About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed a few 100 milers and many other ultramarathon trail races and marathons. I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Top of New Mexico

A few weeks ago I went to Taos, NM to run the Ski Valley Up and Over 10K (see my previous post below). Since Wheeler Peak (13,159’), the tallest mountain in New Mexico, was looming above the village where we were staying, I decided to give it a try. The loop trail is about 12-13 miles long, but there is a shorter out-and-back route that starts near the Bavarian Lodge and Restaurant.

Just before daylight I took off from the Taos Ski Village at over 9000’ elevation, along the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail (#90). I began this steady 4000’ foot climb on sore and rubbery legs because of the 2000 foot climb I did the day before in my race. My biggest worry though, was the possibility of spooking a bear since they are most active as night transitions to morning. An unfortunate hiker was attacked by a grizzly, partially eaten and covered up for later consumption in Yellowstone NP recently. Although my chances of being attacked by an  animal were greater as I hiked in the wilderness, I firmly believe that my risk of death was much higher when I was driving to Taos. 

Ski runs in Taos Ski Valley
The trail, shared by horseback riders, follows the Hondo Rio, a fast moving stream that drains Long Canyon. After huffing and puffing up the trail for a while a grey generic looking bird landed on a branch right in front of me as I turned a corner. We looked at each other for a minute and then I went on my way. A little while later I realized that it was probably a water ouzel, aka American dipper, the only songbird that catches all its prey underwater by swimming or walking on the rocky stream bed. 

I remember reading about these entertaining birds in John Muir’s, The Mountains of California where he writes: 

[The water ouzel] is the mountain streams' own darling, the humming-bird of blooming waters, loving rocky ripple-slopes and sheets of foam as a bee loves flowers, as a lark loves sunshine and meadows. Among all the mountain birds, none has cheered me so much in my lonely wanderings, --none so unfailingly. For both in winter and summer he sings, sweetly, cheerily, independent alike of sunshine and of love, requiring no other inspiration than the stream on which he dwells. While water sings, so must he, in heat or cold, calm or storm, ever attuning his voice in sure accord; low in the drought of summer and the drought of winter, but never silent.

As I walked along the stream I searched for the ouzel hoping to get a glimpse of it feeding or frolicking in the water but to no avail. Because I had a long arduous climb ahead of me, I didn’t have much time for bird watching. Soon I crossed the stream via a rickety bridge made simply of downed logs thrown into the creek resembling a beaver dam more than a pedestrian route.   

Once across the stream, I continued along some dirt roads that bordered private residences, cabins and vacation homes. The weather was overcast with a chill in the air which was hard to believe because we had been having 100 degree heat down in Texas just a few days earlier. The road continued through a forest of fir trees and then opened up with a view of the Red River Valley surrounded by a sea of green peaks. 

I was hungry by this point so decided to try out an Epic bison cranberry bar for use in future ultramarathons. The latest trend in running nutrition is to add more protein and fat to your diet to train the body to burn fat instead of relying on glycogen stores. After figuring out how to open the package, I took a few bites. The texture was unexpected; a bit too mushy and I didn’t care for the flavor. The convenience may be worth it for some though because the bars will keep for a long time. As for me, I’ll stick to a little salami for fat and protein during races. 

After slogging up another thousand feet or so the forest gave way to lush green meadows with patches of lingering snow. Once I climbed high on the ridge the wind started to chill my bones as my hands became numb. I had an extra shirt tied to my waist so I pulled it on tucking my hands inside the sleeves for warmth. Exposure can pose serious problems in the mountains even in August so I also brought a rain shell in case of a storm. Lightning storms hit these peaks almost every afternoon during the monsoon season so you should plan to be off the mountain early in the day.

The altitude made it tough to run, but I tried whenever the terrain allowed. One of my goals on this trip was to asses my ability to run in high altitudes in hopes of attempting an ultramarathon in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado someday. In the past, I’ve felt very sluggish and nauseous running at over 10,000 feet, but felt pretty good on this particular weekend.

As I traversed the grassy slopes, I kept hearing a whistling noise that resembled a chirping bird. I scanned the ground looking for the culprit, but could not locate the critter. Marmots, a type of large ground squirrel, make this alarm call to alert others of possible danger. The mother marmots or whistling pigs, as some call them, sit by their dens and call to their young when they perceive danger. It was quite a while before I finally located one far in the distance. 

Can you spot the marmot?
How about this one?
After much toil, I reached the final ridge line where several summits came into view. The problem was that I wasn’t sure which one was my actual goal because the peaks are of similar height. I recently downloaded the Avenza PDF Maps app and a map of the Wheeler area, so I consulted my smart-phone which showed my exact location on a detailed topo map. I sallied forth following the worn track and then saw what I thought were mountain goats. Later, a little research revealed that they were actually female bighorn sheep.

Female Bighorns

From this point I could see over both sides of the ridge with a great view of Horseshoe Lake on one side and Williams Lake on the other. It was here that I stumbled across a mule-shoe on the trail so picked it up and put it in my pack hoping that it may bring me good luck. I figured it was close enough to a horseshoe to count as a good luck charm. Besides, you never know when you may need a little extra luck when you are in danger of being mauled by a bear, struck by lightning, falling off a cliff or attacked by zombies.
Horseshoe Lake
Williams Lake
Finally I started up the last part towards the top of New Mexico, first reaching Mt Walter and then Wheeler Peak which is just 20 feet taller. The panorama was fantastic with views of Simpson Peak in close proximity. Some other hikers were there who offered to take my picture and then I rested for a spell while being entertained by a hungry chipmunk. I’m sure he was used to getting lots of trail mix and other goodies from the many hikers who have lunch on this peak.

Wheeler Peak, the top of New Mexico!
Simpson Peak
After soaking up the view, I backtracked and then took the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail (#67) down a precipitous slope with several scree crossings. Here I stumbled on a couple of marmots, probably males because they weren’t very shy or whistling to protect their kids. The downhill running was tough in spots because of the steepness, but there were a few sections of hard packed dirt that were fun to run. Before long I spotted a few bighorn rams with huge spiraling horns. I stopped to watch these majestic animals for a while and then continued on reaching the Williams Lake Trail (#62).

Say hello to my little friend.
Say hello to my big friend.

This took me to a ski lift  where the Bavarian Lodge and Restaurant is located. On the way, I ran into a couple of my running friends on their way back from hiking to the Lake. It’s always a pleasure to meet friendly faces on the trail.

Scree crossing on the way down.

I made it to the restaurant by 10:30am so gave Cara a call to see if her and Maddie were ready for a lunch date. The day before, we tried to take a scenic ski lift ride, but a lightning storm rained on our parade. They drove the few miles from our hotel to meet me and we enjoyed a lift ride up and down the mountain. Following this, we ate our hearts content of schnitzel and SpƤtzle at the German place. Why does food always taste better after a long hike in the mountains? 

This trip reminded me of my days living in Germany where I walked or ran volksmarches almost every weekend and went hut-hopping in the alps on occasion. The cool weather, green forest and German fare took me back a good 20 years. Wheeler Peak is a very challenging hiking destination. I recommend doing the entire loop if you are up to the task and have time. The Bull-of-the-Woods trail is much more scenic than the Williams Lake route in my opinion, but it’s all good.

See you on the trail. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Taos Ski Valley Up and Over 10K

Last weekend I drove with my family to the Taos Ski Valley in Northern New Mexico so I could run the Up and Over 10K. I usually don’t travel for such a short race, but this one takes you up to 11,000 ft elevation making for a tough climb in thin air. Besides, any excuse to travel to the “Land of Enchantment” to beat the West Texas heat is an opportunity not to be missed. The trip itself is worth the effort because you travel along the Rio Grande which is much more grande the closer you get to its source which is actually in Colorado. The Rio Grande Gorge is on the way and you can see the large gash in the plateau, which resembles a mini Grand Canyon, as you approach Taos.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why I Run

Too Much Running Tied to Shorter Lifespan, Marathon Runners are no Healthier than Couch Potatoes, The Hidden Health Risks of Jogging. These are just a few running related news headlines I saw in the past year. Why do I run for so long then? People ask me this all the time. Most articles in the news and on the internet seem to assume several things about people who run —that they run to live longer, get healthier or to lose weight. After all, running is such a miserable activity that no one of sound mind would ever do it for fun, right?

Mammoth Rock, Franklin Mts State Park

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Yellowstone National Park

Last month I wrote about my grandparents who took a road trip out west in the 50’s. I shared a few of my grandfather’s photos of the Grand Tetons. Cara, Maddie and I also went to the Tetons (See my post: Tetons) and then went on to Yellowstone for a few days. Since I didn’t have time to write about the Yellowstone part yet, I thought I would share some photos I took and a few of my grandfather’s from the 50s.

 (Photo: Ernest Dawson)
Grandma Bea driving through Wawona Tree
in Yosemite NP. It fell over in 1969.

(Photo: Ernest Dawson)
Grandma at Devil's Tower, WY 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Bighorn Wild and Scenic 100 Mile Trail Run

The course is wild and scenic traversing territory inhabited by elk, deer, moose, bears, cougars, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes with the potential for wildlife encounters with runners…runners may be subject to extreme temperatures of heat and cold, hypothermia, heat stroke, kidney failure, seizures, low blood sugar, disorientation, injury, falling rock or trees, wild animal or reptile attack, or even death from their participation in this event.
—Bighorn Trail 100 Race Packet

Well now, this certainly is going to be an adventurous run don’t you think? The Bighorn 100 has been on my list for some years so I’m excited to finally be here in Dayton, WY.  The 100 mile course is an out-and-back across the Bighorn National Forest. It feels strange to be waiting at the starting line at 10am for an 11:00 start. What do you do with all that extra time in the morning? Stress out! I know I’ll calm down once I get on the trail and start ticking off some miles.

Tongue River Canyon

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Tetons

Sometime in the 1950s my grandparents from Pittsburgh, PA took an epic road trip out west to experience the premier national parks of America. My grandfather was an avid photographer who took many photos of flowers, mountains, waterfalls, rivers; you name it. Does this sound like someone else you know? I suppose it runs in our genes. My mother sometimes says that people used to complain because so many of his pictures were devoid of family members. I will admit that I too am guilty of taking a lot of pictures of rocks and mountains. 

My Grandparents

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jemez Mountain 50 Miler

“Third time’s the charm”, as they say. Well, I hope they are right because I’m about to attempt the Jemez Mountain 50 mile course for the third time. My Jemez Mountain Trail Run history goes something like this: 1st year, DNF at mile 32 (altitude sickness); 2nd, DNS (Injury); 3rd, 50K finish in 8:30 (YAY!); 4th, snowstorm called off race; made it to mile 32. I have yet to finish this 50 mile course so hopefully today is my day. What could possibly stop me this year? Wildfire, earthquake, volcanic eruption?