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Blacktooth Challenge Fail

The mountains sure can teach you a lot, especially when you decide to try a lofty objective that will push your limits.

By: Isaac Parsons + Save to a List

The Blacktooth Challenge is a word-of-mouth challenge, bordering on the edge of myth. I have not personally met anyone who has done it, nor have I found any posts online about it. Just one lone video.

According to the video, you start in Sheridan, Wyoming at the Blacktooth Brewery; the halfway point is roughly 40 miles and over 10,000 feet higher at the summit of Blacktooth Mountain. To get there, you will need to bike 28 miles, then hike/trail run 12 more, but then do it all back to the starting point. Oh, and you try to do it all in under 24 hours!

My buddy, Chester, and I decided to attempt this challenge, and we quickly realized it would no doubt be a challenge. We set off on our bikes at 1:30 AM on Saturday, July 10th from the brewery in Sheridan. The stoke was high as we cruised the mostly deserted downtown streets leading to the edge of town, where the darkness engulfed us. We couldn’t see the mountains looming in front of us, but we could feel that they were there. The first 14 miles of the ride went as smoothly as the pavement we were riding on, but as the pavement gave way to gravel, our pace slowed drastically. We really started climbing, like really started climbing . . . a.k.a. 3,500 feet in the first 18 miles of the ride! But the bike portion was far from over. We had another 10 miles to go over a rough two-track and another 2,000 feet of ascent. Needless to say, it was slow going. It was the slowest 28 miles we had ever biked, and it probably didn’t help that it was dark for the majority of the ride. The sun was just starting to illuminate the earth when we arrived at the trailhead.

At the trailhead, our buddy, Vaughn, met us and bestowed snacks and Gatorade upon us. We took just a bit of time to replenish water, scarf down food, and just sit for a few minutes. We grabbed our trail gear and took off once again, back at the grueling quest. We had 12 miles and roughly 4,000 feet of hiking planned, hoping to get to the top of Blacktooth Mountain before total exhaustion set in. The first six miles went quickly with nothing notable happening, but we eventually got off the designated trail and into the real backcountry; this is where we had to follow cairns, or flat out bushwhack our way through the forest before we finally got up into the high alpine above the treeline. 

The pace slowed down substantially as we navigated through these areas, not to mention the added difficulty of route finding. As we really started climbing up the east face of Blacktooth, we felt our exhaustion kicking in. We had done a good job taking in calories and water but had not rested much and had been on the move for over 10 hours. As we transitioned from boulder to boulder, our breathing became more and more strained, and we started to feel the effects of the elevation, thus were forced to take more frequent breaks. Everything started to take a toll on us: the elevation, the exhaustion, the lack of sleep, and the lack of normal sustenance. After taking three quick breaks, we took one more longer break on a ledge where we really had to talk about what lied ahead. Chester and I weighed our options and tried to look at what the consequences could be. We came to the conclusion with about a half-mile and 500 feet of climbing from the top that we were going to turn around. It was a difficult call to make, but for our safety and the sake of time, we made our way back down the mountain. 

We took the snow ramp down, which was much quicker than rock hopping our way down. After a while, when we didn't have to focus on technical stuff, we talked about what we were gleaning from this experience. Sharing our reflections with each other was perfect, and it helped us get our minds off of the pain and utter exhaustion we were feeling. It also helped us to realize that even though we didn’t get to the summit and we “failed” on the challenge, we were still going to be OK. We were alive and well, we didn’t let anyone down, we still pushed our limits, but ultimately we didn’t jeopardize our safety nor put ourselves in a bad position. We hiked the 11 miles back out to the trailhead with our heads held high, knowing that we gave it our best shot, and continued reflecting on what we could have done differently or changed to make things better. We really didn’t come up with a lot of things, other than maybe start earlier (like midnight), so we could have gotten to the summit earlier, and maybe train a little more, but it was hard to imagine coming up with a great training plan for an 18+ hour day in the mountains with over 50 miles of biking and another almost marathon length of hiking (not to mention all the elevations change, over 28,000 over the course of the day)!

When we finally arrived back at the trailhead after 17 and a half hours of moving, we made up our minds that we wouldn’t do the last bike portion back to the brewery; partly because we didn’t truly complete the challenge since we didn’t summit, and also because we really wanted real food besides protein bars, crackers, gels, and trail mix. We craved good ‘ole hit-the-spot pizza! So we found some.

I’d say it was a good day failing.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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