Saturday, January 2, 2016

Long Overdue 2015 Barkley Marathons Report (Another Failure)

I wasn't going to originally publish this report after my humiliating defeat at the 2015 Barkley Marathons. I was very angry with myself for quite some time. I'd trained super hard for many weeks with the goal of completing five loops this year. But, as you'll read, I made some very costly navigational mistakes very early on that blew my time margin. However, I stuck with it and stayed Out There as long as was practical; even barely making it out on Loop 3 in time! Anyhow, I'm publishing this now as I look forward to a new year and another attempt for five at the 2016 Barkley Marathons!

Loop 1 Time: 11:37:48, 19th of 24 (40 starters), Time in camp: 36:56.

Conch blew at 10:23am EST after a very cold night with occasional freezing precipitation. One hour later we 40 were on our way after the official race cigarette was lit. In the minute prior to the start I, for some reason, decided to remove my outer wind/rain shell and pack it up in its bag. The nerves were indeed getting to me even in these moments as I struggled to get the darn thing to pack into its own self-containing pocket! I was still wrestling with the jacket as I jogged up Quitter Road alongside Jamil Coury and began the long, switch backing ascent up Bird Mountain.  The jacket finally tamed and attached around my waist I began to settle into a nice and steady hike. Up a switch back ahead, in the lead, I spotted the Abbs along with a long train of Barkley Virgins. Behind me, a switch back behind, was Jamil with his own growing train. I was somewhere in a void in between but soon caught up to a couple of Barkley Virgins. My initial plan was to stick close to the Abbs for the company but I’d soon make my first mistake of the race. Instead I stayed with the two Barkers and chatted for a bit too long when I should’ve gone by and joined the Abbs train. Or I should have slowed down to wait on Jamil who I knew a bit better from our sprint finish at the 2013 Hardrock 100. But I stayed with these guys until the top of Bird Mountain and decided only then to go by them and try and catch up to the Abbs train. I never did. I crossed the Pillars of Death and soon was leaving the Cumberland Trail (CT) on what I believed to be Hiram’s Gambit trail over to Book1. 

Then, all of a sudden an event occurred that changed my race completely. It’s rare that we can remember such happenings but this is absolutely true and I’ll live with it forever now. A Barkley Virgin, foreign I’m pretty sure, came running back from along the CT and was waving his hands and pointing back the way we’d come as if to indicate we were going the wrong way. Now rather than just trust my instinct and experience I honestly panicked. I still don’t know what was going through my mind at that instant as there was no reason to panic. I had Jamil probably not too far behind me and even with the Abbs train out of site I was not in any real trouble. But no, instead of turning around or sticking to the line I was on, which was actually pretty close to Hiram’s Gambit Trail I instead began to descend on a very wrong line through the Fangorn Forest. I’d been a bit West of the proper summit of Hiram’s Gambit Trail and had traversed around I thought enough before I made my descent but I was way wrong. I soon emerged, alone, onto the proper old mine bench where Book 1 is located. From my surroundings I was convinced I was a bit too far East, where we’d normally begin the descent of Jaque Mate Hill. My first clue should’ve been that I hadn’t seen any other runners. But I decided I needed to head West to get back to Book 1. WRONG! I was in fact too far West already! So, again in a panic, I set out at a pretty good run pace to look along the bench for Book 1. Soon I was having to carefully pick my way around blow downs and mud puddles and even passed by a large coal pond. That’s when I realized that I couldn’t possibly be right. Looking back on the map I had run almost all the way to Ross Gap! I turned around and ran all the way back to where I’d come out of the woods and kept on going back East until finally, stupidly, I found Book 1 probably not more than 100 yards from where I’d originally exited the Fangorn Forest! Damn! There were a ton of book pages missing as I tore my own out. I was probably one of the last to find Book 1 on Loop 1! Double Damn! Probably blew at least 30 minutes during this snafu. 

Now I was truly panicking. I was also freely cussing my stupidity out loud! I made my way down Jaque Mate Hill the way I remember and honestly think I nailed it pretty good in retrospect. However, what really happened that day is still unclear to me. I’d been following the route I largely really did remember and there were plenty of scuff marks and tracks to follow to confirm it. But as the trail bottomed out at the Phillips Creek confluences I could not find the North Boundary Trail (NBT)! I knew I was in the right area as it was so familiar looking as I was in this very area twice two weeks ago during a couple day’s worth of training runs on the Frozen Head State Park trail system. What the heck!? I began to circle around the area trying to figure out what I’d done wrong. Still, no runners around. I convinced myself that I’d descended too far and began to work my way back up hill until finally I spotted an orange blaze and found the NBT. I turned and followed the trail back downhill and past where I must’ve crossed the trail after my Jaque Mate Hill descent. How on earth did I miss that? Wow, another 20 minutes or so lost!

I began to climb up the NBT to Jury Ridge fiercely. I ran when I could and just speed hiked the rest. I caught up to Jeremy Ebel from Colorado right at Jury Ridge. We both started down Hiram’s Vertical Smile towards the new Book 2 location. This section was completely new to me and a new feature introduced last year. On the way down I passed by Leonard Martin and another Barker. Leonard was genuinely shocked to see me. I was just as shocked to see Leonard. Despite plenty of useful advice about this descent I botched it pretty bad. I think to avoid getting pulled too far to the North I dropped into the drainage too my right a bit too early; off of the desired ridgeline descent. I soon came to a confluence of the drainage I’d been following and I think Rayder Creek. I knew this couldn’t be right since the confluence I wanted was with Rayder Creek and Bald Know Hollow Creek according to the description. Anyhow I followed the stream downhill and got into a large flat forest area that just felt wrong. I turned around and just tried to head towards the sound of running water and soon found myself trampling through a forest of young trees until finally I popped out into a clearing with a gas well. Now I knew I was close. I adjusted my course a bit and finally arrived at the proper confluence and found Book 2 not long later. 

Then I began the long climb up the new Hillpocalypse where I soon passed by Leonard and company once again! At the cliff face half way up I caught up to Charlie Taylor and soon caught back up to Jeremy as well. We both arrived back on the NBT not long later. Now I was pretty confident in the route navigation until the new Stallion Mountain book locations. I hammered along the NBT as fast as I could reasonably go; running even some of the easier uphill grades. Along the way, before SOB Ditch I caught and passed a good sized group running with Frozen Ed and another couple of Barkers after that. I crossed SOB ditch, made short work of the Coal Ponds and had no problem making my way up to the Garden Spot and Book 3. Nearing the Garden Spot I thought I saw Hiram Rogers and Dusty Hardman. I lost them as I retrieved my page. I then made another catastrophic mistake. My friend Jason Barringer and I’ve now discussed what happened and we’re both convinced it must’ve been due to “memory compression” from it being so long since I was last truly Out There. Anyhow I thought I remembered where the first water cache was. I was convinced I knew exactly where it was. So I confidently ran all the way to where I just knew where it would be. But it was not there! What!? Well, maybe I need to go further towards Stallion Mountain? So I did until I found myself at where I needed to break off the road towards the Gnarly Mouth descent. Damn! I was all out of water and needed a resupply and wasn’t about to risk filling up in this heavily mined area. So I, tail between my legs, backtracked quite a ways back towards the Garden Spot when I came upon Hiram and Dusty coming the opposite way. Damn! I quickly explained to Hiram how I couldn’t find the cache and he helpfully give me directions to find it. They really were awesome directions but I was in panic mode again and unfortunately only heard the part about “Coffin Springs”. So I headed back towards Coffin Springs and happily took the trail right on down to THE Coffin Springs. No water cache! WTF?! I knew this couldn’t be right but I ran down there anyhow! Why? I back tracked once again and when I’d gotten back to the course, Ed and company where coming by once again! I asked about where the cache was and Jeremy thankfully set me straight. I jogged another several minutes back towards the Garden Spot and finally, easily, found the cache. What the heck?! I quickly refilled my bottles and drank nearly a quarter of one gallon jug myself; so thirsty!

Now back on course I sped back towards the Gnarly Mouth on Stallion Mountain and caught up to Jeremy right where we left the mine road to the South. We nailed the descent and crossed paths again with Ed’s posse and together we located the proper drop in point into the Gnarly Mouth. This was a crazy, steep and loose gravel and dirt descent. Just the kind of stuff I like! Just like that I was ahead of the group and on my own again as I bottomed out and ran along yet another mine road out to Bobcat Rock. I hadn’t been this way since the old Little Hell course over a decade ago. Not much has changed really. I easily found Bobcat rock and the Leonard’s Buttslide descent nearby and had no trouble finding Book 4. I saw Hiram and Dusty on their way back up from Book 4 which was a good sign that I was on course and making up time lost. After climbing back up the crazy steep slide I passed through Bobcat Rock and began the new to me climb, Foolish Stu. On the way I checked off various landmarks indicated in the description including Hiram’s Pool & Spa. A short time later I found Book 5 near Fykes Peak Crater with only a little trouble and nearly lost my map in the process! Nice!

I know this next part of Stallion Mountain fairly well and made quick work of the ridgeline descent down to the ruins and on down to the river crossing where I caught up to Hiram and Dusty once again. Hiram suggested we stick together to find the new Book 6 location and I heartily agreed. I was tired of getting lost and off course today! Besides I knew that after Book 6 the rest of the course was unchanged and I was very confident in my abilities to navigate it. Anyhow, we made our way across the river (dry feet! Yes!) and over towards the old Testicle Spectacle powerline climb. That climb along with Methlab Hill and Neo-Buttslide were out this year to be replaced by some new and interesting terrain. We made our way unerringly across the first low ridgeline and up an obvious drainage and through a rhododendron grove and down, steeply across another drainage. Crossing this final drainage we were now on the proper Flatrock ridge where Book 6 was located. The way up this ridge was fairly easy and obviously part of an old, deeply cut logging road. At any rate we soon found Book 6 and I parted ways with Hiram and Dusty; speeding up the remaining climb to Asshole Pass. 

I traversed over the pass on the road to the new descent, Falling Dog Ridge. The ridge starts out with a fairly easy downhill grade but is covered in briars. I was moving at a near run to try and make up precious time. Soon the route downhill got to be steeper and steeper and when I finally spotted the reservoir near Petros I decided to just make a B-line straight down the mountain towards Rawdog Falls. Boy was that a steep, butt sliding descent! But I was down and not far from one of the old book locations. I sped down the road a very short ways towards Danger Dave’s Climbing Wall. I’m actually ashamed to admit I had never been up that way instead opting for the easier but longer Pussy Ridge Long Cut. Not today. Up above me I could see another Barker nearing the top of the wall as I began my own treacherous ascent. This short climb is stupid steep and exposed and slick. You can make your way mostly up this cliff face with decent holds but in the crux you’ve got to climb another dozen feet vertically with nothing but friction holds! Stupid! One slip and you’re likely to slide out down to the little stream 50’ or more below you! I went for it, trying to move quickly but deliberately until finally I was able to grab onto a blow down that reached out across the top of the cliff and pulled myself up the rest of the way. Phew! At the top Julian Jameson was still there recovering and consulting his map. I pointed the way to go and soon we’d collected our 7th page and were heading up what I call Mount Trashmore to cross the highway.

 I made short work of this climb and was immediately onto Pig Head Creek Trail heading up towards Frozen Head Mountain. I climbed as strongly as I could and picked a much better (easier) line to get to the old prison mine trail than I’d chosen in the past. Work smarter than harder! I really pushed going up the old prison mine trail and felt great doing so. I hit the old Prison Mine Road leading to Rat Jaw still at a run. Then it was on up good old Rat Jaw. Unfortunately for us Barkers, an ice storm knocked down some powerlines on the cut that forced the prisoners to come up and clear cut the yearling briar growth so that utility crews could access the power line cut and make repairs. Darn! Even still there were plenty of nasty and sharp surprises on the way up; just happy I had some proper gloves. Nearing the top of the climb I could see a decent sized group of spectators still lingering around late in the day. Several Barkers were on their way down in this bi-directional stretch. I figured I had a chance to catch up to at least one of the groups ahead of me but I never did. Odd. I topped out and quickly retrieved my 8th page and refilled my water bottles as I chatted a bit with John Fegyveresi a Barkley Marathons Alum. He told me that I’d just missed my crew by perhaps 15 minutes! Damn! Guys hiked all the way up here and still didn’t get to see me. Oh well. I sped back down Rat Jaw (now, Uber Rat Jaw) to the prison in the failing light. Brushy Mountain State Prison was in deep shadow as I entered the gloomy and haunted Stockstill Creek drainage tunnel. Spooky. I refused to use my headlamp just yet as I didn’t really want to see what was growing or slithering along the walls, ceiling or stream below my feet. No thanks. I accomplished another first for me when I chose to climb out the ventilation opening rather than traverse the deeper part of the tunnel to get to the end. Phew! That was another tough little technical rock climb! But popping out the ventilation opening puts you right at Book 9.

