Monday, August 27, 2012

Wonderland Trail in 48 hours?

Location: Wonderland Trail
Distance: 93 miles 
Type: ultra hiking/running
Time required: depends

The Wonderland Trail may be the most brutal yet most rewarding trail I have ever experienced.  The trail circumnavigates Mt. Rainier (14,409 ft) in 93 miles.  To most people, the trail is something you do over a 10-12 day period or over a couple years by splitting it up in segments.  Michael Davidson (avid runner, climber, hiker) said otherwise.  As we passed backpackers carrying heavy 40+ lb loads during our 48 hour adventure, I realized Michael was right; fast and light is the way to go.  

We met at Box Canyon trailhead at 5:56 am, stretched, used the restroom and started hiking at 6:15 am on Friday August 24, 2012.  We moved counter-clockwise and made our way towards Mowich Lake, 46 miles away.  At Mowich Lake, we had a tent, sleeping bag, pad and food waiting for us.

We made it to Mowich Lake that night.  We hiked 46 miles and we saw half the mountain in less than a day!

The following morning we left Mowich Lake and made our way towards Longmire.  The glacier valleys never ended.  Up and over glacier moraine, down into the U-shaped glacier valley.  Up and over another glacier moraine, down into a U-shaped valley.  This went on for over 35 miles until we reached Longmire that evening.

What I wore:
La Sportiva Raptor trail running shoes
Salomon frictionless trail socks
Running shorts with pockets (for power bars)
Lightweight running shirt
Lightweight running cap
Day pack with sturdy waist strap

What I carried:
3-liter camelbak (rarely filled it entirely to reduce weight)
High energy food (high calorie to weight ratio)
    -power bars, granola bars, etc.
    -goldfish (pleasure food)
    -nuun (electrolyte tablets)
Shell pants
Fleece beanie, light fleece gloves
Insulated jacket
Mini first aid kit (aspirin, band-aids, toilet paper, aspercreme)
Ankle brace
Mount Rainier map

Time splits:

Day 1
06:15 am    Leave Box Canyon
09:00 am    Indian Bar
10:00 am    Goat herd encounter above Indian Bar
10:35 am    Panhandle Gap
11:02 am    Summerland (big snack break, water filter break)
01:30 pm    White River (restroom break)
03:30 pm    Frozen Lake (big snack break)
06:45 pm    Mystic Lake
09:00 pm    Carbon River suspension bridge (closed)
11:00 pm    Ipsut campground (water filter break)
01:00 am    Mowich Lake campground
01:30 am    Asleep

Day 2
06:30 am   Awake, stuff faces with bagels, muffins, oatmeal, etc. Stretch, pack, restroom.
07:30 am   Leave Mowich Lake
09:00 am   Mowich Camground
11:40 am   Golden Lakes Campground
02:15 pm   North Puyallop River crossing
04:20 pm   St. Andrews Lake
05:45 pm   South Puyallop River crossing
06:35 pm   Emerald Ridge
07:40 pm   Tahoma Creek suspension bridge
08:45 pm   Indian Henry
11:45 pm   Longmire.....the end of the road for us.  13 miles short of the full loop.

At 11:45 pm we stumbled into Longmire, the first place the trail is even remotely close to a road in about 35 miles! Michael's parents were there waiting for us, ready to feed and encourage us to keep going.  Only 13 miles left we all thought.  Only 13.  Wait, only 13?  13 is a lot.  But it's only 13 miles, we already did 80 miles, what's another 13?  This debate went on in my head for about 10 minutes while the Davidson's tended our wounds and every need.  In the end, the realist inside each of us won the debate.  We decided to throw in the towel and forego perhaps the hardest 6 hours we would ever experience.  Instead I have very little recollection of those 6 hours as I was curled up in the back seat of a car fast asleep.  There is always next year.

Total distance: 80 miles
Total time:  41 hours 30 minutes
Total moving time (approximation):  31 hours
Total elevation gain:  20,000 ft.  (not a typo)

I am going to emphasize the elevation gain of 20,000 ft...

For those of you who have climbed Mt. Timpanogos in Utah....20,000 ft. would be equivalent to climbing Timp 4 times.

For those of you who have climbed Mt. Rainier....20,000 ft is equivalent to climbing Mt. Rainier from its lowest starting point, twice.  

