Wednesday, March 07, 2018
Monday, February 12, 2018
Sunday, October 22, 2017
Monday, September 18, 2017
Thursday, October 06, 2016
Two weekends before while doing trail work with Friends of the Peak on the last mile of the Barr Trail near the summit of Pikes Peak, looking down from the one-mile-to-go sign I saw water in the Crater. The following weekend I tried to go to the Crater, but I took a bad fall running on the trail and limped home. This little movie chronicles my successful journey the following weekend.
The most efficient way to reach the Crater is to run nine miles up the Barr Trail to the 3-mile-to-go sign then cut across the slopes on an obscure 100-year-old Fred Barr mule trail leading into the cirque. From the middle of the cirque, one proceeds east across granite scree and large boulders, then down steep timbered slopes. Just before reaching the Crater there are a series of a dozen springs coming directly out of the mountain. Sometimes these springs produce enough flow to fill the Crater.
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Tuesday, June 07, 2016
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Monday, April 25, 2016
Friday, February 26, 2016
As if the race itself weren't hard enough, the mandatory gear list took some time to assemble. I would use the European 25-liter ORR pack I'd purchased for the Iceland Racing the Planet stage race in 2013, where we had to carry all our food and gear (except tent) for a week. Among the mandatory gear were tights, rain coat and pants, warm sweater/jacket, sleeping bag, bivy bag or tent, gloves, warm hat, and emergency medical gear, sometimes obscure and hard to find. At gear check they tagged some of the items to make sure you didn't exchange them for lighter less acceptable gear. Later during the race they actually did a gear check in Camp 1.
We plodded through the village at a rather pedestrian pace. No one was in any rush to break out. Once we left town and joined a single track trail the climbing began. The trails are more like "Costa Rica trails" or as I like to say, "more way than trail"-- Logs, often 3 or 4 feet in diameter lay haphazard across the trails; trails that sometimes climb absurdly steeply, or plunge down hair-raising chutes. The trail was soft volcanic ash, which is the base for the region. All these peaks we would be climbing bear the nomer "Cerro" meaning volcano. In 2011 one of them erupted and locals cleared a heavy blanket of ash with snow shovels.
Stuck behind a conga line of runners not going fast enough for my liking, I worked on getting around them until I broke free and had a clear path to move at my own pace, eventually reaching tree line and into the gravel-ashy cinder cone heights. The flora pattern is fir trees, then tall deciduous trees with broad canopies, followed by leafy trees with fern-like canopies, then smaller bushes sometimes with thorns. The trails are not well-maintained, and the thorny bushes extended into the trails, making a less than pleasant presence for those of us wearing shorts. In the course of the entire race I never saw anyone using these trails outside of the competitors or people associated with the race. All brought back memories of Costa Rica's Coastal Challenge stage race, that I've run four times.
Reaching the first high pass "Colorado" and looking back I could see the blue waters of Lago Manuel Huapi where we had started far below. The weather was perfect with some high clouds and just enough breeze to keep it cool enough. I was comfortable in shirt sleeves and shorts all day. A steep drop and then a climb up to the summit of Cerro Buol. The climb was steep, they don't go in much for switchbacks, much like European trails. Plunge-stepping in soft sand steeply down, down, down to treeline, where I stopped to empty my shoes, take off my socks too to get the sand out--this is necessary to prevent blisters from forming. I would get problems anyway later, but stayed on top of them for the most part with band aids and moleskin.
We now ran for long miles along a river through the woods. I found my rhythm and ran consistently, but still found my average pace to be just under 3 MPH. Pathetic. The slow pace the result of a combination of primitive trails, steep ascents, and a 20-pound backpack. I couldn't believe how long it was taking! 26.2 miles went by in 9 and a half hours. According to the race info we had 40 miles to Camp 1. This turned out to be incorrect, as I had 34 miles on my watch when I reached the camp. Thank Dog!
As the sun went down, a brilliant nearly full moon (it went full on night two) rose above a jagged ridgeline as the trail started climbing. And climbing.
I talked myself into thinking that we would find a pass below treeline and then drop into Villa Traful. No. We kept climbing, climbing, all the way to treeline and to the top of another 6,000' volcano. When I saw Lago Traful's waters shimmering in the moonlight far below I knew it would be far less than 40 miles. I wasn't doing very well and when I finally staggered into the gym where the camp was staged just after midnight, 13 hours into the race, I decided to try and take a nap. I couldn't eat very much because I felt nauseous. I laid my sleeping bag out in a corner of the gym, but only rested my eyes for half an hour before giving up due to the noise. I assembled my pack and set off again down the moonlit road for six kilometers, running, even though I felt terrible. You have to use the easy parts to make up time. After the road, a trail turned up into the mountains again. I decided to try and take another nap, but instead of breaking out my sleeping bag I put on my tights, down jacket, warm hat, and gloves and lay down with my pack as pillow. I sort of slept for an hour, but this arrangement was too cold for comfort. Little whispers of cold penetrated, keeping sleep at bay. Back on the trail around 5:30 AM, I climbed with headlamp until reaching treeline as the sun announced the beginning of day two.
A new day! Feeling rejuvenated from the sun I climbed to the junction high pass Verrunco for the second time--the early light painted the high country grass a brilliant green. The course stayed high and flat for a couple kilometers before dropping back down to the woods and more endless stream crossings, back and forth. Feeling ragged I pulled over for a quick 15 minute nap--just right for staving off the sleep monster. Then came the dreaded nausea, but only dry heaves. I stopped trying to eat. Then I started wheezing. Couldn't get air into my lungs. Asthma attack. I tried albuterol hits, but they didn't work. I stopped on the side of the trail waiting, trying to relax, calm down. Walk slowly. More albuterol. Relax. Stop again. Wait. Walk slowly. Breathe. More hits from the breather. Finally after a couple hours the wheezing stopped. I beat it!
The trail descended steadily through the woods, finally coming to the base of what appeared to be a dilapidated ski lift. Old rusted gondola pods, falling down buildings. Someone with the race directed me onto a steep downhill trail going down to a ravine crossing before climbing steeply back up to a more level trail. I thought I heard him tell another runner that there were only five kilometers to go to Camp 2. The battery having gone low on my GPS watch, I'd turned off the GPS tracking. Now I didn't know how many kilometers I'd covered. Five to go sounded good.
Another kilometer or so and I stumbled into a checkpoint. I must have looked pretty bad because one kind English speaker asked me when was the last time I'd eaten something. I told him I couldn't eat because of nausea and I'd last eaten about six hours ago. He asked me to stay for at least half an hour and see if I could eat. After that he would decide if I could continue or not. I said that I was going to finish the race. He agreed that I had plenty of time and that I was around 50th place out of 240 starters. They were cooking pieces of chorizo and meat on a grill over an open fire. I normally don't eat meat, but made an exception now, taking first a small piece of chorizo, then three small pieces of steak. They went down easily. Another runner gave me a package of cheese crackers to carry. The kind man agreed to let me go, but advised me to eat just a little bit every half an hour to get my stomach used to accepting food. He also ominously warned me that there were 15 kilometers remaining to Camp 2 and two and a half hours of climbing directly ahead. He further warned that it would take six hours to get to Camp 2. Yikes!
He was mostly correct. There were actually closer to three and a half hours of climbing, and I climbed strongly, passing six runners without getting passed once. It took only five hours though to reach Camp 2.
I climbed slowly, but steadily in the warm afternoon sun. I had no sunscreen, so every bit of shade was welcome. The trail ascended initially through the hated sticker bushes before entering a more expansive high canopy deciduous forest. I met a pair of spectators (?) One asked where I was from and when I said Colorado, he said he hadn't heard of it. Where in the states was it? I said in the middle, and it had "mucho montagnes" and "mucho skiing" but when I mentioned Aspen, Colorado the light went on and he recalled the state.
Meanwhile, the climbing continued, now breaking out above treeline I could see a long ridgeline of high peaks extending far to the right--little did I realize that I would be climbing every one of them! I could see two climbers ascending high above me nearly gaining the ridge, both of whom I would catch up to and pass eventually. It was about an hour and a half since I'd left the campfire and I foolishly thought I would be finishing the climbing well before the two and a half hours the kind man had forecast. I caught up to an Argentine man, "Gustavo" and he told me we would be climbing all these peaks. I thought he meant tomorrow or after descending to Camp 2. No. We would climb them all now! Two hours of ridge climbing over several false summits, minor and major peaks.
Gustavo stopped to clear his shoes of sand, and I passed another young lady who was the other climber I'd spotted high above. I extended a considerable lead over Gustavo as I reached the final summit, but looking back I saw him quickly scrambling, running the downs and fast hiking the ups. He caught up to me on the steep descent back down to treeline, where we both paused to empty the sand out of our shoes. He said blisters prevented him from finishing last year, so he was taking care of his feet this year. I showed him a blister on my heel and he winced. This blister would prove more and more painful in the next 24 hours. Indeed, I walked most of the steep downhill trail through the forest, while Gustavo ran ahead. Going down reminded me of Costa Rica trails--almost like falling off a cliff--you can see the lake far below--that is the level we'd reach--getting there is a bitch. Finally reached a dirt road, descending now less steeply, runnable, down, down, down to the main highway. A sign points left down the highway, stating 2.5 kilometers to Camp 2. Ugh. Seems like nothing, but I was not enthusiastic about running the highway.
Following the signs off the highway they pointed to the beach of the harbor. People in beach chairs, swimming in the water, boats on piers, a man points down the beach, I walk the beach. No sign of the camp. Keep walking, a small cantina/cafe. Climb the stairs. Behind the cafe the familiar signs of runners and backpacks.
It was now 7 PM. I felt confident enough in my stomach to order a pizza from the cafe. Asking the middle-aged lady for a vegetariano pizza was not easy. I had seen vegetarian pizzas for sale everywhere and seen them called vegetariano. She acted like she didn't know what I was talking about, so I said vegetarian. She still acted dumb. A young teenager working there pronounced it slightly differently and suddenly the woman said, si! She could make me a vegetarian pizza. What did I get? A cheese pizza, no vegetables. I ate about half of the personal pizza and it stayed down. I think that's a first for me at this stage of a 100.
I got out of there in under an hour, I wanted to get on the trail before dark and there were six kilometers of road to run further to the east. I ran the road, covering the 6K in about 45 minutes, turning onto the trail about 8:40 PM, just in time to don the headlamp. I remembered from the race briefing something about a 20 kilometer approach to the first Cerro Newberry.
The trail traversed back to the west, up and down through the forest with the full moon shining brightly through the canopy. About 10:30 PM sleep called most persistently. This time I broke out my sleeping bag, cleared a flat spot behind a log of branches and debris and laid it out under the moon and stars. I didn't even set an alarm, sleeping the sleep of the just for a full two and a half hours, waking about 1 AM fully refreshed.
Back on the trail, walking quickly through the forest trail with headlamp I saw many tents and bivy shelters along the way. I didn't see anyone who had laid their bag out in the open as I had. About 5:30 AM I stopped again for a fifteen minute nap, but just lay down without the bag, using my pack as pillow.
Finally as the dawn broke the trail climbed above treeline and I could see runners ascending high on the slopes towards a ridge. Would we be climbing all the peaks on the ridge? I knew we had two Cerro's to climb in this 50-kilometer stage, Newberry and Bayo. Actually it turned out that we didn't climb to the summit of either one, in Newberry's case we just climbed to the saddle and then steeply descended back down to treeline. I caught up to one of the runners I'd seen earlier climbing high above as he puzzled over locating the trail markings. I pointed out to him the markings as they continued staying just above the treeline, traversing for some distance, before eventually dropping into the forest. Now we were back running alongside a river. People come to this region from all over the world for the fishing. Didn't see any fishermen back here though--too remote I guess.
Meanwhile I kept thinking, when do we climb the Cerro's? I didn't know that we'd already climbed Newberry. When I left Camp 2 I had thought I could finish at 8 AM, which was a reasonable 12 hours. Sleeping for three hours stopped that possibility. I found a package of cheese crackers someone had flung to the side and adopted them to my eating routine. I also found a couple packets of nuts and raisins that I'd packed away and forgotten, so I had fuel for the rest of the journey. Little bits to eat every half an hour and S-Caps every hour.
Finally we came back to familiar ground near the dilapidated ski lift. I was surprised to see a woman going the opposite direction. Was she running the 80k or was she 24 hours behind me in the 160k? Came to a river crossing with a large log with wooden slats for balance. I stopped to fill my bladder with water and clear out my shoes. This was the base of Cerro Bayo, the final climb. After crossing the log bridge the course went up a road that switchbacked beneath a running chairlift with no passengers. I could see one guy about 200 meters ahead walking steadily up the road. Here we go, I thought. Back up to the top. After only about 1,000 feet of climbing I was surprised to see trail markings leading off the road and down--in the distance the lake and Villa la Angostura in clear sight. The end was really near!
My feet were killing me, though I had mostly patched up the blisters and hot spots. The steeper descents I walked painfully, fortunately this trail had some well graded switchbacks and I was able to run some. Finally back down to a dirt road, down, down, down to the highway. I caught up to the guy who I'd seen ascending earlier (the same guy I'd caught up to descending Cerro Newberry) and passed him running. Now on the highway going towards town and the finish line I kept running. All the way to the finish line on the other side of town, cars honking their encouragement, heads turning as I breezed through town, they had no clue what I'd gone through to get here now. I crossed the finish line overcome with emotion. The feeling of accomplishment was just about the highest I've ever felt. I recognized Maria and Ines, two ladies who had helped me during checkin, and Maria I'd seen at Camp 1. How great it is! Ines kept asking me if I wanted a beer. Finally I accepted one and drank it down.
Saturday, August 15, 2015
Hundred mile endurance runs are different than other ultra-distance runs. They are a journey as much as a run. Marathons, 50K’s, 50-milers, and even 100K’s can be run as a straight-out race, but you will need a different mindset and unique strategies to get through the hundred. I’ve had five successful completions and four DNF’s at the 100-mile distance. Out of all the other races I’ve run I’ve had only one DNF—that includes 136 marathons.
Starting in the downtown metropolis of Fairplay, Colorado we ran dirt roads to Alma, which at 10,578 feet is the highest incorporated town in North America. From the unmanned water-only aide station we climbed steadily to the fully stocked Highland aide station. The sun wasn’t up yet, but the dawn’s early light suffused the landscape and Mt Silverheels dominated the scene. I left my hydro-pack at the aide station and filled up a collapsible handheld with water for the five-mile round trip to the Silverheels Mine, knowing that there was water available at the mine. The out and back is close to 12,000’ and rolling. It was easy enough to run the downs and most of the ups this early in the race. The scenery of the high country above treeline was glorious in the early morning. I counted the runners ahead of me as they came back towards and put myself at 12th place. So far, so good.
In order to raise my 100-mile completion rate I had to change my mindset from “racing” to finishing. My strategy now is to overcome adversity and to quit only for legitimate reasons—no excuses or because I’m tired of running. For instance, I know that I always suffer nausea about sixty miles into these things. Before changing my mindset I might have dropped out for that reason (excuse.) Now I’ll take a quick catnap, let myself settle down, and see if that works to overcome it. I’ve also found foods that I can take in without problems—clear vegetable broth with no spices and orange juice. I’ve gone for forty miles taking in only vegetable broth for calories. There is a fine balance between taking in just enough calories and too many calories. You don’t need a lot of calories to get through 100 miles. At least I don’t. You do need some though. It’s that fine balance that you have to achieve between maintaining the body and bonking. Tolstoy in his classic novel, Anna Karenina started it off with (paraphrasing): “All happy families are alike, all unhappy families are different,” or close to that. For me the Silverheels journey and indeed all of my 100-mile journeys are of the latter category—not necessarily “unhappy” but very unique in what I have to do to overcome adversity.
In the Silverheels run I would had to overcome three moments of adversity: a fall which produced a large goose egg on my forehead, an asthma attack while climbing the steepest and highest point of the race, and the old familiar nausea.
At 19 miles I met my crew, Rebekka for the first time at the Gold Pan aide station. Just before arrival I had plunged through a creek, so I got a fresh pair of socks and carried them back over the creek before putting them on. It was ten miles to the next aide station at Trout Creek, so I made sure I had water and gels.
Running on the old jeep road I heard a set of about six ATV’s behind me. They weren’t going much faster than I and it was annoying to hear them slowly creeping up on me. Finally they started passing me, one by one. The last ATV was driven by a woman with a toddler on her lap. She passed me then stopped because of a severe washout in the road. The driver ahead of her had gone up on the grass to the left of the road, but there was a difficult lip to traverse to get up there. While he was trying to advise her how to maneuver up there she started rolling backwards. I had my head down, pulling it up just in time to jump out of her way. I sped past them and it was some fifteen minutes before they passed me for the final time, the toddler now on the man’s lap. A set of orange ribbons marked where the course left the dirt road to embark on a single track trail. There was also a big orange “X” marked on the ground in that same direction, where I caught up to Lance Dockery puzzling over what to do. Meanwhile another runner backtracking from the single track told us that it was the right way. Lance and I weren’t sure to believe him--we thought the course might continue on the road and vandals might have moved the ribbons to confuse runners (it happens.) So, we decided to continue on the road for a quarter mile to see if there were more ribbons up there. No, there weren’t. We returned, adding half a mile to our day, followed the single track and seeing markings further up the trail we realized it probably was correct, so we went back to rub out the orange “X” so more runners wouldn’t be confused.
Lance and I ran steadily up through a meadow of high grass and wildflowers. After a while we slowed to a walk and I observed, “a good rule to follow early in these 100 milers is to ask yourself if you will be running this same grade ten hours from now or not. If not, then walk.” Indeed, fourteen hours into a 100-mile run I for one will be walking all ups and running only the downs. The single track trail crested, traversed east for a short stretch, then bent south for a long downhill. I pulled away from Lance and found myself running free and easy—down, down, down. Near the bottom of this long descent I was surprised when an older runner caught up to me. I let him go around me, but kept him in touch as we joined a dirt road. I watched him scoot under a gate, but I noticed there was a latch holding the gate so I unhooked it and stepped across. Mistake--I should have scooted underneath. I spent a good minute trying to force my weakened arms to close the gate. I caught up to and passed the older gentleman (I am three years older than him) a couple times before he pulled away.
Ten minutes before the Trout Creek aide station I plugged in my earphones and started a new audiobook on my iPhone. With the aide station in sight I caught a rock with my toe and suddenly launched—slow motion, frozen in flight, going down, no chance to avoid it, the crash is coming—Boom! Lying on the ground—where does it hurt? I reach for my forehead and feel a ping pong sized goose egg. I look at my fingers—blood streaming. Shoulder hurts, knee hurts. I rise and walk to the aide station. They had seen the fall. No bandaids, but hey! They have a nurse practitioner! I fill my bladder and press on. See you on the way back!
Five miles before the first of three visits to the Tarryall Aide Station at mile 35 where I’ll see Rebekka, my crew. First though we have a long climb that culminates in a steep climb through a meadow under the hot sun. Then down, down, down a single track trail, cross a creek, and up to the road and the long awaited chair. Decompress, change socks, shoes, fill bladder, take in calories, get up and go. Steep climb, then easy winding trail, running--mountain bikes like this trail. Next aide station, Gold Dust. Familiar faces greet me: Carolyn, Steve, Christian. Short stop before the major climb to above 12,000’. I had no idea how hard this would be, a difficulty compounded when I found myself struggling for air--Asthma attack! Can’t go. Walk three steps, stop and try for air—lungs can’t get oxygen. Climb a few steps. Stop. Other runners pass and express concern. I’m all right. More steps. Stop. Finally above tree line. Can’t be much further. A runner running down with trekking poles stops to ask me if I’m all right. Yes. Do I want to know where I’ll be going? Yes. He turns and indicates a snow field high on the slopes. I can just barely make out a few human forms way up there. Sherpa John is up there, he says. I can do this.
Climb on trails to Boreas Pass, where I had skied with Julian Smith several times over the last two years. We would skin up from the Breckenridge side and ski the very slopes above Boreas Pass that I now had to climb—only three-quarters of a mile climb--with full lung capacity now, I marched up with ease. This time I fully appreciated the expansive views that extended to Breckenridge and peaks beyond. I returned to Boreas Pass just as Rebekka pulled up in the Subaru. Sherpa John had run down to the Tarryall Aide Station to tell her to get up to Boreas Pass in case I needed anything. Every aide station for the rest of the course knew who I was, thanks to John, and closely monitored my well-being. I was back in form now though--running down the road from Boreas Pass I ran a ten minute mile pace for seven straight miles—not bad with over 50 miles on my legs.
At the bottom of Boreas Pass Road, the course turned right, following a rough jeep road that climbed back up to the Gold Dust Aide Station. I walked most of this section and in the waning sunlight felt my old nemesis nausea coming on. Soon everything I’d taken in from the last two aide stations came up. At Gold Dust I refused all sustenance, but did sit down for a bit to settle down, and returned the asthma breather, which I hadn’t used since leaving Gold Dust over two hours before. I ran and walked the easy two and a half miles down to Tarryall for the second time. Rebekka was there with fresh socks. In the waning daylight I pushed off for the ten-mile out-and-back to Camp Como. Rebekka was going to drive down to meet me there. My spot headlamp on button wouldn’t work and I was forced to trudge the last two miles in gathering darkness, fortunately making it before the lights went out totally. As I sat in a chair at the aide station with Rebekka asking what I needed I looked to my right. “Well, hello again.” I said to Lance Dockery. I had last seen him on the climb from hell as he bounded easily by me. Now he was suffering and said he planned to drop out after returning to Tarryall. We left together for the climb back, but he dropped back after about three miles.
When I got back to Tarryall for the third and final time I decided a nap was in order. I got in the car, leaned the seat back, put a bag over me and asked Rebekka to wake me in 55 minutes—after which I hoped to be able to take in food again. When I woke I was not quite refreshed, but I wasn’t nauseous and was able to take in some calories before heading out into the night with a good strong headlamp. Five miles to the next aide station--the second time to Trout Creek--but first I had to climb long and steeply. I could hear runners talking behind me—they would almost catch up to me, then they would fall back almost out of ear shot. When I got to Trout Creek and had settled in to a chair and had drunk the first of two cups of plain vegetable broth, they pulled into camp. They turned out to be Antonio and Enrique--we would travel the next ten miles together on the way to Gold Camp for the second time.
I left the aide station first, but soon became less than confident. I seemed to recall that the course should be going right climbing up slope. When there were no markers the doubt became greater, so I backtracked to wait for them to catch up. Antonio and Enrique said to continue on the road, and sure enough eventually we came on a marker. Indeed we continued for three miles before the course left this road to climb, first on jeep road and later into meadows. The climb from hell. It just would not quit. On and on we climbed. Another runner and his pacer caught us and passed us, but we would later catch them on the way down. Just interminable. Relentless. Into the early morning hours. Sleep mongers. Antonio and I agreed that we had to take a nap once we arrived at the Gold Camp aide station. When we finally arrived it was 5:30 AM. The sun was on the brink of rising, but it was still twilight. I quickly went to the Subaru and asked Rebekka to wake me after only 30 minutes this time. That was all I needed. Just a chance to get a bit of shuteye and rejuvenate. 30 minutes later, the sun was ascending, I felt like a new man, took in some recovery drink, and I was ready to go.
On the trails again I was completely recovered and running! I ran like it was the beginning of the race, passing competitors who were walking. I ran all the downs and most of the easy ups. Killing it! The climb to Highland Aide Station was very steep though and I had no choice but to walk that one. I left my pack there, filled a handheld with water (just like I did the first time through) and set off on the five-mile round trip to the Silverheels Mine. It was after 8 AM and the sun was heating things up. I ran the downs and most of the ups and reeled in more runners. After the turn around I noticed another runner who was running the downs. I made note of how far he was behind me (one third of a mile) and thought no more of it.
I stopped again at Highland, ate a couple orange slices, and met Fred Ecks for the first time. I knew of him and he knew of me, since we’ve competed in close age groups for years. Really nice guy. When he told me that I had only eight and three-quarter miles to go it gave me a real boost in spirit. I thought I had eleven miles to go. I told him that I could probably do that in about two hours if I kept on pace. Here goes nothing!
I did run a lot of the downs, but I also had to walk quite a bit. It was freaking hot! And while the course gradually dropped in elevation, there were a lot of ups in there. Finally I came to the long mostly flat road into Fairplay. With three miles to go Rebekka came out to run me in. What a sight for sore eyes! Together we made those last miles go by faster. I would say, “let’s run to that telephone pole on the left,” then “let’s run to the second orange flag,” and so on until we finally reached the pavement that meant we were almost there. With four blocks to go I told her that I was going to run it in and if she wanted to get a finish line photo she’d better head for the finish line. I ran it in and met Sherpa John at the finish line where he shook my hand. Done! 32 hours and 21 minutes. My sixth 100-mile finish.
Five minutes later someone said there was another finisher coming in. What? How could that be?? Someone had been catching me all this time? Turned out to be Enrique from the previous night's long night and the same guy who was only a third of a mile behind me at Silverheels Mine. Another strong finisher.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Julian Smith, my teammate, and I reached the first summit about half an hour later, in the middle of the pack. We were slow on the transition of stripping skins and clipping in for the down ski off the other side, and we were even slower skiing down the icy run. I’m not sure if it was true or not, but I have a feeling we were in last place by the time we reached bottom and the long walk to Brush Creek.
Crested Butte had a low snow year this year and we had to carry our skis over bare ground no short of six times in the broad valley, with the final carry being the feared “Death Pass”, which is not a pass, rather it’s a skinny trail with a 100-foot drop off down to the creek that is terrifying to walk with skis and a heavy pack. Walking a bare trail with skis off is much easier.
After Death Pass the trail climbs steadily along Brush Creek for the next nine or ten miles. Julian and I are both strong climbers and ultra-runners and we steadily passed skiers all the way up to Star Pass about 16 miles into the race. Now we were “back in the game” following our unpropitious start. For the rest of the day we never had to worry about being in last place, though our finish nearly 16 hours later might bely that notion.
The first cut off to worry about was the “Refuge Checkpoint #1”, which we had to reach by 7 AM. We arrived at about 6:10 and after taking our allotted 16 ounces of warm snowmelt water we pressed on for Star Pass. The climb was steep, but we kept skins on until the final push. The pass loomed high above and we could see skiers booting up the steep slope with their skis on the back of their packs. Below the conga line of climbers streaming up the slope a larger group of skiers was removing skis and strapping them to their packs, giving us our near term objective.
Before the race I was frustrated in my efforts to purchase a simple rubber strap to hold my skis together in an a-frame position on my pack. I had visited REI and Mountain Chalet in Colorado Springs to no avail, then two more ski shops in Crested Butte only to find flimsy Velcro straps. As we neared the staging area where we would have to strap our skis on our packs for the final climb to Star Pass, Julian spotted a rubber strap in the snow and retrieved it for my use. Someone’s misfortune became my boon.
The climb was straight forward as previous skiers had kicked solid steps up the snow slope. I forced myself to take at least thirty steps at a time before stopping to catch a breather for a few seconds. At the top of the pass skiers were scattered about removing skis from packs and clipping in for the ski off the top of the pass. The sun just broke over the mountains to the east as we glided slowly over to a steep cornice. I looked at the ski tracks and knew what to do. I steeled myself with a bit of courage and slipped over the drop off, gliding over the edge dropping about five feet before catching the groove for a traverse across the upper slopes—tracks were all over the slopes and the snow was broken up and looked easy to ski, so we hit it. Easy skiing! Almost like skiing down a blue run on the ski slopes. We made it down lickety-split. Glancing at my watch I saw we had made 18 miles and it was 7:30 AM. We were easily ahead of the cutoffs by an hour and a half.
The trail narrowed as it turned into the woods and climbed gradually—meanwhile the day heated up. Seeing how other skiers had dressed at the start (two were in shorts!) I realized that I was probably overdressed. I did, however, fortunately make the decision not to wear long johns under my Gore-Tex pants! Now, as the sun rose in the sky I stripped off my Gore-Tex jacket, tied it to the back of my pack and put on mountaineering sunglasses. The rest of the day was spring skiing under bluebird skies!
A good medium length down ski followed, along which we could see the next up climb—Julian was in the lead but I tucked in for more momentum on the downslope and skittered past him before the next upslope where we had to put on skins again. Steep climb to an aide station of sorts—no water or food, but a set of six snowmobiles and some intent officials with queries. How are you feeling? While looking intently into your eyes. I’m doing fine. I’m in this for the duration. We’re doing this thing. Where is Taylor Pass? This is Taylor Pass! Why are those skiers climbing higher up there? That’s the ridge. Soon we would find that higher along that ridge was bare ground and we would take off our skis again. Julian used this break to take off his ski boot and repair a damaged, shredded foot.
Another good down ski followed by a long uphill trek brought us finally to the Barnard Hut aide station. Here we had a mandatory ten-minute break—much needed. Ramen soup, electrolyte drink, 16 ounces of water for the bladder. Not enough really, but it was appreciated. We pulled out of the aide station at 12:15 PM. The cutoff here was 2 PM, so we thought we had some cushion. Over the next miles I crashed. Bonked. It took us three hours and fifteen minutes to traverse seven miles. Dog slow.
We tried to do as much as possible without putting on skins, because often there would be a slight uphill followed by downhill and the transitions from skins to no skins was killing us. This worked most of the time, but then we encountered a long gradual uphill—finally we put on skins. The problem with transitioning from skins to no skins was the whole production of taking off the pack, putting the skins in the pack, putting the pack back on, putting the skis on, etc. Julian suggested stowing the skins in my shirt. Well, that didn’t work but I was able to stow them in my pants, for a while at least, before they slipped down awkwardly towards my ankles. Later, Julian exasperatedly said, “give me your skins!” I didn’t argue and handed them over.
Long slow climbing—hours went by—miles more slowly—finally a pie plate with 3 miles to Sundeck. Sundeck was the top of the Aspen ski slopes after which we would have three easy miles of blue square ski runs to Aspen. The time was about 2 PM. The finish line cutoff was 4 PM. We needed to make three miles to Sundeck and then the three-mile ski down in two hours. Sounded plausible. The next mile was a long uphill slog—a 45-minute mile!! Crap! We had an hour and fifteen now to finish. Next mile had a lot of uphill—27 minutes. It was 3:13 when we came on the pie plate of one mile to Sundeck, and there was a climb from there! Okay let’s climb. Fortunately the climb ended soon and then it was downhill all the way to Sundeck—a fifteen-minute mile.
We reached Sundeck at 3:31. Now we had only a 3-mile downhill ski to Aspen. Julian insisted that I take back my skins before we skied down. Okay. Stop, take off the pack, stow the skins, put on the pack. Let’s go! We ski down a run, I go right, Julian goes left. I yell down, “He said it finishes at the base of the Gondola, the Gondola goes right!” Julian said he remembered the name of the run going to the left from the race briefing. Okay. I deferred to his memory. Julian was right. We kept skiing down several runs, Aspen was getting nearer. I glanced at my watch: 3:50. We could do this. Focus. We crested a hill and the finish line was in sight. Julian was down first. I followed and we went through the finish line more or less together three minutes before the cutoff—the last official finishers—last asses over the pass as it were. Woohoo!! Let’s have a PBR!