Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Charlie, what's wrong with this trail?
- Jim to Charlie Thorn, trail-marking leader who chose to mark a path cross-country instead


One of the more fun -- and useful -- traditions of the Hardrock 100-mile race is trail marking. John Cappis (course director) and Charlie Thorn (course marking director), both HRH race veterans, lead about a dozen course-marking forays in the two weeks before the race. They invite along any runners, pacers, and crew folks who want to help carry markers, see the course, and get acclimated. It's also a great chance to enjoy camaraderie with other trail runners and learn more about the history, geography, and geology of the area -- both John and Charlie are well-versed in those topics.

The pace is slow for several reasons, including the need to position the markers properly for race participants to see them (usually on the runner's left side). The trail marking jaunts take most of the day because of the distances covered on foot and the distances to drive to and from trail heads.

Jim is considering entering the race next year. Each time he sees more of the course or thinks more about the difficulty of the race, he wavers in his resolve. Meanwhile, he's captaining an aid station again this year and signing up for trail work days to earn tickets to the race lottery!

Can you say mixed emotions??

He hasn't done any trail marking previously, but decided the first marking day would be fun. It's the reverse direction of a training run he did on the same section last year (2006 journal, July 4) between the KT (Kamm Traverse) aid station location a few miles back Mineral Creek Road from our campground to the spot where the race crosses Mineral Creek at CO 550 just north of Silverton.

Here's a photo he took last year from one of the high plateaus in this section -- note the lack of snow:

This year, as the race is run counter-clockwise, KT is at mile 89 and the creek crossing is at 98.5 miles. Elevations in this nine-mile section range from about 10,630 feet at KT to 12,600 feet on an unnamed ridge near the headwaters of Bear Creek to 9,400 feet at Mineral Creek/CO 550. The course often goes cross-county or follows sheep and other animal trails; Jim and I refer to faint or narrow trails as "squirrel trails." Part of this section follows real, honest-to-goodness hiking trails, but not for long! Hence, Jim's joke to Charlie at the beginning of this entry.


Jim quickly learned a couple things about trail marking Hardrock Hundred. One is that gloves are nice so you don't get black stuff all over your hands when carrying a bunch of the metal rods used as markers. He didn't have gloves with him today because it was hot when the group left at noon (fortunately, the weather was good all day).

Another thing he figured out very fast was that he'd get rid of his markers faster if he was closer to Charlie, who was leading today's group. Jim's mama didn't raise no dummies! Jim and his buddy Steve Pero, who has run this race several times and has been on countless trail marking adventures with Charlie and John, had some fun with this little fact at the expense of some of the other folks carrying markers a much longer time.

About those markers . . . most of the course is marked with cute metal plates (above) covered with a reflective label with the race logo on it. The plates are attached to three-foot long metal rods with hog-nosed rings so the plates can flutter in a breeze. That makes them easier to see. The marker design has been perfected over the years to reduce damage by marmots and elk, as well as increase visibility to runners at night and in foggy conditions. Short pieces of orange flagging are also added to most of the markers but elk really like those. On road sections and through towns, white chalk may be used to mark turns.

Charlie and John are very precise when they place the markers into the ground. On good trails, markers are placed about 1/4 mile apart. Runners may not see a marker on some road sections for a couple miles. Cross-country sections or faint trails are marked much closer together so runners can see the next marker when standing by one. Night sections are also marked at more frequent intervals. The markers are reflective so lights shine off of them at night.

However, runners are clearly warned in their course manual (yes, there is an entire MANUAL on-line with pages and pages of trail descriptions and other detailed information!) that, because of potential vandalism by animals and humans and visibility problems in bad weather, they are responsible for knowing the course directions and should be able to navigate the course without needing markers as a guide.

Yikes! In Jim's written aid station manual, the runners' detailed course description ALONE covers 14 solid pages of mice type!!! If he's going to run this race next year, it means he's got to get his butt out there on as much of the course as he can. He plans to do as many trail marking and trail work days as possible for course familiarization. He may also pace someone this year, if the opportunity arises.

Maybe they could do GPS coordinates some day for route-challenged people like me?? (just kidding)


A group of about fifteen runners assembled in front of Charlie's Silverton house at noon to hear about today's section (most days they begin much earlier). In the next photo, Jim is listening to Deb and Steve Pero, friends from New Mexico/New Hampshire:

Charlie Thorn is on the right in the white shirt, briefing the runners:

Everyone car-pooled to the start of the hike at the paid campground about five miles in on Mineral Creek Road. Since I wasn't going with them, we carried about seven runners and one canine (the Pero's dog, Tucker) in our truck and then I drove back to our campground a couple miles away.



