Saturday, October 14, 2017

Tour de Flatirons, Finale!

SpongeBob F-ing Rules! But he's got one sticky shadow!
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Cordismo is Primo! In a fitting battle that mirrored the entire Tour, Cordis, resplendent in his authentic SpongeBob SquarePants jersey, and Kyle, shirtless of course, he is, afterall an Anton protege, traded the lead four or five times before Cordis finally stamped his name on the trophy! The pain endured by these two amazing athletes must have been intense. Kyle is finishing his first Tour and only ran one stage last year. And he nearly won it all. Cordis always had tremendous promise and he's learned a lot in his previous two Tours. And now he's the Champion. The champion of the great sporting event on earth! At least that's what's being said around my house...
Will has time to wave to the gallery enroute to fourth place.
Surprisingly, Will scooped everyone on the approach to Stairway to Heaven and arrived first. He hardly knew what to do. He'd never scrambled before without someone leading him. He wandered off to Satan's Slab or something and the young guns went by. As did Jason Killgore, a flat-out liar that says he isn't a runner but a skier. He took third place in his first Tour. That really shouldn't be allowed.

The battle for fourth place didn't disappoint. Darren was just one point ahead of Will and neither was giving an inch. Will's start was ridiculous though and Darren was in full-on chase mode. He wasn't able to claw Will back, but finishing just behind him left them in a tie for fourth! Greg, adorned in his signature, push-up bicep brassiere per the yuzh, was solidly in sixth at the start of the last stage, ran the entire stage in sixth, and finished the Tour in sixth. So, 666...appropriate for a Minion!
"Yeah, that's by bicep. God delivered it. I signed for it.'
Part-time Minion Eric Lee, who hand-picks stages that make him look good, chose wisely with stage five. He's about the size of Greg's arm yet he nearly pipped him at the line, finishing just two seconds back.

The battle for seventh was tremendous, with Danny, Ryan, and Derek tearing things up. Derek closed from behind, blazing the east slab descent from the summit and breaking logs on the descent. All three were within a few feet when they returned to Skunk Canyon. Danny turned the screws on the climb out of Skunk, broke Ryan, and safely distanced himself from Derek's wicked kick. Due to a snafu that prevented the publishing of a badly needed rule, Derek absolutely crushed his dad in this first Tour. An official, though anonymous, inquiry has been filed with the SMSC Tour management.
Danny makes Ryan cry "Uncle!"
Brendan was in sight of Derek at the top of Stairway, but Derek said sayonara there and Brendan time trialed it in. If he wasn't carrying around twenty extra pounds of muscle he might have kept up, but apparently it's swimsuit season somewhere...
"Is this the way to Venice Beach?"
The next group back included the competition for the highly coveted 12th position. Unique to the Tour, 12th is second in prestige only to the top position. Coincidently, I was current in that position. With all eyes upon me, I executed my game plan to perfection. I hung back, two minutes behind my son at the start of the scrambling. This was the ideal position in which to launch my attack. I was poised to leap ahead and join the fray for seventh place. But I surged with too much power and scrambled right out of my left shoe! Seriously. It almost fell down the rock. Stefan went by me and I had to stop and struggle to get it back on without untying it. I just got it on before Sonia went by me and she graciously let me stay in front. Sonia had been on me since the start, sticking so close I was afraid she was going to trip me.
Satan's Spawn trying to run down Danny and Ryan
I pushed myself to nearly puking in an effort to gap her and close on Stefan. I managed the former, but not the latter. Into the gap rushed Brad Bond. A couple of jump moves down off the penultimate section and I increased my lead, but he closed on the final slab as I was on the edge of blowing up. All the while I'm barely moving up the slab. The Tour is pretty humbling. I'm going absolutely as fast as I can, but I'm just crawling up the rock. I knew Brad was going to change shoes once he hit the ground and I didn't want to give him a target to chase. I nailed the north side descent and was soon stumbling down the steep, loose descent in pursuit of Stefan. Miraculously, I closed on him and he graciously stepped aside and I went by. Stefan is still nursing an injured heel and I knew descents were a problem for him. If I wanted to stay ahead I needed to put serious distance between us before the climb back to the finish.
What's this ultra-runner doing in a scramble evemt? Polishing rocks with his handy chamois, of course!
I did a controlled fall all the way down to Skunk Canyon. I had expected to fall and even wore cycling gloves to protect my hands in the inevitable slip and butt bounce. But I did not fall and made it to the bridge, still vertical. I bent to the task of climbing the steep hill back to the water tank. I wanted to walk with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns, but with Stefan chasing and Sheri and John Black cheering me on, I just couldn't. And I use that term "running" very loosely. A geriatric with a walker could have passed me. I was glad Sheri didn't walk along beside me, taking photos, though I'm sure she could have.
"Thank goodness this dang Tour over and I can get back a real sport: skiing!"
With no sign of Stefan, I finally gave in to the pain and power hiked the last steep bit up to the NCAR mesa. I resumed running and tried to kick it in. I wasn't sure of my time, but Sheri told me I had a chance to break 40 minutes. I pushed to the line and crossed with a time of 38:13. Stefan finished forty seconds later. That just isn't right.

Sonia and Brad had quite the duel themselves. Sonia can flat out suffer and she finished with her face as red as a beet, but two seconds ahead of Brad. Well done, you two! Thanks for pushing me so hard on the ascent. Willie, Angela, and Colleen rounded out the field tonight. Four had already run the course and a few more will make it up before the results are final. The Top Ten are nearly set, but it is likely that Jason Wells will bump someone out of there when/if he runs the stage.
Two-time champion Matthias was on hand to dissect his opponents for next year. And to gleem some strategy tips, apparently.
Twenty-one scramblers have officially finished the Tour and it's likely at least a couple more will do so before the end of Tuesday, the last day to submit a time. It's been a tremendous Tour, despite the disappointing absence of the reigning champion Matthias. He came out to each stage to show his support and to stoke his engine of desire. The twenty-somethings who ruled the Tour this year will have an extremely motivated challenger next year...

Long Live the Tour! Fourteen years and counting...

Stage Five field


Saturday, October 07, 2017

Tour de Flatirons, Stage 4

Minions storm the Slab
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The Slab is a great scramble and there are plenty of fun rocks in Fern Canyon...but they have such a long, brutal approach. The real runners shine in this stage. 

Newcomer Jason Killgore took the stage win, though was 17 seconds slower than Cordis' previous time. He did beat Kyle's time. Officially, I've always stated that you can't win a stage unless you run with the full field. So, according to my own rules, Jason would win the stage. This is sort of a mess, as Jason had previously run with Kyle and Cordis and we all just assumed that they would be the top three. Except that Jason didn't do the full course and took a nasty fall, so he showed up today and just killed it. He really deserves to win the stage, but because of the previous understanding, we'll stay with Cordis in first place, Jason in second, and Kyle in third. It sucks that Kyle was out of town for the official stage today. The Tour takes place over five weeks and that makes it very difficult to complete and extremely difficult to win.
Jason arrives at the Slab with a comfortable lead that he'd continue to stretch all the way to the finish.
Jason went off the front early and ran alone and uncontested the entire way, which makes his time even more amazing, as he wasn't chasing anyone and wasn't being pushed by anyone. It was basically an outrageous time trial and super impressive.

There was a nice battle going on for second place, though, with Darren holding that position for most of the stage, before giving way, after a brutal battle down the trail, to a hard-charging Will Porter. Greg, the winner of the full-field stage 3, finished fourth.

Sonia took her third stage in a row in the women's division and appears to be a lock to repeat as the women's champion. She also ran mostly in time trial mode and alone for most of the stage, which sucks, but it goes that way sometimes. We need to work a bit harder to attract more women to the Tour. I'll start training Sheri...
Sonia on her way to another women's stage win.
My race was super fun and more interesting than I thought it would be. At the gun, I settled into my 45-minute pain pace. A bit after we hit the wide trail, Colin Simon, Brian Crim, and Eric Lee went by me. I was suffering, but slipping further and further back. Five or six minutes later I couldn't see Brian or Eric any longer, but Simon was coming back to me. He started walking on the steeper sections, while I continued running, albeit about 1% faster than his walk. But 1% faster was enough for me to slower close and then inch by. I had maybe ten seconds on him when we hit the Slab.

Whenever you emerge from the trees and see the first scramble, it's encouraging. All those scramblers that were out of sight are now in full view. And the distances are compressed as the rate of progress while scrambling is much slower than running. I could see Brian and Brendan above me and was determined to catch Brian, as I'd beaten him in the previous stages and figured I could do it again. Brendan, I wasn't sure about. He beat me in stage 3 on Dinosaur Mountain, which is usually my best terrain. But you never know, which is why we run the stages...

Me starting up the Slab
At first Colin seemed to be gaining on me, but then I pulled away again. He'd later say that he went out a bit too hard and paid the price. Then, on the run out, he missed the turn on the singletrack and added at least a couple of minutes to his time with that route-finding error. And I was closing, steadily on Brian.

When I pulled up next to him, I went a bit right and he went left. I worked really hard and just barely got in front of him by the ridge. Brendan fell in behind Brian and we all worked our way south along the ridge to the downclimb. I was hurting so bad, but I knew a descent was coming. A little ways before the downclimb, I gunned it, trying to get a gap on the tricky little downclimb and get out of sight. I sped down the steep wall to the tree and went through the tree fast. I liebacked down the steep wall below the final edge and once there just tossed my body over the edge and right onto the flake below. I squated down, grabbed the low hold and jumped to the ground. I was off, running scared and trying not to slip and bash myself on the mossy talus.
Ryan starting down the singletrack on his way to 5th place.

I did my best to get a gap over to the Goose Egg and then laboriously powered up to the base of the climb. Here was I surprised to find myself just 15-20 seconds behind Derek and Nikita. Nikita was going well and would pass Derek on this slab. I saw Derek look down and he saw me. I don't know if he was surprised or not. He'd been burying me in the last couple of stages. Seeing that I had caught up to him, he might have been a touch worried that his dad might beat him. At that point I didn't think he cared one whit about Nikita, but he'd do everything in his power, suffer any pain to beat the scrambler below him.

We stayed about the same distance apart on the scramble, but near the top Derek widened the gap a bit. Below me Brendan was coming hard. I was surrounded and fighting for my life. Well, my position in the field, but it felt like my life, because I became too frantic on the steep, loose descent. I was too intent on gapping Brendan and catching Derek. So much so that I endangered Nikita and Derek when I knocked a rock as big as basketball down the slope. I immediately started yelling "Rock! Rock! Rock!" Both Nikita and Derek avoided the rock and were not injured, but I apologize profusely to both of them and to the entire field. As the longest standing member of the Minions I should be the one setting a good example and I did not. I apologize to the entire group. I also called out to Derek, "That's a 1-minute penalty for me!" I knew I couldn't beat him on the run out, but I wasn't sure what he was thinking and I wanted him to know, so that I would no longer be a threat in his mind, if I ever was.
Derek finishing strong.
Not a minute later, Brendan made the same mistake that I did and two or three large rocks came down. It was my turn to be in the line of fire. I heard them coming and dodged to my right. Derek was further right. We were both weren't hit and were unharmed.

I took a more direct route down the steep slope and nearly caught Derek by the trail, but he immediately opened up a sizable gap. He now turned his attention to Nikita...

I sped down the trail, getting glimpses of Derek and even Nikita as we dip into Fern gully and back up to the base of the Slab. Nikita was still in the lead going over this hump, but Derek would soon get him. I had some thoughts that maybe I could get Nikita, but that was crazy and he stretched out his lead on me. I was much more worried about being caught by Brendan. He had a huge gap on me on the approach and I didn't think I'd be able to hold him off. I ran hard, but I was already gassed and trying not to complete explode too early. I didn't look back, but my ears were pricked up and listening intently for any sound behind me.
Angela still looking fresh at the finish.
I got the Mesa Trail junction without hearing anything. I knew it was exactly a mile from here to the finish. Cordis had run it in under five minutes. I knew I could do it under six and half. Six and a half minutes of pain. Could I hold Brendan off. I tried to stretch out my stride. I was still catching glimpses of Nikita, but he was running well. My feet were burning from the slight slide forward with every footfall.

