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Elk Mountain Grand Traverse

post #1 of 2
Thread Starter 
An interesting write-up by a young reporter I met on a winter climb last year. Fun stuff! He's based in Colorado Springs.


Grueling race and chalky drinks team up to challenge reporter


The low point of training for the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse came during a sideways snowstorm at 11,600 feet when I gulped down a bottle containing a calorie-loaded “chocolate-flavored shake” designed to perk up frail octogenarians.

It was chalky and vaguely slimy — a sinister mix of Yoo-hoo and Flintstones vitamins. And not only did I like it, but I also really, really wanted another.

What had this race done to me?

The Elk Mountains Grand Traverse is the mother of winter races in the Rockies. It starts tonight in Crested Butte and sends skiers on a 40-mile backcountry ski over 12,300-foot Star Pass and down Aspen Mountain to the finish line in Aspen.

It’s not the type of race you do just to get the T-shirt.

Competitors start at midnight so they can cross the most avalancheprone spots before the sun hits, and are required to ski in teams of two in case one person gets buried.

In stormy years, teams have slogged through 30 inches of fresh snow. In warm years, they’ve waded waist-deep creek crossings. One year two racers were helicoptered out with frostbite.

The mandatory packing list includes avalanche beacons, shovels and anything an unplanned night above treeline might dictate, including a stove, sleeping bag and pad.

I always got a shiver of pleasure thinking about the sheer masochism of Elk Mountain because I never thought I’d do it. Then, in January, one of my oldest friends, a ski patroller named Hunter, called to tell me he had signed us up.

Goodbye shiver of pleasure, hello chocolate-flavored old-person drinks.

From talking to veterans, we knew the key to crossing the finish line was eating constantly. And the key to eating constantly was having food you want to eat.

I figured we would need about 10,000 calories to get over the mountains, but did that mean bringing 38 Snickers bars? Twenty-five PB&J sandwiches?

We ruled out packing 43 Power Bars since a cold Power Bar is as hard to chew as a penguin beak.

After several practice trips, we
drew up a menu stressing variety — corn nuts, cookies, energy gel, sandwiches, and (on recommendation of a marathoner I know who said “nothing works better”) chalky, chocolatevored octogenarian shakes.

Tonight we’ll line up with our bags full of food and our head lamps flashing in the dark, and we’ll try to keep a steady pace, not stopping until we reach Aspen at noon Saturday.

I’m not worried about Hunter lasting. He was my tent mate on a climbing trip in the Andes when I got a brutal case of Third World indigestion. During the week I didn’t leave the tent, I read two thick books by novelist Ayn Rand with the recurring message that talented white men should stop sniveling about fitting in and get busy doing their white-man thing. By the end I was babbling about “rational self-interest” and “the tyranny of society’s low expectations.” I even may have accused my tent mate of being a “creeping socialist hyena.”

And he didn’t smother me with a sleeping bag or even move out to camp with the nearby llama herders. The man has resolve.

But what about me?

I’ve never skied 40 miles. I don’t like to stay up past midnight.

A few days ago, I called the race director, Jan Runge, to ask if she had any tips to make the race easier, and she just started laughing.

I can imagine a point will come, 30 miles or so into the race, when I’ll collapse trembling and cry for a nap. And I hope Hunter will come back and give me a slimy chocolate shake and a swift, Ayn Rand kick in the butt.

Visit the Out There blog, gazetteoutthere.blogspot.com, on Sunday to find out how things went.
post #2 of 2
It was hard and fast again this year. 5 seconds between 1st and 2nd on an 8 hour course is amazing. The top guys have it pretty good coming down the front of Aspen Mountain on fresh groomers. Some of the late finishers were really getting worked by the slush, later in the day.
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