2006 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

   
 
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CT SEGMENT 13:
NORTH COTTONWOOD CREEK ROAD
TO CHALK CREEK TRAILHEAD
              
SUNDAY, JULY 30
 
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Today's miles: 22.8                   Cumulative miles: 243.3
         Approx. elevation gain:  3,720 feet          Bonus Miles:  0              
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
 
"Bring a cold Coke for Cody and a big bucket of water for me, OK?"
 
- Jim yesterday, calling to ask me to pick him up
at the end of a long (mis)adventure run
 
 

 

Guess what? I've now completed half of the segments of the Colorado Trail (fourteen of twenty-eight) and a little over half of the total distance, which is officially 483 miles now (even though our GPS shows more mileage every day than what is in the guidebook).

And it took me only five weeks to do it! Ha. Looks real impressive next to Jonathon Basham's new record of eight days and thirteen-plus hours, eh? That's for the entire 483 miles, by the way. I neglected to mention he finished his goal of beating the prior record of nine-days-and-a-few-hours on Saturday a week ago.

<sigh> Bet I'm having more fun than he did, at least.

JIM'S RECENT TRAINING ADVENTURES

I'm glad I took off several days to rest my knees and let my blister heal because I felt better running today. Jim took advantage of those days to train three more times on Hope Pass.

One day he went from the south trail head (Sheep Gulch) on Clear Creek Canyon/Winfield Road up the steep side, down the south side and across Lake Creek, then back, a distance of about 15 miles. He wore his Montrail Highline shoes that day and discovered they drain a lot better than the Vitesse. He now plans to wear the Highlines for at least the 21-mile section from Twin Lakes back to Twin Lakes during the race, and probably the Vitesse for the rest of the race where their cushioning will feel good on the road sections.

[Speaking of shoes, I've been wearing the Highlines all summer. I love 'em. They have great grip in both wet and dry conditions - slick rocks in creeks and on the trails, mud, dry gritty surfaces, loose rock, etc. And they do drain well. Because my sense of balance isn't very good, I prefer to walk through creeks with only one or two log "bridges," so my feet get wet a lot.]

Another day, he went up and over Hope and on to the Halfmoon Campground, site of an aid station during the race. He intended to go farther, but got lost on the dirt roads and trails between Twin Lakes and Halfmoon Road. He called me for directions to the Colorado Trail off Hwy. 82 east of Twin Lakes, and ended up going that way to get on the part of the LT100 course that follows the CT to Halfmoon Road. He got enough bonus miles to call it quits there, for a total of 23 miles. Although frustrated, he got in a good workout with lots of acclimating.

Yesterday Jim and Cody had an extended adventure (about two hours longer than estimated) on Mount Hope and Quail Mountain. He wanted to go cross-country from Hope Pass east to Quail Mountain and the Columbine Mine, where we work the 100-mile bike race aid station at the same altitude (12,600 feet). As the crow flies, the distance isn't that much, maybe three miles. Then he wanted to drop down a couple miles, again cross-country, to the Colorado Trail and return to Clear Creek Canyon Road near our campground.

He consulted our various paper and software topo maps and thought he could navigate the terrain OK unless it was too rocky or overgrown. There are no trails in these two places; he'd have to adjust his plan if he ran into insurmountable obstacles.

So, armed with the GPS, a map he printed out from our topo software, and CT directions, he took off with Cody for what turned out to be a 10-hour training run to cover 24+ miles, several miles farther than intended.

Tater and I started up the trail with Jim and Cody from the Sheep Gulch trail head a few miles up the road from our campground. I wanted a short up-and-down to test my knee and heel. Ten minutes in, Tater and I turned around for the steep descent back to our truck. The knee behaved and the heel was OK. The rest period worked!

Jim and Cody continued on up the trail to Hope Pass, making it in a faster time than before and feeling more comfortable. They went down about four miles to Lake Creek so Cody could drink and get all wet, then headed back up to the pass. Miles elapsed = about eleven so far.

Since it was a Saturday and three weeks before the Leadville Trail 100-mile race, there were lots of other runners out training on this section. Jim talked with several, including the amazing Rikki Redland and Susan Gebhardt, who finished Hardrock together only two weeks ago! These 50-something ladies are doing the "Rocky Mountain Slam," which includes four 100-milers that are tougher than the four races in the original Grand Slam.

When I think of their ultra running accomplishments, I sometimes think, "What's wrong with me that I can't do that??" But I quickly realize there's nothing wrong with me. They are incredible athletes, like Hans-Dieter Weisshaar in his mid-60s, who can repeatedly hammer out difficult hundred-milers just days or weeks apart. They aren't built physically or mentally like 99.99% of the population! I admire them, but can't ever hope to emulate their trail accomplishments ("trail feats" sounds weird, doesn't it?). I need to be satisfied with my own athletic achievements and keep raising the bar a little with challenges that don't cause run-ending injuries. I just don't have the physique to do much more than I'm already doing.

Jim also met a young lady (Michelle) and man about our age (Ed Green), who turned out to be our dinner companions last night. We had arranged to meet Karen Pate and Pat Homelvig for dinner at Josie's Brew Pub in Leadville while they were here again this weekend to train for LT100. They asked if it would be OK if a couple more people joined us, which was fine. Jim recognized Michelle and Ed immediately as two of the runners he saw going up Hope. We had a fine dinner at Josie's (the evening's special, grilled red snapper) and great conversation.

Pat also just finished Hardrock and plans to do three more races in the Rocky Mountain Slam (Leadville, Wasatch, and The Bear). He's been resting since Hardrock, however.

Meanwhile, back to Jim's run . . . he and Cody spent time chatting with other runners and sitting at the top of the pass before striking out on their own, east around Quail Mountain, trying to maintain about the same elevation. It didn't work because of the rock ledges, some of which Jim had to help Cody climb (they must have been very vertical, because Cody is agile and strong). They ended up at the SUMMIT of Quail, 13,461 feet high, where there was a steel pipe chained down to rocks. Inside was a notebook and pen to sign your name!

Next Jim went down the east side of Quail Mountain, around another ridge, and could finally see Columbine Mine. None of this was runnable because of the rocks and no trail. He worked his way down to the rough Lost Canyon Road before quite reaching the mine and headed downhill on the road.

Jim didn't want to run on the road all the way down to the CT because it would be farther with all the switchbacks than going cross-country, due east, to the CT. But too much vegetation and too many rock walls prevented that plan from happening, and he had to run down the road until it intersected with the CT a couple miles north of where he wanted to be.

Once on the CT, he had another three or four miles to go in the hot sun, without water. He called me from the last ridge, like I called him a few days ago, asking me to come get him. I knew he wasn't in too bad shape, however, because of his (intended) humorous comment to bring Cody a cold Coke and him a big bucket of water!

Jim didn't want to carry a camera on any of these runs, so there is no photographic evidence . . .

BACK ON THE COLORADO TRAIL WITH SUE

Segment 13 can be divided into three sections terrain-wise: the first seven miles include a large ascent and descent over the eastern ridge of Mount Yale through the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, the next nine miles undulate more gradually through mostly-wooded terrain on Sheep Mountain and Mt. Princeton, and the last seven miles are on dirt and paved roads. 

I enjoyed the first eighteen miles on trails and a shady dirt road. I hated the part on busy paved roads (the reason I did not take Cody with me today). The last mile on a quiet dirt road was quite pleasant.

In all fairness, many runners and cyclists probably love the road portions because they can travel faster. I missed the tranquility, safety, and shade of the trail, so my opinion is biased.

The guidebook warns about the section of roads that are necessitated by private land holdings next to the Chalk Cliffs near Princeton Hot Springs. There is simply no room on forest service land to build a foot trail at the base of the cliffs, so trail users must detour around the private land on public roads. The worst was a two-mile segment along Hwy. 162. The shoulder is very narrow and it was downright dangerous around curves where drivers and I couldn't see each other. It didn't help that I was hot and dehydrated there, my water bladder sucked dry.

Otherwise, I had a great time today!

