Tag Archives: Forest Service Road 59

Beaver Ponds in Frost Country

Several years ago, I described a run where I crossed over a lot of the terrain commonly associated with the Robert Frost environment – the Frost Cabin, the Robert Frost trail, and the Breadloaf campus in Ripton.  This run begins at the Robert Frost (note the theme!) turnout and picnic area, and proceeds up the dirt road behind the Frost Cabin, known as the “Old Farm Road” on Rikert trail maps, before going deep into the forest behind Breadloaf. When I attempted to run this earlier this summer, I discovered that the blowdown from last December’s ice storm had rendered this stretch of trail impassable.  More recently, I had heard rumor that the trail had been cleared, as it is often groomed by the staff at the Rikert Ski Touring Area, and so I decided to revisit the route for the first time in over 5 years.

On a cool Saturday morning, I joined a friend from the Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts, noticing some of the first dustings of snow on the ground, signifying that just maybe winter is finally here?  We headed eagerly up the hill, past the cabin, and I could see that the rumor was indeed true, and that the trail had been cleared.

Freshly Cleared Trail

Freshly Cleared Trail

From this point, the route becomes more difficult to describe, as the trail system can get pretty complicated. The good news is that if you get off-route, you will hit a road sooner or later, and you would have to work pretty hard to not be somewhere in Ripton! We followed this trail until it forked by a sign labeled “Blue Bed House” on the right fork, but we took the left fork, and later when we came to a T in the trail, with a short steep downhills to the left, we chose the left again, until we got to the terminus of one of the Ripton dirt roads, known as “Wagon Wheel Road”, although there was no sign indicating this.  Taking an immediate right turn, past a forest service road gate, on the trail labeled as “Wagonwheel Road” on the Rikert map, passing by the first of several beaver ponds, before coming to a more primitive trail with a sign calling it “Kiwi”, where we took a right.  I knew from past experience that Kiwi is a trail which has been minimally maintained over the years, providing a more bushwhacking cross country ski experience than most of the Rikert trails, and this was apparent while running this short connector.  The big surprise however, was the observation that what I had remembered as a tiny stream crossing, had been enlarged significantly by beaver activity at some time in the last few years!  A series of small beaver dams were indeed crossable with wet feet but no wading, but I will be curious to see how well this freezes up for skiing this winter.

Surprise on Kiwi

Surprise on Kiwi

Crossing the stream, we soon came to the more developed Brown Gate Trail, where we took a left up a modest climb which brought us to Forest Service Road 59, aka Steam Mill Road, a well developed dirt road which will hopefully shortly be closed off for the pleasure of skiers and snowmobile enthusiasts.  From here, we took a right turn, heading gradually downhill for about a km, until we came to the left turn onto a trail clearly labelled as a snowmobile trail, past the small Kirby family graveyard, until we came to a short section where the snowmobile trail was separated from the Rikert Battell trail.  These side by side trails, one for skiers and one for motorized winter travelers were not were more clearly separated by the planting of a line of pine trees in the late 80’s, and now the trees are about 30 feet high!  I guess I have been here a long time.

Parallel Trails

Parallel Trails

The trail then veered to the right, and descended to Rt 125, where we crossed the road, and onto Brooks Rd, one of my longtime favorite trailheads, and when we got to the parking lot, we ran to the back of it and started uphill on the Widows Clearing trail, our last real climb of the day, until we reached the actual clearing. I discussed some of the story of the widow herself a few years ago, and it was the most commented on posting I have ever done – apparently a lot of people were curious as to the story of this place.  Not long after the Widows Clearing, we came to a T in the trail, where we went right on a trail called “The Crosswalk, a muddy descending trail which brought us after about a mile to the back of the well-loved Robert Frost Trail.  After crossing over the new (as in a few years old new) handicapped accessible bridge, we finished off the trail portion of the run with a few moments at the last beaver pond of the day, ringed with the first traces of the season’s ice.

From the Robert Frost Trail

From the Robert Frost Trail

Returning to Rt 125, we had a short run alongside the highway, returning to our cars, for a round trip run of about 8.5 miles.I usually post the Google Earth projection of these runs, but I apparently had a malfunction on this run, so I am going to refer readers to a previous posting, where I included this, as well as the altitude profile.

New Trails to Earthworm Manor

Finally, mid-week, we had a break in the polar-bearworthy weather with a warm day in the 20’s, so I chose to take a mid-week extended lunch break, and headed up to the Rikert Ski Touring area for the first time in longer than I care to admit.  I had noticed the existence of a new trail meandering through the open meadows to the south of Rt 125, and west of the ski touring center (that’s on your right, and before Rikert for the directionally challenged) and had made a mental note that this was something to be explored as soon as possible!  Arriving at Breadloaf, I strapped on my skating skis, did a quick warmup around the field, took my skis off, and crossed over the road to the fields directly across from the ski touring area.

I have not skied these open fields much in recent years – I seem to have spent a lot of time here in the late 80’s, when I and my “Team Ross” friends seemed to have to spend a lot of time racking up (inflated) kilometer counts trying to outdo each other in our training over the course of a few winters where there just wasn’t much snow, and the trail at the far side of these fields tended to be the last place that the snow held during the all-too-frequent meltdowns which cursed those winters.  Nonetheless, I noticed from the map in the touring center, that this trail was  the means to get to the new trail, shown on the map as the “Brandy Brook Trail.”  The well-groomed start of the Brandy Brook Trail started in the southwest corner of the meadow, and immediately began an easy descent through a forested area for a short distance, before going over a bridge (over the Brandy Brook itself perhaps?) before entering one of the open meadows alongside Rt 125.  From this point on, the trail meandered through the fields for about a kilometer, before skirting the Galvin Cemetery, final resting place of “The Widow on the Hill“, and crossing the road at the white house bearing the curious name “Earthworm Manor“.

I was curious to find out the origins of this odd name, and obtaining this information proved easier than expected, courtesy of Google.  While his primary residence was at 24 Chipman Park in Middlebury, Earthworm Manor was the former second home of one W. H. Upson (where have I seen that name before?), who had been a prolific writer for the Saturday Evening Post, as well as other periodicals during the mid 20th century.  Although he lived in quite a few parts of the country, including a stint at the Caterpillar Tractor Company in Illinois,when he eventually settled in the Middlebury area, he frequently attended the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, and taught creative writing on occasional at Middlebury College.   Presumably he was a colleague of our better known poet, Robert Frost?  So why was his Ripton summer home called “Earthworm Manor”?  One of Upson’s most well known fictional characters was an everyman known as Alexander Botts, whose employer was the Earthworm Tractor Company- probably building off the author’s early career at Caterpillar.

Back to skiing!  After crossing the road, my ski took me around behind the Earthworm Manor, and up what is probably an old logging road behind the house.  As I ascended, I noted a fair number of trails diverging from the groomed ski touring trails, and made a note to myself that there just might be some fun trails here for further exploration by ski or on foot.  After a short climb, the Brandy Brook Trail terminated at one of the older Rikert trails, and I then realized where I had heard the aforementioned author’s name before – this was the Upson trail, usually known by it’s nickname, “The Figure 8″.  From this point on, I tried to make the widest loop I could on trails groomed for skating, so I bore left, eventually coming to the Frost Trail, which for many years was the outer limit of the in bounds Rikert terrain, and descending via Holland Trail to the impeccably groomed Tormondsen Racing Trail.  The snowmaking on this trail can make for some rather unnatural snow buildup on the nearby trees, and noticing this tree, I couldn’t help but think it bore a striking resemblance to a rather long and bulbous nose.  Jimmy Durante anyone?

Durante Tree

Durante Tree

Completing my descent, I crossed over the FS 59 road, and came across something I had never noticed before; The small summer swimming pond, which now also served as the water source for the snowmaking, had a small fountain at its center. I suspect that it is not used, except to help keep the pond from freezing over during the coldest portions of the winter (like the last week or so!), and I rarely ski on those sorts of howling cold days.

On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice



I could have called it a day at this point, but I also knew of another new trail which I wanted to check out. So to get to that, I began my second, shorter loop at the Battell trail. I side excursion down to the less traveled Cook Trail, led me through some dense pine forest. While, the uniformly spaced and sized monoculture red pines were undoubtedly placed there by humans in the not too distant past, they made for a lovely effect with the fresh snow.

Pine Forest

Pine Forest

Ascending the modest hill on the Battell Trail, I came to the short straightaway at the top where the ski trail is separated from a little-used snowmobile trail by a hedge of 30 ft pines. After reminiscing that I have been skiing here so long that I can remember when those trees were planted as saplings, I crossed over onto the snowmobile trail, which brought me past the Kirby Burial Ground, and onto the upper reaches of FS 59.  From here, I scooted up the Forest Service Road, which is maintained for ski skating just as well as the touring center trails, courtesy of the snowmobile groomer, until I reached the Brown Gate, where I returned via the Upper Gilmore Trail (a great new trail which I first sampled last year!), until I reached the Gilmore House, where I explored the second new trail of the day, the Crooked Brook trail, which begins behind the Gilmore House.  This trail, while probably only 1K long, is a blast to ski, as it descends through a series of fun, tight turns before traversing across, eventually joining the other well established trails near the Myhre Cabin.  While writing up this posting, I discovered that a short Facebook posting showing the construction of this trail was published last summer.  Thanks to Mike and his staff for building this great little trail!

One final descent brought me back to the touring center to complete what ended up being about a 9.5 mile ski.  Once again, my aging Garmin GPS had a bad day, so I won’t be able to post the usual tech stuff from that.  I got the darn thing back in 2007, so maybe it is time for a new one?  Anyone want to throw some money in a Kickstarter account to help defray the costs of a new one?

Silver (klister) Reconnection

For many years, I fancied myself a passable cross-country ski racer.  Despite an inauspicious start, finishing dead last as the anchor leg of the 1981 Hanover Relays, a race in which the anchor leg of the winning team went by the name of “Bill Koch” (yup – THAT Bill Koch, and I was attired in a fuzzy blue sweater, blue jeans, and bamboo poles), I gradually improved over the years until the demands of parenthood and other interests diminished my ski training time to the point where racing was pretty futile.  At my peak in the late 80′s, I, and a handful of my friends made it our goal to ski 1000 km in a season, and with the mileage from three ski marathons in a month on top of a shorter race almost every weekend, several of us managed to reach our goal.  One of the symptoms of this particular version of OCD was an obsession with ski waxes.  I would wax at least one pair of skis every night (and yes, I had several pairs, almost always the latest and best) based on the next day’s weather prediction.  The bane of the ski-waxer’s existence was the particularly goopy wax for warm or icy weather known as “klister“.  While the stuff really does work, putting it on one’s skis is a real pain, and part of the reason why for many years now I have almost always broken out my skating skis, which do not require kick wax, on warm springlike days.

So, on an unseasonably warm and sunny Sunday morning, I found myself with my classic skis at the Rikert Ski Touring Center, and of course, my plastic bags full of every wax under the sun.  Realizing, to my dismay, that it would indeed be a “klister day” I dug into my bag and pulled out a tube of silver klister wax which was probably older than most of the skiers out on that particular day.  The best way to apply this sticky gooey mess is to squeeze a thick line from the toothpaste tube it comes in onto the kick zone of my skis, and then spread the wax by running my thumbs across the base.  Then the fun really starts – as all this wax on one’s thumbs can’t be washed off ( I had forgotten how insoluble it is in water!), so I ended up shmearing streaks of silver goop on the sinks of the Rikert men’s room.  Of course, it would not do to leave this for their staff to clean up, so I eventually settled on wiping it up with a generous stack of paper towels.  The scene was actually reminiscent of the challenges of cleaning up the “pink goo” from the Dr Seuss book “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back“.

Skis all prepared, I set off up the hill, not really dead set on where exactly I was going.  Taking the freshly groomed tracks on Holland to Frost, I came to the end of the Brown Gate trail, and realized that the section connecting this point and the trail to Blue Bed House was one I had never been on before.  This two or three year old section of trail seems to be replacing the old connector from Holland, which seemed to be badly flooded in recent years due to beaver activity.  This narrow trail, which wove through the hardwood forest was made more challenging by the darn klister – the conditions were an odd mix of powder, ice, and frozen granular snow, so I found myself intermittently flying, and lurching to a near halt when my skis chose to grab.  Nonetheless, I plowed on, connecting to the Blue Bed house trail, and bearing downhill, to Wagon Wheel Rd.

The last time I had passed this way, the Wagon Wheel Rd. had been plowed, making for less satisfying skiing, but to my pleasant surprise, no plows had been this way since the last generous snow storm.  So, I took a right turn at the blue gate, planning on following the old Middle Branch trail, which I knew would eventually loop back to the touring center.  A few hundred yards later, I came to a surprise which forced me to re-evaluate this plan.  While the Middle Branch trail, to the right, looked neatly tracked, I noticed a new, less manicured section, labelled as a segment of the Catamount Trail, bearing left.  To the right – the comfortable trail I knew well.  To the left, a trail whose known destination was…..Canada.  Once again, I chose the road less travelled, and that made all the difference.

road less taken

The Road Less Taken


This segment of trail was totally new to me, and from the geography, I knew it would eventually lead me to Steam Mill Road (aka FS 59) but I had no idea how long or far away this would be. So, I just glided through the woods, gradually climbing,the klister working well in the rapidly softening snow, and enjoying being the only person for a few miles. And at this point, it hit me – I was reconnecting with a sport that has been shortchanged for quite a few years.  After all those years of skiing an enormous amount in my younger adulthood, finding time to keep up with the sport has proven elusive more recently.  I found myself suddenly reminiscing and reconnecting with a sport which at one point in my life was my favorite sports activity.  This introspection aside, this is a very pretty section of trail, mostly through hardwood forest.  The trail is at its most scenic in one segment where it hugs the rim of a rather dramatic broad gorge, with the Middle Branch flowing a few hundred feet below.

wintry woods

Winter Woods


After a while, however, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into, as I was somewhat directionally disoriented (albeit not “lost” – the trail was well marked) until I came upon a group of skiers coming down the trail from the opposite direction. One of this party was a friend I had not crossed paths with in a few years, Andy, and as we stopped and conversed, I learned that he was responsible for the layout of the trail we were on! Pressing him for information on his other trailblazing activities, he offered to share some of his favorites in exchange for some help with trail maintenance. Sounds like a good deal to me! I also learned that I was a short distance from Steam Mill Road, which is closed to vehicular traffic in the winter, and maintained for snowmobile use. I joined this road at the broad clearing which in the summer is near to the popular trailhead to Breadloaf Mountain. I found it curious that there was a large sign, standing in the middle of this field proclaiming “WILDLIFE CLEARING”. Since the only tracks I saw in the snow were of human origin, I guess the sign was right – the wildife was cleared!

Wildlife Clearing

At this point, I was still a few miles from the Rikert Center, but the return was easy, following the road in the tracks of numerous previous snowmobilers, and getting onto Upper Gilmore near the Brown Gate, and following the obvious downhills back to the touring center.

Google earth

Google Earth of ski

On the technical side, this ended up being a slightly more than 9 mile route, with about 700 feet of altitude difference between the low and high points.  I am also looking forward to checking this out on foot this summer as well.  The soul of this day however, was how invigorating it felt to just get lost in something that I really enjoyed.  So, take the time to reconnect with something ( or someone I guess!) you love.

Altitude Profile Silver

Altitude Profile


New Terrain at Rikert


I spent much of the morning on Sunday, potentially the best ski day in years, at a family gathering in Massachusetts, but as this get-together wound down, I realized that I just might be able to squeeze in some skiing in at the end of the day, if I could get home early enough in the afternoon.  Fortunately, the other members of my family accompanying me on this trip fell asleep shortly after departing Massachusetts, so I took this opportunity to drive a little faster than I might normally.  While I missed the banter of my family on this several hour-long trip, they did manage to sleep through my driving back to Middlebury at a pace which might have made them a little bit nervous, and indeed, when they awoke a half hour from home, I was implored to continue at or around the speed limit.  Nonetheless, I pulled into my driveway with just enough time to take advantage of the sunny day and spectacular conditions, and headed up to Breadloaf!

In my most critical views of the Rikert area, my only complaint over the years has been that while there is a lot of good skiing here, it seems that a lot of it is in small, tight loops, never getting far from the touring center itself.  When snow is good, I frequently hit Forest Service 59 in order to get deeper into the forest.  When I arrived at the touring center however, I noticed some new trails on the map, some of which were rarely groomed, and another which until this year never existed.  In particular, I was intrigued by the new trail, labelled “Upper Gilmore”, which ran along the eastern periphery of touring area, paralleling, but never quite contacting FS 59, which serves as a snowmobile trail on the VAST network.

I started this particular ski, warming up on the loops on and around the Battell trail, before turning onto Freeman to access the old Gilmore trail.  Previously, this trail has served primarily as a connector to the forest service road and the Norske Trail, but as I cruised by Gilmore House (one of the more out of the way dorms at the summer Wordloaf Conference) and neared the road above, I saw the anticipated new trail veering to my left, and headed up it.  This is a great new addition to the trail network – it went on for close to a mile, and in sections had the feel of a bobsled run before connecting with the better known Brown Gate trail.  Kudos to Mike and his work crew for putting in this great trail last summer!

Upper Gilmore

Skier Shadow on Upper Gilmore


After enjoying the easy downhill shuss on the Brown Gate Trail, I was treated to a second surprise. The primitive trail leading towards the pile of rubble known as “The Blue Bed House” was also groomed and maintained!  Don’t expect much of a house, let alone a blue bed – the eponymous bed probably hasn’t been there for 30 years, and I think the last wall of the house fell 10-15 years ago!  Jokes about the condition of the “house” aside, this is a pretty section of forest, which was skied somewhat in the past, but was not made part of the Breadloaf touring area due to property line issues with one of the private land owners. I am glad to see that this has been worked out!  The trail then snaked its way into a beautiful open meadow, offering another easy descent and more great winter vistas.  Like most abandoned meadows in Vermont, this one had a few ancient apple trees left behind long after all other farming here had ceased.   I know of some local hard cider brewers who are interested in heritage apple varieties – perhaps they should explore here!  I also couldn’t resist the temptation to make my initials in the otherwise virgin snow, and squared them for good luck – after all I AM a science nerd!

Blue Bed House Meadow

Blue Bed House Meadow

Following the signage to get back to Rikert in time for closing, I enjoyed another particularly pretty stretch of skiing through the tall narrow pine trees that line the trail for a short distance right above the Robert Frost Cabin, and after a loop through these fields, I headed back to the touring center more out of respect to the workers who undoubtedly bad put in a long day, and probably wanted to go home, rather than wait for the stragglers (like me) who didn’t want to quit!

Tunnel Through the Trees

Tunnel Through the Trees


All in all, this made for a slightly longer than 8 mile loop, and brought me much farther into the forest than most skiers at Rikert usually get. There will be no more “not enough long loops” complaints from me, at least as long as the great snow holds up.

Google Earth Projection of the Ski Tour

Google Earth Projection of the Ski Tour


Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Tracks in the Snow

Last winter, while recovering from injuries, I snowshoed a route along a VAST trail at the higher altitudes of Ripton.  This route, which begins at the end of the plowed section of the Natural Turnpike in Ripton heads south along the snowmobile trail marked as “7A” towards Robert Frost Mountain.  My trip along this route was limited by the slower pace of snowshoe travel, and I have been looking forward to returning to explore it a little further on ski or on foot.  The limited amount of snow on the ground made a run the obvious choice for now.  To get to the trailhead, I drove up to Ripton, then took a left turn on the road across from the Ripton Country Store.  A short while later a right turn up the hill on Robins Cross Road and a left turn on the Natural Turnpike followed by a few minutes’ drive brought me to the trailhead parking lot near its confluence with FS 59.  In every previous winter trip to this spot, the Natural Turnpike was blocked at this point by a forest service gate, but this year, with the meager snow, the gate beyond this point was open, and the road was freshly plowed.

Setting off on the trail heading to the left (north in absolute coordinates) I could see that the snowmobilers had been faring about as well as the skiers this year, as the trail had been virtually stripped of its snow cover by previous snow travelers.  I set off, as in my previous exploration, following the marked snowmobile trail, which crisscrossed a few Forest Service Roads over the course of the first mile.  Between the thin snow cover, and my Asics Gel Arctic running shoes, equipped with short spikes making them the “studded snow tires of the running world”, I had very solid footing all the way, except for two easily traversed frozen-over waterbars.  As I proceeded further into the woods, snow had covered over the most recent snowmobile tracks, and not much later, I could see where the trail had been bereft of human travelers all season, leaving the tracks of animals as the only sign of previous passage.  One set of tracks were particularly interesting – I could see that what at first looked like one set of old tracks, soon diverged into two sets, which looked to be about the same age.  Following them, I could see that the parallel sets of tracks stayed apart, as if the two animals which set them were going about their travels as partners, perhaps even mates?  They seemed too big and deep for a squirrel, and squirrels never seem to travel as if they are actually going somewhere.  I am going to guess that they were foxes, although they had faded enough that I could not have made out the fine print in them, even if I were a more knowledgeable animal tracker.  I like to think that these two nocturnal animals had shared a long moment in the moonlight together on the way to whatever their final destination might have been.  As I followed their tracks, I made sure not to step in them, leaving my record of passage between theirs.

parallel footprints

parallel footprints

Eventually, I reached a point where the animal tracks became more complex, and their unique trail became difficult to discern from other animals who had passed through. Not long after, I came to an open meadow which had been my turnaround last winter when I passed this way. Last winter, this quiet spot had the equipment of an active logging site, but this winter, the snow surface was unblemished, except for my footprints and a few tufts of grass poking up through the snow. It looked almost like I would envision beach grass poking out of the fine white sand of the Gulf Coast, although I have never been there.

beach grass

Snow, or Sand?



At this point, continuing on, I was into new territory, and about a mile later my trail reached the Lincoln-Ripton road, a few miles north of the Ripton School. I could discern that the trail recommenced across the road, heading uphill along the eastern flanks of Robert Frost Mountain. I could see that I had found another short section of trail to connect a run on my bucket list – I had heard that is was possible to connect trails from the top of Middlebury Gap, to East Middlebury by a route which included the snowmobile trail up and over Robert Frost Mountain, which I have ascended from the west.  The point at which my trail (which merged with a plowed road over the last few hundred yards) met up with the Lincoln- Ripton Road,  was labelled as the “Norton Farm Road”.

Turning to return, my attention turned two the many crossing paths and abandoned logging roads I came across.  One, which looked sort of interesting, and was labeled as “Rd 235A”.  This one ended in about a hundred yards at a small clearing, so returning to the main snowmobile trail, I checked out another side trail about a mile further along.  This right turn led to a huge clear cut in about a quarter mile, with outstanding views of Worth Mountain, and the rest of the nearby ridge of the Green Mts.  I found it curious that a small stand of mature hardwoods had been left behind by the timber cutters, but they added to the beauty of the views.

clear cut views

Clear Cut Vista




Closing in on my parked car, I could hear that I was getting closer and closer to a “sportsman” who was blasting away at something with what sounded like a semiautomatic weapon. While I never actually saw this person, I felt like shouting something along the lines of “Is there ANYTHING left of that squirrel?”. Reaching my car, my GPS indicated that I had traveled 7 miles on this run, and had dropped about 500 vertical feet on the way out, and gained it on my return.

Google Earth of the Route

Google Earth of the Route

tracks in the snow altitude profile

Altitude Profile


Snowshoeing Snowmobile Superhighways

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


What Season is it?

Only two weeks ago, one of the biggest snow storms ever to hit northern New England blasted us with about two feet of snow, but the relatively mild weather which followed made me wonder whether my weekend enjoying the mountains would be in the winter, the spring, or mud season?  Or all of the above perhaps?  After Friday’s wonderfully springy weather, I realized that if I was going to get in any last long ski outings,  I had better do them soon, as I suspected that the snow cover would be melting away quickly.  With that in mind, I set out along the Ripton-Goshen road on Saturday morning.  The road was fine at first, but is shortly became a series of frozen muddy ruts which made the drive rather adventurous for my low clearance front wheel drive vehicle.  By the time that I reached the Blueberry Hill ski touring area, I realized that I had been fortunate to arrive with my oil pan intact.  The ample snow cover was tempting, but I also realized that I needed to get onto paved roads before the frozen ruts melted into a quagmire with a high potential to suck my poor old Ford Escort into the Vermont equivalent of quicksand.  Thus, I decided to head back to civilization, through the better roads heading down towards the Goshen Village, and return to Middlebury via Forestdale – definitely the long way, but the right way back considering the road conditions.

Undaunted, I headed back up to the Rikert ski touring area, which was fully accessible by paved road.  While the snow cover was starting to get a little on the thin side in the field, there was a ton of VERY HARD snow in the woods.  On the limited trails where the Rikert staff had groomed, the skiing was actually pretty nice, especially for skating skis, but forays off the groomed trails led to very challenging and limited skiing.  As I was skiing along, however, I realized that the rather unyielding snow might be good underfoot for ….the first trail run of the year!  So after skiing around a variety of loops close in to the touring center, I vowed to return to the mountains on Sunday, in running shoes rather than skis.

Sunday, of course, ended up as a near perfect late winter/early spring/pre-mud season day, so I headed for the wide open and well packed terrain of Forest Service 59 ( also known as Steam Mill Road).  I have mentioned previous runs and skis on this road which is closed to car and truck traffic in the winter, but maintained for snowmobile use.  Rather than accessing it from the Rikert side, I thought I would try and reach it from the Ripton side, and looking at maps, realized it could be accessed from the Natural Turnpike.   For those who don’t know this road, it departs from Rt 125 to the left just after passing the Ripton town buildings, and weaves its way up into the decreasingly populated higher elevations.  While this road passes all the way to Lincoln in the summer, a forest service gate blocks vehicular passage at a convenient parking lot.  I have never seen this parking lot before, but it seemed like a good place to head into the forest.

While the footing might have otherwise proven a little slippery, given the thin veneer of corn snow on a rock hard base, my recent acquisition of the perfect running shoe for the situation made for sure-footed running.  Asics makes an amazing shoe called the “Arctic” which has small spikes in the sole for just these sorts of condition, which gave me confident footing throughout the run.  Joining the snowmobile trail labeled by the trailhead signage as “7A South” I quickly joined the far north end of the closed off portions of Steam Mill road.

Trailhead Signs


A steady climb on this wide snowy boulevard brought me to the Steam Mill clearing itself, the trailhead of the trail to Skylight Pond, and a wide open area with great views of Breadloaf Mountain to the left.

Steam Mill Clearing

As I was running along, I realized that I was not the only person who saw the potential to enjoy this route on such a gorgeous sunny day. I saw numerous skiers, hikers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers out as well – the only thing missing was a few dogsledders! After a little over 3 miles, I reached the Forest Service gate at the Rikert end of the road, so simply retraced my path for a 6.6 mile round trip. I also noted a variety of other trails branching off from this newly discovered trailhead, and I am looking forward to exploring them this summer on foot!

I am not including my usual altitude profile for this run, as the run had only a few small climbs and descents, and my GPS actually gave some odd results, indicating a nonexistant 500 foot drop and climb in the first mile – no need to scare off other explorers with spurious data!  The next question is – will there be more skiing?  Is it really running season?  Or will it be so much mud that attempts to take either off road will require a cleanup with the garden hose to rinse off before entering the house?  We will see….

Google Earth projection of the run