A glimpse at the day-in-the-life of Justin Simoni's Highest Hundred Tour, through a smart phone lens.
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Day One: North Boulder City Limits, 4:35am, July 18th, 2017
Just a few blocks from my house, and the same location often used for Longs Peak Duathlon and Triathlon FKT attempts, it seemed like the perfect place for me to start, too. Between last minute packing, and spending time with special people I wouldn’t be seeing for weeks, I snatched maybe 20 minutes of sleep before rising early to start my trip. I certainly had some reservations about the whole plan, namely- was this even a good idea? Was it even going to be fun? Would I just go for a few weeks before giving some sort of lame excuse to stop? Even the idea of being out there for 60 days seemed unachievable. In short, I wasn't feeling the stoke. Still, I had to go for it. Day one I pedaled over 160 miles, ending on the eastside of Pikes Peak, 20 hours later. A difficult start to say the least.
Day Two: The Summit of Pikes Peak
Pikes is unique in that a giftshop and cafe rests atop the summit! Not one to pass up an opportunity for coffee and deep fried treats, I took a moment to conquer a mountain of donuts alongside some morning joe- a tradition I've established for the summit. Disgusting? Kind of, but it was a nice treat after my first night of sleeping out, and the only resupply I’d have all day. Coffee was an in-town treat I could never pass up. A little downtime at a cafe was also time to charge up electronics, post photos, and check in with friends and family.
Ellingwood Peak from South Zapata Lake
The six-peak Sierra Blanca enchainment was one of my Fastpacks From Hell: multiday trips to link multiple peaks at a time. These fastpacks required taking much less popular routes on more difficult terrain. From South Zapata Lake, I avoided the snow-filled couloir of the described route I was trying to follow and went up a different couloir to climber’s right, which also became choked with snow partway up. Undeterred, I avoided the snow and I scrambled up the face itself on crumbling terrain to reach the ridgeline to Ellingwood Point. Dark by then, I descended into the Lake Como basin to climb Little Bear Peak and Blanca Peak the next day.
Day Two of Sierra Blanca Enchainment
I needed to link Blanca Peak with Mt. Lindsey on the other end of the entire range, then somehow get back over to the South Zapata Lake Trail where I started. My descent off the south ridge of Blanca Peak was some of the most rotten terrain I’d encounter on the entire trip. With little beta, I descended a route that looked like it would go, but in reality, it just led me into a death gully of loose rock, the gully itself cliffed out at the bottom, and was peppered with lingering snow throughout. Long story short, I made it down to more stable ground, but I wouldn’t suggest following my path if you value your own safety.
A rural gas station and restaurant makes up the majority of the tiny town of Hooper, situated in the middle of the San Luis Valley. Potato Country– flat as a pancake. A stark contrast from the Sierra Blanca group I just visited, and the Crestone Group I was about to ride toward. A required breakfast stop along the way, the waitress didn’t even bat an eye taking my order of a six-egg omelet with extra sides of hashbrowns, bacon–and the best roasted green chilis in the area. Free coffee refills to my heart’s content!
Stewart Peak, San Luis Group
The first batch of mountains in the San Juans I visited after the Sangre de Christo. Another multi-day fastpack from hell, and unfortunately, a very wet one! Starting late afternoon on the Colorado Trail, I passed thru-hikers moving quickly to take cover from the incoming monsoon. I summited Pheonix that night, and made a hasty camp, drenched, waking up early to summit San Luis and Stewart (pictured). With unrelenting freezing rain and snow, I did most of my climbing in the storm clouds. I packed almost no extra clothes and was left chilled to the bone. To warm up, I had to actually descend down into a basin, then climb back up to get feeling back into my hands and arms! Back at the trailhead and bike, I had to navigate the wet, rough road back to Creede, CO, then wait out yet another thunderstorm, before leaving town. Being stuck in a bar for three hours as a torrential downpour passes over you is antithetical to a trip that’s supposed to be about speed. I rode out of town and on the highway in the middle of the night, stopping periodically for cat naps on the side of the highway itself. Poor weather is a drain on motivation; it’s not super fun to hike/ride/bivy out in the rain, and there’s no payoff views on the summits after all the work to get on top. Your gear gets absolutely worked. This trip wasn’t a pleasure cruise–I self-signed up for something really hard and bad weather just comes with the territory. Sunnier days will come.
Freemons; between Creede Co, and Lake City
Another roadside savior. Hiking 21 miles for a single centennial, Rio Grande Pyramid had left my food supplies mostly tapped, and Freemons was the only thing until Lake City, 32 miles away. You’re damn right I stopped, even if it meant backtracking a few miles! Get the breakfast sandwich, served up by incredible ladies twice my age and half my height. It’s cash only, and I only had enough loose change for one sandwich and a small coffee. I won’t make that mistake, again! Afterwards, I rolled into Lake City, and checked into the local hostel. I took what was probably my second shower (of four of the entire trip) before heading off towards Jones Peak and Half Mountain. My halfway point coincided with looping back to Lake City after finishing up the San Juans, where I took my last shower of the tour. For the next 30 days, I went without showering, or washing clothes!
Below Twin Thumbs Pass, Weminuche Wilderness
My longest fastpack from hell. I hadn’t seen anyone else in almost two days. A beyond beautiful place to bivy, but the weather was a bit touch and go, and I had nine peaks to summit, with only five days of food in my pack. Once I reached this upper basin, I put up my tarp, dropped my gear, and hiked a trail-less route to the west to summit Pigeon and Turrent at night, then returned here to crash out. The next day I crossed over Twin Thumbs Pass into the Chicago Basin to summit five more mountains in a day before needing to retrace my steps back to Jagged Mountain and Vestal Peak. Hardest part of the entire trip, without question.
Summit register of Pigeon Peak, Weminuche Wilderness
I tried to sign as many summit registers as I could, to help with verification. It’s always fun to look back on some of the more desolate peaks to see who may have also been on top recently. The same groups of names seem to repeat themselves. I noticed Rob Barlow signed his name last year. Barlow completed his own fully supported tour of the Centennials in 2016.
Between the town of Telluride and Ouray is a mountain pass called Imogene. It’s very high–over 13,000 feet, and quite rough, but taking it cuts more than 15 miles of highway cycling, so you take it. It’s one of my favorite places on the tour, and was a nice bonus treat after summiting Dallas Peak earlier that day.
For the most part, I kept a fairly low profile while on the trail, or on my bike. But, if people asked, I’d answer them truthfully. I’d be more open to discuss what I was doing to Colorado Trail and Continental Divide thruhikers over other groups, as I knew they’d understand more about what I was going through mentally and physically than anyone else. If I was leaving my bike for a few days at a time, and I couldn’t find a safe place to stash it, I’d leave a note saying what it was I was doing, just so the bike wouldn’t wander away with anyone. For much of the time, though, I was solo in my hikes and my rides. I’d be on the mountains at strange times or by obscure routes, so I avoided the crowds on some of the more traveled routes. Although I would always stop to pet a dog I passed (after getting the owner’s permission!).
Raspberries! These were found on the Nolans route up Mt. Yale, which ascends the peak from the north up an avalanche gulley. Not much foot traffic in the area, but look out for bears, also hunting the berries! A nice treat after sumitting Harvard, Columbia, and Yale in a day.
From Leadville, I had to cross back over the Continental Divide into Aspen to take care of the seven centennials in the Elks. Strictly following the rules of backcountry camping, I had to rent a bear canister while in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness. Felt a little wild myself, as I was getting to know the “joys” of packing this heavy, cumbersome canister on my back over the Divide, and then back after a few days. My weight lose is also getting pretty obvious!
The final summit of the tour, and then literally it was all downhill back to Boulder to tag the green North Boulder city limits sign, record my finish time, and get a righteous shower! My progress was stymied all day by terrible winds and blowing snow–as well as uncontrollably breaking down and crying with happiness, knowing that I was almost finished with the project. I had both summits all to myself, as most everyone else on the mountain decided it wise to turn around given the bad conditions. I made it down to the Boulderfield to easier ground safely, where of course I then finally slipped, fell, and injured my ankle. I hobbled the final four miles to the trailhead and rode the 40 miles back to Boulder on nothing but adrenaline. The route back to Boulder is one I’ve done now dozens of times - riding to Longs Peak to summit the mountain is one of my main training days. I knew I could give it my all, having no reason to save my legs for the next day. Even though it was a harsh start, I was glad I stuck with it, and finished within my time goals.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JUSTIN SIMONI is a Boulder-based mountain athlete committed to human-powered adventures.