I took my last two long runs on Grant Mountain in the Palmertown Range. If you haven't heard of either geological feature, don't be surprised; both names appear only on USGS maps, as far as I can tell. This is the mountain that stands just west of Moreau Lake, and this is the mountain that the Moreau Lake 15K runs up, around, and back down. I haven't committed to doing that race yet, but I figured I should go check out the trails. So far, I'm very impressed. This system is an excellent model for training for the High Peaks. More on that in a bit.
This part confused me quite a bit when I first started investigating this trail system. There are three trailheads along Spier Town Rd, and there is, of course, access from the campground, too. You can find maps here: http://nysparks.com/parks/150/maps.aspx. I am describing landmarks as if you were driving north/east along Spier Falls Road.
Western Ridge Trail
[I have not tried to run or hike from here, yet.] There is a tiny pull-off near the western end of the Western Ridge trail (yellow), however, on the most recent Trail Map, there is no indication of a parking lot. It was listed on the 2011 version of the map, and it is still physically there. Heading north, the road goes through several turns, and then when it gets close to the Hudson River, it straightens out. Right after it straightens out, there is an access road on the right. This is gated, so don't park here, but there's a small turnout a little further on, with what appears to be a spring. The trail itself appears to start out following the access road. I will investigate it further as time allows.
[I have not tried to run or hike from here, yet, either.] The parking lot for the Cottage Path trail is further along Spier Falls Road, and is very obvious. Near the bend in the road, where it goes from following the Hudson to crossing a col in the Palmertown, there is a large access area for boats, with ample parking. The Cottage Path trail (orange) is accessed on the other side of Spier Falls Road, a short distance to the south. It appears to follow a stone wall for a while.
(Please note that as of May, 2014, a sign at the third parking area indicates that there is currently construction along the power line corridor, and that trails may be subject to closure. No trail was indicated on the sign, but the trail most likely to be affected would be the Cottage Path trail.)
Western Ridge / Baker Trail
This is my favorite of the three areas, though extra caution is needed due to the single lane access road and blind turns. Heading east along Spier Falls Road, the access road is a gravel road on the right, and it is just past the col. As soon as the road starts to descend, look for gravel on the right. Turn right into here, and then proceed to the parking area. (Note that this gets gated off during the winter. Also note that there is ANOTHER access road that intersects this access road. DO NOT take this other access road. I'm fairly certain that it's intended for large electrical utility trucks, and unless you have a big truck, you're likely to get stuck.) You'll find the parking area a short distance on, and there are three paths you can take out of here. The first is on your right, just before the parking area; this is the eastern portion of the Western Ridge Trail (yellow). The second is blocked by a large boulder, along the same road that you drove in on; this is the western portion of the Western Ridge Trail (yellow). Finally, between the two is another wide trail, marked in green, this is the Baker trail.
(The sign indicating closures due to electrical work could also apply to this access road; so keep an eye out for a closed gate when you're turning on to it.)
Please note that Spring Turkey season is in effect during the month of May in New York. The Spring season runs from an hour before sunrise until noon. Vermont and Massachusetts have similar Spring Turkey hunting seasons. Since the season only lasts for half the day, it's courteous to give hunters the first half of the day to themselves. Turkeys are apparently difficult to hunt, due to their eyesight and intelligence. If you are out in the woods during hunting hours, stick to popular trails, and wear orange. Avoid wearing red, white and blue, as this mimics the colors of the male turkeys being hunted this time of year.
Last Week - 10 May 2014
Both weeks I found myself bounded for time between the Spring Turkey season and commitments in the mid-afternoon. On the 10th, I ended up getting out the door a lot later than I had intended, and decided to cut my run down to an hour, instead of my intended two hours. I started off strong, heading up the Baker Trail, but I quickly found myself out of breath. Running uphill is nothing like running along flat bike paths, or even the rolling terrain I had been running on. After a while the path leveled off a bit, and I was able to catch my breath a bit, but I found myself alternating between walking and running the entire time I was out.
The Baker Trail intersects the Ridge Run Trail. Without consulting my map, I decided to go left, and I choose wisely. A short while later I found myself in a still open deciduous forest, clearly high ground, and there were long exposed sections of parallel rock, which appeared to be the remnants of glacial erosion. This whole section would have been under the ice sheet (the whole state was), and it looks like the movement of the glacier cut these gouges out. They are beautiful, regardless of their origin.
Just past this area was what appeared to be a view point. I ran up to it and it was indeed a view point: the Moreau Overlook. From here I could see Moreau Lake and the country beyond. What really caught my eye were the Taconic peaks off in the distance. They were hard to make out, but they were there. The following week I spent a little more time up here, and confirmed that I was correct: Equinox, Little Equinox, Bear, and Grass are all distinct and visible, and there are are a host of other peaks visible as well.
When I first ran up to the Overlook, I noticed that there were two people, a man and a woman, sitting on a rock nearby, taking in the view. From their clothes, and the braids in the woman's hair, I assumed that they were runners, too. We exchanged hellos, and the woman asked if I could take their picture, and offered to return the favor. After we had taken pictures, we chatted a bit, and then they were off, down the blue Moreau Overlook Trail. As for me, I lingered briefly, and then continued along the Ridge Run trail. I knew I had limited time, so I consulted my map, trying to get a sense of what was possible given my constraints. I saw that there was a loop to be had: if I kept making right turns, eventually I would end up on the Western Ridge Trail, and that would take me back to my car. Off I ran.
The terrain up here was great. Baker Trail is mostly loose rocks, but once you're up high, the trails are a lot softer; mostly leaves and loam. The Western Ridge is a different story, though. There's plenty of loam, for sure, but there are also sections where you're running along exposed bedrock, not unlike the rocks I had stopped to admire higher up. It's a lot of fun, but I can imagine that they'd be slippery when wet. Once the Western Ridge starts to descend in earnest, it has a few short sections of loose rock, and an eroded section near the end of the descent that is fairly steep. I found myself monkeying along the trees in there at one point. Once I got past the steeper section, the trail leveled off again, and it was relatively level (though not even close to flat) for the remainder of my run back to my car. The views looked fantastic along the Western Ridge, but I didn't stop to admire them since I was in a rush.
This Week - 17 May 2014
This week I decided to check out some more of the Western Ridge, to the east of the parking area. The Western Ridge drops down to Mud Pond, over fairly gentle terrain. It had rained the night before, and the streams were going strong. I ran past the white blazed Turkey Path, and almost took it, but I wanted to get a better sense of the full climb, so I pushed on. The Western Ridge Path ends at an intersection with the the Mud Pond trail; I went right, along a beautiful corridor of trees, and the over a wide bridge. From there I hit a woods road, and I went right again, searching for the red-blazed Red Oak Ridge Trail. I had run the other end of this trail over the winter, and I followed it to the same intersection I had come to back then. This time, though, I decided to UP the Moreau Overlook trail instead of using it to bail out.
This section was steep, and I had trouble running up it, but I did my best to push myself into a run on the flatter sections. Eventually I came to a decent sized talus pile and decided to just hike it. I'm fairly certain that this is the "Staircase of Death" referenced on the event page, or perhaps the whole trail from the ROR/MO junction up to the Moreau Overlook is the "Staircase of Death". Whatever. It's steep.
Once I was past the talus pile, a little push put me back up at the Moreau Overlook. I stopped for a few minutes, trying to enjoy the view and confirm that I was seeing the peaks I thought I was seeing, but the insects were feasting on me, so I had to get back to running. My pace on the way up had been slow enough that they had found me, but once I started running steadily again, they mostly left me alone. It was getting to be time to head home, so I ran back to my car, along the Ridge Run and then the Baker Trail. When I got to my car, I felt like I needed a little more, so I ran along the Western Ridge for a minute just to get a little bit more out. (Sitting here, writing this, I still feel like I have energy that I need to get out. I might need to go for a run tomorrow.)
When I was getting ready to write this, I reviewed the run in Strava, and I was astonished at the elevation profile. I didn't think it was *that* steep, but I climbed from just under 400' at 1.3 miles to just under 1200' at 2.4 miles. It's fairly typical for a trail to ascend 800'-1000' in the space of a mile near the top of the High Peaks. You could run and/or hike up and down the length of the Moreau Overlook trail a few times and simulate the final push of a High Peak trail fairly well. Furthermore, the trails themselves are typical of the trails found further north in the Adirondacks: a chaotic blend of rocks, bedrock, loam, and roots.
On a different note, I have to say that this park has the most considerate trail system I've ever been on. There are numbers on the map at each junction, and those numbers are also posted on signs on trees at the junction. I've never seen that before, but it makes a lot of sense, and I can think of many systems that would benefit from this enhancement.
Continuing on with the non-sequitor, I'm still reviewing gear, trying to figure out what I like best for this particular terrain. I tried out both pairs of shoes that I had bought from Fleet Feet last autumn when I was finally healed up enough to start running again. Last week I ran in my ASICs GEL-Scouts, and this week I ran in my Brooks PureFlow 2s. The GEL-Scouts did very well with the terrain, and I felt in control, but their high heel drop (8-10mm) tends to bug my knee while running, and on this run it was no exception. The PureFlows are my go-to shoe for running on pavement, where they offer a smooth ride; out here on the trails they felt hard, like I was running in a minimalist shoe, and I felt like I was slipping a few times on the descents. They're treaded for road running, so I would expect them to have trouble gripping in some off-road situations. I was just curious to see how they'd do. Anyway, I still haven't narrowed down my shoe for this terrain. I'm going to alternate between the GEL-Scouts and the Trail Gloves a couple of times, to try and see if it's just in my head or if there really is a difference in how my knees feel during or after the run.
Well, that's about it. Next weekend I might try to run the entire 15k course, if time allows. I've explored roughly half of it between my last three runs here.
Oh, before I forget, there's another option for a fall race, a newly created event called the Shawangunk Ridge Trail Run/Hike. There are three distances: 20, 32, and 74 miles. Details are here: https://www.facebook.com/SRTRunHike/info, and I've pasted the gist of it below:
"SRT Run/Hike is an endurance event for trail runners and through-hikers celebrating the preservation of natural lands along the Shawangunk Mountains.
The inaugural edition of SRT Run/Hike will take place September 19-21, 2014, offering three divisions:
- 20-mile, starting in Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Sunday morning, Sep 21
- 32-mile, starting at Sams Point, Saturday morning, Sep 20
- 74-mile, representing an entire "crossing" of the SRT, starting at High Point State Park, NJ, Friday afternoon, Sep 19"
Looks like fun! It's the same weekend as the Saratoga Palio, so I wouldn't be able to do both. I've still got time to decide, though. Anyway, until next time, be excellent to each other...