Blessed By Mountains

I run for many reasons, and have run for many different reasons over the years. But over time, my primary reason for running has evolved such that it is now completely different from what it was several years ago. I always recognized a desire to explore wild and scenic places under my own power, but for many years this was more a result of my running rather than a reason in and of itself to run. In the past few years, though, this has slowly become the primary reason I run. To me there is nothing more exciting than going out for a long run in the wilderness somewhere that I have never run before.

This is the reason I have come to love running in Alaska so much. There are places with more trails, and certainly places with much more runnable trails, but I have not found anywhere with nearly as much true wilderness that one can explore just outside of town or just beyond the end of the road. In seven years exploring the mountains around Juneau, I still have several places in the area that I have never been that are on my list of places to explore. This said, though, I have started to notice that I really need to get creative to go into the mountains and go somewhere new, and somewhere that feels exotic. This summer, I have risen to this need to be creative and have found a whole new world to explore just outside of the immediate Juneau area.

Geoff Roes - explore Alaska

Exploring Alaska. Photo: Geoff Roes

Juneau is on the coast in Southeast Alaska, and anyone who has spent any time here knows that there are dramatic mountains rising up from the sea in every direction. If you’ve traveled to Juneau via boat, you also know that these mountains go on for hundreds of miles in every direction. This summer, I have begun to explore some of the mountains that are only accessible by boat. They’re not all that easy to get to, but the amount of wild-mountain terrain out beyond the road system here is essentially endless. This fact makes me feel like the luckiest runner in the world. Imagine if your favorite trails, or your favorite mountains, simply went on forever if you just kept going further into them. Around here this is essentially what they do.

Geoff Roes - explore Alaska glacier

More Alaska to explore. Photo: Geoff Roes

This past week I got out for my third big mountain outing this summer that is only accessible by boat (and I’ve got one more planned for next week). In doing so, I discovered yet another playground that I could explore for years and not run out of new things to explore. Imagine mountain peaks, ridges, valleys, and glaciers with no trails, no signs of previous human existence, and nothing but more of this same terrain in every direction.

I don’t currently own a boat, but next spring when I move back here to once again live year round, I certainly intend to be on the lookout to buy one.

My recent exploration took place on the lower Chilkat Peninsula. For those of you that have been to Juneau, these are the mountains you can see directly across Lynn Canal north and west of town.

Hopefully all of you have a place in the world that you like to explore on foot that helps you feel as healthy, happy, and alive as these mountains make me feel. If so, go out and immerse yourself in these places as often as possible. It might seem selfish, but in reality you are doing everyone around you a service when you increase your health and your happiness.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you ever feel that, like Geoff’s Juneau haunts, your trail playground goes on for almost ever?
  • To get to his most recent outing, Geoff went by boat. Have you ever chosen to put in that extra bit of effort to get somewhere new and different?
Geoff Roes - Juneau

Geoff exploring the ridges above Juneau. Photo: Joe Grant

There are 24 comments

  1. Tahoe Pete

    This sounds awesome. I just found a new area to explore in tahoe and I have felt like a little kid finding new candies. Exploration is what helps mountain running so great.

  2. Brandon

    I feel the same way about western NC. I've explored hundreds of miles of trail in the past few years and still haven't scratched the surface of what is out there. Even the trail systems that are nearby to larger cities and communities are so immense that you could probably run a new trail everyday for months on end. Combine that with year round access to the trails and you have a hidden gym down here in the southern appalachias!

  3. Kristin Z

    that is also why I LOVE Alaska… endless! well… that and my amazing and wonderful friends there who are always adventuring!

  4. Aaron

    I only really like running when I have somewhere interesting to run to. Right now I live in the Midwest with virtually no park land to speak of. There's nothing but gravel roads and cropland when you get out of the city, and every long run is just an exercise in will power. The only thing that sustains me is the prospect of visiting some large open wilderness in the Ozarks or upstate Minnesota once or twice a year to run a race. Otherwise I doubt that I'd bother to stay reasonably fit. I tell myself that sooner or later I'll risk unemployment to settle somewhere else that isn't utterly dominated by mega farms and privately owned land.

  5. Michael

    Here in Salt Lake the mountains provide majesty right from the doorstep as well. The thing that blows me away is how at 8AM on a given morning it's rare to find anyone up there. So many Wasatch valley citizens that don't appreciate what can be done in a couple hours from a trailhead!

  6. Riley

    This is an awesome article! Living in San Diego I always try once about every two weeks to run somewhere further than the radius around where I live. (Angeles Crest area/Cuyamaca Mountains/Verdugo Mountains/Anza Borrego etc…) I found that not only does it quench my thirst for exploration, but also brings me out of the once in a while monotony of running in the same trails close to home.

  7. Patrick

    While there are certainly more people on the trails in Colorado where I live than in Alaska, I love Colorado. I also kind of like the idea of sharing the trails in case I have trouble. Call me a wuss, but I like coming home to my family.

  8. olga

    I feel your pain. 4 years in TX, and I am about to become a non-runner, even though we do have trails. Just not the same as I used to have as playground and/or wish to have soon again…I fly to mountains often sometimes to just enjoy, at times to a race (and for that, I do have to run in TX…). :)

    1. Mike R

      Definitely can understand that – I used to live in northern Maine surrounded by endless trails, but am now in Philadelphia (not a whole lotta trails here). The transition has been pretty rough with numerous injuries switching over to mostly road running, but I do think that I have grown as a runner and it is worth pushing through, because at the end of the day, running is a beautiful thing no matter where you are doing it.

      That said – I jump at the chance to get back into the mountains and would def prefer that as a regular running playground. But, in the meantime, I'll keep pounding the pavement – everything's fine, just keep running.

  9. Will Musto

    I ran for a small school outside of Asheville, NC for my first two years of college, and a 90 second run from my dorm room brought me to a trail that would've taken me to the top of Mount Mitchell. I most certainly felt that our "training playground" was endless in those days.

    Back in HS, we used to go out of our way to do workouts at the all girls school across town (I promise it was because their track was significantly softer!!). My teammate and I would drive across town after school, drop our spikes or flats at the track, drive back to school, run the four miles to the track as a warmup, complete the workout, run back to our school, and then drive to the track to pick up our workout shoes. Felt that was kind of "going that extra mile" to make everything work for those days.

  10. Ptr

    I am moving to Norway soon where I will live at the foot of a small mountain. Coming from a land with no mountains at all, Denmark, I am extremely excited at the prospect of being able to go for a run in real wilderness whenever I feel like it. I feel blessed.

  11. Ptr

    I completely forgot thank Geoff Roes for the great article. This storie really sparks my dreams of exploring the wild, thank you!

  12. jon

    Olga, not sure where you live in Texas…Big Bend, The Guadalupe Mountains, the Hill country, the pine thickets in east Texas, the canyon in the Texas panhandle…

    lots of cool places to get away from it all & run in both challenging & scenic terrain. give them a look & then get back to us.

  13. Jeff H

    Hi Mike – you don't need to stay on the pavement in Philly! – check out the Wissahickon Park, especially the back trails. I've been running there for 20 yrs and there are endless combinations for 10 to 20 milers without repeating yourself – challenging single track w stunning views to the gorge below. It is sure not remote like Alaska but given that it's in the city limits of the 5th largest city in America – pretty fantastic.

  14. Jeff H

    Southern Vt has the Green Mountain National Forest with the AT and other wonderful trails, but in nearly all the small towns and their surroundings you will find informal trail networks frequently set up by snowmobilers in the winter. These can take you into some pretty wild country. Also interesting, are the many old abandoned roads that have been all but taken over by forest. They are still traceable and a great way to explore that is gets you around easier (and faster) than bushwacking.

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