Clear Creek County Pack Burro Race

Run Your Ass Off

By Jaclyn Morrow

Clear Creek County Memorial Day week end held two races. The first was 5-6 miles that includes a 12% grade over rough areas, and the 2nd was 10.5 miles passing old mines, including the Arco. Burro races continue into September through mountain areas of Colorado where it is officially a summer heritage sport.

The 2019 Clear Creek County Burro Race in Georgetown, called Run Your Ass Off, has been in other parts of the summer, but moved to Memorial Day weekend this year combined with other local celebrations. For their 5th annual race, they had 57 finishes on Saturday, May 25th. The first place burro/human team finished in 1: 15:21: George Zack age 49. The top 10 teams finished within 6 minutes of each other. The last “ass over the pass” was Joann Rouillard finishing in 3 hours, 37 minutes and 33 seconds. The last two finished within 6 minutes of each other.

The Idaho Springs Pack Burro Race, held on Sunday, May 26th was their 19th annual race, and had 70 human/burro teams finish. Idaho Springs first place team finished in 50 minutes and 13 seconds; Andrew Knutsen. The top 10 finishers were within 6 minutes of each other, with six of them being in the top 12 in Georgetown. The top seven all finished in 50 minutes. The last ass over the pass was Lisa Boland in her 50’s , finishing in 1 hour, 51 minutes and 36 seconds. The last two finished in 26 seconds of each other, with Lisa’s team still walking while the second to last, Joann Rouillard’s team gave a final burst of running at the end.

Pack Burro History

With the Colorado Gold Rush beginning in 1859, plenty of prospectors came a-running. To get to the mountains where gold was being found, a few supplies were needed. Burro’s (Spanish for donkey) were surefooted in the mountains, and worked well as pack animals. They carried the pick, gold pan, and other supplies for prospecting. The prospector, walked, keeping the donkey on a lead line.

Pack Burro Racing History

The often told legend tells of two prospectors who found gold in the same location. Each wanted to get back to file a claim to continue mining there. Each had a burro, loaded with their tools of the prospector’s trade. The animals could not hold tools and human, so they each raced back to the claim office leading the burro with a rope.

Another version of the story includes a drunken bet that one prospector could get back to Leadville over Mosquito Pass before the other, claiming a $500 win in the late 1800’s.

Many prospectors left their burro’s to roam in abandoned mining towns when the prospects were not so good. They got on a train and went somewhere else, leaving their burro behind. These wild burros reproduced and became a nuisance in many areas. Few still remain, but Colorado Burros have a new purpose in life.

Pack Burro Racing today

Pack burro races are located in historic mining towns as part of their summer celebration. The current list of communities that hold pack Burro races are: Georgetown, Idaho Springs, Cripple Creek, Buena Vista, Leadville, and Fairplay. The last three are considered a Triple Crown, like in horse racing, one who wins all three races wins the Triple Crown.

Fairplay to Leadville may have been one of the first pack burro races for runners on a course over rough trails, open fields, and occasionally along dirt roadways. Official rules and electronic winners are carefully monitoring the weight the animal caries and may include a veterinarian inspection of the animal after the race. The events that developed out of wild burro racing in an arena area in Cripple Creek, which latter took to trails, influenced the rules of Western Pack Burro Association.

May 26, 2012 Colorado passed legislation making pack burro racing a summer heritage sport in Colorado.

Rules of Colorado burro racing

To enjoy the natural beauty of Colorado, the exhilaration of hiking rugged trails at high elevations where the original late 1800 prospect miners brought their burros, pack burro racing was revived. The original use of donkey’s packed for prospecting lead by a rope with trails and finish lines that confirmed no harm to the animals established the sport of historic Colorado origins by racing from start to finish.

Western Pack Burro Association is the place to get registered for a race paying a fee to participate. If you don’t have your own burro and pack saddle, these can be rented for the event. Prize money is given to the top 10 finishers as well as a few other special awards.

A marked course is traveled with the runner leading the burro with a rope tied to the muzzle harness. The rope may not be more than 15 feet long, and the runner must be in control of the burro at all times.

Races vary in length and challenge. The short course may be eight miles or less. Medium length is generally around 15 miles. But the granddaddy, over Mosquito pass is nearly 30 miles. Some races have steep grades or many switchbacks. There are rocks and trees to get over and under. Some go through open fields, or cross creeks, but 90% of the race will be on the dirt roads and trails. Generally only the beginning and end of the race is in a man-made area. Trails often go by the old mines, where other burros’ hauled wagons of ore.

Riding the burro is not allowed. Carrying the burro is permitted, but the human on the burro is not allowed. There are many sizes of burros, some are too small to support a person. The pick and pan is quite uncomfortable to try to straddle, says Curtis Imrie, from Colorado Public Radio interview as a very experienced pack burro runner.

The pack rig has a wooden X near the shoulders and rear of the donkey, connecting the front and back X with at least three points along the animals sides and back. It is placed over a blanket and synched similar to a saddle. This is how the packs are secured to the animal. 33 pounds of traditional mining gear are required for the race pick, shovel, and gold pan. Any other food or supplies the burro carries is in addition to the 33 pounds (15 Kilograms) of mining gear, and slows down your burro’s speed.

Cruelty to animals is strictly forbidden, and a veterinarian may inspect the animal after the race.

One burro race facilitator is Bill Lee, who began running pack burro races 19 years ago in Idaho Springs. One year they even ran in Central City, when Idaho Springs had a change of governing thoughts. He still runs in the burro races, keeping a few burros near Idaho Springs all year. He finished near the end of 70 teams, aging but still racing. His burros other finished in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th place in Idaho Springs.

Wild Burros

Wild burros are hard to find, now. They had been left behind by miners who abandoned their claims. Many communities found them a nuisance, so had them removed. The burros in the race are many different breeds some small, some tall, but all with really big ears.

The burros used in these races are generally rented from a breeder for the race. The breeder delivers them with their pack for the race. Races are a good way to give the burros exercise since they are often kept in a pasture.

Idaho Springs, as with most mining communities, has the original business district and many old homes. The community makes a big celebration of its heritage as do other communities during the burro race. Many people enjoy the novel shops and business, parks, and recreation areas.

2019 Poop Drop Contest

Idaho Springs set up a holding area for the returning burros. The portable fencing on a side road was marked off in about two square feet sections. $2 bought you a chance to choose the section that would receive the largest pile of poop, while waiting for the awards to be given. The winner, an officer not present being on duty, won $200.

Idaho Springs 2019 Springs Pack Burro Winners

–Youngest runner: Hayden Bloom, female, 11 years, 38th place

–Farthest distance traveled for the race and oldest runner, 71 year old Edward Coutu from Iowa

–Lass Ass of the pass, 70th place Lisa Boland in her 50’s

–Idaho Springs race originator, burro provider and not oldest runner 70 year old Bill Lee, in 67th place Idaho Springs and 2nd to last in Georgetown, 6 minutes before last ass.

–10th Roland Brodeur, male, early 30’s of Colorado Springs

–9th Smokey Burges, male, upper 40’s, from Leadville

–8th Tracy Laughlin, first place female, early 40’s and 5th place for age group in Georgetown

–7th John Vincent, male, early 60’s from Franktown, a frequent winner, 6th place in Georgetown

–6th KC Young, male, upper 20’s

–5th Kirt Courkamp, male, upper 50’s, placed 12th in Georgetown, World Champion in Fairplay

–4th Shad Mika male, early 40’s, 4th  place in Georgetown

–3rd George Zack male, very late 40’s, 1st place in Georgetown

–2nd Joe Polonsky male, early 40’s, 3rd place in Georgetown

–1st Andrew Knutsen, male, late 30’s, 9th in Georgetown

Anyone who enjoys the real smells of the Colorado Rockies, mixed with the smells of a pack animal, and enjoys hiking, may also enjoy being a burro racer to help perpetuate Colorado history.

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