Jim and I have health insurance that will cover any future snake bites;
Cody doesn't, so he got to snooze in the camper while we headed for enemy
territory. He can go anywhere on the course with us except here.
The ride out Tongue Canyon Road was pleasant but it brought back
some unpleasant memories of previous races when we've trudged through the last
five miles of the various distances of the Bighorn races that
end with this road section. We didn't see much snow on the far
slopes today, a good omen:
I always enjoy running and hiking on the dry, gritty trail above
the river for the first couple of miles. There is such power in
the water as it crashes over boulders and thunders downstream
through its narrow channel. I'm always amazed at how much calmer
the river appears in the miles between the trailhead and
Foothills Campground, where the terrain is barely sloped..
Despite high 40-degree F. temperatures in the morning at our
campsite in Dayton (elev. about 4,000 feet), the canyon area
quickly warms up on a sunny day like today and retains heat in
its massive rock walls.
By the time we got above tree line (about 7,000 feet elevation)
around lunchtime, we were toasty warm. Even Horse Creek Ridge
(8,000 feet) felt balmy today. By mid-afternoon it was in the
mid-70s in Dayton, quite pleasant for late May.
Jim and I hung fairly close together through Rattler Territory
(i.e., where we thought was the highest probability of
encountering one of the beasties), then he went on ahead after
about three miles for the rest of
the climb. He's in much better climbing/altitude/running shape than I am
right now. He should be; he's done a lot more training
and racing miles on hilly terrain than I have because he's
training for the 100-mile race here in four weeks. I'm training
for "only" the 50K race and I've been less than a
slave to any type of running schedule lately.
Jim, in his white sun shirt, runs ahead.
The rocks and 3,000 feet of climb
(and equal descent) that I did today were tough on me. I had
plenty of time on the trail today, almost five hours, to realize
that I haven't done anything this strenuous for almost two
years! On the climb up through the canyon and meadows my calves, quads, hamstrings, and
Achilles all became sore. I took the opportunity several
times to stop to get my breath, rest my legs, and take photos of
the gorgeous scenery and early spring flowers along the trail.
My running isn't worth a darn
any more, so I may as well enjoy the journey!
SPRING IN THE HIGH MEADOWS
I was happy to see how green and
lush the meadows are above the canyon, since this is the
earliest we've arrived before the Bighorn races. The flowers
were beautiful but not as profuse as they should be in two or
I forgot to bring my Rocky Mountain wildflower book with
me on this trip and I can't remember all the names of the
flowers I saw today, but they included deep violet monkshood;
blue lupines, penstemon, harebells, forget-me-nots,
western Pasque flowers, and mountain bluebells; blue and
white phlox; white bear grass; pink shooting stars
and wild geraniums;
yellow violets, arrow-leaf balsamroot, mountain avens, alpine
sunflowers, arnica, and those pervasive dandelions. There
are other species I can't identify without further research.
It's obvious that winter hasn't completely lost its grip at the
higher altitudes, however. There aren't any leaves on the aspens and
some of the other
deciduous trees and shrubs at about 7,000 feet in elevation,
and on the way up through the
canyon we could see some remnants of snow banks on slopes
between 7,000-8,000 feet
that don't receive very many hours of sun:
At Fence Spring, just
before reaching the signature barbed wire fence line that runners follow for about a
mile during the races in this section, snow covered the mouth of the spring:
Jim was able to
get fresh water from the creek flowing beneath the snow. He was
running "lighter" than me today (he usually does) and needed to
refill his water and/or Heed bottle. I wore my Camelbak HAWG
with about 90 ounces of water in the bladder and hand-carried
concentrated Perp in a 20-oz. bottle. We both carried flasks of
The only other place we encountered mud
and snow today was in the drainage area along the fence line, below
the ridge. You can see this whole area in the next picture. In the
original photo I can see Jim about a quarter mile ahead of me,
to the right of the fence and just before he reached the snow bank:
We could either detour around this snow bank or
slip and slide up/down it. We both chose to climb up it. Twenty
feet through the snow seemed like a better idea than a couple
hundred feet around it. In the
next photo you can see that Jim (the little white speck on the
left) is just on the other side of the snow. On the
return I butt-slid down to prevent an accidental fall that
could wreck my knees. My only regret was that my Inner Child
didn't get to enjoy a much longer slide down the snow!
You can see why this part of the trail stays wet for several
snowmelt; look at all the little fingers of snow in
shallow gullies on the side of the ridge. This is a good
illustration of "drainage area."
In stark contrast, in some places the trail was so dry today
that the soil was cracked. Apparently it hasn't rained in this
area recently. The Bighorn race course is notorious for its mud
at the higher elevations. We'll have to see what the weather
brings us in the next month. The downside to a dry June is fewer
Jim hiked the 6½ miles from 4,250
feet at the canyon trailhead to 8,000 feet at the top
of Horse Creek Ridge, shown below, in about 2:30 hours and spent a few
minutes acclimating, eating a sandwich, and enjoying the
magnificent views back down into the canyon.
It took me the same
amount of time to cover a little under six miles. I stopped just
short of the steep pitch below the ridge (est. 7,500 feet). Going up wasn't the
issue; coming back down was. Steep descents like that are
murder on my knees. That's OK. My views were almost as good as
When I saw Jim start to descend, I
turned around, too. With that head start, it took him several
miles to catch up to me:
The long descent back to the
trailhead was tough on my knees. I was able to do some
steady running downhill on the return until they rebelled. I'm
really out of shape for mountain running and need to improve
before race day. The 50K has two serious descents. This is one
of them. The other is a steep drop from Riley Point to Cow Camp
earlier in the race. One thing I apparently did well today was
drinking enough fluids and consuming enough electrolytes to have
no leg cramps.
I continued taking pictures all the
way down, of
course, which partially explains why it took two hours for me to get back
to the truck. My rationale? The quick stops helped to rest my
knees [she grinned].
NO SNAKE SIGHTINGS TODAY!
We considered our run/hike a success in several regards, most
notably for its absence of rattlers.
I caught up to Jim shortly after he'd left me in his dust about halfway up the canyon when he stopped
to talk to Rich Garrison, one of our running friends from the
Sheridan area. He and a buddy were also out for a training
run on the course today. Neither had spotted any rattlesnakes
yet, but Rich warned us that he's seen at least one on a
previous run this month.
Our rattlesnake antennae couldn't have been any higher whether
Rich had just seen a rattler two minutes ago or had never seen one.
We knew they were out there lying in wait for us suckers to
step on them!
A few minutes later the guy in the next photo went zipping past me on his way up
the mountain. I was envious of his ability to run uphill so
effortlessly at altitude when I could barely maintain a steady
walking pace. He was nice enough to stop for a few seconds to
say hi before running on ahead toward Jim.
I caught up with him talking to Jim a couple minutes later. He
is a local runner training for the Bighorn 30K race. He's not
just any fella, though.
thought he recognized the young man and asked his name:
Levi Dominguez. Ah, ha! He asked Levi
if he remembered the guy who got the snake bite three years ago.
Levi did, and then he remembered why Jim looked familiar!
What an interesting coincidence. Levi was a high school senior
that summer, volunteering with the Dayton EMS department. He was
in the first of two ambulances (ambuli?) that transported Jim to the hospital in
Sheridan. Now Levi is employed full time with the Sheridan Fire and
Rescue Department. He and Jim had a brief but interesting conversation,
then both continued climbing up toward Horse Creek Ridge at
their own paces, remembering snippets of that fateful day.
[I would end up seeing Levi two more times when he and his
fellow EMTs/firemen were working out at the Sheridan YMCA. He greeted me
enthusiastically each time.]
Jim and I lucked out today, seeing no rattlesnakes. Will our luck hold
on subsequent runs up and down this canyon??
Next entries: more training runs on the Bighorn course
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil