Sandbeach Lake

Robert Browning once said, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” We should aim high: there is value in attempting that which, in the end, may be impossible.

Today, we have (yet another) case where my reach exceeded my grasp. I had every intention of hiking to the summit of Mount Orton, but I succeeded only in reaching Sandbeach Lake. In times past, I’d have titled this post “Mount Orton FAIL”. I’m beginning to concentrate more on what I do than on what I fail to do. I think it’s important to have goals, even if we sometimes fail to attain them.

The plan was to climb (walk up, really) Mount Orton from Sandbeach Lake. Depending on whose numbers you use, Sandbeach Lake is 4.2 or 4.5 miles from the trailhead with an elevation gain of about 1,950′. From the lake to the summit is an additional 1.5 miles and 1,450′, and that’s off-trail. From the lake to the summit, then, should be less strenuous than the Manitou Incline, if you ignore the fact that you don’t have to hike four and a half miles before you start the incline.

There’s road construction on highway 7 that affects traffic starting at 7 am. With that in mind, I planned to arrive at the trailhead by around 7, which should get me to the lake by 9:30 or so, allowing me to take two hours to reach the summit and not worry too much about afternoon thundershowers. I felt it was a good plan.

Digression #1: Trail History

Many of the trails in the Park have been entered into the National Register of Historic Places. From my reading, most of the trails on the west side of the Park were developed with recreation in mind, with the routes scouted by and initial construction done by operators of Grand Lake hotels. The Sandbeach Lake trail, however, was initially a purely commercial endeavor.

Many lakes in Wild Basin were enlarged by building earthen berms. The extra water capacity was intended for use by farmers and ranchers around Fort Collins, Loveland, and Longmont. Off the top of my head, I count Bluebird, Box and Eagle, Pear, and Sandbeach. Also on the list, but not in Wild Basin, is Lawn Lake.

In the early 1900s, “the Supply Reservoir Company filed upon Sandbeach Lake, intending to make the natural lake into a reservoir.” That language isn’t very clear to me, but we can see that an earthen dam was built at Sandbeach Lake. From what remains of the dam, it appears that it raised the water level by perhaps twenty feet.

Much of the current hiking trail to the lake was originally a road that was built for the construction and/or maintenance of the dam. The company built a road from the Peak to Peak highway near Meeker Park that headed west. The current trail starts near Copeland Lake. The first section, to the junction with the Meeker Park trail, was not part of the road.

The application for the National Register (which I will just call “the application”) says, “Contemporary maps indicate that the road deteriorated over time. By 1917, it was designated one of the ‘poor automobile roads.’ Meanwhile, hikers and horseback riders discovered the route, effectively turning the old road into a tourist trail. In 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park’s first superintendent listed the pathway among the new park’s trail assets.”

Hiking the trail today, it’s easy to imagine a team of horses (or mules or oxen?) pulling a wagon over several significant sections of trail. The trail crosses Campers Creek and Hunters Creek and both crossings are wide, shallow fords easily passable by a modern 2-wheel-drive SUV. On the other hand, there are long stretches where I can’t imagine even a primitive road ever existed.

The application makes no mention of the only other bit of Sandbeach Lake history that I knew: the visit by John Wesley Powell. On his expedition to the area in 1868, the party camped at Sandbeach. While they were there, one of the party, a chap named Keplinger, explored the terrain up Hunters Creek and found the route the group took on the first-ever recorded summiting of Longs Peak.

Digression #2: Pondering Dam Building

Seeing where the trail could easily have been a road and seeing where the existence of a road challenges the imagination, I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of traffic, and for how long, this road needed to support.

It seems to me that that’s all determined by the construction of the dam. The dam was an earthen berm perhaps twenty feet high. I didn’t closely inspect what’s left of it on this trip, but I imagine that without modern earth-moving equipment, it would have been a non-trivial amount of work. Presumably, there would have been some sort of flood gate or valve installed about where the natural outlet was, and a spillway would have been created. The berm is fairly wide and at least a couple of hundred feet long.

How big of a crew did the work, and what sorts of tools did they employ? All this had to navigate the road. Was it done by truck or by wagon? I would think that, for the duration of the construction, the road would have seen regular use and have been what I’d call fairly “well-engineered”. However, I see little sign of engineering. There are no retaining walls or the like. The Park’s application includes the statement “Log bogwalks support the tread through flat, swampy areas. Some bogwalks look old, decomposing into the ground that they retain.” This application was written in 2007, and today I don’t see any bogwalks at all. So it doesn’t take long for things to change.

So, by 1917, the road had fallen into disuse and been claimed by hikers.

Digression #3: The Fate of the Reservoir

Looking at Sandbeach Lake today, it’s fairly obvious how much higher the water level was when it was enlarged. The trees between the current water level and the old level look to be about as mature as the trees that have grown back where the Ouzel fire burned back in 1978.

So when was the reservoir removed? The answer lies in the Lawn Lake flood of 1982. After that flood, the park began the process to remove some of the dams built around the turn of the twentieth century. In 1988, they removed the rock and dirt dams at Sandbeach and Pear Lakes. The shorelines were regraded to the original slope and the shores have been allowed to restore naturally with a minimum of supplemental planting, although they did plant willows around the Sandbeach outlet to create spawning habitat for greenback cutthroat trout. (In 1989 and 1990, five million pounds of concrete and rebar were removed from the Bluebird Lake dam and flown out of the backcountry. It boggles my mind to think of how so much material was emplaced at Bluebird in the first place.)

Wednesday, June 29

I can’t help but note that there are signs at the Wild Bain entrance station stating that timed-entry passes are required for visits starting at 9 am. It also seems to me that they don’t have any rangers working at the entrance station. I’m guessing the passes aren’t enforced in Wild Basin. Not that it matters that much: if you don’t get there well before 9, you won’t find a place to park.

Just as soon as I got out of the car, I heard some crashing in the undergrowth nearby: a cow moose was making her way through the area. I find it amusing that I often see a moose within twenty yards of my car and I can hike for hours and not see one in the backcountry.

I was early enough that I didn’t encounter too many hikers on the trail. I ran across two guys hiking out. They weren’t walking together, but I assumed they were together. I chatted with the second one. I told him I intended to summit Orton and that got him talking. He asked if I’d ever been to Ellington Lake. I told him I’d day-hiked to every lake in Wild Basin except Isolation and Frigid but that I’d never heard of Ellington Lake. He told me I wouldn’t be able to get there, as I had insufficient gear with me. It wasn’t until a few moments after parting ways that I figured out what he was talking about: Keplinger. Three syllables, same second syllable, same vowel sound in the first syllable. And in June, the lake would still be well frozen over and much snow would have to be crossed to reach it.

By the time I reached the lake at 9:17, pretty much spot-on my schedule, it was growing clear to me that I wouldn’t get to where I wanted to go. I’ll admit that the weather-related aspect of my hike planning goes something like this: “Well, it’s going to be 95 degrees in Denver. Sounds like a good day to hit the high country!” This is generally not a bad plan. But today it didn’t work out for me.

I was dressed in shorts and an aloha shirt. The only extra layer I brought was a thin waterproof shell. Instead of bright sunshine and warm temperatures, there was a large darkish cloud hanging over the Divide: sunshine well to the west; thin, high clouds over the plains. And it was a bit breezy. It seemed to me that the clouds were dark enough that they might produce some rain. I would likely be miserable above treeline.

I made a half-hearted attempt to start bushwhacking my way up the slope but abandoned it pretty quickly. I had made little attempt to find anything like a trail that might lead up the mountain but after I turned around I stumbled on a trail that might do the trick. I may not be able to walk right up to that trail next time I want to do this, but knowing that it’s there is enough, and I’m sure I’ll find it when the time comes.

In the end, I stayed at the lake for nearly two hours. I’m surprised I lasted that long. I found a nice rock on the shore with a nice view of Mt. Meeker, Longs Peak, and Pagoda, but with the cloud cover and wind, I really didn’t want to sit there. I could almost get out of the wind by hanging out in the nearby trees, and I walked around a bit, up to the old reservoir shoreline to check out the wind-gnarled trees. I didn’t want to eat lunch yet, as it was still early. I ended up stopping at Hunters Creek for my lunch.

When I made the decision to stay at the lake, I was feeling a bit disappointed with myself. “Don’t be such a wimp! You can make it, don’t be so lazy!” By the time I ate lunch, my attitude had changed. I was cold at the lake, where I could find at least a little shelter from the breeze. Another 1500′ up, above treeline, I’m sure I’d have been miserable. I think I’d have made a more sincere effort to continue if I’d have found the trail, but I’m convinced I made a sound choice to stop. I didn’t see my shadow between about 8 am and when I got back to Lyons.

I’m not sure I’ll make another stab at Mt Orton as a day hike. I think it’s within my range, but I’ll admit to beginning to think that my range probably isn’t what it was a few years ago. In my wanderings around the east shore of the lake, I took a good look at the campsite there. It’s one of the nicer ones I’ve visited. The privy even has walls! This looks like a good place to spend a night and making an early assault on the summit.

Lulu City

For several years, I’ve been telling people that I try to spend between twelve and eighteen days each year in the Park. I’ll admit that what I tell people may sometimes be an exaggeration, but I think I’m safe in saying that I’ve averaged more than a dozen days a year since 2008. If I pull a number out of the hat for visits prior to 2008, I might have spent another eighty days total. That means I’ve spent a total of over 260 days wandering around the Park. And yet, somehow, I’ve never been to Lulu City, one of the most popular hikes on the west side of the Park.

Ghost Town

Before seeing the place, I might have called it a ghost town.

I tend to spend a lot of time planning my little jaunts, and this one was no different. Usually, my research is reading a few paragraphs of Foster’s guide, then pulling up the area on CalTopo maps. My habit is to leave this browser window open for days or weeks, looking at it a couple of times a day. For Lulu City, though, I dug a bit deeper.

I have a giant book called Ghost Towns of the West that was published back in 1971. In the introduction, the authors define a ghost town. They say, “Most of the towns described and pictured in this book are ‘dead’ ghosts, but some still have life, though nothing to compare with the lusty vigor they enjoyed in their heyday.” Their chapter for Colorado is 112 pages. There’s no entry for Lulu City, but there are entries for Black Hawk, Breckenridge, Buena Vista, Central City, Creede, Crested Butte, Fairplay, Georgetown, Leadville, Silverton, and Telluride, among other places I’d never have considered “ghost towns”. I find this unsatisfying.

Digging deeper, I managed to find a paper written in 1980 that covers Lulu City and Dutchtown. I have a backcountry permit to stay at the Dutchtown campsite in August, so I’ll leave that part of the story for later.

What’s a Park?

The first chapter of this paper (authored by Susan Baldwin) gives a history of Middle Park. Here I will confess that, having lived in Colorado for more than four decades, and having heard the name “Middle Park”, I never knew where it was.

In this context, a park is a large upland valley. The word comes from the French word “parc”, which means “enclosure”. The principal ones are North Park (which was originally called “New Park”), Middle Park (originally “Old Park”), South Park, and the San Luis Valley. I’m quite familiar with North, South, and San Luis. These are large basins, lie at relatively high altitudes, and are miles across in all directions. “Basin” is a fitting term, in my opinion. I have never really thought of North Park or South Park or the San Luis Valley as valleys. They’re all more or less oval shapes, have flat bottoms, and lack trees.

The topography of Middle Park differs markedly from that of North and South Parks making it isolated and relatively inaccessible. Middle Park isn’t oval, but Y-shaped. The southern entrance to Middle Park is Berthoud Pass. In the west, it stretches to Kremmling. And the northern arm is the valley where you will find the headwaters of the Colorado River. That is, where you’ll find Lulu City and Dutchtown.

Who Built Lulu City?

Because Middle Park was relatively difficult to reach, there’s not a long history of the place. The northern arm of the Park was a fertile hunting ground for the Northern Utes. Baldwin says “The streams were filled with fish, and game was abundant with elk, deer, mountain sheep, antelope, buffalo, all varieties of bear including grizzlies, grouse, sage hens, ducks, geese, and turkeys making Middle Park the best hunting ground in Colorado.” The Utes weren’t the only Indians aware of this and they had frequent conflicts with the Arapahos, Sioux, Crow, and Blackfoot Indians who also vied with the Utes for use of the region.

It wasn’t until after gold was found in Cripple Creek and Central City that whites were attracted to the place. Fremont wandered through the place in 1844, and Powell visited in 1868 (when he submitted Longs Peak), and there were a few other early visitors. But these were visitors. Whites didn’t settle here in any numbers until the 1870s.

Most of these early settlers were looking for gold. A number of mines were dug here on both sides of the Colorado River (originally called the Grand River; thus the name of Grand County and Grand Lake). There were enough people in the vicinity to warrant building towns, and thus Grand Lake and Lulu City were born, both in 1879.

Why is Lulu City a ghost town but not Grand Lake? Grand Lake was built more as a place to supply miners while Lulu was where the mines were. The basic problem was that the mines in the area supplied only low-grade ore. Access to Lulu was limited to wagon and horseback, and that was restricted by the harsh winters. Taking this low-grade ore out was difficult, and there wasn’t enough financial incentive to build a smelter at Lulu.

Lulu did have a sawmill, without which a town couldn’t be built. But that was about the extent of local industry. The plat of Lulu City (laid out by H.Y. Harding, Deputy U.S Surveyor, in early June of 1880) was conceived on an ambitious scale and encompassed 160 acres of land and was situated along the North Fork of the Grand River. Its east-west streets were numbered from 1st to 19th and those running north-south were given the names Lead Mountain, Trout, Riverside, and Howard.

Towns didn’t just spring up out of thin air. Generally, the first step was to make a company. In this case, it was the Middle Park and Grand River Mining and Land Improvement Company, created by a group of Fort Collins residents. They had an ambitious plan. According to the Fort Collins Courier, they “were supplied with tools and building materials and under the direction of Mr. Harris, an experienced mechanic, some eight or ten buildings will be put up before they return. A hotel, store, saloon, blacksmith shop, and various other business enterprises will be opened between now and mid-June. Steps are being taken to establish mail route from Fort Collins to Lulu City and other points in Middle and North Park. Management of the company is in the hands of competent and responsible people and no pains nor expense have been spared in acquiring perfect title to its property.”

A bustling place in the summers, almost no one stayed over the winter. The one road in was impassable until mid-June. The mines were for the most part deserted by late 1883 as was Lulu City. Postal service was discontinued on November 26, 1883, and no elections were held there that year. In December 1883 it was noted that “Lulu is practically dead for the winter, the bears having run everyone out of there. J.R. Godsmark, county judge elect, will winter at the Lake and as he has been the mainstay of Lulu, it will leave that place without a head.”

Much anxiety is felt for the safety of the mines at Lulu. Since the departure of Judge Godsmark and some more of the old timers, the bears and mountain lions have taken possession of the boys’ houses and old, discarded overalls and gumboots, and are running municipal government of their own, to wit; using all their efforts to restore Lulu to its primeval status. But wait until Judge returns and assumes the judicial ermine, then their rule will soon end. Lulu has bright future in store for her the coming summer.

Georgetown Colorado Miner, January 5, 1884

The bright future never happened. Lulu City was history before the end of 1884. The low grade of the ore, the lack of a smelter, and the harsh winters did the place in. There was never a school, never a church, and most of the buildings were tents. Joseph E. Shipler was one of the founders, and he was about the last to leave. Remnants of his cabin still stand, and he was greeting visitors as late as 1912, when Rocky Mountain National Park was founded.

Thursday, June 23

I left the house promptly at 6am. For these west side hikes, I generally take Berthoud pass in the morning and Trail Ridge Road in the afternoon, but today I decided to do TRR in both directions. This probably cost me nearly half an hour, but the hike is a short one so an 8:30 start is not a big deal. This summer, timed-entry passes are required at all times for the Bear Lake corridor, but only after 9am for the remainder of the Park. I arrived at the Beaver Meadows entrance station shortly after 7am. Only one gate was open and I waited in line for twenty minutes.

The trail parallels the Colorado River. It runs a few feet of elevation above the valley floor. It has to: much of the valley floor is marshy grassland. Foster says it’s 3.5 miles from the trailhead to Lulu, with a 320′ elevation gain. The sign on the trail has the distance at 3.7 miles. The 320′ is net gain, so you really climb a bit more than 400′ as the spur trail to Lulu is after the main trail has started rising from the valley. This little spur, about two-tenths of a mile, is easily the steepest section of the entire trail.

There’s one area where a “temporary” trail makes a detour. High water has washed away part of the trail. Rangers have marked the detour with little flags on each end of the detour, but in the middle the trail gets indistinct and several routes are possible, including one that I took which had a steep, wet, slippery section.

Foster lists this hike as “family-friendly”. I would agree with this, but the short detour might make it less friendly for little kids. As well, there are a number of downed trees that block the trail. Hopefully, these will be rectified this summer.

Shipler’s cabin ruins are somewhere along the trail. I never did see the place. I came across a little spur off the main trail. I went down this a few yards on my way up in the morning but gave up on it immediately. By the time I made it back here on the way back, I was convinced that Shipler’s cabin was down this trail. I was wrong.

There are a few places where the trail enters grassy meadows that are sufficiently high above the valley to not be marshes. Were I looking for a place to build a cabin in 1880 or so, many of these would have been possibilities.

Earlier, I said that this is one of the more popular hikes on the west side of the Park. I have no data to support this. And, in fact, on the hike up to Lulu, I only encountered two other hikers. But on arrival at Lulu, I came across a group of about fifteen guys, all sitting in a circle and telling stories. I stayed there for an hour. Another group of five or six arrived, along with a random selection of couples and solo hikers. On the way out, I passed a stream of hikers surpassed only by what you’d encounter between Bear Lake and Emerald Lake.

The location of Lulu is quite nice. It has a nice view (but not a spectacular one), and the river meanders a bit in a stony bed a few times wider than the stream itself. Here, we’re only about two miles from the headwaters and even in late June with the water running fairly high, it’s hard to imagine this river carving the Grand Canyon (there’s the old name again!). If I’d brought my trek poles with me, I’m sure I could have forded the river without taking my boots off and still had dry feet.

It took me only an hour and a half to get to Lulu, so it was a little early for me to have lunch. I thought I’d stop at Shipler’s cabin for my picnic, but as I mentioned above, that didn’t exactly work out. I found a nice rock with a view of a bend in the river.

On the hike out, I came across the most mellow marmot I’ve ever seen. He was on a rock right next to the trail when I found him. I didn’t see him until I was within a few feet of him. I thought he was unaware of my presence, but he could clearly hear the shutter of my camera. He got off his rock to eat some flowers right on the trail. Hikers coming from the other direction didn’t bother him either: he pretty much looked at me, turned his back on me, and walked right up to the other hikers. There, he ate some more flowers before finally leaving the trail and letting us all proceed.

I made it back to the car shortly after 1pm, for a round-trip time of just over four hours. As that included an hour at Lulu and a lunch break on the way back, it’s a pretty easy hike.

Lower Forest Lake

I can’t wait to get the summer hiking season going. This is often a slight problem in the first week of June: in Denver, it seems summer is here, but where I want to hike, it’s not summer at all. A hike in the first week of June always means hiking over snow when you get over about 10,000′. Perhaps even more so, given our two large storms in late May: one that dumped enough snow here at the house to produce a truckload of broken tree limbs, and one a week after that that produced over an inch of precipitation that manifested as about eighteen inches of snow above 9,000′.

Having neglected to plan ahead by purchasing a timed entry pass for RMNP, I decided another visit to James Peak Wilderness would be a good alternative. Of the five hikes here, the lakes that are lowest are Forest Lakes. I did this hike last year about this time, so this will be a repeat.

June 3, 2022

In July and August, you have to get to the trailhead quite early to find a parking place. On a weekday in the first week of June, parking isn’t a problem. I arrived at about 8:15 and was the third car in the lot. At the trailhead, I signed into the log book as the first entry of the day. Either the parties belonging to the other two cars camped overnight or neglected to sign in.

On the lower part of the trail – the first quarter of a mile – the trail isn’t so much a trail as a small river. The next quarter-mile, the trail is in shade. There wasn’t any snow on the trail, but banks of snow lined both sides of the trail. Clearly, I’d be dealing with a bit more snow than last year. Last year, we didn’t start hiking on snow until after we crossed the bridge over Arapaho Creek (at about 9,800′). Today, I was trudging over snow almost 500′ lower. So it goes.

Given the recent snows and the apparent small number of visitors, I was a bit concerned about route-finding. There were quite a few tracks in the snow just above the bridge, but they quickly petered out until there were only two sets: a pair of snowshoe tracks heading up, and the tracks of a hiker just in boots that looked to be a round-trip: both uphill and down. One thing about following tracks in the snow: you have to hope that the people making the tracks went where you want to go, and they know how to get there.

I didn’t bring snowshoes but did have the micro-spikes. The snow was pretty good – I only postholed twice on the way up to the lake. At the lake, I met the hikers who left the snowshoe tracks. They had hiked up yesterday and camped at the lake. Last year, there were plenty of snow-free rocks around the lake to sit on. Today there was just one. The three of us sat there and had our picnics.

I hung out for about an hour before packing up to leave. In this time, with the sun shining brightly on the snow, my hike out was slightly transformed. Each day the sun works its magic on the top of the snow, melting it a bit. Then, overnight, the top freezes, making it easy to walk on in the morning. My hike out was quite different than the hike in: I postholed hundreds of times. That’s only a slight exaggeration.

It may be counter-intuitive that the snow melts from the bottom, not the top. For the most part, you want to hike along the tops of the snowbanks and avoid stepping next to any rocks or trees that may be poking through the snow. Anything darker than the snow will heat up faster than the snow. If you step next to it, you’ll likely posthole either to mid-thigh or until your boot hits something solid. And, because the snow melts from the bottom, whatever solid you hit will be covered by running water. And any low spots between the tops of the snowbanks are good places to posthole, too.

I ran across one guy hiking to the lake and another couple quite near the trailhead. When I got back to the car, the parking lot was not quite twice as crowded as in the morning: there were now five cars in addition to my own.

Here’s a short timelapse of the sky. Notice that my camera slowly melted into the snow.

Fence/Gate Repair

At the end of March or early April (I don’t recall exactly), two of the posts holding up the fence on the north side of my garage failed during a windstorm. They just rotted through at ground level until a nice, stiff breeze blew the fence over. By “stiff breeze”, I really mean sustained winds exceeding 40mph with gusts over 50mph. I see we had four days like that between 3/22 and 4/5.

When I did my last fence repair (a section on the south side of the house), I just set the posts in some angular pea-sized gravel rather than concrete. The original builder didn’t use concrete and it wasn’t the posts that failed, so I didn’t see the need to set the posts in concrete. Once you tamp the gravel in, the edges lock together making it quite strong. It has been nine or ten years and none of those posts move.

Here, though, the existing fence was set in concrete. I was disappointed, but not surprised. The post next to the garage wall was your standard 4×4 post. The other post, on which a gate hangs, was a 4×6. I searched the internet but didn’t find anybody who had 4×6 lumber in stock. During my daily walks I checked out a number of fences with RV gates and they all used 4×4 posts. My fence and gate are only 4′ tall, and all the ones I looked at were 6′ fences. The moment exerted on my post by a 4′ tall gate should be considerably less than that of a 6′ tall gate so I figured the 4×4 should be plenty strong.

My plan was to try to dig as small of a hole as necessary to allow me to bust up the old concrete with a sledgehammer. Even so, any such hole would be far too big for me to fill with concrete, so I picked up a couple of those cardboard tubes and use them as forms.

The issue with the one next to the garage was I’d be limited to working from three sides, as the fourth side is right up against the foundation. The gate post wouldn’t be much easier: clearly, the concrete for the post pre-dated the concrete slab. In neither case would it be a straightforward sledgehammer job. One took me an hour and a half, the other just an hour.

I placed the tube forms and backfilled the holes with dirt. For concrete, I used a couple of sacks of the pre-mixed concrete: pour the dry mix into the hole and just add water. I let the concrete set for a day before putting the fence section back into place. Maybe I should have replaced the section, but it’s still in pretty good shape, except for a bit of rot where the slats touched the ground.

I managed to have the foresight to cut the post to the correct height on the gate side, but had the section up before I noticed I neglected to cut the garage side one. I never seem to do things the easy way.

The next trick was hanging the gate. The gate has never operated freely. It has always sagged a bit. To open it, you had to lift the end of it to get it to open. I had the feeling that the sag had increased over time. I decided part of the problem is that there’s insufficient structure to keep it square. I decided to add a couple of sheets of scrap and screw them to the slats to stiffen it.

And, finally, was the issue of the carriage bolts. They go through the 4×4 and a 2×4 and a slat. So they’re pretty long. Longer, in fact, than are available at Home Depot, Lowes, or Ace Hardware. So I had to re-use the old bolts. They bent a bit when I took them out, so I straightened them with the vice. And I didn’t have a drill bit long enough to go through all that material, so I had to measure very carefully and drill the hole from each end.

The side of the gate I rehung on the new post works beautifully. It swings freely. So I did the stiffening thing with the small sheets on the other half of the gate. This had no effect at all. I still cannot open the gate fully and have to struggle to open it halfway. I haven’t verified, but I’m guessing this post is no longer plumb. But I’m not willing to replace this post just to get the gate to work better. The two posts, tubes, concrete, and fasteners for the repairs I did amounted to about $130 and involved several hours of hard labor. Maybe next summer I’ll tackle the other side.

Finally, there was a small gravel patch next to the garage where a sort of utility shed stood. The previous owner of the house did woodworking in the garage and this shed housed, I believe, a shop vac (to evacuate the sawdust) and maybe an air compressor. There was a sizeable hole through the wall. I had the hole fixed when the garage was resided as part of my giant house painting project last year.

This gravel patch is a bit of an eyesore, so I dug a trench to extend an existing sprinkler line so I can add another head to the irrigation system. With the new head covering that area, I added a bit of topsoil and spread some grass seed. We’ll see how well this works as the area is in shade almost all the time.

Manitou Incline

The Manitou Incline is a trail that climbs a bit over 2,000′ in less than a mile. The sign at the base of the trail tells us there are 2,744 steps to the top, but a marker on the top step tells us it is the 2,768th. Evidently, the count varies somewhat over time due to trail maintenance. It is, by far, the steepest trail I’m aware of. By contrast, in RMNP, the steepest sections of any trail that pack animals are allowed on climbs about 400′ in six-tenths of a mile (a kilometer). To climb two thousand feet at that slope would take three miles.

So many people want to subject themselves to this torture that reservations are required.

I had the mental image of somebody standing at the bottom of this hill a hundred years ago and saying to themselves, “I know: let’s make a hiking trail that starts here and goes straight up to the top. That would be fun!” This imaginative scenario is not correct. The somewhat more reasonable story is that the trail is the remains of a narrow-gauge funicular railway whose tracks washed out during a rock slide in 1990.

(A funicular is essentially a cable car. Two cars, actually, attached to the cable and used to counterweight each other. Cog railways also are used to climb steep slopes, but they don’t use cables. The Pikes Peak Cog railway starts just a few yards from the base of the Incline.)

They say one should allow two hours to get to the summit. The record is in the seventeen-minute range. Some folks seem to think doing it once isn’t enough, so they came up with the “Inclinathon”: 13 consecutive trips up and down the Incline in one day and has been completed in less than 12 hours.

I’ve been thinking of tackling this challenge for a number of years. Somehow it never really bubbled to the top of my to-do list. A couple of weeks ago, Chad reached out to me and asked if I wanted to join him.

Friday, April 8

Our reservations were in the 9:30-10:00 am slot, and we arrived in the area right on time. We found a parking lot with lots of open spaces, but it’s parking for the Barr Trail, and Incline hikers aren’t allowed to park here. Next, we found the lot for the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. No Incline parking here, either. We finally found the right place, which, naturally, adds a quarter of a mile and maybe 200′ of elevation we’d need to gain.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. The forecast high was for the mid-60s and calm. At the start, it was still cool enough to wear a hoodie but with the bright sunshine and cloudless cerulean sky, we were soon down to shirtsleeves and getting out the sunscreen.

We hit the first step of the incline at 9:36, at the same time as a woman and her son who looked to be about six years old. An indication of my performance on this hike is that I only managed to beat this six-year-old to the top by a few minutes. Judging by the dirt on the seat of his pants, he spent a lot of time waiting for his mother (and us other slow hikers) to catch up to him.

It wasn’t my lung capacity that was the limiting factor here. It was my legs. Most of the steps are single railroad ties, but in the steeper parts, each step is two railroad ties. And in some places, the ties are so close together that the tread width of the step is shorter than my boot is long. (The Incline is famous for its steepness, with an average grade of 45% (24°) and as steep as 68% (34°) in places.)

Not far from the bottom, a small herd of deer browsed their way across the trail. They’re quite acclimated to people; several of them came within 8 or 10 feet of me. I think I might have been able to pet them, had I been so inclined. Sorry for the pun.

I didn’t see anybody running up, but quite a few ran down. I thought I saw somewhere that the Incline is one-way: climb up the Incline and take the Barr Trail back down. The hardcore group didn’t get enough agony on the trip up, they had to compound it by going back down the steps. No way I could have done it. We saw one guy who made two trips, and one gal we encountered was going down the steps backward. She said it was easier on the legs and falls wouldn’t be so bad. She said she would make a second ascent as soon as she got back to the base. At this point, I have no plans to do it a second time in my life, let alone a second time in a day.

There’s a marker on every hundredth step so you have a good idea of just how much torture still lies ahead of you. Or maybe I should say “above you”. I never bothered to count, so I don’t know how accurate these markers are. When we reached step 2000, I was a few steps above our intrepid 6-year-old. Naturally, he was unable to fight the need to start counting: “2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, …”.

At one point, I looked up and decided that I’d only need to take two more breaks before reaching the top. Seems I did this when looking at a bit of a “false summit”. I could see the top, but it didn’t look as far as it actually was, and a particularly steep section was obscured. I think I actually stopped five or six more times. Chad was a good sport about it and slowed his pace to stay with me. I have no doubt he’d have finished on the order of half an hour quicker than me.

Because I kept stopping to rest, I had plenty of opportunity to look at how the trail was made. For the most part, the timbers are flat, level, and square. They’re all attached with fittings to stout cables on each end, and the cables are anchored in concrete periodically up the slope. But, hikers and the weather have conspired to shift some of the ties so that they’re rotated a bit, or the soil behind them is starting to wash away. I imagine they need to constantly do a fair amount of work to keep the trail in good enough condition to support the traffic it gets.

We gained the summit at noon precisely. I had the forethought to pack a couple of beers. They were (amazingly) still cold. I didn’t set any records in climbing the Incline, but I did suck that beer down my gullet in pretty quick time.

The hike down the Barr Trail is quite pleasant in comparison to the Incline and doesn’t merit much description, other than that it’s fairly highly engineered (many retaining walls and fences) to handle the traffic.

I’m writing this the next day. My calves are quite sore. I’ll try to minimize my trips up and down the stairs today.

Transmission

We took the Elise out of service the first week of November.

All my adult life when it came to cars, I thought I was pretty kind to the equipment. I kept my cars longer than just about anybody I knew. My brakes, tires, and clutches didn’t wear out as fast as they did for most of my friends and acquaintances.

It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve been beating myself up a bit about the Elise. I’ve had suspension failures and a bad cam. I haven’t heard of anybody else having the hub carrier plinth bolt issue, and nobody thinks it’s a maintenance issue. But after having both sides fail, I’ll be replacing the bolts every few years. The bad cam seems to be the luck of the draw. I went about 60k miles before having the problem. I’ve heard many reports of it happening a lot sooner. Then there’s my “money shift”. Pure driver error on that one.

And, now, the third gear synchro. It started going out about a year ago. Before I decided it was the synchro, I worried that it was damage resulting from the money shift. I went into third instead of fifth. Did that break my third gear? But, no, not related. More likely due to my not rev-matching. I don’t know. Anyway, the transmission is replaced at 92k miles, so it started at about 87k and 50ish track days.

But let’s go back to November. We didn’t park it until then, but I had been looking for a solution. What I ended up doing was buying a rebuilt transmission off Lotus Talk. The seller was at one point part of the Lotus Service Exchange and in this role rebuilt about 65 Elise/Exige gearboxes. (This one has the LSD, so I’m replacing same for same.) Seller says, “It had 9000-11000 miles on it when it was pulled for a notchy third gear. I installed a new synchro and inspected the rest of the gears.”

My original thought was just to get mine repaired. Michael and I could take it out of the car to save some labor costs. I talked to a number of people. I was surprised nobody wanted to do the work. The closest I got to anything like a quote on the work was nearly twice what I ended up paying for the rebuilt one. So it was cheaper to put in a repaired one with about 10k miles on it than to have similar work done to my 92k mile one.

In all my looking around, I came to the conclusion that these transmissions are notorious for third gear synchro issues. In the Lotus at least. The guy I bought mine from had two others for sale, and the one I bought the most miles on it. Searching the forums and talking to people, nobody I’ve encountered who has had the third gear synchro fail had anywhere near the mileage or track days I’ve done.

So I guess, in spite of all my repairs, I’ll continue to suffer from cognitive dissonance and believe I’m kind to the equipment.

The transmission arrived nicely boxed up. He built a frame of 2x2s with a plywood base, strapped it in so it wouldn’t jostle about, and stapled corrugation to the exterior. Unfortunately, we destroyed the box when we took it out. I wasn’t thinking about what I’d do with the one we’re taking out. I’m pretty sure now that I’m going to build this type of box for both the transmission and the motor I took out last year. Boxed up, they’ll be much easier to both move and store. I could stack them!

The whole replacement operation took a bit longer than we anticipated. My original hope was to be back on the road by Christmas, so I could participate in HPR’s customer appreciation day. We weren’t even close, but so it goes. Other than not wanting very much to work in the garage when it was cold, and it seemed all our warm weather was during the week, we also ran into a couple of minor issues.

One was the replacement transmission with where a stud mounts. The threads were damaged. Michael borrowed a tap and die set from his work and the repair was fairly easy. So we have an oversized stud in there now.

The other “minor” issue didn’t cause us any delays. I had to buy a couple of bell housing bolts. When we dove into the job, we noticed we had a few fasteners missing. Two of the bell housing bolts were gone, and so was a nut on the driver’s side motor mount. I know the race car guys are always going over their cars making sure all the nuts and bolts are properly torqued. I never worried about it, but clearly, the solid motor mounts are just vibrating the thing apart. So I guess I need to take the clam off once a year and check all the nuts and bolts.

I did a time-lapse of the clam removal. I was thinking it might be cool, but, frankly, I’m underwhelmed. I didn’t mean to leave the timestamp on the camera, but it lets you know how long the process took. I have a “quick disconnect” kit so we don’t have to take the seats out. Oh, and you may notice Michael removing a broken passenger side rear side-marker light.

I’ve only driven it around the block (before we put the clam back on — that always gets some odd looks). Going around the block isn’t a real test, but at least I know I can select all the gears. I’m quite happy to have it back now that the weather is getting nice!

Haiyaha Ice

Thursday, March 3

With just about zero advance planning, Ed and I returned to Lake Haiyaha, where we had just visited less than two weeks ago. We arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot with no destination in mind, but with the warm temperature and (seemingly) calm winds, we decided it might actually be pleasant enough at Haiyaha that we wouldn’t freeze our fingers off if we tried to take pictures of the ice.

Our prediction was spot-on. I never took my gloves out of the pack. We spent about an hour at the lake, wandering around inspecting the endlessly fascinating ice, eating our picnic lunches, and occasionally chatting with other visitors to the lake. I even ran the GoPro, thinking the thin veil of high clouds would be both interesting and calming. Sadly, the camera fell on its back after about seven minutes, shooting straight up until the battery was exhausted. No timelapse video again this hike. So it goes.

I am left, then, trying to show what the ice looks like. I probably should just put these in a slide show and be done with it, but instead, I’ll blather on and on about each shot.

Here we see Ed working on getting some photographic evidence. Huddled around these rocks poking through the ice, we could occasionally hear a soft crack. The ice is constantly, slowly, dropping. It’s a mosaic of many pieces, large and not-so-large, and if you listen carefully (and the wind is calm, as it is today), you can hear it settle.

Where the rocks punch through the ice (which drops something like eight or ten or fifteen feet over the course of the winter, due to the lake having a leak) we can see the ice from the side. It’s a pale blue over most of the lake and filled with columns of tiny air bubbles.

Next to one of the larger boulders where the wind swirls madly, the ice is almost perfectly clear and has very few of the little bubbles we see in the light blue ice covering the rest of the lake. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out its shape, as it features no flat surfaces and lenses the light unpredictably. Most interesting here, I think, is where it at first looks like there’s some snow on top of the ice, with gaps in the snow like the holes in swiss cheese. But it’s not really snow, and it’s not on top of the ice, but a layer in the ice. Where the layer below this seeming snow is absent, I ran my finger along the under surface. Where it looks like snow, these are voids with the bottom of the ice, coated by tiny crystals that look like snow. Note the crack in the upper layer, curving from the lower left of the frame through the center.

I was unable to get a decent photo of the ripples on the absolutely clear ice, so I found a rippled area on the blue ice. I can’t help but wonder just how the ice gets to be this way. The water doesn’t flow here, and it certainly doesn’t freeze quickly enough to freeze any water waves. I can only conclude that these ripples are carved by the wind, blasted and polished by snow and small ice crystals.

Here I’m looking straight down into the ice. It’s probably a foot thick here. Again, there’s no snow here. The hole extends deeper than I can reach with my finger. Wherever it looks like snow in the ice it’s actually a void, with small crystals coating the bottom of the ice (or the top of the void, whichever way you want to look at it.)

I’m a big fan of variety. There is a wide variety of beautiful sights to take in in the Park. So my tendency is to want to visit places I haven’t been to before, or to revisit places I haven’t been to for quite some time. But Lake Haiyaha in winter always seems to provide me with something new to take in. Who knows? Maybe I’ll make another trip here before summer.

Lake Haiyaha

So, three months since I Iast posted. Not good.

I haven’t done a track day or a scenic drive pretty much since LOG. The car has been in various states of disassembly since the first of November. I’m happy to report that its current state of disassembly is “nearly reassembled”. I’ll have a full report on that when it’s done.

And yesterday was my first hike in ages.

Saturday, February 5

Chad reached out to me a while back offering to join me on my next hike. He doesn’t have snowshoes, though, so it meant sticking to the beaten path, or he could rent a pair. The third choice was to see if Ed wanted to take a walk with us: he has a spare pair of snowshoes. Ed, as usual, was up for a trip to Haiyaha.

Regular readers here know that I’ve been there many times. So there won’t be much to this report, as I don’t feel the need to repeat myself.

I woke up well in advance of my alarm and laid in bed listening to the wind rock the house. If it’s windy enough here to rock the house, I couldn’t help but wonder how bad it would be at our destination. I was thinking my day would be cold and miserable. I asked myself whose idea it was to go up there. Nobody to blame but me: it was my idea.

While I was awake well before my alarm, something went wrong with Chad’s. He called about the time he was expected here. I let Ed know we’d be a bit late. I was thinking we’d be 45 minutes late, but we made good time and got to the entrance station right at 8. This was perfect timing. Perfectly bad: if we’d been there a few minutes earlier, we’d have sailed right through. Instead, we were in a line of more than a dozen cars. Took us ten minutes to get through.

It was Chad’s first trip to Haiyaha, so every time Ed came to a picture spot, Chad took a picture. We had a bit of excitement when, at the second such spot, Chad realized his phone was missing. One of my snowshoes was coming off, so while I was fixing that, Ed and Chad backtracked. They found his phone pretty quickly. Luckily it didn’t hit the snow edge-on, as they may never have found it.

At the start, I told Chad that Ed knows every rock and tree in the area. He probably thought I was exaggerating. I’m not. When we exchanged greetings with the volunteers at the trailhead, Ed told them about a tree that had fallen. I guess it’s on the park trail from Haiyaha to Glacier Gorge Junction. He pointed it out to us when we got there.

You’d really need to know every tree in the area to know that a tree that’s on the ground in the middle of a forest is freshly fallen. The cool thing about this one is that when it fell, it “trimmed” a tree that it fell on. It looks like it fell directly on this other tree, or maybe an inch or two from dead-center: every branch and limb of this still-standing tree was torn off one side of the trunk, right at the trunk. Quite the pruning job.

The main attraction of Haiyaha, for me, is the ice. (Yes, I’m repeating earlier reports.) The lake has a leak. Ice forms on it, the water drains, and the ice drops several feet. Large rocks poke out like volcanoes, breaking the ice into large slabs. Given the luxury of moderate weather, you can spend a fair amount of time inspecting the ice: the different hues of blue in the different light, the columns of frozen bubbles, the wind-carved surface ripples.

Today, the weather was not moderate. It was quite nice in the forest, out of the wind. But, as usual in winter, the lake (and any other lake just below the Divide) is like the floor of a wind tunnel. I took a few pictures, but the conditions were a bit on the brutal side. I couldn’t keep my gloves off very long; they quickly got almost too cold to work the camera. I keep trying to get pictures that do the ice justice, but I’m just not that good.

We quickly decided to cross the lake and take our lunch break in a clump of trees on the other side. On our way, we watched some snowboarders make a short run. In the trees, mostly out of the wind, Ed showed us how to make a bench out of snow. We sat on the bench and ate. I usually like a leisurely meal, but not today. Even rushing it a bit, I was pretty quickly cold and wanting to get moving again. We all had our gloves off to eat, and my fingers were very cold by the time we got moving.

I had the GoPro with me, but on arrival at the lake the skies were clear and there wasn’t really any point in getting a time-lapse. Along the ridges, though, the wind was blowing so hard that the snow formed clouds along the ridges and the summit of Longs Peak.

It only took a few minutes of hiking to get me warmed back up, and I could feel my fingers again.

I don’t hike with trek poles. I bought a pair when I bought the snowshoes, used them once or twice, didn’t see the point and don’t really want to carry them around if I don’t find them worth it. I admit that on many hikes, there are occasions where I wish I had poles, but I always manage without. Today I figured I’d give poles another chance.

Two things I note: first, I experienced a bit of fatigue in muscles that I don’t normally exercise when I hike. Not a big deal, but by the time we got back to the car, I was tired of “carrying” them. Second, I found myself mesmerized by the sound they make in the snow as I pivot the pole. Not exactly the crunch of snow under a boot, but not far from it. Faint, but enough that I could feel the vibration in my hands. I really don’t know why I was so fascinated by it.

Back in my misspent youth, I hiked to Emerald Lake every Memorial Day every year for fifteen years or so. I don’t go there that often. Instead, it seems I’m now doing a mid-winter hike to Haiyaha. It’s not a bad trade.

LOG 40, Day 5

Tuesday, September 14

The route back was the same as the route there, with two exceptions. I drove to Heber City via I-80 and US 191 instead of the slow, scenic route through the park. And on the other end, I took US 40 from Kremmling to Granby and over Berthoud Pass rather than through Silverthorne and the Eisenhower tunnel.

When I was just about to Heber City, I realized that I’d left my LOG 35 cap in the hotel room. I can picture it exactly as I left it: right next to the room phone, with a cloth mask in it. I called the hotel when I got home, but they say housekeeping didn’t find anything.

Coming over Rabbit Ears Pass, I encountered a few cars that were running in the Colorado Grand. The first one was an early Porsche. I don’t know that I’d have spotted him if he hadn’t waved at me. Next was a red Ferrari. There was a yellow one, I didn’t get a good look at it, could have been a Morgan. Finally, a Mercedes I think was lost. He was at the stop sign at the junction with CO 14 and pulled out and followed me. All the other guys were going the other way. He turned around before he went too far.

The drive from Kremmling to Granby was new to me. Byers Canyon is nice, if a little short.

I was pleasantly surprised throughout the day that the truck traffic was considerably less than on Friday. Auto traffic was pretty bad from Granby to home, exacerbated by showers from Winter Park to Golden. I didn’t actually get rained on until Idaho Springs or so, but all of Berthoud Pass was wet, and the cars kicked up a lot of spray. I’d say it improved when I caught up to the rain, but then puddles made me a little nervous.

My trip home took about half an hour less than Friday’s drive.

So that’s the story.

Now, two final thoughts.

Where Did the Oil Go?

Michael figured it out right away when I told him what Dave and TJ said. Dave and TJ would have figured it out had I thought to tell them that we did an engine swap over the winter.

Of course, the cooler and lines drained when we pulled the old motor out. So they’re empty. When we filled the new engine with oil, it didn’t fill the cooler because the thermostat was closed. It doesn’t open until I put it under “track conditions”, whatever that means. When it opens, the cooler fills with oil and we’re suddenly two or two and a half quarts low.

The problem with that theory is that when I put one quart of oil into the car, I was able to run a 12 lap session and get 3 laps in another session before having the problem again. I guess that means there was an air bubble in the cooler that didn’t come out until the heat from the 12 lap session worked it out.

Which only leads to the next problem: this was not my first track day after the engine swap.

I’ve done 4 track days at HPR. Not a lot of laps: 90 laps over 12 sessions. One day was a Thursday Evening event, one was a half-day in April, one “session” was the RMVR Ticket to Ride. And the Ferrari day. How did I run 90 laps at HPR and not put it under “track conditions”?

Things that make you go “hmmmm”.

I have now put three quarts of oil in and all is good. If I was half a quart low when I left the house and the cooler uses two and a half, that’s the three. I’m reasonably certain I’m good to go now, but I won’t know until the next time I take it to the track. (And maybe not even then.)

I never put more than a quart in at a time to get the dipstick to read full or nearly full. I’m assuming that I went from full to a quart low in an instant on the track, when I could get on the high cam one moment but not the next. The distance driven at a quart low was fairly limited and at low revs.

I’ve done more than fifty track days and I’ve never had any need for brake fluid or motor oil. Needed both in one day.

LOG 40 Reflections

The pandemic took a bit of a toll on this LOG. It was supposed to happen last year, but we all know what happened. Some things just couldn’t be overcome, like the travel restrictions. I was looking forward to seeing the speakers live. I hoped to see the Evija and the Emira. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed.

I often get lazy and refer to “the Lotus club”. But really, the cars are the excuse to meet people. It’s not a club of cars, it’s a club of people who share a passion for cars.

I met quite a few really nice people. How’s that not a good time?

I repeat: I met quite a few really interesting, accomplished, nice people. I had a great time, even if it wasn’t perfect.

But I am bummed that I lost my LOG 35 cap.

LOG 40, Day 4

Monday, September 13

For me, today is it, the highlight of the trip.

I wouldn’t say that I attend LOG for the track day, but I can say I don’t think I’ll attend a LOG that doesn’t have a track day.

Utah Motorsports Campus is the seventeenth track I’ve driven, in the ninth different state.

The facilities are top-notch. Of the tracks I’ve been to, only COTA has better. In many ways, this is COTA but on a smaller scale. The garages are just as nice, only smaller. The meeting rooms are just as nice, but smaller and fewer. It has a go-kart track, an off-road track (with a giant jump). There’s a restaurant and a clubhouse. The parking lot is enormous.

As for the track, it has four configurations: East Course, West Course, Outer Course, and Full Course. We ran the Outer Course, which is 15 turns in just a bit over 3 miles. It’s not billiard table flat, but there’s not more than a couple of meters of elevation change. It’s fast: there are no second gear turns. For the most part, you don’t have to worry about hitting anything if you go off.

We were asked to arrive at the track by 8:00 so everybody could get checked in in time for an 8:45 drivers meeting. I left the hotel at 7 and was parked in the paddock promptly at 8.

I’ve been in a lot of drivers meetings. This one was perhaps the least polished. Polished or not, all the important information was covered. The four or five instructors introduced themselves then the lead instructor started running through the topics. At times, he’d falter a bit and one of the other instructors would jump in and complete the thought or provide something the others had missed.

There were a couple of things that were out of the ordinary. First, everybody got out on track and followed the instructors around a very slow lap. At the end of it, we parked in rows of three with the first row at the start/finish line. An interesting and unusual photo opportunity.

Another unusual facet for me was that we never really used the paddock. Typically, we all empty our cars, placing our things adjacent to our parking places in the paddock. Today, we all unloaded our stuff into one of the garages and parked our cars on pit road. We could park anywhere along here when not on the track as we didn’t need to park near our stuff. And it was quicker and easier to get on and off the track. The relatively small number of cars made this possible. I can’t see it working with 60 or more cars. (I didn’t get a car count, but it was only about three dozen, including the instructors’ cars.)

The advanced/intermediate group was out first. I found myself behind our ghost town drive leader, Speedy Gonzalez. Turns 5 and 6 are the slowest. Not 2nd gear slow, but nearly. Speedy Gonzalez got to turn 6 and spun out. I was saving my camera batteries for later in the day, so I didn’t get it on video. Back in the pits, I asked one of the guys what happened. This is “hearsay evidence”, so not admissible in court, but I’m told he said that he “ran out of talent” in turn 6 and blamed cold tires. You’d think, after racing Formula Fords for hundreds of hours, he’d come up with an excuse that wasn’t the crutch of novices.

I cut my first session short. I was getting a brake warning light in some of the left turns. I needed to top off my brake fluid. I asked around and found a gentleman from North Carolina who kindly donated some to me. I’m sorry I didn’t get his name, but I really appreciated it.

I also cut my second session short. After a few laps, I started getting the rev limiter at 6000 rpm. Back in the pits, I tracked down Dave Simkin and TJ, who hooked their laptop up to my car. They quickly ruled out two or three possibilities and theorized I was low on oil. TJ checked the dipstick: it was dry. The switchover to the high cam is activated by oil pressure. Insufficient oil, no cam. I checked my oil before I left the house and it was okay. How am I a quart (or more) low?

To remedy my problem, I needed to make a trip into town. There’s an auto parts store about ten miles away, so off I went. I bought a quart of oil, poured it in, and now the dipstick showed oil almost to the top mark.

On the way back to the track, I decided to stop at the gas station in town to top off the tank. The pump wouldn’t accept my Discover card so I tried a Visa. Still no joy. A bit frustrated, I hopped back in the car and left. When I got back to the track, I noticed that I hadn’t closed the fuel filler door. And saw that I didn’t have my gas cap. Clearly, in my frustration, I forgot to put it back on. I’d driven off with the cap sitting on top of the car. So off I went, back to town, to find my missing cap. Luckily, someone had found it and given it to the cashier. Each trip to town was about half an hour lost.

When I got back to the track, my group was already on the track, so I quickly put my helmet on and joined the session. Each session was supposed to be thirty minutes. As I had cut my first two sessions short, I still hadn’t seen a checkered flag. In this session, when I saw that I’d done 12 laps, I knew I was well over the half-hour session length. By the time I was back in the pits, I was 14 minutes late. I never saw a checkered flag (which would have been shown to me at three different places), so I’m guessing they weren’t that strict about who was on track when. I never did see the checkered flag all day. But I get ahead of myself.

Anyway, all was good. A few minutes after the hour, I went back out. After 4 or 5 laps, I began having the limiter problem again. When I stopped back in the pits, the dipstick was dry again. Where is all the oil going? I’m not burning it; I’m not putting out any smoke at all. I’m not leaking it; there’s never a fresh drop of anything under the car, and a quart of oil would certainly overflow the undertray. And it’s not getting in the coolant, as the overflow tank is its usual pinkish color. Where’s the oil going?

I had no choice but to call it quits.

The instructors were giving rides. There were four Evora GTs we could ride in, but I’ve already driven an Evora on the track. One guy, Jonathan, had his 2-Eleven there, so I asked if he’d give me a ride. I don’t know how heavily modified it is. He told me it puts out 330hp, so it’s not stock. The body also features a lot of carbon fiber. This made it interesting getting in and out, as it has no doors and you must climb over the top of the roll cage without stepping on any bodywork.

We got me all strapped in and started down pit road. At the entrance to the track, the steward reminded Jonathan that the novice session was on track and he should take appropriate care not to divebomb the newbies.

The car is pretty amazing. It’s not quite twice the horsepower of mine, and at least 400lbs lighter. He’s running slicks (Hoosier R7), naturally, and he’s done thousands of laps here. There weren’t many cars on track, so we had an open run. On our out lap, in turn 6, he missed the turn and we went wide. “OPR”, he said: other peoples’ rubber.

Next lap around, in turn 6 again, where we went straight the first time around (and where Speedy Gonzalez spun on his first lap), all hell broke loose. The engine stopped, which threw the car into a spin. Jonathan took his hands off the wheel (so he wouldn’t break a thumb), we went around twice and were in a cloud of tire smoke. He restarted and went a hundred yards down the track toward the next corner bunker, which was showing us the “meatball” flag. He pulled off the track and stopped the car. We were leaking oil. A lot of it. There was a slick from turn 6 to halfway between turns 7 and 8. There was oil inside the cockpit, in the right front wheel well, and all over the ground under the engine compartment.

The rescue truck was there very quickly and the tow truck was right on its heels. Jonathan described the incident to the rescue crew as they winched his car onto the flatbed. He rode in the towtruck, I went with the rescue crew. First, we went back to the site of the spin (driving the wrong way on the track, which I’ve never done before). Leaving there, we made our way back to the pits using some of the infield service roads. Oh, and this was the first (and hopefully last) time I got to ride in the rescue truck.

I felt bad for Jonathan. After having my day ended due to an oil issue, to be his passenger when he suffered a catastrophic oil failure, made me wonder if I was suffering some bad oil karma for some reason. I know his problem was in no way my fault, but I felt some guilt nonetheless.

The cleanup took 45 minutes. By the time the track was green again, there were only about a dozen cars left. Everybody still there got to run as much as they wanted in the last hour of the day as they stopped running by groups.

Just before I left, there was a bit more excitement. When they opened the track back up, a yellow Evora that had been parked for a couple of hours got started up. That produced a fairly big cloud of white smoke. It wasn’t clear to me if it was oil or coolant or something else.

I took this as a sign for me to make my exit and go back to the hotel.

I bought three more quarts of oil and put a quart and a half into the engine before the dipstick indicated it was full. Still no smoke, no drips, no contaminated coolant. Where did it go? I’ll just have to check the oil every time I make a stop on the way home.

Both there at the track and back in the hotel parking lot, I discussed my experience with several people. Everybody had a look under the car, both front and back (the oil cooler is in the front), checked out my coolant reservoir, and scratched their chins in wonder. Nobody had any ideas.

After dinner, I started packing the car with the idea of making an easier departure in the morning. While I was doing this, Dave and TJ came by and we discussed the situation. They said the oil coolers and lines held about two quarts, or maybe two and a half, they weren’t sure. They said the oil cooling system doesn’t operate except under track conditions. It sounded to me like they thought this would somehow explain it, but it still didn’t make sense to me.

I didn’t run enough laps to thoroughly learn the track; I know I could have picked up a few more seconds. Particularly, I know I can take turns 1 and 11 faster. That said, no Elise passed me. I did get passed by some Evoras, but most of those were instructor-driven. I got passed by the 2-Eleven and an instructor’s 911. And I got passed by a couple of Exiges and the V6 Cup car. I could only manage 118 on the long straight. It was so long I expected to be able to top 120. I am somewhat disappointed that I only ran half the number of laps I expected to, but so it goes. I think I acquitted myself well.

It was an interesting and unforgettable day, that’s for sure.

Tomorrow, hopefully, my trip home will not be so interesting.