Thursday, 9 March 2017

Barranco de las Angustias Trail Running Route, La Palma, Canary Islands

Click here for route map  
Length 9 km (5.6 miles), terrain: rocky, steady climb, gain of 410 meters

The Canaries Islands isle of La Palma is really vertical. There are not many places to run that are even halfway flat. So this is the first of a few La Palma runs that will take you uphill and back, through the island's fascinating volcanic landscape.

This run will take you into the caldera, the huge crater left over from the first volcano that created the island, 2 million years ago. It's the biggest volcanic crater in the world, created when the volcanic mountain collapsed into itself and emptied its debris westwards into the Atlantic waves.
The high trail and the low trail
The caldera is an amazing blend of sheer rock cliffs and peaceful pine woods. There is a network of hiking trails along the rim and down into the crater. This running trail follows the last, not-too-steep part of trail LP 13, which loops within the crater. We will just follow the little stream-like river up into the ravine of Barranco de las Angustias for 4 km, as far as Dos Aquas, where two streams merge tp then flow further through the barranco. The route then turns around and heads back to the start.

NOTE: If you feel up to it, you can follow the whole LP 13 hiking trail, beginning at Los Brecitos lookout, and continuing downhill for 13 kilometers to La Viña parking lot, 4-km after joining into this route. You can't drive up to Los Brecitos, you have to take one of the waiting taxis from La Viña. But this way is more of a hike than a run, with a lot of steep steps and a bit of climbing and a lot more amazing views than this run. I've done this one, also and can really recommend it. Enjoy the hike!

Getting to La Viña parking lot, you need to head to the town of Los Llanos, and get to the northeastern corner of town. Look for signs pointing to Taburiente national park and Barranco de las Angustias. You'll drive up and over a pass, heading down into the mouth of the caldera. The narrow serpentine road La Viña ("grapevine") already provides breathtaking views of the caldera ahead.
Someone carved a face into this cactus near La Viña
The dirt parking lot next to the river places you at the beginning of the gorge. You just have to head northeastwards into the rugged valley.

From the parking lot, just take the trail to the right-hand side of the river. 

In most places you have a choice: either run in the gravel bed of the river or run the parallel trail up a bit higher. Sometimes the two merge, sometimes the trail crosses from one side of the river to the other. But they always stay close together.

Right at the beginning, you'll pass a small banana farm on the left side (the Hacienda del Cura), with its bridge. Don't head up its side-road: stay with the river.

From now on, just watch for trail markers, although they are sometimes a bit hard to see. Most signs point towards the campground, the "Zona de Acampada".
Hikers along the trail
You'll need to jump the stream various points, but because the water flow is normally minimal, it's never hard to find a good spot for that. It's a lot of fun. And if you get your feet wet, so what?

You'll be running past cactus, cliffs, and occasional magnificent views, when you get a glimpse up a side canyon or a view up the barranco.

Just enjoy the general quiet, with the occasional songbird or crow adding their own sounds to the scene. In the afternoon, you'll encounter hikers regularly, coming down from Los Brecitos.

Just past the 2-km marker, you'll pass an overhead viaduct at La Estrechura. Then, a half-kilometer later, walking above the river and with the river to your right, you'll come to an abandoned house on a little hill, the Morro de la Era. Shortly after the house, you'll pass a little dam down on the river below.
Side canyon
Running along the rocky cliffs, you'll be able to recognize pillow-lava, formed underwater and then pushed up here, high above sea level.

At the 4.5-kilometer mark, you'll come to a wide (and probably dry) dam and its buildings along the right side of the river bed. It looks like an abandoned gold mine. This is Dos Aquas, a waterworks that captures most of the valley water and canalizes it into a covered channel.

Just past the dam, the Rio Taburiente merges into the Barranco from the left, at a spot that's difficult to cross, so it's best to turn around and head back home from here. From this spot further northwards, the trail gets steeper and rockier. 

Luckily, everything looks different going the other direction, so you can enjoy the second half of the run, too!

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Atomium Running Route, Brussels

Click here for route map
Length 4.4 km (2.7 miles), terrain: small hills

Brussels Running Routes:
Avenue Louise/Bois de la Cambre  
Center Loop 

Old-Town Sights
EU Quarter/Woluwe Park
For more running routes, see Route List

A lot of the Brussels tourist sights are clustered together at the north edge of town, in Laeken (Laken in Dutch, in this bilingual town). This is where you'll find lots of the stuff from the tourist brochures: the Atomium, Brupark, Mini-Europe, the Kinepolis, the Exhibition Center, royal palaces (3 of them!), oriental towers, the Art and Design Museum and Heysel -- the main soccer stadium.

But what you might not have heard is that there is also a big park there, Laken Park (Parc de Laeken), a great running spot that links the various attractions together. During one fairly short run you can enjoy some nature and see (from the outside, anyway) a lot of what the Brussels tourism industry has set up for you.
The Atomium
The dominant attraction is the Atomium, a glittering relic from the heady days of the Atomic Age. It was built for the 1958 World's Fair, back when everyone expected to be soon flying through town in atomic-powered rockets. Viewed from below, it's really impressive, with its metalic facade glinting in the sunlight. You can even go inside and take escalators from globe to globe, but I like it best just to view it from various angles from outside.

So, if you feel like doing this scenic little run, take either Metro line 6 or tram line 7 to Heysel and get out there. You'll find yourself standing between the stadium to the west, the Expo to the north and the Kinepolis (IMAX cinema and 29 screens) to the south.
The Grand Palais at Expo
Directly across the street, Avenue Impériatrice Charlotte, you'll see the art-deco-era Expo halls. They are impressive in their own right: built for the 1935 World's Fair, they were re-used for the Expo 58, the 1958 World's Fair, and continue to be used for all kinds of expositions and trade shows.

In fact, this whole area, including Laken Park, was part of both of the World's Fair-grounds, now open as a public park.
Heysel Stadium
From the pond out front of the imposing Grand Palais Expo hall, turn south on Boulevard du Centenaire, running slightly downhill towards the Atomium. The sidwalk pavement is pretty bad, so watch your footing.

You'll pass the IMAX theater on the right, and -- right next to it -- the Brupark amusement park with its big water slide.

And just past that on the right is Mini Europe, a little exhibition that has many of the most famous spots in Europe recreated for visitors.

To the left, you'll pass the ADA design museum.
Atomium runner
The Atomium, though is the star of the scenery here, and it gets more impressive with every step. It's actually supposed to represent an iron molecule, not a single atom, but not many people care exactly. It's fascinating just to see the giant, glittering globes hovering in the sky above.

You can run directly under the Atomium, then exit to the left, where the green woods and meadows of Laken Park await.
Along the lake: looks like a river
Head eastwards into the woods along the dirt trail, keeping the narrow lake to your right. It's a nice bit of Belgian nature: the beech woods on rolling hills are typical of the area.

You'll see an outdoor amphitheater across the water to the right. When you come to the bridge over the lake, cross it, heading southeast towards a lookout over the lawn-filled valley to the south.
The local beechwoods
A little road, Avenue du Gros Tilleul, follows the valley floor, and you'll see a little roundabout there. We'll now head down that way: first turn right and take the first trail to the left to run downhill towards the roundabout.

From now on, all the trails are paved.

RAF memorial and American Theater
On Avenue du Gros Tilleul, pass the roundabout with its memorial to downed British RAF planes, heading eastwards towards a strange, rounded structure ahead. This fairly abandoned-looking place was the American pavilion in 1958, now used as broadcasting studios and as a concert venue, the American Theater.

Just before the pavilion, you'll see a divided trail to the right, heading uphill to the south. Take that trail.

NOTE: The Chinese and Japanese pagodas would be straight ahead, past the pavilion, if you want to see them. But they straddle a loud street, so I left them out of this route.

You'll pass a bit of woods behind a wooden fence, and then see another trail to the left, continuing up the hill towards a gothic spire. Take that trail.

Heading towards the spire
This trail will wander upwards along the hill, with the fence to the left, passing the spire, which is on the hilltop behind the woods.

Keep running until the trail comes to a paved street, Avenue des Narcisses (there is no traffic here, though). Turn left here and continue running uphill straight towards the gothic spire. The spire is a monument to the royal dynasty and King Leopold I.
Last stretch to the tower, guarded by trained watchdogs
You're now at the hilltop, with a good view over the city to the south. Behind the monument, a stone fence blocks off a big part of the park, with the Château du Belvédère behind it. There are three royal palaces here, which are private and are walled off to the public. Most of the park is inside the private Royal Domain.

But the biggest palace is south of here, so let's run downhill along Avenue de la Dynastie towards the iron fences guarding the main royal palace, the Château de Laeken.
Château de Laeken
A busy road, Avenue du Parc Royal, runs past the palace right in front of the fence.

So now, turn right to run parallel to the fence, then turn back into the public park to the right on paved Avenue des Seringas, a wide footpath.

Start of Seringas
You're now back in the quiet expanses of lawn, heading north through the park towards the Atomium again. Just to the left, downhill, there is a little chapel and springs of St. Anne.
Chapel of St. Anne
Now just follow Seringas as it twists its way northward. On the left is the west edge of the public park, with Château du Stuyvenberg behind the brick walls, the third of the three royal palaces in Laken.
Follow the trail as it heads downhill, with a fenced-off area to the left where a tram line tunnels under the park.
Along Seringas, with Atomium in distance
The trail ends at a little basketball court. Turn left to run the few steps back to Boulevard du Centenaire. This is at a roundabout called Place Louis Steens, with a little monument on the side.

Now just follow the dirt trail just inside the park to run northwards towards the Atomium, and from there continuing straight towards the Expo and the start of the run.

That was a lot to see in one little area!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Sonnenloipe Cross-Country Trail, Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Germany

Click here for route map
Length 4.1 km (2.5 miles), terrain: small hills, 77 meters rise
Connects into the 8-km Spiegelthalerloipe for more distance

It got wintery in Germany again, so instead of risking my neck sliding along the streets in my running shoes, I switched sports and headed out to the cross-country skiing trails in the nearby Harz Mountains. Everyone who has tried cross-country knows that it's the perfect winter sport for every trail runner: out in nature with no lift-lines or big crowds, just you and the white hills stretching out to every horizon.
Frosty bushes along the trail
And another great thing is it exercises your arms as much as your legs. So it's even better training than running, you can't beat that!

So I headed to the old mining town of Clausthal-Zellerfeld with two other runners looking for winter trails. We found it in the wonderful, prepared cross-country tracks heading out from town. The snow was deep and in perfect condition, the sky was blue and the town was charming: it was heaven!
Sonnenloipe trail sign
The first track that we tried was the Sonnenloipe (Sun track), a 4-kilometer-long, fairly easy trail that connects into the harder, 8-km Spiegelthal trail. This route describes the Sonnenloipe alone, but can easily be extended by following the red markers for the Spiegelthal trail.

Unusual for Germany, the Harz towns were built of wood, and Clausthal-Zellerfeld's wooden houses give it a feel of being in another country. The town's mines once made it rich, as you can see from the two huge churches, but the mines are now history, and the town has fallen into a Snow-White sleep, kept alive by a bit of tourism and a small technical university.
In town
The Sonnenloipe is at the north end of town. The entrance is at the turn-in for a pair of supermarkets, Aldi and Rewe. The turn-in is just before the route-241 road leaves town to head north to Goslar.

Immediately after turning into the driveway for the supermarkets, you'll see a smaller way branch off it to the right, and then head parallel to the parking lot up the hill. In just 200 meters, you're at the trailhead. The Sonnenloipe trail is well-marked. It's a fairly easy trail, so it's marked in blue signs (medium trails are in red, and hard trails are marked in black). Usually there is one direction which is the right way around, so there aren't too many encounters underway. 
At the top of the first downhill
Just turn right and follow the blue track-markers northwards as they count-down the kilometers till the end. After a hundred meters, you'll come to the first long downhill spot, which ends in a fairly sharp left-hand turn. A bit of a surprise for beginners.
On the trail
Then it flattens out for a while, then crosses a dip where a stream flows in warmer weather. Just enjoy the sun glittering off the snow crystals and the seemingly endless fields and woods. This is pure nature!
Another downhill spot
Cross-country skiing is easy to learn, although you can expect to spend a lot of time falling on your butt on the first weekend. But after that, you're on your way. We had one beginner with us, but she was ready to confront every new challenge, and she ended up mastering each track we tried, including some harder ones on the following day.

The Sonnenloipe trail continues with a few zi-zags between the fields. Just after the 3-kilometer-mark, you'll come to a wooden farm-shed. This is where the 8-kilometer Spiegelthal trail takes off for a lot more adventure (it's a red trail), heading off to the right.
Runners at the shed
If the Sonnenloipe is enough for you, just follow the signs pointing to the left, which will take you towards some houses on a hilltop, and next to them a sledding hill with a little ski lift, just south of the trail, across Spiegelthaler Straße.

Head up the tracks to the hill next to the houses, then it's all downhill from there to the starting place. Now there's a substitute for running that doesn't feel second-class to the real thing!
Successful end of a cross-country day in the Harz!