Friday, November 27, 2009

Ski! Ski! Ski!

The Banff and Lake Louise area has had a *fantastic* start to the ski season and that means that we are keen to be getting out. Last weekend we made it out for a tour off of the Icefields Parkway and couldn't believe how much snow has fallen! It's like mid-February out there, there's pantloads of snow already. The good news is it's been relatively snow-free in Banff, but it's snowing in them thar' hills. It even rained yesterday in town, but judging by my experience today, it snowed lots of dry and fluffy snow at the higher elevations. Woohoo! I headed out for a solo-tour, basically just stomping around Sunshine Meadows and climbing a few mellow hills for some green run powder turns. Safety first and all. The snow was perfect. The downside of skiing solo is that you have to break trail for 4 hours! It's a good thing I like breaking trail. I got some serious exercise and was out there for 4 hours with a big smile on my face. For a grand-finalee, I stomped up the biggest hill of the day and finished my day just in time for sunset on Standish Mountain. It's a big, white world out there.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Grand Canyon Adventure

My trip to the Grand Canyon, was a fairly spontaneous one. I had never been to Grand Canyon National Park before and was totally stupefied when I first saw it: the Grand Canyon is a vast, immense, bewildering, mind-blowing, behemoth of nature. It's sheer enormity is dizzying and it is Grand in every way.

In the past few years, as I built up my distance and started running longer and farther than I ever have...the idea of running across the Grand Canyon just got stuck in my mind. I thought this would be a super-cool way to see and enjoy the Grand Canyon. As I met more people in the Ultra running community, the consensus was that the Grand Canyon was indeed an incredible place for a run. I heard all about how tough and challenging and beautiful it was and I knew I had to do it. A great big run from rim to rim to rim: R2R2R!!

My run started in the wee hours of the day, when Keith dropped me off in the darkness of the South Kaibab trail head at 5:40 in the morning. I've never been so excited to run off into the darkness by the light of my headlamp(s)! I was giddy. Running new trails in new places is just exciting stuff, if you are me. The descent into the canyon was a whole lot of fun. The trail was wide, steep and strewn with boulders and erosion bars. There was an awareness of a deep, dark abyss out there somewhere nearby in the darkness. The morning was clear and cool and the stars were still out, but it didn't take long for daylight to make an appearance. It's hard to run in the Grand Canyon if you're a first-time visitor like me, because every corner and every view stops you dead in your tracks.


First glimpse of the Colorado River

Sunrise on the Grand Canyon
In my stupefied state of wide-eyed-amazement, it took me a couple of hours to reach the river. I was moving slow and I wasn't in a hurry. I came across my first mule-train of the day at the bottom of the canyon. It was cool to see them go through a small tunnel and cross the bridge over the Colorado, but it was less fun to follow them through the dust and dirt (and shit and piss...) the short distance to Phantom Ranch. I filled up my water and hit the trail, excited to get the day going.

I was rubber-necking at everything in sight! I am fascinated with the desert landscape, because it is so unfamiliar and new to me. Running amongst cacti and the spiky leaved Yucca is just plain cool. I was amazed with how much water is in the Grand Canyon. The trail climbs the Bright Angel Canyon towards the North Rim and I was surprised to find it alive and flowing with water.

I was also pleasantly surprised with the fall foliage. The colors were still changing and the leaves hadn't dropped yet, making for a beautiful day.

At Cottonwood Campground, while stashing a drop bag - I was passed by some other runners. I hurried to catch up to them and by the time I reached Roaring Springs, there was actually 2 groups of runners who had all hit the springs at the same time. A virtual rush-hour of runners. I chatted them all up while we re-filled our water and learned they were all Arizona runners. My white Canadian legs gave me away in their company! This stretch was going to be the longest without access to water and being super cautious, I topped up my 3L bladder.

On this section of the trail, the trail is incredibly engineered to carve and climb up through the cliff side. The trail is really quite wide, so you can comfortable run without imminent fear of death! I tagged the North Rim and visited briefly with the ladies I had been climbing off and on with before making a quick turn around. I introduced myself to Jody Chase, who was waiting for friends Honey and Liz. On this day, Jody was the speedy one of the group and had arrived 23 minutes ahead of the rest of us!

The North Rim is 1000 feet higher than the South Rim and is largely forested with Pinyon Pine and Juniper, so the views are limited. On the descent, I had fun letting my legs run and cruised back down to Roaring Springs in no time. Jody caught me on the way and we visited for a bit and took some pictures, before she flew by.

Jody, rocking the descent

I managed to drink my entire 3L of water, so I refilled again at Roaring Springs and continued on my way. I half-heartily tagged on with Jody, but the woman was flying and I was playing tourist. I settled into my own pace, taking in the scenery and even stopped to jump in the creek and cool down. The temperatures were perfect, clear and cool in the morning and topping out at about 75F in the day.

I just enjoyed the rest of my afternoon cruising easily and stopping frequently. I hit Phantom Ranch and made a quick pit-stop for a treat: a lemonade and a King sized Snickers bar. Yum.

I crossed the Colorado and just slowed down and took it all in: the fading light, the river, the canyon were all just so beautiful. The Bright Angel trail was a nice change of scenery and follows the river for a kilometer or so, before the climbing begins.

I was pleasantly surprised at this section of trail and I even managed to run a lot of this section. I was feeling strong and enjoying the climb. As the sun went down, it cast a soft red glow on all of the high places within the canyon. The sunlight line just slowly receded on the rocks, until it disappeared entirely. I hit Indian Garden Campground for sunset and it got real dark, real quick.

I learned later that Indian Garden is at 3800' feet, 3060' feet below the rim. I still had 930 metres of climbing to go! The elevation from the Colorado River to the South Rim is over 1400 metres - that's a lot of elevation to gain at the end of a day.

I fired up the headlamps, put my head down and started climbing. It was so dark, I couldn't see the top of the rim. When my eyes finally adjusted, I looked up the mountain and saw a trail of other twinkling headlamps way up high on the mountain. It didn't take me long before I hit the first group of hikers. As I powered up the mountain, I must have passed at least 8 groups in various states of exhaustion. It was a great way to end the day, chasing people up the mountain. It was a fun game and it gave me a little extra momentum to climb up the final stretch of Bright Angel. It's a hell of a climb, it really is incredibly tough to finish the day with such a huge ascent.

All done! Top of the South Rim, Bright Angel Trail.

I was happy to finish strong, all though it certainly wasn't easy. It took me 14 hours exactly and I enjoyed every moment of my day! Keith was waiting for me in the warmth of Bright Angel Lodge, with a big hug and a bag full of warm clothes and munchies. Thanks, honey! We celebrated with pizza and beer to wrap up an incredible day, in a very special place. I am fully, totally smitten with the Grand Canyon. We rounded up the weekend with a day of playing Tourist on the South Rim. What a great adventure!

November is an incredible time to visit Grand Canyon National Park. The weather was great and we had the entire South Rim all to ourselves. The football field sized satellite parking lots were all empty and we were frequently the only ones at some of the viewpoints. For those of you who like to run really, really, really far....well, put the Grand Canyon on your list. The R2R2R run is a helluva' challenge, but a challenge made easy by the epic scenery. For me, it really was all pleasure: a spell-binding journey through a one-of-a-kind landscape.

Friday, November 13, 2009

We Interrupt this Post.... bring you the first day of ski touring season!! :)

...ready or not, it's HERE! There was a surprising amount of snow out there for our first ski tour of the season. The sun was out and we were pretty happy to be back in our sparkling snowy playground of Sunshine Meadows....let the season begin!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Vegas and Valley of Fire

Let me just start by saying, I have the greatest husband in the world!! After last years hugely successful Anniversary trip to Yosemite National Park, we decided to stick with the National Park theme and visit Grand Canyon National Park. For our 11th Anniversary trip, we enjoyed an amazing few days of sightseeing in both Valley of Fire State Park and the Grand Canyon. As a bonus, Keith offered up the moral support and encouragement for me to go on a very special run: a solo double crossing of the Grand Canyon. Heck yeah, I want to do that!!

We flew in to Vegas , got our rental car and got the heck out. We drove straight to Valley of Fire to enjoy a gorgeous afternoon and a clear, sunny, calm day. Keith packed his road bike - he's got a very cool new road bike that - get this - fits in a suitcase! It's a very cool new toy. The last time we were in Valley of Fire, I was the bitch on the back of the motorbike. We loved it, but of course being on the bike we didn't get to enjoy it and just drove through. So this time, Keith had his heart set on a road ride and me, well....naturally, I went for a run. The boy was like a little boy on his bicycle. Happy, happy, happy!


Happy Keith.

Valley of Fire is a great place to spend a day to explore, it is so amazing. My shoes and socks were FULL of so much red dust that I literally poured it out of my shoes. Keith said the whole trip was worth it just for this day on his road bike. As well as being a gorgeous ride, the road had lots of fun twists and turns and some fun climbs and descents. The boy couldn't stop smiling! We hit Vegas for dinner and headed out for the road trip to the Grand Canyon the next morning. Valley of Fire is a great place to spend a day to explore, it is so amazing. My shoes and socks were FULL of so much red dust that I literally poured it out of my shoes. Keith said the whole trip was worth it just for this day on his road bike. As well as being a gorgeous ride, the road had lots of fun twists and turns and some fun climbs and descents. The boy couldn't stop smiling! We hit Vegas for dinner and headed out for the road trip to the Grand Canyon the next morning.

Not in Banff Anymore!!

Here's a video clip I took from Saturday morning: an epic run in a beautiful place! This sleeeepy girl has wee little eyes in the morning....

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Full Moon Running and Other Adventures

You know the change of season is here to stay when you dust off your headlamp(s) and start heading out for some night runs. Last
Wednesday, I got myself mentally prepared for the challenge of going for a trail run after work in the dark. It's something that takes me awhile to wrap my brain around. I wanted to go run up Sulphur Mountain and it would be light for most of the journey up and then dark for the journey down. I haven't been up there since before the Bear and the entire trail is rapidly accumulating packed snow. It was a windy, cool evening but in the protection of the trees it was sheltered and warm. I ended up power walking the whole way up, to ease my brain and body back into the notion of climbing. It was of course, a beautiful night to be out on the trail and I saw precisely, nobody. I tagged the top and enjoyed the view for just an instant: the icy wind was going to freeze my solid unless I stayed in motion. So off I ran, cautiously at first until I got used to my first steps on snow packed trail by the light of my headlamp. Then I took off. Weeeeeeee! I had a fun run, but my spider senses were tingling by the time I finished. The woods were eery and I was finding myself getting scaredy-girl for no reason at all. Sometimes, I get scared running around in the woods.

I did a repeat of this run last night, with friends Mike and Brenda. Night runs are always better with friends and a lot less scary! It was a full moon, so I was excited to get out and see the mountains all lit up by moonlight. We had a great time and chatted all the way up and all the way down, but the moon was totally obscured by cloud coverage. It didn't make an appearance once!

We turned back the clocks this past weekend, so we are entering "the dark months". November and December are our darkest months, where basically you go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. In Banff we call this season the shoulder season - not enough snow to ski and too much snow to hike. The ski season is upon us, with our local resorts opening the next 2 weekends. What shoulder season is really about thought, is being social. It's a great time of year to reconnect with the friends in town and elsewhere. Speaking of reconnecting with friends, we headed to Montana this past weekend to visit Danni and Ted and enjoy some fall weather and Halloween debauchery. It was awesome! We had a fun weekend, relaxin', drinkin', eatin', hot tubbin' and runnin'. Danni and I ran with her running group on Sunday and had a beautiful run in the countryside just outside of Kalispell. Thanks Danni and Ted! And I almost forgot! On highway 93 going through Kootenay National Park, we came across something that I have never, ever seen before. I probably drive this road a dozen times a year and have never seen a wolf. On Friday, we came across a pack of wolves. 4 huge animals in the middle of the road! We pulled over and were awestruck and aghast. What an amazing sighting. They were not fearful and not in a hurry. And when they walked it was so efficient. Incredible.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mountain Running in the Canadian Rockies

Mountain Running in the Canadian Rockies by Bob Walker
is the newest trail guide book on the market to help you find and explore the trails of the Canadian Rockies.

I was excited when this book came out because it was the first local guide book to cover the trails from a trail runners perspective. The author, Bob Walker, is a local trail runner who put a lot of effort, time and energy into the creation and publication of this book. The result is a good looking little book, with a great selection of some of the local trail gems of the Bow Valley.

As a local trail runner, this book gave me a few great ideas for some future trail runs that I hadn't even thought about before! For the trail runner who is unfamiliar with our area, choosing a trail run trail can be an overwhelming decision. There are just so many trails and options available. This book will be a great guide book for trail runners who want to explore the area and just need some help narrowing down those choices. Essentially, it's a great resource to help guide you to all of the best mountain and trail running in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

As well as producing and self-publishing this book, Bob is also distributing the book himself. This means, he is basically selling the books one by one! If you happen to be at the Banff Film Festival this weekend, you'll find Bob at the retail show selling his awesome new book, as well as a calendar with some of his favorite trail running images. Stop buy and say howdy and buy some Christmas prezzies!!
If you wanted to purchase his book online, you can check out his site here.
His book also has some great photographs, including this picture that I took of Iris running down the backside of Corey Pass.

I'd say that this is some quint-essential mountain running in the Canadian Rockies!