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.