Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Tale of Two Runs, Part 1

Like many of you that run trails, run ultras, just run a lot, I get asked why by non-runners.  “I don’t even like to drive that far” seems to be a standard response.  If I had a nickel…..
Well, in the past three weeks I have had the opportunity to tick off two of the epic adventure runs that were on my running bucket list.  Both were about the same distance, 30-35 miles.  Both took about the same amount of time, roughly 10-12 hours.  So I certainly wasn’t going for speed.  Both opportunities popped up quickly and I had to jump on them in fairly short order.  Both runs were just what I needed at the time, but for completely different reasons.  Runs like this, and the ability to do them, are one of the big reasons I run.  So here they are.  Warning, this may get to be a long and tedious post.

Teton Circumnavigation

This run has been on my list for a few years.  I have seen a few pics, chatted with a couple of people that have done it and I knew I had to do it one day.  It was hard to try and get a few friends together for this one.  Since Karen and I were going to be rafting on the Snake River with her work trip, I thought this may be the one opportunity I have to go.  I asked my lovely wife and she gave me the ok to go for it.  She was a bit nervous since I would be in some pretty remote backcountry by myself, plus bears, big grizzly bears.  I was a bit nervous as well.  Going out this remote by myself is something I don’t do very often, and I’m kind of a worst case scenario guy, but I thought stepping outside my comfort one wasn’t a bad thing.  I knew I could cover the distance, not an issue at all.  My big concern was bears (bear spray), and affecting a self-rescue if needed.  I knew that I would probably see backpackers on a regular basis while out.  For gear, I took the bare minimum I thought I would need if I had to spend the night.  Plenty of calories, matches and a candle in a baggy, rain shell, space blanket, headlamp, gloves, beanie, extra dry shirt.  Water?  Not an issue.  I knew there would be plenty of sources.

Looking forward to this
Route –

I started at the Lupine Meadows trailhead.  My plan was to run the Valley trail south to Death Canyon, then head up into the mountains.  These first 7-8 miles were filled with running past beautiful lakes, quiet trails, lots of wet foliage, and a nice easy pace.  If I felt like walking, I did.  The sun was just rising and casting its light through the trees, and I was in my happy place.  I’m trotting along, smile on my face, when Bam! I trip over a root and go down.  As I typically do, I rolled to a stop.  As I got up, some sort of stinging insect decided my ear was an inviting target and nailed me.  Still, nothing more than a bit of dirt on my legs and hands and I was good.  I carried on, still smiling.  After a couple of hours, I came to Phelps Lake.  J
Death Canyon
As I started up Death Canyon, I came across a few other day hikers out.  To this point I hadn’t seen a soul, and it was wonderful.  As I climbed up the trail into Death Canyon, I marveled at how much water was coming down.  The roar was almost deafening.  Up and up I went, eventually making it to a flatter area where there was an old log ranger cabin.  Tucked back in a quiet area, under some trees.  How idyllic.  Now some serious climbing began.  I found the Alaska Basin trail and started up that.  I knew that I had about 2000’ of climbing in just a couple of miles, so it was going to be a stout one. 
As I climbed up, the views got more and more expansive.  I started seeing peaks around me, I was able to really look out over the valley below.  I encountered a couple of other runners.  They had started at Jennie Lake and were going down to Phelps Lake.  We chatted for a minute and they were on their way.  I saw the occasional backpacker heading back down after spending some time in the backcountry.  I caught up to some other day hikers that were going up Static Peak.  So I wasn’t as alone as I thought I would be.  Still, just being out by myself with my thoughts was really nice.  All I can hear are the voices in my head.
The view from Static Peak Divide.  Phelps Lake below
I stopped at Static Peak divide for a bite to eat and to just admire the view of the Teton Valley.  I finally got up and headed down the other side.  I came around a corner and was stopped by the view of the Alaska Basin.  Huge, empty, seemingly barren, and beautiful.  As I traversed along the side of a mountain, I just kept stopping to take it all in.  This was stuff I had never seen before, and it.was.awesome.  As I came around another point, there was another section of the basin, even bigger.  I stopped again just to look.  This was a recurring theme, lots of stops to just look, take pictures, just enjoy the solitude.  Of course trying to trot along for a sustained amount of time at 10,000’ means getting out of breath quickly, so I had an excuse to stop.
First view of Alaska Basin
As I ran/hiked along, I did pass the occasional backpacker, usually a couple of people an hour, so I was never truly isolated.  Alone?  Yes.  It was wonderful. 
I went past numerous small streams coming off snow fields, crossed several stubborn patches of snow still covering the trail, stared in wonder up at the peaks that surrounded me.  I was definitely in my happy place. 
This run was truly good for my soul and I was enjoying the hell out of the day.
Eventually, I started up the last climb to Hurricane Pass.  I knew that after that, it was all downhill back to the Teton Valley.  As I went uphill, I noticed Grand Teton starting to peak above the ground. 
Grand Teton in your face
When I reached the top of the pass, that peak was in my face.  From the valley floor, you can see Grand Teton some 6500’ above and several miles away, and it looks pretty big.  Now Grand Teton was only 2000’ above me and the top was about 2 miles away as the crow flies, yeah, in my face.  As I looked down where the trail led, I saw the Schoolroom glacier.
Schoolroom Glacier
I would be running past that, how cool.  I had never been near a glacier before (I lead a sheltered life), so I had to go over and stare at that for a while.  So much to look at, so much fun.
Now I had 9 miles of trail to run down Cascade Canyon. 
Looking down into Cascade Canyon from Hurricane Pass
I knew that I would encounter many more people along this trail, hikers and backpackers, day tourists out for their little strolls.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the scenery.  The shear amount of water cascading off the mountainside from glaciers and snowfields. 
Roaring so loud it was almost deafening.  So many times I wanted to just stick my face in the water and drink, so I did.  Cold, clear and so good.
The closer I got to Jenny Lake at the bottom of the canyon, the more people I saw.  Sigh!  My alone time was done.  Eventually, I ended up running along the trail beside Jenny Lake and back to the truck.  One encounter with some tourists really stuck with me here.  I turned off on the Moose Lake trail and came across a family.  They stopped me to ask if there were moose along here because the guidebook said there should be.  I looked out over the lake and surrounding marshes and said “well, it looks like perfect moose habitat, but I don’t see any”.  They looked disappointed and headed back to their car.  If they had gone another 100 yards down that trail and just looked at the world around them rather than the guidebook, they would have seen evidence of recent beaver activity, deer tracks, a snake, all sorts of stuff.  I really found it kind of sad for them.  All this wonder around them and they were focused on seeing a moose because some book said it would be there.  Another sigh!
Anyway, made it back to the truck right at the 12 hour mark, so yeah, pretty dang slow, but pretty dang amazing.
I finished off my adventure with pizza and beer while watching the sunset over the Tetons.

Overall, it was a perfect day of running.  Like I mentioned earlier, it fed my soul.  The beauty, the solitude, the grandeur.  I needed this run.

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