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Running North Lake to South Lake has been on my “must do” list for some time. I should point out that this adventure is more of a run/hike as there is approximately 6 miles of both un-maintained trail and cross country that the route covers.
Colleen and I start our adventure by waking at 2:00 a.m. for a 3:00 a.m. departure. There is a full blue moon high in the sky on this clear early morning. The first .5 mile is on a dirt road leading to a small camp ground at the actual trail head. From here we take the trail leading to Lamarck Lakes. The trail climbs through the wooded mountainside eventually opening up allowing the full moon to light our way. We are using headlamps primarily to avoid tripping on the rocks as we run slowly up. Soon we are at lower Lamarck lake.
The trail continues to upper Lamarck Lake where it then becomes an un-maintained trail and crosses the creek for a second time. This is where we first get off route unable to find the obvious route. We are too far climber’s left and end up climbing and traversing a large Volkswagen size bolder field eventually regaining the route up to the Col. Here the route becomes obvious and we are again making good progress after losing over an hour by going off route.
At 7:15 we are on the Col taking in the amazing views of Mount Mendel and Darwin Canyon down one side and looking back down to upper Lamarck Lake the other direction. The elevation here is 12,880 + or -. This is our high point of the day.
Descending into Darwin Canyon is relatively easy for the most of the way down however still not a clear enough route to run. We must continue to be very careful with our footing. This is not the place to twist a knee or ankle! While descending, Mount Mendel continues to be the dominate feature. I could only imagine what this place was like 60 years ago before the glacier receded to where it is today.
The Shooting Stars at our feet are amazing as we descend into time and Darwin Canyon. More car size boulders await us near the bottom as we traverse out of the canyon with the lakes on our left.
We reach Darwin Bench and I start to feel somewhat relieved that most of the technical ground is behind us.
We pick up a clear trail but still unmaintained which takes us down to the JMT where the remainder of our journey will be on clear maintained trail. We are finally making good progress descending quickly down to the JMT. I suddenly realize that we are on a very well maintained trail and heading down into Evolution Valley as the merge was not that obvious or I was experiencing too much oxygen on the brain and enjoying the fast moving down hill. After a short distance I stopped and realized my mistake. Oops!
So we proceeded to reverse our direction and headed back up to Evolution Lake where we are now among civilization and all the “WILD” hikers (the movie).
This place is truly amazing and unquestionably the reason why it is one of the most popular hikes in the Sierra. We continue to climb up to the next pass. Muir pass. Along the way we pass by many incredible lakes. This section of trail is run-able as it climbs gradually up to Muir pass.
As we continue to pass what seems to be a never ending train of people I was on the lookout for my cousin Paul who was scheduled to be on this section and “through” hiking the JMT on the same day (I never did find him).
I can’t help but think John Muir is probably rolling over in his grave asking the question why are these people moving so quickly through the wilderness and not stopping and smelling the flowers. Yes Mr. Muir, we will be back to do just that.
After reaching the Muir hut at the pass we have a long decent into Leconte Canyon where we will reach our low point of 8800′. I am nervously looking at the sky as the thunderheads start to form and hoping the weather will hold off and allow us to finish our journey safely.
While descending into Leconte Canyon we pass several lakes and some amazing waterfalls flowing over the smooth granite. We finally reach the junction of the JMT and Bishop Pass/Dusy Basin trail. I check the time, we are at 12.5 hours into our adventure.
By now the skies are dark and with the clap of thunder it starts to rain. Colleen asks me what do I think about our situation and I reply that the storm doesn’t look too organized and that we should proceed up to Bishop Pass. What do I know? As we press on it continues to rain but we are fine with our rain gear on.
At this point of our run we are tired and having been up and over Bishop Pass before we know we are in for a long 12 + miles with another 6000 feet+ of total gain and loss. This will put us to the test as this trail can be a beast even on a short day.
The rain subsides after the first 1K of climbing and the cloud formations over the surrounding peaks is remarkable. With the clouds still bumping high above us we continue to march on up into Dusy Basin. This place is another magical spot where one could spend days or weeks exploring. From here there is one more push to the pass. The clouds are regrouping at this point and I am paying close attention. There is a cloud formation that is hovering over the Palisades with the peaks in the clouds as the thunder continues to rumble through the area. I’m thinking to myself Thunderbolt Peak is living up to its name.
500 feet below the pass I eat my espresso almond butter which I’ve been saving for this moment when my energy levels are diminishing. At last we reach Bishop Pass and with the looming thunder storm we quickly proceed down the other side. By this time Colleen is not too happy about negotiating any more downhill. I tell her it’s only 3000 feet and oh yeah remember all those steps built for hoses not people. This is when we both think about acquiring hiking/running poles. Next time?
Again the views are spectacular but we are not able to appreciate it as we are too busy watching our foot placement. With daylight diminishing and clouds once again regrouping we press on to the finish. All the while I have it in my mind that this is a 35 mile day as was posted on a couple of different websites. So I am thinking to myself that we don’t have but another mile or two to South Lake. I convey my thoughts to Colleen and she proceeds to tell me that this guy she talked to yesterday hiked it last year and clocked the distance at 42 miles. Crap we still have a few miles to go and I am looking at my Garmin thinking we are nearly there. In the mean time the storm is organizing above us and the sky suddenly becomes dark. OK, time for the headlamps.
Around the corner and below I see South Lake, yes we’ve made. A minute later the skies open up on us. We run the last ¼ mile in record time and arrive in the parking lot 17 hours later 40 miles + or – and 9000′ of elevation gain praying that the car was shuttled successfully and that we could find it instantly.
AH, THERE IT WAS so we complete what will remain as one of our more adventurous days in our lives.
The cooler weather and great water temperatures gave way to the perfect atmosphere on Sunday for the 13th annual Auburn Triathlon. With four race distances to choose from, over 400 athletes competed in a swim, bike, and run, in and around Folsom Lake and the American River area.
The women’s “World’s Toughest Half” Ironman distance triathlon was won by first-time half Ironman distance competitor, Kelsey Withrow. She was the fastest female swimmer of the day, which helped her keep the lead when during her bike she had problems with the chain coming on and off. Despite that issue, she was able to hold off the second-place competitor by having a strong run on the trails.
The men’s overall winner of “The World’s Toughest Half” was Kevin Rudd from Campbell, California. He said the “World’s Toughest Half” is definitely the right name for the race because the course is the hardest triathlon that he’s ever done. Summed up in one word, Kevin described the course as “relentless.” Most notably relentless on the course is the bike portion with a ride that is up and down with not too many flat stretches. Kevin had the fastest bike split of the day which is his strongest of the three disciplines and helped him win the overall race. He mentioned he had an encounter with three four-legged animals that slowed him down a bit.
The USA Triathlon Southwest Championships were held in conjunction with the International Triathlon distance race. The overall female winner was Elise Winter with a time of 2 hours 42 minutes.
The overall male winner was JP Donovan in 2:14:42.
The most interesting note of the day was the fourth place overall “Half” competitor Bruce Deakyne. He had the fastest swim and the fastest run splits of the day. Most first-time competitors described the course as tough but beautiful and would definitely come back next year for one of the four race distances.
Many thanks to all who raced, volunteered, spectated, or otherwise contributed to the success of the 2015 edition of the Auburn Triathlon. It was a great day for racing and we really appreciate the support of everyone.
Justin Smith, Overall Winner of the 2014 World’s Toughest Half
“This truly is one of my all-time favorite races. The venue is world class, the aid is awesome, and the great vibe of the announcing and organizers is incredible. Keep up the great work and see you again next year!“
“I thought you ran a great event yesterday. I was a first-timer on your Aquabike and it certainly lived up to its billing; it was tough. I appreciated all the volunteers on the course with the directions and support at the water stations. They were all enthusiastic, supportive, and informative, so please say ‘thanks’ for me again. My daughters were impressed with the finisher’s medal, so maybe that will translate into them joining me in one of the events next year. Just wanted to pass along my thanks, and appreciation for a nicely organized event.”
Taylor Hockett, Winner of the Mini Triathlon
“Right on! Thank you! I really did have fun at your event. I thought it was well marked and something I will do again…..the mini is a perfect fun little race. I know there were issues about the course “not being marked” really…it’s up to the athletes. Well, thanks again!“
Jonathon T Meek
“Was my first half iron and wanted to pick a tough race to help prep for IMLT. Bike course was tough, run course was tougher! couldn’t beat the scenery and CAN’T WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR! Thanks for putting on a great, well managed race with awesome volunteers. Need to spread the word and get more folks to ‘suck it up’ for this one!
“Great event, challenging, fun & well ran.”
“Kudos, compliments, and praises to Colleen, Joe, Anne, Chris, Brad, the volunteers, and all others involved for putting on a “textbook” example of how to run a successful triathlon event with a complex course design!”
Chris Cloyd, 2nd place International
“I was super excited to keep up the momentum with a podium finish alongside some GREAT competition at the Auburn Triathlon this past weekend.”
“Tough enough? Oh yeah! You did an incredible job of running a challenging race. The support was as awesome as it was tough. The run aid stations were especially excellent, staffed by wonderful volunteers with great positive attitudes. Well done!”
“My only complaint is not getting a shirt both times I’ve completed the race after being an early registrant. Everything else about this event is top-notch, from support to volunteers to a fabulous run! Thanks for a great day. I will be back for #3, but I want a shirt next time!”
“I can’t say I have anything to compare to since this was my first tri, but others were commenting on this being a very tough course compared to past years. As a first timer, a top 10 placing in such a challenging race was absolutely mind blowing. Goes to show what can be accomplished with focus and determination.”
“After 3 long courses, I chose the ‘easier’ International distance, for which you, too, need to be tough. Great organization and volunteers (and course).”
We couldn’t of asked for a better day! With temps approaching the 100s just days before the 12th Annual Auburn Triathlon, race day temperatures at the swim were 57 with daytime highs maybe upper 70s. Water temperature was 71! A gorgeous weekend and a perfect day for a triathlon.
With 407 participants registered for one of the 4 events of the Auburn Triathlon, 344 participated race day. The waters were calm at Rattlesnake Bar till the horn went off at 7:00. Every 5 minutes a wave of swimmers would hit the water joining the lifeguards and safety personnel already out on the water on jet skis, paddleboards and kayaks. Dan Ingals of National Marine safety set the course for the events and provided water safety as did the Folsom State Park lifeguards. Our swimmers were well watched, guarded and protected.
First to exit the water was Rob Laurie, of Incline Village with a swim time for the International of 20:11.6. Linda Hora was first female out of the water with a time of 22:37.
In the World’s Toughest Half the fastest swimmers were Justin Smith of Davis with a time of 25:35 and Amanda Mattioli with a time of 29:10.
Both Justin and Amanda each won the ZOOT Z Force 1.0 Wetsuit provided by our Swim Course Sponsor Rocklin Endurance Sports.
For the Mini Tri first out of the water was Brynda Larsen, age 51, with a lickety split time of 8:15. Ian Smith, 19, was first for the men in a time of 8:35.
In the NEW World’s Toughest Aquabike, the fastest swimmer was Wendy Buchanan of Tahoe City, swimming the 1.2 mile course in 34:17 followed by Mike Scott with a time of 34:23.
Then onto the bikes with a climb right out of the transition. All the major intersections were posted with either CHP, or Auburn PD as well as there were many volunteers out there at various places along the course watching out for the cyclists’ safety.
The fastest cyclist of the day for the Mini was Michael Cordova riding up from Rattlesnake Bar in a time of 26:52. Kelly Hammerstone rode the uphill course in 31:03.
For the International the fastest bike time for the men was from last years previous winner Chris Cloyd of Truckee with a time of 1:11:08. Reno Area Triathlon Club’s Dana Ginsburg came in with the fastest bike time for the International Women in 1:25:36.
In the World’s Toughest Half , Justin Smith also took top honors for the fastest bike time, 2:43:41 with Susannah Breen coming into T2 with a bike time of 3:06:03.
Both Justin and Susannah each won $100 gift certificates to Bicycle Emporium, Auburn Triathlon’s Bike Course Sponsor.
For the Aquabike Ann Erickson clocked the fastest bike time for both men and women, 3:09:07 that was fast enough for her to take the Overall win for the World’s Toughest Aquabike, again for both men and women, way to go Ann! In the men’s division Jerry Wilcox biked the tough bike course in 3:45:50.
Onto the run
Fastest Mini male runner was Taylor Hocket in 15:41 and 19 yr old Hannah Halverson of Truckee ran the canal trail in 19:48.
Fastest International runners: Shane Arters, Team Zooters, ran the course in an awesome time of 44:33. Linda Hora once again stole the show for the fastest run for women with a time of 48:46.
Matt Balzer and Susannah Breen were the fastest runners on the new/old World’s Toughest Half run course, each winning a pair of Salomon Shoes presented by Salomon and Alpenglow Sports of Tahoe City whom partnered to sponsor the WTH Auburn Triathlon’s Run Course. Matt Balzer owner of Reno Running Company, a Partner of Auburn Triathlon, donated great prizes to the raffle. Matt’s time was 1:31:46 and Susannah clocked a 1:40:07.
Overall male winners for the Mini Tri were Taylor Hockett, 31, in a time of 57:53 followed by Michael Cordova, 30,in a time of 58:13 and coming in third to round up the podium was Dawson Smith, 15, in a time of 1:00:52.
For the Women in the Mini Tri we had Kelly Hammerstone, 35, taking top honors with a time of 1:05:40. 16 year old Hannah Halverson of the Wild Cherries Team from Truckee was second in a time of 1:06:32. Angela Raimondi, 25, was 3rd, 1:08:06.
First for the men in the International was Shane Arters,49, of Team Zooters, second was last years winner Chris Cloyd, 29, followed in third by Matt Harder,41. Their times respectively: 2:22:09; 2:24:12; 2:29:12.
First for the women in the International was Dana Ginsburg, 49, with a time of 2:46:33; Joanne Glichrist, 44, was very close behind with a time 2:46:48. Then Linda Hora, 50, not too much further back was 3rd in a time of 2:47:25.
The Aquabike was won by Ann Erickson, 53, 4:04:47 followed by Wendy Buchanan,43,in 4:12:47. In the Men, Jerry Wilcox, 53, was first with a swim/bike time of 4:28:36. Second was Gregg McKenzie, 44, 4:39:18.
The Overall Winners of the World’s Toughest Half went to Justin Smith, 32, in a time of 4:45:47 and Susannah Breen, 33, 5:34:50. Both Justin and Susannah won ZIPP’s Vuka Alumina Aero Cockpits.
Following close behind Susannah was Joanna Pomykala, 38, with a time of 5:35:24 and our own Robyn Soares, 40, crossing the finish line in 5:48:16.
Chasing down Justin was Matt Balzer, 33, closing the gap in on the run, crossing behind Justin in a time of 4:52:30. Keith Jamtaas, 35, was third fastest in the World’s Toughest Half in a time of 4:55:53.
Congratulations to all the winners, and congratulations to all who finished any of the Auburn Triathlon events. We do hope you all had a great, challenging enjoyable day and we hope you all will come back and try to PR the course. Challenge your friends to a great race.
We would love feed back so please do not hesitate to email us with ideas, suggestions, recommendations. We did send out a survey if for some reason you did not receive it or would like us to resend it to you contact us.
See you next year, please spread the word, lets work together to grow this race and make it one of the best and toughest races in the West.
It makes sense that in Auburn, CA, the place that proclaims itself as the Endurance Capital of the World, you would name your triathlon, The World’s Toughest Half. At least that is what Brad Kearns, a former world-class professional triathlete and resident of Auburn, thought when he started the Auburn Triathlon twelve years ago in the town famous for being the finish of the Tevis Cup 100 mile horse race and one of the toughest long distance running races in America, the Western States 100, both of which travel from Squaw Valley to Auburn. The World’s Toughest Half is a half-Ironman distance event. The competitors swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles. With the Sierra foothills steep hills and rugged trails it is billed as one of the toughest courses in the world.
Brad Kearns originated the Auburn Triathlon after spending nine years as a pro triathlete. After moving to Auburn it didn’t take him long to decide that it was the best place in the world to train for triathlon. What Brad found in Auburn was lovely rural countryside for the ride, beautiful American River Canyon views and steep drops for the run, and a quiet cove at Folsom Lake for the swim; the makings of a great triathlon. Since Auburn didn’t have a triathlon of its own, Brad decided to start one. in 2012, Auburn Triathlon changed hands to Colleen Conners-Pace and Joe Pace both of Tahoe Peak Endurance, LLC.
Colleen Conners-Pace and Joe Pace will be going on their second year as Race Directors of the Auburn Triathlon. Colleen, a lifelong Sierra resident, and Joe bring to the Auburn Triathlon years of endurance experience, not only from having participated several times in the World’s Toughest Half, competing in XTERRA and Ironman triathlons to ultra distance running events. In 1980, Colleen completed the Western States 100, ending her very long day with a run across the infamous “No Hands Bridge” that crosses the confluence of the North Fork and Middle Fork of the American River, depicted in their new logo design for the triathlon (created by Colleen’s nephew, Ty Conners). 33 years later, Colleen attempted the Western States 100 again, finishing 78 of the 100 miles after having knee surgery the previous March. Joe competed in the Inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe, finishing 10th in his age group. Joe and Colleen, having passion for competing in challenging events, will look at the triathlon through the eyes of competitors.