Thursday, April 2, 2020

Shining Rock Wilderness Half Marathon

Before I even leave the truck I realize I had forgotten my shirt and as soon as I start up the trail I realize I forgot my map as well. I haven't been on this stretch of trail in a few months and I notice they added new signs reminding hikers to have all the things I forgot. Welcome to Shining Rock.

Akira and I have set out to do my classic Shining Rock Wilderness Half Marathon loop. Starting from Big East Fork Trailhead we will climb Shining Creek trail to the Art Loeb and then descend Greasy Cove to Big East Fork. A true mountain run that will test both the dog and myself. The forest and trailhead are crawling with people looking to escape their isolation and as we start up the trail we have to negotiate plenty of clueless masses who do not expect someone to be running but I know that once we start the big climb the herds will have thinned out and by the time we reach Greasy Cove we will have the woods all to ourselves.

It is unseasonably hot and the trees have not leafed out yet leaving us exposed and sweltering as we work our way up the trail. Akira quickly shows her intelligence by laying down in the first little bit of running water we encounter. I help her cool down by spraying her with water from my bottle and then refill it and purify the water with bleach. It seems so simple. Water and bleach. But nothing is that simple anymore and bleach itself seems like a luxury and necessity. But I came here to get away from those thoughts and so up the mountain we go.

Shining Creek Trail is always harder than I imagine it is. I've had some epics on this trail including getting hypothermia and literally hugging trees to try and get warm but today it is not cold or epic. It is just hot and exposed but we have no reason to go fast or to worry. There is plenty of worry waiting for us back out in the real world. We take it easy and stop for water at every opportunity. This cove is a place of enormous beauty and today we have it all to ourselves.

After two miles more of rocks than there should have been, we finally hit the Art Loeb and while things flattened out some the rocks didn't end. We also started to encounter people again and one group of hikers we encountered ensured me Greasy Cove was in the other direction but I knew better and we continued on up and over Flower Knob towards Ivestor Gap.

It is still really hot out and we are completely exposed and although I am not missing my shirt I know I am getting sunburnt and it is time to start getting down the mountain. Akira, meanwhile, continues to cool down at every opportunity.

By the time we hit Ivestor I am starting to second guess myself as to where exactly Greasy Cove trail is and was wishing I have my map but know I don't need it and we run right through the gap.

I have to imagine I know Greasy Cove as well as anyone. I have hiked it, ran it, fished it and canyoneered it many times. It is one of the most remote and least used trails in the district and one of the most special. From the ridge up high to the creek down low it is a place of immense beauty. Akira and I manage to make quick work of it compared to the trip up Shining Creek and before we know it we are at the confluence.

Big East Fork means the hoards of people reappear but the end is near. Big East Fork is indeed big both in terms of size and volumes as well as beauty. By this time we have passed the ten-mile mark but Akira is still running strong. The closer we get to the trailhead the more and more people there are. On we run and manage to finish the route feeling strong but quite sunburnt!

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