Tag Archives: Robert Frost

Beaver Ponds in Frost Country

Several years ago, I described a run where I crossed over a lot of the terrain commonly associated with the Robert Frost environment – the Frost Cabin, the Robert Frost trail, and the Breadloaf campus in Ripton.  This run begins at the Robert Frost (note the theme!) turnout and picnic area, and proceeds up the dirt road behind the Frost Cabin, known as the “Old Farm Road” on Rikert trail maps, before going deep into the forest behind Breadloaf. When I attempted to run this earlier this summer, I discovered that the blowdown from last December’s ice storm had rendered this stretch of trail impassable.  More recently, I had heard rumor that the trail had been cleared, as it is often groomed by the staff at the Rikert Ski Touring Area, and so I decided to revisit the route for the first time in over 5 years.

On a cool Saturday morning, I joined a friend from the Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts, noticing some of the first dustings of snow on the ground, signifying that just maybe winter is finally here?  We headed eagerly up the hill, past the cabin, and I could see that the rumor was indeed true, and that the trail had been cleared.

Freshly Cleared Trail

Freshly Cleared Trail

From this point, the route becomes more difficult to describe, as the trail system can get pretty complicated. The good news is that if you get off-route, you will hit a road sooner or later, and you would have to work pretty hard to not be somewhere in Ripton! We followed this trail until it forked by a sign labeled “Blue Bed House” on the right fork, but we took the left fork, and later when we came to a T in the trail, with a short steep downhills to the left, we chose the left again, until we got to the terminus of one of the Ripton dirt roads, known as “Wagon Wheel Road”, although there was no sign indicating this.  Taking an immediate right turn, past a forest service road gate, on the trail labeled as “Wagonwheel Road” on the Rikert map, passing by the first of several beaver ponds, before coming to a more primitive trail with a sign calling it “Kiwi”, where we took a right.  I knew from past experience that Kiwi is a trail which has been minimally maintained over the years, providing a more bushwhacking cross country ski experience than most of the Rikert trails, and this was apparent while running this short connector.  The big surprise however, was the observation that what I had remembered as a tiny stream crossing, had been enlarged significantly by beaver activity at some time in the last few years!  A series of small beaver dams were indeed crossable with wet feet but no wading, but I will be curious to see how well this freezes up for skiing this winter.

Surprise on Kiwi

Surprise on Kiwi

Crossing the stream, we soon came to the more developed Brown Gate Trail, where we took a left up a modest climb which brought us to Forest Service Road 59, aka Steam Mill Road, a well developed dirt road which will hopefully shortly be closed off for the pleasure of skiers and snowmobile enthusiasts.  From here, we took a right turn, heading gradually downhill for about a km, until we came to the left turn onto a trail clearly labelled as a snowmobile trail, past the small Kirby family graveyard, until we came to a short section where the snowmobile trail was separated from the Rikert Battell trail.  These side by side trails, one for skiers and one for motorized winter travelers were not were more clearly separated by the planting of a line of pine trees in the late 80’s, and now the trees are about 30 feet high!  I guess I have been here a long time.

Parallel Trails

Parallel Trails

The trail then veered to the right, and descended to Rt 125, where we crossed the road, and onto Brooks Rd, one of my longtime favorite trailheads, and when we got to the parking lot, we ran to the back of it and started uphill on the Widows Clearing trail, our last real climb of the day, until we reached the actual clearing. I discussed some of the story of the widow herself a few years ago, and it was the most commented on posting I have ever done – apparently a lot of people were curious as to the story of this place.  Not long after the Widows Clearing, we came to a T in the trail, where we went right on a trail called “The Crosswalk, a muddy descending trail which brought us after about a mile to the back of the well-loved Robert Frost Trail.  After crossing over the new (as in a few years old new) handicapped accessible bridge, we finished off the trail portion of the run with a few moments at the last beaver pond of the day, ringed with the first traces of the season’s ice.

From the Robert Frost Trail

From the Robert Frost Trail

Returning to Rt 125, we had a short run alongside the highway, returning to our cars, for a round trip run of about 8.5 miles.I usually post the Google Earth projection of these runs, but I apparently had a malfunction on this run, so I am going to refer readers to a previous posting, where I included this, as well as the altitude profile.

Vintage Robert Frost on film

Luckily, 16 mm film, common from the 1920s through the 1960s, is relatively durable stuff. This particular reel of film, which sat in the Middlebury College archives for over forty years, depicts Robert Frost for two glorious, full color minutes. For the first time in nearly half a century (thanks to a film preservation lab in Philadelphia), watch as Frost harvests vegetables from his garden at his Ripton, Vermont cabin (down the road from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference), frolics with his dog Gillie, and walks his mare Steeplebush and her colt Shadbush. Frost and Kay Morrison pop fresh berries into their mouths. Summer time on the mountain!

Read the Middlebury NewsRoom story about this film.

The road less travelled

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Although being completely flexible in my travel plans and adding more to my itinerary as the minutes pass, I had no doubt I wanted to do the Camino de Santiago- the medieval pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostella, where St James is believed to be buried.

In the end it all started insanely- it was a Friday afternoon when I learnt that my boss doesn’t need me for the next week. In two hours I managed to find an internet club (I had no phone, no camera or laptop!), call a couchsurfer in Leon who promised to give me his bike so that I could do the camino, get to the house of my current couchsurfer, get just a little bit of luggage and then leave for Leon.

966218_10201192897295529_1302176923_oCamino de Santiago is a great metaphor for Life, itself. You walk it alone, yet the people around you are your most valuable resource- people always help each other out, recharge each other’s energy and courage. You are more mindful, more present, more thankful. Despite I had no raincoat, no mountain equipment, no previous experience in mountain biking, no idea I had to cross mountains, no expectation it could snow in May, I did reach Santiago. With my own tempo and with my own lessons to learn. Going beyond my own stereotypes for myself and how far I could get.

♥Maggie Nazer is a social entrepreneur, activist, blogger and current Middlebury college student.

Robert Frost Mountain

After the last posted run, which featured running commentary on the Robert Frost Cabin and Robert Frost Trail, it only seemed fitting to continue on with the Frost theme with a run up to the summit of Robert Frost Mountain.  While many Middlebury-ites know of, and have explored the former, relatively few know of his namesake summit.  Where exactly is Robert Frost Mountain?  When looking towards the mountains from town, Robert Frost Mountain is the rounded summit high point just a few miles north of the East Middlebury and Rt. 125.  While it is not a particularly dramatic summit, it is a pleasant place to visit with good, albeit wooded views, and its paucity of hikers (or runners).   I have no idea if Robert himself ever ascended to its heights, and I rather suspect not.  There are several peaks in the US named Mt Washington, however, and I am quite confident that George (or Martha)  never climbed any of them.

To get to my starting point for this run, head south of town on Rt. 7, east on Cady Rd. (the road bisecting Foster Motors), and then north on Rt 116 for 0.4 miles until you get to Munson Rd, where you take a right turn.  Be careful not to exceed the speed limit here (25 mph) as it has been heavily patrolled as of late.  Find yourself a suitable parking place anywhere alongside the road near the four-way stop sign a half mile later to begin the run.  Hopefully you can park your car in one of the favorite hiding places of our well-intentioned and hard-working officers of the law, and save this author from another speeding warning!

The start for this run is on the snowmobile trail paralleling Burnham Dr., the road heading east towards the mountains from the aforementioned four-way stop sign.  The first 3.4 miles of this run are also described in a previous post, The Toughest Nine Miles in Addison County.  This older post has now lost its title.  The first two miles of the run follows a VAST snowmobile trail heading north along the west face of the Green Mts, climbing more or less steadily, first through deciduous forest, then into a coniferous forest (which you can make out from the west pretty easily), before climbing back into deciduous again.  This is a very pretty section, following a brook much of the way, with a few limited views through the trees.  At about 1.5 miles, the trail forks into two equally strong trails, and both will work for this run.  I chose the right trail on the way up, as it is a little shorter, but if you miss the trail split and take the left fork, it will connect with the same next trail.

The snowmobile trail tops off onto FS 237 (not marked at this point), an obvious but somewhat overgrown forest service road.  Take a right turn here (an earlier missed turn will have you coming up to this point from the left) and follow this road until it ends in about a mile and a half, connecting with Dragon Road.  Dragon Rd. is a maintained dirt road suitable for 2WD cars, but like many of the lesser known mountain roads in Ripton, rarely driven.  The run I previously described went right from this point, ending the uphill section considerably earlier.  Take a left uphill until the road ends after about eight tenths of a mile.  There is a small parking lot here, and if you would prefer a much shorter run, or even an easy family hike, you can drive to this point and start here.  To get to this parking area, drive into East Middlebury on Rt. 125, turn left on North Branch Road (the slight left at the Rt 125 bridge), and a few miles later, when North Branch Road makes a right, continue straight on Dragon Rd. until the road ends.

As you enter the parking lot, look carefully to the right to find the somewhat overgrown start to the trail leading to the summit of Robert Frost Mountain in 1.2 miles.  This trail gets so little traffic in the summer that you have to walk through tall weeds for 20 or 30 feet before the trail becomes easy to find and follow.  You will know you have gone the right way when you see a gate across the trail.  From this point, the trail isn’t too bad, other than the fact that it is somewhat overgrown (hence good for resistance training for trailrunners!), and gets a little steeper as you approach the summit.  Most of the traffic to this summit clearly is during the winter, when the snowmobilers apparently make it a frequent destination.  The summit is wooded, but people have cleared a few nice views to make the climb worth the effort.  This summit has another unexpected creature comfort – a privy at the summit, which actually appears to be in far better condition than most similarly situated sources of relief.  I was somewhat amused, however, by the fact that there were a few empty liter cans of Bud Light strewn about its floor.  Go figure.

Summit View

Other Summit View

The run back down mostly followed the uphill run, other than at the point where the lower shortcut from the snowmobile trail connected to FS 237. It is very difficult to see where the uphill trail connects with the Forest Service Road, so I just went to the end of the road, and followed the obvious left turn at its end where it also connected with the uphill route. As I descended, I did note the following somewhat amusing sign:

Non Sequitor Sign

I briefly considered bringing the sign home, and posting it on the door of my teenage daughters’ bathroom, but instead decided to leave this amusing little non sequitor to be discovered by other runners and hikers.
When all was said and done, this was a long hard run, with 11.5 miles of running and 2000 vertical feet of climbing. I don’t usually post my time, but this adventurous run took a while – two and a half hours. Given the relentlessly pretty woods and decent views, this route would also make a fine day hike as well, either from East Middlebury, or from the higher trailhead.

GPS track on Google Earth

Altitude Profile

Circumnavigating Robert Frost Country

One of the most famous characters to grace the hills of Addison County was America’s poet laureate, Robert Frost.  In a earlier post, I joked about the ubiquity of signs alluding to Frost’s presence in the woods of Ripton, so I thought it would be fun to describe a run built on the Robert Frost theme.  The Robert Frost roadside rest area on Rt. 125 a few miles below Breadloaf seemed like a logical place to begin the run, given the ample parking.  I also couldn’t help but notice that the nearby “Robert Frost Trail” and trailhead was still closed to the public, but more on that later.

Parking lot signage

The run began with a easy jog up…you guessed it…Frost Road, until reaching the Robert Frost cabin where (guess who) summered for many years while teaching at the Breadloaf School of English. We can forgive him for the fact that for many of these years, he returned to teach at archrival Amherst College at the end of the summer. Even famous poets need a day job I guess! The view from his primitive cabin is beautiful in the late summer, with views of the nearby mountains and the Homer Noble Farm.

Homer Noble Farm

After soaking up the meadow view, I continued up into the woods on the well traveled trail behind his cabin. This route follows much of the route described in my cross country ski trip described in my post entitled “Robert Frost Cabin” but in the reverse direction.  After a little more than a mile, the trail splits, and I chose the left fork knowing it would lead to a longer run.  The gradual descent on this stretch of trail led eventually to a T in the trail with signage for cross country skiers, and I chose the left turn with a short downhill before joining up with a well-developed snowmobile trail.  A rather disoriented hiking couple asked for my assistance in finding their way back to their vehicle at this point.  This is understandable, as there is a complex network of ski trails, logging trails, and snowmobile trails in this section of forest.  If you want to try this run out and are concerned about getting lost back here, a good rule of thumb is that left turns bring you further away from Breadloaf, while right turns will bring you closer.

After reorienting the slightly disoriented hikers – I haven’t heard of any recent hiker disappearances in the last few days, so I assume they made it out alive – I took a right turn on the now well-developed uphill trail which followed stream.  After about a mile on this trail, I arrived at a new fork.  Since the left fork had numerous KEEP OUT and NO TRESPASSING signs, my choice was clear – go right.  This led to the trickiest routefinding section of this run  Shortly after running by a small beaver pond (on my left) I expected to find a rough trail to my right which would connect me with the Brown Gate trail in the Rikert Ski Touring Center.  I found a right turn which fit my memory of the terrain, but the trail got fainter and fainter, including a small stream crossing which didn’t fit my winter memories, but eventually connected with the well marked Brown Gate trail.  A left turn here, and a moderate uphill led to the Brown Gate itself, and Steam Mill Rod/Forest service road 59.  A right turn onto Steam Mill Rd led to about a mile of running on this well-graded dirt road.  After all the rougher more technical running of the previous few miles, it felt good to stretch out the legs for a while in some higher tempo running.  Staying on this road would take you to the Breadloaf Campus too soon, so I followed the well-marked snowmobile trail turning left shortly after passing Burnt Hill Rd.  About 50 yards up this trail, I came to a small, moderately overgrown family burial plot.  I knew of the existence of this mini-graveyard from past ski tours, but stopped to read the gravestones for the first time.  The name on all of the stones was “Kirby” which made sense, as an older name for Steam Mill Road was apparently Kirby Road, as noted previously.

Kirby Burial Ground

I stayed on this trail which is separated from the Rikert trails by a line of trees, and after another mile or so reached Rt. 125 just east of Breadloaf.  The Brooks Rd. intersection was in sight, so I headed in that direction to continue the southern half of the run.  Taking the Widows Clearing trail from the south end of the parking lot brought me up to the actual clearing, the subject of yet another post earlier in the summer.  The fact that the clearing still exists despite not having been farmed for a hundred years implied that someone must mow the field every year or so, and on this run I could see that it had been mowed very recently.  I can’t help but wonder who has taken on this task, as it can’t be that easy to haul the necessary equipment up there.  From this point until the end of the run, you will finish the run as described by following my aforementioned “right turn rule”.  The first right turn on the Widows clearing trail takes you to a trail called “The Crosswalk”, and after a mile on this rough trail, the next right connects to the furthest corners of (here we go again) The Robert Frost Trail.  This well known trail passes through woods, meadows, streams, and swamps, and at many vantages along the way, appropriate Frost poems are displayed.  I noted earlier in the summer that this trail has been closed all summer, and I presumed this was due to the nearby road construction.  When I arrived to the stream crossing on this trail, I found that the footbridge which had provided a means across was missing, providing an alternative explanation for the trail closing.  On the shore where the bridge once stood, the Frost poem posted seemed particularly ironic, in light of the fact that the trail was blocked.  It is also my favorite Frost poem, and particularly germane to this blog.

Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

A short slog across the stream past the equipment in place for the replacement of the lost bridge, and a few hundred yards on Rt. 125 brought me back to my vehicle.  As in prior runs, the Google Earth Projection, and altitude profile are posted, but I accidentally turned off my GPS for about a mile between the Kirby burial site and Rt. 125, so the distance on this run is probably a little more than 8 miles, and although there are no individual long climbs, there were very few truly flat sections on this run, and the total climb adds up to close to 1000 vertical feet.