From reading some of our past posts you may have realized that the Sky Pilot is one of our favorite mountains around Squamish. It’s a spectacular alpine area where backcountry adventure is around every corner. So when we heard that the Coast Mountain Trail Series was bringing a trail race to this area, we knew we had to run it! The inaugural race was scheduled for September 21, which could mean beautiful fall weather or torrential rain; it could go either way here on the west coast.
With the race being set in such a rugged area there was a lot of trail building happening weeks before the race. Everyone involved in creating this race wanted to make it a unique mountain running experience. The excitement was building when there was talk of roped sections, boulder fields and ridge running. However,days before the race, the endless summer sunshine we had been experiencing changed to the autumnal rains, which meant all of the fresh new trail became streams of mud. The steep trails were now too wet to run and it would be too risky to send all of the runners out onto this terrain. But if I have learnt anything about the Coast Mountain Trail Series races, it’s that they do not disappoint, and with literally hours before the start of the race, a change of route was put in place. They were going to make sure everyone got the mountain running experience they promised!
We showed up to the starting line, on a sunny blue bird day at the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola, not totally sure of the new route and curious where exactly it was going to take us. Leigh and I were running this one together and decided to run it as a fun run. No need to race, just enjoy the new course, take a few photos along the way and revel in the scenery.
As usual the starting area was buzzing with the energy of runners antsy to start, one of my favorite parts of racing. Just feeding off of that energy can carry you for miles! And we needed that energy to carry us. This course was unforgiving in its ascent. Starting on the tame and gentle uphill Sky Pilot ridge trail, we would eventually be taken straight up to a ridge that connected to Mt. Habrich. Running or rather power hiking up steep, loose, duff covered forest trail, straight onto a boulder field. Crossing the boulder field required some care and focus as the rocks teetered underneath your feet. Trying to find solid footing was part of the process and kept you alert. Straight over the boulders and up fields of heather and blueberry bushes (I think I might have sneaked a few blueberries). The trail then popped you up onto the ridge that undulated from steep ups and downs to short sections of straightaways. This was ridge running at its finest; tough, beautiful and fun.
You would eventually reach a point on the ridge that they referred to as the summit. Here you would be overwhelmed with a spectacular view of Mt. Habrich and Sky Pilot. I took a few moments at this point to take a deep breath when another trail runner with the same idea offered to take my photo. Without wanting to dilly dally too much, afterall I was still technically in a race, I decided to make my way back. Now it was time for the descent, straight back the way we came. And then it happened…CRAMPS! My legs just started to seize. I would stop momentarily to try to massage it out, but as one runner ran by to ask how I was doing, he advised me to just keep moving. So I hobbled through the cramps until they seemed to dissipate. I willed my muscles to stop cramping and to just carry me to the finish, although I am pretty sure that’s not exactly how the body works.
This course was ridiculously fun! I remember a smile on every runners face as I passed, despite any discomfort they may have been experiencing. Just being able to push your body hard and still smile, laugh and have fun out there is what the Coast Mountain Trail series races are all about for me. They make you earn and enjoy every single step to the finish. The Sky Pilot race is now an event that I am going to be sure to run every year!