Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dawn on Angels Landing (Zion NP)

Angels Landing - Lower switchbacks leading up to Refrigerator Canyon
As great a run as it was and as fabulous a setting as it was, I had second thoughts about posting anything about my Saturday morning trip up to Angels Landing in Zion National Park.  Though I'd never heard of the trail before the trip to Zion, it quickly became clear that Angels Landing was "the" destination in the Park proper, similar to Old Faithful in Yellowstone, if not nearly as accessible or safe.  Yet, the compelling nature of the short route (5 miles roundtrip, 1,400 feet vert) had me rethinking things yesterday, and when I saw that Patagonia's new header photo featured the lower climb's switchbacks, I thought, overplayed or not, I'd put something up.

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Parachute at Tanner
After a late Friday night watching my nephew's band, Parachute, play Tanner Amphitheater in Springdale, I got up at first light Saturday morning to run the 5 or so miles to the Angels Landing trailhead, both to nab a few extra miles and to beat the shuttle-sequestered summer crowds amped to test their mettle on the storied, trecherous route.  Given how crowded the park had been the previous afternoon and evening, it was a serene run up-canyon to The Grotto, where the trail starts: canyon walls silhouetted against a dark cobalt sky.  Really beautiful.

After hitting The Grotto, things pretty quickly turn to climbing with two steep sets of switchbacks, which end at Scout Lookout, where the trail runs out onto a narrow knife-edge rocky ridge with - no exaggeration - thousand foot drops on either side and an on-and-off sturdy chain to use as a handhold.  I thought I might be nervous on this section, but with the chain and very few other people to contend with at that hour, it went smoothly, if cautiously.  Once on the Landing, the views of the canyon are amazing: high enough for a bird's eye view but low enough to appreciate the varied relief of Zion.

It's not the highest run; it's not the longest run; it may be the most crowded run; but it's still one to put on the Zion hit list.

Some photos below, which, unfortunately, reflect my desire to beat the crowds up and down.  I also put together a video slideshow. If you like funky Mos Def, check it out, too.

First light, running from park entrance to the Angels Landing trailhead at The Grotto
Along the river toward the first climb (photo: KJB)
Leaving safe harbor of Scout Lookout for the knife-edge ridge to the Landing

"Step of Faith" leading the narrowest section of trail with 1,000 ft drop-off on either side. Landing in first sun
Ridge leading to Angels Landing
On top, looking down canyon at the Virgin River
Looking up canyon, toward Weeping Rock, Observation Point and Temple of Sinawava 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Zion, Baby! Observation Point Trail

Amidst the chaos of a family trip to Zion National Park this week, I was able to find a little sanctuary of my own yesterday with a blazing hot, noontime trip up to Observation Point, a 4 mile trail up to - you guessed it - a fantastic lookout over Zion Canyon. The trail climbs about 2,200 feet over 4 miles, with basically two steep climbs punctuated in between by a fairly flat section through Echo Canyon - a slot canyon with some really striking features. Took the camera, as usual.

First set of switchbacks.
Through Echo Canyon.
Getting nearer to the top. Beautiful, exposed, and hot.
Cactus with a view.
Observation Point.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

(Re)Joyce: Ultrarunning and James Joyce, Bloomsday Edition

Today is June 16 -  Bloomsday - a red letter date for fans of James Joyce and his expansive novel, Ulysses, because it is the day all the events in the book take place: where the lives of two souls - Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom (hence, Bloomsday) - are laid bare as they make their distracted, angst-ridden, and entertaining way around 1904 Dublin, Ireland.

It is an amazing work that is both inspiring and infuriating.  It is also one that I came to see bore a number of parallels with ultrarunning after my own full day at the Wasatch Front 100 in 2009.  I wrote a post about that that September called One Hundred Miles with James Joyce: My Foos Won't Moos.

So, in honor of Bloomsday, I'm reprinting that post below, which calls out Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, and Joyce's overall philosophy of life.

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September 30, 2009
One Hundred Miles with James Joyce: My Foos Won't Moos

A transcendent romp through the night that meshes the real and imaginary, capturing life's tragedy and triumphs in the sample of hours between dusk and dawn. 

A circuitous, all day journey from watering hole to watering hole, where the same clutch of people cross paths throughout the day until they all come together in a liquid and calorie-fueled finale.

Descriptions of the last 100 miler you did?

Most likely. But they're also the plot lines (as they are) of James JoycesFinnegans Wake and Ulysses, respectively.

Though I've been a runner and a devotee of Joyce for most of my adult life, it was only in the last month that I saw any parallels between his writings and my running. During my usual mind games a couple weeks ahead of Wasatch, a phrase from the washerwomen chapter of Finnegans Wake kept coming into my mind, a phrase that would presage my first mile heading out of Brighton on race day.

In the close of Book 1, two washerwomen are doing laundry in the river, sharing rumors of the novel's two main characters. As night falls, they begin to transform - one into a tree; another into a stone (you just have to go with it). As the one woman changes into a tree, she tells the other: "Myfoos won't moos." Written in Joyce's at-times-maddening "night language," the line translates to, among other things: "My feet won't move."

So I had a great time playing this line with my wife in the lead up to the race, thinking of the 26,000 feet of climbing to conquer and the ever-increasing temps called for on race day. And the night ofWasatch, I actually did my best-ever washerwoman impression heading out of Brighton at mile 75. If I wasn't the personification of someone slowly turning into a tree, I don't know what I was (see previous post). Just ask my pacer - and the four people who passed us.

But, even beyond such a direct connection, Joyce's general philosophy meshes wonderfully with that of ultra-running. He reveled in the extraordinary within the ordinary. Whether it was a lowly advertising canvasser (Leopold Bloom in Ulysses) or a hod carrying father of three (Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker in Finnegans Wake), he saw within each person's life a complex web of history, philosophy, mythology, observation and desire forged in the trials and triumphs of every day. Who of us who has been lucky enough to race, run, or walk through a 100 miles hasn't felt such a broad transcendent experience in that enriched time between the gun and finish line?

Moreover, Joyce's characters are nothing if not peripatetic. In Ulysses, the main characters journey in and around Dublin in an exhausting and event-filled day that begins at dawn and finishes with a final collapse into bed in the wee hours. In Finnegans Wake - perhaps the most ultra-esque novel - the characters traverse time, space, and reality as dreams and hallucinations play out over the course of a single, wild night.

Yes, I know. Such simple parallels between Joyce and ultra-running are not the thing that dissertations are made of, but I've always treasured the connections in my life - the small things that cross-over from one passion to the other, magnifying both. So, it was a real gift to finally see a connection between my favorite sport and my favorite author, so much so it was almost OK that heading out of Brighton my foos wouldn't moos.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Great Friends. Great Trail. Great Day.

Bittersweet day today on the trails - no two ways about.  While it was the warmest and sunniest morning of the season so far and was marked by a great mid-distance cruise with great friends, it was also one of the last regular runs we'd get in with AJW before he leaves Sun Valley for different climes and a different set of trail.

The significance of it all didn't rear its head on the run, though, as the trail chat did its typical waxing and waning from the base to the high-minded, and of course back to the base, which always predominates.

As I typically do, I chronicled the good times in images:

The grunt out of the Adams Gulch trailhead. 
Heading north toward Harpers trail.  Hard to beat this.
Capping off another huge week for AJW on his way toward Western, which included yesterday's win at the Sun Valley Half Marathon.
AJW with "The Rock." If you follow his blog, you know what this is. 
Beautiful day. Great singletrack.
Top of the Adams Gulch climb.  Hank, AJW, Brad.