Sunday, August 29, 2010

Belford and Oxford

Nick invited us to join him on some fourteeners yesterday, and despite the super early start we were happy to do so.  We met Nick in Morrison at 4am (ugh) and he drove south of Leadville to the trailhead.  We started hiking by 6:30 up the steep switchbacks from the Missouri Gulch Trailhead.  The trail led us through some beautiful aspen groves and alongside cascading creeks.  Soon we were above treeline and could see the summits before us.  The trail up Belford switchbacked up the west ridge.  From the base of the mountain we could see dozens of curves in the trail up to the summit.  The three of us slowly plodded along to the top.

We summited Belford at 10am.  Dan was having a rough time as his ankle was rubbing in his boot.  He decided to stay on the summit while Nick and I hiked over to Oxford.  We descended 750 feet along the steep east ridge of Belford and then ascended nearly the same amount up Oxford.  It was a quick stop, as the clouds were beginning to build, now that it was after 11:00.  We retraced our steps and met Dan on the steep east ridge.

We decided to make a loop out of our return trip and followed the Elkhead Pass Trail to Elkhead Pass.  The landscape was very cool as it had a number of plateaus interspersed between the mountain groups.  We got to the pass and headed back north along the Missouri Gulch Trail.  We passed the turnoff for Missouri Mountain (no one wanted to try for #3) and continued back to the cars.

Despite the dark clouds, there was no thunder and very little rain.  At one point there was a little graupel, but it didn't last long.  Overall, it was a 9 hour day.  We covered about 12 miles and 5800 feet of elevation change.  (The camera battery was very low, so we only got these three pics.  A local trail runner ran up these two mountains a few weeks ago and posted a lot of pics.  If you want to see more of the trail and the landscape, click here.)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

We Did It!

Dan and I both completed the Pike's Peak Ascent in the allotted time frame!  We agreed to do 2 blog entries, one from each of our point of view, so here goes mine.

I don't think I was ever so nervous for a race.  I've been having nightmares all week.  Despite all my training all summer, I still had doubts that I would be able to meet the cut-off times along the course.  (So, since this race is up a fourteener, to keep everyone safe from afternoon inclement weather you have to get to certain points along the course at a particular time or else they'll turn you back around.)

Dan and I drove down to Colorado Springs right after work on Friday.  We stayed in a motel just over a mile from the start of the race.  We checked in and drove to downtown Manitou Springs.  We found the race expo and got in line for our race packets.  While waiting we started talking to an older guy who was asking us if this was our first time.  He seemed nice and like a seasoned expert.  Turns out, he was the keynote speaker, Bart Yasso, who has run races all over the world including the Badwater 147 miler through Death Valley, the Antarctica Marathon, and countless others.  After chatting with him, we got our $12 spaghetti dinner (with potatoes and garlic bread) and had a seat to hear Bart's presentation.  We walked around Manitou for a bit and then made it back to the motel.  It was an early (and for me restless!) night.

At about 5:30 I was awoken by Dan sitting on his bed eating something.  In my semi-conscious state, I thought he was sucking on a mint, but it turns out he was starting on his breakfast.  We both got up, ate, and got ready for the race.  We walked down to the start and waited for 7:30.  As we were lined up ready to go, a young woman sang "America, the Beautiful" which was very appropriate for the event, as Katherine Lee Bates wrote the song after she summited Pike's the first time.  However, the singer needed some more lessons in staying on key.  Though her voice was pretty, her rendition of the song was anything but.  I know, music teachers are so picky!

Then, we were off!  We ran 1.2 miles through the heart of Manitou Springs.  The streets were lined with people and it was a lot of fun.  I tried to go out slowly (since I always start too fast!) and was passing people left and right.  Dan and I kept leap frogging each other on this relatively flat road.  After 15 minutes or so, we got to the gravel fire road where there was only enough room for 2 people across.  The crowd started slowing down as the road was very steep.  Soon we got to the first aid station and people were still bottlenecked.  I started talking to some seasoned Ascent runners who said it would remain like this for another two miles.  The switchbacks started up the Barr Trail and I tried to pass people with the very limited room on the trail.  It was difficult to do and took a lot of energy.  I decided to just hang tight until it opened up a bit and I could pick up some speed.  Of course, two minutes later I hear "Tag, you're it!" as Dan rushed past me.  Oh well.

The lady was right, about 2 miles later it did open up and I was able move faster.  However, when I say move faster, I mostly mean walk quicker.  There were some parts that I was able to run on the course, but generally the grade was so steep it made more sense for me to speed hike than run.  I kept thinking that I would be able to run more just up ahead, but by the time I got to the treeline I realized that I had done my running and this race, or where I could compete in it, was really speed hiking.  It was pretty disappointing after all the running I've been doing, but it is what it is.  It made me realize how much more fit I'd actually have to be to be able to run it competitively.  I don't know if that will ever happen.

Anyway, it was still a fun adventure. It was fun running through the groves of aspen, getting grapes, Oreos and oranges at aid stations and leap-frogging a 70-something man and an 81-year-old (who was also doing the marathon the next day).  I did end up beating both of them (whew!).  It was really funny looking at the faces of the poor hikers who decided to hike up or down the Barr Trail on Saturday.  It was a glassed, deer-in-the-headlights kind of look.  I felt bad that they would be waiting for hours to get moving on the trail since there were so many of us.

I made it to Barr Camp 45 minutes before the cutoff and to the A-Frame an hour before I would be turned around.  I got to the treeline and thought, "I have three miles, 3,000 feet vertical, and a couple of hours to finish the race.  I can so do this!"  The countless switchbacks were trying...especially after already run/walking over 10 miles and 4,800 feet.  My stomach was not quite right so I was trying to take it easy.  I was also trying to save some energy for the 16 Golden Steps---very steep, narrow switchbacks at the top of the mountain.  I had heard such horror stories about them I thought they had to be grueling.  Though I was moving slower than I wanted to be, I was doing pretty well compared to most folks.  Lots of people were sitting to the side of the trail trying to breathe, others were moving like molasses.  An hour later I made it to the foot of the stairs.  There were two rescue workers right there (rescue folks were also at each aid station and walking on the trail) that greeted me with, "Welcome to the 16 Golden Steps."  I said thank you and continued on up.  Before I knew it, I could see the finish line...that was it?  Those were the dreaded steps?  They were fine!  The woman behind me said, "I'm going to need to pick up the pace if I'm going to finish in under 4:45."  I said to her, "You can do it!  Go for it!"  I looked at my watch and realized how close we were and thought that I, too, could beat 4:45.  I started passing people left and right and ran through the finish!  The clock said 4:43 and I felt awesome!  I felt so good that I could start running back down...maybe not all 13 miles worth, but some anyway.  I got a cool medal and went right for the snack table.  I was starving.  I got some food and then went to find the bag I checked to get my sweatshirt.  It was super windy on the summit.  I then started looking for a flat spot so I could stretch and I found Dan.  We didn't think we'd find each other on the summit, but it was so neat to stretch with him and share stories of the last 4+ hours.

We got on a shuttle van that took us halfway down the mountain.  The we got on a school bus that took us to Manitou Springs.  There we got more food and our coveted finishers shirts.  They're really nice long sleeve technical shirts.  Yay!  We walked back to the motel, hopped in the car, and visited with Melanie and baby Vince for a bit.  We decided around 4:30 we were beat and started heading north.  There was a ton a traffic and by the time we got to Castle Rock we were hungry for dinner.  We stopped at a Chipotle and saw a number of people in Broncos shirts.  I deduced there was a preseason game and that was the cause of the traffic problem.  I was right and we saw hundreds of people in and walking to Mile High when we drove by.  We finally got home at 7:30, showered, ate some ice cream while watching said game, and went to bed.  A good, very difficult day!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hardest thing ever

Laurel and I both completed the Pikes Peak Ascent today. For me, it was easily the hardest thing I have ever done -- especially considering the amount of training I was able to do in preparation. She wrote up a post about her experience, this is mine.

The race started off on the streets of Manitou Springs, at 6,300' elevation. We ran roads for over a mile before turning onto the trail. That first part before trail was steep -- 7% grade -- but actually that was one of the less steep sections of the course. Laurel was a few hundred feet ahead of me.

The trail is only wide enough for one person in most places. Here and there it's possible to squeeze by someone. But for the first few miles, the trail was so full of "runners" that I really couldn't pass very well. So instead, I walked along with the pack. This was unfortunate, because there were good places to run in this early section of the race.

Around mile 3 things opened up and it was possible to run -- as long as you were willing to say "On your left" and "Thank you" about 10 times a minute. After some time I passed Laurel at a switchback.

There were "reverse" mile markers indicating how far to the summit. In the beginning these seemed to go by pretty quickly. I don't recall any "splits" until I got to the Barr Camp aid station. At that point, 7.6 miles into the race, my watch said I had been going for two hours.

When I saw that, I did some math in my head and concluded that there was a remote chance I could finish in under 4 hours. After all, 7.6 miles completed meant there was only 5.8 miles remaining! But that's lousy math.

A short while later I saw the "5 miles to Summit" sign, and I thought, "Great, now all I have to do is one of my 'long' runs." Ouch. Quite a reminder of how poorly prepared I was.

The next time I looked at my watch was at the "3 miles to Summit" sign. I had been going just about 3 hours. I thought, "Wow! I haven't slowed down much. All I have to do is three 20-minute miles to finish in 4 hours."

That's more bad math -- not enough O2 getting to my brain I think. My pace prior to Barr Camp was averaging a 16 minute mile but my pace after Barr Camp to the "3 miles" sign was over 21 minutes per mile.

That's when the course got noticeably tougher for me. About 25 minutes later I was convinced I had missed a mile marker, and I was starting to wonder where that last aid station was (supposedly 1.5 miles from the summit). Wrong. I should have known, because at this point I wasn't running at all. I wasn't even walking/hiking that fast.

So I was very surprised when I passed the "2 miles to Summit" marker at three and a half hours. What? A 30-minute-mile? This isn't running! Even on the super-steep Mt. Sanitas trail I was doing better than 20 minute miles!

I was totally wiped out. My leg muscles were fatigued worse than they have ever been. I stopped at the last aid station, where they were mixing Gatorade in garbage pails filled from a garden hose running down from the summit. I realized it was going to take all I had just to finish -- that 4 hour idea was totally out the window. The thought of a 4:30 finish wasn't even in my mind -- I just wanted it to end.

I had nibbled down all the granola bars in my pockets, all the gummy-cubes, and a bunch of animal crackers and pretzels from one of the aid stations. I was guzzling water from my Camelbak like mad and having a cup of Gatorade at every aid station. I figured I was over-hydrated* and under-nourished. I had more food in my pack but figured it wouldn't stay down if I tried eating it.

At four hours into the race, I passed the "1 mile to Summit" sign. There goes another 30 minute mile, and I figured if I was lucky, it would only be another 30 minutes to the finish. I didn't know if I was going to make it, but having no other option, I kept walking along slowly.

All along the course there were volunteers, Search and Rescue personnel, and other people offering encouragement. That was fantastic. At the top though it was surreal to hear people shouting "Good job!" and "Looking good!" when all I was doing was walking slowly. I thought, "this trail race has nothing to do with running -- it's more like competitive hiking."

When I say "competitive" I don't mean it in the sense that I'm competing against other people. For me, the point of a race is not to see who you can beat, but to see how fast you can go. So when 100s of people passed me in the last mile of the course -- because they could walk slowly faster than I could -- I felt no competitive urge to speed up or not let them pass.

But I had decided that at the end of the race, I would run through the finish line, no matter what it took. Walking through a finish line just didn't seem right. That expended the last ounce of energy I had. I felt as braindead as Louis (Rick Moranis) in Ghostbusters -- when a race volunteer asked, "Would you like to sit down?", I just did, without even asking, "Would I?" I spent the next half hour on the summit recovering, stretching, munching on grapes and pretzels, sipping water, and changing into warmer clothes.

Laurel found me on the summit! It was great to meet up with her then instead of back in Manitou Springs.

I think the only way I would do this race again is if I became a better runner. If I could run enough of the course to honestly call it "running" instead of "competitive hiking" I think I might enjoy it more.

* -- Actually, I was not over-hydrated. I drank over a gallon of water during the race and sweat it all out. My face was covered in salt.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Perseid meteor shower

Last night Laurel and I drove up to the Fourth of July trailhead and car-camped. The objective was to wake up in the middle of the night to check out the meteor shower, away from any light pollution. We picked up a pizza on the way.

Once camp was set up and we had each eaten half a slice of pizza, it occurred to us that it was still light out. We put the pizza back in the car and at 8pm went for a 2 mile trail run. We finished dinner in the dark and went to sleep.

It was cold at 12:15 when we got up! Laurel watched meteors with me for 5-10 minutes then went back to sleep. I stayed up shivering for another hour.

The Milky Way was very bright, splayed across the sky like a cloud. Some of the meteors went along its path, which was pretty cool. There were some huge ones, maybe 10-20 degrees of sky with tails that lingered (either in the sky or my retina, not sure).

I probably saw dozens in the hour I was out there -- awesome and beautiful -- definitely worth a cold night of little sleep. We got up again at 5am, packed up the tent in the dark, and head back to town (and then to work).

In the words of Dr. Higley,
How often at night, when the heavens were bright,
With the light of the twinkling stars
Have I stood here amazed, and asked as I gazed,
If their glory exceed that of ours.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lunchtime mountain biking

Biked to Wonderland Lake, then took the Eagle trail to the Res and back home. Map.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Trail runs

The big race is just 10 days away (yikes!). Laurel has been tapering down (good plan) while I have been tapering up -- I've only run 15 miles since I hurt my knee a month ago, so it's hard to go anywhere but up!

Laurel did a big run with a guy from the Boulder Trail Runners yesterday. They ran up Flattop Mountain in RMNP. Map of their route. Pictures.

Yesterday I got out for an early morning bike ride and ran up to the First Flatiron summit. On the way down I scoped out the Witch's Cabin (a rock formation near the First Flatiron).

If the trail I ran yesterday was brutal, then the trail I ran today was relentless! Every time I reached the "top" of a section of trail, it took a corner and went up even steeper! The trail I speak of is the Mount Sanitas Trail. It gains something like 1,200 feet elevation over 1.25 miles (18% grade).

I also ran down the Sanitas Valley Trail, then back up it, then down and up the Goat trail -- a bit more than 5 miles total for me today, and my knee is doing great! This map shows the trails, but not in the order I ran them.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


We saw goats today on our bike ride back from Chautauqua! They were near the Confluence eating weeds.

Spelunking, day 3

We wandered around today looking for McCarty's cave. Last time we tried to find it, we found a cave with a bat. The time before that we found a cave with a candle. What would we find today?

In order to provide some direction to our search, I wanted to try to identify the rock formations known as Eyes of the Canyon, Morning After, and Willy B.

Looking to the south from the candle cave at the Eyes, Morning After, Willy B, and Green Mountain Pinnacle

Unfortunately, just like last time, we scrambled up the gully between the Third Flatiron and the Eastern Ironing Board. Along the way we rediscovered the candle cave. I think the candle was burned down a bit more, so apparently we're not the only ones who have been there in the past 2 years.

Climber on summit of Third Flatiron

Once we realized we were atop an ironing board, near the Third Flatiron's summit (again), we decided to explore the area up there. We scrambled west along the rocks and identified the shared summit of Jaws and The Fin. Then further west to the summit of the Western Ironing Board.

The Morning After (Needle's Eye), from the south

From there we descended the gully west of that Ironing Board. It was pretty miserable. The gully was steep and overgrown. We had to turn around and head back uphill a few times to get past some drop-offs.

The narrow west face of Willy B

Once we made it down that gully we explored some nearby rocks that we later discovered were the summits of Eyes of the Canyon. From there we could see the eye of the needle in the Morning after and Willy B beyond that, so we explored each in turn before descending the gully back to the Royal Arch trail. No new caves today.

Summit of the Green Mountain Pinnacle

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bunnies and a coyote

Last time I saw a coyote prowling around p-town I thought there's no possible way he was getting dinner. The prairie dogs were making so much noise to warn each other.

Laurel and I went for a long bike ride this evening. On our way home, she noticed a coyote wandering around. We stopped and watched for a while. It was only a few hundred feet away. The p-dogs were going nuts. The coyote walked right over to a p-dog hole, picked up a p-dog, carried it 20 feet away, and had dinner! Neither one of us could believe how easily he did that, it was like a fast-food drive-thu for coyotes.

After dinner, the coyote peed on the leftovers (twice) and walked away.

Oh yeah. We also saw a deer on 76th St. and at least 4 bunnies along the Boulder Creek path.

My Run

I ran up Bear Peak on Friday morning with some folks from the Boulder Trail Runners group.  It was hard, but a lot of fun!

Click to see route.

I almost forgot...I saw a bear (running off in the distance), a snake, and a deer.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

IPW Backpacking, Day 6

The wind blew all night, right until we were ready to get up. I think I slept for 20 minutes, three separate times. Of course, as soon as the wind stopped and we got out of the tent, the flies were back. At least it wasn't raining though!

We had a quick breakfast of hot oatmeal and wanted to hit the trail early. The dark chocolate cheesecake from the night before had other plans, so our start time was pushed back to 7:30.

Upper and Lower Coney Lakes

The goal for the day was Mount Audubon and Paiute Peak. We have been on Audubon several times before in various seasons, but have never been able to traverse to Paiute. One time we tried to ascend Paiute from Mount Toll, but that didn't work either.

Blue Lake and the snowfields around Mt. Toll

To make it a loop hike, we decided to first travel off trail to summit Audubon's sub-summits. We tagged them all (two or three, depending on how you count) then picked up the trail for the last bit up Audubon. The number of other hikers surprised us, but then again it is a popular hike and it was the weekend.

Audubon's summit

We summited at 9:45 and decided to continue on the ridge despite the iffy clouds. Thirty minutes later we re-evaluated. Probably only 45 minutes from the summit of Paiute, we turned around. Once again, we shook our fists at Paiute!

As close as we got to Paiute Peak

Typical for this trip, it was hailing when we got to the tent. We waited out yet another storm, packed everything up quickly and hit the trail to the car. There were dark clouds to the south and north of us so we knew it would rain again.

We made awesome time to the end of the Beaver Creek Trail, talked to a park employee about the weather and recent rescue attempts (two days we saw low-flying helicopters and small planes overhead), and walked down the road to the Long Lake Trailhead where the car was parked. Not three minutes later the rain and thunder resumed.


We saw a lot of wet weather on this trip, but hopefully the pictures show that we saw a lot of other fantastic things as well.

The loop was about 30 miles and we made about 20 miles of excursions. Over 6 days we gained and lost 16,000 feet elevation. We attempted to summit all but one mountain (Thunderbolt / Blackfoot) that was on our original plan. We summited all but two peaks (Coney, Paiute) that we attempted. Overall, that's a successful trip, and it was a lot of fun too!