For the first few miles, beautiful, buff singletrack wound around through a dense pine forest. But as the trail began to tilt upward, it became narrower, rougher, and more overgrown. Somewhere between the transition from pine to spruce bows that were hitting me across the face, the trail became a little challenging to follow.
Calypso orchids (Calypso bulbosa)
After cresting the first tall ridge of the day, I passed a couple backpackers that were just crawling out of their tent. My feet continued their rhythmic stride, beginning to descend into the next valley. Thinner aspen groves occasionally provided glimpses of towering granite spires in the distance. After a few more miles, the trail tilted upward again, and I passed below a monolithic tower and stopped to take a few photos. I gained the next ridge, marveled at the view to the south, and ran on. But not more than two minutes later, I found myself stopped in my tracks staring across the next valley. This is what I had caught a glimpse of when riding along the dirt road to the south last summer, a spectacular landscape of towers, domes, and craggy peaks. 15 miles of this was going to be a blast...
Atop the first pass, the grey and black skeletons of long-ago burned cedars stood silently as I passed. The trail wasn't quite above treeline here, but it certainly felt like it. From this vista, I surveyed the this little part of the world from a new vantage point. To the northwest across South Park, among the snowcovered peaks of the Mosquito Range, I picked out Mount Tweto (named after a geologist!), which I hiked up a few years ago. Mount Guyot, the highest point on the Firecracker 50 course, stood just to the east. Farther south along the horizon, I admired the Collegiate Peaks and some of the 14ers we climbed last weekend. Farther south yet were the last snow-capped peaks standing just above the wonderful Cochetopa Hills. I traced the Tour Divide course from Boreas Pass into and across South Park, as well as another of last summer's rides through the park and over the Puma Hills, which stood just below me to the south. Recently I've had the feeling that I haven't been exploring all these mountains in my back yard as much as I should be, but this vista provided some satisfying reassurance.
Eventually the trail climbed above treeline, almost to 12,000', and I kept running. My legs were still feeling great, probably fueled a bit by the continuing remarkable views. But as I reached the northern end of the ridgeline, I veered west and descended steeply back down into the forest. The last 15 miles of the run were less scenic and inspiring, but I plodded along, slowly put the miles behind me and made it back to the car in 10 very satisfying hours. I have a feeling I'll be back to run this exact loop again...
The need for an easier run today provided the chance to explore a new (to us) trail a little closer to home. The trailhead parking lot was packed, but the trail was relatively deserted and delightfully scenic. Throw in an abundance of rocks and gruss and my mind was distracted enough to not feel too many of yesterday's miles.
Now the San Juan Solstice is just two weeks away, so it's time to back off, let the legs recover fully, and make the most of all the hard-earned miles pounded out over the past few weeks.