Monday, July 10, 2017

Fourth Of July Weekend

Fourth of July weekend always brings a variable amount of snow by the South Sister for our 3 day backpacking trip.  One of the first years we went backpacking over 4th of July weekend, we were unable to start at Devil's Lake trailhead because the road wasn't plowed that far.  The past two years, we didn't even bother to bring skis because there was very little snow.  This year was somewhere in between.  Not knowing how much snow we would face, we left the trailhead with skis on our packs and shoes on our feet.

After a half mile we ran into snow, but opted to keep walking as the trail climbed steeply enough we would be spending a bit of time side stepping in our skis.  After a mile and a half, the route up South Sister hits a plateau where we decided to put on our skis.  We made the exchange quickly as the mosquitoes were fairly bad while we were stopped.

Skiing across the plains gave beautiful views, but was fairly slow as the snow was pretty sun-cupped as this point in the year.  We intended to camp at our usual spot on a ridge above Moraine Lake, but this year we didn’t want to drop down to Moraine Lake first.  Dropping down to Moraine Lake isn’t bad, but it was the steep climb up a loose slope that we were hoping to avoid.  To avoid this section, we climbed up toward South Sister then traversed across toward Broken Top to reach out tent site.  This route wasn’t much easier as we repeatedly had to carry our skis across melted out ridges.

Once we reached our spot, we pitched the tent, started to boil water, and rounded up some rocks to sit on.  The day was hot and clear so it was a nice reprieve when the evening cool set in.  In the past there has been a bit of wind as the sun sets, but this evening was pretty still.  Out to the west there were clouds hanging over the Willamette Valley and extending into the lower Cascades.  As the sun went down, some clouds were drifting into valleys below; they were all small, but we hoped they would lead to rain the next day.

The next morning was already warm when we got out of the tent, which was a sign of heat to come.  With higher snow levels than previous years, we opted to forgo the summit of Broken Top and instead climb up the lower portion of a ridge leading up to the summit.  We began the day descending a long snowfield into Green Lakes.  Last year the snow was firm in this section, but this year it was already soft.  As we made our way down, Jacob spent most of the time butt sliding, while I tried to glissade down the steeper pitches.  Unfortunately for me, the soft snow made glissading pretty slow, but Jacob has no issue picking up speed!

Upon reaching Green Lakes, we filled up our water bottles then traversed around the lake.  The climb up to the ridge was mostly snowy, with occasional bare patches under the trees.  Once we reached the ridge, the walking was all on dirt.  After an initial steep climb, the ridge leveled off and we enjoyed the view of Diamond Peak to our right, and Smith Rock off to our left.

We ate lunch at the top of the ridge, then turned around and headed back down toward Green Lakes.  Facing Green Lakes, South Sister rose in front of us with Middle Sister and North Sister off to the right.  The descent back to Green Lakes was pretty hot as we had a clear day and lots of snow to magnify the power of the sun.

We reached Green Lakes, filled up our water bottles at a spring then began the slog back up the snowfield to reach our tent.  While the snowfield is a long slow grind, its always quicker than we expect and soon we felt a cool breeze blowing over the top of the ridge.  Once we crested the ridge, then wind picked up significantly.  We walked the last few hundred yards to our tent in substantial headwind.  The evening wind continued until we went to bed which forced us to boil water behind rock, so the stove would go out.

The next morning was as clear and warm, but with slightly firmer snow.  We packed up most of our gear in the morning, then headed up toward the summit of South Sister.  We began the climb by traversing a few snowfields before meeting up with the main trail to the summit.  Once we reached the trail, it was mostly bare to the summit.  While sections of the trail were still under feet of snow, the upper portion made for easy but steep walking.  About two hours after leaving the tent, we reached the rim of South Sister.  From here, its just a relatively flat walk to the other side of the rim to reach the true summit.  Upon reaching the top we descended a little and found a spot to sit out of the wind to eat and enjoy the view.

There were clouds over the Willamette Valley, but we could still make out Mary’s Peak on the horizon.  Further north gave way to some amazing views of the Cascade Volcanoes.  We were able to see Middle Sister, North Sister, Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Jefferson, Hood, Adams, St. Helen’s, and Rainier.

