Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Scree/talus: Loose rock and dirt on a very steep mountainside that has enough friction
to stay where it is until you step on it, then it slides down the hill. Like trying to go
uphill in mashed potatoes, you slide back 3/4 of a step for each step up. When coming
down hill it is like riding a skateboard with the moving dirt being your wheels.
- Charlie Thorn's graphic description of many of the climbs on the Hardrock course


And his description aptly fits Grant-Swamp Pass, especially the side from which the runners approached the pass this year. I have enough trouble on the "easier" side to know I'd have major problems going up or down the "harder" side!

There are numerous photos of the southern approach to this pass in both our 2006 (July 8 and 14) and 2007 (July 5) journals. It's a fun trek from that side and easy to reach from the South Mineral Creek campground where we've stayed both years. This entry will focus more on the runners we saw along this part of the course today than the scenery.

Last year we got the bright idea to climb up to the pass on the first morning of the race so we could see a bunch of the runners. In the CW direction, they went northbound from the KT aid station toward Chapman, reaching Grant-Swamp Pass at 14.4 miles. We saw most of the back half of the pack and had lots of fun encouraging them on.

What would it be like to see some of the runners this year when they were going CCW and already 85.6 miles into the race? Last year we got to see them slide down the scree on the north side of the pass. Wouldn't it be interesting to see them climb UP that mess?? (It's probably easier when there is snow and a fixed rope to assist them coming up.)

Our buddy Lynn DiFiore, below, originally wanted to be at the finish early this morning to see the first runners come in but agreed with Jim and me last night that our plan might be more interesting: climb up to the pass early enough to see some of the front runners at Grant-Swamp instead of watching them kiss the rock in Silverton (a finish-line tradition). 

We promised her a good workout and outstanding scenery, too. I don't think she was disappointed.


Jim and I almost didn't get to tell this story, though.

I managed to give us both a good case of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning this morning. When I went outside to turn the generator on, I either absent-mindedly closed the "basement" door to the camper or didn't secure the latch properly and it closed by itself. The generator didn't sound right to Jim, but neither of us went outside and see what was wrong. We were in a hurry to get ready for our adventure. The basement filled up with CO, leaked into the living quarters, and within half an hour we both had serious headaches, dizziness, and confusion. (The dogs were outside and unaffected.)

Jim finally went out to check and found the door to the generator compartment closed. He immediately opened it and turned off the generator. He knew exactly why we were having those symptoms and came back to tell me.

The battery to our CO detector had died and we hadn't replaced it. Very bad move. When Jim put a new battery in it, the monitor registered off the scale -- 999, the highest it goes. We had to get it back to zero and FAST.

We opened up the door and all the windows and vents and turned on the fans. We'd already eaten our breakfast and had our gear ready to go, so I took it outside and tried to stay out there. Jim remained inside longer, fanning the air with pieces of cardboard to speed up the process of getting the CO out. I could barely walk for the dizziness. I couldn't think straight. I did get better the longer I was outside.

I encouraged Jim to get out soon because he'd been inside longer than me. We had planned to leave the dogs inside the camper instead of taking them up to the pass but the CO detector still read too high to keep them inside. We needed to leave so we could get up to the pass well before any storms might come in. We ended up leaving the dogs in the truck in the shade with the windows down the five hours we were gone. (They did fine. They love that truck!)

Lynn was camped near us and knew what was going on. I don't think she thought we'd make it to 12,920 feet in our condition, but she patiently hiked at our very slow pace and kept an eye on us. It was a real struggle because we were already in oxygen debt and going into thinner and thinner air wouldn't help. If we'd gotten worse, we would have turned around rather than jeopardize our health. We had to stop frequently, but by gosh, we made it up there and started feeling better as soon as we stopped climbing!

We stayed up on the ledge watching runners come up through Swamp Basin for a couple hours. The headaches and dizziness were soon gone, and we came back down in record time.

Jim didn't want me to announce this to the world, but I think there are some very important lessons here from which others may learn. We'll certainly be more careful now and ALWAYS keep that CO detector on! We never run the generator at night when we're sleeping, and we don't recommend anyone ever do that. You might not wake up in the morning if there's a leak. Be careful out there!


We began our hike to the pass by driving to the Ice Lake trail head on the road up to Clear Lake. It was a beautiful, cool, sunny San Juan Mountain morning. Lynn enjoyed all the flowers as much as I do, often stopping to take photos of them and the views on the climb. I took this photo of her while we were still below timberline, near some yellow daisy-like flowers:

Before we evacuated the camper, we got on-line to see how the runners had progressed through the night. We were in awe that Scott Jurek was already through the KT aid station at 5:04 AM -- we definitely wouldn't be seeing HIM out there. We still should see many of the top runners, though. This was going to be a lot of fun!!

We ended up missing the first seven runners but saw about the next dozen. It was amazing how fresh most of them looked, and happy to have someone cheering them on in such a remote location.

We hiked about two miles in before reaching the HRH course and seeing our first runner, Ricky Denesik. He was going so fast I almost missed the shot:

Since I'm writing this almost a week later, I'll give you the results like I did yesterday -- Ricky ended up in 9th place in 31:58. Good job!

Close on his heels were Emily Baer and her pacer:

Despite breast-feeding her baby at several aid stations, Emily finished 8th overall and second female in a fine time of 31:41 hours. This was Emily's fifth finish and she was inducted into the five-timers club at the awards ceremony. Way to go, girl!!

We saw our new friend, James Varner, next. He worked hard with Jim on the trail work days and didn't know until yesterday that he'd even be running the race because he was on the wait-list. He got ready for the race and finished his first Hardrock in a fast 34:54. Here he comes with his pacer:

James was very happy to see us and took the opportunity to sit down for a little while on one of the many rocks along the trail. We warned him about stopping too long, but he wanted to apply sunscreen that we had with us because he was getting sunburned. He was back on the trail in a few minutes, telling us he was slowing down but would finish. He did lose some places (he ended up in 25th place), but he should be very proud of his first HRH finish. 'Way to go, James!

Close behind was one of our VHTRC friends who now lives in California, Scott Mills, and his pacer:

This guy is FAST -- he came in 11th overall in 32:43, his fifth HRH finish (another new five-year club inductee). Now consider that he is 56 years old, just two years younger than Jim and me. His closest competitor in the top ten was 48 (Ricky). It just amazes me that someone in their 50s can move that fast on this course. We are very proud of you, Scott! Anyone in their 50s, 60s, or 70s that can finish this race is just amazing, let alone come in 11th. You rock.

I'm not sure who is in the next photo, but I think from the times posted that it is Allen Hadley and his pacer. If anyone knows, please let me know so I can properly identify him/them:

I think the next runner is Whit Rambach, who was also running his first Hardrock. He was coming down the south side of the pass pretty fast and we didn't talk with him except to cheer him on:

Whit finished 10th in a great time of 32:32. I met him on July 5th when Steve McBee and I were unintentionally running the Ice Lake Trail instead of going up to Grant-Swamp Pass. Whit had already gone up to the pass, but turned around and did it a second time with Steve. Course familiarity definitely helps. (Young legs don't hurt, either.)

As we approached the pass, I turned and got this shot of Jim and the magnificent scenery behind us. Jim and I were both still laboring up the sometimes-steep trail because of the CO poisoning, but we were so fascinated with seeing the runners and admiring the gorgeous views that we were glad we still had the where-with-all to climb up here:

Lynn and Jim approach the pass through the rocks:

Lynn watches as Scott Jaime, who finished 13th in 32:53, shows us how to move quickly through loose scree:

Although the south side of Grant-Swamp Pass isn't as steep as the north side where the runners were coming up, there are some steep spots with loose rocks and dirt that make the going rough either up or down. It's always easier on my Granny Knees to go up than down such terrain, so I was dreading the return back down. This steep spot right near the top had me butt-sliding on the return:

Jim and Lynn are silhouetted against the bright blue sky on the pass. You can see an HRH marker to Jim's right.

I know I've already shown views from the pass, but indulge me while I show you some more . . . I just love it up here!

First, we passed by Joel Zucker's memorial. Runners often leave a rock here in tribute:

In the photo below, you can see down into the basin and over to Oscar's Pass somewhere on that ridge. The runners have just come from there and through the Chapman Gulch aid station in the valley.

Neither Jim nor I have ever been up or down the course on the Swamp Basin side. Unfortunately these photos don't give the heart-stopping perspective of peering over the edge and seeing just how wickedly steep this section of trail really is! It's one of those "oh-my-gawd!!" parts of the course.

Runners cross about two hundred feet of narrow trail on Grant-Swamp Pass. We walked over to the top of the uphill trail and found the perfect vantage point to watch the runners down in the valley and on the way up to us. We'd lose sight of them for a few minutes though, because of the rocks and our angle of view. We'd see them 'way down below, then they'd suddenly pop around a rock and be about twenty feet away. Hope we didn't scare anyone when they suddenly saw us!

We also learned that not everyone comes up to the marker placed to the right of this rock. Some come up to the left:

We totally missed Betsy Nye, who climbed up even farther left than that. Another runner told us she was in front of him. She came in 20th overall, third female, in a great time of 33:39. This was her seventh HRH finish.

Here comes a runner (Bruce Grant) up the right side of the rock, where most of the runners we saw climbed up. They came up at least partly on "all fours," using their hands to help arrest the slide on the loose rocks. You can also get a feel for the steepness of the climb in the photo below:

I caught this picture of Jeff Browning (left) and Jim at the top of the climb. Even though Jeff finished 15th in a quick time of 33:18, he graciously stopped long enough to catch his breath and thank Jim for being up here to cheer him on:

Next came Ty Draney (in front) and his pacer, Leland Barker. Ty finished 16th in 33:23. It was nice to see Leland, who is the RD for one of Jim's favorite 100-milers, The Bear. Again, see how steep this is?

