Monday, April 27, 2015

Barkely Part 1: Nuts and Bolts

Last year's dismal performance at the Barkley left me sitting on a plane jotting notes onto my phone of what to do differently. Different gear, different training, better weather.

Only two of those could I actually do anything about this year. On the third front, I was lucky.

I've spent the last year foregoing trails for the most part to climb rough, rocky, steep, bushwhack-y peaks. I've mapped and compassed my way through a wide array of off trail terrain. This year at Barkley, that showed. I moved faster through the steep, off-trail, saw briar infested slopes. The steep grades left me non-plussed, except for Hillpocalypse which does me in every time. Just ask Nicki... (The trail has to be just ahead, right? This is almost the top, right?)

Unfortunately I still wasn't fast enough to complete a third loop within the cut-off. So, for this year, I will have to dedicate myself not only to covering rough terrain sans trail, but also work on my speed and agility in the wild and in the gym.

Gear was a different story. I came to the race this year with the things I had lacked last year:
Trekking poles (Black Diamond...sturdy as all get out) with snow baskets for the mud
5 pairs of mittens/gloves of varying thicknesses. These ranged from thin wool liners to thick synthetic mitts that my boyfriend used to climb Aconcagua
Sodium Acetate hand warmers that would function at altitude and in the rain
Many light layers and multiple sets so that I could change in between laps if it was pouring
Seal Skinz waterproof socks that were knee high
Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest (for day)
Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 (for night)
Seal Line Waterproof map case
Ultimate Direction Body Bottle Plus (Excellent for pre-measured Perpetuem!)

The net result was that I was never cold, even though it was certainly in the single digits and maybe even 0 at night. I didn't lose time and waste energy on slippery climbs because of vastly improved traction. My packs were comfortable and kept my food accessible. My map and compass were readily accessible with no fumbling. Best of all, because of the Seal Skinz my feet were warm and dry despite fording the New River and wading under the prison in extremely cold water. My Altra Lone Peak 2.0's performed perfectly yet again with regard to comfort, traction, and breathe-ability.

I still made mistakes. I used a water bladder and the water in the hose froze. Because I was warm I failed to realize how cold it was outside until I tried to drink. I went most of the first night without fluids. I left the Seal Skinz on during the day even though it had warmed up. I had very badly creased feet that were painful from the trapped sweat moisture by the time I removed them. But these issues were minor in the scheme of Barkley.

Lighting was greatly improved as well this time around. I used a GoMotion sternum strap light almost exclusively, but I also combined it with my Princeton Tec headlamp when I needed a lot of light. I carried an UltraFire flashlight for cutting fog (although I didn't use it) and a Black Diamond Storm headlamp as a backup.

Fueling was not something I thought much about last year until I reached the point where my hands were too cold to eat and I was badly depleted. This year I came with less calories per loop and consumed them all. So, in that respect I was better prepared because I carried only what I needed. However, I carried about 8 gels per loop and by the middle of the second loop I was aware that they were an inadequate fuel source...I was starving. While I knew that they wouldn't be able to sustain me, my main calorie source for the night had frozen due to my forgetfulness to put it inside my jacket.

Fueling done right:
Trailbutter. It froze at night, but once I thawed it in my jacket it was my savior. I sucked down the whole 700 calorie packet in the last half of loop 2 and felt my energy skyrocket. I will never attempt Barkley again without Trailbutter, but I will remember to keep it in an inside pocket!
Fuel 100 Electro Bites. It was "hot" this year and having these salty tidbits helped me stay balanced between water and electrolytes.
Health Warrior Chia Bars. These 100 calorie bars are a mix of protein, fat, and carbs. When the Trailbutter froze I was thankful to have 4 of these to chain-eat. Definitely a great alternative to other bars.
Hammer Perpetuem. I'd never tried this before. Yeah, yeah, yeah...I know, don't try new things on race day, but, this was perfect. The end of loop 2 found me washing down Trailbutter with Perpetuum and feeling strong. Next time, no gels, just this.

I had Tasty Bites and Amy's soups for in-between laps. They were good, but not a significant calorie source. Next time I'll figure out a more calorie dense option. Even though it isn't hot, I think the Greenbelly bars will be just the ticket here. As it was they were excellent for pre-race breakfast.

Stay tuned for the next installment, the Barkley Experience.

Monday, April 13, 2015


We woke with the sound of an alarm jangling in the darkness. We fumbled in the womb of the tent to silence it. Then without speaking we set about stuffing sleeping bags, deflating mats, wriggling into clothes for the day. I unzipped the tent fly and the Mojave breeze folded it open.

I emerged into eerie light. Instinctively I looked toward the moon. It was 3/4 covered in burgundy shadow.

We scurried under the eclipse to pack away the camp and load our packs. The highway only yards away was empty.

Our first steps up the wash were slow as we adjusted to the weight of a 7lbs of water, pro, a rope, rock shoes, helmets, and food. The eastern horizon glowed with a thin line of orange. The western horizon cradled a moon in transition.

Hours later we dropped deep into a wash and began to clamber up and over dryfalls and boulders slickened by eons of water and wind. Cat's Claw grabbed our packs, our skin, our clothes. We were thankful to be in the shadowed depths as the sun rose higher.

We reached the head of the wash and descended to another. Then we turned and began fighting our way up a third. It was steep and rocky. Choked with Cat's Claw and cactus. 2,000 feet above us a lone juniper marked the horizon. It took ours of sweaty work to reach it.

Once on a plateau of rocks we slipped beneath the largest boulder. There we ate and drank and rested in the shade. Around us rocky summits loomed like a druidic circle. We had three objectives and we chose to start with the easiest one.

We walked up the giant rock pile named "Aqua Benchmark" on the map.

From there we photographed Spectre and Dyadic. The routes would be difficult and for Dyadic, unknown.

An hour later we were high above the basin, clinging to boulders. We pulled ourselves up and over and dodged the yuccas eking out their precarious existence.

Through trial and error we found our way through the near vertical terrain to at last stand on the summit slab towering over the desert world below.

From the summit of Spectre we descended and set off up another gully toward the mysterious Dyadic.

We found some cairns and mostly followed our instincts upward. At last the summit came into view and we had to negotiate 4th class rock downward into a saddle. The sun was dropping ever lower. We entered a chimney and stemmed our way up two stories, shoving our packs ahead of us.

We hugged a ledged as we put on our harnesses and flaked the rope. We each knew that the sun was far past the point at which we should have turned around. We each had less than a liter of water remaining. But the lure of the summit was strong.

A short time later I sat on the warm rock, my personal anchor clipped to a cam placed firmly in a crack. Rope played out through my hands across a chasm, up a wall, and out of sight. Bright colored slings danced in the wind as the rope slid through. The sun's angle was finally pleasant and I relaxed into the moment.

This was perfection: sitting high above the world, my partner setting anchors and scouting our route, swallows swooping past at speeds fast enough to make the wind shriek through their feathers. I couldn't help but suck in deep breaths of awe and contentment.