Tag Archives: Hill Climb

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

Hunting Season Running

It’s been a while since I last posted to this blog – a very busy fall, and a nagging injury which kept me to shorter runs have diminished my ability to blog new runs. And of course, over the last few weeks, the woods have been full of hunters for deer rifle season. I have nothing against hunters – in fact, they are in most ways, the natural allies of trail runners and hikers, as they do a lot of lobbying to maintain public access to private lands. That said, I have had a few scary situations in the woods over hunting season, and as a result I am more than happy to let them have their few short weeks in the late autumn.

That said, as my leg injury recovered, I was eager to get out for a longer run. One of the great things about this time of the year in Vermont, is that there are no tourists around at all (and who can blame them – stick season is one of the low points of the year), and as a result, the roads serving summer tourism are pretty empty. So, country roads in pretty places, which might be busy during the summer, become good places to duplicate at least some of the pleasures of trail running. One of my favorite runs in the deep of winter, when many of the trails are difficult to access on foot, is the loop road around Lake Dunmore. This is a 10 mile loop on mostly paved road, but with the leaves long gone from the trees, it offers many more vistas of the lake itself than can be seen from the road during the summer.

I met up with a bunch of running friends on Sunday afternoon, meeting up at the Waterhouses Marina (with its ample parking) and we set off on a leisurely run around the lake during peak stick season.  The marina, which always seems so busy during our far-too-short Vermont summers was empty, and most of the gear was stashed away for the soon to come snows.

Waterhouses Marina

Waterhouses Marina

We headed south, taking the left turn skirting the less developed southwest shore of the lake, before taking the next left turn onto Rogers Road, past the south shore of the much smaller Fern Lake, before turning back north along VT 53. As a rule, I avoid running on roads which are busy enough to warrant a double yellow line down the middle, but only a handful of cars passed us as our run continued. On our left a series of short access roads led to some of the summer homes that line the lake. Some of these names are descriptive, such as Isthmus Road, which crosses the narrow ridge between Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake. Some are generic, with names like “Indian Trail”. And then there are some, which are probably some sort of inside joke or Easter Egg, such as the private road shown in the picture above, which I snapped as my friends sped off into the distance.

Curious Road Sign

Curious Road Sign

As we got approached the Silver Lake Trail, we made the decision on the spot to add a few hilly miles to the run, with the 3 mile round trip to the shores of this higher altitude lake. While being respectful of hunters, I realized we hadn’t heard a shot all afternoon – not prime time for bagging a buck, so we decided to go for it. As we got higher and higher, we saw slowing increasing snow, but still nowhere nearly enough to impede our running. As expected, the lake level was low, due to the dry summer and the fall drawdown in preparation for spring thaws in a few months.

Early Winter at Silver Lake

Early Winter at Silver Lake

Descending back to Rt 53, we enjoyed the now brilliant sunshine, as the clouds from the start of the run had apparently melted away. I enjoyed a quiet moment, looking at some cottages reflecting in the still water from the Kampersville Beach, before completing my run with a left turn down the homestretch of the West Shore Road.

North Cove Dunmore Reflections

North Cove Dunmore Reflections

As I finished the run, I checked my old faithful Garmin GPS watch which registered at just over 13 miles for this Sunday afternoon jaunt. I usually post the GPS trace on Google Earth when I do these posts, but this time, as I got home to sync up my watch, it no longer turned on, and I realized that its 9 year life-span had come to an end. So – no more GPS traces until I get its replacement. Good thing it is the Christmas season!

Rattlesnake Cliffs

Here it was, the last Sunday of my summer vacation, on a spectacular, cool, clear Sunday afternoon. I knew I had some class prep to get ready, but I also knew that if I didn’t get out for at least a short run, I would be kicking myself. So, I headed for one of my favorite trailheads, the Falls of Lana trail just south of Branbury State Park, and decided to try and run up to the prominent cliffs behind the state park, known as “Rattlesnake Point” or “Rattlesnake Cliffs“.

The name of this prominent landmark undoubtedly brings up rather scary connotations for some hikers – I mean who wants to climb a cliff named after a poisonous snake? Curious as to the presence or absence of these reputedly dangerous vipers, I contacted Jim Andrews of Salisbury, and herpetologist extraordinaire, and asked him “Are there really rattlesnakes up there?” His response was, as follows:

“…that is a definite historic site with solid documentation of collection of rattlesnakes for snake oil by local families. However, we have no proof that rattlesnakes continue to exist in that area. It has been many decades since anyone has provided solid evidence of rattlesnakes there. That said, there have been a few reports over the last few decades from people who believe they have seen rattlesnakes in that area, but none of them took photos, or even described the snake well enough to confirm the sighting.”

There you go – I think it is safe to say that you can hike or run on the Rattlesnake Cliffs without your snakebite kit!

Comforted by this information,  I headed up the hill on the Silver Lake Trail, as I have done countless times on my runs up to equally well-visited Silver Lake, but at the switchback to the right after about a half mile, instead of following the main trail, keep going straight, taking the bridge across Sucker Brook, following the Rattlesnake Trail.  This trail climbs pretty steadily, but fortunately, never particularly steeply.  A lot of mountain trails, particularly on the Long Trail, or in the Adirondacks get either too rocky or too steep for running, but this trail was runable, at least to me, for about 90% of it’s length.

After climbing about 2 miles, a left turn to the actual cliffs comes up, and is easily recognizable by a warning sign, warning hikers and runners to stay away from the cliffs from April until the end of July while the peregrine falcons nest.  But, since it is September, the coast is clear, and I finished my ascent heading straight on the trail to the west facing cliffs overlooking Lake Dunmore.

Lake Dunmore View

Lake Dunmore View

I hung out at this overlook for a few minutes, chatting with a couple from North Carolina, before following a weak herd path to the viewpoint facing south towards Silver Lake and the southern end of Lake Dunmore – another stunning late summer view. In the picture below, Silver Lake is the small body of water in the left center of the photo, while Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake are on the right.  On the way back towards the Rattlesnake Trail, I met up with the North Carolina folks – apparently they had tried to follow me on the unmarked path I had followed, and had gotten a little bit lost before backtracking and reaching this place on more established trails!

Silver Lake View

Silver Lake View

The descent was fast and fun – since the trail makes a broad switchback on the south side of the mountain, it rarely gets too steep to run on the descent. Returning to my car, I saw that this was “only” a little over 4.5 miles, but with a 1200 ft vertical climb, and a great way to end the summer.

Google Earth projection of the Rattlesnake Cliff run

Google Earth projection of the Rattlesnake Cliff run

Altitude Profile Rattlesnake Cliffs

Altitude Profile Rattlesnake Cliffs

A Labor Day run up Mt Marcy

On the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend, seeing the weather report which called for perfect weather on Monday, I was trying to decide to do on Labor Day. Should I go hiking, or should I go for a run? Then I realized that a run in the Adirondacks would sate both wishes, and late Sunday night posted a message to the local runners’ Facebook group, seeing if anyone else was interested, and found out that my running friend Dean was also interested.  Our goal?  It was Labor Day, so I decided it was time to go big or go home – we decided to go for a run up Mt. Marcy, the tallest peak in NY, a 14-mile round trip with 3200+ feet of vertical climbing to its 5344′ summit on rugged Adirondack trails.

We left Vermont early in the morning, arriving at the Adirondack Loj (no, I did not misspell it) trailheads, just outside of Lake Placid (site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics) at around 8 am after about a 1:45 drive from Middlebury.  We wanted an early start, fearful that the parking lot might fill early on a perfect Labor Day, but were pleasantly surprised to see that the lot had plenty of parking spaces.

I am not going to describe the details of “which trail and turn to take” – after all Mt Marcy is one of the most heavily hiked peaks in the northeast, and the trail is so well marked that only an idiot could take the wrong trail.  Oh wait – the first time I attempted Marcy 30 years ago, I took a wrong trail and ended up on the summit of Algonquin.  In any case…..the first 2 miles or so were pretty easy, barely climbing on trail which was really amenable to to running, before bringing us to the site formerly known as the Marcy Dam.  I used the word “formerly” because there was a log dam there, which created a very scenic lake mirroring the local mountains, but it was badly damaged by Hurricane Irene.  While it is still a lovely location, the lake is now more of a muddy fen.

Mt Colden and former Marcy Dam Lake

Mt Colden and former Marcy Dam Lake

It seems that most Adirondack runs have three phases – the approach, which is usually the best for pure running, then the transition, which is partially runnable, followed by fast hiking as the steeper rockier sections near the summit are covered. This run was no exception – not long after passing “Marcy Notdam” the trail started to get a little bit rougher as it got steeper and rockier. The running at this point, becomes more like a mix of parcour-like hopping, skipping and shuffling, which isn’t nearly as graceful-looking as it sounds, especially when practiced by two guys in the their 50’s.  One of the more scenic spots in the “skipping section” was a clearing where a small stream goes over a cliff, called Indian Falls, which gives great views of Mt. Algongquin, the second highest peak of the ‘Dacks.

Indian Falls

Indian Falls

The last section of the run was the steeper terrain, approaching the bald, above timber line summit. It was pretty much impossible to run terrain of this sort, although there was one short section, high on the mountain, near the summit.graced by nice raised platforms. Excited by the possibility for a few decent yards of running, I made my best parcour leap onto the platform, snagged my toe and did a complete faceplant. After a few stunned moments, realizing that my suddenly aching jaw was NOT broken, I got up and made it to the summit. I have been to the summit of Marcy a few times, and this was the first time I haven’t found the need to put on some sort of jacket – once again, perfect weather, with seemingly infinite views in all directions.

Mt Marcy Summit Views

Mt Marcy Summit Views

After enjoying the summit for a few minutes and chatting with the few hikers who were actually at the summit this early in the morning, we turned and ran back for a tiring but uneventful return. I have found that on the most challenging terrain the descending time is comparable to the climbing time, and this was no exception – about 2 and 1/2 hours each way, or about half the time that most hikers take.

I have included the google earth projection of the run, as always. The route heads south from the Adirondack Loj, but I re-oriented the map to make it look cooler.

Google Earth of the Run

Google Earth of the Run

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