Illinois is not well known for being a trail running state, so when an actual semi -wilderness trail is found, we must rejoice and run the dang thang! On a beautiful day, my cousin Brian and his college daughter Erika headed out to the Farmdale Rez for a jaunt through the woods in a natural wooded area with streams, pine stands (rare in IL), steep ravines, and the usual trail obstacles of roots and rocks. Not bad for IL and with it being April, we only got wet with sweat, not drenched as we would be in mid summer. And, bonus, too early for ticks, mosquitoes, and poison ivy.
Once my home course when I lived in Aspen this loop is great for trail running and offers all conditions – hot and sunny, cold and snowy, mud and post holing in deep snow, and – all on the same day! May 14, 2016 – parked at bottom of Smuggler Mountain Road and made my way toward Lani White Trail to connect to the Hunter Creek Valley with intentions of going up to Four Corners. Oops! Controlled burn going on and got rerouted up the backside of Smuggler. Across Hunter Creek into a meadow, back into the trees and with late season snow, lots of snow and mud. That’s why I wear my mud shoes on days when who knows what the conditions will be? Fun adventure – talked to Bryce from Pitkin County open space who was ‘guarding’ the road to Four Corners to keep people from going up to the Controlled Burn. We discussed forest fires in valley and beyond. Good kid and we walked together across Hunter Creek bridge and along Hunter Creek till trails split. He is a UPer! We talked about the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He missed some stuff but not the mosquitoes and black flies! His family has had a subsistence farm for 120 years. Ran into Ryan at the top of the steepest part of the trail and he was observing fire across valley from a huge mine tailings pile. We also discussed forest fires in the west. He had been around. Washington, Oregon. Mount San Jacinto above Palm Springs. Fire habits of strange behavior and weather conditions. Unpredictability! Told him about the forest fire simulator at Northern New Mexico College. On the north facing trail, there was heavy snowpack for mid May. I opted for the snow run which means going through heavy pine and aspen forest trail till I popped out at Smuggler Mountain road 4 tenths of a mile above Observation Deck. Spectacular views of the Roaring Fork Valley.
Aspen Brewing Company has a tasting room in town. Casual upstairs atmosphere with small deck and views of Aspen Mountain. All of their beers are good in their category. Because of my need for a hop fix after running Hunter Creek and doing over 12 hundred feet of vertical, my hop craving may be for their hops having anti-inflammatory properties. My favorite is the Conundrum Red – well balanced in body, hops and malt. For first timers, get the full on shotski sampler with all their beers. As always, the brewery, which does not serve food, is dog friendly! Always plenty of petting possibilities available! Have a beer and strike up a conversation about beer or find out what people had been doing for fun earlier in day. For me it was trail running but several 20 somethings were on their fourth pitcher as they had been up since about 2 am and skinned up (having traction skins under skis allowing to hike in snow) to ski down Castle and Conundrum Peaks. The tasting room has a great vibe and while taking a sip of your fave ale, turn around and look up Aspen Mountain. Their deck looks straight up the Ridge of Bell. Skied many a mogul coming down that run. Fun in soft spring bumps or deep powder! Memories…
Red Hill Trail is quite unique. Till now, I have only run it in winter and on those occasions it was quite cold and the snow was deep. On the sun facing side the trail was slick red mud or frozen solid and scary slippery. Always fun but caution is always advised as the trail is really steep on the part directly above highway 82.
Fast forward to May 12, 2016. Nursing a bit of a stiff knee but since there are no excuses, I thought I would do a short maintenance run. And this time, I thought I would take the steep part up so as not to torture my knee on the way down. Steep alright, 713 feet in the first mile. My engine was running hot after that climb. Then it mellowed, I stopped and took a few pictures. Someone has left a dog bowl at the top as there is no water on the trail so occasionally people will water their own dogs or leave water in it for the person who has their dog but no water bottle with them. Professional courtesy from dog owners.
Red Hill trail is accessible from the parking lot at junctions of Highways 82 and 133 and can get crowded from commuter traffic, hikers and mountain bikers on busy nice weather days. Worth a one time at least. And, Roaring Fork Beer Company is close by. 1941 Dolores Way. Head south on 133 toward Carbondale. Take a right on Dolores Way and find your way back. The tasting room is several businesses down a dead end part past several other businesses in the business park. roaringforkbeerco.com – 970-963-5870
BEER REVIEWS – They were out of some of the beers that I wanted to try but that is a good sign that they are popular and with brilliant deduction skills, probably good! The AMF Amber is a lager and is tasty. More body than most lagers especially mass brewed lagers. NOTE: Don’t go hoppy first and attempt to come back to drinking the AMF. Good choice for first beer! Tangelo IPA, a 6.5% ABV, is a collaboration beer between Kannah Creek in Grand Junction and Colorado Boy in Ridgeway. I have had the privilege to drink at both those breweries and knew it would be good. It is excellent! But, then I tried the Street Cred Imperial Red, a 7.2% ABV beverage and since I only had time for one big beer – had to go Red to match the trail and it is a really nice drinking beer.
We never know what May will bring in the mountains. This year, lotso snow up high, rain in the lower valleys, wind, sun, all of which to contribute to mud and more mud. Proper equipment, old running shoes dedicated to mud runs only, makes mud fun no matter what a person’s age or sex may be. Think of the popularity of mud runs! Colorado mountain trails let runners get just as muddy for free. Free mud, free beer! Well, at least the mud can be free. Free beer tomorrow signs are always fun and Bakers’ Brewery (thebakersbrewery.com) are known for their signs – the ones shown here are in the boy’s room – haven’t been in the girl’s room to check their signs. Yet:).
Ptarmigan Trail trailhead can be found above the Baker’s Brewery. From the trailhead, go up – the first six tenths of a mile is a heart pounding and air sucking experience but if you have not collapsed in the 9200 feet elevation, relax, it levels out and becomes a steady climb. Views of I-70 below, Dillon, Silverthorne, Dillon Reservoir, all the way to Breckenridge, the upper parts of Keystone Ski Area, Ten Mile Range, and across the Blue River Valley above Silverthorne to the west are the impressive mountains of the Gore Range. From hill covered sage and rocks, the forest begins. Cruise through meadows, into Aspen trees. into pines, many of which are beetle killed lodgepole but the understory with new trees is coming back!
My jaunt up the trail was cut short as the snow on the north facing side was deep in spots, the afternoon had warmed up enough that post holing could not be avoided. Wasn’t really up for it on this day so wandered into the woods a bit and then made a unanimous decision that I was thirsty. Off to Baker’s Brewery for cold one.
Drop off the Ptarmigan Trail, enjoy the views of Summit County and head straight to Bakers’ Brewery for refreshments and food. Off season is a great time to visit as several motels are directly across the parking lot. Nice big bar, good beers, good food and a comfortable atmosphere with big windows for staring west to the Gore Range.
Pleasures – Once above the first 6 tenths of a mile the trail mellows out. Can go all the way to Ptarmigan Peak if so desired! 12 miles round trip. Nice jaunt through the woods for humans and dogs, over streams, nice views across to Gore Range and down into Blue River Valley. Alternating stands of aspen, into beetle kill pine stands, which are interesting visuals of Mother Nature’s culling of lodgepole pine forests. Trail is fairly soft though there are places to hop scotch over rocks and roots but that is one of the greatest pleasures of trail running! Perils – If it is windy, be careful as the beetle kill pines are falling over regularly. Had one friend get hit by a falling tree in a wind storm and ended up in the hospital for a week. Lightning is common during thunderstorm season. No dangerous animals of which to speak but you never know! Don’t be staring at the views for to long, lest a root or rock grab your shoe, resulting in the classic trail running digger.