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.

Canyonlands

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.








Bryce Canyon National Park

Jason and Jim descending into the canyon.
May 6 - After our adventure in Zion on Tuesday into Wednesday morning, we took Wednesday off from running. We only had two hours of sleep so we took our time in the morning and leisurely drove up to Bryce Canyon. We were supposed to run 20 miles or so on Wednesday but decided to attack Bryce on Thursday. Thursday morning dawned beautifully but chilly. The Bryce Canyon rim is above 8,000 feet so altitude was again going to be a factor.

A fin with a window to a deep blue sky.
We got in to the park and started down the Queens Garden Trail from Sunrise Point before almost anyone else was there. The Queens Garden Trail is a beautiful trail that descends amongst the hoodoos that are the signature feature of Bryce. The trails were hard packed and easy to run on. After a few miles we cut over to the Peekaboo Loop Trail. This is more of the same rolling terrain down in the canyon. After that loop, we ascended back to the canyon rim on the Navajo Loop Trail up to Sunset Point. This was about a 6 mile run.

After we got to the rim, we headed north towards Fairyland Point on the Rim Trail. At Fairyland Point we descended back down into the canyon on the Fairyland Loop Trail. This was more of the same running. Rolling hills, red rock and hoodoos. I believe this trail is less used because it is longer, it is separated from the main amphitheater, and the bus doesn't go here. This was about 9 miles, including the run on the rim.

Jim overlooking Navajo Loop Trail.
The altitude definitely kicked our butt all morning on any kind of incline. This was a very enjoyable run, and while not as epic as the Zion run, it may have been my favorite of the week. We had already checked out of the motel in the morning so we just headed north to interstate 70 and then out towards Moab. There was, of course, a necessary stop at Dairy Queen for lunch and Blizzards. The drive over to Moab was really nice: canyons and mesas and just a grand scale.

One note: the video at the bottom of this entry is Jim and I going over the various "tapping" techniques he learned to deal with his fear of heights using accupressure points.








Sunday, May 10, 2015

Zion Traverse




At the trailhead.

May 5, 2015 - After running part of the Zion Traverse last spring by myself, I convinced by brother Jim and nephew Jason to spend four days running in southern Utah this May. The plan was to hit Zion, Bryce, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and get in about 100 miles of running.

Jim and I flew into Las Vegas on Monday morning and drove out to Springdale, Utah, the gateway to Zion, and checked in at our motel. We had made reservations with Zion Adventures Outfitter to shuttle us to the East Rim Trailhead on Tuesday morning at 6:15am. Jason was driving in from Kansas so we had agreed to meet him at the Lee Pass Trailhead so he could leave his car there so we would have a way back to Springdale after we finished the Traverse. 

The Zion Traverse is about a 48 mile collection of trails that connects the western edge of Zion with the eastern edge. Most of it is running in high desert and Ponderosa Pine forest above 6,000 feet with a substantial amount above 7,000 feet. It does feature a drop down into the main Zion Canyon which sits at about 4,500 feet. If you run it from west to east, that climb out of the canyon comes late in your run while if you run it from east to west that big climb is early in the run. Last year I had run from west to east but this year we decided to run from east to west and get that big climb done early, which ended up having unfortunate repercussions for us late in the run.

We caught the 6:15am shuttle to the trailhead and were on the trail at around 7am. We figured it would take us 12-14 hours, depending on how we felt and how much we stopped to enjoy the magnificent landscape. This is truly a great run with some awesome scenery.

While Jim is mostly cured of a fear of heights,
he still doesn't like edges.
The first part of the trail starts around 6,000 feet and ascends to 6,800 feet before dropping down onto the floor of the canyon at Weeping Rock by mile 12. The trail here and up the west side of the canyon is mostly scrambling over the sandstone that makes up much of canyons of the park. After reaching the bottom, there is a one mile road run to the Grotto where there are bathrooms, picnic tables and water. We ate a little, refilled our water bottles and headed up the west wall of the canyon. It started as a nice day with good running conditions (temperature in the 40s up high to start and 50s/60s by the time we were climbing out of the canyon.

By this time of the day there were many making the hike up to Angel's Landing but after we got past Walter's Wiggles the crowd thinned out to only occasional backpackers in the high country. The climb up the west wall ends at 7,500 feet and we had a significant head wind up here and it was clouding over. We knew there was a chance of some scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon and it looked like we might be heading into some rain. The high plateau is very much rolling terrain, and with the altitude, we lowlanders had to take what we could get as far as running pace went.

About 30 miles in we started to get some steady rain and unfortunately we were also low in water so we had to stop at a spring to fill up. We had water filters along because while there are many places to fill up, you definitely want to filter the water at some of them. Unfortunately the spring we were near necessitated a .6 mile roundtrip detour down off the trail to what amounted to a small puddle of water. It took us a little while to fill all of our bottles/bladders and we were getting quite well because there isn't much in the high plateau.

Overlooking Zion Canyon from near
to the bottom of Walter's Wiggles.
Finally we got going again and got to Lava Point where the trail takes a nice long downhill turn towards Wildcat Canyon. The rain had subsided by now and we got some good, albeit muddy, running in. This section passes through a thicker forest with a lot of Ponderosa Pine and is a quite nice section of trail. After passing close to the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead, the trail drops down into Hop Valley. By this time we had started to have a little trouble. 

Walter's Wiggles.
On the descent past Wildcat Canyon Jason had started to fell badly. In Hop Valley this continued and finally as he started to feel better Jim began to have stomach issues and eventually to bonk. Our pace through this section was slow. The sun had also come out and Hop Valley is exposed and it got very warm. The trail is also mostly deep sand so the going was difficult. As we reached the Kolob Canyon we also had a rude awakening when we reached a trail sign that had the mileage on it and it differed from my GPS by 3-4 miles. We weren’t as far as we thought we were.

Dark clouds were in the sky and now in the distance we could see the rain falling and getting nearer. With about five miles to go Jason and I sought shelter under a small Juniper tree/bush that had somewhat thick branches. The sky opened up and it started pouring and hailing. Jim had been a little ahead of us and came running back and we all huddled under the tree in the bottom of the canyon. Then the thunder and lightning also started. There was one flash a few hundred yards away. It was not a great situation.

The sky got a little lighter after about five minutes of hail and rain and finally the hail (but not the rain) stopped. We decided we better get moving, raining or not, because we were getting colder and it was starting to get dark. I was already thinking about hypothermia and wanted to get back to the car as soon as possible. By this time Jim felt better and he led the way up the trail. This was a relatively flat section so we ran hard on the now muddy creekside trail. We finally made the turn for the last four mile stretch up and out of the canyon to the trailhead. The trail was very muddy by this time and a little hard to follow but we went as fast as we could. We finally had about two miles to go and I knew we would be dry soon. How wrong I was.

Getting close to the top of the Zion Canyon.
We had left the stream a few miles ago but suddenly we heard a lot of water below us and then came to a place where the trail crossed a now swollen tributary. The water was raging. I couldn’t believe it. Two miles to go. What a downer. I took one look at it and didn’t think we would be able to cross it. Also standing there looking at the creek was a hiker, Jihun Kim, in rain gear with his backpack. He was also trying to get to his car at the trailhead.

First Jason and then I tried to wade in the water at different places to see if it would at all be possible to cross. As we got out towards the middle it was just flowing too swiftly that there was no way to pick up a leg without losing balance. It wasn’t going to happen. I was really worried at this time as we were soaked and it was getting colder and darker. Jim went up the stream to see if there was anywhere that could be crossed and our hiker friend, a young Korean studying in the US, went downriver. When I couldn’t see him, I went looking for him because I wanted us to stay together and he probably had a tent and sleeping bag if we needed one. I saw him walking out on a log that was part-way across the creek, using his hiking pole for balance. He got across the log to a couple of big rocks in the middle and then I watched as he used his hiking pole to find some submerged rocks that he might be able to use to cross the rest of the way. Then I saw him actually do it, stepping from rock to rock and finally jumping to the other bank. Unbelievable. 


The problem was he was now on the other side and we weren’t. I ran back and got Jim and Jason. I found a long thick branch that I could use and decided to try it. I walked out on the log, using the stick for stability by lodging it in the rocks in the creek. The problem was that the stick was thicker than his pole and the water just wanted to take it away. I lost my balance a couple of times but managed to make it across. I turned and offered my stick to Jim and Jason but they decided to crawl across the log. I turned and was then able to find the stepping stones, with Jihun pointing at them for me. The one was a long stretch but I made it and climbed out onto the bank. I looked back and Jim and Jason were crawling across the log. I threw my stick to them when they were in the middle and they both used it to come across the stepping stones one at a time.

High Plateau.
Finally, we were all four on the bank. We bushwhacked up a little hill and back down to the trail. We thanked Jihun and started running up the trail again, confident that we he would be okay and we would all soon be back to our cars. A couple hundred yards up the trail we looked in horror as the trail came to the creek again. We were supposed to cross it again! We really couldn’t believe it. We thought we were on the correct side of the creek so that we wouldn’t have to cross again. We looked at the map and verified that we were on the correct side and it looked like the trail crossed the stream two more times. This was not an option. We decided to bushwhack up the mountain and try to find our way back to the trail.

It was pretty dark at this time so we all put our headlamps on and started scrambling up a steep embankment. We knew we needed to head upstream and I had a compass on my GPS so we knew the direction we had to go. We ran into trouble quickly, however, as it was now dark and the direction we wanted to go went down steeply. We did not know the terrain and couldn’t see how steep the drop-off was so we looked at the map again and decided we might be able to find the road by heading up the mountain.

The mountainsides in this area are just covered with these little Juniper trees and they are a major pain to navigate. They were thick in spots and we either had to duck low to get under the branches of the tall ones or step on the small ones to get through them. We continued up the mountain as there continued to be a drop-off of unknown steepness to the north, which was the direction we really wanted to go. After about an hour of scrambling and with the temperature dropping and the rain still coming we knew that hypothermia was an increasing possibility. We weren’t moving fast enough to keep our core body temperatures up. I seemed to be having the most difficulty (I blame my low body fat) and I suggested we setup the tent and try to get warm. 

The descent from Hop Valley into the Kolob Canyon area.
Around this point, I more or less realized that we might not last the night. I made peace with the fact that my number might be up. I wasn’t ready to go without a fight but I knew the situation was dire. I've never been in this situation before and it was kind of surreal. It was a story I've read many times before of stranded people in the wilderness in a storm trying to use body heat to keep each other warm and hoping for rescue. This time it was me.

Jason checked his phone again here to see if there might be any signal and unbelievably he had one bar (we were pretty far up the mountain at this point). It would come and go, however. Jihun got out his “tent” and started setting it up while Jason tried to call 911. Jihun’s tent was actually a ground tarp and basically another tarp with two sticks propping it up for the top. It was open on both ends and not enclosed at all! It was now about 9:30pm.

I felt like I was going to pass out by now and knew I had to sit down so I wouldn’t fall on anything. I am not sure what brought this on (it is normally when I bonk that I can get like this but my energy levels were fine) but I was shivering by now and it was probably related to a lowered body temperature. I sat down and tried to avoid passing out while Jihun finished setting up the “tent” and Jason was actually talking to a 911 operator (Jason has Verizon and the rest of us have AT&T and didn’t have any signal; thank you Verizon). Jason lost her a time or two but was able to successfully communicate our situation and the operator was able to get our GPS coordinates from his phone. This picked up our spirits.

We all piled in the tent, and I do mean “piled” because it was really only meant for one or two persons but that was okay because we needed combined body heat. I was shivering pretty hard by now. The three of us each had a short sleeve shirt, a long sleeve shirt, and a shell on top but only shorts on bottom. All of the layers were completely soaked. Jihun was definitely better off as he had a rain suit on over his other clothes. Jihun brought out a backpacker’s propane stove and lit it so we had a little fire in the tent. We were at least able to warm our hands over this. I lay on the ground and Jason snuggled up and we tried to use our body heat to stay warmer. Jim and Jihun were squeezed into the rest of the tent and reclining on their elbows. Jim’s legs kept cramping.

I kept shivering, teeth chattering, and finally someone asked Jihun if he had a sleeping bag and could we cover up with it. He did have one so he got it out and covered Jason and I. This helped and meanwhile Jason called the 911 operator again and she said the Mountain Rescue Team had been summoned and hoped to be at the trailhead by 11:30pm and then would come get us and walk us out. We were all kind of hoping for a helicopter at this point as our situation was not improving and we couldn’t imagine walking out. At the very least we hoped that they might bring a legitimate tent to set up, a better heater, and dry clothes to put on.

My shivering didn’t stop so I took off my wet shoes and socks and got in the sleeping bag. This helped. After awhile, Jason was getting colder and joined me. We called 911 every half an hour or so to check on the status of the rescue and they kept just telling us to be patient and that they were on their way. Soon Jim got in the sleeping bag also so there were three of us stuffed in a mummy bag (making a Jason burrito) and the poor owner was not one of them. I kept asking him if he was okay and he kept saying he was. He definitely wasn’t shivering and seemed to legitimately be better off than us but I still felt guilty for using his sleeping bag.

Kolob Canyon region.
This whole tent experience was very uncomfortable. It rained hard at times and some of the water got in. The ground was rocky and rooty and there was nothing to support our heads and we were jammed together but the body heat was definitely helping. Even though no rescuers were showing up, I now thought it was possible that we might be able to last the night. None of us slept but just lay there. Jason called 911 back and they told us that there were 9 rescuers and they were definitely on the mountain now looking for us. They told us to yell if we heard anyone. It was now about 2:00am. After about 20-25 minutes we finally heard a whistle and started yelling and Jim used the whistle on his hydration pack to whistle back. It was a tremendous relief to hear voices in the woods getting closer. I stuck my hand out under the tent with my headlamp and started flashing around to help them locate us. Finally we saw the lights on our tent.

One guy said "Get out of the tent, we need to get out of here!" They were rather impatient with us and didn't even really check our condition. I imagine this is a tactic that is purposeful in order to change the mindset of the yahoos who are being rescued and get their minds focused on walking out. It was effective. We got out of the sleeping bag one by one and got our saturated shoes and socks back on and got up. The rescue team did have dry jackets and gloves along so we got those on. I was now shivering again from being back in the elements and one guy pulled out this jacket from a stuff sack and gave it to me. It was the warmest thing I ever put on! Basically like wearing a hug. Jihun got his tent and stuff put back in his pack and we started bushwhacking off the mountain. 

The rescue team had radios and GPS, of course, and some other guys were up on the mountain a long way away shining a light down towards us so we could see where we needed to go. It was still a big climb and there was no trail until we got to the top. Also, the leader told us that we needed to go back down to the bottom of the canyon before going back up to the ridge. But they led the way and knew the terrain and were able to get us down without falling over a precipice. 

It was a difficult slog in the mud and the rain and the snow (yes, there was snow on the ground in places) but having a warm core made a huge difference. My legs actually felt good, my energy levels were good, and I felt like I could go another 10 miles without a problem. We finally made it to the ridge after about an hour of hiking and then actually got to a real trail and just had a short walk to the parking area where a van was waiting for us. The sheriff was also there and took all of our information down (I don't know what will come from that, if anything) and then we got into the van and they took us to the trailhead, only a short distance away, where our car was waiting. We drove back to Springdale, took showers, and around 5:00am crawled into warm, dry beds with pillows that felt amazing. Of course we couldn't sleep long and were all up by 8:00am but it was a deep sleep.

So what is the takeaway from all this? What did we learn? Would we do anything differently?

1. Pack pants. We knew we were running into potential rain and that it would be colder at night and we should have had pants along. I was going to pack them but when I looked at the weather forecast I didn't. I was not planning on spending the night on the mountain.

2. For point-to-point runs, I will probably load the GPS coordinates for the ending destination in my GPS from now on. In this case, it wouldn't have really helped because we knew where we had to go, but it would still be a good idea.

3. We had actually wanted to leave an hour earlier in the morning but we were dependent on a shuttle from the local outfitters and had to fit their schedule. Leaving earlier would have been a good idea. The storms here tend to crop in the evening/night and having more daylight to play with would have been good.

4. We could have made some different decisions during the course of the evening/night that may have got us back to the car without incident. Knowing the terrain would have been a huge help. I think that overall, however, we made decent decisions in bad conditions and did what we had to do to survive. If the evening had presented itself differently, we could have done other things and still been okay.

5. If I did this again, I would be more likely to run it from West to East. In that direction, you have an out late in the day (you could take a shuttle at the bottom of Zion Canyon) and you don't have to worry about potentially swollen creeks late in the day.

That is really it. I would do this run again. I feel like we were prepared in many ways and just got unlucky with the weather and the fact that the trail had to cross that swollen stream numerous times. If Jim and Jason hadn't felt bad for awhile late in the run, we would have been in our car before the storms hit. That is part of ultra running and hiking. There are risks involved in going into the wilderness. I find them acceptable. There are also risks involved with getting in a car and driving down the road. I don't want to live a sanitized life that separates me from nature. The run today was incredible. It was such a recharging of my soul. Being out in the back country, the high plateau, and in the canyons was a fantastic experience. Even after the storm and the trouble it was worth it. I'll do what I can to minimize the risks but I won't stop taking any.

Oh, and if you are in trouble, find a Korean angel. Jihun and his equipment were a very important part of keeping us alive. If he hadn't been there, we had some other options that we could have explored but the way that the night went he was what we needed to survive.

The Washington County Sheriff Search and Rescue Team were also amazing. They are all volunteers and they did their job with professionalism, in nasty conditions, in the middle of the night. All of them have regular day jobs that they had to get to in the morning. Here is a copy of the write-up that the local paper, The St. George News, did on the rescue. It isn't completely accurate (we did have GPS, for example, and only 3 of us were doing the Zion Traverse) but it gives some context.


May 5th, we have now officially had more call outs this year … Than the total calls for all of last year,” Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue posted on its Facebook page Wednesday morning, before the Snow Canyon call came in.

Tuesday morning, four hikers embarked on a lengthy hike called the Zion Traverse, Thomas said.
The hikers started on the east side of Zion National Park, where they embarked on the East Rim Trail, connected to the West Rim Trail, then connected with another trail system that would take them to the Kolob Arch.

The group lost the trail 2 miles short of their destination, Thomas said, adding that while the group was equipped for the hike, they had no GPS with them.

The group started to go up a mountainside when a mix of rain and snow began to fall, soaking the hikers and their gear. They was able to contact Zion National Park for help, but as the park’s own search and rescue resources were not yet up and running, park officials contacted Washington County SAR for help.

The SAR team went out at about 11 p.m. Tuesday, Thomas said, and went through “rain and snow and mud and muck” until they found the lost hikers.

Exposed to the elements as they were, with soaking gear on top of it, the hikers were at severe risk for exposure and hypothermia, Thomas said. Once the SAR team reached the hikers, they provided them with dry coats and led them off the mountain.

While drenched, Thomas said, the hikers came out of the ordeal with no medical issues.
The operation wrapped up at about 3 a.m., Wednesday.

With the frequency of calls the SAR team has received now surpassing last year’s total, Thomas joked that he expected to be called out again before the weekend hits.

Members of the county SAR team are volunteers. Thomas said it’s sometimes a challenge to juggle work and SAR responsibilities, yet he and the other volunteers love what they do.

“We’re all a little strange,” he said, “but when you see the look on someone’s face when we show up – that’s our payment.”