Assembling around the Hardrock:
Shortly before 6 a.m. on Friday the 8th of July I nervously paced around the starting line of the Hardrock 100. The starting and finish “line” is a massive 4 by 4 foot by 5 foot tall solid chunk of granite that is placed before the Silverton Gymnasium every year before the start. On one side is painted the official Hardrock logo featuring a Ram’s head inside a banner reading “Hardrock Endurance Run 100 Mile: Wild & Tough.” This side is always placed such that runner’s finishing will see it. The anticipation was killing me, I hate all the pre-race jitters and hoopla, I simply can’t wait to get “OUT THERE” and in the mix; at least then I know where I stand and what my options are. With just a couple of minutes left on the counting down race clock, I reset my watch so that my time of day matched the official race start and time zero of 6 a.m. I would just be going by time of day since my stop watch stops at 24 hours and they would be getting all of our “splits” at each checkpoint anyhow. What does a split mean in an event of this magnitude anyhow?
After singing “Happy Birthday” to the race director’s wife the capacity field of 125 headed east out of town. On my feet I wore my Smart Wool socks and Montrail Vitesse. They have been my trail of shoe of choice since it’s inception. On my back I carried the Ultimate Direction’s Spee-Demon with a 64oz bladder filled with Extran and other goodies. I carried an extra layer of clothing and gloves just incase of foul weather. In the first 7 miles we would climb to over 13,000 foot Dives-Little Giant pass. I felt pretty good along this stretch. The early cool miles fast hiking up into the mountains invigorated me; I felt pretty confident about a sub 40 hour finish. (Running under 40 hours pretty much means that you’ll finish not long after your second sunset) Over the top of the pass there was some snow but it was easily skirted.
I remember thinking that maybe they over-rated the difficult trail conditions… After a 2500 foot decent to Cunningham aid station (mile 9) I stocked up with Boost Plus and Red Bull and prepared for the difficult stretch to come to the next aid station at Maggie Gulch, some 6 miles and several thousands of feet of climb and decent away. I moved along pretty strongly in this section, able to sustain over 30 vertical feet/minute climbing. Into Maggie Gulch the wheels began to fall off as the sun really began to beat down from the cloudless sky. Now above tree-line (11,800 feet) and fully exposed for the next 13 miles and plodded along passing over the Continental Divide in this section. The air temperature was not hot, but just he solar loading on my body was enough to cause me to become overheated and nauseous whenever I tried to run for more than short stretches. However the frequent stream crossings helped me to cool externally as I continually soaked my hat and neck bandanna whenever I had the opportunity. Even still, by the time I started heading down, down, down into the
Late afternoon, in the
Ouray to Telluride (miles 57 thru 72):
The long road climb from Ouray to
Telluride to Chapman Gulch (miles 72 thru 82):
What can I say about this next section other than it is a long, unforgiving climb, over 4000 feet followed by a punishing, steep 3000 foot decent in only 3 miles. From Telluride to the finish we had 28 miles and over 10,000 feet of climb to go. It takes even the leaders over 10 hours to get home from here. It would take me nearly 17 hours but I get ahead of myself… The first 3 miles of the climb are on a nice wide public path where we saw quite a few hikers and runners out for a morning stroll. At mile 75 we veer off the path onto the Wasatch Trail to continue climbing ever upward to Oscar’s Pass at 78 miles. Only 3 miles but very steeply upward Will and I ascended. Mike was having trouble keeping up our rate of climb and backed off. He couldn’t believe Will and I were climbing away from him and talking animatedly at the same time! Not much later we hit the snow in a big way. As we continued to climb ever skyward we had to negotiate difficult conditions as the trail was buried under deep snow and course marking was a bit thin. So the last summit push was slowed by navigational issues and several long sections of post-holing through the snow. What seemed like forever later we finally reached Oscar’s Pass and started down the very steep, bolder strewn 4x4 road into Chapman Gulch (mile 82). Totally exposed, the sun just seemed to melt me so I had to take it easy going down, plus the footing was so treacherous that trying to run was very suicidal, at least on the steeper early switch-backs. There had been a massive avalanche that had torn straight down the mountain last winter, bisecting the road in several places. So the decent started with a traversal over a remnant of the snow slide which completely blocked the road. And a switch back later we had to traverse along the last edge of the slide. Later switch backs brought no snow but did bring huge boulders we had to negotiate like hiking through a field of talus. However, half way down the surface of the road improves and becomes less steep. It was here that a switch was flipped and I seemed to no longer feel the baking heat and so I ran, hard the rest of the way down into the aid station. Even a fresh Will was having a difficult time keeping up! Into Chapman Gulch the destruction of the avalanche was very apparent by the fields of clear cut aspen trees, uprooted by the awesome force. Other aspens head mealy been bent over on there sides, permanently stuck in a gale force blow pose. Chapman Gulch was a quick turnaround, I tanked up yet again on Boost Plus and Red Bull but also packed some emergency night clothes and lighting as this was the last drop bag I had on the course and if I was going to be out here and night again at all I would need this gear. At this point the slow down out of Telluride meant that I wouldn’t finish before dark but that I still had a shot at cresting the last pass around sunset. It would turn out to be a pipe dream.
Chapman Gulch to Kamm Traverse (miles 82 thru 89):
Leaving Chapman Gulch I was once again fat on Boost Plus and Red Bull so I had to walk pretty slow for a bit. I new this next pass would be very difficult, even more technical than the pitches of
Kamm Traverse to Silverton (miles 89 thru 100):
Shortly out of KT we quickly descended off the main 4x4 road to a very swollen stream crossing. Mike had gotten a little ahead at this point and decided to cross the creek on his own. I yelled for him to wait for Will, myself and this other guy who had two hiking poles so we could all chain up and cross safely together. He was other oblivious or thick headed or just didn’t hear us and crossed anyway. With every sliding and slipping step he took I cringed, but somehow he made it across, albeit a bit further downstream! The rest of us all stood side by side with Will, the strongest at this point, furthest upstream we all grabbed onto a hiking pole set horizontally in front of us. Cautiously we slowly inched across the angry, knee deep creek. Will acted as a blocker creating a comfortably eddy for the rest of us to traverse through and in turn acting as support for Will. In this fashion we made it across in just a few minutes and quickly caught up to Mike. Still fully clothed because of my previous shiverfest we began to climb away from that creek to begin our 2400 foot push to the last pass of the run. Quickly enough I warmed back up and like a light switch had been thrown I was myself again. I announced, “Rob’s back!” And indeed I guess the root cause of my temporary insanity was total caloric depletion, probably caused by my mad scramble up the shifting rock-pile. With a new found energy and excitement coursing through my veins I quickly stripped back down to my trust shirt and shorts yet kept my jacket and cold weather top close at hand around my waist for the eventual cool down of night. I began to climb faster and soon had to part ways with Mike. I wished him luck and told him I’d see him at the finish. With that Will and I made good time until we found ourselves in total darkness in the middle of climbing through what seemed like a tilted swamp; for every step was in mushy, muddy, grassy goo yet onward we had to climb. The trail markers became very difficult to find and it was impossible to anticipate where the markers were trying to take us. I seemed like we were going in circles quite a few times but eventually we emerged out of the slanted swamp to a false yet still gooey summit. We could see the lights of other runners ahead of us on top of the actual summit, Cataract-Porcupine Pass and so we started to dead reckon in that direction, still hoping to find the next trail marker. Slowly but surely we began to leave the muddy tundra behind; before we knew it we had topped out on the second to last pass of the run. Directly ahead and across what I remembered was a large open bowl was our goal, Putnam-Cataract Ridge, the last pass of the run! So we began one last dip and climb to get there, crossing what we found to be a frozen bowl of firm and icy snow and surprise, surprise, very few course markers. We caught up to another runner and pacer in this stretch who explained they were going slow to try and fix the course markers as they went. I thought this was a great idea since I no longer cared about my time since I knew I was going to finish. So Will and I kept going explaining that we’d try and fix the markers we found as we went across the large open bowl on up to the last pass. Crossing the bowl was not treacherous, because it was so flat, but still was very slow because after successfully finding a trail marker we’d sweep out lights around, sometimes with my LED but mostly with my powerful Halogen beam, in order to locate the next marker that had typically fallen over in the wind or simply had been heated up sufficiently by the sun to melt through the snow in which it was planted! So slowly by surely we continued this pattern all the way up and over the last pass and down into the snow choked valley on the other side until finally we at last left the last of the snow behind and emerged on a well marked and easy to run trail. So with my head bent and arms pumping we began to run for the first time in hours. It felt so good to be running, to be through climbing, to be heading to the finish knowing I was about to accomplish my goal of finishing Hardrock in both directions despite all the problems and miscues I’d had. The bottom line was that I never gave up, central to my core we to not quit and despite everything else that happened somehow that one kernel of motivation never eroded away despite my best efforts. Somewhere along this last long downhill we passed quickly through the last aid station, Putnam Basin (mile 94) leaving us a long and gradual 4 miles down to the outskirts of Silverton. After a loonng time we finally approached the roaring South Mineral Creek. I remember from the long trail brief that the flow at this crossing was supposed to peak sometime after midnight. Well what do you know we arrived at the crossing sometime after midnight, I guess a bit after one a.m. And they were right, the creek (really a river to me) was cresting all right and the banks were flooded. Luckily there was a rope tied securely to either side of the 100 foot wide crossing. All the same when my headlamp first peered down into that boiling and bubbling current I wasn’t sure we could make it safely across! One couldn’t tell how deep it was but it was obvious that the flow was really truckin’. I said what the heck and grabbing the rope firmly with both hands began to make my way across. I soon found myself in over waist deep water, the current trying to pull me fiercely from the rope. The rope kinked sharply as I was pulled quite a bit downstream in the force of the late night flow; and it was COLD! I inched along, hand-over-hand until at last I gained the shallower and calmer far side. Will was along shortly and together we hiked up the flooded embankment to the highway crossing. As we emerged onto the first pavement I’d seen in a long time a head lamped figure approached us. The voice said, “Who’s there?” in a thick
At the time, lying in bed for the remaining short hours before we had to vacate the rented house I remember swearing that I would never do Hardrock in the counter-clockwise direction ever again, especially if conditions were predicted to be similar to this year. Just too dangerous. But looking back now a few days and a few thousand miles removed I realize that my state of mind late in the race had more to do with the fact that this was the hardest and longest I’ve ever had to work to finish a race than the true level of danger that existed. Don’t get me wrong, there were some scary spots out there that probably would freak me out even being fresh. However, my only truly low period was when I lost my mind on