Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mt. Elbert and the Shortest Season


The high mountains share their craggy wares with the bipedal traveller begrudgingly. It seems their default is that of wintry chill, cutting winds, uncomfortably low temperatures. And although they let go their security blanket of frigidity for a couple glorious months each summer, the mountains are always quick to remind us who is in charge and what season really reigns at the highest elevations.

It has been cold in Leadville. I went to bed last night wearing a wool cap and a sweatshirt. There are still brilliant moments of sunshine, but when the clouds roll in they are darker than usual and when they finally roll back out they reveal an ever-so-slight dusting of fresh snow above 13,000'. Is it July? Really?

Nevertheless, the high peaks beckon, and I cannot resist. This morning, the summit of Mt. Elbert is my goal, and I can only occasionally see it as its upper reaches appear intermittenly from within the swirling clouds. Sitting on the Roost's tailgate, a few drops fall from the sky and I reach for my windshirt to tuck in my waistband. I debate about donning a singlet, and maybe even gloves, but, against my better judgement, the patches of blue in the sky convince me otherwise.

After a mile or so of warm-up on the road, I hit the trail. My legs feel good from the last few easier days that I've taken to recover from the weekend's race, and the gain in elevation comes easily. Today I am running in a cloud. I love the sensation of popping above a cloud layer that an inversion has created and right at tree-line the clouds end and the sun warms my back. The expansive view is as if from an airplane window.

In Ashland this winter, many mornings the town would be consumed by the dreaded "ice fog" that would sit in the bottom of the valley and not burn off until late morning. However, upon a mere three or four hundred feet of vertical gain, one would emerge from this chilled blanket into exceedingly warm air. Stepping onto Elbert's alpine tundra I am reminded of those southern Oregon mornings except for one key difference--here, on the mountain, the air above the clouds is even colder than further downslope. And, now out of the trees, the wind kicks up in ever increasing bursts that alternately serve as a helping hand or a frustrating hindrance, depending on the switchback.

Maybe five hundred feet below the summit I reach the fresh snow that I could see from town. Not surprisingly, this morning's conditions have thinned the troops out on the trail and I am allowed to make my final push to the summit without an incredulous audience. My cadence matches the beat of the chorus of a raucous song by The Dodos stuck in my head, and soon I am alone on the summit, hunkered down behind a crudely-constructed rock wall, desperately warming my fingers in my armpits.

Despite the wind and cold I have made the ascent four minutes faster than a month ago. On the way down I am soon enveloped in the clouds again and during the last few minutes on the road back to the Roost a light rain begins to fall. Even if this week is representative of only a freak weather pattern, it nevertheless serves as a reminder to get to as many summits as possible before the real winter elements make their inevitable return.

12 comments:

Ultra "Slow" Matt said...

Another fantastic blog about your experiences.I wish you the best of luck in your race.Will be keeping a close eye on Riding the wind.

Frank said...

you made my mind walk into the past.. see things it has not seen in many years.. thanks

ice climbing is for winter

summer is for the rock

and the rain is for a good long run.

Eric said...

OK, I gotta ask.
How bad does the Roost smell?

Great writing. Keep it up.

Sunshine Girl said...

I get it. Here in Banff, I got 10 weekends to get up high and access the Goodies. I've also got scenery to rival Maroon Bells! Here's hoping for a good September to enjoy a few "bonus" weekends.

connor said...

Timely reminder. Nice job at White River, but the race report would have been a lot more interesting if you had giardia, ya know?

ultrastevep said...

Tony....

You sure are having a great year, hope the fitness continues through Leadville.

I would be interested in hearing how you shook Patella Tendinitis, I have had this for years and as soon as I try to do speedwork, it flares up again.

Thanks and keep up the good running,
Steve

Livan said...

Hello, I´m from Spain, in my blog I talk about you and your way of life.
I hope you good luck in all your quest or dreams.

Anton said...

Eric,
The Roost is doing all right. Keep the windows open as often as possible, do laundry every now and then, and I'm set.

Connor,
I know, man. You saw how bad things were on that one run up Hagerman, but then it just gradually, miraculously, disappeared and hasn't really been too much of an issue since. Still drinking from streams nearly daily.

Al Glenn said...

Happy birthday. Keep running. Peace, Al Glenn.

Julie said...

The high mountains share their craggy wares with the bipedal traveller begrudgingly.
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Jenifer said...

Another fantastic blog about your experiences.
I wish you the best of luck in your race.

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Jenifer said...

Another fantastic blog about your experiences.
I wish you the best of luck in your race.

___________________
Jenifer
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