SHERIDAN — A major landslide in Little Horn Canyon along the path of the Bighorn Wild and Scenic Trail Run threatened the course earlier in May, but quick efforts by the U.S. Forest Service and volunteer trail crews put the area back in commission.
With the races just a few weeks out, trail run coordinator Michelle Maneval said she remained confident in the USFS’s ability to find a solution to the problem, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t sweating it out for a short while.
The USFS announced a landslide May 17 that covered a portion of the Little Horn Trail No. 050, making it impassable for people and livestock. An emergency area closure started the same day and extended about half a mile, encompassing close to 29 acres.
Sara Evans Kirol, trails coordinator and public information officer for the Tongue Ranger District, said the area is prone to landslides and runners and other recreators should be vigilant while training or racing in that area, even with the large boulders cleared.
An 11-man Forest Service crew — including two certified blasters and trail and road crews — attempted to blast the rock out of the trail’s pathway but proved unsuccessful.
“It didn’t really go as we had hoped,” Evans Kirol said. “There was too much space between the crevasses where they pack all the explosives in and…there wasn’t enough force to push out those really huge rocks.”
The remaining rocks and boulders, which almost outsized some of the men working to remove them, were hand-moved by the crew. The entire process took about four hours.
Evans Kirol said landslides are more likely to happen during the springtime due to the wet ground.
She hiked along the Shell Bench Trail last week and discovered a slide spanning more than half a mile. The land is more prone to sliding during rainstorms and in canyon areas.
“In any canyon, people should always be extra aware but especially this one since we know that that happens,” Evans Kirol said. “And we know it’s been happening since geology began.”
With just four days before the 100-mile ultra runners start their trek through the Bighorns, Karen Powers and other trail volunteers will complete last-minute trail maintenance and preparation. This year, that included replacing a washed-out bridge on Wagon Box Creek.
Maneval said water is still high on the course and trail crews will need to wait for the water to decrease slightly before doing any work.
Evans Kirol advised to avoid canyon hikes during heavy rains or times in and around excessive precipitation.
“Be aware of the risk; be aware of the potential, and plan accordingly,” Evans Kirol said.