Post image for Hardrock 100 July 13-15, 2012 – Rocky Mountain Slam Part 2 of 4

Hardrock 100 July 13-15, 2012 – Rocky Mountain Slam Part 2 of 4

by Alan on July 15, 2012

Hardrock. THE Wild and Tough Hardrock 100. The mere mention of the name strikes fear into the hearts of Ultrarunners everywhere. Well, at least it does for me. It’s widely accepted as the most difficult 100 mile race in the states, and it certainly is the highest, with an average elevation of 11,186 ft above sea level. I have entered the lottery for the race the last 4 years, and finally was accepted this year. I also (foolishly?) decided to up the ante and do the Rocky Mountain Slam as well. I was able to successfully finish the first race, the Bighorn Trail 100 last month, but now was faced with the most difficult of them all, still struggling to recover from my medical issues and surgery less than 2 months prior.

On Tuesday before the race, we loaded up the Suburban with all the race gear and various stuff that the family would need for 6 days, and made the long (~8hr) drive to Silverton. We arrived around 5:00pm and quickly got settled into our rental house. Lori and I went for a walk to check out the town and ended up running into our friends Basit and Shane. After we caught up a bit, we decided to go eat at the Teller House. We were quickly joined by our friends Chris and Kari and had a great time visiting. I ate an order of Grande Nachos and downed a margarita, and then we headed back to the house after getting a walking tour of the town from Kari.

The next day, Chris, Kari, Basit, Shane, and Lori loaded up in our new (to us) Suburban and drove up Co Rd 12 and parked at the first switchback. Taking the trail from there, we hiked for 90 minutes or so and arrived at Ice Lake. I’ve seen a lot of pretty lakes over the years, but I have to say Ice Lake is absolutely breathtakingly, stunningly beautiful.

Ice Lake

Closeup of Ice Lake

We spent a fair bit of time just enjoying the immense beauty, and then decided that we would go by Island Lake on the way back, since it is only 1/2 mile or so from Ice Lake. I had the bright idea, no doubt inspired by the presence of my Special Idiot friends, that we might be able to swim to the island, and sold Basit, Shane, and Chris on the idea of taking a dip in Island Lake.

Taking a dip in Island Lake

Of course, I’ve never taken a full body dip into water that cold before, and found that it was pretty much impossible to breathe. I spent a little bit of time trying to control my breathing, then finally gave up and got out, as I was pretty sure I would risk blacking out if I tried to make for the island.

We then proceeded to hike south to the trail, passing through gorgeous meadows just filled with the most incredible diversity of tundra flowers I have ever seen, and finally arrived back at the suburban.

Tundra Flowers near the Grant Swamp Pass trail

Lori on the trail west of Grant Swamp Pass

That evening, Michael arrived at the house with Jamie and Laney. I was so awestruck by the beauty of Ice Lake and Island Lake that I convinced him to hike up there with me again on Thursday morning. We did the same route as the day before, except we did it in reverse.

Michael and I at Island Lake

We had a quick lunch when we got back, and I went down and registered for the race and went to the pre-race meeting. After that, Michael and I met up with Kari and the others, and we loaded almost all of the supplies for the Bacon Station that Kari was captaining, and set off for Ophir Pass. A little less than an hour later, and lots of 4-low driving, we were at the aid station. After unloading all the stuff we headed back over the pass, arriving back at the house around 7:30. After some last minute preparations, I was asleep by about 10pm and actually managed to sleep halfway decent until the alarm went off at 4:20.

After getting ready and getting all my gear on, I went down to the gym and checked in.

Chris Gerber with me before the start

Before I knew it, it was 6 am, and we were off. I ran a little bit at first, but soon settled into a fast hike going up the climb out of town. I soon reached the highway crossing, and picked up a little energy from the cheers of the crowd gathered there. The stream crossing went quickly, and then I began the steep climb up Putnam Basin. I soon found myself in a group of several people, including Megan Finnesy. We stayed together and conversed for a while, until Megan had a burst of energy and soon pulled away from us. I was also feeling a bit better at that point, and also pulled ahead of the group, though I couldn’t keep up with Megan. Nearing the top of the climb, the trail wasn’t marked very clearly and I lost a little time going too far west but was quickly corrected by another runner behind me. The scenery at the top was breathtaking:

View from Putnam-Cataract Ridge

Cataract Gulch

After a few steep downhill miles, at 9:40 am I was at the KT aid station (11.5 miles). I refilled my bottle and quickly headed out on the Kamm traverse.

Kamm Traverse 1

Before long, I was seriously climbing again, making slow headway towards Grant-Swamp pass, and I got another look at Island Lake.

Looking up Grant Swamp pass

Island Lake from Grant Swamp Pass

I was finally standing on top of Grant Swamp pass! I had been dreaming of some nice downhill for some time now, but my hopes were dashed by the view down the backside of the pass:

Looking down the backside of Grant Swamp Pass

I swallowed my fear and plunged into the extremely steep, loose couloir. It was a mixture of loose rock and crumbly dirt, and very difficult to stand in without sliding downhill. I quickly noticed that there were fairly small, embedded rocks every so often, so I hopped from rock to rock for traction. Sometimes, there were no rocks for a while and I would just have to make do, trying to find good footing as I moved along. After a while, I started hitting patches of small talus, generally 2-5 inches I would guess. I learned that I could hop into one of these patches and kind of ‘ski’ with my feet, making the whole pile of talus move down the mountain while riding in the middle of them. I had a lot of fun doing this until finally the footing improved and the slope mellowed out a bit. I stopped at this point to dump the rocks and dirt out of my shoes, since I couldn’t even really bend my ankles anymore from all the stuff in them:

My Altra Lone Peak full of rocks at the bottom of Grant Swamp pass

The terrain was still very technical and steep for a while, but eventually I hit the forest and enjoyed running in generally good singletrack for a bit. I started seeing signs about Bacon, and soon found myself in Kari’s Bacon Station, otherwise known as the Chapman Aid Station (Mile 18.9). I sat and rested for a few minutes here, and enjoyed a quick snack.

Having a snack at the Bacon Station

At 12:12, Michael left the aid station with me and walked for a few mintues, filling me in on the front runners. Soon I was alone again, and climbing. And it was HOT, and the flies were so thick I couldn’t stop or I would be covered with them. So I climbed, and sweated, and tried to stay hydrated. After maybe 45 minutes, I was finally leaving the flies behind and I was starting to catch a relatively cool breeze. I was starting to become concerned about the weather, and soon there was a storm and visible lightning in the west. Nothing I could do about it though, as I had a lot of climbing left to reach Oscar’s Pass, and I sure wasn’t going to quit! Here’s the view from near the top of Oscar’s, looking back towards Chapman Aid:

Looking back towards Chapman Aid from near the top of Oscar’s Pass

Finally, I reached the top of the pass in a rainstorm and started slowly jogging down the backside towards Telluride.

In Oscar’s Pass

I wasn’t feeling all that great at this point, and spent my time alternating between running and walking down the jeep road leading to Telluride. Eventually I found myself crossing over the top of Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest free falling falls in Colorado with a 365 foot drop. I continued down the road toward town, and ended up near the bottom of the falls.

Bridal Veil Falls from the bottom

Finally, I was done descending but obviously had a ways to go before the aid station in town. I made my way along the path, and had to put my rain gear back on a mile or so from town. I could hear cheers so I knew I was close, and that gave me enough energy to run a little bit until I reached the aid station at 3:54 pm, feeling like dirt. Lori was there waiting for me (this was the first time she’d seen me since the highway crossing), and I was pleasantly surprised to see that Kristel was with her.

Kristel and I in Telluride

Here’s where the trouble really started for me. My gut had been flared up for days before the race, probably due to my level of anxiety about taking on such a big task in my current poor state of health/fitness. I decided that I had better go to the bathroom here instead of in the wild, so I headed to the public restroom and did my business. Sorry for the detail here, but it will become relevent later. Terrible sticky, slimy diarrhea. I cleaned off as best I could and headed back out and began the steep climb north of town headed toward Virginius Pass. I was feeling fairly good at this point, and spent a little time catching up on Facebook. It was great seeing all the posts of encouragement for me, and I spent a little time responding to some of them. As I continued to gain altitude, soon I was starting to feel the high altitude hurt again and put my phone away to concentrate on the task ahead.

Before long, I was above treeline and fighting for air again. After a while, I saw that the trail was going through a pass in the ridge ahead of me (that I later found out was Mendota Ridge). My spirits were lifted, as I thought my climb was nearly over, and I sped up a bit with my newfound energy. I climbed into the pass, and soon figured out I was not at Virginius Pass, and I did not get to pass GO and get to stop climbing. The views were amazing though!

Looking back from Mendota Ridge

Fortunately, there was only a little bit of climbing left and at 6:35pm I was in Virginius Pass at the Kroger’s Canteen aid station (mile 32.8).

The view looking North from Virginius Pass

I rested a couple of minutes and then thanked the volunteers, then hopped down the backside of the pass. It was extremely steep and loose, but fortunately didn’t last that long. I stopped at the bottom and once again dumped the rocks out of my shoes, then continued on the steep descent. After a mile or so, the super steep trail gave way to jeep road, and the slope leveled out some. I was able to run just a bit of this, and made it to the Governor Basin aid station (Mile 36) at 19:33. I filled my water and re-fueled, and headed out down the road with renewed vigor.

This next section soon became boring. It was basically just dirt road, steadily downhill, with no markings. Eventually I found myself hiking with a Rick Hodges (8 time finisher!) and we spent some time chatting. Fortunately for me, we were still together when we got closer to Ouray, as there was only 1 poorly visible marker showing where we were supposed to leave the dirt road and cut off onto the trail that would take us down to Ouray. I blew right past the marker, but my new friend quickly corrected me and I cut left onto the steep downhill trail. Just a bit after dark (9:29 pm) I arrived at the aid station. Lori and Michael met me there, and I found out that Kristel had left a bit earlier pacing Chris Gerber.

I was feeling really lousy at this point, and to top it off, my butt was really starting to get sore. So – I headed to the bathroom again, and went again. But this time, I had my water bottle with me and tried to clean off better than I had at Telluride. 15 minutes after I came in, Michael and I headed out and started the long climb out of town. What a relief it was to have Michael with me!

Within a few minutes, it was apparent I was in trouble. My rear end was pretty much on fire now, the result of having an open wound (the incision from the fistula repair 2 months prior), lots of sweating, and not being able to get totally clean after using the restroom at Telluride. I told Michael to watch out for a stream, and tried to modify my gait as much as possible to minimize the pain. Unfortunately, the trail did nothing but climb steeply for the next hour or so, adding further to my suffering. Finally the trail flattened out and we came upon a stream! Michael stood guard while I stripped completely down and basically took a bath in the extremely cold water. I applied a little bit of the cream I had with me to my highly aggravated incision and re-dressed. Within a few minutes, the inflammation had died down and I could walk normally again without causing a lot of pain.

We arrived at the Engineer Aid Station (mile 51.5) at 1:37am, where we rehydrated and refueled and enjoyed a bit of warmth from the fire. Right out of the aid, we lost the trees and the wind picked up. The trail basically went straight up the meadow to Engineer Pass, where we could see a couple of bright white lights. We wondered about the lights, and speculated and guessed what they might be. It didn’t make any sense to me, as we were in the middle of the mountains, with no signs of civilization for many miles. When we finally got near the pass, our mystery was solved for us. There was a guy there with his camper van parked on the road, blaring music and hollering words of encouragement to all the weary runners struggling up the last few hundred yards of the climb. When we gained the pass, he offered us a drink, and I saw that his van was outfitted pretty much as a full service bar! I was tempted to down a shot of Patron, but thought better of it and headed down the 4wd road toward Grouse Gulch.

It was here that things got interesting again. Michael and I both were having trouble staying awake. It’s not like we were really worn out or anything, just really sleepy. We kept moving, stumbling along sometimes as we would briefly fall asleep while walking. We arrived at Grouse Gulch aid station (Mile 58.4) at 4:47am. Lori and Kristel popped out of their sleeping bags and quickly came over to help. I sat in the chair covered by Lori’s sleeping bag for about 15 minutes, feeling really worn out and dizzy. And cold! The cold had really settled in the valley, and sitting around just made it worse. After a bit of food and some water, we left the aid station and started up the 6 mile long, 3300 foot vertical climb up to Handies.

I had gotten so cold in the aid station that I was shivering and shaking for 10 minutes or so, until the exertion of the steep climb finally warmed my core back up. We settled into a slow rhythm and continued to climb higher as the sun came up and started slowly warming things up. As we climbed higher and higher, I felt worse and worse. My stomach was off, I was really dizzy, and just basically had no energy at all. All I wanted to do was lay down and die, but somehow kept putting one foot in front of the other. I stopped a couple of times on the way up to sit on a rock and feel sorry for myself.

Death on Handies! Nearing the top of the climb to Grouse-American pass

We had been wondering for a while which mountain was Handies, as we really didn’t know the course that well. When we reached the top of the climb (the Grouse-American pass), what we saw there crushed the life out of both of us. A mile or so, across the basin, was a huge mountain that was obviously Handies. The problem was, the only way from here to there was a 700 foot drop into the heart of American Basic, that we then had to climb back out of. We both said some not-so-nice adult words about this feature of the course, and about the sadistic nature of the course designers, and dropped down into the basin. I stopped to get some water while Michael went to the bathroom, and soon we were at the bottom. Our spirits were much better there, as the descent didn’t take nearly as long as we thought it would. But then, the climbing started. It wasn’t so bad at first, but the higher I went, the worse it got. We continued on, with me stopping every few minutes or so just to sit down for a minute. My pace kept getting slower and slower, but Michael starting counting off the elevation every hundred feet, which helped my mindset a bit. By the time we hit 13800 or so, I was probably taking a step every 2-3 seconds or so, making only a couple feet of progress each time. Michael called out 13900, and I started feeling just a bit better and sped up some. Finally, he called out 14000 and I had a surge of energy and quickly pushed my way onto the 14,058 foot summit! I had finally made it to the high point of the race, and could quit climbing for a while!

Victory on Handies!

Feeling revived from completing the climb up Handies, we made quick work of the long descent down the back side, stopping only to get water and for me to clean my feet. We made it down to the road at Burrows Park, where things began to seriously unravel for me. My shoulders and neck had been hurting for a long time, really since the middle of the night, and it was getting worse and worse. Adding to this, I was having trouble staying awake again, and starting dozing off every few seconds while walking down the dirt road to Sherman. After a bit of that, I decided to try taking a caffeine pill, something I had never before done in a race. While it did wake me up a little bit, it had one very unfortunate side effect – my shoulders and neck were going into spasms, and the pain was sucking the life out of me. I was barely moving, making maybe 2 or 2 1/2 mile per hour walking downhill on a gravel road! I was really starting to think my race was over at this point. Nothing mattered to me except getting to the Sherman Aid Station (mile 71.8). We finally arrived there at 11:27am, and I made a decision that probably saved the race for me. I took off all my layers, and made a ‘bed’ on a flat spot of ground. I then laid down on my layers, face down with my arms over my head to try and release the tension from my neck and shoulders.

Nap at Sherman

I dozed off for a few minutes, then woke up with a horrible pain in my neck, so I turned my head to the other side and passed out again. After dozing for 15-20 minutes, I suddenly woke up, gathered all my stuff together, and then we left the aid station at 12:01pm. The nap pretty much made a new man out of me, and we were making good time again and feeling decent! The trail quickly turned steep going up Cataract Gulch (not the same Cataract Gulch over by Putnam). I don’t know what the fascination is with Cataracts done there, but they named lots of stuff after them! Anyway, we soon fell in with Hardrock Veteran Mark Heaphy (14 time finisher) and Ernie Floyd, who was also attempting the Rocky Mountain Slam. I would never be too far from these two the rest of the race.

We passed by Cataract Falls, and continued climbing along the beautiful single track trail until we were above treeline once again.

The Trail in Cataract Gulch

We finally passed by Cataract Lake, along with a couple of other unnamed lakes in the same area, and Mark and Ernie pulled ahead of me a bit. We made the steep descent and arrived at the Pole Creek Aid Station (mile 80.9) at 3:49pm, staying only long enough to check in and out. From there, the course climbed up yet again. I was feeling pretty good, but Michael was starting to really suffer. He hadn’t had the opportunity to put in very many miles training this year, and he was feeling tired and his feet were hurting pretty badly. I found a good place out of the wind, and we decided to stop for a few minutes to take a nap and see if that helped things any. Just as we were dozing off, it started to rain! So we hopped back up, put our stuff back on, and kept climbing. Soon Michael was slowing and I began to pull ahead of him. As I got close to the Maggie-Pole pass (with Michael a few hundred yards behind me), it was raining and I could hear thunder on the other side of the pass. It just made me move faster, and soon we made the pass and dropped down the other side, where we ran into the heart of the storm, with high winds and heavy rain. We were both pretty cold by the time it stopped, but we kept on moving, arriving at the Maggie Gulch Aid Station (Mile 85.2) at 5:47pm. We spent ten minutes there warming up, and then headed out to start the steep 1300 ft climb up to Buffalo Boy Ridge.

I was still feeling pretty good and was climbing well, well enough that I pulled ahead of Michael. I was starting to feel really confident and pleased with myself, and was finally starting to believe that I was going to finish in time. After climbing for maybe 20 or 30 minutes, I looked off to the south and saw a rainstorm cresting the ridge and heading across the valley toward us. No big deal, right? I’ve ran and hiked through countless high altitude rainstorms in the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park, and generally they don’t put out a lot of volume and don’t last very long either. So I made the biggest mistake of the race – I only put on my rain jacket, instead of my extra layer with the rain jacket over it. Soon the rain hit us, and it was bad. Torrential downpour, pretty much like what I would expect to see in the plains of Kansas where I grew up. And lots of lightning. I could see lots of runners taking shelter under rocks, and soon a few of them gave up and headed back down to Maggie’s Gulch, effectively ending their race. I stood there for a few minutes waiting for the storm to settle down, but instead it just got stronger. By this point I was starting to get hypothermic, and knew I had to do something fast. There was no way I could sit still somewhere and wait out the storm, and there was absolutely NO WAY I was going back down to Maggie to DNF. Suddenly there was a simultaneous flash-bang directly overhead, maybe 1/4 mile above us, that gave me a huge adrenaline surge, and that’s when I noticed Noe Castanon charging up the trail toward the top! I told Michael that I was going to freeze to death if I stayed any longer, and I started following Noe. My thinking was that he was higher on the mountain, so it would be more likely that lightning would hit him rather than me! Once I was moving, and I heard a few more extremely close lightning strikes, I got such a surge of adrenaline that I blew past Noe and went charging full speed up the trail, actually running part of the time. It was raining so hard that I was really afraid I would get off course, but I managed to follow the markers and made it to the top of Buffalo Boy Ridge in about 20 minutes, just in time to see the storm start to fade away to the north of us. Since the rain slacked off, I quickly peeled off my rain jacket and put on my extra layer, and tried to squeeze the water out of my gloves. I was so cold that I was having trouble breathing properly and was shivering uncontrollably, and continued to push myself 110% for the next hour or so. I knew I couldn’t stop for anything, and pushed myself like crazy by telling myself over and over – “If you stop or slow down, you die.”

By the time I reached the bottom of the descent from Buffalo Boy and crossed the road, I had at least stopped shaking and was breathing more normally. I wouldn’t really be warm for another couple of hours, but at least I knew I wasn’t going to freeze to death anymore. Just as I crested the pass on Green Mountain, I looked back and saw a whole group of people catching up to me, with Michael in the lead! I bombed it down the long, steep downhill from Green Mountain, making great time and getting a little warmer. Michael took a pic of me in this section from his vantage point a little bit below Green Mountain. Look closely – the blue spec in the middle of the pic is me!

After the storm

Michael soon caught up to me, and we swapped storm stories. We quickly found ourselves at the top of the extremely steep switchbacks that would take us down the ~1500 ft down to the next aid station. Michael was feeling better at that point, and went on ahead to let everyone know I was coming and get things ready for me. After a half hour or so of torturous, loose, steep downhill, I arrived at Cunningham Aid Station (mile 91.3) at 8:59pm, and promptly took another nap. 26 minutes later, I hugged everyone and headed out with Kristel toward the last climb of the race, the 2600ft vertical climb to Little Giant.

At this point I was feeling really good, at least mentally. I had been really afraid that I’d overdone things trying to avoid hypothermia in the storm, but apparently I had been worrying for nothing. I was pretty dizzy and Kristel had to pull me back onto the trail a couple of times, but overall I was feeling good and climbing good. I was pumped to be so close to the end, and also really excited to be hiking with Kristel. I met Kristel while we were both running the Boulder 100 in 2010, and we hit it off immediately. She paced me 50 miles at Leadville in 2011, and ran the Bighorn 100 with (way ahead!) of me just last month, but we had a lot of catching up to do. Having stuff to talk about, and someone you enjoy talking with makes all the difference in a run like this, and she kept me talking most of the time.

It rained for a bit on the way up, but soon cleared off before we reached the top of the last climb. I think maybe it was 11:30 or so, and I was so pumped to be done climbing! The trail soon became steep downhill, and I tried to run a few times but quickly just decided to hike as fast as I could. Two or three miles later, I saw some lights through the trees that looked like a city. I checked my cell phone and I had service! That meant we were close to Silverton, and almost finished! I was so pumped that soon we were running 8 min/mile down the steep, very rocky jeep road, feeling like a million bucks! After a few minutes of that, my good sense kicked in and we pulled back to a steady, slow jog with walking breaks. I called Lori to tell her that we were getting close, and we just kept running and hiking down the trail. About 1:40 or so, we emerged from the trees at the edge of town, and we started running again. All the way through town, mostly uphill, we ran faster and faster, and then there was the gym! I sprinted the last block as hard as I could go and went up the chute, kissing the Hard Rock at 1:52am! 43 hours and 52 minutes, and I had completed the Wild and Tough 100 Mile Hardrock Endurance Run!

At the finish line

It was really hard to believe, but I had made it, despite having very little training and all the health issues! I want to say thanks: To Michael for keeping me going over the first night, as well as through the death march from Grouse up to Handies. To Kristel, for keeping me positive and providing such good company through the second night (and keeping the hallucinations away!). And most of all to Lori, for not only putting up with my crazy ideas, but actually jumping in and actively supporting and crewing me throughout the entire race!

Two down, two more to go! Next up – the Leadville Trail 100!

Michael’s Hardrock 100 Race Report

All pictures from the race:

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