Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Colorado - Part 2

And so week one ended as David and I arrived in Telluride the night before the Telluride Mountain Run on Saturday, in which we would be volunteering by sweeping a middle section of the course. Telluride is a nice little town, nestled in the San Juan mountains.

Dual-falls view from Telluride

We woke up in time to watch the start then spent a leisurely morning around town. We ate breakfast at a cafe, then took the gondola up the mountain to watch some of the hill climb (a shorter distance) runners ascend the mountain. It was such a gorgeous day so far and we were excited about sweeping and seeing some of the trails the area had to offer. We headed down the mountain to change into running clothes and drive to the aid station we would start sweeping from - Bridal Veil.

The weather was still so gorgeous here! We chatted with the volunteers, inquiring about the number of people still out; we were only awaiting 3 runners. Soon after arriving at Bridal Veil, we noticed the black skies approaching in the distance. The storm came in ferociously; the winds ripping apart the aid station, damaging the tent and sending another into a nearby stream. It rained heavily for awhile, but as the last runner came into the aid station, the skies cleared and David and I headed out in nice weather. The last runner dropped at that aid station, leaving us to sweep at our own pace, enjoying the steady climb above Telluride.

David "sweeping".

So... Long story short we spent about 4 miles in good weather before it started raining, and as we continued to ascend, the rain turned to snow. The snow worsened and I started to get worried as we caught the two runners ahead of us and couldn't see any high point in the distance. Soaked to the skin in shorts and a quarter zip, moving at the pace of the runners ahead of us, we knew we were in a bad position... Hardly feeling our fingers enough to remove the markings, we threw rocks and larger objects that they were attached to into our trash bag since our frozen fingers couldn't remove them. Eventually, with no end in sight, the runners we were following, Steve and Wes, decided to turn back. This was a welcome decision to us, as we had no clue where we were and I was seriously considering the possibilities of frostbite. We led Steve and Wes out on the now unmarked "trail" down to a dirt road we knew would lead us down to Telluride.

I don't think I've ever been so cold in my life! My breath seemed to catch in my chest as we urged the runners to move at the fastest pace possible to get off the mountain. Its hard now (especially in summer weather) to describe exactly what it was like up there, and hard even to imagine I'm sure, but the situation was surely the most dangerous I've ever been in while running. Once down to the rain again, one of the runners wasn't doing so well, so I ended up running ahead to the finish to get someone to pick up the two runners. The race director ended up driving his truck up to get them, and David and I ran back to our Suby. We decided then that after our debacle we would get a hotel for the night. Hot showers and a warm bed were very welcome...

The snow-capped mountains the following morning.

The next day we swept the remainder of our portion of the course backwards, then headed out of Telluride for Silverton.

The town of Silverton is crazy small... one paved road through it, and the rest dirt. Its hard to imagine that people spend the winter there! Its seems so out of reach of the rest of the world... Anyhow, we ended up driving up a dirt road to where we expected to be a trailhead we wanted to check out the next day, but after driving a few miles and reaching terrain that our Suby couldn't overcome, we realized the trailhead didn't exist and ended up turning back and parking alongside the road to sleep. We truly were in the middle of nowhere, we couldn't get that far away from civilization in PA if we tried! We knew no one would disturb us, and indeed, we saw no one at all and woke up during the night to the call of coyotes. Next day we ran up the road to explore and summited a random, trail-less 13'er, which was a fun search of mountain goats/bighorn sheep that we could tell had been in the area. We never saw any, but the views of the San Juan mountains was incredible.

Later we did some more running to check out the ghost town of Animas Forks, a late 1800s mining town. This brought us to know of the "Alpine Loop" something that I suppose Silverton and the surrounding area is known for recreationally. "Jeeping" is hugely popular, and the next day, Tuesday, David and I decided to check it out. We didn't *gasp* run at all that day, and just rented a jeep for the day and explored the 4x4 roads that the area has to offer. It was amazing! Just driving along at 11,000'-12,000' (peaking at 12,960'!) we saw much more in a small space of time then we would've running, and though I prefer exploring on my own two feet, it was a completely different experience and we had a lot of fun.

Leaving Silverton, we started to head in the direction of Colorado Springs; with a little gloom setting in... Departing the San Juans and heading east really made the end of the trip loom ahead of us all too soon! Since the drive was to Colorado Springs was fairly long, we decided to single out a 14'er to hit the following morning, settling on Mt. Harvard. We car-camped and drove to the trailhead Wednesday morning. It was a nice, scenic trail up, but the best part of it was near the summit! We finally saw the thing we had been wanting to see since the beginning of the trip and had basically given up hope on!

David and I were like little kids when we saw this guy! We continuously took pictures, not sure if he would scamper off if we got close, but he was pretty unconcerned about us, he led us to the summit and  let us get within a few feet of him while he fervently licked a rock. We saw a few others, but none as photogenic as this guy.

"Scout" enjoying his rock.

We still love our marmots!

Mountain goats aside, Mt. Harvard was another one of my favorites. It was rocky and remote, with incredible views. It is an amazing, incomparable feeling: being atop this, and other mountains like it - so far from the human touch and interference with nature...

Next up, the iconic Pikes Peak, the world's second most visited mountain behind Fuji in Japan. We headed to Colorado Springs after Mt. Harvard, with plans of visiting Garden of the Gods that evening, but we were stalled by heavy rains that closed the road into Manitou Springs which had severely flooded earlier in the week.

Thursday morning however, we started the climb up Pikes Peak via the famous Barr Trail. Nearly 12 miles to the top and basically all uphill. Its still somewhat strange to wrap my head around the possibility of that! We gained around 7,500' in those miles, but the trail was very smooth and runnable.

 Little baby weasel we saw on the way up!

We really weren't too impressed with this 14'er, I would even go so far as to say it was my least favorite spot of the trip! Perhaps it was because the top of Pikes Peak was very crowded; most people drive up or take the train to the summit. Plus, it was somewhat overcast, so the views were minimal. Either way, David and I didn't waste time heading back down. This part was a lot of fun! The only thing better then 12 miles uphill, is 12 miles right back down! I envy the training possibilities out here! 

Friday, sadly our last day out here, we woke up and headed to check out Garden of the Gods. Some of the rock formations were pretty cool, but again I wasn't too impressed. I'd much rather be out in the mountains then in the tourist hustle and bustle. 

We snapped some pictures, saw as much as we cared, and soon headed towards Denver to visit with Kline and get the Suby, our home for the last 14 days, all cleaned out, packed and ready to go the next morning.

Colorado was, for lack of a fitting expression, awesome. I miss it still, almost a month past. We definitely hope to get out there for races in the near future, and now that I know that altitude really holds no horrible affect over me, I am excited about the possibilities.

On to the stats... We ran 13 days out there for a total of 165.25 miles, 46 hours and 20 minutes, and a whopping 50,426' elevation gain.