Sierra Mountain Running Trip, September 8-10, 2009


Hi. I want to tell you all about a crazy little 3 day trip my wife Karen and I did about a month ago in perfect summer weather. It is an original mountain running trip idea we got from speaking the language of light and fast to some folks who had recently hiked the John Muir Trail.

As a mountain guide in the Sierra and co-owner of Sierra Mountain Guides, based in Bishop, CA, I focus my work time mostly on the Sierra crest and Eastward. I often slowly walk the approach trails with a heavy pack filled with camping and climbing equipment, and food for a few days. When
Karen asked me what I wanted to do for a short "stay-cation" in September
I said, "anything fun in the mountains that I haven't done before, where I don't have to carry a big pack." This was the perfect opportunity to try an idea we had been talking about for a multi-day Sierra mountain run. A multi-day mountain run? That sounds either like an oxymoron or a moron's mission. Multi-day Sierra packs can be very light, but still way too heavy and bulky to comfortably run with. We aimed to lighten our load by using backcountry lodges in a Euro style hut-to-hut wilderness endurance adventure. This would allow us to carry running packs that were under 3 pounds and require us to go almost 20 miles per day for 3 consecutive days. Because
the route never went into the National Park, we were even able to bring our dog, Wheeler.

The three of us started the adventure at
Mosquito Flat in Rock Creek at a very casual 11am. We ran up over Mono Pass and down Mono Creek, past the Mono Recesses. Incredible views and a perfect running trail. Weather was superb. This day was a perfect warm up because after Mono Pass it was just a gentle downhill for the rest of the day. Running trans-Sierra is very enjoyable because of the diversity of the landscape. Subalpine desert scrub yields to jagged high alpine rockiness,
then continuing West, the pine forest grows and thickens to the mellower Western slope of the Sierra, and the giant reservoirs that quench the great state of California. We arrived at Lake Thomas Edison just in time to catch the ferry across to the Vermillion Valley Resort. The ferry was actually a lot of fun, beautiful, and saved us about 5 miles of additional walking. The Resort is a classic, timeless slice of Americana. To arrive at this rustic fishing lodge after 20 miles of trail running from the Eastside makes the experience almost comical. We were delighted by the semi-clean motel style rooms that had everything we needed: shelter, bed, and shower. The restaurant served up enormous portions of surprisingly good eats. We topped off the evenings eating festivities with a huge homemade slice of apple pie - a la mode, of course.

The morning of Day 2, we at
e a big bacon and egg breakfast and downed lots of coffee before packing up and taking the ferry back across the lake to the trail. The ferry ran a little late and we got caught up talking to some nice JMT thru-hikers about beautiful mountains, so we didn't get started until a little after 10am. We had
to hit the JMT and start running if we wanted to make it to our next destination, the Muir Trail Ranch. Neither of us had done a lot of trail running recently so our legs were a bit stiff after Day 1. We managed to make it in reasonable time to beautiful Bear Creek where we couldn't resist taking a swim - especially Wheeler.

One great thing about this route is that there is plenty of water along the way. We used
very cool running gear that we sell at Sage to Summit including innovative Nathan running vest packs and handheld running water bottles. We each carried no more than 1/2 L of water at any time, in our hands. The water in our hands was key- it made the drinking easy on the go (even more so than a hydration bladder), it was quick to reload in streams, and it didn't bounce the extra weight on your back. This setup was incredibly comfortable for this kind of trip. Karen and I were each able to carry: an ultralight
rain jacket, running tights, long sleeve insulating shirt, trail snacks (gu's, gels, bars) for 3 days, hat, and extra socks. Then between us we carried: camera, first aid kit, small notebook/pencil, cash/credit card, ipod (nano), cell phone, and a small em
ergency bivy sac. Wheeler carried her food and doggy treats. The weather was warm and perfect, so a forced bivy would have been very survivable, though not entirely comfortable.

Anyway, back to the story... after Bear Creek we ascended the long climb to Selden Pass. Neither of us had been there before and it was stunningly beautiful. We continued down through rolling pine forest and then descended steeper trails through dense manzanita to arrive at Muir Trail Ranch just before the dinner bell.

The Muir Trail Ranch is more impressive than we had imagined. Again classic American, but in a completely different way. One of the only pieces of private land left in the High Sierra, this family owned and run ranch is a true gem. We were lucky to be able to reserve a cabin for the night, as they usually book solid over a year in advance. The meals were outstanding and plentiful, they have a very cozy fireplace lounge, and best of all, they have 2 beautifully constructed, private hot tubs on site, fed by natural hot springs that flow onto the property. Karen and I loved the soak after nearly 40 miles of running. They kindly gave us some nice blankets so we didn't have to carry sleeping bags all that way for one night. We shared our historic private cabin with some cute and friendly mice, who didn't seem to be scared at all by the dog in the room. One of the most interesting, unique, and enjoyable evenings that I can remember in the mountains.

On Day 3, we ate a gigantic breakfast of eggs made to order, along with lots of other delicious breakfast items. We packed a sandwich for lunch and headed out for the big climb out of Piute Creek, which was slower through Humphrey's Basin, over the spectacular Piute Pass and back down to our vehicle waiting for us at the North Lake trailhead

This was an amazing trip, one that I highly recommend for fit trail runners. 90% of the trails were perfectly run-able and the other 10% were fun hiking. There is no trip in the Sierra quite like this one! - Howie