The Styx’n’Stones trail run in Devil’s Den state park was one I’d been wanting to try for awhile and this year I finally made the trip from Little Rock up to Northwest Arkansas to run the trail at Saturday at 8am. This would be my first time running the event though I had visited and hiked some of the trails in Devil’s Den state park several years ago.
I was camping at Devil’s Den for a weekend back in September 2008. It turned out that the remnants of Hurricane Ike decided to drift over the area that weekend and poured rain over the state park for hours. Hiking those trails with prolific precipitation was good preparation for the 2015 edition of Styx’n’Stones.
Winter storms from the week before meant plenty of melt water would be filling all the small creeks of the park that pour into Lee Creek and Lee Creek itself would be high. Add in rain from Friday and Saturday during the run and where the trails weren’t simply muddy, they had become temporary streams. Lee Creek was high enough that the standard course of the trail run had to be altered since it would normally cross the creek but it was too high with too much of a current for that this year.
Besides trying to run the trails for the first time, I was also testing out using a GoPro camera for the first time on a trail run. It worked just fine and my chest strap mount was secure and comfortable, there was just one user error problem. Of course, the GoPro was waterproof electronics-wise, but if used while raining, there are still going to be water droplets on the lens. (D’oh!)
The race, both the 15K and 30K options started at the Devil’s Den day use pavilion near the waterfall. This was just a free-will donation race but the volunteers were all quite helpful, aid stations and the finish were well stocked with food and beverages, a HAM radio club helped keep track of runners and photographers were out on the course too.
The race started out on road going from the pavilion, across the bridge over Lee Creek, then winding around to cross under the bridge and start a major uphill portion winding its way up the Yellow Rock trail, including running to the Yellow Rock Cliff/Overlook. I made sure to take some GoPro pictures at that point, though the results suffer from the user error of failure to clean off the water spots.
Throughout the hillside trail there were several streams crossing the trail that likely wouldn’t be there in drier weather. I just need to visit Devil’s Den in such weather.
After about 3 miles into the race we reached the top of that uphill section and begin going back down, including an aid station set up in the overlook pavilion. Here we came across not streams that crossed the intended trail, but streams that fully coincided with the trail. Other sections of the trail were such a mix of rocks, leaf litter, mud, and puddles that it wasn’t obvious what was actual trail but thankfully the race organizers marked the course quite well that it was still easy to keep following.
Once down the hill we started on a section that ran along Lee Creek heading downstream. An extra loop was added here to account for the changed course. This was my first time running Styx’n’Stones so I’m still not certain of what was the normal course and what parts were makeshift trail, however we came to a fairly flat open field and I was excited about some easier, quicker running coming up without the uphill or the sometimes technical downhill running behind me. Instead, I found this flat open field to be the most physically draining section of the run for me. The ground had become thick mud that was both slippery to step in and tough to pull a foot up from as well. I tried to avoid the puddles and mud and stick to year there was some grass growing thinking that’d be the more solid ground. After the race, a hydrologist friend of mine who was also running it, informed me the best spot to run would’ve actually been in the puddles since the ground there was fully saturated.
After that flat field, I was happy to get back on the trail but quickly came to a slight downhill with a slight curve with plenty of slippery mud. I didn’t slow down quick enough so fell for the only time on this run, thankfully it was just on mud and no rocks. Conveniently right after this was the one water crossing above knee level so I got to clean the mud off my hands and arms right as I was following the course. This was a high running creek flowing right into Lee Creek that I could feel the current. Lee Creek’s current would’ve been much stronger and so definitely treacherous to cross.
The last section of trail was turning back around and finishing off a figure 8 section and then following the trail back upstream along Lee Creek, past the waterfall, back across the bridge and on the road back into the pavilion. On the road near the end was the option to continue the fun of the 15K and start the other loop of the 30K option but I had another outdoor excursion planned for later in the day instead.
After recovering for a bit with the taco bar provided by the organizers and volunteers, I headed out driving the winding road out of Devil’s Den back to I-49. As I was going out and up several 30K runners were coming down and back in. I was surprised how quick they were doing it. Later I learned the 20K had been cut short by around 4 miles since one section of that trail was deemed “too sloppy”. Which makes me curious how much more sloppy could it have been? I had already decided in my head that the event this year was less “Styx’n’Stones” and more “Cryx’n’Mud’n’Puddles”. (Since my rural Minnesota upbringing taught me that “Sticks” and “Creeks” rhyme.)
Whether it be a wet mess again or a dry version, I’m excited to run this trail again next year!