At 8 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 2, about 350 to 400 hardy (foolhardy?) trail runners will gather in the First Time parking lot at Park City Mountain Resort for the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase, a 16-mile sprint to the top of Jupiter Peak and back down to the Silver Star Café. Total elevation gain is about 3,234 feet.
"This would probably be right up there with some of the grueling challenges available out there in race format," said MTF Executive Director Charlie Sturgis, a veteran trail runner. "Definitely the downhill is a pounder. The scramble to the peak is just that: It's a scramble." He said you have to claw your way up the last 200 to 300 feet of elevation.
On the way to the top, the single-track course follows portions of the Crescent Mine Grade, the Mid-Mountain Trail and the Comstock Mine Road, then passes Shadow Lake en route to the Pioneer Ridge Trail, according to the MTF online map. On the way down, runners will pass Tri County Peak and take Scott's Bypass before rejoining the Comstock Mine Road and then jumping over to the Spiro Trail en route to Silver Star.
The Jupiter Peak Steeplechase is listed among the 10 best trail races in North America by the La Sportiva Mountain Cup, which offers at $25,000 prize packages to the runners with the top combined finishing position in their five best races.
Last year's top male and female finishers, Matthew Byrne and Susan Minneci, finished the race in 1:50:22 and 2:14:35 respectively.
"The kid who ran it last year (Byrne) did an unbelievable job, ran it incredibly fast," Sturgis said. "I think probably that might have been the fastest time we've seen, (although) you can't always compare apples to apples because, if you have changed the course some, it makes a difference."
The race, he said, has been run for about 17 or 18 years. "Over the course of time it has probably been altered a little bit because of ski-area construction and things like that. But basically you're going from the Park City resort base to Jupiter Peak. That hasn't changed."
Sturgis said he knew Byrne's training secret when he found out that he came via Flagstaff, Ariz.
"As soon as he said that, I was like, 'Oh, you ran the Grand Canyon a lot,' which is 3,000 (feet) down and 3,000 back. I was like, 'Ah, that's how you train to (run) that fast.'"
The steeplechase is the first leg in the Triple Trail Challenge, which also includes the Park City Marathon (to be held on Aug. 16) and the Mid-Mountain Marathon (Sept. 13). The overall title will go to the runner with the fastest total time in all three events. Sturgis said he expects about 100 people to enter all three races.
Preregistration rates ($65 per person) are available until 5 p.m. on July 31. After that time, day-of rates ($75) will apply. Proceeds will benefit the MTF.
"These races are one of our ways of raising money for building trails," Sturgis said. "At the end of the day, all of our events basically pay a whole bunch of what we do."
For more information, go to mountaintrails.org.