It all started in 2006 when I ran my first 50miler in a time fast enough to qualify for the prestigious Western States 100miler. And with that goal came the truth that I was going to need to be fitter than most years come the end of the official winter season (Mar 20) and that is where this next goal came from.
To traverse the entire Knee Knacker course within the Winter Season (Dec 21 – March20th).
For me this is a pretty normal thought process having been brought to my attention by fellow climbers that push ascents to different months of the year to be able to claim a Fist Winter Ascent and such.
So when I was finally guaranteed an entry into WS100 this year I knew that some of these fringe goals of mine were hopefully going to become a completed reality.
So back on January 25th I sent an email out to 3 of my friends stating my objective and hoping that they would join in the suffering with me. As the date got closer conflicts and injuries had myself all alone for this one, leaving me feeling a little skeptical/nervous about my chances of completing it SOLO.
After a long day of volunteering at Dirty Duo at the infamous NSA Twin Bridge aid station, where I was left inspired. I still hadn’t fully committed to the goal until late Saturday night. I checked the weather and the calm weather window was still in the forecast for Sunday morning so I gathered up all the misc gear I might need and threw it into my gear room for the early morning sort.
I had originally thought to get out of the house alpine start early but with the 12hour shift the day before the bed kept me warm for about 2hours longer than originally planned. Making a decision like sleeping in, alone plays on ones head as to the success of a goals like this where commitment should be there from the time the alarm rings to when you’re back safe in the car.
Once I was up though I got really focused. The plan was to carry/wear the gear needed to cross the winter wonderland of Cypress, 81cm of snow in the past week, and then rely on a garbage bag that I stashed in the bush at Cleveland Park for the gear needed for the friendlier second half.
The first half I knew was going to be hard work but how hard, I really was unsure. I had never been onto Eagle Bluff or Black Mountain in the winter, so I was nervous about this section and will call it the mental crux of the day. After stashing my drop bag I was finally at the Nelson Creek start for about 8:45am.
On me I had full winter running attire, windproof/waterproof tights, a hooded waterproof jacket (Mountain Hardwear transition), Rocky Mountain Goretex socks, Mountain Hardwear windstopper gloves with Sugoi over mitts, 3 toques (1 windproof, 2 lightweight), a rain hat and a super light weight down jacket(just in case). On the hard gear side I had my larger camelbak BlowFish 13L with its modifications to carry snowshoes on the outside; also I carried Kahtoola microspikes, my ten essentials kit with bivy bag, headlamp, fire starter and extra food other than the gels I was using for fuel. I know it sounds like a lot but it was still the bare minimum and I am very happy to not have been forced to rely on any of my emergency gear.
The trail was wet, really wet and muddy but that was to be expected. To my surprise there were day old boot tracks heading up the Eagle Bluff trail and I was really hoping that those tracks went all the way to Cypress if not at least Eagle Bluff. But that wasn’t to be my fortune. For those that know the route at the first scree slope on the way up Black Mountain is where the snow really started to take a hold on the surrounding environment and that is unfortunately where the boot tracks ended and came back on themselves.
So this is where the 15years of mountaineering/ climbing experience I have came in and I put on my micro spikes and started slogging up through the fresh snow staying on the trail with relative ease. Eventually the trail gets a lot steeper and I was using my hands in the snow and wallowing up to my knees in places. Those were the first negative thought steps of the day. But I just kept pushing forward; an ultra runner from the days before race had said at our aid station, “relentless forward progress”. And that is what I automatically turned my head onto. The second boulder field was one of the worst spots of the day. With miscellaneous steps that would take you in to a secret rock cavern below and bury you to the waist in snow. I just kept pushing forward wanting to get through this open spot and back into the steep forest. I made it to the forest and continued up steeply, I remember thinking don’t slip here that would be a really long fall as I negotiated a scrambling section of the trail. Final I was getting toward Eagle Bluff and got off trail for the first time of the day. I realized it quickly retraced my steps, looked harder for the marker, found it and continued on. The wind was blowing as I crested Eagle Bluff but the views of my surroundings made me hardly notice. There was a grey ceiling level to the clouds most of Sunday morning and it managed to stay above all the local mountain tops until later in the afternoon, giving me the opportunity to view the Islands behind me to the west, Mount Baker to the Southeast and the quite City below, it was surreal.
I was still in the Micro Spikes to here because of the steepness of the terrain but with the steepest bits now behind me I found refugee from the wind in the forest just the other side of Eagle Bluff and changed into my snowshoes to start the next section. Getting to the summit of Black Mountain.
The going was not bad up on top but not easy either. Running snowshoes aren’t truly designed to break trail in deep fresh snow, they were more intended for moving fast on packed trails. But this day they were doing a better job than just my shoes would have done. I stayed on the trail relatively easy until I got up and into lake country. A trail that is typically flat in summer that rolls through the trees up here becomes a cratered moonscape with the way snow deposits in, around and off of trees. It was either up or down when I was in the forested sections up here. At times the drifts would push me right back down and say find another way around me, like they were laughing, Ha Ha. I continued to slog losing the trail briefly a couple of times but never in a way that left me feeling really lost. Eventually I saw some tracks up ahead and with a sign saying 350meters to Black Mountain Summit my spirits got high and I quickly followed the day old tracks up to the summit and down into Cypress Ski resort.
The ski hill was packed and I quickly took my snowshoes off and went inside to get more water. After just a 5 minute stop I was back out on my way to the dam. You kind of have to fudge around through some buildings to pick up BP leaving the downhill area because of the ski resort. But quickly I picked up some snowshoe tracks and was back on the triangle trail. For about 15minutes I followed tracks to the first steep creek crossing and there they stopped. These were the technical cruxes of the snowshoeing this day taking all my previous skills to move snow with my hands creating a somewhat platform to step on then repeat. These walls were short but 15-20ft straight up is hard work in these conditions. To my surprise my max HR for the day was 173, I think that it would have been in one of these sections. I continued along breaking trail, continually looking for the markers to stay on track. The odd ski tour track through the forest was used for some reprieve from the deep drifts. But those only latest for minutes, sometimes less. Eventually I made it to the bridge across the last creek before the final rise to the Hollyburn snowshoe trail. The route across the bridge was sketchy and at the far end was just a 6 foot high wall of snow where the above mentioned hand/platform technique was used again. I kind of lost the trail in this section though not worrying because up the hill was going to T the trail I was looking for no matter what.
Once on the trail I was finally at the one unknown of the day. Because this is the Nordic area it is closed to general snowshoe/ hiker traffic in the winter. Without a pass you’re not supposed to be inside its boundaries. I followed down the main parks trail until I noticed the BP markers leaving it to the left. At that point I saw a snowshoe trail inside the boundaries with a single snowshoer on it, so I quickly crossed the Nordic run and headed onto the trail. I soon was upon the snowshoer and asked her for help. She conveniently pulled out a map and orientated me to it. Quickly I saw that the trail we were on East Side trail would take me down to Grand National and the top of the Chute. I expressed my thanks when she gave me the map saying she had an extra in her pack and I was gone. I loved how that moment just worked out on these travels. Crossing several trails in here was a bit slow as I had to keep checking the map to stay on track but eventually I got to Grand National and knew exactly where I was and off I went, thinking that the snow would soon be over. But it wasn’t. The snow stayed around and the snowshoes on all the way down Hollyburn Chute to where BP and TCT trail junction is, just above Brothers Creek. At this point I stop to re-attach the snowshoes to my pack and took off in great spirits with a true sense of accomplishment towards Cleveland Dam.
The whole way to the Dam I just thought about continuing, how what was to come was not near as bad as what I had just endured. So I quickly found my stashed drop bag at Cleveland Park, not Dam because the washrooms are under renovation, and spent the next 19mins getting fully changed and re loaded for the second half.
It was none eventful all the way to the Gazebo where I went to the rangers’ station to fill up meeting both of the guys that had helped with Dirty Duo the day before. At this time the weather finally deteriorated and I put on my Mountain Hardwear Quark jacket for the trip to the Cove.
On my way into Hyannis I was pleasantly surprised to find my lovely lady running towards me. It truly lifted my spirits even higher and quickly we made the final push to the end. In my head, it was great to see Nic because now the end travel was all taken care of as well. I had no car in Deep Cove just the down jacket in my pack for warmth and 50bucks for a cab back to the start. There were no issues over the final few kms. And I actually liked this section since I hadn’t been on it in so long.
Anyways I accomplished my goal and I still feel on cloud 9 today. My body is tired but not over worked, which is great since Western is approx 3x as long.
Stats on the Day
Start to Cypess 3hr
Cypress to Dam 2hr26mins
Cleveland Park to Gazebo 1hr30min
Gazebo to Deep cove 1hr 49min
Total time 9hr04min
Fuel -19gels/1 package Honey Stinger chews/ 20salt pills.