Hardrock Visions

Colton, Sawna, and Juniper (dog)

Hardrock Visions 

by Jeff Rome

Sunday, July 9th, evening
Near Silverton, CO

I pull up to the Ice Lakes trailhead and start to get things ready.  Running pack, poles, some bars, camera–the checklist of items has become a routine by now, just like brushing teeth.

Runners are collecting near the trail, and I recognize some faces from trail work earlier in the day (a service in exchange for better odds in the Hardrock 2018 lottery).  There is little need for introduction because we all know why we’re here.  Hardrock is happening, and we want to be a part of it, and make it part of us.  We’re hiking to Grant-Swamp Pass, to check out the course and the pass and Island Lake.  Soon, I learn that the group is largely made up of individuals who traveled here together, all to be part of Hardrock, and melded together.  I’m the only one of us who’s actually lucky enough to be running the thing.

It is sunny for a San Juan afternoon, and we chat as we hike, about running and Craigslist cars and phallic symbols.  Everyone is young, within a few years of me, and we dub ourselves the Hardrock Millenials, a small niche in a very niche event (the average Hardrocker this year is 46).  I’m very grateful to be hiking with a group, after spending several long weeks of running and hiking entirely alone.  And being with such a goofy and attractive group travelling at a leisurely but brisk pace I find myself in very good spirits.

At Grant-Swamp Pass I peer down the marked course to the other, steeper side.  The course is steep enough here that it disappears out of sight until you’re nearly at the edge of the pass, just an orange marker pointing the way to nothingness.  I can feel the weight of Hardrock upon me, and can only imagine how I’ll feel at this point, 85 miles in, but I look back to my new friends and try to forget about it.  This is my time to relax.

We leave the trail on the way back down to visit Island Lake, each letting speed overtake us on the steep grassy slope leading down.  This is it, this is why I came here.  At that point I don’t even care how my run turns out, or even if I finish.  I’m just happy to run down that grass slope with friends and then sit at the shore of a lake.  The island in the middle of the lake, the snow speckled couloirs, the evening light, the wildflowers … the San Juans might have given years of hardship to the miners of yesterday, but I sure don’t feel any hardship now.

Descending from Island Lake


Friends Colton and Tory nearing Grant-Swamp Pass from Island Lake side

Friday, July 14th

I am happy to walk.  This is the 15th hour into a living dream called Hardrock.  I’m walking up a dirt road with a friend/pacer, Erik, I just met 10 minutes ago, and we see no one else around, except the occasional jeep returning from a mountain sunset.  The road is gradual, with flat spots here and there, and will take us most of the way to a pass at 13,100’.  We’re at around 8,000’ and I’m warmest I’ve been all day.  We could run, I have the energy, but it feels good to just walk.  It’s easier to hold a conversation this way.

I had just left the mountain town of Ouray, where I’d been told a key piece of advice from iRunfar editor, Bryon Powell: “Remember to enjoy it”.  It’s getting a little hard to see the boundaries between stone and dirt with the fading light, and normally I’d turn on a headlamp.  But this is different.  The road has few rocks, there are no turnoffs coming up, and we have 11 miles of uphill now and many more to come later.  It makes sense to just walk in the dark.  I keep Bryon’s advice in mind, and look up at the stars.  We keep our headlamps off until Governor’s Basin, two hours later.

Midnight–Kroger’s Canteen

I am happy to drink.  It is just past midnight at Kroger’s Canteen, and Roch Horton hands me a small pot with a light dose of Mezcal in it.  Just enough for a taste.  I generally think drinking alcohol during a run is a bad idea, but this is different.  Everything at Hardrock is different.  The Mezcal warms me and it feels like a communion or a good blessing to drink it.  I drink to feel more connected to Hardrock.

The aid station crew all wear climbing helmets, and I enjoy watching them cheer on others behind us as I eat a pierogi.  Maybe it’s just the helmets, but all the crew have a grittiness to them, written by years in the mountains, and nights at Kroger’s.  Their smiles soften their faces just enough for you to know they’re genuinely happy.

The walls at the pass are snug enough and steep enough that a hammock could be strung between them.  And the slopes on either side of the pass are severe enough and close enough that a hammock in such a spot could be a fright to get out of.  A small band of us arrives (Darcy Piceu, Scott Jaime, Ted Mahon, pacers, myself), but we crowd the space.  For Scott’s 10th time running Hardrock, the crew gives him a $10 bill, signed by all.  It’s a festive environment, but I head off, leaving to head on as much as to free up space for the next runner at the pass.

The crew at Kroger’s

Dawn–Grant-Swamp Pass

I am happy for light.  It is sunrise high in Swamp canyon.  And before us (now with my pacer Simon) lies a big pile of loose rock.  At various points along the course, one can see photographers, always above looking down.  And here, I see one at Grant Swamp Pass.  I try to measure my progress by seeing how much larger the person appears, but this is a mistake.  They stay tiny for a long time.

I begin to think of the photographers as sentinels, and wonder if they can ever see in full zoom the photographers at the next pass over.  I then imagine the scene in Lord of the Rings where fires are lit from mountain pass to mountain pass to send a signal.  And I think that, if something happens to me, maybe that’s what they’ll do.  It is the 25th hour and I’m beginning to think in weird tangents.  The lone figure stays atop the pass as Simon and I make our way from grass and wildflowers and streams to boulders and talus and snow.

Grant-Swamp pass.  The course ascends the light brown patch.

Noon–Silverton High School Gymnasium

Around me are those who helped me through the run.  Sarah, TJ, Simon, Ellen, my parents.  Erik’s working and I think Simon’s dad, Marc, is out somewhere else on the course.  I slowly sip a smoothie and feel unable to do much else.  I can’t eat the pancake in front of me.  My back and hips are sore. My feet are blistered.  It feels so good to just sit and sip strawberry banana.

Luke Nelson came in just after my finish, and said he didn’t know my name, but wanted to congratulate me.  I was too tired to properly respond, and I don’t think I told him my name. Everyone seems genuinely surprised and elated about my finish.  I feel so grateful, but all I can do is sit and sip, and mumble generic responses.  “Thanks, it was a great experience”.  It’s all just too much to put into words.

From left, pacers Ellen, Sarah, Simon, and myself in front.  Photo credit, Mom.


Despite how good resting felt, I was kind of sad to have it end.  It was over, and I was beat, but I wanted to be back up in the high country, moving.  I’d etched a part of the San Juans into myself, out there on the course.  The San Juans were already sacred to me, and now having this memory to overlay on top of everything else, they’ve become part of what makes up who I am.  Hardrockers and the locals have a quality to them I admire, and I can see this same quality in the San Juans.  Certain places don’t allow one to stay there for long without making the landscape an intrinsic part of their personality.

There is a strange dynamic I have with the San Juans of feeling very connected to the land and people, but appreciating it so much that it doesn’t feel real.  It all feels like a dream now, and a dream that I’d love to experience again.  I can only hope that next year I can take part in Hardrock, as runner or volunteer, to be around this community and place that I love.

Nearing Putnam Basin, ~mile 92.  Photo credit, Ellen Silva