Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

March 26, 2017

Monument Valley 50 Mile (or NOT), Mar 25, 2017

Life throws curveballs sometimes.

I woke up a little over a week ago with a sore throat.  My worst fear at the time was that it would stop me from running the Canyonlands Half Marathon down here in Moab, UT.    I got it checked out.

Cold: NO
Strep Throat: NO
Mononucleosis:  YES

Lord help me, I cried in the doctor's office, poor guy.   Extraordinarily bad timing, as my training had been going great and I was in the best shape of my life to really crank out some speedy runs at three key races I had coming up this month.    Far from stopping me from one race, it's stopping me from all running, biking, climbing and anything else athletic for a month or more.   Double Bummer.

11 days later I'm still fighting a sore throat, being careful not to jostle an enlarged spleen, and wondering when the tiredness will set in.  I've listened to friends and sometime complete strangers tell me about their friends having mono, and how they overdid it and were still recovering 6 months or a year later.   I determined to take it easy and recover as quickly as I could.

So last week I cheered for Jim and our trainer Sylvia Bedford from the sidelines as they ran in the Canyonlands Half Marathon on what was an exceptionally hot day in Moab for March.    Sylvia had won the women's race this year before, (yes she is FAST) and it was no surprise then that she did it again in style.   This time she was 4 minutes faster than her previous time, and only 6 minutes behind the fastest man.   I can only imagine running 13.1 miles in 1:21:07.   Amazing.  Results

Jim and Sylvia are happy post-race
Despite suffering in the heat and almost bonking from not eating enough that morning, Jim had a good run and learned a couple of valuable race-day nutrition lessons.  We all make the same mistakes in racing and the hope is that eventually everything will come together for the perfect race.     His next half marathon was just a week later so he would have a chance to put that knowledge to good use very quickly.

So a week later we drove into Monument Valley for another half marathon.   I was signed up for the 50 mile race, but that was obviously out.  Aside from the lingering sore throat, I really felt fine, and couldn't imagine doing nothing while Jim was out there running.  So to keep my heart rate down yet still enjoy the scenery, I decided to walk the half marathon.

The hot weather pattern had cooled off and it looked like a perfect day for racing.  Light winds and temps from 40-55 degrees.   Sunrise came just as the 50 mile runners took off, and then hour later it was our turn.  It was cold enough we huddled in the truck until the last minute, then shot out to the starting line for the 8:15 gun.   There were two waves to the start, and the 8:00 starters were gone already.  There also was no gun, as the second wave was allowed to start anytime we crossed the timing mat.   This kept us from shivering at the start, but being in the second half of runners caused problems down the road for Jim.    The trouble with passing was that the first wave of people wasn't necessarily the fastest runners, so starting in the second wave meant needing to go around a lot of people.  Not the ideal situation for a fast runner like Jim.

The half marathon route was almost all runnable single track, amazingly beautiful hard packed sandy awesomeness.   I found it hard to reign myself in.  I wanted to run so badly!    The trail was just the way I liked it...steep sandy uphills, followed by gently descending runnable single track.   I compromised with myself, and walked quickly instead of running.  Very quickly.   I think I averaged 4 mph for the entire distance, about 15 minute miles aside from a pit stop.   In fact I walked so fast that I passed about 50 runners!    One woman I passed about half way (keep in mind this was at a walking pace after just 6 miles) was puking her guts out at the side of the trail.  I looked away to keep from joining her in sympathy, although I couldn't figure out how this distance and pace could fast or far enough to need to vomit yet!   There's a first time for everything I guess.

Jim had a great race, finishing in 2:40 and well inside the top third of finishers.  His race nutrition went to plan, he carried nothing but a water bottle, and paced himself well.   This despite the fact that the volunteers had misplaced the second aid station so that the fastest runners didn't get to use it at all.  By the time I came through they had moved it onto the course, but with plenty of water in my pack I didn't even need to stop.   I finished 40 minutes behind Jim, and limited myself to just a couple of (very short) sprints to get around slower competitors.   My hands did swell up considerably, which told me that my body isn't quite healthy yet, and I shouldn't be planning any running for a while longer!

The race took us around the Three Mittens, which were tall spires dominating the valley floor, and the course was absolutely beautiful.    We were able to run on trails which are closed to the public without guides the rest of the year.   I did wish I was on the longer 50 mile course as planned, which climbs to the top of one of the mesas and has great views.   We both loved the area so perhaps next year we will come back and try it again, without Mono this time!

Monument Valley Results

This "Sombrero" rock was close to our hotel near the town of Mexican Hat.  Hah

February 27, 2017

Indoor Half Marathon, Feb 25, 2017

While I have gone for a couple of long runs outside this winter, for the most part my running has been indoors on a treadmill.    I actually like running on a treadmill.   I know, that's weird.  But I enjoy testing myself against my own previous speed, time and distance, and the treadmill allows me to control all these variables each time I run.   No headwinds, no rain, heat, ice, slush, mud or snow to deal with.   The downside is that running for an hour an a half or more on a treadmill to nowhere is rather monotonous.

Enter the Indoor Half Marathon and Triathlon, hosted by Extra Mile Racing,  at the Utah Olympic Oval.  I had run previously here just a couple months earlier at the Revolution Run, a 5-hour challenge on New Year's Eve.    The good part of this race?    A half marathon should take me much less than 5 hours to complete.  Hah.   The bad part?  A half marathon at the indoor track would require running 47.5 laps around in a circle.  Take a left turn...then another left turn.....take a left turn....and another left turn.   Ad nauseum.   But with fresh snow outside and chilly temps this large  indoor circle was sounding pretty good.

I had set my watch to beep and record lap times in every quarter mile, so that I wouldn't have to spend much of my reduced running brainpower trying to slowly count up to 47.   Although my GPS  watch didn't work inside the building, it estimated my distance vis-a-vis my arm swing, and was only off by .75 miles over the 13.2 miles!   Wow.

More importantly, I was able to see my lap time after each quarter mile, and noticed that my speed was very consistent...within +/- 2 seconds each and every lap aside from a few short water stops.  The American Flyers were there to help runners pace themselves, and these individuals heroically volunteered to run the entire race while carrying bright signs saying 1:45, 2:00, 2:15, 2:30, and so forth.
Obviously (dark and outside, not)  this was not our race,
but you get the idea of signage for the American Flyers race pacers.
My goal was to run under 2 hours for the 13.2 miles, and I passed the 2:00 hour sign guy exactly once and finished in about 1:57 or so.   The "or so" is because the race timing system broke down near the end of the race, and our official race times aren't exactly....exact.  Plus there was some confusion about whether we should stop at 47 laps (slightly short of the half marathon distance), or run 48 laps (clearly longer than necessary).

Jim decided to brave the torture chamber with me, and completed his first half marathon in about 2:15.  He may have run an extra lap due to the timing confusion and will forever wonder if he exerted more energy on the race than necessary.  His race also went really well, given that he had to run 47 large monotonous circles while distracting himself by watching the speed skaters and hearing the roars from a hockey game going on in the center.  

The small field meant that I had a fighting chance at actually finishing well.   Indeed, I crossed the line as the 3rd woman ?!?, and actually got a check for finishing on the podium.   Double wow.  Lunch at Cafe Rio is on me today.

Here are the results, such as they are:  http://extramileracing.com/index.php/results/    Note that times are incorrect by as much as 9 minutes due to a timing problem with the race computer.   We are both hoping that this race will help us build up to faster times for the Canyonlands Half Marathon (in Moab) coming up in March.

January 5, 2017

Yearly Training Totals...and can I ever get to 1000 miles of running?

If I am ever to prove that I am a somewhat obsessive Type A personality, it will be in the fact that I have kept track of every workout I've done since 2004.   This happened to be the year that I finally got my iron-deficiency anemia under control and allowed me to exercise without feeling like I was going to pass out and die.

More than that, my workout logs tell me a lot about where I've been, what I've done, and what I've loved.  They track the progression from my first short triathlon to tackling an Ironman, from a first marathon to doing 16 in one calendar year.   They show the change from swimming to kayaking as I switched to Adventure Racing, and then back to hiking when gearing up for the Red Bull X-Alps.  

Key Events
2004* My first Triathlon
2005 My first Marathon (moved to Germany)
2006 My first Ultramarathon
2007 Completed 17 Marathons
2008 Completed 2 Ironman Triathlons
2009* Traveled around the world…not much exercise tho
2010 My first Adventure Race (moved to England)
2011 Completed 4 day Stage Race across England
2012 Completed 99 hour Expedition Adventure Race
2013* (Moved to Utah)
2014 Paragliding trumped everything
2015 Red Bull X-Alps
2016 RAGBRAI and the John Muir Trail
2017 ???

Dawn's Yearly Distance Totals (in Miles)  

*Partial Information for these years
        Bike     Run    Swim   Walk
     Kayak Grand Total
2004* 671 112 15 42     840*
2005 618 334 15 299 14         1280
2006 552 479 7 615 79    1733
2007 599 591 21 637 169    2016
2008 2807 551 75 86 20    3539
2009* 652 91 7 45 16    809*
2010 554 608 13 497 132        1804
2011 1522 833 7 459 120        126    3067
2012 1216 621 3 602 85        125    2651
2013* 95 123 186 91            7    501*
2014 111 479 325 161          20    1095
2015 360 291 941 58    1649
2016 1512 367 484 43          11    2417

Dawn's Yearly Time Totals (in Hours)
*Partial Information for these years

Bike Run Swim Walk Weights Kayak Grand Total
2004* 59:53:00 17:51:50 14:11:35
16:05:00 108:01:25
2005 53:24:00 52:04:00 14:31:00 149:55:00 8:18:00 278:12:00
2006 50:06:00 78:20:47 6:44:00 227:49:00 54:39:00 417:38:47
2007 46:57:05 99:22:26 17:41:00 236:38:00 101:59:05 502:37:36
2008 212:09:59 97:11:04 50:43:28 39:20:53 11:48:00 411:13:24
2009* 44:44:09 16:52:28 3:46:06 17:35:00 5:20:00 88:17:43
2010 42:30:32 115:58:45 8:32:54 159:34:00 50:35:00 377:11:11
2011 159:04:55 178:19:55 4:40:00 172:42:00 67:53:00 33:58:00 616:37:50
2012 164:46:00 138:00:40 1:55:00 242:04:00 65:25:00 31:55:00 644:05:40
2013* 16:30:00 26:10:00 74:10:00 53:00:00 1:45:00 171:35:00
2014 19:49:00 91:47:55 122:14:00 73:40:00 4:30:00 312:01:55
2015 58:38:00 54:11:00 313:31:00 45:25:00 471:45:00
2016 148:51:00 69:22:00 204:17:00 33:18:00 2:40:00 458:28:00

It's a ritual at the end of each year to add up all my exercise totals and see how I compare to myself of previous years.  Sometimes it don't fit into a category (random rollarblading, for example).  Weight training doesn't lend itself to distance very well either.    Obviously I'm not trying to outdo myself each year, nor would that be healthy or possible for too many years in a row.    But I do get a sense of how fast and far I go, broken down into pretty little graphs like this:

I can also break my training down by week inside my excel spreadsheet to know how consistent I am during the year.   Obviously could create any categories you wanted to...Zumba, Yoga, whatever.  Or Zother...which means everything I do except Run, Walk, Bike or Kayak, which is mostly time spent in the gym but occasionally rock climbing or rollerblading.

Seeing my low running totals for 2016 and the fact that I only completed one run of a marathon or longer this year, I am setting a goal of 1000 running miles for 2017.  This perhaps is partially inspired by the UK Ultrarunning magazine's post about challenging yourself to this distance.   http://www.trailrunningmag.co.uk/run1000miles/

I've officially signed up, and I'll try to average 2.7 miles per day for the rest of 2017 :)     I wish that New Year's Revolution Run had actually been on Jan 1 so I'd be ahead of schedule...as it is I'm in recovery from that race and I'll have to make up some ground this month.  

Check back in a year to see if I make it!

January 4, 2017

New Year's 5-Hour Revolution Run 2017 (and a new Ultramarathon Training Plan)

Usually this would be the first race of the New Year for all the bleary eyed people who stayed up too late on New Year's Eve, partying and watching the ball drop.   Is there even a ball anymore?  I swear I watched Time's Square (on TV) at midnight in New York and missed seeing the ball at all.   Anyway, because New Year's fell on a Sunday this year, and we are in Utah, the partying could go on in full swing because the race was moved to New Year's Eve (Saturday) instead.   So all those extroverts could get in a long run, fell great about their fitness, and then go out, dress up and have a ball.  It seemed like most people weren't really celebrating a new year, but the death of 2016...which by most accounts people were happy to have over.  I won't lie...I was in bed and asleep by 10:30 with the excuse that my legs were really tired from running.

I haven't had any races (or blogs) in a while, but I should make up for it in the new year.  I'm most excited about my new training plan, brought to me by Jason Koop in his new book Training Essential for Ultrarunning, out on Amazon (like my own recently published book Racing to the Sky). Koop's ideas on ultramarathon training differ from the commonly held belief that an ultra is just a longer marathon and the same training plan will work.  He states that trails ultras take much longer, are hillier, tougher and completely different from a 2 to 4 hour marathon run.    Koop advocates that speed work is very important for athletes, but should be done well in advance of the actual race.   When the date actually approaches, what becomes more important is training (as much as possible)  to the conditions and course you see on your ultra.

So I'm incorporating his ideas of starting with speed work first, and I've just finished a 4 week block of sprint repeats (warmup, 1-3 minutes of running very fast, then 1-3 minutes rest, repeat 5-10 times, then cool down).    I did this workout 2-4 times a week each week.   Yes, this is a lot more speed work than most people imagine is possible, but I saw my speed increase as the weeks went by, and I'm sure my VO2 Max went up as well.

Still, the longest I had run was about 7 miles in the last 9 months, so running for 5 hours might not have been the best idea for New Year's Eve.  There was this biking thing called RAGBRAI in July, and then Jim and I hiked the John Muir Trail in August.  October harvest in Iowa put us in a tractor for 5 weeks straight and I didn't run once.   Ouch.  So I haven't trained for running much since finishing the Antelope Canyon 50 miler back in February.

All of this recent speed training haa taught me to run fast, and then my recovery runs have been slow.  So I've either been running at 6 minute mile pace, or at 10 minute mile pace.   For this Revolution Run, I felt like I could pull off a 4 hour marathon pace, which is pretty fast for me.   That's about a 9 minute mile pace, which I HADN'T been running at at all.  Jason Koop's biggest bit of advice (train the way you want to run).  Hah.   Luckily this was just a "training" race for me.

It was pretty cold and snowy outside on New Year's Eve.  Luckily the race is held indoors, at the Utah Olympic Oval.  A 442 meter track is inside, as well as a speed-skating oval, a hockey rink and an ice skating rink.   All that ice made the temperature perfect for a long run in shorts and a t-shirt, no overheating for anyone, even through 360 people were lined up alongside me to run countless laps around what would become a very crowded 4 lane oval (once the 8-lane 100-meter section ended)

The run was officially as long and a far as each person wanted it to be.   Medals were given for any distance from just 1 laps completed, to the winner who finished an outstanding 139 laps...that's a lot of circles for almost 37 miles.

My first few laps were the most crowded, as everyone sorted themselves and spread out.  I stuck to the inside lane and didn't have to go around too many people, nor did too many have to go around me...except for a few fast men and women who lapped me over and over again.

The hardest part was keeping track of how far I had gone.  Yes, I had a timing chip and after a while the finish line screen showed the number of laps we had completed each time we crossed the mat.  I had run 30 laps by the time the screen came on, although when I looked at it, my count only said 28.  Was I that bad at counting?  I resorted to using my fingers, as thinking and remembering obscure numbers like 47 and 53 become difficult when pushing the pace and dodging joggers.  

Every 10 laps I stopped to drink some water or coke and have a couple of twizzlers.   I felt really good for the first 2 hours, maintained a great pace of about 9 minute miles, and my legs were strong.  Then the endless circles became monotonous, and the speed skaters whizzing by me could not longer distract me.   I tried to think of a recent long run (oops, I hadn't done one!), and realized that finishing a marathon like I had planned would really trash my legs and become very painful.   After 3 hours and about 18 miles, my legs were cramping from the flatness (yes the occasional hill IS nice), so I finished my 68th lap and picked up my medal.

Here's the Results:

I'll have another indoor run at this Oval, a half-marathon in late February.   By then I will be finishing up with my next block of training, a series of tempo runs (8-20 minute repeats, but not done as fast as the sprint repeats).   My training sessions will gradually start to get longer as I work towards preparing for the Monument Valley 50 Mile in late March.   But my real "A" race of the year is the AXS 12 hour Adventure Race in late April down in Moab, Utah.   I've done this race 3 times, come 3rd every time, and this year, dare I say it, I want to win.   So I'll be tailoring my training schedule and my recovery to be my fastest in April.

November 18, 2016

My Red Bull X-Alps book is PUBLISHED!

Every since the 2015 Red Bull X-Alps, where I had a great experience being one of the few women to every participate in such a crazy adventure, I've wanted to publish a book about it.   Perhaps I just wanted to write a book, period.  I am a paraglider pilot and an ultra runner, but writing a book was a different adventure altogether!  Read more below, to go behind the scenes with me in the process of writing a book.   Otherwise, I really hope you enjoy reading Racing To The Sky.

My book is available on Amazon:  

It's in Paperback for $15.99
and Kindle for $9.99.  

If you have money to burn, 
you can get an extra special color copy for $55.99.  
I know, that's a lot.  
You'd have to be an extra special fan to get that version...don't worry, the black and white paperback version looks great too!
   Plus the Kindle version is in color anyway.

People have asked me how I remembered all the details of the race.    Since I knew I wanted to at least blog about my experiences, I took notes on my phone during the race while I was walking along.  After all, I was racing for 11 days and things tend to get a little blurry after a few days with fatigue and sleep deprivation!   When I got back home to Utah after finishing the race, I decompressed a little by writing down the day to day stories I remembered while they were still fresh.   So within a couple of weeks I had written the majority of the book.

Then it took me another year or more to finish it off.  I wanted to write about each one of the athletes in the race from their perspective.    To get an idea of what each athlete went through, I reconstructed their race individually through live tracking, their photos, their blog entries, and other race reports.   While this took a lot of time, it was actually really fun!   During my own race I only had a limited idea of the adventures all the other competitors were having, and at times I felt really alone along the race course.  Reliving the race through their eyes and comparing their locations to my own on each day let me imagine what they were going though, too.   Plus the race for the finish was exciting and I really enjoyed finding out how everyone reached the end in their own way.

Once the material for the book was in place, I had to learn how to publish.   Going through a big publishing company seemed out of the question, so I leaned toward self-publishing.    This meant I needed to design my own cover, pick a name for the book. figure out what to put on each page, and how to make it look good too!   Using Outsource.com, I was able to find a cover designer and an editor for a reasonable price.   That helped, but the process of learning what information was needed took a lot of time.  The book I thought would be published soon after the race took 15 months!  But I am proud of the end result, and I hope you enjoy reading it too.   If you do, please leave a review on Amazon, I'd really appreciate that!

September 13, 2016

Backpacking the John Muir Trail, Part 3

Part 1 - Tuolumne to Red's Meadow

Part 2 - Red's Meadow to Muir Trail Ranch

Part 3 - DAYS 8-14 Muir Trail Ranch to Mount Whitney

Cue the drumroll, the easiest half of our hike on the John Muir Trail was now done.   In seven days, we' spent 2 nights in cabins, eaten 5 meals in restaurants, had two resupplies, and hiked 90 miles.    In the next seven days, we would need to hike 110 miles, while carrying all of our food for the week, as the passes and the elevation got higher and higher.   But we were feeling strong, rejuvenated from our night at the Muir Trail Ranch, and ready for some big days.

But we couldn't leave the Ranch without a last big meal of breakfast burritos and oatmeal.  I skipped the oatmeal (bleh), but the burritos were delicious.  We also could make sandwiches for lunch, and I snagged a bag of Cheetos!    Those sandwiches weren't going to make it until noon...that's for sure...

Day 8
With breakfast, it was 8 am when we finally straggled out of the Ranch, with backpacks that now weighed 28 pounds.  Yikes.  We were carrying about 1.5 pounds of food per day for 7 days, plus about 2 pounds of water.   And a couple of delicious sandwiches.  And a book.  I need to read.

Today we set our sights on Wanda Lake, which was about 18 miles up the trail, and a lot higher at 11,500 feet.   But our first five miles were flat, along the very scenic San Joaquin River.  Our sandwiches disappeared quickly at the first place I could find to stop and soak my feet.   I didn't have any blisters from walking, but I did have very dry feet and legs from the dust, dirt, and hard water.   I applied a bit of duct tape to the backs of my heels to keep my shoes from cutting through my skin.

The climbing started in earnest near Evolution Creek.  Up. Up. Up.  The dreaded creek crossing of Evolution was a piece of cake, given how late it was in the season.  We swapped to our flip-slops and it was only calf deep and pretty mellow.   Then more up, alongside a big meadow and lots more creek. The day is passing quickly and we have miles to go.   We are efficient at our stops, purifying water, slathering on sunscreen, dabbing a bit of chapstick, drinking more water, dumping electrolytes in so we drink even more, and grabbing easy snacks to eat while walking.

A steeper ascent and we are at Evolution Lake.  Tempting to stop and camp here, it's 4 pm but we have miles to go.  Fabian is here, has just taken a freezing swim in the lake, and he promises to be right behind us.   We push hard now, through the rocky high terrain, can we make Wanda lake by 6:30 so we still have time to cook and set up camp in daylight?     We do, but barely.  We meet Foreman, walking the wrong way, he had sussed out the other end of the lake but camping was sparse.  We joined a raft of other people, and we put our tents in any flat bare spot we could find in the area.  Fabian showed up soon and found a spot too.   Nobody had seen Ron all day, and we figured he was back a ways fishing.

Tonight we were cowboy camping, with just our bivy bags.  The stars should be out at and this high, there are no bugs.   The group gathered round for dinner, which for us was ramen and salami, some new flavors to keep our taste buds entertained.  A nice sunset gave us a sendoff and we crawled in our bivys and waited for the stars.  They were slow to come out, but mesmerizing, and I couldn't stop staring at them.  We eventually saw a satellite pass overhead, and Jim fell asleep, but I couldn't close my eyes.    Sleeping at 11,500 ft is difficult at best anyway.

The Muir Hut at Muir Pass 
Day 9

I woke up to ice from condensation on my sleeping bag inside my bivy bag.  Cold.  But so dry there was no dew at all. Muir Pass awaited us in the morning, but at under 12000 feet we didn't have far to go.   We ducked inside Muir Hut to get out of the stiff wind for a while, and found Foreman waiting there.   The three of us stuck together for a very long descent, almost 4000 feet down.   It was beautiful, but I'd seen so much beauty.   I focused on one step at a time down the sometimes very high rock steps.  And pitied the people coming up them the other way.

The Bear

Down in Le Conte canyon, we stopped for a photo with the Rock Monster, and saw a girl sitting by it reading a book.  She was contemplating quitting the trail for the third time.   These huge ascents and descents are no joke. We continued on only a few minutes, when in the lead, I croaked "BEAR!"  just leaving the trail was a pretty large black bear.  He was on a mission, didn't seem to care we were there, and went around us and then back on the trail heading uphill.    We did like all good tourists would and reached for our cameras.  Then we suddenly thought about the girl at the rock monster.  Foreman gallantly offered to go back and warn her.  Lucky he did because the bear went straight to her camp, and it turns out she is partially blind and had no peripheral vision.  She never saw the bear coming, and Foreman was able to scare it away across the stream.   Fabian behind us, would later see the bear with its' head in a tree eating honey from a beehive.

In the meantime, Jim and I followed obvious bear prints for almost 2 miles down the trail.   We got really good at spotting the prints even when we hadn't seen them for a while.   We were happy it was going the other way!

The deep valley was hot, and our pace got really slow.  At a break, we saw someone's bear canister left behind....we wanted to steal the tortillas but didn't know if the owner would return.  We met the owner days later...the can may still be sitting there and he is borrowing food from everyone!

Finally we started the uphill again with Foreman, and in the front, I adopted the "walk fast in the sun, slow in the shade" philosophy.  Even so, we could see that we weren't going to make our mileage goal for the day, which would had required us to ascend the dreaded "Golden Staircase" in the full heat of the afternoon sun.  Instead, we found one of the last campsites at the base of the climb and called it a day.   Still 16 miles but we could feel the pressure of needing to go further.

At the camp, we found Ron (!) who had been ahead of us all this time.  And he calls himself slow.   Fabian showed up too, so everyone was together, and the campsite was perfect.  Deep in the woods with a gurgling stream and a fire pit.  None of us had lit a fire due to all the restrictions, but with a perfect circle of trees around us, we gathered pine cones and soon had a nice blaze going.  We laughed like crazy and had a nice evening before pouring water on the coals.  We were still in bed before hiker midnight (9pm).

Day 10
In the morning we said goodbye to all our new friends.  Ron was slowing up to meet his family in a few days.   Fabian was slowing up to beg a little extra food and continue down the High Sierra Trail.  Foreman was meeting his cousin at Rae Lakes and hoped to see us on the final day, but he never showed.

We would pay for our weariness and slow pace of the yesterday, with the monster hike we had in store for us today.   First up was the Golden Staircase,  a series of switchbacks up somewhat steep cliffs.    Then we had not one but two 12,000 foot passes to summit before we could stop for the day.   Unfortunately my knee started hurting early on in the day, which made going down hill difficult.

Nevertheless, we were up the staircase in just a couple of hours and heading to Mather Pass.   Our rest breaks were short and efficient as we knew we needed to go far and fast today.   Despite knee pain, I could really power up the hills, but going downhill was another matter.  I finally gave in and took some Ibuprofen on top of the first pass, but the switchbacks down were agony.  I wondered how I was going to make it over 20 miles that day, and if I could even continue to finish the whole trail.   So I taught myself to favor my left knee and found ways to lean on my poles, use my other leg, and get by.  Luckily the trail flattened out, and we were back to 3 mph on a steady even trail across a rock meadow and down into the trees.   For 5 whole miles we had a fast trail, gradual decent, and no big rock steps.  We looked back later in the day and realized this saved our day...if it had been a slow difficult section we wouldn't have made the second pass.

I for one was happy to get to the bottom and start back up again, as uphills hurt less than downhills.   From 10000 feet we slowly climbed up to Pinchot Pass at 12000.   The lakes along the way were beautiful but we had places to be.  Aside from passing three hikers all wearing pink raincoats on our ascent, we didn't see anyone else.  At 5 pm most people prefer not to be starting the descend from a pass!  So we figured we were the last ones over for the day, until we met two men an hour later still heading up.  We figured it would be full dark just after they reached the summit of the trail.   Guess they are into night hiking.

I limped down the other side and we started looking for places to camp.  But given how badly we sleep at high elevations, we wanted to get lower first.  It would be another 4 miles until we found a tiny place to put the tent...camping spots were somewhat scarce.   After 21 miles, 5000 feet of climbing, and almost 12 hours of hiking, we hurried through the evening routine....put up tent, purify water, wash socks, soak feet, cook dinner, make tea, arrange air mattress, gather breakfast items, move bear canisters away, fall in bed and sleep.

Day 11
After 3 tough days it was hard to get moving in the morning, and we knew we had another 17 miles to do today.   Luckily we only had one pass waiting for us.  We started off with a downhill, and my knee felt ok to start the hike down.  It would hurt later but at least it didn't hurt now.   Still, we would drop down another couple thousand feet, knowing we would turn right around and go back up again to Glen Pass.  Today, that was disheartening.

I took point on the uphill and kept a steady pace, but we were both a little tired.  At the start of a string of lakes, I really wanted a break, and got grumpy that there were no rocks to sit on along the lakes, just weeds and grass and rushes.  I grumpily hiked another couple of miles to Rae Lakes, which were beautiful, just amazingly blue.  We stopped at the first available rock and took a decent break.  Jim was having a tough day too, and when we stopped, he just sat down and didn't move for about 10 minutes.   I was determined to wash my clothes, and put on my rain gear while I waded out in the lake to soak feet, give myself a hankie bath, and rinse my stinky t-shirt.   Jim eventually came around, and we purified more water, ate, drank, and enjoyed not moving for a while.    I really wanted him to say we should camp at these lakes, but alas, no.

Rae Lakes just got more beautiful as we hiked around them, and I could have stopped a dozen times along the way.  It's a popular backpacking destination, as long as you are willing to hike over a 12,000 foot pass to get here!   After walking along them for miles, and finishing across a narrow isthmus, the climb to Glen Pass began.  It's known as a nasty, rocky, high-stepping difficult ascent.   We were glad when it was over, and found the other side much more palatable.  Except for my knee.  I found myself almost coming to a stop to lower myself down the big steps, and our speed faltered.   The rest of the day passed in a haze.  My knee hurt, we kept going down and down.   The campsites at the bottom had no water.  We kept going down.  Finally Jim went ahead and found a really cool large camping area next to a river.  I dumped my pack and went to soak in the river.  I really wasn't capable of much more.

Day 12
Our reward for 4 days of hard hiking were several shorter days before our final ascent of Mount Whitney.  Today, we just needed to go 12 miles and get over a 13,000 foot pass.  That's all.   We made a new friend, Rich, as he was going our speed up the hills and left his hiking group behind.  Until he took off like a rabbit up the pass and left us behind too!    We found ourselves hiking faster and further while talking to Rich, until the pass began in earnest.  Then we dropped back to our favorite game of "take a breather" each time we climbed 100 ft in elevation.   But Forester Pass was very gently graded with few steps, and we ascended fairly easily.  The pass isn't much more than a notch in the ridge, with great views on both sides.  We found Rich waiting there, along with several other hiking groups.

The switchback descent felt fairly easily, and then it was a long walk along a high plateau.  Stunted trees appeared in the distance, but we were very high and not much else could grow.   I suddenly felt very weary as we sped along the flatish trail.   I repeated like a mantra, 4 miles to camp, just 4 miles.  It took forever.  My knee hurt.  It was WINDY, and the windy annoyed me and I couldn't get warm.  We finally reached a sparse bunch of trees and I needed a break.   The first campground was only about 1/2 mile away but I had to stop.  I sent Jim ahead to find a good place and sunk onto a rock.  I stayed there for a while in the sun trying to get warm and comfy.  Finally I struggled onward and found the tent already set up, in my favorite camp of the whole trip.   Next to a river running over flat rocks, they were free of anything slimy, with clear, warmish (read: not freezing) water.   Better yet, it was only 3 pm.  Camping at 3 pm...what a novel idea.

First again was a soak for my feet and knee.   Still cold, I put on all my waterproof clothes, grabbed my sit pad, and laid down on the rocks in the sunshine.  When the shadows moved, I switched to the other side of the stream and lay motionless again.  For hours.  I may have slept, or maybe just laid there in a fog of exhaustion.    When shade came for good I was finally warm, and could move enough to drink, eat and function again.  Rich and his group camped next to us, and we would see them the next night too.

I should mention that the skin on of the back my legs was getting really painful and sometimes would start bleeding?   Some of it was sunburn (I only wore shorts), but for the rest, I could only conclude that my dusty, dirty socks (which I washed and rotated every night) were wearing away the skin on my sock line.  My heels were dry, cracked, and painful too.  I used bandaids and chapstick on them occasionally (about the only first aid I had besides duct tape), which helped, but day by day they were getting dry, callused, bleeding, and sore.   Luckily I only had 2 days more to go, or I would have had to take further measures to stay healthy.

Day 13
After eating oatmeal every morning so far, we were more than sick of it.  By now we were just glad if we could choke it down.  So we put this morning's ration in a bag for Fabian, and Jim had ramen instead.  I mixed up a ration of creme brule from a Mountain House packet.   It tastes like vanilla pudding and it was surprisingly good.

Today would be the shortest day of this week, 11 miles with NO passes to cross at all.  Hallelujah.   All we had to do was get ourselves to Guitar Lake, the staging area for the final ascent of Mount Whitney and the finish down in Whitney Portal.   It was only about 10 miles, and rather flat, but it would be the hardest day of the whole hike for me.   After a nice walk across a high plateau, empty except for some stubborn twisted Bristlecone Pine trees, we had a short descent.  A tiny descent.   It set my knee screaming again, worse than ever.   I struggled to Crabtree Junction, where we left our extra food for Fabian in the bear box.

Grumpy and in pain, I sent Jim ahead so I could slow down and limp.  It was less than 3 miles to Guitar Lake, but it took forever.   All I could think of was the fact that tomorrow I would need to descent 6,000 feet to the finish of the trail.  How could I do that feeling like this?    So I struggled, rested, limped and finally made it to camp, where Rich and Jim were waiting for me on huge rocks.  People would camp everywhere around here, and a passing ranger estimated that there were 50-90 people camped at this lake and the one above us.  Everyone was spread out enough that it wasn't obvious, though.

Our tent is looking up at Mt. Whitney
The wind was strong.  We chose a tent spot sheltered by an L of two huge boulders.  The corner made a nice spot to cook dinner, too.   The wind died by the evening and it became calm and cool.  I put on all my clothes and tried to stay awake until it got dark.  I managed to finish my book, too!

Day 14
My hiking socks, as usual of late, were frozen solid at the end of my trekking poles in the morning.  (Why did I wash my socks on the last night?  I have no idea).   I wore my clean dry pair washed two nights ago instead, and finally for the first time put on my gloves to make breakfast.  It was cold.  We had an abbreviated breakfast.   I made hot drinks and Jim had mashed potatoes.   I had found a homemade packet of chocolate drink in the MTR buckets, and mixed it up to drink on the trail.  It had a shot of coffee in it, which actually didn't taste bad.   Did I mention it was still dark?  We started hiking at about 5 am, headlamps making a ribbon of light zigzagging up the mountain.

We didn't have far up to go, only about 2000 feet to the junction, and we took it very steady.  The trail was pretty smooth and not too steep, and we wondered how the trail crew kept it maintained amid the steep cliffs at this elevation.    As we climbed, the light grew until we could see a film of ice on the lakes below us.  It was cold, and windy, and at sunrise I felt sorry for everyone who had tried to get to the summit to see that magical moment in this freezing air.

At 13,600 feet we had to make a decision, to the summit of Mt. Whitney, or down to the finish.  Plenty of abandoned packs here said that many people had chosen the summit. We had kind of made our decision already...if my knee pain returned, then the trip to the summit would just add agony to the day.  The biting cold and wind made the choice easier.   As we stood at the junction, three day runners passed us going to the summit wearing shorts and tiny packs.  Arghh.

Mt. Whitney is the rightmost flat-ish summit
Finally around the corner of the wind, in the sun, and looking down on the eastern Sierra for the first time since we started the trail, it was calm and warm.  We stopped to snack and I took some Ibuprofen.  This was our summit for the day.  It was also a very short-lived warm spot.  Back on the trail heading down now, the wind was brutal and cold.  We hurried down, my knee feeling perfectly fine as if I had willed and begged it not to hurt today.   Passing us going up were myriads of day hikers, braving 22 miles round trip to the summit with 6,000 feet of ascent and descent.  They must have started at 1 or 2 in the morning to be so far up the trail at 7 in the morning.   I didn't envy them the headache they were going to get later from the altitude.

Down we went.  Down. Down. Down.  The trail never ended.  Rocks, lakes, rivers, views.  All I wanted was that bacon cheeseburger Jim promised me at Whitney Portal.   Step down, down, down.  More people going up.   It's late now, almost too late to be going up.  And finally, "that guy" going up while wearing blue jeans.  He may not make it, Jim says.

Finally, a view of a road.  Civilization!  Bacon cheeseburgers!   But we are still thousands of feet above it.   Now it's warm.   We pass more people, these with heavier packs going up to camp before ascending Whitney.  Finally we pass a few just starting the John Muir Trail.   This steep 6,000 feet of ascent is a hell of a way to start, loaded up with a weeks worth of food.  We are light.  We eat our final candy bar, drink a bit of water, and our bear cans are almost empty.

The switchbacks continue, now across a hot, sunbaked hillside.  We are going so fast we are flying down the trail.  My knee doesn't hurt at all.   14 miles today, and at the final switchback, we've done it in 5 hours 45 minutes.   Jim finishes the John Muir Trail for the 3rd time, swears "never again" for the 3rd time, and we go to the cafe to enjoy a soda and burger.   And it's good, really good.   Even better, a lady and her family immediately pick us up to take us to Lone Pine and our vehicle, rearranging the whole family and dog to fit us and our packs into a crowded SUV.   It's nice to travel so effortlessly, driving further in 20 minutes than our whole day of hiking.

We shower, sleep, eat again, and wash every filthy piece of clothing we had.  And vow not to hike that far ever again.   Until maybe next year.  The end.

Day 1 Tuolumne to Marie Lakes Trail  17 miles  8 hours
Day 2 Marie Lakes Trail to Rosalie Lake   12 Miles  6 hours
Day 3 Rosalie Lake to Reds Meadow 9 miles  3 hours
Day 4 Reds Meadow to Lake Virginia 15.5 miles  8 hours
Day 5 Lake Virginia to Lake Edison Trail 13 miles  7 hours
Day 6 Lake Edison Trail to Sallie Keyes Lakes 16 miles 8 hours
Day 7 Sallie Keyes Lakes to Muir Trail Ranch 5 miles 2 hours
Day 8 Muir Trail Ranch to Wanda Lake 18 miles 10 hours
Day 9 Wanda Lake to Deer Meadow 16 miles 8 hours
Day 10 Deer Meadow to Sawmill Pass Trail 21 miles 12 hours
Day 11 Sawmill Pass Trail to Vidette Meadow 17 miles 9 hours
Day 12 Vidette Meadow to Shepherd Pass Trail 12 miles 6 hours
Day 13 Shepherd Pass Trail to Guitar Lake 11 Miles 6 hours
Day 14 Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal 11.5 miles 6 hours
Cowboy camping at Wanda Lake
Muir Hut
Foreman warming up in the hut
This guy passing Jim has HUGE front bag(S) as well as a backpack!
More bear paws
A Pica on the rocks

Couldn't take enough photos of Rae Lakes

A pack train coming off a rough 12,000 foot pass

Forester Pass
My favorite campsite by an awesome creek
Bristlecone Pines