Thursday, June 18, 2009
On Tuesday, I went for a seven mile run, which consisted of running up a mountain with 1000 foot of ascent and back down. The town of Marble, where our cabin is, is situated at 7950 foot elevation and everything goes up from there. The views are quite spectacular all around. This run was just on a dirt road up to a lodge.
The real fun/craziness was on Wednesday. My friend Dean and I decided to make the trip around Lead King Basin, through the town of Crystal (which we hiked to on Tuesday), and back to Marble. He had done it once before and described it to me and it sounded doable as a run. He was going to take his mountain bike and I was going to run. We figured I would pass him going uphill and he would pass me going downhill. We originally thought the whole route was around 13 miles (information on this route was somewhat sketchy) but as we researched it a little more it seemed like it would be closer to 15.
We took off at 6am from Marble. I quickly passed him on the first ascent as he had to get off the bike and walk due to traction issues. I "ran" the first mile and three quarter (it was steep so "run" is a generous word) but started walking after that, as the trail kept going relentlessly up. I soon came to a raging stream with no bridge and no readily apparent way to cross it. It was too deep and fast to wade through. I found a dead tree across the water just downstream and considered trying to cross on it. The stream was about 8 feet wide at this point. It was here that I started to debate with myself the wisdom of this trek. Dean had not caught up to me at this point and I didn't see how he was going to get his bike across. If I slipped off the log on my way across I could be toast. I really wanted to see Lead King Basin, supposedly one of the prettiest spots in Colorado, so I decided to cross the log and go on by myself. I successfully crossed and hoped Dean would just turn around and go back and not try to do something foolish with his bike.
As I continued on, the road just went relentlessly upward. I was walking almost the whole time. There were now piles of snow beside the roadway, and soon on the roadway, that I had to cross. I now realized that this road was not navigable by anything but by foot, and if I had a problem no one would find me until July when the road would be navigable by vehicle. I was hoping that Dean hadn't gotten swept downstream. After 4.75 miles of relentless climbing and treading over snowdrifts that were over two feet deep (fortunately it was hard packed snow and I stayed on top), I decided I had to decide about whether it was worth going on. I had been going up switchbacks and it seemed like I was getting near the top. I decided if I had to do one more switchback I would turn around. Also, if I wasn't at the top in the next quarter mile, I would turn around. Well, there were no more switchbacks and after a quarter mile I seemed to be really close to the top so I continued on.
At 5.5 miles and 10,916 feet, I finally reached the top and got my first views of the basin. Spectacular! I took a few pictures and decided I should turn around. I knew what was behind me and that it was all downhill and it was shorter than going on. I also figured that I might run into Dean, if he was fool enough to still be walking his bike up the mountain, and convince him to turn around because the whole endeavor was too ridiculous. I started running down the mountain and after only 3/4 mile, there was Dean, walking his bike up the mountain. We decided to attempt the whole original route rather than just going back down the mountain. We made it back to the top and started down the basin.
The views got even more spectacular after we rounded a corner into the main portion of the basin. It was so lush and green with cascading streams and waterfalls, while being surrounded by 14,000 foot peaks. The run down was great. We did have to cross some streams at a few points, and I did end up getting both feet soaked in the process, but I didn't care at that point. The descent did get very technical, but we finally made it into the town of Crystal. From there, we knew the way back to Marble. We arrived back, tired, but satisfied and not dead.
I learned a few lessons from the trip:
1. Dean has a bad memory.
2. The Lead King Basin circuit is over 16 miles, not 13.
3. Mountains are tall.
4. I would rather have company than be alone in the wilderness.
5. Colorado mountains are much cooler than Central PA mountains.
6. Scaling 3,000 feet in 5.5 miles is hard.