On my last day in California, I decided to take advantage of another nearby mountain: Telescope Peak. It’s the highest point, at roughly 11,000 feet up, that overlooks Death Valley. To ensure I didn’t suffer the same fate as mountain camping (where we turned back because of excess snow), I did some preliminary scouting by flying over the peak. The snow cover was minimal and just mostly on the cap. So Benjo and I were off on another adventure to check it out.
Truthfully, I just wanted more high-altitude exposure to work the body and lungs with some rewarding views. This time, I was delighted to find that the way up wasn’t as taxing as the previous weekend. Then again, I didn’t have a rucksack while fighting through snow, but I think perhaps I’m starting to get used to the altitude? I wish I could say the same for the mountain slope. I never really thought myself afraid of heights (I used to skydive for crying out loud!), but there’s just something that brings on a panic-driven sobriety when you stand on the middle of a steep mountain looking down… a very, very long way down. I don’t even think pictures do it justice to reproduce the feelings. I guess it’s just a matter of repetitive exposure to gain confidence on mountainsides.
That being said, I did notice that my panic factor was a little less than last time… until I neared the top. Apparently snow from an aerial view doesn’t look nearly as bad as it is when you’re boots-on-ground in-person. So the blue path (above) is where we hiked at a fast walking pace. We never quite made it to the very top. The last thousand feet or so were on a knife-edge with a ton of snow and ice. And like I said, I’m still trying to get comfortable looking down at a 50° angle and seeing air instead of ground. Benjo continued on a little bit, but even he said he was a little nervous and getting out of his element… and he’s experienced at this sort of shit!
In order to continue to get a workout on this whole hike, Benjo challenged me to run the way back. So run I did. The red path (above) is the run back.
Now, I know a few people that champion trail running. I can see why to a certain extent. You get a view with a workout. But I found that about the only thing “running” and “trail running” have in common is that you need feet to do it. Otherwise, it’s an entirely different experience. It’s like comparing driving a Porsche to driving a semi with a load. In running, you just go… you can have potentially sloppy technique/form with only a minor hit on speed (like driving the Porsche). In trail running, you almost have to run on the balls of your feet to prevent any ankle rolls, you constantly have to apply the brakes downhill, and use 100% of your concentration on foot placement. All of this combined probably cuts any running speed I may have to half (which is like driving a semi downhill or in wind – you can’t rock around at 100 mph and it takes concentration!).
So here’s a sample of the path I ran (outlined in red at right). My concentration was maxed out ensuring I didn’t trip on a rock, lose my balance, or roll an ankle! One point, I did almost misstep… I hit a rock wrong and lost balance. My heart instantly jumped up into my throat as my inbound foot struck ground right on the rim of the trail, barely catching my momentum going overboard. In the end, I was pretty proud of myself: I ran about 10k in an hour and twenty. Not the fastest, but I would’ve literally been at the bottom of the mountain (without using the trail) if I had pushed it up any more.
Which leads me to my biggest problem with trail running: I came to get a workout with a view. My view throughout the entire run consisted of the ground 3 feet in front of my planted foot looking for a secure FLZ (foot landing zone) for the inbound foot. Hell, I could’ve run right by a black bear and not have known the difference! But a workout I did get. My feet were tired and my legs were pretty sore afterward. Oh well, back to trails on the rolling hills of Britain. Perhaps without the threat of an 8,000 foot drop, I can actually timeshare in the landscape with my feet a little more!