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.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

USA from a bike seat- part one of my recent trip

Now ensconced back in Norway I thought I ought to post a few photos and share a few highlights and incidental memories from my recent trip stateside. The posts are necessarily going to be quite dense because I can't see myself  taking the time to properly document a 7 week trip filled with innumerable memorable moments.

The trip started in Salt Lake City, where I was put up by the ever gracious and generous Miles and Erin. It was awesome to see them again after so many years and they showed me a really good time: Oktoberfest at Snowbird, the Spiral Jetty, delicious food in SLC’s many eating joints and afternoon beers on the porch.

The otherwordly Spiral Jetty, most impressive was the pink coloured water of the lake itself which we wandered over the salt flats to dip our toes in. Photo: Miles

I got a couple really nice runs in whilst in SLC, including Grandeur and Pfeifferhorn. The heat and altitude were a far cry from what I’m used to in Norway, but the sweet trails and incredible views more than compensated for any of that.

From trail on the backside of Grandeur. Not too many cities the size of SLC can boast such incredible access to real mountains and an amazing network of quality trails.

Went for a run with the speedy Tom Goth on the Pfeiff. It's hard to keep up with him, but I like running with him all the same.
After waiting a few more days than I had planned, my new bicycle finally arrived at the store and the next morning I set out; clad in lycra and with a mixture of excitement and apprehension at the prospect of having 700km of road to ride over the following 6 days in order to make it to Crested Butte for a WFR re-cert I was enrolled in.

On a backroad in between Altonah and Monarch in northern Utah. I fell in love with my bike when I discovered how well it handled the dirt/gravel as well as being super comfortable and fast on paved roads.

I'm used to seeing empty beer bottles and cigarettes along the roadside which people have thrown out of cars. This was the first time I've found a pistol though.

Photos can never do justice to the immensity of a landscape, so you'll just have to take my word for it...

Compared to the bike tours I’ve done it Europe the key challenges I discovered to cycling in the US can be boiled down to:
      1)      Finding campsites when there are “Private Property/ No Trespassing” signs posted every 20 metres along the road for what seemed like 100km stretches. (Compare this to “allemannsretten” which makes free camping easy.)
      2)      Lack of regular access to water (not surprising given how arid most of Utah and Colorado is- apart from the mountains). (Compared to perpetually rainy Norway, where you pass a stream of clean water seeminly every few minutes on a bike).
      3)      Some busy roads being unavoidable and having nearly non-existent shoulders. (I guess even the rural areas I've cycled in the past have been more densely populated so there have been more roads to choose from.) 

None of these problems were hard to overcome though. And the simple solutions I found were:
      1)     Simply riding a little bit further each day until either a) a decent campsite presented itself or b) I became too tired to care and found somewhere atleast discrete enough to go unnoticed. Once I got into the mountains again it was easy to find great camping, and Forest Service areas in particular allow dispersed camping in really beautiful areas.
      2)      Gas stations, which are common enough, turned into my typical water refill stations. Or, if I was in the mood, I could get a half gallon cup of Root Beer with ice. Also having a 6L MSR dromedary was key to having enough water to ride stretches where there were no gas stations.
      3)      If it was possible: timing my travel on the sections of busy road to early morning, when there wasn’t as much traffic certainly helped. Otherwise it was simply a matter of seeking out the quiet back roads.

Mt. Sopris as seen from the road near Carbondale, despite being just underr 13,000 ft. this mountain offers the biggest vertical you can ski in Colorado: apparently 6500 feet or 2000 metres.

Carb loading. This was a typical dinner: flavoured rice and cheese in a tortilla. I'd usually start with one as an appetizer then eat two for my main, and then finish up with one more for dessert.

I averaged about 140km and 1400 metres of vertical per day for the first five days, and before I knew it I was in Crested Butte ahead of schedule. I camped out in the mountains 10 miles out of town for a few days, went running in the mountains, swimming in icy cold lakes and was kept awake at night by bugling Elk, which is pretty terrifying when its pitch black, you're half asleep and you have no idea what an bugling Elk sounds like. You can close your eyes and imagine whilst listening to this:

The last of several passes I cycled over enroute to Crested Butte was Kebler. The views were stunning and people driving by were very friendly, offering watermelon and encouragement.

 Having never been to Crested Butte I based my expectations of the place on Aspen, but I was happy to discover that the place has a much more local and welcoming atmosphere than the famous town on the other side of the mountains. It might be related to the time of year I was there (prime shoulder season) but everyone I met was super friendly and the place seemed like a real community and not just a collection of second homes for well-heeled city dwellers. As much as it says something about the place, flannel shirts and pickup trucks were more common than Gucci handbags and flashy convertibles. Also the quality of trails for running/mountain biking was truly incredible.

My first run near Crested Butte was up to East Maroon Pass, this is looking over Copper Lake

Trail Porn: there's enough single track around CB to keep anyone busy for a long time

One of the coolest grade 3+/4- scrambles I've ever done was on Avery Peak. These were the views from the summit.

Had another really nice run from the aptly named "Oh Be Joyful TH" up to Poverty Gulch, over Daisy Pass and back down Democrat Basin to the TH.

 More posts to come over the next few days about running 14'ers in the Sawatch and my take on the Four Pass Loop.