Sunday, August 12, 2018


“How was Hardrock?”

A simple question. How do I answer this? To be blunt, it was fucking amazing! I only made it twenty miles which took a painfully slow nine hours by the way. But it was everything you would envision it to be, multiplied by ten. All the YouTube videos you see of the beauty of those trails and the generosity of the people, it’s all that and more. The mountains there are simply stunning. I can’t emphasize that enough. The fact that I didn’t finish is muted by the massiveness of the landscape and of the kindness of the folks that dwell within it. You just have to experience it.

“So what happened?” 

Takes a deep breath. Leans back in chair. Exhales. 

Another three word question but this time not so simple. 

I’ll start with this. Hardrock for me, I truly feel, is on the very edge of what I am capable of doing. When I think of it now several weeks later it seems bigger to me and I am more in awe of the runners who do it. I am much more intimidated by it now having seen a glimpse of what it is. It is a different kind of beast. It is layered and complex but at the very same time so simple. It can destroy you physically and inject doubt leaving you on the verge of tears. And most importantly, this mountain range can kill you. Being out there in the San Juan’s running alone you immediately get the feeling that the place is a living breathing entity. It’s alive and you can feel it. It is so wild and so vast and so dangerous, and it is glorious! 

I feel Hardrock is more of a mountaineering race then a mountain run. You are not simply climbing some hills and running along on some mundane trail. You can't really just zone out and whatever happens well, happens. There is almost a heightened awareness that is required. You are faced with choices during this event that you never need to deal with in other hundred milers. The altitude alone is crippling and managing your body and pacing becomes so vital. This is a sustained high altitude event that basically starts at 10,000 ft and only goes up from there. Sure it dips down below 8,000 ft briefly when going into towns like Telluride and Ouray, but it immediately goes back up high. And the funny thing about altitude is that is accumulates. It's like a weight that builds up slowly adding more weight the longer you are up high and it slowly squeezes you. The course has sustained stretches above 12,000 ft in the later miles in this direction. There is no let up and no place to catch a break. You are up so high for so long and you are so deep in the back country and almost anything can happen to you. You are isolated and you are vulnerable and you know it.

The weather is also a huge factor and can end your race by giving you legit hypothermia miles from civilization where a life and death choice must be made. These mountains create their own weather with lightening storms that hit these passes and peaks daily and will make you flee for cover. The temperatures can drop into the thirties on the ridges with drenching rain. If hunkered down in a cold storm waiting out lightning, without the correct gear you develop hypothermia quickly. Get caught out in one of those lightening storms, above tree line exposed on a ridge with you as the tallest thing, and your run could end unpleasantly. I knew all this, as does everyone, but when you are actually out there in those mountains above tree line at 13,000 ft and thunder is starting to boom over your shoulder your mind races and real honest to god fear begins to creep in. This is late July in the San Juan's and this is what we signed up for.

After all that I haven't even begun to mention the danger and insanity that is some of the trails on this course. They are beautiful and far more technical then I thought they would be. If you are from Colorado then maybe it's not such a big deal but if you are not used to running along a trail with drop offs of hundreds of feet off a cliff a mere few feet away it can have affect you in ways you are not ready for. That was the Kamm Traverse. Or the near vertical descents down off some of the high passes like US Grant Swamp Pass. If you have never experienced that and this is your first time then it can be eye opening. It was my first time there and it was more then eye opening for me. East coast 100’s are not like that in my experience. East coast 100’s do not prepare you for this run in my opinion. Getting on the course and seeing it will prepare you. Of course many flatlanders have gone out and done Hardrock and have done it well. Folks like Debbie Livingston and Chris Agbay to name a few. But what I am saying is running Grindstone or Eastern States or Manitou's Revenge or whatever race you want to put in there (excluding Barkley of course), as tough as those races are and they are hard believe me, but they are nothing like running this. It doesn’t matter. Hardrock is in another solar system. It’s out there all by itself.


The first two miles were great. I ran across Mineral Creek feeling good and starting the first climb up Putnam ready to go. I was starting super easy and watching my breathing rate like a hawk. I was getting passed by most everyone behind me as the trail slowly became steeper and steeper. Weaving through the trees the trail climbed up and alongside a deep drainage for Bear Creek.

Ascending along the Bear Creek Drainage on the opening climb.

This portion of trail was super rocky and technical and the wild flowers were everywhere splashing the trails with brilliant color. This climb you don't read much about in blogs and reports. It was relentless and grew steeper the further up you went, a theme that seemed to repeat itself on the next few climbs and I am sure the rest of the course. I felt like I was climbing well but after looking at the data I was very slow and working very hard to maintain a rhythm. I ate several gels along here and was drinking Roctane so calories were going down just fine. The thing is the steepness of these climbs mixed with the high altitude were forcing me to go anaerobic and that is just not sustainable for me. So I would stop every so often to allow my heart rate to come down and take deep breaths. This would continue as the day unfolded.
Climbing Putnam and looking back at Sultan Mountain above 12,000 ft

Near the top you left the good trail and veered off going cross country and went up a super steep grassy hillside pushing a 40% grade. It was a half mile long and the steepness was punishing and made me work much more then I wanted. Again these were not the 20% grades I was acclimating on around Leadville. I was learning very early on that these mountains and trails were nothing like the ones four hours northeast of here. I was receiving a sobering introduction into was this course is.

The sunrise illuminating the face of Grizzly Peak. 

By the time I crested the top of the Putnam-Lime Creek Saddle the only runner behind me was the legendary Liz Bauer. She was going for her tenth finish and days later I was thrilled to learn she did succeed. I was privileged enough to meet her and speak with her at packet pickup. She was a kind and caring soul and was so gracious, a true legend of this run and of the sport.
Liz Bauer lower left putting on a clinic on how to do this run.

Now the views from this point in the run were out of this world. It was a strange thing in that your eyes would try to focus on something but the landscape was so vast and open and gigantic that your brain almost could not keep up with the sheer volume of things to focus on. Your brain wasn't buying what the eyes were seeing. The scale of everything was so just so much to handle, especially seeing it for the first time in the morning light. The cool wind was a consistent slap in the face along these ridges. The wind was the only sound you could hear. You heard the wind and felt the wind. There was nothing as far as you can see in a 360 degree view but aggressive and gigantic cliffs and steep craggy mountain peaks. It was jaw dropping. I stood there with my mouth open snapping pictures and in a matter of a minute or so Liz galloped past me on down the backside of the saddle and was a distant memory. The steepness of the first initial descent took me by surprise as well as the technicality of the trail going down. Surrounded by cliffs that dropped off hundreds of feet, I picked my way down at a snails pace. The strong wind beating me in the face the entire time. 

Coming down Putnam and staring at everything. These cliffs were gigantic
and the scale is impossible to capture with a phone picture.
Making my way across the vastness that is the Putnam basin the trail was on the smoother side and runnable. Problem is this section hovered around 12,200 ft and running anything remotely on an incline no matter how shallow would make my heart rate spike. So I speed hiked it and waited for the trail to dip down into the trees where I can start to hopefully jog. Once into the trees I was able to run a bit but again the trail wasn't smooth in here. It was root infested and rocky in spots then would get smooth for a bit then would drop steeply down and turn and weave in amongst the trees. I was finding it difficult to get any type of running rhythm.

The Putnam basin. Staring at my next objective head on, the Kamm Traverse
which cuts directly across those cliffs in the foreground above the grassy slopes. 

When I hobbled into the first aid station at mile eleven I was the last runner. I felt as though I had already run eighty miles. It wasn't my legs that were sore or tired but my cardiovascular system was tired. My lungs and heart just felt drained. It's something that was foreign to me. Usually it's the legs that go first but not this time. I sat down in a chair and the volunteers rushed over and quickly got me food and drink. Then four hard nosed men, one of them kneeling down next to me, who looked like they knew these mountains and this course with serious looks on their faces reassured me and gave me a breakdown of the next section up across the Kamm Traverse and towards Grant Swamp Pass. They were not your typical volunteers. They knew much more then me and I trusted everything they told me.

The altitude is definitely the toughest force to reckon with here I think. When you start a 3,000 ft climb at an elevation of 10,000 ft and the grade of the climb fluctuates between 20-40% and you are from the east coast you will feel like a vice is squeezing down on you. I spent ten days in Leadville and Silverton before hand acclimating but it just was not enough for these trails. They are just so steep and this was my first time on them. Having never seen the course prior to the run was a massive mistake. And as I left the first aid station heading up the Kamm Traverse I was confronted with a dry loose trail that was twelve inches wide, cantered down towards a grass slope pushing grades of 60% which then stopped abruptly at a series of plunging cliffs. A slip here would mean almost certain death. My home town mountains and trails I run are not like this but here I guess you just get used to it. This is the San Juan's and this is the Hardrock course.

Along The Kamm Traverse. You can see the cliffs on the left below the
steep grassy slopes. It sure was beautiful though.

I gingerly made my way along the Kamm Traverse, aptly named after Ulrich Kamm the German hiker and long time Hardrock veteran who discovered the trail off some old mining maps. Making my way up this trail my heart rate was out of control and I was slow and full of anxiety and fear. Apparently this section was an old mining road bed of some sort but now the mountain was slowly reclaiming it. There were a few washout sections that you had to cross that were loose and sketchy and would make me winch with anxiety. I don't like heights but more so I don't feel comfortable with exposure and so far this course is proving to be a challenge in this regard. If you suffer from acrophobia then this honestly is not the run for you. I knew this going in having meticulously read through all of Matt Mahoney's write ups on his runs at Hardrock. He documented his runs and his training brilliantly on his website and I must have read those reports dozens of times. I was determined to face my fear and honestly I was controlling it well and getting through it but I was moving much slower then I had hoped. I was managing so many things so early in this run. Fear, altitude, nutrition, hydration, pace, heart rate, breathing, gear, weather and all the demons and doubt that accompany a 100 mile run. All of these things are magnified here and I found you just cannot let any of them go astray. It was a lot to juggle and manage but this is what I signed up for and paid money to do so no whining aloud. Then out of nowhere a runner passed me on my left. I'm almost certain it was Cody Reed. I was in sort of a malaise and he startled me. He was out training and simply ran his way along this trail as if it was no big thing. I was in awe as I watched him run on up the trail.

Once I entered the security of the trees I was able to relax a bit and focus on moving swiftly along the trail. Climbing along this unmarked trail it eventually intersects with the well worn Ice Lakes Trail that leads to the collection of ice cold glacier lakes that are found scattered within the shadow of Grant Swamp Pass and Pilot Knob. Once you intersect this trail you are faced with a 1,600 ft climb in a mile and half starting at a modest elevation of 11,200 ft. It's a long slog. The final pitch to the top is on all fours hand over hand. As I made my way slowly up this ascent it was almost high noon and high clouds were building and thunder began to echo over my shoulder. Day hikers were on their way down as no sane person would be caught dead up on top of the ridge with storms brewing. Well, except me and 139 other runners attempting to navigate this course. And just then a few runners came flying down the trail towards me one of them clanging a cow bell often heard during European ultras and ski events. It was none other then Jim Walmsley and a few of his Coconino Cowboys. He was shouting "go runner go runner" and as he got close to me I just simply said "hey thanks Jim" and then he shyly responded "you're welcome." It was so funny and made me smile. Here is arguably the best ultra runner in the world cheering a nobody on, me, as I slog up this mountain. It then occurred to me that all the pictures you see and fanfare of past Hardrock runs on Grant Swamp and all those spectators cheering on runners would not be there for me. I was the last runner and a storm scared everyone off the ridge so I was left alone to summit this mountain and navigate my way down the other side. It was somewhat of a buzz kill at first upon realizing it but I soon embraced my lone wolf status.

Paying respect to Joel Zucker at his memorial by placing a rock on the pile.

The iconic Island Lake with thunder booming towards me. Seeing this
with your own two eyes is mesmerizing. 

Descending US Grant Swamp Pass down into it's basin heading towards Chapman Gulch you must go down the single sketchiest descent I have ever seen. Although I heard Kroger's without snow is equal or worse. I stood there alone at the top of that descent shouting F bombs and you gotta be kidding me's for several minutes before I could compose myself to sit down and inch down it. This was a scree descent void of scree because all the runners have pushed it all down to the bottom and the result is a sheer granite wall with dust on it at a 60% slope that dropped about 100 ft where the scree actually was and then it was another 200 ft to the bottom. In the counter clockwise years I just cannot comprehend trying to climb up this at mile 90 of the run in the dark.

Standing on top of US Grant Swamp Pass and trying to figure out how to
 descend down this cliff without serious injury or worse.
It was a "check the shorts" descent for sure. Oscars Pass
looming in the far distance which is the third climb.
I stood there on that pass all alone with thunder rumbling and the cold force of a strong gale which seemed to nudge me towards the cliff like descent. The thought crossed my mind for a split second of turning around and going back. That's how bad the descent looked to me. I quickly brushed that aside though and gently slid down on my backside using my poles as a third leg to slow the slide down. I have gone done some scary steep trails before but nothing and I mean nothing as sketchy as this. Doing this for the first time during the event I would not recommend. After what seemed like an hour I made my way over towards the left where I could see some loose scree and what looked like a softer way down even if I fell. Every inch I covered towards the bottom seemed like a monumental achievement. Getting to the scree where I could sort of step push my way down was like bliss. Finally I made it to the first part of the basin, a cairn marked trail that seemed flat but it was all large rocks and boulders. There were three steps to this basin or levels that you had to descend down. And as the rain lightly fell I seemed to be making progress moving forward and loosing altitude which was a welcoming thing. I reached the third level of the basin and stopped and turned around to marvel at this place.

Staring in awe at where I came from. The trail weaved above the cliffs
on the left and Grant Swamp is in the center notch.
Finally I hit tree line and the trail become softer with pine needles and more dirt so I was able to run a bit in here. The trail then turned into more like double track and more road bed like so more running ensued. I was starting to see signs posted for the aid station at Chapman Gulch. I was so happy to run into this aid station even though I felt lousy and slow. I was the only runner there and the volunteers again were so welcoming and kind. This group of volunteers comes up from New Mexico every year and they camp here for several nights and set this station up. They were beyond amazing and helpful. I sat and ate and chatted with them for as long as I felt I needed. I had to take care of self but I was exhausted and super fatigued and I was only at mile 18. My next objective is just get to Telluride where my crew of Janine, Kiran, and Phil would be. Just get to them was my focus. So up I went and hiked up to Ophir Road and towards the third climb up Oscar's Pass, a steep exposed three thousand foot monster.

I left the access road out of Chapman Gulch and turned right onto a primitive steep jeep road called Ophir Pass Road. I thought to myself "this is a road?" It's a road if you you have a jeep or a high clearance four wheel drive truck. I found myself struggling badly just climbing up this road to get to the gate where Oscars Pass was. Then from behind me I heard a voice say "hey are you a runner?" I responded with a "yeah I'm doing the race" but I was to tired to turn around. The gentleman ran up along side me and I immediately recognized him as Dakota Jones another world class ultra runner. I said "oh hey you're Dakota Jones right?" He said yes and smiled shyly and he asked me how I was doing and I told him bluntly that I have had better days. He smiled and said "yeah Hardrock can do that to you." He then proceeded to give me words of encouragement as we walked up this road and I congratulated him on winning the Kendall Mountain Run the week prior. He seemed genuinely appreciative of my congratulations. He was a very humble and genuine person who listened when I talked. It was in that moment that I was reminded of what ultra running is and should always be and what this race is. It is a family. We all have bad days and bad runs and good days as well. The elite runners can socialize with the slowest of the slow runners. It's a true community. And seeing it unfold over these agonizing miles of mine was special to see. We finally reached the gate to start the climb and we fist bumped, smiled, and thanked each other.

Crawling up Oscars Pass I decided to take a picture of where I came from.
Dead center of this picture is a brown streak, that is the descent from
Grant Swamp Pass that I enjoyed so much.  

With Dakota's optimism I felt ready to tackle Oscars. I read many race reports about the black flies on this climb so I came prepared. I read they will eat you alive. So I brought my trusty REI head net that goes over your head to keep bugs off. My buddy Don Riley picked them up a few years back when we ran The Ring in Virginia because black flies can be bad there as well. Well let me say thank god I had that because right on cue the flies came swooping in and where relentless. I'm not talking about a couple of flies here I'm talking thirty or forty flies at one time on you at all times. If not for that head net I would have inhaled several of them and they would have been up my nose and in my eyes. You can't out run them because you are climbing a 25% grade so you are at their mercy.  I slowly inched my way up the first few switchbacks and had to stop multiple times about every twenty feet or so and lean on my poles. I was sweating profusely and it was oddly humid here. The higher I got the more I had trouble breathing. I was panting and soon would take five steps and hunch over five steps and hunch over. I just came from the aid station and ate a bunch of food so I wasn't bonking I knew that. I just could not move. My heart rate was parabolic. So I sat down panting and huffing. So then I laid down on the trail in the dirt trying to stretch my body out and relax. The flies swarmed me like a dead carcass on the road. How fitting really. The flies were the least of my worries though. Laying there I knew the reality of my situation. I was in trouble, my race was all but over, and there wasn't a thing I could do about it. I don't know how long I was there. But I made the call to turn around and seek help. I walked back down to Chapman Gulch aid station and officially dropped from the run. The volunteers there later told me they were not surprised and expected me to come back. They knew I was in trouble from the minute I initially came into the aid station. They didn't show it though and were so very helpful about getting me back out there.

The volunteers told me I had acute mountain sickness or at least all the signs of it. It didn't matter really as most runners get a bit of that during this event I think anyway. All I could think about was my three friends who came all this way out here to support me and having to inform them I pulled the plug. I felt horrible for that even though I know they get it, but its still not an easy pill to swallow. I was so happy Janine, Phil and Kiran came out here to help me. It meant the world to me. Sitting in that chair with thunder still rumbling around as they packed up the aid station I then turned my thoughts to the last six months of training. All those miles and all that vertical and all that sweat and all those sacrifices my family made for me to be here and all I can show for it was twenty miles. The privilege of running this event when so many people have waited years and years to get in. I sat there staring into the woods with all those thoughts and emotions swirling around in my head. But through it all, it came down to I just was not ready for an event of this magnitude. I wasn't fit enough and I should have acclimated for several weeks more and done much more training on the course. I was as fit as I ever was and I strongly believe I could of PR'd on any of the other hundred mile course I have run in the past. But here it was not enough. This course and this place demanded much more. I really enjoyed my time here and made lasting memories and experiences with good friends that will linger long after I am gone.

Hardrock is a special race, a very special race. You feel it when you're there and I honestly miss it very much. I daydream about my time there and rewind and relive snippets of it on a daily basis. I know Kiran, Janine and Phil all felt the love there during their time there as well. It doesn't really matter if you get in and run this race. It's far bigger then a single entry.  If I never get in again I'll be at peace with that. But I will be going back again at some point spectating, pacing, running, crewing, volunteering or soft rocking. The pull of that place is just so strong. Those mountains and those trails are just so incredible and should be experienced by every trail runner. Just do yourself a favor and go see it. You will not believe your eyes!


  1. Wonderful story. I felt the chills as you described the cliffs. It saddens me that you say the your past runs didn't prepare you enough but I'm sure you will figure something out. Looking forward to your next adventure.

    1. Thanks for reading! Yeah us east coast flatlanders are at a serious disadvantage going out there.

  2. Truly amazing write up. I was a volunteer at Chapman and I saw you come through. Great work out there and I loved your ability to connect to a reader. Cheers!

    1. Donald I can't thank you enough for being there. You guys at Chapman were world class! And thanks for the reading.