Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Monday, December 16, 2019

2019/2020 Race Season Underway

We are already two weekends into this race season.  Both races have been on man made snow loops, but believe it or not, we are all skiing on the natural snow trails too!

Historically my race reporting has been rather long and in depth including pre-race info, play by play, and post race analysis.  I'm going to try something a little different for the Vakava Blog.  My initial proposal is a little team results recap, a much shorter personal race account, and then possibly a look forward to where you might spot the Vakava suits in the coming week.

Team Racing Recap

Skadi's Chase

Racing kicked off with first running of Skadi's Chase as a part of the Three Rivers Park District Nordic Opener at Elm Creek.  Paul and Brock debuted Vakava's new racing suits while Andy was still rocking the previous suit (apparently antique is more than 100 years old, vintage is 20-100 years old, and retro is 1980's or 1990's so none of those apply).

Andy 5th Overall, 1st Age Group
Paul 7th Overall, 2nd Age Group (to some guy named Matt Liebsch)
Brock 18th Overall, 4th Age Group

Andy - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,

Paul - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,

Brock - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,

Hoigaard's/Breadsmith Relays

This past weekend a larger contingent of Vakava skiers headed out again to Elm Creek for the Olympic team sprint format racing.  Among the various teams and categories Vakava had nine folks out racing.  I must say the new suits are rather eye catching.

5 new Vakava suits and 1 old Vakava suit starting the race - Photo Credit: Bruce Adelsman,
Vakava had skiers on the 1st, 2nd, 8th, and 10th men's teams and the 3rd, 4th, and 6th mixed gender teams.

Post race the team did some classic video analysis and took a nice long ski the outer loops at Elm.

Photo Credit: Alex Reich and Ian Wright

Ben's Race Report

Brock and I teamed up to be the Vakava B Team.  Get it?  Ben and Brock, B Team... OK, maybe it wasn't that clever.  By virtue of the registration table handing me the bib I pulled the anchor leg duty.  Brock and I skied around for 20 or so minutes before the race.  I was a little nervous, not for the results, but for the pain I knew I was about to inflict upon myself.  Since I was going second, I did miss out on the mass start nerves a little bit.

Brock tagged off to me in a little group that included Dennis C and Clayton K.  Both of whom have historically kicked my butt in anything exceeding 5k.  Time to see how repeated 1.5k efforts and a summer of training looked.  I slotted in behind Clayton, and then when Dennis went around just past the Bottineau House I slipped in behind him.  We held a pretty sharp pace all the way to the next hand off.

A little looping around slowly trying to catch my breath while also cheering on team mates and other skiers and about 5 minutes later I was getting ready to go again.  Another lap, this time holding off Dennis who I had about a 8 second head start on.

5 more minutes... just hoping my legs would clear a little bit of the fatigue they were feeling.  One more lap, digging deep.  Both because Dennis was closing in on me, and I knew Dave was out taking video and I didn't want to look terrible.

Approximate splits of 4:50, 4:59, and 4:59 for just under 15 minutes of hard efforts.  It's a good start for the season.
Color chart of the increasing pain over the course of each lap.

Where To Find Vakava Next

Fulton Team Race this coming Wednesday at Elm Creek.  Wednesday's are normally practice nights, so we should see a pretty solid contingent.  Plus they said something about free beer.

Then it is the Skinny Santa Solstice race out at Woodland Trails.  You should see at least one of us out there.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Training Log Analysis: Part One

Since wrapping up my Crossroads series, I’m about to start another one of, you guessed it, not yet determined length:) This one is dedicated to analyzing my training log because although I’ve been keeping a training log, I don’t exactly do much of anything with the data. Here some of you may be saying “What, she doesn’t do anything with her data? If she analyzed it all better she would have won the Birkie by now!” I suspect most of you may be in the second camp though: “Phew, I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t analyze my training!”

A fun photo from last month backpacking in a much warmer place (Superstition Mountains in Arizona). Photo: Erik

In this first post, I’ll provide a synopsis of my current training logs and provide the analysis that I’ve done so far and then comment on some of my goals for training log analysis. 

Yikes! They have some big spiders in Arizona! Photo: Erik

My training log:


Not unlike many of you, I’ve been keeping a training log since I started endurance sports, sometime in the latter half of high school. My training log has evolved over the years. It began as a detailed paper journal with my actual training buried within a paragraph or paragraphs. Then it became very short entries with mostly only my activity and rarely what I was thinking. In 2008 I began an Excel Spreadsheet that has now morphed into a Google Sheet with over 10 years of data now.

I also keep my online Garmin log. I have both because I don’t always use my Garmin and like that the Google Sheet has better capacity for analysis than Garmin (note, Garmin has evolved over the years and it might actually be better but I’m not super talented in the tech world so have kept my Google Sheet). Hence, all my training goes into the Google Sheet but only the workouts in which I use my Garmin (which is over half) go into the Garmin log.

Here’s a snippet of what my Google Sheet looks like.

So the question is, what do I actually do with all this data? I’ve been pretty bad at really doing any analysis so have decided to use this blog as motivation to interpret my data.

First, let me describe my Google Sheet with some rules for how I input my data:

-I round to the nearest 0.05 hours (or 3 minutes); i.e. 0.30 = 18 minutes of activity
-if I have used my Garmin for the workout, I’ll include Moving Time only
-over the years I report less in distance and more in hours (this encourages me to train at the appropriate level)

Looking back on Superstition Mountain and the long ridgewalk/bouldering route we did on our first full day in Arizona. Photo: Erik

I’m obviously really good at inputting my data. Here’s the “analysis” that I’ve been doing so far:

-I do look at my weekly totals. This column is close to my data input and so I know that typically I train around 12 hours per week. This is a quick way for me to know if I’m training more or less than usual. 

-Usually I look at my heart rate data in my Garmin Log

-And that’s about the extent of things other than back a few years ago my bro (who has a Master’s in Stats), helped me come up with some annual data.

The really nice graph my data scientist bro made for me with my annual training volumes. 2008-2009 and 2015-2016 are both very low because these were partial years and 2012-2013 was low because I spent like 8 weeks canoeing and hiking that I didn't count and then buying a house!
And the yearly total hours by activities. Um, I'm not sure why the rollerski column is blank. That's a snafu in my analysis that I'll need to fix. Now if only I can learn to use Google Sheets well enough that I can add in the years since 2017 by myself!

In my upcoming posts, here’s some analysis I plan to do:

-assess my heart rate and training levels
-see what Garmin can do!
-manipulate my data better to see trends in strength, intervals, and different types of training
-figure out if I can actually glean anything from this data

And since no trip is complete without doing something a little crazy, we hit up Picacho Peak! Photo: Erik

Sunday, December 1, 2019


New guy here.  I have heard that a lot of people enjoy Elspeth's blogging, but they would like to see more perspectives.  I've been known to write a long winded race report or two in the past so I figured I could ramble for a bit here as well.

For my first post as a member of Vakava, I thought I would attempt to give a "Why Vakava" of sorts.


A brief biography to start.  Way back in the 90's as a scrawny little seventh grader I rode the bus from the junior high to the high school and managed to find my way to the health room for the informational meeting on the "ski club".  Turns out it was the nordic ski team and this was the inaugural season for Forest Lake.

I'm the little kid in the center in front of Brent, the guy with the goofy hat.

I spent the next six years as a founding member of that team.  I made friends, learned a little about training, learned how to suffer, and generally really enjoyed myself.

Junior year.  Front row with the letter jacket on.
If we skip the next ten years where I got horribly out of shape, probably stepped on a pair of skis twice, and forgot what it was like to be an endurance athlete, we will find me running and losing a little weight, eventually thinking that maybe I wasn't so out of shape I could try skiing again.

Right around that time a ski and bike shop opened up nearby.  Over the next five years or so I met most of the people I call friends today engaging in one crazy adventure or another.  3 day bike adventures on the North Shore, ski trips to ABR, 42k of loops at Troll when SISU got cancelled and we needed a qualifying race for our first Birkie, 8 hour running races, etc.  Good times with good people.

I bought my first shop bike kit because I was told I "had to have one".  It really didn't take too long before I came to proudly wear all the shop kit and always enjoyed finding people at events in the same gear.  It wasn't so much a "team" as a "community".

Flashing gang signs with some of my team at the Marine O'Brien race a few years ago.
As they say, nothing stays the same.  Over the last couple of years the community was evolving and just recently the shop closed.  My primary ski training partners all retired and now do things like train at 10am on Tuesday, or head up to ABR on a Thursday.

The Search

Part way through the ski season last year I was pretty certain I was going to be looking for a new home for this year.  Sure plenty of people, most in fact, ski independently.  You certainly don't need a team.

So I got to thinking why I wanted a team and what I wanted from the team.  This is the short list I came up with.
  • Skiers who are faster than me
  • Hard workouts with a group
  • Overall training program guidance
  • Technique review and coaching
  • Camaraderie

Early Verdict

Since I'm writing on the Vakava blog, hopefully it is going well.

Skiers faster than me.  Yeah, just about the whole team.  Rather than just saying faster, a better objective would have been skiers who have strengths in different areas than me.  Each teammate has something I can look to for inspiration.  There are a few beautiful technical skiers.  A couple of folks who I know to follow double poling.  Or another teammate for kick double pole.  I know who to try to match when free skating.  I'm pretty sure the entire team is stronger than I am.  That was eye opening.

Hard workouts.  Weekly.  I've been sore on any given Thursday.  Or bonked on the side of the trail near the end of a workout.  I even occasionally feel really good.  The great part though is there is always someone there encouraging you.

Training Program Guidance.  While there isn't a specific Vakava training plan, there is definitely a guiding principle.  And there are always people to bounce ideas off of.

Technique review.  Sadly there is no "use this one weird trick to ski the Birkie 20% faster".  Ahvo hasn't told me we need to start all over so that is something.  Mark and Dave did tell me I clearly had no idea how to ski walk.  So I'm working on subtle things.  The good thing is that without the dedicated eye, the subtle things I'm working on would probably go missed.  So while I might not be 20% faster, maybe I can be 5% more efficient.

Camaraderie.  It has been great having a team so far.  Connecting with the same people every week, coordinating a few workouts outside of normal practice, and making plans for the race season.

Race Season Approaches

Race season is fast approaching.  In fact, there is a race this coming Saturday.  I won't be there, but maybe you'll spot a Vakava skier or two.  We are going to be hard to miss this year.  And that has nothing to do with our results or technique.  When you see us, you'll know.

Odds of spotting us will increase at these races:
  • Hoigaards Relay's
  • Fulton Team Race
  • Rennet
  • Seeley Hills Classic
  • Marine O'Brien
  • City of Lakes Freestyle
  • Vasaloppet
  • Birkie

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Crossroads: The End???

This post has been a long time in the making. I’ve been jotting down ideas for about a year. Yet for several months I’ve struggled with the organization of this post and what exactly I want to say. I’ve had writer’s block, sat dumbfounded in front of a bunch of words, and rearranged and rearranged and then rearranged again. In some respects, I feel I’ve been skirting the real issue(s) in my previous Crossroads posts. I guess this is the one where “this shit gets real.”

As long as I remain a competitive person, which is likely to be forever, given that competitiveness is an enduring personality trait, I will always be at a Crossroads- always wanting to be perfect while simultaneously wishing to be a bit more Type B. Hence, this blog series could go on and on but for now I’m going to write the last in this series and next year will probably write something to the effect of Checking Back In or A Year Later.

Have I mentioned I'm always trying to attain perfectionism with everything in my life including decorating my house?
It took a few tries but I found the "perfect" yellow to paint my kitchen:)

Over my 18 year tenure in the world of endurance racing, I’ve seen many people quit. Especially in my early days, whenever someone quit I knew it was because they were weak in their mind. I vowed to not be that weak and have stuck in there for the long haul. But as I’ve stuck with it for the long haul I’ve inevitably had my own mental weaknesses throughout my racing career.

Because let’s face it, racing is HARD.

As I’ve struggled with my own mental limitations throughout the years, I’ve noticed most days I have the fight in me but some days I just don’t. This fight is what I’ve previously referred to as my “mojo.” I’ve noticed that the more I race, the less mojo I can produce for each individual race. It’s like I have a finite amount of mojo that has to get me through. This is why I’ve been trying to race less.

While crafting this series over the past couple years there have been a couple quotes that have really jumped out at me that get at the mental toll of racing.

The first quote is from Tina Muir, a professional runner.

“We are always going to have the what ifs.
We are always going to have parts we could have done better.
We are always going to be hard on ourselves.
But the reality is, you ran the best you could at that point in time, and you are never going to have the perfect race.”

This made me think that maybe I should stop separating my physical stamina from my mental stamina. I’m so much harder on myself if I think I didn’t give it my all than when pain or simply being unable (like in the case of pull-ups) to push any harder get in my way. Instead I need to change this to “my mental game just wasn’t there today. Maybe I’ve been pushing it too hard lately. Maybe it needed a rest. How can I make my mental game sharper? Maybe I need to feel more confident with my training or it’s been too long since my last race or I haven’t spaced out my races enough.”

The need for mental toughness is why a good number of professional athletes have a sports psychologist.

At this point, I’m just not that interested in getting a sports psychologist. I think the best thing for me is to race less given my finite amount of mojo. I’m a “less is more” person. The less I race, the more I can focus on specific races and tap into that mojo.

This is hard for me. It can make me feel weak. But I’m giving myself permission to race less. Giving myself permission to be a bit weak sometimes so I can be stronger overall.

And while, as I’ve previously noted in a number of the Crossroads posts, there are many other factors that make me think about continuing my life as a cross country ski racer, I think ultimately it is because I don’t want to be mentally weak that I keep racing.

Is it possible to craft the perfect dessert? This Baked Alaska we made for Erik's birthday a few years ago certainly came close!

That and because it’s so hard to quit. Recently I was doing an orienteering race that was beyond my ability. I was running out of time and after having gotten miserably lost (so much so that I realized I might have to go into survival mode!), I debated just calling it quits and going back to the finish. But I was so close to a couple of controls and still had some time left so I couldn’t quit. At least not yet. I nabbed a couple more controls and then really didn’t have any more time left than it would take me to get to the finish so I did have to take the DNF.

If I view my mental toughness as something to work on as much as making my muscles strong and efficient, then I think I can be less hard on myself and maybe even enjoy racing more.

It's not too hard to enjoy racing when wearing this race suit. Even if my results weren't perfect, my race suit certainly was. Photo: Bruce Adelsman

The second quote is from Knute Johnsgaard, Canadian National Skier who retired at age 25:

“The world of sport is cruel in that I was always left wanting more. When you believe anything is possible, then everything less than perfect is not good enough. I always found myself striving for the next step that I could only hope would bring satisfaction. Instead, it brought only desire for greater success, which only got exponentially harder to achieve as I climbed the ladder. The final step was hard for me, and near the end of my career I began to struggle with anxiety and depression. It took so much energy that I didn’t have anything left over for ski races anymore, and I wasn’t happy.”

This Crossroads series for me boils down to this simple statement: I want to enjoy life more. I didn't come up with this phrase on my own and I forget where I read it or heard it but over the past couple years this has been resonating with me. Clearly Knute found that he wasn’t enjoying life very much as a cross country ski racer.

So over the past couple years I’ve been thinking about this more.

If I want to enjoy life more, then this entails doing more things that I enjoy and less things I don’t enjoy.

In my last Crossroads post, I noted that “Overall the benefits of being competitive seem to slightly outweigh those versus if I was merely a recreational athlete, but not by a large margin, hence cutting back on the competitive elements some seems to make sense.”

There are aspects of racing I like, but there are also lots of things I don’t like.

I don’t want to dread things, I want to be excited! Too often I dread races or even hard workouts. I started getting really nervous before some of my last interval sessions leading up to my sub 6 minute mile attempt and on the day of the attempt. At the same time, I enjoy goal setting and chasing goals.

So that’s where I’m at with racing but Knute’s quote gets at more for me and that’s exactly why a few months ago I was crying on the side of a mountain. For me, my racing/athletic/competitive life is so intertwined with everything that I do like looking at maps and planning routes for adventures. I go on these crazy self propelled adventures that just keep getting crazier and more intense until I run into a cliff. This goes back to that Type A overachieving personality. As I’m planning our upcoming vacations, I have these route choices that include to summit a mountain or not. I find myself trying to get out of planning the mountain top route because, similar to racing, if I don’t achieve the success I will be so disappointed and my preoccupation with my attempt will detract from the overall vacation and I won’t enjoy the vacation as much because I’ll be fixated on this goal.

Wow, that’s crazy. This is really making me rethink everything. It’s very similar to my racing goals.

At what point will I just be OK with where I am? Will I stop striving for something I can’t achieve?

When my vacations become so stressful because I’m trying to achieve something so difficult, that’s when I know I need to re-evaluate things.

Over the past couple years I’ve done this more with my racing. I’m not as concerned about perfect training. I only do the races I really want to do. Now I need to put my vacations into perspective. Because vacations aren’t something to retire from, but rather to retire to. As much as I dread and fret about pushing myself hard, I also love pushing myself hard. This all becomes a balancing act. Last winter in a Crossroads post I noted that Erik and I have never failed at summiting a mountain we’ve attempted. We’re bound to fail at some point, and I think the trick in this is not to see it as a failure. To realize that all this is a process. That success isn’t the opposite of failure. Success is improvement, it’s enjoyment, it’s finding that limit, and it’s being satisfied. It’s enjoying life more. It’s a process, not a defining moment. Sometimes failure is success, because you don’t know if you don’t try.

Erik and I, circa 2008, with New York's Mt. Marcy, our first state high point, in the background. Photo: Blake Hillerson

I thought this post was complete but then I finally watched Free Solo. For months I had been avoiding this literal cliff hanging movie. Instead of finding the movie repulsive, I had quite the opposite reaction. I wasn’t on edge until the final scenes (this obviously wasn’t the first climbing movie I’ve seen). More surprisingly, while this may be the general public's first introduction to Alex Honnold and they deemed him completely crazy after seeing Free Solo, I’d heard of him before and as the movie progressed it was a bit shocking how much I could identify with him. Does this make me truly crazy?

He lays out goal setting, perfectionism, and this drive to accomplish something because it is there so well. When he fails to free solo El Cap in the first season his obsession and sense of failure are so palpable. I’ve previously told Erik I can’t go to Seattle until we first summit Rainier because I don’t want that giant massif taunting over me.

Which brings me to two last quotes for this post from Alex: “It’s nice to be perfect, at least for the moment” until the next challenge presents itself and “You face your fear because the goal demands it.” Yeah, that’s why I repeatedly dive face forward over my rollerskis, hoping my arms will catch me every time. Yeah, that’s why I went up that super sketchy rope on Granite and made a couple crux bouldering moves free solo.

“You face your fear because the goal demands it.” Photo: Erik

For now, it’s over and out. I’m going to contemplate this idea of success and enjoying life more and roll it around in my head and at some point, hopefully I’ll have a revelation and I’ll write a follow up post.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Fall 2019 Training Updates

My training this year feels a bit erratic. First, there were a couple injuries. Then there was an almost 3 week trip to Europe. Not that I didn’t train during both of these times, it just looked different than previous years. As I head into fall I’ll reflect on some of my training consistencies, “curve balls,” and my major time suck of the year.


Biking: I’ve still been doing my bike commuting to and from work and for errands on my retro super heavy road bike. This can hardly be considered training but at a 5+ mile commute it’s also not nothing.

My old bike with a big load after a Target shopping trip.
 Running: Since my awesome come back run in Ulm, Germany on July 31st, I’ve been running just about 4 times per week, averaging 20 something miles per week. I’ve even done a couple threshold runs, an L4 workout, and some fast 200s. In other words, my running training looks pretty similar to previous years.

Always running. Photo: Erik
Wednesday night Vakava practice: This has been consistent for me outside of our Europe trip. I think this is because I know I need to do some rollerski training and so I make it a point to go to practice where I can be pushed by my teammates during our intervals.

Strength training: I’m still regularly doing this 3 days per week. After my shoulder injury, I substituted one day of pull-ups for rows and other shoulder stabilization exercises. So I’m down to like 60 pulls up per week instead of 100. I’ve also gotten in a new routine with my leg strength. One workout focuses more on balance whereby I do all of my exercises one-legged. A second workout emphasizes one-legged squats and stair steps and a third workout is all about squats with weights. It’s been a good routine- now if I could just add to that! And of course I do an ab workout as part of each strength session.

Curve balls

This is perhaps too strong of a word to use to describe these curve balls but it was the word that most readily came to mind. Maybe because this training is on track. Sort of.

Saint Paul Classic Bike Tour: Somehow, when this flyer arrived in our mailbox in July, I decided we should do the Saint Paul Classic. Note, this is a tour; however, we planned to do the 45 mile course and since I prefer to ride my mountain bike, I decided a bit of training was in order. I found that I was substituting rollerskiing for biking. The tour was mostly fun, minus the rain near the end. I had trained well and since it was a “tour,” I felt like a pretty fast biker:) which I’m definitely not. Unfortunately, the pavement on my favorite rollerski loop in Saint Paul (you may have heard that the Saint Paul streets are terrible) has too many bad areas of pavement and it takes all the joy out of the loop so I found biking to be a good alternative.

Bike training! Photo: Erik

A training bike ride with Erik and my bro. Photo: Erik
Paddling: It hasn’t really been my intention to do paddling, but it just sort of happens. OK, I guess this has just happened twice, but both times we substituted rollerskiing for paddling. One time we were out in the Shakopee area and since we need to canoe that part of the Minnesota River, we decided to just do that. And it was fabulous. The second time, my coworker got married up by Willow River, MN. Given that we’ve been getting so much rain lately, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to paddle a river in the area. Well, you know me, I’d actually been planning this for months since I got the Save the Date. Especially because our autumns seem to be rainy and river levels have been high. The day after the wedding, on a nice fall Sunday, Erik and I packrafted 26.5 miles down the upper Snake River. It was amazing. Yeah, we could have gone rollerskiing but it just wouldn’t have been as magical.

A perfect fall day on the upper Snake River. That's our gear bag attached to the front of the packraft that's obstructing a bunch of the view.

Erik and some of the fast water in the Lower Snake Falls part. We put in just to the right of the pillow rock to Erik's right to ferry across to shoot the rapid below.

Orienteering race: I tried to do an orienteering race at Wisconsin’s Interstate State Park. The plan was to race and get in a threshold run. But the terrain dictated otherwise. Scampering around boulders wearing spikes isn’t exactly conducive to fast running. I was doing the hardest course, where all the controls are well off trails, it was cloudy and I didn’t have a compass and the “trails” marked on the map were deer trails at best. After worrying I was possibly actually lost and going into survival mode, I had to DNF as I was out of time. My only consolation was that Erik also took the DNF and we did the same number of controls.

Hiking at Interstate State Park after the rainstorm and orienteering meet. Photo: Erik

Watching the cruise boat on the St. Croix. Photo: Erik

Time suck

Here’s my confession: I’ve become completely addicted to ridding my yard of ivy. The problem with this, of course, is that this is impossible. I’ve spent hours and hours digging up the roots, trying to meticulously trace them back to their origin to try and get out every last piece of ivy. It’s overwhelming. And it’s kind of a workout. I mean, my back and hamstrings get really sore and with all the digging and pulling down deep, my upper body is getting at least some kind of workout in. There’s been more than a couple times I’ve passed up a rollerski in favor of this new obsession. Yes, I’m definitely a type A perfectionist. I’ve had dreams about this ivy. It’s kind of taken over my life, just like how it had taken over the garage and raspberries until I intervened.

Ivy on the house (and Erik replacing some woodwork last year) must go which means digging down deep to pull out all the roots.

Each week, as an entire week passes between Wednesday Vakava practices, I vow to do more rollerskiing. But then those curve balls come my way- so, here’s to next week!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Europe 2019: Finding My Limit, Sightseeing, and a German Wedding!

First, a disclaimer in case my 15 year old self is reading this. I have come so far from my travel-deprived childhood, but I will never forget that girl who so desperately wanted to see the world, particularly the mountains, and as such, I will never take any trip for granted, especially not a trip to Europe. I am so thankful for where I am in life and my travel opportunities.

That being said, this was a follow up to our Italy 2017 trip where we did 3 days of via ferrata. That wasn’t enough so we decided if ever one of Erik’s German cousins got married we would go back. And that happened to be this summer.

Second, another disclaimer. If you are wondering how a trip to Europe relates to cross country ski training, obviously you have never gone on “vacation” with me. Read on for more.

Via Ferrata is italian and translates into English as “iron path.” It can be described as aid climbing but is essentially bouldering and rock climbing with the optional use of clipping into a cable with occasional ladders, pegs, and rungs on more difficult sections. Every few feet the cable is anchored to the rock with a piton. One wears a climbing harness and attaches to the cable via two carabiners and a shock absorbing rope. Two carabiners are recommended so that one can be unclipped at a time to move past the piton to the next section of cable. Many of these ferratas date back to WWI but have been updated throughout the years. We planned to do 10 days total of these routes with lots of hiking in between. It’s a great workout for cross country skiers as it involves the upper and lower body.

Third and last disclaimer: I’m not good at rock climbing (I do like 5.7 pitches but that is really mostly because I don’t rock climb and I’m not very brave) but I do have good upper body strength and no fear of heights, so keep that in mind as you read on.

To get there we flew into Venice and then took a bus (ATVO bus) to Cortina, Italy. We based our first 5 nights and 4 days out of Cortina.

Day 1: Day hike. Ferratas: Ra Gusela, Nuvolau, and Averau

After my knee injury, I was quite excited for a hard day. Like up and down a vertical mile and 15 miles. It proved a long day but the ferrata was quite easy. I didn’t even clip in on the first two ferratas. The third ferrata was a touch harder and we went down the ferrata, too.

This is the view from our hotel room and it shows Nuvolau in the center and Averau on the right. It was quite a ways as you can see.
Hiking from Ra Gusela Peak towards the hut on the top of Nuvolau. Photo: Erik

Yay for cooler weather and snow in July! This was on Averau but we crossed snow almost every day we were in the Alps. Photo: Erik

Very easy, bouldering ferrata. I clipped in here while going down but not while going up. Photo: Erik

Looking back on Nuvalau from Averau. Photo: Erik

Day 2: Day hike. Ferratas: Punta Anna and Oliveri

My excitement for hard physical days lasted exactly one day. I was tired and sore after yesterday's excursion. Despite this, I decided we needed to try some harder ferrata and so we hiked up to the Punta Anna which tops out at the hardest on the difficulty rating. The ferrata actually started pretty easy- mostly bouldering with really great foot holds.

This photo shows a good example of how the piton and cable connect. Photo: Erik

This photo shows the carabiners and ferrata kit that includes the shock absorber to soften a fall. Photo: Erik

Instead of bouldering with both hands, I like to keep one hand on the cable to always move the carabiners from the ferrata kit farther along. I find this overall makes the ferrata easier. Sometimes the bouldering is good but if not constantly moving the ferrata gear along then it will get stuck down at the last piton and sometimes even requires down climbing a bit to retrieve.

There ended up being some small exposed aspects of the ferrata but these were always followed by places were both feet could rest on rock. My arms didn’t get tired at all. Unfortunately, weather wasn’t great. This route was in the clouds with the forecast calling for thunderstorms starting at 2 PM. There was a cable car down at the very top of the route but we weren’t sure we could make it in time so we did a bail out route that had some ferrata on the way down. My feet really started hurting as we hiked downhill and I felt pretty beat up despite only doing 10 miles and 4,000 feet of up and down.

An example of really nice breaks before more difficult sections. Photo: Erik
Descending on the ferrata Oliveri with Cortina below. Photo: Erik

A ladder section on the ferrata Oliveri. Photo: Erik

Day 3: Day hike. Ferratas: Alpini and Laguzoi

We decided we needed an “easy” day.

The Alpini started very difficult- it was hard for me as we were on a vertical wall without great hand or foot holds. I was using the cable to pull myself up and even sometimes jamming my foot into the piton that holds the cable in place. After this section, the rest of the route was easy bouldering except for one more slick vertical wall (it had seeping water) just below the top of the ferrata. I didn’t clip in on some of the easier sections.

An old WWI hospital and the rock face of the Alpini ferrata. Photo: Erik

On the wall with Averau in the background. Photo: Erik

And the other side with Lagazuoi. Photo: Erik

At the top of the ferrata with the Marmolada, the glacier peak in the background, highest in the area. Photo: a guy from Holland

This was the day we started with the WW1 tunnels and relics. The Alpini ferrata was on a small mountain but near the top there was a tunnel, some trenches, and even an old bunker- plus lots of barbed wire. Wow, that barbed wire is 100 years old!
Old WWI trench. Photo: Erik

Us with the Tofana di Rozes, our goal for the next day. Photo: random chick

Next up we hiked over to the pass and partway down the neighboring mountain before we entered into the Lagazuoi Tunnels to climb that respective mountain. The Austrians and Italians were fighting each other in this region of present day Italy during WWI and built very extensive tunnels into mountains. It obviously wasn’t scenic to climb 1,000 vertical feet on super steep stairs in a tunnel, but probably something I will never do again. When we got out of the tunnel it was raining:( Fortunately this didn’t last long and the weather gradually cleared up. We spent some time on top of the mountain and then took the cable car down to the big pass and the bus back to our hotel for an “easy” day of 6 miles or so (the GPS doesn’t do well inside tunnels and climbing up 2500 feet.

Not the best photo (because it was in the tunnel) but a good example of the tall stairs and what it looked like (although it was super dark which the flash hides here). Photo: Erik

Day 4: Day hike. Ferrata Lipelli

We had it in our minds to do the Lipelli ferrata up the Tofana di Rozes but we needed a perfect weather day and that’s exactly what the weather forecast called for. We left from our hotel which meant another vertical mile up and down day. As we hiked to the start of the ferrata, we witnessed a helicopter rescue of some climbers on the vertical face of the mountain- not exactly the best way to start our day.

Helicopter rescue! Photo: Erik

This ferrata started out in a tunnel (you may notice a theme here) as well. The beginning ladders were a bit rickety. We had scoped out the ferrata route the day before and it looked pretty intense, but as usual, once on the mountain, it’s a lot less vertical than it looks from afar. The ferrata was quite fun- usually easy bouldering with a scattered hard move here or there- just enough to keep things interesting. We encountered some gullies with small waterfalls that were tedious as they were slippery.

Heading into the tunnel. Photo: Erik

Looking back on the two peaks we were on yesterday with the Marmolada way in the background.

An easy trail section on the route. Photo: Erik

Then the hours started to stack up. Ferrata is incredibly slow going, always clipping, unclipping, repeat, walk or boulder another ten feet, repeat. The weather held, then we were delayed by slow climbers above us, the threat of people kicking down rocks, etc. It was late afternoon before we were done with the ferrata and on top of the mountain. The view was amazing but given the hour we didn’t feel we could linger too long.

Erik on top. The mountains above his head are where we were headed the next day.

In Italy there is a giant cross on top of every mountain. Photo: some random dude

The classic jump shot a little ways below the summit. Photo: Erik

The first 1,500 feet down were difficult. It was a mix of scree and small cliff bands, frequently bouldering down as we went. Once we got to the pass, there was a very nice hiking trail and the view was amazing. Later, as we hiked along the road, we got offered a ride by a German group. This decreased our elevation but dropped us off farther up the road so we still had miles to go. It was 8 pm by the time we got back to our hotel room. Suffice it to say, it was a long day. Not particularly challenging, but very long.

The small cliff bands on the beginning part of the descent where there was a "route" but no trail. Photo: Erik

The spectacular view on our way down looking back towards Nuvalau (center) and Averau on the right. Photo: Erik

Day 5: Hike from our hotel above Cortina to Rifugio Vandelli with Ferrata Sci Club 18

We hiked down to Cortina, across Cortina, and up to the rockwall east of Cortina to start the Sci Club 18 Ferrata. I had my comeuppances this day with hard ferratas. When I read about this ferrata they said it was for “experts only” to which I immediately asked out loud “Am I an expert?” The Sci Club 18 was constructed about 10 years ago and we had learned that the new ferratas all started out difficult to scare people off. So the Sci Club 18 started hard, no big deal, I figured, it’ll get easier. But it didn’t. This was also the first day I was doing ferrata with a pack since we were hiking to a hut rather than just day hiking. The vertical walls kept coming at us with very infrequent breaks. This was not bouldering, this was solid rock climbing. I used the cable to haul myself up. My forearms started to burn. I tried to remind myself to find some foot holds instead of keeping my feet vertical on the rock.

Going up the Sci Club 18. Photo: Erik

This was by far the hardest ferrata we did. It was definitely near the top of my limit. The thing with ferrata, even though there is safety gear, it is not like being top roped. You DO NOT WANT TO FALL. If you fall, you will first fall back to the piton below you- probably an average of five feet. Then, assuming you’ve clipped in correctly and your carabiners hold, you will fall the length of your ferrata rope- another three feet or so. It sounds pretty unpleasant, so I held that cable really tight and tried to not make any sketchy moves.

There's an easier way up this mountain. It's called the cable car. It's not what Elspeth does. Photo: Erik

At the top of the Sci Club 18 ferrata. The mountain on the left is the one we did yesterday and on the right is the one we made it most of the way up. Photo: Erik

After three hours and 1,000 vertical feet, we completed the ferrata. We still had a few more miles to go. I had the expectation that this trail, which was marked as a big solid red line on our map, would be easy, but it was anything but. There were places where it was washed out which meant loose rock and snowfields to cross. I wanted to be to our hut by 5 PM to enjoy some time at the glacially-fed lake, but as we began hiking down to the lake- it became anything but hiking. I got really down on myself, declaring I was worlds worst hiker. I mean, why am I so timid of this steep loose rock and cliff bands? I mean, come on folks, you don’t need to use your hands on a hiking trail:)

So close and yet so far to Lago di Sorapiss which was right by the hut. Photo: Erik

We eventually made it to the hut at 6 PM which ended up being OK because dinner wasn’t served until 7 PM which actually gave me 20 minutes to sit by the lake once we got settled. And after like 10 minutes of sitting by the lake I was ready to move again anyway:)

Lago di Sorapiss. Photo: Erik

Day 6: Hike from Rifugio Vandelli to Rifugio Carpi. Ferratas Vandelli and the one that wasn’t marked on our map!!!

We planned to do another longish ferrata this day. By now we knew the ferrata is quite slow going and given we had 4,000 feet of vertical, I suggested to Erik that maybe we should take the easy way. BUT, this would go against our 10 days of ferrata so we took the hard way.

The Vandelli ferrata was easy and provided good views down to Lake Sorapiss, but we had to keep moving and as such could hardly enjoy these views. There was lots of bouldering to do and I bouldered for the first hour or so but knowing how much more mileage and elevation awaited us, I became impatient. I can really only progress at a quarter mile per hour for so long before my attention wanes.

Looking back on Lago di Sorapiss. Photo: Erik

After two hours, we completed the ferrata and began a 3,000 foot descent before contouring over to our next trail, a “route” marked on our map. This route started benign- steep but not too loose. We stopped for a chocolate break. We could see the valley floor below. We resumed and quickly discovered some ferrata that was not marked on our map. That was fine. It was easy to hold onto the cable and go over the cliff bands. There was no ferrata marked on our map so we had taken off our harnesses. Here’s where my bravery noted above in rock climbing contradicts itself. Apparently I’m a lot more brave if there is a cable.

The beginning of the descent. Our goal for the day was to make it to the saddle on the very right side of the photo. In two days we would be on the other side of the far mountains (the Tre Cime). We have no photos of the rest of the day, because when the going gets tough, it's too much in the moment thinking to consider taking photos. Photo: Erik

Then the trail got steeper, the rocks looser. I went down these sections sideways. Soon there was more ferrata- more cliff bands. And then the trail got even steeper. I kept going down sideways, slowly. My feet kept slipping on the rocks. I caught myself with my right arm, slightly tweaked my shoulder. This was ridiculous. This was so hard. It was taking forever and by now it was after noon and we weren’t even half way into our mileage yet.

Then I fell on a tree root I hadn’t quite discerned, landing in some soft-ish arctic bushes which saved me from sliding down the mountain. I started to sniffle. Within a couple minutes I slid out on the loose rock, landing on my butt. That was it. I began sliding down the mountain on my hands and feet. Then, I lost it.

Apparently Elspeth isn’t on vacation unless she is crying on some mountainside.

It’s nary two years since this happened the last time. That time it was only a few tears shed after I thought I had up-climbed something I couldn’t down-climb. This time it was a full-blown temper tantrum.

I had found my limit- many days in a row of hanging off cliffs, making slow progress, ascending and descending a vertical mile. This “trail” on top of all that was simply too much.

After several minutes I collected myself. We continued down the route- often Tarzan style- literally using tree branches and roots to help us at times. Occasionally when there was ferrata- a nice cable to hold onto- these were the easy sections but ironically, these were the sections that I could have bouldered. I really needed the ferrata on the steep loose rock. Then we got to a super steep gully. This was the hardest part of the whole route. I was immediately glad I had already had my meltdown. Crying does help. Now I could focus.

Erik was behind me in this section. I found myself hanging onto a shrub, everything below me gravel sized. It was loose and surely would slide with me down the gully into a pile of rocks. I looked around- there was nothing else to hold onto save one boulder about four feet away. It looked like a solid boulder being mostly buried in the gravel. Given it was my only option, I lunged for it, held on with a small grip, and was very glad it was indeed solid. From here there were a few more scattered rocks I could use to descend farther into the gully, and then stay out of the way while Erik kicked down some small rocks as he came down.

We were almost to the valley floor. It was a few more frustrating minutes of feeling like world’s worst hiker, and then we were down to incredibly large, flat, fast traveling hiking trails. It was 3 PM now. We’d been going for seven hours and only gone four miles.

Once again, I had succeeded in kicking my own ass. I’ve done this before- hiking on the Tour de Mont Blanc for our honeymoon, “hiking” the state high points out east (Mount Marcy and Washington in particular), the day we climbed Half Dome- but it had been awhile. A long while. Almost a decade. I thought maybe I was through with the really hard days after hiking rim to rim on the Grand Canyon and a horrible route choice on Granite Mountain, Montana’s highest point, didn’t phase me so bad. But no. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s kicking my own ass.

My eyes wouldn’t focus after we got to the valley floor. Mentally I was done. Fortunately all we had to do was walk a couple miles on really easy trails and then hike up 3,000 vertical feet. That wasn’t too bad. I just got into my zen state and didn’t really need to concentrate, not even on the small section we had to go on off-trail through a bunch of blow downs.

It was almost 7 PM by the time we got to our hut. Dinner was already being served. I felt better after pasta for first course and a giant plate of polenta and cheese for second course. It must’ve been combined the equivalent of six servings of grains but I needed it. 

Day 7: Hike from Rifugio Carpi to Rifugio Locatelli

We were headed up into these mountains- not through the obvious pass in the center, but through a higher pass somewhere on the right.

We had grand plans for this day (at least before we had left for this trip) but our effort the day before was astounding and as we climbed the boulderfield and ferrata to what Erik called our “high mountain pass” we knew the extra ferrata up a pinnacle was a bad idea. We commended our decision a couple hours later while we waited out a thunderstorm under a rock overhang. We didn’t do much ferrata this day, but it was enough.

This day we hiked to the Tre Cime National Park, so called for three big spires which would be the source of many photos for us the next three days. We approached from the south and walked around them to the hut on the northeast side of these giant rocky outcroppings. The days total: 11 miles, up 2500 feet, down 1500.

What we went up to get to the pass. If you look closely and enlarge this photo you can see some ladders on the left.

Descending on ferrata from our high mountain pass. The Tre Cime are in the clouds. Photo: Erik
Looking back on our high mountain pass from the opposite direction as the morning photo.

Day 8: Day hike from the Rifugio Locatelli with Ferrata de Luca.

There was a tunnel ferrata near Rifugio Locatelli (that climbs Monte Paterno) and I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to do this ferrata so we planned a layover day at Rifugio Locatelli. This was another remnant from WWI. From certain aspects this pinnacle looks crazy but we went up the backside which was pretty easy. There were even a couple non-protected (no cable) bouldering sections.

Monte Paterno from our hut- the first summit for the day. Photo: Erik

Another summit, another cross, guess we're still in Italy. Photo: another random dude

Looking back down at the hut from the summit. Photo: Erik

From here we still had some extra time so we climbed a nearby mountain from the plateau that didn’t have any ferrata but did have another tunnel and a bunker! We were going to climb more (we had only done 7.3 miles with 3500 feet of elevation change) but the thunderstorms rolled in by 2 PM so we hung out at the hut.

The view from this bunker. Photo: Erik

Day 9: Hike from Rifugio Locatelli to Toblach. Ferrata up the Torre di Toblin

Given that we had a long way to hike this day (13 miles) and catch a train to Innsbruck, we set the alarm for daybreak to do a quick ferrata up the Torre di Toblin before breakfast.

The Torre di Toblin is on the left side in the middle foreground. Photo: Erik

And doing a bit of yoga on the summit:) Photo: Erik

The hut preparing for the day with lotsa pasta! Photo: Erik

After breakfast we began our hike to Toblach. We kept moving to catch our 4 PM train, hiking up one more high mountain pass, through a pit of old barbed wire, and down a ferrata. In total we descended over 7,000 vertical feet.

The view back towards where we came from our last high mountain pass (you can see the Tre Cime on the right. The crazy thing was, just a few hours before, we were back in those mountains!
Some sheep on the west side of the pass. These ones had horns so I approached carefully. Most of the sheep we saw had bells, too! Photo: Erik

Lake Toblach! Photo: Erik

I wanted to end the hike in Toblach so I could hike over this iconic building that I watch every year on the World Cup:) Photo: Erik

We made our train but with WiFi on the train we learned our AirBnb in Innsbruck had been cancelled. Now, I’m not the fly by the seat of my pants type. I had made this and all reservations months ago, and not having a place to sleep in a city kinda sucks. In the end, things worked out, we just paid twice as much as I wanted but we did get the best continental breakfast of the trip.

Day 10: Innsbruck

Given we had to sort out our lodging and change hotels, we spent the morning walking around town which was pretty fun. Then it began to rain and rained decently hard the rest of the day. Fortunately the next day’s forecast looked promising.

A dreary Innsbruck. I came here to see colorful houses backed by giant mountains, but those mountains were obscured by clouds.

Day 11: Klettersteig (word for via ferrata in German since we were in Austria now)

Our plan was to take the cable car most of the way to the top of the mountain to do one final ferrata but since we were totally socked in, we decided to postpone plans in the hopes the clouds would clear and we walked around town again. At some point Erik made a comment that “maybe the mountain was above the clouds” and this, in combination that I wanted to do this Klettersteig, had us taking the cable car into the clouds in the early afternoon.

What ensued was a comedy of errors. We didn’t really have enough time to do the route and get back to the cable car (that we paid for) that would eliminate 3,000 feet of descent. As a result we really pushed the hike to the ferrata and the ferrata itself. The start of the ferrata was quite difficult and the cable slippery owing to the cloud but then the ferrata was easy. Often I didn’t clip in, partly to save time, partly because it really wasn’t necessary. On a lot of the bouldering sections I would fall the same distance whether clipped in or not. Occasionally there were glorious breaks in the clouds and we could look down to Innsbruck below us.

We saw an Ibex! Photo: Erik

Occasionally the clouds cleared a bit and we could see down to the valley floor. Photo: Erik

There was one swinging bridge on this klettersteig! Photo: Erik

We knew we were cutting our time short to get back for the last cable car. Erik had read about possible bail-out options and said we could bail out anywhere. We found a gully that looked reasonable and began our descent.

Almost immediately we realized this gully wasn’t “reasonable.” It was steep grass mixed with rocks. It was so steep that half the time I was turned around, down-climbing (bouldering down the mountain).

After a bit we came to a game trail that in hindsight we should have taken to the marked trail, another gully over, but this was just another error. We continued on down our gully. Soon the grass ended and it was just a pile of loose rocks and the occasional snow patch. We were kicking down rocks like crazy and fortunately one gully turned into many and so Erik and I descended in parallel fashion so we wouldn’t kick down rocks on each other.

Painstakingly we continued- staying on our feet when possible but more often than not bouldering or crab walking/sliding. The whole time we wondered if we would get “cliffed out” but never did. Once it became apparent our efforts were so slow we would most definitely miss the last cable car down, we relaxed a bit. Occasionally the clouds lifted so we could see down to the area where we would encounter the good trail.

I could have easily cried again. This route was super hard, but I knew it was hard for Erik, too, and it was at least half my fault for this gully mess we were in. Besides, I had gotten all my crying out a few days earlier.

It took us two hours to descend 1,000 vertical feet. Amazingly, around the time we got back to the cable car station, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. We finally got our view that we came to see. Thanks to our multiple errors, we were rewarded. After two more hours and 5500 feet total of going downhill, we arrived at our hotel.

Looking down to Innsbruck, now cloud-free

I decided I had had enough adventure for awhile and put my “adventure” outfit in our dirty clothes bag- not to come out for the rest of the trip. It also helped that these clothes had some sheep poop on them as well:)-

We did our off-trail gully hike down the V in the center of this photo. It's obvious from here why it was so difficult!

Day 12: Travel from Innsbruck to Ulm, Germany

We traveled on the FlixBus- kinda like the Megabus. Tickets were cheap and easy to buy online so I was sold. Adventures for this day included convincing the German border patrol that our passports were in the luggage compartment and riding on the Autobahn. It was an easy day but we still ended up walking around 8 miles and climbed 763 stairs to the highest church steeple in the world.

The church steeple was so tall I failed to get it and Erik in this photo.

The view of Ulm and the Danube from partway up the church tower

Day 13: Travel from Ulm to Esslingen, Germany

I was bound and determined to let the running begin so some drizzle couldn’t keep me inside. We ran along the Danube in Ulm, through the old fisherman village, and the old area around the big church. It was a 7 mile run- my longest in 2 months and best since my knee injury, not to mention the spectacular scenery.

Running in Ulm in the fisherman village. Photo: Erik

Then it was back on the Flixbus to Esslingen. We discovered big traffic jams on the Autobahn but finally arrived in quaint Esslingen. This is where Erik’s cousins grew up and I had heard and seen pictures of this town and really wanted to go there. It definitely met expectations!

The quaint street we stayed on in Esslingen
The iconic Esslingen Marketplace!

Day 14: Esslingen to Trier, Germany

This was another easy day with a five hour bus ride, walking around town, walking to our AirBnb, finding old city walls, and playgrounds of course! Trier was the location for the German wedding.

A colorful part of Trier

And playgrounds, of course:) Photo: Erik

Day 15: Trier

We began the day with a run to the old part of the city where we met Erik’s family for a walking tour. Listening to someone talk and standing around in one place isn’t really my thing so I had fun hanging out with the young kids. After a long family lunch, we had more family time, Erik got locked into the old city wall, and we played more on the playground:)

The family in front of the old city wall in Trier.

Day 16: Trier and the German Wedding!

It was time to get back to nature and take a break from looking at old buildings so Erik and I headed into the woods for a run/walk on some hilly terrain. We were surprised to run into the remains of a Roman copper mine from 200 AD but enjoyed the swinging bridges we had set out to find. In the end it was 13 miles and 1800 feet of elevation change.

One of the swinging bridges we crossed on our morning run. Photo: Erik

Then it was time for the German Wedding. Here’s my takeaways:)

1. Beer is served DURING the ceremony!

2. The ceremony is in German.

3. Cake is served before dinner. There were actually like 5 different kinds of cake. I had to try most of them.

4. Dessert is served again after the main meal.

5. The whole event lasts until 3 AM or so. We didn’t make it quite that long.

Erik and all his cousins (including the bride).

Day 17: Trier to Luxembourg city

We took an easy day, sleeping in late, took the train to Luxembourg, and then explored some old city walls!

Old city walls in Luxembourg.

Day 18: Luxembourg and back home

After a short run in Luxembourg, we began our journey home: some walking, a bus ride, and two easy flights later we arrived home in time for an afternoon rollerski!

Early morning run in Luxembourg. Photo: Erik

Rollerski back at home. Photo: Erik