2007 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
 
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  BACK IN THE SAN JUANS & SILVERTON, COLORADO

+ CUNNINGHAM GULCH PHOTOS

TUESDAY, JUNE 26

 
Silverton librarian to Jim, who's sitting at a computer: "I'm leaving."
Jim: "You are? Do you want me to leave?"
Librarian: "No, I want you to watch the library."
Jim: "How long will you be gone?"
"Three days," she dead-panned, and they both laughed.
 

 

You know you're in a REALLY small town when the librarian trusts you to "mind the store" while she steps out to run some errands -- and she met you only an hour ago!

This is the first time we've used the library in Silverton to get on-line. We hadn't yet discovered where we could find WiFi in town and the Verizon phone connection at our campground is iffy (only one or two bars, which is a weak signal). So Jim decided to use one of the library's high-speed connections to catch up on e-mail and other business.

Before he had a chance to find out exactly what it was that he was supposed to do if someone came in while the librarian was out, another employee came back and Jim was off the hook.

Welcome to Silverton, Colorado. We're happy to be back. We spent three great weeks here last summer, and plan to do a repeat this year. We wouldn't want to live here year-round, but it's a great  place for snow-phobes like us to visit for a few days, weeks, or months in the summer and fall. (You should see the aspens here in the fall.) We arrived yesterday and felt like we were "at home" right away.

GETTIN' HIGHER AND HOTTER

The trip here was not without its drama, of course. Trouble seems to follow us everywhere! There were no more flat tires, thank goodness, but we had to haul the camper over another 11,300+ foot pass (Red Mountain) between Ouray and Silverton. That road is a white-knuckle ride even if you're not in a camper or semi, but my concern this year was less "are we going over this huge cliff?" than "I sure hope the engine doesn't blow up!"

We had to stop three times on the way up to Red Mountain Pass to let the engine cool off. Fortunately, there were plenty of places TO pull off. We spent about ten minutes each time with the engine running (do not turn off a diesel engine when it's red-lining or you'll make the problem worse!), AC off, heater on to dissipate the heat, and hood up to let the breezes hasten the cooling process. That's the drill.

The first time we pulled over, a sympathetic trucker stopped to see if he could help. I took this picture of the road we'd just traveled as Jim and the other guy talked:

Jim and the semi driver had the same thought: maybe it's the thermostat. Once we got to Silverton, Jim consulted with another mechanically-minded camper, two mechanics in town, and four mechanics in Durango (by phone). Two other possible causes of the engine over-heating that were mentioned involved the coolant (flushing and replacing it) or a malfunctioning fan clutch.

At home, Jim could do these repairs himself. On the road, they are either difficult or impossible. The repair estimates ranged from $75 for a new thermostat up to $450 to replace the fan clutch. Ouch! Based on his maintenance schedule and other factors, Jim's ruled out the thermostat and coolant as problems and he now knows what to look for as indicators if it's the fan clutch. Instead of replacing it now at great cost, we'll wait until the engine overheats again -- we'll be going back over both Red Mountain and Monarch passes after Hardrock -- and see what the fan is doing. Jim knows what to look for now in that regard.

Hopefully, this won't be the wrong decision and we get stuck going up a pass in the middle of nowhere!

Each time we stopped, I let the dogs out to run around, stay cool, and drink water. I thought this picture was cute because they don't usually stick their heads in the water bucket at the same time:

Thirsty puppies. I also took these photos of scenic Red Mountain while I was killing time waiting for the engine to cool down the third time:

I was looking forward to the drive between Gunnison and Montrose on US 50 because of the gorgeous scenery I remembered from last year (see other photos from our 2006 journal, June 27, link at left). Lots of folks in boats were enjoying the Blue Mesa Reservoir, below, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Here are a couple more photos from this year's "Windshield Series." These are from my side window, which doesn't work as well as frontal shots because there is more blurring:

 

Makes you want to get out on a boat, doesn't it?

We stopped in Montrose for supplies before heading south on CO 550 to Silverton, where shopping opportunities are, um, limited. This road is also drop-dead scenic with the snow-capped 14ers looming closer and closer until you're simply enveloped by them near Ouray.

 

 

We were pumped, despite all the snow we could see. How will the snow affect our training runs, course marking, and the Hardrock Hundred in just over two weeks? Since I like snow more than Jim does, I was filled more with anticipation and excitement than dread.

Upon arrival in the Silverton area, we immediately went to our favorite national forest campground a couple miles back Mineral Creek Road in hopes of getting the same site we occupied last year. Rats! A tent was set up there (the spot is visible in the lower right corner in photo below after the tent folks left).

That's OK, we thought. We'll just wait till they leave and move into it. Meanwhile, there were only about five camp sites taken and several others were available that were suitable for our rig.

As we eyed a spot just down from "ours," a man named Jim came out of his camper to greet us and stake his claim. His three offspring were coming in soon with three big campers in this corner of the campground. Would we mind leaving room for them? Sure, no problem. We parked temporarily between "their" corner and the tent, conveniently near the bathroom (blue roof, below). We'll use the bathroom except in the middle of the night -- we have no acceptable way to dump black water here except to take the camper to town, and that's a major pain.

This morning the tenters moved on. Like vultures, we walked over to inspect our old spot, but quickly decided to stay where we were, to the right of the folks in the van camper, above. Jim remembered the problems we had last year with mud every afternoon when the monsoons hit (muddy dogs, muddy shoes, muddy camper rugs) and we realized our current site was much cleaner with just rocks and grass. We're happy tucked next to some trees (generator side) at the edge of the campground, with plenty of sun overhead to keep the solar panel batteries charged during the day.

And that large extended three-generation family? They and their doggies are great neighbors.

LET'S GO SEE OUR AID STATION!

Today we drove about five miles out of town to Cunningham Gulch, location of "our" aid station during the Hardrock Hundred on July 13-15. It helped us to visualize where we want to put the tent and see how the runners will approach and leave the aid station this year.

Last year Jim was co-captain of this aid station with David Coblentz. Dave's in the race this year, so Jim volunteered to captain the AS by himself. Each time, I've been de facto "assistant captain." You know how that works: i.e., by marriage. Folks who captain an HRH aid station, not just work at one, receive an extra "ticket" if they want to enter the race lottery. Jim's still toying with the idea of running the race next year, so any tickets he earns captaining aid stations and doing serious trail work in 2006 and 2007 increase his odds of getting into the race.

Each year the race reverses direction on its circular course. In even years runners go clockwise and Cunningham is the last aid station. Last year we were open nearly 24 hours. The pace was relatively slow (yawn!) and it was a very long day for those of us who were there the entire time. Half the runners had already dropped by the time they reached us at 91 miles, although some had pacers who also needed our supplies.

This year our job will be fast and furious as the runners go CCW and hit our aid station at just 9.2 miles into the race. We expect 130 runners in about 90 minutes. There could be 60-70 runners in a half-hour span in the middle "bubble." That's a whole different ball game than how they trickled in last year, so we have a learning curve of sorts. We're trying to anticipate the problems now, such as with crew parking, filling runners' water bottles and pack bladders quickly, and getting accurate runner times in and out of the aid station. Eye-balling the site today helps us with our planning.

Runners will run down a steep trail to Cunningham Gulch from a pass on Little Giant Mountain, below, zig-zagging to the right of the waterfall:

They'll ford Cunningham Creek and come into our aid station:

That's one of the easier creeks they have to cross on this difficult course. Many are rocky, deeper, and running a lot higher and faster this year because of late spring snows.

After re-fueling, they'll head south on the little dirt road in front of the aid station for about 100 yards and find the marked trail going east up and over Green Mountain toward Maggie Gulch. I took these photos in various directions when Jim and I climbed part way up the trail today for the runners' perspective:

This is a faint trail, but better than some on the HRH course:

Runners' brains shouldn't be fried yet, so they may notice the beautiful flowers around them:

The trail continues on up Green Mountain:

Next is the view looking back at Cunningham Gulch from the trail in the photo above. The aid station will be where those campers are. The waterfall on the left is the one in the first photo of this series.

The entire race goes like this -- up a mountain (as high as 14,000+ feet on Handies Peak), over a pass, down into a gulch. Repeat a dozen times or more. There aren't many flat spots o this course. Many of the climbs and descents are tougher and higher than these, and some of the aid stations have to be packed in. Remind me to tell you some day about Kroger's Canteen at 13,100 feet on Virginius Pass . . . There are different management challenges with each particular aid station, whether it's in one of the towns or on a remote mountain pass.

We'll have a great crew of experienced aid station volunteers helping us at Cunningham Gulch. Jim's been corresponding with them the last few weeks. At least two are ultra runners who are friends of ours (Joe Lugiano and Lynn DiFiore). Some of the others we worked with last year (Steve Hayes and two of his friends from the Los Alamos Mountaineering Club and radio experts Jim and Carol Hewitt). Several others we haven't met yet but they have worked other aid stations.

With all these great folks and last year's experience at this race, I'm less nervous about helping to run the aid station this year. We'll be done a lot faster and be able to follow the runners as the race progresses. Jim may offer to pace someone this year, too.

Before heading back to our current camp, we checked out a BLM campground a few miles northeast of Cunningham on the popular Alpine Loop road, just in case we decide to move there closer to race time. I couldn't resist stopping to talk to these llamas. I wonder if they are used as pack animals in these mountains? They couldn't tell me. Llamas are wonderful trail companions:

Next entry: a fun hike up to Clear Lake and running back down. Does it look any different than last year?

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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