There are no easy climbs on the Hardrock course!
It was Day Four of the monsoon season, or so it seemed. We
were plenty sick of rain. We putzed around the camper doing various chores
between rain drops in the morning. This is the new site where we moved a few
When the sun came out after lunch, I encouraged Jim to go
finish the run he intended to do on
As it turned out, he ran into no rain at the higher
elevations until about 30
minutes before he returned to the camper. Meanwhile, it continued to rain down
here (I stayed "home" to rest up for my next CT segment tomorrow).
About 2 PM Jim and Cody ran out the camper door, up the
South Mineral Creek Road for a little less than two miles, up the road toward
Clear Lake for about a mile, and hit the Island Lake Trail, heading west for the
basin mentioned above.
"Up" was the operational word until they peaked at
Grant-Swamp Pass. They went from 9,727 feet at our camper to 12,920 feet (12,938
feet on our GPS) at the pass, a gain of 3,211 feet. And back! I'm sure that was
more fun. It took them a total of 4:50 hours to do twelve miles. Sounds slow,
but it was quite a trek on those "animal trails." (The Hardrock course is more
gnarly than what we've seen so far on the Colorado Trail.)
Jim crossed Clear Creek on the trail up to Island Lake. You
can barely see the faint, narrow trail approaching the falls in the photo below:
The waterfall flows under the log-and-rock
After running on this trail for about a mile,
Jim came to the Hardrock markers and followed those up through the valley toward
Island Lake and Grant-Swamp Pass. The trail got worse, not better, but the views
and flowers were incredible.
Because it was overcast most of the run, Jim
said the rainbow of flower colors just "popped" against the green grasses and
foliage. Orange Indian Paintbrushes were especially vivid. When it's sunny, the
colors appear more faded.
Another benefit of the clouds is less sun
exposure, which is more problematic at these altitudes. Jim usually wears his
white Solumbro sun shirt when he runs, but he just had on a long-sleeved
"technical" shirt today since the sun wasn't out much. He carried his Marmot
Precip jacket but didn't need it.
I've mentioned that there are remnants of
mines literally everywhere in the Silverton and San Juan Mountains region. We
keep seeing them on the HRH course and Colorado Trail. Jim saw these old tracks
coming from a hole in the ground on the way up to Island Lake:
Island Lake is a little jewel among the high
peaks, as you can see in the photo below. I hope I have time to do this run so I
can see it:
The reflections of the clouds, mountains, and snow patches
make it look almost surreal.
The HRH course doesn't go down to the lake, but keeps
climbing up, up, up toward Grant-Swamp Pass. In the photo below, it looks like
the trail suddenly stops, but the markers keep leading toward the rocks above.
In tundra areas like this, trails are often narrow, deep, and hard to run:
See the orange HRH marker below? Jim and Cody took a little
break on these rocks, getting their heart rates down before the final assault to
the Pass. This would be the highest Jim's gotten since being in the Rockies this
At the top of the Pass, Jim found the Joel Zucker memorial
Joel was a Hardrock aficionado who lived in the east and
loved to run this race. . He died in his sleep as he was riding home after the
race (his third finish) in 1998. He was only 44.
Although we ultra runners put ourselves voluntarily at risk
of all sorts of injuries and ailments, including death, it's rare that one of us
dies doing what we love. I'd rather die running in the mountains - doing
something I love - than succumb to cancer or Alzheimers or any other calamity I
can think of.
Meanwhile, back to Grant-Swamp Pass, somewhere you wouldn't
want to slip and fall:
That's Swamp Canyon. Runners in the Hardrock Hundred have
to either glissade down the snow into this canyon - during a snow year - or
slide down scree when there isn't much snow (like this year). When snow
conditions warrant, there is a fixed rope to assist them down. Their next climb
is Oscar's Pass, up on that red mountain in the background.
Makes me tired just thinking about it!
Jim and Cody took a break here, admiring the marvelous
landscape in front of them. In a few minutes, more clouds blew in, creating this
Rain drives us crazy when we're running in these mountains,
but my goodness, the clouds can be so stunning sometimes!
After a few minutes, Jim and Cody turned around, retracing
their steps past Island Lake and down to Ice Lake Trail.
They continued following the HRH course markers to make a
loop to the KT aid station and back to camp.
Remember that stream (Lower Ice Lake Basin Creek) I didn't
want to cross with Tater
last Tuesday? Jim braved the haphazard log
"bridge" today while Cody found his own doggie way across the maze:
Jim's a lot more agile than I am! I don't
think I could maintain my balance on these skinny logs:
Then Jim and Cody made their way along the narrow trail
high above South Mineral Creek Road (shown below) west to the KT aid station
location and back east on the road about four miles to the camper.
I had supper all ready and was getting concerned about Jim
and Cody after 6:30. It was raining again, and I could imagine how drenched Jim
must be since it had continued to rain all day at the camper. Tater and I got in
the truck and went looking for them up the road.
I didn't even get a quarter of a mile when I saw Jim and
Cody running along the road, looking tired but happy. Jim didn't want a ride.
He'd been in dry conditions until the last couple miles on the road, so he
wasn't discouraged like I expected. Although the loop took him longer than he
expected, he was pleased with his workout, enchanted by the scenery, and even
more respectful of the difficult HRH course.
Next up: another interesting day on the Colorado
Trail. Will the rain ever end??