I got the  junction with the sign and knew from many previous scrambles that it was the halfway mark from the Mesa Trail. Just over three minutes to go. But then I heard it. The smack of feet pounding the trail behind me. I despaired. I couldn't sprint this far out. I almost resigned myself to being passed, not wanting to hurt any worse. I dialed up the effort just a touch, wondering if I could take it. I did another minute like that and Brendan hadn't come by yet. Now I was close to the singletrack and now I was ready to give it everything. It's really hard to pass someone once you get to the singletrack, so I poured it on and got there first. I concentrated hard so that I wouldn't make any mistakes. I picked up my feet and moved them as quickly as I could, trying to flow down the trail.

This turned out to be enough. The extra effort increased the distance to Brendan and probably broke his will a bit, knowing that I wasn't giving up. I held him off. So fun. So painful.

The full field at the finish.
Thanks to Sheri for the photos and Bill Hanson for the awesome video. Just one stage to go!


Thursday, October 05, 2017

Tour de Flatirons, Stage 3

Greg, Derek, and Dylan are 1-2-3 as they start up Dinosaur Rock

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The Tour de Flatirons is so fun it hurts. Literally. It hurts so good.

Like last year, my favorite stage is on Dinosaur Mountain. The variety of rocks, the tricky links, the devious downclimbs, the brutal, rolling run out. I love it. It makes for great racing with many lead changes.

On the first try at this stage, on our third scheduling of the start, only the fastest half of the field showed up. That's not true. Two of the back half showed up: Colin and me. I was in last place when we turned onto the Porch Alley trail. Thank goodness the rain came and washed out the stage. The fastest five scramblers were already on the last rock, Der Zerkle, and elected to finish the stage. The rest of us re-ran it tonight.

This is after our aborted attempt at Stage 3 (five did finish)
This time was field was larger and, while it was close, I was never actually in last place. Already it was a better experience! And no rain. And it just got better from there. With the front of the field off doing Stage 4, the head of the race was up for grabs. David and Greg took the reins and turned up the pain dial. Derek, improving with every stage, hung on.

Back in the mid-pack, I got passed by Colleen on the flat section before the water tower hill. Sonia, detecting a threat to her female dominance, gave chase. I inched by Colleen on the water tower hill and Sonia was so close behind me I was sure if I was giving her a piggyback ride or not. It would certainly explain why Derek was sprinting away from me. 
Brenden and Jason at the top of Dinosaur Rock

I was suffering at my limit trying to move fast enough so that I didn't have to give track to Sonia, when we turned off on the Porch Alley Trail. I was trying to stay behind Jason Wells, Brian Crim, and Stefan. At the Front Porch, Jason turned it up to 11 and showed his Naked-Edge-speed-record climbing speed and that was the last time I saw him. I turned my attention to Brian. Either I've been slipping back in the field, or everyone else has been getting faster. I prefer to think the latter and Brian is a lot faster this year.

I moved on the Front Porch to the right of Brian and slowly reeled him in and then barely got ahead of him by the top. I hit the descent right behind Erik, who was held up a bit by Dave. Dave graciously crouched out of the way and Erik and I both went by. Erik and I sped to the bottom of the rock and he closed on Stefan and gapped me. At the top of the hump over to the Mallory Cave Trail, David went by me and I tried to dig deep.
Greg running to victory
At Dinosaur Rock, Stefan went up the more techy north start, while the rest of us went around to the south, where Sheri was taking photos. She tripped Erik, gave Dave an elbow, and cheered me on as I closed on them and now Nikita.  Stefan gapped our group as we queued up behind David, who once again stepped aside and allowed us all to pass before the crux. I stayed on Nikita's heels to the summit, where Eric Lee (who also rigged a rappel line on the Front Porch for us) was taking photos.

Here, without gravity to fight, I made my move. I buzzed down the descent, using Danny's lower-off/jump trick, passing Nikita, Erik, and even Stefan! I knew Stefan wasn't at the top of his game, as he's been concentrating on much more important things and still nursing a serious heel injury. Still, a heady place to be. I stumbled through the woods and tried not to slip on the mossy rocks getting down to the base of Der Zerkle.
Stefan emerging from the slot on Der Zerkle with Spencer and Willie in pursuit.
Stefan closed up behind me and said, every encouraging, "Nice job, Bill. It sure helps to know the course, doesn't it." Indeed it does. In fact, the only reason I haven't slipped further in the field is that I design the courses. In the future I'll have to keep the course secret until the gun time and then everyone will have to follow me and...I digress.

I sped up the lower part of Der Zerkle, while still giving beta to Stefan. I barely held him off getting to the Overhang Slot. I'd done this section numerous times and Stefan had only seen it once, a couple of weeks ago. I squirmed through in record times (for me) and got a gap on Stefan. He reeled me in on the upper section, but I topped out first, downclimbed the back, and then started down the north-side descent that I had done for the first time that morning. 
Derek avoids twisting his ankle here and finishes in second
I tried to get out of sight down the north descent, but Stefan was too quick. Yet, he didn't follow me. I scooted down as quick as my uncoordinated legs would allow. I hit the Mallory Cave Trail, assumed I was still ahead of Stefan and tried to work hard as I could without tripping and falling. Caitlin was alongside the trail and she urged me on. I got down to the Mesa Trail junction without being caught, but definitely running scared. Sheri was hiking out and she pushed me to keep running. I ran all the way to top of the water tower hill, albeit slowly, looking over my shoulder regularly. 

Ahead of me was Dylan. He had apparently got lost a couple of times, because he was ahead of Derek at one point. Now he was jogging it in. And I was working at my limit and still not able to catch him. In fact, he was urging me on. "Way to go, Bill! Come on, Bill!" I was gassed but now I was heading downhill and pushed to keep up with Dylan. I was so dead at the final climb that I switched to power hiking for thirty seconds to gain the mesa. I started running again, chasing Dylan, but with no chance to catch him. As I neared the finish the Minions gathered there, with a clear dislike of Dylan, were cheering me on wildly. I upped my effort and closed on Dylan who was just clowning around. He can run twice as fast as me. but it was motivating nevertheless and I finished in 43:23. 

Greg won the stage, at least tonight. Sheri remarked that Greg was "running way faster than anyone else." Impressive indeed. He didn't have much of gap on Derek at the top of Der Zerkle but then put two minutes on him during the run out. Jason Wells was third, Brenden fourth, ? was fifth or fourth, Dylan sixth, me seventh? Can that be right? It sounds like a mistake, but remember the top five were missing. Danny was missing as well. All much faster than me. 

Erik came in 58 seconds behind me and then Stefan 10 seconds behind him. Then Spencer, Willie, Ben, David, Nikita, Brian, Sonia, Ryan, Angela, and Colleen. I'm probably forgetting a few others. I'll update when I get there times.

Bill Hanson was out there shooting video with his drone and I can't wait to see that! Thanks to Sheri and Eric Lee for the photos and rigging. Congrats to Greg. Lookout Minions, Derek is moving up each week.

Angela kicking it in.
In the first try at this stage, the top three decided to neutralize the positions when the rain started to fall. Kyle was in first, so he won, with Cordis in second and Jason Killgore in third. They still ran it in and all finished under 37 minutes (sort of). These three ran Stage 4 tonight with Cordis taking it with a brilliant run out. So, as they go to the fifth stage, Kyle and Cordis both have two firsts and two seconds. That means whoever wins Stage Five will be the overall Tour winner! Exciting stuff.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tour de Flatirons, Stage 2


Stage 2 of the tour was the ultra-classic Trifecta: Freeway on the Second Flatiron to the East Face of the First Flatiron to the East Face of the Third Flatiron. Every scrambler knows these routes and every time the course covers them the field size increases. With no possibility of anyone getting lost or confused, my chances of doing well drop precipitously.

We ran this stage two years ago and Matthias set the course record in a time of 57:39. He was the only one to break an hour. This year the field was faster.

The field was so large that we split into two waves, two minutes apart. I divide the field by whoever ran under 1h20m in stage one and that put me (1h09m in stage one) last in the first wave. When I ran by Sheri, who was taking photos, I wasted valuable oxygen, saying "I'm not last. Second wave in two minutes." To add more injury to humiliation, I got caught and passed on the Second Flatiron by Michal. I didn't know him?!  Yeah, what was he doing here? If you are going to bandit a Minion race have the decency to stay behind Satan, please. And it got worse. As he went by he says, "I hope I'm still doing this when I'm your age."
The Minions flying up the East Face of the First Flatiron
"My age?" What the hell does that mean? It means I'm old and I look it. Dang. I hardly ever see myself and was under the impression that I was just one of the Minions. I usually finish in the middle of the field. I've never that phrase directed at myself before. I said it plenty of times, mostly to my buddy the Loobster. Now I know how it feels and I didn't like it much. It was too early to say that me. Maybe in a couple more decades, when I'm 40+35, but not when I'm a spry (again with my delusions) forty-fifteen-year-old. I've been using that technique of saying my age for five years now. It's more than novelty. I feel younger. I feel like one of the group. I caught up to my 20-year-old neighbor David Bonan higher up and tailed him to the top. David was doing his first Tour de Flatiron stage. As I raced right behind him down the trail, heading for the base of the First Flatiron, two hikers stepped off the trail to make way. We passed by and one called out, "How old are you?!" What's up with this? I must not be one of the guys, but instead some freak-show spectacle. People seemed to be surprised I've ditched my walker.

Up ahead, the real battle was raging.

Kyle and Cordis - the youth brigade - continued their battle, destined to last the entire Tour. Per the script, Kyle barely stays ahead of Cordis on the rocks and tries to hold onto his lead on the run out. This time Cordis made a number of moves to pass Kyle on the Third, the last of the scrambles, but couldn't get it done. Kyle stayed in the lead on the rappel and even down the talus back to the smoother trail, but then Cordis, the faster pure runner, ran him down and took his first stage victory ever. They both broke the course record, finishing in 56:16 and 56:27. Jason Killgore became only the fourth scrambler to break an hour when he took third in 59:50.
Colleen rapping off the First Flatiron

I took my son Derek in the first stage, but only because it was his first stage ever and it was long and had a couple of tricky downclimbs and he got a bit lost on the descent. By ignoring all that, I was able to convince myself I might have a chance to retain the family title. Alas, I'm getting a huge dose of reality in this year's Tour. Derek left me at the start and widened the gap the whole way. He was chasing Danny, but Danny pulled away from him. Derek was running scared, not wanting his dad to catch him, when he got to the Third Flatiron. Fellow Minion Jon Sargent was there with his daughter taking photos. Injury put him out of the Tour this year. He asked Derek, "Where's your dad?", but in Derek's hypoxic state he heard "There's your dad" and thought I was right behind him. He thinks, "Crap!" and looks over his shoulder. I'm not there.
Cordis pegging the effort to take the win over Kyle by just 11 seconds.
I'm way back there chasing Nikita on the link from the First Flatiron to the Third. He always starts way faster than me and I frequently catch him later in the stage. He's a fitter guy and a faster runner, but I'm a quicker scrambler. I take the high shortcut to the base of the Third and start up just a few seconds in front of him. I give it all I have to stay in front and try to build a gap over him, as I know I'll need it on the way out. When I get to the summit world-famous mountain athletes Anton Krupicka  and Joe Grant are there to hand me a fixed line and make sure I get on rappel safely. Having guys like that come out and support you is one of the very special aspects of this stage. Both have raced the Tour before, but injuries kept them away this year.

I zipped down the line and ran scared all the way back to the finish, holding Nikita off. I finished 17th out of 35 in a time of 1:15:45. Derek was 13th in 1:11:48. Derek had to out run Craig, a running specialist, but not with the pure speed of a 19-year-old. Sonia set the women's course record in 1:27:03 and four women finished the course.
Satan's Minions after Stage 2
We ended up creating quite a scene there at the ranger station, what with 35 scramblers and some spectators, photographers, family members and friends. We had beers (soft drinks for Derek and I) and Sheri brought watermelon. It was pure a gathering of energy, happiness, and camaraderie. This feeling I get, with everyone chattering away about the stage and cheering everyone one and supporting everyone's effort, this feeling is the best part of the Tour, for me at least. Maybe it's not quite the best for Cordis. Taking the win has to feel pretty dang special.

Kyle and Cordis recovering after an hour of intense competition.



