Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A dose of reality and other news

Jumping for joy on the summit of Stuart Peak with
the Love of My Life (sometime in the last 6 months).
 Earlier this month, I missed doses of Humira and methotrexate during the same cycle. The old saying "you don't know what you have until it is gone" more or less holds true here. The doses were not missed intentionally. I simply had a lapse in memory and mistakenly left the Humira in the fridge and the methotrexate in its child-proof - and RA-proof - container when I should have been administering both.

You do not know what you have until it is gone. It is surprising how easily deluded we can become. Upon becoming aware of the fact that I had missed a dose, I convinced myself that because I had not had a flare-up in a very long time - at least 6 months - I was cured and had graduated out of my pill-a-day containers! Not so. Within a few days of missing my doses, dull aches begin to settle into my wrists and shoulders. A few days later, my left wrist began to act like its old self, pre-meds: achey, with occasional bursts of sharp, radiant pain. The rest of my body joined the protest: Humira, Humira, Humira. I won't pretend like I was crippled by the experience, fortunately my body communicated its dissatisfaction with my lapsed doses and I responded swiftly with an injection of Humira, methotrexate and ibuprofen. Success. 

This experience of missed doses, was a reminder of how far I have come in managing inflammation and pain through lifestyle and medication choices. I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to work with a rheumatologist and dial in the right combination of medications that allow me to be active and lead a "normal" life.

That is that.

In other news, I began going to physical therapy again to get my back, hips and legs back on track. I have been had issues with inexplicable - until PT - aches and pains in my leg (may or may not be associated with RA). I am committed to working hard at getting the proper muscles strengthened and the proper training regimen established. It is critical that this be so if I am to have any longevity in my active, outdoor life. I couldn't be more thrilled with the new clinic that I am going to: they seem to get me and what I am trying to do.

And that is that.

In other-other news, I took my brother up Pikes Peak last month on a two-day climb up the east face. We had a splendid time. It had been almost 15 years since we had stood on top of a mountain together. The outing - both as a climb and a reunion of sorts - goes down as one of my most memorable and enjoyable experiences in the mountains. Here are the highlights:

Jason, my brother, raising his ice axe to
sun on the east face of Pikes Peak.
Jason and I on the summit of Pikes peak after a 4AM start.






And finally, in other-other-other news, Wade Balmer with the Arthritis Foundation wrote a really nice article about this blog and last years adventures. Click here to check it out!

Onward and upward,

Brian
 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

University Mountain: A Re-Awakening

Objective: Northwest Face of University Mountain
Vertical Feet: ~3200
Elapsed time: 3 hours 10 minutes

Hungry to explore new terrain on familiar mountains, I ventured onto the unknown - to me - ribs, gullies and faces of University Mountain. The whole affair was hugely impulsive and based on a last-minute panic: should I not get out now - 1PM on a cloudless Saturday afternoon - a pall will be cast over the weekend and I shall return to work on Monday unchanged. 

I disembarked at the 'M' Trailhead, trekking poles in hand and the echoes of Spoon's heady 'Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga' album ringing through my earbuds. My chosen objective for the day was the north ridge/northwest face of University Mountain. Both the ridge and the face, although relatively safe, offer the most challenging terrain of Mount Sentinel's big brother. The north ridge direct can be thought of as the line of passage to gain access to the northwest face, a hanging basin ~750 vertical feet directly below the summit. The recent freeze/thaw cycle followed by a good freeze, portended firm snow and good climbing.

To reach the base of the route, I walked about 2 and 1/2 miles along the Kim Williams River Trail. The north side of both University and Mount Sentinel rise steeply and uniformly from the edge of the Clark Fork River, the water feature which the Kim Williams River Trail parallels. This is fortuitous for the bushwhacking, weekend explorer as it allows for easy and immediate access to the flanks of the massif. 

I reached what appeared to be the base of the north ridge direct (the ridge that rises directly to the summit,  not the false summit), shortened my trekking poles and began the steep bushwhack up the slope. 

The north side of University Mountain is littered with fallen trees and thickets, a bushwhackers nightmare. Fortunately, there remained a consistently thick and firm enough layer of snow to cover the fallen trees and the base of the thickets. What wonderful travel! The lower fourth of the mountain passed as many of the other ribs and ridges of the north side have: an exercise in navigation, weaving in and out of stands of pines and clumps of thickets. 

About a quarter of the way up, I found myself a hundred feet higher than and parallel to a steep snow-covered talus - basketball-sized rocks - field. I descended to its base and climbed the obstruction free slope. Near the top of the talus field (~500 feet from its base) the slope steepened and the snow deepened, effectively covering the stones. The snow was a hard-packed, barely granting the mark of my boot with the full weight of my body applied to its surface. Earlier in the day, I had opted to leave my crampons and ice axe at home, and was now regretting that decision. No matter, I put myself to the work of methodically kicking steps up the slope. One kick, two kick, three kick, four kick, platform, left foot step. One kick, two kick, three kick, four kick, platform, step. And so it went. 

Reaching the top of the talus field I re-entered the dense wood. The slope continued to steepen, but the hard-packed snow remained. Although a fall on the hard snow without an ice axe to self-arrest would have undoubtedly resulted in a good slide, my fears were allayed by the density of the trees and thickets to stop such a fall.

Fifteen minutes later I found myself on the shoulder of the ridge. From this new perspective I was able to see the summit proper and the whole of the northwest face through the thinning trees. My position was a couple hundred feet above the base of the gully that led into the northwest face and about half of a mile to the west. I opted to do a downward traverse to the base of the gully.

Upon reaching the base of the gully, and in effect, the northwest face, I was discouraged - but not surprised - to find a harder snow pack with intermittent patches of ice covering the virtually treeless gully and face. Although a relatively gradual slope (~30-35 degrees), I would not be afforded the psychological and, in all truth, the real protection that the trees below had a provided. No, a slip here here would result in non-stop slide to the base of the gully. I weighed the risk. Had the slope been any steeper, I would have abandoned the route and regained the trees. With time and patient kick-stepping, I knew it could be done safely without an ice axe or crampons. 

So it began: the climb to the top. The face itself isn't anything to write home about, but a fairly special feature so close to Missoula. One kick, two kick, three kick, four kick, platform, left foot step. One kick, two kick, three kick, four kick, platform, right foot step. The snow consistently hard, the rhythm was wholly meditative. This is mountaineering at its best. 

With the true summit out of sight, I oriented myself to what I thought to be the most direct line up the face. As the tempo of my rhythmic steps towards the summit increased, the shadow that threatened to ensconce my weekend in stagnancy began its retreat. Upward, upward, upward! My pace increased. I progressed into my standard heavy breathing rhythm: high-er, high-er, high-er, each syllable an out-breath, followed by a large soundless in-breath. Ah! Sweet, sweet freedom of movement and exploration. 

Several minutes later, I crested the upper slope of the face and was greeted with a view of the towers of University Mountain, marking the summit. I was a mere 200 feet away, the slope laid back, allowing me to walk normally on the shallow grade. I increased my pace and power hiked the remaining distance to the summit. Success!

After a quick gulp of water and a couple of deep breathes, I began the descent down the standard trail. What a delight to walk on even relatively level ground! 

In my life, mountain adventures have become a necessary function of living. My outing up University Mountain this weekend re-enforced this very fact. It is in the mountains that one can pit the mind against new objective; re-invigorate the soul with exposure to the raw, natural world; and challenge the body with formidable physical obstacles. I will return to work on Monday changed. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Into the Thermosphere: 2013 in review

The epitome of joy. This self-portrait taken by Linds and I just after the
marriage proposal captures the spirit of 'Into the Thermosphere' and marks the
most exciting and significant mountaintop experience of the project.
Stuart Peak, June 9th 
December 31, 2013 meant more as an annual chronological cultural milestone, than it did as the final day of the 'Into the Thermosphere' project. In spite of its significance as a definitive end-point for the project, the day passed with little thrill, zero vertical feet and no summits. Instead, the day served as an opportunity to spend quality time with the Love of My Life (LOML), sharing a meal, watching the ball drop and falling asleep with pleasant dreams of a New Year's Day ascent of Stuart Peak. 
A  wet day on the summit of Mount Sentinel with Linds.
All told, the project - 500,000 vertical feet and 100 summits of Mount Sentinel in 2013 - was a total success. These numbers waned in importance as the year progressed. The point was to get myself moving on a fairly intense program while maintaining a healthy balance with my personal and professional life. And in this regard, success was achieved. As for the initial objectives? I came up short on the vertical feet, but greatly exceeded the Mount Sentinel goal. Ultimately, it does not matter. What matters is that the year was one full of rich, life-giving mountaintop experiences, including getting engaged and deepening relationships with friends and family. Throughout the year, I shared mountains with Linds, Lydia Hess, Dave Massey, Stacy Keogh, my Dad!, Phil Goss, Austin Graef, Wes Bowman, Trevor Marsh and many, many more folks! 

Here are the raw numbers for 2013:

Number of vertical feet ascent: 437,250 feet
Average daily vertical ascent: 1,197 feet
Most vertical feet in a month: 62,700 feet (January)
Most vertical feet in a day: 6520 feet (November 23rd - Stuart Peak/Mosquito Peak/Stuart Peak)
Most vertical feet in an hour: 4000 feet (October 2nd - Mount Sentinel double)

Total number of mountain summits: 208
Mount Sentinel: 140 (9 routes)
On the summit of Mosquito Peak, looking back at Stuart Peak.
November 23rd
University Mountain: 34 (5 routes)
Stuart Peak: 12 (3 routes)
Mount Helena: 7 (2 routes)
Mount Jumbo: 4 (2 routes)
Mosquito Peak: 2


Pikes Peak: 1
Lolo Peak: 1
Mount Dean Stone: 1
Murphy Peak: 1
Point Six: 1
Swiftcurrent Mountain: 1
Apgar Lookout: 1
Point 5315: 1
Blue Mountain: 1

Personal Records (non-running): 
Mount Sentinel ascent: 24 minutes 45 seconds (September 18th)
Mount Sentinel roundtrip: 41 minutes (October 2nd)
Mount Sentinel double roundtrip: 1 hour 25 minutes (October 2nd)
University Mountain roundtrip: 1 hour 40 minutes (April 29th)
Mount Helena ascent: 16 minutes 55 seconds (January 25th)
Mount Helena double roundtrip: Sub-1 hour (January 23rd) 
Point Six/Murphy Peak roundtrip (from Snowbowl parking lot): 3 hours 23 minutes (August 17th)

A friendly game of Scrabble on top of Mount Sentinel
with Austin Graef. The scenery won. 
Mountaintop Experiences:
Scrabble games; reading; engagement! (Stuart Peak); napping; jumping pictures; bringing a ladder to a summit (Mount Sentinel); bringing a table/chairs/sound system to a summit (Stuart Peak); eating fresh baked donuts on a summit (Pikes Peak); and snowboarding from summits (Mount Sentinel and University Mountain)! So many wonderful things!

2013 marked the first full year with Rheumatoid Arthritis that I have not had a major flare-up and my levels have been stabilized. This past year taught me nothing if not discipline in listening to my body's needs. What is the ache or pain? Should I take a rest day? The answer, I learned quickly, is invariably YES! Take a rest day (or two), fully recover, then get back out there and do it again. 

It was not difficult to get out almost every day and climb a mountain. I am wired this way! It was more difficult forcing rest and recovery days and finding something for my 'idle' self to do in the daily climb's place. Although this chapter of the 'Into the Thermosphere' project is coming to a close, I am grateful to shed the nagging feeling of the need to stand on top of a mountain every spare moment.

The New Year
On the summit of Pikes Peak with Linds!
July 6th
In 2014, I am shifting my goals to ultra-hikes (27+ miles), bigger mountains and single-day Wilderness crossings. With so many big objectives out there, I am looking forward to moving away from ongoing training goals and onto large, one-off objectives. Here are a few of my projects for 2014:
  • Rattlesnake Wilderness single-day crossing (from Missoula to Arlee by way of the Rattlesnake Wilderness)
  • Stuart Peak, Mosquito Peak, Murphy Peak, Point Six (in-a-day)
  • South Face of Stuart Peak
  • Borah Peak (Idaho)
  • Mount Rainier (in-a-day)
  • Elkhorn 50 mile race (power-hike)
  • Granite Peak (Montana high point)
I am thrilled to continue sharing periodic trip reports on the 'Into the Thermosphere' blog. That, in my mind, only makes sense. Additionally, I will continue to stay steady the course with RA updates. Fortunately, on account of stabilizing at the end of 2012, RA rarely entered as a topic of conversation throughout 2013. And it is for that that I feel extremely blessed and am thrilled to share my experiences as a person that has RA with the rest of the world!

Here's to a happy and healthy 2014! 

Onward and upward,

Brian

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Stuart Peak Double-Take

Take one (December 7): 

Two weeks ago Saturday I had a go at Stuart Peak. The high at 7,000 feet (1,000 feet below the summit of Stuart Peak) was -15 degrees with wind chills predicted to be in the -40s. The weather was predicted to be stable, clear and cold!

I made good time, covering the first 4.5 miles in about 1.5 hours. There was 1-2 inches of snow on the ground up to the that 4.5 mile mark. The snow depth increased rapidly from that point (~5,000 feet) up. I donned my snowshoes at about the 5 mile point and began the slog!

The temperature, although in the -10s, was bearable. On my feet I sported two pairs of wool socks stuffed inside of boots rated to -20 degrees. My legs were covered with two pairs of long-underwear under light trekking pants. On my upper body, I wore 4 layers underneath a winter parka (down mittens with over mittens on my hands). And finally, on my noggin, I wore a balaclava, a fleece neck warmer and a beanie.

Labored breathing laden with the moisture of my breathe froze instantly on any  surface within 7 inches of my mouth. Fortunately, the approach to Stuart Peak lies in a well protected gully, making the wind a non-issue for the first 5-6 miles.

That said, the strong winds combined with the snow of recent days resulting in a 2-3 inch crust on top of 6-8 inches of fairly light powder snow. The crust was weight-bearing 5% of the time: slow-going. Every step required patience as I broke through with each snowshoe and regained purchase on the packed powder beneath the crust.

6.5 miles up, the trail rounds a corner providing the first view of Stuart Peak. With the turn of the corner came the first encounter with a bitter wind in the -30s. The last time I felt winds that cold was in Great Falls  in 2008 when I would go for long runs in -20 to -30 wind chills (this required goggles and 0% skin exposure).

I continued slowly for another 150 feet breaking through the crust, gaining traction and taking another step. At such a frustratingly slow pace, I had another 2-3 hours to the summit, which meant another 3-4 hours exposed to the brutal wind that was increasing in strength and decreasing in temperature. I stopped to assess the situation: the tips of my right toes were getting pretty dang cold and required frequently 'wiggle-stops'; exposure to the wind/cold was only to increase over the next 3-4 hours and the wind roared overhead! Uninterested in frostbite in such a low-reward scenario, I opted to make this point (~6800 feet) the day's high point. I snapped a picture and headed down to the warmth (-8!). This trip goes down as the first time in 5 years that I have not seen another soul in the Rattlesnake (on the trail or at the trailhead).

Self-portrait at the high point on 'take one'.
Take two (December 14):

Exactly a week later - and 25 degrees warmer - I came back with a secret weapon: fellow Rockturnal, Lydia Hess. Fueled by Bernice's Coffee and a touch determination, we hit the trail around 7:30AM. 

Since my last trip a week before, about 6 inches of snow had fallen in Missoula and 1-2 feet higher in the mountains. I was glad to have snowshoe packed what there was of a trail up to the 6.5 mile mark a week before.

Lydia and I moved swiftly, hitting the 4-mile point in about 1.5 hours. About a half-mile later, we donned our snowshoes and enter into a pleasant amble through 6 inches of fresh powder. A mile further the snow's depth was closer to a foot on top of the previously packed trail. Accordingly, our pace slowed. 

By the time we reached my previous week's high point and the end of the snowshoe-packed trail, the snow was closer to 18 inches on top of the old trail. The end of the snowshoe-packed trail meant the end of the easy 'cruise' up Stuart Peak. One step beyond the previous week's high point resulted in a snowshoe-post-hole through 12-18 inches of powder onto (and through) a weak 2-3 inch crust and down to the next layer of firmer snow where purchase was final achieved. 

A slice of humble pie! Our pace slowed from 3-4 miles/hour to less than 1. With 2 miles remaining to the summit of Old Stuey, we had a long slog ahead of us. We trudged on, route-finding to the best of our ability, eventually stumbling upon the Wilderness Boundary marker. 

We stopped for a brief snack break at the Wilderness boundary marker. Now in a cloud with 100-200 feet visibility and a 1.5 mile slog ahead of us to the summit, it was all business. We trudged on!

The snow remained consistently inconsistent: powder, crust, firmer snow. We post holed 1-2 feet with every step (likely waist deep without snowshoes!). As for route-finding, thrown off by the slow pace of travel and assuming we were further along the southeast ridge of Stuart Peak, I (I will take credit for this mistake) moved us onto the crest of the ridge too early, resulting in a disorienting, circuitous approach to the summit ridge. At one point, Lydia protested "are we walking in circles!?". She was angry or upset, she had a valid question, and as we came to discover on our way down, for good reason! 

So I (again, Lydia had her senses) led us in semi-circles, combing the ridge for any sign of the drop from the southeast ridge to the summit ridge. Just when I was beginning to give up hope that we would find it with such poor visibility it appeared: a sharp change in the slope up the south ridge! 

We stopped at the base of the summit ridge for about 1-minute to assess our situation, sort of a council of war (we were moving slowly and we needed to get back by 4:30PM (it was 12:15PM). We decided to go for it and finish what we had worked so dang hard for: the summit!

Fortunately, as anticipated, the crest of the south ridge being exposed to some very strong winds was pretty dang firm in spots. Although, we soon discovered the truth...consistently inconsistent snow pack. Onward and upward!

Lydia and I hit the final summit slope with a seriously strong 'let's get this done!' sort of push and landed on the summit around 12:45PM. We killed it! 30-minutes for that final 1/2 mile steep push. 

We exchanged fist bumps, took the obligatory summit photo, honored the fact that we were inside of a cloud and had no view whatsoever, felt the cold/wind and got the heck out of there (we spent 3 minutes on top!). 

On the summit of Stuart Peak!
In an effort to get ourselves warmed up and get back by our self-imposed timeline, we made quick work on the descent. Thanks to our work snowshoe packing the trail and with the steady pull of gravity this took little effort.

The descent was uneventful, save for meeting up with 3 telemark skiers 3/4 mile from the summit (they had followed our tracks from the bottom!).We took one break on the way down to remove our snows at the 4.5 mile mark and soldiered on, making the total descent in about 3 hours. Wahoo!

Onward and upward,

Brian

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Searching for Winter: Rattlesnake trip report (sometime recently)

Mountains: Stuart Peak, Mosquito Peak, Stuart Peak (Rattlesnake Wilderness)
Distance: ~22-23 miles (round-trip)
Vertical feet gain: 6520 feet
Total elapsed time: 9 hours 5 minutes (6:12AM - 3:17PM ~20 minutes of breaks) 

The office life has never suited me. It is very likely that the office life has never suited anyone. Although my job can be immensely rewarding, it is, at the end of the day, an office job on the top floor of a somewhat stuffy building that lacks ventilation and adequate windowage. The net result of all of this - the full-time office life - breeds an intense desire for outdoor adventures.

With a mild fall and a reluctant winter, my outdoor adventure focus over the last few weeks has shifted to searching for winter. To the high country!

Sometime recently:

6:12AM: I left the warmth of my car at the Main Rattlesnake Trailhead - ~4,000 feet - for the chill (~10-15 degrees) of the morning. The trailhead was snow-free, as was the trail for the first 5 miles. The Missoula area had had a few good snowfalls in the high country over the last couple of weeks which was followed immediately by a cold front that froze the landscape in time. I planned accordingly and was equipped with snowshoes, crampons and ice ax, and full winter outerwear. 

I traveled by headlamp for the first 1 1/2 hours. Three hunters on bikes passed me on the Main Trail - my last signs of human life for 7 hours -  around 6:20AM. I took advantage of the dry trail and traveled swiftly (~3-3.5 miles/hr) in the predawn light. 

~8:00AM: Snow! At around 6,000 feet the snow began. At first a hard, frozen crust of an inch or two, boot-packed well by what had likely been hunters, grew steadily with every step to 1-2 feet at the Wilderness boundary (~7 miles in). About 1/2 mile after the Wilderness area began, with an increasing snow pack and a less well-traveled trail, I donned my snowshoes. A few minutes later, I left what was left of the boot-packed summer trail and opted to route-find my way up the trail-less south slope of Stuart Peak.

8:45AM: More snow! As I continued up the mountain, the snow pack increased to 4 or so feet. With snowshoes, I was impacting no more than 6 inches with every step. The consistency of the pack - powder snow on a hard crust - made for easy, rhythmic travel. Beautiful!

9:08AM: The Summit of Stuart Peak!
An excited self-portrait on the summit of Stuart Peak with
Mosquito Peak, the next objective, over my left shoulder.

~9:25AM: I left the glorious summit of Stuart Peak for Mosquito Peak. Per usual, I disregarded any of the summer trails and kept a tight line on the ridges. Oh, the joys of winter travel!

~10:30AM: I arrived at the foot of the summit ridge of Mosquito Peak after a nice slog over the long rolling connecting ridge between Stuart Peak and Mosquito Peak. I impacted about 6-12 inches with every step, but kept a steady, if somewhat slow, continuous plod. At the base of the summit ridge, I exchanged my snowshoes for crampons and trekking poles for my ice ax. 

The summit ridge of Mosquito Peak. My track is visible on the ridge.
This shot was taken on my way back to Stuart Peak.
Looking down the summit ridge to a false summit of Mosquito Peak.
Here,without snowshoes, I was postholing 1-2 feet with every step.

11:06AM: The summit of Mosquito Peak! Remarkably and entirely coincidentally, I arrived on the summit of Mosquito Peak exactly 2 hours after Stuart Peak (~1 hour, 35 minutes from the time I left Stuart for Mosquito).
Self-portrait #2 of the day on top of Mosquito Peak.
That expression, again, is a cry of joy, not pain.

My ice ax planted on the summit of Mosquito Peak with Stuart Peak right of center.
I spent less than five minutes on the summit of Mosquito Peak before heading down to my snowshoe, extra gear and trekking pole cache. Upon donning my snowshoes and repacking my gear, I slogged my way up and down the rolling ridges back to Stuart Peak.

~12:45PM: Back on top of Stuart Peak!
Self-portrait #3 and final picture of the day on top of Stuart Peak again.
Mosquito Peak (form whence I came) is visible over my right shoulder. 
It would be untruthful of me to suggest that I was nothing, if not tired, on the second trip up Stuart Peak. I was tired, but no less elated to be out on one of the most beautiful days in recorded history. And, about to walk 8.5 miles downhill! Yahoo!

The trip back to the trail head, although uneventful, was extremely enjoyable and relaxing. I cruised downhill, turning the 2 hour 56 minute ascent into a 2 hour 20 minute descent.

3:17PM: Back at the trail head!

All told, the outing was exactly what I was searching for: an escape from office life and the discovery of winter! I felt and feel incredibly blessed to be afforded opportunities to experience God's beauty and the accompanying peacefulness. I always come back after trips like this a little better than I left. A new creation!

Onward and upward!

Brian

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mount Sentinel Hill Climb: Race Report

"There's a long line of cars/And they're trying to get through" Cake
A day late, a buck short. I apologize for the delay on the Mount Sentinel Hill Climb race report. A week or more past, I drafted up a pretty lengthy report only to have my computer freeze and ultimately lose the blog post.

Take two:

Linds took this picture moments after the start of the race from the bottom of the course.
I am visible with a yellow hat and black long-sleeve shirt.
The Mount Sentinel Hill Climb is an all-out effort race up Mount Sentinel's 2,000 vertical feet by way of 2 trails: the shorter and steeper northwest ridge and the longer, but gentler 'M Trail'. All runners are required to take the 'M Trail' to the giant cement-casted 'M' about 1/3 of the way of the mountain. At the 'M', runners are presented with the option of continuing on the gentler 'M Trail' or power up the steeper northwest ridge trail. With a previous PR of 24 minutes and 30 seconds on the length of the northwest ridge trail, I didn't know what to expect with the added distance of the 'M Trail' up to the 'M'.  This was a chance to find out!

Around 9:55AM on the morning of the race, 100 runners self-selected positioning and crammed themselves into the starting channel leading up to the entrance of the 'M Trail'. Although by trail standards the 'M Trail' is broad, it, at widest, can accommodate 2.5 adults shoulder-to-shoulder. I positioned myself roughly a third of the way back. Knowing I would not be running a step of the race, I opted for a comfortable placement that wouldn't impede passage of the swift mountain runners.

At 10AM the gun went off. It took a good 15-30 seconds for the front third of the pack to clear out and get moving up the trail. As spaced opened up, runners to my left and right began to first slowly walk, then walk swiftly and finally run! I was able to open up my power-hiking stride within the first 15 feet and finally get to work doing what I love best: moving swiftly in the mountains.

The longest and most gentle switchback of the entire route occurs first. Although crowded, there was enough space to somewhat gracefully move through the runners. At the turns of the first couple of switchbacks the pace expectedly slowed to a walk as the group made the turns. The first leg up to the 'M' proved a game of leapfrog with runners. On the steeper switchbacks I would pass 3-4 runners who in turn would pass me on the gentler switchbacks when they got back up to a solid running stride.

By the time I got to the 'M' runners had more or less settled into their pace/position for the race: a dozen or so in front of me and 80 or so behind me. I passed in the 'M' (620 feet off the valley floor) feeling strong, beaming brightly and enjoying myself thoroughly! I have no idea how much time had elapsed to get up there and frankly I didn't care. I was having a blast.

A few feet passed the 'M' the course splits: northwest trail or 'M Trail'. This was a no-brainer for me. I live for the northwest ridge trail!

I passed a few more folks on the middle portion of the mountain on the northwest trail as runners began to slow to a power-hike on the steeps. My approach with power-hiking, as it was with marathons and ultra-marthons, 'swift and steady'. I passed my last runner at about the halfway point. From there, I slowly closed in on the guy in front of me, only to have him pull away on the few gentler sections of the northwest ridge trail.

In this manner, the upper half of the mountain proved to much like any of the other 50+ times I had used this route as a training ground in the last year. Again, beaming, I accepted my place and smiled my way up to the final summit ridge of Mount Sentinel.

As I crested the ridge and the slope lessened to the summit, the finish line archway and clock came into view. The clock read 25 minutes and 40-some seconds. I was tempted to run in the last bit and see about getting under 26 minutes, but opted to stick to my guns and keep to my power-hiking race. I quickened to a power-walk and hit the finish line at 26 minutes and 32 seconds. Having never timed myself before utilizing this exact route (the 'M Trail' to northwest ridge trail route), I had nothing to compare it to and decided only to be pleased that I had had such a great time and had set a new PR.

Curious as to how the race unfolded, I checked the results later in the day to find out that I came in 14th place. The winners, elite trail runners, made it to the top in under 21 minutes! Amazing. All told, I am very pleased with my performance (I won't pretend I am not competitive) having not run a step of the race.

I had a blast and loved the low-key, local nature of the race. I will be back next year!

Onward and upward,

Brian

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rheumatoid Arthritis, cookies and mountains

"Is there truth, in your pain, you decide" Dashboard Confessional
Rheumatoid Arthritis: 
Bad news: still have it
Good news: not as badly

Cookies:
Today, I ate two cookies. Yesterday, I ate three (smallish cookies). Currently, my favorite cookie is whatever Connie Dillon is baking (soon to change, 'The Letter K' is coming to town this week).

Mountains:
The text gadget on the right is not working. Consequently, I have not been able to update the project stats for a couple of weeks. Here are a few cumulative states updated:

Total vertical feet in 2013: 339,000
Mount Sentinel summits: 111
University Mountain: 26

On Sunday, October 27th, I am going to race - power hike, not run - the Mount Sentinel hill climb. I am pretty pumped to race again. The last race that I sunk my teeth into was the Elkhorn 50 miler in 2009. It ended disappointingly with a 'did not finish' and resulted in the first string of medical visits that led to the RA diagnosis in 2010. At this stage, it is all about doing the best that I can do within my physical means and delight in the fact that I am able to do what I love: go up mountains.

Onward and upward,

Brian