Sunday, October 25, 2015

In The High Country- part two of my recent trip

Leaving Crested Butte saw a change in my style of travel- rather than covering many miles each day on the bike the focus was shifted to running up the 14'ers of the Sawatch and simply using the bike as transport between campsites. World class mountain trails are pretty dense in this part of the world, and I only planned on cycling about 250km over the next week and a half.

The mandatory bike portrait on a mountain pass. 

After grinding uphill for hours on a dirt road to a 3700m pass, the 30km, 1200metre coasting descent felt pretty nice.

 I cycled from Crested Butte over the Cottonwood pass and ran up Yale that same afternoon. The following day I rode through Buena Vista and stocked up on food for a few days of camping near the ghost town of Winfield, an area I'd be able to base myself in for 5 different 14'ers.

After the ride over from Crested Butte, I figured I still had enough time in the day to tag the summit of Yale.
I made back down to the TH just as the sun was setting.

Pretty colours in the hills on the ride up to the ghost town of Winfield

I spent three nights in this idealic campsite, whilst running a few of the surrounding peaks.

My first day in the Winfield zone was my 30th birthday and I decided to celebrate with one summit for each decade. Linking together Missouri, Oxford and Belford is a really logical route which doesn't involve much backtracking, but which features a lot of ridge running, with expansive views and fun trails. The weather was perfect and ,with none of the infamous afternoon thunder storms which Colorado is known for, I had a sleep in and didn't start out till 9am.

Enroute to Missouri, the first summit of the day.

Second on the list for the outing was Oxford

View from the third summit: Belford, note the mountain goats in the middle of the photo.

My round trip time for the three peaks was 5:50 and I spent the rest of the afternoon eating, reading and enjoying the amazing campsite.

For my second day in the area I decided to tag two more summits, despite being one summit less than the previous day this was a bigger day, both in terms of vertical and distance. First I cycled up to Winfield and locked my bike to a tree before heading up Huron. Being a weekend the crowds were out in force: I think I must have passed close to 100 people on the way to the summit. I've never experienced anything quite like it. Most people seemed pretty perplexed by the sight of someone running, some were friendly and encouraging, others were disparaging and spoke to me as though I was trying to show off or be overtly competitive. Rather than bothering to explain I just tried to smile and said hello as I hopped off the trail to get past them.

Busy day on Huron

I reached the summit (1:07) where a crowd of about 15 people were lounging around and after a quick snack went back down the way I'd come up (1:55 roundtrip). I rode the bike a mile over to the Winfield cemetery and set out on La Plata, this trail isn't the standard route up the peak, so it was much less busy. I think I only saw about 10 people on the way up. The trail was immaculate though and it made for really nice running, except for the last few hundred metres on big, loose talus.

Smooth alpine singletrack- exactly what I came here for. 

More trailporn

The next day I rode 50km in to Leadville with a horrendous headwind the entire way which slowed my pace to around 15km/h. I spent the remainder of the day resting in town with bbq and belated birthday beers, having just completed one of the biggest weeks of training in my life: 122km/8550m/22 hours of mountain running and 250km/3000m of cycling.

I was standing next to my bike drinking some chocolate milk straight from the 2L bottle when this fellow wandered over. Bill Dooper- "The Ultimate Fan", made famous by Salomon in this video. A nice bloke, he'd just gotten back from spectating at Run Rabbit Run.

The following morning I restocked food supplies and rode a short distance to the next TH, having a few hours of light left in the day I ran a nice loop on Mt. Elbert (up the NE ridge, down the E ridge and back along the Colorado Trail) 3:30 for the loop.

As is common in mountains, the highest ones aren't usually as interesting as the slightly smaller ones.
This shows the final section to Elbert's summit.

Fast running down Elbert.

The next day I ran Mt Massive from the same campsite. My legs weren't feeling very peppy and I found myself power hiking sections of trail which I normally would've been happy to run. It was damn nice to be out in the mountains though and the trail was nearly empty except for a small herd of mountain goats who were hogging the trail. We had a stare down, they won. I kept my distance and watched as they scampered around on the rocky ridge, showing me how it's done.

These fellas were hanging out near the summit of Massive, completely unperturbed by my presence.

The next day it was back on the bike and over another high pass: Independence, and a screaming fast descent to Aspen. I took another easy day here, resting up for the next day by eating donuts and catching up on emails at the public library (just like the last time I was in Aspen 7 years earlier).

The next day featured a trail I'd been looking forward to since before the trip: the renowned Four Pass Loop around the Maroon Bells, a 45km route with 2400m of vert which is usually done as a multi-day hiking trip but which also has a reputation as one of the best runs of it's length in the the USA. It's seen a healthy amount of competition for its FKT from some big name American trail runners; Krupicka, Ricky Gates and Sage Cannaday have all held the fastest time at some point, and I figured that the trail must have demanded so much attention for a reason. It definitely lived up to the hype!

Here's a few photos from the day:

My time ended up being 6:54, including a lot of photo stops and time spent gaping at the incredible scenery. Topping out on the third pass of the day I realised how close to Crested Butte I was again and started dreaming about a potential longer route which would head to Gothic and back via the Conundrum trail- something to look forward to the next time I'm in this part of the world.

Another post coming soon about riding over to Moab, Utah and checking out the Henry Moutains.

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