On Wednesday 4 July 2018 Roger and I landed in Denver at 1:30pm after roughly 20 hours flying, yet still managed to arrive just two and a half hours after we left. We jumped in an Uber and headed towards Boulder where our friends Jill and Beat were picking us up. They lived ‘up the mountain’ and I wasn’t sure what that meant but they said it involved a dirt road and the Uber driver probably wouldn’t want to drive on that. Our driver was very chatty and told us a lot of information about the area, including the fact that he had been a Pro Downhill skier at the age of 12yrs. After about 45 minutes we were dropped off in Boulder and 2 seconds later our friends drove around the corner to picked us up, great timing.
I first met Jill and Beat at the Tor des Geants race in Italy last year, Beat was running and Jill was going to do some hikes and crewing too. Beat has an amazing ultra running history that puts most of us to shame, and although Jill is a keen runner too she mostly enjoys biking, in particular snow biking. She has finished the Iditarod Trail Invitational (1,000 miles across Alaska), both on foot (350mi) and on bike and she won the Tour Divide (Banff to Mexico). I could go on more about how badass this couple are but I’m sure it still wouldn’t do them justice.
So we got in the car and they drove us to their home on the mountain in Boulder and before I even stepped in the door I was totally jealous of their humble abode and its surroundings. They had 20+ acres of beautiful land to call their own, trails at their doorstep and views I could stare at for hours on end.
They even had little feeder bottles hung up outside on their balcony for the Hummingbirds and we watched those pretty little birds flying around, they were so fast. The ones with the red necks were the males and they tended to be bossy, only letting certain birds drink from their pots. The females had grey/white on their necks and they were less aggressive, one even landed on my finger to stand while it fed. They were fantastic to watch and I took a thousand photos.
We showered and had delicious burgers that Jill cooked and some yellow watermelon for our Independence Day celebrations. After dinner we all geared up and went for a short hike to the top of Bear Mountain to watch the fireworks. Unfortunately the clouds rolled in and there was a lot of storm action close by so we decided to head down out of harm’s way, people had been known to get struck by lightening here before.
On Thursday the alarm went off at 5:45am and we headed up to Roosevelt National Forest. Roger, Beat and Jill were heading out for a 50km run and I was headed for a shorter run/hike up to Mt Audobon (4,032m). The drive to the park took about 45 minutes and we chatted excitedly along the way. The countryside was beautiful and everything I had pictured it to be.
We started the hike together and it was very dry and rocky. We had Pine trees on either side as we started up the switchbacks and I had to stop to get rocks out of my shoes. I should have worn my gaiters because about another 1km up the trail I had rocks in my shoes again. I would have to suck it up.
After about 3km I said goodbye to the crew as I headed up towards my mountain. I was a little sad not to be able to go with them but I had only just recently increased my long run to 25km, so I wasn’t going to risk getting injured again. My coach had told me 40km over the next 2 days was my maximum so I planned to stick with that and not get carried away.
I enjoyed spending time alone on the trails and I’d been given advice on what to do if a bear/mountain lion should cross my path, so I felt pretty confident I would be okay. They had also assured me that despite the signs posted warning of these animals I would not see any of them today.
As I went up past the tree line I spotted a small rabbit-like shape moving ahead of me and it made a squeaky noise. I soon began to see lots of them, ‘What were they?’. I got closer to one of the little guys and I was quick enough to get a photo, he was adorable (he is in the shadows at the bottom of the photos below).
I hiked further up the trail I heard this same noise more and more. ‘Are they Marmots or maybe Beavers?’. I kept moving and eventually saw a larger version of what I thought was the same animal but it was brown/red in colour, it stopped to look at me and ran off. As I hiked I saw them more and more and I managed to get a few photos and videos of them along the way. I learnt later during my trip that they call the Marmots ‘Whistle Pigs’ because of the noise they make.
It turns out the small creature I had first seen was a Pika and they’re usually a lot more timid, so I should feel very lucky to have seen them up close and been able to get a photo. I was also lucky to see a Ptarmigan (silent ‘P’) which had its summer feathers on and he was very well camouflaged.
Just before the summit I ran into a man named John who told me the large animals were Marmot and that I should be careful because they might come over looking for food and try to bite me. Ha, so much for cute! He asked where I was from and we chatted for a while. He told me that he loved Kayak adventures when he was younger and had written a book called ‘Dance on Edge’. He said he was getting too old to kayak now but he loves going to hikes and seeking out mountains.
We wished each other happy travels and I began the boulder dash climb up to the top of Mt Audubon. I was glad I had my poles because the rocks were very uneven and most of them shifted and moved beneath my feet.
For most of this section I had to guess the trail because it wasn’t clearly visible, but you could guess where you needed to go so I just kept climbing up and up. I ran into a group coming back down and they pointed out the path which helped a little. It would be there one minute then gone the next. Imagine a big, big, big pile of rocks and that’s what I was climbing up. Eventually I reached the top and was rewarded with breathtaking views.
As I headed back down the mountain I ran into another large Marmot who seemed to be curious about me too. I managed to get him on video as I walked carefully along the rocks, he was very inquisitive and we had a good chat.
