This post comes from Chris Cloyd, a TMS Ambassador and lover of endurance sports. When Chris isn’t training for his next big race or out exploring the Eastern Sierra on foot or bike, he’s managing the Performance Training Center by Julia Mancuso. Watch for more race reports, gear reviews and fun reading from Chris and other Ambassadors of Tahoe Mountain Sports.
Chris just returned from a wild overnight run through Desolation Wilderness. We thought, You’re going to run through the night? He actually slept out there, but he packed ultralight gear and ran to and from camp, thus making this an ‘overnight run’. Here’s the first half of his adventure, Philosophy and Preparation. We’ll hit you next week with the actual trip report, so stay tuned.
Philosophy and Preparation
Distance running has never seemed all that appealing to me: monotony, pain, and a lack of grand scale (as a road cyclist, the ground you can cover in a single is much greater and, as a result, that undertaking has always taken preference with me). Living at Lake Tahoe, however, has redefined what possibilities exist by way of distance running for me. The bounty of trails and truly world-class wilderness here have swayed me, and the allure of running into the woods and exploring what our world has to offer has overcome me.
I’ve spent the better part of three years building not only the fitness but the wilderness readiness skill set to open up the idea of overnight trail running, unsupported. This is not a new idea – many have done this before me (including my small group of friends that agree this is a good idea) – but it is new to me, and I have taken many pains to progress at my own speed, slowly pushing deeper and deeper into the realm of possibilities this activity has to offer. Please, before you go running into the woods with no plan and just a bottle of water, take the time to build a skill set and game-plan that suits you and your goals.
When I first became interested in overnight trail running, it was a result of reading about fastpacking and the new options that existed therein. I am also exceedingly interested in ultralight alpinism, so the idea of pushing fast-and-light appeals to me. I lack the background at this time to pursue any sort of committed alpinism (and I know this) but I felt as though my background as an endurance athlete would suit pushing fastpacking to the next level. I felt (and continue to feel) that my greatest opportunity to see the Tahoe Basin’s wilderness expanse would be on foot, and that speed and mobility would open up more windows than persistence and time could.
This past weekend I put over a dozen trial runs and experimental pushes to the test before setting out on my most ambitious effort yet. My goals were two committed, long runs and a chain of two of Desolation Wilderness’ tallest peaks (Mt. Price and Pyramid Peak), all solo and unsupported.
In preparation for this trip, I built upon the “packing list” that I’ve developed over the last few months of trials. The “musts”: be light, be small, be sufficient, be reliable. I need my gear on these runs to be light so that my pace in the backcountry isn’t compromised. It needs to be small, so that I don’t have to run with more than an endurance running vest (a pack of more than a dozen or so liters, in my view, would compromise running gait and, as a result, speed and efficiency). My gear must also be sufficient: I need enough calories, water, electrolyte supplement, and clothes to last days and nights on my own. Lastly, I need my gear to be reliable (and this is the most paramount of all of my “musts”). Weight/space savings mean nothing if the gear I’m relying on fails me in the wilderness.
Making the cut:
– an Ultimate Direction Peter Bakwin Adventure Vest. My choice for a “pack”, due to its weight/size and features (bottle holsters, storage volume, ergonomics, etc.).
– a Katadyn Hiker Water Purifier. More reliable than a Steripen (I’m not too enthused about entrusting my life to an abundance of technology in the wilderness) and, to me, more tried-and-true than some other options on the market. I recognize that there are some smaller/lighter options (Sawyer makes a popular product), but for the time being the penalty on space/weight is small enough for me to stick to my guns. I am open to exploring other options in the future, though, and would love to find a new product that improves the experience. Beyond all of this, Katadyn filters make the water taste delicious. I anticipate drinking from shallow creeks, snowmelt pools, etc. when I’m out there, and the last time I swallowed some moss and silt while sipping I ran six miles with a pretty awful taste in my mouth (before I finally managed to cough it up). I’d rather carry a bit more weight than use an alternative (Aqua Mira is the high mark for weight savings in water purification) and tolerate that taste again. Moreover, I feel that if I can’t handle an extra 10-oz or so then my legs aren’t as strong as I think.
– a Grand Trunk ultralight hammock is my solution to the sleep quandary. Light, easy, and effective. I use two pieces of paracord to lash it to two trees, and try and set it tight and low to the ground (mimicking a stable sleeping surface as much as possible).
