If you have never been to Leadville, or other great locations in Colorado, you're definitely missing out. It's an outdoor enthusiasts paradise. And Leadville is particularly cool because there are so many race events out here all summer long, which means you can be surrounded by a lot of likeminded people.
The trails our here are endless and the opportunities for epic adventure are everywhere. Ever day can present you with a new and exciting challenge. Unfortunately for me, I'm generally limited to a few small hikes and maybe one 14'er because I need to rest my legs so I can run some ridiculous distance without feeling wiped out. I really need to come out here sometime when I have no plans to run a 50 or 100 mile race.
Jo and I arrived on Monday afternoon and quickly selected a 14'er to cross off our list. In an unusual, and quite mature move, I selected a relatively easy climb. We chose Mt. Sherman which is very close to Leadville and is rated a Class 2 climb. The round trip is only 5 miles and has about 2200' of ascent. While that sounds tame, when you do the math it equated to nearly 1000' feet of climbing per mile. So there's still some challenge to it.
A random picture from the climb.
We started the climb before 7:00 AM and had excellent weather. It was about 45 degrees, blue skies and no threat of storms, which is always a concern when bagging the tall peaks. Unfortunately, there was a lot of heavy smoke hanging in the valley due to the wildfires in Wyoming. The views could have been much better.
The climb starts off crossing a lot of scree fields and the trail is difficult to make out in places. We just headed in what felt like the right direction. We moved at a pretty slow and deliberate pace because we were in no rush.
View from 13,000' looking toward Leadville.
This mountain affords a climber the opportunity to "peak hop" if you have the time and good weather in the forecast. You can hike from one ridge line to the next peak and bag a few mountains in a single day if everything comes together. We did not have the time, nor the inclination to do this. But man...it was tempting.
As we continued up the mountain, the trail became smoother and we left most of the scree behind. This allowed me to run several sections of the ascent. I've never ran to the top of a Colorado 14'er before. Now I know why. But the runnable sections that I did engage were a blast!
View across the saddle.
As we approached the summit, the ridge leveled off and became a very gradual ascent. But the spine of the ridge is very narrow, steep on both sides, and the footing isn't great. This is a category 3 hike due to the dangerous exposure.
For those at home that are unfamiliar, category 1 is a very easy climb, and category 5 requires special mountaineering equipment.
The spine leading to the summit.
We made the summit in two hours, found the register and left our names and a note. We lingered at the top for quite a while because the weather was outstanding. These summits are generally very cold and windy, but today was an exception. It was a gorgeous day.
Climbing 14'ers is a part of my acclimation regimen whenever I race out here, so spending ample time at 14,000' sucking in thin air is a big part of that plan!
Resting the legs and taking it all in.
Jo is always such a trooper on these little adventures.
While I was resting, Jo went on the hunt for snow. And found it.
On a normal day these pictures would reveal peaks across the valley. The view is usually stunning, but the smoke totally obliterated the entire mountain range. This was the only bad thing about our day on the mountain.
Somebody had left this sign with the register.
After soaking the beauty of the peak, we made a gradual descent. We were in no particular rush, so we took our time and enjoyed the mountain and the trail. Of all the peaks we've climbed, we both agreed that this one was the most fun. It was a genuinely great climb and we had a blast.
For Wednesday, Jo and I were excited to be able to meet up with our buddy Leon. He's in town while running the TransRockies Run, which is a 6 day stage race that covers about 120 miles. The second stage of this race crosses Hope Pass and ends outside Leadville. We planned to meet him at the finish line at the end of that stage and hopefully hang out for a while.
For those that aren't familiar, Hope Pass is the high point for the Leadville 100 mile trail race, which I'm town to run. It sits at 12,600' and is a very steep and technical climb. In the Leadville 100, we cross it twice. This is the part of the LT100 that causes the highest rate of failure and attrition. I was happy that my buddy was getting a taste of what I was about to do.
This race requires runners to run as a 2 person team. Leon's partner is Sean McCoy, a runner and all around athlete from Denver. Sean is a very talented runner and a very cool guy. Sean is also the editor for www.GearJunkie.com. This is a very cool site and well worth checking out. The best part of Sean's job is all the free gear he gets to test out. Between Sean and Leon, they weren't lacking much in the way of high-tech mountain gear.
The TransRockies Run is a big corporate production. I'm not saying that in a negative way, it's just a fact. So everything they do in this race, they do BIG. The entire race is like a traveling circus. It's an amazingly complicated event and very fun to witness.
Jo and I went down to Twin Lakes and hiked down the trail so we could watch the runners come off Hope Pass and head to the finish. Shortly after finding a decent place to watch from, we heard runners coming our way.
This is the super human Max King headed to the finish. He's leading the solo event so far.
Not too far (ok...maybe a little ways) behind Max King, I saw Leon and Sean headed down the trail. Leon is pretty easy to spot in a crowd. Leon wasn't expecting us at the race, so he was really stoked to see me on the side of the trail. He ran over and grappled me into a big sweaty man hug. Then we all headed down the trail together for the last half mile to the finish.
Leon and Sean near the finish.
Jo was waiting at the finish line and cheered the guys on as they came across the line. This was the toughest stage of the 6 day race and they were happy to have it in the rearview mirror.
At the finish.
Trans Rockies finish line.
After a lot of hugs and celebration, we got the full recap from Leon. It was everything I had expected from this stage of the race. There's no other way to describe it...Hope Pass is a bitch!
Relaxing and sharing tails at Twin Lakes.
Jo and I drove Sean and Leon into town so we could treat them to dinner and a few beers. I was excited to show Leon around the town that has occupied so much of my time and focus for the last 2 years. It was comforting and relaxing to have one of my best friends with me. It allowed me time to take my mind off my own race for a while and just enjoy the quality time with a great friend.
Walking through downtown Leadville after the race.
Lets' be honest...THIS is what trail runners do best!
After enjoying a great dinner together, we all called it a night and went our separate ways. Leon and Sean were camped in a field in town, and Jo and I were headed back to the Delaware Hotel. I'm not sure who has it better. The tent can't be very cozy, but at least it isn't a haunted freak show like our hotel...that story deserves its own blog post.
The following morning, we headed to the start line of stage 3, which was set up one block from our hotel.
The logistics of this event are mind boggling. They move the start and finish line every day, along with the entire tent city, showers, toilets, kitchens, and race expo. AND they mark, then clear the trail sections. Every day! Watching them is amazing.
The start of stage 3 located at the corner of 6th and Harrison.
Jo and I watched the racers get ready and we chatted with Sean and Leon before they got called to the chute. They both acknowledged that they were a bit stiff from the Hope Pass crossing, but they seemed ready to go. This stage is approximately 24 miles and has roughly 2200' feet of ascent. This would be considered an "easy" day.
Me, Sean and Leon before Stage 3.
Almost GO TIME!
Met and chatted with Gordy Ainsleigh. Gordy is the founder of the Western States 100.
At 8:00 AM, they sent the runners on their way. We tried to find Leon in the crowd, but he was busy ducking his away through the runners and we missed him.
Gordy headed out for stage 3.
Runners headed out on Harrison.
After a nice hearty breakfast, Jo and headed down to the finish of Stage 3 so we could watch more of the race. We had already said goodbye to our friends, so they weren't expecting us to be there. But with little else to do while I'm resting, it seemed like a great use of our time.
Picture from the finish area. Beautiful Colorado valley.
We arrived just after the elite runners crossed the finish line. There were probably 5 or 6 runners milling around, getting fueled up and relaxing.
A rare (hopefully) picture of Max King wearing a running skirt.
It wasn't long before I could see Leon and his signature beard off in the distance. He and Sean were looking strong and setting a good pace to the finish.
Crossing the finish of stage 3.
Leon and that blowing beard.
The guys both felt good and were happy with their run during this stage, they looked good and were in good spirits. The end of this stage marks the mid point in their race. This is such an epic event and I can't deny that I'm jealous.
Enjoying a race recap from one the coolest guys I know.
Seans nasty ass, bloody toes!
As is typical for Leon, he found the nearest cold water to soak in.
After a few more hugs and encouraging comments, Jo and I had to say goodbye again. For real this time. It was hard to part ways with our friends, but it was time for my medical check in and packet pickup for the 100 miler. I wanted nothing more than to stay all night, have a few beers, share some running stories and relax with all of these great people. But it wasn't meant to be.
I'm very proud of Sean and Leon and I wish I was out there with them through all of these stages. This is such an amazing event and I know It's not likely that I'll ever do it because I'm working on gathering a 1000 mile buckle from the Leadville 100. These races fall during the same time, so my schedule won't allow for it until 2021. That's a long time to wait, but I'll still be 25 years younger than Gordy by then.
The last couple of days have been a welcomed distraction. The mental preparation for running a 100 mile race is daunting. Having close friends with me has really made a huge difference this week. Leon inspires me and his encouragement is priceless. These relationships are always special and I've never seen anything like it outside of trail running. It's difficult to explain, but for those of you that run the trails, especially the long ones, you know what I mean.
Thanks for reading. I'll be back in a few days and will hopefully have an epic tail of adventure to share!!!