Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hardrock 2013

Approaching the top of Handies Peak some 14,000 feet above sea level and around 35 miles into Hardrock, I hear Mikio's heavy breathing resembling a dying vacuum cleaner.

Rob: ""

Mikio: "Can't...breathe...need...oxygen...."  "Wooo...Hooo!!!!"

Mikio Miyazoe, from the Pacific shores of Japan, 16th place in 32:50!

I came into this year's Hardrock feeling as physically ready as I could possibly be.  I knew from experience, however, that Hardrock is just as much a mental challenge as it is physical.  So I told myself that from the start, and until I kissed that sacred Rock, I was going to have fun.  Just like my comrade Mikio.

This race report won't even attempt any "play-by-play" reenactment of my 35 hours out there in the rugged San Juan Mountains.  You climb.  You hurt.  You feel like crap.  You descend.  You hurt.  You, hopefully, feel a little less like crap.  You repeat this many, many times and just hope everthing holds together long enough to get you back to Silverton.  And all the while you soak in the amazing scenery, cherish every second of it, and share the experience with your best friends.  At least that's how I did it.

It's the middle of the night somewhere between Governer's Basin and Virginius Pass, home of the best aid station anywhere (Kroger's Canteen).  It's cold.  It's raining.  Completely sapped of any energy, every upward step is a challenge.

Rob:  "Hey Mike!  Okay if I sit on this rock?"

Mike: "No."

Rob: "I promise to eat 5 M&M's."

(my pacer Mike was gracious enough to grab me a handful of M&M's from Governer's aid after I deposited my meal on the side of the trail just a few steps after leaving)

Mike: "Can you make it 10?"

Rob (stomach churning):  "I don't think so.  How many M&M's you think it'll take to get me to Kroger's?  I need a shot of tequila."

Let's stay a while Mike.  And don't eat all of Victoria's grilled cheese sandwiches.

Aid stations, aid stations, aid stations!  So a little over 3 hours spent at aid stations this time.  I've already decided for the next 100 I'm not stopping at aid stations, period!  My stomach went bad shortly before Grouse Gulch (mile 40) and just never accepted much of anything after that.  I was hoping that sitting a while at the low altitude aid stations might turn it around, but it really just turned out to be a waste of time.  Thoughts of my stomach issues keeping me from finishing this thing?  Never!  Did my sour stomach take away from the "fun" I was having?  Not one bit!

It's Saturday afternoon (as far as I can tell since I didn't where a watch), and the taste of the single Pringle chip I ate at Putnam aid station (mile 95) still lingers in my mouth.  Somehow this chip has calmed my stomach pain and nourished my entire body.  A hard rain starts to fall and cools my sunburned skin.  I turn to my pacer Kristel with a big smile on my face.

Rob:  "Hey Kristel!  Are you ready to finally do some running?  And you better run fast or I might drop you."

Kristel: "Yeah right.  I don't think so!"

Those few miles from Putnam aid to Mineral Creek will always be among the most memorable miles of trail I have ever run.  I knew that within an hour I would be welcomed to the special family of Hardrock finishers and I was literally running as fast as I could.  I just had too much respect for the course and the event that giving it anything less just wouldn't feel right.  We hit the banks of Mineral Creek (no I couldn't drop Kristel despite trying my best) and I suggested that we might want to slow down just enough so I don't throw up on the rock before kissing it.  I was never so happy to see Silverton, Colorado again!

35:01:30!  25th place!

I couldn't be any more satisfied with this one.  I had the two best pacers in the world with Mike and Kristel and I can't wait until they both get their chance to crush this course some day!  I had a great crew with my sister Regina, Uncle Sam, and my good friend Kevin.  Sam's first visit to Colorado!  Such a fun battle with JT out there from the time he found me wandering aimlessly between Pole Creek and Sherman until I last saw him cresting Grant-Swamp Pass some 70 miles later.  Great race JT and congrats on the PR and #5!

What are these two guys doing in the top 20?

Fort Collins was well represented down in Silverton, as always, and thanks so much to all my friends down there!  It was great to represent the Fort with Pete, who had an amazing race given his no training and 48 hour pacing plan (38 hours and 40th place!).  Also congrats to our Fort Collins neighbor Alan and thank you for the custom lemon-lime VFuel.  Tiny sips of that on Saturday were about all the fueling I was getting.

Team Fort Collins at the starting line.

So once again, I leave this Hardrock feeling like I got the experience of about five 100 milers in one shot.  I honestly can't wait for the next 100-mile adventure (a trek through some Wilderness I still like to call home).  And, as for Hardrock, I hope to get another shot as soon as they will have me back!  I've been asked if I thought I could have done this one any faster (I did spend a lot of time at aid stations) but the answer is definitely NO.  Having fun out there (maybe too much fun at times) was what kept me going.  This isn't a course to be "raced", this is a course to be "experienced".  I can't wait for my next experience at Hardrock!  Whether it is "racing", pacing, crewing, or volunteering, I will always be drawn to the beautiful San Juans and the great town of Silverton come July every year.

Team effort!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Kissing the Rock!

Hardrock 2013:  35 hours, 1 minute, 30 seconds  (25th place)

A race report for Hardrock may be more difficult than the run itself (not really).  Far too many stories, pictures, and unforgettable experiences than I'll ever be able to sum up in a blog post.  Maybe some words will come, but for now I'll just say it feels pretty damn good to know I'm a Hardrock FINISHER!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Summer in the Never Summers

It is clearly obvious now that I have spent WAY too little time in the Never Summer Range which runs from Cameron Pass down through the northwest corner of RMNP.  Starting at Lake Agnes (actually the Lake Agnes trailhead a mile below) with Nick and Mike, we had no clear objective for the day.  Just an "easy" day in the mountains for 2 guys "recovering" from some big mountain races less than a week ago, and one "tapering" for quite the mountain adventure in less than a week.  It turned out that Mahler and Richthofen (shown above, Mahler on the right) would call us out.

Just getting started from the shores of Lake Agnes.

A trail shown on the map indicated a possible route out of Agnes gaining the ridgeline northwest of Mahler.  That trail never really showed up until we reached the ridgeline and a climb up the Agnes inlet drainage worked the best.  This route led us by two picturesque high mountain lakes, waterfalls, and enough wildflowers to induce multiple spontaneous outbursts of "Sound of Music" tunes.  The summit of Mahler came quickly from there.

The view back toward the Nokhu Crags as we climb out of Agnes.

Wildflowers in full bloom.

The map was out early and often.
A trail and some running greet us on top of the ridge.

The line to Richthofen from the 12,493 foot summit of Mahler consisted of a narrow crumbly ridge and did not look too inviting.  We took it as far as we were all comfortable, but then decided to bail and opted for a long scree ski down into the magnificent basin to the south.  From there it would be a longer, but more solid climb up to the 12,951 foot summit of Mount Richthofen, the highest point in the Never Summers.

The line from Mahler to Richthofen.

One of a few routes on the day that just didn't "go" for this crew.

Our escape route off the ridge.

Climbing again.
View down to Lake Agnes from atop Richthofen.
Static Peak would be next in line as we would circle the Lake Agnes basin, but the consensus was that we had enough for the day and, according to the topo map, a descent back to Agnes from the Richthofen/Static saddle should be doable.  So we pushed forward.  Little did we know that we were not done with Richthofen.

Descending Richthofen with Static Peak looming.
We resisted the urge to tack on Static and started the nasty, crumbly descent back down to Agnes from the saddle.  Unfortunately, a significant cliff band would block any and all paths we tried to get down.  Seems as though we are a lot better at climbing mountains than getting off them.  So a "Double Richthofen" it was, since we were quite sure of a route back to Agnes from the Richthofen/Mahler saddle.  Back over the summit of the "Baron" (Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen) and finally we did make our way back to Lake Agnes, or as Mike was now calling "Leg Acheness".

Almost back to Agnes, but we would be denied on this route.

Much, much more to be climbed and seen in the Never Summers.  A full traverse from Baker to the Nokhu Crags?  Good luck.