My First Four Corners Excursion

I’ve been running the trails in the Wissahickon for almost three years now.  At first, I tentatively ventured off the main drive, exploring short sections when I got the chance.  Two years ago, I was fortunate to join up with a group of local female trail runners, and by running with them, I began to learn new trails and new parts of the park I had never seen.  Last year, we traveled all over the park, on runs that took us as long as 5 hours, and yet because we were often dropping off or picking up others along the way, I never officially covered the full park.  Finally, after more than a year of talking about it, we made our first Four Corners attempt yesterday.

When you say that you are running the “four corners” of the park, most people are probably picturing a large square-shaped space.  “Square” is hardly a word I would use to describe the Wissahickon.  It really ends up looking more like a long squiggly shape.  Four Corners Map  As such, it’s hard to precisely define where the exact four corners of the park are.  When you say that you ran the “Four Corners” it’s really just a way of describing a run that hits the entire perimeter of the park.

We started at Valley Green Inn, which is located almost exactly in the middle of the park.  The scene couldn’t have been more perfect – I set out on the trails with seven of the eight women that I most love to run the trails with.  It was a brisk 32 degrees at the start, but with the promise of warmer weather moving in throughout the day, I had pulled out my capris for the run.  We headed off up the first hill behind the inn as the sun was just rising.  In fact, we were nearly two miles in before it broke through the trees to hit the trails for the first time.  We paused for a moment to take in the sight, and using Nicole’s awesome camera timer, we even managed to snap a photo of the momentous occasion.

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When you run on the trails, it’s not possible to have one large group conversation, as there’s usually not room to run more than two people across.  Instead, we often end up in small groups of two or three, with several different conversations happening at once.  The variety helps the miles to pass quickly.  I started the run venting about my week to the sympathetic Chris, before sliding into a conversation with my longtime friend, Jen.  As we slowly warmed up, we enjoyed taking in the new sights along the way.  Most of our runs start and end at Cedars House on the far west end of the park, so we don’t get over to the east side as often.  We introduced several women to the beautiful sights high above the park, as well as the mystery of Hermit’s Cave.

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After several more twists and turns, we made it to the first corner of the park, where we stopped for a quick water break before continuing on with the run.  In an attempt to get downhill without retracing our steps, we inadvertently created our own path down the hill.  The laughter that this adventure created had us all gasping for breath for several minutes.  We came out on the paved path and followed it back along the water and over the two wooden bridges until we reentered the park and its eastern border.  We immediately crossed back uphill to find our second corner.  Two corners down, but only 6 miles in, so we pushed on with determination.

This second side of the park tends to be quite a bit more technical than where we had started, and we had a lot of close calls along the way, including one fall and one turned ankle.  Fortunately everyone made it through without any serious injury.  We stopped by one of the awesome rock formations for another photo, safely crossed Devil’s Pool while staying dry, and then zigzagged our way back around to the inn and our starting point.

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At the inn, where we were officially at the 10-mile mark, we dropped two of our awesome runners who had to get on with the rest of their day.  We made a quick bathroom break, refilled water bottles, dropped a few layers at the cars, and then set off back up the big hill to hit the second half of the park.  We were barely to the top of the hill when we ran into another challenge, quite literally.  We had been hiking and chatting when Nicole, who had her head down to watch the trail, walked right into a large broken off tree branch that was hanging down from a fallen tree overhead.  Her hat brim saved her from any large cuts, but the force of the blow stunned her momentarily and gave us all a bit of a scare.  We started back down the trail towards the cars before Nicole, showing the toughness that she’s known for, decided that she wanted to go on with the run.   We reversed back to the top of the hill, eased back into an easy run, and kept a careful eye on our friend.

One of the great things about running in the Wissahickon is that the trails look totally different when run in different directions and at different times of the year.  Our run was now taking us on well-known trails, but in the reverse direction of our usual path, which made it all a lot more interesting.  The temperatures began to rise quickly on the second half of the run, and we had quickly stripped down to short sleeves and tank tops.  After a few more miles, Cathy and Audrey turned back towards the inn, which brought our original group of eight runners down to the final four.  With Nicole, Michelle, Jen & I all training for races of 50+ miles later this year, we were determined to make it around the entire park perimeter.

As we entered the meadow sections of our run, we discovered a new challenge – mud.  There were many parts of the trail that were coated in slick mud, and a misplaced foot caused an immediate slide.  It’s hard enough to keep your footing when you are well-rested on the trails, and this slippery surface caused us to really focus in on our steps.  We made it through the Houston and Andorra meadows without incident and checked off the third corner of the park.

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Coming down the hill behind Cedars House was a great feeling.  We were about 17 miles into the run, and while tired, we knew that we were just a few miles away from our goal.  We headed out along the creek, crossed the wide bridge by Chestnut Hill College, and turned back into the park for the final portion of our run.  After crossing Bells Mill Road, we turned uphill one last time to get to our fourth and final corner.  At the top of the climb, we enjoyed a short break to savor our accomplishment and study the map, reveling in just how far we had traveled that morning.  Knowing that we had to make it back to our cars to get home, we felt fully confident that we were going to be able to complete the run and our giddiness increased as we got closer to the inn.  The trails were now full of bikers and day hikers, but we managed to wind around them as we traversed the final few sections of trail.  We were all thrilled when the inn came into sight, and we coasted down the final road full of excitement.  When we reached the bottom, we discovered that the gps had our distance at 21.6 miles.  Never one to settle for a partial distance, I announced that I was going to hit the Drive for the final .4 miles.  Fortunately Michelle and Jen are used to my compulsion with distance, and they kept me company for the final portion.

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We couldn’t have had a better experience for our first run of the Four Corners.  32 degrees at the start, 58 at the finish, and beautifully sunny skies.  Hours on the trails with seven of the strongest, kindest, most determined women I know.  I can’t imagine a more perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.

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