Buck Creek Campground
White River Valley
Little Ranger Peak
The race course consists of two big loops with sustained climbs that total over 8,700 feet of elevation gain. The race begins from the Buck Creek Campground with a short jaunt along the adjacent air strip before heading out on the White River Trail through beautiful old growth forests. After about six miles of rolling terrain through cathedral forest, the course gets a little more interesting by heading up the Palisade Trail. Here the first big climb begins-and while much of it is on a decent grade-there is one section up a steep ravine utilizing a stairwell.
The course then breaks out of deep forest to run along the rim of the Palisade providing breathtaking views of Mount Rainier and Sun Top and vertigo inducing views of the White River Valley and the start line some 2,000 feet below. Then the course continues climbing to crest Little Ranger Peak before ascending some more, bursting out from the forest canopy to traverse meadows along Dalles Ridge. Here runners are granted a reprieve from climbing for the next several miles coasting along a mile high rolling ridgeline adorned with wildflowers and bear grass and exceptional views of Mount Rainier glistening in the background.
At mile 17 runners reach Corral Pass and then begin doubling back along the ridge before steeply descending via the Ranger Creek Trail. After a fast four mile descent runners head back to Buck Creek before beginning the second loop which involves an eight mile mostly up journey to 5,271-foot Sun Top Mountain. This is the make it or break it section of the race; for not only is the climb long but also the temperature is quite warm by this time. The course has a 13 hour time limit (14 hours if you take the early start) and runners must pass through the next several aid stations before designated cut off times lest they are removed from the course.
But for most runners who make it to flowered Sun Top at Mile 37, successfully finishing the race is usually within their reach. A mountaintop aid station staffed by enthusiastic volunteers under the gleaming watchful eye of Mount Rainier usually recharges race participants. That and the six mile descent down the graveled Sun Top road helps runners find their second wind before taking to the course’s final stretch on the Skookum Flats Trail.
The last six miles of the course along the roaring glacier fed White River however, are notorious for messing up many a participant’s pace. While all of the big climbs are over, more than a few runners falsely think the final stretch will be easy. It isn’t. Skookum Flats actually gains 500 feet and parts of the trail have runners hopping over roots and rocks. But for those participants who have trained well and still have plenty of fuel left in them-this section shouldn’t prove too difficult. And with plenty of old growth giants lining the way and the roaring White River alongside the trail, attention can easily be diverted away from any aches and pains!
Runners finish back at the Buck Creek Campground where they are met by cheering spectators and their fellow competitors. And whether you were the first across the line like three time winner Uli Steidl or the last to make the cut-off, all participants are treated liked champions. Most of the runners along with their family and friends hang out afterwards for the post race BBQ. And many head down to the White River for a dip to soothe aching muscles.
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