Continued from Part 1.
We landed in Denver and a cab met us at the airport (organised by Roger) and took us to pick up our camper. For the next few weeks we planned to live in a campervan, so we could run/hike as much of the Hardrock course as possible and save time travelling to places etc. because most of the checkpoint/trailhead locations were remote.
We met Ryan from Vango Durango and got the keys for Indigo Montoya (ha ha), sweet wheels.
I used Google to find the closest grocery store and we headed to the City Market in Durango to buy all our food and drink for the next few days. A lady at the store gave us directions to a campground near Molas Lake so we headed there to camp for the night. Roger cooked (dehydrated) Beef Stroganoff and we had some Banana Custard Pudding for dessert. We were both pretty tired but had a restless sleep, I’m not sure if it was because of the altitude (camped at 3,200m) or because of the dehydrated food.
On Sunday morning we woke up to the sounds of a generator from a nearby campervan, it was a huge mobile home. I headed off into the forest to visit the bathroom and Roger cooked porridge and coffee for breakfast.
We packed up the camper and drove to Silverton with the plan to hike up Kendall Mountain (3,982m). We called into the Prospector Hotel and met Andy at the reception desk, he was a funny character in a Blues Brothers T-shirt who had just sold the Hotel and would soon be on his way around the world for a much-needed holiday. After a few laughs we headed down the main street to find some real coffee and a local told us to go to Bear Café. They weren’t wrong, the coffee was great and they had free WIFI, so I could upload some more pictures to Instagram and check on Alana and the doggies back home.
The main street is not very big however there were lots of stores and galleries to explore. We bought some t-shirts and chatted to a photographer and a painter in the local gallery. Our last stop before our run was a native American gallery where we chatted to the owners about the old and new artefacts and jewellery they had in store. The history of both of the owners was fascinating, as well as the items they stocked.
We headed back to the car and got ready for our run up to Kendall Mountain. As we parked near the trailhead we noticed another race was going on and we walked over to find out more. You wouldn’t believe but it was Jamil Coury from Run Steep Get High, we had watched his Hardrock video from 2017 (among others) before leaving and it was great to meet him in person. As we chatted the weather turned foul and even started to hail so we hunkered down under their tent until the hail stopped. As we donned our rain jackets we headed out towards the Mountain and the weather didn’t look like it was going to get any better. I’ve been told that here in the mountains they get a thunderstorm every afternoon without fail, so we were in for a wet one. It was a good chance for Roger to test his gear and for me to try and keep up.
It stayed cloudy and wet for most of the run and a couple of times the lightning made us question whether we should keep going or not. However the clouds parted by the time we got closer to the top.
Roger and I had a lot of fun on this trail and the colours changed so many times with the constant changing weather. Lucky for us the rain stopped as we were approaching the top and the views were amazing when we got there. The spot that we had hiked up to was not actually Kendall Mountain because we had missed a turn (the trails here were not marked) but we were satisfied with what we had done.
It stayed completely dry for all of the run back down the mountain and I took it steady all the way. Roger did some hard downhill efforts as this day was the last chance he had for this before starting to back off a little. We ran into a local man and his dog called ‘Monkey Man’ near the bottom of the mountain and he turned out to be a local hiking, riding guide in the area. His dog was beautiful and loved attention, I was happy to oblige as I was missing my dogs back home.
On the way down we also saw a lot of ATV’s heading up the mountain, they are a small 4 wheel, buggy-style vehicle and there were hundreds of them in this local area. As we walked the last section to the car we ran into a man walking with his wife and dog, he was wearing a Hardrock t-shirt so Roger approached him to say hi. The man’s name was Geoff and he had completed Hardrock 7 times previously, what an achievement.
Back at the van we changed and drove back into town to find a good spot for dinner. We landed at the Eureka Station which looked relatively new, I had Bison Meatloaf and Roger had Bison Lasagna. We shared dishes and I must say that mine was the better choice. During Dinner our good friend Andy Hewat showed up and we had fun catching up on all the latest news and race talk. Andy suggested a place for us to camp in Cunningham, so we could then run part of the course the next day, so after dinner we drove there and camped for the night.
Unfortunately Roger didn’t get much sleep during the night as his blood-sugar levels didn’t want to play nice, so when we were woken early by the sun it was hard to get out of bed (like most Monday’s I guess?). Can you spot the camper van in the photo below?
As I was making breakfast we met some other campers called Gosia and Stan who live about a 1hr drive south of Durango. They had 2 dogs with them, Lunas and Martia, Spanish for Monday and Tuesday, the days they had rescued the dogs off the street. Gosia and I spent a good deal of time showing each other photos of our doggies, she was lots of fun. She dresses her dogs up for special days like Halloween and Valentine’s Day and the photos were fantastic. I’m not sure our dogs would ever sit that still in a costume for a photo.
It turns out that Stan was a runner too, and he was registered for the Kendall Mountain Race that I would be doing next weekend, so we chatted about that while Roger got his gear ready to go for a run.
As Roger took off for his run I kept chatting to the lovely couple and eventually they had to pack up and leave. We exchanged contact details so we could keep in touch and I looked forward to seeing Stan at the race the next weekend.
It was pretty cold so I sat in the campervan and updated my journal of the trip while tidying the van. A cheeky little Marmot came up close to the camper and sat on a rock in the sun.
Not long after Roger came back down the hill we sat down to have some tuna and avocado wraps for lunch. Soon after this Roger was back out the door and onto the trail towards Silverton. The plan was for me to meet him in town for dinner with Andy, and I would also resupply the camper with some food and water for the next few days.
While he was out running I got Petrol (you pay before you fill up here which was a bit weird as you have to guess the amount you want), got ice for the esky and visited the Information centre to find out how we could get more water. The information centre had some great hiking books and they were very helpful. I did some shopping in town and when Roger arrived we had frappes at the Bear Cafe, my chocolate mint flavour was delicious. We met up with Andy who offered us the use of his shower and we jumped at the chance. I felt so good after a nice warm shower, beats Wet Ones ha!
The three of us headed up the road for dinner at Handlebars, I had an Elk burger and Rog had a Buffalo burger, they were both very tasty but I think I liked the Buffalo most.
We said goodbye to Andy and made plans for the next day’s course marking adventure up to Handies Peak, this is the highest peak of the Hardrock Hundred course at 4,284m and would be not only a great hike but a good chance to see how we handled that altitude.
We camped at the bottom of Kendall Mountain, near the 5 day race that was still going on and we hoped nobody would ask us for a camping permit (which we didn’t have).
The alarm went off at 6am on Tuesday and just as I was getting up we heard a tap on the window and a voice saying ‘Do you have a parking permit?’, we didn’t respond and the voice asked the same question again, shit. Turns out it was Andy who had come past to let us know the course marking day had been changed, what a joker. He gave me a heart attack as there was a hefty fine for camping without a permit. He asked if we wanted to travel in the car with him and his friends Larry, Beth and Rachael, and of course we jumped at the chance.
We got up and rushed to get dressed, thankfully we had prepared our packs the night before so they didn’t have to wait too long. We squashed four of us into the back seat and headed towards Grouse Gulch the start of today’s hike/run. On the way we were lucky enough to see two Bull Moose feeding on some bushes next to the road. They were huge, strong and beautiful creatures. What a great way to start the day.
Photo: Roger Hanney
The road was very rocky but Larry’s car made it to the trailhead quite easily. We all geared up and headed up the trail under blue skies. I had been looking forward to this hike up to Handies Peak, I knew it was going to be a good day.
Rog and I ended up ahead of the others and unfortunately Beth was having knee issues (recovering from a recent meniscus tear) so she turned back early. Larry, Andy and Rachael were behind us and we waited for them at the first pass.
Andy got to the pass and we had a quick chat. Rachael was struggling a little so Larry was hanging back with her. Andy told us to go ahead and he would organise a turn around time if they didn’t make it to the peak on time.
The reason we had a turn around time is because every afternoon there were thunderstorms in these mountains – they create their own weather so you have to be prepared. We didn’t want to be up on the peak (or close to it) if there was lightning as it would be too dangerous.
We saw lots of Marmots and Pika again today and another runner told us she had seen Coyote so we kept a sharp eye out hoping to see one of those too.
It was a long, steep hike up to the peak and my pace slowed as it got steeper and steeper. The higher we climbed the more mountains started to reveal themselves around us’ and once we reached the top we felt like we were in another world.
Andy joined us a few minutes later and we chatted to a few other hikers. We took loads of photo and spent a long time soaking up the view. It’s hard to describe what we saw and felt, it was magical.
As we were about to head down we saw Larry and Rachael making their way up the peak, so we cheered them on and waited for them to arrive. The turn around time we had organised was midday and it was 11:52am when they reached the peak. Perfect. We took some more photos and then made our way back down the mountain. Andy was a great downhill runner and I took it nice and steady, stopping to take lots more photos. Every time the clouds moved the colours around us changed and I couldn’t help taking more and more photos.
Eventually we could see the car and we hit the last of the switchbacks down to the road.
We chatted with Beth who had been patiently waiting at the car and Andy realised there the rental car actually had another row of seats in the back, which would make the trip back to Silverton much more comfortable.
Once we were all back at the car we headed into town just in time to see the rain start and the storms rolling in. We had timed it perfectly.
We had pizza for dinner with the crew at Golden Block Brewery where we also met Arkansas local Billy Simpson for the first time, and then we walked up the road to have Funnell Cake for dessert.
After we filled our bellies we headed to Cunningham Gulch to camp and get an early night.
On Wednesday the alarm went off at 6am and I visited the pit toilet while Rog got up and ready. I drove us into town and on the way down we saw that the town was covered in a thick fog.
I dropped Roger at Andy’s hotel where Larry was meeting them to drive them to Grant swamp (via Ophir, a very sketchy road apparently). Coffee was on my mind so I went to Coffee Bear and ordered a sausage burrito and large coffee, then headed over to the laundry. While I was doing laundry the owner asked what channel I wanted to watch and I couldn’t think of anything so I just said ‘Maybe some Sports?’. I chatted to the owner some more and after he left I realised he had put the tv on the shopping channel, great (not).
I met Roger when he got back into town and we had frappes at the Bear Cafe. I think we were both feeling exhausted as all we could think about was finding a place to sleep for the night. So we drove up towards Minnie Gulch (past Cunningham Gulch) to set up camp for the night and the road was a bit scary. It was a dirt road and full of rocks, cliff edges. Eventually we turned around because I didn’t think the van would make it over the creek crossing. I doubled back and Roger took a short hike up another side road and found a great place to park the van for the night.
We were both feeling exhausted and crashed early.
A rest day was planned for Thursday so we woke up late and Roger cooked eggs on toast with avocado and we also had coffee. There was nobody around us for miles and I was feeling really good despite the altitude.
Once breakfast was cleaned up and the van repacked we headed to Orvis Hot Springs. This was a good chance for me to see the road to Ouray as I would be driving along it to checkpoints during the race, plus the hot springs would be relaxing. The drive to Ouray was along windy, cliff edge roads where you have to go quite slow due to all the hairpin turns. At one section along the ‘Million Dollar Highway’ it was down to one lane due to a mud slide earlier in the week. We later found out that there had actually been 8 land/mud slides along that section of road but they had managed to clean most of them up.
The hot springs were another 10mins drive past Ouray and had been recommended to us by Steady, a friend of Roger’s who had worked as a high end bootfitter in Telluride. We parked and checked in to the reception, the lady gave us a tour and advised that in the outside area ‘clothing was optional’. There was no way I was going naked and I hoped that there weren’t too many old, wrinkly men/women lurking around.
We changed and got the indoor pool first, the coolest of the springs. A mother with her two children were playing in the pool (clothed) and we chatted to her about her upcoming move from Boulder to Ouray, she was here checking out schools for her girls before they moved, her husband had been transferred here for work.
After the indoor pool we headed over to the super cold and super hot (44 degrees) springs for some cold/hot treatment. At first I couldn’t get into the water past my knees with either of those springs, but on my second and third attempts I managed to get all the way under up to my neck. The main benefit of the hot/cold treatment was to help inflammation, but it also helps relax your muscles and my skin felt great afterwards too. The last spring we tried was the main pool and 80% of the people were clothed thankfully. The loose gravel pool bottom felt great for tired feet to walk across.
A storm rolled in and we decided to leave and grab some lunch in Ouray. I showered and we headed to The Ouray Brewery for lunch which was another great meal.
After (late) lunch we headed up to try and camp near Governor Basin, which was the starting point for tomorrow’s Course Marking day, however the road got too much for our camper and we ended up heading back to Molas Pass to camp for the night.
On Friday we woke up to the alarm at 6am and as we walked to our respective bathrooms (trees). Roger spotted a Deer and her 2 children, he called me over and i just got to see them before they ran off into the trees across the path. They were beautiful.
Once the camper was packed we headed to pick up Andy from his hotel and meet the group for course marking at Charlie’s house.
After a short briefing everyone packed into the cars and we headed for Camp Bird Road. The trip through the mountains was uneventful but the beauty of the mountains stole my heart at every turn.
I dropped Roger and Andy off with the other runners, they would get a lift with another runner in their 4WD as our van would not make it to Governors Basin. I headed into town for breakfast, shopping and some down time. After purchasing some gifts I headed to the hot springs in town, the weather was heating up and they had hot and cold pools at the one in town. The water was lovely and the place was really busy, it was much bigger and fully clothed thankfully (ha ha).
Roger, Andy and the rest of the course marking crew joined me at the hot springs after their run/hike, then we all headed to Mexican for late lunch. I had a good chat over Tacos with Beth, Larry and another lady called Annie, a really friendly bunch of people and such experienced ultra runners.
It was pouring with rain as we left the restaurant and headed back to Silverton over the mountains. I was getting nervous because on Saturday I was doing the Kendall Mountain Run, a 13 mile course from Silverton (9,318ft) to the top of Kendall Mountain (13,066ft) and back down. There is an interesting history to this race and you can read more about it here.
When we got back to Silverton we decided to try and get a room for the night so I could get a good nights sleep before my race. Roger managed to get us a room at The Bent Elbow in the notorious Blair Street and our room was funnily enough called the Bordello.
Across the street an Elvis impersonator was singing on a trailer parked outside the Avalanche Brewery (bought another lid to add to my collection too, see pic below), and the place looked busy so we headed there for dinner after picking up my race pack from the Avon Hotel. The funny line we heard as were leaving after eating was from a smiling father to his young daughter, “Well of course it sounds terrible honey, he’s a man in an Elvis suit singing out of the back of a campervan”.
Then it was back to our comfortable room to chill out and get an early night, and I just have to say it was so nice to have a proper bed and a toilet.
Saturday’s alarm went off at 6:30am and I was feeling very nervous for my race. Thankfully we had plenty of time and only a short walk from the hotel to the start line on the corner of Greene St and 12th St.
I had chosen to wear my Nathan pack with Tailwind in 2 soft flasks in the front and wet weather gear in the back, as I had been told there was 50% chance of rain and I hate being cold. That’s Kendall Mountain in the background of the below photos, piece of cake right?
We walked to the start line and there were lots of people queued up for the portable toilets. Roger walked up to get a coffee and I used the cafe’s bathroom which didn’t have a queue (score!). Beth and Larry found us at the start line and they wished me well. I positioned myself at the back of the runners and eventually we were off and running.
The course went for 2 blocks up the Main Street and then hooked right onto another street that eventually turned into a fire trail that circled its way up Kendall Mountain. I saw Andy at the start of the uphill section and he wished me good luck. The trail up to the peak was rocky, steep and endless, but I made some good friends along the way. There was a married couple Jake and Nicole, Jake was her coach and she was mostly training for triathlon. There was Ned an older man who had run this many times before. And then there was Alice, about my age and it was her first trail race ever. What a tough race to do first!!
I could really feel my breath struggling the whole way up, and had to slow my walking a few times to get my breath back. My calves were feeling tight too, and I tried to rest them by choosing ‘flat spots’ to give them a break every little while. A flat spot is when a rock is sitting at a certain ankle so that when you walk up the trail your foot ends up horizontal when planted, which gives the calves a break from the plantar flexion you’ve been doing mile after mile.
Before I reached the top I ended up alone and with a big gap in front and behind me, it was peaceful and I took in the amazing views around me.
I reached the arch we had hiked to the previous week and then braced myself for the rocky scramble up to the peak. The trail was super steep now and we had to crawl on all fours, slipping and sliding up the rocks. There was a false summit and so we kept on climbing and climbing.
I looked up and saw Jamil Coury (ultra running legend) standing at the summit and asked him for a photo.
There were a few small steps to the top now and as I reached the summit I cheered with excitement. Wahooo!
I had a quick chat to Jamil and his crew and then I was out of there, it was all downhill from here. I scrambled down off the top peak feeling confident and quicker than I expected, passing people along the way. Then I hit the fire trail and a stitch in my left side made running quite painful, so I alternated running and walking for the next few miles trying to get rid of it. Despite slowing down the stitch wouldn’t go away, so I tried to focus on relaxing my body and just running at a slow, steady pace, taking it easy like my coach said. I tried to take my mind off the pain and soak up what was around me, it worked and eventually I was feeling much better. I picked up some speed and started to pass people on my way back down the mountain, it felt great.
To my surprise Roger and Andy had hiked up part of the trail to cheer me on and it was so nice to see them, it really gave me a lift.
Photo: Andy Hewat
My pace got quicker again and I kept picking off people in front of me, while keeping some in reserve for the last run on the flat to the finish at Memorial Park. Where was that park? I had reached the flat now and the park I thought we would finish in was incorrect, I had to run another mile into town. I walked and ran this last section and kept a close eye on the gentleman behind me as I didn’t want him to beat me. As I approached the finish Larry and Beth were cheering me on and others heard them say my name so they started cheering for me too. A gentleman rushed to take my photo as I crossed the finish line underneath the inflatable finish arch, and was handed a mug and food voucher. I had done it!!
I waited for my (new) running friends who weren’t far behind me so that I could cheer them over the line and congratulate them, then I headed back to see Larry and Beth. We all headed over to the finish area for the bbq and to buy some gear at the Run Steep Get High shop. Roger and Andy joined me not long after and we watched others finishing the race. The atmosphere was great and I loved my finishers mug, so much more practical than a medal.
After the race, Roger had a burrito and Andy was kind enough to let me use his shower. Then we jumped in the campervan and headed to the The Needles in Utah. We had decided that this side trip would be a good break from Silverton/Hardrock and a great chance to see some different and amazing landscapes and get an extra dose of oxygen.
Stay tuned for Escaping Winter: Part 3 – The Needles, Utah
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