Project Profiles: Colorado Trail Runner Kristen Arendt

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Highlighting one staffer at Trail Run Project

Tell us about yourself, your all-time favorite trail, and what you do at Adventure Projects.

I am a long-time runner who grew up in Bailey, Colorado. I have traveled a lot for track and road racing, but this job has given me my first deep dive into backcountry experiences. I am a content manager here which means I review all of our user generated content to ensure the quality and accuracy of all the trail data that we publish. It also means I get to live vicariously through other people’s awesome trail experiences, and I’ve created an insanely long to-do list of trails I want to run. My own favorite trail so far is a run from Monarch Lake to Crater Lake in Granby, Colorado. It was my first taste of what an awesome experience hitting the trails really is.

And that’s evolved into a really cool goal. You plan to visit every national park unit in Colorado this year? 

Yep! Now that we’ve launched the REI Co-op National Park Guide and Maps app, my goal this year is to visit all 13 of the national park units in Colorado. I’d hiked a couple trails in Great Sand Dunes National Park years ago and felt I could make a contribution to the app by adopting all 22.3 miles of trail in the park, which means writing descriptions, adding pictures, and rounding out park details and regulations so it could be added to our list of completed parks in the app. So that’s where I decided to start. My game plan was to hit all the trails that I had missed in my previous visits. I figured I could chronicle the rest of the park in one day of relatively easy hiking. It turned into quite an adventure, though, with knee-deep snow drifts, a semi-disconcerting drive up Medano Pass Road to the Point of No Return parking lot in our ’97 Ford Explorer (that mud is going to be caked on for a while!), some frozen feet from tromping through snowmelt in Medano Creek, and a natural exfoliation from hiking around on the lower part of the dunes in the wind. While it wasn’t a perfectly executed mapping excursion (hey, that’s February at 7,500 feet in Colorado), it was seriously fun and well worth the effort.

So what’s your favorite trail there? 

Nothing beats hiking up the dunes themselves. Heading up to 699-foot High Dune along the massive ridges of sand is an unforgettable experience, and the 360-degree view from the top where you can really get a sense for the size and scope of the dunes with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and San Luis Valley as a backdrop is truly remarkable. Then pull off your shoes and run, fall, slip, and slide back down the sand like a little kid in the world’s largest sandbox. It’s best to hike up the dunes in the early morning when the wind is less likely to be howling. During the late spring and early summer, you will stumble across fields of prairie sunflowers on the backside of the dunes and can enjoy a refreshing splash in Medano Creek on your way back to the parking lot. Mosca Pass Trail is also one of my favorite trails for a true trail run. Mosca Pass Trail is a serene 3.6-miler (one way), gaining just over 1,500 feet. It climbs gradually through cottonwoods and aspens and ends in a meadow with what I think are the best views of the dune field framed by the surrounding Sangre De Cristos. It’s also a great choice for anyone who doesn’t want sand in their shoes!

Any advice for a hiker visiting the park this year? 

Visit in late spring, summer, or early fall. This is your best chance to beat the notorious Alamosa winds, which is what formed the dunes and can really whip. If you have more than a day or two to spend at the park, a backcountry camping trip at one of the seven backcountry sites in the park would definitely be sweet. Just a short trip up the road and you can hike to Zapata Falls or South Zapata Lake or the more adventurous can tackle 14,345-foot Blanca Peak. Also, stop in the town of Alamosa and swing by Calvillo’s or the San Luis Valley Brewing Company to cap off your adventure with some local food and beer.

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