Sunday, June 26, 2011

Coal to Canyon 50K

With the Leadville 100 just under 2 months away, it's time to kick the training into a higher gear. After a stellar month of training weeks with increasing mileage, intensity and number of days run; everything has been going according to plan. Part of that plan was to run a 50K in the final weeks of June to continue to prepare for the big race. Over the course of June, I bought a map of my area trails and started to run from my apartment in Louisville out to Eldorado Mountain in segments. Breaking each section of trail up into parts and then running them in both directions. My plan for this weekends 50K was to tie all sections together and run an our and back from the old coal fields of Louisville to the grandeur of Eldorado Canyon.

I posted to the local trail runners e-mail list and was happy that someone nibbled on my invite for a long run this weekend. It was a woman named Cheryl. Cheryl ran her first 50k at the North Fork races, she's preparing for her first 50 miler and also the Leadville 100. She's got a wonderful progression going on, not unlike the progression hundreds of other ultra-runners have used on her way to the 100 mile finish. She showed up at my door at 5am and we immediately took off for the trail.

It's so nice to walk out my front door and hop right onto a trail. As we started to head out for Eldorado, the sun was still rising and had yet to crest above the horizon. Just light enough to not need headlamps, we carried on casually. Cheryl and I run about the same pace so it was easy to be comfortable when turning the legs over. Though, we quickly discovered on the hills that my hill climbing stride is still a bit much for those "shorter folks" looking to keep up with me. ;) It was nice to meet someone new who was comfortable enough, not only to simply run together, but to get to know each other more personally. Cheryl has this wonderful, motherly, finesse to her that well... only a mother would have. So talking with her came easy and so did the miles we clicked off together.

As we crossed the dirt road in Superior and onto the Singletree trail, we were treated with a delightful sunrise. The sun was a monster red ball having just risen above the horizon and desperately trying to break free of the morning clouds. As we turned the corner, we watched silently as the Flat Irons turned red from the alpin-glow and the Rocky Mountain Snows in the distance did the same. Breathtaking. As the sun continued to rise and heat the land, the cool valley air turned to clouds as it began to rise and a magnificent morning overcast rose up along the sides of the mountains. I wished I was on top of Bear Peak looking down on the undercast that was. Sunrise in Boulder County had turned out to be this amazing dance of weather phenomenon that one simply could not look away from.
From the Singletree horse and cattle pasture we crossed the next road onto the Marshall Mesa. Here is the home to a few thousand prairie dogs which had yet to wake up in the cool morning air. This was the quietest run I've had across this mesa, without the loud squeaks of the prairie dogs. Along the top of the Mesa is Community Ditch, and after crossing CO-93, we were running along the waters of Community Ditch. It doesn't matter which way you run, it always appears like this stream is flowing uphill. Trippy.
We reached Dowdy Draw and began climbing uphill in earnest despite most of our run having been uphill all ready. Along the first climb I looked down and say the lower section of an elks leg. Hoof and all, I wondered where the hell the rest of him was. As we wound our way around to the top of this mesa, I looked to my left and saw two elk, lying low in the high prairie grasses. I wondered if they were lying or injured, or hiding. Whatever it was, they were silent and I felt like I was looking a a painting. Yet as I turned my head back right, under the new days hot sun, we saw Eldorado Mountain right in front of us, We ran into the trees, finally, and started to wind our ways around the side of the mountain.
Can you spot the elk?
The Fowler Trail is one of the neatest I've ever been on. An old railroad bed, this trail goes along the side of Eldorado Mountain, at times cut right through the stone as it towers above. When you come around the corner an into Eldorado Canyon/Eldorado Springs itself, you can look down on the tiny tiny town below, and up and the towering spires of rock that many a rock climber frequents. It's really humbling to look around in this canyon, helping you almost forcing you to realize how insignificant you are in this huge world. But enough of that as we made it to the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail and began our hike uphill.
We talked and joked as we continued to climb up the steepest section of our. We started at around 5200' today and in a matter of a mile we'd top out at about 7200'. We'd run almost entirely uphill to this spot. Along the trail is a small side path that we took to the top of a tiny ridge. The views are stunning and then, I saw a rock outcropping. I hadn't been there yet so, we walked on over and as I climbed up to the top of the rock, I realized by looking below that this was not the place to mess up. It was a harrowing drop to the valley below, certainly at least 100 feet unimpeded by even a tree. Yet in the distance we saw, right before us in natures theatre, The Continental Divide. We sat in silence, our mouths agape, followed by, "WOW!"
After our brief stop we made our way to the highest this trail would allow us. And that is the train tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad. We took a few photos of the tunnels up here, the ones the train uses to get through and around the mountain. Cheryl's husband is a conductor so we knew he'd get a kick out of these pics. And then, we turned around and began our long winding descent all the way back to Louisville.
Along the way, we cross the stream on a bridge down around Dowdy Draw. I told Cherly we had to run through the water. Initially she wasn't too keen on the idea but I quickly persuaded her to make the run across. "If you don't do it in the game, don't do it in practice." And vice versa, there are quite a few chilly crossings at Leadville. We need to get used to running with wet feet. As Cheryl's feet touched the water I heard her yelp from the cold. As I turned back, she was smiling from ear to ear and even splashing a bit. With that, we ran home with wet sloshing shoes and huge smiles.
Also found this dung beetle pushing a turd. :)
The 50K run ended up taking us 6:35. Good enough for a 13:11/min mi. pace. I'm extremely happy with how well we did and how comfortable I felt. I still have much work to do to prepare for the beast that is Leadville. I'm determined to cross that finish line this year and gaining redemption. Left Right Repeat.. from here, until then.

SJ

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mt. Evans

On Sunday we took a drive up through Eldorado Canyon and headed towards Nederland via a way we hadn't explored yet. Upon reaching Ned, we headed south on the Peak to Peak Highway chomping up some miles of road we'd yet to explore as well. It was much to our surprise when we rounded the bends into the canyon town of Black Hawk. In front of us was a huge building, a hotel in fact, and within a quarter mile it was evident that we'd reached a mini-vegas. Black hawk is a town that seems to have gone through a renaissance where multiple large casino's have been erected and construction plagues the main road through town as they work on building a wrap around thru-way to stave off congestion. It was quite comical to come across this oasis of lights flickering under a hot June sun.

As we made our way into Idaho Springs we inadvertently hopped onto I-70 West and started seeing signs for "Mt. Evans-Open To Top." We had no clue what Mt. Evans was or how high the top was but we dared to venture in that direction to find out. We drove once again through canyon after canyon until the car started climbing higher and higher, eventually sneaking us views of the high rocky peaks all around. We drove past the gorgeous Echo Lake recreation area where it seemed like a few hundred folks had parked along side its shores, enjoying the afternoon sun and trying their luck at casting a line into the crystal waters. On the far end of the lake, we made it to a small visitors center with a sign for the Mount Evans Auto Road.
The Mt. Evans Auto Road is the highest paved road in America. It is also known as America's Highest Auto Road. For $10, we entered the gate and began our climb. We were shocked by the enormity of the krumholz that lined the side of the narrow road. These small alpine trees we knew so well as mini-shrubs in New Hampshire are tall and twisted out here. An impressive sight indeed. The road wastes no time in gaining elevation. It's 15 miles from start to the top. The road, which has no guardrail, twists and turns it's away precariously along the top of many cliffs and alpine meadows. I was terrified and brought new meaning to the term "White Knuckle Ride."
We started winding our way up and into the Arctic Circle.. or what seemed like it. Above 11,000' the world is still very much playing host to winter. Snow fields are HUGE! We managed to snap a few photos on the way up of the cars passing in front of the huge drifts, some of them about 20+ feet in height. The road continued along the top of some pretty precarious cliffs. I won't lie when I tell you I was nearly pooping my pants. Whenever the road narrowed, I drifted my car more towards the upslope side of the road even if it was the wrong side to be on. If a car came form the other direction, I froze stiff in the proper lane and waited for the "safer lane" to open up again. Eventually we reached a parking lot at the base of a gorgeous peak. The lake below it's icy cap was still frozen over and many avalanche trails could be seen. We pulled over and decided to walk around a bit, walking over to a view spot and took some photos of the mountains, many of which are hiding behind the thick cloud of smoke that had drifted north from Arizona's Wild-Fires.
After our "breathtaking" (Literally) break, we drove the rest of the way to the summit. The road got narrower the higher we got, the turns tighter and the air thinner. By the time we reached the summit, we had made it to 14,100' in elevation. We got out of the car to look around. It was 90 degrees down in Denver, it's 40 degrees up here. I'm in shorts and a t-shirt, we hadn't planned on anything today really and this had become a pretty amazing treat. I froze while walking around the parking lot area, the true summit of the peak another 100' above us. The more telling tale is of being out of breath after walking a mere 50 yards on the summit proper.
We turned the car around and began the long roller coaster ride back down the 15 mile auto road. We slowly, and in third gear, made our way back to the bottom. We stopped for a few more pictures along the way. To snap shots of the car along-side the snowdrifts, the marmots that own the place and of course some worthwhile views. For $10, it doesn't get much better, especially if you want to get above 14,000' without walking there. I'm sure we'll return to the Evans Auto Road once the smoke clears and we find more time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

HIGHjynx

It's been an interesting week since I wrote about my soul sucking trek up Bear Peak. I starter my internship on Wednesday and it's been full steam ahead ever since. I did manage to get out on Thursday Night for a sunset run along the Coal Creek Path. This paved path travels right by our front door here in Louisville. If I head north on it, it terminates about 1.25 miles from here at it's junction at the middle school on Via Appia (Street Name). To the south, I can take this trail to it's connection with a vast trail network which stretches for unimaginable distances. No seriously.. I can probably run all the way to the continental divide from my front door without having to run much on pavement. It's 28 miles to the divide on trail by the way. ::wink wink:: Anyway, my sunset run afforded me a chance to watch the sun set behind the Flat Irons of Boulder. It was breath taking.
On Friday we had an orientation at work. We started our morning by driving up to Estes Park. We are currently the only guide service permitted to guide in Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and the Roosevelt National Forest. We started our morning with some rock climbing just down the road from the lodge we service. After that fun, we drove up Trail Ridge Road to Rainbow curve which is where the gates had be closed prevented cars from traveling ahead. The road was buried with some 22 feet of snow in placed up until last week. Road crews have been removing snow so they can open the road entirely, and allow it to serve its purpose as a thru-way to Granby. At Rainbow Curve (elevation 10,875') we got out of the van and hopped onto bikes. From here, we rode uphill along trail ridge road. While some of my co-workers rode to the highest point of the road, I topped myself out at Forest Canyon (11,758') Getting up here was quite the chore for me as I sucked wind almost the entire way. After a wonderful break chatting with co-workers and enjoying views of the Continental Divide, we turned around in the 40 degree temps and bombed back down the road at high speeds all the way back to the gate and the van. From here, I drove the van as a sag wagon and followed those who wanted to ride all the way back down to Estes Park. What a thrill!
22' of snow

The Mummy Range

Marmot
Finally, after a Saturday or Disc Golf and BBQing with friends in Boulder. I started my Sunday with a run over on the Marshall Mesa/Community Ditch. The Prairie Dogs are out in full force, screeching their ways around the mesa. These things are fun to watch. Cute little buggers too.
On Wednesday, I'll tell you about my Sunday Drive to the top of Mount Evans, 14,100+ Feet in Elevation. Stay Tuned!