Running in the High Desert of Central Oregon has always been a joy, no matter the weather. I say that of course, given the inordinate amount of sunshine we get compared to our dear friends to the west and it certainly is easier to get outside more often given our incidental amount of rainfall (less than 7” per year). With that said, it is important to point out that we also get much colder during the winter than those in the “valley” which often leads to prolonged ice and snow accumulation on the roads and trails. As an avid trail runner, choppy snow that has frozen over is not an ideal running surface, just so you know…it’s my “pro-tip” for the day (I like to keep my readers informed, hehe).
About two weeks ago we got roughly 8-9 inches of snow here and following the storm the temperatures never got above 25 for a week (yay, ice). The day it snowed I snuck out for a 10 mile trail run on a very heavenly snow-covered piece of single track called Juniper Trail (which is associated with the Masten Trail). The trailhead is on Cline Falls Road, just ¾ mile south of the entrance to Eagle Crest and is a favorite for local mountain bikers and runners alike. The trails offer a variety of loops that provide a runner anywhere from 4-5 miles to as many as you’d like by just working the interconnecting trail system to its max. My advice for newbies, however, is to check out the map at either trailhead before taking off and even better yet, find someone who knows the trails. It is common knowledge that runners get lost out there a lot. Eventually you can run your way out of the area but by then you are miles from your car. Of course, maybe your goal was 34 miles that day, so it could all work out.
Assuming you don’t get lost, the trails are really quite perfect for trail running lovers. There are rocks but not to any great degree. The trails often roll up and down and the topography of the area is spectacular. The main outside loop is roughly 13 miles from start to finish. Because of the many connecting trails that run through the middle, it’s easy to run 20 miles out there. And because there are no serious hills, up or down, the running is just flat out fun. Throw a couple of inches of fresh snow down, strap on your YakTrax and run man, run!!
The day I ventured out, I wondered how many brave souls I might see. The temperature was 21 and the skies were overcast. A light snow was falling and there were no cars on the Juniper side and no tracks in the snow indicating anyone had been out recently. But knowing that the Masten trail is another place that runners/hikers can park, I hoped I might see at least 1 or 2 friends along the way (I love “running” into friends on the trail). As it turned out, there were no fresh human tracks anywhere, just a few deer (which are common out there). While it might seem a little hazardous to run trails in snow, especially if you haven’t done much of it, let me be the first to tell you that once you get the chance you will seek out the opportunity again and again. The fresh snow actually provides an additional layer of give beyond that of the trail. What this means is a landing that is similar to running on the sand down by the shoreline. There is just enough give to provide a little resistance but not enough to slow your pace that much, unless you choose to. It certainly helps to know the trails well, especially if there are rocks involved, but the snow also provides a buffer against obstacles in most cases. And even if you do go down, accidentally, it’s fresh snow. So it’s just like that time you got pushed down in the snow by your big brother…only without the slush ball down your shirt.
That run ended up being my only really good snow run following the dump we got. By the next day, everything had turned rock hard and running on the trails got to be difficult. I mostly ran roads with my Yax and waited a few days to get back to the trails. Running in the snow is a treat and I highly recommend it, provided you have the right gear and know the trail. If you don’t, look for my tracks around mile 33, I’m out there somewhere.