Elevation Gain: 5800' ..................... Results
February 20, 2021 - Driving through a snow storm to make an 0730 eighteen-degree start, the day seemed to bode well for another memorable adventure. The Solar Minimum has not disappointed this year, delivering plenty of snow and frigid temps to up the ante on this type of mountain challenge. Postholing in snow that at times was above my knees, I was thankful to be old and slow so that someone else had the chore of cutting trail through this winter wilderness.
The event began mildly enough from the host Restless Oaks Restaurant, heading up the Reservoir Road to a point where a serious vertical reality takes over. I took my time at the start, continuing to honor the advice of my late buddy Walter Stack to "start slow, then taper off". Most of the field moved ahead enthusiastically; with camera in hand, I am satisfied to bring up the rear these days, and just enjoy the experience.
Before the road turned to a snowy single track trail, I and others stopped to put on traction, without which these trails would be torturous to negotiate. Once we started up, it was mostly a matter of getting into queue and climbing with the herd. The first climb (Barb's Kiss My Ass - below) climbs nearly a thousand feet and was a good time for cameraderie and picture-taking. The pace was sluggish with endless stops and starts, but pretty much what one expects at the back of the pack on Pennsylvania's classic anticlines.
Down the other side, still in queue, and up the next climb, I was patient with the proceedings, attending to balance issues in the squishy powder and making sure I didn't fall either forward or back onto my butt. The extra caution paid off as I didn't have a single mishap throughout my nearly six-hours on the trails.
It took until the top of the second climb before the field thinned enough that I wasn't always looking at someone else's butt. The younger, faster participants moved ahead as I settled into a comfortable unimpeded shuffle. The downhills are always my nemesis. Without much connective tissue left around my ankles, I have to really be extra protective so as not to lose balance, so I descend rather slowly. But the climbs were great. Old man still has the legs to outclimb most, so I looked forward to the uphills. If nothing else, it was great spring training for the mountain climbing agenda I have planned for summer. The climbs were steep enough that at times I could have used my plastic boots and some crampons, and an ice ax would have come in handy (since I don't use trekking poles).
From mile three until the last half mile of the event, no one passed me, as I pulled back those that had raced ahead one by one. The trails going up and on the level were skinny enough through the foot-or-more deep snow that running was mostly out of the question. Stepping out of the track of the trail was tough on the shins because of an icy layer of crust immediately beneath the surface. The only bruises I brought back as souvenirs were high on my shins from accidently postholing through the crust.
When I tried to up my tempo, the narrow trails caused me to nick my ankles and calves with the spikes of my Kahtoolas. Rather than shred my gaiters and leave a trail of blood, I was just fine with hiking most of the course. I did see some spots of blood on the back half, so I wasn't the only one with that problem.
Perhaps the most fun part of the course was descending down the steepest hills with the aid of guide ropes. I learned a long time ago to lean forward out over the rest of the body and let gravity do the work. When no one was in front of me I could quickly run straight down the steepest of slopes with no danger of falling because of the way I was leveraging the guide rope. It was the fastest I ran all day. Most enjoyable, especially since there were a lot of ropes in place. My gloves heated up nicely each time and still show burn marks from the friction.
The event organization was very well prepared and experienced to take care of participant needs under winter conditions. They had shots of Fireball on the course and a pleasant surprise of warmed Russian tea at the Zindel Park AS. I was most impressed with the number of aid workers at random intervals on the course who had large campfires waiting for people that might need to warm up or take a break. The smell of wood smoke hanging in the damp air always let you know you were approaching one of these fires. There is something about cold weather that brings out a certain exhilarant behaviour in volunteers helping out at winter events. Words of encouragement were hollered at us all by shivering volunteers all day long. Mixing it up with the volunteers absolutely kept a smile on my face.
I did see five people that I knew through the day, but because of the temperatures, it was not the kind of venue that you wanted to stand around socializing for very long, soaked with sweat underneath several layers, especially with a silly mask pulled up over your mouth. So, the usual social appeal at these events was denied to us. Overall, I had a most enjoyable day. No falls, no injuries, and no major soreness the day after. Just one day older, eh! It was great to enjoy Pennsylvania hills in winter and do something I had never done before. On to the next one... in three weeks!