Smoky Mountain Marathon – The Mountains Win Again

July 2, 2015

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mountain marathon

Griffin Post is a professional skier and writer living in Jackson, WY. This story of his first “marathon” attempt illustrates his ambitious spirit and accurately portrays his humbled mountain sense. Enjoy.

Standing next to a rag-tag summit cairn on an unnamed peak in Idaho’s Smoky Mountains, I eye up the terrain in front of me. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be much fun. The ridgeline descends steeply to a col, about 500 vert, only to ascend again and come about eye-level with where I am now. The vert’s not really the problem, it’s the scree, sagebrush and rock buttresses that pepper the ridge that are really starting to irk me. And it’s not just this ridge, it’s the next one too. And the next one. And the one after that, pretty much as far as I can see. I curse at full volume–after all there’s no one anywhere near me–and begrudgingly continue my self created marathon across the backbone of central Idaho, all the while wondering what was I thinking?


mountain marathon 2


On paper (and Google Earth) the idea looked like a good one: follow a series of ridges from Dollar Hide Summit to Galena Summit, just west of Sun Valley. There’d be no trails but there would be a dozen or so named summits and countless other peaks along the way. After my path on Google Earth came out to nearly 26.2 miles, I determined it was fate: I’d been (very loosely) training for a marathon anyway, why not run one I made up? What a bedtime story that would make for my future kids; not only did their father win his first marathon he ever ran, but he set the course record too. Chew on that Dr. Seuss.


mountain marathon 3


Now, about 14 miles into my marathon career, I’m beginning to realize why, despite Sun Valley having so many world-class athletes, I’d never heard of anyone doing this. This is brutal. Serious type two fun, and I’m the type of guy that likes type two fun. Just when I think the terrain can’t get any worse, the side-hilling gets steeper or the scree gets even more oddly sized. Between down climbing into snow-filled gullies and side-hilling scree fields over exposure, my mile-splits slow to a virtual standstill. After one particularly sketchy section that involves scrambling through what can only be described as off-width scree above some fairly serious exposure, I have to take a breath and reconsider what the hell I’m doing.

So, I sit and have do some self-reflecting and option-weighing:

Pros to continuing: I’d be happy with myself if I made it.

Cons to continuing: I might fall of a cliff, almost out of water, terrain only looks like it gets worse, beers are more readily available in Sun Valley than on this ridge.


mountain marathon 4


From skiing, this type of risk vs. reward internal monologue isn’t foreign to me. It’s rarely clean cut, and often it boils down to discerning between healthy fear and foolishly forging on and doing something that’s going to be cause for regret later. Then a few things dawn on me: a) I’m not a marathoner; b) these mountains aren’t going anywhere; c) am I losing anything beyond pride if I bail?

I know the answer to the last one, but it’s still a bitter pill to swallow. At mile 18, it feels like I should push on, and if there was anything resembling a trail or even an easily navigable ridgeline I’d suck it up a little bit more. I reluctantly concede defeat but as I descend I decide to instead call it a draw rather than a loss. Maybe this was just a recon mission for a future adventure. Maybe if I hike north to south, or bring a little rope, or train harder, or wear approach shoes instead of running shoes, or have an enthusiastic partner. Yes, the key’s out there, I decide before even making it to the road. Maybe this wasn’t that bad of an idea after all.