2006 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

   
 
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 CT SEGMENT 27+:
HOTEL DRAW ROAD TO FSR-171N
              
FRIDAY, JULY 7
 
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Today's miles: 23.0                                Cumulative miles: 83.1
         Approx. elevation gain: 3,800 feet           Bonus Miles:  0              
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
 
"This segment features sweeping vistas, culminating in a dramatic,
5-mile walk atop an alpine ridge at over 12,000 feet. Wildflower enthusiasts
will find the incredible displays at their peak starting in mid-July."
 
- The Colorado Trail Guidebook, Seventh Edition, p. 226
 
 

 

I would have enjoyed this section more fully if it hadn't been raining for the last two days (three, including today). I got caught up on Indian Ridge Trail, described above, in sleet and rain the last half mile, with a close lightning strike just as I started to descend on a slick, rocky portion of the trail above Taylor Lake.

But I shouldn't complain. The area really needs rain. This is the San Juan "monsoon season," after all. Silverton residents are tickled pink with all the rain they've been getting. It was a dry winter and spring, with less snow and rain than they need. But I swear the high mountains (over 10,000 feet) are already getting enough rain. It rains there every afternoon. Everything is very green, even "down" in Silverton (9,318 feet).

EARLY TO BED, EARLY TO RISE

Very early.

Because of the danger of storms on the high ridge I'd be crossing 15-20 miles into my run today, we made a heroic effort to get an early start. The alarm went off at 4:15 AM. Ugh!

On my way to the nearby campground bathroom, I automatically checked the sky. Wow! Clear and starry! I had been raining during the night. When we left at 5 AM, however, it was quite foggy in the South Mineral Creek valley. <sigh> Because of the cloud cover during the night, the temperature was a little warmer than usual, 52 at camp (about 9,700 feet in elevation).

It was a long drive (1:20 hours) to the trail head, one we've been to previously. Except for the Hermosa Creek crossing on Bolam Pass Road, the 20-mile dirt road portion to the Hotel Draw Road trail head was uneventful. Even though the road was muddy, it's not so rocky or steep as to cause problems.

I was on the trail at 6:27 AM. It had been light since about 5 AM and seemed later than it was. Would this be early enough to avoid the daily t-storms on Indian Trail Ridge?  (Obviously not. I already gave that away.)

ROCKY MUDFEST

So far, I've been running on pretty dry, gritty, smooth trails in Colorado. Today was quite a change. The trail was rockier than the other four segments I've run, and the recent rains made it muddy and slick. Last night's rain lay heavy on the thick trailside foliage, making me dripping wet as I ran through it.

But everything looked and smelled very fresh in the morning sun, so I began the run with characteristic optimism. I wonder what new things I'll see today?

It was fairly cool for the first hour because I was running on the west side of the first mountains. The early morning sun is coloring the clouds in the photo below:

Despite numerous starts and stops to change clothing, take photos, check out views, pee (occurs more often when it's cool and damp), and consult my maps, directions, and GPS, I was on a 20-minute pace the first five hours. That's pretty good for me, considering the elevation, climbing, terrain and frequent stops. Although I promised myself that I wouldn't take so many pictures, I ended up with 108. Most were in the first six hours before the sleet and rain began. The terrain was much more technical on the ridge, and I also went slower in the rain.

My overall time was 8:30 hours for this section. Our GPS indicated I ran 24.6 miles, not the official 23.0 miles in the CT guidebook. Perhaps 2/10ths of a mile were backtracking when I wasn't sure I was on course. I never did get off-course, despite wondering several times if I was going the right way.

I had more trouble finding my way today than in the previous segments. The guidebook warns about several intersections with logging roads and trails in the first nine miles that aren't marked, but I had some problems even after that. This is one of the intersections with a logging road that had no CT sign, just the road number:

The next photo shows an attractive sign marking the way:

Too bad there weren't more of those!

I had copies of the directions and maps from the guidebook and Topo software, and Jim put all the waypoints into the GPS. This was the first time I used those, and it's still a learning process for me. I never did get off-track, but there were half a dozen times I wasn't sure I'd taken the right turn.

After the logging area, the CT continues to follow open and forested ridges for another six or seven miles.

Part of it is on the Highline Trail, which had no CT markers or signs. That was a bit confusing at times. Apparently the Highline Trail continues on past Taylor Lake to Kennebec Pass, a distance of about eight miles, because I saw no more CT signs until the pass at the end of the section.

This is a scenic "been there, done that" view looking backwards:

I make a point to turn around occasionally to get other views than just straight ahead or to the sides.

RIDGE RUNNING

Most of the section from Hotel Draw Road to the end of Indian Trail Ridge (19.4 miles) is on ridges, with no water - even after all the rain that's fallen. Because of that, I didn't take Cody with me today. I missed his company, but it was the right decision. 

My favorite part of Segment 27 is Indian Trail Ridge, which I hit around 15 miles, soon after the Grindstone Trail intersection. I loved the first miles of it before the rain began.

This five-mile section is all above tree line, with a high point of 12,310 feet. The trail became rockier here but I was happy to just walk sometimes so I could admire the views!

Although there weren't as many flowers in the first part of the run as the last two segments, the tundra was full of colorful flowers.

I sat down in the sun for a few minutes to soak in the gorgeous scenery.

 

There were several large cairns along the high ridges:

I can't imagine how such beautiful flowers can grow in such a harsh environment:

Notice the gray storm clouds? They were gathering to the east and west, but so far it was dry where I was. 

 

Hmm . . . looks OK toward the west, the direction from which storms usually come:

Fortunately it didn't start sleeting and raining until I was past the "Knife Edge," a portion of the trail that passes through a boulder field. The trail was very narrow and had steep drop-offs on either side. I picked my way carefully through the rock maze as clouds approached from the west:

I had visions of another day like I had on Mt. Madison in the White Mountains of New Hampshire on the Appalachian Trail last summer, when I got caught in sleet and gale-force winds on the huge boulders near its summit. The rocks on Indian Trail Ridge were much smaller, but I still wouldn't want to be up there during a nasty storm.

This is a view southeast from the Knife Edge showing the next ridge I had to climb (on the right):

This view looks back to the Knife Edge after I  maneuvered over it:

It started sleeting and raining with about a half mile to go on the ridge. My views were pretty much obscured. I quickly put on my Marmot jacket and gloves, but not the pants. It took a lot of focus to stay on the trail and not slip in the mud and wet rocks.

Just as I started the long descent to Taylor Lake on a steep, rocky section about 300 feet long, I saw lightning and heard a quick thunderclap. Yikes!

There was no place to hide. I got through the rocks as quickly as I could and sped down the smooth switchbacks to the lake. That was the fastest mile I ran today!

Even in dry, sunny weather, I don't think these five miles would be much fun on a bike or horse. It's too rocky, steep, and narrow. Did I say steep? Yes, a few short places were, but nothing like the 1,000-foot climbs up or down in less than a mile that you sometimes find on the Appalachian Trail - or Hardrock Hundred course. It's all relative . . .

If it had been dry, I probably would have gone a little ways over to Taylor Lake for a few minutes. This area was also confusing to me, with numerous trail names but no mention of the Colorado Trail. In the pouring rain, after running 20 miles at altitude, my brain was like mush trying to figure out where to go. I had my maps and directions in a plastic bag, but opening them up in the rain would make them mush, too. My best tools were the GPS and intuition.

It rained the hardest as I passed the lake and headed for Kennebec Pass, the official trail head for Segment 27. I wasn't sure I was on the right course, but I ran the smooth trail as fast as I could. Water accumulated on the already-soaked trail. It was like running though a creek for the next mile.

A young man in a red pick-up truck arrived at the parking area just as I got there. By then, the rain had let up a bit. I didn't talk to him long. I was behind schedule and I didn't want Jim to worry about me so I kept on truckin' another 2.4 miles to our rendezvous point in Segment 28 at FSR-171N.

The guidebook said the last two miles of the forest service road to Kennebec Pass were "really rough and steep," and it was on the other side (west) of the mountains from Hwy. 550, where Jim was traveling. He had a long enough drive (two hours from Hotel Draw Road) to get me at the next road crossing in Segment 28, which was east of the mountains, and it would have been even farther to go to the Kennebec trail head.

The rain let up a bit after Kennebec Pass (elev. 11,700 feet). The last 2.4 miles were mostly down and were a pleasure to run after getting off the high, rocky ridge. After crossing the pass, I ran down and up on an old mining track. The CT made a sharp left off the road before it sloped further up to the mine.

The CT headed down again:

There was talus slope almost a quarter of a mile long where I had to walk, but the rest was smooth. That part of the trail is called "Slide Rock" for a reason!

This view looks back up Slide Rock Trail just before I entered the woods:

I was still pretty high up on a mountain when I saw our truck down on FSR-171N (look hard - it's down there in the next photo).

Boy, was I glad to see that truck! One of the nicest sections of the day was the switch-backing free-fall on smooth trail down to that little road 1.3 miles away. I ended at an elevation of 10,360 feet, a drop of 1,340 feet in two miles. It was fun to bomb that descent, knowing I was DONE for the day.

I saw a bunch of deer today, one elk (photo below), two hikers going northbound, one potential camper/hiker at Kennebec Pass (reconsidering his plan because of the rain), and lots of bear scat, elk pellets, and horse poop. Although there were numerous elk and deer hoof prints in the mud, there were no human footprints the first ten miles or so. I saw no bears, cyclists, or equestrians. 

Jim said it was nice and sunny in Durango, where he spent most of the day running errands while he waited for me. He got to the trail head about an hour before I arrived and it didn't start raining there until about 20 minutes before my arrival. Rain is weird in the mountains like that. It can be raining on one mountain or valley, but not one ridge over.

I was warm enough in the sleet and rain as I ran, but as usual, got quite cold when I stopped. I dried off as best as I could and put on a warm sweatshirt for the two-hour ride home. It continued to rain all the way to Silverton, the third day (and night) in a row.

Tomorrow is Jim's turn for a longer run. He's not crazy about running in the rain, either. Stay tuned to see what happens!

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil