Adventures in Pisgah

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Flattop Mountain to Andrew's Glacier

For my final big run while I was in Colorado I camped at Glacier Basin campground and did a really fun 15-mile run that really showed me the diversity of Rocky Mountain National Park. I was going to tell you all about it: the long, gradual climb up Flattop, the slow and rocky slog across the Continental Divide and Hallet and Otis Peaks, and then the decision to turn around at the Sharkstooth on my way to Taylor Peak. And that is not to even mention the steep, deep rush through amazing day down Andrew's Glacier, past the Loch and hordes of people and back to the trailhead.

I'd love to tell you all about that but that was over a month ago and I don't have any idea where the time goes. But I do know where the time is going - to the Cloudsplitter - for which I have just days left to prepare and have done nothing. So, please enjoy these pictures and write your own story. 


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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Longs Peak

I flew out to Colorado for the annual Phish shows over Labor Day weekend and while I was there I got in a few really good runs. The first was Longs Peak. This iconic mountain is the highest in Rocky Mountain National Park and is not necessarily an easy mountain to climb which sounded just about perfect to me. I figured if I was going to do it I needed to make my attempt before the Phish concerts as three nights of Phish can be an ultra-endurance event itself and after the shows, there could be no telling how I might feel. Before the trip I got all sorts of different advice: several people really warned me about the altitude and strongly suggested I wait until after the shows to try it while others said I'd have no problems. I think I watched every youtube video on Longs Peak as well which also run the full gauntlet from making it appear to be the most dangerous mountain in the world where one slight misstep would surely end in a grisly death to an easily runnable mountain trail. I memorized the features I'd encounter along the way: the Boulder Field, The Keyhole, The Ledges, The Trough, The Narrows and finally The Homestretch. I had no clue how I would do and waivered from apprehensive to confident.

After landing in Denver I stopped for a few necessities and then drove straight to Longs Peak trailhead and campground. The research I had done had most people saying there is no chance of getting a spot in the campground and no chance of getting a parking spot at the trailhead after 3 am. I figured someone had to be able to get a campsite and when I pulled up at 4 pm the campground was only half full so I had my pick of sites and later noticed the campground never filled up with people still getting sites well after dark. My first day of vacation saw me going to bed early for a 4 am wake-up and 5 am start.  Most people start this 16 mile out and back from 1-3 am but I didn't want to start too early and find myself already to the Boulder Field and start of the technical climbing while it was still dark. I also took the thunderstorm warnings seriously and didn't want to start too late and risk the chance of being too high after noon when the risk of lightning could force me to turn around.

4 am comes early and I hit snooze a few times before finally relenting and getting up. I sipped on some Coca tea smuggled back from Peru as I broke camp and was finally starting up the mountain around 5:30 am after easily getting a parking spot at the trailhead. The campground was at just below ten thousand feet and I was feeling the altitude as soon as I started running. I reminded myself there was no reason I couldn't run this mountain and trudged my way up. I didn't feel fresh and fast and was probably at around 75% of my normal capacity but it was early morning and I was on a mountain and there was no place I'd rather be.


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I passed several groups in the darkness and although I wasn't as fast as I hoped I was making solid progress and the trail was very runnable.

Sunrise greeted me right as I hit the tree line and with the light, I started to feel better and was moving a little faster.

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With the trees gone and the sun out all of Colorado opened up before me and there were views everywhere but the first glimpse of Longs Peak itself really invigorated me and as the trail began to wrap around the mountain towards the Keyhole I found myself actually running fast for the first time of the morning.

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There were a long mile or two in the there but eventually, the trail ended and I was faced with The Boulderfield and the Keyhole looming at the top of it.

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By this time I had caught and passed a lot of the 2-3 am start hikers and although I could feel the altitude I still felt strong. From here to the top and then back to the Boulder Field there would be no running and instead I just focused on power hiking and trying to find the route.

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I stopped in the shelter at the top of the Boulder Field to stow my light, put on my jacket and gloves and eat something. The wind was ripping through the Keyhole at 50mph and it was hard to talk over the noise but I got the sense of some drama going on with one of the groups of hikers and didn't feel the need to linger too long and headed straight out as soon as I could.

Crossing through the Keyhole was a singular event. I couldn't see where I needed to go, just a tangled pile of ragged boulders that have been polished to a treacherous sheen and the wind was so strong it was threatening to rip my jacket off me and me off the mountain but I hadn't come this far to not try. Two women who had started through the Keyhole as I was entering the shelter had only made it a few feet and a man freed himself from the drama and came out to follow me. I reminded myself again that I could climb this mountain and confidently worked my way through the wind and boulders.

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The Keyhole opens a door to a whole other world with brand new views of Rocky Mountain National Park and the rest of Colorado.

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Thankfully the wind subsided after the Keyhole and I was able to focus on the technical terrain ahead and the game of looking for the bullseye blazes that would lead the way. 

First, there were the Ledges to negotiate. This section of the mountain had perhaps the most technical and exposed move but I was able to do it without a problem and realized then I would likely make it to the top of my first 14er that morning.

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The two women and solo man that had started out of the Keyhole with me were following my lead but I was making good time and wished them well and trudged on up to the Trough alone. This was a long and steep gully of boulders but it was not exposed and rockfall was the only real hazard but the altitude really seemed to be wearing on people and the number turning around continued to increase at every technical move.

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There was a single tough move at the top of Trough that led straight into the Narrows.

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I'd been wondering how narrow the Narrows would really be and was relieved when it was always several feet wide with no real hazards.

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This was some great trail but I had already been on the technical part of the mountain for an hour and was ready for the Homestretch to the top.

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Continuing with the trend, the Narrows ended with a challenging move and I powered right up the Homestretch and onto the top.

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Views, views, and views for as far as I could see.

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I wasn't in a hurry but didn't linger too long as I knew the trip was only half over.

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As I headed down the Homestretch the masses were heading up and we had to figure out how to get around each other on the polished rocks but spirits were as high as the mountain as everyone realized they were making it to the top.


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I'd been curious as to how hard the tricky moves would be coming back down but they were all easier than on the way up and before I knew it I was crossing through the Keyhole again.

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I got back down the Boulder Field and back onto runnable terrain after a long time up high and wasn't feeling it. I don't know if it was the altitude or running hard for a few hours and then hours on the technical terrain and then trying to run again but I didn't feel well and had to walk some of the rockiest stretches. Everything passes and I was able to eat some candy and was feeling good again by the time I got back to the treeline.  From there it was an easy run back down to the trailhead.

When I popped out into the parking lot and a ranger was there to greet me with a friendly "Welcome back."

The perfect end to a good first day ever in Colorado!



Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Grandfurther Mountain Run

At 25k the Grandfurther Mountain Run was a quarter of the distance I plan to cover at the Cloudsplitter and was nearly 20 miles shorter than how far my training plan said I was supposed to run last Saturday. But the race sells out in mere minutes and is on some of the most challenging and scenic trails WNC has to offer so I considered myself lucky to be able to run it.

The first mile or two of the course are rolling machine cut trail and provided an opportunity for the field to spread out and for the runners to find their place in the pecking order. A dense fog lingered at the start and gave way to a steady rain just after the start. That first mile was supposed to be easy but the rain made even that stretch slippery and slower than it should be.

After the introductory stretch the Profile Trail quickly gets steep and rocky and since this wad to be just a short training run for me I made the foolish rookie move and dug deep on the first climb and tried to see how much of it I could run which was more than most of of the smarter people around me but I was resigned to walking a lot of it. The trail was in essence either just one big boulder field or a tangle of gnarly roots and the rain made both options a slippery and treacherous mess. In other words, it was just about perfect.

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The rain stopped but the fog remained and the trail offered brief respite from the rocks and roots in the form of a game of shoots and ladders. There would be no views this morning but the mountains still offered up plenty of beauty to justify the pain.

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It would be all downhill from here with all the people who were smarter than me blowing by me as I carefully picked my way down the other side of the mountain.

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I did a quick turn at the halfway aid station and once again decided to push hard on the climb and bury myself. I knew the descent down through the nightmare rock garden was going to be brutal and potentially dangerous so instead of letting loose on that I opted to see how much I had on the climb. I was thinking the ladders and top were at the ten mile mark and worked hard to get there but at ten miles there were no ladders and I was quickly running out of steam and was reduced to hiking once again just short of the top.

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It was Downhill From Here and any effort I had been making to go fast or push hard was quickly abandoned with my focus instead being on saving whatever might have been left of my quads and not getting hurt. The big rock descent was predictably brutal with way more technical scrambling and downclimbing than anything resembling running and I was content to go as slow as necessary.

After the super technical section there was the rolling final mile or two and the running resumed but I just hit cruise control and tried to shake out my legs a little. After 14 hard miles that final mile seemed to go on forever but eventually the finish appeared and the race was over.

I was very impressed with just how hard the course is as well as how well it was run and reccommend that everyone give it a try. But be sure and be on it as it sells out in mere minutes.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Great Big Creek Marathon

If you are looking for a good marathon route in Great Smoky National Park here is a good one:
Great Big Creek Marathon
Just please don't be disappointed when it is only 25 miles. If you are disappointed, just run a half-mile up and down the road, or whatever... But with really only two climbs and two descents for a total of  6800' of climbing over those 25 miles this route has a lot to offer.

I chose to do the loop counter-clockwise this time. By heading up Chestnut Branch and to the top of Mt. Cammerer first I hoped to get a lot of the technical trail out of the way early so as to be able to make better time on the backend but when you are running a solo marathon deep in the mountains you never know what might happen.

In this case, nothing much happened. It was a great, long, hard run.

It is a long way up to the top of Mt. Cammerer but a quite pleasant one and I enjoyed it quite a bit


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And then you get to the top.

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And a very scenic fire lookout.

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It is all Downhill From There and there were quite a few fellow trail runners on that stretch of the AT as well as several interesting trees. 

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Every downhill has to end and this one does at a really Big Creek.

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And like I said there are really only two climbs and two descents on this route to the tune of 6800' vertical gain, so after that Big Creek there was a big climb ahead. I paused and ate some food, put some music on and mentally prepared for the last half of this not-quite-a-marathon marathon. Earlier in the day, it had looked like it was going to storm at any point and was definitely storming on Mt. Sterling where I was headed but for now, everything was clear. There would be no storms. This finish would be between me and my mind.

So, I hit play and started up Swallow Fork. I had my head down and was just trying to focus on the task ahead - three thousand feet up a mountain, and then more than that down the other side. Thirteen miles. Simple. Listen to the music play. 

And then I hear a noise. Is that some new Phish effect? NO! THATISARATTLESNAKE!


If this guy had wanted to hurt me I'd be dead. What amazing creatures!

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And then a slog to the top. It really is thousands of vertical feet. The reward is that you are literally as deep in the mountains as you can get and when you think it couldn't possibly hurt anymore it does and then when you think it could't possibly go on any longer it does and then when you've resigned yourself to whatever it is that lies ahead, - there it is.

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Literally downhill from here. Like seven miles of downhill from here. Think about that - seven miles, straight downhill.... Yep, better do that half mile out and backat the finish to make it a legit marathon!

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If that isn't easy enough you can always just stay on the ridge all the way to tri-corner knob. That will kick the mileage up past the 50k mark or so. I plan on doing this on 9/14. Come join me.
Big Creek 50k