Monday, September 30, 2013

Decalibron: Racing on the 14ers

Decalibron 14er circuit
Democrat (14,148’)
Cameron (14,238’)
Lincoln (14,286’)
Bross (14,172’)

The "Decalibron" is a circuit of 4 14ers in the Mosquito Range above Alma, CO.  Among peak-baggers and braggers, it's a relatively easy effort (under good conditions) for 4 14ers.  I had it in mind for "someday," but the relative shortness of the hike, vs. the perceived aesthetics and driving distance, put it on the back burner for awhile. 
That was until learning about an informal, and free, race of these mountains, put on with sponsorship from local Breck companies like Vertical Runner running store.  In the mood for something of this distance, and a relaxed atmosphere with other runners, Nick and I made the drive from Ft. Collins.

The day was clear but blustery, and snow earlier in the weak meant that there would be patches here and there.  We arrived with enough time to get settled and then cold again for a casual late start, and then we were off.

I figured somewhere in the 2-3 hour range, yet still way overpacked, wearing a hat and puffy orange gloves that are about 20 years old, with 2 water bottles (less than one was needed) and about 4 packs of gel I never ate, in addition to another layer in my pack.  I still go a bit conservative "up high" and keep a bit of a hiker mentality despite the race; other folks just went with the clothes on their backs.
Anyway, we spread out into a jog up to the Cameron-Democrat saddle, knowing that the bulk of the sustained climbing would occur in this early part.  Then, as it steepened on a rocky trail, we all switched to a powerhike.  I felt decent here and passed and chatted with a few guys, and we also started intermingling with day hikers.

I think the saddle went at just under half an hour, and then a bit more rockiness up to Democrat, with some ice and snow on the steps.  Soon enough, 4 or 5 guys were making their way down, and then I reached the top of Democrat, which had a flag and a bowl of poker chips at top.

The idea was, 4 poker chips would "prove" the 4 summits* (except for skirting just below the summit of privately-owned Bross).  I snapped a quick photo and looped back.  As I headed back down the saddle, I stepped like a grandpa down the icy steps, being too cautious not to slip.  Numerous people blew confidently and smilingly past me, and it's definitely a weak point of my mountain running.

We passed more dayhikers as well, but now most of us had gotten past most of them.  Cameron was ahead, advertised with another flag and poker chips at the end of a gradual gravelly ascent.  The wind blew us all around sideways, and having a pack and jacket didn't help with that.
Lincoln was more aesthetic as a slightly pointier peak, but was still quick work.  Otherwise, the gravelly flat area between the last 3 mountains, while generally described as being featureless and boring, was actually an interesting moonscape and pleasant jog, other than the wind.

We made our way toward Bross now, on a trail that headed more directly below the summit and avoided a full retrace to Cameron.  On this aspect, there was one obvious patch of ice right on the trail.  I ran across it, attempting to be flat-footed and get some grip, but I fully Supermanned onto the ground.  I rolled with momentum and kept on running, sort of enjoying the early taste of snow.

The trail to Bross was still hundreds of feet away and below the summit, but the final poker chip and flag were there, with markings to show the final descent.  Bross is jointly owned by private mining interests, without current general public access, although mixed information suggests that at least one of the owners is fine with people summiting the mountain, and the other is mainly only concerned about liability.  Anyway, I watched other people descend the mountain, and the trail here was otherwise impeccably marked and obvious, but it turns out I got lost anyway!  Somehow I ended up higher and even backtracking from where I intended to me.  Realizing my error from the sightlines of a loftier perch, I quickly regained the correct trail, chastising myself for costing several minutes and race places with a foolish mistake.

Finally, it was onto the descent of Bross, which is notorious for steep, loose scree.  Many folks mention it as one of their worst 14er descent experiences, so I was prepared for ugliness.  We did not take the direct line down the gulley below the summit, which is clearly looser and steeper, but rather the more "environmentally friendly" trail along the ridge, which is still loose and steep in places.  I did fall straight onto my butt a few times, but I'll take dirt and scree over loose talus any day.  In fact, I found the descent of Bross, taking just over 20 minutes, to be both runnable and quite enjoyable: one of the highlights of the circuit.  It's one of those cases where running in a sideways, zig-zag pattern (in shoes) is much easier than hiking it slowly in boots.

Gerry Roach says it's hard to make Bross look good in a photograph, so here's my attempt:

We came down climber's-right of the mountain, and then followed the trail along the stream and short waterfall.  This was also a pleasant view to watch subsequent runners finish up their day.

It took me somewhere in the low 2:20's to finish, about what I expected, and still a half hour later than a "sluggish" Nick -- whatever -- and 45-50 minutes after the winner.
We hung out a bit while waiting for the last finishers, enjoying a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or 3.  The atmosphere and Summit County runners were very chill, a definitely pleasant vibe when contrasted to the intensity of, say, Leadville, which was the last race I was even at.  And remember, this was a free race, right?  Well when we were all done, they raffled off some cool prizes.  Nick scored a bottle of bourbon, and I was lucky enough to win a very nice aluminum camping table that I had my eye on and knew would make J happy.

So it was a fun morning, and the route and mountains were even more pleasant than I thought.  While I'd still want to avoid it on a summer weekend, I wouldn't mind running or hiking or skiing parts of it again. But the race atmosphere was very cool, so THANKS to those that set it up!  Here's a Vertical Runner logo for my 3 readers:

Anyway, the race quickly rose to one of my favourite races of the year and even all time (sorry Quad Rock and Black Hills), and I hope some of the Summit County folks come out to the Front Range for some of our runs as well: you're welcome anytime!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Track bagging...

Credit where credit is due: the idea of "track bagging" came from a discussion on George Zack's site earlier this summer:

As I was scouting around, I saw something very nearby that is almost always as beautiful to me:  a track
There is always a question with tracks if they are open to the public.  Google Maps Street View was actually available for this track, and it seemed to confirm it was very accessible.

Hooray!  I know that some folks abhor the track, and frankly the honesty of tracks sometimes weigh on me but I at the same time I enjoy “bagging” a track while on the road in a manner probably similar to some getting a county high point.

The discussion comments were interesting, with people mentioning specific tracks and lists of tracks, even though most of the crowd here in Colorado generally tends toward trail discussions.  Tony, known more for ambitious mountain routes than flat road running, mentioned having visited numerous tracks with college buddies in all of the lower 48!
This certainly suggests that people have been interested in checking out tracks around the country for years, of course, but now we're in an era where it's even easier to share and look up information about them quickly.

I have hopped on tracks on occasion when traveling, and only occasionally blogged about them,
but GZ's discussion made it more obvious that it's fun for others as well to share and read about various tracks.  They all have their various differences, and it's interesting to note the discrepancies of public access.

Anyway, thanks to GZ for starting that discussion. As he travels a bit and likes the track, I think he'll end up with quite an interesting list of tracks "bagged!"

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Track Mile Pilgrimage to Hayward Field

J and I took a quick trip out to Oregon over Labor Day weekend, and after driving down the coast from Portland the previous day, we stopped Sunday morning in Eugene, Oregon.  Besides being a generally vibrant and complete town in general, the town is still largely identified with the University of Oregon campus.   Inside that campus, in addition to the more recent development of incredible football facilities, lies the famous Hayward Field track.

Among tracks in the USA (and even the world), this is the big one, with a history that bookends the legendary Steve Prefontaine by decades on either end, with a host of Olympic trials, championships, and the efforts of world-class athletes.  Although I know this is a special track, having been out on other collegiate tracks, I was hoping to feel the grip of the track under my feet for just a few minutes.

Ahead of time, I looked for any information on public hours, but found nothing but a vague reference to posted hours on a sign on a fence.  We pressed our luck and just showed up.  From the outside, the facility was impressive, immense...and locked.


We walked around the outside of the facilities a bit, taking a few pictures, and looking for any open gates or signs regarding access (there were none).  I had mixed feelings of wanting to enjoy seeing the track in person, but wanting to be out there.  We made a full loop of the track.

