Thursday, February 24, 2011
Snowshoe Run Up Mt. Washington 02/23/11
WARNING: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. SOME OF THE WORLD'S WORST WEATHER HAS BEEN RECORDED ABOVE TREELINE ON MT. WASHINGTON. UNPREPARED TRAVEL ABOVE TREELINE CAN HAVE LETHAL CONSEQUENCES.
Now that I have that out of the way, on to the story. I wouldn't call this a race effort, but it was one hell of a workout. Every winter I look forward to trying to get up Washington, but only if the weather cooperates. One of the advantages of living up here is that if we get a nice day, whether it's a Tuesday or a Sunday, I can usually get up the mountain. This week is my annual winter vacation with Jess, which really means I run as much as my body can take and try to ski or snowshoe with her in between the madness. I love you!
The weather on Wednesday dawned cold, but clear. Wind speeds on the summit were in excess of 40 MPH in the morning. With the sub-zero temps, I decided to wait until later in the day to attempt to tackle the mountain. Around noon time I noticed the summit temps had gotten up to around 10 degrees, but the winds hadn't really died down. I figured I would make my way up to treeline and turn around if the weather was too nasty.
After purchasing a trail ticket at the Great Glen Trails office, I headed up from the traditional road race start. I was geared up with a "heavy" pack which included 20 oz. of water with Nuun tabs, 2 mini Larabars, digital camera, Epic Wide head-mounted video camera and a cell phone all stuffed in my Mini-Mule CamelBak. I was wearing running tights, running pants, poly pro short sleeve and long sleeve shirts, wind jacket, thick running socks, Inov8 RocLite 295 trails shoes, Dion 121 running snowshoes and hat and gloves. The clothing wasn't anymore that I wear on a normal winter run.
My goal for this run was to try to stay comfortable for the first few miles, then pick up the effort as I climbed higher. I didn't want to dig myself into a hole early, then bonk above treeline. I was able to stash my hat and gloves and unzip my jacket while I was running below treeline and out of the wind. As soon as I hit the halfway point I bundled back up.
After rounding the Horn (4 mile mark) the winds picked up, but I didn't find them to be too bad. It was actually a tailwind, which helped my progress up my least favorite part of the road, the dirt grade from 4.5-5 miles. The road at Cragway was mostly exposed. I tried to stay on snow and ice as much as possible so I wouldn't break a cleat on the side of the mountain.
As I rounded Cragway I was greeted by the Mt. Washington Observatory's Sno-Cat on it's way down on shift-change day. They seemed to be having a good time, and so was I as I ascended on the packed snow. Not long after passing to outbound Obs crew I ran into a tough headwind. It almost stopped me in my tracks a few times. I was starting to debate turning around, but the wind eased up as I passed the 6 mile mark.
The nice tailwind reappeared as I made my way up the hairpin before the Cow Pasture. My jacket acted as a sail as I started crunching along on the icy road. The Cow Pasture was a skating rink that had partially been broken up by the Obs tractor. At this point the wind was coming across the road and blowing me from one side to the other. This was one of those "What the hell am I doing here?!" moments. The wind subsided as I got some shelter as I started climbing again.
As I looked at my watch near the 7 mile mark I knew I would have a chance to break 90 minutes if I started to boogie. Boogie above treeline in 40 MPH winds means 10 minute pace. I put my head down and crossed the icy expanses that are the upper parking lots in winter. The wall was almost unrunnable, but the cleats on my Dions grabbed enough to get me up. I crossed the road race finish line in 1:31:13, 8 minutes and 41 seconds faster than my time from the winter of 2007. I think it was a little windier today as the Mt. Washington Observatory's records for yesterday showed an air temperature of 9 degrees and wind speeds between 35-50 MPH while I was on the summit. Brrr.
After crossing the finish line I pulled a Dunham and hit the summit in 1:32. I took a few photos with not another soul in site. After snapping a few more photos I took shelter in the entrance way of the Sherman Adams Building. I wasn't too hungry, so I had 1 Larabar and about 10 oz. of water. It was nice to get out of the wind for a few minutes. As I refueled, a worker for the State Park and/or Obs was finishing some maintenance work and asked me if I had a light for the way down. I'm guessing he was wondering how I was going to make it down before nightfall if I was just reaching the summit at 3:15 PM.
The trip down was interesting as the winds started to pick up and I knew I had a good 3.5 miles of running before I hit treeline. The first 0.6 miles down was pretty brutal (see video Part 1). I had to ball up my hands inside of my gloves to keep my fingers warm. That was the only time my fingers got cold though as my EMS Powerstretch Gloves kept my hands warm during the majority of my run. Running across the Cow Pasture was a treat again, and mysteriously the tailwind I had on the way up the hairpin was now a headwind. Go figure. The wind subsided for the rest of the run and I was somewhat sheltered by the mountain in some spots. I snapped some photos at Cragway and got a nice panorama of Great Gulf from just above the 4000 ft. mark.
The run down below treeline was pretty mind-numbing as usual, but I knew I was safe from the wind at this point. I was dropping sub-8 minute miles at this point just to get to the bottom.
Road Race Time: 1:31:13 (12:00 pace)
Splits 1 (0.9 miles): 10:23 (11:32 pace)
0.7: 7:24 (10:34 pace)
To Summit: :47
Down: 1:04:06 (8:26 pace)