Tag Archives: Hill Climb

Autumn up the North Branch Trail

It seems like all of my posts this season have been describing runs in the Moosalamoo/Silver Lake region, and this posting will be no exception. On a cool, overcast Saturday morning, I joined up with a few running friends for another one of my favorite runs – the ascent up the North Branch Trail, beginning from the Falls of Lana parking lot, just south of Branbury State Park. So the three of us, accompanied by my friend’s labradoodle, Tizzy the Wonderdog, began our ascent on the service road. Just past the Falls of Lana, where the service road to Silver Lake makes a sharp switchback to the right, stay straight, taking the left turn over bridge, followed by a sharp right over the next few yards. This puts you on a trail, which if you remained on it, would bring you up to the Falls of Lana. At one point, you will have to vault over a fallen tree trunk, with a curious infinity sign painted on it, indicating that this segment of trail is also part of the course for Andy Weinberg’s legendary 888 km “Infinitus” event.  But since we were feeling like mere mortals, we knew that this would be our only loop past this today, and after a few minutes, we came to the grassy clearing, where the actual North Branch trail veers off to the right.

Shortly after turning onto the trail we saw a few other runners and friends coming our way – they had apparently gotten a head start on us, and were already descending from the summit of Mt Moosalamoo.  Nine years ago, when I started writing this blog, it was a rarity when I saw another runner on the trail, and now it is far more common, a testament to the increasing popularity of trail running in this part of Vermont, and the US as a whole.   Over the next half mile or so, the climbing gets to be a little steep, requiring a few short sections with more hiking than running, and in no time at all, the stream that we crossed at the start of the trail was a few hundred feet below us.  The trail in this section is well maintained, but narrow and rocky, and the brilliantly colored wet leaves on the ground covered some of the natural hazards make for slow going in sections, but as the leaves were thinning on the trees, at one point I noticed a substantial waterfall peeking out from behind the trunks, noting that I had only seen this before when it was early spring or late fall – the summer foliage always seems to obscure it!

One can remain on the North Branch trail all the way to the Moosalamoo Campground, but on this run, I decided to take the short exit trail to bring us up to the little known Voter Brook overlook, at the end of the campground road, hoping to catch the fall scenery from this quiet little viewpoint.  The combination of the cloudy weather, and the past peak foliage dimmed the splendor of the place, but only a little bit!

Voter Brook Overlook

From here we decided to stay on the road back to the Moosalamoo Campground, and eventually the Ripton-Goshen road. Looking down at the road, which is very lightly used, it looked more like it was unused, as it was covered thickly with fresh leaves, and a few small washouts indicated why the last few hundred yards were not used. But still, the road, which was actually very pleasant running, was still covered by undisturbed leaves. In not long, we came to what seemed to be the cause of the road’s disuse – a fallen tree which would block traffic.  This was still a little puzzling, as the Forest Service usually does a good job of taking care of fallen trees, even on little used roads, but after hopping over this modest impediment, I could see that the road was still unused.  Eventually, we reached the sharp descent and turn in the road, where it normally passes over a small stream with a culvert under the road, and we finally saw what the real problem was – apparently, at some point in the year or so since I last passed this way, the road had washed out entirely, leaving a little bigger project to reopen car travel to the overlook. It apparently has been washed out for a while, as the local beavers had already created a dam across the culvert.

Road Washout

From here we continued on the now gravel and dirt road, sans leaves, until we reached the Ripton-Goshen road, where we took a right, and after a somewhat surprisingly tough climb to the high point of the run, took the snowmobile trail to the right, where you see the forest service gate. This begins a long gradual ascent, a nice respite after all the climbing to get up here. The main snowmobile trail is usually easy to pick out, but some recent small scale lumbering activity had made a previously “minor” trail look more substantial, so we got off course for a short while until we realized that this side trail was getting faint. It was interesting to see a rusted out old plow in the middle of what appeared to be probably a 50 year old forest – it has clearly been a long time since this land was cleared for a farm!

Abandoned Plow in the Forest

Finding our way back to the main trail, it eventually bottomed out over a well-built snowmobile bridge, before a short steep climb up to the Silver Lake forest service road, well above the lake. Going straight here would have been the shortest way back to our cars, but instead we took the left turn, leading to an undulating climb up to the Goshen Silver Lake trailhead, which was nearly empty. Getting back on true single track, we followed the descent to the Leicester Hollow trail, and followed it back to the “beach”, which not surprisingly, was empty, although we did see some people kayaking out on the always quiet lake. Finishing the run with the last mile and a half descent to the parking lot, passing quite a few hikers out for what will probably be their last hike of the season,  brought the run to its conclusion. This ended up being a 10.5 mile run, with a solid 1500 foot climb and descent, although a lot of it was more undulating than grinding.

The North Branch Trail run

Altitude Profile North Branch

Aunt Jennie

One of the most popular “hikes to a view” in Addison County, is the hike up to the Rattlesnake Cliffs on the lower slopes of Mt Moosalamoo, where there are spectacular views of Lake Dunmore to the east, Silver Lake to the north, and the main ridge of the Green Mountains to the west. Over the last decade or so, this viewpoint has become a little bit more challenging to access, as the return of nesting peregrine falcons has necessitated closure of this popular viewpoint from early spring to the beginning of August, limiting this lovely overlook to late summer and fall (except for the hardy winter hikers and skiers) so that the falcons can have their babies in peace.

Hiking up to the Rattlesnake Cliffs from the popular Falls of Lana/Silver Lake trailhead, just south of Branbury State Park leads to two possible ascending trails. The longer, but gentler Rattlesnake Cliff Trail, described in an earlier blog, and the more direct, steeper Aunt Jennie Trail. Based on a few conversations with old-timers in the area, I became interested in who the eponymous Aunt Jennie was, and what her connection to the trail or area was. And I am not an old-timer yet – not quite. A little bit of easy googling came up with the answer – Aunt Jennie was a woman who ran a popular eatery on flat lot, formerly the site of the old Falls of Lana trailhead, a quarter mile closer to the falls than the current location. A short writeup mentioning Aunt Jennie, as well as her teahouse (the picture of the teahouse provided by Bill Powers, a local historian) can be found on the Lake Dunmore Association blog, from a few years ago.

The run up to the Aunt Jennie Trail begins much like many of my other runs in the region, from aforementioned Falls of Lana trailhead. After the first short climb, the trail up to Silver Lake takes a sharp hairpin turn to the right, but to head up to the Rattlesnake Cliffs, one goes straight, taking a turn to the left over a footbridge put in place after the 2008 flooding which took out an older bridge. After crossing the Sucker Brook, turn right, and after a short run, the well-labeled Aunt Jennie trailhead appears to the left. I hadn’t hiked up this trail in many years, but as expected, it was significantly steeper than the longer Rattlesnake Cliffs trail. While the longer trail is gradual enough to be good uphill running over much of its length, I would have to say that, at least at my current climbing ability, less than a quarter of the Aunt Jennie trail is actually runnable, so most of this rapid ascent is more a power hike, with a few faster footsteps when it levels off in a few places. After about ¾ of a mile, the Aunt Jennie Trail ends, and a left turn, joining the Rattlesnake Cliff Trail will take one to the left turn, well signed, leading to the Rattlesnake Cliffs for the great views.

Heading towards the cliffs, I noticed something was different. In the past, there were two separate cutoffs to cliff overlooks. The first cutoff led to the prominent ledges on the East face, and somewhat to the north. When I found myself on the south facing cliffs, I wondered how I missed the first turnoff. Further exploration, led to another short trail that I didn’t think had been there in the past, leading to the great views of Lake Dunmore to the east.

At this overlook, I was treated to a dozen or so huge birds sailing around me, often very close, and landing on nearby ledges.  Were these peregrine falcons?  Were these some other proud raptor, like red tail hawks?  Nope – they were plain old turkey vultures, but watching them, I developed an appreciation for some birds that would be considered lovely, if not for their tiny heads, and carrion-eating habits.  Who knew we had so much food for them here?  If they are attracted by the scent of rotting carcasses, what does that say about the scent of a very sweaty trail runner?

Turkey Vultures

Looking down at the lake, getting increasingly empty as the summer season winds down, I saw a lone speedboat, tugging a lucky waterskier, leaving patterns in the water that reminded me of old Spirograph artistry.

Spirograph wake

On my return, I stopped for a few moments at the overlook, facing to the south, including Silver Lake, Lake Dunmore, and in the distance, Fern Lake.  Is it my imagination or colorblindness, or are the first little bits of orange starting to creep into the foliage?

South Views from Rattlesnake Cliffs

 

Looking more carefully on my return, I did manage to see the trail to the “old” Lake Dunmore overlook. It no longer had any signage, and it looked as if trail maintenance crews had tried to obscure its presence. My suspicion is that this overlook is being discouraged to keep hikers away from the main falcon-roosting area, but I don’t know the full story here – anyone with something to add to this, please feel free to post your comments!

For the descent, after realizing that the Aunt Jennie Trail was fine for fast hiking, but not running, I chose to descend the longer Rattlesnake Cliffs trail, which, while longer, made for a faster descent due to its runnability over most of its length.  When I reached the bottom of the trail, I added in one last short section, in order to include some other “Aunt Jennie” history.  Instead of turning left at the bottom of the trail to return to my parked car, I turned right for about a quarter of a mile, to explore the site of Aunt Jennie’s teahouse.   I had recently learned of an inscription in the rock facing this flat section, honoring Jennie.  It was easy to find – when you hit the rock ring, continue to the nearby rock face, and if you look carefully, you can see where the moss was recently removed, leading to the professional inscription.  It is a little bit hard to read in my picture, but it states:

In Memory of

Jennie Dutton Rickert

Aunt Jennie

1866-1932

All that I am and all

 I ever hope to be I owe to my mother

A little bit of further research shows that this is nearly identical to a quote made by Abraham Lincoln about his own mother!

Aunt Jennie Epitaph

A short trot back to my car made this run/climb a little bit more than 5 miles long, with a challenging 1500 ft of climb and descent!

 

Altitude Profile

Chandler Ridge and Leicester Hollow

Some of my favorite posts to this blog are when I get a chance to describe a trail that I have never before experienced, and discover something that I find interesting along the way. Then, there are the old favorites – the runs that I come back to, usually for some combination of appropriate challenge and natural beauty. This posting falls into the latter category. If you chat with local avid trail runners, the loop I am describing today almost invariably ends up being mentioned on people’s favorite trails. I have described this run in the past, but since my blog is not well indexed, I thought I would write up a fresh posting, so that newer readers learn of it. This run is a favorite, largely because it incorporates many of the characteristics of what a lot of us are looking for in a trail run. It has climbs, descents, scenic vistas, and thick forest. Once in a while, you see a bear on this loop (that has happened twice for me, but not this time, alas) and the trails used are either broad double track, or single track with good footing, so that you rarely have to walk due to the trail conditions, although there is no dishonor if you need to do so for a break!

On a cool, slightly overcast Sunday morning, a large group of local trail runners got together – some, like me, knew the trail well, and others were “Chandler Ridge virgins” looking forward to seeing this well-loved trail. Due to the coolness of the morning, the mosquitoes weren’t bothering me at all, but a few of my running partners seemed to be doing a modest amount of swatting. The key lesson here – is always run with a friend who the bugs like more than you! We started the run with the well traveled forest service road climbing steeply up to Silver Lake. It was still pretty early in the morning, so we saw few walkers, although we did see a sign indicating that this part of the trail was being used for the now-legendary “Infinitus” event happening up at Blueberry Hill, and the surrounding trails. The centerpiece of Infinitus is an 8-day, 888 Km run, that only a handful of runners have actually completed. I was hoping to cross paths with some of these runners, just to see how much of a mess they were at this point, but none happened to be on this section of trail as we were ascending (or later on, descending). Andy, the race director’s quirky sense of humor was on display with his race signs, written both “rightside up” and “upside down” – perhaps for the amusement and/or confusion of the more delirious runners.

Infinitus Race Signage

Once our group coalesced on the shores of Silver Lake, we took the right turn over the dam and posed for a group photo, admiring the little hillock in the distance which would be the altitude high point for the day. The dam on Silver Lake is part of the small hydroelectric project, in which the originally naturally occurring lake was enhanced by the dam to store water for the power plant down on the Lake Dunmore road.

Our Better Side

After crossing the damn, we headed left, on true single track along the east shore of Silver Lake, and after about a half mile, we came to a trail junction, with the right turn switchbacking for a few minutes up to the Chandler Ridge, and the left junction to the trail hugging the shore around the lake. We chose the right trail, and a word for the wise – the left fork in the road, staying close to the lake is very poor for running, although it does make for a pretty and interesting hike. After our crew snaked up the west slopes of the Chandler Ridge, we found ourselves up on top, on a trail which sometimes hugged the west (left to us), Silver Lake side of the narrow ridge, and sometimes hugged the east (right to us) Lake Dunmore side, with frequent views through the trees. The trail up here is in great shape, due to the work done in the aftermath of the 2008 deluge which made a mess out of several of the trails in the area. After about a mile on this ridge, we came to a clearing (which was created during the aforementioned trail maintenance) looking back towards Silver Lake, above its southern terminus, also at the high altitude point of the run. As I stopped for a picture, a few of my more keen-eyed running friends spied a bald eagle in the distance. Squinting as hard as I could, I tried to make it out, but couldn’t seem to focus on it. While bald eagles have made a comeback in Vermont, as in most of the rest of the US, I still have never seen one in Vermont, and I am afraid that my streak continues.

Silver Lake and Mt Moosalamoo

 

At this point, we had a few more miles on the Chandler Ridge, staying high on the ridge until the very end, where after a short descent, we connected with the Minnie Baker trail, where we took a right turn, and then a left shortly afterwards. At the second turn to the left, a right turn will bring you down to the Lake Dunmore Road, rt 53, and sometimes early in the season when I know that the shady trail in Leicester Hollow will be covered in snow and ice, I elect to return to my car this way, on the road – but not today! Soon, we had turned around, and were heading north, on the ridge above the stream below. Prior to the 2008 storm, there was an old stage road, built to provide access to the old Silver Lake Hotel, down alongside the banks of this stream, but it was badly washed out in the storm, necessitating the newer trail which we were running on.  The gradually climbing trail hugs this ridge for about a mile or so, before descending to the stream, crossing a modern footbridge, and mostly following the old stage road for most of the rest of the ascent back up to Silver Lake.  The scenery here is very lush, so much so that I heard one of my running partners refer to it as “Fern Gully”, an apt description.

Fern Gully

Eventually, the west shore of Silver Lake appeared on our left, and after passing by signs for some of the primitive campsites, as well as a modern outhouse (who knows – this fun fact might be important to you someday, although I discovered once, the hard way, that it is locked shut in the winter) we took the left turn to the lakeshore picnic area and the small beach. On hot days, this is a great place to take a dip in the cold lake water, but most of the party decided that the air was still too chilly to be enthusiastic about a swim today, so after pausing to enjoy the scenery for a few minutes, we began the fast descent to our cars. About a half mile down the hill from Silver Lake, we passed the trail to the left, leading to what is called “Lenny’s Lookout” (as signed). I have often wondered who Lenny is, and while doing some research for this posting, I found out! The Lenny in question is Lennie Waltrip, the long-time summer campground host on the shores of Silver Lake. I have stopped to chat with him on several occasions, but prior to this discovery, had no idea what his name is. This summer, there was a much younger looking man serving as campground when we passed through, so I hope old Lennie, who would be in his late 80’s, is OK!

Returning to our vehicles, this ended up being a slightly less than 12 mile run, with a lot of climbing and descending, although most of it gentle except for the first and last mile and a half ascending to and descending from Silver Lake.  Thanks to my running friends for joining me on this!

Google Earth of Chandler Ridge/Leicester Hollow

Altitude Profile

A previously written (2011) posting on the same route, with a few different insights.

A Shaggy Dog Story

A few days ago, I had a curious self-realization about this blog.  For all intents and purposes, each blog posting is my version of the classic “Shaggy Dog Story”.  For my readers who don’t know what exactly a Shaggy Dog Story is, here is the Wikipedia definition:

“In its original sense, a shaggy dog story or yarn is an extremely long-winded anecdote characterized by extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents and terminated by an anticlimax or a pointless punchline”

So, while off on a run today, a pretty routine run, which I hadn’t planned on blogging, a very minor punchline became apparent, so I thought I would do a short write-up on it.  I only have one photograph in this posting, as I wasn’t really looking to write it up, until something curious happened…..

I went into today’s run with one thing in mind.  It was a cool, pleasant Sunday afternoon, a week before the Vermont City Marathon, and I wanted to get outside, push myself over a modest distance, and enjoy the pleasures of mother nature.  As I mentioned in my last post, I like to benchmark myself on early season runs, to check into my training, and to establish times to beat as the summer and fall progress.   The run on Brooks Road (the right turn on a dirt road about a half mile past Breadloaf, before the final ascent to the Snow Bowl), from the Chatfield/Widow’s Clearing parking lot has long been one of my favorites for this purpose.  It is a forest service road, with easy footing, and climbs in a series of short, moderately steep ascents, with long flat sections in between, leading to a 3.5 mile, slightly less than 700 ft vertical ascent.

Setting off from the bottom, the run is flat for about a quarter mile, then starts climbing, shortly thereafter.   As I reached the end of the first mile, I suddenly saw two dogs bounding towards me off leash.   Hearing their owner behind them shouting “Don’t worry – they don’t bite….” I reminisced over incidents when the next dog move was to lunge at me.   Fortunately, these two where indeed only interested in having a good sniff of sweaty runner.  But that isn’t really the shaggy dog story.   What I did notice, was that I was running very well, so I began to wonder if I could match or improve upon my PR for the ascent.  Sure enough, as I reached the end of the dirt road, I looked down at my watch, and noticed that indeed had ascended faster than ever before.

I don’t make a habit of posting times and speeds in this blog – because frankly I am not that fast, and I don’t want this to turn into just another training blog.  That said, I also knew from past experience that I had never done this run, as a round trip, in less than an hour, and realized that with the downhill acceleration, I just might be able to accomplish this, so I turned, and headed back down the hill.  Are you bored yet?  Still waiting for the punchline?

The descent did indeed prove to put me on a pace to break the one hour barrier for this run, until about a half mile from the bottom, where I noticed a black blob in the distance.  Another untethered canine perhaps?  But no, it was my second bear sighting of the season.  Now, I have two favorite bear sayings, pertinent to my running interests.  The first adage goes “You don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun your slowest friend”.  But, since I was running by myself that wouldn’t do much good.  The second one is “If you stop and take a picture of a bear, you run the risk of having the last shot on your camera be of the bear’s tonsils”.  Hence, I have never had the chance to take a picture of one of these wonderful creatures while out running.   This time was different;  I was on a long broad straightaway, with a good line of sight, but still far enough away that I hadn’t startled the bear yet.  So, I pulled out my cell phone, and took a shot, using the digital zoom, not thinking about my running goals for this run, as I finally got a bear picture on the trails.   After convincing myself that I had a serviceable photo, I shouted kind words to to my ursine companion, a hundred yards or so away, and he calmly lumbered off into the woods, allowing me to complete my descent.  At this point, my adrenaline was flowing, but I suspected that my goal of finishing under an hour had been squandered.  Riding the adrenaline rush, however, I was indeed able to complete the run in 59:30, kicking it in.  Now – here is the shaggy dog.  My amazing bit of photography:

Yes, it is a bear

Feel free to click on the photo – if you expand it to full size, you will see that it is indeed a black, 4-legged creature.

Brooks Road on Google Earth

Altitude Profile for the ascent and descent of Brooks Road

Back to the Springtime Trails

This year’s never-ending winter seems to have loosened its grip – there are only a few stray patches of snow at the higher elevations, and my legs seem to be recovering from my first 26.2 in a year and a half, undertaken a week and a half ago.   A lot of my friends ran in the Middlebury Maple Run this Sunday, but my legs didn’t feel recovered enough yet for a decent half marathon, so I decided to head out to one of my favorite runs – the ascent from the Falls of Lana trailhead, past Silver Lake, to the Goshen trailhead and returning.   I know I have done this run countless times, and blogged it quite a few times as well.  But, I almost always do this run as one of my first trail runs of the warm season.  The long mornings in the treadmill in the depths of winter and a few months of all my outdoor running being on the roads is finally giving way to the best part of the running year.  This particular run is a great way to test out my legs on a trail which isn’t as muddy as most of the single track trails in May, and I get to see how things feel when I start to mix some more serious hills into my running.  Finally, it is fun to see how my times improve as the summer progresses, so this first trail run of the season will serve as a benchmark for later runs!

A few recent articles in Runners World have put Middlebury on the map as a great runners’ town, and for road runners, this is probably due to the popularity of the Maple Run, while the TAM gets a lot of good press for trail runners.  As relative newcomers start to look for more adventurous terrain than the TAM has to offer, the Moosalamoo region, which this run is part of, offers a fun step up.   There are trail races ranging from the challenging, but accessible (The Goshen Gallop, 6.6 miles) to the longer challenges (The Moosalamoo Ultra 14 or 36 miles) to the downright ridiculous (Infinitus – up to 888 miles over 8 days!)  The run I am blogging today  provides a nice introduction to trail runners interested in a little wilder than the TAM offerings!  When I started enjoying this run, 10-15 years ago, I never saw another trail runner on while I was runnin, but now, it is rare that I don’t cross paths with other runners enjoying it.

The run starts at the Falls of Lana parking lot, the large lot on the right, just south of Branbury State Park.   I just learned the origins of the name “Branbury” by the way.  It is not the name of some famous settler, politician or benefactor – it is simply an amalgamation of Brandon and Salisbury – the two nearest towns.  How creative……. I usually skip the short connector trail that heads diagonally up from the parking lot, instead heading north on the road towards Branbury for just a few yards, taking a right onto the gated forest service road which climbs steeply from the start, before leveling off and crossing under the penstock.  What the heck is a penstock?  I just happen to have the answer in a previous post.  After a series of hairpin turns, the trail climbs relentlessly towards Silver Lake.  I was concerned about how passable I would find the trail, as it is still early spring, and we had a few very windy days where a lot of trees got knocked down.  Fortunately, the trail crews had already made short work of the many down trees, with the only sign being their trailside debris.

Trail Maintenance

 

Continuing up, I reached the shores of Silver Lake after a mile and a half. For most casual hikers, this is the point of the trip up from Lake Dunmore, but looking for higher mileage, and more climbing, I stayed on the trail, which after another short, steep climb, veered to the right to reach the high point, a few hundred feet above Silver Lake, at the Goshen parking lot. This lot has a bit of a bad reputation for car break-ins, so I rarely use it. I was comforted, however, to see a Forest Service vehicle parked there, perhaps providing a little deterrent to window-smashing wannabees.

Forest Service Patrol Car

At the far side of the parking lot, the obvious trail down begins, and after about a quarter mile, the right turn at the trail junction begins the descent to Silver Lake, in earnest. Running down this one section of true single track trail, I heard some scampering sounds in the woods, and reminded myself of the usual adage – “If you can hear it, it is just a squirrel”. However, at one point, I turned around and saw my first bear of the season bolting up the hill, a few yards behind me, and getting away from me as quickly as it could. My guess was that it was running away from whatever I was running away from. That said, it is always a rush to see these magnificent animals, and I stopped to watch it amble away, made all the easier by the lack of foliage at this altitude, this easy in the season. Someday I will get a decent picture of one of my bear incidents!

As the bear disappeared into the forest, I resumed my run down the hill, reaching the Leicester Hollow trail, where I turned right, passing by a few groups of hikers, letting them know of what they had just missed. When the sign for the Silver Lake picnic area appeared on the left, I took it, coming to the bridge over the sluiceway bringing water down to Silver Lake from the Sucker Brook Reservoir, a mile or so away at higher altitude. Sometimes, this sluiceway is dry, as Green Mountain Power tries to collect the water in the higher reservoir to save it for high electricity demand in the summer months, I presume. The rush of the water told me that they had to let some out – I bet the reservoir is pretty full at the moment due to the sudden snow melt! I hope to run up there soon to see.

Roaring Sluiceway

From here, I ran along the shore of Silver Lake – a great place to take a dip during summer runs, and returned to the forest service road, for the high speed plunge back to my car. The footing was usually good enough to just let my legs cut loose, but some glute tightness the next day reminded me that this was the first serious downhill run of the season. Returning to my car, this ended up being about a 5.5 mile run, with about 900 feet of climbing and descent. Challenging, but not overly so, by Vermont standards at least. If you haven’t run up here – give it a try. It can also be a great place to put in a good workout in the heat of the summer – it is typically 5-10 degrees cooler there, between the shade and the swimming spots.

Finally, this is the beginning of the 10th year of this blog. I have some really fun “bucket list” runs in the planning, which I hope some of my friends can join me on. Hoping we all have a great summer!

Google Earth of the run

Altitude Profile

Getting Lost (sort of) on Snake Mountain

This  weekend provided some more unnaturally warm fall afternoons, and I was thinking about a good place to run.  While the leaves in the big mountains are falling quickly, there is still a lot of foliage left in the Champlain Valley, so the day called for a run up one of my favorites, Snake Mountain, the long ridge running north and south, just to the west of Middlebury.  A few years ago, a Middlebury student, “Greg K.”  who read of my interest in Snake Mt. from this blog, sent me a map including the major and minor trails on Snake.  This map, included below, can be enlarged by clicking on it in most browsers.  I was particularly interested in exploring a minor trail, which appeared to run along the south ridge of the mountain, and seemed to have at least one overlook.  All the better for a busy day, when the main summit could have hundreds of hikers over the course of the day.

Greg K’s Snake Mountain Map

Setting off from the popular West Side parking lot, I saw a young couple I could commiserate with – they had two young children, one in a backpack, and the other hiking, and both were crying. I joked with them how I used to bribe my daughters with Tootsie Pops at the summit, and they joked about their Gummi Bears, as I wished them good luck and started off the run. The first section of the run went through young hardwood forest with a lot of birches and their yellow leaves, with small amounts of sun filtering through the thinning canopy.

Birches in the Hardwood Forest

After about 10 minutes of gradual uphill running, I came to the first T in the trail, and took the obvious left turn for the steepest section of climbing until the trail bore right, arriving at the trail junction about halfway up the mountain. At this point, most of the hikers go left, following the old summit carriage road. Going straight would have brought me down to the lesser used parking lot on the east side of the mountain. The trail I was looking for, the weakest of the three was the right turn which I knew would bring me to the overlook on the southeastern flanks of the mountain.  I was a little bit wary about taking a less frequently used trail during the fall, when the trail would be covered with leaves.  I knew from experience, back in the days when I was working on my Adirondack 46’ers credentials (#5439!) that fainter herd paths, easy to follow during the summer months, are often obscured and more challenging after the leave fall.  The first short section was easy to follow however, as it was wide, and got enough traffic to keep the path partially cleared.   After about .3 miles, I got to the lookout, and had to to myself.  Here, a very curious thing happened – I stopped to take this picture for the blog:

Views from Snake Mountain, Southern Overlook

 

and as I was taking the picture, I felt what I assumed was a bug on my leg. I didn’t worry too much about it, assuming that I had just attracted a random cluster fly, and knew that there weren’t too many nasty biting insects out and about at this time of the year. As I was focusing the camera, I felt another little tickle, and then another…and starting to get concerned I snapped the picture and looked down – to see my shirt and legs crawling with ladybugs! I casually brushed them off, and as I did, more and more of them seemed to find me attractive – at one point I probably had 20 or 30 of them alighting on me! I have no idea what they found so attractive, and they weren’t bothersome, so I took a picture of a few of my visitors on my shin and decided to let them have their view to themselves!

Ladybugs on my Shin

Heading south beyond this viewpoint, the trail got fainter and more difficult to follow, as I suspected it would. I was not worried about finding my way back should the trail start to get erased by the leaves, as the topography of the mountain is pretty simple, and running along the southwest ridge, there were short intermittent views through the thin forest cover. But, to be honest, I have gotten myself in a little bit of trouble in the past in the mountains due to a simple fact – I don’t really like simply retracing my steps if there is another possible way back. Sometimes that other way back isn’t as easy to find as one might guess….

Thin Forest Cover on the South Rim.

Sure enough after a little more than a mile on this ridge trail, which only showed occasional signs of recent use, like the easy to read indentation on logs across the trail where mountain bikers’ chain rings have dug in, the now very faint trail turned left, away from the edge of the mountain, and headed inward. After a short distance, the inevitable happened….the trail disappeared! I could have retraced my steps, but instead started bushwhacking towards some clearings I saw in the distance…and sure enough, here was a trail….but wait, it started turning around in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go. Puzzled for a moment, I decided to bushwhack my way back north again, and in a few minutes, I found another faint trail, and briefly thought that I had found my original trail, and would soon be back along the west rim of the mountain – after all, trails always look different when you are running the other way, right? I knew I was heading north, or at least was pretty sure of this, but as I found myself getting deeper and deeper into the mountain top ridge, I realized I had an entirely different trail, which sure enough, after about a third of a mile, also disappeared. At this point, I could see that the ridge that I had initially followed was a few hundred yards off to my west, and much higher than I was, so I continued to bushwhack north, or what I thought was north and was beginning to wonder if anyone had ever been there before, when I saw an old steel cable laying on the forest floor, still, with no obvious trail in sight!

Old Steel Cable

Finally, surveying the woods around me, I spied something that looked like some switchbacks heading up the ridge to my left, which I followed – and this was clearly another little used trail, which brought me back to the original trail, a short distance from the viewpoint. Whew! Once again, one of my shortcuts ended up taking about 5 times as long as the original route. Some of my hiking friends will certainly appreciate that observation, as this was far from the first time that one of my shortcuts hasn’t worked out that well. Back at the original viewpoint, there was a young couple there – swatting away at the persistent ladybugs. After a few short comments, I headed on, until I finally got back to the main summit trail. A short way further, I passed the young family from the parking lot, presumably munching on Gummi Bears, until I got to the summit. As expected, the summit was very busy, and I heard some people talking about the concrete slab, and saying how it was the result of an old hotel. I resisted the temptation to correct them – I have been trying to find out about this slab, and it seems that the only printed source mentioning it – the 5th edition of “50 Hikes in Vermont” said it was the aborted home building project of a young man who died in a car crash in Europe at some point in the 20th Century, which matches the story I heard from a few other old-timers. One version of the story says that he was a race car driver, who died in a race in Europe. I knew, however, that the old summit hotel was actually back in the woods – a modest stone foundation all that remains. One of my old-timer friends told me that the hotel, while in ruins, was still standing in the early 1960’s until it’s wood was burned during the winters by snowmobilers seeking fuel for their bonfires.

Summit Hotel Foundation

At this point, I had covered more terrain on Snake Mountain than I had ever incorporated in one run or hike, so instead of descending the main trail, I took the right turn to the other viewpoint near the summit. This set of cliffs is less well known, as it is closed for much of the summer to allow nesting peregrine falcons to have their privacy. Right behind the overlook, there is a small, mucky pond full of cattails, called “Red Rock Pond” on some maps. Another piece of old-timer trivia – this pond was once the swimming hole for the guests at the summit hotel. If you look carefully, you can see that it has a man-made berm around it, now breached, which once held a far more appealing body of deeper water.

The descent from here is much steeper than the main trail, making it less appealing for running, although you can tell that it is really a trail, as opposed to the carriage road origins of the main trail. Finally, it rejoined the main trail, and I descended further until I got to the final right turn, which I decided not to take, instead opting to go straight, along what I suspect was the original course of the summit carriage road, following it first through a short stretch of forest, then wild meadows, and finally farmers fields before joining Mountain Rd. Extension, with its very limited parking, and ran the last mile or so on roads, enjoying the views of the hay rolls, with the Adirondacks in the distance.

Country Roads

This ended up as a nice 8 mile run, with some delays due to poor routefinding and bushwhacking! I will revisit some of this next summer, after the leaves are pushed off through use. I guess this is my way of warning you from following some of the GPS track for this one – I am sure I could not!

Google Earth Projection of trails on Snake Mountain

Altitude Profile

The Oldest……T-shirt at Blueberry Hill

The Start/Finish with Hogback in the Background

 

As my recovery from shoulder surgery continues, it was time to take on the next touchpoint in the process – my first race since my injury. Having been warned by my physical therapist to lay off the really long workouts and races for a while, 10K seemed like about the right distance to begin my comeback. What better place to being my comeback than my long-time favorite race, the Goshen Gallop? I also knew that I was still far from the condition that I was in pre-injury, so any visions of glory and podium finishes were clearly out of the question – it was really a question of whether I could even finish this run over challenging terrain feeling good.   Part of my getting psyched for a race involves listening to the right music as I drive to the starting line.  As I punched in various songs on my iPhone, I remembered a song which a friend suggested for the same purpose about 5 years ago, when I was preparing to run a marathon after a long layoff, knowing that I was not in shape for it.  So, I drove up to the race, with Flor-ida blasting from the speakers of my Beetle, trying to will my body to do its best.

I have written up  the Goshen Gallop at Blueberry Hill a few times over the years since I began this blog. most recently in 2011, although I run it most years it seems.   As is the case with most races, entry comes with a t-shirt, having run this race many times, I have a LOT of Gallop t-shirts.  I have made a habit of digging deep into the collection and pulling out a really old race t-shirt to wear on race day, and for this one, I managed to dig up the oldest shirt I have, from the first time I ran this race in 1989, and put it on.  Yeah, it is getting a little threadbare, and it features the name of the race’s sponsor “The Brandon Savings Bank” quite prominently on the back.  Of course, this bank no longer exists, so we’re talking old!  A short time before the race, I headed down the road for a short warm-up jog, and returned just as Tony, the owner and innkeeper of the Blueberry Hill Inn was on the PA system giving the pre-race pep-talk.  As soon as he saw me coming up the road, he announced “And here’s Jeff with the oldest race shirt in existence..” (or something of the sort – at least he didn’t announce me as the oldest runner in existence, right?)

One of the great things about being a regular at a race like this is the camaraderie between the participants – many of the the folks there were people that I run with regularly, some were folks that I know as local runners, and a few are folks I seem to only chat with once a year at this race.  It all makes for good conversation before, during, and after the race.  One of the not-so-good things about the race this year, or at least one of the things which make it interesting, has been the excessive rainfall this summer, which I knew would lead to a very muddy course.  I was not disappointed!  As the race was ready to start, it was a typical sunny summer afternoon, and not too hot given that it was up in the mountains, but there was an ominous cloud to the south.  A few of us wondered out loud as we stood at the starting line, waiting for the race to start, if the rains would come before the race was over.

The race starts off on the Goshen-Ripton road, on a slight downhill, leading most of the adrenaline-charged runners to start off at way too fast a clip. Then, the first slow, relentless climbing climbing begins, before a sharp left turn back into the woods to begin the more challenging climb up to blueberry meadows on the flanks of Hogback Mountain.  In true Goshen Gallop form, we, the runners, were greeted by a country fiddler at the high point of this section.  On a posting a few weeks ago, I reported that there weren’t any wild blueberries up there anymore, but I am happy to report that I was very wrong in this.  The hillside was full of pickers, who probably wondered why all the people were in such a hurry today.  I did not bring my camera with me during the race, but a race photographer took some lovely shots as the runners crested this section and posted them on the Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center Facebook page.

After a short descent down to the forest service road and a water stop, the climbing began again, and headed into the woods at around a mile and a half, beginning the second major climb of the race on forest trails.   Already, I was beginning to seriously feel my lack of conditioning, and even slowed down to a walk for a few seconds, atypical for me this early in a race.  But – the idea was to finish and feel good, so I listened to my aching legs before picking up the pace again for the plunge down to the halfway point behind the Inn and the second water stop.  At this point, the 5K races went left to finish their race, and the 10K racers took a right turn up the longest hill of the race.  I was hoping that a lot of those around me were so exhausted that they would call it a day at this point, but alas, they were on the mission to complete the longer race, and blew by me on the next ascent.

At this point, the skies started to get ominously darker, and my running got even slower.  At the 6K mark we reached my favorite section of the course – the infamous mud bogs on the trail!  Now THIS is trail running…..I must confess that I am disappointed on drier years when this short section is dry and fast.  At the 7 km point, I was past most of the mud, and finally got to enjoy the last long descent down to the forest service roads.  After a few moments of drizzle, the sky opened up with the long-threatened downpour, which conveniently washed off most the mud from my legs and shoes.  The last mile in, on the Goshen-Ripton road is usually my least favorite part of the race, as it can be sunny and hot, and the numerous “false summits” on the road trick you into thinking you are about to hit the finish line, only to see another hill in front of you.  The cold, driving rain was a refreshing contrast however.  Chugging up what I realized was the final hill on the course, I looked down at my watch, not at all surprised to see my slowest time ever for this race, but hey, I finished, and it was fun as always.  And – there was even an ambulance at the finish line in case my confidence was misplaced.

Once the downpour subsided, the post race party and feed began, and was delicious as always, made even better by the company of a few friends who are rather accomplished home brewers.  This party is held in a small meadow of domestic blueberries, which didn’t seem to be ripe quite yet, and of course the feast is only complete after the dessert of blueberry cobbler and ice cream.

Not quite ripe blueberries

 

For the first time in a few years, I didn’t win my age group, so I couldn’t bring home my prize, a box of chocolate chip cookies, but fortunately I came up lucky, not once, but twice, in the post-race raffle bringing home two bags of really good coffee. Sometimes karma works for you! I was looking for a way to get a picture of my mangy old t-shirt without doing a typical selfie pose, so I chose this reflection in my car window before driving home, satisfied with my first race in far too long.

Reflective Selfie

Google Earth of the Race

Altitude Profile