By Emma Castleberry
On Saturday, March 17, trail runners will descend upon Sylva for the 8th annual Assault on BlackRock, a seven-mile mountain trail race to the 5,810-foot summit of Blackrock Mountain and back down again, for a total elevation gain of 2,770 feet over the race course. The race begins at Pinnacle Park at 9 a.m. and three finishers in the male and female categories will receive awards. “This race is a very challenging trail race, not for the faint of heart,” says Clifford Mault, who has participated in all but one of the Assault on BlackRock races.
This year’s race proceeds will go to support Shop with a Cop of Jackson County, a program that pairs children with a law enforcement officer and provides them with $100 to spend on gifts for themselves and family members. “This race is important to the local community because it has raised close to $15,000 over the past seven years for local nonprofit organizations in Sylva,” says race organizer Brian Barwatt. He chose Shop with a Cop of Jackson County to show his appreciation for the Town of Sylva police, who provided support and protection last year when a Pinnacle Park trail was intentionally covered in dozens of spikes that threatened and injured runners.
Randall Holcombe has participated in the Assault on BlackRock for the past five years. Holcombe, who lives in Sylva with a year-round view of the Plott Balsam Mountains and Blackrock, says the beautiful area rarely gets the attention it deserves. “This range has as much beauty and wonder to offer the outdoor enthusiast as any other place,” he says. “The race gives people from outside the area a chance to discover that. For anybody who likes running mountain trails, it’s a natural draw.” Holcombe also says the Assault is unique because it offers the challenge of a mountain race without an overwhelming mileage. “The climb is brutal,” he says, “and most people wind up hiking the steepest parts. The race demands a lot from you, but the payback makes it worth the effort.”
Beth Budden ran the Assault on BlackRock for the first time last year with her husband and 14-year-old daughter. “Being from Cullowhee, our family has hiked to Blackrock numerous times, so we thought it would be fun to challenge ourselves to see just how quickly we could get up to the top and back,” she says. Budden calls the race “deceptive in its difficulty,” highlighting the last half-mile of the race which features a steep, single-track and a rock scramble to the summit. Budden appreciates that there is no cut-off time for the race, so runners of all ages and abilities can participate. “It’s a great way of introducing folks to what our great little community has to offer in terms of outdoor recreation, restaurants and breweries,” she says. “If there is one thing many trail runners enjoy after a race, it would be a good beer, and Sylva has definitely got that covered.”
If 2,770 feet of elevation gain across seven miles isn’t enough of an undertaking, the BlackRock 101 Challenge offers a prize belt buckle for those who complete the course in 101 minutes or less. “This is not an easy time to achieve for most people, but it is also not a time that only elite runners can achieve,” says Barwatt. “With the proper amount of training, I think this time is attainable for most people if they are willing to run downhill at a close-toreckless pace.”
Registration for the Assault on BlackRock is $25 until March 16 and $30 on race day. For information or to register, visit discoverjacksonnc.com/event/assault-onblackrock.