Tag Archives: Long Trail

The Long Way to the Silent Cliffs

One of the more popular “mini-hikes” in the area is the short jaunt from the top of Middlebury Gap (Rt. 125) to the viewpoint known as Silent Cliffs, which provides a great view of the College Snow Bowl, and on clear days, broader vistas to the south and east.  Since I know from past experience that a lot of the hits on this blog are by people looking for hiking trails, if you want to see the short “normal way” to get to this nice little vista, I will describe it in a short paragraph at the end of this posting.  Needless to say, I didn’t go that way on this run.

It was a gloomy looking Saturday morning and I was looking for my first truly “mountainy” run of the season. I had recently heard from a friend that the Burnt Hill Trail, which I had not hiked in over 20 years, made for a good means of ascending to the Long Trail, with a pitch and footing generally amenable to trail running. While the usual trailhead for this is a small turnout off of FS 59, the road which passes through the Breadloaf campus, I decided to park at the campus itself to add a little more mileage to my run.  This also ensured that if I made a “loop run” out of this route, I would not have the climb back up to my car at the finish line.

Despite a few passing showers earlier in the morning, I drove up to Breadloaf and parked in the nearly-empty parking lot to being my run.  I was surprised by how deserted the place was, as I knew the mountain campus had been used in the past for housing alums returning for reunions, but I guess they are now all crammed into dorm, just like in the good old days!  I was amused, however, by the remnants of a fire ring set up in the parking lot.  I can only guess that the lawyers must have warned the college about the dangers of mixing intoxicated 50-somethings and fire, as the fire pit was ringed by barriers to keep these happy kids from getting hurt!

Fire Ring

The Killer Fire Ring

I started my actual run on some of the trails in the “Battell Loop” section of the Rikert Ski Touring Area, the section of woods just east across the field, and wound my way up the Freeman Trail until I reached FS 59 by Gilmore House, where I crossed over and followed the Gilmore Trail until I got to FS 59 again, this time higher up and by the area where most people park for the Burnt Hill Trail. There is a detailed map of the Rikert Trails on one of the links to the right of this blog ( ——> thataway for the directionaly challenged) for those who don’t know the trails. Reaching the road, and short few yards to the right brought me to the beginnings of the combined Burnt Hill Trail and Norske Trail, which run together in their current incarnation (they were once totally separate trails) for the next .7 miles. Once the trails diverge, the Burnt Hill Trail brings hikers all the way to the top of the Green Mt Ridge, while the Norske Trail, which is designed for skiing (and was featured in this blog a few years ago) brings one up to the tight corner on Rt 125 just past the Snow Bowl. The climbing here is pretty gentle, and the trail is well-traveled making for a pretty easy ascent at this point.  A little deeper into the forest, I came to a sign post announcing the boundary line between mere national forest, and the Breadloaf Wilderness.  I stood on one side of the line, then the other, and didn’t notice a difference!  I guess it is kind of comforting that I live in an area where, even with a well-trained eye, I couldn’t tell the difference between mere forest, and official wilderness.  I also saw the trail log in, and dutifully inscribed my name and destination, using my blogging pseudonym of course.  This was your standard trail use kiosk, lacking the “you’ve got mail” vibe of the sign-in I saw a few weeks ago on another run.

The Start of the Wilderness

The Start of the Wilderness

 

The trail at this point mostly wound its way through mixed forest, and the canopy kept me relatively dry despite the steady drizzle which had developed. Finally, after about a mile and a half on the Burnt Hill Trail (or 2.5 miles from the start of the run) the trail got a little too steep and rocky for consistent uphill running, so the next half mile or so was mostly just fast hiking. At about the 3 mile mark, I noticed that the sky was in front of me, instead of just overhead, signifying that I was near the top of the ridge, and sure enough, in a few moments I was at the Long Trail. A lot of the Long Trail is very rocky and rooty, as befitting a heavily used ridge line trail, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this section, going right (south) all the rest of the way to the top of 125 was actually very nice for running, at least by challenging Long Trail standards.

There were a few noteworthy sights along this heavily wooded stretch of ridgeline hovering at around the 3000 ft elevation line. One of these sights was an omission – it has been so long that I have been on this section that I was unaware of the removal of the Boyce Mt Shelter, but when I came to a small clearing and did a little googling, I realized this was the case.

I also discovered another, more puzzling mystery.  I came across another patch along the ridge where there was an opening in the generally dense leaf canopy, and I saw the surprise – there was a small grove of apple trees!  It was not surprising that apple trees could grow up there, as they are an exceptionally hardy tree in northern climates, but apple trees almost always serve as an excellent marker of past human habitation, as they don’t really exist in the wild, only where deliberately planted.  Now the mystery is, who planted them up there?  I can’t believe that someone actually lived and farmed at this altitude, and in fact have seen maps of olde Ripton, and can’t remember seeing any mention of a homestead on the ridge.  But somebody took the time to clear land, and plant a few of these trees, now ancient, but why?

Mystery Apple Trees

Mystery Apple Trees

Passing this by, I skipped and hopped along the trail for a few miles until I came to a T in the road, and realized I had finally come to the trail spur to the primary destination for this run. A right turn would take me to the top of Rt 125 in about a third of a mile, while a left turn would bring me to the Silent Cliffs, so I took the left, and after winding through the forest for about a third of a mile, came to the outcropping with its views. One of the first things I noticed was that the Silent Cliffs was by far the noisiest place I had been on the run. The traffic below on Rt 125, compounded by the loose rock from the construction made it very obvious that civilization was not far away. The view, dominated by Worth Mt. and the Snow Bowl was as nice as I remembered, however, although a little limited by the clouds and increasingly heavy rain.

View from Silent Cliffs

View from Silent Cliffs

I returned to the “T” in the trail, this time going straight, and in a few short minutes I reached the top of Middlebury Gap. At this point, I could have elected to simply take the road back to my car at Breadloaf, but electing to maximize my time on the trails, I crossed over the short stretch of the Long Trail, continuing south until I reached the top of the Sheehan Chair, and ran down the service road on the Voter trail to the Snow Bowl parking lot, and rejoined Rt 125 for about a mile. Finally, I hopped into the woods on the Rikert Trails when I came to the Catamount Trail marker on the right, and came out into the Rikert field, finishing off a 9 mile run at my car, as the rain continued to soak me as I ran in the open.

While the distance in this run wasn’t that long, the nature of the running was a lot more challenging than most of my runs. The total climb from Breadloaf to the top of the ridge was 1600 ft, and the trails are considerably rougher than the much tamer TAM around town. This run took me over 2 hours, so my per mile pace was much slower than it is on the trails nearer to town. It is very hard for even seasoned trail runners to average much faster than 15 min/mile on this sort of mountainous terrain, even with some easier road sections averaged in.

Google Earth of the run, looking west.

Google Earth of the run, looking west.

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

INSTRUCTIONS TO GET TO SILENT CLIFFS THE NORMAL WAY: Drive to the top of the Middlebury Gap. Park your car or bicycle, and head north on the Long Trail. This is the trail on the opposite side of the road from the parking lot. After about 1/3 of a mile of steady ascent (a few hundred feet altitude gain), you will get to the fork on the trail. Take the right (actually straight ahead) trail. This is very well marked by trail signs at this point. After about another 1/3 of a mile of gently descending and climbing trail taking you to the cliff overlook. Sit down, enjoy, and return as needed!

End of the Summer on the Long Trail

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

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