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

Past & Future, 2016

X1After two months of little running and a week spent in suburban Toronto for the passing of my grandmother, I return to the Rockies with my body and mind truly at “zero”. This hiatus has served to shore up energy to support another nine months of training, racing and sending epic projects in the high country while allowing my body to heal and my mind to relax from last season. Finally, a visit home to the sprawling suburb of Brampton — seeing many family and friends at once; hiking with my dog along the Niagara Escarpment, our old stomping grounds; and paying reverence to the old works of Canadian artist/philosopher/outdoorsmen at the McMichael Gallery — temporarily scoured me of my connection with the alpine, freeing me from momentum from the past and allowing me to spring forward into a new year from an entirely blank slate.

tre_cime_di_lavaredo_rifugioAs for what the future holds, my calendar isn’t really that blank: It looks like I’ll be running another European mountain race, Lavaredo Ultra Trail 119K in the Italian Dolomites in late June. Sean and Jordan from Mountain Stride Fitness got into Cortina Trail 50K during the same weekend so we’ll all be hanging out together and probably visiting Chamonix along the way. Lavaredo will be my longest race to date but I’m excited to take in the eye-melting scenery and even try to improve on my 25th place finish in Cham last summer.

ROBBBSON
^The Canadian Rockies highest peak, Mount Robson, painted by Lawren Harris, hanging in the McMichael Gallery, Kleinburg, ON. Not high enough.

One of my goals for 2016 is to continue exploring my abilities in the realms of decreased oxygen concentration — and by that I mean climbing higher mountains this year. My simmering love-affair with high altitude became apparent after I ran up 3544m Mount Temple in 2013 and the infatuation has only grown since. However, because the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, Mount Robson (3954m), is a glaciated behemoth and really not that tall in the scheme of things, my interest lies in higher but less technical peaks elsewhere. I feel a trip to Mexico to climb Orizaba (5636m) is in the cards for next winter but could definitely see myself traveling to Colorado or California to bag some 14ers before that.

30Another goal for this year is to offer an expanded menu of Mountain Stride Fitness trail running retreats, from single day “beginner mountain goat” courses, to weekend retreats based in a hostel, to multi-day tours covering greater distance in a hut-to-hut format. Paddy Sperling and I hosted two weekend retreats in Kananaskis last summer which were really successful and we hope to expand our offerings to accommodate a variety of skill levels, locations and terrain types in 2016. Stay tuned!

09As for the Canadian Rockies, I of course have personal projects stacked high but seem to have finally developed an attitude of quality over quantity. Recognizing that I’ve compiled a mental list of projects longer than the number of weeks available to tackle them, it seems necessary to prioritize. Therefore, I’ve come up with something of a singular project involving five big mountains which I hope to take on and present in video. This project takes the “up and down from town as fast as possible” style of Skyrunning I embodied last summer and applies it to a handful of particularly commanding and iconic peaks across the Rockies, from Canmore to Jasper. This project will hopefully not only get people stoked about mountain running as a subset of mountaineering, but also teach a little geography and why the Canadian Rockies are so awesome at the same time.

All this will surely be interspersed with the typical dose of randomness — foregoing “training” for things more interesting — as the close of last summer provided the seeds for many an exciting proposition including road bike approaches, exposed north face scrambles and even open water swimming…? I suppose I’m looking forward most of all to the alchemical process of refining myself yet again into a sharpened tool, crafted to perform a given job with precision, and experiencing all the metaphysical shit that comes along with it.

Now to go out and actually “train”… How do I tie my shoe laces again?

Past & Future, 2016

The Longest Season

baowhI was slogging up some mountain the other day when I started counting on my fingertips: how many months had it been between February and now? I’d started training consistently last February, bagged Rundle in March, got injured in April, ran the Mont Blanc 80K way back in June… Now here it was, practically November, the days increasingly short but the weather fine, scramblers still making summits throughout Banff.

In other words it was the longest peak bagging season ever.

In northern-ish Canada, we tend to complain about the shortness of our summers, especially in the mountains, where we love to do stuff during our four months of occasionally decent weather. Well, last winter was rather springlike and this fall has been gloriously summery, making for the peak bagging season scramblers could only dream of.

After fourteen hundred kilometres on my spindly little legs this year — a total of 238 hours moving fast and light in the mountains and over a hundred thousand metres of ascent — you can bet I’m stoked for our recent powder days.

Unfortunately, I’m already thinking about next year. A few days ago, I gained entry into The North Face Lavaredo 119K in the Italian Dolomites for 2016. Though I’m not quite sure how next year is going to pan out, I’m excited to have what is commonly described as “the most beautiful race in the world” tentatively on my calendar for next summer.

Onwards to the events of October!

5October 11 was Grizzly Ultra in Canmore, a fun late-season 50K that draws together runners from all over Alberta. Paddy and Jordan from Mountain Stride Fitness raced whilst Sean and I stood around cheering everybody on. Jordan finished in 9th place in 4h52m and looked solid all the while. Way to go, buddy!

6^ Jordan Sauer en route to a top-ten spot at Grizzly Ultra.

The weeks before and after Grizzly comprised a bunch of random jaunts, shifting back and forth between bigger and smaller objectives as the weather would dicate. During the middle of October, I did a sunny loop on Yamnuska; climbed to the false summit of Observation Peak on hard snow with an ice tool; mucked around for 30km in the Castle Mountain massive and tagged EEOR and Goat’s Eye as well. As conditions continued to be snowfree, it was hard to say no to a run in the alpine though difficult to commit to anything too crazy as the mornings grew frigid and hours of daylight scarce. I wrote about this internal conflict a little bit last year in Fall Moods over on the MSF blog.

7 8 2^ Observation Peak

From October 17-24, my folks came to visit so I took the opportunity to step back from incessant peak bagging and tried to be a good host. Via my suburban parents, I looked at the Rockies through a child’s eyes — or at least with tourists’ eyes — as we ferried around to the many jaw-dropping locations that have been photographed and gawked at time and again.

As the end of the month approached, it was obvious that I wasn’t a hundred percent satisfied with my summer, though I certainly had lots to be grateful for. On October 20th, I wrote:

I guess the feeling is that at the end of the season I haven’t really faced my fears and have largely stayed inside my comfort zone, and after all the side-stepping around the real challenges I ultimately feel disappointed and unfulfilled.

Disappointment is a theme I’ve touched on in my last few blog entries, but suddenly I knew why I felt disappointed, that I was justified to feel disappointed but also knew how to fix it. My disappointment stemmed from my own unwillingness to push myself out of my comfort zone, to face my fears of exposed, technical terrain, and I wouldn’t be truly satisfied until I did something scary. On October 23rd, I wrote:

The eternal conflict between comfort and fear. I’ve always been afraid to explore and push my boundaries, but if it gets too comfortable, I start to get bored. I can do Fairview and Ha Ling over and over but I will never attain the feeling of satisfaction that comes from having met and overcome fear. I’ve said this before: this whole activity, for you, is all about pursuing fear.

As the weekend approached, Sean mentioned he was coming to the mountains and had an objective in mind. Sean wanted to explore an esoteric scramble route up the steep, rocky north bowl of Ha Ling Peak, a route considerably more exposed and hands-on than the standard trail to the top of the mountain. We were aware the bowl had been ascended previously by non-climbers so it wasn’t necessarily a death sentence, but I was inherently uncomfortable. A part of me deeply desired to send this route but my mind immediately started thinking up alternatives: Sean said he was open to other options, maybe I’ll take him up Observation Peak… Maybe we can bike into Moraine Lake and do something there… I.e. something that doesn’t scare me.

Having reached the previous conclusions, it became obvious what I was doing and that a big, fat dose of facing my fears was precisely what I needed. So around 10am on October 25, I met Sean in Canmore and we drove up to the climber’s parking lot at the base of Ha Ling and started slogging.

2Other runners who have done this route might snicker — and in retrospect it’s not that bad — but on our approach I was gripped. We treaded loose cobbles on our way to the bowl, frost covering everything on the shadowy north aspect. We rounded a corner into the bowl and left shitty terrain for really shitty terrain, scrambling up short slabs littered with scree and interspersed by green patches. We reached a sizeable class 4 pitch that we spent a good half hour probing, convinced we had to climb it in order to continue. After basically giving up, we traversed along the base of it until we found a weakness in the rock band weak enough to suit our scrambling prowess and clambered up.

3One weakness led to another and we zigzagged back and forth on exposed and chossy ledges, climbing up broken slabs in between. By this point we were closer to the col than the base where we started and it seemed that the most difficult challenges were behind us. Adrenaline tinged with paranoia transformed into euphoria mixed with enthusiasm and suddenly I was stoked. We gained a “green ramp” which deposited us onto the Ha Ling-Miner’s Peak col amid a conga line of hikers headed for Ha Ling’s summit.

4The first words out my mouth were, “That was awesome! I would totally do that again!” or something to that effect. We trotted over to Miner’s to inspect a possible Grassi traverse, then trotted back over to obligatorily tag Ha Ling as well.

Mountain running has taught me many philosophical lessons and has become more purely metaphysical throughout the past year. When I was training on Sulphur in the springtime, I learned to reduce my resistance and embrace the elements. In Chamonix, I learned to trust my training and let myself be guided towards success. On the northern aspect of Ha Ling last week, I learned that when I push myself outside of my comfort zone and do scary things, it somehow opens the doors for new opportunities to happen. This is my newfound perspective on fear.

5

The Longest Season

Summer’s Sunset

40August flew right by with a flurry of disparate summits, though I feel like I underutilized this prime part of the season, for sure. The positive perspective to my summer is that I have remained healthy, increasingly fast in the domain of running up and down mountains, and have learned a lot about my overall system and how to sustain and/or tweak it. I have become lighter, more minimal — practically naked at times — which translates directly into speed and a deeper relationship with mountains I already know. I’ve also spent more time above 3000m than ever before, which is important to me, to visit that zone where the rest of the world is muted and life consists solely of the elements, all amplified to a violent pitch.

Yet I can’t shake the feeling that complacency kept me from pulling off any “big projects” this summer, or really any big days, barely running anything over 30kms since the Mont Blanc 80K in June. Distance isn’t really what matters to me, it’s the feeling of adventure, mainly gained from long distance in the backcountry, and I didn’t do any long backcountry trips (like last summer) either.

The weather in September has changed abruptly to autumn, snow has fallen and I doubt the stuff at higher elevations is going away. My mindset has shifted to two upcoming events this month, then making the most of fickle fall conditions until my parents come to visit in October. September 11-13, 2015 is our second Mountain Stride Fitness retreat in Kananaskis, designed to transport your trail running to an alpine landscape of peaks, ridges and valleys. We still have a few spots available! See mountainstridefitness.com for more info.

September 18-20 are three days of Golden Ultra in Golden, BC. I won’t be racing but other members of the Mountain Stride crew will be. I’m excited to see what the race organizers have devised for their Blood (VK), Sweat (55km) and Tears (20km) races. I ran the vertical kilometre in Golden last year and feel the area has great potential as a trail running destination. I’ll be heading to Golden to take pictures and see my crew.

Wedged into the middle of the Golden Ultra weekend is the 5Peaks Glacier Grind in nearby Revelstoke, BC that will be my second and final trail race of 2015. I originally signed up when this race was supposed to take place in Rogers Pass and had some 4000+ metres of climbing to its name. Swarms of hungry grizzlies caused the race to be moved to Revy, where it will begin in town, race to the top of Mount Revelstoke and descend to Jade Lakes, turn around and head back up over the summit and plummet down to town. The new race is slated to be 44km with 2600m of climbing, a real SkyRace format that should be a fast and exciting alpine race for sure.

Other randomness:
Check out this sweet profile of the Banff Three Peak Challenge, written by my friend Tera Swanson and published by local Banff mediahouse Crowfoot Media. The piece details the history of attempts on the 70km/5000m route which ascends three peaks around Banff townsite. The article also includes bits of interview with my Mountain Stride buddy Sean Bradley, who now holds the FKT, and a few pictures taken by me during his attempt last July.

Without further ado, let’s get to some of the trips I took in August:

01/08/15 – Edith North (2554m) – 15km/2h57m/1314m
A blistering run up the north peak of Edith that was basically nude, save for a pair of split shorts, running shoes and 500mL of water. Apparently I didn’t take my phone because I have no pictures and almost forgot about this trip until I looked at my Movescount page. Another example of going faster, lighter and naked-er on mountains I know well this summer. The temperature was bound to rise over 30 degrees celsius that day so I had to ration my water, taking small sips and sloshing them around in my mouth to alleviate the symptoms of dehydration to trick my brain. All of the gullies en route to Cory Pass ordinarily offering water in the springtime were bone dry. I hit Cory Pass the first time in 1h27m, tagged the summit of Edith in 1h57m and descended back to the parking area in 2h57m, blasting past a lady who’d chastised me for carrying nothing — she’d had a good point. GPS data.

08/08/15 – Sparrowhawk (3121m) – 10km/1469m/3h24m
Ran up and down Mt. Sparrowhawk. The intention was solely to summit but like most of my single summits this summer, I tackled it with a decent amount of intensity. Made time through the incessant loose cobbles which were good training for Sunwapta later in the month. Tagged the summit in about 1h50m. The top revealed a 360-degree panorama of sweet mountains including Assiniboine, peaks of Lake Louise, and Kananaskis front-range fare. GPS data.

1 2 3 409/08/15 – Rundle (2949m) – 18km/1560m/2h32m
Ran up Rundle, fast. Set out to establish a fast time, aiming to break 3h05m, really the only documented fast time I’ve come across. My watch died partway up so people will have to take me for my word, otherwise I recognize the poor documentation involved in this attempt. Not much to say; the weather was decent and the route not very busy. Jogged from home, reached the summit in 1h36m from the trailhead and returned back to the trailhead by 2h32m. Passed one regular scrambling party and a huge group of Japanese hikers who I saw at the hot springs the following day. I remember thinking at one point that I couldn’t possibly descend fast enough to break 3h05m but the descent went much quicker than expected. Will have to go back with my watch fully charged one day. Incomplete GPS data.

5 6 714/08/15 – Opal Ridge South (2560m) – 7km/1018m/~3hrs?
Opal Ridge with Glenn. Drove to Kananaskis in the morning and deliberated about what to do. At last we settled on Opal South. The hike up was pleasant, climbing the edge of a wide drainage and circumventing large pinnacles. Got chased off the summit by a big thunderstorm heading east. We swiftly descended through loose shale to safety but felt bad for non-running parties still up on the mountain. “If they weren’t mountain runners before, they are now!” we joked as huge cracks of thunder erupted around us. Escaping thunderstorms is turning into a side hobby for Glenn and I.

10 11 12 13 1420/08/15 – Sunwapta FKT (3315m) – 12km/1745m/1h59m to summit/3h32m RT
Sunwapta, fast. This is one of the things I definitely wanted to get around to this summer, albeit hardly a “big project” by any means. This is the last of three FKTs set by Steve Tober some time ago — the others being Bourgeau and Fairview — which I’d been gradually scooping up. None of these are difficult mountains, however they are justifiably popular, untechnical peaks with great views. Sunwapta has the distinction of being a nearly eleven thousand foot scree slog poised literally across the street from glaciated giants of the Columbia Icefield. Steve’s speedy ascent is also mentioned offhandedly in Alan Kane’s Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, a mountaineering bible near and dear to the hearts of many peak-baggers including myself. I knew I had to go after this objective.

“Routefinding” on this mountain is virtually nonexistent, though it took me a few tries to locate the very start of the trail — reading the instructions properly helps. After figuring it out, I trotted back to the parking lot and started my watch for the speed attempt. I scampered up the loose rubble on all fours and jogged along the summit ridge, sucking back huge lungfuls of air. Tagged the summit at 1h59m, twenty minutes faster than Steve Tober’s 2h20m ascent in 1998. I hung around on top for five or ten minutes to absorb some the epicness that surrounds Sunwapta: on one side are endless ranges of parallel dipslope peaks; on the other are huge eleveners plastered and smeared with ice and snow. The Canadian Rockies’ second highest peak, 3747m Mount Columbia hovers above the whole panorama. GPS data.

15 16 17 18 19

22/08/15 – Cory-Edith Loop – 14km/1200m/2h56m
The Cory-Edith Pass loop, combined with a scramble up Mount Edith, has become one of my fallback, go-to mountain runs this summer, and for good reason: it’s close to home; I can ride there on my bike, skateboard, or run if I have to. It possesses a great amount of killer singletrack largely above treeline, big craggy cliffs, and allows you to complete an aesthetic loop around Edith. Even without bagging a summit, the trail around Edith delivers both fast, flowy running and techy rubble wrangling on the backside of the mountain. Combined with the scramble and you get a narrow, claustrophobia-inducing chimney/ramp, some third-class slab scrambling with exposed run-out below, before gaining a generally exposed-feeling summit.

This day I didn’t do the Edith scramble due to the first snowfall of autumn having just transpired. I’ve turned around looking at those snowy slabs on Edith before. Today I started slogging up the snowy col towards them but wasn’t in the mood to wade through icing sugar to simply inspect the terrain. So it was simply a loop, which I still wasn’t confident about completing, given the snow on the backside. Luckily a pack of bighorn sheep had broken trail for me in the night so I followed their hoof-prints to the base of Mount Louis and around the rest of Edith to finish the loop. GPS data.

21 22 24 2527/08/15 – Eagle Mountain AKA Goat’s Eye (2823m) – 14.5km/1187m/3h01m
Smoke from wildfires in Washington completely filled the skies of the Canadian Rockies for a few days, making all of our mountains disappear. Visibility improved a notch from absolutely zero so I headed out for a run. I jogged up the ski-out at Sunshine Village and nearly turned back twice before reaching the Goat’s Eye lift; the smoke was so bad, it felt like I was only employing 10% of my lung capacity. However, views and air quality improved ever-so-slightly the higher I ascended (or so I told myself), plus I am very stubborn so I forged on. Made the top of Goat’s Eye in about 1h40m, took a few pics (including the Kilian-esque image at the top of this post) then descended back to the parking area in 3h01m. Pushed the velocity downhill on the ski-out, reaching a 2:20 pace and a max speed of 26.6 km/h. Hee hee. GPS data.

26 37 38 29/08/15 – Bell Attempt (2734m) – 8.5km/1226m/2h18m
Attempted to bag a unicorn but a thunderstorm masked by lingering smoke chased me off the summit ridge. I approached from the Boom Lake side in overall fast time. Once I reached the ridge (too far to the right/east, as many others have done), the wind became gale-force. I messed around on the ridge, probing the route up Bell and bagging a different highpoint but knew I wasn’t going to get up Bell today. The weatherman, combined with my inner mountaineer, called for intense storms and the dense smoke meant I couldn’t see one coming, even if it was one range over. After descending back to Boom Lake, the first raindrops started to fall but spared me until I reached my car in the parking lot. GPS data.

41 42 44 4603/09/15 – AM – St.Piran-Fairview Double – 22km/1921m/3h34m
A little double-bag testpiece I’ve done a few times now. Not profoundly epic but two easy mountains — about a vertical kilometre each — in very pretty surroundings in a famous location. As usual I had ideas to do something else but fresh snowfall and weird weather dictated I do something relatively safe. Lake Louise is a place one does not venture in the peak of summer for fear of way too many cars and selfie-stick waving tourists packed into one location. Since the turn of the month, they have all evaporated, leaving this majestic mountain playground for locals to play with.

I disposed of St. Piran swiftly. Though I packed Microspikes, the snow wasn’t an issue and I never put them on. The peaks of Skoki et al (where I’d wanted to go today) looked amazing, painted with a band of white from 2000m up. Though St. Piran is probably one of the easiest mountains in the Rockies — I’m inclined to call it a hill — the views from its summit are perhaps some of my favourite.

I raced back to the Lake and stopped briefly at my car to change from winter into summer attire; I was soaked with sweat. After a ~3min transition, I started jogging up the Fairview trail. I tagged the summit amid an immense snowstorm rolling over the Divide and blotting out the skies around me. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me on Fairview. I threw on a Gore-tex shell and my Microspikes and quickly descended, reaching the Lake at 3h34m, most likely my PR for this route. GPS data.

Splits:
1h05m  St. Piran summit
1h43m  Lake Louise
2h58m  Fairview summit
3h34m  Lake Louise

28 30 31 32 33 34 3503/09/15 – PM – Ha Ling (2408m) – 6km/700m/~2hrs
I got home from Lake Louise and felt like it wasn’t enough. My body wasn’t completely dead, I needed more. I got on the text with Glenn and tried to convince him to go up Tunnel with me; he convinced me to go to Canmore and slog up Ha Ling instead. We moved up the mountain at a decent pace and hung around on top just long enough to shoot some #newbalance #solefies and #alpinebromance pics. A huge storm was churning a couple of ranges over and it totally looked like we were going to get nailed. Our descent was a personal best for Glenn but the weather never actually hit us. Like I said, dodging incoming storms is becoming our forte. GPS data.

bromance 3 bromance 404/09/15 – Sulphur (2337m) – 21km/1106m/2h23m
Sharpening myself against the grindstone/measuring stick that is Sulphur Mountain. Spent ages trying to figure out what to do today, and if the weather was stellar it wouldn’t have been tough to decide. But the weather was shit and I needed to get out regardless. This run (under the added resistance of a heavy previous day) was swift and snappy and was ultimately beneficial, I think, two weeks out from the Mount Revelstoke Glacier Grind.

Ran up the backside from my apartment, continually pushing against the tendency to simply powerhike or jog, tagging Sanson’s Peak in 1h15m. I streaked across the gondola catwalk half-naked in a snowstorm among a crowd of boggled tourists and sprinted off into the woods to scramble up summit #3 in 1h30m. I stuck around for a few minutes and took some pictures before getting cold and racing down the mountain and back to my house in 2h23m. Definitely a fast time for me on this route and feels extra rewarding to know I pushed the intensity despite 2600m of vert in my body from the previous day. GPS data.

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Total distance for this block: 148km
Total vert for this block: 14,446m

Summer’s Sunset

Scree Sessions: May 10-23

Eroding resistance between me and the mountains; occupying my mind with the passage of the wind; leaving my humanity hanging on the trailhead sign and becoming nothing other than the movement of my limbs, the sound of my breath and the patter of my feet. What the previous weeks have lacked in gnarly sufferfests, they have made up for with lots of hard breathing, sunburns, slogging, scrambling and loving life. While I feel the need for a “big day” soon (i.e. <3000m of vert), I can’t be upset with where my current level of tan — I mean, fitness — is at. Running up to 40km and climbing 2500m has become almost mundane and I feel myself transforming into some sort of mountain ungulate, channeling the spirit of my inner chamois. Hopefully the coming weeks see a couple massive days before I fly to Ontario and then taper for my petite jog around Chamonix the week after that.

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05/11/15 – Tunnel x 2 – 38m58s/7km/320m | 1h07m/7.5km/320m
Up and down Tunnel from my house and back, twice. First lap fast, second lap casual. Ate a ton of yummy Singapore egg noodles right before running and it felt like I was going to poop my pants the entire time. Also, I wore my bald New Balance 1400s, which is a pretty novel concept for me, but they were really comfy and enjoyable. The first lap was a PB to the summit and back (21m to summit, 38m home), which was the objective, to push hard anaerobically and beat my previous time. I got home in such egg noodle-induced misery that I said one lap was enough, but after literally a minute or two I decided I was game for a second outing. So I switched my shirt, trotted across town, got my ass back up the mountain, took a bunch of pics (the sunset now even more sunsetty and alpenglowy than the first time), then descended yet again in diminishing light. It seemed the egg noodle demon burrowed its way even deeper into my gut and the run from the lower parking area/trailhead to home was downright painful. Fast and very pretty but uncomfortable.

IMAG721513/05/15 – Tunnel – 50m33s/5.5km/368m
From home, ran up the SW shoulder to the summit, then down some goatpath on the north of the mountain which I intended to take me more directly down its north ridge to Tunnel Mountain Drive but took me pretty much staight down from the saddle to the first switchback of the main trail. Okay, I’ll take it. Great running on the approach along the exposed (literally — you trip, you die) singletrack paralleling Buffalo Street going up to the Banff Centre, with 100m of sheer drop to the whitewater of the Bow River below on your right. This is trail I used to run often when I worked at the Banff Centre which definitely forces you to concentrate on your footing. I caught the SW goatpath up Tunnel and jogged much of it, then slogged sweatily to the top. Tagged the top then pleasantly got lost on the descent and pretty much skiied scree down to the start of the main trail, where I burst out of the bushes half-clothed amid a gang of elderly, picture-taking tourists. Bombed the trail back to town and retrieved passport pics in preparation for going to EUROPEEEEEEEEE.

IMAG729214/05/15 – Sulphur Double-Crossing – 4h47m/~35km/1900m
Big Sulphur “tick-tock”: From home, ran up the back, tagged Sanson’s, descended the front to the confluence of the Bow and Spray Rivers (i.e. Bow Falls) then ran back up the front to Sanson’s and down the back of the mountain to my apartment. It was pretty poor weather outside so it was easy to stick close to home today. This is the sorta thing (LSD) I said I wouldn’t do again any time soon but today’s run served the specific purpose of instilling streamlinedness to my longer efforts; to focus single-mindedly on forward/upward travel until I hit the summit, then taking a few seconds to recover mentally and dropping like a stone back down, whilst trying to utilize the descent to continue to experience some degree of recovery. Hit the bottom; recover quick; then back up again. It’s easy on big hill repeats (CCC for example) to waste minutes amounting to hours during breaks at the top or bottom relishing the comforts of not moving. I’m specifically trying to break the desire to lollygag, procrastinate, linger, take pictures, eat more than I have to, screw around in my backpack, sit on a rock with my head in my hands questioning life, or the desire to simply curl up on the ground and go to sleep indefinitely, and just get on with it.

Where the Bow and Spray Rivers meet. Also the lowest closest place from the top of Sulphur, seen on left.

Today’s run featured a few near-mystical moments on both the uphill and downhill, literally losing consciousness of “myself” and becoming only my experience of the wind passing my body, the sound of my feet hitting the ground or my hands occasionally gliding into my visual space. Thoughts like, “Tom’s tired” or “Tom’s thirsty” would bring me back to the reality of burning muscles, hard breathing, sweat and fatigue.

IMAG731415/05/15 – Tunnel – 37m/7km/320m
Up and down Tunnel from home in bald 1400s. Aiming to break my previous PR, which I matched on the ascent to the specific second (21m30s). Meant to turn right around and freefall back to town (even though I was dying) but got caught chatting and taking pictures for some girl on the summit visiting Banff. The backside of Tunnel Mountain is closed right now due to a grizzly munching on an elk carcass, prohibiting me from doing a loop around the back of the mountain, if I wanted to do that sort of thing. Today’s objective was simply up and down, as fast as possible. I flew back down to town and sprinted to my apartment in a definite round-trip PR in 37m30s.

Weekly total: 7h59m/62km/3228m


matt118/05/15 – Tunnel – ~1hr/7km/320m
Up and down the main trail with my buddy Matt Wade, who used to live and work at the climbing gym in Banff but now lives in Saskatoon — boggles the mind, I know, but soon (10+ years) he’ll be a brain surgeon. At any rate, I jogged up to the Banff Centre to meet him, then we powerhiked to the top and descended quickly back down. I did a bunch of cool runs with him in the summer of 2013, namely the Cory-Edith Loop with a scramble up the north peak of Edith. I think he’s trying to make it out to Golden Ultra in September, hence trying to get more vert in his running diet.

IMAG740319/05/15 – Tunnel x3 – 1h56m/14.5km/857m
I’m not sure why I thought this would be a good idea, but proved to be a banal but pleasant evening accumulating vert on a tiny mountain. I reasoned that I needed to work on repeats, specifically getting used to the feeling of climbing after descending. I can slog 2000 vertical metres in one go, no problem. But break that into 500m ascent/descent repeats and guaranteed my legs are gonna feel extra pooched on the final laps — the difficulty seems improportinate. Three 300m repeats on Tunnel doesn’t really make a dent, sad to say. I set out feeling stiff and my knee felt wonky and I was doubtful about the practicality of the outing. By the end, having slogged and descended 900m, I said to myself that I simply felt “normal”, i.e. no longer stiff, but warmed up and a little fatigued. You know, “normal”. This run didn’t push my limits in any way but served up 900m of vert without detriment on a pretty night. Plus it provided heaps of comic relief/bewilderment for other people hiking up the mountain as they watched me whiz back and forth. Probably won’t be doing this again :S

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20/05/15 – Birthday Hike: Stanley Glacier – 3h25m/12km/401m
A heartwarming birthday hike (for me!) with peeps from work. I can’t remember the last time this many of us got together outside of work, besides maybe once or twice in the bar… We hiked up to Stanley Glacier viewpoint. Highlights include rockfall hitting and exploding chunks ice and snow off the headwall (!!!); big, wet cliffs and wispy waterfalls; sunburns; amazing views of sunbaked spring snow coating big alpine pinnacles; lots of jokes and laughter and lotsa mud on the way out. A stellar summery day doing easy hiking with friends in a beautiful mountain location.

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21/05/15 – Sulphur Traverse – 6h13m/30km/1946m
I’ve been waiting for this for awhile, for the ridge linking Sulphur’s boring “tourist” summits with its more scrambly, rarely-explored western ones to thaw free of snow. There was never enough snow to ski beyond the gondi station this winter, and post-holing isn’t my style, so I’ve waited till now for my go-to, backyard mountain to become a little more interesting.

Today was a day I desperately needed: to be out getting sunburnt, with my hands gripping talus and the wind in my hair. Personally I’d grown irritable seeing all the snow melting off the surrounding peaks and not foreseeing a chance to get out and bag something, until the opportunity arose and I seized it.

I headed out and jogged up Mountain Ave. towards the trailhead to get to the mountain and into the alpine as fast as possible today. Jogged and slogged to the top, refilled my water, then immediately sprinted out towards Sulphur’s next summit to the south (S3). I got there in quick time (1h30m), then tagged the next summit, and the next one (highest point, 2476m), the only variations being the scrambling on each and routefinding through the trees on the saddles between each peak. I hit S4 in 2h30m then proceeded to the next by 3h10m. Took a bunch of pics then headed back in lollygagging, stopping-to-take-pictures-of-everything-again fashion until my phone died. Hit Sulphur’s upper gondola summit at 5h22m, a little put-off by the noise of chattering tourists while having just spent a few  hours listening to the wind and sound of my shoes crunching scree. And Thee Oh Sees, at times. Tagged Sanson’s, then bombed down the fireroad without stopping, arriving at the Sundance Canyon junction in just over twenty minutes. I clicked off the final flat run to my place at a decent pace despite feeling pretty beat up — deliciously so. An awesome route on a mountain literally in my backyard, with lots of quality third-class scrambling and talus-scampering. Booyah.

IMAG7487 IMAG7491 IMAG7498 IMAG7506 IMAG7537 IMAG7549 IMAG7559 IMAG7568 IMAG7573 IMAG7582 IMAG7624 IMAG7641 IMAG7643 IMAG7651 IMAG7656Screen shot 2015-05-23 at 1.15.09 AM

22/05/15 – Heart – 1h24m/6km/760m
Up and down Heart Mountain fast to christen new running toys with blood, sweat and scree dust. I had to drive to Calgary to do passport stuff and stopped at The Tech Shop on 4th Ave on my way out of town. Running-specific shops are hard enough to come by, but ones carrying the kind of stuff that caters to finicky ultra/trail runners is an even less common find. I picked me up a pair of New Balance MT110s (the original version!) — a coveted trail sneaker I wore frequently in 2013 but have had difficulty finding since then — and a Salomon Sense 1L vest. These items will hopefully support me through summer 2015 and get me through the race in Chamonix next month.

I tried to pick a peak close to the highway that I could summit in the quickest time possible and Heart is like a forty-degree ramp of scree-covered slab rising into the sky. The ascent was a sweltering march hands-on-thighs, sweat pouring off my face, while the descent was loose, slidy and hardly in control. Scree-on-slab = the most treacherous type of terrain. My footing in the new 110s was spot-on although my legs were trashed from bombing down the Sulphur fireroad the day previous.

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Me in a Salomon vest: unprecedented.

Weekly total: 13h34m/69km/4284m

Scree Sessions: May 10-23

Assiniboine to Sunshine

BORING! A 57km backcountry trail run from Mt. Assiniboine to Sunshine Meadows through some of the finest subalpine scenery the Rockies has to offer. A cold, cloudless morning at Mt. Shark trailhead turned warm and sunny as we cruised along buttery singletrack, climbed a couple gnarly passes, ran out of water when we needed it most and narrowly dodged thunderstorms, experiencing the full spectacle of mountain weather without bearing the brunt of it. In the course of our trip, we crossed the BC-Alberta border six times, courted a few aches and pains, incessantly made fun of each other, and crushed nearly 60km of Continental Divide eye-candy in one sitting. Like I said, pretty boring…

Assiniboine to Sunshine

Mount Robson 60K

If anything could prepare my eyes for the scenery I’ll see running around Mont Blanc in The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc CCC next month, it might be this: A 60km out-and-back tour of Mount Robson to peep the Rockies’ tallest peak firsthand.

What was intended to be an “analogue run” two weeks prior to Trailstoke 60K Ultra in Revelstoke turned into a glorious day of warm sun and cool breeze; more roaring waterfalls than I can count on one hand; neon blue tarns with creaking glaciers flowing into them; buttery subalpine singletrack; chossy, exposed ledge running and sprinting up lateral moraines like some dude in a North Face ad; a little hands-on-knees grunting; about three litres of unfiltered mountain water and a near-miss with momma bear and cub. Just another day running around in the Rockies half-clothed 🙂

Splits:
0:31 Kinney Lake
2:45 Berg Lake
5:01 Snowbird Pass
7:57 Berg Lake
9:38 Kinney Lake
10:23 Berg Lake Trailhead

59.85km | 2400m vertical | 10.5 hrs

Peep the GPS data for this trip here.

Mount Robson 60K