Sunday, September 8, 2013

Nolan’s 14… Well Nolan’s 12 - After Action Report

Friday morning, 5:03 AM, August 30th, 2013,
I began my 1st serious effort at completing the Nolan’s 14 course from south to north. I say “1st real attempt” because I gave it a half-baked south to north effort over Labor Day Weekend 2012, but that was pretty short lived, with me throwing in the towel after reaching the Grouse Canyon trail head; only 3 peaks into the traverse. So, after having spent most weekends this summer researching and rehearsing the course, and GPS tracking pretty much every inch of it from Grouse Canyon northwards to Fish Hatchery, I set off this year to give it a very determined effort. Before diving into the trip report itself, first it might be better to provide just a bit of background information. Nolan’s 14, what is it? It describes a course which comprises the most possible 14’000 summits that can be packed into the shortest possible distance, most closely which resembles a 100 mile ultra-marathon or thereabouts. There is quite a bit of history behind the naming and development of the course, which I won’t go into here (take a look at the following link if you are interested – Nolan’s 14). Why south to north, especially if there has been more success for people going north to south? Well, after having spent parts of the last 2 summers trying to figure the course out, it seems to me like there are more steep climbs from north to south, and it’s a shorter distance to the 1st summit going from south to north. For example, going north to south it’s something like 8 miles to the summit of Mt. Massive as compared to the 4.85 miles up to Mt. Shavano. From north to south, the really nasty uphill climbs are the west face of Mt. Elbert, the north face of Mt. Harvard, the avalanche gully on Mt. Yale, Maxwell Gulch on Mt.Princeton, and up to Tabagauche Peak from Brown’s Creek (5 pretty stout, steep, and loose climbs, except for Mt. Harvard, which is mostly on grassy slopes). From south to north, the really nasty uphill climbs are Mt. Princeton from Grouse Canyon, up to the Oxford/Belford Saddle from Pine Creek, the east face of Huron Peak from Clohesy Lake, and the southwest ridge of Mt. Elbert (4 as opposed to 5 going from north to south). Of course there are other steep climbs I have not mentioned, but the climbs above are the ones which are mainly off-trail and sometimes over extremely technical and loose terrain. So, that is what influenced my choice of direction. Perhaps someone will try to convince me otherwise or I may try north to south myself, but that is why I did what I did, when everyone else this summer tried north to south. OK; after leaving Lisa at the Shavano/Tabagauche trail head, everything went really well over the 1st 3 peaks (Shavano, Tabaguache, and Antero). Coming down the gully from Tabagauche to Brown’s Creek, it seems like there has been quite a bit of erosion since I was through there last year. I wonder if staying a little to the west of the gully would not be a little easier in the future. Last year I made a terrible choice in descending Mt. Antero directly north in an attempt to reach Grouse Canyon, only to encounter extremely loose terrain that funneled itself into a gully that ended in a waterfall going over a cliff, which I had to down-climb in a rainstorm. This year I took the use trail from the saddle between Mt. Antero and Point 13,800. It was a pretty direct, steep descent with which I was able to bisect most of the switchbacks on the Baldwin Gulch jeep road too, which got me back down to tree line rather quickly and with little fuss. I combined running and walking down to the town of Alpine and the Grouse Canyon trail head to meet Lisa at 1:45 PM, almost 1 ½ hours ahead of my schedule. At Grouse Canyon trail head I met Lisa and my 1st pacer, Shelby Berg. I immediately lost almost all of the time I had gained coming down from Antero while waiting out a thunderstorm at the trailhead, but it was nice to see Lisa and get some grub and rest too.
