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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.

To Silver Lake on the Pipeline

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Authoring this blog has had the benefit of keeping me from getting in ruts (figuratively, not literally) on my runs – I can’t keep writing up the same routes, so I am constantly on the lookout for new places to run, or potentially interesting variations on old favorites.  Today’s run is an example of the latter.  My first run description early last summer described a route which skirted the north end of Silver Lake, a popular local outdoor destination and one of my favorite places for summertime runs.  I couldn’t help but notice numerous side trails which looked runable without pondering what their destination would be.  In particular, I have always wondered how to get to the curious structure visible part way up the ridge.  This smokestack structure, which looks like the remnants of a postindustrial redoubt on the hillside when viewed from the beach on Branbury State Park, had always seemed somewhat mysterious and elusive, but I reckoned that some of these trails must lead in its direction.

With this destination in mind, I pulled into the Silver Lake parking lot near Branbury State Park.  Descriptions how to find this parking lot can be found in the aforementioned Silver Lake post.  After a few minutes of climbing, I passed under the first pipeline crossing, but a quick assessment of the its path indicated that following it this low on the hillside would be more a challenging scramble than a trail run, so I continued up the main trail.  After completing most of the switchbacks and most of the climbing, I noticed a major side trail traversing the hillside to the right, so I made this turn rather than continue on the main trail as I had in runs past.   After a few easy minutes on this level trail, I reached the destination of my curiosity.

Mystery structure

I am still somewhat mystified as to the role of this tower.  I first presumed it was some sort of pumping station to bring the water from Silver Lake to the precipice required for power generation, but there were no sounds emanating from the structure indicating that is was actively doing anything, and I certainly was going to respect the “Keep off” signs on the structure and the small adjacent building rather than explore it further.  If any readers know the role of this structure, please post your insights.

A short jog up the grassy knoll behind this structure led to the pipeline itself stretching out into the distance.  Looking down at my feet I noticed that a small patch of opportunistic flowers had made themselves at home in the first of the massive fittings holding this pipeline together.  Perhaps my colleague at The Middlebury Landscape blog can inform us as to their identity?  It is comforting, however, to see nature reclaiming the woods without damaging the functionality of our necessary structures.  A little symbiosis is a good thing!

silver lake pipeline 007

The Pipeline

silver lake pipeline 006

Opportunistic Flora

silver lake pipeline 010 I ran along the top of this broad pipeline for a few hundred yards.  The footing along the pipeline was generally good, but in the few places where it was dicey, there was ample room alongside.  The pipeline eventually crossed the powerline clearcut, and a short run on the obvious path up this hill led to a beautiful viewpoint overlooking Lake Dunmore.  While this is not as airy a vista as the better known Rattlesnake Cliffs viewpoint, it does have the advantage of being open to hikers and runners during much of the summer when the Rattlesnake Cliffs are closed due to Peregrin Falcon nesting.

Completing the pipeline segment of this run, I came up to the base of Silver Lake Dam, looped around to its crest, and chose to circle the lake on this run.  My distant memory of less traveled trail along the west side of the lake was that it was rarely used, and pretty rough.  My distant memory proved correct!  While the next mile or so would have made for a pleasant hike, the rough rocky trail on a sidehill proved pretty much impossible to call a run, even by trailrunning standards.  Very slow going!  Nonetheless, persevering over the next mile or so to the south end of the lake provided a wilder view of the lake than most visitors get.

silver lake pipeline 012The trail circumnavigating Silver Lake eventually joined the Leicester Hollow Trail, and a left turn here on a very well beaten path brings one back to the more civilized campsites, and a second left turn will take one back downhill to the parking lot and the end of the run.  This run covered a little over 6 miles, but took a lot longer than usual due to more exploring than I usually do, and the very slow going on the far side of Silver Lake.

Google Earth of the Route

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile