Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Part III - The Lions

Three Iconic Hikes - One Day.... Part III - The Lions

  • The Lions - 5,408 ft
  • Distance: ~16km
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500 ft
  • Time: 5:39:00

Another 25 minute drive, two sandwiches, half a can of coke later and we were parked in Lions Bay at the trailhead for The Lions. I think we both knew this was where the work was going to truly start.

I had been envisioning this moment for a few weeks... I knew it might be REALLY hard to want to start The Lions after Black Tusk and The Chief. It wasn't as bad as I expected.

At this point we could feel things were going our way - the weather was great, we were ahead of schedule and there had been no issues thus far. We wanted to bag all three peaks and I, for one, will admit that anything less would have felt like a failure. I wouldn't have wanted to even talk about it... so silly, ridiculous in fact, but true.

We set out on the trail a lot quieter than on the day's previous missions. The first 40 minutes was sheer hell. It was a simple logging road... nothing technical, but it was steep, boring, and the rocks were a bit too large to get really good uphill traction. Hard work on the calves (or the calf in my case...)

Keith and I were pretty silent until we both admitted we were HATING this section. It was pure "work" - not satisfying, not interesting, just head down grinding. We didn't talk until we decided we had to take a picture of it just so we'd remember how bad it was..... we knew that it would look easy in the picture!

Finally, we got out of that section and our spirits lifted A LOT. The trail flattened for a km or so and we jogged it. It was amazing how a new surface (pine needles!) and a flatter pitch made all the difference to our emotions. I remember thinking that we were moving into a new phase of the day... the phase where you start to mentally pay for the effort expended. After 10 or 11 hours moods change for better or worse in an instant. This is a stage you don't get to training for olympic distance triathlon.

Soon enough, it got brutally difficult again. Massive rock fields to pick our way up, intensely steep trails... I felt like I stopped every 10 steps... probably did.

Mentally, I was in a work zone. I was actively trying not to think about anything but moving up the mountain. It was a struggle... I kept thinking about how far we had to go then getting mad at myself for having those very thoughts. As the exhaustion kept increasing I wondered what would happen if I cramped up or fell or, or, or...

It didn't help that on our way up we passed approximately 50 people coming down, and EVERY SINGLE ONE said:

"Late start today hey guys?"
"You guys aren't trying for the top are you?"

Apart from getting a tad annoying, it began to plant a seed of fear in my mind... were we crazy?

Eventually we got a glimpse of the peak and it looked 1,000 km away. I'm not kidding... it REALLY hurt to see how far we had to go. I wanted to poke my eyes out so I wouldn't look to the top again.

I kept telling myself not to look again. But all I could think about was the snapshot indelibly printed on my mind of that distant peak.

As I clambered over huge rocks, grabbing the odd tree to keep upright and carefully placing EVERY footstep, one after the other I started to assess my systems:

- Brain: Still functional. Not a lot of variety in my thoughts. More like chants. Short ones - the kind that take three or four steps. Repeat 3,000 times. Avoid thinking about how much is left... think about each step being one step closer. Annoyingly started singing that song "One step closer to you..."

- Balance: Deteriorating. With the muscle fatigue and mental exhaustion I was beginning to have little trips, little stumbles, momentary losses of balance. Not enough to fall, just enough to remind me to that I had to ratchet the focus up even more.

- Muscular: Not bad but my right quad was handling every large step - up and down. I tried to share the work when I could but it was too late to start asking for more from my weaker left leg and prosthesis - also many of the 1,000s of individual steps of this last climb were too technical (or just plain large) to use my left leg as the "go to" leg. Hence, my right quad was WORKED. To it's credit it kept going... thank goodness.

Unbelievably, after a lot more hard work we started to get close enough that I could look for the top again. It still looked a long way off though...

We arrived with about 50 minutes of daylight remaining and enjoyed the peak by ourselves. I have to say the peak came quicker than I expected. For LONG stretches I was sure we wouldn't make it. There was a point I said to Keith "We must have an hour left?" (Looking up at the peak...). It was about 15 minutes.

Keith on top of The Lions with Vancouver in the distant background.

I had said hours earlier that we just needed to get to the top of The Lions because we would, of course, be able to make it down. (Note: Later I realized this very thought has probably killed people on bigger tougher climbs. I think they call it "Summit Fever". Descending may be easier but you can still get lost, fall, meet a bear, bonk, get separated etc.)

On this day Keith, our planner, had judged things quite perfectly though. We enjoyed the peak for about 5 minutes and headed right back down, covering a long section of difficult terrain before it got dark.

Video of the descent (Note: There is a swear word in this one, and for that Keith apologizes...)

Sunset on the descent:

Just prior to darkness falling we had a little 20 minute scare when we lost the trail. It was more annoying than anything, but with the sun going down we were searching pretty urgently.

Even with awesome headlamps, climbing down in the dark was quite a bit slower, and there were many more stumbles/trips and even a fall or two... nothing serious though as we were being uber-careful. It was on both of our minds that a broken ankle now would be really unfortunate.

Food was also on our minds and I can't recall ever being so focused on fast food.... It was extremely disturbing to me that not a single purveyor of cheeseburgers was located between The Lions and my home.

We finished with another BRUTALLY PAINFUL 40 mins on that stupid logging road. It was just as bad going down and it seemed to go on forever - like a movie that keeps having one more painful scene after another, when it should have ended an hour ago.


Total Time: 14:23:00
Total Climbing Time: 12:57:00 (5:13, 2:06, 5:38)
Total Distance: ~53km (~30, 7, 16) (33 miles)
Total Elevation Gained: ~12,000 ft

Prior to the painful logging road Keith and I had plenty of time to analyze our day. From the decision a few days earlier to move the start time up by an hour, to the run down Black Tusk, we had ended up needing every advantage we got. There were so many things that could have gone wrong but didn't... It was the perfect day.

I was incredibly pumped. Overall it was definitely harder than I expected - my ability with my leg was put to the most extreme test it has seen yet. With fatigue, difficult terrain, darkness, snow, ice and plenty of loose rock I had come out in one piece and with a smile on my face.

For now I rank this as the most difficult thing I have done BY FAR. It will be interesting to see how it stacks up against other long events - like an Ironman. I have to believe this will match an Ironman for difficulty - it was longer in time (I hope!), and the terrain and ease of movement was WAY more difficult for my leg than riding a bike or running on pavement. Only one way to find out...

Over a week later I am still very proud of our achievement. The blisters have healed (mostly), the cuts are pretty much gone, and the muscles are back to normal (barely!) It took an entire week!

The reality of the accomplishment is just as good, if not better, than I hoped it would be when I dreamt up this thing! We are the only two people I know that have attempted this. Maybe one day someone else will... I hope so!

I'd like to thank Keith for everything he did - which was a lot. Planning, gear lists, photography, video, navigation, trail breaking... He was awesome! We never snapped at each other - not even on that b!tchy fire road!

Video after sundown... (a bit blair witch...)

Challenge complete!! 8:55 pm.

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Vincent said...

Awesome saga! I hiked Brunswick mountain this summer which starts with that same logging road. IT SUCKS! I couldn't imagine doing it after all that distance.

You sir, are my new hero

Stephanie Corker Irwin said...

WOW! EXTREMELY impressive! You are now responsible for planting the seed of embarking upon the 3peaks to of your blog readers! *friggen brilliant*

Ulyana said...

just gorgeous!

Chad Sayban said...

Congratulations on an amazing trek!

swimbikerunryan said...

That is an awesome journey MJ, i'm so glad yout and Keith took it nothing to lose in the long run. I am also glad you got a taste of the "long distance mind games" that you can encounter, and i hope you found statisfaction in beating you brain in that game. I think Ironman should be next up, and would love to hear the comparison. You and i can take that on anytime you want big guy!!

Runner Leana said...

Without a doubt, that is one epic day! Of those three I've only hiked the Chief but it was absolutely beautiful. Thanks for sharing the adventure and all the pictures. Congrats!