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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Trail Review-The SECRET Spot

I got into trail running about 2.5 years ago, both of my brothers who live in WA State have been running in the mountains for years.
Having  been told the stories of The Chuckanut 50K or White River 50 Miler ignited something deep inside of me.  When last in WA to run the RnR Seattle, I had the opportunity to run Mt. Erie on Fidalgo Island with my littlest brother-who happens to be a vertical trail running monster- (pic of my little bro at mile 21 in the 2008 Chuckanut 50 race, im adopted btw, so Im not balding!!).  Anyhow, sorry for the rabbit trail....I came back
1. Injured
2. On fire to find trails to run here in North Eastern IL-realizing there is no analog, but to get that same freeing feeling of flying up, across or down single track.
I set out to find such a place and was told there really wasn't any.  Frustrated with that, I sought the help of the internet to begin to research places I could get my fix.
I stumbled across a few MTB forums that spoke of a few spots in Lake County.  One in particular was an elusive forest preserve in the extreme northwestern corner of the county, tucked right on the WI boarder.  It was supposedly very rugged, nearly 100% single track, basically one giant hill, and off limits to anyone but those on foot.  Even though I was injured and had no business stressing my ankle with bombing down an unstable surface.
One afternoon, late fall of 2010, I decided I would go out and see what this was all about.  I mapped out how to get there and even found a trail map of the preserve.  I parked the car, and set out exactly as it shown on the map.  5 minutes later, I had traversed the first valley and found myself blinking in the sun at the summit of the "mountain"

The Summit marker from the USGS
From here you have a hand full of options of how to "get down"
  1. To the right-a short steep decent down a very technical rocky rooty sandy area, then to the fire road
  2. To the left-
    1. Down the other end of the fire road
    2. Down a very steep decent that crosses the fire road and then has another steep dual pitch
    3. Follow the summit ridge to the .50 mile long straight shot to the bottom-this is steep, with little to no break in grade.  

Typically my route will head to the right
Trail heads to the left, very unstable footing

From here you will hit a flat that will eventually take you to the main fire road, at which you go right, run about 100 yards and you will see a sign warning of the dangers that lurk in the forest and that you are not to be on horse or bike.
This area is pure magic, very rolling, twisting, and under deep forest cover.  It always smells strongly of earth and tannins from the decades of oak leaves that sit on the floor year after year.  The terrain is very rolling, either up or down, pretty much no flat for 1.5 miles.  The initial decent is fast, technical (lots of big rocks) and about .3 miles long.  You cross the most amazing glade, then climb up to a ridge that then begins the roller coaster ride for the next 10-12 minutes.  
Here are some pics of this area in various seasons:

This area dumps out near the bottom of the preserve near the Fox river.  From here you can see the ski area that this preserve boarders.  I have never taken pics here as its kind of boring and I like to get through here as fast as I can.  You are now about 2.2 miles into your run and the real climbing is about to begin, as you are at the lowest elevation in the preserve.
From here you rejoin the single track and climb to the northwest, up a pitch that has a pretty steep and technical decent.  Then it levels out.  You then are at the bottom of where the other routes from the summit terminate and are now your choice of ascent.  I typically head right and take the monster-honestly, I can not run the entire way and I am pretty sure I am faster power hiking it than I would ever be running.  I have no idea the grade, but it is well past 15% and sustained for about .5 miles back to the summit we started at.
The other two routes are dual pitch ascents that will join the fire road and then climb the road to the summit.
Below are various shots of each:

I have a video of the big drop, but Ill upload it sometime I am feeling more patient.

To make this a 5 mile loop, I then double back all the way back to the begining where I can get water from the car, change shoes, or grab a gel.
I can not emphasize how unique this area is.  From what I understand its closest analog is Kettle Moraine in WI, which is much much larger than this little spot, however, there are no climbs this big anywhere near here-including Kettle.  Seeing this year two of my races are at Kettle Moraine, I need to run more here.  It was apparent today that I am weak when it comes to more sustained steep climbs and felt a little slow on my descents.
I wore my Montrail Rogue Racers, which performed amazingly.  They had sufficient rock protection, were light, and felt very comfortable the whole time.  I had no ankle turns and found the traction not lacking what so ever.  I had my Saucony Peregrine's in the car if I needed more traction, and they stayed put.
I am glad I finally got back there today.  It is worth the 30 minute drive each way.  Especially on a day like today.
I will leave this review with pictures from the summit, looking in each direction at the beauty that beholds those that come out to this gem:


  1. Good review and pictures. I am all of an hour away and could see hitting this up sometime in addition to the kettles.

    1. Anytime my friend. Id be happy to show you around. I am always game to hit this place! Its particularly fun with others.