Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Five days after the bailing 64ish km into the Trans Zion I ran the R2R2R in the Grand Canyon. 
Going in to the run I knew I'd have to be a little more focussed in terms of hyrdrating properly, to avoid a repeat of the debacle in Zion. But with the water sources spaced so conveniently on the main corridor trails in the canyon I knew this shouldn't be a problem.

I camped just outside the park and downed some coffee and a clifbar on the drive in. Starting out at 5:30am was cold and dark, but far from solitary: within the first 30 minutes I'd passed a total of something like 30 people, nearly all of them hiking in big gangs. Once the sun rose, the views were incredible and stayed that way for the entire day. Every single metre of the route was amazing, from the sweeping views close to the rim, to the choked sections down near the river. It was incredible and lived up to all expectations.

Its been nearly four weeks since the outing and I figure its better to simply publish these photos now than wait until I have time to write up a proper report on the day. A few quick facts: I started on the North Rim and ran up the South Kaibab Trail, which I reached in 4:20 before turning around and returning the same way. My roundtrip time was 10:00. 

I drank a total of 12 litres of water! (I didn't think this would be possible, but I didn't have any stomach sloshing or discomfort- this felt like about the right amount of water for me given the heat. Interesting to note that this was about 3x more than I drank on the TransZion attempt).

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Trans Zion attempt- part four of the US trip

 After a few days in SLC getting myself organised and renting a car, I drove south. I had two real objectives for the last 10 days of my trip: the Trans Zion run and the R2R2R in the Grand Canyon. Both classic test pieces of the trail running scene in the US southwest.

The big hurdle with trying to run across Zion solo was going to be the car shuttle, with the start/end trailheads being about 2 hours drive apart. I was tentatively planning on simply starting out early and trying to hitch-hike at the end of the day, but the prospect wasn't very enticing. I was stoked to learn that a mate of Tom's was planning on doing the run with his brother on the upcoming Saturday. Tom put me in touch with Lars and we made plans to meet at the East Rim TH on Friday evening and do a car shuttle together. Stoked!

On Friday I put in a water/coke cache where the trail intersects with the Kolob Terrace Road and swung by the backcountry desk at the gigantic Zion Visitor Centre, they gave me the latest info on what springs were flowing and I marked all the info on the map. Around 9pm Lars and Thomas met me at the TH and I jumped in with them for the drive back to Cedar City where we crashed at a hotel for a few hours sleep.

With a 4:15 alarm we were at the start of the trail at Lee Pass around 5am. We settled into a steady pace, running in the bubbles of light from our headlamps on the pleasant trail beside La Verkin Creek. It was a shame to miss the views here along the start of the trail, but with the prospect of a long day ahead and hot afternoon temperatures it definitely made sense to be starting at the time we did. I was carrying a topo map and Lars had the route downloaded onto his watch, but we nevertheless managed to run straight past the signed intersection with Hop Valley and continued up La Verkin Creek. It wasn't until we reached Bear Trap Canyon over 2km after the junction that our mistake dawned on us and our early start was made pointless. We backtracked to the main trail until we sheepishly reached the sign, which was indeed quite obvious now that the sun was rising and we could see a little better.

Lars and Thomas heading into Hop Valley just after sunrise

 It says a lot about how beautiful Zion is to note that the section through Hop Valley is renowned for being the least interesting section of the entire trail. It is still pretty amazing! The trail is kind of sandy for a few kilometres which made travel slower and more tiring than it would otherwise have been.

Dodging cow pats in the Hop Valley

After about three hours (I can't remember any of our splits exactly...) we got to the cache and drank a few cold cokes and refilled the water bottles. The next section along the Wildcat Canyon trail featured some pretty scenery and plenty of shade from the trees. The trail very runable and while our pace wasn't fast it felt like we were maybe making up some time we'd lost earlier in the day. Doing the math in my head though I realised we were already quite a bit behind the expected splits.

Lars on the Connector trail

Thomas and Lars on the Wildcat Canyon section

We reached the West Rim TH after about 40km (including our little detour), and Thomas, who had been feeling pretty rough over the last few kilometres, decided to bail and hitch-hike over to Zion Valley. It was a shame that he couldn't continue on with us, but he hadn't been getting too much training in over the past few months and with another 42km left in the heat of the day he wasn't too optimistic about how he'd fare.

Lars and I continued on the West Rim trail. The scenery continued to be beautiful, however I started sagging badly: thirsty and unaccustomed to running in the heat. My water supplies (I was running with one 500ml softflask and a 1L flexi-bottle in my vest), were calculated for a slightly faster pace. But I found myself unable/unwilling to run a faster pace and so I was rationing my water... I was comforted by the knowledge that we'd reach the Cabin spring at kilometre 56 where I planned on catching up on my hydration before continuing on.

Lars somewhere near Potato Hollow

On the West Rim trail

Reaching the spring, my disappointment and shock was enough to cause a string of expletives; I'd envisioned a steady stream of water flowing over some rocks, maybe even a small trough which collected the water... What we found was a shallow trickle of scummy water about 5mm deep on top of some silty mud, which made filling my flask, without also filling it with mud, all but impossible. If I'd been using a life-straw I probably could have got enough to slake my thirst, but I was using iodine tabs...

We continued on but it was obvious that Lars, who is in an entirely different league as a runner, was being slowed to an awkwardly slow pace by my increasingly graceless attempt to run. I was feeling clumsy and foggy headed and I knew that water was the only thing which would set me straight. I struggled for a short while with the knowledge that running long distances on trails is by definition not meant to be easy, that overcoming some temporary struggle and challenge is what it's all about. These thoughts were balanced out by the uncertainty of how long it would take for me to start feeling good again once we reached the next water source at the 64km mark and the daunting prospect of having another 18km with around 1000metres of vertical in order to reach the car. Yet another thing to take into consideration was how much I was slowing down Lars. Running at someone else's pace for 1km is very different to doing that for 30+ km and I felt bad about forcing him to slow down so much. So after a quick chat I gave him the car keys and made plans to meet him in Zion Valley later that afternoon.

The final 10km into Zion Valley along the West Rim trail are mind bendingly beautiful, the scale of the sheer red cliffs really has to be experienced first hand. Even in my weary, dehydrated state I was able to appreciate and be blown away by the immensity of it all. The photos, as they say, don't do it justice, and while mostly I was fantasizing about getting some water and lying down in the river I was also thinking about the next time that I come to Zion and looking forward to running the trail in it's entirety.

The last few kilometres to the valley floor are surreal, with the path carved out of the cliff.

 I reached the valley floor after 9 hours and roughly 65kms, feeling trashed and promptly drank about 4L of water and sat in the cold Virgin River thinking back over the day. Rather than feeling disappointed about not having completed the trail like planned I was feeling grateful for having seen so many incredible landscapes and also for having learned some valuable lessons about running in the heat and not trusting beta on water sources from employees of the US National Park Service.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Back to Utah- part three of the US trip

I had a few big days on the bike getting from the Maroon Bells over to Moab. Highlights included soaking in the Penny hotsprings, the apples and cider near CedarEdge, a longer than expected climb up Grand Mesa and one confusing evening as I sat munching on another rice filled tortilla and noticed the moon was looking pretty strange and by the time I was on to my desert burrito it was totally eclipsed. I found out a few days later that this "blood moon" as the media were calling it was a major news item. Seeing it without any sort of expectation was pretty amazing, even if I was temporarily wondering if my eyes were playing up or the world was about to end.

Morning coffee on Grand Mesa.

Cycling in the desert required some strategy in terms of water access. I remember seeing people cycle across the Nullarbor Plain in Australia about ten years ago and thinking that they were masochists for riding somewhere so inhospitable and couldn't fathom the logistics and effort of having to carry so much water. Whilst cycling the Nullarbor still holds no appeal to me, the idea of carrying extra water to travel through such remarkable landscape now seems like a very small price to pay. The most I ended up carrying at any one time was 9 litres.

The ride through Castle Valley was particularly beautiful:

The Colorado River and Castle Valley.

Castle Valley

Castle Valley

I had a nice sunrise trail run around the Fisher Towers

Getting close to Moab, their was even a designated bike path.

 I had a few uneventful days around Moab and then rode up to Green River where I met Tom who'd driven down from SLC that same morning. We met at a food truck and chowed down on delicious mexican food before taking apart my bike and putting it in Tom's car for the drive to the Henry Mountains. This small range in southern central Utah holds special significance to me, after having seen it from the back seat of a Jeep whilst on the Burr Trail about ten years ago and having promised myself that one day I would return and spend some time in those remote peaks on the horizon. They were the last mountain range in the lower 48 to be surveyed. And their location sandwiched between the low elevation Canyonlands NP and Capitol Reef NP belies their impressive prominence, with Mt. Ellen Peak rising 1800m above the surrounding area.

 I was mistakenly under the impression that the access roads were extremely rough and that simply getting to the trailhead was going to be a serious undertaking in itself. However between Tom's rally skills and what turned out to be an incredible spiderweb of BLM roads, we soon found ourselves parked at 10,500 feet. The run to the summit of Mt. Ellen was a short one on a trail the whole way, reaching the peak was somehow anti-climatic after imagining the range as being so remote. Back at the car we didn't waste much time in deciding that we should definitely drive around to the southern end of the range and tag the summit of Pennel- the second highest in the range.

Looking East from the summit of Mt. Ellen

The route we took up Pennel's north ridge proved to be much more interesting than Ellen. The views across the desert were immense, and a fire which went through a few years back has cleared alot of the vegetation and left some really beautiful char black trees. Talk immediately switched to how great the skiing would no doubt be on the NE face. It's a bit of a journey to get there from Norway, but I'm sure Tom & co will get some amazing skiing there in the not too distant future.

On Mt. Pennel, looking over towards Hillers, Holmes and Ellsworth

Running back to the car on Pennel's north ridge

We drove back to SLC that night ( after a brief stop in Green River for another mexican food truck feast) arriving around 1am. The following day after an enjoyably lazy morning we went for another run along a route which Tom had been wanting to do for a while, and apparently now was the time to do it because the rattlesnakes which like to hang out on the ridge should be gone, I really hoped Tom was right about this last bit...

We started out at the crack of 1pm and went up Grandeur, down the other side and then up Desolation Trail, once we gained the Wild Cat Ridge we followed it over Triangle and onwards to Olympus. The section along Wild Cat was particularly fun, lots of class 3 terrain and a bit of route selection in order to find the best line over/around all the minor highpoints. By the time we reached Olympus the sun was just setting and we tried to descend quickly, not having any headlamps and knowing that our pace was going to be forced to slow to a walk in the impending darkness. Thankfully Dom was able to pick us up from the Olympus TH, thus avoiding the run back to the car. It was a great run, and satisfying to get some first hand experience on these peaks which I'm so familiar with from reading blogposts.

On the Wild Cat Ridge, excited to see a dusting of snow on what I think is the Broads Fork Twins

A bit of route scouting was called for at times, but there was always a simple way around.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: SLC has some amazing mountains right next to suburbia.
And we didn't see any rattlesnakes.

Another post or two coming about an aborted attempt at the TransZion and a successful attempt at the R2R2R.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

In The High Country- part two of my recent trip

Leaving Crested Butte saw a change in my style of travel- rather than covering many miles each day on the bike the focus was shifted to running up the 14'ers of the Sawatch and simply using the bike as transport between campsites. World class mountain trails are pretty dense in this part of the world, and I only planned on cycling about 250km over the next week and a half.

The mandatory bike portrait on a mountain pass. 

After grinding uphill for hours on a dirt road to a 3700m pass, the 30km, 1200metre coasting descent felt pretty nice.

 I cycled from Crested Butte over the Cottonwood pass and ran up Yale that same afternoon. The following day I rode through Buena Vista and stocked up on food for a few days of camping near the ghost town of Winfield, an area I'd be able to base myself in for 5 different 14'ers.

After the ride over from Crested Butte, I figured I still had enough time in the day to tag the summit of Yale.
I made back down to the TH just as the sun was setting.

Pretty colours in the hills on the ride up to the ghost town of Winfield

I spent three nights in this idealic campsite, whilst running a few of the surrounding peaks.

My first day in the Winfield zone was my 30th birthday and I decided to celebrate with one summit for each decade. Linking together Missouri, Oxford and Belford is a really logical route which doesn't involve much backtracking, but which features a lot of ridge running, with expansive views and fun trails. The weather was perfect and ,with none of the infamous afternoon thunder storms which Colorado is known for, I had a sleep in and didn't start out till 9am.

Enroute to Missouri, the first summit of the day.

Second on the list for the outing was Oxford

View from the third summit: Belford, note the mountain goats in the middle of the photo.

My round trip time for the three peaks was 5:50 and I spent the rest of the afternoon eating, reading and enjoying the amazing campsite.

For my second day in the area I decided to tag two more summits, despite being one summit less than the previous day this was a bigger day, both in terms of vertical and distance. First I cycled up to Winfield and locked my bike to a tree before heading up Huron. Being a weekend the crowds were out in force: I think I must have passed close to 100 people on the way to the summit. I've never experienced anything quite like it. Most people seemed pretty perplexed by the sight of someone running, some were friendly and encouraging, others were disparaging and spoke to me as though I was trying to show off or be overtly competitive. Rather than bothering to explain I just tried to smile and said hello as I hopped off the trail to get past them.

Busy day on Huron

I reached the summit (1:07) where a crowd of about 15 people were lounging around and after a quick snack went back down the way I'd come up (1:55 roundtrip). I rode the bike a mile over to the Winfield cemetery and set out on La Plata, this trail isn't the standard route up the peak, so it was much less busy. I think I only saw about 10 people on the way up. The trail was immaculate though and it made for really nice running, except for the last few hundred metres on big, loose talus.

Smooth alpine singletrack- exactly what I came here for. 

More trailporn

The next day I rode 50km in to Leadville with a horrendous headwind the entire way which slowed my pace to around 15km/h. I spent the remainder of the day resting in town with bbq and belated birthday beers, having just completed one of the biggest weeks of training in my life: 122km/8550m/22 hours of mountain running and 250km/3000m of cycling.

I was standing next to my bike drinking some chocolate milk straight from the 2L bottle when this fellow wandered over. Bill Dooper- "The Ultimate Fan", made famous by Salomon in this video. A nice bloke, he'd just gotten back from spectating at Run Rabbit Run.

The following morning I restocked food supplies and rode a short distance to the next TH, having a few hours of light left in the day I ran a nice loop on Mt. Elbert (up the NE ridge, down the E ridge and back along the Colorado Trail) 3:30 for the loop.

As is common in mountains, the highest ones aren't usually as interesting as the slightly smaller ones.
This shows the final section to Elbert's summit.

Fast running down Elbert.

The next day I ran Mt Massive from the same campsite. My legs weren't feeling very peppy and I found myself power hiking sections of trail which I normally would've been happy to run. It was damn nice to be out in the mountains though and the trail was nearly empty except for a small herd of mountain goats who were hogging the trail. We had a stare down, they won. I kept my distance and watched as they scampered around on the rocky ridge, showing me how it's done.

These fellas were hanging out near the summit of Massive, completely unperturbed by my presence.

The next day it was back on the bike and over another high pass: Independence, and a screaming fast descent to Aspen. I took another easy day here, resting up for the next day by eating donuts and catching up on emails at the public library (just like the last time I was in Aspen 7 years earlier).

The next day featured a trail I'd been looking forward to since before the trip: the renowned Four Pass Loop around the Maroon Bells, a 45km route with 2400m of vert which is usually done as a multi-day hiking trip but which also has a reputation as one of the best runs of it's length in the the USA. It's seen a healthy amount of competition for its FKT from some big name American trail runners; Krupicka, Ricky Gates and Sage Cannaday have all held the fastest time at some point, and I figured that the trail must have demanded so much attention for a reason. It definitely lived up to the hype!

Here's a few photos from the day:

My time ended up being 6:54, including a lot of photo stops and time spent gaping at the incredible scenery. Topping out on the third pass of the day I realised how close to Crested Butte I was again and started dreaming about a potential longer route which would head to Gothic and back via the Conundrum trail- something to look forward to the next time I'm in this part of the world.

Another post coming soon about riding over to Moab, Utah and checking out the Henry Moutains.