Organ Peak Run

This is my newly favorite Las Cruces trail run. Desert to pines, granite boulders, steep ascending, ridge line running and scrambling, remnants of past military operations, great views and a good summit with friends.

Route: Dripping Springs Recreation Area gate to La Cueva/Crawford Trail to Filmore Canyon trail all the way to the summit of Organ Peak

Distance: 13 miles from the gate, about 10 from La Cueva (roundtrip). Approximately 4000 feet of elevation gain. 3-5 hours running.

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Black Canyon 100k – Pacing

On February 15th, I had the pleasure of pacing my good friend Eugene Smith in his first 100k and what would be his longest run to date. I wanted to run this race but injury kept me from it. Disappointed over the injury, I was glad to support Eugene in his run and still get to see the trail.

Despite getting an early departure from Las Cruces on Friday before the race, we rolled into the race area in the dark with the help of cheap gas station coffee and energy drinks and barely managed to find a cheap motel off of Interstate 15. Justin joined us later as he hadn’t left until after work. The tired and smelly three of us piled into the room for very little sleep. Hard to sleep with pre-race nerves and a belly full of road rations. Such a romantic way to spend Valentine’s Day!

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Justin and Eugene waiting to run a long way

The race started at 8 am, pretty late for an ultra marathon. It began at a high school track with a full moon setting over the mountains to the west near Prescott. It was a small pack of runners for the inaugural Black Canyon 100k. Unexpectedly, I ran into John “The Verm” Sherman and his girlfriend Dawn who had come down to follow and photograph a friend running the race. I’d just had dinner with John a month ago when he passed through Las Cruces. It was good to see and chat with the bouldering legend again.

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Moon setting start

The crisp air was a perfect start to the race but the temperature rose quickly down in the lower canyons. “Winter” in the southwest had brought high temperatures in the 80’s this week.

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I left the course to find a real breakfast and wait for Eugene to tick off some miles before I found him. I wouldn’t start pacing until mile 36.

 

The course is a perfect setup for access and crews. A trail weaves back and forth across a gravel road that is only a 5-10 minute drive between each aid station. When I first saw Eugene he was looking great and pushing a good but perhaps quick pace as he ran into mile 12 at just a little over 2 hours.

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Eugene coming in fresh

I saw him next around mile 18. The temperature was starting to climb and Eugene came in with his typical white crust of sweat forming over his face. He still looked and felt good. I gave him some encouragement and drove down to mile 36. This would be the longest stretch without a crew for runners.

Looking a little salty

Looking a little salty but stylish

Crews and pacers are probably not necessary for races, especially ones with adequate aid station locations. However, after crewing and now pacing, I can really appreciate the presence of a crew and pacer. At Speedgoat last year, Marco was able to cruise right through aid stations as I handed off refills of fuel. This quick exchange easily shaves off minutes. I know I spent at least 20 minutes grazing and chatting at aid stations at Jemez. Sometimes visiting at stations is part of the fun but if one is looking to have a fast time, a crew can really help. If for nothing else, I’m sure seeing and chatting with friends as you come into each station and along the route is a good boost. Personally, the stretch through the night at Black Canyon would be a lot harder and spookier if I were running alone. After hours and hours of running, just moving forward can be a arduous thought so a pacer to keep moving can really help.

Aid Station

Aid Station

I arrived at the mile 36 aid station pretty early but in time to see the top runners come through. The temperatures had really risen and the top three really showed it. The fast pace and exposure had them sitting in shade and dumping ice water over their heads for some time. News was start to trickle in about the temperatures really affected the runners and some were already dropping out. I started to worry about Eugene a little bit but knew he is not the type to drop out of a race despite how hard or painful it may be.

I expected to pick up Eugene around one or two in the afternoon. I waited around for hours with Tim and Maxette, Eugene’s uncle and aunt, and started to worry a little more as two turned into three and then almost four o’clock. My friend Sean came in earlier but was dropping out due to a knee injury. He was hot as well and had been pouring water over his head all day. We all were getting a bit concerned about Eugene but came strolling in, a little slow but still ready to go. He slowly fueled up, rested, changed shoes and headlamp batteries. I too was raring to go for a nice long run through the night with Eugene as well.

Ready to pace!

Ready to pace!

"We could just take their Hokas and dump the bodies over there"

“We could just take their Hokas and dump the bodies over there”

From the beginning of our run together, this course was so beautiful. Dropping down into a river bed with exposed rock faces and sagauros all around. After a few miles in, 40 something miles for Eugene, he was starting to eye the Hoka shoes on other runners. His feet were sore and rightfully so. This trail is rocky and he just ran over 40 miles! We joked about what size each runner wore and thought of turning into desert bandits and jumping someone for their cushy    Hoka One One sneakers!

 

As we were about to crest the longest climb of the race, a girl passed us going in the other direction and in tears. We finally put it together and she must’ve missed the spur trail down to the last aid station and had turned around, adding at least 5-6 miles, another big climb and most likely forced to drop out of the race. Although the turn was marked pretty well, the same fate would meet Justin as well. The cutoffs were tight already without adding extra miles. We felt pretty bad for her.

The course and climbs

The course and climbs

We kept a good but slow pace, always moving forward. We hiked the climbs but jogged most of the other terrain. We joked and chatted a lot of the run but I think the most fun and interesting times were when we said nothing. Our breathing and steps were connected. I could tell how Eugene was doing just by listening to his breathing. Occasionally looking back and saying, “Good pace”, “How you doin?” or “Relax, let’s just push to the bottom of this next hill.” The experience was similar to playing music with others when everyone has an unspoken connection and everything just keeps moving with no verbal direction. Pretty amazing.

Saguaro monsters

Saguaro monsters

As the sun went down, we ran for a while in the twilight and dark but soon had to switch on the headlamps. I love running at night. The field of focus is narrow, limited to lumens and battery life, and the clarity of the sky and brightness of the moon. The saguaro cacti were a bit spooky. The looked like silhouettes of large beings as we weaved through them all night. Campers shot off guns, coyotes howled in the distance (if only they knew how slow and easy of prey were running by them all day) the glowing pink eyes of night hawks shown on the trail like jewels and they quickly took off before us as we approached, piss puddles turned into hallucinatory gila monsters for Eugene. We both had several startled moments throughout the night and I know I enjoyed the company.

I don’t understand some folks running races. One lady was pretty short with volunteers when asked if she wanted a seat. She replied, “sitting is death!” in a snide tone. Another couple bickered along the trail. The husband was pacing and in a cheery mood but the wife was not having it. Both parties motivated Eugene and I to move along a bit faster. Do these people forget they voluntarily paid to run this race?! I think many miss the beauty and enjoyment of trail and long distance running. We moved along smiling.

At an aid station, 10 miles from the finish, the volunteers gave us some incorrect information and said the finish was closer to fourteen miles away. I could see some of Eugene’s moral fade as we were already pushing the cutoffs pretty close. We quickly grabbed some aid and took off with Eugene leading the way. The new urgency put some boost in his pace and we moved along quickly. We figured we would keep pushing the pace to make the finish or if the volunteers were wrong, give ourselves a cushion for the last few miles. At this steady pace we started passing several folks. I think this boosted Eugene’s moral a little bit and I think got the other runners to moving a little faster as well.

The volunteers at the last aid station looked tired as they blasted some hard rock from a radio. They had been out there for a long time and look almost as tired as the runners. Trail race volunteers are an awesome and tough bunch. They confirmed that we only had three miles left (fortunately the last aid station volunteers had been incorrect). The news was very much welcomed and we jogged in with coyotes howling and the city glow of Phoenix in the background.

Finish Line!

Finish Line!

Jamil Coury, race director and trail badass, greeted us across the finish line and handed Eugene his well-earned belt buckle. Justin and Uncle Tim were there as well to welcome us in. Eugene and I hugged in congratulations. Other familiar faces were at the finish eating food and sharing stories and goals. As has been said many times, the trail community is one of the best.

This run was inspiring in many ways: the distance Eugene ran and be able to support him, great race organization, night running, effectiveness of slow pace running, old school trail race vibe and the beautiful Sonoran Desert.

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Gertch’s Folly

The foothills of the Organ Mountains

The foothills of the Organ Mountains

From January 2013

Gertch’s Folly has been on my list of Organ “to do” climbs for a while. It is considered one of the classics but is seldomly climbed. I had once tried to figure out the approach from the  west side but spent a solid three hours with Andy and three dogs, wading through gully after gully of cat claw. I couldn’t even force my way through. We never reached the rock before deciding to turn around. Probably the worst day of bushwacking in the Organs. Hard to believe this was once considered one of the easiest approaches, according to Reed Cundiff. A lot of cat claw has grown over the trail since those days.

Marta, once again, knew a better approach to Gertch. This time I would try from Aquirre Springs, on the east side of the range. She had hiked up to the saddle of Big Windy Canyon on the way to the Low Horns. From this saddle, I figured we could drop down Big Windy on the west side and make our way to Gertch. We would also be walking off to the saddle after the climb, making for a convenient location to drop our packs.

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Michael Baker was my latest victim/partner for climbing in the Organs on this occasion. Enthusiastic and willing partners for Organeering are hard to come by but Michael fit the bill. We hiked up Pine Tree Trail for a little ways and then headed up a gully following Marta’s directions which included: a big log, a balloon in a tree and advice not to get out of the gully too soon or otherwise we’d be scrambling up loose ground or wading through brush. I thought this was mandatory for any approach in the Organs. We found the log, no balloon and got out of the gully too soon and slowly crawled up the loose ground, rocks and prickly vegetation to the saddle. This only took a little over an hour but felt longer. We ate, dropped packs and oogled at the Pyramid of the South Rabbit Ear.

Looking up at the route from gully below

Approach gully to the south of Big Windy Canyon

The way down Big Windy Canyon wasn’t really hard but not that easy either. There were cairns scattered in the boulder scree but also a lot of trudging through scrub oak, apache plume and rocks. Again we bailed out of the gully, probably too soon, and hacked our way across some prickly stuff and up to the base of the climb. Two hours and forty five minutes, but still not bad.

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First pitch. There are some old bolts about 30 feet up

I led the first pitch that turned out to be pretty chossy and cold (holds ice in the winter after precipitation). The bottom of this route stays in the shade for most of the day. The belay, at an small tree, was in the sun though. It starts on some chossy rock, moves into a chimney and then busts out to the left and a tree for a nice belay.

A little chossy 2nd pitch going up the corner

A little chossy 2nd pitch going up the corner

Michael took us on up and into the sun on a large, grassy belay ledge at the top of pitch two. The rock was slowly improving but still a little chossy.

At the second belay ledge

At the second belay ledge

Third pitch had a little bouldery start through an overhanging crack, with an old pin in it. Looked like one could also go straight up on some run out slab as well. The overhang wasn’t bad and protected well. The fourth pitch goes up a right facing corner.

Looking down on the 3rd pitch

Looking down on the 3rd pitch

Michael leading the 4th pitch corner

Michael leading the 4th pitch corner

The fifth pitch traversed out a slab and turned a corner with a tricky step over move and some great exposure. There are some old bolts at this belay. Fortunately, a good gear anchor can be built above them.

Exposure from the 5th pitch belay

Exposure from the 5th pitch belay

Old anchor bolts at fifth belay. Fortunately a good anchor can be built above them.

Organ Mountain artifacts

The sixth pitch is the “money pitch” and where the 5.9 rating comes from. It is a serious of small, clean roofs with a reachy move to a blind hold at the top. All this with great exposure.

Roofs of the 6th and last pitch. So clean!

Roofs of the 6th and last pitch. So clean!

The summit is hardly a summit from any other perspective except the one of the route. The Gertch summit is just below the northern most low horn and can actually be easily scrambled from the Big Windy Canyon saddle. At least it makes for an easy descent. Climbing doesn’t always mean taking the easiest route up!

What I’ve Lost

*Note: This post has been festering for a while. My mood has changed (for the better) since I started writing butI feel like I should go ahead and put this up as a reminder of those tough times.

From Nov-Dec. 2013

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Naturally, Autumn is a time of harvest, death, decay, hibernation and hopefully reflection. Maybe this explains my time of loss or perhaps it’s the astrological event of Mercury being in retrograde. I don’t completely understand this but several friends have mentioned it and supposedly, one should not make any big decisions or expect clarity. This is a time of large-scale change and uncertainty. Sounds about right.

No one close to me has died, fortunately, but since the end of October I’ve experienced loss in several ways. Here’s the short list:

  1. Job-seasonal work ended with the onset of cold weather and fatigue.
  2. Ability to run or climb due to IT band issues and tendonitis in my big toe
  3. Partial vision loss and a week of extreme migraines due to spontaneous onset of uveitis
  4. 12 hours of expelling everything from my body due to food poisoning while #3 was happening
  5. Steady home, albeit the truck has been my home through the field season but now is no longer feels like a justifiable (to myself) way to live and a steady parking spot for the camper has not been established
  6. Direction and purpose in life, due to all of the above

*I know these are mostly first world problems but still…

Through the loss, I’ve realized that I do not do well with injury or idle hands. No moss on this rolling stone or friends of the devil! I hadn’t realized how much I was wrapped up in physical activity until it came to an abrupt, forced halt. Thinking back on the summer, I can’t believe that I was able to hold the body together as long as I did. Starting in May, coming off an injury:

-I ran a mountain 50k (Jemez)

-Worked 10-14 hours a day in the desert while hiking 5-20 miles a day and living out of my truck, 10 days at a time, for 5 months

-Tried to continue training for races, while working, thus running 30-70 miles a week on top of work hikes (20-40+ miles per week)

-Ran another mountain 50k (Mt. Taylor) in September and went hard and bonked hard, thus causing extreme fatigue

-Continued working until the end of October

So, it seems like my body held out until the last days and then everything crashed at once, causing deep confusion and despair. I felt like I’d become the target of some cruel lesson arranged by “the Universe.”

Usually, these forced breaks are welcomed with a focus on other hobbies or physical activities but the current combination of losses seemed to strip everything away. And I couldn’t seem to gleam any type of lesson or find some deeper meaning from pain and loss. My optimism started to be tested to it’s limits and as the days went by with only being able to lay in my camper, parked in my friends driveway, eyes closed due to light sensitivity and migraines and body hurting from fatigue and injuries, I started to believe that there is no lesson to be harvested from this, only that sometimes life is shit and you just have to deal.

There are some certainties though: time is going to pass, there is nothing to stop it and this will bring about change of some kind.

After two months of little physical activity, things have started to improve. Vision is better and I can run a little bit but that whole purpose and meaning is still a lost idea, maybe it was never really there anyway. Actually, after reading this now (I started writing this a few weeks ago) I can see I’m doing much better. I was in a pretty nasty spot back then.

When one is near the bottom and about to explode, perhaps the only way to go is deeper and let it all blow up. I don’t think I completely hit bottom or really blew up, more like a slow trickle in different directions, but I’m starting to gain steam. Most of the illnesses have resolved, at least I’m just dealing with injuries that I think I can manage. As the new year is upon us, I have quite a few new ideas for projects and adventures. These may not involve as much travel or running but the possibilities are exciting.

2014 thinking: lots more climbing, especially adventure mountain climbing (barely did any climbing in 2013), bikepacking (almost have my bike built up), backpacking (several trips in mind), writing and recording more music, building stuff including a physical base/home, motorcycle touring and growing in all ways.

Perhaps there will be a late season harvest after all.

As my great uncle Sheal (and Taoist philosophy) use to say, “keep moving forward.”

Red Cloud and Sunshine at 14,000 feet

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Mountain towns always seem to foster interesting people and meetings of interesting people. Durango, CO is one of those towns.

After a run in Lightner Canyon, I was having breakfast at a local diner in Durango. I was sitting at the counter when another bearded, disheveled fellow sat on the stool next to me. His disheveledniss set him apart slightly from the normal local, clad in outdoor wear and scruffy hair. His name was Ryan or Dirtmonger on the trails. Turns out he’d just finished hiking the Colorado Trail, in fifteen days! Before that he’d down a loop he’d named the Vagabond loop after the long lost Everett Ruess. This is a linkup of the Arizona trail, Hey Duke Trail, Grand Enchantment Trail and some other connectors to make a spectacular southwestern loop thru hike. I had just been thinking of this route a few days earlier.

I had nothing going on and was eager to chat about hiking adventures, so I gave Ryan a ride up to Silverton. He was staying in Lake City for a while and was ticking off the fourteen thousand foot peaks in the San Juans. We made tentative plans to meet up in a few days and run the peaks in the Handies Group (Handies, Red Cloud and Sunshine).

A couple days after I ran Wham Ridge, I got a message from Ryan to run the peaks. I drove over from Silverton on the Alpine Loop road. Although this is a fairly commonly traveled road, it is a little hairy in spots and definitely requires high clearance and 4×4. I started going over in the dark but quickly decided to sleep below the first rough section. The road is much better to drive in the day light.

After a longer and rougher than expected drive, I got to the trailhead just in time to catch Ryan before he took off. The trailhead was packed with cars, thus the trail was packed with people. We filled up our bottles and took off up the trail hiking and running when we could. Most of the trail is runnable but it is a pretty steady, long climb. The hike/run combination felt good. After passing a lot of people with heavy packs, I was really enjoying our light and fast approach. We just had one handheld bottle, a jacket and a little bit of fuel. Ryan was hiking fast up the climbs (over 3000 miles of practice over the summer!) but I was able to catch up on the descents and runnable sections.

I stopped on top of Red Cloud for a picture and Ryan was already way down the trail to Sunshine. In the mean time, a hiker on the summit realized that there were four red heads on top of Red Cloud this morning. I posed with them for a picture. Pretty rare occurrence I imagine. The trail over to Sunshine was runnable but really rocky. Ryan and I hung out on Sunshine to eat and enjoy the views before descending another long, rocky scree field. It was steep and slow at first but cut out some miles and back tracking. We had to help a dog down the steepest section. It did not want to down climb, so Ryan handed it down to it’s owner. At the base of the scree was a spring where we filled up our bottles again with fresh, cold mountain water. From here back the trailhead was good, fast, runnable single track and we got back pretty quick.

More storm clouds were moving in when we reached the bottom and we decided we didn’t really need to do Handies Peak today. The loop we did was about 10 miles with good elevation gain, view and two 14,000 ft summits. We rolled on down to Lake City and re-fueled with a big pizza at the local pizza joint. A good ending to a fun outing with a new friend. Thanks mountains, you amaze me once again.

Check out Ryan’s site here: http://freedirtmonger.blogspot.com/

Wham Ridge!

Panoramic from top

Panoramic from top

This route had been on my to do list all summer. I’d seen the sweeping ramp in a book and several friends had mentioned it. I’d read mixed reports about the difficulty of the route. Some said 5.6 with an X rating and some no harder than 4th class and can be done in running shoes. From all I’d gathered I wanted to do it in a day (running, hiking and climbing) and I thought it might be my most ambitious solo outing yet.

During another break from work, I found myself in Silverton with a good weather forecast and encouragement from Jason who’d just done the route. I was hoping a partner from Durango would join but no word from him.  I was a little intimidated by the route from the mixed reports and I knew it would be a big outing in the mountains to go solo. I figured this was my chance so I should just go for it and see how what happens.

I was well rested the day before and found a campsite at upper Molas Lake campground, a short drive to the trail head. However, in the morning I was confused as to where to start so I just started at Molas Pass on the Colorado Trail. This added full value points and a couple miles and a few hundred feet of climbing that I didn’t really need at the end of the day. Oh well, at least I got full value!

I had a modified big run breakfast of plain oatmeal and fruit and green tea instead of coffee. I’d been having problems with heart-burn in the mornings of long runs and I believe it is due to coffee. Everything was sitting well and I took off from the truck around 7 AM. One bombs down the Colorado trail, past groves of the poisonous red and white spotted amarita mushrooms, dew covered plants and a couple of hikers just getting going. I signed into the trail log and hoped I’d be signing out later that afternoon. And away I bombed down to the Animas river and Durango-Silverton narrow gauge railroad line. This was a pretty good warm up but I was dreading the climb out later.

Vestal Peak from the Colorado Trail

Vestal Peak from the Colorado Trail

I didn’t know exactly where I was going but all my information was pretty straightforward and said stay on the Colorado Trail until Vestal Creek and then slog up to the peak. This seemed easy but I didn’t know exactly where the peak was much less the climbers trail. I spent a bit of time stopping and checking the map, looking for the peak and taking pictures. The peak is not visible for a long ways until just before the turn up the creek. But when Vestal Peak does come into view, it is obvious why it is one of Colorado’s classic scrambles. Wow! So striking from the Elk Creek Trail/CT. I get to a landmark I later read about, the beaver pond and figured I have to head over to the Vestal drainage from here. As I walked around a boulder by the pond, I startled upon some folks fishing. He didn’t know if the drainage went up to Vestal but said there was a trail and that he didn’t believe there were any fish in the pond! I figured it must be the trail so off I went, only about 2 hours in and a little over half way and a rough slog up the climbers trail awaited.

At least the trail was discernable, quite well worn actually. However, it did not allow for much running, just little spurts here and there until opening up into a meadow. The descent trail comes out in this meadow and this is where I prematurely crossed Vestal creek. Ideally one hikes all the way up to the lake but I crossed over thinking I’d find a trail and ended up bushwacking through dripping wet Manzanita bushes along bear trails until reaching the grassy rock slabs. From here I picked up a more use route and easily hike over to the far right side of the ridge.

I had packed climbing shoes but the ridge looked manageable in running shoes. I figured I’d just climb these shoes until sticky rubber edges of climbing shoes felt necessary. Up I went, navigating on the far right side of the face and ridge. The going wasn’t too technical but I could tell I hadn’t done any climbing like this in a while. The legs felt tired from the run and out of climbing shape. The scramble was fun enough to forget about fatigue though. I only encountered a few technical sections with some exposed crack jamming on the face and a bouldery layback corner that I decided to climb. The corner was the hardest part and probably could’ve been avoided by going back on the face but I had committed to the layback. It looked less exposed and straightforward until I got up the corner a ways. The foot holds kind of ran out near the top and my chosen route felt a little sketchier than upon first examination. After reversing my moves once and blocking out the unfortunate outcome of a fall, I knew I just had to make one move and then I could pull myself up.

I was past the hardest part now and I just had to route find up the easiest path. I started seeing some cairns and worn paths on the ledges at this point as the route trended back out right and went all over the place up loose but easy scrambling. I first hit a false summit that provided a nice view of the route I’d just climbed and again it looked improbable but amazing. The climb had gone much faster than expected but I was glad to take a long summit break.

The actual summit is across a saddle with more loose rock which is a sign of the descent. As most other reports mentioned, the descent o the south side is a maze of sketchy scree. This route required as much or more attention than the ridge scramble up. I reached the saddle between Arrowhead and Vestal and the descent continued down in the “endless” scree field. The route got steep, looser and larger rocks. Half way down, thunder boomed up canyon and I felt a few drops of rain. I looked up canyon in a slight bit of stress and exclaimed; “alright, alright, just let me get down to the trail so I can run before you start storming on me.” Nature headed to my call and scrambled down quickly, filling up my bottles with some fresh mountain stream water and hit the trail running.

Endless scree field

Endless scree field

I felt better than expected and ran most of the way back, even clocking in a negative split. I passed an older couple near the railroad trail split. The lady, who was only carrying a small backpack, exclaimed; “what are you doing in the middle of nowhere with no pack!” I did have a small pack and I just said I was heading back to the truck. The man, who was carrying a very large, near 60 lb pack with climbing helmet, etc. said nothing. I thought to myself, why are you out here carrying so much!

The climb back up the switchbacks was not as bad as I thought it’d be and ran a good bit of it. I thought I was near the truck when I passed the trail roster near Molas Lake, where I should’ve parked, but I still had a mile or two to go. I was not so proud of the full value at this point. Thinking I was close, I didn’t eat anything else. This caused me to bong harder than I can remember. I walked in the last bit and had to stop and eat a granola bar to alleviate the headache and dizziness. Yeah, the blood sugar was way low. The snack was a big helped and I walked on back to the car, still in good time. 9 hrs total and 8 hrs running time. This was about what I was shooting for.

I hadn’t felt this wrecked in quite a while but felt good to know I’d pushed myself to the limit, physically and mentally. Wham Ridge was easier than I anticipated but the whole outing was much more challenging than I thought. Looking forward to more mountain run/scrambles. The San Juans will have to wait until next summer but I have my eyes set on the Organ Mountains for the winter.

Cactus to Aspen

The Southwest is great in the fact that one can change climate and environment just by a change in elevation. Too hot in the desert, head up to the mountains. Cold in the winter, back down to the desert. This time of year brings monsoonal rains and the vegetation is thriving for a change. Morning runs usually entail dripping wet plants brushing against the legs and soaking shoes and shorts only to be quickly dried off from the dry heat of the day.    Wildflowers are blooming, mycelium are pushing up mushrooms and getting caught in an afternoon storm is always a possibility.

The Sandia Crest trail is one of the best running routes I’ve done. It is such a perfect, natural line along the Sandia Mountains from Tijeras to Placitas, just outside of Albuquerque. Although distracting, the tram and restaurant half way through the run provide a good spot fill up on water, catch a good view and even grad a meal and beer if you wanted. I was glad Eugene could come up from Las Cruces and make this run again. He’d done it at the organized run in October with a horrible case of muscle cramps and wanted redemption.  We got a very late start at noon but the day was surprisingly cool and we’d gain elevation and tree cover quickly to help mitigate the heat. The climb out of Tijeras is long, 14 miles, but all very runnable and the trail gets better as one climbs into a meadow bordered by aspens. One then runs through scrub oak and on high into the ponderosas and up to the tram water/bathroom spot. The break at the top was needed as I was having a headache and my stomach wasn’t too happy. Re-hydration and food seemed to hit the spot. We opted out of the restaurant stop as storm clouds were building around us.

The stomach issues switched on the second half and the super buttery pastry Eugene ate for lunch wasn’t sitting well on the second half but he motored through and fortunately no cramps. The second half is a quad busting 13 mile down hill! The first part is soft forest trail that is at a runnable grade and then the rocky trail starts. I don’t know how many times we tripped on rocks, only to yell at ourselves for still not being able to pick up our feet. All in good fun but the trail made finding a rhythm difficult. With site of the truck, we picked through the rocks and caught a second wind for the last two miles to run in strong just in time to for a big thunderstorm with lightning and heavy rain. 27 miles. 5:30 moving time and 6:30 total time out with stops.

When we arrived, I saw a police vehicle parked in the lot. I thought he was investigating my truck but turns out he was stranded with a flat tire. I had my reservation flat tire kit so I plugged and aired up his tire as the rain fell and lightning cracked nearby. Hard to believe that he wouldn’t have a proper tire kit patrolling out on gravel roads. We shuttled back to Tijeras in the dark and enjoyed great pizza and beer at IL Vicino’s in Nob Hill, highly recommended.

In the same week, I got in another great long run. I knew another long run would be pushing the mileage volume up way past where I’d been and my knee was acting a little funny. However, Gregory was up near Durango at Vallecito Lake and was planning to do the Emerald Lake run that we’d been talking about all summer. So, I had to hope for the best and join him.

We started from his family ranch of Vallecito Lake. This place is beyond amazing. Hard to believe someone could live on such a piece of land. His grandparents had bought this place back in the 1950′s when I’m sure mountain vacation living in Colorado wasn’t nearly as popular or expensive as it is today. I was grateful that Gregory invited me into the ranch, where we started our run in the morning out the door.

After a couple miles of running on a gravel road we hit the Weiminuche Wilderness boundary, yeah the ranch is that close. From here on out it was single track up through the woods until we hit Emerald Lake, one of the largest natural lakes in Colorado. All the vegetation as still moist and mushrooms were popping up everywhere. I kept scanning the trail sides for any appealing varieties. Mushroom hunting is another odd hobby I’m trying to pick up and monsoon season is prime hunting time. This kept my mind off of any physical discomfort I might be experiencing but despite the high mileage week and Greg’s fast pace, I didn’t feel any discomfort. I didn’t find any tasty shrooms, mostly Slippery Jacks, which are edible but considered pretty horrible.

Emerald Lake is spectacular and fish were jumping all over. A dip was tempting but the elevation kept the temperature too cool for a swim. After a water fill up at the upper end, we bombed back down, navigating over roots and rocks and splashing through mud and streams. We passed a few hikers, spooked dogs and a couple on horseback. The land of many uses! As we snuck out of the wilderness onto the private road, a neighbor drove by. We quickly took his offer of a ride down to the ranch house to have a recovery ritual, chocolate milk and jumping off the bridge into the cold Pine River. Nothing like a cold soak to relieve the aching muscles. Thanks for a great run Greg. 23 miles in about 3.5 hours.

All in all a great week of running. 65 miles, I think my highest mileage week ever and the body felt good.