Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Zion Winter Solstice Peak Linkup


Living in Florida is really lame, so the twice a year we get to come back to Utah is something to look forward to. Luckily I finish in June of 2017, so this will be the last temporary voyage from back east. The main objective for this trip was a peak linkup in Zion that we learned about from guess who, Jared Campbell. Court had done the linkup solo already almost a year ago, but was game to do a repeat with some modifications to allow him to see some new terrain. Steve is always game for whatever and both pulled some strings in their schedules on short notice to make the one day trip happen. With snowfall approaching, Dec 21 looked like the best weather window. Despite an ingrown toenail and a cold, Steve pulled through as the hero on this trip.

Our objective was to link Mt. Spry, Twin Brothers, Mountain of the Sun, and Deertrap mountains with an exit out Hidden canyon. Courts previous expedition had followed Jared's approach(and what seems like the most common way among other trip reports ) of approaching via the Pine creek drainage just above the tunnel and then either rapelling(or downclimbing the large bowl with a "jump" per court's report) the first rappel of spry canyon before angling right and accessing the peaks via staying high above the canyon itself. Zion is such a complicated arena of mazes and towers is always dumbfounding that the majority of these peaks can be climbed via non-technical routes, though the route finding is rarely straightforward. We decided to attempt to access Spry/TB from below by "ascending" Spry canyon, rather than above. We weren't going on much beta, just a couple sentences out of the Zion Free and Clean book which states:
Option two: park at the Pine Creek Bridge 1.9 miles from the South Entrance. Hike up drainage to the first steep gully drainage on the left. Follow the steep drainage to the base of the East Temple. Look for a vegetated ramp on the east side of the mouth of Spry Canyon. Climb the 4th and easy 5th ramp into the mouth of the canyon. Scramble along the southeast rim of the canyon to a chock stone that makes a bridge across the canyon. Some rope up here. Cross the canyon on exposed terrain and work your way up onto the slabs. 

This might sound straightforward, as it did to us, but the actual execution was anything but. We got into the actual canyon fine, but struggled to locate any obvious "vegetated ramp". Our route, which was ultimately successful, went something like this:
-after entering spry canyon, proceed essentially to the terminus of the canyon(last official rap in Spry) and look for a slab just left of a large chimney/corner system on the right wall. ascend it via a few exposed 5th class moves
Court actually backed down off the hueco route and went lower by the tree
Steep but mostly secure

-traverse left on exposed slabs towards some trees
-traverse up and right via mostly 4th class with a difficult bouldery off the ground move up an OW
-traverse back left again on more slabs and ascend a cool steep arete rock staircase(we noted a few slung trees along this section, bailing or for pro?)
Dicey terrain, insecure with bad fall potential

Staircase arete
short handcrack over a bulge 

-stem across a small side canyon
-descend into spry canyon

This sticks you out directly between two raps in spry canyon itself. The chockstone mentioned in the guidebook is quite anticlimatic, merely a 4x4 small thing that really isn't essential as a small jump could get you across the canyon. What follows after crossing the chockstone was the mental crux for us. It involves semi-steep, slick, classic funky zion 5.6 that must be free soloed by the leader(unless you trust really old decaying trees for pro). A fall here would land you 100' down inside Spry canyon, not a good way to go. Up to this point we had free soloed everything, and from the chockstone it doesn't look any different than anything else we'd done. Steve headed up there and it turned out to be a little more then he bargained for. Court and I needed some Xanax to calm our anxiety watching him ascend that section. He made it no problem, and belayed us up on a pull cord we had brought along via a fixed anchor at the top. A short traverse left then up a small draw ended the difficulties.
The first crux is getting past the ledgy looking thing on the left(drilled steps?) to where steve is now, then a final crux to grab the tree just above his head. 

From here its a romp up to Mt. Spry and then backtrack up the steep 4th class slabs of Twin Brother, both amazing peaks. We traversed to the other side of TB and proceeded with a semi difficult downclimb off the summit. There are likely several ways to do this, we chose a 25' squeeze chimney of sorts that was probably 5.6 or so in difficulty. Awkward more than anything. There really isn't a good place to rap here unless you bring a bolt kit, so once again good downlclimbing skills are essential. After that section, it was mostly cruiser slab descending with one or two sections that either involved short raps off small trees or some intricate downclimbing. I made it without doing any raps, but the boys opted for one across a particularly blank section.
a look at south face TB from Spry

Court slabbin it on TB

Steve on the TB chimney downclimb

One of the sections requiring either downclimbing prowess or a short rap on TB NW ridge. A tumble here will send you a thousand feet into the bowl unless a ledge or bush saves you

The large bowl inbetween the MOS and TB is amazing, and the ascent up MOS was easy 3rd class. Some cairns mark the way up this summit. It gets done way more than the other two due to its nontechnical, albeit long approach. We descended down a cool ramp system into Lodge canyon and ascended the canyon out towards Deertrap mountain.
TB NW ridge from MOS 

Ice flow in bowl looking towards sentinel

Court descending into the bowl 
Lodge canyon 

Deertrap is a really cool scramble. Lots of big, plate/pancake like jugs on steep rock. The routefinding is fairly straightforward. A bolted anchor at the top allows for a belay up the final section should one be so inclined. By far the most secure climbing of the scrambling we'd done.
Final section of cool plates on Deertrap
Same section from above 

After leaving the Deertrap Mtn trail and our cross country travel to Hidden Canyon, we found the first rap a frozen waterfall of ice. Court and I balked, citing numerous opportunities to become unwelcome overnight guests of the canyon at best and death by hypothermia at worst seeing as the hour was 3:30 pm with less than 2 hours of daylight left, possible unknown icy swims, falling ice, etc. Steve was not deterred and made a valiant effort to persuade us to continue, but was unsuccessful. He ended up making the decision to do the canyon alone while we ran out the east rim trail. We felt bad abandoning him when it "most likely" would go fine. It ended up being fine and we all rendezvoused back at the Weeping Rock trailhead near dark. Steve had to negotiate a few cold pools and do about 6 raps, but was unharmed. Court and I had no regrets, just a moral to return again. Court is now 0/2 on hidden canyon unfortunately. A hitchhike back to the cars and some Panda rounded out another great adventure.

Court got turned around here on his solo attempt, ended up epicing in Grotto canyon

Steves pic of his rap into Hidden canyon

Overall this is fantastic day in Zion and highly recommended. Somewhere in the 16 mile, 8k' ballpark per strava. To the proficient Zioneer comfortable on lots of exposed 5th class sandstone, the entire route(via either approach) can be done sans rope assuming no descent of Hidden canyon, however a rope of some kind will be benzodiazepine equivalent for a maiden voyage should mental tenacity fail. 

Monday, June 27, 2016


google earth image

The Tushar mountain range is a fantastic little gem of high altitude(by Utah standards) 12000' peaks located east of Beaver and west of Marysville. Common access points are via the Eagle Point ski resort from the west side(Beaver) or the Beaver Creek/Bullion Canyon roads on the east side(Marysville). This range is a former mining metropolis so buffed out dirt roads with miles of high use ATV traffic are the norm, rather than miles of singletrack like in some ranges. Nevertheless, there is a plethora of good quality "running" to be had off the dirt roads and away from the motorized traffic should one so desire, which I do.

While visiting my in-laws down in Monroe it was a short 30 minute drive to Miners Park where I was lucky enough to get out on a much needed alpine adventure after being in the dreaded flatland for so long. I had outlined a very ambitious plan(for me at least) that involved a 35 mile loop with 12k' of gain and 4 12000' summits. Needless to say halfway through the adventure my feeble Florida lungs and body had all but shut down so I had to make some on the fly adjustments. Nevertheless it turned out to be a fantastic day and motivated me to return someday and tackle what I couldn't accomplish this go round.

In short, I hiked up the dirt road(2wd access) from Miners Park leading to the Edna peak area which involved close to 3k' gain. Then I traversed across Edna, Brigham and Delano peaks and then made my way over to the Piute ATV road, bypassing Mud Lake and following it to Bullion Pasture TH. From here I did an out and back up Belknap Peak and then headed down the 4 mile Bullion Creek  ST back to the car. Very fun day. Highly recommend anyone looking for an alpine adventure off the beaten track to plan a trip down there. Didn't see a person all day. I think any non-weekend day will result in little ATV traffic, though the majority of my route was off trail or non-ATV access anyway.  See caltopo link below for possible iterations of cool runs I had thought about. Largely inspired by the Grand Circle Trail Series race in the Tushars.

