2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   HARDROCK HUNDRED (HRH) TRAIL MARKING DAY:
S. MINERAL CREEK TO THE ICE LAKE TRAIL

SATURDAY, JUNE 26

 
"Porcupine-Cataract Saddle, elev. 12,230 feet  . . . may be full of snow with a cornice
on the Cataract Basin side. Pick a route down the snow and after dropping
about 50 vertical feet, angle right, picking up one of the sheep trails for your traverse
across Cataract Basin . . . Continue to climb gradually under Peak 13042
[its elevation] as you traverse along this west-facing hillside above
an unnamed fork of Lime Creek. Below you to the right are some spectacular
red cliffs and just below them is the Colorado Trail. Acrophobia . . ."
 
~ just a tiny portion of the HRH trail description for this section
 
 
Note that that trail description is going CCW and the Hardrock course goes CW this year (it alternates directions on the loop each year). I just wanted to emphasize that part of the "trail" Jim was marking today with a dozen other folks wasn't a real hiking/running trail, but often follows animal trails -- or no trail at all:


Trail?  What trail??

And that's part of the intrigue and challenge of the Hardrock Hundred race!

Jim and I did completely separate hikes in the San Juan Mountains near Silverton today but we ended up finishing at the same trailhead on South Mineral Creek Road.

Even more interesting to me is how close we were to each other, at least as the crow flies. You can see the mountain peaks surrounding the upper Ice Lake Basin that I was enjoying so much (see the last four entries in this journal) in the background of some of his photos, including the next one. See the distinctive colorful peaks and the jagged ridge between Pilot Knob and Grant Peak in the middle right background? Ice Lake Basin is in there!


One of Jim's trail marking pictures today, taken from a high ridge above the Colorado Trail

I didn't realize that until I downloaded his photos and had this surprised, "Hey! That's where I was today!" reaction. Cool.

When you look at the map section below, you'll see how close we were.

THE JOY OF TRAIL MARKING

This is the fourth year we've come to the Silverton area at least two weeks before the race so we could enjoy our own runs and hikes in the mountains and help do some trail marking and trail work for the race. Both jobs help runners acclimate to the high altitudes in the race and become familiar with the course.

They are also a great opportunity to socialize with other race participants, crews, and volunteers. Jim got this shot of two of our buddies engrossed in a conversation about mathematics at about 12,000 feet up:


Jim Ballard (L) and Bill Heldenbrand

Although the pace can be tediously slow during trail marking and I knew I could probably keep up with the group today, I also knew from helping mark this part of the course in the other direction last year that there are some devilishly steep downhill sections that wouldn't be advisable for me to hike with bad knees. So I struck out on my own today. Sure, I had a lot of elevation gain and loss on the nearby Ice Lake Trail, but it's not as grueling as the HRH course. I'm glad I chose the route I took.

Jim had fun with the group today. He knows most of the folks (Jim Ballard and Kathy Lang, Marcy and John Beard, Deb and Steve Pero, Bill Heldenbrand, Liz and Rick Hodges, Jim Sweatt, Marty Fritzhand, Andy Hewatt) and he also made a couple of new friends.


The group heads up a snow bank, led by Rick, Steve, and Andy.  (Photo by Marcy Beard)

Usually Charlie Thorn, one of the members of the HRH race committee, is in charge of trail marking. This year, however, he is unable to be in Silverton until right before the race. So race veterans Jim Ballard and Steve Pero volunteered to manage all the trail marking ventures this year, with lots of help from other Hardrock veterans familiar with the course and some new folks running the race for the first time.

While Ballard and Steve are quite the story-tellers, no one is in Charlie's league in this regard. The downside for newbies was fewer stories about the local mining, geological, and social history; Charlie is renowned for his detailed descriptions of life in the San Juan Mountains when mining was in its heyday -- those were the original hardrockers, you know.

 
Marcy, John, and Andy take a break during trail marking.  (Photo by Jim)

The upside was that course marking, although still fairly slow and sprinkled with some breaks (above), went faster today than when Charlie is leading the group and frequently stopping to relate tales of life in the 1800s. (No, he's not that old, just a history buff!!)

In addition, the course will be more thoroughly marked this year than most. Charlie also has a reputation of being rather skimpy with the markers:


Marcy took this picture of a stack of markers, reflective flags on sturdy metal posts.

Folks carrying the flags today made sure they are close enough so that each one is visible from the last. Even though they are reflective, it's sometimes been difficult on some sections of the course in previous years to find the markers, especially at night. As long as these same folks keep marking the other sections as well as this one, runners shouldn't have that problem this year.

Of course, that assumes they don't run out of the flags and the elk stop eating them! (Seriously.)

TODAY'S MARKING ROUTE

The section of trail Jim helped mark today is near the beginning of the race in a clockwise year like this one. The goal was to mark from the Mineral Creek Crossing in mile 2 to the location of the first aid station, KT (Kamm Traverse), at mile 12. Then they'd run back a couple miles on S. Mineral Creek Road to the vehicles they left at the parking area for the Ice Lake Trail.

The group marked the trail so fast, they ended up continuing to mark for another couple miles to the Ice Lake Trail!

OK, here's a map for reference. This larger section is harder to read than the ones in the last entries about Ice Lake because it covers more ground. I made it as large as I could without affecting the size of this page.

The dark blue line is the HRH course. Jim's group marked about 14 miles from the red X on the right of the map to the intersection marked in yellow near the center. That's the Ice Lake Trail. The Hardrock course continues north to Grant-Swamp Pass and the Chapman Aid Station. That section will be marked tomorrow.

The trail marking group still got a couple bonus miles today at the end. When they finished marking the course to the Ice Lake Trail, they turned right and ran down to the trailhead at the second red X.

That was the same trail I was on and our truck was in the parking lot there. Jim came down about an hour after I did and I got to listen to some of the group's trail marking stories.

FIXING THE ROPE

During the race, runners start out in Silverton, run up a hill past the Shrine of the Mines, and roughly parallel US 550 north of Silverton through some woods and over Nute's Chute. Then they cross the highway and drop down to Mineral Creek, which is a little over a mile from the start:


A beautiful morning to mark trails! Jim will be going up that valley.

This is the same creek that goes by our campground, only it is wider, deeper, and faster moving at this point because other branches have poured into it by now. Fortunately, the race crosses the creek just upstream from the confluence with Bear Creek, which swells Mineral Creek even more.

Some years Mineral Creek has run so high before and during the race that it's up to the waist or chest of the shorter runners. When I crossed it last year at the end of my course-marking day, it was up to my thighs on the far side and running very fast. I am rather tall (5'9") and some of the shorter female runners needed assistance getting across that day. Jim got this picture of me on the shallower side where the water was only up to my knees:


Me (Sue) crossing Mineral Creek in 2009

You can see that I had to flex and brace even on the more shallow side of the creek to prevent getting swept off my feet.

I was rather proud of myself for getting across the creek pretty easily when others had difficulty. I can guarantee you that that crossing was a piece of cake compared to the four flooded streams in Maine I crossed on Day 141 during my Appalachian Trail Adventure Run!! That day will be forever seared in my memory.  (See 2005 journal.)

This year, fortunately, the Mineral Creek crossing is about the lowest we've ever seen it. Most of the snow has already melted and there hasn't been a lot of rain recently. That's a Good Thing for the runners.

Marcy Beard's expression pretty well says it all:  Who needs a rope??


Marcy Beard crossing a lower, gentler Mineral Creek today (photo by John Beard)

Her husband John took that photo of her crossing the creek this morning. Marcy's several inches shorter than me and was standing about in the same place in the creek as I was in the photo above. You can even see the rocks this year!

There is always a rope across the creek during the race, even in CW years when the creek is in the second mile of the race and runners are alert (in CCW years, they cross the creek at 99+ miles, often in the dark -- by then, most of the remaining runners are zombies).

This year a rope was already in place when we arrived in Silverton. It's easy to spot when we drive past it to town; the crossing is only about twenty-five feet from the highway.

That rope was not deemed sturdy enough to be suitable for the extra use runners would give it during the race, however, so the first order of business for the trail markers today was to reinforce the rope and the posts that anchored it on either side.


