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.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Still Working

School has been out for two weeks, and I've been adjusting to the new schedule.  For the past two weeks, I've worked at FUN CAMP with the XC team.  It's a good chance to make a few extra bucks and spend some time building relationships with the team.  It does take out a good chunk of the day, though.

This morning, I got in 2 x 4 miles on the Santa Fe.  7:00's down to 6:20's.  Yesterday, I met up with Peter and ran to the second tunnel on Gold Camp Rd.  I love meeting up with the guy; he gets me fired up about running every time.  Dude is racing so well this year - I'm excited to see how he will do in New Hampshire this year.

Garden 10 miler is Sunday.  All these years in the Springs, and I have yet to do it.  Just the thought of all those paved downhills makes me cringe.  I'd like to catch some of it - as touristy as it is, the Garden is still a pretty cool place to run.

Busy weeks ahead.  Traveling to Atlanta for the week, XC Camps with both the Cheyenne Mountain and Wayzata teams, and moving in near this guy.  Looking to hold about 80 miles/week through July.  I'm on pace this week and feel pretty good.

Kind of obvious what I've been listening to these days.  I gotta feel like Billy Talent is an acquired taste.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Snowmass Mountain's S Ridge

Snowmass Mountain (14,092') S Ridge attempt from Crystal Trailhead (9,000')
11.0 miles, 4,600', ~10h RT
Climbers:  Sean, Christoph

School just got out, and I've been itching to get outdoors.  My last trip to the mountains was 5 weeks ago.  Knowing I'd already be in Vail for the Teva Mountain Games on Saturday, I figured Sunday would be a great time to get away.  I was able to find a partner when my buddy Christoph caught wind of my plan and asked to join.  With a partner and a date, I now had to select an objective - to check out the west side of Snowmass Mountain and maybe take a shot at the aesthetic S Ridge if the conditions were right.

6/5/2011 Snowmass Mountain(14,092') S-Ridge
attempt from Crystal Trailhead (9,000')
10.6 miles, 4,600', 10h RT
Christoph and I left Vail in the mid-afternoon.  I wasn't totally trashed from the morning's half, but my excitement for the task ahead had definitely already abated a bit.  We knew that Lead King Basin was still inaccessible by vehicle due to snow.  This meant a hike in from the Crystal Trailhead, provided we could get a vehicle up the four-mile stretch of very narrow, rough 4WD road.

Just before the "town" of Crystal.  I swear I've
put together a puzzle of this backdrop before.

The drive didn't disappoint - my internal organs got a good workout from all the back-and-forthing.  We drove through Crystal, parked in a field, and hit the trail by 5:30.  It was still quite warm at 9,000', with temperatures still in the low 70's.

I recently ordered an Osprey Argon 110.  It's kind of voluminous, to say the least.  Just for kicks, I loaded it up with about 50 pounds of crap in an effort to see what it could do.  Well, it carried all my stuff, but combined with the race in the morning, the pack took a toll on me!  I was not my usual self, and simply trudged behind Christoph in utter discomfort for the entire evening.  

Snowmass Mountain and Hagerman Peak come into view
just before entering Lead King Basin.  The S ridge is
 the upsweep on the far left of the photo.
 We saw signs indicating we had reached lead King Basin around 7:00.  The runoff from Crystal Creek's North Fork was impressive, and it hasn't even reached it's peak yet.  There was still a lot of snow up here.  Conditions were such that we could still boot over it, minimal postholing but just enough softness on top to give a little traction.

North Fork Crystal Creek.  The only time we crossed was
at a bridge near the summer TH.

A closer view of Snowmass Mountain's
S ridge and west face.
When we set off, we hoped to make it to Geneva Lake before settling down for the night.  We knew we'd encounter snow, but I don't think either of us expected me to be dragging quite as much as I was.  With daylight fading and route-finding decisions up a headwall to make, we stopped at a ledge overlooking Lead King Basin.  We spent a half hour buiding a level shelf, porch, and small windbreak for the tent.  

As I went to sleep, I already guessed that a summit wasn't in the cards.  We weren't getting up early enough - the alarm was set for 4:30, but that wouldn't give us enough time on all that snow before it began to soften up.  We could tell that there had been some wet slide activity in the area recently, possibly two to three days ago based on the shade of the newly released snow.  I felt terrible after hauling the kitchen sink up, and didn't know how I'd feel in the morning.

Kind of neat to see the Bells from this angle.
A 4:30 alarm meant a 5:30 departure.  I was surprised to feel the hardness of the snow around us - forecasts had suggested a low of 36.  I began to wonder if the going may be a little easier than it had been the day before.  Sure enough, I was a new man with a lighter pack and a night's sleep and we made some decent time.  

A meander.

Geneva Lake.  S Ridge in the left background.

Wet slides.

Looking up at the different entrance options.  Roach suggests
either of the two couloirs on the right.  We chose the crooked
chute on the far left.
I wore Inov-8 RocLite 390 boots for the trip.  My Scarpa Charmoz fit me very well, but they're not very good for rocks, and the ridge itself looked somewhat free of snow.  The RocLites aren't nearly as stiff so are far from optimal for front-stepping with crampons, but they can still get the job done.

As we progressed above treeline, Christoph began to lose ground.  When we hit couloir, I could tell something was not quite right with him.  He just wasn't feelin' it as we approached the technical portion of the day.  At that moment, it was an easy decision - let's turn around.  The snow was still hard pack, but once sunhit came, it was going to be a different story.  Any decision now to head back was a good one.

We made quick work of the descent, enjoying a couple of long glissades.  We got back to the tent at 9:30 and got to packing up within a half hour.  The temperature was already quite warm, and I wasn't sure if postholing all day with my big pack would be much fun.
Lodging for a night.  That waterfall in the background
made it hard to sleep!

Mine caretaker's cabin.

As we passed the Lead King Basin TH, we ran into a cagey guy.  He saw us and at first didn't know what on Earth to do.  After a few minutes, he joined up and the three of us hiked out together.  His name was Paul - a 64-year-old mountain man.  He's been living in the caretaker's cabin year-round for the past 34 years.  We were the first people he's seen up there since late last fall, which is what surprised him.  Needless to say, the addition of Paul to our party made the hike out an interesting one.  We gave him a ride into the town of Marble, where we all grabbed some BBQ and beer at Slow Groovin' BBQ.  

Slow Groovin' BBQ in Marble
Paul the mountain man
not Paul the mountain man
There was no pouting over not getting the summit; it was a beautiful day and we had the opportunity to do something that few others would want to do and love every moment of it.  Furthermore, I am now familiar with the west side of Snowmass and will return soon.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Teva Mountain Games Vail Pass Half Marathon

Vail Pass Half Marathon
13.64 miles
10th OA

I have been to Vail for the Teva Mountain Games the past couple of years, and this summer was no exception.  The atmosphere during summer's opening week is hard to find elsewhere - a full-fledged celebration of all things outdoors.  Tons of stuff to watch, from BMX to fly fishing to dog jumping!  Many top athletes from the climbing, cycling, kayaking, and running communities also compete.  In some of the events, you do not need to be anything special in order to participate.  It is under this guise that I have been able to compete in the 10k in 2009 and 2010.  This year, I decided to try the Vail Pass Half Marathon instead.  In normal years, the course climbs from Vail Village at 8,100 feet to nearly the top of Vail Pass, at 10,600'.  Because of the huge snowfall this spring, they modified the course for the 2011 version.  The route was unchanged through mile 9.5, but then turned around and re-descended for 3.6 miles. With only a 5.6% average grade, this modified course took a lot of the bite out of the pain of the last few miles.

I'd been flat and sore all week long and felt terrible during my warm-up.  As the start drew near, I ran into many faces I haven't seen since last fall...the trail running community isn't exactly enormous.  We set off, and I quickly found myself sitting behind 25 or so others as we came through the first nearly flat mile in 6:15.  A group of about ten or so had already separated themselves from the field.  I estimate they came through in 5:10 or so.  As usual, I found myself running amongst the ladies' leaders - Brandy Erholtz, Melody Fairchild, Megan Lund, and Kim Dobson were all within five seconds of each other as we came through mile 3 in 18:20.

Once we got dumped off the trail and onto the main road in East Vail, the angle increased slightly.  Either people began pealing off or my pace had quickened, as only Dobson stayed with me through this stretch.  We didn't move up any places on this stretch, but a few guys that had gone out a little faster began to come back into the fold.  Additionally, two guys had dropped out, and a third - Ricky Gates - had begun to just jog it in with the intent of saving his energy for Sunday.  I believed that I was then somewhere near 18th at the time.

The last few miles of the uphill stretch steepened a bit more, and this is where I finally began to find some life. I passed a good deal of guys on this stretch, and pulled away from a large group behind me.  I had found another gear and was really pushing it, seeing just how much time I could put on those behind me.  When I came to the turnaround at mile "9.5" (it was really 10.0) I counted that I had moved into 10th place.  With nearly a minute lead on the next guy, I knew then that I had somehow scored myself - just barely - another top 10 finish.  The last three miles then clicked off - 5:30, 5:30, 5:35.  An extra half mile was thrown in by the race organizers just for kicks, and I finished quite happily in 1:28 and change.

Got to hang out with a bunch of cool folks at the finish line, including Peter Maksimow, Dylan Bowman, 10k trail winner Max King, the Erholtzes and Dobsons, and Megan Kimmel.  I made little haste getting back into Vail, though, so I could get ready for my Sunday adventure.

The audio quality is average at best.  Canadians.