Posts in Category: Etcetera

Iron, Lion, Zion

Sometimes a quick reset is in order. You know – a change of scenery, pace, weather, etc – looking at things through a fresh lens. A cheap flight to Vegas, a short drive later, and voila, Zion NP beneath the feet.

Being that this was our first time in the park, folks who had spent considerable time in Zion suggested that in lieu of running and/or fastpacking the 50ish mile Zion Traverse, doing multiple, shorter trips would be preferable. So we heeded. Mid-April, with temps in the 70°s and the very beginning of the spring bloom. Not too crowded, but still some folks to contend within the first couple miles of all the main trails.

We spent the first day running/hiking a bunch of the main trails, and getting a feel for the lay of the land. Vertical relief about sums it up with gorgeous Navajo sandstone rising from the Virgin River for thousands of feet. The highlight of the day was an 8+ mile outing from Weeping Rock to Observation Point, where one is treated to panoramic views from 2100′ above the river. Highly recommended.

Day two consisted of catching one of the first shuttles to the Grotto TH. Our first destination of the day was Angel’s Landing where we jogged up the mostly runnable lower terrain until hitting the steeper, switch backed sections about 1.5 miles in. As this trail is a crowded, bucket list hike, there is guaranteed to be foot traffic no matter the time of day but an early morning start helps to mitigate the inevitable cluster fuck. And sure enough, despite our early start, we encountered a few parties that were in over their heads while we were on our descent. The views and the trail are stunning, but the human dynamic in such a place is also quite the marvel.

From here, it was a venture away from the crowds and into the backcountry towards the West Rim. This lollipop loop can eschew with the ~one mile side trip to Angel’s Landing and take you straight out to the junction of Telephone Canyon/West Rim Trail in just under five miles and ~2500′ of vertical gain. Here is also where you can find the only water source, Cabin Spring, which we scoped but did not use due to carrying just enough water in our running vests. From this junction, I’d recommend taking Telephone if you’re looking to do the loop, as this allows one to finish the second half of the loop with stunning vistas. Telephone Canyon is great, runnable singletrack, but with a different feel than the wide expanses of the West Rim. I’d say it is more enclosed and subtle in it’s beauty. Whereas the West Rim is in your face with miles of surreal sandstone scenery. If you haven’t been up here before, allot for extra time to gawk and take photos if that’s your thing. It was my perogative, for sure.



At the junction of Telephone and West Rim, one can descend North towards Potato Hollow for some out-and-back bonus miles (this is where the Zion Traverse goes) or you can round the bend to the West Rim. We took a brief detour towards Potato just to get a view of the land and soon turned back for the West Rim, as we only were carrying 2L of water apiece and didn’t want to cut it too close. The West Rim trail stays high for a while with views of Phantom Valley and further canyons to the south. It is quite the stunning landscape, especially seeing it for the first time. We were accompanied by a few backpackers and a handful of raptors aloft for this entire loop.

We took off the next afternoon, after stretching our legs for a few miles on one last trail out of the campground on the Watchman trail. Then back to the wretched city that is Vegas and soon back to home in Montana. Where, go figure, I was able to ski over a foot of fresh powder that very evening! Paradox and stark contrasts, to say the least.


Sweet Amarillo

It has been a while, I know. Thanks for visiting, you fine, kind people of this world. Where have I been, you may ask? Well the short story is, around.

It’s spring in Montana, and we’re getting dumped on as I type. Likely about 18″ or so in the alpine in the last 24 hours. That is on top of a plush 8′-12′ of snowpack that we’ve been so very fortunate for this season. It has been quite the winter – both in terms of stability and depth.



I’m currently on my 18th month in a row of skiing (and 75 months straight of throwing snowballs :), which may seem a bit contrived and/or fun. But I really didn’t have to work too hard for it this last late summer/fall. I even got to ski from one of the tallest peaks in the Wind Rivers during the total solar eclipse while on a five day backpacking trip there last August. Surreal, to say the least…Ask politely, and you might receive.


Well, enough small talk. I’ll leave you with a departing snap of the Winds looking towards Gannet Peak from an amazingly high and wide 12000′ plateau. Some trips tend to leave the well brimming for some time…

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

The Rut 50K 2014 race report

The ridge climb up to Lone Peak. (photo: Julia)

The ridge climb up to Lone Peak. (photo: Julia)

It’s now been two weeks since I participated in The Rut 50K and I am still very much enthusiastic about the whole event. If you are into mountain ultra running then this race comes highly suggested. All three races (VK, 12K, 50K) drew a total of over 1000 runners from all over the globe. Even a mountain running showdown of sorts between Kilian Jornet and Sage Canaday for the Ultra Skymarathon Series title took place with Kilian eventually taking the win with a stout 5:09:31 in the 50K. A gnarly time on a significantly challenging course. A bunch of elite international athletes competed and added to the already deep field of local and regional talent. The overall feel was one of a big, and well-organized event.

Myself (in green) and the eventual winner, Kilian Jornet (in red) staying warm at the 50K start. (photo: J)

Myself (in green) and the eventual winner, Kilian Jornet (in red) staying warm at the 50K start. (photo: J)

A three-piece band? At ~19 miles into the race and over 9000 ft high on the ridge to Lone Peak summit? Only at The Rut 50K!

A three-piece band? At ~19 miles into the race and over 9000 ft high on the ridge to Lone Peak summit? Only at The Rut 50K!

The race went something like this:

And they're off! (photo: J)

And they’re off! (photo: J)

6am start (and a brisk 33°F) to the sound of an elk bugle. Cowbells, camera flashes, headlamps, and excitement in the air. Up 1500′ over the first two miles to get the blood flowing. Consistently up & then a fast next 5.5 miles down. Good stuff. I barely touched the 7.5 mile Madison Village aid except to refill my handheld. I did, though, see the maestro of irunfar.com , Bryon Powell and yelled a friendly hello to him out of race excitement. If you aren’t already familiar, and you are into ultra running, then his website is a great resource. And I’m of no affiliation, btw, just a fan.

Morning alpenglow on Lone Peak while running impeccable singletrack around Moonlight Basin

Morning alpenglow on Lone Peak while running impeccable singletrack around Moonlight Basin

Gradual climbing but mainly runnable singletrack persisted out of the 7.5 aid until the 12.1 mile Elkhorn water station. I stopped here to down a small cup and to top off my bottle. In hindsight I should have tanked up further here, as I only had a single 20oz handheld with me. The next six miles to the Tram Dock 18 mile aid is fairly demanding and involves the first major 1400′ climb to Headwaters ridge (c. 10,100′) before quickly descending 1800′ and then climbing 1300′ to the aid. Not too shabby given that the main 2K’+ climb up Bonecrusher to the summit of Lone Peak (11,166′) was still ahead. While Headwaters is amazing and technical, another notable section coming off of the ridge was a short downhill length of maybe 20′ of near vertical dirt with even slicker surrounding grass alternatives. Nearly everyone that I witnessed was on their ass and crab-walking on all fours trying their best not to tumble down the slope! One of many memorable Rut moments.

Fixed down rope on the Headwaters ridge

Fixed down rope on the Headwaters ridge

The only out-and-back section of the course was a 1.5 mile stretch that centers on the Tram Dock 18 aid. It is entirely in the sun until the aid, where refreshments and friendly volunteers waited patiently. I had no drop bag and had carried all of my gear so I spent little time here before retracing my steps to the inevitable Lone Peak summit climb. This starts at around mile 18.7 and climbs over 2100′ in under 1.5 miles with 1000′ in the last 1/2 mile. Some steep ridgeline scrambling, for sure. A highlight along this section was not just the view, but also a 3-piece bluegrass band jamming out part-way up the ridge (!). Both of the ridgeline routes were something truly to take in and ones that I’ll surely recall for some time. Nice one, Montana Mikes.

Up high on the Bonecrusher ridge looking back. Somewhat steep.

Up high on the Bonecrusher ridge looking back. Somewhat steep.

At just over 20 miles and the summit of Lone Peak, was another aid station that I hung out at for a couple of minutes while discarding trash, eating a 1/4 banana, drinking some coke, refilling my water bottle, and snagging a gel. The amazing volunteers there wouldn’t even let me pick up a piece of dropped trash as they swooped in to take care of it while asking me what else they could get for me. I can’t even properly express my gratitude for all of the great volunteers but I do appreciate each and everyone. A big cheers to the folks who lent a helping hand.

Dinner plates coming off of the Lone Peak summit

Dinner plates coming off of the Lone Peak summit

Down from summit was pleasant, but in-the-moment dinner plate talus running with some friendly company for about 1/2 mile, then steeper, looser, and smaller scree by myself for another mile or so before hitting some more runnable single and doubletrack. This undulating trail weaved in and out of the woods, occasionally hitting a fire road but soon getting back to singletrack. There were even spectators at random spots with the ubiquitous The Rut cowbell to provide a surprise and needed boost. This largely downhill section is deceptive, luring the unsuspecting runner into thinking that it is all buttery, downhill singletrack from here on out. NOT so.

One of multiple ropes to aid on the up to Andesite. The photo does not do the reality justice.

One of multiple ropes to aid on the up to Andesite. The photo does not do the reality justice.

At mile 25.5 there is a very steep (or as the race literature states, ‘STEEP’) ~1000′ climb up to Andesite Mountain. It is rough in that much of the ascent is up a downhill mountain bike course that includes multiple fixed ropes (?!) to aid runners up the very steep, gullied track that is not really intended for uphill travel. While fairly difficult, I still grinned at the fact that I had to use the ropes to gain upward progress in the slick gullies. Sick, but kinda fun. After this grind, there is a final little slog on a service road to the top of Andesite and the final aid station. Here, I smiled at the thought of a mainly downhill final five miles, refilled my bottle one last time, swigged a shot of coke, thanked the volunteers, and passed a few runners with my over-exuberance on the way out of the aid. From here on out, I ran the nice singletrack by myself to the finish in 8:13:23. It was well off what I had hoped for but I was extremely happy with the overall race and how I felt throughout.

Lone Peak from Andesite. Looking back on the course and the two main ridges taken. Minor suffering was largely alleviated with views like this.

Lone Peak from Andesite. Looking back on the course and the two main ridges taken. Minor suffering was largely alleviated with views like this.

Gear thoughts:
(I used and very much appreciated all listed below)

Gear worn and carried: UD AK Race Vest, Salomon Sense Pro shoes, Drymax socks, Dynafit shorts, Rab Aeon tee, Mountain Hardwear arm sleeves, Montbell Tachyon windshirt, OR synthetic gloves, UV 1/2 BUFF, MH brimmed cap, BD Spot headlamp, cheapo shades, Sony waterproof P&S. It was fairly cold and I had on arm sleeves, buff, and gloves for over half of the race. The windshirt was arguably not needed but still was worn on the final ridgeline to Lone Peak for about an hour. I probably would have moved a bit faster here had I not had it! The AK Race Vest was a winner, as it has been for me and many others for some time now. This, and the SJ Ultra Vest were the most seen vests during the race. Salomon and Ultra Spire took a close second/third with a few others like Mountain Hardwear, Nathan, and Osprey in the mix. While the majority of runners used a vest pack, some folks went a handheld only, or coupled with a minimal belt and/or in-short storage.

Two of many UD Vests on the course. And some snow. This was descending  Headwaters ridge.

Two of many UD Vests on the course. And some snow. This was descending Headwaters ridge.

Fueling/hydration: GU, GU Roctane, Hammer gel, Bolt Chews, electrolyte tabs, a handful of potato chips, a few shots of coke, plenty of clear water. About one gel per hour, sometimes more. Electrolyte tabs with slightly less frequency. Bolt Chews intermittently throughout the race between gels. Crisps at Tram Dock aid. Coke shots at Tram Dock, Lone Peak, and Andesite aid stations. Everything worked well except my oversight for water need from mile 12-18 and from 20-26.5. My 20oz did not quite cut it and I could’ve used multiple more ounces for both of these stretches. I managed, though, and generally had a smooth time with fueling and hydration.

Out and back section to Tram Dock. Very lunar-like. Picture from low on Bonecrusher ridge.

Out and back section to Tram Dock. Very lunar-like. Picture from low on Bonecrusher ridge.

Summary:

Technical mountain running, cruiser singletrack, an 11K’+ summit, a deep field of world-class athletes, amazing volunteers, a lot of psyched runners, even more equally psyched fans, and vistas for days. The course was wonderful, and the folks were even better. Much love, Montana. Please do keep ’em coming.

The Rut 50K finish line and an elated me. (photo: J)

The Rut 50K finish line and an elated me. (photo: J)