Top of Edna looking toward Brigham and Delano

San Juans? Nope, tushars

First High point of the loop with mt Baldy behind

Beautiful tundra running towards next objective, mt Belknap

Tons of scree. From afar it doesn't look like there is a very easy route up Belknap

2nd high point. Baldy behind. The ridge traversing to Baldy look cool. Another time

Blue Lake below. 

Perfect scree skiing for days if you wanted it. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

More Jewel than Cruel

The lake at the finish of the race

This isn't going to be a race report. I think most of the time those are pretty boring. No one cares about the minute by minute nutrition strategy or how I felt at mile 25 as I miraculously managed to follow the obvious pink ribbons marking the impossible to lose singletrack for 60 miles. Or at least I don't. But I do think some reflection and ideas are worth sharing for myself and future Jewelers interested in running the race.

Lets start off with some numbers. The race's name is "Cruel Jewel 50", implying its a 50 miler. Its been my experience most races hold pretty tightly to the idea that an extra(but not less) mile or two is within reasonable error for the justification of starting/finishing at a convenient spot. Or if its significantly more, then they name it appropriately, case in point, the Telluride Mountain Run, a 38 miler. The Jewel takes this liberty a bit further. While the name suggests its a 50, the course description clearly states its more like 56 miles. However, my GPS and many others who measured it came out with closer to 60 miles. As far as the vertical goes, the website claims 15k, which my GPS supported, while my official race shirt oddly states 17k.
Starting shelter(in the south everything has bible verses on it)

Basically I came to the conclusion that neither the race directors nor anyone else has a 100% accurate idea of just what the stats are for this race. I find that a little perturbing, since it seems like it wouldn't be that big of a deal to get that stuff nailed down. The bigger thing I find puzzling is why the race is an extra 6-10 miles in the first place when there are 2 very contrived sections of trail that could easily be eliminated that would allow the 50 mile mark to be obtained. There is a 5ish mile loop at the beginning that could be cut, and an 2 mile out and back shortly after that as well. The answer as to why they did this likely was to make the course harder and allowing to see more of the mountains. Certainly it made the course harder, but I didn't find those sections of trail to be any more scenic or pleasant than any other part. My advice would be to cut both those sections of trail, making it closer to 50 miles and also would save them manning and supplying the two required aid stations as well. This would result in a pristine point to point course with no repeats or overlap. I find it annoying when course directors add on out and backs and pointless loops just to increase the mileage(i.e most of Matt Gunn's races). I'm sure others disagree.
Lake at the beginning of the race

Regarding the actual course, it is a very beautiful course with clean, elegant singletrack that constantly flows up and down through lush green forests.(who doesn't love that?) But the one thing I was disappointed about was the lack of viewpoints. Out west, running in the mountains allows you to see for miles and miles. Not in Georgia. This time of year the trees are thick with leaves and line of sight is about 100 yards. A summit, or "bald" as they call em, never seemed like it was that impressive of a place to be. It never felt like I was in the mountains, just in the forest. Maybe winter running up there is better for that purpose.
The high point of the course Coosa Bald. Its no Handies Peak is it? 

The Duncan Ridge Trail, or DRT, or Dragons spine or whatever you call it, isn't all its cracked up to be as far as steepness, difficulty, gnar, etc. Many of the entering racers talked about it in hushed tones, fearing its notoriously steep ascents and technical descents, and insisted on saving your energy for the last 20. News flash: The DRT was like every other section of trail on the course, it went up and it went down. I hiked the up and ran the down. It was mostly great trail, and nothing I would consider remotely technical compared to rocky stuff out west(the dive and plunge of Wasatch 100). Certainly it was difficult, but what isn't after having already run 30 miles? Don't fear the DRT, its challenging, but fun.
There was a few miles of road, but that's to be expected

The course marking was flawless. Very clear. The aid stations were fine. I don't expect a lot from aid stations so it had what I needed. The shuttle service to the start was much appreciated, and food at the end was great. However, the price is what is really sets this race apart. $80 for a 60 mile course is a bargain. In our day when a 5k costs $100, 100 mile races run upwards of $300, and the badwater 135 costs an absurd $1395, a race for less than $1.50 a mile is really cheap.
Cool bridge we had to cross

