Archive for May, 2009

50 Pitches In A Day

May 31, 2009

My hands are swollen; they feel like raw hamburger, and my feet are sore. Yesterday Bill Wright and I climbed 50 pitches in Eldorado Canyon. Our rules were that each route had to be rated 5.7 or above, and no pitches could be repeated. This involved doing 11 different routes, totaling about 5,000 vertical feet of technical climbing, plus the required scrambling, hiking, and rappelling to get off the tops and to the base of the next climb. It took 11 hours and 18 minutes.

“Hey wait a minute”, you might say. “This isn’t about running!”

You are correct. So let me explain:

What all this is about for me, is being in nature – moving, usually as quickly as I can – and preferably in the mountains or deserts. Although I’m well known as a runner, I actually don’t care what mode of movement I’m employing – running, backpacking, skiing, cycling, climbing, canyoneering – they’re all the same to me, they’re all good, and I just use whatever works best to get me to the places I want to be.

“Eldo” is one of those places I want to be. The dramatic and colorful lichen-flecked sandstone walls tower above the roar of South Boulder Creek, 800′ directly below. It’s a world-famous climbing area, and everyone from the local uber-jocks, to young couples, to climbers from out of state or country, engage in an intimate and intense dance with the natural environment, raising the energy level of the place so it’s like being at a rock concert with no sound.


While I love the simplicity and purity of a race, I greatly prefer “projects”, because the personal attributes one must manifest in order to succeed are more broad and engaging. Instead of showing up at the specified time and date, and running the specified route at a specified pace, you have to bring a lot more of who you are to the table. One must: 1) Dream; 2) Plan; 3) Research; 4) Do Specific Training; 5) Commit; 6) Have Courage and Effort; 7) Drink a beer and write a blog post when you’re done.

I might or might not be kidding about that last one; but am not about this: the really key element that makes difficult projects go well is: #8 A Great Partner.

Especially for this project: Doing 50 PIAD (Pitches In A Day) in Eldo is both interesting and problematic, because one must scramble, rap, or hike off everything, and the topography is quite rugged and spread out, thus requiring a fair amount of stamina and strategy. It was going to be a long day. The best way to get this done, would be to “simul-climb” everything. This means instead taking turns with one person climbing while the other belays, both climbers move at the same time. We’re still roped together, and placing protective gear, but there are no active belays; if the leader falls, he could take a 50′ whipper, stopped only by the body weight of the follower on the rope, who would be pulled upward toward the placed gear. If the follower falls however, he would immediately pull the leader off also, and they both would plummet until the leaders falling body came to a very abrupt halt at the nearest gear placement below him.

So in simul-climbing, if the second falls, the likely result would serious injury or worse for the leader. If one person makes a mistake, both pay.

In climbing, possibly more than any other sport, #8, “Great Partner” is not just important. It keeps you alive.



Call Of The Wild

May 27, 2009

Andrew Skurka embarks on major Alaska trip – – –

Ever since he was the first person to do the 7,778 mile long Sea-Sea route – Cape Gaspe to the Olympic Peninsula, which took 11-months including walking across the upper midwest in mid-winter – Andy has been one of the pre-eminent hikers in the country. He followed that post-college graduation monster with the Great Western Loop (6,875 miles around the west), the Sierra High Route (200 miles mostly off-trail) and a traverse across Iceland, besides spare-time casual hikes like the Colorado Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru California.

So what’s next?

700 miles thru the Kenai Peninsula and Chugash Mountains of Alaska.

“About 1/4 of that will be on a pack-raft. Without a raft, this route is impossible” Andy says. “Then there’s maybe 100-150 miles on some kind of trail. That leaves 400 miles of bushwhacking.”

“The Kenai bushwhacks are heinous. Pushing thru bark beetle infested Spruce that blew down 5 years ago into a jungle-gym of fallen timber. The undergrowth is Devils Club and Salmon Berries. It might take me 6 hours to go just 2 miles.”

Sound like fun to you?

(There is a current report; see “UPDATE” at bottom of Post)



Upcoming Multi-Day Trail Record Attempts

May 21, 2009

The season is gearing up! Here are just a few of the Big Trail record attempts developing.


The professor emeritus of multi-day trail records is back! David set the record on the Appalachian Trail in 1991, followed up with the record on the Long Trail in 1999, and after a John Muir Trail attempt  aborted on the first day, became the first person to do a supported run on the Pacific Crest Trail, establishing in 2005 what is still fastest time.  (An excellent video called “The Runner” was made of this project). Last year David tried the biggest big trail of them all, the Continental Divide Trail, but abandoned after the first day, June 7, which went very badly.

This year he hopes to start in Denver at 6 am on July 4 and break Paul Pomeroy’s 2008 record 8 1/2 days later in Durango.  This timing would enable him to be on the Hardrock 100 course, a race he has won, when the race itself is taking place – the HR100 and CT courses are briefly the same.  That would be remarkable.