Bradley's View

Bradley's View

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Zion Traverse

      It all started with a simple text message: "Jon, you still want to do a long run?  How about Zion Traverse first thing next week?"  No way I could swing it, I responded.  About 5 minutes later I decided there was no reason I shouldn't try to make it work, and a plan was born.

      I called Mike shortly thereafter and, despite only three days notice, he was able to hop on board as well.  Monday morning I scooped Mike up from Frisco and we began the nine hour drive to Zion, arriving a little after sundown.  Carolyn and Rob had scouted out the startpoint and the checkpoints from which Caro would distribute aid and develop her own perspectives on the park.

      The 5:00 alarm didn't come a second too soon, we were ready to get moving.  After some breakfast and coffee we drove to the park's east entrance, donned our headlamps, and hopped on the East Rim Trail.  The start time was 6:35.

       After about 30 minutes of slogging through the sandy trails, the sun set to work on the canyon walls, painting the top a brilliant red that would slowly drip down over the coming hours bringing a vibrant orange to the walls that would follow us down as we began our descent.

A less than novel photo, but the sunrise is monumental.

At the crack of dawn. Photo: M. Ambrose

      The trail rolled at modest grades during the opening miles- we laughed and sang as deer bounded every which way, equally enjoying each undulation of the trail, it seemed.  The trail began to hug the rim closely, offering awesome views to which the camera does no justice, then over the edge it went.  The trail down was a fun ride as the trail then turned to a series of cairns guiding us across the slickrock deeper and deeper into the Zion Canyon.

Mike, enjoying some of the first strides below the rim.
So small in comparison. Photo by M. Ambrose

Photo by M. Ambrose

Mike and Rob having a stinkin' good time.

A tunnel blasted for a convenient sidewalk

This wall is far bigger and more overhanging than it appears.  The colors are stunning, too.

Mike peeing peering into the Zion Canyon around mile 11

Rob was stoked, to say the least.

       We descended the paved trail down to the Park's scenic drive. After a mile of road we arrived to our first checkpoint (mile 13), where we refilled water before beginning the day's biggest climb up to Angel's Landing and, ultimately, back up to the canyon's West Rim.

Beginning the ascent towards Angel's Landing

      We saw a handful (maybe 10 or 12) of people on and around Angel's Landing, which was almost all of the people we saw.

Trail up to Angel's Landing

Photo by M. Ambrose

A little mid-climb Tai Chi?

My dudes, on the last incline below the walls of Zion Canyon.

Almost out.
      Once we reached the lip of the canyon we opened the map to figure how long we had left before we'd get to refill and refuel at the next checkpoint.  The map revealed that, though we thought we had 4 or 5 miles left, we actually had 10 miles left.  Oops, we severely misjudged, which meant that none of us had carried along a sufficient supply of food or water to keep our energy high through this stretch.  This was probably the low point of the day for us, we ended up walking a bit and pausing a couple of times in the shade to stave off the sun's beating.

Riding the rim.

       Mile 29 rolled around and we met up with Carolyn for the second time.  Her zest for the journey was welcomed and helped us regained a little pep in our step after enjoying the snacks she had graciously hiked in to us (due to road closure).  We made like Santa Claus and left her presence and headed out on a steady descent of singletrack along the ridge of Lava Point.  We cruised really well through the woods and meadows, awestruck by the diversity of landscapes found in the park.  

Open spaces

"Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world"
-J. Muir

Incredible rock

This is how I imagined Zion before this adventure.  Wow.

      We met Caro again before getting on the Hop Valley Trail to begin the descent into the Kolob Canyon.  When we got to the aid station wagon we felt great and felt even better upon leaving.  Unfortunately, the first couple of miles of the section was soft, deepish sand, which really sapped a lot of energy every time a push forward was made.
      After crossing the expanse of the meadow we began our descent into the Kolob Canyon. The green carpet of grass that was the canyon floor had been rolled out before us, the immensity of the canyon was yet to be seen.  We followed the river, getting our feet wet several times when crossing, running through the sand in the footprints of cows and horses who, too, had been granted some sort of fulfillment from the river we chased.

A balancing act

Class acts

Just before descending to the bottom of Kolob Canyon

Singletrack on the canyon floor

Photo by M. Ambrose

     Running beside the river on the floor of the canyon was fantastic, one of my favorite sections of the route.  We ran really well all day, but I was especially impressed in these late miles (40 to 48) by our ability to crank out a 7:30 pace in our race against the sun.

       But, as it often does, the sun set and the burst of red returned, glowing on the canyon walls. The sun's salutation was impressive, but the full moon stole the show, appearing perfectly on cue in it's dance with the sun creating a halo that bloomed out of the summit of one of the nearby peaks.  We carried on climbing in the darkness another couple of miles out of the canyon to Lee's Pass where we were welcomed once more by the lovely Carolyn and hung up our hats for the day.
The sun's setting

Mike, Rob, and me after a good day's run

     We spent 11 hours and 35 minutes moving through the park (48 miles, ~10,000 ft of vert), it made for a long day, but the pace made the experience extremely enjoyable.  I didn't have a concrete expectation for Zion prior to this adventure, but running from the East Entrance to the West Entrance proved that it was far more than could be photographed or described.  I'll definitely do this again sometime.

