We woke up at 5 a.m. as planned and prepared slowly. Coffee helped bring us to life, but I just wanted to stay in bed. I ditched as much gear and weight as possible (overpants, camera batteries, crampons, leatherman) from my pack knowing it was our final and longest day. I wanted to travel as light as possible.
There was something reassuring about stretching into our one piece suits, again. They stunk but they felt like home. They felt good, the way they hold the body snug and make it feel fast and capable if nothing else. Part of the skimo efficiency comes in proper placement of all gear so we dialed in our kits, down to the location of headbands, sunglasses and spare GU packets.
Most importantly though was foot care. At this point in the trip we all had serious blisters. Both my heels required taping, but they weren’t that bad. The worst were my toes. I had big blisters on the tops and sides of my pinky toes that resembled grade A+ organic ground beef. I’d drain the fluid and then tape them in tightly to the rest of my toes attempting to keep them from further rubbing. I had been using duct tape, but Scott brought out the Leukotape. I had heard about this stuff but never tried it. Leukotape is much stickier than duct tape and it stays put much better — so much better that people have been known to “avulse” their epidermis during removal. Fresh socks were then carefully applied. I’d worry later about avulsion.
Sorry to go on and on about feet, but it was one of the most severe issues we faced (as I had imagined it would be). Once we were finished with the bandage session we were all hesitant to clamp on our plastic feet–torturing devices. There was a tiny stand-off. You didn’t want to be the first to put boots on because it hurt, but you didn’t want to be last out the door. In all things skimo it’s about being fast and not last.
We hobbled down the dark quiet streets of Telluride for just a few blocks until we hit snow. Scott’s wife Holly, and of course the incredible Hannah were there to cheer us on. We went up the road with the same routine: drop our head, move your left foot, pole plant, shuffle right foot, pole plant, repeat, repeat, repeat. Skimo zombie apocalypse.
We covered a lot of ground. Or so it seemed in the dark, anyway. Paul was struggling and I passed him at one point. He was hunched over his poles and barely acknowledged us. I hadn’t seen him look that bad all trip. We waited for him farther up the road. Soon after, he came gliding towards us as if nothing had happened and we kept moving.
The San Juans have been heavily mined for precious ore. This is their history and the scars remain. The HR 100 takes one on a tour of old mine roads, past tunnels and into the towns created by this industry. Deep inside rock, men toiled away for years in the dark; a brutal hard work. One swing of the pick at a time. One “muck” shovel full at a time. This process of small actions over time which creates larger and seemingly impossible achievements has always fascinated me. As we hacked our way through the mountains I tried to draw parallels, and wondered what the miner’s motivation was to keep going. And then I wondered more about mine.
Here we encountered a pair of backcountry skiers who were also Hardrock 100 fans, and they knew of Jason and Paul. They were thrilled that they got to meet their running heroes under these crazy circumstances.
I had gone light on water because Scott’s wife Holly had planned to drive around to meet us with water and snacks. There was no sign of her, maybe because we were behind schedule. I was out of water and the several streams we crossed had that heavily polluted reddish hue from the old mining operations. Perhaps those old muckers I’d been thinking about drank that stuff? I’ll pass.
The pair of ultra-superfans had water to spare and kindly filled my canteen. It seemed they felt sorry for the ultra-large bearded man who was clearly struggling.
For several miles we stuck to the flat mellow road grade that was still slightly visible despite the winter snowpack. I was out of water again.
Luckily, the tarp I could see ahead laid out with an array of beverages and goodies was not a mirage, but Hannah once again providing us with a wonderful picnic. I’d never considered churro as a backcountry snack, but after eating two of them that day I would say it may be the most perfect food known to man. Somehow Hannah already knew this.
This would be our final pit stop. I would like to say that I was thrilled and enjoyed it, but I just felt flat. We had about 9 miles and 3,000 ft. ahead of us. We were close to the end, but not close enough to celebrate yet.
Is this story getting boring? I totally understand. There were times where it felt boring.
I remember stopping several times which was stupid. I knew I shouldn’t stop and that this wasn’t the end but being so mentally fried and exhausted, I would stop. In 2005, I climbed Denali and not since then have I had felt this drained and physically helpless in the mountains. It’s a weird stalemate between body and mind. A glimpse into the zombie psyche?
I told myself I could go 100 feet. You can always go 100 feet. I began counting one, two, three, and step by step went that 100 feet. After 100 steps, I actually felt better and knew I could go another 100. In this manner I made my final ascent. It actually turned out to be around 570 steps before I reached the final, final pass. It was such a relief. It felt good. Not in the way good feels, but just good to not be feeling bad.
The guys were waiting for me of course. I would find out later that they had raced each other to the top, competitive even to the very end. Their sweat was now chilling them though, so we didn’t stay long.
I can’t believe it happened, but there was a small part of me that didn’t want to stop. It wasn’t the physical part of me, all those parts were more than happy to quit. Over 10,000 feet and almost 30 miles for the day was enough. I think it may just have been the inertia built up from the previous four days of almost non-stop motion.
It was dry where we started, but then patches of breakable sun crusted snow covered the trail. We punched through up to our knees often and begrudgingly continued on for the final mile or more.
What we did was ridiculous, no doubt. And for that reason I love it. More, there is enormous allure to encountering the unknown and doing something that no one else has done before, just to see if it goes or how it will unfold. I didn’t love the pain and discomfort, but I love the absurdity of it. It makes me smile that someone would conjure this up in their mind and even more farcical that someone would actually attempt it. That’s what this was: many, many, many steps and breaths and moments good and bad over four days in one of the most beautiful mountain ranges on the planet. I’m grateful Jason invited us into his nightmarish daydream.
To do the Ski HR 100 required a ton of logistics and huge contributions from several people. We couldn’t have accomplished this without the help from Mad Dog, Hannah Green, Holly Simmons and Maggie Schlarb. Thank you all!
I’m not sure how excited people are going to be to watch guys walking through the mountains using survival skiing tactics on skinny skis, but I’m looking forward to putting it together and telling this story. Check out Schlarb-Wolf Productions and Jason Schlarb’s blog.
(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.)