Sunday, July 17, 2011

Trail Run up Bair Canyon Utah - following the "Bairgutsman" race route

Trail Followed for the run

During the end of June and the first week of July we traveled to Utah for a holiday. I had planned on running a couple of awesome runs with good friends. The extremely cold wet year eliminated the possibility of running the main route we had chosen so we had to get creative and find something new to run. To test how runnable the Northern Wasatch were and to see what options we had to replace our old run, I decided to take a test run up Bair Canyon which is the course for the Bairgutsman trail race, an 11-13 mile point to point trail race. I was running about 8 miles of the course and then running back so in total I was going to run 16 miles.

Starting at an elevation of 4800' the trail heads straight up Bair Canyon to the summit at 9,500' leaving the total elevation just shy of the 5,000' mark. I started the run at 5:30 a.m. hoping to beat the sun since I am use to running in the mild climate of the PNW. It was quite windy at the start but it was still fairly warm. I had some concerns about the high run-off that would make each of the four river crossings a bit dicey and I was also worried about the snow fields near the summit that were going to be treacherous to cross.

I started off at a nice clip and made it to the first river crossing very quickly. The river was high and frothy but it looked relatively safe. I jumped on in and felt the icy snow melt crash into my thighs. It ended up being quite simple to cross and I could tell I wouldn't have any issues crossing each of the subsequent crossings.

The trail had not seen many hikers past this first crossing this year and the trail began to be quite overgrown. Perhaps the most challenging aspect was the loads of stinging nettle that lined both sides of the trail due to the extremely wet conditions this year. I startled some campers who were sleeping on the side of the trail and weren't expecting to see anyone let alone at 6:00 a.m. I waved and crossed the river again and kept on cruising upwards.

I was also getting covered in hundreds of tiny silkworms that were dangling from the trees. Sometimes I would stop and pick hundreds of the little creatures off of me. Then I noticed a few other unwanted guests hitching a ride... Ticks! I picked several of those off my bare legs and then spent the remainder of the time in the trees and brush petrified of having to pick off ticks when I finished my run. I also began to notice cougar scat all over the trail and was a bit nervous, when a large sage grouse jumped out in front of me. Being already nervous of cougars this opportune explosion of feathers made me nearly have a heart attack. With a huge jolt of adrenaline I powered my way up through the remainder of the trees into the higher slopes of the range. The trail was extremely faint in places making it challenging to follow but my main concern was that on the return down I could easily get lost since the trail would be harder to see as I quickly bounded down the hill. There was also going to be a bunch of branches from mountain mahogany and scrub oak and nettle to sting and scratch my legs as I made my rapid and slightly out of control descent.

I reached snowline at about 7:00 am and found my first snow crossing to be treacherous as I had to slide down a nearly vertical 20' foot snow ledge on my backside. The next challenging snow field was a large side-sloped traverse that angled steeply into the canyon and would have been really bad to slip and slide down on. After crossing this side slope I realized all the switch backs were covered in snow and ice so I just cruised right up the ridge getting scratched and torn up along the full distance.

About two hours after starting out I made it to the summit ridge. The wind was really whipping up there. I decided to summit a small peak to the north of Francis Peak and have a sandwich. I took shelter from the wind behind a communication tower and had a great time on the summit. I changed my socks and started the descent. It went really quickly and running down the snow fields was a blast.

As I predicted the branches and nettle took their toll on my exposed skin and my legs were completely shredded and stung. It is all part of the journey. The descent went extremely quick and I got off the main trail during a slide-rock crossing but found it again and finished my descent with no major issues.

It was a great run and one I will always remember. I really love running in the clouds. Enjoy the footage I took of the run!


Tim said...

This video you have done is AMAZING!!! I can't wait to see some of the movies you make with our adventures while I was up there. I am sure they will be amazing. As far as this run, that is a serious climb, and the trail conditions made it that much farther. I am amazed at how fast you were able to summit despite the conditions. VERY good post. I can't wait to read about more of your adventures in the near future.

tysqui said...

Wowser. Both of you guys are awesome. I loved both this video and the video of your Ben Lomond run. Impressive!

Steve said...

Thanks Squi! We would have loved to have you along but I heard that your work schedule wouldn't allow it this year. We had some great runs in Utah and then several great runs on the island the following week. It turned out to be a great month!