Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Rawahs Part 6.

Before I even really get into it, I am writing about this day and hike a year after it was done, so please forgive my possibly faulty memory.  One thing I do remember and can definitely see now looking back through the photos was the moody weather.  The prediction for the day wasn't great, I suppose I generally got lucky, yet still got quite precipitated on.
I started dark and early from my home in Longmont, for the drive to get to the northwest part of Larimer County is not short.  I first found my way north to CO-14, and headed up the Poudre Canyon.  I went most of the way to Cameron Pass, but turned north on Road 103/Laramie River Road (seasonally closed) a few miles before the pass.  I continued north on 103 until I reached 90/McIntyre Road, where I took a left.
The goal for the day was a handful of summits, three that I'd visit from different parking areas in the valley between the Rawahs to the west and Deadman Lookout area to the east, and two I'd be able to do from the same place more to the south, between this valley and that of the Poudre Canyon.  With days like this, I'll either do the farthest out thing first and work my way back, or do the biggest/most pressing goal first and then do the others.
My first goal was the farthest away, peak 8775.  This summit lies on private property, and I attempted to gain permission but never heard back.  The land is unsigned and unfenced, with a large area next to the road to park on.  Forgive me my trespasses...
Early morning, looking north.
I was up and down in a short time.
Back at the car, I continued west/south on 90 to get to a small pull out to the south west of North Middle Mountain.  It looks like there is an old road that went to the summit.  Now you have to hike it, but it's short and easy. 
At the summit, foreboding clouds a sign of times to come!
Early morning sun shadow.
Looking south down the valley,
I got back to the car and started south, back on 103 once again.  Middle Mountain was my next goal for the day.  Appropriately named, this summit is in the middle of the valley.  Interestingly, most of it is public, however it is ringed by private property on the western side.  There is a small trailhead with a restroom almost directly south of the summit, but there isn't a trail to the top from there.  There is a trail from the summit that goes south, but I am not sure where it goes or what if anything it connects to...
There is an old road on the USGS and USFS maps to the east- perhaps this trail is an offshoot of that?  Who knows.
I parked at a substantial pull out on the west side of the road northwest of the summit.  It looks like this may be on private property, however it is not signed/fenced/etc., so I felt ok parking there.  I simply took the path of least resistance to the top from there.
It was slightly bushwhacky, but the main source of difficulty was a brief rain storm that left everything wet and slippery. 
Though below treeline, the summit was devoid of trees to the south, which again provided some marvelous views. 
The summit cairn.
Can't remember if there was a register here on not at this point.
I headed back the way I came to get to the car, and once again drove south.
My next and final leg of the day would link up peaks 10020 and 10060 starting and ending from the Lost Lake trailhead.  Funny how every "lost" lake I've been to in Colorado thus far has a trail right to it and/or is easily accessible.  The trailhead is off of 103 pretty close to highway 14.  With 4wd and high clearance, you could drive quite a bit in on jeep road 177, but I had neither and didn't mind the hike!
There are a number of off shoots from the road at first, remember to stay right.  I continued along the road until I was south of the eastern Twin Lake, and then picked a route to the summit of 10020.  The bushwhacking was a big rough at first but cleared up nicely, however the weather rolled in.  It was raining, then snowing, then I finally got to experience the most badass and metal of weather phenomena-thunder snow.
I got to the top, and then quickly continued on.  The next section was tricky, again quite slick with the precipitation, and quite rocky.  There were several times I either had to go back or go around to be able to descend to the northwest.  I decided that looked like the best route-drawing a straight line between the summits would give too much loss and gain in that difficult terrain, and going all the way back west to the road seemed unnecessary.  It was still nearly 900 feet of loss and subsequent gain to the summit of 10060.
It was still precipitating and I was cold, so I tagged the summit and headed west for road 177.  The bushwhacking here was quite easy through an open forest.  I hit the road and hoofed it back.
It was generally ok, though as you head farther south and get to some more open areas, you can clearly see people are driving off the road and where ever they want.  There are a few places where the road is braided, with alternate routes winding over each other.  It looks like some of these avoid big muddy areas, but remember, no matter your mode of transportation, you should always go through, not around mud to stop this from happening in the first place!
Past the storm, back to the car.
I got back to the car at a decent time, and made the long drive home with five more Larimer County peaks under my belt.  If it wasn't so close to the potential end of the season (this was in early October), I likely wouldn't have gone with the weather as it was.  However, I was determined to get the long drives over, and finish up a goal for the year.
Despite the weather, and maybe because of it, the day was pretty nice.  While not a fan of getting rained on, the swirling clouds and differing conditions definitely made the views all that more dramatic and enchanting.  These summits were fun to string together, and worthy destinations to visit for some unique views.
Link to hike map/GPX on caltopo (in black).
The Rawahs Part 6:
8775: .75 miles round trip, 667 foot gain.  Second class.  Easy+, but on private property.
North Middle Mountain, 8864 feet: 1.5 miles round trip, 530 foot gain.  Second class.  Easy+.
Middle Mountain, 9344 feet: 2.55 miles round trip, 1107 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate-.
10020: 4.05 miles, 674 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate.
10060: 6.9 miles, 714 foot gain.  Second class.  Moderate.
I linked the last two together in a loop which was 12.21 miles long with 2187 feet of elevation gain.  Moderate+.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Dunraven TH to Pingree Park (and back!).

Ah, August in Colorado.  A time of afternoon thunderstorms, warm weather, and lots of sunshine.
I was gearing up for the Plain 100, and this would be my second and last of two longer days between it and Ouray.  I mapped this one, and got ~32 miles and ~7k gain, pretty perfect.  It wouldn't be a ton of new trail to me, but would include some confusing intersections, and also a little bit of road to make the connection between the Stormy Peaks trail and the Signal Mountain trail, both in the area of Pingree Park.
And Pingree Park!  It's not a short drive from my home in Longmont to get there.  The idea that I'd run there (and back) was somewhat mind boggling.  This day was a more direct way than the road, but one of those that just seemed long.
I started around 5:15 am from the Dunraven Trail.  I've historically taken 36 up to Estes, and then went down Devil's Gulch Road/CR43 from there to get to the trailhead, but google suggested going up from Loveland was shorter for me.  The only thing was that I'd never gone up that way before, so my mental landmarks were not in order, but I got there ok.  
My plan was to go up the Signal Mountain trail, hit the top, take the not too obvious connector down to Stormy Peaks trail, that up and over to Pingree Park, then the other side of the Signal Mountain trail back up, then the Lookout Mountain/Donner Pass/Miller Fork/Indian trails back from whence I came.  
Lots of places to get lost or go the wrong way.  Perfect! 
Early morning.
I was feeling pretty good thus far, the juices were flowing, and the forest was captivating to all the senses.  The previously written about run took place only two days before, but I wasn't feeling it really.
I briefly went the wrong way when I reached treeline, but corrected and headed to North Signal Mountain.  I thought it would be fun to include the easy to get to summits along the way.  If for nothing other than the views provided, it was an excellent choice.
More south, trying to make Longs the center of attention.
Yep, soon enough I'd be 'over there', a place that looked pretty far away from where I was.  This was a whole day of  'over there', and the sense of a long distance to be traveled.
I started towards South Signal Mountain, then followed the trail around to.  Well, "trail".  There's not much here to indicate there is a trail save for a few cairns.  Even when you get into trees again, it's not always super well defined, overgrown, and deadfally in places.  This was a relatively mellow grade downhill, but I ended up fast hiking most of it, worried that I'd get off the trail if I were running.
I had another worry- water!  I'd already finished whatever I started with, but had the plan to fill up along here.  There's been a small stream running on past visits, and I hoped it would be today.  Otherwise, it'd be around where I hit the Stormy Peaks trail before I could fill up.  Not too far I guess, but enough.
Fortunately, I found water where I thought, and took enough to get me through.
The trail becomes even more deadfally as you approach and enter RMNP.  Travel slowed, and I briefly lost the trail crossing a meadow, where I've lost the trail before.
I finally joined the Stormy Peaks trail, but it took a little convincing to continue on.  Mainly, I think, because if I kept on, there was no good way to get back to where I'd started.  Certainly no bail route but to go back the way I came, and the longer I continued on, the longer that way back got.  It was definitely a mental mountain to climb!
Looking back down Stormy Peaks trail.
I was going up and generally feeling good.  At some point, I looked at my phone to find I was averaging 22+ minute miles.  That brought another mental mountain.  How could I be so slow?  I really got down on myself for it then, but also chalked it up to the slow descent from Signal Mountain.  But still, I was not a happy camper.  That pace was too slow- I'd eventually get consumed by a cutoff at Plain, and not finish the race.  I'd worked so hard this year.
I resolved to not look at my phone anymore as far as pace.  Later, it also occurred to me that this day was front loaded with gain.  Stormy Peaks Pass was at around mile 10 of the planned 32, and by the time I reached one third of the distance in, I'd have covered around 4K of the 7k total elevation gain, more than half.
But of course, I wasn't in the place for math, so I kept moving best I could.
Approaching the pass.
With unknown water access on the other side, I filled up all I could carry here and also mixed more Perpetuem.  I did Ouray nearly 100% liquid, and intended to do the same for Plain.  I'd even come up with a method of quickly mixing a new bottle, tested it 'out there', bought stuff to do it.  I felt like I had my nutrition and hydration plan down pretty well.
It was neat to reach the pass.  I'd been up here before of course, but only ever headed back or went west.  Never along the trail.
Into the unknown?
But it was pretty.
And the weather was holding.
The trail was generally good.
There were a few places where it was slightly overgrown or a little washed out, but it was easy to follow. 
I'd never entered from this side before, so this sign was new to me.
I continued down, just trying to move as best as I could.  I'm not really a fast runner.  But slow and steady all day I can do.
Pingree Park down there.
The trail was also pretty intensely rocky in places.  Since my ankle was still ailing from an early season injury, I took it easy and safe, and walked alot of that terrain. 
But it flattens and becomes less rocky, and I was able to move there.
Though I tripped, fell, and tore off the scab from a previous trip and fall which was nearly healed.  Argh!
I saw the first and only person of the day in here.  He must've come up from Pingree Park.  I continued down to the Pennock Creek Reservoir, which was kind of a bleak turd.  Maybe it was just the time of day that I got there.
Some tempestuous weather up there turned everything grey.
But still, there was nothing noteworthy about this body of water, though I enjoyed watching the two Ravens playing around the edge of it.
The trail turns into an old road, then into a actual road, where I saw a F150 driving.  I tripped again there, on some of the easiest terrain of the day (apparently a reoccurring theme this year), and AGAIN landed on the same knee and improved the previous wound enough to bleed down into my compression sleeves.  Well, at least I looked hardcore.
The road and powerlines.
I reached road 63E and turned right.  I would continue on this until I got to the Signal Mountain trail on my right.  This was uneventful, easy gradual downhill, and I just kept running these free miles the best I could.
I've been on the Signal Mountain trail from this side once before, which was good because while signed, it's not super obvious.  There's a small parking area, but no real trailhead, and definitely no bathroom.  I headed down, and pretty shortly found a human turd and tp behind a tree, which looked like the only very minimal effort the pooper made to leave no trace.  Use a stick, scratch out a hole, and bury that shit!
I stopped to fill up water from Pennock Creek.  My GPX showed the trail crossing the creek several times, with the last at around 9700 feet, where I'd fill up again.  From there, the next definite water was at Miller Fork, approximately ten miles in the future.  It seemed possible that I'd find something before, but you never know.
The trail up was pretty good, with moderate gain at first, though it eventually became a bit steeper higher up.  The mind wanders on these big days, and I saw signs at one of the creek crossings with a different direction pointed out if you were on horse or on foot, a pretty common thing in these parts.  EXCEPT for on this day, when I happened to find the juxtaposition entertaining, and wrote a song on the spot about it.  A little number I like to call... "Horsey foot".  Which was pretty much the entire plot of AND lyrics to said song.  I sang it loud and proud all the way up, save for a brief time during which I somehow forgot the, ahem, extensive and complicated lyrics.
