3/29/12 to 4/1/12

Aspen Times - "The 15th installment of the venerable race in which teams of two test their grit, equipment and sanity on an arduous trek through the remote Colorado high country between Crested Butte and Aspen."

Link to just pictures:
Elk Mountains Grand Traverse - March 2012

Here we go again, redemption time! Last years DNF weighed heavily on our minds, and it was an easy decision to sign up again this year for the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse ski mountaineering race. Eric got some fast/lightweight skis/boots/bindings, and we each got a ton more training in (since December I got to BC ski ~140miles and 24K). Our families came along as well this year, to hang out and enjoy Crested Butte. We found a sweet deal at the slope-side Elevation Hotel and Spa, while the Dec's were in a house in town. The lack of snow and early Spring weather sure did change conditions over last years. We were as ready as possible for 40miles and 7800ft of overnight skiing between Crested Butte and Aspen.
The Dec's stayed in Crested Butte all week and we drove up on Thursday stopping in Salida for lunch. We arrived around 3pm and while Jean got us checked into the hotel, Eric and I did our racer check-in and gear check, each of our packs weighed in at about 23lbs with all of our gear, food, and water. All went smooth and we scored some awesome schwag from Gore-Tex and OR since they were this years sponsors. Rumor were heard of several miles of dry course and an early start. Back into town for the Art Walk and pizza dinner. Shortly after ordering, Miles burped and spilled his guts all over our table, himself, and the floor. Atleast 3 gallons of puke came out of him, GROSS! I scooped him up and took him to the bathroom for an informal sink-bath, while Jean cleaned up the booth. Fortunately Megan had an extra pair of pants for him to wear and we got our pizza to go. Back at the hotel, it wasn't long before he was puking again... this time milk and PB&J all over the hotel room and bathroom. It was a near sleepless night as Miles was restless and kept coughing, not a good way to start knowing I wasn't going to sleep at all the following night.
Friday morning Miles was feeling much better and kept down some crackers and water. We played in the pool then Jean and Megan took the kids to putt-putt golf and the bungee-trampoline while Eric and I went to the pasta-feed and mandatory race meeting. The amount of time and effort to get this race going each year is epic. ~100 volunteers, course markings, conditions reports, avy safety, medical teams, etc. The rumors were true.... we were going to start at 11pm this year, about 7 miles of the course was dry, and due to private property issues we would start at the ski resort. We decided to bring along running shoes instead of torturing our feet hiking in ski boots. We had a relaxing afternoon, an early dinner, and I unsuccessfully tried to take a nap. At 8:45pm when I was about to leave the room I realized my CamelBak was leaking from a small hole near the tube. I put all my stuff in a trash bag and Jean had the great idea to put my CamelBak upside down in another trash bag, which worked great. Eric and I met at 9pm, we got our medical cards, beacon checks, SPOT check, random gear check, etc... and waited with the other 155 teams for the 11pm start. Shuffling outside was quite fun as there was a Retro-70's party on the balcony above the start! That sure looked like more fun then what we were about to begin.
The usual hoots and hollers, nervous energy, and pro's crowding the front.... then off we went skinning up Crested Butte Mountain Resort. We found our groove and shuffled along with everyone else, warm temps and the climb had Eric and I taking off our gloves and hats pretty quickly. (Through most of the night I wore just a thin shirt with a R1 fleece and vented my pants, but zipped them up and put gloves back on for the descents) After the climb we flew down the corduroy groomed slopes of the backside of Crested Butte Mtn, I wiped out several times as my ski setup isn't real receptive to fast and steep turns. At East Creek was a bottleneck getting across the temporary bridge (aka. 30ft of 12'x2' planks). After about 4 miles we got to the dry spots of sage covered slopes above East Creek. Eric and I strapped our skis and ski boots onto our packs and switched into running shoes. This was a welcomed change as we both prefer running/hiking to skiing! Several miles of traversing dirt/sage while cracking jokes and laughing hysterically. Occasionally we would hop past teams in ski boots and kept making great times. There were two big ravines to cross with steep dirt/snow on either side. We dropped onto Brush Creek Road then crossed the entirely dry "Death Pass" with a couple more stream crossings on either side. There were brief patches of snow and we decided to keep our skis off for as long as possible. Once again, we passed dozens of teams that had to keep taking their skis on and off. We post-holed some, but made great time while climbing up towards the Friends Hut. After about 12 miles total, we were on constant snow and post-holing quite a bit, so we finally put our skis back on. The miles ticked away and at 4am after about 15miles, we were surprised to come up on the Friends Hut check point. This was a huge boost to us, since we turned around before this spot last year.
