The vertical kilometer.
This past weekend I competed in participated in one of the most unusual 5 km races Montana has to offer. “The Rut VK” is the shortest in a series of four trail running races that take place at Big Sky Ski Area south of Bozeman every Labor Day weekend. The series, which includes the VK, 11 km, 28 km, and 50 km races, draws many runners from other states and countries. The VK (“vertical kilometer”), which is the one that I did, starts at the Big Sky Resort and finishes on the summit of Lone Peak; 3.4 miles with 3,600 ft. of elevation gain. Because most of the course is so steep, the vast majority of “runners” did very little running – We were simply hiking as fast as we could. In fact I “ran” less than 500 yards during the entire 3.4-mile race. Take the Photo Tour and you will see why. One of the best things about this event is that the finishers got a free ride down in the tram! FYI: 5 km = 3.1 miles, and 1 km = 3,280 feet

Why stop to take photos during a race?
For one, it gave me a chance to catch my breath – The air is pretty thin at 11,000 feet! More importantly, I’m fascinated with Montana’s landscapes, and especially interested in seeing and photographing them from high places. Finding the best angle to capture a scene adds another level of fun to any hike I do. Whenever possible, I include people in the photos to provide a sense of scale and make the images more interesting. I like to explore unique places that are hard to reach (like the ridge to Lone Peak), take photos, and then “show and tell” – hence this blog. Hopefully the photos and captions provide a sense of what it is like to experience the place. For those who are able, maybe they’ll be inspired to go there.

Hearing voices.
Obviously there is a significant amount of pain involved with completing the VK. Those who do things like this know that part of the “fun” is the challenge of overcoming the rubbery legs and pounding heart to reach the top. Growing up in north-central Montana (probably anywhere) in the 60’s and 70’s, it seems that “no pain, no gain” was a common theme among our coaches. Of course in the years that followed I learned that not all pain is good – There are those “you need to see a doctor” pains. But the pain I experienced during the grueling last mile of the VK was good pain, and I definitely heard the voices of those coaches as I made the final push to the top.

Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.