Desert Vibes

Desert Vibes
Photo: Ben Clark

Monday, November 4, 2013

Week(s) in Review: October 21 - November 3—Desert Solitaire



Week in Review: October 21-27

Monday, October 21st
OFF—Rest Day

Tuesday, October 22nd
PM—3 Miles—0:32—850’—Mushroom Rock (Carbondale, CO)
After a nice chiropractic session with my friend Michele Zebrowitz I decided to get out for a little run and test my lower back (and the new pair of shoes I just bought). Mushroom Rock is a quick and easy one-mile, 800’+ climb that usually takes me about 14 minutes at easy-to-moderate effort. Today I ran at super easy pace and topped out in 14:42. I probably spent 20 minutes or so sitting on the rock admiring Sopris from afar. I probably descended a little harder than I should have, even sneaking in some sub-6 pace.

Wednesday, October 23rd
PM—7 Miles—1:08—1,050’—Porcupine Rim (Moab, UT)
Easy run on Porcupine Rim to shake my legs out after driving all day. Amazing sunset. Feels good to be back in the desert…

Thursday, October 24th
PM1—2 Miles—0:42—700’—Hidden Valley
Some great views on this little trail. It starts off with a short climb then, like everything else around here, levels off. I did quite a bit of scrambling around/bouldering once I topped out on the climb.

PM2—6 Miles—1:06—1,350’—La Sal Foothills
Met up with Bryon Powell for a nice run around the foothills of the La Sals. A little on-trail, a little off-trail, a lot of awesome. We had great views of the La Sals from just about everywhere on the ascent. I opted to keep the descent super easy since my lower back is still hurting from time-to-time. It’s always nice to have good company on a run. Cooled down with a beer and views of the La Sals on the iRunFar HQ patio.

Friday, October 25th
OFF—Climbing at Indian Creek

Saturday, October 26th  
AM—1 Mile—0:51—1,000’—Easy scrambling on Kane Creek Road
I decided to try reaching the rim of the canyon from our campsite on Kane Creek Road before giving some of the MTB riders a shuttle up the mountain. The scramble up was a little different than anything I’ve experienced since beginning scrambling/climbing; loose, crumbling rock (well, dried mud is more accurate) that you can’t really depend on for anything. Fun stuff. As I neared the rim I realized that the guys were planning to leave fairly soon for their ride. So, I cut the ascent short and made quick work of the descent back to camp. Of course, there was blood. It’s just not a run without a little blood or a little mud…

PM—6 Miles—0:54—950’—Porcupine Rim
Pretty easy run on the ascent. Right before I began the return trip a group of 10 or so douchey MTB riders passed. So I decided to give them a few minute head start before running them down. I hovered around a 6:30 minute/mile pace for most of the descent, which was enough to catch up to them. Worst part about Moab is the MTB riders since most of them tend to be raging douche bags.

Sunday, October 27th
PM—5 Miles—0:54—400’—Bar M Trails
I almost decided to take a rest day, but when I met up with Amanda later she wanted to get out for an easy run. So, I joined. We did a relaxed 5-mile loop while both of us tried not to throw up our late lunch.


Miles— 30
Time—6 hours 9 minutes
Elevation Gain—6,300 feet


I’m still trying to ease into things since my lower back still bothers me on occasion. Slickrock always tends to give my body a bit of a beating for the first week or so until I get used to running on it again.


Week in Review: October 28 – November 3

Monday, October 28th
AM—9 Miles—1:54—1,700’—Devil’s Garden Loop (Arches National Park)
This is the longest trail in Arches National Park and it provides views of something like eight different arches. So, I had to give it a go. The ranger at the information center came off as more of a fear monger than the stooges on Fox News. She felt compelled to warn me about the strenuous “scrambling” involved on this trail and how it would likely take me something ridiculous like 5+ hours to complete. I laughed in her face, said that I probably wouldn’t have to use my hands at all, and would be done in less than two hours. The loop was classic slickrock trail for about half of the way; run to a cairn, slow down to spot the next one, then repeat.  Pretty easy terrain, though. I dabbled in a little easy scrambling, but wasn’t about to push it with the 50mph+ wind gusts that were funneling through the area. I took this run pretty easy since it takes me a few runs to soften my impact while running on slickrock trails.

