Last year it seemed that winter would never end. This year it seems like it will never begin.
Year to year weather tends to oscillate, so it is unlikely we will see a repeat of last year’s prolonged cold and wet. But you never know.
Here Comes the Sun
The biggest factor on climate and weather, the sun, has awakened from a multi-year quiescent period and has roared back to action over the last year with sun spots, solar flares and coronal mass ejections.
Historically, increased solar activity coincides with warm and dry periods. So maybe we will be blessed with 2012 being warmer, drier and more conducive to winter and spring trail running. Let us hope that it does not also bring a roaring summer fire season!
Where is the Snow
In my experience, Montana winters tend to start out slow with regards to snow. Lack of snow in November, December and January affords me the chance to get away to the south for an extended break without feeling l am missing out on good skiing. This year, upon returning to Montana, I’ve found things a bit drier than even I expected. Nevertheless, this past week, I managed to catch 18” of fresh powder and get a couple days of great skiing in the Pintler Mountains of western Montana. So maybe winter is finally here?
College M Trail Conditions
My sore quads keep reminding me that I have just been up towards Baldy and back down the M trail for the first time this season. Do to the lack of snow so far this year, the trail is surprisingly dry and in good shape.
I did not need traction devices until well above the top of the M. The thin and old snow makes the trail icy above the M and traction devices sure help, especially on the way down. Many years ago while descending the trail in conditions similar to the present, I slipped and broke a tailbone. Repeating that episode is something I want to avoid. So these days, I am a bit more cautious and judicious regarding using traction devices
Texas Trail Running
The first week of January I drove across the state of Texas and did a little trail running Texas style. From the big thicket country of eastern Texas to the Hill Country of central Texas to the Mountains of western Texas I checked out just what the big state of Texas had to offer.
Texas Hill Country – Bandera
It may have been winter when I was there, but it sure felt like summer.
The Hill Country outside of Bandera is the site of a 100K trail race in January that happens to be a qualifier for the prestigious Western States 100 miler. This is a big deal, because there are way more people that want into the Western States 100 then the race allows in. Just getting into Western States is an accomplishment. So Bandera attracts a very competitive assortment of runners vying for a spot at Western States.
Remember, it was Ed Anacker’s experience in the Western States 100 that inspired him to start the Bridger Ridge Run so many years ago. And just this past year, Montana’s Mike Wolfe, who cut his trail running teeth on the Bridger Ridge Run, made the pilgrimage to Western States and finished second. This was against the best ultra distance trail runners in the world. He is now arguably one of the best American ultra trail runners. And of course, Nikki Kimball who has won Western States several times and placed third at Western States this last year is the record holder for women on the Bridger Ridge Run. She is the only woman to have ever broken 4 hours in the Bridger Ridge Run.
Trail running in the Texas Hill Country is a bit different than running trails in the Rocky Mountain West. Sure, there are ups and downs and some rocky footing in places, but the hills are just that; hills. There are no multi thousand foot elevation gain climbs. The gentler grades beg you to keep running as slowing to a walk just doesn’t seem necessary.
There are some miserable rocky footing sections of trail where lots of horse traffic (Bandera claims to be the cowboy capital of the world) has stirred up cobbler size rocks in places. The loose rocks are the perfect size for twisting an ankle as they vary from golf ball to baseball to bowling ball dimensions.
What I did notice and what I didn’t like about the running in the Texas Hill Country is the contrived nature of the trails. There are trails going every which way, but none of them really led anywhere. It reminded me of most trail systems at Nordic Ski Centers. Perhaps it is the result of trying to cram a lot of trails in a limited amount of space. The result is a trail system or race course that curves every which way, but lacks a pure natural aesthetic line.
I get all turned around and frustrated and feel trapped when negotiating circuitous trail systems. Sure you work hard, but never get anywhere. It is one of the reasons, I do not like Nordic skiing at a Nordic ski area or center. Instead, give me a back country ski adventure with a destination in mind. Unfortunately the Texas Hill Country suffers this same flaw as most Nordic ski centers – lots of trails going nowhere significant.
In comparison, the Ridge Run course is one of the most aesthetic and natural race courses in America. Running in one direction from point A to point B along the crest of a mountain range I find naturally satisfying. Goose bumps spring up just remembering and thinking about what it is like galloping along the crest of the Bridger range on top of this little corner of the world.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
In the western part of the state of Texas is one of only three National Parks that exist purely because of the mountains they contain which happen to be the highest point in their respected state. Mount Rainer in Washington state and Mount McKinley in Alaska are the well-known obvious parks. But lesser known Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas harbors the highest point in Texas and offers some good mountain trail running.
Every time I drive across Texas, I make sure to stop and run up Guadalupe Peak. This year was no different. The weather was a bit cooler than I have experienced in the past and the trail was icy where it traversed shady north aspects. The ice caught me unprepared. To avoid slipping onto my butt while descending the icy spots, I found a good walking stick and cautiously crept down. I was so slow going down, that my descent time was the same as my ascent time, but at least I did not break anything. And the added bonus was that I didn’t even get sore quads.
Guadalupe National Park is small and does not get a lot of visitors especially in January. Up on top of the peak there is this curious monument to American Airlines pilots. If you find yourself driving across Texas, check it out.
Tucson Trail Running
After Texas, I did some trail running in the Tucson Arizona area. If you think the trails in the Bridgers are rugged, they are rather mellow compared to the rocky desert terrain of the Santa Catalina Mountains northeast of Tucson. Their trails embrace lots of large rocks to step up and over. Working as hard and as quick as possible doing high knee high stepping through the rocks, I could still barely run faster than I could walk – regardless if the trail was climbing, descending or level.
Grossly underestimating the time it would take to complete a particular trail resulted in finishing up in the dark. Maybe fate wanted to gift me with the opportunity to watch a turquoise sunset over Tucson from up high in the Catalinas. The hoot of owls, the pitter patter of Javelina hoofs and the warm upslope desert breeze made being caught out at night downright enjoyable.