Western States is a 100-mile race from Olympic Valley to Auburn. In fall of 2020 as Bishop was full of smoke from the Creek fire, Matt, Ari and I decided to try to give this trail a try. Typically the race is run in the summer. Unless you are an elite athlete, it takes many years and thousands of dollars in race fees to qualify. We decided to attempt the course in the self-supported style instead of spending years trying to qualify for the race. Compared to other 100-200 mile trails in California (TRT, JMT etc.), there are far less people hiking this trail. We met no other thru hikers, and only a handful of hunters the whole time out on the trail. In a few years this trail will no doubt be a hiker highway as longer hikes continue to become more popular.
In keeping with the style of the race, we aimed for the 30 hour cutoff. In contrast to most racers, we did not do any running to prepare for this trip. We did get a fair bit of hiking in during the summer, but smoke kept us from doing much for the month leading up to the trip. The decision to do this hike was made the day before, which lead to us only getting a few hours of sleep at the trailhead.
We started around 2am. Our friend John was nice enough to join us for the first few hours climbing up to the top of Palisades, Tahoe. We said goodbye to John and started to jog down the western slope of the Sierra. All was going well and we were keeping the pace for the first 45 miles or so. Knee pain began to set in and we decided to keep the running to a minimum.
Around mile 45 Ari told us she wanted to quit the hike due to severe pain. I was feeling good (mostly because of ibuprofen and caffeine), but decided to hike out with her. We hiked with Matt for a few more miles and then sent him off alone as the sun set. As the caffeine wore off I grew increasingly more and more delirious. We camped in the dirt on the side of the trail around mile 54 or so. The next morning we walked (limped) to the small town of Michigan Bluff. We got word from Matt that he had not been able to finish the trail either. We got a hitch into Foresthill and Matt picked us up, generously driving all the way back to my car in Tahoe.
Overall Western States is a beautiful trail, and I’d recommend hiking it (even if you don’ qualify for the race). If I was to attempt it again, I’d probably slow down and do it over 3-4 days. In order to finish the last 45 miles of the trail, I have signed up for the Canyons 100k race in April 2023.