Time to get back on the Bighorn course, rain and snow notwithstanding.
We have races to train for.
Instead of the sub-freezing temperatures that were predicted for this
morning, we awoke to 38°F. and sunshine. The
forecast high is 61° in Sheridan and the mid-50s for Dayton. We know it will be
cooler in the mountains but rain isn't predicted until later this afternoon . .
. so let's take advantage of this window of opportunity to get in a good
run/hike on the course before the sky opens up again.
Today's destination: the area
southwest of the Footbridge aid station in the Little Bighorn Canyon. We'll go
out (and up) as many miles as we can, then come back down.. Jim will hit this
section 30 miles into the 100-miler in the outbound direction;
it's the beginning of an 18-mile climb from a little over 4,000 feet to
9,100 feet near the turnaround point, and
he'll probably be running/hiking most of it in the dark.
Beautiful view on the drive to the Little Bighorn Canyon
Although this section is not on my 50K
course, I was game for some variety. It's not dissimilar to parts of the course
I'll be running: it has rocks, roots, mud, climbing, and descending. It
may be prime rattlesnake territory through the lower canyon, but we've never
seen any snakes there. So Cody will go with us today. He's got cabin fever,
The worst part of running or crewing this
section is accessing the trailhead. It involves an hour's drive north of
Dayton, into Montana, and back into Wyoming. Most of the miles are on good
paved roads that afford scenic views of the eastern and northern edges of the
Bighorn Range. It's the last bone-jarring miles that make us swear every time
that we will never, ever drive out here again.
But we usually do. Selective memory rules.
Even paved Littlehorn Road was a pain
today. The pavement was removed in about 25 places for drainage pipes or
something, making for a slower, rougher ride.
As we got closer and closer to the canyon we could see just how low the snow
was still on the ground from yesterday's storm:
The final dirt roads were
atrocious from all the rain and lack of grading in recent months or years. The
holes, puddles, and mud were deeper, the rocks more exposed than previous trips
back to the canyon. We also
encountered a fenced cattle "gate" across the road for the first time. It was
heavy and it took us a few minutes each direction to open and close it:
When we reached the area where crews park on
race day, we still had 3/4 mile to walk to the aid station location near the
footbridge across the river. That end of the road is too rough for our 2WD
truck so we ran/hiked it in and out.
JUST DO IT
Before reaching the bridge we met a young woman
who's staying in one of the cabins along the river and was returning from a
training run the other direction from the aid station. She's running the
50-miler. She confirmed the course, especially the steep climb right above the
bridge, was a royal mess but we continued on. This should be good training for
the race itself, we kept telling ourselves.
Her report about the steep climb made me reassess my plan for
the day. I originally thought I'd go each direction from the
bridge out one hour and back, for a four-hour run plus the 1½
miles on the rocky access road. I revised that to a two-hour out
in the same SW direction Jim was going, and back. He wanted to
go about ten miles to Spring Marsh, then turn and come back.
Trail through the lower part of the canyon
Our day on the trail turned out to
be mostly cloudy with some sun in the morning and a bit of rain
on the way back in the afternoon. Temperatures in the 40s and
50s were pleasant for running.
The trail follows the Little
Bighorn River closely for a couple miles, then rises high above
it into the forest and open meadows. The river was so full and
loud that it sounded like a freight train in some parts of the
high-walled canyon. It was not a suitable source of water for
Cody until we got higher up the trail where it was a little more
Trail conditions were challenging,
even through the rockier sections at the lower elevations above
the bridge. Open areas were just as muddy as wooded sections
because of the recent rain and snow. We began seeing snow along
the trail at about the 4,800-foot level. Above 5,000 feet, there
was some recent snow ON the trail in shady spots.
Following Jim's footprints in the snow
On the return I could tell that
some of the snow had already melted on and near the trails just
in the time we were out there today. We noticed the same thing
when we drove back to the campground; there was
noticeably less snow at the lower elevations than we saw this
Some of the flowers appeared to have been matted down by the wet, heavy
snow. The flattened areas looked to me to be too large to have
been places where deer and elk bedded down.
Mountain flowers are remarkably resilient at all altitudes.
Although there aren't a lot of flowers in bloom right now in
this section, the ones we saw were quite pretty and made an
interesting visual and mental contrast to the snow.
We didn't see any large wildlife today. Jim was running ahead of
Cody and me, so it wasn't just Cody's presence that may have
kept elk and deer in hiding.
Above the boulder-filled canyon area the river is flatter and
calmer. Sometimes the trail follows the river quite closely;
other times it climbs higher above the water until it finally
disappears into the forest.
the location of the Narrows aid station even though I hadn't
been on this part of the trail for several years:
The trail undulates through this section between Footbridge and
Spring Marsh but is definitely a net uphill on the outbound.
After the Narrows it leaves sight of the river and passes through rocky areas full of tall trees and moss.
The trail is very runnable through here, though.
looked more like winter than spring:
Jim ended up turning around after 5½
miles and 5,869 feet elevation. The footing became too
difficult and he "just wasn't having any fun." We both got
past the location of the Narrows aid station but not as far as
Spring Marsh. I was about 4½ miles in when I saw Jim coming back
toward me. The elevation there was 5,531 feet. After following
his scent for almost two hours, Cody was happy to finally "catch
up to" Jim:
Cody and I turned around and
followed Jim back to the footbridge. The remaining photos show
the direction in which the 50-milers run their race and the way
the 100-milers head back to the Footbridge AS at mile 66. We
were both able to run more on the return because it was a net
downhill. We still had to tread carefully through the rocky and
muddy areas though.
We got some rain through here.
Cody inspects he Footbridge AS location
At the end of the run we went down to the footbridge that
crosses the Little Bighorn River. The trail continues up a steep
hill on the other side. Jim will save that for race day. This is
where he dropped out two years ago (mile 66) and he's determined
to get past it this time.
Jim ended up with about 12½ miles
today and I had about 10½ miles total. Although our mileage wasn't
high, we got a strenuous workout in 4+ hours on the course. That
was enough adversity for one day.
Oh, but we weren't done.
After the wet, bumpy drive back out to
the highway, we swore "never again" -- again! But we'll probably
find ourselves heading for that trailhead again the next time
we're here for the Bighorn races. It's important that we run as
much of the course as possible before race day. Specificity,
familiarization, and all that . . .
Next entry: let's try the
Riley Loop again
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil