2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
 

  BIGHORN MOUNTAIN SCENES BETWEEN
DRY FORK & HORSE CREEK RIDGE

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 9

 
". . . After leaving the [Dry Fork] aid station, the course proceeds up Freeze Out
Road on trails and a gravel road, cresting on Camp Creek Ridge at 8,100 feet. It then
descends down the Sheep Creek drainage to 7,300 feet on a four-wheel drive road
[and a nice trail]. After running about five miles from the Dry Fork station, runners
will reach the fully-supplied Upper Sheep Creek aid station at the 18-mile check-point.
Next is the summit of Horse Creek Ridge at 8,000 feet, following trails and primitive
four-wheel drive roads, which will then drop you into the Tongue River Canyon.
Take a moment to view the canyon and the distant plains before you
descend the trail through seas of wildflowers . . ."
 
~ from the Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Runs 50K course description
 
 
The final eighteen miles of each of the Bighorn races are identical from the Dry Fork aid station to the finish at Scott Park in Dayton, WY.

In addition to the miles described in the 50K course description above -- which I'll show in pictures in this entry -- runners descend almost 3,000 feet in a little over three miles to the Lower Sheep Creek aid station, Jim's and my turn-around point in the last entry. After dropping down the canyon to the aid station at the trailhead, runners complete their journey on the Tongue River Canyon Road to the town of Dayton.


I took this photo from Horse Creek Ridge last year during the 50K race.
The view is toward the canyon and the plains beyond.

We had separate goals today:

  • Jim wanted to run point-to-point from Camp Creek Ridge to the finish, which is conveniently just a hundred yards from our camper! That's a distance of about 17 miles.
  • Since someone had to bring the truck back home, and all that downhill is not a good thing for my Granny Knees, my goal was to hike with Cody from Camp Creek Ridge to Horse Creek Ridge and back, a distance of about 10 miles.

GETTING THERE

This morning dawned cool (53 F.) and cloudy but morphed into 68 and partly sunny down in Dayton. It was probably 10-15 cooler in the mountains -- just about perfect for running/walking.

I had some dread as we drove up US 14 to Burgess Junction. Last year I was more than a little dismayed at the "improvements" being made to the road in the high plateau country for several miles west of the distinctive "ship's prow" rock formation, shown below. The landscape was badly scarred as crews cut down trees and moved tons and tons of dirt and rocks to straighten out the scenic curves and switchbacks I loved so much.


Newly-improved road near the distinctive "ship's prow" rock formation

I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw today. Although the contractor was unable to complete the job last year and still has two or three more miles of pavement to complete, the scars are not nearly as ugly as they were last year.

I found several positives. The company has installed nice rustic fencing along this stretch, the new banks and the old sections of roadway have been attractively landscaped, and the drive is still quite scenic. It's appreciably faster, too! I grew to appreciate that.

There is still work to do but by this time next year the scars will be even more healed and I'll probably forget what the old road looked like.

I sure hope the crew replaces that sign about the billion-year-old rocks, though.

All the geological signs going up the mountain from Dayton are still there, from the Triassic Epoch around 230 million years ago to about 750 million years ago. (That's some upheaval, with the oldest rocks on top!) But the sign for the billion-year-old rocks was on a tight switchback near the ship's prow and now the road doesn't pass it. Maybe this weekend (when the road crew isn't working) I'll stop and walk over to the spot where it was and see if it's still there . . .


Still ugly here where the road work hasn't been completed.

After reaching Burgess Junction, we turned right on FSR 15 and followed various dirt roads to the location of the Dry Fork aid station. We didn't see much snow along the way but it appears the area is having a late spring. There aren't as many flowers as I remember seeing in "early spring" years. By race day there should be more.

As always, I hoped to see some elk or moose. I was disappointed to see "only" a few deer.

DRAMA AT DRY FORK

We parked at the location of the Dry Fork AS and got out of the truck to stretch and admire the views down the valley toward the Cow Camp AS

and up the ridges that lead to Riley Point (on the 50K course only) and Camp Creek Ridge:


The road to the lower left goes to Cow Camp, the middle one to Riley Point,
and the right one to Camp Creek Ridge. The Dry Fork AS will be at the intersection.

We were pleased to see that there was very little snow near Riley Point (below). Last year we ran into a lot of snow there when we tried to do a training run before the race.

Ahh . . . yes, it's good to be back! One year when we lived in Billings, MT we drove our old Prowler camper to this location and parked overnight while training prior to the race. That's a great memory!

As I headed toward the creek on the right side of the road to let Cody get a drink, I was shocked to see someone's disgusting display of three dead marmots spread out on top of a large rock. The little furry critters had been shot very recently. I took pictures (evidence?) but will not show them here. They are too disturbing. [Later: Thank goodness someone removed them before the race.]

CAMP CREEK RIDGE TO THE UPPER SHEEP CREEK AID STATION

We've both hiked the mile from Dry Fork up Freeze Out Road and a maze of animal trails through a drainage to Camp Creek Ridge enough times that we weren't interested in doing it today. We didn't need the extra mileage or the strain of starting our run/hike uphill.

We drove up the road to the ridge, hung a right over the cattle grate, and parked the truck in the flat, grassy area next to the fence. This is the view looking back down the mountain toward Dry Fork:

Cody soon spotted a big patch of leftover snow in a shaded spot and started rolling around in it:

He'd repeat that game with the few other nearby snowdrifts we passed today.

Jim and I were pleased that there wasn't very much snow on the road. We were able to bypass most of the muddy and wet spots:

 
I wish somebody would throw this stick for me to chase!


I like to chase snowballs, too. I'm a retriever; that's my job!


Yuck. Hope this dries out by race day.

These scenes are from Camp Creek Ridge to the location of the Upper Horse Creek AS, a distance of about three miles. These photos are in order and face forward, the direction inbound runners will be going toward the finish.

Although the sky was mostly cloudy, we didn't get any rain. These pictures don't make the scenery look as picturesque as it is on a sunny day. <sigh>

 


Either jump over the creek (like Jim did) or walk through it to get the mud off your shoes (like I did).


There is still some snow next to the creek in the shade along this single-track trail section.


The moles have been busy in the soft, moist dirt.


One of the branches of Sheep Creek parallels the trail.


Interesting rocks on the ridge to the left; no leaves on these trees yet

This is a mostly-rolling section of trail at about 7,600-8,100 feet in elevation. There is one steeper climb about half a mile before the aid station. This trail soon dead ends into a rough 4WD "road" that takes runners up the ridge toward the left:

There are good views of Horse Creek Ridge in the distance from the trail (below) and from the ridge going to the Upper Sheep Creek AS:

Jim skirts the muddy ridge road down to the location (marked with a red X) of the Upper Sheep Creek AS:

UPPER SHEEP CREEK AS TO HORSE CREEK RIDGE

After the aid station the course turns right and continues downhill gradually to Sheep Creek:

Runners turn left just after the fence to parallel the creek for about 1/4 mile on a single-track trail. That's an easy turn to miss if you run the course before it's marked.

The trail crosses Sheep Creek on a sturdy log bridge at about 7,300 feet elevation:

Then runners face a rather steep 700-foot climb in less than a mile to Horse Creek Ridge on a single-track trail and rough 4WD road (there aren't very many smooth dirt roads in this race!).

Jim was walking up the mountain just ahead of me when he spotted this large bear track. I put my foot near it for size reference (I have big feet!):

Cody wasn't going nuts so I don't think any bears were nearby. We couldn't see where the tracks went. We had our bear radar up, though. (I went back down this hill within half an hour.)

I was looking forward to seeing some of my favorite views from the entire Bighorn course at the top of Horse Creek Ridge. Unless the ridge is socked in by clouds, the ~ 300-degree views make the climb worth the effort to me. There weren't as many flowers or as much sun as I've sometimes captured on the ridge, but I was still glad I climbed up there this morning.


Runners will head down the slope to the left and follow a fence line for a while on single-track trail.


As runners head left down toward the Tongue River Canyon,
the "ship's prow" rock formation is to their right (in distance above).

Yuck. Those are totally dull pictures compared to the blue-sky ones I've taken in previous years up here (like the photo at the beginning of this entry). See for yourself in the 2006, 2007, and 2009 journals.

Despite my protestations that he should be running, Jim walked with me for five miles to the high point on Horse Creek Ridge (elev. ~ 8,000 feet). We took a ten-minute break to relax, eat some lunch, and tempt Cody (who got his own doggie bones, not Jim's sweet roll):

 


Cody is so easily amused!

Then Jim continued on down the trail to our camper in Dayton, a distance of about twelve more miles and a net loss in elevation of about 4,000 feet (more if you count all the ups and downs). That's the part I wanted to avoid to protect my knees.

HORSE CREEK RIDGE BACK TO CAMP CREEK RIDGE

Cody and I turned around and retraced our steps to the truck, for a total of about ten miles. There were two fairly steep descents on the return but nothing like a cumulative drop of 4,000+ feet.

I took more time for photos on the return since I wasn't hustling to keep up with Jim. Too bad it was still overcast. I'll wait and do a separate entry on Bighorn flowers after hiking more trails. They aren't as prolific as some years but the ones that are blooming are quite pretty.

Note that this is the direction the 100-milers take outbound from about seven to twelve miles into their race.


Back down to the bear paw print and Sheep Creek


There were more flowers in the meadow after the log bridge than up on Horse Creek Ridge.


Heading up the rutted, muddy 4WD track to the Upper Sheep Creek AS (red X)


Downhill on another muddy "road" to the single-track that parallels Sheep Creek

 

 

 


Back on a wider track, heading for the creek crossings


With all the creeks and snowmelt, this is a good route for dogs. Cody didn't need to carry any water.

Ironically, about half a mile from the truck the sky cleared up in the direction I was walking!

I fought the urge to re-do the hike today so I could get better photos! Maybe another day . . .

We were both pleased with our run/hike today. Jim finished his 16+ miles in 4:20 hours (he ended at the camper, which was a little closer than the finish in Scott Park). The first five miles hiking with me got him warmed up but really slowed his total time. Despite the sun and heat near the end of his trek, he did a lot of running the last 11+ miles through the canyon and along the dirt road to Dayton.

Next entry: photos from the upper elevations of the Bighorn 52- and 100-mile courses

Happy trails,

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

Previous       Next

2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

-