Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Favorite Holiday Running Adventure

It was the wee hours of Christmas morning in 2006. I was out in Kananaskis Country parked at the Beaver Flats campground. The X-Trail was a rockin'! Sadly it was just me in it trying to get some sleep in the back before embarking on an epic Christmas Day Trail Adventure. The winds were howling as a chinook blew in. Sleep didn't happen much. So at 330am I crawled out of my sleeping bag and the back of the car and got ready to hit the trails.

Doing a long run on Christmas Day had become a tradition since I was 14 years old training for my first ultramarathon. It was my way of justifying shoving my face full of chocolate and junk during the tour of family visits. Christmas Day 1994 took me out for a 30 mile run. It was peaceful, quiet and a great way to kill time after morning presents and before Christmas dinner. It beat sitting around watching the same old shitty Christmas movies!

2006 was the first year I lived no where near my family. I just saw them in November so didn't see the need to buy a ridiculously overpriced plane ticket across the country to go home for Christmas. Instead I went to my second family, the trail!

I mapped out what would be roughly about 30 miles of epic K-Country trail. The snow levels weren't crazy yet and the weather looked like it would be decent enough for Alberta where I wouldn't freeze my nuts off. The route planned was start at Powderface parking lot and head up to Powderface Pass (elev. 7200') and the take Powderface Ridge over to Little Elbow Campground and then up Nihahi Ridge (7800') to catch sunrise coming over the mountains and then retrace my steps back to the car. Total climb would be well over 10,000 and equal descent.

With those chinook winds blowing in hard sleep didn't happen so I set out earlier than planned to start the adventure. At around 330am I headed up Powderface Creek Trail towards the pass. It's a 4 mile climb starting around 4800' heading up past 7000'. Once up on the ridge and Powderface Trail the winds really started whipping up. I was now alpine. My Mountain Hardwear jacket and base layers kept the body warm and the Montrail Hurricane Ridges (old school I know!) were awesome on the slightly snow covered trails. My face was numb from snow being wisked up and blown in my face from the wind. After about 3 miles of alpine I started the long descent to Little Elbow and got some shelter in the trees. It was awesome, not a sole around for miles I assumed. The road into these campgrounds gets locked at the trail I started so figured I had this entire backcountry heaven all to myself.

Down at Little Elbow I took a break to have a Clif Bar for Christmas breakfast and washed it down with a few Clif Shots and water. Then I started the ascent up Nihahi Ridge. The first mile is pretty brutal doing some switchbacks before reaching a meadow you kind of horseshoe around before scrambling a long way up a scree slope to the ridge.

Once I went alpine again the winds crushed me. The temperature I could feel getting warmer by the minute as those chinook winds blew in from the west. The pace was a little quicker as well and when I got to the ridge line it was still going to be about an hour till sunrise. I quickly realized that I would freeze to death sitting on a near 8000 foot ridge exposed to the 40-50 mile an hour winds and started the trek back to Beaver Flats.
(pic of Nihahi Ridge - obviously not from Dec 25th!)

Descending Nihahi Ridge was awesome as it was a combo of scree and snow and basically I just did some skiing on shoes down the slope. Once near Little Elbow the sun started to show its face.
Somewhere near the top of the ascent climbing back up Powderface Ridge I realized I wasn't alone on the trail. I was the only human. 20 feet away was a moose the size of a bus. He stared at me like I was an idiot. I offered him a Clif Bar. He wasn't hungry. I backed away slowly and he started pacing towards me. I'm pretty sure I crapped myself. I got behind a good sized tree and waited until he buggered off into the woods.
From there it was uneventful back to the car. Got some sun on the run across the alpine Powderface Ridge and flew down the 4 miles descent from 7500 feet back to the car at 4800 feet.

Aside from missing the sunrise on Nihahi Ridge it was an amazing Christmas Day Run. Still to date my most memorable and fun Christmas Day run which is now 17 years running.

Happy trails!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome adventure brother. If were luckey maybe we'll be able to get intimate with a mountain lion this May. Out in the canyons.