Thursday Day 5: There are 3 Bear Creeks that are crossed or followed on the Hardrock course. Today I chose to follow what we call 'Silverton Bear Creek'. The trail across from Kamm Traverse checkpoint forms the last leg of the counter clockwise course. I trapsed up the hill out of town past the Miner's Shrine and out along Nutes Shute that parallels Hwy 550. I crossed the highway and slid down the embankment to Mineral Creek where a rope is stretched across the river for race day. Only the rope hadn't been strung out yet. And the creek looked rather fast and furious. Oh, come on, I thought. It's not as bad as last year when I crossed it one afternoon chest deep clutching the rope for dear life. But then I remembered how some guy last year tried to cross without the rope and got washed a mile down stream. Crap. If I don't cross then I have to go back over the same ground as yesterday and I'll spend the whole day feeling woosy. If I do go and make it I'll spend the whole day worrying that the afternoon snow melt will swell it even higher and I'll be trapped. Double crap. I knew I had to do it.
In I went. Instantaneously the current pulled at my legs. The waves swashed high up my thighs. I inched sideways slowly, trying to find footing on the slippery rocks and maintain balance. Deeper and further out towards the middle. Then it got too much. It was getting deeper and I couldn't hold onto my poles. My feet kept slipping. The current was pushing at me. I backed up and dragged myself back up the bank.
Crap. I sat on the side of the highway and watched the water for a while, defeated. A bus zoomed by on the wrong side of the road. Oh no, I was on the wrong side. Bloody left-hand drives. I realised I was in more danger sitting and watching than doing. Fear is a funny thing. You don't like to admit that it gets to you but it does. That is what I love about Hardrock: it constantly challenges you. You often need to look deep and question yourself. And that is what I did. I had to cross that creek.
Back across the swampy bank and into the icy torrent. I braced against the waves and shuffled my feet firmly through the rocks. The turbulence rocked me but I just dug in and pushed on. Deeper and stronger until there was no turning back. And then I was clinging to the other side and climbing the steep bank. I looked back, adrenaline pumping, and wondered what all the fuss was about.
The trail disappeared into a thick pine forest. I took a couple of wrong turns, following well beaten horse tracks. There was a trail riding place downstream. Finally I was climbing. Even still the trail was cut up by horse hooves. As I rounded a bend a horse jolted sideways in fright. The lady explained he thought I was a bear. Not quite but nice reminder. I let them pass.
Spruce trees opened into a grassy clearing with lots of knocked down old trees tangled on both sides of the trail. Strangely they were tilted uphill, unlike typical avalanche debris that gets pushed down hill. I looked across the valley and there carved deep into the side of the brooding basaltic monolith that is Sultan Mtn, was a huge avalanche shute. These dead trees around me were 'blowbacks' from the impact of avalanches across the other side of the valley. I could not fathom the scale of nature out here. This place is at once intimidating and inspiring.
The trail continued climbing up the valley interspersed with more clearings from past avalanches and rock falls. The horse hoof holes stopped once the trail hit a big rock slide. I was out in the open now with spectacular views up and down the valley. Above the treeline snow banks appeared and it was getting cold as the clouds closed in. I stopped to put my jacket on as the rain came down. I could see the saddle marking the highpoint of the trail. I was getting edgy as thunder could be heard in the distance. I crested the ridge: false summit, I wasn't there yet. More thunder. More rain. More climbing. Then the earth opened before me. 12,450 ft, Putnam-Lime Creek pass. I turned and ran hard over the alpine grass, sliding down the snowbanks, across the boggy patches and back down into the valley. I hoped to have half this speed on race day.
And then the creek. All way down I was thinking how the rain would be feeding the creek. I got to the bank and burst out laughing: the rope had been strung.
Silverton-Putnam-Lime Creek Pass and return 15.07miles in 6:02, 4:03 up and 1:58 down, max elevation 12,450ft