– a SOL Emergency Bivy. The best insulation for your buck: both in terms of cost and weight/space penalty. I’ll never do another overnight without one.
– thermal socks, long-sleeve top, tights, and gloves. I use winter base layers here, and they serve well to keep you insulated at night. I’ll bring a light beanie in colder temps, but use a running headband for warmer nights.
– Sunscreen not only saves you from skin cancer, etc., but it also keeps your hydration regulated and keeps you more efficient while running. If you’re running at elevation (everything we do up here), this is even more important.
– Fuel. This is largely personal, but my friends and I make our choices here largely based on calorie-to-weight ration. A good endurance trail mix, jerky, and small sandwiches (Nutella and almond butter on cinnamon raisin bread is my personal favorite) paired with bars and emergency gels get my vote. I know it seems challenging to do two strenuous days with an overnight in the wilderness with no cooking equipment or normal “meals”, but trust me, it can be done. This barrier was broken for me when reading about multi-day high-alpine climbs done in the mountains with no stove – if those guys and girls can get by without one, I’m pretty sure I can get through a single night in the woods without one.
– Electrolyte replacement. This is (along with water purification) the most important part of my pack. I know I can go a day or two without much or any food (although my muscles would hate me), and I know I can survive a cold night, but without water and electrolyte replacement my muscles will shut down and limit my speed to a crawl. This lack of mobility in the wilderness could mean serious harm, or worse, and it’s not a risk I’m into taking. Nuun tablets are my product of choice, and on hot/humid trips I’ll supplement that even more with Saltstick tablets.
– a reliable headlamp. Purely a safety issue – you don’t want to get caught in the dark and not be able to move quickly to an overnight destination.
– MAP. Don’t be reckless and ever go into the wilderness without a map (and I do mean a PAPER MAP, not a .pdf synced to your phone – again, don’t leave your life in the hands of technology in the wilderness). This is the lightest/smallest piece of gear that carries the most benefit, and is a must-have. I recommend the National Geographic maps for topographic and trail detail.
– lighter, fire steel, and tinder/starter paper. If you’re going when the overnight lows get down close to freezing, this can be a lifesaver at best and a pleasant luxury regardless. Fires aren’t permitted everywhere, especially in high fire danger seasons, so be aware of regulations. Don’t be that guy or girl that burns the forest down.
– personal luxuries. Travel toothbrush and toothpaste, cellphone (in a waterproof phone bag for rain readiness, on airplane mode to conserve battery life), mosquito net, and compressible sleeping bag. This is the chapter of today’s entry where all of the weight junkies will crucify me. These items regularly make the cut on my trips, although they’re purely luxury choices. A toothbrush and toothpaste (travel sizes) take up almost no space and weight, and really go a long way to freshen you up in the morning. I bring my cellphone in case of emergencies, and for photography. A bring an ENO Bug Net for my hammock, because mosquitos are prevalent up here in the Tahoe Basin and they LOVE me. This is a humongous space/weight penalty, but it’s worth every once for me – it’s oftentimes the difference between a rejuvenating sleep or a handful of sleepless hours being eaten alive. It may not be for you – make your own decisions on your trips. On colder nights (below 50 degrees or so) I bring my Sea to Summit Spark 2 sleeping bag. It’s extremely light and compresses into very small, packable item. When I’m going out for multiple ambitious days, sleep is critical – it’s when the body can regenerate and support more effort the next day. Weight/space penalties that allow for a better/fuller sleep are worth it, in my view.
You may choose to bring more or less on your outings, but I encourage you to experiment. Start slow, with shorter runs and less-committing overnight destinations. Give yourself “outs” if things go wrong. Don’t try and superhero a huge run (or two) the first trip. Consider going with a friend, or run to meet friends who are out backpacking/camping – there safety in numbers and a silly mistake that could cost you while solo is sometimes easily mitigated in groups.
Now that you’ve enjoyed the first installment of Chris’s Overnight Trail Running Lake Tahoe, be sure to check back next week for the step-by-step adventure report. And if you haven’t subscribed to the blog, be sure to do do via the link at the top of this page. We’d hate for anyone to miss out on all our great content!
Adventure Medical Kit SOL Origin Survival Kit
2XU Compression Calf Guards
SmartWool PHD Oudoor Light Mini Socks – Men’s