From time to time, I go for a trail run in the Mad River Valley, and over the years have blogged a few of my runs from this beautiful place on the other side of the mountains. A few cars parked alongside Rt 100, on the left, just a half mile or so north of the Sugarbush access road, caught my attention, and I decided to see if there were any fun runs emanating from that trailhead.
Pulling my car in, I was greeted with a kiosk telling me that the small group of trails nearby constituted the “Kingsbury Greenway” part of the non-contiguous Mad River Path. One short segment followed the Mad River for a short distance to the south, and a few more options branched to the north.
I chose to begin my run on the short southern section, which dipped first under the Rt 100 steel bridge, and was not surprised to see some graffiti under the bridge. One particular message looked almost like it was aimed at one of the more contentious aspects of our current social distancing requirements, and I was glad to see that it was actually punctuated correctly on the contraction. A true rarity among those armed with a spray can and something they care to say.
Continuing on, the trail passed down a series of stairs closer to the edge of the river, and passed behind one of the many inns in the valley before ending in a meadow affording a nice view down the river. At this point, I retraced my steps and returned to my car, making for about a mile of running.
Stopping for a moment to look at the kiosk map, I noticed that the trails to the north had two sections – one section appeared to climb up the adjacent hillside to the left, continuing on past the end of the map, and the other better defined section circled around one of the Sugarbush snowmaking ponds. I first headed uphill, but soon found that the going was too steep for running. After about a half mile of climbing, I came to a nice little overlook with a decent view of this part of the valley. The trail continued its climb past this point, and I will have to return to find where it ends up!
After snapping the required “view shot” I shuffled down the steep trail, and took the left down to the snowmaking pond shown on the map. This large pond, clearly filling several acres is separated from the Mad River by a thin strip of raised land, and is not far from Rt 100, but is curiously invisible from the highway and I never knew it was here despite having driven by hundreds of times.
As I rounded the north end of the pond, I saw a short path down to the river’s edge, so I went down to the water and noticed a well-kept swimming hole, replete with lawn chairs, and well made steps down to the water on the far side. I assumed it was some lucky landowner’s riverside private property, but there was nobody there to ask, so I continued my run around the pond. Only after the completion of the run, and noticing the access to this section of the river from Rt 100, did I realize that I had inadvertently stumbled into the Mad River clothing optional swimming area. Maybe that explains all the old men I noticed out walking their dogs around the pond? The return from the pond to my car was short and easy, although at this point the day was getting kind of hot, so I called it a day after a little more than 3 miles. This trail has some pleasant running close to the Mad River, and a climb worthy of future exploration.
As I have mentioned from time to time in this blog, I have extended family living in the Mad River Valley, and sometimes when I describe fun places to run, I leave the comfortable confines of Addison County to describe nearby places “over the mountains”. One of my favorite hiking/trail running locations over the years has been Scrag Mountain, the highest point on the ridge on the east side of the valley, with a summit altitude just below 3000 feet. Some details of my relationship with this mountain are described in a blog posting I made of a run/powerhike that stopped just short of the summit 8 years ago. I haven’t been on its slopes since, but long, long ago (OK in February before the current Covid challenges) I was having a beer at Two Brothers Tavern, and noticed that they had “Scrag Mountain Pils” on tap, and since I had climbed the mountain, I should try it. Lawson’s Finest Liquids, a microbrewery in Waitsfield did a fine job on this brew, and it got me thinking of reascending this fun little peak when I had the chance.
A recent Saturday was brilliant and warm, and knowing I could easily remain 6+ feet away from other outdoor adventurers, I headed to the Scrag Mountain trailhead. Finding this trailhead is as follows. Just south of “The Dip” ( you will know it when you are there – it lives up to its name) on the East Warren road, take Sherman Road uphill and then take a left turn onto Bowen Road. After driving by a few mega-mansions, there is a small parking lot at the end of the road. Prior to this day, I had never seen another soul on Scrag Mountain, but I guess that cabin fever brought more than me outside, so there were probably another half dozen cars there. There was also a trail sign, describing the route through the Scrag Mountain municipal forest. Curiously, the sign only showed the trail continuing as high up as some beaver ponds, still almost a mile from the summit, but I knew that the trail continued further.
At the start of this ascent, the marked trail actually descended. There is also a continuation of the road, blocked off at this point, which I knew from my past experiences would get me to the trail as well, so I took this shortcut, which rejoined the main trail after a short traverse to the north. At this point, the trail was in pretty good shape – it had the feel of a popular, and reasonably well maintained hiking trail, and if I was in better shape, would have been runnable, or at least run/walkable. However, as the trail continued to climb, it got steeper, muddier, and less well maintained, albeit, still very well marked. In my previous midsummer excursion up here, I didn’t notice that this whole side of the mountain is crisscrossed by overgrown abandoned logging roads and ATV tracks. If it wasn’t for the ample trail markings, some sections might have sent less alert hikers off in incorrect directions. Finally, after about a mile and a half of ascending, I reached the beaver pond (s). This was a lovely place, worthy of the hike to this point on its own. As I approached it, the croaking frogs were so loud that I half expected to see a herd of geese on the pond, but no, it was just the frogs.
There was a lot more water in the pond than my last mid-summer visit to this location. Of course, there is more water in the early spring (there were still melting snow patches around the pond), but several other small nearby ponds hinted that the beavers themselves were far more active here than they were 8 years ago! One of the newer ponds was actually submerging the trail, forcing a little bit of easy bushwhacking to continue.
As the map at the trailhead hinted, the well marked trail concluded at this point, but with a careful eye, the much older trail continuing to the summit could be made out. Looking carefully, I could see occasional ancient blue blazes on the trees. Routefinding to the summit was also complicated by increasing snow and ice, further disguising the more trodden path. When I was unsure of myself, I started following a woman who looked like she knew where she was going, but when she stopped for a breather, I charged on, and probably spent a fair amount of time thrashing between tightly spaced pine trees. At least when ascending, you know that as long as you are going up, you will get to the right place. Curiously, the woman I passed caught up with me, and she confessed that she was actually following me now. The blind leading the blind.
All paths up do indeed lead to the summit, and we found ourselves up there in not long. The Scrag Mountain summit has some history. For many years, there was a fire tower on the summit, which was finally torn down in the late 1970’s. The concrete pylons where it once rose are still easily found. The old caretaker’s cabin, built in the 1930’s is also still standing, and in semi-usable condition, although there seemed to be more rotting floorboards than when I first entered it 25-30 years ago. There is still a small wood stove, and some bunk beds, with very questionable blankets strewn over them. There were even a few empty champagne bottles of relatively recent vintage!
A very pleasant surprise upon achieving the summit was the view to the east! While the mountain was reknown for its views when the fire tower was still intact, the rocky summit was surrounded by mature pines, which obscured most of the views. At some point, in the not too distant past (as evidenced by freshly cut pine logs neatly stacked) someone has taken down enough of the taller trees to allow for great views to the east. If you look carefully in the center of the following picture, you can see the white triangle formed by still snowcapped Presidentials in NH! This little bit of tree removal will probably make this a more popular hike or run in the future.
The descent was pretty much the same as the climb, but in reverse – in fact, it was easier to keep on the narrow trail down from the summit, although I and my equally confused ad hoc hiking partner probably diverged from it in a few places. Returning to my car, this was about a 4.5 mile round trip, with about 1500 ft of climb and descent. I didn’t run any of this trip, although a few years ago, I was able to run about 50% of the distance. I know a lot of my stronger trail running friends could have fun on this one, especially after the snow finished melting. It is also a very pleasant afternoon hike, which is quite amenable to social distancing!
Due to the challenges of recovery from a recent surgery, running is, for the time being, off the menu. That said, my physical therapist has been recommending walking an hour each day. As my body has recuperated, most of my walking has been confined to the roads by my home, the treadmill at Middlebury Fitness, or the indoor track at the college. A recent streak of unseasonably warm weather, and my increasing stamina inspired me to get out on the trails for the first time in too long, so I was inspired to spend an hour or so on a late afternoon to get out and enjoy some of the trails from the Robert Frost trailhead. Given the relatively thin snow cover, and the heavy usage of these trails, I assumed that I would not need my snowshoes, so I slipped on my microspikes over my hiking boots, and found that this footware combination served me perfectly.
The first part of this walk was on the well-known Robert Frost trail, where a gentle walk in the woods is punctuated by signposts bearing Frost poems appropriate to the location. In a few minutes, I got to the stream crossing, which is now spanned by a handicap accessible bridge – a very nice addition. Years ago, when my daughters were young there was a much more rustic stone bridge at this crossing (which washed out a few years ago), from which we would play “Pooh Sticks” on lazy summer days.
Continuing along the trail, I came to the right turn, where I turned away from the short Robert Frost trail, and headed deeper “into the wild”. I have run in the area many times during the warmer months, but I am always amazed at how different things look in the winter – it can almost be disorienting, even though one can see deep into the woods, given the bare trees. Good thing the trails here come well-signed, huh? I also found it curious that the trail sign gives 911 instructions (umm dial 911?) in an area with no cell coverage.
So, my memory of these trail refreshed by an actual map, I continued along Crosswalk, taking a sharp left turn on Sundown, climbing gradually until I saw the short steep incline of the trail named “Trepidation” in front of me. I must admit, the name is a bit overdone for what was basically a 0.1 mile climb, but I would imagine that novice cross country skiers looking down it might think otherwise. Getting up to the top of the hill called “Water Tower Hill, I paused for a moment, wondering if this was indeed the actual water tower at some point, since there is an entire trail network not far away on the Goshen-Ripton road also called the Water Tower trails. And they do not connect to this hill. Perhaps there were two water towers in comparably sparsely settled places, a few miles apart? I doubt it. To add to the confusion, one of the small hills behind the Rikert Ski Touring center is called Fire Tower Hill. Were the water towers there to help put out the fires found from the fire tower? I think that one of my first orders of business while running next summer will be to scout the summits (sans snow) to look for remnants of towers. While the snow was too deep to see any evidence of past towers, I did get a nice view of the Rattlesnake Cliffs on Mt Moosalomoo through the trees.
Descending from the “summit” I turned left on North Star, a trail which is seemingly always muddy with poor footing in the summer, but was quite pleasant with well trodden snow, until reaching the connecting trail to the Robert Frost loop, where I turned right and descended to the open blueberry meadow. While there were no blueberries this time of the year, I did enjoy the view of the lone pitch pine standing in the meadow, spreading its branches luxuriously wide in the absence of any competition for sunlight.
From here, it was a short walk back to my car. This ended up as a 3 mile walk, with about 500 ft of climb and descent – perfect for a winter late afternoon. It feels great to be returning to activity, and to be back in something resembling “the wilds”.
A totally unrelated Coda:
Forty years ago, to the day, in my first year of grad school at that Big Green college to the southeast in New Hampshire, I joined a friend on his 25th birthday celebration. We decided, on the evening before (over a beer or two, of course) to get up, and climb a mountain for sunrise. At first we joked about doing Mt Washington, but realized that would be pretty stupid on the 3rd of February. So, I suggested a a more modest peak nearby, Mt Cube, a lovely rocky-summited peak in central NH. So, a few hours later, we were trudging up, in the darkness and deep snow to help my friend celebrate his birthday. Upon reaching the summit, and fueling ourselves on cheap cherry brandy, and defacing the peak with snow angels, we descended, and vowed to make this a yearly tradition for the duration of grad school. Happy 65th Birthday Rudy!
Due to a busier than usual spring, it has been a while since my last posting, and it feels good to be back on the trails. I also had the realization that this month constitutes the 10th anniversary of this blog, so I should really come up with a run that was suitably adventurous. I was not disappointed! Many years ago, while exploring the trails on the Lake Dunmore side of Moosalamoo, I stumbled across a minor trail leading to a small rock cave, with a sign labeling it as “Speedy’s Cave”, if my memory served me correctly. In the ensuing years, I have heard of the slopes below the Rattlesnake Cliffs harboring several well and not so well known caves. Unlike the technically challenging subterranean Weybridge Cave, the caves above Lake Dunmore, sometimes refered to as the “Keeywaydin Caves” due to their location on the private, but not posted property of Camp Keeywaydin, were made from rockfall from the cliffs above, and are small, with barely enough room for a few people to stand, at best. Nonetheless, I hoped to retrace my steps from many years ago to find the cave of my memory, and see if there were any others along the trail.
I started off at one of my favorite trailheads, the Falls of Lana parking lot just south of Branbury State Park, and ran up to the point, at about a half mile, where the trail makes a sharp hairpin turn to the right to ascend to Silver Lake. Instead, I went straight, as if I was ascending the Rattlesnake Cliffs, and shortly afterwards took the branch to my left on the Aunt Jennie Trail. I had vague memories of a small sign pointing to a weak, left turning trail at some point on the ascent, which brought me pretty easily to the cave. Sure enough, about a mile into my run, I saw a weak left-turning trail, but the sign, instead of pointing to “caves” as in my remembrance, there was only a sign making sure that people stayed on the well-maintained forest service trail. Nonetheless, I assumed that this was the trail that I was looking for. Wrong.
About 50 yards into this trail, I began to question whether I was on a legitimate trail, or some sort of herd path, but as I ran around a corner, I found a forest service sign reminding me that I was not on a private trail (Camp Keeywaydin‘s presumably), not one of their trails, and that, combined with relatively recently painted white blazes on occasional trees told me that I was on what had been, at least at one time, a trail.
