Day 15, Sunday 5th July
Governor's Basin to Virginius Pass (aka Kroger's Canteen)
This is traditionally the last main day of trailmarking. There is time to finish any unmarked sections and do the in-and-out of town parts during the week.
Several 4WDs trucked us all up to Governor's Basin, up the long, long road section out of Ouray. I am dreading that part. At least it will be at night and there won't be any traffic. Those quad bikes really kick up the dust. From the Governor's Aid station the road deteriorates and there are little washouts and some residual snow banks higher up. Far less snow than last year and traversing on the soft snow was easy. It could get tricky at night when everything freezes up, though.
We all spread out, talking race strategies or just catching up. From the mine site the course turns to trail. Well, we use that term loosely round these parts. Straight up the first of three main pitches to the pass. All snow, heavy going as you stomped your foot into the print made by the person in front of you and concentrated on not slipping back onto all those behind you. Reaching the top of the first pitch we could now see the spectacular Virginius Pass. It is little more than a break in a fortress-like saw-tooth ridge. Across the snowbanks of the basin and up the next steep pitch. Not as long as the first but the elevation was starting to take it's toll. All around massive cliffs with scree slopes or snowfields, framed our world. Such spectacular geological formations.
Finally we were at the base of the final climb. It is steep so we angled across from the side in a neat traverse. Each person digging a deeper footprint to make it easier for the next. Much of this snow could be melted by race day and then it becomes a two-steps-forward-one step-back approach in the slippery footing. If not it could also be treacherously icy.
The pass needs to be seen to believed. Even photos don't do it justice, although they give you some idea of the tiny space wedged between two very steep drop-offs. To think a crew packs in a tarp and food for us is unbelievable. We all took photos and had something to eat before launching, literally, off the edge and sliding or 'glissading' on our bums, back down the snow chute. Points were awarded for style, speed and control. And there was a wide variety of all three, (with not much of the latter) making for some great entertainment.
This was repeated down the last (first) pitch where there was some tricky manoeuvring required around some rocks. The blue skies had clouded over and out of nowhere it started hailing so we took off down the road. I backed off, sparing my quads this close to the race. Before reaching the cars the sun was out again, testimony to the variability of the alpine weather we faced.
In true Hardrock tradition most of went into Ouray to soak in the hot springs before all meeting for a Mexican feast.
Governor's Basin to Kroger's Kitchen and return, 5.8 miles in 2:45 (2:01 up and 44mins down)
I have now done 10 of the 13 passes/peaks we cross and seen a fair part of the course. Time to taper.