Posts in Category: Hiking & Backpacking

Summer ’15 mountain running adventures

The Beaten Path in its early season splendor

The Beaten Path in its early season splendor

Well, well. After a full summer’s hiatus from the old blog I am back to share with you some personal highlights of the summer season here near home in SW Montana and beyond. Some technical WordPress difficulties led me to discard a midsummer 1000+ word recap of my longest race to date (53 miles) but I’ll do my best to decant some of that here in the near future. In short, 50 miles is a lot longer than 30 🙂

Somewhere during the 2015 HURL Elkhorn 50M, sometime before things got really real

Somewhere during the 2015 HURL Elkhorn 50M, sometime before things got really real

The main theme that unfolded for the warm season has been mountain traverses and ridge running for long distance training – both single-push days and planned overnights with tiny packs/vests. Fun, big weekend objectives with moderate mid-week training led to an avg of 40 mile/10,000′ weeks from June through Sept. Both my mileage and vertical gain ramped up incrementally (and slowly) through the summer as strength and weather joined forces. This training revolved around three mountain ultras – an Old Gabe 50K early summer tune up, the HURL Elkhorn 50M mid summer main event and lastly, The Rut 50K end of summer celebration. All of these runs are heavy on the vert with each over 10K’ on the up, hence the emphasis on such in my training. This proved to translate well, thankfully.

Myself and RD, Steve at the HURL Elkhorn 50M finish

Myself and RD, Steve at the HURL Elkhorn 50M finish

This summer has been spectacular for high mountain adventures and the segue into autumn has been most pleasant with an abundance of sun, warmth, and limited precip. A bit of end-of-summer snow fell here at Sept’s finish, but nothing to shut down sneakers in the high country. Recent snow will certainly linger on some aspects until winter lays its white brushstrokes again… but until then I’m into soaking in as many golds and bronzes as I can.

After a Beartooth night beneath Medicine and Castle

After a Beartooth night beneath Medicine and Castle

Here’s a quick recap of this summer-into-fall highlights for me. Most of the distance/elevation stats came from my Suunto Ambit2 GPS watch. Thus, variance is to be expected. In chronological order:

Beartooth: Beaten Path from East Rosebud to Cooke City. July – 26 miles, 5000′.

Jonah, into the clouds on the Beaten Path

Jonah, into the clouds on the Beaten Path

Gallatin: Mt Blackmore to Hyalite Pk high route. July – 18 miles, 6700′.

Adam on the Hyalite high route

Adam on the Hyalite high route

GTNP: Paintbrush/Cascade Canyon loop. August – 20 miles, 4300′.

Julia nearing the top of Paintbrush Divide. And check out that rockslide splitting the tarn below!

Julia nearing the top of Paintbrush Divide. And check out that rockslide splitting the tarn below!

-Bridger: High ridge traverse from Morgan Cemetary to the ‘M’ (Overnight). September – 35 miles, 17,000′.

Adam on the full Bridger Ridge traverse. Windy was an understatement.

Adam on the full Bridger Ridge traverse. Windy was an understatement.

-Crazy: Big Timber Canyon to Cottonwood traverse (Overnight). September – 23 miles, 6200′.

Sarah, Adam, and myself early on in the Crazy traverse (pic: J)

Sarah, Adam, and myself early on in the Crazy traverse (pic: J)

-Gallatin: Devil’s Backbone (Gallatin Crest) Portal Creek to Grotto Falls high traverse. October – 25 miles, 6100′.

Julia mid-route on the Devil's Backbone - highly recommended

Julia mid-route on the Devil’s Backbone – highly recommended

Julia and I also spent quite a few starry nights out in the alpine whenever we could. We actually bivied more than spending time in a tent this year, learning from it and giving more opportunity to practice astro and night photography. I’ve got a lot to learn in this discipline but am really stoked on some preliminary results.

A new moon, the milky way and sleeping under the stars in the Tetons

A new moon, the milky way and sleeping under the stars in the Tetons


Shadows of giants

Shadows of giants

As always, I’m super thankful for the support that I receive from friends, family, sponsors, and those of you out there on the internets/the gram/the whatever/ that are filling the well, one drop at a time. I’m looking forward to Hyalite ice coming in here shortly and to the (hopefully) ridiculously deep winter that will follow. Cheers, folks!

Elation expressed on a summit nearing the end of a fine day on the Gallatin Crest. With the best running partner ever - my wife. Thanks Julia for being the raddest! (and for the snap!)

Elation expressed on a summit nearing the end of a fine day on the Gallatin Crest. With the best running partner ever – my wife. Thanks Julia for being the raddest! (and for the snap!)

Transitions

Not too bad of a view - the Tetons on Julia's Birthday

Not too bad of a view – the Tetons on Julia’s Birthday


As the days now grow shorter (yet again, how crazy!), I reflect upon a winter and spring that brought new peaks, new lines, and an abundance of good skiing. Julia and I recently got back from the Tetons where I put in a last hoorah of sorts for the season on skis. Had to hike em 2700′ before skinning but I still eked out a couple K’ of big mountain corn skiing. And we got to celebrate J’s 30th B-Day in one of our most favorite places!

Not a bad place to bivy. Julia and the Middle Teton

Not a bad place to bivy. Julia and the Middle Teton


Iceflow Lake and into Idaho

Iceflow Lake and into Idaho

It’s now running season for me – having just completed the Old Gabe 50K for my second year and looking forward to a couple other mountain ultras before the short lived Montana alpine running season is re-blanketed in white. For the few months of summer that we have here, I do my best to run the hills as much as possible. But when I feel the need to ski, there’s usually snow to be found if you walk far and high enough.

About 30K into the 2015 Old Gabe 50K. Thanks for the morale boost Julia!

About 30K into the 2015 Old Gabe 50K. Thanks for the morale boost Julia!

Skiing off of the Middle Teton. Photo: Julia

Skiing off of the Middle Teton. Photo: Julia


The flowers are out and stunning as usual. Wildlife is moving about. Things are generally opening up in the high country and the trails are mostly runnable. Not a complaint here. I hope that the solstice was enjoyable and the ensuing summer treats you all the best!
A colorful explosion in my own backyard at June's end

A colorful explosion in my own backyard at June’s end

A Teton birthday grizz

A Teton birthday grizz

Winter camping in the Greater Yellowstone

The ever stunning Lamar Valley. New Year's Day 2015

The ever stunning Lamar Valley. New Year’s Day 2015


Over this past holiday season, Julia and I went out on a couple of backcountry camping trips in the Northern Gallatin range and also along Slough Creek in the Yellowstone Park. One trip to the alpine and the second to high grassland/coniferous forest. Both different and bolstering in their respective offerings. There are multiple ways to go about it, but the name of the game is to stay warm and dry while out overnight in the winter. That’s my sage advice 😉
Julia trying to stay warm among the pines in the Park.

Julia trying to stay warm among the pines in the Park.


The art of staying out in lower 48 winters isn’t beyond reason and as per the norm, practice always helps. Emerald Lake just before Christmas was accompanied with marvelous powder and moderate temperatures in the high teens/low twenties (°F). What we didn’t bargain for were the all-night and into morning gale winds. We woke concerned that our previously secured packs/skis/poles outside had been ripped from their perches. But all was well. Lesson learned here was to be prepared with the correct shelter and campsite for the situation. We chose a 9000′ alpine cirque to perch and paid only the small price of a loud night’s sleep. Julia and I have weathered similar winds in the BD Firstlight on previous occasions and can attest to its classically stout design. Prior to the night’s wind, it was dead quiet and lightly snowing as we warmed ourselves around a glorious winter fire.
BD Firstlight's wind shedding curves

BD Firstlight’s wind shedding curves


Confetti sparks. (photo: Julia)

Confetti sparks. (photo: Julia)


Yellowstone was, as always, expansive. The north and northeastern parts of the park are held closely in my heart for many a reason. And winter, dear winter… The forecast for Mammoth and Cooke City were to be in the single digits. New Year’s eve in the park yielded temps down to well below zero. It was -5°F around 9pm as a reference. Chilly, and just manageable. Insulated pants, booties, and jackets were worn in conjunction with our amazingly crafted Valandre Mirage sleeping bags to keep us from freezing in the late night/early morning hours. While not necessarily warm, we weren’t shivering either.
Waking to a frosted tent on Jan 1. (Photo: Julia)

