More than 660 competitors are expected on Mount Ashland on Saturday for an event that has nothing to do with skiing. The 14th annual Siskiyou Out Back trail runs have reached capacity again, and the big increase this year comes from the addition of a 50-mile ultramarathon to the existing 15K and 50K races.
"We have 175 more runners this year," says Rob Cain, race co-director. "They come from 10 foreign countries and 20 states."
The races mostly follow the Pacific Crest Trail, with segments on U.S. Forest Service roads. The new 50-mile race, which begins at 6 a.m. — covers the same course as the 50K event — Mt. Ashland ski area to Jackson Gap (below Dutchman Peak) and back — with an additional 19-mile foray from the Gap.
"The course heads downhill into California to Wards Fork, then three more miles to Big Rock," Cain explains. "It has a vista and you can see the dome on Mount Ashland. It looks pretty small."
Last year's course was significantly altered to avoid a late snowpack.
"This is the first year in three we've been able to work on the trail instead of changing the course or digging the snow out," says Cain. "It's in fantastic shape."
Cain, president of the Ashland Woodlands and Trails Association, has organized several volunteer work parties to maintain the course. Volunteers have worked nearly 300 hours in the past six weeks to prepare the PCT for the races.
"This is one of those subtle-elevation courses," says race co-director John Price. "You're averaging 6,000 feet of elevation in this run, from 5,200 to 7,200. Elevation becomes a significant factor for a lot of people. There's just enough climbing, along with sun exposure, to make it challenging."
With high temperatures expected to be in the 90s in the valley, trail temperatures will likely reach the 70s.
Several familiar faces are among the favorites to win the events. Max King, a former Crater High School runner who has won the SOB 50K twice and holds the course record, returns to defend his title.
The favorite for the women's 50K event, which begins at 7 a.m., is Stephanie Howe, an elite cross-country skier from Bend who has won the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb three times. Howe will be challenged by former Phoenix High School standout Marci Klimek.
Two Ashland runners are favored to win the inaugural 50-mile event. Jenn Shelton, last year's S.O.B. 50K winner, will test the longer course Saturday.
Erik Skaggs, a former record holder in the S.O.B. 50K, entered the 50-miler this year. Skaggs will be challenged by Central Point's Neil Olsen and former SOU runner Ryan Ghelfi.
The 15K race starts at 8:30 a.m.
The overall and age-group winners will receive unusual prizes: cow bells.
"The overall winners' cow bells are coated with brass made of spent cartridges from the Norwegian military," says Cain. "They were originally produced in 1922 in the picturesque little town of Moi."
For more information, see www.siskiyououtback.com
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.