Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Running the Touchstone Alice/Toxaway Loop in the Sawtooth Mountains

Twin Lakes from Snowyside Pass
It was in September of 2008 and shortly after my humbling DNF at the Grand Teton 50 (or Teton 45, as it is now indelibly and often referred to) that I first ran the Alice/Toxaway Lakes loop in the Sawtooth Mountains.  With a sense of urgency, Brad Mitchell, AJW, and I had wanted to get together for a long run in the high country before the passes were shut down with early season snow.  

On AJW's suggestion, we settled on Alice/Toxaway, and since that chance introduction it's become one of my touchstone runs.  It's not the longest loop (19.4 miles) nor one with the most vert (3,200 ft), but it's filled with ample rewards:  the rock-hewn notch at Snowyside pass; stunning views of alpine lakes large and small; and technical trail that makes for a wonderfully challenging morning no matter how good you're feeling. In a word - perfect.

I try to run it at least once a year, and if a season goes by when I don't fit it in - because of injury or weather or harried family life -  I feel like I've left a birthday present unwrapped.  So when things fell into place this past weekend for a solo outing around the loop, all felt right with the world. 

On the 2008 inaugural with Brad and AJW, we did, in fact, hit snow going up and over Snowyside pass - not much, just enough to chill the feet and put an edge on things. But this past Sunday, the weather was stunning - a warm, crystalline day - and every step a gift.

Route notes:  The Alice/Toxaway Lakes loop starts at Pettit Lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, near Stanley, Idaho, about 45 minute's drive from Sun Valley.  The loop is best run counterclockwise - first passing Toxaway Lake, up and over Snowyside Pass, past Twin Lakes, and then Alice Lake.  Strava details: http://www.strava.com/activities/191349100.

Alice Lake
Alice Lake

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

With Fall (and Potentially Snow) in the Air, a Trip Up to Hyndman Peak

With snow having dumped once already this summer in the high peaks and basins, it seemed that if I were going to fit in Hydnman Peak this season (elev 12,008 ft), it needed to happen sooner rather than later.  So when the opportunity opened up Labor Day morning, I packed my Houdini, a PB and Nutella, and SteriPen, and headed for the trailhead.

Though the outing isn't epic in distance - or vert, for that matter - it's a stout trip, regardless.  In about 6.5 miles, you gain 5,000 feet, and while the first 3 miles are easy-grade and runnable, the rest is an on-and-off hike/jog with the last half mile a pure talus scramble (class 2) to the narrow peak.  Then, of course, you come down.

For the trail runner looking to season the quads, nab some good vert at altitude, and just do something a bit different, Hyndman is perfect.  And at the end, you can pat yourself lightly on the back.

Until, that is, you remember that just two weeks ago, Luke Nelson and Jared Campbell tackled Hyndman at 1:00am using the much more technical Wildhorse Creek approach on their way to setting a heroic FKT for summitting all nine of Idaho's 12ers in a single go.

Oh, well.  It was a beautiful day, just the same.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Meditation on Filling Bottles (20-second Video)

We all have our special spots in the backcountry.  Those places that speak to us at some elemental level, and though we may not fully understand why the place is so special to us, we simply know - simply feel - that it is.  

This little pool on the North Fork of Hyndman Creek is one such place to me.  There are thousands just like it throughout the Valley, but to me it is singular.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Looking Ahead to the Summer Solstice at the River of No Return 100k

While not quite drunk with success from my outing at the Red Hot 55k - given the slow time and low placing - I did come home from Moab feeling buoyed.  Running's been tough the past number of seasons with injury after injury, and I came away from Red Hot feeling some possibility of a more normal season in 2014.  Exactly what that means will become clear over the next couple of months, but I haven't let that stop me from making some solid plans for the summer.

Having lived in Idaho for over eight years now, I've always wanted to make a summer trip to run in some of the remotest parts of the Salmon-Challis National Forest, but its foreignness, vastness, and pure wildness has always intimidated me a bit.  And that is the likely reason both for the draw the area has on me, and for my putting off visiting it.

But, with my legs feeling good and fitness coming around (however slowly), I took the plunge and signed on the dotted line for one of the few remaining spots in the June 21 River of No Return 100k (RONR).  Sporting 16,000 feet of vert, 2 high passes, and a stacked women's field with the likes of Trason, Vaught, and Ortiz, it'll be a stout affair and no doubt right on my edge of fitness - even if training goes well.

But I'm excited to challenge myself again at the longer distances. While I've been able to do some shorter ultras over the last couple seasons, it's the longer races that really ground me and that put me in touch with my elemental self - a feeling and experience I've very much missed.

If I'm honest, there's probably only a 50/50 chance that I'll actually toe the line come June 21.  But until something tells me otherwise, I'm going to keeping looking toward RONR and enjoying the journey.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Warming Up at the Red Hot 55k (Plus Photos)

Thirty-four miles on the striking red earth and slickrock of the Red Hot 55k seemed like a great reason to end the too-long hiatus from posting to Run Junkie.  I don't have any great excuse for the sustained void, except for some ping-ponging moderate injuries (left knee, right knee, Achilles, hamstrings, and back again) that sent me for yet another season largely into the arms of racing mountain bikes - an at-times fun but not passionate pursuit.

But this fall, things started to come around for my running, so much so that I signed up for a Valentine's Day trip to Moab to test my mettle on the deceptively tough Red Hot parcours.  Training wasn't perfect, but I felt I had enough miles to toe the line for a solid training run.

I ran Red Hot once before back in 2009, memorable because I both broke my camera (dropped in the Martian Moab dust) and wound up on the masters podium.  This year, I didn't expect it to be quite as eventful.  I had too many cycling miles and less than half of the weekly running miles I did the first time.  

And things played out pretty much as I thought - a challenging but largely enjoyable 34 mile run. The toughest part was trying not to race against my 2009 self, a goal I did not meet and a race I definitely did not win.  It caused me to go out too fast and finish too slow.  But it sure felt great to be back in the game, to toe the line at a great season opener, and to start to think about the possibilities of 2014.