Frozen Head: The Training Run

I’m just warning you. I am not a morning person.

This coming from my running compadre. I think she said this NOT because she is not a morning person, but because I TOTALLY AM. HA! She was not ready for my peppy, obnoxious self at 5:00 am.

One Starbuck’s stop and 3 hours later, we were there. Not knowing exactly what to expect, but knowing it was going to be a lot of uphill running, hiking, walking. I am pretty sure that I can speak for our small group (there were 3 of us, ladies), when I say that we were super excited and ready for an exhausting day of more vert (vert: vertical running) than our local park can provide in 15-20 miles.

There are many trails to choose from at Frozen Head, more than we had time to run in one day. We ran on 3: Old Mac, N Old Mac and the Panther Branch. Along those 3 we had a few short detours to “sights” to see, the Lookout Tower,  the Coal Mine, via Tub Spring, and the infamous “Yellow Gate”.

Frozen Head is the location of one of the toughest 100 mile races in the in the world, approximately 59,100 feet of climbing. Since the race began in 1986, only 14 out of 1000 have finished within the 60 hour cutoff time. We were running in a legendary place. The “Yellow Gate” is the start of the race. Laz Cantrell lights his cigarette and those runners begin.

We were not running in those footsteps, because we had a marked trail. Those folks run off the grid with a compass and without a GPS watch.

Old Mac:  Approximately, 3 miles. The first mile was a gradual, runnable uphill. Miles 2 & 3 were a bit more steep, still runnable but it was necessary for a few walk breaks. Third mile was the most challenging.

After you reach the top of Old Mac, you run on a wide, dirt, fire road. You can take this down to the Mine trail or up to the Lookout Tower. We took this road up to the Lookout Tower. I mean UP. This was easy to run on, but had a very steep pitch. LOVED IT. We made it to the Lookout Tower.  It is tall. I made it to the first landing and decided to stay there. Teresa and Kathy climbed the tower. Brave girls!! This chicken little headed to the safety of the ground as soon as they reached the top. 🙂

Mine Trail: From the Lookout Tower, you can run down approximately 3 miles to the Mine Trail. Again, a very steep grade down, down. (We revisit this fun road on the uphill.) The Mine Trail was a bit overgrown. Teresa and I proceeded down. Kathy was going to go part way down the road and turn and wait for us, this will be part of a funny story later. Then, the spider webs. Folks, Frozen Head spider webs, with large, visible spiders plus tall overgrown grass, perfect for a snake residence. We made it to the first mine and turned around. Too many spiders and the trail was too overgrown. BLEH! 

From the Mine Trail back to N Old Mac was unrelenting steep, fire road climbing, steep pitch, unending. AWESOME! It rivaled the CPSR. 

N Old Mac: Approximately 3.9 miles back to the car. Because of the uphill climbing, Teresa and I envisioned 3.9 miles of steep downhill. It was more gradual and almost entirely downhill. This trail was runnable and pretty. Kathy was not with us, story later. I am cautious, to say the least, on the downhill. I told Teresa that downhill to me is fear. Uphill is challenge. I’ll take the challenge any day to the fear. 🙂 She ran ahead of me and I only saw her because she would stop at the trail markers. She was fast!! I was happy and steady. 🙂

We reached the car and spent a couple minutes refueling. We left a note for Kathy and decided to head back up N Old Mac. We ran 2.5 miles up the trail and took the Panther Branch trail so that we could get our picture by the Barkley “yellow gate” at the end. 🙂 

Panther Branch: Um. . . yeah. . . this started out a bit reminiscent of taking the “gorge route” on the Fiery Gizzard Trail. It was very technical running. At one point, Teresa and I came to a waterfall crossing that had a tiny ledge and steep, steep grade down. The waterfall was barely dripping, but the rock was slick. One false move and . . . . The last 2 miles of this trail were nice. There was one waterfall overlook and the trail ended at the famous Barkley “yellow gate”. It was about 3/4 mile back to our car on the road from the gate. 

17.5 miles, 4 h 23 min, 15:23 pace and 4800′ later. . . we were done

Where’s Kathy? Where’s Liz? Where’s Teresa? Our plan, if we got separated was to wait at the trail marker or trail sign, until we all caught up. The three of us visited the Fire Tower together (mile 4.5). We began our run downhill to the Mine Trail. Kathy told me that she would run a bit and turn around and wait for Teresa and I to finish the mine trail. I understood that to mean, she would wait for us at the N Old Mac trail head. 

When Teresa and I got back to the trail head at (8 miles), Kathy was not there. We called her name a few times. We agreed to head back, thinking that maybe she meant that she would wait for us at the car. Nice downhill running meant that Teresa stayed way ahead of moi. 🙂 She stopped and talked to a few people at a trail marker, before I reached her. They said that they had not seen anyone, matching Kathy’s description. 

We got back to the car (12 miles). No Kathy. We waited a bit. We told a few people to look out for her and to give her a message, if they saw her. We wrote a note and left it on her car. Teresa was worried. I thought, nah, Kathy is a hiker. She is calm. She is okay. We decided to head back up N Old Mac in hopes of seeing Kathy on her way down. No Kathy. We headed down Panther Branch to get back to the car. I was still not going to worry, unless it was necessary. I think Teresa was a bit worried. 😦 At almost 1/2 mile from the car, A TEXT FROM KATHY. She was fine and she was waiting for us at the car. 

Here’s the FUNNY part: When Kathy turned around to walk back, after the Lookout Tower, she walked too far down the fire road and passed the Mine Trail sign. She ended up waiting for us at the N Old Mac trailhead for about 20 minutes, when she ran into the same people who Teresa talked to. They told her that they only saw one lady.  Kathy thought that all of us were separated. I think she was most worried about me because I tend to be a tiny bit directionally challenged. HA! 

Seriously, one of the greatest running trips. LOVED the hills. LOVED the company. Can’t wait to go back. 


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