Monday, December 31, 2012

Week Ending Dec 30

Mon - 6.5 miles easy. Giles Lane - Tyler Hill - Crab & Winkle - Blean.

Tues - 11.5 miles (500') w/5k race (18:05, 1st). Ran over to Whitstable again on the Crab and Winkle bridle path to run my second Parkrun race of the visit. This time we were on the two lap promenade/Tankerton Slopes route, which meant that half the run was on challenging waterlogged grass. Went through the first kilometer in 3:15, chasing a young lad who got out a little quicker than I was planning on running. He maintained a five meter lead on the 1.5 kms of paved promenade and then began to fade as we ran up the hill onto the grassy Tankerton Slopes. By the end of the first loop I was ahead by a couple of seconds, a lead that remained about the same through the promenade section of the second loop and then grew significantly once we turned back onto the grass. This was an excellent way to start Christmas Day, made all the better by jogging out a third bonus loop with Alistair and Dana who had driven over to take part as well.
Stella sits and waits in the wind with her Grandad. Not even the Olympic torch could pique her interest in the proceedings, however.
Finishing up the first loop. 
Dana and Alistair had fun in the mud.
Wed - 4 miles race. Boxing Day Run.

Thurs - AM: 6.5 miles easy. Giles Lane/Tyler Hill loop in the wind and rain.
PM: 3 miles easy with Dana. Two university loops.

Fri - AM: 6.5 miles easy. Giles Lane/Tyler Hill loop in the rain.
PM: 3 miles easy. 2 x Uni loop in the rain.

Sat: 16 miles (800') w 5k race (17:20, 2nd). Ran out to Whitstable for yet another Parkrun race. I was feeling a little tired standing on the start line for this one, my third race of the week (and fourth of the UK visit), so purposefully lined up a couple people deep to avoid going out hard. Two guys got out quickly and by the time I had moved around traffic they were already ten meters up. The younger of the two started coming back through the first km (3:16), but the lead runner looked like he would hold his pace, slowly building his lead on me to about 10 seconds as we made the turn at the end of the lollipop part of the course. We again had to deal with a good bit of slop on the lollipop section of the course, but significantly less than on the standard route (which we ran Xmas day). By the time we were back on the promenade with 2kms to go, the race for first was clearly not going to happen, so I just pushed on and enjoyed yet another opportunity to breath in the beautiful sea air and enjoy the vistas. Ran back home to Canterbury after the race into a super-stiff head wind.

Sun - Off. Set the alarm to get out and jog a couple of miles before catching the train to London to meet old school chums, but rolled over and caught some extra zeds instead.

Total: 57 miles (1,300') 

This week was billed as my first in the training cycle for the 2013 season, but it was about no more than building a bit of consistency and getting into the rhythm of things. I am determined to keep the mileage completely reasonable and non-taxing through January and February, with a goal of 60 miles this past week and no more than 70 this week (with a slow 5 mile per week progression from there). I'm starting to mix in a couple of double days now, just as a means of feeling my way back into the double day routine, and not really as a means of accumulating mileage. I find doubles to be an effective way of building mileage during peak training blocs, but it takes a while to get into the rhythm of heading out the door so often, hence the 'practice' right now.

I ran three races this week, which was a lot of fun, with the highlight being the always fun Boxing Day Run in Saltwood where I put in a proper effort in hilariously muddy conditions. One more race tomorrow on New Years Day, and then back to The Fort and some hills.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

Boxing Day Run

It's been rain, rain and more rain during this trip to the UK, and all indications suggest more of the same for the rest of the year. Indeed, the meteorological folk have just announced that 2012 is officially England's wettest year on record (after drought conditions through the first couple of months, no less). If you know anything about British weather, then you know that for this to be the wettest year on record means that it is indeed quite wet.

Needless to say, the running has been a rather soggy and sloppy affair. I've given up on Blean Woods, my staple soft-surface venue while in Canterbury, as the going has been terrible and have largely resorted to the roads when not racing. But luckily there's been plenty of racing to be had over the Xmas period, including one of my favorite events of the year.

The Saltwood Boxing Day Run has been an annual tradition for going on 40 years now, and while I've only been doing the event for the last six years, it's one I always look forward to running with the rest of my family as part of the annual return to Blighty.

Pre-run with the family in the pub.
So after a couple of muddy Parkrun warm-up races on the slopes above the Whitstable seafront in the first week of the holidays, it was time to give the Saltwood bog a go. Even in drier years, the cross country course has always had a fair bit of mud to deal with, but this year the bar was raised to a new level of god-awfulness with some of the worst running conditions I've ever raced in.

On the start line in the village green I looked down enviously at all the other lads with their spikes on and thought once again that I should really invest in a pair - even if to only use once a year. While the tread on the new Pearl EMotion Trail Racers did as well as I could have hoped for given the conditions, they were no match for the half-inch spikes the more seasoned cross country vets had on. Not that it would have impacted the placings, but what's a Clarkie race report without at least one caveat into why I didn't perform up to Olympic standards.

And talking of Olympic standards.

If I hear one more thing about the bloody Olympics and how brilliant the British team was, I'm rescinding my citizenship. Don't get me wrong, I think the Olympics were great, but the media over here are still banging on about the event like it finished yesterday. I mean I've even had to sit through an evening finale of 'Strictly Come Dancing' (the UK's version of 'Dancing with the Stars' and a national obsession) which predictably enough was won by some Olympic gymnast who won ... wait for it ... silver in the pommel horse. The pommel horse! This bloke is now a national hero. And what the hell is a pommel horse anyway?

You know what happens to gymnasts in the U.S. who get silver in individual gymnastic events? They get ridiculed.

That was a strange tangent. Back to my ramblings about mediocre running performances.

So yeah, we started back in the village green again this year, which allowed for a 400 meter section of road to get the race underway. From the off I was engulfed by a crowd of 12 year-old-girls who I had to gently prod to avoid a full-on collision with a car parked just five meters up from the already narrow start. With a bit of breathing room, I settled into seventh or eighth as we made the turn onto the playing fields, already a good bit behind a lead pack of four or five guys, but making up ground on a few of the other overzealous starters. I knew three-time champ Michael Coleman wasn't coming back, but I wasn't so sure about the others.

Note the zippy pre-teens to my left. 
I think I passed one, maybe two guys before making it to the goblin bridge at the end of the playing fields before having to wait for one guy to awkwardly hurdle the fence while a couple of others squeezed around the kissing gate (Dana would tell stories of male dangling parts getting caught on said fence only minutes later). Over the fence, it was then up the steepest hill on the course. Nothing too serious, but certainly enough to get your heart pumping. Up to this point the mud really hadn't been too bad; a bit of slipping and sliding on the descent to the bridge for sure, but nothing out of the ordinary. And even the grass off to the side of the main footpath up the hill was clumpy enough that a running cadence was easy to maintain, so I was able to ease past a couple of guys here, before being re-passed by the slow-fence guy right before the stile. And of course he was as equally slow going over the stile as he was the fence.

Cresting the hill, I moved into fourth and then almost lost my shoe in what would be the beginning of a massive bog around the sheep field. Skirting the mud really wasn't an option here, so it was just a case of plowing through - calf deep in places - and hoping for the best. I slogged past the young lad in third as we headed towards the woods and then looked up to see that first and second were off to the races. The race now was clearly for the final podium position, so I settled in and tried to maintain a sustainable effort. Looking back, it appeared that David Weekes - a former winner and something like 20-time top-10 finisher who I'd chatted to on the start line - was the only guy coming with me, so it would be a two horse race through the remainder of the bog.

Hitting the wooded section, the trail had enough foliage on the ground that there were sections where a normal running cadence was almost a possibility, and where there wasn't foliage I'd just jump deeper into the brush and take my chances. Nonetheless, there were still long sections of footpath that were just laughably churned  with nothing but ankle-deep mud to wade through. David would close on me through these sections as I flailed around, but never quite got close enough to pass.

The final half mile to the finish was decently graveled and offered comparatively good traction, so I was able to slot back into a proper running cadence and surprisingly found that I had plenty left in the tank as I came up the last hill. I got a lock on third here before motoring back down into the village to the always packed finish line on the green.

I'm still holding out hope that one of these years I'll be able to pull off a win in Saltwood, but for now I'm holding onto a collection of finishes from second through fifth, with an 11th place finish in my first run six years ago. Hanging out at the finish line waiting for the rest of my family, it was fun to see people finishing covered head to toe in mud. And it was even more fun to hear the kids' tall tales of mud holes up to their necks as we headed off to the pub for the conclusion of another memorable Boxing Day in Saltwood.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Week Ending Dec 23

Mon - Off

Tues - 5.5 miles (500') easy. Blean Woods. Green and Red loops.

Weds - AM: 4.5 mile easy. Blean Woods. Green loop with Dana.
PM: 5.5 miles (500') easy. 3 x university loop at an up-tempo effort.

Thurs - 5 miles easy with Dana. Tour of Canterbury, including a stop at the cathedral.

Fri - 9.5 miles (900') easy. Black outer loop of Blean Woods.

Sat - 8.5 miles (500') w/ 5k race (17:55, 1st). Ran 5 miles out to Whitstable to do the Parkrun event on the seafront. I went through the first kilo on the promenade very comfortably in 3:30 and then pretty much kept the effort there after I realized there would be nobody to race. The middle kilo to kilo and a half was totally flooded out and super sloppy, so I went through very cautiously before slotting back into my prior effort level on the boulevard return.

The Parkrun 5k races, of which there are hundreds taking place around the UK every Saturday morning, are completely free and designed exclusively to get people up off their asses and out running. Currently there is only one US-based event (Livonia, MI), but anyone can get one up and running - if, of course, they have the time and desire to commit to it.  Not a position I am in right now unfortunately.

Sun - 5.5 miles easy. Long uni loop via Giles Lane - Tyler Hill - Crab and Winkle. Major standing water in places on the C&W bridle path which was kinda troublesome in the dark.

Total: 45 miles (2,400')

Just an easy week here in Canterbury, where the ground is totally saturated and the heavens appear to be permanently open. Major flooding in the southwest of the country, so we actually don't have things too bad. Nonetheless, conditions are essentially the polar opposite of drought-stricken Colorado where I can't remember the last time I had to alter my stride to accommodate the mud.

Fun to get out and turn the legs over on Saturday at the Parkrun. I'll be back out there tomorrow morning for the bonus Xmas day rendition, followed by one of my favorite races of all time - the Boxing Day Run - on the 26th (aka Boxing Day). Then another Parkrun on Saturday with a follow-up bonus edition on New Years Day. So just the four races while I'm here then.

Oh, and training for the 2013 season officially kicked off today. For those counting at home, we're 27 weeks out from Western States, 30 weeks out from Vermont, 34 weeks out from PB'ville and 37 weeks out from Wasatch. Built a training chart and everything yesterday: yeah, it's serious this time. The base building concludes with the Salida Marathon in early March ... and then I start getting serious.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Three Weeks Ending Dec 16

Week Ending Dec 2

Mon - Off

Tues - 6.5 miles (1,700') easy. Horsetooth south summit via Slush's Slit.

Weds - 6.5 miles (1,700') easy. Horsetooth north summit via north gap.

Thurs - 10 miles (1,800') hard. Towers (31:10). Worked hard from Stout and came up pretty short (time wise). Further confirmation that I'm grossly out of shape right now. But that's alright. Training resumes in just a few short weeks.

Fri - 6.5 miles (1,700') easy. Horsetooth north summit

Sat - 15 miles (4,500') peakbaggery. UN 6,100'Pierson Mtn (9,803'), Lion Head (9,740'), UN 9,475', UN 8,380', UN 8,380'. Headed out early with Mike to go pick up some of the more southerly Larimer County peaks near the Boulder County border. The first one, unnamed peak 6,100', is one of the more ridiculous 'peaks' unique to LoJ obsessives and requires a little bit of creative thinking. In this particular case, the high point of the hogback is just a stone's throw from the front door of a rather large house. So, instead of donning camo gear and trying to sneak up to the high point in daylight, I opted for the pre-dawn approach; Mike waiting in the car with the motor running. Up and down in minutes and then we were off in a southwesterly direction to pick up the morning's real peaks.

Starting from the Lions Gulch Trailhead off Hwy 36, about 10 miles south of Estes Park, we ran the three miles out to the base of Pierson Mtn and Lion Head on a steady but casual uphill grade following the Lion's Gulch drainage to the site of a few old homesteads. The bushwhack up Lion Head was decent, as bushwhacking goes, and we were to the summit in reasonably short order. The views from the rocky outcrop were large, with the rare close-up view of Twin Sisters from the east especially impressive. From Lion Head, it was a short bop down to the saddle with Pierson and then no more than a 600 foot hoof to the forested summit. Both peaks had registers, so we added our names alongside the usual list of LoJ suspects and headed off down the rocky southwest side for the saddle with unnamed peak 9,475' - the last bump on the way to the big eastern slopes of Twin Sisters. 9,475 was another short climb - maybe 400 feet - but the rocky (and windy) summit offered a particularly striking vista of Twin Sisters.

Our route off 9,475 was somewhat convoluted as I think we entered the wrong drainage - missing the trail marked on the map - but nonetheless found our way down into the pasture to the south where we followed a ranch road while making sure to skirt two properties along the way. Back on NF land, we 'schwacked south for unnamed peak 8,380' (the southernmost of the two 8,380's we'd hit that morning). Unwittingly, we ended up on 8,340' (thinking we were on 8,380'), but we soon realised our error after surveying from the summit. This meant more bushwhacking to the south before eventually picking up the correct peak (lying just west of what looked like a crazy mountain airstrip). From there we retraced our steps northeast for the second 8,380' of the morning. This one was a fun summit that required some good hands-on-rock action up a tight gully to the saddle and some solid class three scrambling to gain the summit. There were big views east and west from the impressively rocky summit, including a shot of Kenny Mountain which had been on the docket for the morning's outing. However, short on time, we decided to forgo the biggest peak of the outing and instead found our way back to Lion's Gulch by way of a series of old forest roads and trails. Despite missing out on Kenny and bungling the navigation for the first 8,380' this was a really fun morning in new terrain with some killer new angles on familiar Estes Park-area mountains.
Meeker over the shoulder of Twin Sisters.
East slopes of Twin Sisters bathing in sunlight. From Lion Head.
9,475 all the way left (just a bump), then Pierson and Lion Head. From 8,380'.

Twin Sisters w/ 9,475' all the way right.
Sun - 2.5 miles easy on the bike paths setting up the 6k course for the Tortoise and Hare series. Another big turnout, followed by a nice Xmas breakfast at Fuzzy's before flying out to New York for work.

Total: 48 miles (11,400')

Week Ending Dec 9

Mon - Off. NYC. I'm not a big fan of running in New York, especially when there on business, so purposefully didn't pack any running gear.

Tues - Off. NYC.

Weds - 7 miles (2,000') easy. Put up a bunch of cairns and a flag or two for El Chub. Horseooth north summit.

Thurs - 10 miles (2,300'). Ran from home to build more cairns for Chub: Falls - Stout - Towers - Carey - Loggers - Sawmill before swinging over to Soderberg to meet the crew for the VBM.

Fri - 8 miles (2,000') easy. Chub marking with Stefanovic. Falls - Spring Creek - Herrington -Spring Creek - Towers - Westridge - true ridge to south summit of Horsetooth - Rock - Southridge.

Sat - 25.5 miles (6,300') easy. 4:31. Had a good time running the marathon version of the Chubby Cheeks course with Tony, Joe and Brandon Stepanovic, among others. Beautiful morning and a fun after party made for another successful rendition of the Chubster. Course records tumbled across the board, but more on that later when I get back from the UK and find time to unearth the results sheets. Racked my 100th Horsetooth summit of the year along the way.

Sun - 3 miles (600') hiking and de-flagging the Falls loop with Alistair and Stella. Cold.

Total: 53.5 miles (13,200')

Week Ending Dec 16

Mon - 6.5 miles (1,700') easy. Horsetooth north summit via the north gap.

Tues - 8.5 miles (2,500') easy. De-flagging the rest of Horsetooth w/Wesir. Took the true west ridge across to Horsetooth again and decided to do all three H'tooth summits for kicks.

Weds - 6.5 miles (1,700') easy. Horsetooth north summit via the north gap.

Thurs - AM: 10 miles (1,400') hilly threshold. HTH5MO&B w/Sarah, Scott, Mike, Pete and Celeste. Out easy and then back at a relatively casual effort (~32 - 33 mins). Limited motivation right now to push things, but getting back on the early morning tempo train is a step in the right direction.
PM: 7 miles (1,700') steady. Towers at a very casual 35 mins.

Fri - 7 miles (1,800') easy. Horsetooth trifecta. Thought this was going to be the last summit of the year before I took off for the UK, so tagged all three summits.

Sat - 10 miles (4,500) baggery. Castle Mountain (8,834'), Eagle Cliff, Rams Horn, Giantrack, UN 7,509', UN 7,135'. Finished up most of what I had left in the Estes Park area on the Larimer County project with a six-bag morning. Wesir and I pulled down the first summit, Castle Mountain, in the dark after an overly zealous early morning meet. We parked at the turn circle at the end of Castle Mountain Rd, which is off Hwy 34 to the north, and then hoofed the 950 feet from there. The going was pretty steep for the most part, and despite the darkness, navigation was easy (keep going uphill until you can't go any further). We hit the impressively rocky summit in exactly 20 minutes, enjoyed the very first hues of light to the east and the silhouetted lines of the Continental Divide and Mummies to the west and north, before bombing the descent back to the car. Killer peak. Jumped in the car and headed back into town to pick up Hwy 34 out towards RMNP. Parked up at a small pull-off just before the toll gates and headed due south across pasture land past a big herd of elk on a direct line for Eagle Cliff. Again, this was very straightforward and we were up on the summit in less than 20 minutes and back at the car in just over 30. Hopped back in, headed to town, picked up donuts from The Best Donut Shop In The World, and then headed out to pick up Rams Horn and Giantrack.

In order to get Rams and Giant quickly we pulled off a mega cheat by driving all the way up the private road that services the million dollar homes on the eastern slopes of Rams Horn, parking just 600-700 feet below the summit on a road to an undeveloped lot.The summit of Rams Horn lies on the middle of the three huge rocky features known as Teddy's Teeth. We didn't know where the summit was at the time, but tagged all three teeth anyway and then continued south, thinking that Lily Mountain was the true summit. We eventually realised our error and backtracked for Giantrack, picking up a private/social trail along the way. Back to the car after hitting the relatively unimpressive Giantrack, and after some procrastinating, we realised that 'Thunder' and 'Lightning' were going to be a stretch with the time we had, so we headed south on Hwy 36 to pick up a couple of easier summits in the Pinewood Lake area.

For 7,509', we parked right under the redstone quarry and scrambled the 300 feet to the summit in no time. From there, it was cross country to pick up 7,135', an elegant lump of textured granite sitting above an open pasture. This was probably the funnest peak of the morning with plenty of good scrambling to be had, just going to prove that low-lying unnamed peaks are just as deserving of love as the big alpine boys that can oftentimes be quite tedious.

Another fun morning exploring the high points of Larimer County. Unnamed peak 7,135' was my last Larimer summit of the year and coincidentally my 100th, leaving just 155 to get before I have the full collection!
Meeker and Longs finally looking somewhat wintery. From Rams Horn.
Teddys Teeth from just below our cheat parking spot.
Rams Horn (fore) and Twin Sisters (rear).
Sun - 6 miles (1,600') steady. Snuck in a quick summit of Horsetooth (north gap) before heading off to the airport and the UK for 105 total Horsetooth summits on the year.

Total: 61.5 miles (16,900')

I've got some major catching up to do on the blogging front, but life, work and play have been busy, so blogging has taken something of a backseat here in the off season. Maybe I'll be motivated to tap on the keyboard a bit more when I start refocusing my energy on running. Or maybe not.

Speaking of refocusing on running, I really haven't had the greatest desire to get out and run since Leadville. Really the only thing that has been getting me out of the door has been the daily Horsetooth summit, Larimer Peaks (more hiking than running), and opportunities to catch up with friends. Nonetheless, I feel a bit of the old drive coming back, especially now that I have some firm running goals set for 2013.

And what might they be?

Well, a summer of 100 mile racing and recovering basically. I think 2013 will be my last crack at Western States, so I figured I'd also give the Grand Slam a go. For the uninitiated, the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning begins with Western States in June, follows on with Vermont in July, hits fever pitch with Leadville in August, and limps to an end with Wasatch in September. I beliebe these are the four oldest 100 milers in the country, but I might be slightly off there. Anyway, Neal Gorman set the record a few years back, breaking Joe Kulak's decade-old record by just a few minutes. I was actually there to see Neal come in during the wee hours that night, and was inspired that day to give it a go myself. I guess 2013 will be the year. I've already run three of the four races, and all of them a good bit faster than in Neal's record-breaking year, but the wildcard here is the recovery number. One botched race - or 100 degree temps at Western States - and the dream could easily be crushed. It'll be an interesting and fun summer for sure.

So, yeah, a couple of weeks of finding a running groove here in the UK and then it'll be time to get the old head down to start building for June. I've done the Western States cycle three times now, and aside from year one (2010), I really don't think I've nailed a proper peak (always too much too soon). This year, I've got a plan. Hopefully I'll be able to execute with a fair bit of discipline and maybe even bring a cougar back to Fort Collins. I always like to dream big.

Been tossing the idea of an early spring marathon around with a few folk. Originally I was looking at New Orleans, but I've gone off that idea. I'm now thinking Phoenix or Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas. The former would be a true PR type of course, the latter a more challenging strength course. I've got until Dec 26 to make a decision (per Olive Oil Joe).

In other news, the comments section of my blog is getting hammered with Spam, so I've had to put a filter up. Guess that'll do it for now.     

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Vertical Malted Beverage Mile (VMBM), Act III

Ah, the V(M)BM.

Participation in this event has been growing by leaps and bounds over the three years we've been running it, and for some here in town it's the highlight of the season, the pinnacle of athletic achievement, the yardstick by which all running greatness is measured.

Those who find it hard to combine the rapid consumption of gloriously gassy lager with the simple act of running uphill do their best to downplay the magnitude of the event, but as I think anyone who plays in Fort Collins trail running circles knows, it is an extremely prestigious honor to be crowned King or Queen of the VBM ... but maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.
The pre-race chatter had been building for months (seriously), and all eyes were on the women's event where an all-star cast of contenders had been positioning themselves as potential winners. Last year's champ, Mindy "I'm Irish" Clarke, was considered by many to be the favorite. But also toeing the line was the winner of the inaugural event, Celeste "I'm Irish" O'Connor, in addition to last year's runner up, Jessie "I'm from New Jersey" Wilburn. And the depth didn't end there.

We had runners with pedigree. Shalane Flanagan couldn't make it (we're told she can drain a beer pretty quickly), but she sent her sister as a stand-in. Maggie had proven herself earlier in the year on The Big Hill by consuming 15 beers and a similar number of tacos over a 24 hour period, during which time she managed to record 7 laps (49 miles, 12,500' of vert) and a second place finish in the second annual running of the 24 Hours of Towers (official results still pending). And, as it turned out, there were others waiting quietly - yet confidently - in the wings to prove themselves.

The men's race. Hmm, well, as much as I shy away from tooting my own horn, I'd have to say I was about as confident on that start line as Secretariat was before his record-breaking Triple Crown run at the 1973 Preakness, especially after the late scratch of Horsecow Lonac from the field. And while I would normally fear Horsecow's last-minute stand-in - a certain Dakota Jones - before most running events, when it comes to running and drinking, the youngster clearly has a thing or two to learn.
Lonac put up a brave fight last year, but shied away in 2012.

With a good 20+ runners on the start line, it was finally time to get this show on the road. I made note of the fact that the craft brews so many had thought would be a good idea just two years earlier had largely been replaced by the Banquet Beer, aka the VBM Beer of Champions. Maybe we'll see about an endorsement deal moving forward, but for now we'll let it lie.

A hike up the hill to place refreshments, a brief recap of the rules: "if you puke, don't forget to do a penalty quarter at the end," and we were off.
Hey, get that camera out of my face!

Having not skulled a beer since the previous year's running of the VBM, the first one went down in a pretty rough manner - although it did go down in its entirety before I jumped off the line in first place.

I wasn't surprised to have company running up the first quarter mile while I groaned and worked on degassing the tubes. Stevenson was on my shoulder - as he had been in 2010 - but I wasn't too concerned as history has shown that a fast start by Pete has a tendency to end in chunks, while Dakota was right there along with Gisler, the token Boulder'ites.

And so it progressed. The Boulder pretenders fell off the pace, while Pete put in a gallant effort at dethroning the VBM king. At aid station two, Pete was a quarter can back on me; at aid three, a half can back; and by the final aid station it was apparent that I'd just need to keep my stomach from erupting to retain my title. Despite a few bubbly burps on the way to the finish line, I was indeed able to keep all 64 ounces down and cross the line to celebrate the glory of a VBM three-peat.

Pete trundled up 30 seconds later for a strong second, and lo and behold one of the Boulder runners had managed to keep his lunch intact. Gisler (who I'm pretty sure is really from the east coast somewhere) ran in for a strong third-place finish. Burnett can clearly skull beers and proved it with a strong fourth. He was followed closely by Senor May (a former podium finisher), Dakota (who promptly turned around to complete a penalty lap and ended up finishing last according to the official results), and Josh (who'd shown up to run a regular Thursday evening time trial, but embraced the alternative TT with open arms). Then all attention shifted to the women's race.

Seventeen minutes ticked by and right on schedule, and in course record fashion (17:19), Mindy came galloping across the finish line to complete a second Clark/Clarke sweep of the VBM. A proud moment, indeed. The Irish were also to be made proud with Celeste bursting through the darkness to cross the finish line in second (completing the three-year podium grand slam - 1st, 3rd, 2nd).

With Flanagan still out on course, it was looking like it would be an Irish sweep of the podium spots, but ever so quietly, the endurance drinking specialist was upstaged by Nora who, we were told by her proud significant other, has put in plenty of hours of specificity training on the ski-bum circuit.

However, as the one-two in the boy's race showed, real strength in this event comes from growing up as a rugby player.

And then it was on to the after party for tales of debauchery, more frivolity, and anticipatory discussions on part deux of the Festivus activities - el Chub. But more on that later.
Clark/Clarke, Chicken Lady, Gisler.
Jubilation at finishing third.

Tallying the results.

Your 2012 VBM results (as best I could make out):

1. Clark: 12:32
2. Stevenson: 13:03
3. Gisler: 14:15
4. Burnett: 14:44
5. May: 15:12
6. Josh: 16:12
7 (1). Clarke: 17:19
8. Mike M: 18:30
9 (2). O'Connor: 18:37
10. Jesse G: 19:20
11. Will H: 19:45
12. Gareth: 20:11
13 (3). Nora: 22:10
14. Glen: 22:29
15. Slow Aaron: 24:53
16. Sam HN: 25:30
17 (4). Flanagan: 25:50
18 (5). Fast Krista: 25:53
19 (6). Lindsey: 26:00
20. Roberson: 28:28
21. Scott the Hobbit: 29:30
22 (7). Wilburn: 30:09

DFL. Jones: 2:07:33

Honorable Mention:

Wesir & Burch: 17:10 (1st in the relay non-category).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Week Ending Nov 25

Mon - 6.5 miles (1,600') easy. Horsetooth north summit via north gap.

Tues - 6.5 miles (1,600') easy. Horsetooth north summit via north gap.

Weds - AM: .5 miles (500') Morril Benchmark (5,791'). From a pull-off on South Centennial, I snuck over the ridge towards the reservoir, sidehilled south and then carefully made my way up to the bluff to tag the high rock on the ridge which sits under a solar panel off to the side of some dude's property. This one is for obsessive-compulsive Larimer County peak-baggers only. 

PM: 6.5 miles (1,600') easy. Horsetooth south summit via Slush's Slit. Up just as the sun was descending behind the divide, leaving beautiful soft oranges, pinks and blues contrasted against silhouetted ridgelines and peaks. Pikes Peak was as clearly visible on the southern horizon as I think I've ever seen it. This has to be my absolute favorite time of year to run right now.

Thurs - 10 miles race. Turkey Day 4 miler (22:32), with 4 mile w-u, 2 mile c-d. A fun morning despite the crappy race.

Fri -  8 miles (2,500') baggery. Headed out to the Pennock Pass area via 44H and knocked off the four ranked peaks out there. This was my first trip down 44H since the fire, and I have to say the north side looked a whole lot better than I was expecting. It looks like the line, for the most part, was on the ridge above the road. East and West White Pine, however, were totally burned out, which was pretty sad to see, and then the burn pretty much stops at Monument Gulch on the west side. Both FR100 (White Pine road) and Monument Gulch road were closed.

For the peaks, I drove up to Pennock Pass, hopped out of the car and did 9495' on the north side - just a quick 400 foot bop up and down - and then 10,008' on the south side. 10,008' was a little more involved, but still pretty straightforward. Back at the car, I drove a few switchbacks down towards Pingree Park and picked up 9,342', a nice spherical summit. Found a cairned route through the woods and enjoyed stellar views of the Comanche Wilderness and its high peaks from the summit. Finally, I drove all the way down to the Pingree Park road and the Signal Mtn TH. Hopped on the trail for a mile, before cutting due west up a big gulley for the summit of 9,540'. Awesome views of Comanche from there as well.

Stormy Peaks from top 9,540'
Comanche (right) and Fall (left) Mtns. Classic Pingree terrain mercifully saved from the fire. 
Another Bluebird Colorado Fall day.
East and West White Pine on the western perimeter of the High Park fire area. Totally burned. Hopefully the aspen will grow back quickly as this area is stunning in the Fall.
PM: 6.5 miles (1,600') easy. Horsetooth south summit via Slush's Slit. 

Sat - 16 miles (5,200') baggery. There is a cluster of seven summits up off the Cherokee Park Rd in the Red Feather Lakes area, which if done altogether negates the need for multiple trips up there. I got an invite from David Johnson to go bag 'em all, so with an early start we were off up north to grab some peaks. I thought the drive would be a bit longer, but it only took 45 minutes to get out to the County Wildlife Area, and from there we bagged 7,220', 7,500', 7,620', 7,660', Turkey Roost, 7,655', and 7,814' in that order.

Setting off in the dark, we started out in an easterly direction following a two-track road. A half mile in, and we realized that we'd been heading in the wrong direction for our intended route (7,665 first), so changed plans and started out with 7,220', which was a couple of miles cross country to the north. The going was a mix of pasture land and heavily shrubbed gulleys. About a mile out, after fording the North Fork of the Poudre, we started getting some light and made our way to the summit with little problem.

From there, we had to drop down to Bull Creek in a northwesterly direction, before humping up to 7,500', which had a multitude of rocky outcroppings that could serve as the summit. We, of course, tagged them all. The views of the impressive Turkey Roost and broader North Poudre Valley were excellent from here. After a quick repose on top, we headed due north for a couple of miles, picking up faint trails here and there, crossing a beautiful pasture and then scrambling across some fun rocky terrain to gain the impressive summit of 7,620. The 400-500 foot summit block offered some super fun class three/four climbing, and offered superb views of the surrounding terrain in all directions. It took us a little while to figure out a route down in the direction of neighboring 7,660, but we got down eventually and then enjoyed a similar scrambling experience on that big lump of rock.

From 7,660', it was a long march back south towards Turkey Roost, the most recognizable and dominant outcropping in the general vicinity. We started out by heading directly south across a horse pasture on a direct line for Turkey Roost. This led us to a tributary of the Mill Creek drainage, which we followed on a mix of jeep track, deer trail and full-on bushwhacking. We eventually connected with Mill Creek proper, skirting a ranch property to the east, and picking up a good cow path alongside the drainage. This cow path led us all the way down to the North Poudre, where we hung a left before crossing the river and bushwhacking up the steep and densely forested north slopes of Turkey Roost to a saddle in the northeast ridge. The sidehilling across to the northeast gulley was infested with some really nasty brush, but once in the gulley there was a nice rock slide that allowed for much quicker movement to the summit saddle, from where it was an easy class three scramble to the summit. The summit was pretty flat with no obvious summit block, so I spent the 10-15 minutes waiting for David wandering around jumping on rocks and admiring the views.

Dave said he was pretty much done when he got to the top, so with my wife-imposed deadline fast approaching, I scampered down the southern Turkey Roost gulley in the direction of 7,665, which looked to be a quick up and down from my vantage point on Turkey Roost. Fortunately, there was a good climbers trail down the gulley and the terrain was pretty open on 7,665, so I was able to get down, up and back down in 30 minutes or so. This left over an hour for the final summit and return to the car. Pretty much the rest of the morning had been a hike, so I had plenty of energy to get up the final summit at a strong push. The true summit of 7,665 is all the way west on the summit ridge, so I picked up the two false summits along the way, before tagging the rocky high point and then bombing down the sparsely vegetated southern gulley in the direction of Cherokee Park Rd, which I hit a mile and a half west of the car, leaving a nice net-downhill jog to the finish and a waiting Dave.  

7,620' was a fun scramble.
There was a ranch property below the summit of 7,620'. One assumes that these are memorials to family members from the ranch on top of 7,620'. Turkey Roost and the North Fork Valley can be seen in the left of the picture.
More fun scrambling on 7,660', neighbor to 7,620'.
7,620' and another rock outcrop (foreground) from 7,660'
The trip back south took us across horse pasture.
Sun - 4 miles (1,500') hiking. Hiked with the family up to Gem Lake at Lumpy Ridge in Estes Park, then scrambled up to the middle peak above the lake with Alistair. Saw that the true summit was on the rock outcrop to the northwest, so descended with Alistair before scampering up solo to get the summit. Gem Peak offers some good climbing opportunities, but it is possible to keep things class three if you circle round the rock to the southeast and follow a series of ledges up.

Total: 64 miles (15,600')

Good week on balance. Little motivation to run much these days, but plenty of motivation to get out and explore Larimer County terrain. Sometimes I find myself shaking my head at the absurdity of tagging 'peaks' on people's property, but then I find myself out in beautiful areas such as Pennock Pass and Cherokee Park and realize that the goal of tagging all Larimer County peaks is a worthwhile one. It's giving me a great look at my local environs, and gets me out to areas beyond the obvious and well traveled high peaks that I'm sure I would otherwise not visit.  So, 88 down with 167 to go.

Moving right along.

I got me some race-directing duties coming up. First up is the third T&H of the season on Sunday at 8:00am. This time we go from Spring Park for 6kms of fun and frolics followed by a free burrito spread at Fuzzy's. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Fort Collins Running Club membership is the best running deal in town. 

Second up is, well, the race that will not be named. That's next Thursday, and it will be swiftly followed by the third annual running of Chubby Cheeks on Saturday. That one begins and ends at my house. All details here.

The fourth event is a few months down the track, but registration for the second annual Quad Rock 25/50 mile race - staged from beautiful Lory Park - opens December 1. We've got a ton of great stuff to give away as prizes (in addition to the cash purse) thanks to very generous sponsor support, and winners of the comp entries from this year's race are already signing up. We gave away comp entries to the top three in the 50 mile race and the winners of the 25 mile race, because: 1. It's the right thing to do (WS - are you listening?) & 2. We want to build a fast field at the front of the race to help promote the sport of running. But that's just part of our focus. We offer attractive age group prizes (Pearl Izumi shoes, Smith sunglasses, Highgear watches), a raffle giveaway, form-fitted Pearl Izumi T-shirts, EFS fueling and Ultragen recovery from First Endurance, finishers' awards and more. This of course is all in addition to a killer, challenging course, enthusiastic and knowledgeable aid station volunteers, live music, post-race BBQ and more, so much more. Pete and I are serious about making this event the premier ultra distance race on the Front Range calendar, and we can't wait to build on the successes of our inaugural year. Come be a part of it! We've got an extra 100 spots to fill in 2013, and if we do good and behave well, the parks have indicated that they'll give us further cap increases in 2014. We're excited.

What else? Well I'm in discussions with personal sponsors right now with regards to my own 2013 racing calendar, and it's looking more and more like I'll be going old skool and chasing a record with its roots in the history of the sport. But that hasn't yet been finalized, so I'll leave it at that for now.

Hope to see some of you at one or all of the exciting events coming up in the next couple of weeks!  

Monday, November 26, 2012

T-Day 4 Miler

I'm a bit late on this report, much like I was a bit late to the finish line, but I got there eventually and so in the same delayed fashion, here comes the race report.

This would be my fifth running of the Fort Collins Turkey Day race, and my fifth straight attempt at a course and distance PR. When I first ran the race in 2008, shortly after moving to 5,000 feet from New York City, I registered something in the 23:30 range. That was subsequently chopped over the years to 21:36, a mark I surprised myself with last year. My fitness this year was not looking good for a sub 5:24 pace, but I was still prepared to give it a go. With the fast course, good weather and always stiff competition, there was a chance I could pull off another surprise performance.

I ran the course with Slush to warm up an hour before the race and then did some strider-type things to get myself in the mood, before toeing the line waiting for the dreaded gun. These events are tough for guys who like to jog all day, but at least the pain would be over quickly.

As always, I ran the first half mile way too hard, before dropping into a pace that actually allowed me to breath. As I dropped into a more sustainable pace, the ladies started pouring by me. Brianne Nelson and Nuta Olaru were looking strong in first and second as we went by the one-mile marker in 5:28. Two or three more ladies went by me in the second mile, and I couldn't figure if I was slowing horrendously or if they were just ratcheting the pace, but my gut told me that the former was probably more likely the case. By the two-mile marker I was running with Steve Folkerts and Ragan Driver, both accomplished runners when fit, so I figured things were alright. But then the second mile popped at 5:43 and I pretty much gave up on any time goals, refocusing instead on staying with or ahead of Folkerts and Ragan.

By the time we turned onto Mountain Ave for the mile and a half to the finish, I started pulling ahead of Ragan and Steve while trying to bridge to the ladies in fourth, fifth and sixth. Discouragingly, however, the third mile came in at 5:50. I contemplated just jogging it in, but I was still in a race with a few people around me, so I managed to convince myself to keep the pace honest if for no othe reason that to get things over with quickly. Position-wise, I was somewhere in the 40s and 50s, but there was still some guy who wanted to race with a half mile to go. He'd surge, fade, surge as I caught up and then fade again. For some reason I found this pattern annoying, so I let him get on with it by slowing my pace on one of his surges so I wouldn't get committed to a sprint for 40-something place on the final straightaway to the finish.

The final mile came in at 5:31, but as it turned out the third mile was long and the fourth short, so the last two splits were probably more in the 5:40, 41 range. Despite my lackluster personal performance (22:32), it was still a great celebration of running in the local community, with a good percentage of the region's best road runners competing alongside some 3,000 others who were out enjoying the morning. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Week Ending November 18

Mon - 6.5 miles (1,600') easy. Horsetooth north summit via north gap.

Tues - 7 miles intervals. City Park workout with Jane's group: mile steady (1.02), mile fartlek, (1.02), mile steady (.98), mile fartlek (.98). So two clockwise and two anticlockwise loops in the park, with three hills on the clock and just one on the slightly shorter anti-clock. Splits were: 5:38 (5:32), 5:31 (5:24), 5:17 (5:23), 5:25 (5:31). Had Chris, Mike, Ben and Tri dude to work with - mainly trailing off the back this morning.

Weds - 6.5 miles (1,700') easy. Wesir and I took a look around the base of the west side of the rock in search of a supposed 5.11a/b bolted route on the sheerer west face, in addition to a chimney route (Choss Chimney - 5.5). Located the chimney, but not the bolted route. We came up the Northwest Passage on a mixed and airy high class 4 route that topped out right at the terminus of the Rock Trail before the scramble to the top. Still lots of exploring to do on the west side of the rock, but will have to start bringing rope and protection for most of it.

Thurs - 10 miles (1,400') hill tempo. HTH5MO&B with Lee. A couple of no-shows meant it was just me, Lee, Mary and a few flakes of snow. Out easy with Lee in 42:07, then back in a reasonably controlled 30:52 (7:40, 6:19, 6:28, 5:22, 5:02). Always good to dip under 31 - notched the effort level as the run progressed.    

Fri - 6.5 miles (1,600') easy. Late afternoon Horsetooth summit via north gap. Up Rock, down Southridge. Negotiated the last section of the Rock trail essentially in the dark. Got to get out of the house by 4:00 these days if I want light the full way. 

Sat - 11 miles (4,000') baggery. Met Nikolai early for a stealth mission on a couple of peaks that escaped me last time I tried. Although there is a conservation easement on the 4,100 acre Blue Mountain Bison Ranch (land cannot be developed but remains private), access is via guided tours only. It would be mighty awesome if there was a way for the county to negotiate trail access to the top of Blue Mountain (7,888'), because it's a very prominent local peak and affords killer and unique views of the Longs Peak area, in addition to the swell of mountains and ridges between Blue (essentially the first major mountain in the Berthoud foothills) and the Continental Divide. Alas, it remains private and those wanting its summit are forced into stealth mode from county land around Pinewood Reservoir.

Wanting to get across the grazing pasture on the northwest flanks of the mountain in the dark, we set off 30 minutes before sun-up, and by daybreak we had gained the north ridge and were safely under cover of trees. The summit was very straightforward once on the ridge. There were a couple of rough-hewn log benches on top in addition to three large cairn piles, suggestive of frequent visits. We took a minute to admire the view of Longs and Meeker sitting, as they were, magisterially in a wisp of still clouds, before setting off down the main west gulley from the north summit. The terrain was steep, brush- and cactus-filled, but nicely dotted with game trails. We were able to get down to a small and secluded pond at 6,800' with little difficulty. From there, we picked up a ranch road south for a while before descending southwest into a drainage to avoid grazing livestock and horses. Our next objective was UN peak 6,930' a quintessentially obscure and random List of John peak - but a Larimer ranked peak nonetheless. A house sits no more than 200 feet below the summit of this one, so we were sure to follow our drainage around to the west side of the summit in order to ascend our lump in a gulley protected from view by an easterly ridgeline. Again, there were good game trails through the brush and we were able to gain the summit without incident.

Our final summit of the morning was UN peak 7,383', which is no more than the high point on the north-south ridgeline west of Blue Mountain. We descended essentially the way we had come off 6,930' and followed a ranch road west, then north in a valley to the west of our intended ridge/summit. This is clearly a very lightly used road and we didn't see or hear a vehicle for the two or three miles that we followed it. We then followed an even lighter two-track trail up the hillside before eventually cutting straight up the steep west face of the hogbacked 7,383. The summit was about as unexciting as a summit can get: gently rounded, in the trees and with multiple candidates for the high point. Finding no cairns to mark the high point, we constructed one and then trundled off down the gentle eastern slope of the mountain back towards the car at Pinewood Reservoir, essentially due east of the 7,383 summit. This was a successful morning with few navigational errors and, more importantly, no human interaction. The terrain west of Blue and south of Pole Hill is beautifully rolling with deep valleys and stunning views. Obviously the access issues make it somewhat problematic, but it's big country back there with plenty of space to roam.

Sun - 3 miles (1,900') baggery. Christ Mountain (7,919') is the high point on the southern part of the ridgeline that extends south from Buckhorn Mountain and Rist Canyon all the way down to Masonville. The Christ ridgeline forms the western slopes of Redstone Canyon, which sits directly below and to the west of Horsetooth and Lory's west ridge. From the top of Horsetooth, Christ and its sub-peak to the south are clearly visible; consequently from the Christ ridge there are awesome views of the big west face of Horsetooth Rock. Earlier this year, I summitted the lower sub-peak by running up Otter Road from Masonville and then postholing through deep snow. Given the conditions, I decided not to bother with Christ Mtn that day, so I was back on Sunday for a spot of unfinished business. Rather than come up the long southern ridge approach, I found a pull-out on Buckhorn Road directly underneath the mountain to the west and hoofed up a steep gulley that would spit me out right on the summit. The pull-out is directly south of the sharp Buckhorn Narrows, a couple of miles before CO Rd 44H (Pennock Pass Rd). A quick duck under a barbed-wire fence and you are immediately in this very secluded gulley. I followed an old ranching trail for a short way, before picking up a really well defined cow path alongside the (dry) creek. I followed the cow paths to a clearing at about 6,600 feet, where cattle were lazing in the sun, before charting a much steeper southeasterly course up the heart of the drainage. About 500 feet below the summit, there was another clearing accessible by two-track road and then it was a very pleasant stroll through sparse woods for the summit ridge. The actual high point sits on a rock outcropping overlooking the northern end of Redstone Canyon. The ridge looked like it acted as a firebreak during the High Park fire, and marks the southwest border of the burn area. The eastern slopes of the Resdstone valley were completely burned out, while the eastern slopes of Buckhron Canyon (the other side of the ridgeline to the west) were untouched. Backtracked the way I came for a pleasant Sunday morning outing. Couple of burn area vids from top Christ Mtn below.


Total: 50.5 miles (12,200')


Tuesday, November 13, 2012


People been bugging me about the cheeky little event we've been putting on up here in the northern extremes of Colorado's Front Range the last couple of years. And, yes, we're on again for the third annual Bare Ass Cheeks run, with festivities starting and ending at my house on the 8th of December.

To keep things simple, we've changed nothing. It's the same deal as the last two years, with staggered start times of 7:00, 8:00 & 9:00 and multi-distance options that include the Junior Varsity (20 miles ~ 5,500'), the Marathon (25.5 miles ~ 6,500') and El Chubbo Grande (31.5 miles ~ 7,500'), but people have been known to go longer and shorter.

The idea is that you pick a start time and distance that will get you back to race HQ between the hours of 2:00 and 3:00 for beers, grub and banter. Previous results are here ('10) and here ('11).

Route info is here. We've marked intersections the past two years, but no promises this year. Print out a map and bring it with you! There may or may not be an informal aid station at the Arthur's TH. Price of admission is some kind of food or beverage to share. Everyone and anyone welcome.


No whining
No bitching
No blaming the RD if you get lost.

CRs (I think):

JV Men: Justin Mock (3:25)
JV Women: Marie-Helene Faurie (6:32)

Marathon Men: Tim Long (4:44)
Marathon Women: Darcy Africa (5:10)

Chubster Men: Pete Stevenson (5:44)
Chubster Women: Jenn Malmberg (7:43)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Week Ending Nov 11

Mon - 6.5 miles (1,600') easy. Horsetooth north summit via north gap. Up Southridge/Audra, down Rock. Super labored for whatever reason.

Tues - 6.5 miles intervals. First cemetery workout of the season. Workout was: mile, 2x800, mile, 2x800. I guess I had misread the workout email and was mentally ready for 2x800, mile, 2x800, Upon hearing about the extra mile, I raised my concerns (whined) and the compromise was reached to run the first mile easy as a demo of the cemetery loop for people who hadn't done it before. This was a nice way to ease back into things. Felt a bit off in the stomach (too much coffee) for most of this and ended up having to watch the sausage-fest sprint on the last 100 meters of the last rep from off the back of the pack. Good group to work with this morning - six of us at approximately the same pace, including Hinterberg, Chris Mc and some CSU triathlon guys. Splits: 6:53, 2:35, 2:37, 5:21, 2:39, 2:40.

Weds - 6.5 miles (1,600') easy. Horsetooth north summit via north gap. Kinda tired again.

Thurs - AM: 10 miles (1,400') hill tempo. Good group for this morning's HTH5MO@B workout: Mike, Slush, Pete, Celeste and Sarah. Out in 42:30, then back in 30:03: my second fastest return ever, I think. Up the North Dam mile in 7:04, then 6:07, 6:27, 5:27, 4:57. Looking back on my records, miles 1,2,4&5 were run right on PR pace, with the middle, gut-check third mile 50 seconds slower. That's a mental fortitude thing more than anything else. It's easy to take your foot off on that grinding uphill mile when you know it's pretty much all downhill after that. That said, it should be noted that the PR came with a hefty tailwind and that third mile is probably where a northerly wind benefits most ... but still.
PM: 7 miles (1,700') moderate. Put in a moderate effort on Towers in the dark. Tired and slow. Up in 35:13.

Fri - 6 miles (1,600') easy. Horsetooth north summit via north gap. Straight up and down the rock trail with summit variation. Caught the last few rays of a gorgeous fall day.

Sat - 12 miles (6,300') baggery. McGregor Mountain (10,486'), Dark Mountain (10,859'), The Needles (10,068') with Burch and Wesir. These are certainly not A-list Rocky Mountain National Park peaks; in fact, they're only reason for getting any traffic whatsoever, I'm sure, is that they're named and people like to go about climbing all named peaks in the park. Nonetheless, they certainly have their virtues (warts and all). Primary among those virtues are steep slopes which will leave you feeling nicely cream-crackered at the end of your outing.

McGregor Mountain was probably the most challenging ascent of the morning, but at the same time the one with the most hidden surprises. Leaving the Lumpy Ridge trail at approximately 8,600 feet for the eastern slopes of McGregor, it was immediately evident that we would be dealing with significant deadfall, which is always a major pain in the arse. However, for much of our route there were big slabby clearings where on a dry day much of the deadfall could have been circumvented. Unfortunately for us, the heavily mossed rock had already been hit by wet snow and was exceptionally slick, so we were forced to play on the sides of the rock or tip toe exceptionally carefully on less steep sections, where there were good cracks or where there was some vegetation. All of us remarked on how much fun this route would have been in the summer with dry rock, but today it wasn't to be. Ultimately we muscled our way through the mess and found the flat McGregor summit. We had a semi-socked in day, so views weren't great, but we caught glimpses of the Mummies and Lumpy rocks formations. The descent to Black Canyon Creek was equally as torturous as the ascent, but once we crossed the creek and started up the slopes of Dark Mountain, we were gratified to find a much sparser and younger canopy with significantly less deadfall. The 1,800 feet up the mountain was gruntworthy, but straightforward. Good views again from the nice rock outcropping on the summit and then it was east off the mountain towards The Needles, the high point on Lumpy Ridge.

Coming off the eastern slopes of Dark Mtn was a pleasure. The terrain was largely clear enough to be runnable, which ensured that we were able to make quick work of the route down to Cow Creek at 9,200 feet. From the valley we were able to make out the western ridgeline of The Needles (home to the massive Sundance Buttress) and picked a line straight up the hillside. We topped out on the blustery westernmost needle and quickly realized that we needed to be on the easternmost and highest one. This involved a scramble down to the saddle and a quick reascent. The wind was blowing pretty hard by this point, and we'd already been out for longer than expected, so we made the executive decision to forego a full Lumpy ridge traverse to tag Gem Peak and instead snuck down the gulley between the highest needle and Sundance Buttress, which is home to a crude climbers trail. We made quick work of the descent, and before we knew it we were back out in the McGregor pasture stripping layers in the now-beating sun for the jog back to the car.   

Sundance to the left with Needle high point to the right. The day cleared up nicely once we were essentially done with the outing.
Looking east from the top of The Needles, with Gem peak barely visible in the distance.
Burch topping out on The Needles.
McGregor Mountain with false Needle summit in foreground.
Dark Mountain from the western slopes of The Needles
Wesir pondering life with the middle and westernmost needle beckoning.
A semi-socked in view of the northern slopes of McGregor Mtn from the slopes of Dark Mtn. All those white patches are massive slabs. There is some classic slab climbing on the southern side of the mountain too.

Wesir and Burch make their way up the cleaner Dark Mountain. McGregor Mtn (behind Wesir in the photo above) was a deadfall nightmare.
Sun - 6 miles (1,600') easy. Horsetooth north summit on the standard route. Summit no. 87 on the year.

Total: 60.5 miles (14,100')

A couple of workouts, four Horsetooth summits and three LoJ summits. That's pretty much the routine right now.