BIG SKY - The top teams in the Primal Quest Montana 2008 endurance race that started here Monday morning were expected to hit their first transition area three to four hours after climbing and descending 11,166-foot Lone Mountain. Instead, they made the 7,300-foot elevation gain and loss in about two-and-a-half hours.
The speed surprised race director Don Mann. Asked if he expected such fast course times, he said, "No, no, not at all. Plus, they were going to take their time going up."
Primal Quest is billed as the world's most challenging endurance competition. Over the next five to seven days, the top four-member co-ed teams are expected to finish the 500-mile event that ascends and descends 100,000 vertical feet while traversing the Gallatin, Bridger and Crazy mountain ranges. During the competition, racers will trek, trail run, kayak, riverboard, rock climb and mountain bike.
The first team to finish with Lone Mountain and arrive at the transition area was TeamPeakAdventure.com, followed closely by Nike and then Merrell. Montana's own Team Big Sky/Flathead Beacon was a surprise, checking in at about fifth place.
"We're not supposed to be this far ahead," said Kristen Fredericks, 39, of Bigfork. "The climb was tough, but the glissading was so fast, we snow-enema'd ourselves cause we're wearing shorts."
Glissading is essentially sliding down a snowy slope while digging a trekking pole into the snow to control the speed of descent.
"It was cool. It was beautiful up there," said racer Aaron Matzke of Los Angeles, a member of Team DART-nuun. "I was surprised how fast we ran it. I thought it would be a lot harder. We got really bottle-necked on the ropes. Then there was a huge gap between the teams after the summit."
A 400-foot rope course was fixed along the southeast ridge of Lone Mountain to the summit, requiring the racers to proceed uphill in single file.
After bagging the peak in a morning jog, the teams regrouped in a transition area at the base of Big Sky Resort.
The exchange areas were tense as team members rushed to choke down food and drink, wring out their wet socks, change out of gaiters and drop climbing harnesses. They had to make sure they had the necessary gear and safety equipment for the next leg.
"How many calories are you taking in a day?" a television cameraman asked Darin Fredericks, captain of Team Big Sky/Flathead Beacon as he filmed the transition.
"As many as we possibly can without getting sick," Darin said.
The team made its exchange in about 10 minutes and left for the next section, Beehive Basin, just 18 minutes behind the top teams.
The speed of the team's ascent and descent was a departure from the original plan. The night before the race, they all agreed they would take it slow, walking up the mountain.
"There's really no rush tomorrow," teammate Andrew Matulionis, 42, of Whitefish, said Sunday night.
That battle plan went quickly out the window just after 10 a.m. Monday when a 25-pound explosive charge was detonated atop Lone Mountain, signaling the start of the race.
That's when the plan changed, said Kristen Fredericks. "Right when the stupid gun goes off. We keep saying, 'We're going to go slow, we're going to go slow' Ahhh! We'll just listen to our bodies."
Even after running the peak and back, she said, her nervous edge had still not worn off.
"The edge is never taken off," she said. "The anxiety never ends."
Teammate Thomas Etter of Missouri, the only non-Montanan on the team, was psyched by the first leg of the race.
"It doesn't get much better than this," he said. "We were at the peak with the most phenomenal views I've ever experienced."