2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  TRAINING RUNS & HIKES ON THE
GRAND TETON RACE (GTR) COURSE: PART 2

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 4

 
"Grand Targhee is at an altitude of 8,000 feet. Compared to sea level, there is less
oxygen available, the air is very dry, and the sun's rays are stronger. So, drink lots of water
to keep hydrated, wear sunscreen and protective clothing including a hat
or approved helmet if biking, and listen to your body. All biking is done at your own risk . . ."
 
- from the Grand Targhee Resort summer trail system map
 
 
And all running and hiking is also done at your own risk! Fortunately, this week Jim and I have run into very few other trail users and the few cyclists we've seen on the trails have been courteous.

In the last entry I talked about the first section of the Grand Teton Race (GTR) course and showed you pictures going up and down Fred's Mountain, the literal and figurative high point on the course. Here's the GTR map again so you can reference it as I describe Sections B and C of the course in this entry, with photos from my run-hikes this past week:

 

SECTION B: MILL CREEK TRAIL (5.6 to 20 miles)

After runners check into the Base Aid Station at 5.6 miles, they head south and begin the longest section of the race. As you can see on the map above, it's an out-and-back two-way segment with a big convoluted clockwise loop.

The first few miles of Section B are mostly downhill on dirt roads and the Mill Creek Trail. The trail ends down in Teton Canyon, at about 7,000 feet the lowest elevation in the race, on the road that goes to our campground. If runners look to their left as they approach the road, this is what they see:


View of the Tetons as runners reach Teton Canyon Road

Cool!

Now scroll back up to the map. Can you see "Teton Canyon Road" at the bottom left? The race course is shown in red on trails and dirt/gravel roads and black (far left side of map) where runners go up paved Ski Hill Road for 3+ miles. This is the big black-line switchback you can see on the map:

 
Long and winding road . . . runners come uphill toward the camera during the race.

The only time Jim ran any of this section during the week was on Tuesday after climbing up and down Fred's Mountain. He didn't run any of the paved road. The dirt roads and trails weren't marked yet but he remembered the route. He ran the outbound direction for about five miles down to Teton Canyon Road, thinking what a great trail this is!

Yes, but in the race you have to go back UP that section, too, I reminded him with a grin.

I'd already gotten a little taste of going uphill from the canyon road on Tuesday. After Cody and I got done with Fred's Mountain, we drove down Ski Hill Road to Teton Canyon Road and the intersection with Mill Creek Trail. There's a nice parking lot there, right next to boisterous Teton Creek. Then we hiked up about half a mile until we met Jim flying down. I was disappointed that I didn't get to see more of the trail that day.

Above and below: views near the bottom of Mill Creek Trail

Not to worry. I got another chance this morning. Only I decided to go UP the trail from Teton Canyon Road to Targhee Base instead of down, so it'd be easier on my knees. That meant it was mostly a five-mile hike and not a run since I was going from 7,000 feet to 8,300 feet at the high point about a mile from the Base Aid Station location. Most of the gain was gradual, with about a mile of downhill running on Peaked Peak Road at the end of the section.

Route-finding was not a problem for me because this section was marked two days ago.

I enjoyed the lower couple miles of single-track trail through mostly shady pine and aspen forests. Since I haven't run the race before, it didn't feel like I was going the "wrong way," although this is opposite the direction the course will go in the race.

  

After I passed the intersection with Cold Springs Trail, where the race course loop "closes," I was on the two-way section of Mill Creek Trail and going the same direction runners will go as they return to the Base Aid Station. The trail goes through more open meadows full of flowers here, and morphs into a dirt road near the Cat Ski Platform after about a mile.

I expected a creek, since this is the Mill Creek Trail, but we weren't near any creeks and there was no water for Cody the entire way. Ditto the rest of the course, come to think of it. It's in stark contrast to the South Teton Creek Trail we ran/hiked yesterday.

I thought the most scenic part of Section B this morning was along the rough dirt and rock road between the Cat Ski Platform (above left) and the Sacagawea chairlift. It was uphill for almost a mile in the direction I was going, and open to the hot sun. Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed the colorful flowers, bright blue sky, green aspens and pines, and scenic vistas through this section:

 

 


What runners see going the other direction on the outbound leg.

At the top of that hill runners hop onto a short single-track trail (below) that takes them under the Sacagawea chair lift. There are great views from this part of the course.

 

 

The last mile back to the Base Aid Station is downhill on the winding dirt Peaked Peak Road:

 

During the race runners go the other way outbound, turn right (clockwise) around the loop that includes Teton Canyon Road and paved Ski Hill Road, and head back (right) into the woods on a jeep road at the Cold Springs Aid Station at mile 14.6. I have not run or walked on any of the four road miles but I've ridden on it several times. I'm counting that as parts of the course that I've seen. 

During the race tomorrow I plan to run all or part of the 2.3-mile Cold Springs Trail, which closes the loop end of this section. That's the only part of the course I haven't seen yet. Runners will turn left at the Mill Creek Trail and go back up to the Base Aid Station like I did this morning. At that point, they will have completed 20, 40, 60, or 80 miles of their race.

This is what the base area looked like this morning, with race tents and cones set up, as I finished my run:

 

SECTION C: RICKS BASIN (20 - 25 miles)

I've seen "Ricks Basin" with and without an apostrophe. The race website uses "Rick's" (singular possessive) but the Grand Targhee Resort website uses "Ricks," so that's what I'll use here. It's on their property, after all. I think the basin is named after a family with the last name of Ricks. There are a lot of Ricks families in the area. So how come it's not Ricks' (plural possessive)??

That grammar exercise aside, I'll tell you that this is my favorite part of the GTR course. It's five miles of scenic, rolling, fairly smooth, mostly single-track trail that I can actually run. It's also popular for cross-country skiing, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Add in adjacent Quakie Ridge and you've got another couple miles of trails to enjoy.

This is what Ricks Basin looks like from the summit of Fred's Mountain:


Ricks Basin is in the center of this photo. It's not as flat as it looks from here!

Check the GTR course map again and look for Section C at the top.

During the race runners head north from the Base Aid Station on dirt service roads (one is shown below) for about 3/4th mile until they reach a ridge where the single-track begins.

 


Jim and Cody on the southern ridge of the basin, nearing the single-track trails

Runners follow the trails in a clockwise loop and return to the start/finish area on a different dirt road that parallels the first one they took outbound. It sounds a little confusing, but the trails are so well marked on race day that runners shouldn't get lost.

It is quite possible to get off-course if you get out there before it's marked, however! Ask me how I know . . .


Off course? Who cares?!  This is a great view of Fred's Mountain.
The chairlift housing is the little blip at the top of the ridge on the right.

Jim and I ran this section with Cody on Wednesday morning. RD Jay Batchen and his trail crew had not marked this section yet but there were some markers left from a recent bike race that we sort of followed. Jim couldn't remember exactly how the course went but he got almost all of it correct.

That's OK. I was happy to get a bonus mile during our training run when he missed a cut-off used in the GTR to make the loop the right length. That's how much I enjoyed our run! It was over too soon for me.

I know we're back on course here:

Ricks Basin is full of wildflowers this time of year . . .

 

 

. . . and there are great views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, especially from the ridge on the far side of the loop:.

Above and below:  I think that's pointy Mt. Moran in the far distance, about 1/3 from the left.

 


Good view of Fred's and Table Mountains

At the end of the outer loop in Ricks Basin runners return to the start/finish area along a different dirt road that goes under the Blackfoot chairlift, reconnects with the other dirt roads on the outbound part of the course, and continues downhill to the Base Aid Station. The start/finish area is shown below on Wednesday, before the race tents were set up:

That's the Dreamcatcher chairlift on the left. The Base Aid Station will be in the grassy area in the center of that photo.

YEAR--ROUND PLAYGROUND

I'd love to tour Ricks Basin in the winter on cross-country skis but that's not likely to happen unless Jim develops a sudden love for snow and I learn to stay upright on Nordic skis! There are about nine miles of trails that are used for Nordic skiing at the resort, most of them in the basin. Here's a little photo I copied from a Grand Targhee Resort web page:

Brr! The summer season is so different. It was certainly warmer and greener this week, although there are a few signs that autumn is approaching as grasses and other plants gradually turn more red or brown:

 

We ran through mostly open fields but also some aspen groves that provided a brief, shady respite.

It was hot in the bright sunshine at 7,918 to 8,224 feet but not quite as hot as in the nearby valleys of Idaho, where the temps soared into the 90s F. that day. Two years ago Jim wasn't sufficiently heat-trained for this race; we think he's better trained for the heat this time after the warmer temperatures we've had here this week and in Utah recently.

Next entry: Jim's ready. Let's run the race!

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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