This past weekend was a pretty awesome experience. With two long mountain traverses, I completed my biggest two-day running total ever (by a long shot) and was privileged to watch and support my friend and teammate Ken Wiley win 24 Hours of Great Glen (a mountain bike ultra) in incredibly dramatic fashion!
Here are three stories from the weekend. First, I did a slow, modified Presidential Traverse on Friday. Then on Saturday, I did a traverse of the Carter-Moriah range, starting in Gorham, up Mt. Moriah, then across all the summits in the range, into Carter Notch, out of the notch to the Wildcat Ridge, and down Wildcat Ridge Trail to Rt. 16. Finally, from 12pm Saturday until 12pm Sunday, I watched and supported my team, acidotic RACING at 24 Hours of Great Glen, which my friend Ken won in the Solo division!
The Presidential Traverse was 17.7 miles and 8,267 ft of elevation gain, and the Moriah-Carters-Wildcats Traverse was 16.6 miles and 8,389 ft of elevation gain, and gave a really cool perspective of the Presidentials!
The Presidential Traverse is the bottom, and the Moriah-Carters-Wildcats Traverse is the top.
Friday – Slow Presidential Traverse:
On Friday, August 8th, Ashley, Dane, Jeffrey and I met at Highland Center for a Presidential Traverse. “A Presidential Traverse, as it is known to hikers in the Northeast, is a strenuous and sometimes dangerous trek over the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Contained almost entirely in the 750,000-acre White Mountain National Forest, the Presidential Range is a string of summits in excess of 4,000 feet. To complete the traverse, one must begin at either the northern or southern terminus of the Presidential Range and finish at the opposing end.” – Wikipedia
The Presidential Traverse route we were going to take was approximately 18.5 miles, with 8600 ft of elevation gain:
I was planning on taking it on the slow side. Since I was staying at the Mt. Washington Auto Road from Friday through Sunday, I knew I could have lots more opportunity for adventure if I played my cards right, and I didn’t want to wear myself out.
We drove around to Appalachia, and started up Valley Way. I took it at a much easier effort than last time, and felt really good. I waited at a trail junction for Ashley to make sure she didn’t cheat and take the short cut to Madison. (It’s actually a lot steeper, so I was being nice). Jeffrey and Dane went on ahead.
This is by far the most strenuous part of the route, but I was feeling stellar by the time I got to Madison Hut and the views made me feel even better.
Because I felt good, I tried to up the effort level a little bit going up Madison. Unfortunately, there was a thin layer of ice on many of the rocks, so this wasn’t easy. I saw Jeffrey and Dane coming down as I was going up, and they said it was very gusty at the top, so I slowed down. I don’t need a freak wind gust to blow me off any icy rock. It’d be a long way down.
(Jeffrey finished in around 6 hours, and Dane finished around 9 hours including a break on the summit. I didn’t see them again after Madison).
There was a little bit of a view on the summit, so I stopped for a few minutes and took a video. It was pretty chilly and windy, so I put on my jacket and headed back down to the hut.
I passed Ashley heading up Madison, and waited for awhile in the hut for her. There were a lot of people bundled up really well, and I got some solid stares for wearing running shorts, a t-shirt and a tiny pack. I spent awhile there, and chatted with a thru-hiker. I was intending to wait for Ashley, but once I saw her coming back down Madison, I set off for Adams, planning to wait for her there.
The climb up Adams was uneventful, and the fog/clouds were very thick, preventing much of a view. I couldn’t see Ashley behind me, and it was too wet and cold to risk waiting motionless on a 5,793ft summit with 30-40mph winds. The route from Madison Hut, up Madison and across most of the way to Washington is very rocky. Much of the trail is on rocks, and this both offers problems for traction, problems for efficient running, and problems with fatigue. Rock just doesn’t give like a nice dirt trail does.
The trip across to Jefferson and finally up to Washington was uneventful, although the clouds cleared for a few seconds and I got an okay view of the Great Gulf!
The fog/clouds were so thick up to Mt. Washington that I couldn’t see much more than 100ft in front of me. Here is the Summit Building from maybe 50 yards away.
After heading up Washington, I stayed in the summit building for about 2.5 hours, waiting for Ashley. I was a little worried, but figured she’d gotten lost in the fog and done a little extra climbing. It was very cold in my running clothes, so I tried to stay moving as best I could. I went outside for a little while and got some footage of the Cog Railway descending back into the clouds.
Finally, Ashley came sauntering in, having gotten lost and added about a mile to her journey. She got some chili and we left for Lakes of the Clouds about half an hour later.
The descent to Lakes of the Clouds was lots of fun, as you could start to see below the clouds, and it was a beautiful day. It was also a much more runnable section, even at an easy effort. After 10 minutes of hiking, I ran ahead down to the hut and waited there. You can see how cloudy it was on the northern Presidentials!
After Lakes of the Clouds hut, things went pretty nicely for the rest of the traverse. We skipped the Eisenhower loop, and the Pierce spur, and just went down to Rt. 302 because Ashley was a bit sore. I ran most of the way out to Rt. 302 from here. All in all, an awesome day. I felt WAY better than my first traverse, and not too sore at all.
Total elapsed time was 11:00, time spent moving with watch running was 7:12.
I camped the night at 24 Hours of Great Glen with my acidotic RACING teammates.
Saturday – Moriah-Carters-Wildcats Traverse:
After getting a good nights sleep, I was feeling good, but hadn’t decided quite what to do with my morning yet. Unfortunately, it took me so long to figure it out, I missed the first 5 hours of the race out running in the mountains. However, no offense to my aR teammates, but this run was way more fun than seeing them for two minutes every hour.
The first section of the trail is runnable. I mean, really runnable (though steep at times) for at least 1.5 miles. There were only a few sections where I HAD to walk, although there were some that I walked anyway to save my energy.
Soon, however, the terrain changed. Instead of a trail, it was just one big long rock slab after another, some as steep as 45º or possibly steeper.
These rock slabs continued, punctuated with some more runnable, traditional trail sections, for another 2.5 miles or so until the peak of Moriah.
Once reaching Moriah, there are LOTS of runnable sections all through the Carter-Moriah range. I saw lots of double-plank walkways, with some runnable trail sections in between. Even most of the climbs and descents were runnable, though I didn’t run them all.
(Sorry about the vertical video syndrome… it seemed the best way to capture that particular shot and still hold the camera still.)
This was a really fun section of trail, and I had a ton of fun running/hiking through to Carter Dome. There were some nice sections with some pretty great views of the Presidential Range. It was really cool to see what I had just done the day before!
Coming down off of Carter Dome into Carter notch was a mental low point. Seeing how steep the climb down was, and how steep the climb up was about to be, I couldn’t help but mentally revisit bail-out points. This was well past the “.4mi to Carter Notch Hut” sign. Little did I know it was .4 miles STRAIGHT DOWN.
Midway down, I was told that I just missed the cake and ice cream, but there was plenty of food left… but I wasn’t sure what they were talking about. Turns out, there was a party at the hut for the 100th anniversary. I didn’t partake, but did chat awhile with the same thru-hiker I saw the day before at Madison Hut! He thought I was thoroughly crazy, of course.
Upon leaving, I wove my way through all the people, and then between the two ponds, even though I really wanted nothing more than to just throw myself in for a swim.
The climb up Wildcat was tough. Real tough. This was over 12 miles in, and my legs were still sore from the Presidentials yesterday. I had a few moments when I stopped completely and just rested my quads. Starting to move quickly again, I passed a family from Spain and I’m pretty sure the little girl muttered something about Kilian. So either they call trail runners “Kilians” now, or it was something about “Kilian would not be so tired.” I’ll pretend it was the first.
After reaching the top of that climb, it was pretty gently rolling terrain from there until the summit of Wildcat D and the top of the Gondola at the ski area. I took a few minutes to chat with some hikers on top of little lookout tower there. There were some incredible views all along Wildcat Ridge!
The descent on Wildcat Ridge Trail was particularly gnarly and a little scary at times, but I took it fairly slow, and my shoes held fast to the rock.
After the controlled fall down Wildcat Ridge Trail and reaching Rt. 16 again, I soaked for a bit in the creek there, and it was heavenly on a hot day.
Total elapsed time was 6:43, time spent moving with my watch running was 5:28. See the route with Strava.
24 Hours of Great Glen:
During my Moriah-Carters-Wildcats run, the race had begun. 24 Hours of Great Glen is a 12 or 24 hour mountain biking race. Most racers compete in teams of 2 or more, but the truly crazy do it solo. It’s completed on a course 9 miles in length, with an elevation gain of approximately 1000 ft.
acidotic RACING fielded several 12 and 24 hour teams, as well as handful of solo riders for both races.
My friend and teammate Ken Wiley was competing in the 24 hour race as a solo rider. He started at 12pm. When I got back to the area at 5pm or so, he was still feeling good, but by 9pm he was hurting, and you could tell he was starting to question his decision.
I went to bed around 11pm and Ken was still riding. In fact, he rode continuously, taking only a minute or two each lap to eat something, get fresh water, and tell us what he wanted for the next lap. (Usually Ramen or peanut butter and jelly).
I woke up around 6, feeling bad that while I’d been sleeping, he had ridden over 50 miles.
As the sun rose over the top of the Carters I’d run the day before, a bagpiper appeared to salute the sunrise. I can’t imagine how welcome a sound that was to the solo riders who’d been riding for 18 hours so far.
At 9:31 am, Ken was in 2nd place, around 20 minutes behind the leader. At 10:39, he was still in 2nd, but had slipped to 24 minutes behind. He didn’t know this, because we didn’t tell him. Just keep pushing forward. Chris Dunn told him start one more lap, and he would go check the results to see if he needed a final lap to stay in 2nd place. Chris checked the results and came back and we all talked and decided with only 20-odd minutes difference and the chance of a mechanical issue, or just plain giving out, it was best if Ken did another lap. While we were talking about this, I had this nagging feeling that Ken would take the floating bridge instead of coming around the pond past our campsite where I think he knew we would tell him to do another lap. Sure enough, when Ken came through I saw him start across the pond on the bridge. I kicked off my sandals and ran across to catch him and told him he had to do another lap. He wasn’t happy about that, but I told him he had a chance to get the win. He asked how far ahead the leader was, but I didn’t tell him, I just said go for it, this is the last lap, and there’s a chance, that’s enough. Chris’s orders.
At this point, I wasn’t sure whether he’d go out on the last lap, or murder me right then and there. Telling a man who has just pedaled for nearly 24 hours that he had another hour left to go was pretty suicidal.
I jogged back to the aR campsite, and Chris filled up a bottle that I’d run across the road to meet Ken with. I jogged across the road, and waited. I waited. Dan Lader came and waited with me. We both waited. We cheered people on; many people looked just a few levels above dead.
I assumed that we had already missed the leader, as I hadn’t seen him come through. Then I saw the yellow #3 come through and boy was he hurting. He was close to having to walk the bike on a moderate incline. I looked at my watch: 12:18. More toe-tapping commenced, along with nervous conversation. A few more riders came through then Ken. I glanced at my watch: 12:24. He’d made up almost 20 minutes already. I told him, and he said “What, HOW?!”
I said something along the lines of “Who the F@&# cares, GO!” and offered him water but he didn’t need it.
Dan and I ran back to the aR campsite to relay the news that he’d already made up so much time and was only six minutes behind, and the excitement level rose tenfold. We went to go line the last few hundred feet of the course, and waited and watched for him. We saw him come across and wondered whether we had missed the leader. We saw him head into the woods for the last few minutes of trail, with still no sign of the leader. Finally, the leader emerged from the woods on the other side… BEHIND Ken. He’d taken the lead with maybe 15 minutes to go in a 24-hour race. Ken finished with a win, almost ten minutes in front of the former leader.
Probably the most dramatic story of perseverance I’ve ever heard, let alone witnessed. From the pain in his body and wanting to give up at 9pm, to the demons in his mind at night and taking a nap on the bike on trail, to being told to do one more lap when he thought he was finished and winning the race… it’s a pretty incredible story, and made for a great end to the weekend. Congratulations Ken!