Tag Archives: Middlebury College Snow Bowl

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!

Sugar Hill Reservoir in the Spring

In this blog, I have often sung the praises of the trail runs accessible from the Brooks Road trailhead, reached after a few hundred yards on the forest service road on the right between the Rikert ski touring area and the Snow Bowl.  The easiest run from here, terrain-wise is a roughly 9 mile run which I have described in the past, albeit six years ago.  A good chunk of this run actually takes place on Brooks Road itself, a forest service road which is open to cars during the summer months, although rarely driven, and is used by snowmobilers and cross-country skiers in the winter.  In late March?  Since it has no snow anymore, and probably never had much this winter, it is closed to snowmobiles, but has not yet been opened to other motor vehicles, making it even better for running.

The run starts off with the most challenging climbing of the route in the first mile and a half on the dirt surface, until it levels off for another mile, reaching the point where the snowmobile trail up from the Sugar Hill Reservoir joins from the right.  Those looking for a shorter run or hike can just take a right turn here, for a 6 mile out and back!  On this run, however, I will be returning by this side trail.

Sugar Hill Reservoir Connection

Sugar Hill Reservoir Connection

Another mile on the dirt road, and another climb, not as long and steep as the climb at the start of the road, brought me to the high point of the run, with the total vertical climb a modest 700 ft. One of the big hurdles for road runners transitioning to the trails, especially competitively in Vermont, is the challenge of getting used to long, sometimes relentless climbs. I have found that this section of dirt road makes for a good place to time trial to measure one’s progress in the hills. Since it is on a dirt road, the footing is consistent, eliminating the variable of trail condition, so I will run this quite a few times each season, making a mental note of my time on the ascent, watching how my times get faster as the season progresses.

After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the upper reaches of the Sucker Brook, I headed on the trail into the woods, taking a right turn onto a ski and mountain bike trail which is part of the Blueberry Hill network.  This particular trail used to be a regularly groomed part of the Inn’s system, but has not been groomed in the last few years due to the destruction of several small, but critical bridges along the trail by Hurricane Irene.  The Moosalamoo Association, a non-profit, is currently raising funds for their repair, but fortunately the bridge washouts do not affect the use of these trails for running once the snow is gone.

Staying on this trail for a little over a mile, and veering gradually to the right, this route took me to the dirt road access connecting the Goshen-Ripton road to the reservoir, and I took the right turn towards the reservoir.  This road provides easy access for boaters and fishermen who need the convenience of driving to haul their gear to the lakeside.  I have enjoyed noticing quirky rock cairns, built and left alongside trails and streams, and commented on them in past blog entries.  On this run, I noticed a few rounded rocks, far too large to have been placed there by humans,  neatly stacked alongside the road.  Perhaps the glaciers didn’t want us to get lost?

Glacial Cairn

Glacial Cairn

 

A few minutes on the dirt road finally took me to the shores of the Sugar Hill Reservoir.  This body of water was created exactly 100 years ago as the highest altitude component of the Silver Lake hydroelectric project, which culminates far below on the shores of Lake Dunmore.  While this scenic lake is open to recreational use, it’s primary function is to store water for the hydroelectric project downstream, as well as flood control, and as a result its depth fluctuates tremendously, season to season and year to year.  This spring, with our weak snowfall, the water level is particularly low, although it was interesting to see that it was still almost entirely frozen over still despite our warm late winter.

I also noticed a fair number of “improvements” since my last description of a run here.  There used to be a quirky looking gate across the section of trail heading over the reservoir dam, clearly built to as not to behead errant mountain bikers, but this has been replaced by a more decorative forest service gate, and to my surprise, a mailbox.  You’ve got mail?  Out of curiosity, I opened the mailbox and saw that it held a logbook to be filled out by those passing through, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to sign it with my blog moniker.  A little later down the trail, I realized that I should have added some sort of comment along the lines of “Happy Easter Egg Hunting”, since it was the day before Easter.

You've got Mail!

You’ve got Mail!

 

The next short section involved crossing the reservoir dam, and locating the trail on the far side, offering a snowmobile connection between the water and Brooks Road, and this involves a short climb of a little over a half mile, with one final view of the reservoir through the trees, which will soon be obscured as the season leafs out.

Reservoir Views

Reservoir Views

Returning to the Brooks Road in this way, I took the left turn for the easy descent back to my car, and the conclusion of this scenic, and despite the mileage, not terribly challenging run.

Google Earth of the run

Google Earth of the run

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

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

Stick Season above the Snow Line

Stick season can be a tough time of the year for outdoor enthusiasts.  As the last of the foliage is blown off the trees, the days get shorter and colder without the distraction offered by the ample snows of winter.  While the occasional day with bright blue sky and crisp late fall air can offer a reprieve, it seems that cold rain and grey skies are more abundant than other seasons of the year.  That said, a brief glimpse of acceptable weather over the weekend inspired me to seek out one last long mountain run to close out the trailrunning season, at least at higher elevations.  Autumn yard chores, questionable weather, and other assorted responsibilities kept me busy until late afternoon, but I finally hit the trail at 3:30 pm, confident that there would be ample time to squeeze in a run before darkness set in on the last day before the end of daylight savings time.

Once again, I sought out a new running variation from my favorite trailhead entry into the Moosalamoo Region, the Brooks Road Parking lot.  In the course of one of my runs last year, entitled “Almost Like Running up Worth Mountain“, I attempted to summit Worth Mountain, the peak just south of the Middlebury College Snow Bowl from the north, passing through the Snow Bowl.  Much to my bemusement upon completion of the run, I only realized after completion of the run that the high point which I had assumed was the Worth Mountain summit, was actually a subsidiary summit, and the true summit was a mile or so further south.  I knew I had to get back to the actual summit at some point, and knowing that the summit could also be reached from the south on the Long Trail, I put this run on the “I have to try this in 2010″ mental list.  Well, 2010 is fading fast, so this was my last opportunity to attempt this run.

Once again, my entry to the mountains coincided with the climb of Brooks Rd. for the first segment of the run, but instead of veering to the west toward the Sugar Hill Reservoir, or the Sucker Brook Trail, I headed east at the dirt road’s terminus, taking the left spur trail leading to the Sucker Brook Shelter on the Long Trail.  This connecting trail made for about a mile of pretty easy running until the last few hundred yards of ascent to the actual shelter.  At this point, there was a healthy dusting of snow along the trail, but it was still easy to follow due to ample blue painted tree blazes, and the obvious indentation in the ground from the boots of countless hikers over the years.  I am sure that this easily accessible shelter is heavily used during the summer months, but at this time of the year, there was no sign that it had seen any recent occupants.

Sucker Brook Shelter

Immdediately beyond the shelter, the Long Trail proper was attained, and I headed left, planning to pass to the north over Worth Mt. to the Snow Bowl before returning to my car. A short way up the ridge I was treated to a limited westerly view, and realized that I had to maintain a decent pace in order to complete the run before sunset, but also knew that I would be fine as long as I got as far as the Snow Bowl before darkness, as the trailfinding from that point on would be pretty easy.

Late Afternoon Skies

Of course, the trail got pretty slippery with even the modest increases in altitude at this point, and the Long Trail is not exactly a runner’s superhighway. Routefinding in the fresh snow and diminishing light got a little tricky in a few places, but I was determined to keep this adventure from becoming a misadventure – the last thing I needed was a headline announcing “Local Trailrunner Found Frozen”, or worse still “Boneheaded Trailrunner Rescued”. These concerns aside, this was a gorgeous stretch of trail made even prettier by the inch or two of fresh wet snow which clung like lacework to the altitude-thinned trees. After a seemingly endless stretch of ups and downs I passed a lone backpacker heading south. I was comforted by the fact that he assured me that my guess that I had about a mile and a half to reach the top of the Snow Bowl was correct. I also knew he had further to go before sunset than I did, but he was probably smart enough to be carrying a headlamp. As expected, I hit the top of the Snow Bowl with just a few minutes to spare before darkness – definitely cutting it a little closer than I should have, though.

Top of the Snow Bowl

An easy run down the Voter Trail brought me to the Snow Bowl parking lot under suboptimal lighting, but not before one last treat – a young bull moose greeted me as I rounded a corner on the lower stretchs of the trail. I was a little too close for comfort to have that good a view of him in the rapidly diminishing light, but fortunately he was not interested in this odd spectre dashing down the slopes, and he loped away in the opposite direction before I could snap his portrait. A short jog up and out of the Snow Bowl parking lot, and a little longer, but fast descent on paved road back to Brooks Rd. and my car brought the run to a close. Given the lateness of the hour and near total darkness, I attempted to call home to the undoubtedly justifiably concerned Mrs. Trailrunner, but the lack of any cell signal this high up on the mountainside prohibited this courtesy, so I hopped in the car and coasted home. This run covered a little less than 11 miles, much of it on rugged trail with slow going, and an altitude difference of 1800 vertical feet between the lowest and highest altitude, but probably a lot more climbing than that given the nature of the terrain. This made for a great way to wind down the running season, so bring on the snow!

Google Map of the run, looking roughly east

In case you find the maps in this blog difficult to view, or would just like to see the photography at a larger size, I recommend viewing the blog in the Mozilla Firefox browser, which allows you to right click (for PC’s at least, I am not lucky enough to have a Mac) on the illustration with the “Open Link in New Window” command for easy viewing.

Altitude Profile

The Grand Moosalamoo Traverse

The Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, the region which encompasses many of the runs on this blog, is one of the wonderfully underutilized outdoor resources in the northeast.   This region, roughly delineated by Rt. 125 (the Middlebury Gap road) to the north, the main ridge of the Green Mountains to the east, Goshen and Brandon to the south, and Lake Dunmore to the west, provides a treasure trove of places to explore right at our doorstep in Addison County.  While it lacks the alpine terrain and rugged mountain scenery of the Adirondacks or even the higher peaks along the Long Trail, its smaller rolling peaks, and numerous lakes and meadows, forests and streams could provide a lifetime of outdoor recreation for most people.  In other words, with its less drastic,  comfortably scenic terrain,  it is an ideal place for trail running!

I have been eyeing my maps recently, looking for interesting “point-to-point” runs which might make for good runs with friends to share the driving at each end.   A free, detailed, and USUALLY (note foreshadowing) accurate map of the Moosalamoo Region is available, free of charge, at the Middlebury office of the Green Mountain National Forest, just south of town on Rt. 7.   I had some suckers, I mean fellow runners lined up to work out a car shuttle and accompany me on one of these runs, in the persons of a few of our summer research students at Bicentennial Hall.  Actually, since these guys are on the varsity cross country running, I had my work cut out for me.  Fortunately, I sort of knew the way, they did not,  and I refused to part company with my map.

This run’s goal was to run a complete traverse of the Moosalamoo region, without actually climbing Mt. Moosalamoo itself, for obvious reasons.  With this in mind, we started in the far Northeast corner of the region at the now familiar Brooks Road trailhead, right below the Snow Bowl, a short distance from Rt. 125.  The first few miles of this run follow the route described a few months ago in the posting entitled “A Tale of Two Weekends.”  As a result, almost all of the climbing was done in the first three and a half miles of the run, the ascent of Brooks Road.  From the start, my two young trail running acolytes were chomping at the bit to dash up the first ascent, but I reminded them at I was more or less the same age as their fathers, so they relented.  I also reminded them that it was my car awaiting us at Lake Dunmore, and I had the key.   Smart Kids!  The weather at the start was cool and partly cloudy, ideal for running, but as we proceeded up the dirt road, the rain began, and gradually increased in intensity.  By the time we reached the terminus of the Brooks Road, it was an all-out downpour.

Running in the rain

Heading back into the woods for true trailrunning, we turned right onto the Sucker Brook Trail for a few miles of gradual descent through the Blueberry Hill nordic ski trails.  This run would be more or less running parallel with the Sucker Brook over its duration, and we would run closely alongside it again at the run’s completion.  When the trail emerged from the woods onto the Sugar Hill Reservoir access road, instead of turning right to return to the start, we bore left downhill until we reached to Ripton-Goshen road.

At this point, we were heading into terrain where I had never traveled, so I was depending on my trusty Moosalamoo Region map for guidance.  Despite the fact that it was now quite soggy, it was still legible.  The map indicated that a trail leading towards our desired destination should be found immediately across the road, but we quickly realized that it was passable, but far more overgrown than we had anticipated.  It appeared to be more or less unused, since the previous editing of my trusted map!  Rather than loose face with my more fleet-footed young friends, I realized that a right turn on the Ripton-Goshen road should lead us to another VAST snowmobile trail, which in turn should get us to Lake Dunmore.  This time, my directions fortunately proved more accurate, and the desired trail appeared on cue after about a quarter mile.  A left turn on this well-marked VAST trail wound through some of the least traveled sections of the route, and after a few miles concluding with a very steep, but short climb, joined up with the dirt road connecting Silver Lake with Goshen, part of the first Silver Lake route described on this blog last summer.

While all of us were starting to tire a little at this point, the sun broke through for what promised to be a brilliant sunset, so rather than merely descend on this dirt road to our waiting car, we threw in one last short climb, taking a left turn until we reached to Goshen parking lot for Silver Lake, where we finally began the final descent.  The trail down to the Leicester Hollow trail was a little bit slippery from the rain, but taking it easy made for a safe trip.  A right turn on the Leicester Hollow trail, followed by a short stretch along the shores of Silver Lake and a final descent down to the Falls of Lana parking lot could have finished a great run.  As we ran alongside the Sucker Brook once again, we noticed the setting sun shining through the trees over the top of the Falls lookout, so we had to stop and enjoy the view.

Sunset over Lake Dunmore

After soaking up the early evening sun, we finally completed the run.  This ended up being one of the longest runs to date on this blog, measuring in at slightly more than 11 miles, with about a thousand feet of climbing, offset by an even greater amount of descent.  Needless to say, I am eyeing my map (a new copy, after all, it is free!) for other good point-to-point runs to report on later this summer.  The Google Earth/GPS track of this run really shows off the breadth of terrain covered, from the Snow Bowl in the Northeast corner, past several major bodies of water, to its conclusion near the shores of Lake Dunmore.

Altitude Profile

Norske Trail to Brown Gate Trail

While the snow cover is much improved from my last posting, the gorgeous spring-like weather could bring the ski season to an early close, so I had to get out over the weekend and enjoy the deep, but increasingly slushy snow.  You will also notice something very different about this post.  As a rule of thumb, I am usually a purist in that I earn my descents by putting out the effort to gain altitude first.  But today, I felt that a lobster analogy was quite appropriate.  Most of the time, the effort of cracking open the lobster, and prying the meat out of its exoskeleton is just the cost of enjoying its sweet flavor.  But every now and then, as a treat, you just have to say “to heck with it” and order the Lobster Newburg.  Today was my Newburg day.  How so?  I cheated and took the bus uphill, making it a tour with far more descent than ascent.

My primary destination today was The Norske Trail, a short wilderness run which begins just above the entrance to the Middlebury College Snowbowl on Rt. 125, and concludes at the Rikert Ski touring area.  Instead of doing this route as an “up and back”, I made use of the ACTR bus which picks up passengers at Breadloaf and concludes at the Snowbowl.  The trailhead for the Norske Trail is a 5 minute walk uphill on Rt. 125 from the turnoff to the Snowbowl.

trailhead

Trailhead Marker

The Norske Trail is much more of a wilderness trail than those in the ski touring areas, or snowmobile trails of earlier posts.  It starts off with a series of modest climbs and descents, and despite the lack of grooming, is never particularly challenging.  While the trail never seems to get heavy use, you can pretty much count on the trail being broken within a day or two after every good dumping of snow.  Cruising along through the open hardwood forest, I eventually came to an overlook, with good views across the valley to Moosalamoo, and the meadows of the Breadloaf campus.  I could see from the well-beaten snow where previous ski and snowshoe parties had also enjoyed the vistas since the last storm.

Norske Vista

Norske Vista

Continuing the gradual descent, one eventually gets to a section where there are several intersecting trails, including the Burnt Hill trail, an easy summer hiking trail which reaches the top of the Green Mt. Ridge.  I chose to follow the ski trail marked with blue diamonds until it intersected with Forest Service 59.  At this point, I had been descending at a leisurely pace, covering a little over 4 km in about 45 min.  I knew that a right turn on FS 59, and a left turn onto the Gilman Trail would bring me to the Rikert Center in about 10 min, and I wasn’t ready to call it a day, so I instead stayed on FS 59 for another km or so until I got to the groomed descent on the Brown Gate Trail, extending my afternoon’s ski a little deeper into the touring center.  The remainder of this route is made up of the same trails described in the opposite direction at the beginning of my post entitled “Robert Frost Cabin“.  Immediately after crossing the bridge over the beaver pond outlet, I spied a notice affixed to a nearby tree.  Curious as to its message, I stopped for a moment to read it.  Needless to say, I am relieved to note that some of my fellow backwoods sojourners are concerned for my safe passage in the presence of fierce wildlife.

buffalo

Watch out for Angry Buffalo!

An easy cruise on Rikert Center trails brought me back to my car at the touring center.  This was a relatively short tour, covering a little over 9 km, with an overall descent of about 600 ft, but with enough ups and downs, and less manicured trail to keep it scenic and challenging.

As a postscript, when I arrived at Rikert to catch the bus up to the start of the day’s ski, I was a little surprised to see an older gentleman skiing in a tux and stovepipe hat, as well as a much younger woman cruising on by attired in a jogbra and blue jeans.  Unbeknownst to me, Sunday was the day for the rescheduled Breadloaf Citizen’s Race, a “Just for the Fun of It” race which I have participated in on many occasions in years past.  While I was sad to have missed the race, I was glad to see the race go on in the same spirit of semi-competetive fun which has been its hallmark for decades.

Google Earth of the Route

Google Earth of the Route

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile