Guest Contributor: Jess Powell
Anyone who's driven I-70 westbound from Denver, CO knows you can’t miss the north-south trending ridgeline that starts in the town of Frisco and weaves it's way towards Breckenridge. This is the Tenmile Range. This classic Colorado front-range line is visually stunning as the entire ridge dwells above 12,300ft with Peak 10 reaching skyward to over 13,600ft. As it turns out, this beautiful ridgeline is extremely challenging to run.
I’ve been making an annual trip over the 4th out to Breckenridge for the past several years with three of my best friends - one from Charlotte, one from Portland, and one from Austin. The trip is a great break from the summer heat I know too well in the South. Everyone in "The Squad" is an avid cyclist, so we generally spend a good bit of our time carving up trails on mountain bikes. In 2020 however, with all my races canceled, I decided to tackle a project I’ve had on my list for as long as I’ve been going out there - The Tenmile Traverse.
We rolled into Breck early on Thursday and my plan was to run and bike the usual trails around town with The Squad thru Saturday, then do the traverse on Sunday. The simple thought was that, since Breck sits at 9600ft, the longer I spent acclimating there before traverse, the better.
Keeping to that plan, Sunday morning came early with a 3:30am wakeup call. I was keen on starting early in hopes of avoiding any afternoon thunderstorms that are common this time of year. I got ready and fortunately, The Squad decided they weren’t going to let me drive myself to the Mt. Royal trailhead in Frisco. They all got up and hand delivered me to my 4:45am start. It’s hard to overstate just how much that filled my Stoke Tank.
The 3 mile 3800ft ascent out of Frisco to Peak 1 is steep and sets the tone for the rest of the day. While I felt acclimated at 9600ft in Breck, ascending to 12,800ft to start the ridgeline is humbling to put it mildly. I enjoyed a crisp 40 degree morning and spectacular sunrise but I knew I was going to be fighting the hand of the invisible giant all day.
Traversing Peaks 2 thru 4 is gnarly but fun. It’s scary enough to keep your attention with 3rd and 4th class scramble throughout - and a ton of exposure (i.e. don’t fall) - but there is enough solid rock that allows you to move efficiently high on the ridgeline. I tried to stay true to the highest line until it was potentially punitive to continue, then I’d search for the best way to avoid any 5th class scramble. Route finding added considerable time as I was unfamiliar with the line but patience was critical to stay safe.
Past Peak 4 the terrain changes dramatically, from knife-edged ridgeline to talus filled tundra as Summit County’s sharp peaks fill the surrounding skyline for miles. Ascents up peaks 5 and 6 were fairly mild, 7 and 8 were tough, and 9 and 10 tried to take my soul with steep scrambles up to 13,200ft and 13,600ft, respectively.
Peak 10, my final accent, is an 800ft talus scramble at 40-50% grade. After a 38 minute climb, I was greeted on the summit by Old Glory. I spent some time with her, soaked in the views, conjured up what life was left in my legs, and took jeep roads and ski slopes back into Breck.
While I ran into a big hail storm on the descent back into town, the weather was otherwise perfect all morning. Overall, the 18.3 mile traverse made for an unforgettable day moving high in the mountains and one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.
About the Author:
Jess Powell is a former college football player (Wake Forest) that has found a new form of competition in bagging peak and seeking out various human powered efforts that mere mortals can only dream of. He recently launched VentureProjx this year to document his experiences and inspire others. Follow for more goodies.
Journal - The Tenmile Traverse: Frisco to Breckenridge
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