Berthoud Pass

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sunriseI receive the email Friday afternoon informing me that the October 5th Boulder Marathon is cancelled.  I have made such a big deal out of this race that I’m stunned.  But only momentarily.  I quickly recover and register for the Denver Marathon October 19th before it’s full.  I’m fast to move on.

A few hours later, I drive up via I-70 to Idaho Springs.  I meet La Plata at the Tommyknocker brew pub at 6:30.  We break bread and share grape.  More specifically, we have jalapeno poppers and mac-n-cheese with red chili.  This is similar to Cincinnati chili, but with mac rather than spaghetti.  Very satisfying and highly recommended.  After dinner, we shuffle my van to the massive parking lot on top of Berthoud Pass and camp down at the Herman Gulch Trailhead off I-70 at exit 218.

Herman LakeThis site is less than ideal with incessant engine noise reverberating along the canyon walls throughout the night.  I don’t sleep well, but at least it’s warm.  We breakfast on oatmeal and trailhead coffee.  At 6:30am, we hit the trail.  We gain 3000 feet in elevation over the first six miles.  By this time, we also shed our cold weather gear and are down to running shorts and a T.  I wear my Pearl Izumi 2and1 ultra trail running shorts.  The long seam brief works well to protect against chaffing.  These shorts are great but could use additional pockets.  I’d like to see what I call a “shark knife pocket” stitched on the brief alongside the outside thigh.  It would be underneath the shorts so it would not be visible.  I’m thinking of two or three times the size of the gel pockets along the back sides.

saddleDespite the steep grade, we get in a little running each mile.  I can’t begin to describe how perfect this supple trail is for running.  You can see it well here if you click to enlarge this photo.  The ground feels raw with fresh dirt.  We’re quickly above treeline and mostly stay above 12,000 feet.  Our highest point is 13,200.  Not surprisingly for a trail following the Continental Divide, it runs mostly along the very top of the ridge with unbelievable views in every direction.  At one point, we are running a thin ridge lined with craggy rocks.  I feel like I’m running across Godzilla’s spine.

ridgeThe sun is out strong and creates interesting light between glare and shade along the ridge.  You can see how the trail undulates along the ridge in this photo with La Plata.  You can even see some snow to the right.  The cool air countered the full sun and kept us comfortable all day.  We both forget to wear hats but apply liberal amounts of sunscreen continuously.  Still, the backs of my legs are now sunburned.

beaver creek coupleThe muscles in the backs of my legs are hurting too.  The 6000 feet of total elevation gain is a tremendous workout for my calves, hamstrings and glutes.  This twenty-plus mile run along the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is perfect marathon training.  Rather than the three hour, twenty mile workouts I’ve been running on the weekends, this run will take eight hours.  We planned for eight and we finish with twelve minutes to spare.  Clearly, it’s mostly hiking, but at an aggressive pace.  Averaging over 12,000 feet, we are often winded as if we are running.  It feels great to be up here with light packs.  The weight in my pack is mostly from the 70 ounces of water in my camelback reservoir.  I also carry warmer gear should the weather turn bad – which it never does.  For nutrition, I carry Epic Bars and Hammer Gels.  I have Skratch mixed in my water.  The idea is to practice consuming what I will rely upon for my marathon to ensure my stomach can handle it and that it keeps my muscles from cramping.  Everything works out great.

rocksMy new trails shoes also do well.  These New Balance Leadville 1210s have a rock plate in the front of the sole.  I don’t feel it in there, these shoes are so pliable, but I never feel any rocks either so it does the job.  These would have been fine shoes to race the Boulder Marathon in, on that course’s dirt roads.  Their tread proves capable on this extreme trail by gripping loose dirt with confidence during steep descents.  My ankles are quite fatigued now, hiking boots would have provided better support.  But I love being able to run a trail with light shoes and pack.  I’m thinking though about buying new shoes for the Denver Marathon as that run is entirely on paved streets.  I’ve been thinking about buying a pair of Hokas.  I know they are a bit gimmicky, but everyone I’ve talked to, like Gadget Girl, absolutely loves them.  I would need to train in them of course first, but I have time for that.

jones passAnother new item I intend to pick up for the Denver Marathon is a gel-like snack La Plata gave me – GoGo Squeez.  It’s 30 calories less than my 90 calorie Hammer Gel, although 3 times the volume at 3.2 ounces.  Still, the real fruit content is yummy.  Not often you can say that about these sports foods.  Plus the twist cap is convenient and overall the pack is less sticky than gels.  There is nothing better than real food.  Fruit performs well in terms of supplying quick energy.  All these products do well on my stomach while running.  And fortunately, I didn’t have issues with the poppers from the night before.

berthoud passI expect to see more people out on this trail, being so close to Denver.  I can’t imagine a better day to be out here.  We do see a couple wearing Beaver Creek caps.  Several other hikers and one trail runner.  And a few bikers.  They really impress me with the technical nature of this trail.  Good for them though, riding on top of the world.

jennysSaturday’s 20.6 mile trail run was so much better than I could have imagined.  Perfect in every way.  From the weather, to our pace, to my conditioning that made itself evident.  Despite the altitude, my breathing felt strong.  And the workout my legs received will help me in the Denver Marathon.  We lunch at Jenny’s, a small cafe in Empire.  We both eat the half pound buffalo burger.  Very tasty.  We will meet up again next weekend for a forty mile backpacking hike along the CDT that extends from near Breckenridge to the Grays and Torreys Peaks.  We’ll be joined on this outing by La Plata’s college buddy, George Schools.  George is an extremely fit athlete from Austin.  This could turn out to be a three-day race under the load of 35 pound backpacks.  Can’t wait.

Muddy Trails

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muddy trailsWe’ve had some rain and snow the last couple of days.  That doesn’t help the trail conditions but the cool weather is a decent trade off.  This morning’s twenty mile run began in a crisp 43°.  It finished less than three hours later still under 60°.  The cool clime contributed to an 8:33 pace.  Twenty seconds per mile faster than last Saturday.

This is my final tough workout before the Boulder Marathon on October 5th.  Hoping for similar weather then.  I only drank one liter of Scratch and consumed the same quantity of Hammer Gels as last week – three for a total of 240 calories.  I plan to double that during the marathon.  I burned about 3000 calories and lost five pounds in two hours and fifty-four minutes.  An hour later, I feel great.  I’m ready.

To let you know, the race starts from the Boulder Res at 7:15am.  The course loops through the res again at the half.  Chris Price should be coming through the res on his first half at 8:45am.  I expect to pass through at about 9:00am.  Come out to support us and take pics.  Chris is pushing to break 3:20.  I hope to finish in 3:45.

Shoes & Brews

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Leadville 1210The day after last Saturday’s nightmarish trail run, I went to Shoes & Brews to buy this new pair of trail running shoes.  The New Balance Leadville 1210s.  This is how you recover from a bad run; you buy a new pair of shoes.  Running’s not complicated.

This was my first visit since they opened.  How brilliant is this?  They sell running shoes and related gear.  And they sell a unique selection of tap beer in an attached pub.  I still wasn’t feeling up to par Sunday, so I can’t critique the brews.  But I just like having the option.  They organize group runs along the Longmont Greenbelt on Saturday mornings and supply Scratch sports drink along the route.  Check them out.

I got some good runs in during the work week, although my legs felt heavy most days.  Felt so much better this morning though.  I went out early on the LoBo Trail for 21 miles.  The temperature started out well below 60°.  It was only 64° three hours later when I finished.  Rain clouds hung low, nearly kissing the ground.  I love Colorado clouds.

The cool weather supported a fast pace.  My goal wasn’t speed of course, simply the miles.  I suspect I started out fast to stay warm.  I ran a consistent 8:30 pace the first 12 miles.  I ran into Chris Price after 6 miles.  He ran 15 miles at a 7:30 pace.  Wow.  By 15 miles, I slowed down to a 9 minute clip.  My overall average came out at 8:50 per mile.  Makes me think, with similar conditions, I can expect to run a 9 minute pace for the Boulder Marathon in October.  Hope so.  Chris will be running as well and I suspect I might hang with him for his first two miles.  He starts out slow at around a 9 minute pace.  He’ll speed up to a 7 or so minute pace.  I imagine I’ll speed up to 8 minutes and then settle down to 8:30.  Then 9 minutes.

I started to feel fatigue today at 12 miles.  My arm started to hurt after 15 miles.  That’s not unusual in a marathon, that muscles you would not normally associate with running begin to hurt.  In addition to breaking in my new shoes, I experimented with two new nutritional supplies.  I loaded up on 70 ounces of Skratch in my Camelbak.  With the cool weather, I only drank about 30 ounces.  Scratch is brewed in Boulder.  It’s highly valued by runners and analysts for its even digestion on long runs and bike rides.  I also ate three Hammer Gels, one at 6, then 10 and again at 12 miles.  I was quite pleased with these gels because normally they make me want to puke.  These were so flavor neutral that I didn’t even need to rinse out my mouth after eating them.  I didn’t experience any gastrointestinal distress today so I think both these products will work out nicely for the marathon.  I’m considering wearing my camelbak so I can drink something more nutritional than the free Gatorade at the aid stations.

Runner Down

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running injuryI initially planned to run an easy 20 miles today on the LoBo Trail.  I say easy because that trail is so pedestrian and flat.  I changed my plans last night though to instead run a real trail at Heil Valley Ranch.  Running from the Wapiti Trailhead on the south end to the Picture Rock Trailhead on the north end, and back, is 18 miles and considerably more challenging.  It will be nice to run a real trail again.  I couldn’t wait to wake up and go Saturday morning.

I start a bit before 10am.  I don’t expect it to get overly hot and I am fairly well acclimated.  I carry two liters of HEED sports drink in my Camelbak.  I feel heavy starting out, but then I haven’t been running hills.  This begins with 3 miles of moderate elevation gain.  Nearly 1000 feet in 2.74 miles.  I note as I struggle uphill that my legs don’t feel recovered from Friday’s run.  This is odd because I only ran an easy 4 miler yesterday afternoon.  My legs were sore last night too and I thought it odd at the time because generally I can run up to 8 miles and still feel fresh afterward.

Still, it feels great to be running on this trail.  I notice that while there are tons of mountain bikers, there are no runners.  Everyone is likely training on the Boulder Backroads for the upcoming marathon.  Whereas those roads are hilly, this is a mountain.  They zig, I zag.  I take it slow though, which is my plan considering my 18 mile target.  I maintain a slow pace as the trail begins its six mile descent down to the Picture Rock Trailhead.  Not slow enough apparently as I trip at mile 5.25 and crash into the ground.  Runner down!  Falling forward with 6 miles per hour of downhill momentum is a bad scenario.  I’m drinking from my camelbak at the time, which is likely why I lost focus.  I’m just barely able to thrust my hands forward into a large but flat surfaced rock to break my fall.  The rock angles upward so my hands slide forward and I rest on my forearms – in sort of a pushup position with my torso never hitting the ground.  Until I rest on the ground of course for five or ten seconds.

The sliding motion likely spared my wrists or arm from breaking, but my palms leave behind measurable DNA on the rock.  And they really hurt.  I continue running, but more slowly.  Either my trail legs are out of practice, or I’m super fatigued.  I recount the fall and consider how lucky I am I didn’t break my wrists.  I can run the Boulder Marathon in five weeks with broken wrists.  Broken ribs would have ended my running season.  I reconsider the wisdom of training on the safer Boulder Backroads.

I’m wearing my Garmin but never look at it.  I find out after uploading the results later that I’m running over a 10 minute pace – even downhill.  That’s unusually slow for me, but perhaps understandable given my near death experience.  Despite my deliberate pace, I continue to stumble fairly often.  This hurts my toes and I shout out with screams that echo off the mountains.  I finally encounter another runner, a girl perhaps in her 30s, running in the other direction within a mile of the trailhead.  I wonder how far she is going and when we will cross paths again.

I reach Picture Rock Trailhead in a little over nine miles and turn around.  This begins a six mile climb.  I feel weak but pass several bikers on the ascent.  I begin to wonder after only a mile into this climb if I can continue without walking.  My strength is seriously fading.  I begin walking after two miles.  I figure I will start back up once I catch my breadth.  I never catch my breadth.  To be fair, I’m walking well under a 15 minute pace uphill, but this is strange.  I figure worse case, I’ll walk the entire climb and run again on the nearly 3 miles of downhill into the trailhead on the other side.

I note that my head and face feel cold and clammy.  I try to run occasionally but can never maintain it for more than 50 yards.  I don’t believe it is overly hot and also think I’ve been disciplined in drinking my HEED.  My rate of stumbling becomes worse and I even begin to feel dizzy.  My shouts of pain that accompany each stumble are now joined by raging expletives.  I’m in a foul mood.  At 15 miles, nearly to the top of the hill, I begin vomiting.  This makes me feel a bit better, although my legs and arms shake involuntarily for several minutes after I continue walking.  My symptoms do resemble heat exhaustion and dehydration.  I suspect I’m sick though.  I feel sick.

I try running again on the downhill but can’t.  In fact, my pace slows down even more, despite the easier grade.  Fortunately there is a bathroom at the trailhead because diarrhea hits me at the end of my run/walk.  I rest for about 15 minutes before driving home because my legs are cramping.  Despite laying down on a picnic table, I never catch my breadth.  Not until I vomit again does my breathing settle down.

I’m still in bed hours later.  Karen thinks I over did it.  I think I’m sick.  Runner down!

Boulder Backroads

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CU XC Womens TeamAfter running 18 miles Saturday, I almost skipped running 10 miles with my friends this morning in lieu of sleeping in.  My legs were so heavy, dragging myself out of bed took real effort.  So glad I joined everyone though.  The Boulder backroads make for a gorgeous run.  And the morning air is starting to cool down with the approaching fall.

Six of us started out running together this morning from the Left Hand Trailhead on Neva Road.  Several cars and vans carrying the CU Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Teams pulled up just as we started.  A couple of the women quickly passed us on Oxford Road.  We estimated they were running at about a 7 minute per mile pace.  I talked to them later back at the trailhead and they said they were running under a 7 minute clip.  Imagine running that fast for even one mile.  These girls can maintain that for ten.  This picture shows some of their team smiling afterward.

We took a different route, turning onto Ouray Drive to run north up to Nelson Road.  Otherwise more of the CU Team would have passed us.  They kept to Oxford, which is also a pretty road.  I think Ouray Drive might have a bigger set of hills.  The girls in my group turned around after 4 miles for an 8 mile run.  Nelson Road is about 5.25 miles so us guys got in over ten.

My legs were weak on the hills.  Recovering from an 18 miler isn’t easy for a 52 year old.  I did have a massage yesterday though which helped.  I normally focus massages on my legs but I think my back benefited the most yesterday.  The increased distance lately has left it somewhat compressed.  I know visiting a physical therapist is all the rage nowadays but I’m a fan of massage.  I’ll take the more relaxed atmosphere over clinical any day.

My marathon training remains on schedule.  I’m confident already at this point I’ll be able to complete the Boulder Marathon in October.  It’s just a matter of how fast – or how slow.  I ran a 9 minute pace for my 18 miler yesterday.  I think it’s a fair estimate to say I’ll be able to run that pace for a full marathon.  I’d like to run an 8.5 minute pace but will totally be happy with 9 minutes.  Six more weeks of training.

