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