Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Snow, heavy rain and strong wind caused travel problems in parts of Wyoming today. Up to 8 inches of snow fell in the Big Horn Mountains in northern Wyoming and forced highway officials to close a section of U.S. 14A between Burgess Junction and Lovell. No unnecessary travel was recommended for U.S. 14 from Dayton to Burgess Junction. Ronda Holwell, spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, said up to 8 inches of snow had fallen in the area, causing slick spots and poor visibility."

- from the Casper, WY Tribune on June 7, 2007


At least the Bighorns didn't get the twelve to eighteen inches of snow originally predicted!

Jim has been in contact several times this week with Rich Garrison about helping to clear the course for the Bighorn races, which begin in a scant six days. Even before high winds and several inches of rain and snow hit this area on Wednesday and Thursday, race officials had warned runners in an e-mail update on June 3 that this year's Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Runs would be even more wild and scenic than usual because of "more winter" than in recent years.

Karen Powers, Rich Garrison, and other race officials and volunteers had already been moving trees and boulders off the course, checking the footbridges, and generally scouting out course conditions before this week's storm arrived to further complicate their formidable task. Because Hwys. 14 and 14A through the mountains were closed for a couple of days until road crews cleared the deep drifts  west of Burgess Junction, they weren't able to see the highest portion of the course near the Porcupine Ranger Station until today.

These roads are critical during the races. Hwy. 14 carries traffic west from Dayton, WY across the Bighorn Mountain Range. Hwy. 14A splits off from Hwy. 14 at Burgess Junction. The road to Dry Fork, a major aid station in the race, intersects near this junction. Buses carry runners here to the start of the 50K and 30K races, and the 52- and 100-milers also go through the aid station at least once. Access to Porcupine Aid Station, the turnaround point in the 100-miler and start of the 52-miler, is twenty-one miles west of the Junction on Hwy. 14A. There just isn't any other way for runner buses, crews, and volunteers to reach these important aid stations except driving up Hwy. 14 and 14A.

We were already up to Dry Fork for a training run/hike on Wednesday, and we've been planning to drive up to Porcupine to acclimate and run or hike there like we did last year. We figured we may as well help Rich and Karen while we were there, so we made arrangements to meet them out on the course this morning. They planned to leave Sheridan at 6:30. We slept later, leaving our campground in Dayton at 7:45.


I took most of these next photos through our buggy truck windshield going 60 MPH on the way to Porcupine instead of asking Jim to stop every five minutes for me to take a picture. (I edited out most of the bugs!)

We started seeing snow on the hillsides around 6,900 feet up - about where the guy sets up his beef and elk jerky trailer (if you've been there during the day, you've probably seen the bright sign shown in my entry on June 6). The snow got progressively deeper as we approached Burgess Junction at about 8,100 feet and the turnoff to the Porcupine Ranger Station twenty-one miles later:



Notice the buried sign below:

Jim spotted these two moose past Burgess Junction and took their picture out his side of the truck:

Although Hwys. 14 and 14A were clear and dry this morning, the dirt road three miles back to Porcupine Ranger Station was dicey even with 4WD because of the snowdrifts and mud. We could have easily gotten stuck if we'd slid off the tracks made by Rich and another volunteer whose vehicles were parked at the ranger station when we arrived. No ranger vehicles were present.


Several trees had fallen across the road and been cut by someone yesterday or today:

This is the building used for the aid station at Porcupine. It's an oasis in the middle of the 100-miler, a vortex like the Brighton Lodge at Wasatch or Bill's Barn at Vermont whose warmth sucks runners in during the cold night when their tired bodies just want to lie down and sleep:




We each got a snow shovel out of Rich's truck and headed off into the snow with Cody, following the footprints of the three volunteers ahead of us. Although it appeared "only" about eight inches of snow fell, there were numerous two- to three-foot drifts across the trail. We weren't post-holing as deeply as we did on Segment 4 of the Colorado Trail on Monday, but we did go into the existing holes or made our own holes up to mid-thigh. This snow was more dense and already crusted some on top, not like the very soft snow we went through on Monday, and in many places it was very wet underneath. I think our feet got cold more from the icy water than the snow.


After about a quarter mile we could see that one or two of the folks ahead of us were wearing snowshoes. Great idea! We have snowshoes, too. Guess where they are?? Answer: at home in Virginia, where it was 90 degrees when we left. We didn't bring our snow gaiters, either. There was no need for them out here last year, so why bring them this year?? Another lesson learned the hard way. We're probably going to run into more snow than last year in Colorado the rest of the summer, too. <sigh>

It took us nearly an hour to posthole through the drifts and slop through the marsh water as we climbed to the high point on the course (approximately 9,100 feet) about a mile out of Porcupine and another six-tenths beyond. It was easy to follow the prints and bright orange course markers, but we still hadn't caught up to Rich and Karen and the other intrepid volunteer ahead of us. We had no idea how far in they were or how we could possibly help. There was certainly too much heavy snow to shovel!






We turned around. It took only 42 minutes to come back down to the ranger station.


We left a note for Rich and headed back to the main road where we saw a sedan with Virginia tags but no one near the vehicle. There was an Appalachian Trail sticker on the bumper. Hmm . . . wonder if it's someone we know?? We left him (size 12 shoe print, according to Jim) a note but no contact info for security reasons, so we may never know who it was.


Then we headed to the Head of the Dry Fork to see how different it looked after the snowfall. We were discouraged after seeing Porcupine. This is a very tough course even under ideal conditions and he has dnf'd the hundred three times already. How could the runners possibly make it through this area under the cutoffs after being out on the course so long, AND partly or mostly in the dark? It was hard enough to walk through the snow. No one could possibly run in it like this.

I was very curious to see if Dry Fork, at 7,500 feet, was any better. It was, as you can see from the photos below. Compare them with the ones I took on June 6. Freeze Out Road was clear and dry all the way back (about fifteen miles) from the main highway:

Runners in all four races use Freeze Out Road either coming into or going out of the Dry Fork AS:

This photo shows both Freeze Out Road on the right and the jeep road at the start of the 50K on the left:

This is another view up the road at the 50K start (I have a vested interest in that road):

We didn't drive up to the Camp Creek drainage today, but could see from Dry Fork that it had snow on it. It was very wet and muddy on Wednesday, and will definitely be messy on race weekend.

The jeep road down into the Dry Fork drainage on the way to Cow Camp still had some snow on it but, barring any further snow this week, it should be melted by Friday when the 100-milers go through. Right now it's very muddy. It's in full sun and just might dry out in six days.

Jim took a nap while Cody and I walked around the Head of the Dry Fork in several directions for half an hour. I took photos of flowers and the overflowing creek across the road, typical of all the creeks in this area with the spring run-off:


Even though we didn't get in many training miles today, we did acclimate at 7,500 to 9,100 feet for over five hours. We're both in rest mode anyway. We have a race in six days! (Seven for me.) We drove 121 miles today between Dayton, Porcupine, and Dry Fork and back to Dayton. Pity the folks who are crewing 100-milers - that doesn't include even longer miles to get to the Footbridge AS!

Last year we saw several moose at Porcupine when we trained and acclimated there. This year the only ones we saw were along Hwy. 14. I photographed these two critters on our way back down to Dayton from Dry Fork but didn't crop in close as both had their heads in the grass:

Race management faces a myriad of challenges on this course in a GOOD year, let alone a year when Mother Nature dumps this much late-season snow on the course only a week before 600 runners show up. The weather prediction for this week is "warm and sunny." Rich thinks the course will be wetter than usual but is confident most of the snow should be gone by race day. Jim talked to him after he got back. He and the other volunteers (there were actually five of them, not three) got in four and a half miles from Porcupine to Elk Camp today.

Rich is sending us some photos he took of the course yesterday. I'll post them in another entry soon.

We're looking forward to seeing a bunch of our VHTRC and other friends as they arrive in the area in the next few days,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil