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Up the North Branch Trail

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Two summers ago, I had the pleasure of competing in the inaugural version of The Moosalamoo Ultra, and while I will not be running the full 36 mile version of it this year, I thought I would piece together a significantly shorter run which included at least a few segments from this far more grueling course. I also wanted to piece together bits of trails in such a way that I had never run that particular combination before, so I chose a route starting from the Falls of Lana trailhead, just south of Branbury State Park, ascending to the Goshen-Ripton Road on the North Branch Trail and the Voter Brook Overlook road, and descending on a mix of snowmobile trails and unmarked trails.  It has not gone unnoticed by myself and others, that the frequency of bear sightings in the Moosalamoo area has been on the rise.  Bear sightings on the trail are a true treat, as long as the bear chooses the appropriate response – that of running away.  So, I have decided that the key to a good bear sighting is to run quietly, and wear garish clothing to scare the bear away once contact is made.  With this in mind, I purchased a brand new Ben and Jerry’s tie dye t-shirt – do you think this will scare away a startled bear?  And yes, I looked into this idea, and bears are not colorblind,  although I would not have wanted to be the person holding picture books with hidden numbers in front of hungry bears….

bear-proof shirt

Bear-repellent

I set up the now routine climb on the Silver Lake service road, but instead of taking the heavily traveled sharp right hairpin turn at the half mile point, I went straight as if I was planning on ascending to the Rattlesnake Cliffs. After a few hundred yards on this trail, I came to the open meadow where the North Branch Trail bears (pun intended) right. This small sunny oasis in what is mostly a pretty heavily forested section was full of mid-summer wildflowers. I was particularly fond of the small, daisy-like flowers which flanked the path on shoulder-height stalks.  Does anyone know what this wildflower is called?

not quite daisies

Not Quite Daisies

At this point, my run joined a section of the route from the Moosalamoo Ultra. This trail junction is where the first feed station, reached after the early-race ascent and descent of Mt. Moosalamoo, around mile 8, and is the lowest altitude point of the race. From here, over the next two miles or so, there is a steady climb along the banks of the North Branch of the Sucker Brook, a rather attractive little stream. Most of this single-track trail has good footing, although there are a few sections with wet rocks necessitating some care in one’s footing, and a few short steep scrambly sections.

babbling brook

Babbling Brook

This trail passes by a few opportunities to get onto easier terrain, as it more or less parallels the rough road connecting the Goshen-Ripton Road to the Voter Brook Overlook. As the weather went from dreary to drizzly to pouring rain, I chose to remain in the relative shelter of the forest rather than the easier travel of the road. This section of the North Branch trail eventually does cross the dirt road, and continue through the woods until it reaches the Moosalamoo Campground, where one must finally continue to climb on the road to get to the Goshen Ripton Road.  At this point, the Ultra crosses the road, for a long series of loops up and around the Sugar Hill Reservoir, but on my much shorter run I turned right on the road, and continued for a little over a mile until I came to a well marked snowmobile trail veering to the right.  At this point, I rejoined the Ultra route, and this road crossing is the site of another feed station, at around the 21 mile point.  The next two miles are pure running pleasure – gradually downhill, double track running, with only a few muddy patches.  In fact, when I ran this section of the Ultra two summers ago, this stretch got me in trouble – I felt so good that I neglected to take in fluids, and paid dearly for my dehydration a few miles later!  No such problem on this run today however, and the falling rain kept me quite cool.  There are a few trail junctions where one should follow the signs for the snowmobile trail system, although some of the other trails crisscrossing my course look like they are worthy of exploration someday.  After about two miles on the snowmobile trail, and a short, steep climb, the trail came to the service road connecting the small Sucker Brook Reservoir to the Silver Lake access road.  In keeping with my plan to duplicate the Ultra trails, I took the sharp right descent, leading me to the “shores” of the Sucker Brook Reservoir.  I put the word “shores” in with quotes, as it seems that there isn’t much water this summer in the reservoir, which exists for flood control, and to control the waterflow heading through the penstock down the the hydroelectric plant at Lake Dunmore.  So, I am afraid this small lake is nothing more than a mudpit this summer.

Sucker Brook Mudpit

Sucker Brook Mudpit

My run then followed the Ultra route, following the road below the earthen dam and joining the broad swath of clearing alongside the buried pipeline connecting the reservoir to Silver Lake. When I ran the Ultra, this section had been recently brush-hogged, making for easier running, but at this point, the grass here is very high, concealing some challenging footing below, on a steeply leaning embankment without an obvious path of least resistance to the runner. I have found that staying high, on the runner’s left makes for the easiest passage on a fairly challenging piece of running for the next mile or so. After a while, it flattens out, and while there seem to be a few different trails here, they all end up at the same place, connecting to the Silver Lake Access Road. When you reach the Silver Lake Beach, this is where another feed station is located at around mile 26 in the Ultra, and the race continues with the exhausting loop up over the Chandler Ridge and around Silver Lake before returning to the Blueberry Hill Inn and the finish line. At this point, I was very wet and had run enough, so simply descended on the service road to my car and the completion of the run.

Now, I’ll bet my readers were guessing that there would be a bear sighting in this run. Sorry to disappoint you – I guess my t-shirt worked too well! This ended up as a 9.5 mile run, with about a thousand feet of climbing. I also learned that my new t-shirt needed to be washed, as it had leached blue dye all over my torso!

google earth of the run

Clockwise, from trailhead at the lower left

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Penstocks to Power

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

For this run, I am returning to one of my favorite destinations, Silver Lake, the pristine pond perched on the hillside about a mile and a half above Lake Dunmore.  I have noticed, and blogged about some sections of the pipeline connecting Silver Lake to the small hydroelectric plant just south of Branbury State Park.  So, I thought it would be fun to follow this pipeline from start to finish, and this required that I start the run at the smaller unmarked parking lot just past the small bridge immediately south of Branbury Park, rather than the usual Falls of Lana parking lot.  Beginning in this lot, I immediately headed towards the clearing where the pipeline completes its journey down from Silver Lake, and scrambled, rather than ran on the unmarked but easy to follow footpath which ascends alongside the pipeline.  While the terrain really wasn’t good for true running, this ascent, rather than the more heavily traveled double track path most frequently used, had the advantage of an excellent view of the longest cascade in the tiered series of drops constituting the Falls of Lana. The area around the falls is a very cliffy, ledgy area with numerous opportunities for injury, so I found it interesting that of all the viewpoints, this was the only one with fencing to protect errant runners. 

Falls of Lana behind safety fencing

Falls of Lana behind safety fencing

Shortly after this overprotective fencing, I joined the main trail, where I had the option of bushwacking up the steep hill, literally following the pipeline in what would be a steep scramble, or actually following the normal trail and rejoining the pipeline further up the hill where it ran a more runnable course. I chose the latter, and ran up the main Silver Lake trail for about a mile until I reached the point where a major trail broke off to the right, meeting up with the pipeline at the point where the tall venting tower easily seen from below juts out from the mountainside. Here, reading the signage, I learned a new word – “penstock” apparently what I had been calling a pipeline is also known by this noun as well! I also noted, the sign warning of dire consequences for walking on the penstock, right alongside a ladder used for…..climbing on the pentock!

Dire Penstock Warnings

Dire Penstock Warnings

From this point on, I had the opportunity to follow the penstock/pipeline across more level terrain, and in fact, the running was easiest right across the top of it, as long as I was careful not to trip over the bulges where segments of pipeline were jointed together. Much of this section was flanked by ferns, until I reached a point where the brush had been recently cleared. This portion of the run concluded at the base of the Silver Lake dam, Yes, Silver Lake, like Lake Dunmore, is a naturally occurring lake which has been enhanced in size and utility through the use of damming. Unlike Lake Dunmore, which was enlarged for recreational use, Silver Lake has more practical purposes – hydroelectric power and flood control!

Climbing to the top of the Silver Lake Dam, I followed the easy  lakeshore path, until reaching the small beach, before taking the spur trail heading to the hike-in campground alongside this very scenic lake.  At a small footbridge over a sluiceway, the second, less well known segment of this hydroelectric project becomes apparent.  I was also surprised to see that this sluiceway, for the first time in my memory, was devoid of water.  My suspicion was that with the incessant  rains of the last month, water was being withheld or diverted to keep water levels in Silver Lake and/or Lake Dunmore at safe levels.

Dry Sluiceway above Silver lake

 

 

I tried to follow the side of this sluiceway, but the footing at it’s edge was not quite secure enough, so I doubled back and found a small trail which brought me back to the main Silver Lake trail/dirt road, and followed it up the hill for a few yards, reaching the point where the sluiceway submerged beneath the road from my right, and at this point I noted a small building to my left whose function was undoubtedly connected to this segment of the pipeline. I turned back into the woods at this point, mostly running along the high berm covering the pipeline, although in some sections, it seemed to submerge, rendering the trail more level. The running through here was very nice for about a mile, but the trail disappeared into the semi-open hillside eventually. I followed the cleared section paralleling Sucker Brook, but for this short stretch it was once again more of a bushwhack than a trail run, but this rough section only went on for about a quarter of a mile, when it joined a maintained dirt road which climbed up the hill in front of me. This wound its way up the hill to the little known body of water known as the Sucker Brook reservoir, not to be confused with the much larger Sugar Hill reservoir, which confusingly, is the further upstream source of Sucker Brook – got that? The Sucker Brook reservoir, which feeds this highest section of pipeline, and in turn, Silver Lake, has been more of a stagnant swamp than a pond in all of my previous visits, but the recent rains have swollen this body of water to the point that it was actually a rather pleasant place! The light rain on its surface, and the early summer daisies (my favorite wildflower!) starting to wilt as the midsummer Black-Eyed Susans came into bloom made for an attractive shoreline.

Sucker Brook Reservoir

Sucker Brook Reservoir

Continuing across the earthen dam forming this reservoir, I came to a surprise – a sign, in the middle of nowhere, telling the history of this dinky little pond! A fun fact – this small body of water was created in 1917, and at the time was the highest altitude earthen dam east of the Mississippi. Who knew? Especially since most outdoorspeople don’t even know it exists!

The run continued up a steep incline for a few hundred yards, until it joined the Silver Lake trail, and at this time, I decided I’d had enough of pipeline traipsing, so I took the easy way back to my car by taking the path of least resistance down to the Falls of Lana parking lot, and from there a short quarter mile run to the minor parking lot where my car was stowed. Overall, this was indeed a rather pleasant run, with a few short bushwacking or scrambling sections, a healthy dose of mud, and about 700-800 feet of climbing and descent in its 5.75 miles.

Google Earth of the Run

Google Earth of the Run

 

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile