Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First Flatiron in the Rain

I climbed the first Flatiron in the rain this morning. This isn't recommended and it wasn't our intention. Corey had been jonesing to climb the First Flatiron ever since he moved back to Boulder years ago and I was happy to help him out.

We met at 6 a.m. and hiked into the base with a 60-meter skinny rope, three cams, and five slings. We both wore harnesses and sticky rubber approach shoes. Our plan was to pitch it out to start with and then hopefully transition to some simul-climbing if Corey was comfortable with that.

I led the 200-foot first pitch (clipped two eye-bolts) up to the tree at the ledge and Corey followed, commenting that he was glad to be on a rope. As I started up the second pitch I detected a slight rain falling. "But how can that be?", I thought. It doesn't rain in Colorado on summer mornings. We've been having a strange, wet year and none of the old rules apply. It's probably all caused by global warming, which has obviously been caused by hydraulic fracturing, but, never fear, the Boulder City Council will solve all that by starting their own energy company. Hurrah! We'll be back to hot, dry summers soon.

I ran out another 200-feet of rope and belayed at a small ledge from one cam. The rain was stronger now, but still not very hard. The rock wasn't even completely wet, but it was getting there. On the next pitch, up to the Route Junction Knob with a hundred feet of simul-climbing, I decided that the smart thing would be to downclimb off at Baker's Way and rap from the tree above the crux. But by the time Corey got to the belay, the rain had nearly stopped and the skies to the west seemed a bit lighter. Plus, the downclimb off looked harder on the wet rock. I decided to continue up and Corey was game.

I led one short pitch and then another 300-footer, through the crux slot and up to the North Ridge. On this pitch the rain became stronger than ever and it was a concern. We were committed now, though, and the quickest way off was over the top. I informed Corey of the situation when he arrived and I blasted for the summit, telling Corey to just start climbing when I ran out of rope.

The rain eased some again and had nearly stopped by the time we hit the summit. After some quick photos we rapped to the ground and now the rain had completely stopped. The rock never got completely soaked and hence the climbing wasn't too dangerous. It was a bit slick, but nothing we couldn't handle. It was more the stress of having it get worse and being in a difficult position to bail quickly. But we got it done and Corey has now climbed the First Flatiron.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mark and Mallory on Ruper

At the top of the Ruper Crack (top of second pitch)

Mallory was headed off to college at BYU Wednesday morning and Mark wanted a memorable climbing adventure to share with her. She wanted to do Ruper, since Mark had raved so much about it. While Mark could have handled the leading duties, he asked me to come along to add a level of security and confidence and so that he could share more of the adventure with Mallory. I was happy to oblige and climb one of my favorite routes with two of my favorite people.

We met at 5:45 a.m. Monday morning and hiked into Ruper in the dim light of the shortening summer days. Mallory confidently soloed up the 4th class Lower Ramp and we were soon at the base of the route. The plan was for me to lead trailing two ropes. I'd belay Mark and Mallory at the same time and they'd climb closely together, with Mark leading the way, pulling the gear and giving Mallory the beta.
Mallory is a strong gym climber and boulderer, stronger than Mark, but is still relatively inexperienced on trad climbs. This would be, at six pitches, her longest climb.
Just past the Ruper Traverse
I strung the first two pitches together and set up a belay from two fat bolts atop the famed Ruper Crack - the wide crack where climbers sometimes get their knee stuck. M & M climbed easily up the first pitch and then were careful along the traverse over to the bottom of the crack. Mark styled the crack and Mallory followed suit, though with maybe a touch of concern. On the burly finish Mallory was more in her element, easily pulling over the steep section.

The next pitch was the infamous Ruper Traverse. This is a very airy traverse and not that well protected for the followers, which can make it quite exciting. To lower the stress, I only placed two pieces of gear. One just off the belay, after an easy traversing section and then one piece before the start of the crux traverse. I then did the traverse and climbed clear to the belay atop the Upper Ramp without placing any more gear. This way I gave them both a complete toprope across the traverse. It was still very exposed and insecure, but if they fell, they would not pendulum.
Climbing on the upper wall

The crux move on this traverse, at least the way I do it, involves a huge stretch way to the right. Mallory, at 5'6", is six inches shorter than me and I wondered what her solution would be. Turns out, it was footwork, flexibility and a bit of guile. Kids...

Mark and Mallory rapped the Upper Ramp's slab down and right to the base of Upper Ruper while I cleaned the belay and downclimbed to them. I ran out most of the rope to a nice ledge on the upper face and belayed while they climbed one of the best moderate pitches in all of Eldo, probably all of Colorado. This steep and intimidating face is peppered with great holds and climbs much easier than it looks.
On the ledge in the middle of Upper Ruper

The last pitch has a short 5.8 crux section and I ran it out above there to the top of the wall and the end of the climb. Mark and Mallory, climbing next to each other, rambled up after me. Mallory questioned Mark when he headed left before the crux instead of following the chalk up the corner. Mark knows that while there isn't any protection opportunities out to the left, the climbing is easy and when it returns to the crux, gear can be had. Eldo climbs frequently have tricks that allow them to be climbed more easily than they appear, though they are frequently inobvious.

We descended the East Slabs back down to the car. Mallory previously had some trouble with this descent, but cruised down it easily today. We were back at the car by 10:15 a.m. It had been so much fun that there was talk of making this an annual thing. Granted all that talk was by me, but I think they'll come around...
Nearing the top of the climb

Saturday, August 23, 2014


The last moves through the rotten band

T2, named as it ascends Tower Two in Eldorado Canyon, is one of the longest routes in Eldorado Canyon and it mostly consists of classic 5.9 and easier climbing. But there's an issue. It's the first pitch. Actually, its just the first 25 feet of the first pitch. It's hard. Really hard for a guy like me. I think it is 5.11b/c, though I think the guidebook rates it easier. It's overhangs massively right from the ground. In fact, it is non-trivial to even pull both feet off the ground as you pull yourself into a bat hang and then proceed to a heel hook and other burly shenanigans up to a pin and then have to pull on tiny holds, though the angle has eased considerably to just slightly overhanging. And here's the best part: the only piece of pro is that pin that is twenty feet off the ground, above the crux moves (for me anyway), and if you blow it, you'll land flat on your back on a rock slab. That's not a reasonable lead for me. That's unreasonable. I TRed it cleanly twice earlier this year, but I'd need to climb it much more easily before I'd even think about leading it.

So, what's the moderate climber to do? Forgo all that great climbing above? Never! The 5.9 climber's approach to this route is to climb the first pitch of Touch and Go (burly 5.8 vs. burly 11+) to the super cool second pitch of Jules Verne (which has an even more dangerous and harder start than T2), which gets you to the Upper Ramp. From there you can follow the upper five (guidebook) pitches of T2. The locals call this either T1.9 or T1.5. Mark and I headed here this morning.

Mark hadn't climbed since the Diamond and I had only climbed once. We were both getting a bit out of shape and weren't ready to quit climbing for the year. I have one more big climbing objective on my radar for this year, so I need to stay somewhat in shape.

I pulled into the Eldo parking lot at 6 a.m. I was surprised to see another car parked in my spot, the first spot. It was a tall guy and a girl. I popped out and said, "It's no big deal and I'm not upset, but you parked in my spot. You don't have to move it, but I'm just letting you know for next time." They were cool and weren't even there to climb! They said some friends of theirs were going to climb the Naked Edge and they were going to shoot some photos. That's cool. We started gearing up and the tall guy told us that his friends were training for the Naked Edge speed record. Now they had my interest. "Really?" I said. "Are your friends Scott and Brad?"

Sure enough, they were. When Scott and Brad pulled in I learned that they were going to give a show at Neptune's on the Naked Edge speed record. Mark and I offered up the use of our photos and video, thinking these would be a huge help over the photos this guy was going to take from below the route. We tried to tell the guy that he should be more over on the Fowler Trail. From his proposed location he'd be taken the ultimate long-distance butt shot!

Climbing the Naked Edge - Teaser Trailer from max seigal on Vimeo.

I tell newcomers to Boulder to "be humble", as you never know when you're talking to some world-class athlete who looks like a normal human and is really modest. If you've not humble, you can easily get your foot stuck in your mouth. I know this one dude who made this mistake at the base of El Cap. He didn't know he was talking to Scott Cosgrove and Steve Gerberding (Valley legends) and when they revealed their plan to bivy on the Block instead of the usual last bivy on the much higher on Long Ledge, said, "If you get off from there, that would be amazing." They responded, "We can do amazing things" and the light slowly started to come on for this tool...

Onsighting the 5.9 fingercrack (yes, I see that #3 Camalot)
But I digress. I'd never make a mistake like this and was confident of offering my video. It turns out the tall guy knew what he was doing. At the top of the first pitch, as I was belaying Mark up, I see the guy below me and he now has a quad copter with him. Scott and Brad and casually soloed up the approach to the Naked Edge and have even climbed the first two pitches already and a rapping down it to climb it again! Tall guy flies his quad copter up to the Naked Edge and hovers rock solid shooting what I assume to be some awesome video. I'm thinking, "Tall guy has done this before..." This guy was rock solid with that baby. He even shot some video of Mark and I. I figured we'd make a great contrast video for the speed climbing: Here's how a normal party climbs 5.9; now, here's how Scott and Brad climb 5.11.

I led up the second pitch to the Ramp and Mark followed nicely, cleaning climbing the pumpy dihedral. We walked up the Ramp to the start of upper T2 and I combined the 5.7 pitch with the 5.9 fingercrack pitch and set up a semi-hanging belay on a tiny stance before the 5.8 slab pitch. Mark followed, climbing remarkably well despite the layoff. He onsighted this tricky pitch. He was feeling the effort at the belay, but wore a satisfying grin.

I led up part the 5.8 slab to the easy 5.6 ramp, which was covered in lots of disgusting bird shit, but it didn't last long and with care you could avoid almost all of it. It took me a bit to place the safe gear and climb through the tricky, weird, intimidating rotten band. I pulled up the rope and Mark followed quickly to the rotten section. In the midst of the balance moves out to his right, he messed up his feet a bit. The handholds are so bad here that reversing things would be difficult. I was well below my belay device (setup in guide mode at the anchor) in order to take photos and I'd have had to climb back up there to give him slack, if he wanted to reverse things and try again. He didn't call for slack, though, and tried to push on through. Unfortunately, it wasn't an easily salvageable position and Mark fell off.
Climbing through the "Rotten Band"
After a brief rest, he regained the rock and climbed through the pumpy crux section to the ledge. He was so close to getting the route completely clean, but one fall is no big deal. We simul-climbed the remaining 300 feet of 5.6 climbing to the top and then descended via the familiar East Slabs.
Topping out on T2
Scott and Brad and Tall Guy and Cute Girl were gone by now. It was only 10:30 a.m. but they had already climbed the Naked Edge's pitches two or three times over, shot some cool video, and were off for lattes. I'll have to hit up Scott for Tall Guy's email and see if we can get the video of us. It was another great morning in Eldo. As I type this at 2 p.m. I'm listening to violent thunder and glad I'm not sitting on top of Tower Two.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Speed Climbing w/Chris Weidner

Smooth video here.
I didn't take any photos this morning, mainly because I didn't have a camera, but since blog entries about climbing require some photo or video, I put the above video of a bull snake crossing a bike path in our neighborhood. I was going to make an analogy about how smooth this reptile moves and that we were just as smooth snaking up routes in Eldorado Canyon...but that's a stretch. I'm not too smooth these days.

Chris is a well-known climber and writer. He climbs 5.14, is good buddies with Alex Honnold, is a guide, and writes for various publications. It was through his writing that I got to know him. He wrote a piece for the local paper on setting goals for the year and I always do this as well. It seemed like we had something in common, though certainly not athletic ability.

Chris told me he wanted to experience speed climbing and asked if we to go out and try it in Eldo. I knew Chris has linked up multiple big wall routes in Zion, all free, in a day, so I thought to myself, "Okay...but we'll be climbing slower than you've already climbed..." But I guess it will be different, since Chris was able to link those routes free without simul-climbing. This was probably wise, as the routes were Moonlight Buttress (12d) and Monkeyfinger (12b). So, his speed came not from a specific technique, but because he's just a very good, efficient climber. And he might have had a really good partner as well...

One of my standard speed circuits is to link up Long John Wall (5.8, 5 pitches) with the Yellow Spur (5.9 or 10b, depending upon start and finish, 7 pitches) and possibly tacking on Calypso/Reggae (5.8, 4 pitches with the downclimb), and the Bastille Crack (5.8, 5 pitches). I'd done the full link-up in under two hours before, but we wouldn't be going for that kind of speed. This was just going to be a fun, casual outing.

We met early and after one false start (I forgot the rope!), we were off. We brought a 100-foot rope and though I did carry a belay device, I never used it and don't usually on something like this. When simul-climbing, in general, you have the strongest climber going second, especially if you forget to the bring the Ropeman devices for protecting the leader against the second falling off. Hence, I led both routes.

I brought my standard Eldo rack (doubles of cams up to #2 Camalot, one #3 Camalot) except that I didn't bring any stoppers and I brought three extra slings. The idea is to lead each route as a single pitch and I did this.

We hiked over to the Long John Wall and I gave Chris the drill on how it would go and then I said, "See you at the Yellow Spur," and was off. I didn't move particularly fast, but tried to just move steady and place solid gear before any crux move. It went well and Chris never held me up (big surprise there, huh?). I topped out, looped a sling over a horn and started downclimbing the backside of the West Ridge. When Chris topped out, he untied and I pulled down the rope, coiled it and continued down to the gully, then across it and over to the Yellow Spur.

Chris regrouped with me at the start of the Yellow Spur and we re-racked. We repeated the procedure on the Yellow Spur and it went smoothly. I was stumped a bit at the thin, tricky section over the lip of the roof on the second pitch, but took my time and made sure I was solid. I decided to finish on the easier Robbin's Traverse instead of the direct finish for two reasons. First, I was running out of slings. Second, and more importantly, I usually put a Ropeman above this section so that if the second falls off on the crux, it won't pull me off the runout 5.6 I'm climbing above. I knew the chances of Chris falling on 10b were small, but the climbing is very delicate and it is possible for even him to fall. I was more likely to fall there, of course, but I'd be safe if I fell, just not if he fell.

I love the pin ladder section. It is such a cool position and so delicate and you have to really stay in balance. At the top of the route, I loop the rope over the very summit and downclimb off towards the descent gully while Chris is climbing the last pitch.

We coiled and descended the East Slabs. I needed to get to work, so we called it a morning after just those two routes. We did the roundtrip from the car in two hours. Chris seemed to enjoy it and hopefully we'll be out again next week.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Journey Is Over...

Mission accomplished. Quest complete. Diamond tamed.

Nine months ago Mark decided he wanted to climb the Diamond. Today we did. Yeah, baby!

Last November Mark started joining me at the Movement Climbing Gym in Boulder two days per week. He went from hanging on 5.8 to redpointing multiple 5.11 routes. In May we transitioned to outdoor training and climbed a couple of mornings in the week. We did Touch and Go, Bolting for Glory (three times), Blind Faith (three times), Outer Space, Yellow Spur and Green Spur, Grand Giraffe, Ruper, Anthill Direct, Over the Hill, West Buttress of the Bastille, etc. Then we did some alpine climbing. We did the North Chimney to Broadway to preview the approach (and finished with the cool Chasm Cutoff Traverse). We climbed the Petit Grepon, the Penknife, and Sharkstooth in a day. We climbed the Red Wall on Chasm View Wall.

And the weather moved in. Rain and snow shut down the Diamond and then I had to do the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. We kept up our training and when the weather looked perfect today, Mark flew back a day earlier from a family reunion in Utah and, last night, we headed to a friend's cabin four miles from the trailhead.
Microspikes rock!
The alarm went off at 3 a.m. and we didn't move quickly. This almost cost us. I had the breakfast of champions: a Frappuccino and a package of mini-chocolate donuts. We weren't hiking until 3:40 a.m. Another party started at nearly the same time and we hiked a lot with them on the way in. They were two guides (male and female) from Estes Park. They stopped at Chasm Cutoff to eat and we stopped at the privy to...anti-eat, but we ended up in front. We saw one set of headlamps heading around Chasm Lake and since it was a Tuesday, we figured maybe one or two parties might be ahead of us.

What we saw when we arrived at the North Chimney was ghastly. Oh, the humanity! There were eight parties in various stages of climbing the North Chimney. At least three of them were struggling to get up the rock-hard snow to the base of the wall. I'd never seen such a cluster on this wall. Apparently it is just getting more and more popular and everyone was watching the weather just like us. For a brief moment, I thought our day was done, but then I transformed to an earlier, more competitive version of myself, one that embraces a good race to the base of a route.

Mark and I were already, wisely, both wearing our Microspikes. If you don't own a pair of these...what's wrong with you? Seriously. This allowed us to crunch right up to the rock as if there was a staircase cut into the slope. To our right climbers batmanned up a fixed line and flailed on the slick surface. Once on the rock, we quickly transitioned into our harnesses and climbing shoes. We both wore packs and climbed on a doubled 60-meter rope. I took off. Mark said, "You're not on belay," and I responded, "I don't need one." I was planning to pull out a hundred feet of rope quickly and then Mark would need to start climbing anyway.

It seemed that no one knew the right route up the North Chimney and this worked heavily in my favor. One party was too far to the left, most were too far to the right, staying how too long on the snow and then in the chimney. I split these teams, powering up the middle. A couple of parties further up were pitching it out and that was our plan, but conditions changed things. We were glad for our earlier preview and we motored up the 4-pitch North Chimney in one simul-climbed, 30-minute pitch. We passed all eight parties and found ourselves on Broadway with a completely virgin, sun-drenched Diamond above us.
Mark arrives on Broadway at 6:30 a.m.

We re-packed into our haulbag and pulled out our haulline. We got a quick drink. We tied into the ends of the lead rope and I was off, up the initial 5.6 pitch. This didn't take long and I hauled the bag and belayed Mark at the same time using a Wall Hauler and an Petzl auto-blocking belay device. Mark soon arrived at the belay and after a quick re-rack I was off. We have the change-overs dialed.

The next pitch goes up the 5.9 thin crack and then does the 5.7 traverse across the face to the next crack system. This pitch, like pretty much every pitch, is super fun. The traverse is specatular, with so many great holds out there. At the end of the traverse I went up a bit to belay in a cramped alcove on a sloping shelf at the base of the wide slot. There were slings thirty feet lower, but it didn't want to climb down to a belay. This pitch was about 190-feet long.
Mark on the great traverse pitch
Mark arriving at the crack system at the end of the traverse pitch
Each time I'd get to a belay, I'd have my routine and I was very conscious of the time pressure with parties behind us. I also wanted to give Mark as much time to climb so that he would not feel rushed. I was stressed about the hauling on this pitch, though. No other party on the Casual Route was hauling and I didn't want them to later say, "We had to bail because there was this slow party in front of us and they were hauling and everything." Hence, I really didn't want the bag to get stuck. On every other pitch Mark would be able to easily free the bag, if it got stuck, while he climbed the pitch. He did this on the first pitch. But on this long traverse pitch that would not be the case. Since the pitch was so long, we didn't even bother lowering it out. I didn't really prep Mark on that procedure and it wouldn't have bought us much here since there was hardly any extra rope. When Mark let the bag go, it careened across the face and came to a stop below me. I started hauling and for awhile it went smoothly and then it got stuck. I had to release the Wall Hauler and give myself some slack on the haul line. Then I repeatedly yanked up the bag into the obstruction until it bounced over whatever was in the way. This worked and it was with great relief that I was able to haul the bag all the way to the belay. I even called out to Mark, "The bag's up!"

All the while I was belaying Mark, of course. With the bag up, my work wasn't done. I had to get the bag secured and the Wall-Hauler back onto the other end of the haul line and clipped to my harness. Unlike on the Red Wall, this time I never left the belay without the haul line.

Mark loved this pitch and even called out halfway across the traverse, "This is aswesome! And a lot easier than it looked from the last belay." Mark was relaxed and seemingly well within his physical and mental comfort range. Our preparation for this route had been extensive and it was paying off. 

As soon as Mark was at the belay, I had him clove-hitched into the belay. He immediately sank onto the anchor and went to work re-racking. He'd rack onto the sling on his side and pass me gear for the other side. I took him off belay and he put me on belay. In just a couple of minutes I was setting off up the next pitch, which I didn't think would be very long, but instead ending up being at least 150 feet. All the pitches we did seemed to be quite long.
Mark cruxing on a difficult section at the end of the third pitch
This third pitch started with a wide slot. I know this sometimes gives climbers a tough time, but we had prepared for wide climbing and this slot was short and easy, involving just a couple of secure squeeze/offwidth moves and then I was able to reach some jugs. This wide section is absolutely nothing compared to the squeeze on the crux pitch. Moderate, fun climbing led up to a ramp with some fixed belay anchors, but I continued above it, knowing that if I went high on this pitch, I'd be able to do the long dihedral above as one pitch. The climbing off the ramp to the ledges where I belayed was cruxy. I think it involved some 5.9 moves and Mark concurred when he passed this section. In fact, when he got to the belay, he said, "That was close. I was on the very edge." Yet, he was controlled and focused.

The fourth pitch is the massive dihedral pitch, which took 190 feet of rope to reach the Yellow Wall Bivy Ledge. Many people call this their favorite pitch or the greatest 5.8 pitch they've ever done. I can't argue much with that. It is a spectacular pitch that is really fun to climb, but I like every pitch on the Casual Route. Every pitch is solid. Every pitch protects well. Every pitch is fun and exposed. This dihedral can feel hard if you try to climb it too fast, as the climbing is burly, steep, and, as I said, very long. There are frequent good resting spots, though, and these provide low stress locations to place protection. I was trying to move fast, though, and I tried to move fairly continuously. Hence, I was quite out of breath when I arrived on the big ledge. My fingers were also quite cold. This dihedral is perpetually in the shade, no matter what time of day you climb it. No matter what month of the year.

I was thankful for the big ledge was it was easy to just pile up the rope on the ledge, instead of having to coil it across my belay tie-in, like at every other belay. Once again, I hauled and belayed. Mark had to free the bag for me about halfway up the pitch, but it was right on his way. I had brought along two pairs of Hand Jammies - crack climbing mitts - but neither of us got them out of the bag. And we didn't have any issues with scarring up our hands. I'd say it was due to our great technique, but it was much more due to the friendly jamming on the this route and the multiple opportunities to use face holds. If we were on Pervertical Sanctuary instead, I would have availed myself of these aids.

I had been trying to take some sips from the Camelback hose we had snaking out of the top of the haul bag, but I probably drank less than 20 ounces on the entire climb. I also didn't eat anything at all from the base of the North Chimney until we got to Kiener's Route. That's about 1500 feet of technical climbing and ten pitches. I wasn't bonking and just constantly felt the pressure to keep moving.

Starting up the awesome, super long, dihedral pitch
We were now at the start of the crux pitch. This is the money pitch. It is the hardest pitch, true, but it also the best pitch. It is so beautifully varied, long, really airy, and challenging. A pair of climbers from Telluride had been following us up the route and the woman of the team arrived at our ledge just before I took off. I knew climbing this pitch from this ledge would make for a long pitch, but I knew the rope would reach.

I climbed up easy ground and then surmounted a huge flake. Above the flake the "box" section started. This is a tiny, two-and-a-half-foot-wide inset on the face. It is only inset by about six inches, but it is enough to use some chimney technique as you negotiate the shallow, thin, intermittent finger crack that forms in both corners of the box. The hardest parts are when the crack pinches to nothing and  you are dependent on your feet. The rock here is bulletproof, like pretty much everywhere, but it seems particularly polished and slippery here, when you need your feet the most.

I inched up, placing a stopper and a couple of small cams, concentrating and working hard. I was relieved to grab the big holds at the top of this section. A few easy moves led me to the squeeze chimney. This chimney is big enough to get inside, but not a lot bigger. In order to turn my head from looking at the back of the chimney to looking outside of it, I had to pivot my head straight up and over, as my helmet did not allow me to turn my head normally. This was a bit annoying, as I'd looked into the back of the chimney to assess protection possibilities and then pivot my head up and over to select the proper piece from my rack.

Mark at the crux of the route

This section is quite tricky if you aren't experienced at squeeze chimneys and even if you are, this is pretty strenuous. It isn't very runout, but you do get a ways above gear. There is a hidden crack on the left face that accepts a small cam and, at the top, you can place a bomber #2 Camalot. I carried a #3 and a #3.5 Camalot up this route and never needed either. The wide sections are way too wide for these cams, as they are chimneys and the hand crack sections have many possibilities for smaller gear.

Arriving at the top of the crux pitch

I inched slowly up the chimney, climbing it right-side in and using a combination of feet-knee technique and chicken wings to move up. At the top I exited to the left and some steep climbing brought me up to the crux move. There were a couple of fixed stoppers here and I clipped them both. I got myself in a slightly awkward position here and burned a lot of effort trying to hang onto the marginal fingerlocks. I thought I might have to grab some gear for a moment, but then figured out the balance and got my feet right. Relaxed, I was able to decipher the crux, which, for me, involved reaching up high and getting a pretty solid, though thin, hand jam with my right hand and then matching my left hand into a jam directly above it. With both hands set, I was able to pull up and get my feet over the bulge and onto some nubbins. That was enough for me to let go with one hand and reach higher for better jams and eventually big holds, where I placed one more piece before reaching the horizontal crack known as Table Ledge. A hundred feet to my left, this crack was indeed a nice, two-foot wide ledge. Getting there was the final 5.8 pitch.

I set up a belay via a couple of fixed pieces and a couple of my own. I was pleased to find a small stance here, as I had remembered it as a pure hanging belay. In fact, all the belays on the route were better than I remembered them. Only the one atop the second pitch was a bit awkward and mostly a hanging belay. All the others provided at least a good stance.

The pitch had been about 170 feet long, but it is so steep that the bag came up easily and quickly. Mark had a bit more trouble, but I was impressed when he onsighted the tricky 5.9+ inset climbing. Some people view this as the crux section. I yelled down "Right side in!" when he got to the chimney and assumed he heard and heeded my advice, but I couldn't see him as he squeezed into the slot. It turns out that he went left side in. That proved to be an issue. Mark thrashed and thrashed and got about halfway up before realizing his mistake. Turning around to face the other way proved to be a challenge and he was now anaerobic. He briefly weighted the rope making this maneuver and the finished off the chimney.

As Mark faced the crux jamming moves, he was only twenty feet below me and I gave him the beta that I used. He was pumped and having trouble getting correctly established, just like I did, but he reached high and got the jams with both hands. At that point he completely pumped out and slumped onto the rope. These jams are a bit technical and by the time you get them most climbers have been worked over a bit by the lower 150 feet of climbing. After a brief rest, Mark was able to get the jams to stick and he pulled the moves, arriving at the belay shortly afterwards.

Our Telluride party, the guy this time, was hot on Mark's heels, so we didn't waste any time with the change-over and soon I was hand traversing left. The crux moves of this traverse at right at the very start, so the leader is exceptionally well protected. I tried to put in gear immediately afterwards so that Mark would be taken care of as well. The rest of the pitch continues hard left with a combination of downclimbing, upclimbing, and traversing. This combination makes the pitch as exciting to follow as to lead.

Right after I got to Table Ledge I found two fat, shiny bolts connected with a shiny chain anchor. It was first bolts I had seen on the route. I belayed here so that we'd be able to lower out the haul bag and Mark managed tying the back in short and lowering it out expertly. In no time I had the bag at the ledge with me. Mark followed nicely with some direction from me: "When in doubt, climb down." And then he was at the ledge. We'd done it! We'd climbed the Diamond. 

We were both elated, but wanted to keep going a bit further to get to Kiener's Route and the unroping spot. The climbing to get there was easy, 4th class or 5.1 or 5.2, but the exposure was nearly two thousand feet and we decided to say roped. I pulled Mark's pack out of the haulbag and put it my back. While I scampered left to Kiener's, Mark put the straps back on the haulbag, so that he could wear it as a pack. I put in one solid piece for a belay and Mark soon joined me. We sat down to take a well deserved break. We changed shoes, ate, drank, and packed up most of our gear. It was just 12:20 p.m. I think this was my second fastest time climbing the Diamond - the one faster ascent was with Stefan when we did the Longs Peak Triathlon.

The final 5.8 traverse pitch
The party that we had partially hiked-in with topped out at nearly the same time. They had come up Pervertical Sanctuary. Another party that did the Yellow Wall topped out as I was belaying Mark up the crux. They rapped the face to climb another route (!), but the PV team continued to the summit with us. The PV climbers were both climbing guides, so we topped the face at the same time as a couple of very experienced teams. 
This is me climbing the 5.9 inset on the crux pitch. Photo taken by Eric Fowles from Chasm View
The climbing had gone nearly perfectly. Mark did quite onsight the Diamond, but nor did I on my first trip up it. Nor the second or the third. I didn't completely free the Diamond until I did the Yellow Wall with Mark Hudon. I've since freed the Casual Route three of the five times I've climbed it. I haven't completely freed Pervertical Sanctuary (11a) despite two ascents. Nor have I freed D7 (11c/d) despite two ascents as well, but both were planned to be aid ascents, including one in winter with Phil Gruber. I felt great and the climbing felt really solid, safe for the those moments before I got situated at the crux. The keys to this ascent were our great preparation and waiting for the ideal weather day, no matter when that came. If you climb the Diamond in ideal weather, when it is dry, it is a great experience. Climbing it in less than ideal weather...not so much.
Climbing the last steep part of Kiener's Route
We were both dragging up Kiener's to the summit and quite happy to stop going uphill. We hit the summit at 1 p.m. We ate and drank some more on the summit, before descending via the North Face. After a couple of rappels down there, we finally stripped off our harnesses and put the ropes away for good. The hike out would take another two hours, but we arrived back at the trailhead at 4:10 p.m., making for a 12.5-hour roundtrip. That'll do.

On the summit of Longs Peak

Monday, August 11, 2014

Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race: Take Two

Getting some "encouragement" from my son Derek on the infamous Powerline climb

This hurt. But it was supposed to hurt. If it didn't hurt I was doing something wrong. 

At the start
Last year's race was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. This year, while not nearly as momentous proved to be interesting as well. Last year I rode with my brother and we treated it as a team event and stuck together the whole time. This year he was taking the same strategy with his wife Liz. She crewed for us last year and got so pumped watching the event that she wanted to give it a try. I was back to ride it mainly because my son Derek, who crewed for just the last aid station, was excited to crew the entire race. He wanted to see what I could do. My stated goal was to break ten hours, but my real goal was to make Derek proud of me.

Derek ready to document the race and crew for me
 The race is a mass start, but everyone is queued into corrals with the fastest people in the front, of course. Having finished just barely under 12 hours last year I would have had to start in the third to last corral. But, I raced the Silver Rush 50 in order to improve my starting position and got moved up to the third overall corral. Chris and Liz had to start at the very back. Chris could have started in the third to last corral but he was a team with Liz, so they started together at the back. I queued right next to my friend Jason. We all rode to the start from our hotel and I was wearing a jacket and knee warmers so that I wouldn't get too cold waiting for the start in the 40-degree temperature. Just before the start, though, I stripped them off and tossed them to Sheri. Chris and Liz did the same with their jackets.

Off we go
Just before the start
After the national anthem, sung by 7-time winner Dave Weins' son, the gun went off. We didn't move at all for about 30 seconds (it was 4 minutes before Chris and Liz started moving) and then we rolled out. They had made some announcement about a pinch in the course, but I didn't catch it all. Less than a hundred yards from the start the course, which was taking up the entire road, we were pinched to about a third of that width. The entire field came to a stop and it caught me by surprise and I hit my front brake hard to avoid crashing into the guy in front of me. I hit it too hard, without my weight back, and I flipped over the handlebars. This is in a dense crowd with riders within a foot of me on all sides. I was able to get one foot out and got it down on the ground to avoid really crashing, but my right foot remained clipped in and I was tangled up in my bike. One of my bottles fell off and I was making a mess of the start. Yet no one yelled at me. Everyone was cool. I was able to finally twist out of my pedal, collect my bottle and remount. A little ways down the street I went by Sheri and she was surprised I was already way behind Jason. They would be keeping a close eye on our relative locations throughout the race.
Turning onto Hagerman Pass Road

Approaching Hagerman Pass Road

I tried to maintain position on the four-mile descent and did a reasonable job with this. Some riders went by me and I went by others. I wasn't overly aggressive and got to the base of the St. Kevin's climb in good shape, though with very cold hands. They wouldn't warm up for probably twenty minutes or more. I tried to relax and just keep pace. We were climbing quite a bit faster than last year, due to being more towards the front, but it was still pretty comfortable most of the time. On the steepest section I did top a heart rate of 150 bpm, which was my ballpark limit for the first three quarters of this race. I did a good job with this and only briefly topped it on very steep sections throughout the race. 

My crew, still trying to wake up, apparently
Things went well on the climb and I rolled through the St. Kevin's aid station without stopping, along with everyone around me. Out on the pavement, I made sure to eat and drink on the three-mile descent. All too soon, we were climbing again, initially on the paved Turquoise Lake Road. At the Hagerman Pass Road turn-off, my crew of Sheri, Derek, and Arthur (Chris' son) were there to cheer me on. They only saw me for a few seconds, but they made the effort to come out to this point and it meant a lot to me. The road was dirt now but smooth for another two miles or so. Then we switchbacked hard to the left onto a much rockier road with a couple of single track paths. I generally held position here, as I was already among riders with similar fitness. This was the Sugarloaf climb and while it is pretty long, most of it is at a very reasonable angle and it is the easiest of the major climbs in the race, save the Carter Summit paved-road climb. At the top I pulled over to pee. At least I was hydrating well.

Jury-rigging my rear shock. This would last for 85 miles
The descent of Sugarloaf is fast and generally pretty reasonable, but some riders can really blast it. The problem is that one line is much better than any other line and despite being on a 4WD road, it descends more like a single track. I was able to hold my position well on this descent, as it wasn't that rocky. The lower part is the infamous Powerline section. This is hike-a-bike for nearly everyone on the way back, but it is a fast, dangerous descent on the way out as the track is very narrow and it goes right besides a big groove. If you fall off the narrow track into the groove, you'll crash. There are also some sizable dips. I hit one of these dips hard and heard a loud crack followed by a high-pitched buzzing sound that did not stop. I wondered what I had done to my bike, but I couldn't stop on such a steep, fast descent. Spectators on the sides were saying, "That doesn't sound good." Indeed it did not.

When I got down to the bottom of Powerline, I pulled over and dismounted. I figured I must have a stick stuck somewhere that was rubbing against my tire. It didn't take long to debunk this thought and see that I had, in fact, broken whatever kept my rear shock together. The joint between the arms of the shock was missing a pin to hold them together. If I sat on my bike the frame collapsed until it rested on my back tire. I remember in one Tour de France how the infamous doper Lance Armstrong found the reason he wasn't feeling so strong - his brakes were rubbing against his wheel. Game over, I thought. I stood there, numb, for a bit. I couldn't ride another 85 miles sitting on my tire. Heck, I wondered how long it would be before I wore completely through the tire and if that would be before or after my body gave out from the drag. I'd been thinking about this race all year, yet I wasn't crushed or devastated. Not yet, anyway. I just thought, "Dang. That sucks. I guess I'll be crewing for Chris and Liz now. I even thought, "Hey, Chris doesn't need to finish this race, as he's done it before. Maybe we could tag team the remaining sections, helping Liz." No rider wore any race bib - it was only on the bike. And we are almost the same height. We have different pedals, but almost the same size feet. I'd just put on his shoes and go. I'd be back in a support role, giving all I had to help Liz this time.

Time-trialing to get onto the back of a big group
I hopped back on my bike, but it was difficult to ride. I had to at least ride a few more miles. I knew my crew were going to be at an intersection on the way to the Pipeline Aid Station. They were just going to check my progress and cheer as I flew by. Now, I'd be creeping down the road and pulling over. I rode probably a hundred yards, out onto the paved road and then spotted a stick on the side of the road. I stopped and then, after aligning the two arms of the shock, threaded the stick into the joint to hold it together. As soon as I hopped on the bike I snapped the stick. The joint hole was only about a quarter of an inch in diameter so the stick wasn't nearly strong enough. Spectators lining the road could see I was having problems and I called out to the crowd, "I need a metal rod!" I needed a bolt and a nut, really. At home I'd surely have something to hold the fork together, but not many people out watching a bike race has a lot of hardware with them. What were the odds my plea could possibly be answered? I can tell you, it was not zero, because two chicks standing by a white pickup truck said they might have something. I pulled over to the other side of the road and one of the chicks jumped into the back of the pickup. She emerged with a quarter-inch diameter steel bar that was probably five feet long.  How the hell would we cut that to three inches long? Before I could even ask, out came a massive pair of bolt-cutters! One of them held the bar and the other snipped off the end. I don't remember giving any instructions, they just swung into action like they'd been repairing rear shocks in race pit stops for years. We threaded it through the joint, but I knew it would eventually bounce its way out of there. No problem. The girls pulled out some duct tape, ripped it into strips and wound it around both ends of the bar. Brilliant. I was back in the game. It was unreal. I went from terribly unlucky to fabulously lucky within the course of ten minutes. I meant to ask them to cut me another length to carry with me because I wasn't sure the duct would be enough, but I forgot. I just thanked them for saving me and I was off. That MacGuyver effort lasted the entire race.
Derek and Arthur - self-proclaimed best cheerers at the race.
At first I started pushing too hard, cognizant of the time I had lost. Soon I came to my senses. I still had to ride smart to ride for 103 miles. I can't make up that time. It's gone. I just have to do the best I can from here on out. The next four or five miles are all pavement and I teamed up with another strong rider and we took turns trying to catch the big group in front of us. We traded pulls nicely and were closing rapidly. When we went by my crew I was on the front with my forearms resting on my handlebars, in full time-trial mode, drilling it. This last turn got us onto the end of the group, which was 15-20 riders. We weren't there that long when the group started to break up and we were on the back. I pulled out, tapped my TT buddy on the shoulder, and said, "It's breaking up, let's get on the front group." I then pulled us up to the back of that group, which also broke up into two and once again we made the lead group. Shortly afterwards, we turned onto dirt single track and a mile later we came to the Pipeline Aid Station.

My crew, doing their thing
My crew wasn't going to be here, since support vehicle traffic made it impossible to crew at both Pipeline and Twin Lakes. This was a minor disappointment to my team, but they made up for that by seeing me on the road and at the Hagerman Pass Road junction. Instead, Chris and Liz's support team was there, since they were going to be on a 12-hour pace and that would just barely give them enough time to make both aid stations. Their crew consisted my 19-year-old son Danny, their daughter Schuyler and my mom. I saw Danny at the start of the aid station and he just told me, "Orange shirts up on the left." For about a quarter mile the course is lined on both sides by crew, race support, and spectators and it's difficult to spot anyone. Danny did a great job spotting me and I spotted him because he was in a day-glo yellow shirt, just like Sheri and Derek. But orange shirts weren't as distinctive. I anxiously scanned the crowd. I just needed fresh bottles here. I spotted them just as I went by and stopped and pulled over a bit ahead of them. I was a bit early, but they hopped on it. Bringing me two fresh bottles. I dumped my empties and was off. Before I got completely clear of the aid station I dropped one bottle. I left it behind. I only had to go 12 miles to Twin Lakes and there was hardly any climbing. I figured one bottle would do fine and it did.
Twin Lakes outbound. From here I start the huge climb up to Columbine Mine
I worked at a steady effort, keeping my heart rate in the 140's nearly the entire time. I bombed down the easy, fast descents and was more careful on the winding single track. I came into Twin Lakes at 9:32 a.m. taking just over three hours to cover the first forty miles. My crew was set up just before the race aid station. I had no trouble spotting them at any aid station and they always spotted me, which is quite a trick when everyone looks the same: lycra, helmet, sunglasses. I had on my distinctive light green Tendril kit and they had their incredibly bright yellow shirts. I pulled over and they leapt to action. First, salt tablets. Empty bottles were stripped from my bike and replaced with full bottles. My empty gel flask was pulled from my jersey pocket and replaced with a fresh one. I grabbed an already opened package of Shot Blocks and I was off in about 30 seconds. This team knows what it's doing. 
Chris and Liz getting to Twin Lakes outbound just a few minutes before the cut-off time

Chris and Liz's crew of Schuyler, Nana, and Danny
I was off onto the toughest section of the race - the 3400-foot climb to the course high-point at 12,600 feet at the Columbine Mine. The course rolls over a couple of minor bumps before starting up for good on a relatively smooth fire road. The only problem with this climb is that it's 3400 feet long! This climb wore me down. I passed some people. Some people passed me. I knew it was ten miles from the aid station to the turn-around and I watched the miles tick by on my handlebar-mounted GPS watch. I knew the last three miles involved a good dose of hike-a-bike and I got to the point where I was craving that section. Not only because it indicated I was getting closer to the top, but also to give me an excuse to get off my bike and walk a bit. I was pretty wasted. When the pushing started I only pushed for a quarter mile before I could ride again, but then only rode a quarter mile before pushing another quarter. I rode some more and then pushed a third of a mile. The last half mile or so is all rideable and the course actually descends about a hundred feet to the turn-around. I rode through here without stopping at all. I rode back to the high point and bit further to start the very steep descent and stopped briefly to pee and put my glasses on. I did the climb in an hour and fifty minutes.
Returning to Twin Lakes and headed for home

The Columbine-Mine descent is fast, rocky, and demands your complete attention. Out-bound riders are all pushing up on the left and descending riders must stay right, no matter what the terrain is like. This requires riding through some very rocky terrain. On my nearly hard-tail/hard-front bike this was jarring. I had to stay focused and not make any mistakes. If I crashed it would likely be into the walkers. I was one of the few race riders on a 26er with V-brakes and this descent was the only section of the course where I really wished I was riding a 29er with disc brakes. Alas, this is only ten miles of the course. Yes, my bike is old. Yes, the front fork doesn't work very well. Yes, the rear suspension broke. But this is an all-carbon, Trek Fuel 100 XC race bike that weighs just 23 pounds. In a race with 12,600 feet of climbing, I valued that lightness.

Once I got back to the fire road I started scanning for Chris and Liz. I was descending at 20-30 mph except for the hairpin turns and passed a few riders descending more cautiously and tried to stay with riders descending more aggressively. I was cautious in the turns, knowing it is easy to dump here, but I let it rip on the straights. The lower I got the more worried I got about Chris and Liz. I eventually went by Liz and she spotted me before I spotted her. I went flying by her, but I could tell she was smiling and climbing great. But Chris wasn't with her… After the next switchback I spotted Chris and yelled out. He also wore a grin and seemed to be doing well. Later I'd fine out that he had a couple of bonking issues, but was able to bounce back. I wondered how close they were to the cut-off times. It turned out that they barely made the cut-off to climb up to Columbine Mine. They thought it was so close that they blew right by their support, which was set up before the official checkpoint which they had to cross in just a few minutes. This turned out to be a mistake, but an easy one to make in the heat of the moment when you think you need to do everything to make the cut-off time. Once through the checkpoint they could stop and get water and food from the aid station, but not all the goodies they had planned to pick up. The crucial thing they were missing was their rain gear and they started up the monster climb without it. This was a dangerous mistake, but I wasn't the only Wright having luck on the course.
My crew waiting for me to arrive back at Pipeline

As they neared the top, the rain started. At first, Liz thought, "Ah, this is nice. It will cool me off a bit." Little did she know how much it would cool her off. By the time they arrived at the top it was a full-blown hail storm that threatened anyone without storm gear with hypothermia. They shivered under the only tent at the top, but the wind was so strong that they couldn't escape the onslaught. Liz was going downhill fast, freezing there at 12,500 feet. A race volunteered noticed her condition and offered his vehicle - the only one at the summit. They both jumped into the heated car and waited fifteen minutes for the storm to pass. Liz was still dangerously cold and had to shed her top clothing for a dry layer. Where she got this layer, I don't know. This time in the car cost them. When they got back down, they were over the cut-off time, but the officials knew about the storm up high and let them continue.

I buzzed into Twin Lakes aid station around 12:05 p.m. and now I had both crews helping me, including Chris's friend Norton. As I pulled up, they went to work with the tasks they knew had to be done and asked me, "What do you need?" I immediattely responded, "Lube!" My chain, though meticulously lubed before the start of the race, had started squeaking on the climb up to Columbine and I heard it all the way down as well. Norton and Derek instantly had lube in their hands and Norton and his son expertly applied it. I never heard a peep out of my chain for the remainder of the race. I took some food with me, had a couple of gulps of chocolate milk, and I was off in leas than a minute. I had to ride the 12 miles back to Pipeline Aid Station, over three significant climbs. This first was a paved road and went fine. After descending a dirt road, I turned hard left and started climbing the single track. One rider pulled over and I went by. No one caught me from behind but many riders were in sight. This race is huge, with 2000 starters, and at my pace the racers were still pretty thick this far into the race. 

A mile or so after the single track is a super steep hill, probably the steepest section of the entire course, including Powerline, but it isn't that long. Last year, with tons of power left, I rode it. This year that thought never entered my mind. I dismounted at the bottom, along with every other rider near me. As an aside, the next day I spoke with Todd Wells, the winner of the race, and he told me that he rides everything. Columbine, Powerline, everything. While some of these climbs would probably tax my technical abilities, it is the fitness to climb something so steep for so long that amazes me. I could ride Powerline, I think, if I could stop about a hundred times to rest. Oh, and if there was some way to get started again.
Starting up the dreaded and awful Powerline climb

When I rolled into the Pipeline Aid Station after 72 miles or so, I was fading. My biggest pain, and it would plague me until the finish line, was my right foot. For some reason it hurt, badly. I wanted to stop and massage it, but I didn't. Once again, my crew took care of me. I took two bottles again, as I knew the horrible Powerline climb was coming next. Sheri urged me to eat more, but I couldn't do much here. She forced me to eat a few chips and Derek fed me part of a Honey Stinger waffle and then I was off. I had to go. Other riders streamed by me while I was stopped and I wanted to be with a group for the next road section.

I worked hard on the trail section immediately after the aid station. I was in my big ring pounding hard to get on the back of a group. I jumped out onto the road right in front of a pickup truck that had wisely stopped, stood up, and sprinted for the back of the group. I got on and that was good, because we now suffered through a horrible crosswind out of the west. The lead rider rode the white line, putting the rest of us in the gutter with no draft. I don't know if he knew what he was doing or not. Maybe no one would pull through. Either way it was brutally hard staying on the group, but I knew in a couple of miles we'd turn directly west and then I'd get a draft. I just had to stay on, which I barely did. Once we turned the corner, though, the wind shifted again, now coming from the north - along crosswind. A new leader went to the front and he too rode the white line, but now, because of the wind direction, we could form an echelon out to the yellow line, which we did. The leader pulled nearly the entire time going west and four of us formed an echelon out to the yellow line. Since the roads were not closed, we were not supposed to cross the yellow line and here, unlike some other riders on different parts of the course, we obeyed. The pace wasn't very hard, but no one pulled through to help the leader. Rotating in an echelon is more complicated than a normal pace line and maybe no one knew what to do. If I had been pulling and no one pulled through to give me some help, I'd have moved over against the yellow line or drifted back. 
Derek and Arthur running with me and pushing me at the start of the Powerline climb
We made another turn, this time to the north, and I got some more draft, but as we closed against the mountains, the wind eased a bit. We climbed a hundred feet or so and then descended to the hard left turn back onto the dirt, back to the scene of the rear shock breakage. After a quarter mile, I turned hard left, to the west, and started Powerline. I was very tired and dreading this climb. I knew my crew had planned to meet me here for "encouragement". I looked up the hill and spotted the yellow shirts immediately. My first thought was, "Yeah, they made it here," but quickly it went to, "dang, they are so far up there." I switched into my smallest chain ring and spun my lowest gear, creeping slowly up the hill. My crew was cheering loudly. All race long Derek and Arthur would cheer on every rider in such an enthusiastic manner that most riders acknowledged them. Jason sure did and said he got a big power boost from them. When I got to Derek he started pushing me. It felt so good. We moved up fast on the riders in front of me, passing two on the right. I felt guilty for the push, but not quite enough to ask him to stop. Derek turned me over to Arthur and he gave me a small push and then Derek went again and we  passed another rider. It was tremendous. Sheri jogged along beside me and gave me updates on Chris and Liz, though they didn't know that much.
I start mixing in the hike-a-bike minutes after this photo taken
Chris and Liz had continued their race back to Pipeline Aid Station. The cutoff time there is only an hour later than the cutoff time at Twin Lakes. If you barely make it at Twin Lakes, you have no chance of making the cutoff at Pipeline, as I barely did that section under an hour and they were on a pace that was 2+ hours slower. They did great riding the tough hills back to Pipeline but by the time they arrived it was well past even the newly relaxed cutoff times and they were pulled from the race. Pulled after nearly 75 miles. I think it was an odd mixture of disappointment to be pulled and relief that they didn't have to suffer for 4+ more hours to get over Powerline and then Carter Summit and then the Boulevard. A couple of guys from Wisconsin heard them making plans with Schuyler for her to return to the hotel and come back with the SUV with the bike rack and they offered to give them a ride. It turned out that these guys had seen the video of the 2013 race that I made and knew all about Chris' epic crash in the final quarter mile of the race.

Very soon after Derek stopped pushing me, I had to dismount and start pushing my bike. Everyone around me pushed this section and most riders in the race push it, though, as I've already stated, not the top riders nowadays. Back when Dave Weins was winning this race, he almost always pushed his bike up this section, so there is no shame doing the same. It's brutally steep and all of us bent to the task. Lots of spectators were on the hill. One woman was dressed all in red, with horns and a pitch fork. I said, "Nice costume," and she responded, "Well, aren't you in hell?" Yes, I was. The climb up to Sugarloaf's summit is a nearly never-ending series of false summits. Every one looks like it will be the end, but I'd been here before and knew I'd be on the climb for an hour. Even then I hoped the penultimate summit was the top, only to see it was not. Above the mandatory hike-a-bike at the bottom, it was a series of ride, then hike, ride, then hike. Once again, last year I rode all of this. This year I hiked lots of it. 
Sprinting with all I've got in the final quarter mile
The top and start of the descent was glorious. I'd have a heads-up descent to the smooth dirt road and then a fast, easy descent down that and then the pavement before starting the Carter Summit climb, the last major climb. Once on smooth ground I made sure to eat and drink while still going 20+ mph. At the turn onto the pavement I saw my crew. I dumped an empty bottle here and was careful not to crash. I heard Sheri yell, "You are two minutes behind Jason." She'd been giving me updates on Jason's position since Twin Lakes. I was four minutes back then. Five minutes at Pipeline. More than six minutes at the bottom of Powerline. Each time she gave me an update I thought, "I'm not racing him. I'm doing all I can out here and I can't up the effort, not this far from the finish anyway." But I'd obviously made up time on him on Sugarloaf and now I was interested. I was feeling stronger and worked at a steady pace up the 3-mile climb to Carter Summit, all on a paved road. I passed some people, but one or two passed me as well. I passed Jason a mile into the climb and went by very close, but had no breath to talk or encourage him. Instead, I ran the calculations in my head. I gained two minutes on him in a mile of climbing. I had two miles of climbing to go. I could put four minutes on him before the descent of St. Kevin's. I figured he was a faster descender and the splits would later confirm this. 
At the far left you can see the finish and a rider (really two) that appear to be close to the finish. I get them both.
I worked hard on this climb and wasn't discouraged by the length, like I was last year. This time I knew how long it was going to be and I counted off the tenths of a mile and didn't look prematurely for the top. At the aid station I stopped for twenty seconds to get half a bottle water for the 13 miles to the finish. I knew there was 15 more minutes of rolling, climbing terrain before the final descent and I knew two of these climbs were extremely steep, though less than a minute of effort. I rode everything, passing a couple of riders and started bombing the descent. I descended this winding, dirt road at an average of 22 mph. The fastest time for this section (at least on Strava) is by the Leadville course record holder and is 32 mph! At the bottom I caught some riders on the flat. My strength on the mountain bike is the flats, it seems. It's the only place that I consistently catch riders. I caught a rider and went by, telling him to get on and we'd get the two in front, which we did. I rode with these guys for a bit, but I could go harder and I left them and bridged up to another rider. He looked good and I told him to work with me. Another rider joined us and I got us working in a 3-up rotation.
My awesome crew: Arthur, Sheri, and Derek
At the start of the Boulevard, a demoralizing two-mile climb on a dirt road, one rider cracked and went off the back. The other started to cramp and I went by. I'd fought cramps a couple of times in the last two hours, but would just ease off the effort and they would go away. This late in the race, that's the only thing you can do. I caught and passed another rider, feeling pretty strong and going hard, catching other riders. As I passed one rider, a group of three riders came up on me and I got on the back of the train. With a half-mile of dirt before the final mile of rolling pavement, the lead rider took off. The other two tried to respond and I was gapped. I couldn't go. I maintained my effort. The lead guy never came back, but I caught the other two as we started the pavement up a nasty little hill. By the time we got to the top I was dropped again. We headed downhill now, over a tiny rise and then had the quarter mile uphill finish. My crew was on the left cheering me on and once I hit the bottom of that hill, I stood and kicked with absolutely everything I had. The other two riders were maybe a hundred feet ahead of me, but I was going much faster. I pounded the pedals and pulled hard up the backside of the stroke. My head was bent down over my bars, only looking up briefly to eye my quarry. The other two entered the chute of fans with arms outstretched to get high fives, but they had to pull back because of the freight train steaming towards them. Maybe it was silly to finish so hard, but there was the line and there were two riders in front of me. I can't resist that. I passed one of them on the left, then had to zig right and I got the other guy four feet before the line.
The ever-amazing Nana out crewing all day long 
I almost ran over Merilee, founder Ken Choulber's wife, who was standing there passing out finishing medals, as I was still going about 20 mph. I veered right past her and hit the brakes stopping further up the hill. I collapsed over my bars and heaved deeply sucking in huge quantities of air, shifting it for the rare oxygen molecules I so badly needed. It was a full minute before I could look up. I finished in 9h33m. Well under my goal of ten hours, but miles from the coveted sub-9-hour mark that earns you the gold buckle. Still, it was all I had. I never bonked and I paced it pretty well. My crew was amazing and so was the weather and the course. Hence, that's all I got. No excuses. I was quite satisfied with the result.
Derek and Schuyler
I had to ride back to the hotel and getting back on the bike was tough, but once up the little hill, I felt fine soft pedaling there. Sheri greeted me as I arrived and we embraced. I didn't see her after the finish because of the crowds and she was waiting to see Jason finish. I waited quite awhile at the finish and Arthur found me, but I never saw Jason. I know he finished about ten minutes behind me. That night we went out to a big steak dinner and retold the stories of the day. It was a great weekend. The next day, after picking up my buckle and jacket, was payback time for my crew. While Sheri and Danny went to climb LaPlata, Derek, Arthur, and I climbed Mt. Princeton. At 14,197 feet, Princeton is the 20th highest summit in the state. Danny had already climbed it and Derek needed to catch up (same thing with LaPlata for Danny). It was Arthur's first 14er. By then I was feeling fine and we did the roundtrip in just over three hours. Recovering from bike races is much easier and quicker for me than from running races.

Speaking of running, now that Leadville is over, I'm switching back to running to get ready for the 10th annual Rattlesnake Ramble! Come on out and run it with me!
The entire crew