I saw a couple guys in yellow shirts getting ready for a run.  The were from the Oregon Track Club (OTC) and mentioned that they didn't know of public hours, especially on Sundays, and only knew of specific running groups that happened to use the track.  They also pointed to the Bowerman building nearby, which is open during the week and has some signs and pictures inside, but currently had a group of collegiate runners in it: the XC team was getting ready for a workout, and the building also houses the locker rooms.

It seemed I was out of luck.

I walked around a bit more, and checked out a shorter track on the south side around the tennis courts.  Some guys were wrapping up some intramural soccer practice, so I chatted with them.

"Hey guys, any idea of how to get on the track?"
As I mentioned my desire to run just a 4 simple laps on the track, they were all friendly and tried to be helpful.  The first guy said, "Well, it's not like there are armed guards on the roofs or anything," insinuating I could easily hop the fence and likely not be bothered.  I had certainly considered that on and off for the last half hour, and I'm not always morally opposed to the idea of harmless trespass on vacant patches of forest or mountains, for example, but really preferred not to push it here, and mentioned my hesitation.

The next guy disagreed with his friend's suggestion: "Yeah, I probably wouldn't do that.  It would be similar to trying to run out on the football field," he suggested.  It's funny, then, to think that, although I've enjoyed watching football games in historic places in the past, I've never seriously thought about running out onto Lambeau Field or Camp Randall -- the latter is also a public University and has artificial turf that would see minimal damage from a quick 100-yard jog.  Yet, in my mind, track feels somewhat more accessible and egalitarian.  Why is that?  Maybe that assumption is false. 

"You don't even usually see students ever running on the track, in fact," he mentioned.  Another interesting observation, as I think about how easy it is to hop on the CSU track right here in town.
So it seemed that this hallowed field was perhaps a bit different than others.  I can understand that, but I was still dejected.

He mentioned a few other places to check out on campus, and also checking out the pictures and posters in the Bowerman Building.  We headed back over there one more time.

Only this time, the door was open, and another door was open into the track.

We headed in cautiously, where two men and a boy were standing and chatting on the edge of the track.

"I'm sorry, excuse me, is the track open at all?  I'm from out of town and was really hoping to take a quick jog on it," I blurted out.

"What are you looking to do?"

"I'm sorry, again, just a quick mile...we're from Colorado and, of course, it would be a dream just to run out on this track."

"Yeah, go ahead," a trim-looking guy said, confidently and unconcerned.

"Thanks so much, I'm Mike" as I introduced myself, "Are you guys affiliated with the University or anything?  I know there was XC practice going on, and didn't want to get in the way"  I asked, just to make sure the permission was valid.

"No problem, I'm the assistant cross country coach," he replied, "we're waiting for them to finish up."  (They were running a loop somewhere throughout town).

So that was it.  If getting out on the track was like being out on a major football field, then getting permission from a coach at a premier D1 athletic program was like....what?  Would any average Joe off the street get permission to go out onto a football field?  Did I look enough like a runner, could he read the burning desire in my eyes that outshone lack of talent in belonging on that track, is track truly more egalitarian?

Or did I just get lucky?

I was out on the track for a quick warmup, but my heart was racing from excitement already.

After my warmup lap, I saw that the inner lanes were blocked/closed off, so I respected that and stuck to the middle.  J stayed around for some pictures, and I'm very pleased to have these wonderful memories.

The warmth and humidity made up for the extra oxygen, so I didn't break any PR's, ending up in the mid 5's.

That certainly made my morning.

Pre's Running Trail

We headed out to breakfast, then -- and if you're reading this for informational purposes, Morning Glory Cafe was awesome -- and then it was onto another jog on the 4-mile, soft-surface "Pre's Running Trail."

J read a book in the park and digested breakfast while I headed out on the loop.  "Do you want to take your phone, in case you get lost?"  I scoffed at getting lost at a presumably popular, short running trail in a major city.  Whatever!

I glanced at the trail description: there are 3 loops ("red, green, blue") totaling  4 miles around the perimeter, with the mileage numbered sequentially on the map, suggesting to me that running clockwise (at mile "0") would be a good natural start.  And, if I made all left turns, I wouldn't need to pay particular attention to the turns.  Simple.

I only intended to jog, but this is how I had it built up in my head: the trail network would be labeled by colour, with incremental mile markers perhaps every quarter or even tenth of a mile: this is Pre's Running Trail!  I bet there would be some seriously fit folks out here for a workout, on a gorgeously sunny day especially, and it was nice to see that bikes weren't allowed.  So I bet you could get a great workout here!

The route was mostly scenic, but here's the reality: the trail wasn't labeled well at all, and had numerous other pedestrian and bike path crossings; in fact, more runners were on the alternative, parallel paths (likely out for a longer run).  There may have been a couple mileage markers eventually, and the loop intersections weren't easily distinguished.  The majority of people I saw on Pre's Running Trail were walking, often with dogs, and almost all in the opposite direction of travel as me, and I saw 2 families biking small sections on the trail.  At some point, near the football stadium, the trail merged onto the sidewalk, and then a section of trail was blocked off for construction, so I searched around before guessing where the trail might continue.

All in all, it was worth checking out, but I think Pre might be a little disappointed: people are sacrificing the gift!  The extensive bike/ped network in "Track Town" overall is still quite a gem for the community.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mt. Princeton Duathlon: Mountain Biking the Colorado Trail

Mt. Princeton (14197') Bike and Hike
~28-30M RT Mt. Bike (20% Singletrack, 20% Pavement, 60% 4x4 Road)
6.5M RT Hike
9 hours


Caleb and I had a free Saturday to spend playing outside, so we wanted to maximize our time at the end of summer.  (And, as it turns out, the last weekend before the massive flooding).  But what to do?  Mountain bike?  Hike a 14er?  How about both?

This route was inspired in part from an old "Colorado Mountain Biking" Falcon guide, which suggested parts of the Colorado Trail (Segment 13) in a possible loop that included dirt roads and pavement, essentially connecting Cottonwood Pass Rd. with Mt. Princeton Road, and with an "optional" summit of Mt. Princeton.

The map route looks like this, beginning at CR345 just past the CR342 junction (parking on the shoulder wherever there's room).  The warmup begins with a 3-mile climb up a road that leads to Bald Mtn. (9833'), before connecting on the final switchback to a cutoff trail that leads to the CO trail. 

Apparently, the "upper" part of the CO trail is loose, rocky, and rooted, so the Bald Hill cutoff option may save some aggravation.  The road itself is fully rideable at a steady grunt.

Of course, being very near the top, it was worth heading up to the antenna'ed summit to check out the views, and to claim yet another "Bald" summit.  (Coincidentally, there is a Sheep Mountain directly west, across Cottonwood Creek, with "Sheep" being one of the top Colorado mountain peak names as well).

Anyway, just below the Bald summit is a signed ("No motorized Vehicles"), faint trail that leads about 1/4-1/2 mile through the woods, occasionalyl meandering past potential campsites and social trails, before connecting to the clearly-blazed CO trail.

Soon enough, we were enjoying delicious rolling singletrack through the woods.

Up and down, up and down, with some good flow at times inevitably ending with a tight, switchbacked creek crossing, before climbing and then descending again, as we crossed several gulches on the flanks of the Collegiates.

At one point, however, we did emerge fully from the trees for a smooth blast across the tundra: a small taste similar to Crested Butte or Monarch Crest.

Now we were off of the CO trail and onto Mt. Princeton Road.  There are mixed reviews about the driveability of this section (depending on weather/time of year), but a fair number of higher-clearance vehicles still make it easily past here.  Although it was a solid grind -- again, all rideable, and in fact slightly more forgiving than the Bald Mtn. road -- it was nicer to be out on a bike, enjoying the early colour changes, than to be in a car.

It was a very nice day -- warm, even.  Actually, hot, with no real wind at all and temperatures in the 80's.  By taking our time with the mountain bike approach, we didn't know how much we were risking with storms, but pressed forward with no thunderheads yet forming.  

We only saw 3 or 4 parties descending on the road, and a couple of 4x4's, but it really wasn't a busy road, either.  So mainly a steady push: first, to the antenna towers near 11,000' where several more vehicles were parked, and then to the cairned trail that led up to Mt. Princeton.

Finally, after about 4 hours, we were at the Mt. Princeton trail, and it was a fun change to hike instead of bike for awhile.  We stashed the bikes in-view just off the side of the road, near where a moto-bike was parked, and were pleased that nobody bothered them.

The Mt. Princeton trail, then, is a straightforward affair that steadily climbs on talus, with occasional diversions and cairns of slightly alternate routes, but the main idea is obvious.  It's not supposed to be overly difficult, but I was pleasantly surprised with how stable the surrounding rocks are, compared to some other Sawatch Mountains.

We moved steadily well into the afternoon, seeing maybe 15-20 people descending, with the weather still in our favour.  We thought we'd be the last to summit for the day, but there was one more group behind us.

Finally, we were on top, with the summit to ourselves, almost no wind, and great views all around!

This was the first 14er Caleb and I had been on together, with hopefully more to come.
On the summit, some rain was visible in the distance, but nothing ever threatened the rest of the day.  The rest of the hot, hot day: we still had a fair amount of mountain biking to do.

We returned to our bikes, happy to see them unmolested by man or beast (sometimes marmots chew on strange things), and enjoyed a bomber descent down Mt. Princeton Road.  This was an underrated treat!  The road has just enough smoothness and rolling bumps to make it fun -- in contrast to the lower parts of the Mt. Antero road, which is a bumpy mess.  In this regard, I definitely recommend biking the road as a fun alternative to driving slowly or hiking on the road, and this is one of those cases where riding in both directions is faster than running as well.  Even if you just started from the lower TH, it would be a more fun day.  Driving all the way up to 11,000 and parking near the antenna towers seems like a long drive for a short workout!

We debated returning over the Colorado Trail -- it's rolling, so there would still be some fun downhill on the way back -- but opted for the slightly longer (13M vs. 10M) road option to make a quicker loop.
We got a bit of fast pavement action as well, in the upper 30's/low 40mph range, before flattening as we headed north on CR321.  It looked like roads to the west would have connected us with less mileage, perhaps, but the roads themselves and the public/private status weren't obvious on the map.

We then came at a crossroads of CR325, with this building on it, and headed west.

The sun beat down on us for the slow, gradual uphill, as we drank the last of our water, and spent the last of our energy on a long but satisfying day.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Run Antero

Mt. Antero (14269') Jog/Hike
5300' gain, 15M RT

On the way to Leadville for pacing, I was looking for a way to get up high without risking some weird injury or getting lost or something, so I picked the obvious and straightforward Mt. Antero, which has a 4x4 dirt road that goes nearly to the top, with less than a mile of hiking on talus.

Coincidentally, I had my mt. bike with me, but made a final decision to jog/hike instead of biking.  Was this a good decision?  Some data points to "Yes."

First, the lower few miles (before treeline) are essentially similar to a rocky streambed, full of loose babyheads, with enough steepness to make hike-a-bike likely.  So I was more content with a steady jog.  Above treeline, though, the road actually gets smoother, which makes it rideable uphill and likely a quick downhill.  In fact, I then saw a mt. biker steadily climbing on his bike, with his dog trotting by his side.

But, I was able to catch up to the cyclist.  We greeted each other and he told me about seeing me on the way down.  Ah, the familiar challenge.  While not overly fast, my only other goal was to jog every step to the end of the road.  This got tough on some of the steeper stuff near the top, but was manageable.

Next was a short section along the talus ridge, and then the final summit hump.  This wasn't very fast for me, especially in slippery new Hokas which I don't like (separate review later) and ended up returning, but soon I had the summit to myself.  I spent 10 minutes eating and calling J (cell reception up there).

On the way down, I saw the cyclist and his dog just starting the ridge, so the challenge was on to run  steady.  And I suppose to break 4 hours, as I was now at about 2.5 hours.  (I'm guessing fast dudes would be well into the 2's roundtrip).  I made it down just before 4 hours, but more importantly, never saw the cyclist again.  (Hope he didn't have a mechanical or other issue).

So as a non-expert mt. biker with a hardtail, based on the chunkiness of the lower parts of the road, I'm glad I went with foot travel instead.


Otherwise, I had trouble finding a decent free campsite anywhere near the TH, although pay campgrounds and decent mt. biking trails are otherwise available in the vicinity of nearby mining ghost towns.  However, after cracking open a cold Crow Peak Cream Ale that Chris brought me from South Dakota, I decided to check out Agnes Vaille Falls for the first time, a short 0.5 mile hike that I would not otherwise seek out, but seemed like a good, quick diversion.

The waterfall was legit, especially for Colorado.  I also enjoyed several dayhikers telling me I was "almost there" on the 0.5M hike.

Track Bagging: Platte Canyon High School

Platte Canyon HS Track -- near Bailey, CO

It's been awhile, been feeling a bit out of it for various reasons, but feeling better and time to add some things to the Blog from the summer.
It was a pretty mellow one, with some great pics and adventures (and misadventures) and some fun pacing gigs.  

So how about some track pics, instead?

Spurred on a bit from a discussion on GZ's blog, I realized other folks having an interest in running on random tracks.  I hadn't really gone out of my way for any tracks, but if you're in the vicinity of a cool track, why not "bag" it?

In Colorado, I've enjoyed running at Potts Field in Boulder, and numerous times at CSU's track, both with gorgeous foothills and mountain views.  I checked out UC Irvine's track a few years ago as well.  As a non-collegiate jogging hack, it's fun to check out some of these places.  But otherwise, what makes a worthy track? Completely subjective.

One track that's always caught my eye is Platte Canyon High School.  It's in a beautiful mountain setting, right next to 285, somewhat removed from town facilities.  Yet it's about the halfway point between the Front Range and the mountains, on a popular weekend thoroughfare, so you also have to appreciate the idea of being cooped up in a car for several hours and then being taunted with the freedom of an open track.

Anyway, I passed the track on the way to Leadville last month, driving solo, so figured, "Why not?"  (Although having had a belly full of Chipotle was one good reason not to...) I pulled off on the gravel shoulder near sunset and headed out for a quick 4 laps.

Nothing else much to report, except for I also decided to run barefoot.  I do this occasionally on the much softer CSU track.  This ended up being a worse idea here, with a grippy but abrasive surface.  By the time I finished, one of my big toes was sticky with blood!  That was a bit stupid right before I planned on pacing that weekend, but taping it up the next few days made it tolerable.

So, check out this beautiful track sometime!  But wear shoes.


If you're in the vicinity of a cool track, why not "bag" it?
I'll report on more cool tracks in the future (which means I'll do this a couple more times and then lose interest), and appreciate suggestions.  The Idaho Springs track is also on the list.
However, I was also able to run on what is perhaps #1 on my list (if I had a list) recently....guesses?

Mt. Yale: Standard Route with J

Mt. Yale (14,196')
4300' gain, 9.5M RT from Denny Creek TH
~6.5 hours

In early August, J and I had a great bluebird day for a hike of Mt. Yale.  The standard route is well-documented; the turnoff from the Denny Crk Trail to Mt. Yale was well-signed and obvious, if a bit farther from the TH than Roach's guide suggested.

Anyway, it's a typical Sawatch hike through the woods, onto tundra, before easy Class 2 hiking on a non-descript hump of talus that leads to the summit.

Starting at first light, we had no concerns about the weather, and enjoyed distant views of fog settled in at lower elevations.  We also had plenty of time in the afternoon to nap back at the campsite.

Indeed, another attraction of this area are easy roadside campsites within 2 miles down the canyon from the trailhead.

J labels this hike as easy, enjoyable, and straightforward.  It was great to check out another Sawatch 14er together.