Sunday, September 29, 2013

Aloha Lake Circumnavigation and Ridge Traverse: Desolation Wilderness

I finished up my month in Denver with the Presbyterian/St. Luke's podiatric residency program. I had a great month. The attendings were very well read and talented, the residents worked hard and seemed to be well trained and Denver has its perks. I had my final presentation in front of the attending and residents on Thursday night, a 7am surgery on Friday and I hit the road. My presentation was on a small ligament in the foot that is considered by some to be a major contributor to flatfoot when it fails. Standing up in front of a bunch of residents and seasoned doctors presenting is very intimidating but I feel it went well and I was easily able to answer all of their questions in an intelligent manner. Glad to have that one behind me.

Leaving Denver on the I-70. 
As per the norm I hoped to get some type of an adventure in to break up my 20hr trip back to Oakland and make the most of my cross country travels. I had a few things in mind but Friday morning in Denver was overcast and there was rain in the forecast for the entire range meaning that running up on a 14,000ft peak probably wasn't a great idea. As I drove across the I-70 through the Rockies there was low visibility, snow and rain. I made the right call.

Sunset over the Great Salt Lake.
I made it to Utah around 5pm and plan B was to try to run up either Nebo or aross the Timpanogos ridge-line. This plan also was scrapped because there appeared to be a considerable amount of snow on the top 1/3 of the range.  I spent the next hour in McDonalds on the internet working out my options.

I ended up stumbling across a guy's trip report entitled Desolation Seven Summits which inspired plan C. I pushed on through Nevada and ended up meeting with my longtime buddy and fellow podiatry student Garrett Child at a Nevada truck-stop around midnight. It was great to catch up. I continued on and ended up throwing down at some random pull off and sleeping under the stars. I was glad to have my down coat and an extra sleeping bag.

The Desolation Wilderness is just south of Lake Tahoe and is a place that I have been wanting to check out. I was at the Ralston Peak trail-head around 11:00am. After getting some beta from a nice ranger lady who thought I was a bit nuts from the route I was suggesting I was on my way. The first mile and a half I ran along Highway 50 until I bailed off on an unofficial trail up Rock Canyon that went straight up for about 4 miles and 4,100ft to the top of Pyramid Peak (9,985ft), the highest point in the Desolation Wilderness. I reached the summit in about 1:45. The view was magnificent. I could see the entirety of Aloha Lake which is a discontinuous body of water with granite islands scattered throughout  surrounded by stunning peaks.

Summit of Pyramid Peak.
After taking a quick photo and slamming half a PB&J I continued on down the ridge-line. There was some traces of snow from a previous storm but I was able to avoid it and stay on the rocks to avoid getting ice on my shoes which could be devastating while jumping from rock to rock down the steep ridge. I continued on the ridge scrambling up and down for the next 1.5hrs. It was gorgeous. I topped out on Mt. Agassiz (9,967ft) and Mt. Price (9,975ft) before dropping down Mosquito Pass to catch the trail which I reached at about mile 11. My legs and feet were hurting a bit but I fell into the rhythm of a slow jog. The single track was beautiful and I only saw a few people backpacking along with their huge multi-day packs. Over the next 9 miles I took a few turns which required me to bushwack around a bit looking for the correct trail. Not being on a trail when you think you should be is one of the most demoralizing occurrences that can happen when you are fatigued and are ready to be done with your adventure. Even though I was exhausted the views were still breathtaking coming up Ralston Peak. From there I could see the entire valley containing Aloha Lake under the afternoon sun. As I made the decent down Ralston back to my car I tried to maintain a jog but it was more like a quick stumble down the steep trail. I found the adventure that I was looking for and reached the car sufficiently exhausted and fulfilled.

Looking down from Pyramid at the ridge-line yet to be traveled. 
View back up at Pyramid Peak at the ridge I came down. 
The ridge-line towards Mt. Agassiz and Mt. Price. 
Looking down at Mosquito Pass from Mt. Price.

The banks of Aloha Lake looking at the previously traveled ridge, Pyramid on the left. 

Alpine single track.

View back at Lake Aloha from Mt. Ralston with Lake of the Woods in the foreground. 
I took a few minutes to rest before I started my 3.5hr drive back to Oakland to spend the next month with Kimber. Being away from your wife is not awesome but is all for the greater good.

Elevation graph from my GPS watch.

Total Distance: 19.3miles
Total Time: 7hrs 36min
Total Elevation Gain: 6713ft

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Walk in the Park: Glacier Gorge Ridge Traverse, RMNP

Me heading up the north ridge of Powell. Notice McHenrys Notch in the center. 
In looking for a bigger adventure while here in Colorado I stumbled upon a route called “A Walk in the Park” on The route description was fairly vague and included summiting the 8 huge peaks surrounding the Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the peaks being Longs Peak which is 14,259ft high. The best time that I could find online for completing it was 10hrs, 14min. Under the section entitled “Protection” (which usually gives recommendations on what size of cams and gear to bring) was stated, “Free solo. If you need a rope and a partner you can forget about it. You don’t have time to eat let alone belay”. This was perfect, as I was way overdue for a major epic and I had to do something that might impress my friends that were participating in the Wasatch 100 mile race the same weekend in Utah.
Disregard the white boxes. We took this map from somewhere else. We did the loop. 

Crappy panorama of Glacier Gorge from Storm Peak.

I talked Brody Hatch, who was preparing for his first trail marathon and is a stellar climber, into giving it a shot and we started to do a bit of online beta searching. We found a few trip reports and some decent topographical maps. We just planned to figure it out as we went beyond that.
After spending much of Saturday in my horrible Denver extended stay hotel studying Foot & Ankle International, an academic journal, I took off to meet Brody up near RMNP. We cooked dinner and slept in our cars to try and get some rest before our 3:30am alarms went off.

Getting ready to hit the trail at 4:30am. 
We hit the trail at 4:30am running at the Glacier Gorge TH. The first 2.5miles up to Mills Lake is on a well-marked and traveled trail. Arriving at Mills around 5:05am we bailed off into the woods in the dark scrambling up the base of our first peak, Thatchtop (12,668ft). The lower half of the climb provided interesting 4th and low 5th class climbing intermingled with ramps with trees and vegetation. We got lucky and pulled a semi direct route up to the never ending boulder field that took us to the top. I reached the top in 2:02 and watched the sunrise. 

Once Brody caught up we headed down the saddle and up the north ridge of Powell Peak (13,208ft). The ridge was absolutely stunning, having a knife edge with a vertical drop down into the gorge to the east and an uncomfortably sloping slab to the west. Climbing this during the morning “golden hour” provided some amazing photographs.

North ridge of Powell Peak.
Summit of Thatchtop.

North ridge of Powell Peak, Brody.

North ridge of Powell Peak, Brody.
Summit of Powell Peak.

The next objective was McHenry Peak (13327ft). The difficulty of this was getting past McHenry’s Notch which is a couple hundred foot notch in the ridgeline. To get down into the notch we had to make the decision to climb down the north or south side blindly, because we didn’t have any beta on which was better. We picked north and ended up on multiple thin dead-end wet moss covered ramps. Because there was moisture and vegetation occasional rocks were loose making it a bit too spicy for comfort. We both ended up climbing up different routes of 5th class to a ledge where we could access the south side and made it down into the notch safely. Climbing up the east side was much more straightforward 4th/5th class climbing and we made it out and along to the summit of McHenry.
Chiefs Head Peak (13579ft) followed which required us to drop down about 1,000ft into Storm Pass.  This consisted of mainly uneventful boulder hopping and we eventually topped out. Here we were able to rehydrate some by sucking water from small puddles that accumulated on the larger boulders from recent storms.
Brody lapping up water on top of McHenry Peak, not praying.

The crux section (most difficult) came next up to Pagoda Mountain (13497ft). Pagoda’s west ridge was extremely narrow with areas that we deemed unclimbable for free soloing. This forced us to work our way up the north side of the mountain where we encountered multiple lower 5th class sections and were eventually forced to drop down a wide ramp and ascend up a climbable gully. While headed up the gully I was on the lookout for bivy spots, having seen the looming storm clouds coming from the south before dropping off the ridge putting them out of view. It started to lightly rain as we regained the ridge and eventually the summit.

Me heading up Pagoda's west ridge.
Free solo Pagoda. 
Longs Peak (14,259ft) was next in line and required us to pass through the Keyboard of the Winds (some cool towers) and up to link into the south section of The Keyhole Route (most popular route) of Longs. Just below the route the weather turned bad and we found ourselves caught in a hail/rain storm. We found a large rock to sit under and waited it out for about 15 minutes. Travel after this storm was slow going due to everything being wet making it uber slippery. Our original plan had been to summit Longs and descend down the 5.4 Cable Route on the north side but we bailed on that idea due to conditions, fatigue and time. It was getting rather late and we had a long way to go still.  We headed down the Keyhole route following the red and yellow dots on the rocks marking the trail. It was slow going and frustrating because every step was slippery.

Sitting out the hail storm on Longs Peak.

From the actual Keyhole section on the northwest side of Longs we only had a small climb up a boulder field to Storm Mountain (13,326ft) and then a huge seemingly never ending decent down a boulder field to Half Mountain (11,482ft). Once on top of Half Mountain some beta that we had in our heads told us to descend a talus filled gully on the northwest side, easy enough. It was getting dark as we descended. The decent had some somewhat sketchy down climbing due to the moisture and loose rock but we continued until it was completely dark and we realized that we were surrounded on three sides by cliffs. Our only logical option was to turn around and climb back up the same section that had just taken us about an hour to cautiously descend. After multiple angry words were released we trudged on worked our way back up to the top and ended up descending down the north side through a fawna filled boulder field that took forever to work through. We eventually made it down to a trail and made the trek back to the car. My GPS watch had died at around 16hrs and we ended up reaching the car 18hrs and 48 minutes after leaving. The drive home was BRUTAL because I was so tired but I had to be in surgery the next morning to observe and had to make it home.

Brody coming out of the Keyhole of Longs.
Never-ending boulder field of Storm Mountain and Half Mountain.

 This was an awesome achievement! Brody did awesome. Multiple times we had to just keep it cool and focused to make it through. Looking back at it I might try it again someday, being a little bit more prepared in an attempt to beat the 10hr 14min record. Only time will tell.

Final Statistics
  • 7 Summits (we were only a few hundred feet away from getting Longs Peak which would have been 8)
  •  Distance Traveled: Approx. 18 miles
  • Vertical Climbed: Approx. 9,000ft
  •  C2C Time: 18:48

Friday, September 6, 2013

Good Science vs Bad Science

Deciphering between good science and bad science seems like an impossible task. The general public is extremely vulnerable to accepting bad science when it is presented in a creative way or by big name people. I recently ran across a set of guidelines presented by for the purpose of filtering out the bad science which can be used by each of us in our attempt to incorporate good science into our lives. 

From TED's website:

TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. 

TED has a massive database the presents short lectures by world experts on all sorts of different topics ranging from mechanical birds to faith to cochlear implants (go Karl White!!). The lectures are all around 18 minutes long and are an invaluable public source of information.

While the letter including the guidelines is quite long, you can read the complete thing here. But I am going to pull the guts out of the letter and present it below. I have highlighted the ones that commonly lure people in with neon green.

Marks of Good Science:
  • It makes claims that can be tested and verified
  • It has been published in a peer reviewed journal (but beware… there are some dodgy journals out there that seem credible, but aren’t.)
  • It is based on theories that are discussed and argued for by many experts in the field
  • It is backed up by experiments that have generated enough data to convince other experts of its legitimacy
  • Its proponents are secure enough to accept areas of doubt and need for further investigation
  • It does not fly in the face of the broad existing body of scientific knowledge
  • The proposed speaker works for a university and/or has a PhD or other bona fide high level scientific qualification
Topics banned from TEDx stages(meaning that they are rampant with bad science):
  • GMO food and anti-GMO foodists
  • Food as medicine, especially to treat a specific condition: Autism and ADHD, especially causes of and cures for autism
  • "Healing," including reiki, energy fields, alternative health and placebos, crystals, pyramid power
  • "Free energy" and perpetual motion machines, alchemy, time travel
  • The neuroscience of [fill in the blank] — not saying this will all be non-legitimate, but that it’s a field where a lot of goofballs are right now
  • The fusion of science and spirituality. Be especially careful of anyone trying to prove the validity of their religious beliefs and practices by using science

Red Flags 

  • Barrages you with piles of unrelated, over-general backup material, attempting to bury you in data they think you won’t have time to read
  • Holds a nonstandard degree. For instance, if the physics-related speaker has a degree in engineering, not physics; if the medical researcher does not have an M.D. or Ph.D.; if the affiliated university does not have a solid reputation. This is not snobbery; if a scientist truly wishes to make an advance in their chosen field, they’ll make an effort to engage with other scholars
  • Claims to have knowledge no one else has
  • Sends information only from websites they created themselves; there is little or no comment on them in mainstream science publications or even on Wikipedia
  • Provides data that takes the form of anecdotes, testimonials and/or studies of only one person
  • Sells a product, supplement, plan or service related to their proposed talk — this is a BIG RED FLAG

Tips for Looking into a Topic.
Start with some basic web research. Wikipedia is your first stop to gain a basic background. Following primary-source links from Wikipedia, work out from there to university websites, science and health blogs, and databases of papers published in respected journals

The world is full of ideas, both good and bad. Science is the PROCESS by which we "build and organize knowlege". It is the process by which we can work together to improve our universe. Be smart out there when confronted with various ideas. There are a lot of wing-nuts in disguise.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bastille Crack, Eldorado Canyon CO

I got out of clinic early on account that it was the first day. A quick call to Brody and I was on my way to meet him in Boulder with the intent to climb "One of the most classic climbs in the country", The Bastille Crack.

I took the first pitch, linking pitch one and two. It was super greasy, caused by so many people climbing it that the rock becomes smooth. This made it more unsettling than most other climbs of the same grade, not to mention that I was sweating from the direct sunlight. There is also a picturesque step from a flake into the crack, as shown above. Brody took the next pitch up and over some bulges to a large sloped shelf in a corner where he caught up to some slower German climbers who visiting Colorado as part of 6 month climbing tour of the US.
Starting our 3rd pitch up the corner past the sloped ledge.

I ended up following Brody up the 4th pitch with a headlamp. The descent was an easier down climb to a trail that took us down to the bottom. We were glad to have the headlamp.I love being back in Colorado!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Romping in Nevada's Ruby Range, NorCal Coast and New Shoes

Once again I made the 1,200 mile trek from California to Denver. I will be spending the entire month of September working with the Presbyterian St. Luke Podiatric Residency Program there. To break up the trip I decided to visit an isolated mountain range outside of Elko, NV. I have driven through Elko many times but never realized the beautiful mountain range that lies just over the hill to the south.

I ran up Right Fork of Lamoille Canyon near what I think was Wines Peak. It was a beautiful route that started on a good single track trail, morphed into some cairn (stacked rocks) hopping, and finished with some trail-less scrambling to the top. From the summit I bailed off down an unknown saddle that ended up being a huge rock field and bushwacked it down across back to the trail making it a lolly-pop type course. Despite being Labor Day weekend I only saw three other groups along the way.

Not bad for a summit self portrait. 
Nevada Stats
Distance: 10.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3454ft.
Start/Turnaround Elevation: 7053ft/10,239ft
Elapsed Time (including a GI clearing session and a summit self portrait session): 2hrs 50min.

The day before hitting the road I decided to maximize my time with Kimber and accompanied her to a wedding that she was shooting down in Half Moon Bay. While she was being a photographer for 7 hrs I read, studied, listened to podcasts and took a nice 10 mile run along the California Coastal Trail.

I had hoped to possibly stop and do a run in Colorado and Utah as well. Having run in California the day before I left, I could have pulled a run in each state. But the clouds didn't align to my overly zealous plan (as usual). Oh well, maybe on the way back if the snow hasn't fallen yet I can get'er done.

I also finally got a new pair of running kicks, the Altra Superior Trail. So far I have only done the two above runs totaling about 20 miles but have covered paved road, trail, off-trail and pure bushwacking. Overall I don't regret my decision but here are my quick pros and cons.

  1. Light - numbers aren't that important so I won't give them but they were noticeable light. 
  2. Zero Drop (heel being same height as toes) - I am not totally of the zero drop mentality but see benefits in the concept such as stretching the Achilles tendon. A tight Achilles is known as Equinus and is blamed for a whole boat load of pathologies (which I won't cover here). It was a weird transition and running up the steep terrain was working my calves a little harder than normal. 
  3. Tread - They seemed to have an aggressive enough tread to work well on all surfaces, except wet smooth rock (but I am not sure if I would expect them to work well there). 
  4. Wide Toe Box - They have an extremely wide toe box which allows your foot to flatten out unrestricted. In theory this should strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the foot which is good. This was ok when running straight up or down but on side hills I had a little bit to much movement and got some minor hot spots, but I was running on some abnormally steep side hills. 
  5. Removable rock plate - not that I will ever take it out but if I wanted to I could.
  1. Lame 30 day manufactures warranty! - After purchasing I read reviews stating that the shoes don't last long and then also noticed that they only have a 30 day manufacturers warranty. Totally weak. 
  2. Loose upper - Part way through my mountain run I had to cinch up my shoes super tight because they were allowing to much motion in my foot and this made to laces uber long. 
  3. Calf Rub - These shoes seemed to rub on my inner calf more than other shoes. Probably due to them being wider. Give and take. 

This shoe isn't really a shoe that has much padding and therefore isn't the best candidate for ultra distance runs, unless that is what you like. I think ideally I would have three shoes in my quiver; a minimal shoe like this, a more padded and supportive shoe for longer runs and an uber aggressive shoe for routes that are off-trail the majority of the time.