Mount Davis (3,213 feet), Backbone Mountain (3,360 feet) and Spruce Knob (4,863 feet) – Highpoints of Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia – July 5-8, 2012

2012 07 – Rob Anna and Nolan camping trip Highpoints of PA MD VA

Link to Itinerary

Highpoints trip and camping with the Kids June 5-7, 2012
Rob Runkle, Anna Runkle, Nolan Runkle

In my 50 state highpoints pursuit, I still had a couple of highpoints remaining that were within a reasonable driving distance. Two of those highpoint was the highpoint of Pennsylvania, and the highpoint of West Virginia. A drive to get these highpoints would be about 6-7 hours each way, and about 2-3 hours in between. I had considered making a weekend trip to grab these points for a while now. As I pondered the idea again, I decided that I’d like to try and make it a camping trip, and bring the kids along with me. Anna is 5 years old, and Nolan is 3. So, a camping and hiking trip with the kids might be somewhat challenging. But, I decided to bite the bullet and see how the kids would do. For a few weeks before the trip, I tried a few ~2 mile hikes with the kids, and they did great; although I had to carry Nolan at times. The high points that I was targeting would be no more than 2 miles round trip, and I felt that I could carry Nolan for portions if needed.

Since the kids would be going with me, I decided to go ahead and grab the highpoint of Maryland also. I had done Maryland in 2006, but the kids hadn’t. And, the highpoint of Maryland was a particularly nice hike, as I remembered it. So, our rough plans would look something like this:
• Get up and start driving by around 9 AM in the morning.
• Drive to Mount Davis, PA, and make the 2 mile hike (~7 hr drive, 1.5 hour hike).
• Drive to Backbone Mountain, MD and make the 2.4 mile hike (~2 hr drive, 1.5 hour hike).
• Drive to Spruce Knob, WV and make the 2 mile hike(~2 hr drive, 1.5 hour hike).
• Drive towards home, and visit some sightseeing locations in West Virginia, depending on time available (~7 hr drive home).
• Camping locations and other stops would depend on progress each day.

July 5, 2012 – Thursday – Day 1
On the morning of July 5, we packed up the car, said by to Meg and Weston, and started our drive towards Pennsylvania. During the drive, the kids occupied themselves by watching the iPad and by napping. As we approached Pennsylvania – after about 4 hours of driving, the kids started getting antsy. Also, it was time for lunch. So, I found a McDonalds, and we grabbed some lunch. At the exit that we chose for lunch, I also noticed that there was a Toy and Train Museum just down the street. So, I asked the kids if they wanted to go to a Toy Museum. Of course, they were interested in going to see some toys. So, we made a visit to the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum in Wheeling, West Virginia. The kids enjoyed the museum, but it was really focused towards the parents. They had plenty of toys from the 1970 and 1980s; toys that I recognized from when I was a kid. Anna and Nolan moved from room to room quickly, only briefly viewing the toys. I think the thing that they liked the most was a race track that was setup so the kids could run the cars. I’d say we spent a little over an hour at the museum. After leaving the museum, we got back on the road, for our final stretch to Mount Davis.

We arrived at Mount Davis around 4 PM in the afternoon. I found a parking spot, grabbed a water bottle, and the kids and I started walking. The actual highpoint is really only about 1000 feet from the parking lot. You can’t see if from the parking lot, but it is a short distance, along a paved path. But, when I grab highpoints, I have a 2 mile minimum distance rule. And, that rule would be followed, even if I had a 3 and 5 year old tagging along. From the parking lot, we followed a paved path a short distance, towards the right. As the path opened up to a paved loop, the kids and I followed a dirt/rock trail to the right, rather than follow the loop around to the high point. The trail actually led us away from the high point. But, the kids were having fun, running along the trail and rocks, and we were building up some additional mileage. The trail that we started down was the Shelter Rock Trail. I knew that this trail was approximately a mile in length, but I didn’t know exactly where it started and ended. So, we were just winging it, and would see how it went. As we continued down the trail, another trail – marked “Mt Davis Trail” – turned off to the left. I didn’t know where the Mt Davis Trail went exactly, but assumed that it headed back towards Mount Davis. At this point, we had only gained 0.3 miles or so in mileage. But, the Shelter Rock Trail was starting to become very rocky and almost unmanageable for Nolan. So, we took a left, onto the trail heading back towards Mount Davis. We followed the Mt Davis trail, where it eventually intersected with the “High Point Trail.” We took a left on the High Point Trail, heading us back towards the Mt Davis loop. When we popped back onto the paved loop, we had only gained about 0.6 miles. But, I decided to go ahead and lead the kids to the high point, and go ahead and check it out at this point. We followed the loop around to the right (counter clockwise). We walked until we found the watch tower, which I knew designated the high point.

The kids and I climbed the watch tower, which was about 4 stories high. The stairs on the tower were very airy, and although the kids didn’t have any problems, and they weren’t scared, I was a bit nervous about them; especially Nolan. Needless to say, we made the top without any issues, and the only scared one was me. The kids enjoyed running around the top of the tower. The view from the top was pretty nice. Without the tower, the view from the Mount Davis highpoint would be limited, completely blocked by trees. The kids and I spent about 10 minutes on top, as daddy took pictures, and continuously warned the kids about playing/running to close to the top of the open stairwell. I was mildly worried about climbing down the stairs; for fear that the kids would struggle or be afraid of the height. Needless to say, the kids, and I, had no problems getting down the steep and open stairs of the tower. I led the way, just to make sure that I could catch any tumbling children, but there was no incident, and we safely returned to terra firma.

From the bottom of the tower, we walked about 30 feet to a grouping of large rocks. The true highpoint was actually these rocks; the highest one being obvious. Mounted on the tippy top of the highest rock was the USGA marker, which Nolan and I both climbed up to check out. It was about five feet off the ground. Anna wasn’t interested in leaving the ground again. But, I held her up to show her the highpoint anyway. After checking out the highpoint, the kids and I set out for some additional hiking. We had to get a little over a mile additional mileage in order to hit the 2 mile minimum. We started back down the High Point Trail, as I felt that this was the cleanest and easiest trail for the kids, with minimal rocks. As we continued down the trail, Anna and Nolan noticed that there were red paint markers on some of the trees. These were “blazes” denoting the trail location, used for hikers to make sure that they could follow their path. After I pointed to the kids that these were “markers” to help follow the trail, they made a game of pointing out each of the markers for me. As we approached the 1.2 mile mark, both kids started to finally get tired. At this point, I started to switch off carrying each of the kids on my shoulders, in short stretches. I let Anna lead the hike, and also set the pace, so she took a break when she needed it, and also went at a slow enough pace that she didn’t get too tired. Ultimately, the pace was a bit much for Nolan, and his tiny legs. So, I ended up carrying Nolan a lot more than I did Anna.

After going down the High Point Trail a bit, we turned around, and hiked back up to the paved loop. We still needed another 0.5 miles to get two miles overall. So, we hiked back towards the car, and just kept on hiking down the road that we had driven up. At an intersection down the road a bit, we continued back into the woods, down a nice, but steep trail. This trail was different than the other trails we had been on. It was almost all dirt, but it was steep, going quickly downhill. Both kids struggled on the hill a bit. But, we managed to hike to the bottom of the hill, where we turned around, and headed back to the car. We ended up with about 2.1 miles of hiking in about an hour an a half. Overall the kids did awesome. But, it was clear to me that we would not be able to do more than a single 2 mile hike per day. The remainder of today would be focused on getting near the Maryland highpoint, and finding a camp spot.

We hopped back in the car, and started heading south. We checked out a couple state park camping grounds, but at this point it was 7 PM at night, and I could not find where to check in, or pay for camping. So, ultimately, we drove to a private campground, called Abrams Creek Lodge and Campground, just 3 miles east of the city Mt. Storm, West Virginia. This campground was really nice. It was very rustic. The bathhouse was moderate, with a Porta-let for a toilet, and old trailer for a shower house. But, the camping spot itself was beautiful. They weren’t very crowded, so we picked a really nice camp spot, just down from the bath rooms, and right on the creek. We heard the soothing sound of running creek all night long.

We checked in, just around the time it was getting dark. I quickly put up the tent, and threw all our gear into the tent. I must have left the tent door open too long, because Anna just about had a meltdown regarding “BUGS” in the tent. And, of course, Nolan followed Anna’s lead, and all I heard for the first 15 minutes at camp, with the kids playing in the tent was, “Argh… Daddy, BIG BUGS, Daddy, kill the big bugs.” I finally was able to cull the bugs enough to satisfy the kids. I guess the one disadvantage of being close to the creek was the additional bugs that this brought. I started a camp fire, and the kids loved that. And, I cooked up some dehydrated chicken and rice, in a foil pouch; classic camping food. Anna liked the chicken and rice, but Nolan didn’t touch it. Nolan survived on chips, apple sauce and McDonalds the whole trip. I also had some glow sticks that I carry in my safety gear for hiking. I had carried these sticks for 10 years or more, without ever needing them. So, I figured that it was time to replenish them. So, I broke two of them open, one for each of the kids. These are heavy duty glow sticks, not the cheesy ones that you find at the grocery cash registers. The kids absolute loved the glow sticks.

After dinner, and after the fire died down a bit, we closed ourselves up in the tent, to try and start getting to sleep. I killed a couple more bugs in the tent, and zipped up the tent, locking us away from additional buzzing creatures delivered by Mother Nature. The kids and I have camped in the tent in the yard before, but never away from home. In the yard, the kids have shown to be very hyper while in the tent. It has been difficult in the past to get them to calm down, and just go to sleep. In the wild, they were no different. They were just too excited to sleep. And, if one of the kids was excited, they didn’t let the other one sleep either. It was the perfect storm; each kid feeding off of the other one, for a very late night. I think we finally got everyone to sleep around 11:30 PM.

