Wednesday day 4: Jetlag is killing me. The altitude seems fine but the timezone is wrecking me. So it was a late start today, getting out after 9am. I knew this was folly as the afternoons have been characterised by summer storms and yesterdays deluge was rather impressive. I decided to follow the first sector of the race, Silverton-Cunningham Gulch, despite having already done parts of it and knowing it well. In fact knowing it well makes it more attractive until the rest of the course is marked.
I switched to my old Camelbak to compare with the Salomon I have been using. It was weighed down with 3.5 litres of water but it moulded into my back with a comforting familiarity. I was tired so walked lots on the way out to Arrastra Creek. The heavy rain had swollen the river and there was no chance of crossing the logs without getting wet. I thought of Brett and his garbage bag routine and chuckled as I plunged into the icy water. This is Hardrock, get used to wet feet.
The jeep road up the valley climbed incessantly, winding through the thick fur trees. By the time I broke treeline the clouds had rolled in. The Big Giant mine site looked ominous under the grey sky. Nature was doing its best to reclaim the land and the scattered structures were little more than splintered wood strewn about the site. The upper lake was an inviting opaque turquoise but not frozen over like it had been last year.
Leaving the road onto the goat track I noticed hoof prints in the mud patches. Mountain goat? Whatever it was, it followed the same vague path all the way to the pass, as the fresh imprints led the way. Vague indeed. There were a few small rock cairns but the path was patchy. High above I could see the more defined line cutting across the steep mountain face. This was where I was heading and the hollow between the peaks marked the true pass. The trail grew steep and I struck my first snowbank. Nothing too serious. Last year there had been massive snowbanks here. Looking up the rockslides cut vertical shutes into the cliff face, looking like pinstripes on a dark suit. Not much grew up here, just low grass clinging precariously to patches of moist dirt. Eventually I had to scale one of the gravel shutes, steep and slippery. I looked down and gained an appreciation for the danger of this trail. This is where I had slid on my hands and heels coming down last year in the wee hours of the morning after 95miles. Good thing it had been so dark. My heart was pounding under the effort. I could hear it going a hundred miles an hour in my ears.
Across the last narrow pitch and I was on the pass, 12,900ft. Thunder clapped and reverberated around the cliff walls. Crap. I remembered the words of the weatherman on TV last night saying lightning is one of the biggest killers in Colorado. I scuttled across the open pass, sheer vertical drops on both sides. No sign of the mountain goat. He wasn't that silly. On the Dives exit side of the pass a huge snowbank protruded across the path. Bugger. No way was I tackling that. More thunder. Crap. My meagre Yaktrax (strap-on shoe fittings for traction on ice) were no match for this baby. I spent a few minutes digging into the snow with my poles to help the melting process. I partially slipped and looked back at the void behind me. I realised this was not such a good idea. Another clap of thunder and I was convinced. I was out of there. Back across the pass. Scoot down the first pitch, controlled slide over the talus patch and full tilt down the goat track. The heavens opened and it started pouring. Thunder peeled off and I braced against the reverberations. The shelter of the treeline became my focus. I had planned to descend easily to spare my quads but all that went out the window.
Down, down I went, huge drops of rain pelting me, the wind now icy on my wet torso. The rocky path rising up to meet me. Until finally the trees closed in all around me and I settled into a steady pace over the rock strewn road.
The creek crossing was a blessing as the icy water cooled my aching shins and knees. I paused to let the water work its healing effect on my battered legs. Then the easy dirt singletrack all the way back into town. I crossed the bridge on the edge of town and there was no way I was stopping to soak my legs again. Cold rain was running down my back and the tourists already looked at me strangely, out running in the pouring rain, without also standing in the middle of the icy river.
I should sleep well tonight.
Day 4 15miles Silverton to Dives-Little Giant Pass and return in 5:25. Max elevation 12,980ft 3:45 up and 1:39 down