Tuesday, October 29th
PM—6 Miles—1:24—700’—Negro Bill Canyon
My back was hurting a little today. So, I decided to do a flat run up Negro Bill Canyon to the Morning Glory Natural Bridge to see if that loosened it up a little. While returning, I noticed a side canyon that seemed worth exploring. I ventured off that way and it quickly turned into a fun bushwhacking session. At the end of the canyon it looked like there were a few caves at the base of the cliffs. When I headed over to check them out I noticed a dog leash with the collar still attached just lying on the ground. I bolted and got the hell out of there before some “Hills Have Eyes” crap went down…

Wednesday, October 30th
AM—6 Miles—1:24—1,650’—Gooseberry Trail and White Rim Overlook (Canyonlands NP)
I went to the information center to ask for advice on some trails. I asked for the most strenuous trails they had—Gooseberry was the recommendation. While it was a great little run that provided some stellar views and a little climb, I wouldn’t call it “strenuous” by any stretch of the imagination. The trail was moderately technical with no real steep areas. I took the descent easy (still babying my lower back), sat at the bottom for a while, then made my way up pretty quick. After topping out, I added the short out-and-back to the White Rim Overlook. Once I finished the run I jogged around a bit on the pavement to cool down when a sharp pain in my left interior knee came out of nowhere. Oh, didn’t see another person on any of the trails today.

Thursday, October 31st
AM—12 Miles—2:31—2,100’—Lathrop Trail (Canyonlands NP)
This was another information center recommendation. I found this trail to be quite a bit more enjoyable than Gooseberry. The trail cleverly snaked around below the rim as meandered down towards White Rim Road. There were excellent views from pretty much every step of the way. The few miles of descent were capped off with a few more miles of flat running through a wash until reaching the road. I probably spent 15 minutes or so at the road to appreciate my surroundings and the fact that I hadn’t seen another person since leaving the trailhead (and wouldn’t see anyone for the duration of the day). Shortly into the return trip the sharp pain in my left knee came back—mainly while running flat or descending. The pain eventually subsided and I was able to sneak in some 7:15 pace. Unlike Gooseberry, this trail actually had some steep, loose sections that pretty much necessitated a power hike.

Friday, November 1st
PM—6 Miles—0:44—400’—Moab Dirt Road
As I started driving from Moab towards the Grand Canyon I realized I hadn’t run yet today. So, I stopped for a quick little run on a random dirt road between Moab and the turnoff to The Creek. It felt good to run a somewhat decent pace for a few miles.

Saturday, November 2nd
AM—7 Miles—1:13—2,000’—South Kaibab to Skeleton Point (Grand Canyon, AZ)
I decided to sneak down into the canyon to give my legs an idea of what is to come tomorrow. Quick, easy run down to Skeleton Point with a pretty solid effort on the ascent. About halfway down a guy was on the ground with a broken ankle and a helicopter rescue en route. At Skeleton Point I saw the helicopter come down for the landing. I was a bit surprised to see it still parked there on my way back up. I stuck around for a few extra minutes to watch the takeoff—a pretty amazing sight. Of course, I forgot my friggin’ camera…

Sunday, November 3rd
AM—42 Miles—9:47—11,100’—Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim
After a horrible night of sleep I headed into the park around 4 AM to start getting things ready for a 6:30-7 AM start. I immediately started pounding coffee for two reasons: to wake up after sleeping for only about two hours and to clear out my stomach to avoid the problems associated with the pounding of two ~5,000’ descents. On Saturday night, I set out all of the clothing, gear, food, etc. that I would possibly want to take along for the run. In the morning, common sense took over and I left pretty much everything behind. I put on some arm sleeves and a singlet, but after getting out of my truck for a few minutes I immediately knew those would be overkill. I eventually settled on heading out with the following:

-New Balance MT110 shoes
-Super-short RaceReady running shorts with a bunch of pockets
-Nathan waist belt (to hold the UD flask so it wouldn’t bounce in my shorts)
-UD 5-ounce flask with 500 calories of VFuel gels (I used about 200 calories of VFuel)
-Two GU double espresso gels—in case I needed a jolt of energy given my lack of sleep (I didn’t use them)
-Two GU mandarin orange gels—I like citrus flavors after I’ve been going all day (I took both of them)
-Two UD handhelds with a combined ~500 calories of GU Roctane
-Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Anorak windshell (never used it)
-Head wrap
-Sunglasses
-Suunto Ambit watch
-Toilet paper (never leave the Taco without it)

By far, the best decision I made all day was ditching the upper body clothing in my truck and heading out shirtless from the start. I would have shed those layers before I reached the river anyways. Around 6:30AM I began the 0.5 mile warm-up jog to the South Kaibab Trailhead with the morning coffee starting to kick in. My plan was to stop at the toilets near the trailhead before taking off—hopefully not having to worry about any bathroom issues for the rest of the day. It’s amazing how fast those plans can change when you’re closing in on the trailhead and see a mule train making its way there too. If there’s one thing you want to avoid during a run in the Canyon it’s getting behind a mule train. The wranglers leading the trains tend to be assholes when it comes to letting runners pass them. 

So, as I trotted through the parking lot towards the TH I frantically messed with my watch hoping it would find a GPS signal quickly. Thankfully, it did. Without a bathroom stop and my typical moment of reflection or whatever at the TH I just dove straight into the Canyon ahead of the mules. I probably started about 15 minutes earlier than I planned and checked my watch a few times to make sure it was actually tracking. Visibility was OK, but the winds were so bad and stirring up enough dirt that I had to put on my sunglasses almost immediately to both keep dirt out of my eyes and keep my eyes from watering. 

My pace was pretty mellow down to Skeleton Point (about 3 miles or so down) due to limited visibility and high winds. The winds were probably in the 30-50mph range. As I approached Skeleton Point the Canyon was coming to life under the light of the rising sun. Sunrise in the Grand Canyon is something truly special to witness. 

Below Skeleton Point the winds died substantially and the sun had provided enough light for me to see finer details of the trail. The first glimpse of the Colorado River occurs just below Skeleton Point. To the inexperienced runner this can be a bit daunting. I mean, the river is still almost 3,000 vertical feet below. I continued pushing downhill and eventually reached the river in 0:57 and Phantom Ranch in 1:05. At Phantom I stopped to refill one of my bottles and received a few cat calls from some of the girls—must be the shaved legs…

Up to this point, my legs generally felt like crap—little aches and pains appeared in my quads, hamstrings, calves, shins, feet, and knees. I kept waiting for the sharp knee pain I experienced in Canyonlands NP to show, but fortunately it never did. In hindsight, yesterday’s run down to Skeleton Point and back up was likely a bad idea. 

The run from Phantom to Cottonwood Campground passed by quickly, but my legs felt like hell nearly every step of the way—especially on the mellow, uphill grades. Lucky for me, this entire stretch of trail is mellow uphill. I still managed to get to Cottonwood in 2:16 and the Pumphouse Residence in 2:35. I was able to “run” every step of the way from the residence to the bridge below Supai Tunnel, but from the bridge to the North Rim was a nauseous death march that saw me on the verge of throwing up the entire time. At Supai Tunnel my stomach finally had enough. Good thing there’s a bathroom there because there are not many places on the Grand Canyon corridor trails where one can answer the call of nature without an audience.

I finally reached the North Rim (halfway point) in 4:20, taking 1:45 to stagger my way up the ~6 miles from the residence. All I wanted to do was throw up and quit. If I had a way to quit there I probably would have, but my truck was 21 miles away on the other side of the Canyon. Quitting wasn’t really an option. I spent about four minutes on the rim downing a few gels, stretching my beat up legs, and mentally preparing for a 14-mile descent. Ugh…

The descent started off slow, really slow. I stopped for about 3 minutes at Supai Tunnel to guzzle water and drench myself under the faucet. The somewhat steep terrain from the rim down to the bridge put a bit of a beating on my quads. I decided to take this stretch really easy in the interest of saving my legs for the ~6 miles and ~5,000’ climb up South Kaibab. Once I hit the bridge I started picking up the pace a little and reached Cottonwood Campground in 5:49. I felt like I was going to throw up every step of the way. 

With seven miles between me and the next water source, I spent three minutes pounding water and soaking myself again. The temperatures were likely only in the 70’s, but during an entire summer spent in the high country of Colorado I rarely experienced temperatures this high on any run. I had been sweating my ass off and feeling the effects of dehydration since Phantom Ranch at mile ~7. It seemed that I just couldn’t drink enough water throughout the day. 

After the pit stop, I took off towards Phantom Ranch. This was probably the most enjoyable section of trail for me all day. Nausea, muscle fatigue, mental exhaustion, and a host of aches and pains were present every step of the way. Yet, somehow I managed to forget about all of these things and just focus on one thing, “I’m running in the bottom of the f’ing Grand Canyon, it doesn’t get much better than this!” As I took my eyes off the trail to gaze around the inner canyon walls my legs just kept going without requiring any thought or effort. Before I knew it I had arrived at Phantom Ranch in 7:01—averaging sub-10 minute miles from Cottonwood. Considering that nothing felt good physically I was rather pleased with this pace.

At Phantom, I spent a little over five minutes chugging water, soaking myself, downing two gels, and trying not to throw up everywhere. My legs hurt, my stomach was churning, and dizziness was starting to set in. The stretch from Phantom to the river passed by easily—I reached the river in 7:15. I was able to run up the first few switchbacks out of the river bed, which had me incredibly optimistic about a quick exit from the Canyon. Turns out I forgot that the South Kaibab Trail has a sick-and-twisted sense of humor. 

It didn’t take long for the steepness of South Kaibab to force me into a death march. Any hiking pace, regardless of speed, just seemed to take every ounce of my dwindling energy. Running was the most comfortable cadence for me, but anything steeper than the trails encountered in The Box was impossible for me to run. The next logical thing for me would be a hands-on-knees-nose-in-the-dirt power hike. Yeah, that wasn’t happening either. So, death march it was.

On the way out I passed a handful of people, which I always appreciate for the crawl back out of the South Rim. It’s always fun to see the reactions of people you passed earlier in the day when they see you passing them again. I passed one couple who was on their way down (to where? I don’t know). Apparently I passed them earlier in the day on my way down South Kaibab. Now I was passing them on my way up South Kaibab while they were still heading down. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I had covered damn near 40 miles and a double crossing of the Grand Canyon before they had even made the 6-mile descent of South Kaibab. 

Shortly after Skeleton Point, I passed a park ranger and talked to her for a few minutes. She is the only ranger I’ve ever passed while running in the Grand Canyon who thought what I was doing was “badass” and never said anything negative about the concept of R2R2R or my minimal approach to it. She didn’t give me the typical “you’re a fucking idiot” look that I receive from pretty much every ranger in the Canyon. She just thought it was awesome and kept talking about how I was making great time. 

The short break provided a little burst of energy that coincided with a runnable section of trail. So, I hit it with a decent effort. I had already accepted that I likely wasn’t going to sneak in under 10 hours and just focused on holding a steady pace up to the South Rim. The nausea, dizziness, and constant feeling of being on the verge of puking my guts out persisted from river to rim. I found myself stopping several times on the ascent to brace myself on a rock since I felt like I was going to faint. For most of the trip up I hugged the inside of the trail, staying away from the edge should I actually faint. 

After what seemed like an eternity, I caught first glimpse of the last few switchbacks leading up to the rim. A glance at my watch made me realize that I was going to break 10 hours. I dug deep, finding what little energy I had left, and began “running” some of the steep terrain. There was a lot of grunting, groaning, and yelling in those last fractions of a mile. After a slow-as-hell 2:37 river-to-rim ascent, the South Kaibab trailhead was finally before me. Thoroughly spent after the 9:47 double crossing, I flopped down on a rock to stare back across the Canyon. 

In all honesty, I was shooting for a time somewhere around nine hours. That being said, I’m pretty happy with the 9:47—that’s 2:02 off my previous PR double crossing. Considering that I felt like absolute hell for 50-75% of the day it’s hard to not be pleased with a 9:47. 

The Grand Canyon double crossing is always a beautiful mix of pleasure and pain; the countless jaw-dropping views are contrasted by the grueling ascents/descents, daunting views from the river up to the rim, seemingly endless mental/physical exhaustion, and the effects of relentless exposure to the brutal sun. I suppose this blissful suffering is what has kept me coming back for the past three years…  


Miles—88
Time— 18 hours 59 minutes
Elevation Gain— 19,650 feet


Well, this was my first decent week of running since The Bear 100 back in late-September. My lower back seems to finally be coming along, which has allowed me to get out on some longer runs. It’s kind of crazy to think of all the amazing things I’ve seen in just this week alone: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, the Grand Canyon, and a few other runs around the Moab area. For the past two years I’ve really enjoyed the months of October and November as they’ve allowed me to truly explore the desert landscapes provided by Utah and Arizona. While the mountains will always be my home, the desert will always be my home away from home.

Driving over Independence Pass on my way to Carbondale. This is why I was headed to Moab...

First run back in Moab--a sunset run on Porcupine Rim

Hidden Valley Trail in Moab. La Sals in the distance.

