Squaw Peak 50 Mile Trail Run

Windy Pass aid station
Windy Pass aid station

For several years now I have been volunteering at the Squaw Peak 50 Mile Trail Run near my home in Provo, UT. I have always helped out at the Windy Pass aid station. This is up South Fork Canyon at an elevation of 9200.’ Since there is a natural spring there it’s possible to have an aid station. But all other food and supplies must be backpacked up. It is about a 5.5 mile hike gaining about 3000’+ of elevation up a steep, rocky, technical trail. Since I started volunteering about six years ago I have been taking my boys with me up to Windy Pass. It makes for a long, demanding day. We begin hiking at about 6 am and have to wait until the last runner is through, which is usually about 7:00 pm. We then pack up and hike out, usually getting down around 9:30 pm.

This past Saturday (June 1st) I was aid station captain for the Windy Pass aid station again. I had two sons and a daughter with me. I also recruited my older brother, a younger brother and his son, as well as a few other ultra runners. It was a beautiful day in the mountains. We spend a fair amount of time filling 2.5 gallon collapsable jugs from the spring and lugging them up a quarter mile to where we have the aid station in a beautiful meadow. It was the first time my daughter had been up there. Here are a few photos from the day.

Water jugs; the spring is down the hill in the background about 1/4 mile.
Water jugs; the spring is down the hill in the background about 1/4 mile.
Waiting for the first runners.
Waiting for the first runners.
Peak above Windy Pass
Peak above Windy Pass
Lars (age 12) carried dozens of water jugs up from the spring to the aid station.
Lars (age 12) carried dozens of water jugs up from the spring to the aid station.
The view looking down South Fork coming off Windy Pass.
The view looking down South Fork coming off Windy Pass.
My daughter Natalie on the hike down at the end of the day.
My daughter Natalie on the hike down at the end of the day.

I ran the race in 2009 and 2011. It is truly a beautiful, though rugged, course. Below is a race report I wrote shortly after I ran the race for the first time in 2009.

Squaw Peak 50 Mile Trail Run

June 6, 2009 

Race Report

This was my first attempt at this distance. I have run three 50K trail races, along with several trail marathons. I have been wanting to do this race for about 3 years now and finally got in this year. I have worked at the Windy Pass aid station a few times and had run most sections of the course, so I was pretty familiar with the race.

I tried to run regular races this year to prepare for the race. In January I ran the Big Foot Kahtoola 25K snowshoe race; in March I ran the Buffalo Run 50K up on Antelope Island, and in April I did the grueling Bonneville Shoreline Trail Marathon. I had run this one a few years ago, and I guess I had forgotton how hard it is. I really suffered. It was a cool, rainy, and very muddy day. It probably didn’t help that the two nights previous to the race I didn’t get much sleep, due to some out of state travel.

As Squaw Peak approached I got more and more nervous. I wondered if my training was adequate. Because the Bonneville Shoreline Trail Marathon beat me up so bad, my longest run in May, three weeks before the race, was only about 22-24 miles. It was the best I could do, coming only two weeks after Bonneville and three weeks before Squaw Peak. I really wanted to have that three weeks to rest up. I wanted to go into the race feeling well rested.

 The race began at 5:00 am at Vivian Park up Provo Canyon. I carried my usual belt pack with two bottles (one with water, and one with Emergen-C), two flasks of energy gel, ibuprofen, t.p., some wet wipes, some band-aids, and a featherweight shell in case of bad weather. The first 2.2 miles were down the paved Provo River Trail. It was still dark, so most people had headlamps or small flashlights. I carried a small flashlight but really didn’t use it much. I took it pretty easy. I wanted to go out pretty slow and not overdue it so early in the race. Just above the Bridalveil Falls parking lot, the course ascends the Bonneville Shoreline trail. It’s a nice section of singletrack that climbs for about 1.5 miles up to the Smith Ditch road/trail. From here the first significant climb of the day began. A very steep, but pretty trail along a small stream climbs straight up to Hope Campground and the first (but labeled AS#2) aid station at mile 5.58. My split was 1:22 with an elevation gain of about 1000’. A scout troop mans this station and had a big breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausage, and the usual aid station stuff. I was feeling pretty good, though not trying to push things at all. I was just taking it easy and enjoying the early morning beauty of the mountains.

Three weeks earlier I had run this section of the course and was impressed with how steep and difficult the climbing was, especially this early in the race.

From the campground the trail continues to climb up across the dirt road that leads to Rock Canyon and up to the Squaw Peak overlook climbing another 2000’ up to 8000’ elevation. The scenery around here was breathtaking, especially in the early morning light. The trail then descended pretty rapidly down, across the road, across a nice meadow and down to the top of Rock Canyon and onto the fire road. It was really nice to have some downhill running. On the way up I was mostly walking, but on the way down I caught three or four other runners. The descent was about 800’. Once on the fire road I ran along with a guy named Wally, an attorney from Northern California. He was a veteran of many ultras, including 14 100 milers. It was nice to have some company along here.

The trail mostly follows the fire road as it climbs up to the Kolob Basin Overlook and Camel Pass at an elevation of about 8500’. The climbing was not bad compared to the last climb. Things were fairly gradual. In a couple places the trail cut straight up the mountain avoiding the swithcbacks and extra mileage. I was still feeling pretty good along here as I was not pushing it at all. Aid Station #3 (mile 10.85)) was along this road before the pass. My split here was 2:58. I didn’t spend much time at all at these aid stations. I stopped only long enough to refill my bottles.

The fire road continued gradually up to the pass, before beginning the descent into the Left Fork of Hobble Creek. Aid Station #4 (mile 14.62) was at the top of the pass. I arrived in 4:12. Again, a quick stop here. I had a drop bag here with some energy gel. During this uphill section of the dirt road, a few people had passed me, maybe 4-5. I wasn’t too concerned. I was really focusing on running my own race and not worrying about pace or other runners.

 I always like downhill running. From AS#4 the course descends down the fire road, with a few detours on singletrack, one of which included a short but steepish climb. On one section of singeltrack I rolled my ankle. This was at about mile 18. It hurt pretty bad, but I continued to run and after a mile or so, it didn’t really hurt any more, though I could tell it was a bit tender. At the beginning of this downhill section I had to take my first pit stop. I had to climb up a steep bank to get out of view of the road and passing runners.  I began to pass people on this downhill section. I think I passed 5-6 runners on my way down to Aid Station #5 (mile 20.94, time: 5:40). The descent from Kolob Basin Overlook down to this aid station was about 3000 feet. It was at this point that I started getting a little worried about missing the cut-off at mile 33. I decided I better try to pick up the pace a bit.

It was only about a mile from AS #5 to the paved road of Hobble Creek, Left Fork. I despise running on pavement, which is why I only do trail races. But I was determined to stay focused and keep up a steady pace on this 3.5 miles of pavement. I alternated between jogging and walking briskly. Surprisingly I did not see any other runners on this whole stretch of the course. Also surprisingly, the 3.5 miles of pavement passed rather quickly. I rolled into Aid Station #6 (mile 26.05), at the end of the road in 6:46 , feeling pretty good about the road running. There were two other runners just leaving the station when I pulled in. Again, I did not spend much time at the aid station. I had a quick chug of Coke, then took off. I could see the two runners up ahead. It’s always nice to have someone ahead that you can focus on and try to catch. After about 7 or 8 minutes I caught up to the two runners. One was in his late 60’s, from Pleasant Grove and was running his 5th Squaw Peak 50 Miler. The other was a guy named Jeff from Salt Lake City. He was in his late 40’s and had also run Squaw Peak a couple times.

This section of the course is on a dirt road paralleling a nice creek. After about two miles the road passes a scout camp; I think it is Camp Jeremiah Johnson. After another two miles the course leaves the dirt road. Along this section it was nice to run with other runners and pass the time talking. During this four miles we leapfrogged a bit, but all arrived at the aid station around the same time. At this junction is Aid Station #7 at mile 29.97. My time here was 7:57. The famed ultrarunner Karl Meltzer was manning this aid station. I drank more coke, ate salty potato chips, refilled my bottle, grabbed some gummy bears and took off.

The trail follows a creek up Sheep Canyon. The first part of the trail was literally right up the center of the creek. I managed to slip once and submerge one foot on this section. I left the aid station before both Jeff and the other runner. After less than a mile I passed a runner, then another a half mile further on. This is a beautiful section of the course that I had run three weeks earlier on a training run. It gradually ascends a series of meadows before entering a shady aspen forest. The trail then begins a pretty steep ascent up Rattlesnake Mountain to Wallsburg Ridge. Jeff caught me on this uphill section. He was not feeling too good, so I gave him some electrolyte supplements that I had. He beat me to the top of the ridge, but I quickly caught him on the short, steep downhill section into Little Valley and Aid Station #8, at mile 33.5. This is the only cut-off on the course. If you are not at this aid station by 2:30 pm you are dropped from the race. I arrived just before 2:00 and my time here was 9:12. I didn’t feel too bad here. I retrieved my drop bag where I had more energy gel, and a bottle of Coke. I spent a few minutes, probably ten here, refueling. I had a half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some salted nuts, lots of water, and some potato chips. I also drank about a third of the bottle of coke. I refilled my bottles and Jeff and I then took off. At the last minute I decided to carry the bottle of Coke along, and I was really glad I did.

The trial begins a long ascent up a narrow canyon along a creek. After about a mile the trail cuts across the creek and ascends the side of a long hill. Me and three other runners missed the turn here and were headed up the creek bed when some other runners that were at the junction yelled at us. Luckily we were only about a hundred yards or so off trail. We came back and headed up the right trail. Before too long Jeff and some other runners pulled ahead and I was running alone again. Most of the race I was running alone, which is just fine with me as all my training was done alone as well. Two or three runners passed me on this gradual uphill section in the first couple miles after the aid station. It wasn’t too steep but it was continual uphill running. The trail would wind up around a large hill, then onto another large rounded hill, gradually climbing higher and higher. At one point the trail comes around a hillside and across the valley I could see runners the size of little ants threading their way up an incredibly steep ridgeline. This was affectionately called Bozung Hill, after the race director. I had heard many stories about this climb—1.2 miles to climb 1500 feet. I took a pit stop just before the climb. All during this gradual ascent I had been drinking the Coke, sipping energy gel, and taking an electrolyte supplement. Surprisingly I felt pretty good. My legs were not dead like I thought they would be. I climbed steadily up the hill, passing one runner, then another. About half way up I came to a girl sitting on a rock. She did not look too good and told me that she felt awful and couldn’t keep anything down. I offered her some electrolytes and food by she declined. I shortly caught up with another runner who was out of water and not feeling good. I gave him some of my water and he was really grateful. At the top of the climb I left him and began a traverse around the top of another mountain. I could see the Windy Pass aid station in the distance. As I began descending to the station, my two boys Niels, 16, and Finn 12, were trotting up the trail . They had been working at the Windy Pass aid station all day. It was wonderful to see them and it gave me a surge of energy. We ran into Aid Station #9 (mile 40.4) together. My time was 12:56. Strangely I felt really good, very energetic. I have worked at this aid station before and most runners feel pretty trashed at this point. From aid station #8 to #9 is about 7 miles and climbs 2500 feet.

I was anxious to get going. Niels had packed up another bottle of Coke for me. I filled one of my bottles with Coke, and refilled the other with water. I barely ate anything. I convinced Niels and Finn, and their friend Jaeho to come with me the rest of the way. Even though they had packs on, they began the descent with me. I was also expecting my older brother Kyle to be here to pace me out, but he was not there. From here to the end of the race, almost 10 miles, the course drops 4000 feet, the first 6 miles or so on steep, rocky, technical singletrack.

It was at this point in the race that something strange and totally unexpected happened. As I began running down this very rocky and technical trail, I began to feel surges of adrenaline, energy, even euphoria. A true runners high was not what I was expecting after running 40 miles on mountain trails. The race has a total vertical climb of 14,000+ feet and the same in descending. I began passing runners as I cruised down the trail. After about a mile, we came around a corner and there was Kyle walking up the trail. It turns out that he had got lost and run eight or ten miles out of his way before backtracking and finding the right trail. It was really good to see him, and it really gave me another big emotional boost. At this point I felt nearly invincible. I was astonished at how good I felt. Kyle likewise was really surprised I was running like that. I was thinking (and he was too) that he would have to cajole me along here, encouraging me along with each step. Instead I seemed to fly down the trail. I was continually passing other runners who were all walking. I was counting them since leaving the aid station. First one, then a couple more, then more and more. Catching other runners is always gratifying and very motivating. At the bottom of the mountain, the trail crosses a wide meadow, then drops into the parking area at the Forest Service access area at Big Springs.  This was Aid Station #10 at mile 46.5, and my time was 14:24. I didn’t stop here, just ran right through.

From here the trail follows the paved road down Right Fork down to the finish at Vivian Park. I had heard that this section of the course was like a very painful death march. In fact, of all the runners I passed on the road, all were walking, slowly, except one guy who was shuffling along, grimacing. I continued to run well and felt very good considering I had just run 46 miles. I was really proud of my boys who kept up this whole way, even with packs on, and not little day packs, but backpacking packs since they had to haul all the aid station food up to Windy Pass. Granted the packs were nearly empty, but still, quite an achievement. I could smell the finish and I pushed it all the way to the end. I passed my 24th runner since aid station 9 at mile 40.4, about a half mile before the finish. I ran into the finish feeling strong. My time was 15:02:21. The race director John Bozung was there to greet me and give me the finishers medal. My wife Sharon and my daughter Natalie and my youngest son Lars were all there waiting for me at the finish line. It was great to see them there.

I was still astonished at how well I felt. I was hardly even limping. I was really hungry and ate roasted chicken, pizza, popsicles, and I can’t remember what else. We only stayed for about 45 minutes then left for home.

I cannot explain why I felt so good in the later stages of the race. I hydrated well. I was taking some electrolyte supplements and energy gel regularly. Maybe seeing my boys and my brother also had an effect. I felt better after this race than I did a few weeks earlier running a trail marathon of only 26.2 miles.

237 runners started the race, 225 finished, and I placed 170th. I felt really good about it, especially considering it was my first 50 miler. I finished the last 9.6 miles of the course in 2:06. That may not sound too fast, but after running 40 miles and 14,000+ feet of climbing, it felt pretty good. My feet fared very well with only one small blister on one toe of each foot. They didn’t bother me at all during the race. And no bruised toenails either. My legs did not feel much more tired or sore than after a 50K trail run. That also surprised me. 

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