Sunday, March 27, 2011

Just finishing up the week on Denver Urban Paths

Had a great time night-skiing with friends in Keystone this weekend, splitting a condo, and skiing with J at Copper. With nice sunshine even in the afternoon at Keystone, we were basically hitting blue cruisers over and over, but J also kept up her recent trend of trying at least one new black run each outing. More impressively, since we skied all day and into the night, she did a great job keeping her speed up to keep up with the group.


Less running this week, finishing up today on HCT and Cherry Creek paths. I don't mention most of these runs even though they take up much of my weekly running volume, because I do many of the same routes (including functional run-commuting to school and back) and have a hard enough time keeping up with interesting posts (still need to catch up on some things), let alone repetitive posts. But based on my recent post, I may have given a negative impression about Denver-area urban paths themselves, which is certainly not true, and is far from the reality of the fact that I truly enjoy each run.

Despite being in a flat area, the multi-user paths in Denver and Aurora are unparalleled in most parts of the rest of the country for recreational enjoyment for most people. (My largest criticism of the paths themselves are mostly practical issues for commuting purposes). I ran just over two hours today on what ended up being a gorgeous morning, and certainly encountered dozens of people. About half of the run is on HCT, and the other half on Cherry Creek (On this route, I use the Florida Ave hill to connect the two rather than following the serpentine HCT further). Both trails have a decent parallel dirt on the side of the trail.

I recognize and wave to many of the same folks near our apartment: mostly some older folks that are regularly out enjoying the trail (there is a senior living center nearby). On weekends, plenty of runners are out, as well as cyclists, walkers, and families. One family today had Mom out for a long run, with Dad and a boy of 6 or so years riding their bikes nearby -- I passed and "raced" him to the next post as he beat me by inches. More road cyclists are out on weekends (as opposed to commuters during the week) which do often zip through traffic -- running or recreational riding is definitely more practical on these trails. These are also fine paths for rollerblading, but I probably see one rollerblader every few weeks or month. I haven't dusted mine off yet, but then I also remember it's not the 1980s anymore. Unfortunately.

Besides humans and their dogs, other regulars include a scurry of squirrels being fed at a specific bench at the aforementioned senior living complex, as well as geese near some of the ponds. Less usual is an occasional swarm of bees (I've seen twice on trees, including one warm day in January!); a man walking a cat on a leash; and a woman with a parrot on her shoulder. And even less urban animals include a house nearby on the HCT has free-roaming chickens (a rooster and a hen) that sometimes wander and scratch in the creek bed, and I have also seen deer and coyotes several times just a half mile or so from major road intersections. Finally, the HCT is signed to prohibit horses(!) right off of Havana, a major road of car dealerships and fast food -- yet one day I saw a couple ignoring the sign and riding horses their anyway! (There is a small horse ranch near Expo park less than a mile to the East).

Anyway, despite the unfortunate recent violence in the nearby area, the paths themselves generally feel safe. I can't think of any specific areas that regularly feel unsafe. The 'worst' is probably anything near the schools in mid-afternoon, because there's some sort of rule that middle-school aged boys in groups of 3 have to try to say something funny to strangers (if they're not pushing each other or teasing girls), but I usually say 'Hi' and joke with them. Tragicomically, I've been called the "N"-word twice, as in "'Sup, ..?" -- that may be slightly uncomfortable for people out by themselves. On the other hand, it is refreshing to see that so many kids can and do walk home relatively safely from school.

So I don't have bad things to say about the problems of the area because of the folks that live here (ignorant newspaper comments make broad, sweeping generalizations from other towns), but, rather, despite them. For being a city, there really are a good amount of recreational opportunities on trails and parks. These are amenities that a first-world society should strive for for all citizens. Even more basic, though, I hope we can meet the challenges of violence and economic disparities -- now -- before they get worse.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

TWIA: This Week in Auroraghetto (and East Denver)

Last night, 5 people were shot in a dispute in an apartment complex just down the road in East Denver -- as in, like a mile to the west, next to the cemetery my wife and I run past, right next to the HCT.

Rationally, I largely agree with this statement by a resident:
He said the neighborhood is usually pretty quiet.

"You have your neighborhood disputes and everything, but other than that, no cops,"

Kind of an isolated incident, right?

Except for the fact that on Sunday, 3 car thieves and police had a shootout in Aurora, leading to an injury and a death. This is just off of the HCT in Aurora, where my wife and I rode bikes earlier that day.

But at least those guys were caught and it was a targeted situation, right?

Last week Thursday, after fleeing police, a man broke into an apartment and cowardly held a family of four (including mom and 2 kids) hostage. Fortunately, they escaped injury. He was killed by police, and a cop was wounded. This is on one of my routes to school.

Well, that's what happens when you live in the city. You can always live in the 'gentrified' suburbs, and pass through safely in your car...right?

Last week Monday, in Aurora (again on one of my routes to school) another coward fleeing police took 2 people hostage (including a woman) in their car. Again, fortunately, they escaped unscathed, but two officers were shot before this guy was shot and killed by police.


I forced myself into these stories a bit to tie it loosely to running, but I've passed by all of these places dozens of times on foot or bike. I have some thoughts which I need to organize on some ideas and policy shortcomings, but also (as many have predicted) how it's going to be a hell of a summer.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fruita Desert Run: Kokopelli TH Trails

Spring Break Day 2 (Sunday, March 13)
Fruita Desert Rats Loop (mostly)
22 miles, ~3000' gain
~4 hours

After Saturday's hike/ski on Quandary, I headed West for somewhere warm to camp. I decided to do some trail running on some of the Fruita trails. Last time I was there, I ended up in the ER after flipping my mt. bike, so I promised J to take it easy on my feet instead!

After first stopping in Vail and meeting some friends for coffee, I then headed out to Rabbit Valley to camp in the car. In the morning, I headed back up I-70 to the Kokopelli TH trails. I decided to try out the Desert Rats 25M race loop. Some of these trails I had mt. biked on before, some would be new, but it was nice to have an easy map to follow for a solid loop. Also, there was in intersection at Mile 19, where I could put some extra water and/or bail if needed.

I headed out fairly late in the morning, and the weather was darn near perfect, tending towards warm, in the upper 60s with full sun. The trails were relatively uncrowded at about the most perfect time of year to be in the desert (most of the people I encountered on longer loops were Western Slope locals). I still saw a fair number of cyclists, spread out in smaller groups, and it was nice, in this case, not to be alone in the desert. I had some brief chats with some of them, especially a few groups which I encountered multiple times across an hour or more as they took a break or slowed at technical sections. One guy joked that I was "pissing him off" by going as fast as them on bikes. These guys also were able to point me in the right direction at a couple of confusing intersections.

I thought I'd be able to run a solid pace for 25M and even tack on some extra credit. By about 3 hours, I realized this wasn't going to happen. I hadn't brought my smaller pack with me, and my shoulders were sore from carrying my skis up the day before, and undoubtedly sleeping in the car. After some debate, I only went with 2 handhelds (50 oz water), thinking it wasn't that hot and I'd be good. Also, I made that decision knowing that I could easily cut straight toward the car rather than following the looping course and be back at water within 30-45 minutes or so at any given point. I rationed this water to last 4 hours, and felt fine, but was clearly slowing down in the dry desert. I took my last sip with about 20 minutes to the spot where I stashed another bottle earlier in the day. I decided I'd drink as much of that bottle as I needed and see how I felt about 5 more miles. When I got there, the bottle was there, full of warm water, and I drank the whole thing. I bagged the final Lions/Mack Ridge Loop and ran back to the car, and called it a day.

After drinking more water, I took a nice siesta right next to my car. The afternoon sun was perfect for sleeping, just not running! I was somewhat dejected in not having finished the full loop and for having run slower than I anticipated. But, it was on the tail of a bigger running week, first day in the heat, blah blah blah. Ultimately, running longer in Boulder the following week helped me get my endurance confidence back.

Anyway, it's a great loop and a great area, nicely signed trails with great views. I had a decent amount of fun trail running (I saw no other trail runners out there all day), especially since you don't lose any momentum in technical areas compared to a bike, but it was hard to be on foot on such classic bike trails. So I'll still recommend that area for mt. biking first, and I have an impression that some of the hiking-only trails in Colorado National Monument and surrounding area are ripe for further exploration on foot instead. I want to make sure I don't completely ditch the mt. bike at the appropriate times in the appropriate places.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Quandary Winter Ski

Quandary Peak Hike/Ski Descent (East Ridge/East Face)
6.75 miles (fall line!) RT, 3450' gain
~4 hours RT

Earlier this winter, I had a goal of some summit hikes and/or backcountry skiing some peaks. One mountain I had in mind was Quandary Peak, which is a popular 14er just south of Breckenridge. This is an intermediate ski descent with generally low avalanche conditions in winter and especially spring. It is also such a popular mountain that dozens of people climb it every fair-weather weekend, which means I would have zero interest in climbing it in the summer.

I actually made plans to climb it at about 6am last Saturday, the beginning of my spring break. I was headed West with my skis in the car, and I saw that the wind, weather, and avalanche conditions were finally favorable -- as was the actual conditions when I passed through the Eisenhower tunnel. Since I was solo, I also felt that going on a weekend with some other people on the mountain would help mitigate any risk. But just because I made hasty plans to climb it in the morning doesn't mean I hadn't prepared ahead of time: it was another mountain and popular route which I had read and studied months ahead of time.

I started around 10AM on the forest road just off of Hwy 9, with other cars already lining the road. I had a macho plan to climb up as far as I could with my waxless skis, but soon found that the packed snow was too slippery and steep, so that bootpacking was much easier. I had microspikes in my pack, but they remained there the entire time. I also hadn't really noticed the loops in the bottom of my pack, but it turns out they held my skis nicely. Perfect!

So I spent a couple hours heading up the trail. The packed trail made it mindless and easy through the trees, and the rest of the route was plain and obvious above treeline.

I had some quick conversations on the way up, and passed several groups on the final pitch. I don't mean to disregard any mountain, but this hike was fairly pedestrian. It's very much all relative, as my previous climb up Sherman, also considered an 'easier 14er' was significantly more difficult due to the wind and cold. All I mean to say is, once again, the 'bragging rights' of 'peak-bagging' is very much irrelevant without the context of the specific mountain, route, and conditions. I can see why this route is recommended as a first 14er as a quick bang-for-the-buck, but I would certainly recommend other peaks and routes for a more interesting hike. On a pleasant winter day with almost no wind, though, it was a good balance for a ski attempt, one which I would recommend even to skiers or snowboarders (with sufficient safety knowledge/precautions/conditions) willing to carry their gear.

So in this case, I was more apprehensive about the ski descent, since I'm especially uncoordinated at skiing my too-short, too-narrow, beat-up but lovable backcountry skis. I was unsure if I would stick to the ridge, which has a more conservative angle, or try out the classic East Face. The East Face has a modest slope, and a previous group's compression test was favaroable. And, as I climbed the ridge, though, I gained some new information: the ridge was icier, narrow, and interspersed with rocks; but I watched a previous climber descend the face on what looked like snow that at least had some measure of grip.

But first, the summit, after just over 2 hours, and break. The face looked steeper from above, of course. I would have had no doubts on my alpine skis, but took it very slowly as I cut all the way across the upper part of the mountain, repeatedly zig-zagging across hard, variable snow. This was incredibly inefficient and slower than hiking, but it was better technical practice and helped me gain confidence, as I was able to ski off the summit. I took a break after the top pitch, and then the rest of the section above treeline had much better snow and less rocks, as I was able to make a few turns. I zig-zagged down to treeline and then continued either on the icy trail or across some of the open areas. As the trees became more dense, I appreciated even more how this popular trench of a trail was even more bastardized by trains of snowshoers and hikers making weird, abrupt turns through narrow trees, making skiing nearly impossible, but I slowly slipped and crashed my way through, inefficiently taking nearly as much time to descend as I did to climb.

But, I did it with my skis, and it was more fun!

Fischer Outtabounds Crown)
Alpina 75mm 3-pin boots (soft)
Ski poles
10 essentials (including map, despite obvious route)
Emergency overnight bivvy and extra clothes (not needed)
Ice Ax (not needed)
Microspikes (not needed)

Gear Thoughts
Skins or bootpack necessary, waxless not sufficient for climbing (but I already suspected this)
More of a downhill setup (wider tele skis, plastic boots) recommended for downhill (but I already suspected this): saw 2 tele skis, 1 alpine (not AT), and 1 splitboard
Though I was solo I should have brought beacon and shovel, in case this could have been helpful to anyone else or myself

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Green Double Double Mesa

30-31 Miles
? Elevation

On a gorgeous day, wanted to do something longer on trail. I signed up for CP, and was thinking about GC, so it was high time to at least do something in the 5+ hr/30ish mile range. Had some good overall weeks lately but no really good long runs, and had some concerns about a longer run with a right leg injury thing acting up a bit.

Was able to procure the car for part of the day, but wasn't able to make it up to Ft. Collins for the social run. Heard about GZ's mission to head uphill straight from his house -- that sounded like fun, but I didn't know how many miles I was good for. So I decided to head to the general Chatauqua area which could give me plenty of options: Double Mesa, Green, or Double Double Mesa.

How about all of the above?

First things first: an H2 pulls into the parking lot. Stickers on the back of the truck make various proclamations about the occupant's love of running, microbrew beer, and hard-rock Devil's music. Said music is blasting from the speakers, so all evidence points to one person. I introduced myself, joking about the loud music. It was good to finally meet him:I remember finding Brandon's blog a few years ago when googling the Silver Rush run, and back then it was apparent that his site was thorough about details. Also enjoyed his Boston training cycle and 'won' a mini-contest about guessing time (I was glad to be wrong about the final time!) in which he sent a Boston pint glass to my house. (So I still owe him a beer!)

I was planning on heading down Mesa and he was heading up Green, then Bear. I asked if he minded if I followed him up Green, having never been up there before. He was cool with that so we headed up the hill that everyone in Boulder has climbed dozens or hundreds of times before. It was nice to finally get up there, just as steep as advertised. He pointed out some of the other routes along the mountain as we headed to the top:

Then we headed down, a fun descent with little/no ice. At some point, he checked Twitter and found out where George was. I didn't even know where I was. But soon enough we were down at the Mesa intersection, where he was going to head up to Bear. I decided to stick to my original Mesa plan, and parted ways. I'd keep my eye out for GZ near some of the intersections, but didn't see him.

Saw plenty of other folks, though. Not enough to really clog the trail, as there are few blind corners and most of the trail is sufficiently wide. Despite (and provably, because of) the crowds, I really do think/agree that this is a classic trail run. The first (and sadly, only) other time I had been out here was part of what I called a 'triple double' from Ft. Collins: double-digit mileage from the run, and triple-digit from cycling from Fort Collins and back, irrespectively. That run I did on the Sunday before Bolder Boulder, which is absolutely the best weekend day of the year to do this run, as everyone else is either casually or non-competitively not running that day.

But today was also a beautiful day out, now shirtless-able. I don't like the boring, hot couple miles towards El Dorado (reminder: there's no fresh water there), but I like the mental break of cruising downhill. With the Green diversion (including a short summit break), it was now around 3 hours.

Helped some guy with the map who was interested in running the trail, then turned back to slog up the gravel. My leg was sore and stiff, protesting much, but after a few minutes it felt better. I realized that this return trip would put me solidly over four hours on the feet (with breaks), so it could be a decent day and I could call it good.

But running back started to feel alright. Not fast, but consistent. Got all the way back, hit the car, grabbed some more water and called the wife. She was still good so I checked if I had a few more hours. No problem. Headed out again. Saw some people again, couldn't remember which ones. Had I seen anybody 3 times already? I still like the trail enough that I wasn't bored. But, inexplicably (or perhaps, very explicably, given my history), I took a short 5-minute wrong turn/detour down Shanahan at a 3-way intersection, which I continued down until I saw some folks, verified my mistake, and turned around.

For food, I had a PB&J sandwich that I finished already, and I hit the grocery store the other day and picked up some bars that were on sale, as they didn't have gels. I didn't notice that some (but not all) were protein bars. Predictably, those took about 5 minutes per bite to swallow, and just sat in my stomach. Ugh. I was alright but could've used something different at the El Dorado turnaround, especially some quick salt. Good news: dug through my pack and found one more half sandwich, score! Bad news: it was partially mashed into my non-functioning cell phone. D'oh!

But the sandwich helped out (as sandwiches are wont to do), and I turned around for the last time. Still not fast, but happy to be in that cruising mindset where you just keep moving consistently. Definitely got through some mental and physical roadblocks, and enjoyed the final quad-pounding road downhill to the car. Over 6 hours on the feet, 5.5ish running. Just what I wanted! Cautiously optimistic as my leg actually felt better as time went on. I can't pretend to understand this stuff.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

White Ranch Loop and Conditions

White Ranch Outer Loop (Clockwise, w/ Shorthorn)
~13.5miles, ? elevation
2.5 hours
Conditions: Ice/packed snow in shade

Had an opportunity to head out to White Ranch today, another recommended JeffCo trail which I'd never explored before, and wanted to give a conditions update. The outer loop seemed easy enough to keep me from too many map checks, with the exception of substituting the longer Shorthorn for the shorter Longhorn.

Decent/felt good despite the wind on the sunny part of the climb from the lower lot. The climb keeps going forever, though! I did enjoy the rolling descents as well. Actually clear and not too muddy for the first few miles.

Then, the descent near the upper parking lot, near where camping is allowed, was an ice fest. This was true for much of the backside in the shade. There was the faintest dusting of snow which actually gave a little bit of grip. And, as I think mtnrunner2 noted, the new Cascadias with the odd pinwheel grip on the bottom are better than the old ones, which were notoriously bad on slippery surfaces like wet rocks (still have to try them out on that). Which is nice!

Some mud on the wide-open doubletrack after the upper lot, but not too bad to slow you down. Then more intermittent ice and some solid-packed snow. (Sorry, no good pics, when I got in icy sections I just wanted to be done). Still tried running everything and lucked out, though a couple small uphills my feet slipped, cartoon-like.

Finally, at Shorthorn, I enjoyed the view of the trail that wound along the edge of the hill. The terrain definitely reminded me of Centennial Cone, another JeffCo trail. Unfortunately that ended up in snow and ice as well, some of the slipperiest of the day. Saw some noticeable Yak-trax tracks around there: good idea, but I would have been too lazy to switch them in and out. One set of bike tires as well: I wouldn't have wanted to have balanced on off-camber ice on the side of the ledge.

Overall, conditions were tolerable at best. I think warmer temps=more mud, and a weekend (more general traffic and even sloppier trails) would make it even less worth the effort. So it still seems like a few more weeks before it's ready for prime-time, unless you're dying to get out there. The ice really wouldn't be fun on a mt. bike right now.

Another enjoyable JeffCo option. Other than the waterbars, I see why this is a popular mt. bike trail, as the flow, similar to Centennial Cone, seems like it would work well for mt. biking.

