Thursday, July 23, 2015

2015 Hardrock 100 Race Report

It is 5:40am race morning and both Bethany and I are suited up ready to run the Hardrock 100 mile Endurance Run.  It's a chilly morning and the surrounding peaks are shrouded with fog.  Bethany is 2nd on the wait list, having moved up from 14th in the weeks leading up to the race.  She has prepared diligently.  Her drop bags are out and she is raring to go.  I've been awake since midnight, too excited to sleep.  It has been a while since I've been this amped up for a run.  5:50am, every runner has checked in, and it is now clear that I'll be the only Lewis in this family (Suzanne Lewis being unrelated but a badass nonetheless) making the iconic circuit through the San Juans. I study Bethany's face and can see the active mental reconfigurations projected about her eyes and mouth.  She grabs my arm and smiles, now transformed into my pacer.

The Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run is a 100.5 mile alpine loop through the San Juan mountains of Colorado with 33,992 feet of ascending and 33,992 feet of descending at an average elevation of over 11,000 feet.  The course is unrelenting with 13 passes above 12,000 feet with a high point of 14,048 feet over Handies Peak.  Each year the course alternates direction: this year was counter-clockwise, thought to be the slower of the two directions given the long ascent ramps.  The run is highly selective with only 152 entrants this year and involves a complicated lottery system.  My chances of getting in this year were 9%.  A first-time applicant has around 1.5% chance.

I watch the slow countdown on the starting line clock.  The crowd counts down from 10.  The moments hangs in the air seemingly indefinitely and then impossibly, inevitably, off we go down the dirt streets of Silverton.  I am resolved to a mellow first 50 miles and the first climb up Dives-Little Giant feels luxurious.  I hit Cunningham at about 2:05 and lose a few places with an inefficient resupply but am untroubled.  The pace continues to feel easy and unforced up Green Mountain and Buffalo Boy ridge.  I go back and forth through Pole Creek with Jared Campbell, Karl Meltzer, Jason Koop, Scott Jaime, Brandon Stepanowich, right around 10th place or so.  I move through Sherman quickly and prepare mentally for the long climb up Handies Peak.  This is the only stretch I listen to music on and I'm immediately reminded of how potent an ergogenic aid it is.  Having forgot my own gloves I'm wearing Bethany's hot pink gloves which are tight and small on my hands, now swollen from the altitude and dependent edema.  Climbing up Handies I catch up to Anna Frost and Karl Meltzer and we summit together.  Given my proximity to Solomon super-star Anna Frost I'm immediately surrounded by the Solomon commercial film machine - seemingly incongruous in this wild space- and I can't help but chuckle to myself at the thought of an anonymous, disheveled, shit-kicker with a homemade jersey and pink gloves sharing the silver screen.  Anna smoothly descends the steep slope, hair flowing, caught in 200 high-definition frames per second.  I smile toothily into the unblinking camera, blotched white with sunscreen, brown malodextrin remnants smeared on my lips, already chapped from the exposure.

While perhaps the most aesthetically compelling 100 mile run in the world, the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run also captures the tensions and contradictions of the current state of ultrarunning.  This dynamic has played out in the increasing competition to gain access to this event which was once a completely off-the-radar niche mountain enterprise.  A sport in rapid flux, trail ultrarunning for the most part continues to explicitly endorse a value system centered around collaborative experience, the outdoors, and appreciation of the amazingly simple act of putting one foot in front of the other for long stretches of time.   With its simple race format, limited number of entries, and lack of prioritization of elites, the Hardrock 100 is renowned as sticking true to these core values, as witnessed by the language often invoked in describing the race: "family", "tribe", "egalitarian," "authentic," "soul" etc.  And yet it is impossible to walk down the street in the small town of Silverton in the days leading up to the race without running into various corporate representatives, scores of commercial photographers, sponsorship banners and advertisements, and film crews.  (This tension also plays out in the range of other unfortunate, non-deductive, odd, and seemingly soft-headed, social-media amplified associations that seem to come into play in the trail running community including pseudo-spiritual moralizing about nature, philosophical pablum about mountains, vociferously self-satisfied in-grouping validation, and (amazingly non-ironic) breathless scrambling for arbitrary corporate sponsorship.*)   This is all sociologically interesting but peculiar nonetheless for a sport that requires essentially nothing for participation, holds dear to its renegade, fringe, counter-cultural roots, and avers a largely opposing set of values.  Of course, it is also a testament to the fact that for many folks this is no longer simply an avocation but a way to make a living.  A host of interesting practical and conceptual questions are raised: how do you maintain core values when those have been assessed, ingested, deconstructed, and re-packaged for you to consume in commercial fashion? how can you tell the difference between those original values and their repackaging? is there a difference? how do you maintain a family when literally thousands of people are vying for limited access? what high-tech-maximally-minimal naturally-wicking over-priced and odor-resistant fabrics best convey the sort of mountain-hardened authenticity we want?

At 14,000 feet you feel strangely distant from your own feet, interoception is disrupted and there is a strange delay between your movements and your apprehension of those movements.  This gradually normalizes as I plunge down from Handies peak to Grouse gulch.  At the aid station I kiss Ada and Finley, say hi to Zoe and Billy, grab some logo-emblazoned, overpriced and fancified malodextrin as well as my beautiful wife and we start to make our way up the dirt road.  Ada's arm is in a sling as she broke her arm diving off the couch 2 days before the race.  I feel the same fresh visceral pang as I recall the event now.   As we crest Engineer Pass a thunderstorm erupts around us. My hands are numb and we run quickly cross-country down towards Ouray.  I feel great, the effort continues to feel easy, and I now have 60+ mile under my belt: for the first time I allow myself the thought that I may have a good run here.  Another resupply, this one aided by Vivian and family and we're off on the 10 mile climb to Virginius Pass.

Caloric intake slows down considerably from this point on and I rely entirely on liquid nutrition, which makes for less than 100kcal per hour for the remainder of the run.  Nonetheless we make quick work of the long climb to Virginius, in the process passing Anna Frost and catching up to Karl at the top of the 3rd step, Kroger's Canteen.  It is indeed a special place.  Pirogies go down the hatch and we drop down the techy switchbacks on the flip side towards Telluride.

Collecting data points on how to run 100 mile races is tough.  There are a huge number of variables at play: aerobic fitness, race nutrition, response to altitude, mental resolve, race day conditions, course details and differences, navigation.  And most of us are limited in how many of these events we can do in, say, a calendar year.  This makes decision making as to race strategy and fueling strategy difficult.  Each 100 mile race I've done has felt radically different.  Strangely and improbably, this one felt the easiest.  I'm not sure there are any conclusions to be drawn from this fact however.   In certain ways you walk a finer line at Hardrock than other 100 mile races.  The persistently high altitude makes forward progress slower and caloric ingestion that much harder to maintain.  Yet with these external limitations, once one wraps one's head around simply being out there for a longer duration of time and burning primarily fat for the 2nd half of the run there are ways in which this race is much 'easier'- if these words make sense with this sort of thing.  On the whole you are moving slowly throughout the race.  All but the most gradual uphills are done at a strong hike, regardless of how fit you are as a runner.  More so than in any other race, it seems that if you can simply keep moving forward over the last 30 miles you will hang in and do alright.  Given the slower overall pace and huge fraction of the time spent hiking there is overall less acute musculoskeletal trauma sustained and the overall lower intensity of the running is much more solidly aligned with fat-burning capabilities.

We're in and out of Telluride smoothly.  I'm having a blast and it is an absolute pleasure to see folks and be feeling this good so late into the run.  As we climb up Oscar's Pass it begins to rain heavily.  It is the middle of the night and now quite cold.  We find ourselves wandering around seemingly endlessly on a large snow-filled saddle, at times post-holing up to our thighs.  There are no trail markers to be found in any direction.  Periodically we stumble across footsteps and follow them but they always diverge in different directions.  We are clearly not the first party up here to be lost.  The previous placid and serene surface of my mind has ripples now.  Bethany is carrying my iPhone with the GPS track of the course- it takes us too long to pull this out but once we finally do we are quickly navigating back on course, catching up to Brandon and his pacer and traversing some sketchy exposed snow fields.  With one particular short traverse I'm surprised they don't have a fixed rope.  The fixed rope up to Virginius was almost superfluous but here a misstep on the icy snow steps could be fatal.  I hand Bethany one of my poles.  I'd never before done the descent off of Oscar's.  It involves a fairly heinous dance down loose talus precisely when you are hoping to bomb quickly down to Chapman from the pass.  Once we hit Chapman instead of being 15 minutes up on my projected splits we are now 30 minutes behind, having lost about 45 minutes with this difficult navigation.  This is nonetheless less time lost than other runners, including Killian.  Here I pick up my buddy Jason Thompson who will pace me in for the last stretch.  With the recent wanderings on Oscars Pass, the painfully slow descent, accumulated fatigue, and now a switch in pacers my headspace is less peaceful and I never quite recover the blissful relaxation characteristic of the first 70 miles of the run.  At first this change bothers me quite a bit.  But this is the reality of these events: they demand adaptability, even to your own emotional states.  There is a limited pocket of factors you can control, for the vast remainder you are along for the ride.

