Biathletes bag four peaks
A year ago, trail-running superstar Phil Villeneuve laid down a challenge for the Bow Valley’s mad contingent of monster athletes: summit all four Canmore peaks in a day.
No car rides between trailheads. No bikes. Just 55 gruelling kilometres up Grotto Mountain, Mount Lady Macdonald, East End of Rundle (EEOR) and Ha Ling Peak in under 24 hours. In all, about 4,637 metres of elevation gain.
Madness. Scant few braved the run. Villeneuve figured he was perhaps the fourth person to attempt the feat.
On Sunday (Sept. 16), fearless Biathlon Alberta Training Centre athletes Kathryn Stone and Andrew Chisholm picked up the gauntlet. Head coach Richard Boruta challenged his team to complete the four peaks to finish off a tough week of training at the Haig Glacier. Stone and Chisholm, though, insisted on doing things the hard way.
While records are spotty, Stone appears to be the first woman to complete the challenge, while Chisholm is the youngest at 20.
“I had always thought it would be cool to do all four peaks in one day, but when I heard about Villeneuve doing it last year, I decided that I definitely wanted to do it as well. When Richard said that the team was going to hike all four peaks, but drive from each mountain, I decided that I wanted to do the challenge the right way,” Chisholm said.
“I did this challenge because it was something different and exciting, but mainly because it would be difficult,” said Stone, who is well versed in physiology thanks to her degree in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Augustana.
“It took 13.75 hours of moving; the longest I’d ever ran before was for 4 1/2 hours. I like to push myself mentally and physically and this was an interesting test for myself, to see if I could prepare myself for something this extreme based off of information from other runners and my schooling.
“It seemed like a nice way to wrap up a difficult training period, and in the process I was also able to summit three mountains that I’d never done before (Grotto, Lady Mac and EEOR).”
The duo started at 4:30 a.m., running from their homes to the trailhead beside the Alpine Club of Canada. In twilight, Stone, who had never ascended Grotto Mountain, led the way, finding scree slopes early on. A lost trail and surprise grouse encounter almost stopped the attempt half an hour in, however, they perservered up the 2,706 m peak. Saturday sun greeted the two on top of Grotto, illuminating the trail downslope as they moved onward to Mount Lady Macdonald.
The two looked strong on the climb up the second biggest mountain of the day (2,605 metres). Both had trained on the mountain before, but the knife edge to the summit proved to be a harrowing experience.
“I’m good with heights, but I wasn’t even confident if that was the right way to go. To deal with that, I made Andrew go first to make sure the rock was solid and to watch how he did it,” Stone said. She had to talk herself across the narrow trail.
By noon, they reached the bottom of Lady Macdonald undaunted. Turning down a car ride, they pressed across town, racing to meet Boruta’s time restrictions. Pounding the dusty Spray Lakes road, they reached the EEOR trailhead at 2:30 p.m., when Chisholm’s legs began to shake.
“The hardest hike of the day for me was probably EEOR, I was bonking hard, but luckily I had a litre of Pepsi to chug on the way up and that boosted me up to a manageable energy level for the rest of the challenge,” Chisholm said.
On EEOR, their pace slowed and their dust-caked legs kept turning over, as they managed to get up and down the notoriously steep peak (2,503 metres) in 2 1/2 hours. They vowed to meet their teammates and coach on top of Ha Ling, reaching the pinnacle as the sun sank behind them. The whale of an accomplishment proved to be emotional.
“Standing at the summit of Ha Ling, the last peak, with my entire team after everyone had summited three-plus mountains that day. That was a pretty incredible achievement on everyone’s part,” Stone said.
Boruta ran the duo home, finishing the massive 16-hour day. Chisholm’s teammates enticed him down the final run with a big bag of cherry blasters, an exhausted smile plastered on his face. Stone beamed under her porchlight.
“This is by far the toughest thing I have ever done. I have done hard training sessions, had hard races, but this was just madness by the time I hit hour 12,” Chisholm said.
“This felt like it was more a matter of persistence rather than me doing anything spectacular; I just had to keep putting one foot in front of another. It’s pretty satisfying to look around the Bow Valley, my home, and to have conquered a good chunk of what is in sight,” Stone said. “And as much of a grind as it was, it was only a day. On the rank of what I’ve done in one day, this ranks pretty high.
“The only harder thing I think that I’ve done has been a couple of Richard’s summer running interval sessions.”
While Villeneuve kept moving for just over 11 hours, the young biathletes finished the challenge in 16 hours – with 13 hours of moving. He said it was cool to see the two complete the feat.
Chisholm said fuel was his biggest challenge on the day.
“I would say the hardest part was keeping fuelled properly. I had lots of salt and healthy fats packed to eat, but I found that as the day went on I was only craving sugar/carbs, and lots of them.”
While Stone said she’d change little on the day (other than better route finding), Chisholm is already nit-picking his performance. He was overcoming illness on the day of the run and didn’t have enough simple sugars, he said.
Neither has plans to repeat the feat anytime soon, but would like to hear of others who have attempted the challenge.
“If I did it again, I would either have to be paid a pretty penny, or be escorting friends through it... but I would stop for a picture on Lady Mac instead of getting off of it as quickly as possible,” Stone said.
“I don’t know how I could top this. I don’t know if I would even want to top this. The only thing I can think of would be to add in the Middle Sister for a fifth peak. Definitely something that will have to wait until I am done skiing though,” Chisholm said.
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