Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

August 31, 2013

Task 3: Flying with the Big Boys at the OD Nats!

Third time’s the charm.    Launch opened at 1230 for the 3rd task of the competition, and it seemed like going early might be a good idea.  Perhaps I thought that only because I know I could get a ride up to relaunch if I sink out!   But I was one of the first to launch, and I didn’t sink out, but I scratched for a long time along with about 6 other wings in the air.  I didn’t recognize any of them but eventually realized they weren’t in the comp.  Instead, it was Nick Greece and his Vol Biv teammates, hoping to make a camping/flying trip up the Wasatch range just like they had done previously in Nepal and California.   Vol means flying in French, so Vol Biv means something like fly camping.    I think I’m going to try something like that next summer…I’ll call it sky camping. 

At any rate, when a good thermal came along, it was just me and the sky gods who were in it together, taking it all the way up to the top of Cascade Mountain.   Rain was coming across Utah Lake, and down on launch the rain shadow prevented anyone else from launching.  I learned later that they were all stuck on the ground until almost 4 pm (when most then went on to get stellar flights to the south).   

But up on Cascade, all I knew was that I was thermaling with pilots who were way above my pay grade, and somehow almost keeping up with them.  I wasn’t sure which direction they were headed, so I left to fly north to Mt. Timpanogos.   When I looked behind me, the Vol Biv group was following me, albeit somewhat higher.  That's ok, I made it to the Timpanogos ridge with plenty of height, and surfed along the side of the mountain.  I didn't bother getting high because I was going for distance, not height.  I did scare some animals crossing some scree slopes (were they elk?) and the Vol Biv guys kept pace with me above the ridgetop.  

On the north end of the ridge is a large valley.  American Fork canyon is nothing to sneeze at, and I wasn't sure if it was safe to cross it from there.  So I went out front to Mahogany to cross a narrower spot, which took a lot longer than a straight crossing.  The Vol Biv guys evidently knew what they were doing, crossing it the shorter way, and the next time I saw them they were disappearing over Lone Peak.  I eventually made it over the canyon, but by then a rainstorm over the valley was brewing up and coming my way fast.  The sunshine over Lone Peak disappeared within 5 minutes and I knew I was just a few minutes to late to get over that mountain and into blue sky again.  

In fact, the rain and clouds were moving faster my way now, and I was kinda boxed into the mountains above Alpine.  All I could do was make a few climbing turns to get over Box Elder Peak, and then dash down the other side to avoid the potential life-threatening storm coming my way.  There was no lift on the other side, and some sinky air, so within a few minutes I was landing at Silver Lake, and quite happy to be safe on the ground.   I even managed to find a ride down the bumpy gravel road to avoid having someone drive up to get me...so it was a great day of flying.

If the day had ended then, I would have had one of the best flights of the day!   But everyone else managed to relaunch after I had landed and had some great flights to the south.  I'm still looking for that big day when I can fly north all the way to Salt Lake City...perhaps I'll land downtown somewhere :)

Thanks Terri Olsen and Jim Petersen for the photos!

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

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

Results are HERE

Nick Greece flying with the Utah Vol Biv Expedition
Rain headed our way over Utah Lake

August 30, 2013

Task 2: 2013 OD Paragliding Nationals

We started out the day with the awards ceremony for the first task.  Andrew Dahl won the day by flying to Bountiful, Utah, amazing considering he lives in Minnesota and hasn't flown much in mountains at all.  I won a bag of dirt, the award for "dirting" the most times, with 3 launches all sending me straight down into the LZ!  I'll try not to repeat that award!

The weather continues to improve for the week, and our second task was looking to be a good one.   Thunderclouds were forming earlier than usual so we were all looking to launch earlier than normal to get some distance before the day turned to rain.  Although the weather briefing by Chris Galli mentioned that the day might be drying up later...that should have been a clue.

I hiked up to the upper launch at Inspo to give myself that extra couple hundred feet of elevation to start with.  I was back to my old harness and helmet, so comfortable again with my equipment and hoping that the speedier wing would help me out.

I did launch pretty early but waited until I saw at least someone else staying up.  I was able to stay flying for a few turns but eventually sunk down to the lower launch, where I top landed.   But it was still looking good, so a quick relaunch was called for.  This time several of us were around to mark thermals and I got high enough where I said, "it's time to cross Provo canyon to the north".

I made it across the canyon.  Barely.  A thermal thumped me up just as I was picked out a landing spot. Then I scratched and scratched, gradually getting higher on the low slopes of Mt. Timpanogos.   It started to get fun then, as the southern wind was just pushing me up the ridges.

I finally climbed up to about 8,000 feet coming across American Fork canyon when voices on the radio started worrying about rain out in the valley.  I wasn't sure how much danger I was in from wind gusts, but I saw 3 wings on the ground below me and no one was flying.    In retrospect, I should have thought about this a little longer, but I just made a snap decision to spiral down and join the other pilots on the ground.   I literally spiraled down 4,000 feet to land in the soccer field next to Becky, Cliff, and David.

Anyway, the rain left soon after and more pilots flew over our heads and proceeded to fly all the way to   Farmington, Utah; down south to Nephi, Utah; and northeast to Ft. Bridger, WY.  It was an amazing day to be in the competition...the furthest distance was flow by Chris Galli at 155 kilometers!

To watch us fly LIVE during the rest of the comp, see the 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

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

Results are HERE
Rob putting out lunch for the competition
My bag of dirt for "dirting" the most times of the day!

August 29, 2013

2013 Open Distance Paragliding Nationals Competition: Aug 24- Sep 1, 2013

So I am flying in, and volunteering with, the Open Distance Paragliding Nationals organized by Ken Hudonjorgensen of Two-Can Fly Paragliding.   The competition is run out of central Utah, and the main launching area is Inspiration Point, also known as Squaw Peak Lookout above Provo.  The "Open Distance" part of the competition means that pilots are tasked to go as far as they can in any direction from launch.  The furthest track in a straight line from launch wins the day.

Our first day of flying was actually our 4 day of the competition, due to Tropical Storm Ivo remnants saturating the air and keeping us out of the sky.   Even this day looked a bit iffy, but we went up to launch anyway and it turned out to be a cracking day for some pilots.  By late afternoon retrieve drivers were sent out north, south, and east of launch, picking up pilots landing in  Bountiful, Park City, and Salem, Utah!

Me...not so much.  I was trying out a new wing, harness and helmet (I know, I know...never try something new in a competition!), and I couldn't get my flying to come together.  I think I had the record for the most relaunches, making 3 flights from Inspo.  I landed twice at the main Landing Zone (LZ), but then was short the last flight and did a sidehill landing on dry tall grass.   At least my GoPro video of it looks cool!

Hoping for better things tomorrow and back to flying my old harness....less to think about in the air to focus on the thermals.

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

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

August 25, 2013

Run Elevated Half-Marathon, Little Cottonwood Canyon, 24 Aug 2013

Last week I painfully biked my way up from the Salt Lake valley to Snowbird in the inaugural Snowbird Adventure Race.   That was 3,000 feet of elevation gain.

A week later, I found myself toeing the line at a downhill marathon in the same location.  This time we started at Alta Ski Resort, even higher than Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and ended up down in the valley.   In the inaugural Run Elevated Half Marathon, the route had almost 3,800 feet of elevation loss.

I like downhills.  I once ran down 8,000 feet from a mountain on the Canary Islands, just because I could.  This time, I wasn't sure I was ready for the pounding.  I counted all up the runs I had done in the last 2 months.  They may have totaled 20 miles.  I'd been distracted by a long backpacking trip, where running wasn't in vogue.  My backpack weighed too much, really.   No downhill running at all.

As toed the start line at 8,700 feet in the chilly air, I concluded that I maybe should have trained a little bit more for this.  But then my feet started pounding the pavement, and all I could think was how much fun it was to run downhill.   I think I pushed out 7 minute miles for at least the first 7 or 8 miles...for me that is absolutely flying.

