Route 66 AZ To End ALZ for Mace

On February 26th my wife Heather and I will start our 158-mile trek across the longest continuous section of Historic Route 66 in Arizona, an effort we’ve dubbed:

Route 66 AZ To End ALZ, for Mace

We’ll start near Ash Fork, AZ and finish at Topock66 on the Colorado River. Mark Macy (Mace), who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2018 at just 64 years old, and his beautiful wife Pam will join us from Colorado to walk some of the miles and provide motivational support. Dr. Bob Haugh will join us from Kentucky to provide crew support and his always affable nature.

We hope to finish on March 3rd, which means that we hope to do:

6 marathons in 6 days on Historic Route 66

We’ll need lots of luck . . . or at least Heather thinks so. While I’ve done over 130 races averaging over 125 miles each over the decades (I’m 70 years old now!), Heather is not an athlete and has never attempted a multi-day trek like this one. But don’t be fooled; she’s very strong. She completed a 50-mile run with limited training, climbed Kilimanjaro, and manages chronic pain and other health issues every day.

Fortunately, the eclectic sites along the route will be things to look forward to, including:

  • Delgadillos’ Route 66 gift shop in Seligman, where local barber Angel started the movement to save this iconic highway by obtaining the “Historic” designation;
  • the Historic Route 66 Hotel; and
  • the Roadkill Cafe.

On to amazing places like:

  • the Grand Canyon Caverns;
  • Peach Springs, capital of the Hualapai Reservation; and
  • Valentine, home of the Keepers of the Wild Nature Park and Animal Sanctuary.

Then visits to:

  • the Hackberry General Store with loads of Route 66 memorabilia;
  • Antares, home of Giganticus Headicus (dropped on-site by aliens?);
  • Kingman Visitors Center and Route 66 Museum, historic district, and much more;
  • the restored Mobile gas station and museum in Cool Springs, an inspiration for the animated movie Cars;
  • Oatman to feed “wild” burros and stay out of the way of gun fights in the street in the old mining town.

Finally ending:

  • at Topack66 Colorado river on the Arizona/California border;
  • below the Old Trails Arch Bridge, featured in the movie The Grapes of Wrath.

Thanks to the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, Kingman Office of Tourism, and the businesses along the route for their support of our fundraising efforts.

While trekking this iconic route will be fun and interesting – we’ll share stories and photos along the way that we’re sure you’ll enjoy – the fundraising is what it’s really about and is what will keep us going!

With your support and generosity, we hope to raise $15,800 for the Alzheimer’s Association as a part of “Team Macy Endure.” Will you donate today? All donations, no matter the dollar amount, are needed and appreciated to support the fight to end Alzheimer’s. Suggested donations:

  • $100 to sponsor one mile
  • $66 in honor of Route 66
  • $6 because every dollar counts in the fight To End ALZ
  • Any dollar amount you can afford and are inspired to donate

Thank you for your support!

Starting Saturday morning you can follow our progress via GPS tracker at:

share.garmin.com/MUlrich

You can also follow along as we post on our social media sites:

FACEBOOK

MarshallUlrich

HeatherVoseUlrich

INSTAGRAM

@marshall.ulrich

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Fire and Ice: Badwater 146: Part 4

The Crux of the Crossing

After another pretty much sleepless night, we awoke at 3:30 a.m. to start the day. I asked Bob how he felt and he replied that he was anxious and ready to go. If we got too far up the mountain and one of us felt that we needed to turn back, we would all have to come down to stay safe. Once again the climb was steep and being on snowshoes was starting to wear on me. I much prefer to be on crampons, even if it meant breaking though the crust of the snow and having to do a bit of post holing. We continued to a point less than 1000 vertical feet below Iceberg Lake and the terrain flattened out for a short distance, Bob said that he had enough and wanted to turn back. As upper Boy Scout Lake was just over the ledge we had just come up and would be in sight, we felt it safe for Bob to head down, which would take about an hour and text us that he was down safely when he arrived. Amazingly, we had reasonably good phone and text service for much of the time we were on the mountain as the view down the mountain kept Lone Pine in sight.

I couldn’t help but think about how great it would have been to have Mace up on that mountain as he would have been in his element, on snow shoes headed up a steep incline on snowshoes, his forte. Mark at one time had held the record for the Alaskan 100 mile Iditashoe snowshoe race. He would have liked the cold crisp air and the crunching of snow beneath his feet. He would truly be in his element. I missed him terribly.

So upwards we went and as we approached the mountaineers gully we could look over and see Iceberg Lake, completely frozen over. This lake could be seen in previous years as I climbed Mt. Whitney and peered at it though what they call the pinnacles. Even in the summer it was rimmed with snow and ice and had a strikingly beautiful turquoise shade to the water.

Looking up, I could see the route that leads to the notch, what we would be aiming for and will signify reaching the top of the chute and the most difficult part of the climb would be over (barring coming down that is). We swapped out our snowshoes and clipped on our crampons and roped up tethering ourselves together hoping to stop one or the other from falling if footing or our ice axes gave way. Strangely, I felt more secure and as we made our way over and started up the chute it seemed doable. And it got steeper and we would zigzag our way up past a huge rock outcropping that lay near the middle of the chute. That’s something a person would want to avoid if he started to tumble. And it kept getting steeper as we would lean into the hill and drive our crampons and Ice Axes in deeply to the snow. I did as I had learned, always keeping two points of contact on the hill, either both feet or the ice axe and a foot would keep me safe, in theory.

Step and breath, plunge foot forward and plant ice axe. Two to four steps and rest as the effort was intense. I loved the rhythm timed with breathing, it connected me with the mountain as we kept on climbing. Iceberg lake seemed to be dropping beneath us and the notch keep getting closer and closer. The wind kicked up in our faces, I’d estimate 40 mph. It was annoying, but nothing I couldn’t deal with. We just had to be more careful. Time dissolves and focus brings me clarity. After about 3.5 hours of climbing I was wearing down, having to stop more frequently to catch my breath. I could see the notch a couple of hundred feet above me, but it was drawing near me so very slowly. Finally after another 30 minutes we made it to the notch and as I said at the start of the story, it brought me to my knees. Trevor looked at me and could see how exhausted I felt and I knelt, bent over as if I was broken. I looked up toward the top of Whitney, I knew it was there another 400 feet up. Trevor asked if I was okay and I told him I needed to “take a breather”. I was SO close.

Okay, this is really a bitch, I thought to myself. Trevor said something to the effect, you know you have been up to the top many times before, and we have to think about getting down. He was right, but I knew if I made it up, I would get down. I thought to myself, I’m at about 140 miles and I should be wasted, but I kept that thought to myself. You see, to utter something negative only serves to stand in the way of success. I told Trevor, trust me, I’m going to slam down a GU and I’ll be fine all the while looking up at the mountain and down at the ground. Heather, Mace and Dr. Bob have seen me many, many times like this and I always come back, just like I had at Panamint. Dr. Bob had told Heather back then that “if it was anybody else besides Marshall”…

So we looked at the options for routes and we could either go up a class three climb or a class 2 climb that would hook around the mountain to where the regular route leads up to the top. I told Trevor that even though hooking around the mountain would take more time and we would have to toe in to cornices to skirt around the mountain, that would allow me to recover and so we did. 30 minutes later after dancing on snow and boulders we joined with the regular route. I knew we were going to summit now and so did Trevor. We clicked axes and stripped ourselves of backpacks, crampons and left the ice axes and rope behind as we hiked up to the summit hut. We had done it; Heather, Bob, Trevor, Mark and I. It always takes a team in life to succeed, no one can do it alone and if they did, it would be bittersweet as there would be no one to share the success with.

The top was surprisingly void of snow, and after snapping a few pictures in spite of a brisk wind, we decided to head down. We had made reasonably good time going up and I felt confident that we might be able to get down in the dusk. We retraced as best we could around to the top of the notch and it seemed like the wind had intensified and was gusting more. We were roped up and started our way down the mountain on the sometimes crusted, loose and unpacked snow being careful to set our ice axes and crampons firmly in the snow.  As we zig-zagged our way down, the gusts became more pronounced and Trevor said he thought, after we were down, that some were upwards in the 60 mph range. It didn’t surprise me as there was a good half dozen times we would have to stop facing uphill leaning into the wind and hang onto our ice axes for 20 or 30 seconds until the gusts would subside. At one point as I was changing directions headed down hill, a gust knocked me off my feet and I was able to catch myself before sliding too far feeling the tug of the rope as Trevor was helping me to stabilize myself. There is nothing better than to feel that tug of rope as it is better than a security blanket.

And so down we went, carefully and deliberately until we reached the bottom and transitioned to our snowshoes taking only one break at the bottom of the mountaineer’s route. We made good time going down and passed the spot where Bob had turned around. 45 minutes and we were back at camp and the sun was just dropping behind Mt. Whitney and the Sierra Nevada range. It was about 4:00 p.m. Trevor mentioned that it would take 9 to 14 hours and we had made it in about 10 and one half. Bob was outside the tent and said that he had talked to 3 climbers that were just below us waiting to head up the next day. I breathed a sigh of relief and stumbled around camp for an hour or so, getting my bearings, savoring being down from the mountain and getting cold.

The next day we broke camp late, strapped on our snowshoes and headed down the slope to lower Boy Scout Lake. My snowshoe bindings where they mounted on the platform were tearing away, my cleats were worn and not grabbing the snow well and I was having trouble getting purchase on the snow. Bob was having problems with his snowshoes also and we switched over to crampons even though we were breaking through the snow in many places. Our progress was slow, but eventually just after noon we dropped onto the regular trail and ditched our crampons. The trail had little snow on it and Trevor said “this is where I relax now”. Being the consummate guide and having babysitted for three and a half days. He could now breathe easy.

The remaining five-mile hike down past the portals and onto the road was reasonably straight forward with the exception of Dr. Bob falling on the icy road and almost doing it again about a half mile from the bottom of the switchbacks. He was slipping and sliding and at times it reminded me of something akin to break dancing.

As we approached the lower gate, Ben and Denise Jones and Heather were there to greet us after 6 long days of crossing the desert, climbing and descending the mountain and successfully completing the first winter Badwater to Mt. Whitney, with a summer crossing just six months prior, making it also the very first “Fire and Ice” challenge. Needless to say, it was nice to have it over and I couldn’t help but think that Mace would be proud.

So, after having done the Badwater 146 in the summer numerous times and the winter crossing once, I’m sure the question will be asked, which is harder? A summer crossing involves 24 hours of extreme heat and a straight forward route up Mt. Whitney along with many people. A winter crossing on the other hand, crosses Death Valley in moderate to much cooler temperatures with even more traffic than in the summer to deal with, even cold temperatures as Towne Pass was below freezing as well as other spots leading into Lone Pine. And then running into ice and snow starting up the switchbacks and spending days on the mountain on ice and snow to get to the top of Mt. Whitney and back down. That last 18 to 20 miles was by far much harder than the first 131 miles across the desert. I think to answer that question a person would have to do both the full 146-mile Badwater in the summer and a shorter but steeper version during the winter to compare for themselves. All I can say is to some steal words of wisdom from Ken Chlouber, the iconic race director at Leadville: the hardest thing to do is the one that you are tackling at the moment. How true.

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Fire and Ice Badwater 146: Part Three

Beginning of the Ice – Mount Whitney

Having completed the “easy” +130-mile part of the Winter Badwater, the cooler (than a Fire crossing) desert portion, Heather drove us back down to Lone Pine and the awaiting showers and beds at the Dow Villa. After a short and restless night, Dr. Bob and I hauled our gear into the rooms and laid it all out on the beds and alongside the walls. I am always amazed at the amount of equipment it takes to summit a snow laden mountain. Although I’ve done a good bit of mountaineering, I still worry about having everything I need and question whether or not I remember how to tie figure-eight and prusik knots. As I’ve gotten older, remembering some of these skills has become more of a challenge. Then, I think of Mace and realize I need to be grateful that, at least for now, I can still tie these knots, while he can no longer tie his shoes. I’m also incredibly angry that he has Alzheimer’s. So angry I . . . have to shake my head to chase the thoughts away and refocus on the task at hand.

Mountain Gear and Clothing

It takes a lot of gear and clothing to climb Mount Whitney in the Winter.

As I insisted and they require, Trevor Athnes, our guide from Sierra Mountain International (SMI), stopped by in the afternoon to go over equipment. When he arrived, we greeted him and shared the usual pleasantries, but he wasted no time, starting with my gear. Helmet and hats; goggles and sunglasses; down, fleece, and gortex jackets; long underwear, warm jumpsuit, and wind pants; gloves and glove liners; sleeping bag and pad; boots, crampons, and snowshoes; harness with locking carbineers; ice axe; and backpack. Check, check, and check. My sleeping bag is rated to 30 below zero, as I learned early on in mountaineering that you don’t scrimp on your sleeping bag, or a good sleeping mat. We moved on to Bob’s room and gear, with another thumbs up. Trevor gave us each an avalanche beacon even though (thankfully!) conditions are such that the risk is low, and our share of food. Finally, we split one of the heaviest things, the two-man tent Bob and I will share, which is an absolute necessity to stay comfortable during the night.

 

My Whitney Backpac

My backpack ready for Whitney, weighing at least 45 pounds.

After he left, Heather commented that he looked the part: probably in his mid-forties, maybe 5’ 10” tall, slender and sinewy, quick to smile, with his hair pulled back in a ponytail. She also had to laugh, commenting that our questions – “Are you going to take your heavy down coat, or a lighter one and a fleece? Are these wind pants okay?” – reminded her of having a friend helping her cook in her kitchen: if she were by herself, she’d know exactly what to do. But, with another person she’s apt to ask things like: “Should I use this pan, or this one instead? How long to do you keep the turkey in oven, at what temps?” When I’ve led expeditions, I’ve been the “expert.”  But now I was deferring to Trevor. “That’s not a bad thing,” she said. “We can all use another set of eyes, just like with writing; we all need an editor.” I agree! Nothing wrong with having confirmation that your equipment is okay especially since, in this case, our lives could depend on it.

 

Bob and Marsh ready for Whitne

Dr. Bob and Marshall have different faces as they prepare for Mount Whitney.

We agreed to a 6 AM meet up at the hotel. From there, SMI owner Kurt Wedberg would drive us up to the Portal closure point where I had stopped, drop me off, and I would start walking. With a 4WD and in daylight, they felt comfortable driving up the mountain to the point where snow finally blocked their path. That turned out to be a couple of miles, near the campground at approximately 8,000 feet. I met them there, changed into my 6,000-meter mountaineering boots, and Trevor, Bob, and I started off on foot, walking a mile on the snow-covered road to the Portal trailhead. Both Bob and I are used to carrying our own weight, but we were still a bit surprised to guess our packs weighed at least 45 pounds. We were also impressed that Trevor’s pack was probably at least 60 pounds! Is youth wasted on the young, I wondered? I was 40 the first time I won Badwater, and 45 the fourth, and last, time I won. Did I appreciate it fully then? Maybe. But I can say that I was glad Trevor had the youth and strength to haul all the kitchen gear and everything else we needed.

Marsh BW solo 1999

For the first ever self-contained solo BW, I had almost everything, except Vaseline to stop a severe nosebleed.

I often say, “If you don’t have it, you don’t need it.” Hopefully. As we started on the Whitney Trail at the Portals my mind wandered back to my self-contained solo trek across Death Valley to the summit in 1999. One of the things I forgot was Vaseline to coat the inside of my nose to keep it moisturized. Consequently, as I approached 119 miles and crossed the Owens River, my nose started bleeding. Soon both nostrils were gushing, which made it difficult not only to eat, but to breathe. It continued to bleed for over 22 miles, up the Portal road, and past Mirror Lake on the Whitney trail.

 

Marsh Dave DV circumnav by Ben

I thought Dave and I had buried everything we needed . . . except soap and first aid. Photo by BW Ben Jones, who came out to see us during the endeavour.

Now, at the Portal trailhead, we started along the same Whitney Trail I had hiked so many times before in the summer. At the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, we veered right to start along the mountaineers route that I had taken a couple of times but, again, only in the summer. Here we had to put on snowshoes. As a distraction from breaking through the snow and willows, forcing an exhausting lifting and detangling before being able to step forward again, my mind took me back to the 425-mile self-supported circumnavigation of Death Valley National Park I did with my friend Dave Heckman in 2014. We had buried caches of everything we needed at approximately every 13 miles around the border of the park. Huh . . . except . . . we forgot soap and first aid! The first made for an interesting odor throughout the trek, while the second would have come in handy for blister care. There are many other instances that I can recall of things not packed, but we always made do with what we had.

Stray Dogs Eco Australia 1997 finish

Me, Chaz, Mace, and Dr. Bob at the Eco Australia 1997 finish, where we faced numerous challenges.

The mountaineers route heads pretty much straight up to the top of Mt. Whitney, gaining 6,100 feet in just five miles. Bob paused from his position in the back, looked up the trail, and declared that he would be going back down. He was having a hard time keeping up and felt like he was slowing us down. I implored him to take it one step at a time and stay with us. We promised to slow down, as I felt we were going too fast anyway. I thought about how many things we had been through together, along with Mace, including meeting at the Utah Eco-Challenge, creating Team Stray Dogs; “fending off” grizzly bears during Eco British Columbia to keep Lisa safe; literally riding out the storm in the Coral Sea during Eco Australia; and watching Dr. Bob change into what Heather dubbed “Zombie Bob” due to illness during Eco Fiji, while still moving forward without one word of complaint. Friendships forged through extreme challenges, that have lasted a quarter century, cannot be broken. I was also grateful to have him with us because of his skills and experience – we have hiked up Whitney together several times, he had climbed the Mexican Volcanoes with me; he has also climbed Rainier a few times and has climbed on Denali – along with his always good humor. For all these reasons, it was important to me to have him at least go up to the Lower Boy Scout Lake where we would camp for the night. In true Dr. Bob fashion, he agreed to carry on.

Marsh, Mace, Dr. Bob Mace 65 bday

Me, Mace, and Dr. Bob at Mace’s 65th bday party, shortly after he shared his early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis with us, his Stray Dogs teammates and friends.

So, the three of us continued to plunge through the snow and crash through the willows. The snow got deeper, and the trail got steeper and more obscure. If Mace would have been with us, he would be swearing right along with, well, at least me, as Bob hardly ever utters a swear word. But when he does, you know he REALLY means it! God how I missed Mace and his ways. While we were always grateful for our good luck to be able to travel and do the sports we loved, the best part was being together: that meant much more than I can say. Looking back, I realize that I was beyond lucky to have met such extraordinary people. Both Dr. Bob and Mace have set a good example and been mentors to me over the decades I have known them. As I detangled my snowshoe from what seemed to be a most persistent willow, I realized that these friendships make the effort of slogging up this hill all worth it.

Me and Dr. Bob Lower BS Lake

I was so grateful to have Dr. Bob with me at Lower Boy Scout Lake on Mount Whitney.

After a few hours we could see a ledge. We had made it to Lower Boy Scout Lake! We had only covered 2.5 miles but had climbed 2,350 feet to 10,350 feet in just over 5 hours, arriving at 12:25 PM. (I had covered another couple of miles and another 1,000 feet or so, but on the road, in running shoes, with no pack). We discussed options: stay here or continue two more hours to climb to Upper Boy Scout Lake. Bob and I looked at each other and I think we both realized that the day had already been more than we expected. Trevor had downplayed the difficulty we would face on Day 1 for good reason: he didn’t want to psyche us out. He did (easily!) convince us to take the recommended four days, rather than the three I had “planned” to spend on the mountain. So, we would take our time, try to get a good night’s sleep, and have a short Day 2 tomorrow to either Upper Boy Scout Lake or just beyond. Stay at the selected camp that night, attempt the summit push on Day 3 with return to that camp, then Day 4 to descend.

Sunset, looking east, and moonrise Mt Whiteny

The photo doesn’t do justice to the amazing beauty of the sunset and moonrise, looking east, from Lower Boy Scout Lake.

It was great to be up high on the mountain, where I feel more alive than any other place on earth. As the sun set around 4:00 PM behind Mount Whitney, it instantly became cold and begged us to dive into our tents. We were the only ones on the mountain that night, making the quiet something to behold. The silence was broken by Trevor beseeching us, “Guys, you have to come see this.” I crawled out of our tent, joining Trevor, while Bob stuck his head out for a look. Even though the sun had set, the reflection cast on the clouds and valley to the east were like from a rainbow. The clouds burned brightly pink and orange. Red and green hues embraced the foothills, while the full moon hung over the valley pointing down to Lone Pine where we had started this morning. I fantasized was just for me and could hear the mountain gods whispering to me that all was well. Always, I look for strength to be derived by paying attention to what nature provides, which is a fantastic source of motivation. This was one of the most spectacular displays of beauty I had ever seen, set in juxtaposition with power, shear power, that would propel us upward to the top.

Whitney Moutaineers Route Chute

Photo from SMI showing a climber going up the steep mountaineers chute, with Iceberg Lake below.

Through the night the stars shone for us and rotated over the valley and mountain tops as if to say, “You are at home to roam as you please.” It was such a peaceful and simple existence. As the moon rose overhead, its light shown brightly through the thin yellow walls of our tent. Bob seemed to sleep reasonably well despite my shuffling about every five or six hours to re-inflate my sleeping pad, which had developed a slow leak allowing the cold to radiate up from the ground when it go too flat. It really didn’t matter as I was mostly awake anyway, fretting about what the challenges we would face in upcoming days. Looming large were thoughts of the last less-than-a-mile up the mountaineers chute with angles between 25-45 degrees, gaining almost 1,500 feet from Iceberg Lake at 12,620 feet to the top of the Notch at 14,100. That’s some serious climbing in snow and ice. Would I be up to the task?

Dr. Bob and I climbing from Lower to Upper BS Lake.

Dr. Bob and I climb the steep trail from Lower to Upper Boy Scout Lake.

The sun began warming our tent around 10 AM, signaling us to get moving. We broke camp, packed up our gear, and started heading up the steep route in our snowshoes, laden with still-heavy packs. While it was difficult, I love the challenge of climbing, focusing on my breathing, and settling into a rhythm as we continued ascending through the cold, crisp, clean air. After a mile and about 1,000 feet of elevation gain, we reached Upper Boy Scout Lake at 11,300 feet. It had only taken a couple of hours, just as Trevor had predicted, and we discussed whether we should continue to an optional second camp between here and Iceberg Lake. Doing so would make summit day shorter, but a water source would be further away. Dr. Bob was feeling “a little beat up” and exhausted from the steep climb, and I wasn’t opposed to nice afternoon of rest, so we decided to call it a short day.

Upper BS Lake, Trevor and Bob

Trevor and Dr. Bob at Upper Boy Scout Lake, our home for the next two nights as we prepare for, and hopefully recover from, the summit push on Mount Whitney.

This  would be our base camp for the next two nights, before and after what I hoped would be a successful summit of Mount Whitney and the first ever Winter Badwater to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of Mace. He’d love it here, I thought. I wish he could have joined us, completing the Stray Dogs original male trio. But, in a way, he was there, as Bob and I talked about him all tThe time, sharing stories of misadventures we’d shared. Trevor had to feel like he almost knew Mace himself.

 

Part of the route from Upper BS Lake

As I looked at part of the route to the summit from Upper Boy Scout Lake, I wondered if my spirit would carry me to the top.

As I looked up at the part of the route we could see, my mind wandered as I recognized how these challenges are creative outlets for me. No one had ever tried a Winter Badwater before, so here I was, giving it a go. Just as no one had ever attempted a solo-self-contained crossing, a Badwater Quad, or a self-supported circumnavigation of Death Valley National Park before I created these, and other, challenges. I always marvel at how amazing the human spirit is and thought, as they say, “If something like this was easy, everyone would be doing it.” I would find out tomorrow how durable my spirit just might be.

 

 

Coming soon . . . Fire and Ice Part 4 – The Crux of the Crossing

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