The "Welcome, Winter 50k"?, but it's only October... Well, welcome to the High Rockies, Jon. Dry, clear trails and shirtless running are a thing of the past! Winter is upon us. And how appropriate that the ten day forecast (starting last Wednesday) featured nothing but blue skies in the Sawatch Mountains, expect the Friday before and the Saturday of the inaugural Welcome, Winter 50k!
We awoke to snow. I scraped the ice and powder off the car, revved it up and headed to our beloved coffeeshop to meet up with the crew. The crew was assembled and enthusiastic, introductions were exchanged, duties were assigned to the shuttle personnel and we were off.
It was a long drive to Cottonwood Pass, especially with the presence of snow on the roads once we breached 10,500 ft. Upon arriving at the pass, snow was blowing in the strong wind, we shivered, the dogs danced. A few photos were snapped at the start, hugs exchanged with the volunteers, and we were off.
|The crew at the start|
We bounded through the snow on the initial descent- we all grew more comfortable in it as the day wore on, it truly requires a different stride and focus to run through snow. It was only 2-3 inches deep on the first descent, which, regardless of effort, can slow you dramatically.
We abled over Texas Creek and joined the Texas Creek trail, which Mike, Travis, Sandi, Luna, and I moved swiftly upon, pausing to rejoin with Jenny and Jason every once and a while. Together we reached the junction with the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and began our 9 mile ascent up to soon-to-be named Porcupine Pass. Luna was a champ on the trail- happy to break trail for us in the shallow snow, but always taking time to appease herself with quick jaunts through the pine forests that lined the trails, never venturing more than 10 or 20 yards away.
I've heard Luna chase a lot of things. Her yelps are distinct. I can typically discern if she is chasing a squirrel, rabbit, deer, or elk solely based on the strange sounds she makes. This time we head something new... She was letting out a bonafied bark. The only time I generally hear this is if she is playing with other dogs, or feels threatened by something (the last time I heard it was her first, and only, encounter with a bear). I figured it was another bear. Travis, Sandi, Mike, and I beckoned her return, and when she popped out of the woods it looked like she had a beard... Unfortunately, it wasn't the beard of icicles we'd both been sporting all day, it was about a dozen porcupine quills embedded along her lower jaw. No good.
I held her as best I could as Travis tried to remove them, but she was a very unhappy, squirmy dog, and it would take a team effort. With Mike holding her hind legs, Sandi the front two, me clamping her jaws and trying to keep her head from thrashing about, Travis performed surgery. It wasn't easy, we gave her a break about halfway through the plucking, but finally got them all out. Jenny and Jason would have little trouble following our trail for the next little bit as Luna left a bright red trail of blood on the track.
This stretch of trail was particularly fun and highly runnable (though tiring in the increasingly deep snow). It would climb for a half a mile and descend for a half a mile again and again. We moved efficiently and worked hard conversing and enjoying every step. It was truly whimsical out there. It felt as if we were running in a snowglobe, as precipitation was present all day and visibility was especially poor you could almost believe that the world was no bigger than the 20 yards in each direction you could see.
|Me and Lu|
In a quicker than expected time we reached our turn for the trail leading up and over the pass to Lake Ann. From it's start, the trail must have had 30-some switchbacks. We moved very well until we reached treeline where the snow grew deeper and winds stronger. With each step the snow breached the top of our shoes and carried on about midway up our calves. With every bit of force exuded to make the climb up the hill you could feel the snow absorbing the better half of it, becoming more packed and shortening each stride. The climb wore on, we expected each long switchback to bring us to a whitewashed saddle that was disguised by snow and clouds. Luna conquered it with ease, even taking time to chase Ptarmagins, who were already sporting their winter plume, straight up or straight down the mountain, just to get in a little extra hill work, I suppose.
When we reached the pass, we were blown away. Mt Huron lay ahead, dazzling in white with its head poking a mere 3 feet beyond the majestic mark of 14,000 ft above sea-level. We took a few pictures, laughed at our shoes that could easily be mistaken for bricks of snow, and Luna rolled and dug in the deep snow.
|At the top of Porcupine Pass|
The trail turned flat as we reached the junction with the trail leading into Apostle Basin. We ran and ran and the snow grew more and more scarce. Upon reaching the dirt road that would lead us into Winfield, the ground was soft, but there was little evidence remaining of the snowy-wonderland we'd become accustomed to, besides a few lingering icicles in my beard.
We ran well down the two mile road and were delighted to see our beloved crew members parked in the field.
We toyed with the idea of continuing on our mission to climb Hope Pass and descend to Twin Lakes, but, with the slowing of the snow, we arrived here in about 6 hours, while my projected finish time for the whole 50k (in ideal conditions) was around 6-6.5 hours! We decided it was a satisfying enough day as it was, enjoyed post-run beverages, Mel's homemade cookies, and the salty snacks that Heather had been so gracious as to drop off a few days prior.
|Pulling into Winfield (mile 23)|
|Travis and Sandi coming in|
We sat in Winfield laughing and reminiscing, and I couldn't help but think of that stereotypical snowglobe again: a couple iceskating in Central Park with snow swirling around them, the high-rise buildings as the backdrop. I realized we had our own version of that small, yet perfect world as we sat with the sun shining on us, warming us for the first time all day, snow dancing through the sky, our sky-scraping mountains, and, most importantly, the company of people we love.
Within an hour, Jason came cruising down the hill, as full of excitement for the day as all of us, a short while later Jenny arrived, toting her fuel and her smile. Donna arrived shortly thereafter, with Heather and Zool (of Ghostbusters fame) not too far behind.
The crew headed to Donna's place, where Kathy and graciously spent the better part of her afternoon preparing a fire and a feast for us. We were joined by others and relished in the beauty of all that we had seen together, and all that we would someday see together.
|Lounging at the finish|
Welcome, Winter! We're glad to have you!