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Tagged ‘trail running‘

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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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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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.

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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.

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

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Mt St Helens Worm Flows Speed Attempt

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Peter, getting warmed up in his patented shirtless-w/ultra-vest getup.

With Mountain Lessons contributor Peter Innes making his rounds in the Pacific Northwest before retiring to Gothic, CO for the winter, some shennanigans were in order.

Peter met Taylor and I out in Bend, where I was maximizing my limited recreation time by staying at a ranch home Airbnb and shredding some desert dust. We had a good warmup day riding bouncy bikes from Mt Bachelor to Bend along the Mrazek trail, and then set our sights for something dumber.

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Only the beginning of the uneven ground.

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Putting It On Paper

There’s just something about sitting down in front of a calendar and penning out a training schedule that signals the start of not just a new season but a new attitude. The training schedule is first a dream about what might be possible, the writer imagining each written activity as if it had already happened. Months of running transpire without effort, the benefits of work magically accruing without discipline or suffering.

Then, when the schedule is completed and laid out on the calendar, the daydreaming ends. The bastard stares up at you, a 31-eyed beast of a thing. It asks whether I have the patience, the discipline, the body, and the mind to complete it. It wonders if I know myself well enough, or if I’ve bitten off too much. It wonders if I can make the necessary sacrifices.

Blind enthusiasm takes its toll.

Blind enthusiasm takes its toll.

Just this afternoon, I laid out a three month calendar of miles and hills, with the help of Siggi, who has been training for a few week yet in Iceland. At the beginning of this month, the weather turned warm and I jumped on the trails too fast and too hard, my knee flaring in warning and quickly quelling my blind enthusiasm.

I decided that I would not be such a fool this year, and immediately stopped running. I sent out the feelers for a good physical therapist and found Annalisa Fish at Endurance PDX.* She poked and prodded and helped me to come up with a plan. In light of her observations, I’ve redefined my approach to training and my season goals; instead of thinking of the Summer season in isolation, with a peak in the early fall and a strong beer-taper into ski season, I want to run this season as if it is a stepping stone to a life of running better, pain free and stronger by the year.

So with that, I have a few goals for the season. I share them here because it’s committing, and because I hope that it will give you some insight into how I think and approach a season of running or skiing. You might even be inspired to make your own, which would be ideal.

1. Treat recovery like training. Be smart. Stretching, nutrition, sleep, prehab, and off days are more important than on days. I want to cut it short when it hurts, and attack problems as they arise. Tools: prescribed PT and stretching plan. Voodoo floss to attack hot spots. Subscribe to a CSA and eat the hell out of some veggies.

2. Build volume in a way that makes sense. I have a plan and I want to stick to it. No jumping 30% in volume because I watch a cool race video or dream up a cool objective. I racka’ diciprine.

3. Run alone less. I like people and need to spend more time with them. I want to run more with Taylor on my easier days, and find partners for the more punishing efforts. Community is where it’s at.

4. The Enchantments Loop: Beautiful mountains, gotta run through them. Completing the loop on the road is contrived and masochistic– I’ll add some peaks instead.

5. Mt St Helens Circumnavigation: Mt Hood’s ugly sister. Shorter, vaguer, lonlier, and lower-quality trail. What’s else could you want?

6. Speedbag in the Stuart range. Maybe Stuart itself. Combine running with mountaintops.

7. Get after it in Iceland. Enough said.

8. Build rather than taper into Winter. This contributes to the 5-year Big-Goal™ (top secret). If I work hard to earn fitness and a resting HR of 40, theres no point in giving it away for nothing.

Fun.

Fun.

9. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it.

That’s all for now. I need to go hit the foam roller, stretch, and shower off today’s training time. Is this the summer you’ll join me in getting serious?

*A note on physical therapists: few are worth anything to an athlete. The profession is so concerned with the treatment of chronic back pain in fat people that the average physical therapist finds it remarkable that you can even navigate stairs without pain, let alone execute a single air squat. If you need a PT, and this year 70% of you runners will, find one by recommendation of other athletes. If your PT is not used to working with endurance athletes, they will not understand your quest to build a body that is capable of not just daily activities but of great things. Hiding out there under the radar is a cadre of well-educated PTs able to understand you and possessed of the persistence and knowledge to ferret out the subtle movement flaws that become big problems over great distance and efforts./font size>


In time, I’ll be writing a piece on shoes, because I love running in them and I destroy a few pairs every season. This year I’m a convert of the S-Lab. The hype is true. Check it out for yourself and support MountainLessons in the process:

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Columbia River Gorge: Angel’s Rest to Larch Mt

Spring is in full swing, and that means at least two things:

Trails across the Pacific Northwest are drying and calling out to runners weary of winter mud and wet pavement.

Volcanoes are basking under a hot sun and shine like voluminous diamonds in the eyes of climbers and skiers alike.

Running and skiing typically occupy distinct seasons, but springtime in the Northwest harbors ideal conditions for both. I took advantage of this duality last weekend with some friends of mine. The plan was to climb and ski Mt. Adams on Sunday. The only complication was that Ethan and Richard were racing the Yakima 50k on Saturday, which boasts 10,000′ of climbing. Thus, they demanded I run at least 20 miles and 4000′ on Saturday to even the exhaustion score. Despite a relative lack of fitness for long distances and vert, I consented and drove to the Columbia River Gorge for a long run amidst its new verdure.


INFO

Parking/TH: Angel’s Rest Trailhead. Oregon Gorge exit 28. No restrooms at TH. Very busy on sunny weekend days. Go during the week or early in the morning to beat the crowds.

Map: Angel’s Rest to Larch Mt USGS (trail in red). Incomplete Strava track here.

Stats: 22+ miles, 6500′ vertical. Bring water and food. Water refills available from streams/springs after Devil’s Rest (drink at your own risk).


The journey begins with a long and moderately steep climb to Angel’s Rest. The trail was incredibly crowded up to this point, and I did my best to politely weave past hikers. As a runner it’s easy to get annoyed by crowds, but it’s important to remember that the trail belongs to everyone. Plus, it was great to see so many people being active and connecting with nature. If the human race is to make any progress in preserving the integrity of the natural systems upon which we ultimately depend, I believe this is the first step.

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Pahto (Mt. Adams) shines bright on the horizon. The next day I would be standing atop her flat head.

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Marin Headlands Run

On break in San Francisco, I was getting too fat and lazy, immersed as I was in the free-cookies-and-beer world of Air BnB headquarters. Ethan said that I would be remiss if I didn’t make it to the Marin Headlands for a run– that it was like “running through a Patagonia ad“.

The golden gate bridge, on my return trip.

The golden gate bridge, on my return trip.

Well, SF public transit really sucks, and there are only busses to the headlands on the weekends. This was frustrating. After hitting my head against a table for a few hours trying to figure out a ride (driving in SF also sucks), I decided to do what I usually do and turn a simple run into a big adventure by biking there and back.

Armed with a cruiser bike borrowed from my Air BnB host (thanks Ian!) I navigated the bike-unfriendly bike routes of San Francisco, up and over the tourist clogged golden gate bridge, and out to the quiet, foggy headlands. Read on →