Fire and Ice Badwater 146: Part One

Winter Badwater, Start to Father Crowley

“What do you think about when . . .” you cover 146 miles across the desert, and up the tallest mountain in the continental United States? Or when you run across America, or complete the Leadville Trail 100 mile run, or complete the Pikes Peak marathon four consecutive times?

“What do you think about?” is one of the most common questions I’m asked. Yet, it’s one thing that most ultrarunners don’t seem to talk, or write, about. Stories are about the physically grueling tasks. How much they “suffered” – the blisters, vomiting, muscle cramps, getting lost, or sleep monsters. Yet for me, ultrarunning has always been a creative process. A way to connect with nature and my surroundings, and the history and culture of the places I pass through.  A chance to remember people in my life, including those who have passed. A time to process events in my life; yes, a sort of therapy. So, in this series please allow me some latitude to share ethereal, frou-frou ideas and thoughts.

Possible last photo ever: DV circumnav 2012 above Saline Valley

This video capture of me from the DVNP circumnav in 2012, above Panamint Valley, could have been the very last image of me. Ever.

Since you’re here on my blog, you probably know that I’ve been fortunate enough to complete a few athletic adventures in, around, and across Death Valley. With a friend, I survived a summer self-supported, 400 plus mile circumnavigation of Death Valley National Park. I’ve completed the Badwater ultramarathon 20 times, always going the complete 146 miles to the summit of Whitney. I did a solo, self-contained crossing, as well as the first ever quad crossing. In August 2020, I completed my 30th crossing of Death Valley (DV) 30 years after my first race, an event I call the DV 30/30.

But, while I didn’t know it, something was missing.

In 2019 my son Taylor (Ulrich) and daughter Ali (Dowd) were crewing me for my 29th July or August crossing. Ali was walking alongside of me as she gave me a fresh ice bandana, a cold drink, and some honey roasted peanuts, the snack for that mile of road. I asked her if she would ever considering doing a crossing. “I don’t know. Maybe. But I would have to stop and sleep. And it would have to be in the winter.” Hmmmm, I thought, “Why hasn’t anyone done a Winter Badwater before? If you did a crossing in the summer, then in the winter just six months later, you could call it ‘Fire and Ice’.” It took Ali saying it out loud to spark the idea; yes, you could say that she is more creative then I am.

Me, Ali and Taylor Fire BW 2019

I was honored to have my daughter Ali son Taylor crew me for my 29th Fire Badwater crossing in 2019.

As we continued walking we discussed how covering the 135 miles across Death, Panamint, and Owens Valleys in the summer certainly was hard, due to the often +120 degree temperatures. Then, add on another 11 miles to the summit of Mount Whitney, and you do have a challenge. Alternately, if you did a winter crossing, the first 135 miles would be relatively easier, as temperatures weren’t likely to be over 75 degrees. Of course, it’s still 135 miles! Since I always go to the top of Whitney after starting at Badwater – never to what Bart Yasso called the “phony finish” at the Whitney Portals – to do true Ice crossing, you would have to climb Whitney in the winter. “Winter” in this case has to be the opposite the established months of July/August, or in January/February.

So, would a Winter Badwater be more difficult? I didn’t know it yet, but the desert held its own new twist, and struggling to climb Mt. Whitney in the winter would literally bring me to my knees. But, pondering “which is harder” is something to be done not while in the thick of things, but after an event is done and you have some time to reflect. And, we haven’t even gotten to the real Fire and Ice challenge yet.

Denis, Heather, me, BW Ben Jones Portal sign 2019 DV 30/30

It was an honor to have First Lady Denise (far left) and Mayor Badwater Ben Jones (far right), as well as my wife Heather, at the 135-mile benchmark at the Whitney Portals for my DV 30/30.

As it would happen, my DV 30/30 crossing in August 2020 would become the Fire portion of my newly-created adventure. My wife Heather and fellow Stray Dog Dr. Bob Haugh were my support crew. The Fire of the desert definitely baked me, as the temperature was around 124, and the smoke in the air from forest fires all over California and in other states scorched my lungs. The long climb up Towne Pass sucked the life out of me, in part because the temperature kept refusing to drop below 100 degrees. I was depressed by my ever-slowing progress, and briefly considered pulling the plug until Heather said, “You know, we aren’t in any hurry. There’s no mandated race cut off. Let’s just stay here for at least an hour so you can sleep and cool off.” Wait. What? We’re not in a hurry? Oh. Yeah. That’s right! What a great idea. After that I was able to continue without significant challenges, and finished my Fire crossing in 3 days, 6 hours, and 14 minutes.

Less than six months later, at 7:59 AM on February 21, 2021, the team was back at the Badwater basin, ready to face the Ice. What a difference! It was only about 58 degrees.

Marshall at BW basin start of Winter Badwater 2021

Me at the basin sign, start of the first ever Winter Badwater, February 2021.

As I put one foot forward, the start of thousands more to complete the over 130 miles of the desert portion, I kept thinking, “How am I going to keep cool once the sun shines over the Black Mountains?”  As I passed below Dante’s view, it dawned on me that heat shouldn’t be a problem. Temperatures no higher than the mid-seventies will be tolerable, even comfortable. What a concept! Looking to my left, I saw snow on Telescope Peak, the highest point in the Park. So, I settled in and began to look around, down toward Devils Golf Course, up Artists Drive, and toward the backside of Zabriskie Point. Not having to worry about, “How much ice is left in my hat and bandana? Do I have enough ice water to drink? Do I need to spray my cotton shirt with water to create evaporative cooling? Should I put my white desert pants on to stave off the heat radiating off the tar? Should I open up my fisted hand to allow for a greater area of cooling? Am I peeing enough; and what color is it?” and so many other things that occupy my mind during a Fire crossing gave me time to reflect upon the dozens of crossings and miles that fell below my feet. My mind drifted back over the years to the people and challenges that have been, and continue to be, such a huge part of my life. Back in the 90s when I won the event four times, I could maintain a constant 10-minute miles (6 MPH); now I’m reduced to, at best, 15-minute miles (4 MPH) brisk walk, and I need more rest. So, while I used to be able to get to the 135-mile benchmark at the Portals in as little as 26 hours 18 minutes, these days I’m pleased with anything less than 48 hours. Given the fact that I’m almost 70 years old, I am thankful just to be vertical and moving down the road. Out here, I have patience, literally taking it one step at a time, and am not in rush. Yet I realize that as I’ve gotten older I have become more intolerant of some people and things in my life. Perhaps I need to extend my patience beyond the desert?

I have a unique view of Death Valley that has been forged in Fire; but now I see the gentle, magical side of the Valley. Thoughts of the Timbisha Shoshone who spent the summers up high near Telescope Peak and would come down into the Valley as the temperatures would cool off, flow through my mind. A 2016 article by Alex Ross in the New Yorker noted, “The habit of using this majestic wilderness as a stage set for extreme adventures and dark nights of the soul has long irritated the Timbisha Shoshone people . . .” although an elder said that, as long as we respect it, we were welcome; I hope they know that I do. Their way of life was changed forever when group of 1849-ers became trapped and one person died. As the party climbed out of the valley one of the men turned, looked back, and said “goodbye, Death Valley.” The group left, but the Valley would never be the same.

Dr. Bob and I heading into FC.

Stray Dog Dr. Bob Haugh once again crewing for me as I head to Furnace Creek. You can see snow on Telescope Peak in the upper left of the photo.

Step by step, I approach and pass Furnace Creek. Melancholy sweeps over me as I think of how many times I left my footprints in the sand, only to have them disappear in the blowing wind. Will this be the last time the sand shifts across my tracks? Realizing this likelihood, I vow to savor each step. To soak in the energy from the desert I have the privileged and honor to be immersed in again. The wind whispers over my shoulder, then shifts to blow in my face, requiring me to move my buff from my neck to my face, then back again. Drink, step, eat, and breathe; it’s all so simple. Why can’t life be the same?

In 2018 life got much more complicated for fellow Stray Dog Mark Macy (Mace), when he heard the horrible words, “You have early-onset Alzheimer’s.” I know he would have loved to be out here with me. But he’s with me in spirit, a force that keeps me moving on down the road, as my Winter Badwater is a part of Team Macy Endure’s fundraising efforts for the Alzheimer’s Association. I must keep going to honor Mace and all of the people that have already donated as we try to reach our $14,508 goal; one dollar for each foot of Whitney elevation. [You can donate until The Longest Day, June 20, 2021 here: http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace.]

Marshall Ulrich up the hill towards the PW curve

Heading up the hill towards the Stovepipe Wells curve.

Cow Creek to the right, next stop Beatty Junction. A long hill leads up to what I call the Stovepipe Wells curve, where I drop down amongst what looks like the way the old timers used to harvest and stack corn stalks: Devils Corn Field. While many things in the park have names attached to the Devil, Death, or something sinister, I believe the area is misunderstood by those not willing to see the wonders the landscape has to offer. I appreciate the dichotomies: sand and rock, ice and heat, salt pans and great heights, arid conditions and huge floods, canyons and flat desert floor.  I try to be respectful of all that is before me, presented on such a grand scale, there for the taking, only to slip away. Time passes like a blink of an eye, and compresses as I move along. I watch the sun arch across the sky as it has forever. I am only here for a short time, as the landmarks I am so familiar with keep me company.

Marshall Ulrich in the van on Towne Pass

I take a short break in the crew van on Towne Pass, wearing a fleece coat, reflective vest, and lights.

Stovepipe Wells is always a welcome sight, but within minutes of leaving I start the daunting grade up Towne Pass. My early years of Badwater, I used to charge up to the top, but the last decade has left me often trashed, trying to hobble to the top, sometimes missing race cutoffs. In the clear, cool air I keep a steady pace watching as a near-full moon rises, dimming the bright star canopy overhead. I recall races when I would stop in my tracks, lie down on the road, and gaze at the heavens as if to gather strength from the constellations and the gods and goddesses they represent. Sometimes I would run with my headlamp shut off, just to absorb the darkness and tranquility. The breathtaking beauty of the night makes this my favorite part of the course.

Up and over the top, and I start a half-hearted jog down into Panamint Valley. My mind wanders back to 1993 when running without light almost ended my race when I didn’t see a rock in the road. I tripped, fell, and severely sprained my ankle. Lots of ice – thanks to my crew – and an air cast, and somehow I was still able to win. Could that really have been me? These days, I can hardly fathom it. Did I say I’m glad to be vertical? Amen.

Desperate measure to prevent the BW Lean on Crowley.

In addition to (painful!) treatments, we tried desperate measures going up to Father Crowley Visit to stop my Badwater Lean; without success.

Coming onto the Valley floor, I could feel something was not quite right. A couple of miles from Panamint Springs, I saw Heather walking towards me—in tears. I asked her the obvious, “Am I leaning?” She nodded and hugged me. I must have looked bad for Heather to cry, something she never did during an event. My mind wanted to go straight, but it felt like my legs were trying to run in circles. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t straighten up, and the right side of my back was crunched together in a knot. Heather massaged my back, and I hobbled another mile, crashing the point of a trekking pole onto the pavement on my right side, but even the pole seemed to wiggle around, as if it has a mind of its own.  At Panamint, we were able to contact a friend, who advised it was my psoas muscle. Dr. Bob and Heather gallantly tried the (painful!) treatment, numerous times. It would help for a few minutes, but I couldn’t stop doing the Badwater Lean. We kept on, even wrapping my left arm to my waist in a desperate attempt to correct the lean. My body wouldn’t have it, and back to the hunchback position I would go. It took so much effort to try and keep moving! Three miles up Father Crowley pass, at the 3,000-foot sign, Heather spoke the truth. Even if I could continue on at an incredibly slow pace, there was no way I  would be able to wield a 45 pound pack, or an ice ax, on the mountain. We decided to retreat back to Panamint Springs, calling a temporary truce with the desert gods, with the hope of returning.

Next: Part 2 Father Crowley to Lone Pine

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Posted in Badwater Ultramarathon, Expeditions, Excursions & Other Outdoor Explorations, Friends & Family, Nature - value of, Running | 4 Comments

First Ever Winter Badwater

From February 21 through Feb 27, 2021, Marshall Ulrich completed the first ever Winter Badwater! He crossed the desert on foot from the Badwater Basin at 282 feet below see level in Death Valley National Park to the Whitney Portal closure gate above Lone Pine, CA (the typical BW ultramarathon course), then climbed to the 14,508-foot summit of Mount Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route. The lowest to the highest points in the continental US. Here are the Facebook posts related to that crossing. Stay tuned for personal stories by Marshall about his crossing.

As you will read about here, Marshall completed this crossing in honor of his dear friend, and always and forever Stray Dog (WOOF WOOF!), Mark Macy (Mace) who has early on-set Alzheimer’s. Marsh joined Team Macy Endure to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association. THANK YOU to everyone that has donated so far. As of March 4th you have donated more than $10,500, putting us well on our way of reaching our lofty goal of $14,508: one dollar for every foot of elevation of Mount Whitney.

Can we count on you to help reach our goal?

http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace

February 18: The “Plan”

On the morning of Feb 21st I will start the first ever winter crossing from Badwater to the summit of Mount Whitney to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of Mark Macy (Mace). My other goal is, as always, not to establish a speed record, but to show that it can be done. Dr. Bob Haugh and my wife Heather will crew for me across the desert.

You can track my crossing here: https://share.garmin.com/MUlrich

I anticipate the desert crossing will take approximately 48 hours, meaning a completion of that portion the morning of Feb 23rd. This point will be wherever the Portal Road is closed for the winter (the portal gate), which should be at approximately 131 miles, or just below the Whitney Portal trailhead/typical 135-mile benchmark. While the clock will still be ticking, my tracker will be turned off until we start the mountain expedition the morning of Feb 24th. Dr. Bob will join me climbing Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route with a guide from SMI.

We will start our climb at the portal gate, continue to the Whitney Portals, then take the Whitney trail to the North Fork cutoff. The plan is to establish a base camp (BC) at Upper Boy Scout Lake on the 24th and summit sometime on February 25th.

This is a true mountaineering expedition, requiring snowshoes, crampons, ropes, and ice axes. As such, it will take much more time and effort than a summer ascent of Whitney. The image below shows the top of the Mountaineer’s Route up the mountain. This climb should only be completed by experienced and skilled mountaineers. Here’s a summer image of the route.

 

Whitney Mountaineer's Route

The distance from the portal gate to the summit is about 9 miles, so the total distance for the winter crossing will be approximately 140 miles. The summit will be the finish of the attempt/stop the clock on the crossing. If we are successful in our summit, say at 2 PM on the 25th, the total crossing time should be approximately 4 days and 6 hours.

We plan to return to BC the afternoon of the 25th, then hike out to the portal gate the morning of the 26th; of course, these miles/time of the decent are not counted as part of the winter (nor any) crossing.

Please visit my personal fundraising page to help fight Alzheimer’s and, if you can, make a donation in honor of Mace. http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace

February 19: Mark Macy’s Story

On February 21st I will start the first ever winter crossing from Badwater to the summit of Mount Whitney to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of my friend and racing companion – and always and forever Stray Dog – Mark Macy (Mace). My other goal is, as always, not to establish a speed record, but to show that it can be done. Dr. Bob Haugh, also an original and forever Stray Dog, will crew for me, along with my wife Heather, and then he will join me climbing Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route with a guide from SMI. This is a true mountaineering expedition, requiring snowshoes, crampons, ropes, and ice axes. As such, it will take much more time and effort than a summer ascent of Whitney.

In 2018, at the age of 64, Mace was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. The Association is conducting a huge fundraising effort called “The Longest Day.” Please visit my fundraising page and consider donating, as my “Longest Day” will be nothing compared to battle being fought by Mace, his beloved wife Pammy, and his children each and every day. The strength and grace Mace and his family exhibit while dealing with this horrible disease is incredible and inspiring. You can learn more about how Mace is facing this challenge by watching the 10-part series The World’s Toughest Race, Eco-Challenge Fiji on Amazon Prime Video. Mace raced with his son, Travis on Team Endure but us Stray Dogs kept a close eye on him throughout – the photo below shows Travis, Mace, and me.

Travis, Mace, Marsh Eco-Fiji 2019

Sadly, I bet all of you know someone who is struggling with Alzheimer’s. I hope you find it in your heart to help with the cause, even if it’s just a dollar or two. Having your support will make my winter Badwater crossing worth the effort; not just for me, but for Dr. Bob, Heather, Mace and his family, and all of those affected by Alzheimer’s.

http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace

Can I count on you to help by making a donation?

February 20: Preparations

A meeting of the minds!? Dr. Bob Haugh and I getting our tracking devices prepped for the start of the first ever winter crossing from Badwater to the summit of Mount Whitney. The joy of the day was hearing from Mace and Pam, wishing us luck with the crossing and, of course, fundraising for the Alzheimer’s Association. If you haven’t yet, and you’re able, please consider donating in honor of Mace and all of those affected by the disease.  http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace

Again, a HUGE THANKS to all of you that have already donated. Wow! Your generosity is truly appreciated. You’ve been so generous, I’ve raised my goal – AGAIN – to $7,500.

Starting at approximately 8 AM Pacific Time tomorrow 2/21 you can track my crossing here: https://share.garmin.com/MUlrich

And, please check out the story written by the wonderful Jodi Weiss about the crossing and what it means to all of us.

https://tinyurl.com/2srb7pqw

February 21 7:59 AM: The Start at Badwater

Marshall Ulrich started his winter crossing from Badwater to the summit of Mount Whitney! First ever attempt. Thanks to Bob Haugh for being out here to help crew.

Marshall Ulrich at Badwater, start of Winter Crossing

February 21 Midday: Heading Into Furnace Creek

Marshall Ulrich is on his way into Furnace Creek. With temps in the 60s this morning it’s so different than the almost 120 we experienced last summer during his 30/30 crossing. He’s maintaining an almost 4 MPH pace, and so far is feeling great. Of course, there’s almost 115 more miles to go just for the desert portion. Not to mention a winter ascent of Mount Whitney! Dr. Bob and I are crewing. Check it out: snow on Telescope Peak!

Dr. Bob Marsh to FC, Telescope with snow

We are missing our friend Mark Macy but glad to be supporting his fundraising efforts to fight Alzheimer’s. If you haven’t yet, and can, please donate here http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace

February 23: The BW-Lean Requires a 20-Hour Break at
Panamint Springs

First, Marshall Ulrich is ok. I couldn’t get word out earlier, as a lot of Death Valley National Park has no cell or internet service. If you’ve been following Marshall’s winter crossing from BW to the top of Whitney, you saw that he did well yesterday to FC, Stovepipe, and up Townes. Then . . . coming down the pass/into Panamint, he started leaning to the right! We thought it was his back, tried massage, with no luck, but he made it to Panamint. There our friend Cinder Wolff told us it was his psoas muscle (abdomen and groin). We tried treatment, several times – and desperate measures, as shown in the photo below – and he limped in great pain for 3 miles up Father Crowley’s, where I said he couldn’t continue like that.

Marshall BW lean and drastic measures

We went back to Panamint, got a room, and tried additional treatments through the night. The REST was also a good thing!

This morning he started out, very gingerly, at the point where he had stopped. He felt like he was “learning to walk again” – insuring he was straight up! Now he’s moving very well, as shown below. He’s about 23 miles from the finish of the desert portion! Hopefully Dr. Bob Haugh and I will get him there sometime around 12:30 AM/just after midnight.

Marshall normal gait is back, thank God

Thanks to the SMI guide, they will start the mountain later than originally planned, likely on Thurs morning (rather than Weds AM).

Marshall’s struggles out here are nothing compared to those affected by Alzheimer’s. The fundraising was KEY in keeping Marshall motivated to continue. Please donate, in honor of Mark Macy here: http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace

February 24: Desert Portion Benchmark Near Portal Road Closure

Part 1: Done! At appx 12:50 AM FEB 24 Marshall Ulrich finished the desert portion of his attempt to complete the first ever winter crossing from Badwater to the summit of Mount Whitney. The benchmark was just past the winter closure point on the Portal Road at appx 131 miles. More info later but . . .

Marsh Portal Road closure benchmark

He and Dr. Bob Haugh will start climbing Whitney tomorrow morning. Of course, Marsh will start at the same point as the finish early this morning. Thanks to Kurt and Trevor at SMI for their flexibility and support to adjust the start date!

February 25 AM: Start of Winter Ascent of Mount Whitney
and the “Plan”

Marshall Ulrich and Dr. Bob Haugh are heading out for their attempt at a winter ascent of Mount Whitney via the mountaineers route. Marsh will finish walking the Portal Road up to where there’s snow/as far as Trevor from SMI guides can drive. You can track him here: https://share.garmin.com/MUlrich  Then Dr. Bob, Trevor, and Marsh will begin walking on snow shoes, with full packs.

Check out the size of Marshall’s pack, with snow shoes strapped to the outside, as he walks down the hall of the Dow Villa hotel in Lone Pine.

Marsh pack Dow Villa

This is a true mountaineering expedition, requiring snowshoes, crampons, ropes, and ice axes. As such, it will take much more time and effort than a summer ascent of Whitney: at least 3 days, possibly 4. This climb should only be completed by experienced and skilled mountaineers. Both Marshall and Dr. Bob have the experience, skills, and endurance to – hopefully – complete the climb. Dr. Bob has summited Mount Rainer several times, has climbed the Mexican Volcanoes with Marshall, has climbed on Denali (although got “weathered-off” and could not summit), and has done several other climbs in the Sierra’s. Plus, both have technical climbing experience from the Eco-Challenge races. Marsh has climbed the Seven Summits, including Mount Everest, guided on large mountains, climbed Mount Blanc and on several other mountains in the Alps, and has climbed the Mexican and Ecuadorian volcanoes. In addition to their ultrarunning resumes. I think they’re qualified, and know they’re ready to start their attempt at a winter summit of Mount Whitney!

Bob Marsh ready for winter ascent of Whitney

Today they hope to get to Boy Scout Lake, or possibly Upper Boy Scout Lake, at around 12,000 feet. Then make a summit attempt tomorrow 2/26. Those last couple of miles could take 11 hours, or more, round trip! The summit will be the finish of the attempt/stop the clock on the crossing. If Marsh is able to reach the 14,508 foot summit, say at 2 PM on the 26th, the total crossing time should be approximately 5 days and 6 hours.

They plan to return to BC the afternoon of the 26th, then hike out to the portal gate the morning of the 27th; of course, these miles/time of the decent are not counted as part of the winter (nor any single) crossing.

Any challenges Marsh has faced during the desert portion of this crossing (there were a few!), or the physical challenges he and Dr. Bob will face on the mountain are nothing compared to the challenges fellow Stray Dog Mark Macy and his family face every day with Alzheimer’s. If you haven’t already, and you’re able, please make a donation in honor of Mace and for all of those affected by Alzheimer’s. We want to raise $14,508 dollars; one dollar for every foot of elevation of Mount Whitney. Help us meet this lofty goal. http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace

February 25 PM: Change in the Whitney “Plan” –
Four Days, Not Three

I spoke with Marsh from Lower Boy Scout Lake at 10,350 feet along the mountaineer’s route up Mount Whitney. Lead by Trevor from SMI guides, he and Dr. Bob will spend the night there. Here’s how the day went, and plans moving forward.

Marsh started along the Portal Road at 6:31 AM today, Thurs Feb 25th, to walk the appx 3 miles from the portal road closure point where had stopped at 12:50 AM in the wee hours of the morning of Feb 24th (past midnight of the 23rd). He met Trevor and Dr. Bob just below the Whitney Campground/as far as a vehicle could drive at appx 8,374 feet, where they started the mountaineer portion at 7:22 AM. They were able to carry their 40-45 packs (Trevor’s is likely well over 50 pounds, but he won’t say!) on foot until the North Fork cutoff, where they had to put on snow shoes. Marsh said the snow was deep, making for slow going. Still, they covered the 2.5 miles to Lower Boy Scout Lake at 10,350 feet in just over 5 hours, arriving at 12:25 PM. He and Dr. Bob turned their trackers off there, so don’t fret that anything is wrong.

Marsh said “it was hard.” For those of you that know him, that means it must have been *really* difficult!

The photo below shows “the gulley” they came up to get to the Lower lake. It looks steep! You can see Lone Pine out in the distance on the valley floor.

Gulley below Lower Boy Scout Lake

The next two photos show Stray Dogs Marsh and Dr. Bob, and Trevor and Dr. Bob, by the lake, with the summit visible in the background.

Marsh Bob Lower BS Lake

 

Check out the photo of the sunset  from the Lower lake, with the summit of Mount Whitney peeking out just above the trees at the far right.

Lower BS sunset summit

To increase their chances for a successful summit, they’ve decided to take 4 days, rather than just 3 days, for the expedition. So, tomorrow they will travel a couple of miles to a point appx one-mile past upper Boy Scout Lake (which is at 11,300 feet), so maybe to an elevation of 12,000 feet (which is just a guess!), and camp there.

Their summit attempt will now be on Sunday, Feb 27. Since they will be going a shorter distance (appx 1.5 miles), with less elevation gain (*maybe* 2,505 feet), their summit day should take appx 8-9 hours round trip, instead of the well over 11 hours it would have taken from Lower Boy Scout Lake.

The summit is 14,508 feet, so we hope to raise $14,508 in honor of fellow Stray Dog, Mark Macy to help those facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s. Please help us reach this lofty goal by donating here: http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace

February 26 AM: Climbing Above Lower Boy Scout Lake

Marsh, Dr. Bob, and guide Trevor are on the move. I’m guessing they had a nice breakfast and coffee at camp at Lower Boy Scout Lake (SMI provides meals as a part of the guiding package), packed up camp, and set off at 10:12 AM. Their goal today is a mile above Upper Boy Scout Lake, a distance of about 2 miles.  https://share.garmin.com/MUlrich

Climbing Mount Whitney in winter is definitely a different beast than hiking up in the summer. After crossing 135 miles from Badwater to the Portals, Marshall has always continued to the 14,508-foot summit; and covered the 11 mile ascent on the normal route in as little as 7 hours and 20 minutes!!

Wonder why people climb mountains? Maybe for views like this: the sunset and full-moon rise from Lower Boy Scout Lake last night, looking down towards the Owen’s Valley.

Sunset and Moon Rise

When they reach their destination they will, again, turn off their trackers – so don’t be concerned that anything has happened. It’s all a part of the plan to ensure there’s battery power for the summit attempt tomorrow, Saturday, Feb 27th.

More later. For now, thank you for following along and for all of your prayers and words of support and encouragement. Also, huge thanks, again, to all of  you that have donated to help always and forever Stray Dog Mace as Team Macy Endure raises money for the Alzheimer’s Association. If you can, please help us reach our lofty goal of $14,508. http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace

February 26 PM: Change in the “Plan” –
Stopped at Upper Boy Scout Lake

All is well on mountain! Marshall, Dr. Bob, and Trevor left 10,324-foot Lower Boy Scout Lake at 10:12AM today and traveled approximately a mile to Upper Boy Scout Lake at 11,325 feet, arriving at 12:42 PM, where they turned off their trackers.

Here’s a photo taken at the Upper lake, looking back down at the route they ascended today.

After setting up camp Marsh gave me a call at about 2PM with an update. I could hear the wind, which Marsh guessed to be 15-20 MPH. Otherwise weather is sunny and beautiful, as you can see in the photo of Trevor, Dr. Bob, and the tents at Upper Boy Scout Lake, their High Camp.

Here’s a photo of the Pinnacle from the Upper lake.

Pinnacles from Upper BS

While everyone is feeling and doing well, they decided to stop and camp at the Upper lake, rather than continuing to a point a mile above the lake, for a few reasons. It’s a more comfortable camp location, there’s a water supply readily available so they won’t have to melt snow for water, and it saves them from having to carry their heavy packs with tents, etc. that extra mile, which would have taken another couple of hours. Since “yesterday was an ass kicker” according to Marshall, an easier day today with plenty of time to rest and relax is a good choice.

Of course, since they stopped at Upper Boy Scout Lake, instead of hiking on above the lake, it means the summit push tomorrow will be a mile longer up (and down), so they anticipate a 12-hour day tomorrow. You can see the photo showing the route they will start on tomorrow.

Route up from Upper BS Lake

They plan to leave camp at 4 AM, and hope to reach the 14,505-foot summit around noon. The wind is only supposed to be about 10 MPH with a balmy 12 degrees Fahrenheit high at the summit (seriously, those will be ideal conditions!).

To get there, they will have to ascend the 25 to 35 degree mountaineers route couloir/chute in full winter snow conditions. Near the top of the chute, at a notch at 14,100 feet, the angle increases to +40 degrees for the final 400 feet that leads to the summit plateau. They will likely use anchored belayed climbing in at least the last 200 feet of the chute. Then, the 14,505-foot summit is a short walk less than 5 minutes away.

With the help of Trevor from SMI, hopefully the Stray Dogs, Marsh and Dr. Bob, will celebrate a successful and safe summit of Mount Whitney in honor of Mark Macy (Mace). Marshall said several times today, “We’re thinking of him, and sure do miss him.” As Marshall said at Eco-Challenge Fiji/on the World’s Toughest Race series on Amazon Prime Video, their bond is unbreakable.

Then the plan is to retrace their steps back to high camp at the Upper lake, hopefully arriving around 4PM, followed by dinner, and a well-deserved nights rest.

February 27 AM: Start of the Summit Push on Mount Whitney

Marshall and Trevor are on the move, making the summit push! They left 11,325-foot Upper Boy Scout Lake at 5:29AM Pacific time (the tracking site https://us0-share.inreach.garmin.com/MUlrich is set to the Mountain Time zone). At 8:30AM they were at 13,000 feet. If all goes well, hopefully they will reach the summit around noon today.

I’ve been in touch via text with Dr. Bob, who is just fine! He decided to stay back in camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake only because he felt it was the best decision to help ensure Marshall can get to the top, thus (hopefully!) completing the first ever winter crossing from Badwater to the summit of Mount Whiney. This was a very kind and selfless choice for Dr. Bob! But, certainly not surprising knowing the quality of his character. The Stray Dogs always watch out for each other. Thanks Dr. Bob!

Check out the first YouTube video if you’re interest in seeing how Trevor may be setting up a belay to protect himself and Marshall, and the second video to see a running belay for three people. As you will see, nothing is done quickly, but rather deliberately! As with just about anything else, the more people you add to the process, the longer it takes, meaning the ascent takes longer and, of course, you can only move as fast as your slowest climber.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQnsCqsD7X8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuYbAz2X6Dg

To see photos of the route, check out SMI’s web page. You’ll see that they do guide groups up the Mountaineer’s route in winter, but having just two people will allow them to move more efficiently. I’ve grabbed some photos from their site and posted them below to give you an idea of what they’ll be facing today.

SMI up snow

SMI roped on snow looking down

SMI roped on rock and snow

https://www.sierramountaineering.com/sierra-classics/mt-whitney-guide/mt-whitney-mountaineers-route/

Think you might want to try climbing Mount Whitney in the winter? After crossing the appx 131 miles from Badwater first? Check out the SMI blog about training for mountaineering.

https://www.sierramountaineering.com/2021/01/

Do you think Marsh has what it takes? Movement efficiency, strength, and endurance; plus experience. As I mentioned, even though he has climbed the Seven Summits, numerous other mountains in the Alps (including but not limited to Mount Blanc), the Ecuadorian and Mexican Volcanoes, and has even guided groups on several of these mountains – oh, and has summited Whitney 27 times, including twice via the mountaineers route (in summer) – he had the humility and common sense to hire an experienced guide to “stack the cards in his favor” for his winter BW attempt.

Never take a mountain lightly! Especially in the winter.

February 27 11:42 AM: The of Summit of Whitney –
First Ever Winter Badwater

Marshall and Trevor are on the summit of Mount Whitney!!!!!

He did it: the first ever winter crossing from Badwater to the summit of Mount Whitney.

Trevor and Whitney summit hut

We are so grateful to everyone that helped make this happen, especially Dr. Bob and Trevor; the motivation provided by fundraising to fight Alzheimer’s in honor of always and forever Stray Dog Mark Macy; and to all of you for following along, providing words of encouragement,  prayers for safety, and generous donations. THANK YOU!!!!

The tracker showed him at the hut at the summit at 11:42AM.

Tracker at the summit hut

Marsh was able to send a photo from the top and make a phone call. He said, “That was f@#%ing hard!” and reported that, about 500 feet from the top he seriously considered stopping. For Marsh to say both of those things I can assure you that it truly must have been incredibly difficult. He doesn’t exaggerate or embellish, ever.

I did learn that Dr. Bob started out for the summit today, but turned back to camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake after not going very far, as he felt that he would slow them down too much. He is feeling fine though!

More later, but wanted to get this out there now. Thank you again, everybody, for following along.

February 27 PM: Back at High Camp, Upper Boy Scout Lake

Marshall I think I can start to breathe again. Marsh and Trevor are back at the high camp following their successful summit of Mount Whitney. Whew! I was able to speak to Marsh over the phone; he sounded tired, but relieved and grateful to be back down at camp.

I was his second call. His first was to Mark Macy and his wife Pam. That Stray Dogs bond is strong. Marsh thanked Mace for including him on Team Macy Endure to fundraise for the Alzheimer’s Association. He told Mace how much he appreciated and needed the motivation, especially at the notch (see below), and how much he means to him. And, he “started bawling.” Marsh knows that any and all physical challenge he’s faced during this winter Badwater crossing are nothing compared to what Mace and his family, and all of those affected by Alzheimer’s, face each and every day. Thanks, again, to all of you that have already donated; your generosity is appreciated more than we can say. Please, if you’re able, help us reach the lofty goal of raising $14,508 in honor of Mace by making your donation here. http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace

Back to the mountain today: Marsh and Trevor started their summit push (all times taken from his tracker) from 11,325-feet at Upper Boy Scout Lake at 5:29AM today, and reached the 14,508-foot summit at 11:42AM. So, it took them 6 hours and 13 minutes to travel appx 1.5 miles. Oh, and gain 3,183 feet in elevation, at 25 to 35 degrees in the couloir and, above the notch at 14,100 feet, the angle increases to +40 degrees for the final 400 feet to the summit plateau. It was at the notch where Marsh briefly considered turning back. But, a goo and some hydration, and promises to Trevor that he would definitely be able to do the descent, and they moved onward and upward. As an experienced mountaineer, Marsh is very much aware that reaching the summit means your mountain climb is only *half* done or, as they say, “Reaching the summit is optional, returning back down the mountain is mandatory.”

So, Trevor lead, likely using anchored belayed climbing in at least the last 200 feet of the chute and, after reaching the plateau, they made the short walk to the summit cabin and signed in. What a huge relief!

The first ever WINTER crossing from Badwater to the summit of Mount Whitney!!!

Time: 6 days, 3 hours, and 43 minutes.

Here’s a selfie of Marsh and Trevor by the Summit Hut.

Two days longer than “planned” – given the 20 hour break at Panamint to treat the psoas issue, and extending the mountain climb by one day (from 3 to 4 days) – but Marsh is more than happy just getting it done.

A Few Take-A-Ways

First, the motivation of fundraising as a part of Team Macy Endure, in honor of Mace, was critical to keeping Marsh going. While I told him it wouldn’t matter to all of you who have been so generous already, he said, “It matters to me. I couldn’t let Mace down.”

Second, Marsh *STRONGLY* advised that only serious, experienced mountaineers should even consider climbing Whitney via the Mountaineers route in winter. And that you *MUST* have a qualified and experienced guide! Not to mention a physically strong, younger (in his case, since Marsh is 69 years old!) guide.

Third, Marsh said this is one thing he will never do again, like climbing Everest or running across America. I think I actually believe him!

February 28 AM: Why Do a Winter Badwater? Marsh for Mace

As I posted yesterday, when Marsh reached the summit of Whitney, I was his second call. His first was to Mark Macy and his wife Pamela Pence Macy. That Stray Dogs bond is strong. WOOF WOOF! If you’ve watched the 10-part series World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji on Amazon Prime Video, you have an idea what I’m talking about. Dr. Bob Haugh, Marsh, and Mace have a love and respect for each other that is beyond words – at least that I can adequately express.

During that summit call Marsh thanked Mace for including him on Team Macy Endure to fundraise for the Alzheimer’s Association. He told Mace how much he appreciated and needed the motivation, especially at the notch, and how much he means to him. Then he “started bawling” tears of sadness, joy, respect, love, relief, and release.

We all face challenges in our lives. Some are fun, exciting challenges, even if difficult, like Marsh completing the DV 30/30 last August; his 30th crossing of Death Valley 30 years after his first crossing. Or this latest challenge, just 6 months later at the age of 69, to show people that a winter Badwater crossing is possible (although not recommended! See yesterday’s post/take-a-ways). Some challenges are put before us even if we don’t want to face them. Like Marsh losing his wife Jean at just 30 years old to breast cancer, or losing three important men in his life over in two months, just a few months before running across America. We know you all have a story: a story of joyous and heartbreaking challenges throughout your life. Sadly, maybe you have Alzheimer’s. Or maybe you’re a caretaker, or as a family member or friend of someone who has this horrible disease. We have to stand up and fight!

Marsh knows that any and all physical challenges he’s faced during this winter Badwater crossing are nothing compared to what Mace and his family, and all of those affected by Alzheimer’s, face each and every day.

  • Marsh chose this challenge; Mace did not choose to have early-onset Alzheimer’s.
  • Marsh beat up his body, causing the painful, body-bending issue with his psoas muscle; Mace did not choose to start having difficulty getting dressed every day.
  • Marsh decided to walk 131 miles across the desert before climbing Whitney in the winter; Mace did not want to have to stop driving almost two years ago, nor did he want to sell his travel trailer that he and Pam planned to use extensively in his retirement.
  • Marsh made plans to carry a +40 pound pack on snow shoes, and use crampons and an ice axe, to climb the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states; Mace didn’t plan to have an increasingly difficult time remembering words or the names of people he’s only recently met.
  • While it was difficult, Marsh was able to do rope travel up the steep area above the notch; Mace can’t draw an image of a clock, nor tell time on an analog watch.

Marsh is grateful for all that he can still do at 69, and his heart breaks watching what Mace can no longer do. But, his heart swells with love and pride seeing that “Mace is still Mace” – which means Mace is still doing for others. Heck, he donated a kidney to complete stranger! When they’re out on the trails and someone recognizes Mace from the Eco-Challenge series, Mace always asks them how they are doing, what their story is. When Marsh and Mace get to the top of Evergreen Mountain, a place Mace has been thousands of times, they often walk over to “Bob’s Rock” to call Dr. Bob to check in and catch up. Mace faces his disease with humor and grace. When I ask him how he’s doing, he gets that Macy grin and kind of laughs when he says, “Well . . . not too bad for an old guy with Alzheimer’s.” Mace is only 67.

Now Mace is raising money to help *others* dealing with Alzheimer’s. Yes: that *is* Mace! Here’s an image of Mace with his son Travis during Eco-Challenge Fiji in 2019.

Trav Macy Eco Fiji

Please, if you’re able, help us reach our lofty goal of raising $14,505 dollars, one dollar for every foot of Mount Whitney elevation, in honor of Mace! You can make that Macy grin even bigger. http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace

And, again, a HUGE THANKS to all of you that have already donated; your generosity is appreciated more than we can say.

February 28 PM: Marsh, Bob, and Trevor Down Off Whitney

Marsh, Dr. Bob, and guide Trevor Anthes from Sierra Mountaineering International (SMI) are back in Lone this evening, after hiking out from Upper Boy Scout Lake to the Portal road closure location. They look a bit rough-and-tumbled from the effort, but certainly very happy!

Bob Trevor Marsh

 

A joyous end to Marshall’s first ever Winter Badwater crossing! This is just one of the best photos of #TeamStrayDogs beyond friends, Dr. Bob and Marsh, right? After working together for Marsh to complete the first ever BW winter crossing in honor of fellow Stray Dog Mark Macy for the #alzheimersassociation. Love all three of these men more than I can say, and honor their bond and friendship.

We were honored to have Badwater Ben Jones and his beautiful wife Denise at the finish. They have been dear friends and faithful supporters of Marshall – and so many others – since 1991.

More details and stories from the mountain another time. But, for now, please help Team Macy Endure raise money to help *others* dealing with Alzheimer’s, in honor of Mace. We need to reach our lofty goal of raising $14,508 dollars, one dollar for every foot of Mount Whitney elevation. Help us get there! http://act.alz.org/goto/MarshforMace

Thank you!

Stray Dogs. WOOF WOOF!

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Posted in Badwater Ultramarathon, Both Feet on the Ground, Charities & Fundraising, Expeditions, Excursions & Other Outdoor Explorations, Friends & Family, Mountaineering, Nature - value of, Running | Leave a comment

Crows Don’t Collect Shiny Things, Or . . .

Don’t Allow Yourself to Suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder

Many of you may have heard that crows like to collect and hoard shiny things; maybe like some people hoard toilet paper? (Wink wink). While the latter may be true, the former is not. At least in wild crows. Only captive birds – that have a warped sense of who they are – develop an affinity for keys, coins, jewelry, and so on.

I discussed this issue on KCPW’s The Mountain Life with hosts Lynn Ware Peek and Pete Stoughton. With recent “stay at home” or “safer at home” orders due to the coronavirus, I fear many of you may be developing a similar, and enhanced, allure to useless junk. Don’t feel badly about it. Messages that distort our natural instincts bombard us all, over-and-over, day-in and day-out: food packaging, commercials, and social media can all manipulate us into thinking we want things we don’t need. Caw, caw little crow.

Combine those messages with a lack of access to natural places and it can lead to social, psychologic, and physical breakdowns; even aggression. Like animals in outmoded zoo cages, we might even be prone to soiling the nest, which only happens when we’re not in good shape. We get soft, physically, but ridged and tightly focused on our perceived needs, and our fears. But, there is an answer. A simple one:

Get outside as often as you can, and stay out as long as you can!

Using appropriate social distancing and a mask.
if you’re going to be closer than 6 feet to others, of course.
Like our friends Pam and Mark Macy.

And leave your gadgets at home! Do not bring your cell phone, do not wear your Fitbit or GPS watch, and don’t rush home to post your route to Strava. Walk away from the ringing and dinging and pinging, as Richard Louv puts it in The Nature Principle. In his book Louv scientifically validates what I’ve personally experienced: the best antidote for stress, fatigue, feelings of alienation (spiritual disconnection and separation from your surroundings), complacency (both physical and emotional), and plain old boredom is simply getting outdoors. Declaring that “nature is the ultimate antidepressant,” Louv echoes my own sentiments: the more high-tech we become, the more nature we need. He asserts, “… a reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, spirit, and survival.” I couldn’t agree more!

So, shut off the chatter and clatter. Go for a walk with the kids and your dog. Maybe stick your hands in the earth and plant a garden for the first time. It doesn’t matter if it’s vegetables, herbs, or flowers. Go jump in a lake; if it’s warm enough and safe, and you can swim. Hike up a hill or a mountain if you’re lucky enough to live near one. Just get reconnected with nature. It will ground you. And remember:

Don’t collect shiny things!

You can learn more about how to reconnect with nature, and your own natural instincts, in Both Feet on the Ground: Reflections from the Outside, available in all forms on Amazon, your favorite bookstore, or other outlets.

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Posted in Both Feet on the Ground, Friends & Family, Health and Wellness, Nature - value of, Running, Training & Tips | 1 Comment