Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Burly WURLy

The freaking WURL

This is a bit detailed.

The WURL-a brief history

The Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup was conceived, attempted, and ultimately completed by none other than THE Wasatch hardman himself, Jared Campbell. I would say this creation of pain was somewhat of a PhD thesis for him, proving as a student his right to earn the highest degree in the areas of endurance and suffering, after which he would go on to earn at least other 9 Noble prizes for his works in Hardrock, Zioneering, Barkley and other ludicrous concoctions of his own. It took him 3 separate times before he successfully conquered the WURL back in 2004. I personally believe it represents the most inspiring and difficult line the Wasatch has to offer. While thousands have and will complete the Wasatch 100, less than 10 have done the WURL, though it is slowly growing more popular. The terrain, self sufficiency, and burliness is what likely will keep this adventure more on the obscure side, like most of Jared's endeavors.

The man, the legend, the immortal. The WURL creator. You can be my hero baby. 

 A description of the WURL is easy(doing it is not): traverse the entire ridge systems, in the shape of horseshoe, surrounding Little Cottonwood canyon. The approach is up Ferguson Canyon and the finish is out Bells Canyon. The 24 Major(many more unnamed/minor peaks not listed) summited along the WURL are below:

-Storm Mountain, Broads Fork Twin Peaks, Sunrise, Dromedary, Monte Cristo, Superior, Cardiff, Flagstaff, Davenport, Honeycomb, Wolverine, Tuscarora, Devils Castle, Sugarloaf, Baldy, Hidden, AF Twins, Red Top, Red Baldy, White Baldy, Pfieferhorn, South Thunder, Bighorn, Lone Peak.

The stats for the WURL are somewhat varied based upon how "pure" the adventurer is to adhering to the ridgeline itself 100% of the time, but basically my GPS device gave me 36.5 miles and 18,500 of vertical gain. Jared estimated it being 34 miles and 21k, so its something like that.

In the age of this valuable resource known as the interweb, it's fairly easy to figure out who has attempted or finished the WURL. Nik Berry was the 2nd person to claim a finish and currently holds the record at 17 hours, which is truly amazing(if its true, cough cough). Other finishers are the Wasatch local heros Noah Howell and Jason Dorais in 26.5 hours. Tom Goth and Lars K also finished this year in what looks like 26 hours, though theirs may contain a small asterisk since they exited out the slightly less complex Jacobs Ladder instead of Bells, but heck, they hit all the peaks. Steve pointed out Court and I are the first "non-sponsored" athletes to complete the WURL. I expect many offers to come rolling into my inbox in the next few days.

Two women recently were reported to have completed the WURL but I heard from hopeful-first-woman-two-time-attempter Jennilyn Eaton that they failed to summit Lone Peak. Tsk Tsk.  There may have been others who have quietly endured and not claimed their public reward via posting on Facecrap, but it is unlikely. Court and I fit somewhere in the first 10 people to complete it.


Before I get to my own experience on the route, I thought I'd give some information on the route for anyone interested.

Start time: We started at 5 pm friday afternoon due to work restrictions and weekend time frames. We liked it because it allowed us to do both the ascent up Ferguson and descent down Bells in the light, both of which can be tricky and have captured many in their bushwacking dungeons. Getting lost on either portion can either kill mojo before the route even starts, or create the most miserable experience of your life when you've been awake for 24 hours, summited a gazillion peaks, and all you want is to be done. The major downside to this was we put a full day in at work, then went a night and a day without sleep. Sleep deprivation is inevitable, but getting a full nights rest and then embarking would be ideal. Most others seem to start in the early hours of morning, which doesn't make sense to me at all. My advice would be to stay up late the night before, sleep till 10-11 the next day, then start soon thereafter.
Where it begins


There is no water anywhere on the route unless you do it early spring, which I don't recommend. Its hard enough without snow, don't make it more difficult with wet feet and slippery rock. Jared did this on attempt 2 and I infer his cold/wet feet played a big part in bailing. We stashed food/water in two spots, but three is more ideal. Pole Line Pass below Superior is the first spot, Hidden peak is the second, and the saddle above Red Pine Lake is the third. All are fairly accessible(hidden peak has a tram) with trails so stashing or having a crew help out isn't horrible logistically. Hidden Peak's warming hut has water and a bathroom that is open all day/night which makes a sweet resting spot. I ran out of water twice, so three water stations is required unless you want to carry a bunch. Steve brought us water on the Pfeif saddle, saving our butts.
Hidden peak warming hut. At 4 am its as good as it gets


Some might look at the stats and think, "what?, 34 miles and it took you 27 hours? I did a hundred miles with equal amount of vert(wasatch 100 and Bear 100 both fit this bill) and did it faster than that!" True, as did I.  95% of this route is off trail, scrambling, 4th and 5th class boulder hopping schenanegians. The terrain is what beats you up, not the miles or the vert necessarily. It requires constant mental attention. Every rock you step on or grab could be loose, causing you to slip and break your leg or potentially fall off a cliff. There is no section where you can, "just tune out and pound it" like you can on a dirt road or buffed trail in a normal ultra. Practically every peak requires some type of easy climbing and I can't count how many times I had to sit and jump down from boulder to boulder. Its exhausting. Its slow. Leg turnover ain't gonna help you. This isn't the St George Marathon. Gloves are also key for all the granite.

Mental Game/Preparation

This is what you should expect on the WURL. Obviously the more sections you have done prior the better your chance of success. Court and I with our combined travel had done 95% of the WURL beforehand.

1. Ferguson canyon requires a 6000' climb right off the bat up to Twin Peaks. The trail isn't great for a long stretch. Make sure to head up left to the ridge as soon as you hit the major meadow.
2. The ascent up Sunrise has a bit of 5th class that can be dangerous due to loose rock.
3. The stretch after Dromedary is cruiser by comparison. Make good time here. Not much elevation change.
4. Monte Cristo has some 5th class that isn't super bad if you choose wisely.
5. After Superior, it is largely trails over to Devils Castle. I mistakenly thought this would only take an hour or two, but plan on 3-4. Its a long way. Many trails exist here so make sure to stick to the ridge.
6. Devils Castle has the hardest route finding/climbing of the day. Its complex terrain and time can be lost here for sure. Its also the most dangerous for those same reasons. There is some mild bushwacking which is the only stuff you should encounter on the route, pending you don't get lost.
7. The Baldy's are the crux. The terrain here is steep, long, unforgiving, and slow going. The hardest part physically. Your 14+ hours in and these peaks are just plain tough.
8. From Pfief to Thunder(aka the Beatout) really isn't too bad. Lots of boulder hopping but nothing too complicated. Don't underestimate it, but I think this section is some of the most aesthetic terrain on the route.
9. I personally think getting from Thunder to Bighorn to Lone in the dark would be really tricky, but I guess people do it. The ridge descent towards Lone off Bighorn requires careful route finding and following cairns that will lead you to the only chimney system that doesn't require rappelling. Not obvious.
10. The Notch descent off Lone Peak into Bells is wicked loose and dangerous. Just plan on it being crappy. Like Ferguson, its a 6k' foot descent back to the valley. Unless you have a paraglider waiting for you, it ain't over. Once reaching the canyon proper, a 1/2 mile traverse Northeast and uphill(yep, it never stops) to Upper Bells Reservoir will get you to the trail that leads 5 miles back to the cars at Bells Canyon. Don't attempt to descend Bells off trail. You will be sorry.

Court and I complete the WURL

Nate Hansen and I attempted the WURL a few years back in college. We managed to get lost up Ferguson canyon in the dark pretty early on and it took us 6 hours to get to Twin Peaks. We were hosed from the get go. We managed to reach Superior after 12 hours but we bailed. Now that I know what it entails to finish the thing, we had no chance at all regardless of our Ferguson debacle.

The WURL has continued to be on my to-do list as its totally inspiring, but the thought of endless boulder hopping just didn't thrill me. But as someone who likes to think of himself as reasonably fit and enjoys minor amounts of suffering, this in-my-own-backyard challenge has always appealed to me. Court claims he will never run a 100 mile race, but he loves the technical ridge scrambling type stuff and can move quickly, so he was game. Steve had just run the Wasatch so agreed to meet us at the Pfief. Our decision to try it was made a mere two weeks before we embarked.

We departed at 5 pm on Friday and made quick work up Ferguson, summitting Twin Peaks in 3 hours just at the sun was setting. We donned cold weather gear and headlamps and set off. My headlamp was not doing its job but I was too stubborn to stop and switch batteries so I did the triple traverse basically blind. Finally I relented and my experience greatly improved. We made great time to Superior, summiting around 11 pm.
Court moving up towards Twin Peaks. This is one of the few times I was in front. 

Twin Peaks summit
 From here on to Hidden Peak no pics were taken as it was pitch black.

We restocked at Pole Line pass with Courts large stash of treats including Dr Pepper and peach cups. We were both feeling more sleepy than physically tired and the stoke of being ahead of schedule was exhilarating. The traverse on trails around to Devils Castle went pretty well, till we hit a short bushwacking and technical section. Devils Castle took some time but was fun.

Not much complaining was happening until Hidden Peak. It was about 4 am and we were about to hit the 12 hour mark. The warm hut with soft benches was sure nice. We were really starting to feel the physical toll and I was beyond sleepy despite my many DP's and caffeine tabs.

We texted Pete and Steve letting them know our situation and set out. We had spotted headlamps back on Sugarloaf of who we correctly assumed was Jennilyn and Ben Eaton, who were also making an attempt at the WURL. We caught up with them just before Red Baldy and JE said she was having some stomach issues. We chatted for a bit and passed. Court had been getting slowly ahead of me over the last few peaks but he really turned it on over the Baldy's(or i really slowed down). I had to make a concerted effort to go faster than I was comfortable to keep up.

Somewhere around dawn

The Eatons march up Red Baldy

Fantastic shot from Stevo at Pfief saddle 

As stated earlier, the Baldy's are brutal. Very tough terrain at any stage but 16 hours in they really take some grunting to get through. We met Steve and JE new pacers at the Pfeif saddle which was a breath of fresh air. He patched up my blister that was quite large and painful and fed me some Mcdonalds burritos. Then he agreed to do the Beatout(the last 5 peaks) with us which was super generous of him as it wasn't going to be pretty hanging out with me. But he owed me from Wasatch last week so whatever.
Aid station courtesy of Stevo. What we lack in appearance we make up for in stamina

Then as we were heading up the Pfief, Pete, who we had thought was lost in outer space near Catherine's pass due to communication issues, suddenly appeared. He also, with some convincing, agreed to skip out on his soccer game and join us. I was pretty stoked as I was tired of hiking alone way behind Court feeling like a gomer, and Court was tired of waiting for me when he was feeling lots better.
This is what you're doing for a long time

A sea of boulders and a man ready to drown himself. 

If I wasn't hating myself for wanting to do this the terrain is fantastic

I look like I'm busting out some fast time here, but I've seen faster 4 year olds. 

Basically from the Pfief onto Lone was a super slogfest for me and I suffered the entire time. If it wasn't for my 3 good friends I would have either collapsed and died or bailed whenever possible. That's what friends are for I guess.
Lone peak. Not the end, but kind of. Court looks happy. Why? How? 

Its been a long day. Yes those are leaves. 

The descent into Bells via the Notch was painful, then once we gained the trail everyone agreed they were tired of waiting for me and took off. I was just fine with that as they had been super patient with me for the last 7 hours. At a snails pace I crawled and fell down the 5 miles to the car at Bells. I hit my face on one section and developed a bloody nose. Leaves were used as a damming agent. Once the bleeding stopped I lied down in the trail and wished for death. I have felt really bad in times past, but I can honestly say the 5 hours from Lone to the car were more miserable than having my gonads chopped off. 27 hours after departure, I rolled into the Bells Canyon TH and got myself a Barbacoa burrito, a shower, and hit the sack. 12 hours later I woke up, then slept for 3 hours through church.

