Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Utah Triple Crown (Highest 3 peaks in Utah):

I attempted the TC for the first time back in 2003 when a reporter for the Deseret News that I knew from the Highpointers website invited me to go and attempt to climb the highest 3 peaks in Utah in one day and I invited Craig Lloyd to join us as well. We made the attempt from an advanced base camp at Dollar Lake. After hiking in to Dollar and making camp we woke up early the next morning to make the attempt. We made decent time up to the summit of Kings, but I was hit with a pretty severe case of altitude sickness that required me to barf several times just off the trail. The last time I was on all fours extricating the last remnants of stomach acid into the bush while the D-news reporter looked on in horror. Needless to say I didn't complete the route. Craig and a photographer from the D-News continued on and finished it off and the D-News did a two page spread on the hike that they coined the "Triple Crown". It was pretty cool even though I didn't make it and I knew I wanted to go back again to make an attempt at some point.

Back in July of this year I went back to the Uintas with Craig and Josh to try the Triple Crown again. Davy Crockett upped the TC ante back in 2008 when he did the whole thing from the trailhead and back in one day which doubles the miles and Craig was going after the speed record that he had set back in 2010 which had been broken by some local elite ultra runners in 2011. Jun was a little faster than we were and after summiting Gilbert we were thwarted by a storm that was moving in just as we were getting to Gunsight Pass, while Craig was at the base of Kings and was able to continue on to bag South Kings as well and get down before the storm rolled through. He went on to set a new speed record of 8:29 which is an incredible time for that route.

After our debacle in July Jsh and I swore we would never go back to attempt the TC again because neither one of us wanted to climb Gilbert Peak. While Gilbert is the 3rd highest mountain in Utah and has a pretty decent view everything else about it pretty much sucks, but after a few weeks of licking our wounds we both wanted to get back up there and finish it off, so we decided to add Gilbert and South Kings on when we did the Quest for Kings marathon.

We drove to the Henry's Fork trailhead with Craig and Matt Williams and as always had a really great time laughing, eating greasy food and this time buying a cowboy hat in Mountain View, Wyoming. Craig offered to wear it on the entire trip if someone bought it. Matt obliged and Craig good to his word wore the sexy thang all the way to the top of Kings Peak and back. Gotta love it.

We arrived at the trailhead and met some other guys that would be running the race in the morning and after setting up our tent we all hung out by the fire cracking jokes, laughing and participating in various other forms of tomfoolery. I slept ok in the tent nestled in between Josh and Craig for the first 3-4 hours even though our tent smelled like the Great Salt Lake on a windy day, but at around 2:00 am a few dudes woke me up while they were getting ready to start their hike of Kings- LOUD! After that it rained and I just couldn't sleep because I kept thinking about the weather and hoping it would clear up. I really didn't want to run in the rain. At 4:00 the alarm went off and Josh and I got dressed and went to the van to eat breakfast and get our gear ready. It literally rained until we opened the door of the van to start our run and then it stopped. It was cold, but not too bad with the cloud cover.

At the gate we started our watches and settled into a nice trot up the trail. It was muddy and wet and there were a lot of puddles to deal with and in the dark it was tough to get into a fast pace on that trail. It is a rocky nightmare. We got into a good groove though and slowly busted out the first 5 miles to Elk Horn crossing where we stopped to take a quick break to stash our headlamps and take a gel. Now that it was getting light we were able to move well and we got into a good pace that we were able to keep up all the way through the Henry's Fork basin. It was a beautiful morning and we just chatted away and enjoyed the run. Just past Dollar Lake we ran into 3 bull moose... or would that me meese?? They were right on the trail getting a drink from a spring that was flowing pretty well and they were startled by us. We stopped and just let them move on making sure not to look threatening in any way. Awesome.

We skipped the switchbacks up to Gunsight Pass and instead went straight up through the rocks while we both took another gel. At the pass we saw a family of hikers and said hello and then kept moving to the Gunsight plateau where we passed another group of hikers that were going up too high on the flank of Gunsight Peak. They saw us and eventually started working their way down. Over the plateau and then we started making our way over the tundra to the trail where we found a nice flowing spring and we stopped and had a great drink and Josh filled up his bottles. We ran/hiked to Anderson Pass and both of us were feeling good so we knocked out the 900 feet up to the summit pretty quickly topping out in 3:56. Not bad considering we were about 20 minutes slower to Elk Horn than we were back in July. This was my 10th time on top of Kings Peak.

We took a few pictures and didn't stay long as we continued to traverse the ridge and began to drop down to the saddle between Kings and South Kings. Almost immediately it became apparent that the rocks were much less stable the further away we were from the well-traveled Kings Peak. Just about every other rock was wobbly or would slide and our progress slowed a lot. Saying it was quite tedious would be an understatement. It sucked. Once we went over the saddle and started going back up our speed picked up some and we were able to slog our way over the false summit (curse you false summit) and finally up to the summit of South Kings Peak, the second highest peak in Utah. It was pretty cool being up there and we took a few more pics and then headed back down. More wobble, slide, roll, jump... awwww shite! Rocks!!!

Back at the saddle between the two Kings peaks I was telling Josh a story of some sort and trying to get him to laugh (which was successful) but at the climax of the story I wasn't quite paying attention to my footing and I slipped on some loose rocks and went down hard. I landed on the same hip that I fell on during our night run a few weeks back and I also really banged up my leg. It hurt a lot, but no serious damage so I just needed to get up and keep moving. We made good time back up to the summit of Kings and we started running into some of the guys we had met from the night before. A couple of the dudes offered us food and they were really cool. Just below the summit we ran into Cowboy Craig and Matt. It was good seeing them and we had hoped that we would be able to run part of the route with them and we all met up back at Anderson Pass where the 'crew' was once again reunited. I downed a bean n cheese burrito at the pass and after joking and laughing with some hikers we ran back down on the trail to the spring where we had filled up earlier and all of us took a few minutes to replenish our water.

It was fun running/slogging back over the plateau with the fellas and we were all feeling really good and we made good time. Back at Gunsight Pass Craig and Matt stopped to talk to some other runners and Josh and I kept going down, but after a few minutes they easily caught back up just as we got back onto the trail. We all got into a solid running pace and it was fun because I felt great and my legs were feeling strong. We quickly came up to the chute that would take Josh and I up to Gilbert, so we parted with the other guys and started our traverse over to the chute. Josh stopped for a quick break at the base of the chute and I continued up at a slow pace so that he could catch me and after a few minutes he caught me and then put a good distance between us as well. Our overall time was around 7:45 at this point and we still had a shot to put up a respectable number. I was still feeling pretty good, but obviously Jsh was feeling stronger.

There is a spring that flows through the chute and it was gushing. When we had come through back in July it was a mere trickle, so we were surprised that it was flowing so well, but we took advantage and filled up our bottles and I took 4-5 big gulps right off the rock of the cold fresh water. It was pretty awesome. At the top of the chute we got blasted by the wind and it never let up again while we were on the mountain and as we made our way up the Gilbert plateau it seemed to suck the energy right out of me. I hate this mountain! I knew we had the Triple Crown in the bag because the weather was holding and I knew getting to the top wouldn't be a problem, but as we climbed higher and higher I lost my juice. The wind was so annoying and I cursed the mountain several times. Not only was it annoying but it was cold. Josh got ahead of me and a few times he stopped to wait, but there was no reprieve from the wind, so he had to keep moving and he beat me to the summit by at least 10 minutes. As I crested the final apex I just had about 40 yards of boulders to hop across and I was happy for the first time on Gilbert. On the summit Josh and I congratulated each other and there was an older couple up there as well, which seemed odd because it is just such a desolate place. Completing the triple felt pretty awesome, but now we needed to get back to the car which was about 10 miles away.

Getting off of the mountain was horrible. Gilbert Peak is a massive pile of boulders that move and wobble. There really isn't anything redeeming about the place except for the fact that it is the 3rd highest peak in Utah and since I am a peak bagger at heart I am able to glean something positive out of it. I was getting low on energy and I probably should have eaten something on the summit but I just wanted to get down. What I was really hoping is that we could find some kind of a wind break to stop for a minute to get out of the wind, but there isn't much of anything coming down, so eventually I just told Jsh I needed to take a minute to eat a Snickers. I felt my energy coming back some, but the wind just kept decking me in the face. I felt puch drunk. That mountain is a psychological mind screw, especially after the long day that we had put in.

We took the ridge above Dollar Lake down and then just went straight down the steep mountainside that dropped us just above the lake. It was so nice to be out of the wind, but the thought of running out wasn't a good one. I was pretty darn wrecked. We made our way on a game trail and eventually picked up a trail that took us back to the main trail where we were finally able to get back into a running pace. We ran well back to Elk Horn, but we were super slow. We stopped to pick up our gear and I took another gel and some salt.

The last 5.4 miles from Elk Horn to the trailhead are always the worst. I told Josh that if hell exists for me it will be running this 5.4 mile stretch for eternity. The 5 miles ended up being ok other than the fact that I was wrecked. I think running at high altitude takes more out of me than almost anything. I just lose my steam. We did put a few good stretches of running in and even ran some big hills, but we were slow. I'm sure Josh would have finished this 2-3 hours faster if he didn't have to wait for me, but he was awesome and never complained that I was slow. We finally rounded the last bend and could see the gate at the trailhead. Heaven. Now we actually had completed the Triple Crown. 9 years after my first attempt and it felt great to finally finish it. That terrain is just plain harsh. With the altitude and massive endless piles of unstable rocks it is very difficult to move quickly through this terrain. The time Craig did last month is incredible and I don't think anyone will beat it for a long time. One thing is certain for me: I will never do this route again. If Gilbert wasn't involved there would be a sliver of a chance, but since it is there is no way. I'm done. Another cool thing to note: This trip helped me to complete two goals for the year. First, the Triple Crown and second, these three summits were #73, 74 and 75 for the year so I hit my goal of 75 peaks for the year.

Check out this video made by Matt Williams:

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