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

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Some New Sights

First off, THANK YOU to everyone for their kind words and support (and cards, Ms Ginny!!!) for Kathleen.  We are very appreciative of the thoughtfulness while her docs wade through the details of getting her back to normal.  Some good and some bad days, but after 3 weeks on meds some things are responding.  Kathleen ran a solid 5 miles on Saturday on trails while I was out for my run - YEAH!!!

 Mt Rosa in the distance, and St Peter's Dome (I think??) on the left

So I have been trolling (lurking, stalking, whatever you want to name it) a bit on the Team C.R.U.D. website, watching their weekly run posts as it sometimes gets a bit boring to do long runs solo.  Some people are cut out for it, but since K and I have done most of our endurance outings together for 20 years, solo has not been part of the experience.   Now these guys are mostly ultra runners, so I would have to pick and choose which outings to participate in, but I signed up on their Yahoo group this week so I at least know what they are running.  Plus, they run a lot of cool places close to home, so it is good to get a few fresh routes dialed in.  When I saw that Saturday included a Major League and Minor League version, I took note.  The Major League runners were going from Gold Camp Elementary school, around the south side of Pikes Peak, and over to Cripple Creek - 36ish miles and a lot of OUT THERE time.  Ouch.  The Minor League crew was starting in a similar area, but looping around for 19-20 miles.  I showed up at 7 before the sun was even up in the canyon and took off running with Rick H, who I had met last summer at the North Fork 50.  There were only 4 people running the short loop, but as it turned out, I was the only greenhorn.  It was cool of Rick to run with me - this is a guy who can enter a 50 or 100 miler at the last minute and finish top 25%.  
 Early morning light, looking out to the plains

We started at the Gold Camp trailhead in Cheyenne Canon, just above Helen Hunt Falls.  Gold Camp "Road" is an old rail bed that carried trains from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek in the glory days of gold mining.  When the gold bust hit, it was converted to an auto road in the golden age of auto touring in the early half of the Twentieth century.  President Roosevelt once commented that Gold Camp was "the trip that bankrupts the English language"  After Saturday's run, I would tend to agree with Teddy!  8.5 miles of Gold Camp was closed to vehicle traffic in 1988 after rotting timbers in Tunnel #3 caused a partial collapse.  That tunnel is permanently closed now, and there is a trail up and around it.  (You may have seen pictures of Tunnels 1 and 2 from lower on the road, which is open to traffic, from our runs on Buckhorn and Captain Jacks)  It has been many years since I have been past the Buckhorn Trail cutoff, which is only .75 mile up from the traffic gate, and back then it was by mountain bike.  We would be running Gold Camp all the way to the intersection with Old Stage Road, another dirt road that is open to traffic, at which point Gold Camp is open again to traffic as it continues around the southern part of the Pikes Peak Massif.
 Aspen stand on Gold Camp, note the moon still visible high center
 Colorado Springs sprawls out about 2500' below
 Started encountering more snow above 8000'

It was good to have someone to chat with while running.  Rick is a wealth of knowledge about running, and knows everywhere to run in this part of Colorado as he is a life long resident and long time ultra runner.  Not only do we have running in common, but we also both are in the identical line of work - so we chatted about a little of everything.  This can be a good and bad thing.  The miles ticked away like nobody's business, especially given the fact that the entirety of that 8.5 mile section of GC is uphill.  When we hit the Old Stage intersection it dawned on me that: A. I was a little worked - OK, a lot.  B.  My right hammy was cramping a bit - "bridge to engine room, more S-Caps!"  C.  With almost 1000' more vert to gain, I might have gone over my head climbing with Rick.  Crapola!  Knowing that 2 other guys were waiting 2 miles up the road for us where the trail climbs the skirt below Mt Rosa, I apologized to Rick for the early exit, and made the decision to turn back down the way we came.  He was quite gracious and also gave me careful instructions for when to hit my next gels/ S-Caps on the descent so that I wouldn't cramp - thanks man!  I must say, I have never continuously climbed 9.5 miles on a run before and had some heavy legs starting the descent back to the truck.  But with the awesome blue skies and phenomenal scenery, I had plenty to occupy my mind on the way down.
 St. Peter's Dome again, from a different angle
 Something about Aspen trunks and Evergreens on a snowy canvas gets my attention
 Tunnel # 5 on the way back down

There are three tunnels on this section of GC, but #3 is collapsed, so you only run through 4 and 5.  #4 is pretty long and quite difficult to see through the midsection - and it is rocky, so seeing would be preferred!!  On our way up, we had some bats in #4 - sweeeeeeet, but not nearly rattlesnake freaky, so it was OK.  Local fairy tales abound about the tunnels being haunted, and I am sure a Google search would provide you countless hours of reading if you are into that thing.  The more troubling thing about GC is that, because it is remote, it has a bit of a reputation as a body dump.  Not my cup of tea either, especially after Rick informed me that he has an unfortunate habit of "stumbling" across an occasional corpse....
 Casting my shadow on the snow trench above #4 - the frozen posthole steps 
are ankle breakers if you are not careful

When I reached the snow trench above #4, I ran into the CRUD folks who were going for the Jumbo run.  They started later than we did, and farther down, so they were about 8.5 miles in at that point.  They had 12 people in the group and it will be interesting to hear how many made it to Cripple Creek!
 Middle of #4 and the flash barely lit up anything!
 Exiting #4 - Nice scene
 Fantastic day with incredible scenery
 Silver Cascade Falls, aka Spoon Falls, which is above Helen Hunt Falls
A barricade blocks both ends of Tunnel #3
Blue is my out-and-back route, neon green is the continuation of the loop - We'll be back!

I had a great descent and was very cautious not to beat up my quads too bad - plenty more running left and it is early season!  I was pretty tired after 19 miles and 3000' accumulated vertical gain.  It was a good call to pull the plug early, as I am pretty certain at this point that I paced over my head for the majority of the climb - live and learn, right?  Plus I heard from Rick this morning that they ran into snow up high and had to cut trail for quite a ways, and ended up being out over 4 hours.  I'll be back to do the whole loop (eventually with Kathleen!!) and this area for sure opens up a HUGE new realm of trail running, right in our backyard!

Shoes - Montrail Mountain Masochist
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