Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mauna Kea Revisited

Top to Bottom- Mauna Kea from Hilo Bay, the access road, and me getting winded at 13,000 ft and saying "why am I doing this?"

It's been two years since I summitted Hawaii's Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea literally translates as "White Mountain" , and I have had the priviledge of being there during the snow season. Yes, it snows in Hawaii. Located on the Big Island, Mauna Kea is the highest mountain in the Pacific, standing at 13,796 ft. It is a dormant shield volcano and from the ocean floor to the summit it is the tallest mountain in the world!

The reason why I did the ascent was simple. It's a beautiful place and very few people do the full round circuit hike. I began my morning at sea level and drove an hour and a half to the Mauna Kea visitors center. After only 45 minutes of acclimation I sign the waivers so I can begin my way up the mountain. Running at altitude can be tough, but running at altitude when you began your day at sea level can be just plain brutal.

The gravel road begins at 9,000 ft and winds up the mountain for 9 miles to 13,796 ft. After a few seconds of running, I realize the trail is too steep and I begin a long power hike to the summit. An hour went by, and I guessed I was a few thousand feet into the climb. That was until I passed the 10,000 ft marker a few minutes later. The thinner air was already making the climb seem longer. For a brief second, I had a hard time imagining doing this brutal ascent for nearly four thousand more feet. Flatlander from Virginia+altitude=lung busting effort

As I went further up the mountain the lack of oxygen was clearly slowing me down. I kept moving forward and kept putting one foot in front of the other. I was getting more adjusted to the altitude, but not fast enough to compensate. I passed 11,000 ft, then 12,000. Mauna Kea seemed like it just kept going up. I would get over one massive volcanic hill, and see more on the horizon. My surroundings started off as arrid desert, then slowly transitioned to fine red volcanic sand. I hiked through stinging light rain, sunshine, fog, and whipping winds. Finally, I came to a stretch where I could see the true summit. I saw that I had about a mile to go, but also a very steep climb. This last particular incline is so steep that its combination with the altitude has been known to frequently stall out cars.

As I crested the top I was welcomed by the sight of several space observatories. Mauna Kea has perhaps the clearest skies on the planet and air that has been purified by several thousand miles of ocean. Having never hiked significantly above 6,000 feet before, this felt like the longest nine miles I had ever hiked. However, I was not at the true summit. I ran down into the mountain's culdera, and climbed about 100 feet to the true summit and a small shrine to the fire goddess Pele. Above the clouds I could see the ocean from all 360 degrees. It was a sight straight from a dream. I took a short video, some photos, ate a little, and hurried to get out of the cold. The temperature was 87 degrees in Hilo, 77 at the start of the run, and a windy 37 at the summit.

The run down was so steep my feet felt like they were on fire. As the altitude decreased I could feel my lungs growing stronger and stronger. Soon I was back at the visitor's center to verify my return from the summit. Though it took me 2 hours and 35 minutes to reach the summit, it only took 1 hour and 25 minutes to get back and check back in with the ranger.

All in all, it was a rare, beautiful experience that I will never forget.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Part II: Unsung Heroes of Ultrarunning

Anna Bradford- Anna is a former club president(Reston Runners), volunteer, mentor, and coach to many runners of varying abilities. Even among her own challenge to run 100 miles at Vermont, she was seen motivating and pushing runners to finish. Anybody that knows Anna knows that she runs as much to help others achieve their goals as she does to achieve her own.

Rebecca Byerly- Rebecca has used her running and journalism skills to highlight stories that are rarely viewed by western culture. Last year she ran 125 miles across the Sahara during the Lybian challenge. While alot of what she covers relates to running, there is a cultural barrier that she is breaking through. Her feet allow her to film places and people that we may have never seen. She is just getting started, and I think we will see much of her wonderful and impactful work.

Michael Huff- Mike has been running for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund for several years now. He dedicates his running to serve those who have served us. Many soldiers return from duty with life changing injuries. Mr. Huff has vowed to make their lives better, as well as for their families. Mike is also one heck of a runner, having impressive runs at the challenging Grindstone 100, Hellgate 100k, and Western States. Mike's purpose to running is inspired by his strong faith in God, and dedication to be "Always Faithful"(semper fidelis)

Frank Probst- As a standout runner in his earlier years, Frank is still a force in his mid 60's. Frank has proven that longevity is attainable in a sport that abuses the body, as long as you care for it. When he's not breaking age group records, he's showing that he can still whoop up on guys a third his age...including me!

John DeWalt- Not sure if he's an unsung hero, because so many folks already call him a hero. John is 73 years young and just conquered the toughest 100 miler in the country(Hardrock)...for the 14th time! John is proof that running, and running long, does not have to fade with age. John is certainly an inspiration to myself and pretty much everyone he meets. His resume of tough races is incredible, and to think many of them were after his 50th birthday. This guy's already a living legend. If you see him, show some respect.

Dennis Herr- same as above, but younger. Probably too legendary to consider unsung. If you don't know who he is, find out, and then pick your jaw off the ground. This guy rocked the running scene with David Horton when ultrarunning was just a baby. They are old school.

Ed Demoney- Ed has served the running community far longer than I have been alive. He's been a race director, accomplished runner, and is still out on the trails. I wish I knew more about him. Age is just a state of mind, and Ed proves it at 72 years young.

Gary Knipling- Gary is now better known for his brews, knowledge of wildlife, and sense of humor. Gary can be found hosting, or volunteering his time at just about every VHTRC event. Gary truly goes out of his way to serve others, and it's seems to be his way of life. By the way, Gary was a 2:40 marathoner in his prime. Never question his toughness, since he also finished yet another MMT 100 this past May.

Phil Rosenstein-ran across the entire US in the fall of 2008 to raise money for the Mario Lemeuix foundation. He ran 3,300 miles in 94 days and raised over $20,000 for cancer research. Phil humbly kept publicity about himself to a minimum, but always made sure to highlight the foundation.