What started as wonderful running conditions earlier in the morning was now rain and falling temperatures as I left Pajarito Canyon aid station at mile 31.4 of the 52.2 mile New Mexico adventure. I was thankful for the large black garbage bag that currently kept my core mostly warm and dry. The extremities on the other hand, were wet and cold. The next 7.2 miles would include over 2800 feet of climbing to the highest point of the course (10,400 feet) – the top of Pajarito mountain before bombing down a steep ski-run and twisting singletrack to the course oasis, the Ski Lodge aid station.
I left the Pajarito Canyon aid station with Oklahoma local and friend, Nancy. This mountain scamper was familiar to both of us, but the dynamic weather conditions were not.
I sensed some apprehension in Nancy’s eyes, but we left to begin our grunt up the mountain hopeful and focused.
“Let’s do this!”
And then the rain turned to ice crystals.
The ice crystals turned to snow flakes.
Snow flakes became flurries at 8,000 feet and the top of Pajarito mountain was now white.
Step by step we hiked our way towards the top of our final big climb of the race. We headed directly into the wind and snow. Head down. Step. Step. Step.
Nancy followed closely 10-20 meters behind. We both felt the comfort in being with another person as conditions worsened. We told each other we would stay together through this mountain climb.
And then a runner came towards us down the mountain, heading the wrong direction.
“It’s crazy up there.”
Nancy and I briefly chat with the runner to make sure they are OK as they continue back to the Pajarito Canyon aid station alone.
Nancy and I continued on as we both begin to feel a bit more anxious.
I mentioned, “We really need to focus. We can do this! But you need to be in charge of you.”
And then we see more weather impacted carnage coming down the mountain.
After the third runner retraced their steps and headed back down the mountain to warmer and safer conditions, Nancy and I stop any forward progress and simply look at one another.
This year’s Jemez Mountain Trail Run was my fourth consecutive year of play in the surrounding natural playground of Los Alamos, New Mexico. This race is a home away from home for me. Great organizers. Great volunteers. Familiar faces. Great trails and wonderful post-race community vibe.
Also, love they are a paper-cup free event!
This year was extra special with a large number of low-lander Texans and locals from the region looking to play in the mountains.
My good buddy, Tim, and I “shot the moon” early Friday morning and arrived in Los Alamos by mid afternoon for a quick snooze before packet pickup and dinner.
This was Tim’s first Jemez adventure and mountain trail race. We both were running the 50M. I was excited and hopeful for a good experience for him. We always seem to have a bit of extra adventure whenever we head to a race together. This trip would be no different.
Race morning came quickly and early with the 5:00am start time.
Conditions were dry, cool but pleasant. The Los Alamos forecast had a 30% chance of rain for the day so I included a garbage bag and a light shell in my Nathan pack…just in case.
At the word “Go!”, in usually ultra fashion, the trot and conversations begin.
The first 10 miles to Camp May aid station is a beautiful warm-up to the day. Nothing too technical. Gradual climbs and decents. From nice soft dirt trail to dancing along slabs of rock. This section has a little bit of everything. Lots of great running as the sun lights up the surrounding terrain as we start our day long adventure along the foothills of the city.
Within the first half mile, Tim and fellow Texan, Greg, sync up and cruise along at their easy pace which is much faster than mine. I float back and find my sustainable effort for the day.
Leaving Camp May aid station (mile 10.4) starts the big climb of the course – Pajarito mountain. This climb is an exposed switchback fest before heading into the wooded singletrack in later segments of the 2800+ foot climb. We experience this grunt twice in the 50M scamper.
Slow and steady to the top.
Seeing the famous blue bench at the top was a great sight along with the beautiful views into the Caldera down below which I would visit in a few miles. Such a special spot along the course.
Time to head down.
In usual Jemez fashion, the route down to the Ski Lodge aid station starts with a bomb down one of the ski-runs.
Steep. Loose footing. A quad buster.
You can’t help but smile and swear a few colorful words at the same time.
Short segments of connector double track and sweet flowing singletrack before released from the mountain into the welcoming embrace of the Ski Lodge aid station at mile 18.6. This is the biggest and busiest aid station on the course.
This was one of those regroup moments for me.
Tiger Tail’d the legs.
Restocked my pack nutrition.
Ate and drank quite a bit – coke, a few PBJ portions, turkey and cheese sandwich portions.
Talked with friend and New Mexico local, David, as we headed out together to begin the next leg of our adventure.
This 2.8 mile segment begins with great running wooded double track before opening up to this beautiful open grassy area. I always love this little spot on the course. Plus you can see the runners up ahead looking like little moving colors in the distance.
Once through the open field area, we dance along rollin’ wooded trail up to Pipeline aid station.
A quick section. 21.4 miles complete. Feeling fairly good with energy still in the tank.
After a couple cups of coke, I turned left to visit Nate’s Nemisis which is the gateway to the beautiful grassy and run friendly Caldera.
But before cruisin’, you must get down Nate’s Nemisis. This is a loose, steep, sketchy descent that has many grabbing tree limbs, sitting on their butt, going down segments like a crab-crawl from elementary gym class.
At the base of the descent, a quick shoe clean-out before beginning the relaxed, runnable double track in the Caldera that includes giant grassy fields where distance is hard to grasp along with charred timber from fires in past years.
The sun made her presence a few times in this open and exposed section of course. It brought back memories from past year’s where the sun often delivers an extra challenge during the afternoon hours. Her visit was short lived this year, as clouds moved back into the area.
A brief stop at Valley Grande aid station (mile 25.4) that included more coke and potatoes before leaving the Caldera and getting back to Pajarito mountain for one last visit.
The connector segment back to Pajarito started off with a 1000 foot bushwack climb.
No trail. Follow the ground flags and streamers. Over, under, around trees. Across little streams. Slow going, yet fun, and funny as I thought about course marking this segment.
Once through the off trail scramble was a big payoff – sweet, sweet, sweet downhill wooded singletrack that was at a great grade to open it up and let the legs flow. This is also when the skies starting opening up and I put on the garbage bag as my simple rain gear.
The intensity of the rainfall continued to increase with each passing mile before arriving at Pajarito Canyon aid station (mile 31.4) with fellow runners, Nancy of Oklahoma and Jaime of Texas. The temperature also continued to drop. I was currently standing at the lowest elevation I would be at for the next 19 miles.
With over seven miles to go to the next aid station which included the slow grunt up Pajarito mountain, I asked for water and they said they were out.
“Are you serious?” (still smiling, thought it was a total joke)
“We are really out.”
“Ok, well I guess I will have a lighter pack going up the climb.”
I ate half a PBJ and about five large watermelon slices for some extra water intake before Nancy and I left together to begin the Pajarito climb…again and for the last time.
My hands were beginning to feel the rain and dropping temps. Not a big fan. I wrapped my hands underneath my garbage bag rain gear to provide some protection from the elements which really helped…as long as I didn’t catch a toe and take a digger.
The early segment leaving the aid station included some beautiful sections of singletrack along huge rock walls and a flowing stream. This also provided a bit of protection from the elements. As we continued to climb, the protection of the rock walls left our side and we were alone on exposed switchbacks, heading up for the next couple of hours.
The temperature continued to drop as rain turned into mountain sized snow flakes thrown in your face from the blowing winds. The surrounding area began to whiten.
A few times I would stop and ask Nancy how she was doing.
“How is your core?”
“Good besides my freezing hands.”
“We can do this. We need to focus.”
I watched as Nancy looked towards the ground and appeared to go someplace inside before she looked up and without speaking I sensed “I’m ready”. I turned around and continued the climb up Pajarito into what felt like heading directly into the eye of the storm.
Step. Step. Step.
Steady and consistently we climbed.
I knew Tim and Greg were somewhere up ahead. New to a mountain race, I sent positive vibes there way and hoped they were OK. The top of Pajarito was in sight and white, as apposed to the green and yellow blend of colors from earlier in the day.
And then the carnage starting coming back down the trail…the walking popsicles. They were cold, wet, and in serious damage control as they headed back down to Pajarito Canyon aid station.
After a brief chat with each runner, Nancy and I looked at each other, looked up to the top of Pajarito, and continued the exposed climb which gradually began to feel like swimming against the current of a raging river.
After the third runner passed us heading back down, we continued the upstream effort to stop a few minutes later amongst the raging river of snow falling from the sky.
We looked at each other and said nothing.
Inside my mind…should we go on…should we turn around.
We have become indecisive. Not good.
We stand motionless. Mentally frozen 1/3 the way up the climb. Core temp dropping as the air temp is now below freezing (or near it).
We finally share a few verbal thoughts.
Somethings triggers us to continue climbing and then after five more strides upstream I say, “we should go back down.”
After a short moment of contemplation, we agree and return back to Pajarito Canyon aid station.
Once back at the aid station, we were extremely grateful for a ride from one of the amazing volunteers back to the Posse Shack. Four of us took the ride back with heater on high.
We dropped. The race was canceled. Not sure how it all played it.
Once back to the Posse Shack, the core temp was a bit low (being all nice and wet) but I was most concerned with seeing Tim and Greg and making sure they were OK as I was pretty sure they were up in the heart of the storm.
A short while later, Tim and Greg arrived, doing fine having been told that the race was cancelled at the Ski Lodge.
After a few hugs, dry clothes, it was local beer, burgers, and fellowship time as the sun shines on the Posse Shack and we cheer on the remaining finishers and familiar faces that were far enough along the course to prevent being pulled due to the weather. Great job ya’ll!
Jemez always delivers an adventure and this year they dialed it up “one louder”.
Really liked the latest version of the 50 mile course.
The volunteers – amazing!
An adventure, an experience, a great community, a crazy collection of memories – thank you JMTR!
Body and life willing, see you again next year!
If you want to know where Tim and I are running next, just let me know. It is sure to be a memory-maker. 😉
Be active – Feel the buzz!
David – EnduranceBuzz.com
Posted on 28 May 2014
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