Tag Archives: Snake Mt.

Beating The Blerch on Snake Mountain

Ok, so some of you must be asking “What the heck is The Blerch?”

The Blerch

The Blerch


The Blerch is a character, created by the author and cartoonist known as “The Oatmeal”, who has described The Blerch in the following words:


“Marathon runners often describe a phenomenon known as “hitting the wall.” They refer to ‘the wall” as the point in a race when they feel physically and emotionally defeated.

I do not believe in the wall. I believe in The Blerch. The Blerch is a fat little cherub who follows me when I run. He is a wretched, lazy beast. He tells me to slow down, to walk, to quit.

“Blerch” is the sound food makes when it is squeezed from a tube. “Blerch” is the shape of my tummy after a huge meal. If I am sedentary at a time when I have zero excuse for being sedentary, I call this “blerching.” The Blerch represents all forms of gluttony, apathy, and indifference that plague my life.


The Blerch always seems to appear in my life over the holidays – too much good food, too much good wine, and too much time on the road or in the homes of my extended family can make for a relaxing holiday, but not one in which I get much running in.  “Its too cold outside Jeff – you don’t want to go out there”, or “Gee that football game, the Dingleberry Bowl between Okoboji State and Turkey Tech sure sounds good”, or “I shouldn’t run right after eating – where are the Christmas cookies?”.  Yup – that’s the Blerch talking!

A few days ago, one of my running friends in Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts announced a run up, over and back on my old favorite, Snake Mountain, for this Saturday morning, and this sounded like a great way to jump start my running legs after the lethargy of the holidays.  So, when my alarm went off at 7 am on a Saturday morning…..I hit the snooze button.   Damn that Blerch!  10 minutes later, as the alarm resumed its insistent buzz, I realized that it was time to silence The Blerch along with the alarm, so I got up and poured a cup of coffee.  Then, I looked at the thermometer, and it read “9 degrees”.  Ugh – its too cold out there, but as the sun rises it will warm up, right?  So I had my breakfast, and drank a few more cups of coffee, and when the time came at 8:30 am to drive off to the Snake Mt. trailhead on the west side of the mountain, I looked at the thermo-tormentor, and it let me know that the meager rays of sun had raised the temperature all the way up to 11 degrees.  At least at this point, I realized I had drunk too much coffee to go back to bed, so off to the trailhead I went, donning about seven layers of clothing.

My mood improved considerably upon seeing four other runners ready to go at the start of the run.  We had been forewarned to wear some sort of spikes on our shoes given the icing on the trails, so I brought my Asics Gel Arctic shoes – basically a normal running shoes with short spikes in the soles, for the winter ascent.  The rest of the group had slip on spikes, known as MICROspikes, which they wore over their running shoes, and looked like they might offer even better grip.  Sure enough, as we set off up the trail, while my shoes did well on the old styrofoam snow, frozen mud, and hard packed trail snow, they offered no grip whatsoever on the brief but challenging sections where the trail was essentially a frozen waterfall.

Icy Trails

Icy Trails


As a result, my pace was much slower than usual, but nobody else was running much faster. Achieving the summit on this bitter cold morning, which seemed much more bearable after climbing for over two miles, we were treated to some amazing Adirondack views. I have always felt that if you squint your eyes just a little while looking west, you can almost convince yourself that our winter views of the ‘Dacks look an awful lot like views of the Front Range from Denver.

Adirondack Views

Adirondack Views

After ascending from the more heavily hiked west side trail, we decided to descend down the east side. To get to this trail, you have to pretty much know where it is, as it is an unmarked trail. About one third of the way down the mountain, the west side trail takes a sharp, steeply descending right hand turn, and the east side trail is achieved if you go straight at this point. If you have never hiked this trail before, I would recommend ascending from the east side parking lot on Snake Mountain Road, so you can see where the trails meet. Given the lighter use of the east side trail, the snow was not as compacted as it was on the much icier west side, making for an easier descent, passing by some nicely terraced beaver ponds.

Beaver Ponds on Snake Mt

Beaver Ponds on Snake Mt

When we reached the east side parking lot, we had a decision to make: I was not looking forward to the climb back on the trails, and back down the west side, as my footing was much poorer than the others’ and I was not enthused about sliding down the mountain on a frozen incline. I knew there was a way to circle back to our parked cars by taking the Forest Road, a road which ran over the southern shoulder of Snake Mountain, but I did not have a clear idea what the mileage of this route would be. Some members of the group suspected that my mileage estimates might be a bit on the short side, and were not up for the potential of a significantly longer run. So, we ended up splitting the group- after all, this is supposed to be fun – and some went back up the mountain, while a few of us chose the road return, heading south on Snake Mt. Road, west on the climb over Forest Road, and then taking the right turn onto Mountain St. extension to return to our vehicles. Other than occasionally choking on the dust churned up by passing cars, this was actually a nice road run with views to the east and to the west at various points along the way. Although my initial conservative estimate of the distance was indeed shy of the actual mileage by about a mile and a half, I had not missed by as much as some of my running partners feared.  The two groups met back at the parking lot within a few minutes of each other, and our version of the run worked out to almost exactly 10 miles, with the about 1000 ft climb up the mountain.

Happy New Year, and Death to the Blerch!  (although he is kind of cute…..)

Google Earth to beat the Blerch

Google Earth to beat the Blerch

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

A Snake Mountain Variation

One of my all-time favorite short trail runs is the popular dash up to the summit of Snake Mountain, with its panoramic views to of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to the west.  Each September, I also like to present an easily accessible run for the benefit of Middlebury College freshman who might be looking for nearby runs or hikes that can be  reached quickly from campus.  While this trailhead requires (for most people) a short drive, there are enough snazzy SUV’s on campus (and we aren’t talking 10-year old Dodge pickup trucks -go Lexus!) that opportunities for transportation are not hard to come by.  I have blogged runs up this mountain a few times in the past.  From the well known western route, I have described the run under both midsummer conditions, as well as during Mud Season.  I have also described the lesser known trail ascending Snake Mountain from the east side.  Nonetheless, there were still some trails on this well trammeled mountain which I have not described, or even explored, and so I thought it would be fun to make them part of a new entry.

possible one room schoolhouse

An old schoolhouse near Snake Mt.?

Rather than describe in detail the driving route to the trailhead, I will refer my readers to a previous posting with detailed instructions on how to get there.  Setting off from the parking lot, and shortly before heading up the mountain trail, I noticed that the old building across from the end of Wilmarth Road at the trailhead had been repainted a bright red, and with this new paint job, it looked a lot like an old one-room schoolhouse.  I have never thought of this abandoned building in this regard, but now I wonder if it may be an old schoolhouse. Does anyone know of the original purpose of this building?

The first section of the run involves a straightforward run up the broad trail, which was dry on this run, but can be a pretty major quagmire in the spring. As this section of the trail ended, it reached a “T”in the trail. It is pretty obvious to that a left turn takes you up towards the summit, but I have always wondered where I would end up if I were to take the right fork? Maybe on the way down? Staying on the obvious trail, through a series of switchbacks gets you to the main summit after about 2 miles. Many visiters to this summit have been under the impression that the large concrete slab at the summit is left over from the former small summit hotel which operated around the turn of the 20th century. This slab is actually of more recent origin, although I don’t know the exact decade in which it was built. It apparently is the result of someone’s aborted attempt to build a home on the summit, and the real foundations of the hotel can be found not far from this viewpoint in the woods.

Paper Mill in the distance

Paper Mill in the distance

Most hikers and runners don’t come up here for the history, however.  They come up here for the spectacular views.  Even though the day of this run was pretty cloudy, the views were still excellent – I could easily make out the smoke from the Ticonderoga Paper Mill, about 15 miles away.

Unlike my previously blogged runs on this small summit, I decided to take a different route on the way down.  So, on this run, I took the first obvious right turn on the descent, and in a few short minutes arrived at the other, less frequently visited vista.  During some summers, this other viewpoint has been closed due to peregrine falcon nesting, but apparently there wasn’t a nesting pair there this last summer.  This “South Summit” (OK – stretching the Everest analogy here a little bit too much?) also has another curious feature.  Directly behind the rock where most hikers enjoy the view, there is what appears to be a small marshy pond.  What most people don’t know is that this is actually a man-made pond which was created to provide swimming opportunities for the guests of the long gone summit hotel!  It’s anthropogenic origins are more obvious if you notice the man-made earthen berm along the east side of the pond.  I might also add that this pond, now rather shallow and mucky, shows no sign of whatever appeal it might once have had to summit visitors!

pond remnant

Summit Swimming Hole



Continuing on, the descent from this summit takes you down a trail which is steeper and narrower than the ascending trail, and eventually returns you to the main trail. At this point, you can simply retrace your steps to complete a 4 mile run, but as alluded to earlier in the posting, I decided to explore the continuation of the summit trail which goes straight, where most hikers and runners turn right. Not having the slightest idea where I might turn up, I headed down this trail, which eventually brought me into a lovely meadow, and shortly thereafter, to the side of the road known as Mountain Street Extension, where I took a right turn, followed about a half mile later by another right turn which returned me to my car, adding an additional mile to the run. The five mile run, combined with nearly a thousand feet of ascent and descent makes for a fun, and pretty intense mountain run.  But remember, like a lot of fun challenges, it is only hard the first time!

google earth of the route

google earth of the Snake Mountain route.


