Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Read a Damn Book!

I've been wanting to do an early 2012 post (fail) on reading in general, so I'll do a future post on interesting books that are least somewhat related to distance running. I've seen some fellow runners with goals of reading a book (or more) per month, etc., which is great. As people who value regular fitness and health, and the examples it might provide for others, I think reading is similarly important for intellectual health.

But a direct threat to both running and reading, with a Colorado angle as well, is this controversy from the South, in which the appropriateness of the famous CU cross-country biography, "Running with the Buffaloes," is questioned because of swear words.. Now I can entertain arguments about which books might be best for a Middle School library, given finite resources and space. But the argument offered by the student and the mother wasn't just that they were personally offended, but that they hoped no other students would be able to read it, either.
"I think they should ban every book that has words like that in it," dictated the 8th-grader.

Where to begin? The book is a detailed look into a talented group of runners. The swears come in handy with the reality of injuries, hard work, and (mini spoiler alert) a horrible tragedy that hits the team. In this way, the swearing is a raw reflection of the reality of these runners, meaning that any reality-based biography (also sometimes called "history") is not appropriate for middle schoolers.

While this mother focuses on the swear words, why is there no similar focus on the positive messages of inspiration and dedication to pursuing excellence and physical fitness? I'm dancing around stronger words, but watch the video: Dropping swear words doesn't save lives the way that dropping severely excess weight does.

And that's one of the main functions of the written word: anybody, including the most backward parts of the Union, can have equal access to messages and information that aren't provided at home, escaping prejudices and biases and ignorance that might have been in-bred for generations.

So I don't know if the books necessarily has to be in the library, but by God, it is appropriate for some 8th graders to be allowed to read it. I recall middle school as the time to move up into the "big books," when I started reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz, no worse for the wear...and I remember discussing favorites with my 8th grade English teacher. I remember that as a turning point of being able to walk in the library or used book store (we had a good one in town!) and feeling like any book was fair game. To that, I owe my parents, as well as the local librarians, booksellers, and English teachers alike a big thank you.

While I haven't read horror books like that in ages, I am absolutely terrified at the state of reading in this country. That's scary enough.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Horsetooth and Double Rock

With the nice weather on Sunday, decided to head up to Horsetooth for a Quad Rock preview.

Of course, I use the word "preview" loosely, because conditions in May won't be anything like it is now in January, where I probably put my Microspikes on 8 or 9 times, in addition to wearing them longer than necessary at times out of laziness.

Here's how things looked after Friday's dusting of snow (the lighting in these pictures tilt-shifted for effect):

I added an extra-credit summit of Horsetooth Rock (an extra 30 minutes with some time on the summit), and with a water refill at the Lory visitor center, it's probably close to an even marathon, taking nearly 5:30 total, nothing to write home nor blog about. But a fair amount of that was fiddling with spikes, and running conservatively on the icy sections even with them on, filling up water, etc. so I sure expect the race to be significantly faster.

As for conditions (on a clockwise loop starting from the HT lot), the usual icy spots to the summit were the worst (although the very final pitch to the Rock was completely avoidable); West Ridge and the top of Towers and shaded parts of the middle are still slippery, as is Timber. The Falls trail still has ice but isn't the death trap it was a few weeks ago. Otherwise, the Valley trails were much less muddy than I expected, with only one short section in Lory with some standing water, but otherwise pleasantly manageable. Spring Creek was notably enjoyable.

Anyway, it was a nice preview for January, going to be a great event!
More work to do, but everything felt good and it put me over 100mpw -- not bad for me compared to previous January's.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Milner and Bobcat Loop

~23Miles from Nick's House
Milner Mountain Summit (6881')
Pt. 7124 "Mahoney Knob" (proposed name)
Blurry view of Horsetooth Reservoir from Milner Summit

More than 150 years before our town's most famous British-born ultrarunner moved his family here, the Milner Family emigrated from England and settled in the environs between Milner Mountain and Bobcat Ridge, including the Redstone and Buckhorn canyons. The details of their early life, and the surrounding geohistory, are a storied piece of Western history, with a local school being named after Sarah Milner (as pointed out by my wife), the first teacher in the first public school in Larimer County.
Most of the surrounding land is private, and I have no idea if it's possible, but since there are some ranch properties for sale in the area, any possible addition of this historic land to the Larimer County Natural Areas would be a remarkable way to preserve the area, especially the impressive summit of Milner Mountain.

Anyway, Nick proposed a loop around Bobcat Ridge -- which is my favourite natural area, but is an otherwise routine loop. To make it more interesting, though, he proposed some exploration of Milner Mountain, which lies, conveniently, between his house and Bobcat Ridge. This extra bit of adventure would allow us to visit a new summit, and was sure to enliven what would otherwise have been a 5-mile road trudge. He has more of the details of the summit, but nominally it requires sufficient routefinding and obtaining permission, with respect to local ranch properties.

On the West side of Milner, we enjoyed following Firethorn Drive, South of Masonville, as a new road to explore, which pops out almost directly across from the Bobcat Ridge entrance. We arrived with no other cars, horses, or people in sight, although this could probably be attributed to the constant blustery wind and overcast skies.

The climb up the Ginny Trail is always enjoyable, and Nick has remarked that the terrain and elevation changes are very similar to the WS100 trail, making it a great training ground. My legs felt good, but since I hadn't brought sunglasses, my eyes were getting blurry in the wind, and I was getting dizzy trying to focus on the trail. Time to get new sunglasses! This got better as soon as we shifted out of the wind and headed into the trees near Mahoney Park.

Now at the far NW edge of the Bobcat Ridge trail system, there's a prominent knob which I always thinking about heading up and tagging, but never have. Based on the climb from the valley, and previous views from Milner, we thought it might be the officially ranked highpoint of Green Ridge, so we decided to make a quick go at it, which was especially nice on non-rattlesnake season. There's a fun little summit block at the top, with great views, but clearly the higher (and even more interesting) summits of Green Ridge and nearby Spruce Mountain were further North. We saved those for another day, in what looks like could be a fun combo loop from the North (possibly even as far as Storm Mountain).

Distant view of Milner Mountain, from West

We finished up the loop with some remaining ice in the shady parts of the DR trail, but then had easy work on the lower, frozen mud (complete with frozen mt. bike tracks) of the Valley trail, before the final uphill road slog back to Nick's house, completing a fun and interesting loop.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Palisade Mountain Hike

Palisade Mtn. (8225')
Class 2/Short Class 3 Summit
~3.5M, ~2200' gain

Palisade Mountain is a local foothill with a prominent protuberance on the south end of the Fort Collins skyline, forming a gateway (along with Round/Sheep Mountain) to the Big Thompson Canyon. I can see it on my daily runs and I've been intrigued by its ramped visage for years, but hadn't made the trip out there: for a 30 minute drive from my house, it's a short 1.5-2mile hike to the summit. But, it's a steep, rocky bushwhack and scramble, so it's also nice not to go solo.
Out of the blue, Nick puts out a call to hike it Sunday morning. He's recovering from Bandera and looking to get out for a quick hike, and I otherwise wasn't looking to do much running after the previous day's jaunt in the Springs, so along with Nick's neighbor Elijah, it was a perfect chance to get up on a new peak on the Front Range foothills checklist.

With a dearth of snow, and the cold temperatures of winter keeping the rattlesnakes at bay (important in the thick brush and rocks of the foothills), this was a good time of year to go. The time of day was another story: since the sun hadn't risen yet, we squinted roughly at the canyon walls, shrugged our shoulders, and headed up vaguely towards a peak we couldn't see.

As the day began to dawn, I wish my camera had been working, as it was pretty striking to see the silhouettes of Nick and Elijah working mostly vertically on some of the granite slabs. I took a mental picture instead.
But I also hoped to myself, as my beaten Cascadias slipped on some of the steeper areas of pine-needles strewn and grass covering the rocks, that we didn't have to descend this route.