Let me diverge here for a moment and briefly discuss the topic of pacers on Nolan’s 14 because there was so much controversy generated by my use of them on the website. During the original running of the Nolan’s 14 course, back when it was a semi-formally organized fun run type of event, pacers weren’t allowed. I had originally wanted to stick to this same type of format. However, seeing as how the only 2 successful completions of the course since the original Nolan’s fun run was shut-down in 2003 involved either a party of 2 who stayed together the whole way (Jared Campbell and Matt Hart) and Eric Lee’s prolific use of pacers, both of which occurred during last summer (2012); I thought this should be an OK strategy for me to adopt too. Normally I do not use pacers in an ultra-marathon. I am OK spending time by myself and I feed off of the other participant’s energy well enough to keep myself going to the finish line. However, due to the extremely isolated and sustained nature of the Nolan’s course, I figured that pacers would serve me well as anti-quit insurance. In other words, I would so over-extend myself towards the generous nature of other people who were willing to come out and spend their time on my behalf, I would be too embarrassed to weenie out on them or myself; that is it, no “mule-ing”, no navigational help, or whatever other dependency that someone can dream up with which I was trying to gain some type of unfair advantage; it was only to try and guarantee that I would not give up (as you will see, it was pretty touch and go even at that). Shelby Berg was very generous, brave, and stout-hearted to consider going over Mt. Princeton with me. She had no idea what I was getting her into, but I did, and I really deserve some criticism for having made this decision. I am really thankful that in the process I did not cause her to sustain any kind of season ending or otherwise life threatening injury during our time together. Being impatient to wait for the rain to end, but being pretty sure the lightning had passed, we began up Grouse Canyon at about 2:30 PM.
It took us 4 hours to summit Mt. Princeton, which didn’t leave us much time to begin descending down Maxwell Gulch before darkness would overtake us.
Eventually we had dropped to a point on Princeton’s northeast ridge where I thought we could drop straight down into Maxwell Gulch (not my intended route, which was much further down the ridge, but one which I thought might drop us down as fast as possible). What I didn’t know at the time was that we had dropped further down the ridge than I realized and were now poised at the top of the steepest, loosest gully that I could possibly have chosen to get down into Maxwell Gulch. Poor Shelby, instead of the steep, loose slope I wanted to take her down, which lay unbeknownst a little to our west, I took her down a super gnarly, steep, block-filled nightmare of a gully, and in the dark too! She put the best face possible on the situation, and I commend and deeply respect her for her spirit and ability to carry on through what must have been extremely trying circumstances. Finally we got to the bottom of Maxwell Gulch and back on the Colorado Trail. We walked and ran the 4 miles back down the Colorado Trail to reach Highway 306. From there we stuck to the highway instead of the Colorado Trail to reach the Avalanche Creek trail head at almost midnight. Sheila Huss was my second pacer who was going to keep me company over Mt. Yale.
Our traverse of the east ridge of Mt. Yale with a descent of the avalanche gully down to North Cottonwood Creek was relatively uneventful, but it took us a whole lot longer than I anticipated. What was pretty easy to figure out in the daytime was totally foreign at night, even with my GPS unit helping guide the way. We were originally supposed to take 6 hours to get over Yale, but I think it took us more like 8 hours instead. We finally reached my son Jubal and his wife Autumn at the trail junction and North Cottonwood Creek at 8:00 AM Saturday morning. Though I am sure they were cold for how long they had to wait for me, Jubal took super good care of me, fixing me some hot chow and giving me a back massage. Pretty much this was the low point of my trip. Knowing I was now outside of my time window to complete the course in 60 hours, and being worried about how over-due I was going to be for meeting my other pacer’s (Steve Bremner in Missouri Basin at 4:30 PM that afternoon and Will Carlton in Winfield at 11:00 PM that night); I tried to quit. Right then and there my “anti-quit insurance” kicked in just like it was supposed to and both Jubal and Sheila started trying to kick me out of the crew spot and get my butt going over the top of Mt. Columbia. Though I was reluctant and took some persuading, I am extremely grateful to the both of them. It is not for me to take any credit for getting over 12 summits, but theirs entirely for keeping me going. Leaving Jubal, Autumn, and Sheila, I took off by myself to get over the next section of peaks to meet Steve Bremner in Missouri Basin. Jubal and Autumn were also going to hike in to crew me there. I was a little concerned about how the timing of everything was going to work out, but everyone assured me that it would take care of itself. Mt. Columbia was pretty uneventful. I even regained my climbing legs a little bit after refueling and resting a little at North Cottonwood Creek. By the time I was on top of Mt. Columbia and heading down into the basin between Columbia and Mt. Harvard, another thunderstorm was fast approaching. I met a couple coming up towards the summit of Columbia from Harvard, and they begged me to turn around and go back with them saying, “We will give you a ride wherever you want to go”. They were convinced that I had totally lost it, heading into the storm rather than away from it. I explained that sometimes things were a little more complicated than they seemed, but I could tell they didn’t buy any of my argument. At the bottom of the basin between Mt. Columbia and Mt. Harvard (12,600’) I found a beautiful boulder with a significant overhang on its east side where I could perfectly hide myself and keep totally dry just as the heavens let loose with rain, thunder, and lightning. Here I stayed, trying to rest for a bit, for about an hour, until the storm passed. The climb from the basin back up Mt. Harvard was pretty uneventful too. Descending Mt. Harvard’s north face, I decided to deviate from my planned course of going straight down the north ridge/face to cross Pine Creek. This occurred to me after having a conversation with Steve Bremner about how I thought the valley at the base of Mt. Harvard was pretty miserable, involving navigating lots of blown down trees and such (very similar to the bottom of the avalanche gully on Mt. Yale). Steve told me that he thought folks had originally been taking a route more to the west side of the ridge. So, instead of sticking to the ridge itself, I chose a nice avenue of steep grass going off the west side of the ridge, thinking I might make better time traversing the basin at foot of the ridge rather than following the ridge itself all the way down to Pine Creek. Things went pretty well. The terrain was Ok for the most part, i.e. not involving anything too loose or technical, though it did began to rain heavily once again, mixed in with a few ice pellets, but it didn’t last for long. I finally reached the valley floor, and now faced the prospect of getting across a marshy section of the Pine Creek valley in order to gain Matt’s Avenue on the ascent back up to the Oxford/Belford Saddle. Little did I know this was going to be my 2nd crux of the course (Mt. Princeton was the 1st), as I soon found myself totally stuck in shoe sucking mud and entangled in willows that were densely packed together, soaking wet, and growing taller than my head so I totally lost all sight of any surroundings with which to navigate. Back tracking to the bottom of the slopes coming down from Mt. Harvard, I made my way down stream until I could figure a better place to cross Pine Creek. The climb up Matt’s Avenue from Pine Creek to the saddle between Mt. Oxford and Mt. Belford was pretty straightforward. I ended up going through someone’s camp site just as I was leaving the valley floor. They were pretty amazed that I was actually taking off straight up the mountain side, but I assured them a reasonable route to the top really did exist. Daylight stuck with me until I reached the saddle.
In the last moments of day light I turned east from the saddle and made my way over to the summit of Mt. Oxford. Through the fading light I could barely make out a figure lurking near Oxford’s summit, and I swore to myself that I could also make out some sort of racket, like the person was yelling or carrying on in some fashion. It turned out to be my friend Steve Bremner, so kindly waiting for me on the summit of Oxford, who was practicing his yodeling too! Just as quickly as we could we tagged the summit of Oxford and then the top of Mt. Belford too, and made our way down into the basin between Mt. Belford and Missouri Mountain.
