Pacific Ceiling Tour
by Hans Florine
How about running/hiking/climbing all the 14,000-foot peaks in California? Sound crazy? Not for three guys with endless energy and nine days to spare.
Our trio consisted of Russ McBride, a philosophy grad student and avid outdoor athlete; Tony Ralph, a hockey player and computer scientist; and myself, Hans Florine, professional climber and amateur runner. We dubbed the adventure "The Pacific Ceiling Tour." Our goal- to ascend all 15 of the 14,000-foot peaks in California as quickly as humanly possible.
What the adventure did for us was to challenge and sharpen some of the diverse skills that each of us brought to the Tour. What can climbing all or some of these peaks do for you? I can only say it is better motivation for keeping fit than grinding on a Stair-Master in front of a giant IMAX screen. After all, hiking and climbing peaks, when done properly, strengthens your quads on the way up and your knees on the way down. Going over adverse terrain helps strengthen your ankles, in addition to being a terrific balance-enhancer and proprioception builder. All of which can improve your "flat-land" running.
Our background wasn't just as runners: Tony had climbed Denali the previous year and had completed a slew of other mountain adventures. Russ had voluntarily completed a self-constructed event that he called the "Titanium Man," a combination of climbing 12 advanced routes (grade 5.12), swimming five miles, running a marathon and biking 112 miles - all in a day. I'm probably best known for sprinting up 60-foot speed routes at the ESPN X-Games and long one-day speed ascents in Yosemite, not multi-day endurance. (I think Russ was worried about me making day two.)
True, you don't have to cram all the peaks into your two-week vacation to get the benefits of your own Pacific Ceiling Tour, but if you want to sample a few peaks, it can only help.
Day One: The odometer started clicking - 18 miles of hiking in and out to Mt. Tyndall, with about 10,000 ft. altitude gain.
Day Two: Tony and Russ wanted to tackle Middle Palisade. I was begging for a rest day. My legs felt like marble. Maybe Russ was right about me being good for only one day. Tired from about 11 a.m. the first day we started, and that was not even an Alpine start!
I was dragging at the back of the pack for the first two miles, but when we hit the climbing terrain I came into my own. We topped out just before 5 p.m. I asked if I could race down and meet them back at the house. I came in 10 minutes ahead of Russ, which is impressive over two hours of downhill running/hiking, if you know Russ' competitive drive.
Day Three: We hiked in seven miles to Mt. Russel, climbed it, descended, hiked one mile to Whitney, climbed it, descended to Mt. Muir, climbed it and descended the nine miles back to the car. Tony spent the night between Russel and Whitney due to lack of sleep from being late in the day before.
Day Four & Five: Tony summited Whitney and Muir. All of us hiked up the casual seven miles to the summit of White Mountain. Tony and I took the seven mile route out, while Russ para-glided off.
Day Six: This was the "big climbing day," although it did include a six-mile approach and five-mile hike out. We climbed up Mt. Sill via the Swiss Arete, (grade 5.7) and traversed the ridge over rocky terrain to four other peaks. The pounding downhill hike out was killing Russ.
Day Seven: Russ opts for a visit to the doctor, while Tony and I push on to do the 18-mile round-trip hike on Mt. Langley. The x-rays reveal that Russ has a bone tumor on his right shin, exactly where his tendon is running over the bone. Russ gets a shot in his leg - a "cocktail" of cortisone, pain killers and various anti-inflammatories.
Day Eight: Russ heads up Langley. In disbelief that Russ wants to keep going, Tony and I push on without him up and down Split Mountain - five hours and 20 minutes, that's 6,000 feet of elevation gain and six miles of ground covered.
Day Nine: Russ is still standing! He not only climbs Split, he runs it and beats our time by one hour!
We all drive up to Shasta during the night of the ninth day. We leave the cars at 7:50 a.m., looking at about three miles up and down and 7,000 feet of elevation gain. Acclimatization on the other peaks has made this almost enjoyable. We top out at one p.m. on the 10th day!
Nine days, ten hours and 50 minutes after leaving the car at the Tyndall trail head, we return to the car at the parking lot at the base of Mount Shasta! I suppose now Russ will think I'm a "10 days or less guy."
We covered about 100 miles of terrain and gained about 50,000 feet of elevation. We walked away with sore knees and feet, wide smiles, and stacks of stories - all of which should benefit our "flat-land" fitness in the long run.