Thursday, August 26, 2010

Battle Creek Single Track

SINGLE TRACK ROUTE OVERVIEW (Note: follow single track through the XX Ski trail area into the woods)

I love Battle Creek. I run Battle Creek. I keep running Battle Creek. I never see other runners at Battle Creek. I'd love to run Battle Creek with others and share my experience. Therefore, I've slapped together a mini-guide to the lovely, technical, hilly single track (NOTE: avoiding the wide ski trails, which are also very nice) of the county park I hold so dear. When I can't get away to Afton or the North Shore. When I want something like the Snowshoe loop of Afton's 25k course, but want more of it. When I want to get ready for moderate length, steep, technical hills akin to the north shore (sans excessive rocks and roots and more realistically runnable), I head to Battle Creek.

ELEVATION PROFILE (Note: data from Garmin 305; +/- 50 ft)

Sure the elevation gain/loss is half that of Afton. But it still provides ample opportunity for ass-whooping good times on its steep hill after hill vector. Think of this course as a condensed Afton, both horizontally and vertically; a step up in grade from Hyland, to be sure, but still runnable in entirety. That is, until you start stacking loops such as what I affectionately refer to as the Dukkha Loop.

The course I have grown to love starts at the visitor's center parking lot. It snobbishly avoids the wide ski trail leaving the lot and takes the nice multi-user single track mountain bike/hiking course 50 feet from the car. Stay on that delicious sinew as it winds through Big Blue Stem and Indian Grass and a small patch of trees until it joins a major ski course. Jeer left for 50 feet and look for a "Do Not Enter" mountain bike sign. Mountain bikers follow a distinct direction on their loops. Since this is a multi-user course, it's best to run against bike traffic (the course here-in described). That being said, I only occasionally need to jump off to the side to allow the passage of our bi-wheeled friends, so don't be too amped up on needing to dive off into the ground cover; the track is under-utilized.

The single track drops down and left via a moderately technical stretch to a nice meander through the ferns and woods. It crosses another major ski track, up and over a log and follows Lower Afton for a jaunt where it veers up and right just short of South Battle Creek Road. Surmount a short hill, drop down the other side and look for your single track through the woods as it winds up a hill on the other side of the major ski trail you'll need to cross. This is is a great warm up hill with some nicely placed stones (thanks mountain bikers) to fortify the slope in one short stretch. Avoid taking a faint track left down a ridge/spine that would lead back to the ski trail. Top out onto another major ski tack and take a left, downhill. Follow this major artery for 0.15 miles to a somewhat inobvious abrupt left jaunt down single track towards South Battle Creek Road. If you miss this, continung on the ski trail brings you to Battle Creek Elementary and more Hyland Park-esk ski trail.

Cross South Battle Creek Road and head to the right for 75 feet to a chained off trail head and jump it (don't worry, the chain droops nearly to the ground - even my 40 yr old butt can leap this obstacle). Veer left at the immediate Y. This path takes you around the souhteast side of "Hole in the Prairie." Follow this track to a T-intersection and go left. I like to then opt for the nice little technical footing track that drops off to the right within about 50 feet of the T. This brings you to the top of the "Garnet Canyon Primer" (a much, oh so severely, reduced switchback trail of the approach to the Lower Saddle of the Grand Teton's infamous 26, or so, major switchbacks, but hey, I like grand descriptions). Drop down this fun section sticking to the major trails (avoid short circuits that cause erosion - don't be lazy). Touch the "Blarney Stone" (a nylon post at the trail's junction with Point Douglas Road south) and turn around. Go back up hill. Do not collect $200.

GARNET CANYON PRIMER - Northern perspective (note: at places in these photo overlays, the GPS data shows two tracks; that's an artifact of the innacuracy of the GPS not lining up the return or second lap I ran in that area)

Gallivant back to the T and go left, this time. This whole area is currently under ecological restoration. In another 10 years, this will be, hopefully, a terrific example of Oak patient and, in the mean time, watch out for 1-2 inch dia. stumps. The track fades into woodland now and switches back, then drops to the top of a major switch back mountain bike track that looks way too fun. Consider taking up mountain biking as you express your best discipline by staying center, then right on all possible tacks. Exit the roller coaster at a nice boulder as you spill out onto pavement (road runners: this pavement trail is an EXCELLENT running course that starts at the Point Douglas Rd parking lot and goes up through the park along the Battle Creek itself all the way to the water park and picnic grounds. It then joins nice, easy trail running through areas including a dog park - check it out).

DUKKHA LOOP - Northeast perspective. North Shore Primer descends/ascends slope on left of view

OK, now that we're warmed up, run across the parking lot and catch the sandy single track right of the biking path's tunnel under Hwy 61. Perform a graceful switchback back uphill, to right, to catch the main hiking trail avoiding a faint mountain bike trail off left and a rock step; also left. Shortly after the trail veers left, away from the parking lot, catch a lesser groomed trail to the left. You've missed it if you hit stairs uphill. This neat mountain bike trail (signed) contours languidly, at first, up the west side of the bluff. You'll do one rising slope, a switchback to the right, then one to the left, rise up a slope and then catch a left at the next switchback. Instead of taking the switchback to the right, jaunt fearlessly to the left. Your legs are massive.
Follow this track to a crossing with another single track. Continue through this, straight. Don't go right. Don't go left. Right takes you backwards towards the stairs I mentioned earlier. Left dead-ends at an overlook (nice photo opp). Drop down the eroded track/gully wash down, down, despairingly down, ducking under and jumping over possible dead fall, until you bottom out on an abandoned asphalt road that nature is successfully reclaiming; albeit by primary colonizing weeds (avert your eyes Jason and Amy). Sternly let loose a gruff vocalization and head back up the North Shore Primer.
When you return to the intersection of single tracks described earlier, take a left to join the main track. You'll need to take one more immediate left to avoid returning to the parking lot at the end of Point Douglas Rd. Diligently follow this track up short, steep, loose, root-bound trails, keeping right at all times for full flavor. Summit at an old concrete foundation for what was once, I imagine, a look out tower or ski jump. Keep right and drop down steep sand (watch for poison ivy especially late in the summer). Avoid any paths to left. One or two less frequented trails drop down prematurely to the asphalt bike/walking path on the right, so stay on the main trail following a beautiful, casual single track down a nice rib and contour until you spill out onto the asphalt.

DUKKHA LOOP - Southwest perspective
Immediately across from you, on the other side of the asphalt path, you'll see a tempting, sandy single track rising through the Smooth Brome (Jason, Amy, settle now - in good time) grass....avoid temptation. Instead, take a right on the asphalt. Begrudgingly follow it until it crosses the Creek (0.15 miles) where you'll see signage for the mountain bike path at the edge of the woods. Take a left into the woods here and cross an immediate single track, then left to catch the main trail up and out of the last major hill of the Dukkha Loop. Run, or power walk, up this nice hill to its summit at a Y.
If you want another 2 mile repeat of the Dukkha Loop take a right. Follow it, keeping to the right, a short distance to reach the point where you started dropping down the Mountain Bike Switchback trail you already descended earlier. Repeat the loop. Way to go! Repeat as necessary until you feel your father would be proud of you.
When you're done with the Dukkha loop, take the exit pitch Y to the left to escape the perils. Follow this back to South Battle Creek Road and reverse the warm up section described earlier.
The running at Battle Creek is more technical than most trail running within 45 minutes drive of the Twin Cities. If you you stick to the single track and avoid the ski trails you'll enjoy the flavor of Afton's Snowshoe loop. The hills a steeper than Hyland but shorter than Afton so it fits nicely between the two somewhat polar opposites of trail running styles. I love the combo of technicality, steep yet not insane hills and proximity to home. It is not the place to log major log days, hoverer, unless you're needing the mental training of repeating loops such as the Dukkha Loop. For really long days, I'd recommend doing the route as described with one repeat of the Dukkha loop per lap. Maybe adding a second or third go at the Garnet Canyon or North Shore Primer would be beneficial for those heading to the Superior Trail Races or other gnarly races. Probably too steeply hilly for Leadville, or similar, training.
I sincerely hope this posting provides you an experience close to what I keep having at Battle Creek. Contact me any time for a run.