From the summit of Mt. Belford I could just make out Jubal’s and Autumn’s head lamps way down in the basin. We contacted them by radio and then made our way straight down the slopes beneath Belford’s summit to a junction with the trail up Missouri Mountain and the trail that continued to Elk Head Pass. That was where we were supposed to meet Jubal and Autumn for the crew spot. As we waited for them at the trail junction it began to rain again. Jubal and Autumn were quite heroic in their efforts to hike up Missouri Basin to crew for me. It being their 1st time together in the high mountains, I probably talked them into more than they could handle, especially considering the weight of the loads they were trying to hump up there. I am very grateful that they gave it a try. I eventually met them a little lower in the basin, in more or less of a driving rain storm, where I refilled on water and got some more energy gels and such before Steve and I took off up the east face of Missouri Mountain. I felt so bad for Jubal, and especially for Autumn too. They were so great to come up there, we didn’t get to spend any time together, and then they had to hike back out in the rain too. Things were stating to run together by then, but I am thinking that Steve and I got to the summit of Missouri Mountain by 1:00 AM or so. I called and chatted briefly with Jubal on the radio. By 3:00 AM Steve and I had had made our way down the extremely steep west face of Missouri Mountain to cross the outlet of Clohesy Lake. There are only 2 spots on the Nolan’s course where you are in close proximity to significant concentrations of rednecks. These occur wherever motorized vehicles are mistakenly allowed in the back country, one of which is the jeep trail from Baldwin Gulch to Mt. Antero’s summit, and the other is at Clohesy Lake, where for whatever insane reason rednecks can drive their vehicles right into the center of a wilderness area. Case in point was that as we made our way around the north shore of Clohesy Lake the ground was littered with spent shot gun shells and broken skeet targets, and even a poor dead bird which had fallen victim to the rednecks. Whoever it is that feels so strongly about gun ownership rights, and I count myself among you, please take some time to get off your rears where you preach so loudly in the flat lands and come out into the back country to see what poor gun owners we so often make! Trying to hike back up the east face of Huron Peak from Clohesy Lake things broke down into a state of total confusion. Quickly I lost track of what little bit of a trail exists, which I had previously followed twice in the daytime. Steve and I struggled to climb up to Lois Lake, measuring our progress in terms of hours per mile rather than the other way around. Finally we had to stop at the boulder field beneath the actual east face of Huron Peak itself, where there is a gully that ascends to a saddle between Huron and Brown’s Peak, waiting for daylight to arrive; for what exact path to follow was escaping us. Daylight revealed some cairns and a path through the boulders so we could ascend the loose slopes up to the saddle. Anyone familiar with the Hard Rock course will attest, I think, to the fact that this climb is like Grant/Swamp Pass on steroids and then some.
From the saddle between Brown’s Peak and Huron Peak, we ate a snack, gathered ourselves, and continued to the top of Huron Peak, being the 1st among the hoards to reach the summit that day. On our descent back down to the trail head and south Winfield, everyone kept commenting at how quickly we had reached the summit of Huron and were now on our way back down; little did they really know. In my mind I had done all I was going to do; dreaming more of hot chow in Buena Vista and the hot springs than continuing on for more peaks. Imagine my surprise when we met my next pacer, Will Carlton, at the trail head for Huron Peak. He had run up from Winfield to look for us. I was so far behind schedule at this point that I was thinking surely he had given up on me! However, I began to feed off his energy and thought perhaps I had one more peak left in me. In Winfield, we met Lisa, who was napping in a chair in the peaceful sunshine of a Sunday morning. By this time I had been going over 48 hours and was starting to feel it just a bit; more in terms of feeling like my head was a little foggy. Lisa made us some hot food, and I took my socks off to look at my feet. Steve had given me a dry pair of socks the previous evening when I met him on Oxford. Now when I took my socks off, they looked horrible; all of the skin on the soles of my feet was very shriveled and heading towards beginning to crack, like I was getting trench foot or something. Steve was shaking his head, saying that I should probably call it a day with the state my feet were in; Will felt otherwise. Not having any foot powder, I just changed into a dry pair of socks, took some Aleve, and we headed back out again. I think it was 11:00 AM. In pretty quick fashion we were able to power hike up to the west Winfield trail head for La Plata Peak. As we started up the trail to the southwest ridge for La Plata, we met lots of people coming back down the mountain, some of whom questioned our judgment for heading up the mountain so late in the day, obviously while the weather was beginning to turn once again. Driving on, we were able to negotiate the marshy section at the foot of the ridge, get up to the ridge itself and head over to the summit of La Plata keeping our feet dry while the bad weather held itself at bay. I started to get a little emotional with myself realizing the scope of what I had completed so far, and just how indebted I was to everyone who was helping me get through this. Admittedly, I was going pretty slowly uphill at this point, needing a lot of breaks to catch my breath and regain strength in my legs to continue upwards, but we eventually made the summit at 3:00 PM. I was pretty ecstatic, taking a moment to look southwards and drink in the view of all the summits I had just come across in the past 3 days. This lasted for only a moment though before lighting cracked through the air, reminding us that our time on the summit was to be short lived as the weather was not going to continue holding itself off.
