2006 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

   
 
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EXPLORING THE MINERAL CREEK AREA
 
MONDAY, JULY 3
 
 
EXPLORE  \eks-plore\ vb. 1. to investigate, study, or analyze; look into
2. to travel over new territory for adventure or discovery
 
- your standard dictionary
 
 

 

Jim and I love to explore new territory, even when it's close to "home." Right now, our home is a lovely campground along South Mineral Creek, northwest of Silverton, Colorado.

We decided to "move" today to a more private campsite than the one we've occupied for six days next to the creek. Someone vacated a spot Jim's been watching, wishing he'd chosen it on the first day. It took us about an hour to prepare the camper to move and set it up 200 feet away. We're closer to trees and the bathroom, and no one can crowd in on us here.

We can also run our quiet Honda generator anytime in this location and not disturb anyone. We try to rely on our solar panels to charge the batteries, but we're getting sun only in the mornings, usually. Afternoons are often cloudy and/or rainy, and there's no sun all night. So we have to run the generator to operate lights, the coffeepot, and the microwave. There's no TV reception, so we're doing without the Tube for three weeks. The only thing I miss is the news. We can get that on the radio if we want.

Personally, I'm happy not knowing what's going on Out There!!

Based on other people's comments, we expected the campground to get more crowded than it has this holiday weekend. It's not too bad now, especially since we moved to a more protected area. Most folks will be gone by tomorrow and we'll pretty much have the place to ourselves again.

In this entry I'll share some photos of:

  1. a run up the road that Jim and I did with the dogs on our first full day here, June 28,

  2. some Hardrockers putting up a rope on July 1 for the race's crossing of Mineral Creek,

  3. and our trip up to nearby Clear Lake today.

RIVER OF RED

Headwaters for the South Fork of Mineral Creek begin up in that valley I showed you in the last entry that lies between Rolling Mountain and the Twin Sisters Peaks. Jim ran down the Mineral Creek Trail along the creek for several miles on Saturday. By the time it goes by our campground a few miles later, it has gathered some volume and "steam."

Last week we decided to start acclimating near our campsite at an elevation of  around 9,700 feet instead of getting on the Colorado Trail or Hardrock Hundred course at elevations higher than that. The easiest runs to do are from our camper, up or down Mineral Creek Road. It is a fairly smooth dirt-and-gravel road with traffic that is supposed to go only 25 MPH. Some folks do, some don't. Most will at least slow down when they go by someone who is walking or running.

Here are some photos of our first run of about four miles. Notice how the color of the creek looks blue as we're going outbound (west) but it's red in the later photos, when the sun was at a different angle on our way back east to the camper. I swear I didn't doctor those photos with Photoshop software!

 

I was pretty intrigued with the red streaks in one of the Twin Sisters peaks (left). The gray mountain to the right in the photo below is U.S. Grant Peak, elevation 13,767 feet.

We turned around at the paid campground at the end of the smooth part of this road. South Mineral Creek Road continues on about two miles and deadends past the Bandora Mine between the Twin Sisters and Fuller Peak.

Coming back less than an hour later, I was astounded at how red the creek looked! This is the same bend in the creek as one of the pictures above. It looks like someone put dye in the water!

 

 

 

Is that totally weird, or what?? Now you know why it's named "mineral" creek. I haven't run up the road again (Jim has) but when we've driven it, I haven't seen the same redness. Must've been something with the lighting that particular day.

This is another view of our campground the same day:

We're gonna miss this place when it's time to head north on the Colorado Trail.

HARDROCK COURSE MARKING

Every year before the Hardrock Hundred (HRH) trail run, entrants come to the area to acclimate and familiarize themselves with the course. Many runners are here for two weeks or more. Charlie Thorn, who is in charge of course-marking, puts up a schedule for runners who want to come along with him to place the distinctive markers along the course:

The yellow and white reflective markers are attached to thin metal stakes to help guide runners through the course at night. They have the HRH logo on one side, as shown above, and a "Please Do Not Remove this Marker" plea on the reverse. Bright orange flagging is also tied onto the stake to help runners find their way during the day.

I happened to drive by the Mineral Creek race crossing on Hwy. 550 Saturday after taking Jim to Molas Pass to begin his run. A group of about fifteen runners was stringing up a sturdy rope across the creek. It's wider and deeper here than by our campground because both the Middle and South Forks of the creek have already joined above this location.

The creek is only about mid-calf deep now, considerably lower than usual this time of year. I've already mentioned in this journal that the San Juans received less snow than normal over the winter, and it's been warmer than usual this spring and summer, too. Steve Pero told me the creek was at least waist-high last year from snowmelt - and he's pretty tall! Pity the shorter folks in the race in high-water years.

Every year the HRH course is reversed. Last year it went in the counter-clockwise direction (Silverton-Ouray-Telluride-Silverton), so runners encountered this creek - waist-high, remember - at 98 miles into the run. Some went through it during the dark. So the rope was very necessary.

This year, runners are going in the clockwise direction and will cross the river two miles after their 6 AM start. Yes, it'll be cold, but it'll be in daylight and this time it's really shallow. Piece of cake, compared to what they'll face later in the race!

Anyway, here are some photos of some of our friends as they're crossing the creek on their first day of course-marking.

In the first photo, Charlie Thorn is to the right, Kathy Lang (blue vest) is kneeling to adjust the rope on this side, and Deb Pero (blue shirt) is helping her. I don't know who the other two people are.

Kathy and Charlie posed for me here. Sorry about the bright sun in your eyes!

You can see how shallow the water is this year as Kathy crosses the creek, using the newly-strung rope cable:

The group went on to mark about ten miles of the course that day.

Jim and I haven't decided if we'll go on any of the course-marking forays. I want to save my energy for the Colorado Trail, and Jim wants to run more than the groups will do (they're in taper mode now, and mostly walking as they mark). We're both curious to see the infamous Virginius Pass and glissade, however . . . more exploring!

CLEAR LAKE

High up in a cirque surrounded by the shoulders of U.S. Grant Peak (13,767 feet), South Lookout Peak (13,370 feet), and an unnamed peak (13,156 feet) lies very, very cold Clear Lake. The only way to get there by vehicle is on a four-mile long, bumpy, twisty, narrow jeep road (FSR 815) that goes up from South Mineral Creek Road. The distance to this scenic little lake from our campground is about six miles, but it feels like you're in another world when you get there..

Why do we keep driving up (and down) these back roads?? It's not that we need the challenge, or our truck the wear-and-tear, but there are just such interesting things to explore along the way!

You tell me if it was worth the sometimes-harrowing drive to get up there today after you've seen these photos . . .

The first shots are scenes on the way up the mountainside. This is part of a long waterfall in Clear Creek right next to one of the switchbacks above tree line:

Next is an expansive view into the valley looking west. The faint road you can see is the rough part of South Mineral Creek Road that extends back to the old Bandora Mine and a large parking area a little beyond. Jim came back on that road during the Colorado Trail-Mineral Creek Trail-South Mineral Creek loop he did a couple days ago.

Tomorrow Jim and I will be running on the mountains on either side of that road on part of the HRH course called "KT" for Kamm Traverse. It's named for Ulli Kamm, the Hardrock runner that suggested that part of the route on the way to Grant-Swamp Pass. This is a great view of the valley.

The next photo shows some of the (many) switchbacks above tree line on the way up to Clear Lake:

Can you say, "serpentine?"

We walked around the lake as far as possible, enjoying the majestic beauty of the place. Steep cliffs from Grant Peak formed impenetrable walls on two sides of the water.

 

 

A flower-filled meadow sloped gently up the other sides. The headwaters of Clear Creek flowed from the low end of the lake and began their journey down the mountainside.

I got some crazy photos of the snow reflected in the water! They almost look like zebra stripes:

See the marmot on the rock in the photo below? Good thing the dogs were in the truck. They both have fun chasing marmots, but they'll never catch one of those furry critters!

Several families were fishing, while others just savored the incredible views. I felt like I was in a very special place.

Jim and I are thinking of hiking up to the lake, then going on up to the top of the shoulder of South Lookout Peak on the faint jeep tracks you can see in the photo below:

Why?

Just because it's there and we want to see what's on the other side! There must be a good reason it's named "Lookout Peak," don't cha think?

Exploring the boundaries,

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil