Distance: 13 miles
Weather: Partly cloudy & cool
Eager to pick up some more vertical for the week, I opted to hit White Ranch, a JeffCo Open Space park northwest of Golden, this a.m. for a "long" run. The plan was to run an outside loop of the park, stringing together the series of trails that take you to nearly every corner of the park, save for a "closed" section in the northwest corner.
Mistake #1 was sleeping in and not starting the run until around 10 a.m. By the time I started, the snow was softening up and the mud was unfreezing. As I headed up from the lower parking lot, about a mile up from Highway 93, the mud was still mostly frozen, making for decent footing as I ascended Belcher Hill.
Belcher Hill Trail
At about 2.2 miles into the climb, I hung a left onto the Mustang Trail's singletrack. Mistake #2 of the day was assuming the trails of this close-in open space park would be as packed out as those in and around Boulder. They weren't. On Mustang, I followed two sets of footprints. Fortunately, the day-old tracks appeared to be from runners, so I basically was able to go step-by-step in them. Somewhere along this stretch, the theme for the day was set...falling down. I went down twice in this 1.8 miles, not hard...mostly slow-motion, slip-off-the-trail falls. After far too long, I topped out on Belcher Hill and descended down to the road that leads to the park's upper parking lot.
From here, it was more snow, this time on the Rawhide Trail, which runs along the west and north sides of the park. Fortunately, an ATV had been down the road fairly recently and made a decent track to run on. Still, the running was by no means effortless.
Mistake #3 was deciding to add to the run a mile section of trail near the end of Rawhide. This 1-mile stretch had no tracks and was completely snow covered. About a half-mile in, the trail traversed a hillside in an open meadow. Snow had drifted knee-deep over the trail in many places. Slow going. Fortunately, the scenery was beautiful and the views sublime.
Looking northwest from the far northwest corner of the park on the Rawhide Trail
From here, it was more snow along the Longhorn Trail which traversed the hills and dales on the east side of the park, ultimately leading back to a plateau near the old White Ranch headquarters. The trail was better packed from here, but where there wasn't snow there was mud...slippery, sticky, annoying, I-shouldn't-be-running-here mud. The falling-down theme o' the day continued on this stretch as I went down at least three more times. I did manage to pause between tumbles to take in the views of snow-covered North Table Mountain.
North Table Mountain from the Longhorn Trail
The farther down the trail I went, the worse the mud got. By the time I hit the Belcher Hill Trail for the one-mile return to my car, it was a full-on mud wallowing extravaganza. I'm pretty anal about staying on a trail, rather than running around mud or puddles and creating new tracks (I want to keep my singletrack as single tracks!), so through the mud I went. Right in the worst of the mud, and right as I was passing two runners, I slipped and went down. Fortunately, I was able to execute some fine ballet-esque move, kept my feet under me and didn't end up sprawled in the mud. No doubt stifling a guffaw, one of the runners commented that he couldn't believe I didn't get more mud on me.
Fatigued and tired of running after only 13 miles, my only response was, "I can't WAIT for summer!"