By Ann Driggers
Monday, September 15, 2008
Shivering in the crisp 36 degree fall air I found myself lined up at the start of the Lead King Loop 25k trail race. Billed the most scenic race in Colorado in 2006, it is also a monster, its 16 miles looping through mountainous terrain in the Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness. With 4,000 feet of climbing, most of it in the first five miles, I admit to being a little nervous too.
As the sun crept down the mountain sides in downtown Marble we were off. The first mile, rounded Beaver Lake, its spectacular views up the Yule Creek drainage a forecast of the beauty to come. This ‘flattish’ half mile section was the short warm-up. Soon enough the rough road raised itself towards the sky, its steepness reducing many, including myself, to a walk. For an hour and 15 minutes the road switch backed its way towards Lead King Divide, alternating between the dappled sunlight of the cool aspen forest and the frosted open meadows. Likewise we mere mortals alternated between an asphyxiating attempt at running and a lung-searing speed hike. Just as I thought my wheels were about to spin wildly off into the forest, I crested the Divide. The elevator shaft had finally delivered me to the penthouse suite of the Elk Mountains. And what a sight it was. The storms of last week had left a mantle of snow on the highest peaks. The undergrowth and leaves were starting to take on their autumnal orange and yellow hues. The sky was a piercing blue and the sun was finally starting to warm my chilled limbs. To top it all off, the trail started to snake its way downwards into sublime Lead King Basin. A huge smile spread across my face as I flew down a few miles of smooth road towards the Crystal River.
After crossing the river on a somewhat precarious log we left the Basin and headed down towards Crystal City.
The road into town (population one) was rocky, loose, steep and hard going. Having passed a few racers on the climb up, I now found them speeding past me on the downhill. I was heartened however when I succeeded in passing an older gentleman in Crystal, although he had actually stopped. Apparently to drink a pale ale, he told me as he later sped on by. Blame for that embarrassing moment I laid entirely on his ‘performance-enhancing fuel’. The last five miles followed a rocky and wet 4WD road back into Marble. Weaving in and out of the puddles, and two and a half hours out of the starting gate, my legs started to complain. But at least the road was relatively flat, and followed the aquamarine waters of the Crystal River providing me with a beautiful distraction to the pain. I crossed the finish line in just under three hours, for about 12th place. So no marble medals for me though I did take full advantage of the racers trough, foraging on bar-b-que pork, cookies and beer. Along with the scenery, the finishers feast is one of the rewards of running such tortuous races. The Lead King Loop is top of my list.
By Ann Driggers
Saturday, September 13, 2008
After the tough run on the Hay Park trail we settled on a short hike into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass wilderness to loosen our tired and sore muscles. The trail to Geneva Lake has incredible scenery in all directions. Somewhat reminding me of the Alps, the trail clings to the mountainside, switchbacking ever upwards. We were fortunate to see the last of the wildflowers in full bloom, since they have now been pushed above 10,000 feet. Arriving at the lake we settled in to fish against one of the best backdrops ever - Snowmass mountain's rocky west face. While I relaxed on the shore drooling at potential winter ski lines on the surrounding peaks Chad was busy catching plentiful trout.
By Ann Driggers
Thursday, September 11, 2008
A couple of weekends ago, with the dog days of summer upon us and respite from heat top of mind, I was searching for a nice rolling trail run at elevation. Perusing a guidebook I fell upon the Hay Park trail running 10 miles from the Thomas Lakes trail head at the base of Mount Sopris, to Snowmass Creek. With 'jaw-dropping scenery', 'rollicking single-track' and 'the most spectacular view of Capitol Peak' it sounded just the ticket. Capitol Peak has long fascinated me. Perhaps one of the most difficult climbs in Colorado, the peak is truly spectacular and I have seen it only from afar. The plan was to run until the point described in the book as 'top of hill with Capitol Peak in front of your nose'. I was excited! This trail was going to get me up close and personal with Capitol! And, even better, I would only need to run 4.9 miles to get there! As someone who has routinely run significantly longer trails throughout the summer, this surely would be no big deal. So the night before saw me propping up the sushi bar at No Coast thinking that such a short, piddling, little run could easily be accomplished with sake and sea urchin shooters as fuel. Carbo-loading be damned! The next morning as Chad and I lumbered up the rocky single track from the trail head, sun beating down on our backs, my head was pounding. Furthermore I had a nagging feeling that I was not going to experience my usual epiphany while out in the backcountry. But once I topped out the first hill, the trail leveled out and Mount Sopris rolled into view. Sopris is a magnificent peak and never fails to lift my spirits every time I see it. This time was no exception. I picked up my feet and ran on. Trotting through Hay Park we caught our first glimpse of Capitol Peak far off in the distance. After crossing several drainages Capitol was a little closer, but not much. So we ran on. I felt like I should have covered 4.9 miles by now, but maybe the sake effect was hindering my internal odometer? So we ran on. And on and on. I am stubborn and I wanted Capitol at the end of my nose. After an hour and 20 minutes we stopped, exhausted, hungry and dehydrated. Normally I would expect to cover 5 miles in well under an hour. We must have run at least 7. But where was Capitol? Knowing that continuing would be folly, we turned back towards the trail head. Disappointed, I realized that rubbing noses with Capitol would have to wait for another day.
Capitol Peak - a long way off
The return journey was painful, despite the beautiful scenery. Rolling meadows of wildflowers and shady forests of aspens passed me by, but I was focused only on making it back to the trail head alive. Three hours and at least 14 miles after first setting out we crawled into the car. My epiphany occurred 30 minutes later, in Carbondale, when I took my first bite into a big fat Crystal River grass-fed hamburger with all the fixin's and washed it down with a huge gulp of beer. Now that's what I like to have at the end of my nose! But I plan on coming back and getting up close and personal with Capitol another day.