July 6, 2012 – Friday – Day 2
When I woke up at 7:30 AM, both kids were still sound asleep. I got everyone moving, and we spent some time having fun down at the creek. Anna was being daring, walking on the rocks in the creek, when we had our first mess-casualty of the trip. I saw it happen. Anna, slipped, and landed right on her butt in the water. Needless to say, she wasn’t happy about it, and Daddy had to walk out and save her. All was well pretty quickly though, and the slip didn’t stifle here sense of water adventure.

After the water fun, we packed up our stuff, took down the tent, and jumped in the car. We departed camp around 9 AM. It took a little over an hour to pick up some drinks, and drive to the trailhead of Backbone Mountain. Although Backbone Mountain is the highpoint of Maryland, the trailhead is actually in West Virginia. I had done Backbone Mountain back in 2006, on a trip that Meg, Shelby and I had taken to Delaware. The signage at the trailhead was upgraded from the last time I was here. Previously, the only indication that this was the trailhead was orange paint markings on the back of a street sign. Now, there was actually a dedicated street sign indicating the highpoint of Maryland.

The kids and I got started around 10:30 AM. I was glad that I at least knew what this highpoint had to offer, since I had done it before. But, I was slightly concerned that this would be a pretty steep climb for the 1.2 mile ascent. I wasn’t sure how the kids would handle to steady uphill, and I could not carry both of them. So, I decided early in the hike that I would again let Anna set the pace, and I would continuously ask her if she needed a break. Needless to say, we took a lot of small breaks during the ascent hike. I ended up carrying Nolan for about half of the ascent. If you could just see his little legs pumping up that continuous incline, you’d understand why I was surprised to only carry him half the time.

During our ascent, we ran into another couple doing the hike with their two King Charles Cavalier dogs. The kids were excited to see the dogs, and as tired as Nolan was, he chased the dogs around like he was completely fresh. We made it to the top in around an hour. The couple with the dogs was at the top when we got there. At this point, I’ll describe the trail a bit, since it is such a nice little hike. As I mentioned before, it is a pretty solid uphill hike the whole way. For the first mile or so, you was walking on a pretty descent logging road. I wouldn’t want to drive a car up it, but I think that I could get something like an Explorer up that road. But, I wouldn’t do it, as the hike is much more fun. The road is completely wooded, and it switch back and forth maybe a half dozen times during that mile ascent. At that mile point, the trail takes a hard left, and switches over to a single track walking trail. At this point, the terrain is mostly flat. Another 0.1 of a mile, there is a junction, where you can go left or right. We chose to go right on the ascent, and left on the return. The path right is pretty easy; it drops a bit in elevation, then leaves the trees to cut through an area that has been clear cut. It goes up hill a bit more, back into the trees, and in moments, you are at the top. The top has a marker, a mailbox with the register, and a nice picnic bench to rest.

The kids and I spent a few minutes on top. They pet the dogs, we got some pictures, signed the register, and I tried to get them to eat something. But, they were tired and starting to get cranky, so they wouldn’t eat. I kept them well hydrated though. On the descent, we took the alternate path. That path ended up being a challenging little scramble across a large rock pile. The kids were a bit nervous at first, but I kept hold of them, and in no time they were excited about out rock scrambling. We made it back to the logging road, and started our downhill. The downhill was a bit easier on the kids, but they still needed their breaks, and I still had to carry Nolan for about half the trip. At this point I was starting to feel that Nolan more wanted to be carried, rather than needing to be carried. But, I couldn’t argue with a three year old that kept on throwing his body in front my path, whining, “carry me daddy,” not letting me pass him on the trail. Total round trip for us was just under 2 hours. We hopped back in the car, and headed towards Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.

Upon arriving in Seneca Rocks, we checked out a couple of the campgrounds in the area, and ultimately picked a state campground just south of the downtown intersection. We check into our campground for a single night. We picked a camping spot that was right next to the bath house, in section A. We checked out the bathrooms ahead of time, and they were spotless clean. I was looking forward to getting myself and the kids a shower tonight before we tucked away in the tent.

We hopped in the car, and decided to try and find the local swimming hole that the campground caretaker told us about. We went back through town (north), and took the first right towards the day parking area for the rocks. At the point, we took a quick left, and followed that road all the way back to the furthest parking lot. We parked near an obvious trailhead, grabbed a water bottle, and started walking – hopefully toward the river. About 0.1 mile walk, and the trail opened up to an awesome swimming hole along the river. There were probably 20 people already there, but it was not crowded at all. The swimming area and beach was huge. The shore was not exactly a sandy beach. It was small and medium rocks and pebbles. It was a bit tough to walk around in bare feet, but we did anyway, and waded out into the water a little bit. I wished that we had packed the kids swim suits. The water hole was completely still water, and very clear and clean. It would have been fun to wade with the kids out into the water, and maybe even walk to the opposite side. We hung out at the swimming hole for about an hour, and then headed back to the car.

After leaving the swimming hole, we checked out the visitor’s center at Seneca Rocks. It was nice, but most importantly it was air conditioned. After leaving the visitors center, we headed to the country store to get some special treats and for me to log onto the internet (for $2 an hour). I should mention that at Seneca Rocks I had zero cell or 3G service. But, I wanted to at least check in with Meg via email. So, I wanted to grab an hour of internet service. The kids and I each got an ice cream treat, and a couple other items for snacks and breakfast. As the kids ate their ice cream, I logged onto the internet, sitting in the air conditioned car in the parking lot of the country store.

After checking in, via email, I logged off, the kids and I grabbed a gas fill-up and headed towards our campground. It was nice to actually arrive at camp before dark. We had already setup out tent, when we first checked in. But, when we got back, we unloaded the car, and started getting ready for dinner, and lit a camp fire. As we were preparing dinner, and getting the camp fire started, Nolan said, “Daddy, it’s Mommy’s car.” I looked across the road. In the camping spot just across from us a Porsche Boxster, just like ours was pulling up. It turns out it was the exact make/model, even a special edition RS60 (2008) as ours. Since there are only 1960 of these cars in existence, it was a surprise to me. It was also a surprise to the Boxster driver. Of course, I had to go up and say “hi!” I said, “Nice RS60.” The guy stepped out of the car, and had a very shocked look on his face. He said, “You must really know your Porsches to recognize the RS60.” I told him that we had one also. We chatter a bit about the car and how long they’d had it, etc. His wife/girlfriend were in from DC, and they often took quick trips like this in the Boxster. We bid them goodnight, and the kids and I headed back to finished getting dinner ready.

We cooked dehydrated camp food for dinner again. This time, the meal was not as popular. Again, Nolan didn’t eat any, and Anna only ate a little bit. I ate about half of it, but it wasn’t very good really. The kids and I supplemented out dinner with chips and goldfish. Around 8:30 PM, the kids and I took a shower, and put on their PJs, and tucked into the tent for the night. The kids stirred a bit, but they were pretty tired. I think that they eventually fell asleep around 10 PM.

July 7, 2012 – Saturday – Day 3
We woke up around 8 AM, and slowly got started. We cleaned up camp, packed up the tent, and all our gear. By the time we got going, and drove to the highpoint (just under and hour drive), it was around 9:30 AM. The kids and I jumped out of the car, and started down the trail, towards the high point. The actual highpoint was about 0.1 mile from the parking lot. I thought that we could get the highpoint, and then find a nice 2 mile hike around the highpoint to get our mileage. From the time that we got out of the car, I knew that things were not going to go well. Anna started almost immediately, wanting to be carried. So, I threw her on my shoulders. She mentioned that her legs hurt. She had hiked more than 5 miles over the past two days; pretty tough for a five year old. So, I wasn’t surprised that she might be a little tired today. But, once I put Anna on my shoulders, Nolan wanted to be carried also. And, he was being very persistent about it. I asked (more insisted) that Anna get down and walk. And, I put Nolan on my shoulders. With half the leg length of his big sister, I figured that Nolan would be worse off, if he was tired also. That did not go over well with Anna, and she was an absolute basket case, throwing a tantrum all the way to the highpoint. We got to the highpoint, and climbed the 2 story tower to the top. Anna’s tantrum was somewhat amusing. She even tried to block Nolan and I from going up the tower stairs. At the top, Anna was grumpy, and Nolan was dancing around all giddy and having fun. The time on the tower gave Anna a chance to cool down, and that set a much better stage for the rest of the hike. Once we switched off Anna’s “crabby switch” everything was much more fun. We left the tower, and I told the kids that we were going to take another way back. I knew of another trail that was about 0.5 miles long, and I found the end of that trail at the highpoint. The trail that we returned on was the Whispering-Spruce trail. This trail was short, but absolutely amazing. The first section (from the highpoint) was a nice trail, with great rock piles off to the side. It continues counterclockwise circumnavigating the highpoint area. At the furthest point from the parking lot, there was a great view of a rocky area, and a really nice field off in the distance. If it were just me, I would have gone cross country to check out some of the rock pile, and the field. But, that would have been a tough trek for the kids. Plus, I was still treading on thin ice with both of them, and trying to get their spirits up. We continued around. The trail continued into a pine tree area, with nice soft pine needles on the path. There were several really nice view spots along the way. Eventually, as we got closer to the parking lot, we found several picnic bench pull offs. We chose a picnic bench where we would stop for a snack. Since we were really close to the car, we walked over to the car, and grabbed some snacks, and walked back to the picnic bench. I sat the kids down with their snacks, and started jogging back and forth in the parking lot. I wanted to get the full 2 miles, but I didn’t think that the kids were up for much more. They enjoyed watching me running back and forth, as they sucked down chips, candy and drink. I got to about 1.5 miles total, and decided to check and see if the kids wanted to do one more lap of the 0.5 loop that we had just done. They were up for it, and were actually were in very high spirits at this point. Maybe I should have fed them candy for breakfast.

We dropped out stuff off at the car, and started back down the Whispering-Spruce trail, in reverse this time. Along the way, we pointed out all the pretty flowers, and other sights. As we came back around to the rocks, Anna wanted to climb along the rocks. I thought, “What the heck.” At first, they were both very clumsy and awkward on the rocks. Nolan – with his mini legs – was struggling a lot. I held his hand for most of the rock scrambling at first. But, eventually they both got more confident and stronger on the rocks. It even got to the point were Nolan didn’t need me at all. We was compensating by using both feet, both hands, and his belly sometimes to help haul him up and down the rocks. It was funny watching him use his belly as a fifth appendage to climb up on rocks. After playing on the rocks for a bit, we hit the trail again, and finished our second visit to the highpoint. The kids were more excited this time, and we even climbed the tower a second time.

We left the highpoint, and continued the last 0.1 back to the car. Along this short path were some more rock scrambling adventures for the kids to play on. The first time that we passed this area, we were having a child double melt down. So, we hadn’t noticed the rocks, and other neat things to check out on this short path section. But, the kids didn’t miss a thing on our final trip through this section. Eventually – after all of the rock scrambling was exhausted – we made it back to the car. We hopped in the car, and started heading towards our next adventure.

The remainder of our plan was to start heading towards home, and stop for some sightseeing along the way. Option 1 was to visit a retired congressional bunker – the Greenbrier Hotel – in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Option 2 was to visit a retired coal mine in Beckley, West Virginia. I knew that time would be tight, and that we would most certainly be getting back to Cincinnati very late. So, I dropped the gas pedal a little bit closer to the floor than I would normally do. As we cruised south, towards option 1, we spent a short amount of time in the state of Virginia. Let me tell you, “Don’t speed in Virginia.” As I pulled out of one of the small towns, I sped back up from 35 mph to the posted 55 mph. But, I also kept pushing the pedal, until I was around 70 mph. At least, that is what I was told, by the Virginia State Trooper that pulled me over in a Chevy Cavalier. It should be illegal to radar someone in such a non-descript vehicle as a Cavalier. I pulled over. The trooper was nice. First I struggled to find my license. Then, I struggled to find the registration for the Saab. Luckily, I ultimately found them, because I think this guy was going to stack up the tickets as high as he could. Before going back to his car to write me up, he pulled out his window tint detector, and showed me that the driver’s side tint in the Saab measured 12% light emission. Well, no tint is 100%, most cars have some factory tint around 90%, and legal (in Ohio and Virginia) is 50%. Opps! So, he got me for 71 in a 55, and the tint. But, in 20 minutes, we were on our way. The kids were completely unfazed by the traffic stop. They were sleeping when I first got stopped, and thought the trooper was neat, but didn’t get the whole idea that daddy was in trouble.

We continued towards White Sulphur Springs – at the proper speed limit, especially in Virginia. When we arrived in White Sulphur Springs, we had two goals, McDonalds and the bunker tour. It was surprising hard to find McDonalds. Both google maps, and my Garmin GPS showed McDonalds located in the middle of town. That was wrong. It was about 3 miles west of town. I had to use the old fashion method of directions to find that out – as a gas station attendant. Traveling around town, we also found out that they had some sort of PGA event going on this weekend. That made for some extra traffic, but it wasn’t too crazy. They had bus services driving people from parking lots to the tournament, and honestly, traffic through town flowed pretty good. We grabbed lunch, and drove to the Greenbrier Hotel. As we got to the hotel entrance, a guard at the guard shack asked if we had reservations for a tour today. I said no, and asked if we needed one usually. He said, “Yes, but especially this weekend, with the PGA tournament going on.” Option 1 was not available. So, we set our sights for Beckley, WV. About an hour later, we were pulling into Beckley.

We followed GPS instructions across town, and to the Coal Mine. The Exhibition Coal Mine was part of a complex that had a Kids museum, a miner’s museum, a small ghost town, old church, and a small gift shop. The kids and I bought tickets for the 4:30 mine tour, and checked out the museums and such while we waited. At 4:30, we arrived for the coal mine tour. The coal mine tour is operated using an old coal mining train, which goes down underneath the town of Beckley. As we took our seats on the mine cars, the kids were both very excited. Nolan was notably the most excited. The tour guide gave us some history, and the tour commenced down into the mine. Outside, the temperatures were in the 80s, and approaching 90. It was hot outside. In the mines, the temperatures dropped about 20-30 degrees almost immediately. We also noticed that it was damp, and very dark down in the mine. The car ride continued up under the city. At several points, our tour guide would stop the cars, get out, and show us some of the sample mining equipment, and gear, and tell us about the history. It was all amazing to me. On our tour, we just happen to have an old miner in the group. This guy was neat. Often throughout the tour, he would inject some additional tidbits and information about the equipment, gear and about mining in general. Some of the high school kids would snicker whenever he spoke up, because he did sound like he was trying to “steal the attention” from the tour operator. But, I enjoyed what he had to say. He added a lot to the tour, and I thanked him afterwards.

The tour doesn’t go too far into the mine. But, with the history lesson, it definitely gives you and idea of what those guys had to deal with, some of the improvements that have been made, and what the miners of today still have to deal with. That is certainly a dangerous profession, even with the improvements that have been made. As the tour ended, the guide operated the mine car up and out of a second entrance, around the city park, and back to the station. The kids really seemed to like the coal mine tour. I was a bit worried, since I knew that it would be more of a history lesson, than an exciting amusement park ride. It was definitely neat, and very interesting.

After treating the kids to some trinkets at the gift shop, we hopped back in the car, and headed for home. We had about 6 hours of driving ahead of us. I estimated that we’d get home around 11 PM. During our drive home, our route took us from West Virginia, into Ohio, skirting the border between Ohio and Kentucky. Just to make things exciting (oh so exciting), as we skirted the border, the kids and I took a quick u-turn through the city of Ashland, Kentucky, then continued on our normal route. That 3 minute side trip gave us our sixth state for this three day trip: OH, PA, WV, MD, VA and KY. How exciting. The trip home was uneventful. The kids, slept, fought, whined, ate, slept and fought some more. We arrived home around 11 PM, as expected. Both kids were asleep when we got home, and waking them up to bring them into the house was like stirring a sleeping bear. You didn’t know if you would get a big yawn, or if they would bite your head off. Needless to say, there was a lot of crying, and mini tantrums as we transferred the kids from the car, into their pajamas, and into bed. With 18 hours of driving, six states, three state high point, over 6 miles of hiking (on 18 inch legs), two nights camping in a tent, a toy museum, coal mine, and 3 days of very sporadic sleeping and eating, can you blame them for being a bit cranky.

The kids talked about this trip for the next three days. It was a bit more challenging than I expected. Alone I could have probably done the trip in a day and a half, and the family would have hardly noticed that I was gone. Doing the trip with the kids was much more challenging, and slower, but priceless!

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Hawkeye Point (1,670 feet) Highpoint of Iowa – June 09, 2012

LINK TO ALL PICTURES

Earlier in the year, I had come up with the crazy idea of doing another back to back marathon weekend. I scouted out the potential weekends, and marathons, and came up with two marathons in Iowa and South Dakota. I convinced my buddy Scott to run the Marathon to Marathon (Iowa) and the Swan Lake Marathon (SD) with me over the June 9/10, 2012 weekend. It really didn’t take much convincing to get Scott to join me. After booking the marathons, of course I had to check out the state highpoints in the area to see if there were any high points that were close to our marathons. My research revealed that the highpoint of Iowa – Hawkeye Point – was located somewhat between our marathons, and would only require an hour or so side trip. So, I let Scott know that I’d like to also grab the high point of Iowa during out marathon weekend. Scott agreed.

Rob and Scott

Rob and Scott

The weekend started with a flight into Sioux Falls, IA. Scott and I met up, and drove to Storm Lake, IA, where we ran the first of two marathons on Saturday morning. The marathon went pretty well for us. Scott and I stuck together the whole race, and ran a very conservative race, knowing that we’d have to get up again on Sunday for another 26.2 miles. The race was hot, but we held back enough to keep ourselves from getting to overheated, and ultimately finished in around 4 hours and 43 minutes.

Highpoint Marker

Highpoint Marker

After running the marathon, Scott and I headed towards Hawkeye Point. We arrived at Hawkeye Point, just outside of Sibley, IA. The highpoint was pretty much just a picnic area in the middle of a corn field. What else should we expect in Iowa? Scott and I parked the car near the highpoint, and walked over to check it out. Our legs weren’t suffering too badly from the 26.2 miles in the morning. After checking out the highpoint, we set out on a 2 mile round trip walk. My requisite mileage for any highpoint (hard or easy) is a minimum of 2 miles roundtrip. In this case, we’d walk from the highpoint, out a mile, and return to the high point.

Marker and Silo

Marker and Silo

We essentially walked back to the road, and just walked due East down a dirt road, until we hit about a mile, then turned around. It was actually nice to get the legs loosened back up again. At this point, it was about 2:00 in the afternoon, so the sun was pounding on us pretty hard. A breeze across the field kept us reasonably cool though. We made the casual round trip in about 36 minutes. Upon our return, we hopped back into the car, and headed towards tomorrow’s marathon destination, Viborg, South Dakota.

Rob at Highpoint

Rob at Highpoint

The following day we ran the Swan Lake Marathon. That sucked. After the first mile, I dropped behind, letting Scott pull away. I knew immediately that this race was by all about “survival.” I walked a significant amount of this marathon, ending up crossing the finish line at around 5 hours and 43 minutes. This would be my longest street marathon ever. In hindsight, I think that I might like to run this race again. It was a nice race, mostly on dirt road, which was easier on the legs. I’d want to train better for the next time.

Highpoint Mosaic

Highpoint Mosaic

Scott and I arrived in Iowa late on Friday night, and returned home late on Sunday. In that quick weekend trip, we were able to get two new marathon states, and one additional high point. Overall, this was a very fruitful “check list” weekend.

Distance: 2 miles

Time: 35:51

 

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Campbell Hill (1,550 feet) Ohio Highpoint – February 29, 2012

LINK TO ALL PICTURES

Summit Geomarker

Summit Geomarker

I had held off doing the highpoint in my own state, because I felt that it would be easy to grab at any point, and I just wasn’t going to make a special trip to Bellefontaine, Ohio to get it. It turned out that I had a work trip that took me right across the middle of Ohio, and the route had the potential to drive within a mile of Campbell Hill, the high point of Ohio. Since I was with another coworker, I decided that I wouldn’t drive out of our way just for the highpoint, but I would let the GPS chose the route, and if it chose to drive through Bellefontaine, then I would take 20 minutes to get Campbell Hill. As we got through Columbus, I checked the GPS route, and sure enough it was sending us through Bellefontaine. So, I asked my coworker if we could plan for a 20 minute break in order to summit the highest point in Ohio. He was ok with it, and the plan was set into motion.

Summit Sign

Summit Sign

We arrived in Bellefontaine just after lunch, and took the highway exit towards Campbell Hill. It was only about a mile off the highway. The final turn – right – was into a gated career training center, which was open to the public. It looked like a technical school for high school kids or something like that. We took the right, and followed the road all the way to where it ended at a cul-de-sac, and the highpoint of Ohio. The highpoint was well marked, with plaques, signs and a flag pole. My coworker and I spent time taking pictures, and posing at the highest point in Ohio. Exciting.

Summit Self Picture

Summit Self Picture

After pictures, I started off on my requisite 2 miles round trip run/walk/hike in order to call the highpoint official. I ran out of the property, and took a right – opposite direction from the highway. I basically ran down a country road until my turn around point, then turned around and came back – nothing too exciting. The trip was an easy 9:00 pace run, and I got out and back in 18:09. We jumped in the car, and continued our journey across Ohio, towards our next business destination. Part of me wanted to save my state’s highpoint for last, but I wasn’t going to pass up a free highpoint, only to have to drive 4 hours round trip from my house to get it at a later time. Ohio high point down!

Distance: 2 miles

Time: 18:09 RT

 

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Woodall Mountain (806 feet) – Highpoint of Mississippi – October 01, 2011

2011 10 – Rob Trip to Pickup 2008 Porsche Boxster Mississippi Highpoint Woodall Mountain

For those of us with travel-lists, it seems that we always have to review our lists whenever a travel opportunity arises. In my case, I have two major travel lists. The first is to run a marathon in each of the 50 states. The second is to eventually visit the highpoint of each of the 50 states. For both of these lists, I’m at around 20 states right now. The opportunity this time was a trip that I was thinking about taking to go pickup a new car. I had found a beautiful 2008 Porsche Boxster, located in Booneville, Mississippi. My plan was to fly down to Memphis, Tennessee, check out the car, and if I bought it, drive home with the car. In the back of my mind, I knew that I was going to love the car; I’d be driving it home. A quick review of the state highpoints showed me that the highpoint of Mississippi was on my way home. Or at least it was only 2 hours out of my way. For highpointers, a 2 hours deviation is nothing. To top it off the highpoint was really close to Booneville, where my seller (Matt) lived. So, I told Matt to just meet me in Memphis and not bring a second car. If I bought the car, I would drive back through Booneville to drop him off.

It turns out I loved the car and bought it. The drive back to Booneville was nice, and Matt and I chatted a bunch about cars, and other things. Matt even showed me around Booneville a bit, and showed me some other cars that he had; very nice. After I dropped Matt off, I headed toward Iuka, Mississippi, which is right next to Woodall Mountain, the highpoint. It took about an hour to get from Booneville to Iuka. Right off the exit, I took a quick right, down a curvy country road. What a great way to test out my new toy. I motored along the road until I found the dirt road turn off for Woodall Mountain. I passed by the turn off and continued down the rural paved road. There was no way I was going to drive my new toy up a gravel dirt road. I was looking for a place to turn around, and maybe a good place to park. I didn’t find a better place to park, but I did turn around about a mile down the road. There weren’t many great places to turn around. On my one mile drive back to the dirt road, I really pushed the Boxster, hitting 70+ mph on this winding road. It was awesome. When I got back to the dirt road turn off, I regrettably pulled off the side of the road into the weeds. The Boxster could handle parking off the pavement. As I got out and got ready for the 1 mile hike up the dirt road, I could smell the brakes. It was the “smell of fun.” I had really hit that last stretch of curvy road hard.

I crossed over to the dirt road, took some pictures of a Woodall Mountain sign, and started jogging up the dirt road. I had decided to wear my Vibram Fivefingers for this jog, since I knew it was short. But, after 100 yards, I wished that I hadn’t. I could feel every rock and pebble through those shoes, and this was a very rocky, pebbly road. It was killing my feet and made for a very slow jog up the road. Needless to say, I continued up the road. The jog up the road was suppose to be about 200 feet of elevation gain overall, but it really didn’t seem all that much. It was moderate rolling hills, but it went quickly. I ultimately made it to the top in just over 11 minutes.

The top of Woodall Mountain is a lot like some of the other Midwest high points: a dirt road with a small turn around loop, a lookout tower and cell towers. There was a large rock in the middle of the loop, and a geo-marker next to the rock. I climbed onto the rock in order to gain the highest elevation. I took a bunch of pictures, and then started back down towards the car. When I reached the top it dawned on me that I hadn’t actually insured the Boxster yet, and that the second key for the car was in the center console. Yikes! So, I scooted back down the road as fast as my sore feet would take me. It took me almost as long to get down as it did to get up; right around 11 minutes. If I were to do it again, I’d skip the Vibrams.

I got back into the Boxster and started towards home. I should mention that the drive home was amazing. South of Nashville, I was able to take some back roads, along the Nathchez Parkway. This wasn’t something that I had planned; I was just following directions from the GPS. I actually thought that I’d be traveling boring back country roads, until I reached the highway. The Parkway drive was amazing and beautiful. It reminded me of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Smokies. Driving this road in my new convertible, with the top down was awesome. Another state highpoint down, and an amazing drive to boot.

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Blanca and Ellingwood – August 15, 2011

2011 08 – Colorado Summer 2011 Rob and Nabeel

For several reasons, Nabeel and I decided that we would attempt Blanca and Ellingwood from the lower trailhead as a day hike. Most of the time people hike up to Lake Como setup camp, then attempt Blanca, Ellingwood and maybe Little Bear from the Lake as day hikes. The hike from the lower trailhead would be a very long day, with lots of miles, and much elevation gain. Our primary reasons for not camping in to Lake Como were: 1) After the hike into South Colony Lake the previous days, we were tired of carrying a heavy pack. We just wanted to run light and be back at the car at the end of the day. 2) There were discussions on the internet about bear activity up at Como Lake. Although one bear had already been taken down by the Dept of Wildlife, there were rumors of more bears. We just didn’t want to have to deal with a bear pilfering our camp, and tearing up our stuff, or worse.

We had checked into a hotel the night after South Colony. I had tended to my blisters, and we had both pulled together the lightest packs that we felt we could safely carry. Because we knew that we had a long day ahead of us, we started very early. We left the hotel at around 3:30 am, and hit the trail around 4 am. The initial hike up the Como Road is long, but in the dark it was manageable. We couldn’t see how much progress we were NOT making. We could just focus on the steps directly in front of us. The road is very easy to follow. It is a full car width all the way to the lake. There are some very impressive 4×4 challenges along the way. For a vehicle it would be very interesting, but for a hiker it was no big deal. The road is very rocky though, and this really sucked during the descent. During the ascent the road was solid and pretty easy. We made it to the lake around the time the sun was coming up. We made the lake in just under 3 hours. This part of the hike was a huge chunk of our overall miles, so we were making great progress. We stopped at the lake for a short break. After the break, we continued left around the lake, up towards Blue Lakes and ultimately Crater Lake. We were fooled multiple times, thinking that the next lake must be Crater Lake. But, when you finally get to Crater Lake, you know it. It is an awesome looking lake, just below the face of Blanca.

The 4×4 road continues past Blue Lakes. It finally ends at a wall, with a waterfall. The trail continues, and switchbacks up the wall on the left of the waterfall. At the top of the wall, you see a smaller lake; not Crater Lake. As the trail continues, you pop up over a small hill, and finally see Crater Lake. At this point you have a pretty good view of your climbs for the day. The trail continues up past Crater Lake. Up to Crate Lake, the trail is very easy to follow, and a very pleasant hike. Just above Crate Lake, it gets much more difficult to follow, with many side paths that people have created. In addition, above Crate Lake, the trail turns into a boulder field, which is much tougher on the legs. We continued up into the boulder field. I should mention that there were some manmade markers along the Blanca trail. There were some orange tassles shoved into the rock about every 50 feet or so. We were able to follow the orange tassles for about 70% of the route up to the ridge. We still lost them several times though. We continued up to the Blanca Elingwood ridge, and then turned right, up towards Blanca. The climbing was solid class 2, but not too bad. About 400 feet from the summit of Blanca we had a small bout of nasty weather. It started off as a light drizzle, but then turned into sleet. It was still very early in the morning (9 am), so we weren’t too worried about lightening or really bad weather. But, the sleet still bothered us a little bit. The thought of finishing Blanca, then Ellingwood and descending with cold sleet pelting your face just didn’t sound like much fun. We continued towards the summit of Blanca none the less. As we approached the summit, the sleet stopped, and the sky started to clear up. We finally made the summit of Blanca in just under 2 hours 30 minutes from Como.

The skies were definitely starting to clear up nicely, so we spent some time on Blanca, soaking up the sun. It was still windy though, and a tad bit cold, so we were thankful of the windbreak at the summit. We spent about 20 minutes on Blanca, and then headed down the ridge towards Ellingwood. The trip to Ellingwood was more adventurous than it should have been. We decided ahead of time that we wanted an easy class 2 day today. So, we bypassed the class 3 route to Ellingwood that stays high on the ridge. We got to the saddle, and continued down; looking for any trail that looked like it was heading towards Ellingwood. We also directed ourselves towards the base of Ellngwood, thinking that we’d certainly cross the trail, and not have to drop all the way down to 13,300 feet as the route descriptions note. We wandered, and wandered, and wandered, and never found the trail that we were expecting. We saw pink and orange markers multiple times, but they just didn’t seem to be where we thought the trail should be. Ultimately we made it down to 13,300 feet anyway. We still never found a strong trail, but we were able to spot some cairns, and some more pink and orange markers. The trail that we followed did end up passing those markers that we saw as we wandered across the lower face of Ellingwood. Ultimately we targeted a spot on the ridge that we felt was probably past the class 3 section. We worked our way up to the ridge. The rest of the way was nice easy class 2. I’ll mention that there was some pretty wicked exposure off the right side of the ridge. Ultimately we made a false summit, then the real summit of Ellingwood. Total time from the summit of Blanca to the summit of Ellingwood was just under 2 hours. It should have been half that, if we hadn’t wandered around aimlessly at the base of Ellingwood.

The day continued to be beautiful. We spent 40 minutes on the summit of Ellingwood soaking in the rays, and celebrating our accomplishments. We’d talked about doing Longs Peak on Tuesday, but on the way up Ellingwood we flushed those plans down the drain. So, Ellingwood would be our last 14er summit for 2011. We celebrated that also. It would be all downhill the remainder of this trip.

The trip down Ellingwood was a bit easier. It was slightly easier to spot the route markers from above. We still found ourselves wandering towards the class 3 ridge route, as we missed the markers heading down; only a small diversion this time, maybe 5 minutes. We were glad when we finally made it off the boulder field, and down to Crater Lake. Finally solid ground again. We cruised past Crater Lake, down the wall, back to the road, past Blue Lakes and finally back to Lake Como. At Como we took another break. At this point my blisters were acting up again, and I had to tend to them. They had been 100% ok on the ascent, but the descent was hurting them badly. I whipped out the tape and Bandaids and went to work on my feet. My triage work helped a bit, but I was glad that we were not heading back up to 14,000 feet again tomorrow.

After a 30 minute break at the lake we continued back down the Como road. The trip down seemed more grueling than the trip up in the morning. About half way down from the lake the view from the road opens up to the plains below. You have a great view of the plains, and most importantly, you get an idea of how much longer you still have to hike, and how much elevation you still have to descend. This was disheartening. Also, it was now mid afternoon, and the sun that we had enjoyed so much on the summits was now starting to cook us. At this point we took another short break. This was more of a mental break. We had 2,000 feet more to drop, and about 3 miles to go. But, mentally I wanted to be done in a bad way. After our short break, we continued down the road. Our pace was a slow walk at this point. The rocks and loose dirt were really starting to bug me. I was finding that I was sliding and stumbling a lot, and that was frustrating. As we hit a flatter section, I decided to go ahead and try running, rather than the clumsy walk that I was doing. I found that running, although it hurt, was more stable and did actually feel better than walking. It was downhill, on loose dirt and rocks, how bad could it be? In addition, running this lower section would get me done quicker. So, I ran, or rather, I jogged. Nabeel chose to continue walking, while I ran ahead. I ran about 80% of the remainder of the road. There were some sections that I walked, because the rocks were just too loose under foot. I finally made it down to the car in just over 2 hours from leaving the lake. Nabeel pulled in about 15 minutes after I did. I should mention that I never wiped out during my run. No wipe out and done 15 minutes early – definitely worth it.

Blanca and Ellingwood finished the Sangre de Cristos fourteeners for me. I was glad to have them done, but I’m sure I’ll be back. These are some classic peaks. If I were to do some things different on this hike, I would seriously think about doing the West ridge up Ellingwood first, then doing the class 3 traverse to Blanca. The class 2 junk that Nabeel and I wandered around on between Ellingwood and Blanca wasn’t much fun.

Nabeel truly rocked this trip, as I thought he would. We got five fourteeners total. Two of them – the Crestones – are arguably some of the toughest fourteeners, by the standard routes. Humboldt, Blanca, and Ellingwood are no slouches either; especially the way that we did them. Our Blanca and Ellingwood day ended up being around 13 hours round trip; 18 miles and 7,300 feet of elevation for the day.

SPLITS:
To Como 2:55:51
Break 12:46.63
To Blanca 2:26:43
On Blanca 22:07.96
To Ellingwood 1:52:24
On Ellingwood 39:00.08
To Como 1:59:25
Break 28:19.18
To TH 1:15:17+6:02.06+46:53.84

Total
13:04:53

From Garmin
7320 total ascent
17.81 mi

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Humbolt Peak, Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle – August 12-14, 2011

2011 08 – Colorado Summer 2011 Rob and Nabeel

This would be the first year that I brought my buddy Nabeel with me to Colorado for 14ers.  I had a pretty good idea that Nabeel would be solid.  He is a fitness machine, and he always seems to be very comfortable with climbing, and with heights.  He would prove my instincts to be very solid.We arrived at Denver International around 8:30 pm.  We drove through the city ofWestcliffe, and arrived at the South Colony lower 2WD trailhead around midnight.  I had heard that the upper trailhead was accessible to 2WD (two wheel drive), so I decided ahead of time that we would try it.  Plus, we were in a rental car, and as long as we didn’t leave any big dents, I wasn’t too worried.  We got to the lower trailhead, and kept on driving.  It got rougher after the lower parking lot, but it was very manageable, with little threat of hitting the bottom of the car on any rocks.  The Chevy HHR that we had rented was doing fine.  At just under a mile past the parking lot we encountered an uphill turn to the left.  It looked rough, but I thought we could make it.  We got about half way up the hill, and the tires lost traction.  The dirt was very dry and loose.  We backed down and made another run at it, and lost traction at about three quarters of the way up.  At that point we thought that we were pretty close, and decided to have Nabeel get out and push a little bit; just enough to help keep forward momentum and try to avoid loosing traction.  A couple more tries, and nothing got much better. And, it was getting harder to get back down the hill without getting stuck on any rocks.  We tried one more time, and made it to the very top, but then lost traction again.  Nabeel was pushing, and when I put on the brakes, the car roll back a little bit.  That was when I heard Nabeel behind the car, cursing, and obviously in pain.  I knew that the car had only rolled back about 12 inches.  So, I knew that Nabeel hadn’t been run-over, or anything like that.  I figured that he had fallen and scrapped his knees or something.  Nope!  Nabeel’s shoulder had gotten dislocated, and was out of the socket.  Ouch!  Nabeel had pulled his shoulder out of socket about two years ago at the climbing gym.  And, I guess it had never been the same since.  I guess the car rolling back a little bit had put his shoulder in an awkward position, and it had come out of socket again.  He was in serious pain.  He walking around, with his should in a funny orientation.  I was quizzing him about how bad it was, and whether we needed an emergency room or not.  He wasn’t sure, and was trying to lower his arm back into socket.  In a minute or so, he was able to pop his shoulder back into place.  I should mention that the first time he did this (about 2 years ago) Nabeel required a trip by ambulance, to the emergency room, and his arm was in a sling for weeks.  Nabeel got back into the car, and without hesitation, I decided that we were done trying to get up that darn hill.  We’d spent almost an hour trying without much success, and now Nabeel was hurt.  I started back towards the lower parking lot, with Nabeel in the passenger seat mumbling about seeing stars, and feeling like he needed to pass out.  Later he admitted to me that he also felt like he needed to barf.  He didn’t barf, or pass out.  As we worked our way towards the lower parking lot, we looked for potential parking spots along the way.  But, nothing appealed to us, and we ultimately made the decision to just go down to the lower parking lot.  We got there, and setup our sleeping bags and pads to sleep in the back of the HHR.  We finally got tucked in around 1:30 am; only 3 or 4 hours of sleep time available before we needed to get up to start hiking.  I quizzed Nabeel multiple times about his shoulder and he said it hurt, but he didn’t know how it would feel later, or if it would affect the hiking or climbing.  We’d have to wait til morning to see.In the morning, we got up at 4:30 am, but were slow to get started.  The first thing that Nabeel said to me in the morning was, “I didn’t sleep at all, I was nervous about the hike, and nervous about the shoulder.”  And, I’m sure that sleeping at 8,000 feet, coming from sea level, didn’t help either.  I didn’t sleep well either.  I might have slept an hour total.  Eventually, we gathered up everything that we needed for a backpack hike and camp atSouthColonyLake.  Our packs were huge, and in hindsight we brought we too much crap.  We each had a 2 person tent.  I brought a small rope, harness and climbing gear, which we never used.  And, I think that we brought enough food for 4 or 5 days (we stayed 2.5 days).  As I donned my heavy pack, immediately I thought about Nabeel’s shoulder again.  My pack was killing my shoulders already, and I didn’t have anything wrong with mine.  Nabeel said that it hurt, but that the pack didn’t hurt it anymore than without it.  Whew!  “Test one passed” on the bum shoulder.  Now, just to see how well it would deal with the other challenges:  long days of hiking, and hours of challenging class 3 and class 4 climbing moves.  We finally got on the trail around 6:15 am.We started up the trail, and in about 30 minutes we made it to the point where the car got stuck.  I was frustrated that we hadn’t made it, but it didn’t look any easier in the daylight.  We had made the right decision.  As we continued up the road, we noted several other points where we would have probably had difficulty getting up.  Plus, if we had made it to the upper trailhead parking lot, we would have eventually had to go back down, and that is sometimes harder.  We continued, and got to the upper parking lot (2.6 miles hike) in about 1 hour 10 minutes.  We had set a pretty good pace, especially with the huge packs.  We took a short break, and continued up the trail.  I should mention that there were about 15 vehicles in the upper parking lot, and only two of them were cars, a junky old Mitsubishi and a Subaru (which I assume was a 4WD).  As we continued up the trail, the heavy pack was starting to wear on me.  Nabeel seemed to be going very strong though.  After another hour we took another short break.  Soon after we continued, we ran into a fork in the road.  We could take the left and follow the main road which was less steep, but a longer hike.  Or, we could take the right and follow the old “pack trail,” a steeper, but shorter hike.  We took the pack trail.  In another hour and a half we finally made it up to the lake.  We spent 20 minutes or so looking for a good place to camp, and then plopped our stuff down.  We ended up camping just off the trail, about 100 feet from the fork in the trail that goes to the Crestones or to Humboldt.  Our total time to camp, including breaks was right around 4 hours.  It was nice to finally ditch all that weight.  We setup camp, ate a bit, and then rested, getting ready for a quick hike up Humboldt.At about 11 am, we started up towards Humboldt.  The trail is very easy to follow.  There was a fork in the trail just past our camp.  We took the right fork.  Then, the trail crossed the creek, and started up towards the base of the saddle between Humboldt andObstructionPeak.  From the valley to the saddle, the trail has multiple switchbacks, which make the hike pretty easy.  I’d estimate it took about an hour for us to reach the saddle.  Even though we had dumped most of our weight, and were only carrying light day packs, the higher elevations were starting to get to us.  This was the first time – and only time on the trip – that I was worried that Nabeel might give it up, and quit the hike.  He was looking pretty rough, and tired.  We would hike maybe 100 feet at a time, then stop and take a bunch of breaths.  Once we got to the saddle, the rest of the route up the ridge was pretty clear, but it didn’t get any easier.  The class 2 starts on the ridge.  It isn’t exactly difficult, but we weren’t exactly feeling great either.  We were tired from the 4 hour hike with huge packs.  Plus, we were exhausted from almost no sleep the night before.  But, we trudged forward.  The class 2 didn’t actually seem to be any harder.  The summit was calling us at that point.  We got to the false summit, and kept on moving.  We ultimately made it to the top in around 2 hours 10 minutes from camp.  We were beat.  We both sat down.  I pulled out my iPhone and wandered around trying to get service.  When I did, I called home to let all know that we were doing great.  Nabeel lay down on the summit to rest.  He later told me that he almost fell asleep on the summit.  We logged into the register, ate some food, and just enjoyed the summit.  We spent over a half hour on the summit, and eventually decided that we needed to get down to camp in order to get some real.  Plus, we had some buddies hiking in today, and we needed to be near camp to try and meet up with them.  We started down, and everything seemed much easier.  This was day 1 of the trip, and the legs and feet were still feeling pretty good.  And, the lungs were much better on the downhill then they were on the up hill.  I had envisioned possibly taking any extra couple of hours to grabColumbiaPeak, a high 13er, about a mile west of the Humboldt saddle, but those thoughts vanished quickly.  We made it back down to camp in around an hour 20 minutes.When we got back to camp, we both crawled into our tents, and took well deserved naps.  At that point, I was glad to have hauled up two two-person tents.  We got up around 6 pm, and started scanning the radio for my buddies Keith and Beau.  While we were waiting, we met some new friends – Darrin and Otina – who were also waiting for Keith.  We chatted with them, and ate some half cooked rice meals.  Keith strolled in just after dark.  I introduced myself to Keith in person, since we had never officially met, except through emails and Facebook.  Soon afterwards, Nabeel and I strolled off to bed.  We had plans to get up at 4:30 am and really needed some solid sleep.Nabeel and I crawled out of our tents around 4:30 am.  We got our stuff together, and scarfed down some breakfast.  We had talked seriously about doing the Peak to Needle upper traverse, and brought a rope and harness just in case.  In reality, we probably would not have needed them on the traverse.  But, after talking with Darrin and Otina the night before we were leaning towards doing the peak and needle without the traverse.  We would do the Peak first, then return toCottonwoodLake, then back up Broken Hand Pass.  We had to go back up overBrokenHandPassto get back to our camp regardless.  OnBrokenHandPasswe would decided if we had enough strength left to do the Needle also.We finally got started around 5:15 am.  At the fork in the trail, we took the left fork this time.  Initially the trail up towardsBrokenHandPasswas very clear.  But, at some point, in the boulder fields, we lost the trail.  We knew the direction that we needed to go, so we were not worried.  Ultimately, I spotted another hiker passing about 50 feet to our left on the boulder field.  We made our way to where he had passed, and found the trail again.  We made it to the base ofBrokenHandPass, and started up.  The trail upBrokenHandPasswas very nasty and loose.  But, it wasn’t technically very difficult.  Ultimately we made the top of the pass in just over an hour.  We took a break at the top of the pass, and chatted with the two guys that had passed up.  The first guy was super eager to do the traverse.  The second guys was skeptical about the traverse.  When the second guy heard about our idea to do both the Peak and Needle, but without the traverse, he seemed very interested in that version, rather than the traverse.  They started down towardsCottonwoodLakea few minutes before us.  Then, we started down towards the lake.  The other two guys pulled away from us pretty steadily, down the pass and towards the lake.  The route down the pass and towards the lake was not bad.  A tad bit steep, but overall pretty pleasant.  When we got down into the lake valley, the trail was flat, and very pleasant.We continued on to the lake, past the lake, and ultimate made it to the base ofCrestone Peakand the bottom of the Red Gully.  We got to the bottom of the gully in just under an hour from the top of the pass, and about 2 hours from leaving camp.  We never did catch up with our two leaders, but we saw them pretty much the whole way.  We did catch and pass another couple, who were going strong, but just a tad slower than we were.  We started up the Red Gully, and Nabeel and I were having a blast.  The rock was solid, the climbing steep, but safe.  I quizzed Nabeel multiple times about how he was doing, and how his shoulder was doing.  Nabeel had never been on solid class 3, and this stuff was very solid.  He always responded that he was doing great, and having fun.  And, the shoulder wasn’t causing him any issues, although it was a bit sore.  We continued up the red gully, slowly, but steadily.  There were some loose sections, but most of the gully was pretty solid.  There was never any point that I felt the exposure or looseness was a concern.  But, I will say that the red gully climb is probably the longest sustained class 3 climb that I’ve done.  It is just a very high climb.  I think that is more than a thousand feet of solid class 3 climbing.  As we got towards the top of the red gully, we spotted a rather large group (about 12 people) that was moving pretty slow.  We gained no the, but I wasn’t sure that we would pass them before we reached the top.  As we got closer, it was clear that we could pass them.  Nabeel and I moved a little to the left of the gully to pass them.  I didn’t want to be under a large group in the gully – for fear of loose rocks.  We passed them, and made the ridge, just under the summit.  The large group stopped for a long break a this point.  We worked our way along the ridge, heading for the summit.  This last bit of ridge is the first point that I felt was really very exposed.  There were a couple of moves that you had to stick your butt out over a 40-50 foot drop, and a fall would have been really really bad.  Nabeel even mentioned that he was a bit sketched out by the exposure at this point.  It was probably at this point that Nabeel and I came up with a new term that we used the rest of the trip when we were talking about a scary part in the climb.  We started talking about all scary parts as “major pucker moves” or “major pucker portions” of the route.  What we were indicating by this was not the pucker that you get from eating a lemon, but the pucker that you get from the other end of your anatomy when you are scared.  Pucker became our new heavily used word.We scrambled up the rest of the ridge, and reached the summit in about an hour 20 minutes from the bottom of the red gully, maybe 3 and a half hours from leaving camp.  We spent about 15 minutes on the summit, celebrating our climb, and celebrating a very successful first class 3 climb for Nabeel.  We were also celebrating the fact that we were feeling outstanding, and that the weather was looking great.  We were very confident that we would also see the summit ofCrestone Needletoday.I should mention that we never did hear from Beau the night before.  And, we hadn’t seen him in the morning either.  But, when I checked my phone on the summit, I had a message from Beau.  He had wandered by our camp a little after 6 am.  We had been gone an hour or more at that point.  He was planning to go ahead and just do Humboldt, then meat us back at the camp later.  I called him and told him that we’d made the Peak, and were planning on hitting the Needle also.  And, we made plans to meet up later.After break, Nabeel and I headed back down the ridge, and the red gully.  That larger group of 12 people never did make the summit while we were up there.  It turned out that they were and Outward Bound group, and that the group leaders were setting “fixed ropes” along the ridge, in order to protect those more exposed sections.  For us unnecessary, but if I were leading a group of kids that I was responsible for, I was definitely consider fixed ropes.  Hope fully the kids made it up successfully.  It would surely have been a great experience for them.  Nabeel and I passed them on the way back into the gully.  We continued down the gully.  The down climb of the gully was pretty easy and fun.  As we got towards the bottom it started to get a little old though.  We made it back down to the bottom of the gully, down to the lake, across the valley, and back upBrokenHandPassin around 2 hours.  At this point it was 11 am, and we needed to make a call if we’d attempt the Needle.  Our plan was to see how we felt, and rest for 30 minutes, check the weather and then make the call if we felt ok.  We felt so good that we only took a 5 minutes break at the top of the pass, and started towards Needle.The summit of Needle is less than a mile from the top of the pass, but it is a long arduous climb to get there.  There isn’t much easy stuff between the top of the pass and the summit of Needle.  The initial part is clear trail, heading towards the east and west gullies.  Along the trail we ran into a single guy that we had met on the Peak.  He was going down from the Needle and had successfully done the traverse.  His comment was, “I did it, but I’ll never do that again.”  We also passed our hiking buddies that we met on the pass in the morning.  They had also done the traverse.  They had a very different impression of the traverse, and were both very excited that they had done it.  There are a couple of pretty stiff moves required to get down to the bottom of the east gully.  They look worse than they really are though.  We started up the east gully which was very solid, similar to the red gully onCreastonePeak.  I’d say that it was slightly more exposed though.  As we climbed the east gully we kept looking for the cross over point to the west gully.  We knew that this was the tricky point in the climb.  Ultimately we found the cross over point.  It was well marked by some well placedcairns.  The climb up to the cross over point was definitely the crux of this route.  I’d rate it a solid class 4 section.  It was short, but pretty tricky, and very exposed.  I was wondering how we would feel about the down climb.  Nabeel and I made it over to the west gully without issue though.  The west gully was much smaller (less wide) than the east gully.  A hundred feet or so up the west gully, it opens back into the upper portion of the east gully.  Roach’s description sends you back over to the upper portion of the east gully for the finish to the summit.  The description is much clearer in Roach’s third edition.  But, we missed that part, and kept going left, up the west gully.  It was very solid, but also very exposed.  Nabeel and I were both feeling the “pucker” on this section.  It was definitely approaching class 4, and it was sustained for 300 or more feet.  Neither of us were having any serious issues with the up climb, but we were not relishing the idea of down climbing this section.  Ultimately we reached the summit and were elated, but not looking forward to that down climb.  The fatigue was finally starting to catch up to us.  We reached the to in about and hour 30 minutes.  There was another group on top, and we quizzed them about that up climb.  They didn’t seem phased by it.  At this point we noticed that other people were down climbing the upper east gully.  That gave us some relief that we could find a slightly more leisurely way down.We spent about 15 minutes on the summit.  We could have stuck around a while, but we really wanted to follow others down, just to make sure that we stayed on route during the descent.  Plus, it was getting late in the afternoon at this point.  We followed the other group down the upper east gully.  The upper east gully was definitely an easier way down.  It was loose, but easy.  Our biggest dilemma was not knocking rocks down on the bigger group ahead of us.  We did a good job avoiding that.  As we go to the point where we are suppose to cross back over to the west gully, we caught and passed the other group.  At this point, we’d gather enough confidence about the route finding, and were good on our own.  We actually had the right idea from the top, and would have been fine.  At the crux down climb the rest of the lead group let us pass by.  Being only two of us, we could make tracks faster, and we were going pretty good.  We made the sketchy crux move from the west gully back to the east gully.  It wasn’t so bad after all.  A bit of a “pucker.”  And, we descended the remainder of the east gully.  At this point, I let Nabeel lead.  The funny thing is that every time that I let Nabeel lead, he took us along the toughest parts of the route.  Nabeel had led us left up the class 4 west gully to the summit.  And, during this downclimb of the east gully, Nabeel led us down a pretty wicked, solid class 4 downclimb that skipped the lower section of the east gully.  It saved us probably 30 feet of elevation drop, but it was wicked.  It was cool too though.  So, for a bit of “pucker” just let Nabeel lead.  We made the tricky up climb back to the dirt trail section, and followed the trail back to the top of the pass.  We made it back to the pass in around an hour 25 minutes.Once back at the pass, we didn’t stick around, but made haste down the pass, towards camp.  Descent down the pass, on theSouthColonyLakesside just sucked.  I didn’t remember it being so nasty and loose on the ascent.  And, seriously, it could be very dangerous, especially if you were tired, and weren’t careful.  We made it down the loosest section in about 20 minutes, but it was a long 20 minutes.  From there, we followed the trail, through the boulder field, and eventually back down to the lake.  Make legs and feet were pretty tired at that point.  Nabeel seemed to be going pretty strong though.  We both wanted to be done.  We ultimately made it back to camp in just under and hour.  It still amazes me that it can take almost as long to get down as it does to get up some of these class 3 climbs.  Overall round trip was around 9 hours 45 minutes.As we got back to camp, we noticed that Beau had arrived, and setup his tarp cover.  Nabeel and I had plans to pack up and get back to the car.  But, after seeing that Beau had setup camp, we decided to go ahead and stay the night.  We’d hike out the next day, and take a break the rest of the day.  Then, we’d hit Blanca and Ellingwood on Monday.  I think that we checked into our tents around 7 pm.  We all needed the rest.  Nabeel and I with the Crestones day, and Beau with a heavy pack in and Humboldt.  A night to sleep in.Sleeping in when you in a tent outside, means 6:45 am.  We started stirring just before 7 am.  We were mving and packing stuff up over the next hour.  We were rolling around 8 am, with those HEAVY packs.  I couldn’t imagine that this would be true, but heavy packs on the downhill sucked almost as much as it did on the grueling uphill.  We again took the pack trail shortcut.  We made it back to the intersection with the main trail in about 40 minutes, and in another hour we were at the upper trailhead, parking lot.  I should mention at this point that I was dealing with some potential blister issues on the feet.  The previous two days hiking had created some minor blisters, which were starting to act up a bit on the downhill.  I had one on the ball of my left foot, on one the second toe, right foot, and a couple around the right heel.  They were tender, but didn’t stop me.  Although, Nabeel and Beau were definitely pushing the lace on this hike out.  Luckily, we got into some interesting discussions on the last section, which took my mind off the blisters.  After about a half hour break at the upper parking lot, we made it down to the lower parking lot in just under an hour, with total decent from camp in just over 3 hours, including the break.I dropped my pack at the car it relief.  After sitting down for a breather, I took off my shoes to check out the blister situation.  Most were okay, except for one of the right heel ones.  It was nasty, and I was certainly going to need to lance it before any more hiking.  We were planning to get a hotel tonight, and it could wait until then.Overall another great hike,  I could live without the heavy pack-in, but it just motivated me to look into getting to some more lightweight gear, and to reconsider my backpacking strategies.  Talking with Darrin and Otina had also given me some ideas on how to cut the weight.  Nabeel was definitely the rockstar that I knew he would be.  Sad for not getting to hike a summit with Beau again, but very glad we got to hang out and hike together.  Next up:  Blanca and Ellingwood, on Monday, from the lower trailhead, as a day hike.

 

Splits:

Hike in

Left at around 6:15 am from lower 2wd TH.

Hike to camp with full backpacks

Hike 1:09:48

Break 11:46.27

Hike 58:43:32

Break 19:08:09

Hike 1:25:30

Total hike to camp

4:04:56

 

Approx 1 hour rest and setting up camp

 

To summit Humboldt

2:08:06

On summit

36:48:82

Return to camp

1:20:19

 

Total for day

8:10:11

 

From GPS

Nothing for hike to camp since battery died

4.37 mi

 

Day 2 – Crestones

Apprx 5:15 start

 

To broken hand pass 1:05:33

Break 4:30.96

To base of red gully 48:40.76

To summit of CP 1:11:17+11:43.58

On summit 12:45.13

To BHP 9:28.12+1:49.55

Break 5:38.18

To summit CN 1:30.41

On summit 15:21.13

To BHP 1:25.19

To camp 56:24

 

Total 9:47:19

 

7.68 mi

4617 ft elevation

 

Hike out

6.47 miles

 

Camp

11747

TH

8814

 

To intersection of bottom old pack trail and main

37:45.32

 

To upper parking

1:06:36

 

Break

28:43.03

 

To lower TH

54:43.48

 

Total

3:07:47

Posted in Colorado Fourteeners | Leave a comment

2010 Pikes Peak DOUBLE

Pikes Peak (14,115 feet) – The Pike’s Peak Ascent and Marathon – The DOUBLE
Via the Barr Trail, and a bit of Ruxton Street…
August 21 and August 22, 2010

PRE-RACE

With a two week long trip planned to Tibet in the Summer of 2010, I knew that I would have to conserve my vacation days for the remainder of the year. That would pretty much mean that I wouldn’t be able to take my yearly hiking trip to Colorado. Or would it? The Pikes Peak marathon is in August, and that was only 3 weeks after my trip to Tibet. During my trip to Tibet, I’d be spending almost two weeks acclimatizing at higher elevations (12,000 feet and above). So, I came up with the idea that I could run Pikes Peak. I could plan it such that it wouldn’t take any additional vacation days; just a weekend trip. And, to top it off, all that time on the Tibetan plateau would surely help me in this high altitude marathon.

I’d run the Pikes Peak Marathon before. And, I’d even run the Pikes Peak DOUBLE which combines the Pikes Peak Ascent (half marathon) and the Marathon in two days. So, I knew this race pretty well, and I still say that it is my favorite marathon. So, I figured, what the heck, I’d get frequent flyer miles, fly in on Friday night, run the Ascent on Saturday, the Marathon on Sunday, and fly home Sunday night. A well laid plan. So, I signed up for the Pikes Peak DOUBLE.

After I signed up, my buddy Jeff invited me to stay with him and his family in Colorado Springs. That really took a load off, because I wouldn’t have to deal with a hotel. Plus, that would give me a chance to hang with Jeff and his family. It turns out that Jeff would also be running the marathon as he often does, and his wife – Jean – would be running in the Ascent. So, plans were completely in motion now.

I flew into Colorado Springs late on Friday, as planned. I arrived at Jeff’s around 8 pm and after some chatting and directions to my room, I snuck off to bed to grab some Zzzzs before race day. I woke up around 5 am, was ready to go around 6 am. I said goodbye to Jeff and Jean, and drove to the race to pickup my race number. I parked and made the long walk to the race area, picked up my number and met a group of fourteenerworld.com peeps at the laundry mat near the start line. The folks that were there were: Jeff, Jean, Wayne, Terry, Jeff V., Mark, Dan and of course young Miles (the 2 year old) and Denali, the Lab Border Collie mix. I was only a tad bit nervous at the race start this morning, since this was only suppose to be a warm up for my marathon the following day.

THE ASCENT

The gun went off, and I started off easy as planned. Before long I was stuck in single file traffic on the trail, and I was questioning whether or not I should have started out a little bit faster instead, just to get passed the crowds. Oh well, I told myself, “this is just a warm up for tomorrow anyways.”

