Cloudventure: Summiting Halfdome

The sun is setting. We arrive a little later than planned but thats okay. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan and ‘improvise’ is my middle name. As long as you’ve got the right gear and the skills to use it, anything is possible.

I hoist the pack onto my back. It is heavy.

We need to hump it 4 miles into the forest and while this doesn’t seem too far I have a 52 lbs on my back and we need to climb 2000 feet up and into the mountains of Yosemite National forest. We only have 45 minutes of daylight left in the day. This will be a night hike and the first one I’ve done on this terrain. Life is all about the experiences and this will be a good one.

When you’re rucking over ground like this, after hydration, your feet are the most important thing to concern yourself with. If they go then you’ve got some serious problems. Luckily I have friends looking out for me. The crew at On Running and ARM A Runners Mind know what I get myself into so they’ve set me up with the Cloudventure trail runners.

Call the vet because these puppies are sick.

Not only do they have the Swiss engineered Cloudtech to help keep the heavy pack on my back feeling like its part of me; with every step that I take the fit becomes more like an exoskeleton for the foot. It conforms to the terrain as I move over it. My feet are reflexive and responsive. Sticky to the smooth granite under foot yet still sympathetic to my movement.


Now a night hike is a digestible task when the trail is well worn and clearly marked. However, trouble brews on the vast open spaces of the granite flats. When there is no guide but the halo of light emitting from your headlamp things can get tricky.

We find ourselves on just such a granite expanse and wander off the main trail. After a few minutes of hiking on a side trail the smell of fresh water gets strong and we can hear its flow clearly. When we come to the side of the Merced River we know that we have lost the trail.

In a situation like this the last thing that you want to do is panic. 😃

After several minutes of deliberation we backtrack almost half a mile. This is slow going with such a large pack on. We find the main trail again and continue upward towards the backpackers camp in Little Yosemite Valley.

The climb is slow but it is steady and we make progress. 3 hours later we make camp in the pitch dark and bed down for the night. I shed my pack and with it a significant load. Without the gear strapped to my back I’ve gone from a sturdy but sluggish 240lbs back down to a much more manageable 190lbs.

In the night we get a light rain and wake the next morning to a totally silent forest. There is a dense fog enveloping our campsite. This place is pristine and virtually uninhabited compared to the parking lot that is the valley floor of the eastern entrance of Yosemite.


Last night we camped at 6000 feet. Where the view once extended no farther than the shine of my headlamp now I can see unabated through the pines and the mists in front of me. The forest laid out before me is crisp before the fog. It is dynamic and damp and it is alive.

It’s time to conquer this mountain.

The gravel beneath me is loose pack with small stones, sand and dirt. I move with it as it shifts and my body shakes off the 16 bit movements needed for carrying heavy loads and morphs to a flowing 4k rhythm, symphonic with the terrain.

I open up and find my stride.

The shoes on my feet are now well connected with my body. We communicate as the earth reminds me that with each step that I take I am even further into my element. My toes navigate through light underbrush, protected by the thick rubber and engineered mesh on my new pegs. 11 separate pods give me feedback from below as I move faster up the mountain towards the Dome.

As the air gets thinner my lungs are tested and the blood pumps faster to meet the needs of the engines in my body. I feel good. Without these moments that test us we can never adapt and get better. This terrain is adverse and I feel that I am growing. The mico-engineered soles on my feet keep me in tune with the earth as I churn it out beneath my legs.


My destination nears.

Half Dome. A granite monolith crowning the 1,169 square miles of Yosemite National Forest. I arrive at the lower dome where the terrain switches from the loose pack, that my footwear craves, to granite stairs that will soon deliver me upward some 800 feet- abruptly and with aggression. I’ll see your challenge mountain and I’ll raise you focus and intent.

As the steps climb they contort themselves into smooth granite and I must change my approach. No matter, this is adaptation and these cleats are meant for the task at hand. Where I once chewed the ground beneath me I now need to use the full weight of my frame to grip the carved glacial surface and pull myself upward. With just a hair more down stomp in each stride the pods grip and I go. Onward and upward.

On the last ascent there are 400 meters of steel cables that beckon the adventurer in all of us. Along this path is a shear rock face of 88 degrees vertical at it’s steepest grade. This rock is not to be trifled with.

Along these cables are 37 wooden planks provided for some idea of footing. They beckon upward, angle sharply toward the top and all but disappear in the distance. Gloves and safety lines are advised but not required. I am confident in my ability so I attack this challenge with ardor.

My grip is met with a sharp chill from the cables. It runs to my bones and now the slight fatigue of my legs are acquainted with the new task that is required of my upper body. In the thin air the familiar feeling of lower chain fatigue now has company with the languor that grows in my upper body as I pull myself higher towards the top.


Upward and forward. Grip. Pull. Don’t look down. Repeat.

For the next 20 minutes my focus is solely on my breath, my aching muscles and my clutch of the cables.

When ascending a mountain like this one the relationship of your hips and torso to the ground are paramount to the hold you have underfoot. Leaning back provided me the opportunity to drive my feet into the rock face so I am then able to pull myself forward and up. In times such as these- in order to shut out discomfort- it is important to focus on the rhythm of the movements.

I find a balance between the limbs of the lower right side and upper left side of my body. Then switch the pattern. I continue setting the foot, then the hand, pulling and alternating in between. Wash, rinse, repeat. Before you know it we are nearly there.

The line of cables bolted into the smooth surface of the rock eventually terminates and the landscape opens up onto a wide and rounded surface of grey stone that truly feels like a reward for the task required to reach it. There are absolutely no visual constraints before the scene in front of me. I am now 8336 feet above sea level and have just climbed 4000 to experience this spectacular view. I can see for 30 miles in every direction. To the north is Indian Rock and Mt. Hoffman. The Yosemite Valley lies vast and wide to the west.

Miles out, down and far away into the distance each tiny tree and sliver of rock is brilliantly defined. The view stretches as far as the eye can see. It truly feels like the top of the world. Without a doubt this is a place of wonderment. This barren, almost sacred haven above the surrounding wilderness is unique and it is beautiful. It is, in all its majesty, one of the most magnificent places I have ever climbed.

I scan the horizons, intent on creating the most vivid mental imprint possible. I jam down an energy bar and take those all important, last looks from the top of this place. My legs feel a gentle fatigue but still very much alive. I take one last long gaze at the wilderness at my feet.

Slowly I turn and begin my descent down the helm of the dome and pick up speed as I venture deeper into the forest beneath me.


The Foresthill Uphill Challenge 1K (F.U.C.1K.)

Hillclimbing in a Relaxed Town with Some Serious Athletes

Auburn, CA is a quiet little town.One that played host to some of the original '49ers back in the gold rush days of the 19th century. Host of the annual Western States 100, a foot race consisting of 100 long and grueling miles. Now it is home to some of the best ultra runners and endurance athletes in the world. For me today would be the very definition of irony- this picturesque little town in Northern California is where I just completed the shortest race of my career.

The morning of the event was cold. I woke up at dawn to a brisk 37 degrees and stepped out of my room and into a cozy den. Here my buddy Glenn was up reading the paper while his kids and two dogs ran around the room with excited anticipation for the day to come. After downing a cup of locally roasted coffee and a ripe red apple I was invited on a little jog with Glenn and his two trail dogs, Finn and Rosie. I figured this would make for a wise use of time that would not only provide a great warm up for the event later in the day but would also give me a chance to learn a little history about Auburn while getting the lay of the land.

Gearing up in my Method pants and Sentry shirt from Rhone apparel, lacing up my Salomon S.Lab trail shoes, I joined the trio for our first adventure of the day. We left out the back door and jogged down a windy single lane road of cracked asphalt with dirt footpaths running parallel. A half mile later the road gave way and dropped down onto the trail head.

From there, far off in the distance and nestled in overlapping fog banks that jockeyed for space in the growing morning light, the Foothill bridge stood; sturdily placed across the top of the adjacent peaks. 3 miles out from where we stood, the pale green and concrete structure lay in stark contrast to the surrounding forest and rock formations.

The beginning of the trail led us on a craggy, technical descent towards the lower valley that then lead to a path running along the American River. With the Finn and Rosie just ahead, we maneuvered around the fallen branches and rocks jutting out of the forest floor. This terrain is not the type that one can enjoy while on the move. To look up, if only for an instant, just to take in the view, could cause the ground to come up very fast as you may trip over a rock and face plant.

About a mile later the trail opened up into a wider path with a much softer tread. This wider route allowed the first opportunity to gaze up at the growing mountains around us as they just began basking in the warm glow of the first mornings light. As we moved down the path, cutting through the frigid morning air, Glenn explained to me that what we were currently running along what was part of the old California Central Railroad Line that wound along the bluffs just above the snaking river below. It used to run from Sacramento, through Auburn and Folsom. All throughout Placer county. This line had long since been abandoned when the tracks were stripped for steel during World War II.


Two miles further down the old railroad- 'No Hands Bridge' came into view. This was an older bridge constructed of concrete that had worn rough over the decades of exposure to the elements. It was placed much lower in the valley and was also a part of the old railroad line that made up parts of the network of trails weaving in and out of the surrounding mountains of Placer county.

Still another mile further the Foothill bridge loomed, once distant but now towering 70 stories above us, the fog still dancing around the span of the bridge. Now more visible that the sun was a few degrees higher in the sky and even larger since our last sighting had been 3 miles out and at a level altitude.

From this point on 'No Hands Bridge' we were situated 40 feet above the water. Directly below us in the granite rock formations all along the waters edge there were many pockmarked holes randomly dotting the banks. These holes were created by Native Americans that once inhabited the surrounding area. They would use crevices in the banks as mortar and pestle to ground seeds and nuts into various staple foods in their diet. Over time these would form small craters that were used from one generation to another. History from a time past was making this into a very memorable morning jog.

We hung out on the bridge for a few more minutes and as it closed in on time to get up that monster hill we doubled back and retraced our steps up the trail. Back along the bridge over the Indian's prep kitchen, down the path of a once proud railroad line, back up the craggy ascent to the trailhead and finally returning along the old asphalt road and into the back door of the house. We quickly packed our things, hopped into the car and drove down the road towards the race registration area.

The Foresthill Uphill Challenge 1K (or F.U.C.1K. for short) is an uphill sprint consisting of a distance of only 1 kilometer. The crafty minds at Single Track Running have this event beginning in the sleepy valley of the northern fork of the American River. A rocky, winding beast that runs between massive granite and greenstone crags, complimented by a lush deciduous forest. The course spans just a little over half a mile of gravel, loose pieces of shale and good old fashioned mud and it climbs to a respectable 723 ft. In a word, Up.

Arriving sweaty, warmed up and with no time to spare I gave the organizers my name and they directed me down the fire trail which immediately turned into the steepest hill I have ever had the pleasure of doing battle with. Now it was time to climb but some points this hill bordered on being a 'cliff'. Once the ascent began the lowest grade was 23% and the highest was a muddy 65%.

Clad in my trail shoes, work gloves, and Mako shorts I marched, in almost a slow stomp, swinging my arms hard and trying to make use of the momentum they created. Left, foot then right foot and many times hinging at the hips and scaling on all fours for traction. I was very selective of the routes that led up towards the Foothill bridge, towering ahead in the distance. I needed to use my energy in the most efficient way because in a race this short every step counts and needs to be strategized to some degree.


In the F.U.C.1K. finding washouts and divets to utilize upper body strength and mitigate energy expenditure is a key tactic to completing this course as quickly as possible. Energy is the currency we operate in and while this endeavor is entirely aerobic the routes I chose would produce different anaerobic responses to my systems. Because of this I was very cautious of the cost benefit relationship of: more incline with less ground covered versus the less energy expensive opposite of a less steep route with a longer distance to travel. Either way I was moving towards my target but if I made a poor choice, here, it would adversely affect my performance a few feet further causing me to over exert and then crash out.

There was a special prize offered for participants who completed the course in under 10 minutes. Having never run this particular hill and being in the endurance Capitol of the world I wasn't expecting to hit that mark but at halfway up I checked my watch and it seemed within my grasp.

My arms and legs were locking with lactic acid. The buildup was literally shutting down my forearms and legs. My heart was over 200 bpm and the only sound I could hear was my loud, coarse gulps for oxygen as my chest heaved air to and from my lungs like a bellows to a bonfire.

After scrambling for each and every inch of progress towards the top, literally clawing tooth and nail for ground- 9 minutes and 58 seconds later- legs & arms on fire, lungs bursting, blood pumping so loud in my ears that it almost drowned out my obnoxiously loud breathing- I reached the summit.. I had arrived at the eastern span of the Foothill Bridge and stumbled across the finish line with just 2 seconds to spare.

The hill climb ended with a rolling crash onto the gravel just beyond the finish where a nice woman set down a bottle of water next to me and handed me a cool little wooden disc 'medal' for completing the race. I stumbled out a few words that she understood as my gratitude then she left me to lie on the ground until I was ready to rejoin reality with the other competitors and do the post race hang out thing. There were seats on inflatable couches, snacks, hot chocolate and space heaters set up for athletes at the finish line. All these were a courtesy of the organizers at Single Track Running.

Post race for Auburn folks is almost more fun than the competition itself. This was the smallest event I have ever participated in so there was an inviting local feel when afterward we all met up at the Knee Deep Brewery. Here the awards ceremony would take place while people put away some good food and, of course, good beer too. The Aviation IPA and 'Hella Deep' American IPA are not to be missed.

It's post race times like these that everyone has a story to tell about their own experience during the event so you make friends fast. Meeting the race directors and other ultra athletes while we shared brews and stories was a great cap to a day well spent. We stayed until the sun hung low in the sky and eventually made our manners and went down the road making our way back toward San Francisco.

In the end I discovered a relaxed little town with some serious athletes, I tested out some top notch gear, made some new friends and won a hat. Oh yeah and I climbed a big hill too. Thank you Auburn, CA for showing me that it's not only where you go for adventures but who you meet along the way that make the time you spend truly worth while. I will see you next time at the next great event. Until then, train smart, race well and make sure you've got friends with good beer to share at the finish line. Cheers.