Thursday, August 27, 2009

Schenley - Faloon/Panther Hollow Trails

So as any kid who's finished middle-school science class will tell you, the days are getting shorter. Might want to start this route before 8 p.m.

Anyway, it's a nice run. I started at Phipp's. My boss had told me about a trail but I couldn't remember the name of it. He said you'll see the sign near the fountain past Flagstaff Hill. The sign's there, but I missed it the first time around. Not to worry; it added a nice warm-up to the route.

Here's the map.

Just to the right of the Westinghouse Memorial Fountain is an opening in the woods. Start up that and stay to the right when it forks. You'll come out of the woods on the edge of the golf course; turn left and run along the edge of the woods until you hit the road. Turn left again and follow Schenley Drive back down to the fountain.

Pass the fountain and you'll see a trailhead, clearly labeled "Steve Faloon Memorial Trail." (Who was Steve Faloon? "A remarkable and gifted young man who died at age 23 of aplastic anemia." Here's an article about him and the Children's Hospital Endowment in his memory.)

It starts out packed limestone/gravel/etc. and gently works its way into the woods, where you get a bit more terrain, but nothing too serious. A root here, some stones there. You'll notice several places where it looks like you might be able to get into some steeper, rougher sections off the sides, but none seem to lead too far, and anyway the vegetation in the area is in rehab so you'd best stick to the beaten.

Where the trail splits, go right. This will lead you down to a fork for the Upper or Lower Panther Hollow trails. You can take either, as they form a loop around, you guessed it, Panther Hollow. Once you circle 'round, hop back on the Faloon trail and finish where you started.

I guess this is under 4 miles from looking at the map. Seemed a bit longer to me, but I'm a bit out of shape. And it was dark as night (literally) by the time I finished and I was a bit anxious to get back on pavement so I could see where my feet were falling.

Anyhow, nice run. Nice woods, not too buggy. Panther Hollow Lake is a nice little gem along the way (though later described as "creepy" by my fiancé). Hilly, but balanced.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hidden Valley Resort


Ski mountains are great places to run because the varying possibilities of hills, flats, surface and distance are nearly endless. You can get to Hidden Valley in about an hour from downtown Pittsburgh.

I grew up skiing at Hidden Valley and used to ride in the mountain bike races there quite a bit, so I was familiar with the mountain and had a pretty good idea of the route I wanted to take. As it turns out, the mountain bike trails have changed a bit due to some construction in the North Summit area of the mountain, but it’s still relatively easy to feel your way around.

Here’s a map of the ski trails.

Here’s a map of the bike trails.

I started at the main lodge. Beginning with a climb up Lower Continental, I realized it seems a bit steeper going up on foot than it does on a bike (let alone coming down on skis). Anyway, about halfway up you’ll see a slope connecting in on your left side--that’s Model-T; take it. By this time your breathing may be getting a bit quick. Model-T is still a climb, but gradually levels off until you reach the top, and then settles you into a nice flat section. Stay along the ridge past the chairlift and follow the path of the rope-tow over to the North Summit.

This is where it gets a bit tricky.

Option #1: You can stick to the slopes; stay to the right and follow Voyager around the edge as it winds to the bottom. (This gives you the opportunity to fit a steep descent into your run if you want to take one of the blues down, but the grass is tall and the surface is uneven, so you could be asking for a bad ankle.) Option #2: You can cut through the townhouses until you see an entry into the woods, which should be marked with a bike sign (Pyle Farm Trail). Option #3: Begin down Voyager, but keep your eyes open for a single-track trail off the right side of the slope just as it begins to turn left.

If you take Options 2 or 3, be ready for a little guesswork. Ultimately, the Pyle Farm Trail will lead you to the base of the North Summit slopes. The trail is dirt double-track for the most part, but has several unmarked single-track tributaries off either side as you go, which are very fun. If you venture off, you’re best bet is to cut left whenever given the chance so you can keep the slopes within your bearings and have some idea of where you’ll come out.

Of course, you can turn around at any time, too. This might be the easiest way to find your way back to the old motor carriage if you’re unfamiliar with the mountain. If you choose to do so, once you’re back on the main side of the mountain, Cobra or Jaguar can provide some fun downhills as you head back to the parking lot. However, same warning re: tall grass/hidden hazards—look for a worn path to follow and keep an eye on the ground.

If you choose to descend the North Summit rather than retrace your steps, you should come out somewhere around the base of the slopes. If you hit a road, go left. There are several options from here. Again, marked and unmarked trails exist. Whether you choose the pavement or the mud, stay along the bottom of hillside without getting back onto any ski trails. You’ll eventually find yourself at Lake George (more of a pond really), from where you can spot the Clocktower and let it guide you back to your car.

I have no idea how long this loop is. I didn’t check the time before I left and I didn’t have a watch. Maybe 5 miles? A little more? Less? Who knows? In any event, it’s a really fun run.

Much of the run is shady (aside from the initial climb) and breezy, making it a great loop for sunny days.

Of course, why stick to this route? For me, much of the fun in trail running is just going wherever a pathway turns and finding my way out of the woods. There are plenty of opportunities to do that at Hidden Valley, and most will eventually lead you back to the slopes and roads.