Sunday, August 11, 2013

Utah Triple Crown, Again

by Craig

Didn't I say that I would never do the Triple Crown again? I'm pretty sure the last time I did it I wrote a blog post very similar to the one I'll write today and I specifically noted that I never wanted to do it again. I know this because someone actually quoted it to me on Facebook. And yet here I am again, writing a report of an adventure I've now done four times. Yet, this one was different enough and in such a way that I might even be thinking about going back for a fifth time. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After last week's amazing Quest for King's Marathon (for which I have not written a review; sad, I know) where I got to spend the entire weekend with my friends and family, I was approached by Jennilyn (who didn't run in the fun-run) to help her make the first woman's attempt at the Utah Triple Crown - summiting Utah's three tallest mountains, car-to-car. She asked MVH and myself to help play tour guide, but MVH was unable to come along so the role fell to me; one I was glad to take up.

Jennilyn writes an amazing blog at Check it out if you have the time. She is now a veteran ultra runner and an amazing adventure runner with grit, tenacity, and SPEED. The Triple Crown, while only being in the 28 - 30 miles range with 6000 feet of climbing, is actually very challenging, requiring several hours above 12,000 ft on rocky terrain where you have to boulder hop from one large, moving rock to another. It wears at the body and spirit, requires extreme focus, all the while continuing to maintain concentration on speed, nutrition, and route finding. But if any woman could do it, Jennilyn could and with some route management and efficient pacing she could even put up a solid number.
Not long before turning towards the ridge on the left

We were smart from the beginning. We had a good pace all the way to the north end of Dollar Lake where, instead of going around the South side, like past trips, we cut across the large meadow and caught the ridge earlier. I feel like this made it easier and quicker to get up on the plateau, with less effort. Unlike past years, once on the plateau I found that we both had a lot of energy and made quick work of the two false summits to the top, hitting our first peak, Mt Gilbert, in 2:52:00, a new personal best for me. After a quick photo we were off back down toward Gunsight Pass.
On Gilbert Peak with King's right behind her head

Based on some feedback from friends we chose to go down the south chute instead of the north. In retrospect I don't feel it was quicker, but I doubt we really lost any time. We ran most of the way up to Gunsight Pass, said hi to several hikers and made our way through the cut-off up to Anderson Plateau, passing a large group of hikers along the way. It's always funny to watch young men get passed by a girl, especially when she's as small as Jennilyn. It's like they can't let it happen, so they speed up and try to put on a good show. But they don't know who they're up against. Without changing her pace, Jennilyn quickly pulled away and the boys were left standing there with hands on knees. Once atop the plateau we pushed towards Anderson Pass, always mindful of the looming clouds and potential for lightning.

People always seem shocked when runners come by, dressed so minimally, carrying light hydration vests and no trekking poles. But then their jaws drop when they find out that not only did we start from the cars, but also climbed another mountain on the way to King's. And all of this from questions as we pass them on the rocky, boulder strewn ridge up to the top of King's Peak. I pushed the last 100m to the summit and hit the top in exactly 5:15:00. Jennilyn came in about 2 min later. We could see a darker cloud hanging over So King's, so we stopped only long enough for a photo and raced down the south ridge to the saddle. We spoke between in a dis-conjoined prayer, hoping that we that the inevitable storm would stave off long enough for us to punch to the summit of South King's. Jennilyn would ask every few minutes if I felt we should turn back to which I responded that I felt were safe. Even when it started to lightly hale at the saddle I felt comfortable we were still under passable skies. We touched the top at 5:48:00, just 30 min after leaving King's Peak. Then we turned around and flew back down to the saddle.
I'm still almost as tall. On the summit of King's Peak

The skies grew darker, but still no lightning or thunder. From the saddle we traverse the side of King's Peak until we are under the summit, at which point we angle down, back to the plateau. This is, by far, the trickiest section of the whole day. People never take this route off, so the rocks are big, then small, but all are loose and move under foot. In the fear of the moment going to So King's Jennilyn failed to eat enough and found herself behind on calories, so we moved slower than planned. But soon enough we were back down on the plateau, comfortable that we were away from the worst of it (we looked back at the north ridge of King's to see hikers getting pounded by the storm) and moving fast back toward Gunsight Pass.
Back on Anderson Plateau

Until that point we were right on the heels of MVH's Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the Triple Crown, but once back at Gunsight Pass I was pretty sure it was out of reach. Even still, we flew down into Henry's Basin, passing Davy Crockett who was once again trying for a King's Peak Triple. Then past Dollar Lake and soon were at Elkhorn Crossing and only 5.4 miles to go. We were in great spirits, but had pushed hard. Jennilyn asked the rhetorical question that we were going to miss the overall FKT to which I responded 'yes', so we took an extra minute to walk, eat, and get our minds ready for the final grind. No matter what happened from then on we would be safe and she would be the first woman to complete the Utah Triple Crown.

There isn't much to say about those last five miles other than we just focused on keeping a good and comfortable pace. I tried to chat to pass the time, but eventually we just fell into a quiet pace, always hoping that the next corner would be our last. I knew better and felt bad for Jennilyn as I knew what she was likely going through. As the end came into sight though her arms went up, excitement took over as the reality of what we had done set in. I stopped my watch at 8:46:30, a monster time by anyone's standards and a time on the women's side that will be very, very difficult to beat. Congratulations to Jennilyn for her amazing abilities. She only looked tired up there for about 10 minutes. She never complained, and was ready to remind me on several occasions that "this isn't nearly as bad as you guys made it out to be". Thanks J-lyn for making it look easy.
All done, time to sit in the river


Cory Reese said...

Awesome review, I loved the pictures. Congrats on finishing so fast!

Scott Wesemann said...

Congrats to Jennilyn. She is super tough and that time is really fast for that route. Craig, I think you have at least one more TC in ya.

Jennilyn said...

I think we can shave 30 mins off that.