The Wind River High Route is possibly one of the best backpacking routes in the world. It runs along the spine of the Wind River Range in northern Wyoming, probably the most wild and remote range in the Lower 48, is modeled after the famed Sierra High Route, and thus is mostly off-trail and above timberline. I put together the great team of Andrew Skurka and Peter Bakwin, and July 29-Aug 3 we gave it a go. It still has never been done …
June 21, 2014 – - -
The “Tenmile Traverse” is a classic long mountaineering route near Breckenridge, Colorado, which links ten summits uncreatively named Peaks 1 through 10. But, the route covers only half of the Tenmile Range, and the lower, easier half at that. The true Tenmile Range Traverse” (TRT) is simply the entire range, which adds six high 13ers and some really gnarly terrain to boot. Buzz and I were looking for a long training day, he won’t do anything that isn’t both classic and interesting, and I happen to be probably the world’s foremost expert on traverses of the Tenmile Range (for what that’s worth :-)… so let’s get on it!
Spring is in the air. This can mean many things, but for Peter Bakwin and I, spring means, “go to the desert!”
This year we were going for full value: a 3 1/2 day, 110 mile backpacking route starting from the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, thru the very remote country of Beef Basin and Fable Valley, and down into the bottom of Dark Canyon. Then back again (can’t forget that part). Backpacking allows us to get into the really remote places, to watch the sun come up and watch it go down again, to see the stars, and to experience the desert environment up close and personal.
“Lawrence, only two kinds of creatures get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you’re neither. Take it from me, for ordinary men, it’s a burning, fiery furnace.”
“No, it’s going to be fun.”
- Lawrence of Arabia
I never intended to become a runner. As a kid I hated running as a sport…
I never really thought of myself as an athlete. I didn’t do organized sports at school. Fitness and “exercise” were things I associated with that old dude in the sweats on TV. But I grew up skiing, and have been doing it as long as I can remember. When we lived in western Mass in the 1960s, my father had part interest in a small ski area. I had lace-up leather boots, cable bindings and skis longer than I could reach, and I remember being picked up off the ground regularly by the rope tow.
Running into the tiny village of Guipry, in France’s Brittany district, on August 31, 2002, I was feeling pretty worn. It was the fourth long day of La Transe Gaule, an 18-day stage race across France. I’d run maybe 25 km already that morning, and had another 45 or so to go – a typical 70 km day. This was beginning to seem like a long race!
My low mood was not helped by the pretty town – as I loped along Rue de la Liberation, feeling sorry for myself, I was unmoved by the beautiful late summer weather – sunny but not hot, with a gentle breeze. I was aware that my pace was starting to lag from of my target pace, and it just seemed like too much work to pick it back up.
As I ran through the central square bells began ringing, and a wedding party poured out of the town’s small church. It was a lovely scene, but what flooded my consciousness was the ringing of the bells, which were heavenly. I felt my whole being lighten as they continued to chime, my heart suddenly opened, my step quickened. In a few seconds my whole mood shifted to pure joy. Running felt easy, almost effortless. I finished the stage easily.
Being wedged into a mass of humanity is not a novelty in Japan, but the crowd my wife Stephanie and I were stuck in clearly wasn’t going anywhere for hours. I had visions of a Who-concert-style stampede and trampling, but of course the Japanese are used to this kind of thing and take it in stride, with their seeming infinite patience and courtesy. Us Americans, on the other hand, have to be moving – we simply can’t abide being powerless and stuck.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Product testing is really important. This is how we make sure we create the absolute best best tools for the self-propelled person. It’s also how we have fun in the mountains with friends.
Last weekend, Peter Bakwin, Anton Krupicka and I went up to do the classic Kieners Route on Longs Peak. This involves a 5 mile trail run starting at 9,382′ and ending at the iconic Chasm Lake, where one scrambles the boulders around the lake then up to the base of Lambs Slide, a nice snow gully tucked into the shadows of the towering East Face of Longs. The juicy part of the route is the traverse across Broadway, an absolutely spectacular narrow ledge slicing across the near-vertical East Face. Kieners proper starts up from there, a 5.4 rated climbing route that culminates on the 14,255′ summit of Longs. We then would descend the Cables route (now actually called the North Face), where we would pick up the trail again.
The perfect outing to test the new Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest!
After my 2010 attempt people asked me if I was going to give it another go. I always said, “Nope. Too hard. I don’t see how I can do it better.” So, why one year later, was I sitting alone on top of Gemini Peak in a total friggin’ whiteout at midnight?
Navigating this terrain at night is really hard – it’s all above timberline, and of course, there is no trail of any kind. But navigating in 20’ visibility by looking at a tiny arrow on your GPS which supposedly is pointing to the next summit SUCKS. Fortunately, before I reached Dyer Mountain the fog had largely lifted and I was back on track.