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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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Shorts: Hydrating for Running

Hydration can be crucial to happiness. But all things should be taken in moderation.

Seated at my computer in the ICU, I chuckled out loud while reading an interview with Kilian Jornet and Emilie Forsberg. When the nurse next to me asked what was so funny, I explained that this famous endurance couple clearly dealt with the same controversy as do Taylor and I: do you need to bring food and water with you to run or ski, and if so, how much? Kilian and I are on the same page: likely not, and if so, not much.  Emelie (and Taylor) say:

“He doesn’t like to eat when he is out! I take some food with me when I am out longer, like eight hours. And sometimes I wish that Kilian had some. I have been telling him that why can’t he have some chocolate in his backpack for me. Just in case. But it has not happened so far. So, I often take my own.”

Today I want to briefly address hydration for running, and my thoughts on the matter are governed by two observations. First, most people begin their workout dehydrated. Second, most people drink far too much during exercise.  I’ll add the caveat that you have to figure out what works for you, and you should be safe about it, but that said, here are some thoughts to chew on and a plan to be more effective with your hydration.  Read on →

Complete Enchantments Loop, Car to Car

Some days I just feel lazy. Like lead, but with more natural affinity for a sofa. This afflicts me often, or on most days even. Like there just isn’t enough coffee in the world to get me going. But life doesn’t happen if you don’t make it happen. I don’t want memories of my sofa. I want to feel sore and tired and anything but stagnant.

Prussik peak, pristine snowmelt, and in a photo, why this 'run' is worth running.

Prussik peak, pristine snowmelt, and in a photo, why this ‘run’ is worth running.

That’s how I found myself driving out of Portland at 5 am on the way to Leavenworth, Washington. I’ve been talking for years about wanting to run the classic Enchantments Loop through what is certainly one of the most beautiful places in Washington, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. I was busy.

This is the kind of immersive environment that can get me off of the sofa. At least, it can sometimes.

Asgard pass. Dragontail peak. This is the kind of immersive environment that can get me off of the sofa. At least, sometimes.

Inconvenience or not, I wanted to make it happen this year, and I wanted to do it right. As I see it, it’s not a loop if the beginning and the end aren’t in the same place. Lots of folks do this run from the Stuart Lake trailhead to the Snow Lakes trailhead and spare themselves the gap by shuttling cars. That’s the most bang for the buck, but if you’re driving almost five hours to get to the damn place you might as well do it right. Run the road. Make it happen.

Topo for the full enchantments loop. I recommend beginning at Snow Lakes trailhead and going CCW, running the road early and taking the trail itself in a generally downhill direction.

Topo for the full enchantments loop. I recommend beginning at Snow Lakes trailhead and going CCW, running the road early and taking the trail itself in a generally downhill direction.

On account of the long drive, I got a late start. Still, the road went quickly. It was hotter, far hotter, than I had expected. The eightish miles from car to trailhead took a bit over an hour and twenty minutes but a startling 60 oz of water. All of my electrolyte tabs were consumed, and I was a bit concerned.

Running up the forest road was a dusty affair. Thankfully, most cars slowed down to avoid dusting me. This one didn't.

Running up the forest road was a dusty affair. Thankfully, most cars slowed down to avoid dusting me. This one didn’t.

After a crucial toilet stop at the trailhead, the welcome shade of the forest singletrack took over. From Stuart lake trailhead to the Colchuck lake turnoff went quickly. Mostly runnable, some power hiking. After the turnoff, it’s a rooted mess that requires selective walking.

First views towards Mt Stuart climbing towards Colchuck lake.

First views towards Mt Stuart climbing towards Colchuck lake. Also, the first of many granite slabs.

I made good time to Colchuck lake, passing a woman who started telling her friend how this time last year she “was passed by some guy who looked just like that and they were running up Mt St Helens“. I had a good laugh to myself, and started cramping. First, my toes cramped, going around Colchuck lake. That was a new one, but it turns out you can run while your toes cramp.

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Asgard pass, shadowed by Dragontail peak, rises a grossly foreshortened 2000 feet above Colchuck lake.

Then came Asgard pass. It’s a cool two thousand feet in one mile of switchbacking scree dirt. My calves started cramping. As I power-hiked into the cold wind on top of the pass my watch read 3:30 and I was happy to have the climbing behind me.

The enchantments “core”, as the flat-ish four-mile stretch through the alpine plateau is called, is gorgeous. Gorgeous like the girl you can’t help but ask her to marry you a day earlier than planned. Problem is, you don’t get to look at it, if you like staying upright.

Dragontail peak from the rear. This shot, though not a great photo, accurately captures the texture of the enchantments core.

Dragontail peak from the rear. This shot, though not a great photo, accurately captures the texture of the enchantments core.

The running in the core is rough. Smooth trails are marred by the addition of granite boulders to pave the way so backpackers don’t have to get their leather hikers muddy. The only time that you get to look around is if you stop, which I couldn’t because I’d cramp, or when running down one of the many granite rock ramps that dot the route.

Hikers crossing a small patch of snow through the core area.

Hikers crossing a small patch of snow through the core area.

Navigation here is oddly challenging for such a well-traveled route. The problem is, people are everywhere, and they’ve made cairns and false paths this way and that. I’m sure it works if you’re going slowly and don’t care if you get side-tracked, but was on a mission. Thankfully, unlike my last trip through the enchantments, when my partner and I struggled to find the route out of the range, I found the exit near the mouth of Lake Vivianne without mishap.

Lake Vivianne and the iconic Prussik Peak. Knowing that the descent trail begins at the mouth of lake Vivianne is probably the single most crucial navigation detail for this trip.

Lake Vivianne and the iconic Prussik Peak. Knowing that the descent trail begins at the mouth of lake Vivianne is probably the single most crucial navigation detail for this trip.

Now this is a trail! Occasional cairns mark a zig-zagging route down steep rock slabs with sometimes startling exposure. I’m surprised that the forest service puts this one on the map, because it’s definitely not a wise choice for the typically unstable and overladen REI hiker.

'Trail' along the Vivianne slabs. Here, and only here, are cairns actually useful and accurate.

‘Trail’ along the Vivianne slabs. Here, and only here, are cairns actually useful and accurate.

Never mind that, they manage it anyways, and they were polite about letting me pass. I ran, stepped, climbed, and hobbled down. Down, down, down, 6500 feet downhill in one go. Connective tissue was tested and blissfully held true. My quads cramped, which drove me crazy because I never get cramps, so I ate all of my sodium-containing foods as quickly as possible.

Another bad photo, but this time of the typical descending trail beyond the Vivianne slabs: prominent roots, dotted with rocks, and startlingly steep.

Another bad photo, but this time of the typical descending trail beyond the Vivianne slabs: prominent roots, dotted with rocks, and startlingly steep.

The finish is monotonous. There are innumerable switchbacks, and the trail is just rough enough to bite you if your mind strays. I was focused, because I’m getting old hand at this kind of thing. Namely, my car had a cooler full of beer and New Seasons’s banana cake, which is heaven after a long run. Also, typically, I got fixated on finishing before a nice round-numbered time, so I kicked it down those switchbacks as quickly as I could manage and chugged into the parking lot with a moving time of 6:28:15, bumped irritatingly to an elapsed time of 6:31:59 by a bathroom stop at the Stuart lake trailhead.

Not to rest long, I savored a quick lager and some banana cake with my feet in Icicle creek before grabbing an obligatory Heidelburger and heading for home. By sunset, I was back to Mt Hood, kicking up my feet and heating up the sauna.

The spoils of war.

The spoils of war.

Sometimes, I just have to do it, or dammit, it’ll never get done.


Support Mountain Lessons and hook yourself up with a pair of shoes that were built for miles of rough descending, the Salomon S-Lab Wings.

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Running Around Broken Top

Man, what a hiatus. This summer has been a rough one. I’ve been inside, doing the hard work of becoming a doctor by undergoing the rights of passage called Surgery and Internal Medicine. It’s a necessary sacrifice, but it hasn’t been easy to watch summer slide by without me.

Now, finally, I’m on to lighter stuff. Two-day weekends. In to the hospital after sunrise and out before dark. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. And now that it’s quickly becoming fall, it’s time for some long runs.

I’ve been mulling over the Broken Top loop for a while now. It’s a great distance (~27 mi) in the great high country above Bend, OR. It’s part desert, part alpine, and part Ponderosa forest. The smells are amazing. This weekend, Taylor was going to go backpacking with a friend, so I headed out along to get this thing done.

Processed with Snapseed.

In the first quarter mile, a mountain lion track. That’ll put some energy in your step.

Running Around Broken Top

The most direct way to begin the loop is at the Three Creek Meadow trailhead on the Northeast side of the mountain, about a 30 minute drive from Sisters, OR. I opted to go clockwise, as that put the uncertain navigation up front, and I knew from scrambling around near Broken Top with Taylor a few weeks ago that the second half of the loop would be prettier this way.

3M1H

Overview map of the Broken Top loop. (PDF) (Zoomable Map).

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Breckenridge Crest Half Marathon

The “Breck Crest”  is a 20-year Breckenridge, Colorado footrace tradition described as “quintessential Breckenridge” by race director Jeff Westcott.  The marathon and half-marathon courses bring racers just beneath the peaks of the 10-Mile Range–the town’s stunning backdrop and setting of the famed Breckenridge Ski Resort–before descending dirt road through the resort boundaries. I opted for the shorter distance because “up & downs,” as I like to call them, have become somewhat my specialty. Or maybe it’s just that I haven’t raced much else.

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