Snake Mountain Altitude Profile

Altitude and Mileage


Geocache Search on Buck Mountain

I had long heard of a fun trail up Snake Mountain‘s little brother, Buck Mountain.  Buck Mountain consists of a low lying, N-S ridge a few miles north and east of Snake Mountain, in the bustling community of Waltham.  Looking at it from the west, however, I could see that it had some west-facing cliffs leading me to assume that it should have views just as nice those from its big brother!  Googling the route prior to the run, I came across a web entry indicating that there was, or at least had been a geocache at the summit.  For those of you who are not familiar with geocaching, it is a sport in which a small waterproof container containing a logbook and perhaps some small inexpensive trinkets is stashed somewhere in the woods, with GPS coordinates as the primary clue to its location.  So, prior to this run, I signed into the geocaching website and wrote down the coordinates for the Buck Mt cache.  I will not share these coordinates here, since those who posted them did so on a site which required free registration, but the site where they are available can be found very easily through normal searching methods.

The Buck Mt. trailhead requires a short drive from Middlebury – head north on Rt. 7, and take the left to the west on Rt. 17 where the two routes cross at New Haven Junction.  After about a mile and a half, take the right turn on Green St., and then after a longer mile and a half, take the left turn onto the unpaved road called (somewhat ostentatiously, given its modest size) “Route Sixty Six”.  Head uphill until you reach the height of land, and there will be a small pullover on the left side of the road.  The unmarked trail begins here, and a few other places as well it appears from the meandering nature of the first 50 yards or so of the trail.  I was forewarned that there were quite a few paths intersecting the main Buck Mt. Trail, but the main trail would be obvious, and fortuneately correct.  So, I strapped on my GPS, popped my camera in my pocket, and headed along the ridge for the summit overlook.

The path was pretty flat at first, and then did a series of short climbs, and one modest descent before the final climb to the summit.  The trail was generally pretty dry, and did prove pretty obvious to follow, despite the lack of markings, and the presence of a few crosstrails leading to unknown destinations.  When I reached the summit after what proved to be a very short run – a mile and a quarter, I was immediately impressed by the views.  Like Snake Mountain, it did have a wonderful view of the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks to the west, for a fraction of the effort.

Northwest Views


After soaking up the view in solitude for a few minutes, I set out to find the geocache. While my set of coordinates led me to a place on the summit which appeared to fit the search hints, as well as the exact coordinates, I could not find anything which fit my vision of what might be entailed in a summit cache. The only major sign of human habitation found in this vicinity was an empty Bud Light can (ugh) but my efforts did lead to a treat of sorts – a “cache” of wild blueberries, which I took a few minutes to enjoy. I am not sure what happened to the geocache – perhaps I was not thorough enough in my search, or perhaps the cache had been removed. The site where I learned of the webcache had listed its last known finding at over a year ago. On the outside chance that I had erred in my GPS use, I looked along the full length of the ridge, and while no cache ever appeared, I did get a nice view of Middlebury as I rounded the south end of the ridge. You can see the Middlebury “skyline” up against the south slopes of Chipman Hill, if you look carefully!

Middlebury Skyline View


The return to my car made this a very easy, but very pleasant run, even if my goal of finding the geocache met with failure. The round trip on this run would be a mere 2.5 miles, which I stretched to 3 with my summit meanderings. Nonetheless, the short distance, and modest climb (about 400 vertical ft) makes this an excellent trail run for those new to the sport, and looking for a little bit of climbing. Does anyone know anything about this cache – was it removed, abandoned, vandalized, or do i just need to hone my searching skills?

View of the route from the west


altitude profile

The Other Side of Snake Mountain

I have been looking forward to my next post for some time now – Since March, the inevitable aches, pains, and nuisance injuries of middle age have kept me off the trails and out of my running shoes.  While I am not back to 100% (or what delusionally passes for 100% at this point in my life), I was at the point where continued rest and inactivity seemed to hurt more than help.  Contemplating a relatively short, easy run I remembered learning of a much less traveled trail up Snake Mountain, ascending from the gentler east side of the mountain.  Since this side of the mountain appeared much less imposing than the west facing cliff side where most hikers and runners begin, I assumed I was in for a relatively easy run.  Sometimes visual impressions can be deceiving!

The east face trailhead is much less known than the far heavier traveled east side trail on Snake Mt.  The easiest way to get to this trailhead is to head out of town to the west on Rt. 125 until you get to Lemon Fair Road.  Turn right onto Lemon Fair Road at the yellow house at the top of the hill about a mile and a half out of town, and stay on this road until you get to Snake Mountain Rd, where you take a right turn.  Head north on Snake Mt. Rd. for 2.5 miles, until you come to a small barely marked parking lot slightly up to your left.

The trail begins gently enough following a broad, well maintained path through a few hillside meadows before reaching at gate about a third of a mile up the trail.  After this point, the trail soon becomes a narrow, single track trail, unlike the broad former coach road which makes up the west side trail.  Nonetheless, the trail was obvious to follow, and went by several pretty, boggy areas where the trail got a little bit muddy.  Along the muddiest section, the source of the flooding was soon obvious – a beaver pond had started raise the water level in one of the boggy sections to the point where the trail was beginning to get slightly flooded.  There were also several clearly recently felled trees (one with green leaves still on it!) indicating that the beaver in residence had been characteristically busy in the previous day or two.

Beaver Pond



Downed Tree


Continuing past this muddy section, the trail got significantly steeper before leveling off for a traverse to the south. I was beginning think that I must be getting nearer to the summit, but was puzzled where the trail would end up, as I had never noticed where this particular trail joined the main trail, let alone the summit. My questions were soon answered as the east side trail joined the west side trail – only about half way up the mountain – I had plenty of running yet to do! Upon reaching the summit view point, I was far more tired than usual – was this solely due to the expected loss of conditioning after 3 months off the trails? Or was the east side trail deceptively longer? I would have to wait until I got home and synced up my Garmin GPS watch to get most of the hard data.

View to the North from the summit

View to the North from the summit


I was pretty tired at the summit, and the circling vultures did little to comfort me! Another far more ornithologically informed hiker at the summit commented that since I was so sweaty, the vultures were probably smelling me as if I was carrion. Funny – Mrs. Trailrunner seems to think the same thing when I return from a good long trail run. The return to my car was relatively uneventful, with the caveat that less traveled trails are sometimes more difficult to find on the way down than they are on the way up – I unwittingly ended up following a dry stream bed rather than the trail for a few hundred yards, but fortunately rejoined the true trail at about the point when I was beginning to realize I had taken a wrong turn.

After checking the mileage on this run, which was harder than I hoped it would be, I found that my observations were verified – the east side trail is about a half mile longer (4.6 miles), about 100 vertical feet more to climb (1000 ft total), and significantly rougher than the west side. It was also a more interesting and prettier path in my opinion – in other words, a true trail run! I am looking forward to some new and more adventurous runs as my body continues to heal.

Altitude Profile

View of the run from the east, looking west

Mud Season Traipsing

The snow has melted away at lower elevations (except for in my yard, but that is another story), the sun is shining, and the weather is warm.  Is Spring here?  No way – this is all Vermonters’ favorite time of the year, Mud Season, and chances are good that true “Spring” is a few weeks to a month away!  Nonetheless, Friday’s 70 degree weather inspired me to go for one my favorite short hill climbs, Snake Mountain.  I briefly contemplated breaking out my new running shoes to begin their break-in process, but at the last minute, decided against it.  This ended up being a very good call.

I am not going to go into my usual details about this running route, as I covered it pretty well last summer in my post entitled “Snake Mountain” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/trailrunner/2009/08/30/snake-mountain).  Since central Vermont is remarkably free of major tectonic activity, I think it is pretty safe to assume that there was not much change in the location of the trail, making my past post a still-relevant description.

Mud season trailrunning has its benefits and drawbacks.  There are none of the late spring mosquitoes or black flies to offer torment, and views into and beyond the adjacent forest are not obscured by the foliage which emerges in a few weeks.   The greatest benefit, of course, is that it increases one’s fitness level, making longer midsummer runs both possible and pleasant.  The drawback, of course, is mud.  Lots of mud.  But what did I expect?  All that melting snow had to go somewhere.  The first quarter mile or so of the Snake Mountain trail had some of the deepest shoe-sucking mud on the entire trail.  After a few yards of trying to tiptoe around the wallows, I recognized the futility of this approach, and charged right up the middle of the trail and hoped that I didn’t lose my running shoes in the deeper mud.  This section of the trail was not without its pleasures, however.  A few small patches of wildflowers forcing their way through the wet leaves on the forest floor provided the first living evidence of the emergence of spring.  Since this was a late afternoon run, I also had the pleasure of hearing the peepers for the first time this year.

The first wildflowers of the season

The first wildflowers of the season

Kicking back at my arrival at the overlook point on Snake Mt., I gave my running shoes the opportunity to enjoy the view.  These sneaks were white about an hour earlier…..My legs most definitely told me that this was one of my first significant hill runs of the season, as well, but the stiffness resulting from this relatively short run will make the next few months’ runs all the easier.   The descent back to my car was slow due to caution so that I didn’t take a fall in one of the frequent mud wallows along the way.

muddy sneaker view