Monday, July 09, 2012

The fourteener circuit

Photogenic mountain goat. Photo by Beat
We didn't come to Colorado to bag a bunch of 14er's. Personally, I waver between thinking the whole concept to be a little silly, and wanting to see the tops of all 53 Colorado high points myself. I thought the weather would chase us lower today, but we awoke to partly sunny skies and a diminishing chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Daniel was interested in doing some "speed work" and invited Beat and I to saunter along at hiking pace somewhere well behind him. Only later did we find out that Daniel was after an unofficial speed record — on the circuit that connects Mount Democrat, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Bross. 

 After my hypoxic episode yesterday, I committed to not exerting myself as hard today. I love steep climbs on foot, and it's mentally difficult to feel like my legs aren't even getting a workout while my lungs threaten to explode. But as much as I kinda enjoyed the short-lived glimpse into the rapture, I did not want to actually black out, nor did I love the reality of killing a bunch of brain cells or the remote possibility of stroke. So I didn't push my pace ... too much. Because of this, we had a decidedly less eventful hike than Quandary, so this is mainly a photo post.

 View from Mount Democrat, elevation 14,148

 View from Mount Cameron, elevation 14,239. Mount Cameron doesn't have enough topographic prominence to be considered a real peak.

 Beat at the top of Mount Lincoln, elevation 14,286. As I staggered toward the top, still gasping for air, Beat said "A Democrat and a Republican in the same day. Who says you can't be bipartisan?"

 To prove we were there? Because no one made a nice laminated sign with the date for any of these peaks.

 We were caught in a few short rain squalls, but the weather was substantially better on Sunday than Saturday. After spending a couple of hours near or above 14,000 feet, I came down with much less fun mountain sickness in the form of nausea. Even though I know better by now, I couldn't force myself to eat anything the entire time, and only managed a few sips of water. I think acclimation is coming along, although we did force it the hard way. For his part, Beat is doing much better with the altitude. He has been using a breathing device for the past several weeks, as well as taking Diamox to help with acclimation. But of course altitude tolerance is highly individual. Even when I was living at higher elevations, I usually felt okay until I topped my personal ceiling, which seems to be around 12,000 feet. I've always struggled beyond that.

We rolled over Mount Bross, elevation 14,172, after two hours and 45 minutes. I was at that point deeply nauseated and didn't want to aggravate my shin, so I inched down the talus slope. Here, the route loses 2,000 feet elevation in just over a mile. It was brutal. We met Daniel hiking back up the trail. He told us he succeeded in "tumbling" down Mount Bross in 16 minutes (two thousand vertical feet!), wrapping up the circuit in 1:49 — which, according to a Web site that tracks such things, bested the fastest known time by six minutes. Wow, Daniel. As for me, it took damn near an hour to stumble down the whole descent, and we finished at a comfortable 3:39. I wouldn't mind descents like that if I could at least climb well. Ah, well. In good time. All in good time.

My sore shin doesn't like descending. But the condition hasn't deteriorated at all in the past two days. Now we're entering our work week, in which Beat is going to taper for Hardrock and we're all going to try to be productive even with these mountains taunting us from every angle (Frisco is a scenic town.) I think I may find a bike to borrow and take at least a day off my feet, but I'm more optimistic about injury recovery.  


  1. Besides than the goat, those mountains look like a slag heap at a mining site.

  2. Ah, you're in my house now. Got rained on this weekend at high elevation by the same monsoon storms that hit you guys. 14ers are great, but they are part of the circuit, very well trodden. Some of the inconspicuous 13'ers (there are over 600 of them) offer more of a wilderness experience. Good luck up in Silverton, supposed to be a real butt-kicker.

  3. LOVE your mt goat shots...just amazing! I'd love to see a gps track...3 fourteeners in 1:49? That seems insane! (and even your and Beats leisurely 3:39 sounds quite fast!)

    I love the views from the high peaks...yes it can be quite stark, but beautiful in it's own way. And the sky is never that blue down low. Glad you are safe...get some time on wheels and be safe!

  4. "He told us he succeeded in "tumbling" down Mount Bross in 16 minutes (two thousand vertical feet!), wrapping up the circuit in 1:49 — which, according to a Web site that tracks such things, bested the fastest known time by six minutes". Wow! Pick an obscure mountain, run down it as fast as you can, and you too can hold a world record. There are enough mountains in Colorado that each and every one of us can be a world record holder!

  5. Take in a meal at the Boatyard on Frisco's main drag. Can't go wrong.

  6. Thanks Matt. The route is only 7.5 miles, and has about 3,500 feet of climbing. The numbers are deceiving, though; the altitude and rocky terrain make for a tough three-plus hours relative to anything I "run" at home. When I talk about hiking as training, I'm still working as hard as I can. I just acknowledge that a 30-minute-mile average is not running. ;-)

    Durango Joe — regarding fastest known times, Beat and I have debated this several times. He trends toward the viewpoint you seem to take. Thanks to my background in "unofficial" events like the Tour Divide, I like the idea of going for fast individual times on random routes. In the case of this circuit, it's actually a popular route known as the Decalibron. I'm guessing quite a few people have gone for fast times on that route, although I wouldn't even begin to know what the community regards as official. I know Daniel wasn't necessarily going for the "record," he only wanted to see what he could do relative to what he understood as the FKT. He only carried a watch, no GPS, so he has no way to "prove" it anyway.

  7. What was that Democrat and a republican?? Oh please Jill Please be the Democrat, though i have a sinking feeling it is not to be. Your book revealed this dark secret.

  8. Hi Jill. Just curious, where is the website that tracks the FKT for the Decalibron? I could not find it here:

  9. With proliferation of esoteric records, it'll soon be like Lake Woebegon, "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and everyone owns a world record..."

  10. You know Daniel. That's funny, we had desks next to each other while we were busy not finishing grad school together.

    Welcome to Colorado. Go find a bike and check out the Bakers Tank trails off Boreas Pass, the Colorado Trail from Tiger Run back to Breck, and the Peaks Trail outside of Frisco.

  11. And with regards to 'unofficial records', I think that in the age of Strava, we're only going to see more of them, for better or for worse.

  12. For what it's worth, runners have been going for Fastest Known Times for years on popular and well-established routes that lots of people hike *all the time.* The "elite" among ultrarunners often train and attempt big ones like the Tahoe Rim Trail and Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim with the same dedication that they would any "real" race. I like the establishment of Fastest Known Times. They're often much more adventurous than established trail races, and self-supported, too.

    Strava, on the other hand, is just ridiculous. The other day I received an e-mail informing me someone stole my Queen of the Mountain on some random trail I didn't recognize in Alaska. I thought it was a mistake until I zoomed in the Google Map and realized the trail in question was the Wickersham Wall, which I pushed my Fatback up during the White Mountains 100 to the tune of 0.5 mph. Really Strava, really? I thought Strava was fun at first but it's BS like that that convinced me to stop using it.

    Kraig ... not sure what site it's on; I think it's Colorado specific. I can ask Daniel. Not that his name will turn up on any Web site. He didn't do it in any official capacity, he just wanted to see what he was capable of — same reason anyone enters a mountain bike race or runs a marathon.

  13. DJ, our friend just used it as a personal goal. Of course it's cool to do something like this quickly, but he has no illusions and knows it's of course not a performance that would stand up to a world-class runner. To be honest, many smaller races have that same issue. He's a humble and super-nice guy, I for one think it's awesome he did so well. He's going to go for a more established route, the Nolan's 14, which, while also obscure, at least has been tried by some very strong endurance runners, and at the very least is a fairly epic adventure. It was his test for that.
    Also getting down from Bross in 16 minutes IS extremely fast, and requires very high technical skills. I know for a fact there are some supposed "elite" ultrarunners who couldn't do this. His time is fast, there's no doubt (I saw him fly down from Democrat, and damn. I would have broken both ankles ...). I think it's a great running route.

    Don't take it so seriously. None of us is ... it's just good fun.

    Btw, Daniel told us he prefers the 13ers as well, but we wanted something easy, well-established and high to make sure we get the most acclimation possible (while being gentle on my legs). Tomorrow we may head for a quick jaunt to his house peak in the Tenmile Range, which is presumably a lot less traveled. At least due to the weather forecast we didn't see anyone after the second peak.

  14. Will stand as "unofficial" FKT anyway since the summit of Bross is technically private property & closed. Couple weeks ago we saw a guy get chased off the summit by two guys on motorcycles.

  15. Will stand as "unofficial" FKT anyway since the summit of Bross is technically private property & closed. Couple weeks ago we saw a guy get chased off the summit by two guys on motorcycles.

  16. Just for the record, I think Ester's amazing recent blitzes, or your former GDMBR record Jill, are not trivial kinds of records. A new wave of serious, goal-oriented pro riders are gonna be doing the GDMBR in coming years, and I expect those records to tumble, as well as more media coverage and money flowing into the event (and the spectre of cheating?). I'm just bitching about the little self-serving records, like fastest time up such-and-such obscure hill by a left-handed blue-eyed dwarf over the age of 47, s**t like that.

  17. I don't see a fundamental difference between the GDMBR record or a FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail, as one example. None at all. Just because a few mountain bikers loosely organized a "race" doesn't preclude the recognition of ITTs on the GDMBR. It is a FKT situation; defined by slightly different terminology.

    Runners go after Fastest Known Times on the Colorado Trail. Are these foot "records" any less legit than Eszter's bike record in the CTR?

    I also don't share your view that Tour Divide is going to grow Tour de France style. For starters, an actual race organizer would have to take over the execution of the event in order to make it financially compelling for any sponsor or pro rider. And the media won't care as long as the masses aren't there. There's an impossible amount of red tape in the way of going legit, even if there was enough interest and money. It's never going to happen. Not in my lifetime, at least.

    Although I'm not convinced it will happen, I'd love to see the "pros" go after Eszter's record. She can hold her own among endurance pros on their own turf (I believe she got third at Worlds three years ago.) It goes without saying that Tour Divide is a completely different game.

    This is a fun argument, though. You've given me an idea for a future blog bost. I come at it from the view of a fan more than a competitor, anyway. I'm not about to go for any Fastest Known Times. Except for maybe someday on the PCT. ;-)

  18. Not to flog a dead horse, but I could see money flowing in not to the organizers, but to highly visible competitive riders in the form of endorsements and sponsorship, maybe incentives for winning. Kinda like a cycling Dean Karnazes. Not a lot of money in ultramarathons, but he makes a good living at it. With two (?) movies out, the start list increasing by leaps and bounds, and more media awareness on both sides of the Atlantic, it's too epic - someone's gonna try and make a buck off it or at least bask in the glow. I think in a couple of years you should train like hell and, with much bally-hoo, attempt reclaiming your record. By that time they'll be some kind of camera crew (live video?), and since you are articulate and easy on the eyes, you could become even more of a media darling, maybe make a living, win or lose. Just looking into my crystal ball...

  19. Lemme tell you all, the phone has been ringing off the hook with sponsorship offers since getting off the Divide. ;) (I am completely and utterly joking)

    For what it's worth, I hope DJ's prediction is wrong. From someone who has raced on the 'pro' circuit, both XC, 100 milers, and multi days, I don't know if the TD will ever be 'big' because of the recovery time involved. Sponsors generally want to see racing all summer long and a good TD effort will wreck you for the summer. That's hard to stomach both for athletes used to racing all year, and for sponsors who look for as much publicity as they can, all summer. They're not looking for a one-race wonder.

    Just my impression of the industry.


Feedback is always appreciated!