This has been the season that just keeps on going. A couple weeks prior we saw a report from someone else who’d been up on North Maroon, and figured it’d still be in acceptable shape when we were able to make it. And so John, Terrence, and myself drove up after getting the kids down for the evening on a Tuesday night. We were able to get a few hours of sleep – all of us sleeping remarkably well for being at a trailhead – and were hiking at 2:45am.
We made quick progress the first couple of miles, until we hit the first debris path left behind by March’s historic avalanche cycle. We got around/through it, continued on, and…had to cross another one. Between the snow and avalanche debris, we found ourselves off-trail for a while and lost a little time – and energy. At 4:45 we were finally at treeline and switched from hiking shoes to ski boots and crampons, and before we knew it the sun was up.
This season is truly one that just won’t quit. Storms keep bringing in more snow every week, and this week was no exception. A couple days prior, several inches of new snow blanketed the Sawatch. I’ve been wanting to ski Shavano this year, since even in decent years it often isn’t in from the top and reports suggested it was good to go. Despite having a newborn at home, leading to chronic sleep deprivation, I planned for a 1am alarm to go ski this pair of peaks with John. Getting to bed at 9:30 meant I had a solid 3.5 hours of sleep in store before another big day in the mountains – less than I’d like but entirely doable.
Of course, infants have their own schedule. James decided he was hungry at 11:30, and so I was out of bed with a rock-solid two hours of sleep. Since John and I weren’t meeting until 2 to head out, I had plenty of time for a midnight feeding, and watched some cooking videos on youtube with James to pass the time. 2 eventually came around, and we got on the road.
We were on-trail at 5:30, hiking in shoes for the first mile and a half or so. When we reached the bottom of the Angel of Shavano, we switched over to ski gear and got on our way up.
Life – as it tends to do – has thrown some curve balls my way. A lot of times, that means any plans for fun and adventure go out the window. That’s happened a little these past few weeks, but I’m trying to balance that with some time in the mountains to burn off stress and keep sane. John kept trying to convince me to take off Thursday and go ski a peak. Things were semi-busy and I had a couple things I’d have to move around, but I decided I wouldn’t regret going for a good day in the mountains. The Sawatch – along with most of the state – so we settled on Columbia figuring it would be a big day but straightforward and uncomplicated.
The day started with the typical 2am alarm, forcing myself to eat breakfast, and all the usual pre-Spring 14er preparation. Less-ordinary was John getting pulled over in Leadville for accelerating past a cop to 10-over at 4:30 in the morning; fortunately the officer seemed more concerned in making sure we weren’t drunk idiots and sent us on our way with a warning.
Eventually we made it as far up the road to the trailhead as snow allowed, and were hiking at about ten after six in the morning – much later than I’m used to for this time of year.
It’s hard to believe, but when I look back I see that I haven’t skied any new 14ers in a while. Harvard was two years ago now, and before that was prior to Denali – a full five years ago. There are a lot of reasons why – time has been tight, along with poor snowpacks and stability, capped off with a lack of motivation to wake up entirely too early to drive and climb all day. This season’s incredible snowpack, combined with an impending deadline that will likely cut off my season mid-May, have me excited to get out again. This was the first weekend that held a pleasant forecast after the snowpack stabilized to my liking, so I had to take advantage of it with a big day out.
Saturday’s outing started like most do – packing up Friday afternoon, setting the alarm for 2am, and going to bed early. Lucky for me, I was wide awake at 1am and didn’t need the alarm. I tried to go back to sleep but gave up about 1:30, got out of bed, and fired up the coffee maker. Several cups later, John arrived and we got on the road.
We pulled up to the lower Princeton trailhead just after 5am and decided to see how the road went. Half a mile in we encountered enough snow to make the road impassable, saving us a mile of walking on a dirt road in ski boots. No complaints here.
We made our way up the road for a while, until we came to a switchback around 10,500′ that butted up against a SE-facing slidepath on Tigger Peak, the 13er you have to traverse to get over to Princeton. It seemed solid and supportive, so we started going straight up.
Quick trips up Grays in the winter are nothing new for me, and that’s what I intended for Friday. I’d never gone up Torreys in the winter, not because it’s difficult but because I’ve just never cared to head over after topping out on Grays. John and I had discussed the option, figuring we’d see how we felt when we topped out and make a decision at the time. Weather was forecast to be as perfect as it gets for mid-winter, so I was optimistic for a good day out and a good workout, whatever the decision was.
The plan to ride Mt. Evans was nothing new – I’d ridden it a couple times before, once from Idaho Springs and once from Echo Lake – but wanting to ride it from home is something I’ve been trying to make happen for a few years. Even though the logistics are simple, the ride statistics are daunting at about 110 miles and over 11,000′ of climbing round-trip. My schedule, weather, and motivation finally aligned on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, and I settled on a 4am start to be early-enough to beat any afternoon thunderstorms, but not so early that the drunks would still be driving around.
I started by heading up and over Lookout Mountain, to the Genesee bike path, and on to Evergreen Parkway – a ride I’ve done countless times. Sunrise was just after 5:30, meaning it finally started getting light a bit after 5am. At about six a.m. I stopped to eat a bar, check in at home (where everyone was still asleep), switched my light from “see” to “be seen,” and started up Squaw Pass. Shortly after eight, I was on CO-5, the Mount Evans Highway.
It’s been over a month now, and my knees are largely better. I don’t have a whole lot to say about the race. Things started off very well, and I was running in the top 5-8% through the half-way point. I jogged the flats, downs, and mellow uphills, and hiked anything even remotely steep. I kept the calories, fluids, and salts coming in, and truly felt not just good but great. At the turnaround at Winfield I was joined by my friend Jordan, took on some poles for the hike back over Hope Pass, and my knees completely fell apart. The hike back up the pass was neither blistering nor crawling, but the pain got worse as I went up. I had to stop at the Hope Pass aid station for a while, and an amazing volunteer spent several minutes working on my legs. It helped for a few minutes but the pain came back, and the descent back to Twin Lakes was a painful crawl. By the end my knees were in such bad shape that Jordan could hear them crunching every few steps, and I dropped out as soon as I got back to Twin Lakes, 62.5 miles in, only 38.5 to go. It sounds like a long way to go but had my knees held up, I have no doubts I would’ve finished strongly. I’m hugely appreciative to my friends who came out to help me that day – Jordan, Greg, Meredith, and Nate – and wish I hadn’t dragged them up there for nothing. And I have to thank my wonderful wife for putting up with this whole-summer debacle and supporting me through it.
I’ve run twice since then, a four-mile jog from home and a trail race – the same one I won a couple years ago. Things didn’t go quite so well this time around, as I finished 9th (2nd in AG).
I suppose going out as pack-fodder on a beautiful day is better than doing it with a painful DNF. It was quite a summer, but I’m glad to be done, and I’m glad to be able to focus on my family. Truth be told, I was growing tired of all the running and have been looking forward to new things. There will always be new adventures, and for the foreseeable future they’re going to be enjoyable.