Saturday, November 29, 2014

Chasing Trails on a Hawaii Honeymoon

The good, the great, and the painful (but still not ugly...except the legs afterwords)

By Anya Gue (formerly Wechsler)

The adventure began when Anya and Owen "sealed the deal" this August with a good ol' fashioned Missoula Wedding ceremony and celebration.

The newlyweds embark on their journey
with an extra push from officiant, Phil Gardner

The first dance

Over three months later, we decided it was time for a belated honeymoon. So off to Hawaii we flew with not much planned other than 3 nights in Maui, and 5 nights in Kauai. I had spend the previous months pouring over Hawaii trail guide books, searching for the best running adventures. So intermixed with surfing, biking, paddle boarding, banana-eating and Mai Tai sipping, we scoured the trails. The following is a photo story of out favorites.

First up was the Waihee Ridge Trail, one of Runner's World's "Rave Runs," with beautiful views of the ocean and the wild West Maui Mountains.

Next on the list was a sunrise run down the Mount Haleakala crater. Haleakala is an old volcano that composes over 75% of the island of Maui. It gradually rises from sea level to over 10,000 ft. From the top, we descended  2,600 feet to the bottom of the crater, followed by a 2,600 foot climb back out. Ouch!
Sliding Sand's trail as it descends the Haleakala Crater

The lack of wildlife in the crater results in the most amazing silence. We found ourselves alone on the desolate trail, feeling as though we were on a different planet. Impressive!

Once we made it back to the top, I was lucky enough to get to descend the 10,000 ft. volcano back down to the ocean on a borrowed road bike. From above the clouds, down to the sea...Weee!

After a fun-filled 3 days in Maui, we took a quick flight over to Kauai to check out the wild Hawaiian jungle...

Our only plan for Kauai was to complete the infamous 22 mile out-and-back Napali Coast Trail that winds along the secluded cliffs of the north shore of the island and dead-ends on the Kalalau beach. We ended up with perfect weather for this amazing adventure, which was lucky... 

Owen prancing along the section referred to as "crawler's ledge"

We did not find out until we had completed the run that the Napali Coast Trail is rated as one of America's 10 most dangerous trails with 82 recorded deaths due to falls, flash floods and rip-tides. Luckily, dehydration was our only hurdle during the trek. 

Kalalau Beach

Owen, beginning the 11 mile journey back from the beach to the car. It got hot. We ran out of water. We both kind of bonked, but it was totally worth it!

Other than the Napali Coast trail and the Waimea Canyon trails (sadly, I do not have any pictures of these), there was one more that I felt the enticed to explore. I had heard about the Powerline Trail that traversed across the Anahola Mountains to make a scenic 13 mile point-to-point. I had read varying reviews about this one: some saying it was an amazing and scenic trail, and others saying it was unmaintained and essentially impassible. It turned out to be exactly both of those descriptions. 

I should have had a more realistic expectation for what an "unmaintained" trail in the Jungle would be like.

After about 1 mile, this is what I faced for the remained 12 miles and over 2,500ft elevation gain. 7-foot tall grass and thorns in about 6 inches of mud and swamp water. 

...Except when it was mud as slick as Mount Sentinel ice in February

...But the views weren't bad!

Over 4 hours later, I was thrilled to see Owen's shining face at the other end. Those Kauai thorns left quite a mark on my legs, and made swimming in saltwater slightly less pleasant the next day.

Of course, we did much more than seek out running trails during out trip, but I just wanted to share some of the pieces of our honeymoon that you might actually want to hear about.  


Monday, November 17, 2014

Bitterroot Trail Run Adventure


(Bear Creek to Big Creek loop and lessons learned)

By: John Fiore

The Bitterroot Range and Bitterroot Wilderness are known for deep canyons, rugged ridge lines, and wildly empty spaces.  One of my goals for 2014 was to run the Bear Creek to Big Creek loop in one day.  The route is 31 miles, but summiting Sky Pilot Peak and trail uncertainty left the day open to adventure.  July 5th was the day my trail partner in crime, Allison, and I chose to do the loop.  Our confidence was high after traversing the Pioneer Mountains a week earlier from Coolidge Ghost Town to Birch Creek over a snow covered divide unscathed and on time.  We chose to begin our Bitterroot run at the Big Creek trailhead.  I had run to Big Creek Lake previously and knew the 9-mile trail well.  I studied the route on Google Earth and my topo map app and felt confident and enthusiastic. 

Big Creek Lake and Packbox Pass in the distance
 Allison and I had no idea what was in store for us when we left the Big Creek trailhead at 11:00 am.  We cruised up the Big Creek drainage, admiring cedar forests, waterfalls spilling into the deep pools of Big Creek, and soaked up the warm rays of the sun.  Big Creek Lake was full to the brim, and fording the spillway led me to question the upcoming stream crossings.  Nevertheless, the trek around the massive shoreline of Big Creek Lake was uneventful.  We crossed three raging creeks without incidence and soon found ourselves on the south end of Big Creek Lake staring at a solid snowpack.  Big Creek Lake sits at 5,865 feet and the snowpack was solid at 6,000 feet.  Bear Creek Pass (our route to the Bear Creek drainage) is at 8,000 feet, so we mutually accepted the ensuing snow travel.  The heavy late spring snowfall and early season races had forced us to run in the Rattlesnake Mountains in the snow, so with trekking poles in hand (one pair between us so we each used one) we marched on….without the trail.   On the slopes of Packbox Pass I was equally impressed by the gorgeous views and Allison’s ability to climb like a mountain goat up the snow-laden slopes. 

Sky Pilot Peak, Pear Lake (frozen), South Fork Lake
We found the trail leading down Colt Killed Creek and after a few miles were fortunate to see the Bear Creek Pass trail sign posted on a tree twelve-feet off the ground (for riders on horseback perhaps?).  The afternoon heat was sucking our energy at this point.  One-mile from the top of the pass the trail vanished beneath four feet of snow once again.  Onward and upward we climbed until we reached a precipice.  “Holy %#@$ where’s the trail?” I exclaimed.  The cirque below us was rocky, steep, and entirely snow covered.  My Suunto watch read 20 miles and it was 7 pm.  “So much for getting home by dark,” I thought to myself.  We discussed our options:  Retrace our steps back to Big Creek Lake and head out in the dark (we had one headlamp between us), or glissade down to the lake below from which a faint trail led out the Bear Creek Drainage.  Packbox Pass was difficult enough to ascend and we both knew descending it in the dark would be foolish, so we chose to glissade and down climb to the lake.  Once at the lake, we began following a roundabout trail which soon gave way to the thickest, most gnarly dead fall I have ever experienced.  Three-miles of dead fall, multiple creek crossings, too many shin scratches to count, and two hours later we smelled freshly sawn logs and found a good trail.  My Suunto battery died and it was now 11:00 pm.  Our food was long gone but the excitement of finding the trail carried us onward.  

Reduced to hiking due to the single dim headlamp between us, we both began to experience a supernatural Deja-vu feeling.  First we saw a bridge which looked “just like the bridge in Big Creek.”  Then we saw a choice camping spot tucked beneath a fire scarred rock face and we simultaneously exclaimed:  “There’s no way this is Big Creek.”  “I looked twice when we hit the trail and saw the sign and it said SOUTH FORK OF BEAR CREEK!”  Our suspicions were settled when we reached the Big Creek Trailhead at 2:30 am and found the vehicle we left over fifteen hours earlier.  Once home, I realized there was no way we could have found the Bear Creek trail due to snow.  In fact, the Bear Creek drainage would be much more difficult to follow beneath snow due to the dense forest and its deceiving side canyons.  We had glissaded down to South Fork Lake, entering the South Fork of the Big Creek drainage.  We discovered first-hand that the South Fork trail had not been cleared in years. 

Ascending Sky Pilot Peak
Despite our mutual promises never to step foot in the Bitterroot again, fall arrived and after reflecting on our blunders we decided to finish what we started.  On October 4th we departed the Bear Creek trailhead (after scouting out the route to Bear Creek Pass a week earlier) to do the loop from the opposite direction.  The spectacular fall colors and runnable trails allowed us to squeeze in a climb up to Sky Pilot Peak (8,792 feet).  The absence of snow made for smooth travel and a memorable day.  Instead of following the ridge line from Sky Pilot Peak to Packbox Pass as planned (slow going but a decent route) we back tracked our route of three-months earlier.  In the end, we travelled 34-miles in a leisurely ten hours and saw only three people in classic Bitterroot Wilderness style.  On our second attempt, we had a map, two headlamps, more food than we needed, and enjoyed every mile.  I will never take for granite the important work done by groups such as the Montana Trail Crew, Montana Conservation Corps, and the Forest Service in clearing the trails we rely on.
Packbox Pass in October

South Fork Big Creek & South Fork Lake


South Fork Big Creek 1, Shins 0

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Winter Running In Montana



Packbox Pass, July 2014
Missoula is in the grips of a November arctic cold front which impacts the simplicity of running.  Cold temperatures, shortened daylight hours, slick running surfaces, and snow packed roads and trails send many Missoula runners to indoor treadmill running or a winter of hibernation.  Training through the winter, however, is the key to successfully achieving your spring and summer running goals.  Winter is a great time to focus on strength training, circuit training, and skiing in order to give your summer running legs a break, build strength and restore muscle balance and flexibility.  Although indoor treadmill running may be convenient, running outdoors is recommended.  Treadmill running does not require the same muscle activation due to the treadmill belt moving beneath your feet.  Hip extension and hip stabilization dynamics are greatly altered which results in an imbalance in hip & knee flexor versus hip & knee extensor function and strength.

A few simple preventative steps, however, can transform winter into a running adventure.  Addressing footwear, clothing, balance & agility, and cold stiff muscles will enable you to run safely instead of watching winter pass you by. 

Winter Running Footwear:
To avoid embarrassing and potentially dangerous falls on muddy, icy, snowy roads and trails, proper running footwear is a must.  The experts and the Runners Edge carry many excellent winter traction shoes and removable traction devices.  Kahtoola Nanospikes, Kahtoola Microspikes, or do-it-yourself traction screws have the same effect on running shoes as studded snow tires on your vehicle.  Ice Bug ( is a shoe manufacturing company based in Sweden which produces studded running shoes for a variety of terrain and uses.  With so many excellent traction products on the market, there is no reason to fear slipping on ice and snow.

Dressing for Winter Running:
Winter temperatures necessitate warm clothing.  Breathable layering is preferred so you can shed a layer while climbing or enjoying a brief moment of sunshine and easily add layers as the chill sets in.  Overheating is dangerous in the winter as the trip home can be a near hypothermic experience.  Don’t forget a thin shell to retain your body heat as temperatures fall.  Gloves and a hat are vital as your body is constantly attempting to maintain your core temperature at the expense of your ears, hands, and feet.  Fortunately, running tends to keep the feet fairly warm provided you have a good pair of breathable wool blend or polypropylene socks.  On very cold days, hand warmers are a nice touch if your hands freeze as mine often do.
The Rut Vertical Kilometer 2014

Balance & Agility Training:
Running in the winter poses unique balance and agility challenges.  Shortening your stride length will allow you to maintain your center of gravity over your feet thereby reducing your risk of slipping.  Relaxing your body will enable you to react naturally to balance challenges.  Training your balance reaction skills and rapid weigh shifting through agility drills will give you the confidence you need for safe and fun winter running.

Preparing Muscles and Connective Tissue:
A comprehensive dynamic warm-up and cool down program is very important to increase muscle and connective tissue elasticity.  Research has shown that a dynamic warm-up program is more effective than static stretching in preparing the body for running.  Arm swings, hip hugs, butt kicks, lunges, toe jumps, and kick outs are great dynamic warm-up exercises and can are illustrated in the March, 2012 Runners Edge Newsletter.  Winter is also a great time to focus on deep tissue mobilization and massage to restore muscle tissue health and extensibility.

Take a look outside at the roads, hills, and trails surrounding Missoula.  Depending on the temperature and snow conditions, nearly all of your favorite summer running routes are accessible in the winter by following the above preventative steps.  Go ahead, give winter running a try and explore!

Friday, November 7, 2014


Welcome to the Sapphire Physical Therapy blog page.  We will post useful physical therapy information, health & wellness tips, and stories/discussions documenting experiences, travel, and adventure.  Sapphire PT welcomes contributions and we can be contacted through our website (