Crested Butte

Grin and Bear It 9.7 mile trail race yesterday at Crested Butte. It was on the Green Lake Trail and I did wonder why I was paying $30 to do a trail painfully (running) when I could have done the same trail at my leisure for free, and the race only started at 9 so I was going to get rather hot out there.

However, it was a fun trail if rather hard work and there was an abundance of food for runners at the finish. The trail started in forest, after a nasty climb up from the race start line and although mostly uphill, there were a few undulations. There was only one really steep pitch in the stretch before the 2.5 mile aid station, but I found running quite uncomfortable. I tried to run as much as I could but my breathing became a problem quite soon. I persevered but had to do a fair bit of walking.

After the aid station the trail was intermittently across meadows and on open hillsides, my perfect kind of trail. There was a big mountain right there and it was all very beautiful under the blue sky. I didn't feel too hot. I was near the back of the field but even going slowly back there I had moments of heaving breath. The lake was nice (and green) but there wasn't time to linger.

Once I started on the downhill I felt, as I would have expected, a million dollars. I took the trail at a steady comfortable pace and the distance passed easily. I was surprised how soon I reached the aid station and turned back into the forest. This last stretch passed quickly too. From about half way down I could hear the noise on the finish line, and a gap in the trees gave a welcome view of downtown Crested Butte. As I was arriving at the finish the announcer said "seems like we have a race on". I knew thee was a guy who was close behind me but I thought I had dropped him so I was surprised. I raced to the finish, looked around and saw that the race was between two runners behind me!

At the finish there was beer, soft drinks, French toast, burritos, yoghurt but no spoons and bananas. A real feast! I sneaked my beer out of the race venue illegally for consumption later, and had my burrito later for a picnic lunch sitting by the river on the way back to Gunnison.

The weather was beautiful today when I got up at 6 and I headed excitedly to Crested Butte to do the Copper Lake trail. Even the drive to the trailhead, past the tiny hamlet of Gothic, was spectacular: lots of green mountainsides and wildflowers by the roadside. I parked at the trailhead, chatted briefly to a couple of women who were heading out on the same trail and was on my way.

The first stop on the trail was at Judd Falls, a narrow waterfall of impressive power. From here the Copper Lake trail was well signed, to my surprise. I continued on until I came to another sign and a place to get wilderness permits. 

Here my fortunes changed. The sign had no arrows on it but behind it a trail led down towards the creek (Copper Creek). It seemed to me a no-brainer that this was the trail I needed, and when I came almost immediately to a roaring creek with obvious signs of having been crossed by hikers I crossed it, getting wet feet and legs. I had read that there were creek crossings without bridges or logs on the trail. The trail became sketchy after this but I could follow it, until I came to a T junction with no indication of which way to go. I opted to turn left and the trail, now much improved, crossed an open mountainside then went into an aspen forest. It was lovely but I wasn't sure if it was the right trail. I paused, walked on, paused again and after maybe half a mile I decided to turn back to the T junction. I figured I would either see the women I had met at the car park coming towards me or deduce that I should have turned right at that junction. (And it was Sunday so I knew the trails would be busy.) But I sailed past the junction and next thing I knew I saw a sign saying I was on Deer Creek trail. I knew this wasn't right so I backtracked to the T junction and went back on the rough trail, recrossing the rushing creek, to the sign that had caused all the problems.

I then stayed on the rough road/ track I had originally been on and within a minute a trail runner came towards me. I asked her if I was on the Copper Creek trail and she said yes. So I knew where to go. All in all I had wasted at least an hour.

The real trail was wonderful. It was easy going until the last mile and passed through the best scenery. It wasn't much in the forest and there were high peaks all around. Everything was so green. The wild flowers were abundant and fairly tall (though not as tall as I had seen them on my previous visit to Crested Butte five years ago). There were five creek crossings in all, all ankle deep but I just walked through the water with not a care in the world. Other hikers had brought spare shoes, towels and other luxuries!

The final mile was steep and rougher, and in the forest so less enjoyable. I kept hoping to see the lake around the next switchback but it took its time. Eventually I reached it and it was one of the nicer ones of this trip. High mountains descended to the lake shores and there was a large grassy area for hikers to sit. Jutting into the lake was a promontory with a path to its highest point so that was the obvious place to rest and take in the sights. From here the lake appeared to be a horseshoe shape. The view was different in each direction: green mountainsides, talus slopes and a snow bowl.

I decided to run back down since the descent would be mostly gradual after the initial steep part. This was fun. I felt some drops of rain about ten minutes into the descent; that stopped, then half an hour later a real shower started. The rain felt nice and cooled me down. This also meant that I was wet all over rather than just my feet.

When I got to the sign where I had gone wrong I decided to write a note on one of the wilderness permit forms, just so the parks people would know about what I thought of their badly positioned sign. It was raining so I had difficulty writing. As I was trying to post the paper in the box some hikers came by needing permits. I explained what I was doing and one of them thought I was clearly nuts to think the trail behind the sign could be the Copper Lake trail; the other one was sympathetic. I had the impression they felt a lot better about me when they realised I had done the correct trail already.

Then I had a piece of good fortune. As I was getting back to the car park a dog rushed up behind me and then turned down a side trail I had not noticed before. This was a short cut to the car park. 


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