Not all runs go as planned- Canmore quad DNF

The alarm went off at 3:40am. We headed out from Calgary at 4:13 and by 5:30am we were standing at the trail head ready to take on Heart Mountain. It started off nice and easy running across a few log bridges over a beautiful trickling creek. We ran alongside the creek for a few minutes. I enjoyed the sound of the rushing stream but we hadn’t started to climb yet. The girls took out the map and realized we were not on the correct trail. Backtracking quickly to the trail map it indicated our trail went another way. Now back on track we started to climb fairly quickly. We climbed up for awhile and finally reached the summit!!!! We continued on the trail to… another summit??? Following behind Janelle as she led our trio to what seemed like 2 more summits/ peaks. Which is the real summit? I have no idea but we did the whole loop so I’m sure it was one of them lol.

Climbing up Heart there was a section or two of actual rock face that we had to climb up and I had my first moment of ‘High Altitude Anxiety’ or ‘HAA’ I don’t know if that’s an actual thing but in layman’s terms it means ‘scared shitless on the top of a mountain’. Little did I know that we hadn’t even started the climbing for the day.

I was gaining confidence in my mountain skills coming down off Heart feeling good. We finished by running over a couple cool wooden bridges and passed a quiet little pond with a family of ducks enjoying an early morning swim. 3.5 hrs later we had completed the first mountain of the day. We were all feeling great after the first mountain and we piled back into the car for the quick 15 minute drive into Canmore. where we would park the car at the children’s park and run everywhere else. After re-fueling our bodies on the way into town we put on our sunscreen and headed out for what was to be a long day. We ran over to the bottom of Grotto and started from the trailhead just below the Alpine club. We climbed and we climbed and we just kept climbing. I knew it was a going to be a hard mountain and I tried my best to endure the endless death march straight up the mountain.

Once above the tree line it became very hard to see a trail at all. Janelle had forged ahead on her own and Tania stuck with me to help me get through my High Altitude Anxiety. Once we had finally reached the top I could see it wasn’t actually the top and we were about to traverse the entire ridge line which looked impossible and deadly. Tania did her best to way find and we scrambled, climbed and clung to the side of this ridge. The traverse took us over an hour. It was the SCARIEST thing I’ve ever done!!! apparently we did the traverse in the hardest way possible and we couldn’t see a trail for much of it. so we periodically had to rock climb small sections to get back up to the ridge that stood thousands of feet in the air. After a few tears and many, many swears. We finally reached the true summit and Janelle was there cheering for us.

It is usually pretty windy on top of the mountain so we didn’t stay up there too long, especially since Janelle had already been waiting awhile. luckily she had packed her coat with her just for the summit. While waiting for us she had been watching other hikers climb down so we knew which way to go. As we started descending the mountain Tania fell in the snow up past her knees. I thought I’d bypass the post-holing by stepping 3 feet to the right onto the rock. Turns out I fell into the snow further than Tania almost up to my waist. The momentum caused me to fall forward and trapped my leg in the snow. As Tania struggled to free herself I realized just how stuck I was and a bit of HAA started to settle in again. I was unable to move my feet from the snow and my shoe was starting to come off which normally would have freed my leg but I was wearing my gaitors around my ankle and they attach to the front of my shoe. So my foot and shoe were still trapped under the weight of the snow. Luckily Tanya was able to struggle free. Once on the solid rock beside me she was able to use her hands and poles to start digging my foot free. She was able to reach my ankle she freed the gaitor from my shoe and I was able to pull my leg out and then pull my shoe out of the snow. I wish that was the most eventful thing that happened going down Grotto but there was lots of “is that a trail?”, F bombs and bruised tushes.

The goat trail down was full of loose rock and the ground was dry and dusty. So even on the way down it was a slow grind trying not to fall down the steep trail or off a cliff as the ‘trail’ hugs the ridge on the way down. Both Janelle and I ran out of water for the last hour and I decided to drink from the creek below the waterfall.* and after a couple wrong turns and map checks we were finally back at the trail head just below the Alpine club of Canmore.

We headed into the Club to fill our water and formulate a new plan of action. As Grotto took over 7 hours (which was almost twice as long as we expected) there was now not enough daylight to complete 2 more mountains. Even though I was about to have the worst BONK I’d ever had and desperately wanted to go back to the car to refuel my body. we decided as a group to go and do Lady MacDonald as our last mountain of the day. On the run over to the trail head my body crashed so hard. The dehydration from running out of water, the severe calorie deficit I was in, all caught up to me at once. I watched the girls get further and further away from me and I just couldn’t keep up anymore. My heart sank as I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep pace with them. Tania waited for me after the bridge in town. I had my bank card with me for emergency stops while running through town and she suggested I get a glass of Pepsi from the restaurant to help boost my sugar and water intake. As I walked back to the trail with my cup of pop I broke down crying. I felt like a failure for not making my goal of 4 mountains, that I was holding the girls back, that I’d have to tell all my friends and family that I’d failed. All my emotions spilled out at once.

Tania was walking with me but I soon realized I wasn’t going to make it to the top this time but she still could. I told her to press on without me and I’d continue on at my pace, climbing as much of the mountain as I was able to. I made it over half way up Lady MAC. I chatted with other hikers and runners going up and coming down. I even met another 5 peaks ambassador, Jander and we chatted for several minutes on the way down, each conversation I had boosting my mood, maybe the pop had helped too. After coming off Lady Mac I headed through town back to the car. Making a quick pit stop for the Cherry coke slurpee I’d been craving all day. I finished my run with slurpee in hand. Got to the car, changed out of my running gear, Ate some soup and felt much better.

I decided as I was feeling better I’d walk around town waiting for the girls to finish. I managed another 5km around town for about 50km and over 3000 m of elevation gain in about 14 hrs of running, hiking, climbing and walking. I am so grateful to have such great friends to go on these amazing adventures with to experience it all with these two amazing, strong women and mothers meant a ton. Cheering for and supporting one another.

I can now look back on my experience with Grotto I realize all the things I did wrong. I didn’t have a coat or even my emergency blanket with me. I should have packed more food and water with me. We should have gone with someone who has experience on that mountain and knew the trail(it was the only one we were unfamiliar with) so that we didn’t do anything unnecessarily dangerous.

*I don’t recommend drinking random water sources without a proper filter but I was desperate and it was very clear and running quickly so I decided it would be an acceptable drinking source and if not at least I wouldn’t get sick until after I was done running.

Thank you for following my adventures until next time, happy trails.

📷 myself, Tania Jacobs & Janelle Shultz


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