Friday, June 30, 2006

Friend or foe of the forest?

If you've been following the news you know members of the Rainbow Family are gathering in the forest near Steamboat Springs - and getting cited for doing so.

The group has been meeting once a year for decades, but its decision to meet in the tinder-dry Routt National Forest didn't sit well with forest officials.

The U.S. Forest Service denied the permit for the gathering of up to 20,000 people and, as of today, about 300 people had been ticketed for camping in the woods.

“We’re here for love and peace, and we’re met with resistance from public servants,” 57-year-old Bobcat told the Associated Perss. Forest Service spokeswoman Denise Ottaviano, part of a federal team created in 1998 to deal with the Rainbow Family, said the agency grapples with the loosely-organized group every year. But this year the campers may be putting themselves and law enforcement officers in serious danger, choosing scattered sites seven miles down a narrow, dirt road in a forest ravaged by tree-killing beetles, she said.

“If a fire starts, and it can start quickly, there is really no way to evacuate them,” she said.

Rainbow Family rules bar personal fires, favoring group firepits and cook stations. But many smoke. Campers were warned at a roadside checkpoint that car windows must be up if anyone inside is smoking.

There have been at least three scuffles between young members of the Rainbow Family and law enforcement. Federal officers say they were pelted with rocks and sticks. Campers claim the officers are manhandling campers and using heavy-handed search techniques.

Some 5,000 campers were at the site about 30 miles north of Steamboat Springs today. “Here, people can have love and acceptance,” a camper who called herself Red Woman told the AP. “And when we leave, we leave it better than when we came. We make sure every facility is filled in, every fire pit is doused, every rock is scattered. We sprinkle native grass and flower seeds, and then we come back for months to check, and if it’s not growing we reseed, and reseed and reseed."

Do you it's OK to deny a use permit to the Rainbow Family? Have you been to a gathering? We may head up there this weekend to check things out and share them with readers. Let us know if you have suggestions.

Trekking means foot power

Ian Adamson of Nike PowerBlast gets his blistered feet patched up and ready for the final push to the finish line. (Photo by Dominic Casserly, courtesy of Casserly and Primal Quest.)

Adamson and teammates and rivals GoLite are the only teams that have passed Checkpoint 39, which marks a transition to mountain trekking. After that it's an incredible ropes section and a wild paddle.

His feet look ready for the final paddle. Keep checking here or Primal Quest for updates.

Largest ropes course - ever

That's what they're saying about the PQ-Utah course rigged by Jay Smith. While few details were shared about the course before racers arrived on the scene, Smith did reveal a few factoids:

12 – The average hours Smith worked every day that he spent rigging the course.
16 – The number of professional alpine guides on staff to help Smith staff the ropes.
30 – The number of days it took Smith and his assistant to rig the course.
50,000 – The number of feet of rope Smith’s team will manage during the race.
Read more here.

Mountains don't stop Colorado teams in Primal Quest

The lead teams will finish the 417-mile Primal Quest adventure race today. Team Nike PowerBlast had been neck and neck with Merrell/Wigwam for hundreds of miles, sometimes trailing them by a couple hours, but at about 10 last night, high in the La Sal Mountains, according to GPS data, Merrell got off course, made several wandering backtracks, and lost THREE HOURS looking for the route.

Nike wasted no time, blasting past them. Now they lead Merrell by about five hours.
GoLite is on Nike's trail, making a huge comeback after several strokes of bad luck. (see previous posts about their curse).

Two other Colorado teams, Nike/Beaver Creek and Salomon/Crested Butte are flying through the La Sals in the top 10, but don't expect any upsets, they are over nine hours behind the front.

The last challenge in this race is a wild technical rope section where teams must ascend a sheer face on a butte called Priest and Nuns, then rappel down the far side. The winning team collects $100,000.
That will buy a lot of ibuprofen, which they'll probably need.

You know you wanna be there

Maybe the members of Radioactive Beagles and 24Seven, shown here dropping down a cliff face to the river below, will return to actually enjoy this beautiful land they've been slogging through. Love this photo by Side Light/Corey Rich.

BTW, PQ site shows 17 teams have withdrawn from the race and the leaders are past Checkpoint 36 and are mountain biking the La Sals.

Oooh! Ahhh! Ouch!

Utah is beautiful country, but make no mistake: Primal Quest is a grueling competition. Thanks to the photographers and Primal Quest for use of these photos.

Top left: Team Hombres de Maiz stand on the edge of a remarkable cliff revealing a long drop to a beautiful bottom. Photo by Ken White

Top right: Duncan Coo, Chris Koch and Darin Nevin of Spirit take a rest while climbing the endless switchbacks between Transition areas 7 and 8. Photo by Richard Lambakis

Bottom: Ouch! This race isn't for the squeamish. Photo by Side Light/Tony DiZinno

Expect to see shots from Gazette photographer David Bitton in days to come. He's a desert rat this week, following PQ, but is wrestling a laptop with a mind of its own.

Racing to the finish

(Looking across to the La Sal Mountains from Transition Area 10. Leading teams are in the mountains or headed there today. Photo by Richard Lambakis, courtesy of Lambakis and Primal Quest.)

Good morning! I haven't heard from Dave and David this morning, but checking the Primal Quest Web site, I see Nike PowerBlast and GoLite/Timberland are past Checkpoint 35 and heavy into the mountain trekking portion of the race. They're in gorgeous country, the La Sal Mountains, but I doubt they're noticing.

Merrell/Wigwam is through Checkpoint 34 and SOLE is through Checkpoint 31. SOLE is on the lookout for Supplierpipeline, also through Checkpoint 31.

Continue checking in for updates and visit the PQ site for great photos, video and an interactive map.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Upping the punishment

(Jim Doucette of TnT Canada stops to give some much needed attention to his feet in this photo by Daniel Cassettari, courtesy of Cassettari and Primal Quest. According to PQ news, he'll need them for additional work in the next 24 hours.)

Primal Quest just got harder, according to the web site.

Not satisfied with the degree of punishment already inflicted, Don “Sweet Satan” Mann added a twist to the PQ course Thursday: a challenging orienteering course that the lead teams will have to navigate at night.

The race leaders will soon learn that 417 miles won’t be enough to finish PQ. In addition, they’ll have to find five orienteering marks, requiring about eight miles of hard navigation.

This addition to the race occurs at elevations above 10,000 feet, which should give Rocky Mountain teams an advantage.

The late-breaking addition will not come as a complete surprise to racers who read their official course books thoroughly, and interpreted the clues liberally, organizers said.

Primal Quest crew say it's likely racers won't be thrilled with the prospect of carrying a few extra hours worth of food up a 4,000 foot climb.

Good news, depending on your perspective

Environmental notes from the wire
Conservation group wins
An energy company is giving a conservation group petroleum leases on nearly 1,700 acres of federal land on the Rocky Mountain Front, where the mountains meet the plains south of Glacier National Park. The donation from Questar E&P to Trout Unlimited was announced Wednesday, one day after Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., moved to permanently prohibit new federal oil and gas leasing on the Front. The company gave Trout Unlimited all of its Front leases, said Chris Wood, vice president of conservation for the nonprofit fisheries organization. They are within the Lewis and Clark National Forest. New oil and gas leasing on the Front ended with a Forest Service order in the late 1990s, but petroleum development using older leases remained possible. Last summer, the Interior Department suspended development of existing leases.

Loggers win, too
In Grants Pass, Ore., a timber sale in a national forest roadless area has been awarded to a logging contractor, despite efforts by conservation groups and the governor to stop it. The Mike’s Gulch timber sale was awarded Tuesday to Silver Creek Logging Co. of Merlin, Ore., after a federal judge in Medford decided it could go forward while he hears a lawsuit arguing the U.S. Forest Service should consider new scientific information, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest spokeswoman Patty Burel said. Meanwhile, a federal judge in San Francisco has yet to rule on a motion from Gov. Ted Kulongoski and conservation groups to stop logging in Mike’s Gulch until two other lawsuits challenging the Bush administration’s new roadless rule can be heard. The Bush administration has maintained that Mike’s Gulch is part of the salvage and restoration effort following the 2002 Biscuit fire, and that because the logs will be flown out by helicopter, no new roads will have to be built. The sale is the first in a roadless area since the Clinton administration generated rules in 2001 putting 58.5 million acres of roadless areas around the country off-limits to most logging.

Whales winning
The number of gray whales born along the Pacific Coast has rebounded from record low levels, suggesting that pregnant females are thriving despite a warming Arctic feeding environment, biologists said. The number of calves that passed Point Piedras Blancas near San Luis Obispo jumped from 945 last year to 1,018 calves in 2006, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers said. Fewer than 300 of the 3-month-olds were spotted in 2000 and 2001. The whales appear to have taken advantage of melted polar sea ice, discovering new routes to food farther north near Barrow, Alaska, and finding enough crustaceans in the mud to nourish pregnant females, scientists said.

Geyser fans winning
In Mammoth Lakes, Calif., a popular section of a warm-water creek that bubbles with hot springs was closed to bathers after geysers began spouting from the riverbed. A 200-yard area around the Hot Creek Geologic Site was fenced off June 6 after Inyo National Forest rangers noticed geysers and steam. Geologists said the eruptions were probably due to heavy runoff from snow colliding with heat rising from magma miles below the valley floor. There were no signs of increased seismic activity in the region, which lies within the crater of a long-dormant volcano, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report released Tuesday.

Stop and see the wildlife

(A bear appears to begin making a quick about-face as a car approaches in this photo by Chuck Bartlebaugh, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Transportation.)

National Park visitors are killing the wildlife they've come sometimes thousands of miles to see.

“I call this the kill zone,” Moose Mutlow, a contractor with the Yosemite Institute, said of a sunlight-dappled stretch of road in Yosemite. “Animals crossing here just don’t stand a chance."

Tourists gawking at towering granite faces or roaring waterfalls often speed eagerly from one sight to the next, giving wildlife little chance to scurry out of the way, The Associated Press reports.

Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation’s most popular, with more than 9 million visitors annually. It harbors turkeys, possums, groundhogs and bears in its half-million acres of mountainous forest. The park records about two traffic-related bear deaths a year, spokeswoman Nancy Gray said. “Speed is a factor,” Gray said. “A lot of time people are trying to get somewhere a lot faster than they should, and they’re in wildlife habitat.”

Mutlow spent 290 days surveying 30 miles of Yosemite highway twice daily. He found 250 animals, including squirrels, possums, skunks, coyotes, deer and bear, classifying them according to his “Appearance Index Matrix” — a subjective scale that ranges from “victim appears to be sleeping in a poorly chosen location” to “victim resembles badly molded pancake,” and “victim disassembled and spread liberally around area.”

In the grassy wetlands south of Montana’s Glacier National Park, so many western painted turtles are run over that observers might wonder if drivers take them for speed bumps. With up to 500 cars an hour traveling at 70 mph or more, it’s easy to see why many don’t make it, said Kathleen Griffin, a University of Montana researcher.

Over three years, Griffin counted 1,040 dead turtles along four miles of U.S. 93.

Standing aside the roadway, Mutlow shakes his head as another driver speeds over Ribbon Creek. “Drive a little slower,” he said. “It’ll add five minutes to your trip, but hey, you’re here to relax.”

Learning the ropes

Here's a peek at one of those critical points along the course - a rappel that required Primal Quest crew to lower the teams' mountain bikes down the cliff.

See posting below (from Wednesday) to read what happens when a bike gets snagged in the ropes hundreds of feet off the canyon floor. Oops.

At this point (the rappel) racers had already ridden two legs on the bikes - but they still had two to go. As Gazette reporter Dave Philipps notes, one of the last legs of PQ Utah is a ride that could set up a tire-to-tire finish. Watch for it early Friday - or, who knows, late tonight.

(Primal Quest crew lowers a mountain bike at Gemini Bridges. Photo by Adventure Art/Chris Halper, courtesy of Adventure Art, Halper and Primal Quest.)

Nothing seems to keep GoLite down

In Primal Quest, the 417-mile adventure race going on right now around Moab, Utah, the top teams have entered the last section of the race in the La Sal Mountains. Nike, the favorites, are in the lead. Merrell/Wigwam is on their heels, but the real story is GoLite. They are in third place after two fiascos that were no fault of theirs (see post below.)

Now the teams have a long, high-altitude trek that will give Colorado teams like Nike, Spyder and Solomon/Crested Butte an advantage. They finish with a fast, downhill mountain bike to a CRAZY rope traverse between two buttes.

The top teams are close enough that this could be an amazing finish. Look for it in the next 24 hours, maybe much less!

To see progress, visit the Primal Quest site.

Who's hanging in and who's out?

A quick check of the Primal Quest race site shows 6 teams have pulled out of the competition. Another 11 teams are Unranked. The leading teams have remained about the same.

Check the site for more news and tidbits from the route - like a racer using her undies to filter the silt from river water which was then purified for drinking. I think you can file that under "You know you're hardcore when..."

Another racer got a surprise visit from his wife and kids at a desert checkpoint. The kids probably boosted everyone's spirits.

(Halti members hang by a rope in this photo by Adventure Art/Chris Halper, courtesy of Adventure Art, Halper and Primal Quest.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A snag on the ropes pulls one team back in Primal Quest

Some teams have all the luck, and some have none.

Team GoLite, a very good team that was expected to place in the top 10 of the 417-mile Primal Quest adventure race, started out the race with a sick horse. By the first checkpoint, it was reportedly bleeding out the nostrils, and vets on the course made them wait for an hour for the horse to rest before they pressed on. At the next checkpoint, a vet stopped them again. Before long they were several hours behind the leaders, but struggled to catch up.

By this morning, they were in 5th place (after dropping in the horse section to about 60th), and looking easily strong enough to take 4th place.

This morning started with a mountain biking section that led to a rappel at a natural rock span called Gemini Bridges. At the bridges, they slid down the ropes, while race staff lowered their bikes down on a 600-foot-long zip-line.

First Merrell came through early in the morning, dropped down the arch, and watched their bikes zoom down the pulley system. Nike Powerblast came through an hour later, followed shortly by SOLE and a VERY gaunt and tired team Spyder (they collapsed in the shade just after the rappel).

Then GoLite pulled up and rappelled down, but as their bikes were coming down the zip-line, one got its wheel snagged in the rope and the whole system stopped. The bikes hung motionless 400-feet above the canyon floor.

The rope team started jiggling the lines, then pulling on them madly. Meanwhile, the team waited helplessly while the leaders surged ahead. Finally, something gave. The snagged wheel flew off and crashed 400 feet down where the tube exploded with a tremendous BANG!

“I heard the tire, but how’s the wheel” the main rope worker radioed down to his assistants below. “It’s f*&@ed,” came the reply.

And the bike was still stuck in the ropes. It took another half hour to get it down. It’s an hour GoLite my not be able to make up. No word from race HQ on how they’ll make up for this goof that clearly wasn’t the team’s fault.

The rest of the pack is off on a classic mountain bike tour of Moab: Gold Bar Trail, Poison Spider Mesa, into the town of Moab, and up Pritchett Canyon. By nightfall they could be in the mercifully cool arms of the La Sal Mountains, and only a day away from the finish.

Agony and ecstasy

I've been having trouble posting photos, but managed to throw a few on here.

If you haven't checked out Primal Quest's Web site, the photos alone are worth the stop. They capture the drama of this grueling race - and the humor in which many racers face the extreme conditions. Just a sampling: (other photo credits to come, when I find them again.)

Racers wrestle gripping rapids while cruising on boogie boards by Side Light/John Nantes

Bully for Boo

(photo from
Never, ever underestimate the power of a grizzly bear that likes his freedom. Check out this AP story from British Columbia:

A freedom-loving grizzly bear named Boo smashed a heavy steel door and barreled through two electric fences to escape a second time from a resort near the south-central British Columbia town of Golden. Boo was recaptured Friday, two weeks after breaking out of an artificial den at the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, but escaped from tighter confinement within a day, resort spokesman Michael Dalzell said Tuesday.

“It’s unbelievable,” Dalzell said. “We thought there was no way, it was absolutely impossible, but he found a way. It was basically like breaking out of Fort Knox.”

He said the bear bashed a nearly 400-pound steel door off its four bolts, destroyed an electrical box while tearing through two electric fences and scrambled over a 12-foot fence anchored with 2 feet of steel below ground.

“I think he just kept charging it (the door) and charging it until it broke off its bolts,” Dalzell said. “Everything was completely trashed. We are dealing with a pretty smart and determined bear.”

The search team that caught Boo on Friday went back to work Sunday morning but saw no sign of the grizzly after logging more than 50 hours in a helicopter. Resort staff had planned to neuter Boo, but he got away first. Once he’s located, authorities will decide whether to try to recapture him again, Dalzell said.

“Right now we are in the process of looking for him . . . we are not out to try to trap or tranquilize him,” he said. “We are looking at all options. Obviously, we need to just really look at our program and figure this one out."

The bear has lived inside a 22-acre enclosure since his mother was illegally shot by a hunter in 2002. It’s unclear if he could fend for himself and, being used to humans, would likely be a problem in the wild, experts said. Boo is now in a “lose-lose situation,” said Tracey Henderson of the Grizzly Bear Alliance in Canmore, Alberta. “The poor guy has now tasted freedom and he is going to be more motivated to keep getting out,” she said. “There is a side of me that’s saying, ‘Way to go Boo,’ but there is another side of me that’s really worried about this bear being in the wild near humans.”

Boo’s first escape was blamed on hormones, June being the prime mating season for grizzlies, but Henderson said the second escape might indicate the bear no longer would tolerate confinement. “It’s just a sad situation,” she said. “He is clearly a bear that wants to be free, yet we’ve created a situation where it’s not really safe for him to be free."

Watch for the newest ADT hikers

Robin Grapa, a 26-year-old survivor of bone marrow disease, and her mother, Patty Laatsch, are on the trail - the American Discovery Trail. The mother and daughter are backpacking across the country on the ADT to raise awareness and money for bone marrow disease research. They started their hike Feb. 4 in Delaware, and should be in the area this week.

The ADT takes hikers from Cripple Creek to Woodland Park, Green Mountain Falls, Colorado Springs, and on to Denver, Crested Butte and Grand Junction. If you want to help the hikers with food, water or a place to stay overnight, contact Jennifer Krammes at 1-800-747-2820 or . Check out their journal

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Smile for the cameras

Team Merrell/Wigwam arrived first out of a 100-degree canyon hike today, just over halfway through the 400-mile Primal Quest adventure race near Moab, Utah. At the top of the hike lay a 400-foot free rappel into the depths of Hell Roaring Canyon.

Californian Robyn Benincasa and New Zealander Ian Edmond were the first to drop over the edge. "Holy S@#%! These guys aren't messing around," Benincasa said as she backed down over the lip.

A few minutes of air later, she was on the ground.

The team's two other members, New Zealanders Jeff Mitchell and Neil Jones, followed so nonchalantly that Jones was literally yawning when he stepped over the precipice.
He and his mate stood there at the edge just long enough to thank the rope riggers for their help.

"Shall we drop into space Mr. Jones" Mitchell asked. "Why not?" Jones replied.

As they slid down the ropes five video cameras panned after them, including a nimble boom that could peer out over the cliff.

Adventure racing's premier events are planned months in advance to be friendly to TV, and gratuitous rappels like the one into Hell Roaring Canyon are added because, hey, that's good TV. The racers could have scrambled into the canyon a half mile farther down, but that's not really much fun to watch.

Much of the silly stuff the race directors dream up because it will look cool on TV, in the end, matters little to the race. The horse riding, the river crossings, the rappels don't usually add or take away much time for teams. It's the boring stuff (50 miles of walking) that weeds out the weak and punishes even the strong. This isn't to say these sections aren't important. They are. Good TV means lots of attention. Lots of attention means big money prizes. The top team gets $100,000.

People are naturally competitive and adventure racing can, and for the most part does, thrive with little attention outside of a small group of racers, but competition is also never hurt by a little exposure and a lot of money. So a little rappeling makes for a much better race.

Merrell had an hour lead over team Nike/Powerblast at the ropes, teams SOLE and GoLite were a half-hour behind Nike.

They now go down another canyon in the dark to the kayaks where they left their gear. Sometime Wednesday they'll bike into Moab (briefly) before pushing on to the mountains.

Exhaustion taxing Primal Quest teams

What a difference a day makes.

Yesterday, we saw four teams come running neck and neck into a checkpoint at a rappel deep in the Utah desert: Merrell/Wigwam, Nike Powerblast, Spyder and SOLE.
Today, after a 20-mile canyoneering hike and a 45-mile overnight kayak, the group had disintegrated. Some pushed on with no sleep. Some had tried to sleep but been plagued by bugs. Others had enjoyed a solid 2-hour nap.

The next checkpoint was in Mineral Bottom, a flat area at the bottom of a 600-foot-deep canyon carved by the Green River. Here the teams pulled their boats ashore and transitioned to a 30-mile canyoneering section with a long rappel in the middle.
It was 96 degrees at Mineral Bottom, so the trek through the canyons could floor some teams.

Merrell arrived at a checkpoint first with no other teams in sight. They looked strong and coherent enough to crack a few jokes. When the race directors asked them to drag the boats up onto the beach, then all the way up to a small dirt parking lot, a woman said, “What, do you want us to drag them all the way to Phoenix?”

Within a few minutes, they had filled up their water bottles and left.

Then came Spyder, 29 minutes later. But with none of Merrell’s gusto. Danelle Ballengee, the team’s only female racer, was limping badly due to blisters and was exhausted almost beyond being coherent. The team had tried to pull over and sleep during the night on the river, but had wasted an hour swatting mosquitoes instead of resting. Ballengee could not go on. After an excruciating half-hour in the medical tent getting her blisters drained and taped, she and her team crawled under a nearby bush for a two-hour nap.

Team Sole arrived while Ballengee was still in the med tent, smiling as usual. None of them was limping. The team’s female racer, Karen Lundgren, didn’t have so much as a blister on her pink toenailed toes, and was so chipper that when a teammate asked her to rinse out his socks, she jogged down to the river instead of walking. Pretty incredible 200 miles into the race.

Just as Sole was leaving, at 12:12, Nike Powerblast arrived, looking tired but calm, and with no major injuries. They had enjoyed over 2 hours of sleep before getting in their kayaks. The team is known for not wasting time in transition zones, and as expected, efficiently filled up water bottles, packed food, taped a few minor blisters, and left.

The race lead will now change often as teams stop to sleep at different times.
“Some teams push more in certain sections and some teams sleep more and save up for a leg ahead. They all have their own plan,” said Robyn Benincasa, Merrell’s captain. “That’s the nature of the beast. You just have to hope you have the better plan, that’s how you win.”

Fence them in

(Photo pf Pacific walrus at Cape Peirce, courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

In a strange solution to a strange problem, federal wildlife biologists have built a 250-foot-long fence to stop walruses from plummeting off cliffs to their death on a Bristol Bay Beach in Alaska. About 30 bulls took the fatal plunge last year at Cape Peirce on Alaska's southwest coast, where thousands of the massive creatures gather to rest between meals.

According to the AP: If too many squeeze onto Maggy Beach, a quarter-mile-long strip of dark-brown sand, dozens may traipse up a chute and onto a grassy plateau. When it’s time to feed, the animals seem to beeline for the water, which leads them across the plateau and over a cliff that’s up to 150 feet above shore. Sand dunes used to block the chute. But over time, the3,000-pound walruses wore away the dunes, with help from the wind, and made their way up the chute.

Last week the biologists planted a $2,500, 3-foot-tall, wooden-slatted fence across the chute, biologist Rob MacDonald said. But it won’t be the barricade. It should work like a snow fence, creating sand dunes that pile up to16 feet high. That should keep the walruses from straying up to the plateau.

More than 12,000 walrus gathered at Cape Peirce annually in the1980s, said federal wildlife biologist Joel Garlich-Miller, making it the largest concentration of Pacific walruses in North America at the time. But the visiting herds dropped sharply for several years, with sometimes only dozens of animals showing up, he said.

Biologists aren’t worried the deaths will make a significant dent in the walrus population. The last estimate, in 1990, was 200,000, and a new count is under way.

With three days of PQ left, sleep is the ultimate strategy

(A racer lounges in the shade, one of few breaks each member gets in a day. Photo by Daniel Cassettari, courtesy of Cassettari and Primal Quest.)

There is no yellow jersey for the lead team to wear in Primal Quest. That's because in this 417-mile race across the Utah desert that combines everything from mountain biking to swimming, the team at the front isn't necessarily the team in the lead.

Confused? Let me explain.

The race is expected to take about five days. Teams can stop to eat and sleep where ever and whenever they want. Most top teams sleep two to three hours out of every 24, either in 15-minute catnaps, or two-hour swaths. Where you decide to sleep alters the standings.

For example, on the online, real-time gps map that tracks the teams ( team Spyder and Team Merrill are way ahead of team Nike. But they walked all night to reach their kayaks and begin a 45-mile long paddle. Nike stopped at about midnight for a few hours of sleep. Now they're playing catch-up. But the exhausted teams in the lead will eventually have to stop too. It's like pulling into the pit in car racing. You know everyone will have to do it, so you try to do it when it will give you the biggest advantage.

Surprisingly, no lead team has stopped during the heat of the day yet, even with the lack of shade and near 100-degree heat, but from now on, the whole pack will be leapfrogging one another as the drive to stop and rest becomes stronger and stronger.

In the end, it's the most disciplined teams that will prevail. It's things like the condition of a racer's feet, not how fast he can run, that will decide who can keep going.

Well, OK, that's a little naive. At this level, the top teams are all disiplined AND fast. So the competition is world-class. Racers like Nike's Mike Kloser are so good I'm starting to think they're cyborgs -- Stepford adventure racers, all smiles and good sportsmanship with unstopping legs and an unquenchable hunger for pudding cups.

Our photographer ran with them for a few hundred meters yesterday afternoon (trying to catch the race to the rope rappels) and was barely able to keep up, even though they had been going for over 100 miles.

They're expected to finish sometime Thursday after a long trekking section in the La Sal Mountains.

Monday, June 26, 2006

At sunset, top teams finishing canyoneering section of Primal Quest

(A compass hangs at the ready for a racer's consultation along the route. Photo by Side Light/John Nantes, courtesy of Side Light, Nantes and Primal Quest.)

Two teams have now dropped out of Primal Quest due to injuries and exhaustion. Two more have lost team members to exhaustion but decided to press on unranked. The heat was up over 95 degrees today. Racers have now been going for about 38 hours.

None of this shows in the leading teams. After starting out with a whitewater swim this morning and switching to a long kayak down the Green River, they started a trek through the desert at about 2 this afternoon -- the hottest part of the day.
After almost three hours of cross country rambling, they jogged to a point where they had to rappel 330 feet down a sheer cliff to a canyon below.

The top five racing teams arrived at the rappel station at almost the same time. As they waited in line to get onto the ropes they seemed very calm, relaxed, even energetic. Most of the top racers have been doing big events like this one for years and know each other, so when they get together it's a reunion of old friends. Even though they had just clocked more hiking miles than most people will in a year, they spent their time at the station chatting just as friends would who run into each other at the store.

How's your wife? Did she get that job? Did you hear about so-and-so getting together with what's-his-name? Hey, nice bit of navigation back there, by the way, would you like some cookies?

There was no hint they were about to drop off a 30-foot cliff, then walk through the night, and in a few days, maybe reach down and scrape up the last shreds of their will to push past the person next to them and snag the $100,000 first prize that is the biggest in adventure racing. No hint at all.

Talk about an adventure

(Paula Waite, Tom Giese, Brad Brozek and Ivy McIver assemble their bikes for the first mountain biking leg that will take them through 65 miles of diverse terrain. Photo by Chuck Clark and courtesy of Clark and Primal Quest. Thanks guys!)

I haven't heard from The Gazette's Dave Philipps and David Bitton since about noon. They were headed into the heat of the Utah desert to catch up with the teams leading Primal Quest.

Keep checking back for news. For more details than we can share, head to Primal Quest's sweet web site. Photos are posted from pre-race, the amazing horse and rider start, desert trekking and the initial moments of the first mountain bike leg. The site also has details of the teams, the challenges they'll face in each leg, and a map where you can track the teams through GPS.

As of checkpoint 15 (6 p.m. Colorado time), team Spyder was still in the lead, followed by Merrell/Wigwam, Nike PowerBlast, GoLite/Timberland and Nike Beaver Creek. Looks like those teams were transitioning from canyoneering to ropes following the whitewater swim and paddling. Power up!

The not-so-peaceful forest

My college classmates who were studying to be forest rangers and wildland conservationists did so to get away from urban life. But it seems urban life is tracking them down.

Attacks, threats and other altercations involving Forest Service workers reached an all-time high last year, according to government documents obtained by a public employees advocacy group. We're talking everything from verbally abusive campers to someone pointing a gun at Mr. Ranger.

The agency tally shows 477 such reports in 2005, compared with 88 logged a year earlier. The total in 2003 was 104; in 1995, it was 34.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request and provided them to The Associated Press.

The environmental advocacy group said the government’s methods for collecting the data have not changed over the years. It said some of the blame for the growing violence in the woods is due to greater access to remote lands and waterways by motorized equipment. There's definitely debate over that.

"Most of the assaults in 2004 were as a result of encounters with drunks, drug
users or deranged environmental protesters," said Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who oversees the Forest Service.

To learn more about the report, visit the PEER Web site.

Ringtail? Check

If you spend any time in the outdoors, you probably keep a list, at least in your head - a list of wild animals you've encountered. My family's unofficial list starts off with mule deer and elk, and continues on with dozens of birds and animals we've spotted, watched or photographed through the years. (Among our favorites: a badger and an ermine, at two separate locations.)

Now we can add the elusive ringtail to that list (or at least my daughter can). She's a tour guide at Cave of the Winds, where ringtails, nocturnal members of the raccoon family, have been known to hang out. She spotted one of these little lemur-like animals in the sinkholes next to the gift shop. Cave of the Winds long-timers say the ringtails, easy to recognize because of their very long ringed tails, are great cavers.

In Primal Quest, the first team drops out

The 89 teams competing in the 417-mile Primal Quest adventure race near Moab, Utah, are now strung out over more than 70 miles of open desert and canyons. The first dozen teams are flying down the Green River in hot pursuit of one another, but others are just chugging along.

Sunday evening, the first team dropped out. Ironically, it was team Utah. No home field advantage, apparently. It wasn't the blistering 100-degree heat and no shade that stopped them, it was just plain blisters.

More teams are expected to drop out soon. I talked to course director Don Mann today. He said the canyoneering section after the kayak will "eat a lot of teams." He expects several to drop out afterward.

(In this photo by Jason Perreira, courtesy of Primal Quest and Perreira, a sock molds to the foot of Team Radioactive Beagle's Tom Sullivan. And that was Day One!)

After 100 miles, Primal Quest race begins again

(Frida Rosenberg of Team Halti holds on strong to her swim board. Photo by Side Light/Dan Campbell, courtesy of Side Light, Dan Campbell and Primal Quest. Thanks for the visuals.)

Mike Kloser, captain of Team Nike, said it best when he stumbled out of an eight-mile river swim at 8 a.m.

“The race starts all over today,” he said as he got ready for a 35-mile kayak.
He meant that his team’s 1-hour lead on the closest competitors had been erased by a “dark zone” – a checkpoint on the course where racers have to stop until first light. In this case, it was a whitewater “swim” on the Green River. The racers use super-sized kickboards to keep them afloat, so they’re not really swimming, but it’s dicey enough that you don’t want to do it in the dark.

Nike got to the dark zone at about midnight and unrolled their sleeping bags. During the night, 14 other teams caught up to them, and they all started neck and neck again. It probably only helped the other teams temporarily.

The first swimmers onto the beach were from Team Nike, followed quickly by a half-dozen other teams.

One strength of seasoned racers is efficiency in the transition zones. Nike had to get out, change clothes, put their swimming gear in the right pile to be taken down to a distant drop zone, get out paddling gear for the kayak, fill their food bags for the next several hours, and take care of any bumps and bruises - and not let their exhaustion make them dawdle. This all took about 20 minutes. No distractions.
Nike, Spyder (made up of racers from Boulder, Summit County and Australia) and Merril/Wigwam (made up mostly of New Zealanders) all paddled out at the same time. Nike had lost its advantage.

The teams are headed into a VERY remote area of the desert where they’ll do a mix of kayaking through Labyrinth Canyon on the Green River, and get out to run a course through some gnarly slot canyons.

We’re going to try to get in there to keep tabs on the racers. No promises though.
In the meantime, you can learn more about the teams and track their progress with a real time GPS map at

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Primal Quest: Nike is through Green River

Photographer Dave Bitton and I just stopped to fill up the tank at the Shady Acres Gas and Groceries here in Green River, Utah, and noticed four very nice mountain bikes sitting outside. We went in and found team Nike sitting around eating hot dogs and fruit pies.

They seemed tired, but alert. No one else is even close to this Colorado team. They were heading up the road seven miles to get some sleep. They'll pretty much get a whole night's rest, which will give them a huge advantage over other teams still pedaling. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Cool Whip dreams

The teams have now been racing for almost 11 hours. To see the leaders in real time, visit

Each team carries a GPS transceiver that lets a live online map know where they are. This is one of the only easy ways to play spectator for this sporting event. The trail is just too remote to get a good look otherwise.

This afternoon in 95-degree heat, we spent hours reaching a checkpoint where the teams said goodbye to their horses after 23 miles, and started hiking through a long, open valley that, no joke, had not so much as a twig of shade. You learn a lot by going to the checkpoints, like that the Golite team was given a sick horse that has put the favored runners more than an hour behind the lead, or that the Salomon/Crested Butte Team's horse (Peewee) was slow until they realized "tapping it in the behind with a stick" could get it up to jogging speed.

At the 23-mile mark, reached at about noon today, all the teams still looked human. We'll go out tonight and see if the heat of the afternoon has drained away some of their humanity.

To give you an idea of what they're in for, one of the first things I noticed when showing up for PQ was a huge poster by the medical office explaining the findings of a study the lead physician had done the year before on "hallucinations in adventure race athletes."

The findings: 83 percent reported experiencing full-on hallucinations during the race. Most often they happened at night, brought on by sleep deprivation, and most often they included animals (40 percent) ghosts, wizards, friends and family, and, of course, food (10 percent).

The somewhat typical, if wired, sightings were "a short, fat German lady spinning a pizza" and "enormous tubs of Cool Whip hanging from trees."

It's ironic that the sport takes racers to such remote places at such weird hours that they are generally the only spectators there (even the made-for-TV helicopter crew cherry-picks shots in the best light). And yet even though they are the only ones to see it, often they aren't really seeing it - they're seeing Cool Whip.

In a cloud of dust and horse flesh, the race starts

At 6:31 this morning Primal Quest started as 94 horses and almost 400 racers gathered at the head of a small sage brush valley flanked by rocky, juniper-studded hills.

For live, real-time coverage, visit

As the sun peeked over the crest of the hill and spilled out on the golden grass, a cowboy who had been resting his rifle on his hip raised his gun into the air and fired at the sky. The four-member teams surged forward, three on foot and one riding on the team horse. A plume of fine dust shot up from the clatter of hooves and sneakers and caught the light, making a glowing, golden cloak that wrapped horses and racers and turned them into fleet silhouettes. It was a moment made for television. A helicopter with TV cameras swept over the herd and the dust.

But it wasn’t quite the "Hidalgo" moment the race directors probably wanted. Few of the racers have much horse experience. They were mostly being led by a halter rope by a jogging racer ahead of them. The effect looked less like a Wild West roundup and more like Joseph and Mary trying to hurry into Bethlehem before the inn closed.

There were a few rodeo moments though, intended or not. At least three riders were thrown. The horses took off, galloping across the sage with team backpacks flapping on the saddle (and often flying off into the bushes). A few race-hired wranglers rounded up the animals and brought them back, but many of the racers spent several minutes looking for tossed-off packs.

The rest of the herd shot across the flats at a quick walk and poured into a narrow slot at the end of the valley, where the sage tumbled into a steep, rocky canyon.
They have to lead the horse for about the length of a marathon. Then they have to do the same distance without the horse. Then the bike.

There is a mandatory “dark out” at the whitewater swimming section on the Green. If teams get there after 6 p.m., they can’t swim the river until it gets light the next morning, so several top teams are going to try to slip in under the wire. It will be close.

(In the photo - by Denise Watkins, courtesy of Primal Quest - Vanessa Lawrenson of team IrishAR Inov-8 shows her steed who's boss.)

What a course! It's a greatest hits of Canyon Country.

A few hours before racers started the 450-mile Primal Quest at 6:30 a.m. the directors gave each team four maps showing the course. We got a peek at the course a few hours before the racers got to see it.
Man, it is cool.

It starts in the San Rafael Swell over 100 miles northwest of Moab with a 23-mile horse ride, then goes into a 23-mile “trekking section” – this can mean running or hiking. We’ll see what teams decide to do. From there it goes to a 60+ mile bike ride to a whitewater swim, to a long kayak down the Green River, to a long rappel over a cliff, to a wander through a narrow slot canyon.

It eventually ends up touring some of the best single track mountain bike trails around Moab and finally takes a few jaunts over the highest peaks in the La Sal Mountains east of town.

I’ve done most of the sections of the route at one time or another, but at a very different pace. The kayak they’ll do in a few hours, I took days to do. The tour of classic mountain bike trails took me years to check off. This is basically a Canyon Country greatest hits lineup – all the famous stuff in one big push. Very intense.

When it runs on TV this fall, it will look stellar. A fabulous backdrop at every turn. And when you see the list you can’t help but wish you were going along on this long expedition. Then you realize for much of it, the athletes will be too zoned out to really appreciate, or at least really enjoy, where they are. They’ll just have to come back and enjoy it later with a little more leisure.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

It's heating up at Primal Quest

Here at Primal Quest in Moab, I just saw team Spyder from Boulder packing their bikes up in hard plastic cases to be transported who knows where. When they get to a biking section of the 450-mile race, they'll have to find their cases among 95 different teams', then put their bikes together. Doesn't sound too hard, but when you've only slept two hours a night for three nights, choosing the right allen wrench to tighten the handlebars is a little trickier.

The big news, since no one has any other specifics to talk about until they tell us the course at 4 p.m, is the heat.

I talked to one of the EMTs who will be on the trail.

"We're scared," he said. "We were talking about it last night and with this heat... heatstroke is very serious.... You can get to the point where you fall apart on a cellular level fairly quickly. I'm talking about your proteins denaturing... and if you get there, mortality rates are like 80 percent."

The medical crews that will be at every checkpoint have been told to look for signs of heatstroke: confusion, lack of motor skills, nausea. Unfortunately, all these things pretty much are the symptoms of long-term racing too.

I talked to team Solomon/Crested Butte. They had a team member go down with heat stroke in Australia this spring. They had to carry him for over 5 kilometers to get him to a checkpoint where he was taken away by ambulance. He sat in the ICU for two days, sucking in fluids by IV.

"If you get to the point of heatstoke, it's game over. You can't just rest and recover," said Jari Kirkland, Crested Butte's navigator. "So we're going to be really conservative. You can't rush here. You have to be cool."

Being cool, of course, is relative. Crested Butte is a powerhouse team. Captain Jon Brown and Kirkland are both seasoned mountain bike racers who can go hard for hours on end and barely break a sweat.

The whole team is looking forward to hitting the mountain section of the course. Since they live in Crested Butte they are used to the altitude, and being up in the La Sal mountains at 12,000 feet should be a welcome break from the heat.

Will the race go through the La Sals? Probably. Buzz around headquarters is that racers are being bussed up toward Green River, Utah, and they'll finish with a loop through the La Sals that swings down to a finish line on the Colorado River.
Paddling finish? Crested Butte says that's what they're planning on.

Steaming hot

It's 8 a.m. in Moab. It's 75 degrees and not a cloud in sight. Today's high is expected to be about 100. Tomorrow will be just as hot. The furnace-red rock reflects the heat. There is no shade. Sort of ironic that Utah, with its burgeoning and devout population of Mormons, is the closest thing to hell in the lower 48.

Most competitors in Primal Quest agree the heat will be the biggest challenge. How can you race for 450 miles in this heat and not kill yourself? Some plan to sleep during the hottest part of the day like lizards. Some just say they'll hydrate like crazy.

The question is, can they drink enough in this heat and with their exertion level to keep up? I guess we'll find out.

Right now the teams are resting in the shade.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Primal Quest: the biggest mystery race in the US

We landed in Moab, Utah, today for the start of Primal Quest, which is sort of the Tour de France of adventure racing. The race starts Sunday morning and teams are pouring in to the desert to get ready and checked in. They've brought heaps and heaps OF gear with them and the race inspectors went through it all today piece by piece to make sure everything is present.

The race starts Sunday morning. What time? We don't know. Where does it go? We don't know. How long is it? We don't know. All we know is that racers will get on busses leaving from Moab on Saturday at midnight and when the busses arrive at a secret location (Vegas anyone?) the race will start.

Here's what we do know: The race has so many cliff scaling and rappeling sections that the race organizers have set up eight miles of rope!

That, paired with the fact that it's over 100 degrees in the Utah desert, should make for a very interesting race that pushes people to the limit.

More to come....

Views from the top

No, not the top of Pikes Peak. Red Rock Canyon Open Space.

I took my mom, who's visiting from California, up the Mesa Trail to the newish connection to Section 16 and Intemann trails. She loved the views, which I'm sharing here from my point-and-shoot.

It's a great hike for visiting friends and family who aren't used to the altitude. They get to see the red rock, cactus, scrub, oak and pines. And you're bound to see a deer or fox along the way.

Now that she's been here a week she's set her sights a bit higher. She'll be one of those tourists on Barr Trail's switchbacks this weekend - although she'll have plenty of water and snacks and be prepared for inclement weather. Check out Dave Philipps' story, teased in a posting below, if you're looking for an alternate route - away from the tourists and runners training for the Ascent and Marathon.

Ride the Rockies cyclist dies

A woman participating in the Ride The Rockies tour across Colorado died Thursday afternoon when she veered into a motorhome and was run over, the Colorado State Patrol said.

Diane Woolwine, 65, of Boulder died at the intersection of U.S. 50 and Chaffee County Road 111 on the western edge of Salida. Woolwine, who was wearing a helmet, was in a group of six cyclists stopped at a stoplight alongside the motorhome. When the light changed, Woolwine struck the motorhome and fell to the pavement under its wheels.

Ohhh, ahhh

It's no Pikes Peak, but the terrain at Black Forest Section 16 trail offers a picturesque walk through a thick ponderosa forest. Check out these pics from the trail, and then check out the trail in today's Out There section of The Gazette.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Update from Denali

Last month, a trio of Colorado College students headed to Denali, the highest mountain in North America. Their goal was to reach the summit of the 20,320-foot peak. Their expedition name: Breasts on the West Buttress, chosen to emphasize the cause they wanted to promote - breast cancer awareness.

Libby Bushell, Nancy Calhoun and Sheldon Kerr started off strong, but as Libby wrote today in this e-mail, encountered problems with the weather a couple of weeks into their climb.
Here's Libby's e-mail:

"So there we were at 14-camp (14,200 feet). It was our fifth day there, so we were still stoked on the scene. Picture 60 tents, 200 unwashed men, one yurt with rangers (ranga-boys) and lots of snow with the headwall (2,000 ft. of 50-degree snow/ice) on one side and the edge of the world (7,000 ft vertical drop to base camp) on the other. Whiffleball naturally sounded like a good idea, Fabio having brought a ball and a bat (no joke, our best friend's name was Fabio). So, we get all the men in camp to play in a diamond the area of a large dorm room. Most of them don't understand baseball or can't speak English. We're all wearing slippery overboots over down booties and falling every three feet into the slushy postholes we've created throughout the game which isn't so bad because the 10-ft run to first base is enough to make you winded enough to merit a sit.

SO Hiraldo, the Puerto Rican gets up to bat, takes a crack and sprints to first where he slides in and starts yelling. We find out later he's pulled his hamstring, no no, torn his hamstring and can no longer walk. So he's supposed to get choppered out of there but the weather remains bad for 7 more days, during which he's crutching around camp and everyone (since we're all weathered in for 12-plus days) starts calling him Hammie just straight to his face. "Hey Hammie, how's it going?" "Oh, you know, just waiting for the weather." "Yeah, me too...."

So, we finally got up to high camp. We came cruising in like victorious superheroes, except add 70 lb packs, a bedraggled look, no oxygen, and a general hatred for life. We got in at 10 p.m. to find all the campsites full, which means that we have to build walls until 2 a.m. (which actually means that Libby weenies out and crawls in the tent at 12:30 a.m. and Nancy and Sheldon heroically build walls until 2 a.m. Then it takes 2 more hours to make 6 liters of water... I hate high camp. I don't wish it on any of you. Summit day was two days later. We started out in beautiful weather, a little wind. We made it up to 19,400 ft when we noticed a lenticular cloud over the summit at 3:56 p.m. We're 3 hours from the summit and are all a little weary but stoked. We ate a bite of candy bar (which was pretty much all the substance we consumed for five days) and at 4:07 we're in a whiteout with 50 mph winds trying to kill us.
So we head down, can't see or hear each other in the storm so when Sheldon has vertigo and stops to puke on the trail, Nancy and Libby are jerking on her, wondering if maybe the rope is caught on a rock and are pulling her down a slippery slope to her doom, self-arresting in her own vomit (graphic details made up by Libby). In a whiteout that bad you can't tell up from down and Sheldon was sure she was going to die while Libby was navigating from pee hole to pee hole, trying to get back down to the friendly atmosphere of high camp. We make it back to camp and the weather gets good again, so we're able to look at the summit and shake our fists at its thwarting of us, but are happy to be alive and going home.

We were 22 days on the mountain, 12 of those at 14-camp. We made some good friends, had some good times, and didn't ever get in a fight, although Sheldon called Nancy and I (names) after we dragged her down the slippery slope of doom amidst her vomit. We were the youngest ones up there and also the only all-girls team, so we were quite popular. The hardest day was the very last, which started at 7 p.m. at 14-camp and finished at 7:30 a.m. at base camp, through a foggy whiteout on the lower glacier whose crevasses had opened up enough to make even me scared as we're making S-turns throughout them, paralleling one so as to avoid another, and getting our sled caught in and then disappear into the darkness.

And then we were in Talkeetna, partying at the pub with our Irish friends, and now we've gone our separate ways, Sheldon in Skagway, Nancy in North Carolina and Libby in Homer. It's been great. Thanks for all the support, kind thoughts and friendship you all have given us. This is Libby signing off.

Sneak peak... Showing you the love

Because we love our online users, here's a sneak peak at tomorrow's Out There, or at least part of it.
We'll be giving you alternate routes up Pikes Peak that will get you away from the Barr Trail Crowd.
Here's the map we'll be putting in Friday. You can see it and read the story at (click on Out There).

View from above

Happy trails...from space. Check out this Google Earth image of the Section 16 trail in Black Forest, profiled in the June 23 Out There section of The Gazette.

Ski areas flip on roadless areas

Image from
The White River National Forest held a public meeting for people to voice their support of roadless areas in the public land Wednesday in Glenwood Springs. According to the Aspen Times the 250 people attending the Roadless Areas Review Task Force meeting to testify against gas drilling in these areas included outfitters, local mayors, hunters and conservation groups.

The cabal included a spokesman from Colorado Ski Country USA, the trade association for the state's ski industry. The organization supports protection for the state's roadless areas - as long as that doesn't directly affect the ski industry.

It wants the roadless designation eliminated when it falls within established ski area permit boundaries in the White River National Forest, according to spokesman Alan Henceroth.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

It's all about the shoes

It happens. One of the three men on the Arctic 1000, a 600-mile unsupported trek across the northwest corner of Alaska's remote Brooks Range, has had to be rescued. Ryan Jordan, publisher of Backpacking Light magazine, was injured when he broke through the edge of an ice shelf on a creek and hit a rock. Four days later, he realized he couldn't continue walking on with Jason Geck and Roman Dial.

The group reported the injury on its Web site, and unleashed a storm of criticism about, what else, proper footwear. These three adventurers are hiking light, and all are wearing trail running shoes instead of hiking boots. That backpacking philosophy is a popular one, but also one that inflames purists, those of the Norwegian-welt leather boot and 60-pound pack mentality.

Supporters of the three men say Jordan might have gotten hurt even if he was wearing heavy boots, but others are sure it is his quest to go light that was his downfall.

Dead men don't float

Two California men have been charged in federal court with using the identities of dead or fictitious people to get permits to raft the Grand Canyon.

Stephen E. Savage, 61, of Diamond Bar, Calif., was in federal court in Flagstaff, Ariz., Tuesday, according to the AP. He was held on 11 counts of fraudulently obtaining rafting permits. He was arrested Sunday by National Park Service agents at Lee’s Ferry, where many people start their rafting trips.

Timothy J. O’Shaughnessy, 45, of Whitewater, Calif., was arrested in California on Monday and turned over to the U.S. Marshals Service on the same charges, all misdemeanors.

Officials said an anonymous tip lead them to the men after someone heard one of the men bragging about his deeds. In one example, he used the permit given to a man who had died while waiting for it to be granted. More than 7,000 people are on the waiting list to raft through the canyon.

Your fourteener checklist, now online

Colorado has everything from passport books to water bottles to T-shirts that display a checklist of the state's 54 fourteeners. Now a computer science teacher at Florida Tech has made a free online site where climbers can update their checklist and post it for everyone to see. To check it out, click here.

So far, almost 300 people have posted their lists, including a few names I recognize from Colorado Springs.

The site is in no way official. It isn't password protected, so anyone can alter a list, but it is a nice way to keep track, and considerably easier and cheaper than the traditional way -- climbing to the top of each peak and signing the register. On the other hand, it's also easier to fake.
But for those of us just trying to keep track, it's a fun site to visit.
BTW, I have five fourteeners to go, not counting privately-owned Culebra Peak. I hope to finish this summer.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mud pit? Go Karts? Sign us up!

Copper Mountain holds its annual Copper Chase family-oriented adventure race June 30.

Those in charge won't say what exactly the two-day race entails - the fun is in not knowing - but they do say:
"We can let you know there will be: Water Elements, Obstacle Course, Mountain Biking (only downhill not single track), High Ropes, Mental Challenges, Climbing Components, Mud Pits, Go Kart Racing, 5K Run and many other physical, mental and adrenaline rushing challenges!"

Cost is $100 for a team of two. Heck, I could blow that at the Go Kart track down here.

To find out more about signing up, click here.

A look at our new county park!

The Gazette reported today that deceased Fountain rancher Alexander Kane left 440 acres to El Paso County to become a park. We haven't gotten a map of the property yet, but here's a view of his spread via Google Earth.

This is one of the old, traditional ranches irrigated by the Fountain Ditch. To learn the history of the ditch and how it shaped the region, click here.

These irrigated ranch lands are almost completely gone. The water has been usurped by development. But it's nice to have a small piece left. I hope it comes with water rights. What a nice edition to the park-deprived southeast side of the city.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Focus on conservation

From the Associated Press:

In a blow to snowmobilers and all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts, the Interior Department issued new guidelines today that emphasize preserving natural resources over developing more recreation opportunities at national parks.

The guidelines reverse a controversial proposal last year that put more priority on attracting vacationers and recreation users beyond nature enthusiasts.

Conservation “is the heart of these policies and the lifeblood of our nation’s commitment to care for these special places and provide for their enjoyment,” Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said in announcing the new draft guidelines.

The new parks policy will become final in about three weeks, officials said. It is one of Kempthorne’s first moves after resigning as Idaho’s governor to take over the Interior Department less than a month ago.

The new draft emphasizes that when deciding whether to allow cell towers, ATVs, Jet Skis or other motorized vehicles, a park supervisor must consider whether any new use would damage not only the air, water, land and wildlife but also “the atmosphere of peace and tranquility and natural soundscapes” in parks.

It specifies that lands eligible for wilderness designation should be free from snowmobiles, ATVs and other motorized vehicles.

Read the full report here.

Crazy, adventurous life

Friends from as far as England gathered Sunday to share memories of Sue Nott, who was last seen in mid-May with climbing partner Karen McNeill attempting to climb Alaska’s Mount Foraker.

Nearly 1,000 people attended the memorial service at Ford Amphitheater in Vail.

As Karen Nott began reading a poem for her sister, a gust of wind rolled through the amphitheater over a large smiling picture of Sue Nott, The Vail Daily reported.

A startled Karen Nott looked up from the podium. “Hi, Sue,” she said, her voice shaking.

Nott, 36, and McNeill, 37, were last seen on May 14 at the base of the Infinite Spur route. Rescuers searched for days when they failed to return to base camp.

Friend John Varco said he hoped people would remember Nott in overcoming their own troubles. “Hopefully when the little things begin to bother you, you won’t sweat them.”

“Wow, what an outstanding life this woman lived,” pastor Tommy Schneider said. “What a crazy adventurous life she lived. She took this life she had and threw it in the pond, and it had ripples, huge ripples.”

(Above, friend Zoe Hart stands in front of a large photo of Sue Nott at the services. /Preston Utley of The Vail Daily)

Want to race the Primal Quest? Take a hoof pick

He're the mandatory packing list for the 500-mile adventure race that starts in Utah next week. It's as insane and grueling as the race.

* 1 Windproof Lighter
* 1 Knife, within easy reach, folding OK (minimum blade of 2.5" / 6.4cm)
* 1 Whistle (must work when wet)
* 1 Headlamp with extra batteries
* 1 Brimmed or caped cap for sun protection
* 1 Space blanket
* Water purification tablets or liquid, filter or other
* 10 WAG bags for carrying out human waste (provided by PQ)
* 1 Means for carrying adequate supplies of fluid (100oz / 3 liters minimum bladder)
* Money for emergencies
* Photo identification card
* Reflective tape 1" x 2" (2.5cm x 5cm) for helmet and 1" x 6" (2.5cm x 15.2cm) for backpack, minimum

Mandatory Safety Equipment (Per Team)
* 2 Compasses (one for every 2 racers)
* 1 Emergency strobe light (not a bike light) - must emit a bright white light visible for at least 3 miles
* Dry bags for safe-keeping of your GPS/sat phone and other items that must be kept dry (must be waterproof)
* 1 GPS Tracking Device w/Emergency Sat Phone (Provided by PQ)
* Maps (Provided by PQ)
* Waterproof map case
* Altimeter
* Backup team headlamp

Medical Kit (Per Team)
* 10 doses of pain/fever medication (Ibuprofen/Tylenol)
* 1 SPF 30+ sun screen, 3oz minimum
* 1 1oz Cortizone cream
* 1 Lip balm
* 10 Betadine, iodine or alcohol swabs
* 1 First aid tweezers
* 1 Needle
* 4 Moleskin 3 1/2" x 3 1/2" (8.9cm x 8.9cm)
* 1 24" x 1" adhesive tape (61cm x 2.5cm)
* 1 5' x 2" wide roll gauze roll (12.7cm x 5.1cm)
* 6 butterfly bandages
* 20 Electrolyte/10 Glucose replacement tablets
* 2 3" ACE bandages (7.6cm)
* 4 4" x 4" gauze pads (10.2cm x 10.2cm)
* 1 5 yards duct tape (457.2cm)
* 1 Antibiotic cream (i.e. Neosporin)
* 1 Pair of latex exam gloves
* 6 Antidiarrheal (i.e. Immodium)
* 4 Safety pins
Please note: EPI Pens are strongly recommended for individuals with allergies to insect stings, etc.

Gear Boxes (Per Team) - to be transported by race organization during the rac

* 4 Per Team - must be water resistant, stackable, lockable with volume capaity of 48 gallons or 181.7 Liters (maximum of 4 allowed)
Mountan Bike Equipment (Per Person)
* 1 Hard Shell Bike Box Container (suggested Tri All 3 Sports Velo Safe Pro Series Original)
* 1 Mountain bike
* 1 ANSI/Snell or CPSC-approved bike helmet (no climbing or hybrid helmets)
* 1 White light mounted to bike helmet
* 1 Front light (white light mounted to handlebars with extra batteries with minimum life of 30 hours
* 1 Rear light (red blinking light for rear with extra batteries with minimum life of 30 hours)

Mountain Bike Equipment (Per Team)

* 1 Bike tire repair kit (must include the following: 2 spare tubes, Bike multi-tool w/chain break, Set of tire irons, 1 Derailleur cable and 1 Brake cable (that would fit all team members' bikes), Patch kit, Tire pump or other inflation device (CO2 cartridges), Chain lube, Spare chain links
* 1 Bike assembly tools (tools necessary to build up or break down bikes for transport in bike cases

Horse Section Equipment (Per Team)
* 1 Hoof pick
* 1 Rigging lines/straps for securing gear to saddle
* 1 ATSM/SEI certified horse helmet(s) to fit all team members that will be riding (only one helmet is required IF it can fit all riders)

Fixed Rope Equipment (Per Person)
* 1 Commercial and UIAA-approved site harness, non-modified (ski touring harnesses not permitted)
* 1 Climbing helmet, UIAA-approved (bike and/or hybrid helmets not allowed)
* 2 Lanyards 24-48" (60-120cm) - Nylon daisy chain or runners (no spectra)
* 2 Lanyards 24-36" (60-190cm) - Nylon daisy chain or runners (no spectra)
* 1 Full size figure 8 device
* 4 Auto-locking carabiners - (UIAA approved) - 2 of the 4 must be "HMS" style
* 3 Commercially sewn climbing sling, 60cm long when laid flat (120cm long if cut)
* 2 6 or 7 mm Prussic loop(s)
* 2 Mechanical handled ascenders (no tiblocs or Wild Country ropeman) - Petzl Croll only allowed as long as you have minimum 2 mechanical handled ascenders in addition to the Croll
* 1 Pair of leather palmed rappelling gloves (no bike gloves)
* 2 Etrier(s) or foot stirrups to be attached to your ascenders

Mounting Section Equipment (Per Person)
* 1 Alpine ice axe of appropriate length for your height (50-80cm in length)
* 1 Pair of crampons and appropriate footwear
* 1 Climbing helmet (to an approved national or international standard - no bike or hybrid helmets)
* 1 Lightweight long pants and long-sleeved shirt
* 1 Shell gear clothing for upper and lower body (wind/water resistant)
* 1 Sleeping bag (rated 50 degree or lower) - Down bags must have a waterproof cover
* 1 Thermal undergarment top and bottom
* 1 Fleece top
* 1 Fleece hat
* 1 Pair lightweight to medium weight full-fingered gloves (biking gloves allowed) - waterproof recommended
* 1 Pair gaiter (not mandatory but highly recommended)

Mounting Section Equipment (Per Team)

* 1 Commercially manufactured 3-season tent to fit all members of a team (split tents must have both floor and top, must be free standing)
Paddling Equipment (Per Person)
* 1 Hard shell kayak paddle container (only one per team and must fit all 4 paddles. Suggest Tri All 3 Sports Paddlepack.
* 1 Paddle with reflective tape on blade and shaft
* 1 PFD with reflective tape on shoulders - Type III 151/2 lbs minimum buoyancy
* 1 Whistle attached to life jacket
* 1 Knife with scabbard sheath attached to life jacket, min. blade of 2.5" (6.4cm), folding OK
* 1 Helmet (bike or climbing helmet ok)

Paddling Equipment (Per Team)
* 1 7mm Prussic loop 18" (45.7cm) tied tip-to-tip
* 2 Locking carabiners
* 2 Commercial safety throw bags (1 per boat with 65' buoyant rope)
* 16 Commercial 12hr light sticks (8 per boat)
* Zip ties or other means to attach light sticks to kayaks and competitors
* 2 Airhorn minimum 1.4oz
* 2 Bilge pump (no sponges or bail cups)
* 2 Dry bags or more for team gear in hatches, size adequate for gear carried

Swim Equipment (Per Person
* Mesh bag for all gear excluding swim board, will be taken on swim (more than 1 bag allowed, not to exceed 4)
* 1 Wet suit - full 3 mm wet suit OR 3mm Farmer John and a dry top combo
* 1 Pair swim fins
* 1 Helmet, climbing helmet OK (no bike helmet)
* 1 Pair neoprene gloves
* 1 Boogie board, non-modified and not to exceed 4' in length
* Means for carrying adequate supplies of fluid (2 liters min. bladder)
* 1 Whistle attached to life jacket
* 1 Waterproof bag for gear

Ultra-Rob update

According to a daily diary on the Race Across America Web site, Springs cyclist Rob Lucas has fallen behind the 10.48 mph minimum average speed for an official finish. Lucas is also noted for logging the least credited sleep hours - 31 - in the eight days of the race.
No word from Rob, but it appears he is still riding, having covered 1996.5 miles so far.

Scooter vs. deer

The deer are out in force right now - be watchful when you drive U.S. Highway 24, where they graze just off the pavement.

And they aren't just a hazard to drivers in their cars. This report came in from Warren Epstein, Arts & Entertainment editor at The Gazette:

"If you need another reason to keep an eye out for deer on the west side, here's one. I was riding my little 49cc scooter home Friday night on Manitou Avenue, just approaching the U.S. Highway 24 overpass, when a large doe ran across the street, her right front leg knocking my front tire. My scooter spun into a 180, and the deer ran off. Remarkably, I was unhurt, the deer looked fine, and there's no apparent damage to the scooter. Man, that could have been ugly."

The Weekend Bear is gone

The Crags is one of the most popular camping and hiking areas in the region. It's also in a part of the Pike National Forest known to be home to black bears. But there were few bear-human problems there - until recently.

Officials closed the campground and set up bear traps to catch a marauding bear, but it just moved along the creek. Reports are it attacked at least two people and then, over the weekend, bit a camper. Here's an account from a camper, posted to a local blog,

Here's the scoop from Michael Seraphin at the Colorado Division of Wildlife: The agency called this bear the "Weekend Bear," for his modus operandi - every Saturday for the past three weekends, the bear attacked a camper in a sleeping bag. The bear, it seems, had learned to associate food with tents and sleeping bags. The first attack was minor, and the DOW only heard about it unofficially. The second attack was reported by the victim, a man in a sleeping bag in the same campsite as the first one.

This past Saturday the campground was closed, but campers set up along the road that leads to the area. A boy was in his sleeping bag outside a tent (during daylight, according to the local camper noted above, Nonprophet) and the bear tugged at it. When the boy woke up, the bear swatted his head. Family members screamed and the bear ran to the campground and into a trap the DOW had set up at the animal's favorite campsite.

The boy was treated and is not seriously injured. The Weekend Bear was captured and killed.

First fourteener rescue of the summer

Photo from
A Westminster man climbing El Diente with his son was the first fourteener rescue to make the news this year.

El Diente is known for steep, loose rock, and is rarely climbed by anyone except the growing cabal of Coloradans trying to climb all the state's 14,000-foot peaks.

According to the Telluride Daily Planet, 51-year old Ronald Deffenbaugh was climbing the remote peak on Friday when he fell about 50 feet and broke his ankle. His son was able to get cell phone service and called search and rescue, which radioed for a helicopter.

No problem, right? Easy extraction.

There were no large military helicopters available to winch him off the steep slope. The two helicopters that did respond were unable to reach the area because of high winds. So Deffenbaugh waited.

The temperature up so high quickly dropped to 35 degrees. Rescuers reached him a few hours later, but it took them 21 hours to carry him down the steep, loose slope to a spot where he could be air-lifted.

El Diente, and its neighbors, Mount Wilson and Wilson Peak, are fairly steep, challenging, dangerous peaks near Telluride. A search and rescue veteran quoted in the Daily Planet says his team has pulled about eight dead people off El Diente. I only find a report of one killed, in 2004, on neighboring Wilson Peak, but I'm sure he wasn't the first.

A few lessons we can take from this. Always plan for the worst on these big mountains. Even if you only twist an ankle, it could mean spending hours on cold and possibly stormy slopes. Bring more food, water and clothing than you think you'll need.

Also, something I noticed when climbing Little Bear Peak last week. Your cell phone may indicate that you have service, but not be able to connect a call when you need it. Take it along, but don't count on it to get you out of a bind.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Everybody's doing it

If you've started to think that a car topped with a kayak is the outdoor statement of the decade, you might be right.

The Outdoor Industry Foundation conducted a survey that showed that 12.6 million people got into a kayak at least once last year and about 2 million kayak regularly. In the foundation's first survey in 1998, 4.2 million had kayaked, and only 400,000 did it regularly.

Do you fit the kayak demographic: Young (more than half are 34 or younger); male (although the number of female kayakers is increasing); affluent - nearly half make at least $80,000 a year - and a resident of the Northeast or West. (Thanks to Clemson for the photo.)

No rescue required

It's an "ooohhhhh" moment, when you see a tiny fawn following its mother through the forest or curled in the tall grass. It's also the right moment to remind yourself to leave the little ones alone. This is birthing time in the wild, and that means the Colorado Division of Wildlife has to remind people to not approach, touch or handle young animals. Most of the time, babies seen alone haven't been abandoned. Deer, especially, will leave their young to feed, to hide from predators and to learn to live in the wild. If you hike with your dog, keep it under control so it doesn't flush out any young.
For more information, go to

Ultra-Rob forges on

Where's Ultra-Rob? The cross-country bike racer from Colorado Springs is holding his own in the Race Across America. Today, he's in sixth place, with 1,345.6 miles behind him. He's almost halfway, and although reports are that an IT band on his left knee was bothering him, he hasn't taken any painkillers.

Ultra-Rob is riding in the Enduro category of the race; last night, one of his competitors (the guy who was leading) was blown off a Kansas highway and suffered road rash and minor injuries.

Fibark ducky races

When the folks at Fibark -- that's "First In Boating on the Arkansas" to you (it's the state's biggest river festival) -- asked The Gazette to send a representative for the annual media ducky race (a ducky is an inflatable kayak, not a yellow bath toy), they naturally chose me: the TV writer.

OK, so I've been known to kayak on the weekends. And, after seeing outdoor writer Dave Philipps' ducky prowess on the Green River two weeks ago (he flipped and swam the aptly named Disaster Falls -- see Friday's Out There section), I can see why he was out. So, I took a break from slaving away over a hot DVD player and trundled up to Salida yesterday.

My first stop was the Pine Creek rapid above Buena Vista, where the extreme boatercross race is held. Pine Creek is a narrow, fast Class V (very, very tough) rapid, with a nasty keeper hole at the bottom. Last year, several professional kayakers said they got the worst beat-downs of their lives in that hole. In a boatercross, kayakers launch in a mass start and bounce and bash each other on their way down the rapid, so you can imagine the carnage potential. Reportedly, this year's race wasn't as ugly as last year's, although there was still plenty of carnage (people getting stuck in the aforementioned hole and lots of flipping -- not literal carnage. Much.).

The media ducky race is just like that. Except no Class V killer hole and no pro boaters. And let me preface the results by saying: I was robbed. Totally.

Those conniving schemers from KHEN (the Salida public radio station) ganged up on me. I aced my first heat (by comparison, Salida Mountain Mail reporter Jason Starr swam and his boat and paddle were recovered only after a lengthy downstream chase). So the hens knew what they were up against.

In the finals, I fell behind early, but recovered and made the gate while the other paddlers were still struggling in the eddy. KHEN's Jim Swett, a former raft guide (everyone in Salida is a current or former raft guide), gave up on the gate and paddled downstream to wait for me. He grabbed onto my ducky for dear life while his KHEN compatriot Dave Bokel caught up and cruised to victory. I should note that holding is perfectly legal in duckycross. Sadly, whacking Jim's fingers with my paddle would not have been. The world is unfair.

And, even with a hen on my bow, I did manage to pull out a second-place finish. Colorado Springs, represent! Or something.
Andy Wineke

Talk about lift lines

We've talked about the banner year for Colorado resorts and now numbers show it: State resorts set a record this season with 12.53 million skier visits, beating the previous high set almost a decade ago.

Great snow - remember those midwinter dumps? - and factors like the economy, strong
international traffic, favorable exchange rates and disappointing conditions at Canadian ski areas are credited for the numbers. (One of every 12 visitors was from another country, resort operators said.)

While the high numbers are great for the economy, they can be frustrating when you're waiting to ride. Bookmark or print out these tips and put them with your ski gear if you want to avoid the crowds next season. They'll help ensure you have a ride like this skier, headed up the hill at Monarch (photo courtesy Monarch Mountain).

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More cross-country riders

I was out on the eastern plains this week, on a stretch of U.S. Highway 287 that appears to be as popular among long-distance cyclists as it is among long-haul truckers.
I know, it's a strange mix, but they seem to make it work.

At Eads, a tiny town that is used to cyclists showing up, I met Tim Berthiaume, a 59-year-old retired firefighter from Clinton Township, Mich. Berthiaume is riding his recumbent bike solo and unsupported from Astoria, Ore., to Yorktown, Va. He started May 1 in Oregon, and was in Eads (almost to Kansas) on June 13.

Berthiaume is a little road-weary, and couldn't remember where he entered Colorado on his trip. But he did remember the long haul over Hoosier Pass. He's carrying 30 pounds of gear in a little trailer, and raising money along the way for the Great Lakes Burn Camp.

Lean and tanned, he says he has learned a lot on his journey. "Next trip across the country, I'm taking an RV."

Ultra Rob rolls through Colorado in 4th

Colorado Springs resident Rob Lucas, who we profiled last Friday just before he started the Race Across America, passed through Trinidad, Colorado at 8:30 this morning, three days, 20 hours, and 14 minutes after starting in California.

His average speed of 11.95 miles per hour has put him in fourth place. What a feat!

Track his progress at
Or check out his blog