For those of you familiar with Mt. Everest....20,000 ft is equivalent to climbing from base camp to the summit 1.75 times.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Back to Rainier

I started my second semester of grad school this past week.  As a consequence, the number of climbing trips and physical activities has and will continue to decrease.  Yet, one big trip remains before the cold weather kicks in....The Wonderland Trail.

For the last 2 months (not nearly enough) I have been training my body to get used to long, painful days of physical exertion in preparation for the 48 hour, 93 mile loop around Mt. Rainier.   I would say my body and mind are prepared for the pain.  I am hoping my stamina holds up and that no injuries set in during the course of the trek.

The following is from an email from our team leader, Michael:

0300--People at Davidson's Wake
0330--GROUP 1 (minus Kirk) leaves Davidson's
0500--GROUP 2 leaves Davidson's
0500--Kirk Wake
0600--GROUP 1 starts hiking from Box Canyon counter-clockwise (North)
Leaves one car at Box Canyon
0700--GROUP 2 start hiking from Sunrise counter-clockwise (West)
1300--Marianne Davidson reserves campsites at Mowich Lake CG
~1900--GROUP 2 arrives at Mowich Lake CG
~2100--GROUP 1 arrives at Mowich Lake CG

0500--Start Hiking

~0000--Arrive at Box Canyon

Hikers should pack enough food for the day. Nothing that needs to be cooked, high calorie, etc. . .

Friday morning before we set out we will eat bagels and cream cheese, fruit and muffins. 

My Mom has graciously offered to reserve us a camp spot and prepare dinner at Mowich Lake--we'll probably eat mountain houses cause we'll be tired and want something warm. The next morning we'll probably have oatmeal (I am open to suggestions) before taking off for miles 50-93. After that we are pretty much on our own.

The weather looks to be a bit chilly with highs in the 50's on Friday and warmer on Saturday.  Wish us luck!  Trip report to come.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

East Ridge, Mt. Owen

Mt. Owen
East Ridge
5.6 Trad,  Steep Snow, Scrambling
Grade II

Mt. Owen is the Grand Teton's northern neighbor.  I had only heard of it and known it was in the Tetons but I never really had any ambitions to climb it.   My first goal was always the Grand.  Then I heard from a friend/professor of mine from BYU and he mentioned wanting to do the East Ridge on Mt. Owen.  So we planned to climb Mt. Owen the day after I climbed the Grand....

What I carried to climb both the Grand and Owen back-to-back:
60-L pack
Mountaineering boots
Mountaineering ice axe
GPS, map
Rock shoes
60 m 8.1 half rope (my partner carried another rope)
Harness, ATC belay device, PAS
Single trad rack (cams up to #3 and a set of stoppers)
5 slings
4 quickdraws
3-L camelbak
Extra socks
Beanie and gloves
Climbing pants
Long sleeve quick dry climbing shirt
Tent, Pad, Sleeping bag

Monday morning we drove to the Tetons from Salt Lake City.  Monday evening we camped in the meadows in Garnet Canyon.  We summit the Grand on Tuesday around noon.  From the summit of the Grand we rappelled and down-climbed off the Grand and back down to the meadows, we packed our overnight gear and made our way down, around and back up to Amphitheater Lake, the typical base camp for climbing Mt. Owen.   We met two other friends at Amphitheater Lake, set up camp and got ready for the climb the following day.

We left Amphitheater Lake at 7 am Wednesday morning and followed a climbers trail north into the Teton Glacier canyon.  Once into canyon we crossed 2 huge moraines.  From the top of the 2nd moraine we could see our route up the Koven Couloir, the rocky East Ridge, the upper snowfield and the summit block.  We crossed the lower section of the Teton Glacier (no crevasses, very flat) and started making our way up the Koven Couloir.  The lower half of the couloir was class 3/4 scrambling on rock (in August 2012), the upper half of the couloir was half snow, half rock.  The upper half of the couloir took us 2 hours!  It required routefinding with snow, wet rock, blank rock, ice, etc.  The unusual winter made this route quite a challenge.

From the East Prong Col (top of the couloir) we turned west and made our way up into the chimney.  The chimney was wet, wet, wet!  There were several waterfalls cascading down the chimney, melting from the snowfield above no doubt.  We belayed this pitch, due to the wet conditions.  At the top of the chimney, we climbed through a hole in between a large chockstone and the chimney.  We got totally drenched.  Once on top of the chimney, the summit was in sight!

We unroped, strapped on our crampons and started scaling the steep snowfield to the East Ridge rock.  We got on rock at the easiest point, about 300 meters from the top of the chimney.  Once on the rock, we scrambled up a bit until we reached slabby, featureless rock.  We climbed 2 pitches of 5.6 slab until we reached the final pitch.  The final pitch looked very intimidating; steep, unprotectable, slab.

We chose not to climb it.  It was a tough decision, with the summit just 50 ft away.  Overall, it was probably a wise decision.  2 of our group had stopped half way up and were waiting on us in order to rappel down.  If we were to get hurt on the summit block, we would have all been in trouble and stranded.

The decent required 5 rappels and lots of downclimbing.

We were back at Amphitheater Lake at 7 pm and then packed up and were back to the car at 10 pm.  Day 1 we climbed the Grand in 17 hours, Day 2 we climbed Mt. Owen in 15 hours.  In summary, we climbed for 32 hours, gained over 13,000 ft in elevation and we were tired.  After driving 80 miles to Pinedale, Wyoming we slept, showered, ate and backpacked 14 miles into Island Lake in the Wind Rivers the following the day.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Grand Teton - Upper Exum

Grand Teton Trip Report
Upper Exum
5.5 Trad
12 pitches

Picture from

The Upper Exum route is a classic among the many great climbs to reach the summit of the Grand Teton.  The route essentially follows an easy, exposed south ridge all the way to the summit.  3 months ago, climbing a long traditional (trad) route up the Grand seemed unlikely unless we were to go with someone more experienced.  Fortunately, in the last 3 months I was able to pick up traditional climbing, which includes a lot of new skills and new gear that are not required in sport climbing.  I would like to thank my very first climbing partner, Dave Nelson (Mountain Man Dave) for taking me traditional climbing several times and showing me the ropes (no pun intended).
So with our new skills and confidence, Luke and I planned to do the Upper Exum route on the Grand Teton.  Though the route is not technically difficult, the approach requires hauling all your gear up 6,000 vertical ft to where you actually begin the climb.  The route itself ascends over 1,500 ft and there is a lot of exposure (i.e. thousands of feet of it).
View from Lower Saddle

We decided to camp half way up at the meadows in Garnet Canyon to make our summit day more enjoyable.  We left the meadows at 4:45 am and made our way up to the lower saddle.  We passed a couple groups on our way up and made it to the lower saddle at 6:30 am.  There were a lot of climbers up there and even a couple groups going on the Upper Exum.  We took a break at the saddle, ate some energy bars and spotted out the route and the infamous Wall Street ledge.
Wall Street
We scrambled up and around the Needle and onto Wall Street at 8:30 am.  We remained unroped and hopped onto the ridge without a belay.  From there we roped up and began the route on the golden stair.  We placed 2 pieces of pro on the pitch and then quickly soloed up the Wind Tunnel (it was windy). We had to wait due to other groups from time to time, but overall it was not a problem.  In fact, it was reassuring to know we were on route.  Much of the route we used a running belay or just short-roped it.  I led the friction pitch and placed one piece of pro (#1 cam) before I made an anchor.  Overall, Luke and I felt like the route was a scramble, which we are very proficient at.  We have been peak-bagging class 3 and 4 routes for the last few years, so we have become increasingly more sure-footed and comfortable with exposure.  From the friction pitch we followed a group in front of us and missed the V-pitch unfortunately.
Transition from Wall Street to Upper Exum Ridge

The Golden Stair (first pitch)

Looking down the Wind Tunnel

Summit ridge

We were on the summit at noon in clear skies.  For a moment, we were the only ones up there, it was a nice feeling.  Many thanks to the mountain project app which has an offline mode and includes route descriptions and pictures.

After a short break we made our way down the west side of the mountain and worked our way south towards the Seargants chimney rappel.  After this rappel we worked our way along the ledge further to the south to the infamous overhanging rappel.  This was a lot of fun and can actually be done on a 70 m rope, if you rappel off the southernmost anchor and aim for a nice ledge.  We, like most groups, used two 60 meter ropes and rapped down easily to the Enclosure.

Lots of down climbing and hiking took us back to the meadows around 3:30 pm.  We relaxed, drank, drank, drank, packed up and went down and back up to Amphitheater Lake in preparation for Mt. Owen the following day.  17 hours of hiking, climbing, backpacking, etc.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

North Timpanogos and Bomber Peak Summer Hike

North Timpanogos and Bomber Peak
Saturday August 4, 2012

The Mt. Timpanogos ridge has many fun, challenging peaks besides the highest point which is by and large the most popular.

The ridge includes:
North Timpanogos 11,441 ft
Bomber Peak 11,347 ft
Mount Timpanogos 11,749 ft
Second Summit (South Summit) 11,722 ft

To climb all 4 in one day would be a challenging day and would require a shuttle.

Today, Nathaniel and I did a mini traverse (without a shuttle) of the north side of the Timp ridge.  We started at 5:30 am at the Aspen Grover Trailhead with about 100 other people and cruised up.

                                          On the way up to Emerald Lake

From Emerald Lake, we made our way to the saddle, like everyone else, but we took a right, unlike everyone else.  From the saddle, we turned North and followed the easy ridge line to Bomber Peak, past Pika Cirque on our right (East) and up to North Timpanogos Peak.  The view back towards the main summit and South Timp is excellent.  We realized at that point, we should have dropped a car off at one point and just traversed the whole thing rather than backtracking and putting in extra mileage.  Live and learn.

                                          North Timp from Bomber Peak

We made our way back towards the hikers saddle, onto the trail and back down to Aspen Grove.  We did not attempt the main summit or South Summit as it was getting hot and we wanted to avoid overexertion.  We will be heading to the Tetons next week for a lot of climbing and elevation!

                                                     Timp ridge from North Timp

Friday, August 3, 2012

Park City Ridge Trail Run - Training continues

Park City Ridge
Trail Running

Today, August 2, 2012 I decided last minute to do a little trail running.  I had nothing better to do.  My dad dropped me off at Guardsman Pass and I followed the northwest-southeast Park City Ridge back down to Midway where I had my Dad pick me up in 1.5 hours.

This ridge run has a nice network of single-track and double-track trails that extends into the Park City resorts and along the entire ridge until you reach Phosphate Peak (The Peak), which overlooks Midway, UT.  The ridge gained a cumulative 1163 ft, but overall the route I choose is downhill.  I started at 9600 ft and ended at 7200 ft.

                                          Park City Ridge route

If you didn't read my last post, which you should, I am training to run the Wonderland Trail in less than 48 hours*.  The trail circumnavigates Mt. Rainier in 93 miles and gains a cumulative of 22,000 ft.  Thats like climbing** Mt. Rainier 2.5 times!  However I am more concerned about the elevation loss.  The significant uphill will be grueling, but the downhill will just plain hurt.  For training, I am trying to incorporate a lot of elevation loss and get my quads and knees in shape for the torture to come.

*The average backpacker takes 10-12 days to complete the trail

**Most climbers take about 48 hours to climb the mountain once (I did).

Thanks Dad!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Brighton Ridge + Great Western Trail + Ridge Trail 157

Back Spine Ridge
Central Wasatch, Utah
Hiking/Scrambling/Trail Running

Link: Video Report

I am currently training for a 93 mile trail run/hike around Mt. Rainier on the well-known Wonderland Trail.  My friend Michael and I will be attempting to complete the loop in under 48 hours on August 24th and 25th.  Obviously, this sort of goal requires excellent fitness and training.  Unfortunately, I have not been training as hard as I should.  Mostly I want my body to get used to doing long, long days.

On Monday, July 30, 2012 I decided to make myself do a long day, alone.  I dropped a car off at Mill Canyon Spring (along the Alpine loop in American Fork Canyon) at 7 am and my dad drove me over to Guardsman Pass (divide between Brighton, Park City and the Heber Valley).  I planned to follow the Brighton Ridge south and southwest towards Catherine Pass and then follow the Great Western Trail until it intersects with Ridge Trail 157 and follow it until I reached my car at Mill Canyon Spring.  According to the route I made on my GPS, I estimated it would be about 17 miles with about 6,000 ft elevation gain.  

