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"But this place is too cold for hell"
William Shakespeare, from Macbeth

By Martha Wright

This is my report of David Horton’s Hellgate 100K Trail Race, held December 9, 2006 with a starting time of 12:01 a.m. Long story short: My report covers only the first 42.5 miles. Full story follows:

This year’s t-shirt reads: "The gates of Hell are open night and day.”

The full quotation follows:

"The gates of Hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way;
But, to return, and view the cheerful skies;
In this, the task and mighty labour lies."

Indeed, a mighty labor is required to find one’s way back to Camp Bethel across the mountains of the Hellgate course.

I arrived at Camp Bethel Friday night, still not quite believing what I was about to attempt, even though I’d planned and trained for months. I knew that I would put on my running gear and follow everyone else out into the cold night, regardless.

So I bundled up, and found myself loaded into a van, driven down the highway to Natural Bridge, and put out in the cold. We gathered in the dark, nervously joking and singing the national anthem in unison. The race starts off innocently enough. I’m running down a dirt road, still warm from the van ride. Suddenly there’s a quick stop and I realize we’re at the river/stream/creek crossing. There’s yelling and splashing. People are slipping on the rocks. I pick my way across as slowly as I can, and manage to stay upright, but the bottom of my pants freezes as I start running again. I can’t imagine how the people who have fallen in will keep going, but amazingly, it seems that most of them do.

Several people have been able to write a good course description of Hellgate. I won’t be one of them…the first 7 hours in the dark passed like a blur (a slow-moving, frigid blur). We were so bundled up, it was often hard to tell who you might be running next to, and there wasn’t much idle chatter going up the climbs, even though it helped when I was climbing beside another runner or two. Joey Anderson reports that he passed me somewhere in here; I don’t remember where, but I do remember hitting the uphill and Joey putting all that Leadville training to good use as he picked up the pace and disappeared uphill.

Quatro and I went into the Headforemost Mountain aid station (mile 21.9) together around 6:00 a.m. It was so cold, it was surreal. A volunteer bundled up in a puffy orange jacket worthy of an Antarctic expedition took down my number. Another aid station volunteer reported that it was currently 18 degrees (but that didn’t account for the wind chill factor; it felt closer to zero). I wanted to get a few things from my drop bag, but quickly realized that it was just too cold to stop. Q. and I made a quick exit and started running down the road. I was anxious to get out of the wind and get warm again. I hadn’t been truly cold until this point, but the wind sucked the warmth right out of me. This was the only time my hands were numb inside my ski gloves. Thanks to the aid station workers for braving those icy temperatures; I couldn’t even stay long enough to take advantage of their hospitality.

Quatro and I kept going as quickly as we could and finally escaped the worst of the wind. The sun slowly rose, and Q. picked up his pace and moved on (with thoughts of the breakfast waiting at Jennings Creek, no doubt). After many miles, I reached the long downhill section (thanks, Aaron, for the warning that you will hear this aid station long before you ever get there). I caught up with Paul Melzer and we finally made it to breakfast. I shed my fleece top, extra pair of tights and ski gloves here, hoping that now it would warm up a bit. It was now 7:50 a.m.

Paul and I left Jennings Creek (AS 5; mile 27.6) together and started the long climb that begins the seven-mile section. The sun was up, and it did warm up--for about five minutes. Paul commented that the morning felt more like a late winter afternoon. The sun never felt really warm and there was still enough wind blowing to keep the air chilled.

We caught up with Barb and Vicki as we neared AS 6 (10:00 a.m.; mile 34.5). At that point, Paul sent me ahead to run with them, and I took advantage of the dirt road section to get ahead of them, knowing that they would catch me as soon as the course turned uphill again. This eight-mile section held the toughest singletrack—thick, slippery leaves over lots of rocks. Paul and I went back and forth as we each tried to gain some momentum on the course, but it was not to be. Nearing the end of this section, we caught up with Jesse Leitner who was limping along on a bad ankle which had slowed him considerably; he’d spent the better part of three hours getting through this section, determined to keep going as far as he could. Janice Heltibridle also pushed hard through here.

Barb and Vicki, then Paul and I, finally arrived at Bearwallow Gap (AS 7; mile 42.5) 10 minutes before the 12:30 p.m. cut-off. Barb and Vicki were quickly ready to head out with Quatro, who had arrived shortly before us. Q. tried his best to talk Paul and me into continuing on with them, but the two of us decided that we’d had enough fun already. I was low on fuel, and would have needed a few minutes to eat and change shoes—and Hellgate is a race that doesn’t allow you those few minutes.

I enjoyed waiting at the finish later that afternoon to watch those intrepid runners who kept pushing forward finally reach Camp Bethel and David’s warm greeting. I can imagine what it must have taken to keep going over those long, last miles, and I greatly admire those runners who continued on.

Hellgate took me WAY out of my comfort zone. Will I go back to finish? (Depends. Can I start where I left off?!) I kept dreaming of a 50K version where you would run through the night, arriving at daybreak to breakfast and a hot shower. But that’s not what Drs. Horton and Wortley had in mind when they designed this race, is it?

Thanks, David, for hosting this race from H*ll. And special thanks to your volunteers; just seeing them out there lifted my spirits every time.

What went well:

What didn’t go well:

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