Although snowfall had been minimal, the area received 3-6 additional inches within a few days of the race, making for quite good ski conditions. Weather was mild and consistent in the 25-35 F range and mostly cloudy.
We began at 7:00 on snowshoes for a long loop that would encompass most of the western CPs. We had some early trouble as we attempted to follow scenic Joiner Brook downstream to connect 2 streamside CPs. A steep gorge just upstream of our target led to some sketchy route choices, extremely slow travel and a damaged snowshoe (Rob) which soon came completely apart.
|One of many Joiner Brook crossings. We managed to keep dry feet.|
|Entering the sketchy part of the gorge|
After this, we progressed steadily through the CPs, with only a few minor delays and one more significant delay. The significant delay was at bonus (3 point) CP E. This was one of 3 CPs that cost us a bunch of time, along with CP3 and CP5 (on the subsequent ski leg). All were in steep brushy terrain; the steepness, minimal snow cover and areas of iced-over slopes really delayed us as we tried to search out the flag in our low-traction XC ski boots, often while carrying skis and poles. Leaving the microspikes behind was a big mistake - exacerbating the effects of the steep, icy surfaces we frequently encountered.
|Ice-encrusted ascent to BP D|
The snowshoe leg took longer than expected and, as we were finishing up, we had to concern ourselves with the amount of time remaining. We next needed to complete an XC ski loop which included at least 5 CPs. To be safe, we skipped one of our snowshoe CPs and scooted down to race HQ, picking up a final easy, on-trail CP along the way. We also visited a fun bonus CP, a high-wire ropes course element which gave us each a couple minutes to rest and eat and a quick 30' belayed descent back to the ground.
|Ladies and gentlemen, Race Director Mr. Shawn Freebern on belay!|
|Steep, dense, slippery terrain typical of the 3 CPs that gave us trouble. Also, the flags were less than conspicuously hung, as seen above (but we found them, dammit)|
Our XC leg was blemished by the aforementioned CPs 3 and 5, but the actual skiing parts were pretty fun and not too extreme in terms of undesired downhill velocity. We finished the loop with 20 minutes to spare, giving us time to grab one more point near the finish line - an easy, on-trail 10 minute round-tripper. We finished with about 8 minutes left until the 8-hour time cutoff.
In the end, we covered 14+ miles, about 4700 ft of elevation gain and bagged a total of 29 points. We had a fairly good showing; the 3 very prolonged CP searches being our downfall. The upside is that all 3 were eventually found. The worst thing in AR is taking forever searching for a CP and never finding it (at least, that's what I've been told). Casualties included Rob's unusable snowshoe (he one-shoed most of the first leg) as well as 2 broken ski poles (Rob, Mase). After the race, we rehydrated with free beer and cheap coffee, interrupted by filling up on tasty catered dinner, before the 3 hour drive home.
Thanks as always to our friends at GMARA, the volunteers and the race sponsors. We'll be back for more chilly challenges next year.