*I have named the north-south ridgeline above the Heber Valley "Back Spine Ridge." As far as I know, no one has connected this entire ridge line into a single day.   The ridge is essentially the back spine of the wasatch and it extends from the Park City Ridge in the north near Guardsman Pass all the way to the Alpine Loop near Mt. Timpanogos.  All other ridges in the central Wasatch connect with "Back Spine Ridge," hence the name.  

                                                      Back Spine Ridge

I started moving at 8:30 am at Guardsman Pass as my dad drove back to Midway to begin his workday.  I quickly made my way up the ridge and summited the small peak directly south of Guardsman Pass (North Clayton Peak?) and then the larger Clayton Peak or Mount Majestic.  There is a decent "trail" to follow along the entire ridge.  

                                          Looking east from Clayton Peak

List of peaks on Brighton Ridge from North to South:
North Clayton Peak (>10,300 ft)
Clayton Peak (10,584 ft)
Preston Peak (10,315 ft)
Pioneer Ridge (>10,000 ft)
Pioneer Peak (10,354 ft)
Sunset Peak (10,522 ft)

*Elevation calculated by GPS

                                                  Brighton Ridge
I had awesome views of the Heber Valley to my left and top of Big Cottonwood Canyon and its lakes to my right.  I felt like I could see all of the central Wasatch mountains.  In comparison to the larger ridges in the Wasatch (Cottonwood, Beatout, Wildcat, etc)*, the Brighton Ridge has little exposure and is very easy going.  I reached Catherine Pass in less than 2 hours (3.75 miles).  

*See trip reports of Cottonwood Ridge, Beatout, and Alpine Ridge in Summer of 2011 on the right
     Looking south towards Mt. Timpanogos, my car is over there somewhere!

From Catherine Pass I took the Great Western Trail southeast into American Fork Canyon territory. I followed the trail down, down, down until it intersected with Trail 157 (marked on the left) about 1.5 miles from the pass.  This took me about 15 minutes.    

Ridge Trail 157 climbs up and regains Back Spine Ridge.  It follows a great single-track dirt trail through beautiful aspen groves and high mountain meadows up to Ant Knolls (9,859 ft).  I had great views of Timpanogos, Mineral Basin (backside of Snowbird), Mt. Baldy, Hidden Peak, AF twin peaks, Red Baldy, White Baldy, Box Elder, and the entire Heber Valley to the east.  The trail meanders down the south side of Ant Knolls to a dirt road crossing.  The dirt road comes from Snake Creek Canyon from Midway, UT up and over Pole Line Pass into American Fork Canyon.  In fact, this is where I saw the only people I saw the entire day; 4 Heber City folk, no doubt, 4-wheeling around on the dirt road.  I jogged right on by.  

                        Looking towards Mineral Basin from Ant Knolls area

Ridge Trail 157 contours along the western side of Mill Canyon Peak for a couple miles until it reaches a high meadow pass near Rock Spring.  I was starting to run out of juice at this point.  I had gone 13 miles at this point in about 4 hours.  I tried to eat some granola bars but it wasn't going down very easy.  It was getting hot, I was running low on water, I didn't have an appetite and little known to me, I still had 5 miles or more to go plus significant elevation gain.

At the saddle near the top of Mill Canyon Peak, I took a wrong turn, a major wrong turn.  There were several trails to choose from and the trails on my GPS and my phone GPS and the real trails did not correlate.  Disaster.  According to Mill Canyon Peak trip reports, its only 2 miles from Mill Canyon Peak to the spring where my car was parked.  No big deal, I'll find it.

I eventually did find it.  But I added at least 5 miles to my already long, fast day.  The good news is that I saw a herd of 30+ elk on my detour....As I entered an aspen grove, I looked around and spotted a large, dark-colored animal 50 yards away.  At first it spooked me, thinking it was a black bear.  Then I realized it was an elk!  It looked right at me and then 2 more appeared and looked at me.  I started to pull out my camera and then, I saw about 30 or more stand up from the tall grass and bolt off.  What a sight.  I heard bugling for an hour following my encounter.  Maybe my 2 hours and 5 miles extra of torture was worth it.   

Total time: 7 hours
Total moving time: 6 hours
Total distance: 20.1 miles