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In Plains Sight

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

On yet another gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I decided to explore an area where I used to mountain bike regularly, but had not been to in a few years.  While I used to be an avid mountain biker, a few summers in a row with crashes ending up with ribs which were “broken, sprained, strained, or tied up and twisted” (and it doesn’t make a difference which diagnosis you get, as the treatment is always “Ibuprofen, rest, and hurt for two months”) diminished my fervor for the sport, and actually led to my current focus on trail running.  The area between Upper Plains Road and Lower Plains Road, which straddles the Middlebury-Salisbury town line is full of trails, which in the past seemed to be most heavily used by ATV’ers, but showed few signs of use on this run, at least not this early in the season.

I started the run at the parking lot at the East Middlebury playground, and headed past the Waybury Inn on Rt 125.  Younger readers may not remember this, but a photograph of the Waybury Inn was used in the credits for the 1980′s Bob Newhart Show, where it was referred to as the “Stratford Inn“.  After passing by the Inn, I headed over the bridge, and up the short steep hill known as Sand Hill, and took the right turn on a dirt road serving the highway department Quonset hut before reaching the top of the hill.  Shortly after turning onto the Quonset hut dirt road, I took the broad grassy path veering to the left, and followed this to the first left turn.  Another left turn brought me up a short steeper climb on a trail which appeared to have been built and actively maintained at some point, and left me wondering for what purpose it was built?  It was too narrow to have been a logging road, and there were no signs indicating that it was or had been an active snowmobile trail.  Reaching the height of this climb, I did a short bushwhack in the direction of Rt 125, and found a nice overlook at the top of the rock outcropping alongside the road at this point.

Unique adirondack view

Adirondack Views

 

After this view, not entirely sure where I was going, I proceeded further uphill, until the path emerged from the woods, joining Upper Plains Rd near to the point where it empties into Rt 125. Not wanting to leave the trails just yet, I found a bear path (as in barely there) and went in a direction where I thought I might find some beaver ponds whose location was hinted at by Google Earth. Soon, the boggy terrain under my feet told me I was probably going to find what I was looking for, and sure enough, I came across an semi-open meadow with many fallen trees, and of course, a mound of sticks in the distance where the little engineers made their home.

beavers at work

Beaver Debris

 

As I turned around and backtracked my way through the mud, I caught site of the first wildflowers of the year. I will have to send a note to my botanical colleague at “The Middlebury Landscape” to ID this flower for me.

first wildflower of the season

First Wildflowers of the Season

 

I also noted one of the more intact stone walls I have seen for some time. The woods in Addison County are full of these of course, but the mature state of the hardwood forest led me to guess that this is a rather old stone wall, and that the hill farm it probably served was long defunct, making the condition of the wall all the more remarkable.

ancient stonewall

Ancient Stone Wall

 

Up to this point, a lot of what I have been referring to as trail running was really a mix of jogging, exploring, and even a little bushwhacking, and I sought a better defined trail to stretch out my legs a little more. Fortunately, at this point, I found a strong trail heading south, and spent a solid mile on it before it bore downhill to the right, and curved back to the start of the run. I was just beginning to wonder who actually owned this land, as there were no forest service or “Posted” signs, but as I neared the Quonset hut, I noted that the land to my left was suddenly heavily posted. Guess I won’t be going that way! Once I returned to the Quonset hut, I simply retraced my steps back into East Middlebury and my waiting car, for a 5.25 mile, and surprisingly, 400 vertical feet of climbing run.

Google earth of the run

Google earth of the run

 

altitude profile

A Spring Look from Voter Brook

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Early spring trail running is a pleasure.  Spring fever on the first semi-warm days always inspires me to get out and explore the nearby forest trails.  Additionally, before the summer foliage sets in, one can see deeper into the woods, and get a much richer feel for the surrounding topology.  Little scenic nuggets which would otherwise go unnoticed appear with a surprising clarity.   On the other hand, one must also be sensitive to the need to stay off of heavily used trails during “mud season”.  The Green Mountain National Forest recommends staying off of high elevation trails, especially the heavily used Long Trail, until after Memorial Day.  They don’t do this out of misguided attention to our muddy boots and running shoes, but due to the excessive erosion and inadvertent trail widening which can happen from hikers and runner stepping around the large mud wallows.  With these concerns in mind, I chose to go for a run which my previous experience told me was lightly trodden, and rather rocky rather than soft and muddy.

With these concerns in mind, I decided to go for a run from the Moosalamoo Campground parking lot.  This Green Mountain National Forest campground, found on the Ripton-Goshen road is pretty well deserted even in the middle of the summer, but the road leading into it was open and driveable.  Parking at the campground, I simply ran down the remainder of the dirt road in the direction of the Voter Brook Overlook.  I was immediately impressed by the handiwork of quite a few eager beavers, whose numerous ponds and mounds of sticks, most of which I had never noticed before, were apparent due to the unobstructed views.

beaver activity

Beaver Lodge

After a mile and a quarter of easy going on the road, I reached the Voter Brook Overlook. This little known gem provides excellent views to the Champlain Valley to the west, and towards the popular hiking destination, the Rattlesnake Cliffs above and to the right.

rattlesnake cliffs

Rattlesnake Cliffs

 

 

After this point, I headed deeper into the woods for some more adventurous running. A short descending trail heads down from the overlook, and meets up with the North Branch trail shortly. I had run this trail previously, under very different circumstances in mid August last year in the course of a very different running experience, but I could see that this spring there was still significant winter blowdown in the trail which slowed my progress in a few places, and made me appreciate the trail crews who maintain the Moosalamoo region trails during the summer months.  After about a mile on this trail, I took a left turn onto the Keewaydin Trail, which led to the only truly muddy section of the run before climbing back up to the road.  After a short section on the road, I took a left turn onto a trail lacking a forest service sign, only labeled by a small Blueberry Hill Ski Area trail sign bearing the number “43″.  This trail eventually looped back to the Moosalamoo campground, and a short run around this brought me almost back to my car.  A few yards from my car, I came to a the even smaller loop in the campground, which was set up as a small nature loop for the families staying there in the summer months when it is officially open.   I got a little bit of a kick out of the signs pretty much labeling every tree along the way!

DSC_0104

A nice Ash

 

 

Returning to my car at this point, my GPS recorded this as a 4.25 mile run with some modest ups and downs, but no serious climbs, at least by Vermont standards. This general vicinity has a lot of nice hiking and running trails, but the forest service map of this little corner of the Moosalamoo Wilderness is pretty out of date and inaccurate as to where trails come and go. That said, it is all great, so just go explore!

Google earth of keewaydin trail

Snowshoeing Snowmobile Superhighways

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

It has been a few months since my last posting due to a myriad of injuries – nothing serious, but just the aches and pains that flare up with  increasing regularity in middle age. So here it is, a relatively warm, sunny Saturday in early January, with the best snow cover in two years, and neither skiing nor running seeming like a good idea. So, it appeared like a good opportunity to add in a post dealing not with running, the primary focus of the blog, or cross country skiing, which usually keeps me busy over the winter, but with the slower, gentler pursuit of snowshoeing, at least until my body gives me the green light on the more vigorous activities.

I also decided to take it easy by doing this snowshoeing on the gentle passage of well-packed snowmobile trails, maintained by the VAST organization for snowmobilers, but open to skiers, hikers and snowshoe enthusiasts in the winter.  One short stretch of trail had been piquing my interest for some time.  I first discovered the winter trailhead accessing the Ripton end (as opposed to the Breadloaf/Rikert end) of Forest Service Road 59 about two winters ago, and described a short run on this snowy, well-packed route heading towards the Rikert Ski Touring Area.  A quick look at some snowmobile trail maps indicated that it is also possible to follow this trail, traveling in the opposite direction, up over the summit of Robert Frost Mountain from the east, and descend to Middlebury International Airport.  I wrote about the trail connection between the airport and the summit of Robert Frost Mt. as well a few years ago.  Today seemed like a good day to reconnoitre this route for a future longer run or ski.

The trailhead can be accessed by driving up to Ripton, taking a left turn onto Lincoln Rd in front of the Ripton General Store, followed by a right turn onto Robbins Crossroad, and a left onto Natural Turnpike.  Then, just follow Natural Turnpike until its seasonal terminus to park your vehicle.  Strapping on my snowshoes over my Bean boots, I set off, taking a left up a short hill, following the well marked snowmobile trail, which paralleled and occasionally intercepted the dirt road on several occasions, before finally crossing to the left and heading into the woods.  From this point on, most of the scenery was as expected with the well-packed ribbon of the trail ambling through the hardwood forest.  Subtle signs of the Green Mountain National Forest’s logging use were apparent.  While clear cutting does not appear to be as prevalent as it once was, heading through one stand of uniform small-circumference hardwoods and a total lack of ground cover shrubs indicated that this area had been selectively lumbered fairly recently.

Winter Trails

White Trails

 

One of the great pleasures of exploring these high-altitude forests is coming across large open meadows alongside streams, typically the result of beaver activity.  This trip brought me past at least 3 or 4 of these.  After almost two miles on the trail, which I learned from VAST trail signs was Trail 7A, I came to a hillside where, looking west, I could see the wooded summit of Robert Frost Mountain a few miles away, indicating that I was indeed heading in the correct direction, facilitating a run to come in the future!

Robert Frost Mt view

Robert Frost Mt. Vista

 

Shortly after this, I could tell by the way the snow was packed that the trail was no longer groomed by and for the snowmobilers – although there was still ample snow on the ground, a snowplow had clearly come through, probably as part of more recent logging operations.  Sure enough, a short distance later, I came across a clearing full of logging equipment, and the logging vehicle shown below really looked like a very serious ATV!

Logging Vehicle

Monster Truck (for logging)

 

I could see from my Garmin GPS that I had been hiking about 2 and a third miles, so it seemed like a good time to turn around and retrace my steps back to my waiting vehicle for about a 4.5 mile trip.  Some winter hikers and skiers are reticent to travel on snowmobiling trails, but I have always found the snowmobile enthusiasts courteous, and surprisingly rare!  Over the course of the roughly hour and a half I was on their trails, I only saw two small parties of snowmobilers, and one other hiker.  Not bad for one of the most beautiful Saturday afternoons of the year!

Google Earth Snowshoe

Google Earth of the route

 

 

altitude profile snowshoe

Altitude Profile

 

The Other Side of Snake Mountain

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I have been looking forward to my next post for some time now – Since March, the inevitable aches, pains, and nuisance injuries of middle age have kept me off the trails and out of my running shoes.  While I am not back to 100% (or what delusionally passes for 100% at this point in my life), I was at the point where continued rest and inactivity seemed to hurt more than help.  Contemplating a relatively short, easy run I remembered learning of a much less traveled trail up Snake Mountain, ascending from the gentler east side of the mountain.  Since this side of the mountain appeared much less imposing than the west facing cliff side where most hikers and runners begin, I assumed I was in for a relatively easy run.  Sometimes visual impressions can be deceiving!

The east face trailhead is much less known than the far heavier traveled east side trail on Snake Mt.  The easiest way to get to this trailhead is to head out of town to the west on Rt. 125 until you get to Lemon Fair Road.  Turn right onto Lemon Fair Road at the yellow house at the top of the hill about a mile and a half out of town, and stay on this road until you get to Snake Mountain Rd, where you take a right turn.  Head north on Snake Mt. Rd. for 2.5 miles, until you come to a small barely marked parking lot slightly up to your left.

The trail begins gently enough following a broad, well maintained path through a few hillside meadows before reaching at gate about a third of a mile up the trail.  After this point, the trail soon becomes a narrow, single track trail, unlike the broad former coach road which makes up the west side trail.  Nonetheless, the trail was obvious to follow, and went by several pretty, boggy areas where the trail got a little bit muddy.  Along the muddiest section, the source of the flooding was soon obvious – a beaver pond had started raise the water level in one of the boggy sections to the point where the trail was beginning to get slightly flooded.  There were also several clearly recently felled trees (one with green leaves still on it!) indicating that the beaver in residence had been characteristically busy in the previous day or two.

Beaver Pond

 

 

Downed Tree

 

Continuing past this muddy section, the trail got significantly steeper before leveling off for a traverse to the south. I was beginning think that I must be getting nearer to the summit, but was puzzled where the trail would end up, as I had never noticed where this particular trail joined the main trail, let alone the summit. My questions were soon answered as the east side trail joined the west side trail – only about half way up the mountain – I had plenty of running yet to do! Upon reaching the summit view point, I was far more tired than usual – was this solely due to the expected loss of conditioning after 3 months off the trails? Or was the east side trail deceptively longer? I would have to wait until I got home and synced up my Garmin GPS watch to get most of the hard data.

View to the North from the summit

View to the North from the summit

 

I was pretty tired at the summit, and the circling vultures did little to comfort me! Another far more ornithologically informed hiker at the summit commented that since I was so sweaty, the vultures were probably smelling me as if I was carrion. Funny – Mrs. Trailrunner seems to think the same thing when I return from a good long trail run. The return to my car was relatively uneventful, with the caveat that less traveled trails are sometimes more difficult to find on the way down than they are on the way up – I unwittingly ended up following a dry stream bed rather than the trail for a few hundred yards, but fortunately rejoined the true trail at about the point when I was beginning to realize I had taken a wrong turn.

After checking the mileage on this run, which was harder than I hoped it would be, I found that my observations were verified – the east side trail is about a half mile longer (4.6 miles), about 100 vertical feet more to climb (1000 ft total), and significantly rougher than the west side. It was also a more interesting and prettier path in my opinion – in other words, a true trail run! I am looking forward to some new and more adventurous runs as my body continues to heal.

Altitude Profile

View of the run from the east, looking west