Monday, September 15, 2014

The Plain 100+ 2014

Paul and I pick out our Plain 100+ finishers' rocks and promptly flop back down into our camp chairs. With a wry smile, race director Tom Ripley quips that if we lose them he'll mail out a new one for only $1,000 including free shipping.

With zero hesitation, Paul nails the response: "That would be easier than running it again!"

---

Plain is a unique event. When you don't have aid stations, course markings or much fanfare, running in the mountains simply is running in the mountains. I guess it's a "race," but it surely doesn't feel like it.

Since Plain is considered a graduate-level 100, I was signed up as a "resume entrant." Before registering I had to email RDs Chris Ralph and Tom Ripley with what I'd done, and what I planned to do before Plain, and they allowed me to sign up (Tom said they let a few resume entrants in each year; most people now run the Plain 100k loop one which then allows them to sign up for the 100+ the following year). At Gorge 100k, where Paul and I also ran together, we talked extensively about Plain and having him sign up so we could run together was awesome.

I didn't do any special training for it, just a lot of long 40-to-60+ mile runs in the mountains all summer, spending a lot of time on my feet. Doing a last long run two weeks before Plain I tweaked a tendon pretty bad, so my taper turned into recovery with the aim of just trying to get as close to 100% as possible. A blessing in disguise, maybe, I only ran about six miles in the two weeks leading up to it, instead walking a mile or two everyday to try and keep things loose.

My Dad agreed to come out and crew for me and before the pre-race meeting on Friday afternoon we drove the initial FS road that you start on and I also walked a portion of the Lower Chiwawa trail, the section of loop two where many people get lost. Two things became immediately apparent: this is going to be really rocky and when people talk about the Satanic Plain Dust, it's not hyperbole.

Tom's pre-race trail briefing was very beneficial for marking key water sources on our maps, pointing out where Search and Rescue personnel would be stationed as checkpoints to keep track of runners and to hear his thoughts and advice on what it takes to finish.

We rented a cabin just a couple of miles from the start and went over last-minute details with my Dad and Maddy, Paul's wife. A few hours of sleep and we were at Deep Creek campground, the start, 60-mile resupply point and finish.

Paul and I took things quite casual the first 25 miles or so, spending some time with Tim Gorbold, Will Thomas and George Orozco (running the 100k). Some tough technical trails on Hi Yu, but mostly nice meadows, lightly-wooded trails and rolling terrain brought us to Tom and Chris stationed at about mile 28, the last water source for 11 miles. It was barely a trickle and a frog jumped out of the one good filling spot. It was the only place on the course we treated water.

So far in all of my long ultra races, my bad patches have happened early. After filling up and leaving them, Paul and I were with Tim and Selina, who was running the 100k. The course gets more exposed on Tyee Ridge which also is south facing and things started to heat up. My stomach had already been quite tight and I basically was forced to stop eating. Every time I tried to I felt worse, so from my past experiences I knew it was better to stop altogether.

After finishing the ridge trail we headed down for the long, rocky and dusty descent to Cougar Creek. We both ran out of water, got super hot and were very grateful to finally reach the creek where Tim and Selina were already filling up and getting ready to go. We took our time, cooled down and drank a bottle before getting ready to move on. The next section was down and back up the Mad River canyon, a substitute for the trails still closed from the summer's fires. During the meeting Tom had described this trail as "really nice." What an artful speaker that Tom is! It was tough to find any rhythm as it was rolling, rocky, a bit brushy and hot.

I'd met Plain veteran John Fors the night before at the meeting and he caught up to us and we spent most of the climb back up the river together to Maverick Saddle. We leapfrogged a bit down the descent and he was in and out of Deep Creek quite quickly, maybe 10 minutes ahead of me and Paul.

We had finished loop one in 15 hours and came in as it was getting dark, just before 8pm. While we had expected to stay only 10 minutes at Deep Creek, it ended up taking 30 minutes to lance blisters, reapply lube, eat/drink, change clothes and shoes, resupply our packs and get ready for the night. This ended my eight-hour period that I'd done on approximately 200 calories total. I drank some Coke that I had waiting and instantly felt better; a couple spoonfuls of Paul's soup helped too. Maddy and Dad were great in getting all of our stuff together, including giving us hot, real food. Thanks you two!

During the last few hours before Deep Creek I was a little worried that if I couldn't eat I would have to drop, but I knew Coke always worked for me in the past. I instantly was relieved that I seemed to be able to eat without issue and as soon as we walked out of Deep Creek I was pretty sure we were going to be finishing.

The Lower Chiwawa ORV trail is an unrelenting 11 miles of rolling ruts, whoop-de-doos and dust. And the best part is you get to do the first 6.5 miles twice as it's the stick of the lollipop! We marched along, running any downs we could and didn't really have any navigational issues. We passed John about half of a mile in as he was hiking back toward us thinking he was off route. This was the section I walked just 30 hours earlier and I was sure we were on the right trail.

After passing John we didn't see any other runners for the last 45+ miles.

By the time we reached the Chikamin Tie checkpoint around mile 81, it was 2:25am and starting to get cold. We'd been taking some caffeine, but a mile later I just couldn't stay awake. Paul and I had discussed taking a nap, maybe, but at that point it became more of a necessity than an option. Paul set a timer for ten minutes and we laid down literally in the middle of the trail and closed our eyes. We were pretty cold when we got back up and started moving but our mental state improved markedly.

From there on the rest of the morning pretty much centered around waiting for the sun to come up and heat things up. Everything was frosted over up on top of Chikamin and around Mad Meadow/Lake, as we'd seen temperatures swing from 80s during the day to upper 20s at night.

First light hit Glacier Peak as we traversed the top of Alder Ridge and prepared for the 10-mile 4,000' descent back to the Lower Chiwawa. 90 miles in, it was quite painful to run downhill for that long. The switchbacks are long, which is nice because the grade stays moderate so you don't have to brake too much but it makes it feel never ending. After checking in with Search and Rescue at the bottom we hopped back on the Lower Chiwawa, homeward bound.

I listened to music for the long downhill and a good chunk of the last six miles just to take my mind off of my body; Paul's mental strength was impressive.

I think it was after our nap that I had brought up targeting a sub-30-hour finish and we were pushing as much as we could (in all honesty we were slow, but I don't think miles 100-106 are supposed to be fast).

We came down the little 50-yard hill where the trail spits out onto the FS road at Deep Creek. I could hear Paul behind me, crying, Dad and Maddy were at the bottom cheering and RD Tom was standing in the middle of the road saying, "You're not finished, run to me!"

29 hours and 31 minutes

There was no actual finish line, no buffet table, no music. One Search and Rescue/timekeeping truck, Tom, Chris, a few other crew people and a couple DNFed runners were all bundled up, even at 10:30am, and were the only evidence that something actually was happening out here in this corner of the Cascade's Entiat Range.

We talked with Tom and Chris, discussed the trails with a runner who had gotten near-hypothermic and dropped, got our Plain 100 rocks and then went back to the cabin to clean up (two showers later my feet still are tattooed with Plain dust and grit).

I didn't get emotional during the run. Most of the time it felt like my normal adventure runs, just longer. But then I sat down, wrote this report, reread the Plain poem below which is recited before the start of the race, and let myself weep:

By Tim Dehnoff

To train and start this race may not be enough
The Plain 100 is JUST PLAIN TOUGH

Into the dark you all must go
Where you'll stop, nobody knows

It's always darkest before the suns rise
Success is in the journey
Finishing not the only prize

Whether you make it back here or not
You have the drive to start,
Something most have forgot

A bystander or a participant, yours to chase
If you're not living life on the edge
You're taking up too much space

You're will to finish is all so clear
We expect to see you right back HERE 

---

Thank you Paul; it never would have happened without you. Thanks Dad, Maddy and the other runners we spent time with; you all provided great boosts throughout the day and night.

Special thanks to Tom Ripley and Chris Ralph: I'm so grateful that you allowed me to try Plain for my first 100-miler. You've got something very special out there, and regardless of how much I was cursing the dust gnawing at my feet, or the sharp granite bruising my heels, it was an amazing experience. Am I stubborn enough to find my way back to Plain sometime in the future? Probably...

Congratulations to all of the other runners who started on Saturday morning: 40 went off at 5am and there should have been a record number of finishers (I think we finished tied for 7th, and 12 runners still were on course while 20 had already dropped). I hope everyone else was able to stay safe and enjoy it as well.
 
The finishing scene at Plain; talking with RD Tom
Yeah, that's going on the mantel



Sunday, September 7, 2014

See you in Plain!

Boy, we sure know how to party...

Plain 100+
Not even half of what I'm bringing

Best of luck to everyone at Plain and the other 100-milers around the country; six on Saturday alone!

Here is how my whole summer of "training" turned out (starting in May with Miwok). Essentially I ran around town a bit during the week and then spent as much time in the mountains as possible every weekend. Thank you to all the guys who joined me on the trails, especially: Paul, Dave, Kevin, Graham, Matthew and trail-guru Erik. I had a great time with all of you.




Sunday, August 31, 2014

Grand Dishpan Gap Loop - Wild Sky / Henry M. Jackson wildernesses

Today I finally completed my triple crown of highly-scenic routes done on days with limited-to-no views! After Rainy-Harts and my North Cascades Traverse, all I had to do was find one more beautiful route that I could do on a foggy, rainy and cold day. The whole three-day weekend looked to be providing the appropriate weather, so as good a time as any for another classic loop.

The Grand Dishpan Gap Loop starts off on the West Cady Ridge trail, heads up to meet the PCT and turns north to Dishpan Gap where you start looping back on the Bald Eagle trail, heading to Curry Gap and then descending down Quartz Creek back to the same trailhead (N. Fork Skykomish River trail also leaves from the same parking lot, providing a shorter loop option). Allegedly there are great views in the 22+ miles of ridges you traverse, but unfortunately I only got a few glimpses...I guess I'll just have to go back!

Also had my first bear encounter of the year spooking what I believe was a mother and two cubs. I only saw one cub (30 yards ahead on the trail) and as soon as I started yelling at it there were two other animals crashing through the bushes, one to my side and one behind me.

West Cady Ridge and the PCT are in super-maintained shape. Bald Eagle has some grass and flower overgrowth and a bit of erosion but the last mile down to Curry Gap is brushed and fixed up (thanks FS trail crew!). Quartz Creek has a bit of mud and some light brush, but still is a fun, gentle cruise down. Note that there is not a lot of water on the ridges, especially from the PCT until half a mile before Curry Gap; only a small seep or two.

Wilderness areas get fancy trailheads; all three trails leaving from this lot had these
A mostly-gentle climb up to West Cady Ridge
Up on the ridge after only three miles
West Cady Ridge
Rolling along the ridge
Pacific Crest Trail junction
Broken, but still pointing the right way
PCT along the Snohomish-Chelan county line ridge, below Skykomish Peak
Mr. Marmot
Many grouse
Lake Sally Ann
The dreaded PCT-grade extra long switchbacks up to Wards Pass
Looking south down the PCT from Wards Pass

Looking down on Dishpan Gap after turning onto the Bald Eagle trail
Contouring toward June Mountain
Back in the fog; more contouring
Bald Eagle trail, the ridge east of June Mountain (r), Blue and Little Blue lakes (c) and Johnson Mountain (center-left)
Blue and Little Blue lakes
A bit brushy and eroding, until...
WOW...they can't be far away...
Some serious trail work; THANK YOU!
Thank you FS trail crew!
Kyes Peak, with ridge to Monte Cristo on the right
Kyes Peak from above Curry Gap
Nice little set of falls and a pool on the Quartz Creek trail
Time for some rest and healing...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pacing at Cascade Crest 100 - 2014 version

Like last year, I was very fortunate to be part of the Cascade Crest 100 this past weekend. I got to crew for three runners for the first 52 miles, then hop in and pace the last 48. While my two runs of the second half of the course have been quite different, the final result was amazingly similar.

And when I say amazingly similar, I am not exaggerating:
A ONE-SECOND DIFFERENCE. 

What I find awesome about this is that the last 48 miles I ran with each of them had almost opposite rhythms, difficulties and pick-me-ups.

After crewing for Dave and ultimately pacing Martin in 2013, I entered the Cascade Crest lottery this year but was so far down the wait list (#89) that I wasn't too excited to wait all summer to see if I would get in. Plus, almost every one of my good running friends was in and someone had to take up the crew and pacing rolls.
Me, Dave and Kevin pre-race
I was in charge of food, drinks and gear for Dave, Paul and Richard at Stampede Pass (mile 34) and Hyak (mile 52). After seeing them, Kevin and Matthew off in Easton I headed up to Stampede and helped the Seven Hills crew, Matt and Kerri and other volunteers set up the aid station. 

Stampede Pass before...
...and after! Ready for runners
Stampede volunteers; photo from 7Hills
The boys all came through separately within 17 minutes of each other, but looking good and with no serious issues. They were hitting pretty much the exact same splits as Dave and Martin had in 2013.

By Hyak 20 miles later they were still all within 36 minutes, with Richard first, Dave ten minutes behind and Paul 26 minutes behind Dave. Although Richard will sandbag a lot, he is extremely strong and we all knew he would go on from Hyak, sans pacer, to run a killer race. 

I jumped in with Paul and we set off for a few miles of road before the climb up to Keechelus Ridge. Hiking was quick, but not quite as fast as Martin and probably with fewer running sections. We passed some people here and ran the descent down to Kachess Lake at a comfortable pace, not pushing it. 

When we came in to Kachess AS Greg was there with a box of pizza waiting for Kevin, and said that Dave literally had passed through just a couple of minutes ago. We questioned whether we really had been moving fast enough over the last 16 miles to make up 25 minutes on Dave, or whether he was slowing. 

The "Trail from Hell" that leads from Kachess to Mineral Creek really is not bad at all. After 16 miles of monotonous forest service roads a rolling technical section is just the key to stay awake in the middle of the night. Paul had fun and we really moved on this section. We passed Dave about a mile in, who seemed a bit zoned out and appeared to be having stomach issues. Paul gave him some extra tums he had and we moved on. 

In 2013 Martin and I moved pretty well up the road to No-Name Ridge. This year, Paul and I practically were falling asleep, barely keeping a respectable hiking pace up as we slogged along. This is where Graham's great advice about caffeine pills was key (it was 3am after all). Paul had a few and after starting to do the drunk weave, we split one. Expecting an instantaneous boost, and obviously not getting it after 15 minutes, I told him to take a caffeinated gel as well. He got it down and after another 15 minutes, it both hit us and we felt great. 

We had been so out of it that neither of us saw the self-serve water station on the road, and when suddenly we saw glow sticks (always right before an aid station), we thought we were only at the water jugs when in fact we had come to the full AS at No-Name (Hooters!). It was an instant boost and we had a little pep talk on only having 20 miles to go...

From No-Name Ridge at mile 80 to the finish is where the biggest contrast between my two years of pacing at Cascade was apparent. Last year Martin was having serious ITB and knee pain, and that limited the amount of running we could do, but he still moved well. This year, Paul had some general pain (duh) but nothing too acute.

We ran, and we ran hard

Paul put in one of the ten-fastest splits for the entire field from No-Name to the finish: 4:21. 

We ran all the descents and almost every flat as hard as we could and hiked the Cardiac Needles, including a very quick trip up and down Thorp Mountain. Miles 90-96 from the top of the climb above French Cabin down to Silver Creek were 10:58, 11:28, 11:56, 12:12, 12:04, 10:23. We literally ran through Silver Creek without slowing down.
Descending Thorp; Takao photo
While Paul had been hoping for a sub-24 finish, he now had 53 minutes to break 23 hours. We both shared a few trail tears after passing through Silver Creek and talking about where he was going to come in.

We took four or five little walk breaks on the small humps in the final four miles, but Paul still split 43 minutes and after a sprint with another racer into the finish, he came in at 22:50:30. A fantastic first 100-miler.

So, I guess the question that must be posed: anyone up to go for 22:50:29 in 2015...?

I'm really proud of all of the guys; I'll let them tell their stories, but it sounds like there were many difficulties overcome and even when they wanted and tried to drop, they didn't. Each of them has a great buckle now. 

Kevin gets it done, Where's Waldo Hanscom as pacer; Dave's photo
Matthew too, with Ian pacing; Dave's photo
Kresser ran the lights out of the course and himself: 21:47; Dave's photo
I'm pretty sure Paul woke up eventually...Dave's photo
          


Sunday, August 17, 2014

North Cascades traverse

Point-to-point runs are hard for me to organize, so when my step-dad Steve said he was willing to do a car shuttle I knew immediately that I wanted to do an on-trail traverse of the north unit of North Cascades National Park.

There's really only one way to go: starting from Ross Dam go up Big Beaver and over Beaver Pass, up Little Beaver to Whatcom Pass and down Brush Creek to reach the Chilliwack River. From the Chilliwack, the quickest exit is up the river to Hannegan Pass and down Ruth Creek to the trailhead. However, that misses the best trail, and the best views, in the North Cascades: Copper Ridge. Steve, his brother Pete and I hiked to the Copper Ridge lookout two years ago and that pretty much made it impossible to skip. It adds about ten miles to the route and includes a hefty climb from the Chilliwack up to the ridge, but it's just too beautiful not to do (even when you're socked in by clouds!). This trip I didn't take any pictures on the section of Big Beaver I did in May; pictures of the great old growth in the valley are here.  

(trail conditions report at bottom of this post)



4:40am start at Ross Dam
These guys were all over the trail pre-dawn, glad I didn't step on any
Brush issues past Luna Camp
Peak-a-boo view of the Pickets: Crooked Thumb (r) and Phantom Peak 
Beaver Pass shelter
Little Beaver Creek
Quite bad brush for two miles in the upper Little Beaver
More of the same
But at least the views open up; Whatcom Peak (r) and the ridge NE of Mount Challenger

Great falls in the upper Little Beaver
Whatcom Peak and glacier
The one bad section of blowdown/debris; about 6-8 trees of crawl-under and climb-over fun
looking back at the second half of that section
Follow the strategically-placed flag! 
Looking back down Little Beaver
Yyyeessssss; Whatcom Peak, Perfect Pass and the western side of the Challenger Glacier

The well-engineered switchbacks up to Whatcom Pass
The mighty Challenger Glacier, with summit hidden in the clouds
Meadows below Whatcom Pass with the extensive ridge NE of Challenger
USGS marker at Whatcom Pass
Whatcom Peak and the ridge west toward Easy Peak
Ridge between Whatcom and Easy peaks, from the Brush Creek trail
Chilliwack River trail junction; head north for Copper Ridge
Cool and wobbly suspension bridge over Indian Creek
Turn down to ford the Chilliwack toward Copper Ridge
So cool! Spawning Sockeye salmon in Indian Creek
First ford, Indian Creek, currently not an issue at all; note flagging on the far side
Second ford, Chilliwack River, also no problem
Nearing the top of the climb from the Chilliwack to Copper Ridge; I was in no mood to take pictures on the way up
Backpackers heading down to make camp at Copper Lake
Final climb up to the Copper Ridge lookout
Marmots
Not much to look out at...
Back on familiar terrain; 10 miles from here to the trailhead
The resident grouse around the lookout
Copper Ridge trail
Mineral Mountain (r) and the north ridge of Easy Peak
Copper Ridge trail and Ruth Mountain
Last climb from Boundary Camp to Hannegan Pass
Really, really tired; 16 hours car-to-car
For reference, here is the view from the Copper Ridge lookout when it's clear; I took this in October 2012, looking from SW to NE

Trail conditions

  • Big Beaver: a few blowdowns, brushed to Luna camp; brush issues between Luna and Beaver Pass.
  • Little Beaver: two miles of very brushy trail once you start to reach the upper valley before the lower set of switchbacks. A large blowdown/debris area there as well that requires climbing and ducking over a set of six or so big trees (photos below).
  • Brush Creek: CLEAR! NPS trail crew working on Whatcom Camp area and met one of the team who was brushing it as I came down; I couldn't thank him enough. 
  • Chilliwack River: a bit of brush and blowdown, but nothing too onerous; mostly step-overs. The salmon are running in Indian Creek (the first ford) and the fording routes are flagged. Not very deep (upper shin) or strong. I didn't need a stick to cross either. 
  • Copper Ridge: handful of blowdowns between the river and gaining the ridge proper. A couple are crawl-under trees. Trail is great from gaining the ridge all the way down to Boundary Camp as it sees a lot of traffic. 
  • Hannegan Pass/Ruth Creek: well-maintained, some brushing has been done, no issues.