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The Moosalamoo Ultra

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Over the last year or so, I have become increasingly interested in taking on longer, more challenging runs.  After reading the book “Born to Run” by Christoper McDougall, I was fascinated by the world of the elite ultrarunners – they are a very quirky and adventurous bunch who find ways to push their bodies to physical extremes.  As I was learning more about ultramarathon racing, I stumbled across the podcast entitled  “Running Stupid”.  This podcast, published every few weeks by a 40-something, self proclaimed “back of the pack” (that’s the nice way of saying “slow”), overweight, but joyously funny ultrarunner named “Coach Ken” regularly describes the challenges, successes and failures of an average Joe runner, and provides a window on the world of the more elite runners from his perspective.  In short, reading this book, and listening to these podcasts had me hooked – I had to try an ultramarathon.

There was a problem with this dream, this check box on my bucket list – running long races requires a LOT of training.  My life is pretty busy, and I knew from past experiences that my body almost always breaks down if I attempted to train for long or ultralong events.  Over the last year, however, I discovered that I could do, and enjoy regular road marathons with far less training than is usually prescribed, as long as I got in one very long run (at least two hours) every week, and as a result was successful in completing and actually enjoying two marathons in the last year.  Could this same regimen work for an ultramarathon?  Could I finish?  Could I feel good enough that I actually enjoy the race?  Ultramarathons typically range from 50 km road races (about 31 miles) to 100 miles on road or trails, or even more.  I knew I had better look for one on the short side, for obvious reasons.

A few months ago, I noticed an announcement for the “Moosalamoo Ultra a 36-mile race to be held on the trail network of the Moosalamoo region on August 18.  This seemed like a great one to try – readers of this blog will know that I am quite familiar with the trails here, and it had the added convenience of being close to home.   In fact, looking at the race course, I had previously run almost all of the trails on the course at some point or another, and I described the course as “four or five great runs – all in one day!”  The race was being organized by John Izzo, a Salisbury resident and avid local runner, with the Blueberry Hill Inn as its base of operations and start/finish area.

So, I lined up at 8 am on Saturday with about 100 other runners, about half of whom were doing the still very challenging 14 mile version of the race.  Usually, in this blog, I go into a fair amount of detail on the route, but this particularly elaborate course pretty much defies a detailed description.  I am going to include a Google Earth projection as I usually do, and also make a link to the course map.  John clearly put a lot of thought into mapping out a great piece of running which covered pretty much every corner of the Moosalamoo region, with some very challenging climbs (the first loop up and over Mt Moosalamoo), an out and back section in the first half of the race, so that runners could have a feel for where they stood in the pack, some very muddy sections (yes, there is plenty of mud out there, even in this dry summer), and some particularly drop dead gorgeous sections of trail (the Chandler Ridge/Leicester Hollow loop comes to mind).  The course was also well supported with volunteers, many of whom were John’s family, at aid stations throughout the course.

In any case, as a first time ultrarunner, I brought the following with me on the course:

  1.  A 20-ounce water bottle that fit a waist belt.  Hydration, of course, is the single most important concern in a long, midsummer race.  With aid stations typically 3-5 miles apart, I usually tried to make sure that my water bottle was empty as I entered an aid station.  The one time I neglected my hydration, I paid dearly for it – the terrain between the aid station at mile 21 (on the Goshen Ripton Road) and mile 25 (Silver Lake), was almost entirely easy downhill, so I neglected to drink enough.  When I hit the next aid station, I topped off my water bottle without any extra drinking, and as a result ran out of water on the next segment – the arduous 5 miles on the Chandler Ridge.  I got rather severely dehydrated there, even feeling for a short while like I was not entirely in control of myself, so I took it slow, and took a much longer than usual break at the next aid station where I made rehydration a top priority.  Also, the two women (one of whom I found out later was John the organizer’s wife) had actually hiked in a mile carrying all the food that morning, so they deserved to have someone stop and chat for a while!
  2. Food – In almost all long workouts and races, I depend on the nasty, slimy, but wonderously rejuvenating little packets of Gu as my main source of sustenance.  I always ingest one packet after every hour of running, so I went through 9 Gu packets over the duration of the race.  Yup, I WAS out there a very long time – you do the math!  I am no longer feeling the love for the “Espresso Love” flavor!  The aid stations were supplied with lots of other calorie rich treats as well, and I found myself drawn to foods which otherwise would have made a typical 10 year old boy happy at lunchtime – PB+J sandwiches and potato chips.  I always eat PB+J when I go on day hikes, but had no idea potato chips would taste so good in the middle of a very long exhausting day.  I must have eaten a few bags worth.  In retrospect, it makes sense that a body would crave the chips – they provide a lot of calories (a typical ultrarunner probably goes through 5 or 6 thousand calories), and have a ton of salt to help that replaced through sweating.  I had one of the volunteers take the following picture at the last aid station on the shores of Silver Lake at mile 33, as I prepared to inhale a massive fistful of chips to power me to the finish line.  I also brought along some granola bars and these did not work very well!  While they are appropriately caloric, they are also very dry, so eating them required stopping long enough to catch my breath so I didn’t cough and choke.  They were also reduced to crumbs very early in the race making them even harder to eat.  Nope – granola bars are off the list!

More Chips at mile 33

  1. Camera.  I am writing a blog, so it made sense to bring it.
  2. Music.  I frequently run with an iPod, but never listen to it during a race – half the fun of racing is having conversations with people you meet along the way, and wearing an iPod tells other racers and organizers that you don’t want to communicate.  That said, given the paucity of runners and length of the course, I knew that there would be long stretches of solo running, perhaps many hours in duration, and musical motivation might keep me going better.  So, I put together the “jbr mix” (Jeff B running)  and brought it with me.  I ended up never listening to the music however – I had pretty steady company for the first two thirds of the race, and by the last third of the race, I was so depleted that I felt like I needed to pay full attention to my feet, my surroundings, and my general well-being in order to finish the race safely.
  3. Electrolytes.  I always drink Gatorade during long races, and since the organizers were only providing water, I purchased some powdered Gatorade, and filled about a half dozen plastic bags with just enough for the 20 ounces of water in my bottle at refills.  I used most of it, although by the end I was really sick of the stuff, and got my electrolytes from the aforementioned chips and from some salt tablets I had brought with me, and popped once in a while.

At Mile 1

 

The race itself seemed to have 3 distinct phases – the first third, including the run up and down Moosalamoo had the most challenging terrain, and I had other competitors in sight nearly the whole way, since the short race (14 mile) and long race (36+ mile) runners were all together.  This part went by pretty quickly.  Curiously, one of the few sections of trail that I had never been on before here was the “dimple” between the two summits of Moosalamoo, and this was the only time I got off course – I probably wasted about a half mile and 5 minutes getting my bearings back there.  I also saw two gentlemen hiking carrying what looked to be 100 pound bags of sand without the benefits of a backpack.  At first I was mystified, but then I recognized one of the two as someone training for another local ultra-endurance test – the even more masochistic “Death Race”.  Although this event had already taken place earlier this summer – perhaps they were training for next year already?

Moosalamoo Summit Views

 

The second third had what was probably the gentlest terrain in the race, and it was here that I met and ran with a few far more experienced ultramarathoners who kept me company, and answered my stupid questions.  We ran together for a few hours, and they did a very good job of mixing in running and walking so that we could maintain appropriate pacing for finishing.  Thanks Josh and Grant from NH!  I also knew that in the “long run” I would not be able to keep pace with these two experienced ultrarunners who were 25 years my junior.

 

The last third of the race ended up being, not surprisingly, the hardest part.  As well it should – prior to this race, I had never run longer than 4 and half hours, and I went into the last dozen miles already on my feet for over 6 hours.  I also bonked for a while due to dehydration, and the technical running on the Chandler Ridge also sucked a lot of the remaining life from my legs.  Curiously, at around 4:30 in the afternoon when I was coming up Leicester Hollow – I had one final surprise burst of energy, and was able to muster some real running for about a half hour.  I am not sure where this came from, but maybe my loved ones were thinking of me and sending some positive vibes my way right then!  However, other than this too brief reprieve, the last 12 miles were walked – I tried in vain to get my legs to turn over quickly enough to muster a slow jog across the finish line, but they couldn’t respond.  With one mile to go, even my GPS and camera were rebelling.  My watch proclaimed that it was “Low on Batteries”, and when I went to take a picture of this “No kidding” moment, my camera had a hard time opening its iris! Nonetheless, I did finish, and I wasn’t in dead last place (although closer to last than first!)

Well, Duh

 

What did I take from this race?  First of all – my modest training regimen is enough for a road marathon, but it really isn’t sufficient for a trail ultra.  I did finish, but I need to put more miles into my legs in training to keep a longer race like this fully enjoyable.  No surprise there!

 

I would also like to thank John Izzo and his extended family (as well as other volunteers) for the great job they did putting together this new race.  I would also like to thank Tony and the crew at Blueberry Hill for use of their facilities as a base of operation and start/ finish line.  I think the rest of my blogged runs this summer will be much shorter…..

Finally, my GPS measured the course slightly longer than advertised, at 37.5 miles (although about a half mile was spent off course) or about 60 km.  I agree with the estimation of about 3000 vertical feet of climbing and descent.

Google Earth Projection of The Moosalamoo Ultra

Moosalamoo Ultra altitude profile

The Ridge Trail

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The warm weather of the Memorial Day weekend gave me a great excuse to explore some more new terrain in the vicinity of my favorite local backcountry destination, Silver Lake.  Most of my trips into the Silver Lake backcountry have begun at the Falls of Lana trailhead, and have involved climbing, then finishing with a downhill.  The reasons for this are pretty obvious – on a longer run, it is easier to finish on a downhill than on a climb.   I had been considering starting a run into the Silver Lake environs from the uphill side, a popular trailhead in Goshen, which of course would require a significant uphill climb at the end of the run.  It seemed like a good day to give it a try!  To get to this trailhead, take 125 up to Ripton, but take the Ripton-Goshen road ( a right turn) shortly after passing through town.  Stay on this road, passing the Blueberry Hill Inn, until you get to the right turn onto Silver Lake Road.  Take a right turn here, and stay on Silver Lake Road until you get to the end of the road, where there is a pretty good sized parking lot.  I decided to make my first ever run along the Ridge Trail, which follows the ridge just to the west of Silver Lake, and return by the more commonly traveled Leicester Hollow Trail, effectively mirroring a run I did last year along the Chandler Ridge, the ridge just to the east of the lake.

Reaching this parking lot in the early evening hours on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, I was fortunate to sneak my compact car into the last spot in the lot!  I was greeted in the lot by the gentleman who was the host at the Silver Lake Campground a mile below, who was stationed at the trailhead to inform would be campers that the campground below was full.  I smiled, and pointed to my small fanny pack, and I think he understood that I was not planning to spend the night on the shores of the lake, but who knows?

I began the run with a short downhill on the Goshen Trail, the shortest route to Silver Lake.  within a few yards, I passed through the power line clearing – It is kind of funny that this wonderful semi-wilderness area is also a source of hydroelectric power, using the stored water in Silver Lake, and the power station below near the shores of Lake Dunmore.

Power Line near Goshen Trail trailhead

Shortly after passing the power line, the Ridge Trail takes and obvious, well marked turn to the left, heading south along the ridge. Much of the first mile or two of this trail is slightly overgrown and muddy, a reflection of the relative rarity in which it is traveled. While it climbed some early on, and had a few small ups and downs along the way, it was generally a downhill trip in this section. I was hoping to find views comparable to those on its eastern twin, the Chandler Ridge Trail, but saw none – this was “just” a run through the woods. At about 3 and a half miles, I came across a complicated series of crossing paths, but staying on the well labeled trail, I managed to stay on course. A short, easy descent alongside a small stream brought me to a lovely quiet country lane, where I assumed (correctly) that a right turn would connect me with the Leicester Hollow trail for my return.

Taking the right turn, the country road quickly met a forest service gate, marking what is probably the official start to the Leicester Hollow Trail. The smooth running on this hardened trail, met a bridge coming in from the left (and based on previous experiences, where the crossover from Chandler Ridge joins) and stayed on the runner’s right side of the rocky stream. The easy running soon ends, as the trail gets much rougher – NOT due to Irene (the usual blame for washed out trails these days) but due to flash flooding from the summer of 2008. After about a mile of rough going, in, out and around stream beds, the trail became easier going, with only a slight uphill tilt. The trail eventually entered a clearing, where the presence of old apple trees indicated human habitation at some point in the past. Examination of an 1871 Leicester map shows this site as the former home of one Mrs F. Glynn, who I know nothing else about!

Possible Glynn Homesite

 

 

 

At about a mile past this homesite, as my mind was wandering with the sense of timelessness that often accompanies a long trail run, seeing the sunset over Silver Lake, I realized that I should conclude this run soon if I did not want to have to complete it after dark. I could also smell the campfires from the happy campers in the full backcountry campground.

Silver Lake Sunset

 

Mindful of the time, I stayed on the trail along the east shore of Silver Lake, going a little faster now, until I joined the dirt road trail connecting the Falls of Lana parking lot below with the Goshen parkking lot above, aned took the right turn for one last climb to my awaiting car. This measured in at about 9.5 miles, with about a 900 foot descent and climb.

google earth of the run, from the west

Altitude Profile

 

Silver Lake Inspirations

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

With more great weather this weekend it was time to take to the trails again.  I had yet to visit one of my favorite locations, Silver Lake, this season, but I prefer not to blog the same runs too frequently, unless there is some unique perspective to be presented.  Last summer, while exploring the Chandler Ridge Trail, the trail traversing along the ridge separating Silver Lake and Lake Dunmore, I noticed the high-quality recent trail maintenance, and speculated that the formerly very rough and unrunnable trail circumnavigating Silver Lake might also have seen similar sprucing.   So, I set out on this run with my camera and GPS, planning on running around Silver Lake, hoping that the lack of leaves on the trees might provide a unique perspective on this popular locale.

Arriving at the Silver Lake trailhead near Branbury State Park, I was surprised to see the parking lot almost full.  Apparently, I was not the only person looking to get out in the woods on a warm early spring day!  After about 1.6 miles of climbing this well worn trail (actually a dirt road, suitable for small 4-W-D vehicles, but closed to them) I arrived at the dam marking the outlet to Silver Lake, and took the trail leading over the dam to the west shore.  The early going on this trail was fine as expected, but when I reached the point where the trail up to the Chandler Ridge diverged, and chose the lake shore trail as planned.  It very quickly became obvious that this trail had not seen the tender loving care which I had hoped it had.  In fact, as I was listening to that great old blues song, “Try a Little Tenderness” which happened to pop up on the day’s running mix, the song proved prophetic, as I stubbed my toe on an ill-placed rock.  I don’t think that was the sort of “tenderness” that the songwriter had in mind – Ouch!

So, I decided that my planned route was not what I was looking for, but had my first inspiration, on my now improvised run.  According to my memory of the Chandler Ridge from last summer, the views were limited by the deciduous forest cover.  However, with the trees still totally bare, the views on both sides of the ridge should be spectacular, so I backtracked a few hundred yards, and took the trail leading up to the ridge, and was not disappointed by the views.

Silver Lake from Chandler Ridge

After enjoying the sights from this ridge for a while, I retraced my tracks back to the shore of the lake, where I came across a lone pine tree, sentinal-like, on a rock near the lake shore that I had never noticed before.

Sentinel Tree

Returning back across the dam, I stayed along the shoreline until I reached the small beach, were I saw numerous families out fishing and enjoying the day. At this point, I had felt like I had explored enough, and was planning on heading down the trail back to my car. Shortly after beginning my descent, and still in sight of the lake, I saw a curious sight- I had been noticing the total absence of budding leaves on the trees at this higher elevation, but there was one small eager tree which was trying to get its leaves out in advance of its competitors.

