Even though I slept in a big nice soft bed, the rest was restless. The plan was to depart at 8 a.m. I rolled out of bed around 7, and to my surprise the swelling in my feet had gone down and my legs felt pretty good. My toes were still tender and my shoulders were sore. I was texting with my woman. She asked how I was. I sent her this photo.
In this state I’d be able to put trail shoes on and walk a ways out of town to get some photos at least. Then, if need be, I could just walk back down to Ouray and catch a ride around to Telluride.
I walked down to the room where the others were in the middle of a serious discussion, drinking coffee. I wasn’t the only one contemplating leaving. Paul was calling it quits.
Day 2 had been rough on Paul. He had large blisters on his heels and worse, had a mysterious rash all over his feet. As an ultra-runner with a big summer of huge races ahead, Paul was concerned about the long term damage he might be doing to his feet and body. How deep was the hole he was putting himself in? How long would it take to climb back out? Was it worth it?
Jason laid down the facts that today was much less mileage, it had way less vertical, we would be walking in shoes—not ski boots—for 8 miles up the road, and most importantly there was a hot tub waiting for us at our hotel in Telluride.
Paul agreed to continue, but adopted the same exit strategy I was planning, that we’d go up the road and make the decision to press on, or turn back later.
I taped up my feet and stuffed them into my shoes. It didn’t feel good, but better than being in ski boots. Hannah and Maggie made us some hearty lunches that we packed away. We had been at the lowest physical, mental and geographical point of the entire course, but we were slowly climbing ourselves out from of all of it.
Walking the Camp Bird Mine Road for 8 or 9 miles out of town was a godsend. I don’t think I could have put ski boots back on to start the day. We kept jokingly calling this our “rest day,” if you can call 9 miles of hiking a rest. But it really was an easy start for us and if things went well, we might bounce back a little instead of clawing deeper into the pain cave.
There was still one huge question mark for the day though. Our climb would take us up through the 13,000 ft. Virginius Pass, home of the legendary Hardrock 100 Krogers Canteen aid station. With certain wind and snow conditions this pass can develop a cornice that might be difficult to tunnel through, or it could be impassable. If this were the case, we would have to backtrack and make a major detour. Our short rest day would turn into another doozie of nearly 30 miles instead of 17.
I forced myself to eat and drink often. I had packed a ton of food and was committed to not letting myself get behind on calories like I had the day before. It was my goal to eat my way to Telluride.
Hannah walked with us for almost the entire portion of the road, then she doubled back with plans to drive around and meet us in Telluride. This was our last chance to bail. We didn’t. We only had another 2,500 feet to climb and plenty of daylight to do it in.
Neither Paul nor I felt good, but that wasn’t the point. Could we keep moving? The answer was yes. Our pace was casual and it just wasn’t quitting time.
A few miles further we finally hit snow and transitioned to skiing. The snow was deep and powdery and the guys broke trail while I tried to keep up. Actually, it was Scott that broke trail which he did about 90% of the time on this trip. I couldn’t believe how often he’d pull out front. If someone else was in the lead when the snow became deep, Scott would pass them and start putting in the trail. Pretty incredible to watch.
I’m not sure if our pace was slower on day 3, but I never felt like I was digging deep. This is more of how I had pictured and hoped the Ski Hardrock would be.
With 5K under our feet we popped over one of the final rises and got our first view of Virginius Pass. Scott celebrates that there was no cornice.
Our last climb of the day was only a few hundred feet away. It seemed almost too easy, but maybe we had earned it; we definitely needed it.
Runners who compete in the Hardrock 100 are usually greeted at this aid station with volunteers giving out tequila shots. When we arrived there was nothing but wind, sunshine and endless mountain views . Maybe we should have brought a little flask of tequila. We settled for a few photographic shots.
We were able to ski almost all the way into town and it was still light out. We changed into our shoes again and walked the final mile or two into the box canyon town of Telluride.
Our hotel, The Camel’s Garden, was located right near the base of the ski area. It was super nice and you should stay there if you go. We fit right in with the skiers who were fresh off the hamster wheel and were now sporting fur lined boots. We laughed at them on the inside and I know they laughed at us.
We pranced inside the hotel just in time to make the complimentary apres. I’m not kidding, free wine and cheese! Things were going our way even off the mountain now. There wasn’t anybody pouring the wine so we applied ourselves to the task. Turns out the attendant had just stepped away for a minute and he was NOT pleased when he returned to see four men in tights helping themselves. He threw down some holier–than–thou attitude that seems to often accumulate in many of these exclusive mountain towns of high altitude. He asked what room we were in. He was surprised that we were actually staying there, for free in fact. The other guests were intrigued and we spent time explaining our route, our skinny skis and how we climbed uphill with carpets glued to the bottoms. Future skimo converts I’m sure.
The Mexican restaurant offered a 3 entree platter. We all opted for it and had no problem finishing. We were in our overstuffed beds with overstuffed bellies by 9 p.m. The plan was to wake up at 5 a.m. and be moving by 6 a.m.
For the first time in the three days I felt hope. I still felt anxious as well, but all we had left was one day. How bad could one day be?! I figured I could push through even if it was going to be one of longest and the biggest of the entire route. Tomorrow would come and we’d tackle it then, but today was a good day. I’d even go so far as to say that Day 3 was fun.
(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.)