Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Pinnacle Circuit Tour

I’ve wanted to do a ski tour that made a full circuit The Pinnacle for a few years now. I’ve managed to ski all four corners of this iconic Hatcher Pass summit one at a time or in pairs, but stringing them together has remained an elusive goal since 2013 (West Face and Webfoot Couloir) (Fairangel Couloir) (Northwest Pinnacle Couloir).

Looking back at the sunlit west face after completing the circuit.

After enjoying a couple days of good skiing around Independence Mine over the long Christmas Holiday, I suggested to Nathan that we give this loop a go on the 26th.

I have oft envisioned the loop being skied counter-clockwise from Independence Mine.

That would be a bad idea right now. While skiing Gold Cord Peak on the 23rd, we noticed Pinnacle’s Northwest Couloir was incredibly boney at its mouth. Nathan correctly identified from afar that winds tumbling down the western-side of The Pinnacle had created a vacuum effect in the narrow chasm at the base of the line, and the only snow that remained was a bullet proof wind-pack encasing a jumble of exposed boulders.

This effectively meant the PNwC was going to be a climbing route only, and steered the decision to instead ski the loop clockwise.

We took off at sun-up and cruised through the first orange rays of the cold morning light on the Nordic trails and a broken skinner that went right to the base of the west face. We broke a short ways north over to the base of the PNwC, and threw the boards on the packs. The line was unrecognizable from December 2015 when we last skied it: a total rock garden of exposed granite littered the first couple hundred feet. It was unfathomable how it was ever skiable at all.

The Verts stayed stowed; crampons weren’t necessary, but they wouldn’t have hurt either. We toed in, rarely much past the welt of our boots. I couldn’t help but think about how we could not have climbed in soft boots without the aid of crampons.
The Northwest couloir was scoured to a jumble of granite and hard-packed snow at the base.
The intermixed rocks and hard pack gave way to a punchy snow and we accelerated to a small rock outcrop mid-way to regroup.

The upper section opens up wide and broad-faced, above us loomed a 4-foot-high wind drift we needed to sneak over. It was scary as fuck.

From there we moved at sprint pace over hollow snow between sections of limited protection.
The upper section of the NW couloir was wind loaded, making for easy booting but not much fun.
Finally, I closed the last segment and stepped onto hard-packed snow, just 5 feet from the edge, but unable to see whether our line to Fairangel would go.

I wanted desperately to look over and find out our fate, but I resisted the urge and spotted Nathan as he bolted up the last segment.

Rejoined up top, I held my breath and carefully nosed toward the edge, watching as the Buick-sized overhung cornice to my left grew as I inched outward.

When we tried an up an over in December 2015, the Fairangel Couloir had not backfilled, and would have required a brain dead mandatory drop, or a rappel. There was much more snow this year, and a group had skied the Fairangel Couloir in mid-November, so I had reason to believe it went, but still, over a month and several wind events had occurred since that group skied.

If the Fairangel didn’t go, we’d have to retreat and ski the sketchy wind slab-laden PNwC back down and into the garbage disposal rock garden below.

The sense of relief that washed over me as I peaked over into the beautiful chasm below, lacking a drop or any signs of danger, was immense.
Looking into the Fairangel Couloir. It goes!
Nathan, who couldn’t see, was clearly wondering why I was just staring, but for the moment, I was just so relieved that I was speechless.

I drew back so he could see as well, and we went to work cutting away a block of cornice.

The chunk, about the size of a very large microwave or small mini fridge, thudded softly into the line below and rolled away, not even moving slough.

Nathan buckled in first and used the ledge we’d cut away like a bench, a bench with a hell of a view. He dropped, cut, cut again, and then ran out the line to the bottom of the apron.
My favorite moment of the day.
I buckled in, made a few cuts, and let it go, sliding lower and lower off the tall sidewalls until I moved in and surfed out the soft 4-inch slough train that was running down the gut.

The snow improved, from a bit punchy at the top, to deeper and lighter as we descended.

At the base, we noticed a few tracks descending from the Webfoot/Fairangel dividing ridge. The speedy Rando crew that we’d watched climb the west side of The Pinnacle and tip over into the Webfoot Couloir had passed through here on the 23rd. We’d be reversing their route for the remainder of the day.
Fairangel Couloir to the right, cross-over ridge, our destination, to the left.

Fairangel's Cross-Cut

A few hundred more feet of cold smoke beckoned us to ski to the valley bottom, but with daylight in short supply, we headed for Webfoot instead.
While several hundred feet of glorious cold smoke beckoned us to keep skiing to the Fairangel’s valley floor, I knew skinning in the cold and faceted snow would be a task, and we wisely sidled over to the base of the dividing ridge and transitioned instead.

With the Archangel Valley still closed to machines, and the poor Nordic groomer unable to make its way up the valley through the deep snow, it was a perfectly still and quiet skin up to the ridge, save for the hiss of the veneer-thin facet sloughs slipping away below our boards.

We dropped down the cross-over couloir to the base of the Webfoot Couloir. The Rando crew had used the cross-over couloir for a skinner to get to Fairangel from Webfoot, and I was worried we’d feel it on, but in the days that had passed, the snow had dried out and it was unnoticeable. Unfortunately, I did feel the hidden gremlin that knicked my board’s tail with a resounding thwack, reminding me that as deep and glorious as the snow was, the granite boulders were still lying just out of sight in places.
Nathan exits the upper Fairangel-Webfoot Cross-Over Couloir

We faced up to Pinnacle’s Webfoot Couloir. The wind had exposed a few of the line’s big boulders, but overall, it looked good. I checked the watch, 1:40PM. We skinned the tall apron to the mouth of the line, and switched over to Verts.

I’m so glad we’d carried them. Our poles easily plunged waist deep, but the Verts held us afloat and we rarely sunk past our knees. We rotated out in 50-foot intervals, and while it was by no means easy, we marveled at how much easier climbing this line felt with the right tools compared to November 2013.
About halfway up Pinnacle's Webfoot Couloir.

Topped out.
We topped out in an hour and change after starting. I’d posited at the beginning of the day, that we might consider dropping this line and recycling our booter if we made descent time. I also pointed out that it would likely be the case that we’d have to weigh that against just making a sunlit descent of the west face after not having seen the sun for the bulk of the day. In fact, the last weak rays we’d enjoyed were right before booting through the rock garden at the base of the PNwC, almost 3 hours ago.

We were buckled in at 2:50PM. If we turned around and skied the Webfoot, we’d be back on top of the ridge around 4, almost 20 minutes past sunset. Obviously, there would still be ample blue light to ski out, but, as expected, the choice was clear: ski in the sun.

Just. Awesome.
I was a little worried about the west face from recent wind loading, but damn, it was solid and skied wonderfully. Off the steeps, we rallied our way through the playful mushroom features in the playground terrain back to the mine.
Uptracks in green, descents in red.
While the Pinnacle circuit was certainly a fitting cap to the long holiday weekend, it was hardly the only photo-worthy skiing.

Nathan and I skiing Microdot on a lonely Friday afternoon. Lighting was milky all day until the last run, but the snow was still, fast, soft, and fresh.

Joe finishes up the upper half of the west face of Gold Cord Peak. This big playful face might have offered some of the best skiing of the week.

Looking down toward Indy Mine from Gold Cord's summit. Photo: J.E.

Sunset descent down Gold Cord's south face on the 23rd. Photo: J.E.

The cabins above Gold Cord mine are disappearing. Photo: N.W.

Meredith unwraps a fat shoulder on the shady side of Microdot on Christmas Day. We had the popular peak to ourselves all day, a rare gift in and of itself.

Unwrapping presents on the sunny face too.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Early Season Hatcher

The last few seasons have not been good to Hatcher. Other than a few recon trips, I haven’t had a real descent in the Talkeetna Mountains since December of 2015, and even then, it wasn’t all that great.

This winter, the season is playing hard to get: cold and dry.

If it weren’t for a few copious snowfalls above 3,000 FSL in the Talkeetnas in late October, there’d be no skiing at all.

As it is, the snowpack is weak, and ready for a disaster if the pattern shifts and dumps heaps of snow up there. On the plus side, a crust formed over Halloween has given the normally dry and airy snow of that range some armored base to protect bases from ever-lurking granite.

Meredith and I had planned only to go Nordic skiing at Independence mine two weekends ago, but a few pictures from Jack made me think we might go for a tour first and look for softer snow in sheltered locations where the winds hadn’t totally decimated the surface conditions. A lack of avalanche activity following the Halloween cycle indicated we could safely venture out on moderate slopes.

We tossed in skins and wide planks along with our Nordic gear, and I envisioned a little schussing about in some mellow rock gardens where the snow pack would be anchored and hopefully playful.

An hour of touring and a pit later, and we realized conditions were a lot better than we hoped, and another hour later we were cautiously but hopefully navigating our way up the ridge to Gold Cord Peak.

The wind had done a number to the snow, but had been consistent and predictable in its work: if it looked wind-effected, it was.

Everything else though, was really pleasant.

Despite a temperature of 10 in the parking lot, we enjoyed two sunny laps from the top of Gold Cord Peak.

A week later, we returned. A light snowfall and some occasional gusty breezes had complicated surface conditions a tad, but done little to the avalanche quotient.

Not seeing our tracks from the previous week on the front face of GCP, we were lured back to the top. The winds’s effect had been less predictable and bit more swirly, and the firm base created by the Halloween event showed signs of weakening in places, providing an occasionally punchy consistency beneath, but was still worth yet another two sunny runs.  
I've missed these views.
Photo: M.N.

Photo: M.N.

Checking out the "Dream Cabin."

Photo: M.N.
The next day, a Saturday, Cody and I returned. Expecting the crowds to be on the thick side, we move toward Friendship Pass area. Along the way we looked longingly into hidden couloir (no idea if this is really its name) on the side of Granite. A week prior, the line had been ridden by a snowboarder who appeared to have booted all the way from the parking lot up to Gold Cord Mine and up the line. Those tracks had been completely erased by the snowfall and wind, so we decided to give it a go.

We agreed to commit to backing out if we entered the chasm and found conditions to be firm or variable/punchy, and not suckered into the old: “maybe it’ll get better,” because after all, it almost never does.

Well, almost reared its head, because it did get better.

Just above the apron, conditions were briefly firm enough that we were only toeing-in to the stiff windboard. I think the only reason we didn’t stop right then and there is that neither of us wanted to step into gear on such firm conditions.

A bit higher up and conditions softened some, but still weren’t great. One side of the line was actually quite nice, right down the middle there appeared to be a buried slough path that provided great booting, while the other half of the line was deeper with a punchy crust buried too deep to impact skiing, though not ideal for climbing as our boots easily busted through.

Each step seemed to reveal improved snow quality though, and lured us upward toward the gleaming beams of sun poking over the top.

Near the top, the line widened with a pile of protruding boulders in the middle; to either side, we found some of the nicest snow of the whole line.

The top out was the only place we finally found evidence of the boarder who had skied it a week or more prior. His or her cautious side-slip entry was still evident, and had been solidified, to make the final 25 feet very firm.

Up in the sun, we had a magnificent view into the Willow Creek drainage.

We agreed to take our time and ski very conservatively to adapt for the changing – and what would be generally deteriorating – snow quality, as we descended.

The entry was firm and steep, requiring a side slip to get back down to the soft snow below.

Re-grouped, I took the first crack, and skied half the line to get behind a nice alcove.

The snow rode much better than expected, but the top 3-4 inches easily popped loose and ran in 20’ x 20’ sheets, creating significant but slow slough runs down the center.

Part two of the line skied a little rougher, but we knew what was coming, and the slough we knocked loose above provided a consistent bed to ride on top of until we hit the creamy apron.

Having fulfilled our quota of booting, we mooched a fresh skinner from a departing group into an adjacent pillow playground, and had a great evening run riding through a series of shoots and pillows to end the day.

Hidden couloir is hardly hidden from Gold Cord Peak. The chutes and pillows on the lookers right slope were a treat.

From below.

Up top. Photo: C.G.

Dropping in. Photo: C.G.

Still soft halfway down.

High grade.

Fresh snow and zero viz meant staying out of the mountains on Sunday. Fortunately there's enough snow in Kincaid for skinny ski adventures!


Here’s to hoping for more adventures in the Talkeetnas this winter, and being grateful for finally getting back into them after such a long hiatus.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Bird Ridge to Glen Alps Redux

Nathan and I did this traverse again after a few years time since Phil and I jogged it in 2014. I had pretty good memories of that run with Phil, but surprisingly, I think I forgot as many details as I remembered. Nathan and I were lucky to score one of the nicest days of the fall: crystal clear skies, a stiff frost, and dead calm to start anyway. A cool breeze and high clouds worked their way in by the time we finished, but we were long off the ridgelines at that point. I suppose one of the biggest perks was that for much of the traverse we had frozen ground and frost withered vegetation, allowing us max traction on the grippy slopes and keeping out feet dry when crossing the normally soft and wet low sections.

The easy travel conditions sped up the traverse by a solid hour from 2014: we made it to Glen Alps in 6:45. Even still, that allowed us ample time to watch an incredible battle between a coyote family and a massive golden eagle; enjoy time on the summit of Bird Ridge Overlook, and lose about 20 minutes as we both comically sat separately in sheltering from a cool breeze at Ship Lake Pass, waiting for the other, not realizing the other was doing the exact same thing just out of sight.

Stepping onto the high point of the day.

We launched from the icy trailhead at 8:40, and held a steady pace up Bird Ridge, opening our pace into a jog higher up where the terrain allowed. We passed one couple quite high up the ridge who must have started well before dark. Around 11 we were aproaching the little pyramid of Overlook when we came across two sheep. As we jogged closer and closer, we spooked a large golden eagle we hadn’t noticed hiding behind a blocky piece of rock. The eagle swooped around the eastern side of Overlook out of sight and we joked how cool it would be to see the bird strike one of the sheep.

Ten minutes later we popped over the eastern rib of Overlook, and were suddenly greeted by a cacophony of yips and howls coming from the alpine basin below us.

At first I hoped wolves, but the pitch was two high.

Despite the ruckus, and the apparent closeness, we couldn’t spot the critters, and I began to wonder if maybe the animals were lower down in the brush, and the terrain was just amplifying their yowling. It seemed like there were two animals yowling, and then a yipping that sounded closer to a domestic dog. I began to fear we might witness that sad fate lost dogs in Chugach State Park often suffer.

From a deep ravine in the side of the basin, a dark coyote dashed across tundra. Seconds later, the massive, dark, golden eagle came swooping from the same ravine, and to our disbelief, turned into a dive bomb of the coyote!

The eagle aborted at the last second, but what ensued was a surreal came of predator vs predator, as the two changed roles over and over. The eagle would land on the far side of the basin, and the coyote would charge across, getting with only feet before the eagle would swoop off and the coyote would leap in the air snapping at it. A second coyote guarded the base of the deep ravine, and the eagle seemed intent on getting back into, sometimes dive bombing the coyotes.

We think the coyote den was in the ravine, and the eagle had snuck in and hit a pup, and was trying to get back in.

Eventually, they settled into a stalemate, and we headed up the last little pitch to the top of Overlook.

Our route went left from the ridgeline this pic was taken on, then into the basin full of lakes, up the saddle of the sub ridge below, and across Indian Pass just visible center left.

We were working our way down the ridgeline to the saddle by 11:30, and just before we tipped over into South Fork Ship Creek, the basin behind us again erupted.

We scared up droves of ptarmigan in the nameless basin northwest of Overlook, but I was shocked when we came across two hikers standing on a peninsula jutting into the tarns.

I figured that after the two hikers we’d seen on our way up Bird, we’d probably not seen another person until somewhere in the Ship Lake Pass Valley.

I’m not sure how our route across the Indian Pass compared to a couple years ago. I remember Phil working quite hard to keep us from having to do any really bushwhacking.

It was probably moot for us, the vegetation was largely collapsed, and the marshy bogs were mostly frozen over.

We were on the muddy the Arctic-Indian trail, complete with now frozen postholes made from some idiot horsepackers (nice work tool bags) around 1. Ironic that the sketchiest footing we’d encountered in hours was on a trail.

We pretty easily found the much thinner trail to Ship Lake, and enjoyed some of the nicest jogging stretches of the day was we gradually climbed back into the alpine valley.
Ship Lake Valley

I had a pretty solid memory of the climb up Ship Lake Pass being a bit of a doozey. From below, it doesn’t look very steep or long, and it’s crimson red fall coat of low bush blueberries makes it seem almost soft, warm, and somehow benign.

It sucks.

The positive, was that both Nathan and I would later agree, that the 30 minute vertical grind may be hard, but it’s hard in way that, if it doesn’t stop you, feels really good.

We agreed on this later, only because as we climbed, we bagan to separate. Nathan was heading a little more toward the Ramp, while I slipped into a gully and then hooked on a cross-cut sheep trail that took me pretty well right into the bottom of the saddle.

Nathan was expecting me to pop out of the gully, while I tipped over the saddle instead, simultaneously expecting to see Nathan pop out somewhere higher on the ridge. Getting a bit chilly, I figured I’d just walk along in the big open expanse, and Nathan could jog down and catch up. After walking for a bit and still not seeing Nathan crest, I began to scratch my head. There were some people scrambling up the Ramp, and as I started shivering, I began to fear Nathan had thought I had somehow ended up on his right, and that he was chasing phantom Dante up the Ramp!

In reality, he was just behind the ridge, wondering why the hell it was taking me so long to get out of the gully he’d last seem me drop into. I was starting to hike back up when I saw him pop up over the saddle, much to my relief.

We synced back up and enjoyed the downhill cruise back to Powerline Pass.
One last look back

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Racing 2017

Season notes:

This was a fairly short season compared to other years, and not particularly all that exciting for me.
I missed 2 regular season races, the Double Down, the 6-12-24, and the season finale. On the upshot, part of the reason I missed most these races was for riding and racing in Washington and BC, so… ya pretty hard to complain about that.
In short, my riding this season was geared toward sustained endurance power –intentionally and accidentally.
This yielded to feeling a bit frustrated at the mid-week races as most the courses were flat – also, intentionally and accidentally. The flatter courses generally all resulted in very fast paced races that rewarded top-end power. My best race overall was Race 5 on Hillside, which was obviously, hilly.
While I was frustrated that at many of the Kincaid races I felt I could not match my cohort for sub 120-minute sustained speed, in hindsight I realized that the reason I started doing these races to begin with was to force me to do these a types of efforts.
I don’t have a problem going out and throwing myself at one grueling climb after another, or putting in long rides. I do have a problem with intensity. These races draw that weakness out, and I should be happy for that.
Photo: K. Dee

Arctic MTB 1

The first race of the season is typically low-key in terms of technical difficulty or climbing, but big on turn out. That was mostly true this year, for all the right reasons. These mellower courses don’t necessarily help me out much, but, for the growth of the sport, I think it’s a really good philosophy the bike club has adhered to over the years. That being said, this year’s first course actually had a fair bit of old school roots, along with a nice mix of STA flow trail, and double track, so you never spent too long on any one trail type. Anyhow, the race went remarkably predictable for me overall. Less than halfway into the first lap, I glanced around to see that Nick, Clint, Megan and I were all grouped up.
“The posse is back together,” I shouted as we tore into the banked corners on Bolling Alley.
The 4 of us traded pulls for the next few laps, though Nick was usually 5-10 seconds out front.
About a quarter way through the third lap, my lower back was starting to feel very sore and tired. The high speeds, and the rooty sections, were taking their toll, but I was likely also feeling the effect of the previous weekend’s running race up Government Peak. We hit a stretch of double track, and though I like to drill these sections, I just didn’t have anymore top-end power, and Clint pulled away. Megan pushed me through the next stretch, but she had a little more leg, and came around as well. The four of us all finished within a 60-second window. I could not complain. Even if it were not for Government Peak, I had not put in any exceptional efforts on my hard tail as of yet, so, at the time, this race qualified as the hardest ride on that bike, hopefully leaving lots of room for improvement.


Arctic MTB 3

The next race on my docket was Arctic XC 3, nearly a month after XC1 (I missed XC2 for work stuff).
I knew this was not going to be a strong race from the outset. For starters, I was putting in some good mileage on the weekends, and bagged two 6-hour+ Kenai rides the 2 weekends prior. As typical, I was reaching a mid to late-June performance peak.
The race was supposed to be held on Hillside on the Hillside Classic course, but after a series of bear maulings in the preceding weeks, numerous reports of an aggressive brown bear sow with cubs roaming the Hillside, the race directors prudently decided to make a last minute change of venue to Kincaid.
The alternate course was very flat and smooth.
I knew immediately that the race was going to be all about top-end speed.
Anyway, making excuses for myself, I think that going for my normal 10k run on Monday was a bad idea. It’s not like it hurt me a ton, I wasn’t hobbling around, this is the same run I do every week, but, in hindsight, it didn’t help me either.
I knew this to an extent on Tuesday as I did a trainer ride (raining), and could feel that my legs just weren’t going to have pop.
On an upshot, Nathan raced his first MTB race ever, so, he and I went to pre-ride the course and warm up. Three moose blocked our route though, and I can’t say it was much of a warm up as a result!
Surprisingly, the race didn’t go out as hot as I expected, and I was able to tag along through about half of the first lap, and even make some descent passes. Once we hit Bolling Alley I started to drift back a bit.
Because the course was flat, I tried to push my big ring up front as much as possible. This worked great the first lap, but as my legs faded early, I found it was causing more strain as my RPMs dropped through the second lap. By about halfway through lap 2, I was really suffering trying to push the big ring, and finally relented. I continued to feel like garbage until a little ways into lap 3, at which point, my legs started to respond to the higher RPMs, and my riding evened out and felt smoother. At this point of course, it was too late. I was alone.
The race was a little disappointing, but timing wise, I tend to hit a physical slump in late June early July most years, so, it was consistent, and really didn’t bother me that much, other than I wished I’d had the legs to at least chase my cohort group for more than one lap.


Arctic MTB 5

I missed Arctic 4 as I was out of state racing in Washington, so my next race was race 5 in late July. I probably would have skipped it anyway as it was a short track race.
Arctic 5 was the second planned race on Hillside, but since Race 3 had to be moved last minute, it became the only hillside race of the season.
The original plan was to race a course I designed last season that used the Brown and Black Bear trails, and only climbed part way up the Hillside trails. The motivation for designing that course in 2016, was that we raced on Hillside 3 times, and in short, climbing all the way to the top of Hillside for the third time of the season seemed, well, stupid and unfair. I wanted to have a course on Hillside that featured some faster rolling terrain, two of Anchorage’s most tech trails, and wasn’t just and up and back down race.
Since this year this was the only race we’d be having on the Hillside, and the other courses this year had been really flat, I had a quick thought the week before the race, and came up with a new course idea to throw at the board. They went with it.
Designing courses on Hillside is pretty fun as the trails all snap together nicely. My only goal was to break the climb up, and maximize the descent.
A misty rain fell Tuesday and Wednesday night, leaving the course greasy in places. The single track was generally fine barring a few low spots, but my biggest concern was wiping out on Spencer Loop, as the high speed double track can get a surface similar to black ice when damp.
Megan made a helpful comment while warming up though, about basically leaning out over the bike and leaving the bike itself in a more upright position through the corners. It really went a long way for me.
The race went off in a typical sprint. My legs weren’t there for it, per usual for this season, and I couldn’t get clipped in on one side for the longest time.
I entered the single track in a line up behind Clint, someone I did not recognize, Patrick, and Chris, with Nick on my tail.
We headed up through lower Queen Bee, losing sight of the next pack as we made it around the first bend. Our small group slowly drifted backwards.
Then as we went into the short Lama descent, Clint showed us how not to ride over a root! Nick and I lit into him without mercy, letting him know that there would be many more roots and rocks to come, and maybe he should learn how to ride them!
We’re really supportive of each other!
When we hit the short climb on the Spencer oxbow, my legs were feeling good, and I attacked the pack.
Nick stuck the move, and the group seemed to hold on through the Janice-Stinger mini loop. Once we hit the base of Yellow jacket, I had started to build a gap. I drilled the climb, and extended my gap.
Descending Hive, I occasionally caught sight of Megan in front of me, but did not catch her until passing the start/finish. She hung on through the lower portion of the course with about a 10 second gap through lap 2 until the base of Yellow Jacket.
My legs still felt good though, and I was hitting every climb hard. It hurt, and as much as I worried about blowing up, I kept reminding myself that if it hurt for me, it hurt for everyone else. Even though my first lap was my actual fastest, my second lap felt the best. I only climbed 10 seconds slower on the second lap, but for whatever reason, descended 20 seconds slower. The irony, is that on the third lap, I actually descended faster than I did the second lap, and only 10 seconds slower than I did the first lap, but I felt like I was going much, much slower than the previous 2 laps on that descent. I have no idea why that would be, but I was partially convinced my rear tire had burped, and was going flat. It was fine.
I caught sight of Andy for a second on the second descent, but after that, I was pretty well alone the entire third lap. I still felt pretty good, but my attempt to completely blow myself up on the last climb on lap 3 seemed mediocre at best. I kept reminding myself that there could be someone 5-10 seconds up ahead just tanking it, and if I got to them before the top, the position would be mine for the taking, but once we got to the top, making a pass on the descent was unlikely.
Unfortunately, as with other races this season, I have not trained well for explosive efforts, and have failed to deliver them in the races.
Just as I dumped it down the last rooty Spencer exit single track, I came up on Nico, and rode his wheel through the finish.
I expected to see a few riders blow themselves up in this race, and was hoping to pick them off, but it seemed most people rode really well.
It was nice to finally have a race where climbing and handling mattered. With the greasy course conditions, and mix of roots and lots of single track, this course felt like an homage to the east coast, or at least, as close as they can get up here without just dumping a pile of slick boulders in the middle of a trail…that’s not a bad idea…


Arctic MTB 6

The last race of the season for me, this marked the end of a shorter and lighter season for in-town racing.
The course was a good one, punchy and rooty, using some trails on the west side of Kincaid we haven’t raced in a long time.
With only a 3-day buffer post Soggy Bottom, I wasn’t sure how my legs were going to respond, and figured it would be a good indicator of how tired my body was overall.
Unfortunately, despite having some of the nicest summer weather we’d seen all…summer…the rain, and fall, finally showed up just 20 minutes before go time.
Pre-riding the course, while still dry, I had no problem on the roots with the hard tail, but the 20 or so minutes of gusting wind and driving rain managed to make them slick and slimy, and traction proved to be a major limiting factor for me. I probably could have gambled on lower tire pressure, but I’ve been burned so many times on low tire pressure on Kincaid’s high speed flow sections, or burped as it is, that I’m always really hesitant to run that risk and end my race. Going a little slower over roots at least keeps me in the game; burping a tire means game over.
The race went out, and as a pretty good indicator, I stuck with the sprint up through the sandy Leikisch climb. I think that’s the only sprint I really stuck all summer.
Nonetheless, I knew a junk show was coming as soon as we got on the skinny/rooty ridge trail, and let a few faster racers slip in.
I was going slower than the guys in front of me, but I didn’t feel too bad about potentially letting a gap open. Riders up ahead were having a lot of trouble, and just keeping my pace steady and smooth, I easily closed any gaps when fell without having to dab or stop myself.
There was a bit more passing between the second stretch of Leikisch and C$, and then we were back on roots and soon enough on the sandy bluff trail.
I was surprised to see at this point that the race was still pretty bunched up. The typical fore runners were still in sight. The loose sand of the bluff definitely challenged a lot of people.
We hooked back on C$, and then banked a U-turn to rip Lees Train, which, was expectantly very slick.
I slowed down and rode the next section from Lees to QFB conservatively.
Despite allowing a small gap to open yet again, when we hit the bottom of the jump line on Good Greef, I looked up to see that still, things were surprisingly bunched up.
I had hoped to drill the climb up GG, as it was the only sustained climb on the whole course. There was a rider in front of me I didn’t recognize, I could tell he was at his limit going up the climb, and at one point he started to separate. I encouraged him to keep after it, and he obliged.
It seemed by the time we got out to the Biathalon ski trail exit, the gap up to the next group had opened a bit more. A little chaos ensued on the ski trail-pave-Roller Coaster section.
A group that included Chet, Clint, Nick, the rider I didn’t know, and myself, all hammered it out. Just before we hit the top of RC, I sensed the group slowing, my legs responded again, and I punched the last hill to take the hole shot into Second Breakfast.
Second B-Fast is one of my least favorite flow trails in Kincaid: it’s dank, gets slimey when wet, and has some really awkward transitions. The roots on Middle Earth were no better, and I felt a little bad when I hit one on of the 90s over roots really awkward and stalled, causing a chain reaction behind me. That being said, it’s a little bit on the racer to anticipate those types of issues in wet and rooty conditions and buffer.
Back through the stadium, there was more attempted shuffling, but, when we topped out Leikisch and headed into Ridge, I had again out climbed the cohort and took the hole shot.
Once we got through Ridge, Clint made a move to get onto C$ in front of me.
He proceeded to kill it, and was able to chase down the next group, about 30-seconds in front of us.
Clint has always been faster than me on Kincaid’s fast and smooth flow trails –wet or dry – but he really put on a clinic.
I still chastised him for apparently sand bagging over the weekend in the Soggy just so he could beat us all up on a Wednesday race!
The cohort was now down to Nick, Chet and I.
With no one blocking me in, I slammed the Greef climb hard, nearly reeling Clint in along with the next pack in, but it wasn’t enough. Nick and Chet were able to re-close the gap less than 10 minutes later on Middle Earth. On lap 3 Chet started to fall off the pace a bit on the Ridge. I sensed Nick that was trying to make a move on Leikisch on the way to C$ and I made that goddamn hard tail dance over the rutty ski trail to hold him off, much to his chagrin.
I figured having got the hole shot, I was going to attack again on Greef, and if he caught me before the stadium roots, I’d let him around.
Fast forward, 10 minutes later, having attacked and dropped him as planned, he was able to catch back up about halfway through Middle Earth.
I wasn’t going to make him try and make some crazy pass through the slippery roots, and as we hit a wide swath, I told him to come around.
Nick did exactly what I was trying to let him avoid doing, and skidded into a mangled and dead alder.
After confirming he had not skewered any vital organs, I lit into him (verbally). I let him around at the next descent spot, but warned him to avoid trees this time. Funny enough, we were closer to the stadium than I realized, so I rode in a few seconds behind him.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Soggy Bottom 100 2017 Edition


  • Meredith beats three other ladies to win the solo women’s race in 11:10:41, completing her longest and hardest ride to-date.
  • Adam sets a new course record by 3 minutes, taking the win in 8:33:02
  • Lee signs up day-off despite protestations “he did not train for this event” to take 7th in 9:38. Told ya dude.
  • Probably the nicest weather all summer, despite all the suffering it caused, it was hard not to appreciate how gorgeous it was.
  • Oh ya, I had an OK day too I guess. I shaved 29 minutes off my previous PR from last year to take 5th, hammering for seven of nine hour with Kevin to finish a mere 23 seconds behind Kevin in 9:23:57

Photo: M. Stewart


My fourth Soggy, I rode this one pretty much exactly to plan. Everything was about as dialed in as it can be for nearly 10 hours in the saddle. I rode to Cooper at a sustainable race-pace, driving a few key sections, but waited until I turned around for leg 2 Cooper-Devils to attack. I dropped my long-time closest “rival” Kevin, and clipped 4 more positions on the way to the Devils trail head, and then rode with what I had left to Hope. I botched a feed heading up Devils due to overheating, and that put a short-lived air gap in the fuel lines, slowing me down long enough that Kevin, who had since overtaken the other riders we’d been yo-yoing with all day, caught back up. He and I proceeded to hammer each other and the trail for the next 30 miles to the finish.

I was stacked with other riders almost all day, it felt more like a race than any other Soggy I’ve done. It was, in a word: incredible. Racing against Kevin is awesome, he’s the only other rider since Mike K left the state who I’d consider in my cohort, who just crushes me on descents and technical stretches of trail. We are both “hold-our-own” riders on climbs, not cardio rats by any stretch, so it feels like real, head-to-head mountain biking when it comes down to it.


The long:

The cruel fate of the race this year for many was the heat. The irony of this was certainly not lost on me. Where the summer of 2016 was hot and dry, only to have race day arrive cool and wet, this summer it’s been pretty average for AK: cool and damp. The rains missed the Kenai in the week or so leading up to the race though, and temps rose into the mid 70s (the ambient on the baked climbs in the very tall vegetation easily climbed into the 80s). Some people refered to the race this year as the “Scorched Bottom.”

Turnout for the front end of the race was a little soft. Adam, Chuck, and Brian rode in a class of their own, though toward the end of the race I held a little hope that Kevin and I might reel Brian in. It was not to be though.

The second grupetto as it was, proved to be more evenly matched throughout much of the race, and was fairly consolidated.

We all took off at 9:10, and the pace line to the trailhead went pretty hard. We were up the road and on trail in 15 minutes! For some reason, Chuck, Adam, and I did the bulk of the pulling. I didn’t feel too bad riding on the front, it helped open up my legs, and once we hit the trail, I slid into the back and geared it down.

Chuck said the lead group rode together to the East Creek climb, before Adam attacked and blew up the group. Adam and Chuck separated, riding together to Cooper. Chuck said he thought the group was largely at their limit before the attack, no one could talk.

A few miles from the trail head, James H passed me. Shortly after, Lee caught up. Lee and I caught James a few minutes later, and the three of us paced until Lee and I went around James on the last canyon climb before the Resurrection Creek trestle. 

Lee and I rode together up and over the pass. Though neither of us spoke, it was nice to have the company.

Lee did ask as we crested the pass how our pace was.

I felt like garbage, in a good way, but I knew we were right on pace, and feeling bad gave me the impression we were probably actually doing pretty good.

As we began to drop into the descent to Swan Lake, I started to pull away from Lee, and caught sight of Kevin for the first time of the day, less than 30 seconds down the trail. About halfway down the Swan Lake descent, I had closed the gap to Kevin to 5 seconds, when I burped my front tire.

I had visions of my race ending, and having to hike out. Panic began to build.

I rolled softly until I found a break in the thick wall of vegetation and jumped off. The bugs immediately began to swarm. If I had to change a tire, it was going to be miserable.

Lee came by before I had my pump out. The tire held air though, and I was back on the trail in less than 5 minutes. I added a bit more pressure despite drier and looser conditions that warranted softer PSI.

My gut was clenched as I bopped my way through the ruts and divets on the rest of the descent to Swan, but the tire seemed fine.

I caught sight of Kevin again on the shores of Juneau Lake. He had been overtaken by Lee. I donlt remember where I passed Kevin.

Juneau to Bean Creek Jct. was one of the zones I planned to drill. I don’t remember anything here. I know Kevin clipped on for a while, but I don’t know how long he stayed with me. I know I didn’t put a lot of space between us.

Descending to Coopers was pretty low stress. I had good sight lines on all the approaching riders, and other than Adam and Chuck, most the riders were still bunched up pretty close to the base of the climb, so my gap was fairly small.

Kevin caught back up to me right as we hit the dismount at the parking lot. Lee was just departing as I reached the timers. We high fived. I was stoked for Lee. He was crushing it.

Turnaround was super smooth. Carly’s support is so amazing. Little Gus helped steady my bike while I lubed the chain and checked my tire pressure – which I was glad to see, was unchanged. Whatever happened on the descent appeared to be a fluke.

I chugged most of a 16oz bottle of 50% dilute of Liquid I.V., swallowed a fruity Kind bar that was happily melted and gooey in the heat, and grabbed my alternate pack.

Back on the trail, Kevin followed me back into the woods, and we were back on the trail.

I had plans for Leg 2.

People hate this leg. I hate it too, but that makes it a good place to attack. With Kevin right behind me, we drilled the climb out of Cooper. I was surprised to see later, that even though we were able to chat a little as we climbed, I still set a PR on a segment of the climb. Descending riders were courteous and we didn’t have any issues.

I was stoked when I saw Meredith. I expected to see her much sooner than I did last year, and sure enough, she was already ahead of half the men’s field and on track to shave 18 minutes off her Hope-Cooper time from 2016!

Keeping to plan, I drilled it from the top of the Cooper climb to the base of the summer trail cut-off hike-a-bike.

All I remember is briefly passing David B, and separating from Kevin by a little bit around Juneau Lake.

On the way, I primed the fuel lines.

Off the bike and hiking around the first switchback of the cut-off, Kevin closed the small gap, and we found Owen, stopped, stretching his cramping legs.

The three of us finished up the hike.

I had my two biggest challengers from last year grouped up, right where I wanted them. Now I needed to get distance between us through the stony climb to Devils Junction.

After Owen’s explosive climb up Devils in the 3rd leg last season, I knew he was a force to be reckoned with, and could contend for the rest of this climb; I knew I could distance Kevin up the climb, but he’d gain ground on the descent. If either of them got to the Devils trail head checkpoint with me, they would be a real threat for the finish.

Unfortunately for Owen, the leg cramps would get the better of him, and he would not contend on the climb, and would fade.

I dieseled my way through the rocky Swan grade, and as I got my first sight of the Devils Junction from afar, I caught a glimpse of a David F. I reeled him in just before the final pitch to the Junction, and came around. He said another rider was just in front of us. I suspected it was Lee.

David clipped on as we began the flowy cruise to Devils Pass proper, and I want to say about the time we rounded Devils Lake, I saw Lee’s red and white jersey up ahead.

We caught and overtook Lee not long after entering the Devils rocks.

I had a near-spectacular wreck crossing the Henry Brook twin fords. Wanting to get as a big a splash as possible, I railed the first of the two ice-cold streams at full speed. I’d never tried this, and I hydroplaned and nearly flipped over the bars down the downstream side! I have no idea how I managed to keep upright.

David and I built a 2 minute gap on Lee on the remainder of the Devils descent.

A couple moments of comic relief broke up the descent. One came when I nearly hit a small bird and yelled to David behind me if he’d seen it. He couldn’t hear what I said, and thought I said: “Make bird noises.” (I’m not sure how he arrived at this).

I was yelling constantly as I expected to see Adam, Chuck, Brian, and Greg. David proceeded to make cawing noises for the next few minutes in accompaniment to my hollering, until our pace finally mellowed out enough to clear the confusion. Keep in mind, I had no idea who this guy was, all I knew was that he lived in Spain, and was clipped on my wheel, cawing like a crow.

The next moment of comic relief came lower down thanks to my ancient camelback I re-enlisted for use on this leg.

Tearing through the winding trail and head-high veg near the base, the bite valve caught my leg or handle bar and popped off: water began to squirt everywhere from the out of control hose.

Trying to hang on with one hand, get the hose under control with the other, and spraying myself in the face, I expected to slam into poor Chuck at any second.

Fortunately, Chuck was still a little further down the trail, and I managed to close the valve.

What a junk show!

David and I powered up the climb to the trail head, but were finally able to chat a little bit.

We rolled in, I chugged another bottle of 50% dilute of Liquid I.V., lubed my chain, took my snack, and looked around.

Lee had rolled in while I transitioned. Neither he nor David was ready to roll.

I unclicked my suspension for the mini descent and dropped back in. Kevin rolled in just as I rolled out.

David caught me as we began the actual climb. I asked if he wanted to come around but he said he liked my pace.

It was too steep and too hot to talk. David hung on for about half the steeps, but somewhere before Delta Point, he fell off my wheel.

Climbing Devils was awful. The heat was unreal and I was overheating.

Descending riders were very courteous. Many of them were smiling, and offering words of encouragement. I was too deep in my suffering to even hear half of them. I hardly even recognized Meredith when she came by.

Most the riders were smiling, enjoying their hard-earned downhill. I wanted to yell at them: “It’s a death trap, stop smiling!”

Based on what I was going through, I knew a lot of people were going to get crushed.

Once the climb leveled out, I was still too hot to even think about taking a feed. Putting anything other than water into my stomach made me want to puke.

I figured if I could get through the next two miles of rolling trail, I’d cool off, and could possibly take a feed right before the rocks.

It was a small mistake, but it hurt me. I opened my pace up across the rolling middle section, but never took the feed before I got into the rocks like I should have.

I dieseled through the heinous rocks. I knew I had to be treading water, but the rocks are slow and plodding anyway, and I couldn’t really tell how much damage I was inflicting on myself.

As soon as I got out of the rocks couple miles later, I hit a nice smooth rolling climb to the high point.

I went to drill the climb.

There was nothing there.


Visions of another 30 miles of soft pedaling to Hope, getting passed by one rider after another, trying to latch on only to get dropped over and over again, played across a dark screen in my mind. My head felt like it weighed a million pounds and I struggled to hold it up.

Experience kicked in. I popped back half a pack of caffeinated shotbloks.

This is the hard part.

Fuel is on the way, but my body is screaming for more, though in reality, it can only process so much, and feeding the beast too much just makes a painful gut bomb.

Wait. Wait. Wait. Pedal on. There’s no gas. The trail goes by so slowly. All day I;ve been flying, now I’m just crawling.

Approaching the lake, my temperature is coming back down, and I can start to feel the fuel coming online.

Take another feed now!

The lines are re-primed.

Clickity-clickity-clickity. Kevin rolls up on my wheel.

I finish a waffle as he comes around and descends from the trail above Devils Lake, rolling along just in front of me.

It feels like 2014 all over again.

Not quite though.

I test the gas again.

It’s there!

A couple minutes later, I round the corner and head up the switchback above the Devils Junction. The last climb to the Res Pass is my salvation. The spectator crew shouts encouragement. I shout back: “I want three burgers!”

I’m back!

In 2014, Kevin disappeared over the horizon here.

Not this year.

I keep him in sight all the way through Res, closing the gap to within seconds before we finally tip over the edge.

I knew he’d put some time into me on the descent to East Creek, I limited damages to that point.

What I love about racing against Kevin, is that he’s one of the only racers I go up against in my cohort that kicks my ass on the descents. Neither he nor I are slouches on climbs, but we also aren’t pure lungs and legs either. I have to work to limit my losses on descents with him, and if I slack or get caught out on a climb, he’ll make me pay.

I was glad to see as I made it down to East Creek and began the short climb out, that Kevin was still in sight.

Trail knowledge kicked in. I knew I’d need another feed to get to the trestle, and the short grade out of East Creek is a nice and easy one. The ensuing straightaways between the creeks are fast and rooty. There’s a short climb out of “upper surprise creek” between East Creek and Fox Creek, but it’s steep and rocky, not a great spot to try and get a snack. I knew from here on out it was going to be all about drilling the long straight-aways and hitting the short climbs from the creeks hard.

I let Kevin slide away just a tad on East Creek, and then went back on the hunt.

I reeled him back in, along with the Beemuns relay team rider who had passed us earlier, right before Fox Creek.

The three of us grouped up and hammered together to about mile 4. Kevin had to jump off somewhere along the way for a second to pull a stick from his drive train, and I took one more feed just after crossing the Res Creek trestle, but otherwise we stayed together.

Kevin and I both knew we were deep in PR territory, and even though we were racing, we acknowledged that it was chasing each other that was pushing us and making this race so awesome.

It had felt like an incredible group ride nearly all day.

Finally, at the mile 2 SOB hill, Kevin got up the climb just a titch in front of me, and then bombed the descent putting a 20-30 second gap on me to the trailhead.

We worked hard down the road, neither of us relented, but I never could close the gap. Awesome. Just awesome!


The biggest change up this year for me, was the use of an electrolyte mix. My bike can’t effectively carry a water bottle, and I’m not comfortable riding soley on a mix carried in my bladder. I used a 50% dilute of Liquid I.V. in a 16oz bottle at each checkpoint.

Duh moment here: it really helped. My water retention was  better, I never felt thirsty once on a hot day, and my power was strong and consistent all day. Last year I complained of needing some kind of “bonus” feed to level things out. This was it, for sure.

I carried 1.75 liters of water on the first leg, and 2 liters on legs 2 and 3. I basically killed my water on leg 1, and had maybe 1/4 a liter left on the latter two legs. I could have carried a bit less on leg 2 (I spilled a good bit due to a leaky valve and then losing my bite valve), but it is also one of the hottest and hardest legs, I had plans to attack, and I did not want dehydration to limit my power. I knew if I got into the meat of the climb and felt like I was carrying too much water I could dump or chug.

My feeds were the same as they were last year, and maybe the year before. I ate 100-150 cals every 45 minutes in the form of Cliff Shotbloks and Honey Stinger Waffles; a Kind energy bar (some type of fruity nutty flavor) at each checkpoint; and included a Cliff Mocha Shot for the final stretch of the third leg (NOS). I did not eat anything caffeinated until the final leg.

I carried way more food then I needed.  I ate one waffle per leg, I’m pretty sure I ate one pack of shotblocks per leg, but it’s a little hazy.

Here’s one critical take away: I made sure to take feeds before starting any of the descents to prime the fuel lines, so to speak. Adam once said something to the extent of: Fuel your uphills by fueling on downhills. (Technically, I think he said that if you eat at the base of a climb to fuel your climb, you missed the boat).

I carried all my food onboard again, did a backpack swap out at each checkpoint, and thanks to Carly and crew, had seamless transitions.