Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Travel Run Update #5 – Salt Lake City / Wasatch 09/13/2012 – 09/15/2012

We arrived home from Napa Monday morning.  I had just enough time to unpack, repack, and head back to the airport 2 hours later to go to Dallas for work.  Two days of meetings there went very long and I did not run as I had hoped.  But no worries, I will be back there next week for pleasure and plan to run Lake Grapevine.  From Dallas, I headed out to Salt Lake City for more meetings.  I have never been to SLC before, but I had been on the ground less than an hour before I decided I was in love with the place.  The vistas are spectacular, especially the Wasatch front to the east, and there are trails, paved and unpaved everywhere

Thursday morning I had meetings, so had no time to get up into the mountains.  But I set out from my hotel and within ½ mile was running along the Jordan River Trail which bisects the city north-south and is 39 miles long.  The trail is flat for most of the distance, so the easier terrain made for some faster (as always, this is a relative term for me) running.  Sometimes the trail ran right next to the river, sometimes it meandered away with dozen of yards of cattails and river grasses in between.  I couldn’t believe what a natural setting it made right in the middle of the city.  Up above, I could see the mountains in every direction (except Great Salt Lake itself, well off to the northwest).  And around me, it appeared I was in the country.  I passed cow fields and horse pastures, with both stopping to watch me pass by.   The river way could easily be called a bird sanctuary as there were thousands of them, of every kind, passing overhead and drowning me in their calls.  Just before my turnaround 6 miles south, I even saw a red fox cross the trail ahead of me just after passing several deer.  12.1 miles in 1:45, this was my fastest run of my travels.

Less than 24 hours later, I was back at it Friday morning.  This time I arose early and started pre-dawn from the entrance to Bells Canyon west, and just a little north from my hotel.  The trailhead starts at 5,200 feet and eventually climbs to over 11,000 feet and the peak of Thunder Mountain.  I knew I didn’t have time to get all the way up and back down before work, but I thought I could make much of it.  I soon knew I was wrong.  The websites I had read described alpine meadows, and I had visions of open fields with long vistas, like Julie Andrews in Sound of Music.   Less than a mile in, the trail turned into one long, mad rock scramble.   I didn’t so much run or walk, as I did hop.  I was feeling both the climb and the altitude as I ascended, and had to stop around the 7,300 foot mark.  By now, the sun had just risen and I had a beautiful early morning view back down into the valley.

I turned back down the mountain, and found I had a harder time going down than I had going up.  Most of the trail parallels a stream cascading down the mountain.  The running water, and little waterfalls proved a frequent, and often dangerous distraction from focusing on my footing.   I eventually reached the base of the rocky section and looked back up the trail into the canyon Ihad just climbed. 

Only 6.5 miles in 2:10 of running.  But as I drove back to my hotel, I was amazed this kind of trail was accessible less than 15 minutes from the center of the city, and I would be on time for work afterwards.  Just 8 hours later, I was headed out for a Friday afternoon jaunt up another mountain.  This time I was headed west and south and intended to run the BST trail which meanders around the foothills along the edge of the Wasatch without nearly as much elevation change.  I figured I needed an easier run to recover from the morning’s effort.  But less than ½ mile in I saw a sign for “Copper Canyon Logging Trail”.  Looking up, I could see the switchback going straight up the mountain. 

I suddenly had a flashback to running the Vortex with the “harder / easier” signs.  And as all FURs know, always choose Harder.  So up I went.   At first, I thought I would only go up for 30 minutes, and then return back down to run the flatter sections.  But 45 minutes passed, and then an hour.  Each time I crested a ridge, I would see another slope that didn’t look too far ahead and I pressed on.  Soon I passed the 2 hour mark of climbing and had finally reached my alpine meadows.  Lone Peak was just ahead and above me.

It was spectacular.  But I knew it was probably several more miles of trekking and a couple thousand feet above me.  I looked back and saw the sun headed down towards the Uinta mountains to the west.  I was running out of daylight.  I had a flashlight with me, but didn’t particularly want to descend that mountain in the dark.  I had climbed from 4,800 feet up to just over 8,600 when I turned back.  I descended faster than I thought I could, and still had time to do a quick 2-mile jaunt on the flatter sections in the fading twilight. 

 11.5 miles in 3:48 this time, with over 4,000 feet of elevation change.  I felt great.  Less than 10 hours later, I was back in the car, Saturday morning, headed for another run.  This time, I went to Dimple Dell, which bisects the city east/west, and was less than 5 minutes from my hotel.   The park is a deep ravine through the valley that was not suitable for housing.  So instead, it became another beautiful park with miles and miles of single track crisscrossing it. I danced back and forth across the stream at the bottom in the pre-dawn light and spooked a huge, 8-point buck just in front of me.  I am not sure why he ran, he outweighed me by 100 lbs. and his rack would have gored me through and through.  Alas, I could not get the camera out in time for a shot.   On the way west and then north through the L-shaped park, I found there were 4 primary trails (with many other connectors and offshoots).    

One followed the stream at the bottom, one followed the hillside near the bottom, a third tracked the ravine closer to the top, and the last tracked along the top on flat ground.  I stayed on the third trail as much as possible which wound in and around one bluff after another and up and down dozens of little ascents.  At the far north of the park, I circled around and down into the ravine at the bottom and returned alongside the stream.  I was having so much fun, I took every offshoot trail I could find and often found myself doubling back to repeat.  13 miles and 2:42 later, I was back at the rental car with just enough time to shower and get to the airport for my return to Tampa.  13 miles in a city park, and I don’t think I even saw half the trails. 

In the end, I did 4 runs in just over 48 hours totaling 43 miles and almost 7,000 feet of elevation change.  All of that was within 30 minutes of downtown and the airport.  I am in love with SLC.  And the Wasatch 100 just moved way up my bucket list.