Sunday, March 21, 2010

Winter NH 4000 footer record regained :)

During the winter of 2003-04, when I still lived in Vermont, my friend Robert Williams and I set the record for climbing New Hampshire's 48 White Mtn. 4000 footers in 10d22h37m.  Since we were the first to do so in winter, we sort of traversed uncharted territory and played it a bit conservatively some days.  Our record was broken by a day a couple of winters later, and just last January New Englanders Ryan Welts and Jason Ferris set new standards for the W48 record, with times of 7d17h7m and 8d11h respectively.  Although I moved to California 3+ years ago, a fast W48 was still on my radar, but it wasn't until this winter that I finally got my act together and with encouragement from friend Mats Roing especially, connected with the above-named crazies, Ryan (aka Farmer) and Jason (aka Ferrisjrf).  I was pretty confident (delusional?) of cutting 2-3 days off my previous time given good weather, trail conditions, and health.  Farmer and I had hiked together once on my last New England trip in November, but I had never met Jason.  In contrast to the '04 record which was carried out during the shortest, darkest days of winter (12/26 to 1/6), this time I opted for mid March due to the longer daylight and, hopefully, warmer weather.  The following is what I posted on a NE hiking board:
Start: 3/10/10, 5:23 a.m., Appalachia
End: 3/18/10, 10:25 a.m., Lincoln Woods Trailhead
Total time: 8 days, 4 hours, 2 minutes (one-hour time change during course of attempt)
Total mileage: ~217 miles, over 80% in snowshoes, rest of the time either barebooting or in Microspikes
Players:  Humble gratitude to Farmer, AKA Ryan (47 peaks), Ferrisjrf, AKA Jason (20 peaks), Mats, Juniper, Frodo, Cruddytoes, and Garbonzo McFuddlebaum. Without the help of these kind and giving souls, a new women’s W48 record would not have been possible. Thanks so much you guys!
Training:  None specific to this attempt--definitely could’ve been a bit more cognizant in this regard, but I’m basically kinda lazy. In fact, I’d been on snowshoes only once in the past year and hadn‘t carried more than a very light running pack since a backpacking trip last summer. OTOH, I am always in pretty good condition, trail running ultra-length distances, doing yoga, etc.
Okay then, for the day-by-day account...
3/10 Presi Traverse & Tom/Field/Willey - ~32 miles
I fly from LA to Manchester late on 3/8, planning to start on 3/11; however, with a stellar above-treeline forecast, I hurriedly purchase supplies, get my stuff together, and am ready to go on the 10th. Farmer and I meet at the Highland Center to spot a car at 0’dark thirty, then proceed to Altopia in Randolph, where Chef Ferris has prepared yummy scrambled egg wraps. The 3 of us start up Valley Way at 5:23 a.m. in snowshoes, which remain on our feet almost the entire traverse (!) until the last couple of miles of the Jackson descent. Not only have I been on snowshoes just once in the past year; it‘s exactly the first time I‘ve ever worn my new Salomon Snowtrips. They work out just fine; in fact, I love them and suffer zero foot problems. The climb feels easy. We leave our packs at Madison Hut to climb our first of 11 peaks of the day. The rest of the traverse is spectacular, with bright sun, a deep blue sky, light wind, and SNOW. I’ve never seen this much white up there! I tell the guys--and mean it--that even if the attempt is unsuccessful, I’ll be happy to have been able to do a winter Presi Traverse in such incredible conditions.  We meet many other hikers this day, including a HikerEd group climbing Jefferson. Reaching Pierce by 1:30 p.m. and feeling pretty cocky, it takes us another 2 hours to negotiate the mess to Jackson, even with the aid of Jason‘s GPS. Since it is still daylight when we arrive at Crawford Notch, Farmer and I decide to do the “easy” Tom/Field/Willey trio. Tom is easy; Field and Willey are not. In fact, we end up basically bushwhacking over to Willey. (Since when did this peak and Jackson get so difficult?!) We are loathe to retrace our steps so call Jason from the summit and ask him to pick us up at the Ethan Pond/AT crossing instead of back at the Highland Center. Our hiking day finally ends at 10 p.m. Chef Ferris has prepared a scrumptious veggie pasta dish which we wolf down on the drive back to Altopia.
 3/11 Carrigain & Isolation - ~27 miles
A crazy Swede (we'll call him Mats) reports super awesome conditions on Isolation, so we opt for Carrigain and Isolation today while said crazy Swede and Jason track out the tangled jungle between Zeta Pass and Middle Carter. Carrigain is so easy that we wish we’d carried only water and worn trail runners. Isolation is a bit more work: quads are a tiny bit sore and lethargic, but this is the only day I feel any kind of soreness at all and am happy to be able to complete the whole shebang entirely drug free. The bushwhack is gorgeous and takes us through lovely birch glades. About 3 miles from the summit, we meet a couple of guys who tell us it will take another 3 hours to reach the top. We smile. A barred owl cracks us up with her “Who cooks for youuu? Who cooks for youuu-aaaaall?” hoot a mile or so before the parking lot. We opt for the 8-piece original, extra greasy, extra salty, extra disgusting KFC for dinner, but it tastes wonderful.
3/12 Wildcats/Carters & Moriah - 25.2 miles
Jason reports tough route finding on the Carters and suggests we descend North Carter to the highway, then reclimb Moriah separately. I think “Is he insane?! No freaking way! How difficult can it be to follow the Appalachian Trail?” We confidently leave a car at the Carter-Moriah trailhead, proceed to Wildcat ski area and start up the hill, not the Polecat this time since it takes too long, but rather one of the more direct trails, not an issue since the ski area is not yet open. We top out in about an hour and continue relatively speedily over the Wildcats, down to the notch, up Carter Dome and across South and Middle Carter, where we eat leftover KFC. Yum-O! The trail is unbroken from here on, and we have some difficulty picking our way over to North Carter. We forge ahead, but with such deep snow, low hanging branches, and buried (white, AT!) paint blazes, the trail is impossible to follow. After about a half hour of searching, along with a couple of hundred feet of descent, I finally have to admit that Jason was right. We retreat down the North Carter and Imp Trails, quickly hitch a ride back to Farmer’s car at Wildcat, and drive down to the C-M Trail to do Moriah. What’s a few more miles and vertical feet anyway? Fortunately we were able to Microspike the entire way. Another 10 p.m. finish…
3/13 Waumbek, Cabot & Hale - 25.4 miles
Winds pick up today, a foreboding of the yucky weather ahead. Farmer and I are up and down Waumbek in short order and continue on to Mt. Cabot via the Mt. Cabot Trail, with in-between stops at the Country Store in Jefferson for soup, pizza, and coffee. Juniper joins us for Mt. Hale, which we do as an out and back via the Hale Brook Trail, and we meet Pat, Audrey, and Leo on Zealand Road. (Also meet an old running friend on Waumbek as well as Seema and Brian on Cabot!) Tonight we check into the timeshare in Lincoln, and Juniper kindly makes a pasta dinner for us.  Garbonzo McFuddlebaum also arrives from California, so we are spoiled with breakfasts and dinners made for us every day from this point on!   Tonight we also lose an hour of much needed sleep due to daylight savings.
3/14 Hancocks & Osceolas - 17.4 miles
The weather turns to crap so we readjust our plans for the next 3 days. (The ‘A’ plan was to try to do the Kinsmans/Cannon, Hancocks and Osceolas in one day, with Moosilauke, Tecumseh, Tris, Whiteface and Passaconaway the next, just like Farmer and Jason did in their record-setting W48 earlier this year. I tell Farmer his record is safe for now. And for the record, Farmer definitely could‘ve broken his own record had I not been slowing him down.) Frodo joins us for the Hancocks. We are happy to see that rain in Lincoln transitions to wet snow at the trailhead. Coincidentally, I use an umbrella on this hike just as in ‘04. We follow tracks leading to Arrow Slide and head up it a ways. Without an ice axe, I chicken out when the angle steepens beyond my comfort level, so we retreat into the trees. The wind is howling, snow is falling, and we concentrate to stay on the untracked trail before speedily butt sliding down South Hancock. We bid adieu to Frodo and are envious as he drives off in warm, dry clothes. It is on East Osceola that Farmer reveals his penchant for trail breaking. The wind is really howling on Osceola, and we notice that our tracks are already drifting in on our return to East Peak. Another fun butt slide down the steeps, and soon we were driving back to the condo and Garbonzo, joking about being losers for doing such low mileage--for us--today.
3/15 Tecumseh, Kinsmans/Cannnon - 17.9 miles
The trip up Tecumseh in a steady, drenching, bone chilling March rain is one of those character builders that is best deleted from memory. My umbrella once again gets a workout, and we are up and down the peak in a little over 2 hours. We’d intended to head up the Tripyramids from here, but our waterlogged packs, clothing, and bodies dictate a switch to Plan B. We stop at the condo to dry our clothing and gear, then drive up to Lafayette Place and are pleasantly surprised when the rain stops just as we start up the grade toward Lonesome Lake. The Swimmin’ Jimmy Trail lives up to its name on this day, but we are SO happy that the entire route, even the Cannonballs(!), is broken out and seems to have received only rain in the storm! Since Cannon Ski Area is closed today, we are the only ones on top of the mountain. The day ends with a Sasquatch sighting in the parking lot! Another low mileage day.
3/16 Passaconaway/Whiteface/Tripyramids & Moosilauke - 27.3 miles
We awake at 4 a.m., spot a car at Pine Bend Brook, and Garbonzo drives us aaaall the way around to Ferncroft. We are first on the trail since the recent storm, and Dicey’s Mill Trail has a few inches of new snow. We top Passaconaway and Whiteface, then proceed to the Kate Sleeper Trail which is covered in untracked snow that is made increasingly sticky in the warm sun. Farmer breaks an impressive trail, but I feel as though I’m dragging cement blocks across the Sleepers. However, we are happy that today is a beautiful, warm, blue sky day, and morale is high. Nearing South Tripyramid we lose the Sleeper Trail and opt to head straight up, completely missing the South Slide. The “Farmer Direct” route up South Tri is stellar and highly recommended. Although untracked, we make our way pretty easily over to North Peak but miss the Pine Bend Brook Trail and instead descend into the PBB Valley directly from the N. Tri - Scaur Peak col. Wheeeeee… fun! We reconnect with Jason at Dunkin Donuts in Lincoln, stop at the condo for a few minutes to regroup, and negotiate the crazy frost heaves to Ravine Lodge Road. The ascent of Gorge Brook Trail is uneventful, the stars are groovy, and we enjoy Jason’s infusion of fresh energy. We fall asleep later than we should have given what’s in store for tomorrow…
3/17-18 Pemi loop w/side peaks, plus Owls Head - 44.7 miles
I wasn’t certain it would be doable but wanted to give this 13 peaker a shot as the nonstop grand finale. Garbonzo joins us for the 5-mile speedwalk to the broken out Bondcliff Trail, where he wishes us good luck as I fill my water bottles straight from Black Brook. With Jason leading most of the way, we head up to Bondcliff, taking yet another unique route, bypassing the trail in one section in favor of the brookbed. Bondcliff, Bond, West Bond… the summits are tagged under blue skies and bright sunshine. We drop our packs on Guyot and head over to Zealand via previous hikers’ meandering paths. On the summit we are surprised by our only hiker encounter of the day: it’s BOB of Bob’nGeri, who is only a couple of peaks short of completing the 48 twice this winter. Congrats Bob! The Twinway is untracked, difficult to follow, and the snow begins to resemble yesterday’s Kate Sleeper concrete. Yuck. My legs are definitely feeling the extra effort, and I entertain the thought of bailing. Jason’s GPS keeps us on track, but he opts to skip North Twin and forge ahead, so Farmer and I are on our own finding the unbroken trail, a tiny bit challenging. As with some of the other peaks, we are astounded at how much snow there is and enjoy the resulting unusual perspective. The plunge from South Twin to Galehead Hut is disappointing as the snow is very slow and sticky, but that’s about the end of the sticky snow for the day as it firms up in the cooler temps. We take a luxurious break to bask in the warm sun and dry out our feet at the hut before proceeding to Galehead’s summit.
The bumps between Galehead and Lafayette aren’t too bad, and we are happy to see the Garfield Ridge Campsite water source dug out since this is our one and only refill spot on the ridge. (We also eat a bunch of wet snow during the day.) Unbeknownst to us at this point--although Farmer correctly guesses--Jason spent 2 hours (!) digging out the tiny pool with a snowshoe and isn’t exactly thrilled about it as evidenced by the string of expletives upon catching up to him between Garfield and Lafayette. (THANKS JASON!) At this point the headlamps are on and will remain on for the next 11 hours or so. The Lafayette climb is interminable, but finally we are on the summit looking down on hundreds of twinkling lights from Littleton, Franconia, North Woodstock, etc. The wind is brisk but not too crazy, knocking us around just a little bit. I wear goggles because of a few stray ice pellets, but they are tinted so the effect makes for an even more surreal experience. Farmer hoots with joy, and we make pretty good time over Lincoln and Little Haystack. Somewhat relieved to be in the trees once again, we take another sitdown break before completing the Franconia Ridge peaks and descending the wicked awesome! Roing Route from the Liberty-Flume col. Jason has skipped Flume in order to break out the way ahead of us. The Roing Route is steep and would be a fun ride on fresh legs. Alas, our legs are not fresh, and unfortunately Farmer also suffers a muscle tear above his knee and is in excruciating pain.
We finally hit the Lincoln Brook Trail and turn left. Farmer stuns me with the revelation that he won’t be climbing Owls Head due to the intense pain of his muscle tear. Having climbed 47 of the 48 peaks, traversed over 200 miles, and become good friends over the past week, it is devastating news that makes for a bittersweet finish. We catch up to Jason, who agrees to accompany me up Owls Head. (THANKS JASON!) With heavy hearts we ascend the Owls Head Slide sans Farmer. The slide conditions are a bit scary, but Jason kicks perfect steps up it. As the sky lightens to welcome the new day, we reach the new improved summit at 6:20 a.m. which makes me smile since it means I climbed all 48 within 8 days (3 minutes to spare!). All that’s left is the long slog out…
I’m a little sketched out about descending the slide in my depleted state as my balance feels a bit off, so we opt for the Brutus bushwhack, a first for me. The old tote road is especially enjoyable. We hook back up with Farmer, and in a momentary lapse of sanity, IMHO, decide to follow the Lincoln Brook and Franconia Brook Trails all the way out instead of breaking out the Black Pond bushwhack since the trail has been traveled recently and, we surmise, makes for easier walking. This is a mistake and probably costs us an extra 30-60 (?) minutes. To the point, the trail sucks. And fording the almost knee-deep frigid water in snowshoes is another first. On the bright side, freezing cold water pouring into our boots is a rather exhilarating wake-me-up. Golly durn but that was a fun 5 miles! We reach the Lincoln Woods trailhead at 10:25 a.m. and are congratulated by Garbonzo, who has been waiting for 4 hours. A ranger asks what we’ve just hiked. We smile.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Coyote Two Moon time !!!

 For the last few years, the blooming of Coastal California's sea dahlias signals that Coyote Two Moon is fast approaching.  Thanks to decent and desperately needed winter rains, the display is especially grand this year. Also known as the giant coreopsis, this plant grows only on undeveloped sections of California's southern and central coast and on the Channel Islands.  For most of the year the plant is brittle, brown, and quite frankly looks dead.  But come February... voila!  The brilliant yellow blooms shoot out of funky Dr. Seuss-like "trees" and signal the arrival of springtime.  One of our frequent running trails up La Jolla Canyon is loaded with them right now.  But enough about flowers.  As I said, it is time for the Coyote Two Moon 100 km. and 100 miler this coming weekend.  Chris, the RD, has put me to work stuffing and organizing our, um, unique runner bags, organizing and procuring the aid station basics, and basically keeping the garage organized.  (You could say I'm anal about organizing everything.) Fillmore the cat does quality control:

In preparation for the event, we do trail work on one or more of the trails on which the event traverses.  This year we did around 150 hours of work on the Lion Canyon Trail on two separate work trips.  It would've been more, but we got rained out of one trail work day.  Andy is working on tread, below, and Bill is about to kill a yucca.  (For those non Westerners reading this, yucca quills are somewhat like those of a porcupine, with barbs on the end that easily penetrate clothing and skin, and which are very difficult to remove.  We don't like them this close to the trail. 
A bit of a precarious section of the Lion Canyon Trail.  See, Hardrock isn't the only 100 miler with "Acrophobia!  Exposure!"  Fortunately, we have oxygen, and fortunately (?), the majority of 100-mile runners do this section in the dark.  (100k'ers don't do this trail.)

Water and soda needs to be trucked in (4WD) and stashed at our three on-ridge aid stations.  Manley and Howard perfect the art of the soda bottle pyramid.
What I don't have photographs of are the hours and hours and HOURS consumed behind the scenes, Chris's dealing with the Forest Service, the folks at Thacher (the start/finish of the event), the runners, product sponsors (THANKS to Patagonia, Black Diamond, Salt Stick, Hammer Nutrition, Drymax socks, ZombieRunner, Nuun, Moeben, Jitterbeans, Little Moon Essentials, and Hydra Pouch [BTW, their HydraPour high-speed valves rock!], please see the C2M website for sponsor links), the Ventura Bowling Center, coordinating with aid station captains (HUGE THANKS to Wes, Manley, George, Mark, Howard, Luis, and Zack and their assistants)--they in turn coordinating with their crews--and the radio people (equally HUGE THANKS to Dan, George, and all the others; these guys are gems!), and on and on.  I am a little embarrassed to say that I ran ultras for about 15 years without any real CLUE of what was involved with putting one on, especially a more complex (this ain't a fat ass) event like C2M.

We still make the time to run, swim (Chris) and do yoga (me) at the Y in the midst of all the confusion.  Yesterday the waterfall (above) in La Jolla Canyon had more water in it than I'd ever seen; most of the year the "waterfall" is dry.  On Saturday, despite tsunami warnings (!) along the coast, we ran 17 miles in the rain and mud in the park.  But the beauty of Southern California is that a rainy February run here feels like a rainy June run in most of the rest of the country.  The mud IS a bit stickier, though.
Wheeeee...!  Serrano Canyon...!  Wheeee...!
Friends met on the trail...

...and water where I've never seen it. 
(When you're wearing shoes this bright, the rest of you must be black 'n white.)
Not sure when the next post will happen.  Right after C2M I'm going back to New England for a couple of weeks to play in the... snow??!!