Two Weekends of Mountain Fun – Part 1

Earlier in the year I completed a (50 mile) double Devil’s Path traverse with Jay Lemos and Scott Gregor.  It was one of the most challenging days (and nights) I’ve had in the mountains, but also very rewarding.  A few weeks ago, Scott won the Barkley Fall Classic 50k in Tennessee and was awarded a highly coveted slot into the Barkley Marathons next spring.  As the Barkley has large sections off trail with no course markings, Scott reached out to me to get some bushwhacking experience this fall.  From conversations during the DDP, I also knew that Scott is peak bagging each of the mountain ranges in the northeast.  So… I devised a loop in the north central Catskills of 20+ miles mostly off trail that would give Scott a good taste of the backcountry, tag him a few new peaks, and give me a couple new Catskill hundred highest peaks for that never-ending list.

Scott drove to my house in New Paltz from CT on the morning of 10/21.  I hopped in and we drove up to the DEC pullout a short distance down Spruceton road.  As we got out of the car at 8:30AM, we were greeted with frost on the grass and a nice chill to the air.  Our first goal for the day was Sherrill Mt. via the NW ridge.  This is a route that my friend Cory Delavalle showed me a few years back and I have used a number of times completing the “Grid” due to its lack of nettles and prickers.  We cruised up the 2000 ft. ascent to the summit in a little over an hour, and Scott got to sign into his first canister of the day.  A quick summit photo and we were off to North Dome.  A perfect line gained us the peak in 1:45 from the car.

Next was the steep rocky descent to the east down to the Devil’s Path.  We carefully picked our way through and reached the trail without incident.  As we ascended towards Westkill, the temperature had begun to climb a little but were staying comfortable.  We tagged the peak in about 3:10 and headed downhill.  The view from Buck Ridge lookout was clear, and we stopped to chat with two hikers for a minute.  Now the fun began.

At about 3,450 ft. there is a little plateau of the east edge of Westkill that points into Diamond Notch.  We hopped back into the woods and before long, were slipping and tripping our way down.  This descent drops 800 ft. in 0.5 miles bringing us in to the notch.  We were then treated with a 1000ft. + ascent in 0.85 mi. up the west side of SW Hunter Mt.  A few really dense patches of pine that had Scott and I saying “ouch” and “shit” a lot, gave way to the summit herd path in 4:50.  We were relieved to be back on trail, at least for a while.  The easily followed herd path leads back to the Devil’s Path for a short distance, until we needed to turn off to head up to Hunter Mt.   We climbed the fire tower at our high point for the day, and ran down the Spruceton Trail.  On these long days with lots of hiking it often feels good to run, stretch the legs out, but the old jeep trail down Hunter is just brutal.  It is a steep recently re-graveled, wide trail that makes for an excellent backcountry ski but that’s about all.  The only thing it offers is a spring where we indulged in some nice cold water and refilled our bottles.

I had thought that maybe the loop would take us 8 hours but as we re-entered the woods around hour 6, I know that would be a pipe dream.  The climb up to East Rusk and Rusk is never too steep but is very thick in spots. It makes for slow going and a lot of scratching and poking all over your body. The first 2 miles took us about 45 minutes.  As I was experienced with all of the terrain up to this point, I had been navigating by memory.  All the while, sharing with Scott some of the things I’ve picked up over the years like how not to go off the side of a ridge and how to navigate with your shadow.   As we passed Rusk, I was in unknown territory.  We were basically going west over three more peaks, but as private land reaches close to the summits, I wanted to make sure we stayed on forest preserve land.

The terrain over to Evergreen Mt. was gently downhill, not too thick or steep, but nonetheless the going was slow.  When we arrived about an hour after we left Rusk, I thought we were one peak further, but a quick GPS check discovered the disappointment.  We continued westward where an 800 ft. descent and 600 ft. ascent brought us to Pine Island, a CHH peak.  The problem with hundred highest peaks is the views are often nonexistent.  It was nice out there, but Pine Island didn’t deliver anything special.

We kept moving and found a woods road. Finally, a clear path with no more branches in the face and we could run, at least for a while.  We dropped around 500 ft. and came to the base of a steep, rocky climb.  In classic Catskill fashion, at the top of each uphill, as you think you’re at the top, there’s another uphill.  Ugh.

We were tired, bleeding a little, hungry, and ready to be done as we summited Packsaddle Mt., our last peak of the day.  It was 5:30pm, 9 hours after we started, and the Sun was getting low.  We had to turn to the SW to follow the state boundary line back to the car.  I was thrilled to see an old stone wall that we must have followed for over a mile.  The woods alternated between nice open runnable terrain and ankle breaking rock gardens.  As we approached a rocky section, a branch caught me toe and I took a good fall.  I ended up with my feet uphill in between two rocks laughing.  A couple hundred feet later, I was hiking across a flat rock and both feet flew out from under me and I landed on my elbow. I was not laughing.

As we approached the road, we had one last obstacle, the Westkill brook.  Fortunately, water levels were low, and we rock hopped across, went through a field, and hit the road 200 feet from the car.  The stats for the day were 25 miles in 9:40 with about 8,500 ft. of gain.  The real number is that 17 of those 25 miles were off trail.  We climbed 6 Catskill 3,500 peaks, 3 hundred highest, and 2 other named summits.  There has been some discussion and preliminary planning to make this a four loop “Barkley” style event in 2018 or 2019 so if anyone thinks they’re crazy enough to try this let me know.

I had a blast out there with Scott.  We had lots of good Barkley training and strategy conversations and the day reinforced my confidence in navigation, as I have been relying on experience.  When Scott was talking about his plans for later in the fall, specifically next weekend, I was intrigued.

-To be continued

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Black Hole 2017

img_7012Jan 13, 2017 –  Temps from the mid 20’s to mid teens.   Trail was dry, to patchy ice, to solid ice, to 12″ snow with crust.  Dozens of blow-downs from recent storm made it going slow in parts.  Start 6:00 pm, Moonrise 6:32pm, sky clear.

We were treated with a beautiful set of conditions to move relatively fast and enjoy the moon (which was full on 1/12) the whole night. Microspikes were on and off too many times to count, as were the slips and falls.

img_7018Even with an accidental wrong turn down a side trail costing us about 20 minutes, we reached the N/S Lake campground in 5:57, good enough to qualify for ETR ;)-

A quick 15 min jog to the car, the heater went on, and a beer was enjoyed

Once arriving home my wife had made Black Hole medals (again) for us.  I slept VERY well that night.img_7019

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The Grindstone 100

I wasn’t going to write a race report for grindstone 100 but I reconsidered. I feel that I can distill down the run and the feelings into a few main chunks.

The plan from the start was to run most/all of it with Philip Vondra, and we had a very loose plan to shoot for 24 hours, or at least to beat sunset on Saturday. Neither of those goals were met but here’s the gist of what happened.

We started at 6pm on Friday night and enjoyed a few hours of warm, foggy, misty running. Around 10 pm it started to rain harder but our pace was still good enough to keep us warm. We ran with a bunch of friends; Eric, Chang,Guillermo, and Jün. The running was easy and comfortable through 35 miles when we started the climb out of north river gap. It was around 4am as we topped out on a high ridge that was exposed to more direct rain and wind. When we got to the 46 miles aid station we got cold! On went jackets and hoods as we continued up to Reddish Knob and down the never ending pavement to the turn around at mile 52.

Our spirits were high as we climbed back up into daylight and onto the now extremely muddy and slippery ridge. We tried to avoid the long puddles and newly formed mini lakes on our way back to north river gap at mile 66.

Arriving there I had a near complete wardrobe change and dealt with some chaffing issues. There had been a snafu with my truck that Tara was freaking out about but a bunch of helpful people had taken care of it just in time for me to get my gear.

A few miles earlier I had noticed a little bit of pain in my left knee that had disappeared but as Phil and I ran down from mile 75 to the mile 80 aid station it came back. This prevented me from any significant running for the rest of the race and coincided nicely with me feeling complete exhaustion. Phil had become very quiet and I started complaining. We were really feeling the toll of 21 hours and 80 miles of running and hiking in near continuous rainfall. We were tired and waterlogged.

Leaving the mile 80 aid, we were greeted by the never ending climb. We went up for hours, seriously, hours. I never thought it would end. I was feeling pretty zombie like and that would continue as we made the last big climb and then thesteep, gravel road descent to mile 96 aid. We could finally taste the finish but at our now walking pace, it would still take us 1:40 to go the final 5 miles.

At just before 10 pm, we returned back to the place we left 27 hours and 55 minutes earlier. Phil and I crossed the line together, hugged the totem pole, and collected our buckles. Relief.

I was pretty sure during the race that I would never run again, but time heals all wounds fortunately. While I could walk the next day due to knee pain, I did an pain free, easy run today, just 3 days later. Overall it was a good experience on a miserable weather day. Thanks to Phil for being a great, super strong partner. Thanks to #mpfrnrteam for your support and encouragement. Thanks to all of the volunteers that ran the aid stations and kept us fed with warm soup! And a special thanks to my wife Tara. She toughed out the rain and came to every crew accessible aid station, carrying my gear up and down hills so that Phil and I could be fully stocked throughout the race. I couldn’t have done it without you! And thank you Laura for keeping Tara company and helping with our gear too!
I wore hoka one one speedgoats on my feet, an ultimate direction ultra jacket and hardrocker vest on my back. I ate everything in front of me. Congrats to everyone else that ran grindstone!

#mpfrnr #ultimatedirection #guenergylabs #beastcoast #grindstone100

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Reflections on Long-Term Peak Bagging – The Grid

There are 35 high peaks in the Catskill Mountains that are above 3500ft elevation.  People that summit all 35, plus 4 of them in winter, can become “Catskill 35ers“.  For most people that is enough.  I am not one of those people.

409310_2676656788360_1108867222_nAround 9:40 am on July 31, 2011 I ran across the summit of Windham High Peak.  It was my 164th Catskill peak.   As an avid hiker, that in itself wasn’t anything special, what was interesting though is it was my first Catskill ascent in summer. I was running the Escarpment Trail Race and would soon cross over Blackhead Mtn. on my way to a 6th place finish in the 18.6 mile race.  It was soon after this day that I decided to focus on completing “the grid”.

My first hike in the Catskills was in early June 1997. A friend of mine, Jody Barton, had suggested going for a hike. We did Twin and Indian Head. The following week we did the Blackhead range. Her mother who was an Adirondack 46er and Catskill 35er suggested that I record the dates of the ascents. Prior to this I was unaware that these hiking lists or clubs even existed so I jotted down the dates and mountain names on a piece of paper and put it into the bag with my newly acquired maps. Over the next 10 years I didn’t do IMG_2391very much hiking as I had devoted most of my time to rock climbing. But with college friends Brian Titone, Scott Kapeller, Jon Curran, and others I had casually racked up a grand total of 15 summits.

In February 2006 I got a call from a rock climbing friend Dave Leahy asking if I wanted to go snowshoeing in the Adirondacks. We went up Algonquin and Wrights peak in full on winter, white-out conditions.  It was my first time on snowshoes in the mountains and I had a blast. By late 2006 I was looking for something to do in the winter (besides ice climbing which I didn’t care for) once rock climbing season was over.  I IMG_2536decided to attempt to hike the remaining 20 Catskill peaks during the winter and finish the requirements to join the 3500 club.

I did nine peaks that winter and the remaining 11 the following year finishing my 35 with my dog Chewbacca in January 2008 on Rocky Mountain. IMG_2508 I was really starting to enjoy exploring the mountains of the Catskills, seeing places that not many people go, particularly on the “off trail” peaks.  Since I now had 20 peaks done in winter the next logical step was to hike the remaining 15 in winter.  I finished my first “winter round” in January 2009 on Big Indian Mountain with Andrew Zalewski.IMG_2520

In the meantime, I began hiking in the Adirondacks as well.  A couple of rock climbing injuries had become troublesome and I needed something else to do with myself year round.  Over the summers of 2008 and 2009 I hiked most of the Adirondack 46 eventually finishing on Whiteface Mountain in November 2009. I then had a very intense winter hiking 41 of the Adirondack high peaks in that season finishing the winter 46 on Iroquois in March 2010.

I was continuing to hike in the Catskills, finishing my second, then third comIMG_8583plete rounds of the 35.  My wife Tara and dog Chewbacca had become 35ers, Tara doing a winter round as well.  I began making different lists to try and complete.  Like doing all the peaks in one calendar year, then all the peaks in one winter season.   I hiked all the peaks solo too.

IMG_5029During the summer of 2010, I began to do a lot of trail running in the Shawangunks so that I could complete a marathon. This would qualify me for the Escarpment race.  I also started running the trails in the Catskills for training, which allowed me to do longer days, up to 25 miles, and get a lot of peaks done quickly. I’m not sure exactly when I heard that doing the grid was a thing but only after my first Escarpment race did I consider it.

The “grid” is the name given to the feat of summitting all 35 Catskill peaks in all 12 months of the year cumulatively over a lifetime. The name likely comes from the appearance of the chart or spreadsheet used to track the ascents.  There are various kinds of grids, like seasonal, weekly, and even daily, but the monthly grid seems to be the standard. In the Catskills 35 x 12 = 420 summits. GRID On paper it is the easiest grid in the Northeast. The Adirondack grid is 46 x 12 for 552 summits and the White Mountain grid is 48 x 12 for a total of 576.  However, anyone that has hiked in the Catskills, particularly in summer, knows how thick the woods caIMG_4949n be off trail.  13 of the 35 peaks do not have maintained paths to their summits. 10 of them are true bushwhacks requiring careful navigation to not get lost.  Even though the hikes are shorter and the peaks are lower, the Catskills present their own set of special challenges.

By the summer of 2011, I had all but stopped rock climbing.  My time was entirely devoted to running and hiking.  That year I made 54 ascents of Catskill summits and began to make a concerted effort to fill in the blanks on my grid. 2012 was the first year I hiked all the Catskill peaks at least twice with 91 total summits. Two knee surgeries in 2013 limited me to 77 summits.  After rehab, 2014 became, and is still by far, my most prolific year of hiking with 106 summits, all peaks at least twice, 10 of them at least four times.  I slowed a little in 2015 “only” summitting 89 peaks.  Along the way, there have been many repeats in the same month. For example, I have done Windham and Blackhead in July at least five times apiece during the Escarpment Race.  I have also done Blackhead, Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, and Plateau at least three times in June during the Manitou’s Revenge Ultramarathon.

At the beginning of 2016, I had 404 of the required 420 peaks. Six of the remaining 14 summits were two of my least favorite mountains, North Dome and Sherrill, in May, July and August  (It’s worth mentioning that as I’m writing this my computer has auto corrected North Dome to North “dumb”).  These two are just tough, they’re off trail, extremely thick, and during the summer stinging nettles grow about 4 feet high, plus the hobblebush is brutal.  I needed to wear nylon rain pants on a couple of hot, humid days so I did not get stung and scratched by prickers. I did my final 8 peaks in grid finisherAugust, finally completing the grid on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 on the summit of Balsam Lake Mountain.  I chose this peak for my finish because the fire tower there gives some of the nicest views anywhere in the park, and it isn’t a particularly hard hike.

All in all, it took me 606 summits over 19 years (475 in the past 5.5 years) to get the 420 in the correct months.  The mountain I have summitted the most is Blackhead with 27, the least is Fir with just 12.  I would pick Halcott as my least favorite and probably Rocky as my most favorite due to its remoteness.  My favorite long day is doing the “Catskill 9” and my favorite view is probably on Wittenberg, although the abundant litter up there detracts from the experience.

IMG_2420What now? I will definitely continue to hike, run, and ski in the Catskills but now I don’t have to do any peaks that I don’t want to.  There are a number of lists that I haven’t completed yet.  I am attempting to run and ski all the peaks, and to bushwhack all of the mountains that DO have trails.I am casually working on the Catskill hundred highest, the New York State fire towers, and some other lists. I’ll stay busy.

Thanks to everyone I’ve ever hiked or ran with, you are far too numerous to list, but it was always a blast!  Because I hike and run alone so often, I cherish the time I’m out there with other people.

Happy trails.  Mike

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Manitou’s Revenge – Take 3!!!

Manitou’s Revenge is the best race in the world for me.  Tough terrain, tons of climbing (+/- 16,000 ft) and a long enough distance (54 miles) to be able to go slow and steady.  In other words, very little running.  After last years time of 13:14, I was excited to see what I could do with very dry trails and the forecast low humidity.

Manitou Profile

I had a little trouble getting to sleep on Friday night after I helped Charlie with packet pick-up and having a nice broccoli and pineapple pizza dinner at Brio’s.   First it was the bright moon, then it was the dude in the campsite next to me wailing Tom Petty songs on his guitar at 11:15 pm.   After managing a couple of hours of shuteye, I woke up at 3 am to catch the bus.  The ride up to Batavia Kill Rec Center where the race starts was uneventful and when we arrived I got a good spot in the bathroom line to ready my body for the day. Things were looking good.

NS lakeMy wave (#2) started around 5:09 am.  I always take the first three miles of flat road nice and easy, last year someone from the wave 5 minutes behind me actually passed me on the road.  Fortunately, experience has taught me to do my own thing no matter what.  Running 9 min miles put me on the trail in about 27 minutes where I shuffled and hiked uphill to the escarpment trail.  I spent some time in the first few miles warming up running with Guillermo Ayala, Marc Gravatt, Chris Gallo, and Henry Pratt as we climbed up and over Blackhead Mt.  I wanted to be conservative early on but also beat last years time so I tried to whittle away at my splits from 2015.  When I hit aid station 2 manned by Karl Loops, Nick Kirk, and Manny Hernandez, I was right on schedule.  I kept cruising as I ran a few miles to North/South Lake with Sheryl Wheller and Tom DeHaan.

Leaving Aid #3, I hooked in with Hyun Chang Chung and Michael Chu and we cruised down to Palenville together.  I had a minute or so on my previous attempt and was feeling good, that is until I started to climb up Kaaterskill.  I was overcome by severe stomach cramps.  I made a pit stop in the woods which gave little relief.  I was feeling overheated and the cramps prevented me from eating, drinking enough, and getting full breaths.  The climb was much more of a slog than normal.  Laying in one of the streams up top helped a bit but it was short lived, I had lost Michael and Hyun and did not see then again.  A slow shuffle down to Platte Clove put me around 13 min behind pace and I knew any chance of a fast day was gone.

platte clove

It was now all about taking it easy to feel better and try to finish strong, The only obstacles in my way were the Devil’s Path and 24 miles, no problem.  I have summitted each of the DP peaks over 20 times so I know them well, inside and out, and having a strong traverse  of them is always difficult.  During last years race I hit my stride and had a really fast split to Mink Hollow, but due to the fact that I could hardly run any of it, I lost another 26 minutes in just 7.5 miles.  It was taking rest breaks at overlooks and even siting down on large rocks for quick breathers, this was not going well.  The climb up Plateau is always a beast, and at mile 39 it is pure torture.  Eventually I made it and shuffled down the very runnable trail section to the Silver Hollow aid station.  I was really tired because I still wasn’t eating enough so I sat on a rock and tried to let things settle down.

After 5 minutes or so in the aid station I managed to eat a couple things and decided to move.  I hadn’t seen any runners besides Steve Hawkins, who was going through his own stomach situation, in a couple of hours.  As I was leaving the aid, Sheryl Wheeler came in looking as strong as ever. Sheryl is one of seven people that have run all four Manitou’s and she has the fastest average time of that group.  Finishing near her means you are having a solid day so I was determined to do make it as hard as possible for her to catch me.  I hiked fast and steady up the 650 ft. ascent to Edgewood Mountain.

warner

As I began the descent into Warner Creek my stomach finally started to feel better.  I got really hungry and started eating all of my food that I had been carrying for most of the day.  I love to eat kids apple sauce (and other fruits) packets on these long runs.  They taste great, are easy to digest, and are natural sugars as opposed to whatever gels are made of.  I ate three of them climbing up to the Willow aid station after laying down in the creek for a minute.   My stomach was good,  my legs came back to life and I was able to run well on sections, even uphill.  I came into the aid to see Steve looking pretty terrible. He hadn’t eaten since mile 20 and was doing everything just to keep going.  I chatted with my friends Joe Brown, Stewart Dutfield, and John Holt who were manning the station, grabs some food and filled my water bottles.  As I was leaving my friend Mendy Gallo who was running the relay came in.  I told her I’d talk to her when she caught me and took off.  I reached the Mt. Tremper fire tower quicker than expected and let out a jubilant howl.  From here it is 4.5 miles to the finish with no more climbing.  As I was packing away my trekking poles for the descent Mendy caught me.

We began to fly downhill together, both ready to end a very long day.  Mendy had “only” run the last 24 miles but was up as early as anyone, shuttling her husband Chris and friend Andrew Zalewski, who were her relay partners, around the course all day.   We told each other the days events, complained about the trail underfoot, and before we knew it were on the road with only 1.3 miles to go.  I really dislike running on road and each time I’ve done Manitou’s, the road at the end was torture.   Last year I was even passed by Jonathan Cornibe 1/2 mile from the finish.   Having Mendy to run in with made me forget about the pavement and it flew by.

finish

My time of 14:13 was just under an hour slower than last year but still good enough for 10th male, 11th overall.  I’ll take it considering the 25 miles of cramping.

Thanks to all of the runners I shared to trail with on this wonderful day.  Much respect to all finishers, especially Steve Hawkins and Mike Dixon who both gutted out solid times after being of the verge of dropping.  A huge thank you goes out to the volunteers at the start and finish, the aid stations, the sweeps, and anyone that hauled many gallons of water uphill in the prior few days.  You are too numerous to list by without each of you, this race cannot happen.  Thanks to Mountain Peak Fitness/Red Newt Racing for the support of myself and this race.

Of course the biggest thanks goes to RD Charlie Gadol for having the vision to develop this insane race out of nothing and create one of the most amazing and toughest 50 milers in the country.   I’m unbelievably fortunate to have completed it 3 times.

Photos by Lars Blackmore, Katharine Varn Hawkins, and Eric Dalimarta

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The Catskill 9 – FKT

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The “9” is a classic, 20 mile, tough loop hike in the Catskill Mountains of NY that traverses 9 high peaks above 3500ft. with almost 6000 feet of elevation gain.  It should be called the 11 because you have to re-summit 2 of the peaks on out-and-back sections.  It is obvious enough on a map, there is a big crescent of trails that covers Table and Peekamoose mountains to the south and The Wittenberg, Cornell, and Slide to the north. The catch is, to connect these sections of trail you have to bushwhack the other peaks, Lone, Rocky, Balsam Cap, and Friday, as they are trailless. Each of these four summits has a canister maintained by the Catskill 3500 club, that you can sign to show that you were there. This trailless section is extremely thick woods in places requiring experience with map, compass and/or GPS navigation, all the while trying to move quickly.

I have done the 9 a few times and have become familiar (as possible) with the off trail section.  In April of 2012 I posted an FKT of 6:07, then 2 years later lowered it to 5:33.  I thought that was about as good as I could do.  My friends Brian and Kali did the 9 last weekend and inviting me to join but i was too tired from running the day before, but it got me thinking about the route again.  Could I go faster?  How?  Better navigation was the obvious answer as I don’t feel my leg speed on trail is what it was and I’m coming off a winter of limited training.

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With the weather forecast rainy on Sunday, today was the obvious choice.  I arrived at the Denning parking lot around 10:30, I slept in a bit and I was hoping the woods would have dried from the overnight rain.  They didn’t.   I contemplated not even going as I wasn’t sure if I felt like being soaked for 5 or 6 hours, but I figured I’d give it a shot, I could always turn back if it got too nasty.

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I knew if I had any chance of beating my old time I couldn’t fall behind early, so I headed up the Phoenicia East Branch and Table-Peekamoose trails to Table with a goal, faster than 54 min.  I felt pretty good but it’s tough that early into a big day to gauge your pace.  This is not just a 20 mile run.   If I fatigue too much, I may make mistakes later on that will cost valuable time.  I was pleased when I summited in around 51 min, and I quickly hung my pack on a tree for the out and back to Table.   Keeping my 3 minute lead was top priority and I was good to Peekamoose but as soon as I got back to Table and began the bushwhack I lost the herd path and found myself in super thick, super wet Balsam trees.  Did I mention there was snow up there?  Not a lot, but yeah, snow.  Needless to say I was now soaked and cold.  I got back on track but promptly lost the herd path again.  Before I go any further, let me define herd path.  Usually they are a few inches wide where enough people have gone that some branches have been broken and maybe you see some muddy footprints.  They are NOT easy to follow paths, they are not marked in any way.  I was on and off my desired route enough that when I got to Lone I was only 1 min up on my old time.  Crap, I lost 2 minutes.

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Lone is a trailless peak, therefore it has a canister to register your ascent.  As I was signing in I thought to myself, I can save a few minutes by not signing in today.  I’ll just take a picture at each canister as evidence I was there, much faster.  With the decision made I rocketed off towards Rocky.  This traverse gets a bad rap for its “hell”forest.  Basically there are millions of balsam trees growing inches apart from each other.  Through trial and plenty of error, I have noticed if you lose some extra elevation and stay a bit to the north, the trees are not quite as bad.  They’re still bad but manageable.   This went very well as when I reached the canister and I had gained a few minutes back.  I was now 7 minutes ahead. Sweet!  The descent off Rocky can be tough if you don’t know where you are going.  There are 40′ high cliffs and it gets thick!  I managed them well and before I knew it I was heading up Balsam Cap.

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I’m pretty sure there is no “good” way through this section so I just put my head down and pushed.  It gets very steep as you are now climbing up cliffs, over dead slippery trees, and up muddy slopes.  I reached the canister in good shape extending my lead to 14 minutes. From here there is a solid herd path that allows for some light jogging.  Easy to follow but it’s steep and windy.   At the col there are options.  Following the solid path requires more elevation loss and while I’m tempted, I always think I can outsmart the woods and take a more direct line up the ridge.  I’m always wrong.  Mostly the plan works today, but soon I find myself climbing through blowdown and scrambling up a few super steep, muddy gullies that all have tough exit moves.  One even had a length of parachute cord hanging down it.  Normally I drag that stuff out of the woods but I wasn’t stopping to untie anything today.  Reaching the summit of Friday, you get a decent view of the Ashokan Valley, which I enjoyed for 1 second, and then back into the woods I went.  I was determined to preserve my now 20 minute cushion.

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This section has often been called the thickest part of the Catskills.  I tend to agree.  You need to pass by a 3500 ft. non-high peak bump called “The Dink”.  It has a bit of elevation gain, and every time I’ve tried to go around I’ve been treated with nasty, thick side hilling.  So straight over I went.  I won’t say I followed a great herd path but for the most part I had a relatively good line.  I just followed a NE bearing and before I knew it I was back on trail!  A couple minutes of hiking brought me to the Cornell summit.  I know had 34 min advantage.  Going straight over Dink has bought me 14 minutes.  I dropped my pack again for the out and back to The Wittenberg along the “bruins causeway” where I enjoyed showing off my (how to throw yourself down the Cornell crack) skills to a pair of backpackers.

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I was in preservation mode now.  Get down to the Slide col in one piece, climb up well then 5 miles of down.  As I was calculating what my finish time might be, I rolled my ankle.  It is uncanny how when you lose focus even for a second, the mountains will bring you back to reality.  It wasn’t too bad so after a minute of limping I was back running downhill.   Up to this point I had only seen about 8 people all day.  The closer I got to Slide the busier it got.  I passed a group of around 8 on the way down, making the typical comment, “you look like you’ve done this before”.  There was a much larger group of 20 near the saddle and another group of 4 on the way up.   On both of my previous FKT attempts I stopped at the spring on Slide for water but due to the cool temps today I had plenty left.  Not stopping saved another couple of minutes.  The climbing went well although I was starting to feel worn out.  The Borroughs plaque near the top of Slide may be an eyesore to some but it is a relief when you are coming up that side.  I summited at 4:02, 40 minutes ahead.

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When I ran this in 2014, the next 5 miles were tough.   I tried to run hard but the trails were very wet and slippery.   Today was much better.  I headed down and almost immediately got a breathing cramp under my right ribs.  I think I had climbed a bit too hard, so I slowed it down.  I was so happy that I could break 5 hours, I just needed to be steady.  I turned onto the Curtis-Ormsbee trail and was on cruise control.  The descent went well and I was back on the Phoenicia East Branch trail before long.  I opened up the best I could fighting loose cobble from the old road, downed trees, and my cramp.  The last 3 miles went at 8:49, 8:07, and 7:18 pace.  Not bad for 41 year old bum knees.  I reached the yellow gate where I had started my watch 4:49:52 ago.   This was 43 minutes better than my previous attempt.  The cool temps and better lines though the bushwhacks were the key.

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This is one of my favorite areas in the Catskill Mountains.  It is a bit ironic that I keep trying to spend less time there though.  I wore HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoats, a pair of (bomber) old EMS merino socks, and my Ultimate Direction Jurek Ultra Vest 2.0, in which I carried 2 liters (drank 1.5) of raspberry and green tea Tailwind.  I only ate 1 GU and one snack pack of kids apple sauce.  I managed to thrash my favorite pair of SmartWool arm warmers, my tights, and added a few more holes and pulls to my shirt.  Surprisingly, I only have a few small scrapes on my elbows and shins.  Aside from some minor navigational errors, I feel like I hit this well today.  There is still a bit of room on the time for me but it will take a perfect day.  Maybe I’ll go back?  🙂

Garmin Connect link

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Long Training Weekend

Ever since the pain wore off after my first 50 miler (VT50 in 2012) I have wanted to attempt a 100 miler.  Since then I have had 2 knee surgeries that put that plan on hold.  The knees began to stabilize last fall so I put my name in the hat for MMT100, that’s the Massanutten 100 in Virginia on May 16.  By some stroke of luck I got in.  Now the fear sets in…

This winter had been a tough one for running on trails as I almost exclusively do.  I signed up for Mt. Mitchell in February figuring it would be a good jump start to the spring, it kinda worked.  I did get a good deal of running in for the second half of March and the beginning of April and things were feeling pretty good.

About 3 weeks before the Springletrack I sent an email out to a bunch of people with the details for the day.   My friend Claudia responded quickly telling me it was in conflict with another race at the same time, same place, so I moved Springletrack from Saturday to Sunday.  Not long after that a couple other friends informed me that they had already taken Saturday off from work, or had some other reason that Sunday wouldn’t work.

After a bit of contemplation, I decided I would run it both days so I could see everyone and get them their customary stickers.

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 The stickers are a fat-ass tradition here in the Gunks that I started 5 years ago.  I figured it would be great 100 training to do back to back marathons.  It was also something I had thought about for a couple of years.

So, On Saturday April 11, my wife dropped me off at Spring Farm PA loaded up with my new Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Set Pack and I started off.  I took it pretty easy, reminding myself that I would be doing it again the next day.  The trails stared out pretty wet after the previous days rain but nothing to crazy, wet toes.  Around 9.5 miles in I ran through the Lower Awosting lot in Minnewaska State Park and turned onto the Mossy Glen trail.  I immediately was greeted by a hard packed snow trail.  After 100 feet it turned to mud and water.  I had wet feet for next 16 miles.

The weather was nice and sunny, cool temps in the 40’s, with a strong wind.  This was not an issue until mile 13 atop Castle Point.  COLD!!  I knew that there was a bunch of runners out ahead of me and I had been following their footsteps.  I passed Sheryl and Jenny along the wolfjaws trail and then the snow no longer had foot prints in it.  Weird.

It stayed windy over the wolfjaws, past mud pond, got extra windy at highpoint, and was even bad on Smiley.  But what made Smiley worse was the water, ice cold water.

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I ended at Berme Road park with a time of 5:21.  This was the fastest I have run this course, mainly because I didn’t talk with anyone!!  A little while later, I found out that my friends ahead of my had made a short wrong turn and I had passed then while they were off route.  Bad timing.

Sunday April 12.  I arrived at Spring Farm at 8:45 and saw about 10 people looking ready to go.  There were new and old faces in the bunch but all looked eager.  A few minutes before 9 we took off. I started out a bit slower but i had chosen Hokas for the day. My legs were pretty happy after a bunch of foam rolling after the previous days run.  I started with my friends Tim and Jen and stayed close to them for the first 9 miles to Minnewaska.  I took a shorter break there than them and left alone from the parking lot.  The rest of the day went well.  The trails were much drier, a lot of the snow had melted, and the sunny skies were supporting temperatures in the high 60’s to 70.  What a day.

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I ended my day hammering miles 25 and 26 around 7:30 – 8:00 mile pace down Smiley which I was very happy with.  I finished a bit slower than Saturday in 5:27.  Looking at my GPS later I realized I had actually run faster, I just took longer breaks, sitting down for food and drink at Castle Point and High Point.

Grand totals for 2 days, 52 miles, 10 hrs 48 min, around 9000 feet of elevation gain.  The biggest accomplishment for me was the confidence I got running well on tired legs.  The 100 was something I had been second guessing since I registered for it, but after this past weekend, I feel like I have a real shot at finishing, maybe even with a respectable time.  I’ll have to wait and see what the unknown brings me.

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