Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Since 1986, ultra runners have met in the hills of Frozen Head State Park to have a go at what many runners believe to be the world's hardest long-distance trail race because it has such a low finishing rate. In fact, the course is purposefully designed and adjusted to keep it at the outer limit of human endurance. Some years no one finishes.
Since the race began in 1986, only 9 runners out of about 700 have finished within the 60 hour cutoff. Past finishers have set speed records for the Appalachian trail. 2 past finishers have won Hardrock. 3 past finishers have finished Nolan's 14 (2 have won). 1 past finisher set the speed record for the Colorado fourteeners.
The course is relentless and never lets up - that's a given. Because of the distance, difficulty and time limits, runners must run around the clock at least once for the Fun Run and at least twice for the 100-mile. The course is not marked, so good navigation and orientation skills are a must.
I am humbled and in awe of the "9" that have completed the 100. They are a special breed. I honestly believe that a Barkley finisher is as elite as you can get. I believe that what goes on mentally and physically during this event is like what few other athletes ever experience. In essence, the Barkley is not about running - it's really about human potential, and the fact that we are capable of doing much more than we think.
The Barkely atmosphere is what every ultra runner hopes to have a chance to experience once in his/her running life. Gather thirty-five of your dear friends and share an experience that is wrought with challenges and obstacles that push the limits of what is possible. Bundle all that up into one hell of a good time, and you just found yourself in Frozen Head.
Is this my year to run the Barkley? Maybe, maybe not. But I will be there, and I will be ready to run. More importantly, I will be ready to NOT QUIT.
Friday, March 11, 2011
It started out as an idea, not even a terribly creative idea : Run 44 miles on your 44th birthday. Take the day off from work and do something special to celebrate being alive. By the end of the day, my birthday run had in fact given birth to it's own creation- The Birthday Adventure Run Challenge. The BARC.
For example, on his 70th birthday Jack LaLanne towed 70 boats carrying 70 of his friends across Long Beach Harbor (about 3 miles), handcuffed and shackled.
Why would you do this, you ask?
Like Captain Kirk said, "I don't want my pain taken away, I need my pain." With no pain, there is no struggle, no struggle, no rewards, and if no rewards, then why bother living at all? These things add experience to our lives, they fulfill and enrich us, they make us human.
This Year's Challenge
I take it the situation is grim and the odds are against us. Sounds fun.
A 44-mile out-and-back run starting at Montreat College in Black Mountain. The goal was to run to the summit of Mt. Mitchell, the highest place in the Eastern U.S. at 6,684 ft, then summit the next four highest peaks along the 4.5-mile crestline trail between Mt. Mitchell and Deep Gap before returning to the start.
All in all, that's FIVE mile-high peaks:
- Mt. Mitchell (6,684')
- Mt. Craig (6,648')
- Big Tom (6,581')
- Balsam Cone (6,596')
- Cattail Peak (6,584)
Finally, the Toll Road drops you on to the BRP at Black Mountain Gap. For some reason, I started getting really excited about the run at this point. From here on out, I was in uncharted territory, and suddently summiting Mt. Mitchell seemed a whole lot more real. Maybe I was just happy to be off that rocky, river of a toll road.
First surprise of the day: The gallon of water I had stashed in the bushes just right of the sign was gone! That really surprised me, but I figured Deep Gap was not too far away, and considering all the water on the trail, I'd be fine. Off to Mt. Mitchell State Park I went, with a left turn on to Hwy. 128, and then I kept my eyes open for the Buncombe Horse Trail.
Highway 128 is the road to the summit of Mitchell. Had I known what I was in for with the Buncombe Horse Trail, I would've taken this road all the way up!
Maybe a mile up Hwy 128, I picked up the Buncombe Horse Trail. There was snow on the trail, but the real problem was the water. It soon became clear that this stretch was going to be slow going and miserable. The trail was a choice of ice or swamp. When you could run on hard packed snow, things were fine, but the terrain constantly changed and trying to decide where to step soon began to wear me out. (On the way back, I didn't even bother. I ran right down the middle and just did not care).Entrance to the Buncombe Horse Trail
But just as often, your foot would completely sink out of sight
After about 5 miles, I began to look for the Commissary Trail, which would take me to the Mitchell Trail. All I could think of was how happy I would be to get out of this bog!
All the water that had run down froze over
It's surreal to come upon this sign in the middle of the wilderness
I took this picture on the way to the picnic area- no view whatsoever.
Second and third surprise of the day: I reached the picnic area, and took shelter in the little building there. I was ready to get my water, have some lunch, and call Charles. At this point, I was harboring some lingering thoughts about heading out Deep Gap even though it was getting late in the day.
I called Charles, only to find thathe had gone home sick and was completely out of it. It was a frustrating call as I kept losing reception and so we finally just said good-bye.
So close, yet so far away. Good-bye Mt. Craig and friends.
* Over the weekend, Adam Hill (Mad A) was kind enough to e-mail me some additional information I was missing about the route I had chosen. I was working off of Mike Mason's (Cheetah) general directions for this course, and had I not had Adam's additional notes I would have gotten lost for sure. Thanks, Adam!
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
If you saw "127 Hours"...this is my note.
On Monday March 7 I plan to run from Montreat College in Black Mountain to the summit of Mt. Mitchell, the highest place in the Eastern U.S. at 6,684 ft. Then I'll summit the next four highest peaks along the 4.5-mile crestline trail in the Black Mountains between Mt. Mitchell and Deep Gap.
Mt. Mitchell got its name from Dr. Elisha Mitchell, a science professor who first calculated its height in the mid-1800s. Mitchell fell to his death from the peak in 1857 while verifying it as the highest in the range. He's now buried at the summit. I'm just sayin'. This could be dangerous.
Between Mount Mitchell and Deep Gap, there's about five miles of rugged trail that will take you to Mount Craig -- the second highest peak in the eastern U.S. -- and across Big Tom, Balsam Cone, and Cattail Peak, three of the other mile-plus summits. On a clear day, experts say the panoramic view stretches 85 miles.
At the time I'm writing this, the route looks like this:
- Start – Rainbow Road Trailhead in Montreat
- To Trestle Road trail to Sourwood Gap
- Pick up the Old Mitchell Toll Road, run to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP)
- Left on the BRP
- Right on Rt 128
- Right on the Buncombe Horse Trail
- Left on the Mitchell Trail (run to the summit of Mt. Mitchell, 6,684 ft)
- From the summit, run across the parking lot to the Deep Gap Trailhead
- Follow the Deep Gap Trail across the following summits:
Mt. Craig (6,648 ft)
Big Tom (6,581 ft)
Balsam Cone (6,596 ft)
Cattail Peak (6,581 ft)
- Turn around and retrace run back to Montreat
Given that some of these climbs are so steep they are permanently roped to provide a needed handhold, I'm expecting to arrive back at Montreat in the dark. After discussing this fact with my friend Dave Pryor, he suggested I
stay home avoid the Rainbow Trailhead route on my way back, considering how easy it is to get lost on these trails at night. Good thinking, Dave! Thank you. (Maybe now I won't be out there for 127 hours!)
I've asked my friend Adam Hill, who knows these trails better than anyone I know, to provide a little guidance in adjusting the route in my favor, so I can avoid getting lost...if at all possible.