A wildland blaze roared through canyon lands, leaving fire-blackened trees precariously looming over a route that about 200 horses and riders will be traveling over this weekend during the Tevis Cup 100-mile endurance ride from Squaw Valley to Auburn.
Trailmaster Steve Hallmark remained guardedly optimistic as the Trailhead Fire moved over a key section of trail near Foresthill in late June.
But he also started to look at an alternative route that would have taken riders through parts of the rural Todd Valley Estates subdivision – creating a bizarre juxtaposition of bedraggled ultra-endurance riders and their horses clip-clopping along fence lines within feet of backyard weekend barbecuers.
“We’ve gone through Todd Valley 20 years ago but it wasn’t as developed as it is now,” Hallmark said.
As the fire swept across the middle fork and farther into El Dorado County, the prospect of relocating the ride route – or even postponing or canceling the ride became more remote.
“There were a lot of dots to connect,” Hallmark said.
A postponement wouldn’t have been without precedent. One took place in 2011, when high snow depths moved the ride from July to October. When more snow fell in October in the high country, ride organizers took the pragmatic approach a step further and changed the route to an out-and-back experience to and from Auburn to stay out of the snow.
But a ride under the full moon of summer is part of the soul of Tevis.
“Canceling was the very worst scenario,” Hallmark said. “Delaying it was the next worst.”
The Trailhead Fire broke out June 28 on the Placer County side of the middle fork American River canyon. Some Todd Valley residents were evacuated, with all of the fire refugees returning to their homes by July 6. But the fire continued to burn in uninhabited and inaccessible areas of the canyon through Monday, when Cal Fire declared it was 100 percent contained.
Until July 12, Western States Trail Foundation organizers of the Tevis Cup could only guess at the condition of the trail riders were to be going over this weekend. The event is a global and national draw for equestrians looking for a rugged and scenic challenge like no other. But fire officials, citing safety, kept them from the burn zone covering the Western States Trail trail.
Allowed into the burn area, accompanied by a ranger, Tevis Cup officials were relieved to find that while the fire had roared over about a mile-long stretch of the trail and another 1.5 miles along a road that riders also use, the route was passable. As well, damage done by firefighters during operations had been cleared up.
“The Western States Trail Foundation is very happy to report that the Tevis ride will be run on the course as originally planned through the Trailhead Wildfire area!” the group announced on its website right after the inspection.
There was some work to do to make the trail safer, including removing three fire-damaged trees that could have fallen down during or before the ride. That was done this past weekend, clearing the way for the Tevis Cup.
“Considering what could have been, we really dodged a bullet,” Hallmark said.
To see the original article and photos from the Auburn Journal, CLICK HERE.