We descended uneventfully to the Lake Creek trail head, arriving there at 5:00 PM Sunday evening, the 1st of September, just as 60 hours for my official Nolan’s 14 course finish expired. Will and I chatted with some folks at the trail head, and Lisa showed up just a few minutes later. Getting in the truck we began driving down Highway 82, instead of running down it towards the Echo Canyon trail head and Mt. Elbert. The heavens let loose now with an especially intense storm, and I was thankful my attempt was at an end. Tonight would be with friends and family in town rather than another night out in the mountains. No bad feelings; I don’t feel at all like I failed. Instead I gained a tremendous amount. I gained a tremendous amount of friendship and fellowship with some very special people in the mountains. I felt very humbled that such a great group of people decided to spend their time hauling this body over the mountains. I also gained a lot more experience of how to get this thing right so I can get myself over all 14 peaks on my next try; I need to find a better way up Mt. Yale, and I need to find a better way up Huron Peak. These will be the time cruxes for night navigation. Next summer I can practice a little bit more and dial in a better plan. Without the help of Shelby Berg, Sheila and John Huss, Steve Bremner, Jubal and Autumn Smith, and most of all, my ever patient and long suffering wife Lisa, I could never have made it over the 12 peaks that I did; I owe everything to them and not so much credit to myself. Thanks to all of you!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Operation Dark Snake - Culebra Peak

Had originally intended to pace a friend at the Leaville Traill 100 this weekend, but things don’t always work out as planned. After injuring herself at work and not being able to race in Leadville, I suddenly had some free time, and decided to give “Operation Dark Snake” a go. Let me interject a little explanation here; “Operation Dark Snake” refers to the act of poaching an ascent of Culebra Peak, which lies on private lands in southern Colorado. According to, normally folks will pay a $100 fee to the owners of the Cielo Vista Ranch near St. Luis, CO for the pleasure of climbing this peak. However, directions are also available on the Internet for how to approach the peak from the N. Purgatory Creek TH, near Stonewall, CO; via an arduous ridge traversing journey that covers some 12+ miles one way.
So, this sounded like a challenge that was right up my alley, and I decided to give it a go since the weather window looked to be clear of monsoon related mischief; when opportunity knocks… I took off Saturday morning from Colorado Springs and began hiking just after 12:00 PM. This seemed like a good strategy to me, being able to see most of the route in daylight while I was outbound, and then return after dark. Thinking I would have the route to myself, I was surprised to encounter 2 other folks doing the exact same thing. The first person I encountered near Whisky Pass, where he was on his way back from beginning the previous evening at 11:30 PM. On my return trip, I ran into another person beginning his journey while descending Maxwell Peak around 2:00 AM.
Overall, it is quite a journey, covering almost 12.5 miles one way, going over 25 peaks round trip. The route is really dry, so taking enough water is a must; there aren’t really any places to refill that lie directly in the path of the ridge traverse. If bad weather were to roll in, there are places where a person would be awfully exposed. For me, the most difficult aspect of the traverse is the generous quantity of loose, tippy top blocks and loose scree that are perfectly sized to roll around under foot, generally causing much pain and mischief. Beautiful scenery and much wildlife abound; makes this an awesome itinerary. 24.94 miles, 15 hrs 9 minutes, 11,199 ft elevation gain (I channeled the strength of a lot of my Leadville friends today!)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Night Time on Nolan's

As Lisa and I said goodbye to each other at 9:15 PM Friday night in Winfield, I was trying to stay focused and not find a reason to get back in the truck to head back to town for drinks and the hotel. After watching her leave, I turned into the darkness and up the road toward West Winfield and Southwest Ridge of La Plata Peak. Midnight was when I finally reached the summit of La Plata; it had been snowing for the past couple of hours. That the clouds were now beginning to settle onto the summit, further reducing the already poor visibility, was a little unsettling to say the least. I was having some trouble locating my descent, down the Northwest Ridge towards Lake Creek TH. As some of you may recall from mountaineering and alpine climbing, that from the summit of a mountain, the way down can sometimes be very unobvious, much more so than when looking up at the mountain from its bottom. So, I started to descend in a downward, counter clockwise spiral from the summit and finally crossed the well trodden donkey path that serves as the normal route up the peak.
After making my way down Hwy 82 from Lake Creek TH and turning into the small, unmarked trail head for Echo Canyon, I took a break to check out the Southwest Ridge of Mt. Elbert, which I am unfamiliar with. That is when I discovered I had accidentally printed out the route description for the Southeast Ridge of Mt. Elbert instead. That is also when I discovered just how great the GPS unit, which I have been carrying with me this summer for tracking the various legs of the Nolan’s course, really is. From looking at the map embedded in the GPS, I was able to piece together the different mining roads that lead up to the Golden Fleece mine just beneath Bull Hill, and crested the ridge just beneath its summit as the sun began to make its way over the horizon. I was thinking about the riders who must have been lining up in Leadville at that moment (for the LT100 MTB race). At 7:15 AM I finally gained the summit of Mt. Elbert and began the ultra-steep and loose descent down the West Face to S. Half Moon Creek. From North Half Moon Creek TH, it was a pretty uneventful and thankfully easier climb up Mt. Massive. On my way back down the East Ridge of Mt. Massive, I did my best to get lost in the wilderness area at the top of the Fish Hatchery, but the GPS unit I had bailed me out again, and I was easily able to navigate to a trail that leads down to the junction the Colorado Trail and the Highline Trail, which goes back down into the Fish Hatchery. Lisa met me part way up the Highline Trail and we walked back down to the truck together, arriving at 3:15 PM; 18 hours, 35 miles and 14,000 elevation gain behind me.
At the Fish Hatchery, we watched quite a few riders still coming up the road, heading over to the Power Lines and Sugarloaf. My heart went out to them as it was too late in the day for them to have any hope of getting back to Leadville before the time cut-off, but they were still driving on. This brought back a lot of memories from the Leadman just a few years ago. As I sit and write this today, the weekend takes on a lot of different perspectives. We were very lucky Friday evening, leaving town in the midst of the storms that brought so much devastation and tragedy to Manitou Springs. We barely made it through Waldo Canyon before Hwy 24 was closed, and I am thankful of not having been caught up in the more serious flooding that took place just a few moments later. Traveling over unfamiliar terrain at night was a tremendous confidence boost. Most of all I am grateful for the patience and support that Lisa has given me while getting through all of this research and rehearsal on the Nolan’s course over the past couple of months. Next week I am hoping that I get to pace Rebekka at the LT100 in Leadville. She has surgery for her hand, where she injured it at work this past week. So, I am praying that she is OK and gets to start (and finish) her race. After that I am thinking of taking a break from the Nolan’s course and climbing another 14-teener, probably Pikes Peak, in order to stay closer to home and give Lisa a break. Then it’s time to pull the trigger on this thing over Labor Day weekend. I am both looking forward to it and a little terrified at the prospect of it at the same time; does that make any sense? Thankfully I have a lot of wonderful, generous, and gracious people who are going to come out to crew and give me some company out on the trail.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Missouri Mtn. and Mt. Huron

Saturday brought another day of rehearsing and research on the Nolan’s 14 course. After the storms of last weekend, and forecast for even more intense monsoonal moisture flow for this weekend, I was more than a little apprehensive about the weather forecast. That left me reconsidering my original plans of traversing Missouri Mtn. to Mt. Huron, and then across La Plata Peak, so I decided to leave off La Plata, thinking that taking another look at the ascent from Chlohesy Lake to Mt. Huron might be the most important research I could gain from the day. This was important to me because I am planning on doing this part of the course at night, and it is confusing enough during the day, so that was where I was going to place an emphasis on for whatever time the weather was going to allow. The east face of Missouri Mtn.
is quite pleasant to climb from Missouri Gulch. Coming back down the west face is your typical ultra steep 14’teener express down scree and grassy slopes to Chlohesy Lake. Fortunately the outlet of Chlohesy Lake is friendly enough, being able to rock hop across without having to get the feet wet. Coming around the western shore of the lake, I easily found the large rock cairn marking the trail that ascends up to Lois Lake and the climb to Mt. Huron. This however, is where things start to get really messy.
The trail up to Lois Lake is exceptionally steep, and not very well marked, even including a little lower 3rd class rock scrambling for good measure. Above Lois Lake, the pain doesn’t lessen much, with a steep scree gulch leading to extended boulder hopping before the penultimate heart-break is encountered during the last, loosest, 400’ leading up to a saddle between Mt. Huron and Brown’s Peak. This section was hot and depressingly slow. I kept telling myself that it will be a little easier at night when it is cooler and I can’t really see where I am going; that’s my theory anyway. Once on the upper slopes of Mt. Huron a brief storm of snow pellets let loose, with thunder making its appearance 100’ shy of the summit. Luckily, no lighting came along with the thunder, and I made a relatively quick trip back down to Winfield, Lisa, and the truck. We high-tailed it to the hot springs to begin some recovery! As I continue to rehearse and research this course to make sure I know it to the “nth” degree, the more anxious I become at realizing the extent of the pain, punishment, and degree of just how deep I will have to go inside of myself to complete it coming up on Labor Day weekend. I took much comfort from the following words during our prayers at church this morning, “Help us, together with all Your saints, to finish our race with faithfulness, strengthened by our faith in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf.”

Sunday, July 28, 2013

From North Cottonwood to Missouri Gulch; Nolan's Tough Old Gut

After a 3-week break from research and rehearsal on the Nolan’s course I was back at it again Saturday. Between then and now, those weeks were filled with an ascent of Pikes Peak from the Cripple Creek Reservoirs, a second finish at Hard Rock,
and a weekend of rest; where I caught up on some much needed/neglected yard work, and hosting some good friends from church over to enjoy some South Carolina low country cooking. Yesterday I traversed over a good portion of the middle section of the course; from the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead, traveling north over Mt. Columbia, Mt. Harvard, Mt. Oxford, Mt. Belford, and finishing up at the Missouri Gulch trailhead. Often I have thought of, in a most peculiar way I suppose, of the Nolan’s course as being compared to a person’s digestive system, with Mt. Massive in the north (like the top of the map) ,as being the mouth, and Mt. Shavano in the south as being the… well you get the picture. So, the middle portion (Mt. Yale to Mt. Huron), where there aren’t any trailheads that lie directly in the path taken over these massive peaks, could be thought of as the course’s soft under belly, though I would liken it more as to being one tough old gut! Having previously traversed over Mt. Yale, my next objective was to link the next 4 peaks together, especially to get dialed in on going down the north face of Mt. Harvard, across Pine Creek, and then back up the south slopes to the saddle that lies between Mt. Oxford and Mt. Belford. This is a wild section of the course where no real trails exist and few if any people are to be encountered. Lisa dropped me off at North Cottonwood Creek trailhead just after 6:00 AM, and I gained the top of Mt. Columbia, which is quite the grunt, in just over 2 ½ hours. The traverse over to Mt. Harvard has worried me some,
because it’s so complex, but this time I went further away to the east from both mountains, and much lower into the valley below, and was able to make good time, mostly on grassy slopes rather than scrambling and fighting scree and tippy-top blocks. I got to the top of Mt. Harvard in just over 2 ½ hours. Descending the north face of Mt. Harvard, I spied the resident goat herd, and was able to connect bits and pieces of grassy sections together to get close to Pine Creek. From being close though, actually getting to and across Pine Creek was another altogether different story, as this valley bottom is much like the foot of the avalanche gully on Mt. Yale’s north face, being absolutely blocked with a complex maze of deadfall. Once across Pine Creek, I tried as best I could to navigate to a scree-filled gully system that I spied from Mt. Harvard,
which looked like it would give reasonable access to the upper slopes leading to the saddle between Mt. Oxford and Mt. Belford. Of course, being about 12-noon, that is when the afternoon’s excitement began as peals of thunder began to echo through the valley. I think the low point of my day was right about here, when I found myself thrashing up scree in a willow-choked gully only to find myself suddenly covered with ants. I don’t know where they came from, maybe they were just hanging out in some of the willows I was trying to swim through, and I tried as best I could to wipe them off while continuing to make slow but steady uphill progress, all the while trying to block the sounds of thunder growing louder and closer from my mind. At tree-line, I found a nice one to hunker beneath as I let the first of what was to be many waves of rain showers wash over me. I was at about 11,600’, and it was not a bad place at all to pass some time. After a bit the thunder subsided, with thankfully no accompanying lighting making an appearance, and I began making more upward progress only to be stopped again by rain showers and thunder about 1,000’ higher, this time much above any trees, totally stuck in the open. I crouched in some rocks and waited for the storm to pass, being deeply concerned about not being able to see what in the way of more weather was coming over the top of Mt. Belford, and really not wanting to be on the exposed ridge above if a bad storm actually arrived. Finally the weather broke again, and I was able to reach the saddle between Mt. Oxford and Mt. Belford. Turning east I began to make my way over to Oxford’s summit, and then decided to turn back towards Mt. Belford, thinking it better to take advantage of the break in the weather, get over the top, and back down into safer terrain of the next valley. Sadly, I did not touch the top of Mt. Oxford, but I did count myself as fortunate for getting all the beta I really wanted from my day’s journey; i.e. finding a better way from Mt. Columbia to Mt. Harvard, and navigating a way across the Pine Creek Valley between Mt. Harvard and Mt. Oxford/Mt. Belford. I closed the day by descending a direct line down the west face of Mt. Belford to the trail junction at the east face of Mt. Missouri and the tail that leads up to Elkhead Pass. Continuing down to the valley floor and the Missouri Gulch trailhead, I ran much of the way through a hail storm. Once safely back at the car with Lisa, the rain set in for good, keeping up a proper deluge all the way back to Colorado Springs, which was still apparently continuing this Sunday morning! Sorry for the long post, but I thought it might be good to catch up on what has been happening, and share some of the more intimate details about yesterday that I have been glossing over on previous postings; 19.2 miles, just over 9,300’ elevation gain, and 9,600’ elevation loss, 2 stops to wait out passing storms, and 11 hours car to car.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Pikes Peak via Cripple Creek Reservoirs to Old Historic Cree's Toll Road

Last training day up in the mountains before Hardrock week begins; decided to traverse Pikes Peak from Highway 67 near Cripple Creek, up past the Cripple Creek Reservoirs and then back down the cog railway and the old historic Cree’s Toll Road (about 22 miles).
From Mountain View I took the Barr Trail back down to Manitou. The valley up past the Cripple Creek Reservoirs is one of the prettiest I have been in, including cabin ruins and an absolutely beautiful waterfall that had carved its way through solid granite!
I know it’s not part of the Nolan’s course, but just thought I would include this in my blog as a part of the summer leading up to my attempt over Labor Day weekend. So, next I hope to be sharing with you about a little jaunt through the mountains in Silverton!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Mt. Yale - Avalanche TH to North Cottonwood Creek TH

Great training in the Sawatch today; traversed Mt. Yale from South to North up via the east ridge from Avalanche Trailhead and back down the avalanche gully
on the north side to the base of Mt. Columbia and down to the N. Cottonwood Creek Trailhead. It was about 10.5 miles and just over 5,000’ elevation gain. Have to say that getting over Mt. Yale is much tenderer than dealing with Princeton; i.e. not as many tippy-top blocks and hideously loose, steep scree slopes. An interesting find today was locating the 1956 crash site of a C-47 in the avalanche gully.
Lisa picked me up at N. Cottonwood Creek and we finished the day with a trip to Cottonwood Hot Springs!