Hardrock is a legendarily “wild and tough” 100 mile loop through the San Juan mountains of Colorado. With 34,000ft climbing, a summit over 14,000ft, most of the course far from towns or highways and an average elevation of 11,186ft, it is one of the most challenging ultramarathon loops in the world. To do it in winter… no one has.
After a couple years of stealing away to the southern hemisphere during winter (Patagonia and New Zealand), it is time to toughen-up and take SchlarbWolf to snowy mountains: we are making an attempt on a winter Hardrock 100 Mile. While this SchlarbWolf film will be different in that we will be skiing, not running, it follows the same theme of great friends exploring the world’s most beautiful mountains via self propelled endurance adventure. “Skiing the Hardrock 100” will capture the enormous challenge, fun, drama, friendships and beauty of attempting to do the Hardrock 100 in winter.
My wife Maggie in front of the “Hard Rock”
We will make our attempt of a winter Hardrock loop on lightweight ski mountaineering equipment. Skimo equipment allows athletes to travel fast and light over long distances of alpine terrain. Skimo has become a popular winter alternative for trail and ultramarathon runners in the last several years with big name athletes such as Mike Foote, Anton Krupicka, Rob Krar along with others competing in races. Skimo races continue to grow in the US along with up-hill skiing at resorts. In Europe the sport is far more established, popular and has seen the runner to skier migration in even greater numbers.
Scott Simmons on course
While I have skied at resorts and in the backcountry my whole life, I am not a professional Skimo athlete. Last winter and this winter I have been learning the ropes and doing my best to become proficient at traveling light, fast, far, and most importantly, as safe as possible, in the mountains. I do not have the experience with regards to snow safety and general familiarity of the San Juan mountains (the mountain range that Hardrock travels through) to lead an attempt on such a huge project like skiing Hardrock. Enter the lynch pin of our mission: Scott Simmons.
Paul and I
There is literally no one person better equipped and experienced for leading a ski around Hardrock than Scott Simmons. Scott would be the last person to tell you he is the man, but he is. Scott Simmons has been skiing the San Juan mountains for over 20 years. Scott was the 2013 North American Skimo Champion, is a 3 time US National Skimo team member and won and set the course record last year at North America’s biggest Skimo race, the Grand Traverse (40 mile one-way race from Crested Butte to Aspen). Along with Scott, we will have his Grand Traverse team member Paul Hamilton. Paul is one of the best Skimo athletes in the US as well, after just starting the sport last year. Paul is also a successful ultra-marathon runner and fellow teammate with Altra footwear, Smartwool and Ultimate Direction. Our final team member, who will also be filming the project in addition to skiing the loop, is Noah Howell. Similarly to having Scott as our team leader, there is no one in the North America with a better resume to film this project than Noah. Noah is an amazing mountain athlete, has a long skiing resume of big and gnarly ski missions and has shot, produced and edited some of the best backcountry ski films ever (PowderWhore 1-7). Just like Scott and Paul, you won’t find Noah telling you about his accolades either. Unfortunately, my best friend and partner in SchlarbWolf productions, Jeremy Wolf, had to bow out of this year’s project due to a move and new job this winter, but he is bailing mostly because he was pissed we weren’t heading somewhere warm to film 😉
While snow can make descending fast and fun, it also slows us down… a lot. There is a great deal of extra equipment that will be necessary for our trip in addition to standard backcountry ski and safety equipment. Ice axes, ski and boot crampons, harnesses and rope will hopefully stay in our packs most of the time, but will be necessary to bring. We will have winter weather and temperatures to deal with, the days are short and we will be traversing a lot of snow (mostly un-tracked) in a variety of snow conditions. The trails are buried, there are no aid stations or course markings and while getting turned around during the Hardrock race is common, for us it is even a bigger concern with much, much bigger risks. In addition to all of the above, dangers of avalanche, steep ice and snow, falling, crashing and equipment failure makes skiing Hardrock a very serious and arduous expedition.
Bear Creek into Ouray
I’m pretty confident it wouldn’t be possible to ski Hardrock in 48 hours and it certainly would be unbelievably dangerous. Our goal is to make an attempt on skiing Hardrock while pushing our physical limits, but only in a controlled, calculated and safe team approach. We also want to and are going to have fun. After talking to a number of people and tapping into their knowledge, coupled with Scott and I scouting the course over the last three months, we have come up with this plan of attack:
We will attempt to ski Hardrock in a counterclockwise direction over four days and three nights. Our first night will be a supported tent camp at Sherman (outside of Lake City), the second night will be spent in Ouray followed by a shorter day to Telluride and then a final push back to Silverton after staying the night in Telluride.
Without support and the right gear, our project would never be a possibility:
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