A Bad Day on the Arapaho Pass-Devils Thumb Circuit

After last weekend’s mighty efforts, I’d planned two more training runs in the mountains before getting into full taper mode. Two more weeks to hone my body and logistics. Two more weeks of big runs in the mountains.

Should be no big deal...

Should be no big deal…

First up, a nice loop I’ve had in mind for a long time now which starts from the 4th of July trailhead (10,200′), goes up over Arapaho and Caribou Passes (12,000′), and down the western side to the Junco Lake TH. Then six miles of rolling terrain south along the High Lonesome Trail and three steep miles up to Devil’s Thumb Pass. Finally, we’d drop down the familiar trail to Devil’s Thumb and Jasper Lakes, then a quick trot up and over the shoulder of Chittenden Mountain to Diamond Lake and back to 4th of July. Total distance of 25 miles and about 5000′ of vertical which should be, at this stage of my training, no big deal.

Should be no big deal.

I convinced old friends Yasuyo and Peter to join me on this and was thrilled! So many of my runs have been solo, it’s great to have kindred company. We started in the surprisingly-chilly, windy morning and hiked up the trail to Lake Dorothy and Arapaho Pass. From here on, it was new terrain for all of us and utterly spectacular terrain at that! The trail runs along a shelf on the steep north face of Mt. Neva with a thousand-foot drop down to Carribou Lake in the beautiful Coyote Park to the right. We then ran some of the most gorgeous alpine trail I’ve ever seen over tundra descending gradually into the forests on the west side.

Things were going well, we were jazzed by the new sights, and decided it was our moral imperative to tack on an additional 1.1 miles each way on the spur trail to Columbine Lake. This was definitely a good idea; despite a fairly rough climb, the lake was gorgeously nestled in under the steep western flank of Mt. Neva and a startling seafoam green color. We lounged for a few minutes savoring the view before running back out and continuing the descent to the surprisingly popular Junco Lake trailhead at mile 10.

It was here that things began to go south for me. Apart from an initial wet crossing of a beaver dam, the High Lonesome Trail was in great shape, rolling through open forests and big-vistaed meadows climbing slightly, then descending to the Devil’s Thumb Trailhead. I experienced a moderate bonk early in the process and never fully recovered.

The ascent to Devil’s Thumb Pass didn’t look too bad on paper–2500′ in 3.5 miles on good trail–but was surprisingly brutal! It was hot, my legs were completely toasted (weird!), I had no energy, and was feeling a bit nauseous. Yas and Peter were clearly suffering their own demons as well. It got cooler as we got higher, but we arrived on the completely gorgeous Divide utterly spent. 8 miles to go, mostly downhill. Mostly.

“Right,” said Peter, “At least now we don’t have an entire mountain range between us and beer.”

Things were looking up as we trotted down the extremely steep, loose trail down to Devil’s Thumb Lake, but the stomach issues returned in force. It’s sad not to run on such eminently runnable trail, but we all hiked doggedly along, past Jasper Lake to the Chittenden junction.

None of us were looking forward to another 750′ of climbing in the hot sun and seriously debated running down to the Hessie trailhead to try our luck hitchhiking back to 4th of July. However, the list of ways that could go wrong seemed longer than we likes, so we manned up (womaned up in Yasuyo’s case), and made the climb. It was less awful than we’d expected, and soon were headed across level tundra dropping from one drainage to the next eventually arriving at the beautiful afternoon setting of Diamond Lake. In two more miles, we were finally approaching the car, hiking or half-heartedly trotting.

It was a thoroughly exhausting trip and more than a bit demoralizing. Each of us hit some sort of snag. A 26 mile trail run should not have taken us ten hours. The route was strenuous, but nothing extraordinary! In retrospect, I suspect that I suffered from dehydration and fatigue after an already-full weekend of camping and hiking. I’ve managed to get out for an hour or two every other day for the past two weeks and these runs have been getting subjectively harder and harder. August has been a brutal month and I’ve logged 180 miles (a full marathon more than my best previous month). I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m overtrained, but I’m as trained as I am going to be. Time to turn it down a couple notches, start the taper, get some rest, and rebuild for fifty miler looming on the horizon.

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One Response to A Bad Day on the Arapaho Pass-Devils Thumb Circuit

  1. Pingback: Fourth of July on the First Day of Fall | The Wilderness Journal

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