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
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
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.
HRH TRAIL MARKING 101
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
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
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
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
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
TIME TO WORK, TIME TO PLAY
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
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
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
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
© 2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil