View north from Hope Pass in Colorado


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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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Today's miles: 18.5                                Cumulative miles:  220.5
         Approx. elevation gain: 4,520 feet          Bonus Miles: 0                
"The first mile of this segment is one of the few pieces of the CT that is on
private property. Clear Creek Ranch is a fishing resort; so please, don't do
anything that muddies the creek. The ranch owner and its caretakers have been
very friendly to and supportive of the CT, so [don't] mess with this relationship. It would be very difficult to find an alternate route for the CT in this area."
- The Colorado Trail Guidebook, Seventh Edition, p. 127


Guess what? There's a big sign on the gate to the ranch property now that says after September 1, the CT will no longer be going through Clear Creek Ranch but will be re-routed through the forest service campground 1.4 miles down the road where we are camping right now.

It's all about "safety and liability." We live in a litigious society.

Bummer. It was a nice run/hike through the 8/10ths of a mile that currently bisects the ranch. They have a very nice bridge over the wide creek, too. There isn't one at the campground, and I don't see any work being done to make a trail near there, either.

Hmmm. . . . if you do this segment of the CT after September 1, just follow the new signs, I guess. And you might get your feet wet going through Clear Creek. Near our camp site it's about twenty feet wide and knee-deep right now.

Yesterday Jim did another double crossing over Hope Pass as he continues to make Hope his friend, not his enemy, for the Leadville race. He plans to do several more climbs there while we are camped nearby. Previously we haven't been able to come out here to train on the course as long as we can this year. Those runs over the pass were limited to one or two so we didn't wear ourselves out too much right before the race. But since it's still four weeks until the race, Jim can safely train on Hope for another week or two this time.


Oh, and we found out from a local resident how many miles Steve Peterson, the former winner, did this weekend on the course: 60 miles Saturday (when we both saw him) from Leadville to Winfield and back to Twin Lakes, and 60 miles on Sunday from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back to Leadville.

Yikes! We already know elite runners are in another category than we are, but now it's really apparent! "Doubles" to us are half that distance or less.

Jim was taking today to rest, so it was my turn to do another run on the CT. I chose the next section south, Segment 12, since the trail head was so convenient to our campground.

I almost didn't get started, though. My legs were still tired from my run on Saturday and ached during the night. I also laid awake trying to figure out how to do the next eight segments south of here in five runs instead of six. Sometimes the brain just won't shut off!

When the alarm went off at 5 AM, I told Jim I needed to either sleep longer or bag it for today. I woke up around 8 and decided to go for it. In retrospect, I probably shoulda stayed in bed!


Jim graciously drove me up the road 1.4 miles to the start at the ranch gate and Cody and I were on the trail at 9 AM. I crossed my fingers that no storms would hit while I was at the higher elevations today.

I was quite happy that this segment gets up to two high points of 11,655 feet and 11,870 feet. They didn't look or feel exactly like "tundra," but they were definitely higher than I got on Saturday. And yes, storms did hit during the afternoon, but not when I was on the ridge tops. More about that later . . .

Most of today's section went through the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness/Sawatch Range as the trail continued south along the eastern flanks of Mounts Oxford, Harvard, and Columbia, all fourteeners. The Arkansas River valley ("Valley of the Giants") was on my left to the east, the imposing barrier mountains on my right toward the west.

Fifteen of Colorado's highest peaks cluster near the Arkansas River. For ninety miles, the CT undulates over their flanks from the north, at Mt. Massive (Segment 10) to the south, Mt. Shavano (Segment 14).

Segment 12 is a beautiful area with more views than in Segment 11. Cody had plenty of water in all the big and little streams we crossed, and we had lots of shade through the spruce, fir, and aspen forests. I loved it!

There was considerably more elevation change than two days ago, too. Total gain going southbound is about 4,520 feet and total loss is about 3,725. 

The first mile through Clear Creek Ranch is relatively flat:

I saw this sign soon after re-entering forest service land:

Then the trail gets serious as it gains almost 2,700 feet in the next four miles and tops out in a stand of bristlecone pine trees:

I enjoy going through the various eco-zones on long climbs or descents. In this area, the aspens are around 11,000 feet. The trees thinned out as I got higher.

I noticed more pretty quartz-type rocks on this segment than any of the CT segments I've done so far. This is one of them:

I had to put on my jacket near the top of this ridge when some sleet started to fall, but it didn't last long. I took the jacket back off in a few minutes and continued on across the top. I believe that's Mt. Oxford in the background in t he photo below.

I enjoyed a moderately-steep descent on the south side of the first ridge, going from 11,655 feet down to Pine Creek at 10,430 feet in a little over a mile. There were several tents along this beautiful creek and an intersecting trail that goes to the popular Missouri Basin. Most of today's creeks had sturdy bridges spanning them.

The second major ascent began from the creek, up 1,440 feet in about two miles. I topped out in a short tundra area with good views of Mt. Oxford. These two photos are near the top, looking south toward intense blue sky:


I could see storm clouds over the nearby mountains to the north and west and could heard thunder, but I didn't get wet until the descent from this ridge on the flank of Mt. Harvard or Mt. Columbia:

Once again, the trees thinned out as we climbed higher to the little bit of tundra that we crossed:



After Cody and I got down mostly into trees again, the thunder and lightning got a little closer and it started hailing. No sleet or rain to start, just pea-sized hail that began suddenly. It stung my bare legs and jacket-clad arms. Ouch! This time we had large pines to use as shields, however. Cody and I stood under trees twice for a few minutes to avoid the worst of the hail until the storms let up.

An odd thing happened as we were running in the sleet a little after this.


Something hit the side of my head. It felt like getting hit with a snowball. I thought maybe it was a big pinecone that blew down or something. I was glad I had my jacket hood on, or else my glasses would have come all the way off and maybe broken.

Then I saw a medium-sized gray bird fall to the trail and realized he'd smacked me in the head!

Cody was quite interested in putting the bird in his mouth (he's a retriever, after all) but he obeyed my command to "leave it!" The bird wasn't able to get up and fly. I couldn't see what was wrong with it. I gently laid it in some grass off the trail so no one would step on it. I hope it was just stunned and not seriously injured.

That was pretty weird! The only reason I didn't photograph the bird was because it was raining steadily and I didn't want to get the camera wet.

We continued on downhill for about nine glorious miles. The trail was mostly smooth and runnable, although there were the usual gnarly, rocky spots here and there. While it was still raining, the trail sometimes looked like a creek:

We crossed a few more real creeks . . .

. . . and went by scenic Harvard Lake:

Too bad I couldn't take advantage of all the downhill running, though. My left knee got progressively sore on today's run and I was only able to shuffle by the last mile. My left heel also developed a whopper of a blister, the first one I've had this summer. I believe it was caused by the different stride I developed to protect my knee.

<sigh> It's always something! Now I'll have to rest a few more days before hitting the trail again. Eighty-eight miles last week was apparently more than my body could handle without developing an over-use injury.

Since it was a weekday, I didn't see as many trail users today as I did on Saturday. Near the end of the run two northbound hikers passed by. We just said hi. Later, Jim told me they were probably the guys he picked up on the way to the trail head at North Cottonwood Creek west of Buena Vista. The last two miles of dirt road are very rough, and several folks left their cars at the end of the smoother part of the road and walked up to the trail head. We also gave a ride to two southbound runners we know who finished when I did; they'd also left their vehicle a couple miles down the road. That's the roughest access road we've encountered since Bolam Pass Road in the San Juans. Jim will have to negotiate it again when I do Segment 13.

Since most of this segment goes through a wilderness area, there were no cyclists on the trail today. And I still haven't seen any equestrians after completing thirteen of the twenty-eight CT segments. There are trails near the south end of this segment that are heavily used by horseback riders.

This photo is from the last descent to the North Cottonwood Creek trail head. It started raining again lightly just as I finished the run.

Cody did his usual run-on-ahead-of-mom at the end, sensing that Jim was close. One of the runners who was with me even noticed his behavior and was impressed!

I'm not sure how many days I'll take off now to let my knee(s) and blister heal. It depends on Jim's schedule. He's been busy planning different training routes, mostly on the LT100 course, and splits for the aid stations during the race. He has results for the last five years or more with everyone's splits, including his own for the four times he's run the race. He's been analyzing times to see when the finishers around his speed (28-30 hours) get to Twin Lakes at 40 miles and Winfield at 50 miles. He doesn't know whether to push the pace the first forty miles to give himself more time over Hope Pass, or run closer to the cut-offs to conserve energy for the mountain. There are advantages to either ploy.

One thing's for sure: he's gonna climb that pass enough times from both directions to increase his strength and confidence as much as he can!

Hope Pass is my friend . . . Hope Pass is my friend . . .

Next up: some interesting 19th Century history from Clear Creek Canyon, our current "home."

Cheers from the gypsies,

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil