The eleventh annual Emperor’s Challenge Mountain Run will take place on Saturday August 8th, thirty-five kilometres south of Tumbler Ridge. Hosted by the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society, and billed as the toughest and most beautiful half marathon in the world, it is northern BC’s premier mountain running event. It has been attracting increasing numbers of athletes from across western Canada, and as far away as the USA and England. There was a record field of close on 400 in 2008.

After ten years on Roman Mountain, the course moves in 2009 to neighboring Babcock Mountain. The race in a sense became a victim of its own success, as increasing numbers made for a bottleneck in the scenic but technically challenging Matthews Gully.

A crew of volunteers has been hard at work establishing the brand new route. It may seem incredible, but connoisseurs of mountain scenery are of the opinion that the Babcock Mountain route is even more spectacular than its predecessor. The new route essentially contains two loops, an upper and a lower. The upper route has now been almost completely marked: there are yellow or orange stakes every ten to twenty metres (donated by Peace River Coal). There are just three remaining snowfields, each about a hundred metres long, where the staking could not yet be completed. However, on a clear day the route should now be accessible for anyone wanting to practice on it or just see what it looks like. Course marking of the lower loop, below the tree-line, will be completed over the next few weeks.

The upper loop, in the alpine, passes through entrancing rocky scenery, right over the mountain summit and through the valley that bisects the mountain-top, past tarns, with magnificent views of the northern Rockies on a fine day. Caribou and goats are often seen. The elevation gain of 2000 feet is not quite as formidable as on Roman Mountain, and the incline not as steep, but this translates into a constant uphill battle for the first sixty percent of the race, which fit runners may possibly be able to do without walking. Some say the new route may make a new record possible, others that most participants will experience slightly slower times.

Although the event is an ultra-tough race for the top runners, it is simply a challenge and a test of endurance for most ordinary mortals. The youngest participant for the full distance has been ten, and the oldest eighty-two. Twenty-eight adults and seven kids have received their coveted “in perpetuity” numbers for completing five Emperor’s Challenges. Another 21 adults and 4 kids are eligible to receive this honour in 2009.

Runners or walkers have five hours in which to complete the event. Gold finisher’s medals are presented to those finishing in under two hours, silver for those in under three hours, and bronze medals for the rest of the finishers. In 2009 for the first time there will be age-group awards as well: 18 and under, 19–34, 35-49, 50-64, 65 and over.

Kids are catered to through tough races of their own, of exactly one fifth or one tenth the adult distance (4 or 2 kms). A festive atmosphere prevails at the Core Lodge, which is the hub of the race, with a marquis, massages, refreshments, awards ceremony and much more. The event is spectator friendly, and telescopes are trained on the upper reaches of the mountain to see who emerges first.

For further information visit www.emperorschallenge.com