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Mt. Taylor

Mount Taylor

MT team

The self-proclaimed “What-Were-We-Thinking Team” sets out at dawn to conquer the Mount Taylor Quadrathalon as a foursome. (l. to r.) Randy Erickson, Midge Gold, Piers Ramsay, Diane Coady-Ramsay

Mt. Taylor

Snowshoer Midge Gold (left) greets solo entrant Maya Ramsay as she heads out to cycle the final 13-mile, downhill leg of the quadrathalon to Grants, New Mexico.

The Mount Taylor Quadrathalon—no bowl of cherries

—Piers Ramsay and Diane Coady-Ramsay

There are four mountains marking the traditional Navajo homeland or Dine`tah. Blanca lies to the East, San Francisco Peaks to the West, Hesperus to the North, and Mount Taylor to the South. Mount Taylor, the highest point in the San Mateo Mountains, is sacred to the Navajo and known to them as Tsoodzil, the Turquoise or Blue Bead Mountain. It is female in gender and in mythology the supernatural beings Turqouise Boy and Girl reside there.

The Acoma, Laguna and Zuni people consider it a sacred place, as well. It’s Spanish name is Cebolleta or “sweet onion.”

It was given its more common name in 1849 for our twelfth president, Zachary Taylor. Rumor has it that someone may have poisoned him. Taylor died in 1850, five days after eating a bowl of cherries and milk. He probably never set foot on Mount Taylor, and he really missed something special. 

Located near the town of Grants, fifty-five miles west of Albuquerque, the Turquoise Mountain is a dominant feature on our horizon. It is a Stratovolcano. Some 1.5 to 3.3 million years ago, she had an elevation of 16,000 to 18,000 feet. When racing to the top, we were glad Mount Taylor had blown her top and was whittled away to a mere 11,305 feet. 

Every February for the last 29 years Grants has hosted the Mount Taylor Winter Quadrathalon. Athletes (and folks like us), come from all over the country to participate in this unique and challenging event. I believe it is the only one of its kind in the country.

The race consists of four events, starting in town with a bike ride of 13 miles and an elevation gain of 1,750 feet. Your quads are really starting to burn by the time you leave the bike and run the next five miles to gain another 1,250 feet. By this time, you have entered the snow and clip into skis for the next two miles for a gain of another 1,200 feet. The last mile and six-hundred-foot gain to the summit is done on snowshoes.

Snowshoers pass a booth with some jovial folks offering shots of Jack Daniels, tequila, or schnapps. If the climb or a few shots haven’t already taken your breath away, then the view from the peak certainly will (weather permitting). After a few moments of celebration, silence, or perhaps wondering what in God’s name you were thinking, it’s time to turn around and repeat the events all the way back to town.

With a total elevation gain of 4,750 feet and distance of 43 miles, it is a grueling race, especially for the soloists. There are also teams of two, three, or four participants, each doing one or two of the events. We chose to participate as a team of four.

The varied weather in February can find you freezing, sweating, wind-blown, snow-blind, sunburned, and/or lost in a snowstorm. This year, the skies were crystal clear, the sun was shining, and the snow was cold—perfect conditions for race day.

The town of Grants pulls out all the stops for this event. An army of volunteers is there to help with everything from moving participants and gear to managing water and food stations to supplying first aid. For the soloists, volunteers are at every transition to help them change their gear, keep hydrated and fed, and to give words of encouragement. At the end of the day, they pack up and make sure everything gets back down to town. The volunteers are kind and generous and really made us think twice about the town we usually just pass by on the interstate.

This year, of the over three hundred people in the race, 146 did it solo. Those were the real heroes of the day. There were approximately 14 pairs, each doing two events, and 32 teams of three or four participants. The winner completed the whole race in about three-and-a-half hours while the last person came across the finish line at around eight-and-a-half hours.

Race day was a wonderful adventure. Our team was able to watch the three soloists in our group of friends as they passed the different transitions points and made their ways to the top of the mountain and back down. Their determination and strength was a thing of beauty, and at the end of the day, there were smiles all around. We came home with race-day memories that will stay with us awhile. Talk about returning next year to participate in the thirtieth anniversary of the “Quad” is already underway.
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