Aug 11 – 2408/26/2014
Mon – Mt. Elbert (2:12, 4500′)
Up West Ridge, down NE Ridge from Halfmoon Creek. Great run. This outing gave me the confidence that I can actually do UTMB. I’ve been maintaining–even improving–my fitness for the past month, but I haven’t been able to do much or any legitimate running. Today’s route involved 45min of running before the 3000′-in-one-mile hump up the backside of the peak and 40min descent down the standard trail. Not only was my shin pain-free with all the running, but I matched my PR for the West Ridge climb despite the crisp temps rendering the talus footing a bit frosty.
Tue – North & South Maroon Bells (3:15, 5500′)
Every time I get over into the Elk Range I become determined to spend more time there. Today’s fantastic run confirmed this conviction; it’s a magnificent place. With my re-newed commitment to racing UTMB, I knew I only had a few more days in Colorado’s mountains before an extended trip to Europe, so I made a quick trip over Independence Pass to tick off the crown jewels of this range. My shin was pain-free on the 35min approach run from Maroon Lake, and then it was a very Grand Col Ferret-esque hands-on-knees grunt up a vert k to the 13,300′ ridge of South Maroon. Right before I entered the chossy ascent gulley on the backside of the mountain, I bumped into a party of three that turned out to be Neal Beidleman, his daughter Nina, and his friend Frank. Neal was one of the first people to link up all the Elk 14ers, not to mention other impressive alpine exploits in all of the greater ranges of the world. A real pleasure to meet him. The traverse between the two summits went well, and then it was just the steep plummet off North Maroon before picking my way through the rocks and hikers back to the parking lot. Outstanding run.
Wed – Mt. Princeton (2:27, 5500′)
Up and down Grouse Canyon. Last ascent of this route/mountain for the summer. I was slightly worried for the shin given the last couple of days of running-intensive outings, but it felt 100%. Just took it easy, anticipating a longer link-up tomorrow. Gonna miss this.
Thu – Mt. Belford-Oxford-Harvard-Columbia (5:04, 9500′)
Left my car at the N. Cottonwood TH and then started running from the Missouri Gulch TH with Frosty. Despite sun all week, today held a cloudy, gloomy atmosphere and I never saw the sun all day. Really fun to reacquaint myself with the drop from Oxford into the Pine Creek valley, but then on the climb up Harvard’s north ridge I was reminded of just how difficult Nolan’s is. The sometimes loose footing on parts of that ascent made me consider the utility of poles for parts of Nolan’s as well. On top of Harvard I was running in a drizzly cloud, but I opted for the Rabbit Ridge traverse over to Columbia anyways, which was a blast. Lots of 3rd and 4th Class with a few moves of 5th.
I’ve done the descent off of Columbia three times now and only once have I really nailed it. Problem is, that was the first time, so I became convinced that it’s worth going straight south off the end of the ridge and dropping directly down to the bridge crossing N. Cottonwood Creek, but today’s descent was a ‘shwacky mess down low through fresh undergrowth in an avy chute. Up high it’s a great, direct, steep line with excellent footing, but I still have to find a little more expeditious route through the trees down low. Great run, and a satisfying last outing in the Sawatch for the summer season.
Fri – Odd Flatiron Trifecta+Green Mt. (2:01, 5000′)
Back in Boulder, so had to get up some beach boards, especially with the 3rd Flatiron being open again now. Linked up the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Flatirons from Chat, and then tagged the summit of Green before descending. Great outing. It was plenty hot with the morning sun exposure on these slabs, but all the oxygen down here really seemed to make a difference in my energy levels. Such fun scrambling.
Sat – Flatiron Quinfecta+Green Mt (2:39, 5500′)
Being my last day in the country for a while, I decided I needed to go back and get the full link-up today. Was able to slurp a little water at one secret spring, but I still ended the outing pretty parched. Ran into Mauricio and Alina on the First and when they asked me what my plans were for the morning I was pretty non-commital, but I seemed to gain energy and motivation throughout the day and ended up having a grand time. Great final Colorado run before heading to Chamonix.
Sun – Boulder Creek Paths (1:07)
This 4:30am run was just a pre-plane shakeout before catching the bus to the airport. Always worth doing to dampen the inevitable air-travel angst.
Mon – Cabana des Rognes (2:29, 6000′)
Joe and I got to Geneva around 8:30am and were in Chamonix by 10am. After a croissant and an esspresso we were parked in Les Houches and staggering up the hill with plans to visit this prominent ridge on Mont Blanc at 9500′. After grunting and groaning our way through the first 45min or so of trans-continental travel lethargy, we had a grand time on this stunning route. Chamoix (an ungulate that seems to be a mix of mountain goat, kudu, and antelope), spectacular views, and big vert got us super psyched for the next two weeks in these hills.
Tue – Le Brevent (1:58, 5000′)
Had designs to go up Mont Blanc this morning, but when it was pouring rain at 6am, Joe and I just rolled over in our respective beds; not hard to do when trying to overcome jet-lag. Instead, a couple hours later we headed into Cham for croissants, espresso, and vert. Headed up into the fog/clouds via the Vertical Kilometer (VK) course up to Plan Praz, and from there took the singletrack trail up into the Aguille Rouge and around the back up to Brevent. No views all day, but on the way down we did stop to check out several climbing crags. So much to do here. So little time. Too much race focus. Once back down at Plan Praz, we finished with a snappy descent of the VK route.
Wed – Mont Blanc (6:21, 13,000′)
Up and down the Gouter route, from Les Houches. After brilliant weather on Monday and pouring rain in the morning yesterday, we decided that today—no matter the weather upon waking up—we would just gear up with the intention of heading for the summit and go as far as we were comfortable with. If we had to turn around at Tete Rousse (~10,500′) or the Gouter Refuge (~12,700′), we were fine with that. As it was, below Gouter (3800m) the weather was pretty ideal. Joe and I took our now-standard Chemin des Rognes approach to Tete Rousse (the refuge half-way up the mountain) instead of the trail past the more popular, train-serviced Nie d’Agle Refuge.
After crossing the Grand Couloir (the spot with the highest objective hazard on the route, due to frequent rockfall), I stopped to don tights, a long-sleeve, gloves, and Kahtoola KTS crampons for the scramble up the couple thousand feet of 3rd-Class-ish ridge to the Gouter Refuge. Last year this had been completely dry rock, but this year the route was covered in snow and ice, making passes of roped parties (it’s a heavily-guided route) a bit trickier. Despite this, this section of the climb seemed to go by much more quickly than I remembered it from last year and soon enough I was at the hut and stepping onto the snowfield to the summit (that was still almost 90min away, however).
The conditions on the knife ridge of the Aguille du Gouter were pretty terrible—cold winds strong enough to knock me off balance, lots of blowing snow—and a couple of times I thought about turning back, mostly because I remembered some knife edge ridges near the summit that would likely feel pretty exposed and precarious in such high winds. Nevertheless, I just put on a shell and decided to keep going until I was uncomfortable. Despite lots of unconsolidated and blowing snow, things never got any worse and after getting to the Vallot Bivouac (~14,500’?) I put on my puffy jacket and grunted out the last 1500′ or so of vert to the deserted 15,781′ summit. Barely anyone else was on the mountain above Gouter.
As these things always tend to go, the descent passed surprisingly quickly compared to the time and effort it took to get up there. I was slowed considerably on the 3rd Class ridge by trains of short-roped clients going up and down, but by the time I made it back to Cabana des Rognes at ~9500′ it was warm enough to strip down to shorts and t-shirt and run down through the fog/low cloud ceiling that had been developing all day. When I got back to Les Houches I found Joe napping in the car, having turned around shortly after Gouter due to the high winds; always smart to turn back if you’re not feeling it. Overall, I was excited to have made the summit on a less-than-ideal day and with zero protestation from my shin. Feeling like a lucky guy.
Thu – Refuge Charpoua (3:45, 7000′)
This turned out to be a bit more than Joe and I had bargained for. The run over to Montnevers and the Mer de Glace took nearly an hour and then we descended ~400′ of slightly-less-than-vertical ladders onto the glacier itself. It took us a while to spot the ladders on the far side of the glacier, but once upon them we were surprised to see that they were dead-vertical and maybe even slightly overhanging in a couple spots, a couple hundred feet off the glacier. Spicy stuff. These allowed us access for an extra 1000m climb up to the hut at 2840m, a truly spectacular place high in a magnificent alpine basin. This place is outrageous. Now knowing the way, the run back seemed to go a lot more quickly.
Fri – Refugio Bovine (1:31, 2700′)
Ran from Champex (in Switzerland) up over Bovine to Col de Forclaz, with Joe. Starting to take it easy for the week leading up to UTMB. This climb and descent completely shut down my race last year (achilles and hamstring), so it was good to come back and cruise it feeling fit and healthy. Really looking forward to getting to this point in the race next week.
Sat – Le Prarion (1:53, 3000′)
Did this outing right from our cabin doorstep off of Vaudagne, outside of Les Houches. After 15min or so of gradual double-track, the route kicked up in earnest for a great climb to the 1969m summit of Le Prarion. Overcast conditions and swirling clouds added some ambiance to the outing.
Sun – Mont Lachat (1:37, 3600′)
Parked just behind the Carrefour (supermarket) and church in Les Houches and headed up towards the Torrent du Griaz (the gorge that drains the Glacier du Griaz near the Cabana des Rognes) searching for an enigmatic, seemingly ephemerous bit of dashed zig-zags that we could see on the map, hoping to suss the most direct, aesthetic route from Les Houches to Tete Rousse on Mont Blanc. Turns out we didn’t end up on the zig-zags but we did run a truly fantastic, roughly parallel trail that emptied us onto the Chemin des Rognes from which we cut straight up to the modest summit (2115m) of Mont Lachat above the Bellevue telepherique station. It was a lovely morning with the dead leaves on the trail and the crisp in the air lending an authentically autumnal flavor to the outing. Took it very easy on the downhill, just continuing to conserve energy for next week’s big effort.
Been feeling pretty American this week here in France, given my non-ability to speak French: