Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring runoff

Posted By on Fri, Mar 30, 2012 at 4:00 AM

In the winter, ice is to be expected—even embraced. Come spring, when the trails are finally bare enough to leave the Yaktrax at home, ice ruins runs. Sometimes, you get lucky and the expected skating rink never materializes.

When my friend Jill and I pulled up to the Blue Mountain trailhead for a recent midday run, visions of slipping and dying drove us to avoid my favorite route up the north-facing switchbacks to the rock knob. Instead, we took an immediate left on Trail 3.15 and went straight up the short hill. The dry double track gave us a few minutes to chat and enjoy the view of the Missoula Valley before we ducked out of the recreation area onto Hays Creek Road.

We slogged up the dirt road for a bit, dodging potholes and relishing the dryness of the south-facing (albeit tree-covered) slope. The only way to connect back to Blue Mountain’s trails from the road is to high-tail it through someone’s private driveway, so dash we did. Jill laughed at the furtive glances I cast around the yard before we reached the trail on the other side.

After reaching the trail junction by the Hays Creek bridge, our route (trail 6.02) shot straight uphill. I warned Jill, who hadn’t explored this particular trail before, that I usually slack off and hike the steepest sections. I then proceeded to do so as she dominated all the way to the top.

Once there, we wove our way through tightly spaced, under-grown ponderosa before taking the wider, OHV-friendly trail 6.01 to connect with routes that would lead us back down to the rocky knob, the potentially sketchy switchbacks and the trailhead. What the heck, we decided. If the trails were too icy to run on, we would take our chances off-trail.

As it turned out, there wasn’t much to worry about. The backside approach to the knob was still slippery with mud, but we didn’t encounter any ice until descending the first switchback. Even then, it was just a three-foot patch of slush that we were able to carefully dance through before proceeding down the muddy, north-facing trail. There were only a few similar ice-slush patches on the rest of the descent, and all were easily avoidable. Copious amounts of mud, however, sent us back to the car with splashes of brown covering our legs and backs—the mark of a successful springtime run.

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