Isn’t fall a great time? The leaves are turning and the fungus is rotting and smelling like poo. Means a great time for a trail run, eh?
I’ve been running a lot in Far North Bicentennial Park in Anchorage when I have the time in town. Speedway, Blue Dot, Rover’s — these are a few of my favorite trails. Basically any of the single track is fair game. That said, though, boredom does ensue when running the same trails over and over.
So, I’ve been looking at other trails to run in the area. I know there are the hillside trails and I’ll probably hit those up some before the snow flies, but on most days that I am running in town I have 1.5 hours, tops, to travel to the trails, get my run in, travel back to the office, and get cleaned up.
Getting to hillside eats up a lot of time.
There are days when I have more time, though. On those days I want to maximize my time on the trail and see as much as I can see. A few weeks back I headed up to the Basher trailhead and made my way up the trail 2.5 miles towards Near Point — about a mile from the summit. That day I had limited time, so I turned around early, knowing that I’d be back to make the summit.
Everyone knows Near Point is a training wheel peak. So easy that almost anyone can get to the top in reasonable time. Which is what makes this trail appealing for me to run. Trails like Government Peak are steep enough that running is really a euphemism for walking just a bit faster than a fast hike pace. At least for me. I get to the 1880 picnic table on Government and know that from that point out, until just below the summit, I’ll be walking, not running. Near Point is different in that it does not get really steep and it is possible to run the bulk of the mountain.
Indeed, on my last attempt I made it to just-short of the peak before giving up all pretense of running form and switching to power hiking mode.
What I love about this run is that there are such varied terrains.
You start out on a powerline trail, which is just what it is. Not fun, but a good way to get where you’re going. Then the trail takes you along the rim of the Chester Creek canyon, exposing somewhat scary views down the precipice and into the void.
Then you drop down into the canyon itself before starting to climb up the mountain through a few sub-alpine prairies. Then you get to the side of the mountain and quickly get above treeline and into the nice, swampy, mucky section that likes to suck shoes off before you get to the alpine tundra. Then you get to the top and are graced with amazing views of the inlet and Anchorage.
Saturday, Denali was glowing in the northwest and Sleeping Lady was just lightly frosted with fresh snow. Looking to the east, off the peak, you are greeted by the back country. It’s a great view in any direction.
What’s even greater than the run up the mountain and the views at the top? Coming back down.
Again, the trail isn’t so steep that it immediately blows up the quads. It allows you to run down without too much difficulty, but with plenty of challenges to keep it interesting — loose rock at the top, ruts and roots in the middle, mud and much in the middle, then the wider pathway before getting back to the super rooty single-track heading back to Basher.
It’s a blast. Particularly as you come barreling down with the only thought in your mind being, “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit… I’m gonna die, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit… Ha ha ha this is fun!” and you pass hikers on their way up and they look at you like you are certifiably crazy. And you are. The speed, the sweat, the crisp fall air — it all combines to blot out any semblance of sanity.
There must be something in the air of the mountains. The more time I spend trying to destroy myself by running up and down them or barreling my bike across their flanks, the more I want to be out there, the more I feel like I’m becoming invincible. Then I come back to the low land and the office and the day-to-day and realize that I am definitely Clark Kent and not Superman.
Of course, when I’m in the mountains there’s no one there to recognize that my cape is just an old beach towel and my muscles are fake. In my mind, in the mountains, I am Superman and no one can say different so I’ll keep spending as much time out there as I can.