Yosemite: Running In Paradise

For outdoor enthusiasts, Yosemite National Park and the surrounding wilderness areas provide near-limitless recreation options. But it’s unlikely runners immediately think of the locale for their long-distance pursuits.

But with its vasting hiking trail system and enticing scenery, it’s no surprise the southern areas near the park, for example, have hosted three unique events at Bass Lake and Fish Camp.

Unofficially, of course, the park’s miles of hiking trails are ideal for long-distance runners. They can train with respectful abandon.

But it’s the official events, with enticing names like Shadow of the Giants 50km and the Smokey Bear Run, that could enhance a vacationing family’s visit. Likewise, the events provide niche options for runners seeking small crowds and homespun races.

The Shadow of the Giants 11km and 50km trail runs begin in Fish Camp, about two miles south of Yosemite’s southern entrance.

The course progresses past 2,700-year-old Giant Sequoia trees in the famed Nelder Grove and encompasses elevations from 5,000 to 6,500 feet. For the past several years, the field has included about 100 runners, some of whom are the country’s finest ultramarathoners.

The Wawona Hotel, a short drive into the park, is the host site for the post-race barbeque and one of many options for runners’ accommodations.

The National Historic Landmark, built in 1876, is home to Wawona Golf Course, the second-oldest course in a national park. The golf course and the hotel’s surrounding property are also the starting point for a series of six detailed hiking and running routes ranging from 3.5 to 12 miles.

The 3.5-mile option, the Wawona Meadow Loop, is categorized as an easy, 90-minute hiking loop and is partially paved. Another option, categorized as strenuous, is called Alder Creek.

The 12-mile route begins across the street from the Wawona Hotel’s parking area. It leads uphill and north through an open pine forest and is listed as a six-hour round-trip journey for hikers.

The Wawona Day Hike map is available at the hotel’s front desk. Reservations and other hotel information is available via the web site: Yosemitepark.com

For runners interested in experiencing the area, but who have shorter distances in mind, the Smokey Bear Run, Sept. 27 at nearby Bass Lake, offers a 10km, two-mile run and walk option and a chidlren’s race.

After several years of hibernation, the event was rekindled last year for its 14th edition. The 15th edition was rescheduled from its previous mid-October date.

The 2004 race attracted an estimated 300 entrants and is popular among area mountain athletes and running clubs that make the journey from Fresno, Calif., about 50 miles north.

The start and finish is in the parking lot of Recreation Point along the south shore of Bass Lake, elevation 3,300 feet. The route is paved and almost entirely under a canopy of large pine trees.

Finally, the Bass Lake Triathlon, a fixture on the swim-bike-run circuit for many years, was canceled last year and will not be held in 2003. An area spokesperson said there are plans to bring back the event next year.

Like all outdoor activities in Yosemite and the surrounding forests and wilderness areas, runners should adhere to the principles of the Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics project.

Divided into seven categories, the Leave No Trace guidelines include:

* Visit in small groups. Split larger parties into groups of four to six.
* Prepare for extreme weather, hazards and emergencies.
* Repackage food to minimalizwe waste.
* Practice the simple rule: “Pack it in, pack it out.”
* Preserve the past: observe, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
* Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not approach or follow animals.
* Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.

For more information or a complete list of the Leave No Trace campaign rules, visit: http://www.lnt.org

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