Awesome view of the La Sals from the iRunFar HQ patio. And this view is just a reflection in the mirror...

This piece certainly didn't do what it was supposed to...

Devil's Garden Loop in Arches National Park

Devil's Garden Loop

Negro Bill Canyon in Moab

Off-trail exploring in Negro Bill Canyon

Sunrise at the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park

View of the awaiting ascent from White Rim Road

It's actually a pretty short, easy ascent...

View from the White Rim Overlook (I think?)

Panorama from the same overlook

Sunset over Green River in Canyonlands NP

Looking back on the Lathrop Trail. You can see the trail continuing up (to the left of the photo) and you can also see the trail continuing way down in the canyon (sort of in the middle of the photo) if you look close enough.

Damn...Not a comforting sign to see when you've had as many mountain lion encounters as I have...

It's hard not to love the Grandest of Canyons...

6 comments:

  1. Incredible! Great photos and write-up. Badass haha!

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    1. Thanks, man! Stay warm if you're still camping around Leadville!

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  2. Your weekly posts are great, living the dream.

    "a beer and views of the La Sals on the iRunFar HQ patio" > "Like". Happened to be in Vail during UROC and saw Bryon, busy bee that he is, and thanked him for his awesome work.

    The thing about well-known outdoor spots like Moab (and even the foothills of Denver) is they seem to attract people who think they're great but don't really have the manners that develop after countless day-to-day interactions with people on trail. My experiences in Fruita on the other hand, have been good, usually with savvy locals who at least say hi before casually hitting 3 to 4-foot drops like it's nothing.

    Nice job on the R2R2R. I gotta get out and see The Ditch.

    Lion crossing: so, do you carry bear spray or are you too minimal for that? I get occasional flak for it (as being overkill), but at least it's something to balance the odds.

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    1. Thanks! In case you can't tell, my weekly posts are in TK format (only with significantly more photos). Why reinvent the wheel?

      Those iRF folks certainly are busy at being awesome. It's hard not to be jealous of Bryon's new "office" near Moab. The running possibilities from his front door are pretty much endless.

      It's a rare occasion when I can get a MTB rider around Moab to acknowledge me, much less even respond when I say "hey, how's it going?" They're all way too focused on "shredding some sweet downhill" or some crap like that. Drives me nuts when someone who's not even pedaling while coasting downhill can't take the breath to say "hi" to a guy running uphill. Oh well...

      You really do need to get out here. R2R2R is a beauty and seems to get better each time (maybe that's because I keep getting faster each time?). Nothing can really prepare you for it either. You just have to do it. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be back to about 75% or more and be able to start exploring some of the lesser-known trails on the South Rim.

      I'm assuming the lion crossing sign is some sort of joke. Hopefully...Apparently sightings in the park are very rare. I don't carry any spray, knife, gun, etc. with me. Partially because I don't like carrying things (hell, I don't carry food or water half the time), but mainly because I fall a lot so I would likely spray, stab, or shoot myself. I also operate under the assumption that if a mountain lion wants me it will have me and I won't see it coming.

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  3. Great few weeks and awesome RRR report, I felt like I was there with you and it has me ITCHING to go back in the Spring. It is really hard to get to the Grand Canyon and not want to immediately immerse yourself. Next trip, taper a little bit, be a bit more conservative with your start and I guarantee you will go under 9 hours. Great job!

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    1. Thanks, Jeff! There's some pretty amazing places to run out here when you have a cooperative lower back. I think I may have just found my new way of writing running reports; just spill a bunch of crap out in about 15 minutes and call it good. No thinking. No editing. No searching for the perfect words or any of that crap.

      My approach to this RRR was to take your PR splits, run them for as long as I could, inevitably blow up, but have enough time "banked" to still break 10 hours and hopefully come close to 9 hours. In the past, I've tried conservative approaches to the South-to-North leg in hopes of saving my legs. My legs still fall apart and I end up crawling out of the Canyon at the end. Why not push the pace at the beginning and see what happens? I held your splits pretty good until around the Roaring Springs residence, I think.

      I could definitely be persuaded into a spring RRR. I'm hoping to spend another week or so here exploring some of the many South Rim trails that you never really hear about. Just have to recover first.

      My original plan for Saturday was to run down to the first viewpoint on S Kaibab (about 1.5 miles down). But there were a lot of people out on the trail (mostly good looking gals) so I kept going and then pushed the uphill pretty hard. Oh well...Next time I'll go out rested and see what happens.

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