Tag Archives: Hill Climb

Easter Egg Hunting on Chipman Hill

Over the years, many of my blog postings have described runs on, or including sections of the Trail Around Middlebury, aka, “The TAM”. And why not? The TAM is the most frequently traveled trail in Middlebury, and the blog is, after all, “The Middlebury Trailrunner”. If the TAM is the gold necklace around our town, Chipman Hill is its diamond pendant. This gem, right at the edge of town, offers a roughly 500 ft vertical climb – making it a convenient place for local endurance athletes to train.

When I first moved to Middlebury, in the mid-1980’s, Chipman Hill was only minimally developed as an outdoor resource. The old paved road over its twin summits, which was closed to vehicular traffic 30 years ago, a trail along its base on the east side, and a smattering of rarely used mountain bike trails constituted the “development” of this refuge. Over the years, many more, well constructed trails have appeared, many of them laid out by mountain bikers. The rise of the the Middlebury Land Trust has led to some further trail improvements, and somewhat heavier use than in the past.  But that said, on a pleasant late August evening, I passed about 8-10 other people, enjoying the hill as runners, walkers, or mountain bikers, and there is plenty of solitude up there still.

Some Chipman Hill newcomers might find the maze of trails, some maintained, and some not, confusing and daunting.  The old road over the top is easy enough, starting from High Street (the street running behind the Swift House Inn), and ending on Spring Street (the highest driveable point on the south side of Chipman Hill).  The trails, on the other hand can be somewhat confusing in places, some of them even confusing me, even after three decades of exploration.  There is no need to worry about getting lost however.  My usual rule of thumb when I get disoriented, is to simply hike to the top of whatever mountain I am on, and get my bearings back – most mistakes in route finding happen on descents (as some of my hiking and running partners will attest).  Fortunately with Chipman Hill, if you don’t know where you are, you can always run away from the hill, and surprise – you will be somewhere in Middlebury when you hit a road.

On most of my posts, I give a somewhat detailed trail description, but other than the simple run on the road over the top, which I actually did describe once a few years ago, the whole point of running on Chipman Hill is to try new trails, and see where they take you, and what points of curiosity you might see along the way.  So, I am going to set up this route, by simply telling you where I started (In the Marble Works, and getting onto Chipman Hill from the end of High Street) and how I got back (the same way), publish the contorted and complicated route map on Google Earth (more for the sake of humor than actual direction) and show a few pictures from along the way.

Some of these pictures are of locations on the hill which are well known, and others, on more obscure trails, are a little harder to find.  I am putting them up in the order in which I took them, making a bit of an easter egg hunt for friends who might want to explore the hill a little bit more than they may have in the past.  I apologize for the general darkness of the pictures – a 6 pm run in late August can get that way, even on a clear day!

Ye Olde Ski Jump Hill

Ye Olde Ski Jump Hill

The first well known landmark I came to, was the old ski jump hill. It is easy to see, as the runout is still mowed a few times each summer. Chipman Hill was used as the site of the Middlebury College Winter Carnival races during World War II, and a small ski facility was built on Chipman Hill to accommodate the racers and jumpers. I suspect that the road over the top may have once been a ski race trail, but I have no proof of this.

Wildlife sign

Wildlife sign

A little later, I came to this curious sign, generated by the “Leave no Trace” organization, on a relatively obscure side trail. What was curious about it? Well this was the only sign of its type I saw, and it seems odd that the only “trace” on this part of the hill, was the actual sign.

Western Overlook

Western Overlook

On the western side of the hill, there is a park bench with views of the Adirondacks, carved out of a small clearing. Curiously, starting right behind this seat is a concrete pylon, and 8 more of these pylons extend up the side of the hill, in a straight line, more or less evenly spaced. I have always been curious of these pylons – at first I suspected that they might have been used as part of some sort of ski lift in ages past, but why would they need so many of them, for what could not have been more than a pulley for a rope tow? And besides, descriptions of the ski trails used during the war never make mention of any lifts, although one friend claims to have seen a photo or sketch of Chipman Hill with a rope tow in it, although I have never seen this. If anyone knows what these pylons are for, I would be intrigued to hear.

Summit Communications Tower

Summit Communications Tower

This is another easy find, as it can be seen from almost anywhere in town – the tall communications tower, on top of the highest point in town. I was also curious, on this run, to see if I could find any sign of the old, much shorter tower just to the east of the summit, but all the hardware associated with the older installation has apparently been removed.

Old Gravel Pit

Old Gravel Pit

There is a rather substantial abandoned gravel pit on the lower, eastern slopes of the hill. This was much more pronounced in the 80’s, but has become somewhat overgrown in the last 30 years. Then, as now, it appears to be used for campfires (and presumably illicit outdoor underage parties), much like it was 30 years ago, as evidenced by at least 3 different fire pits. The gravel pit can be easily made out in the Google Earth projection of Chipman Hill at the end of this posting.

Dumped Fridge

Dumped Fridge

Here was an unpleasant surprise near the gravel pit – For the first time in my life, I noticed a long abandoned refrigerator, which was surprising in light of the fact that most of the hill is completely litter free, and it must have been there for a long time, as it has been decades since the gravel pit had routine vehicular traffic needed to dump off an abandoned appliance.

Crooked Tree

Crooked Tree

This tree just looked cool, and was on a lesser used trail, so I guess this will be one of the more challenging Easter Eggs!

Lonely Fire Hydrant

Lonely Fire Hydrant

This fire hydrant, which I had never noticed before caught my attention, as it was on a closed, seemingly abandoned stretch of road. Who knows, maybe there were once plans to build homes on this part of the mountain? It also looks like it has unexpectedly grown since it was planted, as the hydrant itself was well above the ground line. I also noticed a bunch of bunny rabbits with their little white tails running around nearby – appropriate for a blog on Easter Egg hunting. They did not pose for pictures however.

Old Reservoir

Old Reservoir

This muddy, algae-infested pond is what I have heard referred to as the old village reservoir. I don’t know the full history, but I for one am glad that we aren’t currently drinking from it.

New Reservoir

New Reservoir

Just uphill from the old reservoir is – surprise – the new reservoir! I am comforted by the fact that it is actually enclosed.

Trail Sign

Trail Sign

Coming up from the Springside Rd. access point, this well-designed map was posted – I am glad that I saw it at this point, after running for roughly and hour – who knows, I might have been lost all along and not known it? A copy of this map, which has the road, and most, but not all of the heavily used trails marked out, can be found online at the excellent MALT website.

Cairn

Cairn

Finally, shortly after coming off the trails, and onto High St to conclude my run, I noticed this small cairn in a yard by the road – I have always rather enjoyed these little rock piles for some reason, and once again, in keeping with the Easter Egg theme, one can imagine a stack of chocolate eggs and jelly beans forming them?

Concluding the run, I returned to my car in the Marble Works, finishing a slightly more than 6 mile run, where I basically didn’t do anything other than run around in circles. Although the altitude gain between the Marble Works and the summit is “only” about 500 ft, with all the ups and downs, I estimate I climbed and descended close to 1200 ft in the course of this run, making for a rather substantial hill climb run, without having to leave the village. If you are a newcomer to running on the local trails, and want something a little more challenging, give this hill a try. If you are an experienced runner, see if you can explore the trails more thoroughly, to see if you can find any of the sights mentioned here that you are not familiar with. There are quite a few more trails, that I never even got to on this run, so perhaps in a year or two, I will include those to find some new Easter Eggs to share.

Google Earth of Chipman Hill Run

Google Earth of Chipman Hill Run

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

25 Km to Cherry Garcia

The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe has long been among my favorite places to cross country ski – with lots of challenging climbs and breathtaking descents. It is also in a stunningly beautiful location – one can understand why Maria and the captain chose it as their home when they escaped to the US. I had often thought that it would be a great place for trail running as well, so when I learned of the Catamount Ultra a race with a 50 Km and 25 Km option, I immediately registered for the challenging, but hopefully not injurious shorter distance event. So, on a sunny Saturday that promised to get blisteringly hot before the day was though, I arrived at the starting line for what promised to be a fun event.

Morning Mountain Meadow Views

Morning Mountain Meadow Views

The starting line was set up right by the touring center building, and after getting my bib and race swag, I had some time to look around, and I was amazed at how the Trapp Lodge complex had grown over the years to become a rather extensive resort on the side of the mountains. It even has its own Von Trapp microbrewery now, which I knew I would be looking forward to at the end of the race. I was also amused by the oversized inflatable mammoth (perhaps a shark would have been better, since the race did indeed occur during the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week”), clearly related to one of the race sponsors, and briefly considered means of tying it to the roof of my VW Beetle to take it home, but then came to my senses and left it for others to enjoy.

The mammoth inflatable mammoth

The mammoth inflatable mammoth

The participants in the longer, 50 Km race had apparently started their two lap trek at 7:00, and start time for those of us who had chosen to only take one time around the daunting looking course lined up at around 8:30 for our start. Looking around at those lining up, I thought to myself that this bunch did not look at all like the “B-team” – they were as ectomorphic a bunch of distance runners as one would expect at a race like this, which promised 2500 vertical feet of climb and descent over the 25 Km distance. In the moments before the race started, the opening guitar riff of “Sweet Child of Mine” started blasting over the PA system, which seemed a good omen, as it has always been one of my favorite “get psyched” songs.

When the gun went off I stayed comfortably in the middle of the pack, as the group of runners, 150+ strong headed up the backside of the first hill “Telemark”. It was interesting comparing running styles with other competitors. I have always been gravity prone, climbing at a steady but slowish pace, but able to cut loose on downhills. I had fun chatting with another runner who joked that she was just the opposite – and as a result she passed me on every climb, as I roared off into the distance on the descents, only to be caught again on the next short climb. After coming down off of Telemark, there was a short flat section before the major climb of the race. The next few miles, with most of the climb coming on the Lower Parizo Trail and Chris’s Run (for those who know the ski area) followed by a short mild climb up to the high point of the race, the cabin. While the cabin has wintery snacks and hot chocolate during ski season, the water station, after the early challenging climb was just what the doctor ordered. Most, albeit, not all of the next six miles were descending, and this is where I made up most of my time – I found myself passing a fair number of competitors, some of whom caught me later and some didn’t.

By this point, the heat of the day was starting to kick in – while most of the run was in the thick forest, the second half, at lower altitude, had several large open meadows which had great views, but were starting to get pretty hot.  I also found myself walking more and more of the climbs, the closer I got to the finish line.  Many of these uphill sections were of the pitch that would not phase me had I been running at a normal workout pace, but in the later stages of an actual race, I had to get through them at a slower pace.  Alas, I saw several men with grey hair pass me by at this point, which ended up costing me a few places in my age group place at the finish  line.  Finally, I came to a flat section which I recognized as the home stretch, and I picked it up a little until I ran under the banner signifying the finish, meeting up with a few friends who had finished before me, and waited, cheering on those who finished after me.

I don’t make a habit of talking about how well I actually did in races – I mostly want readers to learn about the pleasures of running trails in new places.  But as I approached the finish line, knowing that while my race was less than perfect, it felt darn good to be out there and running well, I realized that I needed to think about the competitive component of these races with my own set of arbitrary age groups.  So, I have decided from this point on, I will compare myself against the “Jeff age group” which only consists of runners my age, or older.  Measured against this group, I did quite well, thank you!

Most races of this sort, have a post-race feed, and the Catamount Ultra was no exception.  Besides finish line snack, the sponsoring microbrewery had a freebie for everyone (YES!), but the main course was pizza, which I am sure was delicious, but I passed on, as it wasn’t what I wanted at the moment.  As I sat down in my car to drive home – I knew exactly what I wanted:  Since my trip home passed through Waterbury, I knew that I would pass by Ben and Jerry’s old headquarters, so I stopped by there and treated myself to a generous (and frankly, pricey) cone of my favorite flavor, Cherry Garcia, and that energized me for the ride home!

All in all, this was a seamlessly run, fun race.  The trails at Trapps are generally broad and fast, with good footing, and the scenery is spectacular.  I would run it again in a minute…..or at least a lot of minutes.

google earth of the run

The starting point at the “bed” icon, running clockwise

altitude profile

The Long Way to the Silent Cliffs

One of the more popular “mini-hikes” in the area is the short jaunt from the top of Middlebury Gap (Rt. 125) to the viewpoint known as Silent Cliffs, which provides a great view of the College Snow Bowl, and on clear days, broader vistas to the south and east.  Since I know from past experience that a lot of the hits on this blog are by people looking for hiking trails, if you want to see the short “normal way” to get to this nice little vista, I will describe it in a short paragraph at the end of this posting.  Needless to say, I didn’t go that way on this run.

It was a gloomy looking Saturday morning and I was looking for my first truly “mountainy” run of the season. I had recently heard from a friend that the Burnt Hill Trail, which I had not hiked in over 20 years, made for a good means of ascending to the Long Trail, with a pitch and footing generally amenable to trail running. While the usual trailhead for this is a small turnout off of FS 59, the road which passes through the Breadloaf campus, I decided to park at the campus itself to add a little more mileage to my run.  This also ensured that if I made a “loop run” out of this route, I would not have the climb back up to my car at the finish line.

Despite a few passing showers earlier in the morning, I drove up to Breadloaf and parked in the nearly-empty parking lot to being my run.  I was surprised by how deserted the place was, as I knew the mountain campus had been used in the past for housing alums returning for reunions, but I guess they are now all crammed into dorm, just like in the good old days!  I was amused, however, by the remnants of a fire ring set up in the parking lot.  I can only guess that the lawyers must have warned the college about the dangers of mixing intoxicated 50-somethings and fire, as the fire pit was ringed by barriers to keep these happy kids from getting hurt!

Fire Ring

The Killer Fire Ring

I started my actual run on some of the trails in the “Battell Loop” section of the Rikert Ski Touring Area, the section of woods just east across the field, and wound my way up the Freeman Trail until I reached FS 59 by Gilmore House, where I crossed over and followed the Gilmore Trail until I got to FS 59 again, this time higher up and by the area where most people park for the Burnt Hill Trail. There is a detailed map of the Rikert Trails on one of the links to the right of this blog ( ——> thataway for the directionaly challenged) for those who don’t know the trails. Reaching the road, and short few yards to the right brought me to the beginnings of the combined Burnt Hill Trail and Norske Trail, which run together in their current incarnation (they were once totally separate trails) for the next .7 miles. Once the trails diverge, the Burnt Hill Trail brings hikers all the way to the top of the Green Mt Ridge, while the Norske Trail, which is designed for skiing (and was featured in this blog a few years ago) brings one up to the tight corner on Rt 125 just past the Snow Bowl. The climbing here is pretty gentle, and the trail is well-traveled making for a pretty easy ascent at this point.  A little deeper into the forest, I came to a sign post announcing the boundary line between mere national forest, and the Breadloaf Wilderness.  I stood on one side of the line, then the other, and didn’t notice a difference!  I guess it is kind of comforting that I live in an area where, even with a well-trained eye, I couldn’t tell the difference between mere forest, and official wilderness.  I also saw the trail log in, and dutifully inscribed my name and destination, using my blogging pseudonym of course.  This was your standard trail use kiosk, lacking the “you’ve got mail” vibe of the sign-in I saw a few weeks ago on another run.

The Start of the Wilderness

The Start of the Wilderness

 

The trail at this point mostly wound its way through mixed forest, and the canopy kept me relatively dry despite the steady drizzle which had developed. Finally, after about a mile and a half on the Burnt Hill Trail (or 2.5 miles from the start of the run) the trail got a little too steep and rocky for consistent uphill running, so the next half mile or so was mostly just fast hiking. At about the 3 mile mark, I noticed that the sky was in front of me, instead of just overhead, signifying that I was near the top of the ridge, and sure enough, in a few moments I was at the Long Trail. A lot of the Long Trail is very rocky and rooty, as befitting a heavily used ridge line trail, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this section, going right (south) all the rest of the way to the top of 125 was actually very nice for running, at least by challenging Long Trail standards.

There were a few noteworthy sights along this heavily wooded stretch of ridgeline hovering at around the 3000 ft elevation line. One of these sights was an omission – it has been so long that I have been on this section that I was unaware of the removal of the Boyce Mt Shelter, but when I came to a small clearing and did a little googling, I realized this was the case.

I also discovered another, more puzzling mystery.  I came across another patch along the ridge where there was an opening in the generally dense leaf canopy, and I saw the surprise – there was a small grove of apple trees!  It was not surprising that apple trees could grow up there, as they are an exceptionally hardy tree in northern climates, but apple trees almost always serve as an excellent marker of past human habitation, as they don’t really exist in the wild, only where deliberately planted.  Now the mystery is, who planted them up there?  I can’t believe that someone actually lived and farmed at this altitude, and in fact have seen maps of olde Ripton, and can’t remember seeing any mention of a homestead on the ridge.  But somebody took the time to clear land, and plant a few of these trees, now ancient, but why?

Mystery Apple Trees

Mystery Apple Trees

Passing this by, I skipped and hopped along the trail for a few miles until I came to a T in the road, and realized I had finally come to the trail spur to the primary destination for this run. A right turn would take me to the top of Rt 125 in about a third of a mile, while a left turn would bring me to the Silent Cliffs, so I took the left, and after winding through the forest for about a third of a mile, came to the outcropping with its views. One of the first things I noticed was that the Silent Cliffs was by far the noisiest place I had been on the run. The traffic below on Rt 125, compounded by the loose rock from the construction made it very obvious that civilization was not far away. The view, dominated by Worth Mt. and the Snow Bowl was as nice as I remembered, however, although a little limited by the clouds and increasingly heavy rain.

View from Silent Cliffs

View from Silent Cliffs

I returned to the “T” in the trail, this time going straight, and in a few short minutes I reached the top of Middlebury Gap. At this point, I could have elected to simply take the road back to my car at Breadloaf, but electing to maximize my time on the trails, I crossed over the short stretch of the Long Trail, continuing south until I reached the top of the Sheehan Chair, and ran down the service road on the Voter trail to the Snow Bowl parking lot, and rejoined Rt 125 for about a mile. Finally, I hopped into the woods on the Rikert Trails when I came to the Catamount Trail marker on the right, and came out into the Rikert field, finishing off a 9 mile run at my car, as the rain continued to soak me as I ran in the open.

While the distance in this run wasn’t that long, the nature of the running was a lot more challenging than most of my runs. The total climb from Breadloaf to the top of the ridge was 1600 ft, and the trails are considerably rougher than the much tamer TAM around town. This run took me over 2 hours, so my per mile pace was much slower than it is on the trails nearer to town. It is very hard for even seasoned trail runners to average much faster than 15 min/mile on this sort of mountainous terrain, even with some easier road sections averaged in.

Google Earth of the run, looking west.

Google Earth of the run, looking west.

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

INSTRUCTIONS TO GET TO SILENT CLIFFS THE NORMAL WAY: Drive to the top of the Middlebury Gap. Park your car or bicycle, and head north on the Long Trail. This is the trail on the opposite side of the road from the parking lot. After about 1/3 of a mile of steady ascent (a few hundred feet altitude gain), you will get to the fork on the trail. Take the right (actually straight ahead) trail. This is very well marked by trail signs at this point. After about another 1/3 of a mile of gently descending and climbing trail taking you to the cliff overlook. Sit down, enjoy, and return as needed!

Sugar Hill Reservoir in the Spring

In this blog, I have often sung the praises of the trail runs accessible from the Brooks Road trailhead, reached after a few hundred yards on the forest service road on the right between the Rikert ski touring area and the Snow Bowl.  The easiest run from here, terrain-wise is a roughly 9 mile run which I have described in the past, albeit six years ago.  A good chunk of this run actually takes place on Brooks Road itself, a forest service road which is open to cars during the summer months, although rarely driven, and is used by snowmobilers and cross-country skiers in the winter.  In late March?  Since it has no snow anymore, and probably never had much this winter, it is closed to snowmobiles, but has not yet been opened to other motor vehicles, making it even better for running.

The run starts off with the most challenging climbing of the route in the first mile and a half on the dirt surface, until it levels off for another mile, reaching the point where the snowmobile trail up from the Sugar Hill Reservoir joins from the right.  Those looking for a shorter run or hike can just take a right turn here, for a 6 mile out and back!  On this run, however, I will be returning by this side trail.

Sugar Hill Reservoir Connection

Sugar Hill Reservoir Connection

Another mile on the dirt road, and another climb, not as long and steep as the climb at the start of the road, brought me to the high point of the run, with the total vertical climb a modest 700 ft. One of the big hurdles for road runners transitioning to the trails, especially competitively in Vermont, is the challenge of getting used to long, sometimes relentless climbs. I have found that this section of dirt road makes for a good place to time trial to measure one’s progress in the hills. Since it is on a dirt road, the footing is consistent, eliminating the variable of trail condition, so I will run this quite a few times each season, making a mental note of my time on the ascent, watching how my times get faster as the season progresses.

After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the upper reaches of the Sucker Brook, I headed on the trail into the woods, taking a right turn onto a ski and mountain bike trail which is part of the Blueberry Hill network.  This particular trail used to be a regularly groomed part of the Inn’s system, but has not been groomed in the last few years due to the destruction of several small, but critical bridges along the trail by Hurricane Irene.  The Moosalamoo Association, a non-profit, is currently raising funds for their repair, but fortunately the bridge washouts do not affect the use of these trails for running once the snow is gone.

Staying on this trail for a little over a mile, and veering gradually to the right, this route took me to the dirt road access connecting the Goshen-Ripton road to the reservoir, and I took the right turn towards the reservoir.  This road provides easy access for boaters and fishermen who need the convenience of driving to haul their gear to the lakeside.  I have enjoyed noticing quirky rock cairns, built and left alongside trails and streams, and commented on them in past blog entries.  On this run, I noticed a few rounded rocks, far too large to have been placed there by humans,  neatly stacked alongside the road.  Perhaps the glaciers didn’t want us to get lost?

Glacial Cairn

Glacial Cairn

 

A few minutes on the dirt road finally took me to the shores of the Sugar Hill Reservoir.  This body of water was created exactly 100 years ago as the highest altitude component of the Silver Lake hydroelectric project, which culminates far below on the shores of Lake Dunmore.  While this scenic lake is open to recreational use, it’s primary function is to store water for the hydroelectric project downstream, as well as flood control, and as a result its depth fluctuates tremendously, season to season and year to year.  This spring, with our weak snowfall, the water level is particularly low, although it was interesting to see that it was still almost entirely frozen over still despite our warm late winter.

I also noticed a fair number of “improvements” since my last description of a run here.  There used to be a quirky looking gate across the section of trail heading over the reservoir dam, clearly built to as not to behead errant mountain bikers, but this has been replaced by a more decorative forest service gate, and to my surprise, a mailbox.  You’ve got mail?  Out of curiosity, I opened the mailbox and saw that it held a logbook to be filled out by those passing through, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to sign it with my blog moniker.  A little later down the trail, I realized that I should have added some sort of comment along the lines of “Happy Easter Egg Hunting”, since it was the day before Easter.

You've got Mail!

You’ve got Mail!

 

The next short section involved crossing the reservoir dam, and locating the trail on the far side, offering a snowmobile connection between the water and Brooks Road, and this involves a short climb of a little over a half mile, with one final view of the reservoir through the trees, which will soon be obscured as the season leafs out.

Reservoir Views

Reservoir Views

Returning to the Brooks Road in this way, I took the left turn for the easy descent back to my car, and the conclusion of this scenic, and despite the mileage, not terribly challenging run.

Google Earth of the run

Google Earth of the run

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Early Spring at Texas Falls

The Shakespeare (and Steinbeck) phrase “Now is the winter of our discontent” seems to be very applicable to the past few months.  I usually fill the pages of this blog with new discoveries on my cross country skis during the deep winter months, and although the Rikert ski touring area has managed to stay mostly open through Herculanean efforts, as well as snowmaking, most would agree that the nordic opportunities this winter were among the weakest in many years.  So, with the weekend’s warm sunny weather, and the almost complete disappearance of this winter’s thin veneer of snow, I set out for my first substantive trail run of the season.  I have long known that the forest service road heading north from the well known roadside attraction in Hancock, Texas Falls, makes for a nice run on a hot summer afternoon or early evening.  In fact, a description of the run on this rarely driven dirt (but accessible to non-4WD autos) was the subject of one of my earliest posts on this blog.

One  particular side trail has caught my eye in the past while running in this area – near the top of the maintained road, there is a snowmobile heading straight ahead when the road veers right.  I have never explored this trail in the past due to the fact that it always seems to be overgrown with thigh-butt deep growth in the heat of the summer, but I have always assumed that it would make for good running in the winter or early spring, given that it would be well-packed down by snowmobile traffic.  So, with a little time off on a Saturday morning, I made this my destination.

Reaching the lot nearest to the falls themselves I parked my car, and walked to the bridge offering views of the small gorge and the falls themselves.  Given the minimal snow cover this year, the falls, while attractive, were not nearly as impressive as I have seen them during the snowmelt in past springs! An even better photographic angle of the falls is afforded by clambering down into the small gorge, but the ice deposited along the rock walls dissuaded me from attempting it this time around.

Texas Falls

Texas Falls

Having snapped my shot at the start of the run, I headed north, beginning my climb. One of my favorite things about running in the spring is how curiosities obscured by the cover of summer become readily apparent before the vegetation leafs out. This run was no exception – as I approached the developed picnic area on the left, I noticed some well built rock cairns in the midst of the streambed. This was surprising, as during most winters these ethereal sculptures are wiped out by the ice and spring runoff.  I have often thought it would be fun to make one of these, with spray paint on the rocks to make the cairns look like a stack of jelly beans.  Maybe this year!

Streambed Cairns

Streambed Cairns

After about a half mile on the road, I reached the point where the forest service road is blocked to traffic, and kept open only for snowmobilers and skiers for the winter months. The gate was open, however, although I saw little evidence that the road above this point had gathered much interest from the March drivers, although I suspect it is easily passable by passenger cars. I did see a sign that one of the resident moose had chosen the path of least resistance on its way down the mountain not long before I passed through. I could tell the moose must be a well-informed runner, as the tracks seemed to stay on the crest of the road, right down the middle. I learned the hard way 20 years ago, that running consistently on the left side of our highly “bowed” dirt roads in Vermont can lead to one hell of a case of IT Band tendonitis.
Deer Tracks

Most of this part of the run is a relentless climb up the dirt road, which opens up at 2.25 miles with excellent views of the smaller summits just to the east of the main ridge of the Green Mts.

Mountain Tops

Mountain Tops

At this point, the main road, which I have run frequently, veers to the right to its conclusion in about .25 miles. The aforementioned snowmobile continues in a direct straight(north) line from here, and it was almost as bare of snow as the prior forest service road had been. In fact, at the higher altitude, the ground was still well frozen making for an excellent running surface – not nearly as muddy as I expected it to be. From this point, it was an easy-to-follow run on a double track primitive road, most definitely not suitable to car traffic, although signs of recent tree harvesting was apparent, indicating that they had gotten some pretty heavy equipment up this route. In a short while, the icy snow pack on the trail got challenging enough under foot that I stopped and slipped on my “Microspikes” over my running shoes, more for peace of mind than anything, and kept these on for the last mile of my uphill run, and the first mile of the descent. At 3.5 miles into the run, I reached the height of land on this trail, and at this highest altitude (about 2200 ft) there was considerably more snow, and a few ice bound ponds alongside the trail.

Frozen Pond

Frozen Pond

At this point, the trail continued on, with an immediate descent, and while still curious as to its final destination, I knew I had family commitments to return to, so I turned around and retraced my steps back to my waiting car, for a run just a little shy of 7 miles, with about 900 ft of vertical climb and descent. After uploading the GPS track of my run onto Google Earth, I could guess that had I proceeded another mile or two to the north, I would have crossed one of the Forest Service roads heading into the mountains west of Granville Center VT off of Rt 100. I am planning on making these roads the target of scouting out new trail running routes this summer!

Google Earth Projection of the Run

Google Earth Projection of the Run

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Mad River Glen- Don’t Ski it if You Can’t

MRGBumper

Now, of course, we have all seen these bumper stickers all over the state of VT – In fact my previous vehicle bore this bumper sticker proudly. That said, given the lack of much in the way of snowmaking at this great old ski hill, the “Ski it if you can” moniker sometimes takes on a more cynical meaning. Alas, this was the case on Christmas Day this year. With the ridiculously warm temperatures in December this year, even the resorts with ample snowmaking have been hanging on for dear life, while poor Mad River Glen is yet to see an open day yet. That said, the warm Christmas morning temperatures in the 40’s made for an idea running day, so after the presents were all open, and I was chased, quite deservedly, out of the kitchen while others with superior Christmas dinner cooking abilities were preparing the evening’s feast, I thought it would be a great time to get out of the way, and spend a little time on the slopes, just in a different manner than I usually do.

As I pulled into the parking lot, and gazed up at the bare brown slopes, the sense of the season thus far was summarized by the greeting sign for the resort:

All I Want for Christmas

All I Want for Christmas

The sign pretty much says it all, huh? So, I took my usual route when I decide to run a ski area. Almost all ski areas have some sort of access road, passable by 4WD vehicles to their summit, to provide access for summer maintenance, as well as for a bunny run back to the base when covered in snow. I found the obvious road zigzagging its way up the face of this rather steep mountain, and found that >95% of the route up to the top of the double chair, admittedly the lesser of the area’s two summits, was actually runnable at a slow steady plod. As I started my ascent, looking across to the race training slopes at the far right, I could see the futile attempts to make enough snow to open at least one run, laying there in rapidly diminishing blotches of white.

Snowmaking Futility

Snowmaking Futility

A short way up the slope, however, I did note a sight which was rather pleasant. I remembered that one particular ledge, almost directly below the double chair, was covered in icicles during the winter, and with the warm weather this day, I could see why – it was actually a rather pleasant little waterfall!

Mad River Falls

Mad River Falls

The rest of the route to the top was mostly on open slopes, following the obvious 4WD road to the top of the double chair. I saw numerous groups out for their Christmas day hike as well, and we all commiserated on the lack of snow, but generally agreed that if there wasn’t any snow, we might as well have nice days for running and hiking. When I reached the point where the rest of the run was up a pretty easy slope to the right, I looked up at the legendary “Paradise Trail” and noted that it looked even steeper and hairier without snow, than it did with. Thinking of the waterfall I had passed a few moments earlier, I briefly thought of exploring further up Paradise to scout out its waterfall, which happens to stretch across the full width of the trail necessitating an icy leap in the winter, but decided that the soft, muddy ground would probably suck the running shoes off of my feet if I ventured up onto less trodden terrain. Finally, after what ended up being an only modestly difficult ascent, I reached the top of the chair, and enjoyed the expansive views on the gray, but high visibility day!

View from the Top

View from the Top

After a short stop at the summit, and the obligatory selfie for Facebook, I turned and sped back down the mountain, greeting even more hikers on their way up, until I returned to my car to head home to my turkey dinner and Pinot Noir. This ended up as about a 4.5 mile run, with a 1400 ft vertical. I didn’t have my GPS watch with me for this run, but am including the less useful GPS trace of my run, created through the “Runtastic” app on my iPhone.
runtastic

And of course, as I am writing this, it is Tuesday, and we are getting the first snows of the season! Happy New Year readers!

A Running Hike on Haystack

Once again, I decided to venture out of Addison County for a trail run.  I have been an avid Adirondack hiker since I began my employment in Middlebury in the mid-80’s, but never really thought seriously about them as a running destination, given the muddy, rocky and generally gnarly condition of most Adirondack trails.  In fact, the challenges of overcoming some of the challenging terrain on many Adirondack hikes constitute much of their appeal.  That said, another one of the challenges of these mountain trails is their length – most of the popular hiking destinations require long approach hikes on gentler, more runnable terrain.  Since I do most of my hiking in running shoes, rather than the more traditional hiking boots, I had gotten in the habit of coming down off a peak, and running in the last few miles at the end of the day.  So, when one of my running friends Ben suggested a run/hike to one of the most remote peaks in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, Haystack Mt, I agreed that at least some of the route would be runnable, and we decided to give it a try.

At first, Haystack would seem like an odd choice for a trail run.  While it is the third tallest of the High Peaks, it is far more challenging than Marcy (#1) and Algonquin (#2) due to the length of the hike (about 8.5 miles each way) and the ruggedness of at least some sections of the approach trails.  In fact, it is generally not recommended as a day hike for all but the most fit and experienced hikers.  On the other hand, the first 3.5 miles in from “The Garden” parking lot in Keene Valley are very heavily hiked and in excellent condition with only modest ascent, and the next few miles beyond this, while steeper and less heavily traveled might also offer at least some stretches suitable for running.  I was mildly concerned that Ben planned to bring his dog, Tizzy the labradoodle on this trip, but he assured me that she was an excellent and experienced runner and climber, and I knew there would be lots of water for her to drink along this route.  Prepping for the run in the morning, I basically broke every rule in the book for Adirondack hiking, trying to go light.  For gear, I brought my small camera, a GPS watch, a 28 oz water bottle, and a windbreaker, allowing me to run with just a fanny back and a water bottle around my waist. Also, for my food, I basically grabbed all the “energy food” in my stash – so I brought along a mishmash of old Gu and Powergel packets, various energy bars, most of which were leftover bits of swag from previous races, and a bar of chewy energy blocks much like Gummi Bears, whose origin I had long forgotten. Oh yeah, and I also brought a few Snickers bars, because everything is better with chocolate.

After completing my 46 Adk peaks a dozen years ago, I have been doing my hiking in a wider variety of areas, and some of my memories of the trails and terrain were a little dated or fuzzy.  For example, I was not worried at all about us finding a parking place at “The Garden”, the parking lot for the Johns Brook Lodge and our planned approach.  This small but very popular parking lot always requires a very early entry on the weekends, but since this was a Friday, I figured we would be fine.  So, when we headed up the access road roughly across the street from the Keene Valley hotspot, The Noonmark Diner, and saw a sign indicating that there was indeed space in the undersized parking lot, I wasn’t surprised.  However, as we approached the lot attendant, she let us know that we were lucky enough to have gotten there just in time to grab the next to last spot, and it was only 8:30 in the morning, attesting to the ever increasing popularity of Adirondack hiking.

Setting off from the trailhead at around 8:30 in the morning, the run was as I expected;  the trail was in good condition, and the climbing was moderate, and we got to the Johns Brook Lodge, a mountain hut where overnighters can pay for a bunk and meals, after about 3.5 miles.  I was kind of surprised to see that we had already climbed 700-800 ft by the time we got to the lodge.  After topping off my water bottle from the lodge’s potable tap, we resumed the run, and over the course of the next 3.5 miles to Slant Rock, a very obvious trailside landmark, the trail stayed at its gradual pitch, but gradually got rougher, and muddier, so that we could only really run about half of this stretch.  It is funny how early in any trail run, I avoid all the mud through careful footwork, but once my toes get a little bit moist I basically give up and just charge through most of the water hazards, and by the time we got to Slant Rock, my shoes were sloshing.  I also noted an odd looking shelf fungus which looked like a bizarre set of lips.  Anyone for a kiss?

Kiss me baby!

Kiss me baby!

Given my plan of traveling light, I had neglected to bring along a map, counting on my distant memories of the last time I had passed this way, years ago. I remembered that there were two ways to get to Haystack from here – the short direct path which pretty much headed directly up and over the ridge to Little Haystack and Haystack, and a more roundabout route, the dreaded “Shorey Shortcut” which accomplished the same result, but with a lot of extra climbing and descent – obviously a route to be avoided. So shortly after passing Slide Rock, the trail took an obvious left turn across the brook, and we took it.  The trail started climbing much more seriously, so other than a few very short stretches here and there, the running part of our ascent was over.  After a long a substantial climb, we started an almost as long descent, and I realized that we had indeed taken the route I had wanted to avoid at all costs.  Oh well, what’s a few hundred more feet of climbing in a long challenging day?  Once we regained our lost altitude and achieved timberline it was a short steep ascent to the summit of Little Haystack, just north of our destination.  I was amazed at this point by our canine companion’s ability to climb and descend some very steep sections of trail.  I guess her four wheel drive works pretty well!

Ben and the mountain dog

Ben and the mountain dog

Finally, we got to the last quarter mile or so to the summit proper, and of course, this was a great place to enjoy the views. In this shot, I am looking west towards Redfield and Allen, two of the more challenging trailless peaks in the area.

A trailrunner enjoys the summit views

A trailrunner enjoys the summit views

From here, we made our descent, backpacking to timberline at the base of Little Haystack, where we found the trail we had hoped to take up from Slant Rock, but somehow missed. Taking this trail, we cut out a lot of extra unnecessary climbing in our descent, but this trail was no bargain either – it was even steeper than the Shorey, with the added benefit of loose rocks and a few sections where the trail was basically a muddy stream. Once again, Tizzy the wonderdog proved the strongest hiker of the party.

Muddy nightmares

Muddy nightmares

By the time we got back to Slide Rock, we were all ready to stretch our legs again with some more running, and despite tired legs from the previous 10+miles, this easy descent was the best running of the day over the last 7 miles. When we returned to the parked car, my GPS registered the day at almost exactly 17 miles. Checking the details of the run after our return, I could see that we had climbed and descended over 3500 ft in the course of the day! I usually don’t mention times and speeds in this blog, as everyone needs to run the trails at the pace where they are comfortable, but I found it interesting to note that we were able to complete this in just under 6.5 hours, whereas my previous hikes here had required more than 9 hours, so we were able to make up a lot of time in the runable sections!

Of course, when we got to our car, we made another anonymous hiker happy, as our departure opened up a spot in the parking lot for someone else to enjoy that section of the backcountry. Finally, all hikes in this section of the Adirondacks are required by law to end at the Noonmark Diner. While some people have sung the praises of their pies, I always go for a milkshake for the drive home. I got coffee this time, but perhaps next time it will be strawberry?

I usually just show the route in my Google Earth projections, but in addition to that, I also created a projection which better shows off the topology around the summit of Haystack. So, the first projection shows the entire route as if it was taken from the perspective of a satellite looking straight down, while the second one would be what one would see from an airplane approaching Haystack from the Mt Marcy side, at low altitude – I kind of like this perspective!

satellite perspective

satellite perspective

airplane perspective

airplane perspective

Altitude profile

Altitude profile