Building a Running Community in Silverton
By Margaret Hedderman
It was 1908 and a couple of miners were sitting at the bar in the Silverton. One of them looked over at Kendall Mountain, a towering massif with a steep, rocky summit. The miner said he knew a guy who could run to the top and back in an hour and half. That sounded just crazy enough, so they made a wager—$200—and Neil McQuieg, a local 53-year-old miner, was recruited.
Kendall Mountain rises 13,066 feet above Silverton, occupying its southeastern skyline. To reach the summit, McQuieg would have had to run directly up an avalanche chute, eventually scrambling to the top. When he did reach it, McQuieg sprinted back to town, arriving just one minute and forty-two seconds behind schedule. Though he lost the bet, a summer tradition was born.
Today, hundreds of runners come to Silverton each July to participate in the Kendall Mountain Run, a 12-mile out-and-back race. It coincides with the Silverton Alpine Runs—a race with three length options—the same weekend. The back-to-back races are organized by Aravaipa Running, a trail and endurance event organizer based in Arizona.
“You definitely can’t beat the summit of Kendall,” says race director Julie Haro. “Looking down at the town of Silverton, you really get a 360-degree view of the area.”
Runners informally raced up Kendall Mountain for years after McQuieg’s inaugural run, but it took several decades to become an official race. In 1978, local runner Bill Corwin founded the annual event. Nearly 35 years later, the race experienced another evolution when it was taken over by Aravaipa in 2012. Now, paired with the Silverton Alpine Runs, the two-day event attracts over 800 participants from around the world.
“It’s really neat being able to run through the history of Silverton,” says Haro. “You’re running through all of these old mining towns like Animas Forks and Gladstone.”
On Saturday, July 9th, the Silverton Alpine will take participants into the San Juan Mountains via the Alpine Loop, a popular 4×4 Jeep trail. The route passes old mining operations and ghost towns, climbing above treeline into the expansive high country. From the top of California Pass, runners will find themselves surrounded by a sweeping view of southwest Colorado.
“We get a lot of people that are road runners that want to come out and get a taste of what mountain running is like,” Haro says.
Runners have an 8-mile, marathon, and 50K option. Haro says that although the course has intense elevation gain, it’s accessible to a wide variety of runners because the 4×4 trail isn’t as technically challenging as a single-track trail. Top finishers for the 50K will typically complete the race in five hours or less.
Then on Sunday, July 10th, the Kendall Mountain Run will cap off the weekend. Though shorter than a half-marathon, the race is unlike other mountain runs because of the altitude and nearly 4,000-foot elevation gain.
“Most mountain runs in Colorado are at a very high elevation,” Haro says. “But Kendall goes up to 13,000-feet, which is abnormal for even a mountain ultra.”
This year, the race organizers are offering more opportunities for non-runners to get involved. On Sunday, after the Kendall Mountain Run, there will be live music and a vendor village—both of which will be open to the public—in Silverton’s Memorial Park.
“A lot of people will use this as their summer vacation,” Haro says. “They’ll spend a week, visit Durango, Silverton, run their events, and tie everything they enjoy all together.”
Though Aravaipa is based in Arizona and offers numerous desert races, its founders—Jamil and Nick Coury—have spent extensive time in the Silverton area, both running the Hardrock 100 on numerous occasions. These two Silverton races have become a launchpad for Aravaipa in Colorado, which now has an office in Colorado Springs. In June, Aravaipa will host their first race in Durango, offering 50-mile, 50K, and 30K distances. The Durango Skyline Trail Runs will loop together many of the high points around Durango, offering views from Horse Gulch and Grandview recreation areas.
Haro describes Aravaipa as a running community, as much as it is a race organizer. She said many runners will sign up for an entire series of trail runs.
“Every time you come out for the event, you see all the same people and get to know the community really well.”
Haro said she expects both races to sell out again this year, in part because of the community-centric nature of the event. And although the two events traverse some of the most challenging terrain in the state, the variety of race distances makes them more accessible than other trail runs.
“It’s great for people who are new to the sport, and just want to get their foot in the door,” Haro said.