Making my way back down on the rocks was harder than I expected. You couldn’t really use poles because the rocks had jagged edges, nothing was flat. I held my poles horizontally in one hand and made my way down as best I could, sometimes sliding down on my butt. I laughed in my head at the ‘Trail run’ selection I had made on my Garmin watch earlier this morning because this was definitely not a run. Did I mention I was using the new Garmin Fenix 5X Plus? It’s a great watch, very customisable and lots of additional features that would come in handy for the type of terrain we would be hiking/running in the USA. I had literally got the new watch just before leaving Sydney and I have Roger to thank for that.
Back to the trail. The rocks eventually became scarce and the terrain became much more runnable, so I shed a few layers and put my poles in my pack so I could run most of the way back down. Okay, there was some running involved but mostly stopping to chat to other hikers and pat their dogs. I always miss my dogs when I’m away…
After 4hrs and 22mins I had travelled just 13.28km but I’d had a blast. The countryside was beautiful, and I enjoyed getting out and moving the legs again. I napped in the car for about 3hrs, visited the bathroom, read my book (On Trails, Robert Moor) and chatted to hikers while I waited for the rest of the crew to return. They had planned to be gone for about 10 hours from when we started so I had plenty of time to kill.
The crew got back just before 7pm and we headed to Nederland for some dinner. Jill had seen some good reviews on the ‘Ned Heads’ Facebook place for a Thai restaurant so we headed there. For drinks we had the Blue Moon tap beer which came with an orange slice in it and was very refreshing. For dinner Roger and I shared a Chicken Pad Thai and a Curry Mango Chicken, it was delicious and filled our hungry bellies. Back at the house we showered and chatted till late in the evening before I couldn’t keep myself awake any longer.
On Friday we had a sleep in, getting up to leave by 8.30am. We drove to Roosevelt National Forest again and all of us were headed to the South Arapahoe Peak (4,071m) which was roughly a 20km return trip.
The trail was a long uphill slog to the top and Beat was so fast that we only saw him for about the first 3km. Roger, Jill and I stayed at about the same pace the whole way and we chatted to other hikers who were out there enjoying the sunshine too. Many of them had dogs and were from the local area, they were surprised when we said we were from Sydney and this usually started a lengthier conversation which was nice.
We ran into Beat as he was coming back down from the peak and he said he would go down and then come back up to meet us at the top. He warned us of the false summit, a spot where you think you’ve made it but there is actually more climbing to do. For this last section we had to scramble over rocks and climb our way to the top. I didn’t seem to be feeling any of the effects of altitude which was great. Eventually we got to the top and Beat joined us for some lunch and treats. A few Marmots also tried to join us for lunch and were quick to check our spot when we started to move away again for the descent.
We ran into a man carrying his dog in his backpack, it was an unreal sight and the dog looked content, lucky bugger. On the way down we hiked fast and took in some more of the gorgeous views around us.
Eventually we got back to the trailhead and I was very pleased to see the toilets as I had been holding on for too long by this point. It was such a beautiful, memorable trail and it made me fall even more in love with the area.
Once we were all changed and back in the car we headed for Boulder to get dinner at a Vietnamese Restaurant that Beat and Jill frequently visit. We all ended up having the same dish which was a Combination Meat Bun, a dish with noodles and a variety of meat. For dessert we shared two plates of Mango Sticky Rice which was also delicious.
After dinner we headed across the road to visit the Boulder Running Company shop and I felt like I was in Runner Heaven. This shop was better than any running store I had ever seen and had everything for road and trail. I purchased a few shirts, a cap and some Tailwind and the cashier was a guy called Joshua Stevens, who it turns out is a sponsored runner and was also pacing at Hardrock. He gave us his Instagram information and told us to contact him if we needed anything or wanted to catch up during Hardrock. He was such a cool dude and he even gave us a generous discount.
We all jumped in the car and headed to the bus station to pick up Gabi, a friend of Beat’s who was going to be staying with them for a while to train and prepare for her race in August. When we got back to the house we showered, and all stayed up chatting till late again. Time flies when you’re having fun.
On Saturday afternoon we were flying from Denver to Durango so in the morning we went to the REI store in Boulder. Wow. This store is your outdoor adventure person’s dream come true, it had everything from kayaks and tents to running and snow gear. I bought some more clothes and trucker caps, and Roger got some great stuff too including a Katadyn water filter flask which would be great to use during his race if/when he needed to drink from the creeks and streams on course. We dragged ourselves out of the store before we spent too much more money and headed to lunch. We found a great Mexican place and I had a Beef Burrito with Ginger Beer.
We said goodbye to Gabi and jumped in the car with Beat and Jill heading for Denver airport. The day had been heating up and it was now 37.7 degrees outside, thankfully much warmer than Sydney had been this winter.
The trip to the airport was smooth and traffic-free, the highways here are well designed. We said goodbye to our friends and Jill was going to help crew for Roger’s race, so we would see her again in another week which was great. Check-In was relatively easy despite the airline trying to charge us for our baggage which we had already paid for. The line at Customs was long but it moved pretty quickly considering, and before long we were boarding our little 100 seat plane to Durango.
Stay tuned for ‘Escaping Winter Part 2: Silverton’