Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Utah Triple Crown

I was fortunate to be able to join some friends for this year's Quest for Kings. I rode to the Uintas with DJ and he brought his dog, Babe along for the fun. We went up Friday afternoon and when we got to the campground at Henry's Fork we met up with several Wranglers (Wasatch Mountain Wranglers). As soon as we arrived, they asked if we were doing Kings Peak or the Triple Crown. The other 6 were planning on the Triple so DJ and I decided we would go for it.

I had heard of the Utah Triple Crown, but was not sure what it entailed. The guys explained to me that it was the term for sumitting Utah's 3 highest peaks in one push. The three peaks involved are Kings Peak (13,528), South Kings Peak (13,512), and Gilbert Peak (13,442). From my understanding it doesn't' matter what order you do them in as long as you summit all 3.

Our plan was to do Gilbert first because rumor has it that it sucks. Then we would head to Kings and then "quickly" go over to nearby South Kings. Doing this would supposedly add 4-5 miles and about 3000' of climb and descent. We figured that would add another 3 hours or so (we were way off) over doing just Kings. Because of this we decided to get up at 4am and get ready.

After a short night's sleep, 4am came quickly. We all got up and got dressed and ready. Around 5am we started walking from camp to the trailhead. Francesco signed us into the register and we posed for a picture and then we started. Soon after beginning, we got separated into two loose groups. Chris, Steve, Nate, and Sam were in the front group and Francesco, Jeff, DJ, and I were the back group with DJ's dog, Babe.

The first several miles climb gently but there are enough rocks that in the dark and with so long to go we took it pretty easy. At one point there were a couple bull moose just off the trail. I was too focused on not tripping so I missed seeing them even though Francesco tried to yell back and warn me. I didn't understand what he said. Bummer.
Photo by Francesco
 At about 5.5 miles, the trail crosses over a stream. At that point Sam had waited for us. The other three in the first group apparently had decided to push the pace and Sam realized that none of us in the back knew where to go. We stashed our headlamps under a tree and headed up the trail another couple of miles until we left the trail for a while.
We bushwacked toward a grassy hill that led us up towards Gilbert. This is where we climbed above 12,000 feet for the first time.  As we climbed, we encountered a large herd of sheep (domestic).  It was pretty cool to see them move in a group out of our way and down the mountain.

Once we got to 12,000 feet, there were no trees and the rocks became larger and larger and more and more frequent until we we rarely not on rocks. We kept climbing up and up. Our group of 5 got a little spread out on the last climbs to Gilbert. I encountered the first 3 as they were coming back down. Then I saw Sam coming back down who tried to explain to me where to go after this.
Gilbert Peak
I got to the summit in about 3:40. I took off my pack and waited for the others. I took some pictures and ate some almonds.
We tried some yoga poses in honor of a friend who couldn't make it due to a funeral. After about 20 minutes at the summit, the 4 of us headed towards gunsight pass. This is a rough part of the Triple Crown because you loose a lot of the elevation you just gained on the way up to Gilbert, and it is all off trail and crazy rocky.
Photo by Francesco
We aimed for what we thought was where Sam directed us but soon we found ourselves at the top of a ridge with a very steep hill between us and the trail at the bottom. We tried to be careful and picked out our path carefully. Sam was waiting at the bottom on the trail and was yelling at us that we were not in the right spot but tried to guide us down. Francesco made it down first and was very helpful in keeping Jeff, DJ, Babe, and I from going towards the occasional cliff bands.
Yes we came down this.
Once we got to the bottom, I emptied the dirt and rocks from my shoes and we headed up the trail to the spring. We all filled up our bladders and bottles and started slowly back up to gunsight pass. This is a bit of a climb and would probably be the first major climb if we were just doing Kings but we were all pretty tired at this point.

We passed a few familiar runners that just did Kings and a couple that hit Kings and South Kings and were heading to Gilbert.

Sam showed us a way to avoid losing and regaining altitude again after gunsight. It was slow going and rocky but we were glad to avoid any climbing we could at that point. After crossing  over to Anderson pass we regrouped prior to the final ascent up Kings. At this point Sam decided he was done and some of the others were having a rough time. As we were resting, Craig came down from Kings with another Wrangler. Craig gave me a bear hug and I thought I was going to fall backward onto the rocks. Luckily, I didn't.

Craig recommended if we were doing the triple, that we come back over Kings after South Kings instead of dropping down between them. He thought it would save time. After Craig left, I headed up the trail to the final rocky ascent.
After a short trail up some switchbacks, it was pretty much just giant rocks to the summit and it was basically a choose your own way up. I passed a few more Wrangler who were heading back down from Kings, including Jennilyn, and Jen. Just before the summit I ran across Chris and Nate who were coming back from South Kings. Steve was feeling low and didn't make it up South Kings and chose to go down from the saddle instead.

Chris and Nate advised me not to go for South Kings because it was starting to get late and a general rule is to be off the summit of Kings by 2pm. I told them I'd decide when I got to the summit of Kings.
Summit of Kings Peak
At the summit of Kings, I chugged a throwback Mt Dew as I looked over at South Kings. I decided that I'd go for it. It was just after 1pm and I thought I could make it in about an hour. Jeff made it up to the summit as I was finishing my Dew and he thought it couldn't be done in under 2 hours. Challenge accepted.

As I descended from Kings to the saddle between Kings and South Kings, the Dew kicked in and I felt better than I had for hours. It was rocky and still slow and I ended up making it over to South kings in about 35 minutes. I took the required selfie and reapplied sunscreen and headed back to Kings.
Summit of South Kings, with Kings in the background

Between Kings and South Kings, I had a couple of scary experiences. Some of the rocks were not stable and on two occasions, a rock rolled onto my foot or leg. Luckily, each time they were relatively small (large watermelon sized) and I was able to lift them off with no damage done.

I got back to Kings and sat for a minute while I signed the register. I was relieved to have the major climbs done, but I realized that I was tired and another 13 miles would be a tough task, even if it was mostly downhill.

As I descended to Anderson pass, I ran out of water. Luckily, just below that I found a small spring where I got a drink and could fill my bottle half way. As I crossed back along Sam's shortcut from Anderson pass to Gunsight pass, I couldn't get myself to run.  The terrain was rough but I was tired. I was able to keep a descent speed hike though.

I was passed at Gunsight pass by a couple of guys who were on the summit of Kings with me. I wanted to run with them but my feet were a little tender and I was tired. At the bottom of gunsight I filled up my water at the spring again and soaked my hat. I realized I had 10 miles left and that seemed so far.
Cool, refreshing spring water.
As I headed down the mild decline I had a hard time running for more than a minute or two. Between the altitude, the time on my feet, and the miles, I didn't have much in the tank. I kept trying to put in my calories but they didn't seem to be kicking in.

I may have been a little paranoid or delirious but I had thought I had seen some things that turned out not to be there. A space in some rocks on the way to South Kings looked like a hiker looking at the summit. Almost every stump or rock on the way down from gunsight looked like a bear, or a moose, or a deer, or a person. None of them were.
The last 5.5 miles from the bridge seemed to drag on forever. I struggled to average a 15 minute pace due to the fatigue and the rocky trail that wouldn't let me relax. I started to wonder if the others had left without me or if they were worried.

As I was about a 1/2 mile out from the trailhead, Sam and Nate were heading up to find me and rescue me if needed. Luckily, I didn't need it but it was nice to know that they cared. We ran in together and caught Jeff and Francesco as they were finishing. I ended up finishing 5 seconds over 14 hours. Holy slow moving Batman!

I was happy to see several people hanging out at Craig's camp enjoying food and conversation. I enjoyed some delicious Chili and Peach Cobbler and some stories. At this point I was starting to realize how late I was going to be getting home so I hobbled over to camp and tore down my stuff and DJ and I took off.

As we got back to cell phone reception, I got all the texts my wife had been sending me and realized that she had been worrying. I texted her and luckily by then, she had heard from Sam after she had posted on the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers FB page to check on me.

In response, I posted the following to the post:

"I feel bad that I worried my poor wife so much yesterday. I originally only planned on kings. I didn't really know what the triple crown was. When I got to camp on Friday and all the guys in our group were doing the triple, I figured I would too. We figured it would only add a few hours and since we started around 5am I thought it would put us back about the same time. Obviously, we grossly misjudged how much time that would add.

Probably my biggest problem yesterday was my stubbornness. Once I decided on the triple, I did not want to back down from it even though as the hours passed I realized I would be back much much later. I was selfish. This was my first and only time to the Uintas and I was not sure I would get this chance again. Plus, after doing Gilbert, I wanted to finish the triple so that if I get back out there again I don't have to do it again.

I appreciate that not only did my wife worry about me, but it was awesome to have a few wranglers heading back up the trail as I was finishing, to rescue me if I needed it. I'm also glad I didn't need rescue. Just some more energy."

I am glad that I was able to complete the Triple Crown, even if it took a long time. I'm not sure I understand what I did, but I imagine that as time passes, I'll be able to look back on this and appreciate it even more (like qualifying for Boston on my first Marathon).