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Jennifer Hughes April 04, 2014 TWEET COMMENTS 0

My Summer at Camp Hardrock - Page 3

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The starting line of the 2012 Hardrock 100 Endurance Run. Photo by Fredrik Marmsater.

Soon we found out that, like most, we hadn’t gotten in. That year, 844 entrants vied for 140 spots. (The following year, the number would increase to 1,265.) The lottery system, designed by HR board members who work as scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is split into three groups—veterans, never-runs and everybody else—with complicated algorithms for each weighted pool. In the 2013 lottery, the average never-run had only a 5.7 percent chance of getting in—it would drop to 1.4 percent by 2014—whereas the average veteran had a 79.5 percent shot. Elites receive no special favors, and the only automatic entries are the previous year’s first place male and female.

Yet instead of fading, my Hardrock fascination grew. I scoured the internet for beta and learned that each July runners, hikers, crew and pacers, ultra running legends and virgins alike all trickle into Silverton to share the season together in this mountain mecca. In the weeks before the race, groups head out daily to mark the course and learn the route while others participate in work parties to clear and repair the trail, earning extra lottery tickets. The Avon Hotel, and its mysterious proprietor, Tom Burrell, did indeed appear to be a gathering spot in town, but I also read of packs of runners sleeping in their tents and trucks to acclimatize above 10,000 feet.

From my vantage point in wet, wintery Washington, it seemed like Silverton in July was the ultimate trail-running festival. Perhaps it was nothing more than a fantastical idea based on a few blogs, but I needed to find out if my hunch was right.

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Julian Chorier and Dakota Jones tackle Little Giant Pass (13,000 feet) as the leaders early in the 2011 Hardrock. Photo by Frederik Marmsater.

On the Fourth of July, I drove into town in Wilbur with the goal of infiltrating Camp Hardrock. Situated at 9,305 feet and home to fewer than 1,000 people, Silverton feels worn in and comfortable, refreshingly unpolished in the slick manner of nearby towns with ski resort money. No multimillion dollars homes or yoga festivals here, Silverton proudly retains its working-class mining roots. A mosey down the side streets feels like a dilapidated college town—houses that are charming, but funky and forever unfinished, with bikes lying in the yard and skis and running shoes strewn on the porch.

Each afternoon the historic train from Durango chugs into town, providing a few hours of tourist hustle for the ice-cream shops and souvenir purveyors. The main drag, Greene Street, puffs proudly with brightly painted Victorian hotels and old-time saloons. But as the train leaves the station, Silverton relaxes back to its sleepy self.

My first morning, I followed the website’s advice and planted myself on Course Director Charlie Thorn’s front lawn to hitch a ride out to the daily trail work party. By 8:30 I was at the Bear Creek Trailhead with about 30 others, waiting for our marching orders.

A hallmark of the HR mindset is to accomplish great things with little fanfare—a theological antidote to our self-congratulatory culture that posts selfies and stats from every training run. In every HR gathering, you will find newbies unknowingly mingling with pioneers of the sport who are quietly going about their business. It’s easy to assume the aging man with dated hiking boots is a hack, but more likely he’s a hero.

I was introduced to our trail boss for the day, Rick Trujillo, a 65-year-old wiry tower of lean muscle and quick-firing energy from nearby Ouray, Colorado. He grabbed two heavy metal trowels and bounded up the scree-covered trail, but stopped often to show us old mining shafts he’d explored as a kid or point out rock ledges rumored to hide dinosaur fossils. I admired his love of the region, but had no idea I was walking with the veritable inventor of Colorado mountain running.

Later I’d learn that Rick helped design the HR course, went on to win the race in 1996, pulled off five consecutive victories of the Pikes Peak Marathon, and set the record (now broken) in 1995 for climbing 54 of Colorado’s 14’ers in just over 15 days. That morning, to me, he was just an engaging local with colorful stories and a quick step on the climb.

The Bear Creek Trail is a narrow ledge blasted by miners into the side of a vertical rock wall, 100 feet above a canyon below. It’s nerve-wracking in daylight, but most runners will pass through this section in the black of night. We approached a washed-out bend where loose rocks scattered and fell around us.

Suddenly Rick stopped and implored us, “Kids, these mountains aren’t static, just like life. One day it’s here and then it’s gone. You just can’t wait to live!”



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