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.

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