Wednesday, July 26, 2017

2017 Never Summer 100K.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
I'd looked lustfully at this race for it's first two years of existence.  I love the Never Summer range, or Ni-Chebe-Chii.  I have now climbed the vast majority of the peaks there, and enjoyed long and fruitful days on the tundra capped peaks to the south, the loose talus slogs in the central areas, and the solid, fun, and exposed ridge traverses in the north.
When the 2017 race registration opened in December, I was feeling motivated and ready for a try due to the weather.  It seemed like the snow came early and frequently this year, and I was stuck inside and feeling it.  Against conventional wisdom and the advice of a more experienced friend, I decided to make this my first ultra (and first running race of any kind), and concocted/started following a training plan.
Since I've been hiking for years, part of the training was intuitive for me.  I didn't need to pay any attention to learning how much to eat or hydrate.  I'd been on multiple 15+ hour days (this one being my biggest ever for time elapsed, distance, and elevation gain).  I've started and ended in darkness in the height of summer more times than I can count.  Golden.
For me, it was the running part that I needed to focus on.  At first, I made the effort to get all the prescribed runs in- two longer days back to back, and three shorter days that might focus on one thing, like speed work.  Eventually, I got lazy and decided that sleep was more important, as I am not now and have never been a great sleeper.  I focused entirely on the long back to back days. 
Early morning on the first climb.  If the day sucked, at least it would suck in some spectacularly beautiful scenery.
And I am a peak bagger.  I got bored with running the same trails over and over again to get a prescribed distance/elevation gain profile.  I did get creative- see Buttonrock Mountain from Hall Ranch.  But as summer came and the snow started to melt, I wanted to move up in elevation.
These days were probably not the best training wise, as the pace was too slow due to terrain or elevation, but I was having funAt times.  
Seven Utes summit, looking south.
Thus I found myself toeing the starting line, at the fire near the back of the starting area to keep warm shortly before 5:30 am on July 22nd, 2017.  I'd spent the past month and a half questioning why I thought it was a good idea to sign up for an ultra.  I felt like training had taken a decided slide downhill into disaster land.  But I signed up for it, committed a lot of time, effort, and money training and planning for the race*, and told the people I cared about most I was going to do it.
I made pacing charts and graphs, planned my best hopeful and overly ambitious finishing time, and my hopeful worst pace.  I studied the maps and elevation profiles to see what was where.  I read all the trip reports I could find.
But as we started, there was one thing that I didn't plan for that quickly became a factor.  
Incredible beauty at Lower American Lake.  I was definitely suffering at this point and pretty resigned to dropping at Diamond, the next aid station.
The race started and most everyone took off at an easy pace.  Yet I started at the end of the line, and found myself working forward.  It felt like I passed a ton of people enroute to the summit of Seven Utes Mountain.  And I passed a few going down the other side- at least the time at altitude running on tundra/talus with no trail was paying off for this short stretch.  Then we hit single track.
It was fine, but kind of frustrating to get stuck behind a line of people.  One person in the front would stop or encounter some obstacle and then everyone behind would have to do the same.  Though, this was good to pace myself, and I was already deep in with GI issues.
That was the thing I didn't count on.  My stomach was feeling unhappy.  My breakfast didn't sit well, I could feel every drop of water I drank sloshing around in there.  It felt like nothing was going through, and though I knew I needed to eat some solid foot, I couldn't.  Thus gels became my friend for the time being.
It was nice to see Dan briefly at Lake Agnes; I hated the run along Michigan Ditch Road immensely.  I had a plan to get in and out of each aid station quickly, and almost succeeded at station one until I accidentally shot my water bottle into my mouth and had a fit of coughing.
The climb up to American Lake felt like it took forever and I am not too proud to admit I almost broke down crying at the turn downhill.  I tried to run and passed a few people, but got some pretty wicked cramps and slowed down.  I passed a few people who then repassed me as some girl decided to come to a dead stop in the middle of the trail at a water crossing.  Knowing new shoes and socks were waiting for me at Diamond, I plowed through.  As an FYI, it will be impossible to keep your feet dry during this race, so plan on whatever you need to counter that, and don't stop in the middle of the trail for anything.
I think the only thing that kept me going at this point was knowing that I'd see my wife and our newly adopted dog at Diamond.  Here is a photo she took of me coming in.  I didn't see her and almost ran past.
I told her I didn't feel good already and felt like I was below my pace, she told me to keep going.  I changed shoes, socks, and reUltra Glided my feet, as ahead loomed the single biggest and steepest climb of the day.
Going up to Diamond was interesting.  The road is a moderate grade at first, and I was taking it easy.  People were passing me and I felt like I should be doing better, yet this was all I could muster.  It was particularly demotivating to be able to see the peak ahead at times, and the line of people snaking up it.
But I felt better as we got higher, and just settled into my normal pace, moving steadily and pressure breathing.  It was so steep at times I was using all fours to head up.  
The view to the south.  We were just over there.
Finally the grade started to ease, and I could hear the music of the band playing near the summit.  You have to actually go touch the summit as part off the course, so don't miss that.
Looking down after the steepest part.
Dan was there to meet me.  I told him about my stomach, and he told me to try some ginger ale at the next aid station.  Why didn't I think of that?  I think I was so focused on the bad feelings, I didn't even try to think of a solution.
We talked for a few minutes before I departed on the beautiful ridge run north.
Again, my not very good for anything training plan worked and I was able to run most of this section through tundra, talus, or trail and feel good.  I passed a few people and was passed by no one.  It was the first time I would see the running guy this day.  No idea who he was, but he'd run a section super quickly, relatively speaking, then stop to eat/do something/walk and get passed by all of the people he'd just jetted by.  We overlapped for awhile; I think the last time I saw him was as he was headed up to Clear Lake as I headed down.
Looking back south at some point.
I was quite confused and unhappy when going past Montgomery Pass, as I spied it from afar and thought this was the place we'd cut left to descend to the Montgomery aid station.  But alas, some more time and distance on the ridge was in order!
The descent trail cutting west.
This descent was fun.  I ran again.  Got cramps again and slowed down again.  My stomach continued to feel full- I'd only peed once today so far, also not a good sign, but I thought that I was drinking enough.
South again.
I downed a few cups of ginger ale at the Montgomery aid station, and hit the descent.  I alternated between running and power walking down.  As my background is in hiking, I can walk pretty fast if needed.  Running guy blazed past me here.
Old jeep road trail.
The section after the descent was trail in the loosest sense only.  At times it was more like mashed down foliage through meadows, including water and a huge stretch of mud.  At this point I was glad I was a bit back and that someone had already made the way to go.
I made it to Ruby Jewel happy again to see my wife and pup, and a surprise visit with Dan.  Feet, feet, feet!  I changed out of wet socks again, and rereUltra Glided my feet.  Dan told me I should slow down.
I passed a few people on the climb up, and almost missed a turn.  I hit a downhill and started jogging but stopped when I came upon someone stopped with someone else who was injured.  We got him some Ibuprofen and he headed back to Ruby Jewel, as that was closest to where we were.
Again I got stacked up behind some people, but they were going slower than I wanted so I used them to pace myself.  I must've passed running guy in the aid station because he caught up to the group, asked to pass, and proceeded to run uphill for a few minutes before stopping and sitting down to have us all pass him.
Looking back down enroute to Kelly Lake.  The view was incredible.  And I farted a few times.  Which meant that something inside me was working, and digestion was going on.  I'd also peed twice since leaving Ruby Jewel.  Things were looking up.
Above Kelly Lake.  The remaining snow was a nonissue, in fact it may have made a very short stretch easier by filling in some loose talus.
Though I'd planned for this long ten mile stretch without aid, and had water purifying capabilities, I did take water at the water only station here.  Thank you volunteers!
And I ate the first solid food of the day!  Whoo!
I was power walking the rocky downhill to Clear Lake Road, and passed/hung with two women who were jogging.  Score another one for power walking!
I made it to Clear Lake, the site of my only drop bag, and had some watermelon and ginger ale.  But this made my stomach turn and I regretted it for awhile.  Honestly I was waiting for the bonk.  I clearly wasn't eating enough.
The climb up to Clear Lake was miserable.  It's single track, rough and loose at that, and you have people going up and coming down the same trail, or trying to.  At least one of the people who passed me going down here I passed about ten miles later at Canadian.  Score three for power walking!
The lake was beautiful.  I had enough of people telling me "nice work" or "good job" as I wasn't here to work and this isn't my job.  I was here to have f!@#$%^ fun damn it.  Or something. (This briefly took me pack to my very first restaurant job, where I was a busser and told to never ask a diner if they were "done working" on their meal so I could clear the plate.  Because they didn't come to us to work, they came to enjoy.  Thus, "Are you still enjoying your appetizer/entreé/dessert/whatever.")
I again power walked the downhill, passing several and getting passed by none.  I saw running guy for the last time here, happily running uphill as I walked down.
I purchased some cheap bags to use as drop bags at Goodwill a few days prior, and I was happy my selection here was super ugly cartoon characters with neon pink and yellow, as it stood out.  My wife told me of the frantic search for a green drop bag at a different aid station in a sea of green bags.  My advice: go ugly.
I changed shoes and socks, and shortly after setting out on the downhill, wished I'd used some of their Vaseline to lube my toes as I could feel a hot spot coming on.  Funny, I usually carry a small thing of it with me, but decided I wouldn't need it or that it was too much weight or something silly and didn't have it.  But I did have some greasy lip balm.  Rather than rub it directly on my dirty smelly toe, I used my dirty smelly fingernail to dig out a piece and smear it in place.  Ahh, hygenics!  Well, I'd already eaten food I dropped in dirt.  
Somewhere, as the sun started sinking.
I also had a headlamp in my drop bag at Clear Lake.  Looking at paces from 2016, I determined that was the earliest place I would need it even if disaster struck.  Disaster had struck, and I was still in daylight.
I was power walking/jogging when I heard someone call my name.  Dan!  Whoo hoo!  Was I happy to see his face.  He'd been walking the route backwards from Canadian to find me.  Now things were going well.  I was pissing and farting all over the place and taking in solid food. 
My wife took a photo of us at Canadian, changed socks and lubed feet again.
Well, several photos, as we both apparently lack the ability to make normal faces.  I'd been out for almost 15 hours now.  Not sure what his excuse is (just kidding Dan!).
It was good to have him along.  I extolled the virtues of power walking, doing, as he put it, "some odd shuffly foot thing that's making me have to jog to keep up".  How many victories had power walking had by now?  Count lost.  But to take a look back in seriousness, I was still on pace for a same day finish up until Clear Lake 2, which was a goal.  I should've kept a pace chart with me, because I would've made the effort to run the downhills.
I got my only blister of the event here, as I didn't have my shoes tied tight enough and my feet slipped forward, slamming my toes into the front of my shoes.
We made it to Bockman in darkness, just nine more miles to go.  We told my wife three hours to the end.
We had been passed shortly after Canadian by two people who we now caught and passed, and didn't see again.  Power wa.... ok I'l shut up about it.
The last climb sucked.  I was ready to be done.  It went from nice jeep road to less nice jeep road to this is a trail kind of.  We heard a few cars and saw the headlights below.  Almost!
I gave my number as we passed Ranger, the final aid station.  I didn't need anything and didn't want to stop.  Ironically, it was on this downhill that I actually felt hungry for the first time the entire day.
I was finally persuaded to run when Dan noticed there was someone close behind right near the finish line.  It felt like I was flying, but Katie's video shows what looks like an elderly person "jogging".  Ha!  I was a little slower than I'd hoped, but I'd just finished my first ultra, and a not easy one at that.  My time was an entirely reasonable 19:05
At the festive finish.
Maybe those just are our normal faces.
I ate some food on the way back to the cabin we were staying in, took a shower, and hit the hay.  As somewhat usual for nights after big efforts, I didn't sleep well or long enough.  I guess that was expected.
I skipped the awards breakfast the next day- I didn't know anyone there, and while a race, like the years of hikes detailed here, I didn't do it to get a finisher award.  Yes, it's a race against others, but to me it's the race within oneself.
We spent the next day lying around, punctuated with a drive to Walden to get food and cell reception so I could call my family.  We stayed at Whistling Elk Ranch in Rand, which was pretty nice.  It wasn't inexpensive, but the hotel I'd looked at in Walden was 99/night for a queen room, and here we had an entire cabin with a full kitchen, bath, two bedrooms, etc.  So it was worth it to me.  
There were tons of hummingbirds on the property, quite difficult to capture in a photo.
And Georgia, the new pup, decided she needed some snuggles.  We were both tired.
By the numbers, 289 people entered.  I finished in 104th place, in the top 36% of those people.  It looks like 226 of the 289 finished, with the last coming in at 23 hours and 49 minutes.  Looking at that, I was in the top 46%.  Seems not too bad for my first every running race/ultra thingy and for having stomach issues for 40+ miles.
I went through 8 pairs of socks, 4 pairs of shoes, ate 12 gels, 5 packages energy chews, 2 energy bars, 1 Ocho dark chocolate/coconut candy bar, 4 Justin's dark chocolate peanut butter cups, 9 ibuprofen, maybe 6 salt caps?  I barely ate anything in the aid stations, a few pieces of watermelon dipped in salt, a handful of chips (which I almost puked up), a few pickle slices, and some ginger ale.  I drank a ton of water.  I used a 1.5L bladder on my back and a .5L soft bottle up front, my just in case reserve that I only used in the first 11 miles, the longest stretch without aid.  I went back and forth on using poles, and did decide to use them up until Ruby Jewel, only to leave them at the cabin.  Doh!  But if I had remembered, I may have used them for the entire race.
On the final climb in darkness I said to Dan, "This may very well be my first, last, and only ultra."  Now I'm sitting here three days later, feeling relatively good, and thinking "Well, I know the course now.  Maybe next year I could go back and put in a really good effort."  How quickly we forget!
My only objections to the race were that the trails weren't very trail like at times.  No big issue to me, as back country travel is something I have plenty of experience with (this day, exactly 4 years prior, comes to mind-12+ hours with no trails at all).  But if you're going expecting to run 64 miles on well maintained trails, change your expectations. 
I also felt the back half of the trail wasn't as well marked as I liked.  I still made all the turns and was able to follow, but there were times when you aren't on a very well defined trail, and can't see any markers.  I looked at the ground and saw a bunch of running shoe prints, and guessed that I was still going the correct way.  It seemed like the course after Clear Lake focused more on reflectors and LEDs for course marking, which wasn't the most help in daylight.  I guess I should be glad I made it that far in daylight!
Thanks to Gnar Runners for an awesome event.  Thank you to all of the awesome aid station volunteers.  All of you made a difference in my day.  Thanks to Dan for pacing/motivation.  Thanks to Katie (and Georgia) for crewing.  At times, knowing that I'd see you in five miles or whatever was the thing that kept me going.  Thanks to Nora for motivation, and congrats on a great race! 
Link to my GPX/run map on Caltopo.
2017 Never Summer 100K:
Via my GPS, 66.07 miles with 13079 feet of elevation gain.  Strenuous+.
And as for running guy, I found a photo of him showing his bib number.  He finished about two hours and twenty minutes after I did.  Score again for power wal...ok I'm sure you get it by now.  A reasonable pace that can be maintained allllll day will be better than running fast intermittently.
On another note, I lost a friend of mine to breast cancer on July 22, 2010.  Every year on or around that date, I try to do something fun in her memory.  This race happened to coincide with that date.  The scenery was beautiful and expansive, and I was very happy to see my wife and friends out on the trail, but keeping the memory of someone that I loved alive added immeasurably to the experience.  So if this race report comes up in future Google searches, and you're out there having a hard time, or if things are going well for you, take a minute to remember someone important to you.
*=so some of those things seem obvious.  Once you get to the longest distance training runs, they're pretty much an all day affair.  There's the time.  And say you're like me and can't mentally do 8 hours of running up and down Mount Sanitas.  Caltopo will become your friend as you map different routes to find the distances and elevation profiles you'll need.  Money?  Well, you can look at the up front costs- the race, accommodations, travel costs.  In training, you're going to eat alot more food.  And more food out there.  And maybe your pack isn't comfortable after 20 miles, and you want a new one.  Shoes don't grow on trees, and running the distances you need to hit mean they won't last too long.  It adds up.

In loving memory of Liberty Rebekah Dagenais.  October 9, 1980- July 22, 2010.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Ten Mile Traverse.

This wasn't something that was super on my must do list, but my wife signed up the ride the Firecracker 50 in Breckenridge, and asked if I wanted to go, so why not?  I found a few trip reports, all the way from the way faster than I can go one by Anton Krupicka to a more human pace here.  
Looking at these and others (including this one by Steve Knapp), I thought a reasonable time for me would be 6-8 hours, which happened to work out perfectly with the time Katie thought she'd be finishing up.  
My idea of completing the traverse was more in line with Anton's; thus I would start in Frisco and end in Breckenridge, rather than finishing at an arbitrary point part way down the mountain.  It should be mentioned the traverse is not named for its length, but rather the mountain range.  My total distance was 20.51 miles.
Katie took the drive out, and the range stood beautifully before us as we dropped down to Frisco.  She dropped me off at the Royal Trailhead, easy to get to.  Take exit 201, and head east into town.  It's immediately on your right.  I took a few minutes to get ready, and then started out on the paved trail at an easy run.  
I took a right onto the Royal Mountain trail, and then followed the signs.  I passed a few people on the way up, and encountered a phenomenon I'd only ever experienced while riding a bike.  I kept catching up to a guy who'd see me get close and then take off, only to slow down due to an unsustainable pace to have me catch up again.  Interesting.  
It's steep, but the trail levels out.  You need to cut back north to visit the true summit of Royal.
Royal Mountain, 10502 feet.  
Looking forward.
I decided that rather than loose the elevation back down the trail to the junction with the trail up toward Peak 1, I would bushwhack up.  That worked out pretty well as the forest was open and it didn't take me long to rejoin the trail.
There were several abandoned mines in the area, and this cabin above Royal Mountain must've housed someone who worked there. 
I finally broke tree line and was able to see the way forward.  It still looked like there was some distance to go to Peak 1.  I could see a few people ahead of me as I got closer. 
This small rocky point is Mount Victoria, 11785 feet.  It's just a small detour from the trail, and provides a good view.  Shortly after 12000 feet is broken.  You'll be above that mark for the rest of the traverse. 
Looking down to I70, nearly 4000 feet below me now.
I finally hit the top of Peak 1 and met the people I was following up.  One unknown I still had was the snow conditions ahead.  Things looked ok from the east, but the hardest parts of the traverse are on the west of the ridge.  They said they'd approached from the west and things looked good to go.
I stopped for a quick snack and a look around.
Looking back down the ridge to Dillon Reservoir. I was getting occasional whiffs of forest fire smoke, here it was quite visible.  I think it adds to the view. 
I looked ahead to Peak 2 aka Tenmile Peak.  Peaks 1 through 4 hold the technical difficulties, or so I was told, while things would get alot easier after that.
I passed the two I met on Peak 1 before Peak 2, and saw them again briefly at that summit for the last time.
Back to Peak 1 from Peak 2.
Peak 3.  The terrain would take a step up in difficulty here.
It's easiest to pass the difficulties on the right or west side.  I'd read class 3-4.  I didn't think anything exceeded class three.  And despite the advice to keep to that side, I felt like I spent more time on the left or east side of the ridge in total. 
That being said, passing the more difficult places was definitely easier on the right side of the ridge.  This rock feature is nicknamed "The Dragon" for obvious reasons. 
Honestly, the movement wasn't too bad.  I'd say second class with occasional third class moves, here approaching Peak 3. 
Looking to Peak 4 from 3.  The traverse started with some easier and faster to move on second class.  I felt the ridge from the low point to the summit was the most fun and solid climbing of the day, definitely third class on bomber rock. 
From Peak 4 back. 
And looking forward.  How the terrain changes!  Peak 5 is the highest, closest rounded bump.  I was now able to start running, and felt pretty good over all.
I met the Colorado Trail for a short stint between Peaks 5 and 6, and happened upon Dave, who was through hiking the trail with his dog Kiefer.  He said they were on day five.  We talked a bit, and I wished them well. 
One of the ski lifts near the ridge line.
I definitely felt like I was dragging up Peak 6, but felt pretty good moving on the flats and downhills.  I could see Peak 8 looming ahead of me, and was somewhat happy to know that Peak 7 was nothing more than a single closed contour loop enroute to the ranked summit. 
Looking back. 
Looking forward to Peak 9.  The run down was fun, and the climb wasn't too bad.  Rather than take a direct route to the summit, I cut right to meet the more mellow ridge, going out of the way slightly for what looked like an easier way to the top.  I didn't think it was too bad.  Many of the trip reports I've read talked about this summit being one of the least favorite.  It does mark the first foray above 13000 feet and there are a few false summits.
From Peak 9 to Peak 10.  It looked like there were a few people over there... Little did I know! 
Descending to the saddle between the two was ok, for a change there was some looser rock and talus.  Ahead of me looked like a pile of Never Summeresque talus.  I know others have contoured around and taken the old mining road up, but I decided to just go for it.  It was mostly stable with a few loose blocs here and there.
I was a little surprised to reach the summit and find a lot of people up there.  As it turns out, the snow field visible in the photo from Peak 9 is the Fourth of July Bowl, and it is a local tradition to ski or board it on the Fourth of July. 
The summit of Peak 10.
From here down, it would be easy going as I'd stay on the road the entire way.  First I had to negotiate a short stretch on slippery packed snow with the bowl on my left.  I was able to speed up once I got to solid ground. 
The Briar Rose mine, right at 13000 feet.  According to this book, silver was the primary extract.
I was able to move pretty quickly on the road, though it was rocky in places.  There were still a few skiers and snowboarders heading up the road, one of whom complimented me on having strong ankles.  A perfect epitaph for a tombstone.
I probably should've ran some of the ski runs or lift areas, but I wasn't sure where they end up, and I did know where the road ended.  It would've been shorter and likely more enjoyable. 
Down a lift to town.
All the ski runs end in town, which is where I wanted to be.  It seemed to take a long time, but I finally hit pavement and stopped my GPS track.  Now I just had to find the elementary school and go there to meet Katie.
As it turns out, I was pretty close, and it was a few more blocks of jogging to meet her.  We hung out at the race for a bit, and I made the drive home.  Katie and her friend got 8th place, and it took me 8:41:06, a bit longer than I hoped.  Ah well!
I thought this was a fun day.  It would be even more fun to extend it all the way down south through Quandary Peak.  Despite reading about the technical difficulties, I felt the maximum was third class, and the longest and best stretch is the section between Peak 3 and Peak 4.  After Peak 4, it's pretty easy movement on tundra.  I've also read cutting east/left to meet the road up to Peak 10 rather than take the direct route up the talus; I didn't feel the talus was that bad.  The only other concern might be having enough water to drink, the same with any extended ridge traverse.  I was able to mine some snow to supplement what I brought.
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.
The Ten Mile Traverse:
Royal Mountain, 10502 feet: 2.15 miles, 1386 foot gain.  Segment :44, total :44.
Mount Victoria, 11785 feet: 3.6 miles, 2669 foot gain.  Segment :45, total 1:29
Peak 1, 12805 feet: 4.5 miles, 3689 foot gain.  Segment :43, total 2:12
Peak 2/Tenmile Peak, 12933 feet: 5.05 miles, 3817 foot gain.  Third class.  Segment :31, total 2:43. 
Peak 3, 12676 feet: 5.7 miles, 3560 foot gain.  Third class.  Segment :44, total 3:27.
Peak 4, 12866 feet: 6.25 miles, 3750 foot gain.  Third class.  Segment :37, total 4:04.
Peak 5, 12855 feet: 6.95 miles, 3739 foot gain.  Segment :18, total 4:24.
Peak 6, 12573 feet: 8.7 miles, 3457 foot gain.  Segment :34, total 4:58
Peak 7, 12665 feet: 10.05 miles, 3549 foot gain.  Segment :34, total 5:32.
Peak 8, 12987 feet: 10.5 miles, 3871 foot gain.  Segment :16, total 5:48.
Peak 9, 13195 feet: 12.35 miles, 4079 foot gain.  Segment :44, total 6:32.
Peak 10, 13633 feet: 13.05 miles, 4517 foot gain.  Segment :41, total 7:18
End, 9633 feet: 20.51 miles, 517 foot gain.  Segment 1:23, total 8:41.
In total this day covered 20.51 miles with 7525 feet of elevation gain.  There is some third class, but it comes early.  There are plenty of bail routes back down into Breck if bad weather strikes or you aren't feeling so hot.  Like last time, I'd say the biggest difficulty is the extended time above treeline.  Strenuous+.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Bear Lake to Milner Pass to Bear Lake.

If memory serves me correctly, Dan and I discussed doing the Continental Divide traverse as described in Fosters book in 2013, shortly after we met.  It sounded like a pretty big day hiking wise.  While doable with two people, it would require both to drive to Bear Lake to drop a car, then to drive to Milner Pass, then to drive back to Milner Pass to pick up the car upon completion of the hike.  And then back home, or to where ever to collapse in a heap of tired.
Of course, the years in between have sort of redefined "big day" to both of us.  As usual, over the winter when I can't get out as much, I start mapping on Caltopo.  "What if?" "How far can I really go in a day?" "Could I connect all these peaks together?"
While long, it didn't look too crazy, with mileage in the low 30's and an elevation gain of around 9000 feet.  Well, maybe that's a little crazy!
I started out from Bear Lake just after 6am.  There were a few other cars in the parking lot, and a few people getting ready for hikes.  As I thought, I encountered snow on the trail from the Dream Lake lookout up to around treeline, then a large patch above treeline below the final climb to the summit of Flattop. 
Snow on the trail, easy to navigate without traction, and able to hold full body weight.
I made the summit of Flattop in 1:30, a new pr.  I was moving well thus far, but there was still a good distance to go.  I stuck to the Tonahutu Trail as it started to drop on the west side before cutting off across Bighorn Flats. 
Going over there.  Way over there.
While the climb up Flattop is a few thousand feet, the climb from Sprague Pass up to Sprague Mountain marked the first major climb in my mind.  It's about 1000 feet of gain in a mile, and most of that is above 12000 feet.
Sprague Mountain.
North from the summit of Sprague.
I was just under three hours in and feeling good, with approximately one quarter of the mileage under my belt.  I knew there wasn't much technical terrain in front of me, with the worst being between Chief Cheley and Mount Ida, but I wouldn't be back below 12000 feet for real until nearly 2.5 miles past Mount Ida.
Longs and points south from Sprague. 
Above the Onahu basin.
Mount Eleanor comes and goes fairly quickly, with a short but avoidable scramble to reach the top.  I was the last registered ascent from last year.  Staying up on the ridge from here on brought pretty easy terrain, with a little talus hopping near the high point SE of Chief Cheley.
Another few hundred feet of gain, and I was on ranked peak 12820/Liberty Point, between Chief Cheley and Cracktop.  I stayed on top and followed the ridge to Chief Cheley Peak.  It's on talus with just a touch of scrambling to reach the summit.
And then, down.  I was still feeling good, but this mile was my slowest of the day in each direction.  I think it was a combination of the loss/gain, terrain (class 2 but rocky and a little loose), and elevation.
Mount Ida from the saddle. 
Looking down to the gorgeous Gorge Lakes basin.  Highest Lake was still largely encased in ice, with the others largely melted.
As I approached the summit of Ida, I heard some voices and called out so I wouldn't startle them.  Due to poor planning, I had run out of water on Chief Cheley.  Since these guys had come up from Milner Pass, I asked if they encountered any ambient water near where we were on that side.  I had a filter and tablets, but just needed something to filter or tablet!
They said no.  For the first time in my hiking life, I became that guy and asked if I could have some water if they had some to spare.  I hate that guy!  My main concern was not hydration, as I knew I'd have all I could drink in several miles, but nutrition.  I'd need some moisture to get those bars down.
They were able to help out with about a third of a liter.  Enough to keep me going.  To Sean and Zion, thank you so, so much.  It will never be forgotten.
Bighorn on the other side of Mount Ida.
The trail high up isn't very distinct, and I also dropped down in search of a puddle I could tap into.  I was able to find water off trail in about 20 minutes, and filled up a liter or so.  Just enough to keep me going until the more available water in the Milner Pass area.
I ran most of the downhill, passing several people going up.  It seemed like it was too late to be heading up above treeline, but the weather forecast was great, and here I was about to do the same.
Arriving at Milner Pass was a bit of a shock.  Lots of cars and people, and yes I did get asked to take a photo for a family in front of the Continental Divide sign, and did so happily. 
Selfie at the sign.
I used the restroom, disposed of empty food wrappers, stretched, and was back enroute to Bear Lake.
I encountered a family on the way back up I saw on the way down.  "Didn't we see you coming down?"
"Yes, but I'm being motivated today, though I'm regretting that now."
"Well, I'm sure you'll make it."
"Thank you," I said.  I should've told them were I was going back to!
Beauty on the Mount Ida trail.
But the beauty was deceptive.  It was super windy, enough that I was getting blown uphill off the trail at times.  While the weather looked good, I could see it was raining to the west of me, in the area of the Never Summers.  Of course, since it was so windy, the rain was blowing almost sideways and hitting me.  I put on the rain jacket.
And then came the graupel.  I got cold quickly.  I passed one of the people I saw going up when I was going down and asked if she would give me a ride back to the east side.  She said yes.  I said I was going to continue to the summit and see if it got better.  She asked if I wanted to just go back with her.
I almost said yes.  I was quite cold, and despite my plan to easily hike this side, I was now running to keep warm.  We parted ways and I continued on, finding a rock outcrop soon after which allowed me to get out of the weather and put on the tights I had with me.  I was able to warm up quickly and continue, but this marked the start of a fairly hard period.  I was pretty down on the situation and got into a bad/sad/upset/negative mood that lasted all the way to the second summit of Sprague Mountain.
Inkwell Lake melting out.
The view south from 12820.
The weather had cleared, and I was not precipitated upon again.  The wind even dropped a little.  However, my mood did not improve, and the idea of trying to move quickly did not appeal at all.  As I was finding, the downhills on the way back generally tended to be steeper and/or rockier, and therefore more of a challenge to actually run. 
A slight variance on the route on the way back had me find this bone.  No other remnants were seen in the area.  It seemed like a strange place to find a single bone, above 12400 feet.  Obviously it got there somehow.
I was thinking highly unpositive thoughts while slogging back up Sprague Mountain.  The expletives were flowing free from my mouth, and I am not normally one to use them.  My cursing became so creative I established combinations so futuristic they have never been heard by human ears before, and won't be first linked in writing for at least another 50 years.  I will refrain from publishing them here, but when you hear them in 2067, I was the originator. 
Why was I here?  What was the point?  Again, I was feeling no joy, only misery.  When I got back home, I was going to write a strongly worded letter to the management (which I suppose is myself; the letter must have been lost in the mail).
But the tides turned at last.
The second summit of Sprague Mountain, with Hayden Spire prominent.
I'd been signing into the few registers I found (Sprague, Eleanor, and 12820) with my out time, and now I added my back time to the final one.  I had about eight miles to go, and it would be pretty easy relatively speaking, with no major gain.  I ran out of water again, but I knew I could fill up at Eureka Ditch.  And I'd spend a whole mile and a half below 12k as I met the low point on Bighorn Flats.
As I climbed the Flattop Trail early in the morning, I found myself excited to run down it.  It was rocky and technical.  Of course it occurred to me it would be fun to run it back, as long as I still felt like running, that is!
I've been finding Elk parts on Bighorn Flats for a few years, and finally found the skull this time.  Sprague Mountain in the background.
Back on the trail I felt like I was flying.  I jogged much of the stretch from the time I met the Tonahutu trail up until the final climb back up Flattop.  I ate a snack as I started to head down, and then picked the pace up.  I was determined to beat my time up the peak, and set a goal of an hour to do so.
Sunlight on Longs from the Emerald Lake overlook.
I had to stop a few times to take some clothing off, as things warmed up.  And I wasn't so motivated to move quickly through the rocky parts.  But I was able to put a good effort in, and finally rejoined the Fern Lake Trail, then the Bierstadt Lake Trail.  I was almost there!
I didn't see anyone until I got back to Bear Lake, which was still teeming with tourists.  I wonder how I must look to them, wild eyed, dried salt and sweat on my face, nose red from rubbing.  Was it clear that I'd been out for the entire day?
I told myself that I needed to tell someone what I'd been up to, and decided I'd talk to a ranger when I arrived, if one were still there.  To my disappointment, they'd already left for the day and I quickly became another one of the many people at the trail head.  I was successful in the descent, logging 1:06.  It certainly could've been faster, but after this day, I was satisfied with that. 
Now I finally felt it- the elation of a long day spent in the mountains.  The original planning months ago, and the final planning the week before.  The training and getting stronger as time went on.  Encountering some tough times during the day and persevering.  The setting a difficult goal, and meeting it.  Over the day I experienced the entire range of human emotion, and it wasn't always positive, but back at the car I felt happy.
Link to hike map/GPX on Caltopo.
Bear Lake to Milner Pass to Bear Lake (distances as part of the hike):
Flattop Mountain, 12324 feet: 4.1 miles, 2874 foot gain.
Sprague Mountain, 12713 feet: 8.4 miles, 3263 foot gain.
Mount Eleanor, 12380 feet: 9.6 miles, 2930 foot gain.
12820/Liberty Point: 11.2 miles, 3370 foot gain.
Chief Cheley Peak, 12804 feet: 11.5 miles, 3354 foot gain.
Mount Ida, 12900 feet: 12 miles, 3450 foot gain.
Milner Pass, 10759 feet: 16.9 miles, 1309 foot gain.
Mount Ida: 21.9 miles, 2141 foot gain (from Milner Pass).
Chief Cheley Peak: 22.4 miles, 2045 foot gain.
12820/Liberty Point: 22.7 miles, 2061 foot gain.
Mount Eleanor: 24.3 miles, 1621 foot gain.
Sprague Mountain: 25.5 miles, 1954 foot gain.
Flattop Mountain: 29.9 miles, 1565 foot gain.
Bear Lake, 9450 feet: 34.39 miles, 1309 foot loss.
As a whole, this day covered 34.39 miles with 9503 feet of elevation gain.  It took me 13 hours, 11 minutes, and 43 seconds.  It certainly could've been faster, and it would be fun to try again.  There is some easy scrambling between 12820 and Mount Ida, but the main difficulty is the extended time above treeline.  Strenuous+.