Archive for category Ultra Running
There are some beautiful places in this world that can be difficult to get to.
Mount Whitney. Yosemite Half Dome. Crossing the Grand Canyon.
I realize these places are no comparison to the difficulty of reaching Mount Everest. But they are some of the most beautiful and difficult places I have personally dragged myself to.
One place that has been on our “list” is Havasupai Falls. Pictures of it’s incredible blue green waters set against the red rocks of the Grand Canyon created a longing and curiosity, despite the challenges to getting there.
Havasupai Falls is located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. The Reservation consists of 188,077 acres that makes up the West side of the South rim of the Grand Canyon. The remote village of Supai, Arizona is an 8-mile hike below the rim and is home to Havasu Baaia, “people of the blue green waters”. Two additional miles past the village is the Havasupai primitive campground nestled along the Havasu creek.
There are no roads to Havasu Falls. Access to this Garden of Eden is strictly by your own two feet or pre-reserved helicopter ride that will drop patrons at the village.
There is a 2,000’ drop in elevation within the first mile. But once you hike the switchbacks the remaining 9 miles is mostly a gentle decline to the campground. However, the trail to the village is completely void of trees so temps can sore at the bottom of the canyon. And during monsoon season you must be aware of potential flash floods, as you will be hiking down the gut of the canyon.
Probably the biggest challenge to Havasupai Falls is getting a permit. There are only 300 permits issued per day via a very antiquated phone system; that for the most part, goes unanswered. I’ve read stories of people spending hours/days dialing over and over to get a busy signal. With large organized groups scooping up blocks of permits, it leaves very few to those individuals from around the world clamoring to get the rest.
After researching the falls, I didn’t think we would ever make the hike to this special place. We are RV’ers after all. Our camping supplies consist of holding tanks, fully equipped kitchen and queen sized tempurpedic mattress. We don’t own backpacks, sleeping bags or a tent nor do we have the space in the RV to store such items. And then, how would we ever get a permit?
But my attitude changed earlier this year when we noticed an invitation to go to the falls on the Grand Canyon Hikers Facebook page. They had 260 permits available for a 4-day/3-night trip in October of 2017. The permits were snatched up quickly and we put our names on a waiting list if others decided they couldn’t go after all.
Sure enough, as the date approached, people started cancelling and we were able to reserve permits for the trip! We just could not pass up an opportunity to see Havasu Falls.
After purchasing backpacking gear (that I hope to God we use again) we laid out 4 days worth of minimal food, clothing and gear, which came to 35lbs for Jeff and 25lbs for myself.
We met up with our group at the Haulapai Hilltop Trailhead at 6am to receive our group wristband and dropped down the tight switchbacks along the steep walls of the canyon. The view was vast with the sunrise waking up the treeless valley below.
We quickly made it down the first mile and picked one of many trails that spread over a wide-open area. There are no trail markers here and everyone seemed to be on a different trail. But they all led to the same place so if you hike here pick a trail and go with it.
We eventually reached the wash that guided us directly through the canyon. The trail is rocky here but the views of the canyon walls were glowing red from the sun. We started to run into mule trains that were carrying hikers packs up to the trailhead. We also ran into other hikers who had left the campground at 3am to beat the heat.
Once we entered the Supai Village we had to check in to receive a second wristband that allowed access to the campground. By the time we hiked 8 miles and made it to the Village, Jeff and I were miserable. Our legs were doing fine but our shoulders were screaming from the weight of our packs. We are trail runners after all and being newbies to backpacking, we hadn’t quite figured out how to distribute the weight of our packs to our hips.
We left the village quickly and headed down the last 2 miles to the campground. Thankfully this steeper section was more wooded offering nice shade on the dusty trail.
We started getting glimpses of Havasu Creek and its stunning blue green waters along the trail before reaching Navajo Falls. The water is like nothing we have ever seen before. What the eye sees looks fake. The lime content that cakes the bottom of the creek somehow reflects the blue sky through is perfectly clear water.
