Sunday, August 3, 2014

2014 WFHS XC High Altitude Trip

At the end of July, nearly every summer for the past ten years, my former high school cross country team makes a trip to Colorado for some high altitude training. The trip is designed to award those runners who have been training with the team all summer and to foster some team bonding. This year would mark my seventh trip, three as a high school student and four as a chaperon/driver. When I'm healthy and running, my job is to make sure nobody is injured and everyone is accounted for on the trails; however, being laid up with a injury would mean little running and more administrative duties. The following is a recap of the trip.

Friday (08/25):
Departed St.Francisville at four pm.

Saturday (08/26):
Finally just before lunch we make our first stop at Capulin Volcano in New Mexico roughly an hour outside Raton, NM. Capulin is a magnificent spectacle as the dormant volcano rises sharply out of the fairly flat plains and steppes. This is the first run of the trip and is always a shocker. The young kids with their springy legs just take off without a problem after riding in a van for nearly twenty hours. I decided a slow thorough warm up was needed after driving so much and would catch up with them on the trail. The 1.2 mile paved trail navigates the rim of the volcano before dropping steeply down to the crater epicenter. The dry and thin air is always a shock, hurting my tongue and throat, forcing me to spit every few seconds. After running and stopping for lunch in Raton, we continue driving to Meuller State Park outside of Divide, CO. We arrive at our campsite later that evening and begin unloading and settling in. We spend the whole week camping at Meuller, with Pikes Peak ever looming in the background. Our site is at 9,000 ft elevation and the park boasts over fifty-five miles of back country gravel roads and single-track trails.

Capulin Volcano, Crater Rim Trail.

Capulin Volcano, Crater Rim Trail.

View of Pikes Peak from our campsite, this would be one the last times we would see the peak all week because of cloud cover. 

Sunday (08/27):
Today is the first real day of running for the kids. The morning starts off with a brutal run known as Rock Pond Trail. The trail drops steadily for the first two and a half miles till you reach rock pond at the bottom. Then, you turn around and run back up. The kids really killed this run, I was impressed with how quickly everyone finished. My run consisted of running sixteen minutes down and covering the return in fifteen. The rest of the day was a pretty chill day, which everyone needed, especially the drivers. Later that afternoon the kids went out for a thirty minute run by the campsite before the afternoon showers hit.

Sunrise over Pikes from an early morning hike.

Sunrise over Pikes.

I usually spot a herd of elk in this field every year, but no elk this year.

Monday (08/28):
This morning we headed to Eleven Mile Canyon, which is the only flat run of the week. The South Platte river carved Eleven Mile Canyon out of the mountains during the last ice age. The area is absolutely amazing with steep canyon walls lining the sides of the gravel road and river. The river is a gem, having gold medal trout fishing and is home to some of the best sport climbing and bouldering opportunities in the state. Our top runners had an hour run to finish, while the rest went for forty minutes. I joined the top guys till close to twenty minutes then turned around. Previous years, I spent my free time here fishing, very unsuccessfully, this year I decided to boulder instead. I packed some shoes and a crash pad, and enjoyed a few problems. The last problem I found was pretty nice involving two strong and complex moves in succession. I also taught some of the kids how to boulder and enjoyed watching them figure out the route. After bouldering, we had lunch by the river then found a nice swimming hole with a rock to jump from, this would constitute my first shower of the trip. From there we loaded up and headed into Colorado Springs to visit the Air Force Academy. One of our former runners just completed his freshman year at the Academy and gave us a tour. Once back at the camp, the kids had another thirty minute easy run before the rain worsened.

Forgot to take pictures while running, so this will have to do.

Tuesday (08/29):
Today's schedule was going to be a tough one. Yesterday afternoon we were supposed to run up the nearby Raspberry Mt; however, afternoon showers made the run too dangerous. Raspberry Mt is a tough run consisting of three uphill miles to the summit with a vertical gain of 600ft per mile. Once at the top, the views of the surrounding area are beautiful. I chose not to run Raspberry as we were running one of my favorite trails later that afternoon. Instead, I gathered up my climbing gear and hiked almost to the summit only to have enough time to climb one rock before needing to return. It was a nice easy crack that ran up almost 15-16ft. I had a little time to sit on top and soak in the view before heading back down. Once down, we headed into Colorado Springs for a trip to the Olympic Training Center. After the tour there, we went to Palmer Park in town for our evening run before heading to a minor league baseball game. Palmer Park is one of my favorite places to run because of the terrain. It is very similar to running the red rock out in Moab. Its comprised mostly of sandstone formations and the trails are very technical. I love flying along the technical rocky terrain, taking wild risks and lines between rocks. It almost feels more like an interpretive dance than actually running. Once alone, I zone out and imagine that I'm an ancient Indian messenger covering the ground as fleet of foot as possible. Palmer Park never fails to disappoint on the fun meter either. Last visit, a few of us thought the trail was so good that we shouldn't turn around at fifteen minutes and continued to run for well over an hour nearly getting lost in a thunderstorm. That year we also met a mountain biker in the parking lot who was on planet marijuana and thought it was "totally rad" (best completely stoned surfer accent you can think of) that we were about to trail run out there. This year right in the beginning of the trail I made a wrong turn and see a shirtless guy standing behind a girl whose head is only visible because of a large rock. Well, I continue to run until catching up with all the kids who are stopped on a large rock outcrop. Mind you they are all incoming freshman, I notice plenty of red faces, lots of giggles, and they keep asking me how the view is. I couldn't understand what was so funny until one of the older chaperons says, "Shane, two people are f------ over there!" Sure enough, that couple I passed earlier is completely nude getting it on, full on legs in the air up over the guys' head getting it on and not the people you want to see naked, trust me. I think this made the highlight of the trip for the kids until we arrived at the baseball game. One of the promoters at the game is going around asking for people to sing in front of everyone, of course all the kids are going nuts and one of our guys gets selected to sing a Justin Beiber song. It was by far the worst singing I have ever heard but at least it made the crowd go nuts. The game never started because of the rain and we barely made it back to camp because of flash flooding.

Templeton Trail, Palmer Park, Colorado Springs

On top of the mesa at Palmer Park, Colorado Springs

Templeton Trail, Palmer Park, Colorado Springs

Wednesday (08/30):
This morning's run took place at Rampart Reservoir for our long run and last official run of the trip. Last trip (two years ago), we were unable to run Rampart as a large part of it was burned in a forest fire. The whole trail around the lake is sixteen miles and offers beautiful views of the lake with gently undulating terrain. The trail starts off winding through fur and spruce forests then opens up into once aspen covered meadows. There was something about the place that resonated with me, despite seeing charred trees everywhere the lush under growth of the aspen meadows were full of blooming wildflowers and young trees demonstrating the ability of nature to survive hardship and flourish, much like an injured runner in time you will flourish again.  Eventually the trail reached a creek that flowed into the reservoir and after following this trail for sometime, it was time to head home to get warm and dry before the rain really picked up. That afternoon we had a tour of Peterson AFB and checked out the museum there.

Wildflowers on the trail.

Burnt trees but fresh undergrowth. 
Trail at Rampart Reservoir

A side trail following the stream at Rampart Reservoir.

Rampart Reservoir.

Thursday (08/31):
Today was a guided whitewater trip with Arkansas Valley Adventures. One of our former runners and trip members loved it here in Buena Vista so much, that after graduation he moved out here and became a river guide. Thus, we typically use his company even though he no longer works for them. In years past, we do the Pine Creek/Numbers run or the Royal Gorge but with a much younger group, we decided to do Browns Canyon. Browns Canyon is a great intro to rafting because you only do a few Class III rapids, so it is great for families with young kids. After a full day of being on the water we went back to camp to pack up all non-essential items to be ready to leave for Pikes Peak in the early morning.

Friday (09/01):
Everyone was up at 4:40 am and breaking down tents, loading up the trailer and vehicles, and getting breakfast. By 7:00 am we had the kids at the Barr Trail trail-head and heading up the mountain. Unfortunately, with all the terrible rain we've had on the trip we knew the conditions above treeline weren't going to be good, so they would only be running to the Barr Camp (halfway up) this year. After dropping the kids off, I found a place to park the truck and went looking for a real breakfast and bathroom. We stopped at Good Karma coffee shop and had some delicious coffee and breakfast. After poking my head around in Manitou Springs, I decided to seriously consider some relocation possibilities in the near future. I loved the quaint little town which is similar to Asheville, NC but much smaller, more like St. Francisville. Its also similar to Asheville, as the town has your typically dirty hippies living in the park and your abundance of hipsters, but with Barr Trail and Manitou Incline within walking distance, I think I can deal with hippies and hipsters. After picking the kids up three hours later, we loaded up in the vehicles and headed for the summit. Above treeline conditions quickly worsened and soon became white-out conditions. On our way down visibility was about ten feet in front of the car and we were dealing with a wintry mix of sleet and rain. Finally, the kids understood why we didn't want them summiting in this weather. After reaching the bottom we picked up the trailer and started the drive home, reaching St.Francisville Saturday afternoon.

Sunrise as we headed for Pikes Peak on Friday Morning.
Overall, I thought the trip was an incredible success despite dealing with rain every day and having a few days of non-stop rain all day. I was also happy with how much my legs let me run and incredibly proud of how well the youngsters ran during the week. If you have never been to the area, it should be on your running bucket list, especially Barr Trail as I personally believe it is one of the best and most beautiful trails in the country. If you want to see more pictures, particularly of Barr Trail and Pikes Peak summit, check out one of my Facebook albums from previous trips.