Monday, June 23, 2014

New York Mountain, Colorado. Genesis.

New York Mountain summit ridge.
I am sliding.  No doubt about it.  It is slow motion at first.  I reach for a spike of wind sculpted snow and it crumbles in my hands.  I watch each crystal shine and reflect the magnificent sun as they burst into powder.  I reach for a horn of golden granite covered in pink and lime lichens.  No luck.  Faster and faster I accelerate until the rocks and ice around me pass as only a blur.  I trigger a spindrift avalanche as I go.  It follows me down, sharing my last moments of consciousness.  A crampon catches and I begin the cartwheeling end-over-end dance that leaves alpinists in pieces and all but assures closed caskets...if they ever find you.  Then, just as suddenly as my descent began, I nestle into a soft spot in a mushy pile of fluff and all is calm.  It is quiet in this crack deep inside the glacier.  I have found a tiny perch on a bench of snow with room for one butt.  Make that 2 butts.  Beside me is the Old Man.  He looks cold, like he has been there a while.  He is missing a glove.  He is missing some skin here and there.  We share a smile.  The avalanche catches up and pours over us.  I swim upward into the deluge but it is over in a blink.  I am suffocating as everything flashes white...

Sleep apnea!  I gasp for at least a minute in the blackness of my tent as I wake and embrace reality.  I have not slept above 10,000 feet since Alaska in 2005.  High altitude messes with the mind and makes sleep a bizarre experience.  The apnea strikes all night long inducing panic and a feeling of suffocation as I periodically forget how to breathe.  I am on New York Mountain, a nondescript 12,600' peak near Eagle, Colorado in the Sawatch Mountains.  It is snowing and I plan to summit tomorrow.  Bigger, harder and more beautiful mountains surround the peak, yet no mountain on earth has more significance in guiding the trajectory of my family.  Let's start at the beginning.

In 1972, the Old Man was fresh out of the Navy.  With $5, a canvas sack and his dog Oreo, he hitchhiked from Ohio to Boulder, Colorado in search of new horizons.  People felt sorry for Oreo and picked them up.  Upon arrival in the Republic, he found shelter in a long-abandoned school house at 9th and Arapahoe with the other vagrants.  He slept in a room with a missing window, soaked from the leaking roof and used newspapers as a blanket.  The building has since been renovated and protected as a local landmark called the Historic Highland Building.  These days, it is a bustling multi-million dollar center of offices, spas, and luxury living.  In the early 70's it was a meager place to scratch out an existence.

Luckily, he met a man named Gil with a construction outfit.  He put in some work around Boulder for a week and rented a one room shack from Gil.  He cashed a check and proudly went to the grocery store and bought some beans to quell his aching stomach.  As he walked home with Oreo in the sleety Boulder murk, filthy with plaster dust and nearly starved, his grocery sack ripped open and his beans rolled into the sewer.  Gone.  He walked back to the store and bought some more.  Upon his return home, he realized that he lacked a can opener to open them and a pot with which to cook them.  He laid down next to the old boiler- no bed, blanket or calories.  He propped himself up with his hand under his head and and his elbow on the cold ground- he could sleep like that indefinitely- and faced another night of misery. This part of the story has always choked me up.  I love my father and it pains me to think of his hunger, loneliness and lack of even the basic elements of human comfort.  This is the best part though.  It turns out the Old Man was hard as fucking nails.  He suffered and LIKED it.  He had worked to feed and clothe himself since he was 8 years old.  He was a survivor and this was what he did.  He was a frontiersman in the New West and he was about to find his way.

One weekend, Gil and the boys were heading west for a quick job and some partying in the hills.  They wound up in Fulford, high above Eagle and directly under the hulking flank of New York Mountain.  At 10,000' and 25 miles from anywhere, Fulford was a lawless haven of hippy debauchery.  They danced and partied like hippies were apt to do.  They drank tequila and blazed doobies until the sun came up.  After some breakfast Banquet beers, they began their climb.  It starts from around 11,000 feet, already far beyond Dad's sea level, tar choked lung capacity.  Up a steep trail through the forest to his first encounter with tree line- where the real world ends and the alpine dream begins.  Still drunk and high and reeling from hypoxia, the motley crew made their way across the sublime ridgeline, staggering toward the summit.  They embraced at the highest rock and it was done.  More tequila flowed and the hippies whooped with joy as a fat joint rolled out of the summit register tube securing their buzz all the way back to the continuing party of intoxicants and drum circles of Fulford.  Good times.

The Old Man built lots of things around Colorado with Gil's crew, especially around Aspen, Frisco and Dillon.  I'm not too sure how those years of the mid-70's played out for him, but I know they were wild.  Eventually, the Old Man found his way back to Ohio and found a job in the steel mill.  In those days, this type of job made you essentially a rich man.  He still lived in a shack down at Grimm's Bridge and paid $10 a month to old Micky for rent and had lots of extra folding money.  He met my mother, Crazy Nan, and at the age of 30, he became my father.  1979 was a big one.  He fed me pizza and beer as we watched the Steelers and Pirates win world titles.  As Willie Stargell hit his series clinching game 7 homer, the Old Man jumped high and smashed his hands into the dappled plaster ceiling he had just sculpted, splitting them wide open.  I cried for him, but I learned that is just how Humphrey's do it.  Always some bitter with the sweet.  

By 1980, Crucible Steel had closed its doors, the bank had taken his home and my parents had split. The Old Man was living like an animal again.  Not sure how, but Nan got custody and I was lucky to see Dad every couple weekends.  I lived with mom in a rough housing project and Dad never stopped worrying about my safety.  I was surrounded by bad elements.  Bad conditions and bad people with bad intentions.  I ran to school everyday carrying my books- 2 miles each way- all conditions.  I wore dirty clothes and smelled of cigarettes and was often hungry.  Each morning, when the school bell rang, and the sweat cooled on my skin, I stood and walked to the front of the class to accept my blue free lunch token with the other "Scums" while the girls and boys in the fancy clothes tucked their packed lunches with homemade goodies into the mini-fridge.  Like Dad, I was a survivor.  I was too smart, and too strong to let that cesspool drag me down. Things got hard.  I got harder.  For Christmas I found a fresh pair of Coolmax socks and my first running log under our Charlie Brown tree.  Ramen and bread, Ramen and bread.

In 1985, Dad quit smoking, drinking and became a real runner.  He even did some marathons. The jogging fad had swept the nation and had crept into the podunk dregs of Columbiana County, Ohio.  I began going to weekend races with Dad.  I got some attention and climbed the social ladder for my exploits on the roads and tracks.  The mill opened up again and he was one of the first hires.  Dad got custody and we were a team again.  He told me that when I got older and stronger, he would take me to Colorado to climb New York Mountain.  I dreamed of rocks and ice and ran uphills carrying snowballs in my bare hands to practice.

When I was 15, we made the trip west with my cousin Brett.  Dad studied up and made sure we had the best gear to ensure success.  Flannel shirts. Check. Timberland boots. Yep.  That same old green canvas Navy duffel.  Absolutely.  We lugged the gear from the trailhead up to tree line to camp and shorten our "summit assault" the next morning.  I labored with the old duffel slung over my shoulder, full of heavy and useless crap- mostly Dinty Moore Beef Stew and flannel- none of it mountain worthy.  When we arrived at the site, things changed for me.  I'm not sure if it was hypoxia or the epiphany of genuine inspiration...maybe it was destiny.  When The Old Man and Crazy Nan got together in some shack way back when, their hillbilly genes were twisted and smashed together with all sorts of drugs and stuff.  Dad's hardscrabble roughness and mom's craziness were mixed into a double helix shaped thing loaded up with a combination of A, C, T and G codons that became an endurance zygote.  I came out bloated with red blood cells and jammed with EPO.  My young heart and lungs were huge and my VO2MAX was a loaded gun. I stood there feeling weightless, looking up at miles of talus.  I dropped the heavy sack and began, sprinting up the mountain.  I ran all the way to the ridge in what felt like seconds. I staggered back down, drunk from the dizzying heights and we camped among the boulders, brothers.  I choked on apnea all night and had lucid dreams of the next day's adventure.  We summitted together the next morning- a life changing experience for us all.  Dad felt as if he had closed the loop by showing me this alternate reality.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I was becoming something very different.  Ohio would not suffice much longer.  We climbed New York Mountain a few years later with my buddy Nick.  By then, I had lost the nostalgia and just wanted to push for higher, harder, more and faster. "Do we have to go there again Dad, it's just a slag heap.  It's not even a 14'er."  The endurance rat had already began chewing on my brain.  I wouldn't put these running tools to use again for another 15 years, but the trail was already forged.  Dad would continue his climbing attaining incredible heights in athletics, career, education and humanity.  A noble hillbilly for sure.

