Mt. Charleston 50k

A few weeks ago I realized I hadn’t really gotten out and done much this summer. I ran the 50 miler in May, the blazing hot marathon in June, one trip to the Sierras in July, and that’s about it for adventure. I did get up to Seattle which was great. I spent a week up there hanging out with family and friends. My friend Brad came up from Portland and we went over to Leavenworth for a couple days to climb. We pretty much got spanked climbing because neither of us had been climbing much and the climbs were, in my opinion, much more difficult than their rating. The second day we went trail running after a brief attempt at climbing. The trail up there was amazing. Even though I’m from the Northwest, I was in awe at the density of the foliage of the forest and the life of the forest was nearly palpable. Okay so what, I thought I could feel The Force (Star Wars reference for you slow ones out there). This was truly an amazing day for me. We ran up to a beautiful alpine lake, stripped down and jumped in; then ran to another equally beautiful lake and did the same. In trail running in Las Vegas it’s exciting to see a measly trickle of water so to swim not just once but twice in the same trail run plus see a waterfall and numerous streams was almost overwhelming. At the second lake we saw the stunning Mt. Stuart which I’ve read is among the best alpine rock climbs in the U.S. We should have went for it but the mountain isn’t going anywhere so hopefully there will be a next time.

Sorry I just looked up the page and saw the title of this post was supposed to be about Mt. Charleston. Well I wanted to catch everyone up on my summer and just put it out there that I hadn’t been sitting on my ass doing nothing all summer. Despite the heat I’ve actually managed to keep up a pretty good running regiment. As I was saying earlier I realized I hadn’t done much in the passed couple of months. After some debating I decided I didn’t have to travel all the way to California or Utah for a challenging adventure, I had one right in my back yard. While I’m in no way comparing the Spring Mountains to the Sierras, Mt. Charleston provides an escape from the heat (25 degrees cooler than Las Vegas while only 20 miles away) and some very challenging trail running. A hike up and down Mt. Charleston is about 16.5 miles with 4500 ft or so of elevation change, taking most hikers take 8 to 11 hours to complete. Making it more difficult the trail head starts at about 8000 ft above sea level and topping out at the peak at 11,918 ft making it the highest peak in Southern Nevada. One loop would have made for a good workout, two loops would be a real challenge. My decision was cemented when I realized two loops would equal about 50 kilometers so I would be completing another ultra-marathon. This run would be self-supported adding to the difficulty and adventure.

I managed to con a couple people to join me on the first leg up the mountain. Deepak and Karmima are members of a running group I’m apart of. I posted what I was planning on doing looking for company but not really expecting to get any takers. To my pleasant surprise I did and furthermore I had ran with them both and enjoyed their company. We started up the trail at a moderately fast hiking pace. I figured there was no reason to blow my wad early plus this section is pretty steep. After about 45 minutes we got to this saddle where two trails converge and we took a quick break. About a mile further the trail leveled enough to warrant a bit of jogging. Deepak kept up with me and Karmima wasn’t too far back. About half way to the peak I actually managed to get us off trail. This was pretty embarrassing but they both were good sports about it. I was a little upset about the time I wasted trying to find a way back to where we needed to be instead of turning around like we ended up doing but reminded myself I wasn’t racing a clock. Back on trail I started to put some distance between myself and the others. I told them not to push themselves too hard trying to keep up and just keep a nice pace and they’ll make it. Before long I was on the summit. I signed in the summit register (first one of the day) and went about refilling my hand held bottles from the containers in my pack and stuffing some nuts in my mouth (hmm???). It took me about 4 hours to reach the summit which isn’t very good except that I figure I wasted about an hour on our side tour and waiting for my partners. I decided I needed to get going and heading down.

I could see Deepak and Karima from the summit as I headed down and before long I was congratulating them and apologizing for ditching them but I had to get going. I made it clear beforehand that I wouldn’t be waiting for them and they totally understood. I did still feel a little bad though. On my own now I set a pretty strong pace on the way down. I felt great all the way back to my car and got down in 1 hr 45 min.

When I got to my car, I quickly grabbed a Mountain Dew out of my cooler and drove over to the trail head for the start of part two which was only about a mile away. When I got to the trail head, I went about filling my two quart bottles from my pack and my hand held bottles and grabbed more gel packs and powdered sports drink.

Before I knew it I had started part two. As I hit the trail I noticed I felt a little hot. I felt a bit ridiculous complaining about the heat because even at the trail head it was 20 degrees cooler than Las Vegas; but still, it was warmer than I expected. Additionally I was a bit worried if I’d have enough fluids for this trip. I kept pretty well hydrated all morning but I knew that would be much tougher in the heat of the day. This doubt creeping into my head was enough to really mess with my mind set. My legs felt fine and I had no soreness, but this feeling of just not wanting to be there struck me in a profound way. After only about a mile I was seriously considering turning back. I wasn’t doubting IF I COULD finish, I was doubting IF I WANTED to finish. So this argument in my mind ensued like the cartoons when you see two figures arguing on someone’s shoulders. On one hand I wanted to go home and enjoy a nice burger and a beer. On the other this conversation I had with my friend Brad really kept going more than anything.

The conversation occured on our trip to Lone Pine to go climbing earlier this year. I asked Brad why he ended up going on a trip when he earlier said he didn’t feel like going. What he said struck me in a profound way. He said it’s important to do difficult things even when you don’t want to. By doing this, he said, it helps you deal with difficult situations when you “have” to. This is what kept me pointed up the mountain. Although I didn’t want to finish at the time, I knew I could. And in some way completing what I had trained for and set out to do, I’d be a better person.

The first 3.5 miles of the South Loop Trail up to the Griffith Saddle are really brutal. The trail is very steep and seems never ending. Surprisingly, it only took me about 20 minutes longer to get to the saddle than the week before and I had gone 16.5 miles before starting. This helped my spirit some and I took a few minutes to sit down and chill. The next few miles were pretty flat so I made started jogging again but was relegated back to walking even by modest inclines. Finally, I made it to a point where the trail turns sharply to the right and I could see the summit.

The summit didn’t look far away so I decided to drop my pack and just go up with my hand held bottles and refill them when I got back. Even though my pack only weighed about 8 pounds it felt like I had dropped a huge weight off of my shoulders. It was further than I had expected to the summit and the last part of the trail is very steep. When I reached the summit carrying only two water bottles and no pack I drew some funny looks from the hand full of hikers already there. I explained what I was doing and that I had left my pack about a mile down trail. Then I got even funnier looks when they heard I had already been there today. I was getting pretty thirsty so I heading back down the trail to get to my pack. 

I didn’t rush too much getting down. I was looking forward to being done but had no particular place to be so I just enjoyed myself. I jogged when I felt like it and didn’t feel a bit guilty about walking when I felt like walking. When I got back to the Griffith Saddle I put my headphones away. The next hour or so was one of the most peaceful times I think in my life. It wasn’t that I was swelling with pride or anything it was more that my brain was too tired to hold any thoughts. It was rather meditating actually. I was focusing hard on the terrain ahead of me so I wouldn’t trip. All I could hear was my breath, my footsteps, and the ruffle of my pack swinging side to side.

When I reached pavement I was almost sad it was over. Unlike the finish line of a organized race with people cheering you on and you get a trinket medal; this finish was unceremonious. However, I found it very gratifying and in some ways more so than with all the hoopla at a race. I was proudly content to quietly pack my stuff away and just drive away.