Shoulder Season of Giants

After a year spent wrestling with a handful (footful?) of injuries, I’m elated to be moving in the mountains again consistently, racking up vert with frostbitten extremities, just like normal.

Based on the potential I saw in 2015, I expected 2016 to be my peak as a trail runner but it was largely spent doing a bunch of other activities like riding my bike and swimming in frigid bodies of water instead.

That isn’t to say I’m disappointed with last year at all: despite persistent biomechanical issues, I trekked hut-to-hut in the Dolomites and ran a 20km skyrace; Glenn, Tyler and I tagged Athabasca; I rode my bike to Lake Louise, climbed Temple, then rode back to Banff; and also biked, swam and ran to the top of Mount Aylmer with a couple of friends.

2016 was the year I really diversified my movement in the mountains and learned to value what I’ve got.

I’d normally take a break from running and bagging peaks this time of year, but since gaining an, er, foothold on my foot problem, I’ve tried to get out as much as possible to make up for what’s felt like a relatively inactive year.

I now find myself the fittest I’ve been all year, during what would otherwise be little more than “shoulder season”.

Where have I been? Mostly Sulphur, trying to tag the scrambly peak SE of the helipad (S3) in increasingly wintry conditions; and EEOR, hauling jugs of water up a thousand meters of snowy scree in an effort to simulate my next adventure.

Glenn and I on a late-season traverse to Sulphur’s true summit
Minus a million degrees on EEOR
Tagging Sulphur 3 with skis

Sometime last summer — just before going to the Dolomites, or maybe after getting back — I was sitting around thinking about my life and said,

“The only thing I’m good at is going on adventures.”

That is to say, the thing that comes naturally, if left to my own devices, is to research a place meticulously until I’ve developed a mental picture; scrupulously assemble the gear needed for the adventure, leaving behind anything I don’t; arm myself with any special skills needed for the challenge; then going off and doing it.

This has been my general M.O. for the five years I’ve lived in the Canadian Rockies and is same formula I’ve started applying in traveling to mountain locations elsewhere.

Most recently my goals have shifted from trail racing to mountain adventures at high altitude.

I developed an infatuation with altitude while trying to set a fastest time on Mount Temple in 2013. I remember slogging into the cobalt blue as my muscles seared, starving for oxygen. At the same time, I found myself relishing the sensation, discovering pleasure deep within the pain.

The feelings flooded back to me this past summer when I rode my bike to Moraine Lake and hiked up Temple, basking in the “tranquility and power that permeates the alpine zone at 11,000 feet.” Around here, however, 4000m is as high as you can get and any route on Mount Robson is well beyond my abilities as a mountaineer at present.

20160826_113151

Fortunately there are five and six thousand meter high piles of scree elsewhere in the world and I intend to climb them!

First stop, Mexico

My first exposure to the volcanoes of Mexico was via Aleister Crowley, whose writings I devoured as a young adult. Crowley trained in Mexico for an attempt on Kangchenjunga, and this account I remember reading while living in suburban Toronto. I remember desperately wanting the experience of climbing mountains but not knowing how I would ever even get to the mountains in the first place.

Ten years later, and traveling to Mexico has become the logical next step for me, just as it is for dozens of (especially American) mountaineers who make the pilgrimage down south for their first dose of thin 5000m oxygen.

Just as the Rockies prepared me for forays in the Alps, forays in the Alps have helped prepare me for this. I see the mountains of Mexico as the first step in a series of goals that has the potential to occupy me (my winters, anyway) for the next few years.

5426m Popocatepetl as seen from 5230m Iztaccihuatl, a view I’ll hopefully see in a few days.
Shoulder Season of Giants

Dipping into the Unknown: Aylmer Triathlon

23It was mid-September. The mornings were chilly; leaves were turning vibrant yellow; snow had already fallen on the mountaintops. And there I was in my wetsuit about to slip into the freezing-cold lake.

Ever since I saw the video of David Gonzales’ Grand Teton Triathlon (AKA “The Picnic”), I’d wanted to attempt the same sort of challenge here in the Canadian Rockies. I don’t know if Sean and I had even bagged Aylmer for the first time, but I’d already selected it as the perfect playground for this sort of type 2 fun.

After my Temple duathlon, my focus shifted to this objective. I’d been riding my bike all summer — plus did Aylmer by bike last fall — so the cycling component wasn’t in question. And I was fairly confident about the running and scrambling parts as long as my gimpy foot held up. But when it came to the prospect of getting in the frigid lake and swimming across a wide part of it — that’s where the unknown lay.

24I actually possess a fair bit of experience both as a swimmer and dealing with mild hypothermia. I’ve been a swimmer my entire life, eventually teaching swimming as a young adult, where I shivered for hours in chilly lap pools with zero body fat to keep me warm.

But those were pools, and this was a lake. A very cold lake, with a good amount of chop on the water most days, not to mention a terrifying sea monster that resides within it.

Once on land, one isn’t much safer: the Minnewanka lakeshore trail is prime habitat for grizzlies and is restricted to groups of four, bear spray, etc., for most of the summer. I planned to attempt the triathlon September 17, as soon as the restrictions ended, and rounded up a couple buddies to join me for the cycling and running parts of the trip.

Jordan joined me from Edmonton and Chris from Canmore. The weather leading up was stellar but as the weekend approached, the forecast deteriorated. I’m used to pretty wild chinooks but the evening before the triathlon, the winds gusted harder than I’d ever felt them before. I laid in bed thinking about having to swim in the lake the next morning.

When we awoke, the wind had died but the skies were dismal — you couldn’t even see Aylmer from the window as it was engulfed in dark clouds. We cooked a couple of breakfast wraps and headed out the door around 7:40am. I was already wearing my wetsuit so I wouldn’t have to change when we got to the lake.

We met Chris at Whitebark Cafe and started cruising at 8:10am. We rode the 10kms up to Minnewanka in 31mins. I left my bike in Chris’ car (which was parked in Minnewanka parking lot) and organized my gear for the swim.14455702_10157413456095487_1913531413_oAs I intended for this trip to be self-supported (i.e. carrying all my own gear), I planned to tow everything behind me in drybags bundled in a PFD. As we approached the water we could see a considerable chop flowing west into the Stewart Canyon outlet. “I’m not very optimistic about this,” I said considering I had yet to test the dynamics of my tow kit.

I looped a long sling into an improvised harness, tied my tow bag to the back of it and placed the PFD into the water. I slipped into the lake, immersing my hips, my chest, then my shoulders, then launched off.

I swam about a quarter of the way out, noted that although the water was rough, it wasn’t impeding my swimming and my tow bag wasn’t being affected my the current either. I gave the thumbs up to Chris and Jordan and kept going.

The two-thirds point was the lowest point for me, as the opposite shore just didn’t seem to get any closer and waves kept lapping me in the face. I definitely had thoughts of the “bit off more than I can chew” variety but I had little choice but to just keep swimming.

14456735_10157413455535487_2076362924_oI stumbled onto the opposite shore amid the beached driftwood grunting like a beast. Even though I was unbelievably cold, I had to change into dry clothes and start hiking immediately. Although the transition was slowed by the numbness of my extremities, once I got into my running gear and started moving, I warmed up quickly.

2I traversed along the shoreline, stashed my wetsuit, then bushwacked up through the foliage to find Chris and Jordan.

Now for the fun part. We jogged along the rolling and incredibly scenic shoreline for 6km before reaching the junction for Aylmer Pass. After heading in that direction for a bit, I elected for us to head up the old fire lookout trail as opposed to the avalanche gully. I’d only taken the avi gulch before and wanted to try something new.

4The trail backtracks a bit before breaking out of the trees and gaining the location of the old lookout, which is no longer present. We gazed in the direction of Aylmer. Chris asked if a pointy peak, pretty far away, was Aylmer. No, I don’t think so, I said. We shifted our view a little. Even further away, behind that summit, was Aylmer.

5From the fire lookout, one traverses along the ridge towards its intersection with the avi gulch. This, I thought, would be straightforward, and though it wasn’t difficult, it was more bushwacky and route-findy than expected.

7Soon we arrived at the avi gulch to behold the behemoth Mt. Aylmer socked in the clouds. After a snack, we made our assault on the final mass of the mountain, aiming to dash up to the summit and back down to that spot.

8We traversed beneath the ridgeline and gained the notch in the ridge which permits views into the Ghost Wilderness on the other side. The final climb through loose rubble is nothing less than a slog, and compounded by relatively thin oxygen. If one consistently bags peaks in the 2500-3000m range (which in the Rockies is easy to do), one can expect to be feeling it at 3100m+.

10As we ascended the final hundred meters, clouds rolled in and it started to snow. When I got to the top, I found Chris sitting on the summit grinning with nothing to be seen anywhere around him. I personally tagged the summit at 6h28m after leaving Banff — Chris was a few minutes before me and Jordan a couple minutes after.

11We hung around on the summit for only a few minutes, as there was nothing to see. I fixed the piece of lumber usually jammed in the summit cairn. We said, “Peace out, Aylmer,” and headed back down.

13The descent went smoothly. We boot-skiied through shitty rock to the notch, traversed along chossy ledges below the ridge, then bombed down the screefield in the avalanche gulch to meet up with the Aylmer Pass trail.

I’d elected to hit up the Aylmer Pass trail for our exit rather than bushwack back along the ridge to the fire lookout. The Aylmer Pass trail was pretty runnable, I thought, and we would be able to make good time.

14We jogged for a few kilometers until Jordan caught a toe and went down hard. He tumbled into the bushes and was silent. I asked if he was okay. Not really, he said. His tooth was embedded in his lip and blood was pouring down his chin.

16Jordan removed his tooth from his lip. Chris cracked open a first-aid kit and we applied pressure to stop the bleeding. Jordan’s teeth seemed to be okay, and he’d probably need a couple stitches, but it became apparent after awhile that he might have a concussion.

This didn’t impede his ability to walk or run, so we did just that and trotted back along the lakeshore so we could get him some stitches and afterwards hopefully some beer and chow.

17In his semi-concussed state, Jordan repetitively asked (among other questions) whether I was planning to swim again. The day was supposed to have two swims, and as the model for the “Picnic” goes, you bike, then swim, then climb, then do it all in reverse.

Although I can use Jordan as an excuse (and I joked that I would), I really didn’t want to swim again. Or rather, the desire not to swim was stronger than the desire to swim, as I weighed my decision up until the very last moment. I could say that it was cold and rainy (it was); I could say the water had too much chop (possibly true); I could say I was tired (I was); I could even say that one of my friends was injured and it was more appropriate to stay with them… The truth remains that I simply didn’t want to get back in the water though I was surely capable of swimming across one more time. And I don’t consider the triathlon complete until I do it with two swims.

18We reached the parking lot around 9h14m. Chris and Jordan loaded their bikes into Chris’ car and headed down to get Jordan some stitches. I saddled up on the roadie for the downhill rip into town.

Ten hours and twenty-three minutes after leaving Banff, I returned to civilization, having biked, swam and ran/hiked my way to the top of a lofty mountain tucked in the front range backcountry. Furthermore I had a great adventure with friends and challenged myself to push (well) beyond my comfort zone.

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-9-36-50-pmSplits:
00h31m  Lake Minnewanka parking lot
01h00m  Minnewanka swim start
01h18m  Minnewanka swim finish
02h38m  Lakeshore/Aylmer Pass jct
03h38m  Aylmer Lookout
06h24m  Aylmer summit
07h36m  Aylmer Pass trail jct
08h23m  Lakeshore/Aylmer Pass jct
09h43m  Lake Minnewanka parking lot
10h23m  Banff

55km (11.5km bike/482m swim/33km trail run/10.5km bike) | 2328m vertical | Movescount

Dipping into the Unknown: Aylmer Triathlon

The Summer That Was No Bummer

96When I got back from Italy in July, I started running in the mountains like I’d forgotten all about the saga of injuries I’d been dealing with most of the year, and pretty much made the same mistakes I made back in May. I ran the Cory-Edith loop with friends, then tagged Edith a couple days later, then biked and hiked to Egypt Lake a few days after that. I stopped doing physio exercises partway through my trip to Europe — the dorm at Rifugio Lagazuoi was the last time I used a resistance band — so it was little wonder when my tib-post/plantar issues flared up after getting back from Egypt Lake.

Soon it was the end of July — the finest months for peak bagging squandered — as I laid on the couch describing my state of inactivity over the phone to my girlfriend: “How are you dealing with that emotionally?” she asked, knowing I was probably clawing at the walls.

One perspective, I answered, was that the situation was frustrating, that I was deeply unhappy, that my life lacked meaning and I was facing identity issues. But that wasn’t the perspective I walked around with day-to-day. Instead, I tried to stay patiently optimistic and furiously did physio exercises like there was no tomorrow.

LG-H831One upside to my inability to run has been embracing the bike more wholeheartedly. Last fall I completed an “Aylmer Duathlon“, riding from Banff to Lake Minnewanka, tagging the 3163m summit of Mt. Aylmer, then riding back to town. When I was forced this past spring to look to the bike as my only means of getting around and maintaining my sanity, it took a few weeks to come around to it. What began with bitter and aimless rides evolved one day into a concerted mission to ride to the Continental Divide on Highway 93 and back. After that outing, I started seeing the bike as a tool that can be used to tick objectives that lend the same sort of warm, fuzzy ego-stroking feelings of fulfillment I get from bagging summits.

LG-H831Luckily, this summer wasn’t solely restricted to riding my bike, and by mid-August my foot was healthy enough to fathom the prospect of trotting up and down eleveners and stuff:

Athabasca
Partway through August, my buddy Glenn put the idea to scramble up 3491m Mount Athabasca in my ear. Though my foot was still iffy, I agreed to go, if only to resolve a simmering vendetta between us and the mountain — though Athabasca is by all appearances a glacier-clad behemoth, last summer Glenn and I reached a snowy arete spitting distance of the summit and were turned back by my idiotic decision to leave the ice tools and crampons in the car.

Joined by our friend Tyler, we hit the road at 4AM, driving for two hours through the Rockies, arriving at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier at dawn. The morning was chilly. Seracs crashed down from Snowdome. After eating and gearing up in the parking lot, we marched up the road intended for glacier buses, then scampered through the sea of moraine into the AA valley.

Ten years ago the AA glacier probably spanned the whole valley but its shrinkage (and that of other glaciers in the area) now allows intrepid scramblers to sneak up beside the icefall and sidehill in tedious scree to the summit, no glacier travel required.

4Jokes about “uphill swimming” were aplenty as our shoes sifted through the fossils beds and we looked for any trilobytes. Eventually we reached the ascent gullies that lead to Atha’s summit ridge: steep, hard-packed, and littered with choss. The scrambling isn’t difficult but managing rockfall is the real hazard. As we all stayed out of each other’s way and were keen to call out falling rocks, we made it to the ridge in no time.

78The grind up the ridge to Silverhorn was less technical than the gullies, but dark clouds were hovering, making me uneasy, and I could sense the altitude was starting to tucker out Glenn.

79 We made it to Silverhorn, Athabasca’s snowy sub-summit, and prepared for the moment of truth: would snow conditions allow us to climb to the summit?  This year we were prepared, packing Microspikes, and I had an ice axe, refusing to let any snow climbing stop me. The west side of the ridge leading to the summit was completely bare of snow, allowing us to tread solely on scree. The only detour of any technicality was the need to cross an icy gully by leaping between two rotten, chossy ledges.

83At last we were on top. An elevener bagged. The vendetta was resolved; Athabasca and I were on good terms. I kicked steps up the huge fin of snow that sits atop the summit, gazed out at the sea of mountains, and drove the shaft of my ice axe into the snow triumphantly. Only problem was that the jagged pick of the ice axe was embedded in my leg. Still working on this alpinism thing, I guess.84We hung around for a half-hour soaking up the epicness that surrounded us. The Columbia Icefield is a crazy place, giving the impression of a different epoch in Earth’s history. Though the outlet glaciers have dwindled, it is easy to imagine these immense mountains as humble nunataks protruding from the icecap many eons ago.

16.6km | 1660m vertical | 10h29m | Movescount | Strava

82Temple Duathlon
The idea to do a Temple Duathlon came about rather organicly. After riding to the Continental Divide, the next step was to ride to Lake Louise and back, or so I reasoned. Throw a peak in there for good measure — Mount Temple being the ideal, the veritable monarch of Lake Louise with a third-class route up its backside. It would be an audacious undertaking, one I filed in the back of mind under “crazy ideas”.

The primary red tape when it comes to climbing Temple is seasonal restrictions that require hiking in groups of four, carrying bear spray, etc. to minimize encounters between hikers and grizzlies. This year, the bears were still feasting on berries down in the valley below, so the typical rules hadn’t been put in place. The opportunity allowed Adam Campbell and Andy Reed to blast up and down Temple in 2h42m, crushing both my 2013 Temple time and a slightly faster one that had been put up a week previous.

The lack of trail restrictions at Moraine Lake was the last impetus I needed to try my hand at a Temple Duathlon, reasoning I might never have another crack to ascend my favourite mountain solo.

My alarm went off at 2:30am. I proceeded to make espresso and whip up a couple of fully loaded breakfast wraps. I poured two more espresso shots into 1.25oz GooToobs and stuffed them in my pack. In my Ultimate Direction PB vest I had a pair of Kahoola Microspikes, an Arcteryx Gore-tex shell, a pair of running shorts, bear spray and all of the food I would need to fuel my effort throughout the day. It was my intention to carry all my supplies and not rely on anybody else, so that this effort would be truly solo and unsupported.

95I left the house at 3:41am and started spinning. The ride went by mostly in the dark which was my wont; not a single car passed me on the 1A until I got to Lake Louise. When I saw the silhouette of Mount Temple, so huge and still so far away, I shuddered and doubts started to creep into my consciousness.

I refilled my water bottles at Lake Louise village then pedaled off to tackle the most sustained climb I would face on the bike all day: nearly 400m of ascent over 10km from Lake Louise village until the viewpoint that delivers one’s first view of the Valley of the Ten Peaks.

tenpeeksBy the time I reached Moraine, my quads were completely pooched and my right foot (the shitty one) was completely numb and felt like a big chunk of ice. I wasn’t sure if Temple was in the cards but the subtle shift in modality from cycling to hiking seemed to infuse a little pep to my legs. I started marching towards Temple anyway. If I didn’t have enough gusto to take on Temple, I could always tag something else like Eiffel Peak instead.

By the time I reached the turn-off for Eiffel, my foot was all thawed out, so I kept on trekking towards Sentinel Pass. I pounded back a package of Honey Stinger chews on the way up to the pass so I would be all fuelled up to tackle the ascent of the mountain proper.

I spent no time at Sentinel Pass and immediately started slogging towards the first of Temple’s three rockbands. I felt uncharacteristically weak and devoid of power; tipsy, toppling over, and completely lacking core stability. Maybe it was the little hiking I did this summer, or maybe it was the 70km ride in my legs, but I questioned whether I would actually make it to the top.

I picked my way through the chossy slabs comprising the first rockband. I wasted no time and immediately started climbing the short pitch of difficult scrambling that leads to the top of the second rockband. And within minutes of topping out, I was charging up the scree and scrambling up the gullies of the third, final cream-colored rockband.

Past Temple’s technical and routefinding challenges, the only thing left to do was slog straight upward through a jumble of rocks and increasingly sparser oxygen. I was surprised and a little appalled at my need to stop and catch my breath while charging up the mountainside above 3000m, evidence of my lack of conditioning and relatively a weak VO2max.

98I tagged the top of Temple in 3h20m from Moraine Lake, 7h56m since the start of the day — not my fastest time on this mountain but definitely faster than most. Though the path up the mountain was a highway of hikers and mountaineers, the summit was host to only four other people. After exchanging the favor of taking summit pictures for each other, the group headed down, leaving me alone to bask in the tranquility and power that permeates the alpine zone at 11,000 feet.

97I didn’t stick around long, only spending six or seven minutes lingering at a place I practically consider a holy site. For three years I’d been yearning to stand once again on this cold, blustery, barren summit. A big bank of clouds started rolling in and the views weren’t about to improve any. But as usual, Temple didn’t disappoint, truly lending the feeling that one is soaring over the entire Canadian Rockies (save for ten other mountains, that is).

The descent proceeded fairly smoothly, even through the rockbands. The feeling of weakness was gone and I was actually looking forward to the ride home. I reached Sentinel Pass and jogged all the way back to Moraine Lake, the most concerted amount of running I’d done since Cortina Skyrace in June. And before that, May.

99I got back to my bike at Moraine Lake and scarfed down one of the pizza slices I’d been carrying in my bag, then saddled up on my bike for the exhilarating ride down to Lake Louise village.

I stopped at the village to refill water, eat my last slice of pizza and knock back a couple shots of espresso I brought with me from home. The last time I rode to Lake Louise, the two double espressos I got from Summit Cafe essentially powered my ride home. This time, intent on carrying all my own food and gear, I brought the espresso myself. The first shot was like a dream. The second shot was mixed with a good amount of unrinsed dishsoap, I realized, after it was already down the hatch. It felt like I was burping up soap suds all the way to Castle Junction.

Aside from the dish soap ordeal, the ride home was bomber. The weather was great, my cycling felt competent and I was clicking off kilometres at a decent pace. My legs were toast, but in a good way. I’ve spent way too much of this year sitting on the couch, so the burning pain of three vertical kilometers in my muscles and a sunburn on my face felt absolutely sublime.

I hammered it most of the way back to town, elatedly pulling up to my apartment 13h56m after leaving. In the same way my “Aylmer Duathlon” intended to express my love for that mountain through a wholly human-powered ascent, my trip to Temple meant to express the same and more.

