Warning: the following words and images will allow you to vicariously see the world with the eyes of Sultan. Read at your own risk. The name Sultan has many meanings, but derives from the peak Sultan Mountain in Silverton, CO!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Seven Sisters Summits x2 - 32 Miles

I left Charlotte by 5am, and met up with David at 5:30 in Belmont. We both drove up and picked up Matt by 7am in Marion, and then met up with Brian at the Dripolator at 7:30am. Brian came up with this run which is a 16 mile speed hike/mountain run in the mountains surrounding Montreat on the Montreat trail system. It has 13 miles of single track, 3 miles of rail trail and a short portion of pavement. Its steep on some sections, and can be very technical (rocky, rooty, and overgrown).

David, Matt, and I started our adventure just past 8am. We began ascending immediately, and the heat and humidity was abundant. Within the first hour my shoes were soaking in sweat and I waited anxiously for the first creek crossing.We went up and down Rainbow Mountain, and then Lookout Mountain for an amazing view of the Montreat College Campus. After tagging Boggs Bunion we headed North thru Buck Gap, Brushy Mountain, and Rocky Head on the East Ridge Trail. From there we continued North on the Old Trestle Road. Then we turned left onto the Greybeard Trail and hiked up to the top of Greybeard Mountain 5,364 feet (1,635 M). I have run a few times on the Mountains to Sea Trail and always remember seeing the Greybeard Mountain overlook where the MST and the Blue Ridge Parkway intersect. Now I will stand on the summit of Greybeard. From there we descended down the West Ridge Trail going over Big Slaty and Little Slaty and 4 unnamed peaks. We then popped out in front of a Montreal cabin and continued South on Louisiana Rd. all the way back to our cars for a full 16 mile loop. My watch altimeter read approximately 4,000 feet of elevation gain for the first loop.

David unfortunately hand a large thorn go thru his had, and opted out of the second loop. Hope the hand recovers quickly! Me and Matt pushed on for a second loop, this time in reverse (clockwise). We Ascended up the West Ridge Trail. The heat was getting to me, so I was taking in as much liquid as I could. It took forever to get tot the summit of Greybeard, but I was coasting there on out back to the cars. Initially my plan was to do three loops, but decided to stop at two loops and save the energy for Hardrock!

Distance: 32 miles
Elevation Gain: 8,000 feet
Time of first loop: 4:00 hrs
Time of second loop: 4:20 hrs
Total time on the trail: 8:40 hrs
Good times on a new trail: Priceless

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

3rd Annual RAM – Roan Adventure Marathon

6 brave soles made it to the start line to the RAM which takes place in peak rhododendron season. The balds stand out with distinct colors of pink, red, and orange! The RAM has been an annual tradition for the past three years and we try to run it during peak rhodo blooming season. In the past there have been no female runners/hikers that have finished the entire distance. This year that changed with our very first female finisher, Barbara Babb from Columbia, SC! Way to go Barbara.

2009 RAM finishers

Jim Cobb - SC
John Lewis - ENGLAND!
Mohammed Idlibi - NC
David Petroski - NC
Barbara Babb - SC
Bruce Babb – SC

We started the run at 7:10am and headed North on the AT. We realized this year the trail would be a little longer at 13.7 miles each way (27.4 miles). Now this has become technically an ultra marathon, whoo hoo! How did the AT become longer you ask? Well, apparently some trail work has been done, and a very steep section of trail now has a few switchbacks thrown into it. The grade is not as steep, but the same elevation gain is there, and the trail is a little longer. Despite this fact, this section of trail still is one of my favorites and is very diverse in terrain. A few miles your running on sloppy mud in a pine forest, and then your hovering over boulders that are slippery and loose, tricky stuff. Later you run over some very dense, technical rooty trail. All this with 7,500 of net elevation gain. That’s not all! Check out the long horns that we woke up early in the morning. These guys forced me and Jim to negotiate with them just to cross the trail.

This year me and Jim both made it to 19E (half way point) in exactly 2:50. We had previously stashed some food and water here so that we could refuel. Then start hiking back up. I made it back to the car in a total time of 7:42 and bought a hamburger at the parking lot. The rhododendron festival was going on, and that burger hit the spot for me!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

98 Miles on the Mountains to Sea trail – 23,300 feet of gain

Day 1 – 26.6 miles – 8,500 feet (Marion to Summit of Mt. Mitchell)

The adventure started just before noon on Friday and lead me up the hills of Woods Mountain. The last time I was here these lands were frozen and fireworks flashed in the darkness over new years. Today the contrast was huge. The heat was challenging and the vegetation grew exponentially. The nettles broke skin multiple times as I ascended high into the Black Mountains of North Carolina. It was that irritating stinging sensation that was more of a nuisance than a sharp pain. After reaching highway 80 and the parkway a slight breeze was a sigh of relief, but little water trickled down the streams which only accelerated the dehydration process. I passed a long black snake, one of three I would see this weekend. When I approached the Black Mountain Campgrounds I was able to refill water and made a popsicle purchase from the ranger. This was especially tasty, and helped cool me down.

I continued my ascent, pushing to make it up to the summit before the restaurant closes at 8pm. I stood on the summit of Mt. Mitchell at 7:36pm, drenched in sweat, and yelled out a coyote howl which I learned in Ojai, California! Success, I was there. A mountain dance was in order. After a few minutes I realized that I needed to eat, and I had little time before the restaurant would close. I hiked down to the parking lot and did not see Greg. The restaurant was at least a mile or so away, so I ran down hwy 128 when Greg’s truck rolled up and we both made it to the restaurant minutes before 8pm. I warmed my wet shivering body with a bowl of warm vegetable soup, and ate some good ole country cooking. We then camped out at the summit campgrounds and fell asleep under the stars along with several others camping at the top. Day one was completed, I was in good shape and in high spirits, a great weekend was starting.

Day 2 – 38 miles – 7,000 feet (Mt. Mitchell Summit to Asheville)

Me and Greg awoke by the sounds of a Mt. Mitchell State Park ranger. His name was Matt, and he is a cool fellow whom we met last night as we pulled into the campground. It was 5am and he had his rifle out, holly crap what was going on. The sun was still an hour away. “Mohammed and Greg, I have bad news for you.” Surly this could wait until the sun came up, I still have another 71 miles to go yo! That was my initial thought. “A bear broke into your truck and ate all of your food” the ranger said in a calm tone. Whoooooaa!!! We grabbed our headlamps and hiked down to the car which is where we met Jerry, a man who slept in his car and who had wet his pants as an eye witness to the 350 lbs 7 foot black bear that robbed us of our breakfast. The trucks window was busted, and bear paw prints littered the car. All the food was gone, including running bottles, and all! We managed to find some Gu that he did not eat, and our packs unharmed. He did leave one running bottle, but not before he sunk his teeth into it making it useless for us!

This was not in the plan! What to do now? We gathered our thoughts and decided to make due with what we had, which was little. We both still had our bladders, so we could scrap by with what water we had. Matt the ranger was a very nice guy, an aspiring marathoner, helped us tape up Greg’s truck, allowed us to park it somewhere safe, and gave us coffee before we departed from the summit of Mitchell. Both me and Greg were shaken up a little by the situation, but decided that life takes many turns, some you never expect. Who would have thought this would be part of our journey?

We pushed on downhill and continued down the Mountains to Sea trial. This section is very rocky and technical. I had a few left over chips from yesterdays running and a banana for breakfast. My body was craving food and all I could think of at this point was the food that David would be bringing at Beetree gap, I could eat anything at this point. I must have eaten seven flies, unintentionally, and they didn’t fill me up. We criss crossed the parkway and went thru Balsam Gap, Glassmine Falls, and Greybeard Mountain. We finally reached the Craggy Gardens and saw the rhododendron in full bloom, a fine pink shrub. We skirted over the Craggy Gardens parking lot and poped out at a road with no sign and kept going. Of coarse, memories of the 2007 Pitchell flashed in my mind instantaneously. I remember thinking silently, had we passed Beetree Gap? David would have been there if we did, so we kept pushing on. A mile or so later we crossed the parking lot again, and we called David. He met us on the parkway just as we were about to start the climb up Lane Pinnacle and fresh turkey sandwiches and sun chips replenished my body with much needed calories. I ate 3/4th of a foot long and several ounces of chips with additional salt. David and John decided to join in the rest of the day, we still had 20 miles to go. The climb up Lane Pinnacle was steep by not as steep as the opposite direction, and I ran past a large slab of rock where me, Adam, and Stu once stood during the Pitchell run. We continued, following the white dot towards Asheville. We ran thru streams, hiking up the hills, running downhill, and just going with the flow and having a great time. If it felt like it was too much work, I backed off and speed hiked. My legs felt good, and we were on our way to the Folk Art Center. From there we called Adam who later met us on the trail and guided us to his abode. Day 2 was drawing to an end, but not before some monster burritos and late night stories on the patio!
Mamacitas hit the spot!

