|See the photos!|
The Pikes Peak Ascent is coming up and, whether or not we're sufficiently trained, it's time to start tapering off our sporadic but enthusiastic training. But first, one last training run/death march. As usual, the Three Musketeers (Chris, Peter, and I), got a groggy start wondering why we were doing this in the first place and wouldn't we much rather be home in bed. We headed out from the East Portal Trailhead and headed south for Heart Lake.
I've been to East Portal quite a number of times over the years, but only in the winter. The trail climbs gradually along seemingly smooth trail up to Heart Lake in about 5 miles. I envisioned that it would make a nice training run. However, the melted-out trail is much rougher than I'd expected and most of it was too rocky and root-encrusted (not to mention too steep for first thing in the morning) to actually run. Nevertheless, we slogged purposefully up the trail through lush meadows and verdant forest. The summer trail is completely different from my winter experiences, so we were never sure what would happen next.
After an hour and a half of this, we emerged at Rogers Pass Lake where quite a lot of people were camped. We encountered three llama-treckers with associated beasts and chatted for a bit. The weather looked grim above and the slopes of James Peak were completely socked in. We climbed up to Heart Lake (spectacular!) and then up the steep headwall above to Rogers Pass. Time: 2 hours.
Chris, Me, Peter. At Roger's Pass.
Chris "runs" the Divide.
To the west, the weather looked pretty good and, while the local weather wasn't great, it hadn't shown any signs of deteriorating. We set off north along the Divide. A rough road provided a good running surface for a mile or so, but it quickly became clear that it was descending to the west. We struck off up the hillside to the ridge crest discovering that it was unrunnable. Instead, we hopped boulders for a couple miles getting fantastic views east into the four different lake basins along the way and summitting most of the little "peaks" which rise a few hundred feet above the main ridge line.
After a couple hours of this, we began to worry about the weather and opted to head for the Rollins Pass road to the north west. Back in the day, the railroad from Denver to points west spent about 20 miles switchbacking its way up to Rollins Pass before descending to Winter Park. It must have been a spectacular, if lengthy, ride. The railroad now takes the direct route through six miles of tunnel starting at the East Portal far below, but a dirt road occupies the old rail grade up to the pass from both sides. We enjoyed the easy running for a while before topping out at the pass amidst tourists and ATVs.
From the pass, we started our descent crossing a pair of really nifty old wooden trestles and circumventing the dangerously deteriorating Needle's Eye tunnel. The weather had cleared up nicely and it was getting hot. After a couple miles of road, we dropped down to the upper Forest Lake and had a short rest. After locating the trail, we had a wonderful four miles of downhill running mostly on springy, root-and-rock-free dirt through wildflowers and nice forest. At great length, just as the running was beginning to get really old and the pain receptors in our legs were starting to strike for better working conditions and shorter hours, we got back to the main trail and followed it back to the trailhead and car.
Peter crosses the first trestle.
Chris and Peter running on the beautiful trail below the Forest Lakes.
It was a mighty run and much longer than anyone expected. Granted, there wasn't much running on the rough South Boulder Creek trail up to Heart Lake, nor was there much on the rough talus on the Divide, but we "ran" about 19 miles in total in about 5:30 (not counting stops). Elevation gain was about 3600'. The scenery was spectacular and the route new and interesting. For better or worse, it's time to start taking it easy. Pikes is in two weeks and, ready or not, here we come!
The Wilderness Journal