Post written by Arlo Gagestein
What kind of fools would haul jiu-jitsu mats 10 miles through the wilderness to have a tournament at 11,500 ft.? You’re looking at them.
The weekend of August 14-15th this year was one of the greatest of my life. It was brutal yet majestic, intense yet calming, painful yet invigorating. My friends and I are frequently guilty of doing questionable things. We are all uber-competitive, extremely physical, slightly masochistic, and potentially short whatever wrinkle of the brain it is that tells people they probably shouldn’t do something. The weekend marked the realization of a dream that has been several years in the making; a high altitude jiu-jitsu and fitness tournament that we christened Summit and Submit. In a nutshell, this was our weekend:
- Hike 10 miles into the High Uintas with fully loaded packs while carrying jiu-jitsu mats
- Compete in a round robin, submission only jiu-jitsu tournament at 11,500 feet
- Compete in a weight throwing contest (Where did the weights come from? Fabulous question.)
- Build a corn chip fire to cook dinner, eat, hike for water, go to bed
- Wait out morning thunder storms, then jump out of tents at the sound of a huge rockslide
- Hike King’s Peak (highest peak in Utah at 13,528 feet)
- Pack up camp and haul mats back out 10 miles
- Eat 24 soft tacos on the drive home
The idea for Summit and Submit first entered our minds a few years ago when I was visiting my wife’s grandparents on a ranch in California for Thanksgiving. We were sitting around one evening and a show came on about a prestigious cooking competition where people received a random invitation to an event the next evening. Upon receiving the invitation they busted their tails to prepare what they hoped would be the competition winning recipe.
Because my friends and I love competition, I immediately contacted my partner in suffering, the Ginja Ninja, and we began strategizing how we could pull something similar off with a fitness and jiu-jitsu competition. The goal was to have various competitions each with a different twist to make the tournament more challenging. Our first was the Cold Combat Challenge, to be held December 30th in a garage in Utah. Next was the Crippled Combat Challenge, where each competitors had an arm tied down so they couldn’t use it. Other tournaments included blindfolded jiu-jitsu while not knowing who you were fighting, and swinging on a cargo net throwing knives at pumpkins. Each tournament included strongman style physical challenges and submission only jiu-jitsu matches without different divisions for weight or experience levels. My philosophy has always been that in a self defense or combat situation, you must be prepared for whatever opponent you come against, and the possibility that both his weight and skill level will match yours is slim. Summit and Submit, a tournament at high elevation was one of these initial ideas. Later after another competitive buddy, Jake, hiked King’s Peak, it was decided that should be the tournament destination.
Fast forward several years, and my outdoor-loving brother-in-law, Adam, is here in Utah for the summer. When he let me know one thing he wanted to do before he headed back home is to hike King’s Peak, I knew the time for Summit and Submit had arrived! With 2 weeks notice (we’ve found if we invite competitors the night before, the tournament is VERY small), we begin to make our plans. The usual competitors (physical freaks and men I know will likely beat me on the mat) were invited and a general callout was given for anyone who thought carrying mats 10 miles to beat each other up sounded like fun.
On game day, we set out, Jeff Moore representing Westside BJJ (Pedro Sauer), Jake South representing Unified BJJ (Pedro Sauer), Richard Call and I representing Mori Academy (Drysdale/Zenith), and my awesome brother-in-law, Adam Tobey who had never done jiu-jitsu before. After a several hour drive to the Henry’s Fork Trailhead in the High Uinta Mountain Range, we pulled our packs out of the truck and got ready to go.
Enter challenge #1. We brought along 8 lb. and 15 lb. weight plates. Under no obligation, competitors were given the option to carry extra weight for bonus points. A 8 lb. plate was worth 1 bonus point and a 15 lb. plate was worth 2 points. Competitors were encouraged to be discrete in loading plates into their bag so nobody knew what the others were carrying, thus adding a strategic dilemma to the competition.
Challenge #2 also began immediately. Between the 5 competitors, we had 2 sections of mat that needed to travel with us for the next 10 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain. We had a notebook to keep track of number of 15-minute-minimum carries per competitor. A solo carry was worth 2 hash marks and a team carry worth 1 hash mark per person. At the end of the hike, the person with the most hash marks would receive 10 points, 2nd place got 8 points, 3rd got 6, etc.
The hike in was fun, but challenging as we struggled to find the best way to carry mats as well as our heavily loaded packs through forests, meadows and thunderstorms. It turns out jiu-jitsu mats are wonderful conversation starters. Nearly everyone we passed stopped and asked what we were up to, then shook their heads in disbelief and admiration at our lofty goal. After about 8 miles of hiking, we finally figured out a decent way to carry the mats in front of us by clipping the straps to our pack with climbing quick draws.
We bumped into several rangers along the way who confirmed what we already assumed, that we were indeed the only people to ever haul mats into the High Uintas to have a Jiu-Jitsu tournament. They recommended a spot for us to camp and slowly shook their smiling faces as we ventured on our way. The last couple miles, Adam led the charge, getting so far ahead of the rest of us WHILE carrying a mat that we lost sight of him. The rest of us located what we determined was a perfect place to camp and fight, then sent Jeff off to find our enthusiastic companion. We gave Adam two extra points for showing us up, and Jeff an extra point for going to find him and bring him back to our home for the night.
When packs were unloaded and weights counted, Jeff had 3 bonus points, Adam and I each had 2 bonus points, and Jake and Richard had wisely chosen not to carry extra weight. A hashmark tally put me in the lead for mat carries with Richard and Adam nipping at my heels.
We then unrolled the mats, put on our gis, and got psyched for Challenge #3, the most beautiful jiu-jitsu tournament the world has never seen. We were awestruck by our surroundings, and stepping on the mat in the midst of such beauty was both spiritual and surreal. Jiu-jitsu at elevation is definitely as difficult as it sounds. It is incredible how quickly into a roll you are gasping for air. For those familiar with jiu-jitsu, you should know that knee on belly at 11,500 feet is horrid. As expected, Jake, a phenomenal brown belt, dominated the grappling portion of our competition (though Richard gave him an incredible match!). He beat everyone to take 10 points. Jeff took 2nd for 8, Richard 3rd, and I settled for 4 points, losing to everyone but Adam (who still pushed me despite 8 less years of experience). Jeff gave Adam a spontaneous jiu-jitsu lesson and we were quick to point out most gyms were far less spectacular, and certainly smelled worse than our current classroom. If his first lesson is any indication of his coming career, his jiu-jistu experience will be beyond epic! Post grappling, we lay on the mats, amazed and inspired by the unusual blending of our love of jiu-jistu, and the majesty of God’s creation.
Next up was setting up camp and building a fire for dinner. Naturally, being the creative adventurists we are, we had to build a corn chip fire (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSkTk2jNZzo). Once camp was set and the fire was going, we begin challenge #4, the weight toss for distance. We took the four weight plates that had been carried up the mountain and competitor by competitor, threw each weight for cumulative distance. Furthest distance was worth 5 points, next furthest 4 points, etc. I threw second and was doing great, easily maintaining the lead until Jake went. Having won the jiu-jitsu challenge, he got to go last on the weight throw. Ever the strategist, he watched and learned from all of us, then figured out a way to beat us, securing 5 points.
After the sun had set and everyone had cooked their dinner and eaten their fill, we strapped on our head lamps and ventured to a small spring to fill our water bottles for the night. After returning to camp, we briefly watched meteors dart across the starlit sky and turned in for the night, anticipating an early morning summit of King’s Peak. Lying in my tent I marveled at the glory of the sky away from city lights, trying to stay awake, but quickly fading into exhausted dreams. Sometime during the night, I awoke to put the rain fly on my tent, blocking the view of the heavens, but providing that extra little bit of warmth. Luckily too, as we soon awoke in the midst of a violent thunderstorm. We waited it out, listening to the deafening crash of lightning much too close. Gradually it passed and we jumped quickly to attention as the rumble of a large rockslide filled the valley. I quickly unzipped the tent to make sure we were out of harms way, then proceeded to crawl out of my sleeping bag in preparation for the next portion of our adventure.
Once we were all moving and had eaten breakfast, we begin the trek skirting the mountains to the chute we were to ascend en route to King’s Peak. The chute was a brutal monster, steep and covered with moving rocks. The climb seemed to last forever, with the top of each hill exposing yet another steep climb above. Finally we all topped out on the saddle, relief and accomplishment coursing through our souls.
Looking around at the various enormous peaks, we wandered in uncertainty briefly, trying to decide which was our goal, the jagged summit of King’s Peak at 13,528 feet. Finally we asked some passing trekkers to be sure of which giant peak to climb. Once King’s Peak was identified by map and gps (neither of which we had), we began another painful scramble through a boulder field to the top. At the top, you can see for days in all directions, lakes, trees, and meadows far below.
Once everyone arrived at the summit, we quickly took the obligatory photos in our gis to verify our trip to the top. Our rest was short, as further thunderstorms threatened to overtake us. We donned our rain gear and began our slow, cautious descent. If the climb down King’s was unnerving, the return down the chute was even worse. Multiple times on the way down, our view of the rockfall we were descending would drop off to the meadow a thousand feet below. We ended up essentially skiing down the middle of the chute, following whatever path promised the smallest rocks. By this time, everyone’s knees were sore from the pounding of the downhill and instability of rocks that moved from under our feet.
Finally reaching the bottom, we again traversed the base of the mountain back toward camp. A herd of sheep had moved in, and we joked about them likely being back at camp eating our tents. Upon arrival, our camp was indeed surrounded, but our belongings unscathed. The competitors intermittently crashed at camp, exhausted from a long day of insanely steep travel. We struggled to pack our gear while laying on the ground, attempting to rest in anticipation of a draining hike back to the car carrying full packs and mats.
By 4pm, we were ready to hit the trail. Richard grabbed one of the mats, intent on carrying it the entire way back to the truck. He is a stud. We tied the other mat to a pack to make it easier to carry and decided just to switch the entire pack back and forth between other carriers. Despite the fact that we were already wiped out, the thought of getting home spurred us on and we headed down the trail at a pretty good clip. We stopped once to refill water bottles at a stream, then carried quickly on. We fully anticipated being back to to truck by 7:30-8pm.
The hike back was going well, but 15 miles into the 10 mile return trip, we were beginning to get concerned. For 2 hours we had been saying, “It has got to be just around the next bend.” “We are almost there.” “It’s right at the bottom of this hill.” Jake and Adam had run ahead (largely, I believe, because I had taken Jake’s old pack so he could carry the pack with the mat, and he didn’t want his pack back!), and Richard and I were hiking together as it started to get dark. Confident that we were nearly there, Richard proposed we make one more hard push without stopping until we got to the truck. He picked up the mat and sprinted ahead as I steadily continued into the night. After 15-20 minutes of not arriving at our destination and not seeing Richard, I was beginning to become convinced I must have somehow gotten off the right trail and was now on another trail headed into the wilderness. I was relieved to finally hear Richard and Jeff calling into the dark for me. I sped around the corner, expecting to see them waiting in the parking lot for me, but instead found them sitting in the middle of the trail, parking lot nowhere to be seen. They too were both worried we had missed something, and were contemplating our next step. Deciding it was highly unlikely all three of us had gotten off on a wrong trail, we pressed on, vowing to stay together. Finally, we saw headlights slowly moving back and forth and were elated to know we at least had found a road. As we had hoped, Adam and Jake were in the truck driving back and forth looking for us and we had finally made it back! They had arrived 20 minutes earlier after also becoming convinced they might be lost.
Relieved and ragged, we tossed our packs in the bed of the truck and collapsed into the cab. Remembering a Taco Bell at the gas station 30 minutes away, we again desperately raced against the clock while trying to find phone service to call our families. They had all been expecting us out that afternoon and we’d had no way to get ahold of them. We arrived at the gas station to see the Taco Bell chairs flipped up on the tables and the doors locked. Not to be deterred, Jake immediately put in a call to a Taco Bell in Evanston, ordering 24 soft tacos, 2 bean burritos, and 38 packets of fire sauce. By this time, everything was funny and we couldn’t help cracking up as he placed the order. Pretty sure they hung up on him and he called right back assuring them that we weren’t high or prank calling (which naturally again caused us to break out in laughter). Crazy how even now as adults, when you are tired enough, everything seems ridiculously funny. We literally could not stop laughing.
Thinking back to what we had just done, and how destroyed we were, it was impossible not to smile. Once someone chuckled, everyone chuckled. The chuckle quickly turned into an all out roar, and we were rolling again. I’m still smiling when I ask myself, “What kind of fools hike with jiu-jitsu mats 10 miles into the wilderness to have a tournament? Why would anyone climb directly up an insanely steep and long rock fall, cheered on by a multitude of sheep, then later ski back down the same rocks fall to save a few miles of travel en route to King’s Peak? What kind of fools would do any of the things we did this past weekend?” Our kind of fools. And we can’t wait to do it again!
Jiu-Jitsu at 11,500 feet.