By Brian Morrison, RD
To be fair, there are some tough 100-milers out there. Yet, the Teanaway Country 100 stands toe-to-toe with those that are notoriously hard. Though blasphemous to some that I’d even suggest it, I think that in time, it will be viewed as a low altitude Hardrock. What?! How could I possibly suggest this itsy-bitsy little race on the east slope of the Cascades be mentioned in the same breath as the gem of the San Juans? I’m not only suggesting that it could be – I’m telling you that it already has been.
Have I piqued your curiosity? Good. What makes Teanaway Country so hard? The most obvious factor and where the comparisons to Hardrock begin, is the elevation profile. The full 100-mile course, which no one experienced last year due to a fire, climbs a total of approximately 31,000 feet. Sure, it’s still a smidge less than Hardrock’s 33,000 feet, but it tops every other iconic mountain hundred (Cascade Crest, Wasatch, Leadville, the Bear, Bighorn, etc). That said, I recognize there are some other lesser known events that can also boast upwards of 30,000 feet of climbing.
The comparisons to Hardrock don’t stop at elevation profile. I’ve never experienced the race firsthand, but the pictures are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Gorgeous alpine lakes flanked by magnificent peaks, exposed high points with little-to-no protection, and scrambling on sections that barely resemble a trail. Teanaway Country has all of that. Have you seen Lake Ann? Though not much more than a pond, it gathers in a bowl, guarded by craggy summits and talus fields. Mountain goats roam the lake shore and backpackers, looking to escape the crowds of Lake Ingalls, come for the solitude and grandeur. I’ll grant you that there may be equally spectacular points along some of the finer 100-milers, but few could top the Lake Ann basin.
There is a section of trail between aid stations 1 and 2 that had to be brought back from the dead for the race to move forward. These trails, though established on many maps, had been taken back by Mother Nature. And it’s no wonder really, because the trails themselves really don’t go anywhere. Not many folks are looking to hike or backpack straight up or down on loose, rocky trails that don’t lead to some payoff. The trails between Jolly Creek and Boulder Creek are brutal. When they climb, they climb straight up. When they descend, they go straight down. The ground is loose and dry, and the rocks act like ball bearings at times. It’s nasty terrain. It’s slow going at best. What may only be a 4-mile section feels like double that. Sub 15-minute pace would be flying through this forgotten section of forest. And, you get to do it twice. On the way out and the way back, when you’re really hammered.
There is one section of the course that, although it exists on maps, we could only navigate via GPS the first time through. By race day, several closely hung ribbons were still all that convinced anyone they were on the right path. If the trail was entirely reclaimed by nature, we only restored a fraction of it. Some may wish that we’d make a real effort to properly grade the trails between Jolly Creek and Paris Creek. I would argue that the state of those trails is part of the charm of the course. Nearly every finisher pontificated about their distaste for the section, but usually with a smile.
The course isn’t rugged just to be rugged, or hard for the sake of being hard. The nasty sections make you appreciate the beauty on the other side. There’s a sense of accomplishment for getting through this course that is rare. Every 100-mile race finish is a huge accomplishment, but we all know some come with a few more bumps and bruises along the way. Just when you think you’re not going to take a minute more of the unrelenting path, you’re rewarded with another vista, lake or boisterous aid station. Enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other, wondering what lies ahead.
Though battered to varying degrees by the halfway point, you’ll find yourself excited to see Iron Peak and Lake Ann and Gallagher Head all over again as you make the arduous journey back to Salmon La Sac. Even though you’ve been through it once, the course continues to surprise, frustrate and ultimately delight, all the way home.
Some may say that Teanaway Country is a graduate level course or that it isn’t great for a first timer. I would simply point out that our female winner (Mel Dunn) and second place male (Richard Lockwood) were both running the 100-mile distance for the first time and they absolutely nailed it. Finishing the Teanaway Country 100 isn’t about experience, necessarily, it is about tenacity.
We’re not a Western States or Hardrock qualifier, and we certainly don’t earn you any points toward UTMB. We’re a bit of a throwback race, as I see it. The course is marked adequately, but it’s not overmarked. The start and finish aren’t going to impress anyone with blow up arches, loud music, beer gardens or free massages, but some may argue the warm embrace of the race director and a kick-ass buckle are even greater rewards. Why don’t you come see for yourself on September 7?