Justin Simoni reviews the Mountain Running® shoe that traveled with him to summit CO's 100 Highest.
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In choosing my gear for 2017’s Tour of the Highest Hundred, I considered all of the potentially conflicting use-case scenarios and outlined a few key parameters the ideal shoe would meet. Since I would be packing the shoes on the bike between summits, they needed to be pretty light while providing enough stability for multi-day fastpacks, and enough nimbleness for letting loose on steep descents. Because the tour would require a substantial volume of scrambling and more technical climbing, I needed confidence-inspiring sticky outsoles that would hold up to lots of wear on trail.
I knew almost immediately that the Mutant would be my gear choice. As a natural successor to a now out of production product, the C-Lite 2, I realized it shares several characteristics with my previously-preferred La Sportiva Mountain Running shoe, in a lighter, more breathable package.
The Mutant checks most of the requirements I outlined pretty well: 10.7 ounces was a weight I could live with and FriXion® XF rubber outsoles, coupled with the aggressive lugs would be ideal for scrambling and running rough terrain. The Mutant also features a breathable upper- that I would be grateful for in the hours I spent slogging through Colorado’s annual summer monsoon conditions- and an integrated tongue to help keep out debris. I would need all the help I could get!
Early in the morning of July 16th, with the first of four pairs of Mutants strapped to the back of my bike’s saddlebag, I pedaled out of Boulder on the Tour of the Highest Hundred. I had already boxed up and shipped out three additional pairs to retrieve later from the Post Offices of the same mountain towns where I would be stopping to resupply at in the weeks ahead. The first pair (I hoped) would make it straight through the entire Sangre de Cristo Range, the second pair I would pick up in Lake City near the beginning of the San Juans. I’d pick up my third pair to tear up and down the Sawatch in Buena Vista, and my final pair was to be used to conquer the Elks, Tenmile/Mosquito, and finish up in the Front Range, in Leadville. I broke in each pair before leaving by doing a run in them locally, then I numbered each pair so I wouldn’t get them mixed up, and sent them away!
My strategy was to guard against injuries caused by worn-out footwear by always having shoes in good enough conditions on my feet at all times. With only a rough idea of how much of a beating each pair would take- as the terrain varies wildly from range to range- I knew the Mutant could take the brunt of it, so if I missed a drop because I rolled into town when the post office was closed, it would be no big deal. I could just keep soldiering on. I could have hedged my bet some by shipping out more shoes, but that would have added even more planning to an already complex trip. I needed to keep things as simple as possible.
Starting with TK Peak, I tagged the seven summits of the Crestone Group by moving TK direction
Not surprisingly (and with a healthy amount of hindsight), my Mutants took the most abuse when the conditions proved the most challenging: poor weather, high mileage, and nonexistent trails. Landing in Lake City with just 18 peaks behind me, it was more than a treat to grab my second pair! The long enchainments I designed for efficient peak-bagging, like all seven centennials in the Crestone Group, or all six centennials in the Sierra Blanca Group, meant a lot of off-trail bushwhacking, talus hopping, and descending some pretty nasty snow-filled gullies, ice and assorted junk rock, which did a number on the uppers. Tripping through endless talus fields on approaches made my shoes look like I had taken a dull, rusty knife to them one drunken night.
The six centennials of the Sierra Blanca Group
By far, the San Juans were the biggest crux for my footwear. The Weminuche Wilderness area, with its nine peaks to summit in 75 miles of mostly off-trail bushwhacking, defined the limit of what I believe anyone would wish the Mutant to handle. Still, I was glad to have the all-rounder Mutant with its grippy outsole for some of the delightful technical scrambling on Jagged Mountain and Wham Ridge/Turret Peak.
After I crawled out of the Weminuche and back to Silverton with its endless supply of pizza and ice cream, that second pair was starting to look a little rough, and I still had eleven peaks before getting to Buena Vista! A little Shoe-goo, some new laces, and we were back in business, without a hiccup, onwards to another great linkup of Wilson Peak, Gladstone Peak, Mt. Wilson, and El Diente all in one day.
The terrain of the Sawatch proved to be significantly more mild than the Sangres or the San Juans, and I ticked off 21 peaks in just a week. Even though half my running route was made up of the trailless Nolans 14 course, the weather turned much more favorable and the terrain just had less teeth to it and more smooth, ribbony singletrack to stretch my legs on and give the routes a little hell.
Reaching Leadville, it was surprising to realize my shoes actually looked totally normal, and ready to take on another 21 peaks! I exchanged my third pair for my fourth, and rode up and over the Continental Divide via Hagerman Pass to take on the last two multiday fastpacks with some of the hardest climbing: Capitol Peak, Snowmass, and Hagerman Peak; then Pyramid, Maroon Peak, North Maroon, and Thunder Pyramid. These monster mountains in the Elks would be a return to form of some pretty challenging terrain. The hardest bits of climbing came on the Maroon Peak to North Maroon traverse - an undisputed classic route with seriously exposed moderate climbing. Even though I was starting to feel deep fatigue from the summer’s efforts, these crux peaks were a wonderful self-celebration of joyous movement in the mountains. Amidst so much loose, chossy terrain, is some of the best scrambling in Colorado: solid (enough), airy, with amazing views of Capitol/Snowmass to the west, and Pyramid/Thunder Pyramid to the east.
After the Elks, the last few days were quite a blur, as I charged through the Tenmile/Mosquito range and into the Front. Lots of lonely midnight summits, sometimes in less than ideal weather. It was starting to get really cold out there, and I knew my weather window was closing shut for the year. With all my gear, not just my shoes, looking just a little over-worked, I rolled into the East Longs Peak trailhead, accompanied by high winds, and blowing snow to charge up the last two peaks: Meeker and the mighty Longs Peak. I passed dozens of people slowly moving down, most who had an air of defeat to them, but I knew I’d get those last summits sewed up. The last day turned out to be the hardest of all of them, but having successfully summited Meeker and Longs, I lumbered down to the trailhead, got back to the bike, and rocketed straight back down to Boulder 40 miles away, happy to finish off one amazing ride in the mountains.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JUSTIN SIMONI is a Boulder-based mountain athlete committed to human-powered adventures.