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Adventure Running

Adventure trail running in Colorado.

Pairing high-altitude training with destination lodging in the Colorado Rockies.

Chasing singletrack uphill through Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness, three friends and I run in the bright alpine sunshine, ascend a ridge colored with wildflowers, and crest the Continental Divide. My pace slows to register the view of the Rockies tumbling down to the Fraser Valley and the distant trails of Winter Park ski area.

Usually I arrive at this perch on a 15-mile loop that returns to the east and my home in Boulder. Today, however, we carry on because my friends and I decided linking the familiar trail with the relative unknown routes to the west would make for a perfect mountain getaway. We plotted a 13-mile route over the Divide down to Devil’s Thumb Ranch, where a hot tub, Wagyu burgers at Heck’s Tavern, and luxurious yet rustic mountain lodging wait.

We are all experienced mountain runners. I’m an ex-adventure racer and regular trail runner. (Editor’s note: Jhung’s book Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running is available now from VeloPress.) And my friends know how to speed through rugged terrain: Ultrarunner Darcy Piceu is fresh off a second-place finish at the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run, while Sara and Maia regularly log high-mileage days in the mountains. We have eight kids between us, so even this overnight close to home feels like a special outing.

When we left the trailhead at 8:30 a.m., we all carried at least 70 ounces of water, enough food for a full day out, lightweight rain shells, beanies, gloves, money, and phones. Darcy tucks a water filter in her running vest. We all carry bikinis—two more friends will drive from Boulder to Devil’s Thumb with our overnight bags, but we’re ready for a recovery soak if we beat them to the ranch.

For five hours, our run goes smoothly. We stop to filter water from a stream, and again to lie down among the wildflowers. But just as we begin to feel fatigue and a few raindrops fall, we realize we’re off track. We pull out maps, quickly explore spurs, and even call down to the Devil’s Thumb recreation specialist. Finally, we find the correct junction for a gentle ramble to the ranch’s wide, dirt and grass Nordic trails. Our support vehicle arrived first, and our friends jump out of the hot tub to cheer us on the final approach.

The 18-mile, six-hour effort ran longer than expected, but we’re still flush with energy. In fact, our foursome opts to run home the next day—with an assist from our friends, who drive us to a trailhead that trims the return trip to 12 miles. By the time I’m home with tired legs, I’ve logged a hearty weekend of mountain fun.


Up Your Mileage

Feel like a mountain running vacation? Start here.

Yosemite National Park, CA

From the Sunrise Lake trailhead (8,150 feet) at Tenyaya Lake, head for the 9,926-foot granite dome Clouds Rest. Continue to the southwest and connect with the John Muir Trail for the final descent on the 15.5-mile route, which delivers you to Curry Village’s cabins in Yosemite Valley (4,035 feet). yosemitepark.com/curry-village 

Long Trail, VT

Finished in 1930, this 272-mile trail runs the length of Vermont. Sample 10-plus miles with a run from Clarendon Gorge over 4,235-foot Killington Peak to Sherburne Pass. You’ll exit at a trailhead on Route 4 near the Inn at Long Trail, home to a redwood hot tub and McGrath’s Irish Pub. innatlongtrail.com

Mount Rainier National Park, WA

The 93-mile Wonderland Trail circumnavigates the 14,410-foot, snow-capped volcano that gives the park its name. For an introductory tour, it’s just less than 13 miles from the Wilderness Information Center at Longmire to the Box Canyon trailhead with 2,300 feet of vertical gain. The historic, 121-room Paradise Inn sits at the end of a spur trail about midway through. mtrainierguestservices.com  —story and photos by Lisa Jhung

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