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"Designing a contingency course for the 50 mile and 100 mile events similar in difficulty
and scenery to our original courses was relatively easy to do as we have thought about
such matters for over 20 years. The real work comes in reallocating, reassigning, and
repositioning the volunteer and communication assets in less than a week, communicating
the changes to the volunteers, participants and crews, and having the event come off without
a glitch. Our race directors Karen Powers, Michelle Maneval, and Cheryl Sinclair
made it happen in a totally seamless fashion. The race directors, volunteers, runners, and
crews were flexible and adaptable and all performed in an outstanding fashion!"
~ from the Bighorn race website history page, referencing the significant
course changes that were required for safety and support reasons in 2008
Reason #85 why Jim is glad he's entered in the 50K this year and not one of the longer races: iffy snow conditions, particularly at the 8,500-foot level and above near the Porcupine Ranger Station (turn-around for the 100-miler and start of the 52-miler).

Jim has been in contact with course director Karen Powers (mother of race director Michelle   Maneval) since we arrived in the area on Monday to see if she, Wendell Robison, and Rich Garrison needed any help with trail work or marking.

Race management has some concerns about the upper elevations of the course, which reach a high point near Devil's Canyon Road about a mile from the Porcupine Ranger Station. Karen and Wendell checked it out after work on Wednesday but haven't made any decisions yet re: a possible re-route. In addition to the late spring snow that hasn't melted at the upper elevations, it has been raining and snowing in the mountains this week and more precipitation is predicted for the next few days. Deep snow plus a power line that is down may cause problems with both runner and volunteer access to the aid station.

At least the conditions aren't as bad this year (so far) as they were two years ago, when the 100- and 52-mile courses had to be significantly re-routed away from the "high country" entirely.

I took this photo three years ago (6-13-07) near Porcupine:

This year's snow is probably deeper. Jim and I haven't seen this spot yet.


This afternoon Jim rode up to the Porcupine Ranger Station area via US 14 and 14A with Karen and Rich to do a further assessment of road and trail conditions.

Their first task was to determine if volunteers would likely be able to reach the Elk Camp aid station, which is about 4 miles from the ranger station. Jim doesn't know which forest service road they took to try to access this location. He doesn't think it was Devil's Canyon Road, which crews can use to meet their runners a mile from the turn-around at Porcupine. That spot on Devil's Canyon Road is at or near the high point in the race at just under 9,000 feet (Porcupine is about 8,800 feet).

Karen drove in as far as she could on the other road and parked at the edge of the snow:

Then the threesome got out and hiked over the snow for about three miles on the road. Rich carried a shovel so he could determine how deep the snow was as they ventured farther and farther in the road. The group didn't do any trail work this time. In fact, they didn't even reach the trail today.

Jim isn't used to wearing snowshoes, especially borrowed ones, so he ended up walking in/through the snow without the snowshoes for much of the way. He took this series of photos so we could see the snow conditions:



After walking in for almost three miles the road had descended enough that there wasn't any snow on it. Soon after that, they turned around.

Karen thinks that Elk Camp, which sits at only 7,430 feet in elevation, will probably be accessible  after another week of snow-melt. She's been doing this type of assessment for the race for enough years now that she pretty well knows how much snow melt to expect this time of year. A lot depends on how much additional snow falls between now and then, however.

Sign for the 1,320-acre Half Ounce Burn in 1979.

Back they trudged (through the snow again) to Karen's truck. By now, weather conditions were deteriorating:

Jim got the next two photos from the back seat as they returned to the main road:


They saw two large moose along the road but Jim wasn't able to get pictures of them from his position in the truck.

Karen also wanted to check out the road to the Porcupine Ranger Station, site of the turn-around at 48 miles for the 100-mile race and start of the 52-mile race. In just one week that aid station will have to be set up -- the 100-mile race begins on Friday afternoon. The next morning at 5 AM buses will be delivering the 52-milers for their 6 AM race start.

Can they likely get in??

Karen can't be absolutely sure yet but she'll use her best judgment in the next few days to make that determination. Today the Forest Service had the access road gated just past the High Country Lodge (located near Hwy. 14A) because of high snow and/or a downed power line, so Karen was unable to drive back to the ranger station. It doesn't appear that the snow is as deep here now as it was in 2008 (it was four to five feet deep that year).

This is what the eastern slope of the Bighorns looked like this afternoon while Jim was gone and I was riding my bike down in Dayton:

Jim came home today with ambivalent feelings about doing the 50K this year -- a little sad that he's not trained for the 100-miler yet grateful that he won't have nearly as much sloppy trail to navigate in the 50K. He remembers how muddy the upper parts of this course always are. So do I, from the times I've run the 52-mile race and have done pre-race training runs in that area.

With or without snow, this course is always a challenge.

[Later: despite new snow off and on throughout the next few days, the temperatures were high enough to melt most of the snow off the access roads before race weekend. Wendell re-routed about two miles of the course between the Elk Camp and Porcupine aid stations but volunteers at both stations were able to get themselves and their supplies in. There were no other course re-routes that I'm aware of.]

Next entry: we're itching to see what the Riley Point Loop looks like; it gets up to about 8,500 feet -- how much snow is there??

Happy trails,

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

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil