Wickersham Dome Trailhead
Race Leg #1: Start Line to Haystack Jct Wall Tent (Checkpoint #1)
The race begins at the Wickersham Dome trailhead parking lot at Milepost 28 Elliott Highway. The trail gradually climbs eastward along the side of a hill for about a mile. After cresting the hill, the trail then follows an undulating, forested ridgeline for about 4 miles before sharply dropping down and intersecting an old cat trail. There are some beckoning views of the White Mountains ahead and the Alaska Range to the south. The race follows the cat trail and is very wide for the next mile. At race mile 6, the outbound race course makes a right hand turn towards Lee's cabin and the checkpoint at the Haystack Mountain wall tent about 11 miles away. This trail junction also marks the point where the inbound race course (race mile 95) re-joins the outbound route. The first six miles of trail are also the only section of trail racers will cover twice.
At this point, the trail begins a gradual descent and, after 3/4 of a mile, passes a spur trail on the left which leads to Lee's cabin. Lee's cabin is not affiliated with the White Mountains 100. Racers must respect the privacy of others using the cabin and only approach the cabin if there is an emergency. The trail continues to descend through black spruce and gets steeper over the next 2 miles, dropping about 400 vertical feet before crossing a sparsely forested valley bottom. After another mile the trail begins a 400 foot climb to the top of a broad forested hill, before descending once again. There is often a small stretch of glare ice at the base of the climb. The next 3 miles the trail crosses rolling terrain of black spruce before dropping down into an open meadow. This meadow is usually very windblown and the trail can be obscured by drifting snow in bad weather. There are a few log tripods marking the trail in this section. In the middle of the meadow the Moose Creek trail junction intersects the race course on the left. Don't take the left. In fact, there are few, if any, drastic turns along the course. The Moose Creek cabin is just ahead on the left at the eastern edge of the meadow. The cabin is not affiliated with the White Mountains 100.
The race course heads uphill from the Moose Creek cabin through patches of burnt-out spruce from the wildfires of 2004, climbing more than 400 feet over the course of a mile or so to the top of a rounded hill. A trail junction near the crest of the hill on the right leads to the Haystack Mountain subdivision. The race course continues straight ahead past this junction, and if in doubt stay to the left. The Haystack Jct Wall Tent (Checkpoint #1) is just ahead at the edge of small clearing.
Race Leg #2: Haystack Jct Wall Tent to Cache Mountain Cabin (Checkpoint #2)
After departing the Haystack Jct Wall Tent the trail continues a series of gradual climbs and descents along a broad, forested ridgeline passing through stands of black spruce sticks, more victims of recent wildfires. Some of these spruce have fallen over alongside the trail, and it is possible that an occasional spear may protrude out into or completely block your path. Be cautious as to not impale yourself on one of these lurking hazards. The trail reaches its highest point (2400') of this ridgeline around race mile 26 before making a sharp left and descent towards the Crowberry public use cabin. The Crowberry cabin is not affiliated with the White Mountains 100. Racers must respect the privacy of others using the cabin and only approach the cabin if there is an emergency.
The distant view to the north of the jagged limestone peaks and higher terrain of the White Mountains becomes more impressive beyond the Crowberry cabin. The lure of the impending landscape will excite racers and motivate them to keep moving forward towards the next checkpoint. The trail is similar in nature for 3 miles or so past the Crowberry cabin as it continues to follow a broad ridgeline, although an overall descent towards Beaver Creek has begun. At race mile 29, the trail begins the final and steep, two tiered drop of nearly 800' over the next 2 miles down to Beaver Creek. Strong winds and blowing snow can sometimes obscure the trail where it crosses an open field of tussocks during this descent.
After being spit out onto Beaver Creek, the race course hangs a left and follows the cold belly of the creek for about 1/4 of a mile, before climbing up the north bank and heading back into the forest. The trail is marked with a reflector where it re-enters the woods. The trail immediately opens up into a black spruce and muskeg forest and at this point its about 6 miles farther to checkpoint #2, Cache Mountain Cabin. After about 3 miles the race course intersects the McKay Creek trail on the right (stay left!). The distance marked on the wooden trail sign will mislead racers - it is actually around 3 miles to the Cache Mountain Cabin, not 4 miles as the sign indicates. The trail gradually climbs as it heads up the O'Brien Creek valley, before making a 90 degree right turn and subsequent descent down through an open area to the checkpoint. Checkpoint #2 is clearly visible to the left of the race course and is accessed by a short spur trail.
Race Leg #3: Cache Mountain Cabin to Windy Gap Cabin (Checkpoint #3)
The scenery gets more dramatic beyond checkpoint #2, along with the terrain, and trail hazards. After departing downhill from the Cache Mountain cabin, the race course makes a sharp left and continues a mellow, forested climb up the west side of the O'Brien Creek valley for 6 miles. The trail has a few quick drops as it crosses the occasional, small side drainage. There may be a few small sections of glare ice and overflow along the stretch. The trail gradually climbs higher up the slope away from the O'Brien Creek making its way toward a sharp, but prominent valley to the west, or to the left. After about a mile of noticeably steeper climbing, the trail makes a hard right and has a short, but steep drop down towards the valley bottom, culminating in a quick turn to the left. The trail goes up the drainage for the next 4 miles as it makes the final climb toward Cache Mountain divide. The scenery in the valley is quite nice as the mountains close in and the trail winds through some big white spruce, small meadows, sub-alpine forest, and eventually windswept tundra marked with spruce pole tripods as it makes the final attack of Cache Mountain divide. There are a few stream crossings in this valley, some of which may be open stretches of water up to 3 feet wide. The trail is often narrow as well and skate skiing will be challenging during the ascent.
Cache Mountain Divide, at 3770 feet, is the highest point along the race course, and is about the farthest into the wilderness that racers will travel. This saddle divides the O'Brien and Fossil Creek drainages. The trail descends roughly 2.5 miles from the divide to the intersection with a valley on the left, passing first through patches of willows and alders and eventually back into an open spruce forest. Immediately after leaving the divide the trail may be difficult to discern in bad weather and racers could have trouble identifying where it first re-enters the brush and forest. The race course continues to follow the Fossil Creek drainage another 9 miles or so to the Windy Gap cabin (Checkpoint #3) - But first racers must contend with some large areas overflow and ice.
Let the fun and excitement begin in this marathon-distance gap between cabins, especially if you are fortunate enough to tackle this section of trail in the dark. The trail crosses a series of "ice lakes" as they have been called, when in actuality these are not lakes at all. This is a broad area of wall-to-wall, gradually inclined, overflow ice about 1/4 mile wide and a mile or so long. During one extreme year, the trail was a downhill luge run of glare ice for several miles. The trail is not permanently marked through this section because the strategy is often to find a path of ice that has some snow for traction and is not covered with a thin veneer (and often times more) of water. So it is highly likely that racers may have to meander around as they work their way down the ice. The ice is inclined in places, so it is possible to slip and fall, careen downhill into the surrounding willows, and get wet along the way. Caution should also be practiced as racers approach the snow/ice interface near the embankment. Often times, liquid water insulated from the snowpack is lurking at the base of the snowpack and unwary racers may think they are home free - but instead end up getting wet only a few feet from freedom. There are often grooves in the ice left behind by snowmachines and tracking these can be helpful for navigation. A route marked with lath may be installed prior to the race start, but there is no guarantee that this will happen, as ice conditions can vary daily. The trail re-enters the woods on the left after the "ice lakes." This location may be rather difficult to see in the dark, especially if racers have been picking their way down the ice and have been route-finding. Even after entering the woods, there are still portions of trail with some overflow and ice for the next mile or so.
The race course continues to meander its way down the Fossil Creek drainage, crossing the creek and climbing above it several times before reaching checkpoint #3 at Windy Gap Cabin about 8 miles away. The trail generally drops steadily down the valley but there are a few steep, quick descents, climbs, and sharp turns. The jagged limestone ridgeline towering above the Fossil Creek valley becomes more prominent and scenic towards the Windy Gap cabin. Racers may even get a glimpse of the naturally sculpted Windy Arch high on the skyline to the right of the trail. A half mile before checkpoint #3, the Windy Creek trail intersects the race course on the right. Racers must stay left and continue towards the checkpoint. Again, you don't make any sharp turns onto new trail on this race course. There are frequently extensive areas of overflow and water on Fossil Creek just in front of the checkpoint. Also, a small creek adjacent to the cabin often overflows across the access trail and it can be very icy ... so be careful.
Race Leg #4: Windy Gap Cabin to Borealis LeFevre Cabin (Checkpoint #4)
Be prepared to slip after stepping from the deck of the Windy Gap cabin (Checkpoint #3). Overflow ice frequently oozes beneath the raised foundation of this cozy log structure, as well as the short slope leading down to Fossil Creek. This is just a prelude to the patches of bulbous ice sheets and sometimes-wet overflow that often make up the entire trail for the next few miles beyond the checkpoint. Despite the dicey trail conditions, the racecourse meanders down the beautiful Fossil Creek valley for about 10 miles, passing below stunning limestone jags that tower above the valley floor. If you are fortunate enough to travel this stretch in the daylight, the warm March sun on your face and spectacular scenery will distract you from the bruises you may have gained while descending the "ice lakes" below Cache Mountain Divide in the dark, or that involuntary twitch that has developed in your left eye because you haven’t slept in 20 hours.
The course weaves through large stands of timber lining Fossil Creek, crossing the creek and small side drainages several times, and occasionally opening into meadows of spindly black spruce. To keep you awake, this section of trail is spiced with bumps, whoop-dee-do's, and tight corners. At race mile 69, about 7 miles after departing Checkpoint #3, the trail hugs a small limestone outcrop on the right. About 1/2 mile beyond this point the trail makes its final, but potentially treacherous crossing of Fossil Creek. Racers traveling on autopilot will wake as they launch off the 8-foot drop on to the jumbled ice and snow lining the creek bottom.
Ultramarathoners who are by then earning the title, will then leave the thick canopy of the giant spruce forest and gradually gain elevation on the left side of the valley, which provides a panoramic view of the drainage below and a peek at Caribou Bluff cabin, one of the nicest in the Whites (but not a part of this race). A couple miles later, the trail returns to the valley floor. At race mile 72, racers pass an intersection on the right of the Fossil Gap trail - the access to Caribou Bluff cabin. Competitors should, as they do almost everywhere on the course, continue straight ahead. This junction marks the halfway point between Checkpoint #3 and #4.
After a significant climb of about 300 feet not far beyond this intersection, the final 8 miles to the Borealis Le-Fevre cabin (Checkpoint #4) is a gradual descent through stunted black spruce to Beaver Creek. During this descent, the southerly view ahead opens up as the terrain becomes more rounded and subtle, leaving the rocky limestone spires behind. If it's a clear night, you will feel the temperature plummet and frost form on your eyelashes as you drop into the lowest and possibly coldest point along the race course. Checkpoint #4, Borealis-LeFevre Cabin is at race mile 82 and is located on a small bluff overlooking Beaver Creek. A small, steep spur trail on the left leads up to the checkpoint.
Race Leg #5: Borealis LeFevre Cabin to Finish Line
Leg #5 is the homestretch and may be the most demoralizing section of trail along the entire course. The trail, though still challenging, becomes a secondary obstacle at this point. Here, you will be sleep deprived, strung-out on caffeine, trashed from moving over 80-miles of trail, no longer flying on the adrenaline of early-race excitement, and ready to collapse into bed with a full belly and your plush teddy bear. To add to your enfeebled state, this section features an overall climb for 20 miles to the finish line, and the race’s steepest ascent looms just a few miles from the finish.
Immediately after departing the Borealis LeFevre Cabin (checkpoint #4), the trail makes its second crossing of Beaver Creek and at this point, racers are at the lowest elevation along the entire course. If it’s a clear night and a temperature inversion has developed, this will be the coldest spot on the course, and the snow will squeak in protest at your passage. After climbing up the south bank of the creek, the trail meanders through a spruce forest for 1/2 mile before crossing the lower end of Wickersham Creek. The trail makes an abrupt turn to the left and begins a 400 ft climb through a sparsely forested hillside of spindly, dead black spruce. You will pass a sign and trail junction on the right near the base of the hill. Don’t turn here. The hill is steep enough that you will likely have to be push your bike, and if you choose to be a hero and skate ski up the hill, you’ll be withdrawing from an account you will need to tap later. If you care to look, there is a superb view over your right shoulder of the prominent, rocky backbone of limestone that delineates the "Big Bend" of Beaver Creek, where the waterway makes a sharp 90-degree turn to the north. There are also sweeping views of the Beaver Creek valley and the high country of the White Mountains.
After cresting the hill, you should be able to make a pleasant, steady and controlled descent, but all racers should be cautious after about a mile. A perennial spring seeps water across the trail no matter how cold the air, often creating a bulbous patch of glare ice a few hundred feet long. If traveling in zombie mode, you will find yourself in the downstream dwarf birch bushes without knowing how you got there. Resist the urge to nap. The trail continues to descend for another mile or so to a small creek that overflows and produces an additional patch of glare ice. The course is rather mundane for the next 4 miles to the trail shelter, as it follows the western side of the Wickersham Creek valley through a forest of black spruce. There is another short section of ice and overflow just before the trail shelter.
The trail shelter (race mile 91) is in a clearing to the right of the trail and will be marked. This is not a checkpoint and racers are not required to stop at the shelter. Race staff will provide racers with water but no food will be available. The race staff will vacate the trail shelter at 3 PM on Tuesday.
Less than a quarter of a mile after departing the trail shelter, a spur trail to the right leads one mile up to the Eleazar's public use cabin, while to the left a 9-mile trail heads up the Moose Creek valley to the Moose Creek cabin (Checkpoint #1). Do not take either one of these turns and continue to TRAVEL STRAIGHT AHEAD. The terrain is undulating for the next three miles as the course makes its way toward a faint white line blazed straight up a hill. This is the White Mountains’ own Wickersham Wall. Racers will be fixated on this landmark as they travel up the valley, should they cover this section in daylight. The Wickersham Wall is the steepest climb along the course, gaining nearly 600 feet over one mile. Bikers not named Alberto or Roberto will be pushing up this, and skiers resisting to remove their skis may find themselves flailing and thrashing about as they herring-bone upward. Runners will be fine with the shuffle that has served them for 90-plus miles, though they will drop into a lower gear.
The trail junction at the top of the Wickersham Wall marks where the inbound route (race mile 95) re-joins the outbound route. The last six miles of trail are the only section of trail racers cover twice. You will feel the pull of the finish line at this point, but be aware that there are still several hills to climb before reaching the final descent. Even if you are familiar with the bumps, they will be a lot more grueling than you remember. You may want to snack in order to prepare yourself for the last uphill grade. This small rise is a splendid place to bonk; racers here will think they can make it to the end, and may decide to skip that last feeding to put some time into that person they saw ascending the wall behind them. Shun your GU at your own peril.
Finally, you’ll reach the end of several false summits on the trail home. The true final high point is a subtle sidehill, offering nice views to the east of the pipeline cut and Haystack Mountain, as well as the occasional headlight twinkle from the Elliott Highway. Stop and savor the moment if no one is pressuring you. The remaining downhill will disappear under your gear or running shoes in a matter of minutes, and you’ll soon be in the parking lot where you started, so many hours ago.
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