Recon (May 29th 2018):
I was up early and out of Challis only to be greeted by thick clouds and rain that were not in the forecast, but I held out hope that it would be clear in Stanley. When I arrived it was rather rainforest-esque but the forecast was still indicating a clear so so I hoped it would burn off as the morning progressed. I was wrong, but luckily the cloud layer was only about 1,000 feet thick and the mountains were basking in blue skies and windless conditions above the inversion. I hit the trail at 6:30 am and cruised easily past the wilderness boundary in search for the climbers trail into the Williams/Thompson basin. The GPX file I found online that I loaded onto my Gaia app must have been done on a winter ascent and suggested that I lose almost 1,500 ft of elevation down a treacherous slope so I quit using the app and just wandered around in the snowy woods looking for a climbers trail and slowly making my way towards the basin below the peaks. After a good 30 minutes of schwacking I found the trail and made my way to the distinctive waterfall. I traversed the snow along the banks of the cascade, balanced across willow branches and waded through the torrent to get to the first major snowfield. The snow travel was straight forward, but things were still firm enough to warrant microspikes and my ice axe for comfort. The final climb up the headwall reared up to about 45 degrees at the steepest but the snow was soft enough to allow for safe travel. Rounding the corner onto the northwest aspect I was met with a bulletproof veneer of ice from the week’s rain and took a minute to ponder the thick crust atop the corn snow. I smacked my microspikes with my axe to clear them out and carefully make my way across using some fancy French technique footwork and my axe at the ready to reach the talus and scree slope above the icy snowfield. Referring back to my Gaia map I followed the route line over to the saddle on the south side of the peak before heading into the South Couloir proper. It was slow going but straight forward power hiking up talus on the final section of the couloir was very good quality granite with some fun scrambling. On the descent I took a more direct line back towards the snowfield leading to the saddle and reached the snow at the top of a much steeper slope than I had come up. With my spikes back on I took a couple steps and then decided to just glissade down, ready to arrest myself if needed. The minute I picked my feet up I took off and very quickly was turned around sliding headfirst on my back down the slope. Not knowing where the rocks were below I quickly moved to self arrest, coming to a jarring halt. I was conveniently about 10 feet from my tracks on the traverse up, and a good ways from the nearest rock pile so I carefully headed over the headwall where I was treated to a much more successful glissade. At the waterfall on the way back I met another climber coming up to summit Thompson, chatted about the conditions and then headed off down the trail. I found the actual route that connected with the Alpine Way trail on the descent and cruised the smooth singletrack back to the trailhead – just under four hours roundtrip. I was curious to see what others had run on the route but had a hard time finding many speed attempts or records. There were a few Strava entries with the fastest round trip coming in just under five hours. Recon done ✔️.
FKT Attempt (June 5th 2018):
I left Challis around 6:00 am, applied some sunscreen and drove out to the Redfish trailhead arriving around 7:10 am. I completed a dynamic warm up in the parking lot since I was supposed to be doing a tempo/interval workout that my coach had assigned. I figured I would just run the tempo at the start, do some interval surges on the ascent and call the rest of the climb my “cool down” though I wasn’t planning on going too slow 🙂
I saw one hiker with a dog about .1 miles up the Fishhook/Marshall/Redfish Trail, made it to the Marshall cutoff, ran up to the Alpine Way junction to connect to the ridge and then enjoyed the rolling ascent towards the peak. I was hoping that the snow had melted enough to find the climbers trail junction. I signed my wilderness permit as quickly as possible and navigated a few down trees en route to the junction and I was in luck as the snow started just after the climber’s trail junction. Once on the climbers trail I took a gel and scrambled my way towards the waterfall. Now melted out a bit more I found the trail that switchbacked up and around the waterfall before crossing over. The snow by the waterfall was already very soft and I punched through a few times – had I started too late?
Moving up into the undulating slopes and hanging lakes left behind by the glaciers that inundated these valleys the snow firmed up as I ascended and was perfect for efficient movement even without spikes. On the headwall ascent I was pleasantly surprised that I still didn’t need spikes and when I turned the shoulder to the northwest aspect I was thrilled to see that the frozen rain crust from a week ago was gone and nice supple corn snow awaited. I headed up to the highest point of the snow before tackling the boulder field and took the most direct line possible rather than going all the way to the saddle before joining the south couloir (probably cutting ~.5 mile off the GPX route I followed on my recon trip). The rocks were more stable on this approach than going to the saddle and I made faster work that expected summiting in just 1 hour and 54 minutes – right on track for a sub 3 hour round trip. I quickly signed the rugged Mazama register, closed it back up and then set off on the descent using the map on my watch to make sure I stayed close to the same line I took up since it was so solid. I hit the snow for my first glissade (no self-arresting antics this time), stopped at my traverse point and started running towards the headwall. At the headwall I traversed over beyond the cliffs to start my glissade and was cautious since I knew there were some cliffs I might hit below. I had to stop and traverse left about 10 feet at one point to avoid a rocky chasm and then continued down. Running across the snow and talus I made it back to the waterfall, jumped the creek, stashed my ice axe on my pack, took a second gel and started running down the climber’s trail. I did some quick calculations and assuming my GPS distance was accurate I would need to average just faster than 8 min/miles for the rest of the descent to break 3 hours. I managed to knock out 4 miles right around 7 min/mile pace (including an insole removal break since they were soaked and slipping a bit). I passed a family out for a walk with their dog and trotted back to the trailhead registry with a total time of 2:53:54 (which we will just call 2:54) – exactly one hour from the summit back to the trailhead.
I signed out of the registry, dawdled back to my car, changed socks, drank some Ultragen, ate a stroopwafel and got ready to drive home to do lunch time puppy duty.
With solid navigation, a lighter load and a more focused effort I took an hour off my recon time and shortened the roundtrip by about half a mile by staying on course and taking a more direct line. Knowing the route certainly paid off and the snow was perfect.
In going for this FKT my goal was certainly to establish a fast time and put in a proud effort, but it was also done with the hopes of putting Idaho on the map. So many people still don’t know the difference between Idaho and Iowa or realize that there is so much more than potatoes going on up here. With incredible mountains, vast tracks of wilderness and world class trail running and mountain climbing opportunities, the lack of Idaho FKTs is something of an enigma. I hope that by establishing some worthy routes in the futures I can help bring some awareness to the awesome potential that Idaho holds for trail and ultra adventures.
Kit: A fresh pair of Altra King MT 1.5s straight out of the box, Swiftwick Vision Four Ultra Socks, Altra Perfomance Tights (perfect for glissading), Ultimate Direction 2016 Hardrock Vest, Grivel Ice Axe, Kahtoola Microspikes (didn’t actually need them, but didn’t want to risk going without them), Garmin Fenix 5, Honey Stinger Gels, First Endurance Pre-Race, GoPro Hero 5 Black, Petzl E-lite, light gloves, Altra Stash Jacket (never used but never to be left behind in the mountains), Rudy Project Sintryx with ImpactX-2 Photochromic Lenses.
River of No Return 50K
After a good final week of training and a long run on the race course it was time to taper. With the exception of doing a vertical kilometer outing on Borah peak with my buddy Shawn from Florida, it was a nice mellow week and I woke up on race day feeling healthy, fresh and ready to go.
I opened the door to head out, realized I was in a cloud and it has rained all night and went right back inside to get gloves and arm warmers. As I made my way over to the start the rain ceased but everyone was chatting about the imminent mud, especially on the first big climb that tackles 3,800 ft of vert in about 8 miles.
Paul played the national anthem over the loud speakers, gave the countdown and I we were off running through town. The first three miles flew by and every intersection had a smiling volunteer making sure everyone made it to the trail without getting lost. Outdoor Idaho Public Television was out doing some filming for a special on Challis and Mackay due out in December as well adding a bit of pomp and circumstance to the opening miles.
Having run all but one mile of the race course and knowing my strengths (namely running downhill) by strategy was to not let anyone out of my sight on the first big climb. Immediately upon starting up the muddy double track I was passed by a runner and saw that there was another runner about one minute behind me. I managed to keep the leader in sight and would make up ground whenever there was a brief downhill break from the long climb, but didn’t he was in and out of the first aid station at Birch Creek Saddle before I arrived. The mud on the final part of the climb led to a lot of power hiking on the switchbacks of despair and I was almost regretting my decision to wear the Olympus’ due to their larger footprint. When I arrived to the Keystone aid station I was greeted by friends, filled up my water bottle and took advantage of the short climb out of the aid station to fuel and hydrate before the four mile descent to Bayhorse when I would be moving too fast to eat or drink. I caught the leader just as we started descending and decided to run with abandon down the hill to put as much time between us as possible. I clicked off a couple of six minute miles and started to catch up with some of the 108K runners. Exchanging encouragement was a great booster and I was flying when I came into Bayhorse.
I saw my buddies Drew and Shawn but didn’t stay since I wanted to see this out and back was the only chance I would have to see how far back the other runners were. Two minutes out of the aid station I passed Kris Lunning and one minute later I passed Timothy Patterson, which gave me a four to five minute cushion. With another long climb back to Keystone ahead I figured they would catch me and it would be a race on the final ten mile descent. Running scared and motivated by the encouragement of the other 50K runners coming down as I headed back up I surprised myself and managed to run the first three miles back up the climb, finally relenting to a powerhike the final mile as the grade reared up. I passed a couple of my students that were racing and one of Rinnan Coaching‘s finest pupils coming down in good spirits which lifted my mood a ton. I filled up my bottle again and then took off down the final descent back into town.
I didn’t see anyone coming over the rise as I left the aid station but figured I could only see about three minutes behind me. Time to drop the hammer! I flicked through my iPod, cued up Thunder by Imagine Dragons (I’m a shameless pop music lover when racing) and set a goal of running sub seven minute miles for the rest of the race which would lead to a finish of around four hours and thirty minutes. Rolling into the final aid station where Emily Hawgood was holding things down I had her crack open the Coke and fill my bottle for a little pick-me-up on the final five miles of pavement. I still didn’t see anyone behind me but was checking frequently and when I intersected the 25K course and caught up with some of the other runners I just focused on the runner ahead of me and tried to reel them in to slingshot me to the finish.
Running down main street in my hometown with people out watching the runners come in was an amazing experience. The downhill grade is perfect, the street is wide with plenty of room for cars to pass and having run down it on countless training runs my mantra for the day emerged and I got a rush of endorphins. “My town, my race, my day”. Over a year of training on the course and building community was coming together with a great race where everything clicked. My last two miles were around my 10K pace and coming across the finish line I was greeted by Paul Lind’s expert personalized commentary welcoming the first 50K runner back home. Jess and Apollo were waiting there for me and Apollo eagerly got down to business licking all of the salt and mud and sweat from my legs as I lay down in the grass to take it all in.
Paul Lind and his family did an incredible job this year and put on a truly world class race with a small town feel. Jess let me know that Paul had been announcing my progress on the course and had told everyone at the finish line that the keg wasn’t going to be tapped until I came in so the other runners were happy to see me as well. Timothy and Kris came in a few minutes later having switched positions in the final miles and we all hung out, shared beer and stories and cheered on all of the 25k and 50k runners coming in. It was amazing how many people from Challis were running, and it felt like the entire town made an appearance at the finish line at one point or another. When the rain returned a few hours later I made my way across town to go home and dedicated the rest of the evening to puppy snuggling and tug-a-way on the couch.
A huge thanks to Paul for putting on this fine event, to Jess and Apollo for supporting me, to all of the volunteers on the course and to my sponsors for their support. Off to Western States to join the knuckleheads of #TeamPyllon and Paul Giblin’s quest for another top ten.
Kit: Altra Olympus 3.0 straight out of the box, Swiftwick Vision Four Ultra Socks, Altra Race Shorts, Ultimate Direction Groove Mono, Garmin Fenix 5, Honey Stinger Chews, First Endurance Pre-Race and EFS Liquid Shot, Altra gloves and arm warmers, Rudy Project Sintryx with ImpactX-2 Photochromic Lenses (first time racing with Rx glasses and it was amazing).