Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup (WURL)

This was a storm-before-the-calm sort of event.

Our intention was to start the Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup (WURL) at 9:30pm Friday August 23rd.

It was a hectic day…

I spent the day preparing the kids’ food and things for a night and day with a babysitter (sister Paige, and our friend Kiley). We were in the middle of a housing transition (more accurately a switch to living between family’s places, trips, and our Sprinter van for the next 6-8 weeks). It was a work day for Brennan, then he spent the evening troubleshooting some issues with our old Ambit3 GPS watch. It’s always a task getting kids to bed, and this night was especially worthy. We were scrambling through the storm until the moment we got in the truck, bound for the Ferguson Canyon trailhead.

If I'm being completely honest, it wasn't until we were there standing in the dark, about to start our watches that all my stress and anxiety about the event finally melted away. Kids were in good hands, we had everything we needed ( I was pretty sure) and all our stashes were in place. No one was meeting us, so no coordination was necessary. Just Brenn and I and that long ridge line waiting for us in the dark. The anxiety that usually accompanied me in the night melted into the soft coolness of low temps, and little butterflies bubbled up in my stomach as we began our trot up the Canyon.

Alexis WURL 1.jpg

Cottonwood Ridge

Alexis on the Cottonwood Ridge around 2AM.

3 peaks down, many to go…

We moved quickly in the dark and consistently, running any semi-flat terrain and exploiting those trekking poles to maintain a good momentum up the endlessly steep trail. We chatted some and time flew. Before I knew it we had passed through the aspens, over the boulder field and finally gained the ridge-line. Then 45 min later we stood atop the East Broad Fork Twin Peak (a new FKT to boot, 2h 41m), This was 25 min faster than our training ascent the week before. I was excited, and not feeling very tired. On we pushed, only stopping to grab a quick water stash at the Broad Fork saddle and put new batteries in my headlamp. Just after Broad Fork, however, I started to feel nauseous....a feeling that would dog me for the rest of the route. I did my best to stay on top of nutrition and hydration, but as soon as we gained the ridge, the nausea hit and didn't stop until we finished :( This definitely became a limiting factor to my progression, it did get worse as the traverse went on, and worst under the afternoon sun (from Pfeifferhorn to Lone Peak).

The temps on the ridge line were strangely warm. I stopped to put on a jacket but ended up taking it off again because I got hot, I remember thinking this was a bad omen and worried what temps would be when the sun rose.

We continued to move at a steady pace, feeling comfortable and calm as we made the long traverse toward Cardiff. At Cardiff we paused for less than 10 min at our stash. We ate, drank, grabbed supplies and continued on our way. After Flagstaff the terrain soon becomes less technical and we took full advantage of running every section we could. Hints of light began to sneak into the sky after we passed Point Supreme.

Alexis WURL 2

Point Supreme

Earth spinning us back toward the sun as we passed point supreme.

We moved through Devil’s Castle and found under an early and hot sun on the ascent of Sugarloaf. We had been on pace for a 20h 20m overall finish, which would make a sub-20 possible. But Sugarloaf is where my pace started to slip just a little. The heat was compounding my nausea, and it became too unrealistic to hold our pace. The new goal became a sub-22hr finish, but it was going to be a battle against the heat and unrelenting nausea.

A real low spot for me was White Baldy, my pace was significantly slowed, I felt hot, sick, and tired. I was happy to get to a stash our third stash on the Red Pine ridge. From here, I just needed to keep moving and finish. The sun was hot, the wind was low, but as long as I kept drinking, and kept down some food, I knew I could at least finish, and hold a lead on the time I had made.

Alexis WURL - White Baldy

Red Pine Ridge

Alexis moving from White Baldy across the Red Pine ridge to the last stash,.

Alexis WURL - Pfeifferhorn


Alexis driving poles into the steep ascent of Pfeifferhorn in the full midday sun,.

On the descent from Upwop, I got a second wind and started to recover some lost pace.

Lightning ridge was sloppy, we had to decent down to some snow to help cool ourselves and lost some time there. We missed the efficient line to South Thunder. We got to South Thunder after an eternity, with the sun blazing, then through the two sub peaks to Big Horn. From Bighorn to Lone Peak was a slow slog, both Brenn and I were over heated and loopy.

We didn't do our best route finding off of Bighorn but managed and by the time we got to the top of Lone Peak I was out of water again. I may have said it twenty times already, but it was HOT!

We paused very briefly on Lone Peak, as I thought I might faint, but then began our decent into Bells canyon via the notch. As per usual this took longer than planned. The Notch was brutal as always, lots of falling and scrapes. Then across boulders, lots of thinking we were lost until we finally hit the trail at the bottom of the reservoir. Then the “4.5 mile” trail (more like 6 mile trail) still took us about 70 minutes to get down. We were moving as fast as we could, and picturing our kids faces as the Bells canyon Trailhead really pushed me on. Finally I could hear and see little voices cheering us on as we neared the end. Never is anything quite so anti-climactic as a finish.

Alexis WURL - Almost Done

Almost Done

Alexis seeing the kids on one of the last switchbacks, descending to the Bell’s Canyon trailhead.

21 hours 49 minutes

We were done. We were happy to be done. Happy to have done the WURL together. I was stoked to have managed another new Female FKT. I was convinced I would never ever do it again..... but we all know that’s unlikely ha!

WURL Family at Finish.JPG

Happy. Tired. Done.

The kids have no understanding of what we just did. Back to parenting. No rest for the weary.

We had both run the WURL years ago, myself (Alexis) in 2013, and Brennan in 2014. We thought we would eventually do it together and it was fun to see that dream to fruition. I beat my previous time (27h 15m) by over 5 hours and Brennan beat his pervious time (23h 18m) by an hour and a half. It felt good, and horrible.

Teton Circumnavigation

Miles 34
Time 8 hours elapsed (6:15 am - 2:15 am)
Shoes Salomon Speedcross (Brennan & Alexis)
Pack Nathan Intensity (Brennan & Alexis)
92°/64°F High/Low in Jackson, WY, scattered clouds, no precipitation
Date Saturday 09/26/2015

Route Overview

Our initial plan was to run the Teton Crest Trail (via Phillips Canyon Trail) from South to North.  After difficulty in arranging a shuttle between the termination points, we decided to run a loop route instead.

As the name implies, the Teton Circumnavigation route is a wide loop around several peaks in the Teton Mountain Range.  It seemed that most have run the route counter-clockwise from the Lupine Meadows Trailhead.  This places the (mostly flat) 8 miles in the valley, between Jenny Lake and Death Canyon, at the end of the run.  On a warm day, like ours, those 8 miles would end up in the early afternoon, and seemed like a miserable closing memory to finish with.  Competent parties have bailed at the Death Canyon Trailhead, to hitch a ride back to the start, skipping these 8 miles.

We decided to run clockwise, with the (flat) 8 miles at the start.  This is the best strategy in my mind!  For several reasons (route finding, Google Earth nuances, landmarks...), I broke the route into 14 sections.

Teton Curcumnavigation  route overview, with a pin locating the Lupine Meadows Trailhead (the standard start).

Teton Curcumnavigation route overview, with a pin locating the Lupine Meadows Trailhead (the standard start).

Route - Section 1 (Lupine Meadows Trailhead to Death Canyon Trailhead)

Section 1: A dark 6:15a start at the Lupine Meadows Trailhead brought us to Bradley Lake (mile 2.8) in pre-sunrise light.  As we approached Taggart Lake (mile 3.9), at the crack of sunrise, we encountered a bull elk bugling through the dew fog, with 10 cow elk around.  This was the most remarkable event on the run (another strong reason to run the flat 8 miles early in the morning).  We enjoyed the remaining miles to the Death Canyon Trailhead (mile 8.6), and took the right turn

Route - Sections 2-6 (Death Canyon Trailhead to Static Peak)

Section 2: The trail leads quickly up to a ridge overlooking Phelp's Lake, then drops to the mouth of Death Canyon (mile 10.2).  Section 3: Stay right to head up into Death Canyon.  After several switchbacks, the trail will level out into the flat valley, pass through some tree patches, to a brown cabin (on left) which is also the Alaska Basin Trail Junction (mile 12.4), where we turned right.  We filtered water from the stream behind the brown log cabin.

Section 4: The right turn onto the Alaska Basin Trail switchbacks up the steep draw, with amazing views up Death Canyon (the Death Canyon shelf of the Teton Crest Trail is obvious to see up canyon), to the major ridge where a nice vista of the Jackson valley appears (mile 15).  I counted down the switchbacks to maintain sanity (there are 11 sharp corners, the stretch between 5-6 & 6-7 are the longest).  Section 5: The trail then traverses the west slope just below Albright Peak (immediately on runner's right side) to the ridge/saddle beyond Albright (mile 15.6).

Section 6: Nice exposure on the east slope of the ridge, through several tight switchbacks, toward Static Peak, arrives at the high-point of the route (10,820 ft elev., mile 16.5) which is basically the half-way point as well.

Teton Circumnavigation Brenn after switchbacks of Death Canyon as trail levels out, just before the log cabin.

Teton Circumnavigation Alexis in Death Canyon just after the log cabin, with the Death Canyon shelf (of the Teton Crest Trail) far in the background.

