High in Colorado

High in Colorado
Photo: Mandy Lea Photo

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Week in Review: June 10-16 -- Life Above Treeline

Monday, June 10th
AM—8 Miles—2:41—3,200’—Grays (14,270’)
David Ponak and I both had tight schedules today. So, we decided to head up Grays and decide on the summit if we had time for Torreys as well. We didn’t. Once I realized that we were taking the trail that connects the saddle to the main Grays Trail I decided to take a direct route straight up through a snow field to the summit of Grays, which was a fun little addition to the usual easy Grays ascent. Legs felt like crap the entire day after taking the last week almost entirely off due to my ankle injury. Casual descent as I babied my ankle the entire way down

Tuesday, June 11th
OFF—Acupuncture, recovery, and preparing for the high country

Wednesday, June 12th
AM—9 Miles—2:34—4,300’—Mt  Elbert (14,433’)
I met with Mike Ambrose and his roommate Ryan with the intent of linking Elbert and Massive together. After a super casual ascent that topped us out in 1:30 Mike and I realized that we didn’t have enough in the tank for Massive. So, we joined a large group of hikers in a quick Harlem Shake video on the summit of Elbert and then headed back down. Mike and Ryan flew while I crawled on my bum ankle. Mike bottomed out in 2:09, which has me excited at our prospects of breaking two hours in the very near future (once I get my ankle healed up). I know we can cut a huge chunk of time off the ascent. 

Thursday, June 13th
AM—10 Miles—4:16—7,350’—Belford (14,197’), Oxford (14,153’), Belford, Pecks Peak (13,270’)
Pretty frigid winds up in the mountains this morning. I put on my base layer and my wind shell about halfway up the ascent of Belford and kept them both on until I got back to the Missouri Gulch trail. The climb up Belford seemed to be an infinite amount of switchbacks that couldn’t end soon enough. The out-and-back to Oxford provided a nice little section of runnable terrain at high elevation. Gerry Roach recommends Pecks Peak as an “extra credit” summit for Belford and says the descent is down steep grassy slopes. Well, maybe there’s grass somewhere, but I sure as hell didn’t find it. My descent was down steep scree, talus, and boulder fields. The extra credit probably added at least an hour (likely more) to my descent versus just going down Belford. Oh well…

Friday, June 14th
AM1—8 Miles—2:20—3,400’—Huron (14,003’)
Started around 5:30 AM with the intent of getting down quickly to go bag Missouri. The climb up was easy, but frigidly cold. I sat on the summit for about 20 minutes taking in the views before pussyfooting along the descent. The smooth, gentle switchbacks below treeline have me eager to get back on this mountain and bomb the descent.
AM2—10 Miles—3:44—4,500’—Missouri Mountain Bailout
Pretty late (10 AM?) start. By the time I reached the ridgeline I was beginning to see some dark clouds. Lightening is probably the thing I’m most scared of in the mountains. So, I bailed on the ascent. I’ll get it next time. 

Saturday, June 15th
AM1—10 Miles—2:49—3,800’—Torreys (14,267’) and Grays (14,270’)
I figured that my 9 AM run with Deb being so close to Grays and Torreys had to be for a reason. That reason was likely so that I could camp near the trailhead and bag Grays and Torreys real quick in the morning before joining her. So I did. I decided to head to the saddle first to summit Torreys and then see if I had time for Grays. I passed a group of three guys from Omaha right before reaching the saddle. Even moving as slow as I was, I was up and down Torreys and up Grays before they were up Torreys. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to comprehend easy 14ers like these being an all-day affair. I made my own way down the face of Grays without ever really being on trail—some scree, talus, snow, the usual. Then once I rejoined the main Grays trail I ran somewhat quickly on a descent for the first time in weeks. Ankle is still a little shaky and swollen, though.
AM2—7 Miles—1:57—1,900’—Grays Trail to Base of the Mountain
Deb and I met at the visitor’s center in Georgetown before heading out for a run. The Protrails website said the trailhead for Herman Lake was north of I-70 on the Bakerville exit. All we found there were some private roads and a bum sleeping in his truck. So we decided to just head up the Grays trail and see how far her un-acclimated lungs, my spent legs, and a late start would allow us to go. We got to the base of the main climb up Grays and noticed some clouds that didn’t make either one of us terribly comfortable. So we turned around. Nice, conversational pace and great company for a run.
PM—3 Miles—1:17—2,000’—Mount Sherman (14,036’)
After some coffee and pizza in Georgetown Deb headed back towards Boulder and I headed up to Alma for more coffee. I spent a few hours in an awesome little coffee shop waiting on some clouds to pass over and determining whether or not to attack Sherman tonight or in the morning. I got to the upper trailhead a little before 7:30 PM and couldn’t help but notice how incredibly close the summit was. Of course, I changed real quick and started heading up on tired legs. Pretty sure I wasn’t really on a trail since I just crawled up a somewhat steep scree slope on all fours until I reached the ridge. From the ridge the rest of the push to the summit was a breeze. The descent was a bi-polar’ish mix of steep glissades down snow slopes (happy!) followed by boulder/talus hopping (ugh…). 

Sunday, June 16th
AM—7 Miles—2:29—3,500’—Decalibron
I had intended on a 5 AM start, but didn’t get around to the run until 7:30 AM or so. If I had to guess, I would say the moonshine I drank last night with some nearby campers played some part in this. Regardless, I did the loop, albeit really slow. The trips to Lincoln and Bross were pretty awesome. I loved the continuous running above 13k feet. With gloomy clouds, thunder, and possible lightening I headed down the most direct line from Bross I could find—a steep scree slope that soon turned into snow for most of the remainder of the descent. Glissading is always fun.
Democrat (14,148’)
Cameron (14,238’)
Lincoln (14,286’)
Bross (14,172’)
PM—3 Miles—0:38—800’—2nd/3rd Flatirons Loop
The drive from Alma back to Boulder was horrendously long as all of the weekend warriors headed back to the big city for another week of work. My legs felt tight and lacked the energy needed to get up Green Mountain. So, I just ran around the Flarirons access trails for a bit to loosen up my legs and called it a day.

Time—24hours 50minutes
Elevation Gain—34.750  feet                                                               

Not too shabby for my first week back from rolling my ankle. The ankle is still a little swollen and weak. So, I’ve been taking the descents at a pace just above walking. As a result, all of my times from this week are fairly pedestrian-like. I can’t wait to get out in the mountains with a healthy body and really start pushing myself. It’s pretty amazing how fast the acclimation process can happen. I’m already finding life above treeline to be fairly comfortable. 

I’ve already summited 12 different 14ers in essentially one week of running. This has me pretty excited about the prospects of actually ascending every Colorado 14er this summer. Hopefully I can keep up the progress. The San Juans are next on the list and I hope to have them all summited by mid-July. We’ll see…

One thing that I keep forgetting is that I have the Black Hills 100 Miler in ten days. While I’m not entirely sure how being above treeline and running 14ers will help in this, I am fairly confident the amount of time I’ve spent on my feet and a few weeks of ~35k feet of vert will have my endurance and strength where they need to be. The only question will be my running fitness. Strange enough, the more committed I get to my 14er quest the less I find myself caring about the Black Hills run and the more focused I am on the Telluride Mountain run (and getting up to 14k feet). 

Life is so much better above treeline…

Getting in touch with nature or something like that. (Photo: David Ponak)

Evening summit of Mt Sherman

It's amazing up much more energy you get on an ascent when you see these guys. Unfortunately, we saw him on our descent. So it didn't really do much good.

Glissade (if you can call it that) down Grays on a bum ankle. Not graceful at all. (Photo: David Ponak)

Taking a more direct route to the summit of Grays. (Photo: David Ponak)

Early morning summit of Torreys. Started at 5:30 AM.

Missouri Mountain

Action shots on Mt Elbert. (Photo: Mike Ambrose)


Another shot of my direct route up Grays. Look about mid-way up and there's a dot in the middle of the snow. That's me. (Photo: David Ponak)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Week in Review: May 27-June 2 -- Getting High Again

Monday, May 27th
AM—9 Miles—2:53—4,300’—Mt Elbert (14,433 Feet)
After catching wind that Mt Elbert was at worst covered in “easy snow” Mike Ambrose and I decided to head up and tag it. I headed out from Boulder around 6:30 AM to stop by Frisco and pick him up. I’m always amazed at how awesome an early morning trip from Boulder, through Golden, and up into the mountains can be. Great start to the day and it only got better from there. Getting above treeline was minimally confusing without any prior route knowledge due to snow covering most of the upper sections of the trail. The slog up to the summit was pretty much what I expected for my first time above 12k feet since November—a drunken stagger. Probably 500 feet or so below the summit a frigid wind picked up that had me fumbling around for the wind shell I had tucked away in the deep recesses of my skimpy running shorts. The < 2 ounce Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Anorak wind shell exceeded any expectations and kept me comfortable. Just wish I would have had something for my frozen hands…I took the descent really easy until we got back down below ~12k feet. I never feel fully coordinated above 12k feet or so until my 3rd or 4th time up there. Felt great to bag my first 14er of the summer and start my little project of trying to summit all of the Colorado 14ers this summer. Should be fun.
PM—5 Miles—1:04—2,200’—Green Mountain
After refueling with beer and nachos at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco I headed back to Boulder. Without hesitation I drove straight to the Gregory Canyon parking lot for a lap up Green Mountain. I ran into Fred Ecks in the parking lot. He was half drunk (I think?) and decided to come do a lap on Green. I had just tagged Elbert in the morning and had a stomach full of nachos. We decided to race to the summit via different routes; he took the shorter front side and I took the longer backside. I immediately felt like I was going to throw up when I started running. This feeling would persist for the duration of the run. Regardless, I still came pretty close to my PR effort. I can’t say for sure if it was a PR since I spent about 30 seconds talking with Fred before I actually tagged the summit. This run certainly surprised the hell out of me. Dead legs, throwing up in my mouth a little, feeling tired, and a near-PR effort? After 20 minutes or so on the summit taking in the always amazing view s I eventually headed down via the front side—taking it easy in most places and pushing hard on a few of the more technical parts for a decent of 20 minutes and change. Overall, a relaxed effort on the descent since my legs were pretty tired and I kept catching my right toes on rocks, steps, and roots. 

Tuesday, May 28th
PM—3 Miles—1:50—1,400’—Royal Arch
Super easy hike with Kim and Stephanie to celebrate Kim’s (24th?) birthday. I had acupuncture in the morning and my legs were still a tad sore. So, I used this as an opportunity to take them out and show them a taste of what the Boulder trails have to offer. Hopefully they’re hooked. 

Wednesday, May 29th   
AM—10 Miles—2:41—4,550’—Green Mountain (x2)
Two laps up Green Mountain; first was up front, down middle and second was up middle, down front. I power hiked the majority of the first trip up and spent about 15 minutes or more taking in the views on the summit. The cloud activity was pretty absurd. After reaching the Gregory parking lot the sun came out so I decided to chug a little water and take one more go at the mountain. My legs felt pretty great on the ascent. I was able to run all the way until the steep stone staircase on upper Greenman before falling into a brief power hike. Great day out. 

Thursday, May 30th
AM—22 Miles—5:31—7,800’—Pikes Peak (14,110 Feet)
Met up with Mike with the intent of running the Pikes Peak Marathon course minus the short road sections. We began at the Barr trailhead and started heading up and up and up. It didn’t take us long after Barr Camp to realize that conditions above treeline were just going to suck. And they did. Snow, a high temperature of 30 degrees, wind chills in the 10-15 degree range, and wind gusts around 65 mph had me ready to turn around and seek warmer weather since I was beyond underprepared. We reached the summit in about 3:30 and spent at least 30 minutes (maybe an hour?) in the tourist shop on top. For the descent we knew we had to get back below treeline as fast as possible. The only way to do this was via a route of questionable legality. Regardless, after four miles of this route and a few instances of ducking into the bushes we were shirtless again and reached our access back to the Barr Trail  where we cruised at a comfortable pace for the rest of the descent. The time I recorded is a little misleading since I kept it running during a few of our conversation stops on the descent. I think it should be closer to right at five hours.
PM—4 Miles—0:55—1,950’—Manitou Incline
After a few hours of rest and some cups of coffee I headed back to The Incline for a quick lap. I always manage to make time and find energy for this when I visit Manitou Springs. I ran the first couple tenths of a mile until the path becomes noticeably more vertical. Then I just fell into an easy power hike and stopped to take a few 10-15 second rest breaks along the way. I topped out in 27:40’something without ever really feeling like I exerted myself too hard. After some chit-chatting with a few others at the top I meandered down the trail at a pace so slow that I likely wouldn’t even call it casual. Perfect ending to my day trip in Manitou. I love this little gem of a town. 

Friday, May 31st
AM—10 Miles—2:08—2,600’—Green Mountain
With a little fatigue lingering in my legs I decided to take the easy way up Green Mountain—Bear Canyon to Green Bear. Mesa Trail, Bear Canyon, and Green Bear all passed by quickly with my breathing never even approaching out of control. Everything seemed in rhythm and completely relaxed—in perfect harmony. From the old four-way to the summit of Green was the only section where this harmony seemed to diminish a bit with my effort leaving the “easy” zone and gravitating towards “all out” mode. I was happy with my 1:11 ascent from Chautauqua considering how easy the effort felt for the majority of the run. With shaky legs I began a really easy descent down the middle route that consisted primarily of hiking on upper Greenman and slow-as-hell jogging down Ranger and Gregory Canyon. This ascent was certainly a pleasant surprise after yesterday’s volume. A sub-hour ascent via this route is a goal for the end of the summer.
PM—4 Miles—1:23—2,200’—Green Mountain
After sitting around in the coffee shop all day I decided to get out and chase the sunset up Green Mountain. It had been at least a year since my last sunset race. The ascent consisted primarily of power hiking with the most notable exception being some drunken stumbling on the upper sections of Greenman after I thought I heard a mountain lion. It’s amazing how after seeing six of those damn things I can easily convince myself of their constant presence. On the summit I was treated to the expected amazing vistas. Fifteen minutes of oooing and aahhhhing later and I began the descent in limited visibility. For some reason I love descending in near darkness. It demands an intense awareness and connection with the terrain that really makes you feel present in the moment. Love it! 

Saturday, June 1st
AM—8 Miles—2:13—3,300’—Green Mountain (x2)
I started power hiking up the front side of Green with the intent of doing the backside loop. By the time I reached the summit I was sickened at how many damn people were out on the mountain. When I began the descent down the west ridge I saw no less than 30 people between the summit and the old four-way intersection. I couldn’t help but think of the ever-annoying mule trains in the Grand Canyon—big stubborn beasts with no idea what’s going on and a constant refusal to get the hell out of the way to share the trail. Summer weekends in Boulder, ugh…I started down Flagstaff Road for a quarter mile or so before the cumulative fatigue of the past week and my already soured mood from the Green ascent/descent made me decide to turn around, head back to my truck, and call it a day. I’m thoroughly convinced that all tourist hikers should be required to take a trail etiquette course before being allowed on Boulder Country trails.

Sunday, June 2nd
PM—12 Miles—3:47—4,650’—Green Mountain, Bear Mountain, Green Mountain
I started heading up the front side of Green Mountain with no real idea of where to go from there. I had debated taking the day off, but talked myself into getting out for at least a trip up the mountain. After seeing about five people or so in the first 1-2 tenths of a mile on Ampitheater I veered off trail and stayed that way until the summit of Green. I managed to find a route that’s less than 1.5 miles (versus the 2.1 miles of the frontside route) from the parking lot to the summit. Short and steep; just the way I like it. The summit was a shit show of people, ugh. I headed towards Bear Peak from there at a casual pace. I decided to push the meat of the ascent pretty hard and managed a 9:53 split from the base of the climb to the summit. Pretty anaerobic all the way. The descent of Bear and second ascent of Green were really easy. I planned on a casual descent down the front side, but rolled my ankle about five minutes into it. Limped it on back to the Tacoma.

Time—24hours 30minutes
Elevation Gain—35,000 feet                                                               

Pretty good week. I got back to 14,000 feet twice, spent a lot of time on my feet, and covered loads of vertical in not very many miles. I’ve knocked out two 14ers in my quest to summit every Colorado 14er this summer (yes, even the crappy ones).

Right now my upcoming 100 miler in South Dakota is keeping me in the Boulder area for running to get in a little heat training since the race has the potential to be friggin’ hot. Impatience will likely get the best of me very soon and cause me to ride the Taco off into the sunset. There’s a certain appeal about getting out and truly living a transient lifestyle (temporarily at least). As nice as it’s been to have a bed, shower, and house the last few weeks I must say that I prefer a higher level of discomfort in my day-to-day life. Maybe five months of living in a backpack will do that to a person? 

Leisurely hike up Royal Arch

Pikes Peak summit shot after warming up inside the tourist shop. Headwrap and sunglasses just for Rob...

Chasing the sunset to the summit of Green Mountain

Elbert action shot

Out of breath on Elbert

More Elbert action

The warm, welcoming ridgeline of Elbert

Green at sunset

Manitou Incline. Something like almost 2k feet of vertical in a mile (just rounding the numbers)

If one were cold on certain peak this would possibly be a quick way down. IF one were cold...

Green never gets old.

On top of Elbert. Scoping out all the potential.

Heading up Elbert

Early morning drive from Boulder to the high country. Stopped for a photo of Boulder on the way out of town.