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!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mt. Mitchell Challenge 2012

Black Mountain, NC
Distance: 40 Miles
Elevation gain: 4,324 ft.
Time: 7:03:38!

Last year I had a difficult run, and finished just over 8 hours.  This year, in not much better shape, I was determined to focus mentally and push myself harder.  I rode up to the hills in dark clouds, and pouring rain, which was then broken up by the winter sunshine.  I picked up my packet from town, and made a dash to the chez Wells for some Italian, pizza, topped off with some burghul, and baklava (not to be confused for a balaclava).  Tim Weed knew the baklava would fuel his body the next day, and loaded up on this special sultonic fuel.

We were off by 7am the next morning, with temperatures in the upper 20's at the start.  Jay called out that temperatures at the summit were 9 degrees with 50 mph gusts.  I immediately thought about our winter RAM traverse only a few weeks back and smiled. 

A few miles into the run, I questioned myself, was I carrying too much gear?  I knew I wasn't, by my mind was still speaking to me.  So I shed a layer, and still began to sweat while running and power hiking up the trail.  I saw Mad A with a classic frozen beard near Sourwood Gap five miles into the run.  There I received my first trail report that Tim and Scott were battling it from the start.  Nothing like a little competition to motivate even a midpack runner.

(frozen coke at a lower aid station)

The sun was out and about on the lower mountain sporadically, and I began to doubt the bitter cold we would face higher up again, but knew that the mountain would brutal.  So I pushed on, and reached the parkway in 2:34.  I knew the wind would be blowing in the more exposed areas, so I threw on my houdini which was now partially frozen and wet.  I didnt care, another layer would be required here.  I pulled my buff around my mouth and put my hat on, to make a adjustable balaclava and protect my face from the cold wind.

We turned onto the Buncome horse trail, where a volunteer mentioned it was 15 degrees, and he looked cold with his down jacket on. I ran with Beth here, where we ran/hiked most of the way to Commissary Ridge.  One section here was fully exposed and the wind really zapped you. 

The hike up Commissary Ridge is one of my favorites, and I may have done it 100 times before.  Surprisingly, it was less icy than I expected.  I've seen it much worse in late February.  We made a push for the summit, and Beth pulled off a celebratory dance.  Risking frostbite to get in this footage, I asked myself why I had my camera with me on the race?  I made it to the summit in 4:05.  Scott and Paul would be finishing up their run within the hour, while I stood on the summit of Mitchell (6,684 ft.) the highest point East of the Rockies.

From there on out, its mostly downhill.  Beth and I made it back to hwy 128 and then I lost her as I could not pound my legs hard enough on the asphalt.  I pulled back into the parkway aid station, only to realize my bottle cap was frozen on.  I needed water, as I bypassed the last aid station fearing idle time in the cold while refueling.  The gracious volunteers put my bottle in boiling water to get that sucker uncapped, and refilled.  I knew catching Beth at this point would be hard, but it made me push myself. 

I passed at least 10 people going down the rocky trail before arriving in Montreat.  The Challenge is a downhill running strategy.  The difference in time you can make while running uphill, is less than the difference of time you can make up while running downhill.  If your trying to win this race, you need to run fast downhill and uphill.  I was not, but trying to enjoy the tradition. 

I did not know what to expect with the new route, but I was ok with it.  I reached the lake in 6:59 and knew no matter how hard I ran, I would not break 7 hours, so I let go of the gas just a little and crossed the line in 7:03:38 which is a full distance Mitchell Challenge PR.  I did run a 5:39:27 in 2010 when the course was shortened due to the breeze.

Left to Right: Scott (1st place), Paul (2nd place), Tim (3rd place)...you guys need to come up with trail names.

Thank you Damion, Haley, Lindsey, Tim, Mad A for the encouragement and for an awesome weekend.  Thank you to all the volunteers who make this tradition possible, and thank you to the Curwins for putting on a stellar run!

I made a video, hope you enjoy...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rattle My Heart 50k

I rose in compleate darkness and hit the road by 6 am and witnessed an amazing crescent moon.  There is something to be said about the early morning rides up to the mountains, and how so few people experience dusk. Picked up some caffine and a few sandwiches and rolled to black mountain.

The weather was warm, and the forecast called for even warmer weather.  I dropped my arm warmers, and carried two bottles.  I knew I would have water at Kitsuma, and just before Heartbreak Ridge.

This says it all:

This is the first time I feel good most of the entire run.  Awesome run and amazing weather, and even better company!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Arctic Roan Ascent

Route: Reverse RAM
Distance: 28 miles
Elevation Gain: 7,500 feet
Time: 9:19
Weather: 9 degrees, 30+mph winds, snowing, arctic
Photos by: Matt Kirk, Charlie Roberts, Sultonic
Video: Matt Kirk

The forecast kept getting worse.  But I knew a winter ascent of the Roan Adventure Marathon was a must do, its been on my list for a while, and I was itching for some climbing.  Wilma, Beth, Charlie, the Kirk and I rolled out of 19E and the AT at 8:40am.  It was snowing and temperatures at the start were just under freezing.  It felt warm, and I thought I was carrying more gear that I needed.
The night before, we decided to camp out at Roan High Knob Shelter.  At 6,285 feet, its the highest shelter on the AT.  We picked a perfect day for the first time experience of being in that shelter, along with 5 other backpackers.  That night we discussed strategy on a winter RAM with possible sever weather and forecasters calling it "arctic!"  After much contemplation, we opted for the early am hike out of the shelter and drive down to 19E vs. starting at Carvers Gap.  We descended down TN143 cautiously in the dark as it was covered in a thin layer of powder.  Ate some breakfast, and pulled into the hardware store where we came up with the idea of wanding the trail on the balds should there be a white out condition.  This would help us with route finding on the return.

I quickly shed a few layers after we started as it felt warmer once we were out of the wind, and in the thick of the trees.  I worked hard to catch up with most of these guys, and thus worked up a sweat, which quickly turned into ice as I climbed up into the higher elevations.  I felt like I was wearing a shirt made out of ice!  I could toerate the temperatures, but knew I would end up with freezer burn if I didnt do something about it. By the time I reached Doll Flats I put on my light weight down jacket.  I knew this wold warm me up fast, but also knew once I put it on it was not coming off.

As we pushed up higher, it got colder and windier.  The wind was leathal on top of Hump Mountain (5,587 ft) with its ridges fully exposed.  The wind was easily 30 mph here, and temps were in the teens if now lower on the way up.  I was a little thrown off with what appeared to be a new section of fence on the AT.  I thought perhaps we took a wrong side trail, so we backtracked a littel in the brutal wind.  The white AT blazes were camoflouged in the snow.  Thru this reshuffle, both Wilma and Beth decided to descend.  This was smart choice, and one I almost made for myself.  Charlie and I decided to retrace back to the AT and keep pushing thru this weather. 
I was happy to reach Bradley Gap and get into the cover of the trees and escape the wind.  I remembered the several days we camped at 17,200 ft. on Denali looking at wind plums higher up on the summit and deciding to take a zero day on what otherwise was a nice balmy.  The wind can kill you at these temperatures, and surley can give you frostbite, frostnip, or windburn.  Covering any exposed skin here is crucial.  I was unable to do this because I lent my balaclava out, which I paid the price for.
We climbed up another hill and passed Little Hump (5,460 ft.), then downhill again all the way to the shelter just before the big climb.  Here I realized I was dehydrated as all my bottles froze, and there was no way to get any hydration.  I thought to myself I should turn around now while I had the chance.  It kept getting colder, and windier.  The weather was not improving.  After a little encouragment from Charlie, we decided to keep pushing, and on we climbed. 
It took forever to climb up to Grassy Ridge Bald (6,189 feet), but I was happy to see a small stream of water trickeling close to the summit.  I knew I would try to refill my bottles on the way down.  Once we were on the balds again, the wind would pick up and freeze up my buff and gloves, and really send a chill to the body.  But the Balds higher up here were less brutal than the Hump Balds, which I have nightmares about now.  We passed the frozen sign that says Janes Bald (5,807 ft.) and pushed on to Round Bald (5,826 ft.) which is where we camp out the night before the summer RAM.  Here we saw the Kirk, who was jovial and moving well.  The sun looked like it wanted to come out here, but it never really did.  It was just before 1pm, and I knew we were close to Carvers Gap.  Matt encouraged us to go the distance, and would catch up with us at the finish.  We made a dash for Carvers Gap, where a few 4 wheel drive rides were hanging out. 
On the return, the weather progressivly got worse.  Charlie clocked 9 degrees on his watch.  I was never able to refil my bottles, and when attempting to do so my gloves got wet and the water froze immediatly in the bottle.  I balled up my hands inside the wet gloves to not let them go numb.  My buff froze on and off, and blowing hot breath onto them did noting.  My ear lobes were exposed to the sever winds on Hump, and both ears are blistered now, but are healing. I feared the balds with the winds, but we made it back, and out alive.  What a winter adventure?  These conditions were by far some of the worst I have seen in Western North Carolina, and its easy to go underprepared.  It goes to show you some of these high peaks can be brutal!