Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"36.8 miles. Elevation 14,048 feet. Handies Peak. Pass #6, highest point on the course. Snow fields, altitude sickness, fantastic views . . . At the saddle (13,480) angle right on the very well built trail (BLM and CFI) that switches back several times across the west side of the peak. Your next target is Sloan Lake, a deep blue jewel (or ice skating rink) you see sitting in the upper end of American Basin.
- from the 2007 Hardrock Hundred course description


Although Jim didn't have the opportunity to "bag" this 14er, his trail work crew did get to go up to the saddle between Handies Peak and Whitecross Mountain while working with the "high" group today.

About thirty runners showed up to work today, most wanting the ticket that two days of trail work this weekend will net them for use in next year's race lottery. The work is hard manual labor clearing and rebuilding damaged sections of trail, but the scenery and camaraderie with fellow ultra running souls is as rewarding as the lottery tickets they earn.

Runners piled into several 4WD vehicles for the drive on rough jeep roads over Cinnamon Pass to the closest parking area to the work sites on the southwestern slopes of Handies Peak, shown below from the road:

Jim and three other close friends (!) shared the back seat of one truck on the bumpy ride out and back. Jim didn't want to take our truck until he saw what the road was like. He determined that he could take ours tomorrow, although some of the switchbacks would require backing up to make the turns. Those switchbacks are much easier in vehicles with shorter wheelbases than ours!

The HRH group was led today by four trail builders from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI). Crew members had to sign waivers/releases and wear hard hats. They also received instructions in the proper use of each tool they carried to the work sites and explanations of the types of trail work they'd be doing (how and why). This information should be useful for future work days with our local Appalachian Trail club, too.

The runners split up into three work groups today, each with at least one CFI leader. Jim was in the "high" group that would build rock steps near a ravine where the trail was damaged by spring runoff from melting snow. Also in his group were Liz Walker, Scott Brockmeier, Robert Andrulis, Paul Ralyea, Howie Stern, and two or three other people (if you know who they were, please let me know).

Jim took these photos of the work crews, scenery, and other interesting things that caught his eye as he climbed through American Basin to his work site:

During the race this year, runners will approach Handies Peak in a CCW direction from the Sherman aid station and Burrows Park. After summitting Handies, they drop down into American Basin and pass beautiful Sloan Lake. They will be going the opposite direction as most of these photos but they will be running on the same trail.

Backward glances at the trail workers coming up behind Jim:


We've seen a lot of rock cairns marking trails above tree line, but this one was special:

Why? There was a baby cairn on top of the big cairn! I love this kind of humor.

The little begger-squirrel below followed Jim's group for a while, probably hoping for a snack. There were lots of hikers on the trail today heading up to the summit, and I'm sure this fella's been fed before (not a good idea to feed wildlife, but it was cute that he followed them):

Jim took photos of the ravine where his group would install new steps as he hiked up and down from the work site:

That was the big picture. Here's a close-up:

The trail is a faint line going mostly horizontally. It's hard to see even in the close-up above. From this distance it looks mighty narrow to me, with a significant drop-off, but it is wider when you're on it.

Jim's work group posed for this photo on the way up. Notice that each person is carrying a tool or other equipment for the job they will be doing:

That job involved moving 200-pound rocks they found on the mountainside to use as "check" steps! They hauled them in a special net:

Here are two of the steps they built. It's important that the rocks be set into the dirt at the correct angle to prevent as much erosion as possible and make the footing more stable.


The "middle" trail work group is somewhere in the next photo, far down below where Jim was working. I cropped it as best as I could in the second photo below, but you can't identify the people. Jim was using our old 4-megapixel camera and the result is pixel-y if I blow it up any bigger. That's why we got a 7-megapixel camera. Anyway, I liked the patterns of snow in the first photo, and it does show some perspective as to how much higher Jim was working:

He also took photos up toward the saddle, including this one of tiny people on the horizon (also showing how far away they were):

Jim's group got to walk up to the saddle (pass) far above their work site. Here they are at 13,480 feet, the highest Jim's been on our trip this summer.

Too bad they didn't have time to go on up to Handies Peak. The trail to the peak is shown below. Runners come down that in this year's race. It doesn't look like they will have much snow to deal with on this side of the peak:

Jim took these photos at of near the saddle:


This is beautiful Sloan Lake, below, mentioned in the course description at the beginning of this entry. It was partly covered in ice. The next three photos show it from high up, then closer and closer to the trail:



Jim took the next photos on the way down the mountain at the end of the day:

See how the trail snakes through the snow and tundra below?

Catching up the "middle" work group on the way back down:

Jim was pretty tired when he called me to come get him in Silverton about 5:30 PM. The long, bumpy ride to and from the work site was almost as tiring as hauling rock at nearly 13,000 feet.

I think I know (without asking) why Jim chose to work at the highest of the three levels -- and I'd make the same choice!

Next entry: one more trail work day to go . . .

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil