School was out at 3 pm on Friday and the spring break road trip was underway by 4pm. I camped out above the San Juan river on Friday night and then arrived before sunrise for the Ultra Adventures Monument Valley Race. After Antelope Canyon 50 in late February, and with Zion 100K just around the corner I opted to run the ~ half-marathon option. The 14.4 mile course was incredible and one of the highlights of the day was watching a pair of Navajo College runners sticking together when one of them was bonking and stumbling on the final hill, working together and finishing strong. I volunteered and chilled around the finish line until 10pm when the golden hour 50 mile runners finished, and got to see old friends, meet new ones, eat a ton of pizza.
After a rare road-trip shower it was off to Zion to scout the 100K course and revisit some of my favorite places on foot and MTB. I have ridden or run on most of the “flat” sections of the course, but I wanted a closer look at the three big climbs – Flying Monkey, Dalton Wash and Crybaby Hill. The hills are gnarly, as expected with some 20% plus sections, class 2+ scrambling and lots of loose rock. The hidden gem of the visit was the awesome mountain biking at Guacamole – check it out: Guacamole Trails MTB Project
After playing in the windy sunshine around Zion I headed through Kanab and camped out at the White House Trailhead along the Paria River. Two of my coworkers had scored a permit to backpack Buckskin Gulch and Paria for three days and they were nice enough to do a car shuttle for me so I could run from the Buckskin Gulch Trailhead to the White House Trailhead – an adventure down the longest slot canyon in the world and then up the beautiful Paria River. Distance is hard to measure due to the terrain on this route, but it is somewhere around 25 or 26 miles based on river maps and GPS with lots of sand, cobblestones, scrambling and prolonged water sections.
I met up with Alanna and Ed around 9 am, got dropped off at Buckskin around 10:15 and signed into the register around 10:20.
This was the first time in a while that I felt truly nervous before a run. There have been many attempts at the Paria River FKT from White House to Lee’s Ferry, but only a couple reported times for the Buckskin-Paria route. The reported times have all hovered just above 4 1/2 hours. I was hoping to run it under 4 1/2, with a goal of reaching the confluence in 3 hours. I’ve become accustomed to running races where everything is marked and controlled, but heading off alone into a remote corner of the desert got my stoke tank buzzing. The first few miles I was cruising on adrenaline as I wove in and out of a dry washes following cow tracks, hurdling tumble weeds and wading through deep, soft sand with beautiful Navajo Sandstone hills above.
After a few miles you enter the canyon proper and get the first of many, many narrow sections. Passing the Wire Pass junction I saw a handful of day hikers and soon after passed two groups that were backpacking the route. The terrain was more runnable than expected with occasional patches of loose cobblestones and mud. From mile 9 to 11, deep in the slot canyon where the sun never reaches the ground there was a series of standing pools of water that you could either chimney above, or just wade through. Knowing I would be running in the Paria River later I trudged through. The ice cold, thigh deep water felt great on my legs, woke me up and provided great packed-mud single track between the pools of water. Around mile 16 or 17 there is a large log-jam/obstruction in the canyon that usually requires a scramble up and then a scramble down with a fixed rope. I had chatted with some guys that hiked the route the day before and they told me that the “Rabbit Hole” passage was open if you went to the left at the obstacle. Indeed the hidden passage way was there and I crawled through the log-jam to the other side. I reached the confluence with the Paria River well ahead of schedule and started moving upstream.
I monitored the flow rate on the Paria River (USGS Data for Paria River) before attempting it, so I knew it was lower than average, but it still made for some slow-going (14 min/mile pace) the first mile before the canyon opened up and you could run from bank to bank.
Even when the banks were more pronounced there were sections of quicksand, super-slick mud and loose sand that made running along the sandbars in the river the best option at times. After a few miles I started seeing hikers that had been camped out at White House with me the night before and when I passed the power lines I knew I was less than two miles away. I picked up the pace a bit and set a goal of finishing under 4 hours. The Navajo Sandstone cliffs receded into the ground and before I knew it I was back at the parking lot, done in 3:51:27. The lot was deserted, no one was there to care about my run, and it felt perfect to be alone in the warm sunshine while I took off my shoes and socks to finally clear them of all the sand and gravel they had carried.
I felt amazingly solid and consistent all day despite running 70 miles the week leading up to this effort, and knowing that I had a 15 mile run on the schedule the following day. I did bring too much water (in case it had been warmer or I had been slower), and too many extra layers (in case it had been colder), but otherwise everything went shockingly smooth.
Thanks to Ed and Alanna for shuttling me from White House to Buckskin to make this possible and thanks to Peter Bakwin and the work he does at FKT Proboards for inspiring such great wilderness adventures.
Stuff I Used That Worked Nicely:
Pearl Izumi Trail N1, Ultra Short Tight and Jersey
Swiftwick Vision 5 Colorado Pride Compression Socks and Arm Warmers
Honey Stinger Chews and Whey Protein Bars
Nuun Active (Watermelon)
Salomon Skin 12 Pack, Spot Device, Garmin 920XT
Previous FKT Video from Jake Radtke: