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"I thought today was your rest day."
"Well, somebody had to take pictures!!"
- conversation between Jim and Sue this morning
after Jim said he wasn't taking a camera on his training run over Hope Pass


Hope Pass. 12,600 feet elevation. The literal and figurative high point of the Leadville Trail 100-mile foot race.

Not only is Hope Pass at a much higher elevation than where most of the 500 race participants live, they have to cross it twice - at 45 and 55 miles into the race. Hope Pass has been the undoing of many an LT100 runner, including both Jim and me.

The two times I've run the race, I dnf'd half way through because I just couldn't get up and over the mountain as quickly as I needed to go. The first time, I missed the cut-off at the ghost town of Winfield by ten minutes. The second time, I got caught in a nasty storm at the "Hopeless" aid station and hunkered down long enough in the tent to drop out there, knowing I wouldn't make the Winfield cut-off. After the storm blew over, I ran back down to Twin Lakes to get a ride back to town.

Jim's experiences are similar - three out of four times he just wasn't fast enough over the mountain to make the Winfield cut-off, despite two weeks of altitude acclimation and training runs on the mountain. (He did finish the race the first time he ran it.)

But we love it up there! It is so beautiful (on a nice-weather day) to look far to the north, past the twin lakes and beyond to Turquoise Lake, or south to the 14ers looming large. It is an accomplishment of which to be proud, climbing up that mountain. And while it is an effort to get up either side, it is oh so much fun to run down the other side!

The first time Jim saw Hope Pass was on a cold day in February, not a warm, sunny day like today in July or August. I had already been to the race previously to crew and pace a friend. I was anxious to run the race myself, and my enthusiasm was contagious. Jim wanted to run it, too!

So we traveled to Leadville for one day and attempted to climb the mountain from the Winfield (south) side, the steeper direction. It was a beautiful winter day in a year when the snowfall was significantly less than normal. We wondered just how far we could get up the mountain until snow prevented us from going further. I don't think we got up even one mile, only about a third of the distance to the pass. We didn't have snowshoes, and had to turn around when the snow got knee-deep or more.

But Jim got to see a glimpse of the pass from our vantage point. It was memorable, and gave him inspiration as he trained for the race the next six months.

He finished that year. It's the only finish either of us has had here in a combined six attempts.

Hope Pass still lures us, and we couldn't wait to climb it again on our first full day in the vicinity! It's a special place for us.


Jim didn't know I was going to go up to the pass today, too. In fact, I didn't know I was going up until after I dropped him off at Twin Lakes this morning! His plan was to do the 21miles (22 per our GPS) from Twin Lakes up and over Hope Pass and down to Winfield and back. My plan was to take him to Twin Lakes and return to the camper to write until time to go back to Twin Lakes and pick him up.

But I decided on my way back to the camper that Jim wasn't the only one who was going to have fun today, and I hatched my plan to 1) give Jim some unexpected crewing assistance, and 2) climb at least part way up the north side of Mt. Hope myself!

The sky looked a little "iffy" when we looked west toward the area of the pass from our campground early in the morning, but Jim decided to go run come sun or storm:

We drove about thirteen miles to the parking lot in Twin Lakes. Soon after we arrived, we saw our friends Karen Pate and Pat Homelvig drive in. They drove over to Leadville from the Boulder area for the weekend so Karen could get in some training for the race. Pat just completed the Hardrock Hundred and was crewing for Karen and two friends, Sue Cohn and JoAnn Beine, on their crossing of the mountain. Pat would drive around and crew for them on the Winfield side.

I got this photo of (L → R) JoAnn, Jim, Karen, and Pat before Sue arrived:

Hope Pass and the summit of Mt. Hope are in the background.

Karen took this shot of Jim and me:

Cody, Tater, and I accompanied Jim for about a hundred yards as he started out through the marshy area north of the twin lakes, then turned around and went back to the truck.

I waved good-bye to Karen, Sue (who had just arrived), Lisa, and Pat and headed back to the camper.

As I drove back, I decided I wanted to go up there, too! Why should everyone else be having all the fun??

Pat was already at the newly-renovated Sheep Creek trail head parking area when I got there about 10 AM. This area is much nicer than it was previously:

I got a rather late start up the mountain, considering the high probability of a late-morning or early-afternoon thunderstorm. I took Tater with me this time since she doesn't get to run as much as Cody. He happily stayed in the camper while we were gone. I think I've about worn out the poor little guy on the Colorado Trail! (No way. He's always got a lot more energy at the end of each trek than I do.)

I didn't start out with the intention of going all the way to the top. I brought some extra clothes for Jim, including shorts (he started off in tights, and it was getting pretty warm), and extra fluids and food in case he needed any. I decided no matter how long I was hiking/running, I'd keep the truck there for Jim to pass twice on his way to and from the Winfield turn-around. (The location of the aid station during the race is about 2.4 miles up the road from this trail head.)

I saw Jim about half a mile up the trail as he was heading down through the aspens. (No, he's not in this photo!)

He looked great, but was already getting hot and was really happy to hear I'd brought shorts and dry socks and other supplies for him. The Lake Creek crossing was higher than he'd expected (mid-thigh upstream from the normal crossing, which was wicked) and his shoes weren't draining well. He was surprised to see me and even more surprised that I was considering going up to the top on a "rest" day.

That's when I made my joke about someone needing to take photos today! A determined photographer will go about anywhere to capture the images he or she wants to record . . .

A few minutes later, Karen came down, then the other two women. All three were having fun.

So was I!

Although sometimes it felt like a real struggle getting up to the top, I made it in pretty good time considering the 2,600-foot climb in three miles or less. The farther I went, the more determined I was to make it to the top, especially after I got near treeline and the pass looked so tantalizingly close (it wasn't, of course).

The switchbacks that have been added to the south side over the years, including two new ones since we were here in 2004 (one is below), have increased the distance but have mostly tamed the steep, slide-y parts so it's not as treacherous going up or coming back down that side.

I proceeded slowly and steadily so as not to wear myself out too much, stopping once to give Tater some water. It was a rest day, after all. <grin> I also stopped occasionally for mandatory photo ops, like the view to the southwest along Clear Creek Canyon Road toward Leadville, below, and the interesting black pinecones below that:


Three fellas going down the mountain toward Winfield passed me separately within a half mile from the top. All were running pretty fast, which is easy to do going back down. We said hi but didn't stop to talk. Tater and I moved out of their way so as not to impede their progress. I knew from the LT100 list that several runners were planning long training runs this weekend day a month before the race.

Jim later told me who two of the men were. CRS syndrome again. I should have recognized them! Jim remembered one, and some women crewing the second one told Jim who he was. (I'll tell you in a bit.)

Tater and I made it to the top in 1:35 hours, a time I was mighty pleased with, considering. The next photo is looking north toward Twin Lakes:

The closest lake, near the treeline, is the location of the "Hopeless" aid station during the race. It's a cool place, literally and figuratively. Llamas bring up the supplies for that aid station, and it's really fun to see them during the race. the next lake is the more westerly Twin Lake, and the farthest one in view is called Mt. Elbert Forebay.

The next view is looking west toward the summit of Mt. Hope (13,933 feet, only 67 feet short of being a 14er). I can't believe neither Jim nor I have ever climbed up there in all the times we've been over Hope Pass.

After enjoying the views from the pass, I dropped down a bit on the south side out of the strong wind and sat for a few minutes with Tater. What a great place to be on a sunny day!

On the way back down, I met a young fella named Jim who had talked with my Jim down below. Young Jim was doing a long double crossing, too. We wished each other well, and I continued down, down, down.

More slowly than I expected, unfortunately. My left knee started hurting as soon as I started downhill. Rats! I was so looking forward to bombing down that mountain in 45 minutes!! (Faster runners will laugh at that time, but for Jim and me, it's a good time.) It ended up taking 52 minutes because I couldn't run like I wanted. <sigh> That's really gonna help me on the Colorado Trail tomorrow . . .

Jim was right. I should have really rested today. But gosh darn, I had a lot of fun.

I saw Jim again about half a mile from the truck as he was going back up the mountain from the Winfield side. It's much steeper on that side, and he was tired from the miles he'd already run.

But he was determined to finish his intended double crossing. The shorts, dry socks, extra fluids, and food helped make his run more tolerable, so I'm very glad I took all that stuff out there for him. We kissed and I bid him a good run to the "finish" at Twin Lakes, where I'd pick him up in a few hours.

Just before reaching the truck, two tall guys I'd seen earlier, now running together, passed me going up. This time I got a picture!

You see, the one in the white shirt is Steve Peterson, who has won the race several times (before Matt Carpenter obliterated the record last year). I don't really know him, but should have recognized him the first time. I still don't know who the guy in the red shirt is, but I talked to him later at Lake Creek while waiting for Jim to come back.

The third fella was Glen Turner, who I also should have recognized. He is in the background in the photo above, doing a good job keeping up with Steve.


I got another bright idea (not) while I was eating my lunch at the camper. Instead of just waiting for Jim at the truck at Twin Lakes, why not go out about a mile to Lake Creek and wait for him there? It would make a great shot, catching him as he crossed the deep creek.

Always thinking like a photographer!

I was also curious about the creek. I've been through it many times on training runs and during the race, but I've never seen it really high before.

This time I took Cody with me. It was only a two-mile jaunt and he'd love swimming in the creek.

On the way through the flat, marshy area, Steve, his buddy in the red shirt, and Glen came by me again, almost done with their run. Jim had called me from the location of the "Hopeless" aid station (part way down the north side of the mountain, but still above treeline) to tell me Steve had blown by him a little while ago and Jim "let him go on by."

Our little joke about fast runners!

I knew Jim could get down the north side pretty fast, so I expected him to come by soon. I hustled as fast as I could to make it to the creek before he did.

Wow! I'd never seen the creek so wide, deep, or fast in the five years I've been across it. People call it the "river" crossing, and today it truly looked like a river. The view above is looking east toward the twin lakes.

But Jim and I had a communication problem. He had told me he crossed "about 30 feet upstream" where the water was wider and less deep/fast than the normal race crossing. I planted myself at the crossing, where I could see upstream a good 100 feet.

Cody got into the deep, swirling water several times over the next hour as we waited and waited for Jim to show up. He's shown below at the normal crossing during the race. It was so deep I couldn't see the bottom. I've never seen that gravel bar separating the creek into two streams, either. No way would I cross there!

After Cody would swim around a little, he'd get out of the water, shake all over me, find a stick to chew on, roll around in the dirt until he was filthy, and jump back into the water again.

Cody being a three-year-old pup!

It was sunny and hot. Fortunately, there was a nice breeze by the water and the normal afternoon storms never materialized.

I jumped when Cody started growling, then barking, at something behind us. It was the guy in the red shirt, carrying Steve's "expensive shoes" in a bag to place on the other side of the creek for tomorrow's repeat double crossing of Hope Pass. I watched as he crossed the creek in bare feet - about 30 feet upstream - and hid the bag of shoes in some shrubs on the other side (photo below). Then he came back again carefully, put on his shoes and socks, petted Cody, and returned to the parking area at Twin Lakes.

Oh, to have a crew/running buddy like that! (I betcha Jim would do that if I asked him to, though.)

After an hour, I was getting pretty worried about Jim and wondering if I should take the plunge through the creek and go looking for him. Just how long should I wait? It's the same question that goes through his mind every day he waits for me to get off the Colorado Trail (and last year, the Appalachian Trail).

Just about then, Jim showed up. But from BEHIND me, not in front of me!! What's wrong with this picture???

He wasn't real happy, either. Seems he'd crossed the creek farther up than he thought it was and I didn't even see him. He'd been back at the truck for a while and was worried about where I was! Glen told him he'd seen me heading toward the creek a while ago, so Jim put two and two together, and came out looking for me.

Poor Jim. He was fried from his long run already, then had to come back out in the heat to find me. His 22-mile run turned into 24 miles. We were happy to find each other, though, and I tried to make it up to him by making a nice dinner and doing various chores so he could relax all evening.

Synopsis of our runs:

  • We had perfect weather all day, which is virtually unheard-of on Hope Pass.

  • The elevation gain on the north (Twin Lakes) side of Hope Pass is about 3,380 feet in 4 miles, most of it coming in 3 miles (the mile across the marsh is pretty flat).

  • The elevation gain on the south (Winfield) side of Hope is 2,600 feet in about 3 miles, with some additional elevation gain in the 2.4 miles to Winfield.

  • That's at least 6,000 feet up and down each direction, for a total elevation gain and loss of about 12,000 feet for Jim today - no wonder he was tired!!

  • Since I did only up and down on the south side, I had 5,200 feet of gain and loss in about eight miles (the last two miles were flat) - not so good for a "rest" day, huh?

More memories of Hope Pass . . .

Next up: Segment 11 of the Colorado Trail from Halfmoon Creek to Clear Creek Canyon/Winfield Road. Just how much would I regret that little jaunt up to Hope Pass??

Happy trails,

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil