1) Spending last weekend in and around the Foothills Trail providing aid for and cheering for the various runners daring enough to pit their strength and wit against the daunting 77-mile Foothills Trail and the wretched weather that greeted them at the starting line. A display of enthusiasm and effort such as I witnessed never fails to inspire me to soar to new heights- which brings me to my next point...
2) The seasonal closing of the Blue Ridge Parkway had seriously inhibited my ability to meet my weekly panoramic view quota; and I figured there was no better way to find a view that would suffice than to get to the top of a mountain. Rather, the mountain; the mountain that towers over Asheville beckoning to me each day as I weave through I-240 West traffic. So Mount Pisgah it would be!
Mount Pisgah appears as the tallest,
most central mountain in this photo.
The stage was set: start at Bent Creek Gap, 9 miles later catch the sunrise from Mount Pisgah, run back to Bent Creek Gap. I was able to sell this pitch to Rob Rives as a fun, scenic, not even twenty mile run, with the promise of great times and great weather.
Rob spent the night with me and Melissa Friday. Once 5:00 AM rolled around Saturday morning we were up and at 'em finalizing and double-checking the contents of our packs for the journey. My pack had a phone, camera, four gels, two Clifbars, and a liter of water. Rob's was packed in a similar fashion featuring his choice energy/protein snacks and about 2.5 liters of water. The disparity between our water quantities was slightly unnerving to me, and as Rob is a far more experienced ultrarunner than I, I figured I was being foolish and resolved to make my drinks few and far between.
We arrived at Bent Creek a little after 6:00 only to discover that our passage up to Bent Creek Gap was closed to vehicles due to snow and mud. We exchanged glances; I mentioned the idea of choosing a different route, dismissed it as quickly as it came, and unanimously concluded that we would be starting from where we were, just up the road from Hard Times Trailhead. We were getting to Mount Pisgah, and that was that.
We were off. It was dark. It was cold. It was awesome. Upon our arrival at Bent Creek Gap the sun's rays were just creeping over the horizon bringing beautiful reds and oranges to counter the still-starry westside of the sky. The ascent from the car was just under 4.5 miles meaning we'd be taking on an extra (nearly) 9 miles for the day. The prospect of this was both exhilarating and intimidating. But Mount Pisgah lay in wait and off we went.
First signs of light.
A few miles later we reached the top of Ferrin Knob. At the end of the awesome, but burly climb Rob's backside and the surrounding woods took on a brilliant hue of red; I turned around to see the sun peering over what seemed to be the edge of the earth. Looking southward, Mt. Pisgah was being graced with it's first rays of sunlight; looking northeast, Asheville looked as if it was coming to life. It looked incredible, the Craggies rising up beyond it and the Blacks towering higher still beyond those. It was funny to look down and see the host of so many training runs(Town Mountain Rd etc...) appear as but mere moguls on the steady slopes rising beyond the French Broad.
Rob raised the sun up for us...
I had little trouble conserving water early in the run. The tube of my water bladder was frozen closed disallowing the consumption of any water for the first 10 miles or so. I suppose it was a blessing in disguise, however, as when we finally returned to the car I still had water to spare!
We took our time on the run. We ran and hiked quickly uphills and flew like the wind on the downs. Our arrival at Elk Pasture Gap pitted us against some serious hills to close the last three miles of our trip out. The final three miles featured nearly 2000' of elevation gain. At some point early in these climbs I remember Rob saying, "You know, Anton Krupicka would be running 8:30 miles up this"- talk about a morale booster.
Regardless, we ran at our speed and made it to the top! For most of the trail to the summit we found ourselves following a set of footprints. They looked like a dog's prints, but the owner's prints weren't present. So I guess we'll never know exactly what animal was responsible for them. We took our time walking up and down Mount Pisgah, focusing on refueling and rehydrating. We greeted the summit's platform with whoops and hollars and "Praise the Lords", snapped a photo, and got on our way. We arrived at the summit after about 3 hours and 9 minutes of running.
The view from the top.
The run down was a blast. Few things compare to the feeling of running down a winding trail. The rush that you feel committing to each step after a mere millisecond's planning, the flush of pain to your palm after you use a tree trunk to swing yourself to the bend in the trail, the submission to momentum as gravity makes you move at speeds and in ways you've never dreamed are all irreplaceable.
We moved pretty quickly on the way down. Tightness in Rob's hamstring slowed us a little bit, but on a whole the run was significantly easier due to the elevation loss. Running back down Bent Creek Rd from the gap was slightly monotonous. But we made it, at last. Our goal had been to complete the task in under six hours and we did just that. We crossed the marathon threshold, completing a total of 27 miles, according to Garmin, and finished 10 minutes before 6 hours.
This is an adventure that I will certainly replicate in the near future. Just how fast can we do it?
After a good morning's work, we were ready for lunch.