Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
- Marcel Proust


One of our favorite training runs last year was close to our campground at Mineral Creek: the 4.4-mile trek up FSR 815 to Clear Creek, a beautiful alpine lake nestled in a basin among three 13ers. With more snow this year, we were very curious to see what it looked like up there.

Jim decided to run 1.4 miles on Mineral Creek Road from the camper to the little dirt road that goes up to the lake. I don't like running on Mineral Creek Road because it's hot and dusty, with lots of vehicle traffic. I put the dogs in the truck and drove to a pull-off near the junction of the road to the lake. Jim was just running up when Cody, Tater, and I had on our packs and were ready to climb.

And it's a climb -- about 2,100 feet up from that point to the lake's elevation of almost 12,000 feet. Even if we were acclimated to these heights, we'd be walking up most of an ascent like that.

[In the photo above we are also facing the Kamm Traverse, or KT in Hardrock parlance. I forget how to draw an arrow on photos or I'd show you where the race course goes -- it's a tan line above the lower red rock strip. This year runners will come down that traverse to the KT aid station, which is about eleven  miles from the finish.]

Off we went. Both dogs carried water, but neither needed any from their packs because of the copious run-off along the road from melting snow; it's been very dry here. The trees shaded us until we got to about 11,000 feet. Then it was quite warm in the direct sun.

There were some flowers on the way up to the lake, but different ones and not as many as last year when spring came early. I'm guessing there is a two- to three-week difference in bloom time because this trek is also a week earlier than last year's.

The marsh marigolds and other alpine flowers were profuse along the creek and lake up at 12,000 feet, however.

Some of the photos I took this year look very similar to ones I took during the two trips we made up to the lake in 2006, so I won't repeat them. This entry might be more interesting if you first look at the July 3 and July 6 entries in the 2006 journal so you can compare the levels of snow. That's one thing I'll emphasize in this year's photos -- more snow.

I'll also point out where you can see parts of the Hardrock course from the road up to Clear Lake.

The next photo, for example, is a view toward Ice Lake Basin, which is surrounded by several almost-14ers: L to R, Fuller Peak, Vermillion Peak, Golden Horn, Pilot Knob, and US Grant Peak. Hardrock runners follow a trail up through this basin from KT to reach Grant-Swamp Pass (see more photos of that trail in the July 8 and July 14 entries from the 2006 journal). There is noticeably more snow on those mountains now than there was last year:

We ran into snow along our road about a mile from the top, right at the old mine shaft, but the road was drivable up to the lake. It's hard to beat this scenery:



'Way more snow along the roadway this year:

No, this isn't Clear Lake, below. It is snowmelt forming another little lake!

This was just getting more and more interesting. I couldn't wait to see the lake itself.

And there it is, in all its glory! The next photo is from the lower end where Clear Creek begins:

I was immediately aware that there was more snow on the slope of US Grant Peak (on the left in the photo above), but Jim was the first to notice that most of the lake was still covered in ice! There was no ice last year.

I am impressed by how stoic this little Marsh Marigold is, growing in the icy water:

Pretty short growing season up here, I'd guess! I mean, it's almost July and the lake is still frozen.

Labs are pretty stoic, too. Here Tater enjoys a little swim in the ice-cold lake. That probably felt good after our hot ascent in the bright sunshine:

The wind was blowing enough on top to cool us down. Jim found a grassy hill above the lake for a little nap and I walked around with the dogs, taking more photos of the snow, creek, and flowers:

I was pretty fascinated by how the creek kept going underneath the snow and emerging farther downstream. Why doesn't the snow cave in?

There are numerous kinds of wildflowers up here, and the lichen-covered rocks are just about as colorful as the flowers:



On the way back down the mountain I took more shots of Ice Lake Basin, the Mineral Creek Valley,  and the Hardrock course.

Both photos below were originally 20.3 megabytes before I downsized them considerably for the web site. The first photo is one of several I took from various places along the road that show Ice Lake Basin with Grant-Swamp Pass in the background:

I took the second photo with a 5X optical zoom, honing in on the pass. Before cropping and downsizing it, I magnified it with Photoshop software. In all these photos, we could see the trail up to the pass, although you can't see it here and we couldn't see it with our "naked" eyes from the road. I believe runners pass behind that little knob about one-third of the way from the left in the photo below. It appears there is a snow cornice covering the trail right now. It'll be interesting to see what the trail-marking crew finds up there in a few days.

This is another view of the pass that I like from farther down the Clear Lake road:

[ADDENDUM: When I hiked up to Grant-Swamp Pass on July 5 I realized it is NOT visible in the photos I took from the Clear Lake road. It's farther to the right. The low spot with the snow cornice was farther to the left. Oops! The good news for runners is that Grant-Swamp Pass is totally snow-free on the south side. There is some remaining snow below the pass on the north side, but it will be mostly a climb up through the scree.]

Twin Peaks are prominent in the photo below, with Bear Mountain to the far left (you can't see its peak). Those three mountains are all over 13,000 feet. You can see the South Fork of Mineral Creek and Mineral Creek Rd. coming toward you from South Park. Kamm Traverse is on the mountain to the right, although I don't see the trail in this photo. This year runners will come down from Ice Lake Basin (far right, out of the photo), run down KT, visit the aid station at the road, cross the creek, and ascend about 2,000 feet in two miles to the Porcupine-Cataract Saddle, the pass shown at the top left in the photo below:

I needed all those photo stops to catch my breath as I ran back down to the truck. It's amazing how much energy it takes to run down hill at 10,000 to 12,000 feet! Jim was ready to be done when we reached the truck, choosing not to run back to the campground. We had a very interesting but tiring run today.

Next entry: an update on our gear and nutrition plan.

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil