Glorious Isolation: Training for the LT 100 by Nik Hawks

We built the hut to facilitate adventure and give our guests a place where they can find solitude and concentration.  We are fortunate that in our short time of being open, the hut has already attracted amazing adventurers who are pushing limits, pioneering training regimens, and generating incredible stories.  Our first guest, Nik Hawks, is among this group.  He has started what we hope will become a tradition for many LT 100 racers.  Here he has graciously written his story, which provides important insight into how the hut can be used.  His account: 

Early morning, the light just coming up beyond the ridge to the east.  It’s dark down at the Weston Pass Hut.  No electricity, and the fire from last night is out.  Wake, man.  It’s time to run.

I slide from under my sleeping bag and strip off my thin sleep suit.  It’s chilly here at almost 12,000 feet, even indoors.  Rummage through the small pile of clothes at the foot of the bed, pull on warm tights and a t-shirt, a headlamp.  Slip on socks and pad out through the main space, grab my two water bottles and fill them up at the sink.

Nobody else is here, the quiet soothing of mountain loneliness has worked its magic all night. I look out through the wide glass window over the long spread of the valley to the north.  Light is creeping over the east ridge, just kissing South Peak off to the west.

Strapping on the HR monitor I see my heart is thumping along about 10 beats a minute more than normal.  That’s fine, my sea level body is still adjusting to this thin mountain air.  This is why I’m here.

The 2015 Leadville Trail 100 is 2 weeks away and this place, this hut, is the final base for my third attempt.  I’d been at 7,000′ for the past two weeks.  I needed a place that was higher.  I wanted a place that was away from people so I could focus.  I dreamt of a place I could train in the mountains with abandon.  The hut was all of them.

Surrounded by a few thousand acres of BLM land, almost completely untouched and blessed with plenty of high mountain ridges, flower filled meadows, scree, and goat-thin trails, this is a mountain runner’s paradise.

Over to the mudroom, what I called “the airlock.”  Cooler in here by a few more degrees yet.  It would be a chill morning.

Step into shoes, tighten the laces and pull on thin running gloves.  I’m out the front door into the bracing morning air.  Swinging my arms a few times to get the blood moving, a few air squats, and then a walk that slowly turns into a shuffle as I head up to the Pass itself.  My run today will head directly east from the Pass, climbing sharply up to the ridge at 13,500′ then head north along the ridge line.

It’s a steep intro to today’s run, that first climb.  Puffing at the top after a long scramble, looking over the edge to the stark eastern bowl, I see a mountain goat not a hundred yards away.  Unhurried, unscared, it wanders over the edge of the cirque, easily picking its way down along cracks I wouldn’t trust my shoes to.  A gift, another soul to break the loneliness, it is gone again.

I head north now, following the ridge as it snakes its way toward the town of Leadville, 10 miles to the northwest as the hawk flies, a 40 minute drive down 30 minutes of washed out road.  Glorious isolation.

To my left is the Weston Pass valley, almost completely uninhabited.  No lights, no houses on this stretch.  Occasionally a four wheeler crawls up the road, but it’s all far away and a few thousand feet below.  I glance back to the south and see WPH, standing guard at the pass.  I run on.  The view on both sides is clear and clean.  In the distance to the east I see flat farmland.  To the west past the far ridge stand the Collegiate Peaks.  Lakes, high timber, scree all around.

Well above treeline, the morning wind gusts across with no breaks.  Lichen and rocks up here.  Picking my way across the fields of mountain weathered rocks, I dance.  My God, this is what we lone-seeking runners dream of.  The morning wears on, the sun climbs.  I pass an old wooden structure, built for some purpose in another time.  Dry boards creak in the wind.  I’m out of water and well above the glistening valley stream.  Thirsty.  The air, chill and dry, scrapes against my throat.

Dropping off the ridge far down the valley, I cross the thin coldness of a high mountain stream and refill.  Almost too cold to drink, the bottles numb my hands.  Descending through dark trees, then out into sunlit untrodden meadow and luxuriantly wet marsh. At the valley bottom I find the rutted road, climbing south back to my temporary base at the hut.  The sun has moved over me and sinks to the west.  A good run.

I would run for another week here, heading out most days for long runs or hikes, climbing ridges and descending back to the valley road, preparing for the race ahead.  Occasionally groups of people came up to stay the night.  Bustling, noisy, jovial and always interesting, they were a varied bunch.  Programmers, cyclists, climbing guides, wanderers.  We shared good conversations long into the star sprent night, our faces lit by the glowing embers of the fireplace and the hissing brightness of gas lanterns.  In the mornings it was quiet. In the mornings I ran.

By the day of the race, August 22nd, I was ready.  Weston, forgotten in the excitement of the start, had prepared me.  Up and over Hope Pass without the gasping exertion of the unprepared, along the foothills and back to the final looping shuffle around Turquoise Lake and up Sixth to the finish.  My lungs had adjusted, and with the help of family and friends led by my wife and team captain Lee Selman, I was able to push through the race in just under 29 hours.

The bustle and excitement of finally knocking down a long standing goal temporarily whipped away memories of cherished quiet and loneliness out at that removed hut.  The ribbon around my neck, the heaviness of the new buckle gave satisfaction that drove out all thoughts of preparation.

As we drove south out of town, leaving Leadville and another running chapter of life behind, we passed the turn east out to Weston Pass.  Quietly, I remembered.


About the Author: When he’s not obsessing for years over some doubtful goal supported by long suffering family and friends, author Nik Hawks helps run Paleo Treats Inc out at sea level in San Diego.