Monday, February 6, 2012

RR: Frozen Front Range Marathon

Saturday, January 28, 2012
Boulder, CO
23 Miles
9,500' Gain / 9,385' Loss
Check out the Video of this event by Clicking Here

Winter Expedition #1
Every winter it has become a tradition of mine to create a series of Fat Ass runs for myself and a number of my friends. In years past, I could always count on the same 3 or 4 folks to show up and run with me back in New Hampshire. This year I went out on a limb and decided to invite all of fellow runners in the boulder and Fort Collins Front Range of Colorado. The early response to the invite of these expeditions was mixed. In the end, I acquired a mailing list of some 20-25 runners who wanted to be kept in the loop for these events. Then of course, I got a few know it all e-mails from a few runners who warned me about Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks regulations, permits, rangers and every other negative thing they could think of. In the end, I'm proud to work as a professional guide in Boulder. I had a permit in hand just in case and at the end of the day, our group was never big enough for it to even matter.

A few of us shivered in the frigid morning air at the Dowdy Draw Trailhead, waiting for the remained of the Sailors from Bradley to show up so we could carpool to the start. They were some 20 minutes late and is typically not something I encourage when a group is waiting. 14 degrees is incredibly chilly compared to the way temps have been recently in the Front Range and I gave up shivering for a bit of time waiting in the car. After they finally showed, we made our way over to Mapleton Ave in Boulder's Western neighborhoods and quickly got ready to head out on the trail. I was incredibly pleased with the turnout this morning as 10 of us huddled around the cars anxiously waiting to begin. It was great to finally meet some new folks and make new friends here in the Boulder area.

We started out climbing right away. The first peak of the day is Sanitas. A peak with very little in the way of vegetation in the NorthWest corner of Boulder. Right out of the gate, we watched as 5 of the runners took up, literally running every step of the way up Sanitas. I'm still in constant amazement of the abilities of Boulder Trail Runners. All ready frustrated with my own fat abilities, or lack-there-of, I hung in the back with the Sailors. We power hiked to the top of Sanitas and got there in no time at all. It was myself, the 3 sailors and Jerry just soaking in the dim morning sun as it hid behind a layer of thin overcast clouds.

After a brief pause on the summit we began to finally run a bit on the descent. The lack of snow this winter and mile temps contributed to some pretty amazing trail conditions. With a light dusting of snow gracing the sides of the trail, it was nice to be able to get some dirt under my feet up high. This first peak is merely a short warm-up compared to the other peaks we're about to tackle today. I'm glad I'm holding back and taking it easy now. The day is very young and I've got a long way to go.. but I start to wonder all ready if perhaps we're moving too slow.

Red Rocks
After finally making it down to the bottom of Sanitas, we retrieved whatever folks had left behind in Jerry's car. He's not hanging with us much longer and he wanted to make sure the sailors had all their gear. We grabbed whatever was left behind and cross the first road saying good by to section 1 of today's journey. We immediately started climbing again. This short section of the day is known as Red Rocks. No, not the huge monoliths like that of Morrison, CO where bands play.. this is Boulder's Red Rocks. A rock outcropping that rises up from the plains and almost looks cathedral like. These rocks are sandstone sculptures frozen in time with colors of red, beige and black. They really are beautiful and one can almost feel a positive energy coming from them.

We made our way to the bottom of Red Rocks and I started to worry a bit all ready. One of the sailors is in leather hiking boots and falls behind on all the descents. Another falls behind on the climbs and the third.. the third has no trouble keeping up with me. I don't want to leave anyone behind and all ready this morning, I've heard a chorus of "oh that's where we screwed up." Testimonials to their coming out in the weeks leading up to the run to try and train on the route. I fear that if I leave them now, they'll never find their way back to their car.. though I know better, and I mean to disrespect to this group of men who serve our country proudly and are truly managing to keep pace as best they can. If anything, they offered up good company, are humble, fun and funny. I had to stick with them.. at least for now.

Flagstaff Mountain
After crossing Boulder Canyon Rd, we began the long gradual climb up Flagstaff Mountain. As the day goes on, the climbs get longer and reach higher elevations. We really started to attack this climb while we finally got the groove going. At the Halfway House, Jerry had to bail since he is actually tapering for his first 50K of the year (he eventually ran the race and came in 3rd!). After saying goodbye to Jerry, I hung close to the sailors and we talked our way to the top of Flagstaff. While two of the sailors hung close, one was consistently lagging behind. I really actually began to worry about him.

Near the top of Flagstaff Mountain, I pointed out the summit area to the sailors and told them that I'm a peak bagger. I then asked if they wanted to join me on the summit to which they said sure. So we hopped off trail for the short walk to the actually summit rock. It was here that we got our first feel for the high winds that were blowing in from the west. The wind was bone chillingly cold and gusting to near 45 mph (Tropical Storm force) easily. I was pretty chilled as I huddled down beside a tree for some easy relief. I quickly rejoined the sailors and we all agreed that there was a need to keep moving in order to stay warm.

As we made it to Flagstaff Road, I had stashed an aid stop the night before where our route crosses. As I made it to the water and snacks, I noticed that they were untouched. I began to wonder if the fast runners had even come through here as I had described in detail to them earlier, where they could find nourishment. I noticed footsteps had made it to the stash but nothing had been opened or used. As I grabbed the gallon jugs of water, I discovered why. The water was frozen nearly solid. I took 3 of the jugs and cracked them onto the rocks near by, much like one would crack open a coconut. I passed the water around to the sailors and we very messily refilled our bottles and water bladders. While trying to crack open one of the jugs with my pole, I accidentally stabbed the buckle of Ray Halbig.. and split his finger wide open. I felt terrible and it looked incredibly nasty. After we re-filled, we headed off for Green.

Green Mountain
After a short decline we pass by the Green Mountain Ranger Cabin. After a share left we begin the relentless climb to the top of Green. The snow is getting deeper on this back side of the Front Range mountains. We zig and zag our way towards the summit while the brisk westerly winds, no longer brisk us, but hammer us. It's downright cold on this back side of the summit. There was another trail we could have taken, but I chose the direct route up the western spine of the peak. From time to time the ridge opened up and offered no protection from the wind. My face began to hurt from the chilling cold. My eyes watered and the old location of a previous Frost Bite injury began to display sharp pains. I looked back to check on the others. The sailors were spread out 1, 2, 3. Ray is hot on my tail and keeping up just fine. The other two struggle with the climb and sailor #3... he's hugging himself in an effort to stay warm. It's no surprise given the fact that he's wearing all cotton (sweatpants and a hoodie).

After taking the height of land on the ridge, Hal and i waited for the other two. Upon their arrival, I directed them towards either the summit or down towards Bear Canyon. They chose to begin heading down while Ray and I headed for the green Summit. We reached the summit of Green at exactly noon and enjoyed a brief break soaking in the 360 degree views of Boulder, The Front Range and The Continental Divide. Of course.. the winds kept our visit short.

After our brief break and a quick snack, we took right off down the mountain, giving chase to the other two who had descended earlier. I pretty surprised with how easy the run downhill was. With my micro-spikes on now, my feet are literally clawing into the ice. We finally make it down into Bear Canyon where the other two are waiting for us, checking out the maps. Upon my arrival, I show them where the route goes next.. a grueling climb up to the top of Bear Peak.. while gradual at first, the exposed summit cone offers some of the steepest climbing of the day which includes a bit of scrambling. One of the sailors respectfully bows out as I discover he's been dealing with a bad cold or bronchial infection. Given that bit of information, I'm surprised and impressed he's even made it this far. We bid him adieu and our 5 which turned into 4 is not down to 3.

Bear Peak & South Boulder Peak
As we started the climb of Bear and the ridge we were about to hike to loomed ominously above us, I really began to think about the time of day and what I'd need to do if I wanted to try and finish this entire route today. These two peaks were certainly the most strenuous of the day, but they pale in comparison to the final climb should I make it. I actually wanted it pretty bad but began to accept the realization that I'd forgotten my headlamp at home not expecting to need it. With that in mind, I knew I needed to make a move. So.. I began to pull away from the sailors and now enjoy some alone time as I continued my climb of Bear peak. This climb journey's up the western ridge of the peak and is often times exposed or lack in the tree department based on the elevation. I feel really good as I climb alone. Stopping to take photos and videos. Singing songs. Scrambling over rocks and ice. I make such great time heading to Bear Peak, despite the adverse conditions that i really begin to feel I can complete the route today.

I head to the summit of the peak and sit on the Eastern Slope. The sun is warm now with temps in the 40's down low and the lower 30s here. The wind still whips from the west but I'm protected. This peak is a bit scary, ominous given the steepness on all sides. I watched as another runner scrambles over to the summit. He sits down next to me and we talk about the gorgeous views and how our days are going. He heads out before me and I give chase. As I begin to come off of the summit, I see the two sailors have arrived. I meet up with them at the summit trail junction. We have a brief conversation, where I learn that their yak-trax aren't really helping them cover ground over the ice. They've decided to skip the Bear Summit and South Boulder.. and now they're just heading for the car. I give them direction and knew I'd see them again, so I carry on to South Boulder peak without them.

The climb up South Boulder peak is easy now that all of the rocks up here are covered and the tiny gaps in the terra firma are filled in. I have a short conversation with a husband and wife who are hiking down. They've completed a great loop of Bear and South Boulder peaks and are heading home now. I get the feeling that the husband doesn't believe in the ground I'd covered all ready today, and he seriously doubts I'm telling the truth about me heading over to Eldorado next. This is a common occurrence for an ultra runner. After finishing off the last bit of the sort but steep climb, I touch the top of the summit and look down on Eldorado Mountain, and Eldorado Canyon.

I head out, off of the summit, bounding down the luge like trails covered in snow. The lower down I get the more the snow turns to ice. I catch up to the sailors who are really having a tough time. I give them final directions on how to get to their car, and thank them for coming. I really did enjoy their company and determination. I thanked them for their service. I continued running downhill as I passed folks heading up. Ice turned into mud and eventually dry trails. I called my wife to let her know I was going to go for it and I'll be home around 6/6:30 now instead of 5.. I hoped. I set a turn around time and hoped to stick with it.

I ran bast the Shadow Canyon Cabin, crested over the tiny ridge line down here and began my track down the Old Mesa trail. The trail in here is by far some of the most gorgeous in Boulder. I'll find it safe to say that of all the places I've been in the Front Range, this is my favorite. There is something magical about it that can't be explained. As I ran down the clop, the sun disappeared behind the peaks. I make it into Eldorado Springs and make my way to my aid stash. I slump down into the mud and chomp on some Chips-Ahoy, guzzle water, refill everything and get ready for what was to come. Sitting here in Eldorado Canyon as the sandstone and granite spires rid above me, unable to even see the peak of my next climb.. is daunting to say the least. But I'm up for it, and begin to mentally set time goals for myself. I pack it up, and head out.

Eldorado Mountain
I begin by heading in the wrong direction, heading for the Old Fowler Trail which leads up to the current Fowler Trail. I do this to avoid paying the state park fee at the gate.. and is a common occurrence for local hikers and adventurers. After a short bushwhack up a herd path, I emerge onto the old rail bed and surprise a few hikers who offer me puzzled looks. After a brief hello, I start trotting quickly, where I knew I didn't have much time, I need to move when I can. The winds are howling through the canyon as they always do, and I struggle to make my way through what I call "The Eye." I push through and make it to the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail.

RGT is by far my most travelled trail in the mountains of Boulder. I know every rock, root, twist and turn at this point. I make quick time getting up to the site of the Old Crags Hotel. I stop and take off my pack. The sun continues to set. My climb to the ridge from here is short, but the bushwhack is long and I've yet to complete it. I need all the energy I can get. I suck down a 5 Hour Energy - Extra Strength. It's old and stale.. disgusting stuff. I slurp it down and get moving again. I use my poles to help me and I begin the final climb. The wind still whips out of the West. The higher I get the more snow there is again. After gaining the ridge I follow a social path that fizzles out. The whack from here is rugged. I'm scrambling up and over jumbles of rocks and at times I'm damn near rock climbing. I get tangled in old communication wires from the Union Pacific Railroad which I am now a thousand feet above it's tracks. I push and push and push. I gain higher and higher. I reach my previous point of retreat.. and go higher. I scramble more and then... the sun sinks behind the divide.

I give a huge sigh and look around. I take out my camera to document my location and views. It's sunset now. I'm alone. No headlamp. The bushwhack down is treacherous and then.. I am still 5 miles from my car after that. I'm literally 300 vertical feet from gaining the summit area and it's less than a quarter mile.. yet.. I have to make the tough decision.. to stand down. I sit down on the side of the mountain and watch the sun set. The sky turns colors with the deep blue of a space sky coming to pass. The clouds orange, pink and shades of gray. Breathtaking. Some 9 hours after I began my day.. it ends here.. and then.. I head for home.

Of the 10 who started... I'm the only runner who even attempted Eldorado Mountain. Though I didn't make the summit.. the journey within was magnificent to say the least.