23 September 2009

Evolution Valley 100k run – Bishop, CA

I had first heard of the Evolution 100k trail several years ago, through my friends Howard and JB. The idea of the ongoing event – not a race - was to run the designated loop at your leisure, and post results to JB's web site. Pictures of the place looked absolutely stunning, and my desire to take on this challenge was piqued when my buddy H'ard did it a few years ago and I heard his stories of the route's grandeur.

The Evo 100 loop is in the backyard of Bishop, California, which is the hometown of several excellent runners who used these trails for training. The Sierra Mountains of the Eastern Slope provide beauty, excellent trails, and altitude, so it is no wonder you see guys like Phill Kiddoo and Jeff Kozak at the top of many race results.

Phill hosted us for this year's Bishop Ball Buster weekend, which had the Evo100 as a key feature of three days of planned runs. Of the numerous B3 participants, only five of us would take on the Big Loop; the others taking on the 26-mile "Skyline Marathon" route instead.

Phill, H'ard, Eric, Jimmy and I were up at the crack of some single-digit number, and at the trailhead discovered some ice on the surface of puddles in the light of our headlamps. However, the immediate uphill start towards Piute Pass warmed us up pretty quickly. The glow of the rising sun gradually revealed the majesty of the surrounding hills, and illuminated our trail ahead just as we reached 12000' Piute Pass. The landscape spread before us on the other side of the pass was nothing less than absolutely stunning – one of the most beautiful areas I have had the privilege to run.

The trail tipped downward for a long time after this, passing from the high alpine down into the dry coniferous forests in the valley below. It was fascinating to see the different kinds of trees down there; though we have a lot of trees up here in BC, the species were much different there. Our pace was consistent, though unhurried. We had a few breaks here and there to refill our water bottles from the frequent streams that crossed the trail. We had a bit of a running joke between the varied water-collection techniques, with Phill taking his water directly from the stream, me using a SteriPen to zap any bugs, and "Team Giardia" who wrestled with a pump filter that got progressively plugged and slower over the course of the day.

Eventually we came to a trail junction that put us onto the John Muir Trail/PCT. This in turn was a long uphill grind from the valley up to beautiful Evolution Lake, then on through the following alpine moonscape to Muir Pass. Evolution Lake was amazing to see, and it was difficult to not stumble on the trail, what with all the looking around trying to take in the scenery! We were fortunate that there had been some recent rains in the area, so that the otherwise thick dust from heavily-travelled trail was kept to a minimum. We did pass a few hikers, who were amazed that we were doing in one Day what they were planning on travelling in four to ten days. It all depends what you enjoy, and we're all out there taking it in.

Phill is a very strong runner, and somewhat more acclimatised to the altitude than the other four of us, who hailed from sea level. He took off on the trail up to Muir Pass, and we straggled along after him. I had a tough time at this point, being a bit low on energy and really grinded my way up the rocky trail to the top of Muir Pass. As I approached the summit, I could see Phill standing on a small hill....though as I got closer I realised he was on the top of the intricately-constructed stone Muir Hut. This beehive of a structure is quite amazing to have in the middle of nowhere; I can't imagine the effort it took to build it.

We were all a bit bagged here, and took a few minutes in the hut out of the wind to recharge. Jimmy actually had a quick catnap since, the early start of the day and the altitude were making him sleepy on the trail. The break was good for me too, as I knocked back another gel and a bar to pump up my energy reserves again.

The trail tilted downhill on another long valley trail again, and I definitely felt stronger as we got into a more oxygenated zone...or maybe it was the gels. It was a great slope to be running down, mostly a nice, runnable grade down, with a pretty clear trail surface that allowed for some looking around to take in the wonderful scenery around us. Part of the way down, the sun dropped behind the nearby peaks, and the valley started getting cast in shadow. We reached our final trail junction that took us off the main JMT and began the climb up towards Bishop Pass, our final vertical challenge of the route. We regrouped, recharged a bit more, and then headed up the climb.

I felt pretty good heading up here, and was able to power along quite well. We all picked our own paces up this long, long ascent, with Phill racing off ahead of us muttering something about "there are five of us and only four beers in the car". The sunlight gradually diminished as we rose higher, but I cleared the trees just as the glow was fading from the western sky behind the mountains across the valley. It was serenely beautiful.

I fished in my pack for my flashlight, and in the process realised that I had lost my headlight somewhere on the trail. I have never had issues with a broken light or depleted batteries, but always have a backup light and hoped that this would not be the first time I would require one. We passed a group of campers who were set up on a rocky prominence overlooking the valley; in a way, I was jealous of them having such a fantastic spot to camp out with a view like they had, but our mission was different today.

I caught up to Eric, and we slowed our pace until Jimmy also caught up to us; Phill was long gone, and H'ard was trailing a bit behind coming up the hill. After marching on for a while, I realised that Eric and Jimmy had dropped off pace and were a ways back down the climb – it ended up that Jimmy's light failed and they both had to run with one light between them, which made for slow going. Not realising their plight, I kept taking advantage of my good energy and powered up whist was turning into an unending ascent. In the dark, and never having been here before, I had no idea how long the climb went, and what dark hill or peak we actually passed over. Of course, it was way higher than I kept thinking along the way, but that's part of the fun of running somewhere new in the dark. As I got to what must have been the top, the full moon started peeking over the mountains, and illuminating the area around me in slices. With this ambient light, I could finally see what had to be the pass.

Sure enough, I tipped over the top, and then was met with the rockiest part of the entire trail. I found it challenging to get over this stuff with my sub-optimal lighting, and had a heck of a time following the trail on a rock fall section that was all large boulders. I did get off course here, and had to rely on my GPS to relocate the trail fifty metres up the hill. Once I got back on track, things were pretty clear, and the trail got progressively clear of rocks.

The trail ran along Long Lake, which was now illuminated wonderfully in the glow of the moonlight. Despite my increasing fatigue and desire to be finished, I really enjoyed this part of the trail; the perspective of running at night in the lunar glow is something most people don't get to appreciate. The trail left the lake and tipped down sharply, and I knew I was on the final descent to the parking lot. I came upon South Lake and knew I was almost there, but there was one last short but steep climb towards the parking lot.

Phill came out of the van to welcome me in, congratulating me on Becoming Evolved. It was great to be done, but what an awesome trail that was. I jumped in the van to warm up, change and grab a cold beer, and to wait for the other guys to come in as well. Eventually Jimmy and Eric popped out of the woods and proclaimed their tales of just one light between them, and shortly afterwards Howard came in too. H'ard got the credit for Revolving, now completing the loop in both directions.

I have to say thanks to all the guys for company, and especially Phill for hosting us and showing us his backyard trails. I'd like to get back to down to revolve sometime myself!

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