Coming Down is the Hardest Thing

2013 Mt Washington Road Race Viger Gray

Joe Gray all alone at the 2013 race, courtesy of Joe Viger Photography.

After the Mt Washington Road Race on Saturday, June 13th 2013, a some runners decided to cool down by running down the mountain. The group (with race results) included:

Joe Gray (2nd, 62:46)
Jeff Dengate (109th, 87:06)
Josh Ferenc (6th, 65:36)
Eric Macknight (10th, 67:37)
Pete Najem (47th, 77:32)
Bryant Johnston (DNR)

As you can see, it was a group of talented, accomplished runners. But the Rockpile isn’t an easy place to run and the cool down ended up being much more challenging than any of them foresaw. I ran into Josh and Pete in the parking lot afterwards and although they mentioned that they got a little lost, that brief description didn’t quite do it justice. Even in Josh’s post-race blog he only said this:

“The Cool Down: cuss me!!! I chatted up Joe Gray earlier in the week and the idea was to run 2 miles of trails, the intersect the road, then 4 miles down the road. This was an awesome idea, but just a cussing idea. Boj, Najem, Jeff Dengate, and myself then embarked on a wild friendship test. We found ourselves heading down the Huntington Ravine Trail, which I later found out that YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO HIKE DOWN!!! Yea, that’s how gnarly, we cooled down an epicly hard trail. If Joe does that to all his friends, he probably doesn’t have that many left. Haha. As gnarly as you want to be!”

Considering that Josh gave me about 800 words in response to the question of ‘Are you ready?’ ahead of VCM, this was surprisingly brief. So with a coordinated effort between Dengate, Gray, Najem and Ferenc, we can present here a more detailed version of the story.

When told of the topic, Ferenc responded with:

“Cuss that cool down, cuss this question, cuss this ‘let’s laugh because it’s all behind us’ bullshit, cuss Joe Gray for ‘leading’ a friendship test cussing survival-thon, cuss my friends for being such cussing suckers to peer pressure, and most of all: CUSS ME RIGHTEOUSLY for ‘following along.’

I’m a mothercussing leader and (yes, self proclaimed Diety), what the cuss was I doing running down a cussing squirrel path for? And that gives a cuss load of credit to squirrels.”

Off to a great start. This was going to be good. Jeff Dengate led us off more properly:

“So, before last year’s Mt. Washington Road Race, Joe and I had been trading e-mails about running some trails back down the mountain afterward. I’d never run any of them on that peak, but know they’re heavily traveled and would be doable. That said, I did zero research on any of the routes, though I did bring a handheld Garmin Dakota 20 with me in my drop bag.

“After finishing the race (and making Joe, Josh, and others wait a long time for me), we headed out. I fired up the Garmin and… nothing. Kinda embarrassing for RW’s Gear Guy to put new batteries in just that morning but not actually check that they had any juice. D’oh. Any case, five of us started picking our way off the summit, headed for a trail we saw off in the distance.

“Unfortunately, we soon hit some trouble. We came to the top of Huntington Ravine. It’s a nasty, avalanche-prone slab of mountain that’s a hard hike any time of the year. As we were slowly making our way down, hikers said we were nuts, warning us to turn around—it’s generally not advised to descend via that route. But we’d already gone up the mountain once on this day, so we we continued down.

“Joe bounded off down the trail looking for the best route while the rest of us picked our way down the broad, steep slabs of rock. At one point, I hit a small trickle of water on a rock face and it was enough to send me skidding 15-20 feet on my rump; wearing skimpy running shorts, I lost some precious skin…”

About bounding off, Joe Gray said:

“I went ahead scouting for trails down once we got through the ravine, however I found more crazy trails so really I was no help.”

And Pete Najem’s perspective from the back of the group:

“I was with Jeff the whole time bringing up the rear with Ferenc and Boj (Bryant Johnston) ahead of us and Joe way ahead of them. This tested my friendship with the self proclaimed ‘Last Hero and only Hope’ (Ferenc), haha. We did get scolded from a hiker coming up the trail for going down, apparently the trail is supposed to be used for descending only. Other than that I’d like to congratulate MacKnight for turning back before things got scary.”

2013 Mt Washington Road Race Viger Najem

Todd Callaghan (L) and Pete Najem (R) in the early, “easy” portion of the race before they got above the tree line. Courtesy of Joe Viger Photography.

The rest of the narrative, according to Jeff:

“By the time we reunited near the bottom, the shrubs and tree cover was growing taller, making it hard to ID any other trails in the area. It also meant we could no longer see where Joe had gone—we wouldn’t see him again until we were down at the base for the finish meal and awards.

“At this point, some of us guys were starting to hurt a bit. We hadn’t really eaten or drank water for hours. It was taking a good bit longer than we’d imagined. But, we were calm and patient, checking out some side trails to find the best way down. I had on a Garmin Fenix on race day, so the built in altimeter came in handy; we were at least able to get a sense of how high up on the mountain we were, to estimate how much further we had to go. Along the way, we encountered a few hikers who gave us rough directions down. We were happy when we popped out back on the auto road with about two miles of asphalt left to run. Ferenc was done, and hitched a ride in the back of a pickup truck.

“Gatorade tasted might good when we got back down to our cars, that’s for sure.”

Of course we can’t just leave it at this and had to let the Last Hero and Only Hope have the Last Word:

2013 Mt Washington Road Race Viger Ferenc

Josh Ferenc battles up the last ‘wall’ in 2013, courtesy of Joe Viger Photography.

“There was one part where I swore I saw Jesus in a peach tree with dinosaurs underneath it. We crossed a tear in the space time continuum of the universe through a time portal to a cussing land of the lost. I was about to see the indigenous women (clad in only fig leaves) when we found the cussing trail again. Only to lose the trail…again. I had to Dr. Doolittle talk some gophers to find out where to go and only then have a hiker tell me, ‘you shouldn’t be running down this.’ FYI: You’re in climbing/rappelling gear dude with a cussing parachute in case you fall… no shit we aren’t supposed to be running down this! You don’t have to be Steven Cussing Einstein-Hawkins to figure that out. I wanted to shove his bivouac gear up his rear and turn him into a yoyo. Thanks for the tip Bear Grylls, real cussing useful.

“The worst thing was I twisted my ankle seven minutes in and it’s still not right to this day! Busch league Bullshit cockchaos!!! But I wasn’t sulking because we all know that sulking brings attention in a negative way, and Rule #6 is to bring attention in a positive way and at your own terms. Oh if I didn’t like Joe so much I would have hated him… He descended down that cussing mountain like there was snow and he was Bode Cussing Miller!

“Now I was bonking like Jenna Jamison’s noggin on a headboard and needed calories bad. So it was a true test to my name; I was about to be the Last Hero (by saving those guys like private Ryan) and The Only Hope we had, because I packed a small amount of food… Oh cussing wait! Boj had a candy cussing bar in the bag but that Muppet didn’t share it because it wasn’t mine! Mothercusser!!! Who gives a shit who’s it is, it was almost life and death… Ok, maybe a bit harsh, it was never death but I was cussing hungry, pissed, starving, pissed etc, and could have used that cussing candy bar.

“So at the end of the day I learned a lot: if I could take Doc Brown’s Delorian back in time, I’d do to all again!

“Posthumous: I love my friends and without them, wild shit wouldn’t be as fun. It was wild, especially when true people who know what they’re doing say: you’re lucky to be alive.

“Good thing I don’t believe in luck!


There’s already talk of a group getting together for a ‘cool down’ after the race on Saturday. Who will be in it? Who will get lost? Will Ferenc turn anybody into a yoyo? So many questions, and luckily we won’t have to wait too long to find out the answers.

Good luck to all running the Rockpile on Saturday! We’ll be there, competing and covering.

One comment on “Coming Down is the Hardest Thing

  1. disappointed says:

    This is a pretty obnoxious article. I thought it would be funny. Instead I’m kind of disgusted. Discourteous to the hundreds of runners who are happy just to make it to the top of the mountain. Disrespectful to the hikers who gave warnings. We should respect the mountain. I was a fan of the magazine. Now I’m just disappointed.

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