The sun beat down on Rendezvous Mountain as the first runner came into view. No one expected it to be Seth DeMoor.
Though it was the 34-year-old Denver ultrarunner’s first time competing in Jackson Hole’s most punishing hill climb, he set a new record of 1 hour, 1 minute and 31 seconds, shaving nearly a minute off the previous record and coming as close as anyone ever has to breaking the hour mark.
“I was gunning for it,” he said, impressively unwinded. “I knew it was close.”
The route for the annual race isn’t fixed year over year. But it’s roughly 6.1 miles each time, and always 4,100 vertical feet, so the hour stands as the baseline goal for the fastest runners. A $500 bonus awaits the first to beat it, in addition to the $1,000 first-place prize.
The two favorites, Aaron Robson and Stephen Mulherin, came in second and third. Both have at one point held the fastest time for the race, and neither surpassed his best this time. But with someone clocking a record each year, Mulherin, a 25-year-old Jacksonite, guessed the hour will fall soon enough.
“We’re getting closer and closer every year,” he said. “We’ll get there.”
But a push for the 60-minute milestone can easily end in failure, considering how fine the line is between a sustainable speed and overexertion.
“The dangerous thing about gunning for the hour is you might blow up and get a much slower time,” said Eric Seymour, social media manager for the resort.
Sam Diaz, 27, was the first woman to the top, securing her third victory in the hill climb. She set a new women’s record of 1:18:24, knocking off the mark that has stood since she set it in 2016.
As soon as she crossed the finish line she lay down in the dirt just beyond it.
“You need water?” someone asked.
“No, I’m fine,” she said, an exhausted smile spreading across her face. A few minutes later, after a glass of water, she reflected on the race in the masochistic words of a true athlete.
“It’s always a good time,” she said, still smiling. “Always more painful than you remembered.”
The scenic route might have taken the racers’ minds off their burning quads and calves. Besides the first short section, the trail is almost entirely singletrack along the Wildflower and Cirque trails.
DeMoor — who does most of his running in the Colorado Fourteeners and ran the hill climb as a tune-up for the Pikes Peak Ascent — said he couldn’t help admiring his surroundings, especially on the lower trail.
“It lived up to its name,” he said. “The entire way was wildflowers. It was incredibly beautiful.”
And of course, the view from the summit is breathtaking enough to rid the mind of negative thoughts. Robson, 32, who lives in Lander and trains in the Wind River Range, seemed perfectly content after reaching the top of Rendezvous Mountain on a warm, bluebird day.
“It’s a cool race,” he said. “It’s hard to feel too down on yourself when you get up here.”
For the past few years, the race has been dedicated to Chris Onufer, a longtime tram mechanic at the resort who died in an avalanche in 2012. All the proceeds go to local running organizations. Onufer’s mother, Anne, came to Jackson Hole from her home in Miami to be here for the race.
“It’s the greatest tribute they could give him,” she said.
Saturday also marked the end of the Run to the Summit Series, a trio of races that also includes the Snow King and Grand Targhee hill climbs. Matthew Joseph Williams, a 19-year-old Jackson High School graduate who is now on the University of Wyoming nordic team, took the triple crown with an overall time of 2:16:05.