- Date: January 22, 2017
- Location: Smith Rock State Park
- Start: SRSP parking lot
- Distance: 12 miles
- Duration: 2 hours 51 minutes (breaks not included)
- Elevation gain: 3220 feet
- Type: Modified loop with some out-and-back
- References: http://smithrock.com/explore-at-smith-rock-state-park/trail-run/
The second adventure of our weekend in Central Oregon commenced with me missing our alarm (or it failing to go off). Thank goodness we were camped at Tumalo State Park, located a mere 30 minutes from Smith Rock. We packed up and hit the road in under an hour, arriving at the Smith Rock parking lot just after 9 am. We were only one of two cars there. The sky was a dark, moody gray and a mixture of snow and rain was falling. I’d anticipated this since I’d checked the National Weather Service forecast just before we left the previous morning and kept my fingers crossed that the “mostly sunny after 10 am” part came through. We decided to wait it out and use the time to prepare our running packs, don our trail shoes, and get in our bathroom breaks. When I emerged from the restroom just a few minutes into our decision to wait out the weather, I was greeted with a complete cease in the snowy-rainy precipitation and a little bit of sunshine peeking through the clouds! What a turnaround from the previous day at Tumalo Falls! We slipped on our microspikes and headed down Canyon Trail.
After crossing the bridge over Crooked River we came to our first endeavor: the notoriously steep Misery Ridge Trail. I’m still amazed that we decided to start with this, especially since our legs weren’t warmed up at all yet. It was definitely more of an alternating slow jog/power hike than an actual run as we gained 700+ feet in 0.7 miles. The combination of loose rock, ice, and snow didn’t make it any easier. However, the views we gained as we rose higher and higher helped to ease the struggle. We could see across the way to the other big hill we’d eventually tackle: Burma Road Trail.
We stopped for a few minutes at the top to take in a glorious view of the park, including the iconic Monkey Face. (Guess it was a good thing that I’d missed my alarm or we might have been up at the top while it was still snowing/raining!) During the summer I came here a few times to attend some climbing seminars, but we’d never ventured up this way. I’ve got to say it’s definitely a spot you don’t want to miss if you visit Smith Rock. Totally worth the elevation gain! And, since it was still early in the day and the weather hadn’t completely cleared up yet, we had this incredible spot all to ourselves.
Seeing as we were barely a mile into our run, we decided to get a move on after snapping a few pictures. Now, it’s easy to assume that running downhill will be a lot faster than the uphill. Unfortunately, our descent of Mesa Verde Trail was just the opposite. The deep snow and patches of ice made it impossible to move quickly. At least we got a more complete view of Monkey Face (see cover photo)!
After getting to the base, we headed back to the Misery Ridge Trail junction on the River Trail. Finally some relatively flat terrain! My legs already felt like jelly and we weren’t even a quarter of the way into our run. Now that we weren’t hugging any steep drop-offs, I thought it would be nice to let Cassie off-leash for a short while. I should mention that the rule at Smith Rock is that dogs need to be kept on leash. I knew this, but I figured a few minutes wouldn’t be harmful, especially since 1) she’s been very good about staying on trail and close to us on past adventure runs, 2) there was no one on the trail yet, and 3) we planned on putting her back on leash as we neared the bridge or if we saw hikers up ahead on the trail. Big mistake. At first, Cassie was behaved and jogged close in front of me. Then, after barely a minute or two, she just took off down the trail at breakneck speed! Crap. As we rounded the bend up head, we saw her run straight into the river after a duck. (Maybe that stuffed duck toy we bought her a few weeks back wasn’t such a good idea?) Ugh. She wasn’t caught in the river’s current yet, but she was still trying to make it out to that damn duck! Mack quickly removed his pack and went in after her, picking her up by her pack’s handle and carrying her out while she flailed her legs in the air. We breathed sighs of relief and put her right back on leash. Lesson learned. Needless to say, she stayed on that leash the rest of our run. And I think it’s time we invested in some obedience training.
The rest of our run on the River Trail went smoothly. We passed the Misery Ridge Trail junction and continued on the Wolf Tree Trail on the east side of the park. Like the River Trail, this Wolf Tree is mostly flat and continues along Crooked River. After a mile though, we started uphill again to the junction with Burma Road Trail on BLM land. The clouds were starting to part at this point, revealing blue skies and sunshine behind them.
Although not as steep as Misery Ridge, Burma Road ended up being far more difficult because of the trail conditions. Not only was there a lot of snow, but the quality of the snow was unpredictable all the way up! Sometimes it was firm enough that you could run over it without sinking. Other times you’d end up post holing a good 7-10 inches. Little did we know that this wouldn’t be the end of our battle with the snow conditions. It wouldn’t even be the worst part. At least the skies were clear now. We could see several Cascade volcanoes in addition to Smith Rock!
At the top of Burma Road, we took another short break before starting down the Summit Trail, which would wind its way through the north end of the park and eventually drop us back down on the River Trail on the west side.
The trail switchbacks down nearly 1.3 miles before reaching a junction with the Summit Trail viewpoint. Of course, the entire trail was under deep snow. We spent most of this section tip toeing through post holes or side stepping across angled snow slopes. Not sure we got much running in until we made it past the viewpoint junction. Even then the conditions didn’t improve all that much, but the likelihood of slipping and sliding down a long, steep hill had decreased at least. The view at the junction wasn’t half bad either.
After the top of Misery Ridge Trail, my next favorite spot (particularly now that the sun was shining high in the sky) was the final descent to the junction with the River Trail. Monkey Face, Christian Brothers, and Crooked River all in a single view? Absolutely perfect.
We had a little over 2 miles left on the River Trail before reaching the bridge again. It felt so good to actually run again now that we were out of the deep snow. It’s incredible how different the area seemed now that the weather was completely different than when we’d run on the River Trail earlier that day! I hardly recognized it! We didn’t see a lot of climbers, but there were definitely an increased number of people hiking the trail now.
After crossing the bridge we had one final hill left: Canyon Trail up to the parking lot. My legs were spent by the time I was half way up (especially after a few days of being sick and not running at all). Mack and Cassie pushed on while I stayed behind and fast hiked up the last section to the parking lot. Not the strong finish I was hoping for. We decided to continue on the Rim Rock Trail for about a half mile to cool down our legs and get one final view of the park. As an added bonus, I got to finish strong since we didn’t end on a hill.
Mack, Cassie, and I had such an amazing time exploring this geological masterpiece. Not only was it fun to see it in a different season, but I love that we got to explore so much of it via trail running! It was the perfect end to our Central Oregon weekend adventure. Now we are even more stoked to return in March to do some actual climbing.