Now that we're near Leadville, Jim is training in earnest for the
"Race Across the Sky" on August 18-19. He is more determined than ever
to avenge his recent DNFs on this course, the site of his very first
100-mile success back in 1999. If he could do it then, he can do it now.
I certainly think so, and I'm doing whatever I can to see him finish
it this time. When asked what he wants for his birthday on August 1, he
always replies, "to finish Leadville." If only I could
give him that! But I can crew him on his training runs, give him
encouragement and suggestions, and crew and/or pace during the race.
For days (weeks?) he's been analyzing figures from previous races -- his own times
between aid stations in the years he's run the race, the times in Dana
Rouche's classic report on how to finish the race, and the times of
runners who have finished in the 28- to 30-hour time frame. (Thirty
hours is the limit in this race that seems to get longer and longer each
year with various trail relocations.) Jim has concluded that he needs to
get OUT of the Winfield aid station at the 50-mile turnaround with at least two hours to
spare in order to have enough time for the second half, much of which
will be run and walked in the dark. That means 13-14 hours for the first
half, 16-17 hours for the second half.
He always gets to the 39.5-mile mark at Twin Lakes outbound with time
to spare, but loses the advantage getting up and over Hope Pass, shown
literal and figurative high point on the course at 12,600 feet. It's a huge climb in 2½-3
miles from either side and there are inevitably thunderstorms and/or
sleet and hail in one direction or the other. Add to that the two-way
runner traffic on steep, narrow trails and the difficulty multiplies.
Some years he times out or drops out at
Winfield (50 miles). Last year he did better, but despite all the acclimatizing he did
in Silverton and Leadville before the race he still had trouble
getting back up from the south side of Mount Hope after fifty miles and timed out at
Twin Lakes on the return (about 60.5 miles).
So how does he train differently this year to reach his goal?
a good string of 50K and 50-mile races this spring when he was doing
more speed work. He had a tough 66-mile training run at Big Horn (I always try
to turn DNFs into something positive!). And he's had lots of "hill work"
and altitude training in Silverton. Is that enough? We hope so.
Now his challenge is figuring out
what additional training in the next four weeks will best help him achieve his race
One of his plans is to do a double crossing of Hope Pass at least
four times in the next two weeks, allowing adequate time to taper before
the race. Too many runners get here one or two weeks before the race and try to
run too many miles for acclimatization and course familiarization --
start the race on dead legs. Jim should be able to avoid that since he
has four weeks until the race. He can afford to seriously taper for two
[For the non-runners out there, tapering means cutting back
significantly on the mileage and intensity before a race so you can
start the race on fresh legs. Milers do it. Hundred-milers do it.
The concept is sound, but it's really difficult for many hard-core
runners to effectively taper. Their minds and bodies are used to a high level of
training and it just doesn't feel right to back off. The fear is that
they will lose their training edge. In my own case, it's more a physical
thing of not wanting to go into endorphin-deprivation. As I age, it gets
easier and easier to taper, though.]
During the race, the double crossing of Hope Pass comes between approximately
42-48 miles and 52-58 miles into the race. Those are the real climbs and
descents, leaving out the flatter miles to and from the Winfield and
Twin Lakes aid stations. They total about 11,600 feet of elevation gain and
loss, not easy to do when you've already run so many miles. Jim can't truly
simulate that during practice, but he can do the crossing enough times
to gain some confidence, strategize, and toughen his mind and body for
the race ahead.
His goal today was to begin at the parking lot at Twin Lakes (not the
aid station a quarter mile away), following the course over Hope Pass to
Winfield and back for a total of about twenty-one miles (his GPS
recorded over twenty-two). Last year he did the same workout in about 7:45
hours. He wanted to compare this year's time to see how he measures up.
It took him just a little longer this time, but that was only because of
ME -- he went slower the first mile-plus to make sure I got across "the
Last year I chickened out crossing Lake CREEK, which looked like a
river. Everyone calls it "the river," but it really is just a (very wide
sometimes) creek. Today it definitely looked like a three-channel river,
but I screwed up my courage (there's that word again) and crossed the
bloody thing. It was the highest, widest, and fastest we've ever seen
it. Many folks who are out here training run or drive upstream a couple
miles to cross at a bridge. Not Jim. He wanted to do the real course.
We knew the creek would be high when we had to cross five or six
large puddles on the gravel "road" heading from Twin Lakes to the creek.
Usually they are fewer and lower:
I have no explanation why the creek is higher than in most other years we've
been out here. There is very little snow left at the higher elevations. We've
had a couple wicked thunderstorms with hail the last two afternoons, with
perhaps two inches of rain at our campground yesterday, so maybe that's the
reason it was so high today.
There has been no sane way to ford the stream the last two years (at
least without a rope) where the race
has crossed it in the past. There is a steep bank and deep channel in
that precise location
But by going upstream about a hundred feet and carefully choosing where we crossed outbound, we didn't get in any
higher than knee-deep this morning.
However, it took several minutes to choose our course and safely cross without
getting swept downstream. My trekking pole helped me but the rocks were
slick, even with my grippy-soled Montrail Highlines. I don't know how Jim got a
grip on the rocks in his "screw shoes." He's experimenting with screws in the
bottom of a new pair of Montrail Vitesse for the Hope Pass section during the
race. That model fits him best, but doesn't have very aggressive soles for the
steep slopes on Hope. He said the
swift current in the creek was much more of a problem than the rocks.
Cody did fine, pack and all. It's great sport to him. (OK, for Jim and me,
We came back separately because I went only to the pass and a little
beyond, not down to Winfield. On my way back down the mountain I
listened to the stream roaring like a freight train through Little
Willis Gulch, trying not to panic about going back across Lake Creek
(the mountain stream dumps into Lake Creek before my crossing). But that
crossing was easier for me -- maybe because I'd already done it
successfully and knew I could do it again.
Besides, I didn't want to hike upstream two miles to the bridge and
back down to get to the truck!
This is just the first (and widest -- about thirty feet) channel on
the way back. I bagged the camera until I was safely across the other
I picked the widest, most shallow channels
and still didn't get in any deeper than my knees. Poor Jim went farther
upstream in search of a better place to cross and ended up WAIST deep in
strong current, but he made it across safely. We both got lost for a few
minutes trying to find our way back to the main trail but eventually
found it by going cross-country (Jim) or following the creek downstream
It'll be interesting to see if the creek gets lower in the next
month. If there is any change, I'll report it here when we go back out
Jim didn't want to take a camera today so the photos are mine and
mostly on the north side of Hope. Yeah, I know, I've taken photos here
before but it's been three years since I went up that side and I just
can't help taking pictures of beautiful scenery and flowers . . .
Hope you enjoy them! Most are in the order in which I took them,
beginning at Twin Lakes (minus the Lake Creek ones above).
During the race, outbound runners leave the aid station at the
firehouse in Twin Lakes (39.5 miles) and head south through the
little town, cross Hwy. 82, and run through about two miles of
sage-filled valley land through which Lake Creek flows into the twin
lakes (there really are twin lakes here!). Then they begin the serious
climb through Little Willis Gulch from 9,200 feet to 12,600 feet in
about three miles. (Start counting -- that's 3,400 feet.)
The first couple miles are through pleasant, shady forests of mostly
spruce and fir, with an aspen grove near the bottom. Little Willis Creek
flows near the trail for a mile or more. Today it was positively
thundering near the bottom with all the water it contained. It sounded
like a train. No wonder Lake Creek is so high! There are numerous other
creeks just like this one feeding into it.
The Continental Divide Trail comes in from the left and is the same
trail as the race course through Winfield. The Colorado Trail was
re-routed off Hope Pass a couple years ago and takes a more easterly
route now on the flank of Quail Mountain and isn't nearly as interesting
as going over Mount Hope. (It does eliminate several miles of
hiking/running on Clear Creek Road, however.)
About a mile into the trees I was passed by four runners going the
same direction. I didn't talk to the first really fast one (although he
was walking uphill, not
running - that made me feel better!).
The second one introduced himself as Mike James. We spent a pleasant
few minutes walking together, although he slowed down to walk my tired
snail's pace. Mike has finished the race several times and also did the
five-race Leadman series last year, which includes a 100-mile bike race a week before
the 100-mile run. He caught up to Jim
before the top and ran with him back to Twin Lakes. Mike started at Tree
Line, however, so he had another ten or eleven miles to run after Jim
As I was talking to Mike, along came Bob Reid, who remembered me from
Big Horn and this web journal. Mike and Bob continued on together as I
stopped to let Cody get some water (and for me to rest -- I really was a
slug today!). There they go. Mike is on the left:
One more fella caught up to me soon after but turned around at the
Pass. I don't know his name. He told me he's doing the Leadman series
this year and did the 50-mile bike race yesterday! So much for resting
after a hard mountain race. (He's young.)
The flowers were beautiful along Little Willis Creek once I got
closer to its headwaters and out into more sunlight. The trees get more
sparse around 11,000 feet. Up here the creek is quite benign and not
Millions of little asters color the high meadows between
timberline and the tundra with carpets of lavender and purple:
The photo above is near the site of the "Hopeless" aid
station at mile 45 during the race. Supplies are packed in on llamas,
which graze near the small alpine lake at the top of Little Willis Gulch
(you can see the lake in the photos I took going back down, later in
this entry). This aid station is a godsend during the race, and the
volunteers who (wo)man it are surely saints. This place can see some
really nasty weather on race afternoon.
It's another half mile or more through rocks and tundra
to get to the pass on this side:
That's the summit of Mount Hope in the photo above.
Rinker Peak and Twin Peaks are to the right and visible from the trail.
All are high 13ers.
In recent years the trail above timberline has become
more and more civilized on either side of Hope Pass. It used to be quite
treacherous on the steep slopes with loose rocks and dirt. Several
switchbacks have been added to decrease erosion, as well as water bars
like these that are made of rocks or logs:
The switchbacks are much more gradual than the shorter
sections were that went straight up the slope. I'm going to hazard a
guess that these improvements, which have lengthened the LT100 course,
are more for hikers, cyclists, and equestrians on the Continental Divide
Trail (and formerly the Colorado Trail) than for the race participants.
The old trail would have been even more dangerous on a horse than on
foot. But if the motivation to "improve" the trail is the same as on the
Appalachian Trail, it is more to prevent erosion than to make it easier
And suddenly we're at the top! This post and cairn have
been here as long as I've climbed to the pass (1998 was my first time).
The view below is looking south toward some 13ers in the foreground
(Waverly, Pecks, Middle peaks) and 14ers in the background (Oxford,
I went down the south side about a quarter mile to see
if I could see Jim or any of the other runners below me, but I couldn't
see anyone. Down in the valley 2,400 feet below me is Clear Creek AKA
Winfield Road, which the runners take west for 2½
miles to the turnaround at Winfield:
I was having fun but had to climb very slowly today. It
took me 2:45 hours to get to the top. Cody and I sat down and
enjoyed the warm sunshine and minor breeze for half an hour before going
back down the way we came. Another runner came past us, waved, and
quickly descended toward Twin Lakes:
Around noon I headed back down even though the sky was
still bright blue. My granny knees were sore from this 65-mile training
week and it took me two hours to reach the truck. I was grateful for the
more gradual drop on all those switchbacks and let gravity take me down
the sometimes-smooth, sometimes-rocky trail:
In the photos above and below you can see the lake at
the top of Little Willis Gulch on the left. Down in the valley, the Twin
Lakes are in the foreground and Mt. Elbert Forebay is in the distance:
I soon dropped down into the sub-alpine "aster zone" and
marveled at the profusion of flowers:
I saw three more runners going up to the pass as I dropped back down through the forest, listened
worriedly to the roar of the ever-increasing Little Willis Gulch stream,
ran through the aspens, and popped out into the open valley west of Twin
In the photo above you can see one of the lakes on the
right and tiny buildings in Twin Lakes in the distance. Don't be fooled,
however. It's still at least a mile to reach them. And ya gotta cross
that river, I mean CREEK, again.
Runners continue to follow the abandoned jeep road on
the other side of the creek and through a marshy area with more pleasant
views of the lakes:
Hopefully Jim will be running back through here in
daylight, well before the 9:45 PM cut-off at Twin Lakes. He'll
run past the hillock and aspen grove below, past a nice bathroom,
through the parking lot, across Hwy. 82, and another quarter mile
through town to the aid station:
On race day I'll either be there to crew for him or I'll
be pacing him. We'll see. In either case, this time he WILL be heading
out under the cut-off and on his way to the Half Moon aid station.
Cody and I got done with out little twelve-mile run at 2
PM and waited in the truck for Jim to finish about 4:45. I
brought the computer so I could catch up on ultra list and other e-mail
and do some writing in my journal. While I was waiting, these birds and
a crony were making quite a racket in a nearby tree:
I don't know if they were annoyed by our presence or if
they were having a turf battle, but they all ended up leaving after a
few minutes of squawking. They were fun to watch. Cody was more
interested in the pocket gophers, however.
Jim came back from his run a very happy boy. He had fun
running with Mike for about fifteen miles and he felt good about his
run. His GPS registered over 22 miles, which he did in less than eight
hours (he would have been faster the first mile if he hadn't run with
me). He did 11,600 feet up and down, at altitude -- and he's looking
forward to doing the same workout (or a longer one) three more times.
We celebrated with some rich, tasty Haagen Daaz (sp?)
ice cream bars from the general store across the street. They hit the
spot on a hot, sunny afternoon. We highly recommend them!
By the way, here is some good news for LT100 crews. Last evening we drove back Clear Creek (AKA Winfield)
Road another twelve miles past our campground to the aid station
location and to place a gallon of water for Jim to re-supply at the
Sheep Gulch trail head today. The road is in better shape than we've
ever seen it, at least to the Missouri Gulch trail head. The last three
or four miles are still full of rocks and holes, but it's a definite
improvement from prior years. Thank you, Grader Guy! (He's been busy at
work since we arrived.)
Next entries: more of Jim's training runs on the course and my
exploration of the new Colorado Trail reroutes near our campground.
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil