Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Winfield wanderings

So I've heard rumors and hope someone in the know can clear things up for me.  I heard a few months back about a "parallel trail" to the Winfield Road that was being built to help alleviate congestion during this section of the LT100.  When I heard this, I assumed there would be a ribbon cut right next to the road, but as I drove in to Winfield to do some Nolan's scouting last night, I saw no such thing. 

This morning I thought I'd sniff around Sheep Gulch and get a look at the south side of Hope Pass.  About 1/3 of a mile in, though, I found a trail splitting off to the left.  It looked interesting, so I followed it, not sure if it was going to be of the uphill or downhill variety.  Turns out it simply traversed the Clear Creek valley a couple hundred feet above the Winfield road.  It had more ups, downs, turns, and other trail-ish stuff than the road, and ran about 3 min per mile slower.  It climbed from 10,200' to about 10,550' at its high point before dropping down to a 4WD about a half mile west of Winfield proper.  It was fairly new and well-maintained until just before that junction - looks like it was constructed in the past month or so.  However, it wasn't complete - it turned into a social trail for maybe a quarter to a half mile on its west end.  It also dropped onto the road later than I had expected.

So I'm wondering a few things.  Is this the trail I heard about?  I assume so.  Are there plans to change the course to take advantage of this trail?  Will distance be cut off elsewhere or will the course just get a little longer?  And how much slower would the race run if this trail is used?  (I'd estimate 10-15 minutes)

Sheep Gulch TH is bottom center.  "Parallel trail" starts where the red line takes a sharp left, 10:30ish direction

Monday, July 2, 2012

Lake City Lessons, Tenmile almost Traversed, Nolans run-thru countdown

To not mention the Lake City 50 would do disservice to a wonderful ultra, wonderful town, wonderful time with wonderful friends.  I do believe that the benefit of recency has fleeted, though, so I will give the quite abridged version.  Maybe I should have titled this:  how to compound a problem by overcompensating for it, how to be a bonehead, how not to do your nutrition, or plain ol how to try hard to do the right thing and still bungle it.

I wanted to not pull a Matt Carpenter by putting it all out there in late June just to find the tank hadn't refilled by Pb.  Knowing how hard it would be to not all-out race SJS, I figured I could force the issue by spending uber time in the mountains preceding the race.  Interesting philosophy; I was miserably sore when I woke up on Saturday morning.  With no desire to push on trashed legs, I quickly settled in way back of the leaders.  I estimate I was in 50th place by the time we hit the trails at mile 2.5. 

Everyone around me settled down eventually, and I rolled into the Williams Aid station feeling better than I did at the start.  I had 'gotten ahead' on nutrition, having put down some gels to go along with a very concentrated mixture of Hammer Perpetuem.  Up the Carson climb, I found a VERY comfortable pace, but it still found me reeling in runner(hiker) after runner. 

Once on the divide, I began to wonder how things were shaking out and even considered seeing what was under the hood.  Around mile 28, a spectator informed me I was in 8th place.  I could see 3 or 4 shapes up over the next ridge.  How did THAT happen?  About the same time I decided to throw down a little bit, my nutrition began to fall apart.  I realized my Perpetuem mixture was beginning to haunt me - just the thought of another sip made me nauseous, while I began to crave plain ol H20 like crazy. 

At the Yurt aid, I attempted to catch up and put down a large quantity of water.  Things seemed to be more under control until I realized that none of the water I drank was going anywhere - it was still sloshing around in my gut.  Probably needed some salt!  The steep downhill from mile 35 to the Slum aid station saw me give back a good half-dozen places as my stomach began cramping bad enough to force me into walking. 

When I pulled into Slum, I took a HUGE pull straight from a Morton's shaker and washed it down with as much water as I could handle - which wasn't much, considering how much was sitting in my stomach at the time.  Within a mile from Slum, I discovered two things.  #1 - yes, I was correct in assuming I was sodium deficient.  The major bloating and such I had experienced went away, and suddenly I found myself able to sweat again.  #2 - I was now way too rich in sodium and thirstier than I can ever remember being.  I had just jettisoned my second water bottle at Slum and had sucked the one I had dry within the first mile after Slum.  WTH.  I walked/staggered nearly every step from mile 41 to the Vickers aid, losing a few more places in the process.  If there had been an easy way to DNF here, I would've done it in a heartbeat.  I would've drank water from a rancid pond had there been one.  I would've even drank a PBR.

I pulled into Vickers at the same time as past champ David Phillips.  He was having a rough day as well.  We spent a good five minutes at Vickers, just trying to catch up on hydration, food, and life in general.  I bounced back a little bit in the remaining few miles, but the damage had been done.  I staggered to the finish in 14th place, 10:31 after I started.  My goal of not trashing myself had not been met - I felt pretty awful upon crossing the line.

In the ensuing week, I've bounced back fairly well.  I took Sunday and Wednesday off.  Got a pretty good (for me) effort in on Quandary Thursday, getting up in 65 and change.  Spent nearly 10 hours above treeline on Friday as I got in three thirteeners most of the Tenmile Traverse before bailing at Peak 4 due to weather.

Quandary's reclusive north face

Treeline in McCullough Gulch

Peak 10, looking south towards 9, 8, 7, etc


Not your standard mountaineering route

Peak 8, looking east to Breck

I think this must've been the view south from Peak 5 or so.  Pacific should be the pointy one to the right and further off than the other pointy one, Peak 10. 

After 7 hours, my reward finally sat in front of me - the fun scramble from Peak 4 to Peak 1.  Shortly after this picture was taken, it got dark and thunder-y real quickly, and I bailed east just past the low point of the ridge

Heading out to the Arkansas River Valley tonight to do some last-minute scouting for the Nolan's course.  Looks like Brandon and I will have some company.  Promises to be a good time, that's for sure.  Happy 4th to everyone, and I'll see you all in a week.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Arrow Peak from Beartown

Before I moved to Colorado, I had never heard of In N Out Burger.  I believe I met my first California transplant within 10 seconds of arriving here, which means I was already well-informed of the virtues of In N Out by second 12 or so.  It wasn't until a few years later, when I traveled to the Golden State for a triathlon, that I actually got to measure the experience against the hype.  I distinctly remember not being very hungry and only getting one burger, but having just a taste made me want to go back.  I'm pretty sure that the buildup helped make my first In N Out experience a good one.  Similarly, my first trip to the Grenadiers has me wanting to get back there in a big way.

The Plan
I found myself with a great problem:  being in Lake City with no firm plans between the Wayzata trip on Monday-Wednesday and the San Juan Solstice 50 on Saturday.  Instead of putting a ton of miles on the car going back and forth between Lake City and the Springs, I decided to do a little climb instead.  My Lake City 50 plan was to take it easy, avoid going to the well, and make sure I still had some gas in my tank for the upcoming training weeks.  I figured putting in a big day 48 hours before the race would "encourage" me to do just that.  Put another way, I thought two days just under my physical/recovery threshold would be more beneficial than one huge day way beyond my threshold.

Thus, the plan began to take root.  I had mentioned my intentions to Jake a week previously.  After spending a few days off the grid, I returned to Lake City for some coffee and a shower.  It was there that I received a text from Jake telling me that he and his buddy Grant were in for a trip to the Grenadiers and would be rolling into Lake City momentarily.

Our tentative plans was as follows:
Wednesday noon - depart Lake City for the Beartown Trailhead.
Take the Upper Elk Creek approach to the Vestal Basin, or make it as far as possible before dark.
Climb Arrow, Vestal, and the Trinities at a "climbing" (not running) pace on Thursday.
Hike out Friday morning.

The Approach
Simply put, Beartown is out there.  Maybe 20 miles as the crow flies from Lake City, it still took us nearly three hours on some pretty rough jeep road to get to the trailhead.  Lots of very cool scenery along the way, though.

The Rio Grande River, about a mile upstream from the Rio Grande Reservoir.

After quite a few miles of rough 4 x 4 road, we came to the supposed crux of the drive:  fording the Rio Grande.  Sadly, we were correct in assuming that a late-June crossing wouldn't be problematic this year.

Crossing the Rio Grande.  It could definitely be scary in a normal year or with a vehicle lacking high clearance.

The "other" Kite Lake - this is about 2 miles past the Beartown Trailhead and where the Jeep road finally ends.  We felt about as far from civilization as we could possibly be at this spot.

"Selfie" from the trailhead
 We departed the trailhead at 6:00PM on a beautiful Wednesday evening.  The first two miles of hiking found us climbing from 11,500' to a high point of 12,600' on the Continental Divide.  The views in the first two miles were big.

Looking west from the beginning of the trail

We eventually would get to the top of the ridge in the center, veer left(south), then take a right where the Elk Creek trail split off of the CDT/CT.

One of a few abandoned cabins.

Atop the Continental Divide.  The view from here is staggering.
Roach states that from this point, it's a 4.4 mile descent to the Vestal Creek/Elk Creek junction.  This is incorrect - the distance is closer to 5.7 miles.  Luckily, it's hard to miss the beaver ponds that signify the turnoff into Vestal Basin.

Breathtaking.  Elk Creek drops down to the left of this shelf.

Looking down the upper Elk Creek's valley.  Notice the switchbacks in the left foreground; I've rarely seen a trail cut so cleanly through such a pristine place.  Very, very little evidence of people cutting the switchbacks.

I believe this is 13,627' White Dome

Trifecta of wildflower colors.

Looking east, back at the divide after descending the switchbacks into upper Elk Creek.

What makes this approach interesting is that it's a big net elevation loss.  You start at 11,500', climb to 12,600' in 2 miles, then descend for the next 5.7 miles to approximately 10,000'.  Of course, this means you end up re-ascending nearly 3k on your way back out with heavy packs. 

Heart of the Wenimuche

I believe this is 13,475' Peak Two.
As the sun dropped lower, we decided it best to set up camp near the beaver ponds where Vestal Creek joins Elk Creek at 10,000'.  We knew that the initial climb into Vestal Basin was fairly steep.  Anyone who has ever done a multi-day trip knows the dilemma - how far to hike with full packs?  Jake and Grant were both fit, and we figured to be able to get up to the base of Arrow quickly with an early enough start.

The "Snag"
I told Grant I didn't know how to share this important part of the trip without throwing him under the bus.  He replied that he should be thrown under the bus, but I think both Jake and I need to take a little bit of the blame.  The conversation went something like this:

"So...dudes.  I, uhm, didn't bring any food."
"Well, OK, I brought these four beers.  But, yeah.  I don't have any food."

Grant apologized to both of us for forgetting food.
Jake apologized to me for not checking with Grant beforehand.
I wouldn't apologize to myself for not checking with Grant and Jake.  I know that backcountry protocol involves everyone laying out all of their gear beforehand to eliminate redundancies and avoid problems like this.  That didn't happen.  Further compounding the problem - both Jake and I went as bare-bones as possible on food to keep the weight down.

Thus, the plan had to change.  With all of our remaining food laid out in front of us - including the 960 beer calories - we clearly didn't have the ammo needed to make a sweep of the Vestal group, let alone hit them AND hike the uphill 8 hours back out to Beartown.  Whether we could even get one peak in was up in the air.  We decided that the best course of action would be to call Grant a lot of four-letter words, eat most of his food, cover him in honey, stick him in the bear bag overnight and hope for nature to take care of the rest.  He resisted this plan.  Instead, we chose to play it by ear and maybe at least get up one peak in the morning.  A rationed dinner made, tents set up, and we were sawing logs by 11:30.

Arrow Peak
Alarms woke us a little before 5:00.  Skipping out on most of our planned breakfast, we ingested a bit of caffeine and began the climb into Vestal Basin by 5:45.

Crossing Elk Creek can be problematic; with the low rainfall this year, we found it to be trivial.

Vestal and the Trinities come into view.

Getting to the upper basin proved to be a little more challenging than we thought; we couldn't find the turnoff for Arrow in the thick underbrush and ended up bushwhacking quite a ways east.

Vestal's famous Wham Ridge

Traversing back to Arrow's base

Getting ready for "the ramp"

"The ramp"

Arrow's ramp is mellow at first, but gradually steepens as you approach the summit

The classic Vestal-from-Arrow picture.  I used to think anyone who free soloed Wham was a nutjob; after both seeing it for myself and talking to two guys who have done it, I'm thinking it's doable if you don't mind a lot of air under your butt.
We initially just took the left ramp up, keeping an eye on the traverse options to the right ramp.  A little past 13,000', though, Jake and I talked.  It appeared that the left ramp/ridge might go.  The rock was super solid - much moreso than the class 3 right ramp.  Grant was comfortable enough to give it a shot, and we found ourselves with nearly 1k of class 3+/4 bliss all the way to the summit.

Kudos, mountain goat.  13,750' and you must've been rockin' it when you snagged this on a rock.
 We re-joined the standard route maybe 50 feet from the summit.  I'll say it again - if you prefer solid rock with exposure over looser but less steep stuff, forget the ramp.  Stay far left, almost till you hug the NE ridgeline, and you will find one of the most enjoyable scrambles you've ever had.

Summit - 13,803'
 I wish we could've stayed on the summit all morning, but we had a LONG way to get back to civilization.  4 hours to camp, another 4 to the car, another 3 to Lake City, and another 5 for the other two to get back to COS.  Not only that, the longer we stayed, the higher the chances that our lack of food would come back to haunt us.  We chose to descend the standard route.

Descending.  The lower/left(when up-climbing) ramp is clearly visible here.

Looking down at the lower meadow before descending into it.  There was a tent; we also saw two guys over on Wham during our ascent.

We'll be back.  With food.
 We were back at camp by 1:00 and heading back up heavy by 2:00.

One last look from the beaver ponds
 The trip back up to the Divide was rough.  I bonked in a serious way.  Jake, being the Navy guy he is, dropped his bag off at the divide, ran back down the trail, met me at the bottom of the switchbacks, and took my bag from me.  His justification was that I needed to save my legs for Saturday's fun run.  Truth be told, the damage had already been done.  24 miles in 24 hours doesn't wreck me, but it surely doesn't leave me feeling fresh the next day!  Nonetheless, Jake, I again thank you.

All downhill from here.
 We got back to the jeep a few minutes before 6:00 - it took about 4 hours for us to hike out.  We were out of food, and the next challenge was to make it back to Lake City for dinner before the town's seemingly mandatory 9:00 closing time.

Mmmmmm, burger.

We did make it to Lake City in time, getting in our orders for Pork Taco's at Southern Vittles at 8:45PM.  Food is amazing when you're starving.

Our approach.  Beartown on the left.

Climb into Vestal Basin.
Closer view of the scramble.  Ascent is generally the left line, descent is the right.

Closing Thoughts
  • The Beartown/Upper Elk Creek approach is special.  Remote, spectacular, time-consuming, and rewarding are all apt descriptors.  
  • Arrow is one of my new favorite climbs; only on Capitol's "North Ridge Direct" have I found that much continuous class 3+/4 fun.  
  • I think if I could do it all over again, I would forgo the heavy pack and daytrip it from Beartown.  Making it from TH to Beaver Ponds with a light pack could be done in half the time, and the re-ascent of Elk Creek wouldn't be so bad if one was traveling lightweight.  
  • Vestal looks 100% pure fun; the Trinities do as well.
  • Grant owes me dinner.  Preferably In N Out Burger.