Thursday, November 5, 2015

Climbing McDonald Peak: Fall in the Missions

Fall in the Missions
By:  John Fiore, PT

On an October Saturday which was arguably the most spectacular fall day in western Montana, I returned to the Mission Mountains.  I have spent many hours exploring the unique alpine terrain of this rugged range in 2015.  On each outing, the impressive bulk and majesty of McDonald Peak (9,800 feet) was evident but just out of reach.  McDonald Peak is located in the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness.  It lies within the grizzly bear closure zone which means it is off limits to humans in an effort to preserve wildlife habitat and reduce human-bear encounters.  The grizzly bear closure area allows the bears to feast on ladybugs and army cutworm moths without human disturbance from July 15th-September 30th each summer.  Mission Valley residents have described viewing the bears through telescopes glissading on snow fields and feasting on ladybugs and army cutworm moths.  With clear skies forecasted and the grizzly bear closure period passed, our window to climb the peak was now.
I met Justin Angle and Jeremy Wolf at 5:30 am at the Eastgate parking lot for the drive to the Swan Valley.  We chose the eastern approach to climb McDonald Peak due to the early runnable terrain and beauty of the Cliff Lake basin.  We arrived at the deserted Glacier Lake trailhead at before daybreak and were running by 7:20 am.  The round trip distance for the day would be 24 miles which made daylight hours precious.  The first 4 miles passed quickly beneath our feet until we reached Heart Lake.  The summit of McDonald Peak appeared framed in the notch of Sunday Pass.  From Heart Lake the trail deteriorated to a hiker’s trail followed by a game trail. 
From Sunday Pass, McDonald Peak was reflected in the waters of Cliff Lake below us.  We descended steeply to the shoreline and weaved our way up to Iceflow Lake.  From here the terrain changed.  Grassy, boggy meadows and aromatic hemlock and fir forests gave way to bus-sized glacier-strewn boulders.  When we reached 8,600 feet in elevation, both the summit ridge of McDonald Peak and the Ashley Lake drainage on the western side of the Missions were visible.  Justin, Jeremy, and I plotted our final ascent up the loose, rocky bowl and continued climbing. 

The view from the summit ridge was magnificent.  The Mission Valley was 7,000 feet below us and the ridge from West McDonald Peak to the true summit was pure as any ridge I have traveled.  Once on the summit, a light breeze kept us comfortable in shorts and T-shirts.  To the south, Glacier Peak, Mountaineer Peak, Lowary Peak, East St. Mary’s Peak, and Grey Wolf Peak formed an imposing spine.  To the north, Mount Calowahcan and multiple unnamed peaks blended into the horizon.  After imagining how spectacular it would be to descend McDonald Peak’s the south face on skis, we began our return journey.  Two aged boot prints were the only sign of human presence we encountered during our brief visit through the Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness.  I have never experienced a feeling of alpine isolation and purity as strong as I did that October.  When we returned to the trailhead 8 hours later, cars were in abundance, but the experience and contentment associated with physical effort endured.  Preserving wild, uninhabited areas such as the Mission Mountains puts our role as humans in perspective.  We too are visitors on this planet.  The mountains endure and they warrant our respect.
The Mission Mountains Wilderness was officially designated as such in 1975, the boundaries for the Tribal Wilderness were set in 1979, and made official in 1982. Prior to the official designation of the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness, the tribes had fought the designation of the area as a national park, and after much discussion voted against timber harvesting in the lushly forested area. Both circumstances would have led to increased tribal profits, but it was decided such was not to be the priority.

In 1982... No legal definition for tribal wilderness existed then, but much of the language for the tribes’ definition of wilderness matches the language found in the 1964 Wilderness Act, with one significant difference: the primary purpose of the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness is the preservation of tribal culture. In contrast, in the federal wilderness on the other side of the Mission Divide, visitor use and private interests play leading roles in management objectives.
(PJ DelHomme, Forest Magazine, Fall 2006 – Summit Post)

John Fiore, PT

Thursday, July 9, 2015

John's Bighorn 100 Run


Bighorn 100 Race Report


John Fiore, PT

Sapphire Physical Therapy


As I sat in Dayton Park listening to the pre-race briefing, I felt strangely calm.  Just two hours before the start of the Bighorn 100 and I just wanted to get started.  The presence of fellow Missoulians is always reassuring at Bighorn.  JB Yonce, Dan Pierce, Todd Bachman, Babak Rastgoufard, Randy Tanner and I discussed strategy, discussed the weather, and waited in anticipation for the 11:00 am start on the Tongue River road.  My primary goal was to cross the finish line in Dayton 100 miles down the trail.  After Three consecutive 100 mile DNFs due to injury and illness, my training and nutrition underwent an overhaul and I finally felt ready to charge.  

At 11:00 am sharp we were off.  Over 300 runners moving up the Tongue River trail was an impressive sight.  Awe was soon replaced with reality as the temperature climbed proportional to the 4,000 foot climb to the Dry Fork aid station at mile 13.7 where my crew was waiting.  My “crew” consisted of my closest friends (Allison Onstad and Kevin Twidwell) and my son Bridger who for some reason did not want to miss the adventure.  After a brief stop for water and orange slices, our direction shifted north towards the Little Bighorn Canyon and the Footbridge aid station at mile 34 or so.


Settling into a rhythm in the heat, the wildflowers and vistas reminded me of why I came to the Bighorn Mountains to run 100 miles.  The race course is known for its beauty, technical sections, runnable sections, unpredictable weather, all wrapped up in 17,000 feet of climbing.  Babak, Todd, and I were all within a few minutes of each other, and Dan was up the trail a ways.  The hours ticked by and we descended “the wall” and crossed the Little Bighorn River where the Footbridge volunteers were buzzing.  Kevin Davis of Livingston, MT filled my hydration bladder and got me moving.  

From Footbridge, an 18 mile trek to the turnaround at the Jaws aid station began.  The route climbed nearly 5,000 feet and despite being evening, I was glistening with sweat.  Power hiking the steep hills and running the flats and mild inclines became my mantra.  I was ready for the sun to set and the air to cool.  As I crested the ridge one mile from Jaws, I was greeted with a twilight display of the crescent moon accompanied by Jupiter and Venus in the western sky.  I let out a howl and waited for the echo in the night.


Inside the Jaws aid station tent the mood changed.  My crew ushered me to a chair and asked what I needed.  As I barked instructions, I noticed my crew’s facial expressions.  “Man,” I thought, “I must look like hell!”  Kevin picked me up to crack my back, Bridger encouraged me to “stay strong,” I grabbed by trekking poles, and Allison and I took off for a run in the night.  Pacing is both and art and a science.  An effective pacer knows their runner’s strengths and weaknesses.  An effective pacer is selfless but must take care of their own nutrition and hydration needs.  An effective pacer must push their runner and basically just keep the runner moving.  I attribute my race success to my pacing crew.  


Running through the night reduces running to its primitive form.  Your world is a 6 foot radius illuminated by the beam of a headlamp.  The heat of the day left my stomach nauseous and I consumed only broth and orange slices through the night.  Tums tablets kept my stomach in check, and Allison reminded me to sip water, try to eat a gel, and kept us moving.  Footbridge aide station came and went at mile 66, and Steve Brown joined us for the trip up “the wall” toward Dry Fork.  The eastern sky began to illuminate the coming of the sun and the star-filled sky was replaced with dawn.  I began talking (I actually was not talking much at this point) in anticipation of a spring up the trail.  At the spring I washed my face, hands, gulped water, and filled my bottle.  A brief encounter with vomiting (oh no, not again!) due to a gag reflex from a pine needle in my water left me heaving for a moment.  Gathering my composure we headed towards the Dry Fork aid station at mile 82.

 Allison paced my up the final climb to Dry Fork where Kevin and Bridger were waiting.  I felt spent but 18 miles seemed totally within reach.  More Tums and some help with my nausea thanks to Amy Brown and we were off.  Kevin would pace me to the finish line.  Kevin had accompanied me through the night twice last year during 100 mile races I had to drop at mile 75 and 86, respectively, due to unrelenting vomiting.  Not fun, yet here he was taking up the pace again!  Kevin told me he would push the pace a bit and instructed me to “hold on the best you can, and if you need me to slow up just say so.”  At mile 90 we crested the final significant climb and began the descent of the Tongue River Canyon.  I was amazed to discover my legs were fresh and I could run fast and furiously after Kevin!  We flew down the canyon laughing and talking about our kids, our friends, and truly enjoyed the last two hours of the race.  


The final 5 miles of the race is a long windy not completely flat dirt road.  Bridger and Allison met us on their bikes and together we clicked off the final miles.  The Missoula contingent was camped beneath the Run Wild Missoula tent and we exchanged high-fives with 100 meters to go.  The finish line was shaded and once across, I walked directly into the Tongue River to wash away the dirt and grime accumulated over 26 hours.  


Completing my first 100 miler is satisfying and I will always treasure the experience.  The emotion which remains, however, is gratitude.  Running is a solitary sport, but running 100 miles would not be possible without my friends and family made it their mission to get me to the finish line.  


John Fiore, PT

Monday, May 4, 2015

Anya's Springtime Trail Adventures in and Around Missoula

Take a quick look at some photos from a few of Anya's Most recent Local outings

Sawmill Gulch. 1st week of March. Dry and dusty, believe it or not!

Top of Warm Springs Ridge Trail in Southern Bitterroot. May 2nd. Maybe a little early for mountain biking above 7,000ft.

Run to the top of Stewart peak.  Last week of April. 

Only to be followed by a warm, wildflower-filled run the following day.

Many more to come. Hope to see you out there!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Trail Etiquette for All Trail Users

Trail Etiquette for All Trail Users

John Fiore, PT


One of the most unique and treasured benefits of living in Missoula is easy access to trails in every direction from downtown.  Spring in Montana draws Missoula residents out of home, cubicle, and gym hibernation in increasing numbers.  As a community, however, our individual trail experiences are proportional to our trail respect and stewardship as a community.

began exploring local trails in 1983 as a twenty-one year old.  Local trail maps were limited, trail use was light, and I often traveled miles in complete solitude.  The open space, National Forests, and Wilderness Areas were my backyard.  While I still have what is arguably the most incredible backyard in America, I now share it with 69,000 people.  The population of Missoula and the surrounding area has nearly doubled since 1983 which is starting to manifest itself on our local trails.


In the past three months I have seen a mountain biker descending the North Ridge trail of Mount Sentinel, mountain bike tracks on the Smokejumper trail, multiple hiking/running trails (to avoid ice, mud) on the Pengelly Ridge trail, “forgotten” doggie bags strewn along Rattlesnake and Pattee Canyon trails, and hikers/runners three abreast on single track trails.  Long-term use and enjoyment of our trails by multiple user groups hinges on an understanding of basic trail use etiquette.


Yielding right of way:  Horses are huge, so yield to horses, period.  Step off the downhill side of the trail, stop, and speak calmly.  Generally, uphill traffic should be given the right of way.  If a convenient spot is available, pull over and allow the uphill hiker, runner, or cyclist to pass.  Do not continue to move forward once off the trail as this leads to the creation of multiple trails.


Announce yourself:  Say “hello” to fellow trail users.  Be courteous, respectful, and announce your presence if approaching someone from behind.  If they have ear buds and music blaring, then you may be out of luck!


Slow down:  The most important tip for the survival of a trail is traveling at a safe and appropriate speed.  Both foot and bicycle users must travel at a speed conducive to the trail design.  Washboard trails and extra wide or multiple parallel trails are caused by poor speed control.  Negative encounters with fellow trail users can be reduced by simply knowing your safe speed and being aware of your surroundings.


Leave no trace:  Pack out what you pack in.  If you see trash on a trail, pick it up.  


Respect trail closures:  Trail closures apply to everyone and are mandated for a reason.  Avoid giving your user group a bad name by abiding by and being aware of the local trail closures.  Most of the trails with user group restrictions are narrow, steep, and inherently dangerous for high volume use.  Please respect trail closures.


Stay on the trail:  If the trail is snowy or icy, wear traction devices.  If your shoes or mountain bike tires sink deeply into the mud, you should not ride that particular trail until it dries out.  Do not create a new trail by avoiding mud, puddles, or other trail users.  


Support our trails:  Give back to our local trail network.  The Montana Trail Crew hosts trail maintenance work days, and Mountain Bike Missoula schedules trail work days as well.  Get involved in local and National Forest decisions regarding trail maintenance, use, and support.  As an educated, involved community, we can work together to improve our individual trail experiences in and around Missoula.