4-Pass Loop

Maroon Bells at Dawn

That was… beautiful. ~ Edwina “Ed” McDonnough

Sometimes, you just need to lean on your friends to get you back in the swing of things and Caleb definitely upped the ante by recommending we tackle Aspen’s famous 4-Pass Loop as a main summer goal (Note: My Garmin blew up at mile 25 due to my turtle-esque pace). I knew this had the potential to be both an incredible adventure and a serious effort. I was up for both. (Here’s a link to the full gallery.)

4-Pass Loop Map 4-Pass Loop Elevation Profile

We decided that a weekday trek had the best potential for success so penned in the 24th as the day we’d tackle the route. This is a popsicle loop of about 27 miles that summits 4 passes: Buckskin (12,532), Trail Rider (12,412), Frigid Air (12,398) and West Maroon (12,469) on a route that circumnavigates the Maroon Bells. We jammed up to Aspen on Monday, stopping briefly to hike up to Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon (well worth the effort) and car camped at the trailhead.

Caleb Melamed on Buckskin Pass Caleb Melamed on Buckskin Pass

Up before sunrise on Tuesday to start our adventure, Caleb and I grabbed some breakfast, packed up our gear and headed out just as the sun was kissing the tops of the Maroon Bells. What an amazing start to a proud adventure. We made our way up the technical singletrack toward Buckskin Pass and fell into a decent rhythm of steady forward progress. the route climbs steadily upward through aspen groves to treeline where we were greeted by incredible views. One final, steep pitch through fields of incredible wildflowers and we made our first summit (about 4.9 miles into the run).

Snowmass Lake Caleb Melamed on Trail Rider Pass

We headed down the steep, northwest side of the pass and made our way quickly into some of the most incredible singletrack running on the planet. This section drops down below treeline and makes its way toward Snowmass Lake. We got a little off-piste for a bit while trying to navigate what was described as a bit of a hidden turn but soon were back on track. (If you do this loop, turn left at the log footbridge under the beaver ponds rather than taking the somewhat obscured path above the ponds.) We quickly made our way to the unbelievably gorgeous Snowmass Lake (words do not describe) then pushed up through even MORE amazing fields of wildflowers above the lake to the summit of Trail Rider Pass at 11.75 miles into our day (probably more like 10.75 for those who don’t get off-route). More amazing views. This could never get boring.

Waterfall on Frigid Air Pass Frigid Air Pass

The southwest descent of Trail Rider was STEEP and my knee got pretty grumpy on this section but we soldiered on, stopping to fill up with water from a small stream about mile 14. The approach to the next pass, Frigid Air, is long but we were treated with decent running through a variety of ecosystems and were treated to more incredible vistas and scenery. We navigated a section of blow-down just before reaching a large waterfall about mile 16 that set the stage for a short, steep pitch just below treeline. The trail then climbs steadily through one of the most beautiful mountain valleys you will ever see on the final approach to Frigid Air.

I really started feeling it once we got back up above treeline on Frigid Air. My knee was grumpy, my stomach abandoned me and I resorted to some old Leadville tricks to keep things moving. 100 steps, stop, 5 big breaths, repeat. Eventually, I summited Frigid Air (about mile 19) quite a bit behind Caleb who was still moving well. From the summit, you can see Crested Butte and we ran into our first day-hikers who had made the climb up from the CB side of the pass (Schofield, if memory serves). Most of the traffic we encountered up to this point consisted of backpackers who normally take 3 days to complete the circuit. Needless to say, they found our 1-day shenanigans to be either impressive or idiotic or both.

One pass remained and I had pretty much run out of running juju though I was still hiking pretty quickly. We descended just a bit on the trek over to West Maroon then I went back into 100-rest-repeat mode for the final steep push up to the top of the pass. I summited well behind Caleb (again) on what was definitely the most trafficked section of the route (lots of people on West Maroon, about mile 21) and we headed down for the final 7 miles of our journey. Caleb was moving well (better than I, for sure) and I ran a little on the descent but that made my knee and stomach unhappy so I just decided to hike it in. Caleb stopped several times to check on me and I finally cut him loose since I didn’t want to extend his day any further. Since there was a lot of foot-traffic at this point, it was safe to split up.

I hiked the remaining few miles. Stopped briefly to talk with a Ranger at Crater Lake (about mile 26) and just got the rest done in a slight (and welcomed) sprinkle of rain. Saw some blue grouse at the end of the journey just above Maroon Lake and shortly thereafter found myself back at the car.

Caleb was all cleaned up and ready to go so I quickly scrubbed off the worst of the day’s grunge, tossed most of my stuff into his truck (with the exception of a pretty much new pair of shoes I donated to the Trailhead gods on accident), and we made our way back to the Front Range. All in all, a fantastic day out of the trails. I definitely didn’t perform as well as I had hoped but we bit off a pretty big chunk and I didn’t really have the time to get trained up for a 7+ hour push so I don’t feel bad about the effort. It really showed me how specificity of training works (I’m speedy for efforts up to 3-4 hours but after that, I start to fade) but also made me really happy to have been able to accomplish this type of run on what fitness I had in the bank. I also feel really blessed to be able to get to see some of the more remote parts of our state. Not a lot of people get to experience this stuff. I’m super lucky to be able to do so.


Lunar Eclipse Run

Is this Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”? Whyyyy? ~ Rach

Some days, you just need to bail on the planned training and go have an adventure. Fortunately for me, I don’t have anything on the horizon in terms of “A” races so abandoning my plans for a solo tempo/repeat run to join a couple of Twitter acquaintances (George Zack and Tim Waggoner) for a very early long run was a fairly easy ditch. Certainly, had this opportunity arisen in the course of a specific training cycle, I would have had to think about it a bit more.

The plan: Meet at 4:00am, run for 3-4 hours on snowpacked dirt roads around Wondervu, enjoy the celestial show of the lunar eclipse.

My alarm went off at 3:00 and I hopped out of bed, ready to get my run on. It was about 18° with only a slight breeze when I slipped out into the night for a short drive to Tim Waggoner’s house in Wondervu. Tim is a coach and all-around kickass athlete who is gunning for the Leadman competition this year. A burly goal but if anyone is capable of accomplishing this feat, I am confident Tim can rock it. He finished 6th in the ’10 LT100 (about 5 hours in front of me) and has a strong Tri background which will help him immeasurably when it comes to the grueling Leadman competition.

After some confusion regarding the exact location of Tim’s house (I spazzed and didn’t store his info in my phone, stupidly relying on the expectation of a cell signal in the mountains), I managed to pull up an old email to get his house number and pulled up just as George arrived from the valley. We quickly donned our gear and started running just after 4:00.

George’s summer racing revolves around the Pike’s Peak Marathon where he has finished as high as 6th place as well as other races at a variety of distances (up to 100 miles). So needless to say, I was in fast company on this early morning adventure.

Tim had a 21-mile loop mapped out and we managed to make pretty good time during the early miles. The moon was bright enough that back-up lighting was only necessary on occasion and we were treated to an eclipse that won’t be visible again in the Western U.S. until April of 2014. Overall, we kept a conversational pace and just enjoyed the early morning running. Tim planned our route to top-out with a fantastic view of the Indian Peaks hoping to coincide with the full eclipse and sunrise. We were a bit early to get the full effect and winds had picked up to the point where standing around for 20-30 minutes would have been ill-advised so we stopped briefly for a peek then continued on our way.

In the end, we cut the overall distance down to 17 miles and then George added some bonus mileage. I needed to get home to get ready to see Gounod’s Faust on the Met Opera HD broadcast with Rach but it was fantastic to get in a solid run before most people are even waking up. Seeing the eclipse was a treat as well. Sometimes the best plans are those that have been abandoned.


Runs without running…

Pull up at the function and you know I’m Kojak
To all my party people that are on my bozack
I got more action than my man John Woo
And I got mad hits like I was Rod Carew

~ The Beastie Boys

Fri 19 Feb: 00:54, 7 miles, Track barefoot/shoed
Sat 20 Feb: 5:30, Crested Butte skiing
Sun 21 Feb: 3:30, Crested Butte skiing

So I suppose I lied a little. There was some running involved on Friday but Saturday and Sunday were all about logging vert in incredible conditions at Crested Butte.

Friday, I jammed over to the gym to get in one final run for the week. Opted to wear the KSOs for the first half of the run and felt incredible. Was relaxed, ran smoothly, good pacing. Particularly excited about the low heartrate for the speed I was able to sustain. Even more interesting was that when I switched over to shoes mid-run, my heartrate jumped by several bmp at the same pace. Weird. Going to have to experiment with this more as well as trying to adapt a more barefoot stride pattern while wearing shoes. I do realize that as the run progressed, my heartrate would naturally increase but this was a marked jump. Very cool discovery. I’ll be testing this one again.

The only ill-effects I experienced was a tightness/soreness in my calves – particularly the lateral portion of the muscle group on my left calf. Any thoughts on that would be greatly appreciated.

So then the journey to Crested Butte began. Pete and I headed that way for what we hoped would be a couple days of better skiing than we have been able to accomplish this year in Summit County (or at the Rock). And let me tell you… we were not disappointed.

The Butte started getting hammered by a significant winter storm on Friday and it just kept coming. We were greeted with about 19 inches of fresh on Saturday morning and took full advantage of the prime conditions. Seems like everyone else in the county had the same idea and lift-lines were quite long but it was so worth it. Patrol started getting the good stuff open mid-morning and by noon we were spinning laps in tasty pow on Headwall and (after giving Telly’s head a good rub) NFL. All sorts of good.

CB is renowned for the high-caliber of skier and with the Extreme Championships going on, the level of talent on the hill was ratcheted up several notches. It was just cool to be in such close proximity to hundreds of rippers and to talk with people about how awesome the new snow was. This was the Butte’s first major storm since early December and the locals had the excitement level on 11. Pete and I worked the mountain, I showed him some cool stashes and we had a blast. It snowed all day as well which amp’d up the stoke for Sunday.

Post skiing, we wandered around the town of CB for a bit, grabbed a beer at Kochevar’s (a storied bar on Elk Ave.), then settled down to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Donita’s Cantina, for some tasty grub. Kay and Heli, the owners and all-around nice people make an amazing meal. If you are in the area, I HIGHLY recommend it.

A lazy evening watching Olympic coverage followed then we set it for “repeat” on Sunday.

Even more snow greeted us Sunday morning coupled with greatly reduced crowds, better visibility (well, for parts of the day… it was still snowing pretty strongly up there) and extreme terrain open from the gun. Perfect combo. We headed up High lift again and dropped into Figure 11, which was simply amazing and followed that with more NFL action. We stopped for a bit to watch the Extremes (Dead-end Chutes and Body Bags the primary venue for the day) then continued on our quest for excellent terrain coupled with killer conditions. Since a lot of the extreme terrain was closed on Saturday, when the rope dropped on Phoenix/Spellbound on Sunday, there was a LOT of fresh goodness to be had. And we had it. Seriously the best skiing I have had in a long, long time. Rivaled the conditions we found in Canada last year. I’d tell you where we went, but then I’d have to kill ya.

The drive home was fairly uneventful until about a mile west of Eisenhower Tunnel. Then it got ugly. Not sure what the solution to the I-70 corridor problem is (aside from avoiding it) but man… it is a mess. What is normally a 3.5 to 4-hour drive turned to 5.5 and it could have been worse. Rach had soup on for me when I got home. So I ate, ate some more, then hit the sack. Terrific weekend. Hope to put it on repeat soon.


Extreme lunch..

I seem to recognize your face haunting, familiar, yet I can’t seem to place it. ~ Pearl Jam

I intended to write about this last night but got distracted making fun of Spartacus with Rage. Man, that is one funny movie. For whatever reason we have seen a couple of Tony Curtis movies recently (Some Like It Hot also). Not sure why he made the Netflix list of late but amusing nonetheless. From the really stilted dialogue, to the way the ruling class was portrayed, to the acting style of some of the actors who were clearly cast simply based on their looks (seemed some were chanelling John Wayne) – just a very unintentionally amusing film. We commented on how blatant the gay themes are in the film and how, at the time, these were considered very subtle (see or read Cellulide Closet for more on this) but were reminded about how this just wasn’t on the general public’s radar back when Sparticus was released. (And continues to fly under the radar for people of that generation.) Reminds me of a story my buddy told me about his dad…

They were driving along the 1 north of Santa Monica and got in the vicinity of Will Rogers State Beach when his dad commented how cool it was to see “all the fit guys walking around with their dads.” “Those guys are gay, Dad,” commented my friend. “No way,” replied my friend’s dad. Really amusing. In any event. The movie is pretty funny when looked at through 21st century eyes.

See, I got distracted again! Anyway…

I rode the dirt bike over to Idaho Springs to meet Cort for lunch yesterday and decided to ride dirt back home. There is a road that goes up through Apex and then drops over the western side to Tolland from where I can jam back to Rollinsville and home pretty easily. It has been awile since I have done this route but it is a fairly major road so I didn’t anticipate any problems. Well, that is what I get for anticipating. When I got close to the top, the road was gated with signs warning about trespassing. Apparelty this goes through private land and they have blocked access in the last year or so. Bummer. Well, I didn’t really want to just turn around and found another trail that I assumed would by pass the private land (it is all public up at the top). Wrong assumption.

So I ended up on a smaller trail… I think it was 413, can’t remember and so I took it. As it wound its way around the contour of the mountainside, it became snow covered in North-facing spots but I trudged on. Soon, I started seeing landmarks that were somewhat familiar so I kept on following the trail until I was in an area that became more and more familiar. One of the benefits to living in an area for 15 years and exploring the territory extensively. The trail eventually dumped out onto Moon Gulch road and I quickly made my way home. A fun adventure at least but definitely a bit more than I had initially planned.

And our site launched yesterday. Check out the new Relish Studio site and tell everyone you know who you think might need design and development services.

Ok, back to work. I think today is the last day for early voting in Colorado so get out there and get ‘er done.