Day 10 Tuesday 30th South Mineral Creek campground to Putnam-Lime Creek Pass.
I asked the team back home what run I should do today: go with the trailmarking crew involving a 2 hour really rough 4WD ride back from Sherman after marking from Maggie's Gulch or do my own thing. Tim said do the team thing but clearly he had never gone across Cinnamon Pass in the back of Charlie's ute with your face squished up against the back window. Turns out they didn't get back to town until 8pm at night after a 7am start. So I definitely made the right choice by opting out.
Instead I chose to sleep in but was woken at 6:30 by Larry who had arrived in town late last night and was planning on hiking over Handies with a friend. Did I want to come? Ah, no. Not two days in a row. Soon after his wife Beth also arrived to say hello. She had run Western States on the weekend and her toes were a mess of dried bloody pulp. It will be tough for her to recover in time to pace Larry through the nights at Hardrock.
I drove out to South Mineral Creek campground where we had ended our run a few days before. The monster 'RVs' or motorhomes were filling the place up in anticipation of the July 4 long weekend and celebrations this weekend. The plan was to hike up the trail from Kamm Traverse aid station to where I had turned around on top of Putnam-Lime Creek saddle the other day and then run back. Only 4 miles there on paper but I didn't allow for the hike up to the trail-head from the campground, over 2 miles.
I wandered round the campground trying to find the road up the valley. I'm not sure why they call it camping: these Winnebagos are bigger than a regular bus. Some of them tow a full sized 4wd behind them. Their floorspace would rival many apartments and I'm sure the fittings definitely would. Finally I found the road, back where I had started! Oh dear, says a lot for my navigational skills. The road climbed solidly up to the site of KT aid station. This jeep road was ablaze with bright yellow butterflies, flitting about. The many wildflowers were making the most of the clear blue sky and warm morning sun.
I found the trail marked with the characteristic Hardrock flag. I was surprised how far it was up the road and down to the creek crossing. Coming the other way during the race last year I would have sworn the aid station was right there. Through the icy knee deep water. The rocks were slippery but the water was crystal clear. Through the boggy drainage feeding into the creek and I picked up the trail where it disappeared into the pine trees. I felt slow and sluggish. Not helped by the steep grade. Up, up, up. Constant switchbacks. I dug my poles in to haul myself up. A few trees were down across the track and at one point I got off track, despite the markers. I want to be through here in daylight. 90 miles and two days are going to make this climb incredibly tough.
Eventually I broke clear of the dense forest and was confronted by a wall of rocks. An active rock glacier. The huge tongue of rocks extended down from high above. The course skirted the edge of the rocks before diving back into forest. More swampy trail that resembled a stream more than a track. I was climbing again. I did not remember this stretch being so long. Or this steep.
Finally the trail dropped to cross Porcupine Creek and I was in alpine meadow with a view of the climb up ahead. Traversing the steep hill I switched back and forth on rough goat track following the markers until I was scrambling hand over fist up a rocky outcrop. Above was Porcupine-Cataract Saddle wide open at 12,230ft and pass number 12 on the course.
From here I could see all the way across Cataract Basin. The patches of snow were sparse and the melt made the trail boggy. I followed the markers with little semblance of any real trail. Approaching the next climb up to the ridge I could see a runner moving at speed up high. As I started the last climb he descended glissading skillfully down a snowbank. It was Bruce from Canada who ran a great Hardrock last year. After catching up he peeled off through a narrow chute down the steep cliff towards Little Molas Lake where he was camped.
I struggled up to the ridge. I pictured doing this during the race. This is really going to hurt. The air was thin and the footing was poor. I stopped to suck in more air. The race directions mention acrophobia risk here but I was too busy concentrating on getting to the top to care. When I reached the ridge I angled across until I had a clear view of Putnam Basin on the other side. I sat in the warm high altitude sun and had some food. Putnam-Lime Creek saddle, 12,600ft, pass number 13 and the last on the course.
Then the fun part: the long descent. Back across Cataract Basin and I started to find some running legs. Climbing back up to Porcupine-Cataract Saddle I slowed but once over I wound up the pace. Dropping back through the rocky outcrops I was unfettered in the alpine meadow and strode out along the narrow singletrack. Hitting the bog before the creek I sunk ankle deep in mud and nearly left my shoe behind. Through the creek and I was back in the forest running on the most magical singletrack, winding through the fir trees, pine-needle soft footing, switchbacks, rocks to dodge, logs to hurdle, streams to splash through. I was immersed in the trail and nothing else existed. Sometimes you just need to get out alone on the trail to be at one with nature. I can't think of a more perfect trail anywhere. Trailrunner's nirvana.
The jog back down to the car made it 12.5 miles in 6:37, 4:27 up and 2:10 down. Max elevation 12,600ft plus 12,230ft pass. So much for my 'easy' day!