The runners around me didn't seem to grasp the concept of cutting corners...they stubbornly ran on the white or the yellow lines.  I knew the course was measured for the shortest distance on the road...like that blue line they paint around corners on all the big marathons so the elites know where the exact course should be to run on.   I created my own imaginary blue line, and cut all the corners I could.  It may have gained me a few feet, but at least distracted me from the pain in my legs after the first few miles.

It rained.  A few seconds of hard showers and a few ice pellets.  A few miles later we were hot and wishing that it was still raining.   I lasted until mile 9 and then my legs were really screaming at me...the course started to level off so the easy running was over.   I regretted my lack of training at that point, as perhaps 100 people passed me in the last couple of miles, when I was barely running with my teeth gritted.   Not used to running on pavement, either...lots of pounding.

A last half-mile where I really had to force myself to run, and then I was done.  Phew.  My instant results tell me that I would have been really high in the standings if I hadn't let 100 people pass me in the last couple of miles.  Duh.  Straight home, and into an ice-bath for 20 minutes.  Feeling much better for that.   Still, it was nice to run in a straightforward road race again, haven't done that in a while.  Perhaps next year I'll even train for it....

Oh.  Final time was 1:51:11

Run Elevated Half Marathon RESULTS ARE HERE

August 24, 2013

Snowbird Adventure Race, 6 Hours, 17 Aug 2013

It's been too long since I've done an adventure race...months I think.   Which is also probably the last time I've ridden my mountain bike.  Or any bike for that matter!  My summer has been filled with backpacking and paragliding and road trips.  I can't complain.  My bike should.  
I signed up for the 6 hour Snowbird Adventure Race with just a week or two to spare, thinking it was great that the race was so close to the house.   It got even closer when I got the map of the course and saw that the start line was down in my favorite running gully...my stomping grounds, if you will.

But as I traced the course from the start to the finish...I may have groaned.  UPHILL ALL THE WAY.      I prefer downhills myself.  Anyway, the race started near the TRAX Station at the Sandy City Dog Park.  I took a shortcut here and gained 50 feet on the rest of the racers.  It was a momentary lead.  From there we found several checkpoints in Dimple Dell Park a.k.a "The Gully behind my neighborhood".   It was a hot morning already, and before every transition I *almost* ran out of water...whew.  

At Granite Park, after miles of sandy running, we grabbed our bikes.   Since the main section of the bike was all on road, and I had pre-decided not to do the off-road section, I was riding my hybrid bike.  It's a beast but might climb on pavement better than my mountain bike.  I'm still not actually sure...it weighs a lot.  At any rate, I spent the best part of the next 2 hours slowly riding up Little Cottonwood Canyon all the way to Snowbird Ski Resort.   That climb is a beast, too.  I stuck close to the boys in Lederhosen and hoped they wouldn't shake me.  
We were all happy to arrive at Snowbird, after ascending from 4500 feet almost to 8,000 ft.   The boys opted to continue on their bikes but I was ecstatic to ditch mine and finish the race on foot.   The rest of the course was a romaine (orienteering) style section, where each racer could choose which controls to reach in whatever order seemed best.  This is my favorite style of racing and I was happy to be thinking and navigation again rather than just mindlessly riding or running a straight line.  

The only mandatory control on this section was the Tyrolean Traverse, where we had to bring a harness and carabiners to essentially ride a zip line across a canyon.  The climb up to the traverse was brutal, though...by this time I was hot, sweaty, really tired, and trying to suck enough oxygen at 8,000-odd feet to even breathe.   I kind of stumbled up to to the traverse, enjoyed the wind on my face as I crossed the canyon for a few seconds, and then it was over.  Back to the navigation.  
I spent the rest of the race running up and down and between the ski slopes at Snowbird Ski Resort.  Just between us, it's more fun to ski down them and get the lift back up!  A few of the controls were easy to find.  Some of them weren't.  I worked out a route that looked to minimize how many ups and downs I had to do.  I still waded through a creek and bushwacked through some scrubby trees and tripped over a few things.  And I was doing pretty well until I got to a control labeled something like "Aspen tree grouping".   I navigated near it using a mountain bike trail, which got me to about 100 meters away, but in front of me at the trail zig-zag was an impenetrable line of dense bushes marching both up and down the steep hillside.   I couldn't see any way around and decided to go through.  I sort of closed my eyes, push my head down, and blindly grabbed onto branches hoping that there would be somewhere to put my feet on the bushes, too.  Because the ground was out of sight by this point, as well as the sky, and I couldn't see through the other side, either.   There could have been a whole family of bears living a few feet from my path and I wouldn't have known.   I did see a moose later, who seemed more surprised to see me and ran off leaving some very fresh scat!

I may have tripped and fallen a few times...the scratches on my legs are now a week later starting to heal up.   Somehow I worked my way over to the holy grail, a group of aspen trees.  Finally out of the scrubby stuff, although the terrain was still pretty terrible.  I guess a lot of snow covers a lot of bushes in the winter time....  Anyway.  No control in site.  Another racer shows up.  We look at every group of aspen trees we can find, painfully working our way up the hillside.  Nothing.  He disappears.  I decide to give up after about 30 minutes of looking.   While trying to find a way down which doesn't involve going back through those bushes, I stumble onto the control.  Success.  At least by accident.   But I'm convinced the location wasn't right on my map...I guess shoving through bushes seems a lot further than it really is.  

Almost out of time now but get 2 more controls on the way back to the finish.  I'm just under the wire and happy to get everything but 3 controls.  From what I hear a couple of those were tough too, so no time to have gone looking for them.  No one gets the uber-prize, for the final control on the tram station at the top of Snowbird.  I couldn't fathom the idea of climbing another 3,000 vertical feet and didn't attempt it...but the prize was a weekend retreat at Snowbird so bummer that no one else made the attempt either.  Maybe next year.

Points get counted and I'm surprised to get second overall!   Only 20-odd racers but I'm psyched to be very close to the win...only 14 minutes behind the 1st place guy, who was the one I got lost with looking for the Aspen tree point.  I don't think I could have pulled out 14 minutes faster anywhere but getting the same number of controls feels great!

Congrats Graffiti Racing for a great inaugural AR at Snowbird...hope you keep the surprises coming next year!

The checkpoints

August 20, 2013

NOLS Expedition, Climbing Camp, Part III (And The End)

Part III.  And the end.  I promise.  23 days is a lot to cover in a blog.  That's my excuse.

Maryott Lake is not a layover day, but we sneak in a summit ascent by getting up at the absurd hour of 3 in the morning for a bouldery ascent of Sky Pilot Mountain.   Sky Pilots being those rather weird flowers which only grow above 11,000 feet of elevation and smell rather like a skunk.  But they are blue and pretty, and which makes up for a lot of smell.   Sky Pilot Mountain bumps just over 12,000 feet, which didn't seem so bad after a few weeks living at 10,000 feet.  But the start in the dark isn't fun...our headlamps aren't really useful under a bright moon and among tricky large boulders.  Plus we take a turn too early and end up exposed over a knife-edge to the summit rather than coming up the valley.  Whoops.  What were we thinking?  By sunrise we are casually walking up to the summit along the plateau top, which offers some of the nicest hiking we've had in a while.  It's cold and windy but calving glaciers and mountain goats distract us.  The Beartooth Mountains are laid out like a patchwork quilt around us.

We're down by 9 am, just in time to cook breakfast and pack up for a move over to Jasper Lake.  It's a short move but we are all tired and hangry by the time we reach our second to last camp of the trip.  Hangry being defined as "so hungry and tired that we become cranky until we are fed".   While we are cooking supper, 4 mountain goats come to visit.  They lick the rocks where we've peed, and generally get so nosy we have to scare them away.  They run off into the cliffs and entertain us with some heady mountain goat leaps.

But not much time to rest.  Our final hiking day may be the biggest of our trip.   It's only 3 miles, but it's up and over an 11,000 foot saddle with full packs, and a scree descent down to Glacier Lake that we've all been dreading since Doug first brought up the idea.   We know it's our last day though, and we make it a good one.  Two parts...first we slowly climb up to the saddle...my team selects a big scree field with boulders big enough to swallow us.  They shift and move and generally scare the crap out of us, but we made it to the top devoid of adrenaline.   I have to admit that ascent choice was not one of my better ideas.

Car sized boulders cover the top of the saddle, where the I team plays endless games of yahtzee while waiting for all teams to first ascend, then descend the scree on the other side.   It's slow going in gigantic, never ending boulder fields.  We're all sick of rock hopping by this point, knowing that just one shift would be enough to pin and break an ankle or leg.  Our team finds some snowfields, making a quicker descend to the lake and avoiding some rocks.  But it's a long day for everyone, taking 9 hours to go just 3 miles.  15 grateful faces regard our final climbing camp above Glacier Lake when we arrive.  The tents won't move for a week...no more hiking.

Or is there?  With empty packs (and some empty bellies) we descend down a couple thousand feet to our final resupply, where a truck meets us with another 5 days worth of food.   And much climbing gear.  Ropes, harnesses, slings, helmets, carabiners, and lots of trad.  Our packs are not empty or light on the way up.  I'm having another tough day...with a light pack on the nice trail, I am tripping and sliding all over, trying not to look like a total beginner at walking.   On the way back up, I put my head down and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.

So 4 days of climbing ensue.  I must admit I too tired to concentrate for the first couple days...a side effect of hiking with heavy packs for most of the last 17 days.   It was a mental switch for all of us...from packing up to not moving.  We learned to set up anchors, rappel, ascend, climb, and mange a top rope site.  It was quite fun, in a different sort of way than our hiking had been the rest of the time.

Of course, by that time we were really smelly, tired of eating oatmeal and rehydrated hash browns, and ready to get back on the bus back to Lander.   Some one taught me once that if you are doing a fun activity, you should quit when you are still really having a great time.  This way you will remember loving it and will want to do this again.   I love backpacking and being in the backcountry, but perhaps a shorter time period might suit me better.  I like showers too much.  I think I've mentioned that already.  

Anyway, all good things must come to an end, and we reached our last day, to the relief of some and the disappointment of others.   Our newly loaded packs, this time with climbing gear, too, were shouldered for the last time.  The trail descent seemed to go quickly, but the bus couldn't navigate the rutted gravel road to the trailhead.   We continued walking, on hard ground which pounded our tender feet.  3 miles turned into 5 before the bus came into the view of our grateful eyes.

We managed to find pizza and ice cream for dinner in a passing town, but we weren't done with camping yet.   Our final night was spent in the Wyoming desert, under skies flashing with lightning bolts.  We sorted all our gear to turn back in, then stayed up late to reflect on the journey we had just come through.

I'm not sure why I wanted to sleep with no tent...oh, wait I wanted to fall asleep under the stars for at least one night on our expedition.  Why I thought it was a good idea with thunderstorms around, I really can't say.  At 2 in the morning I woke to raindrops falling on our sleeping bags, and hurriedly tossed the rainfly over us and got it set up.  Not quickly enough, though, as I was then damp and rather smelly the rest of the night.  Ooops.

At least the next day was bringing us to clean clothes and the almight shower, so it didn't matter too much.   We made quick work of sorting our gear in Lander, the quicker to get to our showers, our cell phones, and back to the real world.  A few more debriefings, a dinner out on the town (salad, at last) for a last hurrah with our group, and then it was over.  We'd be going our separate ways the next morning, back to real life and the rest of our lives.   I hesitate to get sappy, but such a journey like this was intense in a lot of ways.  We might not meet up as a group again, but we won't forget, either.   And sometime down the road of life we'll realize just what we learned on this and other life experiences and our lives will be better because of it.

The end.

NOLS Backpacking: Part 1

NOLS Backpacking: Part 2

NOLS Backpacking: Part 3

A Backpacking Poem

NOLS: The Crew

Sky Pilot Summit at 12,047 ft.

The Bear Fence

Impressive snowfields on Sky Pilot Mountain