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The heart and soul of Hardrock

Howie Stern offers a collection of his favorite photos representing the enduring tradition of Hardrock.

Howie Stern

July 11th, 2022

7 min read

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It was the middle of the night and I had dropped my pacer as I made my way down the Bear Creek Trail towards Mineral Creek. 95 miles into the 2005 Hardrock Hundred and I was running fast, as hard as I could. I vividly remember the rocks, scree fields, and aspens encroaching on the trail. Like running in a dream; the world boiled down to the oval beam of my halogen flashlight and the sounds of my breath and feet clicking along like a metronome. Looking at my analog watch, I came to the realization: I’m going to finish, I’m going to finish Hardrock! I had to fight back tears in those final miles.

Over the past 17 years, I’ve been fortunate to run, pace, and cover the Hardrock 100 many times since that first emotional finish. If I’ve learned anything in that time it’s that – at its core – Hardrock has never been about finishing times, who won, or social media fanfare. Hardrock is about shared community and the San Juan Mountains we are grateful to move through. It’s about creating an atmosphere that fosters this spirit and the traditions of Hardrock – passed down between veteran runners, newcomers, crews, friends, and family. 

Hardrock evolves, and will continue to change, from year to year. But, it is my sincere hope that the past continues to be honored, allowing its influence to guide the present and future. To celebrate this, I offer a collection of special places, people, and moments that represent the heart and soul of Hardrock. – Howie 

Back in the day, we used to do trail marking in the weeks prior to the race. This was a great way for new runners to get acquainted with the Hardrock course as well as to meet past finishers or friends of the race and have the opportunity to learn some of the history and traditions. Runners had ample time to pick “veterans” brains for tips to be successful in the wild and tough San Juans. This year, I was honored to go for a hike from Telluride to Governors with first timers Jenn Hughes, Angela Shartel and Emily Halnon, as well as Emily Thorn, the daughter of one of the Hardrock founders, Charlie Thorn.

Green Mountain with the mighty Grenadiers rising tall in the background. One of the fascinating things about Hardrock is how each pass reveals the terrain ahead. No two basins are alike, and each has its own character and challenges. In 2018, after getting pinned down in a lightning storm on Buffalo Boy Ridge with my pacer, Courtney Dauwalter, we hightailed it out of there as the threat decreased and made it to Green Mountain as the sun popped and the most perfect trail unfolded in front of us. Seeing Courtney’s genuine joy and excitement to just be out there plodding along with me was the greatest gift anyone could ask for.

363 days of the year, these mountains have nothing to do with Hardrock. This is the backside of Green Mountain, with Stony Pass below right and Canby Mountain and Buffalo Boy Ridge above. It’s always a nice place to go at sunset to just meditate and absorb the mojo of nature in all it’s splendor.

One of the great joys of Hardrock has been sharing the run with friends and family, especially in the days or weeks leading up to the event. Seeing your pacer cry when they set eyes upon Island lake for the first time is just one of those things about Hardrock that just fills your heart with love and gratitude.

Tommy Burrell, former owner of the Avon Hotel. For years, the hotel was closed save for a handful of weeks around Hardrock when Tommy would open it up for Hardrockers from around the country. This was the original Camp Hardrock. The days were full of trail adventure, and the nights were full of stories from past years or the day’s outing. For most of us, the best stories always came from Tommy. Silverton was quite the wild place back in the 70’s when he first ran the hotel. Tommy always made it a point to be at the start and to come to the finish for each of us. He also would make a huge taco dinner the Tuesday before the race to celebrate the coming journey. It was a sad day for all when he sold the hotel and the spirit he brought to the race faded away.

Summer in Silverton is like nowhere else I’ve ever been. We are all blessed to come out to enjoy the incredible San Juan mountains, regardless of the reason you are here.

Kirk Apt, one of the kindest and most gentle souls you will ever meet. Kirk has been inspiring us at Hardrock since 1993. The sheep behind him are brought out each summer to graze, occasionally making it a bit exciting when their watch dogs get a overzealous. The sheep were all over the Green Mountain section of the course, picture here, as runners came through in 2021.

Meghan Hicks descending through a beautiful field of wildflowers in the basin high above the Grouse Gulch Aid Station. Meghan is a humble and gracious multi-time finisher and is currently a member of the Hardrock Board. Meghan is passionate about making Hardrock be the best event it can be both now and in the future.


The spiritual epicenter of Hardrock – Grant Swamp Pass and the Joel Zucker memorial plaque. Joel was a three time finisher back in the 90’s who absolutely loved Hardrock but passed away the day after the 1998 edition of the race. During the 2014 race, Billy Simpson and I spread the ashes here of 14-time Hardrocker and oldest finisher at 73, John Dewalt. John was tough as nails and an inspiration to all who knew him. It’s always been tradition to stop and pay homage to those Hardrockers who have passed and reflect upon their legacy to all whose lives they touched.

The imposing wall of the most iconic climb of Hardrock – the Chapman side of Grant Swamp Pass. It’s my favorite part of the course: whether descending it with full reckless abandon, arms flailing and feet flying, or crawling up it at a snail’s pace looking for anything solid to push off of. It was a much different experience going up it in the old days without poles. Three steps up, two steps back.

11 responses to “The heart and soul of Hardrock”

  1. Ian Hurley says:

    Wonderful images and stories, Howie. Good luck on putting the book together.

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