August 18-19, 2006

“What kind of rcord is that, a record for the criminally insane?”

– Question asked by a hiker

It has been a season of records on Mount Timpanogos (11,749 feet) in Utah in 2006.  Three new records have been broken.   A local runner (member of the Sojourners Running Club) recently set a new speed record — 1:15:36 from Timpooneke trailhead to the summit.   Phil Lowry, of Springville, UT, recently set a new career summit record of 349.  Yours truly set a new consecutive summit record of 4 (quad) in one stretch.  (From trailhead to the summit and back, four times.)  One month later, Dallan Manscill, of Provo, UT, tied the quad record with pacers and aid.  Since then, I’ve been asked many times if I was going to attempt a “Quint” to break the record again.   Yes, I wanted to, but I couldn’t figure out when I could fit it in.

For the past couple months instead of doing daily training, I have almost exclusively done very long runs or races on Saturday mornings.   For me, I enjoy a long outing in the mountains more than frequent short training runs in the streets or trails near home.   So after another week of rest and recovery, I was itching for another long run.   I considered the possibility of doing a Quint Timp this weekend.   My thought process was just to “play it by ear.”  I would do one for sure, two probably, three possibly, and from there, it would depend how I felt.   I put in an early workday and drove to the Timpooneke trailhead at 2:00 p.m.  If I did want to try and do to a Quint Timp, I would have to complete it in time to attend an important wedding reception on Saturday evening.   My wife would be working on Saturday, so she gave me the nod if I wanted to spend most of my Saturday on the mountain.


A Quint Timp would be about 75 miles and 23,500 feet of climbs.   I realized that it would feel like a 100-miler.  With the time I had available, I wanted to stay on a pace of 5-hour trips including time at the trailhead in my aid station (car).   My run wouldn’t be aided along the way.  I would have to bring up enough food and fluid for each 15-mile round trip.


Trail description


The Timpooneke trailhead can be reached by driving up American Fork Canyon (near the cities of Alpine and Cedar Hills).   The trailhead is located just past the Timpooneke campground.  The trail ascends through a large valley, climbing through a series of four major plateaus, collectively known as the Giant Staircase.   You travel by impressive waterfalls, forests, and meadows with wildflowers.  Deer and moose are commonly seen along the way.  The final step in the staircase is the Timpanogos Basin (elevation 10,100 feet), a wide-open plateau, surrounded by mountains on three sides.  From this basin it is about two miles to the summit.   Now in mid-August, the trail is free of snow except for one ten-foot stretch shaded by a nearby cliff.   


Trip #1, mile 0-15:  Up – 2:34, Down – 1:40, Total – 4:15, Clock: 2:20 p.m-6:35 p.m


I started up the trail going my usual pace that would have resulted in a 2:15 time for the climb, but I quickly decided to back off to save energy for a multiple summit attempt.  The trail through aspen groves, pines, and wildflower meadows ascends at a pretty steady rate.  Along the way there are only four stretches of about 50 yards each that are flat, the rest of the way is all up, about 4700 feet of up.


The temperature felt hot near the bottom, but I knew it would cool off the higher I went.  The sky was clear.  It was a wonderful day to be in the outdoors.  I did run into about 30-40 people descending from the mountain.  Some of them looked pretty tired after a long day hiking the mountain.  The higher I went, the few people I saw.


After running through the basin (above 10,000 feet), at 4:10 p.m., I pulled out a mini-recorder and said, “I’m in the upper basin.  I’m really impressed by the wildflowers blooming here in the upper basin.  With the deeper snow up here, the flowers bloom quite a bit later.  Boy, there are yellows, purples, reds, pinks, whites, beautiful contrasting colors that are blooming.   So far so good, just taking it easy at a slower pace, enjoying the afternoon and the beautiful sights.”


As I ascended toward the saddle, cliffs shaded the rays of the afternoon sun and I felt a little chilled in my short sleeves.  But after reaching the saddle and going over to the western face of the mountain, I again felt the warmth of the setting sun.   A wind of about 10 m.p.h. hit me, but it was a nice pleasant warm wind.   I made the final push for the summit and reached the summit hut at 2:34.  When I returned to the saddle, I met a young couple who had ascended from the Aspen Grove trail.   They asked me to take a picture of them and I mentioned that I was doing multiple ascents.   It took a while for the girl to understand what I was talking about.  “You mean you will go all the way back to the trailhead and go up again?”   Yes, maybe for a total of 5 times.   I made sure they had everything they needed for a return in the dark and we wished each other well.  I turned and continued a fast run down the trail.


As I again ran through the basin, at 5:25 p.m., I again pulled out my recorder and said, “The beauty of running across this basin is just incredible!  The wildflowers out, the shadows of the setting sun, the birds that take air as I run past them are making beautiful sounds.  It is a stunning sight!  This is what trail running is all about.   I’m going through a field right now with red and white wildflowers and tons of green leaves.   It looks incredible.   Off in the distance I can see the beautiful mountains with the snowfields above.  Pine trees dot the basin.  Now I’m going through a section with light purple wildflowers in bunches that make a beautiful contrast with red flowers.”


I ran into groups of backpackers, as I descended through the Giant Staircase, hiking up to camp for the night.   There were three large groups of noisy, enthusiastic boy scouts who were very slow about stepping aside on the trail as I ran by.   I miscalculated on how many water bottles to bring with me on this warm first trip.  I ran out about half way down.  I started to feel dehydrated, with some pain starting in my joints.  I looked for a seep in a cliff that was flowing a couple weeks ago, but it was now dry.   Then to my great surprise, I found a gallon jug on the trail with a message written on it.  “Extra water, 8/18, use it if you need it.”   I needed it!   I filled a bottle and drank it all feeling much better.   What a kind thing to do.  A deed accomplished by a true trail angel.   It might have been one of the scout troops doing a good turn.


I reached the trailhead feeling good after a 4:15 round trip.   I felt great after drinking more fluids.  I changed a shoe, washed up, and tried to eat plenty of food.  Despite cracking the windows, the inside of my car was very hot.  My fluids were all hot and nasty to drink.  My main source of energy were cans of Ensure, Nutterbutters, and potato chips.   On the trail I would also use Gatorade and Hammer Gel.  My break at the bottom was for 18 minutes.  Because it was still so warm, I decided to stick with short sleeves and tie a long sleeve on my waist for later.


Trip #2, mile 15-30:  Up – 2:57, Down – 2:14, Total – 5:11, Clock: 6:53 p.m.-12:05 a.m.


I headed out again and soon passed another huge scout troop who were hard to pass.  The kids had on headphones and just wouldn’t hear requests to pass.  At 6:57 p.m., I said into my recorder, “Feeling good.  So far it feels like I’m starting my first trip.  No ill effects or fatigue.  I’m eating well and I’m trying to pace myself well.   So we will see how this goes.  The shadows are getting higher and higher up on the ridges.  I’m on the first plateau below the falls.  It will start getting darker and darker.  I have my flashlight with me.  Soon I’ll be cruising by lights.”


I soon passed by a large scout troop making camp on a plateau in the fading light.   I waved to them from a distance.   In the basin, a guy in one group setting up camp asked me if I had any bug spray.  I guess he was suffering from the mosquitoes.   I told him I didn’t have any and said that I’m sure they would go away very soon when it became dark.


Above the basin, I said into the recorder, “I’m above the basin again.  The last of light is going away.   I’m making my change into my long sleeves, hat and gloves.   It’s getting a little chilly.   I’m moving slower, getting lazy, still feeling OK, but not pushing it too hard.  It is kind of hazy.  I wish it was clearer so I could see the stars and meteors.”


When I went over the saddle to the western face, I was surprised that there was no wind.   It actually felt warmer than the other side. I made it to the top in a slow 2:57.   I again signed the summit register.   No one had signed it since my last signing.   At 8:15 p.m. I called home and let my wife know that I was indeed doing multiple climbs, that I was doing fine and would run through the night.  She went out on the front porch to see if she could see my light on the mountain but it was too hazy.  Far down below, I could see lights coming from various groups camping.   When I would blink my light as a greeting, I received blinks in reply.


My run down in the dark was fun.   In the basin, I did experience a bad face plant (fall) that really jarred me, sapping my energy.  My knee was skinned and bruised.   When I passed by the camps of various backpackers, there was no longer any one stirring.   Near Scout Falls, I heard the sound of very heavy hoofs.  Earlier I had seen several deer, but I knew this couldn’t be deer.   I stopped, backed up a little and listened closer to the sounds.   It was as I expected.  I had startled several moose that had been near the trail.    I was concerned because they were split up now, on either side of the trail.   I didn’t want to come between a mother and child.   I very carefully walked passed them, and did shine the light on a very large moose, only about 10 yards away.


I finally reached the bottom after a 5:11 round trip.  I felt pretty sore and tired as I tried to regroup for the next trip.   I felt a lot worse after two trips than I did on my previous Quad Timp.   I concluded that my problem was dehydration.    I made sure that I drank plenty during my break at the car.    As I ate and drank at my car, many groups of excited night hikers set out to climb the mountain.  I guess a midnight start is a popular time to start.   The chill of the air started to get to me and I began to shiver pretty bad as I gathered my things.  I put on my fleece vest for more warmth and made sure I quickly left the car to get moving again.  I took a 22-minute stop.


Trip #3, mile 30-45:  Up – 2:53, Down – 2:12, Total – 5:05, Clock: 12:27 a.m.-5:33 a.m.


On the move again with a full stomach, I quickly started to feel better again.   I knew that the trail ahead would be full of lights to catch.   At the first major switch back a large group of hikers missed the turn and were going straight. I called after them and got them heading in the right direction again.   I ran on ahead but again heard the moose moving around the area where I had last seen them.  I decided to backtrack and warn the group about the potential danger.   The group did quiet down and moved a little more carefully past the moose.   It seemed like I was the night trail monitor.   I kicked it into gear and soon left all those lights far below.


I love the challenge of catching lights ahead.   It is a great night game to keep me motivated and amused.   I soon started to pass hikers that had seen me coming down from my second trip.   They recognized my green light, recognized that I was going up again, and asked what I was doing.  I would explain that I was actually on my third trip up and hoped to do five.   I would see these hikers two more times before their hike was over.   Because they would see me a total of four times, they followed my progress and gave me great encouragement each time I saw them.  I had passed all the lights on the trail by the time I reached the basin and could not see any more lights up on the mountain ahead.  It would be a lonely climb to the top.


Above the saddle, going up to the summit, I ran into a guy and girl at the corkscrew, who must have come up from the Aspen Grove trail.  They weren’t using any lights and asked me if they were going the right direction.  I showed them the route ahead.  They wondered how far it was to the top.  I explained that it wasn’t that far, about fifteen minutes for me.   I asked if they had lights, and they said they did.   Why didn’t they use them?   Oh well, I wished them well and went on ahead.


I reached the summit for the third straight time and signed my name again.   I said into my recorder, “Well, I’m at the top after my third climb.  That was a much stronger climb.  I felt a lot better.   I drank an Ensure at the saddle and that really helped.   I did a 2:53.”


On the way down I again met the couple without lights.   They were making progress up to the summit.  I hoped that they wouldn’t fall off a cliff.  They asked me more questions about my quest for the record.  At overlook points, I would flash my lights down below for the other night hikers to see in the basin.   An eerie sliver of waning moon was rising in the east.


Below, in the basin the trail was really starting to get crowded with hikers.  I recognized Ben Woolsey (348 career summits, previous record holder) who stepped aside for me as I passed.    I stopped and talked with him for a while.   Many others would ask me if I made it to the top.  I would explain that I did, for the third time.   This would turn into a longer conversation explaining what I was doing.  After awhile, when I was asked, “Did you make it to the top?”  I would just reply, “Yep.”


It was still dark when I reached the bottom; the parking lot was starting to fill with large groups who would start out at dawn.  My stop at the bottom was a quick 14 minutes.   I dropped off my flashlight and would only us a little headlamp for the remaining darkness.


Trip #4, mile 45-60:  Up – 3:10, Down – 2:14, Total – 5:24, Clock: 5:47 a.m.-11:13 a.m.


Off I went on my fourth trip up.  I now had good confidence that I would really do five summits.   As I passed people, many recognized me from before and asked me the usual questions.   I tried to explain that I was trying to break my record of 4 summits and do 5 consecutive summits.   One guy asked me, “What kind of record is that, a record for the criminally insane?”   I couldn’t argue against that!   I said into my recorder, “It’s getting tougher.  I’m slowing to almost hiker speed at times.  It’s going to be a slow one going up.  Dawn is here so I don’t have to use the light.  It is starting to get a little warmer.”


On the big plateau below the basin, I was finally passed for the first time.   The guy was jogging the mild uphill portions and had a good power hike going on the steeper parts.   That discouraged me, but also motivated me to try to keep up with him.    My pace increased quite a bit and I became very focused to maintain a good steady pace.   He left the trail for a pit stop and when he returned he fell in behind me.   I pushed ahead well and kept him behind.   We soon were greeted by a guy coming down who asked how I was doing on my 4th climb.  He was very encouraging and really cheered me on.   Now the guy following behind me realized that he was trying to keep up with a guy who was on this fourth trip up.   When I thought about it, I was pretty impressed.  Here I was on my fourth trip, on mile 50 and still moving swiftly up the mountain, passing every hiker in sight.


At the basin, I met Ben Woolsey again.  I stopped and let my power-hiker friend go on again.   Ben congratulated me and gave me good words of encouragement.  I explained that I was slowing down.  All my previous trips up were under 3 hours.   I knew this time I would be over.   I checked my watch and saw that I was at the 2:02 mark of my climb.  Ben said I still had a chance to break three hours, but I replied that I was fading.   I did better than I expected and arrived at the top at the 3:10 mark.  Several pages of hiker names had been entered into the summit register since my last entry.   The trail was loaded with hundreds of people.  


On the way down at some point I ran into neighbor Will Nielsen.  Many people greeted me, asking how many summits I was doing.   He must have been one of them.  I don’t recall seeing him, but on Sunday he saw me at Church and asked me if I had made it.  He said that I looked pretty comatose.   Later on down the mountain, I ran into friend and co-worker, Eric Denna.   I said that I he wouldn’t believe what I was doing.  He asked, “Are you doing something nutty?”  I admitted that I was.   I explained that I was coming down from my 4th consecutive summit.   What I was doing was indeed nuts.


I still managed to run down some stretches of the trail and arrived back after a 5:24 trip.  The lower sections of the trail were becoming very hot.  I knew that I would have to cool myself down and bring up more fluids.   I felt pretty wasted as I rested for a few minutes in my car.  This was crazy.  How in the world could I go up one more time?  I washed my hair in the faucet, changed into a clean shirt, turned on the air conditioning and tried my best to cool down.   It was a long 27-minute stop.   I had a hard time kicking myself out of the car to get back on the trail.   I knew the easy way out was to stop.  My stubbornness pushed me out the door.


Trip #5, mile 60-75:  Up – 3:21, Down – 2:42, Total – 6:03, Clock: 11:40 a.m.-5:44 p.m.


For the last trip up, I basically put it into cruise control.  I felt low in energy but was amazed that I could still push up the mountain and pass so many hikers.   Many hikers coming down would ask me if I was the guy doing five summits.  One guy said that everyone was talking about me on the trail.   News was spreading like wildfire up and down the trail about the crazy guy doing his fifth trip up.  The guy said that they noticed that I kept changing my shirt color, first in blue, then in orange, now in white.   He radioed ahead to a group on the mountain giving them a description of me.  I ran into some of the scout leaders who recognized me from last evening.  After they had seen me several times, they finally clued in that I was doing something pretty amazing.


I stopped to talk to many groups who were very encouraging and cheered me on.   Many offered me food and water.  These cheers and words of encouragement really helped me perk up and I was able to increase my pace.   The final push from saddle to summit was hard, but I finally made it.  I arrived without fanfare, just quietly went into the hut and signed the register.   I had accomplished my 5th summit in 24:42.


My focus was now to get back home in time to drive up to Salt Lake City for a wedding reception.   I called my wife to tell her that I would be home in about three hours.   It felt so good to be heading downhill again.  I really took it easy, but still passed about 50 people going down.    I rarely ran but kept the pace going.  With about a half mile to go, I kicked it into gear and ran strongly the rest of the way.   At the trailhead, a forest service guy was there and said, “There he is, the 5-summit guy!”   He congratulated me and asked me what my time was.  My total time ended up being 27:24:36.   I then left hearing him try to explain to a hiker what I had accomplished.  It was funny hearing him trying to explain it to the flabbergasted hiker.  I quickly made my way to the drinking fountain and then jumped in the car and drove home.   My Quint Timp was complete.   I have no desire to repeat it or to ever try for 6.


I ended up consuming 1 gallon of Gatorade, about 8 liters of water, 8 cans of Ensure, a flask of Hammer Gel, a can of potato chips, and about 30 cookies.