Health and Wellness

Have Shoes, Will Run to Top of Mountain

Urban Exploration

Running is my preferred method to explore the places I visit. I spent the latter half of this week in Juneau – the capital city of the great state of Alaska. I was honored to be asked to present at the Southeast Regional EMS Symposium. Although Juneau is on the mainland it has a limited mileage of roads. Therefore I could explore all of the downtown and easily access some rugged backcountry trail running with a pair of running shoes.

I traveled all day Tuesday to reach Juneau. Central Wisconsin airport to O’Hare to Seattle to Ketchikan to Juneau. With a three-hour time difference I left my house at 10 a.m. central time and arrived at the hotel at 10 p.m. Alaska time. Wednesday morning I woke up to typical Juneau weather – mid 40s, drizzle, and low gray clouds. I took a simple walk to the harbor, along the cruise ship docks, and around the state government to explore my surroundings. Lots of open coffee shops but few places to eat breakfast. I ended up back at the hotel restaurant for a chorizo sausage burrito – yum!

After a large breakfast burrito and amazing salmon salad sandwich from the Silverbow cafe I was ready and needed a long afternoon run. Somehow I had this idea I could run from downtown Juneau to the Mendenhall glacier visitor center. A quick trip to Google maps helped me discover this would be a 25 mile round trip – much more running than I needed. Gregory, from the SEREMS staff, suggested the trail to the top of Mount Roberts would be a good run/hike and I would be treated to great views of Juneau and the surrounding mountains.

I set off in for the peak in trail running shorts (need the cargo pockets for food, hotel key, phone), two synthetic tops and a nylon vest. I was glad I had packed a pair of light running gloves as these would prove more and more necessary as I gained altitude. Of course, I also had my RoadID – never run without it. The climb to the top started out the hotel door. Juneau is a city of steps. I ran north on Franklin to a set of steps that wound around the ridge until I found a trail sign. Then the real climbing began.

Trail Running Shoes would have been nice!
Juneau is in the midst of the Tongass National Forest – a true northern rain forest. Everything is wet. The trail was combination of wet ground, mud, standing water, lightly flowing water trickles, and quickly gathering rushing torrents. I just had a pair of pavement shoes (Asics gel 1140s) so I did plenty of slip sliding. These were the same shoes I wore for a desert trail run in Phoenix last week so the brown desert dust was quickly replaced with mud and pine needles. Several falls into the mud and later snow made the gloves well worth the space they took in my suitcase.

Snowshoes would have been nice!
As I ascended the light drizzle changed to a sleet and then to a freezing drizzle. The muddy trailed was quickly covered with snow. Despite the deepening snow I was determined to make it to the top. Most of the time the snow was packed hard enough that I stayed on top. A few post-hole drops into snow above my knee reminded me to slow down lest I fall forward and break my leg. Then it would have been a long, cold afternoon on the mountain.

An aerial tram from the harbor brings visitors to the top of Mount Roberts. I reached the tram station as the wind strengthened and the snow fall increased. The fog was too dense to tell if there was a higher summit and pragmatism set in as I observed the worsening conditions. With snowshoes, a parka, pants, and a map I might have set off for the summit, but not in shorts and pavement running shoes.

It took me 70 minutes to reach the top. I turned back to town with the wind at my back and the trail falling away beneath my feet. Thirty five minutes later – half the time – I was back in town.

Because of the snow and cloud cover the view wasn’t much – mostly clouds and the stuff immediately near me. A few breaks in the clouds revealed the downtown, harbor, and tram station below – an amazingly steep and short descent.

Time for One More Run
I snuck in another run Friday morning before my conference presentations. A simple run south from downtown brought me to the tank farm and commercial shipping port. I turned back to do a few laps around some downtown blocks to boost my mileage to a respectable 3.5 miles. Just enough to get moving before heading home.

How do you explore places you visit?

Mount Roberts Trail
Juneau travel information
Asics Gel 1140

By Greg Friese

Greg Friese, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is an author, educator, paramedic, and marathon runner.

Greg was the co-host of the award winning EMSEduCast podcast, the only podcast by and for EMS educators. Greg has written for,, Wilderness Medical Associates, JEMS Magazine, and EMS World Magazine, and the NAEMSE Educator Newsletter.