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.

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