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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Follow some faint animal trails across the head of the [Island Lake] basin,
climbing steeply as you head directly toward U.S. Grant Peak . . .
Elev. 12,920. Grant-Swamp Pass. Acrophobia. Exposure. Take a deep
breath and look over the top of the pass into Swamp Canyon . . ."
- Hardrock Hundred course description (web link to the left)


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 days ago:

When the sun came out after lunch, I encouraged Jim to go finish the run he intended to do on July 4th. 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 bridging:

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 summer.

At the top of the Pass, Jim found the Joel Zucker memorial plaque:

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 enchanting scene:

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??

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

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil