Saturday, April 4, 2009

Elk Mountain Grand Traverse midnight March 27, 2009

For more info on the route see my earlier post... It's a long backcoutry ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen ~40mi if you're too lazy..

It all started late February or early March 2009. Becky Sears, a spunky biologist at Western State College whose office is across the hall from mine had signed up for the race in December. She was bound and determined to do it. She got on her computer to sign up as soon as it opened up. The year before the race filled up in a couple of weeks. This year it filled in less than a day with a record number of teams. Her partner, a very fit fellow, was having issues with his knee and wasn't able to train much. Every now and then, she would hint that she needed a partner. At the end of the first week of March just before spring break, her partner decided he couldn't do it so she asked me. I had been biking a bit as we had a warm week (OK, it was above 0 F) and had done some nordic races earlier so I was in pretty good physical shape. So I said sure. For spring break I was going to St George UT. I was planning on hiking, biking and running a bit.
Trouble hit on the drive down Friday afternoon (March 6th). My stomach was doing flip flops and I could barely keep it together on drive. It started snowing hard so we stopped at a motel and I slept some with my head propped on the toilet (this was strangely the only position that was "comforatble" in between barfing. The next day my stomach still felt awful but I could eat a little so we went the rest of the way and met Grandma Sue and Grandpa Bill. My blood sugars were ski high and no matter how much insulin I took they wouldn't come down. Finally on Monday, I felt a little better and Tuesday I went on a 22 mi ride on the Hurricane rim trail. Pretty fun and the next day we went on a hike in Zion. On the drive back, Lila's face was red and I was feeling feverish... Sure enough we both started coughing and had 101-102F fevers... So I didn't get much endurance training in.

We came back Friday and Becky was going on a big ski Sat and Sunday with some friends but I still didn't feel very well so I did a shorter ski Sunday at Mill Creek. Hmmm I wonder if I can do the Traverse in two weeks.....

The weather continued to be very warm and all the snow in town melted. The high country began to turn to corn chowder snow, crust in the morning and slush soon after. Hmm maybe skate skis would work on top of the crust. Finally a big storm hit a few days before the race dumping about 30 inches of snow in the mountains and cooling things off a little. So no skate skiing.
Becky and I went through the list of stuff we would have to take and get our packs as light as possible. Go to for the whole list. My pack came it at 20.8 lbs with 6.5 lbs of water. Some serious racer's packs are about 14-15 lbs full. We went with light Nordic and x country skis. Becky had skate skis that she waxed and could classic ski pretty good in with combi boots. I had combi boots and classic skis.

Here's Becky--Not very big but very scrappy. So we headed to CB school at 10 pm, got a bag checked to go to Aspen, got our avalanche beacons checked and our medical tags that we had to wear over our necks. We headed down to a quiet end of the school to organize and get final prepartions. Here we are--I'm tucking in my shirt.

Becky's secret weapons: Becky then pulls out some Little Debbies Oatmeal Cream Pie Cookies and hands me a few. Then her ultra secret weapon that I am about to reveal now for the first time in a public forum.... A bag of crunched up bacon and a bag of potato chips... I stick the cookies in the top of my pack. She put the bacon and chips in her pack.
And then out to the start of the race. It was 25 in Gunnison at 10:00pm. The temperature at the start was probably 15-20 with light winds. I had my insulin and meter tucked in my pack by my hot water so hopefully it wouldn't freeze....

And here is the start--thanks Gunnison Country TimesAnd they're off!

For a overview from The Gunnison Country Times GO here

So off we went. The skies were clear and as we skated on the groomed track to the first climb up to Crested Butte Ski area... We quickly put on our narrow 3/4 length climbings skins. The trail was single track so we just climbed along with some others at a reasonable pace. We got to the base of the ski area where a bunch of people cheered us on. Then up the ski area--the trail widens here and to the top where we pulled off our skins and skied down some blue runs to the bottom of the East River lift. With wax on our skis, we were able to cruise smoothly to Brush Creek and on up. We could pass the skiers with AT gear. My wax was wearing thin so at Death Pass I put on my skins. Becky tried but her skins were too cold and wouldn't stick to her skis. She tucked them in her shirt and took off and I caught her after this crux area. Luckily she was able to put her skins on and we climbed steadily in the dark up to Friends Hut Check point--And no, they don't let you in the hut.
Becky was setting a good pace so I just followed and tried not to get hypnotized by the strange shadows in the dark. We finally got to Friends Hut check point about 4:30 in the morning. The temperature had dropped to around zero and the wind hit right at the hut. Some volunteers offered a cup of water as they were melting snow. I went out of the wind to check my sugar (123 so good to go) and put on another layer. Becky took off and I caught her out of the check pt. My hands were freezing as we climbed straight up the wind blown slopes with strong winds (>40mph?). You could see headlamps way up high through the blowing snow. My skins were just on the edge of holding me from sliding backwards. Becky was hard to keep up with! Finally about 3/4 of the way up, my hands began to warm in my heavier gloves and as they thawed, they began to hurt - ouch!
We reached the ridge to traverse across before dropping down to the pass. Becky began shivering so we got out of the wind as best we could and she put on another layer. It was still very dark out. I got her a Gu and we went to the check point. Time 5:50-still dark-12400ft-the leaders had come through around 4:45. The guy said, "Try and traverse right and then at the bottom there is a signal light. So down we went. Halfway across the STEEP traverse in our skinny skis we hit a large steep patch of ice. Becky said "look out for the ice." I said "OK" and promptly hit it and slid straight down upside down and backwards. Then we hit some nice deep powder. I was able to pretty much ski back and forth down the valley but Becky couldn't go quite as well with her skinnier skis. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that her waterbottle and the hose on her camelback had frozen solid so she was drinking from mine from this point. This issue would come back to haunt her.

We made it down and got passed by a couple groups (the 1st place girls team skied along with us for the next few miles...) The trail now slowly climbs up through a nice forest (Becky was in a state of bliss as she loved the peaceful quiet forest) up to Taylor Pass. The sky began to lighten. I tried to check my sugar along here but my meter was too cold and wouldn't work. I ate some more as I felt low on fuel trying to keep up with ubber Becky.. We got to Taylor Pass and the sun began to come up. The winds picked up so we put back on our wind cold weather gear. We got passed by a few more groups through here as we began to slow a little.
The Elk Mountains (several 14000 ft peaks) were beautiful in the early morning light. The climb up and over the several climbs in the wind were slow and tedious. We hit a narrow snow mobile track and steep down hill with woop de doos. Also very fun on skinny skis.
We got to Barnard Hut check point and Becky was starting drag as she was feeling the lack of water. I was starting to feel the affects of eating too much so I took some insulin. We took off our skins and put on kick wax. Becky got some water from a student that was at the station. Here we had to wait 10 minutes to make sure we were fit to continue. The trail now is a narrow snowmobile track for 7mi to Aspen Mt. It is really a pain to ski on as it has woop de doos and several long slow climbs. We just took off our skis and hiked. Becky was slowing more and more. I wasn't feeling terrible at this point. At one point, we were skate sking on a flatter section and she fell flat on her face. Her avalanche beakon drove under her rib cage with her full pack on her back. I heard a loud "oomph". This fall would come back to haunt her....

We finally got to the top of Aspen Mountain ski area and hooked some shoe laces to our ski bindings and legs--you have to have leashes to go down. And down we went. Becky, being dehydrated and tired, couldn't ski down hill as well as at Crested Butte so she sat on her ski tails and slid down. I skied back and forth with her and we reached the finish at 12:04..... We finished in 26th place out of 140 teams. 37 didn't make it. We got our beer cups and a hug from the race organizer. They gave us the "most classey finish" as they could see Becky sliding for quite a ways down. Then Becky dissapeared.
I sat in the warm sun and looked for her. Finally the race announcer asked me to come to the food tent where I found her hung over a trash can trying to drink some Powerade with a medical person next to her. He asked if she wanted an IV. I told her to but she decided to go out and try to drink more. She really looked awful. Finally she changed in the bathroom and saw herself in the mirror and decided maybe she should get some IV fluids. A couple of bags later and she was good to go. My sugar was still high so I took some more insulin and had some beer. We crashed at a friend's house in Aspen and back to Gunnison Sunday. We found a ride back with Chase and Rooks--a couple of fine young Gunni boys. On the drive back we had Crunched up bacon and chips.... Apparently bacon is hard to eat with gloves on....
Monday Becky's crash on her stomach was hurting more. They did some tests and wanted to take out her gall bladder as they thought it was ruptered. She decided for some more tests and found it to only be badly bruised so she got to keep it!

1 comment:

Matthew Tyler said...

Good job Jarral that is awesome! Matt