LooseCrew-JeffO: Hope Pass


Ramblings of an adventurous guy living in Denver and playing in the mountains.
For my trail adventures, visit my Trail Bum blog

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hope Pass

Saturday evening, I went looking for Paul G in the Winfield area. I never saw his distinctive old Pathfinder.
I slept on the ground by myself near where the LT100 50-mile aid station will be. I tried to watch falling stars, but I could not keep my eyes open no matter how hard I tried. Even when I woke twice in the night, I couldn't stay awake.

In searching for Paul, I drove to the trailhead to LaPlata Peak. My brother is taking several friends there in a few weeks. The road is in worse condition than I've ever seen. He was debating whether or not to rent a 4x4. Debate over! Definitely needs high-clearance 4x4.

Sunday, I drove to Leadville to eat a hearty (as in heart-stopping, artery-clogging) breakfast at the Columbine Cafe. I had scrambled eggs, greasy sausage patties, and biscuits & gravy. I thought, "What a dope! I'll be belching this all day!" but I didn't. Apparently it's just what I needed.
I drove to Twin Lakes and parked across from where the LT100 aid station is. I hope to be out of that aid station at 11:15am Aug 18. So I left my car at 11:17 and hoped to get back at 2:30pm.

Unfortunately, I didn't do my homework! I didn't know the way. I just thought there would be a trail. Au Contraire! I wasted I-don't-know-how-much time exhausting every possible way through the marshes and willows, trying to find some sort of viable way across. By the time I found the crossing, it was noon!
I hadn't realized how serious the river would be. There were about a dozen wet crossings, not including the river! I had my GoreTex La Sportiva Ultranord GTX-XCR shoes, and neglected to bring either sandals or water shoes. (I have to figure something out for the LT100.) I ended up yanking my socks, insoles, and gaiters off and wearing my bare shoes for the crossing.
There were two steel fence posts on the other side of the river, so I'm fairly certain I found the correct spot. I should have figured out the crossing sooner. Evergreens don't like marsh or swamp. There's a thin, mangled line of evergreens that meander across and are easy to spot from a distance, if you're using your head!
The water was chest-deep on each side, especially the other side! Yikes, that would sweep me away.
I started the crossing downstream with water over my knees until I got to shallower gravel. Then I followed the shallow gravel upstream. I went in over my knees again as I continued upstream to reach more shallow gravel. Then I was able to go thigh-deep to more shallow gravel. Then crotch-deep, and whoa-almost-swept-away for a dozen feet to more shallows, then one short thigh-deep stretch and I was across!
I ended up about 50 feet upstream of the LT100 crossing.
I let my shoes drain while I dried my feet with a bandana and put my Injinji's and outer socks on. Then I shoved my dry shoe inserts back in and my feet felt sufficiently dry - no squishies!

Finally, I was off and running!
Up the gulch, I saw a sign. Little Willis Gulch and Big Willis Gulch. Man, what a sorry bit of homework I did planning this day! I didn't bring a topo map, and thought I could just do this with my knowledge of the lay-of-the-land. Wrong! So after wasting valuable time finding the river crossing, now I was presented with a 50/50 chance of going the wrong way. Hell, I hadn't even heard of Willis Gulch, much less Big and Little! I chose Little. Big seemed to head west, but the way both trails switch-back and wind around, there's no telling. I lucked-out that Little Willis was correct.

Just above treeline, I ran into a couple out for a hike. They said they met a guy who was camped at Winfield doing a training run for the LT100, but he was going the opposite way and said the river was, "un-crossable".

On the south side of Hope Pass, I met a guy who is hiking the entire Continental Divide Trail (CDT). I'll probably spell his name wrong... Tray Corken started on the Mexican border and won't stop until he gets to Canada. He said Sunday, with his climb over Hope Pass was the hardest day so far. I gave him some beef jerky while we talked. I told him about the river crossing and he mentioned a bridge a mile upstream, but he wanted to get to Twin Lakes in time to get a room and a meal.

After losing about 20 minutes with Tray, I started down again. Near the bottom, I ran into Dan Bryant, also training for the LT100. He was basically doing a hike with his pacer.

Then I ran down to the road to Winfield. My planned run to and from Winfield was cut short because I had lost so much time! I used to be a loner introvert, and that was very unhealthy. I believe life is about people and relationships. Even setting my PR on G&T I willingly stopped for people and dogs. No problem. I can't stand people who have their priorities skewed and pass up opportunities to meet or show kindness. So I don't mind losing time here-and-there.

I turned around where the trail met the road and headed back up.
Man-oh-man, that is one horrifically steep trail! It's too steep for running. Maybe people like Matt Carpenter or Anton Krupicka can run it, but not normal folks like me. (Yeah, me - "normal" - right!) The TwinLakes/Winfield/TwinLakes stretch is supposed to take me 6.5 hours. I can say for certain that it will take me at least 7 hours, and maybe 7.5! I can lose valuable time at the river if I don't get my footwear figured out.
It took me 1h16m to climb from the road to the top of Hope Pass, without pushing too hard. I caught back up with Dan B and talked with him so I slowed considerably for a stretch, but that helps simulate the realistic speed I'll have at the LT100.

My PR on G&T the day before totally blew my quads. That helped to set the stage for my climbs each direction of Hope Pass. Until I reached the top of Hope on the return, I hadn't felt any real discomfort, but as soon as I started down, holy-cow! Ouch. Mommy. Okay - that hurts.

Hope Pass is vicious! I can see why so many people say Hope Pass IS the race.

I ran out of water right before reaching the pass. Just below treeline, there was an idyllic spot where a strong trickle of water pools and there's a tiny stone bridge. I bent over to fill my hand-held bottle and almost passed-out. I dumped two bottles into my hydration bladder and then drank several bottles while eating strawberry Twizzlers, jerky, and pretzels. I also put a nice pile of Morton Lite (3/5 potassium, 2/5 sodium) on my tongue to replace electrolytes. I keep it in an old film canister.

In the shade below treeline, it was getting cool and comfortable. My attention span waned and there were a couple of times I stopped running because I forgot. Without my mind consciously commanding, my legs just stopped. But then I got attacked my mosquitoes. And so it went. Whenever I ran too slowly, 3-5 mosquitoes would jump me. I thought of Tray and his heavy boots and pack. Poor guy! I thought of a line I read about the Danelle Ballengee story where a guy said it's all about "learning to suffer". Only I was trying not to suffer any more than I had to.

Finally I was out of the trees and heading for the river.

What awesome timing! I got to the river right when Tray was prepping for the crossing. He decided Twin Lakes was too enticingly close to head upstream for the bridge. Good thing I met him. The sun was low and the glare made it often impossible to see below the surface. We crossed together, me guiding through the gravel-bars. Tray had hiking poles, so it wasn't too bad.
We stuck together and talked all the way to Twin Lakes. He got a little mini-cabin, and he made it in time for a fancy meal.

I hit the road but stopped once between Leadville and Climax to step into the Arkansas River. That close to the headwaters, it was only a thigh-deep creek.

I wore my down jacket and drank a Breckenridge Avalanche beer. Awwwwww! Life is good.


At 9:22 PM, Anonymous Meghan said...


You had a sweet training weekend! Your blister is looking much improved! The river crossing sounds sketch-ville, I'd be freaked. Aw man, I know I live in a beautiful place, but yout posts make me want to explore Colorado, too! Wanderlust is an all too vicious but lovely thing, isn't it?

And now, more recovery?



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