Fastpacks From Hell: Capitol/Snowmass/Hagerman

Stats (approx.):

  • 36.5 miles
  • 12,815’

Starting Date:

  • 9/2/17

Total time:

  • 2 days, 11min

Three Centennials Summited:

  • Capitol Peak
  • Snowmass Mountain
  • Hagerman Peak

After cruising through the Sawatch, I had to once again cross west over the Continental Divide – this time with an unruly bear canister in tow, to dash off the Elk Range.

Hagerman Pass

Hagerman Pass

A fairly stout portion of the tour was awaiting me, featuring some interesting climbing, some fairly loose and dangerous routes, and some unknowns for me with Hagerman, Cathedral, and Thunder Pyramid.

Timing wasn’t very good. It was coming up on Labor Day weekend. I certainly didn’t want to visit the Maroon Bells at that time – an already busy area would be a mad house (lots of people = lots of potential rockfall), so I opted to take the range in a strange order: first Capitol, Snowmass, and Hagerman in the west, then Cathedral, Castle, and Conundrum at the east side of the range; and finally the Bells and Pyramids right in the middle.

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Dispatch Radio Podcast: FKTs, OKTs and WTFs with Cat Bradley, Darcy Piceu, “The Long Ranger” Justin Simoni and Bryan Williams

Thanks to Dispatch Radio for having me on among so much talent and stoke. Listen here, or below:

 

We packed The Studio (Boulder) Airstream with a grip-load of talent to dive into the topic of fastest known times (FKTs). We talk with four athletes who set new records in 2017: Cat Bradley, Darcy Piceu, “The Long Ranger” Justin Simoni and Bryan Williams. Two legends of Boulder joined us to guide the conversation: Buzz Burrell of Ultimate Direction and Peter Pakwin (both of whom hold their own claims to fame, from speed records of the Flatirons in Boulder to running the double-Hardrock). The attention tonight is on the 2017 speedsters. In this episode, we meet Cat’s beloved puppy, Surely, and learn about her years-long quest to notch a Grand Canyon FKT. We laugh as Darcy tries to convince us she was out there having fun and chatting up all sorts of strangers as she cut 12 whole hours off of the women’s FKT for the John Muir Trail. We learn the depths of suffering that “Long Ranger” Simoni is willing to endure. And we learn from Bryan what adjustments are made when one’s running partner drops midway through a pursuit due to injury. Strap in for a fun and inspiring conversation!

Special appearance by producer Nick Mott talking about a recent story he did for the new Alpinist podcast, a co-collaboration with Dispatch Radio and Alpinist Magazine.


Fastpacks from Hell: The San Luis Trifecta

Stats (approx.):

  • 32 miles
  • 10,000’+ elevation

Total time:

  • 1 day, 2hr, 30min

Three Centennials Summited:

  • “Phoenix Peak”
  • San Luis
  • Stewart Peak

I questioned framing this leg of my Tour of the Highest Hundred as a, “Fastpack from Hell”, as the numbers really don’t compare to the Crestones, Sierra Blanca – let alone the mighty Weminuche. A motivated person, starting early with fine weather, could potentially do this course between sunrise and sundown. Unfortunately, that wasn’t my situation, when I left my bike far above Creede, CO in the summer of 2017.

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Fastpacks From Hell: The Weminuche Throwdown

Stats (approx.):

  • 81.4 Miles
  • 34,847’+ elevation

Total time:

  • 5 days, 1hr, 44min

Nine Centennials Summited:

  • Pigeon Peak
  • Turret Peak
  • Jupiter Mountain
  • Windom Peak
  • Sunlight Peak
  • North Eolus
  • Mount Eolus
  • Jagged Mountain
  • Vestal Peak

The Weminuche. This was the make-or-break section of my tour. A large project within an enormous project. Lots of terrain to cover, lots of mountains to top. Technical scrambling in a desolate setting. For example, Jagged Mountain’s easiest route rated at 5.2 is one of the technical cruxes of the whole trip and is located more than a dozen miles from any trailhead. Jagged is also one of the more remote peaks in the Highest Hundred itinerary. I also planned to take Vestal’s Wham Ridge (5.4) to summit, rather than the easiest, if much looser, Southeast Couloir. I would have to descend the Southeast Couloir anyways, but Wham Ridge seemed too incredible to pass off in the name of speed.

Let’s talk logistics of even getting in there. There are nine peaks of the the Weminuche (sans the isolated Rio Grande Pyramid, which I did in a separate trip). First the good news. Five of the them: Jupiter, Windom, Sunlight, North Eolus, and Eolus are clumped into one area, easily accessible from each other in the quite popular (for Weminuche standards) Chicago Basin.

Now the bad: Turret/Pigeon, Jagged Mountain, and Vestal Peak are spaced quite far away from each other, separated by gnarly mountain passes, with no trail connecting them together.

Further complicating matters is the weather: it can be terrible, especially in the monsoon season, which is when I inevitably hit the area. With the trip being a multi-day affair and my goal of moving quickly, I could only afford bringing just so much food in my 35 liter pack, which limits how long I can stay out for. Margin of error is low, or I would face the problem of needing to go back into town to resupply, and making yet another unplanned backpack approach in, which I imagine would feel completely demoralizing for someone like me going for clock time.

For Seekers of the Self-Powered Way, there are only a few access points that make sense to gain these summits. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is often used to cut down time/distance to access many of these peaks. For me, that would be of course: off the table.

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FKT of the Year Awards 2018, Why the Tour of the Highest Hundred is so Weird (and why that’s so awesome)

Blanca Peak, after traversing directly from Little Bear Peak (in the background), Tour of the Highest Hundred , 2017

The 2018 FKTOFTY Awards have been announced. I’ve very thankful that the Tour of the Highest Hundred was selected in the lineup! Although, it didn’t “win”, I really had no reason to think I would! I’m actually a little confused how different FKT attempts can even be compared to each other, but if all we want to do is celebrate FKT projects in general, I think that’s a worthwhile reason to make such lists.

But if I hope that the Tour of the Highest Hundred would win something like a popularity contest… forget it. It’s too long, too hard, too weird, and too obscure to ever become the type of, “Destination FKT” something like the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim or the John Muir Trail are quickly becoming. And that’s totally fine with me. A litmus test is this: try to visualize exact what teh Highest Hundred challenge would entail. Kinda hard, right? What do you focus on? The distance, the peaks themselves, the elevation gain, the route? It’s a complex mother.

But, there’s a lot of reasons I think going for the Colorado Centennials by bike and by foot self-supported makes a totally life-changing challenge, even if you don’t make it your own FKT.

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Electronics Kit List for the Tour of the Highest Hundred

The electronics gear kit list! Bringing any sort of gear – especially electronic gear, is a fine balance between the convenience of having the resource, and the burdens of carrying it all with you. Doubly so with electronic gear, as it all requires some sort of power source to charge it all up.

Choose wisely.

For the Tour of the Highest Hundred, I brought more electronic gear than on any other ultra racing/FKT trip in my life! It was a lot to manage, but I made all my choices after much deliberation.

Here’s the rundown:

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Fastpacks From Hell: The Colorado Sierra Blanca Centennial Enchainment!

Stats:

  • 33.1 Miles
  • 15,085’+ elevation

Total time:

  • 2 days 25min

Six Centennials summited:

  • Ellingwood Point
  • Little Bear Peak
  • Blanca Peak
  • “Huerfano Peak”
  • Mt. Lindsey
  • California Peak

To make the Tour of the Highest Hundred work, my general strategy was to keep the number of separate trailheads I needed to visit by bike as low as possible, while designing my route on foot to tag as many mountains in an area as possible. Transitioning to/from bike-mode/hike-mode and superfluous riding are big time sucks.

One of the largest puzzles is the Sierra Blancas. Even enthusiastic peak baggers will separate this group of mountains into >= two trips:

  • Approaching from the east for Mt. Lindsey and “Huerfano Peak” via the Huerfano/Lily Lake Trailhead
  • Approaching from the west to access Ellingwood Point, Little Bear, and Blanca via Lake Como Road
  • And well, also approaching from the west for California Peak (if the Centennials are part of your goal), which is accessed from an altogether trail head: Zapata Falls.

Three different trips to three different trailheads is a lot of bike riding for six mountains that sit close together. Visiting the eastern trailhead, then the western ones means either crossing a northern mountain pass (Mosca Pass), or going around the entire southern end of the Sierra Blancas (La Veta Pass) – I was willing and needed to do one, but not both.

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Recovering from the Tour of the Highest Hundred

Header image: Argentine Pass just a few days before finishing. I was, it seemed, a bit tired.

It’s been 22 days since I finished the Tour of the Highest Hundred. I’m asked often what recovery looks like for something like this, and when I think I’ll be 100% again.

Let’s step back, and clear up the air. Get rid of any myths about putting yourself through a gauntlet like the Tour of the Highest Hundred: It’s a terribly unhealthy, fool-hearty endeavor to do so much, so fast. You risk the onset of serious overtraining syndrome at best, and completely preventative overuse injuries at worst. The only thing that keeps you from seriously and reputedly causing long-term damage to your health is that you will, in the end, stop doing it and give your mind + body the rest it so terribly requires. This is really true for any ultra distance event. Racing one hundred miles can be done in a day and is pretty horrible for your health – how long do even the most elite runners need to fully recover? Keeping on for 2 months is, I think, a fair bit worse.

Even when grinding myself into the ground, I had the fantasy that if I could just get a good block of rest, then do a little bit of training to polish things up, I could come back to do something else quite amazing: set the FKT for Nolans 14, or something like that. I bumped into Meghan Hicks along with Brendan Leonard and Hilary Oliver in Buena Vista – kind of out of my mind (OK: really out of my mind) and I mentioned this. Meghan’s response? “That’s fucked up“.  It really is wishful thinking, and probably is patently wrong. Sixty days with little rest is a big ask from any body; then asking it after  just a few weeks rest to do something yet again phenomenal is only for the most carefully dreamt dreams.

Training for the New Alpinism describes exactly what I’ve done petty eloquently:

I felt I was smart enough to somewhat temper the problem of overtraining by splitting my tour up into two equal parts. The first half I would take it somewhat more easy,  have more rest days, stay in more hostels. The second half I’d be a bit more cavalier over my daily exertion and cut corners with the amount of sleep I got. I can’t say in any surety this is what I did, or if it was, that it had a good effect. The Tour of the Highest Hundred is just too complex of a challenge to slice things up so roughly.

When I initially finished, what I most experienced was just complete exhaustion. I stayed in bed, mostly and if I tried to push it and stay conscious, I would just fail after a while and find myself sleeping wherever I was –  on the couch, mostly. There were a few days in a row I didn’t leave the house! Sleep quality was shallow and terrible. I knew things were getting better, when I started getting anxiety attacks! Even though they were unpleasant, at least they were a type of emotional other than numbness. This took a week or two to achieve.

Tonight, I sit on my bed, after doing not much of anything today – not much of anything for the past week+. I woke up dizzy, and stayed that way for the entirely of my day, same as yesterday – same as the day before. This really prevents me from doing much of anything other than baseline “being awake” and, “breathing”: no hiking or climbing; no riding bikes or dare I even suggest: running.

Seeing that it’s been three weeks after finishing, this seems a little out of the ordinary to be quite honest. I’m a stubborn bastard with a high pain tolerance, but even I think enough is enough – I should be feeling a whole lot better by now. I’ve taken my vitals and my heart rate and blood pressure reflect that of a fit mid-thirties dude. Sometimes if my blood pressure is too low, I’ll have dizzy spells – same when my already-low heart rate dips even further down. I’m not dehydrated, either. Or if I haven’t eaten in a few hours. I’m fearing the worst I can come up with: some sort of water-borne parasite like Giardia or even Lyme Disease. I may have to go to the doctor for that one. Forced rest, I suppose.

Not that I needed any more motivation for that. On my last day, after summiting the last mountain of my tour, Longs Peak (#105), I managed to slip and sprain/impinge my right ankle in the Boulderfield. Sweet mercy. I hobbled down the last few miles, making the the most direct line I think I’ve ever managed back to the trailhead, but hell if it didn’t hurt to even hobble in the most strange and unusual ways. Hopefully, it’s not also a fracture. Who knows, really, but it’s a little nerve-racking to see my foot still swollen from the trip. To be generous, both feet are swollen, which only shows to prove just how much I kicked my own ass. If I look at the trip holistically, it’s a complete miracle I only sprained an ankle, and when I did, it was 6 hours before I finished the entire tour.

Other than feeling completely zonked mentally from the Giardia-like illness, and being able to only hobble around on one good, yet beat-up foot, I’m doing alright. I’ve gained most of the weight I’ve lost. I haven’t walked more than 100 steps at one time except around a grocery store, but I can ride my bike 10 miles in a day and it doesn’t feel too bad for the foot. Climbing is a different story. My right foot is lacking flexibility, but two months off from hard training kind of feels as if you’re starting from square one. Every time I go train, I feel much more fit than the last time, which is reassuring. Entirely understandable that I’ll have to make up lost ground and gain fitness again. Although I prefer bouldering, I can’t think of anything more destructive to a seriously hurt ankle than to repeatedly fall on it in creative ways as one is to do bouldering.

Only until I can get through this dizziness/lightheadedness issue will I be able to focus on recovering physically. At this point, with this much inactivity, I’ve lost most of the short term adaptations I’ve made being up so high for so long. Instead of thinking I’ve done a super intense training block, it’s better to think I’ve instead gone through a very traumatic event, and I’ll need to start from a fitness level far below where I was even a year ago. It took me three years to feel ready to do the Highest Hundred tour after doing the 14er tour, remember.

To be a bit kinder to my body, I’ve focused, if not forced myself to start a fairly consistent yoga practice, which I feel is doing wonders towards uncrippling my body. My shoulders and hips are opening up again – both get pretty tight cycling, and I doubt hiking/running/backpacking do much good when taken to such extremes. Sleeping on the ground for that long isn’t always for the best, I suppose – I had a few days where my pad would deflate in the middle of the night and I was left on the lumpy ground (I manage to fix the leak after a few tries).

So that’s what I’ve been feeling lately. I’ve tried my best to persevere, but if I’m tardy on getting back to you on our correspondence (or, whatever), I apologize, I’m doing the best I can, and I hope to only get better as time goes on. I bought this ticket and this ain’t my first go-around, so some aprés suffering is just a part of it, which I’ve tried to at least anticipate.

I’ll try checking in after a few more weeks, perhaps I will have interesting news from a doctor’s visit.