5,495ft of vertical gain separates the starting line from the finish of this triathlon. It’s not your typical race, nor is it even an official event. At least, it wasn’t until August 5, 2018, because three brave souls took this challenge on with only a few days notice and they absolutely crushed it.
So what exactly is the Top Notch Triathlon-Utah Version? It all started back in 2014 when my new roommates at the time invited me to compete in an annual team triathlon that raced up Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire on the first weekend in August. I took part in the event over the following 3 years and the weekend is such an incredible experience, with the race being the least of reasons why I did it. Fast forward to now, I’ve moved across the country and wasn’t going to make it back for the 2018 Top Notch Triathlon. But that wasn’t going to stop me from taking part in one way or another. And that got me thinking about if I made my own version of the triathlon here in Utah! Luckily, I was able to convince my friends Nate and Pete to join me on this ridiculous event. Both of them thought it was a legit race, until I explained to them that it was just something I had made up the day before.
The New Hampshire version consisted of a 6mi bike from the town of Franconia up to the base of Cannon Mountain Resort, followed by a 0.5mi swim across Echo Lake, then finishes with a 1.5mi sprint up a black diamond ski run to the summit of Cannon Mt. So I kept the similar style of vertical gain and mountains when I came up with the planned route. The Utah version would start from the town of Park City, ride 12miles up to Guardsman Pass via Armstrong Trail, Pinecone, and Wasatch Crest Trail. Then drop the bikes off at our support car and start the 3mile trail run. The route goes up to Peak 10,420, across the ridge to Clayton Peak, down to Lake Lackawaxen, and back to Bloods Lake. Finally, drop your gear off and jump into Bloods Lake for an out and back swim across the lake to finish. Once you get out of the lake, you will have covered 16miles and climbed up a vertical gain of 5,495ft, crossing elevations of 8K, 9K, and ultimately 10.6K. The whole thing, at a pretty casual pace, took the three of us 3:32hrs of moving time.
I can absolutely say that this was an epic. Thrown together at the last minute, we were able to head out from my house in the early hours (8AM), and head up the Armstrong trail. Both Nate and Pete are way stronger climbers on the bike than I am, so they’d let me catch up at some of the trail junctions. But we made our way up the steep Armstrong trail in decent time. That is, until we ran into a Moose on the trail which caused a nice little traffic jam, and then Pete’s rear rotor took a beating after a fall which lead to a mechanical stop. But we made our way onto Mid Mountain and then up Pinecone. Though the steepest parts of the climb are on Armstrong, my legs started feeling it when we hit Pinecone. I stayed in my highest gear for most of the climb. Eventually, I caught up to the guys on top at the Wasatch Crest Trail junction. Reaching that point is an incredible feeling after 3,000 feet of climbing on the bike. And you’re rewarded with a stunning view of Big Cottonwood Canyon and the surrounding Wasatch. But we weren’t done yet. We took the fire roads down to Scotts pass and rode the connector out to the Guardsman Pass parking area. Leg #1, done!
We found my girlfriend’s Jeep where we changed into our running clothes, refueled, locked the bikes up, and grabbed a beer for the run. Reluctantly, we had to put our legs back in motion and started our run up the trail. Following the same pattern as the bike, it was straight uphill. We hike/ran up to Peak 10,420 and headed down from the summit when Pete decided we needed more adventure changed the route. Rather than head downhill to the Lake, we’d climb up even further along the ridgeline to Clayton Peak on the backside of Brighton Resort. All because it involved scrambling up to the summit and down a boulder field afterwards. Thankfully we did it though. Because sitting on top of Clayton peak, became the culmination of this triathlon. We took a break to refuel and celebrate with a beer while taking in the incredible panoramic view. With bellies a little more full, and a lot more bloated, we bushwhacked our way down the gullies and fall-lines towards the lake. Once we got down to Lake Lackawaxen, our shoes finally hit a dirt trail and we were off running again. Luckily, downhill. Cruising through the alpine, we finally reached the hill that overlooks Bloods Lake. With very little control, we descended the rocky and rooted trail down to the lake’s edge where we met up with Court and my other two friends, Kyle and Blake. They were there to hangout and laugh at our sufferfest. But leg #2, done!
We’d come so far, climbed so many feet, and now one out and back across a 1/8mile lake was all that separated us from finishing. We stripped down our gear and hopped in. Out of the gate, the three of us were cruising, but then fatigue and poor swimming technique kicked in and the pace slowed. We breast stroked and floated our way across and back the lake. So much lactic acid had built up in my legs, they barely moved when I tried to swim. Becoming more like an anchor than anything else. But we walked out from the shallow end of the lake and could say we did it! We completed the first ever, officiallly-unofficial Top Notch Triathlon: Utah Version. Best part is, we all reached the podium. Which will probably be the only time I will ever finish top three if we get anyone else to join us next time!
To top off the weekend, our friends who competed in the real New Hampshire Top Notch Triathlon, won the team category for the race. First time anyone has ever done that in our group of friends! So big shout out to Team Never Drive Together for their 1st Place finish!
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.