The Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run: It’s one of the most stunning tours of any mountain range anywhere, and considered one of the hardest foot races in the world. “There are 100 mile races, and then there is the Hardrock.”

This grueling ultra trail run was founded in 1991 by Gordon Hardman to honor the early miners who met the many challenges of Colorado’s unyielding San Juan Mountains. No more than 152 runners get the chance to finish, to kiss the rock, selected from a system of invitation and lottery.  To the tiny, once booming mining community of  Silverton, the race draws ultra runners – those who specialize in events longer than the marathon- 30, 50, 100 mile runs and beyond.  They come from around the world. Many are passionate enthusiasts. Some are the best in history.

A runner descends from Handies Peak, the highest point in the race, where storms notoriously settle, often with hail, lightning and severe weather.Terrance Siemon

New Zealnd’s Anna Frost holds the women’s record of under 28:30.

Anna Frost ascending out of Cunningham Gulch.Brandon Mathis

“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” she said. “You’re going up to 13,000, 14,000 feet eight times during the race. A hundred miles.”

Beginning and ending in Silverton, runners travel to four historic mining towns in one giant loop including Lake City, Ouray and Telluride.  Cresting 12,000 feet 13 times, 13,000 feet seven times and summiting Handies Peak at 14,048 feet the course is a combination of path, game trail, cross country and mountaineering with alpine ridge lines, creek and stream crossings and plenty of snow.

The average elevation is over 11,016 feet. Runners climb and descend 33,992 feet – a total of 67,984 feet in all. The clock stops at 48 hours. Most runners finish in 40.

Kilian Jornet before the 6AM start in Silverton.Brandon Mathis

Kilian Jornet, a soft spoken Spaniard known the world over for his daring, incomprehensible feats of endurance like climbing Mt. Everest – twice – unsupported with no Oxygen in less than a week, has made the race for the last four years setting the record in both directions, 23 hours, give or take.

“The mountains here are beautiful. You can see all around,”  Jornet said after his 2017 Hardrock finish, this time with a dislocated shoulder from falling in a snow field.  “All the colors. It’s very high altitude. Very interesting. Very challenging. I think it’s a very special race. It’s the ambience – the spirit of the race.”

It is a special race beloved around the world. For 2017, 2,000 applicants from 43 countries and 47 states applied.  The average age is 45 years old. The oldest runner:  75.

Hannah Green, the youngest Hardrocker at 26, on Green Mountain.Brandon Mathis

Several come back time and time again, if they are lucky enough to get in. Typically a high drop out race, for 2017 a record number – 126- came back to Silverton and kissed the rock, the official act of completion.  Kirk Apt, 53  of Colorado has 23 Hardrocks to his name.

And despite its unforgiving nature- the weather, the mountains, the unimaginable fatigue that sets in- there is an undeniable warmth that surrounds it. It’s endearing. Intoxicating. Contagious.

It’s the atmosphere,” said Frost. “The environment – I just fell in love with the community. It’s the race director, the organizers, all the people that are out on the aid stations that make it such a family feel- they would do anything.”

Dale Garland has bee acting race director for 25 years. He’s moved by the camaraderie the runners, volunteers, and fans share.

American Basin.Terrance Siemon

“The spirit of Hardrock really is about the idea that everybody has a challenge against the mountain and whether you come in at 22 hours or 47 hours, you’ve accomplished the same thing.”

“And I think that building that community and building that idea that people are all in it together is something that has transcended time.”

“I love it,” Frost said. “You see people coming in to the finish- everyone’s up there crying with them as they kiss the rock. It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful environment.”