Now I had a nice little challenge ahead of me. The Bad Thing and in particular Razor Ridge. The Bad Thing is one of the bigger climbs on the course and navigating the right way to the Needle’s Eye (Book 10) takes some skill. I’ve learned the hard way! Three years ago I botched this climb (and one descent) every time but still managed to finish the three loop “Fun Run”. I’d studied this route a bit more this time around (when I should’ve probably been studying some of the other areas that gave me trouble this day!) and felt confident about the route. Sure enough I nailed the route. Made the correct early traversal to Razor Ridge and stayed on the ridge long enough to spot the correct capstone where the Needle’s Eye is located and traversed cleanly over to it. Bam! It was now past sunset as I began the descent of Zip Line. A lot of Barkers over the years have had a great amount of difficulty finding the next book at the Beech Tree. I’ve luckily not been one of them. Even so it wasn’t easy making this very boulder strewn and leaf covered hole hiding descent in the darkness. I ended up trending a bit too far to the North and nearly walked off the end of a waterfall into the gaping darkness. Whoops! I had to make a sketchy traverse to get into a safer area to descent but finally managed it and soon I was onto the old trail that leads to the confluence of streams that marks the Beech Tree and Book 11 location. I retrieved my page and headed up Big Hell, the final off-trail climb in the loop. Navigationally it’s fairly easy; just go up. But it’s a long, steep haul. I was frankly surprised to not see any lights above me. Surely I couldn’t be too far behind one of the groups I’d seen on Rat Jaw? But I guess I was. I was fooled for a while though as I saw what seemed to be a bright light way up in the trees above me. But it was just Venus I think trying to trick me! I kept climbing as best I could and honestly I didn’t feel all that bad. Just extremely frustrated with myself. I found Book 12 at the Chimney Top easily and made my way around the proper, East side of the capstone series to the Chimney Top trail. Was finally nice to be on a real, blazed trail for a change where I didn’t have to worry about navigation!

I’d just started down the trail when I saw a guy with a headlamp heading back up the trail in my direction. He waved to me to stop as I approached. He asked if this was the proper Chimney Top trail and if I knew where I was going. I told him this was correct and kept going. He followed behind me as we made our way down the mountain and back to camp. I couldn’t believe how slow this first loop was going to be!  A huge personal worst! Wow! However, at this point I still honestly believed I had a three loop Fun Run in me. I still had plenty of time I thought as long as I ran a clean second loop without any major navigational errors.

I touched the yellow gate and Laz counted out my pages; all twelve of them. He commented that that was a slow loop for me; I agreed telling him I’d had a few issues Out There today. Ha! Martin and Eric met me at the gate and we back tracked to our campsite to get me resupplied and ready to go for loop 2. It was to be a very cold night tonight, lows in camp in the mid 20s (much, much colder up high), so I decided to wear my Patagonia wool base layer, Patagonia synthetic down sweater and an Inov-8 rain/wind jacket (the very one I struggled with at the beginning of the race). I swapped out my Rail Rider bushwhacker pants for some Patagonia Oxwool pants, changed socks and shoes and was soon headed back up to the yellow gate to start loop 2. 

Loop 2 Time: 14:11:47, 12th of 14, Total Time: 26:26:31, Time in camp: 13:09.

My recollection of loop 2 is rather vague at best; at least the night portions of it. I’ll endeavor to put down what I recall but it was a very tough night for me. Very tough. I’d caloried up at camp and felt good and warm and comfortable and was very enthusiastic to head back Out There, in the dark, all by myself! What a fool I was! I’d not gotten several switchbacks up Bird Mountain when I was already feeling too warm. So I paused to take off my jacket and kept going. Soon I was too warm for the sweater so I stopped to pull that off as well. But by the time I’d topped out I was shivering and had to stop to add the layers back. This was a prelude to the dance I performed all night long! It was like my thrashed body was feverish and having a difficult time trying to self regulate. I believe now that I was so depleted from loop 1 that I was in a severe dehydration and caloric deficit starting loop2. I was alternately too hot or too cold all night long. So with each shift I had to pause to adjust layers which ate up a lot of time. 

I recall easily finding Book 1 this time around after exiting Fangorn Forest just a bit too far to the East. Not bad. And honestly I have no recollection of the Jaque Mate Hill descent. I know I started down in the right place and I recall later climbing up NBT towards Jury Ridge but don’t remember much else. Remember that with the late start it was already after 1 am EST and the sleep monsters were starting to creep in. I do recall seeing a couple of lights high up on Jaque Mate Hill so perhaps there were a couple of others who started the loop after me? I got to Jury Ridge without incident and even did a pretty good job getting to Book 2 this time around though honestly I basically used the gas well as a handrail to get me in the proper area. That method is less direct but it did get me to the right place in the end. The climb up Hillpocalypse was rough mentally. I was really sleep hiking all the way up. I honestly remember my vivid, waking dreams more than I remember what I was doing in those moments. I do remember basically stripping down to just base layers and rolling up my pants I got so HOT on that climb even though my backpack thermometer was reading under 20F! Wow! I pretty much sleep hiked all the way over the Garden Spot not seeing another soul or living creature the entire way. I was so alone! I retrieved my page and found the water cache easily this time. Unfortunately just about all the water jugs were frozen solid!  Unbelievable! I managed to eke a bit of water from one of the jugs near the center of the cluster that wasn’t quite frozen solid, yet. This would be the only additional water I’d have the rest of the loop. I checked my thermometer once again and it read around 15F and there was a slight breeze on the ridges most of the time. Cold!

I found my way in the steadily growing twilight over to Bobcat Rock without any trouble at all. Then navigational tragedy struck again. I’d grown too complacent it seems. I descended Leonard’s Buttslide still in the darkness but lost track of how far I’d descended or if I was even in the main slide area. I panicked again. Had I descended too far? Not enough? Did I descend out of the proper line? To find this book you had to be in the proper slide and not drop down too far. The book was at the base of a park boundary marker (carbon flex post) but the marker was right behind a big tree so you couldn’t see the marker until you were almost right on it! Anyhow it was tricky in daylight and even more so in the dark. No reflective tape here. The area I found myself in just didn’t seem familiar at all. So after a few minutes of thrashing about trying to find the marker I decided I had to do a hard reset. That’s right. I climbed nearly all the way back up Leonard’s Buttslide until I was certain I was in the right slide area and then, only then, did I use my compass to confirm the proper bearing. I slowly descended once again and easily found the boundary marker and Book 4. Damn! Wasted at least another 30 minutes with that snafu; possibly a bit longer. And once I retrieved my page in the growing light and looked around I realized that I’d just been in that area on the first descent! Damn again! Time wasted!

Well at least it was now light out and I could put away headlamp. It had been so cold that night that I ended up burning out my primary BlackDiamond headlamp and had been using a duplicate, secondary BlackDiamond headlamp over the last several hours. Remember this fact as it’s important later on…

The remainder of the loop was fairly straight forward. No further errors and I felt like I was making much better time now that the sun was up and the sleep monsters were gone. Only problem was the water cache at Frozen Head Mountain were frozen solid (as expected). So, like I said no more water since the first water cache (which was mostly ice as well). Anyhow, nobody was at the fire tower this time around so I had the summit all to myself. It was so quiet up top and so cold with the breeze. I made my down to the prison at a good push though kept slipping and falling on my back side. The sun exposed ground of Rat Jaw was starting to thaw out like permafrost and so what appeared to be solid ground suddenly was slick as hell and I’d be fooled again and again and end up on my butt again and again! Ha! Well, I made it down in one piece and cleared the Prison once again and nailed the Razor Ridge ascent to the Needle’s Eye. Boom! Descended a much better line down Zip Line this time around that seemed easier and quicker and soon I found myself at the Beech Tree with Heather Anderson. We headed up Big Hell together and frankly I was shocked to not have seen any Barkers pass by (in the opposite direction) on their third loop. We did take a slightly different line up so that’s probably why I missed seeing Jamil and John Kelly slip by. We were well West on a nice finger ridge that I’ve used before. I retrieved my page from the last book of the loop at Chimney top and began running down the mountain towards the camp ground. All along the way down I passed by several Barkers heading out on loop 3 (loops 3 and 4 are run in reverse). Heather wasn’t too far behind as we continued down, down and up the short Rough Ridge traverse before finally bombing down to the main trailhead. Somewhere on the way down from Chimney Top I realized I was very short on time to finish loop 2 under the final cutoff of 26h 40m. How close I was I had little idea as I’d failed to start my stopwatch on time and I couldn’t remember exactly, on my watch what the official start time was (my watch is purposefully set five minutes fast). But with Heather running strong and several third loopers commenting that we were going to be close; we must’ve not had much time! Sure enough I touched the yellow gate with just over 13 minutes to get re-supplied and starting loop 3. 

Honestly I didn’t want to go back Out There. Not because I wasn’t enjoying myself, I really was. But I came here, this year, to go for five loops. Second best was to go for a Fun Run finish and that seemed extremely unlikely as I didn’t have enough cushion with only 13h 20m to complete another loop, in the opposite direction and with the most difficult (to me) navigation again in the dark. For perspective I’d just completed the previous mostly night loop in 14h 11m. You can do the math. And I was only getting slower as mental and physical fatigue crept steadily in. I was sleep deprived, dehydrated and probably not eating near enough. I still felt pretty good though relatively so no real reason to just quit. Well, my crew, Martin and Fritz were champs. Like a finally trained NASCAR pit crew they quickly whipped up some breakfast burritos for me while simultaneously reloading my pack; all while I sat there in a camp chair waffling and trying to rationalize not continuing on. Then my friends Hiram and Leonard came by to let me know I had six or seven minutes to get back Out There. Then Fritz told me that my wife Kathy had texted that “There was plenty of daylight left so why not go back out?” I asked Leonard and Hiram what they’d do in my position. The unanimously said they’d go back out. They said any experience Out There, on the course is invaluable and a rare gift as we’re not only not allowed on the course outside of race weekend but there is no guarantee when I’d be accepted back into the race or when I could race the Barkley Marathons again. So true, so many good points but so tough to flip that switch in my head. But flip that switch I did with just 3 minutes or so left to get going. I got up out of my chair and headed up to the yellow gate as Martin and Fritz finalized my pack replenishment. I ran up to the gate yelling “How much time left?” Laz finally responded with “Two minutes!”  I got to the gate with less than 2 minutes left and I turned around and couldn’t see my crew! A few seconds later they reached the road and started to sprint up to the gate; our campsite could not be any further away! Ha! Poor fellas! With less than a minute remaining I haphazardly slung my pack on as Martin handed me some additional food to eat. At thirty seconds to go somebody asked if I had everything I needed? Ha? Too late now right? At twenty seconds to go I grabbed my final race bib (runners get a new bib number each loop that indicates which page to tear out of the books) and was on my own; out on a fool’s errand! The fellow Barkers, crew and spectators clapped, whistled and yelled as I stumbled out of camp; my arms full of gear and food. 

Partial Loop 3 Time: 7:55:25, Total Time: 34:35:04, Quit at Firetower (Book 5 on Reverse Loop).
I paused just outside of camp to re-distribute my gear and peel off a few layers of clothing as it was getting fairly warm out. I saw that Heather had made a quick turnaround as well and was also re-packing her gear on a nearby park bench. Soon we were on our way back up to Chimney Top and I honestly had no agenda. Fritz had said to just take it a book at a time and decide what to do. I was moving okay but not near quick enough to have a fair shot at finishing a third loop under the 40 hour cutoff. So what to do?

So my original plan was to just take it really easy up to Chimney Top and perhaps take a nap in the gorgeous afternoon sunlight. Unfortunately my crew couldn’t find one of my soft bottles tucked away in my pack so I only had a liter of fluid with me. However, I remembered at Chimney Top there were some icicles that I could probably safely use for drinking water. So it did. I plucked a few and stuffed them into the soft bottle and kept going out to the Chimney Top book. Ended up working quite well. At the first book on the reverse loop I retrieved my page then sat down on a table sized rock to think. Do I commit to dropping in and on, way down to the Beech Tree? Heather came up after a while and seemed to be waffling as well as she moved stuff around in her pack. Finally she dropped in and down the steep slope and I cursed under my breath. Here we go again! I followed Heather down for awhile then managed to find a different line down the mountain. There was a lot of traffic here so it was a safe line to follow most likely. After awhile I paused and looked back uphill but didn’t see Heather. Hmmm? I continued on and reached the Beech Tree book without any issues after following the safe navigational way to it. 

Up Zip Line I really started to drag. I forced down additional energy bars and gels but with little effect. My body was weary and my wind was slipping again. And it wasn’t even night yet! Damn! Not quite sure what the heck was doing on the climb but I botched it bad. I can recall some vivid waking dreams. Very weird stuff that I can’t do justice to describe. Anyhow I ended up heading straight up some bluffs that I clearly shouldn’t have though it just seemed like the right way to go. After thrashing around a bit I finally spotted the proper drainage that I thought I should ascend. I even tried to confirm this by consulting my navigational notes and my compass. But I must’ve been wrong because I ended up ascending a super steep drainage and never saw any sign of other’s passage. But it looked sort of right; like how I remember climbing Zip Line in 2012 when I nailed the climb. Nope. Not even close. I reached the ridgeline and nothing looked right. I couldn’t see the prison at all and was probably overlooking the town of Petros. I stopped and pulled out my map to try to make sense of what I’d done. Apparently I was way south on Kelly Mountain; way south of Indian Knob and the Needle’s Eye. Luckily it was an error that was easily corrected as there was a nice use trail that led all the way to where I needed to go. No problem. 

I retrieved my third page of the loop and then waffled once again. Do I really want to go all the way down to the Prison? Like the course description reads, “If you want to quite now, you must either climb to Indian Knob, or go back to the Firetower. Both options suck”. Fair enough, but I had an itch to see if I could nail the tricky descent to the Prison. My last attempt at this, in 2012, went very badly and I ended up virtually cliffed out way too deep in Stockstill Hollow upstream from the Prison. That was bad and at least a little bit dangerous. This time the descent went much better. I made the proper traversal over to Razor Ridge and once there it was a piece of cake descending on down to the Prison water towers and on to the 4th book of the loop. Again the Prison was in deep shadow. In fact I was probably at this same spot at the same time on my loop 1. I was getting a chill so decided to pause and pull out some additional layers to have at the ready as well as to retrieve my headlamp. This was when I realized that, oh crap, I failed to swap out any new batteries for my headlamp. So I had a headlamp with fairly depleted batteries and a second one with nearly dead batteries. I had an emergency, tiny, headlamp but it was for a last resort as it doesn’t put out much light; especially not enough to navigate by. Damn again! 

While I pondered what I was doing, Darren Thomas, winner of the Barkley Fall Classic and all around nice young man sidled up behind me from out of nowhere. Whoa! He’d apparently botched the Zip Line climb in a much similar manner. He’d left out of camp not long after I’d come in finishing loop 2 so I was surprised to see him. We both then confirmed that were going to quit at the Firetower and head back to camp. So headlamps donned we splashed our way through the Prison tunnel one last time. The last climb of the day is called UberRat Jaw. It is the longest climb on the course and is a real beast. We both climbed fairly strongly but without any sense of urgency since we knew we were done. Half way up, in the middle of the Prison Mine Trail we spotted a pack on the ground. Weird. Not long later nearing the top of Rat Jaw we came across Eva Pastalkova heading, packless, back down. I guess she’d left her pack there to lighten her load on the climb and possibly as an incentive to not quit at the top like we were! Ha! Smart. 

Once at the top Darren and I decided to grab our pages from the book anyhow and then we slowly hiked down the Firetower road to be met by his crew and friends. So we had some nice company to pass the time in the dark as we eased our way back down to camp along South Old Mac trail.