Beaverhead 55K - Salmon, Idaho
Elevation Range: 5577' - 10,053' ......... .......... Elevation Gain: 5900' ................. Elevation Loss: 8900'
July 13, 2019 - The Beaverhead 55K race starts at 0700 at Lemhi Pass at 7373'. The course from the start to mile 18 is on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT). The CDT is on or very near the actual Continental Divide from the start to mile 18. The length of Continental Divide covered in this event also represents the border between Idaho and Montana. At mile 18, runners leave the official CDT for the remainder of the course, but will continue along the true Continental Divide border for another 5 miles (mile 23). FYI, at mile 18 the CDT dips into Montana then turns parallel to the Continental Divide in-order to divert away from a section of hard to navigate terrain consisting of high mountains, scree, and cliffs. The course, which includes a good mix of terrain, with plenty of climbs, descents, smooth trail as well as technical sections, then drops off the Continental Divide at mile 23 before descending into the head waters of Bohannon Creek and on to the finish line.
Beaverhead is the quintessential mountain ultra - with something for both a trail runner and a mountaineer to love. It was a punctuating event for me personally, after over fifty years of racing, serving as a celebration of a passionate lifestyle that is drawing to a close. I ran it comfortably and well, without incident, and shall remember it as one of my most enjoyable experiences on the trails.
With my buddy Charlie Gadol in support, we camped at the finish before I rode a bus from Salmon up a long bumpy dirt road to Lemhi Pass for the start. With an hour to wait for the gun after arriving, the air was cool with a chilly eastern breeze, and most runners sought to dispel their pre-race jitters and borderline hypothermia with the usual social giddiness that precedes races. I was relaxed and ready, always ready, despite a major cut-back in recent training because of an injured heel.
The first mile tilts sharply uphill from the pass, forcing everyone into one long queue from the beginning. For a race I really enjoyed, the first half was fairly unremarkable as the course followed the Continental Divide along a mildly rolling ridgeline through pine forests, some of which had been burned the previous year in the 6000-acre Gold Stone fire. The first ten miles to the second aid station were fairly comfortable before I slowed due to inadequate training and to protect my injury.
Stopping to take a lot of photographs, most of the balance of the course would be run quite deliberately without regard for time or speed. Once the ridges opened up to expanded views and rocky talus terrain, my attention was rapt by the beauty of this spectacular mountain course.
Three times I donned my rain jacket to keep warm and dry under rapidly passing thunderstorms. While the storms would inevitably turn electrical with lightning, I never felt threatened and did not feel any build up of static in the air.
We crossed quite a bit of talus along the long and winding ridge and even had to traipse across some remaining snowfields. Mostly we could run around the snow and never did it require post-holing.
Every defining ridge in the remaining photographs was part of the course, winding down and up over one high point or peak after another for miles before descending. I have climbed over a lot of terrain just like this, but have never been challenged in a race over such a rocky landscape.
With the final storm approaching in the late afternoon, I finally broke away from the ridge to chase down hill over the final seven miles. The first two miles after leaving the talus wound back and forth on switchbacks down a steep forested headwall. Even without much rain, footing was slippery, but the pull of gravity and the call of the finish kept me moving forward at a steady clip. Zooming through the final aid station I was finally free to stride out, closing the final five plus miles in a bit over an hour to finish in 100th place in 11:03:49.
It was an enjoyable day. Despite the time, the race went quickly. I was not sore at all, having taken it easy all day. Charlie was there to greet me at the finish, and after grabbing a bite to eat we headed out to find a quieter place to camp and get staged for our week ahead in the Bighorn Crags of Idaho. All I can say in conclusion is that if you have to end a career of racing, this was a fitting way to do it. Simply a magical run, as I hope the pictures will hint at what I enjoyed.