Once we (the three of us, and the sun) got up higher, it was much easier to see our remaining route. We started out a bit further East than ideal, so we did more scrambling work than was necessary. But the rest was just a stairmaster straight-up hike to the obvious saddle on the summit ridge. In the trees, and by facing a different aspect, the ridge now had some completely manageable snow, but it was still open enough to be able to move steadily, especially when motivated by Premature False Summit Fever (PFSF).
A few windy false summits later, and we were on the summit proper, as evidenced by Nick finding a gigantic summit register completely out of proportion with the actual number of visitors:

Although it was too windy to enjoy for very long, the summit offers outstanding views to the West:

The way down was much easier, as we returned to the saddle, and then descended on the ridge above (and to the east) of the gulley that leads to the summit. As if by plan, we popped out within sight of the car at the bottom. As it turns out, a good entrance is directly across the street from the Idyllwild bridge (there is a culvert on the north side of that -- follow that up, going slightly to the climber's right).

All in all, a great, quick local peak worth hitting before breakfast.
Oh: bring your cactus-proof gloves, too!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ponderous Posterior 50k 2012

Ponderous Posterior 50k
Colorado/Manitou Springs, CO

The Ponderous Posterior 50k looked like a great opportunity to run some great, new (to me) trails with friends old and new. With a mild winter and perfect January weather on tap, this free Fat-Ass event was even harder to pass up.

I enjoyed carpooling down with Rob, so we had a great chance to chat both ways, while representing the Fort in the 50k. When arriving, we were glad to see Aaron and Dakota having made it down as well, for even more representation. But where was everyone else? I know the Fort is more than capable of invading Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona throughout the year, so next year, put it on the calendar!

Rob made good time getting us ready for the 8am wave, which seems to have been the most popular wave of the day. By then, cars with various bumper stickers with various numbers (usually 50 or 100) were lined up and down 31st street. With little fanfare, we were off.

The road section was over with fairly quickly, and soon enough we were on trails that led us a ridge above town. It was already impressive to see the type of trails that JT is able to hit from his front door, knowing that the later sections were even better, more classic trails.

After the first ridge was easy, conversational rolling, and the sunlight started hitting our sections of trail. We rolled comfortably and then entered some forested sections of trail, with periodic ice and snow. Like many, I had microspikes in my pack, but with careful, staccato steps, slipped occasionally but was able to avoid falling or pulling muscles.

I hit an icy patch on a corner and slid down. I popped right back up so as not to hold up the runner behind me, but blood and mud were caked on my left leg and splattered onto my right. At least I got it out of the way early.
Photo courtesy of Rob

I wondered how it would affect my running, but it honestly had no effect the rest of the day. The main thing that did slow me down was a strained hamstring from the previous Thursday morning downhill tempo, where I most certainly overstrided. So I had to take it easy on the downhills.

The uphills, though, were fun -- and there were plenty. I was running alone for a bit when I started wondering about the Red Mountain spur. I didn't want to miss it, but feared I did. Literally, as I was reaching into my pocket to grab the map, while still jogging, I saw the clearly-marked-with-flour intersection that said "Red" -- an obvious benefit to having course-markings done by hashing pros. Well done.

The Red climb was fun but I resorted to walking the icy sections, and saw a few 7am folks coming down. Two of them had microspikes on, which I had decided would be a good idea for the descent.
Arriving at the top, I took the fun little scramble (later noticed the trail around the back) and was surprised to see everyone else still chilling at the summit. I took in the views, put on the spikes, and headed down with them.

Next was a road downhill toward the infamous Manitou Incline. I enjoyed meeting up with Aaron, as well as Ryan K. here, and chatting -- hadn't met Ryan before, but I recognized his name, and look forward to running WS100 together. Met and chatted a bit with Leila as well and then reached the base of the Incline.

Of course, the Manitou Incline is well-known by weekend warriors looking to climb a couple thousand feet in just over a mile on an old Cog railway. It's been off-limits/private property the whole time, although thousands of people make the trek, and legitimizing of the trail is still in the works. (And, it's even safer now that some crazy Wisconsinite came and pounded in all the loose spikes).

So, time to hike. Kept it steady near some company, but then pulled up a bit. Passed numerous dayhikers that looked like death, I tried to encourage them on. I didn't know what to expect but heard someone discussing numbers, and saw that 30 minutes was a nice round number for being the middle of a long run (almost twice as slow as Matt C's 18 minute FKT). Caught up to NMP and chatted a bit at the top, and missed the arbitrary 30 minutes by 10 seconds. It would be fun to do an all-out effort sometime but then again it would be hard to pass up all the much more interesting trail options instead.

Again, I was surprised to see the other guys chilling at the top, so I grabbed a quick snack and adjusted clothes, then followed them into some more snow. Climbing was still OK but I was passed by several folks on the downhill. It was fun, soft snow, but I need to work on my technique, and my Cascadias suck at traction.

The descent kept going for quite a bit and then we hit the aid station. I was happy to ditch some clothes and grab some food from my bag, and then head back out, just behind the lead of the 8am group again, but it was the last time I'd see them.

Now I was pretty much by myself, as there was a group ahead and a group back, but I enjoyed the exploration of Waldo canyon, and ran into and chatted with a few folks running various distances with other start times. After getting into the shade again, the ice was pretty solid, and I debated putting my spikes back on. Right after I decided to do so, I remembered that I had just ditched them less than an hour ago. Oh well. At least with the previous traffic, I could see obvious shoe scrapes of the slipperiest spots, but I still grabbed onto branches and crashed into brush more than a few times.

Again, I looked forward to the climb out of the canyon more than I had the descent. Soon enough, that was done, and it was time for the long, sunny fire road descent, knowing that the real climbing of the day was done. The descent became tedious after awhile, and then I saw the little hill at the bottom which was marked in orange -- that was a fence-hopping endeavor into Garden of the Gods.

After a brief climb, and meeting a runner with a dog, we had gorgeous views of the Garden, and an eco-unfriendly eroded trail straight down into the Garden itself. It was awesome and I let out a "Whoop" here. I felt rejuvenated by some fun singletrack after too much road and ice, but somehow at the bottom, missed a left/North run to get around the rest of the Garden. Oh well, I mostly tacked my way East, backtracked a little bit, and asked around for suggestions, eventually popping out on a ridge less than a mile NW of JT's house (I had the map in my pocket and the street names helped). I'm not sure where the unofficial trails merged with official garden trails, but I'm guessing the flag/marking was moved or less obvious due to the heavy gaper traffic in the Garden itself, so mostly I'd just be more careful about studying that section of the course in the future.

Anyway, with minimal bushwhacking out of the Garden on onto a ridge, I saw a unicorn: a one-antlered deer, as the other antler had been busted off (and the existing one did have a few points, but was cracked and tilted). The buck didn't want to move, despite me being just a few yards away -- I stomped my foot, thinking the deer had already lost at least one fight, but hoping it didn't have mad deer disease either. I started running a little bit towards it, and it finally backed off. I scrambled down some rocks and skirted around a backyard, before getting down into some streets.

I missed 6 hours flat by 4 minutes, but oh well -- it was a great day and a great run. Enjoyed hanging out, eating, drinking, and chatting with folks. And it really did open my eyes to all the fantastic trails in the Springs! Thanks, JT and CRUD folks for a great event!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Save Edora's Disc Golf?

I've played disc golf maybe 3 times in my life, but never at the popular course at Edora in Fort Collins.
I have, however, run or biked or rollerbladed hundreds of times (a minimum estimate of 3x/week for 5 years, 2 of which included a regular bike commute to CSU) past the course.

This means, potentially, that I'd have to watch out for errant discs and confused stoners wandering across the path in a cloud of smoke, yet another set of obstacles to avoid.
Except that hasn't happened. Instead, I've seen thousands of people (and their dogs) of all ages enjoying a game, and never gotten close to being hit by a disc. I've gotten respect and head-nods from them, without being judged while I pass through shirtless or in funny lycra or in outdated rollerblades (or -- on hot days when I'm feeling sassy -- a combination of all 3!)

But disc golf is too popular, it seems: hundreds of people play in the summer, leading to a wait at the tees. And the city mentioned a desire for more "passive use" in Edora, for being able to sit under a tree and read a book. (We here at the Rambler love reading books under trees -- except for the damn ants in Summer! -- but think that the northwest corner of the park, near the creek and bridge, is already a fine place to do so, although City Park instead can't be beat). So the planned solution is to shut down half the course.


To be fair, there is a new course being built on the west side of town, near Future Former Hughes Stadium (FFHS). The new course has a goal to be even better than the Edora one: the problem is, FFHS is currently flat and treeless...and is across town. (An equally ridiculous solution to the "passive use" argument would be to suggest that someone read a book under the saplings at FFHS instead). Within a decade, the new course will undoubtedly be quite nice; meanwhile, the town population and the popularity of disc golf is unlikely to decrease.

There is an online petition to save the course.

Although there will be a net gain of 9 disc golf holes by building a new course on undeveloped land, we here at the Rambler think that removing the Edora course is short-sighted. We're not a fan of tearing down existing, working, popular infrastructure. We like the idea of having a course on both sides of town: one closer to CSU and some of the west-side schools, and the current, very popular Edora course closer to the numerous east side schools and businesses. We think supporting disc golf supports the economy in a sustainable way, supporting the work and vision set more than 30 years ago by legendary local disc golfer Bill Wright. We enjoy the mixing of populations that occurs in shared-use parks and have an idealistic belief that it secretly engenders respect and understanding. And we like doing whatever we can to get people outside.

And we, here at the Rambler, aren't even disc golfers!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Despite very deliberately not belonging to any organized religion, I am fascinated with church architecture and Christian art.
(The highlight of actually living in Aurora was that my regular run took me through a cemetery past a gothic chapel built in the 1800s). Otherwise, I mostly pay attention only when I am in tourist mode, and it's hard to compare American churches (especially Western ones) to the deep history of foreign ones. I should like to make more of a concerted effort to visit notable American churches.

So even though we've been to Santa Fe a handful of times, I'd never actually been in the Cathedral. The first time or two, in fact, it was closed due to renovations for Santa Fe's 400th anniversary. Of course, the Loretto Chapel is worth a visit, and a few dollars admission, to peer at the wooden circular staircase.
But today, St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment, beckoned us inside:

The low sun on a bright winter afternoon was perfect for illuminating the 12 Apostles, 6 on either side:

This church was rebuilt several times after prior destruction. The latest incarnation still dates to the 19th century, on an original site that was hundreds of years older, and had the honorific status of basilica bestowed by the current Pope in 2005. In a chapel (an older portion of one of the original churches) to the side of the altar lies several historic artifacts. A glass-enclosed case contains several relics, notably a bone relic of St. Francis, but the most important is La Conquistadora, a 400-year old statue of the Virgin Mary, the oldest in the New World. The statue, in fact, has a separate wardrobe of hundreds of pieces of ornate clothing, and is changed regularly.

A kindly woman was explaining the history to myself and another woman, a photographer from Colorado. With surprising, graphic detail, she stated how that, although La Conquistadora was not enclosed in any protective casing, it was highly protected by electric alarm systems.
"If you were lying, bleeding to death in the street," she said to the woman, "and he jumped over the fence to get that statue" (I appreciated the compliment to my assumed stealth), "the police would rush right past you toward the statue. That's how important the statue is!"

To some, or maybe just her. As much as I do appreciate history, the photographer from Colorado was lovely enough, so I know my decision would have been different. And easy. Ironically, my faith was reaffirmed.

By the way, among the veneration of images is a hierachy of (in order of precedence):latria, hyperdulia, and dulia. This means that the honor bestowed to Mary (hyperdulia), and the relative honour bestowed upon relics, lies between the highest honour bestowed to God alone (latria), and a lesser honour bestowed upon saints (dulia).

This, I expect, to be helpful in Scrabble sometime.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Santa Fe Skyline Run: Atalaya and Picacho

Santa Fe Foothills Skyline
Atalaya Mountain (9117')
Picacho Peak (8577')
~13M Roundtrip (rough estimate) from downtown Santa Fe


A couple Thanksgivings ago, I ran up to check out Picacho Peak, a pointy and prominent knob in the Santa Fe foothills. I ran out of time to explore the nearby, higher Atayala Mountain, but this time came prepared to check out both.

View Larger Map (Picacho on left, Atalaya on Right)

On these trails in winter, "prepared" means mandatory traction, as much of the trail is shaded, but either sees enough traffic from other folks, or has creek/melt runoff from sunnier locations so as to coat large sections of the trail in solid ice. The only other tracks I saw consistently showed the shape of Yaktrax embedded in the mud. In this case, I put on Microspikes fairly early and was glad to have them for the duration.

Like last year, I left from Pueblo Bonito Inn, which is a great B&B bargain in the offseason: in this case, $75. And by leaving before sunrise, I knew I could do some damage to the breakfast buffet when I was done. I headed up Atalaya first, paralleling Camino de Cruz Blanca on a trail that was mostly a dirt sidewalk with low desert brush, but also solidly covered in ice. This trail was easy to follow before the climbing began. Eventually, there's a trail split, with the left fork labeled as "steeper." Not only was that one obviously more fun, but it had less traffic and better traction.
The Atalaya summit itself is the non-descript highpoint of the ridge to the East of town, just over 2000 feet higher than town. Great views, yes, but the irony is that most of the hiking guidebooks I've glanced at mention Atalaya (which also had a summit register jar) but not Picacho. By being more prominent and having a better view, Picacho is still my preference. That's an easy roll down to the saddle and then brief climb back up, so I headed that way. With the snow and ice, and with no idea of the actual map distance, the previous year I had estimated about 20 minutes between the two, and that was pretty much accurate.

I enjoyed the sunshine on Picacho for a bit before heading down the familiar, but very icy, trails on the Dale Ball system. The Microspikes worked great, in combination with moving very conservatively. The added insult to injury on these trails would be slipping on ice and then falling onto a cactus.

In all, this is a fun loop that is very accessible from town. Some sort of traction (microspikes or at least Yaktrax) would be mandatory in winter. From most places, the road approach is only 2-3 miles on road. The road parts are enjoyable runs past adobe buildings and art galleries, with the scent of woodsmoke in the air. Just be careful around blind corners for inattentive drivers.

I had also explored the lower Dorothy Stewart trail on a separate run. My opinion here is that the lower trails would be fun on a mountain bike, but the higher ones around both summits would be more of a chore on a bike.

Map is below in case it's useful, the Dale Ball system is well-marked but I had been hand-drawing the other sections:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Spence Hot Springs in Jemez Springs, NM

~7 miles North of Jemez Springs, East side of Hwy ~MM25
0.5M hike from paved parking lot

While Jemez Springs is (in)famous among ultrarunners for a tough, mountainous race held in May, it certainly has a history that is much longer than just the race. Human habitation in the Jemez Valley has been dated to over 4000 years, while the geology became especially interesting after volcanic eruptions over 1 million years ago. Even today, numerous natural hot springs are found throughout the valley. We were hoping to check out at least one.

I initially wanted to check out San Antonio Hot Springs, thinking it would be a good xc-ski destination (as opposed to driving on a rough 4WD road), but as I was unsure of the snow level, I ruled that out. Pictures of the Soda Dam looked impressive indeed, and I read about a natural waterslide, but it turns out that the hot springs in the immediate vicinity are very small warm pools. Talking with a friendly local that lived near the Soda Dam, he suggested Spence Hot Springs up the road. Backtracking about 6 miles, we pulled off near Battleship Rock (another impressive formation) before hiking another 20 minutes on an icy trail -- the wrong one, in fact -- which would have led to Macauley Hot Springs instead.

We were running out of daylight and J's patience, but I backtracked just a bit further up the road and found the right spot. The sign doesn't label the hot springs itself, but mentions "No Nudity" and such, so we figured we were in the right place. Just over a half mile of hiking on mud and ice, we passed a group of folks heading out that said it was "absolutely beautiful."

Finally, we arrived, and had the entire place to ourselves. There were two pools, with a small waterfall connecting them. The upper, warmer pool, has a small cave as the source of the hot water. I squeezed in there, Gollum-like, and vowed never to leave. Until it was time to go.

I can imagine a different scene in the middle of summer, but as it was in January, we were able to soak in a steaming pool of water and watch the sunset over snow-covered hills. All by ourselves! This is a glorious and magical spot.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Rambler Glossary

Glissaditunity (noun): The opportunity to glissade.

The southwest slopes of Massive had nice, soft snow in the afternoon, for a perfect glissaditunity.

Scrumblewhack (verb): A method of locomotion among a backcountry route that entails scrambling, running, and bushwhacking (hiking also implied), often in alternating succession.

Exiting the drainage, skirting around cliffs and dense brush, and onto the open tundra, required about an hour of scrumblewhacking.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pajarito Mountain: New Mexico Nordic

Pajarito Nordic Area
~5.5M total ski, Groomed, Free


J and I were eager to try out some new (to us) New Mexico-area XC trails, nearer to Santa Fe. With decent snow (compared to Colorado, especially), we had some good choices, but decided to check out the trails near Pajarito Ski Area above Los Alamos.

This trail system has free access, and is maintained quite well by the Southwest Nordic Ski club. The trails start from the far corner of the Pajarito Ski Area parking lot (note: the ski road is steep and requires 4WD or chains in any sort of inclimate weather). The main loop is about 5k out with gradual climbs to a gorgeous meadow, with a few parallel trails and loops along the way.

There was just enough snow (thanks to some of the shade fences) in the early parts to make it into the shade and higher elevations, and the snow was fantastic in the meadow. Before we started, we had met Tarik from the SW Nordic club, who gave us much-appreciated trail updates and recommendations, so we pretty much stayed to the better snow on the rightmost trails towards the meadow.

We reached the meadow with full sun and temperatures in the 40s, so we hung out for a bit and had lunch. With just a bit further of bushwhacking, we were able to peer into the Valles Caldera preserve (which does have its own set of ski trails in the winter). Above the meadow, albeit south-facing, are glorious glades of tall aspen and pine, on gentle, nearly rock-free hills. Right after a storm, this would be a fun place to practice turns.

On our way back, we ran into another woman who was training for "some ski race in Wisconsin." Of course, I knew she was talking about the Birkie, which is somewhere on my lifelong list as well. We talked about the poor snow conditions in Wisconsin, as well as the poor conditions in Colorado, as she has a Copper Pass and called it the "worst conditions she's seen in 40 years." At that moment, at least, it seemed New Mexico was the place to be.

Red River, New Mexico: Enchanted forest XC Ski and Red River Ski Area

Enchanted Forest XC Ski Area
Bobcat Pass above Red River, NM
~6.5M groomed ski ($12/pp afternoon access pass after 12:30)

Enchanted Forest XC Ski
While much of the Colorado snowpack has been suffering, Pacific storms have instead snuck to the south and dumped on Northern New Mexico. And with the holidays over, crowds disappear and the lodging prices drop, making it the perfect time of year to check out the Land of Enchantment.

Just minutes above and to the east of the quaint mountain town of Red River, New Mexico, lies the Enchanted Forest Ski Area, at the top of Bobcat Pass. We've visited this area before, with J being on snowshoes, but now it was time to try out her new skis.

We had a fantastic afternoon skiing the outer loop, which ends up being over 10k of trail. The mixture of a few rolling hills was enough to challenge J with some downhill turns, but the trails are generously wide enough and devoid of obstacles. Best of all, the warm afternoon sun was perfect for churning up corn snow on the groomed trails.

I did a few quick spur trails, including a "double black" run called Judy's Lead where I kicked up a mule deer that ran in parallel with me for a bit down the trail. Otherwise, the far side of the loop has exquisite views of the Latir Wilderness, along with groves of tall aspen.

The trails weren't crowded by any means, but we had the views at the edge to ourselves.

Although $12 is steeper than free skiing or places like Happy Jack, it's pretty competitive for a high-quality selection of groomed trails with great views. And certainly not a bad way to work up an appetite for New Mexican chile!
For that, our go-to place is Sundance Mexican in town, which has solid chips-and-salsa, margs and Shiners, turkey tacos, great veggie chile (red and green), and sopapillas.

Red River Ski Area

Of course, Red River itself is a ski town, with a ski area looming right above town. We've been here before, it's a small but fun area. In January, lift tickets are nearly half-price ($35 in 2012) with a valid college ID, and discount afternoon-only tickets are also available. Again, with better conditions than Colorado (40+ inch base), we knew we couldn't go wrong.

The ski mountain mostly faces north, so as to hold onto the snow, which means shade and ice can be an issue. But otherwise the mountain is mellow and friendly to beginners, for better or worse. In this case, J was happy to take mellow runs for her first downhill of the year, while I worked on a semblance of tele skiing. The real challenge is to avoid the Texans and Okies, of course, but it's all good. Truth be told, I took a few falls myself as I was working on my turns, but I actually put the climbability of my bindings to good use by retrieving at least half a dozen skis and poles from various yard sales, and was otherwise happy not to get hit by anyone.

Although Red River is mostly known for it's proximity to the, uh, South, it's a worthy destination for anyone searching for a combination of beginner slopes with legitimate downhill, cheap lift tickets and lodging, and great food. And, this year at least, some decent snow.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year in Running

Ended up 2011 with a final race: the Fort Collins Resolution Run 5k.
I didn't have any sort of costume, other than my favourite alpaca hat, but enjoyed seeing some of the other FCTR's out in formal wear.

J and Nora were decked out in tutus:

The course is a couple of loops around CSU, with an extra final spur around The Oval. Similar to the Jingle Bell Run, I was excited to run on familiar roads on campus. But this time: at night!
And it supports KRFC, our great local NPR affiliate.

I pushed hard and painfully, and didn't get mile splits, but enjoyed pacing fast people in front of me, and was very happy with 6th in a PR of 17:01.
I had actually pushed to beep the timing mat (they had chips at the race!) at 16:59 on the digital clock. I then hacked up my asthmatic lungs for about 10 minutes, which weren't happy with the effort in the cold temperatures. As I sort of suspected, the GPS guys showed ~3.05M, so possibly a bit short, though a google maps view shows a legit 5k.
Either way, that pace is another big improvement that made me happy and a good way to end 2011.

J also hit a PR, when I caught up with them and told them to push to make it under half an hour, and they did it!

After this, we headed to a fun party at the Slushoconnor household:

We found out the downtown fireworks were cancelled due to the wind (earlier in the day), so we enjoyed hanging out until the stroke of midnight, as determined by an arbitrary microwave clock. Looking forward to a great year of running achievements and tall tales from this group of friends!


If nothing else, 2012 is now notable to me for being the first time I've ever purchased a Horsetooth Mountain Park vehicle pass. Now with the initial investment, I'm sure I'll be inspired to go up there often and get my money's worth!

Today was a nice morning, with the wind finally having died down. That didn't prevent ice:

So it was pretty slow going in both directions on the upper part of the trail. I got less miles in, but more vertical, hitting up a HT summit and then a subsequent Towers summit, all of it pretty slowly.
But the theme of my WS100 prep is vertical and trail, so it was nice to be out.

Happy 2012!