2006 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

   
 
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HARDROCK HUNDRED, PART 2:
PERSPECTIVE FROM GRANT-SWAMP PASS
 
FRIDAY, JULY 14
 
 
" . . . I am aware that a run of 100 miles is extremely difficult and hazardous,
even for well-conditioned athletes under the most favorable conditions.
This run covers difficult mountainous terrain and spans great extremes of
altitude and temperature. . . I have also been advised that I may be exposed to
physical injury from a number of natural factors, including snow on the course,
lack of water, high water, lightning, mountain lions and bears, and to the
hazards of vehicular traffic . . . I may become injured or incapacitated in a
location where it is difficult or impossible for the event's management to get
required medical aid to me in time to avoid physical injury or even death . . ."
 
-  part of the Hardrock Hundred entry application
 

 

Sign me up!!

Just kidding. I don't have the physical ability OR guts to try to get into this race. Jim does, but he's concerned about being "out there" for two nights. One night is tough enough. Two nights entail some serious sleep deprivation.

One hundred thirty-one tough individuals started the Hardrock Hundred at 6 AM this morning at the high school in Silverton, Colorado, right next to the traditional "hard rock" that each runner looks forward to kissing, as is the tradition, sometime before 6 AM on Sunday.

In storage most of the year, the "hard rock" is brought out every July for the race. How many runners would get to kiss the rock this year??

In order to "kiss the rock," runners have to climb up and down over 66,000 vertical feet at elevations ranging from 7,680 feet to 14,048 feet. They must climb up and over over twelve ridges 12,000 feet and higher. Terrain ranges from grassy meadows to steep cliffs with either snow or talus to scramble up or glissade/"skate" down, over faint animal trails, rocky, rutted jeep roads, and occasional smooth trail.

And they have to do it within 48 hours of starting the race.

The rewards are great, however. Most important is the pride of finishing the race. Not many people can do that. There are esoteric rewards, too. On a clear day, runners can see over fifty miles from some of the ridges and passes. Views of surrounding peaks are spectacular, as are the flowers and waterfalls this time of year.

And runners have the privilege of passing through historic mining areas from Silverton to Telluride to Ouray to Lake City and back to Silverton on old foot and burro trails and wagon roads used by miners. The run has been dedicated to their memory since its inception in 1992.

This is the 13th running of the race, which was cancelled once by too much snow and once by the danger of forest fires. Neither is a threat this year, so the race goes on.

SETTING UP CUNNINGHAM AID STATION

Jim and I had our own long day ahead of us, so we didn't get up in time to see the runners start the race. Instead, we met Dave Coblentz, our aid station co-captain, in town at 7:30 and began loading up the truck with over a hundred runners' drop bags and aid station supplies (food, beverages, tables, chairs, a cot, blankets, water jugs, propane heater, etc.) for the Cunningham Aid Station.

Dave had come to town from Los Alamos with a runner (Nate McDowell) and had no vehicle of his own. He brought his own camping equipment so he could sleep at the aid station tonight and tomorrow night to guard the goods. We're glad he had a stove, light, and some cooking utensils, because we would rely on them during the race.

Out to Cunningham Gulch we drove (about eight miles from the race start/finish). The tent was still there, along with some campers in tents and RVs. They weren't in the way of the race, however, and provided Dave with some good company.

The three of us unloaded all the supplies and equipment and did a bit of organizing before we began our own little training runs on the HRH course. Dave wants to try to get into the race next year, so he's interested in seeing parts of the course. He's a much faster runner than we are; last year he was 17th at Leadville with a 22-hour time.

Dave planned to do an out-and-back run from the aid station this morning. Jim and I planned to watch the runners somewhere along the course, then take a load of wood (for a bonfire) and water out to the aid station later in the afternoon.

Both Dave and Jim will receive an extra "ticket" for the lottery for being co-captains at Cunningham, which is the last aid station this year and the one open the longest (approximately 6 AM Saturday to 6 AM Sunday). Will Jim decide to use his?? Because of the difficulty of getting volunteers to man this aid station, race management is "considering" offering other volunteers a ticket for working at least a 12-hour shift. I'll be working more than that, but have no interest in a ticket!

RACE VIEW FROM GRANT-SWAMP PASS

Jim and I wanted to get in a good run today and decided a great place to do that AND get to see some of the race participants would be to climb up nearby Grant-Swamp Pass and observe from there. Jim and Cody already scouted out the route a few days earlier. Tater and I were anxious to see it, too!

By the time we got back to the camper and changed clothes, we knew we would miss the front runners. In order to save some time, we drove up to a little parking area on the road to Clear Lake and got on the Ice Lake Trail about 10 AM. This intersected with the trail used by the race in about a mile.

A fella hiking up to Ice Lake took this photo of the four of us about half a mile into the trek:

Cody obviously wasn't interested in posing for a photo!

In the photo above, Jim (red shorts) and the other hiker are ascending a steep part of the trail through the riot of colorful flowers that lined the trail most of the way up to the pass.

In the photo below, we'd already joined the HRH course on the trail to Grant-Swamp Pass and had stepped aside to let several runners pass.

Grant-Swamp Pass is the third of many passes/ridges over 12,000 feet in elevation that the runners must climb today and tomorrow in the clock-wise direction. Here is a list of the highest saddles and passes, miles into the race, and elevations:

  • Putnam-Lime Creek Pass, 7 miles, 12,600 feet

  • Porcupine-Cataract Saddle, 8.6 miles, 12,230 feet

  • Grant-Swamp Pass, 14.9 miles, 12,920 feet

  • Oscars Pass/Wasatch Saddle, 21.3 miles, 13,140 feet

  • Mendota Saddle, 32.1 miles, 12,560 feet

  • Virginius Pass, 32.7 miles, 13,100 feet

  • Engineer Pass, 53.2 miles, 12,910 feet

  • American-Grouse Pass, 60.9 miles, 13,020 feet

  • Handies Peak, 63.7 miles, 14,048 feet (highest point on course)

  • Cataract-Pole Pass, 77 miles, 12,200 feet

  • Maggie-Pole Creek Pass, 84.2 miles, 12,530 feet

  • Buffalo Boy Ridge, 86.5 miles, 13,060 feet

  • Stony Pass, 87.6 miles, 12,580 feet

  • Green Mountain Pass, 88.2 miles, 12,890 feet

  • Dives-Little Giant Pass, 93.4 miles, 13,000 feet

That's a lot of "high points," and there are lots of "low points" in the valleys, gulches, and towns. You get the idea. Up, down, up, down, repeat LOTS of times!

One of the first runners to pass us was Matt Mahoney, below. Matt has finished HRH several times despite living in Florida near sea level. He comes out to Colorado for several weeks each summer to acclimate and climb 14ers in preparation for Hardrock, and is usually successful. He definitely has a lot of fun while he's out here! Matt is a frequent contributor to the internet ultra list and is known for his minimalist approach to racing - no crews, no pacers, no drop bags, and often, no socks! He carries most of what he needs and does eat/drink at the aid stations, so he's not totally unsupported during races.

The next few photos show the magnificent scenery on the way up to Grant-Swamp Pass and some of the runners ahead of and behind us:

 

 

Here's Hans-Dieter Weisshaar with his arms out, balancing on the narrow trail about a quarter mile below the pass. Liz Walker is behind him.

 

Below them is beautiful Island Lake:

Two runners reach the pass, below. The last couple hundred feet were a steep  scramble up loose rock that was more treacherous when Jim and I went back down this side than when we ascended. (But it wasn't nearly as bad as the treacherous slide the runners had on the other side of the pass!)

Once on top, the runners passed by Joel Zucker's memorial . . .

. . . and walked carefully through a maze of rocks . . .

. . . to reach the point where they began their steep descent into Swamp Basin:

 

And I do mean steep. Jim and I took one look off the "edge" and said, "No way!" An HRH veteran told us it's easier to negotiate the steep slope when there is snow (glissade down) or the rock is looser than it was this year ("skate" down the talus). It was apparently more difficult this year because heavy rains had washed out some of the loose dirt and rocks, so runners had to go more carefully and slowly to reach the flatter area below.

If you look carefully, you can see several runners who made it down the worst part:

From his perch in the rocks on the pass . . .

. . . Jim zoomed in on two runners as they descended the steep slope into Swamp Basin:

The runner in white seems to be using a zig-zag approach to minimize joint stress and the danger of falling.

Tater scared me every time she got this close to an edge:

It's a long drop!

The reddish mountain on the far side of the basin holds Oscar's Pass, the next big climb for the runners. As hot as it was today (80s in Silverton), many runners had problems with that climb and some had to drop from dehydration or heat exhaustion at the aid station in Telluride or just beyond.

Jim, the dogs, and I stayed up on the pass for about two hours, even after the last runner came through. Although we missed the first two-thirds of the runners, we got to see about forty old and new friends make the climb and slide down the other side. Even though some of them didn't finish the race, we give them a lot of credit for just being out there pitting themselves against this difficult course. There is no way you could get me to go down that steep of a slope - and Virginius is even worse!

The weather held while Jim and I were on the pass. About 2 PM we descended back to the truck for a round-trip hike/run of about six miles. We took a little detour to go to the edge of Island Lake so the dogs could get some cold water and swim:

Then we walked back to the trail through lots of wildflowers and past the other little pond . . .

. . . and descended the way we'd gone up the mountain:

It was a fine run/hike, we got to see some of the race action and cheer folks on, and it was good acclimation for us.

After we ate lunch and cleaned up, we loaded firewood onto the truck (Jim had been scavenging it for a couple weeks), filled the 55-gallon water tank on the back of the truck (there's a picture of it in the "hard rock" photo at the top of this entry), and went back out to Cunningham to deliver the supplies to Dave. The firewood will make a nice, warm fire tomorrow night for runners, crews, and volunteers at the aid station, and it's easier to fill the large water containers from our tank than it is to carry the full jugs from town.

I was concerned about the lack of equipment we had (not enough tables, stoves, pots and pans, utensils, and lights). I assumed the race would provide these things for the aid stations, but I was wrong. We ended up taking out two pots with lids, a skillet, and some utensils. We didn't have a stove, tables, or lights, other than our personal flashlights, to contribute. We used some of Dave's camping equipment, and were most grateful for stoves, utensils, and another small table provided by two great volunteers from a climbing club in Durango. More about our equipment and supply challenges in the next entry.

Jim and I got to bed about 8 PM so we'd be ready for a very full day at Cunningham on Saturday, the second day of the Hardrock Hundred. We had to get out there very early to beat the first runner, who was expected near dawn.

The communications system used in this race is superb. Jim has a HAM license and offered to help the radio folks (a man and his wife) at our aid station when he wasn't needed for his EMT skills and to help runners as they came through. A couple communications people were on duty at all hours of the race at the high school gym to send and receive messages from the aid stations. Observers could monitor runners' progress there and on the internet throughout the race.

We knew at bedtime that Karl Meltzer was burning up the course, and we'd better be ready for him in the morning!

Next up: our perspective from Cunningham Aid Station on Saturday/Sunday, and the post-race brunch/awards ceremony on Sunday.

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil