The week after Thanksgiving I carelessly slipped on an icy footbridge and took a very hard fall during a road run. The dull ache from the bruises to my hip, knee and shoulder subsided on a reasonable schedule, but something about the trauma badly pissed off my piriformis. So, December was spent trying to restore an approximately normal, twinge-free walking stride rather than ramping up my running mileage as I had intended.
Anyway, I made slow and steady improvement during the run-up to Christmas. Finally, cautiously, I ventured back onto the trails the past week for short runs and my arse tolerated it pretty well. As planned, today was the first day I stretched myself out a bit. Having learned that a quicker tempo irritates the injury more than going slowly up or downhill, I opted for a day on the Oak Grove trail in the Pine Valley Wilderness.
Runners who are passingly familiar with the St. George area tend to think almost entirely about the desert terrain at the immediate edge of town. Folks who know the area a bit more may also think about the mesas and big canyons of Zion and its immediate surroundings. But there is much more to the area, as you might imagine once you realize the altitude within a roughly 15 mile radius of downtown St. George ranges from just over 2,000 to more than 10,000 feet above sea level. And a lot of it is gnarly. (Compare a few of the photos below to the Grigne pic at Anton’s post; I don’t doubt anyone so inclined could find a few hair-raising routes twisting up and around the vertical granite spires that dot the Pine Valley like dandelions.)
A hike up the Oak Grove trail typically starts from the Oak Grove campground, but in the winter the Forest Service closes the gate four miles downhill, about where the prickly pear and redrock peter out. Having the extra bit of mileage on the access road is probably just as well, since it gives you time to set your jaw, so to speak, before hitting the truly steep, rugged terrain when you hit the trail.
5,100 feet of gain in seven outbound miles, with 3,400+ doled by the three miles of singletrack. The steep, southeast-facing slopes don’t hold much snow or support much vegetation, so this is an ideal shoulder season trail. It also works straight through winter during a dry year like this one. The majority of the trail was completely dry today and the deepest I post-holed in the small patches of snow under the trees was mid-shin.