FKT: Michael Wirth - Elks Traverse (CO) - 2022-08-10

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Total time
22h 30m 50s

On August 9, 2022, I set out at 4:06 am with three hours of sleep (lol) from the Capitol Creek Ditch Trailhead with the goal of completing the Elk Traverse. The route requires that you start at Capitol Creek Ditch Trailhead, end at Castle Creek Trailhead, and summit all 7 of the 14,000’ mountains in the Elks (Capitol, Snowmass, Maroon Peak, North Maroon, Pyramid, Conundrum and Castle).


My elapsed time from Trailhead to Trailhead was 22:30:50. For Capitol, Snowmass, Maroon Peak, North Maroon and Pyramid, I was solo. At the Maroon Bells Parking lot I had some amazing friends waiting there for me with some food, drink, and big hugs!! Carly Valerious made me a sardine, avocado burrito at my request which resulted in a bit of bloating for the next hour ha! As someone who does a lot of missions in the snow solo and in these mountains solo, I was very glad to share this experience with these people. It would not have been nearly as fun nor rewarding without them.


Jeff Colt paced me throughout the final third of the route from Maroon Bells Parking Lot up and over Conundrum and Castle and down to the Castle Creek Trailhead. Jeff was supportive, constructive, fun and focused throughout this night section and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. We each put in a bluetooth earbud and when we got a little too separated it would start breaking up–I called this my ‘leash.’


Now for my account of the Traverse:


I’m glad I did a portion by myself (well the first two thirds on the most technical parts of the route) as this allowed me to move through and connect with the mountains deeply. I also moved quite quickly over Capitol, through Pierre Lakes, over Snowmass and down to Snowmass Lake–I definitely wanted to start hard in the early morning cold and then hold on, although it did feel rather flowy and not like an intense effort moving throughout this section.


I made it to Snowmass Lake in 5:56. With the first quarter or so of the route done, I had put over an hour into Rickey Gates’ previous record pace.


Now time to leave the granodiorite Capitol-Snowmass Massif and head into the Red Shale Maroon Bells and Pyramid section of the Elks. I opted for a route that I had not done before through the remote Lost Remade basin following Elk Trails and having quite the amount of entanglements with willow trees. This was to gain the West Ridge of South Maroon. I moved efficiently up this ridge without stopping, however was quite surprised by the amount of low 5th class soloing required here. I got rather baked by the sun on this exposed ridge (it was a hot one out there) and that definitely resulted in some dizzying dehydration that lasted through Pyramid.


I reached the summit of South Maroon, took the Bells Traverse over: usually this takes me around 30 minutes but the dehydration made one of the super easy moves actually feel a bit dicey and exposed, so the traverse took 39 minutes. “Hey why can’t I just pull myself up?” I asked on one of the 5th class moves. Well I guess accumulating 11k vert can take some of the explosive energy out of you ha.


I made it to the summit of North Maroon in 9:18 (1:20pm) a good two hours ahead of the previous record.


Up and down Pyramid, the final section I did solo. Brutal dehydration set in and I just decided to leave my vest at the base and go up raw style with no food or water. I just needed to focus on my breath and the technical movement. I did slow down here but I turned to my mind to help carry me up and down the mountain. It worked and I made it down to Maroon Lake where my homies were waiting with cheery smiles to boost me back up.


Maroon Lake in 14:13 – right on with my predicted splits.


I laid down in the creek full shoes and shirt, downed half a bottle of lemonade, half a bottle of Coca Cola, some amount of a Yerba Mate, watermelon, a bottle of Skratch Superfuel, and a burrito with sardines and avocado. That’s just ridiculous. But mister Jeff Colt just kept handing me stuff and saying–eat this for me. So I did.


Departed Maroon Lake at 14:34 (or 6:40) roughly two hours and twenty minutes ahead of record.


Jeff and I headed out to start the long jog up East Maroon before nightfall. My stomach was quite bloated (obviously) yet I was confused as to why for some reason. We maintained a decent pace for the majority of the run up East Maroon but my sensation of imminent barfing throughout was rather uncomfortable for the two hours that it lasted.


Then dusk set in and the batman came out! My cousin (who is practically my brother), Alex, always tells me when I’m having a difficult time, “you were born in the dark, you got this.” That second wind came along, my dehydration faded away from consistent drinking up east maroon, and the shift to just Spring Gels really did a wonder for my body. Time to move!


Once Jeff and I made it to the top of Triangle pass, it felt like we were racing again. We ran down to the Conundrum Basin in the pitch night with our headlamps illuminating the bit of trail ahead. Finally, it was time to ascend the 3,000’ scree field to the west of Castle and Conundrum. Through a bit of bushwhacking off the trail, then onto the scree field, we moved and danced up the rocks; for Jeff is a staunch advocate for mountain dancing. This basin was actually quite fun, although extremely unstable rock. The night was just a good time, and it was cool! Lovely.


We reached the saddle of Castle and Conundrum in 20:41 and then it was freaking go time!


Ran over to Conundrum, ran back up the ridge to Castle, then a sprint down. Once we reached the Montezuma Road, Jeff was pushing me and it was freaking awesome. We maintained a roughly 7:40 pace for the last three miles which I think is pretty good considering I’d already covered 52 miles and 23,000’ of vert.


And that’s that. I really can’t thank Carly and Jeff enough for helping me do this! Thanks so much you two!!!!


I used La Sportive Mutant Shoes

Skratch Superfuel was huge in the beginning of the run and in the middle

Spring Energy Gels really did ease my stomach and keep me energized to the finish

The new Leki SuperFX Running Poles

Le Bent wool socks kept my feet as comfortable as they can be when you do a massive run like this

I wore Strafe’s new Skyline Cooling tee and the Scout windbreaker at night at 14,000’