Run fast ... fall down

Run fast ... fall down

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mount Meeker

In a spirit similar to running 100 mi/wk to train for a 100 mile run, I decided I needed to reinvigorate my climbing legs and hoped to have a week with 15,000 ft of elevation gain (same as the Leadville 100 course).  Due to family obligations, it’s difficult for me to do runs on trails during the week unless I get creative, and nearby road routes have little to offer in terms of elevation gain. I got permission to leave work an hour early on Wednesday to have a go at Mt Sanitas and still make it home at 6:30. At the last minute, I instead headed to Green/Saddle rock as this offers potentially more elevation gain if I run fast enough. I hiked steadily up Saddle Rock to the Greenman crosscutting trail and took that to Ranger and Gregory canyon for 1500 ft vertical in a short <3.5 mi loop. It was a great run down in hot humid weather. I followed it up by running the exact loop in reverse at 6AM the next morning. Friday night, I got together with Jimmy for a late night, moonlight climb of bear peak (2600 ft). We reached the top in 1hr6min by starting at Shannahan Ridge trailhead. The view from the summit down to Boulder was great at night. We watched a lightning storm 40 miles east of us, dodged a kamikaze bat for about 10 minutes and then jogged back down.

I could not get in anything on Saturday due to a wedding I had to attend and thus used the day for a break and began planning a big Sunday. After contemplating nearby 14ers and other loops in RMNP, I spotted a route up Mt Meeker that avoids the Nat’l park entrance fee, had 5K gain, and promised solitude. I got up 4:45 AM Sunday morning and drove to Horse Creek “Trailhead” off of CO 113N near Allenspark. A well-signed dirt road led me through some cabins for about a mile to a small sign with the word “trail” on it. I took this to be the trailhead. One truck was parked and there was room for potentially 5 cars with a few other spots 100 yds down the road. I geared up and started my ascent at 6:30AM following a well-defined but under-traveled trail, especially for a Nat’l Park. I crossed paths with a huge elk causing mutual spooking, him running one way, me jumping back at the first creek crossing. Over the next hour, I steadily climbed to the saddle between Mt Meeker (Meeker Ridge, SE of the peak) and 10,374 ft Lookout Mtn. From the saddle, I knew I wanted to turn right, to follow a ridge all the way up Meeker. Since the saddle was so broad, and the forest was fairly dense I looked around for the best spot. I felt like I passed the saddle highpoint and then found some logs sidelining a trail heading NW with an appropriate cairn. I took this trail and played connect the cairns for a while. At times the trail looked respectable, at others it was just a matter of looking around for the next cairn.

At 10,800 I approached a small snowfield (still well below treeline) and I would have headed straight up it, but noticed footprints meandering right. The prints were fresh and had not been rained on, so I assumed someone must be ahead of me doing the same route.

A 100 ft higher, I saw a solo hiker briefly between tree patches. I continued onward following their lead and spotted them again standing and facing my general direction. As I was looking up the hill, they dropped trou, and I guess at that point, was able to determine she was female. I passed her at this point and continued up to treeline at about 11,300.  A large cairn led me east (right) around a rib of small cliffs to gain the ridge proper and from here I could scout what laid ahead.

I felt sleepy from 2 nights in a row of little sleep and was constantly doing math to determine exactly how much elevation gain I needed to hit my daily/weekly goal. I determined I could turn around at 12k, but then decided I should at least go to 12,600 (elevation of Hope Pass). I had moved over to the west side of the cliffband forming the summit of the ridge and around 11,800, I could see the summit block roughly 2-3 miles ahead and 3000 ft above me. It looked too close to be true but I could easily identify the 2 summits. I downed a PB&J and plodded onward, eventually switching back to the East side of the cliff band at 12,800 and it was a good decision. The route on the east side is much easier. I snapped some photos and eventually hit the 13,800 east summit and contemplated heading back. The scurry over to the formal summit block looked intense.

I could see many climbers atop nearby Longs peak as well as down in the Chasm below. I checked the weather and noticed a whispy white cloud above but nothing dark or storm-threatening.

As expected, the climb over to the west summit was indeed challenging with a knife edge section and many tricky problems to solve. I almost turned around 3 times, but kept taking it one move at a time. I popped out on the summit snapped a few photos, tried to sign the register (missing) and turned around to get back over to easier ground as soon as possible.

I swapped sides of the ridge several times trying to find the easiest move, eventually hit the east summit and headed down the rock pile.

A couple hundred feet below, I reacquainted with the other hiker on this route today and recognized her immediately. We’re old friends. We shared stories and continued on our ways (I told her I saw her with her pants down).

The sky began to darken and instantly an intense electric hailstorm developed while I was still high on the ridge. I knew I had to move fast but the trail-less ridge required me to put thought into every footstep and required constant route planning. I saw a huge flash hit the summit of S Arapahoe and 1 second later heard a boom. It was serious now. I did everything I could to get down but the ridge was still a few miles long and required hopping and climbing over rocks. Hail was thumping my hood, and I felt it constantly pinging my head and the backs of my bare legs. My shoes lost a lot of traction. I was trying hard to get back below treeline where I presumed I would be protected from lightning. The storm retreated and then came in full force again several times with lots of lightning striking nearby peaks. Eventually I hit treeline and followed a cairned route back down to the saddle and hoped the other climber was okay, because I knew she would have been right at the top when all of this started.

I made it back to the saddle and in many spots the area was clear so it was hard to determine the trail but I knew I had to head East. I was able to finally start running and it was still storming. After dropping off the saddle, my route was less than trail-like and so I switched my watch over to map mode to follow the GPS track up. I knew I would cross my path up soon. It ended up being about 1/3 of a mile away and took a long time bushwhacking through the forest, but ended up okay. I then ran hard down the sloppy muddy trail back to the trailhead at 12:30 for a round trip time of 6h25m (3h57 up and 2h28 down). I was saturated to the bone, but feet were feeling good, I got in some good uphill, at elevation and ran hard on the way down.
Hope my friend was okay as the weather was fairly intense for so early in the day.

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