Halloween in the Flathead Valley in northwest Montana can be a scary time. Dress your daughter as a princess, and chances are pretty good that the costume will end up hidden under a large winter coat and hat. Dress your son in a warm gorilla costume and chances are just as good you will need to treat him for heat stroke. You just never know.
October 31, 2012 dawned in a fickle mood. It could have gone either way, cold and wet or partly cloudy and warm-ish. It was with this uncertainty that I decide to hit one of my B-list adventure runs (my A-list runs are in the alpine zone of the surrounding mountains, and currently have a slushy snow pack). The Logan Creek loop, according to the Flathead National Forest Mountain Bike map, is 9 miles of forest service roads and single track trail. The climbing looked to be about 1800 feet. I figured it would take about 3 hours. I would find out that this map was the first trick.
I emailed my wife my itinerary and headed out the door with my running pack and supplies. It wasn’t until I was about 3 miles from the trailhead that I noticed there was still snow in the area. I had hoped that it had melted off at the 3000 to 5500 foot levels I would be running in. I parked my car at Tally Lake (the deepest natural lake in Montana) and I headed out unsure if I was going to complete my loop. Perhaps this would be an out and back. The run begins on a Forest Service dirt road (#913) along the lovely Logan Creek. There was about 4 inches of snow on the road, but hunters in trucks had cleared two rutted tracks. The climbing was constant but easy.
Turning left on to the only section of pavement brought me to more climbing along Star Meadow. This is the only place I saw a cars. It is the heart of the hunting season and I expected to run into more traffic. I took a left on to Forest Service Rd #313 and then another quick left on to #2912. I was pleased to see someone had driven up this remote road in the recent past. The snow was getting a little deeper, and it was nice to run on dirt ruts cleared by the trucks. The road forked and I went right on to #2912b.
Here is where things started going a little sideways. As I climbed the dirt road the snow started to decrease as I went up in altitude. This is counterintuitive, but helpful. I had to leap multiple puddles and little streams in the ruts. The map said the trail began where the road ended. The road steepened a little, but I made good time. I got to the end of the road, but no trail. I was now 8 ½ miles from my car on a planned 9 mile run.
I circled the area for about 20 min looking for any sign of a trail. Fortunately, it was still early (about 2:00) and mostly downhill to the car. I always try and leave a little extra in the tank on these adventure runs, so running back to the car wouldn’t be pleasant, but it wouldn’t be desperate. My GPS showed the car only 2-3 miles away, but that was straight line distance. I knew that was 2 to 3 miles of up and down, over downed trees and a few swamps and cliffs. Nope, there was nothing to do but turn back.
Going downhill I made good time skipping over puddles and such. A mile and half into my return… there it was! How did I miss it? It was right on the turn with a standard, reflective forest service sign. I was expecting the trail at the end of the road, not midway up the hill, and I was looking at my footing not the side of the road. All told, I ran an extra 3 miles.
I ran up the trail and came to road. “Oh, I wonder where…” Crap, the same road I had just ran down. The trail continued again in caddy-corner direction across the road with another… yep, large reflective sign. That will teach me. Three tricks this Halloween. I hope the single track is a treat.
And, it was. The single track was beautiful with yellow larch trees and medieval fog, but little snow. The climbing got steeper, much steeper. I kept my eyes peeled for the junction with trail #800. It should be easy to see, but with my luck I didn’t want to miss it. There were many trees down across the trail after the last storm. I kept climbing until I came to the “summit” and the trail junction. I had another 2 ½ miles to my car - all of it downhill. I had ran 12 ½ miles and climbed 2800 feet. The trail was fantastic and I worked on keep my fatigued form in check. There where some wonderful views of Tally Lake and the Salish Range.
All and all this was a fantastic adventure. I got out into the mountains in the fall and did a nice run. I accomplished my goals of 1) having fun, 2) burn fat, 3) don’t get hurt. The lesson learned is to pull my head out of my arse. I was never lost, just misdirected, but it could have been a bad deal if it had been later, or I hadn’t left any fuel in the reserve tank. But, I guess if everything went perfectly it wouldn’t have been an adventure. I need some tricks and treats on my Halloween run.