HISTORY OF THE BIGHORN MOUNTAIN WILD AND SCENIC TRAIL RUNS
The inaugural Bighorn Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run was held in 2002 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the annual Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Runs (50 mile (actually 52 miles), 50 K (actually 32.5 miles), and 30 K (actually 17.5 miles)). These runs were initially started by local trail runners interested in preserving and protecting the Dry Fork and Little Bighorn River Canyons from a planned pump storage hydroelectric project and other development. We desired to increase public awareness of the natural beauty, rugged terrain, and unique geology of the Bighorn Mountains and Dry Fork and Little Bighorn River drainage in particular so that informed decisions could be made regarding management of these resources. Through extensive public input, the planned pump storage hydroelectric project has been placed on hold and probably is dead; but the area remains potentially threatened in the future by other possible development.
The runs largely continue at this time as a public service by trail running enthusiasts and volunteers in the Sheridan community to promote recreation and tourism in Sheridan County. The course is designed to maximize the exposure of the participants, their families, and race volunteers to an extremely scenic, wild, and primitive area of our geologically unique Bighorn Mountains. The course allows maximum flexibility to accommodate a variety of unpredictable weather conditions or adverse course contingency courses (hopefully would never have to be used) that would be esthetically acceptable to the trail runner; while allowing race management to maximize their volunteer support in conducting these events.
The Bighorn Trail 100 is in its tenth year. The race committee has purposely heavily restricted the number of entrants to ensure that we have adequate volunteer support and put on a quality event. We do not want to jeopardize in any way the established tradition of quality that we have established and wish to maintain for the conjoining Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Runs.
The inaugural Bighorn Trail 100 in 2002 was held in great weather with the course proving tougher than anticipated. Brandon Sybrowsky led from the start and was never headed, finishing in 21:05:32, as he bested second-place finisher Tom Possert by more than 3 hours. Jean Heishman persevered to win the women’s race in 30:05:08, finishing approximately 25 minutes ahead of Margarita Phillips. The 31 hour time limit with the accompanying cutoff times throughout the race proved to be tougher than we had planned; as we only had nine finishers in a field of 37 starters (24% finishing rate) for the inaugural event. The 2nd annual 100M race proved to be much improved, resulting in 32 finishers. The cutoff times were extended due to the low number of finishers in the 1st year. This allowed for much more time to complete each leg of the race. Paul Sweeney came in in first place with a time of 22:53:58, followed by Ken Gregorich with a time of 23:18:37. The women's race was dominated by Gail Bazely with a time of 30:09:44, followed by Katy Cotton in 2nd place with a time of 30:53:38. All in all, the participants were pleased with the extended cutoff times and the race turned out to be a great success.
SNOW CONDITIONS FORCE BIGHORN COURSE CHANGES
The 16th annual Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run (50 miles and 50 KM) and 7th annual Bighorn Trail 100 was one week away and there was 4 to 5 feet of snow at Porcupine Ranger Station with it still snowing every day despite it being mid June. The absolute drop dead deadline for a decision by race management was here. Do we run the traditional courses on the snow without adequate aid station and communication support in the upper reaches of the Little Horn Canyon or do we opt for a contingency course scenario to ensure volunteer and runner safety? For race management, it was an obvious choice to opt for the contingency course scenario because of race support and safety concerns. Once the decision was made to bite the bullet and go with a contingency course for the 50 mile and 100 mile events, everything proceeded without a hitch.
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!
The 100 mile course started at the traditional starting point in the mouth of the Tongue River Canyon ascending over 3000 feet up the Tongue River Drainage to Horse Creek Ridge and dropping down to the Upper Sheep Creek Aid Station on the original course. At Upper Sheep Creek Aid Station, the 100 mile detoured for an additional 1000 feet climb to Freeze Out Point over some snow and then descended back through mud (it was snow 5 days before the race!) into the Upper Sheep Creek drainage. The 100 mile course then continued on the traditional course to the Head of the Dry Fork and down the Dry Fork drainage to Kerns Cow Camp. At Kerns Cow Camp, the 100 mile detoured for an additional 2300 feet climb up the Elk Trail to Riley Point and looped back to the Head of the Dry Fork before descending the Dry Fork drainage to the Footbridge Aid Station. From Footbridge, the 100 mile descended along the Little Bighorn River to Pacer Junction Bridge and then returned back to Footbridge where it ascended the Little Horn Canyon to Leaky Mountain. At Leaky Mountain, the 100 mile turned and returned back to Footbridge. From there, the 100 mile ascended the Dry Fork to Kerns Cow Camp where they detoured off of the traditional course for a climb over Riley Point on their way to the Head of the Dry Fork. At the Head of the Dry Fork, the 100 mile continued on the traditional course to the finish at Scott Bicentennial Park in Dayton. The contingency 100 mile course had as much climb as the traditional Bighorn 100 mile course at 17,500 feet; but the prediction going into the race was that the contingency course might be faster as the climbs were shorter and steeper leaving some sections with areas that might be easier to run compared to the traditional 100 mile course. A total of 22 miles of difficult single track trail in the upper Little Horn Canyon was not able to be utilized for the 100 mile event this year because of the snow issues.
Jeff Browning of Bend, Oregon, a two time Bighorn 100 champion who had won the 2006 event on the traditional course in 20:24:28 in a time that had only been surpassed by Karl Meltzer last year in 20:12:58, was one of the favorites in the 100 mile at the start. Jeff did what he came to do in winning his 3rd Bighorn Trail 100 in an excellent time of 18:56:28 as he held off Justin Angle of Seattle, Washington, who finished with a time 19:26:50 and Ty Draney of Afton, Wyoming, who also broke 20 hours in a time of 19:54:07. Rhonda Sundermeier of Tigard, Oregon, was the 1st female in the 100 mile race in a time of 25:10:59 with Katherine Dowson of Alta, Wyoming, finishing second in a time of 26:11:28.
“It’s a gorgeous course and it was a good day,” Browning remarked at the finish. Jeff said the course was just as tough as the traditional course in that it had as much total climb; but that it was faster course as the climbs were shorter in distance and steeper so that more of the course could be run. Twelve competitors broke the magic 24 hour mark to receive a boot with a rusty spur to become members of the “Rusty Spur” club that has been established to honor sub 24 hour finishers at the Bighorn 100. The 100 mile enjoyed a 75% finishing rate of the 129 starters.
One memorable 100-mile contestant’s race ended in an engagement as a finisher knelt and proposed to his girl friend at the finish. “I was carrying the ring the whole time (in a Hammer gel flask no less!),” explained Tennessee native Don Padfield, who won seventh place and the hand of University of Wyoming graduate Claudia Lydai. “The race was great. I certainly had something on my mind to pass the time,” Padfield said. “It’s a pretty cool journey when you think about the amount of ground of you’ve covered, it’s pretty spectacular,” added Angle. “This was a great event. It’s great to see the community being so supportive. Everything seemed to go really smoothly.”
The 50 mile contingency course involved a start at the Head of the Dry Fork with competitors running down the Dry Fork Canyon to the Footbridge Aid Station and then returning back to the Head of the Dry Fork. From there, the 50 milers continued on the common course through the Tongue River Canyon to the finish in Dayton. Mileage on the contingency course was shortened to exactly 50 miles rather than the 52 miles that runners traverse at the traditional starting point of Porcupine Ranger Station. Matthew Hart of Seattle won the 50 mile in a time of 8:11:06 as he held off Damian Stoy of Moose, Wyoming who finished 2nd in a time of 8:17:24. Gwen Scott of Seattle was the 1st female in a time of 9:29:32 with fellow Washingtonian Wendy Wheeler-Jacobs finishing 2nd in a time of 9:57:50.
Our 50K race was held on the traditional course with a start at the Head of the Dry Fork looping out to Riley Point, descending the Elk Trail to Kern’s Cow Camp, climbing back to the Head of the Dry Fork, and traversing the common trail through the Tongue River Canyon to the finish in Dayton. Joe Hall of Golden, Colorado, won the event in a time of 4:41:58. Jenna Gruben of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, finished 2nd overall and set a new women’s 50K course record in 5:02:21! Ken Ellis of Missoula, Montana, was the 2nd male and the first master in the 50K with a time of 5:03:54 while Tori Radosevic was the 2nd female in a time of 5:37:58.
Competitors uniformly appreciated the volunteers’ efforts in putting on the event. The courses were very well marked and the aid stations were superbly staffed as always. Scenery in the Bighorn Mountains is spectacular and the wildflowers again put on a show. A companion 30K trail race was held in addition to the other events and filled in less than 2 days from entries being accepted. Mark your calendars for the 3rd weekend in June 2009 to participate in next years festivities.
2009 WILDLIFE RUN-IN
In 2009, Karl Meltzer was out in front. Shortly before he arrived at the Porcupine Aid Station at mile 52. He met up with a particularly angry moose. In previous years, no runners had encountered a wild animal as potentially dangerous as this one. She wasn't at all happy with his presence in her territory and chased him down the trail. Karl was darting behind trees and trying to scare her away, but she wasn't cooperating. She even kicked him in the shin and hand before he finally made it to the aid station and went on to win the race in record time. This story will go down in the books as why the name Bighorn Mountain "Wild" and Scenic Trail Run is so appropriate! We were very pleased that Karl was not seriously injured and the moose was never heard from again as the runner's behind him went through that area.
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