The descent was much quicker and soon we were traversing across the snowfields back to our tent.  Since we had packed most of our gear in the morning, we just needed to take down the tent and put the last few things in our packs.  Soon we began the traverse back to the main snowfield which would lead up back to the trailhead.

The skiing wasn’t great as the snow was fairly cuppy and we had to cross a few bare patches that required us to carry our skis.  Once we reached the main slope, we were able to get in a bit of good, but bumpy skiing down toward Little Broken Top.  The face of Little Broken Top is steep and usually lends itself to good glissading, so we took a while to enjoy this before continuing down to Devil’s Lake trailhead.

The day was really heating up and since we were still getting the reflection from the snow, we hurried along to get back in the shade.  Once we left the plateau, we clipped our skis back on our pack on continued our journey on foot.  The shade was a reprieve from the sun, but was also a haven for mosquitoes.  After the initial steep descent from the plateau, Jacob and I were able to fit in a little bit of skiing, but the parents didn’t bother to unload the skis from their packs.  All in all, the skiing didn’t really save any time, but was pretty fun none the less.

Once Jacob and I put our skis back on our packs, we had perhaps a half mile to go.  We soon reached the car, crammed in our packs and jumped in.  We were hot, so we soon got the AC going on our drive back.  We were all a bit tired of the high elevation sun beating down and reflecting off the snow by the end, but that didn’t take away from another great trip!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Old Gabe 50K

Last week was finals week, so after I finished up my last test on Thursday morning, we all jumped into the car, and headed east to Bozeman, Montana.  We were heading off to run the Old Gabe 50K and would get to visit my Aunt and Uncle who live in Bozeman.  Although we had a lot of rain along the way, the drive was easy, and for me it was nice not to have to worry about homework.  We stayed Thursday in Kellogg, Idaho, then finished up the drive on Friday morning.

The Old Gabe started at 6, which isn’t terrible early, but since Montana is on Mountain Time, it felt a bit early on Saturday morning.  I got up at 4, ate breakfast, then we got in the car and made the 25 minute drive to the Middle Cottonwood Trailhead.  The Old Gabe is a double out and back making and M shape, with the start and finish and the middle of the M.  This is kind of fun because it allows you to see all the other runners.  The race is pretty small, so the trail never feels crowded even with the two way traffic.

When 6 a.m. arrived, I started my watch and we took off up the mountain.  The first part of the course climbs slowly along a creek, and I felt strong on this section slowly pulling maybe 30 seconds to a minute ahead of any one else.  After the first mile, the trail slowly pulls away from the creek and climbs more steeply up toward Bostwick Pass.  As the pitch increased, I started breathing a bit harder and could tell that I wasn’t at sea level any more.  Over the next mile or two, the three runners behind slowly made up ground until I found myself sharing the last mile of the climb with Mike Foote, Mike Wolfe, and Mike Lavery.  The three of them were chatting a bit, but the elevation made it a bit hard for me to contribute more than a sentence or two.

Myself, Mike Foote, and Mike Wolfe

We crested the first Bostwick and were met with a snowy descent.  The first couple steps onto the snow were a bit deep, but soon the snow firmed up a little and we were only sinking in a few inches.  Time to open it up and enjoy the glissade!  At least, that’s what I though.  Unfortunately the snow had different plans.  Just as I started to pick up some speed, my next two steps punched in 2 or 3 feet and I took a nice face plant.  A little cold, but no big deal since the snow was pretty soft.  We were quickly to the bottom of the snow field and beginning the short but steep climb up and over the next Bostwick.

From here, we had a bit more snow and some clumpy, slick mud that made descending slow.  We climbed over one last pitch, then began the long descent down to the turnaround at Truman.  We quickly left the snow and started down some muddy trail.  I was feeling good, so I asked to take the lead and quickly pulled away on the downhill.  Somewhere on the descent I was lucky enough to see a pair of elk who quickly left the trail when they saw me.  The descent was fun and fast and soon I reached Truman where I saw my Dad and Aunt who were hanging out at the aid station.

