the north face zephyr triclimate jacket A running challenge to love
Let me count the ways I love Smith Rock State Park, and let me begin with the views from on top.
This Central Oregon mecca for rock climbing and hiking offers expansive views from the Central Oregon desert and the red, orange and light brown rock cliffs that tower above the Crooked River.
The park is located a half hour north of Bend and three and a half hours south of Longview. I had arrived on a recent Saturday to run the ominously named Misery Ridge Trail, a four mile loop path that gains more than 700 feet of elevation.
If you’re going to run or hike Misery Ridge, bring plenty of water and a high carb snack. This trail, for all its beauty, is a killer.
You begin the run by descending a short trail down to the Crooked River, crossing a small bridge and head west on the River Trail, which hugs the river. You also can run this trail east, but you’ll start immediately on a brutal incline that’s far more difficult than running in the opposite diriection.
Running westbound on the River Trail, you’ll come to the junction with the Mesa Verde Trail, which takes you east.
I tried running up the 45 degree rise but tired out and settled on hiking instead. I slogged up and up and up before turning slightly south onto the Misery Ridge Trail. I took several breaks along Misery Ridge and, I admit, rarely ran it. Though the slowdown was frustrating, the view makes up for it.
To the west, a cadre of climbers snuck up a goblet of rock like spiders. Their carabiners jangled against their belts and the rock face as they ascended. You can’t help but stop and admire them.
The view from the ridgeline is gold. A nuclear blue sky kisses the high desert ground, which is punctuated by the summits of Mount Bachelor, Three Sisters, Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson.
The descent was a bit tricky. The steep and tough ground is slippery with a thin layer of dust. When more rocks broke the surface of the trail, I launched myself off of them as I rushed back down to the river.
At the bottom of the trail, I hadn’t exhausted my muscles yet, so I turned east onto the Wolf Tree trail, an easy path that follows the river.
If you’re new to trail running and I certainly am the Wolf Tree trail is a blessing. It gains little in elevation, offers plenty of shade and keeps you mercifully close to the river.
A short ways down the trail, a giant ponderosa pine offers shade where it bear hugs the trail with its burly, curving bright red arms.
A small crowd of boys dilly dallied with fishing poles along a stretch of calm river, just downstream from where horses and their riders cross. A blue heron took flight, skimming the water with its feet. The din of rapids floated downstream and reminded me that there were a few places that the Crooked River wasn’t lazy.
I suggest taking a brief break from your run to bushwhack a bit and get closer to the river. About a mile down the Wolf Tree, that’s just what I did.
For the entire run, I had been telling myself to stop and go down to the river. The sun had beaten down on me for the last two hours. I was fatigued from the brutal ascent up the ridge, and nothing seemed so lovely as a jump into the Crooked River.
At the river’s edge, there was no one else near. I could hear only the faint laughter of a few faraway hikers and the rushing of the rapids at my feet.
I hopped onto a boulder in the river and sat down. I tipped my Nike ballcap off my forehead, cupped my palms together to gather a bowl of water and wiped the sweat off my face.
I sat in silence and listened to the river. Then and there, every tough moment on the trails that day was worth it.
After a few minutes on my boulder, I squished my cap down onto my head, slid my sunglasses back on and set back onto the trail.
I ran back to the bridge, happy to feel droplets of river water still cooling my skin as they dried in the sun, happy to know that the river had stayed with me.