Myocardial Fibrosis in Lifelong Endurance Athletes

NYTimes article with a good summary of recent literature about prolonged endurance exercise and myocardial fibrosis (scarring/thickening = generally bad).

It is associated with number of marathon events, ultramarathon events, and amount of training. Pretty good variety of evidence in healthy humans and rats, which sheds light on mechanism and suggests (but doesn't prove) causation. One could make arguments that it's an adaptation that's not necessarily deleterious in this population, as it does not specifically look at outcomes (age at death). I'd also argue, weakly, that there might be some selection in the age-matched control population: healthy non-exercising folks survived to a healthy age with a larger genetic influence, whereas the exercising folks might have done more to help their own cause. And, I'd like to know what happens to young athletes that stop training regularly, and older athletes that picked it up later in life. Finally, you or I may or may not care ("I'd do it anyway"), but the interesting part of the rat study is that it was reversible within weeks. In that respect, I do care and think there will be some interesting lessons from future study.

My take? For any "Born to Run"-style oversimplification of regular distance running being "natural," I have to also believe humans regularly chilled out for a bit (see, e.g., cave drawings, brain and social development). Chasing down antelopes is good and all, but when a nomadic tribe finds a lush, fertile valley, only a fool would keep going. And remember, the notion that healthy humans regularly ran great distances completely ignores the ~50% of the adult population that happened to bear and nurse children for years at a time, *and* happen to be specifically good at endurance events!

So, if our goal is to regularly run distance events for the rest of our lives, and to maximize the amount of this, some evidence is pointing in the direction of taking some time off. How long, how frequent, and what the actual benefits might be, are still open questions.

Update 3/21
The March 2011 issue of Trailrunner Mag has an interesting article: "Potential for atrial arrhythmias from long-term endurance training." This caused me to look further into current research on the subject. Atrial fibrillation has most certainly been associated with long-term endurance exercise in numerous studies; atrial fibrillation is most certainly associated with myocardial fibrosis in numerous studies (albeit most often in disease).

Based on some responses (including my own) here and mostly elsewhere (e.g. NYTimes comments), I wanted to make a stronger statement than my initial one: there is clear evidence that decades of endurance training most certainly can do damage to the heart. Period, end of sentence. As one paper put it:

A growing body of evidence reporting altered cardiac function and myocardial damage after arduous exercise, together with the increased prevalence of arrhythmias observed in highly trained athletes, suggests that repetitive bouts of prolonged, arduous exercise may be deleterious to long-term cardiac health. (Whyte, et al., Br J Sports Med 2008;42:304-305)

Results from studies like this are tough because the audience has a strong, vested opinion. The average person is much less likely to opine about studies involving mice or yeast, but dietary and exercise studies are much more accessible and applicable to everyone, yet complicated by individual genetic and epigenetic differences ("My grandpa smoked til he was 95").

With all that said, it may be prudent to remain aware of future developments and ways to mitigate these risks -- are there genetic susceptibilities? Dietary influences? Certain timing of training and de-training that can mitigate these risks? Can screening techniques catch abnormalities earlier, should different screening techniques be used for folks with different lifestyles?

Or it may be reasonable to accept the risks: we also know that a restricted calorie diet, with less exercise, is the best way to live the longest, but most of us are not interested in that, either. So the enjoyment may outweigh the risk, or the increased risk may be more than offset by decreased risk of other risk factors (in general) to an acceptable level.

But the main point is that there is a clear, growing, and damning body of evidence of heart damage in endurance athletes. Runners, cyclists, skiers. Post-mortem, and retrospective cohorts. Humans and rats. See for yourself if you agree or disagree.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Horsetooth Circumnavigation?

Looks like the FCTR boyz and girlz are planning a neat little event coming up in a few weekend, over at Alex's site. Hope to be there if the schedule allows.

Coincidentally, I ended up there Friday afternoon when J had a work meeting, giving me about 3 hours. I had read about the previous weekend's 18-mile circumnavigation (something I've done on bike but never foot), as well as Rob's Foothills route, so I winged the mileage without much thought and dropped myself off at Spring Canyon while J headed to her meeting. I stuck to the foothills trail for the most part, but overshot to the top of the hogback at Reservoir Ridge (forgetting where the last trail down to the road over to Lory was), doubled back, and then took the Valley Trails into HTMP. The advantage here is having a functioning water pump at Lory and then Soderberg.

The run was very enjoyable but I was slow, especially on some of the horse clomp on much of the valley trails. I had a backpack full with a jacket, hat, and gloves, waiting for the impending snow squalls that were promised, but mostly enjoyed a partly cloudy day that was 10 or more degrees warmer than expected. By the time I got out onto the road, J's meeting was done and we had some dinner plans, so I had to meet her back up on the hill rather than finish the run. So I have still failed to circumnavigate, and I'm guessing (via mapmyrun) I was at 21 miles with a couple to go. Oh well.

Most Beautiful Place I've Ever Seen
But here's the best part of the story: just over half an hour into the run, in an area I've been through hundreds(?) of times if you include bike and car, I was on the reservoir side of the road, when a male voice asked, "Can you take our picture?"

My first reaction was of slight annoyance, because I was farther up the hill than them, and I hate myself for it, because it was the split second before I had a chance to think about it, and I don't like the fact that I had the negative thought first, when I certainly appreciate the small favor when folks do it for me. It was a minor inconvenience, and I realized that on a weekday they likely hadn't seen other folks go past as much as on a weekend. And, as I slowed down, they said, "We're from out of town."

"Where are you from?"
"Omaha, Nebraska."
"Pretty nice view, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes! It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!"

Although I try not to take these things for granted, this was an important reminder. Here I (we) get to run in some of the most beautiful (let alone safe) places in the world, and sometimes I'm tempted to dismiss them as routine.

They handed me a disposable camera, which I had to remember to 'wind' between successive shots.

I pointed to Horsetooth Rock and told them about the park and views up there.
"Yeah, his....his baby mama lives here now, she was telling us about some place up here." (I love the frank but extraneous detail in that statement).

They thanked me and vowed to head up towards Horsetooth.

Though I initially loathed myself for the negative reaction and for having taken certain things for granted, I loved the world a bit more after that, and I'm glad that they did, too.

Leadville Mineral Belt Trail in Winter

Mineral Belt Trail
Leadville, CO
Trail run: ~7 of 11.6 miles explored

Having been busy with school the last few weekends, we snuck out for a quick getaway in the mountains. Saturday, we had a great time skiing with in-laws C&C at Copper. Rather than drive back Saturday night, we extended the weekend by staying in Leadville. To do this affordably, we tried out the fabulous Leadville Hostel for the first time, and found it to be a great place to stay. We enjoyed a quiet evening in a private room, although the place was packed with people of all ages, from kids to older adults. The hostel managers Bill and Cathy do a great job of making this a warm, comfortably place. No wonder that reservations for LT races in August are booked years in advance!

Coincidentally, our room was the only one with a LT100 poster on the door.
Was it a sign?

Yes, it was a sign that I sent in a registration check a few months ago. Huzzah!

Although we were planning on snowshoeing/skiing later in the day, I knew it would be an easy negotiation to sneak out for a run if J could sleep in. Luckily, the wind was dead calm and comfortably in the morning. I headed to Provin' Grounds for one of the most consistently perfect cups of dark roast, and a delicious fruit bran muffin (a decision I would have regretted had a gone for an even longer run).

I decided to check out the Mineral Belt trail, an 11.6 mile paved trail that surrounds the town. I've encountered it briefly during the Silver Rush 50 and some road bike exploration, but became more intrigued when Ben had mentioned a series of ski events on the trail, since the trail is groomed for classic and skate skiing in the winter. Snowshoeing is also listed as an activity, and dogs are allowed, so I figured I could try running on it as well without breaching any groomed trail etiquette. (In fact, we were surprised to find mountain bikers screaming down the Harrison Ave. hill the night before, only to learn that they were finishing the Mineral Belt Mayhem night-time race, so clearly winter biking on this trail is legit as well!)

I brought microspikes, but ended up not using them. Instead, I plodded along on the far edge of the trail, opposite the classic tracks. The trail was wide enough so that I didn't interfere with skate skiing, either.

I mostly explored the eastern section, miles 2-9 (map), which are marked by individual signposts on the trail, in addition to interpretive signs. The snow was firmly packed but the lack of traction going slightly uphill slowed me down a bit, and I took a sample mile pace at 10:00. Then I ignored the watch the rest of the time and enjoyed the views. As the trail climbs to the East, you lose sight of town and instead enter quiet, dense forests with occasional vistas of mountains in either direction, as well as historical mining equipment. For being a town recreation path, the ability to get out into the woods within minutes is quite amazing, especially on a free and groomed trail. (By 7AM, there were already no traces of the previous night's bike race).

I had plenty of fun running on this trail, but wouldn't hesitate to recommend it for XC skiing (classic or skate) and snowshoeing, either -- even as a destination for those activities.

In short, Pbville is a great destination year-round, as Brandon can better attest, though I missed him running around town on the same morning. The town has great amenities for all the basics (coffee, bars, restaurants, trails, lodging), but doesn't have the pretentiousness of the larger Summit County towns, as I still saw my fair share of surly older guys with tobacco-stained mustaches, one-eyed dogs and stray cats, and the silliness of night-time bike races and closing main street in favor of setting up snow jumps for a skijoring course.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mayflower Gulch Snowshoe/Ski

Mayflower Gulch Snowshoe/Ski
~4 miles RT, ~580ft to upper cabin at Boston Mine
2 hrs leisurely pace

After staying overnight in Leadville, J and I had chance to check out the Mayflower Gulch trail between Leadville and Copper Mountain. About 6 miles south of Copper, and 17 miles from the edge of the town of Leadville (next turnoff just north of Clinton Gulch Reservoir), Mayflower Gulch has a big bang for its buck in terms of easy terrain with scenic beauty.

The hike is a steady 2 miles on a road along Mayflower Creek, heading directly southeast as it climbs to treeline. Out of the trees, you are treated to breathtaking views in a basin surrounded by Atlantic Pk, Fletcher Mtn, and Drift Peak. Old cabin and mine ruins dot the landscape below these 13ers, affording great photographic opportunities and a chance to visit Summit County history.

Unfortunately, despite numerous gorgeous pictures online on sunny days, we did not have the classic Colorado bluebird skies, but still enjoyed an otherworldly white landscape on a calm day.

We only hiked to the cabins themselves (which are surrounded by flat or low-angle terrain in the immediate vicinity), and enjoyed the views. This is a great all-season option, as wildflowers are abundant in summer and the peaks would be more accessible. The winter trail, without recent snow, was densely packed and tracked up to the lower cabins, so shoes with traction or even skate skis would have worked on a day like this, but flotation (skis or snowshoes) is advisable anywhere past there, as my poles routinely sunk as far as I would let them. Extended tours go up further in the bowls above the cabins, or on the corniced Gold Hill to the West, both of which have more avalanche risk, if not to scrambling the summits themselves. In addition, tree skiing options abound as well as some mellow touring in the gulch itself.

This is a great option for a shorter excursion on snowshoes or skis. We saw a couple guys that were learning basic cross-country skiing on the trails, and it occurred to me (making a comparative list in my head) that Mayflower Gulch just might be one of the best places to learn basic ski touring and get comfortable with the equipment, with ample snow, great views, and wide, steady trails.