Category: Hiking

Bryce Canyon 100 – Fail forward

“Focus on how far you’ve come from the starting line;
not the distance to the finish.”

I ran the Bryce Canyon 100 race on 1-2 June 2018.   My reason for trying this are to overcome the physical and mental challenges of a 100 mile run… while enjoying the journey.  I’m a 60 year old runner; quite content to run slow and steady at the back of the pack. My goal for this race was to be DFL (Dead Flipping Last) but finish. This was my second attempt at covering 100 miles; I ended up running 81 miles.  I learned a lot about myself and running, here’s my story.

Preparation
I’ve been doing trail running since 2016. I have previously done 50 km and 50 mile mountain runs along with a lot of hiking experience. My previous 100 mile shot had been to run 69 miles at the Badger Mountain Challenge in March, 2018. Coming into Bryce 100, I had learned a number of lessons from my Badger Mountain 100 experience:

  1.  Importance of electrolytes – used a 1/2 electrolyte, 1/2 water mixture
  2.  Dealing with blisters early – pre-taped my heels
  3. Keeping up with nutrition – especially after 50 miles
  4. Increase my vertical training – more mountain runs

For the Bryce Canyon race, at every aid station I used a 1/2 electrolyte, 1/2 water mixture to fill my 1.5 liter bladder in my pack. Also, I would eat a little solid food at each stop.  I should mention that I have achalasia; this disease makes it challenging for me to swallow.  I need to take extra time eating and drinking.

Since the Bryce 100 is at high altitude (7000 to 9500 feet) I knew that acclimation was important. In addition, I wanted to acclimate to the dry heat and cold nights. I spent five days prior to the race at the North Rim of the Grand canyon, camping and hiking at 8900 feet.  Since I had rolled an ankle about 3 weeks before the race on one of my mountain runs, I wanted to do a shakedown, so my friend Brenda and I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim four days before the race. (Yes, I know that’s a strange way to taper….)

Race Day
I started the Bryce 100 with my friend Roger. We were up at 0345, had some coffee and a little food.start

The race started in the dark at 0500. It was nice and cool, Roger and I joined the back of the pack. We ran slow on the downhills and walked the uphill sections. We reached the Blubber Creek aid station, 12 miles out,  at mid-morning. Here we earned a bonus mile, since we both walked past the well-signed turn while sending out text messages to update our status. We realized our error after about 10 minutes. We backtracked to the correct turn and got back on the course.

 

We were running along the Paunsaugunt Plateau, with lots of beautiful geology to see. This was one of the most scenic runs I’d ever done. Roger and I went through several more aid stations together as we climbed higher in the heat of the day.

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Roger running south on Paunsaugunt Plateau

We reached the Pink Cliffs aid station at mile 29.5 (9400 feet) in the early afternoon. This was a great aid station: enthusiastic volunteers, good food, and a phenomenal view of southern Utah and northern Arizona. This was ourturnaround point on the course, now we would head north again.

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View from Pink Cliffs, I’m ready to tackle some more miles.

I did a rest and refuel. Roger showed up and was feeling dismal; he was being affected by a cold. We decided to split up at this point and I continued on the pleasant downhill sections.

As I ran and walked uphills, I had an interesting conversation with Paul, a fellow engineer from the Bay area. I felt pretty decent as I arrived at the Mile 39 aid station, although I did have to force myself to have some electrolytes and food.  I headed north in the late afternoon; along the way chatting with Marcelo from Florida. I reached the Blubber Creek aid station (mile 47) near dusk. I had a problem with my headlamp, couldn’t seem to get it to provide white light; only green or blue.  I switched to my backup headlamp and trudged on into the growing darkness.

The next few sections were lots of uphill slogging in the dark alternating with some roads. I did run into a couple of runners in this section who were stopped but said they were OK. The trail was very well-marked. I was behind schedule a bit, there was a cutoff at mile 53 (Grim Reaper) which I made with an hour to spare. On the road before the Blue Fly aid station, I ran and walked with Justin from North Carolina.  The last section up to the Blue Fly aid station felt brutal. I was surprised to pass a few people.

Reached the Blue Fly aid station (mile 57) at 1 AM. I changed my clothes here and refueled. I was ahead of the cutoff and feeling a bit down. It was very tempting to stop here BUT the aid station workers were very positive and encouraging.   I left Blue Fly moving slow and steady.

On the road, it was getting cold and I was glad I had some warm gloves. I felt pretty decent although I was occasionally having some double vision. This seems to happen to me after about 20 hours of exercise. I’d experienced it before. I also had a few mild hallucinations, for example, what I thought was an owl on the ground turned out to be a reflective marker. Around mile 61, a volunteer riding on an ATV checked on me. I told him I was OK and would just keep going. He had another runner on the back who must have dropped on the road.

Came into the mile 65 aid station at 4 AM. There were four volunteers here from the Gnarly Hydrate product. They fed me broth and electrolyte. I warmed up here and recharged from the positive energy of these aid station volunteers. When I was leaving, another runner came in; she was very cold and said she might drop. I decided it was time to leave and push on towards mile 73.  Started out on more roads, through a ranch road as the sun came up. I had to stop to deal with chafing and take my blood pressure medication. I still had a bit of double vision but kept moving. I crossed into a burned forest and was feeling pretty terrible about mile 71. At that point I came across Marcelo and we walked into the mile 73 aid station together. Marcelo gave me a good lift in spirits along with some nice encouragement from the aid station captain.

Departed about 0745 for the Thunder Mountain section of the race. It was beautiful, with lots of the characteristic geology of Bryce Canyon.  This was a gradual climb up followed by a long descent. At around mile 75, I had a bout of diarrhea and was feeling blah. I forced myself to drink electrolytes. At this point, some of the 50 mile runners were passing me; many had encouraging remarks. Also, began to hallucinate a bit more. I would see people that looking like they were working near the trail. When I got closer the people turned into tree stumps! Had one more bout of diarrhea and decided I better ask my friends to meet me at mile 80. Slowly slogged down beautiful Thunder Mountain, my thought was: “Just keep moving.”

My friend Linda hiked up to mile 79 and walked with me into the Mile 80 aid station. I was abit out of it, for example, forgot to use my sunscreen but luckily Linda caught that. I started seeing some other 100 milers on the trail heading back to the finish.  I hit the chair and thought about whether to continue.  Discussed my options with my friends Brenda, Linda, and Roger. I still had some “gas in the tank” but the bouts of diarrhea were dismal. I decided I was done.  Could I have gone on? Yes, I think I had at least 5 more miles left in me. Do I regret stopping? Nope, I learned much and have decided I’ll try another 100 next year with some better preparation.

 

Recovery
After the run, had a nice shower at the Bryce Canyon general store, followed by some salad, coffee, and ice cream. After that, we went to the Best Western in Cedar City, Utah for a couple of days. The highlight was the hot tub and free breakfast… each day I had first and second breakfast. I recovered very well, I was able to go hike at Cedar Breaks with the gang the next day.

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Brenda, me, Linda and Roger at Cedar Breaks the day after the Bryce 100
  • What Went Well
    • Help form my friends
    • Acclimation to altitude, cold, and heat
    • Hill work to get ready
    • Pretape known blister areas
    • Use of electrolyte (Tailwind and Gnarly)
    • Ankle recovery – glad I did Rim to Rim Grand Canyon shakedown
    • Use of Avenza map software especially at night
    • Controlled most chafing
    • Sun protection (long sleeve shirt, hat with drape, gloves)
    • Attitude – mostly positive
    • Great aid stations (especially miles 29.5, 57, 65, and 73)
  • Things to Improve
    • Too slow, need to train to go a little faster
    • Sometimes attitude was down
    • Better head lamp
    • Diarrhea
    • Pacer plan

Acknowledgements
While we run a race like this alone; we don’t get to the starting line alone. First, my wife Mary Ellen put up with my crazy training for this race, never would have got there without her. My friend Roger had the inspiration to propose the Bryce 100; I was glad I said yes.  I did lots of training and adventures with Roger and Linda. Learned a lot about ultrarunning from my friend Jeff; he provided both basic knowledge and inspiration the last few years. My friend Mark provided me some valuable advice after the Badger 100, especially about nutrition and electrolytes. Brenda joined me in acclimating before the run and some post-race adventures; she was crazy enough to take off for 17 days in the Southwest.  Finally, my inspiring brother Gerard who said: “Focus on how far you’ve come from the starting line – not the distance to the finish.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Railroad Grade hike 14 August 2018

Railroad Grade hike 14 August 2018

Railroad Grade is a hike that skirts the lateral moraine of the Easton glacier of Mount Baker. This was my first hike with the SnoKing Happy Hikers group; my friend Brenda introduced me to this fun group.  The route starts with a walk in the woods and then a stream crossing on the trail to Park Butte. Luckily, the bridge was in place! After a few miles of walking, there’s an intersection; we turned upward on Railroad Grade. After about a mile of climbing, we took a side trail to the shaded High Camp area where I had nice lunch with Carol, Brenda and Ed.  We saw lots of nature: marmots, butterflies and lots of intriguing plants.

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Route up Railroad Grade (purple) recorded by Gaia navigation app, plotted using CalTopo
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Happy Hikers ascending Railroad Grade
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Siesta view of Mount Baker from High Camp

After lunch and a siesta, Brenda and I continued up to the trail to the climbers camp at 5800 feet. We explored this alpine, rocky area. We scrambled up the rocks alongside the glacier; I eventually went up to about 6400 feet while Brenda decided to stay a bit lower. We saw lots of climbers, many of them practicing climbing skills on Easton glacier. After a few hours up high, we descended down to the high camp area for dinner. We then decided to walk out. We had a little navigation challenge after crossing the bridge but after a few minutes we spotted the trail into the woods and out to the car. This was a great first hike with the Happy Hikers,  a group I hope to do many more hikes with.

As I often do, I made a number of naturalist observationsiNat20180814

Alpine Lakes Grand Tour 2-7 August 2018

The best challenges help one grow physically, mentally, and emotionally.  The Alpine Lakes Grand Tour challenged me in all these dimensions. My friends Linda, Roger and I set out to do this tour from the Snow Lake trailhead near Snoqualmie Pass to the Snow Lake trailhead near Leavenworth. We estimated this as a 134 km (83 mile) hike, including about 31 km (19 miles) through the Enchantments region of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness  of Washington state. The elevation gain was 7,897 meters (25,910 feet) and elevation loss was 7,555 meters (24,787 feet)

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We started this trip at 8 AM on Thursday 2 August and finished at 1215 AM on 8 August; a total time of 136 hours and 15 minutes. We originally planned this as a 5 day trip, about half way through we needed to add an extra day.

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Alpine Grand Lakes Tour route (link to CalTopo map)

Daily Itinerary and highlights

  1.   20.6 km (12.8 mi)  Gain 1,053 m (3,455 ft)  Loss 1,151 m (3,776 ft)
    (Snow Lake, camp at Hardscrabble Creek)
  2.   20.1 km (12.5 mi)  Gain   955 m (3,133 ft)  Loss 1,092 m (3,583 ft)
    (bushwhack to Dutch Miller Gap, Lake Ivanhoe, camp on PCT above Waptus Lake)
  3.   21.5 km (13.4 mi)  Gain   898 m (2,946 ft)  Loss    943 m (3,094 ft)
    (Cathedral Pass, camp at Paddy Go Easy trailhead)
  4.   23.4 km (14.5 mi)  Gain  1,335 m (4,380 ft)  Loss 1,703 m (5,587 ft)
    (Paddy Go Easy pass, Meadow creek trail, Jack Ridge, camp at Trout Lake)
  5.   18.1 km (11.2 mi)  Gain  1,377 m (4,518 ft)  Loss 1,019 m (3,343 ft)
    (Windy Pass, camp mear Stuart Colchuck trailhead)
  6.   30.3 km (18.8 mi)  Gain  2,279 m (7,477 ft)  Loss 1,647 m (5,404 ft)
    (Asgaard Pass, Enchantments upper basin)
    Total stats
    134 km (83.3 mi)  Gain  7,897 m (25,909 ft)  Loss 7,555 m (24,787 ft)

Physically, this was a challenging backpacking trip.  There were lots of up and down.  (I’ll add a map and elevation profile once I process my GPS recordings.)  The first two days, I was experiencing nausea and fatigue, these were side effects of receiving a shingles vaccination the day before we started the trio. Also, my backpacking style is old school with almost no ultralight equipment.  I started out with a pack weight of 18 kg (39 pounds).

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One big lesson learned is to convert myself to ultralight backpacking. Lucky for me Roger and Linda are experts that can help me.

Mentally, this trip let me explore the flora and fauna of the Cascade mountains. The more I observe, the more I want to know.  This quote is often on my mind: “Each one of us adds a little to our understanding of Nature, and from all the facts assembled arises a certain grandeur.” – Aristotle as quoted by Bradford Washburn.

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Shasta Fern (Polystichum lemmonii) on Paddy Go Easy Pass

Emotionally, there were some ups and downs for me. The first couple of days I felt awful, seriously thought of turning around and walking back out.  I think my ultrarunning experience gave me some added emotional resilience to keep going.  Also, when we decided we needed another day on the trail, there were some challenges communication the delay to my wife. Eventually, I was pretty certain I got a text message out. Also, I asked a couple of folks driving away from  trailheads along the way to call her, happy to say that both of them did this!

There were some real ups as well, such as looking back from slogging up Asgaard Pass and seeing beautiful Colchuck Lake or sauntering trough the wildflowers on the Meadow Creek trail. It made me appreciate my place in the Universe.

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Colchuck Lake from Asgaard Pass
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wildflowers on the Meadow Creek trail

Many thanks to the  designer of this excellent 2018 UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge route  and for Linda and Roger putting up with my grumpiness when I was sick the first couple of days.

 

Easy Pass UPWC 28-29 July 2018

With a name like Easy Pass, it must be easy… perhaps in a relative sense.

Summary

On 28 July 2018 I set out with my friends Linda, Roger and Rob on my third UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge EasyPass.  We fastpacked the route, starting at Easy Pass trailhead and camping overnight at Junction camp. We finished the next day at Colonial Creek campground. My elapsed time was 28 hours 51 minutes. Overall, it was a wonderful 40 km trip, despite hot weather and a plethora of flies.

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Easy Pass to Colonial Creek Route

Easy Pass route

Details

We set out from the Easy Pass trail at 8:01 AM on 28 July.

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Intrepid UltraPedestrians John, Linda, Roger and Rob

Our route up the Easy Pass Trail climbed up steeply for about 6 km, until we reached  2100 meter Easy Pass. Near the top, there was an observation camera from the Cascade Carnivores project; situated to look for wolverines, martens and other rare carnivores.

After a nice rest and a bit of exploring at Easy Pass, we headed down switchbacks  into Fischer Basin. During the day, I made more than 40 botanical observations.  This entire section had some spectacular views.

Had a nice brekky and some great views of the mountains.  Around 8 Am, we started descending down the Thunder Creek trail. The forest ecology during the descent was quite different and I made about 30 botanical observations on 29 July.

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Thunder Creek was raging
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Looking East from Easy Pass
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Looking West from Easy Pass

As we walked through the Fischer Creek basin we moved from alpine to  meadow and then forest ecosystems.

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Fischer Basin alpine meadow descending from Easy Pass
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Forest Ecosystem

About 2 km east of Junction Camp we encountered a gnarly section of trail. There was a poor run-out if one should slip and the trail was eroding as we walked on it. Looking back, we light have been better to climb up and around this segment.

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We reached Junction Camp, having walked about 23 km from the Easy Pass trailhead. Along the way, we took a number of breaks due to the heat. I didn’t bring a thermometer but I’d estimate it was more than 31 degrees. I had a leisurely dinner and a good nights rest. I borrowed a bear vault from the Parks Service to store my food.  (Concerned about bears and other creatures getting into my food).

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Mountain View from Junction Camp, maybe Tricouni Peak, with hanging glacier?

Had a nice brekky and some great views of the mountains.  Around 8 Am, we started descending down the Thunder Creek trail. The forest ecology during the descent was quite different and I made about 30 botanical observations on 29 July.

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Forest ecology on Thunder Creek trail

I was out at the Colonial Creek trailhead at 12:51 PM, elapsed time was 28 hours 51 minutes.  Overall, this was a great two day fastpack trip and another fun UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge. Not running allowed me to observe the ecology closely while enjoying the company of three excellent companions. Next UPWC trio is Alpine Lakes Grand Tour starting on 2 August 2018, 4 days after the Easy Pass challenge.

Lessons Learned

  1.  First time using Gaia app on my phone.  Gaia worked well and I was able to download .gpx and .kml files.
  2. Decided to use a bear vault, added several pounds of weight. My base weight was about 11 kg. without food and water. I am going to lighten up a bit for nest backpack.
  3. Brought a battery pack and was able to recharge my phone. Unfortunately, forgot the correct adapter for my camera so my photos were mostly lower quality cell phone images. I had been hoping to obtain some high quality macro images with my new Olympus TG-5 camera.
  4. Instant mashed potatoes are delicious.
  5. Made sure to keep drinking plenty of water with electrolytes, I felt great on this hike.