Overshadowed by the Tetons just across the valley to the east, the Big Hole Mountains are a mostly forgotten mountain range. It doesn’t help any that from the tiny towns of Victor and Driggs, in Idaho, they appear to be more of rolling hills than substantial peaks. But venture into them, and you’ll find rugged and vast terrain. Ridge lines, deep valleys, and largely unmarked trails web out, confusing even skilled backcountry navigators. Birds of prey, deer and the occasional black bear roam these wind scoured mountains. And on clear days, they offer by far the best vantage point of the Teton’s sweeping panorama.
A long trail snakes right down the rib of the Big Holes – it’s dubbed the Big Hole Crest Trail. Ever since I first discovered this trail on a map, more than a year ago, I’ve been daydreaming of running it. Ridge running through alpine foliage, especially in the fall, is my happy place. Maybe I watched the Sound of Music a few too many times as a kid, but when I’m perched high up in the hills, my feet bounding along to a steady rhythm life feels so romantic.
With the change of seasons well upon us, and the prospect of another summer slipping through my fingertips without finding my way to the Big Hole Crest Trail, I decided to take action and set a date to do it. A couple of friends – Abby and Jason – took me up on the offer to join in on the run.
There are several entrances and exits to the Big Hole Crest Trail, so in a way you can make it as long or as short of a day as you want. We decided to enter the trail via the North Mahogany Creek Trail and exit via the Spooky Trail onto Pine Creek Pass, with a three-mile side trip to climb up Garns Mountain. That would make for a day just shy of 20 miles. Alternative routes include Horseshoe Canyon to Pine Creek Pass or even Green Canyon Hot Springs to Pine Creek Pass. Although, with the latter option, I’d strongly recommend doing the route in reverse so that you end
at the hot springs.
While I wouldn’t consider myself a couch potato, I also know that I haven’t been spending endless hours out in the mountains the way I used to. As I juggle being a mom and wife, starting a business and working a part-time job, lately I’ve been tallying my outdoor excursions in hours rather than days. When it comes to outdoor pursuits, my focus over the last couple of years has also shifted. I used to be single-mindedly committed to trail running in the summer, often training for ultraraces. Now I’m learning how to mountain bike and packraft, and have found myself gravitating toward both sports quite a bit this year. My friends, Abby and Jason, on the other hand, have spent A LOT of recent time on their feet, participating in various multi-day adventure races.
So there we were, at around mile 18 of mile 20. They’re cruising along no sweat. (What’s 6 hours when you’ve just gotten done with 36 hours of racing?) Me on the other hand, I’m getting tired, and also maybe just a bit frustrated, remembering the days when I also thought 20 miles was no sweat. Working hard to mentally stay in the moment, I reminded myself to relax, find my pace and let my feet flow. This mantra was working wonders, until smack, I tripped over a rock, flew through the air, and landed by skidding across another rock. An area the size of a cantaloupe on my right thigh was oozing blood and I found myself fighting back tears.
Oddly, that little tumble became a blessing, of sorts. It forced me to stop, really stop, and enjoy the beautiful scenery around me. It made me realize that even though running 20 miles felt challenging, I could still run 20 miles without much training, and that’s something to be grateful for. And, Abby and Jason, sitting down next to me, offered a calming and reassuring presence. I dabbed up the blood, put Neosporin on the worst of it, took a deep breath and ran the last two miles back to the car in peace. A week later that once gaping wound had nearly disappeared, but my memory of the beautiful day lives on.
Addendum: the seemingly gentle rolling nature of the Big Holes really is deceiving. Abby had an altimeter with her, and we ended up climbing almost 6,000 feet. Here is the elevation profile.