12 Days to WSER: A Trip Over the Highest Point

The previous day I had enjoyed a rest day by hiking four miles up a mountain to the highest point on the Western States course. Now I would start a longer run by commencing with that same restful four-mile hike.

Setting of from the ski village at Squaw Valley I ran and walked the four miles up to the escarpment. Then similar to the previous day I made my way up to Emigrant Gap and the Watson Monument that marks the spot. It was a lot windier at the top than the previous day so I quickly continued on my journey onto the trail that would take me down the other side.

The trail started to slowly lose elevation as we traversed towards the peak of Granite Chief. About half a mile down was a trail sign marking the Tevis Trail. The Tevis Cup is a 100-mile horse race that to a large part follows the same route as the Western States Endurance Run. The run was started in 1974 when Gordy Ainsleigh ran along with the horses to complete the equestrian race, but Google, Wikipedia and the Western States website can provide more detail on the race’s history.

I then entered into the Granite Chief Wilderness area. It was the proclamation of this wilderness area that threatened the continuation of the race. But once permission to continue holding the race was granted it was deemed that the number of entrants would be limited to the number competing the year before the proclamation. Therefore the Western States race is limited to 369 competitors over a five-year rolling average.

In heavy snow years the first 20 miles of the race can be covered in snow, and a modified snow route exists for exactly that scenario. After a promising start to the ski season the second half of the season was extremely dry and therefore our only encounter with snow on race day will be to view it in the distance. I crossed a couple of small, early creeks as the final remnants of snow melt down to feed the regions rivers. Then I started coming across a number of sections where the water was running down the trail. I crossed the first couple keeping my feet dry but then reached an extended section of ankle-deep water and it was time to get feet wet.

There were some great valley views as I crossed through picturesque alpine meadows and I ended up on a rocky road. I hadn’t decided on the exact distance I would complete for the day, but when I reached a green gate around five miles down from the pass I decided to turn around. Interestingly as well as that green gate there is also a green gate much further along the course just before the river crossing at Rucky Chucky. The reason these two gates are interesting is that there is also an aid station named Green Gate, which is located beside a gate that is actually silver in colour. Therefore there are two green gates and one Green Gate.

Granite Chief - Alpine Meadows and Canyons
Granite Chief – Alpine Meadows and Canyons

I turned around and would have a five-mile climb back to the pass. I was expecting a lot of walking back but I hadn’t realised how gentle the gradient had been for most of the way so I was actually able to run some long sections. I made good time back to the pass, climbed over the other side, and made my way down the escarpment. I then took the tram back down to the ski village.

Squaw Valley - Views from the Tram
Squaw Valley – Views from the Tram

For the details of my journey along the early part of the Western States course you can check out MovesCount.com here.

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