Last weekend, considering that the snow appears to be late this year, I decided to go “bag” two 14ers (and as of today, I have 51 to choose from !) as I am sure the snow will arrive soon and it will be too late to go up as high as 14,000 ft. It’s not that those peaks can’t be climbed with snow but more that our van can’t reach the snowy trailheads.
I chose Grays & Torreys Peak. I started running without being completely decided on if I would take the normal route or the alternative “Kelso Ridge” (while it sounded more fun, I was not sure about the snow/ice cover of the ridge). Arriving at the fork, it seemed that the ridge had snow on it but when I saw other hikers near the Knife-edge traverse, I decided to go for it!
Considered a class 3 scramble, I didn’t encounter any real difficulties until I reached the Knife-edge, 200m from the summit. There, the knife edge seemed too icy as well as its north face (I tried!)
Earlier, I had passed two hikers that caught up to me as I was trying to find a way to the summit. We discussed the different possibilities, I explained my attempt on the north face and we continued to look altogether for the best option. Roaming on the south side of the ridge, I lead to what seemed the only option to me: Go down a bit to arrive in a gully where we would climb up until reaching a pass at the base of the last part until the summit. While it seemed feasible to me, I would later learn that it is called the Dead dog couloir and is not recommended unless in winter full of snow.
A steep gully offering a mix of snow/ice/dirt, this couloir had a wall on its right side. With this wall, I had envisioned to climb it by practicing the Dulfer technique. Up I went, while Chuck & Nik were watching me. After about 10min of hard work, I was at the pass and ready for the last slope to the summit !
Chuck & Nik did the same but I could feel their hesitation and was worried I was bringing them outside of their comfort zone.
On top of Torreys, we congratulated our selves (Chuck & Nik made it!) and I went on to Grays Peak for a second summit. A perfect day in the Rockies!!
Arriving at the base of Mt Audubon, I was quickly welcomed by Pikas but also a strong & cold wind. At the top, the views were beautiful and I could see as far as Longs Peak.
I ended my run with Blue Lake, right below Mt Audubon
Let the exploration begins ! Since we moved to Colorado, I have been to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) EVERY weekend! After cycling Trail Ridge Road last weekend, my legs were calling for a long run.
Last Saturday, after looking at my maps and books, I decided on several adventures. My first run consisted on reaching Black Lake & Blue Lake.
I had a great day being in the mountains, at altitude, with such beautiful views and exposed to the different elements. I realized how lucky I am to be so close to a unique place like RMNP. Good adventures ahead with lots of lakes and peaks!
Last saturday, I raced the second of my 2 A-races of 2016 : Volcanic 50.
When I moved to the Pacific NorthWest back in 2012, I joined the TrailFactor group run. Joking with Todd Janssen (from Go Beyond Racing Team) one night, he offered to open a registration spot just for me to their newly event called Volcanic 50. At the time, this race being only open for 50 people, the spots were long gone when I heard about it. The race would take place 3 days after his offer and even though my training was not consistent at the time, I immediately accepted.
Only 50 people were allowed to run at that time (200+ as of now) and 2 aid stations were present (4 as of now). One particularity of this trail is the different “BoulderRunning” sections. Also very rocky and sandy, some other parts make one feel like walking on the moon.
When planning my season calendar last winter, I decided to register for the 2016 edition of Volcanic 50. While I typically don’t run anything twice, I knew I would make an exception for my favorite races for their unique course but also to measure my overall improvements. Volcanic 50 would be one of these exceptions.
What I didn’t know was that it would be my last race in the Pacific NW. This being one of the first race I have done after arriving in the PNW and also the one that brought me to Mountain Running, I realize now that this was really the best way to end the season but also to end my “Pacific NW chapter”. As we say in French, “La boucle est bouclée“. This means “to end the loop”. The race circumnavigating a volcano, Volcanic 50 is really a metaphor for my “PNW Chapter” . I actually read recently an article written by Nick Triolo that expresses very well this circumnavigation metaphor.
Coming up to the race, I was aiming to run around the volcano in 6h45 min. Knowing the course well by now, I knew I would not make the mistake again to get lost and was sure to save at least 20 min off my previous time. Combined with all my improvements since then, I was hoping to gain a total of 45 min. That being said, the weather forecasting low temperatures and showers, I knew at the start that I might be able to go below that.
The start being a bottleneck as the trail is pretty narrow, I put myself in the front pack and settled in the Top 10, making sure to follow my race strategy.
Sting or bee stung
Right before reaching the first boulder field, I got attacked by a yellow jacket and it didn’t missed me, OUCH! Yes, beeaware that this race has many of them!
Arriving at Aid Station 2, I was happy to be greeted and refueled by my friend and volunteer Jeremy Long. In 3rd place after having passed a bunch of runners in the long downhill (1,490 ft loss in 1.8 miles, average slope of 16%), I crossed the Toutle River and headed towards the beautiful trail going up the Canyon.
I knew the next section would be pretty flat and I was happy to have passed so many people in the previous downhill as I knew they would perform better than me on the next long and flat section : the blast zone.
This blast zone is unique to run in and I was gladly welcomed by 2 mountain goats standing on the NW side of the Loowit Falls. Having been passed by a train of 3 runners, I was now 6th trying to lose as less ground as possible in this flat section.
Coming up the 3rd Aid Station, I felt even more like walking on the moon when I saw Yassine and other volunteers in NASA costume ! The perfect way to put back my feet on the ground during all this racing rush.
See for yourself !!
Catching up to the 5th runner, I tagged him up Windy Pass, seeing that his flat speed was not translated in the uphills. Was he experiencing some difficulties? I was hoping to pass him near the Aid station 4 as it becomes more hilly and technical afterwards. Sure enough he was running scared as he blasted through the aid station 4 where I had to stop to refuel. More time for me to catch up!
My friend Juliano & Veronica helped me perform a fast pit stop and I immediately focused on getting back to the 5th runner. After almost a mile, he was on my radar and I was hanging along. I proceeded on passing him through one of the last technical descent and knew I would get some ground on the last boulder field until the last descent where I would have to run scared to be sure that he doesn’t catch up.
I realized I had secured my 5th place spot when I was within several hundred feet of the Start/Finish altitude . Not only I was in 5th place but I was within less than 6hrs! Incredible as I had never imagined to be able to run that fast.
Knowing it was going to be my last race here in the PNW, I was planning on giving all my best and achieve my goal to run around Mt St Helens in 6h45 min. With a consistent training, a well executed race plan and good competition, I made it in 5h49min, a time that puts me in top 10 performance of the race, only 28 min shy of the course record and especially 1h37min faster than my 2012 time !
Volcanic 50 being my 2nd A-race after the BeaverHead 55K, I am really happy of both of my results as well as my overall 2016 racing season. The Pacific NW chapter is officially terminated. Time to move on our next adventure, Colorado !!!!
On July 9th, I raced the first of my 2 A-races of 2016 : the BeaverHead 55K.
I originally heard of this race via Eric Lubell after he ran the 100K in 2014 (first year of the event). Talking with Eric and further research convinced me that it was exactly the type of race that suits me : a Point-to-Point course in the mountains on a remote and technical trail including a 18 mile section on the Continental Divide Trail.
I headed to Salmon, Idaho on Thursday and enjoyed a beautiful drive through the Sawtooth Mountains.
As usual for those types of mountains races, I regularly checked the weather forecast during the several days prior to the event. Confirmed by the Race Directors at the briefing, thunderstorms were likely to appear in the afternoon as well as highly possible lightning, snow….etc All the good stuff! What the RD’s told us that a typical weather forecast app would not tell is that the bad weather typically comes from West of the divide.
Multiple times in past races, I have been lucky that the forecast was wrong (2011 Kilian’s Classic 45K, 2015 Standhope 60K) or that I was fast enough to finish before the bad weather kicked in (2015 San Juan Solstice 50M). However, I have always thought my time would come one day and that I would “pay” for all those missed times. I thought that this might be the day and my gear was set up accordingly : jacket, gloves and beanie (extra weight for sure but being in the mountains with such a forecast should be taken seriously).
The start being a long uphill, we were all warmed up in no time! As usual, I made sure to run my race and follow my strategy.
The difficulties I had forecasted were the altitude (most of the race is spent around 9,000ft! Pretty high for me that lives at 300ft. Even though I usually respond to altitude pretty well, I know it affects my speed) and the second part that is reputed to be very technical.
It turned out I was 100% right and there were the main factors that influenced my performance : The altitude slowed me down as well as the scree field. I found it to be as hard as everybody had been describing it (race reports, RD’s briefing…) and it really felt like jogging on knives.
Arriving to the scree field (23.5 miles), my internal compass was set to look out for the West side of the divide and sure enough a storm was moving in. Time to pay my due !!! Once again, I was lucky that it held off and didn’t rage on all of us. I only experienced lower temperatures and a few water drops. Pfeww!!!!
However, the same night would see storms with snow ! Once again I avoid the bad weather but it’s only a matter of time before I experience the forecasted raged weather during a race.
The scree part made me lose quite some time on my estimated split and I knew it was going to be hard to catch up the lost time on the last part. Of course I tried my best and even though I was faster than expected on my last split, I didn’t succeed on making up for the lost time on the scree and fell out of my goal by 15 mins.
In the end, a beautiful and tough mountain race just as I like them on new trails I have never explored before. My race was well executed and though I misjudged the scree section, I am happy to finish in 7th place (YES! The same number as my last race’s place) with a time that puts me in the top 10 performance of the race, only 30 min shy of the course record.
Another weekend in Central Oregon where I chose, as a final long training run for the upcoming Volcanic50, the classic loop around Three Fingered Jack (3FJ).
While the classic loop goes around the 7,841ft mountain taking the PCT on the West side until Wasco Lake and goes back to the Santiam Pass Trailhead via Trail #4014, I decided to change it a bit.
Starting at the Pacific Crest Trailhead – Santiam Pass, I headed North on the PCT. After several miles, I got off the PCT and started climbing up towards 3FJ. Right before the crawl, I slipped my climbing shoes on as I wanted to go see what the final pitch looks like and maybe go at the top. The crawl was airy and great caution must be made here as well as the sections around it (multiple deaths and accidents have been reported). I arrived at the bottom of the last pitch. The views are terrific from here and while going up it didn’t seem to hard (5.4 climbing grade), I decided to stop here as I didn’t feel like climbing down it without a rope would be safe.
After going down the Crawl and putting back my running shoes, I ran down to go back on the PCT. From there, I ran North to Wasco Lake enjoying beautiful views of Mt Jefferson and 3FJ overlooking Canyon Creek Meadows.
This run offers several opportunities to refill water (Wasco Lake, Canyon Creek, Booth Lake, Square Lake) and I took advantage of it as it was very dry, hot and exposed. From Wasco Lake, I headed to the east saddle of 3FJ via the beautiful and fresh Canyon Creek meadow instead of taking the #4014 heading to Jack Lake as the classic loop does.
My modified loop (Yellow) vs the classic route (Purple)
From here, people usually hike down the way they came and head back to Jack Lake. As for me, I had found several reports and tracks of hikers going down south following a creek. As a matter of fact, when I arrived at 3FJ saddle, several women were coming up the south side. As they confirmed to me, they mainly followed the creek up. One of her having done this part 5 times, I was confident I would be able to go down this way as well. And I did! But this part was mainly bushwacking though thick brush and a lot of downed trees. I eventually met the #4014 trail, and accelerated to make up for the lost time.
I passed Booth Lake, Square Lake (it’s not square at all!) and arrived back at the trailhead where my wife picked me up in time for some kayak time and swim time at Big Lake before sunset.
if I were to do it again, I would still go up the saddle as the canyon creek meadow and the east saddle were my favorite parts. However, because of the bushwacking part and tree hoping, I would skip going down south and would run back to canyon creek meadow and Jack Lake to join the trail #4014 that the classic loop takes.
Last weekend, I checked-off what had been on top of my Bucket list since I moved to the NorthWest : Thru-Hiking “The Enchantments” in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (Washington).
I left Friday after work and headed to Leavenworth, WA.
Arrived at Stuart Lake Trailhead at: 2 AM (5 hours of driving)
In bed at 2.10 AM (10 min to set up the bed in the Van)
On the trail at 7 AM
This route is a Point-to-Point from Stuart Lake TrailHead to Snow Lakes TrailHead. I was once told that the Washington cascades were the “Alps” of the USA and I confirm again that this is true! It offers a mix of technical terrain, snow and smooth trails on eroded granite.
As most people seem to do, I have chosen to travel West to East (Stuart Lake TH to Snow Lakes TH). The advantage is that most of the uphills are done within the first 1/3 of the route. Also, it seems that some people are afraid of going down Aasgard Pass, hence prefer to go up it. However, if I had to do it again, I would definitely try the other way around to enjoy different views(East to West).
The forecast was calling for perfect weather and indeed it was ! For the Peakbagger readers, I climbed as a bonus Little Annapurna and Enchantment Peak (those peaks are not part of the Thru-hike) that both offered a great overview of the lakes basin and a great spot to take a food break.
I also encountered numerous mountain goats with their babies. Like my mom always says when we see wild animals : “It feels good to see animals free in the wilderness!”
When you go do this thru-hike, be aware that you will need to set-up a way to go back to where you started. I have chosen to hitchhike as my road bike would not have liked the gravel road up to Stuart Lake TH (Snow Lakes TH to Stuart Lakes TH is 8 miles and 2400 ft!!). Below are more options:
Have somebody pick you up (Honestly one of the best option as you will likely be toasted. Make sure to instruct them on bringing cold beverages and good recovery food!)
Have friends run the other way and exchange car keys
Park/lock/stash a mountain bike to ride back to your car
Hitchhike but expect not to have a lot of success as your smell/sweat/dirt will scare most of the cars
Run/walk back to your car
The day after, I went up the EightMile Trail and dived into the cold lake surrounded by mountain ridges. Another great weekend in the high country and a solid amount of training.
During our summer vacation, we visited Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time (And for free thanks to Mr Obama’s “Every Kid in a Park” program). I immediately planned on climbing the very famous Longs Peak (14,259ft).
I chose the normal route a.k.a The KeyHole. I started around 8am and the forecast was listing the typical summer afternoon thunderstorms. I was ready mentally to have to retreat but was hoping to make it to the top before the weather would turn bad.
After 2 hours of jogging/running on high alpine trails surrounded by marmots, I reached the KeyHole were the “run” turned more into a hike/scramble. In 45 mins, I would reach the top to be greeted one more time by a beautiful marmot.
I then went down as dark clouds were moving fast. After passing the KeyHole, rain and thunder noise made me accelerate. I reached the trailhead in 2 hours from the top and lightning/thunderstorm broke while I was having my lunch.
A beautiful day in the Rocky mountains that will constitute my main playground soon… 😉
The summer is here and the snow is melting in the high country. It was a perfect time to go wander on Mt Whittier, an area I had long been wanting to discover.
I was lucky to share the trails with mountain goats!
We arrived late in Yosemite Valley and had a rough first night but I can’t complain when it’s in such a beautiful place. We were up early and I was happy to play with my camera and take advantage of the clear sky at dawn to capture the waterfall on this beautiful granite wall.
I ran up to Yosemite Falls & Yosemite Point and was happy to be back after coming for the first time 7 years ago !!