This is a bit of a saga. I’m blaming covid for my inability to edit effectively.
2019 was a pretty lacklustre year for me. Jan 2020 rolled around and I was determined to crawl my way back to fitness.
I was prepared to feel rubbish coming back to fitness and Jan and Feb did not disappoint. Nothing like 5am dark, snowy, minus temperatures to test your running resolve. I’d relocated to Whistler, Canada at the end of 2019. Early morning running before work was pretty exciting for about 3 days, then it was just cold.
Couple early morning photos from Jan and Feb.
Fast forward to March 14 when Whistler, like the rest of the world, ground to a sharp halt with the covid crisis. We were extremely fortunate to never be restricted from exercising outside, however the closure of almost all businesses did turn the town into a zombie apocalypse movie set immediately.
For the first little while I kept following my Hanny Allston UTA training plan thinking maybe it would go ahead. Once it was postponed, I kept following it because I was finally having the odd run with good feelings. The plan was giving me a structure I was craving. Here’s a couple photos of my trail playground.
UTA training plan ended (I substituted a back to back mission weekend which was fun and way less stressful than the actual UTA race). And then being the little optimist that I am, I switched to the Monte Rosa miler training plan. Again, that got cancelled. I crossed fingers for Whistler Alpine Miler, which was also cancelled. At this point I just embraced following the miler plan for the hell of it.
Enter my friend Jeff Grant. Mid July, he invited me on ‘a North Shore adventure’. He emailed the plan. I googled, saw photos of epic scenery and was intimidated and sold!
On Aug 14, we touched the water at Porteau Cove (along with Damien who was joining us for the first 30km) and set off up the first climb.
We followed the Howe Crest Trail from Porteau Cove. Holy moly, this rates in my top 5 most scenic, spectacular trails ever. The North Shore weather gods smiled on us and we had the most fantastic (not wet!) weather.
The climb up was steep and I was super conscious of avoiding the lactic early on. I strategically plonked myself in front of Jeff and Damien to keep them from unconsciously putting me the hurt locker early on. I am the slowest person on the planet to warm up and these guys were strong!
Up through mind-blowing scenery of teal lakes and sentinel mountains and we came to a trail junction to Mt Brunswick. It was at this point, I realised that we were following a specific course set by other famous nutters and this course was specifically ‘bagging’ a bunch of peaks along the way. I’d never heard the term ‘peakbagger’, but I could take a stab at what it meant! So small side trip up Mt Brunswick which Damien and Jeff informed me is the Grand-daddy/tallest peak in the North Shore. There was also a cultural lesson about a ship commander that Mt Brunswick was named for, but I was too busy trying to avoid vertigo to recall the story. We scrambled up the top and Jeff pointed out the ridgeline we need to follow to ‘bag’ it. I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m also not a fan of them. Needless to say, I did not win any grace points as I butt-crawled my way to the peak. The view was incredible.
Back down Brunswick and we got a bit of a shuffle going through Magnesia Meadows and I felt like Heidi. Things were ticking over nicely. I had a small crash in a boulder field and my first bit of bark was missing.
Passed the Lions and the view over the Howe Sound and Vancouver in the distance was outrageous…just stunning! We started running into a lot more people and the less appropriately attired they were, the more hopeful I became that we were nearing civilisation!
Jeff was having some cramping issues and Damien said he was tired but he looked like an energizer bunny. I felt pretty smooth in my energy levels, but I had some stabbing pain in my left knee on the downhill. I didn’t want to give voice to my concern but it was making me nervous considering we were not even a third of the way into this grand plan. Damien kept telling me about this ‘highway’ of trail that was coming up and I really hoped he wasn’t overselling it. Lo and behold the most buff and lovely trail appeared and it was everything Damien had promised!
Down into Cypress ski area and we met the marvellous Jackie (Jeff’s partner in crime). She had sprinted there from work and delivered nutrition! Jeff and I said goodbye to Jackie and Damien and headed off into the forest. Jeff was still dealing with cramping and was having a low patch. I was a little flat but ok. We got ourselves down to Cleveland Dam and saw Jackie again. Jeff had perked right up. We did a full refuel with enough nutrition to last us through the night. I was a teeny bit crampy in the legs when we stopped. In retrospect I should have tried to get more nutrition in here.
Half way up Grouse Mtn, I started to feel sluggish. It was getting dark and Jeff was cooking with gas. We were a bit nervous that the Grouse restaurant would close before we got there, so Jeff went ahead to make sure we got full water bottles as it would be a while until we saw another water source. I got a gel in and immediately realised that my old friend nausea had started to raise his ugly head.
Into the restaurant that had two cleaners and me and Jeff. You know you’re in an outdoor-friendly city when they don’t blink an eye at head-torch runners in a restaurant at 9.30pm!
We took some super cool photos of Vancouver lit up and headed out into the dark. I felt pretty rough in the stomach but was still able to eat a little bit. The bits I remember of this section was descending Crown Pass (roots, rocks and I spent more time than I prefer on my ass), a moraine descent that felt like it would never end, an incredible night sky, some bear/cougar noises that had Jeff and me making a fair bit of noise and some runnable trail where I suddenly felt like Eluid Kipchoge.
We came across Lynn Creek and needed to refill. Jeff was looking sleepy and I harassed him off lying on the bridge and into the creek to fill water bottles. I was scared I was going to get cold if we stopped, although maybe if we had, the next few hours wouldn’t have turned into such a disaster for me.
We started climbing Mt Coliseum and I was struggling. Jeff was super patient as I got slower and more nauseous. I knew I needed to get more calories in. I also knew that was going to be a challenge with my heartrate high and stomach in lockdown. Finally I staggered enough that I told Jeff I was going to sit and try to get a gel in. Pukey Pukerson paid a visit the instant I swallowed the gel and I proceeded to spend the next few hours returning my stomach contents to the great outdoors. This is the bit where it became Class 2 fun!
I was trying hard to see the positives but I was getting very disconnected between my body and brain. I did make an interesting discovery. I have never done such a long/hard effort that was not in a race. Motivation-wise, I’ve never had a moment in a race where it crossed my mind that I wanted to quit. Climbing Coliseum, I had many moments where I struggled to see why I was putting myself through this unpleasantness. It was interesting that a race gives me a ‘buffer’ from the quit thoughts, that wasn’t there when I had no number pinned on.
Finally we got to the junction of the out/back ‘peakbagging’ trail. I really could have been talked into not going. I even considered waiting while Jeff went, but luckily the Canadian mosquitos (that should be re-classified as small birds), convinced me to trudge off to bag this bloody peak. And I’m so grateful to Jeff for sticking to the plan because we saw the most truly spectacular sunrise at the top.
Down we come and here’s an age-old orienteering lesson that I never seem to learn. I’m was in front as Jeff was kindly letting set the snail-pace on descents. I said, “this descent feels a lot longer than when we came up”. Cue what should have been a lightbulb moment!
We had left our poles at the bottom so that we could have 4 points of contact on the scramble up and I’m looking out for our poles. Jeff agreed “it feels really long”. But do we stop and check the map….no! In true Brook orienteering-style I just ploughed on. Finally we pull the map out and you guessed it, I’ve missed the junction and have been descending back down that bastard of a climb we just staggered up!
There were some choice words and we turned around to regain the 1km/200m elevation we had just lost. I was able to let it go pretty quick (probably because I’ve made so many navigational errors in my orienteering life). Poor Jeff had a little more time in the “F$%k this s@#t” state.
Daylight and I was no longer puking! Yay me! I was still descending like a 100 year old Grandma and Jeff was still completely Zen master about how much I was slowing us up on the descent.
We popped out onto Seymour Bike Path and the indefatigable Jackie is there. It’s her birthday and this bloody legend is out there with a smile and life-saving Coke. I’ve never been so grateful. I got myself sorted and dumped as many things out of my pack as I could because the mountain standing in front of us was frankly scaring the s#%t out of me. It looked insanely big. I got a bit of coke and a gel in. It’s crazy how just a little bit of nutrition can rollercoaster you back up. We hit a beautiful flat trail in this old growth forest and suddenly I could Cliffy shuffle again and we were joking about land speed records.
We climbed Vicar Peak and I felt consistent, if not strong. Food was going in ok and my mind was occupied with hanging onto ropes, roots and hauling myself up this monster.
The photo on the right is halfway up the Vicar Peak looking back at Coliseum Peak where we had watched the sunrise.
We crossed what I renamed ‘the religious guys’ Vicar, Curate and Rector Peaks. I had one hyperventilating moment hanging onto tree shrubs staring down a sheer dropoff. I am sure it wasn’t as exposed as it looked but I had little faith in my quick reactions given my fatigue.
I was super frustrated with how slow I was moving in this technical terrain. I was slow even on the traverses. Jeff deserves a gold medal for his patience, he never once cracked it, even as extremely foul language poured out of my mouth.
Over to the junction for the last ‘peakbagging’ side trip. I was really unsure if I should go up but just as we got there, a girl wearing a sparkly top and non-peakbagging-shoes came skipping down from the summit with her boyfriend. That was all I needed. If she could manage, then I could get my ass up that last peak. The top gifted us a great view all the way to Mt Baker in the States and when Jeff pointed out Mt Brunswick it looked satisfyingly far away.
Down to the marvellous Jackie in the Seymour carpark and she promised me the last 10km was mostly not technical. Tried a hashbrown (returned to the forest very quickly) and more life-giving Coke. Then a total highlight….10km where somehow my legs decided to run a little more!
We had to descend another 1000m in that last 10km and as the night fell for day two, I started seeing coyotes in the trees and snakes in the creek. Jeff was seeing Ewoks and I was ever so glad we had less than 2 ParkRuns left to touch the finish water of Deep Cove.
The finish line had the best Crew ever Jackie, a drunk couple who offered to buy us donuts and the strong smell of Skunk (which I’ve never smelled before). 40hrs3min (longest time on feet to date). 114.90km. 8205m. (Jeff had less distance, so I’m claiming my stats!)
So very grateful to Jackie, Jeff and Damien for gifting me this crazy and epic experience. My deepest thanks for showing me your backyard.
Lessons Learned –
115km can take a really, really long time!
Mountains that are relatively small can be a lot tougher than tall ones.
I have a loooooong way to go with improving my technical trail skills.
You can spend a long time not taking on calories and still move forward, but it’s really not to be recommended.
Photo Credits to Jeff and Damien and me!