I love running and hiking in the tundra. Several miles of
Segment 9 today reminded me of being back in the San Juan Range, even though I
wasn't entirely above the timberline. It's a beautiful stretch of trail, with
more wildflowers than I've seen in several weeks, lots of colorful fungi,
expansive views, and numerous ponds and lakes.
Ahh! The higher up and the more remote the wilderness, the
happier I am. I don't want to see towns or houses or hear vehicles on nearby
roads (unless I'm ready to be done). I want to see tall mountains, quiet lakes,
rushing streams, green trees, colorful wildflowers, and fluffy white clouds in
endless blue skies.
That is my idea of "heaven."
I needed this bit of heaven today. It reinvigorated my
spirit and desire to continue running and hiking the Colorado Trail. I was
afraid I'd already seen the best, and the remaining segments wouldn't interest
me as much as those near Silverton.
I was wrong.
There is more beauty than I realized to be found in
the segments farther north. I have to keep my mind as open as my eyes to see it.
I combined Segments 9 and 10 because each is only 13+
miles. Although I was secretly hoping Jim would be at the trail head in the
middle of the two sections, we hadn't planned that and afterwards I was glad he
wasn't there. I would have stopped after Segment 9 and it would have been more
time-consuming to take me out again for Segment 10. I was tired but not
exhausted at the end of today's run, despite all the altitude gain and loss.
We're camping closer to both of these segments now. Early
this morning we hauled the camper to the large parking area at the Tennessee
Pass trail head on Hwy. 24 a few miles northwest of Leadville, leaving our
"home" at Clear Creek Reservoir for the last two weeks.
After Cody and I began our run south from the pass, Jim
drove the camper back to Leadville and parked it in the woods behind the construction office of a friend of
ours on the outskirts of town. We've camped here two previous times we've been
here for the race. This will probably be the last time we can park here, though,
as Jack is seeking approval to build some houses on his acreage.
Jack generously lets us hook up to his electricity and
water, so we're not really "boon-docking" now. Thanks, Jack! That makes life a
lot easier on Jim not having to deal so much with the solar panels, inverter,
and generator (although we still use the solar panels even when we have
That's our white camper poking out next to
Jack's office nestled in the trees. To the left in the background is Mt.
We have a stronger cell phone connection now, seven wooded
acres for the dogs to roam with supervision, and we're close to the action for
the upcoming bike race and run. Still no TV reception, but that's OK with me. When I'm
camping, I can do without knowing all the bad news in the world!
And weather reports are useless in these mountains. We know
it will be chilly in the morning (40s), the sun will most likely shine until about
noon, then the storms will come in. They may or may not last all afternoon or
evening - it depends on which mountain or valley you're in, because one spot can
get drenched and half a mile away it will be completely dry.
We just watch the sky and deal with what
TELL US ABOUT THE TRAIL,
Back to the Colorado Trail . . . in a nutshell, I loved
Segment 9 and I want Jim to run it soon. Segment 10 was nice for running but
less interesting to me because it had many fewer views (in forest mostly)
and ponds. Both segments are good for dogs because of all the streams and shade.
Cody didn't need any of the water in his pack.
Both segments also appeared good for equestrians. Bikes
have to detour around most of the miles in these segments, however, because the
the trail goes through the Holy Cross and Massive wilderness areas.
I had plenty of vertical today: about 5,020 feet up
and 5,385 feet down for a total of over 10,400 feet total gain and loss. There
are three long, mostly runnable climbs and descents in the two segments.
As usual on the CT, there are nice smooth segments on dirt, sand, or pine
needles, and the inevitable rocky, rooty sections where you can't take your eyes
off the trail for even a second or you'll do a face plant.
Fortunately, I haven't done that in a long while.
I didn't have very high expectations for either the weather
or the trail today. It rained during the night at our location on Clear Creek
Canyon Road and low clouds hung over the valleys all the way to Leadville and
Tennessee Pass. I assumed I'd have a long, wet day with no views. I grumbled to
Jim that the main reason I'm doing the Colorado Trail is for the scenery,
not the exercise, and reluctantly trudged off into the fog
The beginning of the trail in Segment 9 was so doggone
nice, however, that I was soon enjoying the solitude of the foggy forest. It was
so quiet and peaceful. I made
up my mind right away that I was going to have a good time today, come hell or
high water! And, by gosh, I did.
By the time I got high enough on the first climb to have the opportunity to see
nearby mountains or down into the Arkansas Valley, the clouds lifted and the sun
came out. Although the remainder of the day was more overcast than sunny, I didn't
miss any views. There were some on-again, off-again sprinkles in the
afternoon, but I never got soaked.
My run really did turn out well. I think there's a metaphor about life in
here somewhere . . .
South of Tennessee Pass, the trail was wide, smooth, and frequently marked with blue
diamonds about six feet up in the trees; you can see one in the
background in the photo below, as well as CT and CDT markers:
This was one of many cross-country ski trails I followed
today. Skiers need a lot of markers when snow covers the trail and that's all
they have to determine where to go.
Despite a warning in the CT guidebook about several miles
in Segment 9 being confusing and hard to follow, I found quite the opposite.
This was one of the few segments where I hardly ever had to consult my
directions or GPS. It appears that several new signs have been placed at
intersections since this guide was written.
One sign made me wonder. It was a hand-painted warning (to
cyclists, perhaps?) at mile 2.5 that there was a bridge ahead. There were a LOT of bridges
in this segment. This one was around a corner and downhill over the Wurtz Ditch,
a fast-moving stream:
There are some beautiful campsites near this stream and
many other locations in this segment.
In the first six miles of Segment 9 going southbound the
trail winds mostly through beautiful forests. This is another pretty ski trail
Guess the snow would cover those rocks nicely
in the winter!
At mile 6.3, the trail begins following the bottom of Longs
Gulch and enters the Holy Cross Wilderness area. Today I registered at the
boundaries of each wilderness because the signs made it clear that registration
by all trail users was mandatory and we had to carry a copy of the paperwork
with us. I didn't see any enforcement of this, however.
There were a lot of pretty flowers in the wet meadows and
along the creek:
This area was simply beautiful, and I got my first great
views of nearby peaks and the glaciated headwalls of the Continental Divide.
I climbed up to the tundra and took lots of photos of the
colorful mountains and flowers around me.
Between the two high points (11,490 feet and 11,640 feet)
is a lovely marshy area with a pond.
I could see yellow water lilies and waded through the
watery grassy area to get a closer look. Cody had fun swimming in the water, one
of many lakes and ponds we enjoyed today in Segment 9.
The next two photos are from the second high point:
Nice trail, eh?
I broke out into a big smile when I got this view of the
unmistakable Mt. Massive from one of the high points:
Massive just dominates the valley views for many miles
north and south of Leadville, and can be seen prominently from town. Its name is very
There are some good views of the Arkansas Valley and
Leadville in Segment 9, as well as several scenic ponds and lakes on the high
plateaus. Here are four of them (Cody can vouch that all of them are
Are you beginning to see why I liked this
segment so much?
The trail stays high for about five miles,
then begins a major descent to the Timberline Lake trail head north of Turquoise
Lake. It was very interesting from the top of this descent to see Hagerman Road
and the jeep road that the LT100 course follows to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain
(not real clear in this small photo, unfortunately):
What surprised me, however, is that there are no good views
of huge Turquoise Lake from the CT. The only little glimpse I got was in Segment
10 just above the Hagerman Road crossing two miles in. The views of the lake on the LT100
course are much nicer.
I absolutely loved most of the wooded sections in Segment
9. Because of its proximity to Leadville and several 14ers, its beauty and
diversity, and easy vehicle access to trail heads at either end, this is a
popular section to hike or ride. It's also probably the best-maintained of any
segment I've run so far. The tread is mostly well-graded, good erosion control
measures have been taken (one example is in the photo below), there are lots of nice bridges over
the streams, and there were no blow-downs today.
Segment 10 is also used a lot but the difference in trail
maintenance was striking. It has more primitive trail with rougher trail, fewer
bridges, less obvious erosion control, and numerous blow-downs, including one
that requires a very steep detour (the most difficult I've encountered so far).
Now I remember why I don't like the climb to Mt. Massive as much as the one to
The first two miles of Segment 10 going south from the
Timberlake TH are also used in the LT100 race. It was here that I "ran into"
Doug Dawkins, an ultra runner from North Carolina. We walked together up to
Hagerman Road, then he proceeded with his training run for the race and I
followed the Colorado Trail.
Doug and I have seen each other at races in the East
before, but had never officially met. It was good to talk with him about races
we've both run and friends we have in common (Anita and Jay Finkle, Dru Sexton,
Graham Zollman, Bob Boeder, Scott Brockmeier, and others). Since I haven't been
on much of the race course, I haven't run into nearly as many runners as Jim has
when he's been doing his training runs.
Doug made a right on Hagerman Road and I went left and across
the road to
continue following the CT as it climbed steeply in places on the other side of
the mountain from the LT course. I don't know if the CT is a shorter route to the top, but I can
tell you it's rougher and steeper than the race route! I gladly stopped to get
some photos of colorful fungi just so I could catch my breath. (There were more
mushrooms along the trail today than in all the previous segments put together.
I don't know if they're just now popping up, or if they're prolific in this
area. I'll have a separate entry one of these days on fungi.)
The CT crosses the LT100 course again at the top of
Sugarloaf Mountain around the 11,000-foot level, just before the runners make a
long descent under and near the infamous "power line." Those wires just dominate the landscape
up there! They were buzzing when I crossed under them, but the views were nice.
I tried to ignore the ugly wires and focus my attention on what was attractive:
In this view, you can see the dirt road on the left under the wires
where the LT course hits one of several plateaus on its way down to the valley:
Several "false plateaus" can make the journey back up the
mountain on the return to Leadville very frustrating to tired 100-milers in both
the bike race and run, but I like Jim's attitude about them: he considers
the level area to be rest spots where he can breathe a little easier for just a bit until the
Another metaphor on life?
A little after that I came to the boundary of the Mt.
Massive Wilderness and dutifully filled out another registration form:
The CT continues to contour along the eastern flank of Mt.
Massive until the Halfmoon Creek trailhead. Elevations remain between 10,050 and
11,220 feet the whole segment, with two long climbs and descents of about 1,000
feet each. Because the segment is mostly in the trees, however, there are very
few mountain or valley views. Below is one view toward the Arkansas Valley
south of Leadville:
Although most of Segment 10 is in the Mt.
Massive wilderness area, I didn't see the mountain peak from here. I did catch one glimpse
of Mt. Elbert as I made my last long descent to the Halfmoon Creek trail head at
Much of the trail in this segment is runnable, as shown in
the next photo:
This was a good day to see other folks on the trail. Cody
and I got to visit with twenty-three hikers, three dogs, one ultra runner, five
horses, and five equestrians. Although there has been plenty of equine evidence
since I began the CT, these were the very first people I've seen on
horseback in seventeen segments! A family of four from Florida was taking a day
trip with a local guide in Segment 9:
All in all, Cody and I had a fine day on the trail. I love
it when my expectations are more than exceeded!
HOME ON THE RANGE
Now Jim and I are being serenaded by cows, country music,
and the announcer at the rodeo next door to Jack's property.
Yep. Today is the beginning of the annual Boom Days weekend
in Leadville. The rodeo is a new addition to the lineup since we were last here
in 2004. It's an added bonus (?) to camping at Jack's house!
Our buddy, Commissioner Mike Hickman, is at the end
of Jack's driveway this afternoon collecting the $10 fee per person to park and enter the
rodeo. His lovely wife, Marge Adelman Hickman, also an ultra runner, is working
the rodeo inside the grounds but we won't see her today because we're too tired and frugal to pay the
When Jim drove into our "campsite" earlier in the day
(Jack's driveway is off the little road to the rodeo site) Mike teased
him that it would cost us $20 to get back to our camper when Jim later returned with
me. I got this photo of Mike and Jim as they teased each other when we came back
in the afternoon:
You'll hear more about Mike and Marge later.
Jim and I have enjoyed Boom Days in previous trips to
Leadville for the race. We're looking forward to the parade, arts and crafts,
burro races, mining contests, Thai food, costume parade, and other festivities this
weekend. That will be the focus of the next entry.