2010 Barkley Marathons

By Matt Mahoney

Mar. 27, 2010, Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee. Gary Cantrell announces the result of my 13'th attempt at the Barkley Marathons in the usual way.

The day before the race, the camp headquarters was set up, decorated with the license plates of all past runners. Joe Ninke, who was fortunate enough not to be accepted into the race, prepared the chicken. 35 runners were admitted out of the 200 who applied.

I arrived late Thursday night in pouring rain after a 750 mile drive from Florida and all the campsites were taken. Fortunately Chip Tuthill offered to share the site with me and already had a tarp set up. The blue tent is mine.

I was startled awake at 6:13 AM Saturday by the faint sound of a conch shell, meaning that the race would start in one hour. The start time is never announced in advance. At 7:13 we are off. (My camera clock is still on eastern standard time).

We start with a 1460 ft climb in the first 1.5 miles going north on the Bird Mountain trail. The park rates it "difficult". Gary rates it "candy ass".

After descending 1580 feet to Phillips Creek at mile 3.08, 73 year old John DeWalt tears out his page from book 1 at Phillips Creek.

The first of 10 books. You have to tear out the page matching your race number from each book and bring them back to prove you finished the 20 mile loop. You get a different number for each of the 5 loops.

We turn east, climb 940 ft to Jury Ridge, descend 560, climb 1020, descend 200, and climb 460 to Bald Knob where the ground is covered with bits of rime ice that fell off the trees. Did I mention that each of the 5 loops has 11820 ft of climb and 11820 ft of descent?

We were low on water so we filled our bottles here. Did I mention there is no aid except water?

John crossing Son of a Bitch Ditch at mile 7 with a split time of 3:24.

Me climbing S.O.B.

Near the coal ponds. From here it is an easy 540 ft climb in 0.4 miles to the Garden Spot.

The Garden Spot, 7.85 miles in 3:54.

Book 2.

There are 2 water drops besides the streams.

Mark Swanson holds up his page from book 3 at the edge of a cliff just past the summit of Stallion Mountain. After descending, we head southeast along the ridgeline to Fyke's Peak.

The book is at the top of that cliff.

After some easy grassy terrain, we have to descend the Horse's Butt, 1660 ft in 1.24 miles. There is no trail.

If you see these old mining ruins, you are about 1/2 mile east of where you are supposed to be. I thought I was going south-southeast. I guess not. My first clue was that the New River was flowing the wrong way.

Definitely not on the Barkley course. I think I was in Anderson County.

Eventually I found route 116 that we are supposed to cross.

Old coal mining ruins. I went west about a mile on the road looking for the place where we are supposed to cross.

Looking back where I left the road, I was supposed to go up a wash but it turned out to be a lot steeper than it would have been if I went the right way. Eventually I found myself on a ridge looking down at some power lines and a wall of thorns between me and where I was supposed to be.

I descended to book 4 behind the white tree at the back of this mud pit.

Book 4, having made 1.2 miles of progress in 2 hours, mostly downhill.

Testicle Spectacle. It sure was a relief to get back on some easy terrain.

Looking back at what I just climbed.

Looking forward to what I will descend.

This was the most runnable trail I had been on in awhile. You can see Petros ahead looking SSW.

We don't go into town. Instead after you descend this short butt-slide (looking back), you turn right (west) into the woods...

...to find Raw Dog Falls.

Book 5 is in a tree next to the falls.

Then you follow the old jeep road south, turn right, and climb Danger Dave's climbing wall. Somehow I went too far and missed it, and once again found myself outside the park.

Eventually I found my way back to where route 116 enters the park. The gully to the right is the start of Pig Head trail.

There is a pig's scull on a stick so you can't miss it. Notice how the trail is in such good shape?

Looking back, before the trail gets steep.

After 800 ft of climbing (with extensive use of the hands) you come to an old coal road.

If you want to explore this old mine, you can squeeze through a gap in the bars.

The mines were worked by prisoners from Brushy Mountain. The guards who manned this tower had orders to shoot anyone who came out of the hole.

The tower also marks the start of Rat Jaw, a 1020 foot climb in 0.5 miles.

There are thorny sawbriers like this all the way up.

There is a gap in the wall ahead on the right side.

At the top of Rat Jaw is Frozen Head lookout tower, the highest point in the park. I climbed the tower to get a good view of the second water drop and book 6.

Book 6. My average pace for the last half mile was about 2:00/mile.

Rich Limacher was here to egg on the runners. He was yelling something at me, like "what the hell are you doing climbing the tower?"

The lookout tower.

Looking up.

Looking down.

Looking down.

Until last year, there was an easy 2 miles of nice flat and gentle downhill trail to Indian Knob. But that was last year. This year we must go back down Rat Jaw.

Yes, you must go down Big Rat Jaw. All the way down to the prison, 1920 feet.

You are not done yet. Fortunately there was no book here as there was in previous years. It was placed in the guard tower and you had to climb or crawl under the fence to get to it. Notice the 1 foot gap under the fence where the stream flows through it. That was the easiest way in.

Brushy Mountain State Prison was closed in June, 2009. However, the area is not open to the public. Gary got permission to run the race through this area. At any other time you could be arrested and/or shot here.

Notice the stream running under the prison.

This is the "Bad Thing". It's location was only revealed yesterday.

DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS ON YOUR OWN! AT BEST YOU WILL BE ARRESTED! The gate was unlocked solely for the purpose of this race.

The water was 2 inches deep. If there is rain it will be deeper.

Don't forget to bring a light.

The water is deeper at the main exit.

Alternatively you can climb out the ventilation shaft. That is what I did. It is about 8 or 9 feet high. There are some footholds on the sides that are just big enough for you to stem up in wet shoes until you can reach the top edge.

Ventilation shaft from above.

The ventilation shaft is at the back main prison wall.

The two poles mark the spot where James Earl Ray jumped the wall to escape. Book 7 is here.

Book 7, The Road Not Taken.

Starting up Indian Knob, looking back.

The Razor Ridge climbs 1700 feet in 0.88 miles, an average grade of 36%.

Indian Knob.

The Eye of the Needle at Indian Knob. Here you will find book 8.

Book 8 at mile 15 in 12:16. There is not much hope of finishing the last 5 miles before the 13:20 cutoff.

But I went down Zip Line just out of force of habit. It descends 1600 feet in 0.76 miles. If you can find the faint tracks and turned over leaves of runners ahead of you, it will only take an hour to reach the bottom. Otherwise it could take twice as long.

Book 9. It is dark. The book is located on the west bank of the confluence at Beech Fork. I lost a few minutes finding the confluence.

Book 10. It took another hour to climb Big Hell to get here at Chimney Top. It climbs 1580 ft in 0.76 miles (40% grade).

I met Paul Braun on the way up Big Hell. I had been alone since Fyke's Peak. He could not find book 9 but it didn't matter because we were already over the cutoff. The last 3 miles are candy ass (difficult) trails with 2000 ft of descent. We finished one 20 mile loop in 16:18, about 3 hours late. Not that I wanted to do another.

After my lap, I ate 2 pieces of chicken and some beans, showered, slept, hung out until noon Sunday in the rain, drove 750 miles back to Florida, slept another night, then took this picture of my swollen feet on Monday afternoon. It is hard to imagine that after these 2 days, there was still one runner left on the course on lap 5. Johnathan Basham of NH was the only finisher in 59:18.