Sunday, July 29, 2018

Walk Long - Isle Royale National Park

July 29, 2018 - For our first ever backpacking trip, Anita and I decided to head to Isle Royale National Park in upper upper Michigan (the largest island in the largest lake in the world). The backpacking would be the end of a trip that started with a short tour of the Upper Peninsula.

We started the trip by running the Grand Island Trail Half Marathon near Munising, Michigan, on July 21. This was a course on mostly jeep roads but had a great section of almost a mile on the beach of Lake Superior. The sand made it very difficult, but the view of the lake was fantastic.

After a couple of days in Marquette, we headed to Copper Harbor for a few days. We saw a fabulous sunset on Brockway Mountain and spent a few hours on the famous mountain bike trails in the area the next day. The intermediate trails certainly tested my skill level, but were a lot of fun, especially coming down the mountain.

Instead of taking the ferry to Isle Royale from Copper Harbor or Houghton, we decided to make the drive around the lake, through Wisconsin, and up to the northern end of Minnesota, Grand Portage. It is a beautiful drive, and we took a small diversion to the Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains. I have now finally seen the legitimate mountains in Michigan; it is a long drive to get there.
Sunrise at Hollow Rock Resort, near Grand Portage.

We stayed overnight in Grand Portage on Tuesday night and then caught the Voyageur II ferry to the island. I should back up first and say that since this was our first backpacking trip, it took a ton of preparation and purchasing of gear. I originally was going to try it with a 35-liter Ultimate Direction fastpack, but Anita decided to go with a lighter weight version of a more traditional Osprey 60-liter backpack, the Lumina 60. Two weeks before leaving we did a fully loaded four-mile test hike (highly recommended if you are just starting out) and my pack really dug into my shoulders. Anita was fine. After some more research, I decided to switch to a traditional backpack, the Osprey Atmos AG 65. We did another test hike and it went better for me so I went with that setup. All of our other gear was middle-of-the-road stuff. With water, we were both packing about 30 pounds.

At Rock Harbor, the start of the trek.
We decided to hike the whole way across the island on the Greenstone Ridge trail, which is about 40-ish miles, starting on the eastern end of the island at Rock Harbor. This involves a five-and-a-half hour ferry ride on the first day. We got into Rock Harbor about 3:30pm and had to high-tail it out of there because we had about 8 miles to our first campground, Daisy Farm. We used the Tobin Harbor and Rock Harbor trails to get there. We were going to just use the Rock Harbor trail but a parks employee recommended starting on Tobin Harbor trail because there are fewer rocks to scramble over. It adds a little bit of mileage but might have been faster; it is hard to tell.

Inside the shelter at Daisy Farm Campground.
We got into Daisy Farm just before 8pm and one of the coveted shelters was still available, so no need to set up our tent the first night. We were quite surprised. We expected it to be full, with no shelters available. Daisy Farm is a nice campground, and the campsites even have picnic tables. After a meal of Ramen, we called it a night and went to bed. In the middle of the night, Anita woke up to the sound of something in our shelter. The shelter is completed enclosed, with a screen front, but there is a small gap under the door that a small critter could get through. We turned on the lights and looked for critters, but found none. We did find some bags with food moved around on the floor. We secured the food a little better and went back to bed. We were not bothered the rest of the night.

In the morning we checked our food bags and I found one with a hole chewed in it and an inner bag of trail mix had a hole and was compromised. I had to put that one in my trash bag. We were lucky to not have lost more food and learned our first lesson.

After a breakfast of freeze-dried Breakfast Skillet (quite good, actually), we left the campground about 9am and started the trek to Hatchet Lake Campground. It is listed at about 15.5 miles, but I ended up with about 17.5 miles on my GPS. The Daisy Farm trail starts with a climb up to the Greenstone Ridge, the main ridge that runs the length of the island. Once you reach the ridge, the trail mostly follows the ridge and is a rolling trail, with some steep ascents and descents, but you never come all of the ways down again until the end. The trail on the eastern half of the island is generally pretty tight. You are walking through plants the whole time, and the trail is difficult to see at times because of the growth. It doesn't look like the park service does much trail maintenance, except for putting boardwalks in the boggy areas (and there are a lot of these).

I found that I could take about an hour-and-a-half of hiking before my back and shoulders needed a break and we had to take off the backpacks for a few minutes. This worked out to about every 3 to 4 miles for us, as we were generally keeping up a 20-25 minute per mile pace. We stopped for lunch about halfway through the day at West Chickenbone campground, which was a nice spot, and then made it into Hatchet Lake by 5pm. The trail from the Greenstone Ridge to Hatchet Lake is a significant descent, which we were going to have to ascend in the morning.

Before supper, I wanted to jump in the lake for a swim. The water was not too cold and it felt good. I came back on shore and sat on a rock and Anita promptly told me I had leeches on my feet. Sure enough, I had apparently stepped in the wrong place with one foot and there was a mama leech (okay, leeches are both sexes but I'm going with "mama") 2-3 inches long with 20-30 baby leeches scrambling over my foot. We tried to pull off the mama and that was not an easy task. That bugger was not going to let go, and it was very stretchy. Eventually, Anita was able to get a good enough grip on it and yanked it off. Then we went after the babies. There didn't hold onto my foot as securely but there were so small that it was difficult to get them all. They went in between my toes where I could see them. I was thankful that Anita was there to get them off, although she didn't want to allow me into the tent that night, just in case. Anita decided to not go swimming, for some reason, so after we got them all (I hope) off we went back to the campsite and made supper, freeze-dried lasagna (not as good as breakfast, but still not bad).

That night as I lay in the tent, anticipating a 13-and-a-half-mile hike the next day, the big toe on my right foot starting hurting badly. I couldn't bend it up without being in excruciating pain. Initially, I thought it was a cramp, but it wouldn't go away. Anita and I looked at the map to see if there was a way out that didn't require completing 20 more miles. It didn't look good as we were in the middle of the island. I tried taking ibuprofen so I could get to sleep and hoped it would be better in the morning. It kept me awake a lot during the night because it hurt whenever I moved.

In the morning, the toe still hurt. It was also raining. I had to unlace my shoe to get it on, with a lot of pain. I noticed some guys digging a hole and figured they were NPS employees so I went and talked to them. They had a radio so I asked if they could help me figure out what my options were. After a few calls to park HQ, they confirmed my thoughts from the night before. There was an 11-mile hike to a dock where the ferry would stop, but the ferry didn't run until Sunday, a day later than we were hoping to get off the island. The other option was to hike our way out, as originally planned. The NPS guy said the issue was probably a strained toe from not being used to hiking with 30 extra pounds. That seemed logical, as there had been a lot of uphill the day before, which would put a lot of strain on the toes.

I limped back to camp and we packed everything up. I figured I could hike at some speed, but it was going to be a long day. After packing up, we started on our way, with a light rain still falling. Within a couple hundred yards of walking, I didn't have any pain. It is a bizarre thing, but the pain went away completely. I've got no explanation for it, but I was very thankful.

Island Mine Campground.
We got back up to the main trail and were moving again at 2-3 MPH. We made good time, although we got fairly wet, and stopped at Lake Desor for lunch. After we got back on the trail, we hit one of the nicest stretches of the trail we had been on and the rain went away. The undergrowth thinned out and maple trees took the place of birch trees. The terrain was rolling but the hiking was fairly easy. We made it to Island Mine Campground around 4:00pm. This was one of my favorite campgrounds, even though there wasn't a large lake nearby or majestic view. It was a nice open forest with a small stream nearby as the water source. There weren't many people there and the campsites were large. We also had a fire ring, so we built a fire and attempted to try out some of our clothes.

End of the trail.
This last night was probably my best night of sleep. We only had about 8 miles to go in the morning, but we wanted to get started by 9am as we had to be at the dock at 1pm to board the ferry. We had freeze-dried breakfast hash for breakfast, which was quite good, packed up and went on our way. The forest was again open and the hiking was easy. It was also mostly downhill into Windigo and our packs were significantly lighter. We made great time and got to Windigo by noon.

We found the camp store, ordered a pizza, and devoured it. We stowed our packs and hiked around a little while waiting for the ferry. After a one-and-a-half hour ferry ride back to Grand Portage, we hopped in the car and drove to Duluth/Superior and spent the night in a motel, with hot water. In the morning we drove to Manitowoc, WI, and took the SS Badger ferry to Ludington, MI, about a four hour trip. The drive to Grand Haven is a little over an hour so we were back home by 10pm.

It was a great trip and we had a pretty good first backpacking experience, leeches, and toe issues
aside. All of the equipment worked pretty well and the days basically went as planned. Doing the 40-50 miles in essentially three-and-a-half days is a significant load. If I did it again, I might add another day in there somehow. There is certainly more of the island to be explored.

Oh, and thimbleberries. These berries were just getting ripe and we ate them as we traversed the island. We also found some ripe blueberries. Both are a good treat as you trek.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Grand Tetons 2017 - Day 4

Jim on the Wildflower Trail climbing the ski slope.
August 5 - We didn't have Jason around anymore today so it was Jim and I communing with the mountains. We planned to take the trail up the Jackson Hole Ski Resort to the top of Rendevous Mountain (10,450 feet), and then go over the top and connect with the Teton Crest Trail and then return the same way.

We got to the base of the mountain and were ready to go about 7:30am. We discovered that there was actually a race going on, starting at 8:30am, on the same trail that we were taking. It is a six mile climb and the top guys hope to break one hour as there is a cash bonus if they do. We started up the Wildflower Trail and made the relentless climb to the Bridger Lodge at about 9,000 feet. There are a lot of switchbacks and the trail is often not too steep so we were able to do some running, although it was mostly just power-hiking. The people at the aid station for the race at Bridger offered us some of their watermelon so we took advantage. It was some pretty fine watermelon at that point.

At the "Top of the World" on Rendezvous Mtn.
We continued to the Cirque Trail and started to look behind us to see if we could see the first racers catching up to us. We knew that a few of them might beat us to the top. Finally we got to the last section, which was a half mile scramble over rocks and we saw the top guy getting close. Two hundred yards before I reached the summit I stepped aside and cheered the first guy on. A few minutes later the second guy finished. The winning time was 1:02 so he didn't beat the goal of one hour, but it was a very impressive climb. They both looked quite spent when they went by me.

Jim and I took a few pictures at the top and then saw a couple of para-gliders ready to launch off of the mountain. We waited until one of them went. It takes some guts to just run off the mountain and hope that air fills your glider.

We continued down the mountain until we found the Rendezvous Trail and continued a steady descent. As I'm going down I'm thinking that we will have to climb all the way back up again and I wasn't sure how I felt about that. Finally we leveled off for a little, but then we climbed again and descended again. At this point, Jim mentioned that he wasn't wild about climbing back up to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. We formulated an alternate plan to just skip going to Teton Crest and to take the trail down Granite Canyon, where we had ascended two days ago. It is a pretty canyon and the wildflowers in in are spectacular. We soon arrived at the fork in the trail and started the descent into the canyon. It was a pleasant run down, and it didn't seem to take too long until we reached the bottom, as we were able to make good time.

The trail through a field of wildflowers.
We connected with the Valley Trail and took the couple of mile jaunt back to Teton Village. We ended up with about 19 miles and 4500 feet of climbing for the day. My legs felt pretty good and I never really got very sore during the week, which was a surprise. After the first day I wasn't sure I could do four long days in the mountains.

It was a good trip, with good company, beautiful surroundings, ice cream after each run (huckleberry for me), and good food at the end of the day. Now we will have to think about the next one. I am certainly in favor of continuing to do them in the mountains somewhere.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Grand Tetons 2017 - Day 3

Jason at Surprise Lake.
August 4 - The plan for today was to make the climb to Amphitheater Lake via the Taggart Lake Trailhead, an approximately 14 mile trek. Jason had to be back early to start his trip back to Kansas so we had to make a shorter day of running.

We got to the Taggart Lake Trailhead at about 8:30am and began the day with a moderate climb to Bradley Lake. On the way we spotted our first bear on the trail. This was an adult black bear of average size. I was in front at the time and scared it out of the brush about 25 feet off to my left. It scared me as well but it quickly ran in the opposite direction. It was too quick for us to get a picture of it.

We got to Bradley lake, a beautiful little lake at the base of the Tetons, followed the trail around it, and then began the climb in earnest. The trail to Amphitheater Lake is a relentless series of switchbacks that keeps climbing and climbing and climbing. It is mostly open and there are numerous good places to stop and look over the whole Jackson Hole valley.

Amphitheater Lake.
Finally we got to the top into an open forest and Surprise Lake was off to our left. Like all lakes at this altitude in the Tetons, the water was clear and blue and cold. After a quick snack, here we continued the short distance to Amphitheater Lake. There was a trail we could see that continued up the mountain beyond the lake so we decided to follow it at least a little way and get up above the lake. This trail soon got sketchy/rugged and we decided to turn around and head back down the mountain.

We made good time going down. It was pretty good trail for running: not too steep and not too rocky in most places. The only slowdown was all of the hikers that were coming up the trail. The trail is fairly narrow so there isn't a lot of place to pass. We finally arrived at Taggart Lake and Jason and I had to jump in. The trail was dusty so it was a great opportunity to wash the dust off.

We got our gear back on and ran the 1.75 miles back to the trailhead. The distance was a little over 15 miles for the day with over 3600 feet of climbing. I have felt stronger each day that I've been here as my lungs and legs adjust to the terrain and as I get another night of decent sleep. Tomorrow Jim and I plan to run up the Jackson Hole Ski Resort slopes to the top and run around on the Teton Crest Trail.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Grand Tetons 2017 - Day 2

Jim and Jason on the Teton Crest Trail.

Wildflowers in bloom in Death Canyon.
August 3 - Today we did a loop from the Granite Canyon Trailhead. The plan was to climb up Granite Canyon, run across the Teton Crest Trail, and then come down Death Canyon and back to the trailhead.

As we started, we quickly got into open meadows in the canyon. There were a lot of wildflowers in bloom and it was quite beautiful. Granite Canyon has a more open feel to it than some of the others we were in. About 9 miles into the trek we reached Marion Lake at about 9,200 feet. Of course Jason and I had to get into the lake and go under. It was definitely refreshing (i.e. really cold). Tomorrow we will work on Jim to jump in also. The lakes in general in the high country are so clear and blue. They are definitely one of the signature parts of the Grand Tetons, in my opinion.

Jason running through the wildflowers.
After getting back onto the trail, we climbed the Teton Crest trail to the wide open spine of the Tetons. The views from the crest are amazingly spacious and, although the soil is quite rocky, there are many flowers here also. Eventually we made our way into the opening of Death Canyon and started down.

The top end of Death Canyon is lush with many waterfalls and greenery. The trail is very tight as the foliage is thick and you can't easily see where it is going. Eventually we reached the patrol cabin and then plunged into the steep part of the canyon. It gets rocky and steeper for the last few miles before getting to Phelps Lake. After looping to the east of Phelps Lake we picked up the valley trail and returned to the trailhead.

The view down Death Canyon.
The distance for the loop was 24.71 miles, according to my Garmin, with 4,118 feet of climbing. I felt much better today and didn't have the altitude issues I had yesterday. I suppose a better night of sleep and a day at altitude helped me. It was another gorgeous day with hardly a cloud in the sky. We finished with some hard running and I was definitely still spent at the end.
A cold can of tea and some huckleberry ice cream helped with the recovery process. We will see what tomorrow brings: probably a run up to Amphitheater Lake.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Grand Tetons 2017 - Day 1

Near Inspiration Point.
August 2 - After having my flight delayed from Grand Rapids and missing my connecting flight in O'hare, I spent the night between the floor and a chair in the Denver Airport before getting a flight to Jackson and arriving at 10:15am at the Jackson Hole Airport. Jim and Jason picked me up at the airport and drove to the Leigh Lake Trailhead. I changed in the back of the car on the way and hurriedly packed my hydration pack for the trip. This was not the way that wanted to start the day (i.e. sleep deprivation, late start, hurried packing) but I wanted to use every day.

The plan was to go up Cascade Canyon as far as we could (hopefully Lake Solitude) before turning around and coming back down the canyon. The backcountry ranger had told Jim that he didn't advise trying to go over Paintbrush Divide and doing the whole Cascade-Paintbrush Loop, although that had been my original plan. He said there was too much snow at the top of Paintbrush Canyon.

We started up Cascade Canyon at 11am, took a few minutes to stop by Inspiration Point, where I had just got married 6 weeks ago, and then continued up the Canyon. It is a beautiful trail, beside a mostly slow-moving mountain stream. After about 9 miles, we arrived at Solitude Lake, around 9,000 feet in elevation, and took a break on the shores. Jason and I took off our shoes and waded in the cool waters. We talked to some other hikers that heard that Paintbrush Canyon was doable, although there were a few sketchy spots. We decided to continue to hike up and see what it looked like. We could turn around if it looked bad.

I was not feeling great by this time. The altitude (and possibly lack of sleep) were getting to me. I had a headache and just generally felt bad. The other two seemed to be okay, but they had been at altitude days longer than I had.

At the top.
We continued up and up and up and finally reached the Paintbrush Divide. There were, of course, gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. The view down Cascade Canyon from near the top is spectacular. As we started the descent, we quickly discovered the sketchy snowy part. We had just been told by other hikers that it wasn't bad for far, and indeed it was just a short section. A slip here, however, would have been very bad. We got over it and continued down. There were more snowy sections, but they were less scary.

The descent down Paintbrush is more steep than Cascade Canyon, but still a nice trail. Jim had recently picked up a new skill that he used often on the descent. He had seen a ranger video that showed people how to clap (basically, separate your hands and then bring them together) to keep from surprising bears. The vegetation towards the bottom of the canyon is more dense so Jim and Jason were deploying this new skill frequently.

The sketchy part at Paintbrush Divide.
I had gotten my second wind after hiking over the snow so I was feeling better now. We came across Holly Lake on the descent and Jason and I went for a swim. It was so cold it was painful, but refreshing. We continued down the Canyon. I started to feel bad again but we kept moving and finally came out to Leigh Lake and back to the parking area.

It is an epic loop, with lush scenery, streams, snow and lots of rocks, especially when you get above the treeline. A supper at Bubba's Barbecue and now it is time for bed. The total loop was 20.39 miles with 3889 feet of ascent, according to my GPS. It took us right on 7 hours, including all stops.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laurel Highlands: Fourth Time is the Charm

At the start.

June 13 - My long and failed relationship with the Laurel Highlands Trail 70 mile run finally ended in success on Saturday. For some reason this race has had my number in three previous attempts (two were when it was 77 miles due to a detour). Every year the reason for failure has been different, although generally related to fueling issues. My fuel/hydration strategy has evolved over the years and experience has helped to improve it. This year I was running the race with my brother Jim and friend Sonya and the plan was just to go at an unhurried pace and finally get the thing done.

We all reserved rooms at the Yough Plaza Motel, a short walk from the start of the point-to-point race, and Sonya's husband Troy was going to crew us. We were planning on trying to run the whole thing together, but understood that there might come a time or two where we would need to split up along the way as we ran into different issues at different times during the day. Trying to run a race of this distance with someone else and staying together is a tall order, although we had previously finished the Oil Creek 100 mile run by running together the whole time.

The race leaves Ohiopyle at 5:30am and we settled into the middle of the pack. The first 10 miles or so are mostly climbing up to the top of the ridge and then you mostly stay up on the ridge from there on to the finish. There is some descent as well in those first miles. The humidity at the start, and throughout the day, had to be near to 100%. The temperature was not too bad, however, except in the heat of the afternoon, but I have experienced hotter at this race.

After we finished the climb and got through the first aid station, we were all feeling pretty good. This good running continued through Seven Springs Resort until the aid station at mile 39. It was at this point that it started to be fairly warm and Jim began the dreaded bonk. As we neared the aid station at 46 Sonya was feeling good and ran ahead and I walked it in with Jim, who was pretty woozy.

At the aid station (this is where I had DNFed in all of the previous years) I was not able to eat any significant food. I still felt pretty good, however, and wanted to get out of here into new territory fairly quickly. Jim, however, was going to have to sit for awhile to get his energy back. The next aid station was over 10 miles away and I was concerned about this. I put down a couple of cups of soda and was planning to just rely on the liquid calories, but I new trying to get through 10 miles without putting in calories along the way would be a stretch.

I walked out of the aid station until Sonya caught up with me and then we started running. She wasn't quite ready to run as fast as I wanted to go so after a few minutes I started to go ahead. I wanted to get to the next aid station as quickly as possible because I knew I was running on borrowed time.

About five miles (mile 61) into the leg, I was passed by a guy who was moving pretty quickly. He said, "Just a nice 18 mile Saturday run to go, let's take it home." Up until that point I had just been counting down miles until the next aid station but his statement made me think about the total that we had left. For some reason, this grabbed me and lifted my spirits and I thought I could run faster so I tucked in behind him and tried to hold on. Going up hills, he would outpace me, but I was always able to tuck back in behind him on the downhills or flats. I asked him if he had passed a woman and if she looked okay and he said that he had and she looked strong so I felt better about trying to keep pace with him. I figured Sonya, and possibly Jim, would eventually catch up with me, anyway, as I would most likely feel bad at some point.

We put in another good 4 miles when I suddenly began to feel a bonk coming. I immediately stopped and let him go and took some M&Ms out of my pack and tried to eat them. As soon as I swallowed them I felt nauseous. I put them away and began walking but knew I was in trouble. I knew I was getting close to the aid station but didn't know where exactly it was in mile 10. Finally I had to sit down so I found a log and sat for a few minutes. I was feeling worse when I saw a guy walking towards me (he was an aid station volunteer taking a break) on the trail from the aid station. I felt very nauseous and asked him if he could stick around because I was about to throw up and I often pass out when I do that. I moved quickly off the trail and knelt and emptied my stomach. Apparently I hadn't been digesting anything properly for awhile. I couldn't believe this was happening to me and wondered whether I would be able to finish. I was only 14 miles from the finish but had some real doubts at this point.

Fortunately I didn't pass out and stood up and felt much better. He said the aid station was only 800 meters away and said he would walk to it with me. When we got there (mile 57) I sat down and he took care of me. They had Ramen! I had hoped the last aid station would have some but they didn't. It is the one thing that I can eat when nothing else looks appetizing because it goes down so easily and it is high in sodium, which can be helpful with digestion. I threw down some more Coke and got up and walked out of the station. My plan was to walk for half an hour and let everything digest. The next aid station was only five miles away.

I started walking and got about 25 minutes away when I started feeling pretty bad again. It is unfortunate because this section of the trail is fairly flat and one could make up some good time if you felt well. I figured I might have to sit awhile because even walking was keeping me from properly digesting my food and drink. I sat but still felt nauseous so I decided to lay down in the fetal position beside the trail and let my body do what it needed to do. I used my hydration pack as a pillow and lay down. Runners would come by and ask me if I was okay and I would just give them the thumbs up, which was kind of a lie, but there wasn't anything they could do for me at that point.

After 5-10 minutes I heard a voice I recognized and I rolled over and there was Sonya. I was happy to see her. I asked her if she could hang around for just a few more minutes as I was starting to feel better. After a few more minutes in the fetal position I got up and we started walking down the trail. After about 10 minutes of walking Jim ran up behind us. He was surprised to see us so soon but he fell in line behind us. I wanted to walk for a little bit before I ran, but he started trash-talking me (he had really been doing it the whole race, but what are brothers for) about how he would be running this if it wasn't for me. So I sucked it up and started running slowly. It felt okay, so I picked up speed. We made some decent time and rolled into the aid station at mile 62.

At the finish.
I took in more soda and hoped that would be enough to get me to the end. It was cooler now but I still didn't have an appetite for aid station food and they didn't have Ramen. We started running out of the aid station at a decent pace. We didn't get too far, however, until Sonya started to feel bad. We put her in front and let her control the pace. She was able to run at times but was definitely starting to bonk (it was her turn, after all) so we had to walk a lot. It was okay because by that point we were only about five miles from the finish and I knew it was going to happen. We had to put our headlamps on at this point as it was after sunset. We walked/ran those last 5 miles and finally heard voices and saw the lights of the finish line. We strolled in together and finally finished in 17:18:42. Sonya was 5th woman overall which is great.

Unfortunately we still had over an hour back to the motel and Sonya still felt pretty bad for the whole trip. My feet were pretty beat up and I was tired but overall didn't feel too badly.

I am just happy to mark this race off of my list. I had my redemption, finally, and I have Jim and Sonya to thank for helping to get me through it. This is a fairly well organized race with good volunteers and a really nice trail. It doesn't have a lot of climbing compared to other ultras I have run but it is still challenging. We did get to run through a thunderstorm at one point, although the worst of the lightning passed behind us. Storms are common on the Laurel ridge at this point in the year.

I don't need to do it again. It was another adventure and I'm glad I completed it and I might be back to run the relay, but I won't be back for the 70. There are shorter races to run.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

Jason at the Delicate Arch.
May 8 - After arriving in Moab on Thursday afternoon, we got into our motel and then went into town. We carbed up at Eddie McStiff's with some pizza and walked around town a little. Moab definitely caters to the adventurers and other tourists but I liked the feel. There was some live music happening at a couple of different places.

Petroglyphs on the way to the Delicate Arch.
Friday morning we got up early to get into Arches before the masses and drove first to the Delicate Arch Trailhead. Delicate Arch Trail is 3.5 mile out-and-back and has been heavily traveled over the years so it is firmly packed and sections of it are scrambles over rock. The location of the arch is unique in that there is a large bowl beside it and you also get a great view of the background landscape of the National Park. There is a short side trail that takes you to some petroglyphs that were carved centuries ago.

Jason scrambling over a boulder.
We left Delicate Arch and drove to the Devil's Garden Trailhead. Here we ran the Devil's Garden Primitive Loop, which is a little over 7 miles that is a mix of heavily traveled and sparsely traveled. The section closest to the trailhead sees a lot of people as there is a grouping of arches here within an easy walk, including the Landscape, Navajo, Partition and Double O arches.

There were more people on the trail now as it was about 8am. Once we got past the Double O arch, however, we had the trail mostly to ourselves. There are a few lesser-known arches on the rest of the loop that we took side trails to see. The loop goes down into the fin canyons, which are fairly unique big thin pieces of rock that you have to walk between. The whole trail is a nice loop with little traffic on most of it and some unique landscape features. It is well worth doing.


Jason decided to start his drive home after lunch. They were calling for some bad weather in the Rockies and he was taking Interstate 70 through the Rockies and then on to Kansas. Jim and I planned to do the Syncline Loop Trail (about 9 miles) in Canyonlands, which was part of the 22 miles that we were originally supposed to do in Canyonlands on Friday before the unexpected rest day on Wednesday after the Zion adventure.

Climbing through one of the fin canyons.
After lunch we drove the 30 minutes or so to the Islands in the Sky District of Canyonlands. It was a pretty spectacular drive to the Syncline Loop Trailhead. The canyons are deep and rugged-looking. The Syncline Loop Trail circumnavigates the Upheaval Dome, a giant crater with a bluish dome in the middle. It certainly is a unique landscape feature.
Landscape arch.

Jason falling through part of the Double O arch.
The skies were starting to get cloudy as we drove to the trailhead. Although they weren't calling for rain, it certainly looked like it might be a possibility later. After Tuesday, we were somewhat hesitant to chance another thunderstorm in a canyon, but this was a much shorter run.

The trail, if you go in a clockwise direction, is very rocky at the start and soon you get a sweeping view down into the deep canyon. I could see the trail way down below and was thinking twice about the decision to go on but it was just too cool so we plunged down the trail. We moved quickly, although progress was somewhat slow because of all of the rocks and twists in the trail. We eventually made it down onto the canyon floor and ran more easily here. The trail basically followed a wash and was gently downhill and not as rocky as the descent.

We soon got to the camping area where there is a trail that goes up into the Upheaval Dome. We looked at the skies and decided we didn't want to put in the extra 3 miles out-and-back so we continued on. Now the trail started climbing and we tried to figure out where we were going to get out of the canyon. As always happened this week, we could not figure out where the trail went. We thought it had to cut back but it just went straight up what looked like an unclimbable wall. Somehow we got through it but it took a lot of scrambling over boulders. The trail then continued up and up, through wash after wash.

The climb out of the canyon on the Syncline Loop Trail.
We finally got to within sight of the trailhead. It was starting to rain now, but I wanted to see the Upheaval Dome from the top so I ran out to one of the overlooks. Now it got windy and started to rain hard. I got a couple pictures and ran back to the car. This was probably the most visually stunning 9 mile run I've ever done. It was well worth doing.

This was the end of about 90 miles over 3 days of running and over 105 for the week for me. Other than a quad strain that I got slipping in the mud while being rescued out of Zion, I felt pretty good. It was a fun week, full of gorgeous landscapes and unfortunately unpredictable weather.

Syncline Loop Trail.

Where does the trail go?
Overlooking the Upheaval Dome.