09 September 2017

Hut Run Hut - running in the Colorado Rockies

Holy cow! Hut Run Hut has been on my bucket list for a couple of years now (ever since I heard about it) and not only did I get to check the box, I got to check it with my sister Lucca.

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This was a one-week (September 4-9) guided run from one 10th Mountain Division Hut Association hut to another. The guides were Aspen Alpine Guides and the guy that put it all together was Rickey Gates. Rickey always gets a "celebrity" runner to accompany the clients and on this trip, that celebrity was Jenn Shelton.

As hard as running at altitude is (especially when you live at sea level like I do), we were SO not roughing it. Every day we were provided with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and unlimited Clif Bar snacks while we ran (but of course I still brought along my supply of Hammer Nutrition - go with what works!). Each participant also got the S-Lab version of the Salomon Skin pack. Did I mention that we never ran out of beer? Or that Rickey got Sombra Mezcal to donate a CASE of their spirits? Which lasted exactly five days by the way. We also all got a pair of Stance socks which are the bomb.

The huts are also an exercise in luxury. The beds have comfy foam mattresses, flannel sheets (although we slept in our own sleeping bags - duh!) and they are also fully stocked with firewood and toilet paper. The kitchens are fully equipped with pots, pans, plates, and utensils and there is gas for cooking. Aspen Alpine Guides drove our gear from hut to hut and all we had to do was run/have fun!

The route is essentially Aspen to Vail. There were a couple of short re-routes this year, part of the route crosses over private land and this time a permit wasn't granted at the last minute. Whatever, we had a blast!

How do I adequately retell a week-long run? I can't. It would have required daily updates and I was blissfully unplugged/offline all week long. But here are some highlights and (personal) lowlights.

Day 1
Aspen - Margy's Hut (11,300')
19 miles

We carried our duffel bags to the start and started running right from downtown Aspen. Which, by the way, is a beautiful town! And it has more private jets in the local airport than I have ever seen in my life.

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The run started by winding up and through a residential neighborhood until we got high enough that we were on public land. We ran through fields, aspens, through forests, and over bridges.

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A few minutes after starting I asked Rickey how he was recovering from his TransAmerican effort, he said he was still recovering and that today was his first run since finishing! "At least I've gained back the 15 lb. that I lost." Dang.

When I arrived at Margy's Hut there were some day hikers enjoying the sun and the instant I stepped on the deck they offered me a beer. And blueberries. And cheese. Thanks super nice people!

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Of course, I didn't know we were going to get this right after we finished running EVERY SINGLE DAY.

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Then I pulled a classic n00b/wannabe (as in I wanna be able to process alcohol like when I was 25 years old) move. One of the things in this picture is great for recovery, the other two not so much. Can you tell which is which?

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Hint - the first is a bottle that used to contain Hammer Nutrition Recoverite. The second is a glass of Mezcal. The third is a PBR. You make the call. I made the wrong call, I figured if one was good, all three would be better. Toss in some dehydration, direct sun all day, being at 11,000' and Martin suffered. That night and at least half of the next day. Unfortunately, my hut mates suffered too, I guess I snored like mad. Lesson learned? Here's hoping...

Day 2
Margy's Hut - Betty Bear Hut (11,100')
19 miles

What day is this? Where am I? My head hurts, a lot.

Usually, when I have a hangover, a good sweat really helps. The problem is when you're at 11k, it's hard to get moving fast enough to sweat much. Luckily we arrived here just before lunch. Which is about as long as it took my head to feel normal.

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I was learning other lessons too. I never eat for three hours before a run so missing breakfast wasn't hard for me. A few minutes after we left the hut, I would just start sipping my HEED. But lunch was a different story. When I stop moving I was to refuel! On day one I had WAY too much lunch... Day two was a little better but still more then I could assimilate and I left feeling like I had swallowed a giant lump of cookie dough or something. Obviously, there was still room for improvement.

The trail we ran after lunch was fantastic! It was an old, rarely used trail and we had to pay close attention not to lose our way. We actually did lose our way a couple of times but were able to find the trail again in short order. Here are Carlos and I making a wardrobe adjustment along this trail.

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"Running" (we were really climbing over and ducking under trees most of the afternoon) was a blast! We finally popped out into the open, crossed a river and then went up a brute of a climb to the hut. Turns out our guide Pete Wallstrom is the world's biggest Taylor Swift fan so I got to hear Shake It Off three times up this climb.

That night I tried to watch the sunset but I got too hungry and had to go back to hut when they rang the dinner bell.

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Day 3
Betty Bear Hut - Point Breeze Cabin (a private hut, 10,500')
21 miles (with an option for six more)

Today we saw and ran everything. First, we checked out an abandoned mining tunnel that was filled with water!

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Then we went cross country and eventually climbed up and over Hagerman Pass (11,900').

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Where we did burpees!

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ASIDE - Pete was a nut. Every morning he would lead some "warm up" burpees. We would also do burpees every time we crossed a pass and of course another set when we arrived at our hut. One burpee for every thousand feet of elevation - rounded up of course. Let me tell you, nothing will jack your heart rate up like calisthenics at elevation. And yes, he did all the burpees, he didn't just lead them.

From here we ran down. And down. And DOWN. The first six miles were on a dirt road and then it was another four miles on pavement. It was fun to actually be running but it also reminded me why I like running on trails so much. It's the "trails" part... I had to walk three times on this descent, even running downhill at elevation is hard. At least we had a beautiful lake to look at while on the paved section.

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Lunch was a windy affair by this lake. By this time I was hardly eating anything at lunch just so I could get moving again in the afternoon.

After lunch, because our permit for this day had been denied and we were forced to run to these private huts instead, we ran along train tracks. More accurately, we ran IN the train tracks. For miles.

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I felt like we all should have put our fancy running packs on a stick, thrown the stick over our shoulder and gone full-on hobo style.

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Today was 20 miles and everyone was pretty quiet when we arrived at the hut.

Day 4
Point Breeze Cabin - Jackal Hut (11,600')
15 miles

Glorious singletrack! We had a lot of it today and I loved it. First we ran down a ski trail and then we ran down the Colorado Trail.

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This wound around and went in and out of the trees was just a ton of fun.

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Just before lunch, the Colorado Trail dumped us out into Camp Hale. We had been told that there might still be live munitions lying around so if we saw anything, we were not to touch it. I suspect the last live round was cleaned up years ago but it was still exciting to see this sign when we arrived.

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This is all that is left of Camp Hale.

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What goes down must also go up and after all that blissful singletrack descending we had to climb a stout hill. But my strategy of eating less and less at lunch was starting to pay off and I felt pretty darn good after we started moving. Finally. And getting the chance to cool off just before the trail got really steep wasn't hurting me either.

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At this point my camera battery died and since I was not carrying my phone there is a bit of a lapse in pictures. Darn. I guess all the movies I was shooting were using more juice than I thought.

The climb started out on a trail and then we suddenly took a left straight up this grassy slope. It was full on cross country/fell running except we were still on a ski trail meaning we were following these blue triangles that were nailed to trees. You could just see the next one every time you arrived at a marker. Trekking poles would have been nice on this section.

By now I had sufficiently recovered from my Day 1 debauchery that I played along with the "carry an awful tasting drink to the top of the ridge and consume it when you get there" game. On this day that drink was Lime-A-Rita. And in case you were wondering, it isn't any better tasting when it's warm.

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At the top of the ridge we ran along the spine in and out of trees to our next hut.

The views from up here were off the charts! We could see three 14,000' peaks and the clouds were forming too which made for some threatening looking showers in the distance. But it was still warm at the hut.

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Although I might have needed several days to recover from my day 1 binge, everyone else was obviously way better at pacing themselves and tonight that resulted in yet another round of drinking games.

ASIDE - you know you are old when your first response to the words "drinking game" is not, "I'm in!" and is instead, "Again...?!"

Speaking of consumption, I may have been limiting my intake at breakfast and lunch but once I arrived at the hut each day there was no holding back. I would feast on salmon, avocado, salami, veggies, cheese, fruit, nuts; repeat. And then two to three hours later I would have a giant dinner. Usually with two desserts. Did I mention I lost 5 lb. on this trip? And every day I was telling anyone that would listen how much of a pig I was being and that I was gaining weight. #foodissues

And speaking of issues, no sooner did we arrive than almost everyone started drinking again. Which led to this.

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And then this.

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I seem to recall a bet being made? Something along the lines of, "If you wear these cut-off cotton shorts during tomorrow's run I'll buy you a new pair of shorts every year." Hilarity ensued.

By this time I was finally back up to two beers in the evening so I opted just to be entertained.

Day 5
Jackal Hut - Fowler-Hilliard Hut (11,500')
11 miles

Gotta love the bonus summit! And when we arrived at our hut today that is just what waited for us. I chose not to waste any time and simply confirmed the direction we needed to go and headed out. Note the tiny loop at the end of the day.

But getting to the hut...? OMG.

Today is what I imagined this run was going to be like and it did not disappoint. We started out by climbing up to a ridge and then we ran along the ridge most of the day. All at 12,000'+. As a bonus, the weather was threatening and we got spit on but it was just enough to make it that much more exciting and we never got cold or wet. But there was a time today when I put on every bit of clothing I had been carrying with me so far... There's a takeaway buried in there somewhere, I'll figure it out someday.

On this day we ran along ridges.

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We could see for MILES.

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We climbed shale hills.

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We traversed some spines.

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We cruised down alpine meadows.

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We climbed fences.

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We carried our own lunch and had it on the go.

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I didn't want it to stop...

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Day 6
Fowler -Hilliard Hut - Red Cliff (a town just outside of Vail, 8,700')
11 miles

This is us hanging out, not wanting to start running on the last day...

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But it sure was fun once we started.

After a bit of climbing over some rollers, it was DOWN a jeep road. For miles. I guess I didn't want it to end because I started doing descending intervals on this road. I would run down until I met the first person, turn around and hike back up to the last person. Repeat. I think I managed to get in about five of these by which time the road had turned into a creek. For real. It turns out this creek had expanded past its usual bed and the jeep road was the path of least resistance.

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We had to run (or hop in my case) down this creek for about 1.5 miles. And I loved it.

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The water was pretty darn cold but the sun was out and it was just 1.5 miles. Plus it cleaned our shoes really well.

At the end of the creek we all regrouped and ran in the last bit of road together.

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Once we got to Red Cliff we went straight to a bar for burgers and beer.

What did I learn running at elevation and during this trip?

  • You don't do that much actual running at 12,000' when you are coming from sea level. Or 11,000' for that matter.
  • Extra clothing, bring it. Perhaps because my body was getting run down I was chilly every evening and super thankful for my puffy jacket, long pants, and a knit hat.
  • Aspen Alpine Guides are awesome. They know how to run a smooth operation.
  • Pete and Jenn were tireless! Not only did they babysit the clients, they also drank the most and were always smiling. Kudos to Nate (thet organizer), Ian (our chef) and Rickey too!
  • Rickey wears some crazy shorts. Picture a pair of longjohns that are cut off, too short. And have split sides.
  • Having someone prepare your meals is heaven.
  • Lucca brought her sun shower along. Had it not been for this there would have been no showers. Let that sink in. Thank you Lucca!
  • You can't always do laundry, get used to it.
  • Shorty short running socks are not that awesome in the dust and gravel. Crew length is my new favorite.
  • Coming back down to sea level I was hoping I would feel like Superman. Instead, I was just tired for an entire week.
  • If you love some particular product/nutrition/piece of gear, bring it. This is no time to risk chafing, blisters or bonking.
  • My shoes rock. They were SO comfortable the entire time.
  • We got SO lucky and our group was incredibly compatible both in terms of personalities and ability and fitness. No one got angry and no one had to wait for more than a few minutes when we regrouped.
  • Being able to do this run with Lucca was a real treat. I hope I didn't embarrass her too much during my night of excess after Day 1.
Here are all my pictures and videos. Which of course only begin to capture what we saw and experienced. What can you do.

Nutrition
Besides eating everything that was put in front of my face each evening I also relied on the following each day during the runs.
Gear

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