On Saturday, Barry and I went for a long, tough trail run. I’ve decided that’s what weekends are for, at least for the next few months. Long, tough trail runs at places I don’t have time to drive to during the work week. That place this past weekend was the Cascades in the Jefferson National Forest (abut 50 minutes from our house). Hopefully over time my definition of a “long run” will change, but for now it’s up to 10 miles.
We arrived at the Cascades a little before noon on Saturday, after enjoying a slow start to the morning. It was a clear, sunny day with temp’s in the low 30’s. Pretty perfect set up for a trail run. As we got closer to the parking area, we saw more and more snow and ice. I was a bit worried about trail conditions and wondered if I should have brought my Snow Trax. But I never really had an issue.
Our plan was to run about 8 miles. The first two miles would be up to the Cascades waterfall. Then we would continue on from there up to a great overlook called Barney’s Wall that is another 2 miles from the waterfall. And from there we would head back, for a total of 8 miles round trip. Things didn’t quite work out like that, though.
From the parking area, Barry and I started off on our run and almost immediately split up. He’s so much faster than me! I took the lower trail, which is the more scenic trail, up to the falls. There was plenty of snow on the trail, but the only times I had traction issues was on the rock steps. They were very slick!
I did pretty good running early on, but the closer I got to the falls the steeper it got and I found myself hiking more. It was pretty tough going up all of these steps.
There were plenty of other hikers out on the trails, but it wasn’t terribly crowded. Everyone was very accommodating and allowed me to pass without issue. On my way up, I kept seeing more and more ice in Little Stony Creek. That gave me high hopes that the falls would be at least partially frozen. They’re so pretty when they freeze in winter!
After two miles of climbing, I ran around a large boulder and there in front of me was the Cascades waterfall. The Cascades is a 66 foot waterfall that comes off of a 200 foot tall cliff. It was mostly frozen, which made for beautiful scenery.
Barry and I had planned to meet up here. He had actually planned to run to the falls and then come back and find me. But he wasn’t there and I hadn’t seen him. I asked around to other hikers at the falls and they hadn’t seen him. There are two ways up to the falls: the upper trail and the lower trail. It turns out Barry had gone on the upper trail and we missed each other. It didn’t take long for us to meet up, though.
From there we headed up the Conservancy Trail, which neither of us had been on before. It was much less traveled than the trail to the waterfall. Our plan was to run two more miles up to Barney’s Wall, which is a cliff face with a great view of the New River Valley.
You probably noticed that I keep saying things like “our plan was” in regard to running to Barney’s Wall. That’s because we never got there. After about a half mile on the Conservancy Trail, we passed a sign post that said “Barney’s Wall 1 1/2.” However, neither of us read the entire sign. If we had actually stopped and looked, we would have seen we should have turned left to follow the sign. But instead we went to the right of the sign up a trail, following footsteps from people earlier in the day. There was also a fallen tree across where we were supposed to turn left, which made it hard to see it was a trail with the snow. Lesson learned: Stop and read the signs.
So we unknowingly continued on some kind of trail extension, the wrong way. We were no longer on the Conservancy Trail, and within a mile found ourselves on a forest road. I thought I remembered reading something about being on a forest road for a bit before getting back on the trail, and thought we needed to turn left. We ran and hiked for a bit and then Barry decided to split from me. I was doing more hiking than he wanted, and he wanted to run. The mistake we made was not agreeing on a time/place to turn around if we didn’t find the Barney’s Wall trail. That would become significant later.
I ran and hiked along for awhile, and eventually hit 4 miles. I kept going, expecting to see Barry. But I didn’t. Then I started getting scared being by myself on the forest road, and being unsure of where we were. I had gotten to a fork in the road and went left, which continued to climb upwards. But I wasn’t sure that’s where Barry had gone. I started calling out for him but never heard anything. I was worried something could have happened to him, worried about whether or not I should turn around, and worried that if I did turn around he’d be out there looking for me. But I was getting close to 5 miles and decided I needed to just turn around and head back. I wrote him a message in the snow, hoped for the best, and headed back.
In retrospect, I was probably being more dramatic and emotional than the situation called for. But I let my imagination run wild and I was both scared and worried. I ran all the way back down the forest road and back to the trail in the woods that lead down to the waterfall. Along the way, I passed the Barney’s Wall sign and found where we had made our mistake.
I made it back to the spot where the waterfall is, with a little over 7 miles on my watch and 2 miles left to go until the parking lot. I still hadn’t seen Barry and I was worried and stressed. I debated on what to do, and decided to wait a bit for him there. I figured if and when he came back down, I would catch him there. I saw some runners headed up the trail I had come down and told them if they saw a guy in red shorts and a blue shirt to please tell him to head on down. Nearly 30 minutes later, Barry appeared. I was so happy to see him and he ran up to me and gave me a big hug. I think we both learned a lesson about making a plan before splitting up while running trails.
From there, we headed back down the upper Cascades trail together for the final two miles back to the parking lot. We ended up with about a mile extra (at least three extra for Barry, with his forest road running) and much more time spent out there than planned. Trail lesson number two: carry extra water/fuel just in case! I had plenty of water in my pack, and Barry still had water left in his water bottle, too.
The first 4.5 miles of the run or so had essentially been all uphill. That means the last half of the run was all downhill, so the final two miles went by pretty quick. Barry and I were both really worn out and ready to be done at that point and I’m glad we saved the downhill for the end. 🙂
Overall, it was a good training run on trails and some good character building, too. Plenty of lessons learned! I look forward to returning for another trail run sometime so we can actually go to Barney’s Wall, too!
Have you ever panicked during a trail run?
Who watched the Super Bowl last night? Barry and I did, and we ate beef stew that cooked all day in the crock pot!