Waking to a frosted tent on Jan 1. (Photo: Julia)


A fresh wolf kill on our ski in. Quite the big elk. Howling commenced close by in the foothills soon after we skied off. (photo: Julia)

A fresh wolf kill on our ski in. Quite the big elk. Howling commenced close by in the foothills soon after we skied off. (photo: Julia)


Ringing in the New Year amongst Yellowstone’s wildlife and under the blanket of the Milky Way is well worth dealing with a bit of cold. It also helped to have a bit of leeway in our systems to allow for deviation from the expected temperatures. All of our gear worked as planned, with the exception of a blown seal on my rehydrated dinner. The glue melted away from the zipper and I soon found this out with the bag tucked in my layers, while leaning over to tend to melting snow. With Julia’s patient help, dinner was largely salvaged and I got most of the beef stew out of my clothing. What an ordeal at the time but a lesson learned all the same. I can safely say that after smelling the spilled remnants on my clothes for the remainder of the trip, I no longer have any desire for said stew! And it was nothing that a New Year’s bubbly couldn’t fix!
Backcountry bubbly to help ring in 2015

Backcountry bubbly to help ring in 2015


Besides this, I’ve been skiing these rolling and relatively flat trips with a fairly lightweight AT rig and my TLT6s while Julia has been using her Fischer XCD setup. Both work just fine, with reliability, stability, and warmth points being awarded to my setup. Julia’s XCD ski ensemble wins for overall weight and kick/glide. If money were no object, Julia would most likely have a Voile Vector BC or similar with simple tech bindings and TLT boots. But the XCD skis fill that void in the meantime. As for the rest of our gear, I’ll give shoutouts to the NeoAir X-Therm and the MSR Reactor. Both are arguably gold standards of winter recreation and proven in our usage.
Cold and crisp New Year's ski. (photo: Julia)

Cold and crisp New Year’s ski. (photo: Julia)


These recent winter camping trips in the Greater Yellowstone were learning experiences that continue to shape and mold our day-to-day existence. Drops in the well. I look forward to more of these in the future. We’re pushing our boundaries and gaining ground, one day at a time.
East Fork Hyalite. Shining.

East Fork Hyalite. Shining.

One for the books…2014

Northern Bridger winter coat. February

Northern Bridger winter coat. February


2014 was a year of large life events for me.
Teton Crest Trail in-a-day. Tetons peeking from some of the best displays of wildflowers that I've seen. August

Teton Crest Trail in-a-day. Tetons peeking from some of the best displays of wildflowers that I’ve seen. August

Julia and I got married July 5th. It was the absolute best of times. Really though, words can’t describe.

The newlywed Bride and Groom. July (photo: Shane Rickert)

The newlywed Bride and Groom. July (photo: Shane Rickert)

We purchased our first house together also in July. Seized the day, per se. Trails out the front door and mountains minutes away.

Our backyard mountains in their summer glory. August

Our backyard mountains in their summer glory. August

I raced my first official mountain ultra marathon in June and my second in September. Hooked.

The Rut 50K 2014. SO good. September (photo: Julia Truax)

The Rut 50K 2014. SO good. September (photo: Julia Truax)

I began early in the year with a desire to be in the best shape of my life. This I accomplished mainly through trail running and AT skiing. While numbers don’t even begin to tell the story, a bit helps: over 1000 trail miles ran and just about 300,000 vertical feet gained (and lost). Skiing not included and not forgotten. Many thousands of vert and ephemeral times to match.

One fine day deep in the Bridgers. February (photo: Adam Pohl)

One fine day deep in the Bridgers. February (photo: Adam Pohl)

For many years I wasn’t taking the best care of myself and decided to do something about it. It hasn’t always been straightforward, but the rewards are too great for my meager words to explain. It’s a continuing and iterative process that has me intrigued, excited, and looking forward to the future. I owe my father a huge thanks here, as it was he who introduced me to running over 20 years ago. He then pursued among other things, road running, hiking, backpacking, and overall the outdoors. I soon followed suit. I began road racing around ten years old and continued to do so for over 5 years. Other recreation took the place of running soon after I ran my first half-marathon accompanied by none other than my Dad. It’s been a while since then but now I’m back at it and loving the pursuit. So, thanks Dad for the early intro!

Alpine running and alpine forget-me-nots in the Northern Gallatins. July

Alpine running and alpine forget-me-nots in the Northern Gallatins. July

“The times…”, as Dylan so poetically coined. In all, this was a fairly eventful year in my life – one that I wouldn’t trade for a thing. I couldn’t have done it without the help, love, and support of many fine folks along the way. Friends, family, and strangers alike – I’m thankful for you all and immensely grateful for yet another trip around the sun. Thanks 2014, and welcome 2015. Here we come.

Three Cheers! July (photo: Shane Rickert)

Three Cheers! July (photo: Shane Rickert)

Perseverance on the Sphinx

Mark getting into the Lowe Route

Mark getting into the Lowe Route


Oh, alpine climbing. As with most things that are worth achieving in life, they often require a bit of hard work and perseverance. In this case, between a climbing partner and myself we collectively totaled over 60 miles of walking our ice tools around this fall in unsuccessful attempts to snag the Lowe Direct on the north face of Sphinx Mountain (10876’/3315m) here in the Northern Madison. And this doesn’t count last year’s attempts. Some could think that this was born of gross oversight or ill-preparedness but the main component of our story is timing. They say it is of the essence.
Myself on the upper traverse in October 2013

Myself on the upper traverse in October 2013


Fickle early season melt-freeze conditions that are precluded by a storm are the main part of this equation. Too much snow, and the approach becomes impassable due to loading. Too little, and the climbs don’t form. Climbers have been avalanched off of this face, so conditions are nothing to be taken lightly. The country is also prime elk hunting country and thick with grizzlies, which adds another twist to the five mile approach. On our last attempt, we finally saw a grizzly (running away from us below the north face) as opposed to just huge tracks on the trail. Better there than in the first mile or so of ‘bone-alley’, a narrow canyon corridor often adorned with fresh bones where a bear encounter would likely be less fun.
Bone Alley - Late Oct '13

Bone Alley – Late Oct ’13


This last weekend yielded a successful romp on the Lowe Route, with the Direct not being in. Although we gave it another look, the bottom pitches weren’t formed and we didn’t feel up to that sort of adventure climbing so we once again retreated from the base of the Sphinx’s north face. This time, though, the upper pitches looked to be mostly in and we rallied back to the Helmet/Sphinx saddle and up to the traverse into the upper routes. The Earl-Trimble had plentiful ice, with a party on it and everything but the dagger WI5 pitch of the Lowe was formed.
On route

On route


Despite not getting the classic pillar, by this time I was ok with it and happy to be finally swinging tools on some ice. We were two of over a dozen folks seen on the face that day and were lucky to have climbed, as at least one party was turned away. I can relate from waiting last year on that face while multiple parties queued up for perfect October conditions. A bit later and a bit thinner this year, but climbable all the same.
Topping out on the Lowe (p: McAlpine)

Topping out on the Lowe (p: McAlpine)


Mark approaching the Sphinx summit accompanied by lenticular

Mark approaching the Sphinx summit accompanied by lenticular


As I sit here with a lingering sense of accomplishment and an eye/ear towards the next, temperatures have dropped over 50 degrees F from a high of 62°, to one of single digits over the last few days. I just snuck in my first powder turns of the season and look forward to the coming of winter. Our amazing Montana autumn has finally come to an unofficial close and its now time to sharpen tools, wax skis, and pray for snow. Last season was one for the books; let us sneak in another…
Tetons (far) and S.Madison (near) from the top

Tetons (far) and S.Madison (near) from the top


Self-timer on the summit of the Sphinx. Happy climbers

Self-timer on the summit of the Sphinx. Happy climbers