Each stage seems to be more fun than the last. And bigger. We had 30+ tonight and there seemed to be such a glow of positive energy all over Dinosaur Mountain. Afterwards, I didn't want to leave the "after party" at the trailhead. I felt a kindred spirit with everyone there. The Tour de Flatirons is, to my knowledge, unique in the world. To be fair, there isn't many places that could stage such an event. The Flatirons are just such unique, magical rocks. I love them. And I love this group.
My new best buddy this year is Danny Gilbert. We're so evenly matched that it makes every event so fun for us. I hope everyone in the Tour has a close rival as well. The difference with the Tour last year and this year, is the numbers. At no point during this entire hour-long stage was I not very close to another scrambler. This doesn't feel like a boring, painful time trial. This is a very exciting, very fun, and, yes, very painful race. I try not to use the "r" word, but I can't help it here. These things are an order of magnitude more fun than a trail running race, precisely because of all the different skills necessary for these courses.
Driving to the start I had a mixture of dread and excitement. Dread for the pain to come and fear that I wouldn't have the toughness to endure the pain and my friendly rivals would leave me far behind. Excitement because, in the end, it's the most fun I've ever had racing.
I got there early and jogged just a little with Matthias to warm up. I had a lap up Green Mountain in my legs from the morning and I felt heavier and more sluggish than usual. A huge group (thirty is huge for the Tour) massed at the start and I gave some final reminders. Page, Angela, and Brad had taken off a bit early and would be some carrots to chase.
Here's the course description I sent out to the group:
A couple of key notes:
1. Once you downclimb off the backside of the Front Porch head immediately west, to the right of a very large boulder. Don't head down between the boulder and the backside of the Front Porch. Down that way is a ground nest of hornets/wasps/yellow jackets. If you go west, just a few tens of yards, you'll be against the Lost Porch. After you descend a bit you'll re-intersect the normal descent trail and should be fine. EVERYONE needs to do this, as once those stingers are stirred up, they'll range far and wide. The first guy through will be fine regardless, but the rest of us won't be.
2. After descending off the Hand ( you must touch the very summit) and doing either the exposed chimney/arete slide down or the tunnel, head DOWN. The rock immediately south of the Hand is Der Freischutz. You'll goal is to descend down between these two back to the Mallory Cave Trail. Once on the ground you'll see a pine needle covered, steep, loose gully that will quickly lead to a steep, smooth slab. Because of the danger from rockfall from above NO ONE can climb down this slab. Instead, once you get to the rock slab, head to descender's right and get on a rib/ridge of rock that you can downclimb to the ground. The climbing here takes some care, but not too bad. You are safe here from any rocks from above. Once down this climb, follow your nose and the faint climber's path down to the Mallory Cave Trail.
Full Course Description:
As usual, it is highly recommended to preview this course to make sure you locate the start of each rock. It starts with the usual route on the Front Porch - NOT TipToe Slab. This route is just right of a prominent gully/canyon and I think almost everyone knows it well. Once off the downclimb (and avoiding the wasps), you'll head down the trail until you can see the saddle off to the right. Climb up to and over the saddle and then down to the Mallory Cave Trail. Head up that, staying on the regular trail, until the very base of Sunnyside II. Climb up that and off the back side. We do NOT go to the summit of Der Zerkle. Head west to the Mallory Cave Trail. For the Hand you must start at the big tree which is almost at the very base of the rock. So, once on the Mallory Cave Trail after getting off Sunnyside II, you'll descend a little bit. It only takes about ten seconds or so. The Hand is the technical crux of the stage. It is thoughtful climbing and has a couple of crux sections. There is some crumbly rock here, but not much and easily avoided. As always, slow down and take what time you need here to be safe. At a slow enough speed, this is solid, fun scrambling. Make sure you have a good safety margin. You must touch the top of the Hand and then do the descent described above. If you want, though this will take WAY longer, you can still go up and over the backside of the Finger Flatiron and down the trail up by the Box. You must start at the bottom of Der Freischutz and you'll head up a ramp just right of a right-facing corner. There is something that looks somewhat like this a bit higher up, pass that by. The trail will practically touch this rock at the right location. Ascent Free Shot (easiest route to the summit) and touch the far summit of this rock. Then head down the somewhat tricky downclimb to the north. It's steep here for a bit, so be careful and take your time. Plenty of time to hurt once you get on the ground. Once off the downclimb you go down into a tunnel and work your way north to intersect the trail you've already come down once before. Now run back to NCAR and try not to puke.
I said "Go" and we took off. I always start at the front, just because I'm the starter, but I quickly drift to near the very back. Danny was just in front of me and Buzz soon was right behind me. My other friendly rival is Willie, but unfortunately, he arrived five minutes late and would be a chaser. I passed one scrambler as we headed up the Mallory Cave trail and then caught up to Tony on the Porch Alley climbing trail. Tony would throw in some fast bursts when the trail flattened out and I didn't have the fitness to move by. I hit the Front Porch about twenty seconds behind Danny, two seconds behind Tony, and Buzz right on my tail. We passed a few scramblers on the ascent and eventually moved by Tony. Danny, myself, and Buzz hit the top all within a couple seconds of each other and in that order.
A scrambler was just starting the descent and graciously stepped aside for us three. Danny takes this steep descent a bit higher than I do and I went low right at the crux and slipped on by. That move had me gap Buzz and I never saw him again. I sped down the descent and gapped Danny, with him cheering me on. Got to love that. I slipped a bit at the very bottom, worrying Danny a bit, but I was fine, with only a little abrasion on my palm. I sped down the loose trail as best I could and over the saddle down to the Mallory Cave Trail. Danny closed on me and I urged him by at a switchback, but we hit Sunnyside II right together.
I scrambled just a few seconds faster up this route and moved just ahead of Danny once again. I scrambled off the back and over to Hand and started up. Above me was Galen Burrell, who had started this stage like he was shot out of a cannon. Reports from spectators said that when he hit the steep climb up to the water tank he actually accelerated. His speed on the trails might be the fastest in the group, certainly rivaling Matthias, but his scrambling confidence is still evolving. I followed Galen for a bit and then he stepped aside for me at the crux. He also let Danny go by, making it harder for me to open a gap on him. At the summit I caught...someone. I was too oxygen starved to recognize who. It might have been Nikita. I scrambled down just ahead of that person and caught someone else, Max I think, at the tricky ramp section, with the tunnel alternatives. The ramp is serious, with a fifty foot cliff immediately to your left if you slip off that direction. The person in front of me took one look at it and then at my closing speed and said, "I'll let you go first." I flew down this ramp and that was the move that got me the key gap on Danny.
Once in the gully I was down the pine needles and then over onto the rib of rock. Here there was a slight traffic jam with Angela, Page, David, and Jon. I couldn't fall in line behind them, I had Danny behind me! I scrambled a bit further right (descender's right) and passed Jon and David and then when I had to come back left, I was able to slip by Page and Angela. In the gully between the Hand and Der Freischutz I found the dim light of the late afternoon a challenge, but I pushed and tried to increase my gap.
As I started up Der Freischutz with David right on me. Once the terrain opened up for easier passing David went by and I tried to keep up, failing. Max closed right on me and passed me just before the summit, but I slipped by him at the start of the descent. Max, Jon, and I were clogged up a bit behind David on the descent but it was only a few seconds, though it seems much longer when in the heat of the battle.
On the ground for the last time I tried to keep David in sight on the descent. Max was right behind me and I asked a couple of times if he wanted to go by, but he demurred. We took the climber's trail down and intersected the Mallory Cave Trail not far behind David, but he'd pull away pretty quickly. Down at the switchback by Square Rock, Jon caught up and went by. Max stayed behind me until the uphill started to the Water Tank and he went by for good. I was running scared of Danny or Buzz catching me and nearly hurled on this climb, despite my pedestrian pace.
I ran down the switchbacks, seeing Brad, an early starter, ahead of me. On the flat section before the final climb up to the NCAR mesa I looked back up the switchbacks and saw no one. I felt I was safe from behind. No one could close that gap in the 2+ minutes I had left to go. I inched by Brad and urged him to come with me. I was barely able to run the steps up to the mesa and then had just 90 seconds or so to the finish. I was hurting, but still running along fine. After thirty seconds or so I heard footsteps and figured Brad was kicking things in, but then I heard "Sorry about this, Bill" and Galen flew by me. Nice. I had completely forgotten about him. Over this last section he had to going twice my speed. That's impressive.
I finished in 53:57, but the time wasn't that important. It rarely is, because the courses are frequently unique and I don't even know what is a good time. I was doing about 90 minutes when previewing so I figured I had a shot at breaking an hour and I did. Cool. But what really matters is how I did against my rivals and I was able to stay in front today. Once again, I caught and passed David and Jon and once again they passed me back. I love that give and take. Same thing happened with Galen and Max. Fun stuff. If I could only stay ahead of those guys...I'd then...no, I still wouldn't be a contender. But I'd have a better chance of making the top ten.
Matthias won with an amazing time of 41:40. Will took second. Dylan smoked it and finished third. He ran up behind me as I was headed to Der Der Freischutz yelling, "I'm going to lap you, Bill!" But he didn't. He was just behind me when I turned off for the climb and he continued out to the finish. That means Matthias and Will did lap me, though. Stefan, out last week with a cold, finished a solid fourth.
In the field were some world-class alpinists and I think all of them beat me. Scott Bennett finished fifth and Jed Brown was sixth or so. Colin Simon, who last March soloed the Diamond, setting the FKT for a winter solo, was in the field as well and I'm not sure of his finishing position or his time as yet.
Just a complete blast. We had a couple of photographers out there and hopefully we'll have some photos to share soon. Two stages to go!