Three weeks ago I was driving down Big Cottonwood canyon after a refreshing run up to Gobbler's Knob and Mt. Raymond. It was one of my first post-Winter visits to Big Cottonwood trails this year and I was in love with the idea of coming back, day after day through the Summer. Then I remembered the MillWood 100, and that at the beginning of the year I had listed it as one of my goals for 2013. I had forgotten about it but suddenly it became stuck in my thoughts and wouldn't come loose. I immediately phoned some friends and asked if they would be available to be support along the way. They responded enthusiastically and I set the date for 3 weeks from that point, then set out to familiarize myself with parts of the route that were unknown to me.
What is the MillWood 100? It is an invention of local mountain runner Jared Campbell, who looked at a map of the Central Wasatch and found a way to connect trails and off-trail routes to form a challenging 100 mile foot course. Jared's description: "The result is a route housed in Millcreek, Big, and Little Cottonwood and has about 45,000′ of vertical gain. It has it all, everything from beautiful smooth singletrack, wicked steep abandoned mining trails, completely off-trail sections, less than 1 mile or road, and very little flat. It has been “designed” so that it is easy to make water/food drops, crew, bail, and start or stop in many different locations."
Millwood starts (red line) and ends on the blue balloons
Going into Millcreek at dawn (Scott Wesemann)
Friday morning June 28, at 3:12 am I began hiking up the Neff's canyon trail. Good friend Scott Wesemann accompanied me for this first segment up and over to Millcreek Canyon to connect with the Desolation trail, then a run down to Millcreek Canyon and the Pipeline/Church Fork junction. As we always do, Scott and I laughed a lot as we hiked up the trail in the darkness. He had never been up Neff's and was pleased with the view of the city lights twinkling in the pre-dawn below. I purposefully did not start out fast because of the distance and climbing ahead of me, but I was a little bugged about taking 3 hours to get down to Millcreek canyon. I was hoping to go faster. However, as the day progressed and the heat grew, getting behind on my goal splits became the theme, and I had to embrace the fact that I would probably not finish this thing under 40 hours.
I said goodbye to Scott at the Grandeur trailhead at Church, and ran the Pipeline trail West from Church Fork to Bambi Hill, then around to the West side of Mt Grandeur. As I began the 3,000 foot ascent I met Nate Pack, who told me he had met Erik Storheim at the summit, and that Erik had left his light trekking poles up there for me. I gave my heavy poles to Nate and continued up. At Grandeur summit I grabbed Erik's poles and then ran down Church Fork to find my cache of water and food, and to apply liberal amounts of sunscreeen. My shirt was off at this point and temperature must have been in the 80s already at 9am. I ran to the Burch Hollow trail and then began a quick ascent up to the top of Burch Hollow, to the Millcreek Ridge. I had arrived at the section I most dreaded. The trail on Millcreek Ridge is horribly overgrown. In fact, there isn't much of a trail. I had been there a few weeks before but managed to get off course again. After a horrendous schwack back up to the ridgeline, I continued down to the saddle under Mt Aire, then ran down to Elbow fork. I had been communicating with Scott throughout the morning and he promised to meet me at the Bowman trailhead with lunch and cold soda. The promise of a cold Coke was motivation for me in the increasing heat. I showed up at Bowman overheated and tired, but willing to continue. Scott brought me a burger, fries, and the blessed cold drink.
With water re-filled and a run of cold water over my head, I continued up the Bowman trail toward my next desination of Gobblers Knob. A few trail runners ran up past me, including Dan Gardiner. Hey, I used to be a trail runner. Walking was the only gear I had. Looking back, I must have had some dehydration, and I carried on with that lack of energy all the way up to Gobbler's Knob in crawl speed. Jared Campbell met me as he came down from a run up to Gobbler's, and offered to run to his car and bring back his SPOT Tracker. I continued on uphill, and rested several times in the shade. I even tried to lay down several times but the damned flies wouln't let me rest. After Jared caught up and set up the SPOT, I felt much better and ran well on the connector trail to Alexander Basin. My spirit was good again, but then the big climb up to Gobbler's in the afternoon heat was a real challenge. Jared had told me there was meltwater near the top of Alexander Basin. I found it and filled up with cold, clean water.
The time was past 4pm when I reached the top of Gobbler's. A text from my wife came in and suddenly I missed her and my boys greatly. I was a physical and emotional wreck. A call from Scott helped me move along down to Baker Pass and onto the desolation trail toward Dog Lake. I moved well through to Dog Lake, then down to Big Water at the top of Millcreek Canyon. I had stashed a Pepsi and two bottles of water under a rock in the creek and went straight for them. It was 6:45 pm by the time I departed Big Water. The exertion in the heat of the day (over 100 degrees in SLC) had left me nearly spent, so it was a walk up to the Great Western Trail to the ridge line between Salt Lake and Summit (Park City) Counties. Upon reaching GWT, the sun had become obscured behind clouds and I had cooled enough to begin running uphill. My energy was back and I ran the entire GWT to Beartrap Fork, then down to Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Applying glide spray, a new experience for me
At the canyon road I found my food and water cache, mixed up a recovery drink, got my headlamp on --it was past 9 pm -- and replaced my cache. I was at mile 48. Josh Greenwell showed up with a steaming pizza and Pepsi, which I gratefully accepted. Then Mark Kreuzer and Zac Marion met us. I was so happy to see those guys. Night had come, I was fed and cooled down, and feeling much better. Mark brought a quarter pound burger for me and I stashed it away for later. Mark and Zac were my companions for the Days Fork to Silver Fork section. We had a great time after walking through a wedding party looking for the trail head. We did some solid uphill running up Days, then hiked as the grade became steep. On the crossing into Silver Fork I found snow and helped myself to several mouthfuls. It was the best stuff.
snowcone (Mark Kreuzer)
From the top of Silver Fork we ran the majority down, moving very quickly once we got onto the smooth single track and then 4X4 trail to the cabins. We followed the road from the cabins too far and came out at the lower Solitude parking lot. Crap. That meant we had a nice mile run back to where I should have been. Extra credit! The next section of the route was a short loop up to Willow Lake then back to Solitude. Mark accompanied me while Zac got some rest at the car. When we arrived back at Solitude, my brother Peter and his wife were there with tacos and Coke for me. We talked for a time while I ate, then the other guys told me to get moving. Mark and I had not been on the Solitude/Brighton trail so we of course took a few wrong turns, but arrived at Silver lake eventually. Zac then took over and we said goodbye to Mark.
I remember the climb up to Twin Lakes being very slow. I had been going for over 24 hours at this point. Zac and I got to Twin Lakes pass at sunrise, then the slow hike continued as we moved uphill to Patsy Marley and Mt. Wolverine. My fatigue was obvious so Zac prescribed some powerful 80s music to act as a pick-me-up. It worked. The air drums and guitar came out. Warm sunshine washed away the morning blues.
Above Twin Lakes (photo by Zac Marion)
At Albion Basin, Zac said goodbye and I was alone on the hike up to Cecret Lake. Past the lake I saw a runner moving back downhill to me. It was Jim Milar, who was out with a couple friends on a nice morning run up to Hidden Peak. I hiked with them up to Baldy and down to the saddle under Hidden. I was grateful for the company. From the saddle I ran as best I could with very sore feet down to Alta. My brother Pete was waiting at Alta with some breakfast food. As I reached the homes at the end of the road at Alta I looked up to see Jared Campbell running up to meet me. He and Mindy had come up to help me get ready for the climb to Cardiff Pass. They had everything I needed: Chocolate milk, sunscreen, and smiles. I felt so good then that I ran the mile up the road to meet them and my brother at the trailhead to Cardiff.
The climb up to Cardiff Pass was slow due to 100 degree heat. Erik Storheim called and indicated he was up at the pass and would run dow to meet me. We hiked up together and descened into upper Cardiff. I had never been in upper Cardiff and even in my fatigued state made note to come back and explore the area more thouroughly. We descended on trail, then on mining road down to a large ore bin where some men were doing some actual mining. It was funny watching Erik stride right up to the men at the back of their truck and then continue up the road. Two groups of men in a remote area with vastly different purposes for being there. The men had sparkly rocks displayed on the truck tail gate.
Up and up and up. Erik led me off-trail across the slope under Kessler Peak. He had gone up earlier in the week and put up ribbons to guide us. He was proud to see that he led us right to them. We were on course. Then, we found the abandoned miners trail that leads straight up the mountain side. I was tired and hot but I had plenty of energy for the climb. It actually felt good to take downhill pressure off my toes. We summited Carbonate Pass, took a few mintes for a break, then began the descent down the West side of Kessler. We skied talus and crossed slanted slopes until we came to another rough abandoned trail. Then we found the log slide that goes straight down to Big Cottonwood highway. Erik and I had pleasant conversation and he told me interesting stories of his dental practice.
On the road between Kessler and Mineral Fork
(photo by Matt Williams)
Erik was a brilliant companion. He knew what I was experiencing because, well, he is one of only two others to do MillWood. Kessler was, I decided, brutal and the toughest climb and descent up to that point. I was half-dreading the climb up Mineral Fork. It was now, I guess, the hottest part of the day. Erik and I walked down the road in the heat. I was out of water, but felt good knowing Matt Williams was waiting at Mineral Fork to help me re-supply and make the next big climb. I sat in Matt's truck for about 20 minutes, drinking and eating, getting mentally prepared for the second-to-last big climb of MillWood.
Regrouping for Mineral Fork (Matt Williams)
I had another cache hidden at Mineral Fork, but since Matt showed up bearing all the goods of a supermarket with a coffee shop, I just left it. Matt kindly took it back to his car while I began the hike. I had hoped to regain strength for the climb up to the pass above Lake Blanche. Unfortunately, I never regained energy. It was a slow, plodding hike up the 4+ miles and 4,000 feet to the top of Mineral. Matt was patient as always while I took several sitting breaks. I wondered if I would have enough left in me to finish this thing.
photo by Matt Williams
When we reached the top of the pass I had just about had enough. Scott called and told me I was almost there, that friends were cheering me on, that I couldn't stop now. I agreed, but had to acknowledge that my condition needed to change if I was to get down past Blanche to Mill B trailhead, then make the final big climb up Mill B North to Mt Raymond. After some rest at the pass, Matt and I began a quick descent. I wanted to get to the lake in 1 half hour. I think we were close. Despite aching feet, we moved quickly to stay away from thirsty mosquitoes that had come out. On the descent Matt was feasting on the super natural scenery of Mill B East branch. We saw waterfalls, small lakes, cliffs, bulging slabs of reddish quartzite, green trees and steep sloping canyon sides covered with green vegetation. A paradise. On the Blanche trail we passed hikers coming up, some complaining about this or that. I looked back at Matt and smiled. Finally at the end of the trail, familiar faces came into view. Josh Greenwell, and Nick Sourlos with his wife and kids. His lovely little girl was ringing a cowbell. For me! So awesome. How could I not go on?
More cowbell? Naw. This one will do.
(photo by Nick Sourlos)
I made a long stop at Mill B trailhead. I needed it. I ate, drank, popped blisters, changed sock, and rested. The sun had gone down and I was cooling. About 10:15 pm Josh and I started uphill for a 4 mile 3,000 foot climb up to Desolation trail. I fetl terrific and we moved quickly. We chatted, sang to 80s butt rock tunes blasting from his portable speakers. It was a party I will never forget. One of the best times I've ever had. I was so confident of getting to the finish in half the estimated time that I texted Matt Williams and said we would cover the last 6 miles in an hour and a half. I was thinking we could blast the soft, pine needle-covered trail down into Millcreek. And we started out doing that. It was dark, cool, and I felt fantastic. Josh and I ran the trail as fast as if we were out for a normal night run. Neither of us had been on that particular part of the Desolation trail. We expected it to start heading down hill anytime. Anytime now. Please. Please? Nope. The trail wraps around minor sloping ridges, in and out of draws. Switchbacks. Then, it ended. Disappeared. We sat in the dark on the side of a slope under some cliffs. I wasn't about to go down and lose all that elevation we had. I called Scott. "We are lost." Then my phone battery was done. Josh did not have his. What to do? We sat for a good 25 minutes, then decided to back track. We found the continuation of the trail, hidden under a patch of snow. Back at it, but a little demoralized. Josh, you got anymore butt rock tunes? Guns N' Roses came back on, then Warrent's Cherry Pie. Then my favorite, RUSH. Air drums came back out. We were having fun again.
We sussessfully navigated to the Thayne Canyon trail, then, cursed the Thayne Canyon trail. Straight down, steep, and rocky. Nice way to end it, Jared! At last, at about 3:30am we stepped off the trail and I was finished. Mrs. Leslie Howlett was there to give us a woop! and Matt Williams with her. I still felt fantastic and wanted to drive home but the others treated me like a drunk. I wondered if punches would be thrown if I tried to drive home by myself. I had been moving for 48 hours and 26 minutes. All I wanted then was a chocolate milk. Matt obliged and drove me to 7-Eleven.
I know this sounds trite, but my Wasatch adventure changed me. I like the change. I feel a greater love for people around me. I value my friends more. My persective on...things... is a little wider. I went to my limit and discovered there was more on the other side. When I am asked, "Should I?" my answer will be...
Go For It.
photo by Zac Marion