Taken Down

The big training day was cold and wet.  I was cold and wet.  I’ve tried to deny it but I have problems with my immune system…. or something.  The following day my legs felt fine but my throat felt that familiar tingling tightness.  Another bout of bronchitis (my 3rd this year) was looming.  I hit the vitamins, to no avail.  With two weeks until “the event”, I was effectively finished with my training.  It was a good, focused 10 days!

Years ago when I was training for the iconic Coast to Coast (in New Zealand) and aiming for the female win, I asked a friend of mine, Annabel, if she wanted to join me for a training ride.  “Nah, training’s cheating”, she told me airily.  That’s how I am now.  My lifestyle (+ the 10 day leg sort-out) is the training and I reckon it’s probably enough to get me through.  I’m not looking for a record, I’m just trying to make it.  I saw Annabel racing in the C2C.  A true outdoors woman, she was cycling along at the back and chatting with some bloke.  Happy to be out there and completely in her element.  I aim to emulate that twenty-year old vision of joy.

Today I managed a quick cross fit session with Nancy (we do these 1-4 times a week to exercise and catch up while the boys play).  Nancy makes me look less A-type – more A-, perhaps B+.  However, the ramped up running programme had affected her too and she had strained a calf muscle (although she was no doubt, still climbing hard).

“Nancy,” I spoke sternly. ” Teaches us for deciding on big projects last minute in our mid-40’s!”  Yet that’s the thing:  Time, jobs, kids, families…. we don’t have the time or whatever but we keep on keeping on.  We are kinesthetic ladies, so we keep on striving as athletes and we stay (sort of) balanced.  At least we remain athletes.  And because of that we are set up to take on projects like legging it across the Grand Canyon.

Backcountry ski guiding; Avalanche Education

I host people on their holidays outside.  I also teach avalanche classes – from basic to advanced.  In Utah, during the Boreal winter, I guide and/or teach for Utah Mountain Adventures, the Utah Avalanche forecast centre and for the American Avalanche Institute.

At Utah Mountain Adventures (formerly Exum Utah), I guide back country skiing 3-4 days a week during the winter.  The many bowls and basins of the Wasatch Mountains plus our fantastic dry powder, combine to provide a ton of classic tours. Come spring, I guide rock and some mountaineering.  Salt Lake City is blessed (dare I say) with a remarkable variety of rock – from the perfect sea of granite in Little Cottonwood, to limestone in American Fork to quartzite in Big Cottonwood canyon.  Mountain biking around SLC is also world-class.  It’s a bit of a paradise for recreational access, even if the city does sprawl for 60 miles.

As the days grow hot and Obie’s school year finishes, we fly south to New Zealand.  I am from Christchurch originally – the main city on East coast of the South Island.  These days, we are based at Castle Hill Village, 100km west of Christchurch. The Castle Hill Basin is a fantastic place – here’s a quote from my first Press article from 2011:

“I return to the familiar brown scree and tussock set against the deepest blue sky, of the Craigieburn range.  I again experience that old sense of anticipation driving across the Canterbury plains toward the mountains…. There is the place where the snow-filled Torlesse basin beckons, the dip in the hills where the mountains accommodate the mighty Waimakariri as it exits its gorge.  I look for the Sleeping Beauty face at the Torlesse Gap.  Sheep dot the verdant fields as we wind towards the browns and grays of Porter’s Pass.  Changing into lower-gear, we grind over the hill to meet the sweep of the fantastical Castle Hill Basin.   Home again.”

The Craigieburns offer 5 ski areas with two others within spitting distance.  Hugely different from the Utah resorts, the ski and backcountry experience is really special.

While I mostly guide and teach locally (New Zealand Avalanche Centre), I enjoy trips further afield – the Mt Aspiring and Aoraki/Mt Cook areas and I love the chance to return to Canada – where I worked for seven happy years.  The Canadian ski lodges provide a terrific back country ski experience – earning your turns all day, followed by luxurious evenings in the cozy huts.  Most of these trips are an entire week.

Please contact me if you are interested in finding out more about ski touring or avalanche education.

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Big day

Yesterday I tested the legs on a 7+ hour local jaunt.  Kim Coupanas from Golite, sponsor of our adventure racing team back in the day, generously sent me a Rush pack.  It’s received great reviews from ultra runners and was brilliant for yesterday’s training session.

I’d delayed for a day, hoping for less “spring-like” weather.  After a lean winter in Utah, we are getting snow.  Yesterday was rainier and colder than the day before.  I went anyway.  Feeling like it’s the flats and downhills that will prove my undoing, I headed up the Pipeline track.  After an initial climb of about 1000 feet, it’s mostly flat/gradual climbing until Mt Aire.  I trotted 10 miles from home to the top of Mt Aire (8620 feet) in rain and later, snow.  From the top of Mt Aire, I rang Scottie who said he’d come for a run and bring me snacks.  Heading back down the Pipeline, I came face-to-face with a moose.  Like really face-to-face.  I could smell her musty odor.  Adrenaline pumping – because moose are unpredictable – I dashed up the slippery hillside, grabbing a tree as she cantered past within touching distance.  A few minutes later, Scott came round the corner and I was back in civilization.  Spirits lifted by seeing my husband, getting some more food and the easing of the rain, I headed up Grandeur peak (8300 feet).  I made pretty good time and crested the summit in only a couple of feet of snow.  The very familiar descent was enjoyable with Salt Lake City sprawled beneath like a carpet and the setting sun casting ‘Jesus rays’ over the mountains.  Staggering a little by now, I cranked the volume on the ipod to drown out the freeway as I jogged the last two miles home.  A hike as much as a run, I figure I did about 25 miles with about 6000 feet in elevation gain and loss (ie, Just over half of that of the Grand Canyon trip).  Today my legs feel a bit worked but am really trying to focus on hydration.  Tellingly, it’s not my quads that hurt now but my hamstrings – probably from the long flats.

Although I enjoyed my day out (and the night before – a night ascent of Olympus with ultra runners, Mindy and the other Nancy), I have no desire to compete in ultra running.  In fact, I wish I’d run the Grand Canyon back in my fitter days.

One week in

I’m hurting a bit.  Inspired by Nancy, who, last Sunday hiked Mt Olympus (3800 feet elevation gain), Grandeur (3200 feet) and then climbed 5.12d (27) at the gym, I raised my bar.  Skipping the climbing – apart from a few easy crack climbs, I joined Nancy for the snowy Olympus climb.  I managed a few local 1-2 hour jogs and joined Nancy again for the Olympus-Grandeur double last Wednesday.  The Rim to Rim to Rim involves over 10000 feet of elevation gain (and loss).  Loss is my biggest worry as the lactic build-up from fast downhills can be debilitating.  I plan to start hiking down the South Kaibab trail as soon as I arrive at the Grand Canyon – a 4800 foot descent, quite likely in the dark. My quads, trained only on a recent diet of ski touring, are not in shape for fast descents.  Downhill skiing rarely bothers my legs.  With plenty of time to think on my running hikes, I mentally calculate my running prowess over the past two years and figure that I’ve averaged 1-2 runs/month during that time.

Luckily the Anglems skyped me from Christchurch, NZ.  Nat is a sports doctor who tends to many of the South Island’s athletes – especially endurance ones.  Kristina won all the major adventure races in her day, including top 10 placings overall in NZ’s Coast to Coast and the length of NZ multisport event in 2003.

“Hey Nat, I’m planning to do an enduro run across the Grand Canyon on a month’s training.  What should I do?”

Without a blink, Nat tells me to practice running slow so that I can recover and not arrive at “the event” tired.  He tells me what I suspected – that I could blow the whole thing by going too fast on the first downhill.  He’s completely casual with what I am proposing.

With the other ladies all ultra runners and Nancy really keyed up, I figure I’m on my own.


I’ve been mulling the blog question for a year.  Seana told me that this is what writers do.  Being a mountain guide, I need to promote that area of my work.  And a mum.  And a wife – my husband, Scott does fascinating work (www.scottsimper.com).

Mostly life is just chopping wood and carrying water (in the words of Buddha).  Really, it’s backcountry ski guiding and domestics;  but every now and then, I do something else.  With winter mostly over in Utah, I have decided to hike/run the Grand Canyon from rim to rim to rim (starting at the South side), with my friend Nancy Feagin and a couple of ultra running ladies.  Pure ridiculous-ness given that my training has been a combination of backcountry skiing and 2-4 sessions of cross-fit a week, for the past five months.  However, with a month to train, I’m committed.  It’s something I have wanted to do for years.

This initial blog will document my training and the actual grovel itself:  a 42 mile trek with 10 300 feet of elevation gain and loss through one of the great scenic wonders on our planet.  It’s not a race, so my main goal is to accumulate some foot miles and get my quads into gear for the downhills.  I am an experienced hurter from my adventure racing days.  Scottie has Obie covered (although Grandma Dixie was on stand-by for a while).

I think I’m good to go.