Day 3 – 33 miles – 7,800 feet (Asheville to Mt. Pisgah summit)
I woke up a little cramped, dehydrated, and slightly wobbly. We decided to skip breakfast and hit up the Starbucks along the way on Hendersonville Road. This isn’t a race, its an adventure, and a spinach and egg wrap was totally in order. We took off from Adams at 7:36am and ran for over an hour before reaching the Starbucks. We went off trail for a half a mile or so and spent the next two minutes sipping coffee, and downing some calories. I had a large frappachino to go for the trail! It was going to be a hot day, why not down the cold stuff? We pushed on. I was running with John at this point, and David was helping with the water/crew situation. Greg left for home earlier that day. We again criss crossed the parkway several times, and lost the trail once because the vegetation was very overgrown. Just before reaching the French Broad River, John and I ran into the trio: Anne, Rebekah, and Jenny. These ladies made our adventure look like a walk in the park. While I ran thru some nettles that scraped my thighs and calves, they bushwhacked 15 mountains which clearly did a number on their legs. Their goal: summit all 40 North Carolina peaks over 6,000 feet in a week. This would mean averaging 42 strenuous miles per day. I was struggling to average 32 miles a day, with no bushwhacking! We chatted for a few minutes and exchanged hellos, and were off crossing the French Broad River.
The heat of the day began to slow us both down, and we both took in water conservatively, calculating when we would see David again. I knew I could sweat really well, but John is the first man that I have met who sweats more than me! We met up with David at Sleep Gap, and refueled the water and calories and kept pushing along. David mentioned that it was 87 degrees. We pushed thru Sleepy Gap and saw another long black snake. We then made our way to Beaver Dam Gap, Big Ridge, and then for our last water stop Elk Pastor overlook.

From Elk Pastor, the three of us made the push up Little Pisgah. We all knew this would be a climb and it took some time to ascend Little Pisgah and then the final push to the summit of Mt. Pisgah. I felt a sense of joy that I was nearing the finish so I pushed harder and run some of the sections uphill! I stood on top of Mt. Pisgah at 4:36pm, exactly 9 hours from when I started. After snapping a summit photo my camera battery died, and I was not able to get in a Mt. Pisgah mountain dance!

I laid on the summit, catching my breath, and just thinking about where I started 96.5 miles ago off of Hwy 221 in Marion, I still had to descend off of Mt. Pisgah, another 1.5 miles down. I made a few phone calls and waited for David and John to catch up. After David made it to the summit he told me that John was not feeling so well, and might struggle to make it to the top. I had faith in John, and decided to just soak up the views from the top and wait for him. It was here a revelation came to me. A messenger appeared atop Pisgah and called out “Are you the one they call Mohammed?” I replied back “Yes, I am Mohammed, the descendent of the prophet Abraham, what news do you bear?” The messenger replied with a shortness of breath “Your disciple John sends a message that he will not make it to the summit, and will wait for you at the base of the mountain.”

John must have decided not to go onto the summit. I began my descent. Within minutes I saw John hiking uphill in good spirits. Whoa? He changed his mind and made it to the top of Pisgah. We all drove back to Asheville for some of Marco’s Pizza which hit the spot.

