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Tracks in the Snow

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Last winter, while recovering from injuries, I snowshoed a route along a VAST trail at the higher altitudes of Ripton.  This route, which begins at the end of the plowed section of the Natural Turnpike in Ripton heads south along the snowmobile trail marked as “7A” towards Robert Frost Mountain.  My trip along this route was limited by the slower pace of snowshoe travel, and I have been looking forward to returning to explore it a little further on ski or on foot.  The limited amount of snow on the ground made a run the obvious choice for now.  To get to the trailhead, I drove up to Ripton, then took a left turn on the road across from the Ripton Country Store.  A short while later a right turn up the hill on Robins Cross Road and a left turn on the Natural Turnpike followed by a few minutes’ drive brought me to the trailhead parking lot near its confluence with FS 59.  In every previous winter trip to this spot, the Natural Turnpike was blocked at this point by a forest service gate, but this year, with the meager snow, the gate beyond this point was open, and the road was freshly plowed.

Setting off on the trail heading to the left (north in absolute coordinates) I could see that the snowmobilers had been faring about as well as the skiers this year, as the trail had been virtually stripped of its snow cover by previous snow travelers.  I set off, as in my previous exploration, following the marked snowmobile trail, which crisscrossed a few Forest Service Roads over the course of the first mile.  Between the thin snow cover, and my Asics Gel Arctic running shoes, equipped with short spikes making them the “studded snow tires of the running world”, I had very solid footing all the way, except for two easily traversed frozen-over waterbars.  As I proceeded further into the woods, snow had covered over the most recent snowmobile tracks, and not much later, I could see where the trail had been bereft of human travelers all season, leaving the tracks of animals as the only sign of previous passage.  One set of tracks were particularly interesting – I could see that what at first looked like one set of old tracks, soon diverged into two sets, which looked to be about the same age.  Following them, I could see that the parallel sets of tracks stayed apart, as if the two animals which set them were going about their travels as partners, perhaps even mates?  They seemed too big and deep for a squirrel, and squirrels never seem to travel as if they are actually going somewhere.  I am going to guess that they were foxes, although they had faded enough that I could not have made out the fine print in them, even if I were a more knowledgeable animal tracker.  I like to think that these two nocturnal animals had shared a long moment in the moonlight together on the way to whatever their final destination might have been.  As I followed their tracks, I made sure not to step in them, leaving my record of passage between theirs.

parallel footprints

parallel footprints

Eventually, I reached a point where the animal tracks became more complex, and their unique trail became difficult to discern from other animals who had passed through. Not long after, I came to an open meadow which had been my turnaround last winter when I passed this way. Last winter, this quiet spot had the equipment of an active logging site, but this winter, the snow surface was unblemished, except for my footprints and a few tufts of grass poking up through the snow. It looked almost like I would envision beach grass poking out of the fine white sand of the Gulf Coast, although I have never been there.

beach grass

Snow, or Sand?

 

 

At this point, continuing on, I was into new territory, and about a mile later my trail reached the Lincoln-Ripton road, a few miles north of the Ripton School. I could discern that the trail recommenced across the road, heading uphill along the eastern flanks of Robert Frost Mountain. I could see that I had found another short section of trail to connect a run on my bucket list – I had heard that is was possible to connect trails from the top of Middlebury Gap, to East Middlebury by a route which included the snowmobile trail up and over Robert Frost Mountain, which I have ascended from the west.  The point at which my trail (which merged with a plowed road over the last few hundred yards) met up with the Lincoln- Ripton Road,  was labelled as the “Norton Farm Road”.

Turning to return, my attention turned two the many crossing paths and abandoned logging roads I came across.  One, which looked sort of interesting, and was labeled as “Rd 235A”.  This one ended in about a hundred yards at a small clearing, so returning to the main snowmobile trail, I checked out another side trail about a mile further along.  This right turn led to a huge clear cut in about a quarter mile, with outstanding views of Worth Mountain, and the rest of the nearby ridge of the Green Mts.  I found it curious that a small stand of mature hardwoods had been left behind by the timber cutters, but they added to the beauty of the views.

clear cut views

Clear Cut Vista

 

 

 

Closing in on my parked car, I could hear that I was getting closer and closer to a “sportsman” who was blasting away at something with what sounded like a semiautomatic weapon. While I never actually saw this person, I felt like shouting something along the lines of “Is there ANYTHING left of that squirrel?”. Reaching my car, my GPS indicated that I had traveled 7 miles on this run, and had dropped about 500 vertical feet on the way out, and gained it on my return.

Google Earth of the Route

Google Earth of the Route

tracks in the snow altitude profile

Altitude Profile

 

Snowshoeing Snowmobile Superhighways

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

It has been a few months since my last posting due to a myriad of injuries – nothing serious, but just the aches and pains that flare up with  increasing regularity in middle age. So here it is, a relatively warm, sunny Saturday in early January, with the best snow cover in two years, and neither skiing nor running seeming like a good idea. So, it appeared like a good opportunity to add in a post dealing not with running, the primary focus of the blog, or cross country skiing, which usually keeps me busy over the winter, but with the slower, gentler pursuit of snowshoeing, at least until my body gives me the green light on the more vigorous activities.

I also decided to take it easy by doing this snowshoeing on the gentle passage of well-packed snowmobile trails, maintained by the VAST organization for snowmobilers, but open to skiers, hikers and snowshoe enthusiasts in the winter.  One short stretch of trail had been piquing my interest for some time.  I first discovered the winter trailhead accessing the Ripton end (as opposed to the Breadloaf/Rikert end) of Forest Service Road 59 about two winters ago, and described a short run on this snowy, well-packed route heading towards the Rikert Ski Touring Area.  A quick look at some snowmobile trail maps indicated that it is also possible to follow this trail, traveling in the opposite direction, up over the summit of Robert Frost Mountain from the east, and descend to Middlebury International Airport.  I wrote about the trail connection between the airport and the summit of Robert Frost Mt. as well a few years ago.  Today seemed like a good day to reconnoitre this route for a future longer run or ski.

The trailhead can be accessed by driving up to Ripton, taking a left turn onto Lincoln Rd in front of the Ripton General Store, followed by a right turn onto Robbins Crossroad, and a left onto Natural Turnpike.  Then, just follow Natural Turnpike until its seasonal terminus to park your vehicle.  Strapping on my snowshoes over my Bean boots, I set off, taking a left up a short hill, following the well marked snowmobile trail, which paralleled and occasionally intercepted the dirt road on several occasions, before finally crossing to the left and heading into the woods.  From this point on, most of the scenery was as expected with the well-packed ribbon of the trail ambling through the hardwood forest.  Subtle signs of the Green Mountain National Forest’s logging use were apparent.  While clear cutting does not appear to be as prevalent as it once was, heading through one stand of uniform small-circumference hardwoods and a total lack of ground cover shrubs indicated that this area had been selectively lumbered fairly recently.

Winter Trails

White Trails

 

One of the great pleasures of exploring these high-altitude forests is coming across large open meadows alongside streams, typically the result of beaver activity.  This trip brought me past at least 3 or 4 of these.  After almost two miles on the trail, which I learned from VAST trail signs was Trail 7A, I came to a hillside where, looking west, I could see the wooded summit of Robert Frost Mountain a few miles away, indicating that I was indeed heading in the correct direction, facilitating a run to come in the future!

Robert Frost Mt view

Robert Frost Mt. Vista

 

Shortly after this, I could tell by the way the snow was packed that the trail was no longer groomed by and for the snowmobilers – although there was still ample snow on the ground, a snowplow had clearly come through, probably as part of more recent logging operations.  Sure enough, a short distance later, I came across a clearing full of logging equipment, and the logging vehicle shown below really looked like a very serious ATV!

Logging Vehicle

Monster Truck (for logging)

 

I could see from my Garmin GPS that I had been hiking about 2 and a third miles, so it seemed like a good time to turn around and retrace my steps back to my waiting vehicle for about a 4.5 mile trip.  Some winter hikers and skiers are reticent to travel on snowmobiling trails, but I have always found the snowmobile enthusiasts courteous, and surprisingly rare!  Over the course of the roughly hour and a half I was on their trails, I only saw two small parties of snowmobilers, and one other hiker.  Not bad for one of the most beautiful Saturday afternoons of the year!

Google Earth Snowshoe

Google Earth of the route

 

 

altitude profile snowshoe

Altitude Profile