Tuesday, July 10, 2012

St Vrain Mountain

Is there anything more annoying than a supercilious dog owner with low common sense, zero self-awareness and outright certainty in all they say and do? Well I met one descending St Vrain mountain and will describe the encounter later.

St Vrain was the first mountain trail I decided to run shortly after we moved to Boulder last year. I'm not exactly sure why, but it has turned out to be one of my favorite trails and I chose it again on June 17th for an early morning outing with Livvy. The forecast was set for a cool start with rapidly rising heat during the late morning, but a fresh wind. I aimed to be back at the trailhead before the heat took hold.

I know that one reason I like St Vrain trail so much is that the section up to the treeline is so interesting and varied. What is usually the "Hors d'ouvres" is a substantive main course in its own right, so much so that many hikers (as I later discovered) turn back once they have crested the treeline. They are making a mistake, but it's one I understand. The two pictures above were taken last November on an earlier trip and they state the case for a trail that is rugged and varied and very runnable.

But if the first half through the trees is so beautiful, the rising traverse to the base of St Vrain mountain is exceptional. Although the trail surface turns loose and chossy and it is harder to run and find a secure footing, the views to Northwest and West are spectacular, especially across Wild Basin to Longs Peak and Meeker.

The first time I ran St Vrain I made a slight navigation error on the traverse south west to the mountain. I remember reading on protrails.com that a trio of small cairns marked the departure point for the long slog through Krummholz and talus. At the time I was running at a fair pace and it is easy to see how I missed them. On this trip I didn't make the same mistake, although a large snowfield had to be crossed and even early in the morning I kept "postholing' as Livvy skated around giving an admirable impersonation of Bambi.

Staying close to the boundary posts that mark the Indian Peaks Wilderness from the Rocky Mountain National Park, we strode out with our heads into the wind for the final 550' climb. And it was extremely windy. Every few paces I had to shield my mouth or turn sideways to inhale enough oxygen and although the altitude isn't that high (12,162') breathing was not easy. Some bright spark built the customary stone wind shelter on the summit and this was the only respite we got. I supplemented my tee shirt for a Smartwool pullover.

I ventured out of the shelter to take a few pictures, but it wasn't a place to be hanging around for long. It turned out to be a much trickier descent from the summit than I expected. The wind was gusting on our backs and several times it nearly launched me in the air and I found myself grappling for a foothold. Livvy skipped along with disdain, only perking up when she caught sight of a couple of chipmunks.

Despite the temptation of such an alluring target she seemed to sense my poor balance and, for once, didn't lurch forwards in pursuit. Instead she fixed a steady stare, noted the position and then buried her nose in the rocks as we got closer.

I'm coming to the supercilious dog-owner in a minute, but we did meet a really nice couple walking near the traverse and they took our picture. If they represented what is best in humanity we were brought down to earth by the worst. I don't remember all the details - after all, we were running quickly and everything is a literal blur - but I recall hearing a yappy dog. I generally dislike yappy dogs so my expectations were't high. Thankfully, it seemed to be off the trail to one side next to the stream, and as we slowed to pass by it was clearly been restrained (with some difficulty) by a frustrated owner. There were three or four others in their group, one of whom remonstrated with us for causing their dog to bark. It was a silly comment to make but their dog was a frustrating dog and this was clearly a regular occurrence. This might not be the most politically correct comment to make, but I sometimes just have to look at some children to know that they are going to be obnoxious and my sense tends to be alarmingly accurate. Well, I felt this same way about dog, owner and the group member who addressed his observation to me. This is usually sufficient for my brain to prevent my mouth from opening and adding copious causticity to their ignorance. But as it turned out, events took a wholly unexpected turn for the better. Although Livvy and I had slowed to facilitate passing, we hadn't actually stopped. Now, Livvy is a pretty social dog who likes to meet and greet and she took a beeline for the dog. I want you to picture one of their group members for a moment. He was the large man with the large mouth and he was resting heavily on his walking poles. My forward momentum stretched Livvy's leash and as she came back towards me she dashed in the gap between the man's legs and his walking poles. The momentum of the two of us wrapped the leash around his poles and whipped them out from under him. I didn't actually see him fall over, but I did hear it. Conversation over. I shouted a muted apology and we continued our run back to the trail. I like to think of it as a fortuitous accident but I could have sworn I saw a smile on Livvy's face.

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