(July 9, 2014 – July 21, 2014)
Since I’m a 43 year old man with 4 children the thought of taking a vacation with a group of men for the sole purpose of running, hiking and rafting is something that I wouldn’t ever have thought possible. This year the stars and the planets aligned in such a way that what was once considered impossible became possible. On Wednesday July 9th I walked out of my garage into my driveway to find a good running buddy of mine waiting for me to come out. I was the first person he was picking up. When complete he would have picked up four of us. Five guys heading out on a trip to run a race, do some hiking and rafting. We had a plan but we all agreed that we should be flexible.
I could go into way more detail than anyone cares about on each day of the trip but I’ll spare you all of those details. I’m going to try and stick to the important details. The details of each physical challenge we started and completed. The mundane activities between each of them are interesting but for the readers of this blog.
Wednesday / The drive to Colorado. Ok, this isn’t a physical thing but it’s worth noting how we executed it. We had a 15 passenger van that allowed three of the passengers to sleep while two stayed awake. We executed the drive for Huntsville to Denver with incredible precision. It felt like a military operation. We finished the trip in 22 hours. Thursday morning we stopped in Denver to refuel and grab some breakfast. During our breakfast we planed out which 14er we intended to hike immediately after breakfast.
Thursday / My first 14er! (Gray’s Peak and Torrey’s Peak). The plan was simple. Get our stuff ready and hike to the top of the peak. For this particular trail head the first challenge was driving our massive 15 passenger van to the trail head. A task one would think to be simple but for our group, driving on the road up tothe trail head became an adventure. An adventure that quickly became a trivial task. After driving on the interstate all night the initial drive up the trail head road was daunting. I personally over-reacted to the rough road. It made the start of our adventure incredible. I mean, what was the trails going to be like if road was like this?
We parked the van and proceeded to find the trail head. Of course, we took our mandatory group photo and headed out on the trail. The climb was slow and steady. James, the organizer in the group was keeping a close eye on the weather. He new that we had a limited amount of time to get to the top of the mountain before storms rolled in and stopped us. Since all of us train at different levels we all performed on the hike accordingly. Everyone made the hike because we are all hardcore. It was clear that some of us could move faster than others. No problem! We all had the same goal. The real problem wasn’t the distance or the steepness of the climb. It was the thin air. Everyone, regardless of conditioning suffered after passing the 12,000ft of elevation mark.
We completed the return journey back down to the car. All of us were exhausted from driving all night and jumping right into a 14er hike. The original plan was to camp but we quickly decided it would be better if we could shower and get a good night sleep. So, we drove back to Denver, got us a cheap room and ate and some italian food. We were all suffering from some mild altitude sickness. I think at one point we all had a pretty intense headache.
We woke up on a mission the next day (Friday). We had to hike another 14er. We needed to drive to Leadville to pick up our packets so which 14er was conveniently located next to Leadville. We decided Mt. Elmert was the lucky peak. Why Elmert? It’s the highest 14er in Colorado and it’s just down the road from Leadville.
Friday / Attempt at Mt. Elmert. Unfortunately we got a late start and the traffic from Denver to Leadville was more than expected. We could tell there was some storms developing by checking the weather on our phones but we were hopeful that we could make it to the top before it. Off we went, motivated and ready to conquer another peak. The drive up to the trail head was nothing like the drive up to Gray’s and Torrey’s trail head. It was a smooth ride with basically no bumps and no climb. The parking lot was full but we managed to find a place to park the bus. The trail head had a compost toilet that a few of us needed due to the long drive. We took a few pictures and off we went.
Motivated and excited that we may make it to the peak of the tallest 14er in Colorado we’re moving fast. It was very cool watching the terrain change as we climb up the mountain. Just before we got high enough that the trees quit growing we started noticing that almost every tree on each side of the trail had been struck by lightening. Considering that we knew storms were rolling in from the other side of the mountain, we started to get nervous. I paused and waited for some of the others to catchup when I arrived at the tree line. The first storm passed over us. It brought could rain, strong winds and hail. It lasted about 15-20 minutes and blew over the us. James checked his weather app and said that the storm on the other side of the mountain didn’t have any lightening strikes yet. So, on we went, charging to the top. Almost immediately after we left the tree line we started passing hikers that were on the top when the first smaller storm cell passed over. They each had an interesting story of electricity on top when the storm passed over. One fellow said his phone sounded like a AM/FM radio and then quit working. Another hiker said his tripod was crackling and popping and that the rocks were sizzling when the storm passed over. Multiple people said that they had hair standing up on their head and arms. All of them delivered the same message, the top is not the place you want to be when a storm passed over. We keep moving in hopes we could beat the weather. I was about 200ft above the others when they all started yelling for me to turn around. I looked at my watch and I was at 12,900ft elevation. I started to keep going, but then thought twice and changed my mind. In the few minutes that it took me to decide to head down my group had picked up the pace and headed towards the bottom. I started jogging down to catch the others. This was my first bit of running on our trip. It felt great and was perfect timing two days before our big race on Sunday. After the race we headed down to Leadville and picked up our packets and ate some delicious food at the Tennesse Pass Cafe.
Saturday / Day before the race and rest day. Martin Schneekloth flew into Denver on Saturday morning and we had him shuttled to Copper Mountain just outside of the Avon. This kept us from having to drive two hours to pick him up in Denver. Ed Johnson and I took the bus and picked Martin up and drove into Leadville so Martin could pick up his race packet. Again, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at the Tennessee Pass Cafe.
Sunday / SilverRush50… Read my silver rush race report here.
Monday / Mt. Democrat, Mt. Cameron, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Bross (partial)… After an exhausting day of running we headed back to the room and started planning our day of hiking the next day. Monday morning we all got up early and headed toward Breckenridge, Co. The road up to the trail head wasn’t bad. It had some funky bubble house about 3/4 of the way up to the top of the trail head. After we got to the top of the road we found another full parking lot. We got our gear and headed out. The hike was great and the peaks were beautiful. On top of Mt Democrat, there was a dog that was hanging out without an owner. We later found out he lived at one of the houses on the road to the trail head. The owner said he frequently goes to the top of the mountain and hangs out.
Tuesday / White Water Rafting … 26 miles down the Arkansas river I must admit I was nervous about the river rafting. I had been rafting some years ago but it was on class 1 and class 2 rapids so I wasn’t really ever in danger. James the organizer of the trip had done a great job of making sure we didn’t get into trouble on the river. He picked an all day trip with multiple class 3 rapids. From my perspective, it was the perfect level of challenge and danger. I think some of the others would have liked a bit more danger.
Wednesday and Thursday / Rest and Travel Day … After all we have done we were due a rest. We slept, watched tv, did laundry, played ping-pong and pool all day Wednesday and checked out Thursday morning. We got the bus loaded up with all of our gear and headed out to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. We arrived mid-afternoon. We had plenty of time to get checked into our little cabin and explore the trail around the north rim lodge. We bought a souveinir or two and found us some food and settled in for some more sleep. We started the North to South run at 3am. We checked out of the cabin, loaded out stuff up and drove the bus to the trail head.
Friday / North to South Rim … The run down from the north rim was quick. It was dark so we couldn’t see how steep the cliffs were and we kept a decent pace until we got to the bottom. Richard had ran the trail before a few years back and he was leading the group. It was incredible. Being at the bottom of the canyon is as impressive as being on the top edge but in a different sort of way. You are always surrounded by cliffs, avoiding a cactus on the trail or crossing one of the many bridges you encounter. There is something extra cool about hiking/running a trail that has tunnels. After a short break at the Phantom Ranch, we headed out looking forward to our climb out of the canyon. As we hiked up, the temperatures went up with us. Slowly we consumed our water. A few of us used up all of our water prior to reaching the top. This made the last mile a bit more challenging than we expected. The views were once again incredible. We all took as many pictures as we could to capture the moment and the view. I’m amazed at how much a picture just does not even begin to capture the essence of any of the places I visited on the trip. The vastness of the canyons and mountains is something you have to experience in person.
Finally after getting to the top of the North Rim, we all refilled our bottles and took the bus over to the South Rim lodge. There we had a room reserved that we planned on staying at over night. Since we only had the stuff we could carry, we all took showers and put what close we had for visiting the cafe. After getting our bellies full, we went to the room and did our best to get some sleep. After about 3 hours, we all started waking up due to the room being so hot. The room didn’t have AC. Not have AC wouldn’t have been an issue if we were sleeping overnight, but trying to sleep in the heat of the day wasn’t working out for us. So, we collaborated and decided that leaving at 8pm and run/hiking over night would be best. We were correct. However, it was as cool as one might think.
When we started the temps were cool. As we made our way down the canyon, the temps increased. By the time we reach the bottom, the temps where in the mid 90s. There was a breeze but it was very warm. So, even though we were traveling at night, we were still dealing with heat and hydration.
At 6am we finished our journey back to the North Rim trail head. Since Rich had done the Rim2Rim2Rim hike before he had decided to not hide the return trip. He had taken the shuttle back to the trail head the day after we finished the North to South run. He had slept all night and was ready for us to get loaded up and to take the first leg of the drive. He took us by the showers on the camp ground and stopped by the store next to the camp ground and then we begin the 28 hour road trip back to Huntsville, AL.