A day later my blister hurts, my knees feel like lead, and I'm still wicked tired, but I feel some semblance of having achieved something very few ever will. Its gratifying. Was it fun? Kind of. Very type 2 fun for a lot of it, and type 3 down Bells. Was it pretty? If you think burning garbage is pretty than yes. A finish is a finish I guess.

Would I do it again? Heck no.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

TMR Race Report

Telluride is a pretty cool place

The San Juan Mountains have captivated my attention ever since learning about them and the notoriously challenging Hardrock 100 a couple years ago. And while having every intention of one day running that course, I also am not oblivious to the fact that its nearly impossible to get into, and that it lives up to its "graduate" level 100 miler status meaning I'm likely not ready for it after finishing one meager Wasatch 100. But when I discovered the Telluride Mountain Run, a 38 mile loop course through the San Juans with 14k feet of vert, it was like a perfect mini Hardrock opportunity. So I jumped on it.

Surprisingly Court signed up for it as well, making his race count a whopping 2 including Speedgoat, which is 2 more than he has ever run. Not surprisingly, Steve also signed up for it since he is always stoked on every race possible and it not shy when it comes to race fees. All he needs is an excuse(court and spence are doing it, I have to!) and his always supportive wife lets him head out.

The three of us met up early Friday morning for the 6 hour car ride through Moab, and it wasn't that pleasant with Court giving freely of his gaseous stench. We arrived and found a campsite in town which was lucky and very convenient as it was 5 minutes from the start.

Despite not reading the directions thoroughly and starting in the wrong spot, we quickly corrected our mistake and had a fun time climbing up at the Falls Wall on less than vertical conglomerate, which was basically like a less fun version of Maple canyon. (read, no jugs)
The boys gearing up for some climbing

Somehow the dramatic backdrop is ruined here

Wild Raspberries! I have 4 hands. We ate probably $20 worth 

That night we enjoyed the most expensive low quality hamburger I've ever had, and reminded myself why I hate eating out. I'm never happy with what I pay or eat. We rode the free gondola up the mountain because we could and then hit the sack.
Beautiful river trail through town

Start time was 6:30 am. While a few others in our campground busted out of there around 5 am, angering Court of his precious lost Nyquil induced sleep, we chose to get up around 5:45. With only 70 runners, it was a nice low key start. Dakota promised us it would rain(which it didn't) then we were off.

The first climb was up the ski resort roads, which was boring and took about an hour, then we were off on some amazing singletrack. I made the mistake of trusting one of last year's finishers at a junction with no flagging and followed him up a long hill before realizing our blunder and turning back. We went down, then back up. The fantastic pass leading into Wasatch basin was just what I was looking for from this run. A long steep descent down to Bridaveil Falls got us to the first aid station at mile 17.
This was a fantastic section of trail. Too bad it wasn't on route

It was like emptying your full bladder moving off the ski resort dirt roads and onto this. Euphoric
A group of early runners shortly behind me 

This is the 14 year old kid who was crushing it

I had been leap frogging with this guy from New Mexico for the first section which was annoying so I tried to put some space between us on the next long climb and it worked. Never saw him again. The next mountain pass was also gorgeous and I lucked out and passed a guy who was off course. (i yelled to him after I was a safe distance ahead of him)
Often times we went straight up

Cool trail up the scree

Lots of leftover mining ruins

The 2nd aid station was a water only, and after that came 7 miles of undulating terrain with much runnable singletrack. Some idiot teenager/ inconsiderate environmentalist  had removed much of the flagging on critical junctions, so I was often guessing which way to go which was stressful having already gotten off course once earlier. Luckly I made it to the last aid station with another local guy who knew the course. I thanked him for his help then promptly tried to ditch him. He caught me on the next climb, but unfortunately for him was suffering from bad heel blisters so I was able to put some distance on him on the last downhill.

I ran into the finish after 8:33 and good enough for 8th place overall. Happy with that for sure. Full results here. I got smoked by a 16 year old, so I guess I better try harder next time. But Court and Steve got smoked by a 14 year old, so at least my guy can drive.

Court and Steve finished about 2 hours later and we all enjoyed a burger and brat and headed home. All in all a fantastic run. No one had serious blisters/stomach/ultrarunning issues so it was a success. The actual course gets an A-, and the minus is strictly because I had to run on some pavement in the last ski resort climbing section.

Suggestions for Race Directors Dakota and Reese:
-ya gotta give out free t-shirts. You had tshirts but I expect free, not $20. and make em cool. not like this years Vaquero loco t-shirts. I want to actually wear it.
-improve the website. some of the links don't even work.
-i know its not your fault someone stole the flagging, but that's pretty critical stuff. Figure it out.
-get a more detailed course map or a google earth setup. c'mon, its 2014.
-somehow fit in a peak. I wanna summit a peak. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Nebo Traverse

Nebo Traverse and Loop

My two must-do ridge traverses of the summer were Timp and Nebo. I ticked Timp off a couple weeks ago so it was time for Nebo, which was inspired by the Brackelsberg clan. I recruited Court and Pete for the adventure, despite Court's horrible experience at Speedgoat the week prior and Pete's need to be back for a soccer game at 6 and his general whatever attitude to gear and training for events like these. I think he ran like 10 miles one time in the previous 3 months before his Buffalo 50 finish.

We headed up the southeast side of the mountain via Andrew's Ridge starting around 7:30. It was pretty standard steep hiking affair that was hotter and brushier than we would have preferred. We hit the ridge after about 9 am and enjoyed the breeze present up there. The ridgeline was fantastic and really felt more alpine than you would expect in Utah.
Heading up Andrews Ridge

Court enjoying some scree alpine trail

Really cool area. South Summit visible ahead

We traversed along mostly 3rd class terrain  from the south summit to the middle to the highest North Summit in a quick :30 where a larger than expected congregation of folks gathered. Not a Timp gathering for sure, but at least 50 people were found heading up or down the shorter North Ridge approach.  We ran down to the saddle then slogged off trail up North Peak and then down the nice trail to the parking area at Monument Trailhead.
Sloggin up the South Summit

Enjoying some testy 3rd class choss

Pete carried in his hand the entire way this whole bag of lays potato chips. "you need to have easy access for good nutrition". We need to get you a race vest my friend. 

Inspiring mountain

 At this point we were all pretty low on water 5 hours in, but Pete was essentially out. We were planning on retrieving water from streams and springs along our return trip via the Nebo Bench Trail, but were not confident when those options(if any) would occur. Pete asked a 4 wheeler dude for any extra liquid and was graciously given a plastic bottle of water. So he had at least 12 oz for the next 12 miles in the 90 degree heat. We rested in the shade of the bathroom before departing.
Running down North summit before heading up North Peak

One minute down the trail we found a cattle trough that was full of sewage looking water with a dead bird in it, but the entry feeding pipe was dripping some clean stuff so we took advantage of that and spent 10 minutes filling up our bottles, again not knowing what lied ahead. As luck would have it, 5 minutes after that we hit a fat stream which allowed for a quick and easy fillup. And for further stress relief we found 10-12 other plentiful spots to fill up all along the Nebo Bench trail. These seem fairly reliable even in late July.
Pete and I swore that bird was alive. It kept twitching.  Either way we decided death by dehydration was a better choice. 

Court is trying out for the remake of Sound of Music

Court and I wore matching blue shorts and green shirts, just like these two fast guys below. Too bad we aren't sponsored. 
Mike Wolfe and Hal Korner on their FKT of John Muir Trail. They asked us for wardrobe ideas. 

When you can see the Bench Trail is really is quite cool. 

Other than Court having a headache we were all doing quite well considering the mileage and vert thus far, so we plotted along south back toward Andrew's Ridge. The Nebo Bench trail is fantastic in quality for the first half, then gradually gets worse and worse till it is basically nonexistent at the junction with Andrew's Ridge, which would make it quite tough to locate if doing this loop counterclockwise. My only description of this junction is that it is basically near the top of the trail where a large gash occurs in a white sand dune like feature with a limestone cliff directly above it. Not marked at all.
Towards the south end the Bench Trail disappears but these markers keep you in the right vicinity

We began the quad bashing descent back to the car and finished hot and tired. We took a dip in the 12" deep stream to wash off and then hit Panda on the way home. Another really cool alpine ridge run close to home. Really want to visit Colorado in the future to try some of the endless alpine stuff that state has to offer. Telluride in 2 weeks!

Stats: 24.5 miles, 9500' vert, 8:20 hours. Its 13 miles from Andrew's Ridge to the Monument TH via the ridgeline, than 12 miles back along the Nebo Bench. The majority of the climbing is obviously in the first half but the Bench trail from North to South on the way back has quite a few climbs and downs and overall gains elevation back to the junction with Andrews Ridge, so don't expect an easy 12 miles. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Timp Traverse

I'm pretty sure everyone in Utah ages 6-85 has hiked Timpanogos at least once in their lifetime, or at least it seems that way on a given summer Saturday. Everyone from cub scouts in their sneakers to old badgers in their flannel shirts flock to either of the standard approaches to the 2nd highest peak in the Wasatch range. I have summited Timp somewhere in the 5-10 range, once in winter. My meager ascents pale in comparison to the likes of Davy Crockett or Phil Lowry who have hundreds of ascents. I personally find this idea somewhat ludicrous as there are hundreds of peaks in Utah to summit, but hey, to each his own. It certainly a magnificent place. 

With the Hardrock 100 happening this weekend, it inspired me to do something cool. I decided leaving my beautiful wife and new child at home was the correct thing to do. They were both supportive. 
This poor child

I have wanted to do the Timp traverse for sometime, first introduced to me by Mr Hardrock JC on his website. I'm sure its done fairly regularly by the ultrarunning/serious hiker crowd, though I'm not sure how exactly most people accomplish the task as the north end doesn't have a trail to it, but I certainly enjoy as pure a traverse as possible, meaning no out and backs. This means hiking the standard trail to the saddle, then traversing North, then traversing back South is not acceptable. I decided to approach it from the North via the Cold Fusion couloir.  but if you aren't a backcountry skier its likely this couloir is unknown to you, but basically it is a fairly obvious and massive couloir on the direct north face of North Timp. No trail, just steep talus and dirt with the occasional cliffband. 

Caveat: I am not as hardcore nor as pure as Jared, obviously, who started lower at the Bear Canyon trailhead(more vert), went up the Grunge(scarier,steeper) and actually traversed all the way to Sundance(didn't even occur to me), then did Nebo after(what?). I stopped after south timp. My excuse is I had a deadline to be back by 1 pm and no shuttle. But nothing I do is Jared worthy so why do I even bother justifying? 

I parked on the Timpanogos road about 6 am after finding the Timpanokee trailhead swarming with the usual Saturday crowd. After emptying my bowels, I followed the road as it traversed around the North side of the range, but unfortunately blew right past the entrance to the couloir as I usually cut up too soon on these type of routes. Heinous bushwacking ensued on my regurgitated attempt, but luckily I gained the couloir proper after only 15 minutes of Jackie Channing the wet foliage. 
Morning sun on North Timp

Cold Fusion approach

I summited North Timp around 8:30, 6.5 miles in. The traverse across the ridge to South Timp was outstanding. There was actually some resemblance of a trail and actual running occurred. I thought it was one of the best traverses I've done. Any traverse in the Cottonwood or Millcreek ranges seem to be either horrible jungle schwaking or slow 4th class talus. This had some slow 4th class for sure, but plenty of bomber trail. My Cascadia's did a horrible job on this type of technical terrain. I'd give them a 2/10 rating. I have been unable to find a more technical shoe that I enjoy since destroying my mesh clad Wildcats, so that's I all had. This section would have been 11/10 had I been shod in some good shoes. 
Always pretty wildflowers in Timp basin 

Me and the goats on the traverse past North Timp

Ridgeline to North Timp

My favorite part of the day was after the true summit running towards the glacier 

View back towards the true summit 
Tons of mountain goats out

Summited Mt Timp around 9:30, then continued onto south summit Timp. An unfortunate minor backtrack here was required, then glissaded down to Emerald Lake, traversed back up to the saddle, then road the ride that is the Timpanokee trail all the way back to the car with a short road section at the end. Fantastic! 

19.3 miles
5: 14 CTC