I have pounded pavement for over 20 years. I have run the same courses over and over again. I could nearly run the St. George Marathon blindfolded. Having said that, transitioning to trail running has been a welcome change. I accepted the challenge from dear friend Sandy when she suggested that we sign up for the Logan Peak Trail Run. She had run it two years prior, and I trust her judgment. I copied the following description from the ultrasignup.com website:
The Logan Peak Trail Run traverses the mountainous area around Logan Peak through Logan Dry Canyon and Providence Canyon (the main drainage’s just south of Logan Canyon). During this challenging event, runners travel a bit over 26 miles on a predominantly loop course with over 6600 ft elevation gain. Amazing views, lots of climbing, and varied terrain/habitat are just a few reasons to run this course. The elevation gain/loss makes this event roughly comparable to many 50 K races. The race is a spectacular opportunity to experience the outstanding trails around Cache Valley, and Logan is a great place to hang out and have fun.
Runners also have an option to complete only the Syncline Loop (avoiding the 1070 foot climb to and descent from Logan Peak), for which they will receive an official time but not an overall place.
The fact is, however, that this trail run constitutes 28 miles, not “a bit over 26 miles” as described. And if one missed the final turn to the home stretch, one can easily add an extra mile, which I did. Heck, 29 miles is so close to 30.1 miles (a true 50K distance) that I should have just kept going. I am an over-achiever like that at times.
I was anxious to get registered, thereby having something to look forward to (spending a chunk of the day with my running buddy, surrounded by spectacular scenery and cooler temperatures than we have become accustomed to in Southern Utah). As far as training for this, I chalked up a couple of 4-mile runs in the hills just east of my house; I really did not train on the terrain nor for the distance that would be required of me for this endurance “race.” Regardless, I was determined to give it my best shot.
About a week prior to the event, an email from Jim (the event director) announced that the option of ascending all the way to Logan Peak was out secondary to excessive snow and subsequently no access. I was somewhat relieved, feeling like the 22-mile option (“Syncline Loop”) was more within my grasp. However, due to grumblings of the registrants as well as a very warm week leading up to the event, Jim emailed an update just days before the event, stating that ascension to the peak was back in the mix. The one drawback, however, would be that we would not have any aid for a solid 20 miles; aid stations were not possible where they would have been otherwise because of the snow-covered trail. Having been suffering from a nagging hamstring injury, Sandy was reticent to attempt any distance at all, but at the last minute decided to pursue it with the encouragement and support of her husband, who was also participating.
Race day arrived, and with a 6 a.m. start time and packet pickup prior for the hour prior to that, I had my alarm set for something like 4:30. When I awoke at 3 a.m., nervous that I needed more time to prep, I set my alarm for 4:15 but did not fall back asleep. A very patient and supportive husband drove me and my hydration pack to the start line at Gibbons Park at the base of Dry Canyon in Logan. I immediately met up with Sandy and her husband (and also their daughter). We gathered on a grassy knoll with the 106 other runners for brief race instruction presented by Jim, and following his verbal countdown, we were off and heading for the hills.
The trail quickly narrowed and we made way for those who opted to actually RUN it. As for me, I was determined to save something for the second half. I have not decreased the size of the following photos since I want the reader to have a greater appreciation of the scenery we encountered within the first mile….and every mile subsequent to that.
The course description is as follows:
Start to Aid Station #1: The course proceeds about 0.5 mile from the start up to the Deer Fence/Bonneville Shoreline Trail then north another 0.5 mile to the Logan Dry Canyon trailhead. Runners then climb up Logan Dry Canyon for about 3.5 miles on single-track trail to Aid Station #1/4.
Aid Station #1 was not a figment of our imagination. It was stocked with Mountain Dew, Coke, water, Cheez-Its, gummy bears, M&M’s, and all the essentials for regeneration of energy. From this point, we were on our own (as far as water and food rations go) for the next 20 miles. We pressed (hiked) on, at this point turning south and appreciating that the trail was leveling out somewhat. Again, course description posted here, except there would be no Aid Station #2:
Aid Station #1 to Aid Station #2: From Aid Station #1/4, the course turns right onto the South Syncline Trail and continues over to Providence Canyon (a little more than 2 miles on single-track with spectacular views). As the course enters the Providence Canyon drainage, the South Syncline Trail merges with the Welches Flat jeep trail, which rolls up and down for about 4 miles until joining the main Providence Canyon jeep trail. The Providence Canyon jeep trail climbs for another 0.75 mile, and then you follow the main forest service road 1.5 mile north to Aid Station #2/3. There are a few side trails along here. Pay attention to the course markings.
We paid attention to far more than the course markings; we were really into opportunities for photos, selfies and otherwise.
Sorry, but I will not spare the reader from large photos. I would make them even larger if I could — the scenery was THAT spectacular, and I would love for you to see the detail of each and every leaf and rock, both of which were in abundance.
We soon encountered our first ridge of snow, and seeing this up ahead of us made me panic just a tad. I was grateful for the single hiking pole I had opted to bring.
The barrier of snow proved to be less of an obstacle than it had first appeared. We had been made privy to the fact that the course would be more like an obstacle course than just a trail on which to run, but when we did encounter flat, smooth sections of it, we ran.
Before introduction to my next photo, I have to also introduce you to a trail running legend, a man whom I met along the course. I had heard of him and had seen his name in race results time and time again, but it was on this day that I was actually fortunate enough to meet him in person. He is James McGregor, and here I have captured a shot of him (far right, photo forefront) agilely making his way along the course. And yes, he is a distant cousin who is knowledgable about the rich history of our McGregor heritage.
At this point along the course, runners were chatting and exchanging details about their experiences, whether on other trails or on this one in years past. We formed friendships quickly. There was ample opportunity to chat about the common bond we all shared; trail running.
With the need to restock our water supplies ahead, we looked forward to the spring spoken of in this course description as offered by Jim:
As you are above Providence Canyon on the jeep road, there will be a water source coming from a pipe into a trough. This water is really cold and good and as far as I know safe. I’ve drank from it numerous times and never had an issue.
Though the runners had thinned out by this point, a half dozen or more of us found ourselves at the spring all at the same time, which can be seen in this photo to the left. And it was very true that the water was REALLY COLD AND GOOD, and hopefully “SAFE.” As far as I know, no runners had any “issues” secondary to drinking it. I filled my hydration bladder to the brim.
Sandy and I lingered a little longer at the spring than the others, and found ourselves likely bringing up the rear for the next many miles. But who cares? We sure didn’t. We stopped to document the beauty every chance we got.
In the following photo, you can see the orange trail marker tied to the tree. Obviously, the trail was obscure, so it was important to pay attention to these markers in order not to get lost.
Sandy and I knew the steepest part of the course was still ahead. We held a steady pace and used our poles to assist us through mud, snow, rocks, and under and over trees. Remember, there was no Aid Station #2:
Aid Station #2 to Logan Peak and back to Aid Station #3: It is a 900 foot climb in about 2.5 miles on jeep trail from Aid Station #2/3 up to Logan Peak. In most years, at least part of this is on packed snow. Along the way you can look down and see Providence Lake and a huge bowl called the Rodeo Grounds. The course returns the same way from the peak. Runners who wish to avoid the trek to Logan Peak (the Syncline Loop Option) can skip this section and proceed to the next section. (Finishers who take the Syncline Loop Option receive an official time, but not an overall place; note also that the distance for the Syncline Loop Option is NOT an ultramarathon distance.)
There was no question whether or not we would make the trek to Logan Peak. It did not look that daunting. Why would we come this far only to cut it short? That would be crazy.
On the way up to the peak, Sandy’s husband was coming down, which meant he was at least a full hour ahead of us on the course. We took advantage of the meeting with a few more photos.
Once at the top, a.k.a. Logan Peak, we touched the phone tower as we had been instructed to do. Apparently, in years prior, there has actually been someone assigned to be there to witness said contact, for without it, all the effort was futile and would not “count.” Here I am with new friend, Celeste, touching the tower (and feeling really good about it, obviously). I learned later that some runners not only touched the tower, they wrapped their arms around it and KISSED it. 🙂
Realizing I had cell phone service at the top (underneath a cell phone tower, no less), I made a FaceTime phone call to my husband, sharing the view with him from atop 9700 feet while he was sitting in the car somewhere down around 4500 feet.
Sandy and I were followed up to the top by another runner, and we imposed upon him to capture our achievement in a couple of photos.
Here is Sandy descending from Logan Peak, running as if she did not have a pained hamstring and 14 miles under her belt already.
Having passed the halfway point, we were looking forward to some more amazing scenery and downhill portions. It’s true what Jim said, though, about the most varied section of the race (and remember there was no Aid Station #3):
Aid Station #3 to Aid Station #4: This is the most varied section of the race, with pine forest, fir forest, aspen groves, wildflower meadows, sage slopes, short snow fields, mountain springs, and spectacular views into Logan Canyon and the Naomi high country. Leaving Aid Station #2/3, runners turn left and take the main forest service road north for about 1 mile, before turning left onto a spur road. About 0.4 mile down this spur road, the course makes a left turn onto single-track trail. This trail rolls for a little less than 2 miles until encountering a T junction at the bottom of a descent through fir trees. Make a left at this T (the trail to the right goes to a spring). Continue along this single-track for another 1.5 miles, eventually climbing gently to a sage/wildflower covered ridge. From this ridge, runners descend 1.25 miles back into Logan Dry Canyon. Along the way, there is a high mountain spring. When the trail comes to the canyon bottom, it makes a sharp right turn and then descends gently about 0.25 miles to Aid Station #1/4.
There are two water sources along here. The first is a side trail off of a switchback. It’s about 100 yards down this side trail and is a spring coming out of the rock. I have also drank from this water and not had any problems. The other water source is about half a mile from Aid Station #4. It comes from a pipe into a trough and is really cold and good. I highly recommend filling your pack/bottles here as there may be limited water at the aid station.
The photo below gives the reader an idea of the obstacle courses along the trail. There were many times that we questioned the course, but managed to always find the orange markers tied to trees.
Suffer through these photos, if you must. I insist.
And here is one section where we had zero trail but trusted the footprints of the runners in front of us. I was not tempted to stray from the course — not even to take a look to see how far the drop-off was. Where is an inner-tube when you need one?
The view of Logan and nearly the entire Cache Valley was spectacular.
We saw no other runners from when we started the North Syncline Trail until Aid Station #4, where we informed the volunteers there that we knew of at least one other runner behind us. It turned out there were four. We had run out of water about a mile before finding the next spring, where we gratefully filled our hydration bladders. It was just a quarter mile from the spring to Aid Station #4 (which was also Aid Station #1 coming up).
Once we reached Aid Station #4 and grabbed a handful of melting M&M’s, we headed back down the course on the same trail we had come up many hours earlier that day. Sandy’s watch was keeping track of our distance (as was mine, unbeknownst to me — but it about fell off my wrist with the buzzing announcement that I had just set an all-time exercise record… 2022 calories burned, 457 minutes of exercise, not quite 63,000 steps, and a total of 31.49 total miles for the day).
Aid Station #4 to the Finish: This last section (4.5 miles of mostly single-track) is simply the reverse of the first section of the race. Enjoy the downhill and the great views down Logan Dry Canyon into the Cache Valley!
Here you can see the elevation chart. I am in the process of losing my two big toenails, so if that tells you how that downhill section felt to my feet….
I sent Sandy on her way ahead of me for the last 3 miles since she felt good and my legs felt like rubber. One thing I did not want to risk was spraining an ankle (or worse) on a trail where the only way out is walking. I jogged solo slowly and, in my nearly delirious state in the 80-degree heat, missed the last turn to the finish line. I admit that I shed a tear or two during that last extra mile.
And here is the course map.
Though I was nearly last out of 109 finishers, taking 9 hours 25 minutes to run 29 miles, I was THRILLED to have finished such a difficult run! And I RAN to the finish line where my patient, supportive husband and friend Sandy were waiting for me with open arms. A cold Diet Coke never tasted so good!
Me and cousin James at the finish line. He is 74 years young and, while this was his 75th or so ultramarathon, it was my first at age 55. I hope longevity is in our genes!
At breakfast the following morning, this was my view of Logan Peak from where I sat at a table in Logan. Yep. Been there, done that. HAPPY TRAILS!