Friday, September 15, 2017

Headlands Hundred 2017 Race Report

I have a confession to make: I no longer read race reports.  It's not that they are not interesting, except they aren't.  Or maybe they used to be interesting.  I just can't bring myself to read another account of some poor soul suffering needlessly, trying to cover some arbitrary distance over some arbitrary tract of land within some allotted timeframe.  There are only so many ways to describe the journey and challenges of an ultra marathon, and they generally all include some intricate explanation of what went wrong.  How many blisters?  How much barfing?  How much cramping?  How much tired?  How much hurting? How much blood? How much cold?  How much hot?  How much wet?  How much not?  I could go on, but I'm already getting bored writing this...

So maybe this time I will try to describe the race from a slightly different perspective.  This report will hopefully describe the adventure with an emphasis on the social story.  I think one of the main reasons that people keep coming back for more of this flavor of self-imposed suffer fest is peer pressure.  It's not the overt teen style of "if you don't do it you're not cool",  but it probably is basically the same thing.  I don't think it is an exaggeration to say it takes a village to put on a 100 mile ultra marathon.  Here is a quick recollection of who is involved: runners, race director, volunteers(aid station, parking, course marking, course sweeping, road crossings, course monitors, etc), runner families, pacers, crews, the list can go on.  The question I ask myself is why?  There were maybe 100 finishers in this race.  There were many hundreds of people involved in allowing those fortunate finishers to accomplish their goal.  No one got rich.  What is it that binds this group together and what makes it so attractive?  Maybe a few accounts of my interactions with those people will help explain.

First I am going to go ahead and dispense with the boring details:  I finished 100 miles in the Headlands on the north side of the Golden Gate bridge with a cumulative 20000 ft of climbing in 23 hours and 17 minutes.  I am happy with my race.  I got one blister, did not puke, it was perfect running weather, and I probably drank one case of cola-cola.  I paced and executed as well as I could have.  I seriously can not think of doing anything different that would have resulted in a better outcome.

Ok, I have another confession to make:  I wrote the above on Monday after the race and then promptly lost all motivation to continue the report, that is how much ambivalence I feel towards the "race report" right now!  None of my pictures turned out good.  And I can't write about any catastrophes.  Hmm, maybe the blog is dead.  Or maybe I will use it if I ever get any good pictures again...

Monday, May 29, 2017

2017 Henry Coe Backpacking

I haven't posted in a while.  Quick update on what has been going on with my running:

I was taking it easy training wise until Joanne completed her marathon in October last year.  She finished it in dramatic fashion, running the 26 mile trail run with 2500 ft of climbing and 5000 ft of descent in 7 hrs and 58 minutes when the race had a cut-off of eight hours.  It was a hot day and we knew from her training runs that she was going to be right at cut-off pace all day long, it was just so cool to see her execute and never give in.

After her race I started ramping up my training with the goal of getting myself into good enough shape to compete at the Quad Dipsea race at the end of November.  On the way to getting into that shape, I took on a couple of shorter trail races to have a little bit of fun and get some good workouts in.  I went out way too hard at the Quicksilver Challenge half marathon in October and faded to 15th place in 1:59.  Then I won the Pacifica 17k in 1:29 in November in what was the inaugural PCTR race under the new management of Greg Lanctot and his wife Jenny.  Finally, on a rainy, mucky day up in the headlands, I gave everything I had at the Quad and ended up 24th in 5:23.  I took it easy over Christmas break and then came back and proceeded to run every Fat Ass 50k I could get to.  Oddly I wasn't able to psych myself up enough to sign up for any organized races.  I wasn't even interested in defending my 4 mph challenge title.  But I have been running a lot and have been feeling good.  I was keeping on the table the option of running the Silver State 50 mile (Saturday May 20) and Ohlone 50k (Sunday May 21) double.  This is a potent combination that tests the strongest of us, and my buddy Toshi has done it a couple of times, and my other buddy Loren (who has done it before) had talked me into giving it a go this year.  When I saw the hot weather forecast I bailed.  Now it was almost summer and I hadn't really done anything.  No races, no backpacking...  it just seemed sad.  So I had to get out and do something...

Coe in May:

I tilted the view of the park.  I started from the left and did the teal path day 1, red path day 2, and yellow day 3.

This was the first time that I started a backpacking trip at Coe from the Hunting Hollow entrance.  I started basically at the bottom of the park where the coyote creek leaves.  This was a good call since it was Memorial day weekend and because of Big Sur being cut off from mud slides and one road open to the Sierra, it seemed that everyone descended on this park for the weekend.  Starting from Hunting Hollow you can basically write out your own permit and not have to wait in line and there is plenty of parking.  And you get to finish your trip with a downhill - which is awesome.  This is the valley that you climb out of to get to the rest of the park.

Really enjoying the marine layer.

Redfern Pond.  You can see a tent off to the right.  A few guys had set up basecamp here to do fishing and day hikes.  The guy had talked to me about wanting to lighten up his backpacking load, but it looked like he was living it up with his GoPro, fishing setup, camp chair, and all of the extras.

Hunter's Gulch was still flowing well in May.

Vasquez road on the way to Burra Burra Peak.  This is the one section of the park that I haven't really explored yet.  There were some overgrown sections that made me a little nervous, as in the kind of nervous that you get when you think there might be a rattlesnake under that grass that you are stepping on.

Dormida creek was flowing nicely.  I think this is a reliable water source.  It was also down in this creek where I had my tick attack.  I got ticks on my twice on this trip.  One tick up at Robison creek.  and about six that I had to flick off down here at Dormida.  I was looking for the Dormida trail that would give me a more direct route up to Burra Burra, but it wasn't obvious to me where it was, and I was really nervous about all the ticks that were on the attack and relished getting onto an open fire road.  I ended up following Vasquez road up to Center Flats for the long way around to Burra Burra.

Burra Burra.

Rocks on the west peak of Burra Burra.

Views from Burra Burra east towards Pacheco.

Just below Burra Burra is the Dowdy Headquarters.  This is the east entrance to the park from Kaiser Aetna Rd off of 152.  There were a couple of elderly lady rangers in charge here that looked to be completely overwhelmed.  They explained to me that they are used to maybe having three visitors on the weekend.  Their parking lot was full.  There wasn't anything to see here.  I was hoping for some kind of historical artifacts, but they had once glass case with four boring implements.  California history sucks.

Beautiful descent down Macks Corral.  Freshly weed-whacked.

North fork of the Pacheco Creek.  One of the nicer creeks in the park.

One of the tributaries to the Pacheco Creek on the climb up Dutch's trail to get to Mustang peak.  This was my last fillup for the long haul through the hottest part of the day.  I would be completely empty by the time I got down to the Orestimba.  A complete fillup for these purposes is about 110 oz.

Incredible views of the park from County line road nearing in on Mustang Pk.  In front you can see the Robison Ridge and behind you can see the Stakes Ridge.

The Orestimba wasn't exactly raging.  At least by this point down river it wasn't too warm.  And it tasted ok.  Up river from here I wasn't interested.  I filled up, cooked dinner (mountain house chili mac, it was average) and then had to decide what my plans were with the Orestimba wilderness.  At this point I decided with the sun and heat that I was facing that I just wasn't interested in another Mt Stakes expedition, so I settled with a circumnavigation of the Red creek - Robison Creek drainages.

Red Creek Road looking back towards the Orestimba.  This is known as Paradise Flats.  There used to be an airstrip off to the right.  

The parks in this neck of the woods have a terrible problem with feral hogs.  Here, three of them are enjoying life under an oak.

Whats left of Paradise Lake.  They had a massive dam collapse

It must have been quite the sight to see this dam give in.

Sunday morning wakeup along Red Creek.

Before climbing up the ridge to drop into the Robison drainage I met the first person without the name of Toshi or Sachin that I have seen in the Orestimba wilderness.  He was going the same route that I was, and I gave him some beta.  I would see him again later.

Robison was flowing nice in the upper part of the valley, but was hardly noticeable in the middle where the valley widened out.  Then it was flowing good again at the falls before it joins the Orestimba. 

The confluence of Robison and Orestimba.  Here I met underwear Dave.  He is the second person without the name of Sachin or Toshi that I have seen in the wilderness.  And he was hanging out in his underwear.  Interesting guy.  Some kind of amateur archaeologist with an interest in the areas native Americans.  He was exploring old sites.  Later he would show me some pits in the ground in a valley that would be the foundation of a wigwam or whatever they called their houses.  There was a whole village there.

Views of the Orestimba Valley from the Rooster Comb trail.


After I was done with my circumnavigation I decided to make progress back to Hunting Hollow.  It was so hot and exposed on the Orestimba road that I was just getting cooked and decided that I didn't want to get cooked again on Monday, so I started devising my exit strategy so that I would be done by lunchtime the next day.  This necessitated a little bit of a night hike, which was much more preferable than day travel at that point.

View of Burra Burra from Wagon road as the sunlight fades.

Monday morning on a ridge outside of Wilson Camp.  I toyed with the idea of getting all the way to Wilson camp, which would have left me with a short 4 mile hike back to my car for Monday, but then thought about all the people at the park and realized it was probably a busy affair and all of the critters would be aware too.  I don't even bother trying to hide my food from the animals on these trips because I usually set up in pretty obscure places.  The problem people have with critters getting into their food is when the animals set up shop next to an established camp ground where they have gotten used to it.  Anyways, I climbed a little ridge from the trail and found a nice spot in a field under some oaks which was perfect.  I didn't bother with the rain fly because I figured there was no chance of condensation all the way up here.  To my surprise I woke up to a foggy morning!

The fog burnt off a little high on the ridge and I got some sweet views of the inversion.

Views of Wilson camp.  It was as I suspected.  There were a ton of tents.  And strangely enough, as I passed by at 7:30 a.m. there was not a peep to be heard.  I could hardly believe that a whole camp of people could sleep in like that!  For a moment I thought about running through their camp and giving them the wake-up call.

Getting back below the clouds back to Hunting Hollow.
I enjoyed my trip, but I think May might be too late for Henry Coe given my preferences.  The long hot days just kicked my butt, and the walks through the fields could leave me poked pretty good.  So many prickly things...  Something else I need to remind myself for future trips:  Backpackers pantry Pad Thai might be the best foil bag meal I have ever had.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Backpacking Desolation Wilderness w/ my Bro.

Time for the guys to go to the mountains again.  It's been a couple of years and it seemed that Josh got over what happened last time.  This time I was determined to show him some granite and see if he could dig it as much as me.  I didn't want to necessarily throw some really high stuff at him since I was unsure of how he would handle the altitude, so I went with a place that had most of the grandeur, but stuck mostly between 7000 and 10000 ft. Desolation Wilderness fit the bill.  I was fortunate enough to secure some overnight permits mostly because I had picked a rugged, far from the trailhead "zone" for our first nights destination.  It seems that this limits the amount of backpackers applying for this particular permit.  I had designed a lollipop loop that started from Wrights lake, climbing six miles over Rockbound Pass, then continuing on Rockbound, but then veering off to travel the McConnel Lake loop where we intended to stay the first night.  After the loop I wanted to climb up to the Velma Lakes and then up over Dicks Pass, then descending to lake Aloha for night two.  Third day we would climb up over Mosquito Pass, then descend along with the Rubicon River, taking our first chance we could get to climb back up to Rockbound Pass and descend the final six miles back to the car.  I think the whole trip would be about 42 miles with 8000 ft of climbing, and I felt pretty confident that Josh could do it.  I intended to stay flexible with agenda though, knowing that all kinds of things can derail these type of plans.

We started at Wrights lake in bottom left and traveled on Rockbound (north) until we veered off on the McConnell Lakes loop(purple and turquoise).  Day two we finished off the loop and went up to Velma Lake and Dicks Pass, then to Lake Aloha(orange).  Day 3 we went over Mosquito Pass and followed the Rubicon down until we went back to Rockbound and the car(purple).  Sorry, don't have turn by turn, but if you have a map you can trace where we went.

The day started with a 5 a.m. wake-up, and a couple of hour drive to get past Sacramento before the traffic really starts.  Got a solid breakfast and then an hour later arrived at the trail-head.  The weather was looking perfect for the trip, low 70s for the high, and in the 40s at night.

Beauty Lake was Josh's introduction to the Alpine lake smorgasbord.

Rockbound - living up to the name.  Josh really enjoyed the rocky trails (in the beginning).

Location of our first snack break.

Still in good spirits.

Rockbound Pass (8500 ft), looking back at where we came.
Video from Pass:


Lunch at lake on other side of pass.

Looking down at lake Schmidel as we climb over the next pass beginning the McConnel Lakes loop.  At the top of this pass we hit our first low-point of the trip when Josh started to wonder whether he could keep going or not.  His blisters were giving him issues and he was sucking air and thinking that the altitude was taking it out of him.  We took a nice long break at the top - I helped him get a better tape job on his blisters, got some food in him, and as we descended he seemed to bounce back a bit.  I think he took some confidence from this experience that things don't always keep getting worse and you can bounce back.
 Video of Josh not falling down the mountain:

One of the high alpine meadows in the loop.

Dinner time.  Josh was super proud of finding his rock "recliner"

Sun going down.

The trail started getting a little sketchy after hikers were warned that travel past this point would be hazardous to stock animals.  We navigated down a rock hillside with nothing but a series of Cairns guiding our way.  As we were loosing light, Josh spotted a great spot to set up for the night and we bivied up.

Video of where we are going to die:


Hilarious shot I got of the human tomato the next morning.

Super happy.

Time to get going again!

First of the "Q" lakes.

I think the sign on the other side said "hazardous", this one's warning was even more ominous.

Interesting shape for a tree on the climb up to Velma Lakes.

Finally got a view of lake Tahoe up at Dardenelles.

Looking down at Dicks lake and Dardenelles as we climb up to the 9400 ft Dick's Pass.
 Video at Dick's Pass:

Looking down the other side of Dicks.

Dinner time.  It was after we packed up from this to do our last couple of miles of the day that Josh's ankle really started giving him some trouble.  I was getting worried and started going through potential bailout plans.  I even ran a couple of scenarios past him, but he seemed intent to finish the thing.  At some point it seemed he was able to get the ankle to loosen up enough that we were moving ok again and I thought we might be alright.  Still, that night I sent a message via Delorme to Joanne about his ankle.  I think we received plenty of prayer, and he got a great nights sleep, and the ankle performed admirably on the last day.

Josh - hobbling along with his walking stick.

Josh picked another winner of a camping spot at lake Aloha.  It was an incredibly windy night though.
 Video of Aloha campsite:

Packing up the next morning.


Descending from Mosquito Pass.

Video of Josh braving the "dam":

Up and over Rockbound one last time and back to the car.
Josh did seem to be proud and happy to complete the loop that I designed.  His feet did take a lot of blister damage and he was worn to the bone when we finished, but he says he had fun.  He admitted that it was not necessarily his kind of fun.  It might take another couple of years before he decides to submit himself to this kind of adventure again, but for some reason he decided to come back after last time, and hopefully his body and mind can bounce back from this and he can enjoy the memories from this trip.  I know that I will cherish these memories!  On the way home we were able to stop in Placerville and have an awesome post trip dinner (they are always the best when you are famished and tired of trail food).  Fried mushrooms, schnitzel and German lager.  Great stuff.