Kloser and Henry win Elk Mountain Grand Traverse
Vail, CO Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado ” Mike Kloser and Jay Henry know all about pushing their bodies to the limit, but the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse tested even their steely resolve.
A 40-mile trek from Crested Butte to Aspen during the middle of the night, frostbite, and a talented field gunning to beat the pair were just a few of the obstacles. In the end, it still didn’t matter. Kloser and Henry, both Vail residents, topped the competition in a time of 9 hours, 17 minutes.
The victory is Kloser’s fifth in the 12-year event, and his third in a row.
“It’s always great to win,” Kloser, 49, said. “In this race, there’s only one goal for me. That’s to win. Second place is losing in this race. That’s what this race is all about, winning. For me, I’ve won more of these than anyone else out there.”
Credit Kloser and Henry’s experience for that. The race started at the Crested Butte Community School with 127 teams but it soon became a two-team battle. The team of Kloser and Henry were neck-and-neck most of the way with Crested Butte’s Travis Scheefer and Ethan Passant.
Not only did the teams have to contend with the 40-mile distance and 6,000-foot vertical climb, but weather also played a major role. The temperature read zero degrees and the wind was howling up to 50 mph on some of the exposed ridges. That made for severely-cold conditions.
The stinging temperatures left both Henry and Kloser with frostbite after the race. Kloser dealt with frostbite on his nose, cheeks and lips while Henry’s ears were feeling the effects of the journey. The cold didn’t stop them. While other teams stopped to warm up or adjust their clothing, Kloser and Henry kept going.
“It’s was probably more dangerous than any race I’ve ever done,” Henry, 34, said. “You’re responsible for yourself. In those temperatures, if you get frost-bitten or hypothermia, you don’t have a lot of time to deal with it before it’s really bad. I felt like I was racing more to get in out of the cold then for the race. For a few moments, I was racing for our safety. It can be a little scary at times.”
Luckily for Henry, he calls Kloser his teammate. Kloser is a prolific adventure racer and he knows the Grand Traverse course like the back of his hand. That is helpful when your only source of light is a headlamp and the stars.
“Mike’s awesome,” Henry said. “As far as knowing the route, I pretty much depended on him. When we got to a tricky place, I asked him where to go.”
The tough conditions and course actually worked in Kloser and Henry’s favor. Each possess abundant race experience. Even if it’s not as extreme as the Grand Traverse, it helps.
“I’ve always felt the tougher it gets, the more I like it,” Kloser said. “It weeds out the weak. In this situation, having the experience of being there and doing it before is an added benefit. At that point, it was getting ugly out there. There’s no sense in stopping or slowing down. It’s better to get your you-know-what in gear.”
Kloser and Henry’s will to win pushed them to victory. Scheefer and Passant held a five-minute lead on the duo, but they had to stop to warm up and Kloser and Henry blew right past them.
“A lot of people told me that teams were out to beat me and Jay,” Kloser said. “It’s motivating to know you have people out there gunning for you like that.”
Another feeling might have topped the winning one Henry and Kloser experienced. A veteran of mountain-bike races, Henry said it was toughest race he has ever competed in.
“Winning is great, but the feeling of sitting down after you finish, that might be the most rewarding part of the race,” Henry joked. “It’s a huge physical challenge. Whether you win or come in in 16 hours, it’s pretty rewarding to get off your feet.”
Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.