"Oh yeah, Horse Foot!"
No one was around to hear it.  I think.
This monolith heard it, turned into rock instantly.
The above is the closed loop you see on the topo at around 10200 feet.  It was awesome.  I looked around to see if I could find a easy way to the top, it was just begging to be climbed.  Or maybe begging me to stop singing.  All aspects looked technical.  Must be a fun one!
I topped out on the saddle north of Signal Mountain.  Now I was finally closer to the car than farther away from it.  Heck, I could quit the route I planned, go back up Signal, and then down the way I'd come and be done with it.
But!  Adventure!
I've been there before, so I knew which way to go, but this is a confusing intersection.
There isn't a sign, just an unhelpful post with nothing on it.  Turn left.  It doesn't look like a trail, but stick with it a bit.  Lots of deadfall to start, and some loose, rocky terrain, but it soon turns into something trail like.
Motorcycles must frequent the area, as there are lots of signs of them.  I always wonder if you are on a motorized vehicle and can more easily bring a saw along, why don't you to cut some of the deadfall on the trails you use?  I'll eventually hike mine up there to do it, but it would be oh so much easier if all I had to do to get there was twist my wrist.
Somewhere in here it started raining, and kept raining for the rest of the day.  I heard some thunder that sounded close at first, but soon proved to be moving away from me.  I equipped my rain jacket and kept on, but felt like I slowed again as footing got slippery and I was moving with care.
I made sure to take a brief excursion to peak 10582, the summit of which is literally feet from the trail.  The register which had been placed by my friend John Gatt a few years prior was missing.  The North Signal register was also curiously MIA.
Ah well.
The descent down to the Donner Pass trail felt pretty steep and chunkily loose, so I took it easy yet again.  But Donner Pass is pretty good, at a good grade for swift downhill movement, not that I had much swiftness in me at this point.  I found a small stream down a bit, which was good as I was out of water.  The irony was not lost as the rain continued.
Water water everywhere...
I briefly went the wrong way when I joined Miller Fork.  Yep, should be going down, not up here.
There was one last obstacle to getting home, and it's a beast.  A day like this wouldn't be complete without some final challenge, right?  Right?
The Indian Trail goes from around 7800 at the bottom to 8700 and change at the top.  In just under a mile.  It's steep.  One of those where every step that isn't up makes you wish it was, because for every pace that gains zero, a later step will have to gain more.
But I just kept at it, and eventually saw some sky and felt the grade finally lessening.  I topped out and it was just a short jaunt back to the car.
Yep, all downhill from here.  That phrase usually means something bad in real life.  But in hiking or trail running, all downhill from here can be the best thing ever.
The descent, much like the climb, is steep and rocky.  I felt like I didn't try much here, but it's difficult terrain to really move on.  And of course, with the continued rain, everything was slippery.  Then back on the road, a steep but easy jog back to the car to close the loop, where I discovered I tracked 35.8 miles and 9600 gain.  Just a little bit more, and good reason to be slower than hoped.  
This day was just what I was looking for in the end, a nice long self supported loop with a little bit of new to me trails and a few less than obvious intersections.  I saw a total of one person on foot the entire time I was out there.  Overall I suppose pretty good practice for the Plain 100.
However, less than two weeks after this day I would break my arm.  I emailed the race director and told him what happened, but to not count me out just yet; however it quickly became apparent that I had extremely limited use of my left hand, and while I might have been fine from a pain stand point, I simply couldn't do things I'd need to do to finish this race.  Even getting clothing on and off became a struggle, and nothing I had with long sleeves fit over the splint I was in after they set it.  Routine things like opening my hydration bladder to get more water became impossible to do.
Though I know I was very fortunate to walk away from an accident out there, I was pretty bummed.  But life goes on.
Link to hike map/GPX on caltopo.
The good, the bad, and the argyle:
35.8 miles, 9677 foot gain*.  Strenuous.
*=I am perfectly willing to concede that some of this distance and elevation came as the result of interference.  If you check the map, you can see a few places in the latter part of the day when I was in a valley plus had cloud cover and didn't get an accurate track.  So, consider this the MOST you'll have to do to run this loop.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Ring of Never Summers.

As I planned to do two difficult 100 mile races this year, both fairly close to each other (for me), I felt recovery from Ouray was important.  Two days after the race, I was back out there. 
I decided to do my early recovery by bike, doing two shorter and lower intensity efforts back to back on the last days of July.  My thoughts were that mountain biking is definitely lower impact than running or maybe even hiking, but also very good cardio.  And getting that blood moving would help clear out my legs.
Then a short bump up to some longer days before tapering for the Plain 100.  It was going swimmingly, until...
This was one of the two longer days I did in August.  Funny that while I wanted to do a traverse of the Ni-chebe-chii this year, it never occurred to me to do a ring around the range.  Until I was sitting there mapping that is!
From previous adventures, I knew there was at least some sort of trail(s) on the west side of the range.  I took a close look at satellite imagery to make sure there was indeed something there in those places I wasn't as sure of, and I could see there was definitely something there.  I knew the back half of the planned route would be good.  It follows the course of the Never Summer 100k, and then kicks in RMNP, where even the least traveled trails are usually still well maintained.
This planned route checked nearly all the boxes I had: new to me trails and intersections for route finding, approximately 15% on dirt road (matching a similar percentage at Plain), similar gain per mile, and like all of my days, self reliance, in that I'd have to carry everything needed for the day from the start, and get water from ambient sources.
I had a great weather day coming up, and enlisted an adventure buddy for the journey.  Though she was looking for something more runable, it didn't take much to convince her to join me for this big day.
We met at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center dark and early, leaving my car there as she offered to take the drive to the Colorado River TH and back.  Like myself, Erin drives without much regard for the speed limit, particularly at night, so it wasn't too much longer to get over Trail Ridge Road.
We started as planned just after 6 am.  I was hoping to average 15 minute miles, or thereabouts.  In hindsight, pretty ambitious for a day like this, where I wasn't sure there'd even be a trail in places, and if there was, what it would look like.
Off we went, up the Red Mountain Trail, home of the world's largest switchback!  Note that none of the maps I've ever seen show this trail accurately, including the one they give you when you enter the park.
I mapped it both ways, and decided to basically go to the end of the switchback, and head off directly uphill from there.  This skipped about four easy miles of trail and road in trade for a shorter and quicker bushwhack uphill.  
Once there, we turned left and followed Grand Ditch Road. 
Which provided a great morning view of Grand Lake.  You can see the ditch road cut into the hillside on the right.
I had every intention of running this, but cramps really slowed me down, and we fast hiked.  It's a few miles of unengaging terrain.  Roads are my least favorite thing to run, which is why it's good to include them.
It felt like it took forever, but we only spent an hour or so on the road before we got back on some trail.  We took the small bridge across the ditch to start up the Bowen Pass trail.  It was pretty good at first, well put in and seemingly well traveled, but that changed shortly after, when we took a right to continue on to the pass instead of going on to the obviously much more popular Parika Lake.
I remarked that it reminded me of a fairy tale, where the character comes to a fork in the road and the decision is to take either the nice, well lit road with baby bunnies playing next to it, or the dark, foreboding road, over grown with trees and a skull on the ground.
We took the latter.
Approaching the pass.
And while there were a few stretches that were harder to follow due to lack of use, it wasn't bad really.  We saw a mom and baby moose, and upon breaking treeline, tried to follow the trail as best we could, but also noted that we could clearly see where we wanted to end up at, and could just head directly there if we wanted.
At the pass, and into the unknown.
Looking back on some very fun days.
We could see a few cairns on the other side, but no obvious trail.  We followed them at first, but knowing that we'd generally trend north, aimed for the base of the large rock glacier ahead on our right, the result of the slow erosion of the Never Summer Range. 
Said glacier.
And yours truly for size comparison.
We crossed a small creek and spied what looked like a trail continuing on the other side.  This ended up petering out pretty quickly, so we bushwhacked up to find the trail per the gpx file I'd made for myself.
I have this marked on the map at the end.  After crossing this water, parallel it uphill and it looks like the trail takes off on your left.
The trail was generally good and easy to follow when below treeline, though not without dead fall.  However, it was a different story above or around treeline, which this route flirts with alot.  There were some pretty long stretches without any obvious trail, maybe just a cairn here and there, or maybe nothing.
We came to another large rock glacier and spent some time searching for the obvious trail, which I'd spied with satellite recognizance.  From where we were, it was difficult to see where to go.  My gpx followed the USFS map, which showed the trail up from where we were.  Maybe it once was, but no longer.  I went up and Erin went down- she found the trail which you can see in the disance in the next photo.
As she said, this was probably the easiest section of trail to follow, but some of the most difficult to hike or run.  In true Never Summer fashion, nearly ever step was on to something loose, though the trail blazed through rock was definitely distinct.  Thanks to whoever made it, as I'm sure they never wanted to see another rock again. 
Thumbs up, so far!
Looking back again from farther along.
The next landmark we'd come to was Lone Ranger pass.  I don't know if its called that, or if it actually has a name, but this is the low point between 12ers Lone Ranger on the west and Mount Cirrus on the east.
Between the rock glacier and this point was more of the same pseudo trail.  At times nothing, at times widely spaced cairns, and at times actual trail, again best to follow through rocky areas.  As we approached the pass, we could clearly see a trail going up it, but decided to just go for it straight on and hit the trail when we crossed it.
Looking north from the pass.
From here, we'd head down into the valley, and then up and around the west side of Mount Mahler, the highest point to the left of center.
We started down,first crossing a small snowfield (thanks winter!), and then following cairns and a well put in trail into the trees.
The maps are wrong again here, the trail generally stays up versus going down into the valley, though we again had some issues following it in the more open and less treed sections.  Of course in the trees we faced lots of dead fall.  So who knows which is better?
Near Silver Creek th.
We eventually crossed the creek and found ourselves at the Silver Creek th, which is accessible by vehicle.  It looked like someone had been there somewhat recently, but I'd guess many don't venture in that far, and it might only be people looking to drive 4WD roads.
The next section was a bit tricky.  While I'd looked, and could clearly see trail 1141 at higher elevations, I assumed the intersection would be easy and obvious.  Not so.  It looked like the traill was right after the first stream you'll cross, but after wandering a bit, Erin spied a cairn after the second stream on our right.
We went through a small grassy meadow and into the trees before a real trail started.  Once we did locate it, it was obvious for the most part, save again for any areas that entered meadows or places around water.  The growth is so much that the minimal usage doesn't help keep the trail in, so we wandered a bit here and there.
Looking back as we gained altitude.
The climb was steep, but it went by quick.  We occasionally faced some deadfall (surprise!), but I knew that we'd very shortly hit the Never Summer 100k course, and it would be clear.  We lost the trail here and there, but were able to get it back eventually.
As predicted, things improved significantly once we reached the saddle east of Seven Utes Mountain, seen here.
We were at mile 16 or so, and now on good and well maintained trail.  We hiked the ups, eventually topping out at point 11187, where we were able to get this great view.
Nokhu Crags to Static Peak and Mount Richthofen. 
Back from whence we'd come...
and into the future.
We headed down to Lake Agnes, enjoying some easy downhill.  Since we've both done the NS100K, we talked about our experiences there. 
Lake Agnes, where we saw the first few people of the day.
Yep, it was a solitary effort for most of the day, but I guess people frequent the area.  It's always a shock of sorts after going so long without seeing anyone. 
We got past Agnes and after some debate, found the right way to Michigan Ditch Road.  We filled up on water before we joined the road.  It was pretty cool to see the wood pipeline next to the road- I'd guess many people wouldn't think of a pipe as being wooden.  We alternated hiking and jogging along the road, and finally reached the turn we'd take to head up toward Thunder Pass.
Up the trail.
I remembered this part of the trail pretty vividly.  At that point in the race I was feeling miserable and had resigned to dropping at the next aid station. 
On this day we were both suffering on the uphill, and by mutual unspoken agreement, made the climb slowly.
We did take the time to look around and enjoy the sights, something I didn't do at all during the race. Here, the north east side of Nokhu Crags. 
We discussed making a short out and back to Upper Michigan and Snow Lakes over the day.  This would ultimately help me visit these destinations I've included in the big list of stuff in RMNP (even though these aren't).  By the time we got there it wasn't even a discussion really.  I think we were both too gassed and looking forward to the long and leisurely descent from Thunder Pass back to the car.
We saw a fair number of people in this area as well, one of whom very clearly noticed that we stood out from the average hiker!
He asked what we were up to, and seemed only slightly shocked when we told him.  "I used to do that long shit too!" he exclaimed.  I thought it was pretty funny, and the short chat put a smile on my face.
We sat for a break at Thunder Pass, watching the tiny figure of a person making their way up Lulu Mountain.  We ate and drank, though I think Erin had finished her water awhile ago.  From here it was all downhill, an expression that doesn't make alot of sense.  While there are some short ups in the area of Lulu City, it was around 2300 feet of descent in the next seven plus miles.
Soon we'd be down there.
Erin grabbing some water. 
We started down.  The trail here was pretty fun, well put in even in grass, and fun to run.  Or jog I guess, neither of us was really running hard at this late point of the day. 
The descent back to Grand Ditch was pretty fun.  When we got there, it took us a little bit of looking around to figure things out.  It looks like the trail just crosses the road and continues down from the map, but the reality is that you have to turn left, stay on the road for a bit, and then take a right near the camp buildings to get back on the trail.  Not too bad really.
More descent brought us to the Colorado River, where we crossed and continued on.  We saw a few people along this stretch, some of whom even cheered us on.  Thank you kind persons!
We finally hit the Red Mountain Trail intersection we'd taken that morning.  Almost there....
We got back to the car at 4:50 PM, nearly 11 hours after we set out.  This was a bit slower than I was hoping for.  The race was just a few short weeks away, and it would've been a great confidence boost to be able to average 15-18 minute miles.  We ended up at 20:22.  Not bad, but I was hoping for more.  At that pace, I'd be up against and stressing cutoffs for the entirety of the 107ish miles of the Plain (cutoff at 36 hours).
I rationalized that by telling myself that this day was harder in some ways.  It was:
-Higher elevation, with the lowest point at the start/finish (9040 feet) being over 2000 feet higher than the highest point of Plain, Klone Peak (6820 feet).
-Both have no course markings besides the usual signs at intersections, but the trails here were hopefully in much worse shape as far as ease of following, mainly in that 8ish mile long stretch on the west side.  We had some very slow miles in that section.  I am under the impression that the trails in Washington get more use/are better delineated and more trail like.
So I was okay with the slower but still entirely reasonable pace.  I had to be! 
Yet still I worried, what if I just wasn't fast enough?
We headed back to Estes, facing lots of early fall Elk related traffic.  It was a pretty awesome day on a really fun loop with great company.  How had I never thought of this one before? 
As it turned out, my worries were for naught.  Or maybe I should say inconclusive.  Less than two weeks before the race, I fell and broke my arm.  Hopefully I can get back there in the future, but as for going in with my fitness where it was this year, we'll never know. 
If you go for this loop, you could easily fastpack or backpack it to split it into two or more days.  For me, it would probably only be one night out there, but you can camp anywhere not in RMNP, though you'll need a parking permit to leave your car at the Colorado River TH overnight.  There's alot of beautiful scenery out there. 
I've marked up the map a little, to include places you should turn that aren't obvious.  A quick test in Gaia shows the markers come through, but look a little different.  If you use the Caltopo app, you should see it as it is.
Link to hike map on Caltopo.
Goodbye Blue Monday:
31.51 miles, 6532 foot gain.  Second class.  Strenuous.