Early Buds

A few moments later along the trail, my next inspiration formed. In my many previous runs up to and near the lake,I had noticed a wide trail heading to the north, but had never taken the time to explore it – since it was not on any maps, I presumed it went a short way into the woods, and disappeared. My legs felt like the had a lot of energy left in them, so I decided to finally explore this trail. Much to my surprise, the trail kept going, and was soon joined by a high berm to my right, which I presumed was a pipeline coming from some other source, emptying into the spillway feeding Silver Lake from the north. After a short distance, the trail forked, and I randomly chose the left fork, which ended shortly in an open hillside meadow, which looked like it had been some sort of landfill once. I suspect that this may have been what remained of the dump for the long gone Silver Lake Hotel – and thanks to Gary Spaulding for putting together the short history of the hotel which I have linked to. After hitting this dead end, I doubled back and decided to explore the right fork of the trail to see where it might lead. I had long suspected that the source of the water for the Silver Lake spillway was the much smaller, and very rarely visited Sucker Brook Reservoir, shown on maps a little further uphill. After following this broad, easily discerned trail for some time (much of it bordered by the berm covering an occasionally obvious pipeline), I finally started to tire, and when the opportunity came for a trail which looked like it might take me home, a sharp turn climbing to the right, I took it, leaving the final discover of the trail’s final destination for another day. However, upon loading up my GPS track after the run, I discovered that I was probably only a few minutes from the Sucker Brook Reservoir, confirming my guess as to its role. My return trail actually followed right alongside the previous trail, surprising me that I had not noticed it on the way out. In the course of my return, I surprised a small flock of deer, who started as I grew near, proving far too Shy, lest I got too close.

Doubling back like this, I returned to the more developed campground and picnic area around the lake, and completed my final descent to my waiting vehicle below.  Upon completion of a far longer run (over 8 miles) than I had planned, I had one last moment of inspiration – I treated myself to a Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Peace Pop purchased at one of the several general stores between the trailhead and my home – a great way to end a great run!

GPS of the run

altitude profile

Chandler Ridge and Leicester Hollow

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

While kayaking on Lake Dunmore, I have often admired the rugged looking ridge to the east of the lake, starting from the tower in the north, and heading south towards Forestdale in an unbroken, but undulating ridge.  Consulting my Moosalamoo Region National Recreation Area map, available for free at the forest service office just south of Middlebury on Rt. 7, I noticed that there was a trail which followed this ridge, named “Chandler Ridge Trail”.  This looked like it could make up part of a potentially spectacular, albeit long run.  I was a little bit apprehensive at first however, as access to this trail required some running along the less traveled west shore of Silver Lake, and my previous experience with this trail indicated that while it was scenic, it was very rough, rocky, and not really suitable for running.  I could only imagine what the even less traveled Chandler Ridge trail was like.  Nonetheless, on a cool, low humidity August afternoon, my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to explore it.  This ended up being a very good decision.

kayak view of the ridge

The run started from the usual place – the Falls of Lana parking lot, just past Branbury State Park. The bad news was that this run started with about 15 minutes of unrelenting steepness on the forest service road heading up to Silver Lake. The good news was that this was by far the steepest climbing on the run.  When I reached Silver Lake, I headed to the right over the dam, and followed the trail heading along the west shore of the lake, apprehensive about the trail conditions, but was in for a pleasant surprise.  Unlike previous runs here, the trail had clearly seen some recent attention, and was now altogether enjoyable for running.  Very early on, the source of this trail maintenance was quite clear – the VYCC (Vermont Youth Conservation Corps) had received some stimulus money to do some badly needed trail maintenance in this popular backcountry destination.  Now that’s what I call putting tax dollars to good use!

Good Use of our Stimulous Dollars!

After about a half mile on the Silver Lake trail, I came upon the well marked right turn up to the Chandler Ridge Trail. This trail had also seen some recent improvements, so over most of the next 4 miles, the footing was excellent, making for great, albeit slow running. The best thing about this trail from the runner’s perspective is that it is constructed with lots of gentle switchbacks to get up and down the steeper sections – a rarity in northeastern trails, but great for running! After only a few hundred yards of gentle climbing, I reached the top of the ridge, and over the next few miles I was treated to intermittent views through the thin hardwood forest to the west over Lake Dunmore, and to the east over Silver Lake – in one short section, I could even see both lakes simultaneously. This would make for an amazing late fall run as well – the views will certainly open up spectacularly after the leaves fall.

Lake Dunmore Through the Trees

Eventually the trail started its descent while veering to the left, as expected from my map. There was one point of some confusion, where the recent trail renovations and lack of signs made my next move less than totally clear, but since I knew I had to stay left to find my way to the Leicester Hollow Trail, that strategy got me there. I found myself on the heavily used Minnie Baker Trail, down a short steep trail to get to the stream flowing through the hollow. At this point, I was about a mile east of the Lake Dunmore Road, and according to my memory, I had a long gradual ascent back up to the campground on the east shore of Silver Lake. It immediately became obvious that my memory of this section of trail was clearly out of date! I had remembered the old Leicester Hollow Trail, which was an abandoned road heading up from Forestdale to the site of the old hotel which used to grace Silver Lake, but what I had forgotten was that the flash floods of 2008 had decimated this trail, and the next mile or so reflected this. While the VYCC folks have partially repaired this stretch of trail, there were still plenty of sections which were essentially rock hopping in stream beds, making for pleasant walking, but the footing wasn’t good enough for much in the way of running.  After about a mile of this, I got above the washed out stretch, and the trail reverted to that of my memory – long, straight, and gradually uphill  through a tunnel of heavy forest.  I did come across one sight which piqued my curiousity however – in one small area there was a partial clearing, with the obvious indicator of its former inhabitants – a small, ancient apple orchard.  An 1871 map of Leicester, available online, showed that this homesite was owned by Mrs. F. Glynn.  Does anyone know anything about her life at what must have been a very remote place to live?  If you are interested in seeing the details of this map, you can download it and view it in Microsoft Office Picture Manager, which allows you to magnify it easily.  Also, there is a treasure trove of old Vermont maps at its source, http://www.old-maps.com/.

http://www.old-maps.com/vt_overlays_downloads/vt_overlays_addisonCo/LCS_FINALS_50_DPI/LCS_1871_Beers_50.jpg

The rest of the run was pretty straightforward – I stayed on the Leicester Hollow Trail until it came along the east side of Silver Lake, past the newly refurbished outhouses by the campground, and on down the dirt road where the adventure actually started. A few last comments on the name “Chandler Ridge”: While looking up information on the abandoned homesite, I also came across a lot of information on the old Silver Lake Hotel, which stood at the north end of the lake – it was built in the late 1800′s by a missionary from Montreal by the name of Frank Chandler, who also constructed the Leicester Hollow road. Also, according to some sources, including Google Earth, the Chandler Ridge is actually the ridge to the east of Silver Lake, not the ridge separating Silver Lake and Lake Dunmore where the Chandler Ridge Trail runs. Finally, I would like to express thanks to the kids in the VYCC for the the backbreaking work they have performed to rehabilitate some great old trails, and to our federal government for supporting their work – trails or tea party? Guess which I prefer!

Overall this was really an epic route to run – it covered 12 miles, and while the overall altitude difference between the low and high points was not that severe, there were very few truly flat sections on this run – much of the gentle up and down nature of this trail is kind of lost in the natural error from the GPS signal. This run took me about 2 and a half hours with just a few stops for picture taking and water along the way.

Google Earth of the route, looking west

Silver Lake by the Scenic Route

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As my body continues to recover from injury down time in the spring, I thought it was about time to take on a longer run.  Since a few of my eager lab assistants were looking forward to some long trail runs, and the weather was perfect, it seemed like a good day to do a point-to-point run, with a car shuttle.  With this in mind, Jack, Nat, and I dropped my car off at the Falls of Lana parking lot (near Branbury State Park in Salisbury) and headed back to Rt 125, and drove up to the Robert Frost Trailhead, located about a mile west of the Breadloaf Campus of Middlebury College.  The Robert Frost Trail by itself does not make for much of a trail run – it is only about a mile long, and the poetry reading stations along the way don’t lend themselves to a rapid run through.  At the start of our run, I wondered if the bridge over the nearby brook would be repaired – a run through this area last year ended with a surprise wade through the river after the removal of a lovely rustic footbridge.  When my kids were young, we used to play “Pooh Sticks” on this bridge, so I lamented its loss, although wet feet and legs didn’t bother me after its demise.  There was both good news and bad news at this point:  The good news was that a new bridge had been built – the bad news was that this footbridge had a much more utilitarian feel to it.  I can take some comfort that the PVC “fake wood” used for its base probably came from recycled soda bottles.

After crossing the bridge, follow the outer loop of the Robert Frost Trail, and where the trail bends to the left to begin its return, take the right onto the Crosswalk Trail, then take the second left turn on “Afternoon Delight” which angles up the side of Water Tower Hill.  I have no idea how long ago this hill was shorn of its water tower – and I have lived in the area for 25 years.  Any old-timers out there with memories?  The descent of Water Tower Hill leads to a complex trail intersection where you basically go straight, leading to the Widows Clearing Trail.  After about a mile or so on this trail (skied last winter in the “Widow Wears White” posting), pass by the first right turn (leading to the Widows Clearing parking lot on the Goshen-Ripton Road), and continue on to the next right turn, which descends quickly to the road, albeit through some prickly underbrush which did not feel good on these runners’ legs!

We had originally planned on following the trail beginning across the road, but the neck-high greenery made this a less appealing option.  Instead, we turned left on the Goshen-Ripton Road and continued on this easy dirt road until we came to the entrance to the Moosalamoo Campground.  The large sharp stones used on this road surface made for less comfortable running, so instead of following it all the way to the Voter Brook Overlook, we followed signs towards the Mt. Moosalamoo Trail.  Somehow, we missed this right turn, and ended up doing a victory lap around the nearly empty campground, before noticing the trailhead on the left on our return.  After about a quarter mile on this trail, we came to a well maintained double track trail, which we took a left on, and in eventually rejoined the same road to the Voter Brook Overlook.  In other words – we added some distance to the run by running aimlessly in circles through the woods!  A short run brought us to the Voter Brook Overlook, with its views to the west, peeking around the corner of Moosalamoo.

Enjoying the Overlook

After pausing a few moments to enjoy the view and diminish the local deerfly population, we headed down a short steep trail, which is not marked on the official Moosalamoo region map available from the forest service offices in Middlebury. This trail connected us to the North Branch trail, which led to some of the sweetest trail running of the trip. This narrow but well-maintained trail leads gradually downhill for over a mile, until it joins the popular trail leading from the Falls of Lana trailhead to Silver Lake. We had originally planned on finishing the run with the short descent from here to our car, but since we were all feeling pretty peppy still, we decided to do the uphill mile run to Silver Lake. While my younger colleagues still had plenty of leg to spare, I discovered that my ambitions were not entirely reflected by my ability to carry them out, and found I had to walk a short section or two.  Topping out at the earthen dam at the outlet of Silver Lake, we were treated to a great early evening view of the lake.

Evening Reflections on Silver Lake

 

The last mile and a half back to the previously cached car was downhill all the way. According to my GPS, this one came in at exactly 10 miles – the longest run of the season to date! Fortunately, the run WAS mostly downhill, other than the ascent of Water Tower Hill, and the last hard climb up to Silver lake.

Google Earth of the route

 

Altitude Profile

 

The Grand Moosalamoo Traverse

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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

The Widow’s Clearing

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

This week’s post begins at what is by now, a fairly common trailhead for my runs, the Brooks Road parking lot.  This trailhead, a mile or so downhill from the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, has been the starting point for several of my blogged runs over the last year, most recently a post entitled “A Tale of Two Weekends.  Nonetheless, there are many opportunities for unique runs emanating from this National Forest entry point, so I keep coming back to check out new variations.  I have skied this route quite a few times over the years, but have only done limited exploring of most of this route during the summer months, so much of the scenery looked very different from the images in my memory.

The start of this run, however, treads on familiar turf.  I suspected (correctly) that some of the terrain would be a little rougher later on in the run,  so I chose to complete the lion’s share of the climbing on the easy running surface of Brooks Rd., including the entirety of the “up and back” route described last summer in the Sugar Hill Reservoir post.  The straightforward start to this run involved running up Brooks Rd. for 2.5 miles until joining the righthand side trail leading to the reservoir at the three mile mark.  Entering the clearing below the reservoir dam, I noted a sign which was clearly aimed at runners who were far more fleet footed than I!

Speed Warning

Rather than returning to my car by the same route, I chose to lengthen the run by delving deeper into the National Forest and trying out a loop run.  Immediately after entering the dam clearing, take the trail veering downhill sharply to the right.  At this point, the run seemed much more committed than other runs in the area, leaving me with the impression that I was heading into remote wilderness, despite the fact that civilized roads are never far away.  The next 4 miles or so are on trails which are well-skied upon in the winter, but rarely travelled in the summer months, so there are some sections which are (surprise surprise) very muddy and/or slightly overgrown, but never difficult to follow.  In order to find your way back to the parking lot, the simplest instruction is ALWAYS STAY RIGHT at each obvious trail junction.  Since much of this trail parallels the Ripton-Goshen Road a “wrong turn” to the left will probably deposit you pretty quickly on this obvious dirt road, but you can be back on route by reversing your course for a few minutes.  Finally, this segment of the  route also coincides with The Catamount Trail, the state-long ski trail, so the unique Catamount Trail markers can be followed as well.  This stretch of the Catamount Trail eventually joins up with the Widow’s Clearing Trail at a well marked intersection.

Catamount Trail joins Widow's Clearing Trail

From this point on until the end of the run, the trail through mature hardwood forest following the Widow’s Clearing Trail.  There is one last tricky intersection, a sharp turn climbing to the right which I would have overlooked if it wasn’t pretty well marked.  About a half mile from the end of this loop I passed by large hillside clearing, which was clearly the remnants of a former homestead, as indicated by the ancient apple orchard at its edge.  A small sign referring to this site as the Widow’s Clearing was also nailed into a trailside tree.  A descent on well traveled trail returned me to the parking lot to complete this 7.6 mile loop.

Google Earth of the run

Between numerous signs labeling the Widows Clearing trail, the Widow’s Clearing trailhead, and the Widow’s Clearing itself, upon my return to my vehicle, I began to wonder, who was the eponymous widow?  I was not able to find any information on my own, so I emailed my favorite expert on local history, Jan at the Sheldon Museum.  She was not familiar with this mysterious widow, but she did some research, and eventually connected me with William J. Powers, Jr. of Lake Dunmore and Rutland.  All of the following information comes from Bill and is the result of his unpublished research on the topic.  This is just a brief synopsis of a much larger body of his work.  Bill has also authored a history book on another of my favorite  running destinations, Silver Lake, and those who are interested in learning more about the history of the lake and its surroundings can purchase his book at the Sheldon Museum.

As it turns out, the widow of interest was one Lucina (Billings) Chatfield, 1818-1897.  While Lucina was born in Tunbridge, she married Alonzo Chatfield in Middlebury in 1838.  They moved up to his home in Ripton, and in 1859 they started farming the plot of land which we now call the Widow’s Clearing. Local records indicate that their farm was rather poor, even by Ripton hill farm standards.  When this site became known as “Widow’s Clearing” is not in the information which I have at my disposal, but it is clear that Lucina was not widowed immediately – she was abandoned by her husband!  In 1855 Alonzo left her and their four children, and moved to Michigan where he lived the rest of his life with his second wife.  Accounts from that time also indicated that Lucina was not openly distraught about this.  Whether this was stoicism on her part, or a case of “good riddance”, we can only speculate.  She owned and operated the farm until 1882, in later years with her son Parsons and his family, although it is not clear if she actually lived there all those years.  It must have been a challenging hardscrabble existence for Lucina and her family, as an 1871 map of Ripton shows “Mrs. Chatfield’s farm” as the most remote, and probably highest altitude farm in Ripton.  Nonetheless, local records also show that by this time, the farm was more successful than it had been during the years of her marriage.  In 1882, Lucina, Parsons, and his family relocated to Middlebury, and there is no record of anyone living at the clearing after that time.  The widow passed away in East Bethel, VT in 1897 at the age of 79, and was buried in the Galvin Cemetery in Ripton alongside her parents.  Kind of an interesting little story of the challenges of mountain life in Vermont!

Finally, Bill’s research also uncovered a picture of the view from the Widow’s Clearing, circa 1870.  The wide open land stands in sharp contrast to the fully recovered forest of modern times. This photo is included with his permission.