One run that I was itching to do was called the Eccles Pass Loop. Eccles Pass is directly to the south of Buffalo Mountain in Frisco. This run involves climbing about 2800' to the pass, then descending down the backside through a narrow valley between Buffalo and the rugged Gore range, and ending back at the same trailhead.
We were up camping at Heaton Bay on Lake Dillon last week, so I thought I'd give it a go on Friday as my last long training run before Silver Rush. Since the loop was about 14.5 miles, my plan was to do it twice. Knowing my legs would not be fresh after last weekends run at Pikes, I figured my plan must be flexible and thought 6-7 hours on my feet (regardless of mileage) would be a fine goal as well.
The trail starts right next to I-70 and follows Meadow Creek as it climbs steeply for the first 2-3 miles through dense pine forests before finally opening up to a stunning meadow. The singletrack is awesome and a welcome change from the rocky doubletrack that also graces those first couple of miles.
Around mile 4, Eccles Pass comes into full view. It is the lowest point of the ridge seen above. The last push to the top is over before you know it and you're then treated to breath-taking views of the meadows on both sides of the pass.
At this point, I was riding a serious high. The scenery was top notch and the run was flawless. From the pass I could easily see the valley I would be descending through nestled up against Buffalo. That sure did seem like a lot of snow though. Hmmm.
Here's a look at the Gore range. The trail descended about 1000' from Eccles and hugged the rocks to the left. I got about a half mile down and lost the trail as it was absorbed by a snowfield. I just went around it and figured I'd meet up with it on the other side. Well, with all the run-off, there were dozens of little creeks that looked like trails. I couldn't find the real trail at all.
I wandered around in the wet, squishy valley for at least an hour trying to find the trail. I got all the way down to where the forest began and came to the conclusion that I could easily spend several more hours hunting and still come up empty. I was quite frustrated and decided my only option was to climb back up to Eccles and backtrack to the start. After a bit, I was okay with this decision and once I was back on the pass, I took a small trail for about a half mile along the ridge and summited Eccles Peak which provide some sweet views of Lake Dillon.
Upon returning to the trailhead, I reloaded on water and gels, and started out on the loop in the opposite direction. By this time, it was getting hot. I had plenty of supplies, but the heat was relentless. I passed Lily Pad Lake and found my legs tiring as displayed by me kicking rocks and almost tripping. Thankfully, I never fell, but I had several close calls. Around mile 17, I entered a forest and the trail was about as rocky as they come. I wasn't sure I was on the correct trail because it had a different name from my map. At one point I turned up a trail and found myself ascending Buffalo. That was not in the cards for the day, so I retreated and continued down a ridiculously steep and rocky stretch (as you'll see, I should have remembered this). I finally came upon another hiker and he confirmed I was on the right trail. He told me about a waterfall about 2 miles ahead. I decided on the spot that would be my turnaround point. I was fading.
I made it to Willow Falls at about mile 19.5. I took a 10 minute rest in the shade dipping my hat in the ice cold water and letting it cool me down. I needed it. I was beginning to dread the 6 mile run back to the trailhead. The rest did me well, and I began with a new sense of determination to finish the run strong. I talked myself into believing the hot sun was good heat training for Silver Rush. At mile 21, I encountered a vaguely familiar boulder field and once again I lost the trail. I kept backtracking and would cross the boulders looking for the trail on the other side, but would find nothing. I did this for 30 minutes with my frustration mounting with each pass. Finally I looked up. Yes, straight up the boulder field were trees with trail markers on them. How could miss that? How could I forget coming down that stretch? Argh! I was ready for this run to be over.
Those last few miles were not fun. I was trying to conserve my water and that made me want to drink it all the more. I also knew that I was going to fall short of my 30 mile goal. I took some consolation in knowing I was on my feet for over 7 hours which included about 45 minutes when the watch wasn't running.
In one sense, I'm glad this run happened. Parts of it were incredible. But parts of it reminded me that I need to be prepared for and face head on the rough patches. Silver Rush will no doubt have many rough patches over the course of 50 miles and I need to be ready for them.
I'd love to go to back again to Eccles someday and complete the full loop. I'm sure it would be much different run if there was less snow and run-off. But for this day of running "not quite a loop", I finished at 25.26 miles, 6hrs14min (moving time), and about 6400' of elevation.