Coming into Truman

As I began the climb back up, I figured I had about 2-3 minutes on the three Mikes who were still running together.  No one else passed me for a while as I continued the climb up to the Bostwicks.  A couple miles up from Truman, the trail switchbacks a little and I tried to look down through the trees to see how everyone else was doing.  Occasionally I caught glimpses of Mike Foote’s yellow North Face singlet, but I could never really tell how far back he was.  As best as I could tell, we were still 2 or 3 minutes apart, but as we neared the Bostwicks, the trail grew steeper and Mike started gaining time.  After chugging up through the clumpy, slick mud over the North Bostwick, Mike was only 30 seconds behind.  After the steep climb back up the snowfield to the South Bostwick, he was on my heels.

As we crested the pass, I tried to take off on the downhill back to Middle Cottonwood and was able to pick up a bit of time on Mike in the first mile.  Then I started to get a stitch in my side which made it hard for me to get a full breath.  I had to back off the pace a bit, but I realized that Mike was now picking up time on me.  I wasn’t thrilled about this since Mike was definitely climbing stronger than I was but I hoped if I could stay in the lead to Middle Cottonwood then I may be able to hammer the final two descents and stay in front.

I reached the turnaround and started up the trail hoping to not to see anyone for a while, but Mike was right there, maybe 15 seconds back.  My legs were getting tired by this point, so when Mike caught up to me only a few minutes later, I knew I’d have to work hard to hang with him.  Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Mike to pull away and soon I was struggling to keep sight of his yellow shirt.

As we began to climb more steeply on our way over to Sypes Canyon, I found myself doing an awful lot of hiking on the ups.  Still, I hoped that if I could maintain a solid pace, maybe I could reel Mike in on the descents.  After the main climb, there are a few rollers where I hoped to open up my stride and try to make up some ground.  Unfortunately as I started to get rolling, I felt the stitch in my side and again was unable to get a full breath.  I tried to push through the rollers, but as I started to hit the downhills it became even tougher to breath.  At times, it was so bad I had to take walk breaks to suck down a few deep breaths before continuing.  While I’d hoped to be reeling Mike in on the section, I quickly realized he must be pulling even farther away.

The descent down to Sypes Canyon was struggle and there were a few times when I wanted to stop.  I pushed on to Sypes wondering when I’d see Mike climbing back up.  I passed him a while before the turnaround and checked my watch to see how far back I was.  I’m not sure why I bothered because Mike was gaining on the ups and downs, plus he looked great.  I made the turnaround and was happy to see that no one was on my heels.

The rest of the race was tough, but I knew I didn’t have too far to go which helped boost my spirits a little bit.  The climb up from Sypes brought a bit of running initially, but soon found me doing a bit more hiking than I’d like to admit.  I struggled on and hoped that I wouldn’t have problems on the final downhill.  There was no way I was going to catch Mike, but it would be nice to finish strong, or just finish sooner than later.  But when the downhill came, I was reduced to a slow shuffle as the stitch in my side returned.  I realized if I went really slow, I could breath enough that I didn’t need to stop to walk, so that how I finished it out.  By the end I was counting down the miles, and when the finish line finally came I was happy to be done.

I finished in 6:04, a bit disappointing, but was totally blown away when Mike Foote said he got it done in 5 1/2.  Wow!  When I ran in 2014, and Jim Walmsley set the course record in 5:26, the course was at mile or two shorter (a bunch of new switchbacks have been added), and had far less snow and mud.  I’d equate Mike’s run to about 5 hours on the 2014 course.  While my run wasn’t great, I was happy Mike ran so well!  He’s running Hardrock in 4 weeks, so I’d expect a strong performance from him!

Glad to be done! (Dad took all the pictures on this post)

My Mom and Uncle had run the 30K so they were done by the time I finished.  My Dad and Aunt were at the finish too, so all we had to do was hang out, eat, and wait for Jacob to finish up the 50K.  It was an enjoyable sunny afternoon, which was a great was to relax after a tough, but beautiful morning run.

After a couple days to reflect, I’m fairly happy with how the race panned out.  It didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped, but I realized I need to keep everything in perspective.  I’ve been healthy for 8 weeks and this was my longest run since Western States, so given that, I’d have to say I had a pretty solid day.  There were a lot of aspects of my race that went really well, but a couple small issues held me back from having a great day.  Still, with 8 weeks to get things straightened out, I’m excited for my next trip to Bozeman for the Bridger Ridge Run.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Western States

As some of you may know, I'm not going to be running Western States this year.  As defending champion of the world oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail run, its was a hard decision not to run this year, but a decision that I know is right.  So here's why I won't be in Squaw Valley this June.

In January I strained my groin after a couple weeks of running on slushy snow in McDonald Forest.  Initially I thought the injury would heal in just a few days, but as time went on days became weeks.  The final damage was that I didn't run for 8 weeks starting in the middle of January and ending in early March.  The injury served as a harsh reminder how important patience and recovery are in running.  After the first couple runs to test out my groin, I allowed myself to run every other day for the next 2 weeks.  This was tough.  When I wasn't running, I forgot just how fun running is.  Once I started again, I remembered just how fun running can be, so it took a lot of patience to take every other day off.  I was still experiencing a little pain while running, but as the weeks went on, each run felt far better than the previous one.  I had to take one day off in the middle of April since my groin felt a bit sore.  Fortunately the soreness was gone by the next morning!  Since then I've been completely healthy which is certainly nice.

That lack of training this spring certainly played a role in my decision not to run Western States.  At this point, I believe that I'm actually in quite good shape.  But I haven't done many long runs so in that regard I'm less prepared for a hundred miler than I'd like to be.  Outside of preparation for the race there are a couple other factors I'm considering in my decision.

The lack of long runs this year will certainly extend the necessary recovery time for Western States which is something I don't want.  I've been completely healthy for 7 weeks now which is my longest stretch of good running in the last year.  After Western States in 2016, it took me a while to recover from the race.  I was able to get in a couple weeks of solid running before school started, but fall semester at NAU ended up being very stressful.  I ended up transferring to OSU in the winter because of the stress at NAU.  Anyhow, when you're really stressed out, running isn't all that fun.  Often I felt pretty worn down by each day which made it hard to even get out the door.  Coming home to Corvallis was great and I got in a 4 weeks of strong, fun runs this winter before I strained my groin.  That took a while to recover from, and now I'm finally able to get into the every day routine.  The bottom line is that I'm not ready to give up the every day joy of running for one race and a long recovery period.  At this point I mainly want to get out and enjoy every day.

I realized that instead of trying to force Western States to work out, I should take advantage of the opportunities that not running the race would open up.  Its been over 2 years since I raced a 50k (Bighorn 100M, Georgia Death Race 68M, Western States 100M), so I've been tempted to test myself at the shorter ultra distances.  Shorter races would also have a far shorter recovery time than a hundred miler which would allow me to race and not lose too many days to recovery.  While I want to get out and enjoy every day, I'm also ready to run a race since my last race was Western States last year!  So my decision is to skip Western States this year, and run Old Gabe 50K in Bozeman Montana this June.  I've run the race a couple times before and have wanted to go back and run it again.  Unfortunately the race falls one weekend before Western States, so normally it would be impossible (or just really dumb) for me to run it.  Now that I have the chance to run it, I figure, I might as well take it because who know when this opportunity will roll around again.

One last thing I've learned from this experience is how much Western States means to me.  Sometimes you don't realize how much something means until its taken away.  That was Western States for me this year.  I love the community, the history, everything.  I intend to return in 2018, but this year will be a chance to test myself in new ways and become a more well rounded runner.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Memorial Day Snow Camping

As is Miller tradition, we headed up to Pole Creek over Memorial Day weekend made our way toward North Sister.  This year we started out with a couple miles of walking before we were able to put on our skis.  Last year, I spend this time in Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon to be exact, so I learned from my family that there was quite a bit more snow this year than last.  This wasn't too surprising because we've had lots of rain in the valley, but it certainly wasn't the most snow we've had over Memorial Day.
North Sister
Saturday we started out of Pole Creek around noon and made our way up to a small ridge below North Sister where we have camped the last few years.  We made it to our camp site fairly quickly, largely due to there being tons of ski and hiker tracks leading up toward Middle and North Sister.  Perhaps this weekend adventure is becoming more popular, or maybe it was just the fantastic weather, but there seemed to be more track than ever before.  After we pitched the tent, we sat around for the rest of the afternoon and enjoyed the shade.  This was by far the hottest Memorial Day trip we've had!  The only problem with the shade was that there were tons of little flies this year and the air was pretty still.  I guess bug bites are the tradeoff for no freezing nights!

The excitement of the evening was the I felt a bit lightheaded and had to lie down in the tent for a while before we went to bed.  This could have been the altitude since we'd climb to about 7000 ft. or dehydration since it was very hot and the sun was reflecting off the snow.  My guess is the root cause was that I just made it through a week of midterms and was pretty much exhausted by Friday afternoon.  Whatever the cause, I felt great the next morning after a long night's rest.

The Sunday of Memorial Day, we usually make out way along the snow fields below Middle Sister to get in some good skiing and a view into Camp Lake.  The last couple years the weather has been much nicer so we've made our way up toward the Saddle on Middle Sister, then up to the top.  This year, with terrific weather, we began the long climb up toward the Saddle with hopes of making the top.  There is one steep pitch above the saddle which can get pretty hard and icy.  Its hard to guess how it will be each time, so all we could do was hope for the best and enjoy the beautiful day.
Middle Sister on the left
Mom and Jacob heading up toward Middle Sister

Dad, Mom, and Broken Top

Middle Sister and Prouty Point

Dad with South Sister in the background

Mom and South

Dad with South, Bachelor, and Broken Top
As we climbed up, I made sure to keep my long sleeve shirt on but unlike the past that wasn't because I was cold.  This year was a cooker!  And spending all day on snow above 7000 ft. with the sun beating down was a recipe for a big disaster.  That morning we all piled on the sunscreen, but it was still humbling just how powerful the sun can feel.  Anyhow, we got a few breezes on the way up, but for the most part it was just pretty hot.

The snow was already getting pretty heavy as we reached the Saddle and looked out to the west.  Far off on the horizon was Mary's Peak.  I always enjoy seeing Mary's Peak since I see it every time I look up while at my desk.  We ditched the skies at the Saddle and had a quick bite to eat before starting up the ridge toward Middle.  The first section was loose, open rock, but we soon hit a steep snowfield.  This was it was pretty hard, with fairly poor steps, so Mom opted not to head to the top.  Dad, Jacob, and I reached the top which offered a great view of the Cascade Range.  This years we could see all the way to Mt. Adams!

Mom heading up toward the saddle on Middle Sister

Looking down the range all the way to Adams

Too small here, but you can see Mary's Peak on the horizon

South, Bachelor, and Broken Top

The steep section on Middle Sister

Dad and Mt. Jefferson
The rest of the day we spend skiing down long snowfields before making our way around the mountain to overlook Camp Lake.  There was much blue showing on Camp Lake this year, but with all the precipitation we've had that was no surprise!

Once we got back to the tent, we were all looking forward to sitting down in the shade and enjoying the afternoon, but we were quickly swarmed by flies.  I guessed that the warmer weather, without freezing nights, had allowed the bugs to get a bit higher than in years past.

The next morning we headed up toward North Sister.  We climbed a short ways up the ridge to grab bit to eat and look out toward South Sister.  After that walked back down to our skis and started the descent.  This snow on this part of the mountain was a bit more inconsistent than yesterday but the snowfield was still a long and fun descent.
Mt. Jefferson behind North Sister's Ridge

Broken Top and Bachelor

Some hearty flowers

Middle Sister

North Sister

The snowfield down to our tent
Once we got back to the campsite, we grabbed our packs and started the trip out.  We were able to ski a ways, but needed to walk out the last couple miles with our skis on our packs.  All in all, it was a very fun weekend which we will hopefully be able to duplicate soon!

Looking back up the same snowfield

Mom and Jacob on the way out