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New Trails to Earthworm Manor

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Finally, mid-week, we had a break in the polar-bearworthy weather with a warm day in the 20’s, so I chose to take a mid-week extended lunch break, and headed up to the Rikert Ski Touring area for the first time in longer than I care to admit.  I had noticed the existence of a new trail meandering through the open meadows to the south of Rt 125, and west of the ski touring center (that’s on your right, and before Rikert for the directionally challenged) and had made a mental note that this was something to be explored as soon as possible!  Arriving at Breadloaf, I strapped on my skating skis, did a quick warmup around the field, took my skis off, and crossed over the road to the fields directly across from the ski touring area.

I have not skied these open fields much in recent years – I seem to have spent a lot of time here in the late 80’s, when I and my “Team Ross” friends seemed to have to spend a lot of time racking up (inflated) kilometer counts trying to outdo each other in our training over the course of a few winters where there just wasn’t much snow, and the trail at the far side of these fields tended to be the last place that the snow held during the all-too-frequent meltdowns which cursed those winters.  Nonetheless, I noticed from the map in the touring center, that this trail was  the means to get to the new trail, shown on the map as the “Brandy Brook Trail.”  The well-groomed start of the Brandy Brook Trail started in the southwest corner of the meadow, and immediately began an easy descent through a forested area for a short distance, before going over a bridge (over the Brandy Brook itself perhaps?) before entering one of the open meadows alongside Rt 125.  From this point on, the trail meandered through the fields for about a kilometer, before skirting the Galvin Cemetery, final resting place of “The Widow on the Hill“, and crossing the road at the white house bearing the curious name “Earthworm Manor“.

I was curious to find out the origins of this odd name, and obtaining this information proved easier than expected, courtesy of Google.  While his primary residence was at 24 Chipman Park in Middlebury, Earthworm Manor was the former second home of one W. H. Upson (where have I seen that name before?), who had been a prolific writer for the Saturday Evening Post, as well as other periodicals during the mid 20th century.  Although he lived in quite a few parts of the country, including a stint at the Caterpillar Tractor Company in Illinois,when he eventually settled in the Middlebury area, he frequently attended the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, and taught creative writing on occasional at Middlebury College.   Presumably he was a colleague of our better known poet, Robert Frost?  So why was his Ripton summer home called “Earthworm Manor”?  One of Upson’s most well known fictional characters was an everyman known as Alexander Botts, whose employer was the Earthworm Tractor Company- probably building off the author’s early career at Caterpillar.

Back to skiing!  After crossing the road, my ski took me around behind the Earthworm Manor, and up what is probably an old logging road behind the house.  As I ascended, I noted a fair number of trails diverging from the groomed ski touring trails, and made a note to myself that there just might be some fun trails here for further exploration by ski or on foot.  After a short climb, the Brandy Brook Trail terminated at one of the older Rikert trails, and I then realized where I had heard the aforementioned author’s name before – this was the Upson trail, usually known by it’s nickname, “The Figure 8″.  From this point on, I tried to make the widest loop I could on trails groomed for skating, so I bore left, eventually coming to the Frost Trail, which for many years was the outer limit of the in bounds Rikert terrain, and descending via Holland Trail to the impeccably groomed Tormondsen Racing Trail.  The snowmaking on this trail can make for some rather unnatural snow buildup on the nearby trees, and noticing this tree, I couldn’t help but think it bore a striking resemblance to a rather long and bulbous nose.  Jimmy Durante anyone?

Durante Tree

Durante Tree

Completing my descent, I crossed over the FS 59 road, and came across something I had never noticed before; The small summer swimming pond, which now also served as the water source for the snowmaking, had a small fountain at its center. I suspect that it is not used, except to help keep the pond from freezing over during the coldest portions of the winter (like the last week or so!), and I rarely ski on those sorts of howling cold days.

On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice

 

 

I could have called it a day at this point, but I also knew of another new trail which I wanted to check out. So to get to that, I began my second, shorter loop at the Battell trail. I side excursion down to the less traveled Cook Trail, led me through some dense pine forest. While, the uniformly spaced and sized monoculture red pines were undoubtedly placed there by humans in the not too distant past, they made for a lovely effect with the fresh snow.

Pine Forest

Pine Forest

Ascending the modest hill on the Battell Trail, I came to the short straightaway at the top where the ski trail is separated from a little-used snowmobile trail by a hedge of 30 ft pines. After reminiscing that I have been skiing here so long that I can remember when those trees were planted as saplings, I crossed over onto the snowmobile trail, which brought me past the Kirby Burial Ground, and onto the upper reaches of FS 59.  From here, I scooted up the Forest Service Road, which is maintained for ski skating just as well as the touring center trails, courtesy of the snowmobile groomer, until I reached the Brown Gate, where I returned via the Upper Gilmore Trail (a great new trail which I first sampled last year!), until I reached the Gilmore House, where I explored the second new trail of the day, the Crooked Brook trail, which begins behind the Gilmore House.  This trail, while probably only 1K long, is a blast to ski, as it descends through a series of fun, tight turns before traversing across, eventually joining the other well established trails near the Myhre Cabin.  While writing up this posting, I discovered that a short Facebook posting showing the construction of this trail was published last summer.  Thanks to Mike and his staff for building this great little trail!

One final descent brought me back to the touring center to complete what ended up being about a 9.5 mile ski.  Once again, my aging Garmin GPS had a bad day, so I won’t be able to post the usual tech stuff from that.  I got the darn thing back in 2007, so maybe it is time for a new one?  Anyone want to throw some money in a Kickstarter account to help defray the costs of a new one?

Water, water everywhere

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

So we had some rain today.

January is starting out with a bang-it didn’t get above 0 degrees for several days last week, and this morning was 50 degrees and raining. Rain of biblical proportions, with the rain gauge at the track saying .88″ of rain, most of it falling between 7:30-10:30, up to a half inch an hour at times. I’m not going to answer the Middbeat question of “What’s the deal with the weather”, except to say we’ve got some lower atlantic moisture sliding up the coast on the side of the polar vortex in the middle of the country. When low pressure systems like that get squeezed on the sides by intense high pressure, all sorts of funky things happen, like lots of quick rain, or high winds. We had both.

And with the deep freeze last week, storm drains were plugged, iced over, or covered in snowbanks. Rain can’t soak into frozen ground, taxing storm drains even when they are available and working. The landscape department went into overdrive, breaking up ice dams and opening storm drains. The most worrisome spot was solved quickly, that of Voter basement. You know, (or maybe you don’t), that place with all the computer servers. That would be a heck of an excuse for a banner web crash, wouldn’t it?

The northwest door of McCullough, the one that heads either straight towards Munroe and Mead Chapel, or head up the stairs towards Stewart, sits at the bottom of that whole slope below Mead. That entire side slope seems to drain right towards that door. There are several storm drains near there, including what turns out to be a critical one to the right of the door way. This is Jaime and Buzz, wearing hip waders, looking for the storm drain with ice picks and an iron bar. (As always, click on the picture to enlarge)

2014-01-06 09.14.58
And this is the doorway in question, where water was flowing a foot deep through the doors and down the stairs. We actually got the backhoe in there and broke up the iced over snow banks around the entry, and got the water moving down. The plastic and snow was acting like a temporary dam blocking some of the water.

2014-01-06 09.04.34

The Gamut room, in the Gifford pit, started flooding too. That’s Buzz and Jaime again, looking for the tiny little drain somewhere at their feet.

2014-01-06 09.39.20

Yes, I’m the one taking all these pictures. Only barn boots, no hip waders, and I don’t know how to swim.

The drain for this pit is simply down the hill below Mead Chapel. Bet you’ve been sledding over the top of it. Broke the ice around this drain and the pit was cleared in about 15 minutes.

2014-01-06 09.41.58

The last spot we’re still worrying about is on the north west alcove of Battell. This drain is frozen solid, barely flowing at all. We use bags of calcium chloride, and dump them on top of the drain. It acts like a non toxic drain cleaner, flowing down the drain and melting the ice. I’m hopeful this drain will be fixed by tomorrow. I’m not the most patient person you know.

2014-01-06 09.54.58

The true heroes for the day, though, I don’t have any pictures of. There is an entire custodial team known as ‘floor crew’. I don’t even know how many of them there are, but the ones I know on it are all pretty cool. They ran around all day with wet vacs, carpet extractors, blowers, mops, and various other implements of mass destruction. Wherever water was pouring into basements or doorways, they were there, fixing the mess, saving the floors and buildings (and maybe your room!) from the water mess.

 

Guess what those snow flurries mean…

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

That it was less than 32 degrees out this morning.

But more importantly, it’s a signal that J-Term is just around the corner!

Still not sure of your J-Term plans? What about an internship?

There are still some awesome opportunities in MOJO. As the snow falls in January, you could be:

  • putting your Spanish skills to use as an Advocacy Intern for the Vermont Immigration Project
  • participating in development and strategic planning for the Fit Kids Foundation
  • engaging with the local community at the Charter House Emergency Shelter
  • working in a classroom at the Peck School
  • or researching rural education in China for the REAP project.

For more information and to apply, visit MOJO today!

Guess what those snow flurries mean…

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

That it was less than 32 degrees out this morning.

But more importantly, it’s a signal that J-Term is just around the corner!

Still not sure of your J-Term plans? What about an internship?

There are still some awesome opportunities in MOJO. As the snow falls in January, you could be:

  • putting your Spanish skills to use as an Advocacy Intern for the Vermont Immigration Project
  • participating in development and strategic planning for the Fit Kids Foundation
  • engaging with the local community at the Charter House Emergency Shelter
  • working in a classroom at the Peck School
  • or researching rural education in China for the REAP project.

For more information and to apply, visit MOJO today!

A Better Weather Forecast

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Thanks to an Environmental Grant several years ago, the Landscape department has been running a personal weather station down at the track off of Porter Field Road, with a second more recent station up at Breadloaf campus. We depend on these stations for primarily for snow removal and IPM strategies. The data are also streamed to the Weather Underground, a weather web site that accumulates and posts data for over 10,000 stations across the US.

Any compulsive weather addicts know how tricky it is to forecast weather for a region-most people say the forecasters are “wrong”. A better interpretation would probably be to say they aren’t accurate, and Vermont is a great example of why. The National Weather Service has various offices, and ours is in Burlington at the airport. They cover a large area, from Lake Placid to Montpelier, and from the Canadian Border to Killington. The only way to accurately forecast an area this large is to break it into regions. For example, our region is number 9, Western Addison, including the cities of Vergennes and Middlebury. And here lies the problem with forecasting, particularly in the winter. Middlebury campus is under the same forecast as Lake Champlain, and Vergennes shares the forecast with Brandon. It’s a huge geographical area, and one forecast for such a space is bound to lose accuracy across the region. Addison may get an 1″ of snow, low in the valley, while East Middlebury may be getting hammered with 6 times that, under the same forecast.

The Weather Underground has been taking the National Weather Service forecast, and re-packaging it on their website, along with access to some great radar maps, blogs, photos, etc. Recently, however, they’ve starting forecasting themselves, called Best Forecast, and what makes this different is the data, not only from all of the NWS weather stations, but all of the personal weather stations such as ours. Slate just wrote a great article explaining this. Suffice it to say that Best Forecast is now taking into account microclimates, so when pulling up a Middlebury forecast on the WU, we are getting a Middlebury campus forecast.

How accurate? We’ll find out tonight and tomorrow. The NWS is forecasting a dusting to 2″ of snow tonight, with an additional 3-5″ possible tomorrow before it changes to rain. Temperatures mid 20′s tonight, mid 30′s tomorrow. Best Forecast? Lows of 28 tonight, 50% chance of snow or rain, high of 45 tomorrow, snow than rain in the afternoon, snow accumulations of 1″ possible. I’m not placing bets on who is correct here, but the Best Forecast feels right to me. I’ll post an update when all is said and done.

UPDATE 4PM: The NWS issues forecasts at fairly regular times, 3 PM or so being fairly regular. Their update for the western addison zone has changed slightly, 2-4″ during the day tomorrow, changing to rain in the afternoon, back to snow Friday night with an additional 1-3″. Mid 30′s tomorrow, mid 20′s tomorrow night. Best Forecast has changed little-snow and rain tomorrow, accumulation 1″, chance of ice pellets, snow and rain friday night, only 60% chance, no accumulation mentioned.

UPDATE 12 NOON FRIDAY: The NWS has changed their forecast, as the storm seems to have slowed down from the west. No snow last night, and only light snow now at noon, not accumulating. So do we call this a win for Best Forecast? Both forecasts now are in line with each other for snowfall tonight, 4-6″, but Best Forecast is calling for temps today around 45, with the NWS saying mid 30′s, which it is now. I’d be surprised if temps rise today.

Still Thinking of Ski Season

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The last few months have constituted my longest hiatus from blogging since beginning The Middlebury Trailrunner.  I ended taking off some time from running (and hence, blogging) due to the inevitable post- marathon letdown in training, followed by hunting season (the worst time of the year for trail runners!),  followed by a particularly busy end of the semester, and some minor injuries.  Finally, on a clear February Saturday afternoon, the time was right for my first trail run in far too long.  At the time of my last posting, long ago in October, a dusting of early season snow began to get me thinking of what I hoped would be a great cross country ski season.  Well, I am still waiting – this is the time of the year for cross-country skiing, and I have yet to ski.  Since, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t any place in Addison County with enough snow for cross- country skiing, I thought I might take advantage of the thin snow cover with an “out of season” trail run.

The Robert Frost Trail on Rt.125 in Ripton is a well known and much loved footpath for easy family walks in the mountains.  It is also very short, with a total length of about a mile,  and by itself a little too short for a decent run.  Far fewer people have ventured on to the trails beyond, over and around the hill sometimes referred to as “Water Tower Hill”.  I have always found this name somewhat confusing, as the series of trails a few miles further to the west on the other side of the Ripton-Goshen Road are also called the Water Tower Trails.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no water tower to be found at either of these locales – so if anyone knows the history of these names, and the saga of the lost water tower – I would love to hear about it!  In any case, a run extended beyond the confines of the Robert Frost Trail, around the Water Tower Hill, seemed like a good route for this midwinter run. A great map of this area is available from the ranger station just south of Middlebury on Rt.7.

I expected the first sections of the run to be the easiest, given the flat, well trodden terrain.  This ended up not being quite the case – the more heavily traveled sections were essentially blue ice hidden under a thin veneer of fresh snow.  Fortunately, my winter running shoes, aka “studded snow tires for runners” did a good job of keeping me upright, but I had to chose my footing carefully.  It had been a while since my last run here - two summers ago, I was surprised to find the bridge over the river weaving through this area had been washed out, necessitating a little bit of unexpected wading!  I knew there had been some construction over the summer, and was curious to see the new bridge.  The original bridge had been a pretty, rustic structure, where my children and I had enjoyed playing “Pooh Sticks” on some of their first walks in the woods.  Looking around the web, I found a picture of this structure!

Original Bridge, courtesy of http://www.travbuddy.com/photos/reviews/11306

The new bridge, in contrast, while still wooden, has a much more utilitarian look about it. At first glance, it also looked almost ridiculously over built (it might double as a railroad trestle!), until I realized that it was constructed to be accessible to those confined to wheelchairs, who might otherwise have few opportunities for the quiet of the woods.

New Robert Frost Trail Bridge

Immediately across the bridge, the combination of uneven footing, hillside trails, and blue ice led to a few moments of panic and emergency tree hugging to remain upright, but as the trail flattened out the footing improved, the rest of the run proved quite pleasant. Deeper in the woods, the main trail bears sharply to the left, and the connector to Water Tower Hill went straight up the hill. This trail also had no footprints in the snow, indicating I was the first person in some time to venture in this direction. Soon afterwards, this trail joined the Crosswalk Trail (all trails are very well signed here!) which I took to its conclusion before descending on Sundown. An easy descent eventually wound behind some of the buildings at Camp Silver Towers and crossed through a beaver meadow with great views of Breadloaf Mountain.

Beaver Pond with a View

A few moments later, I reached the Ripton-Goshen Road, and reversed course, this time staying on Sundown and circling around the west side of Water Tower Hill. This section included a nice 500 ft climb, modest for a trail run, but my best climb in some time! A left turn onto Trepidation, followed by a short descent on Northstar brought me back to the Robert Frost Trail connector. The run was finished with a run through a blueberry meadow (a great place to be in July!) with more great views of the Green Mts.

meadow views

Recrossing the new bridge, and a few hundred yards more on the trail brought me back to my car. The whole loop added up to about 4.6 miles with two climbs totally about 700 ft. Hopefully, the next post will be more seasonably appropriate – on skis!

Google Earth of the Run

Altitude Profile

Thinking of Ski Season

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I was feeling lethargic, and was finally ready for my first real run about two weeks after the marathon alluded to in my previous post.  I had been concentrating on recovery, with a few yoga classes to loosen up and some easy time on the elliptical trainer as my only workouts, but it was definitely time to hit the trails again!  It was fun waking up on Sunday morning, seeing the thin cover of snow on my yard and  on the trees around my home, so I thought it would be fun to do a run on the ski trails of the Rikert Ski Touring area at Breadloaf.

Arriving at Breadloaf on this cool sunny Sunday afternoon, I was surprised to see that there was really not much more snow up here than we had received in the valley.  While the fields were pretty much bereft of snow cover, there was still plenty of the white stuff on the shadier trails, and the summit of Breadloaf Mt. in the background was truly snowcapped.

The Barn and Breadloaf Mt.

The Barn and Breadloaf Mt.

The first section of the run followed the track described on one of my previous ski postings, as I followed the collegiate racing trails. Entering the woods of the Battell Trail I noted the first signs of ongoing trail maintenance – a big pile of dirt blocking my path. I had suspected that there would be some damage to the trails as a result of Hurricane Irene. I stayed on this trail for most of the loop, but noticed more trail work at the bottom of the descent – a new bridge was being put in at the bottom of the descent. Other than this bridge and a few downed trees, however, which I suspect occur every summer, I saw no sign of any significant trail damage. After looping back into the field, I decided to head up the Myhre Hill dirt road, and saw something that surprised me – what looked like a new ski trail diverging off to the right! Even though it was roped off, I decided to see where it led, but it seemed to rejoin the racing trail after a short way. Heading further uphill, I passed by the Myhre Cabin, and decided to explore one of the more remote trails, Frost. I was struck by the beauty of the light snow cover, late afternoon sun, and last remnants of fall foliage.  Not surprisingly, there were a few sets of human and canine foot prints – I was not the only person out enjoying this late fall aftennoon.

Last of the Foliage

During my descent back to the Breadloaf campus, I quickened my pace when I heard the blasts of a “too close for comfort” hunter’s gun – I didn’t think it was deer season yet, but I wasn’t going to take chances, especially since I was dressed in green. Heading towards the lower reaches of what had been the racing trail, I came across another new section of trail, and noticed that some older trail segments had been broadened. Returning to my car in the Rikert parking lot, I noted that this run had been just shy of 5 miles – a good distance to get back on my feet again. While this loop didn’t have any true hill climbs, it did include 500-600 feet of climbing, with a few ups and downs along the way.

I look forward to finding out what is up with the new trail construction. Mike, the new director of the ski touring area, has commented in conversation his wishes to upgrade the trail system. I suspect that these new trail sections are being put in place to facilitate racing, especially for skating races where the narrowness of many of trails makes it difficult for skiers to pass each other. Now, all we need is some more snow……

Google Earth of the Breadloaf Run

Altitude Profile