Tag Archives: MICROspikes

I should have brought my skis

Last Saturday, I was looking to go for a run out on the trails, but knew that an awful lot ice of my favorite terrain, and with a road marathon coming up in a few weeks, I didn’t want to risk injury. Compounding the challenge of where to run, I knew there had been some fresh snow at altitude the night before, as I discovered on particularly “white knuckle” drive over Rochester Gap and Middlebury Gap the night before.  Thinking about things, the logical choice was to find one of the many VAST snowmobile trails.  Past experience told me that these trails are almost always well-packed by recent snowmobile activities – and in some cases actually groomed, making for excellent “trail” running wearing my microspikes over my running shoes.  With this in mind, I headed into deepest darkest Ripton, up the Natural Turnpike to where the plowed section of the road ended, and there was a small parking lot used mostly by skiers during the winter.   This early in the spring, when there was still a veneer of snow on the upper reaches of the increasingly primitive dirt road, things were frozen enough for my low ground clearance VW Beetle to get up the road, but I suspect that very shortly, when we are in the depths of mud season, the road may require a higher clearance vehicle, or a 4WD.

There was an informational kiosk at the trail head, and the snowmobile trail itself was perhaps 20 yards away,  right under my nose, and I was surprised to see that no snowmobilers had been out, at least since the previous evening’s snow, which looked to only have accumulated about an inch.  Beginning my run to the right, in about a minute, it joined up with the much wider Steam Mill Road, also known as Forest Road 59, the road whose other terminus is near the Rikert Ski Touring Center, and in fact bisects the area.  This road, which is only open to traffic during the non-winter months showed plenty of signs of usage – by everyone but snowmobilers.  The thin snow cover, however made it easily runable – but who knows what the conditions are like now, a week later.  I also found it interesting how the different types of trail enthusiasts seemed to have chosen their respective lanes – foot travelers on the left, classic skiers in the middle, and a ski skater on the right!

Tracking Outdoor Enthusiasts

Continuing up the road, I came into the Steam Mill Clearing itself. The fact that this high in the mountains, there is still open meadow here I would suspect is the result of a once a year mowing, although I don’t know this for sure. There is also a big sign, indicating “Wildlife Viewing”, but I looked around and I seemed to be the only wild thing here – in fact, I was stunned by the near silence – a windless day, mid afternoon, and probably the only person for a mile or two. I also noted a sign indicating where the Catamount Trail joined in from the south. This section of the Catamount trail, connecting Rikert with the northern section was the result of a blog posting a few years ago.

Steam Mill Clearing

At this point, I also noted that the thin cover of snow was getting deeper, making the running a little bit more challenging, and the ski tracks I saw were looking more and more enticing. At this point I realized that I may have forsaken my last chance to ski this season in order to do this run. Oh well- it was a good season! As the trail slowly climbed, I finally reached the height of land, which while only a few hundred feet higher than the trailhead, had about 6 inches of fresh snow! Tough running, but it would have been great skiing. As challenging as the running was for this short section of deeper snow, I didn’t feel sorry for myself, thinking of some friends who were competing in the Runamuck 50K on snowy and muddy trails, near Woodstock VT that same day.

A short descent, brought me to the end of the snowy part of the road, reaching the point where Steam Mill Road is plowed, near the upper reaches of the Gilmore Trail at Rikert.   I could tell I was near to “civilization” at this point, as evidenced by the most ubiquitous bit of litter – the inevitable Bud Light can, in this case half buried in the fresh snow at the side of the trail. Bud Light – the beer of champion litterbugs!

 

I’ll have a Bud Light

 

 

Heading back, I climbed back up to the high point, and in the course of the long, gradual descent back to my waiting car, I came across a skiing couple, with a few enthusiastic dogs. Stopping for a moment, one of the couple said “I thought that might be you”. I was puzzled, as I didn’t think I knew these people, but not wearing my glasses, I sometimes am a little weak on recognizing people. Embrarrassed, I asked her for her name, which she offered, and as I still had a look of confusion, she followed it up with the fact that she read my blog. That made my day – thanks!

All said, this is a nice stretch for running, especially midwinter when it is well packed, and ended up being a 7 mile run with a few hundred feet of climbing and descent. I think I am ready for the spring thaw, and some truly muddy trails!

Google Earth of the Run

Since this run was on a road, at least in the summer, I thought it would be useful to show where it is on Google Maps as well.

Early Spring at Texas Falls

The Shakespeare (and Steinbeck) phrase “Now is the winter of our discontent” seems to be very applicable to the past few months.  I usually fill the pages of this blog with new discoveries on my cross country skis during the deep winter months, and although the Rikert ski touring area has managed to stay mostly open through Herculanean efforts, as well as snowmaking, most would agree that the nordic opportunities this winter were among the weakest in many years.  So, with the weekend’s warm sunny weather, and the almost complete disappearance of this winter’s thin veneer of snow, I set out for my first substantive trail run of the season.  I have long known that the forest service road heading north from the well known roadside attraction in Hancock, Texas Falls, makes for a nice run on a hot summer afternoon or early evening.  In fact, a description of the run on this rarely driven dirt (but accessible to non-4WD autos) was the subject of one of my earliest posts on this blog.

One  particular side trail has caught my eye in the past while running in this area – near the top of the maintained road, there is a snowmobile heading straight ahead when the road veers right.  I have never explored this trail in the past due to the fact that it always seems to be overgrown with thigh-butt deep growth in the heat of the summer, but I have always assumed that it would make for good running in the winter or early spring, given that it would be well-packed down by snowmobile traffic.  So, with a little time off on a Saturday morning, I made this my destination.

Reaching the lot nearest to the falls themselves I parked my car, and walked to the bridge offering views of the small gorge and the falls themselves.  Given the minimal snow cover this year, the falls, while attractive, were not nearly as impressive as I have seen them during the snowmelt in past springs! An even better photographic angle of the falls is afforded by clambering down into the small gorge, but the ice deposited along the rock walls dissuaded me from attempting it this time around.

Texas Falls

Texas Falls

Having snapped my shot at the start of the run, I headed north, beginning my climb. One of my favorite things about running in the spring is how curiosities obscured by the cover of summer become readily apparent before the vegetation leafs out. This run was no exception – as I approached the developed picnic area on the left, I noticed some well built rock cairns in the midst of the streambed. This was surprising, as during most winters these ethereal sculptures are wiped out by the ice and spring runoff.  I have often thought it would be fun to make one of these, with spray paint on the rocks to make the cairns look like a stack of jelly beans.  Maybe this year!

Streambed Cairns

Streambed Cairns

After about a half mile on the road, I reached the point where the forest service road is blocked to traffic, and kept open only for snowmobilers and skiers for the winter months. The gate was open, however, although I saw little evidence that the road above this point had gathered much interest from the March drivers, although I suspect it is easily passable by passenger cars. I did see a sign that one of the resident moose had chosen the path of least resistance on its way down the mountain not long before I passed through. I could tell the moose must be a well-informed runner, as the tracks seemed to stay on the crest of the road, right down the middle. I learned the hard way 20 years ago, that running consistently on the left side of our highly “bowed” dirt roads in Vermont can lead to one hell of a case of IT Band tendonitis.
Deer Tracks

Most of this part of the run is a relentless climb up the dirt road, which opens up at 2.25 miles with excellent views of the smaller summits just to the east of the main ridge of the Green Mts.

Mountain Tops

Mountain Tops

At this point, the main road, which I have run frequently, veers to the right to its conclusion in about .25 miles. The aforementioned snowmobile continues in a direct straight(north) line from here, and it was almost as bare of snow as the prior forest service road had been. In fact, at the higher altitude, the ground was still well frozen making for an excellent running surface – not nearly as muddy as I expected it to be. From this point, it was an easy-to-follow run on a double track primitive road, most definitely not suitable to car traffic, although signs of recent tree harvesting was apparent, indicating that they had gotten some pretty heavy equipment up this route. In a short while, the icy snow pack on the trail got challenging enough under foot that I stopped and slipped on my “Microspikes” over my running shoes, more for peace of mind than anything, and kept these on for the last mile of my uphill run, and the first mile of the descent. At 3.5 miles into the run, I reached the height of land on this trail, and at this highest altitude (about 2200 ft) there was considerably more snow, and a few ice bound ponds alongside the trail.

Frozen Pond

Frozen Pond

At this point, the trail continued on, with an immediate descent, and while still curious as to its final destination, I knew I had family commitments to return to, so I turned around and retraced my steps back to my waiting car, for a run just a little shy of 7 miles, with about 900 ft of vertical climb and descent. After uploading the GPS track of my run onto Google Earth, I could guess that had I proceeded another mile or two to the north, I would have crossed one of the Forest Service roads heading into the mountains west of Granville Center VT off of Rt 100. I am planning on making these roads the target of scouting out new trail running routes this summer!

Google Earth Projection of the Run

Google Earth Projection of the Run

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

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