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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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". . . Climb steeply, following the combination of elk trails and sections of the
original mining trail to the Putnam Basin Trail. . . Your trail climbs rapidly
as it threads its way through the willows, crosses several steep gullies which may
be snow-filled, and then works its way above the cliffs. Acrophobia. Exposure . . .
From where the trail ends, cross the Putnam Basin stream on a wide bench
at the top of the cliff band and pick up one of the sheep trails that takes you
directly toward the saddle (S) between Putnam Basin and Lime Creek . . ."
- from the Hardrock Hundred course description (web link in green section, left)


Got that??

Jim decided to run part of the Hardrock Hundred (HRH) course today with Cody, since this section near Silverton was just marked yesterday. He figured it would take him about half the time it actually took to navigate cross-country from Mineral Creek to the KT aid station and on up to Grant-Swamp Pass and down to the camper. He stopped his run about halfway into what he'd planned (KT aid station location), and swore he'd never enter this race.


Later, he was negotiating with the volunteer coordinator for an extra ticket into the race lottery next year because he's co-captaining the Cunningham Aid Station and will be working much of the 24 hours it's open!

Sounds kinda like our stock I'm-never-gonna- run- another-100-miler-again declarations when we're 75 miles into one of them, doesn't it?

Hardrock is a kick-ass course. It has about 30,000 feet of climb and the same amount of descent (it's a loop course).

That's bad enough all by itself.

Add in the altitude (between 9,300 feet and 14,000+ feet), very steep climbs and descents, rough footing that often doesn't follow trails, several potentially wild stream crossings, snow at higher elevations (even this year), AND two nights out on the trail for mid- to back-of-packers, and you've got yourself one tough race.

I think Jim would do well on this course because he ca walk fast and strong, does well uphill, and isn't afraid to bomb the downhills. There isn't a lot of running at HRH unless you're one of the front-runners. It takes physical strength and a lot of mental fortitude to stay out there in all kinds of weather from 6 AM Friday to (up to) 6 AM Sunday. It's the only 100-miler in the country with a 48-hour time limit, to my knowledge.

Being "out there" two nights is what most concerned Jim until today. Now he's not sure he can walk and run fast enough to make the cut-offs on the difficult terrain, either.


About 6:30 AM I dropped Jim and Cody off at the Mineral Creek crossing I showed you yesterday. The crossing is two miles into the start of this year's race, which goes clockwise from Silverton to Telluride to Ouray to Silverton.

I know that water was cold as they walked/swam across the creek, but at least it wasn't waist deep like last year:

I went on back to the camper for another couple hours while Jim and Cody trudged up the Bear Creek drainage for about five miles between Bear and Sultan Mountains on old mining trails, the Putnam Basin Trail, animal trails, and NO trails. He followed the HRH flagging cross-country quite a bit and took all the photos from this point until I describe the run I did today.

This is a shot of the "rock glaciers" on Sultan Mountain:

Jim was quick to point out that he notices the beautiful flowers when he's running, too! These are pretty with the early morning dew still on them:

After climbing into the upper Putnam Basin and over a saddle between the basin and Lime Creek, he continued ascending to the top of the Putnam-Line ridge (elevation 12,600 feet) about five miles into his run.

For the next four-plus miles Jim and Cody followed various sheep trails and old mine trails in a large arc above Cataract Gulch, aiming for the saddle between Cataract and Porcupine Creeks. Exactly how runners cross above the gulch is dependent on snow conditions, but any path must stay above the cliffs, head walls, and rock glaciers.

Just before reaching the saddle, Jim heard an unusual sound "like a bunch of porpoises." It didn't sound like the chirping of marmots or the bugling of elk in rut. He didn't know what it was until he saw this large herd of about two dozen elk off in the distance:

This is a close-up of the herd:

How cool is that?! I'm glad he got to see the elk. Those are the first we've seen on this trip. When Jim described the strange sound to our friend Tom Hayes, Tom remarked that it was probably the mamas calling to their young. Tom's been puzzled by the sound before, too, on runs in the mountains near his home in Bozeman, MT.

After crossing the saddle, the course goes up and down through Porcupine Creek and its tributaries several times (no bridges) and climbs to 11,600 feet on the NE peak of the Twin Sisters. Here are several more photos Jim took of the trail.

I can see a couple more elk in this shot:

This one reminds me of the layers of mountains in the Appalachian "blue ridges:"

See the two little blue lakes lower right, below?

Cody is pretty good at finding those HRH markers, despite virtually no "trail" to follow:

I betcha he followed the scent of the folks who marked the trail yesterday..

Isn't the view below just fantastic? I think it should be on a calendar! It reminds me of scenes from the nearby Colorado Trail. In fact, they're probably the same mountains we saw early in Segment 25.

I don't see any markers OR trails below, but Jim was still following them.

I love the way the clouds "pop" in the photo below. The two-dimensional picture sure looks 3-D. And there's Cody with his nose in the snow again!

Soon the trail descends rapidly to the South Fork of Mineral Creek. On the way down, Jim took this photo of the beautiful flowers along the path . . .

. . . and one of the old Bandora Mine across South Mineral Creek Road:

I think Jim should carry a camera more often on his runs, don't you?


Meanwhile, I was curious about the HRH course and decided to run the portion between the KT aid station and Grant-Swamp Pass with Tater. That's about seven miles round-trip.

Problem was, I didn't know where the KT aid station location is! I drove back to the end of South Mineral Creek Road, passed the Bandora Mine, forded three creeks, and ended up in a large parking area/turnaround.

I assumed the HRH trail went through there, but couldn't find any course markers. All I found were about a dozen young men and women drinking beer at 9:30 AM, making lots of noise, and firing rifles at a log up on the mountain near a trail. I told them Jim and Cody might be up there, and they promised to stop shooting "soon."

Yeah, right. I crossed my fingers that Jim and Cody were well out of the way. I assumed they'd already gone by, but had some food and extra water for them in the truck just in case. I later learned the course doesn't go through there.

As I drove back toward our campground, I saw a little turn-off and a faint jeep road on the left about half a mile from the turnaround. After parking, I noticed HRH markers going up the side of the mountain (part of Fuller Mtn., I think):

Ah, ha! I had inadvertently stumbled upon the real location of the KT aid station. ("KT" stands for Kamm Traverse, named after ultra-runner Ulrich Kamm, who suggested the current route between Twin Sisters Peaks and Grant-Swamp Pass).

I figured Jim and Cody had long since passed here, so Tater and I proceeded up the "trail," which was easy enough to follow as it gradually ascended the open slope above the road. I was again distracted by numerous flowers, such as the Little Red Elephants, below, which gave me frequent opportunities to stop to catch my breath.

Just how long does it take to acclimate to 10,000 feet anyway??

I could see the switchbacks on the road across the valley that we drove yesterday to reach Clear Lake . . .

. . . and had great views of South Mineral Creek Road through the valley looking east, although I couldn't see as far as our campground. The campground in the photo below is the paid one at the end of the smooth part of the road:

After the run I learned from reading the HRH course description that I had actually ascended the face of Fuller Mountain on an abandoned mine road and passed the caved-in mine where the "road" ended and the single-track trail began. The trail definitely narrowed, but I sure didn't see any remnants of a caved-in mine. Tater slid off the loose rocks on the skinny trail a couple times, and I wondered about tired HRH runners going through there in a counter-clockwise year after dark . . .

Just before I entered a stand of trees, I did notice there was quite a drop-off 1,200 feet down to the Mineral Creek campground below. The photo I took doesn't begin to give the proper perspective so I won't even show it here. I later read this part of the trail also has the "Acrophobia. Exposure." warning!

The next section of trail through the trees and a wet meadow was very pretty but would be quite slippery after a rain or in the snow. From the meadow I got this photo of what I'm guessing is Grant-Swamp Pass in the distance:

Soon we came to the Lower Ice Lake Basin Creek, a tangle of fallen trees across a fast mountain stream about twenty feet across. There was a waterfall above us and another below:

The HRH markers when right across the skinny pile of trees in the center of the photo below that are laid perpendicular to the others:

I could see the markers on the other side, where the Ice Lake Trail begins, but I wasn't in the proper frame of mind to try to get there across that mess! I wouldn't be able to balance on the narrow log "bridge" and I didn't feel like getting skinned up crawling over them and the rocks. Nor did I think it was a good thing for Tater to do.

Here we were, two little old arthritic ladies, and I weenied out. I'd just have to hear from Jim about Grant-Swamp Pass and look at the photos he took.

Tater and I turned around and went back down to the truck twice as fast as we went up the trail. I'd already taken several photos, and I could run most of the way down. I did take these two parting shots looking west on Mineral Creek Road:


Rounding a bend, I saw the passenger door open to the truck. No way it could be Jim. He was far ahead of me. Had someone broken into the truck and was still there?

I was pulling out the remote key chain and was ready to hit the alarm when I saw Cody and realized it was Jim! What was he doing here??

Bailing out, that's what. It had taken him so long to do the 9+ miles from Mineral Creek that he decided to quit when he saw the truck. So then I felt kinda bad that I made it so easy for him to stop, but he assured me he was tired enough and could do the Grant-Swamp section another day. There are three ways he can go up to it, including two that bypass the nasty creek crossing. He plans to do that section in a few days.

So that was our Fourth of July. We skipped Silverton's parade down the main street in the morning in lieu of our HRH trail adventures, and we were already in bed by the time the popular fireworks show began at 10 PM. In fact, we were well into dreamland by dark, which is about 9 PM now.

There is more than one way to celebrate our freedoms on the Fourth.

Next up: cabin-fever inspired trek to Clear Lake and the pass above it. Let's see what's on the other side!

Happy trails,

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil