Sunday, October 28, 2012

I want to be a California Cow!

Went for a quick workout this morning: Two loops to Mission Peak.

Starting the hike up to Mission Peak
I like this loop because of the challenging climbs on the Peak Meadow Trail and the Horse Heaven Trail.  Also, you can open it up on the Hidden Valley Trail on the way down.  And of course, there are views the whole way because the trails are completely exposed and have unobstructed views of the bay.  And it is only 20 minutes from my house.
"The Loop"
This loop features a 2000 ft climb in about 3 miles and descends in about 3 miles as well.
Looking back at Milpitas.
 Devil's Twinkie is a hikefest.  I am sure the most determined runner could probably run up this thing, but that was not the purpose of my run today.  I can imagine someone doing some killer hill repeats here, but I was just trying to get through a couple of summits and this is the type of steepness that I need to prepare for the Quad Dipsea.
Henceforth thou shall be referred to as "Devil's Twinkie"
 You know, they say California cows are happy cows.  I didn't really know what they meant until I moved here.  In Kansas the cows seemed happy enough on the pasture on our families land, but they did have to deal with a lot of flies, heat and cold.  These guys in California don't have nearly as many flies to deal with, and they get these views.  Lucky cows...

I wonder if you went cow tipping here if you could get them to roll down the hill.  I might have to do some night running and experiment!
Looking down from top of Devil's Twinkie - you can't even see the trail...

Cool view of the peak

The Sunol Wilderness in the early morning sun

Lot's of hikers make it up to the peak early

There's the Bay

That dude slipped shortly after I took this picture.  He ended up with a huge wedgie!
Summit #1

Time to go back down.
I was flying back down the hill, taking every shortcut I could find.  Every once in a while I would come across a sign that explicitly said the shortcut wasn't a trail, so I would go around.  Sometimes I would run down one of the shortcuts to discover a sign at the bottom- didn't do me much good- but I remembered for my second loop.  I think they discourage the shortcuts for erosion control, it may just be understood that if you were a law abiding hiker that you don't ever take the shortcuts, but they seem so much more fun than taking the normal trail, and you don't have to dodge a gazillion hikers...

Devil's Twinkie, 2nd pass

There is Mount Diablo in the distance.

Beautiful morning.

Summit #2

I told you there were happy cows!
It was a short workout, somewhere between 2 and 2.5 hours, but I think it did the job.  The quads are feeling it and I got humbled by the steep climbs, mission accomplished.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

All in the Family

This was a running weekend.  Say wha?  Yes, I went running.  But so did the rest of the fam.  First, on saturday morning Hayley(1st born) tore up the trails at Quicksilver County Park.  She completed an out and back, 1 mile race on the Virl Norton Trail.  She had a bunch of fun and was probably equally excited about her prizes as her performance in the race.  The kids race was held in conjunction with the Quicksilver 10k and half marathon that my running club hosts at this time every year.  This was the first year that we did the kids race, so most of the kids belonged to Quicksilver runners, but I think the word is getting out: it is way fun and you get awesome race swag.  And if you think grownups are obsessed about their race swag, you should see the way Hayley treats her 700 mL Tritan Frosted Bottle with flip up water nozzle and built in carabiner.  And it totally makes the siblings jealous too!  Ada(2nd born) was ecstatic when Hayley let her wear her medal for the afternoon.  

Hayley and gang.
I helped out the races by guiding parking before the race and setting up cabanas and finishing chutes.  This isn't the biggest race in the world... we get about 90 racers between the 10k and half marathon, but again, more people are going to be finding out about it.  The trails are great and there are lots of prizes.  I think if anyone stayed for the raffle at the end, they walked away with something.  We are talking about boxes of clif bars, salon trips, apparel, the works...

At noon, Toshi and I headed north to hook up with Marc in the Headlands(the pretty side of the Golden Gate Bridge) to scout out part of the Dipsea trail to prepare for the Quad Dipsea that will be my last race of the season.  Toshi helped out at the Quicksilver race too by directing runners at one of the busy trail intersections on the course.  

Now, a little bit about the Quad:  The Dipsea race is the oldest trail race in the country, in fact it is one of the oldest footraces of any kind in the country.  They have been running this trail since 1905.  It goes from Mill Valley on the Bay to Stinson Beach on the pacific ocean.  It is way steep and is known for its many stairs: 688 stairs on the climb out of Mill Valley, and some more on the descent into Stinson Beach.  It also has some other unique features, but they don't really pertain to the Quad.  So this Dipsea race has been around for a long time.  I guess someone wanted a bigger challenge, so they invented the double-Dipsea: Mill Valley to Sinson, back to Mill Valley.  Ok, a hilly 14 miler, but let's face it, it's not "ultra".  So yet another genius does the math and figures out that we need to run the dipsea course four times so that it is an "ultra-marathon".  So that will be my challenge on November 24th.  But between now and then, I need to find a place with a lot of stairs, and I need to hit the hills- hard.  Here is a map of the dipsea:

Dipsea Course
Marc, Toshi, and I had a blast running around.  It was a clear day- which if you are from around here, you know how hard it is to get one of those in the headlands.  We could see for miles up and down the coast.  Then we decided to climb Mt. Tam, the highest peak in the headlands and we were rewarded with incredible views of the coastline as well as San Francisco and the rest of the bay.  And I didn't bring my camera.

Then, on Sunday morning, Joanne(wife) had a tuneup race: the 2012 Race to End World Hunger 5k in the Baylands near where we live.  Joanne wanted to have some fun and gauge her fitness for her main focus race: The mermaid run 5k at Crissy Fields in San Francisco.  She did awesome, ran about 34 minutes and got a good idea of what she would need to do to beat her previous PR at the mermaid.

Color coordination is her specialty.
Running family.  Try it, it's fun.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

2012 Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile Race Report

First, I debated with myself about whether or not to bring a camera along, but then decided that on race-day I want it to be about the race.  As little distractions as possible.  But as most trail ultra-runners know, these races are not only about the race.  There are plenty of distractions: Views, fun people to meet, nice hangout afterwards, etc.  This will be kinda boring, because no pics.

The Short Story:

I had a fantastic day.  I was fifth overall with a time of 7:18.  There was nothing in my prior races or anything that I can point to in my training that was indicative of this type of performance.  I suppose everyone gets their day sooner or later.  The trails were in great condition and the weather was about as good as it gets.  

The Story within the Story:

Last year, this race was my first 50 mile race.  I had a great day that day too.  I ended up 7th overall with a time of 7:33.  I even got the "Dick Collins Award" which is given to the fastest rookie 50 mile runner.  In that race I started out really conservatively because I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I just wanted to survive the thing.  Turns out I was able to hold that effort through the whole race and it ended up playing in my favor.  So this year I decided to apply a similar strategy.

I took it easy on the bike-paths that go around lake Chabot and let the speedsters take off in front of me, hoping that I might catch up to them later.  I paid attention to my breathing and made sure that I was holding back because at the beginning of these races it is so easy to let the adrenaline at the start fire you up and take you out at a pace that is ultimately unproductive for a race that is 7-8 hours long.

After the first climb I came up to and then passed a group of runners that included Jenny Capel, the eventual womens winner, who finished with an incredible time of 7:37.  To put that performance into perspective-that is the fasted womens time since Ann Trason in 1987.  And she bettered her performance from 10 years ago when she was 29 by 12 minutes!  Who says things don't get better with age.  I remember she jabed at me that I was looking quite peppy- but I tried to convince her that I was already tired-which after that first climb made me wonder how I was going to keep this up all day long.

On the next section, which included some gradual, and steep downhills, I picked it up a little bit.  I started to close in on my Quicksilver teammate and buddy John Burton.  John was two weeks removed from a 28 hour 100 mile slogfest at the Bear.  Not quite recovered obviously, but being the tenacious racer and competitor that he is, he gave it his all.  I paced John the last 50 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, so I know he is tough.  We exchanged some convo and he told me to go catch Toshi, so we parted ways.  One of the men from that pack that I had passed decided to pick it up and stick with me.  His name is Loren Newman.  We shared the next maybe 7 miles together and chatted away about running stuff.  He is a young guy, 25 years old, and this was his first ultra last year.  I was impressed with his graceful running stride and overall relaxed demeanor as we cruised along, I suppose this should have been a clue to the fact that he was going to have a monster day himself- he ended up finishing the race right behind me in 6th with a time of 7:23(in his second ultra ever).  We parted ways after we got to some steep downhill sections that I decided to bomb.  This would be a reoccurring theme for me this day.  I tend to try to make up for my weak climbing strength by flying down the downhills- long legs seem to be helpful for this...

Next I was closing in on a man named Dominick Layfield.  He had a british accent, which might mean he is british, or maybe he just does it for the chicks, but he seemed very intent on not letting me catch him.  We hit some technical downhill where I finally did catch him but then we ran together for a while on the stream trail exchanging convo.  The stream trail is a very pleasant wide trail in the shade of giant redwoods and surrounded by ferns.  He asked when I decided to start going hard- it looked like he was very organized about his pace and knew exactly what he had to do to have an even race and not completely fall apart at the end- which happened to him in his last 50 miler where he had to have IVs administered.  I discovered that he was shooting for a 7:15 which was considerably faster than I though myself capable of.  I don't know if it was because of this revelation, or because he decided to pick it up a bit(or because we hit an uphill), but I started to fall off of his pace a bit.  He ended up having an incredible day himself, finishing 2nd with a time of 7:05.

We were headed up the hill to Skyline Gate aid station, and I couldn't believe my eyes when I thought that I saw Toshi ahead of me.  Toshi is another Quicksilver teammate and buddy who I went fastpacking with in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  He is faster than me and usually beats me by a pretty good margin at these races.  I finally caught up to him at Skyline and we exchanged pleasantries while Dominick pretty much skipped the aid station-as was his style-he didn't spend too much time not running.  Toshi took off while I filled up on water- I told him maybe I would catch him later.

The next few miles were solitary time of me with the hills, I just remember having a nice time cruising and hiking some steep stuff.  At some point I did finally catch up to Toshi and we ran together for a while.  He was telling me that Victor Ballesteros wasn't running as fast today-perhaps planning on a massive negative split(faster second half of race than first half).  Victor is a popular, very fast runner, and is a constant presence in the PAUSATF ultra events that our running clubs compete in.  He is also a member of our arch rivals: Tamalpa.  There was another steep downhill that I decided to bomb and I realized Toshi was comfortable at his own pace, so we parted ways.

On the climb up to Steam Trains Aid Station(the aid station right before the monster downhill to the turnaround) I saw Victor and another guy up ahead, and it fired my spirit a little bit.  I put together a pretty strong climb which put me within striking distance for the downhill.  They still had a pretty good gap on me going down to the turnaround- but as is my tendency, I started running the downhill harder and came up on them and then passed them on a pretty steep section.  I remember telling Victor that I heard he was going for a big time negative split today.  I hit the turnaround in good spirits and got a jolt of energy form the spectators at the bottom of the hill.  But I knew what was coming next: a massive slog back up the hill.   I realized I was in fifth or sixth place because on an out-and-back course like this you get to see all of your competitors.  I was being pretty conservative on the climb and knew with pretty high confidence that Victor was probably going to catch me, but that was ok, because after that climb, it is more downhill than uphill to the finish line.

I am doing a combination of running and hiking up the hill depending on how I am feeling and how steep each of the sections are.  There is a constant stream of racers coming down the hill at this time, and there is a lot of encouragement and greetings as people pass by, but at some point I realize they are greeting the person coming up behind me.  I realize Victor is on his way.  One person actually said: "Victor, running the uphill as always", which definitely put me in my place.  Gradually he gained on me, each time I started hiking I looked back and saw him a little closer.  He then pulls even with me, and I offer encouragement on his nice climb, and the fact that he seems to be cashing in on that negative split.  I know that I could run the whole climb too, and probably keep a gap on him, but I also knew what the consequence to the rest of my race would have been, so I stayed content to let him pass me by.  Every time we hit a slight flat or small downhill during this climb I would catch up to him or even pass him, and that is how it continued for much of the climb.  The last time he passed me I remember him telling me that I will probably just pass him back in a while.  I said: "yeah, maybe on the next downhill".  But that downhill was not going to be for a while...

He continued to put a nice gap on me before the crest of the climb and probably picked it up on the other side of the hill.  A common strategy in these type of races is to try and "get out of sight" of your competitor, so that your competitor thinks that they are no longer in contention for your position in the race.  Well, he definitely got "out of sight", but I kept trucking, because we were going downhill.

There was another span of solitary racing, me and the hills, and passing a few marathoners now and then.  The golden hills trail marathon happens in conjunction with firetrails.  They begin at the turnaround for the 50 miler and finish at the same place we finish.  Generally they start just as the first 50 milers are starting down the hill.  In my position in the race you get to see all the people climbing the hill who are racing the marathon.  As you might expect, the fast 50 mile runners start catching a lot of the marathoners on the way to the finish.  This becomes important because of what happens to me later in the race.

As I begin the descents to the finish line I realize that I am starting to cramp pretty bad(sometimes to the point where I am afraid my legs are just going to seize up on me).  There are various theories for why cramps happen during physical exertion, but I think there are primarily two reasons: muscle fatigue, and inadequate electrolytes(including sodium, potassium, and things like that).  I start to fear that maybe I have been too ambitious in my pace for this race and that I have basically worn myself out prematurely.  There are multiple ways you can wear yourself out as well.  You can run out of energy(for instance glycogen, for which you have limited stores), you can fatigue your muscles to the point that they will no longer do their job, or you could have a lack of sleep that will discontinue your activity.  I was afraid that shortly after 30 miles into a 50 mile race that I was toast.  I knew that the issue was not energy or water because I had been drinking and eating Gu regularly.  When I got to the aid station I grabbed a handful of S-caps.  Salt capsules are the tried and tested electrolyte replacement for endurance events.  I never use them during training, and have always been of the opinion that if Geronimo didn't need them(and he evaded his pursuers by running miles and miles of technical terrain that the horses couldn't follow), why would I need them?  Well, when you are desperate, you will try anything.  I took a couple at the aid station and kept popping them every 10 minutes or so along the trail, and backed off of my pace a little.

I was always on the verge of complete meltdown, but somehow would recover enough to keep going.  I enjoyed myself and indulged in the wonderful opportunity to share my struggle with the forest.  It sounds weird, but when you are in that place, you understand, sometimes you are in such an uncompromising position, in such desperate situations, and yet you feel so alive in that moment, and you keep pushing to complete that quest, to reach the light of the tunnel, so to speak...

I kept pushing, and then hit the stream trail once again on the way back.  I felt great at this point and started to really accelerate.  Nearing the technical climb that I knew I was about to tackle(the same technical descent on the way out) I found Victor.  I saw him look over his shoulder and I knew I had him.  I jabbed at him that that was it, he looked behind him to see that I was coming, now he was done. I crept up along side and in an overly enthusiastic, and quite verbal mood, along with the knowledge that I was having a good day said: "In the final miles of Firetrails, Tamalpa vs Quicksilver, the ultimate showdown, who is going to come out on top?"  He said: "Go ahead Quicksilver, take it".  I think he just wanted me to go away.  I passed him and then prayed that I didn't have to battle him again on that technical climb.

I was fortunate to put a gap on him and then descended into the Macdonald Gate Aid Station(mile 41.5), where Gary Gellin(fellow Quicksilver teammate who was volunteering-super fast guy) told me that if I pushed it, I could catch number four(Matt Laye), because he had taken a turn for the worse, stomach wise.  Something you have to understand about these ultra-marathons, is that there is a fine line between giving your body just what it needs to put out the best effort over these long journeys, and forcing your system and initiating a backfire to the point that you are completely useless.  Apparently I was in the chase to pick up the remains of one of these backfires.  I kept doing what I was doing, and then on another downhill went flying past Matt and his pacer(you are allowed a pacer at some point in the race, not sure where).  I knew he had a pacer for several reasons.  The pacer was running with him(not that common this late in the race), his clothes looked clean, and he had a lot of bounce in his step.  If you have ever been at mile 44 in a 50 mile race, you know what I mean.  For some reason I got it in my head that it must just be another marathoner, it couldn't be the guy I was chasing(but I didn't really know what I was looking for).  I tried to encourage him as I passed him, trying to pump him up for a good finish.  

I went through the last aid station, and knew what was coming up, 4.5 miles to the finish, 1.5 downhill(done, cash in the bank) and 3 on bike paths up and down along lake chabot.  On one of the little climbs on the trail section, Matt and his pacer passed me.  It wasn't some kind of leisurely, lets have a nice finish kind of pass.  They absolutely put the pedal to the floor and went past me as fast as they could.  Another tactic in these races is when you pass, you want to make sure that there is no way that your competitor will even think about sticking with you.  Their strategy worked out perfectly.  They went flying past and I had a moment of hesitation.  First, I still had a doubt about whether they were running the 50 mile race, second, I couldn't believe how fast they were running.  I thought to myself, if I try and pace with them, it will be an ugly finish.  It was a cowardly move, but I let them go by.  I am not ashamed of it.

I had a comfortable run those last few miles, finished with a smile on my face, and was generally very happy with myself.  I got to jab around with the guys that beat me, and discovered that Matt and his pacer really did put that decisive move on me to finish me off(how nice).  I got some prizes, which is definitely cool.  And then Joanne and the kids met me a little while afterward.  A wonderful experience.  Got to watch other Quicksilver teammates finish and cheer them on, and hang out afterwards.  Toshi set up his slack-line, and totally impressed me with his other-ultra skills.  It was a great day.

Monday, October 8, 2012

High Sierra Fastpacking: Tuolumne Meadows to Devils Postpile and Back, plus some extra credit to Vogelsang

This past weekend my buddy Marc and I went fastpacking in the High Sierras.  I paced Marc at the Western States 100 miler this year(last 38 miles), but that was all business, this was all fun.  I uploaded a bunch of pictures and some vid clips, but the pictures and words can not communicate what we were feeling when we were up in those mountains.  It was surreal at times, it was just hard to believe that these places even existed.  Fastpacking allowed us to soak up as much of it as we could in three days.  We drove from the bay area starting out at 4 a.m. and got our permits and were out on the trail by 8:45 a.m.  We didn't have any set plans except to get to Devil's Postpile National Monument and back via the John Muir Trail, and do some fun stuff on the side.

Marc and Me at the Tuolumne Meadows Permit Office starting off on our adventure.

 The first part of the trip takes us through Lyell Canyon, which is really a large alpine meadow with a creek running through it.  It was easy traveling, not much up and down, so we were making good time. And it was really neat, nothing like something I have seen before.
On our way up Lyell Canyon to Donohue Pass 
Looking back to where we came, still going up Lyell Canyon. 

Me at the Lyell Headwaters, right before we start the grind up to Donohue Pass at 11050 ft.
 At some point we start climbing.  It isn't really a discrete thing.  It was like going up a steep ascent and then ending up at yet another high alpine meadow that has a lake and stream that feeds the lower creeks.  Every time we crest one of these steep climbs we are greeted with these breathtaking views, kinda like the one in the picture above.
Looking back at Lyell Canyon from Donohue.
 Donohue Pass is up pretty high, 11050 ft.  Going into this trip the only real question that Marc and I had regarding our abilities to cover this terrain was how we would handle the altitude.  It is a tough thing to figure out, because you have to try it.  Everybody seems to react differently to it.  I think we actually did very well.  Even though, the higher we got, the slower we got(due to less oxygen, and therefore less efficient energy production of our systems), we still had a good pace, didn't have to take breaks and just generally moved well.
It was awesome up there.
I have to say that there were no words for getting to the top of the pass.  It was breathtaking, literally and figuratively.
Alpine stream where we cooked lunch on the other side of the pass.

The views were out of this world.

Thousand island lake with Banner Peak in the distance.
 One of the most beautiful parts of the trip was the Thousand Islands Lake area.  I don't have much to say, just look at the pictures.
Garnet Lake, just on the other side of Island Pass.

Rock we decided to climb, very fun.  That is Marc at the top.

The trees looked totally different.

View from our dinner cooking spot at our Garnet Lake camp.
 The first day wiped us out.  We were really tired by the time we rolled into Gladys Lake where we made camp around 6:30 when the sun was going down.  Another one of our worries going into this trip was what was going to happen with the bears.  Almost all of the trip reports that I had read told some horror story about some bear that defeated their food protection system and made their trip more interesting.  We were pretty much 100% sure that we were going to see a bear on this trip.  Turns out that the bear stories you hear:  they have all been fabricated.  There are no more bears in the High Sierras.  It is just a fear factory to make people slow down on the roads, clean up after themselves, and make them carry heavy and totally useless gear with them while they go backpacking.  But anyways, like good boyscouts or something, we put our food in the bear cannister and stashed it in some rocks 100 feet from camp, and put our extras in a bear bag which we hung with my newly acquired bag hanging skills form the Santa Cruz adventure.  Silly waste of time.

Sleep was tough.  I don't know if I really got any "deep" sleep the whole trip, but every morning I woke up, I woke up refreshed and ready to go, so it must have been enough.  Both nights we camped around 9500 ft.  The first night when I would start to doze my heart would start pounding through my chest, like it didn't know what I was trying to do.  But at some point in the night it calmed down, and all was good.  No more issues.
Nice place to eat dinner.

Devil's Postpile, totally weird.
You can look up Devil's Postpile National Monument if you want a good explanation for what is going on here, but I am here to tell you now, they didn't just photoshop some pictures and make up a story, it is a real thing.
This is what the top of Devil's Postpile looked like.

That is hexagonal rubble.

Gladys Lake, where we camped at the first night.  This was on our way back.

Water falls where we cooked breakfast.

Cool views as we ascended from Shadow Lake.

View of Alpine Meadow that we are climbing from.  This trail was made out of a pile of rocks.


Cool Ridge.

Looking south from Donohue Pass.

Back down at the headwaters.

Looking down to Lyell.
So, we had reached Devil's Postpile and started back, knowing that we were going considerably faster than the conservative pace that we had planed for.  So Marc came up with the great plan of getting back up over Donohue and down to Lyell Canyon where we could camp and then go on the Vogelsang loop before heading back to the car on day three. This night of camping was much more relaxed and orderly.  We had our system down, and we didn't have to mess with bag hanging because everything now fit into the cannister(we consumed a large portion of what was taking up space the night before).  This was true wilderness camping.  We were just running down the JMT (John Muir Trail) and picked a nice spot up on the hill where we wanted to sleep.  I recommend wilderness camping over established camp spots whenever possible:  You can pick pretty places that have nice soft ground(I picked a bed of pine needles to put my setup on), and you will likely have less issues with rodents and bears(if there was such a thing) that have these sites in their food finding rotation.

Day 3 views from first ridge we climbed.
Day three we travel down through Lyell Canyon(it was cold that morning), before hooking up with a trail that took us up one of the ridges on the side that would eventually lead us to Vogelsang Peak.  It was a grind of a climb, but eventually we made it up above the trees and all of the sudden the views just take over, and we get a renewed source of energy.  There were a couple of peaks that looked totally climbable to us, and we decided to see if we could do it.  We were rewarded with some incredible 360 degree views since these were the highest spots for miles around.  
Strange rock formation, one among many.

We decided to climb some more rocks, this was where we got 360 degree views.  Probably one of the funnest part of the trip.

Another Alpine lake that we were passing on the way to Vogelsang.  This is where we cooked lunch.

View of the shore from the water.
 It was refreshing to cool off the lower limbs in the various bodies of water, but it never really got hot enough to entice me to go all the way in.  The water, obviously, was of the highest quality. We saw the snowpack that fed directly into these lakes, it doesn't get much better than that...
Got to test out my camera's underwater skills, pretty sweet.

Our last descent into Lyell Canyon and back to the car.
I didn't put up any pictures of Vogelsang because the stupid sun messed them all up.  But it was really awesome.  We then headed down another alpine meadow(I am pretty sure that these were all carved out by glaciers back in the day).  This trail presented some really fun and technical running to finish up our trip.  I felt kinda bad when we would pass a hiker at breakneck speeds while they try and ask us where we came from and I would sputter something about Devil's Postpile(which would make no sense to them) while hopping from rock to rock, basically descending this mountain in a semi-controlled fall.

Beautiful water features nearing in on Tuolumne Meadows.
We make it back to the Permit Office after getting confused for the first time this trip about where we were.  It was before 1 p.m. and we had gone like 20 miles that day.  We had to get back to town because Marc had to fly to China the next day, but that was fine, we crammed a lot into that 6.5 hours!

Finally, here is a compilation of the various video clips that I took while on this trip:

I think we went 80-some miles in all this trip.  It is hard to tell for sure because of all of our side trips, but we covered a lot of ground in two and a half days.  This was likely the last chance that we had to do the high sierra trip this year, it was supposed to snow Monday.  We will be back!

Boring Details:

Gear Review

  • I used basically the same gear from the Santa Cruz Mountains Fastpacking Adventure, so I am only going to list the gear here that is of note for this particular application:
  • Jetboil Sol Stove: A-.  Did it's job extremely well.  Very nice for two people because of the insanely fast boil times(which are supposed to increase with altitude- but was still super fast).  The igniter was not instantaneous at the higher elevations, sometimes it took several tries before it actually worked.  Still heavier than other options.
  • REI Minimalist Bivy: B. Upgraded from B- from Santa Cruz because it was better for the colder weather, it actually served a purpose.  From what I read, these bivies add 5 to 10 degrees to your sleeping bags temperature rating.  It got sub freezing at night, and I was fine.  Still have not gotten to test it out in precipitation.
  • Inertia X-Lite sleeping pad: B-.  Upgraded from C+ because I got to pick my sleeping spot this trip, which allowed the other 1/4 of my unpadded body to be comfortable.
  • Zissou Lite Nautical Long Sleeping Bag:  A.  It got really cold, and I was comfortable.  It is rated for 28 degrees- I am not sure what that means: comfortable at 28, survivable at 28? But it was 28 or colder, and I was fine.
  • Gossamer Gear Gorilla Pack: A-.  Upgraded form B+ because I am figuring it out.  I found that the sternum strap doesn't do anything for me, the wide shoulder straps take a natural position on my shoulders, and I have no issues.  I still have to figure out how to keep the shoulder straps from slipping through the clasps as easily as they do, but I will figure out a solution.
  • MSR Hyperflow water filter: A. I used it a lot more this trip, basically because our only water sources were from the land(not water fountains).  Most likely was not necessary because this was about the cleanest water I have ever seen, but it is a good precaution- and doesn't detract from the awesome taste of the water.
  • Outdoor Research Ultra Light Ditty Sacks: A.  Total upgrade from left over grocery bags.  It was nice to have the different colors and sizes so I knew exactly what was what.  They seemed durable enough, no holes or tears in the three days of running and repacking and squishing and all of that stuff.
  • Black Diamond Ultra Distance Hiking Poles: A+.  Still about my favorite piece of gear.  Marc got a pair for this trip, and he was as skeptical as I was about them, but was a quick convert.  Trekking poles are for real, and these are about the best for fastpacking!


  • GU: B. Still Gu.
  • Cliff Bars/Lara Bars/Mojo Bars: B+.  Took a little different approach to the energy bars this trip.  Went to Trader Joe's and ran down their energy bar selection, and took one of each.  Worked great- but in the end, they all tasted the same.  Kinda a let-down.
  • Trail Mix: A-.  Same as SC
  • Jerky: A-.  Downgraded from SC because we got some organic stuff that just ended up being a copy of the generic grocery store jerky like Jack Links or something like that.  I would have preferred something that tasted a little more real- whatever that means.
  • Backpacker Pantry Lasagna: D.  Terrible, don't do it.
  • Backpacker Pantry Chana Masala: B+.  Actually not bad.  The indian food selections are usually real ingredients, no preservatives(because Indian food ingredients are mostly natural preservatives), and tastes not bad.
  • AlpineAire Foods Broccoli Beef: B-.  Meh.
  • Loaded Oatmeal: A.  Same as SC
  • Dried Pear Slices: A.  A nice mixup.  More evidence that variety is king when backpacking!


  • Every morning we would wake up, pack up as fast as possible(because we were freezing), and get moving.  We would then pick a nice spot to cook our first meal of the day.  Until then it was energy bars, trail mix, etc.
  • We woke up pretty much with the sun on this trip.  It was nice to have a little light when we hit the trail.  This does take away from the potential ground that we might have been able to cover for that day.
  • Still running about 40% of the time.  Even at altitude, downhill running is pretty much an effortless task and should be implemented to cover the most ground possible.
  • I didn't weigh my pack this trip, but used everything from last trip except got rid of: extra gas canister and extra headlight.  Had about the same amount of food.  So I am guessing that I was still around 23 lbs, even split between water/food, pack/gear.
  • Marc carried the Bear Canister (which is basically the smallest, lightest one on the approved list for the JMT), so I carried the stove/pot/gas, and water filter.  I think it was a pretty even tradeoff.  This shows the benefits of doing fastpacking with a partner or two.
  • We usually stopped to camp just as the sun was setting.  This made it nice for picking a spot, and doing chores while there was still some light.  Again, this is a convenience in fastpacking, there is nothing that should keep you from continuing to move in the dark to cover trail.
  • I would say that our pace was actually pretty similar to when Toshi and I did Santa Cruz Mountains.  Even with altitude.  10 miles in 3 hours should be doable no matter what the mountains throw at us(unless it is 10 miles uphill- which I haven't run into yet).