May 10, 2005 I awoke exhausted and dehydrated at 14,000' from my solo climb up the Messner Couloir the day before.  10 hours camp to camp and the Denali Rangers had begun to call me "the Lung."  My mountain ambitions were just starting to be realized.  I lay barely awake in the tent and plot more climbs before my flight home.  Something is wrong though.  I'm not sure what.  I stagger out of the tent and try the Old Man on the 2-way.  Static.  I check with the Rangers.  They had been alerted by some guides to a party moving slowly that did not come back to the 17,200' high camp last night.  The guides were already en route up the mountain and had spotted something.  Minutes later, it was confirmed.  On the flight home, broken apart, I remembered something.  "Drawer by the sink.  Under the silverware.  If anything ever happens, look there."  Sure enough, New York Mountain would be his final spot.  He put it all in writing.  Nick and I set him adrift from the peak the following summer, when Colorado had become my home.  He took on a bird-like, or maybe even an angelic shape as he lifted over the Sawatch as dust in the wind.  The sturdier bits of titanium, silver and steel- the screws, pins and fillings- acquired from living so hard for so long- we sorted out along with the bigger shards of bone, tooth and claw.  Even the fires of hell could not break the Old Man down all the way. We stashed these under a rock up there.  Forever his home. 

Nine years have passed and I'm back for a visit. I shake off my suffocating dreams and begin my run up the mountain- the final prep for an upcoming 100k, which is the beginning prep for a 100+ miler this summer.  As I pondered the upcoming race, I remembered his stern warning.  "Someday, you will run a marathon.  Don't EVER run farther than that."  He looked me dead in the eye and poked me hard in the chest when I was 6 years old as he told me that.  Sorry man.  You have no idea what you started.  I plowed along post-holing and chuckling.  A big winter meant I had to run 3 extra miles of snowmobile trail just to get to the trailhead.  I broke trail through waist deep snow in a sloppy wet whiteout, wearing a cotton shirt.  I am my father's son, after all.  Above tree line, the storm shifted gears and freight train winds tossed me about on the slippery verglas-ed rocks.  I summited and ducked behind a rock pile for a second of tranquility and to give thanks, remembering what this mountain means to me.  As I stepped off the top, I waded through a huge drift and my shoe was pried off by a rock deep below the snow's surface.  I dug for several minutes then stopped to warm my hands in my crotch and pound on my bare foot to keep it from falling off.  I stood there in the maelstrom, numb, with miles to go to reach my rig.  "A little help here please? Dad?"  The wind subsided a bit and I found my shoe and finagled it back onto my frozen foot.  I smile despite my horrible predicament.

Always some sweet with plenty of bitter.  The Humphrey way.

New York Mountain Summit.  Hypothermia coming soon.

Gold Dust Peak the day after the storm.  In good conditions, this and several other area peaks could be enchained with New York.  Someday.

Modern day Fulford.  Pretty conservative little enclave.  Mostly 4WD enthusiasts and hunters, from what I can see.
The old schoolhouse, 9th and Arapahoe.  A snip from Google Street View.

Back home in Idaho with Brandi.  First Brundage Mountain summit on a bike for me.  The 5k Cat Track climb took me 45 minutes. I run it in 28.  Biking sucks.

Our home is on the right side of the lake below.  It is pretty cool to climb a peak from home, look at your home from the summit, then finish by descending back to home.

Elk tenderloin + morels is the best pre-race meal.  Not a bad harvest this year, just had to go a bit higher than usual. These guys came from 6200-6400'.  The highest I have ever picked.


  1. Damn. Apparently that DNA mash up got it so you can write some too.

    You still in CO?

    1. Hi George.
      I had to come home a bit early. I raced 100K this past weekend and I had piles to do for race directing in a few weeks. I had so much to do while there with friends, family and sponsors, that I felt pretty strained. I wanted to get out with you in Boulder, but I ran out of time. I did steal a few days on the way home to climb NYM in Eagle. That was my treat- me time. Then a long drive, more sponsor stuff in SLC and then the final push home. Quite a whirlwind tour. I've been following your blog. Travel, family, running, racing. Your life is pretty full. Any donkey action this year? What's this 5:30 crap? Was that track uphill?
      ;) jer

    2. You spent yer time in CO right. I get places have their own spirituality to them and NYM is truly holy for you.

      5:30 ... Couple of things - I think I ended up putting that to the crapper with my run on the Sunday before when I fried myself out with a longer run and going dry. Ten years ago, that probably would not have been an issue but the body does not bounce from that the way it used to. Toss in a couple of days with so called easy runs at altitude, and hucking a chain saw ... it was probably enough to toss me off.

      Burro stuff brewing.

    3. You run too much Geo! Or maybe exactly enough depending on how you look at it. I was thinking about you this week when I read that new Ben Greenfield training manifesto. Some cool little nuggets in there. I am coming to realize I am more of that ilk than I thought I was. What does Lucho think of these tactics? I know he does a show on the guy's network, but does he like the guy's approach- pretty low volume, high intensity, lots of health mumbo jumbo?

    4. So, are you going to try to go under 5? Is that the "A" goal for now?

    5. Jer - this post is really too beautiful for it to be tainted with me mumbling on about my silly half arsed goals. Too many other fires burning right now for me really to get my head dialed into 5. Running right now is more a daily prayer and meditation than a way to drive towards some performance goal. At least that is what I am saying now.

      Regarding your broader question on the low volume high intensity lots of health ... I am not sure what Lucho's take on it is. I'd guess he'd say it depends, and I'd agree with that.

      Couple of thoughts on low volume, HIIT ... is it me or does it seem that a lot of the endurance folks who tout this has some period where they were high volume folks? I don't think the body forgets that money in the bank that quickly. Sure, the 20 year endurance athlete that put years of volume can get probably get away with such a switch and float on some level of success that the off the couch guy ain't going to see.

      So you and me? Sure, we can probably get away with it.

      How many national class marathoners do we know that are doing their sub 2:20's off of 40 miles a week? How many sub 2:10 dudes are doing less than 70? If you have a guy who is a 2:25 marathoner, what are you going to do to get them improve? (Again it depends on their story to that point but ...) you are probably going to look to be doing more volume and more volume at race pace over time.

      When you think about it aren't nearly almost all 100 mile racers actually low volume types? I mean when you consider the volume folks put into to prepare for when compared to the marathon, it looks low volume. If I were training for a marathon and I told you that my long run was going to be 30% (7 or 8 miles) of the race distance on Saturday and 20% on Sunday (5 miles), would you be particularly impressed? I mean, I get it - the ultra distance stuff sort of requires a lower volume approach in comparison to its race distance because of the damage it does but I think most ultra types are not that big volume folks anyway.

    6. Geo,
      I hear you about the fast marathoner and his fancy training. That person is still going to be super fast no matter what he does. It's all been pretty much handed to him in his genes. It's just not a compelling story, whether his approach is best or not. I prefer Rocky. Old dawg, one more shot at doing something special, unorthodox approach. I keep poking at you because I'm still excited to watch that story play out. I don't believe it is as much about how you train because you train tons of fast miles. It is about still believing and not letting the dream die. The thing that will turn the tide for you is a new wrinkle. ANYTHING new. Not more of the same 10 milers. NEW. maybe it is 30 milers, maybe 10 second hill sprints. Anything to get the juices flowing again. A new approach or even just a few new angles- placebo even- could stir your pot and steer the ship in a new direction. The Greenfield book is full of tech-weenie new age training stuff, but that stuff would be new to you, hence maybe a catalyst for change. Why do I even care? Because I've been watching this play out on the pages of your blog since I started this sport. I'm a fan. Still rooting for 9 Toes Balboa.

  2. Excellent essay. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Good stuff, Jeremy. Evocative, emotional writing, too. Roots are important. I used to live one and a half blocks from that old school and now live four and a half blocks away. I see you have Gannet planned for August 2nd…I'm hoping to squeeze in a summit of that myself about 10 days before that (we'll see…my summer seems especially jam-packed this year) before heading back over to Europe for UTMB…looks like we should cross paths there, too :) What trailhead/route you planning on Gannet? Coming from ID, I would imagine either Green River Lakes or Elkhart, not Dubois/Glacier Trail? I would definitely recommend the Tourist Creek route from GRL, though part of me wants to check out the Wells Creek drainage and The Cleft this year, just for variety's sake. Hoping late-July is late enough to keep the run-off and snowfields to a minimum...

    1. Anton,
      Clarkie and I are looking at Wells and Tourist. We're meeting up at Green Lakes- a mid-point between Idaho and CO. I've been all over the southern Winds rock climbing, but never set foot in the northern half. Psyched to get after Gannet.
      I've been stewing over that story for ages, but a recent trip to Colorado and another round on New York brought it out. Feels strange to put myself out there like that. I think it took breaking myself down racing this week to feel open enough to share. Funny how that works.
      I'm trying to put things together for France now. Feeling my way a bit blind on the logistics stuff. Best of luck in Cortina. Looks like yet another bucket list Euro classic. Enjoy it and come home healthy.

  4. Great story Jeremy, thanks for sharing. See you on the 12th.

    1. Yeah buddy. The McClassic course is good to go. You should get up there this weekend. Another 20 today- JMR, Jug Meadows, Jughandle Mountain peak, Louie Loop, Boulder Lake, back through JMR. Fantastic!