With Sunday being the Big Day (I realize the use of this diminishes my wedding day) I've looked forward to since registering for Tough Mudder back in November, I wanted to spend the night in Vail to be well rested before the competition. However, since I had a nice, easy drive up to Vail I wanted to make the most of it and knock off another peak/get one final training prep in. I set my sights on Massive's Southwest Slopes as it was along the route (kind of). Since my son had his last soccer practice Saturday morning, I got to the N. Halfmoon Creek trailhead around 2 but knew the weather forecast was in my favor despite the late start.
Shameless plug as a father.
My wife dropped me off at the trailhead, which is marked as being a 4WD road but my 2WD Honda Accord scoffed at is it made it up the road with little difficulty, and I was off. As accurately described, the first 1.25 miles was an easy hike that gain a little elevation up to the meadow where the Southwest Slopes route veers to the right (east). There is one spot along the N. Halfmoon trail where you come around a rock on its right side and need to make a quick class 2 move to get up it. I mention this because previous travelers have tramped a "trail" continuing to the left which takes you back towards the creek. Once you reach the large cairn on the right side of the trail and the trail sign, turn right and begin to gain a lot of elevation on a wonderful Class 2 trail.
Follow the sign.
There's not much to say about this portion other than be prepared for a relentless, rocky, 3000ft. climb to the ridge. If you need a diversion, keep an eye for the marmots; and not just any marmot, but a white marmot. I tried to snap a picture of it before it scampered away, but to no avail. The Albino marmot escaped without me being able to prove its existence. Sigh... I'll continue my search for chupacabra instead.
After gaining the ridge, I looked south towards Elbert and South Massive. I knew South Massive has unranked status, but decided it was worth bagging given the late hour and knowing it would be 1 mile roundtrip to gain it and return to my current position on the summit ridge.
I turned and continued up the remaining ridge to the summit passing one or two false summits along with way to finally reach the true summit. I quickly looked at my time and saw that it took me 2hr 35minutes to arrive here; it was better than I expected so I texted my wife quickly and told her I was going to continue and get Massive Green and North Massive to form a circle tour of its northern sub-peaks. North Massive stood out to me as being a worthwhile endeavor since it offers some class 3 climbing. With tomorrow being Tough Mudder, I was hoping to have time remaining to climb it and get something of an upper body workout.
Remaining route near spot where East & Southwest Slopes routes converge
From Mt. Massive looking over Massive Green to North Massive.
The hike to Massive Green was quick and eventful. A little bit of switch-backing on Massive Green's scree and I was on top. From there, I looked at the next portion of my route and could tell the next part offered relief from the constant class 2 I'd been dealing with for the past 2 hours. This was the only portion of the hike that had any snow for me to deal with so far; if I dropped a little more elevation it would have been avoidable. I was lazy. What can I say?
Looking to North Massive from Massive Green
Be aware that there are little to no cairns marking this route (at least that I saw); however, as long as you study the route from Massive Green, you'll be able find a workable route. The one adjustment I would make (if I do this again) would be to drop a little more elevation on the left side when traversing to North Massive's summit massif. I stayed a little too high and it made the travel harder than it needed to be. There's some 2+ climbing to do below some large boulders near the false summit (see picture 6 - right side). I didn't take the best route through here and think a more direct line near the ridge would have yielded better results. From the false summit, it's just a quick walk over to the true summit. There was some snow right below the crux - maybe two or three steps at most.
I descended the West slope of North Massive as I saw what appeared to be a trail from the summit; it turned out to be a stream, but it nonetheless got me to the correct position. I continued down the ridge and hap-haphazardly passed a cairn indicating it was time to descend the snow-filled gully. I could tell some else had been here as there was a butt path from a previous glissade. Since I was wearing shorts and trail running shoes, I decided to plunge step it and, with the exception of a few steps where I post holed, it was the correct decision. In the latter half of the day this gully is no in the hot rays of the sun and remains hard packed.
I remained on the snow once I got down and step my sights on N. Halfmoon Lake as my general direction. It was the right decision for the time being as I passed a few cairns placed in close proximity of each other to confirm I was on the correct route. However, they disappeared once I got off the snow. I paused to look around me and see if I could relocate them, especially knowing they were providing a fairly contiguous route. I'm not placing any pictures from what I did here because I know it was incorrect. What I should have done was continue heading in the direction of the lake since I would intersect the N. Halfmoon Lakes trail. Instead, I decided to remain high and proceed south. This lead me through a plethora of different terrain (talus, scree, side-hilling, tundra, willows, etc). You name it, I probably went through it. I was fairly pissed (or at least my ankles were) with myself for putting myself in this predicament.
Eventually, I ran into the Southwest Slopes and descending the remaining Class 2 trail to the N halfmoon trail. From there it was an easy walk out (again, beware of the large boulder - stay left after making the class 2 move) and met my wife at the trailhead. We finished the night with some High Mountain Pies in Leadville and finished our drive to Vail where we car camped for the night.
Day 2: Judgment Day
I woke up at 6:30 and felt a little sore. I got inside my head thinking I overdid it this past week (4 peaks the last weekend 11K vert, 7 peaks on Wed 10.7K vert, Massive 5K vert yesterday). My right knee felt a little stiff and for about a week it felt as if I had a muscle strain in my right abdominal. Kim asked if it was a good idea for me to do a 14er yesterday and I didn't answer her since I didn't want to admit there's a chance she could be right.
On the shuttle bus up to Beaver Creek resort I had a profound moment with my wife - "What the fuck did I sign up for?!?!" It was also on the bus that I experienced a mild shock (not an actual electric one - that comes later); the course was not 10 miles as I had been led to believe, but 12 miles. Apparently, Tough Mudder added on 2 miles from last year's course. While situating (aka soiling) myself near the competition entrance, I heard other participants talk about the difficulty of this course. The consensus from the eavesdropping generally considered the Colorado Tough Mudder the toughest out of all of them due to the starting elevation (8,100ft) while the next closest in terms of starting elevation is near 6,000ft, the Beaver Creek course also gains over 4,800ft of vert and tops out at 11,400ft.
They really needed a topo for this course; over 4900 feet of vertical gain.
I never considered myself to be much of a runner and I knew this was going to test me. At some point before starting, I stopped playing head-games with myself and morphed my anxiety about being physically capable, my lingering soreness, and the course, into pure adrenaline for what lie ahead. Plus, I heard there was free beer for finishers at the end. That also helped.
The Final Goodbye
It's Go Time
The mind is always worried about consequences, but the heart knows no fear. The heart just does what it wants.
Before I knew it, the 8:40 start time whistle blew with Survivor blaring over the loudspeaker to play us off the Braveheart Charge off the hill into the coming obstacle madness.
The initial run was down the steep slope, over Beaver Creek, then onto the uphill road with switchbacks. At this part, the overwhelming majority of the 500 runners slowed to a walk. I followed suit, but kept a brisk walking pace as we gain some vertical. I definitely felt my time ascending 14ers (especially in the last week) paying off. While some runners took the uphill slow, starting huffing, or needed to take a break to catch their breath, I was able pass numerous people. The second obstacle was Cliffhanger - a steep hill covered in mud that was continually doused in water. Again, I felt that my training was paying off as I continued to pass people while they slipped and slid on the obstacle. Obstacle 3 & 4 consisted of hands & knees crawling through a low cargo net (Devils Beard) and a long, plywood tunnel (Trench Warfare) respectively. Claustrophobia would not be a good condition for Trench Warfare - FYI. If you also plan ahead, you can follow the correct gender through this section.
Following a decent length trail run through the forest (ran the entire time to impress myself and it was a great time to converse with other participants), we came upon the next few obstacles which were dispersed. #5 The Log Bog Jog - I would like to thank Shav&Tab for prepping me for this one. This seemed like a cakewalk in comparison to the recent trail conditions on Shavano. Another trail run and we were at #6, Shocks on the Rocks. It was finally time to get wet... and shocked. After slipping through a narrow opening, it's a cool hand-and-knees water crawl with charges wires hanging above. If you get too high, you get an unpleasant notice. Unfortunately, I got a notice - on the right shoulder blade. I felt my body twitch as my right side nearly convulsed into the water. I recovered, remained low for the remainder of the obstacle, and avoided any further shocks. Another forested trail run allow me to dry (somewhat) and felt the lingering soreness where the wire connected with my shoulder blade. It was unpleasant to say the least.
Photo of Shocks on the Rocks from Denver Post
Feeling well, I approached obstacle #7-10 which were all in close proximity to one another. #7 Berlin Walls #1 - There were two sets of 8ft. high walls. I got a boost from a fellow participant to get over the first wall after failing to do it on my first attempt. On the second wall, I took a more judicious approach since I wanted to conquer it myself (not to discredit the camaraderie aspect of Tough Mudder which is very important, but I wanted to challenge myself). I put my rock climbing skills into use and managed to self-power myself over the wall. #8 Swamp Stomp - A muddy mess to crawl in; make sure you stay low as the barb wire doesn't look appealing if you get too high. #9 Hold Your Wood - Find a log and carry it a quarter mile on a single-track. So far so good.
That all changed on the next obstacle, The Arctic Enema. Upon arriving at the giant tubs filled with 45000lbs of ice and water, I watched the few people in front of me go in and pose for pictures. I approached, looking at the ice and went for it. I hit the bone-chilling water and just froze; I felt my muscles tense up, balls retract, and I didn't move for a second or two. The guy behind me started yelling at me to get me moving. I needed that. In the middle of the tub is a wood plank which you need to go under to get to the exit of the ice bath. That means you have to completely submerge yourself in order to do so.
Deep breath, underwater, fumbled to propel myself to the other side and I surfaced. This was the tough part. All the ice from two days of participants had been pushed to the exit of the tub and I basically had to propel myself through a solid in order to get out of that frozen hell. I tried to jog after getting out to warm up and I started to feel my right knee stiffen up in addition to my calf muscles. This was, by far, the worst I felt the entire race both physically and mentally. My fingertips went numb in my water gloves. I took them off to let my hands feel the sun's warmth, but the hand currently holding the gloves continued to freeze. They had emergency blankets at the next medical tent, but I didn't want to stop and stiffen up more. It was a long gravel road segment till the next obstacle and I tried my best to run it and keep my heartbeat up in order to warm my extremities. It didn't work so well as my now-frigid muscles tensed up and only allowed me to run in spurts.
Arctic Enema. Now who has Mountain Fever???
This would have been appropriate music for Arctic Enema...
Obstacle #11 - Was a steep, 1000 vert climb up a (now) grassy ski run. Again, my vertical training paid off here as I passed many participants. There was even a moment where a participant above me knocked a rock loose and sent down the hill with gathering speed. It felt like the Hourglass (j/k) as I yelled "ROCK!" to the runners below. Obstacle #12&13 - The Gauntlet and the Sweaty Yeti didn't help the bone chill I was experiencing It consisted of a following the ski lift up the slope with 3 large compact snow/ice field/mounds to overcome. Plus, they placed a water cannon on top of one of them since we clearly weren't wet and cold enough. Awesome. Despite the gloves being cold, I put them back to protect my fingertips as I best could to make my way up the 2nd and 3rd snow mounds which Gerry Roach would have classified as easy class 3. I joked with a fellow participant that I needed my crampons.
Sweaty Yeti as seen from the Ski Lift.
Obstacle #14 - Hangin' Tough is fairly straight-forward. Use the hanging rings to cross over the muddy pool below. Mess up and you're wet...again. Thankfully, this was fairly straight-forward for me. It was all about timing as I had to wait for my momentum to swing me forward to the next ring before proceeding. No swim was required.
Hangin' Tough as seen from the Ski Lift.
Now for the tedious running portion to the max elevation we'd reach. There were no obstacles for a few miles, but the constant uphill took a toll on the calves. I jogged in intervals and maintained a quick hiking speed between the intervals. Emerging from the trees around Mile 7 near the 11,400 mark resulted in reentering a sea of spectators who took the easy way up (ski lift - pussies). There were another set of obstacles placed in close proximity to each another.
#15 - Log Jammin' was a series of logs to climb over and under.
And Up (again)
#16 - Berlin Walls #2 was similar to the first one only at a higher elevation and was 10ft high (instead of 8ft with the previous set). After adjusting my technique on the 2nd wall from Berlin Walls #1, I reapplied the same technique and was able to conquer both walls without any assistance.
Camaraderie be damned!
#17 - Boa Constrictor consisted of climbing through some construction tunnels into muddy water (unavoidable as there is barbwire prevent you from standing up) and back into another tunnel to escape. It was not very difficult, but was a mental strain since I wasn't really looking forward to getting wet again. Too bad.
Wow, do I need a tan.
Thus, I had finished the apex of the course and it was downhill from here. Those who have hiked with me know that I'm fairly quick at descending. This was the part I was looking forward to. I found out that I had passed some contestants that started 25 minutes ahead of me and knew I was making good time. The downhill portion was my chance to gain some steam and gain even more ground on people who started ahead of me (time really isn't a factor in Tough Mudder, but it served as a personal goal for me to push myself). Since it was a few straight miles of downhill, my style of running began to wear on my abdomen, especially the strain I had on the right side. Eventually, it forced me to slow my pace recover and work in intervals again. It did the job till I reached challenge #18, the Spider Web. It was a giant 10-15ft high net across the course. Not surprisingly, it swayed will climbing it and swinging over the cable on the top took a delicate balancing act in order to securely gain a footing before descending. Teamwork was key here as some participants were needed to weight the net down in order to provide a steadier climbing surface. This is where the Pay It Forward method comes in as I waited to provide the same beneficial service to the following participants. This was also a welcome relief as it allowed me to rest my abdomen before continuing the downhill run. I could tell it made a difference as I continued some ways before using the interval method again. However, I knew I was getting close the finish line and wanted to power through the pain and finish strong. 2 other participants that I had crossed paths with throughout the course caught up to me and we decided that the three of us would finish together.
Near the finish line is where the course has obstacle on top of obstacle (provides entertainment for the spectators). #19 - Kiss of Mud was a crawl beneath barbwire on mud and gravel. Oh, did I not mention the guy with fire-hose? He was there, too.
They got decent water pressure in dem' hills.
#20 - The Glacier. Participants had to scale a 10-12' cliff face of a 25' mound of snow and crawl underneath a very low set of electrified wires. It was cold and it was difficult. I realized that using my legs to power through this would be a terrible decision; with the wires being so low it would, without question, raise me into the shock territory. I decided to take an all-hands and wrist approach to power myself through and it worked quite well. I didn't escape with shock, however, as my calf got it, but I fared my better than the guy next to him who sounds like a truck-driver.
Am I planking??? Lame.
#21 Twinkle Toes. Time to cross another 40ft pool on the narrow side of 2X4. No swim was need (thankfully).
#22 Funky Monkey. A set of monkey bars at the local neighborhood seem harmless, right? What about the ones that are angled? Those definitely present a more difficult challenge which is exactly what we had to deal with. Another 40-45ft pool of mud and water which needed to be cross on monkey bars. Lose your grip and you're swimming. The fatigue I had in my arms made the uphill angled bars difficult. The downhill side was, by no means, a cakewalk. My gloves, being thoroughly drenched, nearly sent me into the water as the fingertips had limited grip. Thankfully, I made it across without a problem.
#23 Everest. Running up a halfpipe may seem easy. All you need to do is get momentum on your side and grab the lip to get yourself over. It's not so easy when you're feeling the fatigued AND the halfpipe has been doused in gallons of Vegetable Oil. I was cocky and thought I'd be able to do it without the assistance of other Mudders at the top of the halfpipe. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I got the lip without problem, but I felt my feet slide out from under me (stupid veggie oil!) and I was dangling by my arms. The strain this put on my arms left me without the strength to get up unaided and I had to rely on my fellow Mudders to hoist me up. Once up, I paid it forward to one of the two participants I was finishing the course with.
Now I know what the Hillary Step feels like.
This song must be played in order to finish this TR...
#24 Electroshock Therapy. Finally, the last obstacle. The defining obstacle of every Tough Mudder. 12 miles in and it was time to face the 10,000 volts. Time to get Amped! (pun completely intended). We rounded the corner and descended the short trail to the swarming crowd at the finish and the 30ft run of electric wires. What I didn't expect was a giant pool of mud below the wires which ruined my strategy of running as fast as I could through them. Face planting was something I wanted to avoid. The three of us decided to go together in row through the wires. I'm not sure how many shocks I received as I only remember the first one which struck me on my right torso. I felt the current run through the entire right side of my body, my calf lock up momentarily before passing. Initially, I thought it was going to send me flopping into the mud (quite common when watching other finishers).
Danger! Danger! High...
...Mother F***er, that hurt!
We looked back at what we did, gawked, received praise (my brain was fried so it really could have been ridicule) for what we accomplished and sprinted for the finish line. Lots of free products awaited us. Cliff bars, FCS energy drinks, protein shakes, etc. We got our free t-shirt, the finisher headband, and the free Beer. Thank you, Dos Eqis. I was thirsty, my friend.
My motivation to finish held in my right hand (I sound really cheap that I won't just buy a damn beer).
I'm signin' up! Where do I sign the Death Waiver???
My course time: 2 hours 59 minutes.
My 8-day summary (through the completion of Tough Mudder): 9 14ers, 4 13ers, 30,700ft. of vertical gain (more than enough to climb Everest from sea level to its summit), 10,000 volts, and one hell of a cool competition to cap it off.
My initial reaction to Tough Mudder was to see when I could sign up for another one. It was an AMAZING event and I look forward to another opportunity to do it again. I was one of those fringe people contemplating this last year, and after seeing my best friend's college buddies run the IL/In one in October, rave and post pictures, it was finally time for me to attempt it. I’m glad I did. My hope is to “pay it forward” to others who, like me, sat on the fringe wondering if Tough Mudder was for them by providing an account of my experience.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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