On a rock shelf above 13,000ft, near the highest point on Up-Chuck Ridge, the twelve of us find enough room for protection from the wind and the snow. Our perch offers us a phenomenal view of Grizzly Gulch, but after a fifteen-minute wait for the storm to abate, we decide to start moving again. We’re getting cold just sitting still and need to be moving to stay warm. With a whole new distraction and a renewed determination, I’m moving much quicker now, heading towards Handies Pk. With no thought of altitude or breathing, I charge up Handies to 14,000ft, while the storm settles into an odd reticent silence. A few of us reach the summit, but our group has split in half. We huddle together to keep warm while we wait for the others. My hands are frozen, so I remove my wet gloves and stick my hands inside my shirt. It gives me the shivers until my hands finally warm up again. Ten minutes pass, but only a few of the others have arrived, when we see another big dark cloud moving rapidly for us. Times up folks, it’s time to get down now! We sprint towards the American Basin, but the storm cloud, along with wind and snow hits us hard and fast. We’re forced to pull up on the lee side of another wall, just a hundred feet lower than the Handies summit, with our knees just inches from a large snow cornice. Like a pack of newborn pups, seven of us huddle together for warmth, while the wind screams over the saddle, between Handies and us. We can see the rest of the group making the final ascent on Handies just as a dark cloud completely blots out the summit. That was just two weeks ago, and I still can’t get it out of my mind. I won’t be caught unprepared like that again. At least, not during the run.
At approx. 6am, with the sun rising into a clear sky, 116 Hardrock miners begin their epic journey: for adventure, for competition, in search of themselves, or just to be part of the mountains for awhile? A dozen reasons for each of them, for each of us. A few run, most walk, but some of us begin with a slow shuffle. John Cappis and I walk out of town together, dead last. Neil Hewitt taught me this. DFL, he calls it. It helps to begin relaxed and comfortable, refusing to get pulled in to some odd struggle or conversation that pushes you too fast right from the gun. I worked too hard for this and purposely begin as best I can, slow and relaxed. We meander through town, past Charlie’s house, over the Animas River, and into the trees. Even at a meandering pace, it only takes us a few minutes to clear town, and I’m surprised they even let us use the bridge over the Animas. We go through all the other rivers. We turn parallel to the river and follow a trail that looks to be messy when wet, but it’s pretty dry today. We enter Arrastra Creek Gulch, follow the creek and then cross it on some well placed planks. The climb up into Little Giant Basin is on jeep road for most of the way. It’s not until shortly after treeline when we leave the road for a rough trail through tundra, scrub, and rocks. Our ever climbing trail, rides the lower face of the King Solomon Mtns. The sky is clear, and my companion, the sun, is working me over pretty good. I’m very slow on the climb and getting kind of punchy. Lots of folks go by while I make the best of it. A pinch under 4000ft of climb over eight miles, takes us from 9200ft Silverton to 13416ft Little Giant Pk. The descent goes a lot quicker, as I pick up speed and drop like a rock. The switchbacks are quick and tight, alongside a small cascading creek. Tundra turns into trees as the valley floor comes up to meet me. The Cunningham aid station is on the other side of a creek and I finally get my feet wet just before entering the station. We drop 3000ft in 2 miles, back down to 10000ft. I have a drop bag here with clean shoes & socks, so I change my old Montrails for new ones, chug an Ensure, top off my Camelback, and continue. It has taken me 3 hours to cover the first 9.6 miles, and there can’t be more than a few people behind me at this point. But, I’m comfortable back here with all these people who usually finish every year. I leave Cunningham at 9am surrounded by some pretty tough turtles.
Down the dirt road from Cunningham, I connect with Mike Price and Ken DeBeer, and see my crew just before I turn off the Cunningham Gulch road. The climb up Buffalo Boy is similar to the last climb, as it’s again jeep road, this one taking us all the way to the top. The trudge seems even longer than the last one, as the road switches back and forth through Rocky Gulch. DeBeer and I flip back and forth, with the speed of two trees trying to outgrow each other, while Mike steadily pulls away from us. During one of our high-speed switches, I tell Ken that I got rained on pretty good right here two weeks ago. No sooner said, than it starts to rain. Ken blames me for this and I graciously accept. Grandfather Mountain, listening to our gossip, turns the weather in an instant as it suits him. I slip on my raincoat and smile. The rain suits me well, cooling me off. Continuing on upward to the old mine, I turn aside for a moment, to sit down inside and eat. Walking slowly up and out of the basin, a short easy climb to the top, the wind rises as I do. 3000ft of climb over 4 miles from Cunningham to Buffalo Boy, right back to 13000ft. A field of flowers and a lonely gravestone awaits us. The field rolls a bit and colors ripple in the wind, as waves of wildflowers undulate through the grass. On the horizon are silhouettes of people in front of me, and because we’re no longer going up, I pick up speed, and catch them. I cross a snowfield and make my way down to a point of rock, directly above the next aid station, well below us. A mile to descend 1300ft to the aid station at 11700ft. Gingerly making his way down the slope, below and in front of me, is my buddy, Rich Limacher. The tundra is very steep, and I practically fall past Rich, as we exchange greetings, the rock and the spider. A hundred feet down, the trail quickly leads to a road, and the road to the Maggie Gulch aid station at 16.5 miles. I top off my Camelback and eat some watermelon, before moving on. Rich spins on in as I’m leaving. It’s high noon.
The wind and the rain are gone, left behind on Buffalo Boy. My buddy, the sun is back! We’re still above treeline and completely exposed, as we climb diagonally out of Maggie Gulch. It’s not a bad climb, but I melt under the sun’s intense glare, waddling slowly uphill. I make slow work of it, while Rich and a few others slip on by. John Cappis catches me just as I reach the highest point, and we continue together in conversation, on the Continental Divide trail, rolling along for miles on the high plain. We follow the West Fork of Pole Creek through scrub brush and skunk cabbage, past Sheep Mountain and Greenhaigh Mountain. We roll along at a fast walk, and I feel like I should be running, but my energy level is pretty low. Most of this section is above treeline, climbing from 11700ft to 12500ft and then descending slowly through this treeless valley, loaded with skunk cabbage and scrub, and eventually dropping down into the trees at Pole Creek at 11200. The rain begins again just as we find the Pole Creek aid station. I plan to skip on by, but because of the rain, I stop under their lean-to to put on my rain jacket. The rain has helped me again, as I’m not thinking real well, and I really do need to stop and refuel. They offer me some chicken broth, and while I’m drinking, Carolyn Erdman, Jennifer Roach, Bob Boeder, and Ulli Kamm come in. We have quite a crowd under the tarp, and it’s all so homey, with the rain coming down and the idle chatter of friends. The sun’s shining through the rain, flowers are everywhere, and it’s flat out dazzling. My perspective shifts from within to without in an instant, as this mood just leaps out and grabs me. (21.6 miles). It’s 1:30pm.
Leaving with Ulli and Jennifer, my senses are steeped in the colors around me. The rain continues as we ford Pole Creek. Ulli charges strait through the stream, while I dance across the rocks. My shoes are already soaked, so I don’t know why I bother. The veteran, Ulli is efficient to the nth degree, carrying a small backpack and walking very quickly. He stops to remove his poncho, stuffs it into his backpack, and is charging down the trail away from me at a rapid pace. I can’t hang with him and watch him disappear. Jennifer is right behind me, staying even with my pace, while Carolyn cruises by both of us. I meet Bob Boeder, somewhere between here and there, and we run while we swap stories. The trail begins to change, with quick little ups and downs, and creeks crossings. We appear to be descending. I pick up speed, losing Bob and Jennifer, and catching Carolyn. Together, we pick up even more speed and sprint madly down Cataract Gulch, passing Ulli. It looks and feels like we’re in a tropical rain forest. A waterfall rumbles loudly alongside us, rain is falling thick and heavy, and everything is dank and wet. We slip and slide over bush and boulder, through saturated bushes and trees hanging heavy with water. With every step, I can feel another bush deposit a bucket of water on my clothes. It’s a very steep downhill, and we chat it up while we sprint toward the Sherman aid station. You’d think we were having a leisurely discussion over tea and biscuits in a warm parlor somewhere in town. From Pole Creek, we had to climb back up over 12200ft Cataract Pole Pass before dropping 2500ft to Sherman at 31.6miles. We finally hit bottom, cross a log over Cataract Gulch Creek, and then another log across Cottonwood Creek. Carolyn opts for the low road and crosses through both creeks, while I dance across the logs. They’re round and wet with rain, as are my shoes, and I must be insane to even bother, but I cross without mishap. Rockin’ and Rollin’ with balance. Not bad for a thick, heavy clod. Joyce awaits me on the other side of the log and escorts me through the checkpoint to the car where my gear is. I change my socks, but keep the same wet Montrails, and load up additional warm gear in my pack for the coming night and Handies. It’ll be dark before I arrive at the next station, so I pack two flashlights also. I drink an Ensure, have a wedge of turkey sandwich, and move out. It’s 4:45pm when I leave, and I wonder if I’ll get over Handies before dark. After all, it’s only 4500ft of climb in 6miles to reach 14000ft.
Walking up the jeep road along Cottonwood Creek, the rain quits just as I catch Mike and Jeff Jensen of Denver. We have some lively conversation and learn that we have a mutual friend (Hollis Baugh), who attempted this event two or three years ago. At the jumping off point from road to trail, the brothers disappear ahead of me, while I stop to sit on a rock and get ready for this one. I roll up my raincoat, then my shirtsleeves, eat another sandwich, and then begin. The climb follows a wisp of a trail into Boulder Gulch, the most beautiful canyon of the entire course. With cascading waterfalls, mass quantities of wildflowers, groves of aspen and pines, and a background of mammoth rocks, this is easily my favorite section. The steep steady uphill march, and the scenery, steals my breath. I hear Jennifer Roach coming up behind me, wait for her, and then try to hang onto her as she move steadily uphill. Her consistency amazes me. Forever moving, never stopping, tiny steps, slow and efficient. If I let her go for just a moment, she’ll pull away and be gone. I force myself to stay with her, even ask her if she’d like to take a break at the ruins above treeline. She declines, liking her rhythm and wanting to hold it. We pass by the ruins, make for the base of the ridge, circle it, and start up. The Up-Chuck Ridge ascent is tough. At 13,000ft, we scramble up through tundra, and circumnavigate around a rock barrier on scree, hugging the underside of the rock, scrambling for a hold, and climbing back on top, Jennifer begins to pull away. I can’t match her stamina, her consistency. She continues, while I sit down to rest and look back off behind us. I can make out a few tiny dots of color moving below us. Others are now above treeline and visible to us, as we are to them. I move quickly and rest often, while Jennifer moves slowly and never rests. I could learn a few things from this lady. We pass a fellow at the base of the final ascent, sitting in a bed of rocks, struggling with the altitude. Up the final pitch, Jennifer slugs it out in work-like fashion, while I drop an anchor every few feet, trolling for air. I don’t linger, but I do stop a lot. We search the summit for the punch that Charlie wants us to use on our bibs, but it’s missing. Ready to descend, I pull up short. Something catches my eye, and then I realize, it’s sunset. The colors in the sky are brilliant, and changing hue as I watch. Looking around, shades and colors paint the mountains near and far. If not for the clear skies that we’re blessed with at this instant, we would have missed it all. This tiny moment in my life is worth the whole trip! This one, I will save for later. But, I’m not done yet. I want to see more. We start our descent into the American Basin, moving downhill quickly, rolling through a generous variety of spirals and switchbacks. Cutting through some large rocks just after Sloan Lake, about halfway down, sitting on the trailside, we find Chip Tuthill. He wants us to tell the next aid station he’s going to be awhile, and not to worry about him. He knows about the next climb out of the basin and isn’t in any hurry to get to it. What climb? I completely forgot we have to climb another 13er to escape the American Basin, even if it’s only 500ft from the basin. I was so focused on crossing Handies that it escaped my mind. I laugh out load at myself. Funny, I don’t remember being absent-minded. Well, I started out with nothing, and I still have most of it left. Jennifer gets her flashlight out and keeps on, while I start to bonk, and badly. I was doing so well, but I’m really struggling now, in the dark, trying to find the next peak. Carolyn comes up and passes me again, and then Ulli. Either a pattern’s developing or we’re playing leapfrog. As regular as rain, John Cappis catches me again, just as I reach the top of Grouse-American Pass. Stan Zychowski is with him, and together, we cross the snowfield through the pass, and drop into Grouse Gulch, descending 2200ft over 3 miles. The grass and rocks are wet with rain. Stan slips and falls numerous times, hitting the ground hard, while we slog on into the darkness. Looking for the lights of Grouse Gulch aid station, and talking about nothing in particular, John tries to decide which symphony would best describe the sunset on Handies we just witnessed. He settles on Beethoven’s symphony no 5 in C minor. Rounding a corner, we find a small city of lights ahead and below us. It’s a welcome sight at 10:45pm and 42.4miles. Joyce is waiting for me again and leads me into the station for a change of clothes, dry shoes & socks, long pants, and gloves. I load up on Ensure, chicken noodle soup, a sandwich, and some fruit. Paul’s going to pace me from here to Ouray, and he’s set to go. Twenty minutes later, we leave, taking John with us, dragging him out of the aid station tent.
The Alpine Loop is one of the area’s best known scenic jeep routes, and we get to follow it from here up to Engineer Pass at 12900ft. Unfortunately, the scenery is hidden in the dark, so we’re going to have to hear and feel this section. The North Fork of the Animas River rushes by on our left flank, while we force a fast march and study the stars. It’s a pretty night, if not a tad bit warm. Not nearly as cool as I expected. We remove our jackets, roll up our sleeves, and carry our hats in hand. Flashlights dot the darkness before and behind us. Blinking lights reach right up into the stars, as the increasing switchbacks in front of us become obvious in the darkness. John stops to visit his bear friends and we never do see him again. He sure misses a treat, as Paul starts to belt out a few tunes. Rock and Roll and Blues roll off his tongue as we collect our thoughts from the stars. In-between, we talk of trips, runs, kids, and cars. We travel to Switzerland, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Spain, while discussing the finer politics of bicycle racing in France. A couple of hobos without a care in the world. ‘Tis a memorable journey. Sooner than either of us expect, the summit comes down to meet us. I catch Carolyn again, just as we fall off the edge of the earth, down into the darkness. The trail through the tundra appears and disappears, but rarely is it worth running on. We run next to it, following the flags and avoiding the ditch, rut, or creek that it seems to be following. On a good downhill roll, with no good reason to stop, we don’t even slow down at the Engineer aid station. I yell out my number as we skim on by. 163, in and out. (49.8 miles). It’s 1:30am.
A couple of lights flick on behind us, as we go by, from Ulli Kamm, Todd Burgess, and Aki Inoue. Aki catches us quickly and disappears ahead of us, moving very fast. Descending rapidly on the Bear Creek trail, we pass through some of the most gorgeous scenery on the course, unfortunately, it’s very dark and all but invisible. I remember what it looked like from my last trip, and acting as Paul’s personal running tour guide, inform him of landmarks and ledges as we travel along. There’s a 500ft sheer drop to the creek below on your left, the trail disappears over a cliff, so stay right, and be careful, no tripping allowed. I also warm him about the bridge trolls and the Hardrock mine ghosts. Usually, Paul ignores all my lies, but I think he believes me this time, especially about the trolls. We keep an eye out for ghosts as we pass the Yellow Jacket and Grizzly Bear mines, but they let us pass, and the trolls have removed all the bridges except the big one at the highway. But, the cliffs are still there. There are many ways to fall off this trail, but we avoid ‘em all. We slow down and carefully work our way around the rock path cut into the cliff wall, and take care at numerous other places. We escape this wonderful and dangerous place unhurt and feeling pretty good. Our final switchback descent down to the highway-bridge crosses beds of thin rock chips that sound like broken glass when we step on them. They slip and slide across each other as we surf downhill on them. Rounding a corner, the lights of Ouray come into view. It’s quite a pretty sight, nestled in-between the massive mountains. It has that Christmas sort of feel to it. I think I’ll drop in and see how the kiddies are behavin’. We meet Susan Gardner and pacer on the glass switchbacks just before we cross the highway. A short distance later, we’re at the Uncompahgre River. The knee-deep water’s moving fast and we hold a fixed rope as we cross carefully. Afterwards, we climb a short steep hill and then follow the city’s water pipe line into town, meeting Bill Ramsey, going the wrong way. He turns around and runs with us through Box Canyon and into Ouray. 3rd to 2nd, left on 9th, past a large pile of dirt, cross a bridge, and enter the park. Dropping 5000ft over 8 miles is exhilarating, my energy level increasing as we go. I have a lot more air to breathe in Ouray at 7800ft. Joyce isn’t here, but my drop bag is, so I sit in the gazebo while I change my shoes & socks again. My 3rd pair of Montrail Vitesse feels as good as the other two, and my tootsies sure do like the feel of fresh clean socks. The sun will be up soon, so I ditch the long pants for shorts, but keep my favorite Patagonia mid-weight Capilene shirt. It’s worked well in the heat and the cold, and I hate to drop what’s working. Just don’t know what weather is gonna hit me next. Best to stick with what works well in everything. I drink another Ensure and eat a sandwich, while I talk with John Ferguson. John’s going to pace DeWalt from Telluride. DeWalt’s running strong and Ferguson’s only got a few hours to get there to meet him, so it’s time for him to fly. It’s such a long drive between stations here in the mountains, and without 4wd, it’s even longer. With 2wd, there are only a few stations you can get to in a reasonable amount of time. The plan is for Joyce to pace me the 16 miles from Ouray to Telluride. But, she’s missing, and it’s a long drive from there to here, and she’s not here. Paul gets ready to go out again, and I’m raising the sails when Joyce drives up, dressed and ready to go. Another few minutes and she would’ve missed the boat. Paul’s happy to check out for awhile, and makes some impromptu arrangements to get some sleep at Ferguson’s nearby home, while Joyce and I sail out of Ouray a 5am with 58 miles done. Imagine, 58 miles in 23 hours!
Almost always, energy fills my body when the sun comes up, and today is no different. My energy’s back on full, and I have some hop in my step, as we quick march out of Ouray with brand new life. I’m feeling good! River Rd and Oak St take us to Camp Bird Rd, where I catch up to Ken DeBeer again. Minutes later, Jan Gnass comes rolling out of the bushes from a short nap. Our proud troop of six, with runners and pacers, share an early morning sunrise chat and stroll. First glance would not reveal that we had a day and a night under our belts already, such is the mood. Joyce and I slowly pull ahead and connect with Mark and Margaret Heaphy, two of the nicest people we met. Margaret’s dozing on her feet, and we wake her. They pick up their pace to lock in with ours, and we continue together, putting the miles behind us while we share many insights. We pass Camp Bird, the Imogene turnoff, and Sneffles, stopping at the 62.5mile Governor’s Basin aid station at 7:50am.
The road turns a little more sharply uphill after we ford Sneffles Creek. We power through a few switchbacks, passing Aki Inoue, Bozena Maslanka, and pacer. Leaving the road, we climb a rough hillside to a path through the tundra. We continue together across rock and scree to the first of the three pitches of Virginius. Mark tells me this is his favorite part of the course, and he goes first, then Margaret, Joyce, and I. It’s a very steep rock and dirt climb, with plenty of toe and hand holes to get us up fairly clean. Atop the first pitch and crossing a snowfield, a couple from Tennessee, Leslie & Kerry join us. The 2nd pitch is all dirt and rock also, but not as clean as the first one. There’s a lot of loose rock and it’s a bit dangerous to go up in a group this large. Mark goes first again, followed by Margaret, then Kerry, Leslie, Joyce, and then me, last again. The Heaphys go up like vets, laterally across the face, but Kerry climbs strait up a rock filled chute, loosing a few rocks down on the rest of us. Leslie and Joyce scramble off laterally for a different tack and to avoid the rocks. I’m left hanging just a bit too long, and after getting bopped on the hand by a good size rock, I quickly shift laterally over to one side, below the ladies. By then, Kerry’s finally up and the remainder of the climb goes easily. We cross another snowfield to the final pitch, and the snow continues unbroken on up to the Gap in Virginius. Steps are cut into the snow and a rope hangs down about 90ft or so. We go up again in the same order. The steps are pretty deep and nobody slips. Each of us reaches the rope like ducks in a row, and pull ourselves the final rope length up into 68.4mile Kroger’s Canteen at 9:35am. They have a tiny shelter set up inside this tiny pass at 13000ft, and they greet us warmly as we come in. Odd that three married couples should all show up at this obscure place, all at the same time. But, then I realize that the Heaphys are gone. We just finished the longest climb of the course, rising 5300ft in 10 miles. Now, we’re going to drop over 4000ft in the next 4miles.
I slurp down a few orange wedges and step out the backside of the gap, down into the scree, surfing the rocks. Joyce figures it out pretty fast, follows me down the rocky slope and over to the Mendota Saddle. Inside the saddle, we see the Heaphys way down below us moving quickly. We run, slide, and surf down the switchbacks, passing a few people, as we drop below treeline. I’m starting to feel a hot spot in the center of my sole, so I find a nice shady stand of trees with a good seat on a large fall down. I remove my shoes and socks, and check my feet. They’re fine, but starting to get tender, so I put Compeed pads on both feet before taking off again. Much better! We catch the Heaphys again and they tell us to have fun because it’s downhill all the way into Telluride. They’re walking the entire event together, and it’s hard to believe how fast they’re moving. We charge ahead, letting our bones bounce and roll down the mountain at a rapid pace. Our first peek of Telluride is from a thousand feet up. Sure is a good-looking little town. Our old friend, Lyle Clugg of Montrose, has hiked up to get some action shots of us running in. We buzz him as we speed into town, Willow to Pacific, crossing the San Miguel River, and into the 73.7mile Telluride aid station at the town park at 11:20am. I can breathe great again at 8800ft and I’m really hungry, so I sit down eat. I drink three cokes, eat a sandwich, and snort a can of Ensure. I also change shoes and socks again, and trade in my old heavy Camelback HAWG for a lighter version. I unload some things, and add others. Paul wanted to be here to see how Joyce was handling the run and the altitude, and possibly take over if she was struggling, but we arrive an hour ahead of plan. Paul hasn’t arrived yet and Joyce wants to go back out again anyway, so this will work great. Mark and Margaret come in as we’re leaving and their Mom’s waiting for them with a large hot pizza. As I walk by, my mouth waters, craving what they’re eating. Oh, it smells so good.
An aid station worker escorts us across the park and directly to the trail. What fantastic service. Telluride has turned out in mass, and we find ourselves walking up a jeep road filled with hikers and families. We finally leave the road, hop a trail and follow a few hikers away from the crowd. One of the hikers joins us as we climb on up towards Wasatch Saddle, listening to Bear Creek as it sings to us. A light rain begins and it feels great. Our hiker friend turns back when we cross a large snowfield above treeline, and start climbing the tundra to a set of constantly higher switchbacks. As we get higher and higher, we get slower and slower. This climb isn’t as long as the last one, but it sure feels like it is, rising only 4000ft over 7miles. The rain turns to hail, but doesn’t last too long, and switches back to rain. The scenery is breathtaking. The mountains stack one on top the other into the distance, each one a slightly different shade than the previous, a stream cuts a tunnel under a snow pack, flowers open their faces to the rain, and the sun continues to shine, even in the rain and hail. We’re loving just being here right now. What an experience! Crossing a field, we climb a short saddle, and then we see that we aren’t even near the summit. On the Wasatch Trail and still climbing, well above treeline and not a soul in sight, in front or behind. It seems to take forever as one false summit after another teases us higher and higher. Cresting the final summit, a sign marks the spot on the Wasatch Saddle. We sit down for a breather and watch some kids riding motorbikes across the snow just south of us. We glissade across another snowfield and follow the flags up to the bikes. Climbing a series of snowfields towards the right and up along the ridge, we go from rock to snow and back again, until we climb the final ridge. We’re finally at 13000ft Oscar’s pass. A fantastic panorama presents itself before us, as an enormous valley opens up below us. Our next climb, Grant Swamp Pass, is visible just across the valley. A black cloud beats on the peak of a large mountain to the west, hammering away, and then it just disappears. Another cloud appears to be raining down on the valley just west of Ophir. Rain clouds are scattered about, but it looks like they’re all missing me for now. An instant, to take it all in, and then we drop into Chapman Gulch and begin to run. It ‘s a road of sorts, but steep and full of rocks. Rocks of all shape and size. I try to stop once, but can’t. It feels better to just go with it, so I do. Joyce trips and falls a few times, struggling with the rocks and the steep grade, so she tells me to just go. I pick up speed and continue to roll. Lyle is just ahead of me again, having hiked up to get some more pictures and I’m amazed to see him here again, this far up. I fly by as he snaps a few shots and says hi. I pass a few guys on the way down and keep going on into the 83.1mile Chapman Gulch aid station at 4:30pm. A 3000ft drop in less than 2 miles. Joyce comes in right behind me. One last time, I change my shoes and socks. I switch to Paul’s UD water-vest and load it up while I refuel with Ensure, watermelon, cookies, and a wedge of sandwich. Joyce is done pacing, and Paul gets himself ready to go again, while Joyce and Kathleen help me. Lyle shows up to take more pictures and then Ginny LaForme arrives also to see how we’re doing. It starts to rain before we’re done and we have our raincoats on as we walk out on our final plunge.
Grant-Swamp Pass sits between us and the next aid station at 12900ft, and it’s not going to be easy. 3000ft in 2 miles, punctuated with a final monster pitch. I know the rest of the course and feel quite comfortable navigating to the finish from here. I’m told it’ll take about 6 hours to KT and that means we’ll arrive after dark. I’m refueled and feeling good, pushing the climb, and making good time. Paul’s enjoying the scenery and having fun with it, as a smile fills his face, and he’s singing like a lark. Our jeep road turns into a creek, then into a trail. The dirt slowly turns to rocks, while the trees change to tundra. The rain comes and goes a few times before deciding to stay, but my feet have been soaked since the creek. I’m actually quite comfortable as my torso is dry and my core temp feels fine. Paul goes through a stick picking process, while we hike along. He picks up one, then another, discarding the first, and so on until he finds just the right sticks for us. He hands me one, and keeps the other. Never having used a walking stick for more than a few minutes, I don’t quite know what to do with it. It has knobs and nubs all over it, and keeps scraping my legs. I hold onto it and slowly get used to using it. Left handed, right handed, with both hands, going uphill, using it like a paddle to row myself upstream, and downhill as a third leg to keep from slipping on the wet tundra and rocks. I use it as a vault to take even longer strides on downhills, and generally have fun with learning how to use this new tool. Paul laughs at me as he sees me inventing new ways to use this stick that he hasn’t seen before. We follow Dave Capron for miles as he stays just ahead of us, until we reach the final climb up Grant-Swamp on the last little grassy pasture just under the face of the beast. Three people are on it now, and we watch as they jockey back and forth and seem to take a long time to go up such a short climb. But I know why. I remember what a struggle this was when I was fresh, two weeks ago. It’ll be a bit tougher now. One of the climbers goes too far up a dead end on the right and has to backtrack back down halfway, to go back up another direction. We button down our raincoats and prepare for the assault. The face is empty when we start, and I go first, then Paul, and then Dave. I try the same route I used two weeks ago but it’s no good. There’s no grip anywhere in the dirt. I slide backwards and abandon this route immediately. I move right, careful not to drop rocks behind me, and move up into the rocks. Everything moves and slides under me. I search for some place to plant and hold. I need to think this through, find a route. I can’t push off with my feet, only plant them lightly on loose rock, while I use my hands to find a rock that holds just a bit, to pull myself up another few feet. Paul and Dave are jockeying for positions just below me. I start to slide again and move laterally to stop. Suddenly the rain gets a big push from a very strong wind. A storm has just moved in and my raincoat slaps me in the face. I have to tighten everything down, shove my hat in my pocket or I’ll lose it. Paul and Dave do the same. I see a route to my right through the bigger rocks and take it, crawling quickly on toes and hands for 15ft and I move quickly and then stop. Dead-end! I go quickly to my left 10ft across the loose red dirt and rock to the left side, plant, rest and then shoot up another 15ft along the left side. I find the bottom edge of the rock wall and climb along the edge until I’m forced out into the dirt again. I stop, plant, rest, and then make my final push quickly up and over the edge. The entire process takes 30minutes, but it seems much longer, as I want to stop and rest on top. A hard wind slams me from the south, coming up and over the ridge into my face, pushing me backwards. I turn my back and dig in, snug down my raincoat hood and put on my waterproof gloves. Paul and Dave come up together and they get the same rough treatment. Paul’s lost his rain poncho in the onslaught and he’s soaking wet. We stagger along the ridge on top of Grant-Swamp Pass, Swamp Canyon behind us and Island Lake before us, and we stop just for an instant to drop a rock near Joel’s plaque. Then we step off the ledge into the scree and ski down the rocks towards Island Lake. I move quickly, dropping hundreds of feet, in a hurry to find treeline, to escape the storm in its protection. Paul hurries after me and we lose Dave. We gain the lower Ice lake Basin and continue to sprint down the trail. The storm surrounds us as we pass three people in our mad dash down to the trees. Eventually, we make the basin and enter the trees, and only then, do we stop to get a drink. Our furious struggle up and over Grant-Swamp Pass inside the storm was such that we never once stopped to take a drink, or even relax until just now. My god, but this valley is gorgeous. We start again, just as fast, but more aware of our surroundings now, pointing out different scenes, waterfalls, rock faces, and such, on into the marsh. We hit the Kamm Traverse running and keep running right on down into the 89.6mile KT aid station at 7:45pm, stopping only once to study some extremely colorful flowers. Paul’s clothes are all wet, so we beg a trash bag from Lisa, and I have an extra jacket in my pack he can use. He’d be in trouble for our final climb above treeline in wet clothes after dark, but it looks like he should be ok now. There are a half dozen runners in the KT aid station, some in sleeping bags. I decline the warmth. I want to top off my water, get Paul taken care of, and get moving while my core temp is still comfortable as it is. Colin Kingsford and Hans Dieter are the only folks I recognize, and they’re preparing to leave.
We still have an hour of daylight left and want to get as far as we can with it. Once it gets dark, we’ll slow considerably. We move quickly, matter of factly, up the road, over the berm, and through the south fork of Mineral Creek. Out of the creek and through the mud to Silverton here we come. Under the trees, the rain’s more comfortable, as we climb up next to the Twin Sisters for a visit. Rounding her base just under treeline we move through a pasture and across Porcupine Creek. After just a short distance, we make the base of our final ascent just as it gets dark. I point out our route to Paul as the light fades into darkness. There will be little to no trail and completely exposed until we cross both peaks and began our last descent. The scrub on the hill has grown in the last two weeks and it’s difficult making our way up the correct route through the maze. Someone’s up on the slope, and we climb quickly up to him. A fellow, just standing there on the trail. I ask who it is, but he doesn’t say. Paul asks also, receives the same odd response. I shine my light on the stranger and find good ol’ John DeWalt. Where’s Ferguson, I ask him? He’s trying to find the route, John says. You’re on it, I tell him, and shine my light on the markers ahead to the right. Ferguson, DeWalt’s pacer, comes back down and we move up the trail together, but Paul and I push ahead and they disappear behind us in the darkness. As we climb higher, we climb right up inside the rain cloud and it gets darker and darker. We can barely make out the markers, but Paul has an uncanny sense and great eyes, because we don’t slow much. We surge on up onto Porcupine, just west of Cataract Gulch, and well above treeline, while the storm is stuck right here with us in it. We drop across a snowfield and circumnavigate Cataract Gulch on the south side, cross the high plain and start up the tundra on the west side of Putnam. It takes forever and the wind grows even more fierce as we near the summit. We follow the flags to the right along the ridge and stay just above them, as I remember a drop off just below one section of the flags. I don’t want to be anywhere near it, and all the trails up here lead to the same point on the summit anyway. Finally reaching this point at 12800ft, we race over it and drop into a bowl, passing some flashlights in the darkness. I can’t see the people behind the lights, and we go right past them. At the bottom of the bowl, we bend to the left and start back north as we slowly drop further down into the basin and the final aid station. We flow into a forest of skunk cabbage and pass another couple of lights followed by some fairly large shadows. We’re moving quickly and the lights slip behind us. We drop through a creek, into the trees, and finally 95.8mile Putnam, the final aid station at 10:45pm. We stop to get Paul some coffee, a quick two minute break and then gone.
It’s pretty much all downhill from here, with nothing more above treeline. It’s finally a done deal and we practically dance with glee as we skitter downhill quickly with zip and zing. We're really movin’ now. The rain and wind are much lighter now, and Paul’s singing again. Bear Creek’s a scream as we blow through it as quick as we dare, dropping down through the darkness, passing a few more folks, including my friend Mike Price. We finally land at Mineral Creek, cross in the dark without incident, skip across highway 550 and climb Nute's Chute to the railroad bed and the powerlines. We now have 100 miles behind us and only this final spurt on into Silverton. We pass two more guys just after the punch, and then dance onto the Christ of the Mines dirt road. Up the road, we fly, just now realizing that the rain has stopped, or maybe we just ran out from under it. We turn at the Christ of the Mines, drop into town onto 10th St., make a left on Snowden, and approach the backside of the gym in a complete state of euphoria. Joyce yells out of the darkness, and Paul yodels back. We’re home! We round the corner of 12th St and approach ‘The Hard Rock’ in complete darkness. I kiss ‘The Hard Rock’ and it’s done. Final time of 42:53:30. It’s 12:53am. Just after midnight. (101.7 miles)
I get a hearty handshake from Dale and then Joyce escorts me into the Gym where I shower and relax on the bleachers. I get to see a few more folks finish, including Mike Price, before Joyce walks me back to the Teller House and some welcome sleep.
Whoa, just a minute. The real story began well before Hardrock started. I had a few ideas on how to get ready for this event, with altitude, of course, being the most important. I made arrangements for time off work, hotels, and travel. Two weeks was as good as I could get and it was much more than I had ever done before. With all the climbing and descending, the next best thing I could do was to get as strong as I could. I hit the gym every weekday for an hour, working my upper body, and, every Tuesday, I did downhill specific training. I found the biggest and steepest hill In Austin, and sprinted downhill as hard as I could, walking back up. Glenn Hamilton and I ran these for ten miles each Tuesday. My quads and shins were trashed for awhile, but got much stronger over the months. And the final piece of my plan was to learn as much as I could about the route so that I didn’t get lost. Arriving two weeks early to help mark the course seemed to be the best answer for all of my questions. I could learn the course from the course designers, while I got acclimated, and got in some good mountain experience.
I pulled down the time stats from the previous race in the ccw direction, two years ago, to use as reference. My crew and pacer could use it to calculate how long it typically takes most runners to get between any two stations. The accumulative time was not usable, but the split times were a gem. We tried to guess where I would be during day and night, but gave up, deciding to wait and see how the race would develop for me. I cut the top ten (super-humans) off and threw it away, and removed all the non-finishers also, leaving only 26 people with times. I made a few changes, adding clock time, real time, mountain passes, daylight, dark, and so on. I enlarged it, made two copies, and laminated both sets. These sheets will be our run bible, not written in stone, but better than nothing.
I drove from Austin to Albuquerque a tad more than two weeks early, stopping to overnight with an old friend in Albuquerque. I arrived just as Donnie was leaving for a run in the foothills of the Sandia Mtns. After ten hours of driving, it felt good to stretch my legs a bit, and at 5000 feet, it’s my first step up in altitude. The next morning, I leave early, landing in Silverton at high noon. I climb out of the van, and immediately sit down on a nearby bench. At 9300 feet, I’m already sucking air. Silverton is quaint, clean, and pleasant, with an old fashioned charm to it. Every direction I look is up. Mountains surround the town completely. Kendal, Sultan, Anvil, and others provide quite a breathtaking sight. I made arrangements to stay at the St. Paul Ski Lodge 10 miles north of Silverton, near Red Mtn Pass, on 550 for five nights at 11000ft. I found the owner, Chris George, in town, and he leads me up to show me around the place. It was isolated, very rustic, and high! I knew it was smarter to sleep low, and get high during the day, but the price was right and I needed a crash course in altitude, so I jumped on it. The place is empty, but for me and one uninvited guest. A marten has taken ownership of the place, and keeps me up as he roots around the place. I go downstairs to see about scaring him off, but the little bugger is tough and won’t run from me. Ol’ Marten and me reach an agreement. He stays out of my room and I leave him alone. But, I can still hear him all night, while I’m trying to sleep. Between the altitude and Marten, I don’t get much sleep.
Day 2, Saturday, June 24. I show up at Charlie’s house on Reese St in Silverton at 7am, but nobody’s in a hurry today as they head for breakfast at the Chattanooga Cafe. An hour later, we begin with the last 12-mile section, Kamm Traverse to Silverton. Ten of us carry course-marking poles as we hike up Porcupine and Putnam. Being fresh out of the lowland hills of Texas, I’m moving rather slow. But, being in the mountains, surrounded by fields of wild flowers, sure does help me adapt. First thing Charlie has us do, is get our feet wet in a creek crossing, followed by a mud bog. The sludge just about sucks my shoes off. Hey, this is gonna be fun. Charlie’s eyes are constantly scanning the landscape, looking for more interesting routes. Must be the kid in him. Somebody points out a high and dry trail around the bog, and he reminds us that this is a closed course and we have to follow the markers. He seems to be having a lot of fun with this. Anyway, everywhere we look, it’s just gorgeous, and I quickly forget my wet and muddy feet. Our route wanders haphazardly through a dense stand of trees. Stopping to move a blow down off the trail, we rock it back and forth until we can twist of off the trail. Wandering through the trees for some time, we eventually reach the base Porcupine. As we cross the creek, the trail disappears in the scrub, so we work our way strait up the side through some seriously soggy tundra. It feels like sponges under our feet. A hundred yards up, we find a trail, and make our way to the right, stopping to examine a really unusual boulder which appears to be a composition of many different kinds of rocks. This entire area is all swamp and marsh, littered with large boulders and tundra, which we climb up and over, as we pass treeline. Reaching the summit, we can see the next mountain just on the other side of Cataract Gulch, directly in our path. Our route circumnavigates around the south side of this enormous hole in the ground, crossing a muddy elk wallow and a few snowfields, prior to the next climb. Again, it’s a non-trail tundra climb. We make our way past a snowfield, hanging next to a cliff on our way up to the top of Putnam. On top, we make our way to the apex, where we sit down for a bite to eat. Our break’s cut short by dark clouds approaching rapidly, as we pick it up and pack on downhill as quickly as possible for treeline. The terrain changes rapidly, from tundra to high pasture to skunk cabbage fields, as we descend in the rain. With cliffs all around, we work right and left for the best possible route down into the trees. The last aid station would be right here at the edge of treeline. The descent continues on slick grass and muddy trail into the trees. A loud creek rumbles to our right, parallel to us. It’s a feeder from Putnam down into our next eye opener, Bear Creek itself. A 500ft drop down a steep scree slope to the creek from the tiny trail we’re on. This was the first place I heard the phrase “trip & you die!” It would not be the last time I heard this. Approx. three miles of rocky strait-line traverse down into the trees and then a short pleasant pine needle covered ride to Mineral Creek for another water crossing. We left a few cars on the highway here. The trail marking is done for the day, but a few of us want to see Nute’s Chute and the final 2 miles to the finish. So we continue across the road, and up the hillside to the abandoned railroad track under the powerline, and the flattest trail I see all day. Just before town, we turn left onto a dirt road that climbs slowly up behind Silverton. At the Christ of the Mines, we make a right onto a short trail down into town on 10th St. A quick left on Snowden and we were behind the gym. Another right on 12th St and the finish line in front of the gym. I hope to be able to repeat this in another two weeks. I have dinner at Handlebars with Rich Limacher and then back up to the lodge for some sleep. The Marten leaves me alone tonight. Sleep still doesn’t come easy.
Day 3, Sunday, June 25. We go after the section from Chapman to KT today. In the middle of this relatively tame route, I learn about Grant-Swamp Pass. Rock climbers would probably think this is a minor challenge, but for me, this wall is tough to climb, and requires a good deal of arm and hand strength. It’s easier to find a piece of rock or dirt to grab and pull yourself up on, than to push up with your feet. Everything moves when you touch it. I plant my foot and an entire section of scree starts to slide under me. I switch to the other side and I start to slide backwards. I freeze and stop moving. I search the face, looking, thinking of another direction, another method. I reach out with my hand and feel the rocks above me, searching for one that’s not loose. Finding one, I pull myself up with my hand, staying light on my feet. I use this method to move up another 20 feet, but run out of rocks. I move left laterally to another line of rocks and do the same. Constantly, I freeze, look, slide a little backwards, move laterally, spring forward a few feet, and repeat. The entire process takes only 20 or 30 minutes, but it feels like an eternity to be frozen rigid with all my muscles tense for so long. Once on top, I roll on my back and just lay there exhausted. Can I do this during the run after 75 miles and 30 hours of work? It’ll be tough, no doubt! We visit Joel’s plaque on top before moving on. Getting down is almost as entertaining as going up. I’m considering the best way down, when Jennifer Roach just steps off the ledge and starts to ski down the scree like it’s snow. The technique is so simple and amazing, that I have to try it myself. Each time I slow or stop, I simply take a step and start again. We move downward, quickly, cleanly, and efficiently. More fun! Island Lake is just below and quite a pretty sight. We move to the left of it, continuing down until we find a trail which switches and spirals on down into the trees. We connect on a major trail and then back off again, through a boggy area and then onto the Kamm Traverse. An exposed strait line ledge that runs for miles until it finally dips down into the valley floor below to a road where the trail and road connect is where the KT aid station will be. From here, we hike back down to our cars and ride back to Silverton. Today, I have dinner with Charlie, John Cappis, John Dewalt, Steve, and Rollin Perry, then go home to see how Marten is doing. He’s missing again today, and in an odd sort of way, I miss him. Reminds me of waiting up late for my teenage kids to come home. Lots of mixed emotions distorting my thinking.
Day 4, Monday, June 26. Today, we mark the first 15 miles of the course, from Arrastra to Maggie Gulch, crossing both, Little Giant and Buffalo Boy Passes. Both climbs are mostly on jeep road, but the descents are quite different and stimulating. Little Giant takes awhile but isn’t too difficult and the descent is pretty quick, with tight little switchbacks. We can see where the aid station would be, below us, and a stream to cross just before getting to it. The road up to Buffalo Boy takes forever and it starts raining on us as we near the top. We take cover inside the old abandoned mine near the summit to change into warmer clothes and rain gear as it’s cold to the bone. After everyone gathers, we continue the final pitch as the rain lightens up, and we warm up. The top’s covered with a colorful flower filled pasture and a single gravestone. We cross the field, drop down a short saddle and back up the other side, before descending to a rocky apex. We can again see where the aid station would be, a good distance below us. This descent is steep, over tundra, in a direction that I wouldn’t have guessed to proceed. You can’t slide very well on tundra, even when wet, so we sort-of hop, step, and slide down the hillside. We drift to the left, cross a small creek, and find a trail, which leads us to a jeep road, dropping us to the bottom. This evening, I share dinner with Ginny LaForme, Bozena Maslanka, Steve Pattillo, and Rich Limacher. Marten is waiting for me when I get home. I have my food and gear in a cold storage lock up, and he can’t get to it, but he’s all over everything else. We talk for a few minutes, but like most teenagers, I don’t think he’s listening, and he just wanders off and ignores me. I told Chris George, the lodge owner, about Marten a few days ago, so he’s put out a trap with bait. I get a few minutes of sleep tonight.
Day 5, Tuesday, June 27. Today, is the big one, Sherman to Grouse, crossing Handies Peak and American-Grouse Pass, with American Basin in-between. The jeep ride over Cinnamon pass was warning enough that I should have realized what would follow. I had the pages I downloaded from the Hardrock website with me, about the Alpine Loop, and surrounding jeep roads. I come across the following text and read them out load to John, while he drove: “WARNING! This is probably the most difficult and dangerous pass in the country. Only very experienced 4wd drivers should attempt this pass. Vehicle damage is very likely. Do not use this pass in a rented jeep” I ask John if he’s experienced, he says yes! I ask if this jeep is rented, and he replies, no! I ask if this is Black Bear Pass Rd, he says no, it’s not far from here, over off Red Mt. But, we can go that way if you want! No, thanks! Ophir Pass and Cinnamon Pass are more than enough for me already. John’s Exterra is loaded with people and gear, with big ol’ Rich Limacher crammed into the back with the gear, and he’s getting beat to death on every bump and switchback. The rest of us get to experience some phenomenal scenery, while John plays with his truck, and Rich just hangs on. The Sherman aid station will be in this pretty little glade, with lots of shade trees, a creek with plenty of water, and a large log crossing it that they call a footbridge. Mark and Margaret Heaphy are waiting here to join our party. Our route begins by following Cottonwood Creek up a rugged jeep road for a few miles. Bozena decides to check out her running swim shorts in a shallow creek, just before we turn off the road. We hop a tiny wisp of a trail that switches upwards into Boulder Gulch and some of the most beautiful cascading waterfalls I’ve ever seen. Above treeline, we cross a high plain surrounded by towering ridges and snowmelt streams, stopping for a break at the ruins of an old building. A bit further, we circled to the right of a large backbone of a ridge that’s fondly known as Up-Chuck Ridge. We get to the far side of it, when Charlie says ‘right here’, and we go strait up, on all fours, through the tufts of tundra and protruding rocks. There is no trail. The scramble levels off just a tad, and we can walk upright again, but we continue to climb. Until, we reach another obstacle. A rock barrier, which we slip around and under to the left, sliding on scree, hanging on rock, and digging for a grip to climb back up on the other side again. What a hoot. I call it Charlie’s Chuckle on Up-Chuck Ridge. Makes me want to laugh. On top of the ridge again, it starts to snow. Small pretty little flakes, soft on my face, cold on my tongue. The wind picks up and the snow begins to get thicker, stinging my face and hands. I put on my raincoat and warm Capilene gloves, but the gloves aren’t waterproof, and soon they’re soaking wet. In short order, my hands are freezing. On a rock shelf above 13,000ft, near the highest point on Up-Chuck Ridge, the twelve of us find enough room for protection from the wind and the snow. Our perch offers us a phenomenal view of Grizzly Gulch, but after a fifteen-minute wait for the storm to abate, we decide to start moving again. We’re getting cold just sitting still and need to be moving to stay warm. With a whole new distraction and a renewed determination, I’m moving much quicker now, heading towards Handies Pk. With no thought of altitude or breathing, I charge up Handies to 14,000ft, while the storm settles into an odd reticent silence. A few of us reach the summit, but our group has split in half. We huddle together to keep warm while we wait for the others. My hands are frozen, so I remove my wet gloves and stick my hands inside my shirt. It gives me the shivers until my hands finally warm up again. Ten minutes pass, but only a few of the others have arrived, when we see another big dark cloud moving rapidly for us. Times up folks, it’s time to get down now! We sprint towards the American Basin, but the storm cloud, along with wind and snow hits us hard and fast. We’re forced to pull up on the lee side of another wall, just a hundred feet lower than the Handies summit, with our knees just inches from a large snow cornice. Like a pack of newborn pups, seven of us huddle together for warmth, while the wind screams over the saddle, between Handies and us. We can see the rest of the group making the final ascent on Handies just as a dark cloud completely blots out the summit. We shiver, shake, and wait for the storm to let up, but can’t see or feel any lessening after an hour, and decide to remove ourselves from this perch. The fact that our party is still split causes some concern and anxiety, but frozen toes and fingers are starting to concern us as well. When we see two shapes, the Heaphys, heading back down the Mountain the way they came, we know its time to go. We rise to leave, when we see the rest of them coming down Handies towards us. We wait for Charlie and his group to arrive. Charlie plans to continue marking, but many of us are shivering and he wants to get us off the mountain quickly. Carolyn Erdman knows the way, so we follow her lead, sprinting down the mountain with bricks for toes and frozen fingers. Can’t imagine the result of a face plant right now, but I’m not sure if I’d use my hands to break my fall or not. In ten minutes, we’re in the American basin and out of the storm. Not sure if the storm has left or we left the storm, either way, we’re hundreds of feet lower and quite a bit warmer. Things happen quickly at 14,000ft. Don’t know if we’re in for more or not, so we continue to push until we climb up and out of the American Basin and descend into Grouse Gulch. And now, it’s a wonderful warm summer day. So we stop in a pasture next to a creek to relax, eat, trade stories, and wait for Charlie and his tough troop of marking men. Of course, they give us hell for leaving them so abruptly, but it’s all in good fun, and we continue down Grouse Gulch together. Back at the truck, another adventure begins. A marmot has climbed inside the hood of Rollin’s truck and won’t leave. After trying to extract him for 30 minutes without success, Rollin decides to leave him there for the drive back into Silverton. Hours later, Rollin finally gets him out of his truck, and neither Rollin nor the marmot are very happy. I have dinner in town with the gang again and get back to the lodge late. The trap has been sprung, the bait’s gone, and the cage is empty. Marten has been busy while I was gone. Tonight’s going to be my last night here at the lodge, so I load up most of my stuff in the van. I’ll grab the final things in the morning. I settle in for the night, but I can hear Marten bouncing around the place downstairs. It’s going to be one of those nights again. Then he decides to go exploring and I can hear him in the walls, floorboards, and ceiling. I need some sleep and this is too much, so I load up my final belongings and leave, drive down into Silverton and park in front of Charlie’s house. I shift a few things about and settled into my sleeping bag for a few Zs before sunrise. Good night Marten and good luck.
Day 6, Wednesday, June 28. The route today is from Maggie to Sherman. I wake much too soon and a bit crickity from too little sleep and an odd sleeping position. I clean up in Charlie’s place and putz around the house while the marking folks come and go. I decide to skip today’s planned activities and head on over to Ouray instead. John Ferguson said I was welcome to stay with them a few days and it’s time to take him up on it. I need some rest. My throat’s sour, voice is gone, body sore, and I’m exhausted. The million dollar highway is one spectacular drive and not for the timid. Hairpin turns, sheer drops, and no guardrails. The locals say the guardrails would ruin the view, and they prefer it the way it is, like the mountains: dangerous but pretty. I sleep all the way to John’s anyway, so it doesn’t bother me a bit. John’s gone when I arrive, so I go exploring Ouray and find ‘The Hot Springs’. And, oh what a find! My body practically melts in the 105degree mineral water, and I enjoy an hour-long relaxing soak. It does my old body so perfectly right and I practically melt into john’s living room and dissolve into the sofa. John and Vivian treat me to a great home cooked meal, and then I’m off to bed. I try to sleep, but my throat ‘s so dry, I roll and cough all night.
Day 7, Thursday, June 29. I go strait to the convenience store first thing in the morning, for cough syrup, Advil, and throat lozenges. After breakfast, I shower, load myself with medication and go back to bed. I sleep like a rock for hours. Later, when I wake, John drives us up Camp Bird Road to Governor’s Basin and Virginius Pass. We make it almost to the final road before we hit snow and have to stop. We try to pick out the pass, but really don’t know where it is exactly, so we turn for home and then back to the hot springs again for another soaking. We have a great meal in town and I’m back in bed again, for my first really good night of sleep in seven days.
Day 8, Friday, June 30. Governor’s Basin over Virginius to Telluride is today’s plan, but I’m still feeling a bit puny, and my voice is still gone, so I skip out again. Another great night of sleep follows.
Day 9, Saturday, July 1. John DeWalt joins us for breakfast. Afterwards, we drive up to the 550 overpass to begin our hike up Bear Creek trail to Engineer Pass. Some of the most spectacular vistas I’ve ever seen are along this trail. Just a mile in, and we’re on a trail that’s hugging the walls so tight that the rock bulges out into a ceiling over our heads, and the drops are so steep and sheer that I’ll bet I could hit the water without bouncing even once. Bear Creek frolics along well below us, only a misstep away. The trail isn’t strait, and it isn’t flat either. We follow the contour of the cliff walls as we weave our tiny tapestry up into the valley. The creek eventually comes up to meet us, and along the way, we pass the Yellow Jacket and Grizzly Bear mines. Long abandoned and left to rust, old boilers and steel wheels sitting in a bed of rotten planks. John tells me, “how the miners get these enormous pieces of machinery up this trail is a wonder”. Leaving the creek, we drift through a mountain valley meadow filled with wild flowers and aspen. A few bubbling brooks pass over the trail, but we easily step over each of them. We clear treeline and enter tundra, but the trail continues. The pass becomes obvious, and we leave the trail to follow the markers strait up through the tundra to the top. John and John move on ahead while I begin to wilt. My energy’s at an all time low and I struggle with this relatively easy climb. I stop every few feet and sit down, dizzy. Both Johns are up and over while I struggle for another half-hour. They check every so often, but my progress is slow. Is it the 7day altitude adjustment slump? Yuk! I want my energy back. Eventually, I crawl over the ledge on top and find a jeep road right on top, leading up from the other side. A jeep honks at me to get out of the road where I’m laying. I oblige and lay down again on the roadside. I’m trashed! J&J let me be for ten minutes before they bounce over the ledge to head back home again. I follow, running downhill alongside DeWalt. Somebody told him that the winner did this section two years ago in 1:25. He can’t believe it, and wants to run the whole thing hard just to see if it’s possible. He disappears around a bend, while Ferguson and I continue together at a more casual rate. We bump into Blake and Rebecca Woods along the way, talk for a few minutes and start anew. It takes us four hours to go up, and less than two hours to get down. DeWalt has been waiting at his van for 25 minutes. I want to see the final section into Ouray, so Ferguson drives home while DeWalt and I continue on down, cross the Uncompahgre River and enter town. We walk back to Ferguson’s house and then drive back for DeWalt’s van.
After lunch, I pack up and drive to Lyle Clugg’s house in Montrose. Lyle’s anxious to show me his little corner of the world, so we immediately load up his car and drive to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Along the way, we stop to watch a pair of Mountain Goats grazing on a rock ledge overhanging the highway. Lyle takes me on a few of his favorite hikes around the rim, but I’m losing ground quickly. My energy level has been sinking all day and it’s getting lower. I feel like Gumby as I follow Lyle along the trail. There’s nothing left. Empty! He’s full of energy and I’m monosyllabic. We stop for a Schlotzskys dinner, and then I hit the sack and doze like a baby.
Day 10, Sunday, July 2. Lyle has early morning plans for us, but I’m not waking up, so he lets me sleep in, while he reads the Hardrock race manual. I eventually wake at 8am, and after a quick breakfast, Lyle asks if I’m up for a ride. Not knowing what’s in store, I agree. 300 miles later, we’ve seen Colorado State Park, Grande Mesa, dined at Joe Cocker’s Mad Dog Fountain Café in Crawford, and circled the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We arrive back at home shortly after dark. I intermittently sleep, walk, and ride, but I’m essentially a zombie the entire day. Lyle says he has to work tomorrow, and I tell him I have to get back to altitude. I’ve had enough rest and need to get back to the plan. I’m sure Lyle wonders how I’m going to run 100 miles if I get tired from simply riding in his car. I sleep very well again.
Day 11, Monday. July 3. Telluride to Oscar is the route today. I sleep in and skip it again. My goal now is to get my strength back and stay healthy. I stop in Ouray to browse the outfitter’s store and then skip over to Silverton. I rent a room for the night at the Avon, and then have lunch with Charlie Thorn and his wife at the Brown Bear Café. I feel much better today. I have a thoroughly relaxing and lazy day, topped with a great night of sleep. I feel like I’ve passed the final threshold of altitude adjustment. My breathing’s comfortable, my throat’s better, and my energy’s back!
Day 12, Tuesday, July 4th. I wake early to help with the Silverton 10K. The race goes well and I find an old friend (Sheena Carswell) up from Durango for the run. Afterwards, I have breakfast at the Chattanooga Café and then join in the 4th of July Parade as part of the Hardrock contingent. We march down the middle of Green St while fire trucks wage a water fight behind us. They try to hit each other but miss often enough to take out a few bystanders on the parade route. What a hoot! I have to meet my wife, Joyce, in Durango in a few hours, so I leave town heading south. Joyce arrives on time, and she’s shocked to see my beard. I haven’t shaved since leaving Austin and my beard’s getting pretty nasty looking. We dump the rent car and locate a great Restaurant for dinner in Durango, before returning to Silverton. We do a quick drive through in Silverton, and then on to Ouray, and the Ferguson’s place, arriving just in time for the fireworks. Ouray does it up big for the 4th of July. They attach flares to all the jeeps in town and they descend into down from high up on the million dollar highway, so that you can see them from anyplace in town. We sit in front of John’s place and watch the madness as they beep, honk, and yell all the way down the mountain. The fireworks display is as spectacular as any I've ever seen. The echoes off the mountain walls make it even more stupendous, while the colors fill the sky, which is already full of mountains. It’s quite a show. An hour afterwards, we’re asleep in bed. After so many nights of cheap sleep, I’m finally getting all the rest I need. I’m back up to snuff and feeling grand.
Day 13, Wednesday, July 5. Back to Silverton in the morning, where I have reservations at the Triangle Hotel. I check in at the gym and get tagged with a wristband, just like any endangered species. Scott Eppleman and his girlfriend, Kelly, join us for lunch. Later, we join Tyler Curiel and family, Scott, Kelly, Blake and Rebecca Wood for dinner at Handlebar’s. We’re in our hotel by 7pm, where I spend a few hours before bed preparing my drop bags.
Day 14, Thursday, July 6. Scott and I attend Charlie & John’s long version of the trail briefing for 2 hours while Joyce and Kelly hike up Kendall Mountain. Afterwards, we meet for a pizza lunch and then the final mandatory meeting. We deposit our drop bags and then meet for yet another meal. Seems like I’m eating another meal every two hours. In-between meals, we move over to the Teller House for our final bivouac, and then join Tyler, Scott and entourage for dinner at the Pickle Barrel. Settling in for the night, I make my final preparations for the morning. Paul Schmidt and his wife, Kathleen, arrive late from San Diego and check in a few doors down from us. Better friends I couldn’t ask for. They’ve flown in just to crew and pace for me. They’re tired from their trip, and slip off to bed, as do we. I sleep like a baby again.
Day 15, Friday, July 7. Day of the Hardrock. I have a pancake and egg breakfast at the Grand Imperial Hotel at 5am, from some very friendly people. It’s just across the street from where I’m staying and it takes only minutes. Afterwards, Paul, Kathleen, and Joyce walk over to the start with me. It’s only two minutes from the hotel and everything so far has gone according to plan.