Durango Dirty Century ITT

As the October sun dropped behind the mountains at 7pm, I knew I was in for a long night.

That morning at 04:45, I stumbled out of the van and started my individual time trial of the Durango Dirty Century course. 92 miles, 12K vertical gain, 70% singletrack.

100% awesome.

I finished just before midnight: 18 hours, 45 minutes. That included 45 minutes of mechanical shenanigans and maybe 20 minutes of cattle herding. The starting temperature in town was 33 degrees, with a forecasted high of 50 and sunny.

The course starts with six miles of flat pavement and then a thousand-foot climb up a gravel road to the Hermosa Creek Trail. From there, it’s a gentle twenty miles of singletrack ascent. I felt pretty good doing most of that in the dark — night riding makes the climbing seem to go faster.

The only fall color remaining on the route.

It was pretty cold at elevation. I was expecting to generate more body heat on the singletrack climb, but it was surprisingly mellow. I was wearing softshell pants, a longsleeve, balaclava, and wool mittens. My next layer up (rain jacket or down jacket) would’ve resulted in too much sweat, so I rode cold for a while.

Cold.

Things were going pretty well, but then I ran into a uniquely Western-Slope kind of a delay. Forty cows were blocking the trail, with a cliff on one side and the creek on the other. I started hollering the lyrics to “Rawhide” and they headed up the trail … at all of five miles an hour.

How is it that I’m riding an ITT but am still at the back of the pack?!

After the first chorus, the novelty wore off and I started verbally abusing the beasts, using my best Robert Downey Jr. from Tropic Thunder impersonation. In response, they sullied the trail with about six metric tons of steaming bovine excrement.

Traction was difficult for the next four miles. I have never seen so much crap come from one animal’s rump, let alone a forty-head. What are they feeding these guys? (Oh that’s right, primo National Forest lands). Every now and then, I was able to pass a couple and inch my way up in the herd. When I finally passed the lead cow, I yelled “See you for dinner!” and resumed a race pace.

The long, chunky grind up Bolam Pass Road.

Eventually I hit the sun and an aerobic climb up to Bolam Pass. Dirt roads are a bit of a mental block for me, but I threw on some 90’s hip-hop and spun away in 30:42. Along the way I passed a couple of riders on full-squish bikes who had just started their loop.

Felt good to be back on the CT.

Finally, I hit Bolam Pass where the route joins the Colorado Trail. As I was filtering water, a truck roared up and dropped off the two bikers. “We cheated!” they proclaimed, a bit bashfully. No worries, sometimes you’ve got to aid the crux. We started the singletrack together, but I immediately tore a sidewall and wasted a lot of time patching it, trying to reseat the tire, and then eventually throwing in a tube. My legs got pretty stiff during the break, but at least it was sunny and not too cold.

Headed up to Blackhawk Pass

Back in the saddle. Fun singletrack led to more fun singletrack. This is some of the best riding on the entire CT, perhaps only tied with the Collegiate Peaks segments.

Mechanical and bovine issues jacked my racerboy finish, so may as well take good photos.
100% of riders on this ITT agreed that the views were not ugly.
Iceflow on the trail.

The hike up Blackhawk Pass (~11,900′) was a bit of a grunt. My two shuttle-biking friends cheered me on from the top. Not going to lie, I was really motivated to catch them.

I took this same photo a month ago at the start of my CT northbound bikepack. The framebag was mostly blank then — I collected sharpie signatures along the way.

Dropping down off Blackhawk was vindicating — I had very vivid memories of hiking a loaded bike up that trail, dripping with envy at all the southbounders who got to ride down it. It was just as fast and fun as I imagined then. (I also caught up with the other two and their utterly righteous mountain mutt just as they were turning off the CT and heading for Stagecoach).

More fast, flowy singletrack courtesy of the Colorado Trail.

The next section featured incredibly enjoyable, low-gain riding along Indian Trail Ridge. The flow eventually gave way to chunky hike-a-bike on the Highline Trail, which is where the sun finally abandoned me.

“The sun has gone to bed and so must I …” (but not for five hours).

Glorious evening for a hike.

I grabbed some more water at Taylor Lake, mostly just so I could get the calorie boost from the last of my Tailwind powder. I was down to Cheezit crumbs and a nasty old mint chocolate health bar that I keep in the bottom of my frame bag for times of extreme caloric duress.

I turned on my headlamp and bar light at Kennebec pass and braced myself for six thousand feet of descent in eighteen miles. There were some moments of Type 1 Fun — it’s a killer (almost) pure downhill ride — but after a while it just hurt.

I nearly wept with joy at the sight of Gudy’s Rest, which signified that I only had fifteen hundred more feet to drop, then three miles back to the trailhead.

At quarter til midnight, I reached the van and a very excited Irish wolfhound. I drank a bowl of split pea soup, slipped on some luxurious non-spandex pajamas, curled up next to my wife and drew the curtains on a punishing but rewarding day in the San Juans.

CT NOBO Bikepacking Gear List with Analysis

Colorado Trail Northbound, 460 miles in eight days.

Post-ride analysis in italics

The Bike:
– Surly Karate Monkey 1×11 (30:11-42), Ardent 2.25 front and rear Gear range was sufficient for my load. Anything lower and I would’ve been pushing anyways. Tires held up great, no need for fatter with front suspension.
– Cleaveland Mountaineering frame bag. So much storage space! Contained stove, food and occasionally layers.
– CM handlebar harness. Solid, especially with extra ski straps securing it. Contained tarp, sleeping bag, sleep layers. Front pouch contained water filter, CT Databook, phone.
– CM gas tank. Gummies and peanut M&M’s straight in the pouch for easy access.
– CM “Daddy’s Little Helper” hikeabike strap. Absolutely freaking crucial, will never go without one now.
– Osprey 22L. Perfect size. I cut some sleeping pad to ease shoulder pain while hikeabiking. Contained jackets, sleeping pad, not much else. Mostly protective in case of going endo and landing on my back. Wind drag was a bummer on wilderness detours.
– Pringles can taped to downtube. Cardboard rotted, should’ve used a tennis ball canister instead. Contained both spare tubes.
– Cateye Velo 7 computer. Doesn’t register anything below 1mph, so only really good for wilderness detours and as clock. Next time, a GPS watch.
– One 750ml bottle, cage ziptied to toptube/seatpost junction. Convenient spot. Yeah, I only carried 750ML at any given time. A couple rough spots, but sufficient otherwise.
Sleep System:
– Patagonia Hybrid 20 down half-bag. Coupled with 8oz down jacket, this was sufficient.
– Golite poncho tarp, ti stakes, P-cord. Set up once, but glad to have it.
– Reflectix car-sunshade sleeping pad from van buildout. Next time, bring an extra square to double up the hips.
Clothes:
– Pearl Seek VII hikeabike shoes + Eggbeater cleats. One Euro size too big. They got heavy after a while. Achilles pain was an intermittent thing; should’ve moved cleats bag.
– Poly gote sox
– Merino sleep socks
– Zipoff pants. I accidentally only brought one pant leg! Left these at the first resupply.
– Bike shorts
– Poly tights. Wore these every day under bike shorts as a knee sunshade, never even changed out of them at night.
– Poly Button-down shortsleeve
– Pearl Sun sleeves. Super helpful and cooling when dunked in a stream.
– Fingerless leather gloves
– Thin merino gloves.
– Patagonia quarterzip longsleeve. I would wear this at night, then in the morning, then tie it to my pack to dry in the evening.
– Balaclava
– Cycling cap. Looks preppy but super helpful.
– MHW Ghost Whisperer hooded down jacket. Crazy light and warm!
– OR Helium shell
– Sunglasses. Ditched at the first resupply … I hadn’t worn them for five years and couldn’t get back into it. Plus the amber lenses made everything look stormy.
– Helmet. Petzl Sirroco climbing helmet, haha. Dual rated and the lightest thing I had.
– Bandana
Tools:
– Crank Bro’s M19 multi. Thumbs up.
– Tire levers (2). Also used as spoons.
– Tubes (2)
– Patch kit
– Pump. Fell out of frame bag at Tennessee Pass when inverting bike for tarp setup.
– Gorilla tape
– Gorilla glue
– Zipties (8)
– KMC missing links (2)
– Spare cleat and bolts
– Voile rubber straps (2). Super handy, cinched the handlebar harness down quite nicely.
Essentials:
– Headlamps (BD Spot and Ion). Good enough, but I’d rig a bar light next time.
– Extra batteries. Burned through three sets total.
– Betadine
– Minimal First aid kit
– Sunscreen stick. Never used.
– Burt’s Bees chapstick. Constantly used.
– Lighter + dryer lint
– CT databook. Easier to read southbound …
Cooking and Hydration:
– Vargo Ti alcohol stove + 750ml ti pot. Hot food!
– 4oz denatured alcohol
– Sawyer Mini filter. Slow flow … will consider Lifestraw next time.
– 750ml bike bottle, 1L Platypus softbottle, 0.5L Sawyer softbottle
Electronics:
– Phone + earbuds. Bluetooth buds would’ve been nice but at a higher battery drain. Forgot my USB battery charger … that would’ve been nice to have. Charging at resupplies was adequate.
– RideWithGPS CTR Nobo maps. Helpful for northbound route, consulted occasionally.
– Spotify Premium offline playlists created by friends
– ESV Study Bible and Infinite Jest e-books
Food: two pounds per day
– Breakfasts: instant oatmeal, dried fruit & nut mix
– Sugar: gummy worms, Honey Stinger waffles, HS gummies, Snickers, yogurt-covered raisins (favorite!), peanut M&M’s, Justin’s maple almond butter packets
– Salt: chili cheese Fritos, crunchy Cheetos, cool ranch Doritos, Slim Jims, pepperjack cheese sticks, honey mustard pretzel bites, tomato basil tortillas,  Yellow Carrot Dgo sweet potato chips (favorite!)
– Dinners: instant potatoes and summer sausage, ramen noodles, breakfast burrito dehydrated mix
Staged Resupplies: 
– Friend’s vehicle at Molas Pass
– My vehicle at Spring Creek Pass, which I left with a “CT Thru-Bike Trail Magic” sign
Thoughts for Next Time:
– Go southbound.
– Use some sort of GPS system that tracks mileage more reliably than the Cateye.
– Start with brand new brake pads and bring two sets of spares.
– Resupply in Breck, eat a meal in Copper (but not philly steak mac n cheese again, ugh)
– Find a higher-flow alternative to the Sawyer Mini. Still bring Betadine.
– Bring driducks rain pants instead of zip-offs.
– Bring an extra square of Reflectix sleeping pad for the hips.
– Be thoroughly rested and not-sick before leaving.
– The Leadville bike shop doesn’t stock Tailwind; load resupplies accordingly.

Colorado Trail Northbound Bikepacking

This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

 

I’d like to think that I’ve pushed myself pretty hard outdoors over the years — solo thru-hiking the CT in twenty-four days, redlining all-day MTB races, burning up on Black Canyon climbs and desert towers. But everything else pales in comparison to the sustained mental and physical depletion that I experienced in eight days of bikepacking the Colorado Trail.

For starters, I now realize that I was sick before I even cranked my first pedal stroke northbound.  It was a stressful two weeks leading up to my departure: my wife and I were racing the clock to finish building out our Promaster van before our rental lease expired. I would go to work from 7 to 4, then come home and work on the van til 9, then get up at 5 and get in a bit more work before leaving again for the day. Nutrition was spotty; rest was non-existent — I was already burning the candle at both ends in the frontcountry before even hitting the trail.

Speaking of which, I rode a total of 460 miles in eight days on an average of six hours of sleep per night. Not exactly CTR race-caliber stats, but it felt pretty dang hard nonetheless!

This was by no means an “onsight” of the Colorado Trail. I took several wrong turns due to the surprising difficulty of reading the CT Databook backwards in the dark while sleep deprived and sick. I missed parts of some segments and rode an obscene amount of backtracking bonus miles on others (~40) , including some accidental Wilderness poaching (forgive me, John Muir, for I have sinned!).

I tried writing a blow-by-blow trip report but spent the week of my return violently ill in every possible way, so here are some disjointed pictures and notes.

The kit. I didn’t have a scale to weigh it, but it felt pretty good for eight days of alpine thru-riding.
Durango start; ready to gain some immediate vert. I ended up losing seven pounds on the trail and an additional five upon returning due to illness.
Talus slope below Kennebec Pass
Sunrise after the first night
Front suspension was really nice for long, punishing days in the saddle.
Celebration Lake, I believe.
The ubiquitous white triangle (except for when you got lost as much as I did)
Blackhawk Pass — pushed up the smooth, ridable side; pushed down most of the chunky other side too. Definitely optimized for southbounding.
The one plus side of starting with the hard stuff is that I had relatively fresh legs. Of course, I didn’t know that I had picked up a stomach bug before leaving and was sick out of the gate. It bode its time to strike.
Threatening skies above the Rico-Silverton Trail, an immaculate bit of riding.
Segment 23 — above treeline all day!
One of the better cow puddles in the Saguache.
Slim Jims, pepperjack and honey mustard pretzels in a tomato basil tortilla. It’s the little things.
Nature’s trail magic on the way to Sargent’s Mesa. This was the only enjoyable moment the entire segment of steep moto choss. It look me eight hours to clear seventeen miles, the hiking was so rough.
Near Marshall Pass
The stretch from US-50 to the wilderness detour to Buena Vista was unbelievably ridable and nearly made me forget the barren, chunky wasteland out of which I had just collapsed.
After riding sixty miles on four hundred calories, I made it to the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs store twenty minutes before they closed and immediately ate about 3500 calories. I should’ve stopped after the items in the picture, but I went back for seconds and got two bottles of chocolate milk, a breakfast sandwich and a spicy pickle. Big. Mistake. I held it all down on the push up the road to Mt. Princeton Road, but only by the grace of God and the prospect of wasting $25.
In the throes of a very confused stomach, pushing away from the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs store. Eating was not good on this trip, probably due to the latent illness I started with. There were a couple nights where I just couldn’t eat the dinner that I cooked, even though I was in deep calorie deficit.
Somehow I didn’t get sufficient pictures, but the Leadville area was just about at peak color change. The first week of September was a perfect time to do this trail.
Modelling the Cleaveland Mountaineering “Daddy’s Little Helper” hikeabike strap. I can’t imagine doing a trail of this caliber without one. There was some terrain so steep and rocky that you just physically can’t push your bike up.
Twin Lakes outside Leadville, racing the clock to get to the bike shop before it closed to replace my paper-thin brake pads. I made it with forty-minutes to spare … buckle, please!
Yet another alpine hikeabike conquest. It rained for most of the way up this one; really, the only precip I had on the whole trip. September rocks.
Dropping into the chunky Gold Hill Trailhead descent after sustained hikeabike on the Ten Mile Range.
Beetlekill burn zone near Gold Hill TH.

When I hit Hwy 9, I realized that I was thoroughly sick and needed a break. I rode seven miles into Frisco and checked into a motel, shivering even in a hot shower and under the covers. The next morning I felt a bit better and caught the free bus to Breck to continue the trail, knowing that I was out of time to finish the entire trail within my time window.

Four miles out of Breck, I dug into a turn too hard and burped my front tire. When I went to throw in a tube, I realized that my pump was gone. Somewhere in the past however many miles, it had fallen out of my frame bag, probably when I flipped the bike upside-down to set up my tarp (most likely Tennessee Pass several days before). I shuddered to think that I just cleared the rocky Ten Mile Range with no way to inflate a spare!

I pushed a mile to a trailhead and borrowed a floor pump, then rode into Breck. My weather window for clearing the 32 miles Kenosha Pass segment was gone, so I rode over Boreas Pass to US-285 instead in a storm, rode seven miles of pavement to Jefferson, then hitched to Denver to stay with my sister, then meet my wife and drive home.

It wasn’t the way I expected the trip to go, but all things considered, it was an excellent journey, well worth the struggle. Much like my thru-hike six years ago, the Trail encapsulated a microcosm of the human experience in a short period of time. I experienced every conceivable human emotion — terror, elation, disappointment, loneliness, peace, joy —  and had lots of time to reflect about Life and my small place in it.

Many thanks to the people I met along the way who signed my frame bag with encouragement. One quote in particular stands out, courtesy of a southbound thru-hiker in Segment 23:

“Feed your will to feel this moment…”

and another:

“Passion –> Purpose –> Peace.”

 

Storm King North Face Direct

“Dig deep!” I yelled to Todd as the first snow flurries began to fall. We were a hundred feet from the summit of Storm King (13,752′) … the peak was starting to live up to its name, and it was a long way down.

Storm King, North Face in the shade.

The day started at 02:20, ten minutes before our alarm. “You awake?” Todd whispered. I grunted a regretful affirmative. I don’t think I’ve ever slept until my alarm on the morning of a big route.

The day before, we had hiked in thirteen miles from the Vallecito trailhead. It was as casual an approach as you can get for that length. I had the misfortune of carrying a … wait for it … ninety-meter rope since I had just downsized my nylon quiver to move into a van. (It weighed less than my other cords!).

Laden down with the Beal Joker 9.1 90m, ultimate alpine pitchslayer

Along the way, we ran into the remains of the last person who attempted the North Face.

We were just discussing what would constitute a factor three fall. Apparently, this.

On a cheerier note, we ate our fill of wild raspberries and forded a refreshing, knee-deep creek. Smaller creeks and mud were abundant, so my shoes stayed wet for all thirteen miles (in warm temps, I prefer this. On the CT, I went out of my way to stomp in every puddle).

No thanks, I only eat USDA organic.
$#@!, etc.

We set up camp near a waterfall about a mile and half from the start of the route. There’s closer camping to be had, but our throbbing feet vetoed any attempts to push on farther. It’s a great spot, but be advised that the air stays wet even a hundred yards from the falls, so wet shoes don’t dry overnight.

About to set up camp.

While Todd set up camp, I finished the approach and stashed our cord and gear (cams with doubles of orange and red Metolius, nuts and a couple hexes). Spirits were high as we devoured some vague approximation of mesquite chicken-broccoli-rice, set our alarms for “the ass-crack of dawn” and hit the sack well before sunset.

Objects in lens may be further than they appear.

The next morning we mechanically shoveled oatmeal and dried fruit into our gas tanks, strapped on two liters of Tailwind-infused water and stumbled out of camp at 03:00.

Thanks to the reflective markings on the new BD Ultralights, we found our gear cache without too many routefinding woes. We embarked on the first three hundred feet up an “escalator” scree slope — one step forward, two steps back. The start of the climbing was guarded by some bullet-hard snow, into which we chopped steps with a rock.

After a hundred feet of fourth-class, we roped up and began the first pitch just as dawn broke. We enjoyed heartwarming morning sun for most of the route.

2 out of 2 alpinists described this as “not ugly.”

A couple 5.7 moves on wet rock made me glad indeed to have the rope along (maybe not all ninety freaking meters of it). By and large, we enjoyed bomber stone.

Questing upward, only 1400 feet to go.

At the start of the second pitch, I briefly eyed a splitter 5.9ish handcrack, but instead cut hard left and ran out about 150′ of 5.2 traversing or so. The route may have gone up a right-facing dihedral at this point, but it looked harder than 5.7, so whatever. We’re alpinists, not bloody rock climbers.

Todd follows P2.

The third pitch had some real-deal sustained 5.7 (if there is such a thing) that included stemming around a roof. It ended at a commodious ledge (which may or may not have become commode-odious thanks to the generous contribution of an anonymous alpinist).

I’ll give you two guesses, and the first doesn’t count.

P4 had a fun, unprotected move right off the ledge that made me consider requesting an alpine shoulder stand, but Ethics Prevailed. After that, it wandered up 170’ish to a huge ledge littered with talus. (There may have been an extra pitch somewhere in there … it’s all good, clean fun). At that point, the official route might involve moving the belay two hundred feet to the right to a gully of sorts. That sounded like too much work, so we went straight up the headwall, which looked like steep 5.8.

A hundred feet and all of my cams later, I revised my initial assessment. In approach shoes, the moves felt like 5.10c, so let’s be fair and give it a 5.9+. I tiptoed onto a Honnold ledge and belayed off a #8 nut and upward-pull-only #0.75. As soon as Todd cleaned my blue Metolius, I sent him a loop and bolstered the anchor, much to everyone’s relief.

The next pitch had some legit 5.10 moves right off the belay, and I plugged cams above my head like it was going out of style. A hundred feet later, I crawled into a gearless chimney and belayed Todd up on a fat-free meat anchor.

Somewhere earlier on “the” route.

On pitch 9 (?) the Beal Joker spread its wings and facilitated 280 feet of fast 5.6. Meanwhile, the clouds darkened, as did my disposition, and this allegedly “flower-strewn route” turned into a looming graveyard. A hundred feet from the ridge, I slammed in three little nuts and started hauling in rope.

The last pitch would’ve been much more fun had it not been framed by ugly cumulusses. Cumuli? Cumulatively, it was bad and we were hauling more ass than a midwestern homeschool family at a 4H festival.

We busted it to the summit as snowflakes began to fall. This was not the time to get the soundtrack to Frozen stuck in my head, but there ya go.
After a few quizzical moments of routefinding, found the correct ridge and descended with all deliberate speed.

These photos belie the severity of the impending weather. Fortunately, it was just snow.

As soon as we dropped a hundred feet from the summit, the snow blew past and the sun re-bestowed its benevolent gaze upon us. We greeted it with great fanfare and a rousing rendition of the Monarchy’s classic hit, “Sun.”

The descent was arduous but well-cairned, following the established Class 3 southwest ridge route to an everlasting boulderfield that dropped us to Lake Silex. From there, we glissaded a couple hundred feet, and then pounded more talus back to the meadows.

Express lane, vastly preferable to fluid talus.

Camp to camp: fourteen hours. The day before, we had entertained notions of knocking out a couple hours of hiking after completing the route to get a jump start on the trip home. This we dismissed as puerile foolishness, and collapsed victorious at our waterfall campsite. Despite the sudden onset of gravity, we managed to refill water and cook dinner (the same mesquite-jazz-odyssey, but this time infinitely tastier) before falling asleep at 7:30pm.

The next day, we headed home with light packs and even lighter hearts. While hiking, we talked about everything from theology to music theory to nonprofit startups — Todd is without a doubt the most well-rounded person I’ve ever tied in with — but true to form, whenever we passed another group of hikers we deftly changes the topic to hellacious runouts and bicep-curdling rope drag and cheek-clenching exposure. However, nobody took the bait or even asked about the industrial-length spool of pink rope that was playing accordion with our vertebrae.

Aww yuss.

In conclusion, this trip was a series of answered prayers … 1) we got up and down the mountain in a timely fashion, 2) there was no rain and 3) Todd saw his very first bull moose on the hike out, whose surprisingly amicable behavior sealed the deal that this was a Very Good Trip.

Fun Factor Summary:

Type 1 Fun (immediate gratification, enjoyable in the moment): the views on the approach, pitches 1-4, breakfast burritos

Type 2 Fun (not entirely enjoyable but easily whitewashed in retrospect by selective memory to be loads-o-fun): fording Vallecito, climbing the headwall

Type 3 Fun (not fun at all): the escalator scree, blundering about in the snow, the talus walkoff from Lake Silex down, putting on still-wet socks in the morning. 

Tabeguache Trail Thru-Hike-a-Bike

Or, “How I Learned to Hate Adobe Mud in 128 Miles”

Did you miss me?

3:30 AM. My alarm won’t go off for an hour, but I’m wide awake. Christmas morning syndrome. Soon I will be pedaling the Tabeguache Trail from Grand Junction to Montrose. My bike, Beatrice, leans against the window, heavy-laden with gear but light of heart.

Ahead of us: 142 miles of dirt and 14,800′ elevation gain across the Uncompaghre Plateau.

Jeremy and I hit the road at 05:00 and pedal a few miles on pavement. On my loaded singlespeed (30:20), I was cutting switchbacks in the road, but the climb went smoothly. (He lives on the backside of Lunch Loops so we skipped the proper start).

At sunrise, we hit Bangs Canyon and got first tracks on some primo downhill slickrock.

Little did we know this would be the last ride-a-bike for hours.

Eventually we bottomed out and started climbing. Wet conditions from the previous night’s surprise rain quickly turned the trail into adobe mud. We pushed on (literally), confident that the rising sun would dry the trails.

Jeremy loves hike-a-bike. No, seriously.

Time slowed and the world adopted a claymation filter. Thick, sticky mud clogged everything: fork, chain, (Jeremy’s) derailleur, our brains. We resorted to spanking the clodden tires with sticks every hundred feet… Try it sometime, it’s really therapeutic.

Whack-a-bike. We each carried our favorite sticks for frequent demudding.

Finally we reached the top of whatever and things dried out. We enjoyed a blazing doubletrack descent down to Whitewater. I punctured a sidewall but the sealant clogged it up quite nicely.

Best water on the Tab! Cattle trough.

We joked about carrying our bikes across 141 so they didn’t touch pavement but then decided we would just “let on” that we did (see also, Huckleberry Finn).

Next up was a long dirt road climb. 30:20 was sufficient, but I would’ve downshifted given the opportunity. We took a quick nap in the shade and then pressed on to meet Jeremy’s wife at the Dominguez-Escalante. She brought blessedly pure water, a new tire for me and cold zucchini egg casserole (baller!)

At this point, Jeremy headed home. Had I known what lay ahead, I may have joined him. Instead, I pointed my knobbies westward, cranked the Darkness, and rode off to my doom like a lamb to the slaughter.

Outrunning a thunderstorm felt pretty good… Mostly due to changing wind patterns and not my blazing speed.

The riding was good until Cactus Park, a veritable sand trap. I felt pretty goofy pushing flat terrain, but at least it was pretty.

They’ll soon be back, and in greater numbers…

Eventually I dropped down to Dominguez Campground, ate garlic mashed potatoes and summer sausage, and slept under a picnic table that I stretched my tarp over. A good thing too, because it rained a half inch.

Day one complete. Fifty miles in fourteen hours… As Jeremy said, a ten-year old Kenyan in homemade sandals could’ve outrun us. 

The next morning, after a dry night albeit cramped night, I scarfed down some oatmeal and rolled out at 06:00, ready to make up for lost time and pedal myself silly.

Duel with gravity: wheelbarrows at dawn.

Perhaps “roll out” is a bit optimistic of a verb. I pushed up the initial hill, then ran into showstopper clay mud. Unlike the mud outside GJ, this stuff was unwhackable. I eventually removed my front wheel, clipped it to my pack, and dragged my bike uphill for decades.

Some good came out of the experience. I discovered three new hike-a-bike techniques:
– “The Manual.” Remove front wheel, pull bike on a never-ending wheelie.
– “The CBL.” Remove front wheel, flip bike 180, push backwards from the handlebars. Experience backing a trailer is handy.
– “The Drag Queen.” Flip bike onto side, nonfunctional-drivetrain-up, and drag on sidewalls.

Hours later, I encountered a rancher in a truck. The driver assured me that it would dry out soon. It did… an hour of pushing later, it did. Relativity of travel time aside, it was a beautiful sight.

Riding at last.

At long last, I hit Divide Road. It took me six and a half hours to travel fifteen miles. During this time, I decided to forgo the fun(?) parts of the Tab and just ride gravel back to Montrose. I also decided “screw ethics” and accepted cold, pure water from an ATV rider. Oh, and a five-mile ride in a Polaris to expedite the Divide segment. Thank God for rednecks.

Divide Road – the long, green, gravel-strewn tunnel.

The rest of the day was a beautiful blur. Lots of pedaling, some pushing, handfuls of peanut M&M’s and dried papaya. Midday nap, repeat.

Overlooking the La Sals

I eventually hit a sign marking 39 miles to Montrose. I was low on water and getting bored with my snacks, never a good proposition for a hypoglycemic. It was then that I had a spiritual experience.

At Columbine Campground, I encountered two angels (and their mom and grandma). They gave me ice-cold water and a Holsum turkey+Swiss sandwich with sour cream and onion Pringles. If you guys are reading, thank you again for reviving me.

Trail magic.

Many miles later, I crested Divide Road and saw Montrose on the horizon. All downhill from here, baby. I blasted down the dirt at 30mph, dropping a couple thousand feet of elevation in the blink of an eye.

One of my climbing club kids (now a blessedly licensed driver) picked me up just outside of town and promptly escorted me to the Horsefly for a Bavarian bacon beer cheeseburger on a pretzel bun.

I fell asleep that night with visions of the Colorado Trail flitting through my mind. No adobe mud there. Maybe it’s time to go big *and* go home…

Colorado Trail

Afterword: As I ride the bus from Montrose to GJ to pick up my car, I recall that these experiences were almost exclusively Type 1 Fun, even the vicious, viscous mud. I had a great time in God’s own backcountry. Singlespeed was a winner; rigid would be even better. Water sources would be doable provided that you’re not stuck averaging 3mph for 12 out of 26 travel hours. I skipped what is supposedly the hardest section (the Roubideau, 21 miles of steep jeep trail through 15 major drainages) but it’ll still be when I come back for the Grand Loop.

Continue reading “Tabeguache Trail Thru-Hike-a-Bike”

Rocktape

It was my first day at Outdoor Retailer 2017 in Salt Lake, my first time at the show. It’s a big deal: over 20,000 people cram into an expo center that feels larger than Durango city limits. People literally shove products into your hands. And the talking … I haven’t lost my voice like that since being the vocalist of a metalcore band.

One of the products that immediately caught my eye was Rocktape Kinesiology Tape, a stretchy cloth tape intended for therapeutic purposes. Of course, I saw it an thought “tape gloves!” The guys hooked me up with a roll and I immediately made a tape glove for my right hand and wore it the rest of the day. This prompted some great conversations (including their competitors, who were puzzled by what kind of injury would require that tape technique).

Rocktape on LCC granite

Rocktape claims that it “microscopically lifts the skin away from the muscles and fascia, which decompresses the area and promotes blood flow.” Perhaps this would reduce the pump factor while climbing, but what I was most interested in was the durability of the tape due to its elasticity. Since stretchy girlpants always last me longer in offwidths than Carharrts, I figured the stretch factor might create a longer-lasting, slimmer tape glove.

This was definitely going to be an off-label application of the product. Talking to the reps at the Rocktape booth, none of them knew what taping up for crack climbing entailed. I showed them this photo and they immediately got it.

Re-used Eurotape on Russian Arete

The most promising elements of Rocktape for climbing were these:

  • Durability
  • Stickiness.
  • Slim fit for thin-hands jamming.
  • Comfort over long days. RT claims that you can wear it for up to five days, which could be nice for bivying on Astrodog this fall.After the show, Alex and I busted out to Little Cottonwood Canyon for some introvert recharging. We got rained out after two pitches of handjams, but my initial observations were mostly positive:
  • Durability remains to be seen over the next few days. The finger-notching that I use to secure normal strips of tape above my knuckles didn’t hold up well, so I’ll need to use a different method.
  • Rocktape is just as sticky as Eurotape on the skin contact, and it has a nice textured surface on the rock side.
  • The slim fit is a huge plus. Rocktape is slightly thinner than J&J or Eurotape. I used my normal glove method (notched strips down the index, middle and pinky, no thumb loop, wrist strap and a palm strap to prevent rolling).
  • The elasticity of the tape makes it quite comfortable. I wore it for twelve hours straight and hardly noticed it throughout the day.I’ll update as the week progresses, but for now, Rocktape looks quite promising for crack climbing use, especially for thin-hands jamming.
Alex the Tapeless Hardman likes his gobies fresh and juicy

Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel

“Hydrate or die!” Camelbak admonished years ago. Curiously enough, rates of hyponatremia in endurance athletes skyrocketed in response. In their zeal for staying hydrated, runners and bikers were becoming as waterlogged as Edward Abbey’s description of Utah cowboys trying to get drunk on 3.2% beer.

As competitors waddled across the finish line — or collapsed midway from salt deficiency — wiser heads prevailed and realized that regarding hydration, quality was just as important as quantity. Replenishing the electrolytes that we sweat away is vital for preventing cramps and maintaining peak output for all-day activity.

Chuggin’ Tailwind like it’s whiskey on The Cruise.

I hate carrying lots of water on a multipitch route. Water weighs 2.2 pounds per liter, and I begrudge it every ounce. On a long route like Scenic Cruise in perfect temps, I barely get by with two liters. On top of that, I need to bring snacks laden with sugar and salt to forestall the dreaded forearm cramps. (There’s nothing worse than having your thumb lock in the crimping position and having to pry it open with your other hand).

I’ve tried many different electrolyte powders, with mixed results. Powerade and Gatorade make my stomach hurt after four hours. Cycling-specific products like HEED and Accelerade left a strange taste in my mouth. Coconut water was effective but expensive. For a while I home-brewed, mixing Kool-Aid or lemonade packets with potassium salt and sugar, or just adding salt and sugar to plain water. None of my recipes were tasty enough to drink all day.

Tailwind tastes even better above treeline.

Then one day, I stumbled across Tailwind in the local gear shop. They’re a local Durango company, so I bought a Mandarin Orange individual packet and gave it a try on a hot day climbing Comic Relief in the Black. I was immediately impressed with the subtle flavor, and it kept me going pretty well, even through the hot, disheartening exit slab pitches that I’ve done far too many times.

Since then, I’ve become a huge fan of Tailwind and use it exclusively for multipitch, backpacking, desert cragging and trail running. Here’s what I like most about it:

– Tastes good. I like all the non-caffeinated flavors, especially berry.
– Doesn’t mess with my gut, even during high-exertion trailrunning.
– Provides 100 calories per scoop. I usually load up three scoops per liter. Lately I’ve found that the caloric benefit of Tailwind wholly sufficient — I only bring snacks for “mental pro.” For what it’s worth, I’m hypoglycemic too, so nutrition is a safety concern for me.
– Good calorie to ounce ratio, especially considering you can reduce other snacks.
– At $0.70 per serving, it’s not prohibitively expensive.
– Supports the 81301 crew.

Desert dayz.

Most recently, I used Tailwind on Atlantis, a south-facing 1300′ 5.11- with some legitimate runouts. Due to scheduling constraints, we had to do climb it in early June with a high of 85 — big mistake. I drank two liters of Tailwind, without which I certainly would’ve found myself cramping or puking. I felt strong the entire day and onsighted my crux pitches. I highly recommend this product for any all-day endurance athletes, especially multipitch climbers.

(Disclaimer: I pay full retail for Tailwind and it’s worth every penny).

CNM: Kissing Couple Tower

Of all the desert towers Layton Kor put up, there’s only one that he ever repeated.

Long Dong Wall (get your mind out of the gutter; it’s a type of piton)

Between that fact and the name of the route, Jeremy and I knew we had to try it. Plus, the Colorado National Monument was in our backyard.

Long Dong Wall on Kissing Couple Tower starts with a steep, sandy finger crack with just enough footholds to keep the difficulty manageable. The pitch ends with a slabby traverse under a bolt that may have been .11a back when the edges were crisp, but nowadays is a bit harder. We gladly french-freed our way past the bolt to a belay alcove.

The second pitch features a stellar chimney whose width varies by how deeply you burrow inside. If it had gear, we didn’t notice: it’s too secure to fall out of.

Cruiser squeeze on P2

A third-class romp takes you to the base of the next pitch, a wide-hands and offwidth splitter. After some jamming, you encounter the coolest feature on the route: a knee-and-back chimney that is open on both sides. Killer exposure and no gear for thirty feet. This pitch ends in the “belfry,” an incredible viewpoint from within the heart of the tower.

Exposed chimney moves on P4. You can’t tell from this photo, but the chimney is open on climber’s right as well.

The fourth pitch requires some full-body stemming to reach a fixed pin. The first time I climbed the route, I couldn’t figure it out and had to stand on Jeremy’s shoulders to reach the holds. The second time,
I got it, but it’s a bit hairy and insecure with both feet on the wall behind you, and both hands in front.

The Belfry, getting psyched to spread-eagle it.

The pitch eases off after this, but then presents you with one last challenge: you must squeeze through a submarine-hatch of a hole. I’m 5’10 and 140 pounds, and it was doable, but I had to take off my helmet and drag all my gear on a sling. I have no idea how the giant Layton Kor managed to squeeze through there. Heck, he probably punched out the hole in the first place with his #4-Camalot-sized hands.

The hole.

The spacious summit affords great views of the rest of the Colorado National Monument, including the ultra-classic history lesson known as Otto’s Route. John Otto aided and fraided his way up the tower in 1912 in hobnail boots, drilling pipe holes and chopping steps — long before “ethics” were invented. The route now features an abundance of tricam placements and sloping feet with an old-school 5.8 roof pull that guards the summit.

Otto’s Route enshrouded by fog

The Colorado National Monument is a unique haven of excellent desert towers, all too often bypassed by Front Rangers hauling ass down I-70 to get to Moab.

Actually, it’s all choss. Keep driving.

The Guardian of the Monument says “Go climb Kor-Ingalls.”

 

 

 

 

Canyonlands: Standing Rock

“We climb it not because it’s there, but because it won’t be there much longer.”

-The Layton Kor

There are three definitions of “desert tower.” The first is dimensional: a tower is taller than it is wide. The second pertains to accessibility: the only way up a tower is to climb it. There is no walking up the backside of Castleton to set up a toprope.

The third and most important, however, is intrinsic. A desert tower looks like a desert tower. You know one when you see it.

Monument Basin

Standing Rock is a desert tower.

It’s 350’ tall, 50’ wide and has comparable Rock quality to “rye crisps sandwiched in kittylitter.” In my first attempt, I made it a hundred feet … past the car before the heavens unleashed and it started pouring, saturating the already-weak sandstone and rendering it unsafe to climb for two days.

While we were there, Josh and I figured we’d scope out the approach. Instead of a rattly day’s drive on the White Rim 4×4, we were looking for a “government trail” 4th-class scramble down the improbably steep Grandview Point Overlook.

Two hours later, we retired in disgrace. We were unable to find any non-technical descent, let alone something casual enough for a government employee to venture onto. We did find a gully where we could fix two ropes and rap, however, and resolved to return in better conditions. (Note: Josh later found the government trail. PM for beta.)

Scheduling conflicts prevented Josh from accompanying me on the second attempt, so I enlisted the aid of the inimitable, nonpareil desert dirtbag, Tyler Ofsprocket Marlow of Moab.

About to drop in from the White Rim.

We returned armed with static ropes for the way down and jumars for the way up, a double set of cams to #3, and a single #4 and #5 (latter wholly unnecessary). A quick rap and downscramble led to a 150’ chimney rap and an hour of pleasant hiking to attain the start of the traditional 4WD-accessed approach. From there, a short fixed rap and a gorgeous forty-five minute stroll through Monument Basin brought us to our objective for the day: the Regular Route, four pitches of steep, shaded climbing on dubious stone. There were only a handful of places on the entire route I would have been ok with whipping. Bring your ice head.

The first pitch began with excellent 5.9 fingers in a corner, then cut under a roof to a face crux over small gear. I used an equalized #0.1 and #0.2 on this pitch and each one thereafter. Tip: don’t stop til you get to the good anchor.

“Hey Tyler, how’s the rock?”

Tyler ventured onto a photogenic traverse on the second pitch, which supposedly led to a splitter hand crack. If those eighty feet were a handcrack, you can call me Pamela Pack. Granted, it took handsized gear, but most the climbing involved awkward bulges where you cut your feet and pull on jugs of questionable parentage.

Pitch three started at the scariest belay ledge of all time. It was a horror show of antique pins and star drives with no supplemental gear. Please bring two ropes so you don’t have to rap from this anchor like we did.

The crux move used to be rated 5.11c, but then a hold broke, much to the relief of all those looking for excuses to A0 the perfectly-placed modern bolt. Nevertheless, the possibility of a factor-two fall on the Bad Ledge plagued the moves required to gain the bolt. Some mandatory spicy climbing over marginal gear and a delicate mantel around an absurd “elephant ear” flake brought me to a ledge with a wizened old star drive, which I slung long and passed by to a ledge with acceptable bolts.

Reppin’ the brand.

The last pitch was ho-hum 5.8 with great exposure. We flopped onto the summit and were greeted by 30mph winds. Is it just me, or is the whole tower creaking? We didn’t stick around to get the Last Ascent and go sandstone surfing. Three single 70m raps had us kissing the solid ground and vowing never to return … that shitshow of an intermediate rap anchor core-shot our heads something fierce.

After celebratory libations of cold chicken noodle soup, we hiked an hour, jugged forty feet, hiked another hour, jugged a hundred and fifty feet, scrambled thirty minutes, jugged forty feet, and regained the car. Car-to-car in just over twelve hours.

Overall, it was an incredible summit that did not yield itself readily to our efforts. Like the best desert towers, Standing Rock must be earned.

 

Black Canyon: Atlantis

“Black hole: a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape.”

View from the campsite.

I can’t look away. Beauty, despair, elation, pain, peace and pure terror — I am overwhelmed like the rocky banks of the Gunnison River two thousand feet below. The sun succumbs to the horizon; darkness falls.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is my favorite place on earth.

The first time I set foot on the inner canyon, everything went wrong. My partner injured her knee downclimbing the Cruise Gulley, then I wasted precious October daylight on an unforgivable routefinding blunder. We were benighted on the easiest route in the canyon, and stumbled out by headlamp.

Since then, I’ve climbed in the Black twenty-six times. Every route brings a new level of appreciation for the place. I cherish my hours spent on the steep, splitter granite that erupts heavenward from the river.

Having recently climbed the classic 1700′ Layton Kor line, the Cruise, I set my sights on the next step: Atlantis (IV, 5.11-, 1600′). Whereas the Cruise is a jolly joyride of obvious, never-ending handcracks, Atlantis was reputed to deliver a more varied (and scaried) experience with face climbing and traverses. My longtime friend and best Black Canyon partner, Tim, was all too happy to oblige.

Top of P5 chimney slot.

The day began at 02:30 after a restless night. Is there any other kind when you’re dreaming of mandatory onsight terrain? The morning routine was seamless: shovel yogurt and granola and a half-liter of water down my gullet. Stuff gummy worms and Slim Jims in pockets. Tape up. Pinch off the first, feeble attempt at excretion, knowing full well that your bowels will revolt the moment you tie in for the first pitch. Struggle into a harness chock-full (ha) of heavy metal. Embark, stricken with bravado-masked anxiety and furtive hopes for a type-one day.

We stumbled down Prisoner of Your Hairdo Gully, thankful for the previous trip’s recon on Buzz Cut. A short fixed rap led to a ropestretcher rap off a tree (to avoid an exposed but easy traverse), then then a bushwhack to another short fixed rap. PoyH Gully met up with Grizzly Gully and dumped us at the river, 1:30 elapsed. The base of the route was easy to find after some easy-fifth scrambling.

The first pitch was a good, nondescript warmup, which Tim styled. The second had some suspect flakes, but was mostly good clean fun. I ended up further left than I should have and was uncertain about the topo, and belayed early. Tim finished up the pitch and brought us to the base of the first crux.

Excellent stone.

The route gets serious at this point. Tim plugged a piece off the belay, then launched into a completely unprotected fifty-foot 5.8 peg traverse. The topo promised a fixed pin, but there was none. The climbing was all there, but the consequences were dire. At the end of the traverse, he plugged in a few thank-the- maker pieces and continued into some excellent, balancy 5.11-, clipping one bolt and adequate gear along the way. Following the pitch wasn’t anywhere near as spicy, but still required care.

Pitch four had some great face climbing on good gear. It was dripping wet, however, and I had my only fall of the day onto a bomber #3.

This pitch was wet, even after a week of dry weather.

The next pitch would have been more fun without the rope drag. Tim got a workout pulling slack with one hand and climbing with the other.

Six entailed some routefinding shenanigans, seven elicited copious profanity due to even more rope drag.

On the eighth pitch, I had the pleasure of pulling a stellar 5.11- roof over a bolt. That pleasure soon dissipated as I belated realized I should have extended the sling. The rest of the pitch was
marginally protected .9-10a (running twenty feet over an equalized grey Metolius and #4 Stopper!). It felt far more serious due to drag. The pitch ended in a mercifully-shaded chimney.

Bike arm warmers are super handy and easily stuff into walkoff shoes.

A fun, rompy chimney led to an exposed chockstone belay below the next crux. As soon as I cut left under the roof and lost sight of my belayer, the climbing dialed up a notch — sustained, awkward 5.11- fingers and sweaty stemming.

By pitch eleven, we were feeling the effects of the heat. It would’ve been nice to have chalk on the thirty feet of unprotected 5.8 peg before the bolt.

Twelve was marked 5.10R. Despite harder moves, it didn’t seem as runout as the previous pitch. However, you’d come pretty close to decking if you blew it after the bolt — make sure the belayer has a good upward-pull piece.

Pitch thirteen dumped us onto a terrace after one awkward face move. From there, we had the choice of bushwhacking back up Prisoner, or climbing an extra three hundred feet of 5.10-11. We were really hoping to finish in vertical style on the rim, but there was no way we had the gas (or water) to do so. We may have won the pitched battle, but the June sun was wining the war.

After puzzling over our walkoff route (yes, you hike back up Prisoner), we thrashed through interminable scrub oak, jugged our first rap, slogged up the steep dirt of the gully, and finally crawled onto the glorious terra firma of the North Rim.

“I would trade half my rack for a muthafuggin’ ice cream cone right now.”

Cold chicken soup, chocolate milk and Gatorade awaited us. Car to car: sixteen hours, twenty minutes for 1300′ vert. (In contrast, we did Scenic two years prior in thirteen hours flat for 1700′). It wasn’t our most efficient day, but considering the severity and inobviousness of the route and the heat index, we were pretty happy.

Looking back, there were some serious objective hazards to the route. I wouldn’t hesitate to get back on Atlantis, but if I were leading P3, I’d ask the FA if I could replace the blown pin on the peg traverse. All in all, it was an incredible, thought-provoking route on excellent stone.

Next stop: Astrodog!