Into the wind

It's no secret that I've decided that I'm going to do a 50 mile race next year and that I selected the Human Potential Running Series Sheep Mountain 50 in Fairplay as the race of choice. I have 8 months to get ready for the race - and part of the preparation is scouting the course so I know what I need to work on in the training. Just running is good, but it doesn't quite cut it when it comes to training for an ultra! I had a copy of the course map and wanted to focus on what I thought would be the hardest part of the race - the climb up Sheep Mountain. I had a little loop in mind that was about 16 miles, starting out of the Four Mile Campground.
Sunrise from the camp site - a quiet morning except for the wind!

Wind woke me up early. Howling down the gulch, bending the trees and sending dust eddies swirling. It was a chilly wind too - making me nervous about my plan to climb above treeline. If the wind was this strong down along the creek, what would it be like at 12,500? I would find out soon enough.

Sheep Mountain - Starting to wonder what I was thinking!
Things you don't think about, running in city parks every day - the ebb and flow of hunting season. It's currently elk season in Colorado and we'd seen a few hunters out and about while riding the Crest trail. On bikes, it's not that much to think about - our clothes are pretty bright to begin with. No orange, but plenty of vibrant colors from blue to red to yellow. But for running? I hadn't thought that far in advance and hadn't even considered hunting season. I'd brought a navy blue tank top, a pale orange short sleeved and a grey long sleeved for running. My rain jacket on the back of my Rev 1.5 was a nice bright orange, but I wasn't going to be able to run in that. It was chilly, but not that cold! Lucklily, I did have a reddish-orange wool long sleeved that I'd brought to wear around. It wasn't a "running" top, but I could run in it for sure! Bright, noticeable and just want I needed for a measure of safety alone in the woods.
Nick at the Limber Grove trailhead - he would end up doing a five mile hike-run
I had a course map on my phone and figured that would be enough. Time to head out and up! Nick was also planning on running and hiking a little, and offered to let me take one of the maps. I figured the one on my phone would be enough and declined. I had a general idea of where I was going as well. It would be pretty hard to get lost - I hoped.

Limber Grove trail - yes, there is a trail there!
 My first inkling that this was going to be a big - and a little longer day then I had planned was in the first mile of the run. Limber Grove Trail - after crossing the creek, it climbed up for a bit and then into a rocky boulder field with the trail marked by cairns. I opted not to try to run through the boulders, choosing my footing carefully. Then I reached the next trail - and it turned up. Straight up. What what I thinking up. Running was out, power hiking was in. For the next mile, it was a power trudge - hike up to treeline. And once I popped out of the trees, the full force of the wind hit. I was leaning into it, hunched over just to make forward progress as the trail headed west. Thought about turning around, but didn't want to admit defeat. It was just wind! I stopped in a small grove of trees to get my jacket on - the wind was cold! I almost put on my hat and gloves, but opted not to. With the wind howling in my ears, I pressed on.
Horseshoe Mountain - taken from the "safety" of an abandoned mine building to shelter from the wind!

History on the trail - an old mine high above the trees - I couldn't imaging working up there!


And at that point, I was committed. Might as well finish out my loop! Along the traverse of Sheep Mountain, I was a little more protected from the wind. I kept climbing up and up as I crossed the face of the mountain. There was a short little section where I was unprotected from the wind and I was almost blown over a few times! Yikes! I was so happy to finally get back into the trees and start dropping in elevation.

The drop down to Brown's Pass was fun running as the trail meandered lower and lower. Then at Brown's, the course turned right for the race. I turned left, rejoining the trail much further on. There's a whole other loop to explore... Brown's Pass road wasn't easy running. Steep and loose and as I descended, the temperature dropped. I was starting to get a little worried about how long is been gone - I'd told Nick 3 hours and I was at two, with an unknown distance to return to the van. As such, and without a good map, I took the first road turn north I got to. I was sure it was the right road, but hadn't looked close enough at the map to be sure. Without strong glasses, the map on my phone was barely useful. Just enough to not get me completely lost. I still got a little turned around - I'd wanted the second road, not the first and so missed one of the trails I wanted. Oh well! The purpose of the run was to explore, not try to run everything in that area. Having some unknown come July will be good.

View to the east - overlooking South Park, with Pikes Peak in the distance

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