Wednesday, July 10, 2019

New Women's FKT for the Enchantment Lakes Traverse!

Boulder fields around Colchuck Lake on a fun run of the Enchantments with friends. Photo by Riley Smith.
You can do it. Go legs. Go! The first 6 miles took over 2hrs. Much slower than I’d hoped, by about 20 mins, but that was ok. I was in it for the fight and scrambling up rocks, hands gripping corners, pulling my body up, swinging my foot up the boulders the size of small SUVs... toes gripping in cracks, pushing my entire 5’8” frame up into the air to grasp the next rock... slipping backward, leaning into the slope as Colchuck Lake slowly became a mirror of clouds and blue— so damn blue. 

20 miles, 5,600ft of ascent
Looking into the Enchantment Lake Traverse, the fastest women's time I could find was on Strava at 5 hours 50 minutes and 22 seconds by Colleen Brehm. I knew I wanted to try to set a good time for the route, being that it is in my backyard and that it is a special place for me. I also knew that I had a bit of an edge because I could scout out the best lines to take on the sections that are cross country (off trail). 

My wilderness permit for the FKT

This would be the shortest FKT I'd ever attempted, and normally shorter routes don't pique my interest because I love the story of running, the adventure. This route was different though. It was gnarly as fuck and had some serious mixed terrain of rock, snow, boulders, scrambling and so much more. It would be an adventure no doubt about it. This was surprisingly intimidating to me because I have grown comfortable in pushing in a longer term endurance kind of way - not really in a red lining kind of way. 

The route is somewhere between 18 and 20 miles, I can't quite tell the distance because it seems to be different depending on the GPS I am using and even the day. If you break down Strava's segments, it's about 20.1 miles long, which seems about right. I've noticed my Coros watch tends to read mileage on the low end, so the fact that it states the mileage as 17.45 is not surprising to me. The elevation gain is between 4,700ft-5,600ft for the point to point route I took starting at Stuart Lake Trailhead and ending at Snow Lakes Trailhead. If you do it the opposite direction it climbs 2,000 feet more (for a total of 7,600 ft of climbing for 20 miles) and is uphill for 12 miles, instead of 6. The other direction, having done both, is most certainly slower. 

There is still a small snow field on the climb up Aasgard and lots of snow on the middle 6 miles. Photo by Riley Smith.

I hoped to get under 5 hours, but the route is very technical and I needed to be a bit faster in the first 6 miles to do that. I finished in a total time of 5:18:23. Strava lists my segment time as 5:17:44. Still a lot of snow on the middle 6 miles, making those miles also a bit slower than I hoped. Stuart Lake Trailhead to the top of Aasgard Pass was also slower than I hoped but I made up for it in part by a much faster last 12 miles. The climb up to Colchuck Lake and Aasgard Pass is a beast! Key is to know the route because there is no "one" trail to the top but there are lines that will become far too steep to get up without a rope. 

Here are a few technical details from Strava, not sure how accurate they are but they are interesting:

See my entire strava record here.

Stuart Trailhead (start) to the top of Aasgard Pass: 2:25:44 for 5.75 miles with 4,406ft of ascent. This might sound slow and it is but not for the terrain. Keep in mind, this segment is super technical with significant "off trail" (aka no trail) navigating through boulder fields with the final 1.3 mile gaining a massive 1,600ft of ascent and no real discernible trail. Still, this segment is definitely my weak point - where I can improve the most next time! The women's Strava segment CR is 9 minutes faster on that segment than mine and I think I can knock off quite a bit if I don't hold back so much.

Mountain goats during my FKT run, they are all over the middle 6 miles!

Aasgard Pass to the Snow Lakes Trailhead: 2:48:46 in 14.35 miles, also very technical and some rock jumping, rock slab descents and sketchy steep downhills. Mostly downhill. This is the segment that I really picked up the pace. Knowing my first 6 miles was not as fast as I hoped I focused my energy and let my legs go as much as I could for the often dangerously technical terrain and often faint trail. Once you get to Snow Lakes the trail becomes clear and the last 6 miles becomes a full on charge to the finish with some rocky/technical and throngs of hikers to get by. All in all it's the fastest part and I pushed the hardest knowing I was almost done. 

Here's a bit I wrote on the FKT:

Me, always glancing up to see the line I was taking as there was no real “trail” just some cairns and a mist of dirt over boulders, like each hiker had left a few breadcrumbs, dust particles, for me to follow and my trail mind, my goat brain? Knowing which way to go like a sleuth, a detective that can follow a trail, a very faint one. The 2000ft wall in of boulders and gravel holding the magnificent enchantments up in the air above Colchuck Lake with peak named “Little Annapurna”, “Dragontail”, “Witches Tower” and “Black Dwarfs” was imposing but I’d made friends with its cold, rough side, I understand dark sides. 

I knew that there was a top and that I’d get there but I had to remind myself more than a few times, even on this day. Once I was at the top I could let the magic of the surreal Enchantment Lakes Basin take hold fly through the next 12 miles. Or so I hoped. I have always told myself not to try to figure everything out, to let the magic happen. Pick your goal, then allow things to happen as they must to get there but don’t ever rule out your goal before you’ve reached your end point. 

This FKT was no different, if I allowed myself to become discouraged just 6 miles in to the route I’d never know what was really possible. And with that thought- a belief in magic and myself, I smiled threw my arms in the air, as though I could hug that very moment, thankful to be exactly where I was. 

View near the top of Aasgard Pass, looking down at Colchuck Lake, during my FKT

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