Trail Love Letter: The Continental Divide Trail Between Bannock Pass and Janke Lake

AJW's Taproom[Author’s Note: This is the fourth installment of a monthly series to pay homage to some of my favorite trails. These are not trail guides, per se, but rather tributes to some of the finest running trails in the United States.]

Of the three major long trails in the United States, the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail, the latter is the most lightly traveled and generally regarded as the most arduous. Every July since 2014, David Tarkalson and his team have held the Beaverhead 100k in northeast Idaho. Forty-nine of the course’s 62 rugged miles are on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and they are the subject of this month’s Trail Love Letter.

Starting high above the town of Salmon, Idaho at Bannock Pass, the Beaverhead 100k is a beast of a race. The CDT in this area is a blend of singletrack and doubletrack trail with the route staying primarily on the Continental Divide itself with few variations off the ridge. Over most of the course, the trail literally forms the border between Idaho and Montana. One of the most profound challenges of the race, and one that the race organizers remind runners of frequently, is that the course gets tougher as you go with the most challenging sections coming after the 40-mile mark.

When I ran the race last summer, I was struck by the trail’s relentlessness. While not particularly high, the fact that I spent so much time above 7,000 altitude feet throughout the day made the final climb to just over 10,000 feet seem much harder than it really was. And in those final sections of the CDT part of the race, in particular, the stark contrast between the Idaho side of the divide and the Montana side of the divide was extraordinary.

To my left, I looked down onto the rolling hills and valleys of the Idaho side. The grades were gentle and the late afternoon summer sun filled everything with light. Looking to my right, the steep, dark, snowy drop-off to the Montana side was filled with cold foreboding. In fact, as I ran that section, I found myself drifting to the left to avoid having to look down the 2,500-foot drop-offs that characterized the Montana side. If you ever want to get an idea of what a divide really is, this section of trail will show you.

There is something special to me about the concept of the Continental Divide and the idea that there is a single geographic landform delineating something so fundamental as a continent’s watershed. Running the CDT, particularly the 49-mile section of the Beaverhead 100k course, puts the mass of North America in perspective and makes one feel like a small speck in the midst of something huge. It’s a fantastic stretch of trail and one I recommend to everyone, whether in the Beaverhead race or just as a long, mountainous exploration.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Salmon River Brewery in McCall, Idaho. A popular watering hole in a great little mountain town, Salmon River’s Hazy Daze Bavarian Hefeweizen is a refreshing take on a classic variety. Slightly bitter, fruity, and even a touch malty, Hazy Daze skillfully blends all the characteristics of a classic Hefeweizen with the West Coast flair for hoppiness.

Call for Comments

  • Have you run the Beaverhead 100k or this section of the Continental Divide Trail between Bannock Pass and Janke Lake in Idaho?
  • How would you describe this section of trail?
Continental Divide Trail - Idaho - Lupine and light

Photo: Jeff Black

Continental Divide Trail - Idaho - Alpine lake and scenery

Photo: Jeff Black

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