Talus Happens

Here I am again, two blogs in two days. This time I wanted to share the experience of a recent backpack trip Laurel and I took together.

It was the middle of August and I was figuring out that I hadn’t been anywhere all summer (let’s not count Bishop). Our family always takes a week or more long backpack trip in the summer, headed up by Claude. He had big plans to get back to the Brooks Range in AK on a Boys Trip, so the girls were left at home with enough leftover gear to put together a Sierra trip. This time, Mom was in charge.

There’s no better way to give your mind a break from the daily grind than to shoulder a big pack and head into the mountains. For starters, all your mind can process is how heavy the pack is. I believe that walking around in the mountains all day for a series of days is a great way to do some high quality training. About this time of the summer I get tired of rollerskiing, interval training, and strength work. Backpacking covers all those topics without ever being boring.

We decided to hike out of North Lake, just west of Bishop. We only had four days, but managed to choose a large enough chunk of landscape to cover to keep the level of adventure high and the scenery spectacular. We went in Paiute Pass, a relatively easy access to the backcountry and on a real trail. Those who have hiked me know how bored I get walking on a trail for very long. We camped near the Wahoo Lakes on the northwest side of the Glacier Divide. The next day we crossed an exciting pass at 12,200 ft. above the Wahoo Lakes. First we scampered up the sun cupped slope, then we got into some steep, hard packed dirt. Basically, any rock we touched was loose. We inched our way up the safest looking route and popped over the top to views of the Evolution Valley and peaks. Wow.

Our route next called for a long traverse at about the 11,200 ft elevation to the Darwin Bench. It was strange, but we didn’t see anyone the whole day. Plenty of signs that Ancient Man had travelled this same way at one time, though. We fell exhausted into one of the prettiest camps I have ever seen, with plenty of time for a quick dip in the lake.

I am a big fan of “if you like it here, then stay a while” while backpacking, so we spent the next day climbing Mt. Goethe, which stands as the high point of the Glacier Divide at over 13,200 ft.

Our fourth day was spent traveling up Darwin Canyon’s series of lakes to our return route over Lamarck Col. Darwin Canyon is spectacular, sitting beneath the hulks of Mts Darwin and Mendel. Lamarck Col was a piece of cake, having an easy to follow “use trail” to the top. We said goodbye to the high Sierra, navigated some 4 ft. deep suncups for a piece, and finally headed down to the land of hamburgers and root beers. We eventually wound up on the beaten track again, and trudged the dusty trail back to North Lake. We were able to find a great swimming hole in the creek near the trailhead, which left us as good as new and ready for the next adventure.

By the end of the trip, I had formulated the next week of Comp and Devo training plans in detail. I was ready to go back to traditional training, almost ready to face the flocks of summer tourists in Mammoth again, and definitely pleased with our four days in the mountains. We did lots of overdistance, some serious strength training with the packs, intervals when the terrain demanded more effort and practiced agility dancing on loose talus. We even came up with a replacement phrase for #@*$ Happens!

National J2 Talent Camp in Houghton Michigan

On Saturday July 31st I said goodbye to the only coach I’d ever known, my mother, and departed on my first out of four flights to the upper peninsula of Michigan. After a long day of travel I arrived at the small airport in Houghton at midnight, exhausted. I’ll never forget the feeling of walking into dining hall that first morning. Out of the forty athletes there I only knew one familiar face, Katrin Larusson, otherwise I was lost. I squeezed into a table and found my nightmare wasn’t going to come true, these kids were actually pretty welcoming. By the end of breakfast I was beginning to learn names and feel like part of the group.

Little did I know that making friends was going to be the easy part of camp. Every day, for seven days straight we did double workouts with the exception of one day. Every ounce of strength and energy we had was used and each part of ski training was addressed. Hill bounding intervals, a strength test, classic roller skiing intervals, skate sprints, roller skiing technique, distance runs, speed and agility, stretching (both with and without roller skis on), and don’t forget ulitmate frisbee and soccer, we did it all. Making it even more gruesome, there was the blistering heat and 90% humidity! When we roller skied several coaches would take video footage. In the afternoon we would examine each athletes technique and get pointers from the coaches. Speaking of coaches, the coaching was incredible. Not only did the coaches participate in the workouts with us, but they gave us each individual technique help. To add to that, we had nightly presentations on technique, nutrition, recovery, and overall determination.

Of course we had our adventures, daily. I got lost in the middle of a national forest on the hour and a half distance run. Marion Woods cut a knot out of her hair with a razor blade. We went swimming in Lake Superior. By the end of camp we truly felt like a team. Piled onto three couches in front of the TV the coaches said we were the most together group of athletes they had ever seen. Of course they had never seen Far West athletes, who act like we are a family. But, it was true we adapted quickly and learned to be a team of our own.

Not until after the camp did I realize what I had just done. I had completed every workout ignoring the fact that I was with the best in the nation. I thought of them as just some other kids just like me. Then it hit me, they were. They had the same focus and determination as I do, and we all wanted the exact same thing. This camp made me realize that what seems impossible is entirely possible. Training with the best in the nation made me a stronger person and athlete. Now I have a determination I never had before. Going into this camp I expected to be at the back end of the group but, I wasn’t. Perhaps I was better at some things than others but, I certainly surprised myself. I hope to again this winter. This camp was an inspirational experience for me and I hope it was for all my new friends who went too. As Rick Kapala said we are, “the future of skiing”.

Long live Team Bawse!

Mammoth Skiers Volunteer for Friends of the Inyo

Friends of the InyoI have new respect for the members of the Mammoth Comp and Devo teams after working on a trail project with them all day yesterday.  When I suggested that we do a day of volunteer service with Friends of the Inyo, I wasn’t even sure anyone would even sign up.  Then, I expected some grumbling and complaining, but alas, I was surprised!  Everyone who was in town joined in for trail work on the Duck Pass trail and not only did we get a lot done, but we had a good time doing it.

The morning started with a speed hike up to Duck Pass.  Then we retreated to an overused meadow beside scenic Barney Lake, where we proceeded to dig, haul rocks, crush rocks, haul dirt, and then haul logs to reclaim the alpine meadow to a more pristine state.  The process of reclamation will take years, but it was hugely rewarding to fill in the rutted meadow, thus steering hikers to a single track.

Mammoth VolunteersWhen the Friends of the Inyo staff gave orders, we jumped.  I was very impressed with the all out effort all the kids gave yesterday.   Teamwork was key in hauling and planning.  Despite blisters, sore backs, and the overall fatigue that comes with hard work at above 10,000 feet, the team shone. One girl even spent her birthday with us, which of course was a good excuse for a sugary treat.

Mammoth Pack Outfit hauled tools and lunch up to Barney Lake for us, but we hauled trash and tools back to the trailhead.  It was a good day and the energy stayed high all the way back to the cars.  One parent waiting at the trailhead said she could hear us laughing and carrying on from a half a mile away.

MT LASSEN CAMP by Ben Grasseschi

Ever tried to swim 1/2 mile across a chilly lake after doing 30x30scd uphill bounding intervals? Ever tried to swim that 1/2 mile with a greased watermelon that you passed hand over hand for a 1/2 mile prior. Ever eaten fresh killed chipmunk? Ever built a custom bike frame? Ever played in a World Cup soccer game? Ever Classic roller-skied, double pole only, for 2.5hr, on a hot day? Ever swam in Lake Almanor? Ever hiked to the top of Mt Lassen; the youngest volcano in North America? Ever climbed into the ‘bellybutton’? Ever Skate roller-skied a 10km Uphill Time Trial that was 4/10ths of a mile longer than you thought it should have been? Ever sailed a sunfish sailboat? Ever sailed a catamaran? Ever hiked to the top of North Caribou Peak? Do you even know where it is? Ever chopped wood and carried water?

Yep; all this, and more, well; except maybe the catamaran sailing, happened at the Far West Mt Lassen Camp Aug 11-15, 2010.

11 campers from FW joined 19 campers from PNSA, and 5 coaches, for an adventure packed, volume challenging, and intense 5 days on the east flank of Mt Lassen; just three hours north of Truckee.

We camped at Silver Lake where we shared an old Forest Service cabin, campfires, swimming holes, watermelon salad, cribbage, bananagrams, roasted chipmunk, camaraderie, chicken pesto, old skool pump well water, campsite 4 and 6, chopping wood, pretzels, red vines, bumpy and dusty dirt roads, summit vistas, training ideas, stacking wood, swedish fish, hill bounding poles, Lady Gaga 578 times, flip flops, jokes, fishing, and tall tales (likely one and the same).

Did we do any workouts? Yes. A first day easy run/hike that was supposed to be an hour turned into 2hrs. A 5km and 10km uphill Skate rollerski Time Trial that was longer than everyone thought tho it was less than 10km. A swim in Lake Almanor and lunch cooled everyone off. A World Cup soccer match between Far West/East/Midwest and Pacific Northwest. PNSA scored the tying goal in stoppage time (damn the referee!) and the game ended 2-2. Anyone up for a 1.5hr to 2.5hr Classic rollerski? Double Pole only? OK then, let’s “git er dun”! How about some ski walking technique? Ok, let’s do some bounding too? Oh, to bound one must go hard! Is this supposed to be an interval workout? No, but it was when you can’t back down. Do another one for good measure. How about climbing to the top of Mt Lassen? At 10,457 feet it stands alone between the northern Sierras and Mt Shasta- which we could see from the top. Why not make it as difficult and far of a hike as possible? One group did that while the other summitted quickly and then went climbing. And why not top off the week’s training with another intensity session; this time a bunch of (15-30) 30scd on, 30scd off, hillbound/moosehoofs, with poles, uphill. Ahh.., that’ll git ‘er dun fer shure! But wait, why not grease up a watermelon and run it down to the lake and then swim across it to see who really is tougher. Far West is of course! All that agility training we have been doing paid off!

If all this sounds like fun to you, get motivated now; we will do it again next year.