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Written by Patrick Fink

Golden Ultra Vertical K, 4th, 49:05

A few weeks ago while planning a trip to Golden, BC, for my mother in law’s 70th birthday, I googled something along the lines of “Golden trail running” and discovered that the Golden Ultra at Kicking Horse ski resort was to be held the weekend that we were there.

The three-day event is made up of a vertical k, a 60k ultra, and a 20k race over the course of 3 days. While I didn’t have the time to step away and race a 60k (nor the fitness, at the moment), I impulsively registered for the vertical K.

This masochistic race format is common in Europe, but a relative rarity in North America. The ideal vertical K covers 1000 meters of climbing (3280′) in the shortest distance possible. At the Golden Ultra, this means a start at the base of the Gondola with a direct climb to the summit straight up roads, ski runs, and singletrack.

Nervously awaiting the start. The course began up the dirt road in the background and ultimately ended at the peak in the center of the distant skyline.

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Mt St Helens Loowit Trail In-A-Day

Taylor needed a goal to get her out and hiking as she rehabilitated from shoulder surgery. Hiking isn’t very intrinsically challenging, so she wanted to make it hard and walk a long way. This year, that meant looping Mt St Helens in a day on the Loowit Trail.

St Helens in the dawn light and building forest fire smoke.

We were joined by my med school classmate, Dave Toffey, who’s been working towards running his first ultra distance this year. The weather was quite favorable with the huge exception of dense wildfire smoke that shrouded the mountain after prevailing winds reversed overnight.

The crew at the junction with the Loowit trail

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Mississippi Head Run

It’s been damn smoky around these parts lately, with an explosive fire blooming in the Columbia River Gorge that has choked us all with air quality that makes Salt Lake City’s inversion smog seem like an eco-paradise. Thankfully, our usual Westerly winds returned a few days ago to blow the smoke to east and open up our skies and lungs again.

Mt Hood from ZigZag Canyon, guarded by the cliffs of Mississippi Head.

Taylor wanted to get in a long day of hiking on Mt Hood as training for an upcoming effort, and recruited friends Hayes and Reagan to join her shuttling a piece of the Timberline trail. I dropped them off in the foggy morning air at Top Spur trailhead on the mountain’s West side before driving myself up to Timberline Lodge to go for a run and check out a Mt Hood feature that I’ve never visited before – Mississippi Head.

Mississippi Head in detail.

Mississippi Head is best known for being a site of accidents. In recent times, it forms the bottom of the “mount hood triangle”, a terrain phenomenon that has claimed many unwary and even wary skiers and climbers. In short, if you descend with poor visibility from the summit of Mt Hood along the fall line, you won’t head back towards Timberline Lodge and your car but will instead veer Westwards towards the tall cliffs of Mississippi Head. This very error has waylaid Mt Hood’s most enthusiastic backcountry skiier, Asit Rathod, among many others. Read on →

Mt Olympus

Mt Olympus is one of the most imposing peaks on the Salt Lake City skyline, and also one of the most popular. It’s West Slabs, which face the University and downtown area, are a popular scramble that starts with 5.4 climbing before mellowing into a few thousand feet of class III-IV. This route also becomes what is perhaps the most asinine of the descents chronicled in McLean’s ski guide, The Chuting Gallery. A real collector’s piece.

While the West slabs top out the North summit of Olympus, the hiker’s trail tops out the main peak, which is a few feet higher and is divided from the North summit by the West Couloir of Olympus.

The bird hangs out on the pad, with Mt Olympus between the rotor blades.

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Mt Kessler

With Taylor back in Portland and my parents off to Iceland for a few weeks, I’m left to my own devices here in the Wasatch. Despite a pretty solid schedule of 16 ER shifts including 4 overnights as well as 4 days of lecture, I’ve still been sneaking out into the hills.

That’s the great thing about Salt Lake City. The city itself is not much to write home about– not terrible, but not amazing. I spend my time writing home about the Wasatch, the beautiful and steep range that I can be sweating my way up just half an hour after leaving the hospital. This is why people like me live here.

Looking down the aptly named ski pitch, God’s Lawnmower.

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Gobbler’s Knob and Mt Raymond

Having road biked up Guardsman’s pass and ridden horses around Silver Summit, a wanted to squeeze in another big day before she had to hop onto a flight back to Portland to return to her real job as the house breadwinner.

We’d originally planned an even bigger day, but after multiple night shifts and 4-hour naps, I was feeling pretty crushed, so we toned it back and decided to tag two peaks I’d seen often but never visited, Gobbler’s Knob and Mt Raymond.

Taylor heading through meadows towards Gobblers.

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Pfeifferhorn and White Baldy

Because she’s amazing and wonderful, my wife Taylor somehow managed to get time off from work to join me out in Utah for almost a week. As soon as she arrived, she was pressing me to fill my limited free time with as much adventure as possible. With almost a full day available (so what if I had to work overnight that night?) I decided to take her back up to the Pfeifferhorn and continue along the Little Cottonwood ridgeline to the neighboring White Baldy.

Taylor approaching Red Pine Lake

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Pfeifferhorn

I’m in Utah now for a month of emergency medicine at the University of Utah, trying to persuade them to take me as one of the nine emergency medicine residents that they accept each year.

Travel, particularly airport travel, really wears me down, but getting my feet back into the Wasatch range brought my energy right back, and I quickly made the decision to risk heart explosion and run an 11k’ peak unacclimatized.

The line at the Delta baggage drop at… 4:30 am.

 

Upper Red Pine Lake. Past two to three miles of steep roots and rocks, a small slice of alpine paradise.

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Newton Clark Headwall Ski Descent

The Spring corn cycle is in full swing now. After a warmup weekend with Tom last week, it was time to take full advantage of prolonged high pressure.  To start out the weekend, Taylor and I went back down to Rogue River, OR, where I planned to meet my friend and mentor Rodney Sofich to ski Mt McLoughlin.

Rod from da’ streets.

Rodney and I got an early start, but with hot hot heat and windless skies, we found the NE Bowl that I most wanted to ski was already too soft.

Final pitch up McLoughlin.

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Skiing the Wyeast, Fast

After a few months of playing phone tag, Tom Nelson and I finally managed to get out for some skiing this past weekend. Tom is a financial planner by day, ex-nordic skier, and strong skimo racer by night. For a guy with a wife, kids, and business, he really finds a lot of time to go run up hills.

Tom smiling above Vista top shack.

Our choice for the day was Mt Hood’s Wy’East face. I’ve skied this before, but Tom had never been. It was a good choice for our first outing together before seeking out some steeper objectives. I still think that this run is one of the crown jewels of cascades volcano skiing when it’s in good condition. Unfortunately, spring has been rocky out here, and just a week ago the mountain saw almost 30 inches of new snow.

Clouds, inversion, and cold East wind.

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