Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dry River and the Southern Presidentials - 10/11/14

Four in the morning and I'm once again awake and driving north in the dark. My legs are tired but there are thoughts to be thunk and decisions to be decided. It doesn't take long to grow sick of NPR's early morning BBC drone and I switch over to Rammstein on the CD player, well aware of the irony in listening to German industrial metal to prepare for six hours of almost total silence and time in my own head. With only a handful of leaf-peepers up at sunrise I'm able to make good time, the dashed-line passing zones granting free passage. I leave them with only a brief turbo whine and doppler-ized, flatulent Subaru rumble to remember me by.

Elevation profile
Dry River washout
Oakes Gulf - There's a plane crash in here somewhere.
Montalban Ridge
The Dry River valley
Frost above 5,000 feet
A new spot for me.
As your attorney, I advise you to bring more cheese.
Dry River valley
Mount Clinton Trail
A wee washout

As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate. - Camus, The Stranger

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bigelow Range Traverse - 9/27/2014

Deep down, nobody can forever live up to the lofty images we project for ourselves. We feel fraud between who we are and the image we project and thus judge ourselves inadequate. We punish ourselves for not living up to impossible ideals. Give yourself and everybody else a break and know that the only normal people are the ones you don't know very well. - Karl Baba

Monday, September 8, 2014

Utah - August 2014

Wasatch Front



Great Salt Lake







Friday, August 15, 2014

Teton Circumnavigation - 8/11/2014

Despite the name, the Fastest Known Time website makes an excellent resource for finding the best recreational trail runs to visit in an unfamiliar area, even when one has no intention of putting down a race-quality effort. For an experienced ultrarunner, it seems that every significant mountain range, canyon, or park has a must-see route to spend a whole day on and it's helpful to have one central site to catalog them all.

I recently found myself in Salt Lake City for work and Grand Teton National Park seemed tantalizing close enough to tack on to the end of the trip. Maybe calling a 5.5 hour drive "close" is a stretch, but it doesn't require getting on a plane and New Hampshire is a whole lot farther from Jackson Hole than Northern Utah is. Close enough. I'd briefly been to the Tetons once with my wife just before the Wasatch 100 back in 2011, but we didn't get to explore much and I knew I wanted to go back for a deeper look.

The Teton Circumnavigation traces a route from the valley on the western side of the range up Cascade Canyon to Hurricane Pass and Alaska Basin in the high country. There, it rolls along snowfields and alpine ridgelines, spending a few miles over 10,000 feet, to the Static Peak Divide where it descends into Death Canyon and back to the valley. By the numbers it's roughly 35 miles with 7,000 feet of gain.

The views are utterly indescribable and I found myself gaping slack-jawed for most of my time there - glaciers, alpine lakes, peaks so craggy that they look like where the Grinch would flee after stealing Christmas. With every new twist and turn in the trail my mind was blown just a little bit more. I did my best to film the experience:

With all of the filming and gawking I still managed to get back to the car in a little over seven hours. There are quite a few things I could do better and I'm left wondering how close a focused effort would get me to Evan Honeyfield's 5:34 record time. I'll be back if I get the chance.

Monday, August 4, 2014


By now it's probably pretty clear, if you've been following along, that my attempt on the 48 did not go as planned. On the first day I ran Carrigain quite well, with a two and a half hour round trip, then three hours on the Willey Range. I was 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Soon after that I began to have stomach problems and I stopped eating. On the first half of the Presi Traverse some cracks began to show and I started to vomit repeatedly after Mount Isolation. My pace got slow... very slow and I began to realize that I was setting myself up for a long, cold and wet night on the northern Presidentials, well behind schedule. Maybe I should have fought through, but the bottom line is that I didn't and I took the Tuckerman Ravine Trail down to Pinkham where I quit.

I spent the next few days just kind of mellowing out with my wife in the hotel room I'd already paid for, watching heavy rain and thunder outside much of the time. I'm not sure I would have succeeded under those conditions anyway, but in hindsight I'm disappointed in myself for not making a better showing. A lot of people took time out of their schedules to help me, and I wish I could have made it more worth their while. There's nothing they could have done better and my failure is entirely on me. I'd been feeling a little off all week but dismissed it as nerves, though I likely had a stomach bug that was aggravated by the exertion. My wife and daughter came down with similar symptoms in the following days. That;s what I keep telling myself anyway.

It's been over a week, time I've spent reflecting, and I'm not sure I want to keep doing this to myself. 100+ mile races take a lot out of not only me, but also my also from my growing responsibilities to those around me. On the other hand, I do have some talent that it would be a shame not to cultivate and leaving the 48 unfinished will chew at me for a long time. Part of the reason I've put off this post for so long that I'm still not sure what I'm going to do next. We shall see...

Saturday, July 26, 2014


By the time you read this, I will have begun the biggest athletic adventure of my life. This post will self-publish at 5:00 AM on Saturday, July 26, about the same time that I'll be heading up the Signal Ridge Trail on Mount Carrigain. It's my declared intention to visit all 48 peaks over 4,000 feet in my home state as swiftly as possible. A team of family and friends will be monitoring my progress as well as providing food, road transportation, and moral support over the next three days. My plan is to stop the clock at the Mount Kinsman Trailhead sometime on Tuesday the 30th after covering nearly 200 miles, and 68,000 feet of elevation gain if everything goes according to plan. (Ha!)

I’m not the first person to pursue the Fastest Known Time (FKT) of the Four Thousand Footers. Others have blazed this trail before; the Fitch brothers, Ted "Cave Dog" Keizer, Tim Seaver, Sue "Stinkyfeet" Johnston, Cath Goodwin, my friend Ryan Welts, and Andrew "Traildog" Thompson. I've drawn years of inspiration from these people and now it's my turn to try and stand on their shoulders. I've researched and planned and trained enough that I'd like to think I'm going into this with open eyes despite the fact that it's far beyond anything else I've done. It's going to hurt and my resolve will be tested in ways I can’t yet appreciate. The lows will be low and the highs will be high. Failure is deliberately a possibility. 

So why do it? For one, I get to spend four days trying to break new ground in the mountains I love. The deeper answers are hard to articulate, but I will say this: I've collected an unusual set of skills and capabilities over the years as a hiker, climber, and runner. These mountains in particular have been burned into brain over the last twelve years and I strongly feel that I'm as qualified to do this as anyone has ever been. Simply put, I’m doing this because I want to and because I can.

Tim Seaver tells me that when he broke the record in 2003, he was sure it would be lowered again in short order, but attempts on his time have been few over the last decade. Just this summer, Andrew Thompson managed to trim 51 minutes off Tim's time, lowering the record to three days, fourteen hours, fifty-none minutes. Coincidentally, I feel like I’ve been on a collision course with the Four Thousand Footers record since 2003, I just didn’t know it for most of those years. Since the day I discovered a list of the Four-Thousand Footers in the back of an old copy of the AMC White Mountain Guide, I've been unable to sit still. The mountains got me off my sedentary ass and fundamentally changed me. They put me in control of my own life, and blessed me with new experiences I never would have imagined. This adventure will be another one of those experiences, succeed or fail, in a relationship with the Whites that will continue long after this is over.

The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. - Albert Camus

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Grafton Notch Loop

I will never get to experience all the running routes that interest me, even within New England. Sometimes this keeps me up at night but the bright side is that I will never run out of places to explore. The Grafton Notch Loop is one of those routes that's been on my radar for quite some time but never seemed to slot well into my schedule. At 39 miles, the route is a long day for anyone and involves at least six hours driving for me. When one day things did happen to work out, I did my best to make the commute interesting.

Joining me was my good friend Ryan. When planning our day, for some reason I got it stuck in my head that there was only 9,000 feet of climbing and so I figured an 8 hour time at a training-pace was reasonable. As it turned out, the vertical gain was closer to 12,000 feet and we took a bit longer than that.

After caching some water at the Old Speck Trailhead we got started from the southern road crossing on Maine route 26, opting to do the longer eastern half of the loop first. The idea here was to only refill our water supplies once at the north end by saving the shorter western half for the hot part of the day while also saving the most runnable terrain for the end.

Our first peak was Puzzle Mountain and it provided a pretty quick appetizer view for what was in store later on.

Most of the trail was fairly new and, though a bit wet and muddy, not nearly so rocky and eroded as many more popular areas. I was surprised at how much actual running we were able to get in, though there were quite a few small climbs that began to quickly add up.

Most of the route was pretty meandering and it took a while before we got to the real meat of the climb going up to the Baldpates where we'd join Appalachian Trail for a while.

We reached the Old Speck Parking lot in five hours, six minutes and took a short break to tank up on water and a splash of fuel. At this point the barometer on my watch was reading 7,200 feet of elevation gain and I began to get the sense that we were in for a longer day that we'd originally planned.

With stomachs sloshing full of chugged water it took us an hour and fifteen minutes to summit Old Speck, about fifteen minutes longer than it took me at the start of my Mahoosuc Traverse last summer.

Ryan takes a moment to care for his feet.

The trail down the south side of Old Speck has a remarkably different character than the heavily used north side. As soon as you exit the summit clearing the trail goes from the typical rocky, eroded mess to narrow singletrack on a soft dirt bed (with switchbacks even!) There were some token rooty and rocky sections to keep things interesting but were were able to get into a solid rhythm and cover substantial ground.

Ryan and I were both feeling the heat as we climbed up the open ledges on Sunday River White Cap, which had even better views than the Baldpates. It was becoming clear that the two liters of water we each had wasn't going to get us back to the car and we were happy to have brought a filter so we could fill up at the Sargent Brook Campsite without worry about getting sick from the abundant moose poop on the ground.

A lot of the stone and boardwalk work in the alpine zone reminded us of Goose Eye Peak on the nearby Mahoosuc Range.

The remaining miles seemed much longer that what the trails signs indicated but after endless descending and meandering on old logging roads we finally crossed the snowmobile suspension bridge over the Bear River in the bottom of the valley and made short work of the last half mile of road running to get back to the car in 9:29:30.

It was a longer day than we anticipated but Ryan summed it up in a text to me the next morning:

"I'm still smiling from that run."

You said it, man.

And lastly, a word on time. As near as I can tell, Ryan and I set a new Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the route. A little Googling beforehand showed that Scott and Deb Livingston with Matt Schomburg ran the whole route in 13:26 in 2008, shortly after the loop was completed. The next year, Steve and Deb Pero et al also did the whole thing roughly 14-15 hours. I had heard a rumor of a possible 10:30 time but no one I've talked to can remember where they heard that, who did it, or when it might have happened. In any case, we left plenty of slack in our day and if this worthy route sees more attention I wouldn't be surprised to see some one better our time by ninety minutes.

GPS track: