Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Mile 49.9. Elev. 11,100 feet. Yellow Jacket Mine. Bear Creek National Recreation Trail. Acrophobia, exposure . . . once on this trail, you can't easily deliberately get off. It is in a very narrow, steep canyon . . . You will have to wade or cross several streams coming in from the right. Be careful at these stream crossings as algae are prevalent on the rocks and they are usually very slick. As you go down the trail, there are dramatic drops of 300-400 feet to your left. The trail breaks out of the Ouray Bear Creek into the Uncompahgre Gorge at about 9,200 feet, nearly a thousand feet above the River. As you have probably guessed by now, you are doing to drop down on a series of switchbacks (13 of them) as the trail descends."
- from the 2007 Hardrock Hundred runners' manual 


Oh, boy, and I missed it! I usually don't have much of a fear of heights, but I do have a fear of narrow ledges above deep chasms because I'm the Queen of Klutz. I can just see me sliding off the trail in one of Jim's graphic photos below.

This was Jim's second trail work day. Completing it along with Tuesday's work day on Mendota Ridge gives him one ticket into the Hardrock lottery for entrance into next year's race, if he decides to enter. It also gave him the opportunity to see another gnarly section of the course. I'm convinced that familiarity with this course is almost mandatory for a successful finish in the race. The more you know about it, the more respect you have for it and the better mental and physical preparations you can make.

There are at least three Bear Creeks on or near the Hardrock course, which makes for some confusion. Or is it just me?? There's the Bear Creek that Jim followed in the KT to Mineral Creek section, another Bear Creek running down to Telluride from Wasatch Mountain, and the Bear Creek that runs down from Engineer Mountain east of Ouray to the Umcompahgre River near the Hwy. 550 tunnel. That's the one Jim worked near today.

We drove to Charlie Thorn's house (race HQ) this morning so Jim could catch a ride to the 550 tunnel parking lot with Robert Andrulis. The work group had some of the same crew members as Tuesday: Robert, my Jim, John Cappis, Jim Ballard, Kathy Lang, James Varner, and Paul Ralyea. In additon, Scott Jurek (yes, THAT Scott Jurek!) and three members of a Ouray trail building club were also present. Their main task today was to climb three miles up toward the Yellow Jacket Mine, going backwards from the course directions this year, and to rebuild sections of trail that were washed out over the spring.

For the squeamish and/or clumsy, this is probably the most dangerous section of the Hardrock course with its sheer drops and no rocks or trees to stop you on the way down the canyon. Jim said he wasn't afraid today. That's a very good sign for someone contemplating running the race! I've heard some runners say it's better to do this section in the dark so you can't see the drop offs.

Jim carried metal rebar posts today. Others carried shovels, axes, picks, McLeod rakes, and saws to cut out several downed trees and repair washed-out sections of trail. Kathy ("Lopper Lady") clipped her way up and back, trimming overhanging brush-gone-rampant.

Note that these photos are going in the opposite direction in which the runners go this year. In most of the photos, Bear Creek is on the right.

Starting out from the tunnel and going up (eastbound):


Note the two workers dwarfed by the canyon (and I cropped this one down):

Looking back toward the Million Dollar Highway (550) south of Ouray:

Looking back down the trail at crew members inspecting a previous job:

This was hard labor -- more trail work that's been done:


Here's your basic "exposure, acrophobia!" Jim said he couldn't show the perspective very well without a wide-angle lens to illustrate how deep the drop-offs are, but I think his photos show it quite well. See the narrow trail winding around the rock face below? Do you think you could break your fall if you went overboard?

Here's a view to the creek in the canyon bottom:

Imagine the front-runners actually running this section . . .


Jim took the next shot from a switchback. The second picture is a close-up from it showing tiny work crew members to the left and right:

Just looking at these photos makes me nervous!! And I've never consider taking a dog up there, even a non-impulsive one like Cody.

This is better:

Today's major worksite, in a safer location just above the creek, involved cutting and carrying logs, pounding in rebar posts to hold the logs, and filling in the trail with debris and rocks:

I imagine the crew felt like real "hardrockers" after all that physical labor! In the photo above, they're carrying a large piece of solid piece of tree to use as fill material in the trail.

Putting on the finishing touches -- job well done, folks! Thank you. Even if I never hike or run that section, I know the HRH runners will appreciate all your work.

Speaking of the original hardrockers, Jim found these relics from the Grizzly Mine right along the trail:

I've seen mining equipment and buildings in all sorts of precarious mountainside locations in Colorado, and it never ceases to amaze me the conditions under which the miners worked and lived. There are all kinds of reasons so many of them died, one of which was falling down cliffs like these.

The next photos are ones Jim took on the way back down to Hwy. 550, the same direction in which this year's runners will travel. Now Bear Creek is on your left:




Now those aren't nearly as scary as the ones going up, are they??  (wink, wink)

The work crew members got back to their vehicles about two hours earlier this time since they didn't have so far to hike. I was expecting a call from Jim to pick him up at the end of Mineral Creek Road, but Robert was kind enough to deposit him at our camper. As a reward, I offered them both a big bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, which they ate appreciatively. Sure beats energy bars!

Read the next entry to see how I amused myself today . . .

Always up to something,

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil