PCT 2015 – Last Days

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A long way to go

Walking towards Steven’s Pass, WA, the rain was still falling throughout the day as sunshine snuck through the clouds from time to time. Team Gnar Gnar had resigned to accept the trail closure, due to wild fires, and the requisite detour and break in a continuous footpath.

Rumors trickled through the telephone game like news system of the trail, that people were walking through the closure and it might actually open. During one of the brief sunny moments, I passed a ranger who verified that the trail would open soon. We (Team Gnar Gnar) all knew that we couldn’t rightfully skip a section if it was open. We also knew that this would throw a wrench in the plan developed a week prior when the thought of an opened trail was out of the question. Some had hard deadlines to make. I descended into Steven’s Pass on an ankle that felt like walking with a brick for a foot. Rest in Skykomish sounded nice, pushing big miles to finish did not sound so nice.

Recently, each stop in a town felt more and more comfortable. I instantly fell in love with the towns, the food, the chairs, the warm showers, the beds, the clean clothes or maybe just the feeling of not walking and getting some rest. I think to myself, “If I was forced to stop hiking here, for some factor out of my control, I don’t think I’d be all that sad.” I’ve had the conversation several times about just wanting to stop walking for a little while. I don’t want to leave the trail, still love sleeping out and the community but just want to stop walking for a little while. These should be blatant signs that I am exhausted.

We spend a night at the Dinsmores and a night at the Cascadia Inn. The Dinsmores was packed with hikers, some that had been waiting out the closure and weather for many days. The log book revealed that several hikers had already cut their hike short due to the closure. The “8 pack” Team Gnar Gnar is reunited briefly before quickly disbanding to carry out each others personal schedule to the trail’s end.

The feet feel even more swollen and useless with inactivity. But with the news of an opened trail, we leave the comfortable town and are dropped off back at Steven’s Pass with the surrounding mountains covered in snow.

Two and a half more days of rain but beautiful big mountains and trail, I’m so glad to have not missed, lead to sunshine and “manic” blazed ideas from the other team members. With talk of pushing big days to the end, I thought I might still have enough for a big push but started to grasp the idea that I would finish alone.

As Desert Hang and I reached the Suiattle River, and start of the old fire closure section, we find ourselves shedding rain and warm layers as the sun beats down on us. We acknowledge the warm sensation in slight distrust but can tell it’s gonna stick around for a while. Over the next couple days we pass through some of the biggest and most lush forest of the trail,  past peaks soaked in evening “God Light” and nights of clear skies with voices and lights of hikers in the dark, enjoyment and reflection of all that has been the Pacific Crest Trail.

Dry, crispy trail, forest and smoldering wild fire welcome us into Stehekin on a warm, Fall day. This little town is beyond what any description or assumption could provide. The only access to this little town is by boat, float plane or foot. I took the latter. I was excited to see some of the Gnar Gnars in town but they were packing up to hit the trail again, I had just missed the Euro Faction and Leopardsauce earlier in the morning. My friends tried hard to drag me back out on their manic blazing mission but the calm relaxation of this little haven and a stronger energy I didn’t quite comprehend kept me well seated on the porch, overlooking a beautiful view of Lake Chelan.

Sunset, sunrise, dinner, coffee, visiting with other hikers, good sleep and two stops to the delicious and aromatic Stehekin bakery left me with an energy I had not felt in a long time, if ever before. As I rode the big, red bus back to the trailhead, I thought maybe I would hike big miles and finish with my friends. Although the reason wasn’t necessarily to finish with others but because I felt a strong, calm presence within myself and an indescribable energy from an outside force pulling me down the trail. I couldn’t not walk and walk and walk, northward to the finish. This time wasn’t to catch others but because I felt like I had no choice but to follow this wave of energy for as long as I could. Everything about these last days felt exactly the way they should be.

I hiked in a very natural state of mind. Sometimes this was with others, still getting to know new faces and reminiscing about the last 2,600 miles. Then we would just as naturally part ways and others would come along. I stopped to visit and talk with others, giving the opportunity as much time as needed. The trail magic was still very strong with some “divine inspiration” and chocolate from SoBo Hobo, spaghetti and hilarity from Legend and a chance in encounter with Devilfish, an angel from way back in the desert. I was in no rush to do miles for mileage sake but still knowing the energy was gonna take me well down the trail and into the night, possibly all the way to Canada without stopping. I still had some thought of catching up with the others.

I walked the ridges at night under a dark, starry sky. The sun set again and I soaked it up knowing it was one of my last out here. The air was warm and clear and I felt so full of energy. On top of Methow Pass, I stared up at the Milky Way and stars, out into the dark expanse of the Cascades and no one was around. I felt like I had the whole world to myself! Late into the night I slept trailside to be rested for a possible big day.

I awoke to the same strong energy pulling me out of bed and down the trail with a rapid pace, smile and gratitude for all that is. More chats and longer waterless stretches. I thought for sure I would push on to Canada and have breakfast with my friends in the morning. The psyche was there until it wasn’t. The thought of my last night really set in and I felt tired, stumbling up the trail in the low light of dusk. This would be my last night on the trail and I wanted to spend it camped out not slogging my way through the dark. Startled by many sets of blue eyes from a herd of deer, I crept into the woods past another hiker and made my last camp. Ladies Man reemphasized the importance of being thoughtful about one’s experience in these last days, adding “sometimes we have to slow down for what we love.”

One last lazy morning and I moseyed down the trail. The end of todays hike would be the last. I had no desire to rush it or catch anyone or anything. “It’s okay to finish alone,” Sobo Hobo.

Fall colors, yellow, red and green paint the steep slopes and forest and set aglow as the sun crests the ridges and peaks through the canopy. Quiet, slow and contemplative I walk on. In reflection, it seems as if we all finished the trail in own way and the way it should be.

I had some cheap bourbon and a snickers to celebrate at the monument with Lucky and some day hikers. I dumped some oatmeal and dehydrated beans and rice into the monument as an offering of thanks to the trail. Then quickly moved over the last eight miles to the highway and Manning Park where the emotions and reality really set in. I almost cried when I reached the black top and walked towards the lodge. This really felt like the end. There was no Kennedy Meadows welcome (as I expected and hoped for) into  Manning Park. All the other trail towns had treated us hikers like heroes but here no one really acknowledged us. I found two other hikers with a look on their face that reflected my emotions. We have a silent nod and smile as we took in our new situation. The rest of the evening was spent together with other hikers. We didn’t really party but celebrated by enjoying each others company late into the night.

I’m really glad that I was able and lucky enough to finish the Pacific Crest Trail in one continuous foot path, south to north. This was a big, physical goal of the trip. However, as the trail grew longer, continuity less certain and friendships stronger, I realized that the physical element is but a small part of this journey. The community, relationships, emotions  and changes one experiences are so much greater. The exhaustion and pain in my feet and legs fade but the warmth and love of others is still so strong.  If nothing else, this trail and journey will renew the faith in humanity.

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One last sunset

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PCT 2015 – Week 19

10 Sept – Day 126 – mi. 2569 – easy, cool morning with coffee – feeling great and energized – there is an indescribable energy pulling me along the trail – loving life and hiking – “It’s okay to finish alone.” – inspiration over material things – chef Legend makes canned chili spaghetti – porcupine sighting by Porcupine Creek – magic and stars fill the mountains and night – random forest camp –  mile 2602

Fading light in the last days

11 Sept – Day 127 – mi. 2602 – the magic energy is still there – these last days are phenomenal, personal, reflective, emotional, energetic and fun – everything finally clicks – long dry section – no love from the campground caretaker – fun, long ridge traverses – huge valley surrounded by steep choosy, bare ridges, punctuated by rock and water fall lines – nice talks with Ladies Man – compromise for what/who you love – Devilfish lives! – last night camping on the PCT – looking for Wrong Way – deer herd camp – mile 2635

Devilfish, a familiar trail angel from the desert, 2300 miles ago

12 Sept – Day 128 – mi. 2635 – Autumn/drought colors: yellow, red and green color the steep slopes and forest are aglow as the sun crests the ridges and peeks through the canopy – quiet and contemplative – slow morning with coffee and hot breakfast – no rush to finish – border clear cut – run to the voices of others – monument is anti-climatic as an object but huge in symbolism – day hikers don’t get it – whiskey and snickers celebration with Lucky – dehydrated food offering to the trail –  Canadian trail magic with Molson and Cheezies – quick pace for the 8 miles to Manning Park – overcome with emotion at the road – not a warm welcome into Manning Park lodge – hikers are in a daze – celebratory meal, beer and companionship – Canadians – Congratulations to all who finished today: Pounder, Twist, Sweeper, Popsicle, Lucky and Ladies Man and to all those before and after us – mile 2659 – Finish and Canada!

Time to take a seat

PCT 2015 – Week 17

27 Aug – Day 114 – mi. 2273 – 4:30 AM start – dawn patrol – rock and ice – the Knife’s Edge! – coffee and breakfast on the rocky, exposed ridge – wildfire viewing – to the north, Mt. Ranier, to the west, Mt. St. Helens, to the south, Mt. Adams and to the east, sunrise – one of the best moments of the whole trail!, I love this trip, trail and these people. –  missed goat sightings – single track, ridge trail inspires me to run – temptation by a chair lift – Whites Pass and Kracker Barrel store – town food – resupply – pace deliberation – indecisive waitress – cookies and the Tao from Peter – fricket – River Jelly & Chopsticks – highway horse camp – mile 2293

Mt. Adams & wildfire at sunrise

28 Aug – Day 115 – rainy morning = perfect sleeping weather – cricked neck – rainy, cloudy day = perfect hiking weather – quick pace – Lakes forever – Ginormous church/Russian youth group blasting horrible techno music! – lunch break to dry out, nap and wait – alone time and visiting with new hikers – more views of Mt. Ranier – reunite with Highwater going Sobo – emaciated, mountain man comment – Canada fever and exhaustion among the team – Dewey Lakes camp – mile 2318

Highwater reunion!

29 Aug – Day 114 – mi. 2318 – more great sleep -warm, rainy morning to Chinook Pass – Mt. Ranier National Park – beautiful, cloud filled morning with rain soaked views – Outhouses but no TP! – super nice father & son – climbs with rain and wind – broken umbrella – mountain goats – floating rainbows – lunch in a broken down shack – shadows of clouds racing across scree and ridges, dashes of sunshine – controlling, powerful wind – mushrooms – hints of Fall – the brunch club runs to catch up, Chicory passes us to BW’s frustration – No Trace & Unbreakable going SoBo – hot fire to dry out – 2nd coldest, wet day of the trail – Ulrich Ski Cabin – mile 2345

Above Chinook Pass

30 Aug – Day 115 – difficult to leave the warm cabin – trash bag trail fashion – elk sighting in a fog covered Government Meadows – Daybreaker and friend’s trail magic: coffee, pancakes, fruit, eggs, burgers and more – car cuddle – feel unprepared for constant cold, wet weather – sunshine and another Legend sighting – rain covered firs with clouds and dam light look like snow – early nightfall – dry layers, tent and warm food feel so good – Old road bed, cold & wet camp – mile 2368

German Homesteaders at the Ulrich Cabin

31 Aug – Day 116 – mi. 2368 – Snoqualmie Pass – rain all day – running with an umbrella in the rain – loud hiss and crackle of rain on the power lines – soaked to the bone – run for warmth and town food – cold & wet hikers – Hundo comes to the rescue, again – decision to dry out and wait out the rain in town – Dr. Drei going SoBo – Pancake Inn and pizza – crazy, unorganized hiker box room – Seattle, WA – Hundo apartment camp – mi. 2391

Dig for your box at Snoqualmie Pass

1 Sept – Day 117 – big city day – Seattle, WA – sleep in with big breakfast, Ali Cakes -resupply on cold, wet weather gear – Mario Kart – Fremont Coffee trail magic – Pho and ice cream – Fremont Brewing Co. – REI, hipster look of downtown Seattle men – Josh B. from Las Cruces – late night, delicious Mexican food – no trail miles

the City of Seattle

2 Sept – Day 118 – mi. 2391 – sleep in again – Silence Heart Nest breakfast – resupply – Hundo returns to the trail – Goldmeyer Hot Springs alternate – spectacular scenery: Snow Lake, waterfalls, craggy towers, ferns, Chicken of the Woods, huge trees, lush everything – land slides – slip, slide, fall and scrape – hiking alone, reflections on the trail, idea of the end setting in – space cakes – Goldmeyer Hot Springs and wilderness preserve is magical – mine shaft hot springs source – hot pool and cold plunge – hot soaking in the rain – cozy warm clothes after the soak – tough day with great ending –  Goldmeyer Hot Springs camp – mile 11 of Goldmeyer alt. route

Town days are hard

PCT 2015 – Week 6

11 June – day 36 – trail mile 766 – Crabtree Meadow – “early” start – Leopardsauce & Molly surprise – fresh snow and morning light – fresh legs – clouds over Mt. Whitney – snowy, slick, treacherous trail – walk above and in the clouds – storm hut dance party and snacks – bomb Whitney trail – Guitar Lake sunshine – frisbee! – Alpaca homemaker – Bighorn Plateau, JMT memory – double rainbow – Tyndell creek camp – mile 774

 

Mt. Whitney summit

 
12 June – day 37 – mi 774 – mist covered sun shining through clouds over mountains, glistening white granite boulders, ice covered lakes, fresh swollen streams, improbable dynamited route, ethereal morning daze, on the trail up Forrester Pass -feeling small in the big mountains – rain in the forest – wilderness trail magic from Sherpa & Smiley – 8 mi over Kearsarge Pass – LDS ride – Bishop! – Susan! – hikers roaming the streets – brewery – Thunderbird Hotel – mile 789

 

Icy lakes, snow and rain

 
13 June – day 38 – Bishop, CA – Rest Day – big breakfast – shopping stress – North American Marsupial Association – park relaxing – late night groceries and herding cats – pizza – Pit camp 

 

Relaxing in the Bishop Park

 
14 June – day 40 – Bishop – Schatz – Black Sheep – Town Goats – $6 OJ – too cool, non-attentive coffee shop staff – indecisive deliberation – pick up hikers – lakeside picnic, very nice – Kearsarge again – Glen Pass – frogs chirping, fish jumping – trail or stream? – buck deer on the trail – mosquitoes – sunset! – Rae Lakes – solo camp – mi. 794

 

Buck deer at Rae Lakes

 
15 June – day 41 – mi 794 – chilly, damp morning – JMT memories – mile 800 – missing friends – embracing solo hike – dwell, dwell, dwell – Pinchot Pass – Moccasin, Iron Husk, Rebel Biscuit – Mather Pass – sunset supper on the pass – long 2 pass day -inspired by Peter Croft stories – One Shot on the JMT – Palisades Lake camp – mi. 819

 

mile 800

 
16 June – day 42 – mi. 819 – slow morning – hot Yerba Mate treat – stove envy – trout everywhere – trail crew – Golden Staircase, knee crusher, trail engineering – Sarge – Sasha is alive – rock monster – Meadow – Kings Canyon, Muir Pass, Evolution basin, the heart of the Sierras – Muir Hut at sunset – hike down in the dark – magical god light and views – alone and moved – glowing snow on white granite, reflecting in alpine lakes with stars emerging as last light slips down canyon – exhaustion – Sarge camp – Evolution lake – mi. 844

 

Powerful day

 
17 June – day 43 – mi. 844 – late 9am start feels great – McClure Ranger, Dario and common friend – Evolution Lake swim – flowery, nauseating, fragrant hikers – taking it easy – catch up already friends! – Bagley Hot Springs – evening forest ridge hike – Sallie Keyes Lake – supper under a head net – ruthless mosquitos – JMT memory – old log cabin – bug camp – mi. 864

evening forest

Jemez Mountain Runs 2014 – 50 miles

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

Goals: Finish a 50 mile race (52 miles in this case). Finish under 12 hours. Hope to surprise myself with a better time.

Pre-race advise from Sean “The Experience” Meissner: “Go fast, run hard, take chances!”

Trail running in the Jemez mountains above Los Alamos, NM has been a very special experience for me. I haven’t quite penned exactly what it is (beautiful mountains, breathtaking caldera meadows, low key but challenging trail race, best race post food ever, awesome directing, volunteers and community) but every time I do a race here, I have a great run. Trail magic maybe. The JMTR 50 miler would be my third race in these mountains (JMTR 50k in 2013 and Valles Caldera Trail Marathon earlier in May 2014). This time, while running alone, 25 miles into the race, crossing a vast meadow in the Valles Caldera, with dark clouds building up to the west, I knew I had a special connection to this magical place.

Last year I was pretty intimidated by the 50-mile race and ran the 50k instead. The spirit of the race got me hooked that first time and I had to come back (hopefully will come back every year). This year, I was still a bit intimidated of the 50-mile distance. I started this year slow and coming off some injuries and the last time I attempted 50 miles at Deadman’s Peak (my very first race!) I did not finish and felt horrible. I knew I had to re-visit this distance in order to clear the mind. I signed up early in the year to force myself to train and be ready.

I felt ready the morning of the race. I had trained well, not stressed over the training or race, rested and eaten properly. However, I hadn’t figured out a good fueling plan but was gonna try to wing it. The pre-race breakfast was good, almond butter on a banana and rice cake with coffee. The coffee didn’t do it’s magic quick enough and I had to start the race with too full belly. The pre-race shit is such an important part of the race ritual. I was getting a little nervous but hoped I could burn or stave off the rumbling in my tummy.

My fueling strategy was no more than one gel per hour, water with Nuun in my bladder, drink Heed and eat stuff at aid stations and try to get down granola bars along the way. Last year, I ended up with a bad case of Gu belly (bound up, queasy stomach) after the 50k, so I knew I had to hold off on the gels. In training, the powder fuel options (Heed, Roctane and Tailwind) have all given me gas or upset stomach as well so I was left with few options. At the end of the day, all I wanted to eat was gels and solid foods with lots of liquid (pickles, watermelon, potatoes, Heed).

The soft-spoken call from the race director was an appropriate start to this long day of running. This race is low-key in its organization but quite intense in its challenges. I feel like it requires that soft-spoken approach and patience in order to successfully travel through the long and tough miles ahead. Despite a large portion of the runner herd taking off at the start, I went right into my warm-up pace that I knew I needed in order to feel good throughout the day. Already I was feeling good about what I had learned in my three years of running long distance trails.

This race was a special occasion for the Las Cruces crew (aka Organ Mountain Goats) as there was a good showing of goats in the 50 miler: Eugene, Clifton, Michael, Peter and myself had all made the trip. Having all my friends and other familiar faces (Marco “Speedy” Zuniga, Greg from El Paso, Ed from Albuquerque, Roger Squires from every trail race in NM, Dave Coblentz,Garth and Catron) made for good energy out on the course and a feeling of companionship despite running alone for most of the day. I had asked a few friends to pace but none of them could make the race. Clifton, Eugene and I had kidded about just running the whole thing together but knew we’d all end up running our own race. In the end I was glad to be running the whole distance alone, not even music to distract me. Even when I was running through the Caldera with Ed, we hardly spoke but the company was nice. Surprisingly, I never tired or bored of my own thoughts throughout the day. I actually don’t feel like I had any precise thoughts, just waves of living sensation. All day I felt very present and close with my body, breathing, the weather and the trail. Unknowingly, this alone experience was what I had needed for some time now. The experience was like a long, intense yoga practice. I was always checking in with my body, keeping the shoulders relaxed, keeping the breathing calm and controlled, consciously relaxing any tight muscles (it actually worked most of the time) and running on feel and not paying too much attention to time. During this time I remembered a goal from years ago, I wanted to be able to run 50 miles (or any distance) enjoyably and finish feeling good and strong.

Despite feeling prepared, relaxed, aware and enjoyable, 50 miles is still a long ways and issues can still arise. The shaky stomach came and went all day, threatening a trail side emergency until it got it’s way around mile 26. I made my contribution to the forest fertilizer and went on feeling a bit more relaxed but still unsure about what I could eat. By this point I was starting to feel slightly dizzy and a small headache was pulsing. I figure this was due to elevation since I was drinking plenty. This was a new experience since I had been doing a fair amount of running at higher elevations and altitude rarely affects me anyway. I was also experiencing chest pain while breathing that was noticeably affecting my performance. This sensation was also unusual since I had been running a lot of mountains, altitude runs and some speed work during training. I guess breathing hard for 6 hours will make the chest and lungs hurt. The head issues did subside at the bottom of Pajarito Canyon, another sign it was effects of altitude, or the onset of some muscle fatigue and looming dark thunderstorms all around distracted me from my cranial issues. I hit a patch of low energy for the first time around mile 34, on the climb back up Pajarito. I was pretty sure this was due to inadequate food but I was loosing interest in eating, especially with my intense breathing and chest pain. Interestingly, this is about the same mileage where I lost my appetite and succumbed to low fuel levels when running Deadman’s Peak. I debated doing the second climb up Pajarito since I thought lightning would be waiting at the top. No lightning at the top but a freak snowstorm was just starting as I reached the ridge! I finally got to use my jacket I’d been hauling around all day (under the advice of the race director and weather forecast). Drew from Durango was close behind and we set out in silence and in snow, traversing up and back down to the ski lodge. Throughout all these tribulations, I never once got worried or stressed. I was always able to stay present and calm as I figured out how to keep moving and correct the issue at hand. Not sure if this new experience was due to good training, experience, stubbornness or mountain magic but I sure did love it.

The snowstorm turned out to be wonderfully amazing. I know it caused the raced to be cancelled and many people to suffer but I was continually in awe of the weather and be able to move through it and with it. Within minutes of reaching the ridge, the light rain turned into heavy snow. Soon after, my jacket and hat brim were turning into snow banks. As I passed the bench facing the caldera, whiteout conditions had set in and the strong blowing snow forced my gaze downward. I kept stopping just to soak in this phenomenal moment. I thought at one point I could just sort of melt in with the storm and float out into the caldera. It was a pretty surreal experience. Like I said, these mountains are special (or maybe the long day and low blood sugar was doing a number on me). Whiteout conditions continued all the way down to the ski lodge. I could hardly see Drew’s bright orange jacket a few hundred feet ahead of me as we delicately traveled down the now snow covered, black diamond ski run. Enough snow had almost accumulated to warrant a butt slide or shoe ski but instead a slow and delicate, don’t bust your ass, pace down the mountain.

I changed into dry, warm clothes and emptied the stomach at the ski lodge as the carnage from the snowstorm was unfolding. Many of the runners were hypothermic, bundled in blankets, shivering uncontrollably, red skinned from exposure, standing in front of the bathroom driers to warm up and dropping out of the race or seriously considering it. Some were hauled off in the ambulance, while other runners and volunteers helped the fallen off the mountain. I felt good and wanted to finish this thing. I knew I could do it and was kind of enjoying running in the snowstorm (pretty rare in Southern New Mexico). One guy said I was braver than he as I took off from the station. Just more prepared and possibly more stubborn.

Soon down the trail, runners traveling the opposite direction informed me that the race was cancelled due to the storm. They had been turned back at the next aid station. We all wanted to go on but out of respect for the race directors decision and not wanting to create an unnecessary search and rescue we ran back down to the ski lodge, feeling good but a bit disappointed. After seeing more carnage unfold, the decision to cancel the race was the right one. As my friend Chris said after Zane Grey was also snowed out, “we (runners) are too stupid to stop, despite the conditions, and would just keep going if someone didn’t have the sense to stop us.” Too true.

I still didn’t get to finish a 50 mile race, this time due to a freak snowstorm on Pajarito Mountain. However, I had a great run, learned some things and my training, experience and chances coalesced throughout the day. Above all, I achieved one goal that I had forgotten about from years ago, run a long distance race and feel good the whole way. I know I could have finished this race, even in the snow, but I value the run I had and time back in the Jemez Mountains. I’ll be back.

I ran fast. Maybe not as fast as I could, because I ran as hard as I could and I was prepared for the chances I had to take.

Splits (as best I can remember):

5AM – Start

7 AM – Mile 10 aid station, on a good pace

8:30-9AM – Mile 18.6 Ski Lodge aid station, still good

9:30 ish AM- Mile 21, Pipeline aid station

10:?? AM – Mile 25 Aid station, about half way, stomach has had enough

11:46 AM – Mile 31.4 Pajarito Canyon Aid station, 50k mark and feeling ok

2:00 PM – Mile 38.? Ski Lodge Aid station, soaked from snow storm

3:00 PM – Mile 40 ish, Meet runners heading opposite direction that inform me the race has been cancelled due to snow storm and they were turned back from Pipeline Aid Station

3:30 PM – Return to Ski Lodge Aid station to get a ride. Approximately 42 miles in 10:29 hours. Still without a 50 mile finish.

 

Dog Canyon to Sunspot Run

 

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Route: Dog Canyon trail. Oliver Lee State Park, Alamogordo, NM to Sunspot Observatory, Cloudcroft, NM

Distance: 21 miles with many trails at the top to lengthen the run. 5 miles from the park to the rim and 10.5 miles from the park to Sunspot. Over 5000 feet of elevation gain over 10.5 miles. 4.5-6 hours.

Summary: This was my first time on this trail but Chris had been on it many times in the past, training for various races. This is a great training run for the Jemez 50 miler coming up. I put this route in my top three trail runs in southern New Mexico, possibly number one! Desert to pine forest, sand and rock to snow and soil. Beautiful views and steep, technical trails. The route looks improbable at times but is so there. Some sections are definitely “no fall zone” as there is a steep cliff below the trail tread. It was so fun to bomb down this trail.

Most of the trail is on US Forest Service land. Oliver Lee State Park has a good campgrounds and facilities with water and bathrooms. There is a fee for overnight and day use at the park. Sunspot has snacks, water and a bathroom for a good resupply point. One can easily hit the crest trail and run to Cloudcroft. The run is possible all year but snow is likely near Sunspot in the cooler months (Oct. – March) and a summer run (not recommended) would require an early start to get out of the canyon and onto the rim before it gets too hot and expect a very warm descent. A forest closure due to fire danger is likely in the summer as well.