Friday, July 11, 2014

Fastpacking the Sawatch

It was the goal to run up and over ten of the highest mountains in Colorado this weekend. Well, I failed again. My life, to me, seems defined by dozens of failures and incompetent attempts at everything from playing trumpet to basketball. Yet, I basically drove up to the mountains, ran four 14ers and around 60 miles over two days and drove home in one piece! That's amazing! Did I really do that? I can't be that cool. No really, I know myself, most of my weekends are far more mundane. I'm just a 5'5" 128 pound specimen of average.

Wednesday evening I left Dubuque, and 20 minutes down the road realized I forgot my tights. So I turned around and picked up two pairs. Tights are the seven ounce gift to 30F weather on your legs. Three hours later I realized I forgot a charging cord for my iPhone 4s, so I bought one at Walmart and now I have three charging cables. I slept in the York, Nebraska Walmart Wednesday night. It's a great place to sleep, a block from Starbucks which opens at 5:30 AM, and of course camping is free. 

Thursday I got into Denver around noon and had lunch with a friend. I stopped at REI to buy more food and a couple maps. Worthy of a different post, but the top things by value for their weight to me for backcountry travel (non-technical, that means not mountaineering) 1. Map 2. Water bottle 3. Shoes 4. Headlamp 5. Rain/wind gear
Everything (Well, only 1/3 of the Food) for Two Days of Fastpacking
Supper at Qunincy's in Leadville was great as always, one of the best steakhouses, hands down, in the world. Great prices, almost Texas Roadhouse prices, better quality, and an atmosphere that says, 'this is Leadville, we mine, we work hard, we run 100 miles, and life is beautiful.' Slept at Avalanche Gulch Trailhead, sort of. Pretty ridiculous set up… There is more than an acre of paved parking lot, with no camping allowed, but actually everyone parks across the road in the national forest at one of the  many free "primitive" camping spots, just 50 meters away. 

One of my bicycling friends from Dubuque gave me a ride to the start at the Fish Hatchery Trailhead. I started out well, but was quickly dehydrated on the very easy Mt. Massive. I only drank 40 ounces of water in about four hours going up and over. I drank six liters the day before, and a liter before starting, but in the space of just four hours and only 40 oz. I was dehydrated. I ran with five guys from Boulder for a while which was nice to have company. However, once I crossed Halfmoon creek, I was alone again. That creek crossing by the way is 15 feet wide and around a foot deep of fast moving water, so I crossed wearing my shoes and socks, which never fully dried out for the next two days.

Okay Elbert, mountain number two. This took longer than expected. Let's be honest, the east side of the mountain is steep. It's about the steepest grass you will likely find. If you want to do a steep vertical 3000 feet, this is the place to go. Very consistent, easy, but steep. I arrived at the top dehydrated and tired and unknowingly sunburnt.

This trip was basically an on-sight, to use rock climbing terms. Part of my delay was navigating to exactly where trails started. Golden Fleece Mine is very obvious, but you have to be far enough East to pick it up, and I missed the first vertical 150 meters of easy road running because I was too far to the west when I started down the north face of Bull Hill. Not a problem, I picked up the trail well before tree-line, but probably one more little thing that cost me a few minutes.

When I made it two (and a half) miles up the road (highway 82) to FSR 391, to see the road closed signs, my heart sank.
Closed, and No Parking
After an hour of sitting there on a rock under a tree, I decided to head down the road. I wasn't sure if I was going to hitch hike or keep going. Well, I just kept going and decided that I would do a human powered journey and not tell anyone what I was doing. With my inReach SE tracking me, I never really felt off the grid. This is also worthy of another blog post, but there is so little innovation and true unsupported adventures out there in the world of exploring, that not telling anyone what my plan was, felt tame because I was being tracked by GPS.

Around 12,000 feet on the way up Hope Pass I had a sleep, and that I don't have figured out. Sleeping bag? Down jacket? Lower altitudes? I like sleeping at higher altitudes because the Boy Scouts, plus my own experiences, have given me the fear of black bears. Going as light as I went, there are no bear precautions, like a bear bag or a bear canister. I slept in my shorts and tights, two shirts and wind jacket, and in my little bivy sack. It probably was below freezing, based on the very frozen snow fields I crossed at 3:30 AM when I started hiking again. I was not warm enough. I doubt I slept for more than 30 minutes at any point in the five hour "sleep" I had. I spent so much time shivering. I was better prepared for this night out than I was on the Wonderland Trail in 2010, but it was colder too. Fastpacking sleeping is worthy of another blog post too. Do you take a $500 sleeping bag that weighs a pound? What about a better bivy sack that weights half a pound with some weather proofing, but not as warm as a sleeping bag? Maybe combine that with a nine ounce down jacket? Actually, this is something no one was figured out. My running backpack has only room for 11 liters of storage, the smallest sleeping bags still take about 2.5 liters and all come in at a pound or more.

Starting at 3 AM I went on to do two more 14ers, Belford and Oxford, then a rare descent on a poorly marked trail and 25 mile run out on the Colorado Trail. I suffered a terrible ascent up the last pass, but nice descent. This trip was the most in tune with altitude I have ever felt, every 500 vertical feet I could feel the difference between being stronger or weaker. Dehydration, electrolytes (salt), and general fatigue played a role in making the last pass such an arduous ascent, and I certianly have to eat and drink more in the future.

Whatever I say, I am weak. This is my second real 'big' 30+ hour adventure and one night is one thing, but people routinely do 40+ or even 60+ hour continuous endeavors, so 34 hours is nothing, especially since I "slept" in the middle. Point being: my life is amazing, I can hardly believe I just did all this, yet in the world of endurance travel this is like starting on your high school football team, small potatoes. Yeah, the La Plata bridge out on FSR 391 was awfully depressing, but what a weekend?! Honestly, four 14,000 foot peaks and 60 miles on my feet in two days all unsupported?!
My Route (Rectangle Denotes a Tweet)
Delorme, via my inReach SE, said I covered 52.84 miles, but that is one tracking point every 10 minutes, and the average trail does not go in strait lines for 10 minute increments. I'm guess it's more like a round 60 miles, based on another's experience.
Sunburn and Scrapes

31.3 Ounces Carried and NOT Eaten, and 2915 Calories Eaten
Ripped the New Ultimate Direction Backpack Already!
Yes, of course I want to do a proper attempt on Nolan's 14, but it is clearly difficult based on the first 2012 success and second 2012 success and a 2013 attempt among others. Finally, below is my video of the trip.

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