Monday, October 09, 2017

Nice summer-winter days

It was the perfect Colorado weekend, which is to say it was 70 degrees and sunny over the Front Range on Sunday, then dropped to 30 and snowing by Monday morning. Beat is still trying to ease back into training after hip and shin issues pestered him for most of the summer, so he didn't want try anything too ambitious. It seemed like a good opportunity for the High Lonesome Loop, which is a 16-mile, relatively mellow climb over the Continental Divide. I hoped we'd have a chance to do some running, but packed gaiters and spikes. Although it had been warm for most of the week since last Monday's storm, I didn't hold out hope that all of the snow had melted.

Beat at King Lake. Note the bare calves and rolled-up sleeves. We were both overheated. It felt downright summery in the forest below the lake, although I later learned the high in Nederland was 51 degrees. It was probably just 35 to 40 degrees at 12,000 feet.

Post-holing our way to the Divide.

Looking toward James Peak, feeling satisfied about deciding against this more ambitious mountain as the day's destination. It's a steep climb with the switchbacking trail, which was obviously buried.

An icy wind swept down the Divide. I'm used to the prevailing west wind, but this gale came from the north — the direction of the approaching storm. Upon cresting the ridge, the ambience quite suddenly shifted from summer to winter. I put on a shell and pulled a buff over my face. It seemed Beat only had his two-ounce wind jacket and no gloves.

Travel was slow and treacherous up here, with a breakable crust disguising sugary drifts of unknown depth (ranging from ankle- to knee-deep.) While slogging into the icy wind, my breathing became labored and I panicked a little about it. I really think I'm mostly healthy right now, but it's still difficult to gauge my breathing or trust a higher heart rate. I'm not sure how or if I'm going to rebuild that trust. Yes, when working hard, it's normal to feel winded. I know this. And yet even whispers of hard breathing or oxygen deficit set off internal alarms. I don't want to push too hard, yet winter conditions often leave no choice. It will be an ongoing battle, I think, this transition from "sucking wind and crawling" to "tranquil respiration while moving and happy about that" to "breathing fire and scorching ground." If I ever again reach the third step. I remain stoked about the second.

The view near Devil's Thumb Lake. On the slope you can see my and Beat's tracks where we scorched a deep-snow descent. Beat didn't have pants and his poor shins where torn and bleeding from the icy crust. But that was really the worst of the experience. It was a beautiful outing, not easy by any means, and took exactly the six hours that I estimated even though there was a fair amount more snow than I even expected. This may be our last Divide trip for the season, although this would be a decent place to snowshoe when regional avalanche conditions are well in the green.

On Monday morning, as forecast, we were hit with eight inches of heavy, wet snow. In the afternoon the temperature climbed a few degrees above freezing and there were blasts of sunlight through patchy breaks in the clouds. I headed out for a "run" that many times actually did involve a strained shuffling motion through slush. It still feels weird to call 20-minute-miles "running," although I tend to qualify most of my on-foot efforts as runs. Whether I'm pounding out the rare downhill 7-minute-mile or scrambling a rocky uphill 60-minute-mile, my effort level remains fairly consistent. It's the level where my breathing doesn't yet scare me.

Heading into Walker Ranch. Sure, it was Monday afternoon, but I was still surprised no one had been out yet. 

The leaves only recently began to change in this area. I enjoyed catching brief glimpses of color.

Snow makes everything so much prettier. I can't grasp why some people, maybe even a majority of people, don't like winter weather. No, the reality that there are people who don't want to put on gaiters and strain to move slower than two miles per hour up a hill is something I'll never understand.

South Boulder Creek.

Looking through Eldorado Canyon, toward Denver and the Plains. Looks like they got some snow, too!

Weirdly my legs were quite a bit more sore after these six miles than 16 miles in the mountains on Sunday. A good reminder that I don't have the slogging fitness dialed in just yet. But if we continue to have this perfect mix of heat and snow, I'll get there.


  1. Snowed over here in Lovely Ouray, too, temp in the teens this AM (shiver).
    Let winter rip...we're headed for Utah's red rock deserts for 5 or 6 weeks :).
    And yes, it's weird how one can power hike at high elevations for long distances...then get sore from a little slog of a run. For me it the hamstrings. I guess I need to take up yoga :)
    Box Canyon Mark

    1. Enjoy Utah! This is the best time of year on the Colorado Plateau. Due to schedule conflict, I have to miss the annual trip to the Grand Canyon with my dad. I'm still feeling bummed about that.

      When I further analyzed my sore spots last night, I wondered if a slip and fall on hard ice while hiking downhill on Sunday was the actual culprit. People keep telling me yoga will help with my balance, but I'm a skeptic. ;)

  2. Another fun local loop. Snow/winter trail running is totally underrated, and it took me a while to figure this out.

  3. Yoga does help balance. I had to laugh when a 16 mile slog is easing into training.

  4. It's nice to know that despite all his experience Beat still makes stupid gear mistakes!

    Count me in as another person who feels yoga has helped with balance. Sometimes, I do some yoga moves with my eyes closed. Then you really need to focus on balance!

    1. I did have a thicker rainjacket and even a hybrid down vest, I wasn't THAT unprepared. It just wasnt quite cold enough to put them on. The major mistake was not to bring gloves though.

    2. Well, thank goodness there's something I can tease you about!


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