A Perfect Storm at the 2023 Western States 100

An update on the restoration of the Western States Trail ahead of the 2023 Western States 100.

By on May 12, 2023 | Comments

AJW's TaproomEarlier this week the official Twitter account of the Western States 100 released the following statement:

“The [Western States Trail] in the Tahoe National Forest that was closed due to the Mosquito Fire (Michigan Bluff to Last Chance) is now open. Thanks to our partnership with the USFS and help from Sierra Buttes and numerous volunteers. Amazing cooperative effort. Only Mosquito Ridge Rd remains closed.”

Back in September 2022, many Western States 100 followers looked on in horror as the Mosquito Fire ripped through large sections of the Western States 100 course. Homes were destroyed in the tiny village of Michigan Bluff, thousands of acres of rugged countryside were torched, and 16 miles of the historic Western States 100 course were severely impacted, including the Michigan Bluff to Last Chance section noted in the tweet above. At the time people wondered if the race organizers would be able to get the trail restored in time for the 2023 race.

Mosquito Fire 2022 - firefighters attempt to put out the fire

Firefighters tackle the fire, which forced thousands of people to evacuate from their homes in California. Photo courtesy of CAL FIRE.

Then, a few months later, winter arrived, bringing with it feet of snow in the high country and torrential rains further down the course. With little vegetation to hold the soil together, many parts of the 16-mile stretch impacted by fire were further damaged by raging torrents of water cascading down the Western States 100 course’s famous canyon walls. Over the winter many asked, “How could the trail possibly be ready for the race?”

Well, as soon as the rains subsided, and the race organizers were able to assess the damage, they set to work. Led by race director Craig Thornley and trails manager John Catts, hundreds of volunteers were recruited to work on the damaged trails over a series of organized trail work weekends. The transformation of the trail over a few short weeks was nothing short of incredible. With less than two months until race day, there is little doubt that the trail will be ready and waiting for the racers come the fourth weekend in June.

Volunteers working on the restoration of the Western States Trail

Volunteers working on the restoration of the Western States Trail. Photo: John Catts

Of course, there is still much work to be done. The high country remains encased in snow, and it will be a few more weeks before crews can get into those areas to clear the trail. The fire-damaged areas will continue to need work to shore up the trails in advance of the Western States 100 Memorial Weekend Training Runs and then the race. And, as mentioned by the race organization, Mosquito Ridge Road remains closed and will be closed for race day. What this means for runners of the race is that there will be no crew access at Duncan Canyon (mile 24) and Dusty Corners (mile 38) as those aid stations will be accessed by way of a very rugged road that will not be open to anyone but race personnel. Runners should not worry, however, as the volunteers at both Duncan Canyon and Dusty Corners have been staffing those aid stations for years and will be prepared to meet all of the runners’ needs come race day.

Finally, there is the snow. At the moment, the snow looks comparable to the two most recent snow years of 2017 and 2019, and Craig Thornley, in his recent letter to the Western States 100 runners, said: “We will exhaust all options to run on the normal course. The beautiful singletrack on the ridgetops is where the course is and that’s what we want to deliver to you.” Lastly, Thornley notes that the biggest issue in big snow years is mostly about aid-station access to the two highest aid stations on the course, Lyon Ridge and Red Star Ridge. In response to these concerns, Thornley made the race position clear, “In the 1980s and 1990s, helicopters were employed to get supplies into the remote aid stations — something we are prepared to do again in 2023 if need be.”

2017 Western States 100 - Jim Walmsley - Escarpment

Jim Walmsley topping out on a snowy Escarpment in the early miles of the 2017 Western States 100. Photo: iRunFar/Jake Beiler

One thing’s for sure going into this year’s Western States 100, while the runners will take many hours to traverse the course between Olympic Valley and Auburn, those hours pale in comparison to the hours of hard work that have gone into preparing the trail for the runners by an army of volunteers.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Shoe Tree Brewing in Carson City, Nevada. Their Pretzel Dripz Stout is a creamy, delicious stout. In fact, it should really be called a chocolate-covered pretzel stout, because of the delicious chocolate finish on this fantastic stout.

Call for Comments

  • Have you been involved in any way in this restoration effort?
  • Let us know in the comments section!
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.