Gadget Girl told me about the Betasso Link Trail off Canyon Drive a few weeks back. Today was my first chance to get up here. The trailhead sits just before and to the right of the tunnel, three miles from the edge of town on the drive toward Nederland. You can drive another mile further to Sugarloaf Road to reach a trailhead at the top if you want to skip this rugged 1.3 mile climb. I wanted the climb. It rises over 600 feet, the steepest part in the first quarter mile. That’s just about the limit of grade I can handle without walking. When Gadget Girl’s husband rides with her, they start at the top but Dave rides this link trail down. She picks him up on the drive home.
The trail is hard and slick, with intermittent boulders. A biker started out before me and I figured I would pass him. I find that I typically pass mountain bikers uphill but this guy was unreal. I did finally catch him once after he dismounted for a particularly steep rise but he passed me back quickly. Really, I was just right behind him the entire climb. And we passed several others. While slower, they were still extremely skilled. This black diamond trail is technical for bikers in both directions. For runners, it’s gorgeous. I thought of Keith’s face after he completed the first loop last weekend in the Snowmass trail race. For anyone who finds running burdensome, try running a mountain trail. Trails like this turn workouts into a rapturous experience.
The top of the climb empties into an open meadow and links to the Canyon Loop Trail – a 3.3 mile loop. A sign instructs bikers to ride counterclockwise. I read this direction alternates monthly. There are no similar guidelines for runners but commonsense implies that running clockwise is optimal so you can see bikers coming. There are also signs (you can see one if you click on the trailhead picture to enlarge it) that state no bikers on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Good to know, although I didn’t find this morning overly crowded. The bikers were all courteous and skilled well enough that we could both usually pass by without surrendering momentum. In fact, the first mile of the Canyon Loop was double track, and much of the remaining loop was still wide enough for passing. On occasion, I even yield for bikers, when it seems fair. Hate to see a biker topple over on these sharp hills.
Running was softer up top on the loop than on the link trail. Dry and not nearly as supple as the soil in Snowmass. Those trails were dreamy. My trail flats gripped those paths near the Maroon Bells like leather gloves on the steering wheel of a muscle car, accelerating through turns. The Canyon Loop contains several similar sections where the trees were thick enough that moisture clung to the dirt to turn its color black. And there were a half dozen streams which were fun to hop across. The loop was never flat, rather rolling and twisty. I took the first mile to recover from the climb but then found my legs and enjoyed some speedier running where the trail allowed.
After a single loop, I returned back down the link trail to my car. I found the descent more technical than the climb. My year old trail shoes slid a few times. Manufacturers tell you to buy new shoes every 500 miles. I tend to log over 2000 before shodding a new pair. Traction is certainly a critical criteria in trail shoes so perhaps it’s time. To survive this descent, I focused on form. The trick to avoiding slippage is to never let your feet touch the ground. Since I can’t actually fly, I begin raising my feet before they fully touch down. Very, very, quick, short steps. Allowing your heel to fully flatten is courting disaster. Running downhill like this is seriously exhausting and difficult to maintain for much more than a mile. The other technique is to walk, but even then it’s wise to avoid putting too much weight into your landing.
I made it down safely. And really, I didn’t rush down overly fast. I played it safe. I can’t believe this was my first time up on this hill. Next time I intend to run two or three loops up top. I’ll be back to Betasso.