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End of the Summer on the Long Trail

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

On this, the last weekend before the start of my school year, I  was looking for a good long run to complete the summer running season.  August had been a disappointing month for running, due to back spasms which slowed me for most of the nicest days of the summer, but after a month of recovery, I felt up to a longer run than I had done in a while.  With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to revisit a route which I last ran (and blogged) three years ago under very different conditions, and entitled it  “Stick Season above the Snow Line”  This loop involves considerable time on the Long Trail along the Worth Mountain ridge, and when I last checked it out I was running through a bit of snow, and racing to get back to my car before darkness.  While snow at the higher altitudes may not be that far off, this was most definitely a late summer run – the leaves  are still all there, and mostly green, at least to this somewhat colorblind runner.  Cooler temperatures also made for pleasant conditions on a cloudy September afternoon.

This loop is also of a length, and on terrain which most people would call “a hike”.  While I love a long hike in the mountains, one of the great pleasures of trailrunning is that it can get you out in the woods covering a lot of terrain when you don’t have time for the more leisurely pacing of a day hike.  So, before this run, I mowed the lawn, played the piano for a bit, read a few papers, and enjoyed a leisurely late lunch before setting off, and still got back in plenty of time for dinner.  Live life to the fullest!

Setting off from my favorite running trailhead, the Brooks Road Trailhead (also known as the Chatfield Trailhead), located off of a short dirt road a mile or so below the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, I started up the comfortable climb on the dirt road.  While this road is open to car traffic, I rarely see any motor vehicles on it.  The road climbs steeply for the first mile and a half, rising about 400-500 feet rather abruptly, but climbs more gently most of the rest of the way to its end, 3.7 miles up into the mountains.  When you get to the end of the road, follow the well worn path over the obvious footbridge over Sucker Brook, until you reach the Long Trail Spur trail on your left.  Take this trail, which also climbs pretty gradually with a lot of easy running terrain for another mile or so, until you reach the Sucker Brook Shelter, found in a saddle in the Green Mountains known as “Romance Gap”.  I met a small group of hikers, one of whom was a Long Trail through-hiker, and after exchanging pleasantries for a few minutes, headed up the hillside, and joined the Long Trail itself in a few minutes, turned left, and headed north towards Middlebury Gap.

As expected, the running on the Long Trail was more technical than the rest of the run.  As mountain ridge trails go, this was more runnable than most, with long sections of gradually climbing and descending dirt or mud path to run on.  In the rockier sections, the running becomes more akin to skipping, with your feet doing all kinds of crazy things in order to maintain a decent speed!  In sections where the climbing or descending got steeper, or potentially more slippery, I slowed to a fast hiking speed.  This section of the Long Trail is not known for its sweeping vistas, although there were a few limited views through the trees in places.  What I do love about this section are the more subtle sights one comes across when traipsing through the forest at around 3000 ft elevation.  I have always been particularly fond of the shelf fungus growing out of the side of some of the older hardwoods, and one which I came across looked so sturdy that it was begging for something to display. So, I set up a small rock cairn on it, which will no doubt puzzle or amuse subsequent passersby if they have the presence of mind to look beyond their own boots or running shoes.

A Curious Cairn

A Curious Cairn

 

 

Not long after this, I reached the high point of the run, the summit of Worth Mountain (~3200 ft) and began the gradual undulating descent to the top of the Snow Bowl. I was amused to meet a hiker, who seemed so happy to get a signal on his cell phone that he couldn’t resist the temptation to check his facebook page. To each his own…. The wooden walkways signaled my approach to the Snow Bowl, and shortly thereafter, I broke out into the amazing view towards the east from the top of the Bailey Falls lift.

Bailey Falls Vista

Bailey Falls Vista

From here, I scrambled down the steeper upper sections of the Voter Trail at the Snow Bowl, named after Old Professor Perley Voter, one of my predecessors in the Chemistry Department at the college. He must have been great, as there is also a building named after him, Voter Hall! As I reached the bottom, I passed a fellow middle-aged trail runner on his way up the mountain, and after the mandatory exchange of complaints about our aging bodies, headed across the parking lot, and descended on Rt 125 to return to my car just as the drizzling rain started to get just a little bit heavier.

According to my GPS, this was a 10.5 mile run, with an 1800 foot ascent, probably closer to 2000 feet with the undulations along the way. Not a bad way to end the summer. Now, time to prepare for Monday classes……And bring on the Fall!

epic run

Google Earth of the Run

 

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Skylight Pond

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

My last last few blogged runs were on the long side, requiring a fairly high degree of organization and car shuttling to pull off, making them relatively rare treats for those with a little extra time on their hands.  This run, however, requires much less choreography – just a short drive up the mountain from Middlebury to get to the trailhead, and thus can be done without a lot of extra driving.  This is also a relatively straightforward “up and down” route, on easy to follow trails, requiring no map, and not a lot of knowledge of the topography.  The catch?  This route has a LOT of climbing!

To get to the starting point for this route, drive up Middlebury Gap on Rt 125.  I was pleased to see, after my rant and rave about the pace of the road project in my last posting, that they are actually starting to lay some asphalt down.  I would like to think that I somehow influenced the road crews to get their act together, but I suspect that this would be a little too delusional on my part.  Take a left turn on Forest Service 59 (also labeled as the Steam Mill Road,(and sometimes called Kirby Road) a quarter of a mile or so before you get to the Breadloaf campus.   Head up this well-graded dirt road for a few miles until you get to the Steam Mill Clearing trailhead, on your right.  This clearing was the turnaround point for one of my ski touring posts from last summer, entitled The Skater’s Waltz, and is easy to notice due to several signs, as well as the fact that it is the first clearing that a driver comes to along this road.  I have tried to find out more information on the history of this clearing, but thus far have not been able to find out much.  There clearly must have been a steam mill here at some point, where raw logs were cut into lumber to facilitate transport to civilization, but I have not uncovered any information yet as to when it was operational, and by whom.  The historical name for the road “Kirby Road” may offer some clues, but an old map of Ripton shows Kirby residences far down on the lower reaches of the road, and no indication of the steam mill ownership is apparent.

map courtesy of Bill Powers

The run up to Skylight Pond follows a well-marked trail from this parking lot.  This popular hiking trail climbs steadily, but never particularly steeply.  There are frequent waterbars, dips, rocks, and mudholes to throw off one’s running rhythm, but never enough to turn it into a hike rather than a leisurely run.   After a little less than two and a half miles, the ascending trail crosses the Long Trail, and continues on until it reaches the Skylight Pond shelter, quite possibly the Ritz Carleton of the numerous Long Trail shelters.  The shelter porch overlooks the small high altitude pond, with very open views to the east.  The Green Mt. National Forest attendant who makes this shelter his home for the summer informed me that the long hulking ridge on the eastern horizen was Mt. Moosilauke, in New Hampshire, another great trail running destination.  Checking in on my GPS, I was surprised to see that I had done a lot of climbing to get here – the altitude at the shelter was 3500 ft, making its ascent a 1500 ft vertical climb from the parking lot below.  The gradual nature of this rather substantial climb undoubtedly leads to its popularity as a hike and feasibility as a trail run!

View from Skylight Pond

On the descent, a few openings in the trees with only partially obstructed views to the west became apparent, but I must confess that while vistas like the above shot make for attractive blogs and effective running motivations, most the runs look more like this:

View From the trail

AND, when the footing gets tougher, it is hard to look at any scenery other than your own two feet.  I guess that beats making sudden indentations in the mud with your face.

Nonetheless, the return to my car made for a pleasant round trip of just under 5 miles.  I am also very interested to learn more about the history of the original steam mill, and invite readers to share what they may know about it.

View From the West

altitude profile