Sunday, July 21, 2013

The House of Pain

When running the high mountains I fall over for fun. I expect to fall and I do. In truth, it happens far less than it should given the terrain I traverse, but when it happens it is always a shock and I have been fortunate to escape with bloodied knees, elbows, palms and forehead. Typically I wait for the flush of nausea to work through...sit up...check body parts...stand up...dust myself down...and then start running again. This private spectacle exposes me to some risk...but if there was no risk I probably wouldn't enjoy it as much.

My mileage is picking up. After a painful incapacitating achilles injury earlier in the year it has taken me a long time to find my pace and feel comfortable on longer runs. I planned for a 45 mile long weekend which got off to a punishing start very early on Friday morning. Every time I have ascended James Peak I have eyed the severely undulating ridge line containing 4 x 13,000'+ peaks ending with Mt Flora to the south. It was too big a trip from the East Portal so I planned a loop starting from Falls River Road. This looked aesthetically pleasing on the map, but it had a 6.5 mile long ascent to reach the first summit - Mt Flora.

Emerging from tree line to wonderful long distance views of Grays and Torreys Peaks to the south west
I parked where the Continental Divide trail crossed Falls River and struck south west through steep woodland. This is a wonderful section of trail along a beautifully built narrow winding route. It was very hard work with some very steep pulls and at 10,000' I felt as though I was working too hard so early in the run. It was about 6am and the temperature was nice and cool.

This trail clearly doesn't get much traffic and it was overgrown in several places, although not unpleasantly so. After 2.5 miles the trail levels out and begins a long, slightly descending contour before crossing Mill Creek and the start of the hard ascent of Breckenridge Peak. The quality of the trail throughout this section is spectacular and many hours of hard labor has been spent laying large slabs across steep, loose talus and this made the going a lot easier than it would otherwise have been. Breckenridge Peak tops out at 12,888" and wouldn't be counting in today's itinerary.

I was exhausted when I eventually summited Mt Flora. There was a stiff breeze and I didn't hang around in the cold. I looked to the north east and was daunted by what lay ahead. My final peak - Mt Bancroft - was a speck in the distance. I had climbed one 13,000'+ peak and had three more to go.
Mt Bancroft, my final peak, is the last summit on the extreme right, from the summit of Mt Flora
I picked my way across the shoulder of Witter Peak (12,884') - this involved losing about 600', climbing back up 400', losing another 300' and climbing another 500' to reach Mt Eva at 13,130'.
The red line traces my route across the shoulder of Witter to Eva, Parry then Bancroft
My legs were tired on the descent of Eva and Mt Parry - the highest peak on the trip - was next. It was slow going and the terrain was rough, especially on the descents. I topped out on Parry (13,391') and made the fairly quick trip across to my final peak, Bancroft, at 13,258'.
Mt Parry with Bancroft beyond

Cloud closing in on the top of Bancroft
Looking back along the route. Mt Flora to the left, then Eva and Parry on the right from the summit of Bancroft
I took a quick drink and began the laborious descent down the ridge towards Loch Lomond. I aimed to pick up an old mining trail ay about 11,900' but had to cross a few large boulder fields on the way and this made the going slow. Another 3 miles and I was back at the car.

On Saturday I decided to take it steady and run the short 9 mile trip up Estes Cone from Lily Lake. This was a completely runnable trail (except for the final 500') and gained 2500' of vertical ascent. It was a beautiful day and the intention was to conclude the weekend with another long run on Sunday.
Mt Meeker and Longs Peak from the summit of Estes Cone

Jurassic Park climbing area from Lily Lake
And on Sunday it was all going so well. I left Hessie aiming to run a circuit of the High Lonesome trail which was about 15.5 miles and 4,000' of ascent. The perfect way to end the week. It didn't last long.

I passed a few early walkers on the climb up to the trail split and once out of the trees the rising sun was warm on my back. I worked up the steep section above the bridge on the Devil's Thumb trail and reached the flatter meadow section. I was stepping out quite quickly and feeling good and looking forward to a long hard workout.

I don't know the cause of the distraction because I didn't sense any distraction at the time. I could see two hikers a quarter of a mile ahead and the trail isn't particularly rocky at this point. It was a bit of a blur - isn't it always - as I threw my hands and arms out in front of me to brace the impact. I remember hitting the ground hard at full stretch and seeing lots of dust and debris as my hands and fingers grated across the rocks and rubble. The funny thing is that I didn't feel any immediate pain, but I was looking at my left hand as it rested on the trail surface and I thought "My middle finger seems to be tracing the route I need to take", as it twisted in two directions.

I knew it was dislocated before the nausea hit. I quickly got into a seated position and allowed the pain to flow. I knew it would be short lived, but I didn't want to pass out. I ducked my head low between my knees to increase blood flow and the nausea was replaced by a sharper, searing pain. When this happened I knew I was through the worst and I stood up, dusted myself down and examined the source of pain.
A double dislocated and broken middle finger photographed outside the ER

It was an impressive dislocation. I thought I would try to snap it back into place myself, but after three attempts and much pain I gave up. The two hikers were in the distance so I jogged along and asked if they could help. I underestimated the sight my finger would have on them and one hiker took a look and felt queasy. I sensed the reluctance of the other and decided to return to the car. It was a bitter blow given my aim for the day.

I passed a couple of other runners on the way back and they were attempting the same route. It was all I could do not to turn around and join them. After all, what's a little nagging pain between friends? But that was the point - it was painful and constant pain grabs your attention like nothing else. Not being able to swing an arm because of the pain didn't augur well for another 10 miles and I couldn't risk either passing out or falling again.

The doctor in ER was great. After icing the swelling she took a grip of my hand and yanked my finger with all her strength...several times. It was an obstinate dislocation. She called for a burly nurse who held my hand and she wrenched it again. A gristly "click' was music to my ears as I smiled my way through the treatment.

I have a rock climbing trip planned for 4 weeks time. I don't have long for this to heal!!

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