By Mike Maltais

Unusual weather phenomena made their presence felt in two popular Methow Valley high-elevation, late-summer running venues this year,  forcing one, the Angels Staircase, to cancel and the other, the Cutthroat Classic, to scramble in order to restore trail conditions back to usable shape.

The scenic and usually sold-out 11.1-mile Cutthroat Classic Trail Race, hosted by the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA), will take place as usual on Saturday, Aug. 23, for the 15th consecutive year despite landslides from early spring runoff that covered portions of the trail and gave maintenance crews a significant helping of work to get the trail ready for the annual run. Crews from the Pacific Northwest Trails Association gave the Cutthroat a final polish last week according to MVSTA program manager Danica Ready.

There are still some openings for one of the 400 spots for the Cutthroat, reports James DeSalvo, MVSTA’s executive director, so interested participants have to hurry and log onto www.mvsta.com to register.

Registered runners can pick up bib numbers and race information Aug. 22 from 4 – 6 p.m. at the MVSTA tent located between Winthrop Mountain Sports and Rocking Horse Bakery. 

Buses will depart from the Mazama Community Club at 7 a.m. on the morning of the race to shuttle runners to the Rainy Pass starting line at 4,800 feet elevation. The race gets underway at 8 a.m.

The race route follows the Pacific Crest Trail north on a gradual 5-mile climb to Cutthroat Pass at 6,800 feet, then descends 4 miles through many switchbacks on a 5- to 10-percent grade to Cutthroat Lake, and continues downhill for 2 more miles to the Cutthroat Creek Trailhead at 4,500 feet.

Buses will transport finishers from the Cutthroat Creek Trailhead back to Mazama for an awards ceremony beginning around noon.

Other local businesses supporting the Cutthroat are title sponsor Winthrop Mountain Sports and race sponsors Blue Sky Real Estate, Central Reservations, Chewuch Inn, Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies, Methow Cycle and Sport, Lariat Coffee, Nordic Ultratune, Rivers Edge Resort, Rocking Horse Bakery, and Smartwool.

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Angels grounded

It’s a different story for the rugged Angels Staircase 60-kilometer and 35K runs that have attracted hard-core ultra marathoners to the starting line at upper Gold Creek’s Foggy Dew campground. The largest conjunction of wildfires in state history has posed a threat to the Angels’ wings and compelled race founder James Varner to ground the flight this year.

“At this point everyone’s safety (runners, volunteers, emergency responders) has to be our top priority,” Varner posted on his website, www.rainshadowrunning.com, earlier this month.

Varner added that owing to the remoteness of the race together with the overtaxed and thinly spread emergency responders, “we would not want to further burden them if more fires broke out in the area or it there were to be an emergency on the course.”

The Angels Staircase was tough enough without the added fire and smoke. Prospective entrants had to produce a minimum of two previous 50K or longer runs just to be allowed on the course. Even with that qualifier, the Staircase always included a number of local runners from the valley on its roster.