Summer Grand Traverse Trail Running Race

As an (almost) culmination to our summer of competitions, M and I completed the inaugural summer version of the Grand Traverse Ski Race. The race starts in downtown Crested Butte and finishes in Aspen 40 miles later (though our GPS read 40.68 miles). Entailing a mixture of singletrack, jeep roads and doubletrack; there were runners and mountain bikers competing.

For our first ultra race ever, I  was happy to finish full-stop, but we definitely weren’t among the top competitors! It pains me to say that I think we didn’t train enough on the right sort of terrain – up and down and up again vs. the usual BIG up we are used to, followed by mostly flats and downhills. My body definitely felt the effects of the brutal day, both during and after the race; and it may be a while before I walk without feeling  the burn in my poor legs.

We started in the early morning light, 6am in Crested Butte. The day promised to be clear and no thunderstorms were forecast – an important consideration with the high mountain passes we would be ascending and descending.

 

Highest elevation of the course - Star Pass

Highest elevation of the course – Star Pass

The first 30 miles I would categorize as relatively easy, we had a good pace and were chugging along nicely – walking the very steep stuff and making up ground steadily. And then we hit an absolute and insurmountable wall…

Aching knees and backs, pulled muscles, sunburn, even mosquito bites (once we descended into the area near the Barnard Hut) and general demotivation made that last stretch pretty miserable. The worst part of the day would have to be the 5 mile descent down Ajax mountain into Aspen. Sounds breezy right? Downhill after miles and miles of running in the heat (of course it was the hottest day of the summer according to numerous observers) should be a treat, right? No such thing – worn out feet and knees took the brunt of the steepest mountain I have ever seen and I would have dearly liked to crawl to the finish!

Still smiling at Star Pass, roughly mile 16

Still smiling at Star Pass, roughly mile 16

Despite all the laments above, I am happy to have crossed an ultra marathon off my bucket list, and the sense of achievement certainly feels tangible. The views were gorgeous and the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness felt remote and wild, despite the dirt bikes and ATVs we encountered on the trails throughout race day. It didn’t take one rest day before M was talking about going back next year to better our position on the field. I am not so convinced.

A finish line never looked so good

A finish line never looked so good

M has a couple of triathlons left this summer and I have one more race planned to do, a measly 11km which sounds blissful compared to what we just endured. After that, we both feel a long break is deserved… lots of reading and baking on the cards me thinks.

Hunting for wildflowers and butterflies

In aid of our training for the Grand Traverse trail race we are planning in August (Crested Butte to Aspen), M and I did our longest run yet this weekend. At almost 3 hours, it does not sound like too mammoth a task but it certainly felt strenuous!

We climbed up the Cougar Ridge trail out of Minturn until it joined the Grand Traverse bike trail on Vail Mountain, then along Game Creek Bowl to Eagle’s Nest for quick water break; and back down to Minturn on the Game Creek Trail.

Quick breather on what is left of Lions Head Rock - looking down on Minturn

Quick breather on what is left of Lions Head Rock – looking down on Minturn

My name for this post is a little bit of a misnomer – though we saw fields of wildflowers and ran through clouds of butterflies (attracted by our bright shirts probably), I failed to capture any photos. I blame M as he bolted off in front of me with my camera phone in his pocket. A major high point of the day is that he loved his new running vest/pack from the Salmon S-Lab series. Apparently it fit like a dream and there was no bounce. It also meant I had nothing to carry myself and plenty of water from his two chest bottles – winning! I have ordered a vest too – once it arrives, the review will follow.

Heading down Game Creek Trail from Eagle's Nest

Heading down Game Creek Trail from Eagle’s Nest

We started a little later than I would have liked, on the trail at about 8.40am. It was sunny and warm (which becomes unbearably hot really fast when you are puffing your way up a mountain!) with no hostiles all the way up to Vail Mountain. On our way down, however, we ran into about 3 groups of hikers, 2 of which had barking dogs off leash. This is quite a pet peeve of M’s and it is beginning to annoy me too now that I see how obnoxious people can be. The last group had a barking Australian Sheepdog in our faces that was absolutely out of control. They had to yell to make themselves heard over his barking that he “was friendly”. Certainly didn’t act that way.

After our busy morning, I kind of wished we had headed to the pool to enjoy the summer’s day. But, there were Soccer World Cup Finals to watch (Germany just beat Argentina, boo) and cherry pies to bake… tough life!

 

Summertime happiness

M and I went on a post Independence Day bike ride to enjoy the summer sun. Judging from the sunburn streaks on our arms and the loss of what felt like half my body weight in dripping sweat, we may have started a little late in the day!

Nevertheless it was oh so beautiful. We rode up Vail Mountain and took a water break at Eagle’s Nest. With it being the middle of the day on a summer Sunday, plus the new ziplining, trampolining and who knows what other activities available, we escaped the crowds there rather quickly.

Onwards and upwards: the Grand Traverse bike trail wraps around Game Creek, Sun Down and Sun Up Bowls to end up at PHQ. It is a medium difficulty singletrack with some really fun parts to gain some speed on the way back.

Mountain biking in the Back Bowls

Mountain biking in the Back Bowls

Don’t let those clouds deceive you, the day was a scorcher! After we reached the tippity top and spent far too little time admiring the view (and far too much time panting over our bike handlebars); it was back to Eagle’s Nest to try and make it back down the mountain to have a snack before the Farmer’s Market closed. We missed it but M did manage to snag a pulled pork sandwich from Kirby Cosmo’s as they were packing up – delish!

Afternoon rainclouds were looming

Afternoon rainclouds were looming

I felt a little like Michael McIntyre, the best comedian ever, British of course – if you have not watched him, do yourself a favor and do so immediately, preferably in a marathon form – as we whizzed by other riders still pedaling their way up the Grand Traverse trail. He has a scene he does where he refers to the glee you feel when you pass road traffic stopped at a standstill as you travel in the opposite direction; then as you drive further away you pass cars speeding to their unforeseen (read: road rage) doom. This description does not give it justice. Watch it.

There really is nothing like an ice cold beverage to end off a grueling adventure. Once I got home and extracted myself from the sweaty layers, my new favorite Stella Artois Cidre tasted like heaven. Pretentious name – yes. Closest taste to Savannah Dry from back home – YES.

 

 

One fine adventure in the Gore Range

Today we planned to hike up Bald Mountain. We did. Victory dance!

View into the Gore Range from the top of Bald Mountain

 

I wasn’t feeling it at the beginning, we started super early to get up while it was still hard and icy, and ski the soft spring slush down around noon once the sun softened it up.

Going up was just miserable and I felt I was slipping and sliding all over, could have almost used an ice axe in parts where my skins would just slide me backwards!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank goodness The Man was more motivated than I today, we made it and oh was it worth it.

Backside of Bald

The view over the range was gorgeous and there was even cell service up there, who knew.

The spoils, after an almost 4 hour hike up

 

About to summit the ridge

Skiing down was super and we timed it pretty much perfect. The snow was softening up without being mushy and dangerous – anything over your ankle is no go, but it gets sketchy long before that on certain slopes.

We did see two avalanches on the way up. They had happened a while ago, looked to be triggered by snowmobiles judging from the tracks, but it is hard to say. Both on east facing steep pitches, not hard to believe with how strange the snowpack is and how warm it has been lately.

Remains of an avalanche up the Spraddle drainage

Making some turns off of Bald

After we skiied all the exposed stuff, it was time for some lunch – cheese dogs over a fire, oh yeah. There is nothing that tastes so good as a smoky hot dog after a hard hike. Love it.

Lunch time=delayer in the springtime sunshine

 

 

 

 

Blood, sweat and tears

Wow, what a day. The Man and I hiked to the Ben Eiseman hut, up the Spraddle Creek drainage. It took a whopping 7 hours!

Reading on The Man’s Suunto when we got back to the car

It is meant to be an overnight, but we just did a day trip to see the hut. Plus, the last one we did (Peter Estin Hut out of Yeoman Park) was a relatively short hike in. So was really shocked at this one. Skins on, skins off, back on, with all the variable pitches. Plus it has been super warm so it was crazy icy, skis couldn’t even bite and kept slipping on the thin trail.

Enjoying some delicious Honey Stinger waffles, finally made it to the hut

So happy to be heading “down” to my lunch at home

It took us 4 and a half hours to get up to the hut. The view was totally worth it (of course I say that now – was ready to kill while going up the last stretch!)

Vail Mountain with some of Holy Cross in the distance – picture doesn’t compare!

We relaxed for half an hour and began the long journey back to the car. I have never hated being on skis so much, even the turns weren’t that great since the snow alternated between spring slush and icy parts.

The Man pointing out Bald Mountain

Bald Mountain

Saw some incredible vistas though, got a fantabulous sunburn too, it was a gorgeously warm and bright day. And definitely feeling a sense of achievement now.

Going to the Hibachi place in town for dinner tonight, can’t wait!

Spring is in the air

It definitely feels like winter is coming to an end – really hope it snows before my mom gets here so it is not completely barren for the end of the season! In the meantime, I am quite enjoying the warmth, even if the skiing is not that grand. Today I am wearing pumps to work! With no socks. That is how warm it is.

Just went for a glorious run up Gore Creek Trail.

Trailhead for Gore Creek Trail

It was getting pretty toasty running straight up Bighorn Road, think I overdessed a bit. But beautiful, shady and quiet once I got into the trees further up the trail.

Looking back down the valley

Only saw 2 other people and they were snowshoeing. Otherwise I had it all to myself and the sunshine.

Shady pines along the creek

 

Spring is definitely on the way, so warm that parts of the trail have melted and refrozen, making for some ice – slightly precarious in just running shoes!

Ice ice ice

I just ran a short loop that backs out of the campsite further up the old Vail Pass road; and then back home.

Off to work now, but feeling most productive after that adventure.

Gore Creek Campground

Monday in the mountains

Breathtaking Monday morning, gorgeous sunshine and crispy air. Loving it today. Just got back from a quick run around East Vail – sidewalks slightly icy but otherwise it was a good one. We got up crazy early to do some work on Twitter accounts @bagandpack and @marinae1188.

I was just placing an order with Ibex (www.ibex.com), an awesome merino wool layering company. They make warm and breathable layers for sports and gorgeous lifestyle pieces such as sweaters and dresses. I had had my eye on one Meridian Cardigan all winter. Shock horror when I looked and they had changed to spring inventory already and I could no longer order it! So I emailed Ibex and they tracked one down fro me I am now going to order. Awesome service and approachability! (if that’s a word).