      Over the course of the next couple of hours we ate a ton of salt and vinegar chips, ate burritos and tacos, said farewell to Rob and Caro, and took off in the car.  After about 2.5 hours of driving(~midnight), we were too physically and mentally fatigued to continue and napped on the side of the road.  A couple of hours later we were off again.  Mike reached Frisco just in time for work, and I made my way back up to Leadville.

      As I sit here a couple of days removed from the outing, I feel no soreness or fatigue, which is completely unknown territory for me after a run of this magnitude- I like it.

      I tip my cup to National Park Service and all it does to make the beauty and wonder of this world known and accessible to people who may not otherwise seek it's solace.  Now, I just hope that cup is filled with some Hop Notch IPA from the Uinta Brewery of SLC, Utah that I had the pleasure of enjoying on this excursion.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Friend Fans The Flame

     Rob Rives, a gentleman and a scholar, an inspiration and companion, finally made his way out west.  It was the first time we'd seen each other since our run across Rhode Island, and this summer he heard me rant and rave about the sights to be seen and the routes to endure out here in the high rockies.  Unfortunately, in the past couple of months my ventures above the trees have been limited in comparison to what they were during the summer.  Rob's presence was enough to revitalize the euphoric feelings I had above the trees this summer, and leave me itching for more, despite the onset of winter conditions.  

       In the first few days after returning from the Pacific Northwest, I was pretty drained from travel and awkward nights of "sleeping", and didn't get out much at all.  I wanted to make sure Rob had an experience that embodied as much as possible of what it is to be a mountain runner in the Rockies, so off we went.

        Friday we headed to Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest peak.  Its often slandered (I have done so myself) as being a bit of a trivial 14er, a cakewalk, some may say.  But I've realized it's all in the approach you take.  Thus, we decided to ascend the South Elbert trail, which is certainly the easiest route in ideal conditions, and run the ridge about 13,800 ft to the South Elbert Summit and descend the Black Cloud Trail to Hwy 82.  We arrived at the summit, slowed by a fair amount of snow, in a little over two hours, and then trudged across the ridge and poured down the descent in a little under two.  We arrived at the Black Cloud trailhead only to find that our shuttle had not yet arrived.  We decided to run the road a couple of miles to meet the wonderful duo of Melissa and Carolyn at Willis Gulch.  Upon arrival at the car, we discover they had not yet completed their snowy trek up Hope Pass, so we ran up towards them.  We reconvened and returned to the car marking the end of a day of about 15 miles and 6,000 ft of vertical gain in a little over 5 hours.

No human loves the mountains as much as this dog...

Summit Shot, atop 14,433 ft

He moved a lot stronger than he looks in this photo...

Ellingwood Ridge leading up La Plata beckons...
       Saturday I spent the morning working in the coffeeshop, then Rob and I set out for the college trails- I figured it appropriate so he could get a taste of the routes I love that don't involve high peaks.  We ran the 6 mile fitness test in around 50 minutes, moving strong in the snow through and through.

        Sunday we sought Mt. Belford and Oxford (14,197 and14,153, respectively).  On the drive to the Clear Creek Valley, we talked of changing plans due to the excessive clouds and evident snow, but Luna insisted we pursue our original goal.  We started up the switchbacks, slogging through the inches and inches of snow.  It took nearly an hour to reach the split for the trail up Belford, which is over 20 minutes longer than the same trail has taken me in snow-free conditions- a testament to how much snow changes one's pace.  We started up despite the wind and sub-zero temperatures.  We waded through snow up past our shins at times, and battled wind that threatened to blow us off our feet.  We turned out backs to the wind and crouched to evade the onslaught of snowflakes that aimed to pierce every bit of our exposed skin (Luna would dash between our legs to do the same).  We drove on and on, abandoning the trail's switchbacks in an effort to avoid wading through deep snow.  With Belford's summit within about 500 vertical feet and maybe 20 minutes of climbing, my fingers and Rob's toes demanded it was due time to begin our descent.  And so we did.  Defeated, but not discouraged, we ran back down from whence we came feeling completely delighted with having waved the white flag against the mountain and the elements.

Luna rolling in the snow on a frozen creek.

Approaching treeline, and the brunt of the wind.

Yep, thats the trail

Nearly blown down the mountain

Belford gets a glimpse of sun, taunting us from above.

The beautiful basin with Missouri (14,074 ft) hidden by the clouds

Graced by the sun's presence on the way back down.
       Just as it's always great to reconvene with old friends, it's always great to start a new chapter.  Here begins Winter Running.  I learned that everything will take a little longer, that means more food and more water will be necessary.  I also learned that my handheld water bottles will freeze, leaving me gripping ice cubes without water to drink, I must plan accordingly.  I must say though, I'm not worried about my feet in the slightest since receiving a pair of New Balance's winterized MT 110s.  They are waterproof and have a built in gaiter- I can not recommend them highly enough for anyone who thinks they will be running or hiking in the snow on a regular basis.  

       I'm not intimidated, just adjusting.  I will come out of the winter stronger than ever, no doubt.

      Thanks for reading,  here's the week:

     30 miles, 9 hours, 11,000 ft