Tuesday was one of those clear sunny days that makes you crave mountain views, but it was also a recovery day so I needed something on the mellow side. I decided to check out Tonga Ridge, which has a relatively high-elevation trailhead. The goal was to get some views without working too hard. (Normally Tonga Ridge is a snowshoe at this time of year, but this winter is anything but normal.)
The bottom line is that Tonga Ridge is not quite ready for running. It’s certainly passable, assuming you have microspikes, but the trail is intermittently covered in off-camber snow and ice that makes it hard to get into a good rhythm.
Hike? Yes, if you have traction devices. Run? Not quite yet.
Snowshoes aren’t necessary as the snow is firm.
You also have to be willing to do some “road running:” at the turn off to FS310, the FS road abruptly goes from almost completely bare, to covered in a thick layer of ice. Driving up 310 was a definite no-go – at least not in the morning (8 am) when everything is still frozen. I did notice one lone SUV at the trailhead, so maybe the road softens up a bit in the afternoon? I’m assuming they were camped at Sawyer Pass, as I didn’t see anyone all morning.
I parked at the FS 310/6830 junction and hiked/ran up the next 1.25 miles to the trailhead. Then I began the game of “spikes or no spikes?” The answer is spikes. Put them on when you start up 310, and just leave them on. There is a 3/4 mile section of bare trail right at the beginning of the actual trail, but it’s all soft pine needles and I had no trouble running with spikes through that section. Then the snow starts to appear in intermittent patches. By the time you get to the meadows just before the turn off to Mt Sawyer, the snow is thick on the trail and you’ll be glad you just kept the spikes on.
I hit my turnaround time/mileage at the meadows so I stopped there (approx 3.5 miles from my car), but I could see the summit of Mt Sawyer and it looked to be snow-free, which isn’t surprising considering it’s primarily south-facing.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure this trail is worth the drive just yet. Shoulder-season conditions don’t really suit Tonga Ridge. On the other hand, less than ideal conditions typically mean that a trail is less than crowded… so maybe now is the time after all.