Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Looking Back On 2014

In the summer of 2006 I remember having a conversation with my former high school cross country coach. He told me that I was a "lifer" in regards to my running.

Somewhere along the way I translated that conversation's meaning into "run as many trails and see as many things as you can before you die." As 2014 draws to a close, it's fun to look back on the year and reminisce about some of the trails I was lucky enough to experience. Here are a few of my favorites from 2014.

Tall Grass Praire Preserve Trails - The trails of this National Preserve near Wichita, Kansas equal about 40 miles in all. I did a 10 mile loop on January 1st of this year. Running in a sea of grassy sameness was unique and stood out to me as a wild experience.

Running on the Prairie

Winding Stair Mountain - The trails throughout the Ouachita Mountains on the border of Oklahoma and Arkansas are an amazing, under appreciated playground for trail running, but my favorite trail thus far explored has to be the trail on Winding Stair Mountain. The single track exists on the Oklahoma side not far from Talimena. I ran this trail on the last day of Lyssa and my annual road trip at the beginning of the year.

Toward top of Winding Stair Mountain

Rattlesnake Arch Loop - This is an 18-ish mile route that sits in the McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area outside of Fruita, Colorado. I ran this early in the year with Casey Weaver and Corey Dobson. This route offers the best arches outside of Moab. On the back half of the loop, we climbed up and through the largest of the arches before looping back around to the car.

FairyLand Loop - This is an 8.5-ish mile loop in Bryce Canyon National Park. If you are going to run one trail in the park, make it this trail. The loop starts on the rim and drops into a forest of ponderosa pine and bizarre hoodoos. The range of color was mind-blowing and the loop had a great flow to it.

Running halfway through Fairyland Loop

Thompson Creek Lake Ridge Lakes Loop - This was my favorite run of the year. Casey Weaver, Morgan Williams and I did a bulk of our training together this year. Our early season runs took us into the Thompson Divide area just above Carbondale, Colorado, for some extremely wild outings. My favorite of these was a 16-ish mile run to a very secluded trail, Lake Ridge Lakes.

Elk Mountain - I've done this run the last 3 years in a row, and next year I hope to make it 4 in a row. It's a great and very hard 12 to 14 mile run. It's a classic mountain outing that punches your ticket. 4,500 of climbing in 6 miles and then back down. Route finding is key on this run.

Casey and Morgan on the first false summit en route to Elk

Mount Massive - This year I was able to knock 4 more 14er's off the bucket list. My first of the year was Mount Massive. Lyssa and I camped out at the trail head outside of Leadville, Colorado and bagged both summits of Mount Massive the next day. This was a great weekend trip with Lyssa a few weeks after proposing.

Lyssa and I on Top of Massive

Sugarloaf Mountain - This run was only 3.5ish miles…maybe. But the trail head was virtually a local secret. Finding the thing was a trick in itself. The route was only 1.5-ish miles one way, starting at the beach and climbing steeply to the summit of Sugarloaf 17 painful minutes later. The view at the top was wild. It was pretty special to swim in the ocean immediately following the run.

running up Sugarloaf

Top of Sugarloaf

Cabot Trail - This is the designated route that circumnavigates the perimeter of the upper peninsula of Nova Scotia. Lyssa and I bike toured the 300-ish kilometer route this summer and explored the cape in all it's glory. This was my favorite experience of the summer.

Lyssa flying downhill on the Cabot Trail

Franey Trail - This is an 8-ish mile loop within the Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia. A local told us that this was "THE" trail to do. I ran this trail once clockwise, then turned and ran it back in reverse. The trail had highly exposed roots, tons of stair steps and was extremely wet. I had a hoot.
Top of Fray

Tired Shoes

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Celebrating Old-School at Indian Creek Fifties

Celebrating is a great thing. The connotation of the word "celebrate" is typically positive, but it can also reference "pain". How? Think back to your freshman year of college, when you were celebrating with buddies and brews, and then suddenly you hit the dark side of the moon, everything spinning. Next thing, you're hurling your brains out in the bushes. My end of the year celebration was to run a 50K I knew would be difficult on sub-par fitness. Not surprisingly, I ended up in a similar situation to my afore mentioned freshman scenario.

"I'm going to give the signal to start the race by hitting this rock, with this pick axe." "Sherpa" John Lacroix grabs hold of the handle and adds, "Fun for me. Not for you."


Everyone looks around for a second before realizing that was the "go", and then we were off into the dark. That was the start of 5 hours and 40 minutes of "celebrating" my year, by running the Indian Creek Fifties 50k, a first year event on the Front Range of Colorado. The RD, "Sherpa" John Lacroix, is clear about the mission statement of his races; to create old-school, throw-back ultra events of the early years of the sport. No frills. With 7,600+ ft of elevation gain in 32 miles, only 4 aid stations, primo single-track and a perfectly marked course, what we got was a pretty great event.

My celebrating started with a few fun miles with some good folks, followed by more miles of trail by myself. Around mile 21 I could tell I was reaching the threshold of my fitness and braced for impact. And then I got dizzy. I came to the dark side at mile 29 when I grabbed hold of a tree and yakked on it. (Please see Freshman scenario above). I came down the final mile of road to see my fiancé Lyssa, who'd been nice enough to wake at 3:30 that morning for my "celebrating", and immediately felt relief. I crossed the line, happy to have given it all I had on the day and to be done with my 2014 season.

"Sherpa" John's Indian Creek Fifties is a first-class event with real staying power. I wouldn't be surprised to see it quickly become an end of year classic.

Enjoy a few photos of the race, all courtesy of Human Potential Running.

One of the rock features on the course

running about an hour in. Got spooked by the camera fella

beginning the climb around mile 20

sweet single track heading toward the Colorado Trail

Monday, September 29, 2014

How Far Can You Go Into The Woods?

Huntsman's Ridge is a playground often enjoyed in winter months by the shredders looking to get away from the busy lines and chair lifts of the local ski mountains. Three years ago I ventured up the ridge in June to the end-of-the-line at Huntsman's Mountain. A quick look at the register suggested that others typically didn't venture this way in the summer or simply didn't care to make their visitations known. Hitting the ridge in autumn at the peak of colors was a visual treat that my friends and I had all to ourselves.

A day of golden leaves and blue bird skies was followed the next with heavy cloud cover, cold temps and periods of rain. Embarking on a quest to traverse a ridge on the Lily Lake Trail, the route proved to be less about running and more about survival as Chris Keleher, Adam Flatt and I became lost in a forest of deadfall and cliffs. We found ourselves scrambling down a drainage as the weather quickly turned into a rapidly increasing torrent of rain with quickly decreasing temperatures. After 3 hours of trying to bushwhack down to the road, we were able to find a private drive that led us safely out. Arriving back at the car after over 5 hours in the rain, I was thankful we had made it back to the car intact. I was ready for a shower, a beer and another stab at the trail.

This two-day period of fall running in my backyard was a full-value experience of running with great friends.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Creede Mountain Run

There is a place in Colorado that is authentic west. This place is home to a rich mining culture, the "Immaculate Conception" mission, "Liquid Ambitions" liquor store and the CMR, a mountain run with 2, 12 and 22 mile options. This place is Creede, CO.

The CMR has been held every Labor Day weekend since 1987 and has been on my radar since I made the move to Colorado. I find myself in Creede this year, sitting in an upstairs bar with my fiancé Lyssa and Chris Westerman, the man that beat me in the 22 mile by a matter of seconds. Half way through the race, on top of the "ladders", a climb that ends at 12,500 feet, I looked back and saw him charging just a few minutes back. I held him off until four miles from the end, then after chatting with him until a mile from the end, we made an exciting race of it. Now we were drinking beers and taking turns weaving yarns.

"There is a mining competition here every Fourth of July." Chris continues, "A few years ago I see a fellow miner accidentally smash his partner's hands with a mallet. He didn't stop. Kept going and a few minutes later blood is pouring out of his gloves."

"Shit....That might be the most badass thing I've ever heard."

"That's Creede."

That's Creede. As Lyssa and head back to our campground, we chat about the impressions the town and it's folk have left on us. It's strong enough, perhaps we have the next several Labor Days booked.

Game faces for the CMR

Lyssa looking down on Creede the day after

Start of the climb up the pit

More early climbing on the course

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sharing the Mountains...Missouri, Oxford and Belford Loop Trip Report

The great Coloradan past time seems to be peak bagging. More specifically, peak bagging 14ers. Living in an area of CO plentiful with 14ers, I developed an early evasion to hiking/running 14ers. More interested in concocting routes through areas that were less traveled, it wasn't until 3 years ago that I finally gave in and ran my first 14er, Castle Peak, just down the road. As expected, there were armies of people from all walks of life and from all over the country out to 'bag the peak'. The 14er does not exist as the quiet place you go to get away from it all. It doesn't sit in secret. It can't because it's too tall. People are attracted to the idea of climbing the highest peak and so these mountains sit squarely in the radar of many. Taking this into consideration, I look at tackling 14ers as a way to share the mountain with others. Look at any 14er.com trip report and you will notice an account of both the route taken and the people encountered. And so here is my own trip report.

A few days ago, my buddy Casey Weaver and I decided to hit three 14ers in the Collegiate Peaks through a classic loop. The route would take us up Missouri Gulch to Missouri Mountain, and then back down and over to Elkshead Pass where we would then hit Mount Oxford and Belford. The route was steep from the beginning and made for some difficult running. The route had 8000'~ of climbing and took us around 4 hours and 20 minutes. All along the way people were awesome...until we began our descent down Missouri. As we neared the end of the descent, fully in the mellow only mountains can bring, we passed a guy who twisted his face into a grimace and shushed us. The grumpy pants mumbled to us to slow down and stop talking because he wanted peace and quiet. He had apparently been yelling at everyone on the trail as he went along. I understand his desire to escape to the solitude of nature, but he was so focused on the people he forgot that he was sitting in a rad place many will never see. Lesson: Stop, look around and appreciate what you got. And don't harsh other peoples' mellow.

Casey just above tree line

Casey heading toward Missouri

Rock field before steeper climbing up Missouri

On the ridge. Missouri just ahead

Going back down Missouri toward Belford and Oxford

Casey on top of Elkshead Pass

On top of Belford

View from the top of Belford, Oxford off to the left

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Beer Cheerios

June 2012:
My buddy Morgan Williams and I were jonesing for a rad jaunt off the beaten path. It was still pretty early season but we wanted to get up high. Through the grapevine I got the scoop on a gnarly out-and-back route that climbed around 4,500 to 5,000 feet in 6 to 7 miles to the top of Elk Mountain outside of Redstone, CO. Only the first and last two-ish miles of the run are on actual established trail, making a good portion of the route a bit more primitive by traditional trail-running standards. Taking us nearly four hours, Morgan summed up the difficulty of the run by saying, "I'm ready for some Beer Cheerios..."

June 2013:
I was using my water bottle as an ice pick to climb the bullet proof wall of ice right below the summit of Elk Mountain as Morgan scaled a pine tree to get above the wall. Our friend Casey Weaver joined us this year when Morgan and I decided we wanted to make this run an annual outing. It was a bigger snow year and even though we were moving faster, the snow was frustrating and added a new level of difficulty as we continually punched through snow drifts. We came out of the woods in 3 hours and 34 minutes. I looked at Morgan and asked, "Ready for those Beer Cheerios?"

June 2014:
About two weeks ago Morgan, Casey and I decided it was time once again to tackle our annual Elk Mountain Run. In my mind this run sums up why I love mountain running in every way. In 3 hours and 28 minutes we were back at the car and ready for "Beer Cheerios". Enjoy pics from the day below.

Top of Placita Trail

Casey and Morgan getting some Gu

Morgan heading up

Morgan and Casey on the "trail"

Casey and I on the first ridge. Elk Mountain on the left

Preparing to summit Elk Mountain

The Ridgeline to Elk Mountain's Summit

Morgan and Casey chillin'