By: Jeff Mogavero

After a long winter spent scurrying along icy roads and snowy trails, the warm embrace of spring is a welcome phenomena here in Montana. The snow line continues to flee up the mountainsides as temperatures continue to creep higher and higher. The presence of dry ground and dark ribbons of singletrack sends Missoulians flocking to the trails surrounding town. It’s so much fun to go on a run or walk and see dozens of other people out enjoying the sunshine, fresh air, and plentiful miles of trails. Below are some recommendations for keeping our trails in great shape, current trail conditions, and ideas for your springtime explorations!

Note: to stay up to date on current trail conditions, drop by the store for our trail conditions board by the front door!

Trail Etiquette Reminders

1. Stay on trail!!

It’s almost impossible to go out on Waterworks or the North Hills and not run into someone walking in the grass next to a muddy trail. While escaping the mud may seem like a great idea, it destroys the surrounding vegetation, contributes to erosion issues, and creates new trails that become an eyesore. As we like to say, “keep singetrack single!”. If it’s muddy, stay on trail through the mud. If you don’t want to get your shoes muddy, try a different route on a less muddy trail.

Stay on trail and have fun in the mud!

Tips for avoiding the mud:

  • Go early in the day, when temps are closer to freezing and the sun has yet to thaw out the ground.
  • Stick to trails covered in ice/snow and bring traction devices! You’ll get snowy, not dirty, and avoid the crowds too.
  • Choose trails that have been snow free for a long time – they’re most likely to be dry! 
2. Let others pass

Especially in the time of COVID, passing and being passed on trail warrants respect. The person heading uphill has the right of way. If descending, stop and step off to the side of the trail. Once the person coming uphill has passed you, hop back on trail and continue along. If you come up behind someone, give a hearty “hello!” from a distance so that you don’t startle them. Let them know you’ll be passing, and what side you’ll pass on (“Hi there! Passing on your left!”). Don’t forget to be friendly!

3. Clean up after your dog

We all love having our dog join us on trail. But what we don’t all love is stepping in dog poo or finding those little plastic bags of dog poo plopped along the trail. If your dog goes to the loo, PLEASE pick up the poo! Carry the bag with you and toss it in the trashcan at the trailhead.

Current Conditions Updated 4/5 

Overall, expect drier trails at lower elevations. Mid elevations have mud, with snow/ice in shady spots. Higher elevations eventually all have snow/ice. South-facing slopes have dried out quicker. Trails are starting to get good out there as days stay warm!

Pattee Canyon:

Snow has just about left the canyon! Most trails are dry, but be ready to get dirty.  If you see some charred looking forest, it’s from a recent prescribed burn. Enjoy the campfire smell and lack of smoke :). Expect snow/ice on north facing slopes and in shaded areas. Upper trails by University Mountain have some snow drifts, but they are navigable. The dirt

A trace of snow by the Barmeyer Loop

road that leads up to University still has plenty of snow in the upper reaches. The ridge route to University is doable without traction, but traction will make it much easier. The Barmeyer Loop is mostly clear but does have several icy patches.

 

Mount Sentinel:

The M Trail and fire road are snow-free and mostly mud free. Snow/ice can be found in the trees towards the top of the mountain (on the Boy Scout Trail and between the north and south summits). The ridge trail has a large snow/ice section a few hundred yards below the summit. It is very steep. Use traction or go slowly and carefully, staying on trail. Pengelly Ridge up to the south summit is clear of snow. The Smokejumper trail is icy and snowy enough in its upper reaches that it’s best done going uphill. Traction isn’t necessary, but it is very helpful. Traction IS necessary if going downhill.

Mount Jumbo:

Morning on Mt. Jumbo

The trails south of the summit are clear of snow and ice! They are also mostly clear of mud. North of the summit to the Lincoln Hills Trailhead/saddle is a mix of snow, ice, and mud. The warm weather is eating away at the snow very quickly. Traction could be helpful if you aren’t confident on slippery surfaces. Going uphill on this section is most enjoyable and safest! The trails and two-track on the saddle are in great shape.

Waterworks/North Hills:

The snow has left and trails are mostly mud free! Head out early to avoid crowds. PLEASE STAY ON TRAIL. Waterworks is highly susceptible to trail braiding and erosion. Mornings are the best time to avoid the crowds chasing the warmth of the day.

A group run on the Waterworks trails

Rattlesnake:

Conditions are changing quickly as snow and ice melt. Spring Gulch and many of the trails in Sawmill Gulch are still snowy and icy. Rumour has it they can be done without traction, but it is very slow going. Bring along your spikes to speed things up in case you encounter a dreaded ribbon of ice winding up hill. The main corridor is in good shape for a few miles. The trail up to Stuart Peak is still in winter mode. Stuart can generally be done with just a mile or two of snow come mid May. It is snow free in mid to late June.

Blue Mountain:

Mud and dog poop! A reminder to PLEASE pick up after your dog and take the bag with you! Mud down low, but trails drying out fast. The higher up you go, the muddier and then icier the trails will get. Snow up high by the summit. Also expect snow/ice in shadier sections of trail that don’t see the sun much. 

Kim Williams Trail:

Aside from a few small patches of easy to navigate ice in Hellgate Canyon, the Kim is totally snow/ice free! 

Route Ideas

Once Jumbo opens, I am always itching for an excuse to find myself on the top of the mountain! My number one route suggestion for this time of year is a run or hike up to the “L”, heading to the summit if time/ability allows. All of the trails on that side of the mountain are snow free and drying out fast. 

If you’re looking for a longer adventure, we’ve got you! Jumbo is nice, but the big views and sun exposure of Waterworks makes me yearn for those rolling trails. My solution? Waterworks + Jumbo, also known as Watumbo! Watumbo is a big, wonderful loop that links together Waterworks, the North Hills, and Jumbo almost entirely on trail. It can range anywhere from 10 miles to 15 miles, depending on how creative you get on the Waterworks trails. If you want to shorten Watumbo a bit, you can cut across the Rattlesnake at the Tivoli trailhead to the Mountain View trailhead for a north loop of 7.7 miles, or a south loop of 7.7 miles (It’s amazing how nicely that works out). If you’re looking for a longer run, give this one a try! It’s best to go clockwise so that you can walk up the snow/ice on the north side of Jumbo. Once that snow melts, the route is phenomenal in either direction!

Purple: Full Watumbo route (~10 miles, +2,370’)
Blue: Cutoff for shorter Watumbo (North and South are both 7.7 miles)

Directions:

Make your way from Greenough Park up to the top of the Waterworks Hill. Enjoy the view and keep going, turning right at the fence line. Head down the switchbacks and turn left to follow the power lines in the North Hills. Take the “sunset loop”, sticking to the highest trail/two track. Take your last right and head towards the trailhead. Descend about 1/4 mile before taking a left on single track. Take this to Duncan Drive. Take a left and enter the trails again, heading over the squishy bridge. Take a left after the bridge, then your first right to cross the Rattlesnake Canyon on trail. Stay on trail after crossing Rattlesnake Drive. Pick your poison of trails/dirt road that take you up to the Lincoln Hills Trailhead. Hop on trail there and head up the backside of Mt. Jumbo. Take in the views on the summit then head down towards the “L” and back to Greenough Park. Have fun!!

 

 

Photo: Votography Images

Montana is notorious for dark, cold winters. One of the best ways to fight off the wintertime blues is to get outside and stay active! 

Stay Warm

We get a lot of questions about the best way to stay warm on wintertime runs. The answer? Layers, layers, layers! Start from the bottom up with a non-cotton comfy sock. Our most popular sock in the winter months is the Balega Blister Resist ¼ sock. From there, a warm tight or pant that is long enough to come over your sock helps keep those ankles from getting chilly. On your upper body, a long sleeve baselayer shirt pairs great with a light wind jacket or insulated jacket, depending on the temperature. With any running or walking apparel, avoid cotton and opt for wool or synthetic materials. If you start getting toasty, just pop that jacket off and tie it around your waist. To keep the hands warm, gloves or mittens are essential. Personally, I love gloves that convert into a mitten for the really chilly days. Finally, don’t forget about your head! A beanie or headband/Buff will work great to keep the heat in.

Be Bright

Photo: Votography Images

Anytime I visit my parents back east in the winter, my mom always eagerly gives me new “blinkies.” When I’m home in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I’m usually out on the roads running in the dark. My mom wants me to be seen and be safe, and showers me with all sorts of blinky light and reflective doo-dads. I’ve come to love little blinky lights that can easily fasten to your waistband, a jacket pocket, or bottom of a shirt. I like to couple those blinky lights with a reflective vest that I can toss over any shirt or jacket. 

When choosing winter running clothes, keep an eye out for reflective features. There are often reflective logos, seams, or panels built into the clothing to help you be seen. As my mom will tell you, every bit of reflective (or blinky) material matters!

Find Your Way

Photo: Seth Orme

A simple headlamp is both an excellent way to be seen and an excellent way to see what’s ahead. I’m often on trails and dark side streets, so I prefer the brightest headlamp I can get my hands on. My roommate/runny buddy and I swear by Petzl’s Reactive lighting, which adjusts the amount of light coming out of the headlight based on how dark it is and how far you are looking. These lights offer a no-hassle way of always having the right amount of light. However, these lights are a bit heavier and more expensive. Many people love a lightweight headlamp that offers just enough light, then easily stows away into a pocket for running and walking once the sun is up. 

Use Traction

This winter has been a whirlwind of weather! When the snow really sticks, I like to joke that the “Great Missoula Ice Sheet” descends upon the valley. Streets turn to ice skating rinks, and our favorite trails become treacherous luge courses. The best way to navigate these challenges is by using traction devices. A traction device is any kind of metal cleat, spike, or stud that affixes to the bottom of your shoe to bite into the ice and snow to provide extra traction. We have a lot of options in the stores to ensure you have the perfect and amount of grip for the job at hand.

Have Fun

Most importantly, have fun while you’re running or walking this winter! Sometimes getting outside at all is worthy of celebration. I like to use winter as a time to explore different trails I normally wouldn’t visit in the summertime. I also run a bit more on the roads, which lets me explore new areas of Missoula. And of course, after a chilly outing, I recommend a nice mug of hot cocoa to warm you up and get you ready for the rest of your day. See you out there!

Photo: Seth Orme

 

So you’ve committed to jumping in your first race, you’re all trained up for the big day, have the shoes, the watch, the hat, and the anti-chafe stuff that your best friend said is vital. But now what?

Race day can be daunting. Looking at the scene when you pull into the parking lot can be overwhelming with fast looking runners jogging about, and hundreds of people all milling around a collection of brightly colored pop-up tents. Where are you supposed to go? What are you supposed to do for the next 15 minutes before the gun goes off?

Pick up your bib early

Here’s how to navigate race morning stress free…

  1. Pick up your bib number – The first thing I do when I arrive at a race is pick up my bib (if you picked it up at a packet pickup the day before you can ignore this step). Aside from your racing outfit that you arrived with, your bib is the most important thing. I then take my bib and head back to the car, and pin my bib to my shirt in the exactly right, OCD measurements I prefer.
  2. Find a bathroom – You’ll be surprised how many times you’ll want to use the bathroom before the gun goes off. It’s best to get in line early and get one trip out of the way. Plus then you know where it is. Sometimes races have “secret” bathrooms: a lone porta potty that’s tucked behind a tree left over from the golf tournament the day before or construction on the neighbor’s house. These are gold. No lines = no stress. Get the lay of the bathroom landscape early, especially in big races.
  3. Warm-up and/or make friends – Racing is about community. Nothing calms me down before a race quite like a warm-up with friends. Fortunately in Missoula every race has a bunch of people you will recognize, and if you don’t there are a bunch of people who want to be your friend. Ask someone to go on an easy 5-10 minute jog to get those muscles warmed up. OR find your friends, tell jokes, tell stories, make new

    Find your spot in the corral

    friends, and generally talk about anything except the race for a while.

  4. Get to the starting line – About 5 minutes before the start of the race (10 minutes in massive races) starting getting into the starting corral. This is your last chance to check and make sure you have everything: shoes tied, bib on, sunglasses, socks you haven’t washed since middle school, etc. I like to find my lucky “spot” in the corral where I am comfortable. Defend your space.
  5. Bang! – When the gun goes off, just have fun! Run or walk like you’ve trained. This is the easiest part of the day. When you cross the finish line, have more fun
  6. Enjoy the day – Congratulations! You just finished your first race. Now it’s time to hang out, cheer on other finishers, and tell valiant tales of your time out on the course. This is what makes races fun: the community afterwards. Some of my dearest friends I met after races. Set up a running date for next week, then sign up for another race before you have time to question your judgement!

    Take advantage of the post-race food

If you are considering signing up for your first race I would highly recommend the Run Like a Mother 5k (for women), or the Mountain to Meadow 5k, 10k, and 1/2 Marathon. Both are very laid back and have a fantastic post-race vibe (meaning food!).

See you out on there,

 

Forrest Boughner

Forrest is a manager and race director at Runner’s Edge, and coaches local adults. He has been racing competitively for the last 18 years and often struggles with remaining calm before races.