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.
(Editors Note: Peter Bakwin conceives and attempts the Mosquito Tenmile Traverse – the longest and highest ridge in the lower states – 38 miles continuously above timberline).
My head was spinning as I sat on the summit of Fletcher Mountain just after noon on July 24, 2010. Was it the 13,951’ elevation? Or, was it the fact that I’d just gone straight through the night, spending the last 16.5 hours traversing some of the roughest terrain imaginable, without ever dipping below 13,000’, summiting 21 high peaks in the process? Either way, though not quite 2/3 through my attempt to traverse the longest, highest ridge in the conterminous USA, I was simply whupped.
And stunned. Frankly, after years of doing 100 mile ultras, 200 mile adventure runs, and big peaks all over the world, I didn’t think this was going to be all that hard. Heck, it’s just 38 miles from Weston Pass (near Fairplay, Colorado) to Frisco. Sure, the 27 miles from Weston Peak to Peak 10 is entirely above 13K, and yeah, sure, there are a total of 34 named peaks (two 14ers, 24 13ers, and eight 12ers) along the way. But, anyway, how hard can 38 miles be?
Pretty frickin’ hard, it turns out.
Being a Boulder based company brings many benefits; besides being able to loose yourself in nature on a lunch run, we are also surrounded by exceptional athletic talent. Ultimate Direction is lucky enough to have nabbed Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka and Peter Bakwin’s expert advice on hydration gear.
Tony, Scott and Peter have been working hard on a new project we have brewing up! These 3 athletes are getting to work with the design team to create their dream hydration packs. Each bringing a particular specialty to the table.
Stay tuned for more updates from UD headquarters.
Ultimate Direction has partnered with three of the most renowned ultra runners in history to help design new cutting-edge products. We were the first, and we are the future – and we’re going to tell you all about it.
Welcome to our new blog!