2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   MOLAS PASS - ROLLING MOUNTAIN PASS:
THE EASTERN PART OF CT SEG. 25

FRIDAY, JULY 2

 
"Wherever you go, not matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine."
~ Anthony J. D'Angelo
 
 
I found most of my sunshine on this morning's hike in the colorful flowers and Cody's antics!

Two days ago Jim and I hiked some of the middle of Colorado Trail Segment 25 through the alpine basins near Rolling Mountain Pass. We reached it from the Mineral Creek Trail, which is a much shorter way to get there than from either end of Seg 25: Molas Pass or Bolam Pass.

Today our intention was to run/hike out and back from the trailhead at Little Molas Campground for several hours. Jim hoped to reach Rolling Mountain Pass, a distance of about 10.3 miles one way and 20.6 miles roundtrip. My plan was to hike outbound for three or four hours and turn around, getting back to the truck about the same time as Jim. Cody and I have done some 10-13 milers recently but we aren't currently trained to go 20+ miles.

Jim and I weren't real optimistic about the likelihood of being able to stay out six or eight hours today, however. There was a 60-70% chance of rain in Silverton (which always means a higher chance in the mountains) and the morning was decidedly overcast. It's much more common for the skies in the San Juan Mountains to look like this in the early afternoon, not at 7 AM:


Clouds hang over the Grenadier Mountains to the east of Molas Pass.

So why did we even start this run/hike, let alone keep going outbound for an hour with the near-inevitable prospect of a storm? Well, besides craving to get out on the trail, we know from experience that mountain weather is a crap shoot. It can look menacing, then quickly clear up -- or get even worse, of course.

We didn't want to be sitting in our camper at 10 AM and discover what a beautiful day it was!

So off we went toward Molas Pass. Long story short, it got worse, then got better. By the time it got better, however, Jim had already made his decision to turn around and try again tomorrow. That turned out to be a good decision.

STORMS AROUND US

This segment can begin either at the Molas Pass parking area several miles south of Silverton on US 550 or at the trailhead a mile west in the Little Molas Campground. We chose to start/finish our trek today at the campground trailhead so we'd have a bit of a head start on the distance to Rolling Mountain Pass (it's about a mile shorter each direction from there).

The elevation at the campground trailhead (above) is about 10,921 feet, a little lower than at Molas Pass. Jim got up to 11,735 feet before turning around and I topped out at 11,660 feet.

This segment is ideal for running, hiking, cycling, and horseback riding because it is relatively smooth most of the way, it undulates without any real steep grades up or down, and it gradually gains its peak elevation of 12,520 feet at Rolling Mountain Pass over 10-11 miles going westbound, depending on which trailhead you use.

Note that we usually run/hike the eastern half of this segment; the other half continues west and south to Bolam Pass. That trailhead is a lot longer and rougher drive from Silverton. From Rolling Mountain Pass it's a gradual net descent on the CT to Bolam Pass, elev. 10,090 feet. The only time I've done the whole 21-mile segment was in 2006 -- on July 2, exactly four years ago today! (If you compare those photos with the ones I took in the basin and at Rolling Mountain Pass two days ago, you'll see several almost identical pictures. I didn't realize that until I was writing this entry.)

There is about a 500-foot elevation gain from the Little Molas Campground trailhead as the CT winds through some trees, past some rock ledges, and up several switchbacks (photo above) to a double-track (photo below) heading north toward Grand Turk, Sultan, and Bear Mountains, which were mostly obscured by low-hanging clouds this morning:

Above and below: heading north toward Grand Turk and Bear Mtn.

At this elevation (about 11,600 feet) it was obvious that we were surrounded by storm clouds in every direction:


Looking east toward the Grenadiers


Southwest toward Rolling Mountain Pass (in far background)


West toward the Twin Sisters

Not too promising, eh?

Here are some other pictures I took outbound:


A glimmer of hope to the south: a little patch of blue sky

Above and below: still gloomy to the west, though

We could see patches of snow on mountainsides in the distance but didn't get high enough today to run into any snow along the trail.

Despite the stormy skies, I was able to enjoy all the perky flowers close to the trail -- Indian paintbrush in a myriad of colors, several varieties of bright yellow flowers, blue penstemon, larkspur, and monk's hood, lavender clover, tall white cow parsnip, fluffy fringe flowers, and others. Here are a few of them:

 

 

Jim and I each continued forward separately for about an hour until rain, sleet, and sticky mud made Jim miserable enough to turn around after 3.6 miles. Ironically, the trail had been quite dusty when we started out this morning. Jim also heard thunder in the distance, and wondered if he'd just get into worse weather (lightning? snow?) if he continued climbing toward Rolling Mountain.

Since the focus of this outing was Jim's long run, it was his call to make about whether to keep going or wait for better weather. I didn't mind turning back because I'd rather hike in nice weather with great views. On a clear day, we would have been able to see Rolling Mountain Pass and the high basins from the first few miles of the trail. Today that was nearly impossible.

I didn't hear the thunder but could see that it was raining just ahead of me. Cody and I ducked under some trees in dry pine needles for about ten minutes to avoid the rain and sleet when it reached us. After it passed over, we continued forward until we saw Jim coming back toward us:

 

I'd gone only about 2.5 miles at that point but didn't have much desire to keep going, either.

Jim continued running back to the truck and reached it about half an hour before Cody and I got back (we walked). The weather seemed to be improving and I wasn't in any hurry. I detoured about half a mile to follow a side trail; I've seen it previously and always wondered where it went.

I kept taking pictures, of course. Some of the most dramatic scenes in mountains (or anywhere else, for that matter) are during storms. I was fascinated with the fast-moving clouds and the change from gray to blue in the hour-and-a-half that it took me to get back to the truck.


Grenadiers to the east


Rolling Mountain to the southwest


Twin Sisters to the west


Engineer Mountain to the south

WHAT STORM??

With less than a mile to go to the trailhead, it was looking like maybe we'd made a mistake to turn around. The clouds were morphing to white in every direction, even toward Rolling Mountain:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turns out, however, that Jim made the right call to turn around and wait for better weather. I'm not positive that this section of the CT was a mess all day, but we got intermittent rain and sleet the rest of the day and evening at our campground on South Mineral Creek Road -- which isn't far, as the crow flies.

While Mother Nature played havoc with the weather this afternoon and evening, we stayed dry inside our camper watching our campground fill to beyond  a comfortable capacity with holiday weekend revelers in everything from tents to Class A motorhomes that cost more than our house and 12 acres of land in Virginia . . . and were glad that we had found a campsite where no one could crowd us.

We also thoroughly enjoyed talking with several running and ham radio friends who stopped by to visit with us today -- Marcy and John B., Mark and Margaret H., Roy and Laura, and Bill H.

What a great day, despite some rain! Sunshine comes in many forms.

ADDENDUM:

The next day we set the alarm for 6 AM so Jim could attempt his Molas-2-Rolling long run again.

We looked outside and the campground was socked in with fog -- couldn't even see our closest neighbors. Rats! Jim slept two more hours; I was wide awake and couldn't go back to sleep so I stayed up.

At 8 AM it was still foggy but Jim decided to get ready anyway. By the time he reached the trailhead, the fog had lifted. It may have been OK before that at Molas Pass but we couldn't tell from our campground on the other side of Bear Mountain.

Turns out, he had a great run/hike and made it all the way to Rolling Mountain Pass with good weather. He did get into a bit of hail, sleet, and rain on the return; he never heard any thunder or saw any lightning, which was good. Jim was tired when he got back but pleased with his 21-mile training run.

I decided not to hike today -- too tired and sleepy to be out there all day. We don't have any more current photos to show from the trail because Jim didn't take a camera. Here's one I took July 1, 2009 before we reached the upper basin, which you can see from this vantage point. Jim said there were just as many dandelions this year:


Three or four miles before Rolling Mountain Pass (photo taken 7-1-09)

He reported less snow in the high basins that we explored just three days ago; the snow is melting fast, a very good sign for the upcoming Hardrock race and our own high-altitude runs and hikes in the next week.

Next entry: celebrating the Fourth of July, Silverton-style

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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