Take no prisoners, this is my year.
Tired of just “thinking” about doing epic things, I woke up on Dec 31st, hesitated for about 40 minutes…and off I went. Like many of my trail runs, unplanned, unknown mileage, and last minute decisions of trail choice was the motto. Driving to Blackstar canyon, I looked over at Santiago Peak looming in the near distance, “well…” I thought, “I’m here, so might as well end the year with a bang.”
Fully knowing a summit attempt this late would probably find me running down the mountain in pitch black, I set off anyway around 1pm with one 20oz bottle of water, 4 gels and a kids clif bar. I knew it had rained hard for the last couple days so I parked my truck at the road entrance for fear of swollen river crossings and muddy roads. I figured the 2-3 miles of dirt road to the trailhead would be a great warm-up. After sucking wind for about 45 minutes I looked down at my GPS: 4.7 miles. Great I thought; just smoked myself before running 8 miles straight up with roughly 4,000 feet of elevation gain. My brother had told me he saw some snow up on the top but with no recollection of seeing anything; off I went (super under dressed). Passed a few weekend hikers going to Holy Jim falls and so far so good, weather was a little chilly but sunny, and trails for the most part were dry. This first section is mildly technical with stream crossings and some rock hopping until you get to the switch backs, which were fully exposed to sun and not too steep of a gradient. This is where I would make up most of my time, as these are considered “runnable”.
Sidenote: I didn’t really understand why I was sucking wind until I looked at the data for the road section:
Snow started appearing 3 miles up the trail, this was a bit alarming. Slowly but surely, with each mile came more unmelted patches of snow until I found myself running through 3-10 inches of fresh powder. With no prior experience of trail running in snow, my pace slowed down to the top until forced to just power hike the last half mile, carefully digging in each foot to make sure I had good footing. The weather was still sunny but temperatures had dropped to about 35 degres Fahrenheit, I tried quickening my pace but the soft snow kept slowing me down. The last 2 mile section was in the shade the whole time and with me not being able to run, my body temp dropped super fast. At times like these your mind loves to start playing games; you start to think of the lightweight fleece you left in the vehicle, the nice thicker wool socks back at home, or how in colder weather you burn more calories…and you only have 200 calories of nutrition left. Needless to say this was my toughest point of the trip, and being all too familiar with these lows, I went into ultra mode: shut the mind off for a minute, deep breath and one foot in front of the other-“Relentless forward progress”. Hands and face numb, I finally reached the USGS summit mark in exactly 2:30.06. The scene on the summit was super eery. Fresh snow and wind striations indicated it had been a super windy night up here. Dead silence except for the occasional ice cracking off the radio towers. Clouds were rolling in quick so I snapped a few pictures before the beautiful panoramas would be covered.
After these few shots, I could barely feel my fingers and had trouble putting on my jacket which I luckily had packed. The rest of my nutrition went down the hatch which included a kids Clif Zbar and one final gel I would hang on too. After packing some snow in my bottle, I set off down the mountain. This is why I truly love mountain running, all of that hard work and pain to get to the top, finally rewarded by being able to blaze down at a suicide pace. The time was now 4pm and if I wanted to be on time to work for NYE, I HAD to haul ass. I passed a couple hikers would were hoping to reach the top before sunset, which I’m not sure they did since the sun was already behind the mountain. It’s funny how quick you can forget about pain and discontent once you’re flying down a mountain, hoot and haulering like a little kid. My main concern was getting off the trail before pitch black, because…yep of course my headlamp was in the truck. I slipped a few times and stubbed my toe on one too many rocks, but black toe nails eventually fall off and grow back….right? On the way down I ran into a couple hiking out who would later give me a ride back to my truck. This turned out to be a blessing from the mountain gods because after contemplating running that road back out, the thought of running 5 more miles with no light, no food/water and working all night? no thanks! The descent took me 1:15:00 on the dot, bringing the round trip from Holy Jim Trailhead to Summit in 3:45:06, but adding the extra 4.7 brought my total run time to 4:30:42. This was the only way for me to feel like 2012 was finally over. With my first 50 miler, 70 miler and another trip to Leadville in the bag, running a winter summit was the cherry on top. My next goal, was to start the year off with 13 miles….
(to be continued)