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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

 

Silver Lake Inspirations

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

With more great weather this weekend it was time to take to the trails again.  I had yet to visit one of my favorite locations, Silver Lake, this season, but I prefer not to blog the same runs too frequently, unless there is some unique perspective to be presented.  Last summer, while exploring the Chandler Ridge Trail, the trail traversing along the ridge separating Silver Lake and Lake Dunmore, I noticed the high-quality recent trail maintenance, and speculated that the formerly very rough and unrunnable trail circumnavigating Silver Lake might also have seen similar sprucing.   So, I set out on this run with my camera and GPS, planning on running around Silver Lake, hoping that the lack of leaves on the trees might provide a unique perspective on this popular locale.

Arriving at the Silver Lake trailhead near Branbury State Park, I was surprised to see the parking lot almost full.  Apparently, I was not the only person looking to get out in the woods on a warm early spring day!  After about 1.6 miles of climbing this well worn trail (actually a dirt road, suitable for small 4-W-D vehicles, but closed to them) I arrived at the dam marking the outlet to Silver Lake, and took the trail leading over the dam to the west shore.  The early going on this trail was fine as expected, but when I reached the point where the trail up to the Chandler Ridge diverged, and chose the lake shore trail as planned.  It very quickly became obvious that this trail had not seen the tender loving care which I had hoped it had.  In fact, as I was listening to that great old blues song, “Try a Little Tenderness” which happened to pop up on the day’s running mix, the song proved prophetic, as I stubbed my toe on an ill-placed rock.  I don’t think that was the sort of “tenderness” that the songwriter had in mind – Ouch!

So, I decided that my planned route was not what I was looking for, but had my first inspiration, on my now improvised run.  According to my memory of the Chandler Ridge from last summer, the views were limited by the deciduous forest cover.  However, with the trees still totally bare, the views on both sides of the ridge should be spectacular, so I backtracked a few hundred yards, and took the trail leading up to the ridge, and was not disappointed by the views.

Silver Lake from Chandler Ridge

After enjoying the sights from this ridge for a while, I retraced my tracks back to the shore of the lake, where I came across a lone pine tree, sentinal-like, on a rock near the lake shore that I had never noticed before.

Sentinel Tree

Returning back across the dam, I stayed along the shoreline until I reached the small beach, were I saw numerous families out fishing and enjoying the day. At this point, I had felt like I had explored enough, and was planning on heading down the trail back to my car. Shortly after beginning my descent, and still in sight of the lake, I saw a curious sight- I had been noticing the total absence of budding leaves on the trees at this higher elevation, but there was one small eager tree which was trying to get its leaves out in advance of its competitors.

Early Buds

A few moments later along the trail, my next inspiration formed. In my many previous runs up to and near the lake,I had noticed a wide trail heading to the north, but had never taken the time to explore it – since it was not on any maps, I presumed it went a short way into the woods, and disappeared. My legs felt like the had a lot of energy left in them, so I decided to finally explore this trail. Much to my surprise, the trail kept going, and was soon joined by a high berm to my right, which I presumed was a pipeline coming from some other source, emptying into the spillway feeding Silver Lake from the north. After a short distance, the trail forked, and I randomly chose the left fork, which ended shortly in an open hillside meadow, which looked like it had been some sort of landfill once. I suspect that this may have been what remained of the dump for the long gone Silver Lake Hotel – and thanks to Gary Spaulding for putting together the short history of the hotel which I have linked to. After hitting this dead end, I doubled back and decided to explore the right fork of the trail to see where it might lead. I had long suspected that the source of the water for the Silver Lake spillway was the much smaller, and very rarely visited Sucker Brook Reservoir, shown on maps a little further uphill. After following this broad, easily discerned trail for some time (much of it bordered by the berm covering an occasionally obvious pipeline), I finally started to tire, and when the opportunity came for a trail which looked like it might take me home, a sharp turn climbing to the right, I took it, leaving the final discover of the trail’s final destination for another day. However, upon loading up my GPS track after the run, I discovered that I was probably only a few minutes from the Sucker Brook Reservoir, confirming my guess as to its role. My return trail actually followed right alongside the previous trail, surprising me that I had not noticed it on the way out. In the course of my return, I surprised a small flock of deer, who started as I grew near, proving far too Shy, lest I got too close.

Doubling back like this, I returned to the more developed campground and picnic area around the lake, and completed my final descent to my waiting vehicle below.  Upon completion of a far longer run (over 8 miles) than I had planned, I had one last moment of inspiration – I treated myself to a Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Peace Pop purchased at one of the several general stores between the trailhead and my home – a great way to end a great run!

GPS of the run

altitude profile

Going all the way on the TAM

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Every trail runner in town knows the Trail around Middlebury, aka “The TAM” well – it is our town’s gem, and a popular place to enjoy trail runs of a variety of lengths and challenge.  One of the major fundraisers for the TAM has been the TAM Team Trek, an annual fall event in which walkers, mountain bikers, and yes, a few runners cover all or part of the trail for a modest entry fee.  Many of the participants also line up sponsors, adding to the fund raising for this great cause. So, this gorgeous Sunday morning seemed like a great day to join in….and go for a run.

Arriving at the event registration on a pleasant Sunday morning, there seemed to be a lot more participants than I had noted the last time I ran as part of this event, 3 years ago.  The big question at the start was, should I proceed in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction?  A counterclockwise run meant running some of the more technical terrain earlier in the run, with the challenging climb of Chipman Hill looming at the end of the long run, while a clockwise run would get the only tough climb out of the way first, but might leave me tripping over roots and sliding though mud at the end.  I decided on the counterclockwise run, and got the best of both – the previous evening’s heavy rain had left quite a lot of mud on the trail, and I managed two face-plant muddy falls in the first few miles, on the northern loop of the TAM which looped over the Belden Dam footbridge, before turning south at the point where it crossed Morgan Horse Farm Road.  The first leg of this run was described in greater detail in my “Belden Dam on the TAM” posting.

Footbridge over the Belden Dam

The second loop of this trail, from Weybridge Street to the college has also been covered before, albeit in the opposite direction, on a post entitled “Muddy Meadows and Poison Parsnips“.  This posting, which I made over a year ago is actually the most heavily read posting in this blog by far.  While this stretch of the trail is very nice, I suspect that the high number of hits on this posting is due to the high level of interest in the poison parsnip, a recent invader of our fields.

Despite the above comments about mud difficulties, running on muddy trails really is a lot of fun. There were three sections of the trail, where the trail split, with one direction designated as a drier route, and the other the “wet route” – guess which one I took, as a matter of principle?  At his trail sign in the fields near the College organic garden, I went right of course.

Decisions, decisions.......

 

After a short climb up from the fields to the west of the college, I arrived at the Ralph Myhre Golf Course and its spectacular views of the Green Mountains.  Fortunately the nice people running the snack shop there didn’t mind when a very muddy runner came in off the trail to refill his water bottles for the second half of his run.

Up to this point there were quite a few participants in the TAM trek over this first leg – it was early and the day, and a lot of hikers and runners were out enjoying themselves.  However, from the golf course until the completion of the run, things were pretty quiet – apparently most of the participants were focusing on other sections of trail, or had done enough!  The trail then looped around the golf course, crossed South St. and the southern suspension bridge over Otter Creek.  Looping through the fields around Middlebury Union Middle School, led me back into the woods.  This next section of trail was previously chronicled in one of my first postings, “TAM, Means, and Batelle Woods“.

 

The last leg of the day’s run was the long anticipated run up and over Chipman Hill to the finish line.  By this point, I had been out for about two and a half hours, and there really wasn’t much left in my legs, so I ended up walking up some of the steeper portions of the trail.  After cresting the summit, it was downhill all the way, however, to the Marble Works, where the Trek organizers were starting to put things away and call it a day.  I, on the other hand, had one more task – a much anticipated chocolate milk shake from Sama’s!

The GPS track showed that this run was as long as it felt – 16.25 miles in total, making it my longest run since I began authoring this blog in 2009.  Other than the final climb over Chipman Hill, however, the run was not particularly hilly by Vermont standards.  Time to give the legs a few days to recover!

Google Earth of TAM

Geocache Search on Buck Mountain

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I had long heard of a fun trail up Snake Mountain‘s little brother, Buck Mountain.  Buck Mountain consists of a low lying, N-S ridge a few miles north and east of Snake Mountain, in the bustling community of Waltham.  Looking at it from the west, however, I could see that it had some west-facing cliffs leading me to assume that it should have views just as nice those from its big brother!  Googling the route prior to the run, I came across a web entry indicating that there was, or at least had been a geocache at the summit.  For those of you who are not familiar with geocaching, it is a sport in which a small waterproof container containing a logbook and perhaps some small inexpensive trinkets is stashed somewhere in the woods, with GPS coordinates as the primary clue to its location.  So, prior to this run, I signed into the geocaching website and wrote down the coordinates for the Buck Mt cache.  I will not share these coordinates here, since those who posted them did so on a site which required free registration, but the site where they are available can be found very easily through normal searching methods.

The Buck Mt. trailhead requires a short drive from Middlebury – head north on Rt. 7, and take the left to the west on Rt. 17 where the two routes cross at New Haven Junction.  After about a mile and a half, take the right turn on Green St., and then after a longer mile and a half, take the left turn onto the unpaved road called (somewhat ostentatiously, given its modest size) “Route Sixty Six”.  Head uphill until you reach the height of land, and there will be a small pullover on the left side of the road.  The unmarked trail begins here, and a few other places as well it appears from the meandering nature of the first 50 yards or so of the trail.  I was forewarned that there were quite a few paths intersecting the main Buck Mt. Trail, but the main trail would be obvious, and fortuneately correct.  So, I strapped on my GPS, popped my camera in my pocket, and headed along the ridge for the summit overlook.

The path was pretty flat at first, and then did a series of short climbs, and one modest descent before the final climb to the summit.  The trail was generally pretty dry, and did prove pretty obvious to follow, despite the lack of markings, and the presence of a few crosstrails leading to unknown destinations.  When I reached the summit after what proved to be a very short run – a mile and a quarter, I was immediately impressed by the views.  Like Snake Mountain, it did have a wonderful view of the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks to the west, for a fraction of the effort.

Northwest Views

 

After soaking up the view in solitude for a few minutes, I set out to find the geocache. While my set of coordinates led me to a place on the summit which appeared to fit the search hints, as well as the exact coordinates, I could not find anything which fit my vision of what might be entailed in a summit cache. The only major sign of human habitation found in this vicinity was an empty Bud Light can (ugh) but my efforts did lead to a treat of sorts – a “cache” of wild blueberries, which I took a few minutes to enjoy. I am not sure what happened to the geocache – perhaps I was not thorough enough in my search, or perhaps the cache had been removed. The site where I learned of the webcache had listed its last known finding at over a year ago. On the outside chance that I had erred in my GPS use, I looked along the full length of the ridge, and while no cache ever appeared, I did get a nice view of Middlebury as I rounded the south end of the ridge. You can see the Middlebury “skyline” up against the south slopes of Chipman Hill, if you look carefully!

Middlebury Skyline View

 

The return to my car made this a very easy, but very pleasant run, even if my goal of finding the geocache met with failure. The round trip on this run would be a mere 2.5 miles, which I stretched to 3 with my summit meanderings. Nonetheless, the short distance, and modest climb (about 400 vertical ft) makes this an excellent trail run for those new to the sport, and looking for a little bit of climbing. Does anyone know anything about this cache – was it removed, abandoned, vandalized, or do i just need to hone my searching skills?

View of the route from the west

 

altitude profile

Running Gadgets as Stocking Stuffers

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

There haven’t been any posts for a few weeks now – hunting season is not the best time for exploring new trails, and the weather has not been particularly accommodating. However, with Christmas coming up, it is a good time to suggest some toys for the runners in your life. One of the allures of running is its simplicity – a decent pair of shoes and gym shorts, and you can have a great time. That said, I have found a few gadgets which certainly enhance my running experience.

One would have needed to have spent the last few years in a mayonnaise jar to be unaware of the now ubiquitous iPod, and many runners use this great little device as a training partner. While it is clearly not appropriate to listen to one’s iPod when running with friends (too antisocial) or when running alongside busy roads (too unsafe), they can certainly make the miles go by faster, especially on those runs when the weather isn’t right, the body isn’t right, or you just plain don’t feel like it.  Personally, the greatest benefit of the iPod to my running is how it has substantially diminished the frequency of my running injuries. I have a tendency to push solo runs too hard sometimes, but relax and slow down a little when listening to my favorite music or podcasts.

Associated with the iPod Nano – the small version of the iPod most suited to running, is perhaps the greatest value in running gadgets ever – the Nike Plus system. This consists of a small receiver attached to the iPod itself, and a tiny transmitter which you put in your shoe. Nike shoes have a pocket for this transmitter built into many of its running shoes, but one can purchase miniscule pouches which tie into your laces if you, like me, don’t find Nikes a good fit. This, with the associated software, gives you your elapsed time and distance (where it is remarkably accurate for so simple a device!) and pace throughout your run. The associated software allows you to see your pace at every point in the run after a routine iPod sync. and even keeps a training log for you.   It also has social networking tools for runners, which aren’t my cup of tea, but clearly a source of enthusiasm for a lot of people. This little device is all yours for a mere 29 bucks! The major negative of this device is the unpredictability of its built in battery. I have have had these last as little as a few months, but my current transmitter is over a year and a half old and going strong. Finally, you can purchase narrated workout downloads from iTunes which fit just about all musical tastes and training needs. What could be better than a workout narrated by Lance Armstrong spouting platitudes such as “pain is temporary, but quitting is forever”?

The “gold standard” for running gadgets, of course, is the Garmin wrist GPS. If there are other manufacturers of this sort of device, I have not seen them. I use my Garmin for all of the stats in this blog. There are features to this device which I haven’t even tried yet, but in a nutshell, it gives you high accuracy mileage readout, as well as your current pace at any time during your run. After the run, when you sync the watch to the Garmin software on your computer, you can get your altitude at every point in the run, as well as your heart rate if you were wearing the optional heart rate monitor. Readers of this blog will recognize the utility of the altitude readouts. I am not as enamored of the heart rate monitor, however, as it tends to tell me things I usually knew already, like “Guess what – you pushed it too hard today”, as your heart is pounding out of your ears at the conclusion of a long climb.  Finally, the software syncs to Google Earth almost effortlessy, allowing me to map my runs on geographical features quite easily. Since it is based on satellite signals, it sometimes loses its signal on trail runs when too much of the sky is blocked by trees. This does not seem to throw off the mileage, or average pace, but does make for annoying spikes in graphs of pace versus time due to the fact that it temporarily assumes the runner isn’t moving when it loses its signal.  These GPS’s can get quite pricey (over $300), but if you just want the basic functions and don’t need the heart rate monitor, you can pick them up for the low-mid 100′s if you look around online.

Hope Santa is good to everyone!