Fall and ice hockey season are upon us which means that I spend a significant amount of my running in the SW corner of Minnesota's capital city, St. Paul. Departure location is usually Highland Arena, next to the water towers at Snelling Av. and Ford Pkwy. It's nice to start one's workout with a leisurely downhill jog. The problem is that the bitter end involves several challenging hill climbs. I had a chance to run my three standard options of about 10 km each over the past 10 days or so. They can be combined to create 15 km challenges. Though in a busy metropolitan area and near MSP International Airport, the lack of street noise and buildings lets one forget that this is literally in the middle of the city. I have seen wild turkey, deer and other forms of urban wildlife. During one of our first runs together, Mellie treed a good-sized raccoon.
1. Hidden Falls-Crosby Farm Run (10.5 km)
I typically start this run leaving from the overflow parking lot south of the Highland Arena. I run across Snelling, take Bohland Ave to Cleveland, make a dog leg to Ford Pkwy and then follow Mississippi River Blvd south to the steps at the south end of the Ford Plant, leading down to Hidden Falls Park and the Mississippi River banks. The uneven steps and the following trail can be slow and tricky, especially in the dark and when covered with leaves or with ice. An alternative down to the river would be Hidden Falls Drive, official road access to the park, near Magoffin Ave, just past the hair pin turn on E River Rd. Either way, it's easy to tie then into the well developed trail system running along the Mississippi. I follow this to Crosby Farm Road, where I begin my climb out of the valley, along Davern, first crossing Sheppard Rd and then W 7th. Davern St. Hill is the major challenge of this run but also the sign that it's almost over.
2. Crosby Farm Run (10 km)
In this variant, I run S on Snelling and then turn W on Edgecumbe Pkwy. I follow Edgcumbe down the hill to the intersection with St. Paul Ave. There are two options here: either W on Worcester, to where, as Worcester turns into Colette Pl., a pedestrian walkway heads S between two houses and then across the RR tracks to S Prior. The other option is to follow Edgecumbe to the tracks and head W on the bike trail, which then joins with the aforementioned pedestrian walkway. Either way I follow Prior to Mississippi River Blvd, where I immediately descend to the river bottoms, still on Prior, which turns into the park road. There are various options for trails heading in a general downriver direction. My preferred in the dark is to take the trail left at the fork past the E parking lot at Crosby Farms. This runs along the N side of Upper Lake and then crosses a wetland on a boardwalk. In the dark, Mellie and I have been startled several times by big dear crashing through the underbrush in this area. The trail then turns left and generally follows Crosby Lake until it reaches the service road dropping in from Sheppard.
This last time, taking advantage of a day-time run, I tried a single track variant following the bottom of the bluff. I had noticed the trail head on several occasions but had not dared taking it in the dark. It is well used and developed, with stretches of crushed limestone. There were a few muddy spots, I assume from springs, as we did not have rain in quite a few weeks. I saw three fellow dog owners, all like me with well-behaved pooches off their leash. Emerging from the park, it's back in the city, first crossing Sheppard Road, following Elway St. to Montreal to Snelling and back to the arena. Montreal is a good climb, not too steep but long. For a little more excitement and a better hill workout, I occasionally take the steps climbing towards the Frisbee golf course from the intersection of Lexington and Montreal. They are quite hidden and easy to miss.
3. Fort Snelling Loop (12.5 km)
Probably the most challenging of the loops, depending on variations. I head towards the river, as with option 1 generally following Ford Pkwy. Instead of getting onto Mississippi River Blvd, I cross the river on the Ford Bridge and turn S onto the Veteran's Home property. From here I most often take the bridge crossing the Minnehaha Cr. valley and then tie into Fort Snelling State Trail that gradually descends into the Mississippi Valley. Today, having daylight and feeling a bit adventurous I followed the Creek to its confluence with the River and then went along one of my favorite single tracks. It was quite tricky, because of leaf litter and trees that are leaning ever deeper to the ground, requiring some crawling. There are also quite a few steep climbs and descents where the trail avoids natural obstacles. The rocky trail becomes wider at the dog park. No dogs playing today, I could sense Mellie's disappointment. The first climbing challenge is getting back to the Ft. Snelling State Trail. Today, we achieved this by climbing some rough log steps. The next challenge comes immediately after the trail goes under the Hwy 5 bridge: climbing from just above river level to the gates of Ft. Snelling. From there, heading to the trail crossing the river along Hwy 5 completes the Ft. Snelling looplet. Now, I am basically following my approach of the park in option 2, crossing the tracks from Prior and heading to Davern Hill the last and certainly not least hill challenge. But after only five more minutes I can change into something dry and await the return of my hockey player.