|Climb up Oscars Pass|
"Karl told me for my months of Hardrock training to soak my feet with a hose before every run." -Donnie
" Advice - it will get bad somewhere and you will try to talk yourself out of finishing BUT DON'T LET IT HAPPEN!" -Scott Jaime
"There is always one more climb. You will feel the worst when you are high on the passes so get off of them quickly, your condition will return to good quickly. I know this. I have sat there on the passes with death coming soon but just know it will be a matter of minutes before you feel better if you get down." -Scott Jaime
"Virginius is henous, especially at night. Snow at night on a pass = ice, take a tent peg with you to go over virginius. It will scare you." -Scott Jaime
"In terms of water crossings, I would think there may be more this year than last..." "pretty much expect wet feet for most of the day". -Nick Pedatella
"Don't worry about wet feet, you have no choice." -Karl Meltzer
"Be careful crossing above the waterfall, it's a fatal spot." -Karl Meltzer
"Watch out for cliffs on the left. Fatal spot again." -Karl Meltzer
"Virginius Pass, go across the Talus slope and pick up the route through the notch, it is steep, slippery, brutal." -Karl Meltzer
With those words of wisdom I received from friends leading up to the Hardrock 100 this year, I felt ready, scared but ready.
There is so much that made up this event over the course of the 100 miles (107 for me, actually) that I would need to take two weeks off from work and write a short book to cover all the emotions, conditions, observations, physical sensations, and demons that emerged. I'll try to cover just the highlights with a little description that will hopefully weave together some sort of coherent story for you to get the general idea that Hardrock is the hardest 100 mile race in the world.
My training was not specific to Hardrock at all, not much climbing and not much milage. But I was in shape. In the 8 weeks leading to the race I: raced two 50 mile events (Collegiate Peaks 50 and Ice Age 50, back to back weekends), road two 100 mile centuries, raced the San Diego 100 mile (16,000 ft of climb) and ran 30 miles up and down Mt. Evans (14,000+ ft). Not a bad 8 weeks but for Hardrock you need a special and specific training regiment that involves a couple hundred thousand vertical feet of climb and many hours at over 13,000 ft. Regardless, I felt fit enough and confident that I could survive.
I arrived in Silverton last Tuesday and went through the organized preparation, drop bags, check in, medical check, race briefing (the eventual winner and other European contingent sat just behind me and talked loudly and consistently through the entire briefing, so I didn't catch much of what was said), etc, all while studying my descriptions of the course and staying relaxed.
On race morning we lined up (it went by so fast). I only talked to one person, Scott Jaime. I said hi to him, shook his hand, and thanked him for the encouragement. There are very few racers I respect and none more than him.
|Hardrock 100 Counter-Clockwise Elevation Profile - 34,000 feet of climb and 34,000 feet of descent|
Silverton and the start sit at 9,305 ft and mile 8 of the race is at 13,000 ft, so there's a nice little climb right from the get-go. I eased into a soft jog with the top 30 or so folks, focussing on breathing easily. At 4 minutes into the race we crossed a creek and my feet were wet and would remain wet for the next 44 hours. I felt great on the climb, chatting with a couple of people. Once crested, we descended down to 10,500 ft and the Cunningham Gulch aid station. I was early on my splits by 10 minutes. I had made up a laminated split card (something that's become part of my 100 mile race prep) and based it on a 31:45 finish time; a time I'm certain I'm capable of running there. I lingered at the aid station for a long 6 minutes, mostly because I couldn't find Bill Dooper, who had my Black Diamond carbon Z-poles. Once I found him (casually spectating the race while I was frantically looking for him), I made my way to the next climb up to Green Mountain and Buffalo Boy Ridge (both around 13,000 ft) before dropping down to Maggie Gulch, up and over Maggie Pole Pass, where I ran off course and down the other side of a ridge where the course normally goes but was rerouted due to heavy snow conditions. So, I made my way back up the ridge and then down to Pole Creek aid station at around mile 19.6. I was on my splits and feeling just fine. It was cool and mostly clear and there was a sense of cautious excitement building in the other runners and myself.
The next 9 miles is all runnable through rolling meadows with waterfalls, MANY water crossings and a nice descent down to Sherman aid station at mile 28.7. I was advised to "tank up" at Sherman because the next stretch is supposed to be the longest without aid as we climb 5,300 feet (that's a vertical mile folks) over the next 5 miles to 14,048 ft Handies Peak. I left Sherman and started up the dirt road. I was mostly alone with a guy way behind me. I started getting that feeling that I had been on the road too long, so when a ranger was coming at me in his little ATV, I flagged him down and asked. He advised that I had a 1.5-2 mile trip back down the road to the correct trail leading up to Handies. I was deflated, to say the least. It was hot and exposed and I was nearly 4 miles off course. To add to the dilemma, the lady who filled my hydration bladder must have spilled half of it while cramming back into my pack because the pack was soaking wet (contents included) and the bladder was half empty. It was too late to worry about it now and I hadn't noticed the mishap due to my rush to get out of the aid station. So, now I'm over an hour behind my schedule and facing the highest climb of the day in the heat of the day. One may notice foreshadowing of things to come...
I grinded my way up Handies, jogged the peak ridge, and dropped down the back onto winding single track. I was getting dehydrated (easily recognized from my little problem at San Diego), so I took the time to fill my hydration bladder in one of the streams as I crossed running through the basin over to Grouse-American Pass. Once over that pass, I made the descent to Grouse Gulch aid station at mile 42.1. I was 1:10 off my splits now and beginning to realize I needed to reevaluate my run. At this point, I should mention that just five minutes before the start of the race, I saw my friend, Tressa and she offered up her friend, Megan, to pace me. I told her I had a pacer (JT) joining me at Telluride (mile 72) but she could run with me earlier if she wanted. So they were here at Grouse Gulch to pace me to Ouray. I was in a low point, not feeling well physically and had taken a mental blow by losing over an hour in the last section. I changed my shoes and was chilled. It was late in the day (7pm) and I didn't have any warm clothes in my drop bag. John Prater (Homie) was at this aid station spectating and was a tremendous help. He got me food, my drop bag, gave me some warmer clothing and was generally the stabilizer I needed at that point. Megan was also trying to help and it was a distinct contrast between her ebullient enthusiasm and my dull paleness. In our odd couple state, we began the trudge out of Grouse and up the climb to Engineer Pass. Nearing the top of the pass, I kept my eye on the black (I mean, BLACK) ominous clouds with lightening cracking down to the peaks. I timed the duration between lightening and thunder and it was approaching, fast. I knew we wouldn't be able to crest the pass and drop down the other side in time. Sure enough, the storm was upon us within minutes and I couldn't even see the two people's headlamps just up the way in front of us. The icy rain was only a raunchy nuisance; the lightening dancing around us was terrifying. There was no where to hide from it, so we kept going and finally dropped down the back. I separated from Megan and caught up to the couple in front of me, so I could use them to determine the best footing since we were running down a mixture of snow, snot-slick mud, and general nasty marsh-like conditions all at a reach-back-and-touch-the-ground angle descent.
|Megan (yeah, she's kinda ugly and out of shape and no fun to spend time with)|
We reached Engineer aid station at mile 49 in 2 hours 40 mins (yes, 2:40 to go about 7 miles... this ain't your local 10k type terrain). I was in rough shape and shivered soaking wet by the fire wondering what the hell I was doing this for. I ate what I could and dried my shirt in the fire and we were off again to make our way down the over 4,000 ft descent to Ouray about 6 miles away. Once we left Engineer, I started feeling better. I began returning conversation to talkative little Megan and soon I was the one jabbering away while we fast-hiked and ran at a nice clip.
