Race Report: 2016 Layton Marathon (1st Place!)

The kids had a couple days off of school in October for some reason, so we decided to take a trip to Utah to visit some family and friends. Utah has a plethora of marathons, so as long as we were in Utah I figured I should sign up for one. The Layton Marathon’s date and location fell nicely within our trip plans. I debated whether I wanted to interrupt training to run a marathon, but ultimately I decided to pull the trigger as I know I have a long winter training season ahead of me and I really wanted to do three marathons this year.

The Trip

Cyndi, our five kids, and I drove down to Utah after work on Wednesday night. We arrived at my brother’s house after midnight and I got to sleep around 12:40am. Of course, the kids were up before 7:30am (they had slept in the car) and I wasn’t in my own bed, so I didn’t exactly sleep well. I did a 4.25 mile recovery run with a few striders that morning. Then we went to the BYU campus (our alma mater) and walked across campus in search of a geocache. We stopped at the science building and the Bean Museum as well. By the time we were back at our car I was pretty exhausted. I caught a 5 minute nap at home, but that was it.

Walking around the BYU campus a couple days before the Layton Marathon
Walking around the BYU campus a couple days before the Layton Marathon

Thursday evening we headed to our friends’ house to play games until about midnight (I lost our game of Caverna). Then our 16 month old decided not to sleep, so once again it was a not-so-restful night. I told Cyndi I couldn’t do a walking tour that day as I wanted to have some chance at a decent marathon on Saturday. Luckily we found a good deal on a bounce house place, so we let the kids play for a couple hours while we mostly relaxed and watched. We then ate lunch at Costa Vida and I ate WAY too much (my full chicken burrito, 1/4 of Paisley’s burrito, and a little of Cyndi’s salad). We ate dinner at Grandma’s and I tried to take it easy, but I still ate too much given the large lunch I had eaten. We headed to my cousin’s house and I topped it off with a couple chocolate chip cookies. I also lost by one point in a competitive game of Settlers of Catan — complete with the Cities and Knights and Seafarers expansions.

My cousin lives right by Layton, so we stopped at packet pickup before we got there. Packet pickup wasn’t too fancy — I got my shirt, my bib, a couple granola bars, and some safety pins. There wasn’t actually a packet with decent coupons or anything special.

Fortunately the baby slept well on Friday night, so I got almost 5 hours of sleep. I was counting on caffeinated Clif Bloks at this point.

Layton Marathon Race Morning

The alarm sounded at 4:10am and Cyndi kindly drove me to the bus pick up at 4:45. We could have used a little more guidance on where the buses were going to be, but we figured it out and I was able to hop on the first bus (which I like to do for first bathroom access — especially after engorging myself the previous day).

At this point I will note that the Layton Marathon website isn’t too great. It is pretty bare bones and confusing to navigate. It left off some information like whether there would be a bag drop-off and if and where gels would be handed out on the course. Not too big a deal, but it was probably my main organizational complaint.

The bus left at 5am from Layton and headed out to Antelope Island. After a long ride it dropped us off on the east side of the island. It was pretty chilly outside and I made a mental note to dress warmer for my next marathon. I was wearing shorts, jogging pants, a tank top, a long sleeve shirt, a hoodie, knit gloves, and a beanie, but it wasn’t quite enough while waiting over an hour in the cold. The race volunteers fired up a generator and a big electric heater, but I didn’t feel like huddling with a group of 30 people. I was a bit cold, but I wasn’t shivering at least. Anyways, I milled around and used the port-a-potties three times. I chatted with a couple people, including one younger lady that was running her first marathon. She asked me for tips and I gave her two (which I have learned by sad experience):

  1. Don’t go out too fast.
  2. Drink plenty of fluids — more than you think you need.

As race time approached I stripped down to my tank top, shorts, and knit gloves. It was really cold, but I knew I’d warm up pretty quickly.

I was secretly hoping for a PR — perhaps a pace of ~6:45/mi to beat my PR of 6:48/mile. However, I was concerned about my lack of sleep and how my recent training would translate into marathon performance. I’d clocked a lot of miles recently, but my last marathon, Morgan Valley Marathon, was just over two months before. I finished in 3:00:08 at Morgan Valley, so I hoped I’d do better at ~1000 feet lower altitude.

The Layton Marathon Course

The Layton Marathon course starts on the east side of Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. The first 10 miles of the course follow the east coast of the island with the Salt Lake to the right and a ridge rising to the left. On the slopes you may see some herds of Bison grazing. The vegetation is dry and mostly brown. The first 10 miles include some light rolling hills, most of which are probably beneficial since they work slightly different leg muscles on the inclines and declines. There is one notable hill that rises 200 feet or so.

