Friday 8th: Wow, if you want to choose part of the course that epitomises Hardrock, visit this nationally recognised trail. After crossing Highway 550 (Silverton - Ouray Hwy) on top of the tunnel over the road, the trail climbs steeply. The path is strewn with loose flat, slatey stones of varying sizes, from 50cent piece to dinner plate. You climb 13 steep switchbacks with the slate tinkling like broken crockery under your feet, being careful not to send any rocks down on those below.
Every time I run down this trail (or hike up it), and I can't run down it without a smile, I hear Annie Lennox in my ears ('Walking on broken glass'). We started and stayed with the trail marking team today. With James Varner leading, the pace was much faster than I remembered for marking days. The traditional leader, and course director, Charlie Thorn, brought up the rear.
Once through the switchbacks the trail follows the Bear Creek (hence the name) on the side wall of the steep rocky canyon. The path is literally cut into the wall of the canyon. It is hundreds of feet sheer drop from the trail to the creek. At points the trail is less than a metre wide. Windy and rocky. Twisting and turning, hugging the very face of the cliff. And during the race I will climb this in the dark. At least then you can't see the drop-off. But in the hot morning sun we marched up the twisty trail respectfully. Pausing to take in the view and take the odd photo. Which never really do justice to just how hairy this trail is. One trip and you are gone. The ultimate DNF. On the run back down I joked to Phil: if I go over the edge tell them I died happy, and made someone on the wait list happy.
Once through the tight part of the canyon it opened up to a tree-lined valley plastered with wildflowers. Picture postcard material. After passing through the Grizzly mine site and then the Yellowjacket mine remains we crossed the valley and climbed through the tress to the broad basin that forms Engineers basin.
We had a cliff bar break at the site of the Engineer aid station before leaving the group who were continuing up to the pass and Oh Point, and turning around and running back down the trail.
The return was a treat. We cruised, soaking in this spectacular course. 17km in 4hrs. (O2=94% and HR=67bpm so acclimation coming good.) Only hiccup was when I kicked a tree root and somersaulted onto my back in the long grass beside the trail. This was before entering the canyon so no damage done and really sharpened my focus for the run through the canyon.