If you have a free weekend get over to Mammoth Lakes. If you don’t have a free weekend then make a weekend free. If you can’t make a free weekend then quit your job and move into your car (ill advised advice not recommended…)
There is a lot of big, steep, wild country to explore our here. Hundreds of crystal clear lakes are scattered around the area. Each lake is surrounded by steep granite walls and most are easily (relatively, considering most are at 10,000ft) accessed by the 1000’s of miles of trails that criss cross the Easter Sierra. Just a few minutes drive from downtown Mammoth Lakes you can be on the PCT and a few miles after that you can connect with the John Muir Trail. These are some of the best trails I have ever run and the accessibility is unbelievable.
Here are a few brief runs I would recommend that Nike Trail teammate Tim Tollefson and Gnar Boss Hayden Teachout helped me discover.
Duck Pass– Park at Cold Creek Campground. I did an out and back but can be a loop as well. Strava link
Agnew Meadows to 1000 Island Lake– Park at Agnew Meadow (before 7AM to avoid shuttle) Make this a loop if you have time. Here is a link to my strava segment, basically just lots of lakes and beautiful views of The Minarets. The JMT section is much more challenging, rocky and technical while the PCT is super plush runnable trail. Strava Segment
Mammoth Mountain Via Dragon’s Back- Short, steep and technical but pretty awesome and ends at 11,053. Strava Link
For a complete list of awesome running in the area check out Sage to Summit
Here is a picture gallery from the weeks running, but don’t waste your time looking at my pictures. Get out there and take your own.
Gear that kept me alive during the week of training
My first Ultramarathon was Chuckanut 2013, two years ago. At the time I didn’t really know what the marathon plus world did to a person, the highs and lows of each race and season. It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been doing this thing two years, it (like the last two miles of last weeks race) feels much much longer.
Trail running isn’t exactly easy. The sport destroys feet, wrecks digestive systems, frys mitochondria and occasionally sends the mind into a tailspin. But what’s pretty cool is at then end of the day there is always somebody to lift you up. You may have had a rough few miles, or rough day on the trail, but the runners, the support system, and the family is what makes the sport amazing. Thanks to everybody out there who knows way to much about GU, trail shoes and reads IrunFar daily, and an even bigger thanks to those people out there who don’t know much about trail running but care about it because its important to someone they care about it.
When it comes down to it, I’ve enjoyed the trails and been inspired and freed by the mountains. I’ve been strengthened by the difficulties,and toughened by the challenges. In two years I’ve learned much more than simply how to run fast in the mountains. I still have a lot left to learn.
“The Big Day” is known well by Steens Mountain Campers as a day of endurance; an opportunity to, as Harland Yriarte says, “overemphasize to trivialize”. Campers are led on a 28 mile journey down, through and out of the glacial cut gorges on the Steens Mountain. For many of them it allows an opportunity to be pushed to the edge of their boundaries, mentally and physically. The experience undoubtedly shapes participants for the rest of their lives. I know this adventure and ideal has shaped my life significantly. Every few months I get out in the mountains, alone or with friends for a “big day” of my own. Here is a brief account of yesterdays.
Nearly asleep in each of our sleeping bags, I realize Ghelfi and I both threw down our bags in the middle of the parking lot right next to my car… Realizing that late night campers could be driving through the lot, we quickly moved to a slightly more out of the way area…once we were finally settled down a heinous odor become quite oppressive and we realize the trail head pit toilet was about 10 feet away… needless to say decision to stay put led to a restless night of sleep.
We got up in the morning, packed quickly and hit the trail running. 30 minutes in my head lamp burnt out…Luckily my night vision has improved greatly since Waldo 100k, and a full moon helped guide my feet. 10 minutes later Ghelfi’s head lamp went out… After both taking some big spills we decided to simply hike until the sun came up. Just as the sun began to come up we arrived at the creek that we planned to follow up to the top of the ridge line. With no trail on the map and thick underbrush ahead, it was clear that a major bushwack was in store.
The underbrush was thick and climbing the slippery rocks up the creek bed was a struggle to say the least. I know we both took a few big falls. Shins, knees and elbows all have the marks to prove it.
Needless to say by the time we reached the granite rock band where the creek bed petered out we were ready to do some real climbing. And we got more than we anticipated. Luckily the cliff band was pretty low skill and we were able to muscle our way over it.
After finally getting to the top of the ridge we descended into the beautiful granite basin below. More sliding and falling, and all things that go with falling. This is the point where things got tough. Backtracking was a very unappetizing option, it was clear that the Sawtooth we intended to climb was above our pay grade for the day and the route we hoped would lead us to the top was more technical than anticipated. We decided to climb the ridge, to the right of me in this picture, and attempt to loop behind the Sawtooth mountain and drop down a steep rockfall into L Lake, then hopefully pick up the Canyon Creek Trail and head 9 miles back to the car. This was all a big hope… a granite cliff could easily force us to abandon the entire loop and have to head back down the way we just came.
Here Ghelfi and I decided to abandon the summit attempt of Sawtooth (pictured dead center)
We descended the rocky ridge line about 1000 feet before the entire boulder field became choked out in thick underbrush…picture above is the route we plowed through… Ghelfi deemed it, “A great route! Basically a highway” Clearly we have different opinions of what a “great route” is. Unfortunately this picture doesn’t show that this “path” of rock and brush is actually quite steep.
Relieved to be back on an actual trail, and not totally sure how we just got down the section I’m looking at. Its amazing how much security a simple path of dirt provides after blazing our own trail for the past 6 hours.
Finally we came to a clearing and picked up a bit of a trail which took us about a mile and a half down to the Canyon Creek Lakes. After swimming, eating and getting water we headed 9 miles down plush alpine single track through alpine meadows and past some stunning fall colors back down the trail to the car.
The wilderness is a place of major risk and major reward. Untamed land provides a canvas on which exploration, struggle and freedom shape who you are, in a way not possible in the flatlands. I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the fathers of wilderness Aldo Leopold, “…I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in.” This land is out there, open and free for you. Explore it.
If you want to read another account of the day here is Ghelfi’s Blog ryanghelfi.com
Ferris: Nothing – wha – what do you mean nothing good? We’ve seen everything good. We’ve seen the whole city! We went to a museum, we saw priceless works of art! We ate pancreas!
The summer always ends, and when it does I never feel like I got enough done.. There are 1000 things I wish I could have done. Looking at the summer as a whole paints a better picture; and here are some of them in no order. Luckily there is still a little summer left. I’m gonna use it.
Over the past year the dirt road up to the Mt. Ashland Ski Area and I have become quite well acquainted. This route, has seen me at my best and my worst. I’ve ran hard, easy, powerhiked, limped, and flew up and down just about every section of the road, as well as the trails that weave in and out of this major artery. Just for clarification, by major artery I mean, you might see one person on any given morning. Needless to say its often just you, the mountain and a few stray vultures.
The Mount Ashland Hill Climb is a 13.3 mile footrace from Lithia Park to the summit of our 7,532 foot peak, for a total of 5,600 feet of climbing. The idea is pretty simple, start in the heart of Ashland and go up to the top of the highest mountain that you can see from town. As an employee of Rogue Valley Runners for the past two years, and a resident of Ashland since 2007, I feel a certain sense of pride for our trails and local mountains. The hills and trails you train on really define you, as a person and a runner. I’ve watched the seasons change in the Ashland watershed, and I think I’ve taken a lot more than stronger heart and tougher legs away from those hours and days on the trails… or maybe not…
Usually I want to win races because of a goal I have set, my competitive spirit, or the fact that I hate to lose. Surprisingly none of these reasons really played a part in Saturdays race. I wanted to win because Mt. Ashland is our local ski hill, its our place of freedom, its the highest peak in the Siskiyou’s. I thought somebody who lives at the bottom of the mountain, who eats at Ruby’s, shops at the ShopN’Cart, and ice baths in Ashland Creek ought to be the first to the top.
The race is special because on any clear day finishers can look upward and see those chair lifts and that weather station, and know they got to the top on foot. The race may have taken all morning and runners may have decided to never do it again, but a lot of folks got there, and fast or slow that is a pretty cool accomplishment.
Thanks to all the amazing volunteers! HUGE thanks to first year race director Joseph Chick, he organized and executed like a veteran. The event has been, was and continue to be a challenge and a success in every aspect.
I’d also be interested in opinions on how far this ball at the top of the mountain would roll if a particularly large gust of wind were to blow off the top of the mountain… In case you were wondering what I think about on my way up.
48 hours ago I was hobbling onto the track at Placer High School in Auburn California. It seems like a lifetime ago. 3 days ago I was laying in bed, in Squaw Valley, resting my legs for the next days running of the Western States Trail. That seems like an eternity ago.
I always thought finishing the Western States 100 would curb some desire or maybe satisfy some need that I had. Maybe punishing my body and mind for 100 miles would satisfy my appetite and allow me to check this experience off my list. I really thought it would be a valuable experience, that I would do once. But when I woke up this morning, and put my blistered foot on the ground I didn’t think, “that hurts” unfortunately my mind thought, “Next time I do this, I’m gonna be more careful with my socks and keep my feet dry, then maybe I will be able to really move the last 10 miles”.
The race went pretty well the first 30 miles, GU was easy to digest, I felt relaxed and was drinking plenty of water. Coming up out of El Dorado Creek things started to get hard, it was finally getting hot and I powerhiked the entire 3 miles up to Michigan Bluff. I knew once I got cooled off and got food from my crew at 55 my legs would be able to rock and roll to Foresthill and hopefully all the way down to Rucky Chucky; possibly beyond. My crew forced me to regroup coming out of Foresthill, changed my socks, ate a snickers bar, got cooled off, picked up my pacer. Considering we were 100k in I was feeling pretty good, except for one thing. It felt like there was gravel in my right shoe, but when I changed my socks at Foresthill there was nothing there. At Peachstone I stopped again because I was sure there was gravel in my right shoe. Every step felt like something was biting into the ball of my foot. We were rolling and I was feeling good, but I knew if I didn’t get the rocks out I would regret it later. When my socks came off I saw what felt like rocks were not rocks. Because my feet had been wet for 10 hours from the creek crossings, they had begun to, lets just say….get gross. And the ball of my foot had 2 major creases in the skin, changing socks was useless, the damage was done. The last 30 miles were going to be painful. Ryan Matz, my pacer encouraged me to get rolling, as there were runners 2 minutes back. I had been in 10th or so since Michigan Bluff. Needless to say, getting passed didn’t sound good. The last, 3 miles into Rucky Chucky were rough. My body temperature was going between burning up and shivering. When we finally got there the medical staff asked me how things were going. Words were not going to be too convincing so I just tried to grin and gave a thumbs up, somehow that passed the test. Coming down from Foresthill getting in the cold water of the American River sounded great, but when I got there I was too cold to enjoy it, and got out as quickly as possible. This is where things started getting real bad. My head was good, breathing was good, nausea was setting in but wasn’t going to throw up, my quads were still tolerable, calves were blown, and my right foot was bad. Every step felt like the folded blistered skin was going to slide off. I over heard a kid walking on gravel today say, “It feels like I’m walking on Godzillas back!” That seems like a pretty good description. Somehow I decided eating and drinking were useless, and every 2 minutes I looked at my watch, thinking we should have gone a mile. As the sun set, and darkness set in, I crawled into the pain cave. I walked through the last two aid stations, because there was really no reason to stop. My mind was absorbed with getting to that finish line. I was done learning, I was done being free, this was the time to suffer.
Why would I want to do this again? 48 hours after the race and I still feel terrible, why would any person want to throttle their body in every way imaginable? I keep opening up the map, looking at the rugged, majestic Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California, and can’t help but want to go back. I can’t wait to again see 100 miles of beautiful alpine, rivers and canyons, cover my average weekly mileage in a day, and try to do it a little better and a little faster than the year before.
Big thanks to my parents for their 25 years of support. Thanks to the Nike Trail crew for everything from sewing custom pockets in shorts to cheering us on, and my crew, Hayden Teachout, Ryan Ghelfi and Ryan Matz.
I also want to thank the Western States Board for their year round efforts, Race Director Craig Thornley for his flawless organization and execution of a massive event, Amazing volunteers, inspiring spectators and all the folks who do tasks big and small to make this event possible. Special Thanks to the awesome Ashland contingent groovin at mile 90!
Congrats to Nike teammates Alex Varner and Sally McRae for inspiring performances and top ten finishes!!
Finally congrats to all the starters and finishers who swear they are never doing that again. I bet you will.
The Western States 100 is getting close. As I finish my hard training, figure out my race plan, and finalize my training schedule I sometimes think about how I got to this place. What set me on the track to be running this race?
My Dad was a ski racer, he loves the mountains and would take the family up to ski on winter weekends. I remember one Friday night we rented a cabin at the mountain, this was pretty special because it meant we got to ski two days in a row. TV wasn’t really something we did as kids. We were allowed to watch the Summer and Winter Olympics and Oregon Public Broadcasting. We got back from night skiing late and the public broadcasting station was running a documentary of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Looking back at defining moments is always a bit surreal but I vividly remember watching those runners suffer over the course from Squaw to Auburn. Something in that documentary captured my young imagination. I remember going to bed knowing that at some point this race would be a pretty big part of my life.
Obviously there have been a lot of other factors that aided in me ending up on this path. These include, being born with a love of freedom, having a family who valued long distance running, having great coaches, moving to Ashland for college, and getting a job at Rogue Valley Runners.
15 months ago I got talked into running The Chuckanut 50k, that race was my first experience at the marathon plus distance and since then its been all uphill, or downhill, but rarely flat. I’v gone through 12 pairs of Nike Zoom Kigers, eaten 400+ GU’s, and spent more time than is probably healthy in the ice bath. In 23 days I’ll do what I’v done 100’s of times. I’ll pin my bib number to my singlet and lace up my shoes. I’ll spend a few precious moments in a dark porta-john and then I’ll start something I’v never tried awake before. I’ll run, hike, and hopefully not crawl, 100 miles as fast as I can.