Saturday, June 29, 2013

Slip slidin' away

A brief glimpse of sun at the turnpike turn around
The last couple days have been sloppy here in the Laurel Highlands.  Copious amounts of rain have saturated the area leaving rocks unclimbable and the trails a soupy mess.  Long sections of trail are completely submerged others are currently swamped.  Don't get me wrong, running a few hours in the rain is no big deal and usually quite refreshing on hot, humid days.  Unfortunately the downside to rain is that it sometimes comes accompanied by dangerous thunder and lightning storms.  Personally I've been caught in a few truly scary storms.  Mostly on the trail or rock, hours from the car.  The whole time feeling vulnerable, helpless and scared shitless.  I've obviously survived the experiences.  When threats of bad weather are present when trying to get out, my mind races to thoughts of two friends killed by lightning on a mountaineering trip some years ago.  Is the risk of getting struck that high or were they in the wrong place at the wrong time?  I guess those thoughts and experiences are what had me scrutinizing the radar images the last couple of days.  I was an armchair meteorologist watching for gaps between storms that provided time to squeeze in a couple wet, but storm-free runs.

Friday 6/28. Route 31 trail head to the turnpike bridge and back, 11.5 miles.  2:02:10, Elevation: gain 1,974', loss 1,971'.
It rained on me most of the way, with the exception of a few minutes when I was able to snap the picture of the turnpike bridge above.  Passed one (saturated) couple on tunnel road heading to Rt. 31 shelters for the night.  Really humid, lots of water needed consuming after this one.

Saturday 6/29  Route 653 trail head to Grindle Ridge shelters and back, 11.5 miles.  2:07:34, Elevation: gain 905', loss 908'.
Ran accompanied by "Granola" our 4 legged, trail loving, machine. He usually comes with me on easy training days under 15 miles.  He's a great pacer and always makes new trail friends along the way.  Today we met a family of 5 on an out and back to Bear Rocks, a group of scouts from McCandless and a father and son spending a few days training for a Philmont scouting trip.  Granola seems to put a smile on everyone's face... Keep an eye out for us on the local trails (usually you'll meet him first).  Below is a picture of him after his run today, tired and content to be back at the car.  The trail wasn't as bad as yesterday, but still a mess.  Downed trees were plentiful from the high winds during the recent storms.  Ran with only a few brief periods of rain.  I managed a seriously painful rock kicking that had me stop and wince a few minutes (luckily near the end).  I also managed a spectacular  fall from a downed tree that I was scrambling over (after the rock kicking).  A few squirrels chuckled at my failed "cat like reflexes"... Trail runner my ass! they declared as I hobbled hobbled up the hill.  Run miles, climb often and always ignore the rude squirrel comments!  They'll most likely end up as hawk dinner...

Today was a good day!  "Granola" post run

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sugarloaf triple-trail challenge, Ohiopyle trail running

Here's another trail run that I'd like to share with fellow trail runners local or visiting the Laurel Highlands of SWPA.   I offer this one up as a challenge to see how fast anyone can complete it or as a great training run for "the hill of it".  As always comments are encouraged regarding the route and your experience while on it!  A few posts back I highlighted the Bear Run, Trail Run Challenge hoping to help fellow trail runners find the great running trails of the Laurel Highlands.  This is the second route I'd like to highlight since its easy to follow and offers a great hill workout.  This route takes advantage of 3 great trails that Ohiopyle State Park offers.  Sugarloaf trail, McCune trail and Baughman trail pretty much in that order.  I've named it "The Sugarloaf Knob Triple Trail Challenge".  It utilizes all the great elevation between the train station and the peak of Sugarloaf Knob.  I've been running a shorter 10 mile variation of this route for several years.  I've added a new section which makes it just shy of 15 miles (seems like a better training distance).  I found it to be a nice change of pace from the normal out and backing usually done on the early miles of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (LHHT) for hilly runs.

The Start/End point at the train station
Here's the route:  Start the clock at the red line under the information kiosk outside the train station (see the above photo).  Follow the bike trail a short distance to the turn off for Sugarloaf Trail.  Turn right onto Sugarloaf trail.  Follow Sugarloaf trail up the ridge for about 5 miles to the Sugarloaf mountain bike/sledding area.  From the parking area take a right onto Sugarloaf Road and follow less than a mile to the McCune trailhead.  Follow the McCune trail loop 3.5 miles back to Sugarloaf road.  Retrace Sugarloaf Rd. back down to the mtn biking/sledding area, retrace Sugarloaf trail downhill a short distance to the intersection with Baughman trail.  Turn right onto Baughman trail and follow back down to the bike trail.  Turn left onto bike trail and follow back to train station Start/End.

Trail maps are available at the Train Station visitors center.  The trails are easy to follow and for the most part single or double track.  The whole thing is very runnable if you've got the legs and lungs.  Two vistas are passed along this run.  One on the McCune loop (at the bench) and one at Baughman Rock Overlook which is passed on the way down.  Both worth stopping to check out, unless going for the speed record ;)

My experience on this run:  The temps were hovering around 83 with high humidity.  I worked hard to keep my run going up the initial long climb.  I was grinding away with my head down.  I find looking up on long steep sections can be mentally defeating.  Most of the run was in the shade, but the heat took its toll.  I ran with my Nathan hydration pack filled to capacity (70oz.), which on most days would be plenty.  I was drinking more than normal with the high heat and humidity which caused me to run out (thankfully only) 2 miles from the finish.  I consumed 3 elete tablytes and 2 gels for electrolytes and energy.  I completed the course in 2:27:50 which felt like a good first effort.  I look forward to running this one again... I hope you do too!

This bench was recently installed at the overlook
 along the McCune trail.  Mile 7.5
The view from Baughman Rock overlook.  Mile 13ish

FKT (fastest known time):
6/25/13 Tim Anderson  2:27:50

Boulderstash, The No Name Forest photos

The No Name Forest quiet awaits our return

Laura and I had fun bouldering at a local spot the other day... Here's a couple photos

Laura on a clean slabby classic
Laura throwin' down her best
"Goodman on MOJO" impression.
Faster than a speeding bullet... Chipmunk parkour.
Photo by Laura Hahn
Laura working the sloping edge of Pyramid Block
Despite our best efforts the boulders always win the battle!
Until next time... Shhhhh

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Bear Run trail run challenge

The welcome sign behind the barn - maps located here
I've lived in Southwestern PA all my life, but have yet to explore the trails of Bear Run Nature Reserve in Mill Run.  Its located on Route 381 between Normalville and Ohiopyle.  I've had no particular reason for not going, I guess there were always other places being explored.  Several climbing buddies even told me of some climbing that exists here.  I always thought of checking it out as I sped by on the way to one of the normal destinations, but never did.  This past spring Laura and I stopped and walked a short section of the trails while birding.  I must say the birding was good, Hemlocks amazing, and the forested trails very inviting.

Yesterday I had to work in the morning but my afternoon was free.  I wanted to go run and started discussing options with Laura.  She brought up the idea of trying Bear Run.  At Bear Run none of the individual trails are over 3 miles, but together they add up to about 20 interconnected miles.  For the backpackers out there, they also offer a few campsites for overnight trips.  Registration is easy right at the parking lot behind the barn.  It was time to map an interesting route.  I read a little about the trails online while Laura started getting out maps and books with additional information.  After studying the options for a while, I settled on running the perimeter of the whole trail system.  This run would end up being about 11.5 +/- miles and a great distance for some higher speed running.  It looked easy to follow on paper, at each intersection, turn right.  I'm not sure about other areas, but locally some trails are blazed and work well most of the year, but summer months can bring on thick vegetation which blocks the view of blazes and chokes out "established" trails turning them into navigational nonsense.  I was hoping this wasn't the case at such a popular area. I pulled into Bear Run and parked in the lot at the trail head (TH) behind the main barn building.  There are paper maps available right at the parking lot to help guide you on this journey if you feel like giving it a whirl.  Being somewhat unfamiliar with the trails, I picked up two just in case one got ruined or lost.  I really didn't feel like stumbling out at midnight on a short distance, training run. Especially since I was starting later in the day.  The trails are mostly marked with upright posts at the intersections.  They display the trail name and direction of travel arrows to make things easier...

Starting point of route, Registration Board at the trail head
Here's the route:  Clock starts at the registration board - (TH) kiosk.  Start on Arbutus, turning right onto Wintergreen, follow Wintergreen about a mile to the intersection with Warbler.  At the end of Warbler, turn right onto Hemlock (a little chin scratching, blaze hunting was done several times on this one), follow Hemlock to a confusing downhill intersection at the campsite.  (Hint) From the campsite basically make a quick switchback right onto the logging road (Bear Run trail.)  Its blazed red/maroon, although you'll have to travel several hundred yards to find one.  Many are hidden behind new growth along this section.  Just after the turn you'll encounter some awesome boulders right on the trail (hint, hint to any climbing friends still reading). Follow the (I'm guessing seldom used?) Bear Run trail to the intersection with Tulip Tree trail (freshly blazed red), but unmarked I believe.  Turn right and follow this incredible, rocky, freshly revamped trail to the intersection of Laurel Run trail.  Follow Laurel Run trail all the way to a crossing at route 381.  Cross the hardtop road and continue on Laurel Run to Peninsula trail.  This intersection is tricky so pay attention or you'll add an out and back hill climb to your run too. Near the end of Peninsula trail, you'll come to Paradise Overlook (a rock outcropping that offers a view of the Youghiogheny River below.  From there follow the trail uphill to a gravel road.  Turn left onto the gravel road (Tissue trail) and follow it back to route 381.  The entrance to Bear Run (the starting point) is across the road.  Finish the run at the same sign where you began.

Paradise Overlook
My first try at this run was 1:47:21.  I was off trail several times, referenced my map too much, stopped for a couple photos, yet ran my ass off to set a benchmark for myself and others.  My experience was top notch and I highly recommend it to trail runners looking for new places to venture.  Seemed like hard work despite its shorter distance.  Route finding proved to be a little more difficult than I expected.  Now knowing the route I look forward to trying this one again.  There's some long moderate hills, short steep hills, high speed technical rocks on (my favorite part) Tulip Tree trail.  Thick sections, Stinging Nettles, even an oozing deer carcass that currently requires a surprise long jump! All kinds of trail goodies.  I really enjoyed the many types of forest , wildlife and vegetation that you encounter on this run.  As I ran I identified birds by call to pass the time.  I heard Black-throated Blue warbler, Black-Throated Green warbler, Wood Thrush, Veery, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, American Robin, Indigo Bunting, Field Sparrow, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Red-bellied woodpecker.  Others were present I'm sure, these are what I remembered.

If you happen to try this one, please share your experience.  I'm sure someone can run this much faster (I'm surely going to try).  I hope to get other runners motivated to come give it their all.  How fast can this be done?  A friendly challenge if you will... Come try it, you won't be sorry!  (printable trail map)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Trail running, The Laurel Highlands

One of the red efts I find regularly on the LHHT - Route 31 shelters
My blogging has been slow since February of this year, actually nonexistent. Here's a little to fill in my gap... Ice season was pretty much a bust, but ski season was unbelievable. The Laurel Highlands got dumped on with an abundance of natural snow this past winter. Laura and I spent a great deal of time skiing at Seven Springs in their award winning, Terrain Parks. This type of skiing is well known for producing an abundance of injuries to its participants. Here's a couple of skiing pics...

Railslide - The Streets @ Seven Springs
Light pole bonk over the gap - The Streets @ Seven Springs
My injuries included (but weren't limited to) a broken thumb, Injured (most likely broken) ribs. A bruised hip (which prohibited any running until about 5 weeks ago) and a second injured shoulder that has severely restricted my climbing. Unlike last season, I'm slowly trying to rehab it back to health. For now, I can barely dead hang on it. On a positive note, my injured shoulder from last season can now support free hanging body weight. The path back to stronger climbing might be slow and long, but climbing less challenging routes will produce an abundance of fun in the meantime. Throughout the spring Laura and I spent a fair number of days at various local crags climbing, doing trail work, etc. Bouldering has seemed to be our most focused style this year.

With my hip feeling better, I've recently been working my legs back into running condition. For the first couple weeks, I'd been testing my hip and seeing if limitations existed. I started with short, slow, road runs not much longer than 4 miles. Usually a rest day or two between runs. I felt good, with a only a couple days where my hip showed any signs of discontent. After two weeks back, the hip pain seemed to disappear completely. I quickly started stacking on the miles and feeling positive that longer pain free miles in the woods lay ahead.
Trusty footwear, Altra Lone Peaks and Powersox get my thumbs up!
This past week I managed to log 83 miles of running. All of them on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. For those unfamiliar with this trail it's a 70 mile hiking trail that starts in Ohiopyle State Park and follows the crest of Laurel Ridge north to Seward. It's a unique trail due to the fact that it has numbered, concrete markers at each mile along its entirety (a great feature for pacing and location). Built as a backpacking trail in the 70's it was designed to be covered over a week long period. Adirondack style camp shelters with additional tent camping areas are located approximately 10 miles apart along the trail. This distance makes for easy hikes between shelters. Note: (reservations must be made in advance to stay in the shelter areas overnight). While designed as a backpacking trail, the LHHT is an amazing trail for runners. The whole trail is completely runnable single track that flows over the mountains through amazing scenery. Hardwood forests, rock outcrops, streams, lakes, and wildlife are the normal backdrop along this trail. I feel quite lucky to live and have grown up a short distance from the Rt. 31 trailhead (middle) of the trail. Starting from home allows easy access to either end of the trail. I must admit that I do spend the majority of my time on the southern half of the trail enjoying the larger elevation changes. Along with the LHHT, there's plenty of other great trails in our neck of the woods. Roaring Run Natural Area, Ohiopyle State Park and The North Woods are some of my other favorite trails to run.

Typical mile marker along the LHHT
Yesterday I completed my first half trail run since last year. Laura dropped me off at 31 parking lot and I went south passing a record (for me) 106 trail users along the way. Outside of the Laurel Ultra race day, I've never seen that many trail users on those sections. I stopped to chat with some of them. Here's just a few that I recall... I got a "nice beard" shout-out from a group of resting backpackers while crossing county line road. I met three trail runners from the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club enjoying an out and back run from the route 31 trailhead to Grindle Ridge Shelters. They were up for "Stills in the Hills" whiskey and music event at Seven Springs and decided to run a bit before the festivities. I met a nice younger couple that had their chocolate lab with them near route 653. They were heading in to Grindle Ridge shelters for the night. He was an experienced packer, but this was her first trip. She was smiling as she explained of her new pack and gear required to make the trip. Her excitement was quite infectious as I recalled how much I enjoy new "toys" as well.

Seven Springs Mountain Resort, the highest point on the LHHT
I was met by Laura sporting the mobile aid station at Maple summit parking lot. She provided some love and a water fill before the last stretch into Ohiopyle. Our plan was for her to park in Ohiopyle and start hiking north until we met. That way we'd get to enjoy a little trail time together. Ohiopyle was packed due to the beer and gear festival being held Saturday night. Please note this was the second booze and bluegrass festival along the trail... All kinds of partying going on in the Laurel Highlands! Laura decided to park up at King Mountain trail head and avoid the congestion. Laura was sore from previous runs this week and decided to carry a large backpack to remove the temptation of running. While she hiked north, I managed to float the flatter miles from Maple Summit down to milepost 8 to begin the "hilly" section of the LHHT. As I ran by the 8 mile marker, missing paint on the number 8 had me do a double take out of confusion. This quick glance over my shoulder was enough for me to snag a toe and go airborne, I tried to recover, but my efforts were futile. Head first into the woods Ughhh, I landed with a thud! Quickly I sprung back up and moving again checking for any blood or pains. Slightly dazed, but unscathed. Yep, got my attention and milepost 8 was still 8, not an imaginary 9?!?!? I proceeded to bomb down "heart attack hill" more alert to my footing as a stumble like minutes earlier would surely produce a less funny story.

The view after ascending from Bidwell
 I cruised along finally meeting my sweetie just before milepost 3 I was heading uphill and she was coming down. I slowed to a hike at this point and we enjoyed the last several miles hiking back to the car together. We stopped at the 2.5 mile overlook for a few minutes enjoying what we usually pass by at a brisk pace. The additional 1400' of elevation gain at the end hiking up to the trail head produced more heavy breathing and I officially stopped my watch at 6:26:55. Quite a bit slower than my personal best for this run, but still a respectable time given my "casual" approach. I'll wait a little while and do this run again and see how much I can improve on this time.

Upon reaching the car we unpacked the mobile aid station and set up our chairs. Laura had packed a primo after trail picnic for us. We proceeded to kick back, eat turkey sammies, and drink chocolate milk while listening to the sweet sound of live bluegrass music coming from the festival below. What a great end to another day on the LHHT.

Laura and the mobile aid station setup at the end of the day