Sunday, November 29, 2020

Flagstaff Fearsome 4 FKT

I've been interested in the FFF (Flagstaff Fearsome Four) FKT since we were here earlier this year.  It looks straightforward enough, summiting each of 4 tall peaks in the area and running in between.  Mostly on trails, but with options for optimizing the route in some places.  I'm liking the "Open" FKT courses more and more, where there are specific locations to reach (and specific start/finish spots) but you can decide how to get from one to the next.  Like a giant rogaine course.  The H2H2H route I did earlier in November was on defined trails so I couldn't make modifications - still enjoyable, but with less thinking involved.

So I spent some time scouting a few sections and playing with maps, which is great motivation for some longer runs and also quite a time suck, but it's my kind of fun.  It turns out that all this pre-work was important, at least for me in late-November mountain conditions.  I knew I was probably running out of time before the arrival of winter.  We had a dump of snow a couple weeks ago and one of my cross-country training slogs made me think I was actually too late.  But then most everything melted out down low and I decided "what the heck", let's see what happens.

I picked a day based on John's availability to crew for me, overlapping what looked like a decent wind window on Humphrey's Peak.  I've heard stories of major gusting and blowing up high and hoped to avoid that.  Temperatures looked cold but doable with enough clothes (we've had some mountaineering experience and should have a decent wardrobe to choose from).  The forecast suggested possible snow on the mountain for Thanksgiving night.  So I aimed to start out the night before and be well away from the highest reaches before any precipitation fell.

On Wednesday night we had supper, napped a couple hours, and got up to drive over to Kendrick Peak.  I am so lucky to have a husband who doesn't mind doing these things with (for) me.  He even brought a handsaw to do some trail work in the middle of the night while I was going up/down Kendrick - yes, we both are a tiny bit crazy in our own ways.

Working around a timing chart to be on Humphrey's early in the daylight, I aimed to begin the adventure around midnight.  11:45 pm and I was ready to go, let's do this:

From the beginning I was unsure whether I had the speed to beat Helen's self-supported time in July (21 hours, 23 minutes).  Even though I was running in a different category, doing it supported is certainly easier.  An FKT requirement is that you beat the fastest time in your category plus all the harder ones too.  On one hand, I enjoy setting non-stressful first-ever female times on FKT routes, on the other hand it's an excellent challenge working toward a "time to beat" that I think I might perhaps have a shot at.

Again, let's see what happens.

So as soon as I started my watch, I took off at a trot up the hill.  That turned into a fast walk, with good focus and a solid pace I thought I could sustain for a while (for 4 peaks though?  TBD).  My IT band tightened up as usual, but eventually loosened up and behaved.

Obviously it was dark, with some helpful moonlight and tons of great stars.  If I could have seen further away, here's the view from the trail over to Humphrey's Peak - a photo I took during a scouting hike the previous week:

And the view toward the top of Kendrick:

From our scouting trip, we had identified a couple spots I could venture off-trail to save some distance and time.  John and I discussed Leave No Trace principles in deciding where it might be OK.  The three sections I cut across were pine needle-covered dirt or dry grass, not steep, and appeared to be durable surfaces.  I was careful not to leave any footprints that might inspire others to follow the same track.  Interestingly, this isn't a topic we've ever considered when doing orienteering/rogaine events.  Perhaps it should be.

I enjoyed the climb, remembering each part of the trail that I'd seen before.  Glancing to the east, I could see the Snowbowl ski area all lit up and wondered if they were making snow and grooming the slopes.  Curious what that would be like when I got over there (my previous drive up there was right before they opened for the season).

Higher up, I could hear wind blowing.  Hmm, I didn't expect much of that this morning.  I never really felt it, as the trail is mostly in the trees, but listened to it make the pine trees hum above me.  Maybe it would calm down by dawn.

There were more tiny switchbacks right at the top than I had remembered, but there was also less packed-down snow, so I couldn't really complain.  I used one trekking pole and that was plenty to help with any potential balance issues on the little bits of snow.

Peak #1!

And the fire tower above me:

I hit an "OK" message on the InReach Mini tracker and started back down.  Everything went smoothly, just trying to keep from pounding the downhill much.  There was a lot of that to go, assuming I got to the end of this thing.

John had cleared out at least one large tree that was lying across the trail - super thank you John!  He saved me valuable seconds on that section.  You never know when that might matter.  By the time I reached the trailhead again, I was ahead of my splits by about 15 minutes.  John helped me do a quick transition from backpack to vest, poured me a small cup of warm TJ's ginger miso soup (so good!), and I was on my way down the road - thank you super crew man!

The run on dirt roads went well, as I watched the moon set over the hills to the right and spotted Orion and the Big Dog constellations.  I found the location I had marked for striking out cross-country to the east.  I love ponderosa pine woods, so open and easy to traverse.  I even found a small doubletrack dirt road that I'd seen on satellite view and followed it for several hundred meters.  Besides a few rocks and downed trees to go around, it seemed like the most efficient way to approach this section.

One more dirt road run and I found John waiting at the highway 180 crossing.  Just a quick water refill and drink of broth, then it was back to more dirt road, sloping more uphill as I got closer to the big mountain.

For kicks, I pace-counted and watched for a cut-over spot to the next small doubletrack through fields.  I managed to find it (the backup plan was to run to the obvious fence at the turn-off), dropped down through a small drainage, and started up a couple roads I'd previously scouted.  It was comforting to have seen this section in daylight.  I was trying to hit a fence corner that would take me from one square of public land to another, while avoided kitty-corner squares of private property.

View of Humphrey's from that scouting day - with a bunch of snow still on the ground making for slow-going.  I was very happy that the snow was gone by FKT day:

Buck and Alex had taken this route, and I liked it too.  Here's the gate at the fence corner, with a couple wire loops to unhook and rehook for moving through:

I contoured around the left side of the hill, staying above a fence and any signs indicating the National Forest boundary.  Heading east and down the other side, there was the road crossing.  The ski area lights were more and more visible, funny to have that as something to aim for.

I went straight east and up the hill from there, making sure to stay well away from the houses to the left.  This section had been a lot of work to climb during scouting, with the layer of snow to plod through, but much easier now that it was dry.

Then there was the Arizona Trail, hello again, AZT!

Almost immediately I turned off the AZT onto the Aspen Loop and climbed a short way up.  Getting from here to the Snowbowl parking lot presents a puzzle, because they have put in a new (lower) parking lot, closed a couple of small trails, and put up "do not enter" signs in some places.

I decided to avoid the closed trails by taking a cross-country route on the south side of the drainage.  This put me at the new parking lot, with one little steep ascent to reach the top, away from the construction signs and any rope fences.  From there I jogged up to the Humphrey's trailhead where John was waiting in the car.

Actually, he was sleeping in the car, and I was glad to see he could get some shut-eye tonight.  We had planned for him to climb the peak with me, and he was still game, just a bit groggy.  I was so thankful that he was going to carry some gear and water for me.  Plus I had made up more time on my splits, so I wasn't as much in a hurry at this moment.

We struck out on the Humphrey's Peak trail, across the lower ski slope.  At this point we could hear the machines making snow, and the wind was blowing lots of little flakes over us.  Kind of like a mini-blizzard, but very locally.  I was relieved to see that the trail was still dry dirt, not a working ski slope (yet?) and we just walked right across and into the woods.

There seemed to be tracks ahead of us, maybe from the people in the car parked next to us?  It was hard to tell.  Over in the woods the trail was in good shape for the most part.  This is a well-traveled trail leading up to the highest point in Arizona, so it was at times solid dirt and other times packed snow.  Mostly nothing too slippery.

We were (well, John was) carrying microspikes, and I kept debating with myself about stopping to put them on.  Longer icier sections made me lean in that direction.  Then there would be long parts that were completely dry, or a few rocks to climb on.  Mostly I was wondering if the spikes would make my feet cold, and I was second-guessing my choice not to wear thicker wool socks.  Happily, my feet were OK all the way up to the saddle.

Eventually we paused to refuel and don the spikes.  John kept them on the rest of the way up and most of his descent back down, while I took them off when we got above treeline and things got more rocky.

Here we are at 11,400 feet (no off-trail travel above this point), and dawn is dawning:

We reached the saddle, and I was feeling good so we just continued on up.  In hindsight, we should have paused for a break because we weren't about to get one for a while.  The wind was ferocious!  It started on the first little climb through and above little trees, and just got worse and worse.  We saw a group of 3 hikers coming back as we were going up - maybe they saw sunrise at the top.  They looked like they had been through some kind of gale.

I don't know what happened with my Humphrey's forecast, but I need to find a better source!

That was the main thing I was thinking, at least for a while.  Then I was thinking, dang, it's chilly.  I was dressed for the cold, but not for cold wind.  Fingers and toes were no longer warm.  Then I was thinking, I need to watch my footing.  Blasts of wind would shift me around, so I didn't always end up where I planned.  Thank goodness for the trekking pole.  Then I was thinking, hang onto that pole!  The wind kept trying to blow it away.  Then I was thinking, just keep moving, just keep moving.

Eventually we got to the summit and hunkered behind the rock windbreak for a minute.  I think the sign was swaying back and forth.  John told me the snot under my nose was icing up, so this is an even less attractive picture of me than usual:

As much as I would have liked to eat some summit chocolate, I couldn't sit long, need to get back across this dang ridge and out of the wind!

We clawed our way back across, trying to "tack" into the wind, but mostly just hanging onto rocks and being thankful for brief respites in between wind gusts.  Every once in a while the wind would catch the snot out of my nose and fling it away.

The crazy thing is that I believe I've heard of it being even worse up here.  Cannot really imagine.

Back at the saddle, we sat on a rock in the sun and out of the wind. Phew.  Time for that chocolate.  Although I was slightly shell-shocked and still recovering, so I mostly gnawed on a chunk and managed to drink some water.

I wondered next about the traverse along the top of the Weatherford trail, briefly debating descending down the Humphrey's trail and doing a traverse on Kachina (Buck had come this direction instead of taking Weatherford).  But I'd lost all my extra time by fighting with the wind and I didn't think I had the leeway for the additional miles going that way.

So I set out up the opposite side of the saddle on Weatherford, tracing steps I'd been on several times this year and glad to know at least where I was going.  John returned down to the car, with instructions that if he heard from me, to wait for me there instead of continuing around to Schultz.

As soon as I crossed over the next ridge, the wind stopped.  So grateful.  Sunshine, blue sky, all of a sudden it was a beautiful day.

The snow was also beautiful, plenty soft from the morning sun, and there were footprints across the traverse so I didn't even need to kick steps.  I did use my ice axe on the high side and my trekking pole on the low side for balance, glad to have both of them in hand plus microspikes on feet.  It wasn't "running speed" like a couple weeks earlier, and it was a longer snow traverse compared to our hiking day up to Humphrey's back in June, but I was happy that it was so straightforward.

And that's where the happiness ended.  Well, not quite - the run down the long switchbacks was nice, just a bit of snow but no biggie.  Then I reached Fremont Saddle, where the reality of the earlier snow dump finally hit me.  I really should have seen this coming.  The snow most certainly had NOT melted up here.  It never does, not until next summer.

Although it was perhaps only 4-6 inches deep, nothing post-holey, it was a royal pain in the rear to trek through.  There was just enough of a crust so it wouldn't hold, and when you break through, you end up with the crust above ankle level.  Micro post-holing, if you will.

Running was out of the question, even with the tracks ahead of me to work with.  The tracks were made by someone coming uphill, about as close together as they would have been if I had broken trail in the same manner.  I was stuck trying to speed-walk with little steps, not roll around too much if I didn't put my foot in the exact right spot, all the while knowing precisely how far and long this was going to last.

Which is, way too far and way too long.

My bad for not realizing that the trail could be in this shape right now!  I was really wishing I had reconsidered the Kachina trail option, even just to see the trail for future reference.  Because I was pretty certain that I was losing way too much time here.

Once I decided I probably was done with the FKT attempt for the day, I settled down and patiently step-step-stepped my way down the short switchbacks and started the long route around Fremont Peak.  I had a moment of "oh gosh, I hope the track makers didn't come up from the inner basin", but thankfully the tracks continued on my path.

This photo does zero justice to the condition of the snow and depth of the tracks, but it's the only one I took:

A decent photo of the condition of my mental state:

The uphill getting to Doyle Saddle was more demoralizing, just a slow slog up the snow-covered trail.  It's really weird walking out of that and onto the dry dirt at the saddle.  The view back toward Humphrey's - thank you Humphrey's, I think:

I sat on a rock, shed some clothes and spikes, and stashed everything including the ice axe.  Wow, now my pack has some heft.  And I'm stuck with a black top and tights for the warm, sunny descent the rest of the way to Schultz.  Ah well.

At this point I was resigned to using this opportunity as a scouting run for another future attempt.  So I started with a cut down the first little drainage to the trail below.  On the trail along the side of the hill, I remembered why this part is always slow - so many rocks.  This is the main reason I'd been studying the satellite view to try to decide if it was possible to take a spur down the side of the hill instead of staying on the trail all the way down.  The rocks, and also all the downed trees to climb over/under.

The spur worked really well, although I actually stayed to the side of the spur for the first part because of a tangle of trees.  The open field along there had tufts of grass, almost like steps, and I walked right on down.  I skipped two long switchbacks to the left and was quite pleased with that.

The spur itself became easy travel and I dropped down to the trail right as it was about to curve around the end of the nose.  I followed the trail around an S-turn and then southeast to a left-hand turn.  Here I looked down at the final possible off-trail drop.  It looked steeper, but was still wide-open field with short grass, and I was feeling good about my experiment so far.  So I dropped off the edge but soon regretted it.  The grass was slick, especially under trees where there were pine needles.  Not much purchase anywhere.

I worked my way to the left, found an elk path, I think, and traversed until I could see the trail.  Then I used some logs to hold onto and gradually scramble down.  No problem, but probably no time saver (at least for me).

With a glance at my watch, I realized that I was actually doing relatively OK on time, quite surprisingly.  My projected splits were loosely based and obviously not very good.  Maybe I shouldn't give up on this thing after all.  I tried jogging, and the bulky pack wasn't too much of a burden, so I picked up the pace a bit.

The trail got less rocky and I started flowing right along.  I knew I wasn't going to hit my 3-hour target split from leaving John to arriving at Schultz, but somehow it wasn't going to be too far off.  OK then, let's get back in the game!  I'd been working on a bottle of Spiz on the way down from Doyle Saddle and finished it up to get that out of the way.

I made plans for a quick transition and ran up to the car only 15 minutes after I'd planned to be there.  John jumped out, grabbed an old towel to lay on the ground to toss things onto, and I stripped off warm clothes while John pulled most of the stuff out of my backpack.  

Much better!  John wondered if I might want a jacket in case of wind on Elden, but I was happy with shorts and short sleeves for now.  Or as I told John, "F- it", after what we'd been through on Humphrey's, I was pretty sure I could handle an afternoon on Elden.  Plus I was in a hurry, gotta make up some time.

One spot I hadn't scouted was Sunset trail, so I headed around Schultz Tank and inspected each intersection I came to.  I decided to try following the "trail" sign on the right and that led me to an actual trail intersection with good information and the confidence that I was starting up the correct way.  I always had the route plotted on my phone to refer to, but was hoping not to need to stop to dig it out.

No problem, up the hill and over the ridge, then down into the bowl and to the next intersection:

The trail circled around and started up toward the next ridge.  Along the way I hopped off the trail for a mountain biker, whereupon one calf started to cramp.  Uh oh!  It was true that I had not been drinking much water since the start of the wind episode.  I needed to do something to try to fix this immediately, or I wouldn't be moving nearly fast enough.

So I sat down, stretched out my legs, dug out a salt tablet, and downed it with some Spiz.  Also took a bathroom break, in case that might help get my fluid levels back in balance.  One or more of those actions did the trick, because I got up to continue on and never had another cramp problem.  Phew.

Sunset trail is great, I'm looking forward to coming back to explore it some more.  When I reached the top of Heart trail, I was happy to be on familiar ground for the next couple hours.  I kept pushing fairly hard up these hills, glad that the Elden climb happens in pieces.  I wasn't taking many pictures, and the ones I took were pretty poor selfie quality!  For example, looking over at Elden from the top of Heart:

I continued up Sunset, kind of surprised at how much uphill there was (I'd only scouted it in the other direction).  But OK, that's what it is.  I dropped down to the road as soon as I reached the access trail to it, then walk/jogged up the road.  It was chilly in the shade and warm in the sun, so I had my choice of temperatures depending on how I was feeling.

More road and soon I was on top of Elden Mountain - back ahead of schedule again, sweet!  That was worth the work pushing to get up here.  A view of the San Francisco peaks, including Agassiz on the left and possibly Humphrey's in the middle:

The fire tower on top of Elden:

And a view of Flagstaff down below, a rare sighting of town during this run:

I pulled out the InReach Mini to send an "OK" message and found - WHAT?? - it was locked up... nothing I did would get it to respond, not even holding down the power button.  The elapsed time was stuck at 11+ hours, while my watch showed somewhere around 14.  Son of a ... gun.  First time this has happened.

[Update - it turns out there are "Reset" instructions on the back of the Mini - hopefully I won't need them again, but now I know where to look]

I texted John to let him know my location so he could plan for the next meeting point (luckily we both had reception at that point).  Then turned on the RunKeeper app on my phone.  If my phone had the battery for it, I would have been running it the whole time as backup, but I don't know if it would last that long and my phone is something I like to keep "in reserve" in case I need it for various things like communication, navigation, a flashlight...

So yeah, now I didn't know if I could finish this thing in time AND I didn't know if two partial/ incomplete gpx tracks would be enough proof of completion even if I did.  Guess I just need to keep trying, can't give up now after all that work.

After spending a couple extra minutes on Elden, I retraced steps on the road, back to the trail, and over to Heart.  Time to drop down Heart trail, finally.  I went down the new trail to the left, looking down to briefly consider cutting down to the old trail but rejecting it because it looked too loose to keep from making tracks.  That resulted in a couple extra switchbacks, in addition to all the rest of the turns going this way and that down the side of the hill.

At least I knew not to take the split to the left!  I'd tried that once in a run from the house, and it goes way, way left and then way, way back - nice for bikes, but the more direct option is better on foot.  Even if it is really rocky and slow.

Somewhere down the Heart trail, admiring the neat-looking terrain in the distance:

OMG, that trail takes forever when you're in a hurry.  I turned off-trail in the area of the old AZT, briefly got on the old trail, and then again went cross-country to find the new version heading north.  Nothing was fast about this whole descent and traverse.  I considered distracting myself with my iPod, but I didn't want to risk losing focus on moving as well as I could.  Which is good, because my split for this section was off in the wrong direction and I was back to "just barely on schedule" when I reached John at Little Elden parking.

Hello John, great to see you again!!  I'll take that jacket now, thank you.

This next section was new to me, and I wasn't sure what to expect except that there weren't favorable reviews from at least one prior FKT runner.  I switched to my lighter vest and was grateful that my legs were still OK for some running, even if they would have preferred to walk more if I'd wanted to.

Finding the start of the Deer Hill trail was easy, thankfully.  Following it was easy.  Not easy = being OK with all the twists, turns, little downs and ups, zigs and zags, and how can this be the most direct route and yet the least direct at the same time??

I started pace counting at the tanks, found the next little road crossing, continued to run as much as I could, and tried not to swear every time the trail abruptly veered west or east when all I wanted to do was go north.

I figured I might set out to the west along a section of trees, briefly cross-country to gain the road that was closing in.  The trail meandered through a burn area, which I'm guessing could be a hot place to run in a different time of year, but at least I didn't have that problem.

My pace count target had been based on a straight-line measurement, and the actual count was almost twice that.  Good thing I'm not in a hurry... oh wait, yes I am.

I finally found the set of trees I was looking for, but there were tons of downed trunks from the old fire and it didn't make sense to climb over a bunch of them to try to get to the road here.  So I continued on the trail.  Which, possibly in retribution for even considering leaving it, started zigzagging even worse, seemingly going in a full circle at least once.

Finally I couldn't take it anymore.  Where the trail did the next veer back to the east, I did a veer to the west and struck out on my own.  Luckily there wasn't much lying around on the ground, just a few small limbs to avoid, and it didn't take too much time or effort to reach the dirt road.  Finally.

Time to run more - in a straight line this time.  I "zoomed" (well, it felt fast in comparison) up the road, working up to a sustainable pace with just an occasional speed-walk break.  The slight downhill in the last section was much appreciated.

When the dirt road neared the main road (before it turned away again), I aimed across the woods, slid under a fence, and popped out on pavement.  The shoulder is plenty wide for running, only rather a shock to the ears with all the cars going by compared to the beautiful silence of the wilderness during the rest of the adventure.

Watching my watch, I knew I had to keep running, and even then I had no idea how I was going to get up and back down O'Leary in time.  I said as much to John when we did a quick water refill at the first pull-out on the road toward the trailhead.  Just have to try and see what happens.

Thankfully the 2 miles toward Sunset Crater are gradually downhill and even more thankfully my legs were still moving.  Adrenaline can do that for you.

I arrived at the trailhead to find John getting ready to come with me!  How awesome!  Not something I'd ever asked or expected.  He didn't know if he would get all the way to the top or stay with me on the run down, but no matter.  He was game to carry some water and Spiz, and I was happy to let him.  Even more happy to have the company.

I quickly donned some tights and tried not to think too hard about the splits I needed to hit next.  Thinking that the Mini was dead weight, I left it in the car - only to find out the next day that it had turned itself back on along Deer Creek trail and was working again.  No matter, the phone tracker was still good.

John and I set out toward O'Leary, enjoying the first easy mile that's partly downhill (with me pointing out this fact, mostly to remind myself of it for later).  After a left turn we started climbing.  It was dark now, but here's the view of the summit on a previous day:

I really like the cinder road.  It's hard packed enough that it's easy to run on, but softer than many other surfaces.  Very forgiving.

That didn't keep me from taking an old road as a shortcut partway up.  We ended up heading more directly north back to the main trail, which worked great, no extra energy spent on navigation there.  Continuing up the long switchback - here's a view of the colorful road on another day:

We paused briefly above the first saddle for a drink of Spiz and then pushed on.  My legs had been such troopers all day, even after I thought I had worn them out completely in the Humphrey's wind and Weatherford snow.  Now they were ready to be done climbing.

Not quite yet, another switchback, then another, where is this peak?

There it is, yay!  #4, finally:

No time, gotta run!!

Well, you have time because you're reading this instead of doing something silly like trying to run this whole thing in a day.  So you can admire the view (in sunshine) from O'Leary of Elden on the left and Humphrey's on the right:

And more to the right, I believe that's Kendrick in the background - pretty neat to be able to see all four peaks from various places.

Anyway, back to the race against time.  I ran, John followed, we ran some more.  We took the old road again down the drainage to save some distance and time, and again it worked great.  More downhill.  Then it started snowing lightly - little flurries, fun!

The turn to the right, then to the left, and a slight uphill and a flat section.  That was all fine, I was still mostly running with moderate effort.

Then... the last turn to the right.  And the last several hundred meters, which are all uphill.  I knew this, but I had failed to measure it to REALLY know it.  I started counting paces, just because I could (not that it helped anything), while running uphill and checking, double-checking my watch.  9 minutes remaining, 7 minutes, where is that dang gate??

Finally a glint in the distance!  The gate, the car, almost there...

I stopped my watch when I touched the trail sign, then immediately sat down on the oh-so-helpful rock that happened to be there.  4 minutes to spare.  3:59, to be precise.

What just happened?

Well, I did everything that I could.  Now I'm ready to submit a couple partial gpx tracks, some photos, and this report.  I don't think I could get from Doyle Saddle to Elden (the missing part of the track) any faster than directly on foot.  John can attest to my actions, at least at Schultz.  I'll let you know if my FKT was accepted or not (Update - it was indeed, yay!)

More importantly - super huge thanks and hugs and love to my husband John, to whom I'm forever grateful and indebted.  What a joy to have such an amazing partner in grime  :)

Monday, November 23, 2020

SW Utah - Beaver and Beyond

Back in September (let's see, yep, 2-3 months ago), we moved to southwestern Utah for a few weeks.  John picked up some project work on a huge solar farm installation.  Something he hadn't done before and it was in the right direction for our travels (i.e. moving south as winter approached).  Cool, let's explore another part of Utah.

We started at Minersville Lake State Park for a few nights, as a basecamp while we figured out the lay of the land.

Which for us usually means literally climbing around on whatever hills we see nearby.  I had fun running on dirt roads and trails around the lake, then we set our sights on the peak to the west.  It probably has a name, but I'm not finding it easily right now.  Regardless, it was an interesting climb with lots of thin slate-type rock to deal with.  And some inspiration for cooking pancakes later:

Checking out the valley to the west where the solar farms are soaking in the sunshine:

The view back toward the lake where we were camped, and oh yeah, it was still California wildfire season at the time (and for another couple months after that) so it was a bit hazy:

Tug and Howie at the campground (loving the new heat pump air conditioner!):

John helped make this happen - awesome:

Pre-panel section in the middle of the desert:

John enjoyed the work and was glad to get a glimpse into an operation of this scale.  There were wind turbines and an experimental geothermal station nearby as well.  Good to see Utah getting into renewables!

We moved into an RV park in the town of Beaver for the next month, which made for a longer drive for John but easier access to everything else.  By which I mean a small grocery store, a hardware store, a little post office with old-timey PO boxes (I love getting a box when we stay somewhere for a month or more), and the excellent Creamery (cheese, ice cream, yummy cafe food, and a good bathroom for my long runs).  I printed out a map and ran every street in Beaver - thank you Kip for that inspiration!

We spent some time in the mountains to the east, the Tushars.  They are full of rocks.  And great scenery.  John came with me for a big loop, including off-trail up to Shelly Baldy, fun!

Looking across to Mounts Baldy and Belknap - someday we might make it there too (yes, I would like to go back - we never really "finish" with a place, unless we just don't like being there):

A particularly strange smoke map, with crazy fires all along the west coast, smoke covering most of the country, and one section of clear air - right where we happened to be at the time.  Lucky us, at least briefly:

Enjoying our occasional blue skies, with another hike in the Tushars.  We drove up to a high pass and took off on another cross-country adventure.  So colorful and pretty!

And we found some mountain goats!  We didn't expect to see much wildlife up here, super cool.

At the top of Delano Peak - someone left an apt painted rock:

Leafing through the summit register on Delano:

The topography up here is unlike anything we've seen before, a mix of rocks and tundra.  Utah continues to surprise us.

Heading back to the truck, thanks for a lovely day:

We biked on back roads up toward the Beaver "B" and then hiked up the steep road to get a closer look.  Of course, the solar panel-powered lighting system was interesting:

Perhaps I should have gotten a photo of the "B" from down below to give more context, but it was neat to be up here (the giant letter is lit at night, quite impressive):

Something that made me laugh whenever I passed it during a run.  I think our truck has a dent worthy of one of these stickers too:

On the weekend of the Beaver marathon/half-marathon, John noticed that the giant sign above the gas station near our place displayed the normal message...

... followed by this:

After the big solar project was over, we moved to a park near Cedar City for a week (waiting for a battery shipment that we eventually were able to divert to Flagstaff instead for later pickup).  Three Peaks park was great!  Quiet campground ($5/night) and trails to explore, more interesting rocks, and views of more solar farms:

John had been thinking about climbing Granite Peak ever since we spotted it from our first campground next to Minersville Lake.  We finally made time to get up there; well, I'd probably been procrastinating, but finally decided I should join John in this more-challenging endeavor ("good training", the usual tagline).

Gorgeous fall foliage in the lower woods:

As promised, the route required a lot of bushwhacking.  Good thing we're adventure racers!  It actually wasn't too bad, just slow - it helps to have perspective from doing other much-worse things.  We worked our way up a drainage and then emerged from the woods to find a bunch of low manzanita in the way.  At least there were some great rock formations to marvel at:

Sometimes it's easy to find a path through manzanita, other times you just have to slog through it - looking back down the hill at the easier-to-maneuver-around aspen forest:

The real challenge was the steepness of the slope from there on up to the summit.  Steep!  Grab onto anything you can reach steep.  Rocks, roots, helpful aspen trees - thank you tree!

It's hard to show steepness in perspective, but I tried (also, taking pictures is a good way to get a little breather):

OK, this actually does look steep:

We found a lovely flat spot really close to the top so we could pause for a snack and take a look around.  Quite the view from up here; also, excellent granite shapes:

It seemed like we needed to either go up the large rocks next to us, or work around to a gully to the right?  We decided to try the large rocks.  The decision to bring harnesses and a rope was a good one (for me, anyway).  John climbed up first and belayed me up the short challenging sections near the summit:

Made it to the top, yay!  It counts that I could touch the USGS marker, right?

Views to the east toward Beaver and the Tushars:

John checking out the rocks on top of Granite, while I was happy in my little cubbyhole:

Going down, we tried the gully to the right and that was better than the large rock route.  The descent was steep (steep!) but way faster  :)  Staying closer to the drainage worked better - between the manzanita and the deadfall.  Eventually we got back down to the easy part where we just had to clamber over the occasional down tree.

Fun day, glad we did it, thank you John!  And thank you Utah, we super enjoyed our time there this year!