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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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Today's miles: 29.3                                Cumulative miles: 153.4
         Approx. elevation gain: 4,900 feet       Bonus Miles:  0   
"You can run, but you can't hide."
- ?


Not sure who originated that saying, but Cody and I found it to be true near Coney Summit, the highest point on the entire Colorado Trail, when the hail hit. We could keep on running the ridges above 13,000 feet, but there were no trees or rock shelters where we could hide.

Cody wasn't too happy about it, but he's a real trooper and we both weathered the storm(s). See the pea-sized hail on his coat?

More about the storms later.

I ran/walked two segments today because the trail head between them, Carson Saddle, appeared to be too much of a challenge to access even with our 4WD truck. When I got there, I could tell the jeep roads that intersect at that location were pretty rough. Twenty-nine-plus miles were manageable for this run, but two factors increased the challenge (and time out there) for me:

First, I realized a mile into the run that I left my 28-oz. bottle of Perpetuem in the truck. The concentrated mix was adequate for ten hours on the trail, supplemented with the two five-ounce bottles of Hammergel I was carrying. One Harvest Bar in my pack was optional, in case I was out there longer than planned.

Without the Perp, I managed to run/walk for ten hours on a normal-sized breakfast, two Hammergel flasks, and one Harvest Bar. I was hungry most of that time. I had plenty of water (100 oz. in bladder, 20 oz. in a bottle I also carried as a spare). But I started bonking about an hour before Jim and Tater came in to meet me 2 miles from the end. Even though it was downhill to the "finish," the jeep road was rocky enough that I mostly walked. I had no coordination, I was dizzy, and I was plumb worn out from lack of calories.

Lesson learned: Do not EVER forget the Perpetuem again!!!

The second major challenge? The storms that began at 11:50 AM and continued for two hours. 

I figure I would have completed the 29.3 miles (29.9 on our GPS) in my original projected ten hours without these problems. As it was, it took me 11:21 to get 'er done.


Since this was to be the longest distance I've done so far on the CT, and because it's over an hour's drive from our campground at South Mineral Creek to the Stony Pass Road trail head, we got an early start - up at 4 AM (groan), in the truck at 4:36, got some diesel fuel in Silverton, arrived at the trail head at 6, got pack and trekking pole and Cody, forgot the bottle of Perp, and hit the trail at 6:03 AM.


On the way out to the trail head, a mama deer crossed the road in front of us. Fortunately, we could drive only 10-15 MPH on most of Stony Pass Road anyway, because a few seconds later a tiny, tiny fawn crossed just up the road from mama. It was only slightly older than the wet one we saw struggling across a road in the Big Horn Mountains a few weeks ago. This one was old enough to sprint, and very cute.

Those deer and the many others we saw along Hwy. 149 below Lake City this afternoon were the only ones I saw all day - no deer, moose, bears, big horn sheep, or mountain goats on the trail, only two pairs of llamas with groups of hikers that were camped off to the side and hundreds of grazing sheep. More about the sheep later.

Oh, I forgot the grazing cattle that hogged the trail a couple hundred yards from the start:

Cattle and sheep graze along many parts the national forest lands through which the Colorado Trail passes. Occasionally I come to a gate that has a sign requesting trail users to close it after passing through, but many times the critters are free-roaming.

The first six or seven miles going northbound on Segment 23 follow Pole Creek and cross several of its forks and other tributaries. Read: you'll get your feet wet. None of the creeks were higher than mid-calf today. In the first eleven miles Cody had plenty of water to drink. After that, he needed the 2 liters of water from his pack that I filled at the last creek - and then some.

I enjoyed following the creek and looking back at the views behind me. I decided this section would be more fun going southbound, not only because it would be down but also because the views were nicer that direction!

I had to take a short detour over to this narrow canyon through which the creek passes a couple miles up from Stony Pass Road:

I could see a couple nice waterfalls as the water dropped from level to level.

The trail separates into a high trail and a low trail about three miles up from the Stony Pass Road trail head. They parallel Pole Creek for 6/10ths of a mile, then come back together. I recommend the high trail because it is dry until you cross the creek at four miles:

And what should I find on the other side of the creek but Hardrock Hundred course markers! We knew the Hardrock course crossed Pole Creek but didn't look on the map to see where it crosses until after I was done with the run. We were told that the HRH course doesn't follow the CT anywhere, but it does in the Pole Creek drainage area. The race markers were still in place. Cool!

I took a turn right to continue following the Colorado Trail to the north. There were HRH markers for about two miles up the canyon and valley along Pole Creek, with several more creek crossings. This year the runners came down that drainage. Next year, they'll go up it.

Here's a photo looking up the scenic valley . . .

 . . . and one looking back the way I came:

That's how the HRH runners saw it if they came through this area in daylight (the front-runners did this section in the dark).

The beautiful canyon morphed into a valley that got wider and wider . . .

. . . as we gradually climbed up to a high, unnamed pass at 12,990 feet 8 miles into the run (well, most of it was walking so far, since it was almost all UPhill):

Ah, but then I got to run downhill for a couple of miles along a mostly-smooth trail through another beautiful valley with high mountains on both sides and some interesting rock features.

Here are two views looking back at the pass as Cody and I descended:


Once again, the views behind me seemed more picturesque than the ones in front of me!

This is one of the interesting rocks on the way down:

Then it was up again, this time to Carson Saddle (12,360 feet) and the end of Segment 23.

That was by no means the end of the climbing, however.


Nearly all of today's section was high, near the Continental Divide. I was in trees a total of about one mile. Cody and I were between 10,550 feet and 11,000 feet for four miles (two at the beginning, two at the end). We were between 11,000 and 12,000 feet for about ten miles, and the remaining fifteen-plus miles were between 12,000 and 13,270 feet.

Lots of high-altitude acclimating today!

And the good thing is that I'm starting to feel more comfortable at those elevations. Finally. It's less of a strain going uphill now. If I'd had my Perpetuem, it would have felt even better.

The CT guidebook gives the approximate elevation gain for each segment, but only going southbound. Until now, I've done each segment that direction. Today I went northbound while Jim moved our camper northward. It was too many miles to stay in Silverton, drive up to Montrose and south to Lake City and the trail head, then all the way back.

So we're on the move again now. (We already miss that great camp site at South Mineral Creek!)

(That's looking back down to Carson Saddle.)

Using the guidebook numbers, I had 3,680 feet of elevation loss in Segment 22 (17.1 miles) and 1,040 feet of elevation loss in Segment 23 (12.2 miles) for a total of 4,720 feet downhill today. With my significant lack of calories on this run, I can guarantee you it didn't feel like that much downhill. It seemed like there was a lot more uphill than down.

I'm guessing about the elevation gain going northbound on these two segments, using the elevations at major waypoints and adding in some extra for the inevitable ups and downs in between: about 4,900 feet of gain. The most significant climbs going northbound are 2,440 feet in the first eight miles to an unnamed pass at 12,900 feet and the climb up to Carson Saddle (both in Segment 23) and the 900 foot climb to Coney Summit by-pass at 13,270 feet, the highest point on the whole Colorado Trail, in Segment 22. There were several other "high points" in that section requiring good climbs.

The "high and dry" in the sub-title above refers both to the good weather we had in the morning at the higher elevations and the eventual lack of water because we were above all the stream headwaters.


Although we had rain at the campground yesterday afternoon and evening, the sky was mostly clear this morning and we could see the more-than-half moon and a gazillion stars. It was in the 50s at our campground and probably in the 40s at the trail head. Although the sun was up, the mountains hid the sunlight from the trail for about two hours. I was up in the Pole Creek valley when I got warm enough to take off my long-sleeved shirt, jacket, and pants. It was sunny from about 8 AM until just before noon, when the first storms hit. The whole afternoon was either wet or cloudy where I was.

Jim didn't get a drop of rain down below.

In the last photo above you can begin to see some gray clouds as I climbed the mile and a half from Carson Saddle to Coney Peak. The CT follows a jeep road for a bit, then switchbacks on trail. On the way up, we got this great view into the valley looking north toward Lake San Cristobal (but couldn't see the lake yet):

The highest point on the Colorado Trail is the by-pass around Coney Summit at 13,270 feet. The summit is less than 100 feet higher but didn't look all that interesting, so I did the official route just below it. The trail traversed the southeast side of the summit and intersected back with the summit trail about half a mile later on the north side of the mountain, looking back down into this same valley from a different angle:

Uh, oh! Where did that rain come from so suddenly?? It was moving right through the valley. I looked to my left, up to the summit, and could see a second storm cell farther west.

Now what do we do? We could run, but we couldn't hide anywhere in the tundra!

The trail continued on across the green saddle above, totally exposed to the storms, and up the next ridge on the right. I still had about thirteen MILES to go above tree line. At this point, Coney Peak was protecting us a little bit, so so I got out my Marmot jacket and pants and lightweight gloves and put them on while it was still dry.

Cody and I sat and waited about ten minutes. The temperature dropped noticeably but there was no rain. There was plenty of lightning followed by thunder three to four seconds later. Neither storm seemed to be getting closer.

I decided to RUN. I could clearly see the trail would again be somewhat protected on the east side of the next ridge. We got across that saddle as fast as we could. The temperature dropped, but still no rain was falling. This is the view back to Coney Summit:

We climbed up and around the next ridge (13,040 feet) through rocks . . .

. . . as the time between lightning strikes and the resultant thunder remained the same. I looked for another hiding spot on the east side of this ridge, and we again waited for about ten minutes. No rain. It didn't appear the storms were going to come over the ridge.

We ran over another saddle overlooking the valley. Uh, oh. The storms are still there, seemingly stuck over the valley above Lake San Cristobal. We arrived safely on the southeastern side of the third ridge and hunkered down yet again. Thunder claps came faster now, only two or three seconds after each streak of lightning.

And that's where we cowered for about twenty minutes along the side of the trail while the storms raged all around us.

When the precipitation came, it wasn't in the form of rain. Suddenly we were being pelted with pea-sized hail! It stung my arms and legs. I sat on a tuft of "grass" along the trail with my arms folded in front of me and my head down to minimize exposure to the hail. My backpack protected most of my back. Cody paced, too hyper to lie down. 

Ka -BOOM!!!

We both jumped when the lightning struck the closest. I don't know exactly where it hit, but our whole world lit up and my fingers tingled as thunder boomed almost simultaneously with the light. I've heard of people's hair standing straight up if they're close to a lightning strike. Mine had nowhere to go under my jacket hood!

I can tell you, that got my attention. Cody's, too. I felt sorry that I couldn't protect him more. When we're at home or in the camper, thunder doesn't seem to faze him, but out here in the raw elements, I could tell he was fearful.

Jim told me on the way back to the camper about a news item he heard on the radio today: four people near Aspen, Colorado were too close to lightning and had to go to the hospital for injuries they received yesterday or today.

Their dog died.

Storms in the Rockies are serious business. I try every day I'm out there to get over the highest points before early afternoon. This storm hit at 11:50 AM. There were too many miles of tundra today to avoid the storms, even if they had struck later in the afternoon.

I was careful about how many pictures I took the next two hours while it was hailing, sleeting, and raining. I didn't want to ruin our camera. But these are some of the shots I took after Cody and I resumed walking and running over the remaining ridges as the storms moved farther away:

The last high ridge at 13,000 feet is shown below. There are steep switchbacks going off this northeast end that were tricky to negotiate over the slick rocks and mud. I took the photo looking back at the ridge and part of a group of about a dozen hikers heading toward it. They said they weathered the storm in their tents, then moved on. That's an advantage back-packers have, but they could still get struck by lightning in their tents.

As I got down to the 12,500-foot level the storms were still raging in the distance. I was fortunate that I was only in light rain at this point.

The trail undulated between 11,700 feet and 12,100 feet for three miles before beginning the climb up to Jarosa Mesa. Suddenly the trail disappeared and Cody and I had to follow rock cairns and/or posts the next four miles. Hikers had picked their way through the rocks in so many different places that even Cody couldn't sniff out a "trail."

Not only was it impossible for me to run up, over, and down this mesa, I sure wouldn't want to be up there in the dark or when it's foggy. The cairns were pretty far apart, and sometimes I really had to look hard to find them. The ones below are more obvious:

Although the rocks on Jarosa Mesa drove me nuts, the nicest surprise of the day occurred on top. I could hear quite a racket on the eastern side of the slope. At first I thought it might be a herd of elk, but it was hundreds of SHEEP instead! These are the first free-ranging sheep I've seen along the trail. They were so far away it was difficult to see them with my eyes and our camera doesn't zoom in real far. This is the best I can do enlarging one of the photos I took:

Our camera also doesn't have a very wide-angle lens. That is only one small segment of the sheep I could see. It took four frames to get them all in, and there were probably more hidden by the lower slope.

It almost looks like there are horses behind the sheep. I wonder if this was a sheep drive and that's why there was so much noise? They couldn't have been alerting each other to Cody's and my presence; we were much too far away to be a threat (I zoomed in a lot for this shot).

One reason I thought of the sheep drive is because I was just coming to the "stock driveway" shown on our CT maps. The "driveway" is depicted the same as unimproved and 4WD roads, so I was expecting a clearly defined path of some sort.

However, the photo below shows part of the "stock driveway." This is not your grandmother's driveway! It was as rocky and undefined as the "trail" on the rest of the mesa.

I continued to follow rock cairns and yellow driveway markers down about a mile to a real 4WD road for the last two-plus miles to Hwy. 149 and the end of Segment 22.


I was very happy to see Jim and Tater on the jeep road two and a half miles from the end. He wasn't hiking up the mountain for exercise, but to get me my bottle of Perpetuem as soon as possible.

You see, when he got back to the camper this morning, he noticed my bottle of Perp in the truck and knew it was bad news. It was too difficult to crew me at Carson Saddle (that's why I was doing two segments today), so he hurried as fast as he could to get the camper ready to move, drive up that awful road to Ouray, continue on to Montrose (where he needed to get groceries, supplies, and diesel fuel), drive past the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and down to Lake City.

Then he had to find a campground. There were four private ones listed in our Good Sam and AAA books. We don't usually make reservations because the one we pick might end up being a dump or we find a nice place to boondock for free.

The first three campgrounds were full. Jim got the last spot at the fourth one (Woodlake Park), which was actually quite nice and the closest one to the rendezvous point. He unhitched the camper and drove as quickly as possible to the trail head (a half hour drive up windy, hilly Hwy. 149 over Slumgullion Pass - more on that unusual name in another entry) and ran/hiked in on the trail until he met me.

By then I was bonking pretty badly and couldn't even run downhill safely over the rocky surface. The last thing I needed was to fall. I drank about six ounces of the very concentrated Perp, washed it down with water, and gradually felt better. We walked and talked for a while, then Jim ran on back to the truck while I did a walk-jog more slowly. The dogs couldn't decide who they wanted to run with, so they went back and forth between us, getting more miles than either Jim or me!

It was pure luxury to SIT DOWN while riding "home." By the time we got back to the camper, I had enough energy to help put groceries away, do dishes after the supper Jim made for us, and clean up all my gear. My granny knees were sore, though, and I couldn't stay awake past 8 PM. <yawn>

Looking forward to a rest day. How did I ever keep going day after day last summer on the Appalachian Trail?? Have I aged that much, or is it the altitude out here? I really need a rest day (or two) between my CT runs.

Next up: Jim's training run on July 19 and my next two CT segments on July 20.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil