Distance: 16.63 miles
Weather: Cool & Windy
I've been wrestling this past week with low-grade fatigue...just feeling off. I ran through it all week, but finally gave in and put off the long run 'til today. Thus, Sunday was a relaxing, mellow day at home, filled with errands, long-ignored punch-list stuff and hanging with JP and the kids. Great stuff.
With a bit of trepidation, I set the alarm last night for 6 a.m., with plans for getting out early for a long jaunt in the Mt. Evans Wilderness. Would a single day off be the anodyne for what was ailing me?
By 7 a.m., I was parked at entrance to the Mt. Evans Road, suited up and ready to run. The plan was to do a relatively big loop through the eastern part of the wilderness area, starting up the Chicago Lakes Trail, climbing up to Summit Lake and then descending down through an eastern drainage, picking up the Resthouse Trail and completing the loop back to the truck.
I stepped out of the truck and was immediately hit by the realization that summer is, indeed, waning. It was darn-right chilly and ferociously windy at the start. I quickly darted into the relative calm provided by the dense forest on the south side of Echo Lake. I cruised along the flattish first .6 mile of the Chicago Lakes Trail and soon was descending down a series of switchbacks on the northern slope of the Chicago Creek drainage.
After crossing the creek, I started the day's climb on a dirt road that wound its way up past the Idaho Springs Reservoir and two small cabins, located right on the edge of the wilderness. Here, the road dead-ends and the singletrack begins.
|These signs always make my heart swoon.|
|Let the climbing begin.|
|Looking up the Chicago Lakes drainage to the large headwall at the end of the valley.|
After a short, relatively steep climb, the rocky trail levels out and undulates a bit as it rolls through an old burn, meadows and dense coniferous forests. At about 4.3 miles the trail passes above the first of the two Chicago Lakes. Here I saw the day's first people. There were two tents on the southwest end of the lake.
|The first of two Chicago Lakes (left in picture).|
|View of lower Chicago Lakes from the trail above.|
After passing the lake, the trail winds its way around and in-between several enormous boulders that eons ago must have tumbled down from the lofty cliffs above. Soon, the trail begins a very steep climb up and over a shelf that hides the second of the two Chicago Lakes.
|The view into the basin holding the upper Chicago Lakes just past the lip of the shelf.|
|Upper Chicago Lake. The low spot in the cliffs above is where the trail heads next.|
The whole climb was one of those character-building experiences. The blow-you-off-the-mountain winds, combined with the unseasonable chill, was enough to make me want to scream at the Weather Gods to ease up. Finally, with painfully cold hands and a hat pulled unnaturally tight on my head to keep it from blowing back down to the Chicago Lakes, I crested the final rock outcropping and was treated to a view of whitecaps on Summit Lake, dust devils spinning off the newly-gavelled parking lot and a number of people bundled up as if it were January on a ski slope.
I ran quickly down the newly-rebuilt trail around the eastern edge of Summit Lake and locked myself in one of the bathrooms long enough to get the feeling back in my hands. I contemplated hanging it up and hitchhiking back to the car, but with summer obviously on its way out, I just couldn't give up on a sunny day in the high country...wind or no wind.
|Summit Lake. Note the whitecaps kicked up by the wind.|
|The Summit Lake "Trail."|
|You can almost make out a hint of singletrack here.|
I soon was descending down into upper reaches of the Bear Creek drainage. Right at treeline, as I dropped down below a ridge line, the wind ceased. Finally! Now I could cruise...except for one problem. The trail disappeared (either that or in my glee, I stopped paying attention to the cairns).
Confident in my trail-wise sense of direction, I just went with it. Surely the trail was just over this way...no that way...up here...no, down there. Damn. Lost the trail. Really lost the trail. Down and to the left I could see an old burn. I new the Resthouse Trail, my next destination, descended down through that burn. The trick was to get over there.
Suffice to say, it was rough going. Downed trees. Several creeks. Dense willows. Thick forests. Off-camber footing. Steep hillsides. The works.
|No way to get lost in that forest! The meadow is Beaver Meadow.|
After an hour's slog, I finally entered the burned area and I started making my way up through the tangle of old trees, deep grasses and bogs. Finally, I crested a last hill and stepped onto a very, very sweet ribbon of singletrack - the Resthouse Trail.
I took one last look down toward Bear Creek and Beaver Meadows and began climbing up through the widow-maker trees from the old burn that lined the trail. From here, it was a relatively easy (compared to what I had just endured) 3-4 miles of up-and-down back to the Echo Lake Campground and the parking lot where my truck awaited.
|The most-welcome Resthouse Trail through an old burn.|
That had to have been the longest 16 miles I've ever run.
I'm disappointed that I lost track of the Summit Lake Trail on my descent. I've been wanting to check out the trail for quite sometime. Given the cross-country nature of the first couple of miles, I'm not inclined to return anytime soon. I wonder what the section through the upper part of the Bear Creek drainage is like. I'm also disappointed that I didn't turn around sooner after losing the trail. Had I done that, I would have had, maybe, 10 minutes of climbing to get back to the last cairn. Assuming I could have found the trail corridor, it certainly would have made the rest of the run much more pleasurable. That said, I explored some part of the Mt. Evans Wilderness that I'd never been in. And, despite the wind, the cold and the bushwhacking, it still was a great morning in the high country. And, while the mileage was a bit low, the time-on-feet was solid. A good thing since this is my last long(ish) run before the Run Rabbit Run 50 in Steamboat in a couple o' weeks.
A couple of bonus pics - first of the terrible fire above Boulder:
|The fire near Gold Hill above Boulder from Highway 103|
Now, a very fine-looking bull elk I came across while driving home from a run last weekend. This big guy was hanging out in a meadow just off Stagecoach Road, about half-mile west of the upper parking lot at Elk Meadow Open Space. He is, no doubt, saving up his energy for the coming rut.