Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rockwall Traverse...Take 4!

I was breathing hard, but feeling good...This was the 3rd of four passes that I would crest today.  After almost 4hrs of running, I was just getting to the good stuff. Through the larch trees I could see this massive 'wall of rock' materialize along the trail up ahead... 

"There it is!" 

A dark imposing wall stretching far into the landscape. 

Simple. Beautiful. 

I grinned and pushed on.  The day wasn't over yet.

I'm not quite sure what it is...but there's something about the Rockwall Trail that gets under my skin - in a good way of course...

The goal, like most of my runs on the trail over the past few years, was to run it fast & light carrying only the necessities - jacket, hat, gloves, ski poles, emergency blanket (in case shit goes wrong), and of course food and bear spray... For once I decided to leave the iPhone at home - today would be all 'business'.

Suunto Ambit Beta: The 'normal' way to run the Rockwall Traverse is from Floe Lake parking lot to Paint Pots - It runs ~53km, and covers 4 passes totalling over 2,500m of vertical gain. Current trail record is 6h46min. The high alpine singletrack is some of the best I've run - hence the reason I run it every year! 

I usually try to drag along a friend to torture, and this time would be no different.  Actually, it was Simon (Donato) that threw out the idea - and despite some uncertainty about trail and bridge conditions, a quick call-out to the community and web inquiries and we were good to go!  By the time Sunday arrived, a crew of 4 (Ian, Matt, Simon and I) walked up to the Floe Lake trailhead... ready for a big day on the trails!  

Off we go...

The crew set off at a good pace, all eager to get up to Numa Pass, another 1,000m vertical above us.  The going wasn't speedy by any means as the abundance of spring rain/runoff had not only knocked out a few bridges, but left the trail overgrown with grass, fireweed and downed trees.  Aside from having to watch our footing, it was the wildlife that preoccupied our minds early on as the numerous open avalanche tracks were perfect bear habitat.

I usually try to keep a sharp eye out but found it hard to keep my eyes on the surroundings when I couldn't see where my feet were landing!  Instead we relied on a deep chorus of "Heeeeyyy Beeeaaarrr" every 30sec or so...seemed to do the trick. 

About 3/4 of the way up to Floe Lake, I was slowly starting to pull away from the group... A few more bends and I was alone.  That morning we had talked about the possibility of me pulling ahead - I was clear to the group that if I was to make a go at a speed attempt, I couldn't afford to wait for others, so everyone knew the game.  If anyone fell off the back, they would take one of the bailout routes via Numa or Tumbling Creek and meet back at one of the vehicles. 

Although this was my 4th time on the trail, it was my first time running it alone.  With the exception of a few hiking groups I had the trails to myself - it was actually a nice feeling to be solo.  Knowing the trail and what lay ahead made the time fly by.  I limited my pit stops to food and water breaks, stopping only to drink at creeks to supplement my own supplies.  That said, I did lay on the ground for a few minutes after a hard crash on the way down to Helmet Falls.  After 5hrs of running, things to get to a bit sloppy...You don't lift your knees as high, you let your toes drag a tiny bit more... Inevitably I hooked my foot on a stump and plowed hard into the ground, spraining my wrist of all things. But time was ticking - "suck it up buttercup..."

The highlight of the day:  I was coming up on a random stream just up from Tumbling Creek and found a mini can of Coke just sitting there waiting for me... "No shit!" I said out loud. I pulled the tab and a fresh 'phfzzzz' escaped.  Down the gullet it went.  I crushed the can, stuffed it in my pack and off I went...[Smile]

The trail itself is simply...fantastic - I won't go into (bore you with) all the details but trust me when I tell you that the Rockwall is a must-do in your life.  Hike or run... it's worth the trip!

After the final descent into Helmet Falls (~40km), I had been out for about for a total of 5h15min or so... and had another solid 15km+ to go... making the 6h45min would be close.  This section is mostly downhill but still has some descent bumps that take their toll.  Despite feeling good and cruising on this section, it still felt like it was dragging on forever! Seriously.

tick tock, tick tock...

I finally arrived at the final Marble Canyon/Paint Pots intersection (0.9km to go) and looked at the time.. 6h40min.  But since the bridge at Paint Pots was out, I decided to take the long way home via Marble Canyon... another 3.4km - ugh!

The last section was gruelling... I just wanted to get it over with.  Finally, I pulled into Marble Canyon, 7hrs on the button.  I'll take it.  As I slowed to stop my watch, Simon, Matt and Ian appeared around the car... waiting for me!?  "What are you guys doing here?"  A combination of technical difficulties with Simon's hydration pack (busted bladder) and tired bodies had forced them to take the Tumbling Creek shortcut that featured an exciting run-in with a juvenile grizzly! (always carry your bear spray kids!)

So that's it.  Another RW adventure comes to an end... Already looking forward to my next attempt :) 

Thx for reading-

The remnants of a massive forest fire in 2003 leads you up the trails from Floe Lake Trailhead 


Luli Cox said...

Phil! You are the best! Thanks for sharing! Whenever you wanna come to Brazil, there are some amazing trails, you are welcome! Keep on running =) Cheers Luli Cox

Derrick said...

Sounds like an amazing route and awesome run. Well done! Will have to put it on the list!

Johnny said...

Great report. Sounds like an amazing route.

Phil said...

Luli - One of these days, I'm coming to visit!

Derrick - For you, it's a time you're through town, put RW on top of your list!

John - Thx...Next time you take a trip out West, I'll take you out for a spin.

Anonymous said...

Wow, good job on the Rockwall! I think it would take me 12 hours, but I'm determined to do it next summer. I met you a while ago at the running store (Canmore) and you said you knew of a Wakefield/Ottawa trail running group. Could you hook me up with that info? I'm

Charlotte said...