildflowers, huge vistas, reflective lakes, jagged peaks… So beautiful! We popped over Island Pass as well and camped at Thousand Island Lake.

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Another one of my favorite pics!

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Meadow near the top of Donahue Pass.

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Water crossing! 🙂

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Evening shot of Thousand Island Lake…

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First light shot of Thousand Island Lake…

 

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Sunrise shot of Thousand Island Lake. I love how the colors changed between the three pics!

 

Day 5: Thousand Island lake to Red’s Meadow—Mile 59

Another amazing day filled with lakes and rushing streams! But what was really cool was we had reservations for a cabin at Red’s Meadow which meant we had a hot shower and a bed!

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Such a cool reflection!

Garnett Lake...what I love about this shot is, if you look close, the patchy reflectiveness in the water. I did not notice this until I looked at the pic later.

Garnett Lake. If you look closely you will see a patchy reflectiveness in the water. I did not notice this until I looked at the pic later.

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Day 6: Red’s Meadow to McGee Pass Junction—Mile 76.8

We started with a relatively easy climb and quick pace and ended up startling a small bear which took off running the opposite direction on the trail in front of us. He was FAST! We were not sure if he was a cub so we slowed down just in case mama was around. We had planned on camping at Virginia Lake but it was too windy. We dropped down the other side and found a perfect camp site near water and without mosquitoes! Once again we fell asleep to the sound of a rushing stream.

 

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Virginia Lake

Day 7: McGee Pass Junction to Verillion Valley Ranch Ferry Boat Launch—Mile 88

We had thought it was going to be an easy day but we quickly learned there are no easy days on the JMT. We climbed up Silver Pass and then made the trek down a hard, exposed and at times treacherous descent to the trail which would take us to the ferry boat launch which would deposit us at Vermillion Valley Ranch where we had made reservations to stay the night. Our philosophy was to take every opportunity we had to get a real bed and a shower! The ranch put me in an RV so I had the “Rambler” all to myself!

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Small waterfall next to one of the crazy steep down hills.

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The Rambler! My lodging for the night when we stayed at Vermillion. According to their staff it is one of the most coveted places on the ranch to stay. Lol!

 

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My view from the Rambler!

Day 8: Vermillion Valley Ranch to Bear Creek—Mile 98

The ferry to get back across the trail didn’t leave until 9am so wanting to leave earlier we decided on a different route and took a car shuttle to what we thought was going to be the Bear Ridge Trailhead. However, we had misunderstood and had not researched the details and we ended up on the Bear Creek Trailhead. This trail led us to the JMT but it was three miles longer than we had planned which was a bit of a bummer. Hiking along the creek was beautiful and while most of it was pleasant there were some brutal climbs. Bear Creek was one of a couple of stream crossing where you had to get wet—there was no dry way to get across. We plunged into the water and then found a place to camp. It was the one night when we had a lot of mosquitoes so it was an early to the tent kind of night.

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Bear Creek. The water in all of the lakes and streams was so clear you could see every rock and fish.

Day 9: Bear Creek to Muir Trail Ranch—Mile 107

If climbing a pass could be considered easy then climbing Seldon Pass would fit that description.  It  was also stunning as we passed through beautiful meadows with gurgling streams, clear mountain lakes, wildflowers, pine and fir trees. The only rough piece was the cut-off trail we took to Muir Trail Ranch where, you guessed it, we had a bed, shower, HOT SPRINGS and an amazing home cooked meal cooked by a gourmet chef waiting for us. Prime rib, veggies, black beans, salad, homemade bread with roasted garlic, dessert—it was awesome! As was soaking in the hot spring!

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Marie Lake

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I LOVED this section! It was one of the few flat parts we encountered.

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Cabins at Muir Trail Ranch. They may not look like much but they were luxurious compared to our tents.

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Picking up our resupply. Hikers mail home depot buckets filled with food to this ranch and pick it up when they come through so they have food for the next section of their hike.

Hot Spring

HOT SPRINGS!!!

 

 

Day 10: Muir Trail Ranch to above Evolution Falls—Mile 117

The cook at MTR made breakfast in the morning as well (yay for not having to eat oatmeal again!)! We picked up our second resupply and my packed topped out at 43 lbs—way more than the 30lbs I was hoping to carry! We had a beautiful, fairly easy day hiking along the San Joaquin River. Eventually we crawled up a steep climb which brought us to Evolution Falls which, of course, was amazing! We crossed Evolution Creek up above the falls and found a camp site about a mile up the trail. It was at this point that we realized how bad the blisters were on one of our teammates feet. We had all had a couple of blisters but she had about 15 of them and they were raw and not healing. The next part of our trip would be taking us into some very remote country where getting medical treatment would be very difficult. An infection in your feet in the backcountry is a bad idea. Rather than chance it we decided the best thing to do would be to hike out and cut the trip short.

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Evolution Falls

Day 11: Evolution Falls back to Muir Trail Ranch and then one mile toward Florence Lake

We had our only thunderstorm in the morning which we waited out in our tents. Then we headed back to MTR where we were able to get an email out to Amber’s husband that we were going to need a ride home. We hiked one more mile toward Florence Lake before setting up camp.

 

Day 12: Florence Lake

Our alarms went off at 4:30am and you have never seen a group of women move so fast. When we were focused on finishing the JMT we were fine with the whole camping, no shower thing. But as soon as we knew we were leaving early we were all about packing up and getting out and back to our real beds and showers. We hiked four miles to Florence Lake where we waited for a small ferry to come pick us up. Once we arrived on the other side of the lake we simply hung out while talking to a cool family from France and waited for our ride home. The ride home was long (8 hours) and a little concerning. The first 26 miles was on a single lane road, with sheer drop-offs and traffic going both ways! Glad I was not driving! Of course we had to make two stops on the way home. One for Mexican food and one for Starbucks! 🙂

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Waiting for the ferry to pick us up.

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Looking back at where we have come.

So we didn’t finish the JMT but it was the right decision.   The trail will always be there and being healthy and safe is first priority. What we saw and experienced in the first half was absolutely incredible!!! It was an amazing trip and I will be going back so watch for part two of the JMT post in the summer of 2017!

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They served me well! La Sportiva Bushidos!

Mar 07

Trail Running in Florida: Hillsborough River State Park

While in Florida last week for training at Southeastern University I had Monday morning free so I decided to spend it the best way I knew how–trail running! It is always fun to explore new places so after thumbing through a Florida trails book I decided on Hillsborough River State Park and I was not disappointed. My goal was to have a nice run, enjoy the scenery, hopefully see an alligator (from a safe distance) and not see any banana spiders—I HATE spiders! Here is a short post of my Monday morning adventure.

The Hillsborough River is one of the few rivers in Florida with any type of rapids. I parked my car near a trailhead which led directly to some class 2 rapids and began my 6 mile jaunt from there. It was beautiful! The trail followed along the side of the river…

…and at times cut in under the tree canopy where it was well-maintained.  It was in these heavily forested sections where I kept my eyes out for banana spiders which, from what I saw on a video, are huge.

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To help ensure people do not get lost, the trail was marked with orange blazes painted on trees every 30-50 feet.

 

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There was quite a bit of water in the area so the park had built some cool bridges which were fun to run across. 🙂

 

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The plant life was pretty amazing and so different from SoCal.  From oak trees with moss hanging off limbs…

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…to giant old oaks that dwarfed everything around it…

…to little tiny trees growing out of large bumps on the side of palm trees…

…to pointy things sticking out of the water, it made for an interesting run!

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Things became super interesting when the trail was swallowed up in some wetlands.  I by-passed the big puddle of water by bush-wacking through the undergrowth but then had second thoughts.  I had seen a sign earlier warning of poison ivy throughout the forest so I decided to get back on the trail.

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That meant traversing through a lot of mud!

Unfortunately I had worn my street shoes instead of my trail runners.  So much for keeping them clean!

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One of my goals was to see an alligator from a safe distance.  I knew they were around because I had seen this sign.  I couldn’t believe that people actually feed them–CRAZY!

So when I was about a mile or two from my finish I came around a corner and, glancing across the river, I saw a gator!.  He looked to be about three and a half to four feet long.  While I am sure he saw me, he didn’t move.  I went down to the rivers edge to get the best pic possible.  After snapping the pic I rethought my location as I did not want another gator popping up out of the murky water by my feet.  I jumped back up on the trail and watched him for a while.  It was sort of strange to be out for a run with a gator sunning on a rock just a stones throw away.  I am sure the locals are not fazed by them as they are probably as common as coyotes are in our area.  Being a west coast girl I found it pretty cool!

I finished up my run and found my way back to my car.  All in all I was pleased that I had seen a gator and some incredible scenery and really happy that I did not see any banana spiders!  🙂

Oct 21

Mt Baldy Via Pine Mountain and Dawson Peak

 

Back at baldy

 This post is very delayed, but better late than never. 🙂

Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley I learned my directions (north, south, east, west) based on the location of the mountains–the mountains were always north.  To this day I am lost without my mountains!  The one prominent mountain which my grandparents consistently pointed out to me was Mt. Baldy–especially when it was capped with snow.  At 10,064 feet it is the tallest mountain in the San Gabriels so it has been awesome as an adult to summit it numerous times from four different approaches–Devil’s Backbone, Ski Hut Trail, Bear Flats and the traverse from Iron Mountain (which I refuse to write about as we should have never been up there!).  Last October Amber, Sarah and I took on a new (for us) and rarely used route to Mt. Baldy from the Wrightwood area via Pine Mountain and Dawson Peak and, like all the other approaches, it was stunning.  It was also pretty difficult!  Here is the account with pics.

We drove out to Wrightwood and then took Hwy 2 to Inspiration Point where we turned onto a dirt service road that was pretty rutted.  We followed the road to the gate where it was closed at Guffy Campground, parked the car and then headed down the road on foot to the trailhead.  We had read previous blogs and knew the trailhead was not well-marked, however the route followed the ridgeline which was easy to see so we just had to find where it intersected with the service road.  Once located we found ourselves on a single track faint use trail which we would follow all the way to Baldy.

It was a beautiful start to the morning with incredible views through the forest and over the clouds which encompassed the valley below.

Sunrise

The initial climb took us over Wright Mountain which was barely a bump compared to what lay ahead.  As we came into a saddle we had a great view of the opening piece of the trail up to Pine Mountain.  If you look closely (at the pic below) you can see how it literally follows the spine of the ridgeline.  All three of us had brought trekking poles which were put to good use.

Pine ascent

The climb up Pine had some fairly steep sections with one piece requiring us to put our poles away and use all fours.  It was one thing to have to go up this section but coming down it on the return trip was not going to be fun.  It was slick with light gravel/scree but it was the only location where things were a bit sketchy.

Sarah ascending

The groves of trees were beautiful and one gracefully arched its way over our route.

Curved tree

At the top of Pine we took a break to eat and enjoyed the view.  Below is a panoramic looking toward Baldy and Iron Mtn.

Dawson Peak pan of Baldy

From Pine Mountain the trail quickly dropped about 430 feet to the saddle and then the climb up Dawson Peak began where we re-climbed 316 feet.  I don’t know if “re-climbed” is an actual word or phrase but it is what we did a lot of on this trek!  From the top of Dawson we captured a view of our route up Baldy (see next pic).  Once again the trail took us right along the ridgeline but first we had to descend 640 feet to the saddle only to have to climb back up from the saddle to the summit of Baldy, a gain of almost 1200 feet..  It is always a bummer to go downhill when you know you will have to climb that elevation all over again.  🙁

Baldy ridgeline

The climb up Baldy was really tough but we slogged our way through it.  Eventually we made it to the summit and were met with an incredible view towards the desert.  The view towards LA was socked in with clouds.

Baldy pan to Pine

It was at the summit where we met the only other person we would see on the trail that day.  We asked if he would take our picture.  He obliged but I realized later when I looked through my pics that he was not accustomed to using an iPhone–he took about eight selfies without realizing it while repeatedly telling me he did not think it was working.  🙂   His name was Mark and we appreciated his effort!

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He did manage to take quite a few pics of the three of us as well.  (Yes, I was wearing a goofy hat but it kept the sun off my neck and ears!)

Three of us

We ate most of the rest of our food at the summit and then headed back..  Along the way Sarah entertained us with a trail dance!  I am wondering if it was inspired by a caffeinated gel. 🙂

Sarah trail dance

It was a peaceful hike back as we saw nobody else until we got back to Guffy campground.

Amber on backbone

All in all it was a total of 13 miles with 6,000 feet of elevation gain.  We did not do any running, we simply hiked, and including our break time we were out there 7 hours and 20 minutes.  It was a great trip but if we were to do it again we would make a significant change.  We would drop a car at Baldy (Manker Flats) and then beg or bribe someone to drive us to Wrightwood, dropping us off at the Acorn Trail.  We would hike up Acorn to the PCT, make a left and pick up the trail for this hike off the PCT.  Then after climbing Baldy we would simply descend Baldy to the car and not hike back out to Wrightwood–it was a LONG way back!

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 10

Bryce Canyon 50 Mile Race Report

Lake behind Rubys

A few years ago, while reading Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker I was inspired to come up with my own list of “100 Life Goals” (you can read more about Batterson’s goals here: Life Goals ).  So far I have only came up with thirty-eight goals (I have some more praying and dreaming to do!), but one of my goals was to run a 50 mile ultra-marathon.  Knowing I am not getting any younger I decided 2015 was a good year to go after the 50 miler.  Of course, if you are going to run 50 miles you sure as heck want the course to be beautiful.  So after looking at all types of events, my friend Amber, who I do much of this crazy stuff with and I decided on Bryce.  Let me just say that I was not disappointed.  This was my first time to Bryce and it was stunning!!!  The course is run along the Paunsaugunt Plateau between 8,000 and 9,400 feet of elevation with incredible views of hoodoos.  The company who organized this race was Ultra Adventures and under the leadership of race director Matt Gunn, they did an amazing job.  Their races are located in the area known as The Grand Circle (Zion, Grand Canyon, Bryce, etc.) and they offer distances from a half-marathon to 100 miles.  If you are looking for a race in the southwest be sure to check them out: Ultra Adventures

While in Bryce we stayed at Ruby’s Inn which had a beautiful lake behind the lodge with space for those who preferred to camp (see opening pic).  We arrived on Thursday which gave us plenty of time to settle in, pick up our race packets and get our gear ready.

The start time for the 50 miler was at 6am on Saturday which required meeting a shuttle at 4:30am for the ride out to the start.  Temps were in the 30’s and we were all hoping the hail and thunderstorms from the day before would not return–but it was not to be.  The race started at Crawford Pass under cloud cover.  I knew I was trained to finish a 50 miler but not to do it fast so I stayed in the back and followed the advice from a local ultra friend, “Start off slow and then ease up from there.”  🙂   A few miles in, as we began to climb up to the Pink Cliffs Aid Station, the clouds began to burn off and hoodoos began to appear mysteriously in the fog.  They were beautiful!

Race 2 Hoodoo Clearing

We continued to run up to Pink Cliffs Aid Station where our view was obstructed by clouds.  From there we ran through a beautiful meadow on a very runnable fire road/double track past a meandering stream on our way to Straight Canyon Aid.

Race 3 Fireroad Race 4 Stream Race 5 Meadow As we climbed back up and ran along the rim the clouds began to dissipate and the views became spectacular–amazing cliffs of pink and red appeared as I ran out from under the trees.  Views like this helped to take away some of the pain of running 50 miles!  I wish the pictures would do it more justice!

Race 10 Cliffs Shadow 2 Race 7 Cliffs 2 Race 9 Cliffs 4 Race 10 Cliffs 5 Race 10 Cliffs 6 Race 10 Cliffs 7 Race 10 Cliffs 8  Race 11 Cliffs 9 Race 12 Tree and Cliffs I continued on to Blubber Creek Aid which was at mile 25 where I ate some sausage–yep, they were cooking sausage at that station and it tasted amazing!.  Considering the race was at high elevation with 9,200 feet of climbing my goal was simply to finish standing up, having enjoyed myself and having taken lots of pics along the way. This was a once in a lifetime event that I did not want to miss by being too concerned about time.  I thought I would finish at around 14 hours.  So at mile 25 when I saw I was at 5 hours and 35 minutes I was very pleased.  I knew the second half of any race is almost always harder since you are dealing with fatigue.  What I didn’t know was how hard the section from Blubber Creek Aid to Proctor Aid would be.  That section was brutal–technical single track with some steep climbs.  I struggled through it and eventually saw the Proctor Aid Station in the distance.  What a relief!Race 16 Proctor AideI had a drop bag with extra food and fresh gear at that station.  I quickly found it and went into the tent to get some food.  I was there a minute at the most when thunder and lightning hit and a crazy hailstorm ensued.  As other runners were coming into the aid station everyone took cover in the tent and before long it was like an adult version of the kids game Sardines, where you try to fit as many people as possible in a small place.  But at least it was dry and they were making quesadillas which despite running 33 miles I was able to stomach. I was at that aid station for almost 40 minutes before the storm subsided.  When I finally left I felt super stiff and I had lost all of my momentum.  A volunteer offered to drive anyone out who wanted to drop and I almost took him up on it.  But I decided to head out and threw a rain poncho on and took off–actually I shuffled off thanks to the stiffness.  What I encountered made me think I had made the wrong decision–the trails had become slick mud flows and it was very slow going. There were some pieces I simply slid down rather than run. Thunder could still be heard in the background and I got caught in a smaller hail and thunderstorm that passed very quickly.  I decided I wanted to drop at the next aid station, Thunder Mountain, as I did not want to be out in these elements.  It wasn’t the rain and hail so much as it was the lightning.  One of the guys running near me on the trail that morning had told me that Bryce gets hit with more lightning strikes than anywhere else in the US other than Florida.  Yet here I was, at times completely exposed on top of ridgelines.  I just didn’t think it was a very good idea.  I convinced myself that I would be okay with dropping and would not want any sympathy from anyone back home as I had experienced a beautiful day.  I texted my friend Amber who had run the 50k and finished earlier that day and whose race covered the same final miles as mine.  She was honest with me and told me the last 10 miles were really rough.  So with my mind made up I came into Thunder Mountain Aid and said that if it was possible I wanted to drop.  The guy looked at me and said it was not possible as the car had just left with two others who were dropping.  I am not a big crier but at that moment I wanted to cry.  What I didn’t mention earlier in this post was somewhere on the trail I had lost my Maui Jim sunglasses (very expensive!) and a rain jacket I was borrowing from my friend (also expensive).  That together with the lightning and the mud and losing 40 minutes at an aid station and being very stiff–I was done. It is crazy how things get compounded with tiredness!  He told me they could call for a car but it would be at least an hour.  He then proceeded to talk me into finishing telling me I looked great.  Hmmm!  I wasn’t happy about it but they filled up my water, gave me a couple of fruit cups and I was off.

The last section was very hard!  It was also very beautiful!  I ran the first section of it alone but eventually was caught by another woman from SoCal and we ran the final miles together.

Race 19 Hoodoos Race 20 Cliffs You can see from this next pic why I continued to be very concerned about the thunderstorms.   One nice thing was the trail did dry rather quickly and what was once very slippery became quite runnable.

Race 20 Storm in backgroundRace 21 Starightaway Race 22   The guy running behind me got this shot of me running though the canyon.  It puts the size of the hoodoos in perspective.  You feel very small out there!Race 24 Me running out So after 14 hours and 29 minutes we finished and I took a little finish line photo with my new friend.  The smile was due to my relief of being finished.  🙂

Race 25 Finish

Looking back on it a few days later I am really, really glad I finished this race.  It was an amazing experience and Bryce was spectacular!   Instead of finisher medals we were given handmade leather wrist cuffs which were cool.  I made it back to the lodge around 9:30pm that night and my friend Amber and her daughter Hannah had my dinner waiting there for me!  I have never had any problem eating after hard events.  I had accomplished my goal and finished standing up, having taken lots of pics and for the most part (minus the lightning) thoroughly enjoyed my day.  Huge shout out to Mr. Aid Station Guy at mile 42 for talking me into finishing! 🙂   And a HUGE SHOUT OUT to the race director, Matt Gunn, for putting together a well-organized and incredibly beautiful race!

The next morning we did a little sightseeing before heading home.  The rest of the pics in this post are from our sightseeing on both Thursday and Sunday.  I will be back to explore these trails some day!Sat Hoodoo 2 Sat Hoodoo Sat Trail Sign Thurs 1 Thurs 2 Thurs 3

Apr 07

Chuckanut 50k Race Report

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(NOTE: After publishing this post I noticed that when accessing it on an iPad the pics are showing up sideways.  If you are reading the post on a computer the pics are fine.  I am not an IT person and have no idea why it is doing this so I apologize in advance! 🙂  )

So after a seven-month hiatus I am finally back to the blog and excited about a lot of things that are coming up, especially my first 50 mile race.  Yes, 50 miles–I know it’s crazy!  When I first started running back in 2007 it was to check-off a bucket list item which was to run a marathon. I thought I would be “one and done”!  However, the running hasn’t stopped and the distance has only gotten longer!  So that is how I find myself currently looking at a 50 mile race which is coming up on June 6 at Bryce canyon.  But to be clear, I do feel that 50 miles is my tap-out point–I am not a 100k or 100 mile girl!!!  So to prepare for this, my friend and I hired a coach to design a training plan to get us to 50 miles (I might write more about that later) and I signed up for two practice races, one of which I ran on March 21–Chuckanut 50k.

I have a close friend who lives up in Washington who had been asking me to visit for some time so I conveniently booked a trip up north the same week as the very popular Chuckanut 50k was being run.  You see, this is what runners do–we book vacations around races! 🙂

For non-runners, a 50k is between 31 and 32 miles and most are run on trails.  The pic at the top of this post tells a lot of the story–it was wet and muddy.  Mud like this SoCal girl had never seen before!  I was covered!  But it was beautiful and fun and I would do this race again in a heartbeat.  I knew going into the race that I was not trained for it as the race itself was training for my upcoming 50 miler, so I did not expect to do well.  I had only run one 20 miler and had not done any weekend back to back runs.  The goal was to finish and not be too torn up.  Here is a run down on the race.

It had rained every day that week and it rained for most of the race.  The opening 10k (or 6.5 miles) of the race was run on an inter-urban trail that was relatively flat and gentle with just a couple of hundred feet of elevation gain.  I wish we had inter-urban trails that looked like this! I was able to preview this section the day before and got some pics…

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Trees were covered in moss which made them appear to glow…

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There were cool twists and turns, beckoning you into the forest…

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Much of the trail followed alongside a gentle steam with occasional small waterfalls…

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After completing the opening 10k the climbing began.  The elevation gain on this race was 5100 feet and most of it was in the 19 mile long middle section. The first climb took us up to Fragrance Lake and the trail began to get a little more technical with roots and rocks but nothing like it would become.

image

In this pic of Fragrance Lake you can see the rain landing softly on the water…

image

After Fragrance Lake I stopped taking pics for a long time as I had left my gloves in my gear bag back at the start of the race and my fingers were freezing and stiff.  The next climb was Cleator Rd.  I had read a blog were someone had wished they had walked most of this section to conserve energy, so when I saw others walking I joined them.  If I were to do this race again I would probably run most of this section as it was runnable and not technical at all.  At the end of Cleator Rd. we came to the Ridge Trail which was both stunning and terrifying.  It was a lush and green single track that was incredibly technical and very cold.  I do not understand how the top contenders run this type of terrain.  There were rocks and roots everywhere and crazy slippery mud.  A few times I had to hang on to roots to lower myself or pull myself up the terrain.  It is a miracle I did not go down!  There were many times I came close though–caught my foot on a root, flailed through the air and regained my balance; stepped onto a large rock only to have my foot slide all the way down to its base while my heart rate soared thanks to the adrenaline (twice!); numerous slips in shoe sucking mud.  I finally figured out that the safest place to run when running in the mud was right in the center of the mud puddle, so that is what I did.  I was filthy!  At the end of the Ridge Trail, the final climb came–the notorious Chinscraper!  For my local running friends, Chinscaper is like a combined Mystic Trail and Poop Out Trail–only muddy, and with a photographer recording your struggle for all to see.  Once Chinscraper was summited it was primarily downhill the entire way back.  My fingers had finally warmed up enough so I took a few pics coming down back toward Fragrance Lake.

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Once I was down from Fragrance Lake I was met by some friends who were waiting  for me at the aid station.  They got this pic of me with 26 miles on my legs and another 10k to go.

imageThe final 10k was a return trip back on the inter-urban which I ran with the girls encouraging me onward.  I really appreciated their support and want to give a huge shout out to them.  I was even able to smile when it was over.  It was also nice to have the sun finally come out!  🙂

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Also a huge shout out to my friends Jane and Violet for putting up with me racing during my visit! They were at the finish line to cheer me in!

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My finish time was not great, 7:14,  but I reminded myself this was a training run and was 12 miles farther than anything I had done in preparation. I was tired, but not torn up and recovered relatively quickly.  It is amazing how God has designed our bodies to handle stuff like this.  So my next practice race is the Leona Divide 50k on April 18. I am looking forward to it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 08

Trans-Rockies: An Epic Six Day Trail Running Adventure

Day 5 Summit View

“Wow!”  “Stunning!”  “Insane!”  Probably the three most common words to come out of my mouth last month at Trans-Rockies.  So how do I recap such an amazing adventure?  Let me start by saying the organizers of Trans-Rockies did a fabulous job!!!  From setting up start lines only to tear them down immediately following the start, packing it up and then re-setting it back up as the finish line (and all before the first finishers arrived)–wow! Then there was the crew which daily tore down our tents every morning and had them set up at the new location every afternoon–over 350 of them ready for our arrival.  On top of that there was breakfast which was ready each morning by 6am and dinner by 4:30 pm, the massage therapists and their tents, the first aid and taping team, the shower truck guy, the three aid stations at each stage, the transport crew when we needed to be shuttled to a different location, the station to charge hundreds of phones, ipods and garmins and the nightly awards and preview of the next days race.  These guys had their details down and were simply amazing!  As for the race itself, here is a daily recap with the best pics from the day.

Day 1: Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge, 21 miles, 2500 ft of climbing

This is was the warmest day by far and the day of the lowest elevation.  I believe we stayed below 9,000 ft. all day.  It would be the only day we would run so “low”.  Yikes!  While this day did not have alpine terrain it was still beautiful with quite a few rolling hills and a mix of jeep trail, single track and at the end, a nasty little 4 miles false flat on an exposed fire road…no bueno!  Those last 4 miles were hard and hot.  My friend Amber and I were running this event as a team and competing against other women’s teams of two whose combined ages were over 80.  This would be the one and only day of the week we would podium, taking third place in our division and each winning a new hydration pack.  Pretty cool!

Day 1

 

Day 1 Rock Formation

The pic below is from the nasty 4 mile road at the end of the race…the false flat!  At the beginning of this section there were a couple of tunnels which were cool.  I wish there had been more of them.  At least there was a river of icy water at the finish where we could soak. 🙂

Day 1 tunnels

 Day 2: Vicksburg to Twin Lakes, 13.4 miles, 3200 ft of climbing

This day started at over 9600 ft. of elevation and went to over 12,500 ft.!  Yep, folks, imagine starting a race near the summit of Baldy and then climbing higher.  There was a lot of walking involved!  The start line was on a fire road and after about a mile we turned on to a single track which began an amazing climb through a grove of Aspen…it made you want to bust out in a melody of old John Denver tunes.  Except of course I couldn’t breath, hike and sing at the same time.

Day 2 Aspens

If you look close on the pic below you can see little tiny people making their pilgrimage to the top.  I later asked a few of the elites if they had actually run up this monster.  They assured me that they too had walked.  While that made me feel better I am sure their walk was probably faster than my run.  But to be honest I really didn’t care as the scenery was becoming incredibly beautiful.

Day 2 View Up Hope Pass

 

Day 2 Hope Pass View

Almost to the top of Hope Pass at 12,500 feet!

Day 2 Hope Pass Trail

Panoramic view of Hope Pass (one of my favorite pics).

Day 2 Hope Pass Panorama

We made it to the top and would get to run down a screaming fast and technical downhill.  About 3 miles down I started getting a blister under my heel so we did the smart thing and stopped to tape it up.  The last few miles were all flat as we ran alongside Twin Lakes which we were able to soak in after finishing.

Day 2 Top of Hope Pass

Day 2 Flat

 

Day 2 Twin Lakes

Day 3: Leadville to Nova Guides at Camp Hale, 24.3 miles, 2700 ft of climbing

After finishing the race the day before we were bussed into Leadville where we camped on a field at the high school.  Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the lower 48 at over 10,500 feet in elevation.  This days race would be the longest (over 24 miles) and almost all of it (20 miles) would be over 10,000 feet.  We started on the highway and ran a couple of miles to a truck trail where we began yet another long climb.

Day 3 Climbing Up

After a while we found ourselves running on the actual Continental Divide which I thought was cool.  Remember the Continental Divide from your high school days?  If I remember right, all the rain which falls east of it flows to the Mississippi and drains in the Gulf and the rain that falls to the west drains in the Pacific.

Day 3 Continental Divide Sign

We ran along the divide for a while and…

Day 3 Continental Divide

…eventually went through a beautiful meadow.  There was rain in the distance.  This would be the one day we would be rained on before we finished.

Day 3 Meadow

Day 4: Nova Guides at Camp Hale to Red Cliff, 14.2 miles, 2800 ft of climbing

The morning of day 4 was beautiful with a fog rising off the lake where we were camped.

Day 4 Camp Hale Sunrise

Day 4 Camp Hale Sunrise 2

In the next pic you can see how close our sleeping quarters were.  A little too close for my liking as you could hear a chorus of snoring throughout the night.

Day 4 Tent City

I had not been sleeping well (and neither had Amber) so we decided to take a phone and credit card with us and if we could get reception up at 11,000 feet (which is where we were going that day!) we would try to book a hotel for the following night in Vail.  The start of the race had us running back up the section we had finished on the afternoon before and then we turned left for once again another climb.

Day 3 View from Top

 

Day 4 Fire Road View

This was an absolutely beautiful day with stunning views.  At this point in the race we had decided to just enjoy ourselves and not push real hard.  We hung out in the back half and met some of the most fun, nice, cool, interesting people.  It was incredibly enjoyable, and to make matters even better we got reception and booked a hotel in Vail for night number 5!!!  It was actually a humorous sight.  You know how when you get reception in a difficult area you freeze not wanting to lose your bars?  Imagine me frozen with phone in hand just like that in the middle of the wilderness calling 411 and booking a hotel.  Everyone around us thought it was awesome and many others followed suit.  We were all tired of tent living while racing (especially since it rained almost every night).

Day 4 Panorama

As I wrote earlier, it was stunning so we took some fun pics…  🙂

Day 4 Amber Summit Pose

 

Day 4 Summit Lookout Dawn

This is what we were looking at from the top of the rock…

Day 4 Summit View 2

Day 4 Stream Trail

Toward the end of this stage there was a half mile where the trail turned into a stream.  We had no choice but to run through it and it was awesome…like being 6 years old again and splashing through puddles!

Day 4 Stream RunDay 4 Finish

The finish (above pic) was next door to a small restaurant called Mango’s which is known for their fish taco’s and margarita’s.  I don’t drink so I settled for fish tacos and ice water and we hung out for a while before catching our shuttle back to Camp Hale where we would have one more night in the tents.  That afternoon while in my tent we got hit with a crazy thunder and lightning hail storm.  Yep, I was going to enjoy having a hotel room the next day!

Day 5: Red Cliff to Vail, 23.6 miles, 4100 ft of climbing

The next morning we were bussed back to Red Cliff to start where we had finished the day before…right next to Mango’s.  Day 5 was super stunning in scenery…after all we were running into Vail!  At the beginning it was primarily fire road with incredible views.  In fact, my favorite scenery pic is in this grouping.

Day 4 Trees 2

Day 4 Trek on Top

 

Day 5 View

Fun panoramic below…

Day 5 Panorama

Below is my favorite scenery pic.  I will be printing this as a canvas and including it in my adventure wall which I wall write about another time.  (Thanks for the idea, Alice Bell-Gaines!).  🙂

Day 5 Summit View 2

Some sections were single track and there were wildflowers everywhere.  The pics do not do the flowers justice.

Day 5 Trek Up to the Ridgeline

 

Day 5 Trail Across Ridge

Eventually we headed down to the ski resort for a downhill finish which was somewhat painful as a blister had wrapped around the side and bottom of my foot.

Day 5 Vail Lodge

It felt good to finish.  It felt even better to go to the hotel.  We decided to not go back to the camp for dinner and ordered room service, doctored our own feet and went to bed.

Day 6: Vail to Beaver Creek, 21.8 miles, 4900 ft of climbing

The final day!  And the day with the most elevation gain.  It began with a run through Vail on streets and then we found ourselves climbing through another grove of aspen.  We picked our pace up on this particular day (probably because we could smell the finish!) and I did not take too many pics.  There was lots of climbing but it did not feel that hard.  Perhaps we were finally acclimatizing!

Day 6 Aspens

After the second aid station we entered a narrow canyon for a super steep and technical downhill which seemed to last for a long time.  The pic below is simply the beginning of that section.   The trail  takes you off the edge and down to that tiny valley you see below.  There were roots and rocks everywhere so you really had to watch your feet.

Day 6 Drop to Avon

The bottom portion was more jungle like.

Day 6 Bottom of Canyon

At the bottom of the canyon we came out in the city of Avon and the route became street running.  We had not attended the briefing the night before so we had no idea how long this section was.  In hindsight we were probably better off not knowing as it was long and hot.  Eventually we made it to the third and final aid station which had some very fun and creative snacks for us.

Day 6 Aid Station 2

And then it was back on the trail for a very warm climb of about 3 miles and a 1 mile downhill to the finish at Beaver Creek!

Day 6 Medal

We did it!  We ran 120 miles across the Rocky Mountains in 6 days!  It was good to be done.  And what was really cool was our hotel was literally steps from the finish line.

Overall it was an incredible six days.  It was hard, my feet were torn up, my knee swollen from an old injury and I ended up with cankles (is that how you spell it???) for a couple of days afterwards, but I am SO GLAD I did it.  I am also extremely GRATEFUL to Amber for finding and suggesting the race…thank you!  I had an incredible time!  Now that I have re-lived it by writing this post I realize I have already forgotten the pain and really miss my days in the Rockies  It was a great way to finish an epic spring and summer of trail running  I highly recommend this event!  Trans-Rockies is amazing!

Aug 04

What’s Next? 120 Miles Across the Rocky Mountains!

Kelly's pic

The work is done and the training is in the books!  All that remains now is to get a lot of rest over the next seven days.  Recently I have had quite a few people asking me, “What’s next?”  What’s “next” is something I am super excited about.  On Sunday I will be flying to Colorado to run the Trans-Rockies Run, a six-day stage race across 120 miles of the Rocky Mountains.  The event is known as “summer camp for trail runners” and I am really looking forward to it!

Here is how the race works.  I am participating in the six-day team event (there is also a three-day option) which means that I will run with my running partner and race against other teams of two.  Team mates cannot be separated by more than two minutes when checking in at aid stations or finishing, otherwise they will be penalized.  I will be running this race with my friend Amber.  Since our combined ages are over 80 years (well over 80…yikes!) we are in the Women’s 80 Division.  Each day is its own race with awards given out to top finishers that evening.  At the end of the week the times of all six days are combined with grand prizes going to the overall winners.  Not that we are planning on winning anything.  Our goal is finishing and enjoying the experience.  The race organizers set up and tear down camp for us each night, cook breakfast and dinner and provide a shower truck.  The mileage each day varies from about 14 miles to 24 miles but the entire week is at high elevation–8,000 to 12,500 feet!  Over the course of the six days we will climb about 20,000 feet.  Here is a look at a screen shot of the organizers website of the daily elevation chart:

Daily Elevation

We begin the race in Buena Vista on Tuesday, August 12 and finish in Beaver Creek on Sunday, August 17.  The scenery is going to be fantastic!  Special thanks to Kelly and Carrie DuPee who sent me the picture at the top of this post.  They vacationed in Colorado last week and the pic is close to the area we will be running through–so beautiful!

I have never done a race like this before so training for it has been interesting.  Since returning from Boston in April I have spent almost every weekend running (ok, some walking too) at elevation.  While I have not run a lot of miles I have logged a lot of elevation gain.  I recently went through my Garmin and added up my elevation gain over the fifteen weeks leading up to the Boston marathon and it came out to just under 17,000 feet.  That would be an average of just over 1,000 feet a week which is good for running a road marathon.  Last Saturday I completed week fifteen leading up to Trans-Rockies and the elevation gain was 90,000 feet!  That is an average of 6,000 feet a week and my legs are feeling every one of those feet. Of course that elevation gain includes Cactus to the Clouds and Mt Whitney which were epic training adventures you can read about by clicking these links:

http://www.trailrunningpastor.com/2014/05/27/cactus-to-the-clouds-downtown-palm-springs-to-mt-san-jacinto-summit/

http://www.trailrunningpastor.com/2014/07/04/mt-whitney/

The last five weeks have included three-day in a row trail runs which were an entirely new experience as I usually only run three days a week with cycling and swimming on the in-between days to recover.  I have been pleasantly surprised at how well my body has adapted to running multiple days in a row, however three days at lower mileage does not really simulate six days at higher mileage.  Here is the website for the event if anyone would like to read more about it.  I will definitely post about the race in my blog.  For now I am off for an easy Bonelli ride.  Happy Monday!

http://transrockies-run.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 04

Mt Whitney

Permit Mt Whitney!  The highest point in the lower 48!  As part of our training for the Trans-Rockies Run Amber and I had decided to take on some of the higher peaks in SoCal.  Since Mt Whitney is not that far away, it made our list.  Neither one of us had been higher than 10,800 feet (San Jacinto) so we were fairly concerned about altitude sickness.  Ideally when attempting Whitney, you spend time getting acclimatized by sleeping at altitude one or two nights prior to making the ascent but our calendar did not allow for that.  Altitude sickness is nothing to mess around with so we did just about everything we could do to try to ward it off.  We trained at altitude almost every weekend since coming home from Boston, took supplements (Aangamik) recommended by Vitamin City, drank a sports drink Amber had found called Acli-Mate which is an altitude and energy aid and committed to staying fueled and hydrated while keeping our heart rates down.  Dehydration and a high heart rate are common triggers for altitude sickness.  I had read that the summit of Whitney has 30 percent less oxygen than what we are accustomed to so when Amber pulled out a can of oxygen (see pic below) I laughed but I made sure she knew I was not laughing at her as I was certain I would want some of it at some point.  Was it a placebo effect or would it really work?  We didn’t know but why take chances if you have it?  It was amazing how light weight it was.

Oxygen

We stayed the night in Lone Pine and set the alarm for 1:30 am.  We packed up our gear and drove up to Whitney Portal we were on the trail by 2:50 am.  There was sliver of a moon and the stars amazing!  In front of us and behind we could see headlamps of other groups making their way to the summit.  We kept a slow and steady pace which meant we were initially passed by some of these groups.  But we had committed to keeping our heart rate down and with the hike beginning at 8400 feet of elevation that meant keeping it slow.  Half way up we passed all the people who had passed us with some of them not looking so good since they had started way too fast.  As the sun came up the scenery was amazing…

Sunrise at lake

Soon we were up above the tree line with the remnants of the snow pack melting into cold rushing streams.

From snow to water 2

As we came into trail camp (12,000 ft) we got our first close up view of the rugged ascent we would be making to access the traverse which would take us to the summit.

Trail camp 2

In the pic below you can see the summit.  Look to the far right of the back ridge line.  See that pointy piece that is a little higher than everything else?  That is the summit.  But to get there the trail takes you up the left side of this section of steep terrain…

Whitney from trail

…and to get there you must go up ninety-nine switchbacks!  Yes, ninety-nine!  Since coming back people have asked if I counted them. No, I didn’t count them!  I would have found that so discouraging!.  About a quarter of the way up the switchbacks we came to the infamous cable section.  Thanks to it being a drought year much of the snow had melted and we were able to traverse this section on solid rock and did not need microspikes.  We still held on to the cable as we passed through as that is not an area where you want to take a chance with a fall.

Cables 2

Along the way beautiful flowers grew out of crevices in the rock, which was nice since at this high of elevation everything is virtually a moonscape.

Flowers

When we finally reached the top of the switchbacks (about 13,800 ft in elevation) we were treated with this view of the other side.  It was amazing as it looked out over the John Muir Trail which begins in Yosemite–200 miles away.

View west from trail crest

This is Guitar Lake which is also on the John Muir.

guitar lake

The entire trek to the top of Whitney is 11 miles one way, so once at the top of the switchbacks we had 1.9 miles to go.

Sign for traverse

The trail follows the backside of the ridgeline which I pointed out in the picture of Whitney.  You definitely want to stay on trail as there are some steep drops.

Traverse

As you look across the backside, Whitney comes into view.  In the pic below it is the farthest point.

Traverse to Whitney

In this pic you can make out the summit hut which taunts you as you crawl across the traverse.  It seems so much closer than it is!

Summit house from distance

Along the way we had views of the valley we had climbed out of through the “windows”.

Window

A little before 10 am (7 hours into the hike) we summitted and the panoramic below was our view!

Pan 2

Looking down we could see the Whitney Portal Road which comes out of Lone Pine and connects to Hwy 395.

Looking down from summit 2

We signed the summit book at the hut…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

…took the customary summit pics

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Summit Dawn

…ate some food and headed back down.  The pic below is the top of the switchbacks.  The hike up to the top was not as hard as I thought it would be, but the hike down was far more difficult than I anticipated.  I was so DONE with the ninety-nine switchbacks on the way down!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eventually we crossed through trail camp and by lakes which had been hidden in the early morning shadows when we had come through that morning.

Lake

Soon we were by streams…

Stream

and back into trees.  For those reading this blog who do eventually take on this trail be really careful when coming down the section heading to Mirror Lake (see pic below).  This part of the trail passes over granite and it is easy to lose the trail.  After coming home I have read up on this section and others have said the same thing.  I had to really watch closely and sometimes stop to check out other possibilities.  A week before we our trip a man had been separated from his group (probably due to slowing down with altitude sickness) and went missing.  They found his body two days before our trip.  He had gotten off trail and, not feeling well, had fallen down a chute to his death.  I don’t mean to be depressing but it is important to remember this is very rugged territory and combined with altitude can be very dangerous.

Mirror lake

Soon we were covering area we had not previously seen as we had passed thought in the dark.  We hiked alongside streams…

Trail along stream

…traversed lush meadows…

Trail

…had incredible views of where we had been…

Meadow and mountain

and passed nearby waterfalls which we had only heard rumbling in the dark that morning.

Waterfall 2

Eventually we crossed this cool wooden bridge…

Log bridge

…and finished looking back over incredible scenery.

Final Descent

We walked into Whiney Portal at 4pm.  The entire hike had taken us 13 hours (including our time at the summit and stopping to filter water twice).  On the way up neither one of us had any altitude sickness (Yay!!!).  Amber had a headache on the way down which began to go away once we stopped for water our second time.  I think we approached this hike in a smart and strategic way with our altitude training, supplements, commitment to staying hydrated and fueled and keeping our pace down and thus keeping our heart rate down.  We ended up finishing hours before all the people who had passed us early on.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of keeping the heart rate down.  Oh, and did we use the oxygen?  Yep, we sure did!

For those who are interested the Garmin details are below with the mile splits below that.  Happy hiking!

garmin

garmin mile splits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 27

Cactus to the Clouds…Downtown Palm Springs to Mt. San Jacinto Summit

Pan 1

With Boston behind me I have changed up my training to focus on a two-person team event I will be doing in August called the Trans-Rockies Run.  Trans-Rockies is a 6 day stage race covering 120 miles in the Rockies Mountains at elevations between 8,000 and 12,000 feet.  Here is the link for any readers who would like to check it out: http://transrockies-run.com/.  Since I will be running it with my friend Amber we put together a training schedule for the summer which we hope will prepare us for those six days.  The focus for the month of May has been to regain our climbing legs (we had been running flat for the marathon) and begin adapting to elevation.  The last four weekends have been spent doing Mt Islip, Mt Baldy, Mt Wilson and Cucamonga Peak and Bighorn Peak.  And then once a month we committed to take on one epic hike/run.  For the month of May the big one was “Cactus to the Clouds”.  I first heard about C2C last year from my neighbor.  After reading up on it I quickly put it on my “Must Do” list.  So last Friday we joined up with our friends Xander and Sergio and drove to Palm Springs.  C2C starts in downtown Palm Springs behind the museum at an elevation of around 400 feet and climbs to the summit of Mt San Jacinto at over 10,800 feet.  That is an insane amount of climbing in one day but perfect for our training.

We were on the trail in the dark by 4:30 am and were blessed to have a fairly cool temp–only 62 degrees.  There is no water on the first 10 miles of the trail and it is notorious for being very hot (thus our early start) and very steep.  The trail climbs to 8400 feet of elevation by mile 10 which is where the Palm Springs Aerial tram is located. We carried 130 ounces of water plus food, emergency blanket, first aid kit, Spot, warm clothes for the summit and trekking poles for the steep sections.  The weight of my bag made me very happy we were hiking and not running.  The first mile wasted no time in getting serious–over 900 ft in elevation gain.  We used our headlamps to find the white dots painted on rocks along the trail to guide us along.  We got off trail a couple of times but as long as we kept going up and stayed a little to the right we were able to regain it a few minutes later.  After 3/4 of a mile or so we passed the picnic tables which are well-known as the turn around point for day hikers.  I did not take any pics at the start since it was dark but before long the sky began to lighten and we watched the sun rise over the desert.

Sunrise 4

One of the cool things about this trail is watching the topography change as you gain elevation.  The journey begins in the desert with lots of rocks.

First Light

Before long cactus began to appear, many of which were in bloom and were quite beautiful.

Cactus bloom

At about 2500 feet of elevation we came across Rescue 1.  Rescue 2 is located at about 5000 feet.

rescue 1

Soon we were hiking through yucca and small shrubs…

Skyline lower 2

…and eventually we crested a hill and had our first look at the ridge where the aerial tram station is located.  If you enlarge the pic below you might be able to make out the station in the center right.  While we could see the station we still had a long way to go (and climb!).  The elevation of the station is 8400 feet.

Skyline top 1

The final two miles to the top of the ridge are very steep with a gain of about 2300 feet of elevation between the two.  We pulled out our trekking poles and kept climbing, keeping our pace moderate as we were now hiking at high altitude and wanted to keep our heart rate down to help ward off altitude sickness.

Steep

The last two miles to the ridge passes by a huge rock (see pic below).  Once there we veered to the left to access the ridgeline.  Notice also that by this point we were in pine trees!

The Rock

As we crested the top of the ridge (fyi, it took us 5 hours and 15 minutes to get here) we had an incredible view of Palm Springs and the desert below.

Skyline looking down

From here we followed a service road to the ranger station to pick up our permit for going to the summit.  The permits are free and are required for all hiking past the ranger station.  It was a short hike to the station and along the way we passed through a beautiful mountain meadow with a light dusting of snow from the day before.

Meadow 1

We also located a sign with a map of the trails.  Our route would take us from Long Valley to Wellman’s Divide and then up to the San Jacinto Peak.

Map 1

The distance to the summit is 5 1/2 miles with an additional 2400 feet of climbing.  This section was beautiful and not very steep–especially compared to where we had just come from.  The elevation was noticeable in our breathing and we kept to our original plan of hiking and not running.  After crunching through snow and slush we came to a beautiful clearing looking out over Idyllwild and snapped a pic.  What a beautiful day!

Group view 2

We lost our trail in the snow a couple of times but were able to pick it back up and eventually came across the sign announcing we were .3 of a mile from the peak.

Peak sign

Just below the summit we came across the summit house which is often used by hikers to get out of the cold.  We signed the summit registry and then scrambled over some boulders to the peak.

Summit House 2

The opening pic of this post and the pic below are two panoramic shots I took while standing on a boulder.  This summit is far more dramatic than Baldy, with an incredible 180 degree unobstructed view.  Surprisingly there was no wind and it was quite comfortable so we sat up there and ate Xander’s chocolate orange while taking in the sights.

Pan 2

We truly had come from the “Cactus to the Clouds”!

summit cloud

We took a summit group shot…

Peak 1

…and were amazed at how far we had come from the desert floor below…

Desert to the Peak

…and then we started back.

high country trail 1

Of course now it was much easier as we were going downhill and I was able to pick my head up a little and enjoy the snow-covered mountain.

high country 1

When we arrived at the aerial tram we purchased our one-way ticket down for $12 and then went into the restaurant to grab some food.  I rewarded myself with an amazing BBQ burger!  🙂

burger

After eating we rode the tram down to a car we had waiting in the parking lot below.  The tram was quite scenic!

tram view down

tram 7

What had taken us 5 hours and 15 minutes to climb took only about 15 minutes to descend  by tram.  The entire trip took 9 hours of moving time and with all of our stops 11 hours overall.  Our total mileage was close to 21 miles.  It was an incredible day with perfect weather, good friends and truly an epic experience.  So what is the big epic hike for June?  My Whitney!  I am looking forward to that!

For those who would like to see the elevation gain per mile check out the pic below from my Garmin.

Garmin

 

 

May 17

Mt Islip Via Big Cienega and Windy Gap

tall tree with snow

As I am writing this post I am thinking cool thoughts (while sweltering in 100 degree heat).  It is hard to believe the pics from this hike are from only three weeks ago.  What happened to our spring?!!

After completing Boston and with another big event on the horizon it was time to get back up to the mountains and start training at elevation.  My next adventure is called the Trans-Rockies Run.  I will post more details on it later but basically it is a six-day stage race in the Rockies in which you compete as a two person team.  The total distance is about 120 miles with the entire race at elevations between 8,000 and 12,000 feet.  I will be running Trans-Rockies with my friend Amber.  Since we had both just completed Boston five days before, we targeted a fairly easy hike (we were not ready to run) from Crystal Lake to Mt Islip.  It had rained the night before however the last thing we were expecting was snow–after all it was the end of April.  Driving up Azusa Canyon at daybreak the ever-increasing light gradually revealed we were going to be hiking in powder.  It’s a good thing we had packed warm clothes!

We parked at Crystal Lake and picked up the Windy Gap Trail.  Our route for the day was a loop.  We took the Windy Gap Trail for about a mile and then picked up Big Cienega Trail which we took to the summit.  The junction of Windy Gap and Big Cienega was not marked but the trail is easy to see if you watch for it on the left.  The climb to the summit of Mt Islip on Big Cienega is a little farther than taking the Windy Gap Trail but not as steep.

sign from bottom

As we climbed we quickly found ourselves hiking across small canyons with a fresh dusting of snow…

canyon

…through new growth in forests burned over ten years ago…

tree

snow on burned trees

…and with incredible views across the San Gabriel’s to the Pacific.

view to ocean

view 1

As we neared the summit of Mt Islip the snow became deeper and it looked like a winter wonderland.

snow covered trail

Alongside the hut at the top we found the summit register buried in the rocks and took the time to sign in.  The view from up here was incredible however clouds had come in from the west so we could no longer see the ocean or LA.

hut 3

view williamson

incoming clouds

snow tree

Coming down from the summit we followed the trail east and came out at Windy Gap.

sign 5

From Windy Gap we could see the switchbacks of the Windy Gap Trail which would take us back to Crystal Lake.  It was stunning!  But it was also cold so we quickly made our way down.

windy gap trail

It was a beautiful and wonderful day.  The distance was only 8 miles and total climbing was only 2350 feet.  Not a bad start five days out from Boston!  Below is the data from my Garmin.

Garmin

 

And for those who like to see the elevation gain or loss per mile here is a pic of my mile splits.

Elevation