Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

September 28, 2013

Uinta Marathon in SNOW

Day 4:  Snow on the Tent and Winter Wonderland

So rain on the tent the night before during a crashing, booming thunderstorm ended early, and we got a good nights sleep with the winds howling the trees over our tent.   Somehow down at ground level, the wind was hardly noticeable, although the sound of it high overhead made it seem like the trees were going to break over.

At daybreak, the wind died and it was pretty warm for 11,000 feet of elevation.  We were thinking about getting up and packing up, when we heard thunder crashing in the distance again.  Whoops, maybe we'll stay in the tent a bit longer.   The storm did hit us again, but this time it was in the form of the white stuff.  That's right, it was snow falling on our tent this time, for a good hour as we laid there and wondered what to do.   At 8 am, we decided that if we were going to get back to the car today we needed to get moving, snow or not.  So we packed up what we could inside the tent, and then quickly busted down the tent while flakes fell.

Our hike, which would turn into marathon distance although we didn't know it yet, started out fluffing through fresh snow.  It was magical.  If a little hard to follow the trail.  Our shoes and socks, soaked in the river last night, were soon soaked again, with snow, river and stream crossings, and more snow.  But it seemed warm enough out, the wind wasn't blowing, and the trail marched steadily if gradually down the valley. We knew we had a long ways to go today, so we kept up a speedy pace on trails made softer by the gentle snowfall.

Gradually the white stuff disappeared as we dropped down, although more was falling, less was sticking to the ground.  At noon we had a cold lunch to match our cold breakfast, eaten on a short break that was all we were allowing ourselves on the long hike.   Actually we didn't want to stop much more than a few minutes anyway....we were wet from hiking and from snow turning to drizzle, and started to get chilled when we weren't moving.  On a day like this, you either hike, or your camp...stopping to take breaks is tough.   We kept hiking.

The snow finally disappeared and the rain fell intermittently.   We had brought light windbreakers rather than full rain jackets, yeah it was a horrible decision, and it didn't take much to get soaked through to the skin.   To make the situation worse, I had been following the map closely all day, and in the early afternoon suddenly thought we had missed a trail junction.  We stopped to study the map, decided to turn back, then said "let's do 5 more minutes in this direction still".   After 3 minutes, it didn't look right, so we backtracked about 15 minutes, it still didn't look right, by then we were soaking and cold, wondering what to do.  In the end we studied every nuance of the map, and determined that we should have just kept going where we had originally been walking.  Sure enough, the trail junction was only about 30 feet from where we had been lost and turned around.  DOH!

To add to the tough day, that intersection was about the halfway mark of our way to the car, meaning that we had to keep up the quick pace the rest of the daylight to have a hope of making it out.  Of course, we could have easily camped again for the night, but with a wet tent and wet bodies we weren't too keen on staying out another night.  We kept deciding to head for the trailhead even though it was still a long ways out.   Luckily it never poured, just drizzled, making it uncomfortable but not freezing.

With the horse to the barn mentality, we quickly passed down and across Shale Creek, glad that there was a bridge across the raging water.  The trail then hugged the side of the hill for miles, gradually winding down to the valley floor.   There we were treated to cliff-side views of the Uinta River, crashing along far below us.   Somehow we missed taking any photos of the river cliffs, we have movies instead but those aren't nearly as useful here!   It was a beautiful walk in any case, and with the raindrops drying up we almost but never quite got dry as we kept steadily hiking.   We did end up seeing lots of elk, mostly their rear ends as they saw us first and disappeared into the forest.  Final count was 12 elk, one bunny rabbit, and a porcupine (scared away from the tent in the middle of the night by Rob).

It was a long day of hiking, no way around that.  Somehow Rob recovered from the climbing of the day before and we both kept going as fast as we could for hours and hours.  Finally we could see Sheep's Bridge again across the river, and know that we were only 4 miles from the car.  But it was 6:30 pm already and our tired legs had already walked at least 20 miles.  The trail, which had been muddy and soaked all day, seemed extra muddy and rocky in that last section.    And did I mention that it was our anniversary?!  

The last bit of light was gone as we made it to the car...in fact the only way we could see it was by flashing the car lights with the remote.  Yes I know we could have gotten flashlights out but that seemed like too much trouble.   So, Rob walked his first marathon ever(!), carrying a pack no less, luckily it was mostly downhill, although it still took about 10 hours of steady hiking to finish the day.   We were happy campers when we realized that we could just make it to the Subway shop in Roosevelt before it closed for the night.   No, that wasn't our anniversary dinner...we postponed that for a more relaxing day!  

September 27, 2013

Kings Peak Summit Attempt

Day 3:  Wind on the 13ers and Scree Slopes

Today was the big day of the hike where we would attempt to summit King's Peak, at over 13,500 feet.   First we had to keep climbing alongside Lake Atwood and reach the top of Trailrider Pass.  From there we had two options, to go down into the swamps of Painter Basin and take the long way around to the backside of Kings Peak, or to surf the ridgetops....figuratively speaking, I suppose. But first we got to see our first elk of the trip....a flash of color and then it disappeared into the bushes.

In the end, we choose to summit first and traverse the ridgeline.  The wind was rather low but gusty, and we hoped that it wouldn't get too bad on the peaks.  The slope on trailrider pass didn't start too badly...we were able to progress up towards the nameless peak towering above us until it seemed to get quite close.  Then, somehow all progress came to a slow grind, as we slowly crawled up precarious boulders to the summit.  It ended up taking a couple of hours to make the ascent.   It was 1 pm when we teetered on the last boulder to reach the summit at something over 13,000 feet.  Amazingly enough, another guy appeared out of the blue sky, on a day hike to peakbag a few 13ers.

The wind, which had only caressed our faces so far, turned into a full-on howling gale at the summit, sweeping up from the southwest to almost sweep us off our feet.  And between us and Kings Peak were 4 more peaks over 13,000 feet and very rock ridge line traverses.   Almost immedately, it became a matter of surviving the wind, cold, and elevation and finding a way back down to the valley, rather than attempting to get all the way to the highest peak in Utah.

However, survival meant heading north for the moment, as we were unwilling to descend on the boulder field we had just ascended, because it just didn't sound like any fun.  So we leaned into the wind, and rock-hopped across the ridgeline for what seemed like a couple more hours.  Even the ridge was hard going, especially when we came to the knife-edge before South Kings Peak.   Rob was on his last legs by then, and by studying the map I found a descent line to the East just below the south summit.   It didn't look too bad, so we chanced it and headed down to the lake below the peaks.  It was better terrain than we had ascended, if not by much!

Finally we got down to a grassy, if rocky slope, and thought we were home free to get all the way down to Painter Basin.  Not so fast!   Suddenly the ground fell away from us and we found ourselves looking over a cliff that was at least a couple hundred feet high!   Whoops.   I had to study the map for quite a while to make sure we could backtrack a little and work our way around and down.

Painter Basin was a mess of wet swamps all running full from recent rains.  I navigated a high line through them towards the distant tree line...our safety line to get out of the howling wind.  Rob was on his lowest energy on the trip now as the light was failing.  His best effort was a slow trudge and balked at getting his feet wet across a river which had no dry safe place to cross.   After the tough day we both wanted to lay down and sleep, but lower, sheltered locations were worth getting to first.   With a few minutes of daylight left, we did reach treeline and it was blessedly full of places to camp.  We picked almost the first one we found, glancing worriedly at the sky as well to see a dark cloud approaching.  Raindrops start falling almost as soon as we saw it, and the tent went up about as quick as possible.   We crawled into the tent, got warm and dry, and then were treated to one of the coolest thunderstorms either of us had ever heard.  They are much nicer from inside the tent than outside!

Kings Peak in the (center) distance still looks a long ways away.  

September 26, 2013

Uinta Backpacking: Robert's Pass

Day 2:  Striped Rocks and Sunshine

We woke up to frost on the tent in a clear, chilly morning.  Rob had been freezing all night but without the energy to change into his warmer sleeping clothes.   You know sometimes how it's easier to suffer than to actually move and do something about it?  That happens a lot in a cramped tent, especially when it's cold and/or wet.

But it warmed up quickly enough and after a hot breakfast we were off hiking again in shorts and tshirts.  Our path today took us along Chain Lakes and Rob insisted on stopping twice to swim in them, or rather jump in the water, gasp, and then jump back out again.   Robert's Pass loomed above us, though, and soon we were gasping for air as we trudged upwards.   It was really just a finger of a ridge coming away from the higher mountains, but at just over 11,000 feet it was higher than we had been in years.   Luckily we got distracted by some really cool striped on the rocks covering the trail...red and white and so many layers we were amazed.  At some point these rocks were on a sea bed forming layers of sediment....not anymore!

The amazing sunshine continued all day, until our tired bodies came into a wonderful meadow perfect for an evening camp.  It was angled where we could watch the sunset and the moonrise at the same time.  But we were more concerned with warm food, a comfy spot to camp, and a hot campfire.   This time, we had enough time to get it all done before nightfall.   The wind was blowing a little by dark, which meant paradoxically it stayed a little warmer than night and we didn't need to bundle up so much.   You'll have to ask the meteorologists why that is!

Looking down from Robert's Pass

September 24, 2013

Uinta Wilderness Backpacking

Day 1 - Sunny Climb and a Campfire!

The Uinta Mountains lie just east the Salt Lake Valley.  Well, I guess the Wasatch mountains get in the way first, but then the Uintas start marching west to east for a hundred miles.  They are the longest east/west mountain range in the continental USA, and have the highest point in Utah, King's Peak sitting at 13,528 feet.  In fact, the Uintas have almost 100 peaks over 12,000 feet in elevation, putting the rest of Utah to shame.   And I had never seen them, except from a distance where they looked snowy and inviting.

Of course in late September most of the snow has melted for the year and new stuff usually hasn't fallen yet.  Rob and I wanted a getaway for a few days, so we packed up for a circuit of the Uinta Wilderness Trail.  It's about a 65 mile circle starting out of Neola near Roosevelt, Utah.  There's a whole lot of nothing driving to the trailhead, that's for sure.

After a long drive we were happy to be hiking by early afternoon.  The trail was gradual and rocky, amd although we kept expecting it to get steeper and harder....somehow it never did.  Even as we began to climb away from the river above Sheep's Bridge, the switchbacks were still gradual and we kept up an easy walking pace.

The aspen trees were just starting to turn golden, the sun was bright, it was warm, the trail was dry, and it was a beautiful fall day to be out in the woods.  What more could you ask for? 

All the same, we barely made it to the first flat spot it was possible to camp in before darkness fell...it's coming earlier this time of year.  The full moon was rising, though, giving us a gorgeous if chilly evening.  Lily Lake proved a great spot to camp, and Rob even got to make a small campfire which is one of the things he loves most in life!

The beavers work overtime to flood a section of trail

September 18, 2013

King's Peak Summit Attempt - Track Us Online!

Rob and I are off tomorrow for a backpacking journey in the Uintas.   We haven't visited that part of Utah yet, although it houses not a few of Utah's highest peaks.   We intend to summit King's Peak, which sits at 13,528 feet.   Nope, it's not technical at all, just a long slog up from whatever valley we decide to start from.  The snow should all be melted this time of year, and with the upcoming dry conditions there shouldn't be any new snow, or rain either.   Hopefully with our warmest sleeping bags we should be snugged up happily at night.   We're looking forward to the cool new scenery and to getting out on the hills again...been a while.

To change things up, we're going to be carrying our SPOT Tracker as we travel.  So you can track us online at


This link is for all the Utah Pilots on the site, so to see me specifically you will need to click on my name, Dawn Westrum, to check the box and see my tracklog.

If you want to see who else is out there, http://xcfind.paraglide.us tracks pilots in the USA and all over the world.  It's mostly for paragliding pilots looking to fly cross country, but SPOT trackers come in handy for all sorts of outdoor adventures!

September is a great month to get out into the outdoors...the bugs are gone, the temps are perfect, the leaves are turning beautiful colors, the nights aren't too cold, etc, etc.  In other words, get outside and enjoy it.  See you out there!  

September 17, 2013

Video - 2013 Open Distance Paragliding Nationals

Rob has outdone himself with the editing job this time!
More blogs and photos about the competition can be found at www.twocanfly.com

September 7, 2013

Inspo to the U of U...A New Paragliding Record (for Me!)

Well, you could say that the competition last week did not give me the flight I was looking for.  Twice I was stopped just short of Lone Peak, which has been my goal all summer in the quest to land at the park in front of the house.   So when the weather was looking good a few days later, I was hoping for that great flight of the summer.  And I got it.  Takeoff looked good early after I hiked up to launch from the valley.  Luckily someone drove my gear up for me, it was hot enough hiking with no backpack!

Becky Brim launched early and was able to climb out from launch.   She had been flying against me in the comp and we hadn't had a good day to fly together.  So I launched, got up and we both caught a good thermal to take us high.  No one else was around so I radio'd over to her that we should fly north. She agreed and we crossed Provo Canyon, getting pretty low and making a sweet save over the foothills on the other side.

I was flying a borrowed Nova Mentor 3, and was happy with the fact that I stayed ahead of Becky over the canyon.  From there, she stayed put getting high in a thermal, while I pushed on to the north, wanting to get ahead of a developing cloud to the south.  A few other people were climbing above launch by that point but no one else was with me so I just went.  I figured if there was lift here there would be lift further on.

Sure enough, I was able to climb pretty steadily while flying north, eventually getting to American Fork canyon where twice the rain had put me on the ground during the comp.  This time the peaks were looking sunny and clear, so I reached my maximum altitude of about 12,200 feet over Box Elder peak. I wasn't sure how fast the north wind was pushing in from the salt lake, so I made sure to climb up high on the side of Lone Peak.   And soon, I was flying right over the peak!  And I do mean right over...I cleared the spires by about 50 feet.  And then found some really rowdy air.  The valley north of the Point of the Mountain had a lot more wind, so there were different conditions to deal with.  Pilots launching on the foothills below me were flying in the north winds from the lake, while up high at 10,000 feet it was still from the SW.   I tried to stay above the mixing air, and looked at the house and park far below me.

Nah, I'm not going to go land there.  I'm gonna keep heading north and see how far I can get.   The hills and valley kept going, somehow I stayed pretty high, sometimes sailing along at 40 mph!   The cloud behind me kept growing, putting the pilots flying behind me on the ground, but I stayed ahead of it, and saw I-80 passing far beneath my feet.   I remembered that there was a TRAX station east of SLC at the University of Utah, so I decided to see if I could make it there.   By the end it was a slow push into wind, but I was able to land in a grassy park just across the street from the TRAX station.  That made it an easy cruise home on public transportation, a full circle of adventure which I always enjoy.

So I had the longest flight of the day in the area...that felt pretty cool.  I flew about 55 km which I think is as far as I've ever gone.   At least that I've measured.   But wow...amazing high flight, such great views over the valley...I could see from the Oquirrh mountains all the way to Park City!

Some Cool Paragliding Links

I am posting my flights to XContest, a worldwide collection of flight logs.   Here you can compare your airtime to others, and see maps of your flights, even join a contest!.
Dawn's XContest Flights

Track me LIVE in the air:  David Wheeler has created a site to gather everyone's SPOT URLS so we can see where everyone is flying on a given day in our area.

Want to know if it's going to be a good XC day for paragliding?   XC Skies is a weather website run by Chris Galli, a successful XC pilot based in Utah. In depth weather charts of anywhere in the world. Customize your own page with favorite maps, routes and point forecasts. Subscription required, $4.95 a month. Try it free for a month. Well worth the cost for serious XC pilots.
XC Skies

Curious to see if you really did top out the lift on your highest climb of the day?  Compare the tracklog of your flight to the predicted weather for the day along your route.   Do this by uploading the .igc file of the your flight.   Created by Chris Galli as part of XC Skies.
Weather/Flight Validation Uploader

See my flight on the weather validation tool.  Notice that my flight showed I could have gotten much, much higher.  This is rather misleading because along the Wasatch front, the Great Salt Lake tends to dampen the maximum height you can reach in lift, which isn't reflected in the weather forecast.

For something a bit more interesting, check out the validation of Gavin McClurg's record 240 mile flight on Aug 6 from Idaho into Montana.

Want to fly somewhere new?   This worldwide Paragliding Map gives you flying sites, local info, and weather combined into one site.  

September 1, 2013

Task 4: Rainshowers and a Short Day at the OD PG Nats

It seems every day during this competition we've had better weather than we expected, making longer distances than anyone has thought possible.   Today was the exception to that rule.  There were clouds booming off all of the high peaks by noon when we arrived on launch, and they were quickly getting bigger.   Rain was already coming at us over Utah Lake, so it was launch soon or not at all.

Even getting in the air quickly didn't help much.  There wasn't much lift organized at launch, and no one got high.  I saw a couple of wings heading south, and decided to follow them.  There was just enough lift to float along the ridge, I didn't bother trying to get very high because frankly the clouds above me were starting to look icky.   At some point the sky clouded over completely as I soared above the Y.   (Yes, it's a big white Y on the hillside).   All lift seemed to die, the air got really still, I just kept flying south to get as much distance as I could before landing near a trail at the base of the hill.

It was enough for 5th place on the day, although to be fair it was a short day and only counted for 1/2 the points of a longer day.  I did win the women's division so the race is still on for second place between Becky Brim and I...Julie Spiegler is clearly in the lead for the win, and we can't catch her at this point.

It started sprinkling within a few minutes of landing so everyone was quickly on the ground and back at HQ for an early finish.  I think we're all pretty tired from long flights so a good sleep will see us ready to go for the last day of competition on Sunday.

If any of you are wondering where my Orange and Blue wing is, I've left it in the shed this week and borrowed a faster wing from Ken Hudonjorgensen.  My wing this week is a Sun Lava EN C, it's super fast and fun to fly.   And it's got cool colors...yellow, red and blue in a design that looks like a phoenix. It's all about the colors, really!

See the live map of our spot trackers here http://xcfind.paraglide.us/comp.html?id=62

To check out other people's perspective on the competition, read Two-Can Fly's Blog HERE

Chris Galli, the XCSkies weather guru, blogs about weather HERE for the week.

Results are HERE