Monday, August 13, 2012

Quest for King's Marathon

Every year for the past four years (including this one) I have hosted a little unofficial race/fun run called the Quest for King's Marathon. This run starts at the Henry's Fork trailhead and runs to the top of King's Peak, the highest point in Utah, and then back. It is an open course and participants can choose whichever route they would like to take and might think is the fastest. The most standard and now pretty much shortest route is almost exactly a full marathon length with 4300 vertical feet of climbing.

On Friday I spoke at the She Runs Retreat in Midway, then with Matt, Scott, and Josh we drove up toward the trailhead. We stopped in Mountain View to eat dinner and pick up a few things at a convenience store. I told Matt if he bought me a cowboy hat I'd wear it to the top of King's. I didn't think he was serious, but out he came with the hat and I had no choice but to honor my promise. We got to the campsite at about 7pm and quickly found several other people who would be running in the morning.

Start times are open so people can leave whenever they like. Most people chose to start at 6am. Scott and Josh were attempting the Triple Crown (Utah's three tallest peaks) so they started at 5am. Me and Matt and a three others decided a comfortable start at 7am would be the best way to go. Even with a staggered start we knew we would see everyone along the trail, at some point. Matt and I started with Steve Jones, but after a couple of miles he dropped back to make some adjustments and it was just the two of us. We took a very casual pace up to Elkorn Crossing where we stashed our jackets so we didn't have to carry them to the top.

Matt about 3 mile in

Me walking up to the bridge at Elkhorn Crossing

About a half mile past Elkhorn you rise up into the meadows of the Henrys Fork basin. This beautiful, open landscape gives you an amazing look at the peaks surrounding the basin, including King's. We made really good time through this section up to Dollar Lake. From Dollar Lake up to Gunsight Pass is a steady climb. We were now pushing towards 11,000 ft. Matt was still moving really well. I have been dealing with Cuboid Syndrome in my right foot, and although it has been feeling much better it really chose to flair up this day, making my run very painful. I was happy to move at casual pace with Matt, just enjoying being up there.

King's Peak is the sharp point dead center

At Gunsight Pass runners can choose one of a few options. The most common path to take these days is to skirt right up towards the scree slope. There is now a well defined trail up through the cliffs and onto the plateau. Once above the cliffs what seems like the most obvious route is to continue up and over the shoulder of West Gunsight, however, experience has taught me that the actual best route is to stay low, moving left around the shoulder and staying mostly on alpine tundra. We watched a lot of people go up and over the shoulder, losing a bunch of time in the process. As Matt and I came around the shoulder one of the people we saw coming down off the wrong route was Collin. He seemed to be moving pretty well, but as I caught up to him just prior to Anderson Pass he mentioned the altitude was really getting to him. I waited for Matt at Anderson Pass, then we started up the summit ridge, my favorite section. Within 5 minutes or so we passed Collin, then ran into a few other guys who we hung out with the night before. Just before getting to the summit we came across Josh and Scott who had already summitted King's, then gone over and bagged South King's, and had come back across King's to work their way down the ridge to avoid the precarious boulder hopping down the face. They were looking really good and were excited about the likelihood of tagging the final peak of the Triple Crown, Gilbert. I made one last push to the summit, running the last 100 yards or so. Matt got up there two minutes later with Collin a minute or so later. We spent about 10 minutes on the top hanging out with other hikers before heading down.

 The hat made it to the top of King's Peak

 Matt was very happy to be on the top of Utah

These two awesome guys hiked up that morning, starting at 2:30am. They shared their huge stash of food with us. Awesome.

Going back down the ridge is my favorite part of the whole trip. I can fly down that stuff. We came across a few other people heading up and back down and just before we got down to Anderson Pass Matt and I caught up Scott and Josh. It was fun to run the rest of the way down to Gunsight Pass with them, talking about their journey to this point. They were definitely poised to finish the Triple Crown in style. About half a mile below Gunsight Pass we watched the cut over to the chute they would need to climb up to tag Gilbert. Matt and I continued on down towards Dollar Lake, feeling great.

 Running across Anderson Plateau

 Back at Gunsight Pass

 Tandem footsteps below the pass

At Elkhorn Crossing I was having a bit of a lull, but just as we were picking up our stuff we had dropped a scoutmaster to our left asked if we would like a couple bites of Italian sausage. YOU BET! That absolutely hit the spot and catapulted us into a very happy and cruiser 5 miles back to the finish. With about a mile to go I grabbed Matt's camera and took off so that I could get him finishing. I passed Mark along the way, still looking strong, and was able to get them both on video as they came to the finish, only about 30 seconds apart. Matt chatted with winner Trevor for a few minutes then immediately grabbed a Pepsi and sat in the river. Ahhh!

 Mark with about a mile left

Trevor with the winning cowbell

Matt and I thought we would have 2 - 3 hours before Scott and Josh finished their Triple Crown. As it turned out it took them considerably longer up on top of Gilbert due to high winds. They ended up finishing 4.5 hours after us, just as we were starting to get really worried. We quickly packed them up and headed home, stopping in Evanston to eat, then dropping Josh at Kimball Junction before finishing the drive home.

We had a good turnout this year and everyone was safe and had fun. There were a few first-timers, a few who did more than just King's, and one who decided to Storm the Castle instead of top-out on King's (steve). What an awesome weekend.

 Scott on top of his first of three peaks, King's

Scott and Josh on top of Gilbert, the Triple Crown complete


Josh Greenwell said...

So awesome that you ran that whole thing with the hat on... Love it! Had a blast out there and it totally gave us a boost when we saw you guys.

Scott Wesemann said...

Cowboy hat and shorty shorts = Sexay!!! I enjoyed it.

Kendall said...

Great shots and run. Love to join you next year. King's was my first "ultra" run years ago and haven't been back since.

Well done gentlemen. Beautiful country!

Davy said...

Glad the finger pictures are a continued tradition of the triple crown.

TheHeapsToe said...

Looks like you guys had a great time this year again! I was at EFY until that day, so I was unable to attend, but with me gettin married soon, I won't be working EFY anymore, so hopefully I will have summers to actually train and run races and keep up with y'all. I look forward to being there next year and maybe winning that cowbell :P

Cory Reese said...

Wow. Those pictures are nuts. I haven't done those trails before but your pictures convinced me I need to get up there!

I think you scored on the cowboy hat.

Dallan said...

Great write up of what sounded like a fun run. I've done this run a number of times and enjoyed read about your experience!