Monday, June 10, 2013

Art Loeb Trail 30 Mile Adventure Run

This 30 mile trail has been on my dream "Must Do" list for about 12 years.  Here is a brief description of the trail from a Pisgah Hiking website:

The 30.1 mile Art Loeb Trail is one of the longer and more difficult trails in the state, and it's also one of the more popular. This trail is a memorial to Art Loeb, an activist from the Carolina Mountain Club, and a man who "deeply loved these mountains." Traveling mainly along peaks and ridges rather than in the valleys, the trail offers many views along the way to its lofty high points. It skirts along the southwestern rim of the Davidson River valley, then skips across some of the highest peaks in the area before descending Cold Mountain to the Daniel Boone Scout Camp. Along the way, you'll see some of the finest scenery to be found in Pisgah and you'll view or cross many of the landmark mountains in the region. Many folks use this trail for an extended backpacking trip (at least 2-3 days) and plenty of campsites along the trail will facilitate that kind of trip. Others use shorter sections of the trail for day hikes, or use connecting trails to form loops. However you find yourself on the trail, it's one you're sure to enjoy.

We did the entire 30 miles in 13 hours and 21 minutes!
I planned to run this point-to-point trail about two months ago and offered invitations for anyone else to join in for the whole thing or shorter options.  Five of us actually planned to run the entire trail and it's great to report that all five finished.

There is always a front & back story to every ultra, but especially these low key runs put together by the fool hearty like myself.  Things like Grey Ice Cream, pitching your tent in the rain only to find that you just brought the rain fly, 3 Foot Salamanders, and kidney punches.  You wouldn't understand unless you were there, but anyway here is the run itself:
Southern Trail head at the Davidson River Campground:

Mr. Loeb's 1st mile is a joke.  Very flat running on crushed gravel along the river.  We were all laughing, but anxiously awaiting what we knew to be coming soon.  7,000 Feet of climbing in the first 18 miles, then another 2,000 Feet after that totaling around 9,000 Art Loeb Feet.
This would be the only easy mile of the day.  The trail abruptly turned toward a mountain around the end of mile 1 and we started climbing.  And climbing.  And climbing.  There were brief downhill sections that could be run, but whenever we went down - the next climb was certain to be even longer than the last one.
After the first six miles I could tell that I finally had my climbing legs back under me.  This was really exciting because my last few ultras have been horrible when I faced a big climb.  I focused on taking smaller strides, keeping my head up, back straight, and pushing off with my heels using my butt muscles.  I felt like I could keep climbing all day.
Oh wait, I did.
After some crazy place named Cat Gap the trail took us to the base of a huge rock.  Pretty cool:
This first 12 mile section didn't offer a ton of views, but I felt right at home with the lush jungle feel that it had.  I'm sure that a winter trek would offer a ton of views when the leaves are gone.
Katie's husband Jeff had our backs all day serving as the "Crew Chief" in the white party van.  This run would have been much more difficult without his help.  Not only did we not have to carry enough food for the entire run, but he also eliminated the 2+ hour drive we would have made the night before to leave a vehicle at the end of the trail.  I really appreciate his help.
We met up with him for the 1st road crossing around mile 12:
It was great to also see my old running friend "Run Bum" Blanton.  He ran about 5 miles with us and pulled up along.  This time he didn't have a wig on tied up in a girl's trunk (that too is another story).
Kiley taking a break:

Annie & Katie reloading at the van.

Cam discussing the trail with his wife:

 Some nice aid station grub:

Me ready to tackle six more viscous miles of climbing.  Note to self "Close Mouth"
After a nice break from the trail, we headed back up to what would be the most difficult climb of the day:
I'm glad the Run Bum jumped in with us here because he helped to pull me up the climb.  This one reminded me of Devil's Thumb out on the Western States course.  Very steep climbing with tons of switchbacks.  It was tough, but it went by fairly quick and we were rewarded with a breathtaking 360 degree view at the top!

Shortly after summiting this mountain I ran upon the largest Mole I've ever seen!  This sucker was about six inches long and looked more like a small cat.   You can't see if very well, but you don't want to anyway.  The thing is creepy.  Annie & Katie convinced me it was a mole, but I'm still wondering...

As we hit mile 14 I was sort of expecting to start falling apart.  We just did a TON of climbing and I haven't been handling it very well as I'm getting back into shape for some 100 mile races in the fall.  I was surprised to be feeling great and showing no signs of fatigue or mental funk.
Another aspect of this run that made it so much fun was having different friends join in as it progressed.  Around mile 15 we were greeted by Charles & Psyche who I haven't see in forever.  I heard Charles talking up ahead on the trail and a smile instantly plastered all over my sweaty face.

I've shared some incredible trail memories with these two.  Having them be a part of this one made it that more special to me.
Run Bum getting crazy with some crumbed up peanut butter cookies:

After climbing just a few more minutes we were then greeted by Denise!  The hits just keep rolling in!

After yet another 2-3 miles of moderate climbing we finally have the majority of it behind us around mile 18.5 where the trail intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway.  This place was packed with vehicles and folks out enjoying the beautiful day.  You can't make him out good, but there is a huge Wolfhound in the center of the picture.

 Charles & Psyche were nice enough to offer us cold drinks!

Re-stocking supplies for our final 12 miles at the crew van with Jeff.

 Cam & Pam taking it all in.

I knew that the final stretch of trail was some of the most scenic on the East Coast.  After looking at photos of this sections for over 10 years, I will agree that they just don't do it enough justice.  You really need to breath in the air and feel the wind against you while starring off into the miles of beautiful mountains.  I instantly connected with this place as soon as I was in it.  I quickly forgot about the last 18 miles of climbing.

I was acting like an idiot heading back onto the trail and decided to run some of the next half mile that climbed 600 feet.  After getting about 100 feet up it I started walking and then soon after fell down with a terrible cramp in my left calf muscle.  Blanton helped me work it out for a minute and I was back up and climbing right away, but not before having a slight mental breakdown from all of the climbing.  This little section was just ridiculous & steep.  Small 5 foot switchbacks that at times climbed up slippery wet rocks.  I was lucky enough to have the Run Bum record me during this:

The next 7-8 miles were just like the photos below.  I can't wait to go back.

If you're ever thinking of running this trail, think again.  The "Wilderness" area of trail section seen above is not marked.  There are rabbit trails going everywhere.  Kiley was kind enough to escort us through this section and help us stay on trail.  Denise & Run Bum had also covered it and kept us on course too.  You better know where you're going or you WILL go off course at some point.
Eventually Run Bum, Charles & Psyche, and Denise turned back to head home and the five of us keep pushing ahead.  Cam ran ahead of us most of the day and missed one of the unmarked turns on the trail.  Fortunately, some boy scouts were there and told us that he had went the wrong direction.  None of us felt enough spunk to run him and we just plopped down on the trail to rest as two of the scouts went ahead to get him.  We were all a little disappointed when they returned with him a few minutes which meant our rest time was over.  Tough love on the Art Loeb.
The final section of trail took us through a place called "The Narrows".  This was about a 2 mile stretch of extremely technical trail that gave us little to no opportunity of running.  As the clock finally hit 10 hours for the run I was starting to wear down.  There were several tree downs and even when the trail was "clear" - maneuvering was tricky & slow.
After another hour of winding our way through this thicket we made the final turn towards the end of the trail which was a four mile stretch.  I noticed that we had just broken the 12 hour barrier and Jeff would be expecting us to finish around that time.  There was nothing we could do, but just keep moving.  We had about 2.5 hours before sunset so if everything went smooth we wouldn't have to worry about that. 
Not that it mattered at that point, because the four of us were going delirious out of our minds.  Annie broke 30 minutes of trail silence by saying that someone needed to tell a funny story.  At that time I was thinking how cool it would be to run an ultra on the moon.  If you lost gravity and flew off you would get a DNL (Did not Land) instead of the typical DNF (Did not finish).  I shared my humor, but everyone was so tired they just grunted back at me.  I realized then I should probably just shut up before I really said something bad.
This final stretch seemed to drag out forever as the end of most ultras do.  Annie took a nasty fall after twisting her ankle and we all literally just stood there and looked at her laying on the trail.  I feel bad after looking back, but we didn't even try to help her up.  That is how out of it we were.
FINALLY, we could hear Jeff, Cam, and Pam yelling for us down the trail and we could see the finish, but the trail still would not end!  We ran at least another quarter of a mile before making the final turn to finish.
 We we're all five thrilled to be finished and shared some quick laughs before heading home.  I can't imagine having anymore fun or enjoyment with friends & a trail then I did that day.  The friendships & trail time were priceless and I'm so thankful that I had the opportunity to do this.
I already wish I was going back today.  Long live the Loeb!


  1. Great read, as always, and it sounds like you has as much of a blast as anyone could on a tough, long run with ultra friends. I watched/listed to that video twice when it was posted on Facebook and twice today, volume at 100% and --- I still can't make out what you said.

    1. watched/listened* - why can't I proofread my own stuff? :\

  2. That's an awesome adventure! Cool that you got your climbing mojo back, Jason!

  3. So glad you had a great time! I was thinking that a double Art would be a worthy challenge now that you've conquered it northbound. Whaddya think? : )

    1. Oh, I would absolutely be up for that. Haven't you already finished the double?

  4. Good read, thanks for sharing. You don't happen to have Gpx files for the trail, do you? I'm heading out for a double in a few days. Thx Michael

  5. DOUBLE?! Dude, that is gonna be a great one! Email me at and I will send you the GPX file. I'm jealous - have fun.

  6. Email sent...thx!

  7. Ive been trying to find info about this the 2013 race for some time now. Is this run still a yearly event? If so, do you have contact info of anyone associated with this run? I love this trail and would love to do it with other runners.
    Brandon K.