Monday, January 12, 2009

Fun (?) in the snow

Well, it has been a while since I did any “bagging” so with a trip to Western Mass for some snowshoe racing I thought the time was right to plan out some interesting runs/hikes. I did a bunch of pre-race planning, lots of map reading and calculating drive and hike times to come up with a do-able plan for the day of the Turner Trail Snowshoe race in Pittsfield.

I was out the door at 4:30 AM with a brief stop at Dunkin Donuts (America, and I, run on Dunkins). For most of the drive I had the near full moon in front of me and a brightening sky behind me. The traffic was negligible at that time of day and I made good time, arriving in Steven’s corner (in the town of Richmond) at 7 AM – 162 miles into my day. I gave myself 1:20 to hike and hoped to get the fire tower on Lenox Mountain and if time permitted hiking along the ridge to Yokun Seat which was #51 on the Mass. 100 highest mountains list. Oddly enough Lenox Mountain which is higher is not on the list. I’m not sure what height differential they used to come up with the list, but really don’t care, if it is listed I hope to hike it.

It was 8 degrees when I got out of the car so I was glad to be testing out my new winter hiking gear. I have a ton of running gear but very little that is meant for hiking. I tried to find the 4-wheel drive road that is shown on the Topo but couldn’t find it. It didn’t really matter as it was pretty obvious where I need to go, just angle up and Northeast and I couldn’t miss the summit. The climb was very steep gaining nearly 800’ in about ¾ of a mile. The surface was 4” of dusty snow and then a solid crust that was easily punched through. The steeper pitches had a lot of ice under that which made the going a bit slow in spots. I hit the ridge and a couple of minutes later was on top (25 minute climb). I took a bunch of pictures of the sunrise and then checked out the woods toward the other mountain. It was pretty thick and I figured I did not have the time to get over and back and then still make it to the race on time. I checked out the fire tower which is no longer used (last staffed in 1988) but still in good shape. The steps for the bottom two landings had been removed to keep people from climbing. I gave it a go anyway, but once I got about 10’ off the ground I figured that one slip could end the hike in a bad way. I shuffled back down to the car, alternating a jog and slide and was back in 15 minutes.

Bench on Lenox Mountain and Fire Tower

Next up was getting to the race. I took some back roads and was at the Pittsfield state forest by 8:40 AM, which was just a little ahead of schedule. It was really cold and I was shivering in the couple of minutes it took to register. Laurel Shortell was first into the parking lot, not taking any chances on her 80+ consecutive WMAC series races. Tim Mahoney and Abby Woods pulled in right before me. I organized my race gear and with 50 minutes to go headed out for a warm-up. I bumped into Tim Van Orden who looked different with the mountain-man beard and funky hat (he looked even more “unique” when he dressed for the race with basketball shorts over his tights). I heard that it was a mile to the Skyline trail via the Berry Pond Circuit road and figured that’d be a good warm-up. The road climbs steadily and the footing was well packed by snowmobiles. I ran up without snowshoes and hit the turn in 17 minutes. I guessed it was probably around 1.5 miles, and the 11 minutes it took me to run back down clinched it for me that the course was going to be longer than 5 km. I was surprised to bump into Ben Nephew on the way back to the start, I hadn’t seen him since the summer. I got changed into my race gear and headed out for another mile on snowshoes. The field was looking to be pretty strong with Ben, Tim M, TiVo and Matt Cartier. It looked even stronger when three yutes from Williams College blew by me on the trail.

Tim Mahoney and Abby Woods at Turner Trail Snowshoe

We got some final instructions on where the course went and how it was marked and off we went. I felt lousy right from the start, something about the fast starts just doesn’t agree with me. I thought it would go out a bit controlled as we had a the road for 1.5 miles and there was room to go 5 or 6 across. Ben and two of the Williams kids went to the front and along with Matt they began hammering up the hill. I tucked in behind TiVo and wondered if I’d be able to hold on. One of the Williams kids was first to fall off the lead group and we each moved around him. About half-way up the hill I saw Matt begin to work his way back through the field as the fast start was catching up with him. Man, he seemed to be way over-dressed with a jacket on! He did offer some words (or grunts) of encouragement as I went by him and TiVo as we passed about a mile of climb. I could see Ben had lost the lead to Corey Watts. Watts had last run a WMAC race two years ago. He took the 8 mile race at Covered Bridges in a sprint with his teammate, he also won the 5,000 meters last year at the Dartmouth relays, so it was no surprise that he was schooling the field. I bridged the gap to Tim Mahoney just after we turned onto the Skyline trail (13:52) and tried to get some distance on him during the last of the climb.

Apparently Watts put enough distance on Ben during this great scenic section that Ben didn’t see him turn onto the Turner trail for the descent. I must have been just far enough behind Ben that I didn’t see him miss the turn. I’m not sure how he could have missed it as it was marked with arrows, flags, and surveyor tape and he is an experienced trail runner. Hey, it happens to the best of us. Anyway, I took the turn and glanced back to see Tim still right there. Downhill running is not my strength and this type of downhill was not for me. It seemed like we’d go 50 meters then do a 180 as we switchbacked down the hill. I couldn’t get around the corners without really slowing. I probably should have worn a shoe with a better cleat, but I wanted the lightest possible shoe for the climb. Tim told me afterward that he also had trouble as one foot kept sliding out. I can only imagine how the trail was after 20 or 30 people passed, my guess was that it got churned up and pretty slick.

About ¼ of the way down the hill I heard Tim talking to someone and then on one of the turns I saw that it was Ben. I was really surprised that he was behind, but he was descending fast. He came up behind me and I stepped off the trail to let him by and then tried to draft off of him. That worked for about 200 meters and he pulled ahead. Soon after I heard TiVo charging hard down the hill. By about ½ way down I was pulling off again as he flew by. I tried to go with him with little success. Next up was Matt Cartier who asked me which side I wanted him to go by on. I moved to the right and he hammered by as I mentioned how much it sucked to build a lead on the climb and not be able to hold it. He accelerated away as we hit the bottom. I didn’t realize how little we had to go at that point, nor did it make a difference. Watts took the win in 34:23 with Ben 1:14 behind. It might have been and interesting finish if Ben hadn’t lost a minute on his detour, of course Watts may have been running just hard enough to win so you never know. Matt closed to within 9 seconds of Ben as he passed TiVo on the last stretch. I was 21 seconds behind Matt and 18 behind Tim. Tim Mahoney took 6th 32 seconds after I crossed the line. So the CMS guys took 2, 4, 5, 6 and Abby Woods was top woman in 13th place. This was Abby’s 7th snowshoe race and her 7th win! The only woman with more WMAC wins is Kelli Lusk (17). Abby’s 7 consecutive wins (in races run) is the third best “streak” trailing only my 8 from 2000-2001 and Kelli Lusk’s 13 from 02-21-04 to 02-18-07. The longest win streak in consecutively HELD races is Rich Bolt’s four wins in 2003.

I quickly changed clothes and headed out for about two miles of easy running on the trail with Ben and TiVo. Ben let me test out his Kahtoola’s which worked well on the packed snow. By 11:20 I was back in the car and speeding off to my next destination. I was already 20 minutes behind schedule and wanted to make sure I hit the remaining mountains before sunset. I had planned on scouting out Brodie Mountain (now a closed ski area called Snowy owl) but didn’t really have time to stop. It looked do-able and I’m hoping to bag that fire tower before the end of the month. I got a nice view of Greylock from the West which is unusual for me, I’ve never been on Route 7 before so I found the view to be great.

I arrived at my next destination, Whitcomb summit in Florida MA, at 12:15 and got my gear on for a bushwhack to a couple of summits. I was surprised by the number of snowmobiles at the abandoned hotel on the summit, there was barely enough room for me to park. There was a snowmobile trail that headed right over Whitcomb hill (2,240’) and it continued on right over to Flat Rock Hill (2,195’). The running was a lot better than I expected and I got two miles of packed trail using my Northern Lite snowshoes, but I probably could have gone in running shoes. Neither summit had views so I spent a lot less time than expected, it was also only about 15 degrees and breezy so I was back in the car quickly.
Ruin on Whitcomb summit

Next up was a 60 mile drive to Athol, which is probably my favorite town name. Actually I went through the Athol and “ended” up in Phillipston. The last mile or so the road got narrower and my left turn was not a plowed road. Luckily I always carry a full set of maps and figured out another approach (which also turned out to be a road that was not plowed all the way through). Prospect Hill (1,383’) road did have a pull-out at a gate and a sign that said “hikers welcome”. That was a pleasant surprise. I decided to go with my Kahtoola’s for this trek as the trail looked to be crusty packed snow. It was only a 6 minute run to the fire tower. There was a large amount of ice storm damage around the clearing and the tower itself had a 2” thick coating of ice. I was glad for the Kahtoola’s as I made my way up the 68’ tower. The view was worth it. I could see Wachusett mountain to the East and Monadnock loomed in the North. I gingerly made my way down the stairs and then ran back to the car. I was still on schedule with one stop to go.
View of Monadnock

Forty miles later I arrived in Harvard at Pinnacle hill (612’). This was the easiest fire tower of the day. I could see it about 50 meters away from the road and quickly ran over, shot some pictures and got back in the car. This was the second easiest fire tower to bag so far, behind one that I drove right up to. Thirty-five more miles and I was back home, just before sunset.

341 miles driven
12+ miles run
11.25 hours travel
3 fire towers bagged
2 Mass 100 highest bagged


David Quintal said...


That's quite a day! Only one question - How many cups of coffee?
All this snow has got me a little perked to buy some snowshoe - what do you recommend?


pbazanchuk said...

Now that's a report. Full day for sure. I'd call it "fun".

double-d said...

Definitely a lot of fun. The next couple of weekend have 2 snowshoe races and I'm going to get in some fire towers and peaks as well.

DQ - I like the Dion racing snowshoes. You can test out a pair of mine next time I see you.