Temple is the “ultimate scramble”, as per Kane, that the Canadian Rockies hosts. My first season bagging peaks, Temple was my own ultimate scramble, and it proves to be many others’ as well. The following year, Temple became the object of my greatest efforts as a mountain runner. Now at the close of my fifth summer in Banff, it became only appropriate to tag this magnificent mountain entirely under my own power.

Splits:
01h36m  Castle Junction
03h01m  Lake Louise Village
04h36m  Moraine Lake (T1)
05h59m  Sentinel Pass
07h52m  Mt. Temple summit
09h31m  Sentinel Pass
10h14m  Moraine Lake (T2)
10h57m  Lake Louise Village
12h27m  Castle Junction
13h56m  Banff

166km | 3100m vertical | Movescount | Strava

Screen shot 2016-09-01 at 7.31.11 PM

The Summer That Was No Bummer

Cloven Hoof

k2With a matter of days until I fly to visit the Dolomites, almost everything is ready to go, except for my body. I’ve long spiritualized my ankle injury, thinking (perhaps a little too deeply) about the meaning of why it occurred. Because I could never just roll an ankle, of course; I must’ve fucked it up for some reason I fail presently to grasp but will see clearly in retrospect…

In my more far-out fantasies, I busted my ankle for it to be replaced with a goat hoof that will propel me to mountain running greatness. Haha, a funny scenario, until last month’s “plantar fasciitis” graduated into a crippling disability to walk down hallways and such. I returned home from an attempted bike ride to find my foot physically disfigured, my arch being painfully wrenched back, the knuckle of my big toe driving into the ground. I sat on the floor appalled, feeling like my foot was actually transforming, and suddenly the jokes about a goat hoof weren’t funny anymore.

bIn the course of this episode — somewhere between racking up a buttload of km’s and vert on a shitty ankle last month and sobbing hopelessly because I can’t walk — I came to terms with not racing Lavaredo. With zero meaningful training this year, I was cool with trekking hut-to-hut and having more time to explore an incredibly beautiful area. Plus I got my name on the starting list for Cortina Skyrace, just in case. But as I sat there on the floor staring at my deformed foot, I felt very far away from the basics needed to make any of that happen.

So I did something radical and went to see the physio. A little internet research had already revealed the relationship between the thing that hurt (the inner arch of my right foot) with the thing I knew didn’t work properly anymore (my right ankle, especially on the inside). Once my rolled ankle had seemingly healed, I simply assumed it was good enough to run on: I can hike competently, I said to myself in April, therefore I must be able to run. And though things started smoothly, when I read my record from the second part of May, it reads like a record of stupidity.

d
Thank God Glenn is not my physio.

Several sessions with Fabienne Moser at Banff Physical Therapy have helped elucidate and resolve the problem, deemed to be posterior tibial tendonitis from improperly rehabbing my ankle sprain. A few measurements revealed glaring differences in strength and flexibility between each ankle, so it’s no wonder I developed issues once I started running consistently. And “running consistently” last month meant up and down Sulphur almost every other day. Now I’m relegated to resistance band exercises on the floor as my foot slowly heals and the days tick closer to my departure for Cortina.

c

One thought which keeps occurring to me is how different this year is from last. Last year was the first season that I approached training in something of a structured way and felt like I performed really well. I was pretty proud of my achievements last year. This year was supposed to be even better: my training more dialed-in; my mental game stronger; my name higher up on the list of race results… But so far I feel like I have nothing, like everything has been stripped away, like I’m even being asked to suspend my hopes and fears leading up to this trip. To be objective, I have vastly improved in the past two weeks (hiking is possible now, if slow) yet my foot is still quite weak, a glimmer of my usual state of mobility.

However I’m optimistic and still feel there’s a positive outcome to be gained from all this, and that letting go of expectations and embracing the virgin novelty of this situation is somehow part of it.

e
Paddy finishing in 7th place at Canmore’s 5Peaks “enduro” trail race.
f
#injuredlife… No, I don’t actually own collapsible poles.

g j i

Cloven Hoof

Reckless Abandon

After a week of daily battering — I mean running — I’m stoked to say I’ve returned to normal, that is, ripping up and down hills with reckless abandon. Throughout April I introduced longer and more sustained runs into my hiking-heavy diet, which culminated at the end of the month with a visit from my buddy Paddy. On the 31st and 1st we hit up the classic Baldy traverse in K-Country, then scoped out the route for our mountain running workshop the following day. I returned home from that weekend feeling I was done nursing my ankle injury and determined it was finally time to train.

With only thirty days until Lavaredo, there’s little time to spare, yet I don’t intend to overdo it either. I’m excited by the challenge of building something strong and finely tuned in such a short amount of time, yet feel I’ve been given all of the tools over the past few years in order to do it. Lavaredo will be challenging not only because it’s the longest distance I’ve ever ran; in terms of training, it’s like a blind exam. There aren’t months of steady conditioning culminating in this race. I’ll have to apply the various lessons I’ve learned — physiological, mental, spiritual — to a blank canvas and hope for the best.

As for our Mountain Stride Fitness Intro to Mountain Running workshop (June 4/16, Canmore), we aim to introduce aspiring mountain and backcountry trail runners to the basic knowledge and physical skills required to move fast and light in the alpine. This course came out of our participants’ difficulty in tackling the tricky trails of our Kananaskis retreat last summer. Although runners arrived ultra-fit, there was a lot of tripping and cursing the rough terrain and steep grades. Here we aim to let runners explore movement in a variety of terrain types in a low-pressure way. We also provide instruction about planning and packing for your trips and more!

Without further ado, onto the scree sessions of May!

04/05/16 – Sulphur – 11km/600m
Ran up Sulphur from the Hot Springs. Jogged the majority of the ascent, switching to a hike here and there to give my ankle a rest. Met my friend/coworker Kristina partway, then trotted off to tag the helipad (Sanson’s is closed) then the more southernly summit #3. I stopped to take in the magnificent view that S3 provides, especially at sunset, then trotted back across solid rock and narrow goatpaths to the gondola terminal, then back down the main trail to the hot pool. First Sulphur ascent of the year, not counting on skis.

405/05/16 – Tunnel – 7km/350m
Up SW goatpath, down main trail to home. Jogged towards Tunnel in Luna sandals intending to test them on some of the roughest, chossiest trail around. I deliberately chose the SW ridge to maximize hiking over jogging on the ascent. I found the Lunas’ vibram rubber spot-on in terms of purchase on the loose terrain and found the experience not much different than wearing 110s, if but requiring slightly more care not to stub a toe. I tagged the top and chatted with Tami on the phone as the rain came so I went down. Running downhill in the sandals isn’t dissimilar to wearing sneakers, however I felt the characteristic tug in the bottom of one foot — the recovering one — the underside of which is still weak after relatively little activity up until now. It will take a few more short jogs before my feet are strong enough for long sessions in these truly zero-drop footwear.

06/05/16 – Sulphur (summits 2, 3, 4, 5) – ~20km/1500m
Jogged along river from home, up steps and trail to the Fairmont then the hot springs. My ankle felt a little wonky before this run and I wasn’t sure if I should rest or not, but it was beautiful outside and I couldn’t resist. I grabbed a snack at the hot springs then consciously hiked the ascent of Sulphur, rather than jogging it. I don’t think I’ve ever hiked up Sulphur — my first time going up Sulphur was a run, in torrential rain as I fondly recall. At any rate, I hiked very competently and devoured vert like a monster, soon popping out upon the helipad (S2), congested with picture-takers. I immediately swung a left turn and dashed  towards summit 3.

At the bottom of S3, I tackled my gully of choice from its base, rather than climbing a less technical feature beside it and traversing into it halfway up like usual. This was a refreshing change and offered more sustained vertical climbing. I’m not a comfortable climber but the holds are great and the grade is perfect scrambling terrain.

8I tagged S3 and immediately made my way towards S4, which was my objective for the day. Twenty minutes or so later I was bashing choss and scrambling short pitches that deposited me atop S4.

I looked over at S5. I’d been in this same situation before, intending “only to go to summit 4”, then going to S5, then S6, and having to repeat the deathmarch all the way back… If I was gonna tag S5, I had to hurry up and do it; I had limited water, no food, and the day was only getting hotter.

S5 was glorious and alpine. I topped up my bottle with cold slush from the cornice, took a few pics then trotted back. Heading back is always the tough part, as the Sulphur ridge is akin to doing hill repeats. Now I was on my fifth repeat — sweltering and legs pooched — and still had two more to go.

Upon reaching the helipad I immediately descended, hoping to get a ride to town from work peeps who finished their shift at 4:30pm. I would normally — with almost religious zeal — never not run home unless something was seriously wrong with me, but I was really hungry and felt I’d ran sufficiently. I didn’t feel the need for an extra 4km and -300m of impact.

8 707/05/16 – Rundle – 18km/1560m
Rundle with Chris, TH to TH. An awesome day. Was a bit worried about overdoing the ankle but it just gets stronger every day. The ascent was fast and mostly a hike. The weather was warm from the get-go and only slightly cool and breezy at the top. I was also worried about having sluggish legs from my outing yesterday but I was actually feeling stronger and more coordinated; slogging was strong, my descents were quick and my left knee felt fine. As for my ankle… apparently not an issue anymore?

1008/05/16 – Tunnel circuit – ~10km/~200m
A loop around Tunnel starting/finishing at home. Headed out concentrated on jogging easily in the Lunas. “Do you know the definition of ‘easy'”? I asked myself several times as I had to pull back the pace. Not that I’m a fast runner but I seem to like to settle into a pace more suited to descending off a peak whilst going for a FKT… not appropriate all of the time. Foot fascia felt stronger than last run in the sandals, mild tightness but no abrupt tug. Also, the forest was very peaceful 🙂 A delightful run carrying little, with barenaked feet.

*It then became apparent that I’d done a number on my right foot: though I felt fine in the days immediately after this run, a few days later I developed foot pain. Too much, too fast in the Lunas methinks.

12/05/16 – Sulphur – ~10km/~200m
A short session equal parts jogging, hiking, downhill running and scrambling. Jogged towards the backside worried about my foot — a tight right arch has been bugging me last two days and I don’t want it to turn into full-blown plantar fascitis. Results were not so clear — I didn’t do any more harm I think. At any rate, it was blowing snow and as I hiked up the backside trail with my questionable foot, I knew it was going to be a short outing. I hiked until I got to the first band of rock cuts which I spent a while scrambing up and down where the slabs were steepest and most sustained — a few moves tops, really, but it was fun. There’s much more of this kind of terrain on Sulphur, I just didn’t feel like walking far enough to reach it.

13/05/16 – Sulphur (20km/950m)
Up the back, down the front, tagging Sanson’s Peak at the top. Set out to more or less repeat yesterday’s outing, except to go a little further and hopefully feel a little better. After ten hours of sleep (and 800mg of Advil), the bottom of my foot felt great, so I set out into the fine day. The jog towards the Sundance/Sulphur junction felt iffy yet I continued along. I came across lots of scrambling potential on the rock-cuts — including a few pitches that would take me a while to become comfortable freesoloing — but I really required rock shoes or at least Vibram and the trashed 110s I was wearing were soaked and ankle deep in fresh pow. Thus, I continued slogging up the trail, noting the cooler climbs, until I pretty much got to the top. I tagged Sanson’s for posterity (first time this season), then trotted over to the gondi station. The bottom of my foot felt very “clenched” on the way down but I made it, via delightful singletrack through the forest above the Fairmont and then Middle Springs to my apartment.

719/05/16 – Sulphur (~20km/950m)
Up the back, down the front. A “rainy day” but mostly overcast; could have been much wetter. Jogged conservatively towards the back of Sulphur, simply happy to be out moving after four days off re: R plantar fascia + visit from Tami. Right foot felt a little tight but generally just weak; it’s a shame, really. At any rate, I jogged competently until I reached the climb, then hiked at a relaxed pace, popping out among tourists at the top before I knew it. Tagged Sanson’s in the swirling fog, toyed with the idea of tagging summit #3 (which was invisible in the clouds), but erred on the conservative side and descended the front. The sustained descent would be the true test of my foot and it held up pretty well. A few tugs at the end when I was closer to my house but overall not bad. A far cry from my fitness at this time last year and scarily distant from what’s required for Lavaredo but whatever.

621/05/16 – Sulphur – (~20km/950m)
Up the back, down the back. Started out mellow, still nursing a weak arch though better than last time. Got to the climb and started hoofing it. My right hamstring started tightening up again, just like last time, but thankfully it never truly became a problem. I reached the top in complete fog and strolled along the boardwalk to tag Sanson’s in the whiteout. On my way down, I felt bad for anyone who forked out thirty bucks a head to take the gondola up there to see nothing; meanwhile, just a hundred metres lower, the views were epic. As it was a busy long weekend, I decided to return down the quieter west side instead of taking the main trail. I didn’t need the unnecessary frustration of trying to squeeze past processions of people on the way down. Upon reaching the paved Sundance Canyon trail, I actually clicked off the remaining few kilometres at surprisingly fast pace, I think because I was hungry and simply wanted to get something to eat. (Took about 2h50m total, which is hardly “fast” but getting back into the scope of normalcy for me).

523/05/16 – Sulphur – (~20km/950m)
Up the back, down the back. A pretty stellar run, compared to all my other runs lately which have been shitty. Wore La Sportiva Anakondas, which is rare for me (they’re half a size too big and I don’t like the excessive play), however I thought their solidity and support would be useful for my foot. The jog towards the back felt good and I tackled the climb hands-on-knees, pausing only to commune with a family of marmots who come out of hibernation in the springtime. Soon I was stomping through a fresh couple inches of fresh snow which fell last night. I hoofed it to the boardwalk and tagged Sanson’s in my shorts — it felt definitively like December or March. On my way up, it was my intention to descend the front — throngs of long-weekend hikers or not — but it was the snow condition that changed my mind. I’d hiked through virgin powder on the backside without difficulty but the hordes along the boardwalk had trampled the surface into ice and slush, sure to be the case on the main trail as well. So I turned around, trotted back along the boardwalk and bolted back down the backside trail. This was the first time in ages that running downhill actually felt fluid and not awkward and overly conservative. The La Sportivas did the trick and cradled my gimpy foot as I careened back to the Cave and Basin, whistling to my marmot friends all the while.

2 3

New Oh Sees:

Reckless Abandon

So Much Fun

ANKLE5Fresh blood of the month: (1) 5″ gash on right buttcheek resembling an exclamation mark, due to poor glissading skills; (2) mangled right ankle, as close to fractured as possible but not actually broken.

February has been largely a write-off after severely rolling my ankle while running in Canmore earlier in the month. X-rays indicated the potential for a superficial fracture or bone damage, which explains the walking boot-like immobility and colorful bruising. Three weeks later, the swelling has subsided but I’m still building strength and continuing to heal what’s been deemed a grade II ATFL/grade I CFL sprain.

ANKLE2Laying on the couch with a bag of ice on my foot reading Alpinist Magazine isn’t the worst way to spend one of the shittier months of the year, trail running-wise. This is the point in the season where winter’s grip is supposed to drag, but ’round these parts it has been unseasonably warm and all I’ve wanted is to get outside. That being said, it’s the start of March and there are many more months to get into shape for Lavaredo and the rest of the summer. I could have rolled my ankle a lot deeper into my training block, like Anton did a couple weeks out from Lavaredo in 2014… But then he went on to win that shit.

I’ve been thinking about this mishap with a surprising degree of silver lining and look forward to building something stronger from the wreckage this humbling episode has provided.

Besides, this latest Wavves album makes being super bummed sound like so much fun:

So Much Fun

Fresh Blood

bloodLast year’s cuts and scrapes are all healed up, it’s time to make some new ones. I’m off to a great start, seemingly unable to avoid kicking myself in the ankles while wearing Microspikes and there’s some weird bruise thing on my thigh… I’ll let you know if any fresh blood develops.

I’ve been running more in the past week than in the past couple months combined and starting to get my bounce back — my first few runs this month felt frighteningly Frankenstein-esque. My aim has been to get in lots of mellow running in order to develop my distance base over the next eight weeks or so; then it’s time to lay it all against the grindstone and hammer until it’s sharp.

As soon as I got back from Ontario mid-January, I headed up to Edmonton to brainstorm next summer’s Mountain Stride Fitness trail running retreats with Patrick Sperling AKA dumpster_diver. We went for a jog through Mill Creek Valley just steps from his house, romantically admired views of the city at sunset (aww), then worked on the deets over freshly cooked fries. It looks like we’ll be offering three formats this year to appeal to a range of runners and hikers of various experience levels and backgrounds — from beginner to veteran mountain goats! Now that our 2016 offerings are finalized, we’ll have more information here and on the Mountain Stride website soon.

Without further ado, on to the athletic endeavors of January!

3Jan. 04/16 – Whitehorn (ski) – 19km/1161/4h09m
Skied up Whitehorn Mountain at Lake Louise ski area after Sean and I got denied the previous week. This time I woke up at 4am and got started at 5:25am, reaching Temple Lodge in less than an hour. Groomers were humming about so I switched my headlamp to “stealth mode” and puttered up the ski-out, trying to avoid being seen. I tagged Top of the World in just over two hours, skied south along the ridge to tag Paradise in 2h12m, then headed towards my objective, the summit of Whitehorn. I tagged the top of Whitehorn in 2h46m and hung around for over half an hour as dawn broke over the Slate Range, illuminating the peaks of Lake Louise.

Eventually I had to descend and received mixed responses on the way down, including from a liftie who was stoked to see I’d skinned up there, and from a couple patrollers who weren’t so stoked… But like Calgary ultrarunner Majo Srnik joked the other day in a Facebook thread about ski patrollers, “They’ll survive”.

Max speed: 63.3 km/h 😛

bramptonsucksJan. 09/16 – Run in Brampton – 11.8km/39m/1h07m
A run in Brampton while I was home visiting; a long, paved loop in which I struggled to find some semblance of nature and otherwise dodged cars or waited at traffic lights. The run started by visiting old landmarks — my primary school; grandma’s house; where we used to drink and smoke-up as teenagers — but eventually pounding the pavement started to hurt. I headed into the park near my high school where I used to train with the cross-country team but here the trails were also paved. This corridor, containing a burbling stream, some tall, bowed-over willows and small meadows of reeds, was socked in by the urban landscape at its least aesthetic: a rumbling highway overpass on one side and endless warehouse complexes on the other. I know cities have the potential to be beautiful — and Brampton has its moments — but overall this sprawling maze of cookie-cutter housing, congested traffic and drab commercial/industrial architecture is the opposite of “beautiful”.

skogan passJan. 21/16 – Skogan Pass (ski) – 17km/790m/3h25m
Skiied up a long cut-line route connecting Bow and Kananaskis valleys. During the ascent I focused on a speedy cadence, tagging the top of the pass in two hours flat. Doing the full 30km traverse to Kananaskis Village is an objective I might consider one day, though there are surely much more scenic tours out there. This kind of fare — fire road and cut-line skiing, for example — is becoming my specialty.

anntunnel1Jan. 22/16 – Tunnel – 8km/324m/1h06m
Up and down Tunnel with my friend Anne. Jogged to her place, then we jogged to the trailhead, mostly hiked the ascent, hung around on top for a couple minutes, then ran back down. A really warm day on which I wore shorts and reveled in it.

halingjan3

Jan. 24/16 – Ha Ling – 14km/1138m/2h30m
Up and down Ha Ling via Grassi Lakes. Not many people on the trail — neither on Grassis nor on Ha Ling — which was surprising for a Sunday. Maybe the trace amounts of snowfall we received yesterday scared everybody off, or they went skiing. The run in general was disproportionately labored, which is fine because I’m just starting to slog again consistently. This is “fat and lazy Tom”, as fat and lazy as I ever get. I packed a puffy jacket but wore a long-sleeve shirt from trailhead to summit, a particularly delectable occurrence for January.

Screen shot 2016-01-29 at 9.09.12 PMJan. 25/16 – Tunnel Circuit – 8.5km/196m/56min
A loop around Tunnel, starting and finishing at home. I decided to go for a “flatter” run, something more horizontal, to try to build up my distance base. Plus I think it’s good to mix up vertical-heavy days with flatter ones. Jogged at a fairly conservative pace but it was really enjoyable; nice to not be sprinting or powerslogging up a steep slope, but that will come… I need to remember to keep my pace easy for now or it’s going to undermine the purpose of my training.

tom_haling_jan292016_2Jan. 29/16 – Ha Ling – 23.6km/1300m/3h25m
Up and down Ha Ling from downtown Canmore. This is something I’ve done many times before but this is my first time doing it this season, and is my biggest run yet this year, so it was tougher than usual. Took the bus to Canmore and jogged/slogged from town to the trailhead via Grassi Lakes. The actual ascent of Ha Ling seemed easier than the other day, which was a bit of a deathmarch. Donned a puffy jacket at the col and hung around on top for only a couple minutes, enough to take one picture before my phone died, presumably from the cold.

11Jan. 31/16 – East End of Rundle – 6.3km/982m/4h01m
Up and down EEOR with Glenn from trailhead. A pretty cold day to start, with light snowfall and clouds socking in Canmore and the surrounding peaks. As we climbed, however, the top of EEOR stood out crystal clear against a blue sky. The crux of the route — grovelling up a snowy ramp then traversing along ledges to clear the headwall — was tedious but typical for wintertime. This snow climb has the potential to be perfect for climbing and glissading but I’ve never been there for perfect conditions, usually the snow is either rock hard or isothermal and the thawing headwall is pitching rocks at me.

And in other news, FUCK YES:

Fresh Blood