Zen On Dirt

Playing in the Mountains


Well, I guess I went ahead and did the Ouray 100 this past weekend.

And I’m sort of sitting here wondering where the heck the fitness and motivation came from to pull off 44 hours of wandering through the San Juans, because the last time I checked this blog, I was firmly on the ‘I’m not going to race’ side of life.

So I figured that actually going through the photos from the last month might shed some light onto the evolution of bad ideas. And, you know, I like to at least pretend to keep this little corner of the Internet updated.

First up was Mt Hope with Scott. We stare at this mountain from our Twin Peaks camp incessantly, but it hadn’t quite made it to the top of the priority list until now.


At 70 feet shy of the benchmark of 14,000 feet, the peak doesn’t really get a lot of attention from most people.


Hope Pass is used by the CDT, the CT Collegiate West route, and the Leadville 100 run, but no one actually goes up the mountain to the side of it. Colorado is only as crowded as you let it be…


We had the top to ourselves and opted to head down a different ridge in order to make the route a lollipop instead of an out-and-back. If there’s one person who hates out-and-backs more than me, it’s Scott.


I spent my summit time tracing out the Nolan’s line in my head. ‘You come off of La Plata right there, then up Huron, over to Missouri, Belford, Oxford, I think that’s Harvard over there…’ Sticky ideas. Damn those sticky ideas.

Pretty much as soon as Meghan left the Sawatch, Melissa showed up for the better part of 10 days. She was firmly motivated for a good run at Ouray and was hanging out in the Leadville area for some quality acclimatization and training. We had some fairly crummy weather forecasts to work with, but Melissa is used to getting up early to beat Moab heat, and I guess even I’m willing to set alarm clocks for good adventures.


We opted for a loop on Mt Massive starting from the Fish Hatchery in Leadville.


Baby Ptarmigan!

We talked a lot about Ouray and the benefits of racing, supporting events that have awesome race directors who support gender equality, and committing to goals. But I still had zero intention of doing anything other with my summer other than keeping the Fun Meter pegged at high.


I was finally starting to feel good at altitude, something that I was convinced would never happen again after the rough start to the summer.


After taking a slightly obscure route to the summit, we headed back down the main trail of Massive. I find the people watching hilarious. Some people get upset with crowded trails (and I do too after a while), but in small doses, I’m endlessly amused by the humanity that chooses to try to scale these peaks.

We were reaching our 14-day limit at our campsite (we have a bad habit of getting stuck in the Twin Peaks area), so we packed up the Scamp and headed down valley. The weather looked better down there anyhow. Monsoons were in full swing. T’was the season for alarm clocks.

And if there’s anyone who will commiserate about alarm clocks with me, it’s Trish, so it was pretty great that the time of week had rolled around for her to have some days off and we found ourselves camped together at Browns Creek.


Between Trish, Ryan, Scott, and I, we couldn’t seem to settle on a plan for the next day. Trish was tired, Ryan was indifferent, Scott is scared of high mileage, and I’m not too into going into bad weather if I don’t have to. So we pondered our options for the better part of the afternoon until Melissa and Randy showed up, proposed an option, and we all said yes. Mostly because we were done with deliberating and wanted someone to choose for us.


When we woke up to rain on the Scamp, I may have grumbled some. If I didn’t have people outside waiting on me, I probably would have turned the alarm clock off and gone back to sleep. But that’s why you have running partners, right? Accountability? Or something.

After the appropriate amount of futzing, we were all headed up Browns Creek. The rain had stopped, and the clouds made it look like magic unicorn land.


We kept movement motivated knowing that we’d have to get up and over a 13,000 foot saddle before starting the fast descent into the trees. And it was pretty much supposed to storm all day long. We were getting lucky with our little bit of sun, and we knew it.


It became clear that our crew was made up of people who were much more into routes that involved more walking than running, more adventure than established trails. Which is really great for me, because running is really hard!


How we made it back to the cars without getting rained on is beyond me, but I thought it was pretty rad. Scott was wrecked after 16 miles, I was fairly to mostly tired. These girls are fast!


My little leggies were starting to get pretty toasted after all of the running, but FOMO runs strong with me, and recovery is for people who can’t think of anything fun to do.


Birds are great for recovery, because watching them is actually a fun thing to do when the knees ache.

Melissa had to head back for work in Moab soon, so we opted to gamble on yet another questionable weather forecast, one of those that predict rain starting at 9am. One of those forecasts that causes you to be less than deliberate in putting on sunscreen.


We opted for a Columbia/Harvard traverse. I loved the idea because it was a lollipop with a very small stick at the end, covered a chunk of the Nolan’s route, and was two peaks that I hadn’t been on.


Of course the sun came out and I could feel myself getting scorched.


We were warned by multiple groups (of men) coming the other direction that we needed to be very careful because there was a lot of snow to deal with. We thanked them for their beta.

The glissading conditions were great, and I’m pretty sure we made better time on the 1,000 foot drop off of the ridge to avoid the Rabbit Traverse than if there hadn’t been any snow. I need to start skiing again. Snow is fun.


Spirit animal. Likes lounging in the sun in alpine environments and stealing snacks.

The top of Harvard was hilarious, mostly because we heard it long before we saw it. People are funny. (The best advice I was ever given while working in the service industry.) And there were a lot of them.


Down was on well-established trail through a beautiful basin. There’s something to be said for not having to think about navigation, just follow the little ribbon of brown dirt and know that it will lead you straight back to your car.

But what’s the fun in that? After spending a good bit of time on the Nolan’s route in the past two weeks, I was getting excited about the idea of it. It still felt far above my pay grade, but I was getting to see more and more of it. Confidence levels that someday I might be able to pull it off were rising from the single digits into the low teens.

Buy day-um, those mountains are big.


2 thoughts on “Playing in the Mountains

  1. A small chunk of a life well lived.

  2. My favorite line: “recovery is for people who can’t think of anything fun to do.”

    Haha! I’ll have to remember that one!

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