It's about 2:00am, I'm all alone, and I come across a single man and his dog with 2 water jugs in the middle of the upper Millcreek wilderness. What a great event.
The Millcreek 50k is a low-key, no-entry fee, informal race that starts at 9pm and runs through the night. This year was an 'up' year so we started at the base of the west route up Grandeur Peak. About 40 or 50 folks started out (? unsure on the numbers here) with a low-key "Go!" and off we went ambling down Wasatch Blvd on the pavement for about 5 minutes or so before the trailhead. On the way up Grandeur I found myself in 3rd place behind Jared Campbell and one other guy who had a decent lead going up the steep grade. I plugged my headphones in my ears and just focused on maintaining an easy, relatively unlabored effort up the climb. About 2/3 up the 3000ft climb I caught up to them and we hiked together conversationally over the summit which we hit in about 56 minutes (estimated 50 minutes from the trailhead?). The sun had fallen below the horizon and we flipped our headlamps on just prior to the descent. Being a weenie on the downs I took my time and quickly lost sight of these guys. (Jared had one week prior finished 75 miles of the Hardrock 100 and certainly wasn't showing any signs of it- pretty damn impressive. I continue to be incredulous at the feats some of these ultrarunning folk pull off).
The descent was fun and I started really enjoying the feel of the evening as it cooled off and the increasing dark shrunk my field of vision to the narrow field of my headlamp. I ran fairly leisurely along pipeline, again reminding myself that this was just to be a relaxed training run and was pleased to finally catch back up to Jared heading up towards Elbow Fork. We ran together through the aid station at mile 9, crossing the road to run the steep up and down over to Terraces. We then began a tough climb up to Baker's Pass, passing the other fellow who'd been running with us in the process. I took the lead here and without really intending to started pulling away. It was a long climb and by the top I couldn't see any lights below me. At this point, under halfway through the race, we had already logged over 7000 vertical. I stopped for a bit, turned off my headlamp, and enjoyed the feeling of being on this ridge between Gobblers and Mt. Raymond in the full moonlight in the middle of the night without another soul around. Spectacular.
The course then followed a long, rolling, and side-hilling traverse over to Dog Lake with views into Big Cottonwood Canyon. The course markings were sparse through here and the trail was pretty overgrown: more than a few times I wondered if I was on the right trail but figured given my estimated whereabouts and direction that I was heading in the right direction anyhow. Took a couple benign diggers on this section but was feeling great. I had filled 2 bottles at mile 9 but was running low at this point and thinking it would be nice to restock with some water at Dog Lake. Coming into Dog Lake I took a mistaken right instead of going straight (no course markings here) and ended up losing some time noisily poking around some tent sites (sorry to the campers who made a couple questioning grunts). Little did they know there was a stinky ultrarunner poking around their site at 1am.
I finally got my bearings and had to backtrack a bit to the aid station, crossing paths with Jared in the process who was just heading towards Blunder Fork and then Desolation. It was one dude, his dog, and 2 jugs of water just hanging out in the middle of the woods all night. Amazing. Thanks to all the volunteers who supported us out there. I drank a full bottle then filled both of them and headed out. In my meandering I started having a bit of a rough patch and suddenly for the first time in the race didn't feel so great. The descent to Blunder Fork felt alright but I felt pretty out of juice on the steep climb towards Desolation. I ate some Shot Bloks, drank some water, and gradually started to feel better. By the time I got on the Wasatch Crest I felt great again and started picking up the pace. Having Jared now in front of me was a great carrot and I started actually feeling the competitive juices flow at this point. It was mainly downhill, much of it on pretty sweet singletrack so I just let it fly and for the first time in the night tried to run fast (which isn't saying much). Felt good on the descent to the Big Water trailhead but never caught sight of Jared- pretty amazing to be able to descend like that 1 week after a long effort at Hardrock. Rolled in to the finish in 6:18, about 7 minutes back from Jared but still over 20 minutes under the old course record. I then immediately ate 2 delicious hot pancakes with syrup. I tell you man, this was probably one of the coolest events I've ever done. Jason Berry was there having been forced to drop out at Dog Lake after taking a nasty fall and hurting his back. He, Jared, and I drove back down to the base of Millcreek together.
Needless to say, didn't get much sleep over the rest of the night but the legs felt pretty damn good the next day regardless. With a quick jaunt up Mt. Wire this AM that put me at over 17,000 vertical for the week and about 35,000 vertical for the last 2 weeks. Definitely wasn't doing that shit when I lived in Iowa...
Here's some photos from the Wasatch in early summer:
|Unnamed peak above Neffs Canyon|
|Nice buttery singletrack around Red Butte|