Saturday, September 16, 2017

Pikes Peak Cycling Ascent


Colorado has some awesome high-mountain road climbs. For as long as I’ve been in Colorado the canonical high-mountain climb has been Mt. Evans. There is a race up it every year and it’s a huge climb at 28 miles and 7000 vertical feet. Loveland Pass is another brutal climb if you start it in Idaho Springs, but still not the vertical gain of Evans. Plus, if you do Evans, you can hike 200 more vertical feet to the summit and get a 14er. A number of years ago Guanella Pass got paved and it is now an absolutely gorgeous (and difficult) climb. The other iconic 14er in Colorado with a road up it is Pikes Peak. But wasn’t an option for bikers until recently. It was a dirt road and bikes weren’t even allowed. The whole road got paved in 2011 but even then it wasn’t open to bikers until the Colorado Bikers Alliance (or something like that) got the road opened to cycling, though each cyclist has to pay $15 to ride it. I think the city of Colorado Springs owns the road so no federal parks pass gets you in.
Starting out from Manitou Springs - the only time it wasn't too windy to take photos
Pikes Peak is now the biggest climb in Colorado. If you start from Manitou Springs, at the roundabout, the climb is nearly 8000 feet - about 1000 feet bigger than Mt. Evans - and it even finishes higher since you can bike directly to the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak, but have to stop, as I mentioned above, 200 feet or so lower than the summit on Evans. And the road up Pikes is shorter…which makes it quite a bit steeper than Evans. Both climbs are brutal in high winds, but the road surface on Pikes, being a lot newer, is way better. It doesn’t make a huge difference going up, but while Pikes Peak is a dream to come down, Evans is hell, as it is so bumpy.

Anyway, when I asked Buzz for Ultimate Direction schwag for the Rattlesnake Ramble he told me, “I have new policy. I don’t give out gear unless you do an adventure with me. Since he has been hobbled a bit recovering from a hamstring tear, this meant biking. This was a huge win for me because there few activities where I can keep up with Buzz, but biking is one of them. Bill Briggs suggested Pikes Peak since none of us had done it and Buzz drove us down there early Saturday morning. We debated whether to skip the unpleasant riding along highway 24 but, in the end, decided we needed to do the Full Monty and started at the roundabout in Manitou Springs. Buzz and I just had biking shells and leggings, but Bill carried a small pack with extra clothes for the descent. This turned out to be a great idea.

We were riding by 6:45 a.m. and Buzz set a pretty fast pace from the start, faster than I would have gone, but I didn’t want to lag early. I hadn’t done but one real ride all year - a 70-miler at the Be Strong charity ride a month ago and I think Buzz doubted my ability to either make the top or keep up. I’d done hard climbs off the couch before, but by myself. Keeping up with these two endurance athletes would be a chore, but I figured I could drop off on the upper half and just try not to be too much of an anchor. Buzz pulled over after a mile and then I pulled a mile and then Bill did and that was it for highway 24. Not too bad.
Buzz Burrell
We rode another steep mile and then came to the gate for the Pikes Peak Highway and there was a queue of cars. The road doesn’t open until 7:30 a.m. and we had to stand around waiting for almost 20 minutes. Also, it cost $15 per cyclist to go up this road. More than we expected, but still a pretty cheap adventure. Once through the gate we were all surprised at how steep and sustained the road was. I was riding a compact crank with a 26 in back and had to stand what seemed like half the climb. Buzz had a 28 and it allowed him to spin a bit more. I move on ahead not by choice but by necessity - not low enough gear to sit down. It was windy already, even though we were still well below tree line. It was going to get a lot worse. 

There is a shop and outhouses at the some reservoir about 10 or miles up the climb. Bill and I stopped here, mainly because Buzz said he was going to stop here. But then he rode right past us. Bill dug out some food and I went to the bathroom and then we gave chase. A mile up the road we Buzz at a porto-potty and he said, “Keep going, I’ll catch up.” And he did. When Bill and I stopped at the next “aid station” - a gift shop/coffee shop about 8 miles from the summit. It wasn’t yet open so we sat by the ranger station in the middle of the road. We were leaning up against it, hoping to get out of the wind, but to no avail. At least we were in the sun. My feet were already frozen and I pulled off my socks and warmed them with my hands. When the store opened we went inside and soaked up the glorious warmth. Bill said, “We better not stay in here very long.” And we didn’t because we spotted Buzz riding up the road. We scurried outside and called to him and, once again, he didn’t pause but rode on by. Bill ran to fill his water bottle and in a few minutes we were chasing Buzz.

We were all wearing shells at this point and I had all my clothes on…with still nearly 8 miles of climbing to go. Was I worried about freezing on the descent? Yes.

The riding up to here had been very tough: steep and very windy, but now it got really ridiculous. Our speed on the steep sections, into the wind, was maybe 4 mph. It was demoralizing. When I caught Buzz he said, “I underestimated this climb. You never ride the ‘average grade’. 10% grade into a 30 mph wind. I’m at my limit and just grinding it out.” I felt the same way and inched on by because I didn’t have a lower gear. Bill had a similar gearing issue and also moved by Buzz. We’d remain in that order and strung out all the way to the summit. Each one of us suffering at our limit and quickly getting colder and colder. Near the top one of my fingers was completely wooden and I was worried about damage. I stopped and put both hands down the front of my bibs to warm them on my belly. I was a pitiful sight, bent over at the waist, hands down my pants, shivering. I got some feeling back but it was obvious things wouldn’t get much better until I got to shelter. I got back on my back.
Bill Briggs
On one of the steepest sections near the top I was headed directly into the wind and just barely moving. Ahead the road went the same direction for too long, but there was a turn up ahead and I knew I just needed to get to the turn. I wouldn’t be out of the wind and I wouldn’t have a tailwind, but any change of direction was going to be a big boost. That was the way for most of this climb. It got to be where you just loved a strong crosswind, only because it wasn’t a headwind. When I got to the summit I was frozen. I leaned my bike against the summit gift shop/snack shop, went inside, and plopped down in the nearest booth. I took off my gloves and shoes, put my head on the table and braced myself for the soon-to-be-arriving screaming barfies. I was shaking so badly that my leg, braced against the table shook the entire table.

In less than ten minutes Bill arrived and in another ten Buzz. My hands and feet a quite sensitive to the cold and I wondered if the other two would just be wasted from the effort and not greatly affected by the cold. The first thing both said was, “I’m freezing.” Bill went to get us a couple of hot cocoas and a couple of donuts, though both donuts were for me. Bill started talking almost immediately about taking the train down or jumping in one of the vans they use to ferry downhill riders to the summit. He probably was more concerned about me, but both Buzz and I were convinced we’d be okay, once we warmed up. We knew there was a warm shop 8 miles down and we’d stop there to warm up. After thirty minutes of warming, we started down.

In just a couple of miles we spotted a big group of riders who had no doubt paid good money to be driven to the top of Pikes Peak so that they could ride down, stopping to get into the van. I heard one women say, “I can’t feel my hands.” I knew that pain. On the way up I tried to ball up my hands to keep them warm, but then I couldn’t grip my handlebars and I was in grave danger of being blow over by the wind. I couldn’t ball up them. Just a bit further down the winds eased slightly and we got most sun. We caught up to a long line of cars and fell in line, not wanting to be weaving around cars in such strong winds. By the time we got down to the store my hands were very cold again, but nothing else was cold. Buzz and I went into the shop to warm up a bit but Bill was there just a minute later. We took 5 minutes though to let my hands warm up.


The rest of the descent went smooth and fast, though the winds remained strong. Down in the trees again, things were better of course. The run down highway 24 was stressful, but we could maintain a speed of nearly 40 mph and it was over quick. We cruised back to the car, arriving 5h57m after we left. I hit the at 4m02m, including the 20 minute wait at the gate and all stops. It was a rough four hours. At the summit Buzz called the hardest ride of his life, after 25 miles. This is a guy who had ridden the 100-mile White Rim Trail in day, unsupported many times. Lots of Type-2 fun on this ride. Some Type-1, but lots and lots of Type-2.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Tour de Flatirons, Stage 1

Descending off the Hippo Head

The 2017 Tour de Flatirons started with a huge turnout for stage 1. Twenty-five scramblers toed the line at the Lower Skunk Canyon Trailhead and reigning, but injured, champion Matthias was on hand to be the starter and timer. The course was a classic linkup, but with a new extension, and linked four rocks (Regency, Royal Arch, Fifth Flatiron, and the Hippo Head) in the longest continuous climb ever in a Tour stage. This stage was heavy on the tricky down climbing and it paid to have all of these wired. The level of competition is high enough where lots of scramblers do extensive previewing. This is in the true spirit of the Tour - learning and loving the Flatirons. Oh, and to suffer mightily. 
Winner Kyle Richardson trailed by Cordis Hall
Will Porter was second last year and perhaps he thought, with Matthias out, it was his turn, but a couple of youngsters proclaimed their intentions. Loudly.  t was clear almost from the gun that this was going to be a battle of youngsters. Kyle and Cordis, good friends and frequent adventure partners, were now arch rivals. Kyle took the lead early and held it all the way to the wire, though Cordis remained close the entire time and finished just ten seconds back. The battle for Tour Champion is going to be fierce. Will finished comfortably in third, but three minutes down on the young guns at 56 minutes. Darren and Greg duked it out for fourth and fifth and provided a great comparison of the descent routes, for Darren took the bushwhack south of the Regency and Greg took the Woods Quarry/Kohler Mesa trails. Watching on Strava Flyby the times appear near identical. Frequently podium finisher Ryan Franz was the last one to break an hour.
Starting Stage 1
As with last year, we had some first time Tour entrants, the fastest of which seems to be Jason Kilgore. He finished 7th and just barely over an hour in 1:00:15. My son Derek is in the Tour for the first time. He just started scrambling last year and college classes prevented him entering last year, but I think that was a wise choice anyway. Before entering the Tour you really need to be a very experienced scrambler. Derek started off strong, but the length of stage took its toll on him. Jason Well caught and passed Derek on the Royal Arch and I closed the gap by the summit of the Royal Arch. On the west side down climb of Royal Arch we found Jason trying to talk newcomer Craig Randall through the moves. I climbed down to Craig and observed for just a few moments before I told Craig to climb back up and go down the East Side. Apparently Craig had been there for awhile. This brings up a point I want to emphasize. Scramblers should be racing stages that they don’t have wired. If you cannot move continually on all the terrain in a stage then you shouldn’t be in the stage. Period. This is not the time to work out the moves to anything.

The last newcomer was Colleen Powers and she appears to be a serious threat for the women’s title as she took the first stage. At least four women are entered in the Tour this year including another newcomer Caitlin Ryan joining Angela and Sonia.

Danny Gilbert stepped up his game and was in a group with Dylan and Stefan for the most of the stage. Stefan is still somewhat hobbled from a serious injury to his foot while glissading in the Indian Peaks. If there was a Hall of Fame for Flatiron Scrambling, Stefan would be in it, along with Bill Briggs, Buzz Burrell, Dave Mackey, and Matthias Messner. He’s never not finished on the podium and has won the Tour five times. Not to bet against Stefan, but with his injury and the incredible competition this year, its going to be extremely difficult to extend that streak. 

Sunday, September 03, 2017

LA Freeway Attempt with Derek

Traversing the complex ridge to Paiute

The Continental Divide, in Colorado, houses incredible peaks, exposed, technical ridges, and high altitude adventure. The most spectacular terrain lies in Rocky Mountain National Park and its adjacent southern neighbor the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Gerry Roach wrote how Karl Pfiffner envisioned a traverse on the Divide from Milner Pass, on Trail Ridge Road in RMNP, to Berthoud Pass, but never attempted it. Gerry eventually did a 2-week backpacking trip that started and ended in those locations, but avoided all the technical climbing on the Divide itself and strayed significantly from it. He named it the Pfiffner Traverse.
Heading up Longs Peak at the start of the LA Freeway
In July 2011 Mark Oveson modified the route slightly, calling it the "Pfast Pfiffner" and did the entire traverse in one monster 37h44m push. I think Mark might still be the only person to do this in a single go. I know Andrew Skurka has developed a guide package for it and he might have done it as well. I was with Mark on his first attempt on this ono July 6, 2001 and we got halfway before incessant rain caused me more misery than I could take.

Still inexperienced at massive projects like this, John "Homie" Prater, Lou "The Loobster" Lorber, and I attempted the "Pfiffner Direct" over July 22-23, 2002. Over 1.5 days we made it from Milner Pass to Buchanan Pass where 12 hours with no water weakened us to point of abandoning. Along the way we stood atop every peak on the Divide. To my knowledge this is the only attempt at the Pfiffner Direct, and it highlights the biggest problem of this traverse: water. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. Being directly on the Divide leaves you scant chance of finding much water. The terrain is technical enough where you want most snow-free conditions, but then you have the water issues.
Descending off Pagoda
The other major problems with the traverse are the length and the technical difficult. The technical difficulty is concentrated in the middle with the northern and southern portions being primarily high mountain tundra and ridge hiking. In 2002, Buzz Burrell did a 2-day traverse from Longs Peak to South Arapahoe Peak and called it the LA Freeway. All but the first two peaks, Longs and Pagoda, are on the Continental Divide, so this consists of the technical crux and center section of the Pfiffner Direct. Buzz dropped down off the Divide to sleep for his one night and to restock on water. Doing this traverse, which is roughly 35 miles and 22,000 feet of vertical gain, in just two days requires an extremely fit endurance athlete, considerable technical climbing skills, and extensive route knowledge.
Still smiling on top of Chiefshead
The LA Freeway had not been repeated until 2017 when Peter Bakwin put in a very impressive effort over two days only to bail due to weather and route finding difficulties on the Kasparov Traverse from Shoshone to Apache, more than 85% done with the traverse. A couple of weeks later uberfit mountain runner Matthias Messner, after extensive reconnoitering, did the entire LA Freeway in less than 17 hours! It is impossible to appreciate this achievement without intimate knowledge of the terrain.

Being friends with all the parties above, my interest was rekindled in this traverse and my son Derek, as gungho as only the naive can be, wanted to give it a try. Hence, we picked Labor Day Weekend, as we had the time and hoped for good weather. When the reports looked like stellar, clear, warm weather, we finally committed the night before. It felt strange to pack for something so audacious in just an hour.
Heading toward the Hourglass Ridge on Mt. Alice
Our lack of planning and forethought hurt our chances, but it added to our adventure. I was over confident because I had previously covered almost all of the terrain. The only portion I hadn't before was from Arikaree to North Arapahoe, probably about a single mile of travel. But it had been a long time since I'd been on the tricky sections and my confidence in my memory was misplaced. My lack of respect for dehydration, despite my previous experience on this same terrain, seems irrational and ridiculous.

We each carried Ultimate Direction Fast Packs (thanks, Buzz), Derek a 20-liter and I a 30-liter. We each had a sleeping bag, pad, long pants, long sleeve shirt, hat, gloves, shell, headlamp, and food. We had sunscreen, a SPOT locator, our phones (primarily as cameras), and a tiny 2-man tent. But our biggest mistake was that Derek started with just 84 ounces of fluid and I with 70 ounces. This was just plain dumb. Which is embarrassing to admit for guy with the experience that I have. I know Anton does monstrous outings with little water and Kilian Jornet climbed Denali, round trip on a liter of water (which is the most amazing feat of adventuring with little water that I've ever heard of), but I know that I cannot do that. Yet, I still carried so little. Why? I didn't want the wait and stupidly hoped we'd find some water, despite knowing the chances of that were nil. I'd say "live and learn", except that I've proven that I don't learn. Live, screw-up, and repeat the same mistakes is more accurate in my case.
Derek climbing up the crux pitch on Isolation
I remember Peter telling me that he had no desire to do any of this traverse in the dark. That sounded good to me, so Derek and I started hiking at 6:20 a.m. We took the lower shortcuts on Longs and then followed the Keyhole Route to the summit. Normally we'd have taken the North Face route, but heard it was seriously iced up. We made the summit in about 3h15m and, after a quick photo, descended and headed for Pagoda.

I didn't find the easiest descent but went directly to a 5.4 downclimb that I was familiar with. Derek followed me down and he was solid. We traversed over to the low point and then up tiring talus to the summit. I finished my first 20-ounce bottle on this summit. Twenty ounces in 4+ hours of difficult terrain. That isn't enough. We were trying to conserve and we needed to conserve, but we were heading for disaster, though we didn't know it yet.
Taking a break on the slopes of Isolation
After another photo we headed down the West Ridge. This was going to be the trickiest route finding for me. I'd done some version of this before, three times, but always different, once the opposite direction, and never got it wired. Peter had told me to head down the first rib and we were down there looking off both sides and trying to decide what to do when along comes our friend Cordis. He had Peter's GPS track from his Wild Basin traverse and with that to guide us we eventually found the right way down. We lost at least 30 minutes here, I'd guess.

Cordis zipped off and we followed. Down the 3rd/4th class terrain to the horribly loose talus ledge that heads down and back to the east. Then down a steep but easy downclimb to the key ledge that cuts all the way back to the Pagoda/Chiefshead col. We toiled up endless talus and felt the effort. We could see Cordis ahead of us, nearing the summit of Chiefshead and were only 15 minutes behind probably. But when we got to the summit and peered over towards Alice, we didn't see him. He disappeared. That kid moves awfully fast.
Endless moderate terrain on the way to Buchanan Pass
We took a photo and had some food and water and were moving on in less than 5 minutes on the long traverse over to Mt. Alice. As we neared the saddle we could see someone on top of Alice. Obviously it has to be Cordis. Impressive!

Toiling up Alice was when I first knew my dehydration was seriously affecting how we moved. We moved continuously up Alice, but it was slow. Very slow. Over the course of the next 24+ hours we would never recover and never fully hydrate again. Our pace never picked up.
Our campsite on the edge of the ridge
We headed down to Boulder-Grand Pass and bypassed the first of many summits. Tanima sticks way out to the east and in our tired state we already concluded that we needed to conserve as much energy as we could to just make Buchanan Pass. We skipped it. But we did not skip the Cleaver. On my only go at the Pfiffner Direct I was in the lead and zipped by this tiny summit enroute to the north face of Isolation. I was the rope gun for Isolation and we were losing the light. I got to the base and was pulling my harness and flaking the rope when Homie comes up to me and says, "Did you get the summit of the Cleaver?" I asked, "What's the Cleaver?" Fifteen years later, as Derek and I scrambled to the top I realized that I passed within 60 seconds of scrambling from this summit. Those 60 seconds had taken me fifteen years to complete.

We got to Isolation's north face just before 3 p.m. Peter Bakwin told me about a sneak that involved descending 200 vertical feet on the west side, but we opted to tackle the 5.5 pitch out of the notch. I'd done it once before, with a rope. We went slow and solid and I felt the climbing here was the best we did on the traverse. The rock is really good and the climbing not very continuous. It was one of the most fun sections of the entire trip.

Working along endless tricky sections on the ridge from Algonquin to Paiute
Once we got to the more gentle slopes higher up, we took our first and only extended break, though it only lasted about 15 minutes. I had hoped to get from here to Buchanan Pass in three hours. My buddy Mark, watching our Spot track, said the same to Sheri. But we both didn't factor in our massively weakened state due to dehydration. We did find a couple of pools of standing water by Ouzel Peak and we drank out of them and filled some containers. We trudged onwards.
One water source we used.
Towards the end of the day, while making what we thought was a beeline to Buchanan Pass we came to a giant valley. We had to turn 90 degrees to our left and stay on the winding ridge. It looked so long. Derek said, “I think we should pull the cord.” We still had 30 or 40 minutes of light and we could have continued via headlamp, but new disappointment was too much in our tired, dehydrated state. We bivied. We pulled out our 2-man, 2-pound tent and found the only flat spot within miles, perched right on the edge of a steep slope. We secured the tent with rocks and our trekking poles, inflated our pads and crawled inside for some badly needed rest. We’d remain there for 11 hours, yet hardly feel rested the next morning. Derek estimated that we recovered about 15% of our strength.
Beautiful morning light on the traverse north of Buchanan Pass.
We didn’t get moving the next morning until past 6:30 a.m. It wasn’t that cold but it also wasn’t that light out. We dropped down the steep, rock-studded grassy slope into the saddle and then dropped further to get around some rock towers. And then up. And then down and then up and one final down to Buchanan Pass. We were going to bail here due to fatigue and dehydration but we found some more standing pools of water. We drank heartily and filled our containers. Our thirst sated, but still weak, we decided to continue over Paiute, mostly because Sheri was over that side in the next drainage. We sent her another text message to meet us at the Audubon Trailhead and started the arduous traverse, skipping the summit of Sawtooth, over to the top of Algonquin. From there the view is daunting to say the least. A very exposed, technical, extremely complicated, rocky ridge sculpted a tortured path over to the saddle below Paiute. I’d done this section once before and forgotten nearly everything about it. I led us astray a couple of times, wasting time, but more importantly wasting precious energy. It took forever, but we eventually arrived at the saddle.

This was the only part that I had remembered from my previous trip. We scrambled easily up to final headwall, which is quite daunting. My one time up here before, I found a 30-40-foot steep section that was probably 5.6 or 5.7 with some rests, but tricky, insecure climbing in-between. When I did this before I had a rope and belayed my partners up it and hauled up my pack. This time we had no such aids. I went first and made the top, though a bit concerned with the difficulty of the climbing, which is much harder than the climbing on Isolation and more insecure. Derek had some trouble. Enough to get me concerned I climbed a bit higher to more secure ground, took off my pack and dug out the three slings I’d carried to secure the tent. I looped them over a secure rock and dropped them down. It would only help, if at all, on the final crux. Derek’s poles were sticking high out of his pack, as they couldn’t be collapsed much and in the way. I was so stressed and nervous watching him work it out. I could do nothing to help him. He didn’t rush and he took his time to work out the moves that felt solid to him and he got up it.
Highly complex and technical ground enroute to Paiute in the background.
Relieved, we continued up 3rd and 4th class terrain to the summit. Our last for this attempt. We relaxed for a bit, ate, and drank. We saw Sheri's text telling us that she'd meet us at the trailhead. We descended to a saddle and then descended loose, skiable terrain down into the cirque. We emptied our shoes and trudged to the trailhead. We found Sheri waiting with the most impressive spread of food and drink that I've ever seen at a trailhead. And she had carried the entire thing into Pawnee Pass for us! My buddy Mark had made us fresh bread and delivered to our house at 5:25 a.m. I was overwhelmed by the love and support, but disappointed that we'd let them down. Our support was first class. We were not. At least on this attempt.

Feeling bad about bailing on the LA Freeway, I moved this boulder onto these rocks as a final workout.

Despite our failure, Derek was very excited about the attempt. He'd never done anything like it before and now he knows a lot about the LA Freeway. He had an incredible adventure and found his limits. I had a tremendous weekend bonding with my son.


Blue Lake. We are nearly down to the first real trail since leaving the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak
The peaks you are supposed to climb on this traverse with the ones in bold being the summits we actually hit:

Longs Peak
Pagoda Peak
Chiefs Head Peak
Mt. Alice
Tanima Peak
The Cleaver
Isolation Peak
Ouzel Peak
Ogalalla Peak
Peak 12277
Red Deer Peak
Sawtooth Peak
Algonquin Peak
Paiute Peak
Mt. Toll
Pawnee Peak
Shoshoni Peak
Apache Peak
Navajo Peak
Arikaree Peak
North Arapaho Peak
South Arapaho Peak

Wow. That looks pretty lame. Lots of room for improvement, I guess. Good thing we didn't make it as that would be a pretty significant asterisk. Derek was up for doing it "right" and I somehow convinced myself that we didn't need the summits. If we'd done them all, we might have bailed at Buchanan Pass. A great father-son adventure and learning experience.

What we learned and what we'd do differently:

When I finished this adventure I could hardly imagine even hiking again and was absolutely sure I'd never try this again. Yet, just a day afterwards, Derek and I were brainstorming how we'd do it differently. First, intimately knowledge of the route is key as tons of time and effort can be wasted finding the correct passages. This effort doesn't just drain you physically, but does as much damage to you mentally.

Next, we should have started much earlier and did almost all of Longs Peak in the dark. This would have saved us hours of daylight that we needed to make Buchanan Pass.

Third, we envisioned the ideal support plan. While the LA Freeway has been done unsupported (currently only by Buzz), it can be made considerably more doable with support. Dropping below the Divide to get water adds time and effort to an already epic undertaking. We'd start with 120 ounces of water each and plan to drink it all by Boulder Grand Pass. At the same time that we'd start from the Longs Peak Trailhead, Sheri would start from Wild Basin and hike into Boulder Grand Pass (9 miles one way) and leave 200 ounces of water. She'd then hike back out and then, with 4WD support, hike into Buchanan Pass with two gallons of extra water where she'd meet Derek and I for the night. Maybe she'd even carry in our sleeping bags, pads, and tent. The next day, she'd hike out, certainly with our overnight gear, and then hike into Pawnee Pass with more water and food for us. Finally, she'd meet us on South Arapahoe Peak with final snacks and drinks. This would be a grueling weekend for Sheri as well, but I think she'd be into it.