Total approximate elevation gain in this section, going the usual southbound direction, is 3,720 feet. Loss is about 4,690 feet. The highest elevation was 11,905 feet on the east ridge of Yale, the lowest 8,390 feet at the Chalk Creek trail head at the end. I never got above tree line today. In fact, much of the run was between 9,000 and 10,000 feet and partially shaded.

That was good, because it was plenty hot even at that elevation. It was 100 or more in the Arkansas Valley below me (Buena Vista area). That's why I ran out of water an hour before finishing, the first that has happened on the CT. I had 100 ounces in my water bladder plus 28 ounces of concentrated Perpeptuem in a bottle (about 20 ounces were water). Unfortunately, Jim still had our one bottle of iodine in his pack from his adventure yesterday so I couldn't purify any more.

(We bought more iodine on the way home! I have new bottles of Aqua Mira from last summer's AT adventure run, but never carry them. You have to mix the two liquids and it just seems like a bother. Aqua Mira is preferable, though, because it kills more harmful germs than iodine.)

After crossing North Cottonwood (above) on a nice bridge near the trail head at the beginning of the run, I had a 2,545-foot climb in the first three miles. Even though I was going at a slow, steady pace, I needed to take a few "photo breaks" on the way to the top of Yale's eastern ridge. That was the steepest climb (and descent on the south side) that I've seen in fourteen CT segments. It still wasn't "steep" as defined by some of the verticals on the Appalachian Trail, but it was steep enough to get my full attention - and breath.

I used my "secret weapon" to make it easier, though, the same trick I used on tough hills on the AT: Hammergel, preferably caffeinated. Slug an ounce of that stuff every 20 minutes, wash it down with water, and feel the energy in a couple minutes!

Pure rocket fuel, it is.

When I entered the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness near the beginning of the segment, I read a sign I've seen before but hadn't thoroughly read:

Closed to hang gliders, huh? Hang gliders?? It took enough effort to get myself up that mountain. I can't imagine anyone hauling a hang glider up there! And they'd have to keep going farther than I did on the CT, because the CT doesn't even go above tree line.

Guess it's a generic forest service sign.

Here are some photos I took on the way up, including a very scenic wetlands with good campsites nearby. I appreciated a quarter mile of flatter terrain through that area before the climb continued again.

 

 

 

The top of the ridge was somewhat anti-climatic. I expected to see more views at 11,905 feet, but this was what it looked like:

Since there weren't any vistas at the top, I photographed some of the numerous fallen trees whose shapes were interesting:

 

I got better views of the summits of Mts. Columbia, Harvard, and Yale on the way down the other side.

 

It took me 1:43 to get to the top (3.2 miles) and only an hour to get down (3.5 miles) to the Avalanche trail head on paved Cottonwood Pass Road. The descent was about the same amount of vertical as the ascent. I stopped a couple times going down to take photos. Some of the trail was rocky or loose enough grit that I walked to prevent falling down. Much of the trail today was pretty smooth and runnable, though.

Coming down that mountain I had a good view of the Cottonwood Springs area and Rainbow Lake:

The trail crossed Cottonwood Pass Road and Cottonwood Creek, then wound through the trees on the hills to the right (west) of the lake in the photo above.

There were several substantial bridges over creeks today (thank you!) and large, attractive information signs at trail heads. I haven't seen any quite like those previously; I really liked them. The one below is at the Chalk Creek trail head:

I also saw a couple of trail markers that were new to me:

        

Sometimes the trail along the flanks of Mt. Princeton and Sheep Mountain was very smooth dirt or pine needles and other times it got quite rocky like this section between Cottonwood and South Cottonwood creeks:

My favorite part of today's segment was following South Cottonwood Creek for half a mile:

I was impressed by the extensive network of beaver dams along part of the creek that formed little ponds:

Those were busy beavers, indeed! That's just a small part of their work above.

I also loved this view of Mt. Yale (I think) looking NW across the creek/pond:

It is views like this that keep me coming back for more!

The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness ended right before Cottonwood Pass Road. After that, I began to see lots of tire tracks and evidence of horses (hoof prints, poop) along the trail but I never did see any cyclists or equestrians. It was Sunday. I expected more people. I saw only six hikers all day. One was sitting at the high point on Yale, doing bird calls when I interrupted him by walking by. Sorry, fella!

The next few miles are kind of a blur. There was one ascent at eleven miles of about 950 feet that seemed worse than it was because I was already getting fatigued, but most of the section was easy to run because of the undulating terrain, fairly smooth trails, and partial shade.

I have to admit that some of the forests are starting to "look alike." I'm not complaining - they are still beautiful and I appreciate very much the opportunity to run and walk through them! But I've stopped taking as many photos when there aren't unique views because the pine and aspen forests do tend to resemble each  other.

I enjoyed the views from a couple vantage points where the trail went briefly through meadows and I could see the summit of Mt. Princeton . . .

. . . and down into the Arkansas River valley northeast to Buena Vista:

I noticed several other "new" things in Segment 13. There were trail registers that didn't request as much personal information as some I've seen out here before (so I signed these). I could see more "trophy houses" from the trail in this segment than any of the others. And there was more dead fall to climb over or detour around than all the other segments put together that I've run on the CT so far. I still enjoyed most of the segment, though.

Except the roads. At 17 miles the trail abruptly ends and you have to go a little over a mile down a narrow dirt road and through a private camp.

 

That was fine. It was shaded and downhill! And the next little bit on paved road was OK because it, too, was downhill. Only it wasn't shaded, and I started to get very hot in the direct sunlight.

I turned onto another paved road (Country Rd. 321), this one busier and more flat until it rounded a bend and dropped quickly to Princeton Hot Springs and very busy Hwy. 162. Around that bend I could see storm clouds building up behind both Mt. Princeton and Mt. Antero, both 14ers:

Uh, oh. I still had about four miles to go and assumed I'd get totally soaked. But it just got cloudy - and cooler! - and never rained on me. I lucked out.

Soon after getting on Hwy. 162, I sucked my water bladder dry. That's rare. I usually end up with a bunch left over. No use drinking more Perp because it would just make me more thirsty. I could hear Chalk Creek to my left all the way to the trail head, but it was on private property. I didn't want to bother any residents to ask for water. I saw one woman out for a walk and we talked a bit, but she lived too far away for me to go get a drink at her house.

I continued on, wary of traffic whizzing by me. There was little room on the shoulder, and I was glad I didn't have Cody with me. I was hoping Jim would drive by on the highway on his way to the trail head so I could get more water, but he didn't appear. For once, I beat my time estimate and had to wait half an hour for him. I would have been faster with adequate water!

As I walked/ran along Hwy. 162, one eye was on traffic, one on the Chalk Cliffs to my right:

The light gray fractured granite cliffs filled with limestone appear almost white in direct sunlight, although they don't look that way in the photo above.

I also passed the second horse corral of the day along this road (there was another one at the camp a few miles back). There were quite a few kids riding horses, their parents looking on:

The last mile was along a beautiful, quiet dirt road that paralleled Hwy. 162. Even though I knew I'd miss Jim if I followed the CT along the dirt road (Bunny Lane), I turned off. I'm glad I did, especially since I wouldn't have seen him on the highway anyway. There were several scenic farms and charming little houses with low stone walls that reminded me of the English countryside.

 

The lane ended at the nice Chalk Creek trail head, where I cooled off in the creek, learned about local history from the attractive new sign, and sat in the shade until Jim came along.

I learned that Chalk Creek Canyon had a mining history much like that of Clear Creek Canyon, reaching its gold and silver mining heyday in the 1880s. Nearby Mt. Antero (elev. 14, 269 feet) has also produced the highest concentration of gems in North America, including aquamarine, topaz, and quartz crystals. Small boom towns sprung up along the creek and a railroad that went through the canyon. The historic town of St. Elmo still stands, several miles up from the trail head. Private residences now replace miners' shacks and the town is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Next up: Speaking of mining and little towns, some local lore and a tale of greed and mayhem just up the road from Clear Creek Canyon, our current "home."

Happy trails,

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil