Sunday, September 17, 2017

Wut Wut In Da Rut

The radio stations started to become fuzzy somewhere around Lava Springs, Idaho. Beau hit scan on the 4Runner's radio and finally landed on the only crystal clear station...

"Just two grown men... driving to the Tetons... listening to Taylor Swift..."

Wednesday had been a long travel day. We were up by 6:00am, met at Beau's house at 8:30am, hopped our first flight out to Vegas at 11:30am, had a 3hr layover in Vegas (lost $10 gambling), hopped our next flight to Salt Lake City which landed around 6:30pm, then got shuttled to our rental car and was on the road by 7:30pm.

We had originally planned to drive a few hours, find a place to camp for the night and make the final push up to the Tetons first thing Thursday morning but with the sweet, glorious sounds of Swifty floating through the airwaves encouraged us to try and push all the way to the Tetons. 

We arrived in Jackson a little before 1:00am and started thinking through campsite possibilities. The sign at the entrance to Grand Teton National Park said there were vacancies at Jenny Lake so we headed to investigate. Unfortunately, the sign was a lie. We ended up staying in the car the first night. Of course one of the seats was broken... so I slept in the very back like a bag of groceries... 

And Beau curled up in the middle seat... 

Climbing 2 Big Ole Boobies

Now before you go and get all "America 2017" (aka: offended about every-freaking-thing) on me for the title... note this fun fact: 

"French trappers are responsible for naming the three peaks now known as the South, Middle, and Grand Teton. They called the mountains “Les Trois Tetons,” or “The Three Breasts.” The Grand Teton—the tallest of the three—literally means “the big tit.”  - Climbing Magazine 

The shitty night of sleep quickly dissipated when we stepped into the cool morning air of the Lupine Meadows trailhead and set our eyes on the pre sunrise glow bouncing off of the Tetons. I munched on my breakfast (a spare cheeseburger from the night before) as we loaded our packs for the day ahead. Though we brought climbing gear, ice axes and micro spikes ... the conditions were favorable enough to not need much more than a helmet and snacks. 

The sun started peeking over the horizon as we started our journey up towards the Meadows. 

We came across a couple that were standing in the middle of the trail waiting for a bear to move. We saw no bear... but we did see some deer! 

After a few miles, we got our first real view of the ruggedness... 

We boulder hopped our way to the Meadows and ran into a small group hanging out waiting to see what the weather was going to do. The forecast had predicted some storms to move in around 10:00am but we made the decision to keep moving up the mountain since the sky simply appeared overcast. The group offered some welcomed route advice that kept us out of the main boulder field in the center and steered us right along higher ground.

There were a few snow fields to cross but nothing that couldn't be done with regular shoes. 

We eventually made our way to the saddle and stopped for a quick snack break at the overlook for Ice Flow Lake. 

Beau w/ the South Teton looming in the background

We chose to take the SW Coulier route for the Middle Teton which is mainly comprised of mostly class 3 scambling with maybe 1-2 Class 4 moves closer to the top. The chute we were climbing was extremely narrow and full of loose rock. We had helmets but there was no one above us climbing (probably due to the weather prediction) so we never had to use them. I took lead and Beau kept a healthy distance between us in case I sent any loose rocks down his way.

After climbing 6000 vertical feet from our car... we finally reached the 12,804ft summit! 

To our surprise it was calm up top. Despite the ominous looking skies... the wind had died down and left us with a quiet and peaceful summit. We had outstanding views but the tip of the Grand was hidden away in the clouds... 

We eventually started getting a little chilly and decided to make the trip down. 

Though I had a bit of a headache and was feeling extremely tired and worn out from the long day of travel and awful night of sleep... I made the decision at the saddle to push for the South Teton's summit. Beau had felt a little loopy on top of Middle and made the decision to head back down to the car for a river rinse and nap. It was all I had in me to part ways from him after he said the word "nap" but I knew I would be kicking myself in a few days if I didn't take advantage and tag South. 

I didn't initially see a path or trail so I just started boulder hopping along the ridge. Eventually I saw 3 small figures in the distance on the trail making their way down the mountain so I started making my way over their direction. We spoke briefly and they gave me a few pointers before I continued my journey. The climb up was fairly easy. I swung around the backside (not sure if it was the actual route) where there were a few really fun moves that were extremely exposed. I was in the clouds by the time I reached the 12,514ft summit. 

The view of the Middle was completely covered... 

I stayed up top for a bit watching the clouds move across the mountains and finally got a good view of the opposite side of South.

The clouds started clearing as I made my way back down to the saddle at 10,500ft. 

Since we skirted around the middle boulder field on our ascent... I figured I would try to go down the middle of the basin on my descent. We had seen a few people in the middle boulder field as we were climbing and figured there had to be somewhat of a trail/path. There was not. It was just massive boulders. Zero fun. I was making pretty good time through the boulders but unfortunately planted on loose rock that gave way. I tweaked my ankle a bit and took a hard fall onto the rocks. I cursed loudly and looked around for witnesses but was completely alone. After taking a few minutes to regain my composure and get my ankle situated with some triplanter exercises... I continued through the boulders. 

I came to a short snow field and tried my best to be one of those cool mountain runners that shoe-ski down the entire length of the snow field. It was a ton of fun and I was semi-successful in my attempt but by no means graceful.  

The further I continued through the boulders the more I realized I was veering off course. The cairns assured me I was on a path... but I couldn’t seem to get my bearings as to where it would end up. Eventually I came to the beginning of another snow field traverse. This one was a bit longer and was angled. I took a few moments to gauge my next move. I could backtrack a bit and scramble around the snowfield or could chance the traverse. The slope of the snowfield had me a little concerned that I didn't have enough traction on my shoes to make it safely across without slipping. Though there were dug out imprints of where people had traversed... at the base of the snowfield were some sharp looking boulders that didn't look too inviting. After weighing the options... I made the decision to take my chances on the snowfield. The first couple of steps were pretty solid and easy... but near the middle of the traverse the footing started to become more slick and unstable. I was slightly passed the halfway point when I slipped, landed on my ass and started sliding to the bottom. I tried my best to dig my heels and hands into the snow to slow my descent but nothing seemed to slow me down! It was incredible how much speed I gained on the way to the bottom. I slid about 40ft before I eventually met the boulders. Thankfully I was greeted with a flat surfaced boulder that allowed me to catch myself firmly with both feet. 

When I brushed the snow off of my shorts I realized how red my hands were and how bad they hurt.  I guess they got scrapped up and took a beating from the fall. I gently cursed myself for not taking the ice ax and micro spikes. I made my way across the base of the snowfield to find my way back onto the path. I finally came across a cairn that had a stick arrow pointing down a little gully which I assumed was the direction I needed to head. I cliffed out after climbing down the gully and had to backtrack. I scrambled up a rock face to gauge the direction I needed to head. I could see the Meadows below but couldn't really see a path down from my current position. I made the decision to slowly make way down another boulder field full of loose rocks and dirt. Though it was semi-sketchy... I moved slowly and eventually made it back to safety in the Meadows. It took a moment for me to look around and see that the day had morphed into an absolutely gorgeous afternoon...

I still had a few miles to go before getting back to the car so I filled up one of my soft flasks with some ice-cold mountain water... 

After a long day of scrambling up rocks and boulder hopping... the run down from the Meadows was extremely peaceful.

It took 11 hours and 18 miles/ 7500ft gain to link the Middle and South Tetons. There is something so magical and rewarding about spending ALL day in the mountains. Alpine movement not only engages your ENTIRE body but it also engages your mind with having to think through moves and problems. I've come to realize that these are the types of outings that speak to my soul and make my heart happy and thirsty for adventure.

Beau was propped up with his legs hanging out the window when I finally made it back to the car. I was envious of how comfortable and relaxed he looked. When I asked him about his trip down he rattled off my EXACT same story line! We litrully took the same route down from the saddle... got cliffed out in the same spot, slid down the same snow field... EVERYTHING! After changing into some clean, comfortable clothes we went and grabbed a campsite right outside of the GTNP. Not a turrrrble view from the campground... 

We drove back into Jackson for dinner and ate on a patio and discussed the adventurous day over colbeers. We grabbed another 6-pack before heading back to camp for the night. Such a solid first day of vacation. 

No Wildlife In Yellowstone

We woke up with the sun on Friday morning, packed up our camping gear and headed into Jackson for some breakfast and coffee. After a quick cup of local coffee, we bid farewell to the Tetons and set our sights on Yellowstone.

We were ready to get out and stretch the legs after sitting in construction traffic so we made a pit stop at Old Faithful. I knew Old Faithful was very touristy but I was shook at just how touristy it actually was. It was nothing like I expected. For some reason in my mind I had the experience pegged out to be a little more innocent and natural feeling than it turned out to be. Instead of a serene viewing of the geyser... Old Faithful felt more like a killer whale at Sea World. Though the eruption was beautiful... it was sad in a way.  

After the eruption was complete we hit the road again. We had planned to possibly make a few pit stops on our way out to see a few other sights but every single parking lot we passed was packed full of cars. It was such a turn off that we made the decision to just continue on towards Big Sky. 

My friend Kathleen was in Yellowstone the week prior and had posted a few amazing pictures of the wildlife she saw. She saw bison crossing the road... 

 pic: Kathleen 

Had a frightening close encounter of the elk kind... 

pic: Kathleen

So, I figured we would get to see a good amount of wildlife as we passed though. Nope. Not a damn thing. Kathleen got all of dis... 

pic: Kathleen

And we got nothing. 

When we rolled into Big Sky we made a BEE-line to the Beehive Basin trail head and started getting ready for a run. While we were lacing up our shoes we were approached by a few excited hikers who warned us of a momma grizzly and her cub a few miles down the trail near a rock cropping. We didn't have bear spray but we didn't worry too much about the grizzlies. We figured by the time we got to the area they'd be long gone. We were right. We saw a few hikers heading back to the trail head but no bears. 

The route to Beehive Basin a relatively easy trail that would be about 7 miles round trip with approximately 1600ft of gain. It was a perfect recovery from the long outing in the Tetons the day before. 

I had been scoping out and researching another big mountain to climb for Saturday and Beehive Peak was one of the choices. 

Beehive Peak is the 3rd highest mountain in the area sitting at 10,742ft but everything I read had it pegged as a serious 4th class scramble to the top. I still had 5-6 months of hard work before my shoulder would be back to 100% strength and I didn't feel confident enough to make an attempt (especially since I would be venturing out alone). 

We climbed up to the top of an overlook and plopped down. Beau and I had never really gotten to spend any extended one on one time together and I had thoroughly enjoyed our time together so far on this trip. We had great conversations about practically everything under the sun which included but was not limited to: existence, the paranormal, our wives, our dreams and aspirations. It was quality time that I'm glad I got to share with him. 

After a lengthy chat our stomachs started rumbling and we started our trip back to the trail head

We took a brief pit stop to gaze upon the big ass mountain that we would be climbing at mile 20 on Sunday:  Lone Peak sitting pretty at 11,166ft. 

We drove down into Big Sky where I had the best burger of my lyfe. No exaggeration... it was litrully the BEST BURGER OF MY LYFE! Choppers Grub and Pub - Whiskey Burger (cheddar cheese, Applewood smoked bacon, bourbon whiskey glaze). Get it. You will not be disappointed... unless you're a vegan... then you will be disappointed... or... you'll change your rabbit ways. 

After yet another failed attempt at finding a campsite... we ended up getting an extra night in the lodge and spent the night in a cozy bed, drinking colbeer and watching the Alaskan Bush People. I will say it was nice taking a shower and cleaning up after 2 days of playing in the mountains... 

Naked and Not So Afraid

We slept in a little before moseying on down to grab breakfast. Beau's plan was to hang out at the resort and ride the tram up to Lone Peak to watch the 28k. My plan was to climb another big mountain. I had 2 options: Galletin Peak (11,015ft) or Wilson Peak (10,705ft). I had my heart set on Galletin but the shortest route I could find was a 23 mile round trip and I figured that paired with the 11hr day linking the Middle and South Teton would leave me pretty gassed for the 50k on Sunday. So, with Galletin and Beehive out of the picture there was only one logical choice... the 12.5 mile/ 4700ft gain Wilson Peak route. 

A short drive out of town and one dirt road later... I found myself alone at the Dudley Creek Trailhead.

I took the dirt road up until it connected with the single track. After a few days of running in mostly exposed mountains... it was a welcome change to dive into a deeper, denser forest. 

At first it was a little unnerving knowing I was all alone out in the middle of grizzly country without any bear spray... but the solitude and soothing sound of the flowing waters of Dudley Creek lulled me into a peaceful trance. 

Every so often I would pop out in an exposed field but would quickly dive back into the woods. I knew I was getting close to the alpine lake I had read about when I started a steep climb up along the ridge. After 5 miles I finally arrived an unoccupied lake. 

I knelt down and felt the water. It was the perfect amount of cool and I vowed to take a dip after I tagged Wilson Peak. I made my way over to the right side of the lake a climbed up a short couloir to an alpine meadow where I FINALLY saw some wildlife: a mountain goat making its way up the mountain. 

I chose the most direct path to the ridge line from the meadow and before I knew it I was traversing the ridge line in route to the summit.

The route was a pretty easy class 3 scramble and had a good mix of loose and stable rocks. I passed one really cool rock structure on the way up...

It was fairly easy climbing until the last 100ft or so up to the summit. The final push had some good exposure and was a lot of fun! 

The view from the summit was gorgeous! 

I relaxed and munched on a Cliff Bar while I took in the view of Lone Peak in the distance. I couldn't help but imagine how trashed I was going to be by the time I got to the top of that mountain the next day. I knew 3 heavy mountain days leading up to an extremely technical and difficult 50k wasn't the smartest race strategy but I had to take advantage of my time out West. Plus, with just having gotten back into running after doucheshoulder surgery... "racing" was the last thing on my mind. I was just elated to be moving through the mountains and covering long distances again!  At this point... the Rut was just the cherry on top of an already fabulous trip. 

I decided to take a slightly different route back to the alpine lake. The couloir I took down was waaaaaay more difficult. It was mix of extremely loose dirt and rock. It wasn't as fun as the way up but by the time I had gotten halfway down... I had to commit and continue. The earth was just too unstable to climb back up. It was ridiculously slow moving and the exposure left me overheated and sunburnt... so I did what any rational human would do when I got back to the alpine lake.... I got nakey and cooled off. 

By the time I got back to our resort, packet pick up was almost over. I took a quick shower, went and grabbed my packet and watched Beau fail miserably at the lasso toss... 

I also got a chance to see my friend Laurie (another southerner racing from GA) before the pre-race meeting! 

After we listened to Mike Foote give his pre-race briefing we grabbed dinner at a delightful little eatery, laid out our race gear and had one last colbeer before drifting off to slumber. 

Wut Wut In Da Rut

The Rut started bright and early. The field was divided up into 3 waves with the first starting at 6:00am and the others leaving in 5 minute increments. Back before douche shoulder surgery I had high hopes of being in extremely good race shape for the Rut so I had signed up for Wave 1. Since I had not been able to train specifically for the race and had put in a few long, hard days beforehand... I decided to slide back into Wave 2 and start with Beau. As the screeching elk horn sounded through the starting chute, we flipped on our headlamps and set off for a long day in the mountains. Beau and I chatted for about a half mile before he took off ahead of me. I didn't even attempt to chase or keep up with him and this would be the last I would see of him for the day. I knew it was going be a tough day for me and felt like I needed to run very reserved. There was nothing to prove by pushing hard... I just wanted to enjoy the technical, brutal mountain terrain and walk away with a great experience. 

We immediately bottlenecked the moment we left the dirt road but things started spreading out once the sun came up. The sun was a brilliant orange masked behind the smoke from the wildfires that were raging on the western part of the state

I felt way better than I expected as I came though Moonlight Lodge #1 aid station (mile 5.6). My legs were feeling a bit heavy but still had some pop in them. The miles between Moonlight Lodge #1 and Moonlight Lodge #2 aid station (mile 11.5) were a lot of fun and seemed to cruise by effortlessly...

That quickly changed after leaving Moonlight Lodge #2 (mile 11.5). We started the steep, lengthy climb up to the top of the ridge and my legs just weren't having any part of it. 

As soon as we hit the scree field to make the big push up to the ridge line... my legs gave out. They started to feel like ship anchors and it started to feel like a chore to get them to cooperate. Looking up to see the tiny figures marching along the ridge line reinforced the idea that it was about to turn into a extremely long day...

Though the climb up was tough... it was neat to see so many people pushing and experiencing the same mountain. 

The climb eventually topped out and gave way to some semi-runnable scree... 

It was a cool experience running along lofty ridge lines. The imagery of these mountains will stick with me forever. 

The technical scree running quickly turned into a steep dusty descent which lead straight into another climb to the Swiftcurrent aid station (mile 18.7). I didn't stay too long here. I grabbed some chips, bacon, and downed some Sprite before leaving. 

The next mile would be the hardest mile of the day. From the aid station to the top of Lone Peak was only a mile long BUT it climbed 1900ft along a technical scree-a-fied route. 

About a third of the way up I started feeling nauseous. HEED products have never really worked or sat well in my stomach and I had been downing soft flasks full of the HEED electrolyte mix for the past few hours. It's my own damn fault for not packing my own electrolyte mix... but I knew I was dehydrated from the previous days' adventures and needed something more than water so it was a risk I had to take.

I found myself stopping every 10 steps or so to hunch over, catch my breath and let my nausea settle. This became the routine all the way up Lone Peak. At one point, I stopped completely and sat down with my head between my legs. I was already sunburnt from the days before but the high altitude and blazing sun was just making it worse. After regaining my composure, I pushed upwards to the summit. 

The moment I topped out I calmly walked over to the side away from the aid station and threw up... 3 times. A photographer came over to ask me if I was ok and I just smiled, laughed and said:

"Yea I'm fine. Just a wee bit nauseous." 

I felt like shit but at least I had a view. I have thrown up in far less scenic places... 

After cooling down with a soaking wet towel from an ice bucket, I drank a few cups of Sprite, refilled one of my soft flasks with Sprite and started heading down the scree slope. 

I felt pretty good on the descent and started to have genuine fun again but that quickly faded once we started climbing. By this point the sun was baking like bacon and the nausea had picked back up. I had a sinking feeling back at Swiftcurrent (mile 18.7) that I wouldn't be able to stomach any real food for the rest of the day... that's why I made sure I filled up a soft flask with Sprite. Though it wasn't much... it was still calories and I had hoped it would settle my stomach enough to hopefully at least force a gel into my system. The climb up to Andesite (mile 26.5) was awful and misleading. There were a few spectators along the trail cheering runners on but these spectators were merely false prophets. I heard these false prophets and their gleeful cheers and assumed that they were near the aid station. They were not. They were nowhere close! Blasphemy! They sat and smiled on a log of lies! The trail continued upwards and even had a few sections that were steep enough that required a rope to climb. After what litrully seemed liked a lifetime... I popped out onto a road and could see/hear the mass crowd surrounding the aid station. I slowly jogged into the aid station... smiled at the lovely volunteers... grabbed some more Sprite... said thank you... calmly walked off to the side and found a shady spot all to myself... and then hurled all over my shoes. I proceeded to plop down and violently expel the rest of my stomach's contents onto the ground in between my legs. 

I couldn't help but laugh at how bad I felt. I think it was the laughing that caught someone's attention. Aid Station Andy came over and squatted down: 

"Hey bro... you ok? Need anything? You ok to carry on to the finish?"

I just smiled at the guy and chuckled.

"Yea man I'm fine. Just a little overheated . Haven't kept anything solid down since Swiftcurrent."

The guy was genuinely concerned but I knew nothing was legitimately wrong with me... I just felt like shit but that's really hard to convey to someone that has just seen you throw up 3 times. He was a sweetheart. He brought over a soaking wet ice towel and drenched me in cold water. It. Felt. Amazing. I was so overheated and the sudden shock of freezing water immediately brought me back to life. He repeated this process 3 times. 

Aid Station Andy: "Now I'm not letting you leave here until you eat something." 

Me: "Ummm... What if I just ate a few chips?"

Aid Station Andy: "I'd prefer you eat something more than a few chips but... deal." 

I nibbled on 2 chips. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep a lot down so I wasn't go to even pretend. I stood up and Aid Station Andy gave me one last ice water drenching before he wished me luck. 

(For the record... I don't know his real name. We never swapped pleasantries. But if you're reading this Aid Station Andy... thank you!)

 The next 3 miles were downhill and I just sorted numbly floated down the mountain. 

There were a few "easy" climbs at the end that had me cursing the Mikes. I passed a medical/rescue worker who informed me that a grizzly bear had recently been in the area but had moved on. Someone caught this awesome picture of it! 

pic: someone 

Finally, after 10hrs37mins I crossed the finish line. 

pic: Beau 

I immediately went and took off my shoes and laid down. I was completely spent. The past few days of adventuring had worn me out and it felt wonderful to be lying in the soft grass knowing that I could finally rest. 

After slowly dragging myself up to the room for a hot shower... we made our way back down for dinner. We were so worn out that we opted out of the beach themed after party and instead chose to drink colbeer and watch our favorite Alaskan family on TV. Beau was paying for his Rut experience with a few foot cramps... that face tho! Haha! 

Striking A Pose In Salt Lake City

After a long 5hr30min drive back to Salt Lake City we set up camp in the Spruces Campground in Big Cottonwood Canyon. 

On our final night of the trip we FINALLY got our riverside campsite. Beau stashed our remaining colbeers in the river before our chauffeur arrived. 

I hadn't seen my friend Jenna since April when she flew out to surprise Ashley for a Smoky Mountain weekend getaway! 

She picked us up and drove us to Alta for a short recovery hike. It didn't take long before we decided to veer off our intended path to go explore a new area... 

pic: Jenna

Though it was a short hike... we still had some climbing to do... 

It was fun to finally get to see her playground with my own eyes instead of through her instabang! 

And of course it was great getting to catch up with Jenna! 

After relaxing and taking in the views from the summit... 

pic: Jenna

The hunger pangs in our bellies let us know it was time to make our way back down to the car. 

pic: Jenna

pic: Jenna

I already can't wait to get back to back and explore those beautiful ridge lines! 

After dinner and a rap-tastic car ride back to camp... Jenna dropped us off back at our campsite. A bright moon, raging fire and colbeers was the perfect way to end our last night out West. 

"If You Can't Say F*ck At Least Twice In One Sentence You're Not Really From Boston"

We had to get up bright and early to kick start the long day of travel. Our flight didn't leave SLC until 11:40am but we still had to drop off the rental, get shuttled back to the airport and most importantly grab breakfast somewhere. Beau and I finally got to sit with each other on the flight and were joined by the most Boston Bostonian I have ever met. A sharply dressed older gentlemen (70yrs old?) with a bright green clover forearm tattoo took the outside seat. He was so full of life and was absolutely hilarious! It was such a treat listening to his stories. We went on to discuss his ski adventures… his "pissedoffness" and the ridiculousness of having to "express my sins to a pedophile priest." It was really inspiring to see someone living life to the fullest and still being super active in the later years. We parted ways with Boston when we stopped to let off/pick up passengers in Denver. After a quick passenger exchange we bounced over to Dallas where we had a lengthy layover before our final flight at 7:20pm back to Birmingham. 

A few colbeers in Dallas and one in-flight whiskey later... we arrived back in Alabama around 10:30pm. 

By the time I made it back to the house my wifey was already asleep. I woke her up with a soft kiss on the forehead and was greeted with a warm smile and sleepy hug.

"Baby! I'm so glad you're home!"

It wasn't long before I was in bed, petting a sleepy cat that was resting on my chest. I couldn't fall asleep immediately. My brain was still trying to process the trip and the sheer magnitude of the mountains that I had the privilege of exploring the past 5 days. I was just so thankful. Thankful that I have a healthy body that allows me to cover long distances in the mountains... thankful that I have such a loving wife that supports my adventurous soul... thankful for the FARM and the opportunities they've given me... thankful that I had such a good surgeon and rehabilitation team that got me back to doing what I love so quickly.

It's trips like this that really make me appreciate all of the wonderful people in my life. I can't wait until the next adventure. 

pic: Jenna

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