Pine Valley Wilderness: Mill – Summit – Whipple


A point-to-point route in the Pine Valley Wilderness. One of the more runnable options in the PV. The better direction is to start at the White Rocks trailhead and end at Whipple: the Whipple trailhead is a lovely spot next to the Santa Clara River whereas White Rocks is a bit middle-of-nowhere.

Noteworthy (distances from the White Rocks trailhead)

0.5 miles: Mill/White Rocks junction. Following the Mill Trail means veering right at this junction and shortly passing through a gate into the Wilderness Area. The Mill trail climbs a narrow, rocky canyon and entails multiple creek crossings.

5.5 miles: join the Summit Trail at Mill Flat. This does not feel like a junction as much as a bend in the trail, but several other trails dump into various connection points in the meadow.

7.6 miles: Kolob Canyons overlook. At the turn of a long switchback, just before reaching the high point of the route, you will be treated to a spectacular view of the Kolob Fingers and beyond.

8.9.-10.0 miles: North and Whipple Valleys. Two beautiful alpine meadows connected by a very short canyon. Whipple in particular has one spot that has pretty good water (treatment recommended) most of the summer.

10.0 miles: Summit/Whipple Junction. The junction is right after the trail reenters the trees from Whipple Valley. Stay right for Whipple.

10.7 miles: begin long, gradual, two-part descent into Pine Valley.

16.0 miles: Whipple Trailhead.



Trailheads: White Rocks, Whipple
Trails linked: Mill, Summit, Whipple
Distance: 16 miles
Total Ascent: 3,800 feet
Water sources: Mill Creek, Whipple Valley
Map & elevation profile

Pine Valley Wilderness: Brown’s Point – Forsyth Loop

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A fun, challenging loop into the Pine Valley Wilderness, with the option of convenient side trips to Signal and Burger Peaks, the two highest points of the Pine Valley range.

The Brown’s Point Trail follows a bony ridge whereas Forsyth mostly tracks a drainage. Brown’s Point is the steeper of the two trails; finishing with Forsyth means you’ll usually have water for the last two miles or so of your outing. Another generally reliable water source is at Further Water, one of the numerous alpine meadows spread across the top of the Pine Valley range at semi-regular intervals.

To close the loop, link Brown’s Point and Forsyth using the Equestrian trail at the foot of the mountain and the Summit trail on its top. The Summit Trail proper navigates a saddle between Signal and Burger Peaks. Two short spurs of less than 1/2 mile and 500 vertical feet each take you to the two peaks.



Trailheads: Brown’s Point, Equestrian, Forsyth
Trails linked: Equestrian, Brown’s Point, Summit, Forsyth
Distance: 14-16 miles
Total Ascent: 4,500-5,000 feet
Water sources: Forsyth Creek, Further Water
Map & elevation profile

Red Mountain: Point-to-Point

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The upland portion of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is a good place to work on becoming a more resilient runner. Although there are no very long, sustained climbs to be found, the hills are relentless and the footing taxing. For good measure, the brittlebrush and blackbrush will give you a good gash if you’re the least bit careless.

The area also happens to be a great spot to go when southwest Utah gets a bit of winter weather. When such conditions prevail, lower elevations turn sloppy from rain and higher elevations get buried with snow. But the terrain between about 4,000′ and 5,000′ gets nice: it usually doesn’t get much more than a few inches of snow and the deep, abundant sand is much more enjoyable to run when wet than when dry.

One fun option in this category is Red Mountain trail, which makes a north-south traverse of the Red Mountain Wilderness. There are not many trails onto the giant red block of sandstone, but once there, you are rewarded with hours of potential exploration and expansive views in all directions.

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First Light 2012

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The week after Thanksgiving I carelessly slipped on an icy footbridge and took a very hard fall during a road run. The dull ache from the bruises to my hip, knee and shoulder subsided on a reasonable schedule, but something about the trauma badly pissed off my piriformis. So, December was spent trying to restore an approximately normal, twinge-free walking stride rather than ramping up my running mileage as I had intended.

Anyway, I made slow and steady improvement during the run-up to Christmas. Finally, cautiously, I ventured back onto the trails the past week for short runs and my arse tolerated it pretty well. As planned, today was the first day I stretched myself out a bit. Having learned that a quicker tempo irritates the injury more than going slowly up or downhill, I opted for a day on the Oak Grove trail in the Pine Valley Wilderness.

Runners who are passingly familiar with the St. George area tend to think almost entirely about the desert terrain at the immediate edge of town. Folks who know the area a bit more may also think about the mesas and big canyons of Zion and its immediate surroundings. But there is much more to the area, as you might imagine once you realize the altitude within a roughly 15 mile radius of downtown St. George ranges from just over 2,000 to more than 10,000 feet above sea level. And a lot of it is gnarly. (Compare a few of the photos below to the Grigne pic at Anton’s post; I don’t doubt anyone so inclined could find a few hair-raising routes twisting up and around the vertical granite spires that dot the Pine Valley like dandelions.)

A hike up the Oak Grove trail typically starts from the Oak Grove campground, but in the winter the Forest Service closes the gate four miles downhill, about where the prickly pear and redrock peter out. Having the extra bit of mileage on the access road is probably just as well, since it gives you time to set your jaw, so to speak, before hitting the truly steep, rugged terrain when you hit the trail.

5,100 feet of gain in seven outbound miles, with 3,400+ doled by the three miles of singletrack. The steep, southeast-facing slopes don’t hold much snow or support much vegetation, so this is an ideal shoulder season trail. It also works straight through winter during a dry year like this one. The majority of the trail was completely dry today and the deepest I post-holed in the small patches of snow under the trees was mid-shin.

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Angels and Diesels

With the return of the Tour de France to the high mountains, my thoughts have wandered back to a topic I occasionally ponder: why does the trail running scene take relatively little explicit account of body type? I mean, in cycling, no one expects even the the strongest strong man in the peloton to do anything but lose time, gobs of it, when the road points up in a sustained fashion. Why? Because he’s a Diesel not an Angel.

Let’s get a bit more concrete.

Intuitively, it seems like the dispositive factors in mountain running are essentially the same as cycling uphill, namely, power and weight. Cyclists at the top of the sport have a very good handle on their maximum explosive and sustained power, and what that means for going uphill at a given weight. With a relatively simple formula, they are able to predict with considerable accuracy how long it will take, say, a 70 kilo rider to complete a 500 meter climb at 250 watts. Shoot, it isn’t limited to top pros: in 2010 probably 90% of all self-respecting Cat 3s — the level of the “local hero” — are friendly with their holy grail metric, watts/kg. With these few figures, comparisons between different days and between different athletes, are pretty easy, with obvious implications for specialization of training, event selection, pacing, etc.

So sprinters like Cavendish or Farrar are the Usain Bolts of the peloton, able to generate incredible power in short bursts. Diesels like Cancellara can generate massive sustained power, but are penalized by their weight in the mountains (~80 kilos is a pretty common weight for a Diesel, whereas true climbers, or Angels, rarely exceed about 65kg; yep, easily a difference of 30+ lbs). I’m sure you can think of the trail running analog to the different types of cyclist. Killian Jornet = Alberto Contador, for instance.

So why isn’t similar methodology and specialization utilized in running? Is it simply that power is more easily and accurately measured in real time on a bike than on foot? Too unromantic? Just a matter of time? Something else?

While I’m at it, trail running also needs better nicknames for the heroes of the sport. For example, Il Falco (The Falcon) for Paolo Savoldelli, the best descender in the peloton a few years back, is simply awesome. The Alaskan Assassin is a start, I suppose.

Footnote: while not widely utilized, the tools for taking the ‘power meter’ approach to running are in fact becoming available. If you are curious what this looks like, you might peruse this and/or this. Mountain runners have long known weekly mileage is a pathetic metric. GOVSS anyone?


Kodachrome Basin State Park

On the edge of the Big Lonesome.

Tucked between the high country of the Paunsaugunt Plateau and the Big Lonesome known as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a small Utah State Park called Kodachrome Basin. It is a lovely little spot wrapped around a series of sandstone walls and spires, with trails that are perfect for a runner interested in a less ambitious effort, but who still wants a big payoff of fun and scenery.

The handful of trails in Kodachrome are generally quite short, but the Panorama section of the park is laced with enough trails to easily tally 8-10 miles over the course of an hour or two. There are no sustained climbs and the trail surface is so gentle that kicking off your shoes is viable even if you’re merely an opportunistic barefoot runner.

Where the Panorama Trail roams.

The sandstone is so soft in Kodachrome you can manipulate it by hand,
if you have the time and inclination.

A hoodoo about the size of an NFL lineman.

A section of super-smooth sandstone on the Panorama Trail.

Cool Cave.
I admit, it’s cool. But it’s not really a cave.


Elevation: 5,800 feet
Climate: arid and generally mild (though extreme cold or heat is not uncommon)
Vegetation: abundant sage, pinyon, juniper, and a wide variety of wildflowers and grasses
Critters: small lizards and mammals, and the predators they attract. Other than the possibly unpleasant encounter with a rattler or mountain lion, it’s all upside.
The Well-Beaten Path: Bryce Canyon National Park (about 20 minutes from Kodachrome)
Park Amenities: camping, 6 cabins and a small general store. The cabins have a small refrigerator and microwave, but not TVs or internet. You are also probably at least 20 miles from a reliable cellular signal. Nice.

Slideshow here.


Zen Loop

St. George is ringed on its south and west edge by a semi-continuous cuesta – a geological feature with one very steep side (the scarp face) and a relatively gentle one (the dip slope). Given its proximity to my front door, a large portion of it is my test lab.

The dip slope looks a bit featureless from a distance; it is anything but. Besides modest tucks and folds, there are a variety of hanging canyons and bowls, as well as giant rock gardens.

In a few spots, the trail darts through keyholes between building-sized rocks.

A large hanging bowl just below ridgeline.

Frequently, the coyotes that roam the ridge provide quite a serenade in the last hour or two before dawn. This one seemed pretty happy with sunny and 70s. Or maybe I’m just projecting.

The, er, non-runnable side of the cuesta. Also known as the Zen Wall by local climbers.

Even a modest climb of 700 feet or so offers the reward of a pretty nice view.

The test lab is mostly desert singletrack, with plenty of slickrock mixed in.

A healthy dose of technical, punchy climbs (and drops) increases the fun factor. (Plus, it wouldn’t be much of a test lab without them.)

Indian Paintbrush. Must be springtime in the desert. (Bonus: in our game of cuesta, not-a-cuesta, the feature in the background is…not a cuesta.)

Some of the trail network is a wilderness runner’s carnival. Some of it is “just” garden variety buff desert singletrack. The mix is always nice, but downright sublime during the winter months when the big climbs just outside of town are snowed under.


Racing Weight: DQS

In my review of Racing Weight, I said I’d make a follow-up post or two covering specific topics relating to implementation. So let’s take a look at the chapter entitled Improving Your Diet Quality (Chapter 7).

The first sentence of the chapter is: “The single most important characteristic of your diet is its quality.” No word-mincing there. By this point in the book, you probably assume Fitzgerald will not only provide additional evidence for this claim, but also resolve low-grade scientific disputes on the topic and ultimately boil it all down to implementation. You would be correct in this assumption.

Cutting to the chase, Fitzgerald’s implementation advice on this topic consists of a very helpful tool for calculating your diet quality score (DQS). This is what it looks like:

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
Fruit 2 2 2 1 0 0
Vegetable 2 2 2 1 0 0
Lean protein 2 2 1 0 0 -1
Whole grain 2 2 1 0 0 -1
Low fat dairy 1 1 1 0 -1 -2
Essential fats 2 0 0 0 -1 -1
Refined grain -1 -1 -2 -2 -2 -2
Sweet -2 -2 -2 -2 -2 -2
Fried food -2 -2 -2 -2 -2 -2
Full fat dairy -1 -1 -2 -2 -2 -2
Fatty Protein -1 -1 -2 -2 -2 -2

The matrix above is as straightforward to use as a first impression might suggest. Every serving of food consumed during a day is converted to a score. Good stuff adds to your daily tally, bad stuff subtracts from it. The number assigned to a food item also changes from one serving to the next. In this way, your final score will emphasize the “bang-per-buck” of more nutritious fare without losing sight of the importance of balance and moderation. I find it to be a really a nice approach, very intuitive and easy to implement. Here’s a one-day snapshot from a week-long food diary I recently kept.

6:30    Gel pre 1.5-hour trail run
8:30    2 slices multi-grain toast, 1 hard-boiled egg, 10 oz. pineapple/orange/banana juice
11:00  1.5 cup fat free yogurt w/ granola
1:00    Sandwich on multi-grain bread: turkey, provolone, lettuce, tomato; 1 apple
5:30    Gel pre 1.5-hour mountain bike ride
8:00    Large plate (~4 cups) wheat penne w/ chicken, mozzarella, tomato, pesto

This was obviously a pretty good day on its face. Pretty good balance. No meals of shame. (But that’s kind of how food diaries work, right? If you’re writing it down you’re more likely to stick with your plan.) Anyway, let’s go to the judges’ score:

DQS Points: Servings/Category

4: 2/fruit
4: 2/vegetable
5: 3/lean protein
4: 6/whole grain
1.5: 1.5/low fat dairy
-1.5: 1.5/full fat dairy
Total DQS: 17

So the score indicates that this was indeed a pretty good day, although there is room for improvement (the maximum DQS is 29). A bit more fruits and vegetables and a little less whole grain is probably the main thing I would have changed on this particular day.

You might have (correctly) inferred that the hard-boiled egg counted as a lean protein. You might be wondering whether this “correct.” As it turns out, it is. In fact, Fitzgerald singles out eggs as a somewhat exceptional food in the way they support a lean body composition despite their relatively high fat content. With eggs, the principle of moderation is even more key than usual: Fitzgerald says to count the first two eggs of a given day as lean protein in calculating your DQS (by implication, additional eggs count as full fat proteins).

Like any metric, the point of figuring your DQS is to uncover strengths as well as areas that could use improvement. I like the approach because I find it quite a bit easier than counting calories and/or calculating carb/protein/fat ratios.

Speaking of which, Fitzgerald doesn’t really pretend most of us have the time or inclination to track every calorie or keep a food diary 365 days per year. Instead, he advocates careful record keeping during key periods — upon reading Racing Weight for the first time as a benchmark, during short periods around efforts to reach racing weight for a peak event, etc. — and relying the rest of the time on broader guidelines and principles. Like pretty much all the advice in Racing Weight, that strikes me as rigorous yet sane.


Book Review: Racing Weight

The Hook

As a statistical matter, it turns out endurance athletes worry about their weight as much as the general population, despite being, on average, considerably slimmer. But beneath the quantitative similarity lurks a significant qualitative difference: athletes think about weight primarily in terms of athletic performance rather than simply “looking good” or staving off obesity. So, while many of the core principles of weight management are the same for athletes and non-athletes alike, there are many meaningful differences at the margins.

The Text

Racing Weight is organized almost exactly in one-thirds of about 90 pages each. It is a clean, intuitive structure. Fitzgerald’s writing is also clean and direct; pretty much exactly what you want from this type of book.

The first third of the book sets contextual groundwork by detailing the relevance of weight management to peak athletic performance and providing several tools for tracking progress and managing seasonal challenges.

The second third of the book is, logically, the core, and is comprised of Fitzgerald’s five-step plan for weight management:
– Improve diet quality.
– Balance your energy sources.
– Time your nutrition.
– Manage your appetite.
– Train right.

The final third has a variety of aids (sample one-day nutrition diaries of elite athletes, recipes, etc.) which help bring to life the various concepts discussed earlier in the book.

Does It Work As a Book?

As a reference, I love it. Most of the principles here are familiar, so while the book is novel in some respects, it is anything but gimmicky. Instead, it is (1) a coherent road map (finally!) to the various tips and insights you’ve probably come across over recent years in piecemeal fashion through a variety of outlets, and (2) a toolkit for actually implementing these principles without quitting your job or hiring a private chef. Fitzgerald walks the line very well of providing the scientific basis for his advice without getting bogged down in hair-splitting academic debate. Also, the paperback format and pricing ($13-$18) is a utilitarian’s dream.

Put another way, Racing Weight represents another example of the tools and science enjoyed by pros “trickling down” to the passionate non-pro. And I’m a huge fan of that.

Does It Work As a Practical Matter?

The value of any training aid depends heavily on the buy-in of the athlete using the aid. But I would say Racing Weight makes the implementation of a basic weight management strategy as feasible as is reasonable to expect from any book. There’s also plenty here for the athlete who wants to go well beyond basic weight management into territory where few wish to go.

For me personally, the book has already been well worth the purchase. For example, I’ve known for a long time I tend to not consume nearly enough calories early in the day. However, I wasn’t sure precisely what the dimensions of this tendency were — either the size of my typical deficit or its exact drawbacks. From a table in the chapter on nutrition timing, I learned it is best to consume fully 1/3 of my daily calories by around 10 AM. The text of the same chapter spells out why this is so. Having the logic of this one principle spelled out in detail then boiled down to a single metric is something I can really work with.

While this example probably strikes you as a silly thing to spark a mini-epiphany — and, in a way, it is — I bet there are other nuggets in Racing Weight that will be of particular benefit to you in a way that’s similar to the way this one worked for me.

Of course, true implementation of a weight management strategy — like any other element of training — is a long term proposition. So, over the coming weeks and months, I will make additional posts sharing my experience with that.

Other Resources

Publisher’s Page
Companion Website
Purchase (Amazon)