Barkley Marathon

The park’s old North Boundary Trail struck fear into the hearts of the “Barkers,” as the runners in the Barkley “marathon” are called. The Barkley gets its reputation as the world’s toughest foot race primarily from its astoundingly low finishing rate. In the 26-year history of the race, only 13 runners have managed to finish the demanding 100-mile course with a mind-boggling total 55,000 feet of climbing.

The Barkley, named for a friend of the race director, roughly circles the perimeter of FHSP on an unmarked course using a combination of trails ranging from well-maintained to long-abandoned to virtually imaginary. The combination of relentlessly steep climbing, briar-choked trails, difficult footing, and near impossible route-finding prove year after year to be too much for all but the most fit and mentally strong to cover the course in less than the allotted 60 hours.

In the early years of the race, it was the park’s old North Boundary Trail that was the most difficult. Decades of neglect left this trail an obstacle course of fallen trees, thick undergrowth, slippery side hills, and switchbacks to nowhere.

Cumberland Trail hikers, as well as the Barkers, appreciate the work done by the park staff and volunteers to re-open the North Boundary Trail, which the CT now follows from Bald Knob to the Garden Spot. —HR