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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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Today's miles: 20.9                                Cumulative miles: 60.1
         Approx. elevation gain: 3,120 feet           Bonus Miles:  0               
"Nature gives to every time and season, some beauties of its own."
- Charles Dickens


[Note: there are 30 photos here, and they make take a while to load on your computer. Be patient. Go do something else for a little while, then come back. I think you'll be glad you did.]

Jim and I have a favorite saying when we're in the midst of great scenery and perfect weather on a run or drive: it just doesn't get any better than this!

Well, we've said that a lot this summer, first in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, and now in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. I hope we never get so jaded that we can't appreciate all the beauty surrounding us.

And I hope I can continue to appreciate how fortunate I am to be out here if the scenery is a little less stunning on other parts of the Colorado Trail. A forest service guy told Jim recently that the segments of the CT near Silverton are the best on the whole trail.

I hope he's just biased because he lives here!


Segment 25 just about blew us away, figuratively. It's a wonder I finished it in the time I did (about 8 hours) because I took a whopping 272 photos on Sunday in twenty miles!! That's definitely a photo PR! I couldn't believe it when I downloaded them.

Jim and Cody ran the first eleven miles of this section yesterday as part of a 20-mile partial loop from Molas Pass back to our campground. They veered off the CT near the high pass on Rolling Mountain, dropped over 2,000 feet on the  Mineral Creek Trail, and returned down South Mineral Creek Road to the camper. Jim's description about the CT part of the loop was so glowing that I could hardly wait to run it myself today.

Tater and I did the first mile with Jim and Cody yesterday so we could get a little exercise on my "rest" day.

At 8:30 AM (a rather late start) we began at Molas Pass, which is on paved Hwy. 550 about seven miles south of Silverton - the easiest trail head to reach in this vicinity. The trail winds around pretty Little Molas Lake and through the free national forest campground in the first mile:

This is a nice campground but the road is too rough for our camper (we have enough loose screws as it is!). Several Hardrock runners are staying here. There is also a National Forest Service campground at the larger Molas Lake nearby that charges about $16 a day.

As I was running back to the truck with Tater yesterday, I realized I didn't have to do that mile again! It would make the section a little bit shorter the next day if I just started in the campground where I turned around on Saturday.


This is a popular section for both hikers and cyclists. On this sunny weekend day Jim saw a total of fourteen hikers on the eleven-mile segment of the CT that he ran, and two Hardrock runners out training for their race. Jim was again amazed at the number and variety of flowers, as well as the splendid views from meadows and ridge tops. He didn't carry a camera, so the photos below are ones I took when I ran the same segment on Sunday.

A thunderstorm blew in about 11:45 AM, just as Jim and Cody were nearing the turnoff for the Mineral Creek Trail. I could see the clouds and hear the thunder down in the campground even before that (I was maybe five miles away, as the crow flies) and I was concerned about him.

Jim and Cody were well above treeline at 12,300+ feet on Rolling Mountain as the thunder and lightning began. Fortunately, they were near the ONLY rock ledge in this area, shown below:

Jim and Cody spent 40 minutes sitting under that rock while sleet fell and lightning struck in every direction around them! How they stayed dry under that thing is beyond me. It didn't look like enough room to sit upright, but Jim said he did. Cody snoozed behind him.

Jim was able to stay warm during the storm except for his hands. He put on his waterproof Marmot jacket, pants, thin gloves, and a fleece hat. Next time he'll carry fleece gloves, too. I mentioned earlier about CT users having to be prepared for any kind of weather in these mountains. When we began running yesterday, the sun was so warm I was in a singlet and shorts at 11,000 feet. Things can change quickly, however, and we have to carry clothes and emergency supplies to be prepared for the worst that Mother Nature throws at us.

After the storm blew over, the sun came out again and Jim and Cody proceeded on their way. The trail intersection for Mineral Creek is not marked, but the GPS helped Jim determine that following the cairns going down into a huge gulch was the proper way to go. This view of the valley is near the intersection:

That red iron oxide is what gives South Mineral Creek its color (I'll show you a photo of the "red" water in the next entry). The headwaters for the creek are in this valley.

Jim and Cody dropped from over 12,300 feet to about 10,000 feet in five miles. Near the road, they had to ford Mineral Creek several times. Then they ran the gradual downhill on South Mineral Creek Road for about four miles back to the camper. Jim called about twenty minutes out to let me know he was coming. I warmed up come chili for him and turned the water heater on so he could have a hot shower. He appreciated both! He was tired but very happy with his run.


Cody was bouncing around this morning, raring to go again. Our sturdy little ultra Lab ended up doing more mileage this week than either Jim or I did - 69 miles, plus several walks around the campground each day to potty! And Tater did a 16-mile run with Jim today, the farthest she's gone in a couple years or more. She still had energy at the end, too. They're adapting to the high altitude faster than Jim and I are!

At 6:30 AM Jim dropped Cody and me off at the Little Molas campground where I turned around yesterday. Three hikers were just starting up the trail. I later caught up to them and talked about Segment 24, which they did yesterday. That's the one where I'll be fording the Rio Grande River and tackling some major elevation gain and loss. They loved the section, so I'm really looking forward to it.

I quickly stripped off the extra shirt and long pants I was wearing. Even that early, the sun was hot on the open meadows through which I hiked and ran the first hour or more. The section south of Molas Pass, the upper Lime Creek drainage area, was heavily forested until a fire decimated it in 1879. Even after 127 years, the trees have not returned. The upside is that the views are quite nice in every direction and there are scads of wildflowers in bloom.



The CT traverses the upper reaches of this drainage area to the pass over Rolling Mountain at elevations ranging from 10,845 feet (Cascade Creek) to 12,520 feet on the pass. Total elevation gain is about 3,120 feet going southbound. Loss was about the same, as I ended at Celebration Lake at nearly the same elevation as I began. There wasn't much flat trail today; I was always going up or down.

"Drainage area" means lots of streams and wet areas. The only place Cody needed water from his pack today was at the Rolling Mountain Pass, where we were above the water sources (except for the patches of snow he dug around in up there).



The trail surface was mostly very runnable today. The rockiest section was the "hanging alpine valley," i.e., marshy alpine terrain, from nine to ten miles into this section at an elevation of 11,500 to 12,000 feet. I loved all the Marsh Marigolds, Parry's Primrose, and Alpine Avens in this beautiful area. Cody and I climbed gradually through this Garden of Eden (the first two pictures are looking backwards):



As we climbed above 12,000 feet it felt like we were on top of the world. Over half a mile of trail crosses the high plateau where we encountered several patches of snow covering the trail, frosty ponds filled with snowmelt, and two new flowers I hadn't yet seen, white Indian Paintbrush and perky yellow Alpine Sunflowers:




I saw a total of eleven cyclists on the trail today, four of them negotiating this snow patch on Rolling Mountain (they came over the hill and stopped dead in the mushy snow!):

The views from the plateau and up to the pass at 12,520 feet were just awesome. Two photos are near the top of this page.  Here is one more from this side of the mountain, looking back down at the plateau from Rolling Mountain Pass:

Cody had to check out the snow again on top of the pass:

Uh, oh. Are those gray clouds approaching from the west?? Better get back down to tree line as quickly as possible. It's windy up here, too.

But no, the views were too incredible to hurry down the wonderful switchbacks as I dropped 1,657 feet in the next three miles. What views looking south . . .

. . . and west from the pass:

I dropped down a little ways to get out of the wind and found some rocks where Cody and I could rest a bit and get some fluids and nourishment. I just soaked in the beauty.

This is one of those mental images I will retain forever, a place to "go" when I need to chill out from one of life's stresses.

It was great running down that mountain on the fairly smooth, switch-backing trail, but I was constantly side-tracked by the numerous flowers and changing scenery as I descended.

I met two of the seven hikers I saw today as they were going up. I was happy to be going down, as this side was steeper than the other (but still not "steep" in comparison to the Appalachian Trail).

After descending into a forest, Cody and I came to White Creek, which was wide and rocky but very shallow. Between the rock ledges, I could see a high waterfalls. It's easy to miss unless you stop mid-stream and look right (if you're going south). I got a better picture of it around the bend from another angle:

We continued to drop down through trees and interesting rock formations. Less than a mile later, I came to the nice bridge across Cascade Creek.

Even at "low tide," it's a pretty active creek with a falls just below it, so I was grateful for the bridge.

I knew Jim must be nearby because Cody acted like he could smell him (that dog has a fantastic nose for Jim and me when we've been on a trail before him). Sure enough, there were Jim and Tater taking a nap above the bridge, waiting for Cody and me!

I'm always really happy to see Jim when he comes in to meet me. He was able to get in about sixteen miles today by driving all the way up that awful Bolam Pass Road again, parking at Celebration Lake, and going north on the trail toward me. He got in about four bonus miles when he went accidentally got off the trail (I had the GPS today).

I felt strong until we began the long climb back out from Cascade Creek and up again to 11,760 feet. Going uphill at that altitude just drained me. Jim was moving slowly, too, but felt better than I did. We got into some sporadic sleet and light rain, enough to break out our jackets twice, then take them off when the sun came back out.

As we climbed to the ridge I kept looking to the side for the pass over Rolling Mountain. Finally it came into view. There it is!

My finger is pin-pointing it exactly. That shot was Jim's idea, and is much better than putting an arrow onto the photo. Gosh, it looks so far away! No wonder this second long climb was draining me.

Four cyclists caught up to us at the top of the ridge and stopped to rest. We got a quick view of Lizard Head in the distance and kept going because it was sprinkling again and we had a couple miles left to get to the truck. The cyclists  went zooming past us on a long, descending double-track half a mile later. I felt much better running down those trails and jeep roads than I did going uphill. We ended at Celebration Lake (11,090 feet), still pretty high up.

The physical effort wasn't over. Jim still had to maneuver down skinny, rocky, tight-switch-backy Bolam Pass Road. This was my first time going DOWN that road through the worst part. Let me tell ya, it's scarier than going up because you can't see anything over the hood of the truck for a few seconds around those tight curves! Jim had to be extra careful putting the gears in reverse - and not neutral or forward - when he had to back up the truck to make the curves. Although we have to go back up Hotel Draw Road one more time, at least we don't have to continue on to Bolam Pass any more.  

Next entry: exploring the Mineral Creek area - photos from a training run on South Mineral Creek Road, an interesting drive near our campground to Clear Lake, and Hardrockers putting up a rope at the Mineral Creek crossing for the upcoming 100-mile foot race.

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil