Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Craziest 15 Days Since I was 15 Years Old

Fifteen days ago I arrived in Frisco Colorado. All I needed was to be at elevation in order to acclimatize. I played a round of disc golf and then settled behind the garage of Mike Ambrose and Ryan Krisch. We barbecued and drank beers. All seemed calm, but something -- reposed like a distant king of beasts -- beckoned from the distance. As Mike rattled off all the routes we might do before embarking on the mission (the potential achievement of a lifetime to set a speed record of the 480 mile Colorado Trail) I pointed over the back fence and said simply: "why don't we go up that?"

Peak 1 pictured from Mike's garage
So began the craziest 15 days since I was 15 years old. Mike and I jogged to the trailhead from his house the next morning and the ascended steadily for almost 2 hours. The climb was steep and technical gaining nearly 4000'. I felt lightheaded once we were over about 12,000'. The mountain peaks at about 12,800'. Once down from the mountain good sense should have dictated that I rest and recover. I recall saying aloud that the next time I would bring my camera and spend the whole day, sauntering lazily, hovering over wildflowers and mountain streams. Ah, but where did my good sense go?

For the next day Mike suggested a more modest sounding trek up the Peaks Trail to the CT and across the pass to Copper Mountain. He said we could easily hop the bus from there back to Frisco. This was indeed a beautiful route, and I got my first taste of the footing on the CT (deceptively runnable). We were inbound into Copper when the outbound bus passed us, waving us off as we tried to flag the driver. Mike said it would be easy to hitch a ride, so we stuck our thumbs out. Twenty minutes later we decided to run the 8 miles of bike trail back. This would have been an easy hour except that it was now midday and the sun blazed down without tree cover or the 9000' of extra atmosphere enjoyed by flatlanders. We got baked.

The Colorado Trail above Copper Mountain
One might have hoped that my lesson was learned. Little did I know that I had stepped into a current that was quickly sweeping me out to deeper water. I was quietly recovering and working on my computer at Mike's when Jamie Solberg happened by and lured me like a Siren to climb Mt. Harvard with Sal, another of Mike's friends. I drove to the relatively remote trailhead past Buena Vista and spent the night in my van. The next day I went over 14,000' for the first time in my life. I'll never be the same.

On the way up Mt. Harvard, my first fourteener

The faint resistance I could muster was no match for Sal's next suggestion: La Plata peak. We spent the night at the trailhead and got another early start lest we get caught again -- as we had descending from Harvard -- by an afternoon thunderstorm.

Sal leading the way up La Plata
Sal, Jamie, and Mike finally returned to a quasi-normal work schedule and I was left to my own devices. I set up camp on Half Moon Road outside of Leadville, finally granted the freedom of solitude. I wasn't aware that my demons were awaiting just such an opportunity. Travelling alone at the foot of Massive mountain I was seized by them. This isn't the place to reveal those struggles, but suffice to say that I feel like, as the Avett Brother's sing: "you may have to drag me from my demons, kicking and screaming...been so long now, I've been with them, don't know where they stop and I begin." [Paul Newman vs. The Demons: The Carpenter]

The struggle, alas, drew me upward twice more: The Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive trailheads are on Half Moon road just miles from my campsite.

The long walk up the 2nd highest peak in the lower 48: Mt. Elbert

The never ending view from Mt. Massive
Thankfully I had a propitious plan for the end of the week. When I first arrived in Frisco Mike helped me make arrangements to get tickets to go to the Avett Brother's concert at Rock Rocks near Denver. We set up a tailgate-style barbecue well before the show started. By the time we got around to filing into the amazing amphitheater there were no good spaces left to occupy. Instead we found ourselves in the far back corner, along with a group of a dozen women enjoying a bachelorette party.

Mike turns as we climb the stairs into the Red Rocks amphitheater

This could have made sense as a birthday celebration except that Sal and Jamie had already convinced me to trek the Tenmile traverse between Frisco and Breckenridge starting at 5am the next morning – the dawn of my actual birthday. After ascending nearly 4000’ up Peak 1 the route goes directly over 9 more peaks as it follows the rocky ridgeline. The trek was absolutely beautiful and we truly had a blast, but it was also very difficult. I am not particularly sure-footed on rock, and I will nearly always favor caution over speed. So I took my time on this technical terrain. By the time I got to Peak 8 my left Achilles was tweaked and my mind wandered from sleep deprivation. In perhaps my first wise decision in nearly two weeks I opted to head down the ski slope from the peak into Breckenridge.

Jamie and Sal right at home on the Tenmile traverse
I took the two days after that easy having already arranged to travel with Jon Harrison to Aspen’s international gem: the Maroon Bells Four Pass loop. This is likely the only route I could have done that would top what I had already seen. I had originally intended to spend summer vacation in Glacier National Park again this summer because that area is so alluring for trail running. The Maroon Bells has a very similar attraction – it has to be one of the world’s greatest natural attractions. Jon is a fantastic running partner: strong, smart, funny, and spontaneous.

Jon climbing toward the second of four passes around the Maroon Bells

Mike, Jon, Sal, and Jamie squeeze every bit of activity they can into the summer months in the high Rockies. The climate, both geographically and socially, pulls the able-bodied outward and upward. I feel completely at home here, sucking every molecule of oxygen out of the air in order to ascend to the highest possible point. So despite my need to rest prior to the speed record attempt, I began looking for a way to invest in Leadville. Jon and Mike need a place to live, and I’d like a base camp for adventures in the coming summers – for me and my kids. I employed a real estate agent and was showed multiple properties.  I drew up a contract to purchase a house – one that the seller has not yet agreed to. I’m afraid I don’t have time to put any more energy into it before the CT trek. That I would come to a place and within 15 days put an offer on a house should provide a clue about the intensity of the experiences I’ve had here. They really only compare to those of childhood -- a childhood I gave up by about the age of 15.

Will I have a place in Leadville?


  1. I hope you do soon have a place in Leadville Eric. I am jealous of your last 15-days. I hope the next 15 are filled with the same amount of joy.

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