Thursday, July 31, 2008

Whitney and Muir

Being the highest point in the 48-contiguous states, Mt. Whitney, near Lone Pine, CA, is many a hiker's goal. Since I've already done it twice (2003 & 2004), I really didn't have any plans to hike it again. Don't get me wrong, it's a great hike and goes through some beautiful Sierra high country, but there's too many other hikes in the Sierra I haven't had a chance to attempt yet.

But my colleague Tim (a poli-sci prof) asked me last year (2007) to go with him up Whitney since he had never been up there before. He didn't have to twist my arm to get me to agree. He trained well for it on local trails, but unfortunately, in 2007 we failed to get up there on top of Whitney. We secured a permit through the February lottery, but a family funeral out of state ended up being the same day of our permit. Then I got us another permit for the end of August (from a cancellation). We camped in Whitney Portal ready to hike, only to get rained out by incessant storms (the remnants of Hurricane Dean).

So in 2008, I was determined to see Tim get to the top of Whitney. We secured our permit in the Spring. Tim trained throughout the summer. On Tues, July 29th we headed to Lone Pine. We camped in campsite #23 in Whitney Portal (which ironically was the exact same campsite my friend Dan would be camping in just a week later for his Whitney hike). We would start hiking soon after 5:00am on Wed, July 30th.

I had three goals for the day (and in this order of priority):

(1) See Tim make it up and back down Whitney. I still felt bad that we didn't make it up Whitney in 2007 after he prepared so well for it.

Since I wasn't sure how fast Tim wanted to hike, I let him set the pace. However fast he wanted to hike, I'd be happy to follow. Tim and I made good time up past Lone Pine Lake (10,000'), Outpost Camp, Mirror Lake, Trail Camp (12,000'), the 97 switchbacks, and Trail Crest (13,600'). We had a perfect day... temps in the 50s, no wind, and not a cloud in the sky. Our pace slowed some as we got into the thinner air above trail camp, but early in the afternoon we were both on top of Mt. Whitney.

Goal #1 - accomplished.

(2) Climb up Mt. Muir (14,012'). Me and Mt. Muir have some history. It's just a short 300' class 2-3 climb off the side of the main Whitney trail. It should only take about 10-15 minutes to complete, but yet less than 1% of Whitney hikers ever attempt Muir for a double-14er day.

In 2003, I attempted to bag Muir but I felt too unsure of myself when I got above the class-2 scree. Then in 2004, I attempted it again. I tried following a friend (who is a class-5 billy goat) as he quickly hopped up that short climb. But I got too nervous about the exposure on the class-3 part of the climb and stopped.

This time around, I was determined to make it up Mt. Muir. Now I had some good class-3 climbing under my belt since I went up Longs Peak in Colorado last summer. Now I felt more sure of myself on class-3, even with some exposure. Prior to our trip, I also did some online research and plotted out the best route to the top.

As we were heading up towards Whitney, I soon found the well-worn path through the class-2 scree leading up to Mt Muir. (It's actually easy to overlook since the west side of Muir from the Whitney trail looks very similar to the other needles and peaks at that point on the trail.)

After bolting up the scree, there were a couple of cheeky little moves on the class-3 stuff, including a short traverse.
But in a mere 12 minutes, I found myself sitting on top of the summit block. (No, I wasn't comfortable standing on it because the drop off the east side is 1,000'+.) I signed the summit log and sat there enjoying my view and glad to finally exorcise the demons of two prior failed attempts on Muir. I took a few pictures looking west across Sequoia National Park and north towards the needles and Mt. Whitney.

Goal #2 - accomplished.

(3) Fly my kite on Whitney. I've always wanted to fly a kite on a mtn peak. Twice in Yosemite I've attempted this (once on North Dome and once on Half Dome). Even though I tried for hours, neither time was I successful in my attempts to get it in the air. On North Dome, I had no wind at all that morning and on Half Dome the winds were too erratic to keep it airborne.

So I packed my kite in my backpack as Tim and I headed up the trail. Even though the kite collapses down to roughly 1" in diameter, it's still over 3' long and stuck well out of the top of my backpack like a quiver of arrows. I got lots of questions and comments about it as I hiked up the trail. I looked like Big Chief Flying Kite as we ascended the trail.

On top, I assembled the kite and discovered I was missing one of the small sticks. I still tried to get it airborne. I got it up a few times, but it was difficult to control and it quickly spun to the ground.
It's much easier to fly it at the beach with constant, sustained winds in a single direction. I tried for a good while and then realized it just wasn't gonna happen. Oh well. It would have been really cool to fly a kite on the highest point in the 48-contiguous states. I guess I'll have to hike Whitney another day and attempt this again.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Another great time at the Y

2008 marked the fifth time that our family has camped in Housekeeping Camp in Yosemite for a week. This time around, we had the largest group yet... not just the five of us from our family, but 43 more friends from Riverside (and Texas). Our friends (the DuCasses) who organize the trip managed to secure 12 campsites that were the closest to the Merced River... the most desirable spots in the campground.

Highlights of the trip:

Fri, July 11 - Driving 400 miles and setting up camp.

Sat, July 12 - Rafting on the river. (I got up early in the morning and ran a 10-mile round-trip route to/from Bridal Veil Falls. That is one beautiful trail on which to run.)

Sun, July 13 - Hiking Yosemite Falls. This is a strenuous 3.5-mile climb up 3,000' of elevation to the top of the highest waterfall in North America. Our family (along with 11 others) progressed up the trail. We all ended up spread out on the trail according to our paces. But in a few hours all 16 of us had made it to the top. We all swam in the cold water (but well upstream, nowhere near the edge). Soon storm clouds started forming to the north. We gathered our things and hustled on down the trail. We were drenched with cold rain most of the way down the trail.

Earlier that morning, Lynne and I got up early and ran ~7 miles in Yosemite valley. What was really cool was that we spotted a bobcat over near Yosemite Village. It's back end with on the path with its short stubby tail sticking up in the air. When it poked its head up, it was still holding a mouse that it had just caught for breakfast. Pretty cool. I had never seen a bobcat in Yosemite before.

Mon, July 14 - Rafting on the river again. Another great trip down the Merced, except this time we had to scurry off the river as another thunderstorm approached.

Earlier that morning, I ran my 10-mile route to/from Bridal Veil Falls again. Gotta love that trail.

Tues, July 15 - Hiking in Tuolumne Meadows. Prior to our trip, I had bought my first ice axe and set of crampons. My goal was Mt. Lyell (13,114'), the highest point in Yosemite. The route involved a trek across the Lyell Glacier, a relatively simple glacier to cross that often is used to teach beginners. (It has no life-threatening crevasses or steep slopes.)

The route to Lyell has a long approach. Basically, you hike out 11 miles through a high altitude meadow, before you even leave the trail to begin the 3.5-mile, class-3 climb up to the peak of Lyell.
Most climbers do this as a 2-day hike allow for an early morning climb to the peak. I didn't want to be gone from the family that long so I attempted it as a 29-mile day-hike. I camped the night before (Mon) at Tuolumne Meadows campground to avoid the 90-minute drive to the TH.

I got an early start on the hike, but I didn't realize how many different trails converged in the Tuolumne Meadows area. (I had thought there was simply one trail that went straight out towards Donahue Pass.) I ended up wasting a good bit of time making sure I was on the correct trail. I was enjoying the hike through the meadows, but halfway out I realized I was running out of time to make it up and down Lyell and back to camp at a reasonable hour. (Class-3 climbing goes much slower than hiking, and our family did have to pack up that night to leave the next day.)

So unfortunately, my ice axe and crampons went unused and I decided to not attempt Lyell. Instead, I simply hiked on out to Donahue Pass (11,056') where the John Muir Trail leaves Yosemite National Park on its 212-mile trek to Mt. Whitney. Suffice it to say, I was the only day-hiker out there. Everyone else was on Day 3 or Day 4 of their backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail. (One of these days I'm gonna have to do that.) I thoroughly enjoyed the hike, but I wish I had either had enough time to make it up Lyell or simply run that trail sans backpack as a nice long trail run. Oh well.

Wed, July 16 - Drove home to SoCal. Unfortunately, we were leaving a day earlier than the rest of our friends because Mary Ann had one of her last classes at Cal State San Bernardino. We drove straight from Yosemite to drop her off with paper in hand for her class. But she made it and we had squeezed in a great family trip in the process.

Friday, July 04, 2008

35th place but what a victory!

I ran the 34th annual Coronado Independence Day 15K (9.3 miles) in San Diego again this year. I also ran it back in 2006 (1:02:24 that day). It's a great race. Here's the course map:

And here's my hand-made elevation profile:


Ok, races don't get any flatter than this one. There's not a single hill. It's all at sea level starting at Tidelands Park on Coronado "Island"... which really isn't an island but a pennisula (but that's not important right now).

Race day for me started at O'dark thirty... actually 4:15am. Drove 90 miles to San Diego for the 7am start. Big race. Lots of people. I got there an hour before the race start and still had problems finding parking.

I hoped to run sub-60 (6:27 pace)... but here's my splits...
mile 1 - 6:30 uh oh, a bit too slow
mile 2 - 6:09 oops, a bit too fast
mile 3 - 6:23 ah, just right... the Goldilocks zone
mile 4 - 6:20 a bit fast, but nice
mile 5 - 6:43 what the... BTW, this exact same mile split was slow 2 years ago
mile 6 - 3:42 no, just kidding, I missed the mile marker... just checking to see if you're reading :-)
mile 7 - 13:14 or 6:37/6:37... 10sec off pace for those 2 miles
mile 8 - 6:40 maybe I can still go sub-61 for a personal CR
finish - 60:33 (6:30 a mile; missed sub-60 by 4sec per mile)

The last couple of miles were fun because three of us masters runners (i.e., runners over 40) were running side by side, neck and neck. We all three knew it'd be a race to the finish line. One guy took off with a quarter mile to go. I thought he kicked too soon so I let him get ahead a good bit. Then I started kicking. I was closing in on him but I ran out of real estate before the finish line. But I did beat the other guy.

A couple minutes after I finished, I heard it announced that Steve Scott was coming to the finish. Sure 'nough, it was him. I finished 2:27 ahead of him. I was rather proud of myself for beating Steve Scott. Of course, in his prime he could have torched my tail by nearly that much in the mile alone (not just a 15K).

For runners, the name Steve Scott doesn't need any explanation, but for the non-runners realize that he held the American Record for the mile (3:47) for 26 years until Alan Webb broke that last year (2007). He also has run more sub-4 minute miles in history than anyone else (136). My kids thought it was cool that I beat someone who has his own wikipedia page. :-)

Now I'm having too much fun reminding all my family and friends that I beat Steve Scott today (even though I am 12 years younger than him). I remind them every couple of minutes about it. I'm spinning every conversation in a way to make the point that I beat Steve Scott. My son was playing Wii tennis a few minutes ago. He said, "Hey dad, I just beat all the players at tennis." Me: "Yeah, but did you beat Steve Scott?" :-)

And now I'm telling the story with great dramatic effect (and a tad of poetic license )... "I was racing neck and neck with this supreme athlete in the last miles of the race. Neither of us was giving an inch to the other. We were digging deep to outrace each other in those last couple of miles. Steve was running so fast to beat me that he realized he might have to log his 137th career sub-4 mile at the end of this race to get me. But I didn't let him have an inch of the lead. We came flying into the finishing chute side by side and I leaned at the tape and beat him by a hair. He just shook his head and patted me on the back as he realized there was a new kid in town." :-) :-) :-)

Ok, maybe I'm having a bit too much fun with this. I never got to meet him and I didn't run with him, but I did finish ahead of him. Seriously, from all I've heard, Steve Scott is an outstanding person with great integrity and character, and obviously one of the most talented runners in history. He's a great competitor and I wish him all the best with his running, his life, and his career.

This is one of the many fun things about running road races. You never know who might be in the race with you. A mediocre recreational runner like myself might be lining up right next to a former Olympian. A few years ago, I managed to finish the San Dieguito Half Marathon ahead of Paula Newby-Fraser (the "queen of Kona" who won the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii a record 8x)... and someone else with her own wikipedia page. Again, in her prime, all I would have seen is the bottom of her shoes as she would have left me behind.

I discovered after I got home that I placed 3rd in my age-group (M40-44). But I didn't stick around for any awards. I guess I really ought to start doing that since I've missed out on 2 AG awards so far this summer. Hopefully, I'll get the nice polo shirt in the mail for placing 3rd.

Got home in time to enjoy a pool party with friends and see fireworks that night. It was a good day.