Sunday, September 30, 2012

9/29/12: Dolomites Day 4

Day 4 took us from Cinque Torri over to the Rifigio Citta di Fiume, which was right at the base of the Pelmo.

The standard route from Scoiatolli would have taken us up a few hundred meters and then down a long, treacherous descent that would require harnesses and helmets.   Since we did not have those items or a desire to perish that day we diverted around this section.

We started out hiking through rolling fields with lush grass.  Soon we plunged down a steep cutout in a cliff and then went through a number of shorter climbs and descents until we met up with the main path.  This section had been very scenic and had the added bonus of keeping us alive, so we were pretty pleased at this point.

We quickly had a good view of our route over the next several hours and went through more fields and cow pastures.  At about 11:30am we hit a rifugio, but we only made a short stop for the bathroom and to pick up some delicious chocolate.

The next stretch was one of my favorites.  We popped into one side of a saddle that looked out all the way to Cortina.  We found a real comfy looking rock and paused to enjoy the view and get a bite to eat.  An ultrarunner looking dude then bombed down the mountain with his little daughter along for the ride in a backpack.  When he reached a level section, little daughter was placed on the trail and started doing some serious hiking.  She was barely 3 years old but looked up and said "Ciao" to us as she motored on by.  Pretty much the cutest thing ever.

We trudged up a long and steep climb but had more breathtaking views up top at the saddle.  It was about 1pm, and for the next few hours we would stay up on the ridge and continue to have fantastic views.  Along the way we passed what must have been thousands of sheep, who were surprisingly noisy.

We wrapped up with a nice descent that looked out onto Cortina and made our way closer and closer to the Pelmo.  The Pelmo is a distinctive white giant rock face that juts up right from our rifugio, and it was an awesome sight to behold.

After we got to the rifugio, I was inspired to go for an ~5 mile run and made my way part way up the scree field of the Pelmo before turning around and getting mildly lost below the tree line.  We finished up the evening by watching the wild horses graze.  There was a herd grazing and a little filly basically came up right up to us.  Another amazing day in the books, and still two more to go!

Hiking across the field looking back at Rifugion Scoiatolli.  You can see two  hikers silhouetted against the massive peak in the background.

Faint path we we were following through the field

To Passo Giau!

Enjoying a beautiful morning.  You can still see Scoiatolli in the background.

Looking back at Cinque Torri

Steep descent off the side of the mountain.  I thought this was the easier route?

We descended right off one of those cliffs

Looking back at the cliffs with Cinque Torri behind them

Last view of Cinque Torri and Jen hiking up the last stretch to Passo Giau

Looking south out of the other side of the pass.  In the top left you can see the saddle we would hike through in the early afternoon.

Beautiful fields leading into the rifugio

We could see Cortina off in the distance

About to drop into the saddle.  We were looking off towards the west could and could see the Marmolada again.

Loved this stretch of hiking through the saddle.  Lush green vegetation all around, cliffs all around us, and Cortina clearly visible in the distance.

Looking out of the saddle towards Cortina

Jen taking the high road on this stretch

Picture of me taking a picture!

Our excellent comfy rock.  We were about to climb up to the saddle in the very top middle of the picture.

Still looking very happy before the big climb

At the top of the climb we crested the saddle and looked out onto these green mountain peaks

We traversed up high at about 2400 meters for the next couple of hours.

We followed the base of the cliffs to the left

It was hard to tell where the sheep ended and the rocks began

Wow, that is a lot of sheep

There was another mountain pass that provided a huge, expansive view of Cortina and the surrounding mountains

Looking down the trail that climbed up from the Cortina valley to merge with our trail

We had started descending down to Rifugio Citta di Fiume.  Doesn't his look kind of like that Windows background?

The Cortina mountains stretched out to the east as we descended

Our rifugio with the Pelmo towering over it

The was close to where I turned around on my run partway up the Pelmo.  A little left and above center  you can actually see our rifugio.

Looking up at the Pelmo from Citta di Fiume

Jen getting a picture of me in the distance as I returned from my run

The wild filly that was grazing right by us that evening

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11/12: Training Update

So contrary to what you might believe, I haven’t just been blogging about the Dolomites and have actually been doing some running from time to time.

I decided not to run the 71 mile Ring on Labor Day and focus more on trying to get into reasonable shape for the Marine Corp Marathon and run a respectable time there. Training feels a bit like the montage in Rocky IV where Stallone trains to beat Ivan Drago in Siberia. Well I suppose the overheated DC swamp is not quite Siberia. I also do not plan on fighting Dolph Lundren (let’s hope). But I have a similar feeling where I know what needs to be done at this point to get in shape for a marathon. Like with Rocky though, it will all come down to whether my heart is on fire and whether I can get fired up to do what needs to be done.

I have started to make some progress recently. On August 30th, I ran a charity 5K at Abercrombie and Fitch, one of the clients I work with. Despite downing a beer right before the race and starting several hundred people back in the pack (which I figure cost me a good 10-15 second), I ran 18:14. This coming weekend I am running the Navy Federal 5K with Jen, and I am hopeful that I can break my PR of 17:48. Stay tuned!

Here is the summary of last week’s training week, which was by far my best week of training in a long time.
  • Saturday – 15 miles
  • Sunday – 17 miles
  • Monday – 15 miles with the last 6 in 6:58
  • Tuesday – 11.5 miles
  • Wednesday – 13.5 miles. 8x800 track workout. It was absurdly hot and humid. I pushed really hard and averaged 2:48s, which I was happy with given the conditions.
  • Thursday – 8 miles 
  • Friday – 4 miles
  • Total – 84 miles
This past Saturday I had one of the best tempo runs I have done in a really long time. I ran 5 miles easy, 6 miles hard, and then a 1 mile cool down.

I started the 6 miles at 6:30 pace, which I intended to be the pace for the whole 6 miles. I felt absolutely fantastic though and kept ratcheting the pace up faster. I ended up averaging 6:12s for the 6 miles, and I ran 5:40 for the last mile.

I have definitely been doing fewer long runs and fewer miles overall than I typically would for marathon training, but I am probably faster than I have ever been before. I’m hoping this is a good training strategy, as I am usually more lacking in speed than endurance.

More to come this weekend on the Navy Federal 5K!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

9/8/12: Dolomites Day 3

We thought the Dolomites could not get any better, but somehow they did on Day 3.  After our huge Day 2, we slept in a bit later and got on the trail at 8:55 after another stellar breakfast.

Day 3 began with a steep 2,500 foot climb up something that only vaguely resembled a trail.  As the climb leveled out, we began seeing ruins from WWI strewn across the mountain.  Over the next few hours we saw decrepit forts, trenches, and kill windows tunneled through the mountains. 

At the top of the climb we approached a cliff that offered huge views towards the south and the areas we would be hiking through over the next few days.  This vista made what we had seen so far pale in comparison, which was hard to believe.  We saw the jagged, white classic peaks on of the Dolomites, the Pelmo massif in the distance, and even further away the Marmolada (highest peak in the Dolomites).

After gawking at the scenery, a clif bar break, and talking with some Italians about how we were from America, we started a long stretch along the ridge.  We soon had an option to drop down into the valley or continue on the high road along a rock field at 2,400 meters.  I lobbied hard for the more difficult high road, and Jen agreed against her better judgement.  The first stretch had lots of climbing up scree fields, but it soon was all worth it.

Our Rifugio for the night was right by Cinque Torri (5 towers).  Along the ridge we had a great view of Cinque Torri and all of its surrounding mountains.  As we worked our way along the ridge, we saw these amazing WWI "kill windows" carved into the 3,400 meter mountain that rose just to our left.  These were perfectly square and evenly spaced windows carved from tunnels in the mountains.  I would not want to be an invading army with someone waiting to shoot me from those tunnels!

As we continued along the ridge, we were treated to our first views of Cortina, which we had passed through 3 days earlier.  While hiking along the ridge was tons of fun, it was time to get some food!  After a steep descent, we arrived at Rifugio Dibona around 1:30pm.

This was by far our best lunch stop on the whole trek.  We sat in their outdoor terrace enjoying the spectacular scenery.  My gnocci and Jen's polenta and cheese were also most welcome after a long morning of hiking.  Sadly, we eventually had to leave to get back on the trail.

We descended down through a forest section to 1,700 meters only to have a 2,000+ foot steep climb up to Rifugio Scoiattoli.  We eventually made it back up above the treeline to the Cinque Torri rock formation and nearby rifugio.  After a very long day, Jen was initially less than pleased that I had not booked the Cinque Torri rifugio and opted for the one further away.  Lucky for me, Rifugio Scoiattoli was only another 15 up the trail and was well worth the extra hiking.

It ended up being our favorite rifugio thanks to the 360 degree views, nice private room, and top notch food / wine / beer / coffee.  Later that night we found out it was a holiday for some saint, though we never got clarity on exactly which one.  This meant that all through the mountains the rifugios and towns would light huge bonfires.  It was incredible to stand on top of a mountain with a huge bonfire and be able to see about a dozen other bonfires that spread out for miles and miles across the mountains.  Think the lighting of the signal fires in Lord of the Rings.  As we all stood around the fire, they passed around homemade grappa, which I have to say was really good!  It was a great cap to another epic day.

Morning a Rifugio Scotoni

I had thought we would be going up the trail to right, but we instead shot straight up the mountain on a "trail" towards the top left of the picture
Oh man that looks steep!
This is the "trail" we climbed up
Looking down from partway up.  You can see Scotoni way down in the valley.
After the initial steep section the trail leveled out.  These are the first WWI ruins we saw.
Getting even higher up now and looking back from where we came

Reading maps is tough work

We had so far been hiking in the Fanes - Sennes National Park.  This sign marked where we crossed over to the Cortina D'Ampezza national park.

These flowers looked like the bluebells we have in Virginia and grew right out of the rocks.
Almost to the top now

This is where we crested the ridge and had our first big view of the Cortina D'Ampezza section.  We could see a lot of our route for the next few days.

Looking down from that ridge.  This is a ski area in the winter.
Way up high is Rifugio Lagazuoi, which is where our book recommends you stay on Day 4.  It was only 11am though, and we were planning to cover a lot more ground!
We were starting to traverse the ridge and had nice views to the north
More views north
Now looking south at some of the classic jagged peaks of the Dolomites
This is where we cut left up the rocks to the high road

A WWI trench
This was what the trail looked like on this section
Looking down at a WWI fort.  This area was one of the key strategic locations in the war.
In the middle is Cinque Torri (5 towers), and you can actually see our Rifugio to the right.  We still had a long way to go though.  We would go left for a while, descend all the way to the valley floor, climb back up, and traverse right.
The ridge dropped off steeply to the right
This is the trail as it traversed along the mountain
Our first view of Cortina and the surrounding mountains
Jen making her weay across the ridge
Cortina towards the left and Cinque Torri towards the right.  You really can't beat this view.
We went along the ridge for a little while longer and then dropped steeply to the right down to our lunch spot

Getting close to lunch now!

Jen had no time for my lollygagging
Ah yes!  Finally lunch.
Now this is what I'm talking about.  Best lunch spot ever.
After lunch we descended down through the forest but still could see the mountains through the trees
We both liked this trail, and it offered some nice variety to the higher altitude ridge hiking
Way in the distance in the middle of the picture is a saddle we would hike through tomorrow, though we didn't know this at the time

Cinque Torri was getting closer, but it was still really far away!
All the way down to the valley floor.  Now let's climb all the way back up!
The mountain in the clouds is the one we hiked around along the ridge at its base
We took a wrong turn towards the top of the climb up to Cinque Torri.  Fortunately we stumbled upon the site of an ancient landslide, which opened up a gap that provided incredibly views of Cortina.

More amazing jagged peaks towards the south

Jen and I by the landslide
Wow.  Pictures just do not do this justice.
Little bit steep!

I think Jen was ready for this long, long day to be over

Cinque Torri Rifugio overlooked this field
Looking down at Cinque Torri.  Sadly we still had a bit further to go. 
We would cut through this valley the next morning towards the peaks in the distance
Jen was happy that the end was now in sight.  Rifugio Scoiattoli was not too far behind me.

Another look down at Cinque Torri
First despair

And then victory!

Rifugio Scoiattoli had the most incredibly 360 degree views.  This was looking north towards the mountains we hiked through in the morning to get here.
Looking at Cinque Torri from Scoiattoli
The views just never ended!
Way to the top right is Rifugio Nuvolau.  We were quite happy to not be hiking up there.

We were quite spoiled at Scoiattoli
The bonfire where much grappa was consumed