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Easter Weekend on the Chandler Ridge

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

While it doesn’t seem that long ago that I made my last post, I was kind of surprised when I realized it had been a month and a half.  This is always the hardest time of the year to come up with interesting runs, worthy of description on a trail running blog.  The trails are usually a crusty, icy mess, and the snow has receded to the point where skiing is no longer an option.  So, I was forced to the roads (or worse still, to the treadmill), and frankly, I don’t feel any need to bother writing about our intermittently muddy or icy roads in March.  After last week’s “Late April Fool” snowstorm, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get back to the trails!  However, a few slightly warmer days, and some Saturday afternoon sun on the day before Easter brought hope of a real spring, and set me out in search of a good long run.  While significant mud was a given, I was more concerned that I might find ice and snow at higher altitudes, especially in shady hollows, so I headed to one of my favorite lower altitude starting points, the Falls of Lana trailhead just south of Branbury State Park on the Lake Dunmore Road (Rt 53).  Enroute to the trailhead, I was amazed how fast the ice on Lake Dunmore had melted – six weeks ago, the ice was two feet thick, and trucks were driving on the ice, but now, there was not an ice floe to be seen.

I started up the steep climb to Silver Lake on the heavily used trail (really a 4WD road) which starts on Rt 53, and even at the lower sections, there were a few icy patches remaining on the trail, but most of the route was open, and not even that muddy.  As I neared Silver Lake, I met up with my colleagues Molly and AJ, along with Molly’s kids out for a Sunday afternoon hike, and after exchanging pleasantries, continued up to Silver Lake, reaching it after about a mile and a half.  At first glance, Silver Lake also appeared to be free of ice.  I headed right over the dam, and followed the lakeside trail for about a half mile, at which point the trail climbing to the Chandler Ridge, the scenic ridge separating Silver Lake from Lake Dunmore, diverged to the right.  I did notice, however, that the last sheets of ice were clinging to the shady south shoreline.

 

Last Ice Floes of WInter on Silver Lake

Last Ice Floes of WInter on Silver Lake

The Chandler Ridge Trail has been upgraded over the last few years to be rideable by mountain bikers, although it would probably too technical for my riding skills. On the other hand, this level of maintenance is perfect for runners who want to run true “single track” paths, without significant technical challenges to the runner. The climbs and descents are built into gently undulating switchbacks, and the trail designers did a great job of seeking the path of least resistance by weaving its way between the east and west side of the ridge. The leaves which had accumulated since last autumn did briefly obscure the trail in a few places, but every time I stopped and scratch my head, wondering whether or not I was still on the trail, a quick survey of the surroundings quickly made one of the blue blazes marking the trail apparent, and guided me on my way. Early spring is a great time to run this trail, which as hoped, was completely free of snow or ice, as the bare trees allow for views which are superior to those in the summer, when the leaves on the trees obscure most views. I stopped for a moment to take a shot of the southern end of Lake Dunmore, and as I took the shot, I noticed the remains of a charred tree, the which probably bore the brunt of a lightning strike at some time in the not-too-distant past.

Dunmore Views

Dunmore Views

A short while later along the ridge I had an even bigger treat – literally – a black bear sighting! As I came around one corner, I came face to face (OK this particular bear wasn’t showing me his face, as that was buried in a tree stump, probably rooting around for bugs or other such delectables. As soon as he saw me, he made the right decision and ran away, unlike what happened in my lucky bear sighting last summer, when the bear ran at me instead of away. Of course, this time, with my fortune, the bear ran down the trail, exactly where I was planning to go. So, I gave the bear a decent head start before continuing my route and then continued my run, sporadically breaking out into a very loud and raucous impromptu song which I will simply name “Here I come bear!”. Don’t bother looking for it on Itunes.

The rest of the run along the Chandler Ridge was a lovely, steady run through the hardwood forest. I also noticed a decent view to the southeast in the direction of Brandon Gap, a view which I had never noticed previously from this trail. Eventually, the trail ended at a “T” when it hit the much broader Minnie Baker trail, and here I took a right, descending down to Rt.53. Shortly before I reached the road, and when it was in sight, a snowmobile trail veered to the right, and I decided to follow it, in order to extend my time on the trails. Mistake! The run, which had not been too bad by Vermont Mud Season standards up to this point, turned into a total sneaker-sucking quagmire. Fortunately this was a short trail segment, and I quickly joined the road for the much easier last few miles back to my parked car. I did notice, however, that there was an unlooked-for talisman of Sunday’s holiday in the name of a road, which I had never noticed before. Happy Easter everyone!

jelly bean

Happy Easter!

 

At the completion of my run, my GPS watche showed that this was a slightly over 11 mile run – not bad for early spring! However, when I tried to download the complete track from the run, I was dismayed to find that I had some sort of malfunction, and thus I have no complete track to offer. I have blogged the first half of this run previously, so I can share that this route included a slightly less than 1000 vertical foot climb. Hopefully, at some point I will have the chance to repeat this route, and will have a GPS track to share.

Easter Weekend on the Chandler Ridge

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

While it doesn’t seem that long ago that I made my last post, I was kind of surprised when I realized it had been a month and a half.  This is always the hardest time of the year to come up with interesting runs, worthy of description on a trail running blog.  The trails are usually a crusty, icy mess, and the snow has receded to the point where skiing is no longer an option.  So, I was forced to the roads (or worse still, to the treadmill), and frankly, I don’t feel any need to bother writing about our intermittently muddy or icy roads in March.  After last week’s “Late April Fool” snowstorm, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get back to the trails!  However, a few slightly warmer days, and some Saturday afternoon sun on the day before Easter brought hope of a real spring, and set me out in search of a good long run.  While significant mud was a given, I was more concerned that I might find ice and snow at higher altitudes, especially in shady hollows, so I headed to one of my favorite lower altitude starting points, the Falls of Lana trailhead just south of Branbury State Park on the Lake Dunmore Road (Rt 53).  En route to the trailhead, I was amazed how fast the ice on Lake Dunmore had melted – six weeks ago, the ice was two feet thick, and trucks were driving on the ice, but now, there was not an ice floe to be seen.

I started up the steep climb to Silver Lake on the heavily used trail (really a 4WD road, although not open to motor vehicles) which starts on Rt 53, and even at the lower sections, there were a few icy patches remaining on the trail, but most of the route was open, and not even that muddy.  As I neared Silver Lake, I met up with my colleagues Molly and AJ, along with Molly’s kids out for a Sunday afternoon hike, and after exchanging pleasantries, continued up to Silver Lake, reaching it after about a mile and a half.  At first glance, Silver Lake also appeared to be free of ice.  I headed right over the dam, and followed the lakeside trail for about a half mile, at which point the trail climbing to the Chandler Ridge, the scenic ridge separating Silver Lake from Lake Dunmore, diverged to the right.  I did notice, however, that the last sheets of ice were clinging to the shady south shoreline of this higher elevation lake.

 

Last Ice Floes of WInter on Silver Lake

Last Ice Floes of WInter on Silver Lake

The Chandler Ridge Trail has been upgraded over the last few years to be rideable by mountain bikers, although it would probably too technical for my riding skills. On the other hand, this level of maintenance is perfect for runners who want to run true “single track” paths, without significant technical challenges to the runner. The climbs and descents are built into gently undulating switchbacks, and the trail designers did a great job of seeking the path of least resistance by weaving its way between the east and west side of the ridge. The leaves which had accumulated since last autumn did briefly obscure the trail in a few places, but every time I stopped and scratch my head, wondering whether or not I was still on the trail, a quick survey of the surroundings quickly made one of the blue blazes marking the trail apparent, and guided me on my way. Early spring is a great time to run this trail, which as hoped, was completely free of snow or ice, as the bare trees allow for views which are superior to those in the summer, when the leaves on the trees obscure most views. I stopped for a moment to take a shot of the southern end of Lake Dunmore, and as I took the shot, I noticed the remains of a charred tree, the which probably bore the brunt of a lightning strike at some time in the not-too-distant past.

Dunmore Views

Dunmore Views

A short while later along the ridge I had an even bigger treat – literally – a black bear sighting! As I came around one corner, I came face to face with a bear. OK this particular bear wasn’t showing me his face, as that was buried in a tree stump, probably rooting around for bugs or other such delectables, so “face to bearbutt” would be a more suitable description of the encounter. As soon as he saw me, he made the right decision and ran away, unlike what happened in my lucky bear sighting last summer, when the bear ran at me instead of away. Of course, this time, with my fortune, the bear ran down the trail, exactly where I was planning to go. So, I gave the bear a decent head start before continuing my route and then continued my run, sporadically breaking out into a very loud and raucous impromptu song which I will simply name “Here I come bear!”. Don’t bother looking for it on Itunes.

The rest of the run along the Chandler Ridge was a lovely, steady run through the hardwood forest. I also noticed a decent view to the southeast in the direction of Brandon Gap, a view which I had never noticed previously from this trail. Eventually, the trail ended at a “T” when it hit the much broader Minnie Baker trail, and here I took a right, descending down to Rt.53. Shortly before I reached the road, and when it was in sight, a snowmobile trail veered to the right, and I decided to follow it, in order to extend my time on the trails. Mistake! The run, which had not been too bad by Vermont Mud Season standards up to this point, turned into a total sneaker-sucking quagmire. Fortunately this was a short trail segment, and I quickly joined the road for the much easier last few miles back to my parked car. I did notice, however, that there was an unlooked-for talisman of Sunday’s holiday in the name of a road, which I had never noticed before. Happy Easter everyone!

jelly bean

Happy Easter!

 

At the completion of my run, my GPS watch showed that this was a slightly over 11 mile run – not bad for early spring! However, when I tried to download the complete track from the run, I was dismayed to find that I had some sort of malfunction, and thus I have no complete track to offer. I have blogged the first half of this run previously, so I can share that this route included a slightly less than 1000 vertical foot climb. Hopefully, at some point I will have the chance to repeat this route, and will have a GPS track to share.

End of the Summer on the Long Trail

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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

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

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

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

A Curious Cairn

A Curious Cairn

 

 

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

Bailey Falls Vista

Bailey Falls Vista

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

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

epic run

Google Earth of the Run

 

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Penstocks to Power

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

For this run, I am returning to one of my favorite destinations, Silver Lake, the pristine pond perched on the hillside about a mile and a half above Lake Dunmore.  I have noticed, and blogged about some sections of the pipeline connecting Silver Lake to the small hydroelectric plant just south of Branbury State Park.  So, I thought it would be fun to follow this pipeline from start to finish, and this required that I start the run at the smaller unmarked parking lot just past the small bridge immediately south of Branbury Park, rather than the usual Falls of Lana parking lot.  Beginning in this lot, I immediately headed towards the clearing where the pipeline completes its journey down from Silver Lake, and scrambled, rather than ran on the unmarked but easy to follow footpath which ascends alongside the pipeline.  While the terrain really wasn’t good for true running, this ascent, rather than the more heavily traveled double track path most frequently used, had the advantage of an excellent view of the longest cascade in the tiered series of drops constituting the Falls of Lana. The area around the falls is a very cliffy, ledgy area with numerous opportunities for injury, so I found it interesting that of all the viewpoints, this was the only one with fencing to protect errant runners. 

Falls of Lana behind safety fencing

Falls of Lana behind safety fencing

Shortly after this overprotective fencing, I joined the main trail, where I had the option of bushwacking up the steep hill, literally following the pipeline in what would be a steep scramble, or actually following the normal trail and rejoining the pipeline further up the hill where it ran a more runnable course. I chose the latter, and ran up the main Silver Lake trail for about a mile until I reached the point where a major trail broke off to the right, meeting up with the pipeline at the point where the tall venting tower easily seen from below juts out from the mountainside. Here, reading the signage, I learned a new word – “penstock” apparently what I had been calling a pipeline is also known by this noun as well! I also noted, the sign warning of dire consequences for walking on the penstock, right alongside a ladder used for…..climbing on the pentock!

Dire Penstock Warnings

Dire Penstock Warnings

From this point on, I had the opportunity to follow the penstock/pipeline across more level terrain, and in fact, the running was easiest right across the top of it, as long as I was careful not to trip over the bulges where segments of pipeline were jointed together. Much of this section was flanked by ferns, until I reached a point where the brush had been recently cleared. This portion of the run concluded at the base of the Silver Lake dam, Yes, Silver Lake, like Lake Dunmore, is a naturally occurring lake which has been enhanced in size and utility through the use of damming. Unlike Lake Dunmore, which was enlarged for recreational use, Silver Lake has more practical purposes – hydroelectric power and flood control!

Climbing to the top of the Silver Lake Dam, I followed the easy  lakeshore path, until reaching the small beach, before taking the spur trail heading to the hike-in campground alongside this very scenic lake.  At a small footbridge over a sluiceway, the second, less well known segment of this hydroelectric project becomes apparent.  I was also surprised to see that this sluiceway, for the first time in my memory, was devoid of water.  My suspicion was that with the incessant  rains of the last month, water was being withheld or diverted to keep water levels in Silver Lake and/or Lake Dunmore at safe levels.

Dry Sluiceway above Silver lake

 

 

I tried to follow the side of this sluiceway, but the footing at it’s edge was not quite secure enough, so I doubled back and found a small trail which brought me back to the main Silver Lake trail/dirt road, and followed it up the hill for a few yards, reaching the point where the sluiceway submerged beneath the road from my right, and at this point I noted a small building to my left whose function was undoubtedly connected to this segment of the pipeline. I turned back into the woods at this point, mostly running along the high berm covering the pipeline, although in some sections, it seemed to submerge, rendering the trail more level. The running through here was very nice for about a mile, but the trail disappeared into the semi-open hillside eventually. I followed the cleared section paralleling Sucker Brook, but for this short stretch it was once again more of a bushwhack than a trail run, but this rough section only went on for about a quarter of a mile, when it joined a maintained dirt road which climbed up the hill in front of me. This wound its way up the hill to the little known body of water known as the Sucker Brook reservoir, not to be confused with the much larger Sugar Hill reservoir, which confusingly, is the further upstream source of Sucker Brook – got that? The Sucker Brook reservoir, which feeds this highest section of pipeline, and in turn, Silver Lake, has been more of a stagnant swamp than a pond in all of my previous visits, but the recent rains have swollen this body of water to the point that it was actually a rather pleasant place! The light rain on its surface, and the early summer daisies (my favorite wildflower!) starting to wilt as the midsummer Black-Eyed Susans came into bloom made for an attractive shoreline.

Sucker Brook Reservoir

Sucker Brook Reservoir

Continuing across the earthen dam forming this reservoir, I came to a surprise – a sign, in the middle of nowhere, telling the history of this dinky little pond! A fun fact – this small body of water was created in 1917, and at the time was the highest altitude earthen dam east of the Mississippi. Who knew? Especially since most outdoorspeople don’t even know it exists!

The run continued up a steep incline for a few hundred yards, until it joined the Silver Lake trail, and at this time, I decided I’d had enough of pipeline traipsing, so I took the easy way back to my car by taking the path of least resistance down to the Falls of Lana parking lot, and from there a short quarter mile run to the minor parking lot where my car was stowed. Overall, this was indeed a rather pleasant run, with a few short bushwacking or scrambling sections, a healthy dose of mud, and about 700-800 feet of climbing and descent in its 5.75 miles.

Google Earth of the Run

Google Earth of the Run

 

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

 

Fathers’ Day Moosamaloop

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Sunday of course, was the Y-chromosome version of the two “family holidays”, namely, Fathers’ Day.  So, after enjoying a pile of blueberry pancakes in bed (lovingly prepared by my daughter), complete with maple syrup which dripped off my fork and onto my t-shirt, followed by a few chores, I chose to spend part of the day on my own adventure before a planned evening of activities back with the Trailrunner family.  For this weekend’s run, I chose a loop over the top of Mount Moosalamoo, including one section of trail I had never previously explored.  To get to the trailhead,  I drove up Rt. 125 towards the Snow Bowl, but took the right turn onto the Ripton-Goshen Road a short distance past beautiful downtown Ripton.  A few miles down this well maintained dirt road, I took the right turn onto the road leading to the Moosalamoo Forest Service Campground.  A few short weeks ago, I did a run from this same parking lot, but instead of the first bits of Spring greenery, I was treated to full summer foliage, replete with the first glimpses of roadside daisies, my favorite flower.

Arriving in the parking lot immediately before the campground loop I could see that the weather was getting a little bit gloomier, but short of an immediate downpour, I saw no reason not to enjoy the run!  The first third of a mile or so meandered through the woods behind the campground, and joined an old lumber road for a short (and well marked) turn to the right, followed almost immediately by a left turn with a short steep descent down to the North Branch stream crossing bridge, the low point of the run.

Stream Crossing

Stream Crossing

From this point on, it was a relentless, but rarely steep uphill run for the better part of the next two miles.This particular climb features prominently in The Moosalamoo Ultra, a MUCH longer trail run which I featured in this blog last year. The trail angled along the side of Mt. Moosalamoo for most of the way, and the low ground cover combined with the mature hardwood forest accentuated the sloped appearance.

Sidehill Running

Sidehill Running

At the two mile mark, the road splits, with the right turn constituting the long descent of the Oak Ridge Trail, and the left turn heading towards the Moosalamoo Summit.  About a quarter mile from the summit, my head turned ever-so-slightly and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a large and rather bold creature who burst out of the trees and over the grass, edging its way towards me. Holy mother of god! What is it? No, the words that were being screamed inside the crowded confines of my busy mind were not ones I would chose to print. So much for peace and quiet, right? Anyway, I turned and strained my eyes (I leave my glasses behind on runs) to confirm the status and stature of the intruder. A squirrel? A stray dog? Nope! It was a fully grown bear, coming rapidly towards me. I have seen bears a handful of times in my life, but this one did not turn and run away as all the others had – it was coming right at me.

Anyway! I wanted to just watch her (I am guessing it was a she/sow guarding cubs), and even briefly reached for my camera until I realized she was coming at me, fast! I made a noise and waved my arms on purpose to see what would happen. Death wish? I don’t think so. She stopped maybe 10 yards away and probably not interested in eating me. Right? As she reared on her hind legs, I figured it was time to get out of there, so I backed off slowly, facing the bear, shouting and waving my arms, and when I disappeared over a ridge a minute later, I resumed my run, admittedly at a much faster pace.

Reaching the first of the twin peaks a few minutes later, I warned a family out for an afternoon hike to make plenty of noise on their descent. I offered an alternate route which bypassed the bear-infested trail, but they decided, probably correctly, that they would be more likely to come to harm getting lost in the woods than they would meeting up with a bear. I haven’t heard of any missing or eaten persons, so I presume they got out just fine. In addition to a few minutes of good conversation, I came across another treat – there, lying in the trail, was a live Luna Moth! I had never seen one of these graceful behemoths of the insect world before, and didn’t even know that they were native to Vermont! Entymologists claim that they are actually pretty common, so I wonder why they are so shy?

Luna Moth

Luna Moth

Moving from the first summit, to the second summit which actually has better views, and after a short steep descent, I came to the trail which would complete my loop, the left turn onto the Keewaydin Trail. This trail, appearing on most of the maps of the region, is one which I had never hiked or run on previously, but looked like a convenient means of returning to my car in a loop run, rather than a simple “out and back” on the same trail. While the Keewaydin trail was very well marked, it had the wear more characteristic of a herd path or hunter’s trail, rather than a maintained trail. In some places, the trail was covered in soft spongy moss – a sure sign that it is almost never traveled on! While it was fine for hiking, as long as you don’t mind wet feet, it was very slow going from my runner’s perspective. Nonetheless, it is always fun going through new terrain. After about 2 miles of descent, I came to the road connecting the Moosalamoo campground with the Voter Brook overlook, and took a left turn for the easy run down the dirt road, returning to my car in what was now a drizzly afternoon. A few soggy campers huddled around smoky fires, but the campground was mostly empty.

This loop would make for a fun half day hike for most hikers, and took considerably less than that as a trail run, although the Keewaydin Trail section wasn’t great for runners. The run was only about 5 and a half miles, but did have close to 1200 vertical feet of climbing and descent. This was definitely one of the most exciting runs I have been on in a long time!

Google Earth of the run, which began in the lower right hand corner

Google Earth of the run, which began in the lower right hand corner

Moosamaloop altitude profile

Altitude profile

 

Otter Creek Gorge(ous)

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

After what seemed like the better part of a week of cold, rainy weather, Sunday brought some gorgeous sun, so it seemed like a good day to blog a run.  I knew going into things that the trails were going to be very muddy, so any desire for dry feet was going to be futile.  In other words, what could be a better day for a low lying trail, alongside a river, which is muddy even in the driest spells of summer?  In previous runs, I had described the run through Wright Park (just north of the newly renovated Pulp Mill Bridge on the east side of Otter Creek) in either a northern loop of the TAM (The Trail Around Middlebury), or incorporating this section of trail in the course of a complete circuit on the TAM.  In both of these previous runs, upon reaching the Belden Dam, a few miles north of town, I continued straight towards the Morgan Horse Farm Road on the main loop of the TAM.  I also knew, however, that there was a spur trail on the TAM that made a sharp turn after crossing the dam, and that the trail signage indicated that this trail headed into a gorge.  Knowing nothing about what sights might be found, I decided to make this new stretch of trail the goal of this run.

I parked my car in the parking lot in front of the Freeman International Center (FIC) on the Middlebury College Campus.  A bonus point to older readers who know the 3-letter acronym this building was previously known by – and yes, I have used this as a bonus question on college exams!  I headed out on Weybridge St, took a right turn onto Pulp Mill Bridge Road, and ran through the covered bridge, before taking the immediate left turn past the old town dump towards Wright Park.  On previous runs through Wright Park, I had taken the “high road” – namely, the section of trail which remained on higher ground in the meadows and forest.  On this run, however, I decided to take the immediate left turn towards Otter Creek after entering the park, to enjoy the stretch of trail right alongside the river.  Given recent rains, the Otter Creek appeared engorged with water, and some of this high water caused the trail footing to be muddy and slippery.

Otter Creek below Pulp Mill Bridge

Otter Creek below Pulp Mill Bridge

The roughness of this section of trail spoke to its lack of traffic, but in addition to the pleasures of running alongside the creek, it had a few other quirks, including a semi abandoned picnic table by the water, and a well-maintained wooden “zig-zag” bridge traversing a boggly inlet. After crossing this curious bridge, the trail entered some denser forest while remaining close to the waters’ edge. One warning to runners however – There are quite a few rocky slaps in the trail, which can be very slippery when wet – and they always seem to be wet! One skidding tumble leading to scratched and bruised shins early in the run forced me to watch my footing in subsequent sections. I reached the Belden Dam, a small hydroelectric plant, however, at about the 3 mile mark (measured from my parked car) and crossed the two small suspension bridges over the dam. Pausing for a moment, I enjoyed the sight of the swollen river being disgorged over the top of the dam to the narrow rocky chutes below. On the west side, I began to explore the section of trail that was new to me, taking the sharp right turn. I was not sure what I would see here – given that this section is referred to as the Otter Creek Gorge, I had hoped that the trail would bring me alongside some precipices, and was disappointed to find that this was really not the case – the gorge is indeed a wilder refuge than most of the land surrounding the generally gentrified Otter Creek, but staying on the trail did not manage any rocky gorge scenery. Nonetheless, I am planning on returning at some point to bushwack closer to the waters’ edge. Nonetheless, this was a muddy, but pleasant run through the woods, with a few brief streamside sections.

Otter Creek below Belden Dam

Otter Creek below Belden Dam

After following the creek for close to a mile to the north, the trail started to veer to the left, and eventually reversed its course on the higher, but no drier ground. As the trail emerged from the forest into a well-kept meadow, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that somebody had placed a bench and picnic table here!

Farm Meadow

Farm Meadow

Shortly after this meadow, I came to a split in the trail – the left fork would take me back to the Belden Dam, and the right fork emerged from the woods shortly onto the easier running of Morgan Horse farm road. While I hated to abandon the trail for the roads, I was running out of time, and needing to bring this run to a close, chose the more rapid return offered by finishing the day with a few miles on the road. It is not like I had suffer doing this, of course, as the Morgan Horse Farm road is one of the most scenic stretches of pavement in Addison County. I passed by the fine Georgian home which was once the home of former Middlebury College President (and the man who had the foolishness to allow for my hiring!), Olin Robison, before reaching yet another meadow vista, this one framing a view of Mt. Abraham in the distance.

Morgan Horse Farm Views

Morgan Horse Farm Views

At this point, it was starting to get pretty hot outside, and in due time, I was back to Pulp Mill Bridge Road, the Middlebury College Campus, and my waiting car. The entire loop covered about 7.8 miles, but took longer than expected due to slow going in many slipper sections. Nonetheless, it was indeed a gorge(ous) route, and I am looking forward to further exploring out here when things are a little drier!

Google Earth of the Route

Google Earth of the Route

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Exploring Pine Hill

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

In keeping with my observation that things just look different when the trees are bare, but the weather isn’t too wintery, I decided to re-explore an area which has been the subject of two previous posts.  In this case, I decided to go for a run in the terrain roughly delineated by Rt 125 to the north, and Upper Plains Rd. to the west.  The small peak which emerges from this corner is known on topo maps as “Pine Hill”, a curious name for this modest bump, which seems to be entirely covered in deciduous forest.  I described a run in this area as one of my first posts in this blog, entitled “Secret Meadow“, as well as in an early winter run entitled Snowy Scenic Sauntering on a Sunny (Almost) Solstice Sunday.   The high point of both of these runs is a little-known hillside meadow with outstanding westerly views.  The run described in this post was just a little bit more ambitious, covering some slightly rougher terrain with more climbing.

While there are a few appropriate places to park one’s vehicle closer to the trails, I chose to start the run on the Oak Ridge Trailhead, just above East Middlebury on Rt. 125, so that I could make it a longer workout.  I headed towards East Middlebury for a few hundred yards before taking a left turn on to Upper Plains Road.  This road used to have a “tree tunnel” feel to it, but recent “improvements” have involved removal of many of the trees which were encroaching on the  road.  Too bad!  After about a mile, a Forest Service gate on the left marks the start of the trailed section.  I couldn’t help but notice the rerouting of the path created by the incessant efforts of ATV-ers  – earlier paths were blocked off, leading to generation of new paths.  Be forwarned that the entry into this run off of Upper Plains Rd. is unposted private property, so please be particularly respectful of this, so that this lovely area can remain open to exploration.  But…I didn’t need to tell you that, right?

After getting past the gate, the next section of climbing was on a dirt road, which switchbacked up the hillside until it broke into the aforementioned meadow by a small pond.  As soon as you pass the birch grove on your left, take a sharp left turn, and veer back towards the forest to find the true trail heading north along the west side of Pine Hill, which now stands to your right.  There are quite a few other trails in this vicinity, which can be a little bit confusing.  In fact, if you look at my GPS track for this run, you will notice a short diversion to the right, which the result of mistakenly following a path which disappeared after about a hundred yards, forcing me to backtrack and choose another.  Not long afterwards, I reached the saddle between Pine Hill (to my right) and a lower summit to my left.  I also couldn’t help but notice one of the most spectacularly situated hunter’s blinds I have seen in my explorations.   It undoubtedly provides great views, and let’s face it, what kid, young or old, doesn’t love a treehouse?  Even the ladder had a whimsical, Dr. Seuss-like feel to it!

Tree Fort Hunters Blind

 

 

From the col, I decided to save the true summit for another day, instead taking a short bushwhack to the left to the minor northern summit. Despite the gray skies, the view here was excellent, and given the ledges and lack of foliage to the west from this vantage, I suspect that the view will not be badly hemmed in once the trees are in full leaf. This pretty little summit also had a lot of low lying bushes which I suspect will bear blueberries mid-summer, as well as many weather-twisted small trees which gave the summit a slightly haunted feel.

 

Twisted Limbs Against the Sky

With the advent of a slight drizzle, I continued on the path, which got very muddy in places, before descending to an intersection with a more developed trail behind the hill. Here, I took a right turn to complete the loop, stopping to take a picture of the pretty waterfall found in the rather steep notch behind Pine Hill. I was always curious why the dirt road, meadow, and broad, well built trail reaching the waterfall were built in the first place, and while mountain biking last summer, I happened to meet the landowner who told me a little bit of the “back story” to this property. Apparently, at some point in the 60′s or 70′s (a seemingly generic way of saying “A long time ago, but not THAT long ago”) the man who owned the land had received federal funding to develop this waterfall as a rest area, as part of the National Forest. For reasons unknown, after the initial stages of the roadside development, involving roadbuilding and a few other modest improvements, the project was abandoned. Well, the waterfall and surroundings are still quite beautiful!

Grotto Waterfall

After pausing at the waterfall, the trail re-emerged from behind Pine Hill into the meadow, and by staying to the far left, I caught the short steep path returning me to the forest service gate, where it was an easy mile-long return to my car.  The total length of this run was about 4.25 miles, with a climb of 500 ft – not bad for the beginning of April.

I also decided to have a little extra fun with this run – with the advent of routine access to portable GPS devices, a new pastime has emerged known as “geocaching“.   Geocaching hobbyists leave hidden containers with logbooks, souvenirs, and sometimes even disposable cameras at locations of interest, and then post the GPS coordinates as well as other hints for others to find the site.  If you take a look at www.geocaching.com, you will see that there are many geocache locations in Addison County.  Since geocachers and trail runners both share an interest in discovering new places of interest, I thought it would be fun to set my first geocache on this run.  My geocache, which contains a logbook  and disposable camera for finders to share their experiences, as well as a small souvenir can be found without a lot of difficulty by someone completing this run.  The actual GPS coordinates, which will also be posted soon on the aforementioned geocache website are N 43 degrees 57.934′, W 073 degrees 04.248′.  Happy Hunting!

Google earth of the route, looking west

Altitude Profile