Monday, December 7, 2015

Thanksgiving in the Grand Canyon

For the past few years we have skipped Thanksgiving and taken the time off to go backpacking.  Once again we returned to the Grand Canyon, which was extra easy this year as Jacob and I are just over and hour and a half away.  Mom and Dad flew in Las Vegas on Wednesday morning, so we spent the afternoon together around campus.  We packed up our stuff Wednesday night, and Thursday morning we headed off to the Grand Canyon.  It was below freezing as we arrived at the rim and headed down the Hermit Trail.  The first section of trail follows a slight ridge so we were in the wind for a while making the descent a bit chilly.  We hiked down to the Boucher junction, the dropped the back and walked over to Dripping Spring to get some water and a bite to eat.  From there, we picked up the packs and traversed around the top of Hermit Creek Canyon before rounding Yuma Point and starting our descent to Boucher Creek.  After Yuma Point we were in the shade, but the lower elevation led to warmer temperatures.  Our path leveled out as we went by Whites Butte and then we headed down again dropping into Boucher Creek just before it got dark.
Paintbrush in late November

Heading down the Hermit Trail

Looking down Hermit Creek Canyon

The head of Travertine Canyon

Dropping down from Whites Butte to Boucher Creek

Looking out a mile above Boucher Creek

The Parents
The next morning was sunny and clear and we headed west on the Tonto, climbing out of Boucher Creek and making our way over to Slate Creek.  On our way over we stopped to eat lunch and look down on the Colorado River and Crystal Creek on the other side of the river.  As we continued toward Slate Creek the day started to darken and we could see some rain rolling in to the east.  Luckily we avoided the rain but the day was fairly cool after that.  As we made our way to Slate Creek we saw a couple bighorn sheep who were a few hundred yard above the trial.  We made our way into the Slate Creek drainage only to find there wasn't a creek.  There were a couple puddles we could use, but up the drainage there was a small trickle that eventually dissolved into the rock below. We pitched the tent a ways up the creek and then headed down the drainage to explore for the rest of the day.  The hike down the side canyon had a few tricky sections but was largely easy walking as there was no undergrowth.
Nice and clear on Day 2

Heading west on the Tonto

Some rain rolling in to the east of us

Fortunately we didn't get wet

Our campsite for the second night

Day three found us heading east to Hermit Creek.  We made our way back into Boucher Creek and then climbed out.  The traverse from Boucher to Hermit Creek was hillier than most of the Tonto as the cliffs above the Tonto Platform come closer to the river leaving less room to wind in and out of the drainages.  This section of trail has some great view looking down on the river.  After we made our way around the last knob, we wound our way into the Hermit Creek drainage.  We headed up the creek a little way and ate dinner then headed into the tent early as we planned to get out early to see the Portland Timbers semifinal game against Dallas. (The Timbers tied Dallas 2-2, winning the series 5-3 on aggregate.  The next weekend, Portland beat the Columbus Crew in the one game final, 2-1, leaving Portland as the MLS Cup Champions!)
Heading east the next morning

Looking across the Canyon to Crystal Creek

The River

We headed out early on the last day and planned to make breakfast after we had hiked for a while so we grabbed some snacks and took off under the moonlight.  We all had headlights on, but there was plenty on light from the moon to illuminate the trail.  For me, the nighttime is always special.  It reminds me of races that started or finished in the dark, descending into the Grand Canyon to run R2R2R, and just all the time we went hiking or backpacking and the darkness settle in around us.  I'll be back in Corvallis in a week and a half, so I'm looking forward to hiking around in the Coastal Range and having a fire while darkness settles in, before we drive back home.
Anyhow, we headed along the Tonto Trail and soon turned off and began the climb up the Hermit Trail.  Once we crested Cathedral Stairs, we stopped to eat breakfast.  After that we caught our last glimpse of the Colorado as we traversed along the eastern side on the Hermit Creek Canyon.  The trail rolled along and eventually headed up to a small plateau from which we began the last climb up to the rim.  We took a quick stop to grab food to eat on the go, and then climbed out of the Canyon.  All in all it was an awesome trip, especially having the parents along too.  That'll be the last trip to the Canyon this fall, but I'm looking forward to some more trips next spring, once school start up again.
An early start on Day 4

Looking back down on the Hermit Trail

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Looking Back and Moving Ahead

The last few weeks I haven't been running all that much.  Largely this is because I took some time to reflect on the last year.  Overall it was a solid year of running but not quite what I had hoped for.  Reflecting on the year, I realized the biggest change I needed was to train a little more and race a bit less.  What I mean is that I raced Orcas Island in February, 5 weeks later ran the Georgia Death Race, 2 weeks after that ran Gorge Waterfalls, McDonald Forest followed 6 weeks later with a trip to Italy thrown in there, and Bighorn was 6 weeks after that.  Then I rushed back to running just a few days after Bighorn and soon found myself injured for the rest of the summer.
When I first looked at my spring schedule beginning last year it looked like a lot of fun with plenty of great races to keep me excited.  Honestly that wasn't the case.  The excitement seemed to spread out over all the races so there was no single race that I could barely fall asleep the night before.  And the performances were disappointing too.  I'm not saying I ran poorly, but I know that I definitely could have run faster at all those races.
What could I have done better?  Well that's what I pondered on several sun soaked hikes down in Sedona this fall.

We just scrambled around on a bunch of slick rock this trip.  We never really got that far from the car, but our red rock playground was plenty of fun for the day.

The first thing I decided to do was to take a break in the fall.  Not run much, not even run every day.  The goal was to get rested up and ready to go for next year.  Obviously my body fell apart after Bighorn, so I knew I needed to rest up and go into next year running strong.  Rest only goes so far though, but the timing of the rest this year is where I think I will find improvement over years past.  Really, scheduling of my running is the main change as I was very happy with my runs, just not the races.  This year, I'm taking some time off earlier that the past years.  I took November very easy this year, and hope to start to build up my running a slowly after we come out of the Grand Canyon next week.  Yep, my parent are flying down and we are spending Thanksgiving in the Canyon.   We won't be out in time for turkey, but we will definitely be ready for the Timbers match(second leg of the semi-final) at 3 on Sunday!  This change in schedule still gives me time to let my body recover but more importantly gives me more time to really run before my first race.  So, running more before the first race, where does that lead?  Well that was another question I pondered hiking around Sedona.

See that arch?  Well there's a trail leading to it.  Or you can opt for a bushwhack through thick manzanita.  Being the adventurous guys we are, Jacob and I opted for the bushwhack.  A quarter mile max, 45 minutes.

Actually, we were really happy to find the trail, but felt pretty dumb we missed it on the way out.

Running a bit more before my first race gives me more time to get into shape for the year ahead.  Races take a lot out of me because I run as hard as I can.  I run hard outside of races too, but no where close to as long, which is why races really take it out of me.  Then after races, I have to take some time to recover and be prepared to run again.  I've realized that my best performances always come at the end of the year, which makes sense because I'm continually improving.  Obviously I can't run hard nonstop year round or I'll do my body in pretty quickly.  Not sure why, look up Overtraining Syndrome.
So my plan for next year is to start running earlier, largely just easy runs, so I'm more prepared and will reach 'end of the season' shape earlier.  I have run a few races that I have that were truly special and each one of these were at the end of the year (August or September).  Thinking about reaching that kind of shape, when everyday running always feels easy and I race well, makes me very excited to see what I can do if I find myself at that level earlier in the year.  Now starting running earlier may help some, but the main part of my plan is to race less.
Racing less gives me more time to improve between races instead of rushing from one to the next.  This year I felt like I was mostly ready for all my races.  I'd enter a race feeling mostly prepared, but thinking that I would be able to be all the way ready for my next race.  That never happened.  Races just take too much out of me.  I need to take a few day to recover, then start some easier running and get back to normal in about a week or two (a bit longer for the longer races).  The lost time recovering then resting up for the next race really minimizes training, especially when the races are close together.  Even a few weeks between races might yield only one week of actual training.  Putting extra time between races will allow me to improve faster throughout the year and starting with a higher level of fitness really has me excited for next year.  Also, this doesn't really increase the risk of Overtraining Syndrome as the extra running will be about on par with the really hard race efforts they will be replacing.  The other benefit of racing less, is I'll be more excited for races.  I'll be better prepared which boosts excitement and there will be fewer so I'll really be ready to go.  Right now, I'm already starting to feel the excitement, I just have to keep it contained for while.  This mostly sums up my plans for next year, but after looking at these changes, I looked for anything else I could improve.
We hiked up to Wilson Mountain.  A little bit of snow, but it had mostly melted making the trail muddy.

That's a tarantula
Yesterday's arch is in the middle of this picture
This hike started out cold, but lead to some sweet new trails.

Food.  That was the last thing I could improve.  I usually eat pretty healthy, but I though that there was room for improvement.  After all, food is my fuel and I would put crappy gas in a car so I should put crappy fuel in myself.  I didn't really know where to start.  There was a section in my health book on nutrition, but that seemed like a big change from what I ate and I've been running well so I didn't want to mess things up.  So I asked Joe Uhan for advice.  Joe is a strong believer in a high fat diet, which was similar to how I have eaten over the last few year.  Now, I'm strongly committed as its nice to see science backing up what I'm doing.  In short if you eat fat, you burn fat.  If you eat carbs(sugar) you burn carbs(sugar).  There a lot more fat in your body that sugar stores so fat is a far better fuel for the long run.  To get a more detailed analysis of this go here.  The high fat diet doesn't just benefit long distance runner so it an option for everyone.  Anyhow, that's what I'm doing to be a better runner for next year.  Here's the last couple weekends:
Snow on the south rim


Whoops.  About those down coats... 
Climbing out

A parting shot of the Canyon


The wind was really whipping up here

When I'm not running a lot, I try to remove myself from the sport so I make the decisions that are right for me, not a poor decision based on what other are doing.  Because of this, I've been a little lackadaisical updating my blog.  Sorry about that.  The winter should have a bit more running action and hopefully lot of stuff during and exciting spring and summer.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Hermits Rest

Last weekend, Jacob and I took off from Hermit's Rest into the Grand Canyon.  We got off to a later start than I hoped because I had to finish a paper for school and we had to take the bus to Hermit's Rest.  We hopped off the bus and the Canyon lay before us so we headed down the Hermit trail for a couple miles then turned off toward Dripping Springs.  It didn't take us too long to get the spring where we ate some nuts and dried fruit and filled up our water.
Sitting by Dripping Springs
Hiking up to the spring we saw a trial taking off on the other side of the valley so we found are way to it and started to follow it.  Initially we though that we had caught up with Boucher Trail but we had actually found the Waldron Trail.  We followed it for a while but soon found it leading us out of the Canyon and back up toward the rim.  We opted to turn back, realizing we were not on the Boucher, and decided to fill up at Dripping Springs and then turn off on the Boucher.

Climbing above Dripping Springs

The Boucher trail rolled along the side of a canyon for a few miles before it slowly started to descend.  At this point the sun was low enough we were mostly in the shade which was cool in the late afternoon.  The Boucher crested a small ridge, then started to descent steeply down toward Boucher Creek which we could see below.
Looking back toward Hermit's Rest

Jacob where the Boucher trail starts to get rough

Looking back at a wall near the Boucher Trail

Heading down the Boucher Trail

We filled up at Boucher Creek and then set up camp for the night.  Last time we were in the Canyon it was too hot to sleep but this time the bivy sacks were just right.  The stars slowly came out as we settled down in our bags and the bugs buzzed around our heads.  Having a mosquito net for our bivy sacks was key.
Looking west

Looking east
The next morning the sun came up bright and early.  We packed up our stuff, had some oatmeal for breakfast, and headed down the trail.  The trail was winding in and out of small draws and we came around a corner and we looking at a bighorn sheep.  Usually these guys are so flighty, you don't even see them except from a distance.  Anyhow, this one looked up, saw us, and continued down the trail.  He probably got 40 feet from us before he turned off and skirted around us but I was starting to get a little worried and he had some big horns.
Bighorn Sheep

Some tracks in the trail

The River
After the sheep, we continued on to Hermit Creek were we drank some water and filled up our bottle for the push to the top.  After leaving Hermit Creek the day started to heat up so Jacob and I tried to move quickly through the sun as a good chunk of the climb would be shaded if we were there early enough.  The trail contoured along for a while, skirting above one cliff and staying below another, before it popped out on a plateau shorly before the Boucher and Dripping Springs turn off.  At this point we started to run into more people so we headed up the last couple miles fairly quickly as the solitude of the canyon was gone.
Looking down on Hermit Creek

Climbing up the Hermit Trail

The Canyon looming large

Almost out
All in all a great trip to the Grand Canyon.  The Boucher trail was awesome and I was super stoked about finding the Waldron trail.  Looking on a map afterwords, I found that the Waldron trail can be accessed by car instead of the bus which would be a great alternative.  The bus is really slow so driving would save at least a half hour.
A little rainy in Flag right now so I'm not sure what we have planned for this weekend but I'll put up our next adventure when I get a chance.