Sunday, August 14, 2011

Leadville preview

I used Dillon/Silverthorne as my home base this weekend to spend time at altitude, get a run in at Leadville, and get some work done.

 We're going...somewhere up there.

While the 100 mile Mountain Bike race was in full swing, I headed over to Twin Lakes on Saturday to get a feel for the climb up Hope Pass. The jeep road to the river crossing is full of ankle-deep streams and puddles, and the river itself was only just above my knees at its deepest.

 A lot of this for half a mile.

The river, she is cold and swift.

The air has such a low relative humidity that my shoes were dry before I knew it, and I can tell that the cool water will be refreshing after 40 and 60 miles.

 You know you've taken a wrong turn when you don't see or hear the river.

The climb up the outbound side of Hope is somewhat steep and rocky for the first half as it weaves up to Willis Gulch, running parallel to a stream most of the way.

 The scribbled additions were more helpful.

As the trail breaks into grassy meadows interspersed with weathered pines and moss, I was able to run up the mild grade without much effort, and it's really only after breaking the treeline and making the final ascent that I think I'll have to power hike full-time.

 The hills are alive...

Amazingly, I did not feel that deep breathlessness I felt on the top of Flattop Mountain - maybe some minor acclimatization to the altitudes around the Front Range (5,500 to 7,500ft) has helped.

The descent was fantastic. With the exception of the rocky stretch about 1 mile from the base of Hope, it's very runnable - nice grade, nice trail. The other side is another story, but at least I know what to expect on this section.


On Sunday I went up to Loveland Pass and ran up Mt. Sniktau (13,234ft). The trail never dips below 12,000ft and there are several false summits on the way to the top.

 The trail is laid out before you; do or do not, there is no try.

Looking at the final climb from the (third?) false summit.

Ridge running over scree and rock fields along the Divide is exhilarating.

 From the summit East to Georgetown.

From the summit West to Leadville. In the far distance are Mount Massive and Mount Elbert. Somewhere around those two are where I was running yesterday!

Again, no acute effects from the elevation - and what fantastic views! You can definitely tell you're in thinner air up here, though. It's a bit harder to run uphill and maintain momentum over large boulders, but downhill is still a breeze.

The return trip skirting the Continental Divide.

So my take on the situation: I am not likely to have any trouble with acute mountain sickness associated with those Hope Pass climbs. The cumulative effects of running a long time at higher altitudes (gradually diminishing blood oxygen levels) - who knows until race day? That's still the big question, and because it's such an insidious problem, it could be well-masked by the general fatigue of an ultra until it finally strikes.

Also - weather report for next weekend at Leadville shows highs in the upper 60's with isolated thunderstorms. In my opinion, that's perfect weather for a race.

These two pictures sum up the weekend:

Mount Sniktau trailhead.
Just hanging around in some river almost 2 miles up.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The final countdown

This time next I'll be in Leadville, spending the day before the race eating, going over my strategy one final time with my crew, and hanging out with some people I've met at other races.

In fact, I'll be there this weekend, too! Sort of. I'm heading up to Lake and Summit Counties to get in some time at 9-10,000ft, about 3 days or so. I'm not intending to make much more than a minor adaptation, this is really a mental and physical preparation.

Mental in that I need to experience extended time at this elevation so I'm not surprised the weekend of the race. If I discover any problems, I'll know what to expect and how to deal with it. Mental in that I'm going to run the Hope Pass and Powerline sections to get to know the climbs so they feel familiar - both the actual trails and terrain, and the brushes with 12,500ft.

Physical in that I expect some discomfort the first day or so, but hope to start feeling good by the time I head back down to Fort Collins - a little nudge toward acclimation would be helpful. If my run up Flattop is any indication, I don't see the acute effects of elevation having an adverse impact on my running. My main concern is eating and, even more, hydration; perhaps my body will have enough time this weekend to take a crack at the latter.

I'll be equipped with music from my new go-to artist, Madeon, and a little something from the dirty dirty (Skrillex):

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Flattop Mountain (12,324ft)

What better way to enjoy my first week in Colorado than run up a high peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.This is the highest I've gone on foot.

 Trail starts innocently enough in a typical high-altitude forest populated with aspen and assorted pine trees. The trails here, by the way, are extremely rocky (who would have guessed?) I'm thinking of getting a pair of New Balance MT101's just for the rock plate, because these things hurt going down!

 Emerald Lake, one of several lakes in the Tyndall Glacier drainage area. It's a long way down...

Trees are starting to thin and it's getting windy.

Starting to see a few krummholz on outcroppings. The wind at this altitude is a little chilly and the sun burns noticeably stronger.

Not much here except stunted Colorado blue spruce and a few hardy bushes. And rocks, of course.

I've only seen peaks like this in pictures, never in person. Just one big hunk of rock, man.

The views are 360-degree panoramic once you clear the treeline and hit the alpine tundra.

 This marmot decided to hold his back to me and refused to cooperate with the camera.

Yeah, it's that cold up here, although I'm sure this snowfield was much bigger and thicker several months ago.

Preparing to traverse the snowfield. The edge, visible on the left side, teeters over a sheer cliff. I decided not to get too close.

The naming is appropriate - this mountain has a very flat top, and holy cripes, is it cold and windy. My hands were started to go numb from the upslope winds coming up over the Continental Divide. I could see rain falling on the ridge to the north, and without a shell or gloves I just headed back down to the trailhead.

Where else can you run on snow in the middle of summer?

I only started to feel the elevation near the summit - a faint feeling that my breaths weren't complete - but I was able to keep up a good pace without getting trashed.

Leadville tops out at 12,600 twice (the two Hope Pass crossings). This run simulated the summit to Hope, as both have a similar rate of elevation gain-per-mile and they put you above the treeline for the bulk of the ascent.

Thinking of elevation, I think my plan at Leadville will be to get to Twin Lake at ~40 miles feeling fresh, enjoy the first climb over Hope, and power as fast as possible over it on the way back. I have a feeling that the second brush with the elevation will not be pleasant. I'm also thinking of hitting Estes Park this coming weekend to chill at 8,000ft and get a few more high altitude (10,000+ ft) runs in before the race.