This event is one of those places in time where the faces never seem to change. Standing next to 'The Rock' I look around to a sea of familiar faces, and it feels good. I imagine that when I am very old and looking back on my life, this is one of those places in times that will give me the biggest smile and the warmest memories.
Silverton [ 0mi / 9310ft] - Kamm Traverse [ 11.5 mi / 10600 ft ] Putnam [ 12600 ft ] & Porcupine [ 12230 ft ]
This year's version of our annual epic adventure has begun. The relaxed mood and passive attitude hides the proportion of it. Our ambling walk out of Silverton displays only the tip of the iceberg. This is what I want to do, where I want to be. Regardless of what happens, it is all good.
Kyle runs ahead of everybody, separating himself immediately, while the rest of the mob spreads out. Near to the rear, Deb Pero and I walk out as well. The road leading downhill from the Christ of the Mines pushes me into my first actual running experience of the day. Steve insisted on being the last one out of town, but he still catches us in the aspens on Knute's Chute. There is no wait at the fixed rope over Mineral Creek, so I step in and start across without delay. I have crossed this stream before and it has always been cold, but it seems colder this year. The freezing cold sting doesn't begin until mid-way across and once it starts, it builds rapidly, the cold so intense that my teeth clench, and the pain even more intense after I leave the water. Hans is sitting on the bank where Olga is helping him change his rubber shoes. I start up the trail and wait for my shoes to drain before I stop to put on my socks. It's a long climb and dry socks are a luxury I plan to work on. There aren't many times I can do anything about it, but this is one of them. I finish just as Billy & Craig hike by, so I hurry up and hook on. Both of these guys have two trekking poles each and the clickity-clack of every rock strike reminds me of sand crabs.
This, the first climb on the CW course is one of constant change. It begins with an easy ascent on dirt leading through a stand of tall trees. Next, large pieces of shattered sharp-edged rock introduce the ankle twisting rock fields. It's not too bad during the daylight hours, but coming down this in the dark is an entirely different adventure. The lower half of Putnam Basin yields a bumper crop of skunk cabbage as we clear treeline. We wind around a series of cliffs that lead up into the upper basin. Patchy snow and marshy areas finally soak my shoes & dry socks. I pass Gary Knipling just before the final pitch, up onto the top of Putnam, where I sit down to eat. It's a beautiful day and even more dynamic from this lofty perch. I can almost here the music in the wind.
No trails lead down to Cataract saddle, but the course most certainly goes down. The route is marked by a series of standard Hardrock posts minus the flags. I know where to go, but I can't locate the posts, so I head down at the angle that we usually run. I see a few of the posts as I pass them, but it's purely accidental. A large patch of snow sits atop the bend where the mountain leans into the saddle, and I aim for it, directly below. I run past a post that lies in the middle of a snowfield on my way to the next ridge. People are all over the field in front of me, but I know to bend left across the field and not in a direct line. I pass a few more posts, but it's pretty easy to make out the route in the daylight. It doesn't seem to be that far, but I know the trick of this deception in the mountains. I run quite a bit of the high meadow, listening intently to my body, checking to see how it reacts to the altitude. All systems seem to be working very well, so I relax into the run. There is more snow here than I remember and it reminds me of the errors I've made using any part of the snow as a landmark. These snow banks can change quickly or disappear completely.
A trail full of switchbacks fall off the other side, past large house sized composition rocks and small bouquets of flowers. Alone, I drop through quickly, crossing a creek, and into the trees. I come up behind a group that I begin to pick through, one at a time, as we round the Twin Sisters. The final descent is a steep and twisted switchback through a tall stand of trees. As I pass Steve Pero, he yells ahead for everybody to look out because I'm coming downÉ fast. A sloppy mud hole precedes the creek at the bottom of the hill. We pack on the mud, wash it off, then reload with a fresh coat as we exit the creek and climb up to the road. Steve and I walk into KT together.
Kamm Traverse [ 11.5 mi / 10600 ft ] Ð Chapman [ 18.4 mi / 10190 ft ] Grant-Swamp Pass [ 12920 ft ]
I understand that good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment, so I am in for an education.
I am fine with my water & food, so I walk strait through and out the other side. The goat trail called Kamm Traverse is a skinny trail angling across a treeless face up towards Ice Lake Basin. I mix walking and running up to the trees, where I stop in the shade to extract a packet of Shot Bloks. The trail leading to the high creek is almost tropical in lush vegetation and marsh. Large fall-downs and rocks lie between the trees, and the trail is intermittently filled with water and mud. A lush environment in deep shade created by the tall trees and the high mountain walls. Its cool through here until it opens up onto the water falls coming down from the upper basin. The old avalanche debris still fills the area between two falls. This is where we cross and it's marked directly across the shattered trees. It's really not much of a hassle in the daylight and it makes me laugh when I see what it was that hung me up last year. The climb up to the main trail is not very long but is one nasty steep little beast. It's all dirt, because nothing else can hang onto anything this steep. The only exception is a few fall-downs wedged between trees that I have to climb over. The main trail is much less steep but still with enough tilt to keep me walking. The main trail is just a short section before we make the Lower Ice Lake Basin, where we turn right to catch the switchbacks leading up towards Grant-Swamp Pass. It's narrow, rocky, and high enough to shorten my breathing. The flowers seem to thrive in this rugged landscape alongside the massive boulders and craggy peaks. Snow and water are everywhere: the land marshy from the melting snow, water lilies, tiny waterfalls, and mini-streams. My strong pace seems to slow every hundred feet higher, and it seems to just keep going up. I no longer search for the summit with my eyes, knowing of the thousand false summits I have already seen. I'll know when I get there. Steve passes me, and then stops to talk to Chris Twigg just below the summit. Chris is sick with a badly upset stomach. I offer up some papaya & ginger pills that I take for my stomach. It's a spectacular view of Island Lake I take in while I turn to offer up the medicine. He takes them and I move on up. Coming over the Zucker Memorial, I see a large mountain goat turn and move off. It always amazes me to see how effortlessly these mountain animals move up here, where I struggle to move at all. A photographer, here to shoot us, is abuzz with snapping shots of the animal.
I have long since learned to get off as quickly as I get on these summits, so without further ado, I turn left and start running down. The uppermost section is bare of rock, with nothing left but loose dirt. I shift into surf mode, running with a ready balance to slide where the loose rock takes me. It's very steep on the scree slope. I pick a track and move quickly down, staying as strait upright as I can. The rock moves under my feet, speeding my descent, but I refrain from leaning back. I go with it, digging my heels into the rock, sliding with it. When it stops, I take a step or two, left, then right, picking a new track, and then sliding again. And so on down the slope I go, speeding past people sliding on their butts. As the scree ends and the snow begins, I simply break into a run and sprint across the snow and mixed rock to a dry rocky area. This seems to be the primary unload zone, where everybody stops to evict loose rock & debris from their shoes. Lots of snowfields looking down, and betwixt all the rock & snow, its difficult to pick out the markers and the trail. I run hard for a few minutes and then stop to find the next marker, again and again. Standing on the edge of one rock field, I see Mark & Margaret Heaphy slide just under me down a large snowfield. Ok, so it must be that way. So, I leap down and follow their lead across the snow and through the rocks past a marker. Last year, coming up this beast in the dark, I had one hell of a time trying to find this same route that I can't find right now in the daylight. Hell, it's mostly my own fault. I can't see worth a damn and my eyes get worse every year. I'll have to check on rules about a seeing-eye dog next year. I'm somewhere midway between a walk and run, wanting to hurry, but not quite running. Lets call it bumbling! The rock fields between summit and treeline are brutal. Care is taken with every step. Treeline ends at the edge of the rock flow, by the sheep herders camp and a shallow creek. Back under the tall trees once again brings deep shade and cool air, where I finally cut loose and stretch out my legs. I roll past Steve Pero and Greg Loomis, where the ground is mostly dirt & roots, with an occasional rock to hurdle. I back off near the bottom-land and walk in with Greg & Steve. I start across a bridge before realizing the other end is submerged. Regardless of my choice, I'm going to get wet, so I continue across the submerged bridge out into the water. The aid station on the other side is missing. A note taped to the gate states "We have moved".
Chapman Gulch [ 18.4 mi / 10190 ft ] - Telluride [ 27.6 mi / 8750 ft ] Oscar's Pass [ 13140 ft ]
The people who are here do a great job, waiting on me quickly and even providing popsicles. This next section is difficult and critical, so I'm very careful to get what I need from my drop bag. This climb is my least favorite in this direction. So, I take me time to get in some food and a few cold drinks. Steve, Greg, Mark, Margaret, and even Twigg leave before I do. This road is a killer and I head up in a very tentative mood. I leave with one simple wish: cloud cover! It starts out about the same as it always does: hot & slow. I try to dial in a comfortable easy stride that I can hold onto, but the road is so steep, it isn't easy. A black storm cloud moves overhead and just hangs there. The question is, for how long? I pass Twiggs again and give him a few more pills. I hold on to a constant stride for a while, and even catch Greg & then the Heaphys. Greg is much quicker than I am but he's stopping quite a bit. The road starts collecting rocks and the higher we climb, the larger the rocks. Also, there are more of them. Greg summits just in front of me with the Heaphys just behind. There's quite a bit of snow on top and more down in the Wasatch Saddle. Greg says he told his wife he'd be in Telluride right about now, and this seems to motivate him, because he quickly disappears. I stop by the wooden post on top of the Wasatch Saddle to wait for the Heaphys, just because it always seems like we cross this spot together. There isn't any other reason, but it just feels like the thing to do. When they come over the top, I hook up with them, and then go ahead. I try to push the pace, but can't seem to spin it up like I want. I must be tired. It's time to get rejuvenated down in Telluride. I manage some speed down past the old Nellie Mine and wooden bridge where John Cappis is shooting pictures. Just as I drop onto the main trail across from the waterfall on Bear Creek, Twigg comes blowing down the trail and past. Apparently, he's fine on the down hills. A few minutes later, Mark Heaphy cruises by. I ask about Margaret, and he says they had agreed to remain together until this road. I pick up speed and stay just back of Mark. We catch Twigg and the three of us roll on down the road until the final turn, where we bunch up behind another group. Our small herd crosses the field together to enter the Telluride aid station.
Joyce escorts me to a chair in the shade. A slice of pizza is handed to me, and an assortment of ice cold drinks to choose from. Lynn Ballard and Paul Schmidt are here also, and will both take turns pacing me later. One of them takes my pack to swap out the old with the new. I change my shirt & hat, but my new trail shoes, the Vasque VTS are working great and my socks are dry, so there is no need to mess with 'em. An unusual problem I have at this race that I've never had at any other is that I kick the insides of my own legs. From the constant water crossings, my legs get wet over and over again, and then they dry over and over again, and the skin becomes more sensitive and prone to abrasion. After many hours, the minor scrapes with the sides of my shoes as they slide by, start to actually slice the skin with hundreds of tiny cuts. Seeing the scrapes when I sit down, I ask Paul if he can wrap my legs like he has done many times before. I need to start wearing tall gaiters to combat this problem. It is after all, just one of a hundred minor problems that I'll attempt to solve in the next two days of running. I chase the slice of pizza with a few slices of avocado before my crew sends me off.
Telluride [ 27.6 mi / 8750 ft ] - Krogers Canteen [ 32.7 mi / 13100 ft ] Mendota Saddle [ 12560 ft ] & Krogers Canteen [ 13100 ft ]
Lyle Clugg & Jean-Jacque escort me out and point me in the direction of the new escape route. It's not very complicated, so I manage ok. The road on the other side of the main drag quickly tilts uphill. Before I even find the dirt, the pavement slows me down. I lean into it and try to dial in my uphill pace. At the brick wall, the route goes right and then up a dirt chute. There are flags all over the place and I start to follow the flags before I realize Hardrock doesn't use flags. I see one of the metal posts with the standard square metal plates on the left and readjust. Left on the road above and right at the split, the jeep road leans uphill through a grove of aspens. I hook up with Tom Schnitzius. I have been around him quite a bit these last few miles, but finally get a chance to meet him. My downhill is faster than his, his uphill is faster than mine, and he is much quicker than I through the aid stations. So, we will most likely see each other a lot more before we are done. For good reasons, I'm usually a lot better after a major station like Telluride. So, I stay with Tom and also hook onto Liz and Scott. The road switchbacks last for miles and eventually they drop me as we get much higher. I catch up with Twiggs again and provide more papaya pills, which he gladly takes. He stays with me until somewhere around treeline, as the trail jumps off road. I turn around to check, but he's not there. He's having a really tough time with his stomach, so he likely stopped to take a break. Mendota Saddle is one of the few landmarks on this course that, when you see it, you are almost there. The transition from beautiful aspen forest to stark treeless moonscape is quite drastic and startling. I stop to study it for a moment and realize I already have the entire sequence memorized. Chuck, looking very green, is sitting on a rock about half way up, barfing to beat the band. This seems to be the year of stomach woes. After I go past him, he gets up and follows. Crossing over Mendota Saddle, I drop into Marshall Basin, and look for the poles that line up on Virginius Pass. The traverse across the basin is all rock and anything but level, dropping before rising back up. I keep looking up, expecting to make a left turn any moment. The climb starts with a short section of scree, and then finds a short set of switchbacks. I had forgotten about the switchbacks, and what a relief to take them instead of the scree into Kroger's Canteen. One guy is on the radio reporting numbers of runners and their times, while the other guy asks if I need anything. They usually don't have coke, but I ask anyway. He says sure and offers me a cup. Two years ago, I sat here with Deb Pero, drinking a coke that she brought with her.
Kroger's Canteen [ 32.7 mi / 13100 ft] - Governors [ 35.9 mi / 10780 ft]
I go over the side, start with the fixed rope, but turn loose and run down. Odd, how exhilarating that always is: brings the 10 year old up to the surface every time. It also fires me up rather nicely for the remaining journey down into Ouray. I keep running towards and around the left side of the large rock that begins the second pitch. I pass a few guys as I head for the final pitch. I take the left side around the exposed rock and dodge a few people struggling in the snow. I dig in my heels, partly run, partly slide, and pass a woman who seems really nervous about her position on the snow face. Reaching the base, I stop to clear the rocks and dirt from my shoes next to a guy watching the slope. Is she with you I ask, and he says yes. She looks like she could use some help, I suggest. Oh, she'll be fine. Shoes clear, I get up and continue. Joyce & I ran this section a few days ago, so I follow the same steps in the snow where I placed rocks just recently. I see a guy coming from the wrong direction on the road and he's yelling up at me, but I can't hear him until I ski down the last snow slide to where he is. I tell him the direction and then head that way with him. We run down the rocky road together. He's concerned about the possibility of finishing based upon his time and location at this moment. I tell him not to worry about it, that we are doing just fine. I stop at Governors Basin for a moment, but only for a moment. It was my intent to pack a dry pair of socks from Telluride just for this long road downhill but the socks are missing. As soon as I realize that I had forgot the socks, I get up and start running again.
Governor's Basin [ 35.9 / 1 0780 ft ] - Ouray [ 43.9 / 7870 ft ]
I've got a few downhill miles ahead of me and the last thing I want to do is load up my stomach for this shake, rattle, and roll. I figure to be into Ouray soon enough anyway and I'm losing daylight fast. My run pace is faster now than it has been for any other part of the race. It feels good to stretch my legs out, so I hold on through a few sweeping turns on the wide jeep road. After I loose the light, I decide to continue without my flashlight. A three quarter moon rises just behind my right shoulder, providing just enough light, until I catch Steve Pero and Greg Loomis. They're walking, so I slow to walk with them. They both have lights on, and now I can't see a thing, so I turn my light on. Its nice to relax and visit with the boys for a bit, but when I realize they intend to walk all the way into Ouray, a few miles still, I bid adieu, and start running again. They tell me to catch Mongo, who is supposedly just ahead of us. I don't know who Mongo is, but it doesn't take long to spin back up. The road levels out at the bridge, where I come up from behind somebody just ahead, and at the same time two people are coming back up from a side road. One of them is Robert Andrulis (Mongo), but I don't catch the other names. Its dark and I never do see their faces. It's always strange meeting people on a night run. It just aint nice to shine your light in anybody's face, so there are times when you never do actually see who you are running with. They ask if I know where the new turn is into Ouray, which I do, so they decide to hang with me. For a short section after the bridge, we are going uphill, but then we turn down again and my downhill speed remains pretty strong, so they stretch out behind me. After a few miles, I see the lights of Ouray and slow down so they can see where I turn. Its marked pretty well, so they don't need me anyway. The side trail is a well maintained and fairly level, so I continue to run well until the chasm. I can see right through the floor grating of the metal pedestrian bridge at the rapids 50 ft down. It's a narrow slot, so I cross it rapidly. A tunnel hangs on the rock face at the other end, but the bridge doesn't line up with the tunnel very well. It's a few feet high, so I have to duck down as I descend into it. Robert & one other are right behind me in the tunnel. It has a level floor and is pretty tight. I can touch both walls at the same time and bend over to avoid bumping my head. Just before I exit, I hear Robert yell something about a bat, and something flies past me, or maybe it was just my imagination prodded by Robert. The tunnel leads to a short steep drop, with a wall on my left and a chain link fence on my right. I'm running as I left the tunnel and accelerate down the hill, and up the other side. The trail levels out again and quickly deposits me on a road. I had hiked this short section a few days before the race, so I know all the turns. Under the trees and with the moon hidden on the wrong side of this canyon, it's very dark. Robert is with me again, and I don't even hesitate, pushing through each of the turns leading to Oak St and Ouray. I turn back to see if the others are on us but catch only one light a little way back. Robert and I make the turn over the Uncompahgre River and directly into the aid station. I stand there for a moment, wondering where Joyce is, and then I see her the same time she sees me.
Every year I land here in the dark and every year, there always seems to be a swarm of people with headlamps on surrounding me. This time, I don't let it bother me like it has in the past. Maybe I'm just doing better and not so easily irritated. Paul is ready to pace me this next section. He & Joyce tend to my simple needs: a few ice cold drinks to cool my core and keep me hydrated, some food for calories, a change of clothes, and reload my pack with the other odd necessities I prefer to have on hand. I take my time and note a few others who come in and go out quickly. I have selected a few major stations as primary reload and relax stations and this is one of them. I intend to relax and not get rushed. I don't throw away time needlessly but I do want to leave here feeling recharged, so we take care of my needs and then get up and head out without hurry or delay.
Ouray [ 43.9 / 7870 ft ] - Engineer [ 51.9 / 11800 ft ]
Paulie and I walk out of Ouray taking a new route, but then, it always seems to be a new route leading out of Ouray. I had also hiked this section before the race, so this too is clear but not easy. The trail between Ouray and the Highway Tunnel is twisted up and entertaining as ever. We begin with the Ice Park on our right, and it begins easy enough, until we get to the bedsprings! After that, it goes up to the highway and down to the river, taking short steep rises and toe cramming descents. It's not all that far, but the route is anything but direct. Arrival at the Highway Tunnel is anti-climatic at the least. There is plenty more climb from this point, but the previous section always seems to swat me about more than I think it should. We cross the Highway Tunnel to begin the switchbacks going strait up the Glass Trail. I always get here in the dark, and the rock always sounds like breaking glass every step I take. Going up isn't nearly as dynamic as coming down this baby at high speed. Still, the sound is there, either way. I dial in a comfortable pace and push it just a little. I'm surprised at how comfortable I feel. So, far, I've been doing great. After my fiasco at Bighorn three weeks ago, I have been nervous about my stomach. I'm not sure if I have some sort of stomach virus or am I incorrectly managing my water and sodium balance. I have backed off on my sodium so far and keeping the nutrition at a comfortable level as well. So far, it seems to be working. But, I'm wondering what will happen after midnight, and maybe it's a body clock thing. For now, I am making excellent time, moving well, feeling great. Don't get cocky, I tell myself! The wheels come off oh so quickly. I back off just a little. I love the overhanging cliffs with the deadly 100 ft drop strait down to the creek. The sound of falling water echoing off the rock walls is music to my ears. We pass a few people, which is unusual for meÉ to pass anyone going up a mountain. This is one of the longest and greatest elevation changes on the course, from Ouray to Engineer Pass. As fast as I'm moving, I'm nervous about not seeing the Grizzly Bear Mine yet. I keep looking ahead and wondering about it, questioning my pace, my route finding, and my ability to think clearly. I am really starting to worry when we roll into the Yellow Jacket Mine. Then it all begins to make sense. I had to have gone right through the Grizzly Bear Mine without it registering. Not only can I hallucinate into existence things that don't exist, but I can now hallucinate things that do exist into not-being. Paul and I walk into a very lonely Engineer aid station. A fire is going strong, with a group of kids sitting around it. It's quite, the crackling fire is the loudest noise I hear. I have a cup of broth, but realize how cold it is when I stop, and want to get moving again quickly.
Engineer [ 51.9 / 11800 ft ] - Grouse [ 58.4 mi / 10710ft] Engineer Pass [ 12910 ft ]
Twiggs goes out as I come in, and so does Tom. We follow behind Tom and his pacer, and she knows the trail. The markings are not all that easy to follow through here, as it opens up into a wide expanse of tundra, but she knows the way. She seems to head directly to each flag without hesitation or even the slightest adjustment, so we stay right behind them and follow her lead. The trail fades into the snow and marshy tundra, and everything is wet and cold. I pull my jacket from behind me and put it on without slowing. Our pace remains strong until the last pitch, when they finally pull ahead of us. The slope is steep and it's hard to maintain balance. I guess wrong on a foot placement now and again, which cause me to stumble and lose my stride. I hadn't realized how tired I was until just now. The final stumble onto summit is telltale as I feel like I'm about to puke. Must be the altitude, as up til now, I have felt nothing of the sort. Also, it's early in the morning when my body clock likes to shut down for the night. The problem I have been having with my stomach is now on me, so I shift into diagnostic mode, trying to figure it out. Is it the time of day, the altitude, or the work effort I took to climb here? Is it my water/salt balance? I had so much hoped to avoid this. We start running down the hill, but I'm forced to a fast walk for fear of barfing. We still make good time, but leave Tom behind us. This section of road from Engineer Pass to Grouse has been my nemesis these last few years. I seem to miss the correct turns or take the wrong ones. There are a few options and very little course marking on this road, so you just have to know it. I took a gamble this year and hiked this section two days before the race just to make sure I damn well knew this and would not go off course again. I know each turn as I go down the road and yet I still second-guess myself endlessly, and silently, to myself. I stop at every road split and stare at the signs, when there are any. My stomach isn't doing well, but so far, nothing comes up. I waste this long easy downhill once again. The sun comes up on me just as I come into a very quiet Grouse aid station. Lynn is sleeping in his truck, but rolls out as Paul and I stroll in. I check in and immediately inspect the food offerings for breakfast. They have a wide variety to select from, but nothing looks the least bit appetizing. Lynn puts together two plates of possibilities that he carries back with us to his truck. He has a chair for me, out in the road, but I move it around behind the truck, off the road. The ground I select is uneven, but I drop it there anyway. Its not comfortable and I'm not comfortable, the food he offers me doesn't do a thing for me. I take the time to change my shirt and hat, then remove my light. I move my food around, shove a bit into my mouth and try to swallow but cannot. I blow it back onto the plate, then put the plate down. What a grumpy old bastard I've become. These guys are waiting on me hand and foot, and I just cannot be pleased. To hell with it, I say, then get up and start walking. Only thing that's going to make me feel better is to get on down the road. One thing is for certain: I do know I'm gonna go thru hell today, and I wonder if I'm strong enough to get it done.
Grouse [ 58.4 mi / 10710ft] - Sherman [ 71.9 / 9640 ft ] Grouse-American [ 13020 ft ] & Handies [ 14048 ft ] Burrows Park [ 10590 ft ]
Paul, having walked through the night with me, is now done. He is off to bed, while Lynn is in from Grouse to Cunningham. It's a long haul, about 34 miles, with one half-dozen summits, and one really big climb. Up the switchbacks we begin, with Randy Gehrke a few levels above, pacing Tom. He's yelling down at me to hurry up for a beer he's left on the trail for me. I'd love to hook up and use some of his energy, but I just don't have the gusto I had leaving Ouray. This is a tough section to have no calorie load. I should have force fed myself. At least, I should have had something cold to drink, but I even forgot to do that. This isn't the way it should be done. The tortoise part of the strategy is now in full affect. Lets see how slow I can go and stay in the game! People are walking past me and disappearing ahead by ones and twos. One woman stops to ask us where the restroom is. Is she kidding? The people at the aid station told her it was up this way: a cruel joke. Lynn tries to explain the humor, while I sit down and try to eat. A father/son team stops next, to take our picture. They assume we are father/son also, with me being the used up and aged one Lynn thinks it's hilarious, but my humor is missing. I attempt to eat a gel and the picture is taken just before I erupt. That would have been a great photo. My stomach roils, but I continue to try. I eat one single solitary M&M. Lynn says it's not an M&M with only one, but just an M. So, the final summation of all my calories for the ascent of Handies is one M. I get up and force myself forward, one step at a time. Lynn must be thinking this will be a short hike in the mountains, but he is nothing less than completely positive. I have to give him credit for trying to hide the fact that he's enjoying his hike, while I am struggling so badly. It's a beautiful morning, no clouds, slight breeze, and the demons are kicking the hell out of me. My eyes have become a black hole with two completely opposite worlds on either side. The ugliness inside of me is so out of place with the beauty all around. I'm not sure where or how, but somewhere in here, I manage to screw myself up and start moving a little better. Maybe, there were a lot of calories in that M. I get a little confused on the snowfield just under the first summit. The trail flags go out half way and then appear to go directly back the same way. Lynn tries to explain that the trail is a switchback under the snow. The footprints frozen into the snow go in every direction and of no help. We make our way higher without much delay and are soon on top of one mountain looking at the next mountain, which is even higher. Handies fills our eyes.
The descent into American Basin might have been a lot of fun, but for now, the snowfields are frozen solid. I look for a path across to dirt on the other side, and then down to a point where I can safely traverse across the next frozen snowfield. Lynn leads, ignoring the more direct route, in favor of a safe route. We slip a few times on the slippery slopes, punch through a few times, and splash through cold snow swamp muck, only to repeat again. I can see a line of people above me, and another below, which surprises me. It makes me feel a whole lot better knowing I'm not out here all alone, at the back of the bus, and about to fall off. The route to the base of Handies is somewhat circuitous. It climbs to the right, drops to the left, wraps back around and up to the lake, where it turns again and heads back down and across. Crossing snow bridges with water running underneath always seems to unnerve me just a bit, but crossing a
flow of rocks with water running underneath just feels strange. Every time I hear water running under my feet, that I cannot see, I pick up the pace and move a little faster. More snow fields and rock flows before we start climbing the beast. Its slow work, but I seem to move better now that I can see what I have to do. Its right here under my feet and I simply need to move one foot at a time. The higher we go, the steeper it gets, and the slower I go. I stop to look back, and am not the least bit surprised to see my good buddy John DeWalt with his trusty pacer John Ferguson, gaining rapidly on me. The old buzzard can certainly move uphill well. He always could. I keep going, but stop now and again to see when he's going to catch me. He keeps getting closer, but it's going to be close if he catches me before the summit. The false summits are nothing new to me but with John closing in on me, I get fooled by the last one just before the final summit. John must be 50 yards back when I make summit. Lynn takes a few pictures with the father/son team, while I sit down and watch. 15 seconds maybe and then I'm up and heading over the side. I'd like to see John before I take off, but he must have stopped just below summit for a break.
The initial drop is awkward at best, with scree on the switchbacks. Standing strait up, my feet are on the ground, and so are both of my hands. I billy-goat down, hopping slide to side, in the general direction of Grizzly Gulch and Burrows Park. Even after the initial nastiness, it doesn't quite let up. Steep and nasty hang around for the snow next. I take the long switchback through the snow, and watch the kid glissade strait down to the trail under me and then again to the next trail even further down. Very nice, that looks like fun. One slip and I'll be joining him regardless of my intentions. The trick is to stop before reaching the rocks. We stop for a moment out of the snow, when Lynn yells out! That looks like Axel down below us, and it looks like he's bent over barfing. We hurry down to Axel and find that he's not actually barfing, but simply trying to breathe. His asthma has kicked in and he's struggling for air. There's nothing we can do to help, so we continue and hope he'll follow soon. I seem to pick up more energy as I descend, which is part of the body puzzle I'm trying to solve. It's not that I'm running all that fast, but relative to how I was doing, this feels great. Grizzly Gulch opens up before us, revealing streams, flowers, and a very tall horizon. A dark line in a field of green, the dirt trail winds itself continuously down, following the path of least resistance off the mountain. Its a long way to treeline, and even further under the trees before Burrows Park. We cross the bridge, then drop under it to check for the jugs of drinking water. Lynn needs a refill, but I simply want to soak my head in the cold stream. I'm not surprised when Axel comes running in while we're there. It's a happy reunion when he crosses the bridge. Lynn and I discuss my eating and energy issue, so I decide to walk slowly down the road and try to eat something, anything. Axel is still messing with his water when we start down the road. The only thing I'm carrying that is the least bit palatable is a peanut bar, so I unwrap one and start to nibble on it, a few crumbs, then I walk and wait. Five minutes and I try again, another nibble. I could run some of this road but I have a different goal for the time being. This jeep road is nothing more than rock with a bit of dirt on top, a rock wall on the left, and a cliff on the right. The views are undoubtedly beautiful, but hidden behind a screen of dust as each jeep or ATV rolls by. A few slow to a crawl, understanding that we're breathing their dust, but most are indifferent or ignorant. I continue to nibble on my dust covered peanut bar for miles, and manage less than half by the time we reach the off-road shortcut. Axel catches us about the same time. The shortcut is short, steep, and sweet. Coming out on the road by the bridge, we are nearly to the station and off the main tourist route. The three of us walk in to the Sherman aid station together. They do a great job here. With lots of shade from the tents and trees, and the top-notch service, we're treated like royalty. They already have my drop bag laid out, with the contents spread on the table before me. They bring me a cold drink, a slice of cheery pie, and some soup. I eat it all, expecting to bring it all back up as quickly. But, it stays down. I gamble a bit and try some sardines next. Still keeping it down, I'm relieved that maybe I've managed to get past my problem. Could it be that I just cannot eat in the wee hours of the night and attempting to do so simply upsets the entire cart... for a while. Could it be that I cannot eat when my body is over-heated. This comfortable shady location is completely opposite of what I had at Grouse. I ate well at Ouray too. Oh well, more food for thought. But for now... I'm kickin it up a notch.
Sherman [ 71.9 / 9640 ft ] - Pole Creek [ 80.9 mi / 11460 ft ] Pole Cataract-Pole Divide [12200ft]
The three of us check out and walk across the bridge leading out, but Axel stops, says he needs to go back to use the boys room. So, Lynn and I head out without Axel. Because of the calories I finally got into my body, I'm excited about my prospects, and start climbing well. We make very good time for the first time since Engineer Pass. The trail is wide at first, running parallel a creek with numerous cascading waterfalls. Columbine bouquets are visible along the switchbacks along with the clear and pleasant music of falling water. We cross the creek three times on our rise to the top, but I'm feeling a world different than I did such a short time ago. Back from the dead, yet again. I'm well aware how quickly the wheels fall off, so it is no surprise when they do. There are no clouds and no shade when we clear treeline at the rock graveyard. I dive into a complete energy reversal almost immediately. I've most likely already used all the recent calories I was so proud of back in Sherman, just climbing to this point. Now that I need more, my gag reflex once again dominates all other priorities. I'm getting damned tired of this. I work my way through my stash of goodies: a peanut bar: puke, a gel: barf, a Shot Blok: gag. Oh well, its water & salt caps again. I pop a salt cap and toss it immediately. Ok, so its water then. Lets see just how tough I am! I dunk my head at each and every creek, scoop a ball of snow at each snow bank, and when I must submerge my feet in a stream - I stand there for a few extra moments to get the full cold blast. My bandana and hat are dunked at each opportunity, so I work the field as best I can to keep my core temp down. I keep trying, but keep failing. Lynn patiently pushes me on and watches me deal with it. My depleted state is kicking me mentally too, because we're now on top in gently rolling fields, and I cannot make myself run. I'm not even walking well, so it takes a long time to get to Cataract Lake. Thinking there is nothing glorious about reaching the high point here, I see the clear green water of the lake and change my mind. Odd to be dragging my body through the dirt while my spirit continues to soar. Every time my spirit dips low, something kicks it back out of the dirt. What a curious thing, this sport I do, to hurt this bad, and feel this good. It's about the spirit after all: how it makes me feel, how it changes me spiritually, while it destroys my feet, corrupts my stomach, and beats me to hell. It can't be for the blisters and diarrhea. I am not a masochist after all, but in search for a feeling that is so good that I am willing to pay the price. Unfortunately, All this soul searching doesn't speed me up a tick. The brain and the legs apparently run on different engines.
At a critical turn after the lake, I point out all the footprints in the snow leading into the wrong valley, mistakes frozen in place. My feet have been wet since I passed the lake, and as the trail sweeps back and forth through the creek, this continues. We catch up to Markus Mueller, who wants to talk, but I am near incapable of putting together sentences, my thoughts drifting away so quick I cant connect them. We wade the creek once more, just below Pole Creek aid station, then follow a well worn track through the grass to the base of the slope trail leading into the station. Somebody is discussing why he dropped, and it surprises me. I try not to even think that word. Lynn is getting himself some food, but I have been here enough times to know they never have anything I want. I sit on my butt for a moment just to rest my legs, then escape as easily and without much notice.
Pole Creek [ 80.9 mi / 11460 ft ] - Maggie [ 85.3 mi / 11640 ft ] Maggie-Pole Pass [ 12530 ft ]
I attempt to run, but it's a sad act, a tragic comedy I suppose. We're still hours away from night, but as we round the corner of the high valley, a group of low clouds drifts in front of the sun, providing a wonderful sun block and instantly dropping the temp and raising my ability to run. A take the opportunity to try a Shot Blok, and then another. My energy meter moves up a tick, and I start pushing Lynn. Sure feels good to have some kick back. We cross the upper end of the valley and head towards the series of steps it takes to reach Maggie. Each step is higher and a creek to cross here and there. I surge upwards with new life, wanting to get as much out of this as I can before I lose the light. There's a lot of snow and water on the final two tiers coming up over to Maggie. We don't even slow for the summit, but roll over the top and head down an old rutted jeep road that pretends to be a creek. The double rut becomes a single rut filled with water as we round the mountain and traverse down to Maggie. John Cappis is heading out, going backwards to find Allie as we sit down. I try some broth and a cup of tea but that is all. Daylight is waning and I need to go.
Maggie [ 85.3mi / 11640 ft ] - Cunningham Gulch [ 92.1 mi / 10380 ft ] Buffalo Boy Pass [ 13060 ft ] Stony Pass Rd [ 12580 ft ] Green Mountain Pass [ 12980 ft ]
This next section is a real pain to cross in the dark. There is no trail, and the flags do not go in a strait line. You have to stop at each flag and search about for the next one. It's painfully slow and as you lose the light, you slow even down. SoÉ I want desperately to get over Green Mountain while I can see it. Approaching the creek, there's a single 2x4 stretched across the water. Seems pretty funny to me, but Lynn actually walks over and tries it out. I ask him what he thinks he's doing, but then he springs up on it and across in a heartbeat. Lynn looks to weigh about as much as I do, pushing 190 lb. or more, so I'm shocked. I would have thought he'd smash through into the fast moving water underneath. Then he tells me to come across the same beam. I can't believe I'm considering it, but I am a brainless fool at the moment and do the same thing Lynn did, but much slower. The energy I get from such a foolish thing seems to propel me up the next monster. Mountain tundra climbs are not much fun. There is no trail, no track, no line, but simply clumps of grass scattered about and random. There is no rhyme or rhythm to it, but brute force and mindless surging, left, right, one foot at a time, hands on legs, push, and repeat. A rusty set of bedsprings mark the end of the first big climb. How appropriate: a place to rest before the next climb. Lynn leads, I follow. I don't even look for the flags, but do see some as I pass them. We hook onto another twosome on the final face going up Canby Mountain. Around the cornice on top, we have a good view of the Buffalo Boy Mine, the old way home, the fast way home. Instead, we head left away from Buffalo Boy and towards the high pass on Stony Pass jeep road. Picking up speed on the downhill, we get ahead of the others on the wrap around traverse. Seeing Green Mountain spurs me on, and we quickly drop down to Stoney Pass, cross the road, and make good time aiming at the Green one. Lynn is pushing me hard, trying to make the goal I babbled about many hours ago: getting past Green Mountain before dark. I think he's going to do it. I'm going to do it. We catch Roger Ackerman just before summit on Green and sit together on top to revel in the moment. You know, he says to me, I've never made it this far in this time before. Well congrats Roger, you're just a short hike from the finish. I launch myself off the mountaintop and hurl my body downhill, and for the first time, pushing Lynn. He's really getting into it now, and goes even faster to stay ahead and lead me through the flags. Light is falling fast, visibility dropping like a stone. For just a moment, I can see the summit of the final climb on the other side of Cunningham, and then I can't see a thing. I struggle in the darkness for minutes, running hard... and then I realize there are cliffs and ledges all around, and I shouldn't be playing like this. So, I stop to turn on my light. But Lynn is riding the wave and thinks I'm coming fast after him, so he keeps going and disappears over the ledge. This is where it gets nasty very quick, with canted skinny trails that change direction like a rabbit on the run. The trail is so steep, that rocks slide off, and if I cared to stop, I couldn't, so you must keep moving once you start moving. I pick up my pace and quickly close on somebody, but I'm not sure if it's Lynn. I try to pass him and he picks up the pace. I don't know for sure until he looks back, it is Lynn. Together, we sprint full tilt down the mountain, a couple of boys at play, passing a couple of people quickly and then a few more. We slide around the turns, sprint everything else, and lean left, away from the ledge. It's a hundred foot drop strait down to the aid station under us, but I dare not look. I can't afford a mistake right now and focus directly in front of me instead. I can't see any of the people I pass either, but I recognize Keith Knipling's voice. A few minutes later, I see his dad asking if I'd seen Keith. My hydration pack has been on my back for almost two solid days, and it's become just another irritant, so I pull it off and slung it over my shoulder. It becomes a dead weight counter balance for the turns. This downhill is the most fun I've had all day and I almost hate for it to be over, when we finally do reach the trail's end at the road. Lynn and I walk side by side towards Cunningham aid station. I'm delirious, excited, and empty at the same time. There's nothing left in my body, but a spirit that's surging and charging.
Joyce is trying to talk to me, to figure out what I need, but it evades me. I insist on dropping everything except a single water bottle and my jacket. She questions me on it: it isn't enough water, she says! I wont drink any of it anyway, I answer! I try to eat, get next to nothing, try to talk, and not understood. Joyce is supposed to finish with me, but she says Paul is going instead. I don't understand, but I just want to go, now, while I got the buzz going.
Cunningham Gulch [ 92.1 mi / 10380 ft ] - Silverton [ 100mi / 9310ft] Dives-Little Giant [ 13000 ft ]
Joyce leaves me at Cunningham Creek, where I wade across in the dark. Paul is waiting on the other side. He's talking to me, but my mind is on strobe, hearing only bits and pieces, drifting in and out. It finally clicks what's going on: I'm falling asleep. I cross the waterfall stream delta and start the climb, hard behind Paul. He picks up the pace and I match it. He goes quicker, and I match it again. He must be thinking that he's going too slow, but I'm simply reacting. I can't see, can't hear, can't think, but I'm staying hard onto whatever he does. Power hiking, we clip through endless turns, passing a few people who appear to be as numb as I am. Paul makes small talk with some of them with almost no response. Finally, I stumble, off balance, I try to put my foot down, but my body swings around to the side before I put it down, and knowing its not where I want it, I simply stand there one legged and try to swing my body to get my foot where I want it. Awkward, off balance, stopped dead, Paul turns to ask if I'm ok. I can't seem to answer, to talk. I apologize to Paul for being so out of sorts. Hell, your climbing better than I've ever seen you before, he says. I am? Then don't wake me up, because I'm just following you. We start moving again, but the spell is broken. I'm moving well, but nothing like the initial surge. Still, we continue to pass people. We go through one very steep and rough section of loose rock that I struggle with and then we're on the final pitch of tundra. We have an entourage now of 5 or 6 people. I don't know where they came from, in front or behind, but we stutter step up the last bit of very steep tundra. Paul keeps pushing and I hang on. We sit down for a break and Paul asks if there is anything I need. Sure, bring me the summit! Ok, he says, it's right here. We were sitting just below the edge of the final summit and he knew it too. I'm done, not completely done, but psychologically, it's in the bag, and suddenly I'm very emotional. The others who were with us had fallen off before the final push, but now they are just below and coming fast.
Paulie says its time to do my downhill stuff, so we start running, with me n the lead. Across the catwalk and down the miners trail we run. The trail gets steep in places, but we keep on burning, and slide through an entertaining scree area. When we get below the section that's all rock, I struggle to find my way, and ask Paul to lead. He jumps out and pushes me faster than we had been going, so that I have to hurry to hang on. Rock ledges keep me hopping up and down, until we make the turn and drop onto the road. I know for certainly that we go strait down the road, but still, I second-guess myself, again. We run down the road but I keep looking back to make certain all those hot on our trail don't go another direction. After a few confirmations, I still wonder. We begin to pass people on the road. They all seem to be ambling along, while I am in fact running. So where did I get the energy from so that I can run? How can I do this? I seem to have gotten past my drowsiness since starting down, and I still haven't eaten much of anything in a very long time. We keep it up to the turn taking us to Arastra Creek. This cements in my mind the certainty of where I am without a doubt. I am almost done. A few miles of easy running just above the Animas is all there is to it. My world exists completely within the beam of my flashlight. We plow through stream and mud with indifference to the wet or the slop. Paul continues to run, and I run because he does. He leads, I follow: it's that simple. Past the small house in the woods, a beaver pond, a mill, and then the ski lodge. The ski lodge is bathed in dark and I'm not certain we're even on the correct road leading past it and over the Animas into town. I look for road sign at each street, wondering if I'm in the right place. I know I'm in the right town. It's quiet coming into Silverton at 2:00 am. Abandoned chairs sit empty on a street corner. We talk quietly as we run alone down the street, between the buildings, past the main road, and left on the next one. We're down to the last two landmarks, the gym, and the rock. Then we hear somebody say, Runner Coming. I see Joyce and then the rock. I kiss the rock first and then Joyce. I slide down the front of the rock, exhausted. How'd I do it, I keep asking myself? My spirit must be stronger than my body!