All in all, great weekend, with great friends, and lots of elevation gain. This certainly will help me set the tone for Hardrock in a few weeks! I want to thank Greg, Adam, David, and John who helped me finish this small journey from Marion to Mt. Pisgah. The total mileage on the Mountains to Sea Trail was 92.1 miles, with 2.5 miles on asphalt getting to and from Adams house and making a small detour to Starbucks. Running up Mt. Pisgah and back down was an additional 3 miles for a grand total of 97.6 miles! Why didn’t I just run a quick 2.4 miles to complete a 100? I'm saving it for Hardrock!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pre Reverse Pitchell 3 Stage - 95.6 Miles

Ok, so I'm still on a natural high from Colorado and it’s amazing peaks! I'm channeling that energy into some more Hardrock training. My goal is to travel any distance and have a minimum net elevation gain of 20,000 feet. There you go, figure that one out!

Here is what I came up with. 95 miles on the Mountains to Sea Trail from Marion, NC to Mt. Pisgah and summiting Mt. Mitchell along the way. It’s hard to say what the exact net elevation gain is, but my estimates are around 23,000 feet. This will only be two thirds of what I should expect on Hardrock minus the altitude in less time (brings back memories of Coyote 2 Moon action). But what the hell, I’ll take what I can get.

I’ll start in Marion at the Woodlawn Center and run up Woods Mountain, past Hwy 80, thru the Black Mountain Campgrounds, swim thru the South Toe River, and up Commissary Ridge to the summit of Mt. Mitchell. There I will bust out a mountain dance and enjoy some of the fine dining that mountain has to offer before I bivouac on the summit in my bivy. Ill will hit the trail at sunrise with 26.6 miles on my odometer the next day and run down the mountain to Balsam Gap, past Bullhead Mountain, into Craggy Gardens, thru Beetree Gap, Wolfden Knob, past the Folk Arts Center, and into Ashevegas! Ill crash in Asheville for the night, clean up, refuel, and with 64.6 miles on my odometer I’ll need the rest. At sunrise again I’ll be out the door with the sights of Pisgah’s summit in focus. Ill run thru the rest of Asheville, run over 26, swim across the French Broad, summit Lance Mountain, thru Grassy and Cold knobs, trot thru the Beaver Damn Gap and Shell Knob, cross over Elk Pasture Gap, Overlook wave at Little Pisgah and head for the summit of Mt. Pisgah! Odometer will finally read 95.6 miles.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Mt. Elbert 14,440 ft. (4,401M)

Saturday June 6th 2009 – Mt. Elbert, Colorado

We left the Chateaux at 4:40am. We wanted the snow to be harder than yesterday, so an earlier start will give us a chance at the summit, depending on snow conditions. Mt. Elbert is the highest mountain in Colorado, and the second highest mountain in the lower 48 states after Mt. Whitney in California. It stands 14,440 feet (4,401M) high. Climbing it in the late summer will give you a chance at an easier summit because the snow would have mostly melted away, but in early June the snow was certainly out and about.

We drove past the old silver mining town of Leadville, Co (10,152 feet), famous in the Ultra community for the Leadville 100. The welcome sign said “Welcome to Leadville. On top of it all.” Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the United States.

Our start time for today was 6:08am. The first mile or so is on the famous Colorado Trail, and then we hung a right on the Mt. Elbert Trail. We ascended another 1,000 feet before we got above tree line. I could feel that today would be colder, but it was earlier than yesterday so I didn’t think anything of it. I was with George, Bill, and Pam. All of us had summated Mt. Elbrus the year before in Russia, and had climbed other high mountains around the world. Putting Mt. Elbert on our resume was something we all planned to do today.

The climb was steep, but less steep than Quandary Peak, and the snow seemed to be less. Maybe it was because of the way the sun beamed down on Elbert. After taking a few breaks, I decided to push on and go for the summit on my own. I ate a turkey croissant and an orange which was my fuel to ascend to the summit. The wind was harsh, and I was breaking trail above 13,000 feet as there was a fresh layer of snow from the night before. I was rest stepping with my Brooks Cascadias as I wanted to break them in to prepare for Hardrock 100.

After climbing up two false summits, the true summit was in sight, another 100 feet of vertical ascent and I would be standing on top of Colorado. The wind here was blowing at an excess of 70 mph. A combination of snow drift and tiny icicles would lash out with no warning and would sandpaper my face despite the buff I wore around my neck and face. This gave me an intense stinging feeling, and was like a natural microdermabrasion to the face.

Video: Summit of Mt. Elbert at 14,440 feet

Very close to the summit a powerful gust of wind blew and I feared that my body would lift off the mountain and fly away. I hunkered down, both knees to the ice and waited for 2 minutes. The summit was on a narrow snow ridge which probably would melt away in a month. It was here the serious thought of turning around came to mind. I waited it out. The wind died down for a few moments and I was on the summit at 9:55am (3:47 hrs). I enjoyed the summit views and more microdermabrasions for 12 minutes. I met Clint (61 years old), a Leadville native who has climbed all the Co. 14ers, on the summit. He thanked me for breaking trail and offered to take a summit photo of me. During the 12 minutes on the summit Clint pointed out all the peaks that surrounded us.

I descended slowly, and the snow was not soft like Quandary Peak, but icy. Continuing as much as I could with my heel step on the descent I felt safe coming down. The ice was hard on some sections and I was having some difficulty kicking it in. It was here I broke out the ice axe and the crampons! Soon after I laid down my pack, Pam, Bill, and George appeared. They were looking strong and were all wearing boots and crampons. I warned them they summit would be windy, and high fived them all. They pushed upward to the summit while I descended slowly.

Click on photo above: Can you see three climbers ascending to the Summit?

The weather down below was a bit warmer and less windy. I knew I would have at least an hour before the rest of the summit team made it to the top and back to where I was. I was in no hurry to get off the mountain, so I strengthened my lungs with a high altitude mountain dance. After waiting a while and getting snowed on, and getting colder, I descended more. I hung out with a marmot for a few minutes and descended further. We rendezvoused on the mountain at tree line and went out for dinner that night.

My first visit to Colorado was amazing, and I have a feeling that I will be attempting more 14ners to come!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Quandary Peak - 14,271 ft. (4,350M)

Thursday June 4th 2009 – Breckinridge, Colorado

After sitting on the tarmac for 45 minutes our pilot explains that we are next in line for take-off. It’s drizzling rain, humid, and gloomy in Charlotte. Within minutes we are cruising at 30,000 feet and are now completely above the weather system. The sea of clouds remind me of the endless dunettes (small sand dunes in French) in the Sahara.

After landing we make our way to Bills house in Breckinridge. The plan tomorrow is to be out the door by 7am and hike up to Quandary Peak (14,271 feet). Bill has cautioned me that if I wanted to reach the summit I would need full rain gear, ice axe, my double plastics, crampons, etc. So I packed it all.

Friday June 5th 2009 – Quandary Peak, Colorado

We left the house by 7am and made a pit-stop for breakfast. I had oatmeal with blueberries and brown sugar. This would be fuel to get me to the summit.

We began our ascent at 8:35am, the trailhead elevation was at 10,890 feet. Taking our time to hike up, and acclimatizing, we made several stops for some hydration and calories. I was in no hurry, taking photos and some videos of the amazing expansive views before me. The climb up Quandaray can be steep in some sections and the ridge is narrow. I few feet to the right and a few feet to the left could be a fatal fall of 800 feet, you don’t want to slip here. The snow had built up nicely and a cornice had formed high up on the ridge which I took note of. As I ascended into the Colorado skies I noticed black clouds moving in. The summer time in Colorado is known for afternoon storms and clouds. I decided to pick up the pace and get my first Colorado 14er under my belt. I was at the summit at 11:25am (2:50hrs) and I was surprised at how calm it was at the summit. I made a few phone calls and took some shots of the majestic views. I decided to spend some time on the summit as I was feeling good and pulled out some sweet Western Cherries and cooled them on the summit snow, then gobbled them up. Shortly after I began my descent.

The was softening as it was warming up later in the day. Take huge strides digging in with my heel allowed me to cover the descent in 10% the time it took me to climb it up on the ridge. I had my ice axe out in front of my chest in “ready mode.” I prepared to fall at any point and arrest myself should I need to do so. After I was off the snow, I trotted down to the car and unloaded my heavy gear. I was feeling great to be high up in the Rockies and decided to go for a run. So I did just that, and ran from the trailhead to Erics Pizza in Breckinridge (8.3 miles away) in 1:15hrs. I downed a French Onion soup and 2 and 1/3 slices of pizza with my Mt. Elbrus climbing buddies and went back to Bills for more food. We enjoyed a new culinary concept to me that is originally Swiss, grilling on the Raclette. It was fantastic!