Lessons from Green Berets in the Colorado Rockies
Open Road | The Climb: GORUCK Ascent
“Open Road” is an ongoing series of dispatches written and photographed by guest correspondent, Foster Huntington, during his epic cross-country adventure for his upcoming book by Harper Collins. Foster is the creator of Arestlesstransplant and The Burning House. Check out previous parts of the series here.
My alarm went off at 2:15am on Thursday, the first of September. Normally, I reserve such pleasantries to catching sunrise flights, but today, I was preparing to climb a 14,000 ft. mountain in Colorado as part of the first annual Goruck Ascent. Described as, “an epic adventure spread out over 100+ hours in and around Colorado’s Rocky Mountains,” me and 48 other alumni of a previous 12 hour Goruck Challenge (essentially a mud run on crack) assembled at a campsite in Nederland the night before, ready to test ourselves.
After hitting snooze until 2:30, I packed my sleeping bag, a 3L hydration bladder, three pairs of socks, a few pounds of nutrition bars, a shell and a down jacket into my GR2 (Goruck’s top of the line pack). Rubbing my eyes in shock and discomfort, I peered out of my Syncro van at the other Ascenters cleaning up their camp sites and congregating around the remnants of last night’s fire.
Be ready roll at 0-300 with all of your shit.
“Be ready roll at 0-300 with all of your shit.” That’s what the Green Berets that run all of the Goruck Challenges had told us a few hours early around the camp fire, and we took this as gospel — measuring our packs down to the ounce in order to meet the 23lb weight maximum allowed for the event. A blink of an eye later, we were loaded on to a bus heading towards the first mountain.
For the next hundred hours or so (I quickly lost track), we enjoyed the Collegiate range and embraced “good livin’”. Coined by the Goruck’s founder Jason McCarthy, “Good livin’” refers to hardships, such as carrying a person on your back for a mile, that in the end pay off. I’m still a little hazy with the concept, but then again, Jason and the other cadre are all lunatics, so I will take their word for it.
Our typical pattern involved waking up before dawn, climbing above the tree line at sunrise and making it back to camp in the late afternoon. Nights consisted of sitting by campfires resting for the next ascents, talking with the other adventurers and Goruck staffers, and eating limited rations in the form of MREs (military camping food or Meals Ready to Eat).
After a crash course in Green Beret land navigation skills, our training culminated in self-planned ascents. Using GPS and topography maps, we navigated the rough terrain, looking for cache points and quickly learned that a plan is only as good as the conditions it was schemed up in. The fast-changing weather at 14k feet often forced us to improvise. On one notable occasion at the summit of Mt. Missouri, an approaching thunderstorm made our hair stand up on end, and static zapped the air around us. Facing an impending lightening strike we skipped the two mile ridge walk back to a safe elevation and instead scrambled 1200 feet down a rock slide. It was a blast and the highlight of the challenge for me, and the seventeen others on scree the day.
The Ascent attracted a diverse crowd including, police officers, a college professor, various entrepreneurs and even a professional skater. Hanging out with this hodgepodge was my favorite part of the Ascent. Bullshitting around campfires, or Ranger TV’s as they are called by the Goruck cadre, while learning survival skills forms fast bonds, and I look forward to keeping in touch with the friends I made during the experience. It seems that like minded people will always seek each out.
Plans are already in the works for next years Ascent and I look forward to seeing some of you readers on the next trip. For more info on Goruck Challenges, checkout their website.
Words and Photographs by Foster Huntington