"The goal is to become the unique, awesome, never to be repeated human being that we were called to be." -Patricia Deegan

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Summit Sandwiches of my Life

Atypically, my running calendar aligned so that I had a rest/recover/rebuild phase from June through August. This was awesome for a couple reasons. One was that without strict daily training goals, I could more flexibly spend a few months being a paraglider driver. Drivers are something most paraglider and hangglider pilots (like my partner) need in order to pursue the most fun in their sport. The other reason this timing was awesome was because I was free to run up as few or as many mountains as I wanted on my North America trip, without adhering to any regimen for time on feet, distance, hill repeats, and the like.

My season's running goals were two: (1) Trial a traditional speed work program to bring down my 5k/10k time, doing weekly anaerobic threshold (AT) and tempo runs. (2) Eat summit sandwiches.

Idaho Peak, BC, Sandwich #7
Put up your hand if you want to read about my sweaty, lung-busting, near-vomit-inducing, way-too-early-morning, precision-based speed sessions.

Right. So let's talk about summit sandwiches! Of course, "running" up peaks to 4,400 metres actually is very sweaty, lung-busting, and near-vomit-inducing. And it sometimes requires very early morning starts. And precision in route-finding and organisation for a day in wilderness at altitude. With bears.

But all that is forgiven because...it's mountains! Between July 11th and August 31st, in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, and the US state of Colorado, I ate 36 summit sandwiches. They were all special. Here are some.

Lowest Sandwich: 946m. Mount Woodside, in the Fraser Valley near the BC coast. That was the second sandwich. A 28km run (partly because of navigation issues trying to find the true summit via logging roads and scrambling and bushwhacking) and required 1,000m of total climbing to get there. This was the summit at which I endured my one-and-only horsefly attack (he didn't get me).

Shortest Distance to Sandwich: 2km. Grouse Mountain, in Vancouver's north. The "Grouse Grind" is a 2km, ummm, grind (what else could it be?) to climb nearly 800m of rainforest trail to the top of a ski hill. That was sandwich #1 and occurred the day after landing in Canada.

Fastest time to Sandwich: Grouse Mountain, above. Less than one hour!

Mt Brent's lessons begin.
Most Lost Sandwich: Mt Brent, BC. In a nasty rainstorm that saw us running in a cloud, we attempted to reach the summit of Mt Brent via the logging roads and trail. Notes and signage weren't great and lack of visibility made things worse. Being soaked and cold compromised my Raynaud's-affected partner. In the end, we had to abort, having our summit sandwiches out of necessity for the metabolic warmth they'd provide more than anything, on what we thought was the saddle below Mt Brent. We later found out we were on the saddle below Sheep Rock! A valiant 22k+800m sandwich.

Most Sandwiches in a Day: Two. Athough on two occasions I attained four summits in a day. One just can't be greedy with the sandwiches. So I split my sandwiches in half on those days. Each of those outings included a climb, then ridge and saddle traverses to gain the other three summits. One was the Mt Glasgow to Banded Peak traverse in Alberta (sandwiches all around 3,000m). We spent the day eyeing the growing instability in the weather and descended the last peak as the thunder started. The other was known as "Decalibron" in Colorado (stands for DEmocrat, CAmeron, LIncoln, and BROss) all 14'er peaks in the Mosquito Range, around 4,300m). Those sandwiches were eaten in 50kph wind, sleet, hail, or at least in a cloud.
Mt Democrat combo sandwich day starts with 50kph sleet in eyes.

Most Time Run to Earn Sandwiches: Almost tied at 8 hours a piece, the Banded Peak traverse (35km +2,200m) and Decalibron 17km + 1,200m). Distance and elevation differences had to do with my different adventure partners on each day and with differing altitude.

Furthest Distance Run to Earn a Sandwich: The 46km Skyline point-to-point trail in Alberta, with over 1,400m of climbing. Though there were two passes plus a climb to a "notch" to reach the high plateau, it was felt the run only warranted one sandwich. Two were consumed, but only one counted.

Toughest Sandwich: Based on my rigorous scientific method (the "this-is-a-slog" feeling), it would have to be Silver Star Mountain, a ski hill near Vernon, BC. Though some people (everyone) would drive from town to get to the ski hill, I ran. Alone, uphill, starting painfully early, in ridiculous humidity for 30km + 1,500m. I inhaled that sandwich so fast I didn't taste it.

Cheekiest and scariest sandwich: Mt Evans
Cheekiest Sandwich: Mt Evans, Front Range, Colorado. Though Mt Evans is a prestigious "14'er" (a mountain that rises to over 14,000 feet (4,267m)), it also has America's highest drive-able road to its summit. So it's a bit hard to get excited about summitting this one, hiking in on a low trail, just to meet the car crowds in the top carpark. I decided to earn my sandwich by doing a 2.5km climb of 430m. Being the day after Decalibron added a bit of kick, as did my choice to scramble to the summit and make it a Class 2, rather than taking the Class 1 walk-up trail. This culminated in the scariest summit sandwich, sitting on a cliff edge with a drop back to the lake where I started! It was also memorable as the first 14'er day I could wear short sleeves at the summit. Briefly.

Highest Sandwich: Mt Elbert, Sawatch Range, Colorado. The highest mountain in Colorado, at 14,433 feet/4,404m and the second highest in the contiguous USA. I actually achieved the summit twice, by running up first, sheepdogging back to Rolf, then hiking back up a second time. Only one sandwich claimed, though ;-)

Saddest Sandwich: The one I forgot in the hotel fridge. Mt Sherman, sandwich #31. After a night spent  hotly debating start time, studying wind direction and speed, temperature, lifted index, cape, and a myriad of other weather factors, and a morning spent hiking up to 4,278m in sleet and snow with wet feet and 200 metres of visibility, I reached the summit in sub-zero temperatures to find I'd forgotten my sandwich. At least I had an espresso gel. I ate that sandwich later, from a hotel carpark in the next valley to the east, looking up at another face of Sherman.

Most Enlightening Sandwich: Cirque Peak, Alberta. I climbed with my partner to the 3,000m summit. There was no one else there and the skies offered a pleasant change with benign weather. There were glaciers and mountains in view in every direction. After a minute, I said, "We should get going." He looked at me in shock. "Where? Back to the ----y hotel room?" It really struck me how Type A I am. Impatient and ambitious and goal-oriented. I need to tick everything off my list in order to relax. Even relaxing.

A view from Cirque Peak. And I want to leave?
Types of Sandwiches: All on gluten-free bread. The first ones were topped with almond butter and raspberry jam. That raspberry jam jar seemed endless. Finally I was on to peach jam. When the almond butter ran out, I experimented with tahini and it was awesome! When peach jam finished, I continued my brave culinary experiment with a blackberry-jalapeno jam (and tahini). Spicy hot summit sandwiches on cold mountains are the best!

Worst Day Ever: Forgetting sandwich #31 (see saddest sandwich)

Best Day Ever: Every day. If I remembered to tell myself.

Descending Castle Peak. The 0.75 summit
Number of Colorado 14'ers Sandwiched on: 8.75. There are 58 14'ers in Colorado, but only 53 are considered "official" because the other five rise less than 300 feet from the saddle that joins another 14'er. I ate a sandwich last year on Mt Sneffels, which isn't included here. This year, I ate sandwiches on Mts Elbert, Massive, Democrat, Bross, Lincoln, Evans and Sherman (technically, a gel there). Mt Cameron is a 14'er that rises only 138 feet above the saddle with Mt Lincoln, so it's one of the 'dodgy' ones. Castle Peak's sandwich represented the 0.75 worth in my total. The huge dumps of snow all week, combined with daytime melting, had left very crampon-able icy conditions near the summit. And my sandwich didn't come with crampons. So I had to abandon 200m below the top and eat my sandwich there.

Summit Sandwiches of My Life was a life-changing journey of discovery. I discovered a thing called the Colorado Monsoon. This is what causes crazy afternoon thunderstorms from mid-July through August and dumps new snow at summits. Late September and early October are much more stable times to eat sandwiches in Colorado. I discovered how much I like thimbleberries (but saskatoons are still the best). I discovered that pikas are called "whistling hares" and marmots are called "whistle pigs" and the latter are related to squirrels. In addition to the pika, squirrels, groundhogs, chipmunks, and marmots, I saw black bear, bighorn sheep, and a red fox (not a scourge in North America, but a beautiful indigenous animal). I was hounded by a few deer flies (small, silent, but painfully bitey things) and one horse fly in Canada, but no mosquitoes anywhere. My most useless gear would have to have been my bug spray - it was the most bug-free summer I've ever spent. The life-changing part? Well, that might have just been for dramatic effect.
Unique Tibetan-style prayer flags on Red Lady/Mt Emmons.

Once again, it was reinforced to me how much planning and good gear make or break an adventure. For every summit, there was between 2 to 4 hours of planning, reading blog posts, drawing mud maps, searching for GPS files, and agonising over weather forecasts. The pack always contained: 2 litres of water, SPOT tracker/emergency PLB, space blanket, whistle, pencil, duct tape, flagging tape, paper towel, anti-chafe lube, Compeeds, compression bandage, painkillers (never used), small torch, sunscreen, bug spray, rain/wind jacket, camera and phone (on airplane mode). It usually also contained: bear spray, spare gloves, beanie, thermal top (if not wearing one already), down puffy jacket, water filter, and knife. Plus food. My favourite gear had to include the UltrAspire Omega 8ltr pack, Udo's Oil the Machine beanie (I wore that thing daily in Colorado!), Icebreaker gloves and thermal, Injinji Trail midweight socks, The North Face Summit Series jacket (bought last year when my suitcase went missing), Garmin 920XT, and Inov-8 x-talons (I wore Salomon S-Lab Speed on some of the more gnarly bouldery mountain runs and I'm happy to say they have finally made a great grippy shoe for wet rock, but for comfort, I can't beat the x-talons. Which have always been grippy, too. Their lugs are just more prone to wear on bouldery stuff.)

To keep healthy day-to-day for big miles at big elevation, we cooked our own amazing food with a portable Coleman stove. Saved money that way, too, and had heaps of easy yummy one-pot curries (great way to get some extra turmeric!) And I'll admit it - I'm way too impatient for restaurants. With our esky/cooler, I could carry Udo's Oil with me and I kept up my daily doses of cinnamon and Race Caps. I found a few fantastic sports chiros along the way to get things moving better, especially after a couple terrible hotel beds. The Lacrosse ball, golf ball, and travel roller earned their keep.

I hoped my summit sandwiches adventures would give me a platform for which to finally answer the big question. The one that sometimes comes out as "What should I do with my life?" but can also be formed in words such as "How can I be happier?"

I can stand on any single summit and usually count hundreds more around me. So many I couldn't eat sandwiches on them all in one lifetime. All summits will not be climbed. The important thing is just to eat a sandwich on the one you have climbed. And taste it.

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