The last 20 miles go by slowly.  Things never get a whole lot harder but I'm increasingly ready to stop moving as the miles roll by.  Steep uphills feel excruciatingly slow now.  We crest the ridiculously steep and loose Grant Swamp pass as the sun rises.  You have to be there to understand this kind of terrain.  There is a lot of stop and go as we scan the open surroundings for stray course markers.  This halting progression mirrors the new turbulence in my mind.  The terrain remains spectacular, rich, and extravagantly littered with wildflowers.  I'm still able to appreciate the beauty, although notably less so than earlier in the run.  This, too, is okay.  There are many ways of being and this one also has advantages.  One of these is the absolute bliss upon finally reaching the rock and finishing, which I do at 27:55, 7th place overall, completing what is undoubtedly the best mountain running event I have ever taken part in.

Thanks to my generous wife, Jason Thompson and family, my family, my friends, all the volunteers and members of the race organization.  I can't wait to come back.

* Perhaps the best example of this bizarre state of affairs is the apparent recent partnership of runners and beer companies.  The relationship here is complex: I will support your product, help you make money by selling a substance to other runners that can only be said to impair actual running performance (and likely fosters at least some degree of unhealthy relationships to alcohol in others), in exchange for a beverage I enjoy and which contributes in tangible ways to my personal brand (insofar as my personal brand conforms to the stereotype (that we have mutually established in commercial fashion) of trail runner as laid back, beard-stroking, IPA-toting, outdoors person).* The runner here has apparently ingested the corporate marketing and now spits it back out as though it sprang from some genuine personal wellspring.  I suspect this is largely an unconscious process, which makes it even the more insidious.

                                                                *This coming from a hairy guy who assuredly enjoys a good IPA even more so than your average 'trail runner'.

-shoes (very large)
-shorts (very short)
-CPT Jersey
-water bottle carrying mechanism
-kcals (various malodextrin permutations)
-jacket, pink gloves, hat, warm hat, arm sleeves
-long, tight, white socks.
-poles, last 40 miles.
-fancy watch
-contact lenses

Someone can't hold their rum. @Montanyas.
Family portrait.

Little known talent of bad-ass Jared Campbell: singing Little Mermaid songs.
Future Hardrocker?
The major injury of the trip.
Pre-race with the kiddos.
The Hard-Block race.


Race morning.  Matt Hart, me, Jared Campbell.  Nice kit.
Dropping into Grouse aid station
Somewhere around Pole Creek.
Coming into Ouray.

Ouray.  Looking like proper ultra runners.

Jason, pre-race, exploring Grant Swamp pass.


Ada and Phoebe.

Monday, June 8, 2015

2015 Scout Mountain Ultra Trail Race Report

This marks the 7th year I have travelled out to Pocatello in early June, meaning I've been at this race in some capacity since it's instantiation in 2009, whether running, volunteering, or supporting.  That alone makes me feel fairly old at the moment but I suppose is a testament to the quality of this event, now run by Luke Nelson and a solid band of volunteers from the Pocatello area.    

This one is worth checking out guys: the course, a rugged 100k circuit through the Bannock and Pocatello mountain ranges (60k and 30k options as well), is bar-none for beautiful, runnable single-track.  The entire first leg and the descent off of Scout Mountain in the latter third of the race showcase the kind of terrain best referred to as running porn: buttery single-track turns in pine forest, lush meandering ridges, spring wildflowers, soft and tacky trail.  It is an ecstatic sensory experience.  It is also easy to get carried away given the sheer amount of runnable terrain, as my hamstrings will attest to today.

I ran 10:26:26 (unofficially) for 1st place in the 100k, about 2 minutes faster than last year.  The experience was vastly different however.  Last year I went in with limited fitness, only a couple runs longer than 2 hours, and basically destroyed myself to run 10:28 for 2nd place (  This year, with Hardrock on the calendar in a little over a month, my first goal was to not kill myself and run controlled so as to get in a good long effort without disrupting training too much, which I succeeded in doing, I think.  Despite a rocky last 6 weeks with a calf strain and then a resprain of my bad ankle my fitness was much better going into the run this year.  I ran the first leg at what felt like a very easy pace, keeping my heart rate in the 140s, and rolled through the first 2 legs a couple minutes slower than last year feeling very relaxed.  Without a lot of action at the front of the race there wasn't a lot of incentive to push hard for the last sections of the race which made for a very calm and pleasurable run on the whole.   Nonetheless, running 63+ miles will take its toll and I felt appropriately walloped upon finishing.     

Of course, the biggest news of the day was that for the first time in my relatively short tenure as a so-called ultrarunner I broke down and employed the dandy-cowboy, cliched ultra-running technique of tying a wet/ice-filled bandana around my neck.  This, along with my self-designed Chocolate-Peanut-Butter-Treat (CPTTM) jersey, exceptionally short shorts, bleeding nipples, and an ankle brace ensured the very pinnacle of ultra running haute couture.   As seems to be the case for cliches in general, this turned out to work quite well practically speaking (the bandana that is) and I've decided to keep doing so indefinitely, whether running, working, or otherwise, self-conscious cynicism be damned.

Thanks to Luke Nelson et al for a great weekend and another opportunity to run these beautiful trails.

Benjamin R. Lewis, MD, Ultrarunner.

Jeff Bertot, Chris Helfer, Matt Vukin pre race.
Camping out at Mink Creek campground

Helfer the Manimal after finishing the 100k.
Unrelated good run over Black Mtn. with my buddy Jeremy Howard visiting from Maine!
Bethany winning the Jemez 50 miler in May.  She should get her own blog.   

Stamatios Dentino MD, 2nd trail run ever, Living Room 6/8/15.
Bethany crushing the BST marathon.

Ada's first bike ride up Emigration Canyon.  

Peter Adler, Jeremy Howard.

Jeremy Howard, Ben Lewis, reliving Mt. Blue H.S. track and cross-country glory days.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Buffalo Run and Maine

Given a full winter of seemingly continuous upper respiratory infections I chose to drop down to the 50k distance rather than run 50 miles at the Antelope Island Buffalo Run given limited consistent training.  I've raced here once before in the 50 mile distance, in the process unfortunately fracturing my foot somewhere along the way.  I'm pleased to report osseous integrity this time around.  Other than that I don't have a heck of a lot to say.  I ran 4:10 for 5th place with laps of 2:00 and 2:10- unspectacular but at least what I estimate to be an effective milking of my current fitness.  Perhaps I could have eked out a few minutes quicker with better pacing but all in all the performance was about what I was capable of on the day.  Aerobically I felt unchallenged.  The legs on the other hand were wholly unprepared for that much relatively quick running on the fast, graded terrain of the island.  Strangely I am still unlisted in the results, perhaps due to dropping down in distance.   

The aid station we set up at the Ranch for the 100 mile runners the day before.

Ada's baseball skills suggest she will also be a runner.
Ski tour on Sunday post race.

Trip to Maine, on Wilson Lake with Papa.

Family run on snowmobile trails

Run with dad. 

Finny and GG.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Recent Adventures

It has been a busy few weeks, even if predominated by illness.   Highlights have been exploring Nevada's Red Rock Canyon, slogging laps on Grandeur peak for Jared Campbell's annual Running Up For Air (RUFA), and running a double crossing of the Grand Canyon last weekend with Jason Thompson on his birthday.  I would say that the short movie below of the Grand Canyon run involves a first in the pairing of banjo and theremin however a quick Google search in this regard shows an improbable 186,000 results.  I will, however, claim a banjo/theremin/r2r2r FKT on this one.  #chocolatepeanutbuttertreat

circle of life, bonneville shoreline trail.

Jason T. and myself, starting down Bright Angel trail.

Jason, psyched at the halfway point, N. Kaibab.

RUFA, Bethany and Roch

Luke N. 

Grandeur summit #3.

Jason and Ty.

My routine afternoon run from work.

Red Rocks Canyon, NV


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Some Nice Times

Annual 'Running' Video, 2014.  


Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 Wilson Creek Frozen 50k+ Race Report

The Wilson Creek Frozen 50k is scenic and challenging run in the Owyhee mountains of southern Idaho.  I believe this year was the 6th annual running of this high desert event that takes part on the BLM-managed Wilson Creek trail system and includes 50k, 20 mile, 10 mile, and 5 mile distances.  With 7,100 feet of climbing and variable winter conditions including snow, ice, and plentiful mud, the 50k is not an easy course.  Having decided to run only a few days prior, I left for Boise after work, intending to stay with good friends Chris and Fabiola Helfer and their daughter Olivia overnight and then drive the 45 minutes to the race start in the AM.  It was an exciting journey to say the least with a late start and then significant weather as I neared Burley Idaho.  I was driving along at around 35 mph when a passing car on my left starting sliding across the road.  Missing my vehicle by a hair, it slid into the embankment.  Thankfully no one was harmed and I spent the next hour on the side of the road helping ensure road side assistance.  I arrived in Boise quite late.  Race morning was extremely foggy.  In my haste to pack and leave home I had forgotten a head lamp.

The 50k course is comprised of an approximate 20 mile loop and then a 10 mile loop, the former flagged with yellow and run first, the latter with green.  With my longest run since October being about 12 miles I didn't have too many expectations for the run other than a good long effort in some new terrain.  I settled in around 3rd or 4th place in the first mile, hoping to ease into the run.  Even though the first several guys were only 30 or so feet in front of me, because of the dense fog I couldn't see anything.  Thankfully at this point we were running mostly on smooth double track.  Right after the 2.5 mile mark you intersect the 10 mile loop.  When it is dark and foggy it is pretty hard to tell the difference between yellow flagging and green flagging.  As such I headed off in the wrong direction on the 10 mile loop without breaking stride.  I didn't see any lights but it was too foggy to interpret this as a bad sign.  However as the sun started coming up and the fog lifted I didn't see anyone in front or behind and things started to feel wrong.  A couple turns appeared to be inadequately marked (or rather, marked adequately if going in the opposite direction).  Luckily I had stuffed a course map into my tights and after some quick consultation realized my error.  It took me 18 minutes and change to get back to the intersection and this had involved the quicker running inevitably involved in getting back on course.  Back at the intersection I saw a completely obvious sign I had missed.  I estimated I had lost at least 35 to 40 minutes total- recoverable in, say, a 100 mile race but a game changer in anything shorter.  It took some time to catch up to the very back of the pack.

In a way this error was quite positive in that it ensured that I would keep to my intentions of just getting in a good long run and not get too caught up in competing.  It also is an interesting opportunity to see firsthand the whole field of runners in an event.   I bopped along, passing streams of runners climbing Wilson Peak as the sun rose to reveal an incredible and serene landscape.  It reminded me of Antelope Island.  The term Owyhee is derived from an early anglicization of the Hawaiian term 'Hawai'i'.  In the early 1800s three Hawaiian natives who had found employment through Donald McKenzie's expedition down the Snake River had left the main river to explore the surrounding terrain and were never found.  Trappers since took to calling the region 'Owyhee.' The natatory etymology was particularly apt on this morning as brilliantly illuminated islands of volcanic basalt emerged from an oceanic shroud of low lying clouds in the Snake River valley below.

The rocky terrain was covered with a slick layer of ice and frozen mud, making this ascent interesting.  As we descended off Wilson Peak and the temperatures rose this frozen mud gave way to thick, shoe-sucking, clay-like deposits.  With the amount of mud collecting on my feet I began to wish I wasn't wearing size 13 Hokas.

Gradually the pack seemed to be thinning out.  Around mile 15 I came up on Jeremy Smith- a fellow former Mount Blue H.S. track and cross-country runner.  We ran together for a couple miles catching up on life.  He informed me he was in about 5th or 6th place which surprised me.  I didn't know how far ahead the other runners were but for the first time felt a jolt of competitive ambition.  I picked up the pace a bit coming into the 20 mile aid station and headed out on the 10 mile loop fairly aggressively, passing another guy about 4 miles into the loop.  A tweak of my ankle and some incredibly deep mud slowed my last 5 miles however and I cruised it in to 4th place in 4:56.  Seeing the winning time to be 4:19 and 3rd place only 3 minutes in front of me I cringed a bit at my early directional mistake and what might have turned out to be an interesting race up front but hey, woulda-coulda-shoulda... In the end probably better to have run the race I did given the moderate effort involved and limited training to date.

It has been a while since I've raced a 50k that was an actual running event.  It is revelatory how much easier it was than 50mile and 100 mile technical mountain slogs.  I felt pretty unfazed following the run (contrary to most races where I'm destroyed and nonverbal) and have very little soreness or fatigue to speak of following, all of which is quite nice.

Inversion over SLC from Mt. Wire

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Goodwater: Lowest to Highest (L2H) Adventure Run Report

Our proposed route.
Elevation Profile, about 37k of climbing total.
The Lowest-to-Highest Trail is a remote backcountry route from the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere to the highest point in the lower 48: from Badwater Basin in Death Valley at 279 feet below sea-level to the summit of Mt. Whitney, the 14,495ft crest of the Sierra Nevadas.  The total mileage of this route (a link up of existing trails, some road, and some cross-country bushwhacking) is remarkably similar to the distance of Badwater, the 135 mile road race from Badwater basin to Whitney Portal.   Given that this route (with Jared's modifications) prioritized the remarkable geographical diversity and terrain features characteristic of this area, as well as the fact that we intended to complete it in one push (which had only been done once previously to our knowledge, by Blake Woods) we aptly named it "Goodwater."  Perhaps "Better Water" would have served as well.  While we did not complete the route quite as initially intended we still had quite an adventure.  

"The desert is no longer a landscape, it is a pure form produced by the abstraction of all others."      
--Jean Baudrillard.

A more realistic appellation might have been "No Water" (with a couple remarkable exceptions that I'll get to): the route traverses the notoriously desolate Badwater and Panamint valleys (with daytime temperatures still hitting 100F in October) and involves immense stretches without aid options or water availability. We had two crux stretches of this sort which we needed to hit at night so as to avoid the heat: a) Badwater Basin to Wildrose Rd (approx 35 miles up and over Telescope Peak and b) Hwy 190 crossing to Lone Pine (45 miles).  As such we planned to start at midnight which would hopefully put us most of the way over Telescope Peak before the temperature got too warm.  This would also set us up (according to our predictions) of hitting the 45 mile stretch at night as well.   Because Wildrose Rd. is currently closed given flash flooding earlier in the summer we revised our route somewhat to as to incorporate the spigot at Wildrose Campground further up the road: this precluded us from descending down Tuber Canyon but offered the possibility of intersecting Hummingbird spring, a small water source we noticed on the topo maps we were using but had no idea as to current flow.
200 oz of water in a PB Ultimate Direction Vest.  With added gear, food, sat phone, camera, gps our packs were probably about 18lbs apiece.

Said rented decrepit tent trailer and decrepit vehicle.
There were several elements to our plan that you might term inauspicious.  The vehicle that our support crew (Bethany and Mindy) would be driving (a borrowed '93 Chevy suburban) was overheating and leaking radiator fluid on our drive to the park.  Forecasted temps called for 100 degrees in Badwater during the day.  Our support crew involved 2 small children- 9 mo and 4 yo.  Said vehicle was towing a rented tent trailer that was on the verge of collapse and which we patched together with duct tape.  And Jared was fighting a nasty cold leaving him compromised in terms of energy and respiratory function.  
Last minute planning at a stopover in St. George en route to DV.

To better ensure water availability and crew and runner safety we made a few changes to the route and carried satellite phones with scheduled check-in times to give updates on progress.  In formulating our plan we relied on Blake Wood's trip reports as well as this available online resource on the Lowest-to-Highest route:  Otherwise there was a dearth of information to be found and limited valid beta to be gained from DV park service as far as reliable water sources.  Hopefully this report is helpful for future attempts at doing this route in a single push.

The best laid plans of mice and men.

Friday at midnight, starting at Badwater Basin.
After we set up camp in the tent trailer at Shorty's Well (6 miles into our route on the opposite side of the basin) we snuck in about 1.5 hours of sleep prior to our 11:00pm wakeup time.  Bethany then drove us out to the start at Badwater and we began our journey across the eerie endorheic landscape.  The prevailing metaphors that came to mind were predominantly integumental, perhaps owing to my being married to a dermatologist.  A conspiracy of evaporation and unseen briny tectonics, the salt-crusted carapace rose up in curled, jagged plates from the basin, necessitating steeple-chase leaps every few steps to clear the flakes: we were mites skittering across a vast epidermis.  (Given that we had left Bethany at the car the question of dermatologic pathology or normalcy was not adequately answered.)  Given the vastness of the landscape and the dark headwall of Telescope peak towering 11,331 feet above us, we were indeed inconsequential mites here in this unforgiving terrain.

Flakes of salted earth in Badwater Basin
Stock photo of Badwater Basin 
We stopped in briefly at Shorty's Well after about 1:15 of running to pick up our packs fully loaded with nearly 200 oz of water for the climb over Telescope.  We meandered up dirt roads and washes towards Hanaupah Canyon.  The silence was interrupted only by Jared's tuberculous coughing fits.  I silently wondered if we'd make it up Telescope peak given his condition, let alone complete the whole route.  Walking briskly without headlamps under the light of the bright moon we were astonished to discover a vertiginous cliff on our left dropping into an enormous eroded drainage that appeared to be several hundred yards across: this arid landscape is defined by water events that occur on the scale of every hundred thousand years.  Evidence of this water is both everywhere and nowhere.  Here we diverged from the traditional route and gained the ridge north of the spring which we thought would present a more direct line.  However it became clear as we slowly traversed the rolling ridge that the line from Hanaupah would have saved significant time.  We continued on, eventually coming upon a faint trail that climbed steeply to gain the final ridge to the summit of Telescope peak where it joined the trail from Mahogany Flat.  We dropped our packs, did a quick out and back to tag the summit, and then continued down the regular trail for a few miles before vectoring off across a talus slope to the ridge just north of Tuber canyon that allowed a steep descent to Hummingbird spring.  Finding this to be a running trickle was revelatory and we spent a good 30 minutes here drinking and saturating ourselves.

Route from the edge of the basin to Telescope Peak.

Looking back across Badwater Basin.

Climbing the last stretch up Telescope Peak.
Summit of Telescope Peak, about 9 hours and 20 miles into our trip.  

Hummingbird Spring.  Very, very happy.
 "'What makes the desert beautiful,' said the little prince, 'is that somewhere it hides a well..."              
              --Antoine de St. Exupery.
Our revised route (red arrows) to Hummingbird Spring and down to Wildrose Rd.  

 We continued down to join the road and ran pavement down Wildrose Canyon to the campground where there was another scene of aquatic bacchanalia.  We continued down the road to eventually join up with a poorly maintained dirt road which we intended to run all the way northwest to Panamint Springs.  Here we encountered a disconcerting stranded and badly-damaged rented SUV with driver (himself intact) who had improbably driven over what amounted to 6 seemingly impassable washes.  Unable to offer much we carried on.  We again diverged from our plans given how far behind schedule we were and how increasingly dire our water and fuel situation was becoming and we called crew to have them meet us on Panamint Valley Rd for much needed replenishment about 10 miles before the town of Panamint Springs.  It was about 4:30pm and we had been moving continuously with no support for 16.5 hours.  We bee-lined directly to the road across a landscape surreally littered with small, smooth black rocks and perfectly spaced plants about 15 feet apart, apparently the imposed existential limits of available water.

"Water, water, water... There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount, a perfect ratio of water to rock, water to sand, insuring that wide free open, generous spacing among plants and animals, homes and towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation.  There is no lack of water here unless you try to establish a city where no city should be."  -- Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness.

Running down Wildrose Rd.  

Looking like a real Badwater runner.

After this much needed resupply and family support we ran the Panamint Valley Rd. for 10 miles to intersect Hwy 190 and then Panamint Springs resort.  The sun was finally going down and temperature regulation was increasingly possible for this stretch.  We were only about 50 miles into the run.
Your typical crew stop at Panamint Valley Rd.  
10 miles of intervals up Panamint Valley Rd.

We consoled ourselves that this next stretch, a jaunt up Darwin Falls and then a cross-country section to intersect Hwy 190 again with a planned sleep break, was only 13 miles and would be fairly quick and straight forward.  Instead, it took a stressful 6 hours with plentiful desperate clutching exposed 4th to low 5th class rock and associated significant depletion of endogenous catecholamines (on my end at least).

 "Life is the desert, life the solitude, death joins us to the great majority" Edward Young.

Lower Darwin Fall
Darwin Falls is simply astounding.  While we had read about the year-round water availability here we had no idea we would find this veritable riparian rainforest framed between dramatic sheer rock cliffs.  Hummingbird spring with its meager trickle was an oasis: this exuberant flow was almost profligate, obscene in its surplus.  Suddenly we were canyoneering.

 If our journey in the desert was to align with the typically associated tropes (i.e. an inward- dare I say biblical- journey of self-realization and insight, of facing temptation or existential limits, of wandering forlorn in a barren wasteland in search of meaning) it was unclear how to interpret this plot development: either we had so sufficiently accomplished these abstract tasks that we were now being generously rewarded with aquatic manna or this represented an even more potent temptation to thwart our progress.  Interesting to note here that it wouldn't have changed anything either way.

GPS track not exactly fine grained enough to give a sense of what to do in Darwin Falls.
Not that any of this was on my mind at the time: I was more intent on not plunging off the cliff face to an absurdly watery death.  (At the very least this would be an ironic ending to this adventure.)   It was an interesting mental and physical place to be in the middle of the night, fatigued, and 24 hours in.  (There is a reason I don't have any good photos from this section- one of the most dramatic of the whole trip.)   Whereas postmodernists are likely wrong about nearly everything, their relativism is perhaps perfectly suited to capturing the discrepancy between Jared's reality and my reality through this period of time.

Wading through the middle portion of Darwin Falls

Google Earth image of Darwin Falls.

Post hoc analysis suggests that there is an alternate trail that leaves from canyon right as you ascend the falls that is likely more backpacker friendly (it is hard to imagine doing this scramble with a heavy pack).   This would be worthwhile to investigate further.

Finally emerging from Darwin Falls we then had what seemed to be an interminable backcountry tromp to meet back up with Hwy 190 where the girls had parked the trailer for the night.  I was pretty much glued to my GPS during this stretch to stay on track given lack of any clear terrain features to guide us.  There were a few short trail naps thrown in here for good measure.  At this point we both started doing some hard math on the implications of being 6+ hrs behind schedule given that the next stretch involved 45 miles without support and without confirmed water sources.  We had planned to hit this at night thinking it would be feasible to carry enough water to do this 16 hr stretch but doing it in the heat of the day did not seem like the best of ideas.  Having crew support at Cerro Gordo (an abandoned mining town) would be ideal but our vehicular set up was not equipped for this.  We made the decision here that to push onward in the daytime would be foolish and likely dangerous.  With time pressures to get back to SLC we did not have the option to wait until late afternoon or evening to start and the prospect of running Hwy 190 all the way  in seemed too abhorrent to seriously consider.  So we revised our plans, slept a solid 5-6 hours, and then all drove to Whitney Portal the next morning.  Inconsistency is the hobgoblin of weak minds, right?

Route from Hwy 190 to Lone Pine

Given the saintliness of our crew in supporting our sorry asses over the whole weekend it was only fitting that we gave them first dibs on running Mt. Whitney.  Upon their return Jared and I then set off at 6:30pm for our ascent.  We again diverged from the planned route here and went up the standard trail to the summit instead of the previously intended mountaineer's route.  This was entirely my call and my hesitation, based on lack of familiarity with the route, concern for scrambling possibly icy 4th class terrain in the dark, and accumulated fatigue.  While there is a part of my ego that squirms in situations like these I've learned that it is better to simply be honest about my own limits.  The spectrum of human physical capabilities is truly remarkable.  Here I was, a lifelong competitive endurance athlete who likes to consider himself hardcore, in the midst of an epic endurance adventure that puts me probably several standard deviations away from the mean of human functioning, and yet in comparison to Jared I felt remarkably pedestrian.  (This of course had nothing to do with Jared's attitude, which was fully accommodating and humble.)  I am truly privileged to have the chance to do adventures with this fellow.

At Whitney Portal, about to start our ascent.

All things considered we ascended fairly efficiently, reaching the summit in 3:59, en route crossing paths with a pair of climbers who had just ascended the East face of Whitney and were nice enough to snap a photo of us (Jen Scopazzi and friend).  It was cold and windy but incredibly peaceful and beautiful.  We lay down in a gap between rocks at the summit with our headlamps off and looked up at the brilliant sky.  It can take a lot of effort to reach a state like this but it is undeniably worth it.

The descent went by fairly slowly but we finally emerged at the trailhead in about 7:20 total time for our Whitney round trip.  It was about 2am Monday morning and we had covered about 90 miles in total and around 22,000ft of climbing (if my estimates are correct) since Friday at midnight.
En route to Whitney summit. Photo courtesy of Jen Scopazzi.

Phoebe, Ada, and Bethany in the sand dunes.