Momentum and Miles

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ALSToday’s run was a hot one.  Hit 90° later in the afternoon.  I suspect the temperature during the three hours I was out there was in the upper 80s.  I drank 32 ounces of water.  That’s a large amount for me.  I might take some electrolytes along for tomorrow’s run.  I had to stop after 15 miles today because my legs were ready to cramp.  I was targeting 17 miles.  Wasn’t the day for it.  Great day though to take the ALS ice bucket challenge after the run.  It almost felt self-serving to cool off.  It doesn’t bother me that I had to walk in the final two miles.  I learned young to set goals high.  You might not reach them.  It’s better though to come close, even if that brings disappointment, than to reach shallower goals.  It was during my walk home I determined I would take the ALS ice bucket challenge.

I ran slow today too, the entire distance.  I felt a bit sluggish starting off but figured a little LSD wouldn’t hurt for today.  That’s running lingo for long, slow, distance.  There are benefits to putting in the miles regardless of pace.  Sometimes I’m even in the mood to run slow, and was today.  I generally prefer a fast run though.  I had a super fast eight miler on Thursday.  I hit the LoBo Trail right after a hard rain shower.  The cool air felt great.  I didn’t wear a watch but I knew I was running fast.  Felt awesome.  I even ran a half mile fartlek at an accelerated pace.  I did this after 4.5 miles when my legs were well warmed up.  I’d like to be able to get in a fast run like this once or twice a week.  Muscles have memory and mine remember running fast.  My workouts are on pace for the Boulder Marathon in October.  I’m gaining momentum as I log the miles.

Marathon Man

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Dallas White Rock Marathon 1978Lest you begin to think this is a hiking blog, I ran this weekend.  Two massive 15 and 12 mile runs on the LoBo Trail, Saturday and Sunday respectively.  I was confident on the distance because I ran this course a couple of months ago.  I was a little less certain on my ability to recover for a repeat attempt Sunday, but I felt fine.  No choice really.  The Boulder Marathon launches from the Res in less than two months.  Time to get into racing shape.

I’m pretty excited for this.  It will be my first race in seven months.  Missing the spring and summer racing season has been a disappointment.  Fortunately I ran Austin and Moab this winter.  I entered this year in great running shape.  It will be interesting to see if I can pick up where I left off.  I focused last weekend on strength training.  I followed it up this weekend with distance.  Hoping to maintain consistent eight mile runs from here on out with a bit of weights to avoid injury.  Long runs on weekends.

I know that first running a half marathon or 10K is a sensible approach for a post-surgery recovery.  That’s not how I think though.  I know I can run a half marathon.  I just did.  I could run a 10K with that catheter still tethered to my bladder.  A full marathon though is never certain.  I want my return to racing to be a celebration of sorts.  It needs to be a real challenge.

finishThe photo up top is of my first marathon.  I was 16 years old in my Junior year of high school.  I ran alongside my buddy Mike O’Neill – whom I recently went on a week-long backpacking trip with across the Continental Divide.  My first marathon is still one of the most difficult athletic feats I have ever accomplished.  This last photo is of my most recent marathon in Austin this winter.  My feet are off the ground in both pics!  Otherwise, there’s a good thirty-five pounds difference between the two photos.  I’ve run eight marathons in my lifetime.  Two as a teenager and six since.  Looking forward to number nine on October 5th.

jackOn a sad note, our beloved German Shepard passed away Tuesday.  Jack was a great dog, and a super companion to Brittany.  He was ferociously loyal but also a sweetheart.  Jack was never threatening to humans, although he looked the part sitting on the front porch.  He absolutely loved other dogs.  He wouldn’t fight them unless necessary.  When little dogs would bite at him, Jack would either ignore them or slap their head with his big paw.  Only twice did I see him attacked by large dogs and he defended himself well in those situations.  We are comforted knowing he lived a happy life, and well past the normal 10 to 11 years for a Shepard.  Jack, I know you are forever running in fields of mountain wildflowers at that big doggie ranch in the sky.

Booth Lake

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trailheadBrit joined us up in Vail last night.  That means a new hiking partner.  And Brit’s not afraid to take on the big ones.  We launch from the trailhead to Booth Lake by 8am.  This trail is easily the most recommended by the Concierge based on the conversations I overhear as I walk by.  And the trail guide suggests it’s a favorite of tourists.  Fit tourists anyway.  This puppy rises 3000 feet in four miles.

aspen and rockThe trail begins its steady 4.5 mile rise through old growth Aspen.  There is one other lone hiker who parks alongside us at the trailhead.  He starts out about five minutes ahead of us.  Brit quickly finds a rock.  We both agree it has a certain “Pride Rock” quality.  We encounter a trio of hikers descending.  They ask us if we are headed to the lake or just the falls – which are only about two miles up.  We respond with the lake and they say it’s well worth it.  Brittany leads most of the hike and holds a 29 minute pace the first mile.  The girl is in shape.  My legs have yet to recover from yesterday and I find myself struggling to keep pace.

treeThe Aspen yield to thick Spruce after an hour of hiking.  Brit finds this uprooted tree pretty cool.  Not sure if the picture captures it (you might need to click to enlarge it) but these split roots look awesome on the trail.  The trail is mostly dry but the steepness make it challenging anyway.  There is a bit of mud and several fun creek crossings.  Brit is happy she borrowed Ellie’s waterproof boots.

Booth FallsWe arrive at the falls after about two miles, or an hour, of hiking.  We suspect most hikers only make it this far.  The grade is challenging.  This photo captures one of the first set of falls.  A later set is much more dramatic but also more difficult to photograph with a live person in the picture.  The trail increases its slope after these falls and nice views open up behind us of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area above Vail Mountain.  After three miles, we begin to see the moraine in the Gore Range where this trail will ultimately lead us.  The slopes still hold snow.

meadowThe vegetation along the trail is lush.  We see many of the same flowers we saw along the Lost Lake Trail, but a million times more thick.  The trail alternates between forest trees and meadows.  We see a deer bound through one meadow so fast we’re not certain what it is at first.  Brit suggested that maybe it was being chased by a mountain lion.  We then both agree that we think mountain lions are nocturnal.  This is what one usually says to avoid thinking about the potential danger.  The most amazing of all the wildflowers we see is this Colorado Columbine.  Imagine fields of them.

Colorado ColumbineThis is a great hike for sightseeing.  We see a beaver super up close.  He has bark all over his lips.  We see a couple of weasels.  A second deer near the lake.  And then for the first time ever on a hike, we see a mountain goat.  So cool.  We expect the lake to only be a 4.1 mile hike and become a bit discouraged as we near the moraine and never see it.  We keep thinking it will be over the next rise.  After 4.5 miles, we see it and are amazed.

booth lakeAlpine lakes have a way of taking your breath away.  Not just from hiking up to 11,500 feet.  This one is so pristine and serene.  There is still snow hanging over the shores.  And the water is crystal clear.  There is no one else up here.  We take a good 15 minutes to enjoy it.  We leave sooner than we care to because rain clouds are forming.

We hike pass tons of others on their way up, mostly below the falls.  Some are headed to the lake and we encourage them.  We understand why most don’t make it past the falls.  That’s a great hike too, for sure.  Reaching the lake is likely too much for the average tourist.  We both feel special for being able to see it today.

Eagle’s Nest

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eagles nestI wore out my family yesterday.  The consensus for today’s hike is a ride up to Eagle’s Nest on the Eagle Bahn Gondola to hike the Fireweed Trail.  Sounds like a going-out-of-business sale at a dispensary.  I count a win for getting them out of their 500 count thread sheets and over-stuffed pillows before noon.  Perfect weather on top of Vail Mountain.  Full sun with a cool breeze.  Only a two mile loop, the Fireweed Trail might not be long enough to enjoy such a perfect day.

rope courseFireweed Trail is actually quite nice.  The sort of soft dirt and pine needles I love to run on.  We see several deer up close too.  We are all pleased with the hike but it is indeed too short.  We decide to stay in the area for some of the activities.  Ellie surprises me by going on the rope course.  I thought she would be too afraid.  She does well but it is extremely athletic and strenuous.  She has just enough strength afterward for a zip line.

zip lineI zip with Ellie – my first ever.  The guides are all supportive of me taking pictures, but also seem quite confident that I’ll drop my phone.  I don’t.  We finish the morning with lunch at the Bistro at Eagle Nest and return on the Gondola to Lions Head.  I decide on the drop down the mountain that I will return later to run back up.  The trails are chock full of mountain bikers.  They’ll have to yield for me.

sistasKaren and I lift some weights back at the hotel.  Then I return to Lions Head to run up the mountain.  Following the ski trail maps is like trying to use a phone book map for city streets.  Quite a bit of detail is missing and the drawings are only rough approximations.  The trail signage is possibly worse.  My uphill pace is slow enough that I actually can read a map.  This doesn’t help me much though given the poor quality of the maps and signage.  Still, I manage to nearly reach the top of the gondola run before I have to turn around from fatigue.  I take some of the steeper biker trails on my descent.

In spite of the short hike to start the day, I’m totally spent now.  I learn that Brit has arrived once I return to the hotel.  She plans to do a massive hike with me tomorrow.  We finish tonight with pizza at the Blue Moose.  Spent and stuffed.

Lost Lake

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lost lakeVail is one of my favorite Colorado mountain towns.  Although it’s been a few years, we come here often.  Usually for spring break.  The last time we visited on our wedding anniversary (August 1st) was in 2007 for our twentieth.  We typically stay here at the Vail Cascade in West Vail.  Summer traffic was heavy and the drive up took nearly twice as long as normal.  Since we arrived late, we dined in the hotel restaurant – Atwater.  Super nice eatery though.  I had one of the best steak dinners ever for a restaurant.  I’m fairly critical on sirloin because usually I cook a better steak at home.  Not this time.  We sleep with the balcony door open to hear the rushing creek.

viewWe start Saturday morning off with an aggressive 6.6 mile hike to Lost Lake.  I know about this trail from the Concierge who not only has trail maps, she has hiked the trails.  We access the trailhead off the North Frontage Road at Red Sandstone Road #700.  This road begins paved through a neighborhood of switchbacks for 1.7 miles.  It then turns to dirt but is easy to navigate with a low-profile, two-wheel drive car.  We follow the dirt road for 2.7 miles to a Y intersection and steer left, following the #700 sign.  The trailhead is another 3.9 miles up this road.  Very well marked and easy to find.

flowersThe mountain meadow flowers are in full bloom.  We see Mountain Harebell, Aspen Daisy, and a yellow flower that I’m uncertain about.  I think it’s Lambs Tongue Groundsel.  This trail is rated one of the easiest to navigate as the elevation gain is minimal – just a little over 900 feet.  I expect to see more hikers but we don’t encounter any until we reach the lake.  There was only one other car at the trailhead so this makes sense.  There is a second trailhead though a half mile beyond the lake.  It requires 4WD, plus it would make for too short of a hike.  At least for us.

Lost LakeThe lake is stunning.  Perfectly blue.  Ellie fearlessly bushwhacks around the shore to take pictures of some Lilly Pads.  We rest a bit finding this spot so serene.  A fisherman casts his fly and tells us this lake normally has some good cutthroat trout.  They aren’t biting today though, he says because the dragonflies are hatching.

Our return to the trailhead runs us into scores of late day hikers.  Families headed out after lunch.  There are now nine cars parked at the trailhead.  Many more pass us as we head back down to Vail.  Gorgeous first day hike.  Looking forward to Sunday.

Ouzel Falls

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Wild Basin TrailheadI return to the Wild Basin section of Rocky Mountain National Park this morning.  This time with Karen.  We drive two miles beyond the ranger station and Sandbeach Lake Trailhead to the Wild Basin Trailhead.  Tons of parking and good camp sites along the way.  This trailhead has nice facilities and ample parking, but is also quite packed.  The guidebook states the hike to Ouzel Falls is the most popular route in all of Wild Basin.  I now believe it.  Still, it’s like Bill Bryson’s description of the Appalachian Trail in his book, A Walk in the Woods.  No matter how many people visit the trail, they spread out and it never feels crowded.

Copeland FallsThis trail is popular for several reasons.  The trail is fairly pedestrian – well maintained with an obtainable elevation gain.  The guidebook rates it suitable for families.  The rushing creeks and spectacular falls are stunning.  Plentiful camping sites reward backpackers on their trek to Thunder Lake.  And then there are some nice views of the south side of both Mount Meeker and Longs Peak.  This photo of me sitting on a log is at Copeland Falls which is only a half mile beyond the trailhead.

Calypso FallsThis second set of falls is nearly as impressive as Ouzel.  These are Calypso Falls rising behind us in this photo.  It’s apparent some families are only walking to Copeland Falls.  Calypso is about two miles past the trailhead and would make a satisfying turn-around point.  We witness a little girl, maybe seven years old, get scolded by her father for climbing a rock.  Seriously, drive Trail Ridge Road if you don’t want to get out of your car and walk about.  Although that’s a great road to get out and climb some rocks too.

Ouzel FallsWe hear the roar of rushing water flowing over Ouzel Falls well before we arrive.  This site is 2.7 miles from the trailhead and not at all difficult for a short day hike.  We are almost meandering and it only takes us 90 minutes.  We see this really cool looking bird that I believe is a Steller’s Jay.  We are looking for the Water Ouzel – or American Dipper – for which the creek and falls are named, but don’t see any.  We don’t climb up too close for better views of the falls.  Quite a few people are on the trail spur and Karen’s not a big fan of bushwhacking.  We can’t go beyond this point either as the bridge is washed out.  There’s an alternate, in fact much shorter, route for backpackers headed to Thunder Lake; so the bridge is not an issue.

Mount MeekerWe return without stopping at all the sites.  Many more families are headed up – even though it is now lunch time and rain clouds are forming.  Besides the water features, several spots along the trail open up for nice views of the south side of Mount Meeker and Long’s Peak.  You might have to click on this photo to see it well enough.  The peak above my hat is Mount Meeker.  To its left is Longs Peak.  From our house in Longmont both peaks have the traditional triangle peaks.  And in fact are termed the Twin Peaks.  From this southern view you can see the flat top of Long’s Peak.  Karen has a dance audition in a couple of weekends and I think I might target that date to bring the girls up here.  This is one of those hikes that everyone in the family will love.  It’s 45 minutes from town.  Get your family up here.

Sandbeach Lake

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trailheadI wake up the girls at 6:30am this morning because they want me to.  We’re headed up to the Wild Basin area in Rocky Mountain National Park for a massive hike to Sandbeach Lake.  Surprisingly, we’re out the door shortly after 7am.  We stop by Big Daddy’s Bagels for something to start our engines before leaving the neighborhood and reach the trailhead by 8am.

rockThe girls climb the first big rock they see.  Brit’s been doing this ever since she saw Lion King as a three year old.  Ellie can’t pass up a good rock either.  She might wish she had because moments after this shot she slipped and slid down, scraping her leg.  She toughs it out though and doesn’t cry.  She toughs out a lot today because not only is our target lake 4.5 miles away from the trailhead, the entire trail is uphill.  Rarely is it overly steep, but uphill at altitude is never easy.

campsiteNice trail for the family and we see several.  We see at least three groups of hikers returning from having camped out at the lake.  Others are returning because they simply started before us.  Smart as today is hot.  There are several camp sites like this one along the way with access to water from a small but strong running stream.  We find this camp sign ironic as the girl’s Uncle Steve has played at the Hole-in-the-Wall on Guadalupe in Austin a million times over the last thirty years.  We figure this camp site is a tribute to that dive bar.

creek crossingThe entire hike is in the trees with only a few spots for views of the valley or Continental Divide.  This is probably a good thing as the temperature soars well above 90° today.  We take advantage of several creek crossings to cool off.  Ellie is emboldened by her water-proof hiking boots and wades into deeper water than us to cool off.  Brit and I can’t believe her feet remain dry.  She pushes the boundaries often drowning her bootlaces.  My RMNP trail guidebook suggests there are some downhill segments, but no down slopes ever present themselves for more than 20 yards in length.  This is a long, hot, uphill slog.

lake signEllie’s patience wears thin as she discovers this trail will never go downhill until we turn around.  I learn later from my Garmin that we climbed nonstop 2000 feet in elevation over 4.5 miles.  Brit brilliantly provides Ellie a chocolate chip cookie (what do you pack for trail food?) and this enables Ellie to pull through for the final stretch.  Then the lake presents itself through the trees.  Even Ellie is wowed and says the hike is worth it.  Sandbeach Lake is one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s biggest and deepest mountain lakes.  The water is as clear as the sky.

brit n dadThe lake was dammed around 1900 to provide drinking water for our town – Longmont.  The dam was dismantled in the ’80s and returned to its natural state, once again displaying the sandy beach for which it is named.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a sandy beach on a high-altitude mountain lake before.  Sandbeach Lake offers stunning views of close-by peaks to the north and the Continental Divide to the west.  You can almost watch water run off the moraine on the northern peaks to a waterfall flowing into the lake.  The sound of flowing water is peaceful; this beach no doubt makes for a great camp site.

meeker park trailThis is only one trail of many in the Wild Basin area of RMNP.  The trails sit south of Mount Meeker, many leading to lakes and waterfalls.  Our plans are to return each weekend that we can this summer to explore the other trails.  The trailheads are less than an hour from our front door, just north of Allenspark, CO.  We stopped in that little mountain haven on our return for a cold beverage.  We later lunched at Lyons Fork in Lyons.  Nice Sunday.

Alpine Tunnel

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TunnelOur final morning begins with a short hike, couple of miles maybe, back to the trailhead and La Plata’s truck.  We lighten up our packs since we won’t need tents or sleeping bags for today’s hike.  We then set out on our first northbound direction toward the Alpine Tunnel.  This is what remains of an old rail line that supplied miners back in the day.  The trail itself actually follows the old tracks, although only a few timbers remain.

DCIM41[N3862354W10635535T40D992EAH0DBB84]There is a surprising amount of snow on the trail.  Probably because the trail appears to be on the east side of a hill.  And we are just under treeline as you can see in this photo.  Each of us brought along our trekking poles in case we need them, which we do later.  Initially though this trail, following an old railroad grade, is fairly pedestrian.  Discounting the extreme altitude.

Alpine TunnelWe also brought along head lamps thinking we would need them to walk through the tunnel.  We were wrong.  That’s the east portal of the tunnel behind us.  Nowhere are there any signs or clues that the tunnel has been caved in for years.  Maybe the west side is open but we don’t go there.  Instead we hike up over the ridge to Tunnel Lake.  This is where the trail becomes challenging.  Snowfields are quite large.  One forces us to bushwhack across a boulder field which is arguably more dangerous, albeit quicker to navigate.

Alpine Tunnel LakeMike and I turn around at this lake while La Plata sprints a few minutes further to capture the pass as part of his CDT quest.  Maybe Mike is trying to get to DIA early for his flight but he leads the return at such a torrid pace I am unable to keep up.  He must have gotten in shape on this trip.

And seriously, what a week.  Every day was simply amazing but at the same time, the week was totally exhausting.  We are all ready to return home to our families, while talking about our next hike.  La Plata wants to train us with some snow and ice skills.  Mike wants to get his three boys up here.  I want a shower.  We clean up again at the Mount Princeton Hot Springs which is located on the drive off this mountain.  Three hours later I drop off Mike at DIA.  There most definitely will be a next time.

Cottonwood Pass

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Cottonwood PassThe Cottonwood Pass segment of trail had me more excited than any other during our planning phase because it begins at over 12,000 feet and stays there.  It snakes back and forth between peaks from the east to west to east sides of the Continental Divide.  Of course, with this season’s deep snow pack, it’s questionable how much of the trail will be passable.  Almost immediately, we find ourselves bushwhacking off trail around glacial snow fields.

snow packWe plow over the easier snow fields, as Mike demonstrates here.  It’s early morning so we don’t post-hole into soft snow.  We do have to dig our boots into the snow pack though to gain our footing.  This is a slow process.  Fortunately there aren’t too many of these snow fields to navigate.  It’s cloudy with strong winds.  We suspect a storm is moving in so we keep a strong pace.  Atop the first big hill we find a man-made wind break and tuck in behind the rocks for a spell.  You find these rock walls on top of peaks occasionally.

wind screenWe turn around after an hour or so once the trail becomes too buried under snow.  We rush back at an even faster clip to beat the storm.  Not that it’s raining or lightening, but because the wind is brutal – easily a sustained 25 mph.  It’s almost comical when we pass another hiker, seemingly from some Monty Python skit, with a net chasing alpine butterflies.  Seriously.  Our hike south of Cottonwood Pass was short by our standards, but presented us with some spectacular views.  I intend to return to this trailhead someday.  We’re not done though.  We move on to our next trail – Hancock Lake.

Hancock LakeFor this destination, we pass through BV again on our way south.  This might actually have been the day we lunch at K’s Diner.  I think I said it was yesterday in my previous blog post.  The days are starting to run together in my memory.  Next time I’ll take notes.  I generally use my photos for a digital record.  Unfortunately I didn’t take as many pics these days.  I did get some of Mike’s pics this week though after he shared them on dropbox.

We scout a decent camping site along the trail up to Hancock Lake and snag it by dropping off our packs.  The lake and Hancock Pass are not that far up the trail.  Mike stops at the lake while I follow La Plata to the base of the pass.  He’s running and I finally give up to rest at the bottom.  La Plata is trying to hit a good point, such as the top of the pass, because he will return later from the south to hike there again from Monarch Pass.  This is part of his goal to complete the entire Continental Divide Trail in sections.

campfireThis is our last night camping.  La Plata builds his most admirable flame of the week.  This site isn’t as devoid of dry wood as most.  We recount our experiences from the week.  Climbing a peak.  Water rustling.  Skinny dipping.  Post-holing in snow.  La Plata and I are so incredulous of Mike’s determination to tough out this altitude.  We consider our favorite gear.  I have several; my hiking boots, my puffy jacket, my sleeping pad and my water purifier.  All winners.  At 11,000 feet, the temperature cools down dramatically with the dropping sun so we retire to our tents with the coming darkness.  Tomorrow will be our last hike, to the Alpine Tunnel.

Tincup Pass

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Mirror LakeWe sleep in to almost 5:40 this morning.  Today is a recovery day.  We breakfast again at the Roosters Crow Cafe because it was that good the first time.  I keep it light and only order one plate this time around.

First stop after breakfast is the Mount Princeton Hot Springs near Nathrop – a few minutes south of BV.  This hotel and spa is located along Chalk Creek and sits only two miles east of the eastern loop of the Colorado Trail.  Once there we acquire day passes to the spa.  First order of business is a shower and shave.  This spa is a little oasis in the wild.  We receive big fluffy towels and robes, razors and combs, and libations.  After we clean up, we spend the morning lounging in multiple hot springs of various temperatures and drinking Bloody Marys.  The bartender runs them through a juicer which we don’t exactly approve of, but drink willingly anyway.  Mike and I schedule treatments for mid afternoon while La Plata does laundry.

tincup passAfter a late lunch we drive back over Cottonwood Pass, leaving my car at the trailhead on top and take La Plata’s four wheel drive truck down into Tin Cup.  We camp along Mirror Lake for a continuation of our epic adventure.  The first photo above is of our early morning rise with the trail off to the left of the lake and Tincup Pass in the background.  This photo is at the top of the pass, but we’re not yet done climbing.

ascentWe could stop here but instead determine to mount our first peak of the trip.  It’s unnamed but rises north of the pass another 1100 feet. The jaunt to the pass itself was about three miles and took us only an hour bearing lighter packs.  The climb up this unnamed peak is less than a mile but takes nearly another hour due to a steep slope.

Mike leads us to the top and the views are impressive.  This is the Continental Divide and we can see both sides.  Crested Butte fifty miles to the west.  Aspen’s Maroon Belles to the north.  God’s country everywhere.  At over 12,000 feet, possibly heaven.  The descent is tough on the quads and knees but quick.  I leverage my trekking poles for stability.  We reach Mirror Lake in another hour and this completes our shortest day to date.  We head back over Cottonwood Pass Road for lunch at K’s Burger joint in BV.  We run some errands and actually I forget what all we did for the afternoon.

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Soon enough, we find ourselves sitting at the bar in the Deerhammer Distillery on Main Street – which is also Cottonwood Pass Road.  Lenny serves us their products paired with stories.  We learn that whiskey begins as beer mash, but is then distilled.  We first drink Whitewater Whiskey which is, well, white.  Or clear to be more exact.  There is no color because it spends very little time aging in an oak cask.  We follow this up with a more traditional oak-aged whiskey.  A single malt named Down Time.  Our final tasting is of a gin distilled over very unique botanicals.  With this knowledge of their stock, we order more Bloody Marys fueled with Deerhammer Gin.

Deerhammer DistilleryAfter happy hour, we cross the street to dine at the Asian Palate.  La Plata and I have been here before.  The three of us sit at the sushi bar to interact with the chef.  He relates to us how the finer dining scene in the Arkansas River Valley has pushed north from Salida into BV and might one day reach Leadville.  He’s a Vail transplant.  We eat our fill while mapping out a strategy for backpacking the next two days.  Our plan is for more day hikes like today.  The benefit being we are able to leave heavier gear like our tents and sleeping bags in the car.  Our packs will easily weigh less than half their original weight, and in fact do.  Before dusk, we ride back up Cottonwood Pass Road and find a nice camp spot at a trailhead to an older CDT trail route.  We’re learning our way around the Collegiates.  Tomorrow, we plan to begin from Cottonwood Pass and hike south as far as the snow allows.

 

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