Thursday, May 24, 2007

Running Above the Clouds: Guads 2007

I went out to Guadelupe Mountains National Park in west Texas for a weekend of long runs across the park with 25 runners from the Rouge Trail running programs or from HCTR. We drove out on Thursday, leaving at 6:30 am and arriving around 3pm. The first night our cook fixed up a meal with choice of grilled salmon or steak, green beans, potatoes and corn on the cob. This was the start of some of the best camp food ever.

Photo Album

Friday morning we got up an hour before dawn and paired up into groups of similar speed and distace. We has people training for 50K, 50 mile, and 100 mile races and so everyone picked routes ranging from 27 to 40 miles. It started out foggy, but as we climed up we started to rise above the clouds for some incredible views of the clouds below creeping through the valley.

As I climbed up each switchback, the light was changing and the clouds below were receeding. I needed to hury to get to the next overlook while the light was still good for pictures. Now I was racing against the rising sun to get in position for a good picture. There is only a narrow window of time where the light is best. Too early there is not enough light, especially for the small point-and-shoot I carried. A few minutes too late, and we loose the warm colors of the early morning sun as the clouds burn off.

We got to Pine Top, the highest point on this first climb, about 4 miles into the route and 2000 feet above the start. We looked down for our final view of the clouds below. Then we ran North down the Tejas Trail for 4 or 5 miles until we hit the McKittrick Trail. As we approached the trail junction, a valley opened up oun our left, and we could look down two or three thousand feed to the flat expanse below. No clouds, so it was a strong contrast to the views on the other side of the park.

As we crossed a ridge heading east on the McKittrick Trail, another valley opened up and this one still had a cloud below. The sun was bright and the cloud layer seemed to be only a few hundred feet below. I do not run with sunglasses, and so the glare coming up from below was a little disorienting. Running along the trail you could not see the ground below the clouds, and it gave an illusion that we were running along the edge of a cliff.

A few miles later we really were running along the edge of a cliff as we decended into McKittrick canyon. This time the clouds helped hide how steep the drop offs were. We reached the McKittrick Visitor's center, 19 miles from the start. If you read my prior post on the Guadelupe Mountains, this completed the route I originally intended to hike over 3 days with a 150lb backpack on my first trip here. I failed to complete it then, but now did the whole route in a matter of hours.

We refilled our water bladders, and then headed out for one last climb up Permian Reef. This would have been an 8-mile out and back to get to the top. Due to the fog, I could not see the views. However, I turned around after a couple of miles and so I only got in around 24 miles instead of the 27 planned.

The second day we did a 16-mile route over Bush Mountain, the second highest peak in Texas. My GPS battery was dead so I did not record the route, and I was a little slow after the previous day's effort.

Here is a picture of the same valley seen above, but without the clouds.

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