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.

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