Teton Circumnavigation Brenn looks out over Death Canyon (from switchback 6). Rimrock Lake is almost visible in the high crater below the main peak in the center). Death Canyon shelf (of the Teton Crest Trail) is far in the background on the right).

Route - Sections 7-9 (Static Peak to Teton Crest Trail Junction to Hurricane Pass to Glacier)

Section 7: The trail drops into the minor basin beneath the imposing and gnarly Buck Mountain (directly forward)

There was opportunity for melt-off water beneath Buck Moutain, but we were not even close to needing it yet.

It then exits the minor basin, crossing the Static Divide (mile 17.6), then dropping into the very top of the large Alaska Basin.  It continues to a trail junction (mile 18).  Turn right at junction!

Teton Circumnavigation Brennan at Static Divide, with Alaska Basin in the background, to the right.

Teton Circumnavigation view from the north bench of the Alaska Basin. Junction with Teton Crest Trail is far in background on the right.

Teton Circumnavigation Alexis embracing the Tetons from Hurricane Pass.

Section 8:  The Basin Lakes can be seen on Runner's left. There are countless opportunities to filter water along this section (maybe every 500 feet or so). The trail stays on the north (runner's right) shelf of the Alaska Basin until it intersects the Teton Crest Trail at an obvious trail junction (mile 20) with trail markers on a post.  Turn right at this junction (toward Sunset Lake) on the Teton Crest Trail!

Section 9:  The trail drops down to Sunset Lake, then consistently gains elevation (through basin, then through switchbacks, then up up up).  This trail feels like it is constantly about to crest, but it never does, until BAM!  All of a sudden, it's at Hurricane Pass (mile 21.9, 10,540 ft).  The Tetons and Mt. Owen are in full-on view to the north-east.

Teton Circumnavigation Brennan stands at the crest (finally) of Hurricane Pass, Tetons in background on right.

Drop into the canyon via switchbacks (mile 22.7) and end up by the turquoise colored lake (at the base of Schoolroom Glacier).

Teton Circumnavigation Brennan heading down the switchbacks toward the lake (on right) by Schoolroom Glacier. The Tetons are obvious in the background. Cascade Canyon is the first canyon in the background to the left of the Grand Teton.

A very short trail leads to the outlet of the lake, if one wishes to see it up close (highly recommended).

Teton Circumnavigation the turquoise-color lake at the base of Schoolroom Glacier, dammed/encircled by a beautifully symmetric natural berm, with a weakness at the outlet (point of photograph).

Route - Sections 10-14 (Schoolroom Glacier through Cascade Canyon)

Teton Circumnavigation Brennan running toward Cascade Canyon. Cascade Creek is downhill to the runner's right.

Section 10:  From here on, there are countless opportunities for filtering water from Cascade Creek (on runner's right).  But, obviously, water is much cleaner higher, near the source.  Fill up early in this section, and it should definitely last to the finish.  The trail drops 1,200 feet over 4.6 miles to the trail junction at the top of Cascade Canyon (mile 27.3).

Section 11:  Head right at trail junction (down Cascade Canyon) where tourist density will increase dramatically on the trail across the 4.1 miles to the mouth of Cascade Canyon (mile 31.4).

Section 12:  Take your pick of trails (depending on which are open/closed) down to Jenny Lake (mile 31.6).

Section 13:  A trail heads south, along the west shore of Jenny lake OR a higher trail heads south from Hidden Falls to where they converge (mile 32.8), at the SW tip of Jenny Lake).

Section 14:  Do NOT take any trails to Moose Pond!  Trail options continue to the Lupine Meadows Rd, which obviously leads back to the Lupine Meadows Trailhead, the finish (mile 34).  There is a trail in the meadow just west of the road, which is nice to avoid the dust from cars.


Remarks on Possible Variations

  • Run the same loop counter-clockwise: Even if I were to run the loop counter-clockwise, I would do so from the Death Canyon Trailhead so that the 8 miles were at the start.

  • Adds 2-3 miles: At the end of Section 3, one could continue all the way up (then west) Death Canyon, then take switchbacks up to Death Canyon Bench, then take the Teton Crest Trail (on bench), to Alaska Basin. Resume at Section 9-14. While only slightly longer, this variation would completely skip the high-point, Buck Mountain, and the Static Divide. You might as well just do the whole Teton Crest Trail instead of this variation (unless you are wanting to do most of the Teton Crest Trail, and have to make it a loop for car-shuttling reasons like we did).

  • Adds 5-7 miles: At the end of Section 10, a left turn at junction, up canyon would present a significant climb into Paintbrush Canyon, which could be run out to Leigh Lake, then south to Jenny Lake, finishing with the same Sections 13-14.