Monday, February 20, 2012

RR: Frozen Dead Guy 50K

Saturday, February 18, 2012
Nederland, CO
28 Miles
4,075' Gain/6,509' Loss
The second event of this years Team Sherpa Winter Expeditions started in the frigid town of Nederland Colorado. Ned is home to The World Famous Frozen Dead Guy, whose annual festival is coming up in 2 weeks. Nederland is nestled at an elevation of 8,228' above sea level and to my knowledge, is the current winter home of UltraRunner Geoff Rowes. One of the classic Boulder running routes is running from Ned to Boulder on mostly if not all trails. This is the basis of this months Winter Expedition.

After picking up the gang at Chautauqua Meadow, of course right after receiving a speeding ticket from Boulder police in my haste to erase my running late, we drove our carpool up to Nederland. We received a slight dusting of snow over night and it left Boulder Canyon an icy treacherous drive up. In Ned we slowly peeled out of the vehicles and into the frosty morning air. AM temps in Ned are hovering around 8 degrees with a brisk wind rushing down off of the Divide. Snow is swirling all around the parking lots while the town is still embraced by the blueish-greayish hue of a still early morning light. The sailors had come back for more, Ray, Steven and Dennis. Brad from Denver, Jeff from Grand Junction and Dan from Morrison. Seven us of total, all standing outside the bathroom door of the local super market. :)

Which Way Do We Go George?..
..Which way do we go? That's a great question. After giving out the information about aid at Mile, and everyone threw their roving aid into Steve's wife's car (she played roving aid station for miles 7 and 16) we started running.. in circles. I pointed to where I thought the route goes and thankfully, I was right. We followed these quiet winding roads along the south end of Barker Reservoir, made it to the end of a road with no outlet, and ran a short section of packed out trail. At the top of this short incline, we ran to the end of another road and was faced with some more map gawking. "This way is longer, this way gets us right on track..." We got right on track as we knew the day would be long enough.

So now we were finally on Magnolia Rd and heading towards Boulder. The wind, was at our backs, and bitingly cold. We would all be frozen dead guys if not for the sun being so incredibly warming at this early hour. As we ran along the road, we noticed a few runners had all ready gone by, one in a air of hoka's (footprints in snow). As the locales came whizzing down the road en-route to their morning coffee, they weren't shy about trying to run us off. One guy sped up.. signaled for us to move over further so he could drive down the middle of the dirt road. Interesting perspective indeed.

However we continued down the road running past snow covered farm lands. The mountains of the Continental Divide rising up to our left and the rolling peaks of the Front Range to our right. Rocky outcrops adorned the sides of the road from time to time, smaller peaks that merely, or barely, rise above the plateau we run along. We see Steve's wife and she wonder's where the first stop is. We send her back down the road to our mile 7 spot. When we get there she's shaken up and tells us of a silver saab that had tried to run her off the road. Nederland locals are famous for not liking runners or folks from "Boulder." Ce la Vie. We grabbed aid from her and took off down FS Road 68. Steve and Dennis are together and out of sight behind us.. Steve's wife plans to wait and then she'll drive a llll the way back to Boulder before driving up Flagstaff Road to meet us at mile 16. She'll be hard pressed to catch us given the length of the drive (30+ miles) and the length of our running (9 miles).

Which way do you WANT to go?
We came to a junction on FS68 where it meets with some random Trailhead. We stood in the middle of the road while the guys asked me which way we go again. I looked at the map on my phone and we surmised that going Right would take us down into a low canyon, followed by a good climb out. It was not on our original plans. Left, is the way I had laid out before the run and is the route designed. Of course, we all decided to go right. We followed a trail that had been packed out well by snowshoers.. and it eventually ended. We started breaking our own trail at this point, potholing through knee deep snow, that for me started to turn into waist deep snow.. It was slow going and challenging indeed. But a great workout!
Photo Courtesy of SKA Runner
After while we made it to the bottom of the canyon and started to loose sight of where the trail should go. We had bypassed the spot where I felt the trail went and were now standing on top of a small cliff trying to decide if we should go down or not. I turned the group around and our, now bushwhack, took us back to where I felt the trail should be. We ended up finding the trail and made our way to the end which is at the mouth of an arm of the Gross Reservoir. We stood there trying to figure out where to go. As I looked around, I knew the actually trail kind of backtracked in order to get to our original route. As I looked around I saw before us this gnarly steep hill. IT was a lot of rocks, cliffish activity, steep, gnarly.. so of course I said, "Or we could just go up and over this and it'll bring us right to where we need to be.. it's the most direct route."

Of course we chose to go the direct route. For the next .45 miles we climbed 800' and it was brutal. At times we climbed rock faces with our ice-encrusted shoes while they slipped and slid all over. We were virtually on our hands and knees swimming through thigh deep snow. It was AWESOME!
Photo Courtesy of SKA Runner
Back On Track
By the time we had made it back to the trail we were originally supposed to be on.. I felt terrible. I felt like we had waisted a good hour and a half, maybe more, on what we had just done. I worried everyone was still having fun, not hating me, and relishing the adventure. I knew that my feet are soaked and going numb from the cold. My ankles are all ready numb and in pain. I had no idea how anyone else was doing. We noticed that no footprints had cone over the well packed out trail we were on. This was bad news as we had hoped Steve and Dennis had not followed our footprints down into that hole. We started running again... finally.

Not long after running down this trail, we come to the spur path that heads up to the Twin Sisters. Originally we were to hike these peaks, but after the adventure we just went on, I vetoed the side trip and we simply kept running towards Boulder. The trail soon came out in someones driveway. The driveway soon turned into another dirt road and then eventually turned into the paved Flagstaff Road. Running on the pavement is not kind. It's the worst part of winter. There's still tons of snow up here, the shoulder of the road is non-existent and it hurts. Steve's wife shows up and stops so the guys can refill their bottles and grab some aid. For the most part, we're all out of fluids. Hungry, Thirsty. I thankfully was carrying everything I needed for the day on my back so I kept moving.

A short ways up the road I noticed a herd of about a dozen deer on the hill side. One by one they take off running and I managed to snap a photo of one on the run.

As we continued up the road, we began to walk by this amazing area of fire burned landscape. Burned trees stick up from out of the snow like quills on a very pale porcupine. (Wow.. weird visual). This kind of landscape is stunning in the winter given the contrast in colors. From the deep blue of the Colorado Sky to the white of the snow and the blackness of these toothpicks. Check it out.

Walker Not-In-Texas Ranger
We made it to the Walker Ranch parking area and slowly walked up the hill backwards so we could ensure that everyone made the turn. We see Ray heading down Flagstaff Road. We yell and signal for him to follow us. He realizes it's us and heads up the road and we kindly wait. From here we head out on the Walker Ranch Loop. Early on it's a well packed trail that is sloppy in spots thanks to the amount of sun it gets. But as we began to slink down into the north canyon, the snow got deep again. We tried our best to walk on top of the snowshoe tramped trail, but the warmth of the sun was causing all of us to posthole in and fall on our faces. At one point I was up to my crotch in the deep snow. Brad displayed his talent for knowing the Weird Al Yankovich song, Albuquerque, by heart. All 9 minutes of it. It was fascinating because I know most of the song too and was able to recite a few lines with him.

We made our way down to the falls near where Tom Davis and Martin Gulch collide. Here we started out next long climb, up onto the Eldorado Canyon Trail. As we started to climb, Ray and I immediately fell back. The climb earlier and the hassle of all the snow out here was taking it's toll on us. We talked about hoping Dennis and Steve either ran the road or got a ride back to boulder rather then continuing to follow our tracks through these woods. At last check, they were some 45 minutes behind us. Ray and I stuck together and admired the tracks we found in the snow. It started with an area of snow that had been scratched aside by something. Snow was too deep for it to be turkey, and the area too large to be anything else. I determined it was a bear getting after some pinecones and seeds. Then, we spotted the bear tracks.
Photo Courtesy of Ray Halbig
After the bear tracks, we spotted some mountain lion tracks and determined there had been more then one cat and they were tracking together. All of these tracks were at least 2 days old and warranted no alarm on our parts. But it certain got our attention. After meeting up with the other 3 guys who were taking a short break, I broke out into the lead and stayed there for some time. Brad and Jeff ran in close with me as we crested the hill and started running down into Eldorado Canyon. Dan caught up with us and we lost sight of Ray. The three of us enjoyed the magnificent views as we headed into Eldo and enjoyed running these miles together as we ran through the base of the Canyon and to our Drop bag spot at mile 22.

We hunkered down in Eldo and sat behind the water house refilling our bottles and eating some goodies. We sat there for a good 10 minutes before getting up to head out. We make our way through the north side of town and the sweet smell of Mary jane wafted through the air. This is a growers town, and not the place to be exploring someone's yard while you're trying to find a trail. We all stay close together and I lead us to the Old Mesa Trail. We hop on and start our climb up this old abandoned trail towards the current Mesa Trail.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.. the top side meadow of this trail is one of the most inspiring places I've ever been. Incredibly beautiful and simply breathtaking. 
Photo Courtesy of SKA Runner
After climbing the Old Mesa Trail, we broke out onto the Mesa Trail and continued the final miles of our arduous journey. I ran the final few miles with SKA Runner who is one of the most creative souls I know. He was great to talk to as he helped me prepare a bit for fatherhood. He has great insights and inspiring stories of creativity and teaching. I really enjoyed his company and insight and I felt it was short lived. I'm glad he made it out and was also worried I was boring him to death in some of those final miles where he sounded to tired to listen. Maybe I was just rambling on and about nothing? Maybe we were both just ready to be done?

The sun was setting on the Front Range now. As we ran down the Chautauqua, I spotted Steve standing on the trail. He and Dennis skipped out on Walker Ranch and instead enjoyed a grueling run of FlagStaff Road all the way down into Boulder. What a Quad Buster that must have been! WOW! I was impressed.. and tired. Yet inspired by the colors being displayed by the earth in these final hours of day light. Everyone finished the run, in some way shape or form, and we all had a blast. Despite how challenging the snow made this run, I cannot wait to tackle it under the warm sun of spring and summer. It is a great training run that offers everything. This classic will be a weekly favorite for sure.
Courtesy Ray Halbig