Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ice Lake Trail

I'm having trouble getting the time to update my blog on a regular basis, so this post is a recollection of the weekend of July 20th & 21st.

It was another gorgeous weekend spent in the Mountains! On Saturday I did a training run for my fast approaching second Half Marathon - Georgetown to Idaho Springs (GTIS) Half Marathon on August 10th. I've been spending so much time training on hills to get me ready for September's Imogene Pass Run, that I haven't even done a long road run in quite some time. I was planning to just run around Montrose, but was invited last minute to join some local runner's on the Mount Sneffel's Half Marathon race course. It's a fairly similar course to what I'll be doing in GTIS - so it was perfect. Plus, I was bummed I wasn't going to get to do Mount Sneffel's HM (it's the same weekend as GTIS), so now I can say I did it (unofficially). The course starts in Ouray (7792ft) and ends in Ridgway (6985ft). GTIS will start in Georgetown (8530ft) and end in Idaho Springs (7526ft). Both courses are downhill, although Mount Sneffel's had a few more hills than Georgetown will have. The run went really well - I finished the 13.1 miles in 2:02:58 - not bad for a training run. With the adrenaline of race day, I'm hoping to finish in under 2 hours.

It was a beautiful course on County Road 17 - a dirt road that winds through trees and beautiful residential country homes. The morning started off cool but about an hour in the heat really crept in. The last few miles were tough for me but I did the best I could to keep my pace up and finished! It felt good to do this run and I'm now really looking forward to running Georgetown to Idaho Springs!

For Sunday, I planned on finally doing a hike I've been eying since early spring. I originally found it on Pinterest, but have since heard about it from other people, so I've just been dying to do it. It's called "Ice Lake Trail" and it's near Silverton, Colorado. I've seen pictures, and it just looked amazing!

Hike: Ice Lake Trail
Location: Silverton, Colorado
Date: July 21, 2013
Round Trip Distance: 10.79 Miles
Starting Elevation: 9,887 feet
Maximum Elevation: 12,641 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 3,107 feet

We got up early and headed towards Silverton, making it there a little after sunrise around 6:30am. The trail started out fairly easy. A bit of an incline, but nothing compared to some of the other hikes I've been doing. The first 2 miles or so were wooded and then we got above treeline and into the open. I was glad it was early and still cool out because this is when the steeper incline started. There were wildflowers everywhere though which made it absolutely gorgeous.

After a bit of steep climbing we reached Ice Lake. And it was just as amazing as I thought it would be! The water was bright, turquoise blue. Brighter than Blue Lakes Trail we did last year. It was incredible. It looked like it belonged next to white sand beaches...and here we were at 12,000 feet in the middle of the Colorado mountains! I still can't get over it!

From reading about the trail, I knew there were some additional lakes in the area as well, and I for sure wanted to check out one called "Island Lake", so while I wanted to just stay and relax next to Ice Lake, I decided to keep moving towards the others. I wasn't exactly sure where it was, so I continued on the main trail, which led us past a second lake (not nearly as blue), and then up a few hundred more feet to 2 more lakes - although not the Island Lake I was looking for. But, there weren't any other people at these lakes and we had been moving for awhile now, so the hubby, puppy, and I decided this would be a great place to relax and enjoy some snacks. We rested up a bit, and then headed back down towards Ice Lake again, when we saw another trail - which I had a feeling would lead to Island Lake.

Our dog, Argie was getting a little tired by this point, so I left Scott and him at Ice Lake and ventured up the trail by myself. And lucky for me, it was Island Lake! And it was also incredible! Like the others, not quite as blue as Ice Lake, but it was really secluded and there was only one other person around, so it just felt amazing to be up there. If that one other person wasn't there I might've just started singing "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere..." (Beauty and the Beast). It was amazing. I try so hard to describe these hikes, but I know I just don't do them justice!

After I spent some time enjoying Island Lake and taking pictures, I headed back down to Ice Lake for another look before we decided to head back towards the car. I spent so long taking pictures, the hike ended up being almost all day! It truly was was incredible. Definitely a favorite of mine and a recommendation if you are ever in the Silverton area. My one and only complaint was the amount of people at Ice Lake...especially as the day got later, but since there were other more secluded lakes nearby to go checkout, it wasn't too bad! What a gorgeous area though!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

One Year of Running + IPR Training

This past weekend marked my first run-aversary (yes I know I'm a dork for calling it that, but I like it). One year ago on Sunday, I ran my first ever 5K. I keep thinking to myself, if I hadn't signed up for that, I honestly don't know where I'd be today. I know it sounds cliché, but running has changed my life! I used to think there were some people who were athletic and some people who just weren't (myself). But now I see that you can really do anything you set your mind to! Had I told myself a year ago that I would be signed up to run a marathon - I would've thought I was crazy. Even if I had told myself I would run a half-marathon, I would've thought I was crazy! A 5K used to seem like a stretch to me.

Contemplating on these events has reminded me of one of my art teachers I had in college who always said he didn't believe in talent. That if you practiced enough, you could be good at anything. I never really thought of it in context with sports and running, but it's so true! I'm not going to go out and win any big name races, but I have come a long way from where I was last year. I've done more than I once ever even fathomed I could do. I went from barely being able to run that 5K, to running an 8K, a 10K, a Half-Marathon, a 6-mile-completely-uphill-ascent race, a 25K trail run, and am now training for the 17.1 Mile Imogene Pass Run and a Full Marathon! It really is amazing what a difference a year makes!

My speed has drastically improved as well. I still run slow (10+ minute miles) on long runs and steep runs, but I've been able to get a 5-6 mile run down to an average pace of around 8:45 min/mile. I've been able to get individual miles as fast as 7:11! It is a huge improvement for me. I can't wait until I can do a sub-7 minute mile! Just another sign how much I've changed - I now know I can get to a sub-7 minute mile, I don't just automatically assume it's impossible! Anything is possible with time and practice.

I originally wanted to celebrate my run-aversary by running the same 5K I ran last year (and hopefully demolishing my time), but I couldn't find anyone to do it with me. It ended up being for the best though because I ended up doing something about 10x cooler! I ran almost the entire Imogene Pass Race Course!

I'll admit that when I first signed up for Imogene, I was a little nervous. Okay really nervous. I didn't know what exactly I had gotten myself into. Before this weekend, I had gotten up there and done 2 training runs on the lower portions of the course. This helped ease my nerves a little, but I was still worried about the upper 3-4 miles. Those are the steepest and the highest miles, getting up to over 13,000 feet in elevation. So when I got invited to run the whole course with a group, I jumped at it!

As with any group run, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up - but luckily that wasn't the case! In fact, I was the second one out of our group of 6 to reach the top (although it's not like we were officially racing or anything)! Reaching the top of the pass was seriously one of the biggest Runner's High's I've had! That feeling of accomplishment paired with incredible mountain views was amazing.  Here's a quick video from the top:

We started about 2 miles into the course, at around 6:45am. About a mile in, I took a quick stop to use the restroom. I only stopped for a few minutes, but apparently it was enough time to get out of sight of everyone - which wasn't a huge deal, it just provided me a little extra motivation to go faster and try to catch up.

While I was running by myself, I actually passed 2 different Hardrock 100 Ultramarathon runners and got to chat with them briefly. The Hardrock 100 Ultramarathon is one of the toughest Ultramarathon's in the country, and it was going on this weekend. It starts in Silverton, goes to Lake City, Ouray, Telluride and back to Silverton! It's seriously hardcore. The total elevation change over the 100 mile course is 66,000 feet and includes numerous mountain passes, and an ascent of 14er, Handies Peak! And these guys (and girls) go through the night! The trails used are steep, exposed, rocky, and some even dangerous! I can't even fathom how they do it! Even comprehending running 100 miles straight is hard for me!

But anyways, the 2 Hardrocker's (what they call the participants) I passed were on Mile 60-something. I congratulated them and hopefully gave them some encouragement telling them how awesome I thought they were! It was really neat to meet them, and put my training into perspective. Sometimes I think my training is intense...well not compared to these guys!

Once I caught up with 3 other's in my group, we realized we actually missed the fork in the road that goes to Lower Camp Bird (one of the aid stations on the course), so we had to backtrack about a 1/2 mile to get back onto the route. Just past Lower Camp Bird was where I entered new territory. It was also where the running became more and more scarce and was replaced with power hiking. Overall though, I'm pretty happy with how I did on these upper miles. My last 4 miles to the top were all between 20-22 minute miles - which is pretty good considering the grade - averaging at about 14%, and steeper as you get closer to the top, up to over 20%.

The remaining route to the top is just steep, steep, and more steep...but absolutely gorgeous! There were wildflowers all over the mountainside and the grass was a bright, bright green. This is what makes it worth it. As much as I still enjoy road running, I think my heart may belong to the mountains and trails - especially in the summer! I still can't get over how gorgeous it was, and don't even get me started on the views from the top!

Speaking of the top, after numerous switchbacks and some seriously burning calves and thighs, we were finally almost there! One really rewarding thing, in my opinion, is that right before you get to the top, the very last switchback, is almost level! Compared to the gradient we had been on, it felt so nice, and even better, allowed me to run, and run hard, to the top of the pass. This just made reaching the top, that much more rewarding! And as I mentioned at the beginning, it really was a runner's high to reach it! I actually didn't stop running until I touched the Imogene Pass Sign...I practically hugged it, I was so happy to reach it!

After enjoying the top of the pass for a few minutes and fueling up, it was time to start heading down. I was a little nervous about the descent, as I've heard a lot of horror stories about people falling and breaking wrists, etc. However, I'm a fairly cautious downhill runner, and overall, it wasn't as bad as I was expecting. I think hearing all of the horror stories made me prepared for the worst. Now don't get me wrong, it was definitely steep, and I see how if you were really going fast and not being too careful about foot placement, you could definitely fall and injure yourself. But my slow running paid off, and no injuries for me! I did speed up a little after the first mile or so down, when the grade lessened a little.

I would use the word "down" to sum up the remainder of the run. Because that's all it was - just down, down, down for 7 straight miles. It was still beautiful of course, and the views of Bridal Veil Falls and Telluride were gorgeous. As we got closer into Telluride we began to pass more and more jeeps, mountain bikers, and even other runners.

Eventually we made it to Telluride - and it felt great to finish. Although I'll be honest, not quite as great as it felt to reach the top! Hopefully having a finish line will make race day a little more exciting! It was a beautiful run though and I'm really happy I did it. My Garmin clocked it at 16.3 miles, and we finished in 4 hours and 10 minutes. Although I will definitely be happy if I finish in a similar time on race day, I'm really hoping, with almost 2 months of training left, to complete it in or under 4 hours!

I absolutely love this picture - I feel like it just sums up the beauty of mountain running.

This mailbox was at the top! I guess Maybe I need to bring a cool sticker with me on race day to add to it!

The first bit of downhill section from the top towards Telluride.
Got to run through this! 
If you look closely, you can see Bridal Veil Falls!
On Sunday, I ended up joining a group of people from Montrose on a last minute trail run in the Ouray area again. It was a combination of Bear Creek Trail and Upper Cascade Falls Trail. Most everyone else did Bear Creek Trail, but it had a lot of exposure and loose rock, which I wasn't a fan of, so I turned back and did Upper Cascade Falls instead. I won't go into any more detail, but I wanted to post a few pictures and a video from that:

Are these not the coolest trees? They don't look like they belong in Colorado!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Alaskan Adventure

Alaska...what to say about Alaska without writing a novel? Well for starters, it was amazing and I had a wonderful time!

Now I realize I'm acting as if I've never been before, which is not true. Scott's immediate family lives up there, so I've had the amazing opportunity to go twice now! I first went in 2009 for Scott's, brother's Wedding. While we did do some brief sightseeing and a quick bit of fishing, the primary focus of the trip was the wedding. So this time the focus shifted to more of a tourist adventure for me! I'll try not to go off into too much detail, but I do want to recap our wonderful trip!

Our home-base was Eagle River - about 15 miles northeast of Anchorage, where Scott's parents live. Our adventures took us Southeast past Anchorage and down to Girdwood and Whittier, as well as Northeast into Palmer and surrounding areas.

DAY 1 (Tuesday, July 2nd): Hiking Crow Pass near Girdwood

We got in late on Monday night, so we slept in a little on Tuesday morning, and then Scott and I got ready to hike a popular trail - Crow Pass. It's about an hour drive to the trail head, by way of the Seward Highway which is a beautiful drive! It hugs the coastline until you get to Girdwood and start heading into the mountains.

We started hiking at about 11:30am and quickly moved our way up and through the first mile of trees. Shortly thereafter we were, for the most part, above treeline with gorgeous views. It was a chilly day and the clouds covered a majority of the surrounding mountain peaks - however, in my opinion, this just made it that much cooler! In Colorado, we almost always have sunshine, and I've never seen the clouds cover the mountains like they do in Alaska! 

It was another mile and a half before we reached the first part of the pass. Right as we made it there, the clouds were really coming in low. Scott took me over to a beautiful, bright blue lake a little ways off the trail, that I wouldn't have even seen if he hadn't known about it! It was so pretty!

After I took a million pictures of it, we continued on to the end of the pass, which was about another quarter to half a mile and a little more elevation gain. At about the same time the wind picked up and it was COLD! I was having fun though and the scenery was breathtaking so it wasn't bothering me too much (yet). We made it to the end of the pass where you can see Raven Glacier and more incredible views. The trail continues on for about 18 more miles (in fact you can take it all the way back to Eagle River), but we didn't have a ton of time, and were both freezing by this point, so we headed back.

One thing that I still can't get over, is the fact that the top of the pass was only 3,500 feet in elevation. Coming from Colorado, where I live at 5,700 feet, this seems so strange to me! Just one of the many differences between here and there! Overall though, it was a beautiful hike and I'm really glad my husband took me on it.

DAY 2 (Wednesday, July 3rd): Hatcher's Pass/Independence Mine & ATVing at Eklutna Lake

On Wednesday, we were scheduled to do a flight tour of Denali - North America's highest Peak at 20,320 feet. Unfortunately Denali has it's own weather system, which was not accommodating to any flights that day, so we made other plans! Scott's Parents took us up to Independence Mine by way of Hatcher's Pass instead. Independence Mine was a large Gold Mine in the early 1900's complete with housing, a dining hall, and even a school for the miners children. Once again the views were phenomenal and it was neat to learn a little about the history of the Alaska gold rush.

Later that afternoon, we went into Wasilla and picked up our ATV's that we would have through Thursday, and took them out for some test riding at Eklutna Lake. We had two regular, single rider ATV's and one side-by-side ATV. I'm glad we got the side-by-side because it was a lot easier to drive! I did a little practicing on the regular ones, but for the most part I stuck to the two-seater on Wednesday! It was a lot of fun - we went about 8 miles one-way around Eklutna Lake to a waterfall.

Also, the wildflowers were incredible everywhere we went. Here are few pictures I got while driving around:

DAY 3 (Thursday, July 4th): ATVing at Sutton and Knik River

We spent the Fourth of July doing some more ATVing! Scott, his dad, and I drove up to Palmer to pick up Scott's brother and then headed over to our first stop - Sutton. Here there was a very wide, fairly smooth dirt road (good for me), with smaller, more rough roads that broke off from the main road (good for the guys). We rode around here for a few hours, then decided to pack up and head over to our second stop - the Knik River.

It's hard to compare the two courses, because they were completely different! This area was in a river basin, where we had to make several water crossings - most fairly shallow, but a few got our feet wet! There were some actual "trails", and then some areas that were just completely open to ride around in and have fun. I liked these areas a lot because it was where I could get more comfortable on the single riders!

We wrapped up our ATV riding at around 5:00pm and headed back to Scott's parents house for a delicious Alaskan dinner of grilled Chicken, Halibut, and Salmon.

DAY 4 (Friday, July 5th): Glacier Cruise in Prince William Sound

Friday we were hoping for another attempt at the Flight Tour of Denali, but once again the weather had a mind of it's own! So instead we headed southeast to the fishing town of Whittier for a glacier cruise of Prince William Sound.

To get to Whittier by land, you have to go through a three mile train tunnel. The tunnel only allows for one-lane traffic used by both directions on a schedule, once per hour per direction. If you miss it, you're out of luck...for an hour anyways. Luckily we made it with about 10 minutes to spare, so they line you up and you get to wait! The tunnel is pretty narrow and dark (nothing like Eisenhower here in Colorado), and is several miles long. You drive on the train tracks!

Once we made it into Whittier we had a bit of time to spare before our boat launched, so I got a delicious cup of hot cocoa and we walked around the boardwalk. We had Scott's nephews (2&4) with us for the weekend, and I think they enjoyed the boats!

Our cruise ship started at around 1:00pm and we had fish and chips for lunch while we made our way out of Whittier and towards some glaciers! We made a few stops on the way for some waterfalls and one for an eagle sighting.

Then we finally made it to the Glaciers! They were huge compared to any I'd seen before, and seeing them by sea definitely made it a different experience as well. At one point, the glacier calved making a huge crashing sound and lots of waves. It was really neat to see!

We also saw tons of birds (and one area FULL of them - above picture), and some sea lions! We saw a few more glaciers and then headed back into Whittier. By this point I was freezing, so it felt nice to get back into the boat and warm-up! After we made it back, we quickly headed out to make the 5:30 tunnel, briefly popped into the visitors center on the other side, and then stopped in Girdwood for some dinner.

DAY 5 (Saturday, July 6th): Anchorage Market and Flight Tour

Saturday was our last day, and we once again had hopes to go on the flight tour of Denali - but alas, I guess it was just not in the cards for me to see North America's tallest peak this trip (maybe next time!). So, we headed into Anchorage to do a little bit of shopping and lunch at the local Saturday Market. It was fun to walk around the shops, and I even tried a Reindeer Dog for lunch! I also picked up a few souvenirs.

Since we couldn't do a flight tour of Denali, we decided it would be fun to do a flight tour around Mount Susitna to Triumvirate Glacier and Beluga Lake. We rode in a Float Pane, which my first time (it was not nearly as scary as I had imagined, although I would've preferred not to be in the way back). We flew over various terrain from ocean to wetlands (and saw several Moose), to forests, rivers, lakes, and eventually the glacier! I think I'm going to call this my "Glacier Trip" because I saw a LOT of them - but honestly, it didn't get old! This last one was just as cool as the others I'd seen - and the fact that I was viewing it from air, added once again, another dimension! Our pilot circled around it multiple times at multiple angles which made it really neat!

After the glacier, the pilot took us over to Beluga lake and we landed for a brief stretch break! It was kind of neat because I think the lake was pretty much in the middle of nowhere - somewhere you'd only get to by a float plane! After our stretch break we loaded back into the plane and headed back towards Anchorage. On our way we flew over the delta of the Susitna River where we saw Beluga Wales and more sea lions!

Overall it was an awesome trip! I had a lot of fun exploring Alaska and spending time with my In-Laws. They were great hosts! A big thanks to them for showing me a great time in their beautiful state.

Flattop Mountain & Hallett Peak

I've been wanting to hike to the top of Hallett Peak ever since I found out it was the gorgeous mountain towering above Dream and Emera...