Sunday, September 27, 2009

Another First (of sorts) :)

Just returned from Concord, NC where I participated in the ITU World Duathlon Championship. In a season of firsts, I achieved another one--this was the first race I ever finished LAST in my AG--whooo-hooo!

I'll post a race report shortly but here are the main reasons:

1. The competition were way more talented duathletes than I (for the most part)
2. I was sicker than a dog (basically felt like I had 50% of my lung capacity)
3. The spring in my barrel adjuster in my rear deraileur crapped out and led to my chain jumping every stroke--this caused me to have to get off and adjust the tension somewhere between 20-30 times and caused me to lose 10-15 minutes on my bike ride. (Not to mention the resultant interval session that it forced). I felt lucky to just be able to get into T2!
4. Given the above my effort was certainly quite a ways below 100%--I didn't see any point in going for it.

That said, if everything had been perfect, I would have finished between 25 and 30th (as oppossed to 35th) as I was way out of my league for sure.

Check back for the race report.


Monday, September 21, 2009

#25 at Smallwood!

General Smallwood Sprint Triathlon
Race Report #14: September 20th, 2009


I traveled 140 miles south to the town of Marbury, Maryland on the shores of the Potomac to try my hand at this sprint triathlon. I left at 3:45am and found myself on site by 6:15am, which allowed me time to do some recon on the bike and run course. The race was advertised as a 750-meter swim in the river, a 16-mile bike over rolling roads followed by a mixed surface 5k. In practice, the bike turned out to 16.52 miles and the run distance is not know but was certainly significantly longer than 5k.

I wore sweatpants and a sweatshirt as it was only in the high 50s will dawn came. By race time the temp would climb to the low 70s. This combined with brilliant sunshine, low humidity and negligible wind made for perfect sprint racing conditions.

This race was to be my 14th triathlon of the 2009 season and 87th of my career. Notably, I was going for my 25th AG win, which if I achieved it, would mean I had realized one of the long-term triathlon goals I had set for myself some eight years ago. I knew little about my age group competition so tactically; I was at a bit of a competitive disadvantage.

The Swim

The water temp was 71 degrees and I was in my full wetsuit. The swim course was essentially an out and back with an in-water start and a swim finish 50 yards down the shore on a cement boat ramp. Buoys were to the left so I elected to go wide right so I could keep the field in my sight line with my predominantly left-side breathing pattern. My wave was the 3rd and we were off at 9:08 am.
I started fairly hard and then quickly settled into a nice comfortable rhythm. I had none of the issues from last week’s swim and I could see I was up towards the front of the field. I could see a few guys in front of me and I thought I could go harder but this seemed like a good solid effort so I elected not to. I found some feet and drafted for a while.

The water was pretty clear but filled with a lot of “salad”. I hit the turn with little challenges and headed back for home with the sun glaring in my face. My left goggle developed a leak and soon filled with water. My visibility was poor but the course was so simple it really wasn’t a problem. I was passing a few guys in my wave and many from both of the prior waves. It felt like I was having a reasonable swim.

I gained the top of the boat ramp at 12:53 with an average HR of 156. My immediate thought was that this was a decent swim. The HR is surprisingly high, my highest of the season, but is probably an anomaly—I certainly didn’t perceived this to be an exceptionally hard effort. I thought there was a good chance that I had the fastest time in my AG but in fact I was 3rd (out of 9) and overall, I had the 43rd fastest swim out of 230 (81.7 %-tile). This was a decent swim for me. Here is where we stood in the AG competition:

1. Predzin --------
2. Schneider + 0:17
3. Christofferson + 1:10

Transition One

I was blissfully unaware that I was down by over a minute to a pretty decent triathlete as I trekked through a very lengthy T1. We had to climb a hill, run on sidewalks, across some stones, through a parking lot, across some grass, down a hill and finally wind our way into the transition area. I tried to push this effort and I passed quite a few folks who had finished the swim before I.

I quickly found my bike and executed a fairly smooth change into biking stuff and was on my way with an elapsed transition time of 3:06 (average HR of 167). This turned out to be a relatively solid transition as I was 30th OA (87.4 %-tile). In my AG I was one second slower than Predzin but faster than everyone else and in-fact was able to pass Schneider and move into second as we started the bike:

1. Predzin --------
2. Christofferson + 1:11
3. Schneider + 1:58

The Bike

I didn’t see anybody from my AG on this bike. I became increasingly convinced as the ride progressed that I was in first and opening up a sizeable lead. In retrospect, I think Predzin went in the 4th wave (as a Clydesdale) so I was not aware that I was behind him.

In any event, I felt considerably better than I did in last week’s Olympic contest. I could feel that quite a bit of my power had returned—it felt like I was finally recovering from climbing Shasta (4 weeks after doing so!). The bike course had a couple of decent climbs right away and since this was a shortish bike ride I jumped up out of my saddle and put the power well into the high 300s on several occasions. Not the smartest way to ride but it seemed like a fun thing to do.

I was passing a bunch of folks although one 40 year old did pass me—I tried to stay with him but no such luck. I’m pretty confident that the RC of the last two years would not have had such a fate.

The ride was pretty uneventful. I stayed in my 54 the whole way as I had noticed my front derailleur was a little sketchy when I warmed up. I was able to hit the low 40s on several descents so it was a pretty exciting ride. I felt like I was going pretty well, but I just didn’t have the will to really hammer it—I felt like I was dominating my AG as it was.

I finished the bike in 45:23 with an average HR of 163. This indicates that I wasn’t quite “on the rivet” and the average speed of 21.8 mph reflects the challenging nature of the hills on the course. My average power was 247 watts, which is a nice rebound from last week. Not up to my recent standards but part of this reflects the coasting and soft-pedaling inherent in a course with a lot of descents. I am reasonably pleased with this number considering everything. My average cadence of 76 rpm also reflects the impact of the hills.

Competitively, I had the 6th fastest bike split (97.8 %-tile), which is a pretty descent result for me as I am not generally know for my climbing/descending ability. This result dominated my AG. I put 5+ minutes on everybody but Predzin but even with him I was 3:36 faster. Here is where we stood after the bike:

1. Christofferson --------
2. Predzin + 2:25
3. Schneider + 6:15

Transition Two

I executed a solid T2 in 52 seconds with a HR of 159. Overall I had the 41st fastest transition (82.6 %-tile) and the second fastest in my AG. As I headed out of transition for the run, I felt I was in complete command of the AG race. While, my tactical understanding was a little flawed, this viewpoint turned out to be correct. Here is where we stood at the start of the run:

1. Christofferson --------
2. Predzin + 2:17
3. Schneider + 8:06

The Run

The first part of the bike and run where on the same road course so before the race I clocked the first mile at 1.19 miles. While I wasn’t able to measure the rest of the course as it headed into the rods on stone and dirt paths, I do know that only 2 of the 230 runners were able to get under 21 minutes. I know a fellow who is a mid 18 5k guy and he ended up doing 21:40 so it’s clear this course was longer than 5k. It was a tough run with several pretty long, steepish climbs so that was a factor for sure as well. In any event, my guess is that the course was around 3-4 minutes slower than a flattish, true 5k run.

I felt pretty good quickly into the run. I was passed by a few folks I had smoked on the bike (they always seem compelled to tell me I had a great bike, which is another way of commenting on my run speed.) I glanced at my HR monitor and I could tell there and by how I felt that I was just cruising. I honestly didn’t feel the need to really hammer it just so I could be another 30 seconds faster at the end.

There was a little turnaround on the road just before we entered the woods and I saw there was a huge gap behind me and no dinosaurs in sight. I decided to just cruise the run and enjoy myself. I was pleased that my knee felt ok, as it had really hurt after a 10-mile run I had done earlier in the week. I had to skip running for 5 days and apply a lot of ice.

Anyways, on this beautiful morning I encountered no problems and truly enjoyed a beautiful run in the woods. I crossed a cool arched wooden bridge across a bay and made the final turn and ran up the hill to the finish in 26:58 with an average HR of 165. Again I think this is the equivalent of a 23-24 minute 5k and I definitely felt I could have gone faster if need be—my HR confirms this. OA, my run was the 67th fastest (71.3 %-tile). However, I did turn in the fastest run in my AG—whoo-hoo!

I ended up beating Predzin by 2:21. Technically, he was counted in the Clydesdale competition so the final official AG standings were:

1. Christofferson --------
2. Podolin + 8:52
3. Dighe +12:23

My overall time of 1:29:12 was good enough for 20th OA (91.7 %-tile). I’ll certainly take it! Especially given the somewhat easy nature of my effort.

This could be my last triathlon of the season. If so, it’s been a good one. In my 14 races I have 8 firsts, 5 seconds and 1 third—in the money on all of them. Over my last 18 short-course races I have 12 wins. This also represents an important milestone as it represents my 25th career win.

Next week is the World Duathlon Championship in North Carolina, which I’m approaching as a fun effort. Extreme Bocce is the weekend following and then maybe, just maybe I’ll try one last Tri before calling it a season.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

General smallwood Sprint Triathlon "Flash"

Raced this morning down in Maryland--14th of the year and 87 of the career. Good, solid effort yielded my 8th win of the year and perhaps more importantly, career win number 25. I set a series of career goals 8 years ago and winning 25 times at the AG level was one of them.

Race report in a couple of days....

very nice!!!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pine Barrens Race Report

Pine Barrens Olympic Triathlon
Race Report #13: September 12th, 2009


After a three-week hiatus, post the summit of Mount Shasta, I finally felt like I might be able to race again. The prior Sunday I had used the Tim Kerr 7-Mile Island Run as a training effort and was struck by how “shredded” my legs, especially my quads still were. Further, my back went-out and only in the day or so before the race did it begin to feel somewhat serviceable (lots of muscle relaxers!). During my Shasta recovery period I hadn’t been able to train much so my expectations about my performance in this race were quite low.

None-the-less, the season was drawing to a close and I only had a few more opportunities to race so I really wanted to get this race in. This was to be my longest race of the season—an “Olympic Distance” race. The swim was to be somewhere around a mile, the bike just a hair over 24 miles and the run I clocked at 6.35 miles. More on the course latter. Race morning was dreary with a light rain but otherwise pleasant conditions.

This was about the 28th running of this particular triathlon—making it one of the oldest in the country. I had done this course once before with a 2:21 and change as the result. The race has fallen on somewhat hard times with only 70 triathletes pre-registered and I suspected with the persistently rainy weather that had preceded this race that probably less than that would actually race (in fact just 59 started).

The Swim

The swim is contested in Lake Attison, which is a pleasant, though very dark, cedar lake. In fact, visibility in the water is at best a foot or two, especially given the overcast conditions. I had been swimming very well in my prior few triathlons, especially given my reduced training load, so I was still optimistic about this swim despite having been in the water only four times in the three plus weeks prior to this race.

The water was quite cool (maybe 64 degrees) from all the recent rain but I decided to use my long-john (short sleeves) since I had been doing well with them in the recent past. Also, I had a new one that I wanted to try out.

We split into two waves with all the men going first. I decided to start to the left away from the buoy line, as it was just a simple out and back. This race, and its sprint cousin, is notorious for crude estimated swim distances so I had no real expectations for my time. I thought it could be anywhere from 0.75 to 1.25 miles in length.

Off we went and I tried to sprint out hard to catch clean water initially and then to catch a faster swimmer’s draft. However, my lack of recent wet time caught up with me as that and the coldness of the lake quickly led to hyperventilation and a racing heart for yours truly. I felt a bit of panic rising down in the primitive parts of my brain but I tried to remind the many internal voices that I had done 85 prior triathlons, had experienced this phenom before, and had always been able to slay the demons. I’d like to say that I got it quickly under control but I did not. I had to really focus for a good 5-8 minutes while simultaneously backing off the pace before I was finally able to get on top of it and find an equilibrium.

When I did calm down a quick recon of the tactical situation told me that I was well off the lead pace and that maybe as much as half of the field was out in front of me. I settled in and focused on my stroke (nice and long with lots of body torque) and I begin to address some of the early damage. Slowly but surely I began passing folks and as we hit the turnaround I could see 14 minutes on the clock. Since I think I’m in 25-27 minute mile shape right now it occurred to me that the swim probably was pretty close to a true mile. The rest of the swim was uneventful as I picked off a few more guys in front of me.

I hit the shore in 27:14 with an average HR of 151 bpm. The latter, being a little below average was probably a reflection of my earlier adventures. This turned out to be the 15th fastest swim overall which was only good enough for 76.2 %-tile, a big drop off from recent races. As for my AG competitors, I really only knew about one of them and he was racked right next to me. As I saw his bike still there I knew I was in good shape. In fact I would have the top swim in my AG and enjoy over a 2 and a half-minute lead going into T1.

Transition One

I completed transition one in 1:37 with an average HR of 160. This was 7th best OA and easily best in my AG.

The Bike

I like this bike course. It’s pretty flat but not particularly fast. It has rough roads and is susceptible to wind—factors I noted this morning. I’ve ridden this bike course 4-5 times before having gone as fast as just over 60 minutes. I thought that maybe today, given the recent past, I might be able to do 63 minutes or so. I could soon see that this was likely to be a fantasy as my SRM was showing power in the 230s (versus 260s in my prior races). Man, I had lost a lot of fitness on Shasta and in the ensuing weeks!

I soldiered on and soon began passing a lot of bikes—I counted 10 or 11 in the first 6 miles. I admonished a certain well know triathlete for drafting (seems to be the summer for it!) and pushed on.

After mile 6 I saw no one else until the very end when I could just make out another triathlete in the distance. I had no spunk but just focused on trying to be consistent. I finished the bike in 64:43, which is objectively pretty slow, but it was all I had today. This works out to only 22.3 mph (Ironman pace!) and my average HR was only 158—probably 5-8 beets low—clearly I was limited by the power in my legs due to de-training. My power averaged only 230 watts and I had an average cadence of 77—probably my weakest ride of the season.

Still I had managed the 3rd best bike split OA and had moved into 4th OA. My AG competitors were now well behind me and ready to fall even further behind in the run.

Transition Two

I had a solid T2 of 43 seconds (157 bpm) which was 9th best OA and again tops in my AG and I raced out of T1 to see if I might be able to move up—I knew I was in 4th because I counted 3 bikes in transition.

The Run

I had low expectations for my run given the race the prior week and my mediocre bike but I was pleasantly surprised to feel pretty good early on in the run. Normally this run is back in the Pine Barrens on sandy trails but these were flooded with all the rain so we were all out on 206 for a road out and back. As I left the park and turned right on 206 I could see the 3rd place guy about a minute or so in front of me. It was tantalizing to look up and see him so close and know I had a lot of room to run him down but Tuckahoe and Pinchot had taught me that the people I was racing were really behind me, not in front. This is another way of saying I’m a slow runner!

In any event, two folks passed me in the first mile and I was hopeful that I could maybe hold on for my 3rd top 10 of the season. After about 15 minutes of running I turned and saw a fellow just 40-50 yards behind me but a big gap behind him. Maybe I could hold onto 7th?!?

I hit the turnaround in under 25 minutes, which I knew was OK for the longer than regulation course. My pursuer was just 5 yards behind me. I headed for home and saw that I had a huge gap back to the rest of the field—hey this is fun! Strangely enough I began to feel pretty good and actually began to push it. It felt to me like I was running better than any other tri this year.

After a while I turned and looked, wondering why I hadn’t been passed and saw that I had opened up a very impressive gap—I was running away from him—this is really fun! I knew I would be able to cruise to 6th OA, which I did! My run split was 49:16 (7:46/mile) with an average HR of 166. Well, I’ll certainly take that! I had the top run in my AG making this the first race where I was 1st in my AG in all five splits. I was 11th OA in the run: 83.0 %-tile. The joys of a small race!

Mt final time was a 2:23:23. I’m happy with it. My 7th win of the year (along with five seconds and one third) and my 24th of my career—just one short of my career objective set eight years ago. A good day indeed!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Back in the saddle

Well I finally seem to be emerging from my post Shasta body malaise. I can feel power returning to my legs on both my bike and run. That said, I am definitely less fit (race-wise) than I was before Shasta as yesterday's race indicates.

I raced at Pine Barrens in my first Olympic distance Triathlon in quite a while. On my bike, I averaged 235 watts which is about 9.5% below what I've averaged in the last few races(260 watts). Granted the Olympic Distance is a little longer but call my drop in racing fitness something like 7-8% or so. I averaged 7:36/mile on the run which in an absolute sense sucks, but in a recent relative sense is quite encouraging. I actually felt reasonably good during the 6.35 mile run yesterday.

Competitively, I had a very satisfying race. I finished 6th overall (not sure how many people in it but probably 75 or so) and easily won my AG. This was my 7th AG win of the year (out of 13 races) and my 11th win in my last 17 short-course triathlons...a nice little run for sure.

Trying to figure how much more racing to do before I shut her down for the season. I'm racing in 2 weeks at World Duathlon Championships in North Carolina and the following week I'm once again competing in the World Extreme Bocce Championships. That leaves next weekend and 3 weekends hence as my last two opportunities to race a tri. Of course, I could end it here and finish with a winning record for the season. :). Or I could go for another win and secure my 25th career win which would knock off one of my long-term career goals which I set 8 years ago. Decisions, decisions.

I've started the first of my 4 training meso-cycles building to next year's IMFL. This phase is focused on getting in the range (165-170 pounds) of my target race weight (163 pounds) and trying to get my 5k time down to 20 minutes. I've started my monk diet thing and am hitting the track mid-week with Sparty.

I must say I am very eager to get focused again--not that I didn't enjoy this past season of decadence!

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Opted to pass on marlton. My legs are still just toast. I think the climb at shasta has hit them almost as hard as an Ironman. I ran 4 miles yestertday and even that proved difficult....hopefully my body will bounce back soon....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Triathlon late season and then looking ahead

Getting into the last 4-5 weeks or so of triathlon season. I've raced 12 triathlons and would like to add 3-5 more.

I'm signed up for the Marlton Sprint this weekend but am 50/50 on it. My legs this morning, some 11 days after Shasta, feel almost normal--I know I've lost a lot of fitness not being able to train since shasta--in the last two weeks I've run 6 miles and swam 3000 yards.....

Looking ahead I hope to race the next two weekends--races TBD and then I'll head down to North Carolina for the Duathlon World championships.

I'll probably get one more tri after that and 2009 will be a wrap.

2010 will be my return to Ironman racing with IMFL in November as the "A" race.

I envision four meso-cycles between Labor day 2009 and race day:

Labor Day-New Year's 2009: Focus on diet to body weight/composition to IM level (165 pounds) and run focus to get 5K run time to 20 minutes

Jan-Mar 2010: Swim focus--try to develop 60 minute IM swim speed: 20,000+ yds/week

Apr-Jun 2010: Bike focus--develop sub 5 hour IM bike capability: 400+ miles/week

July-Oct 2010: IM specific build

Looking forward to the focus, clarity and discipline again...

Mountaineering videos

I've posted two Mountaineering Vids to You Tube--the URLs are:

Mount Rainier:

Mount Shasta:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mount Shasta Summit Report

Mount Shasta Summit Report
(August 21-23, 2009)

Friday August 21st

Anders and I met up at SFO when his plane arrived around 4 pm Friday afternoon. We grabbed his bags and threw them in the back of our Saturn “SUV” rental and we were driving north by 4:30. We were off to take a shot at our second big Cascade volcano of the 2009 season, as we had climbed Mount Rainier back in early June. The target for this weekend was Mount Shasta, the 14,179-foot giant of northern California.

Shasta is the 2nd highest peak in the Cascades (behind Rainier) and the 5th highest in California. Its name in Karuk (indigenous folks from the area) is “Uytaahkoo” which means White Mountain. The name is more appropriate in the months other than August and we fully expected to see a lot of rock to go along with the white. Shasta is big with an estimated volume of 108 cubic miles, making it the most voluminous stratovolcano (which means it is comprised of many layers or strata from periodic eruptions and lava flows) in the Cascade Volcanic Arc.

Shasta is a famous mountain that captured the imagination of two great American environmentalists, John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt. Muir said: “When I first caught sight of it over the braided folds of the Sacramento Valley, I was fifty miles away and afoot, alone and weary. Yet all my blood turned to wine, and I have not been weary since.” And Roosevelt: “I consider the evening twilight on Mt. Shasta one of the grandest sights I have ever witnessed.”

The mountain consists of four overlapping volcanic cones, which have built a complex shape, including the main summit and the prominent satellite cone of the 12,330-foot Shastina, which has a visibly conical form. If Shastina were a separate mountain, it would rank as the third-highest peak of the Cascade Range. Shasta’s peak is noticeably more pointed than the fairly broad-shouldered Rainier as it’s most recent eruptions are not as distant in the past as Rainier’s.

Nearly 7,000 feet of Mount Shasta’s height is above the timberline. Consequently, this is among the most barren wilderness areas in northern California. The plushest forest within the boundary is found on the northeast and southeast slopes of the mountain. Glaciers, tundra and massive scree fields dominate the rest of the area, although small meadows punctuate the lower flanks of Mount Shasta.

We were planning to climb from the North Gate Trailhead up the Hotlum-Bolum Ridge (this ridge cleaves the Hotlum and Bolum glaciers), which has a total elevation gain of 7,262 feet from a start altitude of 6,917. Although some 15,000 people attempt to summit Shasta each year (and about 5,000 make it) most of these attempts are on the south side on what is known as the Avalanche Gulch route. This route is considerably easier than the HB ridge but the rock-fall danger there this time of the year persuaded us to attack the more difficult and technical north side of the mountain.

In our drive up we encountered a lot of the weekend Tahoe traffic and so did not roll into Mount Shasta City until about 10:30. We pulled off the highway and checked into the nearest hotel, which turned out to be a Best Western. We readied our gear and were both in bed by 11:30—hopefully ready for a couple of big days.

Saturday, August 22nd

We awoke around 6:30, showered and scored a little grub and a lot of coffee. By 8 we were at The Fifth Season (the local mountaineer store) to meet our guide. We had arranged to climb with a private guide to help us with route finding and as a safety precaution as we know some aspects of our chosen route were potentially somewhat technical. We were a little surprised, but no less excited, to find our guide to be named “Natalie”—a 25 year-old Russian graduate of UC Davis. While she had an extensive endurance sport background (collegiate swimmer, long-distance biker and recent marathoner), her climbing resume seemed a little light—certainly in comparison to the outstanding guides we had at Rainier. None-the-less, she had a lot more experience than Anders and I--and she seemed nice enough so we were good to go.

We dumped all of our stuff on the lawn and went through a fairly quick equipment check, which we passed in flying colors (we may not know much about climbing but we do most certainly have the right gear). We loaded all of our stuff plus a bunch of group gear (tent, food, cooking gear) into our packs and hopped in our cars for the 30-mile drive to the trailhead—it was just about game time!

We drove up I-5 to the very California town of “Weed” and then headed east on CA 97. To our right were a series of fairly intimidating views of Shasta and Shastina. Big lava flow masses periodically stretched down very near the highway. As we looked up at the north face and the HB ridge it was clear that there was going to be a lot of rock in our future.

We turned off of 97 and proceeded to drive up a very jarring, dusty “road” to the North Gate trailhead. We rolled out of the car at 10:30 and immediately set about getting our gear ready to go. At 11 we were off.

We were in shorts and t-shirts, which was awesome—especially compared to Rainier. Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, we were climbing in our alpine, double/plastic mountaineering boots—our guide service wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t get stopped with blisters higher up. This was a bad call as climbing in 6-8 pounds of boots is not the best thing when it’s 80-90 degrees out.

The lower, trek in was just fabulous. Massive Redwoods or Sequoias (our so-called guide had no idea what I was talking about when I asked—heh-heh…more on this latter) towered above us and the trail was a very well maintained 2-4% grade path. We were cruising and getting to know each other as we moved very quickly up. Natalie had told us that we were looking at a minimum of 4 and more likely 5 hours to climb up to our mid-mountain camp at 9800 but both Anders and I thought we would pound through this climb a lot faster. After an hour or so we stopped and ate and drank and all was very cool in Christofferson climbing land.

The rest of the climb to mid-mountain was unremarkable. We soon left the forest and found ourselves negotiating the chaos of the scree/talus field that exists over essentially all of Shasta’s flanks. We stopped once again around 12 and finally made mid-mountain right at 1 pm—just 3 hours after leaving the trailhead. Natalie was pumped and both Anders and I felt totally on top of our game.

On that point, being able to climb Shasta with more competence, elegance and reserve was a big objective for me on this trip. Anders had far less problems on Rainier so I know he was less focused on this than I. I, on the other hand, wanted to avoid the couple of moments of drama that I went through on Rainier. I was in a lot better shape for this climb then I was in early June. I wanted to dance up the mountain with no mistakes and come back down, head to SF and then celebrate our mastery with an Anchor Steam. I was convinced that despite my complete absence of hiking/climbing specific training that my recent, strong performance in triathlon indicated that I would have a very high level of competence on Shasta. Certainly our climb to mid-Mountain reinforced this optimism.

Natalie gave us 2.5 hours to pitch our tent, chill and get ready for a refresher course in alpine mountaineering techniques. Natalie asked us if we snored a lot, which we fumbled a bit in our answer, and then she decided to set-up her tent a ways away from us. This left Anders and I the task of erecting a tent we had never seen before this trip. Anders laid down to rest and I fumbled around for a while and then deciding that I need not have an ego with respect to mountaineering I called up to Natalie for help. Help she did, and soon we had our home away from home set up. We put our sleeping pads, blankets, etc. in and we still had over an hour until “school”.

I decided to go over to our water source, which was a very small, algae encrusted, rocky stream running out from the snowfield above our camp. Natalie assured us that it was good and no purification was necessary. I had some pretty strong doubts but lacking any viable alternatives I went with the flow. I filled my bottles, drank some and hoped for the best.

Around 3pm we saw some other mountaineers, that we had left at the trailhead, trek on up past us and they eventually set up their camp a few hundred vertical feet above us. Besides that, this was a strangely uneventful and almost boring period of time.

At 3:30 Natalie came down from her area and we were off to practice alpine techniques. When we did this at Rainier it had taken 6 hours. On this day it was at most 45 minutes. I’d like to report that this was because Anders and I were so good now but realistically, that was not the case. The Shasta program clearly seems far less rigorous and safety oriented than the guides we worked with at Rainier.

Just like Rainier, Anders excelled at Alpine School and I struggled. Natalie, however, did not seem all that focused on honing my skills and soon we were heading back to camp after less than an hour of instruction. During this time another Shasta Mountain Guides group of four came into camp from their successful summit—they were returning to camp around 4:30pm and where staying the night at mid-mountain as part of a four day climb. They gave us some intel on the route—it seemed that the path up was in pretty descent shape. They described it as “mixed climbing” with some ice in parts. I didn’t like the sound of that last part.

Upon arriving in camp we had a discussion about gear/clothing strategy (which I thought Nat did a good job on), and went about preparing for dinner and the climb tomorrow. She thought it would take us 8-9 hours to summit and that we would be back to camp by 4-7 pm. This would put us down in the parking lot at the trailhead sometime between 7 and 10 pm. Anders and I needed to drive to San Francisco that night for our early Monday morning departures so we insisted that we would go much faster. Natalie wasn’t entirely convinced but did note we were much faster to mid-mountain than was typical. Nat boiled water and Anders and I soon enjoyed some nice “instant” Teriyaki Chicken. We cleaned up and soon were ready for bed.

It was only 6:30 and very much still day-time but Anders and I decided to “retire” to our palace and try to get at least a little sleep. It was still very light out so we spent the next hour or so shooting the shit and laughing about all sorts of dumb things. We pitched our tent (or so Anders claims) on a slight side slope so Anders kept rolling into me trying to be the big spoon. Anders hit me several times during the night claiming I was or about to start snoring—this I fully deny. At one point Anders wandered outside to take care of business and came back in muttering about the stars—really? At 10,000 feet on a clear moonless night—what are the chances? During the night the wind came up a bit and the fly of the tent rattled about quite a bit. It also began to feel noticeably colder—having Anders as the big spoon wasn’t so bad after all! In any event, we both slept a lot, much more than Rainier, and soon found ourselves nearing the Summit day wake-up call.

Sunday, August 23rd

Right on cue our respective alarms went off at 1 am. We said our good mornings and soon Natalie wandered by to make sure we weren’t slacking off. The plan was to do everything we needed to do to get ready and head up at 2 am. So we immediately set about the tasks at hand. It went something like this for me:
- turn helmet lamp on
- pull climbing pants on
- put Dragon soft-shell on
- put socks on
- open tent and grab boot liners and put them on
- grab food bag and put outside tent
- put down jacket on
- put helmet on
- go outside, look at stars, remark on coldness
- put outside boot shells on
- put gaiters on
- get hot water from Natalie and make double coffee
- crack jokes with Anders
- check backpack (for 5th time)—especially to make sure crampons, axe and glasses are good to go
- eat two crumbly frosted raspberry pop-tarts, drink coffee and lots of water
- grab pack-out bag and “hit-the target”
- store pack-out bag under rock for latter retrieval
- throw various odds and ends into tent and zip it up
- refill water and put in pack
- take off down jacket
- don pack, grab trekking polls
- check watch—1:59 am…. good to go!

The first part of the climb is up from our camp area to get to the HB ridge proper. This is over a rock field and of modest slope. We pass a couple of tents of another group of three who were here to climb the north side as well (they would not summit). The initial hike up to the ridge itself was easy and pleasant. Our headlamps provided ample illumination in the moonless night. Since the ridge was quite exposed we were blasted with a 20+ mph wind. The only sound (besides the wind) was the crunch, crunch, and crunch of our boots as we walked in single file.

We gained the ridge and could look up and see the darker outline of the mountain and just above it the great planet Jupiter burning bright high in the sky to the south. I could see my breath, it probably was around 35 degrees, but was very comfortable despite my lack of clothes.

We climbed until about 3 am and stopped for our first break at around 11,000 feet. We ate and drank (I drank 2/3rd of a liter as I had brought three liters for this climb). We put on our crampons, stored our trekking polls and took out our axes. We did not rope up as Natalie said the slope was modest and the snow pretty good over the next section. Soon it was time to layer down and get back to it—we stopped for about 10 minutes in total.

For the next part of the climb we actually ventured out onto the Hotlum glacier and climbed on the good snow that was directly adjacent to the ridge. Even though we were un-roped on a 25-degree slope I did not have any safety concerns. Our crampons were digging securely into the snow and even in the very unlikely event of a fall I felt very confident I could arrest with my axe.

After about a half hour of this we once again climbed through a rock field/ridge and moved to the climber’s left as we were heading to the bottom of a feature know as “The Ramp”. We continued to make very good time and soon found ourselves at the beginning of The Ramp around 12,000 feet. It was around 4:30 or so and still quite dark with just the very faintest suggestion of the dawn to come etched on the eastern horizon. Here we stopped for another, though extended, break as we ate and drank and Natalie prepared our team rope for the next section. Far down the mountain, on the lower ridge, we could periodically see the lights from (presumably) the other party’s headlamps as they climbed towards us.

The Ramp stretches from about 12 to 13 thousand feet and is about a 30-50 yard wide swath of snow that steeply (35-45 degrees) climbs up to an area of the mountain known as “The Step”. This is the area of the mountain that is 300-600 vertical feet below two prominent features on the upper mountain: The Shark Fin and the Bunny Ears. Due to the prevalent ice on the Ramp, crampons and ropes are a necessity here as a non-arrested fall would be catastrophic.

Before we departed from the North Gate, Natalie had stated that her three goals for the climb were: “1. Safety; 2. Having fun; And 3. Helping us meet whatever our goals were.” As for number 3, our first two goals were identical to hers. Then we wanted a round trip to the summit. Lastly, I wanted to do this climb with a higher degree of competence and “elegance” then I displayed on Rainier. I did not want to have to dig as deep as I had to there and I definitely did not want to trip and fall or display any of the sloppiness I had on my descent in June. I was optimistic about my chances of achieving this as I had the Rainier experience under my belt and I was in considerably better shape now than early June.

Up to the bottom of The Ramp everything had gone very well indeed. We were moving much faster than Natalie had forecasted. In fact as we roped up, she commented that she had never been this high in the dark before. (While I was a bit proud of this, I didn’t view it as particularly good news as she seemed a bit uncertain of the route). My HR had stayed low and I was well within my aerobic capabilities all the way up to 12,000 feet. I was feeling a little cocky which is probably a bad thing from a karmic perspective.

Anyways, off we went executing a series of traverses up The Ramp. We were short-roped. Short roping is the desired way for a small rope team to climb when there is no crevasse danger. On Rainier, with all of its crevasses, we climbed with about 30-40 feet of rope between us to give us ample opportunity to respond if someone fell into a crevasse. Here on Shasta, with no crevasses to worry about, the distance between us was only 8-9 feet or so.

The short rope made ascending quite easy and we very efficiently managed the many direction changes as we traversed back and forth and always upward. There was no wind here and we were effectively by ourselves on the mountain. While it was still very dark, a definite glow was visible on the eastern horizon and Venus shown very brightly just above the horizon. Absolutely magical! I was very focused on my climbing and we were hitting on all cylinders as a team. I love this part of mountaineering. This was a truly great life moment for me.

The snow was steep and very icy but the crampons ensured that we had no mistakes. I was in command of my feet and felt on top of my game. I did notice however that I was beginning to work quite a bit harder. My HR was probably well up into the 150s at this point. Our pace, the pitch and the altitude were beginning to expose limitations in my mountaineering fitness. None-the-less, we pushed onwards up The Ramp and without incident reached the mellower Step area just as dawn clearly asserted itself in the east.

We stopped for another maintenance break and Natalie announced that we had surpassed the hardest part of the climb. That was good news to hear for sure—unfortunately it wasn’t true. We had a quick break and then traversed off to our right towards the Shark Fin. This traverse was across a steep, uneven icy snowfield. I was definitely working hard right now. I was clearly working harder than my climbing partners in front of me. This is probably not surprising given the composition of our team. When you have a three-person team and you have more than half of the combined years (100 in our case) you know you are potentially at risk of being the slow child.

We worked around the Shark Fin and then headed up a steep area aiming to get above the Bunny Ears. This section was all loose talus and scree and I found the going to be quite difficult here. My section of the rope frequently went taunt as I was having trouble keeping up with Natalie and Anders in front of me. The footing was very difficult and it was hard to keep balance as the ground beneath me kept slipping and sliding.

While this section only entailed about a 600-foot vertical ascent I found it far more taxing than any of the prior sections. We sat down with the Ears to our left and looked back down the frighteningly steep slopes below us all the way down to the lower ridge where we could clearly see a yellow tent. The sun was above the horizon and it was a beautiful, bright and clear sky. I tried to focus on eating and drinking as I fought to catch my breath in the thin air. I probably should have announced that I needed to slow a bit (there were no objective dangers such as we had faced on Rainier that required us to move fast) but I sensed that Natalie was starting to get a little irritated with my slowing pace and my brain seemed to not be functioning as well as I fought through the fog of fatigue.

I milked the break as long as I could by breaking out my video camera just as Natalie moved to head up. Even this move soon played out and off came the down and on came the packs and we headed up again.

Immediately above us was a very difficult, steep talus and scree slope the seemed to lead to a dead-end at a 10 or so foot high vertical wall of rock. I was huffing and puffing to keep up but kept looking up and wondering where and how we were to get around this obstacle. After a seemingly interminable time we reached the base of this cliff and I realized that Natalie intended us to climb it! I was dumfounded. We were at 13, 700 feet or so. Below us was a steep slope (and fall) of over 3,000 feet. I was over my aerobic threshold and struggling just to keep it together. In the back of my mind was the thought that I had no chance of climbing down this wall when we returned. (What we didn’t know was there were two routes to the top. To the right was a relatively simple class two climb up a talus/scree slope all the way to the summit. For some reason, Natalie had decided instead to take Anders and I up this exposed, class three/four vertical rock climb.) She announced at the bottom that we were now going to do some real climbing. My only thought was: “Great—that makes a lot of sense!”

She proceeded to scramble up the climb in something like 20 seconds. She turned and looked down at Anders and told him to go for it, which he did in seemingly no more time. They were perched above me—10 feet or so. The rope was tight and tugging at my harness. Natalie was effectively creating a tight belay for me. Natalie told me that it was now my turn. Anders said something that I took as a form of encouragement.

My world seemed to just stop. I looked up. I wedged my left foot, with my big bulky mountaineering boots in a bit of a crack/ledge. I reached up with my left hand as high as I could and grabbed hold of a two-inch ledge—this was complicated by the ice axe I was still holding. What I then needed to do was lift my right leg up about three feet to a narrow outcropping, place my foot on it and simultaneously drive my body (and backpack) upwards and reach and grab a handhold that was about four to five feet above me. I felt a surge of strength and just went for it and I was able to do it perfectly. I was absolutely at my physical limit but I saw the next move and quickly went for it again. I felt the tug on my harness as Natalie was doing her best to “pull” me up and just like that I was sitting next to Anders and Natalie. I received some type of congrats from both but I mostly remember just being really buzzed—that was awesome—I was so in the moment.

We had a short steep rock scramble and soon we were on a mere 45-degree rock slope above the wall. We had clearly surmounted the true crux of the climb. We un-roped and pushed upwards towards the summit—some 500 vertical feet above us.

Physiologically I was toast—I had gone way to far into the red zone. Natalie and Anders were moving steadily away from me as I struggled to negotiate the rocky terrain with my HR still maxed. I needed to slow down but for some reason I felt a need to try to keep up with my climbing team. I was unsustainably anaerobic. In hindsight I’m amazed that I made these mistakes without reflecting on my level of effort. Apparently, I was caught up in the idea of moving up and down the mountain quickly (we wanted to get down to San Francisco at a reasonable hour) and my mind was not functioning normally in the thin air.

Natalie and Anders reached the summit plateau and waited a few minutes for me to join them. Natalie pointed out the North and South summits and said we could climb either of them. I asked which was higher and she said that the south was. Seemed obvious to me then—let’s go to the south. I asked her how far it was and she snapped at me that it was right there. It occurred to me that Natalie seemed to be developing an attitude but I let it go, as I was very focused on gaining the summit.

I shot a little video of them climbing towards the summit and then made the final push myself. There were three other folks on the Summit who apparently came up from the south side. As I walked towards the summit they loaded up and headed back down. I took a great picture of Anders on the summit and soon joined him and Natalie took a shot of the two of us. It was 8 am—we were 2-3 hours ahead of Natalie’s predicted summit timeframe. The summit pinnacle was a relatively small, rocky spire with a several thousand-foot fall to the south. Anders stood but I was content to sit next to him on the summit as our pic was snapped. We soon climbed down and then signed the National Park Service’s Summit Register.

We sat on the summit plateau soaking in the sunlight of a truly spectacular day. I tried to eat and drink but this proved difficult. Despite wearing my down jacket I began to shake pretty violently. Natalie noticed and asked what was up. I said that I was pretty wasted but that I would get it under control. She looked at me with a hint of disgust.

The truth is I felt horrible. I had extended way too deep for way too long. My body was trying to shut things down—it wanted desperately to rest and replenish. Unfortunately, this was not the place for that. I began to realize that I was in for a tough slog to the bottom. I wasn’t exactly in trouble, but I’ve been in this place physically a few times (late in Ironman races typically) so I knew things were not going to be pleasant. I was calm about this because I knew that I would need to walk down the mountain no matter what I felt like. I knew that I have succeeded in the past when I felt like this. I resolved to be positive and focused on not making mistakes.

After about 30 minutes on the summit we layered down, hoisted our packs and began the climb down. I was quickly relieved to learn that our path down was the much more reasonable class two climb around to the east of the summit, avoiding the rock wall that we had ascended. I once again quickly fell behind as we walked down a reasonably well-defined trail through the talus and past numerous sulfur vents (Shasta remains an active volcano). I was trying to be careful but still go as fast as I could. My HR seemed fine but I began to notice some definite muscle fatigue—especially in my quads, and most especially in my right quad.

As I fell further and further behind Anders and Natalie, I began to have trouble with route finding and several times Anders hung back and helped me find an easier path. The slope was about 35-45 degrees but all rock so there was minimal risk of a serious fall. The rock was constantly moving and very uneven and it required a great deal of concentration to move efficiently.

After about 45 minutes or so we came to a snow patch at about 13,700 feet. This was fairly steep and had an exposure of several hundred feet that terminated in a nasty rock field. Natalie and Anders were on the other side and Natalie asked me if I wanted her to come back and rope up with me. My brain was not working that well but I looked at the snow and my ego questioned why this was even an issue. I asked Anders what the snow quality was and he said it was good and that I would probably have no problem. I looked at Natalie and asked her what she thought and she said, in forceful terms, that falling was not an option. I thought for a second and said: “well if that’s the case, I have no ego here, let’s rope up”. She came across and attached the rope to me and we easily traversed the snow in just a few seconds. I had no issues with it. It was a little awkward but I reiterated that safety was the most important objective and my ego was a non-factor so it was all-good. Anders laughed and Natalie actually smiled for the first time in a couple of hours.

Soon we were at The Step and we stopped for another maintenance break. I still had trouble eating but was able to drink a fair amount. My body temp was under control so I was feeling a little better. Natalie asked what was going on with me and I told here I had gone too far into the red zone and was having trouble managing my energy levels. She seemed a bit confused and not particularly interested in this. We threw our crampons on, de-layered, and soon were on our way downward again.

The next major section was The Ramp. I was very fatigued but positive inside and focused on not making a mistake. Anders led, followed by me and then Natalie. Several times during the climb down The Ramp she would say something mean or rude and I tried to ignore or deflect it. She was clearly upset with me that I was no longer flying up and down the mountain—maybe she had a hot date or something. We reached the bottom of The Ramp—which really was the last truly objectively dangerous section-- without incident. I may not have been graceful but I never fell either. I felt pretty proud about this because it took a lot of concentration. When Natalie wasn’t looking, Anders turned to me, looked at Natalie and rubbed a fake tear out of his eye. I laughed—yes she was being a very big baby. Extremely unprofessional and not at all customer oriented.

After a short break we continued on downward and it was more of the same. Finally I said to Natalie that I was concerned about her and asked her if she was OK. She snapped back: “I don’t want to fall!”. (Obviously implying I was a liability that might make her fall). I responded that gee, neither did I, that I was doing all that I could to avoid it, that I hadn’t so far, and that I was confident, despite my fatigue, that I would not. I then reminded her of the three goals (safety, fun, and a round-trip, etc.). She grew quiet for a while after this. A short while after this she announced that we would stop up ahead and “have a meeting”. Bring it on!

When we stopped, it was at the top of the HB ridge below The Ramp, and she said we could descend roped together on the snowfield or stay on the rock and go without rope. At one level I wondered why I was even being asked this—I thought she was the guide but I also knew she didn’t want to be roped to me so I suggested the latter and off we went. It was very rocky and uneven and I would frequently fall behind and then catch-up as Anders and Natalie waited for me. I resolved to be nothing but perseverant and upbeat and I tried to have an apology and a joke ready each time we rendezvoused.

At one point, when we were together, we passed a solo climber thinking about going up and he asked me for route advice. I said if he didn’t want to free climb a vertical rock face he should avoid the route we climbed. He asked where that route was and I told him that he should ask Natalie because she was the pro here. Silence ensued as we uncomfortably waited for miss Stalin, oops I mean Natalie to reply. When she didn’t, I asked her directly if she could help our fellow mountaineer with some route advice. She replied, very icily (and I thought in a classically Russian way): “no”.

Well there you have it. I looked at him and said: “I’m real sorry about that. Be careful and good luck.” He raised his eyebrows and said thanks and we then went our separate ways. I hope he was ok.

We continued on for a while. At one point I asked the ice-queen if she was having fun and she didn’t really reply. I told her that I really wanted her to have fun and asked her if there was anything I could do to help her enjoy herself more. She was silent. I finally said: “I know you’re upset that I’m not going faster. I want you to know that I’m going as fast as I possibly can and still be safe. I wish I could go faster as well but my 52 year-old body doesn’t seem to be able to go any faster. This surprises me but I think all in all we are still doing pretty well—we’ll achieve our three objectives. No response. After a second or two I pointed out that we were 3-4 hours ahead of her schedule so maybe it wasn’t that bad. She didn’t say much after that—good or bad.

The last 500 vertical feet above camp she suggested we “ski” down on our feet. I think this is a fine idea although it proved to be something that I was not capable of doing. It was slippery (duh!) and uneven terrain as there were many large sun-cups. Soon Anders and Natalie “skied” over the ridge and I was left to my own designs. I tried to carefully walk the ridges between the cups but I fell down hard several times (not dangerous because it wasn’t steep). I thought several times that it was ridiculous that I didn’t have my crampons on. Finally on one of my falls I slid into several inches of freestanding glacial water at the bottom of a cup and decided to put them on. No problem getting down the rest of the way.

When I finally caught up some 15 minutes latter Nat and Anders were waiting for me on some rocks. Anders latter told me that he was very worried when I took so long and asked Natalie if maybe they should go look for me (he was worried I had fallen and maybe broke something). She told him that I would be fine because we were so close to camp.

In any event, at 1:45, some 5 hours after leaving the Summit we made it back to camp. It took us one hour less to get back to camp then it had taken us to get up. My guess is that it should have taken 1.5-2 hours less but we were still 2-5 hours ahead of the schedule she had first told us about. I tried to be upbeat and self-deprecating. Anders paid me a sweet complement when he that he had never seen someone exhibit such extended perseverance with such a positive attitude. Frankly, that alone made the whole trip worth it.

Our next task was to break down our campsite, load up our packs and beat-it down the lower mountain to the parking lot. Little Miss Sunshine gave us one hour to do this. We did it mostly because Anders stepped up and handled the tent decommissioning mostly by himself. I was in a lot of pain so this was greatly appreciated. I tried to drink as much of the algae water as possible but I could not even think about eating anything. The sun was beating down although the temp was noticeably cooler than Saturday—probably about 60 degrees (We were blessed with absolutely perfect weather for this whole trip). At 2:44; 59 minutes after we arrived, Anders and I hoisted our-70 pound packs and we were on our way.

I’ll spare you the tedium (or at least anymore tedium) and the agony of the 7+-mile walk out. Suffice it to say it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Anders and the Commandant were fine but I was faced with soul-searching pain. At one point, Anders and I talked about how long we could sustain a task like this if we know at the end a loved-one would be killed (in this case Alex). I said that I was sure I could make it to the parking lot but I wasn’t sure how much more I could really do—maybe only a few hours beyond that. Anders said that he wondered what that feeling was like and that he hoped he felt it someday—hey kid, climb a big mountain when you’re a fossil!

Anyways, all is well that ends well. We arrived at the parking lot at 5:45. We took care of business and I gave Natiskie $60 which most folks will question the wisdom of—given how bad a guide she was. My thinking was that we made it; she needed $60 more than I did, and I didn’t want any more drama.

We drove out the interminlble 11-mile drive to the main road and then another 15 miles to the great town of Weed, CA where we hit a gas station and I consumed 2 Mountain Dews, 1 Squirt (all 16 oz) and 4 Advills. Anders then took over driving. During this time we talked to Judy and let her know that we had survived. About 100 miles from SanFran we stopped had some salad and lemonade and took some pizza to go. Anders folded for me as we ate on the way to SF. We arrived at the airport Hyatt at 12:30 am—totally strung out. In the parking garage we got our gear in order and went up to the room to shower and amazingly we were in bed by 1:20am.

Up at 4:15 and Anders and I each caught 6ish flights and we reentered the real world. Whew!

Great trip. We did it. Two big mountains this summer for the rookies. A bit of bummer on having such a horrible guide but the silver lining is that it did give us an extra chance to exhibit grace in the face of adversity—which we did. Many extremely special moments during the climb and hanging with Anders—my true adventure bud.

A lot to reflect on. Clearly I have a real problem with my descending technique. I definitely have to proactively address this. I work a lot harder than other people on the descent. As I finish this discourse some 8 days latter I am still not fully recovered. Even in Ironman, I’ve not had this challenge. But still, all in all, an awesome trip. Much less real danger and drama than Rainier partly because I think we are better mountaineers now. Anders is potentially a great mountaineer—I have a lot of work to do before I climb Everest with him! ☺

Thanks for reading.