Thursday, April 9, 2015

Heat is not my friend.

At least when it comes to ultra-racing.  This is not an unknown phenomenon.  Every runner knows they slow down when it's hot.  Some research has shown, for instance, that a well trained runner will slow down 3% per 10 degrees F above 40 F(the temperature that would be optimal) for a marathon.  So I could say that heat is not a friend to marathon runners, but the reason I am writing this post is to present my analysis of why I believe that heat is much MORE not a friend to me compared with other runners.

The Evidence

To present my case I will use a combination of ultra-racing history and anecdotal experiences.  I could talk about races prior to 2011, but I think 2011 to the present represent the most homogeneous performance comparisons since my "fun run" 5k times have been roughly comparable through the last four years.  I have been racing the monthly 5k at my work since 2006, so I have a pretty neat history of my running fitness over the life of my running career.

My ultra race performances in 2011 are pretty indicative of my capabilities since I consider that about every race on the books for that year was a pretty good race for me.  No disappointments.  Did heat not affect me that year?  Of course it did.  It's just that the conditions at the race and my acclimatization at the time set me up to perform satisfactorily with respect to my racing peers.  This is an important point to make because how else do you know that you are not performing up to standard without first having a standard.  In this case the standard is how I am comparing to my competitors.  I will use my 50k and my first 50 miler as a baseline.  I ran the Skyline to the Sea 50k in 4:05 and Dick Collins Firetrails 50 mile in 7:33.  I know it is difficult to compare one of these races to another because of difference in elevation gain, technicality of trails, etc, but I will qualitatively assess those differences based on my experience and knowledge of my own skills.

A list of (selected) race performances and cursory analysis in chronological order for 2012, 13, and 14:

  • Steep Ravine 2012 50k: 4:59 (expected 4:30 or better).  January race - was winter acclimated - happened to be a nice sunny day by the ocean - got warm and I faded at the end.
  • American River 2012 50 mile: 7:28 (expected close to 7).  April race - still sorta winter acclimated/not much running in the heat leading up to this race - another beautiful(warm) day - got warm and I struggled bad for the last 3rd of race - was just barely keeping muscle cramps at bay - my brother witnessed the carnage at the finish line.
  • Ruth Anderson 2012 100k: 8:55 (expected 8:40 ish).  A couple of weeks after AR 50 in San Fran with nice temps thanks to Ocean and fog, giving away to sun in the afternoon - this race went ok for me.
  • Dick Collins Firetrails 2012 50 miler: 7:18 (expected close to 7:30 again).  This race was a freak of nature for me.  It was warm later in the day.  I did have a whole summer of heat acclimatization under my belt though and I attribute most of the success in this race because of some super-compensation due to altitude stress from fastpacking in the sierra the weekend before.
  • Quad Dipsea 2012 28.4 miler: 5:16 (expected 4:45).  Sometimes this race can be a cold, muddy, slogfest.  I would have thrived on that.  Instead, it was a hot November day.  Go figure.
  • Lake Sonoma 2013 50 miler: 8:49 (expected just over 8 hours).  Got to mile 30 having the time of my life.  Then it was sunny and exposed and I death marched it in for 20 miles.  Still one of the toughest finishes I have ever had.  Puked on the finish line, likely due to heat exhaustion.  Another spring 50 miler where I was not ready for heat.
  • Ohlone 2013 50k: 5:51 (expected 5:30 or better).  Pretty warm day as can be expected in May in the Sunol, but a nice breeze up on the hilltops kept me cool enough.  Descending the mountains into the canyon the breeze disappeared and it got hotter.  Another death march.
  • Dick Collins Firetrails 2013 50 miler: 8:48 (expected 7:30 or better).  How could I be over an hour slower than usual?  Well, it was a warm day, but no warmer than usual.  I did fall apart shortly before half way.  Perhaps a whole year of my brain learning to protect me from myself in the heat shut me down early in this race?  I don't know.
  • 4 MPH challenge 2014 78 miles for the win.  It was as wet, cold, and sloppy as you can imagine.  And it worked for me.
  • Skyline 2014 50k: 4:18 (expected between 4:10 and 4:20).  It was a summer race, but there was a nice, cool, fog (marine layer as they call it around here).  Also, it was done in about 4 hrs, before it gets hot.
  • Jed Smith 2015 50k: 3:45 (expected 3:45). Nice, overcast day in winter.  My favorite running weather.
  • 4 MPH challenge 2015 108 miles for second.  It was nice weather.  High of maybe 72.  But I was taking it easy in the heat of the day with ice in my hat and ice in the bandana around my neck for every minute of warm weather.  I was still in the sleeveless shirt through the 50 degree night and it felt good.
Several Conclusions from above analysis:

  1. Shorter races are usually done before noon - the vast majority of the race taking place in cooler temps.  I did good in most of these.
  2. Did fine at all races that took place in cooler weather (not many on the list).
  3. Spring 50 milers are death to me.  The combination of lack of heat acclimatization and length of time out on the course(therefore subjecting oneself to warmer afternoon temps) seemed to really take it out of me. 

Analysis of my DNFs (as I believe all of my DNFs were primarily precipitated because of sunny, hot weather:

  • Miwok 2014 100k.  I'm not even going to talk about my DNF at the Miwok 2013 60k - I think I was still on the mend from Lake Sonoma.  So whats worse for me than a spring 50 miler?  How about a spring 100k...Its always nice in the morning, and hot in the afternoon - at least these two years.  It doesn't help that the second half is largely exposed - no tree protection.  When my muscles get overcooked they just cramp up into useless pieces of flesh and I actually loose the ability to mechanically move forward.  I would like to think of myself as mentally tough enough to finish a long race, but it seems my body is able to overcome this desire by taking matters into it's own hands.
  • Tahoe Rim Trail 2013 100 mile.  One of the hottest years for this race on record.  My blog post about it pretty much sums up the epic early meltdown.
  • IMTUF 2014 100 mile.  Almost made it through the heat of the day without totally cooking myself.  Almost.  Realized I had failed on my climb up snowslide.  The muscle cramps in my legs told the story from there.
Conclusions from above analysis:

  1. I have to approach the longer races that last through the heat of the day differently than I do any of the shorter races(50k or 50 milers).  I am no longer competitive with the people I can usually run with in those shorter races.
  2. If I push things in the heat - bad things will happen.
  3. I need to pick a colder 100 mile race.
Something else about the last four years:  There has been a pretty epic drought here in California.  Maybe I just need it to rain again...

The Why:

Why would I be more susceptible to heat than other runners?  I can think of several angles to approach this question.

  1. The big runner issue:  I am 6'3 and just shy of 200 lbs.  That is a big runner.  There is plenty of research that shows a portion of the heat shedding ability of a runner is tied to their size.  While one might think that the larger cross-sectional area of a large runner would aid in the heat dissipation abilities, it seems that any gains in this area are more than nullified by the gain in heat generation internally from the larger runner(more energy required to move more mass).  Think of an elite marathon runner.  Haile Gebreselassie is 5'5, 123 lbs.  I have never seen someone over 6 ft tall anywhere near the tiny guys at the front of the big races.
  2. The sweat issue: I sweat a lot.  While this is actually a good thing to do in the heat(that is how the body gets rid of heat), there is only so much it can help and so much capacity to sweat.  Sweating can give off 200 watts of heat.  In most cases, people have to train their bodies to be able to produce enough sweat to accomplish this type of heat dissipation.  I developed my sweating capabilities from an early age being a regular at our weekly "ultra" sauna sessions when I was a child between the ages of 8 and 12 (I'm guessing when I was first allowed to participate).  We took our sauna sessions seriously - staying in the hot until we couldn't anymore, and then cooling off in a "cold" pool.  Repeat for two hours.  I love saunas.  I don't know if this is why I am so efficient at sweating today, but it is good for my afternoon workouts or warm (shorter) races - not so good for ultra-races.  On a regular weekend long run I loose between 5 to 10 lbs of water.  I drink to thirst and feel fine afterwards - not dehydrated.  But imagine: beginning a run weighing 195 lbs and ending it at 185 - seems pretty harsh.  If I loose that much water in a regular long run, how much water can I loose in an ultra-race?  Probably not much more - because at some point the body will not have the reserves to help.  And when you stop sweating - it's bad news.  So why not drink more?  Well, that has consequences too.  If you drink too much you will dilute the salt concentration in your body and that is a bad thing.  The solution here is to slow down enough that your body is not required to sweat so much.  I have read that Tim Twietmeyer, the legendary Western States runner, would run "just slow enough" to keep from sweat accumulation.  It worked for him in hot races, and he is a pretty big guy.  But I sweat in basically any conditions while physically exerting myself.
  3. I grew up near Vienna, Austria.  I wonder if there were any epigenetic adaptations from growing up in a wetter, cloudier place that might hinder my heat shedding abilities in sunny, drought ridden California?  This one is more speculative.
So What?
    I'm not fat.  Just big boned.  Scene from the 2015 4 MPH challenge.
  1. Maybe I could loose some weight.  Less mass, less energy required, less heat to dissipate.  No thank you - I am not a calorie counter and never will be.
  2. Train more in the middle of the day to get more used to heat.  Well, for weekend long runs this does actually make a lot of sense - but I run because I love to run.  Running in heat sucks.
  3. Only sign up for races that will hopefully be cooler.  I like this approach - but the selection becomes a problem here.  Most of the good races are in the hot part of the year.
I think I just need to approach the racing calendar with a greater appreciation for my challenges in the heat.  As long as I recognize when I am putting myself in a compromised position when a hot race day comes along and make the required adjustments, I think I can save myself from a lot of discomfort.  Results won't be pretty when I decide to scale back the race effort - but this is a hit I'm willing to take.

This post is just like, my opinion, man.  I welcome any other critical analysis that one might have insight on...




Saturday, March 28, 2015

Seth's first backpacking trip: Black Mountain of course...

I've been promising Seth I would take him backpacking.  I got derailed after the Ventana trip when I was still so swollen and miserable from a poison oak reaction that I couldn't even think about going anywhere near outside again.  Finally, this seemed like a nice Friday evening to make a trip up Black Mountain with my four year old.  The conditions were basically perfect and I consider his first trip a success.  Here it is in pictures:

Starting out from Montebello main parking.  I at least made him carry all of his clothes, flashlight, and other personal essentials.  Gradually I will introduce more load for him as he gets bigger.

Pointing out some of the wildlife down in the canyon.

Nice time for wildflowers...

There are some great views atop this mini-summit.  On a clear day you can see San Fran, Ocean, East bay, and our house.

Starting to build camp.

Tight quarters, but plenty of room for us.

Seth, getting his game face on.  He was looking forward to using his headlamp once it got dark.

Playing around on the Druid Ruins at the top of Black Mountain. 

Dinner time!  Cheetos are awesome.  Even a week after they weren't anymore.

Seth's first encounter with dehydrated backpacking meals.  He was not impressed.  In fact he took one bite and declined the rest.  Back to cheetos and jerky for him!  The absence of a tooth at the tender age of four was probably mainly due to his nasty rock chewing habit from his younger years.

He passed out in two minutes.  I envy this ability.

Next morning.

Getting ready for our hike back to the truck.

Indian Creek trail descending into the canyon.

The home stretch.

Obligatory finish photo!

I think he did good overall.  Some whining on the climb up to Black the day before, but he will continue to get tougher.  I hope.  When asked what he though of the trip, he said he had a bunch of fun.  I think I learned my lesson from taking uncle Josh up Cone peak in Ventana as his first backpacking trip - start mellow, hook em with the easy stuff, and then hope that they choose to start trying harder, more adventurouse trips down the road.  I might have ruined uncle Josh.  Pity.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

4 MPH Challenge 2015

I can't remember if I swore I would never run this race again after last years 19.5 hours of fun.  But then again I can remember never wanting to run a marathon again.  Same with 50k.  I think a short memory is pretty much essential to an ultra-runner.  What I do know is that at some point I felt compelled to return to this race, if for no other reason, to try to defend my title!  I mean common - I probably won't have too many shots at being number 1 in these races, so the chance to go for two in a row is an even rarer opportunity.  Anyways, they changed the course this year.  That means I didn't have to see the same trail that I traversed forwards and backwards, in darkness and in light, in clouds or rain, through puddles/creeks, thirteen times.  Yay, new terrain to get completely sick of.

This year's course was an out and back, involving 2.65 miles of flat, lakefront singletrack, 1 mile of rolling roads, a half mile of singletrack climbing, 1 mile flat contouring a ridge, another .25 mile steep downhill, and then a rolling run around a meadow.  You hit the aid station at 6.2 miles then finish the meadow loop, returning back the way you came, another 5.8 miles.  To remind everyone how this race works: you are given 1.5 hours to run every 6 mile stretch of trail.  You may not start the next 6 mile stretch until the 1.5 hours is up.  Everyone starts together and there really is no winner for speed.  Although, the faster your lap, the longer your break until you have to run again.  You keep this up for as long as there are competitors.  Yep, it's like Highlander: in the end, there can only be one!

From Camden House to home base at the Marina. (left to right)

elevation profile


The change in venue was primarily driven by capacity.  The race is getting more popular.  They didn't even advertise it this year and participation was still up by at least 50%.  We maxed out what the old course and parking lot could handle.  I don't think they will have problems with parking capacity at the new site.  The trail capacity is another question - but since there is not a big reason to pass anyone, you might as well get in line and just enjoy the ride.  

As I started to peruse the campground for a place to set up my tent I happened upon a man named Clyde.  Clyde helped me pick a spot and welcomed me to the group.  He was entered in the 36 mile division, day camping it as they call it.  This is because he has a 100 miler the next weekend, lol.  That is how ultra-runners roll.  I think he is a retired fire fighter, and is a totally old-school ultra-runner, hopping to the beat of his own drum and mocking seemingly all social media with equal enthusiasm.
Clyde.  Also, my taj-mahal in the background.  Opted for the family tent this year  for a little more room and comfort.
Clyde's setup.  Clyde, Kelly, Chuck, Mark and I had a nice pre-race evening around that fire.
As I crawled out of my tent this year I was completely shocked by the dry ground and sunshine.  I had to ask the nearest person whether I was in the right place or not.  Sure enough, ready to start a perfect day out on the trails.  I dropped off my stuff for the Camden house aid station, grabbed my bib number, and then proceeded to set up my chair/drop bag/cooler.  I would be spending a good 15 minutes at least, per loop, just sitting in those chairs, getting ready for the next run.  At 8 a.m. we were off, I settled in the middle of the pack and enjoyed some mellow morning miles meeting new friends on the trails.

Runners setting up at "home-base" in the morning.  Note my tent right off of the action.  Pretty good location as long as I didn't quit too early...

Mark (race director), Chuck (Camden House Aid captain), and ladies helping get us ready to go.
Since this was just another day at the office I have recorded the happenings in bullet form.

Miles 0-36, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  The "day campers".  



- I carried my camera for the first couple of laps to get some pics.  Here they are:

Whiskeytown lake and Shasta Bally in the back.


One of the "tunnels" of the lakefront single-track.

View from the ridge.

View of the valley from the ridge.

Road along the creek.

The Camden meadow.

More meadow.

The Camden House party.  This is what the aid stations looked like while the "day campers" were still around.  Pretty fun!

- Met Christine Burch.  She used to live in Boise and knows the trail running crew up there.  Has completed IMTUF 100 in both directions.  Was the women's course record holder for a whole year!  Always had a smile and was a pleasure to run with.  We talked a lot about IMTUF.

- Ran about 11 minute pace on the flats.  Enjoyed the climb on "the hill" - broke up the monotony of all the flat running.

- Consumed about 90 calories of Heed and 20 oz of water during each run.  Cheetos, dried fruit, and coconut water at Camden House.  Bacon, cheese, fresh fruit and coconut water at the home base.  Made sure not to eat to much - success!.  Wanted to avoid the GI discomfort that I had last year.

- Joined various "conga" lines of day campers on the single track.  Was fun to see so many people going for distance PRs.

- Shared miles with Aaron Sorensen - a perennial contender at this event.

- Answered a lot of questions about last year's slogfest.  Got a lot of jest/trash talk for being last years champion.

- Used ice in a bandana around the neck and in the hat to stay cool.  Had nice 20 minute sit breaks in the shade.  Heat didn't end up getting me too bad.  It was only like 72, but still, was really worried because of what happened the week before.

Miles 36-48, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.  The light before dark.


- Carried my super-bright handheld flashlight just in case we ran out of light on the way back to home base.  Was unnecessary.

- Met Garret.  He is an economist at Berkeley.  He is a triple-crowner (thru-hiked the Appalachian trail (2164 miles), the Pacific Crest (2654), and the continental divide (3100)).  Has finished many tough mountain hundred milers.

- Shared miles with Kelly.  Got to talk with him a little around the campfire the night before.  He was definitely running strong early, and then tapered off as he is keeping his eye on the goal - preparation for Western States!

- Ran back to home base with Chuck (the same Chuck Walen that I duked it out for the win last year).  Chuck was running the Camden House aid station and decided to get some miles in.  Good convos.

- Continued the nutrition plan as described above.

- Was thankful that it was getting cooler.

Miles 48-72, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.  What am I getting myself into?


- Loved my bright flashlight.  Didn't even last 3 hours though.  Batteries were old.  Ended up using my dim backup light until I got back to Camden House.  Picked up a better headlamp from my drop-bag - stored the good light, hopping to return with fresh batteries that I thought were back at home base.  Batteries were NOT at home base, so was bummed out about using the headlamp until I returned to Camden House again - only to find out that the batteries were in that drop bag the whole time!  Was able to use the bright light for the last three hours of darkness.

- Starting to get tired.  Not yet the sleepy kind of tired, but more of the tired of running kind of tired.  Was trying to set mini-goals to keep myself going.  Couldn't quit before 70 - made it past that with tougher trails and tougher conditions the year before!

- Clyde took me under his wing.  He offered himself up as my crew, prepping my bottle for the next lap, getting me food, pep talking me.  He knew exactly the right kind of things to tell me to keep me motivated.  He was done running for the day, but got up every three hours to help me out.  I owe him!

- Switched to quesedillas and ramen soup at home base (freshly prepared as runners came in).  Ran out of Cheetos at Camden House, switched to skittles.

- Legs felt like lead for the first quarter mile out.  Seemed to warm up though.  Still running between 11 and 12s on the flats.

- Numbers starting to dwindle.  Every lap it seemed a smaller group of runner heading out.  There were six people heading out after 72 miles.

Miles 72-90, 2 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.  The hardest part.


- Rest stops at 2, 3:30 and 5 a.m. were rough for me.  I really wanted to go to sleep.  I remember burying my head in my hands while sitting down and passing out for several moments.  There was no caffeine offered.  Can you believe that the only two people on this planet that don't drink coffee just happened to be the aid station captains for the two aid stations at this race?

- I thought I would always be able to move better in cooler temps than hotter - but my sleepyness - combined with the darkness - made it hard for my brain to send signals to my legs to keep the cadence up.  It seemed everything was moving slower, basically because my brain was working slower.  Physically I was still good to go, but the brain was not cooperating.

- Still had at least 15 minute breaks.  The trail was that easy.

- At some point during this stretch, food started to loose all appeal.  I would look at it and realize that the last thing I wanted to do was to put in down my throat, but knew that I had to do it, or else things were going to get worse.  So I ate.

- The last woman, Marcy Beard, a veteran 4 mph runner(she had run the east coast version with 112 and 120 miles previously), timed out at mile 78.  So now it was down to 5 guys: Me, Scott Martin, Garret, Aaron, and Tim Maclean.  We all made it through this stretch.  Well, almost.

- Around mile 72 Tim Maclean latches on behind me and shows some obvious pep in his step.  I was surprised.  Where did this guy come from?  Apparently he had made it to mile 60 the year before - that is before he ran out of socks and called it a day.  This year he sandbagged the first part of the race, trying to stay as mellow as possible during the heat.  It totally worked, because he was obviously the one with the best legs at this point in the race.  He kept running strong through the night, until I was following him up the climb and I saw him bend over and dry-heave.  I passed him on the climb and we got to the ridge.  He tried to latch on behind me like he was doing all night long, but then he slowed down and as I headed around a corner I heard him loosing his dinner.   He made it to mile 90, but then bowed out because his stomach went south.  In a hundred mile race, this is a common ailment.  But you can have a rough patch - take it easy - and nurse yourself back to working order and finish the race.  The 4 mph challenge does not leave a lot of wiggle room for bad-patches...

- Again, mini-goals were what kept me going:  get at least as many miles as last year-check, get more miles than last year-check, get at least as many miles as Aaron did in 2013-check.  Make it to sun-up?

Miles 90-108, 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.  Re-life.


- Saw the sun rise.

- Instantly started feeling better.

- Appetite returned.

- Piece of cake.  Actually no - still eating skittles.

- Started with 4 of us.  Aaron had to call it a day at 96 because of foot issues - he said that if he had 20 minutes to prop the feet up, he would have been ok - but again - not a lot of room for error here.  Heard rumors that he and Scott were going to bag 100 and call it a day.  I thought that would be a good idea too, but I wasn't going to let Garret off the hook that easily.  At Camden house after mile 102, Scott did indeed announce his intentions to stop forward motion citing goals met and Jeremy and Garret looking too strong.  I must have been putting on quite the act.   Actually, before rolling into Camden House I had tweaked my knee somehow - the same knee that I injured back in 2012.  I felt relief though because it gave me a reason to quit.  When I came into Camden house five minutes after Garret though I thought that maybe Garret was bluffing:  He put on a strong lap and I figured he was just trying to intimidate the rest of us into quitting.  I called his bluff and went out for another lap.  I put in a nice effort coming into home base with like 18 minutes to spare - a nice long break awaiting me.  To my surprise though, Garret was right there, a minute after me.  My knee was still sending unhappy signals and I was worried that I might be doing damage that would derail my other goals for the racing season.  I had met a bunch of goals at this race and felt at peace with the decision to quit, hopping that my knee would heal back ok.

- Garret and I shook hands and he went off and ran an impressive final lap of 65 minutes to take the win with 116 miles.  Guess he wasn't bluffing.

Aftermath


- I cleaned up and then went to my tent and passed out for 3 hours straight.  In the middle of the afternoon.

- When I awoke, everything was gone - my tent was the last thing standing.

- I drove into town, agony every time I had to push the clutch with my bumm knee.  Had some greasy burger king and watched an angry cook bully the rest of the workers, glad I didn't work there.

- Went back to my tent and read one article in a magazine I had brought, then passed out and didn't awake until the sun rose the next day.  Circadian rhythms back to normal!

- Ate a gigantic breakfast at Lumberjacks the next morning and drove the four hours home.

- Knee seems to be getting better every day.  Haven't run on it yet, but is looking good.  The body sustained less damage than when I ran the road 50k back in January.  Everything looks promising.  I have felt weak climbing stairs and have had random shots of pain in my legs, but is getting better every day.

- Feet were unscathed.  No blisters, no swelling.

- All in all, it was a fantastic experience.

Questions that have been asked


Do I think the 6 mile loop or Laz's 4 mile loop (east coast version of race) is harder?

6 mile is harder.  When I was really tired I could still get up out of my chair, take about .5 miles to wobble down the trail before my inflammation induced legs would get the blood moving again, then I would have about 3 miles of decent running in them, then the rest (2.5 miles) would be whatever.  "Whatever" means run when I can, walk everything else, just wishing the aid station was around the next corner.  If this was a 4 mile loop, you only have .5 miles of "whatever".  It's a lot easier to wrap your brain around that...  Of course I have never ran in Laz's back yard, so I have no idea how hard his "trails" are.

Would I do it again?

Yes.  I may be sick of those trails at the moment.  And I know every nook and cranny, so there is no sense of adventure or exploration.  But this event is really about the people and the challenge.  I have made a bunch of new running friends up north and this is the perfect event to get quality time with them on the trail.  This really is a unique format that I just totally dig.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ventana Thru-hike Fastpacking 2015

California's central coast has some wild and rugged land.  One might wonder why there is such a divide between NorCal and SoCal as the locals like to identify themselves.  There is definitely a geographical divide with not much in-between.  Along the coast this divide can be easily identified as the Big Sur region.  From wikipedia:

Big Sur is a sparsely populated region of the Central Coast of California where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean

The Los Padres National Forest encompasses much of the region.  Within this forest is the Federally designated wilderness called Ventana.  Again from wikipedia:

The topography of the Ventana Wilderness is characterized by steep-sided, sharp-crested ridges separating V-shaped youthful valleys. Most streams fall rapidly through narrow, vertical-walled canyons over bedrock or a veneer of boulders. Waterfalls, deep pools and thermal springs are found along major streams. Elevations range from 600 feet (180 m), where the Big Sur River leaves the Wilderness, to about 5,750 feet (1,750 m) at the wilderness boundary near Junipero Serra Peak.

Toshi (along with several sorry hiking partners) had been doing various aesthetic routes in the area for the last couple of years and came up with a plan of "Thru-hiking" the Ventana wilderness.  For a look at what this means:

North to South. Just shy of 100 miles.
The length of the hike wasn't the most intimidating aspect.  Not even the steep topography was too scary.  The thing with this hike was that there weren't necessarily real "trails" that connected the two points on the picture above.  Back during the depression when the government was looking for something, anything, for people to work on - they decided that we should have some nice hiking trails traversing the wilderness, so the CCC got to work.  They built an extensive trail system, but without the necessary maintenance, over the years the forest has reclaimed much of the progress made those many years ago.  Maps still show those trails and the burden has fallen on the hikers to report and keep a log of the various stages of disrepair of the trails and share the information with other hikers for planning purposes.  There were some questionable stretches of "trail" that Toshi had to link together in order to make this hike possible.  

We started at 5 a.m. from Botchers Gap and went south.  This is us three at the top of devil's peak right when we were seeing the first signs of the sun coming up. 

A view of Pico Blanco - the Esselen Native Americans that lived here believed that all life originated at this rock.

Beautiful Sunrise and a view of Ventana Kandlbinder, Double-Cone, and "the notch" from the North.  We will see this same series from the south later on...

Really, you don't have to filter...  Yeah Toshi, whatever.



Will the real Ventana please stand up?

Trail?

Catching our breaths on the bushwhack down the Puerto Suelo "trail"

Definitely not moving fast.  But it's kinda fun - when the prickly things aren't getting you.




First little sit-down for the day - getting ready to cross the carmel river.




We just got done fighting a "brushy" climb until we reached this beautiful open valley.

20 miles in - this is the first other person we see.  I asked if I could get her picture - and Sachin made sure to let her know that "we are friendly people"

So we are climbing up towards the black cone trail and Toshi lets us know of his desire to "tag" south ventana cone.  Whatever - lets see what happens.  It starts out ok when we leave the trail but got brushy pretty quick.  This is a view as we neared the top.

I thought I knew what bushwhacking was - but pushing through the wall of seemingly impenetrable shrubbery zapped much of my resolve.  And Sachin was leading the way!

Toshi got to sign the register.  I hope he was happy.  I sat down and enjoyed the view.

Sachin and I climbed a rock and got some sweet vistas.

After we descended off of South Cone and pushed our way through some more chaparral, we found the black cone trail.  The views were quite stunning from up there, but the trail was annoying.  You would have several hundred feet of clear sailing, getting into a groove, and then bam - you are ducking through some brush, getting pocked by various wooden nubs, scratched to heck.  It was what it was and I knew it would get better.  Then as the sun began to set and we started negotiating among ourselves of where we were going to camp that night - the brush really started hemming us in.  I had folded up my trekking poles - them becoming quite useless at that stage -  and stashed them in my side pocket.  I was realizing that my pack setup was not ideal for all of this bushwhacking.  The pockets were snagging on the bushes, the poles would snag as well.  I kept looking back to make sure the poles didn't get ripped out of my pack, just like my hat kept getting ripped off and I would have to retrieve it from the bushes.  The bushes seemed to be slowing me down more than Sachin and Toshi too - possibly because they were better equipped, were more used to bushwhacking in Ventana, or because they have a smaller cross-sectional area.  I tried to blame my pathetic pace on my vertical endowment - Sachin asked me what the heck I just said and Toshi explained that it was because I was tall.  Anyways, we stumbled into Strawberry camp, dazed and exhausted.  Sachin and I had to promise Toshi that we would call it a night here and make more time during the next night because we were expected to be on smooth-sailing fire roads - much easier to traverse at night than soul-sapping brush monsters like the black cone trail.

First night at Strawberry campground.

Toshi - off by himself, attempting to master his satellite communications device.
Ticks were an issue.  I had to remove one off of Sachin's back and a couple from my thigh.  These were the ticks that "made" it.  Most of the time you can just brush them off as you see them, but when you are trying to cover ground fast, sometimes you aren't as diligent as you should be about scanning for the horrible little creatures.

The next morning we started off with what seemed like a continuation of the black cone trail.  And it was still dark.  BUT! But, as the sun came up, the trail cleared up, we hit a downhill with views forever and everyone was happy again.

Happy.

Happy.

Bamboo.  Happy.

Happy.

Only nice thing that happened for the next two or three hours.
The descent into Indian Valley was wonderful.  But then we attempted to find the Lost Valley trail.  Toshi asks "where is the trail?"  Well, the map says straight through the valley, follow the stream.  Hmmm, back to the bushwhacking.  There was this nice waterfall pictured above, but the rest of this part of our trip I would like to forget.  It was quite humbling.  We fought our way deep into the bushes before I finally had enough.  I sat down and tried to reason with Toshi.  At this pace we will never make it out of this valley.  We had various versions of maps - Sachin had a set of maps loaded on his GPS device, I on mine, and Toshi on his.  And then Toshi had his own set of paper maps as well. Every map showed stuff a little bit different - that should have been our first clue that this was going to be tough.  I proposed that we backtrack back to Indian Valley camp and head up the other ridge to Marble Peak and take the dirt ridge road south.  After convincing Toshi that this wasn't "cheating" he seemed concede to this plan of action.  The thing was that we still had to backtrack.  Meaning another hour of bushwhacking and getting ripped up by some thorny shrubberies that I had never encountered before - they were sort of like rose bushes, but without anything nice about them.



The dirt road was literally a breath of fresh air.  We had views of the ocean on the right and views of the wilderness on the left.

We weren't the only ones that preferred to travel by road.  These are the tracks of a rather large cat.  There were also tracks of a couple of smaller ones, cubs I suppose.  These tracks persisted for several miles.

elevensees.  Cheetos and Jerky - pure heaven.  A decent view too.

Someone else appreciates it up here as well.  A very strategically placed hammock has sweeping views of the ocean and wilderness in the shade of some old oaks.

I really did not expect to come across a stream up on the ridge.  I guess the storm from the weekend prior really helped out on the water sources.

The dirt road was well maintained.  Until it wasn't.  For several miles we were pushing through people high chaparral that had taken over the road, but then, almost inexplicably, we came upon this heavenly stretch.


The following are views of the sunset as we near in on the summit of Cone Peak.








As Sachin and I were climbing the last several hundred feet to the summit (while Toshi went off to "scramble" to the top) I let him know about my thoughts of camping out at the top and bailing out to Limkiln State beach in the morning.  I had been doing the math in my head and figured we were about five hours behind schedule with the several "adventures" that we had had already and knew what had to be done to finish the route as planned (that is if the last 30-40 miles didn't have any more surprises - which I was almost 100% confident we were going to run into something else). To make up for those 5 hours, that means hike through most of the night, and bivy up for maybe 2-3 hrs and then death march it in.  The legs were ok, the body was willing, but I was just too mentally beat up at that point to wrap my mind around the challenge and decided to call it a day.  At this point, I had actual boils on my legs from the poison oak reaction that was coming on en force (never had boils before - Toshi had to tell me it was a PO reaction), was kind of beat up from the bushes, and pissed off about my lost trekking pole.  I just had too many excuses to quit, and this was the most logical place to bail.  When I reiterated my plan to bail with Sachin and Toshi while we were cooking dinner at the fire tower on top of the summit - they seemed really understanding and didn't try to push me into continuing.

I bid them farewell on their journey and watched them march off into the darkness.  I started hunting around for a nice place to lay my bivy down.  Just then I realized that the wind might be an issue that night.  I kept circling the tower to look for a decent place to bivy up for the night, but could not make up my mind because about every spot had some downsides.  It was right about then that I started to feel sorry for myself and lonely.  I got a sudden urge to race down the hill to try and catch Sachin and Toshi and finish this thing with them, but knew it was too late.  I ended up deciding to sleep on the tower right where we picked to eat dinner.  Strangely, as I tried to fall asleep, I kept feeling little crawlies on me.  I would get my light, investigate, and find a tick crawling to it's destination.  I took it off and squished it.  This happened three times before I finally felt like I had got them all and got to sleep.  They weren't getting on me from the tower or anything, they had got on my clothes at sometime during the day and were able to make it onto my body at some point before I got into the sleeping bag.  It was not a restful night of sleep.

The next morning


Descending into the clouds.

View back up to Cone Peak.

My hat and shirt were destroyed from the bushwhacking, and that is me with a bloody nose.  This picture was taken very near where my brother fell down the mountain last year - this picture has a pretty true representation of the steepness.

Into the clouds.

almost there.

Looking down at highway 1.

Limkiln State beach.  Made it!
The plan was that I would wait at Limkiln until Judy (Toshi's wife) came by after picking up Toshi and Sachin from Ragged Point.  I got to the beach by 11 a.m. and found a nice spot to sit and watch the waves.  I continued to eat the rest of my food and watch a pod of dolphins swim by.  It was pretty nice, except a little cold from the overcast.  The funny thing is I knew how warm and sunny it was just a thousand feet up the hill.  But this is what I had.  It was also fun to do some people watching as it was presidents day weekend and a bunch of people were out visiting on Monday.  Eventually I got bored and made up a game where I pretended that the beach sand was lava and I had to jump across on the rocks and scramble the cliffs to get from one side to the other.  Pretty fun and kept me warm.

Toshi and Sachin almost made it to Ragged Point.  They had issues finding the final trail connection that they needed to finish the hike and Sachin did the math and had to talk Toshi into bailing to highway 1 so as not to keep everyone waiting for them.  Once the decision was made, Toshi sent a message to his wife of the new pickup location and they started heading back.  At some point Toshi discovered the trail that they needed and tried to reconsider the situation.  In the end they decided to keep to the new plan to be nice to us who were waiting.  They made it about 96 miles and completed the route as described in the first picture on this post - they had about five more miles to do it as Toshi had originally envisioned the trip - I'm sure he will be back for redemption at some point.  They came by Limkiln at about 7 maybe?  We then endured a harrowing drive up highway 1 (somehow we avoided puking our guts out) back to Botchers Gap.  Sachin and I found a Inn-N-Out and then continued to pig out on greasy, delicious food.  I ate two double-doubles animal style, fries and a shake without flinching - I wasn't even that full.  And so concludes another adventure exploring the wilds of California!

Video Montage: