Thursday, May 1, 2014

Storm King Mountain

In west Glenwood Spring, CO there is a particular mountain that rises high above it's surroundin landscape. This mountain is called Storm King, and it stands as a reminder of a tragic event that took place in the summer of 1994. The South Canyon Fire, often referred to as the "Storm King" fire, took the lives of 14 wildland firefighters that summer. A trail now exists that takes a very similar route taken by those 14 souls when they embarked on their fatal mission. Along the 4 mile route there are memorials and plaques that honor the lives of those brave folks. The first mile of this trail is extremely steep and switchbacks back away from the highway into the interior drainage where the heart of the inferno took place.

Last year, my girlfriend Lyssa and I decided we should summit Storm King as a winter hike. According to the map, there wasn't an actual trail to the summit, but the distance on the map made it seem like it would be "no thang". After hours of schlepping through thigh deep snow, we finally ascended...the wrong mountain. I looked a few thousand feet above and saw a long ridgeline leading up to a monolith towering above us.

"Dammit! We summited the wrong peak! That thing is huge! I'm going to have to come back and try it again now." I looked at Lyssa. "Maybe Casey and I should try running it."

My friend Casey Weaver is up for anything and everything at all times, and so a few months later, we drove down to Glenwood and "ran" the 4.5-ish miles and 3,000~ feet of gain to the summit. We punched through crusty snow and hiked through brambles that ripped up our legs. At one point I remember seeing blood-soaked snow around us as we scrambled up a snow-covered 50 degree grade. The total 9 to 12-ish miles of running took us almost 3 hours.

About a week ago Casey asked, "So, when are we doing Storm King again?" It had been exactly a year since our epic undertaking.

"How about Friday?"

After a mile of running on the designated memorial trail, we head off trail and continue up a very steep pitch into loose, rock and bramble-covered terrain. There isn't a trail to the top, just an obvious ridge that is waiting to deliver large amounts of pain. Casey and I were reminded with each step of how uncomfortable it had been the year before. As we passed burned remains I couldn't help thinking of the fire that raged here and what it had taken. We covered the entire distance this year in just over 2 hours, taking almost 30 minutes off our previous time.  Next year I'm sure we'll do it again. It's become an annual early year mountain run for us. Perhaps it's also a way to honor the 14 that fought Storm King's fires those years ago.

Beginning of the off-trail ridge

scrambling with Casey early on

Storm King in the background. H-1 burn site down on the right

Summit of Storm King

Ridgeline to the summit from the highpoint

Casey heading back down the ridge