Wednesday, November 2, 2011

LT 100

Two and a half months.  That's about how long it is from Pikes weekend to the end of the high school cross-country season here in the lovely state of Colorado.  It's also how long I give myself to step away from formal training for a while.  This year, it seemed like a good idea to step away from this project as well.

The hiatus has been worthwhile.  Coaching exhausts me in a way unexplainable.  From a training standpoint, I'm lucky to get in 40 miles a week, and most of that is garbage mileage.  All that time focusing on others' goals and dreams gives me a much-needed break from the self-absorbency that this sport asks of its participants.  While this blog isn't about that aspect of my life, I am proud to share that both the Cheyenne Mountain boys and girls finished 3rd at the Colorado Class 4A state meet.  Both were state champs last season, but suffered some pretty heavy losses due to graduation.  3rd for these teams was a huge accomplishment, and I again cannot put into words how proud I am of these kids.  In the past 5 years, the boys have not qualified, gotten 8th, 2nd, 1st, and 3rd.  I predict some good things in 2012.  I know I'll be available to coach, as I will likely need some time off...

...which leads me to the catalyst for posting today.  This evening, I made it official - I am signed up for the Leadville 100 next August.  Finally ponying up to it after a couple years of lip service feels right.  I'm already looking ahead to doing some serious work as the day draws near!  Anyone who knows me won't find it to be a surprise - Leadville has been calling me for a few years now.  The calling finally got too loud to ignore...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

D-D-D-Doubler! 2011 PPM

I recently overheard my high school cross-country coach tell one of his current athletes the following:

An old coach of mine once said to me- "you can't put in what God left out." My response then and now... "Well, let's see how much he put in."

Saturday was a pretty rough day on the mountain.  I was dejected, to say the least.  This marked my third disappointing Ascent in a row, and afterward I didn't even feel surprised.  Not because I was unprepared, but because I was used to the disappointment of falling short of my perceived capabilities when it came to this race.

What made this year's disappointment different than those of 2010 and 2009 was that once I was done with those years' races, that was it.  Race season OVER.  Suck it up.  Reflect.  Stew.  Move on.  This year, I intended to come back and run the Pikes Peak Marathon the following day.  I didn't have the luxury of sitting back and letting answers come to me.  I had to make some immediate changes to my racing strategies to ensure I didn't put together yet another above-timberline gong show.

So what did I alter?
I decided my struggle on Saturday was likely caused by three factors:

  1. An overly aggressive early pace
  2. Insufficient hydration on a hot day.
  3. Insufficient nutrition.

To address, issue #1, I punched a slower finish time - 2:50 - into the trusty ol' pace calculator and committed to memory some of the early splits.

Issue #2 required I change how I like to race.  I decided to carry a water bottle on Sunday.  Some folks have absolutely no problem with this, and I don't mind running with one for long or slow days.  However, carrying any extra weight in the "sprints" has always felt unnatural and uncomfortable to me.  I bit the bullet and filled up the bottle.  I figured if it truly was a hinderence, I could ditch it up top.

For issue #3, I forced myself to come up with a more structured "plan" for what I was going to eat and when I was going to eat it.  On all of my PPA races, I had always gone light on calories, choosing to eat anything between nothing and two gel packets.  On Saturday, I had just the two gel packets.  While I never felt underfueled, it just makes sense that I probably was.  I stuffed an easy-to-digest energy bar and two gels in my water bottle holder and another two in a pouch around my waist.

All three remedies forced me into a "slower" mindset - one that got me ready to expect a longer, less pedal-to-the-metal type of day.

I was not surprised to find that my warm-up was painful.  I went through all my pre-race motions, just accepting the fact that I was one sore dude.

2011 Pikes Peak Marathon
Just prior to the gun, I lined up with a few of my peers.  While I smiled and let them think we'd all be running near or with each other, I fully expected to lose sight of them within the first few minutes of the race.  Right from the start, I continued to hurt.  Every step I took sent dull pangs of discomfort throughout my body - a grim reminder of the experience I had endured the previous day.  All I could think was "How the @#$%@# am I supposed to come even REMOTELY close to a respectable effort today?"  The only answer I had for myself was in the fact that others before me had done just that, so I knew it must be possible.

As the field sorted itself out on Manitou Avenue, I found myself a few strides behind GZ and Brad.  I could feel a different energy from the field - more relaxed than the front of Saturday's race.  Whereas virtually no one around me on Saturday besides myself walked the steepest paved section of Hydro, a majority of the marathoners switched to a powerhike on that stretch.  Brad began to disappear above me, but GZ and I were essentially matching pace somewhere around 40th place as we hit the top of the W's in 33:48.

Not much happened through the tame part of the course.  GZ and I played accordian, switching leads, but never leaving each other's sights.  Every once in a while, Brad became visible in the distance.    Every time the slope angled up, GZ, would catch up and blow by.  Whenever it dropped or flattened, I took the opportunity to open up my stride and would re-take the lead.  I had no choice; I only felt OK when I wasn't climbing!  Through Barr Camp in 1:28, I met up with Harry Harcrow and worked with him through the Bottomless Pit sign.  GZ had dropped a little, but Brad was now clearly visible ahead of me. At this point, I had no clue what was in store for me up above the trees.  Another meltdown?  My legs were bricks, but they weren't cramping like they had on Saturday.

A-Frame to Summit
I hit A-Frame in 2:08 and change - a full 12 minutes slower than the previous day.  Brad and I found ourselves in kind of a no-man's land.  Dude was delirious from altitude, as he chattered constantly for the next mile and a half.  I had sadly been alternating between run and walk for a very long time now.  My walk wasn't as fast as Brad's, but my run was, and I was running for longer stretches, so I went ahead and passed him a little before the 2 to go sign.  It wasn't a very confident pass; I just figured as long as I could keep squeezing in good running pulls, I should.  Matt passed me on his way down soon thereafter.  After a long gap, Daryn came into sight on his way down too.  This was somewhat expected.

What happened next, though, caught me completely off-guard.

I thought I was in about 30th at this time.  I expected to start seeing the trickle of downhill traffic turn into a full-fledged downpour, but I kept climbing and climbing and no one came.  I made it past the 1 to go sign and realized I was in MUCH better shape on this day than the previous one.  I realized there were quite a few guys within just a couple of minutes of me and a strong last mile might get them.  Most importantly, I began to realize that with a strong descent, I could end up catching a ton more.  I ran hard but comfortably through the last mile, passing a good five or six guys just past the Golden Stairs, and a couple more just before the summit.  When I hit the turnaround in 2:59:30, I had counted 18 guys in front of me.  Of those 18, almost half of them were within striking distance.

I got rid of my water bottle - both to save weight and give me two full working hands in order to catch myself in event of a spill - and sprung down from the summit like a shot.  Within a minute, I had passed two guys.  I felt like I was dancing on the rocks; the descent was coming so easily to me and I was thrilled.  By the time I hit the cirque aid station, I had passed a bunch more and suddenly found myself in 12th.  I knew exactly what top 10 meant and realized that if I held together, I was going to get it.  The thought pushed me as I caught another and yet another guy before AFrame.  JV was somewhere in that mess.  Just as I hit AFrame, I went by a cramping Brandon Stepanowich, who had been in 8th place.  This was the last downhill racer I would see for a long time.  Passing Brandon was one of my friends, it pained me to see him struggling, and it didn't look good for him.

A-Frame back to Barr Camp only took 15 minutes, but it was an eternity.  The initial high of moving into the top 10 had worn off.  My quads were beginning to remind me what they had been through in the previous 26 hours.  As I dropped lower and lower, the temperature rose.  I began to call out, "BARR CAMP!??!"  I knew my pace had settled into something a little more pedestrian and the fear of getting caught creeped in.  Eventually, one of my calls for camp was answered, and I rounded a blind turn just to find Teresa and the crew there to refuel me and cheer me on.

The lower parts of the course were lonely.  Barren.  I felt someone gaining on me, but couldn't see a soul.  I tried to visualize another competitor struggling in order to focus myself on what was ahead instead of behind me.  The uphills sapped any remaining energy I had.  The downhills had become tiring.  I was hanging on by a thread.  When I hit the Bob's Road aid station, they told me that someone had indeed just left the station and had maybe two minutes on me.  I redoubled my focus and visualized catching him.  At the same time, I tried to shut out the feeling that I was also being hunted.  The aid station workers at No Name said I was less than a minute away from 7th...I tuned everything else out.  I remember nothing except trying to make up ground and being aware that I was running out of distance in which to do it.  Just before the top of the W's, two pro Euro cyclist guys emphatically pleaded to me, "fifteen seconds, allez, allez!"  Finally, I heard footsteps!  Just before I hit the Incline Cutoff aid station, I caught Corey Hanson - who was still going at a decent clip.  I tried to put a surge in to lose him for good, but he stuck with me and I could still hear his footsteps a switchback behind me.  Suddenly, my stomach turned.  Those weren't a set of footsteps I heard - that was two pairs.  I looked up, and there was Brandon, flying down like he was being propelled by an outboard motor.  I knew there was no holding him off for the next two miles.  At the same time, I was so proud of him - he had found a way to bounce back from his cramping issues at AFrame and had put together a very strong descent of his own!  (I soon learned of some sort of salt shot off of Teresa's wrist that cured him.  Not sure what that looked like...)

Oprah ran 4:44, right?
Hitting the pavement, I found myself alone again.  Neither Brandon ahead of me nor Corey behind me were going to alter the order by now.  As I passed the Cog Railway, the reality of what had happened started to hit me.  I was going to top 10 the Pikes Peak Marathon after throwing up a stinker the day before!  A spectator at the cog shouted a word of encouragement.  I gave a thumbs up in response, and next thing I know, all of the people waiting at the cog were cheering me on.  The number of people lining Ruxton continued to increase the closer I came to the finish, and the emotion traveled to my face.  When I saw my good friend and training partner Amanda with a half to go, my day was officially made - she couldn't hide the shock to see me so soon.  By the time I passed her, I was smiling ear to ear.  I came around the last corner into the crowd, and crossed the line in 4:37 and change, good for 8th place.
Tired, happy

Here is a comparison between my Sunday ascent and Saturday ascent by section.
Start to Hydro - 30 seconds slower Sunday
Hydro to W's - 2:33 slower
W's to 7.8 - 3:07 slower
7.8 to Camp - 3:07 slower
Camp to AFrame - 1:49 slower
AFrame to 2ToGo - 1:37 faster
2ToGo to 1ToGo - 2:32 faster
1ToGo to Summit - 4:37 faster

Gutsy race by Brandon.
Courtesy of

Top 10.  Courtesy of
Post-Race Thoughts
Nothing like ending on a high note!  While my plan has been to race Leadville next August, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about coming back for another PPM.  With fresh legs, I think it could be an even better experience.  Yes, I've thought to myself, "How fast could I have gone had I been fresh?"  Coulda.  Shoulda.  Woulda.  I chose to double, and I'm glad I did.

The awards ceremony on Sunday was fun; not just because I was happy with my performance, but because I had the opportunity to talk to so many friends and other competitors.  I'm not alone when I say that the past few days have been anticlimactic.  I need a new goal...soon!


Double results

Sunday results

This song...I guess it just makes me happy.  Mellow. least for a little bit.

Monday, August 22, 2011

D-D-D-Doubler? 2011 PPA

Pikes Peak is the 30th tallest mountain in the state of Colorado.  At least 42 other peaks are classified as more technically challenging than Pikes.  It lacks many of the jagged, heavens-searing features that many other peaks sport.  It's terribly unremote - one can have better luck grabbing some solitude in a shopping mall than on the summit of Pikes.  So what is it about this giant pile of rocks that seduces me so?  As I reflect upon this past weekend and my experience on the mountain, one thing is clear:  over the last five years, this mountain has practically become a part of me.

Previous to the weekend
Moved to CO in 2003.
"Ran" the Ascent in 2005, when I weighed 25 lbs more than I do today.  4:04.
Tried again in 2007.  3:10.  Began to think breaking 3:00 was possible.
2008 - 2:53 in a blizzard as a warm-up race for the last Ironman I ever did.  Thoughts of sub-2:50 entered my head.
2009 - 2:44 with a meltdown up Barr Camp in 1:15.  Thought I could get into the 2:30's.  Laid out the plan - post a good time in 2010, move on to Leadville in 2011.
2010 - more fit than 2009.  Easier pace through Barr, 1:17.  Blew up horribly anyway, finished in 3:21.  Left a terrible taste in my mouth.  Couldn't believe I had squandered another possible sub-2:40.  Decided I had to come back - Leadville could wait.

But why the double?
I wanted more on my plate.  Shaving a few minutes off of my PR simply wasn't enough to get me going.  After many years of scoffing at the idea of coming back down the mountain, it suddenly sounded appealing.  Just before signing up in March, John O'Neill caught my ear and suggested I double.  I was lukewarm to the idea at first.  After all, how would I run a strong round trip on tired legs?  Two factors eventually sold me:  1)Doubling seemed like a rite of passage.  I knew too many people who had done it, and had seen from afar some who had even done it successfully.  It would be fun to try and join that crowd.  It also seemed to play better into my eventual transition to longer distances.  If I shy away from a 39-mile weekend, how could I expect to go after 100 miles in a shot?  In the end, I ponied up for both races.  In the weeks before the races, I started to think about dropping Saturday to focus on the round trip.  I must've changed my mind one hundred times.  It wasn't until a few days before the weekend before I finally committed to the Double.

Weekend Goals
My season had gone well.  I managed to PR at Barr Trail when almost everyone else struggled.  I ran well in Vail, Salida, and Buena Vista.  Knowing how I screwed up in '09 and still went 2:44, I figured I could possibly run in the mid-2:30's.  My workouts up top had gone well.  The pace calculator matched up with my efforts.  It was all laid out for me - I would leave nothing on the trail Saturday.  Once done with the Ascent, I would only then begin to even think about the Marathon.

Ready to rock.  Gun went off, familiar faces surrounded me.  Ratcheted down perceived effort a couple of notches from my previous time trials, but still came through Hydro a little hot in 9:30 (2:30 pace).  I must have been in 50th place at the time.  Tried to tone it down a notch, still on the fast side at the top of the W's in 30:35 (2:32 pace), still around 30th.  More conscious effort to hold back saw me at the 7.8 sign in 1:01:20 (2:34 pace) feeling comfortable.  A spectator told me I was in 25th.  A struggling Kevin Morgan said he had been in 23rd when I passed him.  I felt for him; hurting so early was a bad omen.  So far, so good.  Barr Camp came and went in 1:19:10 (2:36 pace) - slower than 2010, and significantly slower than 2009.  I'd done a ton of work up above timberline this season, so I felt I might have finally solved this mountain.

Bottoms up, Kevin!
Wrong.  Bottomless Pit sign in 1:31:31 (2:37 pace) and my only company was a struggling David Phillips.  As I made what turned out to be my final pass of the day, I began to realize what my splits were already telling me - I was SCREWED.  My hamstrings began to tighten up.  I started walking...just a step here and there at first, but by A-Frame I was doing more shuffling than running.  By now, the bottom was falling out.  A-Frame in 1:56:30 (2:44 pace). Visions of my 2010 meltdown came screaming into my head...I couldn't bear the shame.  It was deja freaking vu.  Few people passed me in that next mile, but the line was approaching.  That's the horror of struggling up see your fate.  Not just the pain above you, but your fate below you in the form of all the others who are there to make you pay for being stupid.  2 to go in 2:15:34 (2:47 pace).  For the third time in 4 years, Michael Hagen passed me on the long straightaway. 1 to go in 2:33:19 (2:51 pace) and people were passing me left, right, over, under, and through me.  I was dizzy, definitely not feeling good, and just trying to get off the mountain by this point.  Kevin Morgan, who was in a world of hurt himself, caught up to me and joined in my pity party for a bit.  With a little less than a half to go and our respective races both in the tank, we accepted a kind offer for PBR from "Nacheaux" a crew of rabid fans.  We tipped our glasses to a better run in the future, took a few pulls,  and then went about our business.  Kevin's business involved passing by me just after the pit stop.  When the noise of the crowd hit, there was nothing in me to go.  My last mile ticked by painfully slow in over 22 minutes, bringing me home in a disappointing 2:56:30, which was good for 44th place.  Results here.

I really wanted to stay up top and catch up with so many of my friends.  I fought the urge and got off the mountain on the first van down.  Did the best job I could of refueling and refocusing.  For having such a struggle, I bounced back quickly and felt surprisingly strong by Saturday afternoon.  I began to think I might actually be able to get up the mountain in a respectable time on Sunday.

Looking at my splits from my armchair, it's quite obvious I was out too fast.  It's also interesting to see how the splits were telling me this IMMEDIATELY, yet I thought all was good until past Bottomless Pit.  One more reason why I think things like splits should be respected.

But this is the part I still struggle with.  If I'm capable of a 2:35 yet 2:30 pace even for 10 minutes puts me in the tank, how come everyone else that runs a 2:35 can get away with it?  While it seems I'm out too fast, THE ENTIRE FIELD is out too fast.  Kim, who ran 2:34 and rocked the world, must've been through Hydro in 9:00 and the top of the W's in 29:30.  I'm confused.

Nutrition.  I'll get more into that on my PPM report.  For PPA, it was scant.  Carried two Accel Gels.  Hit up an average of two gatorades at every water stop.  Ate Gels near Bob's Road and A-Frame.  Had to pee the entire race, finally pulled over around 2 to go for over 60 seconds.

Regardless, I changed some things up on Sunday.  The results were...different.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Went to the summit of Pikes again today.  Brad joined me; plan was to get a little bit of intensity in.  Met up with a few other folks, but all in all the summit was desolate when we got there.

14:26, 14:06 for the top mile.  Compared to the 15:30's on Sunday, I'll take 'em.  Supposedly, that's what a 2:17 feels like.  I can't wrap my head around that.  Still, Matt went sub-12:00 on Sunday for the same stretch.

It's encouraging to see improvement over the same stretch in the course of less than a week.  I doubt it's because of increased fitness.  Could it be that physiological adaptation at that altitude works that quickly?  That seems like a stretch, as well.  Maybe it's psychological.  Whatever the case, I'm feeling somewhat confident that I've got a quick time in me - and hopefully two - next weekend.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Garmin

Remote controlled by a Garmin 310
I'll admit it.  I'm a slave to my Garmin.  You know, that big honkin' alien-transceiver looking thing.  Gawdier than anything Elizabeth Taylor ever wore.  Weighs 12 lbs.  Beeps and shakes every couple of minutes.  Makes it miserable to run, right?

I held off for a while.  I thought to myself, "Why don't these runner geeks put the tech down for a second and just enjoy running???"  Isn't running about getting out there and just going?

Well, I'd like to share with you lessons I've learned from my transformation from tech-loather to lover.  I'm now a firm believer that for some folks, one of the best items they could purchase is one of those crazy GPS units.

Mile repeats, 15:30 pace.  Push the flats below
and above the 16 Golden Stairs.
One of the strongest arguments I have for using a Garmin is the feedback it provides.  In Colorado, I don't have the luxury of driving the loops I run.  I can't really use applications like map my run or the USATF mapping tool due to the nature of the terrain around here.  Those apps are only really effective when you run on streets and sidewalks.  (can you imagine the horror in that??? haha!)  Wear the Garmin on a loop just one time, though, and you know what you're dealing with.  It also records elevation gain and loss, which is a critical piece of info to track for any somewhat serious mountain/trail runner.  60 miles with 12k of gain is a helluva lot more time on feet than 70 miles and 2k of gain.  The Garmin also provides you with your current pace.  Not information you need constantly, but there certainly are instances where that information is invaluable.  The difference between LT pace and a pace that tears you down is a pretty fine line; having the Garmin there to keep you from blowing it is amazing.  The visual interface and ability to actually see what you've done for the day is nice, too.   For instance, I have run the top mile of Pikes enough to become familiar with particular switchbacks.  When I see an image of my Sunday workout, though, I can easily recognize and put in perspective each of the twists and turns.  Just by looking at the picture above, I know see just how far into the last mile I go before hitting the 16 Golden Stairs.

Another factor to consider is how well GPS units like the Garmin aid you in honing feel.  Anyone who is serious about his training needs to be able to tell the difference in his pace beyond "hard" and "easy."  I know many programs in college that expected their runners to be able to tell the difference between a 7:00 mile and a 7:05 mile.  I also know that once you're dialed in, that's not only possible but somewhat simple to do.  Since most runners tend to start races, workouts, etc too quickly, the Garmin can keep you in check until you find your groove.  Instead of having to wait a full mile to get that first pace check in, you simply look down at your watch and see if it matches what you perceive.  It's cool when those two start to jive with increasing frequency.

Possibly the biggest advantage I've found to owning a Garmin is in how it has motivated me.  Before I had one, I could only estimate how far I ran in any given week.  When I'm actually tracking that number, I'm much more motivated to bump that number up - to get out the door on a day where I'm otherwise feeling lethargic or to tack on that extra loop just to hit double digits.  It's fun to see what I've done and to challenge, to one-up myself.  I can also tangibly see differences in my fitness by comparing similar workouts across different points in time.  It's powerful stuff to see that I'm 30 sec/mile faster on a given loop now than I was last, maybe the miles ARE adding up.  When it comes down to it, the Garmin causes me to get my lazy butt out the door more, for longer, and faster.  Not sure how an addiction like that can be a bad thing.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Barometric Pressure?

For geeks like me, this article by local distance guru Alan Versaw is pretty fascinating.  I haven't begun thinking of all the ramifications it could have on comparing performances across the state.  Just boils it all down to head-to-head I guess.  FWIW, I derive some sick pleasure from working my ass off just to run 10 (or 11 or 12 etc) minute miles on any given run whereas anything over 8 minute miles at sea level was considered dog-slow.

Teacher's summer kindasorta ends today, as we have a training class spanning the rest of the week.  Next week is our last week off, then back to it on the 15th.  Doesn't much affect my training, as I thrive on routine.  I notice the difference in the little things that fail to get done during the school year.  Dishes, oil changes, home improvement projects tend to get pushed to the back burner.

Elk Park crew - 7/30/2011
Got up to Elk Park last Sunday for some altitude.  Brandon, who writes for pikespeaksports, scared up this cool entry.  Third time this summer - I'll probably get up there twice more before PPA/PPM.  I splitted 2:29 pace for the top three miles this time.  Sure would be nice, but I can't wrap my head around hitting that pace down low.  I would be quite happy with any type of PR on Saturday.  Maybe - just maybe - one that starts with a 2:3x.  Sunday could be quite frustrating/challenging, as many of my peers will be fresh.  The competitive entries have been listed, and PPA is about as deep as last year.  Heck, up front it could be deeper, with a good 10 guys clamoring for 2:15 or faster.  Three years ago Manning was 2nd with a 2:19.

Instead of hitching back to EP, Brandon and I
came up with a fun descent line.

This shows our descent.  The 5 miles back to EP
took 1:50.

Picked up a pair of Inov-8 Road-X 233's last week and have put a few miles on 'em.  No surprise - I'm quite happy with their fit.  It's kind of strange to even own a pair of "road shoes" again, but given the options surrounding my new residence, it makes sense.  I estimate I am running approximately 20 of my 60-70 miles a week on pavement.

A little dramatic, but since today marks the first day of the new school year...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Data and the pace calculator

A little Pikes rehearsal this AM - approximately 3 miles from the start to the top of the W's.  Running waterless from my place, I simply tried to put in an effort equal to the first half hour of the Ascent.  (I note this because some folks run this "tempo" all-out, much faster than they will run it on race day)  Splits:

to Ruxton - 3:08
to Hydro - 10:03
to Barr Trail - 16:40
to "bigass rock" - 27:40
to top of W's - 33:23

The good ol' pace calculator suggests that today was not how I want to run on Pikes weekend.  A 10:03 Hydro split done properly is good for a 2:39:30, whereas a 33:23 W's split is pace befitting of a 2:46:00.  Furthermore, the 23:20 between Hydro and W's is what a well-paced 2:49 would run.

At this point, half of you already have figured out what this means, and the other half could care less.  There is a large contingent of 'naked' runners - those who believe that the Garmin is the devil.  They have no need for watches or data; they just run.  They go by feel.  They believe there is no need for all this high-tech gadgetry, that it just means you're taking yourself too seriously or missing the whole point of running.

To the Garmin-haters:  point taken, but let's agree to disagree.  I'll dedicate a whole post to ya'll soon.  Till then, brush up on your graph-reading skillz.

In the meantime, I took this away from today.  I was kind of disheartened by my slowdown on the W's.  I most definitely didn't feel like my effort was spiked to Ruxton or anything, but I definitely don't want to push the W's as hard as I did today.  If my effort was greater than what I'd like to feel on raceday and my time was slower, I can come up with a few possible reasons.

  1. Possibly I'm just not in the shape I have been in previously.  Doubtful, as my previous race results suggest otherwise.
  2. I could've been running on legs that were more fatigued than I expected.  Possible - I ran Elk Park 48 hours ago and yesterdays easy run felt like death on a stick.  Would that be consistent with a 2:39 pace to Hydro and 2:49 beyond?  Possibly, as the fatigue may be less pronounced on flatter terrain.
  3. The calculator could be flawed.  I hate to say it, but I find that doubtful.  The Ruxton split is always in question, but I trust the Hydro and W splits.  As one who has not had recent success above timberline, I most definitely am trying to respect the clock down low.

I will get a couple more opportunities to run this same drill in the upcoming weeks.  Optimally, a 2:40 pace will be easy next time out.  If not, I have no problem adjusting my goal to a pace that does feel manageable for the full 13 miles.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Marley's Chains

If you recall Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by his long-deceased business partner Jacob Marley.  Marley shares visions of Scrooge's past, present, and future...the sight of Scrooge's fate if his ways were to remain unaltered is enough to scare him sober, or in his case, to scare him selfless.

Sometime around midnight last night, I was also paid a visit by Mr. Marley.  

DISCLAIMER - this post is extremely frivolous.  Keep in mind, I wrote it for myself.

Background on the SnowCap double
The Snowmass - Capitol ridge.  Insanity.
I've made it no secret my desire to complete some form of the SnowCap double - that is, to combine the summits of Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak in one climb.  To do either peak in a day is no joke.  Snowmass's standard route is the longest of any of the fourteeners at 21 miles.  It is almost always done on a long weekend with a hike in to Snowmass Lake.  While it can be accessed from it's west side more expediently, it is still not a common feat.  Capitol, while "only" 17 miles, is one of the most time-consuming standard routes and is even less frequently done in a day.  Most parties opt to camp at Capitol Lake in order to give themselves plenty of time to negotiate Capitol's challenging upper reaches.  I've done both as day trips - Snowmass in May 2010, and Capitol twice later in the summer.  While it takes some fitness to do this, it hardly is a jaw-dropping feat.

To combine these two mountains,  Now THAT would be a challenge.  The number of parties who have done the "traverse" - that is, to follow the connecting ridge between the two - can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.  Furthermore, this feat has never been done in one shot.  Parts of this treacherous ridge were done on separate days.  This is not to take away from these guys - I am simply in awe over the fact that it's been done, and I believe it is far beyond my ability level to negotiate that much spicy terrain.  Anyone who reads the trip reports will likely come away with the same feeling I had - absolute awe, but no desire to try it for myself.  Cave Dog did them in a day when he climbed the fourtneeners in less than 11 days, but I am nearly certain his route was not the ridge proper.  There is documentation here of a multi-day trip through the Pierre Lake basin done by another party, and I suspect it is also the route Cave Dog chose.  It is also the route I have been eyeing up for nearly a year now.

Two summers ago, I laid out a five-day trip that found me on the top of eight summits.  It was an appropriate challenge given my fitness and experience levels.  Last year, I wanted to set a more lofty goal, so a climbing partner and I attempted to do the four great traverses in four consecutive days.  We were unsuccessful, getting pushed off of the Little Bear - Blanca ridge due to high winds.  However, it became clear to me that it was well within my grasp given optimal conditions.  This summer, my wish was for SnowCap.  I had scheduled an attempt on July 4th, but my partner had to bail and there was no way I wished to try this on my own.  Enter Mike.

Mike and I have done not so much mountaineering together, but his resume is impressive.  Dude climbed Denali a few months ago.  He also has the aerobic fitness and technical skill to pull off a 20+ mile, 8,000' day fraught with exposure, routefinding, and other fun stuff.  Just a few days ago, I talked of this route to him, and his eyes lit up.  Game on.

What the hell were they thinking?
In nearly every fatal accident in the mountains, a theme emerges.  Basically, a laundry list of "things done wrong" could be seen by even the casual observer when hindsight was applied.  Let me shelve all ego and list factors that contributed to the visit from the aforementioned Jacob Marley.
  1. I ran Pikes on Thursday and my legs were leaden.
  2. My hip flexor was tender from a good week of training - Friday called for a flat recovery run so as not to push it to the brink of injury.
  3. I had gotten very little sleep on Thursday...and may have had a couple more beverages than what is considered good.  I spent most of Friday in slow motion due to my own irresponsibility.
  4. Mike and I got impulsive and changed our departure time at the last moment - from 3AM to 9PM.  Yes, we got off on the idea of doing the first half of this climb IN THE DARK.
  5. I was disoriented and felt as though we may be off route by the time we approached Snowmass's base.  My knowledge of Snowmass's west face told me that many huge boulders made it treacherous.
  6. When I confirmed that we had overshot and were off-route, we attempted to traverse south over said talus instead of backtrack and re-approach it cleanly.
  7. As we hopped from talus block to block, I was having difficulty making clean pushes due to the pain in my hip flexor.  I remained stubborn and continued on.
The picture has been painted.  Any of these mistakes on their own was manageable.  However, the combination of them all made a potential disaster imminent.

Close Call
I pushed off from one boulder to another, and then it happened.  A Sean-sized boulder began to roll out from under my left leg.  Had I had full strength, I may had been able to balance out of it.  That was not the case.  My balance thrown off, I went down with the boulder and my left leg began to slide under it.  I was mortified. Everything slowed down and I could see the worst-case scenario so clearly in my head.  I anticipated a snap that would be my lower leg getting crushed between the falling boulder and the stable one below it.  I envisioned being pinned, or at least being rendered completely immobile many miles and hours away from any hope of rescue.  It was terrifying.
That's it??

Somehow, the snap never happened.  The boulder impacted the one below it on a spot other than my leg, saving it from most of the pressure.

In a daze, I picked myself up and tried to recollect my composure.  Mike asked if I was OK, and aided by a massive rush of adrenaline, we continued on in the direction of Snowmass's summit.  Within a minute, though, I was so far behind Mike that it became clear to me - we were done for the day.

The journey back was tedious.  While I had escaped relatively unscathed, the fall had still beat me up pretty good.  I struggled to put my full weight on my left leg, and any uneven surface was painful to land on.  Talus fields and stream crossings were the worst...but the feeling of imminent doom had passed.  We got back to the car sometime before 4AM and caught a few hours of shut eye.

So what's the big deal?
Yeah, I totally get it.  Legit question.  Here's the difficult part to talk about.

I was a dumbass, and I nearly paid for it.  I should've paid for it.  That was much too close a call for me to shrug off.  Much like the ghost of Jacob Marley, I was visited by haunts of what could've or should've been.  This caused me much time for reflection.  Questions arose in my head that refused to go away - what was I thinking?  Why is this fun?  Should I really be climbing stuff like this with a son?  Why hasn't my frontal lobe developed?  Marley's ghost painted visions of a future for me that was not pretty.  The future that found me stuck Aron Ralston-esque, waiting for SAR to come pick up my sorry ass.  The future that had me gimbling around Cale's soccer practice with one leg.  The future that had Cale suddenly fatherless.

I'm so angry with myself for falling into the trap of believing I'm invincible.  I honestly thought I could do anything on a mountain.  "Eh, SnowCap double?  Sure, let's do it in darkness!  Off-route?  No problem, we're too good to be affected by that mere inconvenience."  The list goes on and on.  Over time, I've evidently allowed myself to experience what I'll dub "ability drift", where I began to think I could handle things that I can't.

Have I learned anything?
I sure as hell hope so.  Here's the thing, though.  I'd love to complete the double some day...but...if I don't, it doesn't mean I'm a failure.  I don't want to be out wandering dangerous mountainsides in darkness.  I don't want to attempt difficult routes when I'm not on my "A" game.  I'd never just "wing" an important race.  I'd get good sleep beforehand, eat properly, and make sure I was ready.  My mountain trips - at least the ones that are meant to challenge me - need to be approached the same way.  Pulling a Cave Dog?  I think that is out of the question now.  I owe that much to Cale.

Looks like I'll be able to handle a short run within the next day or two.  Hoping to be 100% before mid-week.  To even have the luxury of worrying about a small detail like my training shows just how fortunate I am.

I realize this is an extremely long post about something that is nearly a bunch of nothing.  If you've found yourself following this, I apologize.  Too wordy.  But thanks for bearing with me as I shake off the sound of Marley's chains.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Elk Park

Finally got around to padding my Pikes summit count with a run from Elk Park this AM.  Just looking for some time up high, and while there's really no such thing as an "easy" run up the face of a 14,000' peak, I wasn't looking to trash myself.  Top three miles in 15:00, 15:30, 17:30.  I originally planned on dropping down and doing another mile up, but decided against it.

Good conversation here on the merits of HA training.  Kinda like the debate over belief in a god, what I believe doesn't really change the reality of it all.  BUT FWIW I don't really buy the 'need to get up high a ton' theory.  I'm sure it helps...but the benefit I get from runs like today's are psychological.

My twin passions of mountain running and mountain climbing frequently come into conflict.  This summer has been no exception; however, unlike past years, the mountain running has prevailed.  I've been on far fewer climbs for fear of toasting myself for the next day's workout.  Call it a function of success...or maybe it's the other way around.  Regardless, I am planning on a little adventure Saturday that may not be in Sean the mountain runner's best interest.  It should make for some good times, though.  Hopefully, I can turn it into an interesting write-up as well.

I feel kind of invincible when this song gets stuck in my head.  It's definitely not for everyone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Barr Trail Mountain Race

Near the finish.
Photo courtesy of

I fell in love with the Barr Trail Mountain Race the instant I finished it the first time in 2009.  There's a beauty to its simplicity - go up, tag Barr Camp, come down.  Furthermore, my familiarity with both the course and many of its participants and spectators make it fun - there are always plenty of folks to catch up with after the race.   The timing of the event, only five weeks out from Pike's weekend, seems to add to the draw.  By mid-July, the top guys are beginning to fire on all cylinders, so the competition can be quite stout.  This year's field was missing the likes of Matt Carpenter, Ryan Hafer, Ricky Gates, Peter Maksimow, and Alex Nichols.  All five of these guys put up blazing sub-1:36's in last years edition.  However, rumor had it there would still be some strong guys in attendance - supermaster Bernie Boettcher, Pike's usuals John Tribbia and Daryn Parker, long-time sandbagger Doug Ryden, Olympic Trials marathoner Trent Briney, to name a few.  In addition, there seemed to be more second-tier guys than usual.  This just meant I wasn't going to find myself in no-man's-land for long.  I was as excited as ever to have a good day!

After the Summerfest half, I took one full week to do nothing but easy runs in hopes of getting some life back in my legs.  Scarily enough, I was still feeling the effects of the race (no spring, quick to fatigue) as I began to warm up.  While in actuality the temperature was already quite high, I honestly didn't notice it as being out of the ordinary.  In fact, the similarities between conditions 09 to 10 to 11 seemed quite eerie to me at the time.  As the countdown to the gun drew near, I placed myself somewhere in the second row and put myself in a calm place.

Knowing I lacked a spring in my step, I decided to settle into a pace even more conservative than usual.  Within a few hundred yards, I counted a good thirty runners in front of me.  Not much changed as we hit the W's as I found a sustainable gear and locked into it.  GZ and I exchanged a few words as I caught up to him - he was out conservatively as well.

I got to the top of the W's in the mid-21 minute range.  This was nearly a full minute slower than 2010, but I felt no panic as my plan was to have a strong uppper climb.  By now, I had slipped into the top 20, and over the next mile I moved past the top four ladies.  It was a real bummer catching up to Brandy Erholtz.  She is perhaps one of the nicest people I have ever met, and it was evident she was laboring as the top two girls slipped away from her.  I wish ill will on no one, but it's even harder to see such a good person struggle. 

I approached No Name Creek just in time to grab on to a train of three guys, and the four of us worked together for the next few minutes.  I later came to find out that the group included Falcon High School's Bryce Gregorie, who is one of the top three cross-country returnees in Colorado.  I could now taunt my Cheyenne Mountain boys: "Heck, even I beat Gregorie, you better do it now too!"  While my legs were still leaden, my breathing was much more relaxed than that of anyone around me.  It was around here where I conciously turned the real race button on and started to push things a bit.  I went off the front of the train and began hunting. 

Approaching Bob's Road, I was unsure of my place, but figured it must be somewhere around ten to twelve.  I caught a couple more guys before the turnaround, and then began to wait for the top guys to start passing me on my way down.  To my surprise, I made it much further up than in years past before Scott Gall, Daryn Parker, and John Tribbia came zooming by.  A large gap followed them, and shortly before the turnaround, I caught a glimpse of Bernie Boettcher, Doug Ryden, and two other guys I didn't know.  Wow - these guys were all so close!  I knew both Bernie and Doug were downhill monsters, but I wasn't so sure about the other guys, so I went on the offensive. 

I caught Trent Briney within a few minutes.  He didn't seem to be enjoying the downhill.  I knew the chances of catching Bernie or Doug were slim, but anything can happen, so I continued throwing myself down as fast as I could go.  Another runner - Tate Benning, I believe - eventually came back to me, and I found myself in 6th place with just under two miles to go.  It didn't last long, I hit the W's, Bryan Rawlings caught me as if I were standing still.  There was nothing I could do but watch him ride off into the sunset.  I finished up as dignified as possible, taking the final uphill turn and kicking it in in 1:46 and change - good for 7th place.

This was the first race in 2011 I could use as comparison to past years, and I'm actually quite pleased with the results.  I shaved about a minute off of last year's time.  That in itself is OK.  However, it seemed that almost all of the front of pack runners were a good two to four minutes off of last year - Bernie, Tate, Brandy, Amanda, GZ to name a few.  I know comparing my 2010 vs 2011 placing - 18th vs. 7th - is a comparison of apples and oranges - but it does help suggest that I'm in a good place this summer.  Five weeks until Pikes weekend, and I seem to be on the right trajectory. 

Many thanks to all the people who put the BTMR together - John O'Neill, the Colorado Running Company, Neal and Teresa, the high school volunteers at the aid stations...the list goes on and on.  I had the opportunity to catch up with tons of runners, including a rare Krupicka sighting.  BTMR is a great race, and one I will likely return to do no matter what the upcoming years bring!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summerfest Half-Marathon

One of the peculiarities of mountain running results is that they are hard to compare.  More often, you will hear statements like, "That guy is fast - he's a 2:29 marathoner" or "his 5k PR is in the 15's, so you know he has some speed."  I feel my fitness has improved quite a bit this season, but I have scant data to prove it.  With this in mind, I signed up for the Milwaukee Summerfest Half-Marathon so I could see where my fitness is at a "standard" distance.  A flat course at sea level in a city where I have many friends - what's not to like?

Let's just say I'll have to wait in order to post a meaningful time.

Heading up over the Hoan Bridge.  picture from
High temps and humidity did its share to decimate the field.  Of the people I talked to, most were between 4 and 8 minutes off of their PR's.  My 1:21 was nothing to write home about, and it sure wasn't a pleasant way to run such a pedestrian time.  Within the first half mile, it was evident that only suck would come out of the day's effort.  My legs still carried the weight of this week's two big runs, and I, like many others, could not regulate my temperature at all in the heat.  While I severely positive splitted, I still found myself moving up the field in the latter stages of the race.  I ended up 31st...nothing like what I was hoping for and a good two minutes out of the top 20.

I've recovered well from it and am now focusing on Sunday's race up to Barr Trail.  There has been talk of a thin men's field, but I think there will still be some solid performances.  A few of the bigger names:

Bernie Boettcher
Trent Briney
William Dillon
Matt Hill
David Roche
Gerald Romero
Doug Ryden
John Tribbia

BTMR is one of my absolute favorite races.  Barr Trail, Manitou Springs in the summer, BBQ at my place afterward...what's not to like?


Friday, July 8, 2011


Ran Mt. Princeton on Wednesday with JV and Brandon.  12 miles, 4,900'.

The last time I was on Princeton was a somewhat unique experience.  In May 2009, Mikey, Hixon and I pulled off our first night hike...which was how I wanted to first do Princeton.  While it's a breathtaking sight as one enters the Arkansas River valley from the east, the standard route is aesthetically quite unappealing.  It's this unappealing-ness that makes Princeton a prime candidate for "gimmick climbs."  When JV emailed me about running it earlier this week, I found it hard to say no.  I had planned an "easier" run up Pikes from Elk Park for later in the week, but this seemed to be a comparable climb.

With a 7:00 meeting time, I found it preferable to drive out the night before rather than respond to a 4:00 wake-up call.  I drove up to the radio towers at 11,000' and bivy'd for what seems like the hundredth time this summer.  Parking the jeep at this point offered for a good stash point so we could go light.  My plan was simple; run down the road and hope to hit the lower trailhead (8,900') right at 7:00.  I left a couple of minutes late and caught JV on the intial uphill.  Within seconds, I realized what was happening here - he was AFTER it!  I quickly peeled off of the hot pace and checked in with Brandon, who was a couple hundred meters behind him.  After exchanging a few words, we both just settled into a gear and climbed.

For all of its non-redeeming qualities, Princeton does offer a long stretch of perfectly run-able trail.  I soon found myself in an almost-comfortable zone, and the valleys began to rise around me.  I got back up to my jeep an hour after I had left it.  Ahead was the real work, though:  3,100' more climbing, with much of it above treeline on rough terrain.  I could see neither Jeff ahead of me nor Brandon behind me.

An added bonus when one runs a fourteener is the amount of strange looks you get.  Wednesday was no exception.  Making it even more worthwhile was that Jeff had already run by everyone, so encountering TWO crazy guys (and soon to be three) was truly mind-blowing for them.  Priceless.

I was able to keep a good running cadence until about 12,400'.  After that, the trail had deteriorated to a bunch of large talus blocks.  Not needing to take any chances, I simply elected to hike this part...not that I had much choice - the last 1.0 had a solid 1,500' of gain!  Jeff passed me at 13,600' on his way down.  That kid was making some serious time, but of course he threw in a "Oh, I'm sure you'll catch me on your way down."  About ten minutes later, I tagged the top, said hi to a few others up top, and started the journey home.

The descent was uneventful.  Brandon and I crossed paths about where I had run into Jeff.  "THIS IS HARD," was all he had to offer.  I reached 12,400' with relief - slogging was even less enjoyable today than most days.  Monday's run was definitely still affecting me, and I just wanted to be done.  Luckily, parking at 11,000' meant I didn't have far to go in order to finish.

JV, Brandon and I grabbed lunch at Eddyline post-run.  I'll tell ya what - runners are runners no matter where you go.  I can go anywhere and pick another runner out in a crowd simply based on how he acts, how he talks, what he says.  Getting to know these two guys was a case in point.

I'm in the middle of a three-day stretch of recovery.  Sunday, I'll be crossing over to the roads to run the inaugural Summerfest Rock n Sole half-marathon.  Conditions seem to be conducive for me to take a shot at my 1:18 from earlier this year.  I have barely done any work sub-6:00 over the past few months, but I'm stronger than I've maybe ever been.  We'll see how it turns out...

Monday, July 4, 2011


Drove out to Winfield on Sunday night when I caught word of some mountaineering buddies hosting a "party" atop Huron on the 4th.  I needed to get some climbing in, and what I remembered of Huron was that it is quite run-able.  Runnable?  Runable.  Whatever.

Winfield 4WD trailhead(10,500') to Huron Peak(14,003')
1:25 to the top.  Spent maybe 40% of the time running.  Not sure what it would be if I would've tried redlining it, but I was still a little spent from a good workout on Sunday.  There was plenty of celebration up top - three hours later, our group of twelve or so staggered foolishly back down the mountain.

If I could repeat weeks like this last one - 72 miles, 14k of climbing - I'd be strong.  Hoping this is a sign of good things ahead.  Time to get on the Peak.  Possible 3/2/1 this week!  Headed to Milwaukee for a a PR bid in the 13.1 on Sunday.

I kinda miss these guys.  A forgotten band.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Six months

1,307 miles.  152,000' of gain.
7.2 miles and 835' per day.

I'd guess I'm on the low end mileage-wise.  Maybe not so much with the climbing.  Where are you?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

All these maps

The past two weeks have been quite routine-busting.  On one hand, I long to get onto some sort of schedule.  It makes scheduling things like runs much easier.  However, running while away from home has it's advantages.  There are few things as pleasant as runs like the one I had a few days ago in the Huerfano Creek Basin.  I have been in the mountains the past few days with kids and coaches from my alma mater.  Yesterday, we climbed Mt. Lindsey.  When we arrived the day before, the kids did a 15 minute shake-out run.  I joined them and then just kept running.  I decided I'd go explore a little bit.  Two hours and change later, I was back in camp, having made it up to 12,000' Lily Lake.  I really didn't want to turn around, finding it much more enjoyable to just keep taking in the sights.  Being overshadowed so completely by Blanca and Ellingwood...indescribable.  I want to go back and camp up there.

Lily Lake trail from 1.2 miles below the

Mt. Lindsey with Wayzata kids

I know the Garmin maps are kinda cheezy, but I do like the visual of what I've done for the day.

Some more pics from the trip.

Blanca and Ellingwood

Blanca's Gash Ridge



The kids on the summit

What comes up must come down

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bottomless Pit Sign

Memorial Park to Bottomless Pit sign
17 miles, 4,700' gain
I guess I needed a sacrificial lamb.  Today I put one up there - a miserable, puttering crawlfest up the east side of Pikes.  This is about when I start running up Pikes a LOT - and I can't help but check my watch at certain points on my way up.  Today's run will be an easy baseline to exceed - 1:46 to Barr Camp and 2:06 to the Bottomless Pit sign.  (for comparison's sake, I have reached Camp in 1:18, 1:16, and 1:25 the past three Ascents)

I saw plenty of familiar faces on the peak this morning, including Cory and Kim Dobson.  Kim has been on fire lately and would have been a favorite to make the Mountain Team, but she's focused on Pikes this year.

This wasn't a surprise.  I've been at 10,400' this whole week, with the CMHS XC team at our High Altitude Training Camp.  I had a great tempo workout on Gold Camp Rd. earlier in the week, and placed 2nd to one of the HS alumni at the 1st annual Crazy Clyde Hill Climb - a 2.0 mile time trial that gained over 1,000' from start to finish.

The Wayzata team is coming in tomorrow afternoon - 8 kids, 3 dads, 2 alumni, and 2 coaches.  We'll be down in the Sangre de Cristos Monday through Wednesday.  Another three nights at 11,000'.

Another gorgeous summer afternoon here in sunny Colorado.  Makes me want to just sit outside on my porch for a while.

Monday, June 20, 2011

COS Bravado

Colorado Springs has the best trail system in the United States.

There.  I said it.

With all due respect to those who reside in Boulder, Ft. Collins, Flagstaff, Bend, and Eugene...I just don't see how it could get any better than what we've got down here in southern Colorado.  

Let me clarify - I don't care about bike trails.  Sure, those are nice.  I'm not talking about rugged jeep roads.  They're better than pavement.  I'm talking about ribbons and ribbons of singletrack, snaking for miles in every mountainous direction for what seems like infinity.  Another disclaimer - you better like to climb.  There's no getting around that down here.

Why this sudden burst of bravado for my hometown?  I went for an easy couple-hour run yesterday and linked up portions of numerous trails - Seven Bridges to Pipeline to Jones Park to Buckhorn to Captain Jack's to Columbine - and realized just how little of the surface I scratched even on this 10 mile loop.  When Brownie hosted the Ponderous Posterior, out-of-towners got to see a slice of what COS has to offer in Williams, Waldo, Barr, Longs Ranch, Intemann, and Red Rocks.  That's great and all...but there is a much more extensive web of amazing singletrack just to the southwest that went untouched.  When the missing link is built, the possibilities will go from limitless to...uhm, well, beyond limitless?

Runners World seems to think that places like Central Park are where it's at.  Riiight.  THIS is more like it.

Along the lines of whatever comes up comes out...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Patience - La Plata Peak via Ellingwood Ridge

La Plata Peak (14,092') Ellingwood Ridge
12.1 miles, 5,740' gain
Climbers:  Sean

"Because it's there."  George Mallory's famous response when asked why anyone would want to climb Mt. Everest.  Surely this is a valid reason for many people to want to climb mountains; it is for me.  But to whittle someone's rationale for doing just about anything down to one motive is just plain silly. was a good day in the mountains.  For - you guessed it - many reasons.  

I've thought long and hard about many routes I'd love to do if ever the opportunities ever present themselves.  Ellingwood Ridge on La Plata Peak has been on my radar for a while - normally an extremely long and somewhat technical class 3 scramble, this is one of the very few climbs in the Sawatch that doesn't feel like a 4,000' power hike.  

Two of my friends asked if I wanted to join them for a Saturday climb. The thought of attempting Ellingwood Ridge in late spring conditions, just to add to the adventure...I'm not gonna lie.  It kind of got me excited.   Neither of them had done La Plata before, and getting them to the trailhead was no problem.  I wanted a challenge.

I got one.

I had an amazing four hour nap underneath the stars in my bivy, woke up, got ready in the dark, and was off by 3:00AM.  The route description on stresses how adequate time must be given in order to complete this ridge.  Roach says, "It's grade III for a reason," hinting at it's length.  My buddy Kris climbed it last summer, and made it up in 6 hours when it was snow-free.  Our paces are pretty similar, but I knew I'd likely be running into some interesting route-finding challenges he didn't have due to the spring conditions.  Putting all this together, I knew I wanted to give myself ample time.  My goal was to just be hitting the ridge by the time it was light enough to see well.

Part I - gaining the ridge
The route description and Kris both talked about how the faint trail was as advertised.  While many parties have had to deal with trying to follow it in the dark, I also guessed I would be the first person attempting this route (and hence walking the faint trail) this year.  I just made sure I counted my stream crossings until I could get a good look at the northern edge of the ridge.  Sure enough, deer paths were more distinct than the hiker's trail and I found myself in a bog.  No bueno.  I estimate I added between a half and full mile during this section.  All was not lost, however.  I found continuous snow from 10,600' to 12,600', giving me an excuse to strap on the points and axe.  Little did I realize just how much I'd use my axe today.

The  introduction was over, as I now got my first view of La Plata and the 1.5 mile ridge snaking its way down to me.  I was already almost three hours into my climb, and feeling quite smug for making the decision to leave so early.
Sunrise over the Mosquito Range, Twin lakes in the foreground

Parts II, III,IV, V, etc, etc, etc - the ridge
Looks like keystone cops out there!
Ellingwood Ridge, just like most ridges, offers somewhat straightforward route-finding problems.  Stay on top when you can, escape to one side or the other when the ridge proper is impassible, regain the ridge when sensible.  Almost all of the escapes on La Plata are on the climber's left (east) side. Right away, I could tell that my day was going to be much more complex than it would be in say a month or so.  Snow of varying qualities guarded much of the easy passages below the ridge's most difficult portions.

First look at the summit

Looking back at the first problem

Let me take a moment and share reason #4,243 why I love to be in the mountains.  They teach me patience.  Instead of banging my head against a wall, panicking, or complaining about the difficult section, I've gotten much better at "listening" to the mountain.  What is it giving me?  Weighing alternative solutions to a problem that has been laid out in front of me takes time, and many factors need to be taken into account.  I've found I can't force decisions...just relax, and the solution will come.

A few examples of the snow on the east side of the ridge

The ridge itself ran consistently between 13,000' and 13,200'.  La Plata's summit loomed impossibly far away in the background for much of this portion, and never seemed to get closer. Each blind corner led to yet another and another, and I really had to take care on the snow when I'd drop to the east to bypass difficulties on the ridge.  I realized how easy it would be to get discouraged, so I broke it up into small parts.  Again - patience.  I worked away at it very slowly, backtracking often to find the easiest possible way through the labyrinth.  Sadly, there was nothing notable about this stretch.  No close calls.  No easy stretches.  No new views.  Just step after step of making progress on the ridge.   

East La Plata
I would say the net effect of the snow on the ridge's east side was that I was both more willing to stay on the ridge when I otherwise wouldn't, and to also look to the ridge's west side a bit more than I otherwise would.  It also consumed a LOT of time - seven hours into my day and I was still in the midst of the ridge, wondering how long it could be until...

Suddenly, East La Plata was before me.

Part III - ridge to summit
The view up to East La Plata was admittedly daunting, but I recalled the route description saying it was actually easier scrambling than the ridge itself.  Again, I found it to be challenging given the mixed conditions.  One thought that really didn't get in my head was worry about having to turn around deep into the route - I figured if I was able to negotiate the first of many cruxes on the ridge, I'd be able to negotiate them all...I just needed a little patience.

Left?  Right?  How about up the middle?
As it turned out, some of the most challenging terrain lay on this stretch.  The snow had filled in more spots than on the ridge.  Unfortunately, many of the 'walk in the park' contours around challenging obstacles weren't there for me.  Over eight hours after I had started, though, I had reached the summit of East La Plata.  From here, I found one or two sets of footsteps from folks who had ventured over to the eastern sub-peak from the main summit earlier in the day.  I was glad to not have to expend energy on anything other than following footsteps.  The footsteps led me to the summit, where I looked at my watch - I had been going for nine hours even.  It was noon and I had the summit to myself.

On East La Plata's summit...and tired.
Part IV - descent
I made quick work to get down the mountain, spending just enough time on the summit to grab some food and water.  I followed the standard route down, looking for opportunities to glissade or plunge step on snow fields.  Unfortunately, it had softened up too much to do anything but posthole, so I kept to the rocks for the majority of the descent.  Just to get it done and over with, I broke into a jog once I got near tree line.  After a nine hour climb, it took under two hours to descend.  Go figure!

I was looking for a challenge, and Ellingwood Ridge proved to be just that.  Having successfully climbed it today brought me a great deal of satisfaction.  I'm sure there's a saying out there about great challenges offer great rewards or something.  I'll leave with that famous quote.