Is the Highest Hundred Trainable?

Fair enough question, and I’ve wondered myself. Physically, there may not be a “best” training plan to guarantee great results, like you could with a marathon.

Strange things happen in ultra endurance distances and this challenge makes a Hard Rock, or a UTMB look quaint.

But mentally: yeah, you can get yourself pretty ready.

One way I’ve done this is the Tour 14er, which is essentially half of what I propose for the Tour of the Highest Hundred. It’s taken me about three years to feel like I’ve honestly recovered from that tour, but now that I have, I’m mentally starving – ravenous, to go at it again… but this time for much, much longer.

But still, how do you chickity-check yo self before you wreck yo self on a challenge like this?! I’ve crashed and burned before trying what I thought were much easier ultra endurance events, only to see myself pull out of the race mere hours after they’ve started. It’s a giant piece of humble pie.

So, I looked at the hardest part of the the Tour of the Highest Hundred – the part where, when I mapped everything out, I still thought, “there’s just literally no way I can do this“:

The Weminuche Throwdown

Nine mountains, almost 50 miles in length, with a, “the Hell with that” 33,000 feet of elevation gain – to keep on target to hit my 60 day (or less!) goal, I would have to complete this section in less than five days.

The math to pull this off is tight.

It became clear that I had to give myself a physical test. This week was the week of my birthday, so how about a Birthday Challenge? Something to closely match the length and elevation gain of the Weminuche..

Let’s “Everest” the local hill, Green Mountain!

And long story short (a complete writeup is in the works, as I recover!), that’s exactly what I did. In 27 hours, I gained around 31,000 feet in 56 miles by doing 13 laps up and down the local hill. See it yourself on Strava:

https://www.strava.com/activities/949786262

My optimism to do a similar feat with well over four times the clock time is now stratospheric. What first seemed impossible still seems, well: difficult, but at least seems realistic, so long as I continue to train my body intelligently.

I have about 90 days to continue sharpening my knives.

I am excited.

Bikepacking Route to Leadville!

One of the things that makes this project so amazing to work on (and eventually complete!) is the dual (at least!) nature of the adventure: you have to ride some challenging terrain, and once you’re in that rhythm you’ll have to stop as it’s time to change things up and go for a backpack.

Mapping out the cycling part of this is a challenge in itself – so many places to visit (about a 100 let’s say!)

I’ve mapped out the bikepacking route ’til Leadville plus visiting Mt. of the Holy Cross/Holy Cross Ridge + Sherman, but after that, the Sawatch are composed of so many different mountains needed to be summited and many (the majority?), of those mountains are ones I’ve never even thought about before.

Even with my experience of doing the Tour 14er and recon’ing for Nolans, I’m at a little bit of a loss on how exactly to start.

Should be a wonderful challenge!

(click the image below for a larger-sized map):

Mapping Out The San Juans

The San Juans hold almost a third of the entire Centennials to be visited on the Tour of the Highest Hundred. The mountain range itself is spread out in a massive area, where roads are few, and approach is time-consuming.

Going into the San Juans with a plan will help ensure success in this range. Here’s my draft on my tour notes:

San Luis/Stewart/Phoenix


https://www.strava.com/routes/8124190

 

The San Juans are approached from the east, and are visited after completing the Sangres. The first town you’ll travel to, after the relatively mellow ride across the San Luis Valley will be Del Norte at the edge of the range, then Alpine, then Creede. Any of these would work well for a resupply, but Creede is closest to the trailhead(s) we’ll need, as the Centennials to visit are north/northeast of town.

My itinerary for this group is to try to do them in one trip starting from the West Willow Creek trailhead. San Luis/Stewart are obvious linkups, but “Phoenix” is somewhat an outlier in the group. My plan is to drop back to the CDT, then keep going south, following the ridgeline until I hit the bump that is, “Phoenix”. I’m hoping that this ridgeline will go, but I doubt I’ll have time to do any proper recon beforehand. The other option is to do “Phoenix” separately, using a more standard route for the peak, beginning at Phoenix Park Trail.  I’ve mapped out the route, and it’s less mileage to link it up with San Luis surprisingly – even without adding in the time to ride out from West Willow Creek trailhead, then ride to Phoenix Peak Trail. Given the mileage of all this, I may bivy near the CDT after San Luis/Stewart, then going for “Phoenix” the next day. I remember on my 14er tour getting be-nighted on San Luis, with a beautiful sunset on the summit itself.

The hiking alone on this route is almost 30 miles, 11,500′ of elevation gain, so it’s quite the trip for three peaks, even if the terrain is relatively benign. Rocketing down to Creede to eat everything in sight is a nice thing to look forward to.

Rio Grande Pyramid

https://www.strava.com/routes/8208965

Once the Creede group is finished, it’s an easy highway riding to the Thirty Mile Campground TH of Rio Grande Pyramid – this trip should be a nice recovery from the last three peaks. Hiking: ~8.5 miles, ~5,200′ elevation gain.

Lake City to Silverton

More (boring) highway riding the Lake City, but that’s soon to be replaced by the Alpine Loop: chunky, loose, dusty, crowded, and filled with 4WD drive enthusiasts. Stressful riding, and any hope to recover on the bike will be dashed, as the mountain passes that one has to cross over on the route exceed 12,000 – and sometimes 13,000 feet.

There’s many entrance points into the Alpine Loop system from Lake City, and two we’ll be using on this route: Lake City to Silverton, or Lake City to Ouray. It’s even possible to start on one, then cross over to the other halfway through, but in this walkthrough, I’ll keep it simple, and just describe going from Lake City to Silverton, then going from Ouray back to Lake City (then out of the San Juans, finally, into the Elks).

This will tour the San Juans in a general clockwise direction – mostly to visit the Weminuche sooner rather than later – but there is some flexibility, just in case the weather looks dire.

The first two mountains to be visited will be Half Peak and Jones, both from the Cuba Gulch “TH”. Then, it’s up the road for a peak bagging marathon: UN 13,832/UN 13,811/Redcloud/Sunshine and then on the other side of the road: Handies. I’m visiting Handies from this side, rather than on the American Basin side, as I may make it a requirement to follow the 3,000 Foot Rule (or some sort of modification of that rule, and the America Basin TH is just too high. The 3,000 Foot Rule isn’t realistic to enforce for the Centennials (start 3,000 feet below the summit of the peak when hiking) – but perhaps changing it to, “You must start at a trailhead/spot 11,000′ feet or lower” makes more sense. Or not. I haven’t collected the data of elevation points of all these trailheads to make a great opinion about the matter yet.

Weminuche

https://www.strava.com/routes/8165806

Then, down Cinnamon Pass to Silverton. A quick “rest” and it’s down to the Weminuche, which I’ve described a bit in detail on my last post, Taming the The Weminuche Throwdown.

It can’t be understated just how hard this section will be: 9 peaks (Vestal/Jagged/Pigeon/Turret/North Eolus/Eolus/Sunlight/Windom/Jupiter), 49+ miles, 33,000’+ elevation gain, over many days. This will be the longest, hardest, and most remote part of the whole tour in an already challenging range that’s itself only a chunk of the entire parcours. Onwards!

Wilson Group

https://www.strava.com/routes/8194604

After a short reprieve in Silverton and a quick bop to Vermillion Peak right outside of town, it’s a nice ride to the Wilson Group via Ophir Pass. The Wilsons comprise four peaks, three 14ers (El Diente, Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak) and a 13er (Gladstone). The rock is horribly loose, but with an early start, this group should go relatively easy, barring any monsoon storm.

Dallas/Tealkettle/Sneffels

From the Wilson Group, it’s time to ride into Telluride. Dallas Peak can be accessed right from town, then it’s a huge traverse over Imogene Pass (13,000’+) to access Teakettle and Sneffels. Dallas is only 2 miles from Sneffels, and although I would like to access the peak from the same trailhead, it doesn’t seem that that’s a reasonable option.

Wetterhorn/Uncompahgre

https://www.strava.com/routes/8208247

Once the preceding mountains are cleared, it’s time to visit Ouray, then back on the Alpine Loop towards Engineer Pass and to summit Wetterhorn/Uncompahgre. In my draft of the hiking route, I’ve made a shortcut back to the TH by going up and over Broken Hill. I haven’t scouted this, but it cuts down a few miles, while also only adding a few hundred feet of elevation gain. May be worth it. From the summit of Uncompahgre, the proposed shortcut does not look very inviting.

Done!

And if you can believe it, that finishes off the San Juan Centennials, back at Lake City, and now the adventurer is most likely completely disorientated from the circular route. To keep with the aggressive schedule of finishing the entire tour in less than 60 days, this section has to be completed in 15 – 18 days.

 

Taming the The Weminuche Throwdown

For me, the Weminuche Centennials will be the crux of the entire route,

The statistics give me some pause:  9 peaks, 52 miles, 28,000 of elevation gain: 

https://www.strava.com/routes/4479280

Starting at Highway 550 on top of Molas Pass, follow the Colorado Trail for a few miles east, before turning south into Elk Creek Drainage to climb the first of nine peaks, Vestal (via Wham Ridge). Then, onward south to Jagged Mountain, west to Pigeon/Turrent, then south again collecting the Chicago Basin 14ers and lone 13er: Jupiter. For peaks: you’re done. Now it’s just a hike back on much more easier ground, following the trail out of Chicago Basin to the Animas River, than North on the Animas to your starting point. From Chicago Basin, that alone is 18 miles of mostly relatively easy, flat hiking.

The majority of this route is off-trail, there’s some technical climbing, and no matter how you slice things, it’s going to be a multi-day effort. To fit into my goal of finishing the tour in less than 60 days, I’ll have to get through this entire section in five.

I’m not even sure how I’m going to be able to bring along that much food + sleep system in the UL gear I’m bringing (a Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest most likely).  I may have to opt for a UD Fastpack, instead,

 

The more efficient the route, the less food I need to take, the faster I can hike through this all. To add to this, weather usually deteriorates in the afternoon, so even if I wanted to pull an all-nighter or two, that may not be possible, as I’ll be stuck up high in an electrical storm.

But wait, there’s actually an even bigger problem: once you’ve hiked out onto the Animas River, the hiking trail only goes a little ways farther to the Needleton stop of the D&S Railroad – then it’s all train tracks for almost 10 miles until you’re back at the Colorado Trail! That poses a huge problem since the railroad has right-of-way of the tracks and the land immediately surrounding it.  It would actually be trespassing on railroad property to hike the railroad tracks.

Since I’m going for an FKT of the challenge, this part of route (follow the train tracks!) doesn’t seem to me to be appropriate, as it would violate one of the major rules I’ve given myself: Don’t break the law, follow all backcountry rules and regulations.  This rule is put in place to keep the challenge open to all and sustainable for others to do – what’s the point of an FKT challenge if there’s a good chance to get caught breaking the law and fined?!

There’s tons of other, legal resources to leverage, I’ll have to work around the railroad’s right-of-way.

Playing around with building another route, one idea is to make this an out-in-back:

https://www.strava.com/routes/8165806

Surprisingly, this route may have some advantages:

Less mileage. Roughly, this route is actually ~3 miles shorter than walking out of the Chicago Basin west, then north following the Animas. Since there’s no trail on the Animas, you’re not actually trading trail for off-trail, but there is a considerable amount of elevation gain difference making this an out-in-back – around 5,000′ more. Yikes! That’s going to sting.

More flexibility. There are so many peaks to summit and so many unknowns in terms of weather, timing, how I’ll feel, etc. One of the bigger stresses I will have to deal with in general is needing to take on a peak tired, with deteriorating weather, not really feeling comfortable with doing something technical, miles away from the next human being.

If I get rest and wait it out, I may run out of food (because I’m bringing only what’s necessary), which will hurt me later on in this section. So the urge is to push things a bit. It’s a speed run.

With the original loop route, you only have one chance to go for it – you won’t see the mountain, again!

With the out and back, you do have some flexibility. Say, you hike into the CO Trail, and in a couple of miles, you’re in the middle of a hail storm? Let’s skip Wham Ridge and keep hiking on towards Jagged Mountain – maybe the weather will improve the next day? You could do this for the entire trip into Chicago Basin, if needed!

A day or two of rain showers isn’t ideal, but it may mean two days of avoided downtime if you play your cards right. You could also leave food caches to pick up on the way back – a few pounds off your back can make a big difference! You could even drop your main “pack” on the other side of Twin Thumbs and do the entire Chicago Basin unimpeded – that could save hours of lugging up and down gear.

So, even if hiking the train tracks is OK-ish, this may be the way to go. The only other major option would be to break this trip up into two trips: one just for Vestal/Wham Ridge, and one for everything else. You would approach Vestal via Molas Pass, and the rest from Purgatory TH. The hike in from Purgatory is not short, and the total mileage of breaking this up into two trips would be considerably greater.

Still, it’s a fallback option.

Bikepacking Route Draft: Boulder -> Silverton

https://www.strava.com/routes/8026802

Route development is a huge part of this project, and optimizing the route to work well with getting to the trailheads of the peaks, for resupply,  to be an interesting route to ride, while also being safe to ride are all important considerations. I’ve started mapping out a logical route.

Some highlights (the entire route is subject to change, feedback welcome!):

Starting from Boulder

I live in Boulder, so starting here makes logistical sense. For the 14er tour, I started in Golden at the footsteps of the American Mountaineering Center which I liked because of the tie-in with the trip itself being a mountaineering challenge. I’m going to move the start to Boulder on this trip to simplify things. I’ll be starting early – very early in the morning, and getting myself and my bike a ride to a different start other than the back door of my house can be a little touch-and-go. The finish is the same as the start in this challenge anyways, so one less issue to deal with at the end.

Once I start, it’s a straight shot south, with a quick stop for Pikes Peak before heading to Culebra/Red. A Culebra visit has to be reserved in advanced – well in advance, and that date has to be hit exactly.

In the 14er tour, I first visited Pikes, then the entire Crestone group, and then even Lindsey, before I planned to go to Culebra. This proved problematic, especially since the Crestone group is complicated – and the Centennials version even more so. The chances of failing at one or some of the peaks is a possibility and then, what do you do? Go back to the Crestones afterwards?

In the 14er tour, I gave myself a ton of extra time before Cuelbra – almost to much, and was hanging around for so long that I bought a ticket for a closer day to speed the trip up just a bit – an expensive optimization.

In this revision, I can gauge how long it will take to ride from Boulder, to Culebra, with a quick stop at Pikes pretty easily, and I don’t think weather would slow me down all that much.

The most convenient choice would be to start at Culebra, but who wants to end there? (Answer: not me).

Once Pikes + Culebra/Red is finished, the tour really begins. The next two mountain groups are in the literal meat of the whole adventure.

Sierra Blanca/Cestone Group

The Sierra Blanca group summits seven different peaks, includes the Little Bear/Blanca Traverse, as well as descending Gash Ridge:

https://www.strava.com/routes/4479171

The Crestone Group is also no slouch, with an enormous route with seven peaks, and a few technical bits – all of which would be bad to bee in the middle of in adverse weather.

https://www.strava.com/routes/8016872

The bikepacking route from Culebra, to the Sierra Blanca and Crestone group is pretty boring – the only interesting bit that may have to be worked out is if I can go through Great Sand Dunes National Park. That may be able to cut some time/distance, rather going around. Seems like there’s plenty of resupply opportunities.

To Creede

After the Crestones, it’s out west to the San Juans, resupply is readily available in Del Norte, Alpine, and Creede. It’s a long haul – over 100 miles, in not very interesting terrain, but what can you do? In the 14er Tour, I decided to approach Alpine via the Platoro and go north via the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. A great route to take, but that was a huge time expense, and wouldn’t be very practical for this trip, being so north of Platoro after the Crestone Group. I was briefly considering tagging Mt Ouray – the most southern Centennial Sawatch, before heading to the San Juans via the GDMBR/Marshal Pass, but it’s just not working out mileage-wise to go up north, just to go back south.

Once in Creede, there’s one 14er, and two 13ers to hit up (San Luis, Stewart, “Phoenix”), then a huge ride to Lake City, broken up with visit to far-off Rio Grande Pyramid. Between Lake City and Silverton, there are a number of hills needed to hit up on the road up and over Cinnamon Pass:  Half Peak and Jones Peak, which essentially share the same trailhead, then Red Cloud/Sunshine, UN 13,832/UN 13,811 + Handies across the road. It’s a few miles to Silverton for R+R and BBQ.

Boulder to Silverton is a huge push – cycling alone is 610 miles, and 33,000′ of elevation gain. Twenty-six peaks in this project will be visited. To stay on target to finish the project in less than 60 days, Silverton will need to be reached around Day # 16. Being approximately a quarter of the whole adventure, it gives a rough estimate on how long the the entire ride will be:  132,000′ in elevation gain, in 2,440 miles. And again: this is just the cycling!