Tags » Mad River Valley


Run up Mt Ellen (for free!)

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The Mad River Valley is where some of my extended family lives, and while not quite part of Addison County,it  is another great place for trail running. Even for those without lodging in the area, it is only an hour away, and a worthwhile place to go for a run for a nice change of pace.  I was visiting “over the mountains” this weekend, and had the time and energy for a more challenging run, so considered some of the local options for true mountain running.  I know from past experience that all ski areas have service roads leading to their summits, and if these roads proceed up novice, aka “green circle” trails, while they may be relentless, they are usually at a low enough incline for extended runs without breaking into a walk too often.  If the service road proceeds up an intermediate, or “blue square” trail, you are probably going to be doing a fair amount of power hiking rather than running, no matter how easy the trail seems to be when descending in the winter.    A few years ago, I described the relatively short run up the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, as well as the much more challenging ascent to just below the summit of Mt. Mansfield in The Race to the Top of Vermont”.

Remembering how much fun I had a few years ago, in the locally run Race to the Top of Vermont, I was initially enthused to see that a new race, involving an ascent of Mt. Ellen, one of the highest peaks in the state, and the northernmost summit of the Sugarbush Ski Area, was happening this September.  Reading the details of the race, however, my interest plummeted like an out of control runner on a steep downhill.  Unlike most of the races in VT, this was part of a larger, national series of races, and is part of, what to me at least, is a disturbing trend in competitive athletics.  Most races in VT are locally run, and a modest cost to competitors, and profits are usually turned over to charity.  These national race series are almost always “for profit”, very expensive, and only turn over a tiny percentage of their profits to charities.  Some of these series, like the Ragnar Relay running series have developed a reputation for rapaciously supplanting previously existing races.  Others, like the now famous “Tough Mudderraces have arisen from the business plans of Harvard MBA’s rather than any innate love of sport or charity.  In any case, this “O2X” race series, which includes a run up Mt Ellen in its race series wants 120 bucks to race!  I don’t mind paying more for a race if I can see where the money has to go – marathons take a ton of support over the course of 7 hours or more, and often include the closure of many city streets.  The obstacle course races of the Tough Mudder genre, while not my cup of tea, at least have a lot of setup to do before each race.  This O2X series brags that mother nature is providing all the obstacles, which is of course a brilliant business plan, which combined with their commitment to give a whopping 1% to charity sounds like it will result in some happy young millionaire race organizers!  To put this entry fee in perspective, the Race to the Top of Vermont, which raises funds for the Catamount Trail, charges $30-$70 for its entry fees, and another mountain ascent race just up the road at Mad River Glen charges $25!  Even the Jay Peak 50K Ultramarathon, with two ascents of Jay Peak, and which has far more organizational challenges due to its length and terrain, charges only $85!

After reading of this attempt to charge an exorbitant fee to run up a mountain, which due to its status as national forest is actually free to access, I thought I would describe a fun running route up the mountain.  I parked my car at the nearly empty Mt. Ellen  parking lot and took a look up the mountain, and realized that I had a fair bit of challenge ahead of me.  The service road under the Green Mountain Express chairlift, just to the left of the base lodge looking uphill was where I began my ascent.  For the first half mile of so, the road follows what is the easiest ski trail on the mountain, making it a merely “tough” ascent, and after it reached the base of the North Ridge chair ascended more steeply to the right.  I still found this section runnable, but at a very slow, stutter-step stride.  While this section of running was labelled as novice terrain in the ski trail map, it was certainly much steeper than a typical bunny slope.  Part way up this section, the service road split, half bearing left up comparably steep terrain which I suspected would blow out my quads pretty quickly, or a more gentle ascent to the right, which in the ski season would be thought of as a crossover trail.  I took the path of least resistance, as I really did want to run.  All along this section, I was accompanied by a retinue of lovely orange butterflies, and with a little patience I coaxed one into sitting still long enough to get her picture taken.

Trail Butterfly

Trail Butterfly

This segment brought me the the far north (uphill runner’s right) of the ski area at the top of the Inverness Chair, about 1000 vertical feet above the parking lot already, but with a long way still to go.  Another crossover trail was found with a sharp left turn, crisscrossing me back under the “Exterminator” trail, the North Ridge Chair, and brought me to what is usually thought of by skiers as the point about halfway up the mountain, the small restaurant at the end of the Green Mountain Chair called “The Glen House”.

Glen House Views

Glen House Views

I felt pretty accomplished at this point, but looking straight up, I realized the biggest challenges were still ahead of me. Going into this run, I had hoped that the service road to the summit would follow the gentle “Rim Run” trail to my left, but instead followed the much steeper, truly intermediate trail directly under the Summit Chair.  I guess it makes sense in retrospect that the service road would actually follow the chairlift it aims to service?  This next segment, from here, to the top of the North Ridge Chair, was the steepest part of the ascent, and such, I was only able to maintain a running stride about half of the time.  Upon reaching the top of the North Ridge chair, I turned to the left for the last ascent to the summit along the north ridge of Mt Ellen, and at first thought that I was in for a tough crawl up what looked like a too-steep-to-to run segment.

Steep Flowers to the Summit

Steep Flowers to the Summit

So, I did what I had to do, I took a break, and took some pictures of the wildflowers, mostly daisies and another yellow flower akin to dandelions.  Resuming my run after this brief break, I found the running easier than expected, and only slowed down for a few short scrambles over ledgy rock sections.  Reaching the summit, I chatted for a few minutes with a gentleman who had hiked up and had been following my progress from his perch at the top of the mountain.

Summit Views

Summit Views


After a few minutes of enjoying the summit scenery, I retraced my run back to my car waiting below, once again being careful to moderate my speed so that I would still have fully operational quads the next day, and I can say now, writing this up on Sunday, that I was successful in that!  Also, the footing can be a little bit more difficult with loose rocks on the descent, so this gave me another good reason to check my speed.

Overall, this was some pretty cool terrain, and a good challenge for mountain runners – this route took about two hours round trip, and covered 7 miles, with 2500+ ft of climbing and descent. The lesson to today’s run?  You would have to be crazy to pay all that money ($120) to access terrain and scenery which is free, and if you want to enjoy the challenges of a hill climb race, there are plenty of other options which are convenient, charitable, keep your money in VT, and leave you with plenty of money for beers – heck for a steak dinner – with your running friends.

Google Earth of the Run up Mt Ellen

Google Earth of the Run up Mt Ellen

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Ole’s Ski Touring Area

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I find myself in the Mad River Valley fairly frequently, and while technically, it is not part of Addison County, it is less than an hour away from Middlebury by car, and has it’s own outstanding opportunities for running and cross country skiing.  One of the two nordic skiing establishments in “The Valley” is known as Ole’s, and is named after a fellow named, not surprisingly, Ole, who developed the area for skiing many years ago before returning to his native Norway.  This rather expansive ski touring area has a very different feel to it than the nearby Rikert and Blueberry Hill touring centers.  While the nearby ski areas have the wilderness feel befitting areas on or near national forest, Ole’s is entirely on land which serves other uses in the summer months, and weaves its way in and out of active farmland, private homes, and is actually based on a summer landing strip, aka “Warren International Airport”, used primarily to serve gliders in the summer months.  I am not going to bother to give detailed instructions on how to find it, since everyone has either a GPS or a cell phone with Google Maps, but it is up on a plateau to the east of the Mad River, and just below the ridge of the Roxbury Mts.

This is a ski center with some definite selling points.  It is very “beginner friendly”, since the shorter trails are on a landing strip, and are very flat.  When I ski there over the Christmas holidays, there always seem to be quite a few families there giving nordic skiing their first try!  Also, since most of the terrain is in open farm fields during the summer, Ole’s can open up, and provide nice skiing when there is very little natural snow, unlike wilder areas which need more snow to cover over rocks, stumps, bear dens, and other natural hazards.  The shortcoming of Ole’s is that it doesn’t have any substantial climbs and descents (at least not on the trails I routinely ski).  Nonetheless, most of their terrain could be aptly described as “rolling”, so athletic skiers can get a good workout, albeit without lung wrenching climbs or long adrenaline-inducing descents.


Touring Center


I started out at the touring center headquarters, which was festooned with the requisite US and Canadian flags, a Norwegian flag in honor of it’s founder, and a German flag.  I had to ask what the significance of the German flag was, and apparently they were displaying it because “it looks good!”.  The biggest climb in the area involved the trail immediately to the west, to the top of the modest knoll called “Warren Pinnacle” a 5 km loop which provided for a few nice views back in the direction of the touring center fields.  This trail looped in and out of meadows and young birch glades, typical of farmland in the process of reverting to its natural state.  Returning to the center after this loop, I headed south to the short 2 km trail which is one of my favorites there, a  loop called “Rock n Roll” which makes a series of short loops through active farmland, as evidenced by the corn stalk stubs from the fall’s harvest, which probably provides great wild turkey habitat when there is less snow on the ground.  This trail probably has an altitude difference of only 30 ft between its high and low points, but no flat sections, and lots of short fast turns which make for interesting skiing.

Rock and Rollen

Trail Loop in Farm fields


After this stretch, I returned to the airstrip field to the north, and after pausing for a moment to enjoy the panorama of the Green Mt ridge to the west , veered to the east, until I hit the East Warren Road, making on last long loop to the north, before returning to the touring center by a short wooded trail.



The entire loop ended up at about 14 km, and while it is hard to figure out the combined vertical climb for lots of small climbs rather than a few big climbs, it was a scenic ski with enough climbing to make for a good workout.

google earth of Ole's

Google Earth of the entire route



Just a Very Long Training Run

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Last October, as a long season of trail running came to a close, I pondered the semi-unthinkable:  Would it be possible to compete in and complete a marathon without the single-minded training regimen that is inevitably recommended by “the experts”?  Training for marathons by traditional methods (60-90 training miles per week, for many many weeks) had only accomplished one result for me- injuries before I ever reach the start line.   Well, I found the answer for this, when I raced in a marathon, and completed it, feeling great most of the way – the description of that race has already been described in my post entitled “Questioning Conventional Wisdom – A Marathon Story”.

So far this season, I have done a fair number of longer runs (up to 13 miles), but let’s face it – one’s conditioning can’t be as advanced in July as it is in October.  Add the loss of training time due to a nasty cold, and worse than usual allergies, and well, my legs have definitely felt better.  Nonetheless, I have always wondered if I would be able to enter, and complete a marathon, treating it as “just” a very long training run.  Why did I think this was even possible?  For one, there are a fair number of older athletes (*ahem* like me) who run in large numbers of marathons each year, and while they don’t compete for prizes, they appear to have fun chugging along at a more leisurely pace than the younger thoroughbreds.  These people have to have day  jobs right?  An early summer marathon also might be a springboard to more, and maybe longer races later in the season.  So, I set out to find a mid-summer marathon to test some new questions about physical limits.

It didn’t take me long to learn of a race in Waitsfield VT called “The Mad Marathon“, and I thought that with a name like that, it would be a perfect venue at which to attempt this latest experiment.  There was one slight problem with this plan – a marathon with truly minimal training should probably be undertaken on a flat course, and this race has 1000 vertical ft of climbing and descent.  Yikes!  Nonetheless, there I was at 7 am Sunday morning…lined up with about 1200 runners (most of whom seemed to be running in either the half marathon, or as members of marathon relay teams) for the starting gun.

I knew I had to do things differently if I was going to survive this race.  I tend to start of long runs slowly, and accelerate as the run or race proceeds.  In this run, however, I knew that I was cutting it awfully close in terms of my abilities, so I picked a pace which I knew I could maintain for long distances, and stuck to that pace, no matter how good I felt at various times in the race.  I also knew that for a sunny summer run, even in comfortable weather (and nature obliged with high temperatures in the low 70′s by the end of the morning race)  hydration would be even more critical that usual.  With this in mind, I forced myself to take water at EVERY water station, and walk through the station so that I could drink the full cup.  As a curious aside, at the first water station, only about a mile into the race, the volunteer offering me my hydration seemed shocked when I drank the gatorade, and poured the water on my head!  This is another old runner’s trick for staying cool on long runs, but apparently this particular volunteer had never before witnessed the practice.  And speaking of the volunteers – they were great!  Water stations were abundant, amply staffed, and I don’t think that I have ever seen a more enthusiastic bunch.

I am not going to go into the particulars of the race course, as it is well described on the race website linked to above.  In general, it started in the village of Waitsfield, climbed up to the roads high on the east side of the Mad River Valley (where a few past runs, including one a few weeks ago have been posted), did a loop to the north towards Moretown, and reversed its course into East Warren, before plunging back into the valley for the finish line.  I am going to share a few fun quirks of this well run race.  At about the 9 mile mark, I approached a woman who seemed to be struggling on the second of many climbs in the race.  She also had a sign on her back saying “Today is my birthday”.  So, as I pulled alongside her, I inquired if anyone had sung the Happy Birthday Song to her yet that day.  Hearing  that nobody had, I asked her name, and sang her the song before passing her by. I hope you finished the race Barbara!  Another fun little semi-surprise was……free beer!  The catch, was that in order to get the beer for free…..you had to drink it at mile 24 of the race – beer at the finish line cost 3 bucks a cup!  I loved the novelty of this, and despite the fact that I knew it would cost me a few minutes, I was running this as a “Timeless” race, so I couldn’t resist the temptation for at least a few sips of delicious cold beer, even with a few painful miles to go.  I also thought it was funny, that due to Vermont liquor laws, I had to go stand inside the roped in area to enjoy this treat.  Many thanks to my new friends from the Sam Adams distributor!   Finally, the finish line had a little barn structure to run under as one crossed the finish line, and the race announcers went out of their way to welcome each and every finisher by name over the PA system, and say something about where they were from.  The race participants also seemed to come from a lot of different places, for such a small race (only 271 finishers in the full marathon!)  It seemed that a disproportionate number of the entrants were striving to complete a marathon in each of the 50 states, and they found this marathon appealing, since it was a mid summer marathon, a rarity, in a cool climate.

So, here I am, a day later, and I really don’t feel too bad!  The legs are a bit tight, but I suspect I will be able to resume at least short runs in a day or two. I think I will call this experiment a success! Thanks to the organizers for putting together a challenging (hence slow) fun race.  I don’t have any pictures of the race, but the race web page has a lot of nice shots up from the 2011 race, which will give one a great feel for the great scenery accompanying this race.

Google Earth of the race course


A very scary altitude profile

Fathers’ Day on Scrag Mountain

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Starting around 15 years ago, I began exploring the Mad River Valley while visiting family members who have a home in the area.  One of my first discoveries was Scrag Mountain, the modest peak which is nonetheless the most prominent geographical feature on the east side of the valley.  At that time, the main trail accessing the summit was at the end of Palmer Hill Road, and the first few times I ascended this moderately challenging peak, it seemed that the trail, while still easy to follow, was falling into some disuse.  For one, the landowners in the vicinity made it very clear, through numerous threatening signs, that they would not abide any cars parked in the vicinity of the trailhead, which apparently did not have any public parking spaces available for hikers.  Also, the summit had a fire tower for many years, giving an otherwise tree-enshrouded summit spectacular views, and with removal of the tower, the appeal of this pleasant hike was diminished.  I am not sure when the fire tower was removed, but a sign alluding to its presence (incorrectly) was still in place when I first ascended the peak.  Some of the history of the summit and the fire tower can be found online.

Fast forward to a year ago, when I set off to explore the summit, admittedly scouting out a potential trail run/blog post,  from the location of the original trailhead, which I had not ascended in at least 10 years.  While the trail was far more overgrown than my memories of it, as I neared the summit, I could see why this was no longer a commonly used trail – blowdown in the ensuing years had taken a pleasant half day hike, and turned it into a nightmare of climbing over, under and around a seemingly infinite number of downed trees, rendering the passage impossible to all but the most intrepid of hikers…..me!  After a seeming eternity of route finding, climbing, and badly scratched arms and legs, the blowdown subsided, and I found the original trail, which seemed oddly easy to find – and I was puzzled as to the use it was receiving given the ordeal I had to go through to achieve its higher reaches.  Nonetheless, once past the blowdown, the summit was easily achieved.  I was pleasantly surprised that the ancient fire tower warden hut at the summit was still standing, and from the look of the log book there, was a frequent overnight place for the young stoner crowd, who indicated the herb of their choice in the graffiti on the walls, and their ramblings in the log book.  I also noted that there were still a few limited views to the Roxbury (east) side visible from summit ledges through the trees.  On my descent, however, following the trail, I realized that the in my ten year absence, the original trail had been re-routed, so I followed its descent not really sure where it would deposit me.  In fact, upon reaching the East Warren Road after descending Sherman Road, I was relieved to realize that I was indeed on the correct side of the range, and not in Northfield, which would have necessitated a long drive by family members to recover me.

So, with these slightly confused memories only a year old, I thought I would try out this new trail as a run, on the late afternoon of Father’s day 2012.  It was a rather hot afternoon, so I delayed my departure until the late afternoon in the hope of catching some cooling temperatures.  Nonetheless, it was still in the low 80’s when I set off on my run, at least with a decent supply of water.  The described section of this run begins well above the valley floor at the intersection of the East Warren Rd. and the Common Rd., on the far eastern edge of the Mad River Valley.  There is a good parking lot here, with room for a few cars, and many runners, bikers, and walkers park their cars here to begin and end outdoor activities from this vantage with excellent views of the main ridge of the Green Mts, and the three ski areas in the area.

Heading south, the very first challenge was “The Dip”  a sudden drop and climb of about 200 vertical feet, which is a blast on a bicycle (or a car in neutral, if I must confess)  but a bit of a drag for runners on their approach to an already significant climb.  At the top of the hill, take the left into the high rent district of Vermont, aka Sherman Road.  The beautiful , expansive gentleman farms are reputed to have been the ski homes of members of the Kennedy clan back in the 60’s, when Sugarbush had much poorer skiing, but a much more evolved après ski and night life, leading to its “Mascara Mountain”  nickname.  After about a half mile of increasingly steep uphill running, I took a left turn onto Bowen Road, which gave me a breather as I traversed the hillside, enjoying the early summer  patches of that friendliest of flowers, the daisy. After about another half mile, noticing the little brown jelly beans, indicative of a healthy deer population, the semi-developed road turned into a wide double track trail and headed into the woods, angling up the hillside in a northerly direction.  After the first half mile or so, it became apparent to me that this was not the best choice for a “run” – the trail got steeper and rougher, forcing me to turn most of the rest of the trip into a fast hike rather than a run. About half way up, I came across a clearing with a beaver pond, and could see from the vantage point that I still had a fair amount of climbing to do!

Scrag Mountain Beaver Pond

Resuming my labored ascent, made all the worse by the heat, I came to a section of trail where my passage was further complicated by the undergrowth and debris hiding sections of the trail, necessitating some route finding, further slowing my progress.   I knew I was near to the summit, as a look to my right showed mostly blue sky through the trees rather than hillside, but at this point, my increasing dehydration, and time limitations (not wanting to miss the upcoming Fathers’ Day feast!) after a few more minutes of messing around making slow upward progress, I decided to forego the summit, and return for the pleasant evening in front of me.  Turning the corner back on to Sherman Road, I took a short pause to enjoy the sun starting to approach the ridgeline over the ski areas in the distance.  I also met the funny, inquisitive looking musk ox hanging out at one of the gentleman farms previously alluded to.  I suppose he looked somewhat like me, when a haircut is overdue, at least if you ignore the horns.

In the end, this hike/run/climb ended up covering about 6.5 miles, with1500  feet of climbing, counting the extra descent and climb in The Dip.   While the distance sounds modest, I actually covered a few more miles and climbed more vertical feet, having begun my run farther away, and further down the valley, but chose not to include this considerable extra mileage on the roads in a trail running post.

Scrag Mountain Run, looking East

Altitude Profile

A Vacation Run in the Mad River Valley

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Over the years I have had the pleasure of spending a considerable amount of time just over the mountains in the Mad River Valley.  While I was visiting family in Waitsfield over the holidays, I thought it would be fun describe a short run over there, especially since it is such a pleasant little community with a lot to offer the outdoor enthusiast, and is only about an hour from Middlebury by car.  My previous running in this area has been mostly on the far side of the valley, on the smaller range east of the main ridge of the Green Mts., so I thought I would share a route which begins up on the ridge just to the east of Rt. 100 on the valley floor.  The additional allure to running on this side of the valley is the great view it offers of the three major ski areas, Sugarbush, Mt. Ellen (technically part of Sugarbush) and Mad River Glen.  The rather arbitrary starting point for this run can be reached by turning off of Rt. 100, through the Waitsfield covered bridge, followed by a left turn onto Joslyn Hill Road, and a right turn onto the Cross Road.  There is ample room along the shoulder of the Cross Road near its intersection with the Common Road (the main N-S road on the hillside on this side of the valley) to park your car.

Heading north on The Common Road (the mountains should be on your right) brought me past the von Trapp farm and greenhouse.  Yes, this is owned by a member of THAT von Trapp family – think about how many kids Maria and the Captain had, and then envision how many kids their kids must have had……and you get the picture why the von Trapp name is so common in the Mad River Valley and Stowe!  That said, their farm has one of the best views in the state from accessible from a car or bike.

Mt. Ellen Views


Shortly after passing the greenhouses, I arrived at the former site of the Waitsfield Common village, with its characteristic village green, older homes, and hillside graveyard. I refer to this as the “former” site of Waitsfield Common due to the fact that all of the commercial activity in the town has moved down to Waitsfield proper, a mile or so down the hill. Immediately after the common, I took a right turn towards the mountains on East Road, another easy-on-the-knees dirt road. A gradual climb of about a mile, past small hillside farm led to a point where the main road goes to the right, and a rarely travelled dirt road continues straight towards the mountains, albeit with a short steep dip in elevation. At the bottom of this dip is a pretty little valley which is another favorite mountain spot – its coniferous forest open meadow, and meandering stream normally looks more like a Colorado than Vermont, but a small herd of cows (heading north, of course) juxtaposed a little bit of New England on the pastoral scene.

Cows in the Mountain Meadow

Climbing back into the forest after crossing a small bridge, and taking the right fork in the now derelict road led me up a steeper incline, past a series of higher meadows, each with its own uniquely spectacular vistas, As the road bore left to the north, I could see the wreckage of a few derelict homes and cellar holes. After about a half mile along this segment, I chose to return, but past explorations following this trail further have led me to the top of the mountain ridge between Scrag Mt. and Mt. Waitsfield along what appears to be an abandoned stage road (which might be a VAST snowmobile trail at present) leading to Northfield. Perhaps I will have to come back to describe that continuation of this route next summer!

Returning by the same route brought me back to my car after a five mile run which was easier than expected due to the still thin Christmas Day snow cover. There were a few modest ups and downs, but not enough to really call this a hill climb route.

Happy New Year everyone, and THINK SNOW!

Scrag Mountain from the Common Road

GPS track of the run

Altitude Profile