Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Playing for a Week in the Colorado High Country!

Fellow NC runner (very fast boy) Ryan Woods  and I post VHC 2011
The Vail Hill Climb is part of the 2011 La Sportiva Mountain Cup. It is a 7.5-mile run up a ski slope, starting at 8500’ and climbs to 11,000’. I knew when I signed up that I would not be acclimated to the elevation and had little chance to run competitively,  yet I had to deal with my work schedule and this race fit into my limited summer vacation days.

The trip turned from “race travel” to vacation when George discovered he could join me and we planned a week-long trip to Colorado.

Atop Lily Mountain...9 hours after leaving Greensboro, NC. It was crazy-windy otherwise we'd have used a timer on the camera to catch both of us with crazy hair!
We flew into Denver on Tuesday morning and immediately drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park, stopping on route to do a short 4-mile hike on Lily Mountain. Wow! I expected to feel the elevation change and sure enough did. My respiratory rate and heart rate elevated immediately and what would have been a charge up a mountain at 3000’, turned into a super-slog as we made our way to 9500’.

After a stop in Estes Park for supplies we moved into our campsite in Loop D of the Moraine Park Campground. We camped simply with whatever we could get into one very full Mountain Hardwear duffel bag. Many of our neighbors had lounge chairs, rain/sun canopies, and all sorts of comfy campsite swag. We were perfectly happy with our Sierra Designs Meteor Light car camping tents, Thermarests, sleeping bags and Primus camp stove.

Over 3 days we pounced on the park and did all we could realistically do as 2 folks having just come to the CO high country. Running took a back seat during this time-each day I ran at least 30 minutes, yet my lack of adaptation made it tough going.

Wednesday: 12.5 miles. Flattop Mountain, summit 12,324,’ plus a walk into Hollowell Meadows. 
George on route to 12,300+ Flat Top Mountain
Top of Flat Top looking down on the lakes...
Even the flowers looked fuzzy to me as I tried to adjust to the elevation!
 Full Day One: Lots of snow this day. Gobs of it on the trails and several snowfields to kick steps across. This is a beautiful part of the world! Very slow going, especially on the descent when the top of the snow melted into runways of slippery slush! I think George and my favorite part of this hike was running downhill across the 2 snowfields on our return trip. It was gleeful and absolutely a slippery riot!

Full Day Two: Wishing to avoid the post holing and most of the snow we chose a tour of the lakes: The Loch, Mills Lake, Lake Haiyaha,  Lake Dream Lake and Nymph Lake.

Beautiful raging falls!
Our journey took us past Alberta Falls which were raging! CO had over 200” of snow above normal this year.

Washed out bridge on route to Mills Lake. We turned around. Water too rapid to consider a wet crossing....
As noted earlier, we intended to avoid snow this day. Not-gonna-happen! We had a slow, snowy, slippery, step kicking morning as we traveled a less-used route from Mills Lake to Lake Haiyaha. We made several wrong turns, yet after awhile I became accustomed to reading the terrain and we were able to pick our way to our destination. We met 2 neat local women and took turns assisting each other with route finding. They shared with us that the park advised not to do the route we were on (they also advised against Flat Top Mountain which we walked the day before).
Lake Haiyaha, a beautiful spot...well worth the post holing and navigational challenge!
 George and I continued our loop against the advisement of these 2, figuring if things got too gnarly, we could always backtrack. No worries, we got spooked in one section and bushwhacked off trail for 200’ to avoid a steep snow traverse…yet soon we arrived at the hyper activeness of Dream Lake. Approaching from the other side, it is an easy 1.1-mile walk from the nearest trail head, and there was a multitude of folks to prove it! We actually decided to run the remaining 2 miles back to the car in order to try to avoid some of the gobs of slow walkers. (Nothing wrong with walking slow-I will celebrate every person gifted with mobility who gets off the pavement and onto a trail…no matter how slowly they may move!)
Dream Lake...beautiful mountains, many people!
 That afternoon we drove parts of Trail Ridge Road and watched the park video at the Glacier Meadow Visitor Center as we tried to stay out of the powerful cycling thunderstorms.

Looking back as we left treeline heading up Twin Sisters...
Next day was a 7.4 round trip walk up Twin Sisters. The elevation was 11,400+, yet there was no snow and even a couple days walking around up high took the edge off of elevation hyper-heart rate.
George at the top of the hike.
 After a quick trip back to Estes Park for laundry and showers we went to Boulder to meet up with friends for a delightful evening of drinks and supper at their neighborhood low-key swimming pool. George and I both used to work with Brady Robinson at NCOBS (North Carolina Outward Bound School). Because Brady is now Executive Director of The Access Fund and George is ED of National Committee for the New River they have future developed their professional and personal relationship. Hanging out with Brandy, Lucinda and Tessa and their kitty EB were a real treat! We slept in Brandy’s home office with a purring EB crammed between us!

The Vail Hill Climb was awesome! My performance, not so awesome. Spending the last few days hiking around the mountains helped get acclimated, yet not nearly enough. So it was with no great surprise that my eventual female in the event was (I think) 30th! My muscles begged to go faster –yet my heart rate would not cooperate. Still, I loved trying something totally new. At only 7.5 miles this is was a hyper-short event.

Each time I sped up, I got lightheaded. I tried power walking the steeps to see if that would help. Nah. So I made running motions as I slogged up the mountain…and LOVED every bit of the experience! I stilled worked as hard as I could, yet to my surprise didn’t get too disappointed with my lack of performance. After all, if I can’t breathe, I cannot run!

George and I on top. He hiked up top in the snow while I ran...
I expected it would take around 1:30, yet I finished in 1:14 plus some seconds. I was disappointed only for a few minutes that I did not run faster. If I could have taken off 8 minutes that’d have made a huge difference. Yet reality is reality…I struggled and that is that!

Still, I got to finally meet Anita Ortiz and see Ryan Woods who lives near George and I in NC. He ran well, yet I think he too was affected by the elevation and earned a 5th place. Last week he ran Cranmore Hill Climb and was name the US Mountain Running Team! Go Ryan, go!
Anita and I post run...she is a toughie...ran WS 100 last weekend and romped up this climb with some sort of injury...though you'd never know it from her attitude and time! (Her 2 daughters ROCKED the course!)
George, Debbie, me and Rob!
We rounded out our grand Colorado adventure by meeting up with my cousin Debbie- who I hadn’t seen in 20 years! George and I stayed with Debbie, her husband Rob and 2 awesome labs. We shared lots of stories, wine and good food before George and I finally accepted that we needed at least 4 hours of sleep before leaving at 4:45am for the airport! A very, very fun time!

This trip reminded me of the simplicity and joy of camping and hiking and it was a great adventure with George and a fabulous mental break from running and training.

Mom is coming to NC tomorrow for a long weekend. Next week I am off to CA for the World Master’s Marathon in Sacramento (volunteering for 2 days and running on 7/17 as  a pacing practice for World 100k in September...) and will remain out there camping and low-key adventuring until after the Table Rock 25k at Stinson Beach on 7/23.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great vacation for you and George! A bit of variety and change is good for the body and soul. Enjoy your next trip and keep running strong Annette.

Bob S