Further down the trail we got our first glimpse of Havasu Falls. One large fall that spilled into a beautiful blue green reservoir made up of tiny pools of waterfalls. People were already swimming far below. They looked like tiny specs in a vast wall of blue.
By 11:30AM we reached the campground and found a wonderful narrow peninsula wedged between the creek on either side to make camp. If you plan on hammock camping there are plenty of trees in the campground to stretch between. And the creek offers the perfect volume of babbling brook as background noise to shut out other campers.
We took a quick nap before we explored the campground and met with our group for a meeting. We were instructed to be respectful, tidy and have a good time at one of North America’s most beautiful treasures.
Day two was Jeff’s birthday. And like any good camper without a calendar or reference for what day it was…I completely forgot!! (BAD WIFE!) Jeff and some friends made the 18-mile round trip hike to the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River while I made the 8-mile round trip to Beaver Falls. Both hikes follow the same trail that starts at the far end of the campground at Mooney Falls.
You HEAR Mooney Falls before you SEE Mooney Falls. There are excellent vantage points to see the falls and take pictures. From there, several of us were looking for the trail to head to the bottom of the falls. There was a small cave formed by large boulders, but none of use considered it the trail until I walked back to the area and finally saw a faint arrow pointing into the hole.
The trail stepped down through the cave and poked out the side of a cliff with an amazing view of the falls. Chains led you a few steps to another cave that stepped down to another opening in the cliff. Visually I lost the trail here only to discover that it drops right over the edge by staggered indentations meant to be stairs, then chains and then a system of slick wooden ladders.
My heart was pumping out of my chest! At our group meeting the advise for Mooney Falls was to maintain 3 points of contact at all times. Two hands-one foot. Two feet-one hand. Take your time and be intentional with every movement.
When I finally reached the bottom my head thought, “that wasn’t so bad”. But then I went to take a couple of steps and almost collapsed from my scared s*%tless wobbly legs.
But as soon as I turned around and saw Mooney Falls up close, equilibrium was restored! IT. WAS. STUNNING!
There are a few picnic tables scattered about and beautiful natural pools of hallucinogenic colors. A rainbow forms from the mist given off by the falls in the sun that was just peaking over the canyon walls. It truly is a Garden of Eden.
I followed the trail along Havasu Creek. The trail crossed the creek several times and I left my hiking shoes on to protect my feet from the lime coated creek bed. The trail veered away from the creek into what looks like a mangrove of foliage, then back to the creek again.
It was an easy hike and I reached another set of ladders that climbed up a cliff face and then along a bluff. The views were incredible with more of the same blue green waters along the red rock canyon until I reached Beaver Falls. And WOW!
There were people swimming in the falls and jumping off of rocks. The sun was fully over the canyon. The waters were crystal clear and not overly cold. Just the right temp in full sun and a bit cold in the shade. There are layers of waterfalls that are created by dammed up lime covered logs and branches. The logs are so covered that the surface is fully rounded over creating very nice places to sit and soak.
It was pretty crowded at the falls and I decided to hike back on the trail just a bit to find a private pool to soak in. It was such an interesting but easy hike (once you are past the ladders) that was a relief from my sore muscles from the day before.
I returned to camp and rinsed out the lime and sand from my shoes and swimsuit.
Part II Next Time
I had researched boondocking sites near the Bryce Canyon National Park. We drove down a couple of dirt roads and through the Red Canyon Campground but none of them had any connectivity. After passing through the two arches on Hwy 12 with a 13’6” height restriction, we found an incredible boondocking area on Toms Best Spring Rd, just across the street from the start of the Bryce 100 at Coyote Hollow.
And with excellent connectivity it was the winning location.
Our only apprehension was the height restriction through the arches. Our girl is tall like Jeff and I, so squeezing her through 13’6” was about 6” short of her Amazonian stature. Jeff devised a plan on how we could measure the height. With his 8’ overhead arm reach while holding our 5’ truck bed bike rack we could tell that the arch still had 5-6’ of clearance. As long as we stuck to the center of the lane we were golden!
A couple days later we packed up camp at the North Rim and made the two-hour trek to Bryce.
We left early in the morning and dumped our tanks at a gas station in Kanab. We wanted to get an early start so that we could avoid too much traffic while trying to fit our square peg of an RV through a round hole of the arches. All went smoothly with plenty of clearance and we picked an awesome boondocking spot to spend the next two weeks.
We used these two weeks to scout out trailheads and aid station checkpoints for the Bryce 100. Our campsite happened to be in the perfect location for hitting two different checkpoints on opposite sides of the course. This would allow me to swing by the RV to catch a quick nap and make Jeff a couple of smoothies during the 36-hour race.
We took the opportunity to do a couple of training runs in Bryce National Park. Our first sunrise hike was on the Rim Trail that connected to the Navajo Loop Trail. The trip down the canyon was steep with switchback after switchback to make the grade more manageable. What was dynamic about this hike is that the initial trail takes you up close and personal with tall hoodoos and slots that appear to be held up by the smallest of pebbles of crumbling dirt. Just one flick of a finger would appear to bring it all tumbling down.
Another favorite is the Fairyland Loop. Eight miles of dusty dirt to kick up while taking in the sites!
As the sun came up it set the rocks on fire, heating up the canyon with a warm radiant heat. Every turn gives a fresh vantage point of endless hoodoos that speak straight to my soul. “Come and explore so that I may show you a whole other world”.
God’s creation moves me. It speaks to me. And I am whole again.
After such a moving experience we went to breakfast and did laundry at the Bryce Canyon Inn. Hey, that’s the reality of life on the road. One minute you are basking in the glory of nature, the next you are buying propane and dumping your poop at the local gas station.
As the race quickly approached we met up with two friends from our Arkansas running group who also had entered Bryce 100. Janet and Chris are the ones who encouraged Jeff to run this race with them. Strategies were talked about, meals were eaten and all checked in for the race. The pain fest was about to begin!
On June 16 the gun went off and the crowd of 250 shuffled off with high hopes for the next 24-36 hours of 18,565’ of vertical climb.
I stopped at the RV for a quick nap and made Jeff a smoothie before heading off to the first check point about 19 miles out. The tough part of being a spectator at these types of events is that it can be challenging to spectate. Check points can be spread out over 100’s of driving miles down poorly maintained roads.
Proctor Canyon aid station was no exception.
Support crews had to park miles away and wait in long lines to hitch a ride on the back of a pickup truck who then made the 40 minute rock crawl to our destination. Thinking I had left a couple of hours gap before seeing the “Arkansas Travelers” (AT-team) they showed up 30 minutes after my arrival. They were making great time!
All systems were a go and Jeff, Janet and Chris quickly moved on. I made the rock crawl back to my vehicle and drove back to the RV to reload for the next aid station at Straight Canyon, mile 41.
Another interesting thing that happens during these races is that you start questioning your timing. You do the math over and over again to insure you arrive at the aid stations when you “think” your athlete will be there. But then they show up early to the first location and throw off all your projected times for the day.
So when I made it to Straight Canyon the AT-team was already heading down the road to the next location. I managed to see Jeff for a few minutes, and then we were all off to the next spectator aid station at the turn around…mile 51.
Crawford Pass was 10 miles away for the runners, but only 3 miles for the crew. So I settled in for a bit of a wait. The sun was going down by this time and the temps were beginning to drop. I tried to nap in the truck but I wasn’t able to sleep. So I put on warmer clothes and decided to help the athletes coming in by picking out their needs bags and getting them food.
By mile 51, everyone is getting pretty tired and I saw quite of few people decide to call it quits. Jeff and I had a strategy in place, that if he came into an aid station and wanted to quit I would encourage him to wait to make the decision at the next aid station. These races are as much mental as physical and if you can delay a decision until the next stop, sometimes that’s enough time to get the athletes out of their own head and back on the trail.
Jeff came into Crawford pass about 10pm and the rest of AT about 40 min later. Jeff used this aid station to take a 30 min nap while I took his shoes and socks off, washed his feet and put on new, fresh socks. Jeff didn’t have a single blister in sight and was feeling pretty good after his nap.
Jeff has always been a VERY optimistic guy and to see him with his happy-go-lucky attitude at this stage amazed me to say the least. There was no hint of not making it to the finish and I knew then that he would accomplish this race!
Our other teammates were not having the same experience. Chris had such an upset stomach that he wanted to drop out. While the rest of us tried to encourage him to delay his decision he walked into the woods to throw up, then announced that he was out!
By this time Jeff had already left the aid station.
Janet wanted to continue on but did not want to run in the dark by herself. She was going to drop out as well until a pacer for another runner (that had dropped out) offered to run with Janet through the night. This wonderful gal ran with Janet until the finish of the race…50 miles away. What a super hero!!!
Since this race was an out-and-back, Chris and I drove back to Straight Canyon, now mile 62. We fell asleep in the truck and woke up just as Jeff was leaving the aid station. He made awesome time again and was still feeling good. Janet followed a bit later and Chris and I headed back to the RV where his car was parked.
I’m not going to lie. By now it was 3am and I was exhausted. The 45-minute drive was pure torture in sleep depravation. Chris went back to his hotel and I slept for a couple hours at the RV before making one more smoothie for Jeff. Our last spectator aid station was back at Proctor Canyon, mile 84. This time Chris and I drove my truck to the aid station and offered up rides to others waiting in the long line again.
Jeff was able to get a text message every once in a while to let me know what time/mile he was at. I knew that he was within 4 miles of Proctor, so I set out back tracking the course to pace him into the aid station. I ran into him with two miles to Proctor and he filled me in on the perils of night running and things that go bump in the night. With sleep depravation, exhaustion and a bit of hallucinations there is quite a story to tell!
By now it was getting very hot and the rest of the course was in full sun.
At Proctor we did one last foot cleaning and clean socks and Jeff made a quick exit. His cut off times were starting to get tight and he didn’t want to run the risk of not finishing under 36 hours.
I watched as other runners came into the aid station. Some looking fresh. Some looking terrible. It is scary when an athlete stumbles into an aid station not knowing who they are or babbling something incoherent. It was sad to see one runner who was pulled off the course by the medical team with just 16 miles to go. It was definitely warranted, but sad just the same.
By this mileage there are plenty of runners crying due to pain, skinned knees from falls, blisters on top of blisters and those who just want to stop. I admire all these runners for the perseverance it takes to finish a 100-mile race. My respect goes to each and every one of them…those who start and those who finish! Who does such a thing????
With 16 miles left Jeff pushed his legs further than he ever has and had a kick to the finish with an hour to spare.
Jeff completed his first 100!!!!
I cant tell you how proud I am to see Jeff cross that finish line. All the long training runs, all the mounds of food consumed to fuel that training, all the head games to convince himself it can be done, all the research and conversations from those who have gone before. It all came together for a perfect race!
Janet showed up with her pacer about 20 minutes after the cutoff. Anyone that finishes a 100 mile race is a “finisher” in my book.
Jeff and Janet received their belt buckles!
48% of the field dropped out of the race that weekend…48%! There were ambulances at the finish to escort some weary runners to the hospital. Jeff got some food at the finisher’s tent, and then we made the short drive back to the RV.
We had a quick travel turn around to make it to Denver. With a flight scheduled to Elkhart IN for meetings within a couple days my plan was to load up Jeff and the RV right after his finish and head down the road. But we were both too exhausted. It wasn’t going to be safe for me to drive so we decided to wait until the next morning to leave Bryce.
After a VERY long day of driving to Frisco, CO we stopped at a campground before making the last push to Colorado Springs where we parked the RV in a friends driveway for our Indiana trip.
Since Jeff’s race 4 months ago (I know…I am waaay behind on this blog) we have been stationary for the most part in the mid-west. We have been hit with some life events back home so I will fill you in on the excitement next time!
Goodbye for now Utah!