Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Kettle Crest Traverse: North To South

photo & graphic by Ras

photo by RasBy Kathy Vaughan

     Autumn mornings are cold and crisp here in North Central Washington. Frosts begin to happen in September and by October, there are areas that are permanently set in frost, all day and all night, until covered in snow for the winter months. Ras and I were heading into one of these areas, the Kettle Crest Range that runs north to south through the Colville National Forest. The range crest has 15 peaks along it and the trail barely skirts the summits of a number of them. It gains 19,000 feet in elevation along 46 miles of rugged, technical and remote trail. There is little travel along the trail and therefore little information about it exists. Ras and I had decided to enter into this territory and see what we could find out-about ourselves, each other, and the trail.

      Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hikers do this section of trail as a part of their route. The trail crew workers we ran into on the trail had seen about 5 of them this season. The trail is considered a National Recreation Area. Horse travel, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and backpacking all happen along the route, but infrequently. The most popular seasons appear to be the hunting season, during which we were on the trail, and winter.

photo by Ras

     Ras and I had decided to run from the north trailhead at Deer Creek off of Boulder Pass, to the south end trailhead, White Mountain. We had seen in a trail guide that this distance was 43 miles. We hadn't seen a trail profile and did not have accurate elevation gain information. We had a map loaded onto our GPS and a paper map with us. Earlier in the summer we ran from Deer Creek to Lambert Mountain, about 18 miles in, summiting 4 peaks along the way. We had hoped to run to the south end on that trip and climb all of the peaks, using maintained summit approaches, ranging from 1-4 miles in distance off of the Kettle Crest itself. We found all of these trails to be in terrible condition, littered with blow-downs. It was awesome to be at the top of these unique peaks, sometimes reaching over 7,000 feet. The going was rough though, and we were forced to turn back as a team. Ras would like to go for that same attempt again, although it was out of my league. Climbing over silvered blow downs, having been burned in a wildfire 25 years ago, is very challenging for me. When these huge trees have fallen over the trail from up slope, along the steep shoulder of a mountain, they are pretty high off the ground. Sometimes crawling under them on your hands and knees is easier, but you have to watch the sharply pointed branches above your head. Climbing over, these same branches can tear up your legs if you aren't really conscious of each of them, avoiding their wrath. All of this adds to the challenge and excitement of moving through this remote wilderness.

photo by Ras

     By completing the trail, we would be setting an Only Known Time for the Kettle Crest Trail. The northern trailhead at Deer Creek is an hour and a half drive from our home, so it has been of interest to us for a long time. I remember seeing the signs on Sherman Pass where the trail crosses the highway, many years ago. I was curious then about going into the remote area where a huge wildfire had swept through and left dramatic evidence you can see as you travel over this pass. I had heard that grizzlies and wolves roam this area. It was at once both terrifying and tantalizing to think of trail running through a place like this.

photo by Ras

     So with a bear spray canister strapped to the outside of my pack for Ras to quick draw with ease, we set out on a cold, dark morning. We were each wearing WAA Ultra Bag packs, mine gifted to me by the company to wear on just such an adventure. Ras had worn his bright gold one on his Grand Canyon run in May and they want us to help introduce these great packs to the U.S. Mine is black and when it arrived In packaging quite obviously European, I was really excited. I know, nothing new on your big day, but this pack is exactly what I needed. By the end of the trip, I had all of the straps and pouches figured out. I was very satisfied with how it met my needs. The pack has a good amount of capacity in the back and unzips all the way for easy access. There is a large inner mesh pouch inside this as well as a zip pouch with a rain shell. The bottom of the pack contains a rainproof pack cover in an easy access zip opening. 

photo by Ras

     But what I really loved, were the front and side pouches. The front of the pack also has 2 water bottle holders which I like. The weight of the pack is distributed very evenly and running with the kind of weight I needed to carry for an unsupported back country adventure, can be hard with the wrong set-up. There is a front pouch that easily zips open with a very sturdy zipper. Inside is a ton of room for shedding hat & gloves, carrying a map, headlamp, mp3 player, snacks, t.p., tummy remedies; whatever one likes to grab readily while on the move. On each side is a pouch with tons of room and the same style of zipper. These pouches slide along a piece of webbing and are therefore adjustable. They do move as you run though and Ras stitched his to the webbing itself.  They tend to slide forward and sit under the water bottles, making them hard to get into if they are in that position. They can be moved easily though, and I like that they are adjustable and won't go for the stitching method like Ras. There are inside zip or velcro pockets in each of these larger pouches too. 

     My gear list had to accommodate the colder temperatures, night running and what I thought would be 86 miles worth of running. The 46 that we did run felt more difficult than the 100 mile supported trail ultra race I ran in May though. I was glad I had everything I carried with me, and I used each piece of clothing or gear. I didn't eat all of my food though and I should have.

photo by Ras

Kathy's Gear List

1. Black Diamond Headlamp
2. GoMotion Sternum Light
3.  Smartwool Midweight Sweater (in my pack to change into at dark)
4. Injinji Merno Wool toe socks in my pack, just in case my feet were getting wet, which they didn't
5.  Mammut Down Puffy Jacket and Mont Bell Down Puffy Pants
6.  One 2-pack of hand warmers and one 2-pack of toe warmers with adhesive backing
7. Ankle wrap
8. pain killers, ibuprofen, band aids & gauze, safety pin, tiger balm, tums, ginger chews, mints
9.  Swix wool hat, fleece hat, Smartwool neck gaitor (highly recommend this versatile piece of gear!)
10. 2 pair of cross country ski gloves-My hands get sweaty and soak a pair of gloves, although in the cold weather I usually have to wear a pair of gloves the whole time I'm out. I did wear gloves the whole time and I was glad to have a dry pair to put on in the middle of the night.
11. Insulated North Face tights (in my pack to change into at dark)
12. Zensah calf sleeves
13. Altra Lone Peak 1.5's
14. I ran in a Smartwool mid-weight sweater all day, sometimes with Smartwool arm sleeves over the top. I wore capris with a comfy Solomon running skort over the top. At night I took my skort off and put my insulated North Face tights over the top of my capris and calf sleeves and this kept me warm as long as I was moving.
15. Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Poles

photo by Ras

        With all of this gear loaded into my pack and the compression straps fitting the pack tight against my body, I could run the runnable sections for a good portion of the day. The trail started out climbing though and Ras and I both felt like we were almost constantly climbing. We didn't know the total elevation gain until Ras figured out how to check it on our GPS unit at the end of the run. We were shocked at the number  we saw, but it explained a lot about why the traveling through the dark of the night, deep into our mileage, had been a huge challenge for me. 

photo by Ras

     It was exciting to see the sun come up and know that we had a big day ahead of us. I was looking forward to the day getting warmer and getting some miles in. I had my neck gaitor pulled up over my face and my hats tucked down as far as I could pull them over my ears.  Moving fast to warm up, Ras and I soon settled into a good pace. The first time I looked at my watch we were 3 hours in.  When you move along the trail for miles and hours, your perspective of time becomes skewed. This might be our mind's coping mechanism as we pursue these endurance challenges. We have the ability to enter a timeless space in our reality and just keep making relentless forward progress. We can somehow ignore pains, or feeling slightly chilled, then too warm, or aching calf muscles as we continue to climb for hours. It only gets hard when our mind suddenly gets pulled out of this almost meditative state for some reason.  By managing our needs on the trail consistently and effortlessly, we can stay in this zone.

photo by Ras

     I began realizing I needed more calories about 3 hours into the day as I felt waves of low blood sugar feelings passing through me. I began to sip my Hammer Cafe Latte Perpetuem more and reach into my side pouches for hardier snacks. I had made Ras and I bean & rice burritos with whole wheat tortillas and it was time for one of those now. Ras had already eaten one of his and was bummed that he had not asked me to make more than 2 for him. We both discovered that this is a satisfying and easy type of food to bring along. They fit nicely in a ziplock and taste good cold. They can be as fancy or as simple as you like. The protein from the beans feels good to take in and the savory flavor is nice. I also squirted my new favorite hot sauce on them, Srirachi, which really hit the spot.  I had also brought Justin's Almond and Dark Chocolate Nut Butter pouches, wasabi & tamari seasoned almonds, 2 shitake mushroom strips , 1 package of soy jerkeys, Tasty Bite Bombay Potato pouch, sunflower seeds, Gu Lemon flavored Chomps, 2 Luna Bars and 1 Cliff Bar, a bag of spicy seeds & nuts mix, and Fuel 100 Electro-Bites in Pumpkin Spice, Apple Cinnamon and Salty Vanilla.

photo by Ras

      The first section of trail had been maintained over the summer. Ras and I had met 2 of the guys working under contract when we had been on the trail in July. We had visited with them for a while and seen their interesting trail machine they were using. They were barely getting started, but now they were just finishing. We had brought Ultrapedestrian stickers for them and when we saw the trail machine but no guys, we put the stickers inside a bag on the seat. We saw more and more evidence of them and continued to be grateful for the great trail work. Finally we heard voices up ahead.  They were working separate sections by the time we reached them, but both of them remembered us and both were surprised to see Ras with his dreadlocks down this time, rather than tied up on top of his head . The older and more talkative of the two, said when he saw us in the distance he thought it might be us because of the colorful clothing which he said was “our thing”.  These guys have done excellent trail clearing on about 12 miles of the first section of trail heading north to south.

photo by Ras

     After seeing the trail workers, we reached an exposed and windy campsite and trail intersection. We had about 30 miles to go and we were now on unmaintained trail. We could definitely feel the difference. The views were amazing all around. The tamarack in the height of their autumn color were the standout. Other foliage like vine maple, alder, aspen, blueberry and grasses were all golden, red or orange & brown. At times we were in forest with old fir and pine trees. Other sections of trail took us through rocky areas, along grassy shoulders of the peaks along the crest and through burn zones, exposed, with huge silvered trees blocking our way. These trees were slippery with frost and climbing over them was hard.  Sometimes I shimmied under, other times I clambered over the top in some very interesting and most likely, comical ways for Ras to see. He would go ahead of me and break branches out of the way if he could to help make it a little bit easier. The worst section had these downed giants piled up along a steep slope with snow underneath. It was rugged and difficult, making it all the more awesome to be out there. 

photo by Ras

     Water sources along the Kettle Crest are few and far between. When Ras and I ran the trail in July, we reached two good creeks at about 11 miles. We were ready for water when we reached this point, but these creeks were now just muddy trickles. We kept going, remembering the developed spring at the base of Lambert Mountain. As we approached the spot where the spring was, I noticed I did not hear any water running. Unfortunately, the spring was frozen. We continued on. As we climbed higher along the trail, we reached enough snow to fill our water bottles and wait for it to melt from our body heat. This is what we'd have to drink until we reached the next creek or developed spring. We also hoped that the other springs would not be frozen. The map showed these springs and we had read about them in the trail guide. When we reached the next spring near Jungle Hill, we filled our bottles. The spring was simply a pipe coming off of a steep hillside with a little stream of water coming from it. It was enough though and we were very grateful to have come to it.  We found one more spring like this near the Snow Peak cabin.  The area was unsheltered and blustery, so our stop was fairly short, but we were happy to have enough water now.

photo by Kathy Vaughan

     The climb up to Copper Butte at 7,140 feet reaches the highest point on the trail. This was a stiff climb and the summit is an interesting spot. There were many cairn piles, old scraps of metal, a wooden cross and expansive views of the Kettle Range. It was a cool place to be and I felt like such a small part of the universe. 

photo by Ras

     We wanted to get as much mileage in before dark as possible and therefore took no substantial breaks during the day. We were working our way south along the crest, knowing that Highway 20 would be a big land mark we would cross, possibly around dark. We at first naively thought we could make it to the turn around by dusk and head north again to complete an out n' back. By this point, we knew a point-to-point trip was becoming our reality and it would have enough of its own challenges. Just after dark, we did hit the highway and it was lonely there this time of night. I sat on a stump while Ras found where the trail took off on the south side of the highway. It was pleasant while the moon shone down on me. I turned off my headlamp and snacked on some nuts. I enjoyed this quiet moment alone along the only part of the trail hitting road access. Soon I heard a hoot and it was time for me to get up and hike up the highway toward Ras' lights and the trail taking us back into the wilderness. 

photo by Ras

      From here, the trail now climbed to reach the high shoulder of Sherman Peak at 7,011 feet. There is a loop trail that encircles the mountain and we would follow along one half of that loop, shouldering the steep slope of the peak. We climbed higher and higher in the dark night and reached snow again. Sometimes we climbed straight up snowy trail, crunchy though, providing stable footing. The wind howled through the trees and the trees themselves croaked and whined. It was eerie and exhilarating  Now that we had reached the highway, our next big land mark would be the Snow Peak Cabin, just off of the trail. We both had separately been thinking a lot about the cabin. We had already begun to find little places in the trees or at the base of a large rock to sit down and cuddle together to rest. Sometimes we were falling asleep for 10 minutes or so. Sometimes we were just resting or snacking. It was cold enough to get us back up and moving again. But as I thought of the cabin and the fact that surely it must have a wood stove and a wood supply and that it most likely would be empty in this quiet part of the country. I wanted to go inside and build a fire, warm up, rest, eat and dry out my sweaty layers. But I also knew that would be highly dangerous to the completion of our point-to-point journey and possible OKT on this trail I'd been moving along for hours already. 

photo by Ras

     When we got to the cabin, I boldly walked towards it even with my headlamp shining in the windows. I wanted to see if anyone was inside, and yet I didn't. I knew better. Ras was more resilient and stayed on the cabin approach trail. He called out to me and asked if I was looking for an outhouse. We obviously had not communicated with each other about what we would do when we got to the cabin.  I turned and walked backed towards Ras, away from the cabin and the possible warmth, not knowing if anyone was sleeping inside or not. Having not smelled woodstove smoke, I felt like it was empty. It seemed empty. We left it behind and with strength forwarded on towards our goal.

photo by Ras

     Sometimes  I would look at my watch to see how many more hours of darkness were left or sometimes I would try to figure out how many miles might lie ahead. But mostly I just moved on in the darkness, enamored of the moonlight and the ever changing scene around me. After Snow Peak, we still had 3 more peaks to skirt high up on their shoulders. White Mountain would be the final one and it was in this area where I had read in the trail guide that several confirmed grizzly sightings had occurred. Oddly, I didn't feel nervous about that fact now and I felt indifferent to the darkness and what wildlife might be moving around in it. I felt safe and protected in front of Ras on the trail.

photo by Ras

     At times the wind, climbs and exposure felt so intense in combination. I couldn't believe I was out here in this environment, in the dark of night. I could feel the night progressing and soon saw a brightening in the distant horizon. The sun would rise as our long descent from our final climb came to an end. We  hiked forever along a very steep shoulder with a drop-off to our right. The trail was grassy and very scant. Cattle had moved through here and left huge cow pies. We followed these and stopped several times to make sure we were still heading the right way. Sometimes I would become suddenly startled at something, feeling very tired and almost dreamy.  More blow downs littered the path. No trail maintenance had happened in here for many years.  As we descended lower, the forest became damp and very fragrant. The air changed and the trail twisted and turned on level ground. It was getting lighter, we were getting closer to the finish of the trail and everything felt very surreal.  Suddenly, we saw two headlamps. Hunters were just setting out on this crisp morning, rifles slung over their shoulders and bright orange vests visible in the dim light of pre -dawn.  It was a father and son and they were more startled by us, than we were by them. They hadn't expected anyone and hadn't seen a car in the parking lot. We exchanged shocked good mornings , told them we'd seen not one deer on the entire trail after they had asked and then, anti climatically, exited the trail. Thus we established the Fastest Known Time and Only Known Time for the Unsupported Kettle Crest Traverse, North to South, via the Kettle Crest Trail #13 of 23 hours 56 minutes.

photo by Ras

     I had imagined building a big campfire and warming up. I thought I might take a nap and then somehow figure out how we'd get from this lonely trailhead  to our car on Boulder Pass, at least 50 miles away.  I knew we were about 20 miles deep in on Forest Service Road. The lot had a little area with a large fir tree, encircled in big rocks. An old wooden sign still stood, although it had been shot several times. Nothing was posted on the board. The ground inside was grassy and frozen, but it seemed like the best place to set up a nest for a couple of hours. Ras put on his puffy pants, ate a Tasty Bite pouch and immediately fell asleep. Frost built up on his mustache and I snuggled up against him for warmth. I looked at the map and saw clearly what our reality was. I couldn't keep warm enough or be still, because of the aching and throbbing in my feet, so sleeping wasn't an option for me.  I kept having to adjust my position to become comfortable again. I was happy Ras was so relaxed though and took the time to let the shock of our adventure sink in. I drank a bunch of water and had some snacks. I opened up the hand warmers and tucked them in the pockets of my puffy jacket so that I could hold them when I wanted to warm up a little bit. I was pleased that I had everything I needed with me. Ras obviously did too.

photo by Ras

      When Ras awoke after an hour of rest, we put our packs on and hit the Forest Service Road. It was hard to get moving again. We were stiff and cold. Our feet hurt and the hard road was a mixed blessing. It was nice to not have any obstacles and a straightforward path to follow, no blow downs, snow or rocks. There was dampness to the air down here and many fall colors in the deciduous forest. I felt good. I wasn't stressed out about how this day would play out. I knew we would just hike and hope for a ride, although a ride was highly unlikely. We would have to get to Highway 20 first, about 15 miles away. Our car was not on Highway 20 though, so we would have to hitchhike to the next northern pass where our car actually was. The chances of someone going this route were highly unlikely. We decided when we got there, we would first just try to hitch a ride to the closest town, Republic. 

     We took many rests on grassy benches along the road. One time we both laid back on our soft packs and fell asleep. This was  2 hours after we left the trail head. I awoke abruptly to the sound of a truck. I awoke Ras and he ran out into the road and waved his arms. The young guy stopped, smiled cautiously, looked Ras up and down and agreed to take us down to the bottom of the road anyway, where he then had to head in the opposite direction. His hunting partner in the front seat mentioned that they were in a hurry, but the driver seemed like he wanted to help us out. We climbed in the back, pretty happy at this bit of progress. We both noticed the sticker at the same time on his back window that read “If its brown, its down.” As vegans in a desperate situation, we just laughed and passed no judgement. As hunters would be our only allies today in this neck of the woods, we wanted them to also not be passing any judgement upon us as we stuck our thumbs out longingly.

     This ride got us about 3 more miles down the road, but we hopped out and thanked the driver. He looked Ras up and down one more time, smiled at me and went on his way. Now we knew we could just sit and wait some more, have a snack and then hope for our next ride. We did this and then began hiking uphill along the road for what we thought would likely be a 10 miler to the highway. We started laughing and talking and soon forgot we were hoping to catch a ride. After about an hour, another hunter pulled up and Ras waved him down. This guy had a truck full with him, all in camo and bright orange vests. He was a local and really helpful. He has hiked the Kettle Crest and hunted along it for years. He let us hop in the back and took us all the way to the highway. It felt so good to sit in the back of the truck, the wind blowing in our faces, camo backpacks at our sides, belonging to the hunters who hadn't had a successful day.

photo by Ras

     Now at the highway, we thought we would really have a hard time catching a ride. We made ourselves look as presentable as we could and kept smiles on our faces, or so we thought. We'd been there about 15 minutes and had about 15 vehicles pass us. A truck went by and I smiled at the 2 ladies inside. They passed and I dropped my head, thinking it was going to be a long day. It would be cold again at night and what kind of a ride would we actually end up getting anyway? Would it be safe? Just as I was thinking all of these thoughts, the two ladies pulled up in their pickup and invited us to hop inside. They had seen a disappointed look on my face as they passed and felt bad. They were out on a fall drive along the mountain pass and would gladly take us all the way to our car, offering to stop in Republic so we could get coffee. We all chatted like we were old friends and soon we were back at our car. 

photo by Kathy Vaughan

     After roll starting the Subaru we were on our way home.  I sat in the comfortable front seat of the car, enjoying the feeling of stretching my legs out in front of me and basking in the joy of a hard physical effort accomplished.  I knew the Kettle Crest Traverse would be one of the harder physical pushes I had ever pursued. Its hard to know ahead of time where that intense effort will take you mentally and spiritually. One of the reasons that I return to these challenges is to reach the point of what I think might be my limit and then push beyond it.  The result is always one of growth, healing and change. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

2013 UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge: Complete Results Of Our Inaugural Adventure Blogging Contest

art & design by Ras Scott Mosher of Ites Design

2013 UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge

Complete Results Of Our Inaugural Adventure Blogging Contest

     The goal of the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge is many fold: to form an adventure paradigm where runners, hikers, and all forms of pedestrians can participate on an even footing (figuratively); to promote the ethics of efficiency and good style over pure speed; to expose people to routes they would not encounter in the formalized racing scene; and finally to juxtapose the many different results and experiences participants achieved via their various means for all to see and draw from.

     This experiment in building new paradigms would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors:

     Out of twenty-nine people who signed up for the 2013 UPWC only 16 completed the route within the allowed time frame. It was fascinating to see the different techniques and methodologies yield their varied results. It's our goal to continue to find innovative ways for pedestrians of different disciplines and traditions to test themselves again the trails and one another.

     Huge Thanks and Respect to everyone who entered the 2013 UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge. Thank you for having faith in us at UltraPedestrian.com and in yourself.

Matt Hayes & Roger Michel - 9:28
1st/2nd  Overall
1st Team

1st/2nd Men's 

Roger's Trip Report

Roger responds:
Why the Wilderness Challenge: To run a loop i have heard of but never had the chance of doing... completely unsupported 

Describe yourself as a runner/hiker/adventurer: Runner 

Favorite part of the UPWC: The idea of being able to do it in a large time window, with a friend 

Goals for 2014: UPWC! and hopefully some other ultras 


Heather Anderson - 10:46
Best Blog Writing Award
3rd Overall
1st Solo
1st Women's

Heather's Trip Report

Why the Wilderness Challenge: I have always wanted to run it (the Devil's Dome Loop).

Describe yourself as a runner/hiker/adventurer: Mountain Lover and Limit Pusher

Favorite part of the UPWC: Running such a beautiful trail

Goals for 2014: Set an FKT (or two!) Run at least one 100 mile race in addition to HURT.



James Varner & Danny Gnojek (not pictured) - 12:04
4th/5th Overall
2nd Team

3rd/4th Men's

James' Trip Report

James responds:
Why the Wilderness Challenge: Running "competitively" in wilderness. And running such a scenic/challenging loop.

Describe yourself as a runner/hiker/adventurer: Runner

Favorite part of the UPWC: Running up high and the view up there.

Goals for 2014: Hardrock hopefully. Maybe an FKT somewhere...



Eric Sach - 12:39
6th Overall
2nd Solo

5th Men's

Eric's Trip Report


John Barrickman - 13:41
Best Wildlife Encounter
7th Overall
3nd Solo

6th Men's

John's Trip Report

Why the Wilderness Challenge: It was the package deal that incorporates self-sufficiency, flexibility, and an adventure into an unknown area! I won’t hang a “most interested” label on any one aspect of the UPWC.

Describe yourself as a runner/hiker/adventurer: I am a slow runner, fast hiker who makes frequent stops to take in the sights and sounds.  I don’t mind going solo and love getting inside my head where I can entertain myself with silly thoughts and songs.  I feel comfortable with navigation, route finding, bushwhacking, and night travel…just not all at the same time.  

Favorite part of the UPWC: Just being out there and seeing/watching the bears, hearing the little birds chirping in the trees, views from atop the ridges, and all the rodent wildlife with the feeling of being alone in a remote area woven in. 

Goals for 2014: I will keep chipping away at my two boys, 9 and 15, with the goal of getting them into trail running.  They are already fantastic backcountry backpackers and it would be a dream come true to one day run a Devil Dome Loop with them.  As for myself, this year I will go big. I don’t like to divulge “The Grand Plan” so far in advance because things happen in life which may derail my attempts and I don’t like the perceived added pressure. The three things I can comment on are Badger 100, 4th consecutive WR, and UPWC ’14…Whoo Hooo!!


Arya Farahani - 14:05
Best Video
8th Overall
4th Solo

7th Men's

Arya's Trip Report & Video

Why the Wilderness Challenge: I would have to say the most interesting aspect of it initially was the variety with which one could approach the challenge. Beyond the predetermined course and the generous time frame to complete it, it was up to you to do what you want. The various methods we saw used by the different people who completed the challenge is a testament to that.

Describe yourself as a runner/hiker/adventurer: Hmmm. That's a tough question to answer. I would have to say I am some sort of amalgamation of the three plus a few more types of wilderness person. I don't like definitions as they place unseen boundaries on what I aspire to do outdoors. I guess my favorite thing to do is head in to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and combine different trails as well as going off trail to attain (or enchain) multiple summits in one outing. It's almost like training in reverse. For me, these solo link-ups are the ultimate goal. Running ultras and other events are my "long slow distance" runs and a chance to see friends. I think this is another reason why I was drawn to the uniqueness of the UPWC.

Favorite part of the UPWC: Finishing unscathed. In all honesty its hard to really nail down one aspect or part that was the best. It took me out of my comfort zone by placing me in the North Cascades (which I had never been to) and following a course that at times was very remote, not to mention long with a ton of vertical gain. I've done longer "self contained" adventures before but those where all along the I-90 corridor where worst case scenario I descend out of the mountains and look for the nearest 7-11. If things went south during the UPWC it would be a whole other can of worms. It ranks in the top 3 hardest and sketchiest adventures I've had (yet) and looking back now its that aspect that makes me smile with the type of content that will probably get me in to trouble one of these days.

Goals for 2014: Stay uninjured. After that my running goals include attempting my first 100 (possibly Badger Mountain if I feel my body is ready), running many of the same events I did this year and attempt to beat all this years times, and hopefully win a few of the lotteries I have now qualified to. Of course I'll have my fingers crossed for "the big dance" but more than anything I want to run the CCC (Courmayeur Champex Chamonix), little sister to the UTMB. Tor des GĂ©ants is kind of my fantasy event I dream about one day but for the time being the CCC is plenty. I also spent much of this summer gathering beta for one FKR attempt as well as one OKT attempt this coming year. Those however will remain a secret for now. Not because I'm worried someone else will break/set it before me (please do) but I have yet to even admit to myself I might attempt them. I avoid deciding on things until the last minute as the enormity of certain undertaking often weights heavy on my mind. Either way it should be a great 2014!


Jeff Forister - 15:00
Best Photographs
9th Overall
5th Solo

8th Men's

Jeff's Trip Report & Photos

Why the Wilderness Challenge: What interested me most about this Challenge was the combined elements of location/ route, open period of time (2 months) to run the course when I have the free time to do so, and the interesting use of technology as a way to verify that I actually completed the route.

Describe yourself as a runner/hiker/adventurer: I would described myself as a backcountry enthusiast who has gained various intimate experiences (physical, mental, spiritual) with the mountains over the years using a variety of skill sets in backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing,  thru hiking and long distance mountain running as a means to do so.

Favorite part of the UPWC: The freedom to run the route, as a "race" when I want to within a two month time period.  Turns out I really enjoyed reading about the other entrants experiences, which I wasn't even expecting when I had signed up.  

Goals for 2014: Honestly I really haven't given it much thought, other than stay healthy enough to keep on trucking around all these great trails.  I would like to be in good enough shape to finish Plain next year but there are just too many variables between now and then.  Having a family, it is hard to know how much time I really can train for something like that.  I hope to backpack with the family in 2014, that's for sure!  Oh yes and the UPWC for 2014 of course!!


Peteris Ledins - 15:10
10th Overall
6th Solo

9th Men's

Peteris' Photos


Stacey Nievweija & Roger Michel - 16:40

Gnarliest SNAFU
Double Dipper Award (Roger)
11th Overall (Stacey)
1st Mixed Team

2nd Women's (Stacey)

Stacey's Trip Report

Why the Wilderness Challenge: It just sounded like fun!!! It was a loop long lost on my to-do list over a decade ago, as a hiker. Was super excited to do it!

Describe yourself as a runner/hiker/adventurer: For me running/hiking/adventuring is a sport of the heart and soul: testing my limits, facing fears, bonding with all that is around me, and just having a good ol' time. I love to have fun out there, decompress, de-grumpify and process all that this crazy wild world puts in front of us. It a passion as long as my body will allow me to use it.  My job as an RN reminds me every day that tomorrow I may not be able to run, so love life and grab it while ya can!  I am not fast nor talented and do not care about that. I am stubborn so that helps where talent and speed fail. I love the road, trails, short, long, does not matter they are all awesome in their unique ways. Its one of the ways I can set an example to my son to go out and grab life, enjoy it and work hard for it. It is an activity we enjoy together greatly.

Favorite part of the UPWC: Loved the "community vibe" . Loved that it was not one day only event, non-supported, all up to you. That it was an adventure that lasted over a span of time. You go do your part and then as time goes on you can see other people's experiences. A different way to bond over a a specific trail adventure, unique and special, would luv to see more of that!

Goals for 2014:  Hmmmmm not sure yet....another multi-day for sure, similiar to Run For the Border....


Daniel Fox - 17:54
12th Overall
7th Solo

10th Men's

Dan's Trip Photos

John St. Laurent - 25:06
13th Overall
8th Solo

11th Men's

John's Trip Report

Why the Wilderness Challenge: The past several years I’ve participated in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Open (BMWO), and happened upon the site for the UPWC by chance. Well, sort of by chance: the host of the BMWO is friends with Jill Homer and their blogs cross-pollinate a bit. Jill linked some interviews with Ras, and I’m pretty sure that’s how I ended up at the UltraPedestrian website.

I’ve recently seen the value of engaging with the larger outside community more, but by temperament avoid large events with outside media, sponsorships, and the like. Why should I pay an event to travel through wilderness that I own, when I can do that for free? I’m drawn to unsupported or self-supported efforts, so there is no value-add for me in most organized events.

So, it’s very rare for me to encounter an event that meets my criteria. So far it’s been the BMWO, the UPWC, and (if I ever have a chance to go) the Alaska Mountain and Wilderness Classic.

Describe yourself as a runner/hiker/adventurer: I’m definitely not much of a runner (!) but am certainly a hiker, as Andrew Skurka uses the term.

Favorite part of the UPWC: Being able to confirm that I could cover that much distance in one push. I’d never gone quite that long in a single “day” hike before. I didn’t even beaten up afterwards.

Goals for 2014: I’m considering going to the southwest around April to walk the Grand Canyon R-R-R and the Zion Traverse as a combo trip. I’ve never been there before.

In May or early June the Bob Marshall Wilderness Open will have its third year.

I also try to get in a “trek distance” (less than 100 mile) backpack each year. One of: the Timberline Trail, the Tahoe Rim Trail, Three Sisters Loop, Mt Adams RTM, maybe Section J of the PCT (if I can figure out the logistics solo).


Kathy Vaughan & Lisa Eversgerd - 26:24 
Camaraderie Award
14th/15th Overall
1st Women's Team
3rd/4th Women's

Kathy's Trip Report

Why the Wilderness Challenge: I was mostly interested in the Wilderness Challenge because of the Devil's Dome Loop. This loop is what sparked my interest in backpacking 15 years ago and that morphed into trail running and fast packing, 3  years ago. I liked the idea that I could do the loop at any pace I wanted. I had originally wanted to do it twice, once with my friend Lisa Eversgerd as a fast hike and the other time with my friend Deby Kumasaka as a run. I ended up having some health issues and just did the hike, but it was awesome and the highlight of my summer. I still hope to get out there with Deby sometime!

Describe yourself as a runner/hiker/adventurer: I am an ultrarunner who enjoys fastpacking trips as well. I just want to move for hours along scenic trail in the company of other cool, like-minded people. I have a slower pace and mix in a lot of hiking on a loop like the Devil's Dome.

Favorite part of the UPWC: The Wilderness Challenge was a blast and I can't wait to participate again next year. The idea of folks going out to do the same trail and enjoy their own experience of it, then sharing it with each other through writings and photos, is a unique and fun idea. I like how everyone can choose everything about the adventure themselves-which direction they will go, solo or with a teammate, overnight or in one shot, any starting time that works-its the perfect format for independent thinking ultrarunners/hikers.
Goals for 2014: My goals for next year are to complete my 2nd 100 mile trail run, the Lumberjack Endurance Run in April. I then want to run Echo Valley 50 miler in June and in May, I plan on running somewhere in Arizona or Utah, on an unsupported long adventure run with Ras. This winter, I will go on long, ultra distance cross country ski adventures every chance I get. I will also run Deception Pass 50k in December and Ft. Ebey Kettles Trial Marathon in February. 



Why the Wilderness Challenge: Spending time in the Wilderness with my good friend Kathy

Describe yourself as a runner/hiker/adventurer: A casual adventurer who loves to spend time in wild places.

Favorite part of the UPWC: Beautiful Jack Mountain and all the scenery.  Also love the crazy magic time when the day turns to night

Goals for 2014: More fastpacking adventures!!--I fell in love with the tiny backpack and moving light and quick over the landscape


Glenn Rogers - 29:15
Excellence In Blogging Award
16th Overall
9th Solo
12th Men's

Glen's Trip Report Day 1

Glen's Trip Report Day 2


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Psychopathy Of A Minimalist Adventurer: Or The Inverted Ten Essentials Scale: A Very Bad Idea

The Psychopathy Of A Minimalist Adventurer
The Inverted Ten Essentials Scale: A Very Bad Idea

photo by Chihping Fu
by Ras

     The Inverted Ten Essentials Scale (I.T.E.S.) ranking system is a completely irresponsible way of approaching minimalism on the trail. You can take my word for it: I invented the grading method. Therefore I can attest to its foibles, shortcomings, and dangers. But I.T.E.S. is not meant to be a philosophy in and of itself intent on propagating minimalism for its own sake. It is merely a method for assigning a rating to an effort, to be applied after the fact.

     I came up with the idea for the Inverted Ten Essentials Scale when I was chuckling to myself over a copy of a nationally published trail magazine. Yet again, in a graphic sidebar, with its nagging subtext, I was being lectured about what was absolutely necessary to carry. As I perused the familiar list, I was amused by how few of the Ten Essentials I usually carried on the trail. And that gave me the idea of assigning a numerical value to the disparity between the Ten Essentials and the number of those essentials one actually carries. This number could then be used to compare the style or purity of an unsupported effort, whether it be an ultrarun, fastpacking trip, or thruhike.

     Over the weeks, I mentioned my idea for I.T.E.S. to many of my ultrarunner and adventurer friends. They all responded one of two ways: either they laughed and immediately started calculating their own I.T.E.S. score for a recent trip, or their tone became stern and they warned me that it would be wildly irresponsible of me to publicly propose such a grading system. Either way, I could tell I was on to something.

     The Ten Essentials (10Es) was originally developed by The Mountaineers, and consisted of a list of precisely ten items intended to address two questions of backcountry survival:  First, can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? Second, can you safely spend a night—or more—out? The Classic Ten Essentials are comprised of a map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, headlamp/flashlight, first-aid supplies, firestarter, matches, knife, and extra food. As of the 8th edition of "Mountaineering: The Freedom Of The Hills" The Mountaineers have re-envisioned the 10Es as the Ten Essential Systems: navigation (map & compass), sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen), insulation (extra clothing), illumination (headlamp/flashlight), first-aid supplies, fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle), repair kit and tools, nutrition (extra food), hydration (extra water), and emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag).

     Obviously, ten is an artificially round number, and by that very tidiness is unlikely to be precisely the number of items that are absolutely essential. And the items listed on the 10Es very slightly depending on who is promoting them, whether it be the Washington Trails Association, the American Hiking Association, The Sierra Club, or any number of other organizations or governing bodies. 
Therefore, because of the gravitas and influence born by these groups, the idea of venturing into the backcountry with fewer than 10 of the 10Es has become anathema to most people's idea of responsible wilderness travel. But questioning the soundness of conventional wisdom is a lifelong practice of mine which has served me well. And not even widely honored backcountry commandments like the Ten Essentials can escape my heretical mental vivisection. To my mind, the Ten Essentials are neither ten nor are they essential.

     Consider the Boy Scouts, one of the many vocal proponents of the Ten Essentials, albeit rebranded as the "Scout Outdoor Essentials". In many ways, even at 42 years of age, I wish I were a better Boy Scout, and still aspire to doing a better job of upholding the Scout Law. Goodness knows the world would be a better place if I could be a little  bit more trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. And there is obvious logic to the motto "Be Prepared". What concerns me is the open-ended scope of that guideline. Be Prepared ... for what? For ANYTHING? There is definitely a tipping point beyond which each additional item you carry in order to be prepared for anything increases the odds of anything happening. Not like a self-fulfilling prophecy, more like a feedback loop. Being prepared for anything necessitates itself. The more you carry, the more likely you are to need the things you carry. I propose that "Be Reasonably Prepared" is a more elegant principle. 

     The I.T.E.S. system is easy to use to grade your performance in these terms. Simply add up the number of items from the Ten Essentials list that you carried. The lower the number, the more pure the effort and the better the style. So the "Be Prepared For Anything" crowd would always be pinning the I.T.E.S. meter at a 10+ out of 10 Essentials. The "Be Reasonably Prepared"s would be a 6 or 7 out of 10, maybe less. 

     However I realized that a more nuanced grade was needed, another data point. There's also a disparity between the number of the Ten Essentials that I actively take, and those I passively take. So I revised the formula to g/n/10+. For instance, every pack I own (except for my old Dana Designs workhorse) has a whistle built in to the buckle on the sternum strap. A whistle is not on the classic or modern version of The Mountaineers Ten Essentials (the O.G. of 10E lists), but is included by the Boy Scouts of America and the American Hiking Society. Since a whistle is not universally considered one of the Ten Essentials it is denoted as a 10+1, an add on to the Ten Essentials. I also include the whistle in my count of gross 10Es, but not my net 10Es. The gross total includes all 10Es and add-ons you are carrying, whether by design or accident and whether you use them or not. Net 10Es are all 10Es you carry by choice and use. So if I was carrying 6 n10Es plus my pack had a built in whistle I would not carry otherwise, and my watch had a built in compass that I would not elsewise have bothered with, that would be rated an I.T.E.S 8/6/10+1. (A compass is universally considered one of the 10Es, so it is included in the 10 and not added on with a +1 as is the whistle.)

     As examples I have assigned I.T.E.S. grades to my two successful Only Known Time projects: the 2012 Double Wonderland, and the 2013 Sextuple Grand Canyon Rim to Rim. The Double Wonderland rates a 6/4/10+1 according to the I.T.E.S. system. The Sextuple Rim To Rim also garners an I.T.E.S rating of 6/4/10+1. For the Double Wonderland I carried a knife (universal 10E) but not a map (also a universal 10E). On the Sextuple Rim To Rim I carried a map, but not a knife. Both of these projects could accurately be graded a 4/10, but since I was burdened with an unwanted sternum strap whistle and built-in compass on my watch, the 6/4/10+1 rating gives a more detailed idea of what was actually at my disposal in a survival situation. 
     I have the goal of not carrying anything that has only a single purpose. To my reasoning, anything I carry that I don't use is just additional weight, weight which burns calories, wears on muscles and minds, and taxes ligaments. My experience of the universe and its sense of humor is such that I would expect a first aid kit to cause me injury, so I don't carry one. My plan is to use clothing and, if necessary, pieces of my pack to improvise bandages and splints and slings as necessary, with the main goal being to insure that they aren't necessary. 

     By no means do I carry an extra day's worth of food. I try to carry only exactly as much food as I will need, erring on the side of risk, preferring to carry a little less than necessary, rather than a little more. I have fat stores that could keep me alive for a week in a survival situation. Other factors will cost me my life well within that time frame, so I don't fear starving to death. And in the hundreds of survival stories I have studied, I can't recall a single instance of someone starving to death. Dehydration kills much too quickly for that.

     Again, I try to carry exactly as much water as I will need. This has caused me trouble, but not of the life-threatening sort. In the Grand Canyon, due to a number of idiosyncratic but completely avoidable factors, I filled a bottle with untreated water out of Bright Angel Creek. It was warm and tasted swampy and immediately registered as the sketchiest water I had ever imbibed. I drank less than 1/4 of that bottle, but it was enough for me to contract giardiasis. Weeks later I was light headed, lethargic, had no appetite, and was losing a dangerous amount of weight. Moreover, I lost the months of June and July for adventuring and have left numerous planned OKT projects on the table as a result. But I was in no immediate danger on the trail. And numerous detailed accounts I have read of people suffering extreme or deadly dehydration demonstrate over and over that while dehydration kills far more quickly than starvation, it still takes time. Many people survive for 24 to 36 hours without water beyond the time they initially become desperately thirsty.

     For clothing, I never carry anything I consider "extra". I carry a wool shirt, neck gaitor and arm sleeves, one or two fleece hats, wool liner gloves, weatherproof shell mitts, a puffy jacket, and puffy pants, and I do so intending to use every piece of gear. But I think many of these items do fulfill the spirit of "extra clothing" in the 10Es. 

     I carry a brimmed hat for sun protection, but do not carry sun block or sunglasses. I run very hot, so sunglasses are either fogged up from body heat, or streaked with dripping sweat. Either way, they end up obscuring my vision rather than protecting or enhancing it. It's extremely rare that I use sun block at any time in my life. And I am so long conditioned to bear safe travel that I simply would not slather myself in a rich, tropical scented marinade, even if it is SPF 50+.

     I.T.E.S. is the result of an untethered mind wandering into the wilds of the 'What Ifs' and emerging not all that rattled. When I guide my mind down reasonable lanes of possibility, I run through scenarios like mental computer simulations. MacGyver is my patron saint. If I can't improvise what I need to survive, I don't deserve to. And the SOS button on my SPOT transponder is my CTRL+ALT+DEL. 

     I accept the risk. I spend a lot of time alone in the woods working, playing, and living. By simple mathematical probability I am more likely to die in the woods than people who stay in the safety of their homes watching teevee on the sofa. They will never be mauled by a bear or pounced on by a cougar or hit by lightening. They won't be incapacitated by hypothermia, disfigured by frostbite, or struck down by heatstroke. Dehydration, bloodloss, shock, and exposure are not even risk factors for them. But then, I'm extremely unlikely to meet my Maker on a couch. And I Give Thanks for that. If I must I will die of dehydration, or hypothermia, or exposure. I might fall prey to wild beasts, gravity, or hubris. A broken bone, erroneous turn, or misidentified berry may bring about my end. But God forbid I lose my life commuting to or from work.

     I'd like to think that I evoke John Muir, although I'd be perfectly happy if I call Edward Abbey to mind. But there's an even more curmudgeonly desert dweller whose words resonate on my behalf in Hunter S. Thompson. “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”