Bradley's View

Bradley's View

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Visit To Elbert And The Frenasco Fiasco

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
- Rachel Carson

    The weather has been crazy; no snow for weeks, sunshine for days.  I fear for summer wildfires, the Front Range draining the remainder of our lakes, and all that but, man, I do love running in the mountains.

         Fortunately for me, so do Mike and Luna.  We went up Elbert last Saturday, settling for a 2:00 start and excited to be racing the sun.  As expected, it was snowy beneath the pines.  Once we got above treeline, we were able to move a lot more efficiently.  Being so late in the day, the southeast ridge cast shadows over our route and left us cold for about 40 minutes before welcoming the sun once again on the ridge.  We reached the summit in a minute or two over 2 hours, and made it back to the car a minute or two before 3 hours.  We ran really fast on the way down the ridge, it was sick.

Ridge to the summit

S. Elbert and La Plata in the background

Tried to fly and got denied

     The picture above leads me into my next outing.  The mountain on the right there is French Mountain (13,960 ft), the ridge runs west then south cresting Frasco(just barely in the light), and Casco(prominent in left of frame), as well.  I see these peaks from my window every morning, as they shoot out of the valley between Elbert and Massive.

     Anyways, the route, we'll call it the Frenasco, made for quite the fiasco.  My starting point was at the Mt. Massive TH.  I began by skiing about 2 miles up the road to the junction with FR 110.J, continued skiing up this road until it because unreasonably steep, which was about another mile.  It was my belief that the choice to ski would greatly enhance the fun-factor, in reality though, the snow sucked for the first couple of miles and was so deep and so steep in the next mile it was never all that great.  In fact, I quickly realized that it would be far more beneficial to have snowshoes.  
Fresh Tracks

Icy Paths
     I carried on up the road towards Iron Mike Mine.   The snow was just below my knees for the entire slog.  It was slow moving...

The basin begins opening up

      I contemplated the ideal route to French's summit, but acted rashly instead of seizing it.  Ideally, I would have continued up the gulch to Iron Mike Mine, which was probably about a mile away, but really the going was so slow that every extra mile up the basin was one more I'd have to walk down.  So I had hoped to summit via French's east slopes, and return down the ridge to my skis.  

Elbert's slopes looked far more appealing than my route
     Gaining vertical was incredibly tedious.  I was keen on the prospect of utilizing rocks versus snow in the ascent after what I'd been up to the last couple of hours.  The rock route proved interesting, as each piece of talus was surrounded by a couple of feet of snow, making any misstep a bit frustrating (particularly for the pup).

Rock hoppin'
      We got up to 12,500 ft when I decided to turn around.  I think the ideal equation for this approach would be today+one human+two snowshoes-one dog.  Sorry for a crumby day, Luna.

       I was able to run a little bit through the powder on the way down, reached the skis and began to ski.  The route was about 12 miles total and took me about 4 hours.  I've got to get out here again, and look forward to completing this line and extending it over Elbert's summit.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Outside Is The Best Side

    "In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer"
-Albert Camus

      I've made my way up the Halfmoon Creek drainage each of the past two days, and it has rekindled a desire to explore in me that warms my soul.  When Mel and I first decided to move to Leadville, we set up camp out here and froze our tails off for a week or so before finding a place to live.  It is home to the trailhead from which I first ran out into the sky above the trees, it's hosted some of my greatest mountain running efforts, and some days of demoralizing defeat.  It is nice there.

    Yesterday Luna and I cruised out to the Mt. Massive Trailhead (Elbert's was snowed in),  I worked a bit in the morning, so we didn't get out there until about 2:00 leaving me with no intention of summiting Elbert.   I did, however want to pack the trail down a bit following last weekend's snow.  I also figured that if someone had made the first tracks someone else may be inclined to follow them at least as far as I did or extend them even further.  This is what I encountered:

   I made my way back to the trunk of my car and retrieved some snowshoes, the snow was close to 2 feet deep...  I then figured out how to put on snowshoes, pined briefly over how cumbersome they seemed and took off.  Running in snowshoes isn't easy, it saps a lot of energy.  I'd like to try running in some bonafied running snowshoes sometime, I imagine it's quite a bit better than the ones I've got at present.

Turquoise Lake disguised in white.

    Up and up we (we being me and Luna) went until we came to the clearing just before you burst out of the trees.  It was here I decided to turn it back for the day- it had been an excellent workout and the sun was tucking away more quickly than I'd wished.

    When I arrived back at the trailhead, the sun seemed to be balancing on the tip of one of Elbert's North summits, mesmerizing.  Then it was gone.

      Today marked the first day Mel and I had off together in several weeks.  We've shared a morning here, some evenings there, but this was the first day that was all ours!  We tossed some snacks, skis, and the pup into the car and headed back to Halfmoon.  Parking at the Massive TH, again, we headed further up the drainage via the 4x4 road that crosses many excellent campsites and sends you to the N. Halfmoon Lakes TH, from which you can access Massive's summits via the south slopes.

She always finds a way to get her kicks
My ladies
     We skied for about two and a half hours, whooping and hollering all the while.  The valley was quiet and peaceful, it felt like it was all ours again, much like in early May when we arrived.  Except now Luna is with us!

One cold creek

Mel climbing- Elbert's northernmost summit seen above
Cruising downhill


Some spontaneous air, and a near accident...


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Resolution: Elbert All Winter

    A couple of days ago Luna and I went for a run up Mt Elbert from the N. Elbert Creek TH, the namesake creek looked like this:

Amazing that the trees survive after living in ice for months and months!
      Below treeline the snow was pretty well packed with a few exceptions.

      As we breached treeline, the footsteps were swept away and a beautiful, unbroken trail lay before us, my first split came at the first switchback above treeline.  The split on my fastest time to date was right at 40 minutes, this time (likely due to the snowslogging and a month off of running) was about 1 hour 13 minutes.  Pretty big difference there.

     I did take it pretty casually.  I came way overdressed, too.  I quickly took off my hat, gloves, and jacket in the woods, and didn't don them again until I was up above 12,500 ft.

     That kind of got me thinking:  With the amount of snow we've been receiving, or lack thereof, it isn't unreasonable to think that a route up Elbert could be maintained all year.  Yeah, its wicked cold and there are a lot of days where going up wouldn't be fun or safe, but there are still going to be days when its 30 degrees and sunny.  I just need to seize those after the big snows and do a lap.  I'll lug along some snowshoes and microspikes, if necessary.  It would make the most sense to keep the South Elbert Trail packed.  I figure I can ski up the road a couple of miles to the trailhead, if I don't feel like running it some days, ski the CT to the trailhead, and then run up the ridge.  

     Besides, its a beautiful mountain with beautiful views.  Getting back up there and running around in the sky, glissading down pitches, and wearing myself out, made me remember that running brings me a lot of fulfillment and allows me to sleep completely awestruck at the beauty of our world.
Massive in the distance from just above treeline.

Nearing the summit, looking at Massive, Oklahoma, and the Halfmoon Basin

Quintessential summit-shot

     It took me 2 hours and 10 minutes to get to the top, thats exactly 1 minute slower than my fastest round-trip time.  The descent was an hour, making the day about 9 miles in 3:10, with 4,500 ft of vertical.

    If anyone wants to join me on a winter run up Elbert, just pick a warm day (25+)and let me know!