Tuesday, October 14, 2008

the race report you haven't been waiting for...

The race report you haven’t been waiting for, and the one you’d expect, too.

Some of you may recognize that I am borrowing part of the subject line from one of our other posters. It struck me that there could be no better title, so I hope he doesn’t mind that I use it, even though my reasons are different.

Before you get excited, the race report one would expect:

On Saturday, oct 11th I had a great time with like minded crazies up at hungry horse reservoir near hungry horse, Montana.

I had always had a desire to visit Montana, it was the first place I ever thought, “hey, that sounds like my kind of place.” I was really young. Like not even 10 years old, I would guess. So when I found myself in Idaho for the past couple months, I decided there could be no time better than the present to head up to big sky country, and run the Le Grizz 50.

Well, my training has been stellar, and I was excited after doing some fishing and running near Missoula on my way up.

I started the race with about 6-8 of the 90 starters ahead of me, and I figured that given the fact that I am in the best shape of my life, a PR of 7:50 was a reasonable goal. In my hopes, I thought 7:20-7:30 was reasonable, and anything under 7 hours would be a great accomplishment.

It was a cold morning, right below freezing, so luckily not cold enough that I had to wear long pants. I cruised a little uncomfortably to the 10 mile mark in 1:24. the first aid station (a water jug) appeared at 12 miles, and then finally at 17 miles I got my first calories of the run. I was holding it together there for the first bit, because I had guessed there would be Gatorade at the 12 mile mark….but it was ok. I hit 20 miles in 2:50. This equated to a steady 7:05 finish time. I was happy and thought if things went well I could maintain and nail my 7:20-7:30 goal.

At halfway, I glanced at my watch and had sped up. Hitting 25 miles in 3:30.

Each aid station I would drink 3-5 small cups of coke, grab a bite of beef jerky, and fill up my water bottle with Gatorade. These aid stations occur at 17, 27, 32, 37, 41, and 47 miles.

I should mention that the scenery at hungry horse is phenomenal and at 25 miles the sun came out, to expose some more views, and to get things slightly above freezing.

30 miles was hit in 4:12, and 40 miles in 5:42.

At this point I started to think about sub 7. I needed to run the last 10 in under 78 minutes to get there, but I was keeping things together well, and thought I’d shoot for it. When I hit the dam with 3 miles left the aid station folks said I was in 3rd place, which was exciting, and I looked across the dam, asking, “but I’m not gonna get #2 because I don’t see him?!?!” they replied that there was no chance of that happening. However I needed the last 3 miles in under 27 minutes or so to make sub 7, so I took right off. Coming in to the finish at 6:56 I was well pleased with my efforts. I knew I saved some in the tank for mother road, but was still pleased with my fitness and the confidence/experience running sub 7 gave me.

The post race festivities were fun, and delicious, although it was freakin freezing when the sun went down!!! I actually ran (jogged) 49.9 of the 50 miles. Very cool. I am almost an ultrarunner!

Unfortunately I had to leave before the awards ceremony because I only had one offer of a ride back to my vehicle at the start, 50 miles away. I hope everyone enjoyed their time!

Now the story you didn’t see coming:

I camped out Saturday night and did some easy fishing Sunday. Then I headed a few miles down the road to the spotted bear campground and had a nice fire before camping again. Monday morning I had decided I would stretch the legs out by hiking to Spotted Bear Mountain and the Lookout on the way. I was nervous about grizzly bears, but many of the Montanans had stifled my main concerns, so I decided if I wanted to see the real Montana I was gonna have to climb up some mountains. This 13 mile round trip was a gorgeous hike, and the skies cleared while I was up at the peak for just a bit. I took some nice video and photos of the views, and made my way down. This peak was around 7500 feet, certainly no 14er, just a nice day hike.

I then drove the 50 miles down the lake to hungry horse and treated myself to a big dinner at the grill. Next I headed several miles back into the woods, to camp at the trailhead for the climb of Great Northern Mountain, which I believe is the highest in the immediate area, and tops out at 8560 ft.

This morning, (Tuesday) I awoke and lay in the comfy minivan camp til nearly 10am and then scrounged up a large cookie for breakfast. I packed my daypack with a couple top layers, some waterproof pants, my gps, a camera and video camera, my compass, map, an extra hat, some gloves, 2 sandwiches and 2 bottle of water, along with a couple other odds and ends.

This hike is a 8 mile round trip, but climbs and descends more than 4500 feet. 1000’ per mile is a serious slope, so I knew this one would be tough, but worth it.

The first 1.5 miles is straight up from hungry horse creek to the ridge, it climbed almost 3,000’ – that is steep! 2,000’/mile. For OVER a mile.

Next I traversed the ridge leading towards Great Northern. The peak hidden in the clouds, but I could see the route up pretty high, and figured if things cleared at all towards noon I might go all the way. Above tree line the trail is really on the edge of the ridge, and the sub freezing winds were something to contend with, the views were expansive, and although I was high up, I was ready to extend my comfort zone a little, heck, I was in grizzly country and alone up high! The ground was covered in a light snow, so that the path was visible, and really with the ridge as sharp as it is, there is only one direction to go anyway.

I continued upwards, and began getting views of the steep snow slopes on the northeast side of the mountain, along with the sparsely snow covered western basin of scree. I traversed the ridge, higher and higher, finally needing to kick in for foot holds in the snow. I came to the pinnacle, only to realize that the clouds were still obscuring the peak, some 300 feet above me. I was really happy to be at the top since the snow and wind was at the edge of my comfort zone, but here, the sun came through and assured me I was almost there. I said, “awe shucks” and continued up. Another 150 feet and I came to a spot where continuing seemed dangerous. There was 10-12 feet of snow covered trail without handholds, and it was exposed to the steep scree/snow field below, surely over 1000 feet to the basin.

I took one step and decided it was not worth the risk. I came down several steps and pulled out my camcorder to record the moment. I stated that I was nearly to the top, probably only 150 vertical feet, but “life is good, and it would be best to keep it that way.” Then I said I would head down, with the comment that, should I see a better approach there might still be a summiting today.

I descended about 80 vertical feet ( I know this because my gps was tracking me) and then I looked back up, only to realize that right next to my previous route there was a safe looking way up. The skies cleared, and I turned back upwards. I quickly regained the ground I had descended, and was up and over the obstacle.

However, as soon as I was over it, I found myself in a precarious spot. What had looked stable from below was nothing of the sort. I instinctively pressed all four limbs against the snow/rocks, and tried to evaluate my best course of action.

As I thought, the snow underneath my feet slipped, I looked down and saw the thousands of feet of scree below me. I looked for a hand hold, but saw none, then the snow slipped 6 inches, and before I knew it, I was starting to slide. I said, “oh shit” and tried to grab anything, but nothing held. I was sledding down a steep snow and rock face, gaining speed. I bumped and slid, so fast that I couldn’t keep up with what was happening. I desperately tried to arrest my fall using my feet and hands.

The thought in my mind was, “you are going to break your legs, and, IF you maintain consciousness you are going to freeze to death up here tonight. More likely you will crack your head open and die without knowing what happened.” It was a terrible feeling. My speed increased and I felt certain I would start to tumble and have my body broken.

Somehow I stayed vertical, head up, feet down, although I have injuries on my front and back sides, so I’m not sure of my orientation throughout the fall.

Amazingly I hit a bump and my speed diminished just enough that at the next bump my body stopped. Wow, I am trembling a little as I write this.

I couldn’t believe I had stopped. I immediately felt my limbs and realized that while I was banged up really bad, nothing was broken. I still cannot believe that is true.

I was light headed, but had no head injuries, my adrenaline was on full force. I panted and tried to compose myself, knowing that passing out was not an option. As I tried to compose myself I tried to figure out what I could do.

I looked up, down, left and right. “O fuck, I am alive, but even my best effort isn’t going to keep me that way,” was my thought.

I was very precipitously perched on a spot that was incredibly unsafe, I felt as though at any moment my dazed state was going to betray me and send me careening off again, to sure death. I felt my left leg bleeding, but knew that getting to a safer spot had to be the #1 priority, because falling again was the worst possible thing. Even worse that an open artery. I felt as though several of my finger tips were broken, but I had gloves on, and with the adrenaline I couldn’t be sure. My elbows and butt were beaten, but not broken. Amazingly my head was still attached and unscathed.

I turned over and began to move, my first thought was to traverse the slope, maintaining my elevation. This quickly proved harrowing. I tried kicking in to the snow, but there was nothing below me to hold. I had fallen 300 vertical feet (again, mr gps was happily clicking away in my bag, not that I pulled it out to check!!!)

I thought to myself, as soon I had perched myself on a spot where I could think, “ok, you are alive, so you must give it your best effort, but the likelihood is that you are going to fall again. There is no good way out of this one.” Despite the negative tone I began searching for a route. I could only see 20-30 feet above me, because some large slabs blocked the view up to the ridge, I really had no idea how far I’d fallen, just that I needed to get back to the ridge and safety.

Every step was an effort, I would kick in for a foot hold, only for the snow or scree to fall away just before I trusted it. Then I’d dig with my hands or a rock to find another spot. After traversing 20 feet I was stopped, I reluctantly went back, to find another route.

I looked down. “hell no.”

I looked right. “hell no.”

I knew up was the only way, but there was nowhere to go. I went anyway, fully expecting to slip and die. I really didn’t want to fall, but I couldn’t fathom a reality where I made it safely. I couldn’t even SEE my destination!

I went up and around and back down, and up. All so slowly it was unreal. I still really can’t believe I am alive. It doesn’t make sense. Many times it would take minutes to find the next possible movement.

It was freezing cold and the wind was howling, my fingers were barely functional, and at times they were holding me almost exclusively. My left leg was dripping blood into the snow, and my shoe was red. My mind was lucid, so I knew I wasn’t loosing that much blood, but when I got to one safe spot I took out my water bottle and guzzled. I knew if I lost blood, fluid would be necessary, and why die because I was dehydrated?!

I ate a bite of my sandwich here too, but figured with all the stress on the system there was little chance that my stomach would be functioning to transport of the sugar to my muscles. I looked around, wishing I’d brought my cell phone. In the woods all week the phone didn’t work, but here at 8,000’ I could see the town of Hungry Horse 20 miles away….sure the phone would’ve allowed me to get some help. I thought about that for a minute….how I really would hate to put people out just because I over stepped my abilities in a risky venture, but if I’d had the option, I would have called in a heartbeat.

I kept moving, even if it was only back and forth. I was concerned that my fingers would go numb and I’d lose the chance to climb. I didn’t know how long the adrenaline would last, and that was definitely the only thing going for me now. If it wore off and I got cold, my chances would go from zip to zilch.

I started up again, looking for anything worth trying, I figured I was a goner, but it was my right as a living being to give it a freakin try, as hard as it was.

Finally, after a long time, I saw my foot prints from earlier. They were 25 feet above me. I didn’t realize it, but I had been trying to rescue myself for over two hours. From the time I slipped until I saw my prints was from 1:49pm til 3:50pm. All that for 300 vertical feet.

I still didn’t think I could possibly make it safely. It was another 10-12 foot sheet of snow on loose scree. I was so close. But so far. I tried to reign in the enthusiasm, once almost going a step too quickly. I said to myself, outloud, “whoa buddy, you are this close, don’t die now!” I almost chuckled, but took an extra moment to compose myself, then stepped. Two more steps and I was back on my original path.

I looked up and saw the peak through the clouds. “ok, now the shit starts.” I thought to myself.

I was damaged, winded, exhausted, amazed, and still riding the uncomfortable adrenaline high that made me a little light headed. I began descending.

Throughout the descent I came to areas that had seemed reasonable on the way up, but now in my altered frame of mind I wished I’d been way more cautious on the way up. Every step over a slip point made me think that I needed to be on my “A” game, if I wanted to get out with my life. I just kept moving, watching the blood drip out of my pants leg, and hoping that I would make it safely.

After another harrowing hour on the ridge in the snow and wind, I got to the tree line and out of the wind. I had thought to myself that this would be the spot to eat and drink, to keep myself from passing out on the steep (although MUCH safer) descent through the trees. I ate and drank ravenously of my pbj and water. I then got out my video camera, something I was loathe to do when I was on the marginally safe ridge line. I panned up to the peak, and described my ordeal, breathing hard and still unable to believe that I wasn’t lying somewhere below with broken legs, freezing to death.

I closed the clip with the comment, “thank god I’m alive.”

Now I really wanted to be down. I thought about cleaning my wounds and perhaps getting a hotel for the night, considering the circumstances. I wondered about grizzlies smelling the blood and hunting me while I descended. Needless to say I made a bunch of noise to dissuade them from this!

After 5 o’clock I got back to the car. Now removed my long pants, and saw a quagmire of dried and wet blood from a gaping wound just below my knee cap. I realized quickly that it would be in my best interest to have a professional deal with this, so I pinched the wound shut with my left hand, while I drove the 18 miles of forest service road to the town. I met a FS ranger and asked where the closest doctor was, and headed there. They were closing, and since I was walking and had driven myself they sent me down the street.

In my current shape I really looked like a crazy person who had attacked himself with a chainsaw. My leg was completely covered in dried blood, and my torn clothes and wild hair helped the illusion.

I made it to the urgent care center this side of Whitefish, and managed to make my way inside to a room.

The nurses were exceptional. They cleaned and cleaned and I just sat there telling them I couldn’t believe I was alive and I didn’t care how much they scrubbed the wounds and gave me shots, because anything felt better than the thought of freezing to death with broken limbs.

After 12 stitches and plenty of scrubbing, I was set to go, but then I removed my shirt and found another gaping wound on my elbow. This one had hurt, but didn’t bleed as much so I didn’t realize it was so deep.

That one got sewn up and then I paid and was on my way. It was now dark. This was about 4 hours ago, now as I write.

I filled up my gas tank, wobbled into walmart and grabbed ointment and bandaids, and then stopped at papa johns.

While I was in the ER, I talked to my brother, and he listened to my tale as I drove to my errands. I felt like I should tell my parents in the morning, since that might ease the stress I’m sure they’ll feel. I called my friends in Idaho, and said I might come home a little earlier than expected, but really, my Montana fishing license doesn’t expire for 4 more days, and THAT’s relatively safe, right?

So, there’s my story. It is what it is.

I was at the edge of my comfort zone, in a risky situation, and I nearly paid for it with my life. I have always said that I liked ultrarunning because you get to “push yourself” in a relatively safe way, and I wondered why mountain climbers went so far and high to push themselves. Now of course most climbers are smart and don’t push the odds, and they earn experience and knowledge over time, so I’m not saying climbing is over risky, it’s just not my favorite hobby, and maybe I’ll respect its dangers a little more from now on. I sure wouldn't do it the same all over again, and I hope some of you will take a lesson from the Bearenstein Bears, "this is what you should not do."I imagine i'll take some gentle and some harsh critisism, but like I said, it is what it is....

It’s good to be alive.


From the super 8 in Kalispell….


ultrastevep said...

Man, oh man! My fear of all fears is to fall like you did.

Thanks for the story!

Steve Pero

Jason Halladay said...

Thanks for posting your story, Carl, despite the idea that you might hear hear some criticism. Perhaps people might learn something from the story but the reality is accidents can and do happen to everyone regardless of experience. I'm glad you were out there having fun and pushing yourself a bit and I'm glad it all worked out in the end. Nice work keeping your head straight and being so practical about things during your "self-evacuation".

mkirk said...


That gravity can be harsh, but you're still LIVING. Keep it up, brother.

James said...

I bet you enjoyed every bite of that Papa Johns pizza!

Also, next time, make sure I am there to fall with ya. OK??

Be safe and see you soon!

Dan said...

Wow Carl. I knew you were crazy, but you're smart too. I'm glad you made it out and lived to tell the tale.

Run 50 Miles said...

dude ...where 's the video?

Bedrock said...


Glad all is well. Heck of a story.


Anonymous said...

There was only two things that didn't surprise me:

1) You did better than you expected in the Le Grizz

2) You had a pizza before all was settled with possible death and all

Megan said...


I am so glad you came out OK and a little wiser. So is your Mom! Keep living your dreams...

Megan (Ellis)