Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Little Scare in the Mountains

A week has passed since our little scare in the mountains but it really rattled me enough to write a quick post about our experience. Basically, in a nutshell, Joe and I went out for what we thought was going to be a 21-mile loop through the Columbia River Gorge that involved some good climbs and descents...probably like a 4 hour run or so. Specifically, we headed up the Herman Creek Trail at 8:30 am and took just enough food and water for that mileage. Based on the mild weather in Portland and at sea level we both wore shorts and thin water resistant running jackets with hoods. I had a beanie cap, some thin running gloves, and some knee-high Smartwool socks, which turned out to be a life saver, almost literally.

Long story short we expended a lot of energy as we powered up through the mountain. I felt that I was kind of rationing out my energy output based on how far we would be running. I was also rationing out the small amounts of food that I had, which were three Gu Roctane Gels, three Medjol Dates, and 20 oz. of water. We started off running up some beautiful mossy trails in the foggy mild morning at a pretty solid pace. As we got higher and higher the temperature dropped, the wind picked up, and snow started to fly. It reminded me a bit of when I used to live in Colorado and the weather would change so rapidly coming over the continental divide.
(one of the many waterfalls we passed on the way up the Herman Creek trail)
(rocky section on Herman Creek trail as we started getting higher)

We made it to the top where it was really ripping with wind and snow and we ducked into the hut seen below. Picture this hut below without the sun...and snow and wind blasting through the windows while we danced around inside. We made the brief stop and agreed to head down the ridge to get out of this mess.

We bombed down the ridge and started hitting some deep spots in the snow which actually slowed us down and demanded a lot of energy. We finally made it down to another intersection and again agreed to take a pretty obvious route. By this point we knew we were not going the planned route but thought that we could get to a similar destination with similar mileage, etc.

The miles kept ticking by and we were getting really, really cold. Joe's ankle was bleeding from his legs crashing through the ice. Even though we dropped down a ways it was still dumping snow. We trudged along the forest road for a few more miles before we made the wise decision to turn back and re-trace our steps, which were quickly being covered by the rapid precipitation. It was a tough pill to swallow because my Garmin said that we had already traveled about 19 miles and now we had about 14 to get back to the car.

Normally 14 wouldn't be that bad but I burnt up so much energy getting to where I was that it seemed like 100 miles away with some tough climbs. It became such a mental game and Joe reminded me to stay positive. We finally made it back to the hut and I was in extremely rough shape. Rougher shape than I have ever been in on a run, whether it was a race or training. I mean even in ultras when you're really hurting you have aid stations every so often where you can nourish your body and mind. We had nothing and we couldn't stop either because it was so cold. The combination of energy depletion and hypothermia is a dangerous and scary place to be. I kept thinking about the climbers and hikers that never get found out there, and I had to focus on one foot in front of the other and staying strong.

As we headed down toward the car I could barely see. Not because it was dark but because my vision was blurred big time. The only comparison I have for this is when you get really, really drunk and you have to close one eye to focus in on something. Also, I was losing coordination in my legs. As I slowly made my way down I fell a couple times, re-grouped, got into a zone, and then I was brought back to the pain and suffering again and again.

The last few miles took me a long time as I had to stop and walk. I had nothing left but I wanted to be finished so badly. It was starting to get dark and I couldn't believe we spent nearly 8 hours out there. Thankfully, Joe ran ahead and warmed up the car. I collapsed into the warm passenger seat and devoured calorie after calorie in my bag. I was trembling violently but so thankful to be sheltered.

We both learned a few things that day and it was an experience I'll never forget. Mother Nature is so powerful and we humans are so small and helpless in certain situations. It's important to bring a little map and compass and sometimes maybe a little extra food. However, it was great ultra training...but I don't recommend purposely doing this! I have much respect for the mountains and the power of the human body and mind.

Here is a brief video about the psychology of ultra endurance events. Is it all about suffering?

That run capped off a 91-mile week for me and after a day off on Monday I was able to get back into training after I finally warmed back up ;o) I started tapering down a bit for Orcas Island 50k on Saturday. It looks like it's going to be a fun event up there and I am feeling like I'm getting some good fitness back.

Well, I always do this...I say I'm just going to write a quick post and there I go rambling and yapping on forever! ;o)

Joe Grant captured our experience nicely and in better detail on his newly formed blog. You can read his account by clicking HERE.

I'll finish with a great quote I came across via Jimmy Dean Freeman's page by William James. It goes like this:

"Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction."


Erica said...

You gave me a little scare glad you made it back safely. You two men are a dangerous combination!

Derrick said...

Very scary stuff Yassine. Glad it turned out ok. A strong message to send out to everyone.

We've all been in similiar situations, but it's valuable to read something like this to realize how potentially bad it could have been. You just never know.

Take care.

nancy from finger lakes said...

wow, yassine, what a scary tale -- especially coming from someone as tough as you, and especially after reading joe's account. my personal strategy is to always carry a map when i go someplace even a little unfamiliar and, when alone, tuck an old driver's license into a pocket or sports bra so that it'll be known who i was once i get found. i say this as a joke, but recognize the potential reality of it, especially since i was once lost alone in the gathering dark without a light in 5 degree temps, knowing it would be -10 before long. thankfully i guessed right on the trail back to my car and was fine.

be safe and have a great race next weekend.

as a happy side note, i just finished a 77-mile week and am feeling great.

Yassine said...

Erica: You're right...Joe and I get yapping and we're like two old ladies having tea and gossiping! ;o)

Derrick: yeah, it is something that us trail runners should be aware of even if we think we know where we're you just never know. Hope the ITband is lettin' up a little for you!

Nancy: A little scary indeed and definitely tested our mettle. So glad to hear you're back at it! :o) WOW! 77-mile week in the Ithaca winter climate is awesome! Probably the equivalent of like 100 plus! White River will be here before we know it! Thanks!

UltraChris said...

holy crap, yassine! joe says that they should make a TV show out of your story - call it "I Shouldn't Be Alive" - oh, wait, there is a show called that about people who get into life-threatening situations and make it out alive!

seriously, i'm glad you made it out OK and that you recovered. diane is up there watching over all us. lesson learned - we've all done it - and when they say "you learn from your mistakes" - well, some of us should be the smartest people around by now! keep up the strong work. stay safe, man.

Gallow said...

Wow, that is scary. I've never encountered anything like that. I think it's one of those things that you don't expect. Thank you for reminding us to be careful.

Sara said...

So glad you guys are okay. Thanks for recounting the story, it's a good reminder for everyone to take care out there.

rustyboy said...

WHOA, I'm glad you're both okay! Man. I had a similar experience (being under-prepared during a 24 miler) but with heat in Southern California. It took so much energy to not thinking about the newsreport: "Runner went missing in the mountains today..."

I've never been under-prepared since. I imagine you've learned the same hard lesson. Again - glad you're all right, and I'll intro myself to ya at Hagg next week!

Marmot said...

So scary! Thanks for reminding us to be careful. Indeed, that was great experience.