Short Jaunt into the Seven Devils

Normally the Seven Devils Campground doesn't open until late June or early July. Unless we're in drought conditions, which we are. Up I went this weekend for a quick overnighter and long run.

The campground was nearly empty, exactly as I prefer it, and I had the tent set up by 5 PM. Then, I went for a short bushwhack up above Seven Devils Lake. Discovered along the way two things: first, the larger camera unbalances me on rock formations; and second, the mosquitos are out in force.

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I ate a pre-cooked dinner, washed it down with fresh boiled tea, and called it a night in the tent with Thomas Gardner's Poverty Creek Journal. I will put up a review later in the week. Also, one on Rand Mintzer's Thirty-three Years of Running in Circles. I also brought Running the Rift with me. I'll get to it this week. Maybe.

Slept like a baby, up every three hours. Temperatures were surprisingly pleasant at night. This I noted on my way to the potty at 1:30 AM. The stars were bright enough to deliver a glow through the rain fly on the tent, and once I finished the necessary business, I spent a few minutes stargazing. Simply brilliant display with an occasional shooting star. I finally got chilled and went back to bed around 2AM and zonked out until dawn.

Light comes early in the mountains, so I hid under the edge of my sleeping bag and ignored it until about six. Saw an overcast sky when I crawled out of the tent. Took about five minutes to put together breakfast, oatmeal and coconut milk. Tasty enough, though I was aiming mostly for easy.

Cleaned everything up, and packed up the campsite. The original plan was to run from the campsite, then pack, but the one other camper in the park had a dog named Isis. I knew this because he was calling the damn thing’s name from the other side of the park while I stared at a growling dog. Mostly I was thinking “Good doggie” while looking for a good size rock. Isis had a partner, the strong silent type. Hence the decision to load up the FJ and drive the half-mile to the trailhead—running past two brutes unconstrained by rope or good doggie manners seemed an invitation to engage their predator/prey response.

So, at a little after seven, I’m at the trailhead. I’d already decided to head out on the north side of the loop. The south side drops about a thousand feet in a mile and a half right off the trailhead. Coming back up would be a grunt. North is slightly more forgiving with an initial drop of 400 feet, and climb up of 800 feet, and then a drop of 1400 feet over a bit more than two miles. Looking at the numbers, maybe the north side isn’t any easier, but psychologically, I like the return on this side better.

That first drop took me through a burn from 2007. It’s nice to see the growth returning. It will be decades before the trees fill back in, but the wildflowers and low shrubs carpet the ground with fresh exuberance. In less than a quarter mile, I encounter the first of the deadfall. It’s not the last, as the wooded areas start to resemble a mad forester’s steeplechase course with the jumps placed in rapid succession. It’s hard to build up any rhythm for running when you stop every twenty yards to clamber over, crawl under, or detour around, a log with pokey limbs intent on scoring your skin. Downhill at least left me the option of hurdling, an enjoyable change of pace provided everything goes right.

With a vertical jump measured in millimeters, hurdling uphill wasn’t an option. In the spots where the trees had retained a normal upright posture, the trails are eminently runnable.

There’s a promontory at top of that first climb with views extending a hundred miles for three points of the compass. I took a short break, drank some water, and snapped a picture or two.  Even on this escarpment, wildflower grew, and lined the trail head down to the West Fork of Sheep Creek. The top of the descent is a series of switchbacks before the line straightens and heads across a talus field. I kept the speed under control. Falling here would be a mite painful. It also gave my feet relearn the ways of the trail. Somewhere near the bottom, a glimmer of nimbleness returned.

I’ve usually run this train in the late summer or early fall. I wasn’t expecting the little water fall at the creek crossing to be a rushing cataract. The sound of it could be heard a half-mile away. I took another break to walk out onto a log to get a good shot of the waterfall. Wide log, good walking surface, but legs twitchy from the descent. Another clue that I wasn’t ready for the full loop yet.

I ran on for about another mile, trying to judge the turnaround point. I didn’t want to get back to the trailhead feeling as though I should have done more. Even more, I wanted to avoid a death march finish. Between those sat the ideal ‘happily tired.’ While I dithered, I drank and ate a small Larabar. Finally made the call, thinking that I could go farther up the trail, maybe to the connector with the Dry Diggins trail. Couldn’t be more than a mile but with another hill to climb in both directions. The hill, not the distance, decided the issue.

So back the way I came, splashing through the creek, trying not to slip on the algae covered rock that lined the creek bed. An idle thought went through my head, about movies, specifically ones where they show warriors plunging into the rivers and sprinting across. The movie I’m thinking of is The Eagle. How come they don’t fall? I’d be on my head or my ass five steps in. Decided they must put a runnable surface below the water level. Also decided I really like the acting of Jamie Bell.

Randomness, the brain meandering and making odd connections. I’m in my happy place.

Still, there’s a hill to climb. I ran up until I run out of air. At altitude, that takes very little time. I’ve made this climb before, a hundred meters at a time before resting, heart thumping, chest heaving, at the end of a thirty three mile run. Mostly what I remember is not the physical exertion but how much my feet hurt. 2008 and it was the last big solo run I did before gout tore my running world apart. Stitching it back together takes time, time and patience. I’m trying but I’m not very good at patience.

On the plus side of the ledger, my feet were holding up well. This was a test run of my Salomon Sense Mantras on these trails and it looked like they’re going to pass. Naturally, because I’ve found a shoe that I like, they’ve been discontinued. I swear shoe companies hate runners.

Moving right along, I make great progress uphill, even if I’m not running a lot of it. Check my heart rate, 136, walking, right in the target range. Finally hit the top, water up, eat a bit, and get ready for the fun part. The next mile is downhill and I played, hurdling the downed trees, skipping over rocks, and feeling very lucky. I hit the junction of Sheep Creek Trail, and turned uphill to the trailhead, doing the best I could on the ascent up to the trailhead.

Ten or twelve miles of running done, I hit the trailhead, ‘happily tired.’