Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Enchantments Loop Run

In the last month and a half, I've lucked out with two equally amazing -- yet very distinctive -- visits to the Enchantments.
In August, I teamed up with ultra running friend Matt Hart (also a personal coach, see his blog at www.coachingendurance.com) and his visiting nephew for a two day, one night backpacking trip. The entire time, Matt and I couldn't help but scheme for a return outing where we'd ditch the heavy packs and travel light.
This time around, Matt couldn't fit the jaunt into his work schedule, so I made plans to do the Enchantments ultra-style with another running friend, Tonya. We met while running a good part of the North Face 50K together in June, and we knew we'd be compatible long run partners.
Unlike my first backpacking trip, Tonya and I traveled super light, with just running packs and a handheld water bottle for each of us. We knew the Enchantments were loaded with rivers and lakes at every turn, allowing us to pump with our handy, compact MSR filter whenever we needed to. We forgot the emergency medical kit but did remember head lamps and light rain shells. (Neither were needed, thankfully!)
We decided to park at the Snow Lake trailhead and run the eight miles of road (four paved, four dirt logging) to the Stuart Lake trailhead first thing in the day to get the grind over with. Eight miles all uphill kicked off the day with an abrupt start. We were thankful for the climb, though, because we were barely staying warm at 8 am in tank tops and shorts. Even though the temperature would hit 80s later on in the afternoon, mornings are now noticeably autumn-esque.

The road part took just an hour and a half, and then we spent the next eight and a half hours on 20 miles of rugged, technical trails. As Tonya said at the end, "wow, we just ran a 10 hour marathon." We knew the day would be long from the get go. Ultra stars Scott Jurek and Krissy Moehl (the sorts who win races) had done the same loop in seven hours a month earlier, so we figured mere mortal pace would be about nine or 10.

Much of the middle part of the Enchantments loop -- particularly crazy steep Aasgard Pass -- features bouldering, straight ups and downs, and technical dancing on rocks that makes consistent running a real challenge. My legs look like a battlefield from a fall during one downhill running segment over a rock field.

I still can't decide how I'd rather experience the Enchantments. I loved traveling light and zipping past the slow, plodding hikers yesterday. (One man, upon hearing our route plan, told us, "Evergreen Hospital is the other way.") But I also felt we sped through a simply magical place almost too fast...and camping by Perfection Lake, among mountain goats and meandering streams, was an experience like none other. I didn't envy the woman with the overloaded pack struggling up Aasgard yesterday, but I did think her luggage (which included wine and butter for the fish she and her husband planned to catch that night) would make for a pretty sweet evening.
I sit at the computer now with very sore, slightly wounded legs, but I know I'll get back to the Enchantments again soon. I've heard wonderful things about the fall colors in October up there....