The water crossings and constant wet feet get left out of almost any race reports I've read, so I'll make it clear here: YOUR FEET WILL BE SOAKED FOR THE ENTIRE RACE AND YOU WILL CROSS DEEP, FAST, AND POTENTIALLY LETHAL RIVERS. I talked to people after the race who, when they came to a certain raging creek crossing, turned around and dropped out of the race because they determined the crossing to be too dangerous.
Megan and I were doing well with the many crossings after Engineer. I would give her one of my trekking poles for stability and my worries for her were unwarranted, as she would simply jump into the water and bravely make her way across without hesitation. Cool chick. We came to one crossing that was so violent and deep that I was scared for the first time. I was scared for myself and for Megan. I didn't want to be responsible if she fell and got swept away. It was so loud that we had to back track away from it to discuss options. Obviously, we made it but I was pretty stunned for a bit afterwards. The rest of the descent to Ouray is along a steep cliff on uneven, rocky trail, so focus is key. I had been racing for nearly 18 hours at this point, so focus was difficult to come by.
We reached Ouray at 12:40am and I lingered there for 40 minutes (changing into my warmer clothes finally, since I was supposed to be in Ouray at 9:30pm, according to my plan...). Megan and I said our good byes and I was off on my own. A little ways out of the aid station, two headlamps came up behind me and I asked whether it'd be ok if I tagged along with them. I felt that, alone, I'd be slow and unmotivated and I needed company for the long trudge up, what I was warned was dangerous and "heinous", Virginius Pass. They said no problem. After a while I realized one of the guys was Ryan Burch, so I told who I am (we both know one another through blogs and mutual acquaintances). He was pacing his friend, Doug. I don't think I said more than three words on the LONG 5 hours to 13,100 ft Virginius Pass. They separated from me near the top as I dropped back. Once I reached the peak and dropped off the back, I felt a little better. On one of the glissading sections, I broke one of my trekking poles, snapping it right in two. Let me tell you that if you use trekking poles, you know how they become part of your body and movement. Losing one of those poles was like losing a leg. Regardless, I made good time on the descent, running the entire thing and actually caught Doug and Ryan, so we entered mile 72, Telluride together at 7:23am (I was supposed to be here at 3am...whatever).
Here's where I was to pick up JT as my pacer. It's worth mentioning that there was a reroute this year when leaving Telluride, which added on 2-3 miles to the race. I had been going now for over 25 hours and had developed something very similar, if not outright asthma. I've never experienced not being able to breath but I simply couldn't pull air into my lungs; it felt as though I was suffocating and it was worse when I exerted myself at all. I told JT about it and was wheezing while were were just walking to the base of our next giant climb, Oscar's Pass, 4,400 ft of vert climb to 13,100 ft at the pass. Combine that endless climb with the atrocious descent on jagged rocks and boulders for nearly 3,000 ft and 5 hours later we're at Chapman Gulch aid station, mile 81.6. It was just before 1pm. It was hot. I'd been going straight for 31 hours and not feeling so well here (I later found out that this is where Karl Meltzer dropped from the race and can't say that I blame him).
Grant Swamp Pass was next. By the way, I had snapped my last remaining trekking pole, so now I had none of the climbing assistance that I'd grown to rely on. My difficulty breathing was getting progressively worse. I had to stop, close my eyes and concentrate (difficult to do after not sleeping since Thursday night) on relaxing my lungs and taking in a little air at a time. I was honestly afraid I would black out from lack of oxygen and it would make me panic, which made me try to breath more, which would make me more anxious... It was a vicious cycle that I thought would end my race for certain. I mean, how can I climb another 13,000+ peak without being able to breath? It was so frustrating and I was mentally fragile anyway, that it nearly brought me to tears a few times with JT patiently waiting up the trail, looking at me. Somehow, we kept pushing forward, JT encouraging me, "Awesome. You're doing awesome, Tim. Almost there. Just another little climb." I knew he was lying about the duration and steepness of climbs but I appreciated the motivation. Without him, I'm not sure I could've finished on my own. Grant Swamp Pass is sadistic. The final tall pitch is near vertical that mandates climbing/crawling. The climbing face is composed of loose scree, gravely dirt with shale rocks that clings in place until you put your foot into it and then you slide back down with loose dirt cascading down like a mini avalanche under each foot. For every five feet you labor up, you slide back down three feet. It was one of those coming-to-Jesus moments when I almost wished I was dead instead of enduring this (honestly).
|The final scree pitch to Grant Swamp Pass. If you click on the photo, you can see tiny me just to the right of that snow patch in the lower center of the photo (in the dirt scree and wearing the white hat). Gives you a sense of the scale.|
|One of the few hundred snow traverses. I've obviously already broken both carbon fiber trekking poles by this photo.|
I finally reached the top in one burst of 20 feet of hand, foot, hand, foot climbing that left me gasping for the tiniest amount of air my lungs could muster. I regained composure and JT and I sat down for a moment to discuss our options. With a very hard effort, we may have the ability to finish with the last second of dusk available. The other option, well, there weren't really any options. Neither of us, in our wildest imagination, considered we'd be finishing in the dark, so neither of us had any light source. My race may be over due to something as simple as a technical planning error. Just then, an odd group of four people came bounding up to the peak from the other side. They were out on a run and just watching the race in their own way (by running up 13 and 14 thousand foot peaks). One guy knew the course extremely well and I asked him what our chances would be to finish before it was pitch black. "It would be tough." was his response. "You have to get down from here and make your way over to KT aid station, then climb Putnam-Cataract Ridge, then another 8 miles to the finish. It was 4:07pm at this point and, with my inability to breath and my mental state deteriorated to the point of full on hallucinations, I knew we didn't have a chance, so we started thinking of lighting alternatives.
We finally reached KT aid station after a hideous amount of muddy, ankle deep water slogging and river crossings (I felt like I was in Vietnam jungles). We got to KT at 5:37pm. I was able to borrow a weak little headlamp from one of the communications volunteers there. It would have to do. Our next climb would be the last of this hellish ordeal, Putnam. I planned my split at 2:45-3 hours for this section and that was confirmed by the communications guy as a reasonable time frame. After a mid-thigh creek crossing and climbing up the wettest, muddiest trail I'd ever seen, we got onto single track that zig-zagged up along side a giant waterfall that seemed to be coming from the peak. Of course, once we reached what appeared to be the top, there was another ridge behind it and then another behind that one. By this point, I could barely get any air at all into my lungs and I was gasping like I just finished a 5k sprint but nothing was getting into my lungs.
Now it's nearly 8pm and we're almost at the true peak of Putnam. In an instant it was pitch black as a storm cloud dropped upon us and settled in with heavy, icy rain and high winds to the point where I was having difficulty hearing JT. I had my borrowed, weak little headlamp and JT had nothing. We came over a small ridge and a guy was sitting on his pack, tying to stay low and avoid a lightening strike. We got him up and, luckily, this guy is one of those people who comes prepared for things (unlike myself, who had no idea it would go from 65 degrees and dry to 30 degrees with a soaking, freezing rain in a matter of three minutes). His name is Chris. He gave JT an extra headlamp and the three of us were now trying to find the route. The storm was blinding. I was hypothermic and out of it mentally (I was ready to give up and literally die on that pass). I kept replaying the events of the 1996 Everest tragedy with exhausted, frozen climbers wandering around lost in circles, dying, literally just a few meters away from their tents. Chris saw that I wasn't responding to him and that I was convulsing with the chills. During this torrential black storm he stopped, got into his pack and made me put on a fleece vest and emergency poncho (I was only wearing a running shirt and shorts). He then instructed me to shadow him and never leave his back, which I did.
We were on the ridge criss-crossing back and forth, covering hundreds and hundreds of meters of ground for TWO HOURS all while this storm is raging on us. It was bad and I truthfully didn't think I'd make it down (and didn't really care at that point). All of a sudden we hear, "Runners!" and saw a faint light from a headlamp of a guy who had hiked all the way up to the peak to find us because we were so far delayed since the last check point. I should point out that Chris was a pacer for another runner. There were originally about ten of us up on that peak and just as the storm was hitting us we all found a trail but somehow only a few made it down and we three were left stranded up there. So, Chris' runner must have told the next aid station that his pacer was still up on the pass, lost. That, combined with JT and I taking 5 hours since the last aid stop that should've taken 3 hours prompted the search. The guy who found us guided us over to the general correct direction and instructed us how to get down to Putnam aid station, the last aid station in this nightmare.
My mind was gone and JT will likely clear up anything I miss or misrepresent. We reached Putnam aid at 10:33pm and didn't leave there until 11:10pm. I again thought my race was over. How could I possibly go another 6 miles with the biggest river crossing of the entire race (Mineral Creek) still to come? I was hypothermic, delirious, and lacking much of my motor control. There's no way to drop at Putnam. It's a remote aid station that volunteers hike gear into. The only way to Silverton and the finish was on my feet. I decided it would be a good idea for Chris to come along with us. He agreed, so the three of us made our way down the utterly endless descent of ridiculous rocky trail. I had been hallucinating for so long now that I took it for reality. At one point, a rock looked so much like a camera that I bent down to pick it up and realized it was just a wet, cold, heavy rock. The rocks were all cameras, cell phones, children's toys, and I just plowed over them, trying to ignore the visuals and trying not to fall off the steep ledge on the right side of the trail, which I did have one leg slip and go over making me crash to the ground in a painful heap, straddling the ledge in an awkward splits.
We finally made it to the infamous river crossing. There is a fixed rope that you have to hang onto with both hands and edge your way to the other distant side through the raging rapids that left me wet up over my belt line. I was so weak and with my suffocated breath I literally nearly blacked out before reaching the other side. I could feel my grip on the cold, wet rope loosening and I felt I would pass out and be swept away in the river. It took me a good five minutes to regain my breath and get the rushing stars in my vision to subside.
JT and Chris left me to finish on my own over the last couple of miles of single track and into town. I stumbled down the finishing chute in a jog and kissed the rock at 2:17am, 44 hours and 17 minutes since I started the race strong, clean, and breathing, just ten feet from where I now stood. Dale put the medal around my neck, we said something to one another and I wandered away.
Without trying to sound mellow dramatic, Chris may have saved my life on Putnam ridge.
JT is one tough and smart person. He never overtly pushed me on but encouraged me enough to keep me motivated to finish. He didn't show frustration when I had to pause (many many times) to control my breathing and get a little air. He remained positive and kept a can-do attitude, so dropping was never a viable option. Finishing, no matter how long it took was the only obvious outcome. I'm indebted to him for helping me get through those 31 miles and 17+ hours.
Hardrock is no joke. It's reality, like wilderness is reality when you're deep in it and there are no "outs". You deal with the reality and harshness with what you have.
It is far and away the hardest thing I've ever done. It makes the other two hundreds I've done, San Diego 100, Bear 100, and I imagine all the other popular hundreds look like a joke.
It was humbling and inspiring at the same time, brutally harsh and beautiful at the same time, despairing and joyous at the same time. Hardrock is everything and will leave you drained empty in your mind and body and leave you full in your heart and soul.
|Island Lake abnormally frozen with huge amounts of snow for this time of year.|
|Descent off Oscars|
|Crazy river crossing at around mile 87|
|Beginning of climb up to Oscars|
|Cold rain for the climb up Grant Swamp Pass|
|Typical raging water crossing|
And here is the follow up to this post: