Once More Into the Wind

IMG_0848I’m becoming a creature of habit.  Every season I have some big goal toward the end of the summer and then spend a while blissfully relaxing and enjoying my sense of accomplishment.  Then, every season, I get antsy for some more mountain time “before summer really ends”.  And most years, that last summer trip is an eye-opener and preview of winter to come.  This year would prove to be par for the course.

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All Downhill From Here, Mostly.

Cycling is definitely not my primary hobby, but I do enjoy a good long road ride.  Part 2 of my big goals for Summer 2014 was to do a big road ride in the mountains, something I’ve never done before.  The plan was to ride the Copper Triangle with friends on the first weekend in September.  However, my August mileage was simply not that great (what with all the running) and I didn’t feel prepared for a committing, 80 mile ride at high altitude with several thousand meters of climbing.  Instead, I opted for something a little more mellow.

At the Nederland bus stop

At the Nederland bus stop

Anyway, long story short: Seth, Kevin, and I met up in Boulder on a beautiful morning and took the bus up to Nederland with our bikes.  Speaking for myself, I felt about 30% guilty for not manning up and riding the 18 miles and 2500′ of vertical up Boulder Canyon, but if I’d been in shape for that, I’d have been out riding around Leadville instead.  No matter, we had lots of company in the form of at least half a dozen mountain bikers who were similarly cheating to get lots of sweet downhill back to the valley.

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Consolation Prize

Mile 2: 5am at 11,000'.  A harbinger of things to come?

Mile 2: 5am at 11,000′. A harbinger of things to come?

Back when I was a budding trail-runner, races were the main goal and highlight of each season.  I ran my first race, my first marathon, my first ultra, and my first 50 miler with obsessive anticipation.  The shininess has worn off a bit since.  Racing is fun, but  the thrill and jitters from “gosh, can I actually run for N miles?!” is largely gone.  With a few exceptions, my favorite runs in each of the last four or five years were the ambitious, exploratory, mountain link-ups I did in preparation for the main event; sometimes solo, sometimes with a like-minded group of people.  By the time the race came, it was a little anticlimactic.

Ribbon Falls.

Ribbon Falls.

The rules surrounding federal wilderness lands and National Parks generally don’t allow organized races, so the races are squeezed in amongst the peripheral public (and sometimes private) land.  There are a lot of beautiful places out there, but the top-shelf spectacular areas are usually gobbled as part of one Park or Wilderness or another and thus off-limits for organized trail races.

Put another way, it’s getting harder and harder for me to find a really compelling race.  I know I can run 30-50 miles with sufficient training and the idea of shelling out significant cash for the race and logistics to run a long distance in something which isn’t the most spectacular of areas is less and less appealing to me.  The support and camaraderie of a race is, of course, wonderful, but oftentimes what really sets my heart aflutter is devising a Big Stupid Mountain Run with my friends.  Unlike a race, the date is also flexible to get optimal weather.

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Exploring Buchanan Pass

Paiute and upper Coney Lake.

Paiute and Upper Coney Lake.

I’m working on a theory involving Coney Lakes.  At this point, I have visited a statistically significant* number of Coney Lakes and they have all shared the following properties:
1) beautiful setting
2) little-used, hard to follow trail
3) no other people (see item 2)
4) heinous talus climbs on unstable slopes to escape from
5) no evidence of actual conies

Okay, actually it’s only two sets of Coney Lakes and both within 10 miles of each other in the Front Range, but they were both great, adventurous days.  The first was a great, strenuous expedition into the southernmost valley in Wild Basin.  This was a similarly great expedition to about the third-most-northerly drainage in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
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Pwned on Pawnee-Buchanan

Headed down Buchanan Pass, still feeling awesome!

Headed down Buchanan Pass, still feeling awesome!

The Pawnee-Buchanan Loop in the Indian Peaks Wilderness is a classic of Front Range mountain running: a 25-plus mile loop with 6000-plus feet of gain, crossing the Continental Divide twice, past three large lakes, numerous waterfalls, and gazillions of wildflowers.  It’s a grueling loop, no doubt, and when I first ran it in 2009 with Stephanie, it took a rather daunting 9.5 hours for the whole deal.  But 2009 was a year in which I’d run done very little training.  This season I’ve already logged significant miles and have a couple biggish mountain runs already under my belt.  It should be faster and easier this year.

Wasn’t.
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Backpacking with the Sub-dude

IMG_3625Back in the day, I used to go backpacking quite a lot.  Even though Joe is not-quite-six, it’s important that he start learning some of his cultural heritage and get a sense of who his dad was back in his wild and crazy single days.  Parenthood is all about ego projection, right?  Anyway, with much assistance from Chris and his twin 8-year-olds, we did some backcountry camping.  Chris is the master at ultralight backcountry gear and custom makes a good deal of his stuff.  Thanks to his loan of a 2-pound tent and a ridiculously light sleeping bag, I was able to fit enough gear in my big purple pack for both Joe and I to carry. Continue reading

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Gore Range #5: Mesa Cortina to Willow and Salmon Lakes

The three amigos with the highest Willow Lake and the amazing Zodiac Ridge

The three amigos with the highest Willow Lake and the amazing Zodiac Ridge

Once again, the summer is flying past and my moderate (compared to previous years) recreation goals are looming.  But big stupid runs in the mountains require some training time and it’s already mid-July!  Instead of getting out for some moderate, tried-and-true training runs in the 15-mile range, I might as well try something new.

When it comes to new, I always think of the Gore Range.  The Gores never disappoint even if my own performance or navigation abilities are less than awesome.  The mountains are pointy, the trails steep (where they exist at all), the wildflowers rampant, and the scenery top-notch.  I’d been eying a pair of lakes in the southern Gores for some time as a likely “mellow” destination and it was now time to play that card.

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