Chris and I are back in CA after 6 fun-filled weeks on the road. We left home June 20, en route to the Black Hills of South Dakota, via Tonopah (home of world-famous Clown Motel... and yes, we actually stayed there a few years back!) and other weird but cool places in the land of basin and range. Most nights were spent camping out in the middle of nowhere in the back of the Honda Element. Chris has an obsession with photodocumenting each and every campsite, but they all kinda looked like this:
Key is keeping most stuff in plastic tubs, the contents of which stay dry even if it rains.
We speed toured through Yellowstone, the Bighorn Mtns., and Devil's Tower...
...and did a cool little trail with super views of the Tower but no other tourists. They were all hiking around the Tower.
We tried to eat well. (Please disregard dirty fingernails.)
On June 25 we both ran in the inaugural Black Hills ultras, both rather happily DNF'ing. I made it to the halfway point (52-53 miles) and, at this stage in my ultra "career" and since the course was an out-and-back, I honestly couldn't think of a good enough reason to continue. The Centennial Trail was beautiful and challenging, however, and I was content getting in my 50 trail miles for South Dakota.
Next up, I somehow talked Chris into indulging my 50 Project goal further by completing Nebraska on our way to Colorado. Finding 50 honest trail miles in Nebraska was the first challenge. Procuring maps of Pine Ridge, Chadron State Park, and historic Fort Robinson, all in the northwestern corner of the state, I found enough "trails" that enabled me to traverse a grand total of 50: 7 in Chadron, 12 on Pine Ridge, 18 at Fort Robinson, and the rest at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and Scott's Bluff. The word "trails" is in quotation marks because a few of them existed only as lines on the map, seemingly not maintained for many years. For the last few miles I cheated a bit as the trails at Scott's Bluff were paved (!), but hey, I was desperate. With temps in the upper 90s, rattlesnakes lurking in the tall grass along with ticks and poison ivy, I recalled again and again an excerpt from the excellent dust-bowl tome The Worst Hard Time: "WHEN YOU LIVE IN NEBRASKA, YOU DON'T HAVE TO DIE TO GO TO HELL."
With 50 miles in "Hell" behind us, we made a beeline for the mtns. of Colorado. Yippee! Our first night in Colorado was spent near a deserted farmhouse in the flat plains east of Denver, and we were treated to a spectacular sunrise the next morning.
Next on the agenda was a 5-day backpack of the Hardrock course in the days leading up to the race. Since we carried full packs, including tent, sleeping bags, pads, stove, food, etc., etc., we dubbed our little adventure "HardWalk" (as opposed to "SoftRock" which some others were doing). I had been wanting to do this backpack for years (ever since running the race 5 times and always being in such a damn hurry!). Chris got to see the course, really, for the first time. Starting at the Bear Creek Trail outside of Ouray on July 1, we were able to take our time and enjoy the course and scenery all the way to Silverton, arriving in time for the awesome fireworks display (and party at the Avon) on the 4th. First trail marker...!
There was quite a bit of snow still, making for high water crossings and a coupla sketchy traverses. This is the view from Engineer Pass.
Our first night's camp (below) was at a small lake near American-Grouse Pass, elevation 12,600 ft. As my not-at-all acclimated head throbbed, I tried to remember everything I'd ever read about high-altitude cerebral edema. Fortunately, a couple of aspirin took care of the headache.
The second night we spent with a herd of 100+ elk at the site of the Pole Creek aid station. We'd intended to take the new, improved, almost entirely above treeline (12-13,000 ft.) Colorado Trail that parallels the lower elevation Pole Creek section of the Hardrock course, but afternoon storms squelched that idea. (We ended up doing that CT section a few weeks later.)
After celebrating the 4th in Silverton, our friend Robert, now a 5-time HRH finisher!, gave us a ride up to the Ice Lake Trail. We wanted to complete our hike on the 6th and didn't want to kill ourselves getting there so skipped the Putnam Basin Section.
With two big climbs this day, Grant-Swamp and Oscar's Passes, we hoped to make it to Telluride for the night. There was LOTS of snow going up to Grant-Swamp and, uh, no swimming in Island Lake today...
The aspens were SO beautiful coming into Chapman...
On our way up Oscar's, we opted to wait out a nasty little storm for about an hour. As the rain let up, down came HRH's very own Charlie Thorn, the main person in charge of marking the course (who had just hiked through the lightning, hail, and cold rain). Charlie had marked La Junta Basin, one of two proposed substitutes for the Wasatch Trail which was closed this year due to some landowner conflict.
The La Junta route was spectacular... and challenging! Alas, the powers that be decided to go with the longer--and more roadie--Bridal Veil Basin. We felt privileged to have been able to see the LJ route. It was way cool. That's Telluride visible in the background.
The markers had been up only a couple of hours, and some of the ribbons had already been chewed off by curious marmots!
We made it to Telluride just before dark and just as it began to rain, so opted to spend the night on the performing stage in the city park (heehee). There is a bit more to the story--and it is a good one!--involving a drunken, raving lunatic, but it is better told in person as I cannot possibly do it justice here. We finished our HardWalk adventure the next day, spent the night at Rick and Nancy's (first women's winner of HRH back in the early 90s) in Ouray, then drove to Silverton to meet our friend Jay, whom we crewed in the race.
Jay is from the SoCal lowlands and had arrived only a couple of days before. He had also never stepped foot on the course! I paced a bit, from Ouray to Telluride, the highlight being a 7:30 a.m. margarita atop Virginius Pass. What a fun crew up there!
The weather was testy this year, with 3-4 nasty thunderstorms with which to contend. Jay did great and finished what perennial finisher Kirk Apt proclaimed to be "the hardest Hardrock."
Do these two have the same smile, or what? That's Dale Garland, the RD, and Jay at the finish.
After another coupla days hanging, hiking, and soaking in the hot springs in Ouray, we headed off to climb remaining Colorado 14ers, Lindsey and Crestone Needle. Since they are so close to Lindsey and such a PITA to access, I snagged Centennial 13ers Huerfano and California Peaks as well. Crestone Needle was fun, exciting, and kinda freaking scary--I am not a rock climber!--but I hooked up with three young guys from Arkansas and together we found the correct route. The conglomerate knobs were a blast to climb... as long as I continued to look at where I wanted to go as opposed to where I didn't want to go! What an awesome summit!!!
We took a breather (ha) in Leadville and visited our good friends Eddie, who rents a house there every summer, and Chris M. It was Silver Rush 50 weekend--the mtn. bike race on Saturday, the run on Sunday. Chris M. finished the mtn. bike race for the 5th time.
The next day we hiked Mt. Massive, the 2nd highest peak in Colorado. Someday I want to traverse the whole ridge, but weather didn't allow such fun on this day.
On July 19 we did the Four Passes Loop near Aspen, what a friend of mine has called the most beautiful trail run he's ever done. It is 28 miles of spectacular mountains, snow-filled basins, rushing streams, and wildfllowers (over 30 varieties in bloom by my count). Below are the Maroon Bells at dawn, which the loop circumvents.
With the previous night's downpour, in addition to the snowpack, this stream crossing was a bit tricky.
We had some rain on our way up the third pass, but it was short lived and without lightning. (Yes Goofball, it was coming from up there.)
The final pass, Buckskin, was our favorite!
On our way down the second pass, Frigid Air, AND down Buckskin, we met our friends from Georgia, Liz and Scott, who were out for a 5-day backpack and incorporated the Four Passes Loop in reverse. Wicked cool and completely unexpected. This shot was taken just below Buckskin Pass, below a HUGE cornice.
We made our way back to Telluride so I could climb my last 14ers, the Wilsons, and were again pleasantly surprised to meet some of our "Coyote" friends in the town park, Liz and Rick Hodges and my idol, the amazing and beautiful Pat DeVita.
Unfortunately, I did not bring the camera (doh!) so have no photos of my last 14er, Mt. Wilson, but I was so very grateful that an old running buddy, Chip Tuthill, was able to accompany me on the Wilsons. They, too, were freaking scary, especially the Class 4 crux moves near the summit of Mt. Wilson. Holy schnikees! To give some indication of technicality/difficulty, we covered 19 miles in 14 hours...
Our final days in Colorado were spent back in Silverton, where our friend Tom allowed us complete run of the groovy Avon, a hotel he opens up only for Hardrock runners nowadays. As it was packed full the days leading up to Hardrock, it felt strange--but nice and quiet--to be the only ones there for 3 nights.
We finally did the new Cataract Ridge section of the Colorado/Continental Divide Trail, and man, was it ever spectacular... I'd have to say even more beautiful than the Four Passes Loop. Wildflowers everywhere!
Domestic sheep, too!
Purples, pinks, yellows, reds, blues...
This area is awesome! The lakes below are located on a bench just before the CT drops into the Elk Creek drainage. A person could run for many, many miles above treeline here.
I am always sad to leave Silverton, but it was time to head home. :(
We picked a now favorite route through the canyonlands of Utah via Natural Bridges National Monument, Escalante NM, Kodachrome State Park, Bryce Canyon (more speed touring due to density of tourists), Zion, and St. George.
Descending to Sipapu Bridge...
Last campsite near Lake Mead. It was HOT!