This past Saturday I had the distinct pleasure of joining 400 other local and non-local athletes in a moonlight jaunt up Aspen Mountain. This year marked the 5th anniversary of The Summit for Life in what has become a very successful, albeit young local winter event. The Summit for Life is the brainchild of Aspen local, U.S. Olympian and organ transplant recipient Chris Klug. His organization, the Chris Klug Foundation, uses this race to raise awareness about the importance of organ and tissue donation and provides great resources to those in need. In addition to being a great event with a great cause, The Summit for Life is also a great challenge for even the fittest of athletes.
The race starts right outside The Little Nell’s backdoor at the base of the ski run that carries its namesake. From there, participants just go up and up. The route is known to locals as “the gut” because it is essentially the straightest possible line to the top. The course is only 2.5 miles long but packs a whopping 3,267 feet of vertical gain. To compound the challenge, we received eight inches of fresh snow the night before, making for very soft and unstable footing. The recreational wave of participants took off right as the sun was setting at 5:15, giving them a 45 minute head start on those of us in the competitive division. I watched the recreational wave slog uphill from the patio of the Ajax Tavern as I situated my gear. The equipment I chose included some trail running shoes, microspike stabilizers, ski poles, headlamp and a fresh long-sleeve Ajax Tavern cycling team Jersey.
Forty-five minutes later I lined up with the rest of the competitive wave and took off uphill. Every time I ascend Aspen Mountain I am reminded why the mountain is so enjoyable to ski down – it is STEEP! We took off into the darkness with only our headlamps and moonlight to guide us up the mountain’s grueling façade. Soon enough we had ascended The Little Nell run and began tackling the crux of the race – the intimidating and unrelenting 2,000 climb up Spar Gulch. Once at the top of Spar I had a quick sip of water, provided by one of the race’s truly exceptional volunteers, before hammering the final stretch to the finish line. I really pushed as hard as I could from there to the top and was getting lots of encouragement from the recreational participants I passed along the way. I tried to reciprocate this sportsmanship but found it difficult between struggling to find good footing and gasping for air. It truly was nice to compete in such a friendly and supportive environment. In the end, we were all participating for a cause bigger than ourselves and cared little for personal success.
The finish line was certainly a welcome site as I approached the top. I crossed the line to lots of cheers and encouragement and immediately went into the Sundeck to regain feeling in my extremities. The party inside was put on by The Little Nell’s outstanding banquet team and was truly unbelievable. After several heaping plates of delicious pasta I sat contentedly with a beer and socialized with many other racers. I was even lucky enough to win a pair of bright blue sunglasses in the event’s generous raffle. The night ended with a beautiful nighttime gondola descent with stunning views of our mountain hamlet’s twinkling Christmas lights.
Overall, it was truly an inspiring and enjoyable night that reaffirmed the appreciation and love I have for this wonderful place.