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)

1 comment:

  1. Pretty good backwoods skiing up there as well (although a few rocky spots down low) when they get enough snow, which now'day's is pretty infrequent - I'll bet the 'Kentuck' X-Country ski area at Ohiopyle would be some good trail running as well (w/ some hills) - is another good ski area - zero rocks - although - gets pretty well "tracked-up" during hunting season (lots of deer and grouse back in there) - follow the road past the camp ground to parking at the trailhead at the end.