Three weeks ago I was driving down Big Cottonwood canyon after a refreshing run up to Gobbler’s Knob and Mt. Raymond. It was one of my first post-Winter visits to Big Cottonwood trails this year and I was in love with the idea of coming back, day after day through the Summer. Then I remembered the MillWood 100, and that at the beginning of the year I had listed it as one of my goals for 2013. I had forgotten about it but suddenly it became stuck in my thoughts and wouldn’t come loose. I immediately phoned some friends and asked if they would be available to be support along the way. They responded enthusiastically and I set the date for 3 weeks from that point, then set out to familiarize myself with parts of the route that were unknown to me.
What is the MillWood 100? It is an invention of local mountain runner Jared Campbell, who looked at a map of the Central Wasatch and found a way to connect trails and off-trail routes to form a challenging 100 mile foot course. Jared’s description: “The result is a route housed in Millcreek, Big, and Little Cottonwood and has about 45,000′ of vertical gain. It has it all, everything from beautiful smooth singletrack, wicked steep abandoned mining trails, completely off-trail sections, less than 1 mile or road, and very little flat. It has been “designed” so that it is easy to make water/food drops, crew, bail, and start or stop in many different locations.”
July 2012 Erik Storheim became the first person to complete MillWood in one continuously long day, finishing in just under 39 hours. Later that year, Campbell became the second to finish in one long day, coming in under 35 hours. After training for, starting, then dropping out of the Bryce 100 in May, I had a massive store of unspent energy. I was all trained up with nowhere to go. The Bryce DNF stung, so MillWood was to be my consolation of sorts, a way for me to prove to myself that I could still endure a hundred miles. Plus, I love the Wasatch and the idea of taking a grand foot tour of my favorite place on Earth appealed to me.
Friday morning June 28, at 3:12 am I began hiking up the Neff’s canyon trail. Good friend Scott Wesemann accompanied me for this first segment up and over to Millcreek Canyon to connect with the Desolation trail, then a run down to Millcreek Canyon and the Pipeline/Church Fork junction. As we always do, Scott and I laughed a lot as we hiked up the trail in the darkness. He had never been up Neff’s and was pleased with the view of the city lights twinkling in the pre-dawn below. I purposefully did not start out fast because of the distance and climbing ahead of me, but I was a little bugged about taking 3 hours to get down to Millcreek canyon. I was hoping to go faster. However, as the day progressed and the heat grew, getting behind on my goal splits became the theme, and I had to embrace the fact that I would probably not finish this thing under 40 hours.
I said goodbye to Scott at the Grandeur trailhead at Church, and ran the Pipeline trail West from Church Fork to Bambi Hill, then around to the West side of Mt Grandeur. As I began the 3,000 foot ascent I met Nate Pack, who told me he had met Erik Storheim at the summit, and that Erik had left his light trekking poles up there for me. I gave my heavy poles to Nate and continued up. At Grandeur summit I grabbed Erik’s poles and then ran down Church Fork to find my cache of water and food, and to apply liberal amounts of sunscreeen. My shirt was off at this point and temperature must have been in the 80s already at 9am. I ran to the Burch Hollow trail and then began a quick ascent up to the top of Burch Hollow, to the Millcreek Ridge. I had arrived at the section I most dreaded. The trail on Millcreek Ridge is horribly overgrown. In fact, there isn’t much of a trail. I had been there a few weeks before but managed to get off course again. After a horrendous schwack back up to the ridgeline, I continued down to the saddle under Mt Aire, then ran down to Elbow fork. I had been communicating with Scott throughout the morning and he promised to meet me at the Bowman trailhead with lunch and cold soda. The promise of a cold Coke was motivation for me in the increasing heat. I showed up at Bowman overheated and tired, but willing to continue. Scott brought me a burger, fries, and the blessed cold drink.
With water re-filled and a run of cold water over my head, I continued up the Bowman trail toward my next desination of Gobblers Knob. A few trail runners ran up past me, including Dan Gardiner. Hey, I used to be a trail runner. Walking was the only gear I had. Looking back, I must have had some dehydration, and I carried on with that lack of energy all the way up to Gobbler’s Knob in crawl speed. Jared Campbell met me as he came down from a run up to Gobbler’s, and offered to run to his car and bring back his SPOT Tracker. I continued on uphill, and rested several times in the shade. I even tried to lay down several times but the damned flies wouln’t let me rest. After Jared caught up and set up the SPOT, I felt much better and ran well on the connector trail to Alexander Basin. My spirit was good again, but then the big climb up to Gobbler’s in the afternoon heat was a real challenge. Jared had told me there was meltwater near the top of Alexander Basin. I found it and filled up with cold, clean water.
The time was past 4pm when I reached the top of Gobbler’s. A text from my wife came in and suddenly I missed her and my boys greatly. I was a physical and emotional wreck. A call from Scott helped me move along down to Baker Pass and onto the desolation trail toward Dog Lake. I moved well through to Dog Lake, then down to Big Water at the top of Millcreek Canyon. I had stashed a Pepsi and two bottles of water under a rock in the creek and went straight for them. It was 6:45 pm by the time I departed Big Water. The exertion in the heat of the day (over 100 degrees in SLC) had left me nearly spent, so it was a walk up to the Great Western Trail to the ridge line between Salt Lake and Summit (Park City) Counties. Upon reaching GWT, the sun had become obscured behind clouds and I had cooled enough to begin running uphill. My energy was back and I ran the entire GWT to Beartrap Fork, then down to Big Cottonwood Canyon.
At the canyon road I found my food and water cache, mixed up a recovery drink, got my headlamp on –it was past 9 pm — and replaced my cache. I was at mile 48. Josh Greenwell showed up with a steaming pizza and Pepsi, which I gratefully accepted. Then Mark Kreuzer and Zac Marion met us. I was so happy to see those guys. Night had come, I was fed and cooled down, and feeling much better. Mark brought a quarter pound burger for me and I stashed it away for later. Mark and Zac were my companions for the Days Fork to Silver Fork section. We had a great time after walking through a wedding party looking for the trail head. We did some solid uphill running up Days, then hiked as the grade became steep. On the crossing into Silver Fork I found snow and helped myself to several mouthfuls. It was the best stuff.
From the top of Silver Fork we ran the majority down, moving very quickly once we got onto the smooth single track and then 4X4 trail to the cabins. We followed the road from the cabins too far and came out at the lower Solitude parking lot. Crap. That meant we had a nice mile run back to where I should have been. Extra credit! The next section of the route was a short loop up to Willow Lake then back to Solitude. Mark accompanied me while Zac got some rest at the car. When we arrived back at Solitude, my brother Peter and his wife were there with tacos and Coke for me. We talked for a time while I ate, then the other guys told me to get moving. Mark and I had not been on the Solitude/Brighton trail so we of course took a few wrong turns, but arrived at Silver lake eventually. Zac then took over and we said goodbye to Mark.
I remember the climb up to Twin Lakes being very slow. I had been going for over 24 hours at this point. Zac and I got to Twin Lakes pass at sunrise, then the slow hike continued as we moved uphill to Patsy Marley and Mt. Wolverine. My fatigue was obvious so Zac prescribed some powerful 80s music to act as a pick-me-up. It worked. The air drums and guitar came out. Warm sunshine washed away the morning blues.
At Albion Basin, Zac said goodbye and I was alone on the hike up to Cecret Lake. Past the lake I saw a runner moving back downhill to me. It was Jim Milar, who was out with a couple friends on a nice morning run up to Hidden Peak. I hiked with them up to Baldy and down to the saddle under Hidden. I was grateful for the company. From the saddle I ran as best I could with very sore feet down to Alta. My brother Pete was waiting at Alta with some breakfast food. As I reached the homes at the end of the road at Alta I looked up to see Jared Campbell running up to meet me. He and Mindy had come up to help me get ready for the climb to Cardiff Pass. They had everything I needed: Chocolate milk, sunscreen, and smiles. I felt so good then that I ran the mile up the road to meet them and my brother at the trailhead to Cardiff.
The climb up to Cardiff Pass was slow due to 100 degree heat. Erik Storheim called and indicated he was up at the pass and would run dow to meet me. We hiked up together and descened into upper Cardiff. I had never been in upper Cardiff and even in my fatigued state made note to come back and explore the area more thouroughly. We descended on trail, then on mining road down to a large ore bin where some men were doing some actual mining. It was funny watching Erik stride right up to the men at the back of their truck and then continue up the road. Two groups of men in a remote area with vastly different purposes for being there. The men had sparkly rocks displayed on the truck tail gate.
Up and up and up. Erik led me off-trail across the slope under Kessler Peak. He had gone up earlier in the week and put up ribbons to guide us. He was proud to see that he led us right to them. We were on course. Then, we found the abandoned miners trail that leads straight up the mountain side. I was tired and hot but I had plenty of energy for the climb. It actually felt good to take downhill pressure off my toes. We summited Carbonate Pass, took a few mintes for a break, then began the descent down the West side of Kessler. We skied talus and crossed slanted slopes until we came to another rough abandoned trail. Then we found the log slide that goes straight down to Big Cottonwood highway. Erik and I had pleasant conversation and he told me interesting stories of his dental practice.
Erik was a brilliant companion. He knew what I was experiencing because, well, he is one of only two others to do MillWood. Kessler was, I decided, brutal and the toughest climb and descent up to that point. I was half-dreading the climb up Mineral Fork. It was now, I guess, the hottest part of the day. Erik and I walked down the road in the heat. I was out of water, but felt good knowing Matt Williams was waiting at Mineral Fork to help me re-supply and make the next big climb. I sat in Matt’s truck for about 20 minutes, drinking and eating, getting mentally prepared for the second-to-last big climb of MillWood.