Sunday, January 17, 2016

Extremus 2016!

The Endurance Society's first event of 2016 was last weekend....and what a crazy, amazing adventure!

Map of the Long Trail Trek!
50 miles from Mad River Glen to Rt 108 in Stowe

Last year, I ran the volunteers and ground crew. This year, I signed up for the actual trek. Then, withdrew because of lack of training and lack of the mental oomph needed to take on 50 miles of the Long Trail in winter on the toughest section of the 273 mile trail. I have hiked the entire Long Trail in summer (over two years) and I know the challenge it offers. In winter? For me? Not so much. I decided that I will never want to do this winter trek. But! I will always volunteer for it. This will be the one big multi day event I will give myself to every year! It is hard as hell crewing folks, especially those you love because you want them to have an amazing experience, to have what they need at aid stations and road crossings and to be SAFE. So, this year, I agreed to run the ground crew and volunteer again (glutton for punishment!). The volunteers that joined in this year were one of the best group of go-getters ever!!! I definitely was not alone in making decisions. This was a group effort! We all take equal effort in getting these hearty folks to Taylor Lodge this year. A handful of hikers were just 9 miles short of the finish that would have taken them up and over Mt. Mansfield. But the weather was a bitch...rain and 80-100mph winds rendered it massively dangerous and not worth it.

My gear for crewing!
You have to be as prepared as the hikers!

The base camp this year was the West Monitor Barn at the Vermont Youth Conservation Corp in Richmond, Vermont. A PERFECT location as it is right in the middle of the trek. The barn is massive and had been recently renovated.There was no heat but being the group we were, many were prepared to sleep in the cold....or camp in in the warm hallways of the office building.  :)

It was so good to see many of my friends Friday night at registration! I kept telling myself, "my god, I know some amazing people." I felt at home.

Huge barn!
And amazing friends.

Andy, Mike, and Jack.
Andy and Jack are the race directors.
And Mike is one of the strongest winter adventurers!
Mike and I spent time together at Infinitus this past summer!

Gear explosion and prep!
Midgely!! :)

Safety talk

After getting to bed early, hikers were up by 2:00am, on the bus by 3:00am, and dropped off at Mad River Glen Ski Area at 4:00am to start their hike up the ski slopes in which they would eventually connect with the Long Trail. After that, they hiked about 4 miles down to the Rt 17 crossing and then connected back onto the LT.

At this point, volunteers were shuttling back to the monitor barn, grocery shopping for gallons of water and food that would be hiked into certain check points along the trail, preparing food for hikers and ourselves, and getting packs together to hike into the first check point at Montclair Glen Lodge. This would be about 15 miles into the trek for the hikers. 

Jack called me around 9:30am to say the group was moving two hours faster than the predicted time. So, we rallied the volunteers and drove over to the Forest City Trail/ Burrows Trail parking lot with our gear and loaded up our packs with food and gallon jugs of water. And up the trail we went! Snowshoes were not needed but we were glad to have our microspikes. What an excellent group of people! It took us an hour or so to get to the shelter. Once we were there, folks made a fire and unloaded the snacks and water. I forgot to mention that it was unseasonably warm that weekend! The temperature was in the 40s, rainy at times, and very sweaty when hiking. We got a bit chilled waiting a couple hours for the hikers. Jetboil cook stoves were fired up and water was heated for drinking and thermoses were filled. There were a couple thermoses of coffee that were hauled up but those were saved for the hikers.

The Volunteer Team!
So privileged to be a part of this crazy crew!

At around 1:30pm, the first hikers started to arrive! It was so fun to hear them in the distance as they were making their steep decent from Mt. Ethan Allen. Many hugs were dispensed and pats on backs and warm drinks and snacks handed out as well as helping to refill empty water bottles. As predicted, hikers dropped at this point and hiked down to the shuttles waiting for us. All should be proud for hiking that 16 miles! Wow! No joke....going up Mad River Glen ski area, then up and down Molly Stark, Burnt Rock, Ira and Ethan Allen mountains and then down a steep 1 mile to the shelter. Congrats!

I'm hugging Erica!! So glad to see her.
Photo: Mark Webb
Cold in Montlair Glen Shelter!
Photo: Mark Webb
Once all were down and back to the barn (first round got back around 4:30pm), we started planning for the next resupply point at Duxbury Road, which was 8 miles from the shelter they had just left. The hikers had to hike two miles up to the summit of Camel's Hump then down a relentless 6 miles to Duxbury Rd. A big portion of that 6 miles would be in the dark with some very interesting trail finding. The volunteer crew was expecting the first group to arrive maybe by 8pm at the Duxbury Rd crossing. BUT!! I got a text message not long after we got back to the monitor barn from the lead group that they were only 2.5 miles from there ALREADY! Jeez! They were flying! So, we packed up the vans with food and water and hamburgers and coffee and headed out! Luckily that crossing was only 10 minutes or so away so we did not have to rush. Again, all the volunteers were ready with food and hugs and headlamps and fresh coffee and we cheered as we saw the head lamps coming down the trail through the woods. This was about 6pm. As expected, this was going to be a big drop point for folks. Feet were wet and wrecked...26 miles done so far. These Vermont mountains are not merciful. The elevation change...the peaks....the weather changes...many are surprised at that toll it takes. It's not just a walk in the woods hiking the Long Trail in winter. There is constant management of checking in on how you are doing, how your comrades are doing, etc.

Andy getting some food from Marianna at Duxbury Rd.

So, over the next couple hours, hikers filtered in and out at Duxbury. The next stretch would be 16 VERY tough miles to Taylor Lodge. This would be a long, long night for hikers. It was advised that if someone was not doing well or had any doubt in their ability to go on that they leave the trail then because there was no easy bail out over the next 16 miles. Once they leave Duxbury Rd, they had a road walk and then a relentless hike up Bolton Mountain that offered several false summits which is TOTALLY frustrating when fresh, but after 28 or 30 miles of winter hiking, I am sure those that went on to that stretch fell into some dark places in there mind pushing through that night. Once again, CONGRATS to all the hikers that made it to Duxbury!!!! Amazing accomplishment!

There were now 11 folks (of the 40 that started) that we needed to keep and eye on and resupply at Taylor Lodge on Sunday morning. Volunteers met and we figured that 2:30am would be the time volunteers should get up to be out the door by 3:30am so they could start hiking by 5am-ish at the Lake Mansfield Trail. The vans were packed up again and people headed to sleep for a few hours. I set my alarm for 2am so I could start waking folks up. I decided I would stay behind at the barn for this round and help there instead of hiking up to Taylor Lodge.

Once everyone was packed up and in the vans and on their way at 3:30am, I snuck in a couple more hours of sleep in the hallway. The barn was so damn loud with the whipping winds rumbling against it. It sounded like a hurricane! (And, we did see roof tiles fly off a nearby house the next morning!!) The weather predicted for the final 9 mile trek from Taylor to Mt. Mansfield was 80-100 mph winds and rain. OH GOD. I started to worry. Jane Worry. Some of my favorite people would be on this final push if they decided to go on through that weather. But, first, I was keeping track of where the 11 hikers were and if they were making it safely to Taylor Lodge. I woke up at 6am to a phone call that one of the hikers had been alone for 5 hours on the trail during the night and was wondering if he was the only out there. I told him, no, people were in front and behind him and he did eventually catch up with a hiker. I kept receiving texts of those who were arriving at Taylor...the earliest group arrived at 7am. Now, the waiting game. When would the tough, tired hikers who pushed through the night arrive to this massively important check in.

Buried in my sleeping bag in the barn.
It was so windy and loud in there so I moved to the hallway to
get a couple hours of precious sleep.
"wake up, Jack! It's 2:30am!
Time to head to Taylor Lodge!"

Ah, the comfort of the hallway vs. the loud, cold barn!
And all my gear stashed to the side.

Mark Webb and his pup, Ray, catching zzzzs on Ray's big
dog bed! Best place to crash all weekend! :)
Mark was so damn helpful with gps and computer stuff!!
Needed! Thank you!

Things got a bit interesting when two hikers were still on Mt. Mayo and one was negotiating fatigue. The rain and wind was unrelenting. Hikers had been out there since 4am Saturday with no means of getting warm, they were tired and totally wet head to toe. Yes, good gear helps but this is a winter trek and the margin of error is low.

After a couple hours of helping the hikers to get themselves moving and with the help of volunteers meeting them on the trail, all hikers were reported as checking in at Taylor Lodge. THANK GOD. It was a very stressful few hours hoping everyone would be ok. The recipe for hypothermia could not be any more perfect.

One hiker was taken via ambulance and treated for rhabdo and the other hiker arrived safely back to the barn.

For the second year, no one finished this trek. I do believe if the weather was not rainy with 80-100mph winds that a handful of hearty folks would have finished. Mother Nature dealt the card again this year. Kudos for making us mere mortals work for that privilege of finishing a 50 mile trek on the Long Trail in winter.

No one finished but last year we said Ted Coffin was the first place finisher as a joke.
This year, Tim Midgley wins the gag finish award made by Andrew Coleman!
I love this group of weirdos. ;)

All I know is after two years of coordinating ground crew and volunteers, a weekend like this takes a fucking toll mentally on you! Ha! I felt like I actually did the trek. I was exhausted. Being "on" for a weekend, making sure hikers get what they need and then worrying about their safety will wear ya down! I have a lot of love for many folks on this trek. I have suffered with them over the past few years at other events and we have all grown close! I have so much invested in making sure they make it safely.

Again, an amazing and challenging weekend was had by all. People learned about winter trekking. Some will come back again. Some won't. I do know that we all learned a ton from this experience. Volunteers, hikers, and race directors alike.

Thank you, again, to all the volunteers for making this trek a success and fun!

Rest up! Frigus snowshoe race is next!!!