If you’re lucky enough to be in the mountains, you’re lucky enough!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mark One off the Wish List

Last August, we were poking around on Ted & Christy's blog when we discovered this post.  We had recently been in the Aspen/Snowmass area on the tail end of a trip to Iowa and knew we wanted to get back up there for some more of those trails.  After reading the Birthday Run post, we have been bent on getting back to the area and running the BIG trails.  You must understand, those two (& their friends) live out on the big mountains, so this may be an everyday run for them.  We knew it was going to be big, both on effort and scenic splendor, and quite possibly harder than any run we have done.  All the better.

We have ridden the road bikes up to Maroon Lake and seen the Maroon Bells from down low previously, but this would be our first venture past the shores of the lake.  The Maroon Creek road is closed to traffic from 9-5 in the summer, but a shuttle runs every 20 minutes up to the lake starting at 9:05.  This worked out perfect, as we were planning a one-way run starting at the lake and ending in Snowmass Village.  After studying the map, and looking at Ted's run, we shot a few emails off, and with his help and trail info, decided to do a little variation of their run.  Instead of taking Willow Pass and heading down East Snowmass drainage, we would take Buckskin Pass, drop down to Snowmass Lake, and head down the Maroon-Snowmass drainage.  So we studied the bus schedule, made our two transfers, and were on the first shuttle out Tuesday morning.  There were some silent nerves on the way up, but for the most part it was Game On as the bus deposited us at the lake at 9500'.  A picture is supposed to paint a thousand words, so hopefully these adequately paint our awesome day on the trails.  Click on photos to enlarge.
Step off the bus, and this is your view...
Maroon Peak (14,156') and North Maroon Peak (14,014')

These two peaks are stunning.  Not much needs to be said, as these are two of the most photographed peaks in Colorado for good reason.  The way we approached Buckskin Pass, it is an optical illusion as North Maroon always looks taller because it is the closest to you.  If you have ever done or read about the Four Passes Loop, we were starting out on the northern side of that loop.  This loop is generally a multi-day backpack loop, covering 27 miles and ~8000 vertical gain.  However, it has become quite popular with the ultrarunning crowd as as single-serving event.  We're not there.  Yet....
Crater Lake - 10,076' - we've only just begun
Dwarfed by nature's majesty

I tried to capture a nice panorama here, but single photos probably do not do justice to the majestic surroundings you find yourself in on this route.  We were ascending a ridge across valley from the north end of the Maroon Bells Massif and it was like being in IMAX with a stiff neck - you just could not swallow it in all at once.
A large majority of the trail was this technical - I wouldn't advise flip-flops...
Little, tiny Steve in a Big, Big valley
Fork in the trail - we're going left

We arrived at the fork for Willow Pass, and the departure from the Birthday Run route we had been digesting for almost a year.  The gray shoulder on the far left is Buckskin Pass and it looks sooo close here, but is still quite a few switchbacks away.
Pyramid Peak (14,018') - note the tiny hikers on the trail to the left
Are we there yet??  Notice the wildflowers.
Buckskin Pass 12,480' - Ever been so excited to do 4.09 miles in 1:23:40???
Reach the summit, look west, and attempt to pick up chin from ground...
Right above treeline in the center is Snowmass Lake - we're headed there!
This is some BIG country!

We had to stop for a minute to take in what we had just climbed to get to the pass.  We knew the scenic value would be high.  However, on the approach up Buckskin, you see nothing to the west.  The last step up, you look over the edge to the scene above and get chills (from the scenery - the chill from the strong wind came second...).  I made the comment upon reflection afterward that I felt the scenery came close to bankrupting the English language for appropriate description.  I still feel that way 5 days removed.
Group shot on top of the pass, with North Maroon over the left shoulder

It was quite windy at the top, so there is some sketchy sound.  Hope the 360 degree view gives a decent glance at what you experience - maybe you'll want to go here now!!!
Heading off Buckskin, note the hiker coming up - bottom center
Dropping in off the pass - some of the smoothest trail we had all day
Finally, back down in some trees

