Sunday, December 4, 2016

Too Fit?

Outdoor folks tend to be a healthy lot. Their passion for outdoor activities drives them to eat well, stay lean and stay fit using a variety of methods. A few take it to another whole level with focused training, whether it be for the Boston Marathon, NECX Series, the American Berkie, or a now defunct bicycle hillclimb series. Fitness to excel in any of these disciplines pushes one out onto the very thin end of the distribution.

Regular doctors aren't accustomed to caring for athletic people at the highly-fit end of the scale. Sadly, the distribution of American fitness continues to shift toward obesity, pre-diabetes, heart disease and myriad other ailments that beset a sedentary, lousy diet lifestyle. These are the people doctors treat on a daily basis.

So what happens when a one-percenter, or even a 0.1%-er shows up? Something must be wrong! This has happened to me three different ways now.

I used to go years without getting routine physicals.  But the way health insurance is set up now, not getting "wellness" exams comes with a hefty financial penalty. Don't get me started on how this is an invasion of privacy with employer and big pharma meddling with your personal affairs.

Anyway, several years ago one of these wellness exams showed abnormally high liver function enzymes, like really high. My doc was sure I was lying about alcohol consumption, as he asked me 10 different ways about alcohol use. I've consumed zero alcohol for 32 years now. Then Tylenol. Again, don't use it, Aleve is much better for inflammation. So more blood work was ordered. Looking at meaning of elevated liver function values online, I got scared. Liver cancer, hepatitis and other scary things could cause this. Yet I was in the best shape of my life. The follow-up tests came back normal. I breathed a sigh of relief.

But wouldn't you know it, the next wellness exam, my liver function was high again! What was going on? I poked around more on the web. I stumbled across something interesting. I found elevated liver function enzymes was pretty common among body builders and ultra-endurance athletes. In one study, enzyme levels were checked before and after a marathon. A significant number of  runners came back with elevated levels after the race.I found many forums where endurance athletes discuss the problem of testing high and having to explain to their doctors. I mentioned it to my doctor, he looked into it, then said no exercise for two weeks, then well retest. What?!?! Like that is going to happen. I did back off a bit on my usual regimen of VOmax intervals and such, and the follow-up test came in just barely normal. That pretty much settled that anomaly. I have since tested high several times over the years since, but I know now it is best to not have blood drawn after a grueling weekend of riding or skiing.

A couple years later, I had another case of "that's not normal, lets check it out."  I mentioned to my doc that sometimes when I stand up quickly after being seated a while, I feel like I'm going to black out. This was after my HR was measured. I think it was low 40's in the doctor's office, but I mentioned I sometimes see it as low as 34bpm in meetings at work. This was also around the time I had a little trouble with acid reflux. Sometimes heart disease can be described as a burning sensation. So doc put all this together and said we first have to rule out anything going on with your ticker. You need a stress EKG. Really? So I got wired up, started on a protocol for the average American (remember, obese, sedentary?), which the lab tech quickly realized was not going to work for me. She switched to athlete protocol, which started faster and went really fast. That got my HR up, and the EKG showed perfect performance. Many people experience light-headedness upon standing. I think it is more common in athletic people with low HR and low BP. I just won't say anything about it to my doctor again.

Most recently, I had another scare from a routine wellness exam. While the doctor was palpating my abs, he spent more time than usual and was kind of like hmmm... When doc goes hmmm, that can't be good. My aorta was pulsitile, which means he could feel my aorta pulsing with each heartbeat. The doc did qualify that it is probably just because I'm very lean, but an ultrasound was needed to rule out an aneurysm. Oh great, another thing to worry about, study up online, until results are in. Most people die very quickly when an aortic aneurysm bursts. Do I even dare exercise? That evening when I laid on the floor to do some situps, I palpated my own ab. Sure enough, just above the navel, I could find a strong pulse. I could almost feel the woosh, woosh, woosh of blood with each beat. They were able to get me in the next day for an ultrasound, and I had results two days after that. Negative.

So three times now, being "too" fit has triggered additional screening. I think if I was still fat Doug (and still alive), none of these would have happened. Of course, I'd probably have a host of other real ailments by now. Better safe than sorry I suppose. Does make me wonder if there is value in finding another doctor that's more in tune with the needs of a master athlete. My body doesn't repair itself like it used to...

