Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bram The Man

For 20 plus years now I have been blessed to have the best friend a guy could ever ask for.  I wish I got to spend more time with him but given our distance we do as well as we can.  He is as selfless as he is adventurous and as fun as he is humble.  Guys don't come any better than Jared Bramwell.  For his birthday I am sharing one of my favorite stories of the Brammer.

Both of us being adventure seekers at heart, we spent many high school and college nights looking for trouble and usual finding it, but on this specific occasion it found us, and we were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I swear.

It was Christmas break at BYU and the roads were a snowy mess.  I was only recently dating Sara.   She had gone home for the break and I had been left with the charge of her beloved 86 Jetta.

I had taken Bram, my other two roommates, and Roman to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. We were returning on the snowy roads to our house near UVU.  To get to our place you had to go down a steep road and make a left hand turn from that steep road onto our street.  When it was snowing, navigating that turn could be tricky and sometimes you would end up having to go all the way down the road and turn around at the bottom and head back up.

When I got to the hill in question, I tried to slowly creep down it hoping I could make the left hand turn and avoid going to the bottom and back up.   There was a car behind me that for whatever reason found my slow driving too conservative, and as a result was driving very close to me.

The order of the following events isn't known exactly by either Bram or myself, but at some point either the car behind us started to honk and that inspired the middle finger from our back seat passengers or the middle finger from our back seat passengers came out and that inspired the honking from the car behind us.  Bram and I will never know what came first.  It doesn't really matter.  What is to be noted, is that regardless of when the flipping off happened, it wasn't done by me or Bram and therefore we maintain our innocence.

I heard the honking and was a little perturbed but not to the point of blinding road rage, however the  driver behind me saw the finger and was perturbed to the point of blinding road rage.  I got to the bottom of the hill and started to pull off the road so I could flip a u-turn and head back up.  Until this point I had no idea that someone in my vehicle had flipped anyone off, but I should have caught a hint because as the guy behind us drove by he yelled some belittling words and left us with an open challenge.  I will still claim that I am not a guy who went around starting fights and I really am not much of hot head, but I rarely walked away from a fight either.

As he drove his teal Saturn coupe past us, I made a quick assessment of the situation.  It was difficult to see through the snowy windows but he appeared to only have a girl riding shot gun with him.  There were five guys in my car, granted they were not the first five guys I would pick if I was going in to a street fight, but still five beats one every time.  (In Roman's defense he was only 14 at the time.)

His car pulled off the road about 100 feet in front of ours.  I didn't have time to consult with Bram, he was already getting out of the car.  I jumped out pretty confident. First of all we had the numbers heavily in our favor but second of all we were fighting a guy in a teal Saturn.  Again I liked our chances.   We parked right next to an elementary school and we moved into the parking lot to await our challenger.
Maybe the car was his girlfriends but it was not very intimidating that's for sure. 

When the guy jumped out of the car I was greatly surprised by what I saw.  He was a monster!  He was at least 6' 4" and had to weigh 250 or more and he was ripped!  How could I know he was ripped?  Because despite it being a blizzard he was honestly wearing a neon green Gold's Gym tank top!  Picture Brian Bosworth but with a better mullet.

 The guy had a style that said "the teal Saturn is mine" and a body that said "I pull over for fights even if I am out numbered 5 to 1."

I was just thinking to myself, 'I glad we outnumber him 5 to 1' when I realized that Bram and I were the only ones who had gotten out of the car.  The Boz approached us in a very fast walk and the look on his face was one of uncontrollable rage, my confidence was dwindling fast.  

Some people believe that when you spend enough time with someone you can sometimes communicate to the other one without even talking, almost like mental telepathy.  It turns out this is BS, because I called on this power and flashed Bram a look that said, 'Maybe we should see if we can talk ourselves out of this.'  Bram either didn't catch my message or his manliness just chose to ignore it.
When The Boz had closed about half of the distance between us and him, he yelled, "Do you guys have a problem with me?!"

I thought to myself, "No Mr. Bozworth." I was ready to jump back into the car with the other 3 of our fearsome 5. 

Again Bram wasn't thinking what I was, Bram replied fearlessly and without hesitation, "Yeah I've got a problem with you!" That moment will always be one of my favorite memories of Bram.  It is to this day maybe the manliest thing I have ever witnessed in the flesh.  I knew right then at least Bram was fighting the Boz. 

Up until this point the Boz had been on a path split between the two of us, but now he headed directly towards Bram for which I was glad.  He walked fiercely up to Bram and just as he was arriving made a motion like he was going to push him in the chest.  Bram braced himself for the push but didn't raise his arms.  Just at the last second the Boz turned his open hands into closed fists and sunk both of them into Bram's unprotected face.  It was a cheap shop even if he was outnumbered.  My fear instantly left, replaced with my own rage.  

I am not sure exactly what happened next.  The ground was covered in snow and very slick, all three of us slipped around but soon I had the Boz in a front head lock.  The Boz and I were both on our feet but his head and arms were trapped below me where he could do nothing.  I held him incapacitated and Bram returned the initial cheap shot and then a few more.  I felt warm blood start to run down the front of my pants, but he seemed like he still had way too much fight in him to let him go.  

At this point the Boz was obviously losing the fight, and it wasn't going to get better for him.  He didn't feel like a real athlete just like a big guy who had spent a lot of time in the weight room.  Turned out he was no Brian Bosworth.  I could have held him in that front head lock forever and apparently his girlfriend realized this because she decided it was time to intervene.    

She jumped into the driver's side of the Saturn and threw it into reverse.  She pointed the car directly towards us and gassed it.  The car recklessly popped up a curb and she slid out a little.  She retargeted us and gassed it again.  
This time the car rolled over a concrete parking barrier that was hidden by the snow.  The left pair of tires went on one side of the barrier and the right side went on the other.  The result was the car's oil pan slamming into the barrier and sparks flying off the bottom of the teal machine.  The car slid towards us and I was forced to release the Boz and get out of the Saturn's path.

The car slid to a stop.  The Boz gathered himself.  He was bleeding from his nose and had a good cut under his lip.  I was surprised how much he had bled.  The whole front of my pants were covered in blood.  

Bram had weathered the Boz's best sucker punch and only had some redness on his face to show for it.  I was still unscathed.  Boz didn't look good.  He definitely needed stitches.  In my estimation the fight was over.  Boz did not feel the same way.

He started towards me this time.  I backed up in a circle keeping about 20 feet between us.  

Pointing to me he said, "I want you this time."

"You just got me.  If we do this again, it isn't going to go any better for you, there are two of us and one of you."

He still followed me in a circle, "I want you."

"Dude the fight is over.  You lost.  Look at yourself.  Look at us.  You're bleeding all over.  Neither of us are hurt.  If this keeps going you're just going to get beat up worse.  Plus we've got 3 more guys in the car who are just waiting for the signal." (wink, wink)

Up until now I don't think he even realized he was bleeding.  He felt the cut below his lip and saw the blood running down his chin.  I don't know if it was the thought of a scar marring his 1980's good looks or the blood ruining his neon green tank top but his demeanor changed almost immediately.  

He stopped following me and walked towards his girlfriend.  Luckily for him from the vantage point of the headlock he hadn't been able to see his girlfriend's display of driving skills and didn't know yet that he was likely going to need a new oil pan to go with his stitches.  

His girlfriend cleaned him up a bit and they got in the car to leave.  When they started to drive away his girlfriend gave a statement that put her in the same league of delusion as the girlfriend from Wayne's World.  She said, "Next time you boys better be careful who you flip off!"  

Bram wasn't going to let her get away with that, "Are you kidding? Your boyfriend just got beat up. He's bleeding all over, neither of us are even hurt.  He's on his way to get stitches, and then he's going to have to fix whatever damage you did to his car when you were rescuing him!  Be careful who you pull over to fight next time!"    

That quieted both of them and at the same time I'm sure gave them something to talk about on their drive to the hospital.  
Happy Birthday to the only guy I know who would look a charging Brian Bosworth in the eye and say "Yeah, I've got a problem with you!"


In case you forgot who I was referencing with the girlfreind. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

BRo-Man Goes Big

There aren't a lot of thing in life better than having a brother.  I am lucky enough to have three.  Roman is unlucky enough to be the youngest of the 4 of us and as a result has probably had to prove himself to each of us more times than is fair.  For his golden birthday today I am posting my favorite story of littlest bro proving himself to biggest bro.

A couple of years ago Roman and Michelle were planning a trip to visit. Roman called me to make some trip preparations.

"Hey do you know if that jump you did when you were on the podcast is still there?"

"Yeah, it's there."

"If I brought my bike down when I come, would you have time to take me over so I could do it?"

"Heck yes I would!"

I was pretty surprised by this phone call. Not that I didn't think that Roman could easily do it,  he has always been the brother who has excelled in sports of the X-game variety.  He is by far the best snowboarder and skateboarder in the family and at least as good of mountain biker as me, but he wasn't going to be in town for very long and this jump had taken me months to work up the confidence to finally do. Roman was only going to be in town for a couple of days so it was a pretty ambitious idea, but no one was more excited about it than me.

Roman had just purchased a new bike and I knew that had something to do with his decision but what I didn't know about at the time was a relatively knew social media called Instagram. Yes in hind sight, I think IG may have influenced his decisions at least a little bit.  At the time I wondered why he wanted me to take pictures and not video but it all makes sense now.

Roman knew that having the bike on top of the car would cost him some gas mileage, and apparently it was more gas mileage than he calculated because somehow he managed to run himself out of gas somewhere in the desert. It was his third time running out of gas in the previous two weeks. We had all thought it was pretty funny when it happened the second time but this was really getting comical and any brother who really loved him was going to give him a hard time about it for at least a while. (I guess a while isn't quite over yet.)

We really only had one morning to make it happen and it was going to have to be before school at 7:30. I had a pretty good idea that Roman wasn't going to just roll up to the jump, take a look at it, and huck himself off it. I knew it was going to take some time to work up the courage. So we were at the trailhead when it was still dark and at the jump right at first light. We had a full hour for Roman to check out the landing, take a few practice runs, do a few speed checks, draw some starting lines in the dirt and convince himself that the end result would not be catastrophic.

Everyone that I have taken to the jump has been pretty shocked the first time they see it. You come around a corner and all the sudden out of nowhere is this totally gnarly wooden jump that looks like an unfinished bridge. I know Roman had seen pictures and watched people do it on video but we all know that everything is 10 times scarier in real life than it is on a computer screen. I could see by the look on Roman's face, he was wondering what he had gotten himself into.

I kind of like the feeling of being in a little over my head and getting to see how I respond but I really like seeing one of my brothers in over their heads and watching their response. I rarely get to witness it but when I do it is probably my number one form of entertainment.

Roman looked at the jump. He looked at the landing, smoothed it out a bit, did some speed checks, asked for some advice on his trajectory, picked my brain over how fast he would have to go to clear the rocks below it, etcetera, etcetera.  I had done it a few times and was able to break it down pretty simple for him.

"Start at this bend in the trail, don't pedal at all, just coast and gravity will set your speed perfectly, pull up on the handle bars slightly as you leave the wood and enjoy the ride. It's that simple."

I knew he wasn't going to enjoy the ride, at least not the first time. I had been so scared the first time that there was absolutely no enjoyment until I safely landed on the ground.

Roman started to make test run after test run. After he had made fifteen or so I started urging him to go for it. We finally got down to only having about five minutes until we needed to leave for me to get to school on time. None of his test runs really made it seem like he was going to do it.

"Alright Rome this is the run."


Roman did one more half hearted run.

"I don't think I want to do it anymore. Let's get you back to school."

"No you can do. You've got to do it or you won't forgive yourself. I'll skip my first hour of work."

"Are you going to get in trouble if you're late?"

"Maybe a little, but it will be worth it if you do the jump."

I secretly had already made arangements to miss the first hour but made Roman believe I was just ditching it to put more pressure on him.

The second hour was more of the same but it definitely had a more serious feel and at least 10 times I really thought "the next run" was "the run" and he was really going to do it and every time he would hit the brakes at the last second.
Finally after probably the fiftieth "warm up run" and with about fifteen minutes left in the second hour Roman again said he wasn't going to do it.

"No way man! You're doing it! Think about what we have invested in this now. I missed my first hour of work, you ran your car out of gas getting your bike here. We could have gone on a really cool bike ride this morning instead we have been here for two hours drawing lines in the dirt and it will all be for nothing if you don't do this stupid jump."

"Yeah that's true."

"Not to mention you need to prove you are worthy of that new bike you got. And really the biggest reason is I know it is going to ruin your whole weekend if you don't do it."

"Yeah you're right."

"Think about it for a second. Realistically what is the worst thing that is likely to happen, you have that big fat shock and as long as it hits the ground first it is going to absorb most of the impact. If it does it's job and then you wreck you're probably only going to end up with scrapes and bruises. Broken bones are pretty unlikely and paralysis…. well….you've got a better chance of being hit by lightning."

Not that Roman was arguing with me but I was winning the argument.  If only I would have known to throw in something about how bitchin' all of his Instagram followers were going to think he was, he probably would have done it ten minutes earlier.

"You're right, I've got to do it."

Roman took five more runs and every time I thought he was going to really do it, but he braked at the last second.

I knew he was going to do eventually he just needed a tiny bit more pressure to close the deal.  I was forced to act the part of the annoyed older brother now.  I would have waited all day if I had to, but neither of us wanted that.

I said, "That's it man, I've got to go, I really don't have one more minute I've got to get to school."

"No I'm going to do it. One more time."

"Hurry one more time."

Roman went back to our line in the dirt.

"Just take your fingers off the brakes and tell yourself that no matter what, you are not going to put your fingers back on them. You've got it this time."

I had made that statement 50 times, and it hadn't worked yet, but I had a pretty good feeling this was the time.

The next ten seconds was one of my favorite things I have ever witnessed in the flesh. Roman finally coaxed himself into the unthinkable.  He shot off the end of the jump.  He went huge, definitely bigger than I ever had.

  This is the actual time he finally rode off of it.  The zoom reveals some serious apprehension.

That is a pretty bitchin' picture.  I'd follow him on Instagram.

The zoom in is better.

The double zoom is even better than that. 
That is exactly the same way I felt the first time I did it.

The landing may have left a little to be desired, but just like I promised him that beefy shock absorbed the brunt of the force, his wrists absorbed most of what was left over ...

….and his cheeks absorbed the rest.

Roman appeared as if he was going to ride it out unharmed but the end result was Roman celebrating in some scrub oak and a large cloud of dust.  It was an awesome moment and I am so glad I got to witness it.  

Roman came away from the experience with some cuts and bruises but he was completely satisfied with himself and that alone is always worth some cuts and bruises.  Plus he probably picked up some Instagram followers along the way.  Call it a win/win.

Happy Birthday BRo-man!!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Search and Rescue Mission Report

This is the link to the Inyo County Search and Rescue Mission Report detailing our rescue from their perspective.  Those guys were awesome and are all my heroes.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Helicopter heroics

This is the conclusion of my previous post.  If you missed it and you care to read them in order scroll to the the bottom of this post and start there.

Inside our cubby, the temperature was probably close to 40 degrees, I only can guess that because our slushy water was slowly getting less slushy.  Forty seems warm considering the night before it was in the teens, but there was no way to avoid touching the cold rock and we were still shivering more than we weren't.  It was still cold enough that when Roman peed into a empty bottle he chose to snuggle with it until it lost its heat.  I'd like to say I thought it was gross but I was jealously wishing I could pee as well. 

We got in the cubby at 1:00 in the afternoon on Wednesday.  It was a long uncomfortable night of wondering how many days we might need to stay in there and how long we could make our food and water last.  We passed the time by trying to get someone on the radio.  We could hear other people clearly talking back and forth but for some reason they could not hear us.  Hoping for the smallest cell signal we prepared a text to our wives that had our GPS coordinates and said that we were going to need helicopter rescue.  At 5:00 AM on Thursday, after 16 hours in our claustrophobic cubby, Roman turned his cell phone on to check the time and saw he had a signal.  He immediately sent our text.  Within minutes we got a text back.  It said that a search and rescue team had already been assembled and that a helicopter was available weather permitting.  We started to celebrate.  Roman's signal turned in to 2 bars so he called Michelle.  Michelle had to pinch herself to make sure she was not dreaming.  Like most wives would, she had been fearing the worst.  

Roman and I's anticipation of the sun to rise now was like that of kids on Christmas morning, except our Santa was going to be flying a CHP helicopter.  We talked about happy things like helicopter rescues, Churros and Disneyland, but mostly helicopter rescues.  We wondered how exactly it would go down.  Would a search and rescue guy be lowered to us?  Would they simply lower us a rope and harness?  Would they lower us a stretcher of some sort to strap into?  It seemed we were only hours from being reunited with our families and we couldn't think of anything sweeter. 

Around 7:00 the sun started to shine onto our little doorway.

I immediately broke out a window to see a glorious sunrise.  It looked like perfect conditions for a helicopter rescue.  Our rope still hung outside from the last rappel the day before.  It was frozen.

This is a short video I took upon realizing our good fortune.

At around 8:00 the helicopter started buzzing around.  I was hanging out the window of our cubby waving Roman's red backpack.  I was naive enough to think he may have seen me on his first pass over us.  I had no idea how hard it must be for them to spot us on the huge mountain face, but after watching him buzz past us 10 or 20 times I started to realize.  Luckily we had a signal again and I called the search and rescue team.  They put me through to the helicopter copilot and I started giving directions as to where we were. 

It seemed like it took longer than it should have but I eventually guided them to just about 100 yards in front of me exactly at eye level.  I was furiously waving the red backpack.  They still could not see me.  

"I'm looking straight at you!  I am waving a red backpack!"

The pilot could sense my frustration.  Finally when they were only about 50 yards in front of us, the pilot spotted me.  I realized that if we didn't have cell phone service it might have been days before they actually spotted us. 

Once the helicopter did find us the pilot immediately told us we were in the worst possible spot for a rescue.  He told us there was no way he could get close enough to rescue us from our current location.  

In this video the pilot is surveying the cliffside for a location in which he could rescue us from.

The pilot found an finger of rock that stuck out from the cliffside far enough he could get the helicopter in for a rescue.  It was only enough room that he would barely be able to put one skid down but it was the only real option to get us off the mountain.  The spot was about 3 pitches away from us.  He flew the helicopter to it and asked if we could get to it.  My immediate response was no.  Two days ago, when the cliffside was a rock face it would have been no problem, but now the face of the mountain was 70% snow.  We didn't have any gear to protect ourselves on snow and I didn't really have much experience on it.  I was definitely scared at the thought of going out on the exposed snow.

Search and Rescue had a team ready that had all the proper gear for protecting the snowy pitches.  The pilot said he would come back, drop them off at the pick up spot, they would then come to us and then guide us back to the pick up spot.  He figured the whole process could take up to 8 hours.  Which didn't seem that bad until he explained to me that the morning was the best time for a rescue, often in the afternoon the wind picks up and they can't do the technical flying that would be required to pick us up.  Basically there was a decent chance we would be spending another night in our cubby this time with two more guys.  I knew there wasn't room for anyone else in the cubby and I really didn't want to be there another day.  I talked it over with Roman and called back the pilot.  I told him not to bring up the Search and Rescue team we were going to attempt to get there ourselves.

I have been asked by everybody, "Did you have enough food and water?"  The honest answer is we took enough food for one full day of climbing and after being up there for 3 days we still had 3/4 of it left.  The stress was so great that I never once thought "I'm hungry, I'm going to eat something." instead a few times I thought "I should try to eat something" and was never able to actually stomach much.  

The water was similar.  We took enough to go up and down the technical sections only, but after 3 days still had about half left.  The reason for that was it was either frozen or slushy and we were so cold already that neither of us could bare the thought of drinking ice cold slush and making our body temps that much lower.  

This combination of not eating or drinking had to be taking a toll on our bodies ability to cope with what was now to be required of us for the rescue.  In the cubby I didn't care about our bodies weakening states because once we got in there, I was planning on staying in there until rescue came.  I had shut it down mentally and physically.  Now we had to get it going again for one last push.

We started to organize our gear.  Our rope was frozen and I was wondering if we were going to be able to pull it down or not.   I remember secretly wishing that we would not be able to get the rope down and I could call back the pilot and tell him he needed to bring up the rescue team.  The rope was stubborn but we worked it down.

The first pitch was a horizontal traverse along the shear face.  I set it up as a rappel and managed to get in only two pieces of protection in the hundred feet.  I was about half way through the pitch when Roman yelled to me, "I can't find my belay device."

"Are you kidding?"

"No I can't find it."

"I'm not coming back there.  You better find it!"

Roman is notorious for misplacing things, however this was not the time to lose your most valuable piece of gear, but he had lost it nonetheless.  

I finished the pitch and fixed the other end of the rope so Roman could traverse across the fixed line with just his personal anchor.

The next pitch was a straight forward rappel.  Or at least it would have been straight forward if we had two belay devices.  I have read a million different ways to rappel without a belay device but never actually done any of them.  Of course they had all run together and I was having trouble coming up with just one legitimate way.  Roman rigged up some kind of triple rope wrap of his locking biner and it was going to have to do.  During the rappel Roman knocked his radio loose and it fell.   I was expecting to hear it hit against the wall a few times and then here it explode when it hit the bottom, but the wall we were on was so shear and so tall that I heard it hit the wall one time and then nothing, I waited for an explosion but nothing.   

Here I am on the rappel.  Notice the helicopter in the top of this picture.  Like myself, Search and Rescue wasn't convinced I had what it took to do the pitches in the snow, so the helicopter stayed constantly near us in case something went wrong.  You would think that would have given us a sense of reassurance, but really it made the situation feel like a Hollywood production and definitely added a level of stress. 

The second rappel deposited us about 80 feet below the pick up spot.  The finish line of our epic was finally in sight.  Eighty feet of what was easy climbing before the snow was now going to be a formidable test.  

Roman was light headed and having dizzy spells.  My hands had been painfully cold and now didn't have much feeling left in them.  I was far from 100 percent, but the best thing about climbing is the challenge it presents.  If it were easy there would be no reason to do it.  Most climbers favorite climbs are the ones that push them closest to their limit and Roman and I were getting very close.   

Starting the last pitch the first move just to get off the ground was very steep.  As I did it I wondered if I still had enough in me to get up it.  The pitch had some good old fashion climbing stress, very different from the "lost on a mountain in a snow storm stress" we had dealt with the day before. 

Even in the stress of the last pitch, the beauty around us was undeniable.  The fresh white snow, the crystal blue sky, the gorgeous alpine peaks, then throw in the drama of a helicopter circling over head and you have probably the most memorable pitch of climbing I have ever done.  I am embarrassed to say I loved the last pitch.

Finally we arrived at the rendezvous point.  It felt like I had just finished an ironman.  It wasn't quite over we still had the unknown of jumping into a mostly moving helicopter.

The pick up was everything we feared it might be.  Roman said it was the scariest part of the whole ordeal.  We crawled out 3/4 of the way to the end and hoped that was as far as we needed to go.  The pilot made a pass and signaled to us that we needed to go all the way to where the arrow is pointing.  He told us to lay flat and hold on as there would be gusts of 120MPH that could blow us right off the snowy rock to a certain death.  We laid there in the snow for about 20 minutes waiting for the pilot to burn off fuel and then we heard his siren and knew it was go time.  We tighten down our grip on the rock.  To add a little more Hollywood flare the pilot came up from the below us.  It felt like he magically appeared out of thin air and our environment turned instantly violent.  He went up about twenty feet above our heads and then lowered back down ever so slowly.  The wind was too fierce to watch what was happening and we could only peek every couple of seconds.  Finally he put his skid down just barely onto the rock.  The door already open, the copilot yelled for us to go for it.  I jumped in and scooted across to make room for Roman.  I looked back just to see Roman land safely in next to me.  We were safely inside.  During our 3 days I had wanted to break down crying at least 3 or 4 times but had managed to kept it together.  Neither me or Roman could refrain any longer and both of us let our tears of gratitude flow freely.

After getting checked out for frostbite by the paramedics we were released to go and take a picture with our rescuers.  We will be forever indebted to them both for their great skill and their willingness to risk their own lives to save ours.

We also got to meet and thank our would be rescuers, the Search and Rescue Team.  Who despite being simply volunteers were also willing to risk their own lives to save ours if they had been asked.

Needless to say there were more than a couple of heroes there that day.

Thank you California Highway Patrol and Search and Rescue!  And a special thanks to the taxpayers of California who make helicopter rescues free for boneheads like myself.  I promise not to need another one. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

In need of a helicopter

When you have resigned to wait on a cliffside for a helicopter rescue, you have a lot of time to think about what went wrong.

When Roman was coming to town and thought he could spare a day of his trip to go climb a mountain with me, I was tickled.  We both really wanted to do the East Face of Mt. Whitney.  Having two or three days to do it would have been better but we knew we could do it in one long day.  It would be 20 hours or so but we could pull it off.  We had done a similar outing on the Grand Teton and it had turned out to be one of my best days ever in the mountains.

The East Face of Mt. Whitney is a long route of 13 pitches with a rating of 5.7 (a grade we were both comfortable with).  What got us in trouble was the commitment level of the climb.  Once you get about half way through the East Face there is no longer a retreat option.  The only way off the mountain is to finish what you started.  The other problem was the route finding, which had been reported by many as difficult and had rendered many climbers lost.

We got to the trailhead at about 1:30 AM got our packs together and laid down for an hour before our 3:30AM start time.  The hike in was a little longer than we anticipated. We got a little lost in the dark and that cost us about an hour of light.  We had planned to be to the technical climbing around 7 but it was closer to 9.
During the last hour of the hike we could look up at the face we were planning on climbing.
It is an intimidating looking face. 

                                          The first pitch was exciting with lots of exposure.

It was a beautiful day and we were both enjoying the thrill of having such a classic climb to ourselves.  The climbing seemed more difficult than we had expected which made the climbing all the more enjoyable.  After the fourth pitch we realized the reason for the increased difficulty was we were off route.

    It took us two traversing pitches to get back to the route, and cost us more precious daylight.

We were to the famous Fresh Air Traverse pitch where the guidebook said was the easiest place to get lost on the route.  We could not afford to get off route again.  It was getting late in the day and we were worried about possibly having to spend a night on the mountain.

We took a good look at the guidebook and were pretty convinced we could see the Fresh Air Traverse. We went for it.  It required a rappel that we could no way go back up on.  If it wasn't the Fresh Air Traverse we were certainly going to be spending the night.

I wanted to record the Fresh Air Traverse with the GoPro so I got it out and turned it on.  When I realized we were not at the Fresh Air Traverse I hit a new low in Mountaineering.  The stress of the situation was tangible.  I never would have recorded it on purpose but turning off the GoPro was the last thing on my mind.  Below is some high mountain drama.  Warning: my wife says it is boring and could be rated PG-13.

After finishing the plan formulated in the video above we had time for one more pitch before it was mostly dark.  We talked about trying to continue on with headlamps but decided it would be safer to man up and wait for morning.  It was time to put on our thermals (thank goodness we brought them) and get ready for the longest night of our lives.

We were on a small sloping ledge, too little to dare sleep without being harnessed into the rock.  We dressed, tried to eat and drink a little, and sent a text off to our wives that said we were going to be out another day.  Remember we had only slept one hour the night before, so I figured we would get some sleep despite the horrendous conditions.  By 8:00 it was pitch black and we were getting into our warmest position.  I fell asleep and woke up 50 or 100 times.  I snuggled with Roman.  I spooned with Roman.  I went through cycle after cycle of "shiver, violently shiver, shiver, violent shiver.  I felt Roman do the same.  I dreamed I was falling off the edge 10 times.  It had to be almost morning.  I finally dared to look at my watch.  It was 9:45!!  How was that possible?  It had already been the longest night of my life and it had only just started.  The rest of the night I never dared to look at my watch, I couldn't have handled that kind of disappointment again.

Oh how we were looking forward to that sun coming out and warming us up, when it finally got light there was no sun to be seen.  Clouds had rolled in during the night.  We forced ourselves to get up.  Roman couldn't feel anything in his feet.  I didn't realize that he had slipped into the river the day before and his shoes and socks were still wet so he had only had his climbing shoes to wear that night.  Despite the daylight my body still just wanted to stay in the fetal position and shiver.  It was very difficult but we forced ourselves to rack up our climbing gear.  We were both so cold that our bodies were barely working and we wondered if we even could climb.

We climbed one pitch and my body started to work again.  I warmed up to the point that I wasn't completely miserable.  During our second pitch it started to snow.  I simply ignored the snow and kept climbing, refusing to admit that it was really happening.  The climbing was more difficult than it should have been and I didn't know if it was because of the snow or because we had never really gotten back on route after missing the Fresh Air Traverse.  We climbed a third pitch and the snow continued to fall harder and harder.  The snow was impossible to ignore now.  Drifts were gathering at the top of the wall and every few minutes the drift would get blown off the top and we would watch it roll down the cliff face and then brace ourselves for it to hit us.  The barrage of snow drifts would push the snow down even the tiniest of openings between clothes and skin.  I was getting wetter and wetter.  I was climbing in a light pair of belay gloves and my hands were freezing.  The thought of spending another night on the mountain, this time wet, was enough to scare the heck out of me.  I had seen enough episodes of "I Shouldn't Be Alive" to know the misfortuned mountaineer is most likely to lose his fingers, toes and nose.  It felt like that fate could realistically be ours if we didn't make good decisions.  The pitches were getting increasingly more stressful, and the snow was making them harder and harder.  We did a fourth pitch and I got to a point that I should have been able to climb but with the snow it wasn't happening.  I wanted to cry.  I was getting scared enough that it was hard to think straight.  I lowered off on a cam and started up a different crack.  After another 70 feet of climbing I was right in the same predicament.  I really don't like wasting gear but our situation was getting desperate.  I lowered off on another cam.  Roman had noticed a small hole in the rock he thought we could take cover in at the start of the previous pitch.  He suggested we go back and take cover from the storm.  It was the right thing to do and I was glad he suggested it.  I am a little bummed that we were so stressed on day two that we didn't take a single picture.  The conditions were the gnarliest mountain conditions I had ever witnessed, by a lot.

We rappelled back to the shelter.  I was the first one down and when I saw it I didn't think we could both fit in it, but we cleared some rock out and it barely housed the two of us.  It was only 1:00 in the afternoon. It was going to be another long night.
One guy would have to lay in sideways and jam himself in as far as he could so that the other guy could sit in the fetal position at the front of the door way.  Both positions were bad and we debated which was worse.  We took turns switching every two hours.  It was miserable, but it literally may have saved our fingers and toes.  That hole in the rock was a tender mercy of the Lord.

It was embarrassing but we knew with the amount of snow that was falling we were going to need to be helicoptered off the mountain. We had no reception on the cell phone.  We tried to call out an SOS on the radio, but could not get any one there either.  I assessed our food and water supply and figured we could hold up in the "crack" for at least a week if we had to.  We figured we would get reception on the cell when the storm broke whenever that was. 

We watched as the doorway filled to the top with snow.  The snow made it like a little igloo.  It wasn't warm but it was a lot less cold than we had been the night before.   

We finally manage to sleep some while we waited for the storm to break.

Story of the rescue to come. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Don't Tell Mom!

Sadly enough these days I mainly watch the SuperBowl for the commercials.  This year our family's hands down favorite was this one below.

This is now one of our favorite phrases when I am alone with the kids, probably when Sara is too.  Usually I am joking but not always.

Last summer me and my good friend Aaron took our three oldest kids canyoneering.  When Aaron's youngest Macie chickened out on the rappel we had to fudge our usual safety standards.  We invented what I now call the Daddy Daughter Rappel.  It was successful in getting the whole team to the ground safely, but maybe not something you want to tell Mom about.  I waited a year and hopefully now the statute of limitations is up and Mom can enjoy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Salt Flats 100 Race Report

Rhett and Bram and I had signed up for the Wasatch 100 trail run.  It is without a doubt one of the toughest races in America and maybe someday I will do it.

I jumped into the training full bore and within a month of dedicating way too much time to running Sara had had enough.  I had asked her permission before I signed up and tried to warn her of the amount of time I would be spending training, but until we were living it neither of us really understood the amount of time dedicated to doing something like running 100 miles.

Neither I nor Sara could handle 8 months of legit training.  Sara thought I should just run the 50 miler I had already signed up for and call it an ultra marathon career, but I had started this training to run 100 miles and would be disappointed in anything less.  So I found a race that was only a month after my 50 and promised Sara that I wouldn't need to train much in between them.

Enter the Salt Flats 100.

The Salt Flats is a really cool backdrop for a race. 

 Bram and Rhett and I spent the night before the race carbo-loading at Pizza Hut and talking race strategy.  The best thing about getting together for any challenge is always the build up and the aftermath.  We had a blast imagining what the next day would bring.

At 7:00 am the next morning, in a totally surreal landscape, on a perfect April morning 54 runners set out to tame the Salt Flats 100.

We started out with ten miles of straight salt.  It was smooth sailing and we were all feeling good.

Here are the three of us running in formation.  This is around mile three.  Notice the smile on Bram's face and the grimace on my face.  It is freaking mile 3!  I should not be grimacing yet!  The bottom line is I am just a miserable runner and I can't really hide it.

When we got close to aid stations I always made us walk into them to get us ready to stomach some calories.  My 50 miler had taught me the importance of continuing to put calories in.

The three of us ran together for the first 25 miles.  That was the best part of the race for me.  Being with my good buddies and feeling strong all while being in a totally unique setting was about as good as running can get.

 At mile 25 we were at the top of our first mountain pass.  My knee had been bothering me for the previous 10 or 15 miles.  (Now I know it was my IT band, but at the time I didn't know what it was.)  I only knew it hurt less when I ran faster than when I ran slower.  So I told Rhett and Bram I was going to run at a little faster pace for the next 4 miles as it was all downhill.  That was the last I saw of Rhett and Bram.

From there it was a lot of easy miles on nice rolling dirt roads through mile 35 or so when we had our second significant climb over another mountain pass.  I got another good burst on the downhill but when the trail got really steep my knee was starting to bother me enough that I would have to hobble down the trail.  Not a good sign considering I still had over 60 miles to go.

At mile 40 the elevation chart showed a long 7 or 8 mile flat section.  I think most people were anticipating some easy miles, but that was not the case.  The dirt was really weird and crusty and every time you stepped on it you sunk in 3 or 4 inches.  It made running difficult and not getting crap in your shoes impossible.  The landscape made you feel like you were in a Mad Max movie and the endless straight desert line started to play with your mind.  When the race was all over I heard the most complaints about this section.  I was actually enjoying it quite a bit until my ipod died.

Around mile 46 I noticed a hot spot on my left foot from some of the dirt that had got in my shoe. I didn't want to stop to get it out because I had been jockeying back and forth with some girl and I was finally opening up a little more distance on her and I knew she would pass me again if I stopped.  I pushed it to mile 48 and finally decided to clear my left shoe of debris.  It was too late I could tell I had a blister started right on the ball of my left foot.  To make it worse the girl passed me again at mile 50 anyways.

 I was around mile 53 when the sun set.

 It was about the same time I picked up my first pacer, Roxanne.  It was great to have someone to run with after being alone for the last 25 or 30 miles.

Her first question for me was "Do you feel like Forest Gump?"
Roxanne and I made good time and I passed the girl responsible for my blister again for the last time.

At mile 57 I picked up Danny and put on a head lamp.  I think up until mile 50 I was towards the back of the pack, but I felt much better than I had at the end of my 50 miler and my confidence was high despite my knee which was bothering me more all the time.  Danny and I kept a good pace and we started to pass a lot of runners.  I kept my stops at aid stations short and when Danny and I finished at mile 75 I had moved up to be the 21st runner and was on pace to be under 25 hours.  I was tickled especially because I was just hoping to finish in under 30 hours.

One of the aid station workers at mile 67 told Danny and I we had a beautiful section ahead of us but this was all we saw.

At mile 75 I picked up Roman and we got on the trail quick.  Every leg after mile 75 felt long.  I would be looking at my watch wondering why we weren't at the next aid station yet.  In hind sight I had obviously dropped my pace but my mind was not sharp enough to realize that and instead I just complained about the mileage not being accurate.

The mile 80 aid station finally came and I had moved up to be the 16th runner.  I was excited about that but not excited to still have 20 miles left to go.  I was still hoping to be under 25 hours but could sense it was slipping.

At mile 81 I felt a rock in my right shoe.  I knew my sense of distance was warped when I thought to myself, 'You don't need to get it out, you only have 19 miles left.'  Then I really didn't get it out.       

After the mile 80 aid station the next station was mile 90.  That was a heck of a long way to go without an aid station at that point in the race.  Seven miles of it were uphill and I was running on empty.  

Around mile 85 we passed a runner who was literally barely moving.  He actually looked more like a zombie than a runner.  When we passed him I asked him if he was alright.  He looked at us but didn't appear to see us.  It was like he was staring right through us.  We asked him again if he was all right.  He finally said, "If you see my partner will you tell him I had to take a rest."

I asked him, "Are you talking about your pacer?"

"No my partner, will you just tell him I had to take a rest."

After we left him I turned to Roman and said, "There is no way we are seeing that guy again.  I'm not doing that good but I am doing a lot better than him."

I was sure that he was going to lay down for a rest and be on the side of the trail at least until the the sun came up.

We came around one bend in the road after another and I just kept expecting to see the mile 90 aid station.  Finally when it was just barely starting to get light enough your eyes could play tricks on you, we came around a bend and I saw it.

"Yes, we made it!'

Roman's reply "What?"

"Right there see that black thing over there that's a trailer, we'll be at the aid station in a couple of minutes."

"That black thing right there?"


"Uh.....that's a bush."

I looked a little closer, "Dang it..... that is a bush."

We went five or ten more minutes and came around another bend.  

"Yes, we made it!"

Roman, "What?"

"Right there straight ahead you can see the shape of a tent right across the way."

"Umm..... I don't think that is a tent."

"No it is totally a tent.  Stand where I am standing look were I am pointing that is definitely a tent." 

"Uh......that's not a tent."

"Yes it is man.  I can see it.  You will see it in a second too."

Five minutes closer it was obviously not a tent.  Roman was smart enough not to give me an 'I told you so', I was probably pretty volatile at that point.  I was pretty much at rock bottom. 

We went another five or ten minutes and came around another bend and the dirt road we were on just looked like it went straight up forever with no sign of the aid station.  Turns out I was pretty volatile because at this point in the race I said some not very nice things.

Roman lightened things up by saying they should have a camera set up right there to get runners reactions as they come around.

After an eternity we made it to mile 90.  During the ten mile section I only passed the zombie guy so I was now in 15th, but as we were arriving we saw runner 14 leaving the aid station.  I was trying my best to put in some much needed calories when all the sudden another runner came in to the aid station, to my astonishment it was the zombie guy.  I said "Man you made a heck of a recovery."  To which he gave no response.

I tapped Roman and said "Let's hurry and get going I don't want him to pass me."  We got out of the aid station and I figured he would definitely need to spend some significant time there and get some calories in him after the 10 miles without anything.  I thought at least five or ten minutes maybe fifteen or twenty.

We had gone about 100 yards when Roman said, "Man your not going to believe this but the zombie dude is leaving the aid station."

"What? No way!"

Out of the aid station we had a long downhill.  I usually tear up downhills, but my knee was not going to allow that.  I was trying to hobble along as fast as I could, but it was not fast at all.  Meanwhile Roman was continually looking back to keep a watch on the zombie guy.

"Is he gaining on me?"

"Yeah he's definitely gaining on you.  In fact you better scoot over and make some room for him."

He honestly passed me like I was standing still.  He was running like I would have been 80 miles ago.  It was pretty disheartening to see him crushing the downhill, and myself being reduced to a hobble.  We could see the trail forever in front of us which made it that much more painful to watch him go.  I was back in the 16th spot and losing my motivation.  I obviously wasn't making it in 25 hours and just a mile before I was envisioning moving up to the 14th spot but now was back in 16th after having been destroyed by a guy who I seriously doubted was going to finish just 5 miles ago. 

Getting to mile 95 aid station was probably the most miserable part for me.  Everything was hurting.  The blister that I felt start back at mile 46 now felt like it covered my whole foot.  My joint pain had been limited to my right knee, but now my left ankle was hurting and swollen.  I had been told by many people that I would feel better when the sun came up but that turned out to be a lie.  I just needed this to end.  Around mile 94 runner 17 came into the picture.  I did not want to get passed again.  Finally some much needed motivation to pick up the pace.

When we got to the mile 95 aid station, runner 17 was closing and I didn't have much to hold him off with.  In NASCAR fashion I told Roman I was going to gamble and not make a pit stop and see if I could lengthen my lead a little.  Roman refilled my water and grabbed me a piece of fruit.

The last 5 miles was completely flat and just like the race had started.  You could see the finish line forever but it just didn't seem to get any closer.

Don't be fooled by these pictures I was strictly power walking and only managed to get this run going  because Roman wanted to take some pictures.  I just kept asking Roman to check on runner 17 and see if he was making a move.  If he did, I was going to try to hold him off but that could have gotten ugly very quickly.  It is really pretty pathetic how competitive I am.  Luckily he didn't ever make a move.

Finally after 27 hours and 8 minutes, the long awaited finish came.  It was a very rewarding moment.  I ended up in 16th out of 54, with number 17 only 3 minutes behind me and the zombie guy finishing 48 freaking minutes ahead of me.

 Sara couldn't be there to hug me but I got the next best thing, Cher.  She cried for both of us.

 The Smart family never disappoints in supporting each other.  It meant a lot to me to have them all there.

I had not sat down once the whole entire run.  Towards the end of the run I think if I would have sat down it would have been impossible to get going again.  Once I finally sat I could not believe how fast the soreness set in.  Within ten minutes my legs were literally rigid.  I could not stand up.  It was like nothing I had ever experienced.  

I told my supporters to come check out the bottom of my feet as I took my shoes off, if they wanted to see some serious carnage.

The feet did not disappoint.  One of the other runners asked if he could take a picture of my foot and post it as his.  "Sure, knock yourself out."

One hundred miles is a long way.  It is exponentially longer than 50 miles.  I was shocked at how beat up all the runners looked as they finished the race.  It wasn't just me.  Rhett and Bram were no exception either.  If you look close in this picture you can see how swollen Rhett's right knee is in comparison to his left.  Rhett and Bram finished the race together like real buddies should.

The race was quite an experience.  Though I didn't enjoy the last 20 miles much, the end result brought me a lot of satisfaction.
 I keep getting asked the same thing now, "Are you ever going to do that again?"  To which I always give an honest answer, "I hope not."