I run for many reasons, most importantly I run because I really enjoy it. I enjoy the simplicity of it. Shorts and a pair of shoes are my liberation, my wings, and some would argue that even these things are not necessary. I enjoy the anticipation I feel before a run, the grace and power I feel during a run and the satisfaction fatigued muscles, spent lungs and dirty feet bring after a run. I love looking back over miles of trails, turning around and going further. I feel very lucky to have found something in my life that brings me so much pleasure and more. I often joke, although it is really no joke at all, that if I am feeling tired or sore from mountain biking, cycling, or swimming that I haven’t been running enough. This is my favorite reason that I have for running. Running makes everything else feel easy. But it is more than that, running makes everything else possible. It is the foundation for everything I do. In 2006 when I decided to ride my bike from Alaska to Argentina and climb the highest peak on the North and South continents. I had only owned a bike for five months. It was not because I was a cyclist that I was able to accomplish this journey two years later. It was because I am a runner. Shortly after I had completed the A to A trip I had thought about climbing all of California’s fourteen thousand foot peaks using a bicycle to connect the trailheads. As other amazing adventures presented themselves this idea was put aside until last year when news broke that Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold had become the first to complete this feat. I have the greatest respect for both of these people and I am thankful for their inspiration. Such motivational words like “sufferfest” and “The most sustained and difficult challenges of my life” brought back the fire I needed to get out there and do it. After all, this body craves incapacitating exhaustion from worthwhile means and this trip did not disappoint.
Alex and Cedar completed the enchainment of all the peaks, riding their bikes between all trailheads, in 22 days, I was hoping to be done in less than 9 days.
http://www.climbing.com/news/honnold-wright-enchain-california-14ers-by-bike-foot-and-free-solo/ My trip was completely self supported and I used Goran Kropp’s purist ethics as I understood them from his book “Ultimate High”. I carried all my gear from start to finish. I carried all the food that I was going to need for the climbing and camping from the beginning. I did not take any help, food or other items from anyone. The only thing I did not carry with me was the food I would require during the bike riding portion of this trip, which I purchased from restaurants along the way.
This is my trip report:
Day 1, Tuesday, July 29th
I was planning on trying to get a bit more sleep than I did before I started, but as Diana Schlaff drove me towards Mt. Shasta my efforts where hindered by a carefree black bear lumbering across the road. The quick deceleration of Diana’s Subaru Forester had me wide eyed after only an hour of sleep. The rest of the drive was spent speculating about Shasta’s Aliens and the Earth’s chakras. Then dinner and more quality conversation had us arriving at the parking area for Sargents Ridge well after dark. I got everything ready and had enough time to lie down for about 30 min. before the clock hit midnight, my start time. A few last minute things and I was running up the trail by 12:15. I had never climbed Mt. Shasta via Sargents before and somewhere in the base of the old ski bowl cirque I lost the trail. The new moon had passed on July 26th and just three days later it was still very dark this time of night. As long as I was going up I would be fine, I told myself and started quietly scrambling up and out of the old ski bowl way too far right. I ran into a ridge that had huge gendarmes blocking access to the ridge proper and found myself climbing some rotten 5th class rock in the dark. At one point as I was trying to skirt around one rather massive precipice I found myself tiptoeing across the dirty ledge where the top of a glacier met the overhanging rock above. It was a delicate balancing traverse where the steep bulge kept trying to push me over the frozen slope that dropped off into the darkness below. After some more climbing and traversing I finally made it to Sargents Ridge where I was able to pick up my pace and start running again. With very few difficulties I got to the summit at 4:45am (14,179ft.). signed the registry, got a GPS signal and started down. I nailed the decent and was back at the trailhead by 6:30. Diana had slept in the parking lot and was awake to snap some photos of me coming in. I jumped on my bike and set out to ride. My goal was to ride what I thought was going to be 130 miles to Susanville, which I think is the distance from the town of Shasta to Susanville. But the trailhead was 17 miles further away than I had planned for. That, an unexpected flat tire, 102 degree heat, some annoying headwinds and that I was almost falling asleep on my bike brought me just west of a rest stop 20 miles from Susanville. I used my camelback bladder to take a shower and was inside my sleeping bag by 8:00pm. I think I still got 120 miles in plus my first peak. This was an incredible day.
Day 2, Wednesday, July 30th
I slept 11 straight hours was up and back on my bike by 8:30am. If there was one day on this trip that I would say was not very exciting this would be that day. My original plan was to ride out east past Susanville on Wendell Rd. to Pyramid Lake then turn south through Fernley and finally meeting up with Hwy 395 again at Bridgeport. Although this route would add 20 extra miles it would have been much flatter. The reason I changed my mind that morning was because of the remoteness of this route and the extreme temperatures I experienced the day before. I was afraid that I could very easily run out of water out there so instead I turned south on 395 in Susanville. The weather was much cooler than it had been the day before and I was wondering if I had made the right call. It’s so nice when you get an answer. Just north of Doyle I looked out east and right about where I would have been riding had I continued on my original course I saw a nasty looking sand storm raging across the deserts. The temps stayed cool all day with some warm rains to ride through and some strong winds to battle. My legs felt great and I was able to ride 130 miles before stopping near Mt. Rose Hwy. south of Reno. It was fun riding my bike down So. Virginia Street during the kick-off for Hot August Nights. I had to push the hour a little in order to get away from the urban sprawl and was not off my bike until after dark.
Day 3, Thursday July 31st
I was able to wake up at a decent hour and was watching the sun rise from the seat of my bike. Carson Valley through Gardnerville went fast and I had already done 50 miles well before noon. Then the hills started. I had forgotten about Simee Dimeh Pass between Carson Valley and Antelope Valley and at 5987 feet it was a slap in the face. The Walker River Canyon up to Devils Gate at 7519 feet was my first real grind. It was raining again but this time the elevation turned the wetness into a bone chilling soak. I clocked my 100th mile while on that climb and it knocked the wind out of me. My goal this day was to get to Bridgeport, but despite all the climbing I was still making really good time and only stopped in Bridgeport long enough to get something to eat. I pushed on over Conway Summit at 8143 feet which turned out to be a real kick in the nuts. I bulldozed through my 125th mile that day while on that climb. Then I rolled into the town of Lee Vining still an hour sooner than I was planning on riding that day. I thought about pushing on but I now only had something like 60 miles to do tomorrow plus Tracorum was setting the vibe around the Mobile Mart with their Gospel Thunder Funk. The thought of a beer, music and good heads kept me right where I was. After just one beer I walked up to the flag pole on the hill where I had left my bike and fell asleep listening to the band finishing up their last set. I had ridden 140 miles this day and was on the East Side! Great Day!
Day 4, Friday August 1st
Deadmans Pass and Sherwin Summit were tough this morning. My legs are tired and took a long time to warm them up. Got to Bishop by 1:00pm and got some food before riding on. At Big Pine I had some stomach issues and wasn’t feeling good but I had a huge climb, 4,000 vertical feet over 9 miles, to let me know what real discomfort feels like. It took me 3 hours to pull my 40lbs trailer up to the trailhead at Glacier Lodge. The climbs up from the valley floor are going to have to be taken seriously. I figured they were going to be a grind but they are more to reckon with than I had thought. It is amazing to be here right now, such an incredible ride and challenging journey. Tomorrow feels like a new chapter, a new mind set, a new playground. I hope I am ready.
Day 5, Saturday August 2nd
My alarm went off at 2:00am. Afternoon thunder showers have been predicted and I am in a hurry to get moving. It felt good to be upright and running across the Sierra trails. The sun caught up to me just before Sam Mack Meadows and soon afterwards was running across the talus up to the base of Thunderbolt Peak. I climbed the East Face (5.5) but approached it more directly by climbing up to a roof and traversing left (5.9) onsight and solo. I got to the summit (14,003ft.) at 11:00am just as a guided party was leaving. I climbed down from the summit block and started traversing south. I was feeling good up there and quickly climbed from Thunderbolt to Starlight Peak (14,200ft.) by 11:20 after passing another party of four. The climbing was super enjoyable and I was smiling as I topped out on North Palisade (14,242ft.) at 11:40am. There were three other climbers at the summit and when I told them of what I was trying to do their only comment was “That’s already been done before.” I didn’t know what to say in response I just nodded my head in agreement and quietly started toward my next peak. One of the climbers offered me some M&M’s as I was leaving which I had to decline in order to keep my trip self supported. My next peak was Polemonium (14,080ft.) and I reached the summit at 12:30pm. At 1:15pm Mt. Sill (14,162ft.) was the last peak I hit before descending down the western slope, climbing up Pot Luck Pass and taking off toward Cirque Pass. I ascended the southwest chute and found myself in a notch just south of disappointment peak with some ridge climbing still needing to be done before gaining the summit of Middle Palisade. The rock quality is so much worse than that of the peaks north of the Palisade Crest and any good feelings of climbing were soon replaced by gripping nerve shattering progress. I found myself on the top of Middle Palisade (14,040ft.) at 6:30pm. I descended the Northeast Face as quickly as I could and sprinted back to the glacier lodge trailhead. It was dark when I got back to my bike and I decided to sleep there one more night. My next trailhead wasn’t too far away and I wasn’t concerned. Six peaks done in one day! I’ll take it!
Day 6, Sunday August 3rd
It started raining on me at 3:00am I didn’t bring a tent so I got up, packed everything away and started down toward McMurry Meadows. The brakes on my bike started making a bad noise but it was too dark to see what was going on. It was just starting to get light as I started running up the creek toward Red Mountain Lake. As the day got brighter I realized that I could see less. It was completely socked in and the rain was a constant drizzle. Any idea I may have had to climb the Northeast Arête was completely gone. I started up the talus in the direction of Split Mountain’s north flank and had to do some climbing in order to get out of the lake basin. This is where things started to get real. I was climbing up a shallow gully that was flowing water. At one point I had to climb up a steep slab on its left side and was immediately horrified by the idea that I may have to climb back down this section. I got to the north slope of Split Mountain feeling like I had climbed myself into a trap but felt compelled to keep going. About 400 feet from the summit the rain turned to hail and my day went from miserable to painful. I was completely exposed on talus slope and had nowhere to take shelter so I kept moving towards to summit. I reached the summit (14,058ft.) sometime around noon and without stopping for even a moment I was running back down the slippery talus. I was able to run out to Tinemaha Creek and was happy to find a faint trail that took me back down to my bike avoiding all the difficulties that had spooked me on the way up. By the time I had ridden my bike back into the town of Big Pine the rain had stopped and the streets were dry. Upon returning to my bike I realized that my rear brakes were shot and I had been grinding away at the rim during my early morning descent from Glacier Lodge. This, I thought, was going to make tomorrow very interesting. After warming up and getting some food in me I started pedaling off up Hwy 168 and White Mountain.
Day 7, Monday August 4th
I took my time getting going this morning. I underestimated how completely spent my legs were. I thought White Mountain was going to be a gimme. Although I really enjoyed the ride it took a lot out of me. The clouds blowing eerily through the Ancient Bristle Cone Forest and above that I was back in a cloud. Except for one glimpse I was afforded at the Barcroft Research Station during a break in the clouds I had no idea what my surroundings looked like. Most of the time I was limited to only 100 feet of visibility or less. White Mountain was a huge grind I haven’t been able to find one bigger in the United States. In fact the only thing that I can kind of compare it to was a day and a half climb I did in Columbia years back. The White Mountain grind is as good as it gets! I ditched my bike at the research station and in the spirit of the Donner Party Mountain Runners Monday Night Trail Teasers ran to the summit (14,252ft.) I did think that it was only going to be two miles past the station and was surprised when after four and a half miles I reached the summit. This was at 12:15pm. I ran back down to my bike the whole time anticipating riding the 10,000 foot descent without a rear brake. Plus I still had some more riding to do before this trip was done and didn’t want to blow through my front brake as well. I had met two hikers coming down from the summit, Jeff and his son Gavin. They were hiking all of the counties of California’s high points. I chatted with them briefly then continued running down to my bike. They caught up to me in their car as I was riding down the wet and now snowy roads leading away from the summit. I was using my foot as a way to control my speed into the turns. At first I was rubbing the heal of my shoe against the rear tire but it wasn’t long before I rubbed a hole straight through my shoe and had to resort to scrapping my heal along the ground, which is what I was doing when Jeff and Gavin caught back up to me. They followed behind me for a while and then passed me and stopped. I stopped as well and Jeff got out of his car. “What is going on with your brakes?” he asked and I explained to him my predicament. He laughed, shook his head and said that this is the most insane thing he has ever witnessed. Said it needed to be shown on YouTube or something then begged me to post on Supertopo. Before getting back into his car he offered me some hand warmers which I had to politely decline. The rest of the ride down was the same I would pick up a bunch of speed throw my foot down before a turn and slow down just enough to make it through. A few times the speed was just a little too much and I used my precious front brake just enough to safely get me through. By the time I finally made it down my arms were aching so badly from the washboard and rocky roads. But, man what a ride! I was behind schedule by the time I rode back through Big Pine and after dealing with a flat tire was only able to make it to the campgrounds just one mile up the Onion Valley road outside of Independence.
Day 8, Tuesday August 5th
The beginning of the day marked one week since I had departed on this journey. What I had already accomplished was mind boggling. It was this morning that I felt like the end was within my reach now. If everything worked out tomorrow I would be riding my bike to my final trailhead but first I needed to stay focused. I had two more peaks I needed to climb today and a huge approach. Because I had not made it to my trailhead the night before I still had a three hour bike ride that I needed to get out of the way. On the ride up Foothill road I could see the amount of snow that had fallen on Mt. Williamson over the last two days. This made me nervous. I didn’t start running until 6:00am and was way behind for the day. The run up Shepherds Pass was one of the highlights of the trip. A worthy run! Along the way I encountered many backpackers fleeing from the high country, coming down in order to dry out. It made me wonder what I was running into. After 11 miles I reached the top of Shepherds Pass and made my over to the north rib of Mt. Tyndall. My legs were so tired from biking up White Mountain yesterday and from running up to the pass this morning that I found myself moving very slow. I reached to summit of Tyndall Peak (14,018ft.) at 12:00pm with very little trouble. I descended down into the Williamson bowl and started up towards the east face. I quickly ran into a lot of snow and decided that the North Arête would be the fastest way to the summit. I traversed over and started climbing. Mt. Williamson was my favorite peak to climb on this trip. I had clear skies above me and to the west but the thermals were bringing wispy clouds up and out of the valley floor. When I got to the top of the west horn I thought I had reached the summit but I was in a cloud and couldn’t see the proper summit for a few minutes. When the cloud passed and I could see where I still needed to get to I was a little disheartened. I slowly climbed down to the east skirted around into a notch and climbed up onto the summit plateau. I made the summit (14,375ft.) at 5:00pm. The snow down the gullies that led back to the lakes in the Williamson bowl basin looked sketchy so I decided to try descending down the North Fork drainage. From the summit plateau I headed east until I found two gullies that led into the drainage I took the first one and had to do some 5th class down climbing. Looking back I could have avoided this by taking the second, wider gully. There was one more section of down climbing, some bushwhacking and a long trail-less hike out to the foothills that I then had to skirt in order to get back to my bike. I arrived back at my bike well after dark. I was hungry and tired and still had to ride about a half hour more before getting to my trailer. My idea was to climb the peaks that needed to be climbed each day and still have enough time to ride to the next trailhead. Thus giving myself a good launching point for the next day’s climbs. Up until this point I was able to keep to this schedule even if barely at times. This time I failed. Now I was going to have to add an entire day to the length of my trip. I was not too happy about this.
Day 9, Wednesday August 6th
My “active” rest day. I had fallen asleep again at the campgrounds just west of the town of Independence. I slept in until 8:30, casually got ready and ate before biking the 15 miles to Lone Pine. From here I biked up Tuttle Creek road to Granite View road to the Tuttle Creek trailhead. I got to camp around 5:00pm and was asleep by 6:00pm. Although I was not happy to have to “waste” this day it gave me some much needed rest and set me up for a more enjoyable last day.
The final hours, Thursday August 7th
I was up at 2:00am feeling super excited about my day! It is only four miles from the trailhead to the summit of Mt. Langley but it is a steep four miles. I tried to run what I could, but was reduced to power hiking most of it. The sun rose behind me as started up the avalanche gully that defines the northeast slope of Mt. Langley. I tagged the summit (14,042ft.) at 8:30am. I met a guy up there who was looking for a way down. I gave him my best suggestion and ran off. The running was feeling good today and I was really enjoying moving so quickly over the terrain between Mount Langley and Crabtree pass. At Crabtree pass I veered right and climbed up some 5th class rock to the summit of Mt. McAdie where I was able ridge climb over to Trail Crest and the Whitney Trail. I was so happy to be running along this section of trail as it was another highlight. The trail was full of people and I was passing everyone. I made the slight detour up to Mt. Muir (14,015ft.) and stood atop it at 12:30pm, only a half hour later than I wanted to. I ate some lunch and then sprinted off again toward Mt. Whitney. At 1:20pm. I was signing the summit register and without taking a moment to look around was off again down the northern slopes and Mt. Russell, My final Peak! I was so excited. After the nerve-racking climbing I had found on Mt. Williamson two days before I had talked myself into playing it safe today. I had Diana waiting for me back at the trailhead and I wasn’t going to do anything stupid that might keep me from finishing and getting back to her. But I was feeling good! So as I looked at my options for Mt. Russell I thought about Mithril Dihedral but there was still a lot of snow melting up high and I thought the cracks might still be seeping. So I turned my sights on to the Fishhook Arête. The climbing was fantastic! It led me directly to the summit and at 2:50pm I stood on top of my final peak, Mt. Russell (14,086ft.)! I was ecstatic! But the clock was still ticking so I ran as fast as I could muster down the scree into the drainage that would bring me to the Whiney Portal. I made it to the trailhead at 6:13pm but for me I felt like I had to finish with everything I started with and that was with my bike some 8 to 10 miles away at the Tuttle Creek trailhead. So without stopping for even a moment I continued on down the Lone Pine trail and into the foothills. I made my way over to Olivia’s Ranch Road via a small cross country section across a drainage. Olivia’s Ranch Road wraps around to follow Tuttle Creek on the opposite side of the drainage from where my bike was. It was a steep embankment down to the creek and it seemed fitting to have to finish by scrambling up the other side. I reached my bike at 8:41pm, 9 days 20 hours and 41 minutes had elapsed since I had started at the base of Mt. Shasta. Diana was waiting for me with an Arrogant Bastard Ale, a huge smile and the news that she couldn’t make it all the way up here with her car and had to park a mile down the road. I grabbed my bike and started walking/riding it down to her car. About half way there the distinct sound of metal grinding on metal informed me that I had just lost my front brakes as well! Wow I can’t believe that I was finished. It was one hell of a ride and one that I will hold with greedy nostalgia forever!