The Pikes Peak Ascent course goes something like this: It starts on the road in Manitou Springs, for a little over a mile. Then, the course starts up the “Ws” which are some nice steep switchbacks. After a couple of miles, the course leaves the “Ws” and levels out a little bit, on the way to Barr Camp. This is about mile 3 or 4. After a few miles of gradual up and even a small amount of downhill, you arrive at Barr Camp. This is around the 7.5 mile point. After Barr Camp, the course ramps it up a bit. The next section from Barr Camp to the A-frame is switchbacked again, but the terrain is a bit more rocky, and tougher on the legs than the “Ws” are. On top of this, you are getting much closer to 14,115 feet elevation with every step that you take, so the oxygen content is getting lower. The A-frame is around the 10 mile mark. After the A-frame is the toughest 3 miles that you’ll ever “run” in a marathon. Calling it a “run” might even be a stretch. For most it is just a fast, or not so fast hike. At this point, you are around 12,000 feet of elevation. You have 2,100 feet more to go in the next 3 miles. Soon after the A-frame, the trail goes above tree line. At this point, the sun and wind expose is increased – without the shade and tree cover. The trail for the next two miles is somewhat rolling – some flat, some mild uphill and even a little bit of downhill. It is sometimes dirt and gravel, and sometimes walking on rocks and stepping up boulders. The terrain is not super difficult, but the elevation is certainly starting to take its toll. After the Cirque water stop (the final one), it is just over 1 mile to the summit. This final mile is pretty steep. The terrain is trails, and towards the end it is almost exclusively boulder steps. At the top is the finish line.

Now that you have the course pictured in your mind, here is how it went for me on the Ascent day. The “Ws” were very slow for me. I was stuck in a line of people. I kept on telling myself that this was a good thing. If I could take it easier on the lower half, I’d be stronger later in the race. Nice thought, but “wrong!” As I hit the top of the “Ws” and the trail leveled out a bit, it also got wider, and I was able to pass some people. As we arrived at Barr Camp, I was feeling pretty darn good. My legs felt strong. But, I was having a small hint of cramping in the calves. Cramping this early wasn’t going to ruin my ascent, but on marathon day I could not afford to be cramping as early as mile 7. As I cruised through Barr Camp, the swichbacks up to the A-frame recalibrated me, and reminded me that this was a tough race. I walked almost the whole way from Barr to the A-frame. Part of my reason for walking was the line of people, but mostly, I was just getting tired. I continued to try and convince myself that I was saving myself for marathon day. Who was I fooling? Myself, clearly.

As I cleared the A-frame and got above tree line, I was really starting to suck air. My whole theory was that my trip to Tibet would help me with the altitude. I flushed that theory down the drain just about treeline. I continued to walk above treeline. With every step, I noticed that my calves were on the border of wanting to cramp up. This affected my walk just a bit, and forced me to place my foot more flat, with less push off. This wasn’t a huge deal, but I was terrified with the idea of having to deal with this same problem on the downhill on marathon day. That just would not work at all. So, I managed through it today, with only minimal cramping, which I was mostly able to fend off. I had already decided that I’d go to the store and load up on salts and electrolytes, in preparation for tomorrow’s marathon. For the Ascent I had nothing special for electrolyte replenishment, other than Gatorade, and that clearly wasn’t enough.

As I continued toward the Cirque, I tried to run a few times, but the calves told me, “No, I don’t think you should do that.” That little hint from my calves was the only thing I needed as my final excuse to walk pretty much the rest of the way. I cleared the Cirque water stop, happy in my decision to walk this thing out. The last mile was really long for me. Although the previous miles had been around 25 minute miles, the final one was almost 32 minutes. The final steps to the top were especially grueling. I finally hit the top in just over 4 hours 14 minutes. This was almost a half hour longer than my typical ascent time. I felt like crap. My legs were on the verge of cramping, I was dehydrated, and very tired. But, I had a plan. Tomorrow’s race would be different. But, today, I was very glad that I didn’t have to run another 13 miles back down this bloody mountain. I’d be taking the bus down today.

At this point I’ll mention that, although it might seem to be masochistic, running the DOUBLE is very strategic for me. I learn a lot on day 1, and I’m able to prepare myself better for day 2. It was clear to me that running the marathon on this first day would have been a complete disaster. I was cramping, and I was definitely having huge problems with the altitude. On day 2, I could adjust for these things a little, and hopefully have a better marathon because of it. This turns out to be partially true.

I rode the bus back down to Manitou Springs. By the time I got back down, I was feeling much better. I walked back to the car, and ventured out, in search of some electrolytes. After purchasing some electrolytes and other supplies, I headed back to Jeff’s house for some downtime. The rest of the day consisted of eating chicken parmesan for dinner, and much delightful conversation with Jeff and Jean and some mild entertainment from Jeff’s buddy “Stinger.” Later in the evening, I got tired, and went to bed.

THE MARATHON

I’ll admit I was a bit nervous on marathon morning. Even after doing 56 of these things (marathons), I’m always nervous on race morning. Jeff and I rode to the race together in my rental car. We found a great parking spot right near the start. We wandered to the start area and hung out for a bit. At 7 am the gun went off. I saw Jeff twice in the race today. The first time was as he passed me on the street in the beginning. The second time I saw Jeff, he was bounding down the trail, just above tree line, racing back towards town.

My marathon went very similar to the ascent in the beginning. I was feeling pretty strong. Surprisingly I wasn’t feeling any negative effects from the previous day’s race. It seemed like the line of people was smaller than on ascent day, and I was able to more easily pass people all the way to Barr Camp. I was really surprised as I approached Barr Camp that I was 10 minutes slower to Barr today than I was yesterday. But, the great thing was that I was feeling a ton better, and there were absolutely no indications of any cramping. My electrolyte regimen today consisted of four electrolyte tablets and four energy drink tablets which I would put in my water bottle at refills. My plan was to take these during the race at regular intervals. As I approached the A-frame, I was getting more confidence that my electrolyte plan was working much better today. I cleared the A-frame with no hint of cramping, and I was even able to run a bit along the switchbacks before the A-frame.

Above tree line, I felt a ton better than the previous day. On the Ascent day I was huffing for air big time, and sometimes even getting a little bit light headed. On Marathon day, I was breathing much better, and even able to run a bunch of the flat sections. Although my trip to Barr Camp today was slower, I was convinced that my remaining trip to the top would be faster. I cleared the Cirque water stop – the final water stop before the top. My time wasn’t great at this point, but I was feeling great, and had no hints of any cramping. So, at least I was doing something right. I hit the final steps to the top, and the only thing slowing me down was pausing for runners going the other direction. It was a great feeling knowing that the conditions on the course (other runners) were slowing me down, rather than my own body falling apart and slowing me down. The slower pace didn’t bother me much though, because I still had 13 miles of downhill to complete. Saving energy at this point was a good thing.

I hit the top in almost exactly 4 hours and 15 minutes. I had regained most of that lost 10 minutes to Barr Camp. I did a quick turn around and started downhill, back to town. It was nice finally being a “down-hill runner,” with people stopping for me, as I cruised passed on the descent. During the beginning of the downhill I felt super strong. I was mildly concerned with the hard pounding on every big step down. But, I knew that the trail leveled out a few miles down from the top. I cruised into the Cirque water stop again, and this time took in plenty of fluids and some grapes. I walked a bit to make sure and get this stuff inside my belly. Then, I started running again. I kept running pretty strong to tree line, and down to the A-frame. By the time I hit the A-frame, I was starting to feel pretty tired, and beat down. My legs weren’t destroyed, buy my body was just overall tired. I left the A-frame and made the long switchbacks down to Barr Camp. This section took me a lot longer than it should have. At this point I was wondering how long this downhill might take me. Based on previous years, I was planning for a 2 hour downhill, worst case 2.5 hours. But, I was really starting to struggle, and those times just did not compute anymore. I cruised through Barr Camp continuing to take in plenty of calories and fluids.

As I pulled out of Barr Camp, I started to realize my problem – I think. It had been hot all day. I was sweating pretty good on the initial ascent, and now as I got lower in elevation, I was starting to notice the higher temperatures again. I was starting to sweat some more, and more importantly, I was starting to overheat. I could feel it as my whole body just got tired, breathing got difficult, and my heart was beating faster than it should have been on the downhill sections. I focused on trying to get even more fluids and electrolytes into my belly. But, it just wasn’t enough. On the lower section of the mountain (past Barr Camp) I did a lot more walking than I would have liked to. The miles to finish seemed to take forever – 6 miles to finish, then 5 miles to finish, 4 miles, etc. At times it was easy enough to run, but I was never able to keep it up for very long. The most frustrating thing was that the loose gravel terrain was actually easier to run on than it was to walk on. When I found myself walking, I often found myself slipping and sliding on the gravel. But, when I was running, I must have been more diligent, or something, because I didn’t slip around on the loose gravel.

Ultimately I continued to 3 miles, 2 miles, then 1 mile to the finish. All along the way, as I walked regularly, people were passing me. I diligently stopped at every water stop, and that helped a bit. But, by that point my mental state was focused not on a speedy time, but on just finishing. When I finally reached the pavement again – around 1 mile to the finish – the stability of the pavement actually felt GREAT to me. Typically in this race, the pavement feels really hard and painful on the feet, after you’ve been running on the soft dirt path for 5 or 6 hours. But, today, it just felt stable, and man did that feel great. I was able to get back into a pretty decent running stride for the final mile. I ultimately cruised into the finish at 7 hours and 24 minutes. That is 3 hours and 9 minutes on the descent – a new personal slowest – on the ascent and the descent.

I guess when it comes down to it: My Tibetan acclimatization didn’t give me that extra edge that I’d been hoping for. I knew coming in that my training for the DOUBLE wasn’t optimal. I hadn’t run many long runs since May. And, the higher temperatures – in the mid 80s – definitely had a huge impact on me, especially late in the race. However, I can say that my learnings from the first day regarding electrolytes replenishment really helped a lot. I didn’t have any cramping issues during the marathon, and that is huge. Overall, regardless of my time, finishing the Pikes Peak DOUBLE is still one of my most favorite racing experiences.

Posted in Colorado Fourteeners, Marathon Race Reports | 2 Comments