Trail running and ultramarathons have taken me to beautiful locales and introduced me to new friends, colorful stories, and welcome surprises. Spending the weekend in Bozeman, Montana to run the Devil's Backbone [Pictures], also known as the Gallatin Crest, certainly opened my eyes wide to how majestic the Big Sky country can be. The people were warm and friendly, and they are blessed to live among such a dramatic landscape.
I flew into Bozeman on Friday and immediately headed to the Community Co-op to buy some vittles for the weekend. Great store - nutty, crunchy at its best - serving a grateful community.
Then I headed over to the new public library to use the computers, internet and email. Sarah's company helped fundraising for the library. It's stunning and has lots of space inside making it serene both to read or just hang out in.
At dinner with the other runners at the RDs house, we heard that the normal course could not be accessed since the snow still hadn't cleared from Hyalite Peak and its approach. Instead we were going to start at the turn around, tackle much of the crest, and add some miles on an additional loop.
My ultra-brief race report: I postholed into the snow at mile 7 and hyperextended my right ankle. Not bad. But at mile 8 I postholed really deep with my left leg and harshly sat down on my right ankle hyperextending it again. Bad this time. I packed some snow around it for a few minutes and then just made my way forward walking as best I could. Eventually it loosened up, but I never felt comfortable running on it until the last mile into the aid station at mile 25, where I dropped. It's the only aid station, and the only place to drop. There is being unlucky and being extremely unlucky. In a run like the Devil's Backbone you don't take unnecessary chances. There is no easy way off the ridge. You either leave on foot or in a helicopter.
All in all, I had a most humbling (sea-level creatures at 10,000 feet feel this way) and thrilling time. I'll be back next year to do the traditional course.
A special thanks to Tom and Liz, the RDs for their hospitality (the run hosted a pre-race dinner and a post-race breakfast) and on-the-fly planning. Great job in a difficult situation.
I'd also like to thank Ali and Roman who hung out with me on the trail when I was going slow. Ali continued on when Roman and I stopped at the Windy Pass Cabin - mile 25. He finished with the sweep, the RD Tom, at 1 am in the morning. The course is simply that tough. 19 hours for 50 miles. Heck, the winner, a mountain goat himself, Matt Hart, took 9:49 to complete the course, with the second place finisher, John Hallsten, coming in about two hours later.
This course is hands-down the most beautiful course I have run in the last five years. It's also the hardest. It is right to call it a mini-Hardrock. Except Hardrock has course markings and aid stations. If you're going to Bozeman next July, sign up early, there are only 35 runners permitted for the 50 mile course. Then again, it was only $30.
A few years ago I was celebrating a friend's birthday dinner, and the discussion turned, as happens with ultrarunners, to the summer's upcoming races. Stan and Lisa mentioned that they were going up to Montana to run a race outside of Bozeman - minimal aid, no course markings and all at altitude. Since I had finished the Bighorn 100 earlier the year before in Wyoming, I had been looking for another run to explore some of the vast, gorgeous country up in the Big West that I had only recently discovered.
The Devil's Backbone 50 Mile seemed like just my kind of run. Only 30 people are allowed to run. You only get aid at the turn around, mile 25, and it's a self-guided course mostly all at 10,000 feet. When I saw some of the pictures from the race, I was set. So this year I made it my main traveling 50 miler in summer.
The website describes the DB50 as "a graduate level run (yes, like Hardrock)". In fact, it's often referred to as a mini-Hardrock, run the same weekend in Silverton, CO. You must carry all of your own gear, food and hydration with some opportunities to fill your bottles/hydration pack with snow or stream water. They recommend you carry a water filter, and -- yes -- bear spray since there are grizzly bears often seen on the course. You're out in the very wilds of Montana after all. Here's a race report from 2007.
July 2008 Snow on Hyalite Peak
The route takes you up Hyalite Creek and its valley, steeply ascending Hyalite Peak before settling into the long ridge that makes up the Devil's Backbone. Crusing along at 10,000+ feet, the going is noticeably slow, especially for us coastal folks. The air is thin, but the views are rich.
I have a small issue with running at altitude. I tend to get cramps and an upset stomach if I go out too fast. As such, my plan was to go slowly and consciously pace myself to a meager start up through the peaking of Hyalite Peak. Then I could assess my adaptation and set a more settled pace for the rest of the race. I was hoping to finish the 50 miles in 13 hours, which on a normal year would put me in the top third of runners. I should mention that I have never run a 50 mile race that slow, but given all the factors this would be a slow and steady run for any but the fittest, best acclimated runners.
In the last few days the runners have received emails from the RD, Tom McGoff-Hayes, telling us that the route up to Hyalite Peak has too much snow still covering the ascent access. They are still working out alternative routes for the run. I trust they'll come up with something worth while.
On Friday I'll be flying out to Bozeman, Montana to join the other runners. I'll let you know how things go. It should be a wonderful run with panoramic views and great adventures. More pictures to come.