June 22, 2017

“Running” Fourteeners

Me and Paul Hardcastle at the start of our Pikes Peak ascent

Pikes Peak

Over the past few weeks I have managed to squeeze in a couple of long runs on two beautiful mountains: first, Pikes Peak (elevation 14,115 ft.) and, second, Mt. Evans (elevation 14,260 ft.).  Pikes Peak yielded a marathon distance run and Mt. Evans provided the challenge of a marathon “plus 4” (a 30-mile day).  I had been saving Pikes Peak for this season, having run the Barr Trail to Barr Camp on several occasions in years past (along with the great running traverse Elk Park Trail).  I managed to rope my friend, Paul Hardcastle, into running with me.  We left early from Denver and, after the obligatory stop at Starbucks where Paul collected a coffee and his “breakfast” (some type of processed bagel with fruit bits in a plastic tub), we reached the Barr Trail parking area—immediately adjacent to the cog railroad.  We elected to leave the run out of Monitou Springs to the racers who compete in the annual Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon and instead headed immediately up the mountain.  We pushed fairly hard and reached Barr Camp in a timely manner (elevation 10,200 ft.).  While waiting for Paul I shared a “Hello” and an affirmative answer to the “Are you going up?” offered by the camp’s caretaker Neal (Neal and Teresa Taylor have made this camp their home since 2005).  After the charge to Barr Camp, our pace slowed.  The incline and the altitude managed to work against me and both Paul and I shifted into a run/hike mode.  Once past the A-frame storm shelter, Paul’s mountaineering abilities kicked in and he headed off to the summit, disappearing nearly out of sight over the course of the next hour.  I pushed on, moving efficiently across the remaining snow that occasionally covered the route and, at long last, up the legendary “16 Golden Stairs” to the summit.  There I reconnected with Paul and we worked our way across from the cog railroad station and tourist facility to the “true” summit: a collection of boulders seemingly scattered about the middle of a loop drive and parking lot.  We enjoyed the summit views and used the facilities (specifically to answer the call of nature, refill our hydration bags, and to clean the debris out of our socks and shoes).  Before the day began, I had no idea what was going on up at the summit, but they even have “fresh” chocolate covered doughnuts up there (not that I am into that kind of thing)!

Chocolate doughnuts

Atop Pikes Peak (+/- 14,115 ft.)

The hard part of the day, at least for me, came next—the descent.  Paul excels at running downhill … I am a bit more deliberate and cautious.  Paul disappeared and consequently it would be his turn to wait at Barr Camp (and his wait would be significant)!  I hardly stopped there, knowing that I had to keep moving if I didn’t want to keep Paul waiting for an hour at the bottom.  Again, Paul passed me and I started my “controlled descent” to the base.  Approximately 7 hrs. of “running” and Paul and I had accomplished what we set out to do.  Note: The average marathon time reported by Matt Carpenter on www.skyrunner.com is around 7:05 for men, and 7:40 for women.  Later, after a bit of recovery food (I had packed a small container of food that included a half cup of brown rice, a half of a baked sweet potato, and a quarter of an avocado with some sunflower seeds placed on top in the cooler in the my truck), I shared with Paul how my wife and I had literally flown down the trail from Barr Camp to the base—the added 4,000 ft. both up and down had dampened the once speedy route.

Mt. Evans

Start of Mt. Evans run (at the base of Hwy. 5)

I undertook the Mt. Evans run solo.  I left my home and headed for the base of the mountain at 5:00 a.m. with a plan to be running by 6:30.  The sun highlighted Mt. Evans as I passed Echo Lake along Clear Creek County Hwy. 105.  The day’s run would have me running up Hwy. 5 “the highest road in North America.”  The weather was gorgeous … I quickly pulled my pack together and I headed up, passing the park entrance and foregoing the $3 fee (I carried my Federal Parks Pass that covered my entry).  Hwy. 5 has mile markers that begin at 1 and continue in succession to 14, by mile marker 3 the altitude had started to hit me.  Knowing this course from the bike helped encourage me … there would really be no surprises, as I knew exactly what I was in for.  Mile markers 4, 5, and 6 passed uneventfully and then the climb began to get more severe. I gradually adjusted my layers, adding the sum of the gear that I intended to use by the time I reached Summit Lake (just before mile marker 11).   Mile markers 11, 12, and 13 passed by and I used my own personal “carrot” to move my feet onward and upward—I would be treated to the actual summit today (not limited to the Crest House/aka Summit House area by the fact that cycling shoes don’t do very well on any other surface than pedals)—today I would go to the very top.  Accompanied only by marmots and the occasional mountain goat, I rounded the final switchback and met the many motorists, as well as a few cyclists that had managed to get an early start on the climb, at the summit parking lot.  I proceeded up the trail leading to the true summit, passing the USGS marker that shows 14,285 ft.  I lingered at the top and enjoyed the view, clicked a couple of photographs, and eventually turned to head down.  I planned to make quick work of the descent and the miles passed quickly.  After a brief stop at Summit Lake to borrow some much-needed sunscreen from some friendly and fully prepared hikers (my mistake, having almost all, but NOT ALL of the “10 Essentials” i.e., (1) navigation, (2) sunscreen, (3) insulation, (4) illumination, (5) first-aid supplies, (6) fire, (7) repair kit/tools, (8) nutrition, (9) hydration, and (10) emergency shelter), I continued on.  The fatigue from my training day did not set in until I dropped below the Mount Goliath Natural Area.  From there I shifted into run/walk mode and used mental “tricks” to pace the remainder of the descent: e.g., run until all of the cars in view pass, walk until the next motorcycle comes along, etc.  By the time that I made it completely “down” I had returned to a simple outfit of shorts and a jersey.  My Polar telemetry showed 30.45 miles, with just over 7 hours of running with an average heart rate of 109 (serious LSD training, Long Slow Distance), and a caloric expenditure of 4682 kcal.  Another great training day and another 14er.

Geared up and ready for the final push for the top

View from the summit of Mt. Evans (+/- 14,260 ft.)