9-11 July 2004
You’d think I had never been here before, never done this sort of thing. Yet it seems that every finish at the Hardrock is an emotional one. With all it takes to arrive at the finish, and knowing many of those who didn’t make it, makes it even more so. This is my first time to finish with Joyce by my side and even that was in jeopardy. It’s such a bittersweet journey. The happiness, the sadness, glad to be done, and sad that it’s over. After playing in the mountains for so long, it’s now time to think of going home.
I give ‘the Rock’ two weeks each summer, to get acclimated, and to play. Mountain hikes, high meadow picnics, hot springs, group meals, trips to Durango, Ouray, and Montrose, and the endless conversation. The bonds are formed long before the race begins. The last few days that we call rest are boring and slow until the circus shows up on Thursday. Some of us avoid it, but it’s hard. The gym is full, the festivities lively, and then off to an early bed and a sleepless night.
The Arkansas Travelers are here, the Texas Lonestars, los Californios, more New Mexicans than you can count, and even a boatload from across the Big Pond. The rest are from everywhere else, including New England and Montana. Everybody’s so different I positively fit in. Starting dead last once again, I walk out of Silverton, trying to calibrate my altimeter as they all move down the road away from me. I take my time, and then begin to walk faster. From years of making this journey I have become familiar with most of those in front of me: some are old friends, some are close. Still I prefer to start alone. Over the next two days, I’m sure I’ll spend very little time alone. With crews, pacers, aid stations, and endlessly passing one another, I’ll have constant companionship and endless passing acquaintances. Then I’ll try to remember it all as best I can.
from Silverton 00.0 mi 6:00 am 9310 ft
to Kamm Traverse 11.5 mi 9:44 am 10640 ft
#1 Putnam-Cataract Ridge 12600 ft
I walk with John Cappis, Rollin Perry, and James Ballard along Nute’s Chute. With 230 years of accumulative time, we must be tipping the age scale towards the butt end of the race. It’s flat here, so I venture my first try at actually running, and pull ahead with Nancy Halpin. We start across Mineral Creek behind Hans Dieter, but he’s moving so slow in the freezing cold creek that we let go of the fixed rope to go around him. Up into the trees parallel to Bear Creek, our route leads upwards between Sultan and Bear Mtns, and the soft trail turns to rough jagged rocks. I ping-pong back and forth between dozens of others and then slowly slip to the back of the line. The climb goes well at first, but decelerates gradually into Putnam Basin’s skunk cabbage and flower filled high meadows. I try not to push it, to just go with my energy as it is, a comfortable climbing pace much slower than the others. I sit down on the summit for my first break, eat a MoJo bar and then start anew. Much faster now, I run across the ridge and start down. I pick up pace as I fall off the face into breathtaking Cataract Saddle. Snow-capped peaks in all directions, but my eyes are reading the tundra in front of me right now. I pass a few people as I glissade across a snow bank, and round a large elk wallow. Running across the saddle, I slow as it tilts upward to a smaller saddle on the west side of Cataract. I climb round a snow bank to the ridge and then down again into Porcupine Creek. All slush and muck, a high swampy area littered with composite rock and waist high scrub. The brambles grab at my clothes and skin, slowing me none at all, as I accelerate down. Passing Roberta, she lets me know I miss a turn. I turn and go back up, and pass her again, then I miss another, and a third. I waste valuable energy going back up what I should not have gone down. It’s frustrating but tolerable. The price paid for moving downhill quickly in this mess of decisions. Across Porcupine Creek, I let fly for more downhill, twisting round and down. Another creek and then a small bit of uphill grinds me to a halt. Still not much up, before more down, and then up again around the Twin Sisters treeline, before the final descent out of Porcupine. I pass John DeWalt and Molly Gibb as I slide through the mud directly into Mineral Creek. With the sun up and my body heat rising, the creek feels pretty good wrapped around my legs, so I stop and stand for a moment to relish the sensation. Into the mud on the west side, John, Molly, and I reach the road together and walk towards KT station.
from Kamm Traverse 11.5 mi 9:44 am 10640 ft
to Chapman Gulch 18.3 mi 12:40 am 10160 ft
#2 Grant-Swamp Pass 12920 ft
At this time nothing is needed so I keep on going right past the station and onto Kamm Traverse. It’s such a narrow little goat track that hangs on this wall that most everybody stays in line, going only as fast or slow as the person directly in front. The ascent is more gradual than most and easy enough for me to maintain some sort of speed. The falls in Lower Ice Lake Basin thunder past as I cross on a jumble of logs. As loud as it is, it’s serene as well. I stop to rinse my face as others file past. The climb up from this spot is very steep. Molly and I slip into step with each other as we climb. The ascent so steep the exertion keeps us from communicating. We struggle upwards in silent understanding of each other’s effort. We plateau out for a short while and the switchbacks continue above treeline again. The fields are covered with multi-colored mountain flowers, the snow melt streams bubbling past, the wind comes and goes, the setting so unbelievably beautiful. If I would but sit down I could immerse myself in all the beauty around me. Instead, I continue to move up into thinner air and struggle with every breath. I concentrate on a breathing pattern such that I can control my effort, an attempt to avoid going anaerobic. My steps are short and slow, steady and continuous. I avoid stopping as much as possible, stealing a peak at the beauty when I can. On the final approach to Grant Swamp Pass, Jennifer Roach goes past and I steal some of her energy. Molly has stopped well below, so I pull in behind Jennifer and hang on ’til the summit. I don’t stop, but run across the ridge and start down the steep northern slope. There’s a snow slide slot but I avoid it. I need to control my descent and move off to the right side, stepping through the snow until I’m clear of it. Once in the rocks, I half slide, half run, surfing down the loose rock and scree to firmer footing well below. Stopping only to remove loose rock from my shoes, I’m once again sprinting downhill over rock and snow. Many tracks lead through the snow, but I avoid them, following the true course through the rocks. This section is particularly nasty with jagged edges. Waterfalls off every face, the sound of water everywhere. I race toward treeline, where the trail becomes much softer, but no less steep. Coming down hard, I eventually pick up with DeWalt again and walk into Chapman station with him, sucking on an empty water bladder. Waiting are Lyle & Jo Clugg along with Ed Perrey, who’ll pace me over Handies much later. The gang waits on me, caring for what ails me and helping me make ready for the next section. This is my first stop and well used.
from Chapman Gulch 18.3 mi 12:51 am 10160 ft
to Telluride 27.6 mi 4:16 pm 8750 ft
#3 Oscar’s Pass 13140 ft
The road to Oscar’s Pass is a beast. The entire mountain face from base to summit, an open book: nothing but rocks and bugs. The view behind is gorgeous, but facing the wrong way, all you see are rocks and all you hear are bugs. The ascent: no more than a death march. With head down and limp arms, every person on it in slow motion. How far to the top, how many steps, how many minutes? Weary of looking for the summit, the altimeter substitutes my need to see some progress. It doesn’t appear to change soon enough so I close my eyes and try to ignore the bugs. Nobody moves quickly up this rocky red staircase. I study the progress of all those above and below. I wonder if I’m moving as slow as all the others, because it looks like they aren’t moving. Jim Ballard passes me at the snowfield on top. He looks at his watch and says, “Please tell my wife we summited at 2:45”. He knows I’ll tumble down quickly. There are a few more large snow banks to cross over to the Wasatch Saddle, and then I begin again to roll downhill to Telluride. The Wasatch and Bear Creek trails are filled with abundant beauty: snow bridges, wide varieties of flowers, waterfalls, and bubbling brooks. Concentrating on good footing as I run along the cliffs, paying attention to stay upright, I can’t help but soak it all in. The sites, the feel, the smells, and the excitement are all good for my soul. A few people slip behind that I’ll see again on the next climb. I love the cliff trail, the lonesome bridge, the old mill, and the foliage squeezing the trail in tight as it descends down to the dirt road along the San Miguel River. The scenes and sounds keep me going. The wide dirt road is empty but for a few hikers and then the final right turn into the city park. My solitude evaporates as everyone is here. Joyce greets me with a kiss. Shoes come off first, and socks. She washes my feet and checks them for damage. Pizza is handed to me, an avocado, cold Gatorade, a coke. Fresh socks and shoes, a new shirt, the camelback reloaded, and a bit of news about the others, and then the boot… “Get Out”, Joyce sends me off to meet again in Ouray.
from Telluride 27.6 mi 4:32 pm 8750 ft
to Ouray 43.9 mi 10:01 pm 7870 ft
#4 Virginius Pass 13100 ft
The yellow brick road out of Telluride is a sidewalk crossing the San Miguel. Once across, a dirt trail, and then a city road crossing the main street. Even the city street becomes steep as it leads up to an even steeper Jud Weibe Trail that climbs crazily higher and higher. Telluride spreads out below me and fills up the valley. Fully loaded with fresh energy, I’m moving well for now. The Jud Weibe turns left, but I keep going strait. And then, here before me is an enchanted forest. I remember this stand of Aspen. The blond quakies fill the glade with light and the sound of quaking leaves. What a glorious sight. I have been here before and remember it well. This is the place of dreams, a picnic postcard. I stumble as I rise through the glade, taking it all in, looking at everything except where I’m going. Beyond this place, the climb goes on and on. After some time, I begin to think I missed a key turn while entranced. I continue to climb and my doubts continue to grow. Seems like forever, but I keep going. I want to go back to make certain but don’t want to repeat this climb again, so I keep on. A half hour slips past and then another, and I slow with my doubt. Almost overcome with uncertainty, I finally spot someone ahead. This urges me on, but I cannot match the pace. I try to push a bit because I have to know, and finally, I reach the person in front of me. It’s Nancy Halpin. I feel so relieved. Not only am I on the right track, but once again I get to visit an old friend. We make the final ascent up to Mendota Saddle together, stopping for a short break on top, to look around and relax for a minute. Down the other side into Marshall Basin, we talk as we make our way over and up to our next summit at Virginius. I ask for a coke but they have none. I’m told where one is hidden in the snow down the road near a jeep in the final snow bank. I say thanks as I slip on my long rain pants for the snow-covered descent and dive over. Slipping and sliding to the base of the first pitch goes fast, across the rocky field to the second, and it goes as quickly. The third and final pitch is a bit trickier. It has rocks in it and the snow is starting to freeze. I need to be careful of the ice. I take my time on the top third and then fairly sprint down the final part to the mine at the base. I sit on a metal casement, remove the snow pants, and repack them. After shaking out my shoes, I begin once again to run. I stop only for a moment at the final snow bank to take a drink of coke and send my thanks back up the mountain to our gracious host. A majestic elk watches from the mountainside, silently waiting for me to continue. My shoes and socks wet from snow and slush are very cold. They don’t begin to warm until I cross the creek just above Governor’s station. I suppose the ice in my shoes has finally washed out. Feeling much better, I pick up the pace and run right past Governor’s station. I need to get as far as I can while I still have light, so stopping at Governor’s is just a waste of time. Darkness is falling fast and I’ll certainly be entering Ouray well into the night. I stop to visit with Steve Patillo for a few moments and then roll on. At Camp Bird, everything fades to dark, but I feel comfortable running without a light. One jeep and then another raise dust as they speed by. More jeeps go by. I pass a few people early on and then no one for an hour. I see something in the road ahead and decide it’s time to turn on my light. Some kids and they say I have three miles to Ouray. Are they kidding? I should have been there by now. Is it that far still? I cross over a bridge and still nothing, no lights, no city, nobody. Am I still on the right road? Should I have crossed the bridge? Please give me a marker soon. Sure could use some confirmation. I try to flag a few jeeps down but they ignore me. I keep going. I hope I’m right. I need to see something soon that proves this is the right way. Eventually I see the lights of Ouray. I slip off the left side of Camp Bird Rd, pass the stone hut, and onto Box Canyon Rd leading into Ouray. A few runner/pacer teams are heading out as I come in. I cross over two bridges to Oak St. and past a trailer park, where Joyce is waiting. Another kiss and she leads me to our area in the field, where Fred & Paige are ready and waiting for me. Off with the shoes and socks once again. Clean the feet and put the same shoes back on. I start to get chilled sitting here in the open and put on a warmer shirt. I try a bit of food, but my stomach is starting to turn. It’s getting difficult to put the food down, so its time for the Ensure. Fred is ready to go, so once again I get booted out. Joyce & Paige are on their way to get some sleep while Fred & I head out of town walking.
from Ouray 43.9 mi 10:32 pm 7870 ft
to Grouse Gulch 58.4 mi 5:46 am 10710 ft
#5 Engineer Pass 12910 ft
2nd street to 3rd and then back up the same Box Canyon Rd I came in on. Past the stone hut and back up Camp Bird Rd for a hundred yards. We leave the paved road for a dirt road to the dam. Fred and I roll along the pipeline, pass the dam, and down to the river. Not much more than a creek, we wade the Uncompagre River at the fixed rope. A woman sits on the other side changing her socks. We stop to visit for a moment and then she sprints off ahead of us. Up to the Highway Tunnel and a short break before we head up Bear Creek trail. It’s strait up the switchbacks for a long time, over the glass rocks and then the hanging cliffs. Fred tries to talk me into some food, but my stomach rebels. We make plans to stop at the Engineer station for some broth, but the going is slow. We pass Grizzly Bear mine, and then Yellow Jacket. The creek and waterfall behind Yellow Jacket are the first of many creeks that we wade on our way up. By the time we step into Engineer station, my feet are wet and cold. I only take enough time for a single cup of broth as any more time standing still and I’ll start to catch a chill. We move on, with a dozen lights coming right behind us. Fred urges me along, leading the way, finding the flags and keeping me moving very well. We can see the beacon on the top of Engineer but it’s still a long way off. We keep on, drifting this way and that, all tundra now with no noticeable trail for very long. In and out of arroyos, ditches, and creeks, the ground underfoot looks like snow, but Fred says its caliche. My green LED light is playing tricks on my tired eyes. Up and up we go. Hot spots are screaming all over my feet from the wet and sideways sliding up this nasty ol bear of a climb. I decide to stop and change my socks near the top. I can’t wait any longer for fear of the damage being done to my feet. Finally the summit, but now we’re in the wind. This is no place to waste so we move on down the road. I feel like running, but I got no go. I try to jump start my system, try mental motivators, this and that… but I can’t seem to get rolling. Fred and I walk rapidly but don’t actually run much. This section always seems to be a great place to talk. It’s an easy road, either up or down, so we unroll the stories and talk of this and that while we spin on down the road. Eventually, we slip into Grouse Gulch at sunrise where Ed waits patiently for his turn. Fred is done with me, but still has some work to do. He’s to pick up Joyce and drive her over Cinnamon Pass to Sherman, and then bring Ed back to Silverton. First, I need to refuel, as this next puppy’s going to take a lot. The tent is warm and comfortable. I try to eat some food, while changing socks and shoes, and then walk out with Ed.
from Grouse Gulch 58.4 mi 6:08 am 10710 ft
to Sherman 71.8 mi 12:16 am 13020 ft
#6 American-Grouse Pass 13020 ft
#7 Handies Peak 14048 ft
Fred takes off in the jeep while Ed and I start strait up the long switchbacks into Grouse Gulch. They seem to go back and forth for way too long, but we get into a slow steady pace. I attempt to explain to Ed the reason behind my methods but my communicating skills have been deteriorating rapidly of late and I suspect that I make no sense at all right now. While Joyce understands the inflections in each of my grunts and what they mean, I decide to let Ed figure it out on his own. He’s a smart guy and I’m sure will know more than I in no time. As my brain spins, so do my legs, as we slowly but steadily climb up to the base of Grouse-American pass. A pair of fat marmots are on the trail eating the ribbon off one of the markers. Their audacity surprises me, so I give them some room. Mark Heaphy says hello as he goes by, and then Steve & Sherry Kae Mahieu. They all climb like goats while I climb like moss. We cross some snow and then switch on up to the pass. A short break on top and then I decide to try my sea legs again. I’m surprised that I can actually run. Miracle of miracles. You never know why or why not. Anyway, we start to run down into the American Basin. Doesn’t seem to last long before we cross over and start up an in-between hump and then traverse the basin over to Handies via mixed snow and boulder fields. Then we’re at the foot of the beast and start up. Things go smoothly once we’re finally at her throat. We make our usual slow but steady progress from bottom on near to the top. Once I think I’m near the summit, as a large cairn grows close, until I peer over her to see I still have much more to do. The last switch slows us to a crawl and stops us more than once, and then the summit is so sweet. Ed’s first 14er. I congratulate him. The highest point on our course is done. So lets get the heck off this thing. Down we go, and quickly. The initial steep descent is not handled gracefully but is done fast. And then we go in and out under the peak before we fall away into Grizzly Gulch. All of this as far as we can see is above treeline and we cover it quickly, stopping only once to patch hot spots on my soles. We mow on down the trail, as do all of those around us. Everybody seems to be going down quickly. The rocks turn to tundra and the trail turns to dirt. Treeline brings a softer surface but as usual, everything remains steep going down. We slip into Burrows Park, turn right on the jeep road and keep on. The sun has come out from her bed of clouds on our descent and is heating me up rather nicely. I find it hard to run in this heat, but do manage a spurt now and again. When the road turns more downward, I find it easier to go faster. We search for the new trail turnoff that saves us about two miles at the bottom and our merry band swells to 10 people all searching for the mysterious turn. None of us knows for certain where it is, so we all accelerate together on down the road until eventually we find it. We spill off the road with Ed in the lead, flag hunting, this way and that, until the bottom and the bridge. The merry band hot on our heels swarms past us and runs into town while we walk. So we stroll into Sherman station feeling rather frisky if not a bit overheated. Ed’s done and ready to escape back over the mountain with Fred who is also done. It’s Joyce’s turn now: from here ’til done, maybe? She might have a pacer at Cunningham, but not certain! I change into clean clothes, eat some food, drink a load of fluid, and get going way too soon.
from Sherman 71.8 mi 12:40 am 9640 ft
to Pole Creek 80.9 mi 5:03 pm 11260 ft
#8 Cataract-Pole Divide 12200 ft
The boys are done. Joyce is with me now and she’s a bit more aggressive than the others about getting me moving. No sympathy. Charging up the trail, she seems concerned that there are no trail markers. I explain that there are much less this year. Nonplused, she continues to search for them. I confirm that we are on trail and this is the correct route, but there are simply no markers through here. The route climbs up along a beautiful cascading waterfall. We stay on one side for a bit, then cross over just under a 30 foot fall, then twice more above. I’ve been dealing with the climbs just fine, but the direct sunlight seems to be sapping my energy. Once clear of treeline, I bog down badly, struggle to move along. Others go by, including DeWalt and Ulli once again. Joyce digs into a snow bank, fishes out some clean snow, and tells me to wash my face with it. I soak my face and neck, and then drop the double fisted clump into my hat. She hands me another which I use as a snow cone, walking along and sucking the snow into my overheated head. Others go by as I drag along in slow motion. Clouds everywhere, but none over my head. I offer up my kingdom for a cloud, but only Joyce is listening and she thinks I’ve gone raving mad. The mountain silence is so loud that nobody here’s my rant. I’ve gone too long with wet feet and timid tummy. My skin is burnt and my pack is heavy. My mentors say that I should listen to my body, but it’s whining way too much, so I’m not going to listen any more. Eventually, we make it to the high point in Pole Creek. The lake marks the start of some downhill. Joyce starts running ahead, urging me on, assuming that some downhill will get me going. I try! I desperately try, but can only manage a lumbering awkward quick step. I feel like my legs are asleep. All I can manage is to throw my heavy body forward and force my legs to follow. My legs feel too large, too heavy, awkward and sluggish. Snow cone in hand, snow melt dripping from my hat, I slowly lumber along until we pass Ulli and then catch DeWalt as we hike into the Pole Creek station. Crossing Pole Creek we watch as a boy pulls a good-sized fish from the water. There is no more shade at the station than there was on the course. Even the chairs offered to us are out in the sun, away from the station’s shade. DeWalt asks about it and gets a non-response. We ask for something cold and get a negative response. Crackers or cookies, they ask. We are the end of the parade. All the others have already come through and emptied the cupboards. I tell Joyce I’m going on. There’s nothing here I need or want, and the heat is making me a bit cranky. I get up and go. The other’s follow.
from Pole Creek 80.9 mi 5:11 pm 11260 ft
to Maggie Gulch 85.2 mi 7:04 pm 11640 ft
#9 Maggie-Pole Pass 12530 ft
I’m still not moving well regardless of my motivation. DeWalt and pacer go by and then Ulli close behind. Joyce keeps pushing, urging, charging ahead… and I hang on. Finally a cloud, but instead of relief, I get
cold. I must be sun burnt to be feeling these extremes. The clouds come and go now, shifting my temp between too hot and too cold. No sense in doing anything but to keep moving. We cross through a few creeks, an open field, and then once again start up. Fortunately, we are already pretty high up, so the climb is not too bad or too long. John goes over long before we do. We cross the Continental Divide on snow and then begin our descent into Maggie Gulch. Finally I get what I think is some speed. Joyce sprints ahead and I try to keep her within sight, but I’m obviously moving much slower than I think. She’s a nymph, spiriting herself softly across the land while I continue to drag my heavy carcass slowly along behind her. The contrast makes me laugh… and this helps too. Down we go and quickly it seems to the station below us. DeWalt is leaving as we arrive. We eat lots of cold melon, a small bit of broth, and then follow John out.
from Maggie Gulch 85.2 mi 7:26 pm 11640 ft
to Cunningham 92.1 mi 11:35 pm 10380 ft
#10 Peak near Canby 13140 ft
#11 Green Mtn Ridge 12980 ft
This is the new section and two new mountains: Canby and Green. I’ve been concerned about doing this in the dark. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t know it well. To compound the issue,
Joyce only has one light for the both of us until Cunningham, and that isn’t too comforting. We start up the road, and the flags are plentiful for a while. We have no problem following the route across the creek and strait up the tundra, a haphazard route up one pitch after another, until we traverse the face of an unnamed peak over to the base of Canby. The sun sinks lower as we climb higher. I can almost hear Paulie singing as the underbellies of the clouds catch and reflect the reds and browns from the mountaintops. For an instant I stop… to hear the wind, my heart, my thoughts. Then my aching muscles interrupt the reverie. With darkness coming fast and many miles to go, we hurry across the snow. Its getting cold, so we stop to put on our long pants and shirts, then follow the trail around the SW side of Canby. It’s an easy traverse for a good ways and then strait down the tundra to Stony Pass Rd. And that’s where total dark falls. Pitch black in no time flat. We had been making good time until now, but all that suddenly changes. My eyes are pretty bad, and we only have one light. Takes us 5 minutes to find the first marker on the other side of the road. Another 5 minutes for the second flag, and so on. We struggle to find each of them for 5 or 6 flags, and then we’re stumped. Can’t find the next one. We go up and down, round and round, but just get more frustrated and more tired. We’re still looking when Ulli catches up with us. He says to not look for them, but just go up the face to the saddle ahead. Ok, so we’ll follow you. Ulli is a pretty good climber and we bust our buns to stay with him. Blindly we follow, up, across the snow, down the other side, left, and right. The course seems to wander aimlessly. Ulli pulls up now and again, then just guesses, and guesses right. We seem to be doing ok, until the sheep. Ulli leads, for he is our shepherd. Joyce goes last as she has a light and attempts to light both our paths. I stay between the two for the maximum possible light. The route is not on a trail so it’s not even footing. It crosses rock and snowfields, turns up and down intermittently, and moves along cliff edges. I trip over and over again, go down on my knees, butt, and sideways as I misstep endlessly. I try to not step into blackness, but there are a few times when the light is not right and I’m in mid stride, thus forced to carry forward into darkness. Not very comfortable, but with no choice, I shut up and carry on. Ulli and Joyce spot markers until the sheep. Joyce thinks they’re glow sticks at first. Dim ones, hundreds of them, and moving. She realizes they’re sheep, then we hear the dogs, and not friendly either. Nasty guttural growls come out of the darkness. Ulli abandons the course, moving down and away from the herd. We come to a creek, wade it, and climb another rise to a ridge. Ulli declares we only have to follow the ridge to gain the course again. And he’s right. We find another flag on the other side of the herd. We go down from here, and then across a ledge that seems to last forever. But I can’t see a thing so everything looks like forever. Ulli talks and I listen. My legs are trashed from hanging onto this wonderful shepherd impersonating a mountain goat. He wanders about the mountains, up and down, all at the same speed, the same pace. On the downs and flats, it’s too easy, but on the ups, I suffer. I can’t let him go for fear of being completely lost. And so he leads us down off the side of Green Mtn to the road at Cunningham. Relief washes over me. Exhausted, I relax finally. Depleted and thoroughly trashed, with yet one more big climb right in front of me. I resolve to go quickly. I know how badly I’m wasted and want to start immediately. I know this will take some time and the sooner I get after it, the more time I’ll have to make it over. John & Vivian are there waiting on us, but no pacer to relieve Joyce. I tell her she should go on in with our friends. I’ll be fine going over alone. I know this section and with nothing left but grunt force and determination, I’ll be fine. It’s all I have left but it is enough. I want no refill, no change of clothes, just a cup of broth and gone. Joyce decides to go with and asks only one thing: “Please carry me across the creek”. Her feet are struggling with the cold. The Reynaud’s hurts her feet badly, and if they get wet again, it’ll be worse.
from Cunningham 92.1 mi 11:35 pm 10380 ft
to Silverton 101.4 mi 4:42 am 9310 ft
#12 Dives-Little Giant Pass 13000 ft
I carry Joyce across Cunningham Creek and drop her on the other side. I have my big green LED truck light lighting my way and Joyce has her lightweight one. We follow Ulli out of Cunningham. As good as Ulli climbs, I resolve to hook on as long as I can. If I can but stay for half the climb, I’ll feel more secure in making the climb and the finish in time. Ulli continues to talk and I stay right on his heel, with Joyce on mine. Up we go, through the darkness, over rocks, and logs, steep pitches, and loose rock. Time seems to disappear into nothing as I only see the trail in front of me, and the backside of Ulli. We pass a few guys that hook onto our train and stay for a while and then they slide away. On and on until I realize Joyce is slipping back, so I ask for a break and Ulli says sure. We sit down and look at the stars, then all the lights wandering around on Green Mountain lost in the sheep. They look like stars also. Lost stars, I feel bad for them. Some might make it but most won’t. Then we get up and start again. By this time, the two others have come back and hook in again. Ulli pulls us all. I check with Joyce and find her struggling with the pace, so I let Ulli go. I have no idea how I’ve held on, but its over. It was a good haul and better than I expected. Joyce and I kept going but much slower. We watch as the trio of lights disappears well ahead and above us, making great time. The slopes become steeper and this has little effect on Ulli’s pace, but quickly kicks us back ever slower. We round a flat spot where a mine is and then it gets so steep we’re on all fours. I wonder if we took a bad turn, as I don’t recall anything quite this steep. I get more nervous as Ulli’s lights are now gone and nothing below us either. I go ahead fast and hard in case I’m off and have to back track. I keep this insane sprinting crawl for 100 yards, until I find a flag. Relief again. I yell back to Joyce and then sit down to wait. Finally, we see some lights ahead. Feels good to see lights on top, and we make for them. It seems to go so slow up the twisted trail and tundra. The slope is so steep as to keep our noses in the dirt. Up and up, but the lights never get any closer. And then suddenly I realize we’re on top and the lights no more than stars still well above our heads: the final summit. Exhilaration sweeps through me. I laugh and tell Joyce what she hasn’t realized. It’s true. Nothing but down until the final slot from Arrastra into town. We run along the trail, cross the ridge into Little Giant Basin and start down. It’s a rocky old miner’s trail with scant purchase but wonderfully downhill. We catch Ulli and the boys quickly and pass by. Down and down some more across rocks, through scrub, and then the road. We fairly well dance down the road, going faster and faster, passing Mahoney and continue. Side by side we scream down the rock filled road, and then Joyce goes down hard. Her knee finds a rock and curls her into a fetal position. She has a hole in her knee and is nauseous. She insists I go on, but I don’t wish to. She demands that I go on. I reluctantly go, but easy, thinking all the while what am I going to do? I need to get back right away to help her, to find her. Will I remember the way? I reach the first road split and wonder which way. Right, I think. Markers point the way. I start that way and then I hear Joyce calling my name. She has caught up to me. Relief again. I can’t believe how many times this emotion has run through my body so that it’s fairly trampled by now. Stunned, I watch her run up to me. I wanted so badly to run in with you she says. We hug and start again slowly, but soon enough are running as fast as we were when she fell. Down to the next split, another right, then a left over the birm and down to the creek. I’m going through the creek myself this time she says. We’re almost done and I’ll be ok for that long. We wade Arrastra Creek and then start our final pilgrimage along the Animas River. I know this trail but it seems so surreal. It’s still dark and everything seems to take so much longer than I know it should. The beaver ponds, the white house, the creek crossings, the mine, and finally the ski hut. We leave the trees and run down to the road leading into town. Crossing the main road, we stumble round the last corner. Ed, Fred, & Paige are there waiting for us. And then it all washes over us and wipes us out. The emotions, the aches, the pains, the cold, and the memories… it all rises up to the surface…and it hurts…and it heals…and it all feels so wonderfully good, because we’re done.