We were able to ski up for another couple hundred feet, then it was a kick-stepped boot pack up to Star Pass. This was pretty steep and I certainly wouldn't want to fall here. At 4:40am we were at the top of Star Pass happy as could be, everything was going so well and we felt great. A short ski down the backside of Star Pass, contouring along, then another dry spot. I was slightly above Eric and when I unclipped my binding and shook my ski, it took off like a rocket into the darkness below! WTF?!?!?! I yelled to Eric it grab it, but it was too late. I stood there in disbelief as it disappeared. No-freakin'-way did that just happen! I started hiking down through the snow fields and brush praying that I would find it soon. A hundred feet down.... nothing, two hundred feet down.... nothing... the slope kept on going into the valley below and I searched all around. Eric came down searching a different area.... nothing. We started back up and I couldn't believe that I just ruined our race over something so stupid. I stopped one last time and peered around.... what's that shining in a bush? It's about 5ft long, white, and shaped like a ski.... NO WAY!!! There it was, THANK JEEBUS!!!!! Back up to the trail after our 30 minute detour, both skis carefully back on my feet, and onto the Star Pass check point. Next was a steep drop down a bowl towards Taylor River, I would've died if I kept my skis on through here since it was so steep and icy. Once the slope mellowed, my skis were back on and I fell several times and wished I had a fast and controllable AT setup like Eric's.
This next section was quite fun... gentle rollers through the woods for several miles working our way towards Taylor Pass. We passed the time doing impressions of our good friend, Guy. As the sun was coming up we got a huge boost of energy which was quickly deflated since we could see each climb in front of us. The views around were spectacular, can't beat being in the heart of the Elk Mountains. Around 7:15am we topped out on Taylor Pass. The theme of the race continued here.... climb a huge hill, try not to die descending the other side, repeat. We sweated up the short and dry climb towards Gold Hill, descended the steep downhill into Waterfall Gulch, another climb up McArthur Mtn, then joined up with Richmond Hill Road. Around 8:50am we descended to the Barnard Hut check point where there's a 10 minute mandatory stop. The warm Ramen soup was awesome and talking to another team we found out that the worst is yet to come and to expect about 3hrs of pure hell. Lovely! Shortly after 9am we left Barnard and I was feeling pretty grumpy. Eric called me on it and I shook it off the best I could. I was sooo tired and sick of taking my skins off and on. I was tired of the smell of my sweaty gloves hanging off my my chest-strap. I was sick of Gu's. I could barely turn my skis sideways to brake down slopes. Oh well.... time to toughen up sissy and put yer big girl panties on!
We made the best of Richmond Hill Road and found it best to walk some of the uphills then put our skis back on for the downhill, other times I skinned up while Eric skate-skis the flats. Anything that kept us moving forward. Fortunately this worked, and we knocked it it out in just under two hours. We knew we were close to the top of Aspen ski resort once we saw groomed trails and folks cheering racers on. At 10:50am we were at the Sun Deck and just had to descend a few thousand feet to the bottom. Luckily the snow softened up quite a bit and was good ole Spring-time mashed potatoes. A few more falls for good luck and we were sailing across the finish line at 11:23am putting us in 56th place out of 155 teams. Holy crap, we made it! No bonks, no blisters, and we finished laughing just like we started. Another adventure for the books.
We had some beer and chili at the finish and Eric caught a pre-arranged ride back to Crested Butte. I had a few hours to kill before Jean got to Aspen, so I sat on a bar stool at "Little Annie's" while watching the Flyers game and taking full advantage of the "$3.50 beer and a shot special". Of course someone from Penn State worked there and we knew a few of the same people. Jean and Miles picked me up and we high-tailed it to Glenwood where I took a shower and promptly passed out while they went to the hot springs. I woke up just long enough to inhale some pizza and go right back to sleep. Sunday morning I was so sore from head to toe from all the climbing and falling, my triceps hurt so bad I had a hard time cutting a breakfast burrito.
An amazing race that I would recommend to anyone, though its a pretty big commitment given the gear, training, and logistics of the w/end. Yipppeeeeee!