The Trilogy Challenge -- Crossing the Finish Line

By Glen Ochoa.

The Trilogy Challenge was an extremely challenging set of three hikes that was hosted by the hiking organization, Perfect Pace. Qualifying as a finisher of the Perfect Pace Trilogy Challenge required completing all three events within several weeks of each other and complying with rigid rules that were set for the challenge.

Anyone attending at least one of the events received a Perfect Pace Trilogy Challenge t-shirt. Finishers of all three Trilogy Challenge events received the coveted -- Perfect Pace Trilogy Challenge Finisher's medal, which was a solid bronze, authentic USGS benchmark, custom engraved on the back with the Perfect Pace Trilogy Challenge 2006 Finisher designation, including the finisher's name.

The Rules

  • All three Trilogy events must be completed in their entirety.
  • Whitney must go from trailhead to summit to trailhead in a single day. Any Whitney trailhead qualifies.
  • Cactus to Clouds must go from Palm Springs museum to the summit and back down to the museum in a single day (no tram).
  • Grand Canyon must go from South Rim to North Rim to South Rim in 1 or 2 days (both Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails qualify).
  • If for some reason you cannot make one of the Perfect Pace Trilogy events or are not able to fully complete that event, you can make up that event. The make-up event cannot be more than 30 days from one of the qualifying events. Only one make-up event is allowed.

The Difficulty

The difficulty of becoming a Trilogy Challenge Finisher cannot be overstated. Completing all three events especially within such a short time frame, required months of training. It was test of not only endurance, extreme-day hike knowledge, navigation, but also and probably foremost, a test of will, perserverance, and self-determination.

The experts that I collaborated with to get advice on planning the event we're skeptical. The founder of another hiking club advised, "... pace yourself on your marathon hikes. We want you to live long and prosper, not die of altitude sickness or hypothermia/exhaustion!". A well-known expert on the Cactus to Clouds trail indicated "You must have some super athletes with bionic knees and toes of steel who can hike back down". A physician and prominent hiking instructor commented "To get back down to the desert while tired and maybe in the dark I think is dangerous to your body UNLESS you are used to doing this sort of thing and you have done it almost every weekend for 12-16 weeks including lots of steep downhill when tired. When muscles are very tired they are unable to as effectively stabilize the joints and the tendons don't track as perfectly. There is more cartilage stress and a much more likelihood of a twisted ankle leading to severe injury."


Challenge I

Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the continental United States. According to U.S. Forestry statistics, only 1 in 3 people who attempt Mt. Whitney reach the summit. We fortunately are included in the summiteer group, but not without a struggle. We climbed Mt. Whitney starting at midnight and hiked up much of it without lights, just the moonlight to guide our way. The altitude made the air so thin that every step after twelve thousand feet was a struggle. The temperature was so cold that although I had gloves on, I got frostbite on my fingers which took several months to heal. We reached the top in less than 6 hours, just in time to watch a glorious sunrise.

Challenge II

A few weeks later, we tackled our toughest challenge of all which was hiking from Palm Springs museum to the top of San Jacinto and back down to the museum. Just the standard Cactus-to-Clouds route is ranked by Backpacker Magazine as being the 5th toughest day hike in the United States. Starting at the desert floor, the hike ascends 10,700 feet-a vertical half-mile more than Whitney. This trek is only 800 vertical feet shorter than the climb from Everest basecamp to summit-and comparable to doing more than a thousand flights of stairs. Well, we made it even harder -- we hiked all the way back down instead of taking the tram down. We didn't have a choice to finish either... the tram was closed. Very few avid extreme day hikers attempt Cactus to Clouds to Cactus. The risks we're so high on this trip, that we set up an emergency water cache at the four thousand foot level, I carried an emergency sleeping bag, we set up a three-way walkie talkie system, and also had a search and rescue member on stand-by near the mountain base -- yeah, it was intense.

Challenge III

A few weeks later, our last challenge was hiking from the Grand Canyon South Rim across the canyon to the North Rim and back in two days. Signs are posted throughout the trail strongly warning folks against hiking down to the river and back in a day. Well... we did it two days in a row. Not only that, we did it fast. In fact a few of us ran much of it. Jeremy and I ran all the way from the North Rim to the Colorado River.

The Victory

One of my favorite moments of the season was crossing the Trilogy Challenge finish line at the top of the Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail. The finish line lacked the finish line tape, the cheering crowds, the big digital timer, and the overhead finish line banner, but all six who crossed it didn't need it. Our race was won.

Six people completed the Trilogy Challenge that day and I was honored to bestow the beautiful personalized engraved solid bronze finisher's medals to each of them shortly after finishing: Jeremy M, Andy S, Jimm J, Amy H, Donnie W, and myself. Although all of us were in incredible shape and became masters of the trail, most of us had sustained minor injuries lasting several weeks to several months to get the medal. I couldn't be prouder of each of them. It's an accomplishment not be taken lightly. It sends a resounding message across America of being first rate gay athletes (yup, we even have a following on the East Coast according the president of www.GayOutdoors.com) and raises the bar for Perfect Pace as an elite hiking organization. Congratulations to all six finishers! Not only do you rock; YOU ARE THE ROCKS!

Thanks to everyone who made the Trilogy Challenge a reality with special thanks to Byron for coming all the way up from San Diego for Search and Rescue back-up and Jeremy for all the great pictures.

Trilogy Challenge I Pictures

Trilogy Challenge II Pictures

Trilogy Challenge III Pictures

© 2006 Gay Outdoors ; All Rights Reserved.

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