Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Places I've Run: Denny Creek, CO

For two summers I worked at a camp in the mountains of Colorado. I was a mountaineering counselor for high school and junior high kids - I led backpacking trips, ropes course, rock climbing, mountain biking, and rafting (well, on those last two I was more just along for the ride). It sounds fun...and it was...but it was also absolutely exhausting.

The camp base was at 9,000 feet. Altitude training anyone?

One July night at about 11 pm, I was hanging out with some friends. We realized that the next day was a "Sunday" (aka a sleep-in day, which were rare at camp). This meant that we didn't have our normal 6:20 am staff meeting, so I didn't have to throw myself out for a run at 5 am. Counselors and campers alike didn't have to get up until 8 am on Sundays!

Wow, we should do something awesome! suggested my early-morning running buddy (one of the few people I've met who rivals me in craziness). 

Peak a mountain? No, we did that on our last day off...

Let's run Denny Creek! Sure! (My compulsive volunteerism strikes again.) 

Denny Creek is a famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) camp run. You start at the Mt. Yale trailhead, and run up and over Browns Pass and back to camp. It's about 15 miles long, with some major elevation gain and loss. The most hard-core campers do it as the climax of their summer, and many counselors have done it on their off days.

My alarm went off at 4:20 am on a sleep-in-Sunday, less than 5 short hours after our decision to run Denny Creek.

Oh. My. Goodness. This is it...I've completely lost my mind. 

Am I really about to do this?

Yes. Obviously.

I ate a granola bar on the way to the trailhead (11 miles west of Buena Vista on the Cottonwood Pass Road, aka Chaffee County Road 306), strapped on my headlamp, and started the slow arduous climb up to Browns Pass. We chugged along the dark, not saying much (what is there to say at 5 am anyways?), intent on not tripping over the rocks studding the trail.

The run starts with 5 miles of steep uphill to Browns Pass. The starting elevation is 9,800 feet, and the top of the pass is 12,010 feet. So that's 3,350 feet in 5 miles, i.e. difficult.
Once you get to Browns Pass, the worst is over. In our oxygen-indebted stupor we paused briefly to appreciate the Collegiate Peaks before starting our descent into the Denny Creek basin. We slip-slided down the steep snow-encrusted trail for a few miles before leveling out the enjoy the rest of the run along a meandering stream (probably Denny Creek?).

I paused briefly to sip some ice-cold snowmelt water out of the stream (because yes, I am that badass...or stupid...whatevs).

All things beautiful. I love trail running. Until the last up-and-over into camp. Switchbacks. Kill. Me.

But we made it - arriving back into camp just a few minutes after the 8 am wake-up bell, we were ready to start our normal day. 

Ah the insanity - I love running in Colorado!