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Month: June 2016

Continental Divide Exploring

Continental Divide Exploring

While visiting at a family cabin near West Yellowstone, I took the chance to explore a bit on a trail I had hiked briefly back in 2007ish. The Sawtell Peak Trail in the Bitterroot Range / Centennial Mountains does not go to Sawtell Peak. Rather, it meanders west of it for a while right along the continental divide. This divide also serves as the Montana-Idaho border, so step on one side of the ridge line and you’re in Idaho, step on the other and you’re in Montana. Very cool. I hiked it a bit with the Mrs., plus our bro- and sis-in-law Gregg and Rachael. When we hit the ridge that goes west up to Jefferson Peak, I convinced them to leave the trail (which goes to the basin and a small lake just NE of the peak) to try and bag it. We didn’t make it far, but it was a fun adventure. On the way back I wanted to hit Browers Spring, the contested headwaters of the Missouri River, which is just about 1/4 mile off the trial, but we didn’t have time for that either. Next time…

Looking north up the contintental divide as it branches off the trail. Down the basin to the right (SW) is the Missouri River headwaters.
Looking northeast-ish, Henry’s Lake in the distance
Looking West up the Mt. Jefferson ridge
Tasty! Mt. Timpanogos is (almost) Ripe and Ready for the Picking!

Tasty! Mt. Timpanogos is (almost) Ripe and Ready for the Picking!

My local trail-running club, the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers, adopted the Timpooneke Trail Nr. 053 and Mt. Timpanogos Summit Trail Nr. 054 – two of the most heavily used trails in the entire state of Utah. Last night I joined for the first organized trail work event, clearing out the first mile of trail with loppers and shovels. It was looking gorgeous and I knew I’d need to get up farther in the near future. Then, this afternoon a friend posted that he hit the summit and the trail was in good shape. So, before I knew it, I had geared up and hit the trail.

Starting out it was in the 90s, but as I worked through the first couple miles, up past Scout Falls, and to the big meadow at mile two, it cooled significantly. Actually, it was perfect.

Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (3)
Looking north over the 2 mile meadow.
Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (4)
Looking down on the 2 mile meadow, facing east

The first snow was a small field in the middle of the big scree field around mile 3. After that, the next section was a sketchy mote (ice bridge) at about mile 3.7. My friend had warned me not to take the well-worn path right off the trail, but to follow his footsteps about 10-15 higher up to cross. When I got there, the main path looked good, but I followed his instructions and scrambled up higher. I’m glad I did. From the approach, the mote looks solid, but looking back at it (see below) you can see that it is completely undercut and quite thin.

Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (5)
Looking at the mote from the up-trail side. This picture doesn’t do justice to just how thin it was.

Once I got up to the Timp basin, the peak was bathed in light – its breathtaking.

Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (8)
As you can see, there is still a LOT of snow up there. Not wildflower season yet.

On the trip from the basin floor up to the saddle there were a few snow fields to cross. Nothing too sketchy. If you slid, you’d go a ways down, but no cliffs to fly off. On my way up I encountered a huge group of Mountain Goats – I counted at least 20.

Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (14)
The little kid goats were so cute. They were hopping and bounding all over the place.

Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (16)

Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (18)
This guy had a crooked horn (stained and bleeding from a recent fight?). I lingered a bit too long taking pictures and he slowly started approached me. I quickly moved on.
Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (23)
View of the summit and ridge from the saddle

Once I got to the saddle and looked up at the summit, I realized just how far up it is. I have only done this once before. I tried to make good time, but at that elevation I could feel my heart pounding. Its quite a scramble. The summit is just about 7 miles from the Timpooneke trailhead.

Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (25)
Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (27)
Looking north from the summit

I didn’t linger at the summit long. It had had taken me longer than I had planned to get up and I knew that I would be chasing daylight. It was now about 8:30 PM. I had a headlamp with but really wanted to get down all of the snow traverses and across that mote before having to switch it on. So, I tried to huff it down. A couple of the snow crossing felt sketchier on the way down than up. I also glissaded down one on my butt. That was fun, but a bit faster than I had thought it would be!

Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (30)
Coming down the summit ridge, this is the notch just above the corkscrew section. The sunset light was BLAZING through and I had to literally shield my eyes. Something about the angle and the notch seemed to really amplify the light.
Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (32)
Although I was anxious to make better time, the clouds up by Box Elder Peak were blazing pink and I wanted to get a picture. I scrambled over to the toilet, knowing it would make for a humorous and memorable picture.
Mt. Timpanogos Summit run (33)
I stopped one more time when I almost ran straight into a porcupine! I came bounding down the trail and almost landed on him – within a couple feet by the time I stumbled to a stop. Yikes. He scurried off – pretty fast, actually – and I fumbled to get my phone out to take a picture. That’s him running off through the grass.

I did make it down and across the mote before stopping to put my headlamp on. I put some music on the loud speaker of my phone to alert any animals of my presence – terrified of running into something in the dark. It was a bit spooky coming down the last 4 miles. I picked away at it fairly slow. The trail has a lot of rocks and roots to trip on.

I made it safely to my car – about 5 hours round trip, 45 minutes longer than my first trip up last year. Next time, without the snow or dark, I’ll push for sub-4.

2016 Bryce 50k Race Report

2016 Bryce 50k Race Report

Last year I ran the Bryce 50k as my first ultramarathon, finishing in 7:17. I returned this year hoping to post a better time and prove that I have, in fact, improved as a runner. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and it took me over an hour longer this round. I placed 70th out of 150 runners. Last time I was 30th out of 90. According to ultrasignup, I performed better overall this time – at 66% compared to the winning time. Last year I was at 61%. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who struggled in the heat! In all, it was a great adventure and *most* of my well-laid plans worked out ok. (See full gear list and music playlist I jammed to at the bottom). At 31.8 miles (51 km), its the longest run I have ever done. As always, Ultra Adventures put on a great event. This is my 4 race I have done with them and each one seems to run smoother and smoother.

The day started cool but pleasant. I wore short sleeves and was glad I did – many runners were peeling off layers within a few minutes of the start.

2016 Bryce 50k (2)
RD Matt Gunn giving instructions pre-race, possibly demonstrating his patented Psy-inspired Gunn-gham Style horsey dance.

The course first climbs through King Creek Campground, then up and over some single track to connect with FS road 109. Again, I got caught behind a conga line of people which was fine on the climb – I wanted to go out easy – but a bit annoying on the descent. I would have liked to open up a bit.

FS Road 109 is probably the only “flat” part of the course. By flat, I mean climbing a few hundred feet over a  mile and a half to where it connects with FS Rd 110.

There, we climbed up to the Blue Fly Creek area. These roads climbed a total of about 1,150 ft over 4 mile to where our course topped out at 9,150 in elevation. Not the more rewarding route, but there were some good views as it crested out.

I made it to the Blue Fly AS at about the same time I did last year. I tried to quickly mix some new Tailwind in my pack, grab a coke, and hit the trail. Immediately, we dropped down some steep and sandy technical single track on the Blue Fly Proctor Trail to reconnect with FS Rd. 109, which after climbs about 750 feet over 3 miles to connect with the Grand View Trail. Along this section, my old friend Matt Van Horn had left me a few notes of encouragement (he marked the course the day previous). It really brightened my spirits.

2016 Bryce 50k (6)

2016 Bryce 50k (11)

Once on the Grand View Trail (now at mile 11.5 of the course) we were running together with the 50 and 100 mile racers. I was feeling good. It was warm, but I was hydrated and happy. There is some beautiful singletrack, green meadows, pine forests, views of the Sunset Cliffs. The Paunsaugunt Plateau is just beautiful.

2016 Bryce 50k (13)
Looking down into Proctor Canyon, about mile 14

I arrived at Proctor Aid Station a little behind my time from the year previous, but not by much. Again, I wasted a bit of time there scrambling to refill my stuff, chug some electrolytes, eat a bit, reapply sunscreen, etc. Having a crew here would have been nice. I spent almost 15 minutes before hitting the trail again.

Almost immediately I felt “off.” I could tell that the heat was sapping my strength, but I haven’t ever had heat-induced stomach troubles before. Within about a 1/2 mile I had to stop and sit for a moment. I did this again a few times in the next couple miles, trying to allow my stomach to settle. It felt sour, threatening vomit. As I tried to press on, the trail drops through some canyons, and then traverses up and over the ridges between a number of canyons – Riggs, Johnson, Hillsdale, Wilson. These were rough miles. I tried to continue taking in fluids (with calories and electrolytes mixed in) but couldn’t consume as much as I needed to. With every sip or gulp my stomach roiled. Also, I could tell my core body temperature was too high. By this time it was in the high 80s – low 90s. At about mile 20.5, crossing Hillsdale Canyon there was a stream of water in a wash. I took off my pack and laid down in it. Soaking myself completely over and trying to cool myself down. It felt amazing.

I reached the Thunder Mountain Aid Station at mile 22.5 feeling very low. I sat down in a chair in the tent and tried to cool down. Unfortunately, they were out of ice. After about 20 minutes, I got up and prepped to leave. Then, my stomach objected and I used the composting toilet to alleviate some GI distress. I was glad to have gotten that taken care of there rather than a mile up the trail. In all, I was at that aid station for almost 30 minutes!

Climbing out I felt great…for about a 1/4 mile…then the nausea returned.

At mile 24 or so, we turned onto the Thunder Mountain Trail and commenced our 2.5 mile, 1,000 ft. climb up Red Rock Canyon. Its funny. Here amongst my Wasatch Mtn. trails, that isn’t too bad of a climb. It seems brutal, however, when placed at miles 24-27 of a race. I was dreading the climb, though looking forward to the scenery. It really it stunning.

2016 Bryce 50k (24)
Looking up a portion of Red Rock Canyon
2016 Bryce 50k (26)
Panorama looking back down Red Rock Canyon

While the red rock ridges are dotted with trees, I knew they provided even less shade than the spotty shade we had “enjoyed” over the previous miles on the Grand View Trail. The day’s heat was now peaking. I was taking in water and electrolytes (biting salt tabs and dissolving them sublingually to absorb straight into my blood stream), but no calories. My pack bladder had been full of Tailwind as my main source of calories. Coming into the Thunder Mountain Aid Station, however, I had been unable to keep drinking it. The flavor was putting my nausea over the edge. So, I had refilled with water, but had not mixed in any more Tailwind. This seemed to curb the urge to vomit, allowing me to keep hydrated, but leaving me sorely calorie deficient. I had eaten a bit of food at Proctor and Thunder Mtn. I had some gels or shotbloks in my pack, but eating them sounded horrible. Combined with the heat, I felt sluggish to say the least. I said a silent prayer for strength, and perhaps some cloud cover and breeze. The strength didn’t come as I would have liked but some wispy clouds actually DID blow in and an AMAZING breeze picked up for the entirety of the climb up Red Rock Canyon. There is a God! That partial cloud cover and breeze saved me. As I would crest up little ridge and have full exposure to the breeze I would stop for 10-15 seconds, squirt some water over my chest, back, and hair, and let the breeze cool me for a moment. Heaven-sent – figuratively and literally!

After the climb, the trail “descends,” traversing across a seemingly endless string of finger canyons – over a ridge, down and back into a little canyon, then back up and out, over a ridge, then down into the next one. My stomach settled somewhat and I was careful not to push it with too much water. Whenever I did take a few big guzzles, it would sour for a minute but subside. By this point, a few hot spots on my feet were beginning to blister – but not too bad. Some joints were causing more pain. My right hip ached a bit (like it has for months), but not bad. Worse was my left hip. It wasn’t on the hip bone like the right one, but farther down – perhaps attached to my left IT band. Who knows. But it was sharp and really bit.

I had the route navigation running on my Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch and finally saw the end waypoint. I crested the last ridge and dove down to the finish line. But wait! No finish line! Where it had been last year there was a table with some water and a sign saying the finish was another mile down the road. NO!!!!!

That was a real blow to the psyche. I tried to push down the road, walking, jogging, but too exchasted to try and fend off a couple other 50k runners were were hobbling past me.

Finally, with crowds in sight I start to hear chants of my name. “Hey professor!” “Yeah Brenden!!! Go man, Go!” A number of my Wasatch Mountain Wrangler friends (the Williams, Macdonalds and others?…sorry, it was all a blur) cheered me on, with Aaron running alongside me for a hundred yards. Its amazing what a physical boost that provided. I picked up my pace and actually “ran” a bit. Thanks guys!

2016 Bryce 50k (10)
Running alongside Aaron
2016 Bryce 50k
Spirits buoyed by my cheering friends, I tried to make a good show of it with a jump. Later on FB, one friend wrote “Um Your Pep right there was AMAZING! I don’t think I could have jumped like that!” Yeah Annie, maybe I shouldn’t have. The landing hurt! Ha!

I finished in 8:45:53. I reached the previous year’s finish at 8:31 – so about 1 hour and 14 minutes slower than last year. Wow. That heat!

At the end, it was hands down the hardest run I have ever done. Course-wise, its the toughest race I’ve done, and with the heat it was clearly harder than last year. Despite the slower time, I’m a stronger runner than last year. What an adventure.

Gear used:

Playlist during run:


Heat Training

Heat Training

It was 90+ and I knew that the BST from Indian Hills to Bridal Veil Falls would have almost no shade. 10 miles round trip. Sounds great, eh?

heat training

The Bryce 50k is coming up in 9 days and it is forecast to be hot, so I wanted to see how I fared in the heat. The trip to Bridal Veil was hot, but I had plenty of water. At the falls I took off my shirt, submerged it and put it back on ice cold. Nice! As I left to make the return trip I had a genius idea. On the way there I had drank both of the bottles of ice water in my chest pockets, saving the (almost) full bladder for the return. As I thought how nice the cold wet shirt felt and how it would probably be dry and hot within 5 minutes or so I looked down at the stream, looked at my empty bottles, looked back at the stream and then the light bulb went on. I filled both bottles up – not to drink, but to intermittently dump over my head, down my back, on my arms, down my chest, etc. It was genius and it seemed to keep my core body temp down. I did the return trip faster than the way out as well, and I was feeling great. I attribute it to the bottles of water. I think I’ll do this at Bryce. Have 2 empty bottles in my drop bag at mile 14. By that point it will be warming up. Then, take them with to cool me off. Refill at the mile 22.5, etc. I think it’ll be a good way to keep a bit cooler.

First Mt. Olympus Ascent

First Mt. Olympus Ascent

Sam, a peak-bagging trail junkie friend, has been bugging me for a while to come join him up in SLC and the stars finally aligned for me to do so – to celebrate his birthday with a bunch of Orange Trail Monkeys up on Mt. Olympus. This was one of the peaks on my bucket list last year, but I failed to bag it.

I knew these guys were fast and although Sam claimed he would be going slow, I still opted to start 20 minutes earlier than him. It was hot and steep.

People coming down were warning of lots of rattlesnakes, but I didn’t see any.

The trail just climbs and climbs. You climb about 3500 ft over the first 3 miles of trail.

Towards the top, a straight up section affectionately dubbed “Stairway of the Gods” was swarming with flies and gnats. I must have swalled 4-5. A few made me gag and almost throw up as I tried to spit them out.

From the saddle at mile 3, you hang a left and climb another 500 ft. over only .2 miles to the summit.

I was thinking they would catch me, and had seen them down below once,  but they didn’t. I scrambled up to the summit and had it to myself for a good 10 minutes before the crew showed up. Sparklers, watermelon, and a loud happy birthday sung. It was a lot of fun.

We switched our headlamps on and made the descent, ending with some cake at the cars.

Steep but gorgeous. Worth it.

Mt. Olympus (1)
Steep from the get go!


Mt. Olympus (4)
Looking down towards the valley after about a mile and a half

Mt. Olympus (5)
Looking South from the Olympus Saddle

Mt. Olympus (7)
A Mountain Goat, as I climbed from the saddle to summit

Mt. Olympus (11)
Summit cairns that Chris (or Jeremy?) promptly toppled