RMNP: Bear Lake, Haynach Lake, Andrews Glacier, Mills Lake, Sprague Lake
The first rule of training is that running in a big, social group is more fun than running solo, usually. Even if you’ve been somewhere a dozen times before, having company makes it more fun. I travelled up to Estes Park on Saturday night for some much-needed training and de-stressing and crashed on Mike’s floor. We got an early start the next morning, met up with Pete, Lou, and David, and made it to Bear Lake by 6:30 am. The plan was to run up Flattop Mountain and drop down the other side to the reportedly beautiful Haynach Lake on the west side of the Divide, then return for a total of about 21 miles.
My goal was to add on sufficient extra mileage to crack the 30-mile mark. On top of my extra miles (and hence slower pace), Mike, Pete, Lou, and David are all pretty fast company and I was seriously out-classed on the first climb. I hung on during the gorgeous descent into new
terrain on the Tonahutu Trail and arrived at the lake not more than 30 seconds in the rear. Beautiful, as advertised. The trail was quite rough and it’s clear not many people explore this part of the park.
The climb back up Flattop was arduous and getting hot, though the weather was still gorgeous. I bid adieu to the others at mile 16 on the Bighorn Flats and struck out on my own to the south along the Divide. The North Inlet Trail was great dropping gradually down on the west side of Hallet and Otis Peaks. The siren call of running all the way down this nice trail to Grand Lake was strong, but I resisted, turning left and heading up slightly for the top of Andrews Glacier and a descent into the Loch Vale/Glacier Gorge area.
I’ve been up and down Andrews several times before and it’s pretty mellow as these things go. But all my previous trips have been in more-or-less winter conditions and in proper boots. In summer, the glacier is a bit steeper, a lot harder, and has alarming rocks poking through all around the bottom. Add to this my relatively-flimsy running shoes and you’ve got an exciting time. Fortunately, I’d brought along my “running axe” (an old mountaineering axe cut down by about 8 inches) which allowed me some degree of safety on a lacerating, wet descent.
The trail out from Andrews in summer conditions was equally different and much rougher than in the winter. In due course, I made it down to the Loch feeling alternately decent and pretty crappy. Hustling along, absorbed in my own details, I apparently passed right by my friend Alan and his family without noticing (sorry buddy!).
Must add more miles! Must break the 30-mark! My GPS is notorious for underestimating mileage by 10-20%, so it couldn’t be counted upon. I headed up for Mills Lake with the idea of running to Black Lake and back. A mile past Mills, it started to rain and I started feeling pretty poor, so I turned back for more downhill cruising. Normally I’d take one of the shortcut trails, but distance was the name of the game today, so I dodged tourists past Alberta Falls toward the Glacier Gorge TH.
More miles! The cruise down to Sprague Lake is easy, so I suffered down through there with thoughts of catching the bus back to Bear Lake. Back into civilization! People picnicing, fresh water… ah! Only there is no bus stop at Sprague Lake! I had to suck it up and run a mile of road down to the Park-n-Ride to catch a bus.
Total mileage was 30.4 (good thing I added that extra bit to the PnR!) with 6000′ of gain and 7000′ of loss in around 9 hours. The first half of the run was great, but I felt pretty bad for much of the second half. I need to find long distaces without all the elevation gain. Still, this is the first ultra-distance I’ve been since Feb ’09 and it could have been much worse.