2023 Hardrock Hundred CCW Race Report - Fire and Ice Year

"Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding." ~Khalil Gibran

Spoiler Opening Paragraph: I am proud to report that I finished the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run in a grueling 40 hours and 25 minutes. This course tested ever fiber of my being (physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually). It is the toughest and most grueling endeavor I've ever done in my life by a landslide. I dealt with extreme personal highs and lows throughout the entire 40 hour journey. It is a race I worried about all year and it actually exceeded my fears. I can't fully explain this experience but I'll try to indulge a bit by sharing my journey.

As if Hardrock isn't already "hard" enough, this year was known as a "fire and ice" year, with record breaking heat juxtaposed with near record snowfall on the course (thanks to a brutally long winter in the San Juan mountains). We had to manage 13 passes/peaks all nearly 13,000 feet and above, and climbed a total of over 6 vertical miles and 102.5 total miles. For reference, that would be climbing at sea level up to the cruising altitude of planes, or sea level to Mount Everest and then another 4,000 feet for good measure. The course was also exceptionally wet because of the heavy winter, and we must've crossed a two hundred plus creeks and streams along with many nasty swampy boggy areas filled with mud. Last but not least, the course traveled counterclockwise, considered a slower and more challenging direction.

Because of the heat and snow, it wreaked additional havoc on the runner's energy systems in what is already a depleting high altitude environment and unforgiving terrain. The heat zapped our energy down in the "lower elevations" (lower on this course is still averaging like 10,000 feet above sea level). Typically these "lower" climate zones are often the key for stocking up on nutrition and hydration as the high elevation spots make it hard to impossible to do so, but the heat made it hard down low as well.

The start was awesome and easy. We ascended to Little Giant Pass and crossed under a snow bridge, delighting in the low level sun and breathtaking views. However, as early as mile 8 on the first steep 3,000 foot descent down to Cunningham Gulch I landed very awkwardly on a rock and hyper extended my left knee, causing a shooting pain and something I had to endure for 94 more miles and 38 hours. On the next super steep climb up Green Mtn I started wheezing and found myself completely out of breath, and deciding this race was way out of my ability zone. I would drop out at the next aid at Maggie Gulch after topping out on Green Mtn and Buffalo Boy Ridge. My knee was tweaked and my respiratory issues were significant. Except my only problem is we were in "no mans" land on this section of the course, above treeline and nowhere to travel except forward. And that is what I did, choosing to block my ambushing thoughts imploring me to quit. Before I knew it, I had arrived several hours later at Sherman aid (mile 30), seeing Kyle Fulmer Eric Lee and Adam Chapman all there to help me. It was wonderful as this was an aid I opted for my crew to not go to as it's a near 8 hour round trip journey. I was getting aid, happy, and feeling like I could do this.

1st Climb up to Little Giant Pass

Snow Tunnel on Little Giant Pass

Sherman Aid w/Kyle: Refueling

The next section was a daunting 4,500 foot climb up to #handies peak, which sits at 14,048 feet and the high point of the course. It was hot for the entirety of the climb, and as 14'ers go, harder and steeper the closer you get. I hit my 2nd low point of the day about 1,000 feet below the summit. Hurled over to catch my breath after a dozen steps. Rinse and repeat. And then I made it to the top. How beautiful it felt to be at the literal high point of the course and to know I just needed to descend and climb short lived Grouse American Pass before descending down to Animas Forks to find my crew Katherine Moore Derek Moore Zhi Jenni Kimber Ryan Smith and 1st Pacer Eric waiting for me. Lots of snow in and around American Pass, and led me to a wrong turn that may have ended my race except my Garmin watch beeped at me to tell me I was off course. Gotta love technology! Made it down to Animas Forks and delighted to see my crew and family and know I would have a Pacer until the end. High point #3 for me.

Animas Forks with my Son Miles - Happy Time

Changing Shoes and Socks w/Miles and Zhi

Parting Words w/Crew Before Leaving

Stuffing Last Minute Items before Departing

Off with Pacer Eric Lee Ready to Tackle the Night

Eric Lee and I climbed up an unusually easier jeep road to Engineer pass, in a glorious sunset. I was feeling very decent and I always love jeep roads given they require much less concentration with footing and you can gather good momentum.

We turned on our waistlamps, then we began what would be the longest descent of the entire course (8 miles and 5,000 feet to Ouray, also the lowest point of the course at 7.7k feet). This section eventually takes you on the Bear Creek trail and has a few miles over a canyon shelf, a narrow trail with steep cliffs/drop offs where a fall would be deadly. There were also tricky turns where the trail was eroded or washed out a bit. I am borderline acrophobic and feared this section for months leading up to the race. Fortunately, this was not as low of a low point given how masterfully Eric guided me down. I focused on hugging the right of the trail, refusing to acknowledge there was a 400 foot cliff plunge just a few feet to our left. Then we were passed it, now close to Ouray. High point #4 for me. I found my night crew Michael Oliva and Estelle, and my 2nd Pacer John Paul Robb waiting for me. It was just a bit after midnight. I hugged Eric and thanked him for such efficient and smart pacing and left with JP.

After leaving Ouray we went up a massive set of stairs and even a cave (wow a cave?!) followed by a long 7.6 mile climb up Camp Bird Rd. to Governor Basin aid. We moved steadily and efficiently here. However, nausea was starting to loom even down at Ouray, and by the time we reached Governors I was sick as a dog. I couldn't drink or eat; I would vomit immediately. Rather than sit in the aid and feel even worse, I decided to just keep moving, albeit slowly. JP and I reached the base of the famed Virginius Pass/Krogers aid station at 4am, and our jaws literally dropped.

The entire Virginius Pass on our side was covered in snow, and the pitches are ridiculously steep. How the hell do we get up to this aid station? I was sick as a dog, and I'm NOT a mountaineer. This was the 2nd time I really wanted to drop out. But like before, where? Walk all the way down to Ouray? So we decided to assess the situation. The first pitch/slope had footprints/steps packed into the hard snow, and you basically needed to just plant your steps/shoes in them and hope you didn't slip and fall down the slope backwards. Scary ass shit for me. Fortunately, JP and I reviewed this section well in advance and knew we needed to bring microspikes as an option. We opted to throw them on as the snow was hard packed and seemed necessary. I took a deep breath and started stepping. I refused to look at anything but each successive footprint I needed to step into. And it worked, as we made it through the first of three pitches. Phew. But then there was pitch 2, which was steeper. This one I needed to trust my microspikes and plant firmly. Fortunately, about halfway up I found a fixed rope. Yes!! I held on tightly with one hand and slowly pulled myself up. JP was behind taking pics and pulled his way up as well. Only 1 pitch to go!

Our jaws dropped yet again when we arrived at the base of the 3rd pitch and saw the Krogers aid and Christmas lights adorned, straight up the snow covered slope. A fixed line/rope was available the entire way. And up we went, one pull and step at a time. Then, we made it. We effing made it!!

Beautiful Starlit Night Sky

Starting the 1st Pitch up Virginius with Microspikes

Approaching the base to the 2nd Pitch up Virginius

Close to the Top of the 2nd Pitch to Virginius

3rd & Final Pitch up Virginius Pass (Fixed Rope Straight Up!)

Top of Iconic Krogers Canteen Aid/Virginius Pass

It was getting to be right around sunrise at the top of the iconic Krogers, and my extreme nausea was replaced by sheer adrenaline and relief. The setting might have been the prettiest thing I've ever seen. High point #5. I now felt like we had crossed a pivotal point of the race, and that finishing was possible and actually in sight. But we also had a very scary 150 foot descent on the opposite end and a 4k foot descent to Telluride. No time to waste up high at 13k feet getting sicker. So, we trudged down, very carefully at first and then enjoyed the trail getting progressively easier. We ran down the steepest street in Telluride (of course, this is Hardrock) and made it into the Telluride aid station. Yes!! Mikey and Estelle were there to help me change out gear for what would unknowingly be an oppressively hot day 2 and arguably the hardest climb of the entire course (4k+ feet up to Oscars Pass). Luckily for me, my nausea was gone and I was fully fueling.

Coming Down the Backside of Virginius Pass

JP and I Arriving into Telluride (Happy)

The climb out of Telluride was something of a fairytale. Beauty that was hard to describe. A billion wildflowers. Rushing waterfalls. Lush lush greenery. However, all of that was tempered by the incredibly steep grade and utterly relentless climbing.

Climb to Oscars with so many Wildflowers (pics do not do justice)

Lush Wasatch Trail

Beauty always tempered by it's Difficulty

We trudged and trudged, making it up to what was essentially a false Pass, where we then did a nice butt slide down a snowfield followed by a sharp right. Where's Oscars Pass? OMG, there it is!! We needed to do one last tricky traverse to get up and over. While much of the section melted, there was a snowfield right up toward the top that we had to cross. Again, I gulped and gasped. Can we trust the footprints? Do we need our spikes? A fall would send you down tumbling a LARGE scree field. High penalty for error. JP and I decided to forego spikes and just plant our feet with intention. I was scared but resolved my brain to just tackle one step at a time. Luckily, we made it through just fine. YES! Oscars conquered!

Butt Sliding down to get to Oscars over to the right of this photo

The descent, however, was otherworldly awful, steeper than steep with loose rocks the entire way. We tried to not slip and fall but that happened a few times. There were also 2 snow bridges built we had to cross through. At the very last step of the 2nd one I slipped and nearly fell down the slope/snow field, but luckily I was able to arrest myself. Phew. We made it down to Chapman Gulch, 5 hours on the section and utterly exposed to the heat. My crew/family was waiting for me along with my 3rd and final Pacer Ryan Smith. I sat down and ate a brisket quesadilla, arguably the singularly greatest food at an aid station I ever had. However, it was HOT, like nasty hot, and I knew the last 2 sections were going to be brutal. I gave JP a huge hug, who just fulfilled an exhausting 26 mile and 10k feet of climbing on the section, and kept me safe and moving forward.

Refueling at Hot Chapman Gulch

My Amazing Wife Zhi Covering my Neck with an Ice Bandana

Giving JP a much deserved hug for a job well done

Last Pic w/JP Before Setting Out with Final Pacer Ryan

Ryan and I set off, and I felt exhausted, slightly sick, very out of breath, and just trying to grind up the climb to the base of Grant's Swamp Pass. We slowly made it to the base, where I would find my jaw dropping for the 3rd time.

Like Virginius, Grant Swamp is a literal scree field that is incredibly steep, and the only way to go in this year's direction is straight up it. Further, we noticed there was also a snowfield three quarters of the way up to the top we would need to navigate to finish it. I was terrified again. My body is beaten to shreds. I can't do this. I don't want to do this. I'm going to fall down the pass. There's no way. I turned to Ryan and let him in on my terrorsome thoughts. Ryan is a no nonsense guy and wasn't entertaining any of it. He quieted my brain and told me exactly what I needed to do. Like everything before, the only thing that matters is one step at a time. Therefore, once again, I started the journey up the pass. What happened next is something nobody on the mountain could anticipate.

I was clumsily making some progress up the pass when all of a sudden I heard an ominous and desperate roar of "ROCK". I looked up and there was a massive rock/boulder flying down the scree field at lightning pace. A runner up in front of me narrowly avoided it, and then it was coming right for me. I quickly jumped to the right, nearly sliding off the pass, and Ryan shouted out a sigh of relief. He told me I missed getting hit by less than a foot. Had that boulder hit me, best case scenario it would have shattered bones in my body, worst case scenario it would've killed me. This made the climb all the more challenging and demoralizing. Ryan found out that many runners were not traveling up the actual intended course route, instead going to the right of the pass. Those runners were also the ones that were slipping and launching huge rocks down the slope to us exposed runners down below. Seeing this, Ryan made me move across the slope to be where the intended route was. This initial transition was loose and rough, and I would slide back with each step. But he was right there with me at my every move, and made sure I kept progressing. We made it over to where we needed to be and I clawed my way up, one painstaking step after another. I reached the snowfield, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was markedly easier than the scree. But the snow was soft and easier to slide, so I just got down on my hands and knees and climbed up those last precious steps. I looked up to a lady cheering my arrival at the top, and Ryan hollering in success.

Island Lake was on the other side, and next to dawn at the top of Virginius this was the prettiest sight/setting I had witnessed. What a major relief to have now officially conquered the worst of all passes.

Top of Grant Swamp Pass w/Island Lake in the Background (Relieved & Exhausted)

The descent not dissimilar to Oscars was steep, loose, and slippery in spots. By this juncture of the race my entire body was just depleted from the efforts and I unceremoniously fumbled my way down to the KT mile 90 aid station. It went on forever, it was hot, but we made it down. No crew anymore until the finish, so we restocked on hydration/fuel before starting the final climb of the race.

Coming Down to KT Aid w/Ryan

It was stifling hot coming out of KT, and I started sweating within seconds. I also found myself utterly unable to breathe going up to Cataract Porcupine, but at that point I just painfully made it happen. We found ourselves in a cross country bowl where we needed to descend and flatten before making our final climb up Putnam Cataract Ridge. While this climb was only 500 feet it was covered in just half a mile, essentially straight up the grassy slope. I listened to Ryan's advice and put my head down, concentrating on reducing my stride length to enable a continuous flow where I didn't need to stop and could gain momentum. It was very slow, but we made it to the top and rejoiced on conquering the last climb. Ryan snapped a photo of me smiling. Just a last huge descent into Silverton to finish and kiss the rock!

Slowly Getting it Done

Nice to be almost finished with climbing

Top of Last Climb - Putnam Cataract Ridge

The descent was expectedly ugly and awful. My body was destroyed. Even worse, I was terribly sleepy. We passed the last aid station (mile 96 Putnam basin) and realized we would not only be seeing the sunset but would likely not finish until 10pm or so. On we went on another technical descent. I fell once and protected my head, and managed to also break my hiking pole another mile down. Fought off the dying urge to sleep on the side of the trail. My previous longest race was 35 hours at Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Painfully slow but steady, we found our way to the infamous Mineral Creek crossing. It was raging and deep (waist plus high), but I held onto the fixed rope with both hands without much issue. We made our final 2 miles back on a trail with a small climb and an uphill dirt road before making a right hand turn down a field into Silverton. I think I was passed by 15 runners on the final 6 mile descent, including 3 in a couple minutes from finishing, but I didn't care. Finishing was the only thing I cared about.

I made it into town, and saw my son Miles eager to hold my hand and run with me down the final finish chute. We did, and 40hrs 25mins later I kissed the rock and hugged RD Dale who gave me the coveted Hardrock finishers buckle. I made it. I was incredulous and beat down to the core, stripped of all layers. My crew, family, friends were all there to hug and congratulate me. It was over.

If it wasn't for the amazing support of my pacers on each of the sections, along with my diligent crew, I strongly believe I would not have made it. These are not pacers, they were lifesavers for me. I'm beat to shreds as I type this 2 days later (sore left knee, swollen feet, blisters, 6 black toes, dozens of scrapes and cuts, nausea a GI that’s still trying to normalize, chapped lips, profound sleep deprivation, and the list goes on) but I'll recover and this experience will last a lifetime. I have joined the privileged list of less than a thousand runners who can call themselves a Hardrocker.

Headed over to kiss the infamous Rock!

Kissing the Rock!

Hugging RD Dale Garland

My wife Zhi and son Miles - My Rock

The Crew (Minus JP) - could not have done this without them!

Special Moment with Miles

No Description Needed - I Live For This!

Departing note: Hardrock has occupied my mind all year since I got selected in December. I've been qualifying to gain entry since 2014. I'm so excited to have this herculean endeavor behind me and move on with my life. My wife Zhi has been nothing less than incredible. She helped me plan this race effectively months in advance, as we ended up using a 2 crew situation. I used 5 pairs of shoes on this race and many other critical items. Zhi got us packed and out back home on a tedious 8 hour drive where I literally couldn't move (and still barely moving). My son Miles will remember this for the rest of his life. I wanted to show him the potential that lives within us all, that he can tap into if he's determined enough. But I'm excited to repivot my life knowing I have the greatest bucket list race of my life completed.


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