When it's still 80 degrees and sunny in late September, it's as if the world is presenting you with an invitation to explore. By "explore," I really mean run up mountains. After the sense of accomplishment mixed with humbling quad pain and 10 days of slow running that I experienced after my last adventure above 14,000', I was eager to do it again. When a friend decided to go run Mt. Yale yesterday, I obviously jumped at the idea, like any normal person would when presented with the notion of running up a mountain.
At 5:45 yesterday morning we were on our way - the best adventures seem to begin before the sun is up, with hot coffee and Powerbars and a drive up Highway 24. The trail leading to Browns Pass and Mt. Yale begins in the San Isabel National Forest just past Buena Vista at almost 10,000'. The drive there was beautiful - sun reflecting off the Collegiate Peaks, bright gold aspens, and a sky that turned pink and purple before settling on a cloudless, bright blue.
We started at 8:15, in shorts, with gloves, a beanie, and a few layers on top - it was crisp, but not cold. Over 4.5 miles you gain about 4,200', so it's a good 1,000' per mile climb. The first section of the run takes you through rocky, rooty, aspen forests - everything in sight glows gold and the trail is dappled with sunlight, which makes it pretty, but also sort of hard to see. The climb is pretty constant with a few steep descents and creek crossing. Really, I didn't realize just how much vertical distance we covered until I was stumbling downhill at what can only be described as a slow and klutzy trot.
Once you get above treeline the view is picturesque - patches of snow, peaks beyond peaks in the distance, and the glowing aspens in every direction. When I ran Mt. Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross, I realized midway through the run that wasn't looking anywhere except for at the trail ahead of me. This time I tried to atleast get a glimpse now and then. The ascent is runnable, except for a few stairs which with better planning I could have run, until you're within sight of the summit whereupon you are essentially staring at a rickety pile of large rocks. I lost the trail here for a few minutes and just stood there staring up the side of a cliff before I decided to backtrack and find something that looked like I could scramble up. Scramble, not run, not walk, I'm not sure how else I could have gone about it, so I really climbed up the last few hundred feet like a gorilla for a total time of 1:43. Having run the trail once and knowing where I could push harder, I think it'd be fun to go back next summer and try to run closer to 1:30.
We turned around and started the ever-so-daunting descent at a speedy 48 minute/mile pace as we scrambled down the highest switchback. We did speed up to a cautious trot and eventually a run, but did have to walk the occasionally very steep section. It took about an hour and half to get back down, better slow than sorry and broken, if you ask me :-)
It was another wonderful day in the mountains! Perfect weather, great friends, awesome scenery, steep ascents, and a successful summit of my 7th 14er...I can't think of a better way to spend the first weekend of fall!