Tag Archives: Hill Climb

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

MRGBumper

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

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

All I Want for Christmas

All I Want for Christmas

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

Snowmaking Futility

Snowmaking Futility

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

Mad River Falls

Mad River Falls

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

View from the Top

View from the Top

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

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

A Running Hike on Haystack

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

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

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

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

Kiss me baby!

Kiss me baby!

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

Ben and the mountain dog

Ben and the mountain dog

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

A trailrunner enjoys the summit views

A trailrunner enjoys the summit views

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

Muddy nightmares

Muddy nightmares

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

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

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

satellite perspective

satellite perspective

airplane perspective

airplane perspective

Altitude profile

Altitude profile

Worth Mountain and Bailey Falls

For direct, easily accessible mountain runs, ski areas are hard to beat.  While most of the ski trails are far to steep to run, almost all ski areas offer one easier route down the mountain.  In part, trails of this sort can be motivational for less skilled skiers, giving them a chance to experience the top of the mountain, and see the sort of trails they might aspire to.  More practically, they offer a drivable route to the summit, at least with 4WD  vehicles, allowing for access and maintenance during the summer months.  At the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, the trail that fits this description is the Voter Trail.  I described a run up this trail a few years ago, hoping to describe a run to the top of Worth Mountain, whose summit is slightly south of the top of the Snow Bowl.  Alas, I turned around too soon, as I discovered when I loaded my GPS track into Google Earth – the point where I turned around was actually a false peak, slightly to the north of the true peak.  It was time to rectify this mistake!

I pulled into the Snow Bowl Parking lot on a pleasant, cool Sunday afternoon, and saw a lot of construction going on.  There were huge piles of fill up near the exit, presumable for the ongoing road improvement on Rt 125, and a substantial stack of rusty pipes – from the look of things, they are in the process of replacing some of the plumbing required for snowmaking this summer.  I also found it curious, that with all this open terrain in front of me, there was a random “trail closed” sign hanging in front of the entrance to the Voter trail, to the left of the Ski Patrol Hut.  I assumed, of course, that this was there to deter motor vehicles, rather than runners.

Trail Closed Sign

Trail Closed Sign

Stepping over the sign, I began the day’s ascent. While I have been on this trail a few times in the summer, noting the broken up asphalt beneath my feet that somebody went to the bother of actually paving the first part of this trail – I have never noticed this on any of the ski area service roads I have run before. The ascent via the Voter trail is not as easy as one might assume for a “green circle” trail. Things are a lot steeper running up than they are skiing down! I could maintain a running gait for most of the ascent, with only a few short walking sections due to poor footing and increased steepness in a few pitches. Running at the pace of “1.0 Jeffs” (whatever speed I am running at the time corresponds to 1.0 Jeffs) I got to the top of the Bowl in about 20 min. Of course, I had to take the obligatory picture of the views to the east – these constitute the best views on the day’s run!

Obligatory View Picture

Obligatory View Picture

From here, I chose to continue uphill to reach the true summit of Worth Mountain, by continuing south on the Long Trail. In my previously described run, I assumed, incorrectly, that the first summit was indeed the summit of Worth. As it turns out, I learned the hard way after my previous run that I had a little further to go – so remember – THE FIRST SUMMIT IS NOT THE SUMMIT! THE SECOND SUMMIT IS! Oh – and did I mention that neither of them has any decent views? The trail run itself isn’t bad, however – most of the Long Trail is very “scrambly” and this section, with its modest ascents and descents is actually run-worthy in places, albeit slowly and with careful attention to one’s footfalls.  reaching the summit, I retraced my steps back to the top of the Bailey Falls chairlift, and continued down Voter, at least part way.

