There is a notion that trail running in the Canadian Rockies is relatively new. Actually, it’s been around since the first recreational running shoes were created by Nike, Adidas and New Balance in the mid-1970s.
I recall camping at Twintree Lake on Jasper’s North Boundary Trail in 1976, where fellow campers told of a lone runner thrashing through the campground in the middle of the night, desperately looking for the trail and babbling something about running the entire 172-km North Boundary in 24 hours.
The following year, we were lingering over lunch on the front porch at Yoho’s Twin Falls Chalet when a pack-less runner sped by in nothing but a singlet and shorts, obviously running the 20-km Yoho Valley circuit. It was sobering that someone would commit to a major backcountry outing without at least a few emergency items.
While I enjoyed shorter, solo runs on the trails around my home in the Bow Valley, and later from my summer digs at Saskatchewan River Crossing, I was never inclined to enter competitive events. One of the most demanding was a race organized by Melissa’s Ron Adlington in the early 80s around Lake Minnewanka and down Carrot Creek—a gruelling 50-km epic that ran for a couple of years. (Does anyone remember the name of that race?)
Aside from the disapproving looks of hikers who feel that trails should be enjoyed at a more pedestrian pace, there are several concerns about running on remote, wilderness trails. Again, running with the bare necessities in a mini-backpack doesn’t allow for dramatic changes in the weather or a debilitating injury.
Beva Kirk, owner of the Crazy Soles runner’s shop in Invermere, found drinking water a problem when she ran the 60-km Rockwall Trail in Kootenay Park with husband Jordy. When their water bladders ran dry midway through the run, they were reluctant to scoop directly from steams or to stop and spend precious time purifying enough water to see them through. They ended up very dehydrated.
From my own limited experience, you are prone to close encounters with wildlife when running. Twice, I found myself suddenly nose-to-nose with bears, including a mother with cubs. Luckily, the surprised bruins scurried off in the opposite direction.
Do you experience less when you run than when you hike? Maybe. But I’ve been on long hikes where I gabbed continuously with a companion and barely remembered what I’d seen over the past four or five hours. And when I was alone, unencumbered with camera equipment and a trail wheel, I often broke into a run. I was simply ecstatic to be travelling light and free.
In the end, there is no right or wrong way to experience wilderness. It’s all about the joy of moving through landscape.
Andrew Doran’s short film offers Squamish runner Kristie Elliot’s personal perspective on what attracts her to this lonely pursuit.