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned

Change is in the air. Electric vehicle technology is blooming. There are more models of full electric cars available now. The quickest production car in the world is electric. Recent advancements in battery energy density are behind this. Electric drive technology is also trickling over into the bicycle world and could change everything.

I've not been bashful in voicing my concern with E-bikes on non-motorized trails. I've followed the debate both locally and on the national level. It is a contentious subject for sure.

A couple months ago, one of the mountain bike magazines I subscribe to, Bike Magazine, ran a two-page ad for a new Specialized bike. It depicted a rider on singletrack in a remote area. The caption read something like "530W of trail shredding power." I had to do a double-take. Was a motorcycle being advertised in my mountain biking magazine? Sure enough. This irritated me to no end. I fired off an email letter to Bike, letting them know I did not subscribe to Dirt Bike Mag, and shame on Specialized and Bike for recklessly promoting this activity that could get all of us banned from trails that we worked so hard to gain. Two issues later, they published my letter! The Specialized ad did not run in that issue either. Coincidence?

One of the complaints proponents of E-bikes levy against opponents is this: opponents haven't actually ridden an E-bike, so they can't know what they are talking about. Opponents claim E-bikes will damage trails and relations with other trail users. A week ago, out of the blue I got an invite to demo an E-bike, a Specialized Levo, the very bike I rallied against in Bike Mag. Oh boy, was I conflicted. An honest assessment could only be gained by riding an E-bike on trails used by the mountain biking community. I rationalized the decision to give one a try for journalistic purposes, so I could speak with greater authority in my opposition of E-bikes on non-motorized trails.

Specialized brought a fleet of 12 Levo's over to Cycle Loft. The Levo is a Class-1 E-bike. It requires pedal input to produce assisted power. There is no throttle. Three basic modes can be set, turbo, trail or eco. The power assist can be further customized with a bluetooth app, which we did not set up. I left my bike in "turbo" mode for the whole demo. Trail mode is less punchy, saves battery, and economy mode basically provides just enough assist to make up for excess weight and drag of the E-bike. Class-1 also means the assist cuts off above 20mph on the road or going down hills.

After a brief tutorial on the basic modes, we were off. I nearly crashed into a rack of bikes inside the store! The turbo boost is very punchy, designed to get you over short, steep rises quickly. Maximum assist is 530W, which drops to 250W average when on a longer climb.

Casual observers would never know there is a big battery and motor in there.
No name on demo bikes. To avoid association with controversy?

There was a whole lot of giggling among the group of "old guys" heading across the parking lot. I could immediately tell this E-bike Kool-Aid was going to be intoxicating.

One thing I immediately noticed while on the road is how hard of a wall that assist cut-off is.  I weighed my bike with pedals on it. 51.4 pounds. Add 3" wide knobbies, it was a tank on pavement.  Trying to ride faster than 20mph was met with a highly progressive tax on effort. It just made you capitulate and not bother trying to go faster than 20mph. You could feel some engine braking too, when coasting, not unlike taking your foot off the gas in a manual car without pushing the clutch in.

Rock play

This sandy chute was too great a challenge for all that attempted

I have been fond of Specialized's FSR suspension design for as long as I can remember. I was curious to see how the Levo FSR performed off-road. Quite well, in fact. While that heavy battery in the down-tube precluded nimble handling like my carbon Tallboy, the suspension kept the bike stuck to the ground quite well over rough or rooty terrain. There was a powerline climb that alternated between steep ledge, slick dirt and chunder. I doubt I would have been able to clean that on my Tallboy. I was able to scoot right up that with some pretty serious human contribution to the total Watts needed. The smooth continuous torque delivered by the electric motor no doubt played a part.

Top of powerline climb

As an avid hiker, I adhere to the Leave No Trace dogma that most hikers rigidly adhere to.  I try to do the same with my off-road riding.  I was super careful to notice if I was leaving any trace due to boosted Watts. A few times, I felt the rear wheel slip on waxy oak leaves on a steep grade. But when doesn't this happen? More importantly in places with loose dirt, I'm pretty sure the E-bike, even in it's "turbo" mode, had less impact than my human powered Tallboy would. This is due to the smooth assist power delivered by the motor. On my Tallboy, I'd be in a low gear, trying to spin smoothly, but invariably the jerky pedal torque would produce some slippage.

Erie lighting of the Boston Skyline

We toured a variety of terrain for two hours, a thorough evaluation, for journalist purposes, of course (wink). We did have one bike stop producing assist power even though the battery was not dead. A couple batteries petered out right near the end, not that surprising for how long we were out riding and BSing. Fun was had by all, and I think we were in unanimous agreement that the Levo, in its factory Class-1 condition, does not damage trails any more than a non-assist MTB would. We were always courteous to the many other trail users we encountered too, no differently than when we ride our own bikes. I doubt any of the walkers even noticed we were on E-bikes.  So how can any of this possibly be bad?

Here are my concerns. There are four classes of E-bikes. They are all super quiet. While the Levo Class-1 pedal assist max's out at 530W, there are E-bikes that produce 33,000W of power on the market. Of course, they look more like a trail bike, do not have pedals, and are throttle controlled. This would be a Class-4 E-bike. So when people talk about allowing E-bikes on non-motorized trails, what, exactly, are they talking about?

The conservative stance would be to ban E-bikes everywhere motorized vehicles are not permitted. These are motorized vehicles. There can be no denying this. But this may be overly restrictive. Say land managers warm up to allowing E-bike use on trails, Class 1-3 only. Could there be any issue with this?

Electric bicycles are not going away. E-bikes make huge sense for commuters and others that don't want to work too hard when being outside. An "upgrades" market will no doubt materialize. Tesla car company recently announced a new battery that doubles capacity. A huge amount of money is going into battery research right now. Higher density batteries mean more available power for the same size and weight. Folks will tinker with their bikes. The batteries. The motors. The software. What leaves the factory at 530W max could easily be upgraded to 2500W down the road without a speed governor. A 2500W E-bike could cause significant trail damage, go 40mph, and stir up considerable user conflict. How does a land manager police this? The bike would still have identical factory appearance. Again, the easy thing to do is just not let E-bikes on the trails at all.

I am a long-time NEMBA supporter. I contribute financially and sweatequity. I help build and maintain non-motorized multi-user trails. I'd hate to see this work put in jeopardy with the introduction of E-bikes, muddying the waters, so to speak. Here's the conundrum I'm faced with. Many within NEMBA have taken a taken a hardline stance against E-bikes on non-motorized trails, yet at the same time NEMBA is lobbying for MTB access in wilderness areas. I support NEMBA on both of these fronts, yet this seems a bit disingenuous. I am deeply conflicted by this.

Hikers are certain human powered mountain bikers will destroy both their trails and their wilderness experience. Human powered mountain bikers are certain E-bikers will destroy their trails and ruin their relationship with the user community.  I find it fascinating how conflicts like these can just pop up and blindside you, pitting friends against friends.

I have been supporting the Sustainable Trails Coalition in their endeavor to end the illegal blanket ban of bicycling in wilderness areas. The goal is not carte blanche access to all trails, but rather to give local land managers discretion if they want to allow MTBs on select trails. All the MTB community really wants is to get back some of the thousands of miles of MTB trails we lost in the last 20 years to wilderness designation, trails we helped build and maintained. It is a reasonable meeting in the middle.

I think NEMBA and the E-bike industry should take a more proactive role in meeting in the middle on this issue. Engage local and state land managers for limited, quantitative access to trails. Take Bear Brook State Park in New Hampshire for example, a very popular MTB destination where I have put in trail work hours. Perhaps a compromise can be reached that states "only Class-1 bikes will be permitted on designated E-bike trails." You would need to bring the equestrian delegation to this discussion table too, and educate them on what a Class-1 E-bike is. It would require a lot of work and good faith discussion from all parties. If E-bikers abuse access with souped up bikes, the land manager can pull their access plug (he-he).  But for now, no motor vehicles means no E-bikes.

I am grateful to Cycle Loft and Specialized for this opportunity to experience this new technology first hand. So will an E-bike be added to the Hill Junkie quiver anytime soon? No. I remain a human powered purist. When I get too old to ride my favorite Bear Brook 50 mile loop, I just won't ride 50 miles anymore. I find it satisfying to earn my turns and miles. While I have, on a few rare occasions, shuttled rides where I finished at a lower elevation than I started, I have never visited a lift served terrain park. I would just feel guilty doing that. So what punishment did I receive for my transgressions this morning? I came home to a leaking boiler. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Are we going to skip shoulder season this year?

After an abysmal 2015/2016 Nordic ski season, early season snow dumps are getting my hopes up for a better upcoming season. The snow is too early, in fact, interfering with normal fall activities.

Saturday I surveyed the NOAA snow cover maps. Much of the green mountains in VT was depicted as having snow cover. A portion of the white mountains in NH too. I haven't been doing much climbing on my bike lately, and I felt the need for some long, sustained grinds. I've been to Mt Sunapee a couple times. The 1500ft gain gravel service road to the summit offers superb punishment. NOAA maps showed zero snow cover in NH south of the Whites.

Pulling into the Sunapee ski area with heavy overcast, I thought wow, they started making snow already?!  Then I realized the whole mountain was white. SOB! So much for NOAA accuracy. Maybe it was just a dusting. Heading up on my first repeat, a hiker was coming down. He chuckles and says "you're never gonna make it up on that!" There was 8" of heavy, wet snow at the summit. He was right. I could only make it up to 1900ft, well shy of the 2700ft summit.

20% grade no-go at 1900ft

If my plan was to do two 1500ft climbs, then I'll just have to make do with four 800ft climbs. It wasn't like the dreary day offered up views from the summit anyway.

After four repeats, I swung over to the MTB terrain park in the learners ski area. An ATV track takes you steeply to the top of three flow trails down. As I approached the top, the skies opened up with 30-something degree bone chilling rain. Well, only one run down was going to happen today. As I popped out at the bottom, I noticed the cloud deck lifted enough to reveal the summit, and the rain stopped. Hmmm, maybe I'll drive up to campground gate and hike the top 1000ft of service road to the summit in worn out running shoes. Bad idea!

Lake Sunapee

I got up ok, but coming down was a bitch. Sliding most of the time. There were ski tracks down one of the alpine ski runs. Had I known, I would have thrown my crappy old alpine gear in the car and skied down the top 800ft or so of the mountain. The skies opened up again as I was coming down. Couldn't get the heat cranking fast enough when I got back to the car. Did manage to snap a few photos through the clouds.

Coulda had first tracks!
Mt Kearsarge just poking out

The Facebook 4000 Footers page was filling my feed with winter wonderland pictures on Saturday. I just had to get up there Sunday and take in more of the early winter conditions we're getting at higher elevations. I didn't even have a hike planned when I hit the road in the morning. Figure out when I get to the notch, I reasoned.

No surprise the cloud deck was low. What did surprise me is no visible snow to the cloud deck, at around 3000ft. Wow, many miles south, the snow line was down to about 1500ft. I assumed Franconia Notch would be winter wonderland. Oh well, that just meant the hiking would start out easier.

I decided to hike up to Mt Lafayette, the highest peak this side of the White Mountains at 5260ft, via the Skookumchuck Trail, one I've never hiked. An out and back would net only 9.4mi, which was fine, as I'm nursing a foot injury. Not sure what is going on, acts like extensor tendinitis, maybe caused by the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor trail runners I've been hiking in lately. The lacing comes down very hard over top of foot close to joint. I've noticed pain after some hikes, but now it seems cumulative. I tried double tying them today, lower loops tied snug in a knot, upper part where sensitivity is loosely. Hope it is not a stress fracture. Pain has some characteristics of that too. I see doc for full physical next month. If it persists, I'll ask for an xray.

Starting out on Skookumchuck at 1900ft. Very deceptive of what's to come!
At 3900ft, started getting knee deep drifts not very well packed.

I headed up Skookmchuck in my Ultra Raptors. It was pretty mild in the notch, but I also threw my winter hiking boots in the backpack. I started seeing snow around 3000ft. There was a lot of snow melt going on, Keeping feet dry was a challenge. Around 4000ft, I started getting knee deep post-holed snowdrifts. There had been only 4-6 people up this trail since it snowed, not a popular trail. It was still above freezing and the snow was slushy.

Looking out onto the open tundra at tree line

As I approached treeline, the weather changed dramatically. Where did that wind come from?! There was no way I was going above treeline in water logged trail runners. Dry socks and boots went on. Gortex shell, lobster mits, heavy hat all went on. Out on the rocks I headed. The wind nearly knocked me on my ass. Everything was conformally coated with ice! Back down to the shelter of scrub brush. The microspikes went on too.

Another thing I noticed is all but two sets of tracks continued. That meant the other 2-4 people had turned around at this point, probably yesterday. I hadn't seen a soul since leaving my car.

The open ridge was a tad scary. The wind was constantly knocking me off balance. Visibility was about 50ft. The minuscule cairns on this side of the Mt Lafayette were very hard to spot. With drifted snow filling any hint of a trail in spots, navigation was tricky. Just go up, right? You can always tell when you are going up because you breath harder than when you are going down. Every direction looked the same otherwise. Easy to see how many people have died on this ridge over the years. And no, I didn't have a GPS track to guide me either, since I left home not knowing where I was going to hike yet. My GPS does provides compass info though.

My whole body quickly became encrusted in rime ice. I had to remove my glasses because they would instantly ice over after wiping them. There was so much moisture in that air, almost drizzly, yet it would freeze on contact. I had ice hanging from my eye brows in no time. The absolute temperature wasn't that cold, probably in the mid-20's, but it was the combination of super-saturated air and wind that made it feel so raw.

I hadn't approach Lafayette from this side before. Not being able to see more than 50ft ahead meant I would be frustrated going over about five false summits. Every time I crested, thinking surely this is the top now, I started going down again. Finally I see the sign I recognize and knew there would be no more false summits. Two other guys crested at that same time. We were the only three up there, taking shelter in a nook on the east side of the summit.

Mt Lafayette summit, wind inflating my pants and GTX shell

I didn't particularly relish the thought of going back down the rutted post-holy way I came up, and loops are always more fun anyway, right? The two guys I met at the summit said a lot of traffic had been up Greenleaf Trail. I've hiked that several times, so I decided to take it back down, which also meant I'd have 3mi of paved bike path to walk back to my car.

Looking up Greenleaf Trail just after passing two hikers heading up.
It all looks the same up here, no landmarks to follow, just an occasional cairn if you're lucky.

Looking into Franconia Notch from Eagle Pass right at cloud deck at 3000ft

Tree literally growing right out of slab of rock

I left the microspikes on all the way to below 3000ft. That was a pretty slick, sloppy descent and the spikes helped control the sliding.  The trail runners also went back on at Eagle Pass.

Overall a great hike. The mild temps over the previous 24hrs brought down all the snow in the trees, so it wasn't quite the winter wonderland experience I expected. 9700ft of climbing for the weekend, much of it on snow. I strive for 10,000ft per weekend. Sometimes that is tough to do on my working Friday weekends, but much easier to attain on my off-Friday weekends. It's not even November yet and it is starting to look a lot like winter.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Putting the Sofa back into Bike

Been a while since I posted a dedicated Hill Junkie post. You can blame Facebook for that.

I bought my Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc over three years ago.  Since then, I've put over 9000 miles on it. Best bike I've ever owned by far. The LTc stands for Long-Travel Carbon. I often affectionately refer to it as my "sofa bike," because it rides so plush. Like riding your sofa through the woods. Ironically, bikes with this geometry and travel sold today are referred to as cross-country bikes, really an obsolete relic term from the heyday of cross-country racing 15-20yrs ago. Current generation bikes have an even more slack head angle now and can accommodate bigger "plus" size tires. I like to climb and I just don't see how a more speed/downhill oriented rig will be a net gain for me. I'll keep my Tallboy, thank-you.

Everything on the Tallboy has held up amazingly well. It has traveled with me to many states out west. I only recently replaced the suspension pivot bearings. The grease fittings below and adjustable angular contact bearings keep the main pivots working smoothly with no play for multiple seasons of heavy use. Even more amazing is the air seals in both the fork and shock have held up flawlessly for over 9000 miles. Air sprung forks have progressed mightily from the early Rockshox SID fork days. You were lucky to get a season out of those, and they developed bushing play almost immediately.

I'm a big fan of Fox suspension products. When I built up the Tallboy, the cheapest 140mm Fox product I could put on it was over $1000. That crossed the threshold of more than I wanted to spend. So I went with a Rockshox Revelation for $200 less. I was skeptical at the time, not having best of luck with Rockshox products. The Revelation fork has proven it's value now.

After 9000 miles, some of the surface treatment on the left stanchion started wearing off. The roughness allowed fork oil to leak by the seals.  That was just a nuisance. More notably, the fork started getting "sticky." It was loosing its small bump response as the stanchion shaft got rougher. It was getting so bad recently that it was almost like riding rigid on chunder. I wanted my sofa bike back!

Gray area where slippery gold anodized finish has worn off. Made for very abrasive surface on internal bushings and let oil get past seal. Internal air chamber held air impeccably though, going sometimes months without adding air. The lower shown here does have some shipping damage from  rubbing against metal brace inside bike box numerous times it was shipped. Probably cosmetic, but seems odd that only this stanchion has wear and other side has zero wear.
I capitulated and finally ordered a new fork. The Fox's were still ridiculously expensive. I found Jenson had the 2016 Revelation model on closeout for $560.  That sounded like a deal for another 9000 miles.
The new Revelation fork in stealth black
It took little over an hour to swap the fork out, most of the time spent removing the crown race. What a PIA.  Got out for a lunch romp today. Wow, the old fork must have slowly degraded over a long period. I had my sofa bike back! So plush up front. I didn't even have to adjust the air pressure. What I got from the factory was perfect for me.

Eventually I'll have to replace the bike. I'll have to see where Santa Cruz's Tallboy sits with geometry and wheel size choices when that day comes. Don't want to go slacker, and certainly want to keep 29" wheels as an option.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Haflin Downhill. Final ColoRADo day. Boo.

[Final catch-up post from September Colorado trip. Previously posted on Facebook September 17. An awesome trip, first week pure bluebird weather. Hit many favorite rides, many new areas, and brought hiking-only days into the trip, a first on a Colorado trip.]

Decided to keep it simple with bike disassembly, drop-off, and 6hr drive to Denver later in day. Did loop from hotel I was always curious about, the Haflin Trail from Missionary Ridge.
It starts out with a brute of a climb, some 3300ft net gain, mostly on gravel and jeep roads. The whole area burned many years ago. Pretty much all burned trees have fallen now, so the trail is more easily kept clear. This was not so several years ago.
Haflin Trail looses about 3000ft vertical in four miles, and part of it is a level traverse. So that average grade while going down... yeah, it's nuts. I found the trail to be in surprisingly good shape considering most of the vertical can be shuttled, drawing the downhill type crowd to this one. I did dismount many times though to play it safe, sometimes for insane switchbacks, other times for big rocky drops. There is some exposure too, places where if you slipped over the edge, you'd disappear into the ravine to where nobody would ever find you.
There was some haze in the air today, maybe from a distant fire. Didn't smell it. There were prescribed burns just east of here, but I think all that smoke was going towards Denver. I drove 100 miles through choking smoke later in day.
Anyway, this is a great ride from town, a climbers delight, with great views from Baldy Mountain. The loop went 24mi with 3700ft of climbing.

Can you pick out the houses? 2500ft above town and houses everywhere up here. I would love to have a house on this road. Cathy, well, probably not so much.

View north from Baldy summit

View east from Baldy summit

View west from Baldy summit

Zoom into Durango from Baldy summit. That is Animas City Mtn in the center, the mountain I hiked up from hotel a few nights ago. Hazy.

Pockets of color on Baldy summit

Animas valley looking north, Engineer Mtn center, which I finished a ride over its shoulder earlier in week.

Missionary Ridge trail. Burned many years ago, very few dead trees still standing. Whole trail was like this, thousands of trees had to be cut and moved over the years.

Looking down Missionary Ridge Trail. At least the burn opened up views like this.

On Missionary Ridge

Looking up Missionary Ridge trail

There was lots of thistle up here, probably thriving after the burn. You'd find it in a hurry brushing by it on the trail.

Looking down the drainage Haflin Trail descends

Haflin Trail cuts in and out of many side drainages. This one with bridge that sketched me out.

Looking down Haflin Trail

Color along Haflin Trail

The gorge appeared bottomless here, sometimes with much more exposure than shown here

About 1000ft more drop to go on Haflin Trail, views of Animas Valley opening up

Looking north down the Animas Valley from Haflin Trail

One of the easiest switchbacks on Haflin Trail

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Handies Peak via Grouse Gulch (not the short way)

[Previously posted on FB 15-Sept-2016]
Finally the temperamental weather pattern broke and all-day bluebird skies returned to the high country. One of the must-do's on my list was Handies Peak, a 14er in the Handies Wilderness Study Area (essentially wilderness area). Coming from Durango, I could not drive all the way around over Cinnamon Pass to the common trailhead peak baggers use. I had to use Grouse Gulch with lots of bonus vertical. Instead of 5.7 miles and 2500ft, I'd be looking at closer to 10 miles and 4700ft.
Temps were below freezing driving over. I packed essentially winter hiking gear, not knowing what I'd encounter at the summit. The last two miles of the drive, oh boy, did that road suck. Even in a Jeep. Max speed was less than 5mph much of the time.
At the trailhead, there was one other car. An ultra-runner was just coming down, training for the Bear 100 in Utah, a qualifier for the Hardrock 100. We talked a bit, mostly me begging for energy bars, since I completely failed to pack any food for 5hr hike. He had none. Ultra dude. Runs on fat breakdown and plain water. Anyway, he started wicked early and did not summit. Said it was very cold and looked too snowy and icy for the type of shoes he had on. Great. He had trail runners not much different than my Raptors. You cannot see the summit from this trail head. You must first climb Grouse Gulch and cross over a 13,000ft pass into American Basin before you see the summit. American Basin is where most start their hike, at a much higher elevation than where I started.
Elevation clicked by quickly. Very steep persistent grade up Grouse Gulch. Cresting the top, Handies was indeed white capped, but looked to be merely a dusting. The ground was crunchy with frost. Puddles were frozen pretty hard. And the wind was howling. I stayed in shorts, but just barely, as long as I kept moving.
As I merged onto the American Basin Trail, a younger couple from Portland, OR were also heading up. We hiked pretty close to the same pace to the summit. The summit cleared of others before we got there, so it was just the three of us. Another amazing day at 14,000ft. The gal was getting cold, so they headed down. I had a 14er to myself for a while! Second time this trip. If you sat out of the wind, it was tolerable up there, but I could feel myself getting chilled too. The others I saw coming down were in winter gear. Didn't want to put on the next layer of clothes I brought with me, so I headed down. Many other groups were making their way up on my descent.
Not bringing food wasn't too big of a deal. I brought 100oz of Gatorade mix with me, so I kept sucking it down even though I did not need fluids. Peed a lot! Hiking is a much slower burn than riding, so fat breakdown can make up a much larger percentage of calories burned than glycogen.
I got back to the car with 9.9mi, 4700ft in 4.2hrs moving time on the Suunto. I had the entire Grouse Gulch to myself both ways, which was awesome. Not a very frequently used trail. One more activity day left before heading back to NH. Will be a busy day. Hike or bike?

Just starting up Grouse Gulch from the jeep road. The beginnings of the Animas River, an eerie iridescent blue here.

Looking down Grouse Gulch in the morning. Map does not give name for this emerald green lake.

On the pass between Grouse Gulch and American Basin. First look at Handies Peak.

Handies and the top of American Basin

Looking down American Basin

Heading up Handies

Looking down American Basin Tr

On Handies Peak

View west

View north

View east down Grizzly Gulch 
View south

View east(ish)

Zoom of view north. That might be Wetterhorn and Uncomprahgre 14ers left and right of center.

Zoom west. Is that Sneffels in the distance?

Heading down, looking back up at the summit

There was some talus field to cross

Stopped by Sloan Lake on the way down. Very clear, very green. Don't think it is algae. Probably minerals make it that way.

Finally had a marmot pose for me. Normally they would always bolt.

Looking back at Handies Peak after noon, most of the snow now burned off.

In a little cove heading back over to Grouse Gulch, there was no wind and it was so pleasant. Could've taken a nap here.

Pano of Handies

Unnamed pond in Grouse Gulch

Looking back up Grouse Gulch on way back to car

Small falls in Grouse Gulch

My very dirty rental. Rained a lot here in last 24hrs, so road driving in was still very wet.

Some color on County Rt 2 heading back into Silverton