Sunday, September 25, 2011

Week Summary: Sept 19-25

Mon-AM: 1:24, 2500'
Green Mt. up and down Amphi-Greenman. Tired after last night's ascent.

Tue-AM: 1:20, 2500'
Green Mt. up and down Amp-Gman. Snappy 35:15 ascent and THREE bear sightings!  The first was a small black bear on lower Greenman who promptly went crashing into the underbrush.  The second and third were when I was coming down on Saddle Rock below the spring and just above the first rock outcropping.  They were hanging out in the drainage to the west and both were quite large, one black and the other tinted more with brown.  They seemed only mildly anxious and eventually ambled off into the woods up towards the Saddle Rock itself.
PM: 1:33, 2500'
Green Mt. up and down Amp-Gman. 34:30PR hike up and I somehow managed to see two more bears, which brings my seasonal tally to nine!  The first was just after the Bluebell-Baird trail junction, right as the trail drops down to connect with the start of Amphitheater.  A big black bear was right on the trail and went crashing down into the Gregory Creek drainage to the north.  The second was drinking from the spring on Saddle Rock trail, right in the middle of the trail.  Another big black bear.  I wonder whether that was the same big black bear I saw in that general area this morning.  My 6:30pm start meant that the hike down was almost entirely in the dark and quite slow going as a result.

Wed-AM: 1:20, 2500'
Green Mt. up and down Amp-Gman. Tired from last night's ascent.

Thu-AM: 2:22, 2700'
Eldorado Mt. via Rattlesnake Gulch and NW Ridge.  Really slow-going in places but got lots of practice on boulder fields. Most notably, I actually ran the last 26min back down to town with only minor protest from my post-tib/soleus. Definitely progress. All the rest was hiking, of course, which was especially frustrating on the way up the initial shallow grades.

Fri-AM: 2:30, 2100'
2xFlattie3. Met Buzz and Peter at Chat and went up the super-classic East Face of the Third. After making the 200ft mostly free rappel directly off the backside the ropes wouldn't pull, so Peter and I cruised a much, much quicker second ascent (:26 vs. almost an hour for the first lap) and instead descended the two-pitch rappel down the SW side. Fantastic morning with only one other party on the rock (on the first pitch of the second lap).
PM: 1:14, 2500'
Green Mt. up and down Amp-Gman. 33:20 PR climb, felt great. Got caught by darkness on Saddle Rock on the way down, but not nearly as bad as on Tuesday.

Sat-AM: 1:58, 3200'
Bear Pk+Slab from Cragmoor. Hiking the whole way did 46:10 to the summit (much too flat between Crag and the mouth to warrant a hike, but my shin is still limiting me) and 23:00 from the mouth of Fern to the top.  Felt pretty good about hiking the canyon in 10:15 (Horn)/12:45 (to the summit). Slab lap was quick, and then I ran the 18min back down to Cragmoor from behind the Slab with moderate babying of the shin.
PM: 1:37, 2700'
Mt. Victoria (11,785') in Frisco. Didn't start until 7pm, so most of the climb was in very dim to no light and the run/walk descent was entirely by the light of my headlamp. Bailed on the Peak 1 ascent goal because I wasn't sure of the route above Mt. V, and it was completely dark.

Sun-AM: Video shoot at the Maroon Bells in Aspen. Spectacular fall colors, and mountains, but too much running for my shin.
PM: 2:26, 4500'
La Plata Peak (14,336'). Pow-hike to the summit from Highway 82 of 1:23:55. Mixed in a fair bit of running (about 25min worth) on the way down in 1:02. Had the mountain almost entirely to myself the whole way and made it down just before the sun really set and it got dark.

Hours: 17h44 (a little more than an hour of which was actual running)
Vert: 27500'

This was a great week with lots of quality time in the mountains, but some lower-leg tendonitis is still preventing me from enjoying much of that time in the form of running.  Nevertheless, I seem to actually be getting into decent-ish shape as evidenced by reasonably quick hiking ascents of Green.  I was particularly pleased to get in my first 14er of the year this evening. On one hand, it is semi-depressing/disappointing that it's taken me this long to get up a real mountain this year, but on the other--after breaking my leg this summer--I have to just remind myself how grateful and happy I am to be getting out in the mountains at all right now! I put in a good effort on La Plata and I'd be interested to know how that ascent stacks up against someone fit who is trying to run every step.

Saturday and Sunday I was doing a bit of filming (well, talking and running for me) for this forth-coming documentary, and the trip up to Aspen and the Maroon Bells was well worth the drive.  I usually make it up there at some point every year during peak foliage, but for some reason the beauty of the Bells was particularly striking today.

Rare perspective on SoBo and Bear Peaks from Eldo Mt.
Third Flatiron. BB photo.
Green evening.

Route on La Plata. photo.
La Plata.
Ellingwood Ridge and Mt. Elbert.
6pm summit.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

FKT Ruminations

I was recently walking down Green Mountain and thinking (vaguely, haphazardly, as on-the-trail thought processes are wont to be) about the concept of Fastest Known Times (FKTs).  Here in Boulder, they seem very natural, as much a part of the local mountain running culture and lore as La Sportivas and energy gels (how fast can you run up the front side of Green Mt?  Bear Peak from Cragmoor TH? SoBo Peak from South Mesa TH?).   Indeed, the as-far-as-anyone-can-tell pioneers--Peter Bakwin and Buzz Burrell--of the now codified term have been Boulder residents for way way way longer than I've even been alive and have been doing highly impressive things in the mountains for at least as long.  I'll leave the Googling up to you.

The master sprinting up Flattie3.
Upon examination, though, the FKT concept is a uniquely Boulderian manifestation.  First, although blessed with abundant open space and highly accessible local peaks and trails, the rules and regs here strictly forbid any kind of organized, competitive event on these lands.  I am not here to offer an opinion on these rules, but merely suggest that the inherent lack of races has, over time, instead led to an obsession with individuals communally tracking their best running/climbing times on obvious routes and lines.

Second, Boulder is a supremely active and outdoorsy place.  A lot of people here get excited about mountain sports (the Reel Rock Tour Premiere at the Boulder Theater last week yielded a line of people that stretched entirely around the block--hard to imagine that happening in any other city of this size in the country. Or maybe any other US city, period).  And when that happens, the alpha males (and females?) of this crowd inevitably start challenging each other and themselves to be better (faster, longer, stronger?) than they were yesterday.  Mix these two ingredients with the invention and proliferation of the Internet and you've created a whole 'nother method of quantifying a culture.

The do-it-yourself and vaguely subversive, underground nature of FKTs is the primary attraction for me.  FKTs tend to exist on routes where races aren't allowed (or the organization of one would be far too involved), but the line is so pure and obvious and hews to a certain geographical or mountain aesthetic (summit link-ups, circumnavigations in general and range traverses all come to mind) that it simply begs to be cleaned in a single, concerted push.  The satisfaction that comes from pushing oneself all-out to explore a personal limit is still there but the hoopla and expense of a race isn't, even if one prepares with as focused of a training regimen as he or she would for a race.  It's a very primal and largely unfettered way of being in the mountains and testing oneself.

Fell runners of the UK seem to have latched on to this concept decades ago with the establishment of the Bob Graham Round--a link-up of 42 peaks in less than 24 hours in the English Lake District.  Legendary fell runner Joss Naylor built on this concept by eventually stringing together 72 peaks (and 105mi/38,000' of vert!) in 23:20 in 1975.  The Round has never become a formal race but records are kept for the route and as with any FKT-style effort, the spirit of moving quickly on inspiring, gnarly terrain is at the core of these feats' appeal.

Joss Naylor
In the world of climbing, they're simply called speed records, not FKTs, and, beyond first ascents, they're the primary way that the sport has continued to push the boundaries of inspired movement in the mountains while mostly avoiding the forced and artificial atmosphere of, say, a bouldering comp on plastic holds.  Legendary speed records like that of (currently) Dean Potter and Sean Leary's team effort on El Capitan's Nose route or Dani Arnold (2:28) and Ueli Steck's (2:47) Eiger North Face times (Arnold used aid in some spots while Steck completely free-climbed his ascent) are both outstanding examples of individuals racing up two of the most historic and aesthetic lines in the world.

Arnold running up the Eiger.
For me, personally, I know a deeper connection is formed between myself and a place if I am closer to my zenith of physical effort.  This is a huge part of the appeal of an FKT---it offers a reason to go to some of the most beautiful places in the world, seek a compelling route and have a personally meaningful experience in the context of that landscape.

In a way, though, the ambiguity and individual nature of an FKT is a self-protecting part of the concept that keeps it from, hopefully, becoming too fraught with the egos and hype that can surround racing.  The term itself--fastest known time--is a way of hedging one's bets; we think this is the current best possible performance on this route, but of course, we don't really know as everyone sort of does their own thing, maybe there has been a faster unknown performance, etc., etc.  Placing one's athletic worth on the foundation of an FKT is inadvisable at best, most likely silly, and delusional at worst.  Such ambiguity should be a healthy reminder to focus on the experience and process of simply moving quickly and efficiently in nature--embodying that most primal of activities--and not worrying unduly about the end-goal result.

A quick example of when FKTs don't make sense:  Here in Boulder where there are no races allowed, FKTs exist almost organically, but in my original mountain running home-base of Colorado Springs, the notion of keeping track of such things becomes almost instantly comical, because races are allowed there.  The Barr Trail up Pikes Peak is maybe the most obvious line up and down almost any mountain in the country, but there is no need for an FKT on the mountain because Matt Carpenter has already laid down a ridiculously stout course record in the sanctioned race.  However, on the entirely aesthetic Mt. Rosa just to the south an equally obvious and pure line exists up its east face that climbs 5mi and 4000' to it's 11,500' summit cone.  If that peak existed in  Boulder it would be the most valued FKT in the area.

Mt. Rosa
Instead, being in COS, there are two things that make establishing an FKT for Rosa seem kinda pointless:
1) We could just organize a race up that peak!
2) It is (still!) hard to think of anyone in the area other than Matt who could/would hold such a record. (And by quite a large margin...this is a self-admittedly unfocused 47-year old who a month ago essentially jogged a 2:19 Pikes Peak Ascent--"I never wanted to feel my legs on the climb"--en route to winning the Pikes Peak Marathon yet again.)  Basically, when such an outlier of a giant in a sport exists in an area there's hardly any reason to keep records on such things--everyone already knows who the King Bee is.

Matt running to an excellent 2:11/3:36 on Pikes Peak, 2008. Photo: Buzz Burrell.
Nevertheless, in the future, I look forward to hopefully applying my mountain running abilities to a growing list of iconic lines and more personal projects, as to me, it feels like the most authentic mode of exploring my limits in the mountains.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Week Summary: Sept 12 - 18

Mon-AM: 1:27, 1500'
Creede, CO.

Tue - 0
Creede, CO.

Wed - 0

Thu-AM: 1:15, 2500'
Green Mt. up and down Amphi-Greenman (hiking).  Felt really good.  Awesome low clouds. Appt with Dr. Jeremy Rodgers in the afternoon.

Fri - 0
Driving home to Nebraska.

Sat-AM: 1:30
Hiking around the farm with Dad.
PM: 1:00
Hiking in Niobrara State Park with family. Railroad Bridge, etc.

Sun-PM: 1:17, 2500'
Green Mt. up and down Amphi-Greenman (hiking PR: 34:35).  Felt awesome.  Perfect evening.

Hours: 6:29
Vert: 6500'

So it turns out that having your leg limp and non-weight bearing for two months isn't the best thing for it.  My lower leg wasn't quite ready for running yet and at the end of last week it let me know that by having my soleus/post tib flare up a good bit again.  I've lost a ton of flexibility in my lower legs (10 degrees dorsiflexion) and need to work to get that back again--along with specific strengthening--before my lower leg will oblige pain-free running again.  So it goes, I guess I knew it was going to be a long process.  

I had loads of travel this week but it was really fantastic visiting my home in Nebraska when it was neither sweltering hot and humid nor brutally windy and cold (when I usually head home for the holidays).  It was a fantastic place to gain an appreciation for the natural world growing up.

Back to the hiking it is for probably a couple of weeks as I baby along my legs' ability to withstand the more dynamic running motion, but as far as uphills go, I must say pow-hiking up Green this evening in only 34min was a pretty darn close facsimile of the real deal.  Especially the changing leaves on the trail and the sun setting over the Indian Peaks.  Just great for the legs and soul.  After this past busy week I look forward to being much more consistent in reaching Green's summit again.

Trail from Main Street, Creede, CO.

Commodore Mine: where West Willow Creek turns orange.
Creede, CO.
Upper Greenman Trail.
Lower Amphitheater Trail.
Infinite miles of this at home--relentlessly rolling dirt roads. Not a bad running surface to grow up on.

Dad with the rugged landscape on our property where I cut my off-road teeth. Missouri River in the background.
Love the red sumac in the fall.
Classic prairie veg in the foreground (Big Bluestem, Side-oats Gramma, Yucca, Prickly Pear Cactus, etc.).  Home in the background, barn peeking through the cottonwoods, ashes, elms, boxelders, etc.
Massively flooded Missouri River. The far shore is South Dakota. The arcing Highway 12 on the left re-emerged from the waters only 10 days ago. The Fort Randall Dam above Niobrara and the Gavins Point Dam below it both had record releases of water in June and July of 160,000 cfs.  Which was more than twice the previous record (Niagara Falls is ~100,000 cfs).
Closest thing I had to a mountain. Top of Niobrara State Park, 400' vert from the river bottom.
And the beginning of the trail climbing it.
Quite steep for "flat" Nebraska.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Week Summary: Sept 5 - 11

Mon-AM: 5:20, 4100' - James Peak (13,294')
Hiked up from the East Portal TH with Jocelyn.  Perfect weather day.  Longest day I've spent on my leg since I broke it and everything seemed to hold up just fine.

Tue-AM: 1:13, 3200' - Slab+Bear Peak
Biked to the Cragmoor TH to meet Buzz where we ran up to the base of the Slab for a scramble lap on that before he headed back down and I marched up Fern to tag the summit.  Overcast, gloomy day made for perfect conditions.  Ran the ~1.5mi back down to the trailhead, too, from the mouth of Fern Canyon.

Wed-AM: 1:26, 2800' - Green Mt.
Up and down the front.  Raining, crisp morning made for awesome weather and meant I had the mountain all to myself for my first real run since I broke my leg back in June.  Ran every step door-summit-door with no ill effects.  So good to be back.  The cool weather down here made it feel like it had to be snowing up in the high country.

Thu-AM: 1:35, 2800' - Green Mt.
Up Flattie2, down Ranger-Flag. Another morning with awesome conditions and an incredible sunrise. All of yesterday's rain made the trail super-tacky and fast. Nice descending Flag to EGF Park as it leaves me with only a couple blocks of pavement.

Fri-AM: 1:46, 3200' - Green Mt.
Up Flattie2, down Greenman-Gregory and then an extra ~500' bop up Flagstaff trail and down to Viewpoint and EGF to avoid pavement on the way home.
PM: 1:40, 1700' - Slab (hiking/climbing)
Jocelyn and I started from Cragmoor (she was running).  I hiked hard up to the Slab, changed shoes, and soloed it before hiking back down.  Climb took a bit longer than I'd planned because I got a good bit off route and into some slightly steeper terrain than I'd anticipated.

Sat-AM: 1:38, 2800' - Green Mt.
Up Amp-SR-Gman, down Gman to Flagstaff and EGF. Another awesome fall morning. Had nice footwork on the way down.

Sun-AM: 1:10, 1100' - Betasso Preserve
Ran super easy with Jocelyn and Jen checking out these trails.  Cool area but mt. bike trails are too smooth and flat.

Hours: 15h49
Vert: 21,700'

Really great week getting back on the trails and getting into regular running again.  Other than James Peak, there were only a couple other hours of hiking this week, making for ~8hrs of running.  This next week will be quite a bit more subdued because of a bunch of traveling I'll be doing, but that will probably be a good thing just to ensure that I don't ramp up too quickly.

Right now my fibula feels absolutely perfect, but as I was afraid way back in June (the day I broke my leg, one of the first things I said to Jocelyn was, "I just hope I don't take three months off and then still have this posterior tibial tendonitis") the tendonitis in my shin is definitely still there a little bit.  Part of me is borderline defeatingly frustrated with it while another part is confident that with appropriate therapy and rehab I'll get it completely healed this time...I mean, I just took three months off!  So, we'll see, but this next week will be easier either way.

Rogers Pass with James Peak.
Continental Divide, looking north.
Flatties sunrise.
Green summit.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mountain Celebrations

Today in Boulder it is definitely fall.  I awoke to low, heavy clouds, falling rain and crisp temps that all say summer is over.  One of the best things about this time of year is the occasion for gathering to celebrate with other like-minded folks the past season in the high country.  The next few months offer many opportunities for that here in Boulder.

The REEL ROCK Film Tour World Premiere is next Thursday (September 15th) at 6:00 and 8:30pm at the Boulder Theater.  Sender Films and Big Up Productions present six brand-new diverse climbing films from speed climbing the Nose on El Capitan to summiting Pakistan's 8000m+ Gasherbrum II in winter to a nine-year-old bouldering prodigy in NYC.  As someone who draws motivation from all forms of inspired movement in the mountains, I'm very excited about this.  Additionally, the founders of Sender Films are fellow alums of Colorado College.  Check out the trailer.

Tickets are $15 from The Spot, Boulder Rock Club, Movement and Neptune Mountaineering in advance, and $20.75 at the Boulder Theater.  This is sure to sell out, though.

The outdoor industry must be at least one context where a liberal arts education finds some utility, as a week later Sweetgrass Productions has a showing of their beautiful new film Solitaire at the Boulder Theater on September 22nd. Nick Waggoner--a former XC teammate of mine at CC--is the founder and director/producer at Sweetgrass, and as anyone who has seen their previous efforts in Handcut or Signatures knows, these guys aren't just cranking out more of your high-adrenaline, Warren Miller-esque, standard fare sicky gnar.  Instead, Sweetgrass brings a much appreciated artistry and a focus on mountain culture to the genre of backcountry ski film. Here's the trailer.

SOLITAIRE: A Backcountry Skiing, Snowboarding, and Telemark Film from Sweetgrass Productions on Vimeo.

Finally, in more of a mountain running vein, there will be a reprisal of the Front Range Fat Ass Series again this off-season, kicking off with getting back to the Basics here in Boulder at the end of October, and then moving on to The Chubster up in Fort Collins on December 10th and finishing up with The Ponderous down in Manitou Springs on January 14, 2012.  We'll be running the Ponderous loop in the opposite, clock-wise direction this year, which means we might as well get the tradition off on the right foot and make a mandatory ascent of the Incline the official course if one is planning on completing the full 30ish+ mile/8000'-ish loop.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Week Summary: Aug 29 - Sept 4

Mon-AM: 1:29, 2500′
Green, up and down Front.
Tue-AM: 1:25,  2500′
Green, up and down Front.
Wed-AM: 1:33, 2500′
Green Mt. up and down Front.
Thu-AM: 2:00, 3000′
Green Mt., up Front and down Ranger-Gregory.
Fri-AM: 1:30, 2800′
Bear Peak, up Fern from Cragmoor.
Sat-AM: 1:30, 2800′
Bear Peak, up Fern from Crag.
Sun-AM: 2:00, 2700′
Green Mt., up Front and down Flattie2.
Hours: 11h27 (only about an hour of which was actual running)
Vert: 18,800′
Great week back on the trails.  Each day consisted of a bike ride to and from the trailhead (either Baseline or Cragmoor) and some quality time cranking up and easing down a mountain (hiking).  The last three days I've finally started integrating some running back into the routine by jogging the first 15-20min of the day (on Bear, that means running to the mouth of Fern Canyon, and this morning that meant running from my doorstep to Gregory TH).  The fibula feels good; moments of tightness but generally totally pain-free.
The thing I'm most excited about is the changing of the seasons.  This morning I never felt the need to take my shirt off.  I've had three bear sightings in the last 10 days.  Select patches of vegetation are already turning yellow, and I can sleep at night without a fan blowing on me.  It's my favorite time of year and I'm so excited to be able to get outside and enjoy it.
For pretty much my entire running life, Fall has been a time of year when I'm burnt out physically from a long summer of high mileage and racing (understandably, this was a pretty big bummer for my academic years when I was trying to compete as an XC athlete), but after barely running for the past seven months I am immensely enjoying my current insatiable mental psych and a fully rested body.
Enjoying some high country autumn with Kyle on Independence Pass, three years ago this weekend. Photo: David Clifford.

Friday, September 2, 2011


This past week has witnessed me make yet another return to the trail.  A couple weeks ago I (of course) got a touch hasty and enthusiastic and my fibula told me I needed a few more days of lazing around with my feet up.  When I ventured up Green on Monday, though, things were fully back in order.

After a week's worth of Green outings, today I pedaled my bike the 24min over to the Cragmoor trailhead for a jaunt up what Joe likes to joke with me is the "Superior Summit". (With Green being the "Weaker Peak", of course, in Frogger parlance; all of this has to do with faux-snobbery and summit aesthetics.  There is no doubt, Bear's summit cone decisively trumps Green in height, unobstructed views and exposure.  Green is simply closer to my doorstep and more consistently runnable).

After switching bike shoes for MT110s and stashing my helmet and shoes in the bushes I tested the running waters with an 18min very light jog up the broad graveled path that leads to North Shanahan, the Fern Slab and the posts at the mouth of Fern Canyon.  Everything felt great (it seems hiking has eased me back into a modicum of cardiovascular fitness), but I exerted some discipline and immediately fell into a hike as I entered the canyon.  Within minutes, however, Fern's absurd grade and techy footing made my hunched over, hands-on-knees gait seem like the obvious (only) choice and I grunted and sweated my way to the summit, often even going so far as to reach out and use my hands for stability and power, four-wheeling my way up the peak.

Comparing my hiking times to my typical running times was interesting.  Typically, when fit and healthy I'll run from the mouth of Fern to the Nebelhorn Saddle in a mid-9 to low-10min split, gaining the actual summit in another 13-14min.  Today, hiking every step, my Horn split was 10:50 and it took me another 13:25 to get to the top for a 42min total climb from Cragmoor.  So, there seemed to be almost no benefit to running above the Horn and maybe a minute's worth of benefit below there.  I'll be curious as to how these splits develop in the future as I continue to work the running back in.

In other news, I am on the cover of South Africa's Go Trail online magazine this month, with a feature-length interview (pg 18) and some NB Trail Minimus commentary (pg 44) inside.