Pretty soon along this trail, the terrain got very rugged. The trail felt very reminiscent of the herd paths I experienced in the Adirondacks while working towards my 46’er membership 20+ years ago. It was narrow, rocky, obscured by leaves, and seemed to pay no attention whatsoever to the sense of contemporary trail design and maintenance. In other words, it made for wonderful adventurous exploring, but terrible running. To put the next two miles in perspective: I typically run 9-10 minute miles on most trails, maybe slowing down to 15 minute miles on challenging terrain. A typical hiking pace on maintained mountain trails is 2.5-3 miles per hour. It took me 80 minutes to cover the next two miles.
It took some basic routefinding skills to find my way through this section. It is very important to be constantly making note of your surroundings on terrain like this, so that in the frequent cases when backtracking was required, I found myself back to where I was last confident I was on the trail. Fortunately, there were enough white blazes so that in the very frequent sections where the trail disappeared, or was obscured by fallen trees, I could look around for a blaze. If I didn’t see one, I backtracked. Did I say I did a lot of this? Being constantly on the lookout at the terrain made it difficult to even run slowly, as the uneven terrain made it important to watch my feet, in turn missing blazes! I also realized that I was not on the trail of my memories, as I didn’t remember it being this rough, and there was no sign of “Speedy’s Cave”. I wasn’t worried about getting lost – the topography was simple enough, and I knew that buswhacking uphill would take me to the summit of Moosalamoo, although the little section called “the Rattlesnake Cliffs” might make that challenging, and I knew that there were cliff bands below me, albeit not as extensive. And, the fact that there were blazes told me that I had to be going somewhere. That said, I was about ready to turn around, when I received a sign from the gods that this was where I was meant to be: A sign on a lookout, with a lovely view of Lake Dunmore. What did the sign say? Jeff’s Lookout! So, of course I had to keep going. Curiously, on the next tree there was a much older sign, with the word “lookout” still legible, but with an otherwise unreadable name, but not Jeff, above it. Apparently Jeff usurped this cliff from someone else at some point!
From this point, the trail zigzagged up and down the side of the hill, for reasons that were not at all apparent from the terrain. This grousing aside, this was a very pretty section, with several more overlooks, some named with signs, some not. But running was very much out of the question. The least obscured overlook bore no name that I could discern, but it shows just how pretty the views of the lake could be.
A little further on, I finally found the first true trail marker – a sign saying that the trail I was joining was called “The Wildcat Trail”, which seemed to follow the hillside, continuing north, and another arrow pointing straight up the mountainside, indicating that it was the most direct way to the Rattlesnake Cliffs. Years ago, I had noticed a discretely marked and precipitous trail descending from the cliffs, and decided against ascending them this way, at this time. Not long after this, I saw a sign pointing up the hill……called..(drum roll please) THE CAVE TRAIL!
The ascent at this point was very scrambly, and I may well have been the first person to ascend it this year. But, after not too long, I found myself at a small cave called “Curly’s Cave” and standing inside it, looking out, I felt like I was in the mouth of a monster, looking past the teeth. I can imagine that this must be a favorite for Keeywaydin and Songadeewin campers.
After the cave, I kept going up the steep incline, hoping that the trail might veer to the south, perhaps even connecting with the now distant Speedy’s cave, but the trail instead took a turn to the south, so I decided to backtrack to the start of the Cave Trail, and continue on the increasingly strong trail heading towards the camp. One last adventurous section was where the trail descended a cliff band known as the “Deer Staircase”.
This trail eventually joined a well worn, double track trail called “Steve’s Trail” where I arbitrarily chose to go left, finally running full stride for the first time in well over an hour, eventually joining “The Summit Road” – a dirt road, finally joining Rt 53 across the road from Camp Keeywaydin. All that was left now was a mile and a half of roadside running, dodging cars, to return to my vehicle. This was quite possibly the slowest 5 miles I have ever done in Vermont – the first mile, and the last two miles were real running, but one two mile section in the middle was some of the roughest terrain I have been on for a long time. Check out the altitude profile! All the ups and downs on this run/hike/scramble added up to about 1500 feet of climbing and descent, and this relatively short distance ended up taking me almost 2 hours. In other words, it was a fun little local adventure. I look forward to trying to find Speedy’s Cave later this summer, and if successful, I will post it to this blog.
Finally, I have been led to believe that the trails of Camp Keeywaydin are open to the public, but I would guess that they would rather we not use them, at least close in to the camp, while camp is in session. I will check in with a friend on their permanent staff to clarify this, and will make an addendum to this post when I know for sure.
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.
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.
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?
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 Spirographartistry.
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
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!
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.
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
A previously written (2011) posting on the same route, with a few different insights.