Silverton to Kamm Traverse- 11.6mi
‘Only those who risk going too far can possibly know how far they can go’ -T.S. Eliot
Silverton can no longer contain us. Our horde of a hundred plus briskly busts loose at 6am and rumbles toward the mountains. Reining in my energy, I walk out of town with Jan Gnass and Bill Rideg. With no one behind us, John Cappis walks us out to the Christ of the Mines. Strolling through the aspens on a very fine dry morning, Nute’s Chute leads us up an old abandoned railroad bed just east of The Million Dollar Highway. Two easy miles before we drop to the highway. A raucous crowd waits for us to cross, while Dale stops traffic. Slogging through spongy marsh to a 30 foot fixed rope, we slip into the fast moving snowmelt of Mineral Creek. With both my compatriots on line, I avoid the jerking and bouncing rope and wade the shallow but bitter cold stream. A shiver runs through my body and shakes loose, tingling as the numbness flees. We join Hans-Dieter in conversation as Bear Creek Trail begins gently between Bear and Sultan mountains. In a thick growth of tree and scrub, the ground is soft and forgiving. This soon turns to large knife edged rocks, underfoot and all around, not a soft place to land for acres. The trail traverses the south face of Bear Mt. and falls away through a sea of rocks to Bear Creek far below. Turning into a high meadow with better footing, we pass a large mess of elk carcass. We hook up with Rollin Perry, Andrea Feucht, Steve Pero, and Deb Reno. We take our time, rising slowly above treeline, where a vast panoramic beauty opens before us and fills my senses. A large high valley filled with skunk cabbage and singing streams. My perspective shifts from brainless conversation to deep thought. Soaking in the sights and thoughtlessly following the line of people in front of me, I miss the blind split in waist high cabbaggery. Fifty yards back, someone yells out and I know instantly. Waking up and turning quickly uphill, I’m back on trail in two minutes. I knew about that split and missed it anyway... daydreaming. Gotta pay attention or this whole thing will end quick and ugly. Lemmings in a row, following blindly, once in back, now in front. I’m moving slower than these folks, and I’m soon in back again. We dip down to cross a creek, over a hump, and into a bog. Putnam Basin opens to our left with it’s sheer walls all around, but we’re making for the saddle in front of us. Rising ever slower to the saddle, I turn right and climb a larger, steeper rise filled with brilliant yellow, red, white, and purple wildflowers. My line of lemmings have gone on leaving me to enjoy the view in the silence of the wind. I sit down to catch my breath while I drink an Ensure and relax. Retrospection done and food consumed, I pack up and beat time across the ridge and down into the saddle. Putnam to my left, Cataract to the right, my route rides a rib between the two, the scene so striking that Sherry Mahieu chose this view into Putnam as the finisher’s print. I fly down quickly, swoosh across the snow and muck in the saddle, and land on Cataract-Porcupine Pass. Another fine view spreads before me, which I roll through on a zigzag course of high marsh and scattered rocks. Halfway into Porcupine Creek basin and making lots of noise, dragging my butt across all size of composite rock and splashing through mud, my friend Max Welker hears me coming and moves out of harm’s way. Through Porcupine Creek and into the trees, the trail offers a gentle rolling descent. Only the humpback on one of the Twin Sisters slows my descent before the spinning freefall begins anew. ‘Come back here’, Jennifer Roach yells as I ricochet by, but, it’s hard to stop a big rock once it starts to roll downhill. Best just to get out of the way and wait until it hits bottom. I ping down the tight switchbacks in rapid fire fashion ‘til I land in the muddy bog just prior the creek. Sinking to my knees in sludge, I high step through the muck and into the creek at the bottom. Icy cold water washes the mud away. Jim Ballard and Mike Dobies cross just in front of me, climb quickly, and disappear. A hundred yard climb fetches the jeep road that takes me to the Kamm Traverse aid station.
Kamm Traverse to Chapman Gulch- 18.9mi
‘Dreams are the touchstones of our characters’ -Thoreau
My drops contain everything I need except water, and every station will provide that, so with that in mind, and a handful of grapes, I move on. The strait and narrow Kamm Traverse tilts uphill, offering an exciting view of the basin below. Littered with rocks, scrub, and an occasional trickle stream, it’s an easy ascent to enjoy the multitude of wildflowers that embellish the mountainside. Leaving the exposed traverse and entering the trees of Lower Ice Lake Basin, the ground becomes soggy, pitted with rocks and mud. Hopping from rock to rock, I avoid the mud holes with balance and dexterity. Minutes later, I apply these skills to cross a partially submerged log across a thundering stream below a gorgeous cascading waterfall. The sound is deafening, filling my head, until I climb up and away, the roar fading to a hum. Lower Ice Lake Basin is surrounded by towering walls and phenomenal beauty. Jim Sweatt joins me, crossing the open pasture hanging high above South Mineral campground. Towards a massive black wall, the trail turns back and rises above itself. While I ascend slowly, Chuck Kroger passes quickly and comfortably, and then Jim too. Harry Smith and a few others join the parade, condolences as they go. Climbing through a high pasture of bright green grass saturated with snow and stream, thunder starts to roll followed by rain. Dreading a storm on top, I want desperately to hurry, but seem to be stuck in granny gear. Island Lake in all it’s splendor remains fixed in my peripheral vision, only one slide away. Others pass as I snake my way across the snow, and strait up the final scree pitch to the top. Grant-Swamp Pass and Joel Zucker’s plaque receive a colorful rock, but I’ve learned not to loiter at 13000 feet. There’s nobody on the face, so I need not worry about loosing rocks on anyone. I hit the scree running and surf down in minutes. The grassy hump at the base turns quickly to large ugly sharp edged rocks that will break a leg or cut a tendon in one easy misstep. Passing a more sane and cautious Jim, I charge through them recklessly. While Jim and I hit the rocky trail, Hans-Dieter chooses the snow to ride down the valley. Oscar’s Pass looms ahead, offering a view of what’s to come, beautiful and imposing. The red mountain face rises well above treeline. Switching back and forth up it’s face, a jagged scar, a nasty climb. I continue my downhill assault, sprinting towards treeline and crossing a snow bridge. It gives me the willies thinking of the cold dark water underneath, but the feeling can’t hang on. Treeline brings a fine trail with less rocks, more pine needles, and plenty of shade. I haul on down to the road and then a creek. I cross on the logs to stay dry but soon find myself knee deep in muddy water as the road becomes a creek. Fruitless to avoid so I gravitate to the middle and wade downstream in the rain. Lyle Clugg waits for me, snapping pictures as I swim in. We talk as we walk into Chapman Gulch aid station.
Chapman Gulch to Telluride- 27.6mi
‘To dare is to lose your footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose yourself’ -Kierkegaard
I change my shoes & socks and oh what a feeling! Fresh clean socks. My toes are so happy. I slam another Ensure, load a flask for later, then take a PB&J as I walk out with Hans-Dieter, and Jim Sweatt just behind us. Ophir Pass Road to Oscar’s Pass is one of the knarliest jeep roads in this area full of notorious jeep roads. 3000 feet of gain over 2 miles of rock filled jeep road. As odds would have it, the clouds depart and allow the sun to roast my hide as I slowly crawl uphill. Doesn’t take long for the flies to smell out my slow moving carcass and home in for harassment and formal dining. I wrap my bandana around my head and pull down my sleeves to reduce the amount of flesh available and try to ignore them. The buggers keep crashing into my face and bouncing off. Hans-Dieter detours into the bushes before we clear treeline and disappears behind me. Steve Pero and Deb Reno join the silent parade, stopping occasionally to take a picture or catch a breather. They wait a moment for me to share their insect repellent. Still swarming, they finally quit biting. Onward we crawl endlessly upward along with many others, no more than specs, lined up on the switchbacks. Finally, I summit along with Deb and Steve. The view is spectacular with Grant-Swamp Pass behind and Bridal Veil Basin on our right . Long swathes of snow are all that remains, and it’s frozen hard to ice. Frozen footprints keep us from harm and lead us across the ice. It’s a bit unnerving without crampons on this icy traverse, a fast slide down to the rocks. A misstep quite dangerous, we nervously work our way across the ice and then up to the Wasatch Saddle. Waiting for Steve and Deb, I drink an Ensure and finish my PB&J. Time to roll. From here to Telluride is all downhill. It begins to rain, which I could have used on the other side coming up The setting in this valley is breathtaking: cascading creeks, snow bridges, brilliantly colored flowers, high peaks and shear walls, some imposing and hard, others majestic and grand. The narrow trail switches at first and then skips about randomly, but always downward. A spec of color moving way off ahead gives me a target to focus on. I give chase and increase my speed of descent. The Wasatch Trail drops off the face of the Wasatch Mt. and I take the East Fork split, catching Jim Ballard just as a dark cloud sneaks up the valley and the rain gets more intense. A ten foot snow bridge with a post hole punched in it stops me cold. It’s only ten feet down to the rushing water, and my brain spins through a variety of scenarios before I rush across in two steps, more by instinct than thought. Once across, I stop and wait for Jim. Should he fall through, he’s going to need some help getting out. But, there’s no need and we continue as before as the sky opens up and really begins to pour. As it rains harder, I run faster. Sure do love running in the rain. The trail crosses a wooden bridge and squeezes round a rocky cliff as it turns into a creek. The runoff spills down the rocky trail, racing me to the next turn. Below treeline, the foliage squeezes in quickly, reaching in with sopping wet branches, slapping me as I run through a gauntlet of water. Splashing along at high speed, laughing and grunting, I slip onto a jeep road and dash towards town. I catch up to Bill Rideg just as the rain stops and I slow to visit. We stroll into Telluride at a leisurely pace, where Lyle is waiting once again. He snaps a few shots and follows us in.
Telluride to Virginius- 32.4mi
‘Great things are not done by impulse but by a series of small things brought together’ -Vincent van Gogh
Mark Heaphy promised he’d have a pizza waiting here, so when asked if there’s anything I need... I ask for the pizza. The reply floors me, ‘We thought you dropped, so we gave it away!’ Stunned, I stare at her, ‘You gave MY pizza away?’ ‘Not all of it. We ate the rest’. I sit down and sulk. They bring my drop and I unzip it in silence. Inside, sitting on top and wrapped in aluminum foil is the pizza. My emotions are all over the place and I’m not thinking clearly. I show them the pizza and they explain that they thought I was teasing... so they were teasing. ‘Yea, I would do that’. I share my pizza with Bill and try to focus on the business at hand. I drink an Ensure and pack a flask for later, refill my water, change socks, reload my Succeed caps, and escape. Lyle walks me out and across the bridge leading into Telluride. I take a right on the first road, hoping it’s Willow, but not certain. I have to stop on the main drag for traffic, then cross to a steep road. A woman walks alongside asking loads of questions. I answer one or two, before she finally falls back and disappears. The turn at roads end appears to be a driveway entrance, but hops a trail in back and then a jeep road. I enter the road just as an Ambulance is turning around, going back and forth, trying to turn without rolling off the cliff. I wait a few moments before dodging around and on up. I pass Bob Ross, who says ‘Where’ve you been?’ and ‘What took you so long?’ I would hear it over and over again. I asked about his boys and he tells me they’re both in front of him. The rain is light but constant, which I thoroughly enjoy. Love these conditions and do much better than if it were hot. I’m moving uphill extremely well right now. Passing through a stand of aspen, I marvel at their simple beauty, radiant through the sheen of rain. I catch Harry Smith and Susan Gardner next. ‘You’re climbing better’, Harry says just before he and Susan pull ahead again. Phil Mislinski of TrailRunner is hiking down the trail, and I stop to visit for a moment before moving on. Clearing treeline, the climb gets steeper and rockier. Austere cliffs fill my view, but mostly, I look for a place to put my feet. Susan’s gone, but Harry’s not far ahead, moving quicker, taking more breaks. The last switch carries me across the final high traverse to Mendota Saddle. I take a moment to spin around for an unbelievable 360 degree panoramic view. Cornet Creek Basin leads back to Telluride, while Marshall Basin falls away quickly below in front, and the comb of spires and peaks on my left includes the slot we call Virginius Pass. This basin was covered with a fresh coat of snow just a few days ago. Today, there is none. The trail across is an empty and barren traverse that I do not cover quickly. Alone, but for the wind, a serenity fills me. I feel the ache in my muscles, stingers here and there, and I feel complete. As much as I enjoy the company of the others, I relish these moments the most. I fall out of the moment, forget where I’m going, what I’m doing. Drifting inward, I stay there until I hear people talking just above. I’m at Virginius and there’s a party going on.
Virginius to Governor Basin- 35.5mi
‘Let the beauty of what you love be what you do’ -Rumi
The aid station’s inserted in a comfortable 13000 foot slot. Lawn chairs, cooking stoves, friendly laughter. HardRockers enjoy extremes. A better bunch of folks you would be hard pressed to find! Somebody hands me a cup of hot cocoa and I sit down next to Harry. A couple of old birds sittin’ on the porch sipping cocoa. I sip the warm brew and look down. A rope hangs over the side and nobody’s on it. I hand the drink back and start down. In rapid slow motion, I’m over and gone. In an instant, the mood changes, from comfort to chaos. The slope’s a mess of ice, mud, and rock, and the rope’s covered with the same icy cold gunk. Within yards or minutes, the funk crawls all over me. What a mess. I love it! The rope ends where the snow begins. I let go and run down the snow, managing to stay upright. The first pitch done, two more follow. I run a zigzag route down snow on the second, and catch Susan on the third. This one’s hard and icy, so I keep to the rocks ‘til the bottom hundred, where I jump on and run to the base. The remnants of Virginius mine provides me a rusty bench where I sit to evict bits of rock and snow from my shoes. I visit with Susan while I shake the debris out and slip them back on. Nothing but road for the next seven plus miles, so I’m gonna fly until the sun goes down. Should arrive in Ouray just after dark. A rough and tumble jeep road leads down and I get after it, changing gears as I go. Been stuck in granny gear so long, feels strange using the big sprocket. Skirting rock, water, and snow, I whip round the corners, cut the tangents, and constantly choose shorter over smoother. Picking up steam and attempting to stay on the road, my mind’s eye always three moves ahead of my feet. Halfway to Governor’s Basin, I pull up next to Nancy Halpin and Richard Hypio. Nancy’s struggling a bit, but I talk her into running down to the next station.
Governor Basin to Ouray- 43.0mi
‘Follow your dreams as long as you live, do not lessen the time of following desire, for wasting time is an abomination of the spirit’ -Plato
I leave Governor’s Basin running. As the sun sinks and the light fades I continue to run down Camp Bird Road. I pass Mike Dobies before pulling up with Mark & Margaret Heaphy. ‘Thanks for the pizza’. There’s one short flat stretch where I pull up and walk with Chuck Kroger, and then on ahead to pull Brad Hatten into my wake. In the darkness, Brad and I roll into Ouray’s Box Canyon parking lot and MASH unit. Marc Witkes, Steve Patillo, and a few others are leaving as we come in. Can’t see a thing. If not for their voices, I wouldn’t know one shadow from the next.
Ouray to Engineer- 49.7mi
‘A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor people without trials’ -Chinese Proverb
Crew & pacer, Kathleen & Paul Schmidt have been waiting, attempting once again to deal with my peccadilloes, for the next 57 miles or as long as it takes ‘til I kiss the rock. No small job. They check flashlights, clothes, food, water, and supplements, while I retreat to the boy’s room for more personal demands. Stowed in my pack all along, I’ve been carrying rain jacket & pants, overshirt, gloves, and socks. I plan to use them all. Just don’t know when. Been on and off with the raincoat and gloves, while clean dry socks have become quite a luxury. Now that I’ve validated everything in my pack, I don’t mind the weight so much. Another game I play. Am I carrying needless excess weight? I’ve become quite good at playing devil’s advocate for either side of that argument. Along with my standard can of Ensure, Paul has me drinking Red Bull. Soup, sandwich, and pretzels round out dinner. With the variety I load up on, my stomach should erupt, but all is well so far. Paul’s loaded for bear and heads to his car for one last thing, while I finish up, strap on, and head out. We walk out laughing, already enjoying the night. Back up Camp Bird Road and across to the reservoir. Between wall and water pipe, we duck under cables on the reservoir road. Scrambling through thick brush on a drunken trail, we rise up to drop in to the river basin. Wading the fast moving Uncompagre River along a fixed rope, we find it shallow enough that we manage with only our legs wet. Rising up to the Million Dollar Highway, we find Chuck putting on dry socks, just before I stop to put mine on. All of us cross the highway tunnel and start up Bear Creek Trail together. Climbing this section in the dark is quite interesting, not being able to see the shear drops, the rattle of thin rocks that sound like broken glass, the thundering of water as it falls off the mountain. Paul asks, ‘How far away is the water’? I reply, ‘only six inches’. We find my good friend Ginny LaForme sitting on one of the switchbacks, not feeling well at all. We stop to offer help, but with no practical solutions, Paul begins to sing, belting out a soulful tune as we move away up into the dark. We pass Grizzly Bear mine, and a few miles later, the old Yellow Jacket mine just as we catch Brad Hatten. The streams are full of rushing water thundering over the side, my feet wet again. Everything’s wet. Must have recently rained hard up here. Near treeline now, Engineer aid station beacons out of the darkness, a lone bright lantern.
Engineer to Grouse Gulch- 57.1mi
‘Never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense’ -Churchill
Matt Mahoney sits at the fire along with Mike Farris and a few others Paul and I share a cup of broth then dissolve into the darkness, fleeing the fire. Mike follows us out and talks us up ‘til we reach the soaking wet tundra just under Engineer Pass. A blinking red light beckons from the top, while slippery wet tundra plays havoc with my feet. My shoes, socks, and feet are cold and wet. Sliding inside my shoes on every step, I feel a hotspot developing on the soles of both feet. I turn my feet differently, shift my hips, climb sideways, stay on my heels, then toes. No matter what I do, I can feel the heat and the cold simultaneously. I want to stop and fix it right now, but the slope is steep and I know I need to get to the top before I stop. My poor feet! The climb seems to last longer than it should. Mental, it’s all mental. I have to forget my feet and quit whining, even if it’s unspoken. Mike pushes past while I struggle up, stopping way too many times. On top at last, I crawl across the final berm. Removing my shoes and socks, I can’t bend my legs far enough, or get the light on them. Paul takes over, patching soles at 13000 feet, while my bare feet begin to shake. My whole body begins to shake. Mike Dobies climbs up and gone while we jack around with my pitiful tootsies. Slipping frozen digits back into cold, wet socks, I attempt to roll downhill. Scuttling along on wooden blocks, lurching the long way around tiny rocks, balance betrays me. Impatiently, I wait for the thaw, the heating of blood in my toes and feet so that I can gallivant again. It’s a few miles down the Alpine Loop. I can hear the Animas River tumbling alongside. Sure hate wasting this downhill, damn it! I need some cheese with this whine. Quit bitchin’! I make myself go faster, with absolutely no grace or dignity. Night of the Walking Dead comes rolling by with pendulum arms flailing high tech LED lights, and Marc Witkes dares to laugh. ‘I’ve seen you faster Joe’. ‘You ok?’ ‘I’m working on a new downhill style’. Mike Dobies reminds me again, he hates downhills. I can see lights ahead, on the left and lower down, as we bend to the right. I wonder if we missed a turn. I start to worry until we finally switchback to our left and turn down to the lights. We pass signs for Animas Forks and Cinnamon Pass, confirming our direction. I’m just starting to warm and loosen when we approach Grouse Gulch. Tiny lights flicker along our next climb, but first the aid station.
Grouse Gulch to Sherman- 70.4mi
‘If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right’ -Henry Ford
Clean socks and clean shoes are all I need to make me happy. I do this before anything else and then relax in a chair, while Paul and the aid station crew take care of me. Ensure and Red Bull chased by chicken noodle soup and a burrito. Steve Patillo’s here already and Marc comes in just before we leave. Feeling much better than just a short time ago, we start up Grouse Gulch. I can see lights hundreds of feet above us, switchbacks for a good long ways. Marc blows by as we slowly climb. The switches finally end but not the ascent. We move more directly up the gulch, following the sound of rushing water. Leaving the trail, we cross wet tundra to another trail further up the left face, and continue in the same direction. Aiming for the ridge line and the saddle, we slow as it gets steeper, passing 12000 feet. Crossing a snow bank, we switch back a few times, then top out on 13000 foot Grouse-American Pass just as the sun rises. Taking a short break, I point out our route to Paul, while I drink the Ensure flask with high hopes it’ll give me energy for the climb up Handies. We follow the flags in a ragged pattern round boulders and off ledges down into the American Basin. Numerous trails crisscross the basin, but our flag route follows none of them. Snow’s down to a minimum, the ground soggy with melt. Paul’s feeling pretty good, enjoying the hike, and lets fly while going uphill with a rousing rendition of America the Beautiful. The boy really gets into it and wails it out. No sooner is he done than a spattering of distance applause can be heard from the face of Handies. We cross another bottom, round a large buildup and then turn away from Handies. The trail climbs up and away, then switches higher and comes across the upper wall of American Basin before crossing a large rock flow and then mounting the base of Handies for the first of many switchbacks. Steve Patillo catches us here and visits for just a bit. Says he’s tired of running alone and would love to have some company for awhile. Unfortunately, we’re two completely different kind of runners and there’s slim chance of company from me. I ask him to please not wait on us, but he promises to wait at Burrows Park, and then moves easily up and away. We keep moving, however slow, but the snail’s pace keeps us on the face forever. Cresting the high saddle at 13000 feet, we catch a breather and start anew. The shade that kept us to this point hidden from the sun, releases a blinding light down on us for the first time today. I begin to sweat while my hands grow cold from the wind. I slip on my gloves, take them off, and put them back on. I need something to just cover my fingertips, the only part of my body that’s cold. I keep slugging it out, punch drunk, and brain dead, leaning on the wind, and snailing upwards. Following a sugar trail to the top, a line of ants marches above me, another line below. I can almost hear the drums. The wind is blasting hard and cold under a clear blue sky as we scramble hand and foot up a steep dirt chute surrounded by tundra. This leads to another and another, until the final short curl to the summit at 14000 feet. A photographer shoots our progress using really slow thin film. We don’t waste a step, rolling right across and off the other side. The narrow rocky rib we dance across leads to a steep descent strewn with big chunks of broken rock. Fall left for American Basin or right for Grizzly Gulch. The proper lean right now determines where they’ll find my body. Inches extrapolate into miles. Paul decides it’s a good time to sing Leon Russel’s Tightrope, ‘One side ice – the other fire’. The trail snakes down, occasionally splitting into alternate routes, each side short and equal distance. We slide, sprint, hop, and fall for a hundred yards or better until spinning off to the right for a series of switchbacks leading into Grizzly Gulch. Were moving fast, and are surprised to have a fellow come up from behind and stick with us clean down to the meadow. The three of us pass another trio at the end of the rock flow, where we change gears and go faster. The main tourist trail to Burrows Park is worn down and very quick, a pastoral setting with clear creeks and tall trees. We blast on down, passing Lisa Richardson, but keeping the silent fellow just back of us. Really flying now, there’s something that doesn’t feel just right, but I can’t figure it out. Something hanging just on the edge. Don’t have time for ‘kinda-sorta feelings’ so I ignore it, thinking it’s just one of the many such feelings that will either go away or bite me later. Attempting to get around a couple, we’re forced to slow. They ask how far to the aid station at Burrows Park. I tell them there isn’t one and it stuns them. They stop cold and start a heated discussion, while we sprint by. I guess they missed the final briefing. Burrows park at last, Steve Patillo’s at the stream filling his water bottle under the log that we cross. Sitting in the shade of the bathroom on the concrete, I check my feet. Paul re-wraps the hot spots. The other discomfort becomes painfully clear in a nasty way. I have diarrhea. My shorts get washed out in the stream and then I slide the freezing cold threads back onto my sorry butt. What an ugly piece of work. While we kill a lot of precious time, Steve and quite a few others cross over and disappear down the road. Medicated, clean, frozen, and uncomfortable, I waddle on down the road just in time to greet the jeep caravans coming up. The rising sun begins to dethaw and then roast my hide, while we dodge jeeps by the dozens. Some of these folks drive right at what they’re looking at, because they seem to be looking right at me when they force me off the road. It’s hard to pass the easy off road detour. The ribbons that I helped put in just a week ago are still there. I know this is downhill, but it doesn’t feel like it. Must be me. I don’t feel well and slow to a crawl. Another wasted downhill. I’m bonking bad, trying to keep moving. Conversation becomes difficult, my mind wandering. Memories tumble one atop the other, helter skelter. Can’t seem to hold a thought or put two words together. Reduced to yea, no, and uh, which covers everything else. Finally hitting bottom and turning right, we drag along past the old flooded town of Sherman, the bridge, and then the aid station. I slink in, dragging my butt. Fred and Paige Fletcher, like angels of mercy, swoop down and nurse me back to health. They’ve laid out a kings breakfast for me of pancakes, eggs, calzone, juice, Gatorade, and so on. I can’t eat half of it, but I try. Ensure and Red Bull top it off. They pack two flasks of Ensure while I change shorts and socks. ‘What’s that on your legs?’, Fred asks. ‘Oh, I been kickin’ tha hell out of myself for some time now’. Bruised badly, they’re just starting to bleed. Both legs from calf to inside shin have multiple lacerations and are swollen ala Popeye. I’m thinking the skunk cabbage is really spinach and my legs are feeding on it. I’m trying to kick my butt to go faster but I can only get my feet that high. Climbing these damn mountains my feet try to find anything that doesn’t move so I climb my own legs. Dr. Paul tapes ‘em up, wrapping both legs. I better hurry or I’ll be lookin’ like the mummy before long. While I’m basking in food and fine friends, Lisa walks in and says she’s done, never loosing her glorious smile.
Sherman to Pole Creek- 80.1mi
‘Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend’ -Diogenes
Spending way too much time on getting nowhere, but totally recovered, we load up and move out. Crossing the creek via log, we start up Cataract Gulch. Another log crossing follows along with a group of people and pacers not certain of the route. No flags line this section, but I confirm that this is indeed the correct way. A group of eight moves slowly uphill on the switchbacks, the sound of crashing water near to our right. We continue up for miles, crossing the creek below and again above a majestic waterfall. I’m pleased to finally see some flags again, as this section is confusing. Crossing again and again, until a treeless field of broken rocks. We wander along a trail that seems to go in odd directions at odd times. I would never have chosen the route the flags lead us on, and have no idea which valley or rise we go after next. Joe in wonderland, searching for the correct rabbit hole, but only finding the Mad Hatter. Gordon Hardman completes the illusion, striding back to us from the wrong direction. ‘What’s going on’, I ask? ‘Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug’, he says and keeps on walking. I’ve gone completely loony. A trip into the bushes helps bring back reality quickly and painfully. The rain’s light but steady as we continue up to the lakes. Takes a good long time to finally reach them above 12000 feet. Past the lakes, the trail turns slightly downhill and we let the air out a little as we spin on down. Dropping off trail and dodging shrubs, we descend cross country and navigate through a marsh. Onto a whisper of trail hugging the right flank, we roll along for miles and finally hit bottom. Crossing a creek, we hike up and into Pole Creek aid station and settle into a chair for a cup of broth.
Pole Creek to Maggie Gulch- 84.6mi
‘Resolve to perform what you ought, then perform without fail what you resolve’ - Franklin
Minutes only, time to down one of my Ensure flasks and then off again, strait towards a pole on the empty plain. The trail begins at the pole and follows just like the last one, on the right flank leading slightly down. This one undulates a bit more, but hovers around 12000 feet for the length of it. Riding up high and then dropping down into a large plain. We aim diagonally to another pole on the other side of the valley, crossing a creek surrounded by shoe sucking mud. Almost to the trees covering the lower slope, the trail by the post turns right and away from the trees. This dips down and up, weaving round bush and creek, dropping into deep cuts and back out again. We follow the contour partly, but then there are only certain spots that the creek can be crossed. Heading more directly for our pass across the Continental Divide, we make directly up and across the lower hills. The trail gets messier as we get higher and steeper. I’ve been studying Paul these last few mountains, trying to figure out how he climbs so effortlessly. Some of these guys live at altitude but Paul’s from San Diego and not nearly as acclimated as I am. He manages his breathing pattern such that he has a strong forced exhale on every other step. Wouldn’t hurt to try. As slow as I am, I’ve no place to go but up. I start as soon as the slope gets steep and move slowly but steadily, focusing on my breathing. It seems to help as I continue to climb without loosing my wind or feeling the need to catch my breath. I continue to control my breath as we cross some snow and the trail turns to road, and back to trail again. Excited that I can keep going and trying to keep from getting excited and loosing my control. I push the pace clean to the top without stopping once and can’t believe how effortless it was. Granted, it’s just a tad under 13000 feet, but this is a new first for me and I’m flipping out with enthusiasm. Paul cheers me on, glad to see me doing well, both of us recalling what I was like back at Sherman. The descent into Maggie Gulch is a screamer, as the sky opens up and begins to dump hard on us. Paul and I fly, catching Eric Hodges and Marc again. “ I wondered if you were gonna catch me again?’, Marc shouts as I slide by in the thundering wind and rain. I hit the road just behind his pacer and race him to the shelter. Paul and Marc follow close behind, along with Eric.
Maggie Gulch to Cunningham Gulch- 91.3mi
‘Perseverance is a great element of success. If you knock long enough at the gate, you’re sure to awaken someone’ -Longfellow
The small enclosure’s over-full with people, no room to sit down, or turn around. Hastily, they erect a side flap to keep the wind and rain from drenching everything inside. Lightening rumbles through the valley and folks are talking about waiting out the storm. Slipping into rain pants, I drink my last flask of Ensure, top my water and head back out. ‘I’m going up’. This is my kind of weather. I do so much better when it’s cool. If I can get up this next mountain while it’s raining, I’ll do much better than in the heat. Hoping the lightning and hail will be gone before we reach the summit, Paul and I quickly move up the switchbacks in the pouring rain and flashing clouds. Chuck was in the shelter when we arrived and comes with us. I try my breathing pattern again and quickly move up the face, crossing the soggy tundra. Charlie’s laid out a different route than the one we marked. I’m confused by the route, but blindly following the markers strait up the face and over to the rock outcrop. We march strait up and onto the promontory and wait for Chuck. He joins us soon after and then we beat time up the backbone and across the top of the next rise to 13000. Still breathing well, we sprint down the high meadow on the far side, through the rain and flowers to the base of the next rise. ‘Which way would you like to try?’, Paul asks. ‘Just like the flags, strait up’, and we fairly charge up the face on the final climb up Buffalo Boy and the meadow beyond. A lone grave stone marks a plot just off the grassy jeep road, we sprint by, then pull up for a quick change. My socks are soaked and I have dry socks for the long descent we’re about to run. With my toes wrapped in warmth and comfort, we pick up and begin to roll. The storm’s gone and it’s going to get hot on this long downhill run, so we stop at the Buffalo Boy Mine long enough to strip off our rain gear, extra shirts, and gloves. Blowing and going, double time down the jeep road, rolling through Rocky Gulch on down to Cunningham Creek. We hit the road in the heat, soaking of sweat, and slowly begin to walk up the road to the last station. In no hurry to trash myself on this road, we saunter up the road easily, discussing life, love, and HardRock. One more mountain and I’m anxious to get to it. This next one’s a real long mother and I’m curious if I can maintain a climb for that long.
Cunningham Gulch to Silverton- 100mi
‘Slow and steady win the race’ - Aesop
Cunningham aid station: the last hurrah. We find it alive with energy and filled with friends. Reinhold Baues is making ready for his final climb as well. I drink an Ensure and another Red Bull, but leave everything else in my drop. Gotta go! Nothing here that says ‘FINISH LINE’. We bid adieu and escape. Somebody has lain a steel girder across the creek, so we start with dry feet. Passing across a rough field of scrub and rock, we cross the small stream at the base of the waterfall and mount the face. I shift quickly into my breathing pattern and harbor grand hopes to climb to the top with good speed. The waterfall is a couple hundred feet strait up and we ride switchbacks to the top of it easily. Reinhold is just below, being paced by Ginny’s daughter Celeste. Beyond the waterfall, it doesn’t get any easier. The second tier is long sweeping switchbacks. Short steep climbs at each turn are followed by more gentle sweeps between them. Above this level, we reach the upper basin, which begins with a table which we spin round to the right face and mount our final charge. We stop once to admire the view, but otherwise continue to move up easily. We enter tundra, stepping upwards from tuft to tuft, rock to rock, as we follow the flags strait up and across. They become increasingly difficult to see as the sun drops low and the light begins to fade. I’m thinking we still have a ways to go, when I realize we are as high as we’re going on this climb. The mountain continues to rise well above us, but the trail I’ve just landed on wraps around to the right. We’re on top of the Dives-Little Giant Pass at 13000 feet. The last of the mountain passes. It is all but done! Nothing but net! No place to go but down, so we get after it, with another duo hot on our heals. We start across the mountain side to a narrow saddle, when Paul stops. Something big and low moves the shadows in front of us, but I’m blind as a bat. Paul sees it and says it’s a cat. We cross over onto King Solomon Mountain and descend into Little Giant Basin on the rocky trail carved into it’s side, when Paul sees it again. He says it’s moving down the trail in front of us, but I’m blind and dumb, and keep on rolling. Never having seen a thing, I keep on bouncing down the rocky trail, into the scrub and boulder fields. Dancing left and right, without lights, barely making out the trail, and seeing flags only as we pass them. A panorama of light stretches across the horizon, between cloud and mountain, lasting long enough to light our path down to the jeep road. On the road, we extract lights, and blast away, hammering down the road. The lights of Silverton in the distance, I can already smell the barn, but don’t know that I can possible go any faster. Reaching the road in Arrastra and then the road to the campgrounds, somebody lightly applauds as we pass some tents and cross Arrastra Creek. We follow a road, then another, and another. A trail finally after a creek, followed by many more creeks and mud bogs. Slogging up streams, in and out of water, but I’m fairly used to wet feet by now. I catch my old friend Mike Price and it takes me completely by surprise. I’d thought he was long gone. He’s following close on the heels of a small band of folks, but pulls in with us as we swing past the lot of them. Mike says he got beat up in the hail storm above Maggie Gulch, but now he’s a bit overdressed and heating up with our quicker pace. He stops to remove some clothes and get more comfortable, while we keep going and his light disappears behind us. This section seems to go on forever, but does eventually climb up to a road and then another short trail before slipping out of the trees and down to town. The road into town is dark and our lights don’t seem to work well. I can’t see a thing, but I do know that I have to turn left one block after the paved road. Paul stops traffic for me as I run across Green Street, turn left on Reese. I can barely stand the excitement. My eyes well up and my throat constricts. Hard to believe I still get worked up and excited about running into town. The last turn at the Gym is filled with cars and people. Fred and Paige are there too. I dance round the cars, slip up to the HardRock, rub my body against it, and plant a kiss. Dale shakes my hand. It is done. We are done.