Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Summer of Campground Hosting, Running, Racing and Exploration

A Summer At Seedhouse:
The Trails, Trials and Truth

When I told folks what Emily and my plans were for the summer of 2016 the response I got was along these lines, "Um, Ian...isn't that the job for old retired people?" Traditionally, I guess, that's true. But since when have I ever been conventional about anything?

A panoramic view of Seedhouse Campground

The summer's adventure began to take form the winter before. I jumped on Volunteer.gov and scoured the site for a few weeks. I searched and applied for campground host positions that would promise to put us smack dab in the middle of some of our nation's most breathtaking mountain country. The Routt National Forest responded a few days after I applied for the Seedhouse Campground host position — a place that we've never explored previously. We accepted the position with the promise of a government provided single-wide camper trailer, solar power, gas, propane and campground site.

Our home away from home, including the solar power charging unit and our makeshift shade canopy. 

Clouds of mosquitoes and biting black flies ultimately drove us to adding a screen tent to our picnic table. Luckily, August and September's cooler night temps brought respite from those buggers.

Seedhouse Campground is located 25 road miles north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado (or roughly a 45-minute drive) and a stone's throw from the Wyoming border. The last three miles of the trek are on a well-maintained dirt road. Three miles beyond this 24-site campground sits the trailhead and gateway to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, the Continental Divide Trail and Wyoming Trail. Our encampment would sit at 8,000' nestled between the confluence of the North Fork and Middle Fork of the Elk River, which eventually runs to the Yampa, to the Green and then on to the Colorado River.

The Elk River Gorge filled with June snowmelt. As the months passed the voracity of this current would lessen significantly.

Our main duties during the length our stay (mid-June to early-September) included ensuring campsite reservations were handled correctly, cleaning toilets, picking up trash at campsites and answering visitor questions. In addition, we'd complete the same chores for the large Seedhouse Group site which was located just up the road.

Meals cooked by campfire were frequent. 

 A view inside the abode. One of the most challenging aspects of our trailer home was the water supply. There were no hook-ups so we had to hand pump water from the campground spigots, haul the water (in 6 gallon cubies) 200 meters and dump it in the camper's water reservoir. It was inconvenient when water ran out while doing dishes or mid-shower.

The summer included a few "teachable moments."  For example, we had to explain why live trees shouldn't be cut down for firewood and why charcoal graffiti on rest room walls wasn't acceptable. We put out smoldering campfires, gave directions to trailheads and helped reunite lost hikers and dogs with one another.  However, the best aspect about the summer was the opportunity we had to explore new trails, visit remote wilderness areas, summit the highest mountains in the region, participate in a new-to-us summer running series and observe the land around our temporary home morph with the seasons.

On the Continental Divide Trail — here's where we'd find ourselves 2.5 miles from the doorstep of our camper. 

The "road" running wasn't too bad either. Lost Dog Road became a summer staple.

We continued our day jobs while at Seedhouse. However, coaching and writing from this remote, off-the-grid location proved difficult. The booster and hot spot we acquired beforehand were unreliable at best. We found ourselves often driving 9 miles to a small intersection called Clark, CO. The Clark Store was our saving grace with internet service, great food and caffeinated beverages. We'd get our mail here too.

The infamous Clark Store

The "Job"

Our position was unpaid. We were volunteers of the truest sense. We could do as much or as little work as we desired as our supervisors were many miles distant. However, we took our post seriously, kept our campground shipshape and safe all summer long all while learning how humans handle (or mishandle) themselves in the backcountry.

A typical day's chores: mopping, replacing toilet paper rolls, wiping down urinals and topping it all off with a spray of potpourri.

 Removing chalk drawings from campsite rocks.

Humans are wonderful creatures. Nuff said.

Though there is a prominent and large dumpster at the entrance of the campground we'll use the fire pit as our garbage can.

Um, I do have a drivers license, but I'll just drive over the campsite post.

 No worries, because we're here to fix the post, pick up the trash and clean up your shit.

The Peeps

Though my last few photos and comments are filled with bitter sentiment, it's simply a reaction of my disbelief. The fact is this — we meet and hung out with some very cool people during our stay.

 Horseback riders were a popular and polite encounter on the trails.

 Canadian Ian MacNairn stopped by on his way to Hardrock. 

Coloradans David and Mason Martin made the stop for a game of Jenga.

We also shared the trails with courteous motorized users.

Rennaker made an appearance and just about killed me on Farewell Mountain.

 US Forest Service employees Ellen and Bruce visited on the weekdays.

Run Rabbit Run training with Ford Smith and Jack Daly (25th in 2016).

 Brad and Brenden were our USFS liaisons on the weekends.

Californian Bradley Fenner joined us on the trails for a few days.

The Racing

We participated in the Steamboat Springs Running Series. Emily brought home the bacon frequently by winning and setting new course records at these well-established events: Mountain Madness Half-Marathon, Spring Creek Memorial 9.5 Mile, Steamboat Stinger Marathon and 10K at 10,000 Feet.

Mountain Madness women's winner podium 

The final meters of the Honey Stinger Trail Marathon

The women's winner podium at Honey Stinger with Kaci Licktieg.

The Rabbit Ears were the backdrop for the 10K at 10,000 Feet.

I collected my 199th ultra finish at the Continental Divide Trail Run 50K.

The Trails

Now on to what you've all been waiting for...the pièce de résistance. The places we visited and scenery we took in was epic. What are only names on a map for most, we made reality. Here are some of those views. Note the amount of dead trees — a result of a trifecta: wildfire, beetle kill and blow down.

Scott's Run Trail

 Coulton Creek Trail

 Hinman Lake

Mad Creek Trail 

The summit of Hahns Peak 

Diamond Park 

 Wildfire remains along the North Lake Trail.

North Lake (with Super Bee)

The Hare Trail

 The Medicine Bow Range

 Medicine Bow Peak (center), the first peak my father climbed when he traveled west in the 80's.

A panoramic view from atop Medicine Peak.

The Zirkel Circle

The centerpiece of the Routt National Forest. This classic 11-mile loop has it all. Climbing, descending, lakes, mountains, passes, creeks, rivers, trees, meadows, flowers, snow, rocks, cliffs and wildlife. We ran this circle several times and played on its subsidiary trails routinely. Here's a few shots from this wilderness, yet accessible, route.

 The Seedhouse Campground hosts at Gilpin Lake.

 Crossing creeks

 Climbing to Circle Pass the apex of this route.

Looking back at Gilpin Lake from Circle Pass.

Descending the switchbacks from Circle Pass (note the hikers in the upper left corner).

 Mellow stuff

Meadows that spread far and wide

Gold Creek Lake

Gilpin Lake in June (top) and August (bottom).

Mica Lake

So, yeah, the Zirkel Circle is as classic as it gets, but we had a family favorite. Mica Lake, whose trail begins at the same trailhead, seemed to escape the business that "The Circle" attracted. Here's why we liked it...

More mountains, climbing and single-track...


More water and expansive views...

And Mica Lake itself...which sat in a bowl surrounded by Little and Big Agnes Peaks...

A Panoramo of the Mica Lake valley.

The Wilderness Areas

I have a confession. Some people collect stamps, coins, buckles, cards or Beanie Babies. Me, I'm addicted to and collect wilderness areas. This junket to north-central Colorado allowed me to continue chipping away at the 765 wilderness areas in the US.

Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. The CDT with Lost Ranger Peak as the backdrop.

Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. Climbing to Ute Pass.

Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. Sycamore eyes the future from Ute Pass.

Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area

The Flat Tops Wilderness Area: The Devil's Causeway

The Flat Tops Wilderness Area

Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area.  "The" Mount Zirkel (highest point on the righthand skyline)

Emily was sometimes not thrilled with my addiction.

Platte River Wilderness Area

Huston Park Wilderness Area

So...the big question:  Would we do it again? I think so, but timing is everything. Currently, Emily and I have big plans for May of 2017. I can't plan much past that.

Your Moment of Zen

Brew an IPA in Wyoming, put a dog on your can and you have the making of something wonderful. No joke: One of best IPAs I've ever had. If you know how I can get my hands on more without making the trek let me know!