Happy in my Suffering Place

My happy place. North from near Eccles Pass.

By this point, I realize that my dream of a complete traverse of the Gore range is likely just fantasy.  However, there’s still plenty of lesser adventure to be had!  After this year’s batch of angst, indecision, and sleepless map-peeking, I’d finally devised an ambitious-yet-doable overnight circumnavigation of the Mt. Powell/Eaglesnest massif! (ping me for details)  And then I got sick.  Reschedule for next weekend?  Nope, high probability of thunderstorms equals not wise to commit to three high pass crossings and 15+ miles of off-trail, above-treeline travel.  Time for a plan-B.

Okay, how about start at the southern tip of the range and run north on the Gore Range Trail for… a while until bailing out east to Frisco and taking the most excellent Summit Stage bus back to the car?  That would be fun and, for a change, the entire route was on-trail and the only exposed terrain would be Uneva Pass which I’d cross early in the day before weather became a major worry.  Easy peasy!

How have I never been here before?!  I started in the chilly, misty morning at Copper and climbed quickly up three steep miles of lovely, lush forest trail to the small Wheeler Lakes (great campsites!).  Another two miles of more gradual climb past a few more ponds brought me to the sudden Lost Lake (more great camping) and finally a significant bit of above-treeline trail.  So far the promised thunderstorms were nowhere to be seen.  It was getting warm and the flowers were even holding on a little bit even though it was September!

I crested Uneva Pass and got a glimpse into the next basin and pounded joyfully down 2000′ of springy, rocky, forested descent to North Tenmile Creek.  Ten miles and 3.5 hours in and feeling pretty good, all things considered.  Option one was to just run over Uneva Pass and then head east down the trail along the creek here to Frisco and call it a day (13 miles).

North from Uneva Pass

But the weather was still great and I was out here in the Gores!  Why not take option two: another 2000′ of climbing up to the Meadow Creek trail and run down to the other side of Frisco for a total of 16 miles?  This climb wasn’t quite as peppy and energetic.  It’s seriously steep and I was getting hot.  But in due course, things leveled out and I came to the lovely valley at the head of Meadow Creek and the trail which heads down that direction.

Hmmm, it’s only another 500′ of climbing from here to Eccles Pass, then it’s all downhill from there.  You can catch the bus from Silverthorne just as easily as you can from Frisco.  And it’s only 20 miles which isn’t much more than 16.  T’heck with it!  Option 3: Let’s go!

Meadow Creek from Eccles Pass is my happy place.

While the southern end of the Gore Range Trail I’d been on this morning was very nice in an intimate, verdant way, Eccles Pass is the beginning of the true, offensive grandeur of the Gore Range.  Other areas of the Gores have more spectacular mountains, or more spectacular flowers, but nothing compares with the combination of small lakes, flowers, jagged ridges, and smooth, grassy meadows. This, I realized, as I piled another 500′ of gain on top of the 4000′ my legs had already accumulated, is my happy place.

My happy place. North from near Eccles Pass.

I’ve been across this pass twice before and both times (albeit, earlier in the season), it was knock-your-socks-off gorgeous with wildflowers and high alpine meadows.  But even in the second weekend of September, it was still gorgeous.  Half a dozen times trying to run down from Eccles Pass, I’d round a corner and stop short as some offensively beautiful vantage jumped out from behind one rock or another.

Gorgeous or not, I was 17 miles in with 4500′ of gain on the legs. This was rapidly becoming the longest and hardest run I’d done all season.  Pounding down the South Willow Creek trail (more great campsites!), I was quickly losing energy.  The promised thunderstorms, and along with them the cool temperatures I’d practically been counting on, still hadn’t arrived.  And, true to the Gores ethic, the trail is extremely technical and rough with many opportunities for bone-breaking falls.

At Willow Falls, I started encountering quite a lot of people, at least by Gores standards.  I got to the cabin cut-off junction (which I swear I’ve never seen signed before).  Do I take this short, uphill trail and then run down the road for a while (with the possibility of catching the bus)?  Or do I continue down on a longer trail and get closer to town?  Hmmm.  Fine, I’ve chosen to go big at every juncture so far, why stop now?  I continued straight toward Mesa Cortina.

This is what the best kind of suffering looks like.

By this point, it was pretty hot and I was out of water.  But it was only another mile or so to the road; I didn’t feel like stopping and filtering more water.  Just push on through!  But a mile later it was still another mile or two to the road.  Hmmm.  Looking at the map, the Mesa Cortina trail is longer than I remember it being.  Finally, traversing across a meadow, I spied the town of Silverthorne far below across a sagebrush meadow.  A faint trail lead downward.  Nuts, let’s do this.  Unusually, the trail descended in good order emerging at a playground on the edge of town.  I ran streets for a few blocks to the bus station.  “What time does the bus leave?” I croaked at the driver.  “You’ve got 15 minutes,” he replied.  “The gas station over there can get you water.”  Not only that, they could sell me an ice-cold Coke!  Never has a beverage tasted so good.

I had to take two different buses by the time all was said and done with a 30-minute wait between the two.  But it was glorious.  https://www.strava.com/activities/2688749090

The thunderstorms never materialized.  My fitness felt pretty good and I’d done all the planning; I could have gone for the big overnight mission over all the passes and off-trail bits into the real remotest of the remote.  However, it was rather nice to be able to move light and fast and on trail in the Gores for a change.  It was still a rough day, but it was rough because of the elevation gain and mileage, not primarily the route-finding.  It ended up as a 23 mile point-to-point run in the Gores over Uneva and Eccles Passes with 4600′ of elevation gain (and more than that of loss, ow my legs!) and entirely (except maybe for the last five miles) in my happy place.  You never know what you’re going to get in the Gores, but you can be sure it will be spectacular.



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