September 23, 2007

2007 Colorado Relay

Yesterday morning Ashley and I finished up a race that took our team of 10 just over 24 hours to complete. Similar in nature to the Hood to Coast run in Oregon, the Colorado Relay covers 170 miles and it makes its way from Idaho Springs to Glenwood Springs. The coarse goes over 4 passes, each between 10 and 12 thousand feet in elevation. We began the race at 8:00:00 on Friday morning and finished at 8:01:27 on Saturday morning.

Our team was made primarily of Golder employees (my office paid for and sponsored the event, which is a fundraiser for Outward Bound). This time of year, the weather can range from snowing to sunny and warm. We lucked out as the sky was clear for the entire race, which meant that the day was warm (70's) and the night was cool (30's).

My legs (7, 17, and 27) involved an 8 mile downhill run from the top of Guanella Pass (-2000 ft), an 8.8 mile downhill run from the top of Vail Pass (-1800 feet), and a 5.4 mile flat run. All the downhill in the first two of my legs took its toll on me. After the second leg, my quads felt like I'd had a surgical procedure where my quadriceps were extracted, put through a meat grinder, and the resulting mush reinserted into the cavity where my intact quads used to be.

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the race is dealing with sleep deprivation. Our van got about 1.5 hours of sleep between 5 am Friday morning and when we returned home after the race at 1:00 on Saturday. My last leg started at 5 am Saturday morning and my quads had not recovered much since the meat grinder incident. It was a painful and delirious 5.4 miles. To add to the strangeness of it all, my final two legs were in the dark, running with a headlamp and reflective vest.

Ashley's legs (10, 20, and 30) were 6.8, 4.9, and 4.4 miles, respectively. The first and longest was on a hilly trail through beautiful Aspen forests near the now infamous town of South Park, while her last two legs were mostly flat. Her final leg weaved through the town of Glenwood Springs and was the last leg of the race. As the race rules required, the rest of the team joined her for the final 30 meters of the race to the finish line.

Our team just after crossing the finish line

Our finishing time of 24:01:27 was good enough for 4th place out of 25 teams in the corporate division and 24th place overall out of 150 teams.

Ashley and me with our "bottomless" free beers after the race

September 17, 2007

Aspens are Pretty, Lightening Bolts Striking the Peak you are Planning to Climb are Not

My work sent me to the Aspen area for Friday and Saturday to oversee a construction project at the county landfill. Since I was already over there and had Sunday off, I decided to make an attempt at hiking up Snowmass Mountain. I knew the weather would be questionable at best, so I realized the possibility of just going for a nice hike in the rain. As it turns out, that is exactly what happened.

I'd been hiking for about 2 hours when there was finally enough daylight to turn off my headlamp. Right about this time, I got hit with my first thunderstorm squall, where it rained and hailed furiously on me for about 10 minutes. I continued hiking up the trail towards Snowmass Lake, hiking through and hiding from several more of these squalls on the way.

Eight miles into my hike I arrived at Snowmass Lake.

Snowmass Lake with Hagerman Peak in the Background. Snowmass Mountain is hidden in the clouds to the right of Hagerman Peak, approximately where I saw two big flashes of lightening as soon as I arrived at the lake.

It was a dramatic arrival as I hiked up Snowmass Creek, came over a rise, and found myself standing on the banks of one of Colorado's largest alpine lakes. Impressive peaks surrounded the lake on all sides except for the one I approached from, the highest ones enshrouded in clouds. Within the first few seconds after beginning to take in this amazing scenery, I watched a lightening flash that appeared to come from the vicinity of Snowmass Mountain (which I could not see through the clouds). The lightening was accompanied by an almost simultaneous boom of thunder that reverberated off the steep-walled peaks for several seconds. As if this sign from above wasn't obvious enough, I was then hit by yet another squall of rain and hail, more vicious than any of the previous ones.

I spent about 15 minutes up at the lake and watched the clouds covering the peak I had intended to climb "flash-boom" once more before turning around.

As most of the hike up was in the dark, I was amazed at how beautiful the scenery was on the way down. Golden Aspen trees, abundant alpine lakes, and the steep and jagged peaks of the Elk Range surrounded me the entire way down.

Golden Aspens on the trail

Waterfall on Snowmass Creek, immediately after it exits Snowmass Lake.

More Aspens

September 09, 2007

Pikes Peak

One way to get to the top of Pikes Peak is to drive. Another way is to take the Cog Railway Train. Both of these options will drop you off within about 6 vertical feet from the true summit. Yet a third way to reach the top of Pikes Peak is to hike the Barr Trail. The Barr Trail ascends from the town of Manitou Springs to the summit in 12.5 miles while gaining 7500 vertical feet. The famous Pikes Peak Marathon is run on this trail.

Pikes Peak

Kieth and I left Boulder shortly before 2:00 am. We began hiking 2 hours later (4:00 am), and arrived at the summit 5 hours after that (9:00 am). I decided that the summit of Pikes Peak wins the award, hands down, for the most desecrated 14er summit in Colorado. Below is a photo of Keith, sitting within a few meters of the summit.

Summit Photo of Keith

Overall, the hike was much prettier than either of us expected. The trail was well maintained and never very steep. When we returned to the car, I decided that the 25 mile round-trip hike (we ran the first 6.5 miles down from the summit) was worthy of replacing the 20 mile run that I was supposed to do as part of my marathon training program.

September 04, 2007

Blood of Christ

Over Labor Day Weekend, Ashley, Melanie, Keith, Ryan, and I backpacked into the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ for those non-Spanish speakers) mountains. The purpose of the trip was dual, and somewhat contradictory - relax, and climb three 14ers. The Sangres are known for having substantially better, more solid, rock than other mountain ranges in Colorado. Hence, the mountains are steeper and more jagged than the rock piles found elsewhere in the state.

Before I continue, let me rant about Labor Day. As labor is synonymous with work, I do not understand why a day when nobody works is called Labor Day. Actually, some people do work, and they are typically the ones making minimum wage. I propose changing the title of "Labor Day" to "White-Collar Non-Labor Day". Who's with me? I know it's a bit of a mouthful, but it's much more descriptive and less misleading.

Resume story: On Saturday we drove south to the trailhead that provides access to Lake Como. The 5-mile trail up to the lake is actually a 4-wheel drive road, nationally known as Colorado's toughest Jeep trail. It rises 3700 feet over that 5 mile stretch. To limit the physical exertion required to backpack up to the lake, I drove the 4-Runner as far as I felt comfortable, which ended up getting us about 1.5 miles and 1000 vertical feet closer. After waiting out a thunder/lightening/rain/hail storm, we made the trek up to Lake Como.

The next morning, Keith and I took off on a semi-technical excursion that nobody else wanted in on. We first hiked up a Class 4 route on Little Bear (a peak just barely over 14,000 feet tall). This was good preparation for the next phase of the tour, which involved a lot of Class 4 with a touch of easy 5th Class climbing, nearly all of it with great exposure. The one-mile ridge that links Little Bear with Blanca Peak is one of Colorado's most classic ridge traverses. The ridge is knife-edged in many parts and the faces on both sides of the ridge were often too steep for travel, severely limiting our route options.

Blanca Peak and White Bear Ridge from the summit of Little Bear

Kieth downclimbing part of White Bear ridge

Little Bear and White Bear Ridge

Little Bear from the summit of Blanca

Me near the saddle of White Bear Ridge

The crux of the traverse came shortly after leaving the summit of Little Bear. This involved an easy 5th class downclimbing move along the ridge crest in an exceptionally exposed position. After that it was mostly Class 4 until we arrived on the summit of Blanca Peak to meet Ashley and Ryan, who had hiked up the standard route on Blanca (Melanie stayed back in camp nursing an injured knee and communing with the hick Jeeping enthusiasts).

On Blanca's summit, we debated whether or not to traverse yet another ridge leading the summit of another 14er, Ellingwood Point. Keith and I decided to go for it and Ryan opted to come with us. After a fun scramble up the Class 3 ridge leading to the summit of Ellingwood Point, we promptly initiated our descent as the thunder clouds had begun to build. Our descent route picked it's way down the Class 3 west ridge of Ellingwood Point, effectively linking a U-shaped series of ridges for the day's tour. This ridge came complete with plenty of exposure, which Ryan had not previously had the pleasure of dealing with. We all made it back down the ridge safely and back to the tents in the middle of a hail storm to find one of the two wine bottles that Keith packed in empty. Apparently Melanie had spent the couple of hours before we arrived self-medicating, with the assistance of Ashley, who made if back to camp about 2 hours before Keith, Ryan, and I did.

Soon enough, Keith's other bottle was gone, as well as the bottle of wine and four beers that Ashley and I brought up.

The next morning we hiked out and drove to Great Sand Dunes National Park. The wind apparently deposits a fine-grained sand in a very localized area, forming a vast expanse of sand dunes up against the western side of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I was never able to find the ocean.