After returning from the boat at the end of April, Lisa and I moved into our van, a 2004 Sprinter we bought and converted to a camper back in December. We spent most of May near Cortez and Durango and most of June near Bend, mainly mountain biking. After that we started getting ready for what would be our biggest trip of the summer, a two week, 100 mile backpack on the southern portion of the John Muir Trail in late July.
The JMT is a very popular trail with lots of preparatory information readily available, but we had a couple reasons for caution: this hike would be longer than any backpack either of us had ever done, and we had very little experience backpacking together. So we took a couple of steps to make things go smoother. First, Lisa would be managing the itinerary; we had the time to keep the hiking pace mellow throughout and still take a couple of rest days. Second, we needed a couple of warmup trips.
In late June we were staying at Mount Rainier to avoid a heat wave encompassing most of the western US. We did some really nice day hikes, and for the July 4 weekend secured a permit for the Northern Loop, a popular backpacking route on the northern side of the park. Our hike would be 33 miles with maybe 10000 feet of elevation gain, which we would have 3.5 days to do. The pace and difficulty of this route were both more aggressive than was planned for the JMT, so this seemed a good way to get in shape.
Overall the hike went pretty well. In many places there were wonderful wildflowers, which were blooming earlier than normal due to the dry winter. Much of the hike was still a slog, though, with long climbs and descents through trees with little of interest. The best parts were near Mystic Lake, on the flanks of Rainier shortly below the alpine zone. After two days on the trail the lake itself was warm and wonderful to swim in. Additionally, from here I could leave the trail for easy cross country hiking up Curtis Ridge and magnificent views of the mountain and of Carbon Glacier. This was my favorite part of the hike, but unfortunately Lisa had stayed behind in the tent to rest. I thought that for future trips to Rainier it would be better to focus more on the best terrain and less on logging trail miles, feelings that would continue to develop over the summer.
After leaving Mount Rainier we spent a week and a half or so on the Oregon side of the Columbia river gorge, hiking and canyoneering. Our second warmup trip was a 2.5 day backpack of about 25 miles in the gorge, going up the Eagle Creek trail and then up to Tanner Ridge before looping back to the base of the creek.
This hike was alright. The Eagle Creek section was awash with lush scenery and several great waterfalls, especially Tunnel Falls, where the trail goes through a blasted out tunnel behind the waterfall. After leaving the creek the trail was monotonous trees with some berries and dense bear grass we had to push through. I had similar feelings after this backpack that I did after the northern loop; concentrating our time on the best terrain would have been a better outing. Before leaving the gorge Lisa and I went canyoneering with several other folks in lower Eagle Creek, rappelling Punch Bowl and Multnomah falls and having a great time.
After our two warmup trips we had pretty significant reservations about our JMT plan. On both backpacks there was one day where we pushed past the point of exhaustion for Lisa, and the prospect of hiking for two weeks in such a state was, well, unappealing. So Lisa sat down with our planning materials and mapped out an itinerary where we would never be hiking more than eight miles or gaining more than 2000 feet of elevation in any one day. We could hike more than that if we wanted to, but we would never be forced to. This relaxed schedule would also allow me to do side trips and see areas of the wilderness away from the main trail. With this plan in place, we drove to California, left our van at the hike’s exit point at Whitney Portal, and took a shuttle to our entry point at South Lake, near Bishop.
The hike started off well as we climbed up to Bishop Pass, the first of six major passes we would be traversing. This would be a test for us — our packs were at their heaviest here, and our conditioning at its worst. The climb went well, though it started raining as we reached the pass and we camped soon afterwards. While this put us a bit behind schedule, the next day would be all downhill to the middle fork of the Kings river, allowing us some flexibility. I got up early the next morning for a side trip to the top of nearby Columbine Peak. This was very nice, relatively easy talus and boulder field climbing, with the top offering great views into the nearby basins. I got back to the tent in mid morning and we continued down the trail.
The next night, after a long climb up the golden staircase we reached the first Palisade lake and camped. At first light the next morning I left on another side trip, the one I had been the most keen on doing while planning the hike. Mount Sill is a 14er a few miles from the lake, and was supposed to have great summit views. To get there I needed to climb 1800 feet to a minor pass, drop down to a minor lake, and then climb another 2600 feet to reach the summit. This largely went alright, with interesting route finding along the way and a lot of time spent crossing boulder fields. As I reached the base of a small glacier not far from the top, I started worrying about the time and went a different route than planned the rest of the way up the mountain. The southwest face of the peak was more direct and looked doable. Going up it went fine, with a couple tricky spots along the final ridge to the summit. The summit did indeed have pretty amazing views of the Palisade glacier and the rest of the Palisade mountains.
Getting back to Palisade lake took nearly as long as getting to the summit had taken, and I didn’t reach Lisa until mid afternoon, 10 hours after I had left. It was a few hours past when I said I would return, and she had been getting very worried and didn’t know whether she should look for help or even exactly where I was going. We talked and decided that we both needed to be clear on my plans when going off on these solo trips, both on the rest of the hike and in the future. My hike had also caused us to fall behind schedule, so we left the lake to get in a couple hours of backpacking before the evening.
The next morning we climbed to Mather pass, the second major pass of the trip, and over the next few days went down to the south fork of the Kings river and up and over the third pass, Pinchot. The scenery was very pretty but I was getting kind of bored with it, and the hiking started to wear on me. Fourteen miles after Pinchot pass we reached the Rae Lakes, a popular and beautiful area with refreshing swimming and wonderful camping. After spending a night I did a third side trip, taking a trail to the sixty lakes basin and then going off trail up nearby Mount Cotter. This was nice but was not the same caliber of experience as my earlier side trips, and after getting back to the Rae lakes early in the day we continued down the trail.
We went up and over Glen pass, down to Bubbs creek, and up and over Forester pass. We were most of the way through the hike at this point, but still had 30 miles and several days to go. Emotionally, I was on a downhill slide. I was bored with the hiking, and the weather had deteriorated to the point where it was unsafe to do more side trips. I started feeling trapped, and eventually, eight or nine miles after Forester pass, I snapped.
It’s hard to write about this and I won’t go into details. I had an angry outburst worse than any I’ve had in my life. I was totally out of control. It lasted several minutes, and afterwards I went and brooded, taking apart a pine cone while fearing our marriage was ending. Eventually I went and asked Lisa for forgiveness, and we went on hiking. A couple days later we camped near the trail crest, summitted Whitney early the next morning, and hurried down the last eleven miles to get to Whitney Portal and end the trip.
Several things became clearer in the weeks following the hike. Our relationship was damaged, but we were both determined to repair it. Outbursts like this are totally unacceptable. For as long as I remember I’ve gotten angry; not in a chronic way but in an explosive way, typically due to built up stress. Before meeting Lisa I was almost always alone, and I viewed these explosions as cathartic, screaming into the woods and whatnot. Now I saw anger as toxic; I decided I didn’t want to ever raise my voice, whether I was arguing with Lisa or not. Such a change is easier said than done, but in the five months since the outburst we both feel I’ve made a lot of progress with managing stress and angry feelings, and I hope and believe this change will stick.
Stress still builds, of course, and I needed another outlet to relieve it. The outburst I feel was caused by an amalgam of boredom, frustration, and other emotions that had been building inside me over the hike; Lisa was completely blameless. Part of these feelings was a sadness over something missing from my life. Before meeting Lisa I would sometimes go out for long, hard days; mountain biking, hiking, skiing, whatever. I love the activities I do with Lisa, but together we couldn’t exercise at the same level that I could by myself. I wanted to get this part of my life back.
Before the JMT I had my eye on some hard trips I wanted to do later in the summer and fall; after the JMT I was doubly intent on pursuing them. A couple trips in Colorado had been stymied on previous ventures there. In 2012 I tried to do a two day mountain biking loop from Crested Butte over Pearl, Taylor, and Star passes, but broke my bike’s derailer hanger after Pearl Pass and had to retreat. In 2013 I biked the Colorado Trail but had to bypass two sections due to a nearby forest fire, and I still wanted to see these. Two trips in the desert also fascinated me. Going from rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon has become a popular run in the last few years, and I wanted to see what it was like. The Zion traverse — following trails between the northwest and southeast corners of Zion — is backpacked regularly and less often done by runners, and had interested me since I started canyoneering in 2013. I would have been happy if I was able to do two or three of these trips over the summer and fall, but in the end I was able to do all four, each in one day.
Preparation for these trips started earlier in the summer. I had no real running background at all; last fall on the boat I did some jogging but not with any rigor. When we got to Bend back in June I went out several times, working my way up from 3 miles to 13 miles, sometimes alone and sometimes with Lisa biking along and giving encouragement. After the 13 mile run, from top to bottom on the Deschutes River Trail, I was pretty wiped out and couldn’t imagine doing a 26 mile marathon, let alone a nearly 50 mile run like I was planning for the fall.
Time passed, we did our backpacks and after the JMT went to a canyoneering fest in Ouray. We were still decompressing from the JMT and neither of us did much actual canyoneering. Late in the week of the fest, Lisa went to Silverton with friends while I went out for my first run in over a month. Starting from its end on the million dollar highway, I went up the Bear Creek trail towards Engineer Pass, then over the top of Engineer Mountain and back to the highway via jeep roads. 18 miles and 4800 feet of climbing, in maybe 6.5 hours.
This was my first real training run and a few things stood out. First, keeping a mellow pace made the run very enjoyable. I mostly walked on the way to the pass, arrived feeling good and mostly ran the way down. Nutrition helped a lot here. Historically for this type of activity all I would bring was a few Clif bars; that’s all I did here too and I ran out at Engineer Pass, with over 10 miles still to go. By a stroke of luck, just a few minutes later I found an unopened gel shot while hiking off trail, which gave me what felt like a huge burst of energy on the way back down. This lasted until a few miles from the end, where sore joints kept me alternating between walking and a slow jog. Note here that what I call “runs” aren’t spent entirely, or even mostly, running. I don’t know what else to call them though.
After leaving Ouray, Lisa and I went to Crested Butte, where we would spend most of the rest of the summer. Lisa had never been here, and I hadn’t been since 2012, and I was excited to get back to one of my favorite parts of Colorado. We found a nice boondocking area 15 minutes east of town, and went out for some great bike rides. I looked through our maps and pieced together what would be my second training run. From our camp I headed on dirt roads to the Cement Mountain trail, up that and then cross country over Cement Mountain itself to other trails connecting to the Eccher Gulch trail, which I took back to the roads I came in on. 23 miles and maybe 5000 feet of climbing, in 8.5 hours.
This was a much more adventurous route than my first run. The Cement Mountain trail is in good shape, but the other trails I used were more rugged; several times I couldn’t even find the trail and for long stretches worked my way cross country through the aspens and meadows until I picked the trail back up. I had read the Eccher Gulch trail was great for mountain biking and wanted to scout it out, but while the trail has wonderful aspens and some nice smooth sections, much of it was quite overgrown with thorny plants. By the time I made it back to the roads I was pretty ragged, and while the whole run was pretty enjoyable I felt I was getting distracted from my goals. The runs I was training for would be on well established trails, and those are what I needed to focus on.
The climb to Pearl Pass is one of the harder bike rides around Crested Butte. Once we arrived in town I was pretty eager to get back and give it another shot, and a few days after the Cement Mountain run I got up at 4:00 in the morning, drove to the Brush Creek road and started biking up to the pass. Nearly four hours later I reached the top of the pass, then started down the other side, passed the spot where I endo’ed and then retreated three years ago, reached the paved road leading to Aspen and from there climbed again for three hours to Taylor Pass, then on to Star Pass and a long, long downhill back to Crested Butte. 52 miles and more than 7500 feet of climbing, in maybe 12.5 hours.
Finally seeing the rest of this loop was rewarding. The climb to Pearl Pass was, as before, brutal, with lots of hiking in the upper parts. The views from the top were, as before, spectacular, and the downhill to Castle Creek was nice. I really liked the climb to Taylor Pass; the road was steep but with a fairly even grade that I could bike almost all of. Some good views here, not as memorable as Pearl Pass. The route from Taylor to Star Passes is mostly a traverse, but was narrow and chewed up, hard to enjoy this far into the ride. Below Star Pass, though, is one of the best bike descents I’ve done anywhere; over 2000 vertical feet of singletrack down to the road, smooth and well graded riding through meadows and forest.
We continued to stay around Crested Butte and I went looking for another run to do. North of town I saw what looked like a nice loop passing close to several fourteeners. I didn’t realize it at the time but this was the Four Pass loop, a popular route usually done as a backpack from the Aspen side of the Elk Mountains. I started on the other side near Schofield pass at two in the morning and finishing about 11 hours later, 30 miles and 8000 feet of climbing.
This was one of the best runs of the summer. Befitting its name, the loop took me up and over four passes, each of them in the alpine zone at over 12000 feet. The moon was pretty full and I had a lot of light heading up to West Maroon pass and down the other side. As I headed up to the second pass, Buckskin, it started to get light, giving me great views of the Maroon Bells. At the top of Buckskin were more expansive views of Snowmass mountain and nearby terrain. I dropped back into the forest, climbed past Snowmass lake to Trail Rider pass, and then had another long descent and ascent to finally reach Frigid Air Pass. I was about 25 miles in at this time and getting very sore, and made the rest of the way down to the trailhead pretty slowly.
I started seeing a pattern around this time. Each of my runs was five or six miles longer than the previous one, and in each run I would consistently get really worn down five or six miles from the end. After this I tried to limit myself to avoid big jumps in distance between runs, and gradually step up to my target distances. It was really neat to see how well my body responded to this training; this was the first ultramarathon length distance I’d ever done on foot in one day, and after finishing I felt a wave of catharsis as I biked back to Crested Butte (where Lisa had driven the van after my early morning start) and was eager to get out again.
It was also interesting to compare my speed on foot versus on a bike. Before I started running I didn’t think running would be even close, and while that’s true in relatively easy terrain, in harder terrain the two aren’t far off. In such cases I expect to do about 4mph on my bike, and 2.5-3mph on foot; the bike is faster on downhills but slower on uphills, especially uphills which are too steep or technical to ride. This summer I was solely focused on running longer distances, and in the future I’m interested in seeing if I can push my average pace to, well, faster than a fast walk.
The next run I did was on the Monarch Crest, a popular mountain bike route I’ve done several times in the past. Lisa joined me for this one, on her bike; we’d talked about this ride several times over the summer, and after all the biking we had been doing together she felt ready for it. We had a good weather window and were dropped off at the start by the local shuttle company. The other bikers there left us behind pretty quickly while we went through the early sections of the trail, which are above treeline and offer nice views. Eventually the trail drops back into the trees, though it still offers excellent riding and a great descent down Silver Creek. The classic route continues on the pretty difficult Rainbow trail after this; we had already had enough, however, and headed down the neighboring dirt road toward Poncha Springs. Lisa was going far faster than me on the road and left to get the van while I shuffled along, picking me up not long before I reached the highway. 27 miles in 8.5 hours or so, maybe 2000 feet of climbing.
Doing the trail together this way was a great experience. Lisa would go faster than me on the descents, and I would go faster on the steeper climbs, so we were both moderating each others speed, and didn’t wear out as much as we otherwise would have.
We still had enough time in Crested Butte for one more run. I wasn’t feeling very ambitious, and picked out a route that stitched together several trails close to the Butte. I started around 7am and headed around Strand hill, finishing up back at the van around 9:30am. From here Lisa joined me on her bike as we did the Teocalli Ridge loop. After returning to the van yet again I continued alone along the Deer Creek trail to the Gothic road, then south to the outskirts of Mount Crested Butte where Lisa had moved the van and was waiting for me. 34 miles or so, 13 hours and 5000 feet of climbing.
This day had its, well, ups and downs. The first segment around Strand hill went smoothly, and so did the first third of the Teocalli Ridge segment. Then we got into very steep, sustained climbing that went slowly and wore both of us down. We eventually made it onto the ridge and had a great descent, but this took a lot longer than I was expecting and by the time we got back to the van I was pretty sore. I thought about bailing out on the rest of the run, but this seemed like it would shut out the long runs I wanted to do in the fall. It was getting well into September and I didn’t have that much time left to prepare. So, I continued on. I biked the Deer Creek trail a few years before; it has great views but is infested with cows, and is probably more enjoyable as a run than a bike ride. I started feeling better as I headed along the trail, and then downright great on the descent covering the latter two thirds of the trail, a much needed second wind. It was getting dark as I got to the Gothic road, and the last few miles to the van dragged on and on. I didn’t leave much slack time for delays in planning this run, and should have started a couple hours earlier.
A week later we headed west from Crested Butte. We would be meeting friends in Silverton to do some biking, and along the way I wanted to do the final Colorado run I had targeted earlier in the summer. The two highest elevation sections of the Colorado Trail run between Spring Creek and Stony passes. In 2013 I was really interested in seeing these segments when I biked the trail, but when I got to the area I found that they were closed due to the west fork complex fire. The detour over Cinnamon Pass was nice and introduced me to a part of Colorado I now love, but the trip still didn’t feel complete to me without those two missing sections.
So, after driving through Gunnison we headed south past Lake City and camped near Spring Creek Pass. I started from the pass around 5am the next morning, while Lisa backtracked almost all the way to Gunnison and then on to Silverton, so that she could meet me that evening in nearby Howardsville, an old mining ghost town. The shuttle for this trip is a 200 mile drive, and Lisa was very gracious to do this for me.
The first few hours of the run were a steady climb and some rolling terrain in the dark and pre dawn light. Shortly after dawn I made it to the treeline, and would stay above the treeline for over twenty miles. I’ve never seen such a trail before; the many views and variety of scenery was amazing and the trail kept my interest all the way to Stony Pass. From there I had another six miles down a jeep road, reaching the van shortly before dark. 36 miles, 14 hours, and 7500 feet of climbing.
These segments of the trail left me with an almost surprising sense of solitude. All day along the trail I didn’t see more than five or six people, and while I had done quieter runs earlier in the summer (I didn’t see anyone all day at Cement Mountain) the continuous expansive views left me feeling this trail was a hidden gem. Adding to this sense was the wildlife; early and late in the morning I saw two separate groups of three moose each. I had never seen moose in Colorado before, and the morning sighting was the closest I had been to them since 2009 in Alaska.
This would be my last run before the two long ones in the desert I had targeted. As noted before I would consistently get very worn down around five or six miles from the end of each run, but could keep pushing out the total length of the runs I could do in such a condition. The two long runs would be 42 and 48 miles each, and after getting to Stony Pass I felt they were within reach.
I started understanding a couple reasons why this training strategy was working for me. First, it let me slowly strengthen my joints. At the relaxed pace I was maintaining I would never get out of breath or push my legs hard, and at the end of the summer I don’t think I was all that much stronger or faster than at the start. I saw early on that I was developing muscle strength far faster than I was developing joint strength, and that the latter would be the limiting factor on these long runs. That leads to the second reason, which is that doing these long runs gave me practice with pain management. Even at this point I would start feeling joint pain by mile fifteen or so, and had time to practice adjusting my gait to reduce that pain and to tease out limits for how far I could push my joints while being able to recover within a few days. On this and later runs I hardly ever got into a true run at all, instead doing something more like a power shuffle.
After a couple days of biking with friends in Silverton and Ridgway, we left for Utah. At this point I had a pretty firm schedule; I wanted to do the rim to rim to rim on Monday, September 28, and the Zion traverse six days later on Sunday, October 4. The former would avoid weekend crowds of runners I had heard of, and the latter would avoid weekday trail closures the park service was imposing.
First, though, I wanted to do some canyoneering. Heaps canyon is the longest and hardest canyon in Zion that is regularly done. I had been interested in doing it since I started canyoneering in 2013, and this seemed like a good time for it. Lisa was also interested in this canyon, but didn’t want to go on this outing with neither of us having done it before; I was hoping we would be able to do it together a couple weeks later. On September 24, a couple days after getting to Utah, I started hiking at 3am and finished the canyon 12 hours later.
Heaps is done solo from time to time, but there is a risk to it. The canyon has quite a few potholes — bowls in the watercourse where one has to climb up, potentially over smooth slickrock, to continue downcanyon — and I’d seen in the past how escaping from one of these can be simple for two people yet exhausting for one. I was betting that the canyon would be in easy mode; if the potholes are full of water, you can swim across them rather than climbing out of them. Some friends from Idaho had done Heaps a couple weeks earlier and reported it to be full, and a storm just a few days later dumped rain all over Zion. Tragically, this storm killed 20 people in the area, including 7 canyoneers. This storm was in the forecast, and flooding is a risk that can be avoided; when I did Heaps the sky and forecast were clear.
Even so, the risk of difficult pothole escapes was not eliminated. I tried to mitigate this by bringing my good physical conditioning, extra equipment to escape the potholes, and supplies for staying a night or two in the canyon if necessary. It’s still hard to justify my behavior here, though, and I don’t know if I’ll be soloing other long pothole canyons in the future.
In the end, there was nothing very difficult about the canyon. After starting from Lava Point I hiked over level terrain for a few hours, rappelled from the canyon rim into Phantom Valley, hiked some more and then spent several hours working through the canyon’s long narrows. Even full of water it was very physical, getting me and my pack up and over log jams, across pools, through convoluted narrows. Super fun, and a new favorite canyon in Zion. After the narrows the route climbs out of the watercourse to a three stage, 500 foot rappel down to the Upper Emerald pool. An awesome, classic ending to the canyon.
The day after Heaps, Lisa and I drove to Saint George and bought a jeep, something we’d wanted for most of the summer which would give us more flexibility. I was still feeling good and ready for the next run, and two days later left Zion in the evening in the jeep to drive to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. This night had a full moon and a total lunar eclipse, which was cool to see driving out from Kanab. I slept for a few hours outside the park, then started down from the rim at 1am. I reached the south rim via the North and South Kaibab trails eight hours later, turned around and returned to the north rim at 6:30 in the evening. 42 miles, 17.5 hours, around 11000 feet of climbing.
I didn’t go in with many expectations about what the rim to rim to rim would be like, and I found it to be a pretty amazing experience. After several thousand feet of descent to the Bright Angel creek the North Kaibab trail’s steepness mellows and I had another eight miles along the creek in the moonlight, quiet and mesmerizing. After reaching the Colorado river at 6am, I started up the other side. The South Kaibab trail is well graded — steep and sustained the whole way — and climbing in the coolness and the pre dawn light felt great. I hiked this trail before, on a backpack in 2010, and it once again left a strong impression. Vistas in the Grand Canyon are simply breathtaking, and I haven’t spent nearly enough time there.
I stayed cool on the way up and still felt good on arrival at the south rim. After a short rest I started back down, passing all the same people I had passed on the way up earlier. It was starting to get warm and even going downhill I was sweating a lot. I was happy when I finally got down to Phantom Valley and was able to refill my water bottles. Water requires careful planning on this route. There are several water spigots spaced out along the route, and the stretch along Bright Angel creek always has water available, but there are some long stretches without water, mainly the entire South Kaibab trail between the river and the rim (the Bright Angel trail can be used instead, which has water in a few spots, though it is several miles longer). It got to over 90 degrees on the canyon bottom as the day got along, and I began sweating profusely heading up the North Kaibab trail from Phantom Valley. I was feeling miserable and eventually hopped in the creek to cool down, which felt wonderful and kept my spirits up for the rest of the way along the creek. All in all, I drank about three gallons of water over the course of the run.
After the trail leaves the creek it is mostly sheltered from the afternoon sun, and I didn’t have any more problems with the temperature. I did have another 3700 feet of climbing to do, and was getting worn out. I was almost in a trance going up, with the climbing coming in fits and starts and then a sustained 2000 feet push at the top. I reached the north rim not long before dusk, talked to some folks for a few minutes, and drove 2.5 hours back to Zion to get back to Lisa. On several levels — the amount of vertical gained, the distance traveled on foot, the length of the activity, the sheer extent and depth of sustained exertion — this surpassed any day I had ever done before.
Six days later I was planning on my last run, which would be even longer, albeit with less vertical. Four days into this, tragedy struck. A good friend, Louis Johnson, died while canyoneering in Zion with his husband, Everett Boutillet. I met Louis and Everett about two years prior, not long after meeting Lisa, and the four of us had done several canyons and hikes together. Lisa had been canyoneering with Louis and Everett the day before I did the rim to rim to rim; I was saving strength for the run, and didn’t go. Louis was a wonderful person, with an incredible infectious enthusiasm for life, for Zion, for almost everyone and everything. Everett is equally wonderful, and is more reserved but has a clear passion for the outdoors that I deeply admire. Louis’ death hit me harder than any other I’ve experienced as an adult, and the outpouring of grief from the canyoneering community in the following weeks was tremendous.
Lisa and I learned about Louis’ death the morning afterwards. Everett was staying with a friend in Springdale, just outside Zion, and the two of us spent much of the day with him, waiting for his family to arrive. Afterwards, I was torn up over whether to continue with my plans for the Zion traverse. I didn’t feel there was anything more I could do to help, and the combination of the park closures and other commitments meant I had no other chance to do the traverse. Late that evening, we camped near the west entrance of the park, and I started running from Lee Pass a little after 2am. About 19.5 hours later, at nearly 10pm and after 48 miles and 6000 feet of climbing, I reached the east entrance of the park.
The traverse follows several trails as it makes its way across the park. I had never been to the park’s Kolob entrance before, and was hoping to see the mountains and other features in the moonlight as I made my way down to and then along La Verkin Creek. It was a cloudy night, unfortunately, so I just made my way down the trail in the dark before climbing up into Hop valley. From here the trail goes through a grazing area and was hard to follow in the dark. I eventually abandoned the trail and went up the sand and grasses at the valley bottom, repeatedly crossing the ankle deep creek. This was pretty slow, and took an early toll on me, and after exiting the valley the next several miles were also very sandy. I slowed my pace to adjust, and gradually climbed east to Lava Point, the trailhead where I had started the trip to Heaps.
I was halfway done, and had been on the trail for nine hours. I was still feeling OK, and retraced the approach to Heaps for a few hours — going only slightly faster now than I had then, with a 45 pound pack — along the west rim, now in full daylight and with magnificent views on display. I descended to Scouts Lookout, past the crowds of people hiking to Angels Landing, reached the bottom of the Virgin River canyon and then upcanyon along the road for a mile or so. At the Weeping Rock trailhead I met up with Lisa; earlier we had considered doing the remaining 13 miles together, but it was now around 5:30pm and getting stormy so after a couple miles Lisa turned back to the Weeping Rock. Hiking even briefly with her was great, and deeply missed as I continued up the Echo canyon drainage, climbed to the east rim as it was getting dark, and spent a few more hours in the dark, with intermittent rain and distant lightning as I made my way to the east entrance.
A wave of relief washed over me as I reached our jeep, which Lisa and my stepfather, Tim, (him and my mom had arrived in Zion a few days earlier) had spotted at the east entrance for me. This continued as I drove to get back to Lisa; I had now met all the goals I had set for myself early in the summer, an almost crushing weight lifted off me.
In the following weeks we attended two events for Louis and Everett, did some canyoneering and biking, and made our final preparations to head down to Magic and begin the sailing season. The Zion traverse was my last run in the fall, and while I have not done anything since other than some jogs in La Paz, I’m looking forward to starting again in the spring.
Overall, I really enjoyed getting into trail running this summer. It provides a nice combination of benefits of backpacking and mountain biking — any trail which can be backpacked can also be run on, and running provides much of the speed and efficiency that mountain biking does. Mountain biking has other benefits of course; I love the feel of flying down a trail and will continue doing so. I’m less enamored about backpacking. The, uh, wilderness experience of spending several days in the backcountry doesn’t mean as much to me as it used to, and any trail backpacking I do will need to be very carefully considered. I still really like the route finding, exploration and untrammeled nature of backpacking away from trails, and backpacking done to support another sport — canyoneering, climbing — is fine, but there’s always a mixture of feelings in seeing my interest in a sport fall away.
The running also brought out a new aspect of my relationship with Lisa. During the summer we realized we both needed more independence, so I could do more of these hard trips and so Lisa could spend more time with friends. We did a lot of mountain biking and other activities together in the summer, but as fall came the pendulum swung too far in the other direction. Almost all the time I was letting my body either recover from or prepare for another long run, and we didn’t do much at all together. We both missed our shared activities, and we are still figuring out how to strike the right balance with separate activities. I’m confident we will keep improving, though, and that our relationship will be the stronger for it.