Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sheep Mountain Trail Running

Trail map signs and friendly wooden park benches greet
trail users all along the loops.
“Hey,” I yelled.  “Bear,” I finished a second later.  I was trying to get the words out on consecutive exhales as I ran uphill on a trail called Roller Coaster.  I wasn't greeting bears, I was trying to warn them off.  I clapped, too, but that interrupted my arm pumps which, in turn, messed up my cadence and that bothered me because the rocky terrain was making my pace irregular enough.  I rounded a corner and just about jumped out of my shoes when, for an instant, I mistook a hiker and her (distinctly un-black) Lab for a couple of bears.

Roller Coaster is one of six loops that the owners of Sheep Mountain Lodge (Mile 113 Glenn Highway) and other area residents constructed for hiking, biking, and skiing.  I’ve known of these trails for quite a while and once, my husband and I hiked to the top of Roller Coaster, then up into the rusty scree and outcrops that are so eye-catching from the highway.  But, on this day, I had time to kill while waiting for Matt to complete the Fireweed Bike Across Alaska’s 50-mile time trial.  After sitting in the sun on the Lodge’s lawn, I suited up and struck out to explore more of the trail circuit.

Trails are a combination of tracks like
this and dry creek beds.
I set out along the airstrip, running east to the furthest trailhead – Roller Coaster (.9 mile loop).  The trail started out as a dry creek bed and then morphed into a good 4-wheeler trail.  When the tracks became overgrown with willow, I lost interest in proceeding.  I turned around, jogging back down over loose stones to an intersection with Main Trail.  I stopped, consulted the black-and-white map I’d picked up at the Lodge’s restaurant where I’d enjoyed a cup of excellently brewed Kaladi coffee earlier.  I decided to take Main Trail down to Cruiser.

Need a spare part?  There's got to be a hundred dead
Volvo station wagons here!
Cruiser is a .7 mile loop that presents a perfect grade and surface for trail running.  It is a well-established trail with a solid base and runners get enough roots to make for fun bounding, but not so many that it gets monotonous.  The downhill is as good as the uphill on this loop.  Cruiser ends just a few yards downhill of Squirrel, a .2 mile long loop.  I was running out of time if I wanted to be back at the finish line in time to see Matt cross, so I headed back down stream across more creek rubble to Main Trail, then followed it to a spur that deposited me at the Volvo station wagon grave yard.  I ran back up the airstrip to complete my route.

The trail system includes three additional loops:  Corkscrew (.7), Thriller (.9) and Serpentine (.8).  The trails beg further exploration and I am especially interested in sampling them again in the winter when the cross-country trail groomer is setting tracks!

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