Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Chicago Lakes Trail Run

This is such a great trail. It's busy, but rightly so, because it is scenic and has the feeling of wilderness without being too far from Denver. Every time I'm up here, I feel like I'm in the middle of nowhere, even though people are driving to the top of Mount Evans barely a mile away. It's rugged and beautiful.

There was much running until reaching Chicago Lakes. Up, up, up.

Rain was incoming when I hit the lakes, so I donned my shell and gloves. It was getting cold enough that I was thinking snow was coming, not rain. It turned out it was only showers. Perhaps due to recent catastrophic rainfall, there was a rock/mud slide that erased the first part of the trail that went from Chicago Lakes up to Summit Lake. You can see the slide angling to the upper left. It was huge.

I walked lightly, a bit worried that unstable soil would collapse under my feet. Didn't happen. This is looking back down the valley I ascended:

Up at Summit Lake:

And back down at Upper Chicago Lake.

Beautiful rock.

Distance was 11.77 miles, time 4:17 (moving 3:00), elevation gain/loss 3,375 feet, avg. pace 21:55 (moving 15:21), and best pace ~9:00.

Act Two: A Minor Rescue

There is a second part to this story.

Rewind to several hours prior. I'm running uphill, and I pass a middle-aged Indian man on the trail, walking downhill. He was dressed in casual clothes, carrying a plastic shopping bag; not your typical Colorado hiker. I passed him again on the way down, as he was looking at the sign for the turnoff back to Echo Lake, and I said something like "This is the way back", which he seemed to appreciate, and I kept running. That was around 30 minutes before sunset. Still light out -- about 45 minutes of decent vision left -- and still a comfortable temperature.

Some time later, I get back to my car, and I started thinking about this guy. By now, it's nearly dark, it's getting chilly, I had no idea if he had a light with him, and by now the sky is dark blue trending towards black -- and fast. I'm thinking someone needs to check up on him to make sure he's OK. I drive around a bit to see if there's a ranger, but there isn't one around.

So, I drive back to the trailhead, grab my headlamp and and extra lantern, and head back out on the trail.

To anyone who has not been on this trail, this may not compute, but the last mile of the Chicago Lakes trail is rugged. Not only that, but there is a steep drop-off, so that if you take a wrong step, you could be in big trouble. In the dark, it's a recipe for disaster.

I questioned some climbers coming back: "So, did you see an Indian guy on the trail?" to which they responded "Yeah, he's a little ways back, coming up the switchbacks". "Did he have a light?" "No". Hmm. After they left and I thought about that, I'm starting to get pissed off, because anyone with an ounce of brain power would not leave someone in the pitch dark without a light.

It seemed like forever until I ran into him, and I felt worse and worse about it; jeez, why did people just walk right by this guy? I said "Hey, I just wanted to make sure you were OK". I gave him my extra flashlight and we started walking back. Surpsrisingly, we were not the only people still out there; probably 10 people passed us while we were walking back to the parking lot.

The story was that Vijay (or VJ?) decided to walk down from Summit Lake on a lark, not realizing how hard it was to get down to civilization. That is NOT an easy trail. But honestly, I've been there myself. You want to try something new, you don't necessarily know everything, but you figure you can deal with it; I get it. But this time, the Kansas resident bit off a little more than he could chew.

Vijay was a systems engineer, and being a software engineer we had at least a bit in common to talk about. He was a super-nice guy, and had a nice walk in the dark, in the pitch black of the CO wilderness. As it turns out, I was planning to drive back through Idaho Springs anyway, so I dropped him off at his hotel. He offered to pay for gas, etc. but I believe good acts are their own reward. I was having none of it; I was just glad he was safe. Definitely not my typical day.


  1. That's a crazy story about the guy....I'm so glad you have a big heart. Seriously wonder sometimes what people think when they don't even ask people if they're okay in situations like that.

    I was climbing some 14ers a few weeks ago and ran into a guy who was just having a very difficult time climbing. I kept waiting to make sure he was going to make it, but on the 2nd peak, I told him he really needed to head back down, he was wheezing so badly and I was fearful of a heart attack. He did...and was so thankful someone had the balls to tell him. He was alone...which make me think of all the times I've climbed and ran trails up high alone...I came home and packed a few more essentials in my hydration pack, one being a headlamp, and warmer gloves.

    I've run on Hell's Hole a few times, which I believe is near Chicago Lakes...NOT easy. Thanks for taking care of him.

  2. Very nice of you to go back for him like that. Glad it all worked out.

  3. Jill - Glad you got the guy to head back down. I'd have a tougher time making that call, this was more clear-cut.

    Chris - Yep, just a good story for him to tell. But he didn't seem too keen on doing that. Heh.

  4. Good on you for helping that guy out. I don't know why people are less likely to help, but sadly it doesn't surprise me, having seen similar lack of compassion on the trail. I even remember reading a story about a guy that was lost/stuck at night when a Famous Ultrarunner went by and SAR was headed up...I'm digressing.

    I think some people really focus on "minding their own business," and others literally freeze when it comes to being called into action when needed (e.g. a freak accident or mass tragedy). Other folks have specific training -- I've seen my Mom (a nurse) switch gears when needed into a flat but effective personality during medical crises. Otherwise, there's kind of a cognitive dissonance when something "unplanned" happens while you're out doing something different that has a very definite plan and timetable, and it's hard for people to re-adjust to the new reality to help with a problem -- in addition to the bystander effect when other people are around.

    Glad it all worked out...and glad you're getting outside in some spectacular places!

  5. Mike - Lots of time on trail makes some difference. Otherwise I don't have a track record of being very aware and involved! And yeah, great trail.

  6. Hi Jeff,
    A friend of mine at the office forwarded your blog.
    It was me.. Extremely grateful.. Thanks, Did not know about the last mile.. Had a great time though - will be super prepared next time. Vijay

  7. Vijay! That was quite an adventure you had in Colorado, and nice job tackling a very rugged trail. It's a learning experience for us all, every time out. Take care!