Posts in Category: Etcetera

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)

The 2014 Old Gabe 50K

Old Gabe ridge singletrack adorned with Larkspur and Arrowleaf Balsamroot.

Old Gabe ridge singletrack adorned with Larkspur and Arrowleaf Balsamroot.


Ahh, summer. It comes and it goes around here. It’s been a while (recently married! and a house purchase!) but here are some late thoughts on my first official ultra. The Old Gabe did not go as I had expected but I still finished and learned quite a bit in the process. Held on the summer solstice with perfect weather, the OG50 provided participants a full-value run in the mountains. The week prior it was snowing up high and raining down low so a break for June 21 was very much appreciated. The course was a little wet in places, but a lot of it was dry and somewhat runnable. Some of it not so.

Running when I could (this and most of the photos are  courtesy of Julia)

Running when I could (this and most of the photos are courtesy of Julia)


Sypes Ridge

Sypes Ridge

The race was rough and I experienced cramping early on that I then fought for the next 20 miles of the race. Much of this was due to an early and fast ascent-descent-ascent. By the time I was cresting Middle Cottonwood’s Saddle Pass for the second time (mile 12), my quads ceased working as I had expected them to. This was awfully disconcerting and it took me a few minutes to get going again. I still somehow held on and managed a sub-8 hour finish despite the cramp troubles. I kept the pace as manageable as possible and stuck to a good regiment of GU, GU Roctane, Bolt Chews, electrolyte pills, and water. There was mud, blood, snow, sweat, abundant stream crossings, wildflowers, wildlife, amazing volunteers, and great company. Even a stout 7-year old Scott Creel 50K record was broken by a very fast, Jim Walmsley of Black Eagle, MT! (results here)

Around mile 20 or so on the Old Gabe

Around mile 20 or so on the Old Gabe


Regarding gear, I’ll tell you what worked out nicely. I’ve been happy with these for numerous training runs as well as for the race. I’ll also be using them for the upcoming Rut 50K. After sitting pretty deep on the wait list for months as penance for a late registration, I recently received an email notice with entry confirmation. I am very excited and appreciative to be able to compete in such a world-class event here in my backyard. The Rut (VK, 12K, 50K) is hosted by The North Face athletes and fellow Montanans, The Mikes (Mike Wolfe and Mike Foote). It is part of the Skyrunner World Series and will host a deep field of elite mountain runners from across the globe. It’s bound to be a blast! Anyway, here’s the gear highlights from an otherwise pretty difficult Old Gabe 50K:
Sypes Ridge. Jurek Essential helping me grind it out.

Sypes Ridge. Jurek Essential helping me grind it out.


Ultimate Direction is the standout. I’ve been using numerous products of theirs for a couple of years now and I’m rarely disappointed. The two winners this time around are the Jurek Essential and the Jurek Grip. Both are lessons in simplicity and are obviously well thought-out pieces. The Grip is a no-frills 15g, 20 fl oz handheld solution. The Essential is a 59g waist belt that has two fixed pockets (one stretch and one nylon) as well as a small, stretchy, removable valuables/electrolyte pocket. It is built on a 3/4″ belt and can be worn next-to-skin and over a shirt. I personally carry a small emergency/FAK, 2-4 extra gels, one packet of chews, and electrolyte pills in the Endure with room to spare. There is virtually no bounce and I barely notice it is there for dozens of miles on end. It had become a staple of my mountain running kit. Paired with the Jurek Grip, I have quite the duo to get through most ultras that have regular aid.
Jurek Grip (upper left) and Jurek Essential (below), with example of what the belt will easily hold

Jurek Grip (upper left) and Jurek Essential (below), with example of what the belt will easily hold


So that’s it for now. It’s three weeks until The Rut and it’ll be taper time soon. Summer is winding down here with rapidly dropping temps and days of rain. I’ve got more than I had bargained for this go round, so I’m looking forward to the changing of seasons and the upcoming snow. But until then, there’s some more mountain running to be had!
Bridger ridge running, early August '14

Bridger ridge running, early August ’14


Bridger ridge running, late August '14

Bridger ridge running, late August ’14

 

Beasts of burden and a happy 2014!

Fox Creek cabin, New Years Eve

Fox Creek cabin, New Years Eve

Over the last few days Julia and I have spent a night in the Yellowstone backcountry and then for the New Year, an overnight at the Fox Creek cabin in the northern Gallatin range. Both trips have been via metal-edged XC skis with lightweight packs over easy to advanced terrain. For such outings we’re both on Fischer S-Bound series skis with 56mm NNN manual bindings paired with this season’s Fischer Offtrack 3 BC boots. These particular setups do have their shortcomings (flimsy plastic bindings, lack of much downhill control) but the compromises and limitations are OK so long as they are used in the proper conditions. The fore-aft efficiency of movement with these XC ski rigs is great though and for that we are appreciative. We probably aren’t going to push them too far based on previous breakage issues – hence an eight mile YNP round trip and a twelve mile ski to Fox Creek and back.

Into the great wide open (photo: Julia)

Into the great wide open (photo: Julia)

Julia along S Cottonwood Creek on the approach to Fox Creek cabin

Julia along S Cottonwood Creek on the approach to Fox Creek cabin

The overnight in Yellowstone was quite sublime with us experiencing a nice range of weather from bluebird to blowing and snowing. And waking to the sound of wolves howling is fairly unique in the lower 48. Skiing amongst huge bison is also quite fun, until a small herd sneaks up on you. While skiing along the Slough Creek trail, which is also a bison freeway, I joked that it be funny if we encountered a herd along the narrow corridor of a trail that we were attempting to ski up. And sure enough, on the way down I turned around only to see a bison jam directly behind Julia. I can only imagine what those huge beasts were thinking upon seeing us flailing down their path on skinny skis! So we politely stepped aside behind some convenient boulders and watched as they passed by to the valley. Not your everyday traffic jam to say the least.

Julia and the first of many bison

Julia and the first of many bison

Our next backcountry outing was on New Year’s eve to the Fox Creek Forest Service cabin which is located six or more miles out the S. Cottonwood Creek drainage near Bozeman. Unless you really have to, don’t pay for the cabin is my recommendation for future parties. I’ve stayed in plenty of cabins – hell, I grew up in one, but this one takes the cake. Not in a good way. From the broken windows, rancid cots, and the overflowing outhouse, to the likelihood of hantavirus and the highly hazardous wood stove, it was not worth a red cent. But the experience is most of it, and we somehow made it work with a crackling fire, homemade mulled wine (!), homemade fish pie and garlic baguette, chocolate, and some bubbly to ring in the 2014 New Year. Here’s to hoping that you all had a lovely 2013 and wishing everyone a wonderful 2014! Keep calm, keep crushing, keep pushing, and keep carrying on.

Skiing into Slough Creek, YNP (photo: Julia)

Skiing into Slough Creek, YNP (photo: Julia)


Julia leaving Fox Creek

Julia leaving Fox Creek

Slough Creek camp

Slough Creek camp