ALTAR. The Art Loeb Adeventure Trail Run. Originally conceived by Matt Kirk in 2001 this traverse of the Art Loeb trail happens on or around the winter solstice and this year was to be my first. I didn't decide to do the run until just two weeks before and as such was thoroughly untrained for it. My longest run since the FAC50k was my 16 mile romp around Pathertown and for ALTAR I would be doubling that mileage. No big deal, right? Just pace myself, enjoy a good day in the woods and surely I'd be able to do it.
I packed early in the week and with the warm temperatures we'd been having I was optimistic and packed very light but after a sudden cold front caught me unprepared on the day before I did a last minute gear swap and ditched the shorts for tights, added sleeves and tossed another layer in the pack, just in case. Not being the brightest bunch, a short bus was the perfect choice for a shuttle mobile and with me being the dimmest of the lot I took off running as soon as I stepped off the bus. It was closer to 8 than 7 and it was cold out and I was eager to get moving.
I used the first several miles to get my head wrapped around what laid ahead of me. I know the Art Loeb trail well but my only other thru traverse of it had been an overnight backpacking excursion with Duma. That took us 24 hours, at least eight of which had been spent sleeping, so I figured a 3mph pace would be very doable. That would require going faster on the rolling stuff at the beginning as there were bound to be some very slow miles ahead on Pilot Mtn. and beyond. I'd been fighting a had injury as well as some knee pain and made a mental note that my only bail out would be down Little East Fork should I need it.
As I pondered these thoughts and made my plan various runners caught up to me and I would run with them and chat for a little bit until I stuck to my pace and they pulled ahead. By the time I started to circle around Cedar Rock I hadn't seen another runner in a while and assumed I was the last one. It was taking me a long time to get woken up and warmed up. My hand was hurting and it wasn't as much fun as I hoped it was going to be. As I reached the half marathon mark around Glouchester Gap I resolved to stop thinking about it and to just run instead. I stopped for several minutes at the base of the Pilot Mtn. climb to relax and eat lunch. Feeling much better after the break I started running strong up the big climb. I spotted another runner on the switchbacks below me, realized I wasn't last (not that it mattered) and kept ru
Pilot Mtn. came surprisingly easy and gave me my first views of Black Balsam and what lay beyond.
As well as what lay below.
After Pilot Mtn. you get a nice downhill and then some rollers to Farlow Gap and Shuck Ridge. This was to be the big climb and for the next many miles it was a long slow climb up to Black Balsam. Up above 5000' it felt a lot more like winter and I enjoyed the scenery as I slogged my way over Silvermine Bald.
The same runner I'd seen on Pilot caught me just as I was crossing Black Balsam Rd. And we played a game of leap frog as we worked our way across the balds. It was cold and windy and we were essentially stuck in a rut but the views sure were amazing.
Just before Ivestor Gap I paused in the trees to dig some food out of my pack and as I ran through the gap I expected to Liz climbing up the next knob on the way to Flower Gap but instead saw nothing. we had been right together and I stopped for less than a minute and as such should have been able to easily see her but didn't. Fuck. That meant I was moving slow and she had taken off. I worked as hard as I could to get to Shining Gap hoping to catch her but never did. Once I hit the gap and started across the Shining Rock ledge I had been hoping to start making some decent time again but found the entire trail covered in a sheet of ice. There would be no easy miles this day.
Once I got to the Narrows I knew I'd be finishing in the dark but was still trying my best to beat the sun down. For whatever reason I had mistakenly remembered the Narrows as having been easy but that is a relative term and this day it was not. If the Art Loeb has enough of any two things it is rocks and mountains.
The sun started to set somewhere around Stairs Mtn. and I tried my best to outrun it.
This was a losing battle and at the first big stream crossing on the way down from Deep Gap I stopped for water and to dig my light out of my pack. At this point I was certain I was the last person to be coming down the trail that night and was quite surprised when Liz came up behind me. She stopped and told me how she mistakenly went right on Graveyard Ridge at Ivestor Gap and had been working as hard as she could to catch up to me. She said she was going to keep going and would get out her light soon. I wished her well and said I'd see her at the finish.
After filling my water I went to get out my headlight and it wasn't there. I checked again and it still wasn't there. I had a small led flashlight as a back up light and though it wasn't as bright as I would have liked I was very glad to have it. I still had about three miles to go, which isn't as short as it sounds like, and about halfway down that the battery in the flashlight died. Luckily I had a spare. The last few miles were uneventful and allowed me to contemplate what a good day in the mountains it had been. What an amazing trail through an amazing forest!
Sunday morning coming down and Duma was itching to get out to play and I was still thinking about the previous day's adventure so where else to go except for back where it all began?