Year on the run, from races to RATBOB to R2R2R

Last year was a fairly big running year for me – not in terms of total distance or race times, but simply in overall experience.

As in 2014, I raced at 11 Miles to Paradise between St. Regis and Quinn’s Hot Springs, finishing with a small PR, and at the 52-mile Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run at Dayton, Wyoming, and The Rut 50K at Big Sky Resort, coming in a little slower than previously at both.

I also ran the Missoula Marathon as a member of the Pacer Corps – and since I don’t race marathons very often, my finish just under 4 hours and 10 minutes ended up being my second fastest.

Aside from races, my training partners and I ran some local favorite landmarks – Blue Mountain, Stuart Peak and Point Six (all about 20 miles) and Sheep Mountain (about 26 miles).

I also joined local groups on a few destination runs – the Hells Canyon Adventure Run (about 25 miles), Run Across The Bob (aka RATBOB, about 50 miles), and Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon (R2R2R, about 46 miles).

In the end, I ran about 2,334 miles in 2015 – nearly 100 less than in 2014, but still plenty. And along the way, I was honored to be named Male Masters Runner of the Year by the local club, Run Wild Missoula.

What makes all of this possible is the great running community in Missoula, so thank you to my training partners, other road and trail friends, and RWM!

Snowshoeing up Bear Creek with new puppy Gus

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Meet Gus, our newest addition!

This Beagle-American Staffordshire cross joined our family as an 11-pound 3 1/2-month-old in late November. One month older and a few pounds heavier, Gus went on his first real adventure showshoeing up Bear Creek in the Bitterroot Mountains on Christmas Day.

The outing was a fitting tribute to our old dog Belle, a 12-year-old black Lab-hound that died last summer not long after her final hike at Bear Creek.

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While we snowshoed only the first 1 1/2 miles west to the small waterfall, keeping up with Josey – our 6-year-old, 85-pound Rottweiler-hound cross – was no easy task for Gus. He ended up wrapped in a fleece blanked in my backpack after getting chilled when we stopped at the overlook.

In the end, he made it out on his own four legs and slept in the back of our SUV the whole way home – proving he was up to the bigger adventures to come.

Here are a few more pictures from Bear Creek.

Distance: 3 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From Victor, the Bear Creek trailhead is 3.3 miles south on U.S. Highway 93, 2.3 miles west on Bear Creek Road, 0.8 miles north on Red Crow Road and 3.2 miles west on Red Crow and Bear Creek roads.

Dark start, dark finish on the Rim to Rim to Rim run

The view from the North Kaibab Trail on the 46-mile R2R2R run in the Grand Canyon

As we ran over the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in the dark early last November, I knew better than the rest of the group the risk presented by patches of packed snow and ice left from a storm earlier in the week.

The others arrived at the canyon by van the night before after flying from Missoula to Las Vegas, while Jen and I drove south and spent most of the week there hiking and sightseeing. Two days before the run – the morning after it snowed – it was clear that a slip or a step too far to the side of the South Kaibab Trail could result in a fall down a cliff.

I don’t think snow was on anybody’s mind back in Missoula months earlier, when we received the invitation to run the well-known double crossing of the canyon by email. Certainly, the distance (about 46 miles), the elevation gain (more than 10,000 feet), heat and water availability were.

Fortunately, the snow and ice lasted only a few switchbacks into the run, and the worse trail conditions higher on the North Rim were encountered at midday.

In the end, everybody made it out of the canyon safe – some completing the full R2R2R, some going Rim to River, some turning around early and one getting a ride back from the North Rim.

Sunrise crossing of the Colorado River on the 46-mile R2R2R run in the Grand Canyon

After being dropped off about 5 a.m. at the intersection of Desert View Drive and Yaki Point Road, where a gate keeps private vehicles from reaching the South Kaibab trailhead, we set out by headlamp.

About half a mile beyond the gate, we entered the canyon at 7,260 feet.

At Skeleton Point about 3 miles down to the north, another runner and I found ourselves out ahead of the main group with a faint glow backlighting the top of the canyon to the east. I had never met him before and was concerned about the pace the rest of the day, so slowed a bit in the hope of letting the others catch up.

The other runner pulled away as the bottom of the canyon grew lighter, and I was on my own when I stepped out of the tunnel onto the Black Bridge crossing the muddy Colorado River at 2,480 feet.

About a third of a mile west, I crossed Bright Angel Creek and and went through the lush green Bright Angel Campground at 7 miles before returning to the east side at Phantom Ranch. Taking a cue from people in the camp and at the ranch, I ate some food as I walked through the area.

Sunrise on the North Kaibab Trail, on the 46-mile R2R2R run in the Grand Canyon

Running northeast from the ranch, I crossed the creek several times as I followed it upstream through a narrow section of the North Kaibab Trail known as The Box. High above, I could see the first sunlight reaching rocky points.

Out of The Box, I passed Ribbon Falls off the west side of the creek and continued up the trail to Cottonwood Campground, about 7 miles from the ranch. Looking back, I still couldn’t see the rest of the Missoula group, and a handful of other runners I encountered along the way said it had been a while since the one person ahead of me passed.

The view from the North Kaibab Trail on the 46-mile R2R2R run in the Grand Canyon

Almost 1.5 miles beyond the campground and after a few small cascades, I crossed the creek at the Pumphouse Ranger Station and the trail began to climb steeply northwest into the Roaring Springs drainage. As the trail rose along sunny cliffs, I passed a group running Rim to Rim from north to south.

Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail, on the 46-mile R2R2R run in the Grand Canyon

After crossing a bridge and ascending several switchbacks, I reached Supai Tunnel, about 1.7 miles below the North Kaibab trailhead. Above the tunnel, the trail left the cliffs and entered the shade of the forest, where the final switchbacks were covered by a thick layer of snow and ice.

As I reached the trailhead at 8,241 feet and 21 miles from the start, I caught up to a couple of other runners and we chatted as we ate and refilled our hydration packs from an icy spigot.

Just as I was getting ready to follow the other runners back down the trail, three friends from Missoula reached the top, so I waited – it would be nice not being alone on the way back across.

Turnaround at the North Kaibab trailhead on the R2R2R run in the Grand Canyon

As the four of us started back down the North Kaibab Trail, we passed all the other runners from Missoula who would reach the rim above Supai Tunnel. At the bridge below the tunnel, we passed a few more who turned around based on the time of day.

After that, we descended quickly, one person dropping off as we backtracked through the canyon.

The three of us who remained followed a short side trail across Bright Angel Creek to Ribbon Falls, and as we bushwhacked back we found two other Missoula runners who were extending their Rim to River route.

Across the creek on the main trail again, our group of five continued down through The Box to Phantom Ranch, where we met other Rim to River runners from Missoula and stopped to eat – and drink one of the best cups of lemonade in memory.

Phantom Ranch, on the 46-mile R2R2R run in the Grand Canyon

After departing the ranch and campground, one Rim to River runner stayed with the three of us making the double crossing as the others outpaced us up the Bright Angel Trail.

A short distance downriver, we crossed the Silver Bridge to the south side of the Colorado and continued to River Resthouse, 1.5 miles from the campground. There, the trail began to climb.

Sunset crossing of the Colorado River on the 46-mile R2R2R run in the Grand Canyon

As the daylight faded, we moved steadily up the trail for the next 3.2 miles, through the cottonwoods and cliffs of the Garden Creek drainage to Indian Garden Campground. Noticing I had a signal on my cellphone, I sent Jen a text message updating her on our progress.

Above the campground, we began the arduous ascent of the final steep switchbacks up the cliffs to the South Rim.

After passing the Three Mile and Mile and a Half resthouses, we stopped to put on our headlamps as darkness set in. Looking over the edge of the cliff, a line of lights along the trail below turned our way – we had inadvertently shown other hikers and runners how far up they still had to go.

The final mile was slow, but we still passed numerous hikers on the popular trail. And I pulled ahead slightly at the end, officially becoming the second R2R2R runner from the Missoula group to reach the Bright Angel trailhead, about 46 miles and 13 hours 12 minutes after starting.

Sunset on the Bright Angel Trail on the 46-mile R2R2R run in the Grand Canyon

Jen greeted me with news that she made it to the river and back on a toe she broke before our trip, then gathered the four of us who made the final climb out together for a photo.

To our surprise, one friend who we thought would be the final person from Missoula to complete the double crossing was there, too. He had done the run before, and realizing his slow progress this time, got a ride back from the North Rim on one of the last shuttles of the season – which conveniently arrived there about the same time he did.

The next few hours were spent greeting other runners at the trailhead, getting cleaned up in our nearby cabins, and celebrating the day with dinner and drinks at the Bright Angel Lodge.

After breakfast the next morning, Jen and I started driving back north while the others returned to Vegas and celebrated another night before flying home. Talk of making a destination run an annual tradition started soon after we arrived back in Missoula.

Here are more photos from the Rim to Rim to Rim run.

 

Rain, snow and sun on South Rim of Grand Canyon

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After two days of driving and a stop to hike a slot canyon, we arrived on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon last fall just as the sun was setting. We took in the expanse from the Desert View Visitor Center as the last light of day faded over the rim to the west and darkness overtook the Colorado River below.

The brief view would have to suffice until the next morning as we continued on to our hotel in Tusayan, Arizona, just south of the national park’s boundary. Our trip was several months in the making, so one more night wouldn’t matter.

The planning started when I received an invitation to run Rim to Rim to Rim with a group from Missoula. Jen had been to the Grand Canyon before, but only briefly – and no way would I be going for the first time without her, she said. So while the rest of the group bought plane tickets for a four-day weekend, we opted for a weeklong road trip.

Arriving ahead of the rest of the group, we went hiking and did some sightseeing early in the week – in fact, our hikes ended up being the only time I saw some sections of the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails in daylight, as the run started and ended in the dark. We also got some on-the-ground updates for the group about trail conditions and water availability on the North Rim.

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We planned to keep costs down by sleeping in a tent for a few nights before staying in a cabin on the rim at Bright Angel for the run. Instead, we ended up in the hotel because the temperature was too cold – we even had a day of snow.

Below are the hikes we went on before others arrived; the run will come in a separate post.

Bright Angel Trail

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Our first morning in the park – crisp with partly cloudy skies – we started down the Bright Angel Trail from 6,860 feet on the South Rim.

As we descended switchback after switchback northwest between Maricopa and Grandeur points, the temperature rose and we soon removed jackets and pant legs until we were in shorts and T-shirts.

Past the Mile and a Half and Three Mile resthouses, where tourists took breaks in numbers, the switchbacks ended and the trail straightened and became less steep as it reached the Indian Garden Campground at 4.8 miles.

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Crossing to the west side of the creek just below the campground, we left behind the crowded main route and continued out a mostly level trail to Plateau Point at 6.3 miles and about 3,100 feet below the trailhead.

The point overlooks the Colorado River as it winds from the confluence with Bright Angel Creek on the east out of sight around a bend to the west. Across the river, many points, buttes and temples – Sturdevant, Johnson, Schellbach, Hillers, Clement Powell, Buddha and Manu – rise to the North Rim.

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As we hiked back up from the campground, clouds closed in and rain began to fall. We kept our coats off, however, as the climb kept us plenty warm.

Here are more photos from the Bright Angel Trail.

Distance: 12.6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The trail begins a couple of hundred yards west of the Bright Angel Lodge, next to a restroom and mule corral.

Rim Trail

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The next morning was considerably colder and the weather was expected to deteriorate, so we decided to take the shuttle bus west to Hermits Rest and walk back to Bright Angel on the mostly level Rim Trail.

Soon after we stepped off the bus, we saw our first snowflakes, and they continued intermittently most of the day.

Walking east on the wide, paved path, we passed plenty of other people in the first 2.8 miles from Hermits Rest to Pima Point then the Monument Creek Vista.

Other hikers became fewer and farther between as the trail narrowed and turned to dirt and gravel, and after about another mile we reached The Abyss, where the rim drops off and the view of the Monument Creek drainage opens up.

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As we arrived at Mohave Point, a little more than a mile east, it began snowing in earnest, with flakes “falling” up the canyon wall on gusts of wind. A sign titled “Diminishing View” at Hopi Point about 0.8 miles farther couldn’t have been more accurate, though it refers to air quality rather than precipitation.

From the memorial to Colorado River explorer John Wesley Powell at Powell Point, another 0.3 miles east, we watched as the clouds broke and revealed Maricopa Point.

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Returning to the paved path, we continued half a mile to Maricopa Point, then 0.7 miles to Trailview Overlook with its views of the Bright Angel switchbacks and the iconic rooftop of the El Tovar Hotel.

After another 0.7 miles and a couple of hundred yards, we finished at the shuttle stop and Bright Angel trailhead.

Here are more photos from the Rim Trail.

Distance: 7.8 miles one way.

Trailhead: We boarded the shuttle bus at the stop a couple of hundred yards west of the Bright Angel trailhead, rode it west to Hermits Rest and hiked back from there.

South Kaibab Trail

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Waking to mostly sunny skies and snow on the ground the next day, we took in the panoramic view at Mather Point before riding the shuttle east to the South Kaibab trailhead at 7,260 feet.

When we started down the trail, the first short switchbacks in the shady canyon were an icy, gravelly mix – both a little slick and offering some grip. Half a mile down, the trail melted as it met the sun and straightened to the north below Yaki Point.

After another set of switchbacks, we arrived at Cedar Ridge, where weathered snags overlook O’Neill Butte at 1.5 miles.

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We continued down the ridge, rounding the eastern side of the butte and hiking out to Skeleton Point, at 3 miles and 2,000 feet into the canyon our destination for the day.

From the point, we could see west across to the Bright Angel Trail and Plateau Point and north down to the bottom of the canyon, where a patch of green indicates the location of Phantom Ranch.

Back at the top of the trail, the ice retreated as the sun reached switchbacks. And before leaving that night, we were treated to a gorgeous sunset outside the El Tovar Hotel – with wispy clouds highlighted pink over the North Rim.

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Here are more images from the South Kaibab Trail.

Distance: 6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The South Kaibab trailhead is closed to private vehicles, but is easily reached by riding a shuttle bus a few minutes east from Grand Canyon Village.

We spent most of the next day sightseeing east along the South Rim, waiting for the group of runners from Missoula to arrive. Then it was early to bed before the dark start of the Rim to Rim to Rim.

Slot canyons on the way to the Grand Canyon

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On our second trip to Arizona last fall – my first time to the Grand Canyon – we drove and took the opportunity to stop in southern Utah on the way.

Zion National Park is about the halfway point between Missoula and the South Rim, so we stopped there to camp for the night. The next morning, we left shortly after sunrise without hiking in the park because we planned to try a slot canyon between Kanab and Page, Arizona.

After stopping at the Bureau of Land Management office in Kanab to check conditions, we continued south to the Wire Pass trailhead in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

There, we hiked through the through the Wire Pass slot canyon to Buckskin Gulch – which is said to be the longest and deepest slot in the Southwest at 13 miles and, in places, 400 feet, respectively.

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The first mile of the Wire Pass trail is rather plain – west down a dry wash surrounded by orange sandstone hills. Half a mile from the junction with Buckskin Gulch, however, the canyon walls soon close in.

As we entered the slot canyon, we passed a couple who turned back disappointed after finding a 15- to 20-foot drop a short distance inside that likely requires a rope to descend. After a little looking around, however, we easily found a route over the top marked by rock cairns.

That one drop must prevent many people from continuing, as we saw only one other person beyond that point.

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Before reaching the junction with Buckskin Gulch, we passed through the narrowest section of slot canyon we would encounter – a few feet wide, at most, with a sliver of sky visible high above us. At 1.7 miles, the canyon widens again at the junction. With GPS for the most part useless, we explored Buckskin Gulch based simply on time since we still had to drive to the Grand Canyon that day.

We followed Buckskin north first, the canyon walls varying from about 5 to 15 feet wide. Along the way, we found interesting patterns and pockmarks on the otherwise smooth sandstone, as well as a snake and a lizard.

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After returning to the junction and following Buckskin east, it became apparent we should have gone that direction first – the canyon there is much narrower and more dramatic than the northern section. Unfortunately, we weren’t able explore much since we had to continue on our trip.

On the way out, we stopped to inspect rock art on a wall at the junction before making our way back up the Wire Pass trail.

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Before reaching the trailhead, we encountered a group coming out of the Coyote Buttes area, where the well-known Wave feature can be found – but with permits required even for day use, we’ll have to return another time.

Here are more photos from Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch.

Distance: The Wire Pass trail is 3.4 miles round trip to Buckskin Gulch. From the junction, the Buckskin Gulch Trail travels 4.5 miles north and 11.3 miles east; we explored a short distance in both directions.

Trailhead: The Wire Pass trailhead is 8.3 miles south on the rough House Rock Valley Road, of U.S. Highway 89 about 38 miles east of Kanab, Utah, and 34 miles west of Page, Arizona.

Red rocks and hot hiking in Arizona

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The first of two fall trips to Arizona allowed us to get out in the Sedona and Scottsdale areas – both of which offer easy access to trails.

It’s been several years since we’ve met relatives in the Phoenix area, and in the past we’ve taken the opportunity to drive north to Sedona’s red rock country or south to Saguaro National Park and Tucson.

This time we arrived a day earlier than others, so spent the first night in Sedona. There, we went on short hikes to a natural bridge and around a spire to a rocky promontory. After that, we stayed in Scottsdale, which provided fairly easy access to parks. We hiked to the top of a peak on the edge of the valley one day, then I ran up the highest mountain in Phoenix the next morning.

Devil’s Bridge

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Devil’s Bridge is the largest natural arch in the Sedona area, and there are multiple routes leading to it. Because we were only in the area for one night, we chose the shortest trail to get a second hike in before leaving.

Starting from the Dry Creek Vista trailhead, we walked 1 miles northeast on the dusty, rutted Forest Road 152 to the official Devil’s Bridge trailhead. The road traveled up and down slightly with mountains of the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness rising to the southeast.

At the Devil’s Bridge trail, we turned east and continued uphill into the trees. After a final steep section, we reached the top of the 50-foot arch just inside the wilderness.

Devil’s bridge is sturdy enough to walk on and provides views across the canyon – it’s also a popular spot, and you won’t be alone. After waiting our turn to take photos of the arch, we hiked back to the trailhead the same way.

Here are more photos from Devil’s Bridge.

Distance: About 3.6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From the intersection of Arizona Highway 179 and U.S. Highway 89A in Sedona, drive 3.2 miles west on 89A, 2 miles north on Dry Creek Road and 0.2 miles northeast on Forest Road 152 to the Dry Creek Vista trailhead. (If you have a high-clearance vehicle, you can continue 1.1 miles out the rough forest road to the Devil’s Bridge trailhead.)

Chimney Rock-Sugarloaf

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Our second hike before leaving Sedona linked several trails below the mountains on the north side of town.

Starting from the Thunder Mountain trailhead, we hiked uphill to the northwest along the base of three-spired Chimney Rock and past two junctions. At a third junction at about 0.3 miles, we continued north for 0.5 miles, then turned east at a junction and climbed to Chimney Rock Pass, briefly entering the Red-Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Down from the pass at about 1.2 miles, we continued west for 0.7 miles on the fairly open Thunder Mountain trail with Capitol Butte rising to the north. At a junction with the Adante and Teacup trails, we continued east on Teacup for 0.3 miles.

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After crossing a wash, we turned southeast on the Sugarloaf Loop trail then again on the Sugarloaf Summit trail, climbing to the open top of the rock formation at 2.7 miles. The outcrop provided excellent views of town and the surrounding mountains, including Coffee Pot Rock.

Backtracking down Sugarloaf and west on the Teacup trail for 0.8 miles, we returned to the junction with the Adante trail and followed it west, slightly south of the Thunder Mountain trail, for 0.6 miles. Just past the Adante trailhead, we turned south along the base of Chimney Rock and continued about 0.5 miles back to where we started for 4.6 miles total.

Here are more photos from Chimney Rock and Sugarloaf.

Distance: About 4.6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From the intersection of Arizona Highway 179 and U.S. Highway 89A in Sedona, drive 2.5 miles west on 89A, 0.6 miles north on Adante Drive, and 0.3 miles west on Thunder Mountain Road, then turn north into the Thunder Mountain trailhead.

Sunrise Peak

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In Scottsdale, temperatures reached the mid-90s – on the high end for us – but they didn’t keep us from getting out as long as we carried plenty of water.

On our first full day there, we hiked to the top of 3,069-foot Sunrise Peak in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve to the northeast of the city. Even starting mid-morning, it was already well into the 80s.

From a parking area in a neighborhood at the east end of the trail, we climbed steeply and steadily northwest up a cactus-filled canyon. A ridge line above switchbacks at about 1.2 miles provided views across the Phoenix metropolitan area to the west.

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Another 0.6 miles up, we reached a second viewpoint and a junction with the trail west to the top. After the final 0.25 miles of switchbacks to the top, we found shade under a small tree and views all around – the metro area to the west, farther into the preserve to the northwest, the Fountain Hills to the northeast and the Superstition Mountains in the distance to the east.

The route continued west to another trailhead, but with the temperature rising, we descended southeast back to our air-conditioned car.

Here are more photos from Sunrise Peak.

Distance: About 4.1 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From North Scottsdale Road, drive 8 miles east on East Shea Boulevard, 0.5 miles north on North 136th Street and 1.4 miles east on East Via Linda to the Sunrise trailhead.

Piestewa Peak

The run up 2,608-foot Piestewa Peak, the second highest point in the Phoenix Mountains

Before anyone else woke the next morning, I went on a sunrise run up Piestewa Peak in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. At 2,608 feet, it’s the highest in the metropolitan area.

(The morning before, I tried the same run, but unknowingly started on the wrong trail and ended up on top of the wrong mountain. It was still fun.)

From the west side of the 40th Street trailhead parking area, I ran south across the desert floor on Trail 8 as first light reached the mountains to the west, passing a couple of junctions. Over a small saddle, I turned west then southwest, passed another junction and intersected Trail 304 at a pass at 2.7 miles

The run up 2,608-foot Piestewa Peak, the second highest point in the Phoenix Mountains

About 0.5 miles down the canyon from the pass, and past another junction and a trailhead, I turned onto Trail 302 and continued southwest. About 0.6 miles farther down the canyon, Trail 302 merged with Trail 300 – and I merged into a crowd – just above a popular trailhead for Piestewa Peak.

After the junction, the trail widened and was paved in places with steps. My pace slowed as I climbed, occasionally waiting to pass people.

The trail continued a short distance then turned north and split at about 0.5 miles. From there, I followed Trail 300 northeast, rounding a ridge line and scrambling up the final rocks to find a U.S. Geological Survey marker at 4.9 miles.

The run up 2,608-foot Piestewa Peak, the second highest point in the Phoenix Mountains

After taking in the surrounding view from the sunny summit and eating some food I brought along, I retraced my route back across the preserve in mid-80s heat.

Here are more photos of Piestewa Peak.

Distance: About 9.8 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The 40th Street trailhead is 4 miles east of North Scottsdale Road on East Shea Boulevard, the 1 mile south on North 40th.

A 50-mile run across the wilds of The Bob

Sunrise on Headquarters Pass during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

On the last weekend in July, I joined a group of Missoula friends for the Run Across The Bob, or RATBOB.

The annual run – this was the third year – is loosely organized, covers 50-some miles and crosses the Bob Marshall Wilderness from east to west. The 1 million-acre wilderness area was designated with the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act.

We left Missoula on a Friday afternoon and camped at the Mill Falls Campground on the Rocky Mountain Front west of Choteau, stopping in Augusta for dinner at the Buckhorn Bar and last-minute supplies at the grocery store next door.

Early the next morning, we packed up camp and got our gear together for the day, then drove to the South Fork Teton trailhead a mile up the road to the southwest.

Sunrise on Headquarters Pass during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

About 5 a.m., we started up the trail southwest to Headquarters Pass by headlamp. The first 4 miles were some of the more scenic parts of the day, as we passed a tall, streaming waterfall, took in sunrise on the talus slopes below Rocky Mountain, and were greeted at the 7,755 pass by a group of mountain goats.

At the pass, we said goodbye to our shuttle drivers, who ran back down to the trailhead then spent the day on the road and setting up camp near the end of our route on the west side of the wilderness. At that point, there was to turning back.

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For the next 8 miles, we descended west along Headquarters Creek to the North Fork of the Sun River. After a stop to eat some food, we crossed a pack bridge over the river and headed for the Gates Park Guard Station.

With several trails meeting at the guard station, the scene of our group stopped at a junction consulting multiple maps made for a moment of humor – especially when we found the cabins and backcountry airstrip just beyond the stand of trees in front of us, at about 13 miles.

From the guard station, we continued west up Red Shale Creek on the Continental Divide Trail, splitting into several smaller groups. The area burned in a 2013 wildfire, making for a sunny, warm run, and many of us made our first stop to refill water bottles and bladders here. While I was among those who carried a filter, this was the only place I used it – several people who went on previous years’ runs found the water safe when left untreated, and I joined them out of convenience.

Along the North Wall during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

After entering thick forest for a couple of miles, we reached a meadow at the base of the North Wall near 21 miles and stopped to wait for others to rejoin the group. The North Wall is an extension of The Bob’s famed Chinese Wall, a 22-mile-long escarpment that averages 1,000 feet in height.

Up Switchback Pass during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

For the next 13 miles, we followed the trail north along the base of the wall, splitting into smaller groups again as we crossed several small passes and burn areas that offered views up and down the cliff line. Eventually, we turned west and climbed steeply up the wall for a mile to Switchback Pass near Kevan Mountain. From the pass we could see back south along the wall and east to where we started.

Up Switchback Pass during the 53-mile Run Across The Bob

The 7,767-foot Switchback Pass got its name from the trail on its west side – in less than 4 miles, we dropped about 3,000 feet to the southwest and rounded more than 40 switchbacks. Back in the forest at the bottom, the trail became level as we waded across Pentagon Creek and reached Pentagon Cabin at nearly 40.5 miles.

From the cabin, we followed the Spotted Bear River northwest, meeting a couple of our shuttle drivers after about 2 miles. After spending the day on the road and setting up camp, they were gracious enough to run a pack full of snacks in and offer support.

Our groups split up even more in the final miles and I ended up on my own for much of it. After wading across Dean Creek and passing the silty, turquoise waters of the Blue Lakes, I reached the other shuttle drivers and first runners gathered at the Silvertip trailhead – about 50 miles and 15 hours after we started.

After a short recovery period, the first of us back piled into an SUV and drove down to the Spotted Bear Campground, where another shuttle driver was tending a buffet of hot food and cooler of beer. After a quick rinse-off in the river as the sun set, we ate, awaited the return of the rest of our group and recounted the day for the drivers before finally falling asleep in our tents.

The next morning, we packed up camp and drove home, crowding a small cafe in Hungry Horse for breakfast.

Here are more photos from the RATBOB.