Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Back to the Wilderness


It had been 7 years since I last completed the entire Hundred Mile Wilderness (HMW) in one push, and never had I attempted it northbound (Monson to Abol Bridge).  With my Fastest Known Time (FKT) over this route being taken down earlier this year, I was excited to give it another shot and see how fast I could do it, and to spend some quality adventure time in my favorite place.

Ready to take off from Monson.

I wasn't really planning on doing this in November, but after postponing an October attempt, and the delayed onset of winter conditions (it was 70 degrees the day I flew into Maine), I decided to go for it.  The temperatures dropped quickly, but weather conditions were still pretty good for the most part.  I did underestimate the difficulty of trail finding, however, with the trail buried in newly fallen leaves.  I always thought the frequency of the white blazes along the Appalachian Trail were a bit too much, but not when you are navigating from blaze to blaze with no trail in sight.

There's a trail in there somewhere.

I first met my crew (Dad and sister Regina) at Long Pond Stream (Mile 14) only 20 minutes behind my projection for FKT pace.  It seemed like we were the only people in the HMW that day.  In fact, other than a deer hunter I ran into near Leeman Brook (3 miles after starting), I would not see another human other than my crew for the rest of my journey.

Crossing Long Pond Stream.  No rope but water was low.

The next section, the Chairback-Barren Range, is the most difficult of the HMW, but also my favorite.  Fewer hardwoods up high also made for fewer leaves and easier navigation.  With sunset just after 4pm, I would be dropping off Chairback Mountain to the crew at KI road (Mile 30) along with the setting sun.  I was excited to see that my Uncle Sam had joined the crew.  My 9 hours from Monson to KI road was the fastest I have ever done those 30 miles, but still a little slower than I was hoping for.

Uncle Sam joins the crew at KI.

Luckily, the icy waters of the Pleasant River stayed below the knees as I forded to the other side and began my biggest climbs over Gulf Hagas, Hay, West, and finally the tallest peak, White Cap, which pops out slightly above treeline at 3644 feet.  The wind was whipping up there with wind chills below zero.  I stopped just long enough for a White Cap summit photo before making the steep descent to Logan Brook and, eventually, my crew below where it was a balmy 20 degrees with no wind.

White Cap summit.  High point of the HMW.

Although short of half-way in terms of distance, the West Branch Ponds Road at Mile 45 felt like well over half-way in terms of effort, with much easier terrain awaiting over the last 55 miles.  I would also be seeing my crew more frequently from this point forward.  The long night had me knocking off the next couple of segments pretty quickly, with some actual extended running.  I would leave my crew at Jo-Mary Road (Mile 59) at 4am and still in darkness.  Now at 20 hours in, almost 3 hours slower than I wanted to be at this point, I knew any speed records were out of reach.  I still wanted to make it to the finish at Abol Bridge, hopefully before the next early sunset, so I could take in the great view of Mount Katahdin from there.  However the wheels would sort of come off for me over the next 15-mile section to Nahmakanta Lake, which would take me a whopping 7 hours.

Lower Jo-Mary Lake just before sunrise.

Mount Katahdin view from shores of Pemadumcook Lake

Reaching my crew at Nahmakanta Lake at 11am (27 hours since leaving Monson), I did a little math in my head and decided I had enough.  I took a ride to Camp Pine, our family camp, and relaxed the rest of the afternoon and weekend, leaving enough in my legs to enjoy some beautiful hikes over the next couple of days.  We ended up getting a pretty good snowfall later that evening, so I was pretty happy to be sitting comfortably in the cabin by the woodstove.

Hiking the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail.

I'm a little disappointed that I still haven't completed the HMW northbound, but I'll hopefully give it another shot next year under better conditions.  I'm still not sure which way is easier, or faster.  Going southbound, like in 2013, I made great time over the easier terrain in the first half and then slogged my way through the more difficult sections later on tired legs.  Going northbound this time, I made pretty quick work of the harder sections early, but had nothing left in my legs when I hit the easier terrain.  The next attempt will be northbound, regardless, since that challenge still remains for me.  I hope for many more adventures in this wilderness that I like to call "home".

My Splits (mileages based on AT Data Book):
Leave Monson Route 15 - 8:00am
Long Pond Stream (Mile 14.1) - in 11:42am-out 11:52am (3:42-3:52)
KI Road (Mile 29.9) - 5:08pm-5:28pm (9:08-9:28)
W Branch Road (Mile 44.7) - 11:06pm-11:20pm (15:06-15:20)
Kokadjo Johnston Pd Road (Mile 51.6) - 1:39am-1:45am (17:39-17:45)
Jo-Mary Road (Mile 58.5) - 3:47am-4:05am (19:47-20:05)
Nahmakanta Lake (Mile 73.7) - 11:15am-DNF (27:15-DNF)

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Colorado Trail

A simple 6 mile hike/jog from Jefferson Creek to Georgia Pass last weekend seemed pretty uneventful.  It was nice to feel the crisp morning air, the aspen leaves starting to turn, and even a few snow flakes when I got on the divide. Fall creeping in on this last weekend of summer.  However, when I hit a particular trail post just above the pass I knew that I had finally stepped foot on every piece of the 560 miles of the Colorado Trail (480 from Denver to Durango, with an additional 80 miles around the Collegiate Peaks West option).

My finish line by Georgia Pass.

Why a finish line somewhere in the middle of Segment 6?  Well it's just one of many stories accumulated over this adventure.  More stories than I can share in a single blog post.  However, when I look up at my Colorado Trail (CT) poster hanging in my living room and pick any point along the trail, I have a memory and a story from wherever my finger lands.

Upon getting home that evening, I immediately submitted my "Colorado Trail Completer's" application.  I look forward to receiving a nice little certificate to hang above my trail poster courtesy of the great volunteers at the Colorado Trail Foundation.  One of the questions on the application was when I started my hike.  I just happened to know the exact date even though it was 11 years ago.  On June 20, 2009, I first stepped foot on this trail on Segment 23 at Carson Saddle in the San Juan Mountains during the San Juan Solstice 50-mile race.  I shared about 12 miles along that stretch above treeline through a summer snowstorm, passing the highest point on CT (13,271 feet), with David Horton.  Dr. Horton just happened to be the first winner of Hardrock, former holder of the Appalachian Trail (AT) and Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) speed records, and the Barkley Marathons course record, all before Fastest Known Times (FKTs) and trail races were "cool".  He was gearing up for a shot at the CT FKT that summer (which unfortunately ended prematurely for him that year), but I was inspired to finish this whole trail myself one day.

2009 San Juan Solstice 50-miler.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I purchased the Colorado Trail Databook and started making note of which pieces of the trail I had done through various races or adventures.  Although I had covered many pieces, especially over the first 4 segments closest to home, there was still a lot of work to do.  So in 2020, I set out with the goal of getting this done.  In the absence of a lot of races due to the pandemic, including Hardrock for a 2nd year in a row, this goal provided me some respite as I spent many weekends exploring new trails, which is always exciting!

Hey look Rob, we found the Colorado Trail!

My many weekends of knocking off another segment in some fashion or another (most often out and back, covering the trail in both directions), eventually got me recognized by some of the thru-hikers.  Some trips had me carrying my bigger pack with shelter for an overnight or two, while other times I went full trail running mode with my running pack and no sleep until I finished my goal for the weekend.  Running out Half Moon Creek Road and Highway 24 to catch a 5am bus in Leadville was one of the hardest things I've ever done, especially after already covering over 60 miles.  I made the bus with 2 minutes to spare.  Another Saturday night found me sitting outside the Twin Lakes General Store with a group of SOBO (southbound) thru-hikers who had to ask me, "Are you a NOBO, SOBO, Yo-Yo, Flip Flopper?", to which my best reply was, "I'm trying to get this done any which way I can".  Gaining my trail name, "Any Which Way", that night made me feel like a part of their community.

A great night's sleep on Twin Lakes!

July flowers near Searle Pass!

Knowing that my approach to finishing the CT in this manner was very inefficient, I made the decision to go NOBO from Durango to Blanks Gulch trailhead on Collegiate East near Salida in one push over the first week of August.  This 250 miles in one week was quite the challenge.  I was packing a bit lighter than most thru-hikers, but averaging 35 miles a day, especially through the San Juan Mountains, was no small task.  I ended up going from Molas Pass to San Luis Pass without stopping (over 60 miles) as I hiked through a full night under a bright moon above treeline.  It was too cold to sleep on the ground and no trees for my hammock shelter, but it still made for one of the most memorable parts of my trip.  The hardest part of this self-supported adventure was carrying enough calories.  I ended up losing 16 pounds in 7 days and had to endure many long, hot stretches without water.  It was great to see my daughter Maddy on Day 7 with my truck at the trailhead and we headed straight to the Salida McDonald's!

Climbing up the Elk Creek Drainage along the Grenadier Range.

Of course, the San Juan Mountain Range threw plenty of weather at me, but more difficult were the hot, dry sections through the Saguache Park.  With little reliable water and temperatures pushing 100 degrees, I was so excited to run into a couple of "trail angels" at Saguache Park Road.  Cathy and Greg were wonderful, providing me plentiful fresh water and great conversation.  Mikaela also stopped at the same time heading the other way as she would go on to set the new self-supported FKT (incredible!).  I left replenished and a bit teary-eyed as Cathy and Greg reminded me so much of my parents

Trail Angels Cathy and Greg.  This is what the CT is all about!

I realized after my week long hike (with occasional running when I was feeling extra spry), that my body actually held together well and I sort of got into a rhythm where I could have kept going for weeks, if only I had some resupply of food, drink, and other goodies.  A single push over the whole trail would be fun if I planned some mail drops to pick up along the way.  Maybe some day?  It was actually a little sad after a day or two of sitting at home wishing I was still on the trail where life seemed so simple.

One meal per day.  Choose wisely.

After finishing Durango to Denver (minus my little 6 miles to Georgia Pass), I decided to complete the Collegiate West option as well.  I had already covered the first segment of CT West from other hikes and pacing Alan at the Leadville 100, which takes you over Hope Pass.  I really enjoyed some great runs/hikes over these sections.  I had been told many times by the thru-hikers how beautiful CT West was, and they were right!  However, I must admit that CT East is beautiful as well.

A little snow left from an early September storm on CT West (and wildfire haze).

There's something special about these long trails.  I was familiar with the sense of community surrounding the Appalachian Trail, but I was pleasantly surprised to see this on the CT as well.  From hiker-friendly towns to "trail magic", I got to experience it all.  I was also happy to meet so many thru-hikers, especially the SOBOs I shared miles with weeks earlier in their adventure, and saw again as they were nearing Durango and the end of their journey when I was headed NOBO.

I'd share more pictures, but you really just need to experience the CT yourself for it's full effect.  Thanks to all who shared miles with me in this long adventure, from my new thru-hiker friends, to Alan and Tara along CT west, and the earlier days with Kristel; and of course David Horton for the inspiration.

Thanks for reading!

"Any Which Way", CT '2020

Thank you Gudy Gaskill!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

2019 Review

I'm pretty late getting to a review of 2019, when it's April 21, 2020, but I didn't want last year to be forgotten.  Although I didn't complete any ultras in 2019, I did have many cool adventures and climbed a lot of new peaks (including several 14ers).

Of course, the main thing I log each year is my Horsetooth Rock summits, and I got 133 in 2019.  That's my 2nd best total (164 in 2013), but I should have gotten more since I was already at 100 by the end of June.

In my buildup for Hardrock, before it got cancelled, I was able to knock off a lot of crazy local bucket list challenges.  I believe I now have the first and only Round Mountain 6-pack (54 miles, 18,000 feet of vertical) and Crosier Quad (38 miles, 11,000 feet of vertical, adding Sullivan Gulch to the classic "Crosier Triple").  I also completed the Greyrock 6-pack (45 miles, 15,000 feet of vertical), which I don't believe had been done since Pete Stevenson completed the feat in 2011.  I couldn't beat Pete's time, so his OKT ("only known time") is now the FKT ("fastest known time").  The one challenge that is still eluding me, however, is Octarock (106 miles, 22,000 feet of vertical, Quadrock 50 x 2 with 4 Horsetooth Rock and 4 Arthurs Rock summits thrown in).  I gave it a go in late June but got denied at about 70 miles due to hypothermia and flooded trails.  At least it wasn't a blizzard like when I tried a few years ago.  I now have 3 DNFs at Octarock.

Greyrock 6-pack with Jaime

Crosier Quad with Brett

I still visited the San Juan mountains over Hardrock week with my Dad and two of my sisters.  I got to explore a lot of trails and peaks that I have never been on.  The options are just endless out there!  On the day we were supposed to run Hardrock, I joined up with a fun group of old and new friends for an out and back along the course from Silverton to Green Mountain.  Certainly a fun day!

Topping out Green Mountain with my Hardrock friends

Exploring the San Juan Mountains with Regina

August and September had me playing a lot in the Sawatch Range, exploring the Nolan's 14 line and pacing Alan for 50 miles at Leadville (my first time seeing the whole course).  Doing Nolan's self-supported, I learned a lot about gear choices and also realized I need to do it with support to ever come close to the 60-hour "finisher" cutoff.  I might be able to give it a supported shot in 2020.  My plans are to go NOBO (Shavano to Massive) since that's how I've been scouting it.

Following Alan over Hope Pass at the Leadville 100

Following the Nolan's line

Life in the Sawatch.  Fueling up for Princeton on the horizon.

When not travelling down to the Sawatch, I spent plenty of summer time closer to home in RMNP playing in the Mummies (did Mummy Mania twice) and around Longs Peak (3 Longs summits this year).

The Mummies

Longs Peak (14,255 feet, approximately)

I did take on some shorter local trail and road races in 2019, and found to have regained a good bit of my speed.  My longest race was the Lory State Park 12K and my shortest was the Mountain Avenue Mile, where I clocked a 5:39!  I was able to get my road 5K time back under 20 minutes as well.

Mountain Avenue Mile

Finally, in November, I couldn't resist the urge to take on a 100-mile race, so I made a road trip to Alabama for the Blood Rock 100.  I met up with my sister who flew down from Maine and we enjoyed camping in Oak Mountain State Park (the site of the race).  Absolutely beautiful country down there and I loved the rugged, rocky, and steep trails!  The race was challenging, with over 26,000 feet of vertical, and a lot of rain!  I wasn't committed to finishing and pulled out around Mile 60.  However, since the 2nd 50 miles was a repeat of the 1st 50, I still got to experience the whole course.  I was glad I made the trip!

Camping at Oak Mountain State Park

Along the Blood Rock course.  They even installed ropes.

So onward to 2020!  We're certainly experiencing some different times right now, and I don't know if there will be any races to run this year.  I'm in Hardrock (if it happens) and I'm on the waitlist for Bear (if it happens).  Even if all races get cancelled, I still have many trail running/hiking goals that I am excited about and would love to complete this year given the opportunity (Octarock, Nolans, Hills to Sea Trail, Colorado Trail, etc.).  I just appreciate that I can still enjoy my local mountains and trails for the time being.

A recent sunrise from atop Horsetooth Rock