Why do I do this blog? Started as a place to post race reports so I wouldn't have to email them out to friends, but the more I started reading other people's blogs to decide places to run, the more I think of it as race & trail reviews. Today, I'll give you a little review of the Tanawha Trail, which goes through 3 counties (Avery, Watauga & just briefly in Caldwell) in Western NC.
I love winter running & dread the summer more & more each year. I wouldn't call the conditions on our trip to the mountains this week ideal (low 40s & rain every day but one), but I do like running in that stuff a whole lot more than the 80+ we'll get here soon.
A few good mountain runs over the break. Saw a small black bear (running away about 150m away) on one. It was just an hour run but with 1020' of climbing all in the last 35 minutes. I felt pretty strong. ...well, I dunno if that's the word for it. I kept going & it didn't seem too bad. How's that? On another 90 minute run, I climbed 2300', almost all in the last hour. Both of these runs were mostly on the singletrack & dirt "road" trails on Beech Mountain. They cut several dirt roads 30 years ago and never developed that part of the mountain, so now, they're washed out, rocky & rutty. There's even a whole golf course that was cleared but never opened & it's far from the nearest open road. Kinda eerie. It's funny the description of one of the toughest singletrack trails classifies it as easy, but only talks about going one way. They suggest having a car at the bottom to drive you back up. Yeah, it's steep there! My family's been going to Beech Mountain for 25 years, but I just discovered the trail system a year ago.
I wanted to do an out & back of the entire Tanawha Trail, but the morning I was going to do it ended up being 20 degree wind chill & driving rain. I would've been up for the challenge, but I didn't think my shorts & thin long sleeve shirt would be. Weather forecast had said highs in the 50s everyday when I was packing!
The Tanawha Trail runs roughly parallel along 13.5 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It starts at Beacon Heights, near the entrance to Grandfather Mountain & ends at Price Lake. I'd read a guide that classified it as "easy to moderate." I thought that sounded like 10-11 minute miles. Hannah told me no way. We went on a family hike to check it out a little and walked about a mile out & a mile back. It was rocky & rooty in that section, but not too bad.
I ended up being able to run one way of the Tanawha Trail on our way out of town. I was still thinking 11 minute miles was possible. After all, I was going downhill most of the way- total elevation loss of over 1000'. Well, Hannah had mentioned the upper part was more, "fun" than the lower part. Knowing her, I should've expected the climbing, scrambling & squeezing across boulders the first 4 miles gave me. It was beautiful, but not very runnable. Once I got past Rough Ridge, it was smoother sailing. Still a fairly technical trail, but I was able to get moving. The first 3 miles took me over an hour & between mile 0.5-3, it was rare for me to string together 30 running steps in a row. The rain didn't help. On a dry day, I would've taken more chances on the rocks.
It was sunny on the west side of Grandfather Mountain, but as soon as we crossed the ridge & let me out, it got immediately foggy. Couldn't see more than 50' ahead of me. All I saw at overlooks was white fog. I sort of like those days though. Feels as if I'm the only person left in the world. Felt that way the day after Christmas in the rain as I ran 60 miles by myself and didn't see another person on the trails all day.
I must've passed 50 waterfalls- some substantial & others that probably are usually dry, but with all the rain we got... Subsequently, I probably had about 10-15 creek crossings, but I wonder how many would be there on a dry day!
I told Jennifer it would take me 2:45, but clearly, that wasn't happening. I called her 1:40 into it and had only been 5 miles! I could've hopped onto the Parkway & run down it to the lake, but that's no fun. I knew most of the rocks had to be behind me & told her it would take me 1:40 more to do the last 8.5. I was pretty close & the whole 13.5 ended up taking me 3:23. Must be my slowest half marathon ever! Around Boone Fork, the trail got less rocky & there were noticeably more downhills. The last 2 miles or so were mainly through hilly pastures. Wasn't expecting that. Every turn seemed like it should be the end, but finally, I got to the lake & Jennifer & Wren were waiting & clapping like it was a race.
Would I recommend Tanawha to fellow runners? No. Yes. Not the whole thing, but an out & back to Raven Rock from Price Lake would be a great 17 miles of nice runnable trail. Save the other part for a hike & take lots of pictures as you crawl across boulders, over waterfalls, under the Viaduct, and onto rocks which I assume have great views of the surrounding mountains. ...fog's all I saw. :)
Going the way I went, you lose elevation, but you climb a lot too. 3680' over 13.5 miles when you're losing a net of over 1000' is a lot more than I'd expected. I wouldn't classify the ups & downs I did as that hard though. Going the other way, I'm sure it would be more difficult.