Author Archives: Jeff Byers

About Jeff Byers

I am on the faculty here at Middlebury, and an avid runner

Snowshoeing on Hogback Mountain

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I wanted to get off the track and treadmill, and into the mountains. So, I decided to go to one of my favorite places, the trails around the Blueberry Hill Inn for snowshoeing. I pulled my car into the ski touring area parking lot, across the street from the Inn, and was surprised at how quiet things looked. I have skied here countless times in the past, but it had been a few years since my last trip here in the winter. Over the last few years, the ski operation has scaled back its operations – in part due to some lost trail bridges which have proven costly to replace. So, what was once a “full service” ski touring area, with groomed trails is now aimed at people who are happy to break track, or follow the tracks set by the person in front of them. It’s OK – it is still beautiful. After paying the nominal trail donation, I crossed the street and followed the well skied trail behind the Inn.

The Blueberry Hill Inn in winter

My destination for the day, Hogback Mountain, is the hill just to the right of the inn’s roof line in the photo above. I set out on the trail paralleling the road, roughly following the path of the Goshen Gallop, a summer trail race which I run most years, which proceeds on the adjacent road. After about a half mile, I took a sharp left turn, now on a short climb, until I reached the next trail, where I took a right, and began the traverse on the lower slopes of Hogback Mt. In some sections of these trails, the snowshoes were rather unnecessary – the ground had been well enough packed by previous hikers, skiers, and showshoers, that I could have easily hiked it in normal boots. However, there were some softer sections, where I would have undoubtedly postholed, so I was glad that I had my snowshoes. On this brilliant sunny day, I looked up and admired the perfect azure blue sky overhead – more typical of the Rockies than northern New England.

Blue Skies

After about a mile and a half, I reached my destination – the open slopes of Hogback Mountain, with one of the best views around. In the winter, you can’t really tell why these meadows are so open, affording such spectacular vistas. These are the same wild blueberry meadows that give the inn and ski touring area its name, and if you come at just the right time in mid-late July, you will have the company of many wild blueberry pickers.

Hogback Mountain Vista

After soaking up the afternoon sun for a few minutes, I retraced my steps back to the inn taking a slightly more direct route, making for a roughly 3 mile trip, with only modest climbs. I stepped into the touring center, and enjoyed a bowl of their delicious vegetable soup, made available on weekends for a modest fee, as I looked around the room. I noticed many signs which used to be out on the trail system. Apparently, after spending many years working to have the nearby forests protected as the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, Tony, the owner of the Inn, had to remove these signs as part of federal wilderness rules. A small price to pay, but someday, I will have to ask him about the stories behind each of them.

Retired Trail Signs

Finally – as I was leaving the touring center, I stopped to read some of the permanent posters talking about various aspects of the Moosalamoo Recreation Area, signs which I had passed by countless times over the years, and apparently had never stopped to read. One of them alluded to the presence of an abandoned downhill ski area in the Moosalamoo Region, something I had never known. So, I turned and asked the young man at the desk, and he wasn’t sure where it was, although he suspected that it might be the slopes of Hogback that I had just been on. When I returned home, I went to one of my favorite web sites, NELSAP.org, where NELSAP is an acronym for the New England Lost Ski Area Project, and found that there indeed had been a commercial ski area just a few miles away, which operated in the 1940’s and 50’s under the name Pine Mountain. Even more curiously, the owners apparently spent some funds reviving it in the early 2000’s for private use, complete with a 600 ft rope tow, lights for night skiing, a groomer, and snow making! I have no idea what its current status is, but I look forward to going back and checking it out.

Hogback Mountain Snowshoeing on Google Earth
Altitude Profile (not too bad!)

A Winter Walk on the Wild Side

Due to the challenges of recovery from a recent surgery, running is, for the time being, off the menu. That said, my physical therapist has been recommending walking an hour each day. As my body has recuperated, most of my walking has been confined to the roads by my home, the treadmill at Middlebury Fitness, or the indoor track at the college. A recent streak of unseasonably warm weather, and my increasing stamina inspired me to get out on the trails for the first time in too long, so I was inspired to spend an hour or so on a late afternoon to get out and enjoy some of the trails from the Robert Frost trailhead. Given the relatively thin snow cover, and the heavy usage of these trails, I assumed that I would not need my snowshoes, so I slipped on my microspikes over my hiking boots, and found that this footware combination served me perfectly.

The first part of this walk was on the well-known Robert Frost trail, where a gentle walk in the woods is punctuated by signposts bearing Frost poems appropriate to the location. In a few minutes, I got to the stream crossing, which is now spanned by a handicap accessible bridge – a very nice addition. Years ago, when my daughters were young there was a much more rustic stone bridge at this crossing (which washed out a few years ago), from which we would play “Pooh Sticks” on lazy summer days.

The Pooh Sticks Stream


Continuing along the trail, I came to the right turn, where I turned away from the short Robert Frost trail, and headed deeper “into the wild”. I have run in the area many times during the warmer months, but I am always amazed at how different things look in the winter – it can almost be disorienting, even though one can see deep into the woods, given the bare trees. Good thing the trails here come well-signed, huh? I also found it curious that the trail sign gives 911 instructions (umm dial 911?) in an area with no cell coverage.



Trail Map

So, my memory of these trail refreshed by an actual map, I continued along Crosswalk, taking a sharp left turn on Sundown, climbing gradually until I saw the short steep incline of the trail named “Trepidation” in front of me. I must admit, the name is a bit overdone for what was basically a 0.1 mile climb, but I would imagine that novice cross country skiers looking down it might think otherwise. Getting up to the top of the hill called “Water Tower Hill, I paused for a moment, wondering if this was indeed the actual water tower at some point, since there is an entire trail network not far away on the Goshen-Ripton road also called the Water Tower trails. And they do not connect to this hill. Perhaps there were two water towers in comparably sparsely settled places, a few miles apart? I doubt it. To add to the confusion, one of the small hills behind the Rikert Ski Touring center is called Fire Tower Hill. Were the water towers there to help put out the fires found from the fire tower? I think that one of my first orders of business while running next summer will be to scout the summits (sans snow) to look for remnants of towers. While the snow was too deep to see any evidence of past towers, I did get a nice view of the Rattlesnake Cliffs on Mt Moosalomoo through the trees.

Moosalamoo through the trees

Descending from the “summit” I turned left on North Star, a trail which is seemingly always muddy with poor footing in the summer, but was quite pleasant with well trodden snow, until reaching the connecting trail to the Robert Frost loop, where I turned right and descended to the open blueberry meadow. While there were no blueberries this time of the year, I did enjoy the view of the lone pitch pine standing in the meadow, spreading its branches luxuriously wide in the absence of any competition for sunlight.

Lone Pine

From here, it was a short walk back to my car. This ended up as a 3 mile walk, with about 500 ft of climb and descent – perfect for a winter late afternoon. It feels great to be returning to activity, and to be back in something resembling “the wilds”.

A totally unrelated Coda:

Forty years ago, to the day, in my first year of grad school at that Big Green college to the southeast in New Hampshire, I joined a friend on his 25th birthday celebration. We decided, on the evening before (over a beer or two, of course) to get up, and climb a mountain for sunrise. At first we joked about doing Mt Washington, but realized that would be pretty stupid on the 3rd of February. So, I suggested a a more modest peak nearby, Mt Cube, a lovely rocky-summited peak in central NH. So, a few hours later, we were trudging up, in the darkness and deep snow to help my friend celebrate his birthday. Upon reaching the summit, and fueling ourselves on cheap cherry brandy, and defacing the peak with snow angels, we descended, and vowed to make this a yearly tradition for the duration of grad school. Happy 65th Birthday Rudy!

Google Earth of the walk