At Mile 10 the course turns right and for the next seven miles it follows a causeway across the Great Salt Lake. Note that the lake is not a normal lake — it is really shallow and the water recedes quite a bit from its highest levels. The causeway is straight and flat. Around Mile 17 runners are back on the land and run the rest of the course on large, straight roads, some of which have a gentle incline. Initially the roads are among farms and marshland, but eventually the course starts hitting suburban areas before finally turning to the last stretch near a school and park.

Running the Layton Marathon

Miles 1 to 4: 6:57, 6:40, 6:40, 6:50

The race started right at 7am and I took it easy for the first half mile — clocking in above a 7 minute pace. I didn’t want to go out too fast like I normally do. I was surprised how much I was able to control my pace as I usually have to really restrain myself.

A runner named Caleb took off ahead, and there were two other runners near me: a lady who I passed within the first few hundred yards, and a guy named Eddie. I introduced myself to Eddie and we talked a bit. He’d done several half marathons but no full marathons — this was his first. His best Half time was 1:23, so I thought he could potentially be under 3 hours depending on his training regimen. However, I asked if he’d done any “long” runs like 18 or 20 miles and he said he hadn’t. He usually just does 10 or 12 miles per day. That’s still a lot of mileage, but I wasn’t sure if that would give him the endurance required to do a 3 hour marathon. I told him I’d be right around 3 hours if he wanted to stay with me, but after 2 or 3 miles I slowly pulled away.

I hit a couple 6:40 miles which is right where I wanted to be at this point in the race. My 4th mile was a bit slower at 6:50, but still in a good range for a 6:45 average. There were some herds of bison to our left which was pretty cool. I also saw several mule deer prancing around the side of the road, across the road, and up the ridge. I was closing in on Caleb, who was leading in 1st place.

MILES 5 TO 8: 6:40, 6:47, 7:03, 6:58

Mile 5 and 6 were right in line with my target average. The gentle rolling hills were nice — flat enough that they didn’t overwork my legs but inclined enough to mix it up. The view across the lake was pretty nice. The sun was rising over Layton and the whole Wasatch Front, and it was cool to see.

I caught Caleb at some point around Mile 5 and learned his name. He hadn’t done a marathon in a couple years. I was amazed to hear he’d done a 35 mile training run just two weeks prior! That either meant he would have plenty of endurance or he’d be a little burned out. He got through the water stations faster than me, so I would lose a little ground on him only to gain it back within a few hundred yards.

Starting at Mile 6 there is a 200 foot hill. We both charged up it at a decent pace of just over 7:00/mile. It didn’t feel too strenuous to me, so I was OK with that pace. Besides, I’d recently done some hill training, so I was somewhat prepared for it. Mile 8 was on top of the hill and Caleb and I were still together. I thought I could potentially make a move on the downhill, although I knew we had plenty of miles left to jockey for position.

There were a couple bison right next to the road somewhere around mile 8. They are huge! Frankly, I was a little concerned. Fortunately none of them charged us. One of them actually started thundering away when we approached it.

MILES 9 TO 12: 5:52, 6:33, 6:45, 7:47

I took the downhill pretty hard. Well, I didn’t actually exert myself very much, but I didn’t hold back either. Downhill is a little tricky: your mind wants to slow down, but if you do you’ll actually do more damage to your quads than if you just roll with gravity. I passed Caleb on the downhill portion and clocked a nice sub-6 mile, followed by another fast 6:33 mile as the hill petered out.

Caleb passed me back right after the downhill and put 20 yards between us. He was now getting some nice cheering from his parents (presumably) who were leap-frogging us every couple miles. They were friendly and cheered for me, too, but not as much as for him 🙂

After Mile 10 we turned onto the causeway and suddenly I needed to use a port-a-potty. This was uncalled for. Only one other time have I taken a bio break during a race, and that was my 3rd marathon (Salt Lake City) back in 2004! Really though, I wasn’t too surprised given my binge eating the previous day. Still, I was mad at myself, especially given that I was within 20 yards of 1st place.

I knew there was a port-a-potty at the Mile 11 aid station, and the closer I got the more I needed to use it. I was worried that there would be some volunteer in it or some other issue. To my great relief there wasn’t. I was able to get in and out in exactly 1 minute. (Sorry if this is Too Much Information, but such issues can really affect overall performance!)

Back on the course, I knew that I had plenty of time left to catch Caleb. I looked behind me and couldn’t see anyone, so Eddie wasn’t a present concern. It was actually kind of nice to have a 1 minute buffer with the leader so I could run my own race.

MILES 13 TO 16: 6:43, 6:50, 6:41, 6:46

My watch was at about 1:29:00 at the half way mark. This meant that I was right on pace for a PR if I didn’t hit the wall, and that includes my break.

I then had a thought occur to me: while eating too much the day before cost me a minute break, it also meant that my muscles should be chock full of glycogen. I should have all the energy I needed to PR and then some! I liked this line of thought, and I began to push a little harder.

I started passing the half marathon walkers. I cheered some of them on and they did the same for me. This gave me a welcome distraction and also made it harder to see where Caleb was at.

Around Mile 16 I was really starting to feel good and I began to gather some speed.

MILES 17 TO 21: 6:37, 6:40, 6:36, 6:37

We got off the causeway and back to land right around Mile 17 and now I was cruising. I did a sub 6:40 mile. During Mile 18 there was a turn and I could see Caleb ahead. I began to think I was closing on him. It reminded me of one of my best 5k races in high school when I just stared at the back of the 1st place runner’s shirt. (I passed that runner for the first time in my life after 4k, only to be passed back a couple hundred yards later.)

Caleb was still a ways ahead, but I was trying to do a sneak attack. I tried keeping half marathoners between him and me in case he looked back. He never did though, he was just focused on his own race. Kudos to him for leading the race for ~20 miles and maintaining a great pace.

My mile times were awesome at this point and I was feeling good. I was really closing in on Caleb and I hoped to pass him after the Mile 21 aid station. This would let me take my slow water break and then have a two mile stretch before the next one. It worked out just how I wanted. I was only a couple dozen yards behind him at the aid station.

MILES 22 TO 26.2: 6:39, 6:42, 6:46, 6:47, 6:30, ~5:38 pace

During Mile 22 I finally caught Caleb and passed him. I passed him going fast because I really didn’t want to have to go stride for stride with him. My pace was still pretty healthy at this point and I did another sub 6:40 mile.

Then the course started to incline a bit and my legs started to tighten up. I didn’t hit The Wall, but I could definitely feel more resistance. I didn’t know how close behind Caleb was, so I kept pushing. I also realized that I had a good shot at a PR, although my watch was off by ~0.2 miles so it was difficult to tell exactly how good of a PR opportunity I had.

Running towards the end of the Layton Marathon
Running towards the end of the Layton Marathon

My main ambition now was to secure a sub 2:58 finish. The final few miles felt pretty good overall. I didn’t let my pace get too slow. The last mile felt great and I tried to pick it up and leave everything on the course.

There’s only so much you can do at this point in the race, but I was ecstatic to be running at a ~6:30 pace for the last mile! Finally I could see the finish line and I sped up even more, doing a sub 6:00 pace for the last few hundred yards.

Final stretch of the Layton Marathon
Final stretch of the Layton Marathon

It was nice that there weren’t many half marathoners for my last quarter or half mile (they were spread out), so it was just me and the finish line. There was a small crowd at the finish and they gave me a good cheer. Cyndi was also there and it was great to see her. I sprinted into the finish and was happy to see that I got a new PR of 2:57:07 on my 16th marathon+.

Crossing the finish line of the Layton Marathon
Crossing the finish line of the Layton Marathon

AND FIRST PLACE! My first 1st place finish at a marathon. I’d gotten 3rd a couple times and 2nd once, but never 1st. It was pretty awesome.

I liked the medal as well.

The 2016 Layton Marathon medal
The medal I received from the 2016 Layton Marathon

Post Race

Cyndi and I milled around as we waited for the awards ceremony. I took a little walk and tried to stretch out a bit. About 10 minutes after finishing I got that post-marathon-I-want-to-throw-up feeling, but it dissipated and I was able to eat half a PBJ and drink water.

Wearing my Layton Marathon medal
Wearing my Layton Marathon medal

I saw Caleb come through and chatted with him. He did great and it was nice to meet him. I’ve never had someone like that to compete with during a marathon. He had hit The Wall around the time I passed him I think, so he finished in 3:03. That was fantastic for a second marathon and I’m sure he’ll improve a lot in the future.

Layton Marathon podium
Shaking Caleb’s hand at the Layton Marathon podium
The Layton Marathon awards podium
The Layton Marathon awards podium

After the awards we headed back to my cousin’s where I showered. As we walked away I saw Eddie finishing up around 3:50 and we cheered him on. We gathered the kids and hit the road for the 5 hour trip back to Meridian. I drove for the first three hours then had to take shotgun so I could stretch my legs out.

Overall it was a great experience. I was satisfied with my time and especially my place. Despite being a small marathon, there were no significant issues: the bus left on time, the aid stations were well stocked, and they gave awards to all age groups. The course terrain was fast and the scenery was pretty good. I would happily run it again.

Layton Marathon finish line photo with my plaque
Layton Marathon finish line photo with my plaque

4000 Miles to Boston

Today I was accepted into the 2017 Boston Marathon. While I’ve known for a few months that I would likely get in, receiving the acceptance email has re-stoked my excitement and commitment. It has been a long road since I first dreamed of Boston — a 4000 mile road, as a matter of fact.

On October 5, 2013, I ran the St. George Marathon with my father-in-law, Jerry. This was my seventh marathon; however, I hadn’t run a marathon since the Hoover Dam Marathon in 2009, so I was unsure what I was capable of. The fast course and my preparation combined for a new marathon PR: 3:24:53. After the race, I realized that I could potentially get my time down enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon some day. For my age bracket I would need a 3:05:00 to qualify.

The following year I had mixed results. I had some knee pain in December 2013 which meant very few miles. I was still able to drop my PR to 3:21 at the nice Phoenix Marathon course the following March. I experimented at the Utah Valley Marathon in June by going out fast on the downhill, but it led to a huge bonk and a lot of pain.

Then in the summer of 2014 my exuberance led to a couple injuries. First I strained my calf. Then, after my calf recovered, I strained a tendon in my foot. I still managed to run the St. George Marathon again in 2014, but I had to take it easy due to my sore foot and I got 3:34:18. I took training fairly easy through December 2014.

2015 was a great year. I trained hard all spring without injury and I thought I was on track for a sub 3:05 for the Newport Marathon in May. However, I had some knee pain in the two weeks before the race and then I bonked again and only squeaked out a 3:13:48. Although it was a nice PR, it was a big disappointment as I was really hoping to qualify.

Nevertheless, I trained hard over the summer and was able to finally qualify for Boston at the Mt. Nebo Marathon on September 5 with a 3:04:18. I was ecstatic! However, my hopes were dashed when the Boston Athletic Association lowered the cut-off time from 3:05:00 to 3:02:32 and my registration was rejected. Despite the big disappointment, I still PR’d in every distance 10K or more in 2015, so it was definitely a banner year for my running. I also fit in the Foothills 50K Frenzy in October — my first time running more than a marathon.

After a light December 2015 to heal my calves and knees, I hit it hard again in January 2016. Again I had an excellent winter/spring training regimen, doing three quality runs per week and two or three cross training days. I waffled on which marathon to run, but ultimately selected the local Famous Potato Marathon, which has a pretty nice, slightly downhill course. My marathon went as well as it could have, and I achieved a new PR of 2:58:15, breaking the 3:00 barrier and securing a nice Boston qualification cushion. I ran the Morgan Valley Marathon in late July and nearly broke 3:00:00 again despite the more difficult course (high elevation) and a smaller taper.

Finally September rolled around and I was able to register for Boston on Friday, 9/16/16. I awaited confirmation anxiously all weekend and checked my email like a crazy person. This morning (Monday) the confirmation came through. I was elated and relieved.

I looked up how many miles I have run since the 2013 St. George Marathon: 4000 miles exactly! (OK, 4000.19 miles.) What a number! In addition to the 4000 miles, which took 493 hours 19 minutes, I’ve also done a few hundred hours of cross training.

The cumulative miles and marathons I've ran since setting my sights on Boston
The cumulative miles and marathons I’ve ran since setting my sights on Boston

I think back on all the early mornings, running in the dark, running in sub freezing weather, on icy roads, driving by myself at 4:45am so I can run on a hill, etc. I’m not sure why I do it. Something about the challenge and trying to get a little faster and a little better. Trying to achieve whatever goal is next. At one point I thought that once I made it to Boston I would relax and scale back my running. I doubt that now.

2016 Family Backpacking Trip to Some Hot Springs

We have some friends who have three children and enjoy camping and backpacking like we do. Early in the summer we set a date to take a little trip with our two families. The date finally came in late August and we set out: two couples and eight children to do a ~2 mile backpacking trip and camp out.

The place we selected was north of Crouch, ID. The Middle Fork of the Payette River flows down a ravine into Crouch, and there are several springs in the area. We were headed to some Hot Springs that were about two miles up a trail in a nice area where a creek flows into the Middle Fork.

We were a bit delayed getting out of town on a Friday afternoon, but after navigating traffic and driving about 23 miles on the road (mostly gravel) north of Crouch, we arrived at our destination.

Ready to get started at the trailhead
Ready to get started at the trail head; missing one adult

The trail we ended up taking was the Middlefork Trail.

Middlefork Trail Hot Springs Backpacking - Sign

The trail was pretty flat and followed the beautiful, meandering Middle Fork of the Payette River. There were some spots that were a bit difficult for the kids to navigate, but we got through them.

The trail was a little tricky at parts
The trail was a little tricky at parts

Fortunately our friends’ children are a bit older and helped out with our little ones. This made the hike go by much more quickly and with minimal complaining from the kids.

The older kids helped the younger kids out
The older kids helped the younger kids out

Even the baby was happy in her carrier.

Mom and baby on the trail
Mom and baby on the trail

We arrived fairly late and immediately set up tents and made dinner. It was 9pm or so when we actually ate. The kids were troopers and fortunately we had raisins and fruit leather that helped hold them over.

Since we have a 15 month old, our family took two tents. I slept in the little tent with the baby so that she didn’t wake up everyone else as easily. She also tends to cry more if she sees her mom (as have all our children), so it was good to separate them. She ended up sleeping really well, all things considered. She awoke briefly at about 1am. Then she woke up at 5am, at which point I just put her in my sleeping bag with me and she slept until I got out of the tent at 7:30am or so. She then took some naps later on.

The other kids also slept really well.

Time to leave the warm tent in the morning
Time to leave the warm tent in the morning

In the morning we ate oatmeal for breakfast and then put our swimsuits on and headed for the main attraction.

Testing out the hot springs
Testing out the hot springs

The hot springs tub was pretty awesome. It had some cement to make a quality tub. There was a pipe with super hot water coming in from the spring, and another with cold water coming in from the creek. The water flow was adjustable on both of the pipes. Then there was a big drainage pipe that could be unplugged to flush out all the water.

Crowded hot springs tub
A crowd in the hot springs tub

We spent a couple hours soaking in the tub and daring each other to jump in the creek.

The creek fed by multiple springs
The creek fed by multiple springs

We headed out before noon and took a parallel trail which required a couple river crossings, which were pretty fun.

Part of our crew crossing the Middle Fork of the Payette River
Part of our crew crossing the Middle Fork of the Payette River

We got back to the car and made it home in time to catch a 4:30pm barbecue.

The fear with a trip like this is mainly the kids. Will they be able to hike without complaining too much? Will they sleep? Will they be safe? Kids almost always love camping, so we’ve found that as long as the parents are prepared, the kids will be just fine. That’s how it turned out this time. Our kids get regular outdoor play time and exercise so they were fine on the hike. We had sleeping arrangements that made for a fairly comfortable night for everyone. Just get them outdoors and things usually work out.

What a great trip!

5:06 Mile!

One of my goals is to break 5:00 in the mile again (that is, 1600 meters, which is actually ~9 meters short of a mile).

There’s something about breaking a threshold like a 5 minute mile that makes for an attractive goal. Earlier this year, I was able to break 3:00:00 in the marathon. My main goal was to qualify for Boston, but for some time I had also had my eyes on a sub 3 hour marathon.

While I was still training for that marathon I ran a 5k fun run and realized that a sub 5 minute mile might be within striking distance. Nevertheless, I haven’t done any mile-specific training. Pretty much all of my training has been targeted at improving my marathon time. This includes long runs, temp runs of 4-8 miles, and intervals. The intervals have almost all been 800 meters or longer and at times closer to a 5:40 to 6:15 mile pace.

Nevertheless, I’ve been wanting to test myself in a mile for a few months. I’ve done mile intervals in the morning, but with no competition and doing multiple repeats means that my pace is always slower than my best.

After the XC12K I ran into my former cross country coach, Tracy Harris, who had just finished a training run. He still coaches at the high school a few miles from my house, and I found out that he was planning on a mile time trial in a couple weeks. This immediately piqued my interest.

A couple weeks later I showed up at 7:30pm to run a 1600 with a bunch of high schoolers. I felt a little silly, but I was excited to have someone to compete with. After a couple miles of warming up, it was time to run. I wasn’t very apprehensive until I actually lined up, but once I felt the nervousness I was excited because I knew I needed to be on edge to run my best.

There were actually three groups running, with the fastest running first. I debated which I should join since I didn’t know my capability, but I ultimately decided to join the varsity boys and girls in the first heat. There was a former college runner to pace us, so I wasn’t the only non-high schooler.

The race went really well. My first 200 was at about 37s, and my first 400 was around 74s. My second lap was my slowest at about 80s. Then I began passing some other runners as I quickened my pace back to around 75s for the final two laps. I got pretty light-headed towards the end of the race, but I was quite pleased when I came across in 5:06.

That was just 7 seconds away from my goal! I’m looking forward to doing some shorter intervals and working toward a 4:59. I’m certain that I can achieve it, barring an injury. My PR from high school is 4:34, and part of me is even beginning to wonder about that… but we’ll see how the next year or two go first.

White Clouds Backpacking Trip – 2016

Last week I did another great backpacking trip to Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains. I love the White Clouds and enjoyed the scenery, the challenge, and the chance to spend some time outdoors.

The route I took this year was similar to my backpacking trip to the White Cloud Mountains last year. However, this year I was with a big group of 20 people, including 14 scouts and 6 adults. This is the maximum group size allowed (as of August 2016), and I suspect that the limit will be reduced in the near future. The area was just protected as a Wilderness last year, which led to additional restrictions. My assumption is that more restrictions will go into effect with time.

White Clouds Backpacking Day 1

We left the valley at about 6:30am on Wednesday, August 10. Due to the Pioneer Fire, the road between Banks and Loman was closed, so we took Highway 21 through Idaho City, Loman, and then on to Stanley. We saw the destruction from the Pioneer Fire between Idaho City and Loman. In fact, there was still smoke everywhere and we saw a few burning logs and brush fires.

We arrived at the 4th of July Trailhead and started hiking around 11:30am. Everyone was carrying their food for 4 days, so packs were a bit heavy that first day. It also seems to take a day to get broken in for a good backpacking trip.

White Cloud Mountains - Sign to Born Lakes

We made our way from the trailhead to 4th of July Lake, but besides a short break to let everyone in the group catch up, we didn’t really spend any time at the lake. The climb to the lake is pretty good, and then the trail continues on to Born Lakes with another significant climb to the top of the ridge. The total climb is around 1200 feet. We spent some time on the ridge taking pictures and hiking to a small peak. I also pointed out Devil’s Staircase to the group, which we would be climbing the next day.

Antz Basin where Born Lakes are located. This view is from the ridge between Antz Basin and 4th of July Lake. You can see Devil's Staircase as a cut in the far ridge that angles up and to the right.
Antz Basin where Born Lakes are located. This view is from the ridge between Antz Basin and 4th of July Lake. You can see Devil’s Staircase as a cut in the lowest point of the far ridge that angles up and to the right.

We then descended down the ridge on the switchbacks and made our way to one of the farther Born Lakes.

Switchbacks into Antz Basin
Switchbacks into Antz Basin

The Born Lakes are a set of 7-9 lakes nestled in Antz Basin. There are a couple big lakes and the rest are pretty small. The first decent sized lake is about 4 miles from the trailhead and the other bigger lake is about 5 miles. We came across a gentleman who didn’t want us there and said there wasn’t room for all of us at the lake we were headed to. He wanted us to hike down Antz Basin and find another spot. We said we’d check it out, and there was plenty of room for us (as I knew since I’d been here twice before). He also said he came there every year. Interesting how some people want to be the only ones to enjoy beautiful areas such as this. They want to come every year, but find it hard to share with others. I understand that most people don’t want to see other people in the back country, but it’s public land and everyone has a right to it. I’m grateful that my scout leaders introduced me to the White Clouds and Sawtooths and outdoors in general, and the benefits that our scouts got from this trip would stay with them forever.

Hiking in Antz Basin toward Born Lakes
Hiking in Antz Basin toward Born Lakes

Right after arriving at the lake I started working on catching my first fish. I caught a nice one pretty quickly, which left me satisfied so that I could set up the tent. Some of us also jumped in the lake to rinse off after the 5 mile hike.

First fish I caught on the trip!
First fish I caught on the trip!

After we had set up camp, a ranger came through and made sure our group size was within the limit. He was pretty nice and gave us some instruction on how to properly Leave No Trace. We had reviewed this with the scouts but it was good to go through it again with the ranger.

I didn’t sleep great that night. I was a bit too cold, and I never sleep well camping anyways. I should have worn an extra shirt and some extra socks.

White Clouds Backpacking Day 2 – Born Lakes to Boulder Chain Lakes

After breakfast on Thursday morning we got ready to ascend Devil’s Staircase. Devil’s Staircase is part of the shale ridge located to the north east of Born Lakes. It’s one of two popular ways to pass the ridge without going all the way around on the trail. The other popular way to get over the ridge is by going east from Born Lakes then crossing over the ridge to the south, leading into Four Lakes Basin.

Devil’s Staircase sounds and looks pretty nasty, but it’s really not too terrible. I’ve done it three times now — twice with a full (~50 lb) pack on my back. Still, it has a lot of loose shale and boulders. Since we had a large group, we spread out and attacked the pass about six people at a time spaced a few minutes apart. This worked out pretty well. It helps that Devil’s Staircase is angled up the ridge, so if you’re spread out you won’t be directly above/below other climbers.

Ascending Devil's Staircase in the White Cloud Mountains
Ascending Devil’s Staircase in the White Cloud Mountains

Fortunately for our group, we all made it safely up the ridge and down. One of our 14-year-old scouts got pretty scared at one point, but he was able to finish after taking a break and calming himself down.

Descending Devil's Staircase toward Shallow Lake and Windy Devil
Descending Devil’s Staircase toward Shallow Lake and Windy Devil
Shallow Lake, Scree Lake, and Noisy Lake
Shallow Lake, Scree Lake, and Noisy Lake

From the top of Devil’s Staircase, we headed down the other side toward Windy Devil. Some of us dropped our packs and hiked down to check out Shallow and Scree Lakes. Eventually we all made our way around the top of the basin to Windy Devil. At the top of Windy Devil there’s a nice trail which switchbacks down the shale face and leads into the Boulder Chain Lakes basin. (The trail starts right at the top of Windy Devil.)

My selfie on top of Windy Devil pass with Scoop Lake in the background
My goofy selfie on top of Windy Devil pass with Scoop Lake in the background
Part of our group descending Windy Devil in the White Cloud Mountains. Headwall Lake and Scoop Lake can be seen in the background.
Part of our group descending Windy Devil in the White Cloud Mountains. Headwall Lake, Scoop Lake, and part of Hummock Lake can be seen in the background.

From Windy Devil there are some nice views of Headwall, Scoop, and Hummock Lakes — some of the upper Boulder Chain Lakes. We were pretty spread out by the time we started arriving at Scoop Lake, so we took a long break there. Some of us decided to check out Lonesome Lake and took a quick side trip up the granite ridge. The views from Lonesome Lake are spectacular and I highly recommend the trip.

Eventually we started to head down toward the lower Boulder Chain Lakes.

Hiking past Hummock Lake in the White Cloud Mountains
Hiking past Hummock Lake in the White Cloud Mountains

We fished and took some breaks, but finally decided on camping at Willow Lake at the bottom of the Boulder Chain.

Willow Lake seemed really cold, but it was worth taking another dip to clean up before bed time.

White Clouds Backpacking Day 3 – Boulder Chain Lakes to Chamberlain Basin

On Day 3 we were ready for a long slog to Chamberlain Basin. Our group set off with high hopes and expectations, but after a couple miles the climb started and some of our boys were bogged down as they made their way up the mountain.

White Cloud Mountains - Hiking from the Boulder Chain Lakes
Heading out from the lower Boulder Chain Lakes

The trail takes backpackers through a lot of forested areas and some meadows. After a mile or so we were graced with an amazing view of Castle Peak.

We got some great views of Castle Peak as we hiked the trail from the Boulder Chain Lakes to Chamberlain Basin
We got some great views of Castle Peak as we hiked the trail from the Boulder Chain Lakes to Chamberlain Basin. We eventually crossed the ridge to the left of Castle Peak (the spot covered by the tree).

This is when I realized that the ridge just to the southeast of Castle Peak was the one we would be crossing. It was pretty far up. There’s a large creek crossing and then the uphill begins. Initially the uphill is all in the forest. I don’t like this part very much because I can’t see where I’m going.

A view from the trail on our way to Chamberlain Basin
A view from the trail on our way to Chamberlain Basin

Fortunately there were lots of currants (or gooseberries?) on the side of the trail which kept me distracted. Currants don’t really taste great, but they’re alright and it was a welcome challenge to try to find the ripest berries.

Eventually the trail hits switchbacks up the side of the ridge. However, before starting up the switchbacks, another one of the adults and I decided to take a side trip to Castle Lake. We were in the back of the group, so we didn’t get the chance to talk anyone else into coming with us.

We had our eye on the spot where we would approach Castle Lake, but we weren’t sure if it would work once we got there. Looking at Castle Lake from the trail we were at, we were hoping we could approach it from our left. There are some cliffs with a shale face above it that we hoped we could traverse. We dropped our packs, grabbed our fishing gear, water, and some snacks, and headed for the lake. To our delight, we discovered a trail right in the spot we were aiming for that traversed the shale area. Even though there was a trail, it was a little freaky. If I looked down when we were above the cliffs I actually got some vertigo — I think due to the crazy angles and drop-offs.

The freaky trail around the spur of the mountain to Castle Lake. The trail really wasn't too bad. Just don't look down.
The freaky trail around the spur of the mountain to Castle Lake. The trail really wasn’t too bad. Just don’t look down.
Return trip from Castle Lake
Return trip from Castle Lake

The trail took us right to Castle Lake, and we hardly changed elevation from where we dropped our packs. It was a pleasant surprise as we expected a challenging climb. Castle Lake is beautiful. Nestled between Castle Peak and Merriam Peak, two thirds of the lake is surrounded by mountains with the remainder opening up to the basin below.

Michael and I at Castle Lake in the White Cloud Mountains
Michael and I at Castle Lake in the White Cloud Mountains
Castle Lake Panorama
Castle Lake Panorama – doesn’t do it justice

After an enjoyable time at Castle Lake, we headed back out to the main trail. We worked our way up Castle Divide and then down the other side into Chamberlain Basin, where we finally met up with the rest of our group.

A panorama from Castle Divide in the White Cloud Mountains
A 360 degree panorama from Castle Divide in the White Cloud Mountains
The southeast side of Castle Peak from Castle Divide
The southeast side of Castle Peak from Castle Divide. You can see some of the trail we hiked up on the right.
Castle Peak from the southeast
Castle Peak from the southeast

Actually, just as we arrived at the first big Chamberlain Lake, we were met by another ranger and a film crew. They were filming for Outdoor Idaho, a PBS series. They interviewed me and my hiking partner and got some footage of the ranger telling us about Leave No Trace principles.

As we wrapped up with the film crew, a few of the guys from my group arrived from camp in their running clothes. They had ran each day of our trip, and thus far I hadn’t gone with them since I was still trying to recover from the Morgan Valley Marathon and the XC12K. However, I was feeling up to it at this time and I wanted to see the upper lakes anyways, so I asked them to wait for five minutes while I headed for the brush to change into my running shorts and drop my pack.

The run was amazing (unfortunately I don’t have a GPS track of it). We saw all the upper Chamberlain lakes and headed all the way to the bottom of the ridge at the top of the basin. It brought back memories as I had once been to one of the upper lakes when I was a teenager (we came over the ridge from Washington Lake but didn’t go far down the basin). It was nice to get a little run in and felt much different on my legs than all the backpacking. I was quite sore as we ran back down towards camp, but it was worth it and felt wonderful.

It was also nice to warm up right before jumping in the lake.

I really enjoyed dinner that night — mashed potatoes and soup. I slept ok.

White Clouds Backpacking Day 4 – Chamberlain Basin Past Washington Lake and Back to 4th of July Trail Head

Our plan for Saturday was to wake up a little extra early and head out in small groups to give the slower hikers a bit of a head start.

The first group of 6 or so headed out at 7:30. I was in the next group at 7:45. The last group left at 8:00.

The hike starts with a gentle incline and passes one of the nastiest looking lakes I saw on our trip — a small lake with no outlet and no apparent inlet. After that lake we got a nice view of the ridge we would have to surmount. It was warming up so we changed into cooler clothes and headed up. At the bottom we saw the group ahead of us, and at the top we saw the group behind us.

Castle Peak from Chamberlain Divide
Castle Peak from Chamberlain Divide

As usual, there were some awesome views at the top of the ridge and we snapped some photos before descending down the other side. There was some nice downhill (much of which we jogged) and then a gradual uphill to Washington Lake. I really wanted to do a little excursion to the small lake southwest of Washington Lake, but I didn’t have anyone to go with me and I didn’t want to keep the others waiting.

Hiking towards Washington Lake from Chamberlain Lakes
Hiking towards Washington Lake from Chamberlain Lakes
Washington Lake
Washington Lake

Our whole group met up at 4th of July Lake and we snapped some group photos. Finally we headed down the last stretch of trail to get back to our cars.

Hiking our last stretch out of 4th of July Lake to the trail head
Hiking our last stretch out of 4th of July Lake to the trail head

What I Ate During the Backpacking Trip

I thought it would be useful to list what I ate during the trip, since it’s sometimes hard to get good ideas.


I kept breakfast pretty simple: two oatmeal packets and hot cocoa. This was easy as I just needed to boil 2-3 cups of water and I had a warm meal ready.

Lunch and Snacks

I had a peanut butter honey bagel sandwich for lunch every day. I also had the following to supplement lunch and eat as snacks each day: three granola bars, ~1/3 lb trail mix, dried peaches, and raisins or corn nuts.


Mountain House meals are easy but expensive. I used a Mountain House one day.

Another day I used a $1 package of dinner noodles from Walmart. These are just as tasty as Mountain House, but the downside is they have to simmer for 7 minutes. Some of them also use milk, so I had some powdered milk to add as well.

The last day I did instant potatoes and some stew. The potatoes just require boiled water and a $1 package was very filling (2 cups). The stew had to simmer for 10 minutes, but it was very tasty.


I made pudding one night which was quite good. It just requires pudding, powdered milk, and cold water. Mix it all in a ziplock bag.

I also packed in my traditional tortilla chips and a jar of Salsa con Queso, which is not backpacking food at all but was really delicious!


Total cost of food for the three night backpacking trip was about $25. Not bad at all! The Mountain House was about 1/3 of that. I hiked out with a spare package of Top Ramen and two spare granola bars.

Wrap Up

The trip was a huge success. There were 20 people in our group and no one got injured or lost. There were no arguments or issues with the boys. Everyone had a good time and carried their own packs the whole way. Some of the boys struggled on the hikes a bit, but they all made it and still got to have some great experiences.

I had a wonderful time. There is something about high mountain peaks and mountain lakes that makes me love going back again and again. I’ve now seen almost every lake in the lower White Clouds, so I hope to hit some different areas next time around. That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to do this same trip again.