Skiing The Hardrock 100 — Day 1

Post by blogger | April 5, 2016      

I love steep skiing and powder skiing and most forms of sliding on snow including the occasional long, crazy link-up or traverse. The mountains contain so many varied ways to travel and play in them that one tool, or one discipline isn’t enough for me. I would define what I do as adventure skiing, which covers it all, including skimo. I like combining the light gear with the cardio fitness and skiing nearly naked through the mountains covering huge amounts of terrain in a day.

The last few seasons in the Wasatch have had slow starts, not much snow. So I have focused more on skimo training to improve fitness and allow me to do bigger days in the mountains. My skimo race experience falls into more of the hobby category. I managed an 8th place overall finish at the Wasatch Powder Keg last year. This fall I put in more volume and trained even harder, but as soon as it starting dumping powder in the Wasatch, I switched to real skis and focused on face-shots and steep lines, which are what I truly enjoy.

In the past few years, many ultrarunners have turned to skimo racing in the winter months to keep on top of their fitness. Jason Schlarb is one of those guys, and in the world of ultrarunning he is one of the best in the world.

The Team from left to right

The Team from left to right: myself; Paul Hamilton, sponsored ultrarunner with many podiums, the young-gun, relatively new to skimo and backcountry skiing; Jason Schlarb, professional ultrarunner with many impressive finishes (4th UTMB), adventurer and mastermind of this crazy project; Scott Simmons, endurance athlete, hard-man, San Juan local with an impressive skimo resume.

In December he contacted me and told me he was pulling together a small team of world-class athletes to attempt the first ski traverse of the Hardrock 100, using ultra-lightweight skimo gear. This well-known race, done on roads and trails in the summertime, takes runners on 100 miles of beautiful, yet challenging terrain in the San Juan mountain range. Jason invited me to come along for the attempt as the cameraman. He wanted to capture it all on film and produce a short documentary. The team included Jason, Scott Simmons and Paul Hamilton.

I said yes to Jason’s invite and we kept in touch, but honestly, I didn’t believe it would happen. We’d need stable avalanche conditions and great weather to line up for four consecutive days in one of the gnarliest ranges in Colorado. We’d need all four of us to be healthy and have the same window of time available, and a ground support crew as well. The chances of this all happening were very slim. I marked the tentative dates on the calendar and added a big fat question mark at the end.

Throughout January and February we worked on gear details and logistics, but in my mind the Ski Hardrock 100 just wasn’t really going to happen. It was a fun idea, but probably a little too grand.

The first week of March came quickly and things in Colorado were actually looking really good. High pressure had been sitting over the San Juans for weeks, avalanche conditions were low—a rarity—and the weather forecast for our attempt was as good as could be hoped for. Despite racing in Europe only a few days before our start, Scott and Paul were fired up to go and the support crew fell into place. The reality set in that I had agreed to chase three of the fittest men in North America around on skinny skis for 60,000 ft of elevation gain and loss. S*#! got real!

I knew it would be impossible for me to keep up with these guys with world-class lungs. I was actually really nervous. I had been skiing a bunch, but not necessarily training. My only hope was that maybe I could come close to keeping up with them since they would have to break trail and navigate. Plus, they had invited me, so they’d have to wait for me.

I gathered my skimo gear which I hadn’t touched in months and drove from SLC to Durango.

I gathered my skimo gear which I hadn’t touched in months and drove from SLC to Durango.

The Ski-Hardrock 100 Loop:

  • Day 1 starts in Silverton with around 9,000 feet of climbing over roughly 29 miles and ends at a campsite in Laketown.
  • Day 2 begins with a road climb out of Laketown up to Handies Peak (14,058 ft), our highest point of the route, then continues on to Ouray for approx. 8,000 feet of climbing and 26 total miles.
  • Day 3 is a bit of a rest day with only 17 miles and over 5,000 feet of climbing through Kroger’s Canteen from Ouray to Telluride.
  • Day 4 is another monster with over 10,000 feet of ascent by climbing out of Telluride, down near Ophir and back up, nearly 29 miles before finishing back in Silverton.
  • Ski-Hardrock 100 Loop

    Ski-Hardrock 100 Loop

    Day 1 for our team began on Thursday, March 17, 2016. We had all spent the night in Durango, and at around 5 a.m. we gathered and made the drive in the dark to Silverton. Despite the early hour, we were awake, chatting, eating breakfast burritos in the car and surprisingly feeling chill AF—ready to crush. We crammed way too much shit into our small day packs and by 6:45 a.m. we were walking down the streets of Silverton, four dudes dressed in head-to-toe lycra, looking for the base of the Kendall Mountain Ski Area. But we couldn’t find it!

    Wandering around in trail shoes—with all our gear on our backs, missing street turns and afraid that this was a sign of how the entire journey was going to be. Finally we found the snow, changed into our ski boots and started skinning.

    Wandering around in trail shoes—with all our gear on our backs, missing street turns and afraid that this was a sign of how the entire journey was going to be. Finally we found the snow, changed into our ski boots and started skinning.

    Things continued to go

    Things continued to go anything but smoothly. We had started on the trail through the trees but then lost it, so we opted to follow along the river bank. Unfortunately, the snow was unconsolidated sugar which is a real treat to travel on with skinny skis.

    The bank of the river ended

    The bank of the river ended and we tried to climb back uphill. Here is Scott giving it his best effort as always. The snow was too deep though and we were left with only one option—crossing the stream.

    The river was shallow and wide, but lacking in good stepping stones. I threw one of my skis across to make the passage easier, but it bounced off the bank and into the water! It started floating back downstream towards Silverton. This forced me to run into the river and snag my ski. The guys were laughing at me as they attempted, but failed to make a dry crossing.


    In wet boots after an hour of difficult travel and only on mile 2! I told my new friends that my confidence in their route finding was really low. They had done huge amounts of recon for the course, but had overlooked the start imagining it would be simple. We laughed and kept moving.

    Things quickly turned around and we finally started moving well — not necessarily fast but steady. We gained a huge chunk of vertical with our first big climb. It was here that I had my first of many “What the hell did I get myself into” moments. I was clearly out-lunged by these guys from the get go. If I pulled hard I could almost maintain close proximity, but whenever I took out the camera I would get dropped fast and couldn’t overcome the large gaps. Luckily they waited for me, but I wondered how long this could go on. But I kept going one step, one breath, one pass, one turn at a time.

    Sunrise Mine.

    Sunrise Mine.

    We descended a long way in mixed conditions finding a single strip of snow that connected into Cunningham Gulch. We arrived there around noon and took our first break. Hannah Green, a good friend and ultrarunner, met us with cookies and water. Hannah would continue to meet us along the way at key intersections providing moral support and delicious consumables. Jason was having fit issues with his boot, but other than that things were good.

    We headed onward

    We were all surprised at the short distance we had come and how long it had taken us, but we headed onward hoping to catch up on the day.

    We climbed again and crossed the Continental Divide and then descended down a long, mellow valley to Sheep Creek. The miles and altitude were starting to have an effect. The day was getting on and we still had a long way to go.

    Scott Simmons smiling for now.

    Scott Simmons smiling for now.

    I knew virtually nothing about our route, which was fun and exciting, every pass and peak was a surprise. An interesting decision by Jason and Scott, was to navigate by map alone. This worked most of the time, but at the Sheep Creek intersection there was some confusion. Jason and Scott headed off in one direction while Paul and I were still trying to decide if it was the right route. It wasn’t, they had taken a wrong turn and we hoped they would soon realize their mistake and turn around. It was really unsettling to have the team separated and worse, facing the thought of spending the night out in the open. After about 30 min Jason and Scott returned. There was some frustration in the group— we had wasted valuable time, energy and daylight. After a heated exchange and some venting, we committed to staying closer together and being much more certain about our routing before we would proceed.

    Finally heading in the right direction as a team! The last climb seemed like it would never end.

    Finally heading in the right direction as a team! The last climb seemed like it would never end.

    I know Wildsnow Nation is all about the gear so I thought I’d list off my kit. The plan was to go light as possible, but somehow we ended up with pretty heavy day packs. It was necessary to carry all our water and food for the day. I proposed we ditch our avy gear to shed weight, but the others vetoed that idea.

  • Voile WSP skis with Ski Trab race bindings
  • Two pairs of mohair skins, one with tail clips and one without
  • Voile Carbon ski poles
  • Cilo Gear 26Z backpack
  • Beacon
  • Arva shovel
  • Petzl Sum-tec ice axe
  • Camp aluminum crampons
  • Leatherman
  • Sunscreen
  • Minimal med and repair kit
  • Petzl headlamp
  • Spot Tracker
  • Ski crampons
  • Two water bottles
  • Snacks: Kind bars, Gu, Snickers, Sport Legs, Vitargo, meat and cheese wraps
  • Camera, tripod, Joby, spare battery
  • Beanie, ballcap, light gloves, heavy gloves, buff, over pants, puffy, shell jacket
  • Backpacks with gear.

    Backpacks with gear.

    We were hours behind schedule, and it began to get dark. We hit the final pass. It was a huge relief to finish climbing. The last leg of Day 1 was a long descent. But, the Hardrock isn’t soft and even the descents were unforgiving.

    Skinning up the final pass as night descends.

    Skinning up the final pass as night descends.

    Skiing down by the light of our headlamps, we ended up in a canyon popping off of little cliffs and pillows and wallowing through the woods in deep faceted snow. It would have been fun on skis that weren’t 60mm underfoot. Then we hit a packed trail that was fast and icy in the middle and rotten on the sides. If you went off trail it would suck you in and flip you around. We were all eating shit left and right. I can honestly say this was the most un-fun I’ve had on skis. Maybe it was the fatigue, the altitude, the skinny skis, or the cumulative hours, but it was rough.

    Finally around 9 p.m. we arrived in camp. Jason had made arrangements with a guy named “Mad Dog” to set up tents and have dinner for us. He had been expecting us to arrive at 3 p.m.! We were all in such rough shape when we pulled in that all we could do was remove our boots and sit in a stupor. Mad Dog and friends pretty much saved the day—and the project. They had a raging fire to warm up with and they fed us warm tomato soup and bread as we waited for our steaks and asparagus to cook. The food was incredible! They took such good care of us! They even took our wet boot liners and socks and dried them by the fire. They offered us tea and water and even beer! There was more food than we could even come close to eating. We were starving, but almost too tired to eat.

    Jason eating dinner.

    Jason eating dinner.

    I had spent 15 hours mostly keeping up with some of the fastest skimo guys in rough mountain terrain. I was feeling alright, just barely. We had survived Day 1, but we couldn’t believe how hard it had been and we didn’t even want to think about the fact that we had three more days to come. All we wanted was sleep. At around 11p.m. we crawled into our bags for a full 7 hours of rest. Another huge day of climbing, skiing and filming loomed ahead, but we’d deal with that tomorrow when it came.

    Camp at the end of Day 1.

    Camp at the end of Day 1.

    Trip report for Day 2 here.

    (WildSnow guest blogger Noah Howell was born and inbred at the foot of the Wasatch mountains. His skiing addiction is full blown and he’ll take snow and adventure in whatever form it takes. The past 16 years have been spent dedicated to exploring new ranges, steep skiing, and filming for Powderwhore Productions. Visit Noah’s website for more story telling and photos.)


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    14 Responses to “Skiing The Hardrock 100 — Day 1”

    1. Layne April 5th, 2016 12:29 pm

      Someone once said, “It doesn’t have to be fun for it to be fun.” Was that you? Thanks for the interesting read Noah, looking forward to the rest.

    2. Lou Dawson 2 April 5th, 2016 12:37 pm

      This is great.

    3. noah howell April 5th, 2016 12:55 pm

      Fun once it’s done should be a saying. I’d file this under that category. Thanks Lou and Layne!!

    4. Charlie Hagedorn April 5th, 2016 1:02 pm

      Can’t wait for the next installment! Bravo.

    5. Joe Risi April 5th, 2016 4:14 pm

      This is the pure definition of Type 2 Fun.

      Amazing feat & an amazing crew! Ullr certainly was looking out for these men during their journey!

    6. Michael April 5th, 2016 4:51 pm

      Awesome. Honest & wild. Can’t wait for round 2.

    7. See April 5th, 2016 6:33 pm

      Interesting trip report. Thanks. I’m looking forward to the next installment. Also wondering why you chose to “navigate by map alone.” I know people who refuse to use gps, but they’re all telemarkers.

    8. Scott S April 5th, 2016 8:49 pm

      Excellent write up Noah, had me on the edge of my seat. Answered blisters to the Anti-Spam Quiz.

    9. See April 5th, 2016 10:04 pm

      Yeah, also wondering about stream crossing’s effect on feet.

    10. Tom April 5th, 2016 10:31 pm

      Great write up! What a cool project. Too bad there aren’t more options in the US for hut-to-hut adventures.

    11. Christian April 6th, 2016 6:48 am

      Great read Noah! Can’t wait to hear about the rest.

    12. noah howell April 6th, 2016 8:10 am

      Scott and Jason preferred the added challenge of figuring out the map on paper versus following dots on the screen. Other than that one significant snafu they did a great job of routing us through the mountains.

      The stream crossing wasn’t that bad surprisingly. It was a warm enough morning that we didn’t get cold.

      Very clever Scott S! We wore blisters for most of the trip.

    13. Aaron April 6th, 2016 12:33 pm

      These skimo fuelled adventures are very inspiring. Awesome work, looking forward to hearing more details on the rest of your trip.

      I presume Eric Carter must be one of your racing colleagues, he just pulled of a stellar day trip traverse in BC.

      Crazy physical and mental accomplishments!

    14. Peter April 7th, 2016 12:25 pm

      Judging by the size of the skis in that first photo, and the ridiculousness of this adventure, all of these men are roughly 8 feet tall.

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