Lynn got this photo of Jim and me on our little perch in the sky:

See what I mean about climbing up the scree on all fours? I think this is Jason Halliday:

Bruce Grant and his pacer near the top:

Bruce (#128) looks mighty happy to be done with that climb! He has only one more high pass to go. He finished in 17th place in 33:26. The other fella is a hiker who came up to watch:

I can't see the whole number to identify the runner on the left but I believe it's Jason Halliday (18th place in 33:36). The runner sitting on the right is definitely Tyler Curiel-of-the-gaudy-tights we saw him in yesterday morning at Cunningham! After 85+ miles he still had on his Mardi Gras beads but was wearing more sedate shorts in the warm sunshine. Tyler finished his eighth HRH in 19th place (33:38). He was the third over-fifty finisher. Good job!

I decided to head down a few minutes before Jim and Lynn, knowing I'd have a tougher time on the loose rocks than those two more-agile runners. I took some more photos of flowers-in-impossible-terrain, Island Lake, and the marvelous views on the way down:


I slid down the worst places sideways, backwards, and on my rear end, wishing I'd brought some gloves with me. My REI convertible (zip-off legs) pants protected my butt OK, but the sandy soil and sharp rocks did a number on my hands. I wasn't wishing any trouble on Jim or Lynn, but was happy to see they were also having some trouble maneuvering through the scree on steep spots! It isn't just me.

We made fast time going down and only a couple more runners caught up to us in the two miles we ran on the course after we left the pass. I noted that quite a bit of snow had melted in areas like this along the trail since I was up here just nine days ago. Now I could see parts of the trail that had been under the snow when Charlie  marked this section -- the markers were several feet away from the trail.

I was in front through this section and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this beautifully-camouflaged Ptarmigan right on the trail. I almost stepped on it! I took this picture after Lynn gently escorted it off the trail. It wasn't in any hurry to go anywhere on its own. I was surprised it was so unafraid of us. Ptarmigans blend in with the rocks and grass in the summer and turn white in the winter. Very cool bird:

Soon we were below timberline and back on the heavily-used Ice Lake Trail. We must have seen two dozen hikers today, as well as several more ultra runners who were out to cheer on the race participants like we were. Near the junction with the Ice Lake Trail we "ran into" Steve McBee, who dropped out of his first HRH yesterday at Sherman. He was on his way up to the pass. Betcha he enters this race again to take care of unfinished business.

Jim took a photo of Lynn and me as we passed the large waterfall in Clear Lake Creek near the end of our little trek. Jim encouraged us to get closer to the water so it would show in the photo, but we were too smart to fall for that little ploy!

This time neither of us had on knee supports like we did in our photo together on the Appalachian Trail. (See 2005 AT Adventure Run journal, Day 10.) We laugh about that picture every time we talk to each other. That was the first time we'd met, and we felt like long-time friends. Lynn has since moved from NC to CO so we don't live as close any more, but I have a feeling we'll see each other every time we come out here in the summer. I love a sport where someone who is young enough to be my son or daughter feels like a contemporary.

Thanks so much, Lynn, for helping us at the aid station and for joining us in this morning's grand adventure.


We said our good-byes to Lynn back at the campground. She needed to get cleaned up at the gym and head home this afternoon. The dogs were happy to see us, but in no hurry to get out of the truck (!). WE were happy our CO detector was back down to zero and it was safe to occupy the camper again (many lessons learned there).

Our next order of business, even before a hot shower and late lunch, was to get on-line to see how the runners were doing. So cool to be able to watch their progress! We never did go to the gym to watch them come in. It was more fun to watch them out on the course.

We did enjoy the You Tube videos of Scott Jurek's and Krissy Moehl's finishes -- also very cool. We could see our buddy Joe Lugiano in the background in those videos. He wanted to see the first few runners come in, and he did. (Thanks again to you, Joe, for the many hours you helped us before, during, and after our aid station was open. You're the best. See you in Leadville soon!)

We continued to monitor the on-line results of the runners throughout the afternoon and evening. It was fun to see who finished in what time, and sad to see that some of our good friends had to drop at various aid stations. We were anxious to talk to them Sunday morning to see what happened. Runners would continue to finish at the gym and kiss the hardrock until 6 AM Sunday, forty-eight hours after they began the race.

Jim and I completed our detailed aid station inventory this afternoon. Except for the thank-you's, we're done with our aid station duties until the next time (next year?) that Jim volunteers to captain an aid station here. He plans to help race staff with clean-up at the gym tomorrow while I work on the journal back at the camper. I consider it a different type of "volunteering" because it's a sort of race PR. They don't need any more runners, but maybe more folks will consider volunteering here when they see how much fun it is!

Tomorrow's entry will be about the awards/breakfast buffet for hundreds of folks in the Hardrock "family."

P.S. Speaking of families, the non-Hardrock families with those noisy kids' dirt bikes left the campground this afternoon -- ah, the peace and quiet!!

Oh happy day,

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil