Sunday, June 24, 2012

Week ending June 24

Monday: 8 miles, Pineridge, 100ft of gain; 4 miles, The Ponds, 100ft of gain. The Foothills trail is closed so I'm relegated to Pineridge, which is a nice area but, well, no hills. It was searing when I went out at noon for the first run (smoke was all over the place in the morning). I've got a nice out-and-back thing where I take the access trail up to the Maxwell Open Space trailhead and hit the singletrack west of The Ponds. When life gives you lemons...

Tuesday: 8 miles, Pineridge, 100ft of gain; 4 miles, The Ponds, 100ft of gain. I can't take much more of this. Part of my hate for the first route is that I have to run almost 2 miles on the side of the road. The Ponds loop is a little more bearable, if only because the singletrack trail is less than a mile from home.

Wednesday: 8 miles, Pineridge, 100ft of gain; 4 miles, The Ponds, 100ft of gain. I want to stab something.

Thursday: 12 miles, Foothills and Reservoir Ridge trails, 2500ft of gain; 4 miles, Foothills trail, 500ft of gain. Maxwell and Reservoir Ridge are open again, so I took advantage of that and the lack of smoke in town to squeeze a 12-miler in this morning. It feels good to be doing some climbing - I've missed that rough trail by the Laporte dam.

Friday: 8 miles, Foothills trail, 1000ft of gain. Out-and-back to the Laporte dam with a big A tag on the way back. I'm dropping my mileage a bit today to get ready for tomorrow - mostly to catch up on eating. I hit a calorie deficit when running two-a-days and need a low-volume day to recover. Tomorrow is going to epic.

Saturday: 37 miles, 9500ft of gain, Tonahutu/North Inlet loop in Rocky Mountain National Park. Got up super early to escape the smoke from the High Park fire and the 100-degree heat in Fort Collins. The high country beckoned me, and I obliged.

 Heading north along the divide.

Takin' a ride on Tonahutu down into the valley below.

I've put the loop and elevation chart below. I started at Bear Lake at 5:30 in twilight and was greeted with fierce, freezing winds at the summit of Flattop Mountain along the Continental Divide. I turned north onto Tonahutu Creek Trail, running across Bighorn Flats above 12,000 feet before beginning a long, 10-mile descent to 8,500ft in Grand Lake. There were two moose bulls grazing just off the trail in Big Meadows - it's humbling to stumble across something that large. They gave me the once-over before chowing down again, instantly quelling my apprehension.

One of the bulls having breakfast.

About a mile later I rounded the base of a hill and saw, to my right, a moose cow standing 5 feet away. A large, downed tree separated us, and for a few seconds neither of us knew what to do. When I tried to slink away she galloped down the trail and turned to face me, no doubt getting ready to protect her calf. That was enough for me - I bushwhacked it around them and kept on my merry way to the Kanuweeche visitor center, where I refilled on water. By the time I hooked back up with the trail it was pushing 80 degrees. All I wanted to do was get back up to the tundra and out of the heat, mainly because I didn't want to get dehydrated before hitting the climb.

At the Tonahutu trailhead I turned onto the North Inlet trail, cruising through a relatively flat 4-mile stretch in just over half an hour. I finally hit thick forest as the trail linked up with the river, precariously snaking under rock ledges and scrambling over boulders. Every once in a while a breeze would pick up and push cool air off the river and onto the trail - such simple things feel so much better after five hours of running. The vegetation thickened and the humidity rose, my views of the river now blocked by hanging moss and underbrush. It was almost eerie running in complete shade so close to noon.

 If you can't tell, the trail was absolutely baking in the sun.

I hit the first set of switchbacks up to Flattop still feeling the heat, although as the trees thinned the gusts of cool wind grew stronger. Within an hour I was courting the treeline at about 10,500ft and was treated to expansive views of the river cascading over rock ledges, fed by the snowfields far above. The trail turned south toward the other side of the valley that the river - and no doubt a glacier in many years past - had carved. I took a minute at the river crossing to soak my feet and dip my hair.

The climb up from the river crossing to the Divide was one of the most brutal and awesome trails I've run. The grade rapidly increased, the trail narrowed, and the slope down into the valley sharpened. This latter fact made traversing the occasional snowfield that much more treacherous. Streams of melt water washed over the trail every few feet, the gusts of wind occasionally kicking up a spray.

Looking back at the climb up from Grand Lake (far in the distance) and the glacial runoff that forms the headwater of Hallet Creek.

The slope finally leveled out, with only 500 feet to gain in just under 2 miles to Flattop's summit. Every so often I'd lose the trail in the grey, washed-out tundra landscape, but with Hallet Peak as my guide I was never lost. I finally hit Flattop to find a group of hikers surveying a column of smoke near Estes Park. It turns out it was a cabin fire that eventually scorched around 20 homes.

 Columns of smoke - no longer an oddity.

Despite having put 34 miles and nearly 10,000 feet of vertical on my legs, I really enjoyed the steep descent into Bear Lake. The temperature soared once I dropped below treeline, and by the time I made it to the parking lot, it felt like I was running in a furnace. A cold beer has never tasted so good.

 Bear Lake (start/finish) on the right, Kawuneeche (water) on the left.

Sunday: Off.

Mileage: 96 miles
Elevation gain: 13,500ft

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