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We believe that trail running is freedom and moving through the epic mountains and wilderness routes of the world under one’s own power is the ultimate running experience.
We design shoes with ideal traction and a surface-smoothing ride pioneered on the trail and tuned for all surfaces so our customers have the freedom to run wherever they want without worrying about what’s on their feet.
Busting out of a Rut in the Yosemite High Country
- Montrail Ambassador, Kevin Skiles
7 AM, Six miles out of Dana Meadows, in the high country above Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park the four of us struggled up Koip Pass, gasping for oxygen at the 11,000 elevation.
Our route scrambled up 2,000 feet of switchbacks on a scree field peaking at about 12,000 feet. We tightened our formation and braced against the 60 miles-per-hour blasts of wind. My trucker hat whipped off my head, taking my sunglasses with it. I retrieved my glasses, but as I ventured down the steep scree for the hat, Jerome, the ranking alpine runner in our group, shouted over the wind to me. “Don’t, not worth it.” Ever the voice of experience, he was right. Another SF Runco hat gifted to the trail gods. We set out to have an adventure – it was on.
This fall adventure really started on June 28, 2015. I had just finished my first Western States Endurance race, fulfilling my goal of breaking 24 hours. Two of my friends had also raced. Erika landed an impressive F9 finish, while Jerome enjoyed one of his best 100-mile races ever.
Yet, as I have often found with this sport, the higher the high at the finish line, the lower the post-race low tends to be. Whether it is a chemical response to the amount of endorphins that flood our bodies or a psychological response to the mental investment we make, I have no idea. All I know is that post-WSER none of us could generate any enthusiasm for running.
We each took vacations with our respective families, took time off running and even tried road running (ugh) but nothing seemed to shake the blues. I was secretly glad that I was not the only one suffering, as it somehow made it more “normal” having company.
We would gather for our Wednesday night run, and talk about the rut we were in. Sure we ran, but it was decidedly uninspired. We joked about “retiring,” with WSER as our walk off shot. Nervous laughter followed that joking. Was this the end? What would it take to get our running back on track?
Then Jerome mentioned that he had reserved a campsite in Yosemite at the end of September. Maybe some camping and high country trail running would beat the running blues? I jumped at the chance.
Jerome and I planned our route, Erika cleared the weekend so she could join and it wasn’t long before our friend Tony, a 2012 WSER finisher, joined in. He, too, had fallen into a running funk. A string of DNFs, along with some big life events (marriage, first kid, new job, new house); he had a lot on his plate. But he was game.
Our route was a 40 mile loop going south from Tioga Road along the ridgeline above Mono Basin before dropping down to Gem Lake and hooking up with the John Muir Trail (JMT) to return to Tuolumne Meadows via Lyell Canyon.
We camped in Tuolumne Meadows to acclimatize and shortly after daybreak we drove five miles east to the Dana Meadows trailhead. Within a mile, the sun started illuminating the high country flowers and rock fields in a reddish, orange glow. Climbing toward Parker Pass, within an hour we were totally immersed in the wilderness. In comparison to other Yosemite trail networks, the Parker Pass trails are decidedly “the road less traveled”. The four of us spread out, enjoying solitude and serenity of the high country.
The steady downhill from the windswept Koip Pass to Gem Lake passes several vistas of the dry Mono basin far below. The trails were well-packed with crushed granite and were an absolute joy to run. I even found the more technical switchbacks down to Gem Lake very runnable in my Bajada’s and much easier running than more popular trails closer to Yosemite Valley. We broke for lunch while enjoying breathtaking views of the peaks above the sparkling water of Gem Lake.
As the trail wound up to Waugh Lake the scenery reminded me of the trails the four of us ran last summer around Rae Lakes in Kings Canyon. Reminiscing about that run, I reflected how in three short years, I went from being a road runner happy to finish a half marathon with a halfway decent time, to a 100 miler finishing Western States in under 24 hours. I have been so enthusiastic about ultrarunning, that I have been entering 8 to 10 ultras a year. Perhaps even a mid-packer like me can fall victim to over-racing and burn out.
Around mile 20, we hit the JMT and started climbing the exposed Donohue Pass. The climb was only about 1,500 feet, but in the heat of the afternoon, the 10,000-foot elevation takes a constant toll on your energy. I hiked with Erika for most of this; we were in the same “digging deep” mode, bickering with each other about who was in worse shape. The JMT on this section has the notorious 18” high stone steps that seem designed for mules, or maybe hikers, but certainly not trail runners. The steps weren’t bothering Tony as he skipped up the pass like an alpine monkey. He summited at least 10 minutes before the rest of us and was halfway through his snack when we exhaustedly arrived.
The view from the top of Donohue Pass is incredible. You can see several prominent peaks like Mount Lyell, Amelia Earhart Peak and the Ritter Range. Far off in the distance, 13 miles away we could see Tuolumne Meadows. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t looking forward to reaching the finish line.
As the trail descends down Lyell Canyon, paralleling a gently flowing stream, it rolls over small granite boulders and a buffed single track through glades of Douglas fir and mountain flowers. Somewhere along this trail our group spread out again. The flow in my running returned for the first time since WS. I began to notice the stillness of the air, the sounds of the birds and flowing creek, the incredible blue-ness of the sky. I felt pulled down the trail by an invisible force. As I came upon a granite formation, I leapt off it like a kid on a skateboard. Hey this is fun!
Entering Tuolumne Meadows, the trail can get a little confusing. I was worried as not everyone had a map with them. Predictably, someone in our group did get lost. As to not embarrass this person, she will remain nameless. However, this same person has earned a reputation for showing up on our wilderness adventures with nothing but a sleeping bag, running shoes, and an insane level of fitness that gets her out of any trouble. Fortunately, when we got to the campground and noticed our missing friend, Jerome drove to an alternate trailhead and quickly found her. All together again we shared a post-run beer, a quick dinner and it was an early lights out.
Packing up the next day each of us had a satisfied look. Tony had proved to himself once again that he is a tough mountain runner and can overcome the effects of altitude and hours of grinding effort. Erika and I seemed to have pulled out of our funk and were now discussing an upcoming fall hundred. Jerome, a native of the French Alps, seemed at home as he always does in the mountains, running the trails and enjoying the easy rituals of camping and hiking. No single run can solve everything, and it might be awhile before I am excited for a race as I was for Western States, but our Yosemite adventure run helped recapture the simple joy of running.
Stay: Tuolumne Meadows Campground (check Tioga Rd for seasonal closure), Tuolumne Meadows Lodge (check seasonal closure)
Bring: Tom Harrison Map, water purification equipment, windbreaker, gloves, emergency light, emergency blanket, sunglasses, sunscreen
Shoes: I wore Montrail Bajada II’s. Parts of the trail are technical and the Bajada’s were the right mix of feel and cushion
Optional: Folding Poles, GPS device
Eat: Whoa Nellie Deli (Lee Vining Mobil Station)
Add-on trips: Yosemite Valley (1 hr drive or shuttle), Tenaya Lake (5 mile drive or hike), Cloud’s Rest (12 mile out and back run from Tenaya Lake)