A few weeks ago I got an email from Andy at Sierra Trading Post inviting me on a mountain hiking adventure with a few Denver bloggers – Heather, Lynne, Lauren – and Chris, the STP videographer. I got excited. My reply back may have had an excessive number of explanation points. Then, just before I hit send, I checked the date – Saturday, September 28th. Son of a… All of my happy explanation points got backspaced and replaced by “I wish I could but…”. That was the day of my first ultra – the Bear Chase 50K. I made everyone promise to have extra fun for me and focused on my ultra weekend.
Fast forward to the Friday night before the 50K. I had picked up my race packet and was attempting to put everything together for race morning when I got an email from Nick saying my race was cancelled. I didn’t believe him. After two weeks of re-routing the flooded course there was no way the race would get cancelled…was there? Technically it only got postponed until Sunday but this meant I had all day Saturday free.
At first I was excited to sleep in and be lazy. Then I remembered the STP hike. Within seconds I had re-invited myself as Lynne’s date. On second thought I started harassing Andy about reinstating my declined invite. In the matter of 10 minutes I went from preparing for a sunny 50K to packing for a cold, windy mountain hike. I love social media!
The plan was to meet at the Guanella Pass trailhead to hike three 13’ers – Square Top Mountain, Argentine Peak and Mount Wilcox. According to the trip report we were referencing the three summits should get us about 10 miles of hiking with roughly 5,000 feet of elevation gain. Sounds like a great warm up for a 50K, right?!
We met at the trailhead at 8:30am, piled on a few layers against the blustery wind and started out. The wind was definitely blowing hard but the sun was high and the sky was clear. Conversation flowed smoothly as we hiked along the snowy trail toward the summit of Square Top Mountain. At first the going was easy but that didn’t last forever…before long we were hiking straight up the mountain side.
As soon as we hit the flat top of Square Top Mountain the wind picked up. It was brutal. Truly brutal. I had every layer on – including my neck gaiter, winter gloves, three pairs of pants and three jackets. So many layers, still so brutally cold. It hurt. The wind whipped against the sides of our faces – tears and excessive snot was inevitable. And it hurt so bad. There were no summit photos. We literally got to the summit, said “yay summit” and immediately started down toward the saddle connecting Argentine Peak.
The climb down to the saddle was across a loose, snow covered talus field. I was on a mission to get out of the wind so I booked it down as quickly as possible – this is definitely a time I was thankful for the amount of time I’ve spent running trails. I think it helped a lot with testing, trusting and bouncing from one mini boulder to another!
Once we hit the saddle we made an unanimous group decision…Argentine Peak was out. We were all feeling pretty miserable from the beating the wind gave us and the trail leading up Argentine didn’t look like any fun at all. Instead we decided to follow an animal trail along the side of the mountain then summit Mount Wilcox.
Along the way we stopped in a nearly windless, sunny spot to dig up some food, reassess our layering situation and feel extremely awkward while chatting about ourselves in front of a camera. I swear I waxed poetically about the trails during the taping but lets be honest, we all know how important food is to me…
The climb toward the summit of Mount WIlcox was similar to the climb down Square Top – lots of loose talus that required your attention. The wind was far less painful and the sky was still bright blue and cloudless so we couldn’t really complain. I actually like hiking around in talus fields – its more technical than a groomed trail but if things start to move around the chances of a refrigerator sized rock crushing me is fairly unlikely.
At the summit of Mount Wilcox we were greeted with stunning views all around us. We could see Grays and Torreys as well as Mt Evans, the Sawtooth and Bierstadt. It was an absolutely gorgeous day. We were blessed with perfect, cloud-free weather and sunshine. I really could not ask for more!
The hike down was probably the most frustrating part of the hike for me. There was no defined trail so we cut across the open tundra/meadow. The going wasn’t exactly tough but walking downhill along the side of a mountain did a number of my feet. The downhills are rarely as joyful as you hope but this descent was making me a little nervous – I was definitely going to need functioning feet the next morning at the Bear Chase 50K!
Eventually we made it down to a gravel service road. It felt incredible on my feet! A short jaunt later we were back at…a bend in the road leading to the trailhead. That’s right, the only way to make this trip a full loop was to hike 1.5 miles up the paved highway. We clearly weren’t thinking when we left all three cars at the top trailhead but we lucked out when two very kind women in a red Subaru offered up a ride to two people with keys. From now on, if I see someone hiking up a road I’ll offer help!
We finished off our day with a trip to Tommy Knockers where I inhaled my garlic fries without thinking about leaving room for my entire burger. Oh well, they were delicious!
By the time I drug all my gear into the apartment it was 9pm. I was absolutely exhausted and all I wanted to do was fall into bed. Unfortunately I had to get a few things together before bedtime…I had an alarm going off at 4:06am for my first ultra marathon! It was definitely shaping up to be a big weekend!