Thursday, 18 November 2010 06:11

Wind River Crossing 2010

Wind River Crossing

The Wind Rivers are a beautiful mountain range, with the majority of acreage preserved as Wilderness, featuring Wyoming’s High Point – Gannett Peak (13,810′)
Location: West Central Wyoming – Pinedale/Dubois (south of Teton/Yellowstone)
Distance: 45+ miles
Permit: Not required
Level: Advanced
Scenery: Stunning!
Alec Muthig, past Gemini Events staff, attempted an unsupported 45mi run with two friends over the spine of the Wind River Range in 2010.

Dubois, WY – In the mid-1990s, I spent a few weeks mountaineering in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and was amazed by the range’s beauty, enhanced dramatically by its rugged remoteness. While there are no 14,000’ peaks in the Winds, it is considered one of the wildest, most heavily glaciated ranges in the continental United States. A few years later, I began running ultra-distance events and was particularly fond of running in wild places with minimal support. That’s when the idea began to form: an unsupported solo run over the spine of the Wind River Range.

Some loose planning ensued and the adventure seemed somewhat daunting. While the planned route would be about 45 miles, not very long by ultra standards, there were many factors to consider. The primary concern was safety. This is real wilderness, with dangerous terrain, glaciers and snowy passes to cross, intense weather patterns, grizzly bears, and to top it off (and why I call it “real wilderness”) very few people and a good chance that if I did get injured I’d be on my own for a substantial amount of time. While these were concerns, they were also the reasons I wanted to go there. Without waxing philosophical, wilderness travel, at least to me, assumes that you are ready to take care of yourself and not rely on outside help. With this in mind, I’d need to be prepared for various situations should they arise.

It turned out to be a classic case of the balance between weight and speed. I could run with a lightweight pack, taking minimal gear, covering the distance quickly, and hoping that nothing serious would happen, or I could carry more gear for the sake of safety, which in turn would slow me down and put me out there longer. While I did not want this to become a two day fast-packing trip, I opted to pack based on a single question. If I got injured or caught in a storm, could I hunker down above treeline in nasty weather and spend the night?

As 2010 dawned, I added the Wind River Crossing to my list of adventures and started talking about it to some buddies. The interest was incredible, and while I initially wanted to try this as a solo endeavor, the idea of a small team crossing sounded more fun, and as an added bonus there would be safety in numbers. While there were some excellent runners interested in the adventure, I was hesitant to invite anyone who was not a seasoned ultra-runner. A DNF here would be a very bad idea. In the end, Josh Fuller, Nate Willson and I made up the “WRC10” team. Meeting multiple times over beers and maps, our plans began to solidify. We would attempt the crossing in that small window between frequent, intense storms and the beginning of snowfall, which meant mid-August. We estimated that if everything went smoothly, it would take us between 13 and 15 hours to get to the other side. We also had a crew of two that would shuttle the cars to the opposite trailhead and be ready to alert search and rescue should we not appear in 24 hours.

While the planned route had plenty of water sources, we had to decide if and how we would treat the water. We opted for lightweight filters that could be added to our Camelbak reservoirs, so we could scoop and go. Food selection took a little more thought. We would need to carry lots of calories, both for the run itself and some in reserve just in case we had to hunker down. Other special items we carried included: Kahtoola Microspikes to help us cross the potentially icy Dinwoody Glacier and Bonney Pass; a mylar bivy sack, which would act as an ultralight shelter; rain gear; and an insulated jacket, hat and gloves. That’s not the entire list of gear by any means. Our packs turned out to be quite heavy. (We never weighed them, so don’t know their actual weight. Besides that would have made us discard something we may have needed.) Thinking about pack weight and snow travel, we also added collapsible trekking poles to our list. Now we were ready to go!

After months of planning (and associated beer drinking), we left Laramie, WY on August 27th for the five hour drive to Dubois. There was plenty of excitement and laughter, validating my choice to do this as a team. As we drove through Lander, we saw that the range was immersed in a mass of dark clouds. Continuing our drive north, a violent lightening storm raged all around us. When we finally pulled into camp near the next morning’s start, the storm had mostly abated. I was sure that this was the standard Wyoming high-country storm that would pass through and leave the morning crisp and clear. As we crawled into our sleeping bags, alarms set for a 3am wake-up, the storm returned and continued through much of the night. Things were looking grim. At 3am we crawled out of the tents and looked up, way up, toward the first mountain we’d cross. Dark clouds sat there. A discussion ensued about what we should do. After months of planning, our Achilles heel was that we didn’t have a weather plan. Anyone who plans an expedition into the mountains has a weather plan! How did we miss that?!? We determined that it was too dangerous to commit to the crossing with the current weather pattern. The best option would have been to hang out in camp for the day and try again the next morning, but we didn’t give ourselves those extra days. The Wind River Crossing was bagged.

We did end up having a great 20 mile mountain run on Saturday, and another 10 mile run the next day, with an exploratory mission to the Wind River Brewing Company in between, so not all was lost. While we were sitting on the patio of the brewpub in Pinedale, watching the storm rage in the mountains, we knew we had made the smart decision. And we also pulled out the maps and lists, and start planning on our 2011 Wind River Crossing. We’ll have lots of weather days planned this time.

I’ve run this 24 hour race at the Boulder Reservoir twice before. The last time I was here I was a few hours into it, big smile beaming on my face, running out in front with Ryan Cooper. Ryan turned to me and said “You know, we’re on a 148 mile pace.” I should have taken that as a warning and slowed down. Instead, I just kept smiling and running just as hard, and then a few more hours into it I was a fried heap, laying in a tent, making my 24 hour race into a two part stage race. I didn’t get 148 miles. Or 100 miles. The Boulder race just asks for you to make a mistake. It’s flat and fast. Sometimes it’s really hot. You get out there and start cruising, and sweating, and not saving yourself for running ALL night when it’s much cooler.

This year I returned, but not as a racer. I got to witness the insanity from the sidelines while I helped with timing and other odd jobs. It was far more fun… except I was jonesing to get out there and redeem my previous mistakes. I was jonesing to get out there and move, to run like the wind, and… wait… yeah, and make the same mistakes again. It really was fun.

With all of the different races going on simultaneously, there was a lot of action to watch. If I was a New York bookie, I’d have my job cut out for me. The teams started out with the action right away. Three teams kept it close through 93 miles! With solo runners you can somewhat accurately predict when everyone will come through the basecamp checkpoint. With teams it is much more difficult to predict. Each runner on the team runs at a different pace, and they run in varying combinations, and some dress as police officers and Indians and construction workers and bikers and cowgirls and no one has any idea how those costumes slow them down or speed them up. Far too many variables to predict! After hours of racing, only minutes separated the lead teams. Finally, the smoke cleared early in the morning and team Shoulda Trained proved that they didn’t need to, pulling ahead decisively and completing 164 miles in 24 hours. While the team race unfolded, the solo runners in the 12-hour, 24-hour and 100-mile categories pushed forward, step by step, inch by inch (slowly they turned?) My buddy Mike Enger dashed in after three loops, grabbed a cold Miller High Life from his cooler and took a well deserved break. He went on to win the 12-hour solo race. Hammer Nutrition, take note that Miller High Life may be one of your competitors, in a strange silly parallel universe.

Of all the race divisions, the 100-mile event had the most competitors. Ted Liao was on deck to be the first person to complete the Rocky Mountain Triple Crown. He had finished the beautiful but tough Utah course, covering miles of concrete-hard slickrock. He also finished the Laramie race, through gorgeous wooded trails with nearly as much elevation change as the Leadville Trail 100. I remember feeding him Starburst candies all night as it was the only thing his stomach could handle. Perhaps he should have tried a Miller High Life. But the Boulder race, the “easiest” of the three, was not to be had. It just goes to show how incredibly different these three courses are, and how each requires a slightly different strategy. Gabriel Helmlinger amazed us all as he cruised with what seemed like little effort to a 16:44 win. Glen Delman, a professional photographer and eventual 3rd place finisher, set up a camera station to take pictures of himself and others every few laps and created a record of progression, showing the states of joy, exhaustion, elation, despair, and vomit on the face that a 100-mile competitor transcends to reach the finish line.

Every so often through the late night and early morning, when most solo runners start to question their sanity, a runner named Ian would come into basecamp and be so upbeat and energetic that we knew he’d finish. That type of energy goes a long, long way in any endurance venture, or life for that matter. He even brought us sleepy staff members back online. Another race that was fun to watch was between Carolyn Holden and Monica Scholz. Both seemed very focused on the task at hand and traded leads multiple times. They never were more than 22 minutes apart throughout the 100 miles. Carolyn ended up finishing the last lap with a mere 10 minute lead.

Every race, every division, every competitor was so interesting to watch. Everyone had their own goals and strategies. Some opted for sleep, some for sleeplessness, some for Heed, some for Miller High Life, although really, when all was said and done, strategies meant little, as everyone seemed to have so much fun. Now if only I could keep that 148 mile pace…

Monday, 15 March 2010 07:08


Running on the treadmill is not something I look forward to…but for a variety of reasons, I spend more than a few miles per week on the treadmill. With the cold weather and short days, Reid asked me to share a few hints that may help you survive the treadmill and ultimately help you keep that winter base.

1. Write yourself a weekly mileage plan and stick to it. If weather, or child care, or odd running hours mean you need to hit the treadmill, just build it into your back up plan. And just like you may carry your running gear with you in your car, make sure you also have the gear you would need in case you do your running at the gym
(shorts instead of pants, etc.)

2. If you’re using the local gym’s treadmill, and you’re planning on running longer than 30 minutes, you may run into anxious patrons waiting for you to be done. And while covering the display is always an option, there are other options: ideally, you can go at less busy times and avoid the problem altogether; if that’s simply not an option, you can break up your work out by running for 30 minutes, then hitting another piece of cardio equipment or doing some of your core or upper body work until another treadmill frees up.

3. If you know you have a long workout (2 hours+) coming up and the treadmill will be an inevitablility, figure out ways to make it more palatable. I am fortunate that my gym’s treadmills each have their own TV, and usually I use that time to watch TV — maybe even a full length movie — something I typically don’t have time for during the week. If you can’t do that, consider downloading podcasts or audiobooks to your iPod. I need music for tempo runs, but for my longer, slower distances, a story is perfect and something I can look forward to.

4. For those shorter runs, I recommend changing things up. Make it a tempo run one day and a hill run another. Pushing the pace beyond your comfort zone on the treadmill is something I’ve incorporated recently and it minimizes boredom and ensures you’re getting the most benefit for your time spent. The best way to do this is to wear a heart rate monitor to make sure you’re spending time in each of your training zones. If you don’t have a treadmill, you can simply do surges throughout the run and practice changing your pace. Mix it up and try to have fun.

5. Finally, running on a treadmill creates no wind resistance. Because of that, it’s best to add some incline for all your miles. All treadmills are a little different, so try somewhere between .1 and .3 and select the most comfortable realistic feel for you. Also, because there’s no wind resistance, I tend to get pretty warm running on a treadmill – so I keep a bottle of water for those longer runs so I can stay hydrated and cool off a bit if I need to

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