Some final thoughts for myself mostly. I decided that despite my undertrained state, I wanted to run as much as possible, so I told myself I would never let my legs say "its too painful". I think it worked for a large portion of the race and my legs never seized up. Inevitably I found myself unable to do more than shuffle around mile 50 but by then I was pretty happy with my effort. Another mental game I played was when I hurting was I remembered how crappy Florida is to live in and how great it was to be running in something resembling mountain terrain. I believe AJW on one of the ultrarunning podcasts said it was a privilege to be out there suffering in the mountains as 99% of the worlds population can't or won't have that opportunity. That really hit home for me and I tried to enjoy the experience despite the pain. Having said that, the 100 milers out there I passed looked beyond the point of this mental trickery having any effect so I'm still set on no more 100's.

Looking at the top ten on Ultrasignup, I was the 2nd youngest in the group at 30 years old. And the 10th guy was 60 years old! Amazing how widespread the age group is in ultrarunning, as how you don't have to be in your 20's to do well at a race. Gives me excitement that I have at least 30+ years of good running left, not that I care a ton about organized races. I'd much rather be out there with the boys on our own adventure than some organized event.
99% of the course looks like this

Sunday, August 16, 2015

La Sal Mountain Linkup Loop(almost)

Our route. What we did is in blue, what we failed to do is in pink. 

Like most of my serious running/climbing goals on my "lifetime to do" list, this latest adventure stems from Jared Campbell. The guy just knows how to create cool stuff to do. The latest installment in the "I want to be be like J.C" novel I'm writing is the La Sal Mountain Linkup Loop. The idea is simple enough, traverse most of the major ridgeline, summiting all 9 12,000 peaks with required prominence plus a few extra in the range along the way. In order from north to south, they are:

1. La Sal 12001(just barely made the cut for a 12er)
2. Castle 12044
3. Mt Waas 12331
     Green Mtn 12163
4. Pilot Peak 12200
5. Manns Peak 12272
6. Mt Tomasaki 12239

Large Gap

7. Mt Mellenthin 12645
     Mt Laurel 12271
8. Mt Peale 12721
    Northwest Mt Peale 12,240
9. Mt Tukuhnikivatz(Tuk) 12482
    Little Tuk 12048

If you do the route correctly, it comes out to around 35 miles and 15k according to Jared. We botched the ending so we ended up short, 30 miles and 13k. He did not state his time on his trip report, so we didn't know exactly how long we should expect this to take.

While Jared did a good job at presenting the route with a map, success is far more involved than just looking at his map, which is probably his goal. If you want it, you should work for it. However, I have attached a likely overly detailed pdf beta sheet for anyone interested in doing the route but lacking motivation to pour over or maps as the return journey it is semi-complex, but this post will not bore those who just want to see the pictures and hear the brief rundown.

We set off from Salt Lake around 6 pm and heard the detailed account from Steve about the JMT and gave relationship advice to Court. The quote of the trip went something like this...

Steve-"Me and Amanda always had rules when it came to kissing and lying down. You could do one or the other, but not both simultaneously. Because you know what that can lead to. Lying down and kissing with a girl is...."
Court interrupting-"...quite pleasant".   Steve was going for "a great way to screw up" or something like that.

We thought it was funny.

We camped up near the trailhead Friday night after having some shenanegans attempting to find the correct starting point. After deciding where to leave Court's car outside private property, we hit the sack around midnight. We got going around 7 am and it took us about 40 minutes to reach the turnoff up the first gully that contained what would be our first of thousands of loose talus steps. We hit the first peak, La Sal Peak 2 hours after leaving the car.
Court heading up the talus, La sal peak on the left, Castle on the right. 

The La Sal range opened up before us and I was particularly giddy at the thought of being up in the mountains after having such a dearth of anything even resembling a hill in Gainesville for the past 2 months. The peaks ticked on by one by one and we felt like we were making good progress. The first half of the traverse to Tom is much easier than the 2nd half. Despite more individual 12er's on the first half, they are all shorter climbs with decent psuedo-type talus trails and straightforward traversing that allows faster travel. We all thoroughly enjoyed the first 6 peaks and found ourselves atop Tom 5 hours after departure(we thought this was a good time) with plenty of energy and psyched to continue on.
So many peaks. Atop La Sal Peak
Jogging off Castle

Mt Waas behind 
I believe one of the guys from the Dorais Bro's excursion climbed the pole. I want to be like them. 

Pointing out something I thought was important

Heading over to Manns peak. 

Court descending to Burro Pass

We dropped down probably the loosest and steepest slope of the day off Tom down to West Fork of Burro Pass and thankfully found a beautiful clear mountain stream to guzzle water from and fill up for the next long section. A semi short dirt road run over to Geyser Pass set us up nicely to hit the 2nd longest climb of the day up Mt Mellenthin.
Hey, more Talus! North Ridge of Mel ahead

We found a nice trail that may have had a closed sign on it that look us more or less directly up to the North ridge of Mel and we proceeded up the talus ridge. This climb took along time and we were all pretty tired at the top but grateful it was over. We traversed over to Peale which requires a frustrating out and back to tag the summit, then headed for the final peak, Mt. Tuk. I was starting to worry about time at this point as it was 4:30 and we still had Tuk and the 15 miles back to the car. I picked up the pace over to Tuk and was lucky enough to see a black bear just below the final climb. We all summited around 5, all the summits in the bag, but the adventure far from over.
Mt Peale, the highest in the range, looms ahead

Slogging it up Peale, NW Peale behind and Little Tuk far left 

Looking back to Peale as we head up Tuk
 We climbed down to the saddle between Tuk and Little Tuk, and knew Jared had warned his descent strategy into Gold's Basin wasn't exactly daises and lollipops. We all agreed upon assessing the route it looked like a suicidal nightmare of steep, loose giant talus boulders waiting to crush victims like trash compactor. We opted to continue up to Little Tuk and descend the North ridge half way, then took some 5th class dirt down into Gold's Basin where we found our 2nd and much needed water source of the day.

Steve enjoying some non Talus terrain for a change as we descend to Golds Basin

It was about 6:30 pm now, and we had 15 miles of trails and road to navigate back to the car. All went well until we lost the trail to Ooowah Lake, but recovered with help from Steve's GPS, but then struggled to find our last climb up Shuman Gulch that would take us the 9 miles back to the car. The Gps said we were on route, but we were in a nasty gully with thick bushwacking. It was now dark and 9pm, so we decided to bail down to the road. Luckily we found a hunter who agreed to drive us back to our car, finally done at 11 pm, almost 16 hours after leaving.

We drove to Moab and gorged at Denny's, then attempted to sack out 15 minutes outside Moab. We didn't sleep great due to the barrage of mosquitos, furnace heat, loud traffic and lightning then hit the road back to SLC at 6:30 am.

In summary, this is a fantastic route in the mountains. It is slow going due to the talus and basically little runnable terrain until you get down to Gold's Basin, which is way over half the route timewise. We felt like we were moving pretty well, took little breaks, and it still took us 12 hours to traverse from the car to Gold Basin which is the meat of the route. Assuming you had leg speed left and directions dialed(we did not despite my meticulous notes), the run back to the car could be as short as 3 hours. But it could also take 6-8 hours if you're slow.

Great variations to this route that would allow for less suffering and time would be to do either half of the route as loops, or if you have a shuttle opportunity, to have someone pick you up at Golds Basin. Highly recommend this route!

Saturday, July 4, 2015


Well, we've officially moved to Gainesville Florida, and the first week of PA school is in the books. It is unlikely much adventuring will be happening out here for the next 2 years due to the lack of mountains, rock, and time, but who knows? Maybe a blog post or two will show up if we make it back home during breaks.

Timbre turned 1 year old today, so Annie and I compiled a little video of the last year. Enjoy!

Friday, May 8, 2015

West Side Yo

Up Battle Creek, down TK, around on TK road, back down BC

Mt Timpanogos(Timp) is one of the most popular hikes/runs in Utah, let alone the Wasatch. Hoards of folks flock to one of the two major trails on the mountains east/northeast side with 99% of ascents occurring between June and September, or thereabouts when snow levels are minimal. The two trail choices are Timpanokee or Aspen Grove, both classics in their own way and more or less equally difficult. Hundreds of people can be found hiking on any given summer Saturday.

There are quite a few other ways of gaining the summit, though less trail and more ridge traversing is involved. Everest Ridge or a traverse from the North Summit via the Cold Fusion or Grunge couloirs are more obscure but classics for the adventurously endowed. Equally unorthodox and new to me was the approach from the West Side of the mountain, via the Battle Creek route. Pretty simple route honestly, hike up the popular Battle Creek trail in Pleasant Grove, gain the actual avalanche path/river gully, and hike your butt a total of 7k' of vertical in 4.5 miles straight up to the summit. This is largely an early spring route, as snow prevalence is mandatory due to the loose talus/scree that abounds in the couloir, both for safety and efficiency purposes.
Courtesy SP

Steve and I drove down last night and slept in the Eurovan at the BC TH. We woke around 6am and were huffing(air, not glue) by 6:30. Somehow I got us off route by taking a side trail about 2 miles up, but we managed to correct our course and find the BC avalanche path without too much time lost.

The first quarter of the gully was snow free, so we found ourselves river hiking until we reached the obvious "waterfall" feature, though it wasn't living up to its name today. Bypassing on the right, we donned crampons(microspikes for me) and busted out the axes. We moved efficiently up the solid snow, reminiscent of the Stairmaster 8000 at Momentum, and were without incident until a rogue, terminal velocity moving grapefruit sized rock beaned me in the left wrist. I thought it might be broken, but luckily it was just my watch that broke instead.
Early snow in the gully, waterfall cliff ahead

Steve coming up while the angle was still hands free

We pressed on despite the rock stinger, navigating 2 icy bulges with loose limestone talus for purchase, and made it to the summit in 3 hours exactly(SP guy says 8 hours is a "moderate" pace). Really a fantastic and direct route.  After some obligatory summit photos, we headed down. We had no desire to downclimb BC since that would be slow, less interesting, and dangerous, so we had two options available to make a nice loop: traverse the ridge north and descend Cold Fusion, or drop down Timpanokee.

Some normally loose talus was solidly secured via icy snow, providing more security

Hands on 

Icy bulge in the bottleneck

Microspikes are must have's for icy limestone bulges. 
Cheesy ice ax and summit shot

The descent down to the saddle was slow due to lots of traversing on steep snow, and we decided to head down TK instead of traversing due to time, weather, and safety(lots of cornices).
Its still winter on the Timp ridge

Contemplating the meaning of life(and how to get down)

I tend to prefer rocks to steep snow, but its nice to branch out

Unfortunately the snow was totally mushy heading down into the cirque, and we couldn't even butt glissade without completely body postholing. It took way longer than we thought to traverse the cirque as every step resulted in sinking up to our knees. Largely miserable. 5000 postholes later we made it to the descent, but there was still tons of snow, making hiking the trail impossible to see and totally burdensome. So we continued to fake glissade down through the cliffbands, and much sketchy traversing and downclimbing muddy rocky 5th class dirt to access the next snowy couloir that we hoped would lead us to freedom. Steve was the hero here as he had pants on that allowed less skin loss so he took the lead through this heinously uncomfortable section.
What normally is a trivial descent off the saddle was made more difficult by large cornices

Why is he crawling? Because that is the only way to not posthole
We glissaded/downclimbed through those thick pine trees. Yea, not ideal. 

Shorts+2.5 hours of Breakable Crust=Shredded chicken

Finally, 2.5 hours after leaving the summit we reached dry trail, or at least the best we could hope for as snow continued to appear throughout the descent to the parking lot. After refueling at TK, we began the 8 mile, 1500' journey on the TK road that traverses around the north side of the mountain. It was largely dry, but about 5 miles along the large thunderstorm predicted by Mr. Weatherman rolled in and dumped some rather large gumball sized hail on us.

At this point we were tired and just didn't care. We were cold, hungry, and wet, so let the hail fall. We had it in the bag as all we had to do was find the obvious BC descent trail off the road. I managed to bungle our descent down Battle Creek just as I had done on the ascent, and took the wrong trail down(literally impossible to do unless you're me) that led us to an overlook of BC, with 1000' of loose talus lying between us and the car. We sighed, and started down. The ski descent of the talus was the best glissade of the day(no postholing!), and we rolled back to the Volkswagon in just under 8 hours CTC.

Overall a really enjoyable outing with a little bit of everything. I wouldn't want an outing like this all the time, but definitely memorable.

Stats: 20.3 miles, 8200' vert, 8 hours.