2015 Elk Mountain Grand Traverse
“Never again” I have often thought that I would tattoo this to my forearm. It would mostly apply to reaching for that door of a Chinese buffet, but it would also apply to the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse. It is easy think “never again” many times in the middle of a 40 mile ski race, especially after the debacle of 2014. The “Grand Reverse” struck again as avalanche conditions forced competitors to turn back before Star Pass and wonder on contrived loops in the Crested Butte backcountry until the adequate amount of suffering was achieved and the race could finish back at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. On top of this, I entered the race with a lingering knee injury only to leave with bad frost bite to my toes that would leave them blistering into the summer months.
With my 2014 bitch session over, my friends found it expectantly hilarious that at just passed midnight one registration eve my team was entered into the pool. The race has grown to 200 teams but if you are not registered in that first day you will have to beg a spot from the wait list. What happen to my “never again” decree? I thought it would be a good measure to do it one more time and end on a successful note.
After my first partner’s health prevented her from training she withdrew and I went to my 2012 Power of Four teammate and United States Ski Mountaineering team member Meredith Edwards. Between ultra running and skimo racing she has done long races every month of the year, but this was her first time on the grand traverse course.
The course and conditions were completely different from the previous year. Coverage was thin in the beginning of the race and when it filled it in higher up it was frozen hardpack. The start of the race was a fun and hectic scramble of skate skiing, running on dry ground and the occasional skiing. As per my usual race position, I found us wallowing in between the A and B teamers and once lost the route completely. As I examined the snow for traces of skin tracks another 20 teams caught up to us and followed me up a ridgeline only to see the next check point in the valley hundreds of feet bellow us down a melted out slope.
Once we ran down and slid down the hill to the beacon fire we were into the patch snow of Death Pass and on towards the Friends Hut where coverage finally became consistent. Approaching the Friends Hut, that I could tell something was wrong with Meredith. If you have never done the Grand Traverse, or even if you have, your stomach can be a major issue, the body is not used to digesting food at 3 am, much less only sugar from endless packets of gu. Our pace slowed and our chances of making it Aspen looked grim.
Sun rise over the Elk Mountains.
When beginning the EMGT the goal is not to go to Aspen. More of the journey not the destination mindset needs to be adopted to keep depression from the knowledge of hours of suffering still ahead at bay. I try to brake it down to 3 goals; the top of Star Pass, Sunrise, and just taking the next step forward. This is what I kept telling Meredith and sure enough when that sun crested Richmond Ridge spirits were up and we knew we were going to Aspen.
Meredith and I at the finish line, suns out guns out
The sunrise was beautiful and the weather for the whole race was impeccable. I never once put on a hat to cover my ears and only put on my Flash Anorak Jacket during the descent of Star Pass. The perfectly still starry night had given way to a mild sunny day and gave the top teams the perfect opportunity to shatter records. A team had never come close to the 7 hour mark and in 2015 three teams were well under. I felt great the entire race much different the agony from previous years. It felt like an amazing night tour through one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the United States and left me with nothing but smiles and fond memories and leaves me with another 11 months before I will be uttering "never again" through hours of the night.
The man and rookie of the year at the shop Paul Hamiltion takes it down.
- Doug Stenclik