Steve holds Tucker AND a bunch of course markers in one hand (notice the glove):

When everyone was ready, the group walked about two miles farther back on rough 4WD road to the location of the KT aid station, where the marking began. The remainder of the photos are ones Jim took during the (long) afternoon. I'll give a general description of the course from the runners' manual but neither of us knows which picture is which exact location.


After leaving the aid station, runners go up Mineral Creek road 2/10th of mile, turn left down a grassy slope, and cross the South Fork of Mineral Creek. Although the creek is more narrow and shallow here than it is several miles downstream where runners cross it again by rope, it has been hazardous in at least one previous race (2005) when snow levels were very high. Today it wasn't a problem. Jim must have been near the head of the class when he took this photo of the course-marking crew crossing the fairly shallow creek:

" . . . go up the red bare area into the willows." You can see how steep this climb has started out as runners work their way toward the Porcupine Gulch trail:

Farther up the trail, Charlie stops to remove debris from his shoe. I told you Jim was following him closely!


Charlie gave a brief geology lesson about the "conglomerate" rocks (below) along the course. If Jim remembers correctly, about 400 million years ago they were lying in a river bed, then pushed up when the great upheaval formed the Rocky Mountains. They subsequently fell down the mountainside and have been lying here for who knows how long.

Jim and I saw some interesting ones yesterday not far away on the Colorado Trail (photo below). They look like they're composed of thousands of smaller rocks:

Meanwhile, the marking group was following various sheepherders' trails up the Porcupine Creek drainage on the northeast side of the Twin Sisters peaks.

Their immediate target was the Porcupine-Cataract Saddle (elev. 12,230 feet) above a "hanging wall." The HRH book describes a hanging wall as a band of cliffs that occurs between a "hanging valley" and a larger valley perpendicular to it. These valleys were formed by melting glaciers. I'm not sure if Jim got a photo of the hanging wall or valleys, but I think the next views are near this saddle and the Cataract Basin, the next destination.


Ever the prankster, Steve (below) found a "natural gas" sign along the way and teased an anonymous member of the group who had, um, gastro-intestinal issues (very common among trail runners -- GI distress and the good-natured bathroom humor that goes along with it):

The runners' manual says Cataract Basin "might be full of snow" this year. Charlie is reluctant to put markers in the snow because it could melt by race day and the markers would be lying down and not visible to the runners. He marks the course on either side of snowfields to avoid this problem.

Looks like fun, doesn't it? I wish I'd gone along, too.

The runners next head for a saddle on the far side of the basin between Cataract Basin and Lime Creek.

Close-up of the runners in the photo above:

Reminds me of a scene from "The Sound of Music:"

Charlie pointed out the Colorado Trail on the slope in the photo below, not far down from the high plateau where the group was standing. (I believe this plateau is the unnamed ridge at 12,600 feet that is the highest point in today's section.) We were down there on that part of the CT yesterday, and Rolling Mountain Pass is in the distance! It's fascinating to me to be on various trails or roads, like the one up to Clear Lake, and be able to see parts of the HRH course and Colorado Trail from other vantage points:

Compare the photo above to the one below that Jim took last year from a different position but in the same general direction toward Rolling Mountain:

Jim called me on the way down the Bear Creek drainage to Mineral Creek so I could be there to pick him up. The two photos below are really washed out because I was facing the sun as it was beginning to set. Jim was in a faster group of five people who were more than ready to be done after more than six hours on the trail (for less than nine miles of trail marking).

Here Mineral Creek is pretty fast and mid-thigh deep in later afternoon. It's probably lower in the morning hours (that snowmelt thing again). At this point almost all the drainages, including the Middle and South forks, that are going to run into Mineral Creek have already done so. Jim's holding onto a rope to cross in the fast current. Roger and Jimmy Wrublick put the rope up a few days ago. It's always there on race weekend, too.

Jim was pretty tired after this foray into the wilderness, but he'll probably go out again on another trail marking or two since he doesn't have to taper for the race. However, he has to schedule those hikes around three more trail WORK days, rest days, and preparations for our aid station. Since I'm not busy doing CT segments down here this time, and I have no races to train for, I'm just working in fun runs and hikes as I can. I might go out on a trail marking section while Jim's doing trail work if we can coordinate transportation to the trail heads with friends.

The next entry will be an update on our activities and include photos from Jim's Mendota Ridge-Virginius Pass work day. Wait till you see Virginius Pass!! He wasn't expecting to go there.

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil