Flattops in Winter – Dunckley Pass Access

On the quest to run new trails for this website, tough duty I know,  I was passing through Phippsburg, Colorado on a deep winter January day and saw the sign, the classic brown sign that says  National Forest Access.  My goosebumps rise, alive come my butterflies and my adventure genes get tripped.  Time check.  Have about 2.5 hours of light.  I leave highway 131 and am immediately on a glazy snow packed road through ranch country.  Horses and cows are happily munching on hay, old barns are weathered and leaning, farm equipment is piled high with snow and rusting, and a few cirrostratus clouds are hanging over the Flattops, a series of flat topped mesas comprising a large wilderness area.  I follow the signs toward Dunckley Pass, ranches thin out and I enter the Routt National Forest.  I keep going, wondering where to stop.  I come

around a corner as the road is going up through a dark tunnel of pine trees on the left and aspens on the right.  I see two vehicles parked and  a trail sign.  A guy is removing his cross country skis and I ask him about the trails.  He had fun.  One trail heads south through the woods from where he had come and the road continues onward to the west.  I hear mega barking, an enthusiastic dog sled team up ahead.  I opt for the road as I am guessing the the snow will be packed down.  The person leaving says the road is closed 200 yards ahead.  Turns out to be a 1/2 mile.  Temp = mid 20s, my hands warm up and the road is indeed nicely packed by weekend snowmobilers and dog sleds.  Let the joys of winter running begin = solitude, stillness, fresh air, new views, and wonderful introspections about ourselves  that only deep winter can bring…

Perils = lots of dog poo on trail beginning as the running dogs are having to relieve themselves as they run and it gets tracked up.  Since the dogsled had left only a few minutes prior to my arrival, it had not yet frozen.  Fairly easy to avoid.

Independence Pass in Winter

Independence Pass in Winter

Highway 82 is closed in winter at Mile Marker 47, six miles up from Aspen. The road becomes a playground for hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, dog walking, and oh yeah, running. Driving through town, the temp said 37. Arriving at the road closure 700 feet higher the temp had gone up to 44. A warm, southwest, upper level wind from an incoming storm system was the wonderful culprit. About 10 cars were taking up the parking spaces, typical, as most people spend about an hour or so socializing and hiking, and replaced by others. The number of dogs usually equals the number of people, as it should be. Don’t think I’ve seen happier dogs than those romping in the snow. Snow conditions can vary, but snowmobiles pack it down, and, at the same time, loosen the surface to make it like soft sand at the beach. Easy on the knees but makes it a slow surface. Who cares? This is no place to be in a hurry and how many places can you run where you do not have to look at your footfall. (Except keep note of upcoming dark spots as it is usually dog doo that did not get picked up.) The steady uphill grade and elevation (starts at 8,600 feet) gets the cardio-pulmonary system kicked in right away. Did not take long before I was being brutally attacked by vicious breeds like golden retrievers, black labs, a white scottie, and a few mixed mutts that did not have a mean bone in their canine bodies. At length, (Poe’s term for a bit of time passing) I came around Weller Curve at MM 49 and continued on to the Weller Lake trailhead. Were the trail to be packed down, I may have run to the lake but on this day, too deep, and I did not have my snowshoes. A person on cross country skis stood nearby and I realized, behind those sunglasses and hat, was my longtime Aspen friend, Shiela. We caught up on life and she was trying to lock back into her skis for her descent back to her car. Her right boot went in fine but her left would not. Upon examination, she had a ‘small glacier’ packed into her boot mechanism that attaches to the ski. Having the right tool for the job in my waist pack, my pocketknife, I pulled her foot up and removed the glacier. She snapped in and we bid farewell. I continued up the road. Had a peaceful mile before I heard the dreaded hum of multiple snowmobiles. Along came the tour of a dozen, the riders all with helmets and goggles so all the people were unidentifiable. They slowed and exchanged waves but snowmobiles leave an exhaust in the air like a nasty fart in an elevator. I pranced along, checking out avalanche chutes, stopping occasionally to snap a pic and listen to the Roaring Fork River gurgle under the ice. As the road narrows and the canyon gets tighter, the wind, via the hydraulic effect, gets stronger and gusts whisper hollow past my ears. I make it to the Lincoln Creek road, and checking my Garmin, I am 4.27 miles into my jaunt. A good place to turn around. Again the dreaded hum. This time only three, but still the smoke hangs in the air and is a bit nauseating until the wind carries the smoke away. Next up, a dogsled. I ask the musher if they are photogenic. I attempt to pull my camera out quickly as the dog team is running fast. I am envious of the athletic nature of dogs, they can run uphill at altitude seemingly unaware of fatigue! Strap them together as a team and they love their job! In a brief exchange, I say the dogs are a lot less smelly than snowmobiles, and he fires back, that they are a lot more quiet and peaceful too. I barely have time to fire two shots before they are gone. My feet are soaked and starting to get cold so I pick up the pace going down. Past Weller Curve going down there is a large cliff on the side of the road. I notice about a five pound rock that had dropped off that was not there on the way up. Probably fell far enough to be fatal, at least injurious. I gave the cliff as wide a berth as I can to avoid what rock climbers call, silent death, that rock they never hear… I carry a blistering pace (laughing allowed) down toward my car and again, am attacked by three black labs and one is pretty aggressive. The woman says she’s harmless and controls her dogs with a whistle. Two obey, but the one comes at me hard about four times until I am 300 yards down the hill and the dog finally responds to the whistle. Near the bottom is a group of a dozen twenty something girls having a reunion. They are clustered tightly together, as if at a concert pushing toward the stage, a few dogs are with them, and they are shrieking like teenagers. Maybe they were college girls home for break. Thus ended my 8.48 mile jaunt. It was approaching beer-thirty…

Aspen Brewing was a welcome addition to town to bring real ales to outdoor enthusiasts and there are so many local trails and outdoor activities with which to pair their beers.   The beers are solid across their styles and there is always a good selection on tap.   One note – The fantastic lineup of hops in the Independence Pale Ale, which is an IPA, is in sticky competition with the caramel malts so for hopheads, and they do ”bill’ it that way, is a must try, but I find the Conundrum Red has a  better mouth feel, overall flavor, and balance of hops.  The CR is billed as a cross between a red and an ESB.    For me it scores the top trail marker in the cozy tasting room.  This Season’s Blonde is always a good choice for light lager style lovers, after skiing, golfing, running etc.  Also, a great introduction for people still on training wheels for craft beer.  Refreshing.  Brown Bear Ale is a solid brown – I am good for one pint before I escape back to the Red.  And for those who like their stouts, the 10th Mountain Imperial Stout is top notch.  High ABV at 9.3% – HINT – I get a pint of Red and get a sample size of the Stout – a variation on a beer and a shot.    Live music on occasion and always a friendly staff and a good mix of locals and thirsty Aspen visitors.

aspenbrewingcompany.com

Red Hill Trail and Carbondale Beer Works

Red Hill Trail and Carbondale Beer Works

Red Hill Trail is named for the sedimentary rock that makes up the Maroon Bells further up valley and a lot higher (14,000 foot peaks). This trail is a chance to enjoy a Utahish red rock experience in Carbondale. The trailhead is the parking lot on the north side of the highway at the junction of Highways 82 and 133. The Garmin map will show I missed the trailhead at first because I was on an icy road and was not paying attention to the left side of the road as a truck passed by. But, found a really cool pasture with small homes and was quite the perfect Christmas setting for a ‘cabin in the snowy woods.’ Ran back down the road to the trailhead and took off through a thick piñon and juniper forest, Mother Nature’s forest of choice at this elevation. Six inches of snow provided padding underfoot and the snow was of a texture to provide good footing and not be slippery. Numerous regulars had already been on the trail that day so I was not breaking trail. This is a steep, fun and winding trail through the trees and except for a few hikers and their faithful companions. These were dogs who were thrilled to be playing in the snow and enjoyed greeting me with tails wagging, bodies gyrating, and noses aimed at my crotch! Cold though it was, going up hill generates metabolic heat gain so a comfort level is quickly reached. Bunnies and deer were spotted in the trees and nice views of the valley open up. Care is required on the way down through the red rock formation in any season as it is slick, rocky and rooty. A fabulous short trail but longer loops are available. dg

Carbondale Beer Works – 647 Main Street. carbondalebeerworks.com

Downtown is cozy and comfortable anytime of year and Mt. Sopris rises like Mt. Rainier over Seattle and even closer! Was ready to have an Avalanche IPA being the hophead that I am but they were out. So, I went for the sample sizes of the Dirty Blonde, Brown Dog Amber, CBW-ESB, and the Rye Pale Ale. After a rousing discussion about trying the Saison – which should be a complex flavored beer, the waiter fessed up that it pretty much tasted like a Belgian. So, for you Belgian fans their Saison will never be out after I stop by! The other samples are all true to their style with good body and flavor and none to malty that leaves that syrupy sticky feeling in your mouth and on your lips. After 4 miles prancing and dancing (tis the Christmas Season after all) on Red Hill trail they all tasted especially wonderful.

How this for a sunrise!?
How is this for a sunrise!?

Trails and Ales NM!

Trails and Ales NM!

IMG_2240New Mexico has breweries that rival all the well known beer states.  Santa Fe Brewing, Marble, La Cumbre Brewing Company to name three.  For brewpubs?  2nd Street in Santa Fe, Chama River in Albuquerque, Blue Corn in Santa Fe where amazing food and beer can be found in a state with amazing playgrounds for all trail sports!  Check out La Luz Trail in the Sandias, Santa Fe’s trail networks, Ghost Ranch trails, Cerro Pedernal – you will earn your cervezas climbing this hunk of rock.  Look for blog posts for Trail and Brewery/beer of the week in numerous states.  All coming as fast as I can run’em and drink’em!  Contributors are welcome – anyone who can play on a trail, match it with a local beer, write coherently (anyone who writes using the words awesome, epic, or uses the phrase ‘at the end of the day’ or end sentences with prepositions will be rejected.)  We welcome all forms of trails; hiking, running, biking, rivers, vertical rock, ski trails, ocean waves and any other place that qualifies as a trail.  Get creative, as Mother Nature did with this sunrise, a virga double rainbow at 6:07 in the morning at the Ghost Ranch, July 26, 2015.  Ran 7.6 miles later in the day and checked out the flash flood damage from 2 weeks prior up Box Canyon.  Amazing destruction or creation depending on how we look at what happened in the canyon.