Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Well, That Was Fast

It seems like just last month I was running 12 miles on New Year's Day with a big group of friends to celebrate the start of 2012. 1171 running miles and 352 days later here it is a week from Christmas 2012 already. 2012 went fast. And it was awesome. I didn't run as many races this year as normal but managed to run a number of new-to-me races including the Moab Red Hot 55k, the Grand Mesa 50 miler, the Mount Taylor 50k and the Deadman Peaks 53 miler. As usual, I didn't crush it in any of the races but ran well (with the exception of Deadmans!) and had a great time seeing new courses and meeting new people.
I also was fortunate enough to make two bigger trips. The first one was to Spain with Allison in April for a couple weeks where we did some sightseeing, hiking and a fair bit of climbing. That trip was a wonderful experience. Then in June I was again fortunate to make a trip to Alaska with five great friends to try to climb and ski Denali (Mount McKinley). The weather didn't treat us well on the trip and our summit attempt was thwarted at the 17,200' camp but with poor climbing weather came great powder and lots of fabulous skiing. I just finished putting together the video from that trip, six months later!

Denali 2012 from Jason Halladay on Vimeo.

With a poor start to the winter of 2012-2013, things have been dry and warm around New Mexico allowing Allison and I ample opportunities to rock climb. My last blog post detailed my hardest sport climbing route to date, Meltdown. From that post, and a late-summer story in the Albuquerque Journal about the Los Alamos Mountaineers Club, a writer for the ABQ Journal interviewed me in October for a story in the paper's GO section last month. That was a fun experience and the story turned out well despite a misplaced quote and a small error every now and then. In that story I referred to Allison as my wife. A few friends caught this and asked about that. Well, the story came out a bit sooner than I thought it might as we didn't actually get married until December 12th. But yes, that's right, after being together for 12 years and being engaged for 5.5 years, we are now married. Yahoo! We took advantage of the cool date, 12/12/12, and invited a few friends as witnesses to a brief, easy ceremony at the local courthouse with Magistrate Judge Pat Casados. Andy and Sarah were my witnesses and Allison's friend Stephanie was her witness. And that was it. No photographer, cake, best men, bride's maids or funky chicken dancing. Total wedding cost: $20.00. We saved a bundle that we'll be able to use on a two or three week trip to Europe in 2013.
So yeah, the year started great and ended even greater. Here's to 2013!

Monday, September 24, 2012


With the exception of playing recreational league soccer in my younger years, I grew up avoiding team sports. I was drawn to the more individual sport of skateboarding. For about ten years, skateboarding was my biggest passion. I loved the fact that I could go out, on my own, at anytime and try to perfect a new trick I had learned or even work hard to learn a brand new trick. I was never great but I was pretty good. It's what I did the most and could never imagine not doing in the future. I tried hard and saw results in new tricks landed. And while skating is an individual sport it's also extremely social. We went out with our other skating friends all the while suggesting ideas for tricks to pull off or features around town to skate on, around, up or down. A simple set of four stairs with its handrail could keep us entertained for hours, days even. We'd skate up to the stairs, ollie off, maybe do a kickflip or slide the rail. And then try to land on the board with all four of its wheels landing flat on the ground and ride away. Quite simply that was called, "landing it". Sure, anyone could ollie off the stairs and kick the board around so it flipped and spun but could you land it? That was the ultimate. Land it and ride away. For me, and most skaters in general, landing an advanced trick is few and far between. And if we landed one trick, could we land a second consecutive trick. And a third? That's when a skater is good...when he can string together multiple, difficult tricks and land them all. Most of the time I'd spend all afternoon, hour after hour, attempt after attempt, trying to land a single, more difficult trick. Most of the time I simply wouldn't land it but sometimes it would be worse than that--a slam. Not only not landing the trick but committing to it so hard that when it didn't work out, I'd fall and hit the concrete so hard it would take many minutes to recoup from the fall, the slam. While significant pain was inflicted in those slams it felt, in an odd way, great. I knew I had committed 100 percent to the trick and gave it my all, skin and bones be damned.

One example of this mentality sits in my mind the most. I had just learned to heel flip my skateboard. While moving fast along the street I could pop off a heel flip and land it most of the time. The next logical thing to do was to try to heel flip down a set of three stairs I enjoyed skating at. One afternoon, after watching a particularly exciting new skateboard movie part featuring Gershon Mosley, I headed to the stairs determined to heel flip down them. The first few, or twenty, attempts were weak. Skate up to the stairs fast, crouch, pop off and flip the board with my heel only to let the board fly hopelessly out of control as I did my best to avoid landing on it so I wouldn't slam. As I cycled through more attempts I noticed that each time I got more comfortable with the motion and the idea. Progress was being made and I started to commit to each attempt a little more. A couple more times and I was landing with one foot on the board, one off and then slamming. The slams hurt but not enough to overcome the satisfaction I was feeling knowing that any one of the next few attempts could be it--I could land the trick. All I had to do was commit and try real hard. I skated back up the sidewalk, spun around and starting pushing fast, rolling towards the stairs again. Commit 100 percent. I popped the heel flip, stayed above my board, watching it flip one complete rotation under my feet, waited for the right moment and stopped the flipping rotation with my feet just as the four wheels reconnected with the smooth sidewalk and my knees compressed to absorb the landing. And with that I had landed it.

It's no real wonder that later in life I gravitated towards rock climbing--an individual sport with numerous parallels to skateboarding. Sure, most climbers need a partner to belay them as they climb so it's not technically completely individual but when the climber is climbing, the action is individual. When I'm climbing I'm testing myself, physically and mentally, on the rock. Can I start at the base of the wall, find a route up the wall, moving from hold to hold, commit 100 percent and reach the top without falling off? The comparisons between rock climbing and skateboarding are many. Like my skateboarding, I'm not very good at climbing either. But I try. And as I did on my skateboard 20 years ago on those three stairs and that handrail, I can spend hours, even days, at the same rock wall on the same route trying, over and over, to pull off my trick--to climb from the base of the wall to its top without falling. Trying to climb a new, difficult route I fall many times over. Thankfully, a fall while being belayed rock climbing is so much less painful than a slam on a skateboard. The rope stretches, my belayer gets lifted off the ground and the terrain below me is steep so I often don't even hit the wall.

Climber Jenna Lupia on Meltdown. Photo by Lee Brinckerhoff.

Climbers have a term called "projecting". It's defined as the act of picking a climbing route that's particularly appealing to the climber and that is difficult enough that the climber cannot climb the route, the first time, without falling on the route. More often than not, a "project" is a route that is rated harder than any other route the climber has climbed before. The project is a challenge for the climber and something the climber will come back to for many hours, sometimes even days, to try to climb without falling, much like my afternoon spent trying to land the heel flip down three stairs for many hours straight. Last week I went into full-on projecting mode on a local route called Meltdown at the Dungeon. Rated 5.12c, it's harder than anything I'd ever climbed before. I had tried to climb it a couple times, every now and then, over the past two years but always felt it was too hard for me. But last week I spent an evening trying to climb it with my friend Hagen. Meltdown was hard for us both and we both fell on the route many times. But we were close. We'd fall twice on one attempt and then only fall once on subsequent attempts. Each attempt was better than the previous attempt. We had found a new project. After each attempt we'd swap ideas and then added encouragement. We'd both send it next time for sure. Well, that next time resulted in one fall again. Every time, one fall. Then two nights later Hagen did it. It was awesome and encouraging to see that despite the route feeling nearly impossible the first few times, we could learn the route, climb it smarter and send it. It took me another night's attmepts before I really felt close to sending it. Five attempts in a row, over two days, had each resulted in one fall on each attempt. Then, last Thursday night I made a change to my foot placements and that made the difference. I climbed up, thought about where my feet and hands needed to be and committed 100 percent. Falling didn't concern me. I didn't even think of it as an option. I grabbed the rock hard, pushed my toes onto the holds even harder, gritted my teeth and popped up. And with that I sent the hardest route I've ever sent. I had landed it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Whizzing Week

After last weekend's Taos Up and Over 10k run I was feeling a bit sore in my quads and my right heel so I took Monday off from running. Tuesday rolled around like any other Tuesday and I got to work around 7am. After getting through the morning's email I checked in on my friend Homie's progress on his 14er speed record attempt that he had started the previous Thursday. Homie was carrying a Spot GPS tracking device and watching him make great progress, via my computer, on his endeavor was extremely inspiring. On Tuesday morning he was working up Mount Antero. I had hoped to meet up with him sometime during his attempt to give him some company and moral support but didn't have the vacation time. However, as I sat there at my desk watching his progress and reading all the positive, energetic posts on the 14ers.com thread about his adventure I just couldn't stand it anymore. I had to get up to Colorado ASAP to help out in any way I could. So I went home "sick", called Bill Wright (a member of his support crew), packed up my gear and headed north that afternoon.

By 5:30pm at was at 11,000' on Mount Princeton parking near the "trailhead" just beyond the radio towers. Homie's two-member support crew, Gerry and Jennifer Roach, were there readying food and clothes for Homie expecting him to return from 14er #33 of his attempt. I chatted with them and got more and more excited as I heard stories of the past few days. Homie was kicking some ass and everyone was excited about his prospects. He showed up back at the trailhead around 7:30pm and we drove down the road to meet up with another hiking companion, Andy Wellman, en route to the Blank Cabin trailhead for Mount Shavano and Tabeguache. I hadn't met Andy before and he turned out to be a great guy with a super positive attitude and great sense of humor--perfect for this crew we had assembled. (Andy wrote up a report of his experience that's very much worth reading to get a better feel for the experience than my crappy blogging right here.)
After a short nap and some food intake, Homie and Andy left the trailhead around midnight while Gerry, Jennifer and I all slept for about six hours. Homie and Andy returned to the trailhead at 6am and Homie was pumped! His enthusiasm was contagious and we cruised into BV for some coffee and a short breakfast before driving up to the Cloyses Lake TH.

At 9am on Wednesday, Homie and I left the CloysesLake TH to traverse a major chunk of the Sawatch 14ers--Missouri, Belford, Oxford, Harvard and Columbia. I'd linked these up, along with Yale, many years ago from south to north so I knew we were in for a big day. Homie was looking strong, though, and I was confident we'd make good time. I hadn't really spent any time on the trail with Homie since August 2009 when I crewed for him, Bill and Tom in their first Nolan's 14 attempt and even longer since our February 2006 winter Crestones Traverse. Thus, we had plenty to talk about as we climbed over the peaks and headed south. We only encountered a couple of light rain showers during the day and minimal lightning. It was a great day as we summited Mount Columbia as the sun was setting. At the summit we were greeted by John Kedrowski who would hike with us down to the North Cottonwood TH to meet the crew.

From 2012-08-28 Homie's 14er Speed Record Attempt
Cruising from the summit of Belford over to Oxford

From 2012-08-28 Homie's 14er Speed Record Attempt
Descending Oxford in the rain. Harvard looms in front of us

Homie and I on the summit of Mount Harvard, 17:15, Aug. 29, 2012

From 2012-08-28 Homie's 14er Speed Record Attempt
Ascending the final bit of Columbia as the sun was setting

From 2012-08-28 Homie's 14er Speed Record Attempt
Sunset over Horn Fork Basin

However, I had called in sick again to accompany Homie on this big day but had to be back in Los Alamos for work on Thursday. It was getting late and I still had a 4.5 hour drive home. I bid Homie goodbye around 8pm and then hammered down the super heinous south slopes route of Mt. Columbia and then ran the trail down to the trailhead getting to the awaiting crew (Gerry, Jennifer and Andy) around 9pm. I explained that Homie was still trucking along but his quads and shins were killing him on the descents so it would be another couple of hours before he would reach the trailhead. For me it had been an ~18 mile, 12 hour and 10,000' ascended and then descended day. I was a bit beat. With that, I loaded up and started the long drive home. I made good time and crawled into bed in Los Alamos around 2am Thursday morning. I was back at work at 7:15am Thursday morning after just a few hours sleep. Coffee was brillant on Thursday.

Spending the day with Homie on Wednesday was very inspiring and fun. His demeanor, company and crazy-strong ability to keep on going made me really appreciate the opportunity I was partaking in. Sure, it seemed silly to drive 4.5 hours up to Colorado on whim to joining and I questioned my decision to drive up there a couple of times on Tuesday afternoon as I sped north. But once I got there and met up with Homie and his crew, there was no doubt in my mind I did the "right" thing. This was living and one never knows what tomorrow will bring so we'd better live right now. I've posted some photos from my day with Homie if you're interested.

Thursday evening we left on our planned Labor Day weekend trip to Shelf Road, CO for 3.5 days of climbing. The six hour drive to Shelf made for a long Thursday to cap off a long, whirlwind weekend. I was very happy to crawl into my sleeping bag at Shelf Road and sleep for a solid 7 hours and then enjoy a relaxing and fun weekend of sport climbing on Shelf's fine limestone walls. I climbed well and onsighted a number of new-to-me 5.11s and, on the last route of the trip, sent a new-to-me 5.12a route called Helter Skelter. So the weekend ended on a fine note and capped a really cool, inspiring and rewarding week. Life is good. No, make that great.

Keith giving the finger to The Gym Arete Direct (5.12c) at Shelf Road.

Nat getting it done on "Pi" (5.12a)

Keith getting his early morning workout on "Tits Up" (5.12b)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Taos Up and Over 10k 2012 Race

Taos Up and Over 10k
6.2 miles
2,600' vertical
Third overall, second in 30-39 AG [full results]

The Taos Up and Over 10k race is in it's seventh year now and has gained quite a bit in popularity. The last time I ran the race was in 2008 when there were 41 total runners and I ran for third place in 1:04:05. This year there were 212 runners (I was told by one of the race officials but haven't yet seen the results to verify). Clearly the race has grown and for good reason--it's a fun summer morning race with a nice, relaxed mountain atmosphere with plenty of opportunity to chill out at the ski lodge after the race. This year there was even a bouncy house. (For the kids, not the runners!).

The turnout from Los Alamos runners this year was excellent. There must have been at least ten of us from Los Alamos, including the female winner, Petra McDowell.

I hadn't been planning on running the race this year but I recently I had been feeling very good with my hill training at Pajarito Mountain and had, just a couple weeks prior, reached a hard-fought goal of mine to run sub-30 minutes up a local trail called Mitchell Trail where I ran 29:59:59, seriously!

So on Tuesday of last week I signed up for the race with my only goal being to beat my previous time. I knew that would be tough because I was running well in 2008 but I knew I'd been running and training hard recently so it was certainly doable. I looked at my race report from the 2008 TUAO and knew I had reached the top of the 2,600' climb in 43:52 so I hoped to do that climb in 42 to 43 minutes this year. I ended up reaching the top in 43:27, power hiking much of the ascent, even passing others that were "running". When I hit the top the lady said, "you're four minutes behind the leader" and asked if I wanted any water. I said, "No thanks." I had purposefully ran without my hand bottle and didn't stop for water at any of the four aid stations along the mountain. I just crested the top, took my shirt off and started running hard downhill.

The descent is brutally steep in a few spots between quite runnable jeep roads. At one point we ran down a ski run for a bit. Loose and steep. I wanted to fully open up my stride the entire way but it was so steep it wasn't possible--I had to keep myself in check. As we got lower on the mountain I started looking over my shoulder as I felt like I was slowing up. But a few quick glances at my GPS watch showed I was still running between 5:30/mile and 6:10/mile. I was gaining on the runner in front of me and working hard to close the gap but it was not to be. The runner in front of me crossed the finish line about 20 seconds in front of me. I saw Allison near the finish line and strode hard to look good for the camera. I glanced at my watch and was pumped to see I had beat my previous time by 1:17. Success!

The race is a fun but very difficult 10k. The ascent burns my lungs big time while the steep descent really tests my quads and knees. A day later and my quads are very tender. My right heel is bruised too. I'll have to take a couple days off to let the heel heal. Still, it was worth it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Rewarding Day in the Crestones - The Prow & Ellingwood Ledges Linkup

Crestone Needle sunrise.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

Last Friday was one of those days. One of those days that just flow. No worries, no troubles, no doubts--just pure, unadulterated fun and satisfaction. Maybe it meant more to me because I'd been thinking about this day for many years since hearing about Homie and Bill's 2003 linkup of these two routes. Thinking about how challenging, yet rewarding, it would be if it all worked out. And work out it did.

Friday morning at 3:00am was our wake-up. After some bananas, yogurt and some coffee, Nat and I started up the dirt road leading to the South Colony Lakes at 3:45am. Our plan for the day was to tackle the two Sangres classic fifth-class routes: The Prow of Kit Carson Peak (5.8) and the Ellingwood Ledges of Crestone Needle (5.7). It would be a long day consisting of about 15 miles and 8,100' vertical feet of ascent, all told. I'd climbed both routes three times each. All my experiences on the Prow were very nice and straight forward but I had only managed one dry climb of the Ellingwood Ledges route with my first two climbs of the route in snow and then in rain.

Nat is a young fella and had only climbed three 14ers to this point and had not been on either route. But I knew he was a fit hombre and certainly possessed the climbing skills necessary for soloing these two routes. To keep things simple, pure and light, we left the ropes and protection at home. Knowing the rock on both routes was generally solid and the climbing moderate, I felt confident we'd be fine without the rope and could, therefore, just enjoy the movement and the climbing. To be sure, I certainly don't consider myself a soloist and have no intention of leaving my climbing ropes at home more in the future. But I realize there's a blurry line between fourth-class scrambling and low-fifth-class climbing and I feel good about climbing low-fifth-class climbing without a rope in the alpine environment. So don't worry, Dad, this soloing thing isn't a new phase for me!

We reached the old S. Colony 4WD TH around 4:40am. We wouldn't be running at all during the day but did plan to hike as swiftly as possible. It was still quite dark as we approached the saddle between Humboldt and the Bear's Playground and we could see a pair of headlamps at the base of the Ellingwood Ledges route on Crestone Needle. At 6am the light of the sunrise splashing on the Crestone group was gorgeous. We cruised through the grass and loose rocks of the Bear's Playground around 6:15am working to stay as high as possible on the north side of Spanish Creek Basin aiming to intersect the base of the Prow without losing much elevation. It appeared it was working well until we got cliffed-out at the eastern edge of Kit Carson's south gully.

Cliffed out in Spanish Creek Basin.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

We were forced to descend a few hundred feet and then back up to the base of the Prow at 7:30am. There, we changed into our rock climbing shoes and set off up the Prow at 7:40am. In my previous three climbs of the route I had busted out right after the initial crux bulge but that always seemed really airy and a bit more difficult than the reported 5.6. This time I stayed straight up and only slightly left to stay on the face of the Prow. This was much more enjoyable and aesthetic. The first pitch of the route is the steepest, most challenging pitch and the subsequent pitches each back off in angle and difficulty a bit more than the previous pitch.

Nat on the third pitch of the Prow.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

The climbing was stellar and it was really nice to just keep on climbing without stopping to place gear or belay a partner. Nat and I had a blast ticking off each pitch with the occasional stop to catch our breath. After all, we were climbing at or above 13,000'.

High on the Prow.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

The climbing cruised by and by 9:00am we were on the summit of Kit Carson celebrating an exhilarating climb by eating our sandwiches.

We didn't linger on the summit long as we were both excited to cruise over to the Ellingwood Ledges. We descended many hundred feet down KC's standard route before scrambling back up to the summit of Columbia Point. We signed the register and continued east over the summit of Kitty Kat Carson before finding a nicely cairned traversing trail below the summit of Obstruction Peak en route to the Bear's Playground again.

From the Bear's Playground we found a nice shortcut gully that led us directly down to the upper South Colony Lakes basin. The gully involved hundreds of feet of scree skiing and went fast and smooth. By 11:00am we were lunching at the base of the direct start to the Ellingwood Ledges route. The weather was holding perfectly and we were confident we'd be on the summit of Crestone Needle in no more than a couple of hours.

We donned our rock shoes again and set off up the Ellingwood Ledges route at 11:15am. I'd never been on the direct start pitches of the route so it was exciting to be climbing some new terrain. After the first pitch I stayed straight in the corner system and found it to be a bit steep and spicey for the grade. Seeing that, Nat busted out left and did some climbing on the left edge of the corner system while I stayed in the corner system, more or less. We met back up again at the top of the direct start pitches below the hundreds of feet of fourth class climbing above.

The first pitch of the direct start to the Ellingwood Ledges.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

We switched back into our more comfortable trail running shoes for the rest of the route up to the base of the 5.7 crux pitch just below the summit. The views were incredible, the scrambling engaging and the weather perfect. It was great to be right there, right then.

A touch of fifth-class action. McKayla was not impressed.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

We reached the base of the crux 5.7 pitch at 12:30pm and again put on our rock climbing shoes for the next bit of climbing. The crux moves involve climbing through a bulge in a small dihedral. A nice crack in the corner serves up nice jamming and with some good stemming we both snaked our way through the crux without trouble.

Nat busts through the crux moves.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

At the top of the pitch we changed back into our trail running shoes one last time for the last hundred feet or so of scrambling to the summit. We popped out on the summit at 1:00pm to find we had the summit to ourselves. We finished off our remaining food while taking in the view of all the terrain we had covered. It's an impressive view.

Stoked on Crestone Needle's summit.
From The Prow-Ellingwood Ledges Linkup. August 3, 2012

We made good time down the Needle's standard south face route down to Broken Hand Pass and then down to lower South Colony Lake where we enjoyed about 45 minutes of swimming and chilling out before getting back on the trail and finishing off the hike back to the car. About a mile from the car we decided it would be easier (and certainly faster) to run instead of walk so we did our only running of the day for the last mile getting back to the trailhead just before 4:30pm.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Grand Mesa 50 Mile 2012

2012 Grand Mesa 50 Mile report
Saturday, July 28th, 2012
Cloudy, cool weather all day
~5,000' elevation gain
4th overall, 3rd male

Driving up to Grand Mesa from Los Alamos, I thought about the last time I had run a 50 mile race. I was surprised to realize it had been nearly 14 months since I ran the 2011 Pocatello 50 miler where I had run a really good race (for me) going sub-10 for 50 miles and finishing the ~52 mile course in 10:11. But then I battled some IT band issues later in 2011 and finished the year with a couple of 50k races. Now, heading into a new race for me, I was excited to run a 50 miler again and I felt good. I hadn't had quite all the training I'd hoped for (my biggest week being a 67 mile week three weeks out) due to a bruised ball of my left foot but I had run well in training and was ready to run hard at Grand Mesa.

Also, this was the first race in a while that my Mom was able to accompany me to and I was really happy about that. We've had some great times traveling and camping together for races and she's a great runner crew now. Allison, Mom and I left Los Alamos around noon on Friday for the seven hour drive to the Grand Mesa area. None of us had ever been there before so we were looking forward to some new scenery. En route, we stopped at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP since Allison nor Mom and had been there before. It's a special and impressive place. A rain storm had just rolled through and that would continue to be the theme for the rest of the day and night.

When we finally got to our camp on Grand Mesa around 9:30pm, it was very foggy and drizzling. We didn't have a view of the area at all and I couldn't wait to see it in the daylight the next day. We threw up our tents quick and hit the sack to awake at 3:45am.

When we awoke it was, of course, still very dark but also still quite overcast and about 45 degrees. I ate a banana and a greek yogurt all washed down with a big cup of coffee to get the morning juices flowing. We drove down to the start/finish area at the Grand Mesa Lodge around 4:30am so I could check in. Things were quite damp and cool so I decided to keep my long sleeve shirt on over my first-ever singlet, a bright orange RaceReady singlet. I was wearing some new RaceReady shorts and my trusty Saucony Peregrine shoes with Smartwool toe socks. I'd start with two hand bottles of water and one 5oz flask of vanilla EFS liquid shot. Also, the 5am start dictated the use of a headlamp for the first 45 minutes or so. I hadn't changed out my batteries in a while so once we started running at 5:02am, I ran pretty conservatively for the first 30 minutes because my light was so dim and there were some seriously gnarly rock water bars that stuck straight up about 6-8 inches in many places along the trail.

The first part of the course is a big 11.5 mile loop heading east from the start line. It's entirely all single track through some seriously beautiful and rugged terrain leading to an exposed ridge and the course's highpoint of ~11,200'. At about three miles into it I met a runner named Andrew running his first 50 miler. We chatted for a bit before I noticed a group of four of five headlamps coming back towards us. I said to them, "uh-oh, this doesn't look good fellas." None of us had seen a trail marker for quite some time and we all started second-guessing ourselves. Once that shadow of doubt creeps in your head, it builds. So we talked about it for a minute or two before all deciding we'd missed a turn and we started back west until a big group of runners came up to us and helped assure us all that we were on course. So we turned around and kept on going. We probably lost only five or six minutes with the little shenanigans.

The sky was light now and we were climbing in earnest to the cool spiny ridge. I passed a few runners and was feeling good. The sky was overcast and the air was crisp--perfect running temperatures. I reached the highpoint on the ridge as the sun peeked above the horizon but below the cloud deck casting a beautiful orange light on the surrounding trees and lakes. It was gorgeous. I wanted to look around more but the ridge was technical, rocky trail running so I focused on my feet. Along the ridge I caught up to another runner and watched as he came to an intersection and wondered if we should turn onto a more faint trail. I was convinced we stay on the main trail so I kept going after a brief conversation with him. More technical single-track descended back towards the start/finish line, reaching the line at 7:15am. It was a quick change here swapping my two hand bottles for two new ones, filled with water, and a new 5oz flask of EFS liquid shot. Allison and Mom were great crew here and I was out fast with my iPod.

The next section of the course was a very runnable, rolling dirt road/4WD road section for about 10 miles. Since I had two hand bottles I was able to skip the intermediate aid station and get into the Flowing Park aid station at mile 22 around 8:45am.

At Flowing Park, I again swapped out for two new hand bottles of water and a new 5oz flask of EFS.

Going into the next section of the course, a stellar, runnable 16 mile loop I decided i wasn't drinking that much water and could go with one hand bottle so I stashed one in a bush by the trail that I'd return to after the loop out to Indian Point.

The running on this loop was spectacular. I could envision it being very hot in the full sun because there are few treed sections amongst the open meadow running but we had cloud cover still, thankfully. I was running behind Melanie Fryar for many miles during this loop until around mile 30 she picked it up and left me behind for good. It was inspiring to see her bounding along, effortless-looking, and then cranking up her pace even more. I passed a couple of guys (a runner with a pacer) along this section and would later meet the pacer, a super nice guy named Kendrick. I thought the Indian Point aid station was around mile 30 but didn't get to it until roughly mile 32 and I was completely out of water. I drank 8oz or so and filled up my bottle. I also snagged three tasty green grapes--the only real food, and only aid station food, I'd eat all day.

More nice single track along the relatively flat, but rocky, mesa trail took me back into the Flowing Park aid station at mile 38 around 11:45am, I think. I was well ahead of my predicted splits and still feeling pretty good. Here, Allison and Mom suggested I may be in fourth place but none of us was sure because all 60k, 50 mile and 100 milers started at the same time. Still, I was inspired by this thought and even more so by the thought that if I ran well to the finish I could finish under 9 hours. As I left the aid station with a single hand bottle and two gels, I noticed another runner coming up behind me. The next two miles of running were on a gently uphill, smooth dirt road. I decided I'd do my best to run it all and try to gain some distance on the runner behind me. I felt quite good and cranked as best I could and noticed I did put some distance on the runner behind me. I wanted badly to not lose a position between here and the finish. I ended up walking some short hills in the final 12 miles but overall I ran well for much of it. I hit the final dirt road leading up the steep hill towards the finish and ran about half of it before succumbing to walking the upper half. As it leveled out I was able to run again and, just as it started to hail a bit, I found myself cruising into the finish.

This was a great run for me. Going into it I had decided my stomach bothered me in 50 milers because I ate and drank too much. In my training I figured out I didn't need as much as was suggested by most. My fueling for the entire race consisted of plain water in hand bottles, 14oz of EFS liquid shot, two Vi Endurance gels and three green grapes. My stomach felt reasonable and I never felt like I was bonking. I ran hard and left it all out on the course. I'm certainly a level below the elite ultrarunners (the winner of GM50 finished an hour and 10 minutes ahead of me) but feel quite satisfied with my racing considering I average 30 to 40 miles per week. I am stoked and I'd definitely run the GM50 again.

The next day we had plans to climb Otto's Route on Independence Monument in the Colorado National Monument but it rained on us at camp at the monument most of the night including at 4am when we awoke to head out for the climb. But we enjoyed some easy hiking in the monument Sunday morning before making the drive home to Los Alamos. We'll be back to climb Independence Monument.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summer Catch Up

Well hell! Summer is flying by and it's been great. Way back in the latter part of May I enjoyed a fabulous trip to Alaska with Josh, Aaron, Sam and Andy & Sarah Thien on a trip to climb and ski Denali, North America's highest point at 20,320'. A long story short is we got turned back at the 17,000' camp by nasty weather and beat a hasty retreat off the mountain to live and ski again! While we didn't reach the summit we had a grand experience and got in a good bit of great skiing (snowboarding in my case) on Denali. It was as excellent as it could be minus the summit. I still haven't gone through and uploaded my photos from the trip but Josh has and so has Andy. Check them out for all the details of our adventure.

Denali West Buttress Skiing, May 2012 from Jason Halladay on Vimeo.

While enduring the cold weather on the mountain, I had many thoughts of warm, low commitment sport climbing trips with my special lady friend (SLF), Allison. So as soon as we got back from Alaska, Allison and I headed south to the Enchanted Tower of New Mexico for just that--a relaxed weekend of comfortable and easy camping with lots of hard (for us) sport climbing. We had a blast and even saw a black bear walk by our camp one evening. Since that trip, we've been back down to the Enchanted Tower twice more with our good friend Nat.

From Enchanted Tower, NM. 2012-07-04

I had aspirations of running my sixth San Juan Solstice 50 mile race in late June but my toes were pretty sore and beat up from the Denali trip so I bailed out on that run. To make up for missing my favorite summer 50 mile race, I'm heading up to near Grand Junction to run the Grand Mesa 50 mile race this Saturday. It's a new course for me and I'm excited to see some new territory and run a new race. I'm not in the best running shape of my life but I'm feeling pretty good and hoping for a decent run. I even bought my first-ever singlet in hopes that will make me run faster. As the old saying goes, "if you want to run fast, dress like you're fast." OK, I just made that up. I'm even more looking forward to the upcoming weekend because Allison and Mom are both going with me and we hope to climb Otto's Route on Independence Monument on Sunday. It could be a toasty day up there near Grand Junction so we'll see!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Denali Memoirs - Part 2

Back on February 26th I posted part one of my Denali journal from our trip in 2003. I meant to post this second part much sooner than now but...well...I just slacked. But one week from today I'll be in Anchorage and heading up to Denali again so I figured I'd better get this second part done and posted. So here goes...

Carrying gear to the top of the headwall. Mt. Foraker in the background.
Sunday, May 25th - The temperature in the tent was -7F when I first awoke at 6AM. Damn cold. However, I utilized the "hot water in the nalgene bottle" technique which helped to keep my toes warm. We again slept in until the sun hit the tent before getting up. We dined on Blueberry granola cereal before gearing up to carry to 16,200'. We all left camp around 12:50pm. Janet, Bill Chris and I roped up for the carry while David headed up solo. He would not join us on the carry so he could spend the day acclimatizing. We all climbed together until 15,200'. Each step up was a personal altitude record for me, Bill, David and Janet. David turned back at that point while the rest of us continued up the fixed rope to 16,200'. The weather was warm until this point but clouds and wind rolled in. The [fixed] rope was 11mm static and in good condition with pickets every 30 feet or so. The headwall was primarily blue ice but had good duck footed steps set in. We reached my personal altitude record of 16,240 feet for our cache on the backside of the ridge. It took us 3 hours to ascend to the cache which seems quite fast compared to other teams we've watched go up. The descent was pretty straight forward on the down line. Ti took us about 1.5 hours to descend and the views from up there were astonishing. I could see ski-hill camp and a huge portion of the Kahiltna. Foraker dominated the view. Tomorrow is a rest day.

Monday, May 26th - Memorial Day. What was I doing last Memorial Day? I don't recall, how sad. Perhaps something on the opposite end of the spectrum like some canyon hiking. Oh, the warmth with a beer at the end of the day! I'm holed up in the tent in a warm (relatively) sleeping bag while a snow storm blows outside. It's been a mostly snowy day with intermittent sun starting with +1F in the tent this morning. A warm night. I used to think 1F sounded cold. Now I'm happy to see any temperature above 0F. Today was a rest day at 14,000' I cooked up blueberry scones for breakfast before spending all day cutting snow blocks and building bigger walls around our camp. We have a luxurious camp indeed...one of the biggest at 14k. I slept well last night after the sun set at 8:30pm. I never fully sets, though, so it's light all night. I had a dream about all of my immediate family and good friends and Allison. I you Allison. I can't wait to get back to you and hopefully grab a Frontier burrito with coffee. Oh yeah! The things you think about after 10 day of dehydrated food and melted snow for water. I will really appreciate the conveniences of civilization after this trip. But I'm stoked to be doing this and seeing this truly awesome part of earth. it's a great feeling to spend weeks away from a city and modern conveniences. Tomorrow is to be windy and snowy. Another rest day at 14k camp. Hopefully we move up on Wednesday and summit Thursday. Bill awoke at 5AM this morning with breathing trouble. Tight chest and coughing when he took a deep breath. He said he could hear/feel gurgling in his chest so we had him take a dose of diamox. He'll stay on diamox through tomorrow. He says he already feels better and he took the whole day off.

Tuesday, May 27th - Official tent day. At 2AM our southeast [snow] wall blew down in a major gust. The middle portion was scattered primarily onto Chris' tent with some blocks hitting Chris in the back. Small pieces smacked David and my tent and rudely awoke us all. The night was super windy with tons of light blowing snow. The day continues like this. The report is 4 feet of new snow at 7,800'. Hopefully our cache wand is still visible! Bill went to talk to John the doc about his HAPE symptoms. The verdict from John is to stay put through Wednesday and see how things are going then. If symptoms persist, Bill will be on his way down. I already volunteered to go down with Bill if he wants company. Bill said he wouldn't have a problem going down solo but truthfully, I wouldn't mind heading down myself. Staying put in this weather is not exactly the best thing I've ever done. Ha. A juicy steak and some Sumatra coffee sounds awesome at this time. I got up this morning to help Chris rebuild the broken wall and eat some hot granola. I then had to get my growl on which was enjoyable in this weather. However while out and about, I met a fellow named Bruce from Anchorage. He's up here from Anchorage for a repeat climb with Tom "the mountain goat" Choate. 67 years of age. Bruce is a very nice and outgoing self-described "climbing bum". Retired Navy since '94. The weather report is for more wind and snow tomorrow but not as intense with clearing Thursday and Friday. Hopefully we can move to 17k Thursday and summit Friday. Be out by Sunday. Man would that rule! Time to pee in the bottle...
The day has calmed down and we had spaghetti for dinner. Followed by cinnamon coffee cake for dessert. We all piled in the VE25 to eat the cake, play a few rounds of Uno and listen to Loveline. My resting pulse is 50. It was 46 when I fell asleep last night. It sounds like I have acclimatized well so far. We'll see how Bill is tomorrow and possibly go to 17k on Thursday.

Wednesday, May 28th - Day 12 on the mountain. A beautiful day. 12 degrees in the tent this morning. No snow is predicted so we got going early (9AM) and Chris, Janet and David moved up to 17k with the Wild Country tent. I cooked up pancakes to fuel them on their trek up. Bill and I hung back so Bill could recover a bit from his HAPE. He has no symptoms today and talked with John the medic about his condition and John said if the symptoms are gone tomorrow, head up! if the symptoms come back, immediately descend. Bill is going to give it a shot. Chris, Janet and David are going for the summit tomorrow and plan to descend back to here at 14k. Bill and I will go relatively light to 17k, drop off our sleeping bags in the Wild Country tent and hopefully continue to the summit, descend back to 17k and sleep in the Wild Country tent there and back to 14k on Friday. If Bill does not feel great tomorrow, he';l stay at 17k and I'll shoot for the summit if I feel well. The weather outlook tomorrow is great with 5F as the high at 17k with winds 10-20 MPH. A great outlook. Another low is on its way for Friday-Sunday so hopefully we can beat that and get to Talkeetna by Saturday! The lines up the headwall were crazy today. At one point I counted 80 people on the route. Out of control. Bill and I walked out to the edge of the world this afternoon. Awesome views! The Lama [helicopter] came in three times today. Twice to take climbers down and once for a resupply for the NPS.

Busy day on the headwall
Thursday, May 29th - Bill felt great today! I felt great as well. Bill and I left 14k camp at 7:45am and hauled ass up the headwall reaching the top of the fixed lines by 9:40am. We were both thinking about the summit. We picked up our food from the 16,200' cache and cruised along the ridge to 17,200' camp. The ridge was very exciting and offered amazing views to the north and south. A few section were literally two-boots-wide snow making for some adrenaline-pumping moments. Bill and I arrived at 17,200' camp 3.5 hours after leaving 14k camp. The time was 11:15am. Janet was sleeping in the tent as she felt faint--apparently she had gotten light-headed on her way to the pee hole and just laid down right next to the hole! This action got the attention of nearby climbers and had a few people concerned. So she stayed in the tent for the day. Chris and David had left for the summit only 40 minutes prior to us arriving at 17k.
Bill and I boiled some water there and left for the summit around 12:15pm. we caught up to David and Chris at Denali Pass. Obviously they were moving pretty slow. They had roped up the whole travers and, at David's insistence, clipped every piece of NPS-fixed protection along the way. This protection is placed every 2/3rds rope length or so. Chris finally became fed up with the slow pace near Denali Pass and told David they'd never make the summit at that pace. I think Chris was relieved to see me show up because as soon as I did, Chris took off! Ha! I told David about Chris' position--2nd time on the mountain and so close to the summit and I think David understood. Then I too off as well! At about 18,800', I put on my overboots as my feet weren't warming up. However the weather was beautiful with only a slight breeze and the temperature near 5F. I was feeling surprisingly great with Bill in tow as well. Bill, for having symptoms of HAPE and come from 14k, was hiking as strong as I've ever seem him. Denali must have turned him into some sort of mountain animal! We all (Chris, Bill and I) hiked strong to near Football Field. At that point, I had waited about 10 minutes for Chris to catch up. He told me he was slowing down and that I ought not wait. I didn't. I turned on the jets and passed at least five teams going across Football Field and up Pig Hill. Pig Hill was a killer but I still felt great. I danced along the fun and exciting summit ridge to reach the summit at 5PM.
I had the summit of Denali, the highest point in North America, all to myself for 30 minutes. I took a self portrait and a "group shot" with Aron as well as photos of the USGS summit marker and other trinkets that adorned the summit. I then took a moment to take in the view. Clouds, lots of clouds. However, Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter were protruding from the clouds which was an awesome view. The temperature on the summit was -3F with only a slight wind. (I'm at 14k camp now and it's snowing but full-on sunny.) Pretty cool. I began to descend but ran into Chris and Bill only 10 minutes down the summit ridge. I turned around and accompanied them to the summit at 6:00pm. We took some more photos and began down. I saw David in the middle of Football Field and watched him turn around. He had had enough but was very excited and elated to have reached 19,500' or whatever Football Field is at. I had ascended 7,290' feet in 10 hours all above 14,200 and I still felt great. We all made our way back down to 17k camp by around 9AM. The sun does not set until nearly midnight at 17k and rises around 7am. Bill and Chris boiled some water and then left for 14k camp. Leaving David, Janet and I at 17k camp. Bill and I had carried our sleeping gear to 17k in case we needed to sleep there that night. Apparently they got to 14k camp around 2:30AM but witnessed an awesome sunset along the ridge. I slept pretty poorly with three of us in the Wild Country tent with only a sliver of space in the tent. But it wasn't that cold. The overnight low @ 17k that night was near -20F but I slept so hard, I didn't feel it.

On the summit. NM represent!
Descending into 17k camp
Friday, May 30th - [Coming in part 3!]

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Not a lot new to report

Adam, Devin and Andy running in the Pacific NM

It's been "business" as usual these days. Working Monday through Friday, running at lunch, climbing in the evening and then doing more climbing and running on the weekend. In other words, life is great still. Last weekend I spent the entire weekend up at El Rito, climbing. Saturday I spent the day leading graduates of the annual Los Alamos Mountaineers Climbing School up the fun two-pitch routes at the El Rito Trad area. I really enjoy doing this every year--it's always very rewarding to expose new climbers to the beautiful and rewarding multi-pitch climbing at El Rito. This year was particularly special when I climbed with a student that was initially quite fearful of multi-pitch climbing but found as she climbed higher she really enjoyed it. We topped out late in the day where it was clear she was completely psyched to have completed that climb and gave me a huge hug. I was very elated to have been a part of it.

Saturday night Allison and I camped up there at El Rito with our friends Hunter and Allison but instead of cooking our own dinner we drove into the town of El Rito for a super tasty dinner at the hole-in-the-wall El Farolito restaurant. Back at camp, the night was quiet and serene with the super moon illuminating the surroundings. We slept great in the nice, cool overnight temperature.

Sunday we spent the day sport climbing at the El Rito sport area. The steep conglomerate rock there offers super fun climbing and we climb many times per year there. We all climbed well, particularly Allison on her new project, Against All Cobbs. I finally sent an on-again-off-again nemesis route called Crack Attack so I left there pumped and pleased.

At work during the week I finally released a data sync script I had been working on for a while. Even after lots and lots of testing, and many revisions, I was still nervous knowing the script would affect 13,000+ user accounts but it turns out it worked brilliantly and did more good than harm.

We were back up at El Rito Friday with our friend Rick for some more sport climbing followed by guacamole, chips and margaritas at Gabriel's in the afternoon. A fine day all around!

I spent nearly all day yesterday packing food and gear for our upcoming trip to Denali. I was very productive and feel much better now having gotten that done. But I didn't do much else so I felt lazy. That said, I got up this morning and went for a hard run up my local time trial run and managed to set a personal record on the run. So yes, psyched! The weekend was pretty dreary and rainy all weekend so really it was a good weekend to spend inside packing and what not.

This week we'll be marking more of the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs (JMTR) courses in preparation for next Saturday's races! Looking forward to it!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Back into the groove of "real life"

I just noticed it's been since April 10th since I posted on my blog. Damn, the time is flying by as Allison and I returned from Spain and got back into the swing of real life home in Los Alamos. We had a great, great time during our Spain trip and it was nice to return home to family, friends, our normal routine and Smith's grocery store green chile and cheese bagels. I was seriously missing those bagels while on vacation. They're the best toasted just so and slathered with real butter. Mmmm, mmmmm! We've had a ton of fun around home since returning back to the U.S. We've gotten back up into the Jemez Mountains many times to my favorite NM crag, Upper East Fork, where I sent a couple of on-again, off-again projects up there; Cyclops and then the super fun Chupacabra. It was a great week for me up there and with the longer days of summer upon us now we'll be climbing there more after work in the evenings.

Chupacabra action

I've had some good times helping out instructing at a couple of Los Alamos Mountaineers annual climbing school sessions and this Saturday I'll be up at El Rito serving as a leader for the school's graduation climbing day. It's always a ton of fun leading the class students up their first multipitch routes and El Rito is such a fun, nice place to spend the day. Can't go wrong. And I've been running a great deal and running well, too. I'm getting psyched to run the San Juan Solstice 50 mile trail race again this year, for my sixth time, after taking last year off from the race. It's such a beautiful and difficult course it's hard not to go back year after year.

Andy ripping a turn in the Nambe Chutes

Oh, and yeah, there's this little trip up to Alaska to climb and ski Denali with five great friends coming up in just three weeks. Holy shit, better get cracking on those logistics. We've had some fun weekend mountain outings the past two weekends spending time up high and riding what's left of New Mexico's high country snowpack.

Sam and Aaron enjoying new spring snow on Lake Fork Peak

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Losing track of time

Rainbow over Ager, Spain

A great indicator of really being on holiday from day-to-day life is losing track of time. In this regard, we've done great and, thus, consider this trip a huge success. It's already Tuesday night, day 11 of our trip, and we weren't sure what day it was when we woke up this morning. And we woke up to a partly cloudy sky after a few really enjoyable days the past few days.

Since I last posted on this blog on Saturday, we've done quite a bit of climbing and a little bit of tourism. Sunday we drove 45 minutes south to the village of Santa Linya to climb there. It was a gorgeous day with no clouds--a first for us since we left Barcelona. We climbed at the Futbol wall outside the village and had a blast. I'd best describe the rock as "chunky" limetone--slightly overhanging, soft grips and athletic climbing. This area was a favorite of ours in Spain thus far. We both really enjoyed the style of climbing and the scene. Sunday was Easter Sunday and it was surprisingly busy around the villages. Santa Linya climbing is really know for the spectacular Cova Gran, a gigantic cave offering huge enduro routes. Needless to say, we did not climb in Cova Gran but did enjoy going to check it out.

Allison takes in the view of Cova Gran

When we got back to our apartment we asked Gaspar, in my broken Spanish, if his restaurant downstairs was open for dinner. He said not normally but that he'd cook us steak and potatoes if we'd like that. Absolutely! So at 9pm, we headed down for a super tasty steak dinner with french fries. Gaspar and his wife (and another man that we don't his relation) kindly served dinner to just the two of us. In addition to the steak and french fries, we had a bottle of tempranillo red wine, bread and jamón serrano with olive oil drizzled on it. It was a pleasant and tasty meal.

Monday we had another leisurely morning before heading down to the local crag, Collegats, to climb a few routes at a limestone sector called L'Argenteria. It was cool and shady climbing in the morning but we still enjoyed three distinctly different routes--a slabby route, a bolted crack/dihedral route and an overhanging, heavily featured route sporting badass tufas and neat rock fluting out of a cave. After a few routes we decided to head north into the Pyrenees and to the country of Andorra to cross "visit Andorra" off our bucket lists. Granted we didn't see much of Andorra beyond the downtown area of its capital, Andorra La Vella, but we enjoyed a tasty lunch of pizza and Allison's new favorite food, tapas de ham croquettes. It's been a lot of fun driving the very European roads of Catalunya--narrow, winding and fast. In some of the towns great care must be taken on the car-and-a-half width roads. A driver with a poor sense of situational awareness wouldn't last long here.

Looking down at the town of Sort, Spain with Pic de Peguera (9,776') flocked in new snow
Today, Tuesday, we our most fun day of climbing yet. And surprisingly it wasn't at any of the "big name" crags of Catalunya but rather at a small, generally unimpressive-looking crag called Tartareu. For us, it was just what we were looking for--nice weather, slightly overhanging climbing with good holds on somewhat chunky rock. And what really made it nice is that we had the entire area to ourselves all day. No others smoking and no noises save the birds and winds. To top it off, we both climbed well and really ate up the athletic style of climbing. The soft grading didn't hurt our egos either.

Allison being lowered off a super steep and fun 7a+ route called Brom de Por at Tartareu
This is our last night in our fantastic apartment at Camping Beta. Tomorrow morning we bid Gaspar and the town of Baro adieu and head 90 minutes south to Lleida. Thursday night will find us back in Barcelona at a hotel near the airport and Friday we leave Spain and arrive back in New Mexico around 9pm (assuming no travel delays).

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hooray for clearing weather

The awesome Congst de Mont-Rebei

In my best Herbert Kornfeld voice, "What tha dilly yo, mah homies?" It's been a very enjoyable few days since I rapped at 'cha ya'll. Thursday we slept in until 8am or so, brewed up some coffee and had a light breakfast before heading out into the rain with hopes that we'd find something dry to climb. If not, we'd do some hiking and exploring some other area of Catalunya because there's so much to see anyway.

So we drove the few miles south to the crag nearest our apartment, Collegats. Collegats has a staggering amount of conglomerate walls as well as many limestone walls. We hiked up to the Sector Cine under dark clouds knowing that the short reprieve of rain would not last. Nonetheless, we found a route, Blue Velvet, that looked mostly dry and within our we-haven't-climbed-in-ten-days abilities. Rated 6a+ (5.10c), it was enjoyable romp up fun bulges of conglomerate cobbles for 60 feet. As I was leading it the rain starting to come down. By the time I had lowered back to the ground, it was a steady drizzle of rain. Allison chose to TR the line since wet cobbles tend to be very slick. But she was so psyched to be climbing that she TRed it twice despite water running down her sleeves each time she put her hands on the top-side of the bulges. It was fun to be climbing in a new part of the world despite getting soaked. We packed up and headed back to the car.

Desiring to see a bit more of the area we drove for about 30 minutes up the nearby Vall Fosco. In addition to seven lakes, each one above the other, there's a tramway up there and we thought that would be fun. Unfortunately when we got to the tramway, it was snowing hard, visibility was zero and the tram was closed. Oh well. We beat feet and returned to the apartment and then to the local grocery store in Sort. A homey kind of day. But the rain did stop around 5pm affording me an hour or so to get in a nice 7 mile run up the hillside outside of Baro through the small town of Arcalis. The clouds cleared long enough for me to get a great view down into the valley and see Baro and north to Sort. I didn't have my camera though.

We awoke to rain Friday but it tapered off so we loaded up the car and headed south for about 40 minutes to the superb climbing of Terradets. On the way we figured out how to fuel up our car. :-) Terradets was a blast and we got in a pretty full day of climbing there despite getting pelted by rain on our last route of the day, L'Ansia. We climbed six pitches of rock before the rain came in again so we were psyched.
We then headed to the impressive gorge of Congst de Mont-Rebei. It rained and snowed hard as we drove to the trailhead for the gorge but once we arrived, the rain stopped, the clouds lifted and the sun even came out for a while! We enjoyed a two-hour hike down to, and through, the gorge. It's very impressive and the blueish color of the water flowing through the gorge is mighty pretty.

Today we had another leisurely morning as it looked rainy outside but quickly cleared. We headed south from our apartment to visit the lesser-known crag of Coll de Nargo. It was sunny and nice to be out on some easy, single pitch routes. Nothing particularly inspiring but nice nonetheless.

Allison on a fun 5.11- at Coll de Nargo

After four routes there, we decided to go check out the world-class crag of Oliana. Oliana is the crag of multiple 5.15s and synonymous with high-end sport climbing. Last year, Chris Sharma sent two 5.15s in a day there and this spring it's been THE place for hard female climbing with at least three women sending "Mind Control".

Olina's main wall

Even though we'd be looking for the less-than-5.12 routes at Oliana, It excited us to see the area in person. It was an easy ten minute hike up to the severely overhanging, orange-with-gorgeous-blue-streaks wall. It's mind-boggling to see how steep the wall is at the top and see the tiny holds the best sport climbers in the world can hold on to. We headed to the far right-end of the crag and climbed a couple 5.10+ routes before moving closer to the center of the wall where I got on the lower part of some 5.ridiculous route. The route had draws hanging on it so there was no commitment. I managed to get up to the fifth draw, through the junky-rock climbing, to where the rock got beautiful. And that was it. A couple of falls and I was done. And we were done with the day. A fabulous day! Back at the apartment I cooked up some chicken paella and we filled our bellies. Buenas noches!

Hanging out at the right end of the wall. Can't beat the view.

Climbing at Oliana

Approaching rain storm over an amazing amount of rock

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Established base camp

A roadside view of much of the Collegats rock

We fired up the 1.6L turbo engine of our rented Opel Meriva and enjoyed a leisurely day of driving a few hours to our basecamp--a four-person apartment in Baro, Spain at Camping Beta. It was a joy to meet the owner, Gaspar, after interacting with him via email a month or so ago to make our reservation for this apartment. Shortly after our arrival, Gaspar had us down to the bar for beers and olives where he broke out a map and showed us many suggestions for places to hike and explore. We told him we were climbers and he was very impressed and also boastful of the surrounding rock. And he should be--there's multiple lifetimes of rock around here. It's simply astounding. (Quite literally as I was typing this, Gaspar knocked on our door to give us a bottle of champagne on ice along with two glasses. A super classy and generous man! If you've got ideas on how we can "re-pay" him for his generosity before we leave, please leave a comment.)

Our apartment for the next seven nights

We're psyched about the apartment! It's very nice and spacious in an easy-to-access and scenic location in Baro along the banks of the Rio Noguera Pallaresa. It's a nicely-located place with many hiking trails and climbing areas within 45 minutes in any direction.

Beer and maps with Gaspar

We're very close to the Pyrenees mountains to our north, the country of Andorra to our east, loads of climbing to our south and more scenic trails and lakes to our west. We hit the three grocery stores in Sort, Spain this evening and cooked up a meal here in the apartment tonight. I can feel our wallets getting heavier already with all the money we're saving cooking "at home".

Champagne compliments of Gaspar. Very generous.

We haven't done any climbing yet but this trip isn't all about the climbing and we're enjoying the experience as a whole. The travel, the relaxation, the food, the company, and the surroundings.

Literally the sum total of climbing we've done in Spain

Run to the hills

Monistrol de Montserrat

Yesterday we rented a car from the Barcelona airport and headed out of town and to the hills on Montserrat. It was about an hour of driving from the airport, through one major wrong turn and to the hostel, Hostel Guilleumes, in the town of Monistrol de Montserrat. It was a rainy morning but dried up a bit for the afternoon allowing us time to hike the trails of the Montserrat mountains, explore the Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery and ride a funicular (the steepest funicular in Spain) up high into the mountains. We had hoped to some climbing on the cool conglomerate rock of Montserrat but the rain earlier in the day had left things damp and slick.

Exploring the hermitage ruins of Montserrat

We had a very nice three-course dinner last night in the restaurant below the hostel while watching Barcelona's futbol team beat Milan 3 to 1 with a spirited group of fans.

It rained hard, with plenty of lightning and thunder last night, so there will be no climbing today. Intead, we'll drive to Baro where we have arranged an apartment rental for the next week at Camping Beta. Hopefully we'll find some dry rock to climb later today but it's not likely. Tomorrow looks to be party cloudy while Friday looks to be wet again. However, the forecast for next week looks good right now so we're optimistic about getting some climbing in then.

The massive rock formations of Montserrat seen from Monistrol de Montserrat