It did not take long to shed a quick 1500' off the back side and the descent was only just beginning.  One of the interesting things about point to point runs is the potential disparity between ascent and descent totals.  As big as this run was, and as long as it seemed we had climbed, we would end the day with 1000' more descent than ascent.  Weird.  By the time we got below 11,000' we were able to shed our sleeves and the sun was warming nicely.  It was a phenomenal day of weather, which was good as I don't know that this is any place to get caught in a bad storm.
Cool, awesome, wow, etc.!
Kathleen crosses Snowmass Creek
Leaving the Four Passes Loop

At the junction with Snowmass Lake, we headed north down the Maroon-Snowmass trail, officially leaving the Four Passs Loop and heading down the Snowmass Creek drainage.  From here, it was 7 miles and another 2500' or so of descent to the Maroon-Snowmass trailhead.  The trail is well defined and this network obviously has plenty of use.  The trail follows the creek on one side or the other the whole way down and is, for the most part, technical especially for running.  There is not ever a point where you can become lazy with the footwork unless you have family in the dental/plastic surgery line of work.
Unnamed lake, dammed by deadfall at the end of an avalanche chute
The "trail" across to the east side of the creek

We came to a dead-end in the trail on the west side of this little lake and got a bit nervous.  We backtracked a couple hundred yards and realized that the "trail" was across the Lincoln Logs at the end of what appeared to be an avalanche chute coming down the west side of the drainage.  Tricky.
Finishing a long day, just above Snowmass Creek

Luckily, we had some info from Ted beforehand on finishing out this route.  At the trailhead for the Maroon-Snowmass trail, we had to catch the Divide Road up and over the shoulder of Snowmass Ski Area and then drop down the Nature Trail into the Village.  And at the end of a day like this, the "up and over" part was a bit sharp.  About a mile and a half of switchbacks on an old dirt road with almost 700' of climb - finish off those legs, right?  We ran down into the village and headed straight for a caloric input zone, or Big Hoss Grill at Snowmass Village.  With apologies to our vegetarian friends, this was not a "salad" run - it is a "carnivore especial" and it was time for some animal proteins to repair some muscles!!!  Hope no one at the Big Hoss was offended by our salt-streaked clothes and disheveled appearance but it was the perfect way to end a day like this.  WE.NEEDED.GRUB. FAST. 

I would have to say this was our hardest run ever, not only physically, but mentally.  With about 13 trail miles of pounding descent, there was some heinous leg abuse going on and at times it played with the mind a wee bit.  Yet, it was also one of the most rewarding days of human-powered effort we have put forth and will remain etched in the memory banks as a solid introduction to running in the big mountains, beyond just trail running.  This run has been in the "bucket" for a little over a year and it was a blast to check it off the list.  I'm not big on bucket lists, at least as far as races go since I don't really get into the race thing.  Kathleen does a little more, so her opinion may be a shad different than mine.  Gotta throw a Thank You out to Ted & Christy for inspiring this run (and maybe some future prospects, too...)!

Here are some stats:  19 miles, 5200' elevation gain, 6240' elevation loss.  We spent most of the day in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and for foot traffic access only, there has been some phenomenal trail work done in there - Kudos!  this was the first time ever to run above 11,000' and 12,000' elevation - it does affect you, as slighter grades become noticeably more labored than they are at 6000 - 9000 feet. And on this run, the continuous technical/rocky terrain added to the challenging effort.

Happy Trails!!

Shoes - K Asics 2150 Trail
S - Asics Trabuco

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Head for the Hills

Kind of off-kilter on our vacation scheduling this year, but headed out last Sunday for a trip to the Aspen/Snowmass area of Colorado for a little down time (at least occupational down time).  After passing through the area for a couple days last summer, we had some trail aspirations over here that needed attention.  So we packed up and headed west!
Mt Princeton, part of the Collegiate Peaks 14ers
Mt Elbert, Colorado's highest point at 14,443' - pretty high...
Looking across Twin Lakes - Hope Pass is the "v" notch on left horizon, 
part of the Leadville Trail 100 course
Stop for a quick photo at Twin Lakes
Check your shorts - Narrow section of Independence Pass!
(Yes, it is one-lane, two-way traffic???!!!)
We had a monster run on tap for Monday, however, in the mountains you roll with the weather, not against it.  Woke up Monday morning and soon heard thunder rolling in from the mountain tops to the west.  Plan B time.  We waited until we thought the rain had lightened a bit and headed out on the Brush Creek bike path.  They have an awesome network of bike paths between Snowmass and Aspen.  Kathleen getting soaked above on the Brush Creek path along Snowmass Club's golf course.  Yes, that is paved, and no, do not get used to seeing us on that surface :-)
Sun breaking out on the Owl Creek path
The bike path is quite scenic, so we just rolled along, not really minding the wet conditions.  The sun broke through about half way through the run out on the Owl Creek path and we were treated to some nice blue sky on the trip back up to Snowmass Village.  Everything in Snowmass is on a slant, including the bike paths, so at our turn around, we knew we had some climb ahead.
Snowmass ski slopes off in the distance
Back up into the Village and drying out!
The gardens were all loving the rain followed by the brilliant sunshine.  We had to stop in front of one of the many flower gardens along the path.  Although we got soaked at the beginning, it was a nice shake out run and got our legs tuned up for a little higher altitude than our "normal" 6800 that our bodies are accustomed to.  This adventure to be continued.....

9 miles, 1300' elevation gain
Shoes - K Asics 2150 Trail
S - Asics Trabuco

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Little Teaser

Bucket List ???

more to come....Stay Tuned

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Change of Pace

We hit the road today - on bikes, don't get your hopes up you roadie runners out there - to get in some miles while the Leadville 100 mountain bike race was taking place up in the thin air above 10,000 feet.  Congratulations to Levi Leipheimer, winning in a new course record time, and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski finishing second and also dipping under the old CR.  The course record was not soft, either, as it was previously held by Lance Armstrong.  Imagine riding 100 miles, mostly above 10,000 feet elevation, in 6:16:38 ???  Next Saturday, they'll line up in Leadville again, only this time for the 100 mile running race.
Panorama looking over our "neck of the woods"

It was another beautiful day and absolutely perfect for a ride.  We started the day with cloudless azure skies and pleasant temps in the mid 70's.  We just stayed on the quiet roads around home and were hoping to get in 20 miles or so of relatively easy spinning.
Kathleen riding, with Blodgett Peak on the right
All done and ready for some grub....

We had a great ride - 24 miles with some good climbs.  After watching the live updates for the finish at Leadville and seeing the top 5 come in, we got cleaned up and headed out for some fuel replenishment.  We dropped in to Coquette Creperie in Manitou Springs, a great restaurant that serves a wide variety of gluten-free fare.  We had our server take a photo, however, it was a little dark and was vetoed by one half of HT for hair malfunction issues.... :-)  I had the South of the Border, which is a large crepe stuffed with eggs, chorizo, pico de gallo, jack cheese, and is served with home fries.  Kathleen had the Monte Cristo, which also starts with a large crepe stuffed with Black Forest ham, eggs, swiss cheese, and strawberry preserves, topped with powdered sugar and served with fruit.  A GREAT way to refuel!   All in all, a very nice day - Happy Trails (and road biking too!!!)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Limbaugh Canyon Loop

Back in May we did a little experimentation on Trail 715 leading out of the Monument Fire Center up onto the flanks of Mount Herman.  We have been looking to get back out and do a loop around to the south, over the saddle, and down through Limbaugh Canyon to complete a circumnavigation around Mount Herman.  Thanks to some fantastic trail data from our friend Jon, we finally made it out for the loop today.  Not knowing what to fully expect for a completed loop mileage, we hit the trails fairly early with some cool breeze and mild temps.  Though we have mountain biked Limbaugh before, the route we took for that was quite a bit different.
Kathleen ascends Trail 715 with Monument, CO below
Up into the scrub oak zone, before the forest begins
Dense Gambles (scrub oak) blanket the lower hillsides of Mount Herman

We made our way through the Fire Center and over to the bottom portion of Trail 715.  This trail makes up the "spine" of a large portion of the loop around Mt Herman.  The majority of the first 6 miles is climbing, broken into two very significant pushes to gain the ridge before dropping into Limbaugh Canyon.  The first segment climbs the lower flanks of the mountain before dropping into the Beaver Creek drainage.
Kathleen climbing through the forest
Looking south from the ridge across ranch land to the US Air Force Academy
Dropping in to the drainage

There was a tricky turn down the hillside that we missed on our recon run in May - thanks to Jon, no problem this time.  We dropped in to Beaver Creek and discovered an awesome little section that we would have never thought existed back here.  There was lots of dense vegetation, plenty of shade, and several crossings of Beaver Creek.  
Trail 715 crosses the creek

After the first crossing, it was back to climbing and this one was steeper than the initial push.  After crossing the creek several times and then Mt Herman road, we continued on 715 for one final push to gain the ridge above Limbaugh Canyon.  Now it was time to drop into the canyon for one of the cooler trails in the area.  Limbaugh has everything from super steep, loose descents in dense forest to flowing rollers through lush open meadows full of dense vegetation as it follows the Monument Creek drainage down into Palmer Lake.
Steve rolls through the forest on Limbaugh
Aspens and singletrack - sweet!
Open meadow with Mt Herman rising up behind

It has been many years since I have been back in this canyon (although Kathleen has been through more than I over the years) and we'll just say less time will pass before the next trip.  Pristine singletrack and lush surroundings lend to an atypical setting for our alpine desert climate.  Need to add a quick note too:  Jon and his wife, who we'll call the Trail Queen, have helped organize a lot of trail work in this area with many hours put in by local Boy Scouts and other volunteer groups.  The work shows, as Limbaugh was in better shape than we have ever witnessed - GREAT WORK!

Little video work from Kathleen
Nice pools on Monument Creek
Oasis in the canyon

It is too bad this spot above was still a ways from the finish of the loop - these pools would make an awesome place for a cold soak to start the leg recovery!  Since water is scarce in these parts, this creek provides the life force for all of the beautiful scenery in the canyon.  From here, we ascended the eastern ridge to make our way around the northern side of Mt Herman.  After climbing a bit through the trees, you round a corner to this:
Inspiration Point

The trail rounds a bend and there, 900 or so vertical feet below lies the town of Palmer Lake.  Quite a view!  Spruce Mountain and Greenland Open Space are in the far distance.  Now it was time for a quick drop and then up onto the eastern side of the mountain.  The exit from Limbaugh has been a land use controversy for years (thanks to ONE single landowner with a stick in his behind) and this was our first trip on the re-route trail that was cut to avoid Mr Cranky's wrath.  The trail was as expected - awesome.  Tough in spots and technical, but absolutely smile-inducing the whole way across.  After navigating across the contour above Palmer Lake, we dropped out of the forest onto Mt Herman road and crossed back into the Fire Center.  We made our way past Monument Rock and down to the trailhead for our first completed loop around the mountain.  Loop was 14.25 miles with around 3400' accumulated elevation gain.  The experience can't be captured in numbers.  We're already up for another shot and thinking of a couple trails we could add to up the ante a bit.  If you're interested, come run it with us!  Hope everyone has had an awesome weekend - Happy Trails!

Shoes - K Asics 2150 Trail
S - La Sportiva Wildcat

Almost forgot - here is the profile of the run from SportTracks:
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