At about 8:00 on Friday evening, I decided to run Jun's Quest for Kings marathon, despite being completely unprepared for the run or even for that distance in general.
I woke up at 3:00 in the morning and was on the road by 3:30. After stopping at Smith's to buy bandages for the blisters on my feet and at McDonald's to buy breakfast, I drove up Provo Canyon and on to Wyoming via I-80. I knew I would have to drive past Evanston to get to the trailhead, but I didn't realize how far past. And I was surprised at how far it was from the highway to the trail--nearly 40 miles, mostly on dirt roads. King's Peak is pretty remote.
I pulled into the parking lot at the Henry's Fork trailhead around 6:30. Since the race was supposed to start at 6:00, I assumed I was well behind Jun, Scott and Aaron and doubted I would see them until they were on their way back down. I was dressed and on the trail by 6:45, and after a mile I came to the real trail. It turns out I parked in the equestrian lot, and the trail I started running on was just a path to get horses from the lot to the trail without using the road. No matter--the extra trail was nice, and I ran into two moose along the way.
Once I was on the real trail, I settled into a groove and kept the pace nice and easy. The trail climbed only gradually, but it was strewn with enough rocks to keep things interesting (fun on the way out, not so much on the way back).
At first I was concerned because I'd never been up to King's Peak and I didn't know if I was on the right trail. But after a couple of miles I ran into some backpackers who confirmed I was headed in the right direction, so I stopped worrying.
Other than a couple of quick pit stops, the first 10+ miles were uneventful. I ran the entire thing except for one 50-foot stretch that I decided to hike, and I hit the first pass in about 1:45. By this time I was starting to wonder which peak was King's Peak, but since there were less than three miles left, I thought 2:30 seemed like a reasonable goal for the summit.
At this first pass there are two options--one is to descend down into a small valley and around the pass, which adds distance and vertical to the course. The other option is a well-traveled shortcut straight over the pass. At Jun's suggestion (from the website) I took the shortcut, and soon I was climbing straight up a boulder field. I lost the trail quickly, and not knowing which peak I was climbing I had to guess what direction to go. I guessed wrong, but a few minutes later some hikers somewhere above me kicked a rock loose, which was my clue that I needed to head the other direction. I doubled back, and eventually I found what there was of a trail.
I soon came around the pass and onto another boulder field above a marshy valley. This is where things got confusing. I didn't know where I was going, and neither, it seemed, did anyone else. There were hikers scattered all over the place, and they all seemed to be following different routes to different peaks. As I picked my way through the boulders, I asked three different hikers which peak was King's Peak and I got three different answers. Eventually I abandoned the boulder field and the shortcut altogether and picked my way down to the valley, where I wandered around for a bit before finding the trail, which took me up to another small pass between two peaks.
At that point I had to guess which peak I was going to climb. I was concerned that I hadn't yet seen Jun and Aaron and Scott, either on their way up or down, and I was worried that I was way off course. Based on where the trail seemed to go, I chose a peak and started climbing. I was mostly picking my way through boulders because there was no clear trail, which did nothing to convince me that I was on the right path. And by the time I was within a quarter mile of the summit I still hadn't seen Jun and his crew, so I decided I was climbing the wrong mountain and I pretty much gave up.
Since (I thought) I was off course and on the wrong mountain, I figured there was no reason for me to finish the scramble to the summit so instead I sat down on a boulder along the ridge and ate some Clif Shots and Sports Beans while enjoying the view in both directions (and what a view it was). After a few minutes I decided to head back down, and just I as I was getting up I saw a couple of guys coming toward me from the summit who looked like they knew what they were doing. When they got to me I asked which peak was King's Peak, and they pointed to the peak I had been climbing up to. I asked if they had seen three runners up there, and they told me that there was just one.
Confused, I decided to head up and see if the runner was Jun, Aaron or Scott. I made it to the summit a few minutes later, but I didn't see anyone else so I turned right around. As I started my descent, I saw a guy sitting and eating a ways below the ridge, so I turned around and climbed down to where he was. It wasn't Jun and it wasn't Scott, so I asked if he was Aaron but he wasn't that, either. He was there for the race, although he had started at 5:00, and he said he hadn't seen anyone else on the trail. I started wondering if maybe the Forest Service had arrested Jun and Co., which would explain why I hadn't seen them.
I left the other runner to enjoy his lunch and began picking my way back down through the boulders. As I approached the saddle, I saw two runners--Aaron and Jun. They were surprised to see me. We chatted for a bit, and then I decided to get back on the trail. By then I was sick of boulder hopping, so I told Jun I was going to skip the shortcut in hopes that the longer trail would pay off by providing more runnable terrain. Jun advised me not to, and I wish I had listened.
The long trail was much longer and no better than the shortcut. And by then my knees and ankles were killing me, and I found myself tenderly picking my way through the steep descents and walking many of the climbs. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. With the time off my injury forced on me, I haven't been putting in the miles this summer. The last time I went for a run much longer than two hours was the Sapper Joe 50K, way back in May. Simply put, my legs were not up to the task.
By the time I got back to the saddle at 10 miles, I had been out for about 4:15. Which means, thanks to detours, frustration and bad legs, it had taken me about 2:30 to travel about 7 miles. That's unacceptable. But, as I already said, I guess it should have been expected.
As I started down from the saddle, I ran in to two guys who I assumed were from the BYU track team. We chatted for a few minutes, and then I got back to the business of finishing the run.
It was a death march. For a while I was able to keep myself under 9 minutes per mile, but after not too long my stomach hurt, my knees hurt and my ankles hurt. I slowed to a crawl, taking frequent walk breaks, and I think the last 6 or 7 miles passed in about 10-12 minutes each. When I finally reached the trailhead, more than 27 miles and 6 hours after starting, I was so ready to be done. I packed up my stuff, hopped in the car and drove to Evanston for a huge burger and fries.
So that's my report. The King's Peak trail is a beautiful one, and I'm glad I got to run it. But I showed up unprepared, and the mountain kicked my butt. I've learned my lesson, and I will return to avenge myself.