Stokesville 24 Hour Rogaine – 2017 Edition

This was my second consecutive year doing the Stokesville Rogaine – a 24 hour navigation/adventure race in the mountains near the Virginia & West Virginia border. You can read about last year’s race with my friend Phil HERE.

This year I again signed up for the 24 hour option, and Bruce joined in to race the 6 hour option.

Our campsite for the weekend

We camped out overnight on Friday, then got up early on Saturday morning to collect our maps at 0700. The window for starting was 0800-1000, after which I’d have 24 hours to collect as many points as possible. We spent awhile mapping out our route, then headed off at 0847.

Getting ready to start

The weather was a little cool (high 30’s at night, high 50’s during the day) and there was some light rain off and on, but overall much more favorable conditions than Phil and I deal with last year. There had, however, been heavy rain a couple nights before, so many of the local streams and rivers were flooded – necessitating a few last minute adjustments on the course. A few controls were re-located, and one of the larger rivers that Phil and I had waded across last year was not only passable via several bridges.

Course map, for those who want to follow along

Bruce and I stayed together for the first 3 hours or so, grabbing #31 and #44 on our way out of the campground. From there we worked our way along a steep hillside adjacent to one of the flooded rivers, until we found #51 (one of the controls that had to be repositioned to higher ground after the flooding).

Looking back southeast in the direction of #51

On our way to #62, Bruce and I briefly got separated when he doubled back to grab something he’d dropped, but we met back up around #62. The terrain was very steep in some areas, so it was slow going.

One of the cliffs alongside the river

Our pace improved over the next few hours; we climbed the ridge to our west and met up with a trail, which we followed uneventfully to #77, #72, and eventually to #95 atop Lookout Mountain.

Bruce collecting #77

We parted ways on Lookout Mountain. I went on to collect #45 before heading toward the western half of the map, while Bruce finished his 6 hour loop hitting #45 followed by a handful of other controls closer to the campground (I was saving these for the following morning).

Control #95 atop Lookout Mountain

After #45, I took my first real foray into the woods, collecting #65 and #76 by side-sloping more than a mile of steep, trail-less terrain. I was a little out of practice having not done a rogaine in nearly a year, but was able to manage by carefully counting each of the reentrants and spurs as I moved west, and guessing as best I could at the elevation. No issues with these two. I met back up with another dirt access road, which I then followed back to the main road and one of the bridge crossings.

This is where I made probably the dumbest error of the day. I’d decided to forego several of the controls between Trimble Mountain and North River Gorge in order to save time, so I picked up #43 and then continued northwest up the road. In hindsight, it would have only taken an extra 15-20 minutes and minimal effort to double back for the higher value #84, which was only ~600 meters further to the east. Instead I went for #54 (which had apparently been lost/stolen…so I never found it, but got credit regardless).

From here my thought was to grab #42, #64, #81, and #71 before hiking back down the main road to Stokesville campground for dinner. I figured I would then head back out for another loop after dark, picking off some of the easy & high-point value controls near trails and roads during the night hours to minimize my time floundering around in the woods at night.

I ended up making better time than expected, so by the time I reached #71, I decided, “why not add an extra kilometer to get #82, too?” Then things kind of snowballed from there. As you can tell from the contour lines, the terrain is relatively more flat on the western half of the map, and there also happened to be fewer briars and mountain laurel patches to contend with. I could practically jog through the woods. The “just one more” routine ended up taking me from #82, up a long spur to #47, across a broad ridgeline to #37, through some thicker brush to #91, down the road to #83, then down a painfully long creek bed to get #61 and #96 on my way back to the main road.

View from a field just south of #83

I then followed the road for another 5 miles or so back to the campground, taking brief detours to grab #56 and #98 along the way. I had to flip on the headlamp not long after leaving #98, but made it back to the campground around 2120. Although I could have easily netted more points by staying out for one large loop rather than doubling all the way back to the campground, I figured it was worth it for the chili, beer, warm campfire and pork sandwiches.

Around 2230 I headed back out for a smaller loop, climbing up the east side of Grindstone Mountain and hitting controls #87, #93, and #86. I then backtracked a little ways down the road and followed a trail up to the spur just northeast of #88, which I then found uneventfully. And then, why not, I made another small detour to pick up #34 on the way back to the campground for a second time. It was around 0300, while walking down the road, that I spotted a bobcat watching me from a few meters into the woods. So that was pretty cool. Didn’t see much else in the way of wildlife.

I made it back to the campground sometime around 0400, then took a nap from 0430 until 0600. At this point I only had another 4 controls (plus 1 bonus control) within easy walking range, so I figured I’d collect them after the sun came up.

I was pretty sore at this point, having already covered roughly 40 miles, but managed to get my legs working again and headed up a nearby stream to controls #41 and #36 – which happened to have instructions posted for finding the bonus control not marked on the map.

Instructions for bonus control #74

I measured out the distance and direction on my map, marked the spot, then headed first to #52 before then circling around to find #74 without any trouble. Finally, I ended the day by following a faint trail down another ridgeline to #63 and then returning to the finish area.

I ended up finishing #8 out of 18 in the 24 hour category.

My route, outlined in purple

Approximate total distance was 43 miles, with ~8,000′ elevation gain.

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Published in: on May 9, 2017 at 9:05 pm  Comments (1)  

Turk Mountain and Little Calf Mountain

Allison and I were both a little worn out after carrying the boys 10 miles on day 1 of the trip, so we decided on a more relaxed pace for days 2 and 3.

On the second day, we spent the morning at the hotel pool (Ezra wasn’t a fan; Micah had a great time), then let the boys take a nap before driving into Shenandoah for a short afternoon hike to Turk Mountain (2.4 miles round trip, 661 feet elevation gain).

Micah and I atop Turk Mountain

Micah wanted to hike most of the way himself, but I did have to carry him up a few of the steep sections. He had a great time scrambling on the rocks at the top. Ezra seemed to enjoy the hike, too.

On the third day, we checked out of the hotel in the morning, hit the grocery store to stock up on camping food/supplies for the weekend, grabbed lunch at Cracker Barrel, then drove back into the park for one more short hike. This time Micah climbed all the way to the top of Little Calf Mountain without any assistance (3.7 miles round trip and 488 feet elevation gain, including a few short side-tracks along the way). I offered to carry him a few times, but got a firm “NO!” in response.

Micah climbing up Little Calf Mountain

Standing at the summit

Water break

So I guess this was technically Micah’s first mountain climb.

After finishing, we drove ~45 minutes to Stokesville, Virginia and met up with Allison’s parents for the camping/rogaine weekend.

Published in: on May 9, 2017 at 2:20 pm  Comments (1)  

Blackrock and Trayfoot Mountain Loop

By using a combination of leftover paternity days and front-loading my monthly ER schedule, I was able to take all of last week off work. We decided to head down to Virginia for a few days of hiking with the boys in Shenandoah National Park, leading up to my 24 hour Stokesville Rogaine on May 6-7.

After driving down on Tuesday, Allison and I had three full days with just the boys, after which we planned to meet Allison’s parents for a weekend of camping in Stokesville. For our first day of hiking, we took Micah and Ezra on a fairly ambitious loop of Blackrock and Trayfoot Mountain.

GPS route

According to my GPS watch, we covered 9.7 miles and 2273 feet of elevation gain over 4.5 hours (not including a couple stops along the way for Ezra to nurse).

Hiking to Blackrock

Micah walked alongside us for a few short stretches, but for most of the day the boys rode along in their carriers – Micah on my back and Ezra on Allison’s front.

Allison and Ezra atop Blackrock

The loop first took us atop Blackrock, a scenic sub-peak of Trayfoot, then continued on to the top of Trayfoot Mountain. Micah cheered us on to “keep hiking up to the peak!”

Micah and I near Trayfoot’s summit

The boys both took naps along the way.

Ezra taking a nap…

…and Micah taking a nap

We made it back to the car late-afternoon, then had a nice dinner at a local burger place in Charlottesville.

Published in: on May 9, 2017 at 2:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Get Stoked Rogaine 2016

Last weekend I met my buddy Philip down in the mountains of Virginia for a 24 hour rogaine.

Start/Finish area

Start/Finish area

It was a long drive from Milwaukee, but I made it in Friday evening and got a decent night’s sleep in the back of the Honda Fit.

Maps were handed out at 0700, and teams were allowed to start any time between 0800 and 1000. Our goal was to start right at 0800, since Phil had a flight to catch out of DC on Sunday afternoon and needed to be back early.

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After some deliberation, we decided to concentrate mostly on the southern half of the map, where the points seemed to be concentrated a little more heavily.

We started by heading southeast to #32, which we found without any difficulty. Since Phil had never done a rogaine before, I was in charge of the navigation…and probably made a poor impression by immediately screwing up on the second control. I didn’t look closely at the map when leaving #32 and inadvertently took us up the wrong spur, overshooting #43 and forcing us to double back. We probably lost 20-25 minutes all told.

From there, we dropped back down to the stream, followed it up to #62, then climbed up to an old road where we made much faster time.

On the trail, after bagging #62

On the road, after bagging #62

We moved pretty quickly up and down the hills during the first few hours. I worked up a good sweat despite the cool weather. We quickly grabbed #52 – only 100 feet or so off the trail – then bushwhacked our way down to #42. Again, we found this one without any issues.

It had been 18 months or so since my last rogaine, but at this point I was starting to feel more confident in my navigation. So confident, in fact, that I somehow took us directly past #33. We figured out pretty quickly that we’d missed it, but opted not to double back since it was only worth 3 points. So we continued uphill until we ran into the Lookout Mountain trail.

We’d been working off a rough outline that we’d put together before starting, but at this point we called our first audible. Rather than continuing south and west, I took us north to grab #61. (I had initially been “saving” this control for our return trip, but now felt that it was too close to pass up. This ended up working out well, since our return trip ultimately brought us back to camp via the road, rather than hitting the 61-51-41-31 combo I had been planning).

We made it to #61 a little over two hours after starting. We’d been pushing things a little hard following our early mishap, so we took advantage of the well-marked trail toward #85 to slow the pace, re-hydrate, and have a few snacks. After the long climb up to #85, we stopped for a short break before heading down to #98.

Descending Lookout Mountain, northwest of #85

Descending Lookout Mountain, northwest of #85

Here we had another small navigational mishap. I took us a little too far north while descending the spur, and soon realized we had probably missed #98. Unfortunately, without an altimeter, I couldn’t be sure how far we’d descended…and of course the hillside was densely overgrown. It made for poor visibility and slow going. Ended up taking us a little over an hour to make the ~800 meter trip from #85 to #98, but we did eventually find it.

The navigational side of things went much more smoothly after this. We descended the reentrant from #98 directly to #72, then waded across the North River to meet up with a trail. We then followed this southwest to another ford, where we backtracked a short ways up the river bank, climbed a steep embankment along the side of some cliffs, and followed another reentrant up to #64.

#72, near the river

Control #72, near a creek feeding into the river

Control #64

Control #64

The trek from #64 to #84 was mostly uneventful, with one major exception. Immediately after crossing the river, as I was looking down at the map and compass while walking, I noticed a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. Then I heard a THUMP followed by a sharp rattling sound, and reflexively jumped backwards. Turns out I had just been struck at by a very large rattlesnake. It miraculously didn’t break skin, for which I can probably credit my hard-shell pants.

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We pressed on to #84, then took another short break to reevaluate our plan. There were several high-value controls in the area, but we still needed to decide which ones to target, and in what order. After a few minutes, I decided to take us to #73, #94, and #81. It was a tough call skipping #92 (and in hindsight, it would have been worth making a detour for). The trip to #73 was straightforward from a navigational standpoint – directly south at the same elevation – but it involved nearly a kilometer of awkward side-stepping along a steep slope. Rough on the ankles, and slippery in places due to the near-constant light rain throughout the day.

The trip from #73 to #94 was a bit of a navigational challenge, with control #94 tucked away in one of several nearly-identical reentrants. I led us northwest through the forest, trying as carefully as possible to minimize our net elevation gain. I knew the destination was ~ 180 feet above us, and wanted to avoid confusion by intentionally approaching it from below. (The worst feeling, of course, is when you can’t tell if you missed a control too high or too low.) I also left Philip in charge of counting aloud each reentrant that we crossed, to help track exactly where we were. We found #94 without any mishaps, then backtracked downstream a short ways to filter some water and eat a snack. From there it was a short climb up to #81, followed by an easy descent back down to the main trail and then out to the road.

Another river crossing on our way back to the road

Another river crossing on our way back to the road

Our next destination after reaching the road was #83. A long and steep climb, but we made relatively quick work of it. We then backtracked to the road and followed it northwest toward an intersection. Before reaching it, we turned off the road to our right to bag #96. I initially took us up the wrong reentrant, but we immediately caught the mistake and corrected course…maybe costing us 3-4 minutes of lost time.

Control #96

Control #96

We were running out of daylight at this point, and the rain was starting to pick up again. We made quick work of #88, then continued north, followed the ridge to the highest point of the hill, and hit #55 and #45 on our way back down to the road. We were forced to bring out the headlamps just before reaching the road.

We followed the road east for 50 minutes or so. It was around this time that we agreed to head back toward the finish area, grabbing a handful of controls on the way. As I mentioned, Philip had a flight to catch the next day and wanted to get some sleep. We aimed to be back around 0200 (~6 hours early). There were a number of controls within striking distance that WOULD have been attractive targets had we had the time (46, 66, 95, 35, 78, 63, 71, 54, 34, 91, 87, 51, 41, and 31). Instead we just went after the low-hanging fruit (i.e. close to trails and roads, and/or near easily recognizable geographic features).

Our first stop was #46 – a low point value control, but attractive because of its close proximity to a side trail. Only a few of the controls had reflective tape, incidentally, and this turned out to be one of them. We found it without difficulty, and continued making our way eastward toward #35.

Control #46

Control #46

Without light, we had to rely heavily on my compass for navigation. A slight curve in the road was our cue to head south, and I led us up another steep, soggy, thickly overgrown embankment. I wish I could say it was skill rather than luck…but either way, I led us directly to #35. No reflective tape, but we didn’t need it. We then followed the ridgeline eastward to #63. This took us almost 40 minutes (despite the short distance) thanks to the heavy undergrowth. We got stabbed by plenty of thorns, and almost walked into another large snake. Luckily I caught the reflection of its eyes with my headlamp, about 10 feet away, and we were able to give it a wide berth. After finding #63, we headed north again, waded across another river, and bagged #54.

Wading across another river

Wading across another river

This required an extra kilometer or so of hiking in order to get above some large cliffs…but fortunately it was all on trail. Control #54 was found easily and we continued north back to the road. I tried convincing Phil to chase after a few more controls, but no such luck. We followed the road back toward the finish area, and I made another blunder by missing #31 right at the entrance to the campground. A number-less control had been left there to direct cars to the correct turnoff, and I mistakenly thought this must be #31 (my fatigued brain assumed the number-punch must have fallen off). Oops. I learned later that the REAL #31 was a short distance away, closer to the river. I did successfully track down #41 near the edge of the campground, then we called it a night. It was 0145 when we arrived back at the campground. Soaked and shivering. We each caught a few hours of sleep in our respective cars, then turned in our score card and grabbed some breakfast and coffee.

Our route, with corresponding times

Our route, with corresponding times

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Our goal before starting had been to place in the top half, and we (barely) did so. We finished 10th out of 21 in the 24 hour division, with 24 controls and a total score of 146.

Overall this was an excellent event. Definitely hoping to do it again next year.

Published in: on May 4, 2016 at 7:48 pm  Comments (5)