 Sue, Bill, Jim, and the location for the roped crossing of Mineral Creek
(photo by Marcy Beard; I added the arrow to show the location of the rope)

I dropped Jim, Bill Heldenbrand, and the Beards off at Mineral Creek a little before 9 this morning and hung around for a few minutes to say hi to the first half of the group that arrived early. Marcy took this picture of Bill, Jim, and me. I added the red arrow to show the single rope that had been stretched across the creek for local runners and hikers to use.

I left before everyone arrived and work began in earnest to reinforce both the roping and the mooring. (I had my own agenda: exploring the Ice Lake basins.) Marcy took these photos of Jim and John getting the rope taut on the near side of the creek while Jim Ballard and another runner worked the other side:

 

After securing three strands of the rope to the guys' satisfaction, everyone in the group tested it. They had to get to the other side of the creek anyway!

Marcy took this shot of Jim as he crossed:


Jim:  "Piece of cake!"

When he got to the other side he snapped a few pictures of the runners crossing behind him:


Andy (front), Marty, and Bill step into the bracing mountain water . . .


Marcy, who's as much of an adventure racer as an ultra runner, showed everyone
how to do it without holding onto the rope the last few feet!  You go, girl.

Now on to the trail marking . . .

GETTIN' ER DONE

The elevation at Mineral Creek is about 9,395 feet. Next the group headed up the Silverton Bear Creek drainage to Putnam Basin and the first high pass on the course this year at 12,600 feet. It's a 3,200-foot climb in about 5 miles.

At least there's a trail part of the way! Here are some of the photos Jim took on the way up this valley to the bench and pass:

 
Early morning shadows patially obscure the trail (R) and Bear Creek (L).
There's another Bear Creek the course follows near Ouray.

The narrow trail crosses several scree fields.


Looking back toward the east; the trail is barely discernable to the left.


More rocks


Rick got creative with these rocks and made an interesting cairn.


One of Marcy's photos shows John about to enter the lower part of the
basin from which Bear Creek originates. The climb gets steeper now.


Jim takes another look back at the valley. See the narrow trail in the foreground?


The line of trail markers trudges up the first steep section. Deb is third from the right
(blue shirt) and hubby Steve is in front of her (gray shirt).

For much of this section the runners were above tree line like this.

HIGH POINTS

Jim's GPS registered 12,745 feet elevation at the highest point today. At elevations above 12,000 feet on the way through the Putnam-Lime Creek saddle, Porcupine-Cataract saddle, and various ridges and other passes between Bear Mountain and the Twin Sisters, there were patches of snow that may well be melted by the time the race starts in two weeks. When I compare photos we took at this time last year it's obvious that there is less snow in the mountains this summer.

That bodes well for the race. Trail conditions should be better than average.

Here are some more photos (mostly in order) that Jim took of the trail marking group and the fabulous scenery through which they passed today. Note the changing sky, with storms in the distance and varying cloud conditions throughout the day. Jim said he got into only a few sprinkles and a little bit of sleet, the same as me.

 

 


Wow! A real trail!


Segment 25 of the Colorado Trail is down to the left of this red ridge.


I remember the slow trudge UP this ridge last year when I helped mark the course
in the other direction; this year runners come down it.

Most of the other trail markers were busy taking photos, too. Marcy got these (and other) shots of Jim in this section:

Jim's in the snow and he's actually smiling???  That's because he likes Marcy, not the snow!
(I took the liberty of cropping her photo for the close-up.)

 


More snow, but less than there could have been


Jim and Bill share a laugh. They've got their jackets on after one of today's little sleet episodes.


Several of the runners (Jim's in the middle) relax after climbing yet another ridge.

Thanks for sharing your photos with us, Marcy and John!

PORCUPINE GULCH

After several miles in the tundra, the group gradually dropped down through Porcupine Gulch and the flank of Twin Sisters to South Mineral Creek Road (FSR 585, also called the Bandora Mine Road). Jim took these pictures of the colorful mountains to the north on the way down:


Ice Lake Basin is in the background (left half) behind Fuller Peak.  Grant-Swamp Pass and
Island Lake are in the background center, also hidden by Fuller.  Kamm Traverse,
on the HRH course, is above the red rocks in the right center of the photo.


South Mineral Creek Road is still hidden by trees and the side of Twin Sisters.


The view toward the abandoned Bandora Mine (left center)
looks like a pastel drawing but it's a photo!

A couple hundred feet before reaching the road, the course crosses the South Fork of Mineral Creek, the largest branch that flows into the creek farther downstream where Jim's group crossed via rope this morning. I've only been across the branch at this location one time, when I helped mark this section last year. It was higher then but still didn't require a rope. I understand that in at least one previous race the creek was so high here that runners had to form human chains to cross safely. They won't have to do that this year.

Neither Jim nor Marcy got a picture of the creek this year but Marcy took this shot of John (foreground), Jim (blue shirt), the Peros, and another trail marker after they got on the road.

Jim looks ready to call it a day but he kept on going!

KT TO THE ICE LAKE TRAIL

The Hardrock course follows the road for about a quarter of a mile before reaching the location of the KT (Kamm Traverse) aid station on a wide spot that used to be a jeep trail to an old mine. That was the original stopping point for today's marking crew but since they did their jobs so efficiently, Ballard decided to continue marking along the traverse, over Ice Lake Creek, and up to the Ice Lake Trail -- a little under two more miles.

In this photo of the trail along the traverse, you can see the unnamed mountain (elev. 13,156 feet) ahead where the road goes up to Clear Lake, which I've written about previously:

We realized later that about the same time Jim was on the traverse, I was going down the Ice Lake Trail on the other side of the mountain.

Jim took the next photo from the traverse, looking east and down to S. Mineral Creek Road:

He could see our truck in the parking lot at the trail head but he still had over three miles to hike and run before reaching it!

If you look at the course map above, you can see that the Hardrock trail traverses the southern flank of Fuller Mountain without gaining much altitude until it winds around the eastern shoulder. The Hardrock handbook warns runners about acrophobia and exposure on this narrow trail along the steep hillside but there are significantly more dangerous places on the HRH than this -- and one of them is a short distance through the woods and around that corner!


John carefully crosses Ice Lake Creek today.

It's Ice Lake Creek.

The runners' handbook has some colorful language to describe this crossing: 

"If you go too far left (in a CCW year), you will run into some spectacular water falls . . . and unless you have wings, it is very difficult to cross there." 

There are also falls on the left of the recommended crossing in a CW year (next photo). In fact, this mountainside is so steep that Ice Lake Creek is pretty much one big series of waterfalls until it reaches South Mineral Creek.

The handbook continues, "At the crossing place, there are a series of big trees that have been washed down by the stream into a small, almost level bowl. Cross the stream, either by wading or working your way carefully across on the logs."

Carefully, indeed.

The objective is to get across 25-30 feet of rocks, logs, and rushing water to the trail on the other side (arrow below). Good luck with that!


I crossed this vicious creek ONCE with Jim a few years ago on a training run and I vowed to never get near the place again. I've stuck to that vow. Since I'll never run Hardrock there isn't any reason for me to do this short section of trail.

I've mentioned before how uncoordinated I am balancing on logs across creeks. I'd rather wade through the water than fall off a log. This creek runs so fast, however (even in a "low" year like this) that it's treacherous for someone like me to wade through the water (even with two trekking poles). Other people can obviously do it just fine. An additional problem for me is the necessity of climbing or crawling over some of those big logs in the process; I'm not as limber as I used to be.


John starting to cross Ice Lake Creek

Jim got across before Jim and Marcy arrived so I don't have any pictures of him negotiating the creek. He took all of these creek photos from one side or the other.

Once safely across the creek, runners scramble up a short but steep, narrow trail to its juncture with the Ice Lake Trail. That's where the marking ended today and will resume tomorrow. Then the group ran about two miles down the much nicer Ice Lake Trail to the trailhead.

When I could see Jim pop out of the woods near the parking area, I told Cody to go see him:

 
Cody (almost) always makes Jim smile, even after a long day on the trail.

We stood around the parking lot talking with the other members of the group until most were back and we were sure everyone had rides into town.

Jim and I spent most of the evening talking about our respective run/hikes. It was a lot of fun to share our different trail experiences. We both had a great day in the San Juans!

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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