Saturday, 27 June 2015

Western States 100 week Thu 25th

This was the first day of official activities, which began with the Western States welcome by Race Director Craig Thornley and WSER Foundation President John Trent. The RD has changed since I was last here. The previous RD was Greg Soderlund. The only familiar face for me was Mo Livermore, who has been a part of the race since its inception. You would never believe it to look at her; she never seems to age. Our greeting was a reunion of old friends. She remembers me for completing the very hot 2006 event with no heat training and without a single salt tablet, when most other runners were popping S-caps like there was no tomorrow. (There nearly was no tomorrow for those who overdid it. Vomiting and DNFs were common.) Latest medical research recommends doing exactly what I did instinctively back then - drink to feel as thirst dictates and take an electrolyte drink or soup at aid stations if salt in food is not enough.

After the welcome we hiked to Emigrant Pass for the brief ceremony at noon. I joined WS volunteer 'UltrAlena' Hansen to share the flag carrying. Alena will be volunteering at Rucky-Chucky nearside this year. On the way up we breathed the dust of heavy construction vehicles as they climbed to chair lift construction works.
A big crane that reminds me of Jez.
A cement mixer kicks up the dust.
The ceremony at the top with Mo Livermore and Tony Rossmann was moving. Tony's description and pointing out of the route to beyond Robinson Flat was particularly interesting. I recall while running the race in previous years that, as we leave Robinson Flat and run around Little Bald Mountain, the trail briefly turns back and we can see all the way back to Emigrant Pass. This is with more than 30 miles behind us. After that we begin to lose altitude as the route descends towards the canyons (even though we've already been through the first canyon before the climb to Robinson Flat).
Tony Rossmann and Mo Livermore conduct the ceremony.
At the top I met up with three other UK runners James Poole, Chris Howe and Henry Church. James had been feeling so energetic he went mountain climbing as soon as he arrived.

James descends his mountain.
After the ceremony we descended back to High Camp where we met the oldest entrant Gary Knipling, who does pretty well for a 71yo.
With 71yo Gary Knipling, oldest competitor at WS this year.
The 4th cable car ride of the week to the bottom saw us proceed by way of the newly erected starting arch to lunch at Fireside Pizza. It took my mind back to the pizza eating competition I had with Jez Bragg and Paul Charteris back in 2008 (I think). There was none of that shenanigans this time.
Henry, James, Chris, me - time to race start.
Here are the day's photos.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Western States 100 week Wed 24th

I had an easier, 6-mile day today with a jog down to the village and a trek up to Emigrant pass on the official Western States route, followed by a third descent by cable car (free if descending only). As I approached the village I noticed the floodlights blazing up the ski slope. No doubt they were testing them for race day because we use their light for the initial climb before dawn finally breaks.
Testing the ski slope lights.
The slog up to the top was not easy in the blazing sunshine. I'm thankful for the much cooler conditions we get at 5am race start. A water bowser climbed the trail spraying water to keep the dust down before returning to the bottom and repeating.
Track is dampened temporarily behind the bowser down below.
I arrived at Emigrant pass with another runner hot on my heels. He was Sam Fiandaca. As we chatted, another runner joined us, who turned out to be none other than Ian Sharman. Ian has 5 consecutive top ten finishes at Western States. Although a Brit (obvious when he speaks, but I think I hide mine well ;-)), he lives here in the US. We spent a while admiring the views out to the horizon along the Western States route and chatting about all things ultra-running before Sam set off down into the Granite Chief Wilderness for a run and Ian and I descended in far more leisurely fashion back towards High Camp. (We elites know how to save it all until race day. ;-))
Ian Sharman and Sam Fiandaca joined me at Emigrant Pass.
The day's pictures are here.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Western States 100 week Tue 23rd

That's more like it. I could keep up a more respectable uphill hiking pace today despite the temperature ratcheting up and the sweat flowing freely, and I even managed some running! After yesterday's struggle amidst much puffing and panting and pauses to admire the view (actually to recover and catch my breath), and zero inclination to run, today I felt a bit more energetic. The acclimatisation must be working. It's following the same pattern as the four previous times I've been here.

I entered Squaw Valley village via the front door today for the first time instead of from above via the back door. I joined the Shirley Canyon trail from the top end of the village to the right of the cable car. The footpath climbed variously through pine and fir trees, alongside a tumbling stream and across wide expanses of steeply sloping granite. The cable car to the left was soon out of sight on the other side of the mountain as the path took me on a now familiar wilderness journey.
Entering the village via the front door.
Guess where the trail goes.
The trail was marked in parts by markers of blue spray paint, known locally as blazes (blazing the trail with blistering blue blazes), which were fading and easily missed. Across the open granite slabs and boulders they disappeared completely. Scanning left to right revealed nothing blue with nothing to follow apart from my nose uphill. Inevitably I lost the trail and the nose-following continued up terrain that required hands, feet and a dash of daring. I was thankful for the extreme grip provided by the rough granite. Seemingly any gradient could be climbed without a single slip.

I knew I was aiming for Shirley Lake. I aimed right towards a clump of trees that seemed to surround a depression and it wasn't far from the stream, so I guessed the lake might be there. The ground foliage beneath the trees was impenetrable but a steep granite slope appeared ahead which I climbed, mountain goat style, to get a better view from above. There was no lake. I contoured back along the precipice with increasing sense of urgency because I had to catch the last cable car from High Camp at 5pm and I hadn't even reached the lake yet!

Climbing now to the left brought me back to the trail with a massive sense of relief. The markers were newer and more frequent for now and led me to Shirley Lake. Across the other side of the lake was a cable car terminus. I guess the lake forms a winter playground for the skiers from the High Camp area high above.
Shirley Lake.
The path climbed around the lake to join the steep access track left up to the wide plateau above High Camp. After power walking to the top I ran (note, "ran") down to High Camp in time for a sandwich and taking in the views before taking the penultimate cable car down at 4:40pm. The 1.5 mile climb back up to the guesthouse completed a reassuring afternoon's exercise and another 7 miles under the belt.
High Camp down below. Fire smoke still lingers on the horizon.
Here's the photo album.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Western States 100 week Mon 22nd

I arrived Saturday evening in Reno before moving up to Squaw Valley on Sunday. The weather was uncharacteristically cool and windy but characteristically dry and wall-to-wall 'sunshiney'. It was great to meet Herman and Ann at the guesthouse again. It's been 6 years since I was here.
Squaw Valley from the deck.
Yesterday (Monday) was a hike to High Camp (top of cable car) the long way round (probably 10 miles). After a lot of floundering and asking for directions I found the secret, un-signposted entrance to the footpath between dwellings perched on the valley side. The path wound back and forth and climbed to meet the Pacific Crest Trail way up top. The cable car and High Camp station grew further away to my left as I climbed until it was out of sight behind the hills. I was completely alone on that little-used single-track trail. With thoughts of mountain lions and bears, my senses were heightened. I heard that distant deep groaning sound again which I recall hearing when I was last alone on the trails around these parts. The hairs on the back of my neck rose. I have no idea what makes the sound but I always imagine mountain lion (cougar).
Leaving Squaw Valley.
 Last glimpse of High Camp (top left).
Squaw Valley down below. The 'cloud' on the horizon is forest fire smoke.
I met the first hiker at the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. He had come from Tinker Knob to the right. I was reassured that he was puffing and panting with the altitude as well. After a brief conversation he sat down for a refreshment stop while I turned left towards Granite Chief. My refreshment stop would wait until Emigrant Pass.
Now on the PCT I met several hikers, all striding purposefully with walking poles, wearing big rucksacks and coming in the opposite direction. One of them ('Marathon John' Patterson, pictured right) stopped for a long chat. It was then that I learned all these hikers to be thru-hikers doing the PCT end-to-end from Mexico to Canada. I'm blown away by the very thought of something so big, something I would never consider taking on. We must have chatted for a good 20 minutes, he telling me about thru-hiking and how much weight he'd lost already, and me telling him about Western States (he'd noticed my buckle and T-shirt). Now suitably informed I was able to interact appropriately with the next hikers who passed. One of them said: "Only ten days to halfway". Wow!
At the cross-paths with Tevis Trail with Granite Chief mountain rising to the right, I turned left back up the Western States 100 route to Emigrant Pass. At the top were panoramic views of High Camp down below with Lake Tahoe in the distance and fire smoke billowing up from behind the mountains beyond. (There always seems to be a forest fire somewhere when I'm here.)

Fire beyond Lake Tahoe.
After lunch at the top and a slippery, dusty descent to High Camp I was happy to take the cable car down to the valley bottom before walking back up to the guesthouse. That little jaunt took more out of me than is decent. I hope I'm more acclimatised to the altitude come race day.
Cable car down to Squaw Valley.
All the pictures I took are here.