Wham Ridge

Wham Ridge is super-classic – the best alpine route in the San Juans.  While high and wild, the San Juan Mountains of SW Colorado are mainly giant gravel piles, consisting of massive talus slopes below crumbling ridges.  Wham Ridge is the opposite, being composed of beautiful, hard quartzite.  It is the north face of Vestal Peak, in the heart of the Grenadier Range, which is the heart of the San Juans.  It’s rated 5.4, and usually done in 6–10 roped pitches.

What really makes it classic, is it’s location in the middle of the Weminuche Wilderness, the largest in Colorado.  There are three approaches:

• Follow the train tracks along the Animas River down from Silverton to Elk Park, then up Elk Creek.

• Take the train from Silverton, which is very cool as it’s an authentic 19th century steam locomotive – get off at Elk Park, then continue the approach up Elk Creek.

• Start from the Highway on Molas Pass (10,900′), descend 1,800′ to cross the Animas at Elk Park, then continue the 3,000′ crank up to the base of the climb itself.

Option #1 is interesting but I’ve never heard of anyone doing it.  #2 is very cool, but would require camping due to the train schedule.  #3 is the longest, but since Peter Bakwin and I are too old and lazy to camp, that’s the easiest.  We would run in from the car, solo it w/o ropes, and be back for lunch.

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Hardrock Finish!

“Where did you find those people!?”

Peter Bakwin asked me that in amazement at this year’s Hardrock 100.

We had been standing outside Registration, as runners marveled at the Signature Series prototypes – “You guys absolutely crushed it!” was a common comment – while Peter himself was marveling at the incredible team that had converted his, Scott, and Anton’s ideas into actual products. “It seems everyone working on this is a real runner and actually use the gear themselves”, he said, adding, “And that really shows”.

Eric Payne is one of the Team. If you call Ultimate Direction (800.426.7229) you will be routed to him.  He ran the Hardrock 100 this year, finishing his first try with both a fine 59th place and a smile on his face.  We asked Eric what was up.

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Hardrock Preview

The tribe has gathered; the race starts at 6 am tomorrow.  Considering only 140 entrants are allowed (by Forest Service Permit), this event is remarkably impactfull on the sport of ultrarunning.  Here are some stray thoughts.

I walked up to Karl Meltzer, one of the best 100 milers ever, and who has the course record in one direction (Hardrock is a loop, which alternates direction).  He saw me coming, and before I could even say Hi, he put on a big grin and simply said, “I’m back”.

I knew what he meant.  100 miles (102 with a recent course change), with 33,992′ of elevation gain, and an average elevation of 11,186′ … well, is this “fun” … or what is it?  Karl has done it all … he doesn’t need to keep doing it … yet here he is, ready to go 24 non-stop hours in the high mountains … he completely bypassed any question I could possibly ask, about motivation, predictions, or anything, and just said, “I’m back”.

Here we are; let’s do it.

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Hardrock 2012

THE MEN’S COURSE RECORD …

Kyle Skaggs left his indelible print on the event in 2008, when he blew away the course record by over 2 1/2 hours. Just four years previous, the race was won in 30:39 – Kyle did it more than 7 hours faster, and remains the only person to go under 24 hours.

So how did he do that?

Kyle was extremely dialed that day – he spent way less than a minute at nearly every aid station. I was there. I was supposed to pace him, but about 10 days out from the race I developed an angry neuroma in my foot, so was reduced to crewing, along with Nate and Petra McDowell.

That was the third summer in a row he lived in Silverton and trained on the course. That year he moved to Silverton on April 23rd -I remember the date, because we had been roommates since January and had been trail-bumming in northern Arizona. On that day he got fed up with the Grand Canyon’s heat, booted me from his Toyota Corolla station wagon (the “Deerslayer”) in Flagstaff, and drove off for the high country. Two and a half months of acclimation allowed him to move faster on Hardrock’s alpine course – and allowed him to keep his stomach solid at those altitudes on race day, eating nothing but gels and one PB&J.

But none of this is why Kyle crushed the course with a 23:23:30.

Instead, it was simply that Kyle went in with no preconceptions on what a reasonable pace was. He ran off of effort. And he kept his mind steady.

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Hardrock Dreams

The Hardrock 100 mile race was started to honor the hard rock miners of the San Juans and the extraodinary mountains in which they lived and worked. The course is incredible – 33,992′ of of elevation gain, with an average altitude of 11,186′, including climbing over a 14,000′ mountain – which is often done in the middle of the night, sometimes during a lightning storm. The only comparable event in the world is the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc, with a similar course profile but at a lower elevation.

Only 140 people can enter each year – compared with 35,000 for the Chicago or New York City Marathons – but Hardrock is iconic, with an impact on the sport far greater than it’s size. Hardrock is a gathering of the tribe. It’s not exactly a a race; It’s where you come to pay homage to the sport of ultrarunning.

Peter Bakwin and Anton Krupicka are uniqulely qualified to give you the insider scoop!

First, Peter shares his thoughts on doing the Double – he is the only person to run the course twice in a row – 200 miles in one shot.  (He is probably the only person to even consider doing it!) Then tomorrow Anton will share insider info on Kyle Skaggs incredible course record, as well as how he sees the race shaping up for this year.

PETER:

“Hardrock. It is difficult for someone who has not been there or spent a lot of time in the high mountains to comprehend Hardrock. The climbs are steeper, the descents are longer, the footing is worse. Hardrock is truly relentless. Excellent runners drop out because they are afraid of falling off a cliff, or being hit by lightning. Others are simply worn down. To finish Hardrock you have to look deep within yourself and find something powerful that motivates you. You need to find a true connection with the mountains, the thin air, the rushing streams, the icy cold nights with their crystal, star-lit skies. You need to touch the softness that hides in those dark cliffs and deep chasms.”

I wrote those lines in July 2006, shortly after finishing a Double Hardrock. For me, they express the heart of what Hardrock is about. It is more than a foot race. Hardrock is an expression of the love of being in the mountains, of being in nature, of being part of nature. It is a competition, yes, but it is more. Hardrock is a perspective on life and living.

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Glacier Gorge Traverse

July 1, 2012 -

The Glacier Gorge Traverse, in Rocky Mountain National Park, is one of Colorado’s “hard man” classics.  It’s really difficult – 19 miles with over 10,000’ of elevation gain, most of which is above 12,000’, and all of which is gnarly and technical.  I had been wanting to do it for years, but was never able to wrap my head around the technical crux of the route – the west ridge of Pagoda.  This reputedly goes at 5.6-5.7, or some rappelling.  It is so remote and difficult it is impractical to scout – you just have to go do it.  This is probably why the Traverse might only get done once a year.

So when local legend Bill Briggs suggested we tackle the traverse together, I jumped at the chance.  Bill might be the only person who has done this burly traverse more than once, having completed it several times since 1982, with a mind-boggling PR of 7:17.  When someone like Bill asks you do join him for a rare gem like this, you are very well advised to agree!

Glacier Gorge Route

 

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