Thursday, June 26, 2008

Eat, Ride, Eat, Sleep. Repeat.

After kicking off our vacation with two days of riding in the rocky, dry desert of Grand Junction, we headed north to higher altitudes for a complete 180 in scenery and terrain!

We arrived in Park City late Sunday night and managed to find a fantastic hotel (The Yarrow) and food at 9:30 pm at the only restaurant still open on Main Street. Mountain towns do not stay up late, as we should well know! We slept in on Monday (we were on vacation!) and headed to Main Street for some breakfast. There we ran into some Boulder IMBA folks we know, including Jenn Dice, who had been in Park City for the IMBA Summit that weekend. Oops - I guess we could have synched our vacation to coincide with that. Nah,... I wouldn't trade our Grand Junction start with our fabulous friends for anything.

IMBA Jenn confirmed our ideas about riding the Mid Mountain trail via the Spiro trail. When we told her we were planing to ride our Single Speeds, at first she suggested we shuttle up to avoid the climb on Spiro. Then, when we told her we were planning to do the Firecracker 50 on our SS bikes, she said that Spiro to Mid Mountain on the SS bikes would be "good training." Training?!?!? And Bacon!

We hopped on our bikes from the trailhead (aka our hotel) and rode off in search of Spiro. Once we found it, we were treated to green, lush vegetation, unlike what we had seen in Grand Junction and even what we are used to in Boulder. Holy Moly - aspens, ferns, and flowers everywhere. All kinds of flowers. It felt like riding through someone's garden; it gave me a lot of inspiration for my Xeriscape gardening plans at home! The climb up Spiro was over before I realized it (not so bad on the Single Speeds) and we dumped onto the Mid Mountain trail, where the amazing flowers continued. The Mid Mountain trail is clearly the gem in Park City's trail system. We simply loved this trail, which wound through aspen groves, pine forests and meadows mostly along a ridgeline at about 8,000 feet. It was super fun and spectacular in the views.

Jesper climbing Spiro through the stately aspens

At one point, the sky darkened and we started to get wet. In my head I sang,

"Rain, rain go away, come again some other day. Jen and Jesper want to play."

OK - maybe I sang it out loud, but it worked and the rain disappeared. We finished the ride under blue skies on Rob's trail. I'm not sure who Rob is or was, but we like him! This downhill through the aspens was a blast. After Rob's, we caught the paved bike path back to town.

We had a nice meal and hot tubbed it, getting to bed way too late after hanging out in the hotel bar, which had wireless, and catching up on emails.

Eat, Ride, Eat, Sleep. Repeat.

We slept in a bit on Tuesday (again) and grabbed breakfast before heading back to the trailhead/hotel. I did some maintenance on the Titus (replaced the too short cable housing on my rear derailleur cable) while Jesper researched the maze of trails up by John's trail, the Steps and Sweeney's Switchbacks. Armed with a pretty good idea of where to go, we headed off through town and up to the trails that would wind around the ski resort. We ascended up through dense and stately aspen groves. I just love riding through the tall, spartan white trunks of an aspen grove.

With numerous consultations of the map and our GPS tracks, we made our way to over 9,000 feet and tried to head up the Apex trail. It was shortly clear that we were the first mountain bikers to attempt this trail since the winter, as we encountered more and more, and larger and larger snow drifts. We finally decided to turn around and save the high altitude riding for another visit to Park City. We came down and hit the aptly named "4:20" trail at 4:19 pm! Pretty darn close! No we did not light up!

We enjoyed this ride (heck - we were on vacation and riding our bikes), however it would have been more fun with someone to guide us without all the map checking. It took away from the flow. Nevertheless, the ride was beautiful, with more of those spectacular flowers and aspen groves and our altitude provided stellar views.

Jesper trying to determine which of the several unmarked trail options to take

After riding, we stopped at Cold Stone for some ice cream on the way back to our hotel and then ate a yummy meal in the quaint downtown of Park City before heading back to our hotel for another good night's sleep.

Jesper contemplating his mint chocolate chip ice cream

Eat, Ride, Eat, Sleep. Repeat.

On Wednesday we packed up, had breakfast and checked out of the Yarrow. We drove a short way north to our trailhead for the yummy singletrack in the Flying Dog area. A nice bike shop guy (Juan from Jan's Bike shop) gave us some trail suggestions to make a decent-sized loop (Glenwild to Cobblestone, to Flying Dog to 24-7 to Stealth). The flowers were yet again amazing.

I have these flowers (blue flax) already in one of my gardens!

Once again, we Single Speeded these buff and swoopy trails.

Jesper catching some air on his rigid SS among the flowers

We ended up climbing more than we thought we would, racking up another 2,000 feet of climbing (OK - 1,945 feet, but who's counting?!?!). Following our ride, we pointed the Durango east and headed for Steamboat Springs.

Neither of us had ever been to Steamboat Springs before, so we were excited to try out a completely new place. As we drove through town Wednesday evening, we saw one "No Vacancy" sign after another. Then we stopped in a hotel and they said they were booked completely and every other hotel they knew of was booked too, except for the Comfort Inn, which might have ONE room left. We reserved this room on the phone immediately! We ate al fresco at a funky Italian place called Mambo Italiano; it was excellent except for the mosquitoes.

Eat, Ride, Eat, Sleep. Repeat.

Thursday morning, we enjoyed the free breakfast provided by our hotel and headed up into the National Forest to sample the Hot Springs trail, the Mad Creek trail and the Red Dirt trail, with a bonus of an out-and-back on the Lower Bear trail. We rode our Single Speeds again. Somewhere out on the Red Dirt trail (I think) a group of five or so riders passed us huffing and puffing on the uphill. Far from any trailhead and accessible only by a lot of trail miles, this group was a bunch of old guys in their 60's or beyond. They all had super spiffy bikes (Moots and such) and it was clear they took their sport seriously. Based on where they came from, they had ridden up a gnarly rocky uphill that Jesper and I were glad to go down (not up). I was impressed! We finished up the ride with a steep climb up the Lower Bear trail. We did not go all the way on this trail, but did enjoy the views from way up there before heading back down to the car.

Jesper coming down the Red Dirt Trail

A two minute drive away and $20 bucks later and we were soaking in the natural hot springs. Not a bad way to end a ride! We wrangled up a steak dinner in town and then hit the hot tub in our hotel room. Feeling like noodles, we zonked out completely.

Eat, Ride, Eat, Sleep. Repeat.

Friday morning, I awoke to a start just a fraction of a second after Jesper did at 9:00 am. Shoot - we missed the free breakfast! I think we were tired. We checked out and found a breakfast joint to fuel up at, then we headed downtown to begin our ride up Emerald Mountain. Despite the fact that Steamboat Springs is a summertime mountain biking destination, no one has found the ambition to map the maze of trails on Emerald Mountain. It would be simple with a GPS. If we had more time, we would have done so and would now be selling the maps for $10.00 a pop. Someone is missing a good business opportunity.

We rode the geared bikes again, which we were thankful for when the gravel road we took up to the top of the mountain got stupid steep. It would have been zero fun on the Single Speeds (although it probably would have been good "training"). From the top, we hit single track trail after single track trail that jutted off the gravel road. In retrospect, I would skip the gravel road the next time and just take the numerous linked trails up the mountain.

More flowers on the maze of Emerald Mountain trails

We refueled after the ride at a little Mexican place and began making our way back to Boulder. After seven days straight of riding, we were OK to be heading home to get our doggers from the Kennel and to be in our own bed.

Back home now, as I reflect back on the vacation, many things come to mind:
  • It pleases me that we rode every day, even the ones when we drove from one mountain town to another.
  • We only got sunburned the first day in Grand Junction. After that, we were really good about the sunscreen. I got this crazy tan line from wearing full fingered mountain bike gloves every day. My hands are white from the wrist down and my arms are bronze.
  • No major mechanicals; just a cable repair and brake pad replacement. In all seven days, we had only one flat. Pretty amazing. We also didn't get injured at all, and really had no significant wipe outs. True, in Grand Junction we were riding a bit cautiously so as not to ruin the upcoming week of planned riding, but if you've seen the scars on my legs, you'll agree the caution was prudent!
  • We rode 114.6 miles and climbed 17,251 feet in total over our vacation. We laughed about it because we have ridden and climbed almost that much in a one day race, as compared to our weeklong vacation. That being said, our vacation was not about riding as hard as we can (that's what racing's for). Our vacation was about spending time together as a couple doing one of the things we love best (riding our mountain bikes), enjoying the scenery, eating good food, sleeping in together and relaxing away from work.
Eat, Ride, Eat, Sleep. Repeat. Mission accomplished!

Saturday stats (Grand Junction)
13.1 miles

2,340 feet of climbing

Geared bikes

Me looking supremely buff and tan, not to mention super

Sunday stats (Grand Junction)

16.1 miles

2,315 feet of climbing

Geared bikes

Jesper negotiating a tricky section (and also looking buff)

Monday stats (Park City)

25.0 miles

2,941 feet of climbing

Single Speeds

Jesper climbing up Spiro in the aspens

Tuesday stats (Park City)

16.1 miles

2,758 feet of climbing

Geared Bikes (With that much climbing, we were glad we had ridden the gear bikes!)

Jesper coming out of an aspen grove into the sunlight

Wednesday Stats (Park City)
16.6 miles

1,945 feet of climbing

Single Speeds

Awesome views of the Wasatch Ridge, which was too snowed in for us to ride this time (we'll be back)

Thursday stats (Steamboat)

16.0 miles

2,575 feet of climbing

Single Speeds (good "training" for the Firecracker 50!)

Jesper high above the raging Mad Creek

Friday Stats (Steamboat)

11.7 miles

2,377 feet of climbing

Geared Bikes

Jesper riding single track through a meadow and past some prayer flags in an aspen grove

Totals - 114.6 miles of riding and 17,251 feet of climbing.

See more pics and a write up on Jesper's web site.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bling Bling

Who'd have thunk? It took us a day or so to realize an odd phenomenon in Park City, our second Mountain Biking Vacation destination. As we walked around the quaint town, we noticed big SUVs and trucks with ridiculous Bling Bling rims - shiny and chromy and totally unpractical. Not just silly Hummers. This style occurred even on 4x4 trucks and Jeeps! I only took a few pictures but there were dozens of SUVs and trucks like this. What's up with that?!?!

Look at that chrome shine!

Even trucks are not spared this ridiculous style!

Tough to see but this poor Jeep has Bling Bling wheels!

I promise a biking post from our three days of riding in Park City when I have more time.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vacation Vacation - Days 1 through 2 (Grand Junction)

Ahhhhh... On vacation. It's nice. Last year Jesper and I went to Europe; Austria, Germany, the Riviera, and (of course) Denmark. Somewhat highbrow. This year, we decided to explore the many mountain bike meccas in the southwest. Oddly enough, Jesper and I have never done a mountain bike vacation. So far, that is.

We started our vacation with a group of wonderful and talented mountain biking friends in Grand Junction, Colorado. Yes, it is a tad hot this time of the year in Grand Junction. But the riding is super fun and Grand Junction is on the way to our second destination, Park City.

We were joined in GJ by Cynthia, Kim and Dan, Tracy (girlfriend - you need a blog!), Chuck (a young colleague of Dan's) and Joe (a friend of Chuck's). Cynthia, Kim and Tracy are some of the best female mountain bikers you'll meet. Dan is an awesome rider. Jesper is a super rider and is getting even better on his new FS 29-er every time he rides. Chuck.... nice guy, but he really needs to climb more. Joe is a newbie and did great, acknowledging all the while that he got schooled over the two days of hard riding. He was so cute, saying to Jesper, "I never new mountain biking could be like this!!!"

So, we met up in Boulder on Saturday morning at Cynthia's house at 6:00 am and convoyed out to GJ, stopping in Keystone to pick up Joe. We arrived at the Tabeguache Trailhead right at about the hottest time of the day. Hmmm.... wonder why there's no one else at the Trailhead. Maybe 'cause it's 105 degrees and there's no shade. We rode the Ribbon (no shuttle) and had the trail completely to ourselves.

Cynthia had been out to visit her dermatologist sister to have laser face treatment (for free, that lucky gurl!). So she could not get exposed to the sun. Kinda hard to do in GJ, which is essentially wide open desert. Instead of staying home and crying about missing a great ride, Cynthia wore this cotton burka over her face and slathered on the thickest, goopiest sunscreen. Only Cynthia!!

Cynthia in her burka

She got away with it 'cause she a great rider and she was totally ON that day, cleaning some really techy lines. I wasn't too ON at first, but I cleaned a techy, 2 foot step-up after a few tries. It was much higher than I though I could get manage, so I was super stoked after that. Kim cleaned almost everything and Tracy tried everything, cleaning much of it. It's so cool to ride with such good female mountain bikers.

We rode beautiful, rocky trails. We climbed 2300 feet. We ran out of water (well Jesper and I had enough water until the last mile). We had a blast!

After the ride, Jesper and I headed off to find a hotel and the others supposedly headed off to their campsite. Change of plans - they decided it was too hot and would be easier to get a room for all 6 of them, so they came over to America's Best Value Inn with us. Different room. We all grabbed some yummy beer and way too spicy food at the Rockside Brewery in GJ.

Jesper, Me, Cynthia, Tracy, Kim, Dan, Joe and Chuck

The next day, after breakfast, we headed back to the Tab Trailhead. It was cooler in the morning, so there were some other cars in the lot. We started out day with the Holy Cross Trail. This was fantastic, with some very technical drops and such. I really liked this trail!!! You need to check out Kim's blog post to see her series of photos of me cleaning a really technical section blind, with Kim calling out where I needed to go. To say I was psyched to clean this line is a huge understatement!

Tracy coming up a techy section

We followed up Holy Cross with the Gunny Loop, which I have ridden before. That's another fantastic trail! All in all, another 2300 of climbing for Day 2, although all of this on trail. And, another hot one. After the ride, we hung at the trailhead for a bit, had a beer and laughed bragged about the stuff we rode and tried to ride. Then Jesper and I took off for the second stage of our vacation - Park City. Stay tuned for my next blog installment.

Also, Jesper has posted some pictures and will be posting more.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Durango 12 Hour Adventure XStream Race

This was the race that almost didn't happen ten times over. First, we said we'd do it. Then we decided not to do it because it was an awful long way to drive to race for less than 12 hours. But then we thought maybe we should do it, because many of the other top teams would not be racing in Durango because Primal Quest was the next weekend. We would stand a good chance of gaining valuable series points. So, Lee and I said we were IN, and then David and then Oat said they'd race. Then, the week of the race, Lee and Oat got some kinda cold bug and we were on standby with decisions to be made Thursday, the day before we would have to leave for the race. Lee got better and Oat felt like he was well enough to race, so then on Wednesday we were on again. Then David twisted his ankle Thursday evening and we were on standby again until Friday morning.

Friday morning at 4:58 am, I got a text message from David that we were ON! His ankle was not good, but he felt he could tough out a short race on it. I was already loaded up and ready to go, so I hopped in Rubie the Subie and headed toward Denver to met the guys. I made a slight detour to pick up a paying passenger (Todd) we found on Craig's List who needed a ride to Durango. He was riding Ride the Rockies, which started this year in Durango. Hey - we needed the gas money! Lee had caught a ride down the previous day with Tina from another team. I told him to infect her with whatever cold bug might still be lurking in him.

Friday morning, I arrived at Oat's house to find that Oat was not remotely ready. He hadn't seen the text message about David being able to race, so he assumed we weren't racing. I think David woke him up when he knocked on Oat's door at 6:00 am. Oat wasn't even packed!!! I could have slept in!! David, Todd and I hung out chatting and drinking coffee with Oat's wife Annie while Oat ran around gathering up all his gear. At about 8:30 am, we finally headed out in a very crammed Dodge Ram Truck. Whoo Hoo - we were actually going to race this race!

The drive was filled with dead baby jokes. Somehow, we got all silly on that topic. Let's Git Some dead babies! It was funny at the time and the silliness continued through the race. I'm not sure which was funnier; the jokes themselves or how funny Oat and David kept thinking the jokes were.

We got to Durango around 2:30, dropped of Todd (who must have been just a tad concerned about our desire to find dead babies at each checkpoint and eat them) and shopped for dinner; spaghetti with buffalo sauce and bread. No more overly cheesy pizza like before the Buena Vista race. We had learned our lesson! Then we headed over to the house we were staying at - owned by a college buddy of Oat's who was working his 48 hour fire fighting shift. Three Ride the Rockies guys Oat knows were also staying at the house, so it was packed tight. I was just thankful to have a place to stay and a garage to organize our gear in.

Friday evening, we headed up to the Durango Mountain Ski Resort (formerly Purgatory), where racer registration and the start of the race were, and met up with Lee, who pre-rode what we assumed would be the mountain bike course with Tina's team. At registration, we got the maps and CP coordinates for all the CPs except those for the first leg, a running/trekking section. We would get those CPs when the race started on Saturday morning. I was happy that the race would be running/trekking - biking - paddling, in that order. With David's bum ankle, getting the run over with early made sense, since that discipline should be the most difficult and painful for him, and theoretically the bike and the paddle shouldn't have bothered the ankle as much. I like ending on the paddle, since I get so freakin' cold after the kayaking. I don't think straight when I'm really cold.

We registered and Lee began plotting the CPs for the bike and the paddle. Then we headed back to the house to eat dinner and organize our gear. It was super nice to get a good night's sleep before the race.

We were one of the first teams to arrive the next morning before 7:00 am at Purgatory to drop off our gear boxes. It was a beautiful sunny morning and, although still in the 40s, promised to be a warm day. We started out in riding shorts and short sleeved shirts, a big change from the multiple layers we wore during the Buena Vista race! At 7:30 am, the gun went off and we ran over to grab our CPs for the first leg of the race. CP1 -CP6 would take us up the ski runs and into forested areas above Purgatory. We could get these CPs in any order we wanted. Each skipped CP would cost a 30 minute time penalty and we needed to get at least 4 CPs in order to begin the biking section before 10:30 am. We headed up the ski slopes, moving at a much slower speed than we normally would with four healthy teammates. This lead us to strategically decide to skip CP4, which was over a mile away from any other CP. David simply could not move fast enough on his bum ankle for us to get there and back in less than 30 minutes. Skipping CP4 would cost us less time than the penalty would add.

We had a little trouble finding our first CP, but after that, Lee rocked the nav. We nabbed all 4 of the other CPs, each in less than 30 minutes, and headed back down to mountain to the starting area, where our bikes and gear box were located, in third place. It was fun to see other teams wandering about the forest searching in vain for an elusive CP when we had already found it easily. However, coming into the transition area, we were a bit bummed about having to skip CP4, since the teams already in and arriving just after us had gotten all 6 CPs.

We had a pretty smooth transition and were on the bikes in less than 10 minutes. The bike section started with a LONG gravel road ride up, up, up for a few miles, followed by rolling hills on gravel roads until we got to the next CP at the Hermosa Creek Trailhead. Our goal on the LONG road climb was to not get passed by 4CAR. 4CAR, Tina's team, is fast on the bikes and is one of our main competitors. They finished the run a bit after us, but had nailed all 6 CPs, so we did not want them to pass us on the climb. Lee towed David and Oat towed me up the climb so we could keep a faster speed. We arrived at the top before 4CAR - Yippy. Minor goals are good in adventure racing when you are out on the course for hours on end. However, 4CAR eventually passed us on the gravel road just before the CP. No worries, both teams wandered around for awhile looking for the elusive control flag, so we embarked on the famed Hermosa Creek Trail one team after the other.

I have ridden this trail before, back in 2003 when I came out to Durango to mountain bike for a week with my friends from Arizona. The trail is way more technical than most of the trails you get to ride in adventure races. There wasn't much in the way of navigating involved, just fun rocky trail for more than 20 miles. I was ready to ride hard! Unfortunately, David's ankle was not. The rocky, technical sections pounded his sore leg and he started cramping in his other leg, possibly from favoring it.

At first, Oat was way up ahead, with me trying to hold him back a bit so our team stayed together. Teams are required to be within 100 yards of each other and can be assessed a time penalty for being further apart. We finally decided that I would lead, since I am good at pacing myself and checking back frequently to make sure the team is together. If you like mountain biking, you cannot help but have fun on the Hermosa Creek Trail, but Lee and I both felt like we were out for a casual, fun ride, not a race. Each time I stopped to regroup, I would eat or drink something. I don't think I've ever eaten so much in a race! I was almost too full.

Toward the end of the trail, we came to the Tyrolean Traverse section. We were quite surprised to see 4CAR just finishing up the traverse. We had assumed they were way in front of us, since we felt like we were going super slow due to David's injury. I guess we weren't going that slow after all! Man - if he had only been healthy..... The traverse was not as wide as the one at the Buena Vista race and my team made it across pretty fast, the guys working there telling me I was one of the faster females. That compliment made up for the pinch I got on my arm at the end between the rope and one of my carabiners.

We finished out the trail and dumped onto a long gravel road descent followed by a road ride to the kayak put in. After six hours on the move, we were in third place. Fourth place RMAC behind us had nabbed all six running CPs, so we needed to stay at least 30 minutes ahead of them to secure third. Of course, we'd also be happy to pass 4CAR and Eolus, who had the lead! We didn't have a very fast transition, taking 13 minutes to change gear, eat, reapply sunscreen and get in the boats. Need to work on that.

Oat and David started out in the first boat and Lee and I manned the second kayak. The paddle was 12-15 miles on the Animas River back into town. The first third boasted some Class 1 and II rapids, but after that, the river flattened out and became stagnant. Meanders almost doubled the river back over itself. We encountered stiff headwinds. We moved slow! In addition, our boats began to loose air, (or maybe they were partially flat to begin with) mine especially, so that the middle of the boat sunk in like a V. Not very aerodynamic! Lee could not adjust his seat either, so he paddled in a very uncomfortable position. After about 2 hours of paddling, Lee and Oat quickly switched places and we continued down the lazy river, past cows and ranches. It seemed to take forever for us to pass a large geographic feature on the cliffs to the west. Ugh... is that rock thingy still there?!?!? Normally, such a feature would be inspiring, but at this point in the race, I just wanted the paddle to be done with.

The cool rock feature finally passed from my view and I strained to see the radio tower that would indicate only one mile to go. I was feeling surprisingly good. Part of it was probably due to all the food I ate and fluids I sucked down on the bike leg. But my muscles also felt good. Normally, on a long paddle (i.e., more than an hour for me), I start to get sore in funny places; my neck, my forearms, my shoulders. This is an indication that I am a paddling with poor technique, using my arms and not my back and abs. However, after this race, I feel it in my lats and abs, not in my arms, neck or shoulders. Maybe I'm finally getting the hang of this paddling thing! I was however getting cold, despite the wet suit I was halfway wearing and temps in the mid 80s. It was time to be DONE.

Soon, the radio tower came into view and as we crept up to it, dead baby jokes abounding, the current became rough again. It helped from a mental perspective to finish with some moving water. At the take out, the guys grabbed the flaccid boats and carried them, with some difficulty so as not to drag them, up a little hill. Then we all ran with stiff legs up the bike path to the finish at the Rec Center, running through the arch together at 4:30 pm with an elapsed time of almost exactly nine hours.

With our 30 minute penalty, we crossed our fingers that the next team, Rocky Mountain Adventure Club, would finish after 5:00 pm. They did, finishing at 5:08 pm. However, they had required a replacement boat due to something causing one of their boats to sink. As of noon on Monday, the race promoter has not yet decided what to do about this.

So, we are waiting to find out if we took third place (and thus received a $400 race voucher) or fourth place (no prize). Regardless, we will move up to third place in the overall series standings. We feel we could have paced 2nd or maybe even 1st if David had been healthy.

I'll update this post when I know the final results. Thanks for reading!


Monday, June 9, 2008

Hall Date Night, National Trails Day and Red Feather Lakes

Surprise, surprise... we had another busy weekend playing (and working) outdoors!

On Friday, we met up with four other couples (Kim/Dan, Cynthia/Dave, Tracy/Jason, Chuck/Niina) to do what we hope becomes a regular Friday Night Date Night Ride. We met up at the Bitterbrush side of Hall Ranch, wishful that the previous two days of rain had dried out. It mostly did, but unfortunately the water seemed to stick around all the techy sections, making them even tougher. It seemed to take all of us off our game a bit. I was especially "off". We all still had fun though, as evidenced by Jesper and Kim/Dan's posts.

I had taken most of the day off and done a 63 mile road ride with friends Sue and Betsy. We climbed more than 5,000 feet. Needless to say, the road ride, which was a great ride, cooked me pretty good. I wasn't anticipating feeling super strong for the Hall Ranch ride, but I ended up feeling worse than I expected. At the top of Hall, I started feeling an eensy bit woozey. By the time we got to Oskar's Blues, I was dizzy, nauseous and my skin was crawling. I forced myself to eat and didn't even drink a quarter of my beer! I have never left a beer unfinished at Oskar's Blues. I finally started feeling better when I got home, after the food started working it's way through my system. In retrospect, I simply did not eat enough during and after my long road ride. Lesson learned.....

I felt 100% the next morning as Jesper and I rose early to head out to the Picture Rock Trail for National Trails Day. We worked on a crew with Tracy, Kim and Dan, putting in 400 feet of the new connector trail that will join Heil Ranch with Lyons and Hall ranch. Over 225 people in all showed up for this event and put in an astounding 8,400 feet of new trail! Our section, lead by Kristen (aka Catzilla), had a totally cool rock feature that we put in. It'll be fun going down and a tad tricky going up.

Jesper checking out the handy work on our rock feature

It will be a super fun trail that hopefully will open this summer. Trail building is tiring, so after some fine BBQ from Oskar's Blues, we hit the hay soon after dark in order to be rested for the next day's fun.

On Saturday, we got up early once again, this time headed for parts north. We met at Tracy and Jason's house, hoping to have Cynthia and Kim join us too, but "stuff" kept them from coming. However, we were joined by Cynthia's friends Mark and Tom and Jason's buddy Johnny. Our group of seven piled into two vehicles and we drove up to Red Feather Lakes, which is practically in Wyoming. Jesper and I had been to this area to get a Christmas Tree one year (very far to go for a tree!), but we had not ridden there yet. Jason had planned out a long, five-hour-ish ride for us that would combine jeep road and singletrack. It sounded yummy!

As we approached the trailhead, we could see that the area had received a fresh dousing of snow, probably the night before! Some nasty clouds were looming in the distance. I made a wish for NO PRECIPITATION during our ride. This could get ugly!

We began under sunny skies with crazy snow coming down. How weird is that? It was windy, but we soon were in the shelter of the trees as we ascended a jeep trail that would take us up to a singletrack descent that Jason was practically drooling over. We never made it to the singletrack descent. As we climbed up the jeep trail, we encountered more and increasingly larger snow drifts. We rode up what we could, some of the trail very fun rocky up sections, but were forced off our bikes when we hit the deeper snow drifts. Not that we didn't try to ride through them!

Jesper and Tracy slogging through one of the many snow drifts

We finally reached a point were the snow drifts took over the trail completely and we decided to abandon the ascent and head back down the way we came.

Snowy bikes resting while we decide what to do

Amazingly, everyone was still smiling and happy, even with this turn of events.

Happy group, even after slogging through snow - notice how the trail ahead is completely covered

And why not? The slog up through the snow drifts had us all giggling and giddy. We were out in a beautiful and remote forest. The sun was shining. There were no other people around. We were (mostly) on our bikes.

The descent through the snow drifts and over the rocks was super duper fun! Mark couldn't stop talking about how much he enjoyed it. When we got back down to the car, we wanted to do more riding and Jason had a suggestion for a Plan B option. We could do a little gravel road ride to a downhill on a trail called Seven Mile Creek Trail, followed by a kinda long gravel road ride back up to the cars. It sounded good to everyone except Johnny, who had a massive headache and opted to snooze at the cars.

I have not laughed so hard on a ride in a long time! After the uneventful gravel road, the six of us tucked into the woods. The trail started out as a rocky doubletrack downhill with some nice, banked turns. Fun, fun, Fun! Jason warned us that we would encounter multiple creek crossings and we should expect to get wet. The first creek crossing wasn't too deep, maybe 6 to 8 inches, and we did get a little wet. It didn't seem so bad. We had no idea what was coming! Creek my ass! The next crossing was deeper, up to or over our hubs. It was a river! Then the trail itself joined up with raging meltwater, turning the entire trail into a fast-moving river. This is when the laughing began.

Imagine riding down a rocky, technical downhill with large rocks mostly obscured by fast-moving water. It was almost like riding down Class IV rapids. It took a fair amount of technical skill and momentum to not go OTB, as Jesper found out; no injuries, just one wet boy! As we continued down this raging river, we would periodically encounter additional, and deep, creek crossings. Tracy got the award for tenacity in making it through every creek crossing!

I felt great on this descent. My lack of mojo from Friday night was completely gone and I did some of the best riding I've done in awhile; I was loose, focused and in the flow, allowing me to go fast enough to follow Jason's lines! Gotta love it when it when that happens.

After loading the back up at the cars and getting into warm clothes, all seven tired riders stopped at Coopersmith's in Fort Collins for some beers and grub. It was a great end to a great weekend.

Oh - we will be back to Red Feather Lakes when the snow is gone!

I took mostly video on the Seven Mile Creek Trail, but Jesper took a lot of pictures.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Feeling the Force up South Arapaho Peak

Arapaho Basin. We can see see it from just around the corner of our house, an ever present patch of snow in the distance. The basin, which itself is off-limits for water-protection purposes (I'm trying to stay clear of politics here!), is flanked by North and South Arapaho Peaks. It has been calling us.

"Jesper, Jen, ... Come on up. Climb me."

This weekend, we answered that call, ascending South Arapaho Peak via Skywalker Couloir. I read the description of the route, over 1,500 feet of snow with slopes exceeding 65 degrees, but it didn't really sink in until I saw it.

For once, I'm somewhat at a loss for words to describe this snow climb. It was so beyond what Jesper and I have done on our own (i.e., without a guide) to date. It was so unbelievably steep. It was so completely out of our comfort zones (and those who know me know my comfort zone is pretty wide!). It was such an indescribable sense of accomplishment. I know the words will fail to capture the whole thing, but I'll try.

I'll start from the beginning. We awoke at 3:45 am to drive up to the Fourth of July trailhead. You need to get up that early to be on the snow and off it before it gets too much sun. Sun turns the snow soft and dry, not good for climbing. This may seem odd to my family and friends from back east. In the east, when the sun comes out, snow gets mushy, heavy and wet. Not so out here in the Rockies. The sun and ever-present wind dry out the snow and make it airy and soft; soft and airy snow does not provide a secure purchase for crampons and ice axes. In addition to the snow danger, thunderstorms can develop in the afternoon in the Rockies, so you really want to be in position to be off the mountain by 1:00 pm.

So, we got up in the middle of the night, a night with a gazillion stars. As we drove to the trailhead, the sun began to rise and illuminate a clear, crisp day. Carrying packs loaded with crampons, snowshoes, ice axes and more, we embarked up the trail. It was a cool 37 degrees F but we quickly warmed up as we made our way up the trail. With the trailhead starting above 10,000 feet, we soon encountered snow patches and eventually put our crampons on.

Jesper had prepared GPS waypoints for us to navigate with and our route to the base of the couloir was very efficient. We ended up passing a couple groups who had been in front of us but took a longer route. One of the groups was planning to ski/snowboard down the couloir after the ascent. If you understand how steep this couloir is, you will be impressed with that!

We arrived at a beautiful high alpine meadow located at the base of the couloir, surrounded by majestic mountains. I know the word majestic sounds kinda hokey, but the rugged peaks, a mix of rock and snow that jutted up all around the meadow, were nothing short of majestic. We are continually impressed when we find such remote and extreme wilderness so close to our house. Dam we live in a great place!

View of the high alpine meadow surrounded by majestic mountains as far as the eye can see from about halfway up Skywalker Couloir

As I looked up from the meadow, I wasn't exactly sure what snow field we were going to go up. There was a fairly steep cirque that looked climbable, but it was a cirque, not a couloir.

Cirque and other features with slopes that looked "climbable"; were we going up one of these?

Then there were a bunch of skinny threads of snow that ascended straight up the mountain facing us. Surely we weren't going up one of those?!?!?

However, we kept heading toward one particular column of snow; very skinny, very tall and very steep. It was certainly a couloir, but that couldn't be what we going to climb!

Skinny thread of steep snow; we weren't going up this, were we? (this photo does not portray the steepness)

I said to Jesper, "We're not going up that, are we?"

He replied in the affirmative, somewhat amused. I thought about it for a minute, and then declared, "OK, let's do it!"

We took a little break to eat and get the rest of our gear on before heading up the couloir. While we ate, we were visited by a very friendly marmot who seemed quite accustomed to people. He sat about 7 feet away from us, munching on vegetation, not bothered at all as we talked and moved around. Marmots are really cute!

Friendly Marmot!

We headed up the couloir right behind the guys who were going to ski/snowboard down, with two other guys a little ways behind us. It was nice to be tackling that thing with other people around. Not that they could help us much, but the presence of other people somehow comforted me.

Jesper ascending the lower portion of Skywalker Couloir

The bottom of the couloir started out at 40 to 45 degrees. The snow was good and we were able to make good progress with crampons and one ice axe each. Then the slope began to get steeper and somewhat icy, as the sun had not yet warmed the snow. We grabbed our second axe each and continued, a little more carefully.

Jesper stopping to grab an extra ice axe

I went straight up the middle of the couloir, where footholds from the previous climbers made upward progress easier and more secure. I began to be aware that a fall would be very bad, as I would slide down the snow, gaining speed for several hundred feet until I being stopped by a large rock outcropping or maybe going over a cliff, unless I was able to self arrest with one of my axes. I became even more focused on my foot and axe placement.

Me sticking to the middle of the couloir about halfway up

At the same time, Jesper had veered off toward the left side of the couloir and started to go up a little spit of snow on the other side of a large rock outcropping. It appeared that the snow would continue and he would be able to come back to the right after passing above the large rock outcropping.
Jesper veering off to the left side of the couloir and getting into mixed rock, ice and snow

So, Jesper suggested that I continue up the middle and he would go up the spit of snow and join me when his section reconnected with the main part of the couloir. Unfortunately, his snow section began to peter out and he got onto thin snow and ice over rocks. His progress slowed as he tried to figure out the best way to move upward and back over to me. At this point, I stopped to wait for him. It's not easy to hang out on a 50 degree plus pitch of snow, trust me.

Then I heard a yell and saw Jesper sliding fast on his belly, feet first, toward a cliff. He must have slid 25 feet. Mere feet before he went over the cliff, he managed to get a grip with his crampons and axes on the rocks. I had visions of his body rag-dolling over the rocks and was sickened by the thought. This was the closest call we have both experienced and it scared us pretty good.

Jesper just before his slide - he finally stopped right before going over the rock band

I sat perched halfway up the couloir helpless, while Jesper got his shit together and his adrenaline back down. Jesper decided not to go back up the way he had tried before. He felt his best option was to down-climb a little bit and then traverse over toward the middle, going below and then over the large rock outcropping. It took him quite awhile, since he wanted to make sure he didn't get himself in a pickle again. At one point, he disappeared below the rocks for a few minutes. I strained my ears to hear above the wind. Was that the clink of an ice ax? Good, he's still there making progress. It's been quiet too long. Did he fall without me hearing him above the wind? I was so relieved when I saw his helmet finally pop into view over the rocks!

Once back on the good snow in the center of the couloir, Jesper and I made speedy progress up toward the last several hundred feet; the steepest part of the climb. Jesper got ahead of me again and we methodically kicked in our feet and placed our axes in the quickly softening snow. Somewhere around the last hundred feet or so, the snow got really bad; super soft and airy, almost like fake snow or granulated sugar. It was so unsubstantial. The pitch was so steep. Not good.

We knew we had to get off this snow soon. We opted to go toward the left, which we have since learned is an "easier" route than the very center (the Princess Leia Route). From my view below both routes, our route didn't look any less steep than Princess Leia, but it did look shorter.

The snow was horrible for climbing. You had to lean in continuously because the ice axes were not really holding onto anything. Each boot kick had the potential for sinking down to were you started unless you kicked in a bomber boot hold. There was no other way but up and no way anyone else could really help either of us. I'm not sure I have ever been so focused on a task before. Oddly, although I was keenly aware that what I was doing was super dangerous and I would probably die if I fell, I was not nervous, scared or freaking out. I stayed calm and very controlled in my movements. I cannot describe my sense of relief upon finally reaching the top of the couloir!

Understandably, there are no pictures of the last sketchy section of the couloir ascent.

After getting off the couloir, Jesper and I hung out on the rocks, eating and talking about what we learned and what we would do differently the next time. We certainly learned a lot and we will not mkae the same mistakes again!

But our day of adventure was not done yet. We still had to scramble a few hundred feet to the actual top of South Arapaho Peak and then make our way back down to the trailhead.

Most climbers do not go back down the couloir (I'm not sure HOW you would even down-climb it). We missed the two guys who skied and snowboarded down it, but we saw their tracks (beautiful S-Curves) later from below. All I can say is those guys have mad skills and cajones the size of Texas!

The views from the peak were amazing! We peered down into Arapaho Basin, which is much bigger and deeper than it appears from down in Boulder.

Peering down into Arapaho Basin

Massive cornices hung off the sides of the Basin and the entire area was ringed, once again, by majestic mountains.

Undulating, wave-like cornices on the basin side coming down from South Arapaho Peak

The scramble along the ridge down from the peak and along the Arapaho Glacier Trail was fun in a much lighter way than our ascent up Skywalker had been. We caught glimpses of Skywalker Couloir as we descended an marveled at what we had just climbed up.

View of Skywalker Couloir from the descent

We arrived back at our car hot and hungry, but full of a huge sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction.

I simply cannot convey how steep the couloir was, or how soft and unsubstantial the snow was, or how it felt being on that snow with virtually no support, or how much of a sense of accomplishment Jesper and I felt after completing this climb. I know my words and the pictures do not come close to portraying this amazing snow climb, but I hope they give a glimmer of the essence of it.

Check out Jesper's write up on his blog.