this past weekend was one that has been, really, a lifetime in the making. when i was a kid, we spent some time in death valley and i have very vivid memories that have drawn me back over the years. for years, i’ve been coming back to death valley and taking advantage of the remoteness of the park by running completely wild off across the desert. as the years went by, i became aware of titus canyon and the idea of running it was born.
flash forward to last year and i became aware of meghan and her plans to run marathon des sable in march. since she had just moved to yosemite for work, i offered to put together a training weekend in death valley to give her the opportunity to train on some surfaces that might be similar to what she’d experience in morocco. through some fits and starts, things finally came together for this past weekend. i put out the call to the scth folks and got a couple takers to come and join us. my good friend, todd, agreed to come out and play on his mountain bike for support as well.
friday, todd and i headed out just before 6am and made the drive into death valley. we set up camp in stovepipe wells and waited for meghan [and june!] to show up. since pets weren’t allowed off road or on hiking trails, we decided to split the day up and run a jeep trail earlier in the day and then hit the sand dunes when things cooled off and june could be left behind.
from stovepipe wells, we could see a jeep trail heading up out of the valley and into the nearby mountains. we decided to head out on this trail and see where it lead. meghan shouldered her 15+ lbs pack and we headed off. did i mention that meghan was doing all of her runs with a weighted pack in preparation for mds? yeah. hardcore.
the trail turned out to be a 2mi, 1000′ climb up to mosaic canyon. once at the trailhead to mosaic, we discovered that the trail lead through a slot canyon that was all water polished marble. todd hopped off his bike and the two off us headed off running up the canyon while meghan looped around the trailhead with june. after a short jaunt up the trail, the canyon narrowed and the walls turned into smooth, golden marble. it was absolutely beautiful. the canyon looked like the walls of a palace. i ran up and down the canyon, marveling at the texture of the stone, the evidence of the power of the water that can flow through those narrow passages and, when i would stop, the absolute silence. mosaic, even with it’s incredible presentation, was just a taste of what was to come.
we headed back down to stovepipe after a little more mosaic exploration and ended up with a good couple hours under our belts. after some snacking and hanging around at the campground, we headed over to the sand dunes for a completely different experience. it was nearing sunset, so the sun was low in the horizon, throwing long shadows across the dunes. we headed out to the east to make a long sweeping loop, eventually doubling back on the north side of the dunes and returning across the desert floor to the west, back to stovepipe wells.
within minutes i was running in a surreal dream. the low angle sun was casting zebra patterns in the wind swept sand and on ridge lines, one side of the dune would be a rich yellow, the other side cast in complete shadow. the direction was ordered randomness. we would pick a general direction, but follow the line of the dune. we would struggle up to the summit of a dune and then fly down the other side. it was hard running, with the footing sometimes surprisingly solid in one step and then just as surprisingly soft in the next step. i was continually awed by the patterns that were present in the dunes. i had to make the comment at one point, that human creativity couldn’t rival the texture and patterns that are present in nature. we ran along the dunes, with the tallest always a final goal before heading back off across the desert floor. eventually, we took a line back toward the big one and met back up with todd, who had hiked directly to the main summit.
after a brief pause, we headed off again, flying down the backside spine of the main dune. before too long, we were out of the dunes and running across the desert floor toward stovepipe wells. the sun had just set and dusk was beginning to settle in. again, it was a surreal experience running through the desert scrub, below sea level, in the failing light. again, the experience ended too soon as we trotted into the stovepipe wells campground.
even though we badly needed some food and a change of clothes, the first order of business was to dump our shoes and compare our collection of sand. meghan was working with a pair of montrail shoes without gaiters and i was using my uk gear pt-03 desert shoes. meghan dumped out her shoes and poured at least a half cup of sand out of each shoe. we all laughed as i tried HARD to get a single grain to come out of the uk gear shoes. we even ran our fingers along the inside of the shoes to try to collect some. nothing. what a great testament to not only gaiters, but the proper gear for the conditions that you’re running in.
after a quick dinner, we all called it a night and turned in. with no cell coverage in stovepipe, we weren’t sure if anyone from the scth was going to show up for the next day’s run through titus canyon. the first day was over and it had been a brilliant beginning to the weekend. i was equally excited for the next day’s run, though. but, i’ve been long winded enough about the warm-up, so i’ll stop now. stay tuned for the titus recap and a full collection of photos from the trip!
|soundtrack for this post|
|Night Ride Across The Caucasus
The Book of Secrets