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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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

December’s Dying Days

sidedoor2The last month of 2015 saw a continuation of my break from running that started in November, swapping the sport for ski touring which has been infrequent lately as well. I believe this long hiatus from running will be beneficial structurally and in terms of my overall energy going into the new year. My body feels vastly more “together” compared to how I feel at the peak of my training in the springtime — I’m much slower and lack the stamina I’ll develop next season, but at my peak I often feel peculiarly capable of performing extremely well in an event, but beyond that, utterly being shattered.

For now, however, I am the coarse and unshaped boulder, not yet the serrated flintstone. Lots of beer, Christmas cookies and reduced running will turn one into an unshaped boulder, that’s for sure.

v180_3The month kicked off with Vert 180 on December 5, an urban ski mountaineering race at Calgary’s Olympic Park where competitors rack up as many laps as possible in a three hour time limit. The course consisted of a little over a hundred metres of skinning, a short bootpack to the top of the hill, followed by a blistering descent back down again, sans turning. I managed to get nine laps — only half of the winner’s number, to be clear — but more importantly checked off one of my goals for 2015: compete in a skimo race. (2h52m/14.9km/1262m) Movescount.

v180_1 v180_2 Screen shot 2015-12-31 at 4.13.00 PM 1On December 10, I tagged Lookout Mountain in the Sunshine Village ski area. Starting at the parking lot at 7:38am, I reached the top of the Great Divide chair in just under two hours. The resort opened while I was still skinning straight up Lookout and a few people stopped to ask what I was doing or to cheer me on. An older gentleman referred to me as “the man” and “his hero” as I stashed my skis on my bag, ducked the ski area ropes and started marching up the remaining twenty metres to the true summit of Lookout. I stood around taking pictures for a few minutes before noticing a ski patroller bootpacking laboriously towards me: how quickly I went from being someone’s hero to being scolded and skiing down with my tail between my legs, haha… (2h23m/17km/1100m) Movescountlookout5 lookout7On December 11, I tagged Sanson’s Peak — the little brick observatory atop Sulphur Mountain that I frequent in the springtime — from my house on skis. Well, mostly on skis. I carried them on my back for about a kilometre before finding snow deep enough to start skinning near the Cave & Basin. I reached the boardwalk along the top of the mountain in about three hours, had a snack, then hiked up to tag Sanson’s in 3h20m. Fast conditions got me back down to the riverside in only twenty five minutes, followed by another forty minutes of flat travel to get back to my place. A far cry from two hour-something ascents in the summertime but this objective is exactly what I pictured when I purchased these skis — out and back from my house; racking up almost a thousand metres of vert; tagging a summit and getting a fast downhill trip as well. (4h47m/20km/976m) Movescount

sulphurskimo1The month concluded with a Christmas ski day riding lifts at Sunshine Village with my girlfriend and a couple runs here and there, just Tunnel and Ha Ling. The act of running feels delicious and I hope to keep things nice and easy going into the new year. I’ll be attempting to rebuild my endurance base during the first few months and want that foundation to be built on enjoyable, playful running.

redoubtThe last two days of December brought Sean to town for a little touring on the skis. We headed out early on the 31st to Lake Louise Ski Area, skinning up Temple access road to Temple Lodge where we were promptly informed that we weren’t allowed to #skiuphill and would have to #earnourturns elsewhere… It was a half hour after opening and there were a good number of people coming down the mountain; I was pretty bummed but have to concede that this activity is better done before or after operating hours. So we skied over into the bowl between Redoubt and Lipalian, wafted through deep power making frequent kickturns to the top of a ridge, turned around, stripped off our skins and skied back down again.

seanlake1 leevinglake

December’s Dying Days

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.

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The Longest Season