I had another goal for this run, however, so rather than simply retrace my steps to my car, when I reached the Meredith Trail, the first gentle trail to the right, about half way down the mountain, I saw a set of recent 4WD tracks, which had beaten down the increasingly dense and high ground cover, and used them for my descent.  I have known about the existence of a waterfall, known, not surprisingly, as Bailey Falls” (hence the name of the Bailey Falls Chair lift!) for several years, but had never actually seen them, nor have I met anyone who has, either!  According to the scant descriptions online, this waterfall is kind of hidden in plain sight – it is probably 100 yards from the Youngman Trail at the Snow Bowl, and maybe a quarter mile from the small parking lot along the east side of Rt 125, across from the Bailey ski lift.  I followed one of the online descriptions of how to find this hidden gem, heading uphill from the chair lift for 30-40 yards before bushwhacking into the woods, but within a few moments I could see it, quite obviously, a 100 yards or so upstream.  The challenge was getting to it, as the hillside where I was standing was rather steep, and did not provide for firm footing.  Hanging onto appropriately spaced trees, I was able to lower myself to the point where I could catch a picture of it, although the picture does not do the falls justice.  This shot is of only the lowest 1/3 of the falls – I could catch glimpses of higher cascades through the trees.  I will need to return, trying to get at it from the other side of the stream, where access appeared easier, to get a fuller glimpse of this rarely seen treasure.  I have a hunch it is about as high as the well known Falls of Lana, and certainly dwarfs the well known Texas Falls roadside attraction.

Bailey Falls through the trees

Now, only a short section of running remained – the climb back up, and over to the east side of Middlebury Gap where my car awaited me. I could have chosen to move to the road at this point, given the wooden bridge which allowed for passage over bogs and streams from the bottom or the Bailey Falls lift to Rt. 125, but chose instead to run up the trail, furthermost to my right looking uphill, the Wissler Trail, named after a legendary and long-deceased Middlebury College Physics professor Ben Wissler. After a few minutes of chugging up this grassy slope on my tiring legs, I reached the top of the Sheehan Chair, where I was pleasantly surprised by a large clump of daisies on the Lang Trail. The daisies seem to be starting to wither down in the valley, but apparently this patch in the cooler higher altitude climes is doing quite well.

Lang Daisies

Lang Daisies

From this point, a short descent on the service road following the Lang Trail, which is after all the bunny slope of the Snow Bowl, led me back to my car for a challenging but scenic and interesting 5.5 mile run, with about 1800 feet total of climbing and descents.

Google Earth of the Run

Google Earth of the Run

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Return to Abbey Pond

One of my posts, almost 5 years ago, involved a run up the Abbey Pond Trail.  Much to my surprise, this has proven to be the most frequently accessed post on this blog, speaking to the popularity of the Abbey Pond Trail.  This trail, the closest and most convenient trailhead leading into the National Forest for Middlebury runners and hikers, was one I had always wanted to explore, but hadn’t gotten to in my then roughly 25 years living in this community.  After running it, I found that it was a more challenging run than I expected, and that there were some sections where the footing was too much “rock hopping” and not enough trail to maintain any sort of running pace.  It was also a very pretty trail.  I had heard that in the last few years, some trail maintenance had been performed, and thought I would check it out on a beautiful, warm Sunday afternoon, shortly after the college graduation.

To access the trailhead, head east from town on Quarry Road, and take a left, north, on Rt 116.  In less than a mile, a trailhead sign leading onto a dirt road will be on your right, and take this turn, following trailhead signs for about a half mile to the small parking lot at the end of the road.  From this point, the trail is very easy to follow, and well marked all the way to its conclusion at the pond.  The trail starts out pretty easily, going from flat to modest incline until you cross a bridge, leading over a brook, where the outlet stream from Abbey Pond, far uphill at this point, cascades down a steep defile in the rocks, creating a waterfall both above and below the bridge.

Abbey Pond Trail Waterfall

Abbey Pond Trail Waterfall

 

Continuing past the waterfall on increasingly steep trail, I noticed a steep embankment to my left, and I did a quick scramble up this to see where it led. I should not have been surprised to see that it brought me to the brink of one of the many gravel pits operated by the Carrara Concrete Company up against the west face of the Green Mt escarpment in Addison County. I have always assumed that the sandy soil of this geography, atypical for Addison County which is largely clay, was the result of its being the former beachfront property on Lake Champlain as its waters receded following the last ice age, although I have not confirmed this with my Geology Dept. colleagues.  One thing about this vista had me scratching my head however – I can’t for the life of me figure out why they would park a few old school buses in their gravel pit!

Gravel Pit View

Gravel Pit View

 

After this point, the trail veers more aggressively uphill, first on the north side of the stream, then crossing over to the south side. When I described this portion of the trail a few years back, I confessed that I had to take a breather, and slow down to a walk for a while due to its relentless climb. This time around, I didn’t find that necessary, so I guess I am a stronger runner, and I know I have lost about 20 pounds since then, making the hills even easier. Isaac Newton was right – F = ma.

After the steep section of the climb, the rumored trail improvements came to sight.  My memory of this section was of a lot of rock hopping on a badly eroded trail, where I had the sneaky suspicion that the water flowing between the rocks was part of the stream beginning at the outlet of the lake.  Even though it was pretty close to flat, the footing was really to precarious to do anything resembling running.  Now, the trail has been re-routed off to the side on slightly higher ground and for the time being at least is very nice single-track running.  Looking into the origins of the new section of trail, I discovered something about its history.  During the summer of 2013 the local section of the Green Mountain Club performed this badly needed maintenance in memory of a father and son, David and Levi Duclos, who passed away prematurely in 2004 and 2012, respectively.  Both of them passed away while enjoying the outdoors.

After about a mile of pretty flat terrain on the recently re-routed trail, I got to the shores of this modest little pond in the mountains.  The peak in the background here is Robert Frost Mountain, the subject of another of my postings.  Several years ago, I came across an older map which showed a trail connection between Abbey Pond and the trails leading up to Robert Frost Mountain, so I explored around the lakeshore to see if I could discern any trails beyond the pond, but within a few hundred yards, the modest herd path diminished and disappeared into the swamps, and I was not wearing attire appropriate for bushwhacking.  It was also getting late in the afternoon, and I suspected that the evening insect attack would begin soon, so I took a picture of the pond from a less commonly viewed perspective, and backtracked to the maintained trail.

Abbey Pond and swamp

Abbey Pond and swamp

There were a few small tufts of various wildflowers alongside the shores as well, and I spied one that I had never noticed before – it had rather large hanging bulbs about an inch across, and I am including a picture in case someone could identify them for me.

Mystery Wildflowers

Mystery Wildflowers

Returning to my car was far easier, as is almost always the case. The run covered about 4 and a half miles, with an ascent and descent of about 1000 vertical feet. Five years ago, I rated this path “pretty for hiking, not really very good for running” but with the trail improvements of a few years ago it has become much more runable. I suspect I will be running it more often in the future, due to it’s convenience to town, and the fact that I suspect that it will be a cool place to run on hot mid-summer afternoons due to the fact that the most challenging part of the climb is in a shady defile in the mountains, cooled by the adjacent stream.

Altitude Profile of Abbey Pond

Altitude Profile of Abbey Pond

Google Earth projection of Abbey Pond Trail

Google Earth projection of Abbey Pond Trail

Microspikes to Silver Lake

Once again, it is a beautiful Saturday, so I thought it would be a great day for a ski or trail run.  A few days ago, I was talking to my colleague Joe the Geographer, and he mentioned how nice the running up to Silver Lake had been recently, and I realized then that despite the fact that I run there during most of the year (and blog about routes near the lake regularly), I had never been there before in the winter!  I also knew that my spiked shoes probably wouldn’t provide quite enough traction, so I went to the Middlebury Mountaineer and picked up a set of “Microspikes” which are basically slip on mini-crampons designed to be worn over running shoes or lighter hiking boots.

I started this run, in the usual place, the Falls of Lana trailhead, and started up the steeper early sections of trail, which had been well groomed by and for snowmobiles, making for easy running with my spikes on.  While the beaten down section of trail proved to be easy running, if I stepped off the trail, I quickly sank in, close to up to my knees, so there would be no trailbreaking for me today!  Chugging up towards Silver Lake, I noticed that some snowshoers had beaten a trail to Lenny’s Lookout, the high point of the powerline clearing overlooking Lake Dunmore, so I headed up that way to enjoy the view after a short climb.  I could see lots of ice fisherman down below, and it was curious that they were mostly clustered in one small part of the lake.  Was the fishing better there?  Or did someone bring the beer?

Lake Dunmore Ice

Lake Dunmore Ice

Returning to the main snowmobile trail, I continued up to the lake shore. I must confess, I was kind of hoping that some ambitious snowshoer had traipsed around the lake, making for easy passage in running shoes, but I could find no such tracks, so I had to content myself with a short slog through the snow, out on the ice, to get the sort of perspective that requires swimming in the summer. In addition to shoreline views, I also saw a few snowmobilers, off of their sleds and walking along the shore. With those big helmets on their heads, I kind of thought they looked like popular music artists “Daft Punk“, a duo reknowned for wearing face-obscuring helmets as they play.

Silver Lake Dam with Rattlesnake Cliffs in the background

Silver Lake Dam with Rattlesnake Cliffs in the background

Continuing on, I thought it might be nice to head down the Leicester Hollow trail, but was disappointed to see that trail had barely been broken on this, so I continued up the main route above Silver Lake. When I reached the trail split, half going right towards Goshen, the other half going straight towards Moosalamoo, I though I would head straight for a little while to check out the rarely-visited Sucker Brook Reservoir. Somewhat surprisingly, when I split off of the snowmobile trail to go to this small body of water, there was one set 4WD tire tracks heading down the steep road for me to run in. Somebody whose job it is to inspect the dam in the winter has one heck of a big set of snow tires, and a vehicle which does really well in deep snow! When I got to the reservoir, it was……empty. Apparently they drain it in the fall, probably to leave room for spring snowmelt?

Heading back up the hill to the trail junction, and not quite ready to return down to my car, I headed up the road further to the Goshen/Silver Lake trailhead parking lot, which was empty due to the fact that the road it lied at the end of was not plowed in the winter. I did notice that the snowmobile continued on however, and was surprised to learn that it followed the course of the Ridge Trail, up on the hillside above Leicester Hollow. I previously described the Ridge Trail in a summer running post, and found that there was nothing particularly remarkable about it, and had never run it again since. It took on a whole different look in the winter, so I am now eager to-re-explore it in the upcoming weeks while everything is still under deep snow. This time, however, I was not prepared for a longer run (no food or water), so after going a short distance on the well-packed Ridge Trail, I returned to the Goshen parking lot. From this point on, it was about 2.5 miles all downhill, and my Microspikes made it so that I could run fast, and confident in my footing for the duration of the descent.

Returning to my car, this made for a slightly longer than 7 mile run, with about 900 feet of climbing and descent. The day was so nice, that after I got home and had a light lunch, I managed to get out for an hour of cross-country skiing as well!

AltitudeProfile

AltitudeProfile

The run, in Google Earth

The run, in Google Earth

Beating The Blerch on Snake Mountain

Ok, so some of you must be asking “What the heck is The Blerch?”

The Blerch

The Blerch

 

The Blerch is a character, created by the author and cartoonist known as “The Oatmeal”, who has described The Blerch in the following words:

 

“Marathon runners often describe a phenomenon known as “hitting the wall.” They refer to ‘the wall” as the point in a race when they feel physically and emotionally defeated.

I do not believe in the wall. I believe in The Blerch. The Blerch is a fat little cherub who follows me when I run. He is a wretched, lazy beast. He tells me to slow down, to walk, to quit.

“Blerch” is the sound food makes when it is squeezed from a tube. “Blerch” is the shape of my tummy after a huge meal. If I am sedentary at a time when I have zero excuse for being sedentary, I call this “blerching.” The Blerch represents all forms of gluttony, apathy, and indifference that plague my life.

 

The Blerch always seems to appear in my life over the holidays – too much good food, too much good wine, and too much time on the road or in the homes of my extended family can make for a relaxing holiday, but not one in which I get much running in.  “Its too cold outside Jeff – you don’t want to go out there”, or “Gee that football game, the Dingleberry Bowl between Okoboji State and Turkey Tech sure sounds good”, or “I shouldn’t run right after eating – where are the Christmas cookies?”.  Yup – that’s the Blerch talking!

A few days ago, one of my running friends in Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts announced a run up, over and back on my old favorite, Snake Mountain, for this Saturday morning, and this sounded like a great way to jump start my running legs after the lethargy of the holidays.  So, when my alarm went off at 7 am on a Saturday morning…..I hit the snooze button.   Damn that Blerch!  10 minutes later, as the alarm resumed its insistent buzz, I realized that it was time to silence The Blerch along with the alarm, so I got up and poured a cup of coffee.  Then, I looked at the thermometer, and it read “9 degrees”.  Ugh – its too cold out there, but as the sun rises it will warm up, right?  So I had my breakfast, and drank a few more cups of coffee, and when the time came at 8:30 am to drive off to the Snake Mt. trailhead on the west side of the mountain, I looked at the thermo-tormentor, and it let me know that the meager rays of sun had raised the temperature all the way up to 11 degrees.  At least at this point, I realized I had drunk too much coffee to go back to bed, so off to the trailhead I went, donning about seven layers of clothing.

My mood improved considerably upon seeing four other runners ready to go at the start of the run.  We had been forewarned to wear some sort of spikes on our shoes given the icing on the trails, so I brought my Asics Gel Arctic shoes – basically a normal running shoes with short spikes in the soles, for the winter ascent.  The rest of the group had slip on spikes, known as MICROspikes, which they wore over their running shoes, and looked like they might offer even better grip.  Sure enough, as we set off up the trail, while my shoes did well on the old styrofoam snow, frozen mud, and hard packed trail snow, they offered no grip whatsoever on the brief but challenging sections where the trail was essentially a frozen waterfall.

Icy Trails

Icy Trails

 

As a result, my pace was much slower than usual, but nobody else was running much faster. Achieving the summit on this bitter cold morning, which seemed much more bearable after climbing for over two miles, we were treated to some amazing Adirondack views. I have always felt that if you squint your eyes just a little while looking west, you can almost convince yourself that our winter views of the ‘Dacks look an awful lot like views of the Front Range from Denver.

Adirondack Views

Adirondack Views

After ascending from the more heavily hiked west side trail, we decided to descend down the east side. To get to this trail, you have to pretty much know where it is, as it is an unmarked trail. About one third of the way down the mountain, the west side trail takes a sharp, steeply descending right hand turn, and the east side trail is achieved if you go straight at this point. If you have never hiked this trail before, I would recommend ascending from the east side parking lot on Snake Mountain Road, so you can see where the trails meet. Given the lighter use of the east side trail, the snow was not as compacted as it was on the much icier west side, making for an easier descent, passing by some nicely terraced beaver ponds.

Beaver Ponds on Snake Mt

Beaver Ponds on Snake Mt

When we reached the east side parking lot, we had a decision to make: I was not looking forward to the climb back on the trails, and back down the west side, as my footing was much poorer than the others’ and I was not enthused about sliding down the mountain on a frozen incline. I knew there was a way to circle back to our parked cars by taking the Forest Road, a road which ran over the southern shoulder of Snake Mountain, but I did not have a clear idea what the mileage of this route would be. Some members of the group suspected that my mileage estimates might be a bit on the short side, and were not up for the potential of a significantly longer run. So, we ended up splitting the group- after all, this is supposed to be fun – and some went back up the mountain, while a few of us chose the road return, heading south on Snake Mt. Road, west on the climb over Forest Road, and then taking the right turn onto Mountain St. extension to return to our vehicles. Other than occasionally choking on the dust churned up by passing cars, this was actually a nice road run with views to the east and to the west at various points along the way. Although my initial conservative estimate of the distance was indeed shy of the actual mileage by about a mile and a half, I had not missed by as much as some of my running partners feared.  The two groups met back at the parking lot within a few minutes of each other, and our version of the run worked out to almost exactly 10 miles, with the about 1000 ft climb up the mountain.

Happy New Year, and Death to the Blerch!  (although he is kind of cute…..)

Google Earth to beat the Blerch

Google Earth to beat the Blerch

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Skiing at the Trapp’s

More often than not, the transition from autumn running to winter cross-country skiing is a long, frustrating period of time, derided as “stick season”.  This year, however, a warmer than usual November, followed by more generous than usual early season snow, seems to have shortened the season in which it is “too cold and rainy to run, too warm or snowless to ski” to a few short weeks.  That said, the seemingly inevitable Christmas rains have dramatically reduced the snow cover in Vermont, and when I checked the conditions at Rikert, and they were reporting 3 km of trail open for skiing, this did not bode well for holiday skiing in Addison County.  So, I decided to look elsewhere, and followed the usual rules of thumb, which are 1:  Go north and 2: Go high.  So, I decided to make the slightly longer drive to the Trapp’s cross country ski touring center, high on a hillside above Stowe Vermont.

As most Vermonters know, the Trapp Family Lodge was established by the one and only Maria von Trapp of “Sound of Music” fame shortly after she and the rest of the family emigrated to the United States. They first established a modest ski lodge up on a hillside with views which reminded them of the views in their native Tyrol, and then pretty much introduced nordic skiing to the northeast with the opening of their touring center in 1968.  Meanwhile, the original lodge burned down in 1980, sending poor old Maria out into the cold in her nightgown. The much tonier modern lodge, which I have driven by many times but never actually entered, was built a few years later.  The Von Trapp family also has apparently flourished, as witnessed by the fact that there seem to be as many Von Trapps as there are Smiths in the northern Vermont phone books.

I skied at the Trapp’s Nordic Center a few times a year in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but as my commitment to nordic ski racing faded, corresponding to increased family priorities, I had not skied here in many years, perhaps as many as 20 years, so I was looking forward to this excuse to return.  The Rikert ski touring area, while more convenient, has one major drawback – it is lacking in long climbs and descents.  It isn’t flat mind you – the Tormondson Race Trail packs in about 400 ft of climbing and descent in each 5 km lap, but due to the limits of the topology, breaks these climbs and descents into bite size pieces.  Trapp’s on the other hand, is literally on the side of a mountain, and has trails which take advantage of this – it is full of long, grinding climbs, followed by generous, multi-kilometer descents which which make you want to whoop with joy as you gather speed and maneuver through corners.

I was not disappointed in the amount of terrain under conditions which have virtually wiped out most of the cross country skiing in the state – they had 25 km of trails open, and with my Rikert season’s pass, I was able to get one day of free skiing there this year.  Experienced skiers have known of the challenges of skiing Trapp’s, but due to the fame of the Von Trapp family, as well as the rather plush orientation of the tourism industry in Stowe, most of the skiers there are tourists who might ski once every ten years.  I was also somewhat astounded by the many languages I heard on the lodge – Spanish, French, British English, Russian, German, and other languages which I didn’t recognize were within my earshot.  They must be doing some rather brilliant marketing to get people who live much closer to real mountains like the Alps, to come to Vermont to ski!

The only consistently flat trail at Trapp’s is the main access trail which traverses the side of the mountain for a little over a mile.  Given the less experienced nature of most of their clientele, this trail is almost comically crowded with beginners, wearing their downhill skiing attire with ski technique that could be described with the terms “wobble”. “careen”, and “sprawl”. This section of trail also had numerous benches for skiers to sit on, and plenty of trail signs to ensure the clientele that they were not yet lost in the wilderness.  Curiously, they also had a sign with a Robert Frost poem (saying nothing about roads less travelled) inscribed, perhaps taking inspiration from our own local Robert Frost Trail?   More experienced skiers inevitably strive to survive the long climb to “The Cabin”, perched at higher altitudes and  achieved after a pretty steady 4 km of climbing.  When I last visited this cabin, it had a small snack bar, providing free water, and selling hot chocolate, and hot soup to the proud skiers who managed to get up there.  This time around, while the cabin was still backwoods rustic, it had a more complete menu than I remembered, also offering grilled sandwiches and baked goods.  I wasn’t there to eat however, I was there to ski, and this cabin, at the highest altitude for skiers also provided the beginning of what I came there for – the screaming descents!

Trapp's Ski Cabin

Trapp’s Ski Cabin

After a short water break, I continued past the cabin on the Haul Road, a long fast descent down the back side of the touring area.  My past memories of this descent also included memories of great views of Mt Mansfield, but given how many years it has been since I last skied there, the previous open views along the trail were now mostly obscured by young birch forest.  That was OK, as my downhill technique is not what it once was, so paying attention to my skiing rather than the views was probably a good idea.  Of course, what goes down must come back up again, so after this great descent, I climbed up a different trail, known as “Bobcat”, circling back up to the cabin for another descent.  For my second descent, I explored a trail which was new to my experience, apparently put in 5 years ago, known as “Chris’s Run”.  This trail is probably the most spectacular descent in a groomed cross country ski trail in Vermont – it had pretty consistent pitch, with just enough steep sections to keep you literally on your toes, and zigzagged its way down the mountainside for what was probably 3 km, with excellent views through the hardwood forest.  After this descent, I worked my way back to the beginner bumperpeople trail, with a side trip behind the Lodge, to complete my longest ski of the season and one of my best ski workouts in a few years.

Mountain Views from Trapp's

Mountain Views from Trapp’s

All in all, this made for a 15 km ski with about 1400 vertical feet of climbing, and more importantly, descent. Yah!

Google Earth of Trapp's

Google Earth of Trapp’s

altitude profile trapps