Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mount Finlayson Victoria, BC Double Summit Trail Run (video and trail photos)

Mt. Finlayson from the Little Niagara Train Trestle!
Mt. Finlayson is a seemingly small hill in the Goldstream Park about 15 kilometers north of downtown Victoria. At 410 meters (1374 for my imperial friends) it doesn't seem to encapsulate the grandeur of runs in the Coast Range of Northern Vancouver, or even large mountains on Vancouver Island, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in personality. The short trail to the summit runs an average grade of 20% and often requires class 3 scrambling.

There is a more mellow, but still relentless approach on the north slope, that doesn't require scrambling and isn't as exposed but still requires a fair chunk of work to make the summit quickly. This was my first plan of attack. Being one of the first warm Saturdays of the year I knew that Victoria's most popular mountain would be a zoo. By parking off the lesser known trail head, and climbing Finlayson via the backdoor first, I knew I would be able to focus on my first solid summit without navigating around a bunch of people.

My plan worked perfectly and I only passed one or two lonely souls on the back side.

My legs felt fairly strong as I began to coax them into a solid pace for the first flattish kilometer. I knew that there was nearly 400 meters (1000 feet) of non-stop 20% grade ahead of me so I held back and just tried to  conserve energy. Before I knew it I was ascending the mountain, climbing steps, and dancing between rocks. I applied constant pressure to my legs. Not so much that they blew up, but when they began to complain under the constant accumulation of lactic acid, I didn't give in. I kept pushing them up the trail as it wound it's way up the mountain side.

About half way up I took my first walking break (other than a few short rests to set up my camera). The walk was great and gave the lactic acid a chance to be whisked away by my blood. No sooner did my muscles begin to recover then I would start right up into a trot again only to find the acid come swelling back into my muscles quicker than ever. This is what hill running is all about. How well can you ignore the screaming voice of your muscles? Your muscles are doing everything in their power to get you to give in and to stop. It is these steep brutal hill runs that allow your mental toughness an opportunity to be developed and pushed. Without hills I wouldn't be half the runner I am on the trails or the road.

The summit was quickly won in about 24 minutes and I felt great. I knew that I possibly could have shaved another couple of minutes off but I still had an extremely technical descent and ascent via the ledge-choked south slope.

Mount Finlayson out and back route plus mile markers.
I started down the steep technical face and sat back in the saddle and let my quads begin the main task to absorb my forward and downward momentum. I was glad I had been running downhill hard for several months now and I could count on my quads to take the brunt of the force as I clomped down the face. I would crab crawl, slide, and leap down a large ledge and then I could run a short distance of smooth sloping rock before finding the next ledge waiting to throw me off the mountain. I began to pass group after group of hikers; mainly young university students in their Nike Free Run's. In fact I saw more Nike Free Runs on that mountain than I have in all the running stores I have ever frequented combined. I don't know how Nike does it but they somehow find a way to convince the majority of young active people to purchase their shoes.

I really wanted to set up some great shots of the many challenging ledges and rocks that must be carefully dealt with to prevent injury, but the crowds were everywhere so I only captured a few shots of the ledges so my video looks quite a bit tamer than it is in reality. I worked at keeping as much of my feet in contact with the rocks as possible to maximize my coefficient of friction and keep me securely glued to the hill. Halfway down my pace began to slow as my quads became fatigued. I just relaxed and eased back to let my legs have a chance to recover. Before I knew it the technical portion was finished and I was sailing to the main parking lot.

I quickly turned on my heels and retraced my steps up the trail. The ascent was much safer as far as the risk of falling but at that point in the run my legs weren't really excited about running 20% grades again. My muscles' voice was loud enough to drown out my will power so I began to power hike instead of run. Even power hiking I could tell I was maxed out. My heart rate was through the roof and I could occasionally see swirls come and go as anyone with low blood pressure can relate to. I made a game to see how many hikers I could overtake (about 30). This kept me red lined at my max and ensured that I didn't settle for anything less than 100%. I scrambled my way up the ledges as the warm March sun beat down on me, and reflected off the worn rocks, giving me a second dose of radiation. I wasn't complaining though. The sun recharged batteries that had worn down to dangerously low levels after the long sunless winter!

I summited again taking some footage of a quick victory pose and then I bailed back down the north and somewhat abandoned trail I had first climbed. The descent was slow because my quads were knackered. They felt like they had just gone through a meat grinder. How I love the feeling of thoroughly thrashed quads! I took it easy and soaked up a bit more afternoon sun as it penetrated through the firs and drenched me under large patches of gold between fields of cool blues and green.

What a great run! I went home feeling fatigued muscles and the warm glow that follows a difficult workout in a beautiful location!

Gold Stream Park trail maps

Mount Finlayson drenched in afternoon sunlight!
Here is the video from the run! I hope it illustrates even a little bit of what it is like to run on this awesome mountain!

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