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Tracks in the Snow

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Last winter, while recovering from injuries, I snowshoed a route along a VAST trail at the higher altitudes of Ripton.  This route, which begins at the end of the plowed section of the Natural Turnpike in Ripton heads south along the snowmobile trail marked as “7A” towards Robert Frost Mountain.  My trip along this route was limited by the slower pace of snowshoe travel, and I have been looking forward to returning to explore it a little further on ski or on foot.  The limited amount of snow on the ground made a run the obvious choice for now.  To get to the trailhead, I drove up to Ripton, then took a left turn on the road across from the Ripton Country Store.  A short while later a right turn up the hill on Robins Cross Road and a left turn on the Natural Turnpike followed by a few minutes’ drive brought me to the trailhead parking lot near its confluence with FS 59.  In every previous winter trip to this spot, the Natural Turnpike was blocked at this point by a forest service gate, but this year, with the meager snow, the gate beyond this point was open, and the road was freshly plowed.

Setting off on the trail heading to the left (north in absolute coordinates) I could see that the snowmobilers had been faring about as well as the skiers this year, as the trail had been virtually stripped of its snow cover by previous snow travelers.  I set off, as in my previous exploration, following the marked snowmobile trail, which crisscrossed a few Forest Service Roads over the course of the first mile.  Between the thin snow cover, and my Asics Gel Arctic running shoes, equipped with short spikes making them the “studded snow tires of the running world”, I had very solid footing all the way, except for two easily traversed frozen-over waterbars.  As I proceeded further into the woods, snow had covered over the most recent snowmobile tracks, and not much later, I could see where the trail had been bereft of human travelers all season, leaving the tracks of animals as the only sign of previous passage.  One set of tracks were particularly interesting – I could see that what at first looked like one set of old tracks, soon diverged into two sets, which looked to be about the same age.  Following them, I could see that the parallel sets of tracks stayed apart, as if the two animals which set them were going about their travels as partners, perhaps even mates?  They seemed too big and deep for a squirrel, and squirrels never seem to travel as if they are actually going somewhere.  I am going to guess that they were foxes, although they had faded enough that I could not have made out the fine print in them, even if I were a more knowledgeable animal tracker.  I like to think that these two nocturnal animals had shared a long moment in the moonlight together on the way to whatever their final destination might have been.  As I followed their tracks, I made sure not to step in them, leaving my record of passage between theirs.

parallel footprints

parallel footprints

Eventually, I reached a point where the animal tracks became more complex, and their unique trail became difficult to discern from other animals who had passed through. Not long after, I came to an open meadow which had been my turnaround last winter when I passed this way. Last winter, this quiet spot had the equipment of an active logging site, but this winter, the snow surface was unblemished, except for my footprints and a few tufts of grass poking up through the snow. It looked almost like I would envision beach grass poking out of the fine white sand of the Gulf Coast, although I have never been there.

beach grass

Snow, or Sand?

 

 

At this point, continuing on, I was into new territory, and about a mile later my trail reached the Lincoln-Ripton road, a few miles north of the Ripton School. I could discern that the trail recommenced across the road, heading uphill along the eastern flanks of Robert Frost Mountain. I could see that I had found another short section of trail to connect a run on my bucket list – I had heard that is was possible to connect trails from the top of Middlebury Gap, to East Middlebury by a route which included the snowmobile trail up and over Robert Frost Mountain, which I have ascended from the west.  The point at which my trail (which merged with a plowed road over the last few hundred yards) met up with the Lincoln- Ripton Road,  was labelled as the “Norton Farm Road”.

Turning to return, my attention turned two the many crossing paths and abandoned logging roads I came across.  One, which looked sort of interesting, and was labeled as “Rd 235A”.  This one ended in about a hundred yards at a small clearing, so returning to the main snowmobile trail, I checked out another side trail about a mile further along.  This right turn led to a huge clear cut in about a quarter mile, with outstanding views of Worth Mountain, and the rest of the nearby ridge of the Green Mts.  I found it curious that a small stand of mature hardwoods had been left behind by the timber cutters, but they added to the beauty of the views.

clear cut views

Clear Cut Vista

 

 

 

Closing in on my parked car, I could hear that I was getting closer and closer to a “sportsman” who was blasting away at something with what sounded like a semiautomatic weapon. While I never actually saw this person, I felt like shouting something along the lines of “Is there ANYTHING left of that squirrel?”. Reaching my car, my GPS indicated that I had traveled 7 miles on this run, and had dropped about 500 vertical feet on the way out, and gained it on my return.

Google Earth of the Route

Google Earth of the Route

tracks in the snow altitude profile

Altitude Profile

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Saturday brought the long looked for break in the ski conditions thus far this year:  It finally started to warm up to the mid-teens, and there was enough (I hoped!) snow to do my first backcountry skiing of the year.  I knew the cover would be a little on the thin side (That always seems to be the case, somehow), so I headed to the higher elevations and a place where there was a high likelihood of being ample cover.  Once again, I found myself drawn to my favorite trailhead, the parking lot off of Brooks road, found on the south side of Rt 125, midway between Breadloaf and the Snow Bowl.  The Brooks Road itself, which climbs up the hillside to pretty high altitudes becomes part of the VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers) trail system during the winter.  As such, it benefits from the regular grooming offered to regional snowmobilers, making the VAST trails also ideal for skiing deep into the mountains, even on skating skis, which demand a wide groomed path.  This excellent grooming makes high altitude forest roads, like the Brooks Road, some of the best places to ski early in the season before the first dumpings of snow come our way.

Setting off from the parking lot up the hillside, the late afternoon sun filtered through the branches arched over the road created the sense of trees covered with diamonds.  I was surprised by the degree to which some of these trees were still encrusted with ice from the storms of the previous week or two.

Glistening Wood

Glistening Wood

Continuing upward I also came to a section where a stand of beech trees s flanked the road, the the husks of beechnut shells littered the snow. Looking at them more carefully, they kind of looked like a bunch of bearded little Pac-men. What do you think?

I went into this ski with delusions of a long a glorious exploration of mountain trails, but my late start (It is scary how starting a ski tour at 2:30 in the afternoon is late this time of year!) and the realization that the trail coverage wasn’t quite as good as I hoped it was forced me to reconsider my plans when I reached a trail confluence about 2.5 miles up the mountainside.  To the right, I saw the much narrower trail which I knew would bring me to the Sugar Hill Reservoir, but looked rather bereft of snow.  Straight ahead, on the continuance of the Brooks Road, but on a section which is not regularly maintained for winter travel there was more snow, but since I was touring on skating skis, this section’s loose ungroomed snow felt like a bit of a slog when I very briefly considered continuing further.  And it was getting colder, fast!  So, at this point, I turned my heels and sped back down the mountainside to the warmth of my car.  Of course, in this fast snow it provided an opportunity to use my Garmin GPS and see what sort of speed I could generate on the two relatively steep descents.  On the first steeper drop-off I became so enamored of staring at my watch that I had my first crashandburn of the season!  Only slightly less worse for the wear, and covered in white I brought myself back up to speed and held a tuck without distraction for the second, and longer fast section of the descent, and after finishing discovered that I had gotten my speed up to 25 mph!  Not exactly olympic downhill speed, but not bad for inch-wide racing skis with detached heels!

All in all, while this was a shorter than planned ski outing, measuring in at slightly less than 5 miles and 500 ft of climb and descent, it was a great way to spend a small allotment of time on a cold but pleasant weekend day

pacman beechnut 2

Pac-Men!

 

Up to this point, the post has had little to do with the title of the post, so I guess it would be time to conclude with a resolution. These solo skis or runs in the mountains leave plenty of time for quiet, introspective thought.  Readers of this blog can probably tell that I enjoy setting myself up for personal physical challenges, and then meeting those challenges, but this resolution is a little different.  While the personal accomplishments will hopefully continue, what I really want this year is to make great new memories with those who I care most about.

Google Earth of Brooks Road ski

Google Earth of the Ski

 

 

Altitude Profile New Years

Altitude Profile

 

(Formerly) Secret Vistas in Middlebury March Madness

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Ok, what’s up with 70 degree weather in March?  While the ski season was a bitter disappointment, the lack of snow on the trails translates into an early start on the trialrunning season!  My running fitness is certainly not where it was last fall, but the running still feels good, and in many ways, this is an ideal season for running.  Many vistas which are well hidden by the leafy canopy for most of the running season open up into glorious vistas prior to the emergence of the foliage.  With this in mind, I chose my first true spring run to take advantage of the season.  On a few previous posts, I have described a great entry into the Green Mountain National Forest starting behind East Middlebury International Airport, a snowmobile train beginning near the 4-way stop sign on Munson Road and Schoolhouse Hill Road, just to the northeast of the airport.  Munson Road is a short road heading directly towards the base of the mountains to the east, and can be found about 2 miles south of the junction of Quarry Road and Rt. 116.  There are a few small turnoffs on Munson Road where a car (or perhaps a vigilant police cruiser) can park for those driving out of town to begin this run.

The run began with a short stretch of trail running adjacent to Burnham Drive, a residential street, before turning to the north.  The trail crosses a bridge over a small stream, before beginning the challenging climb in earnest.  This first hill climb of the season is always difficult, and this was no exception, but my efforts were rewarded by the emerging views to the west.  Half way up the day’s climb, I noticed scratch marks on the rocks, similar to what one would find in higher elevations resulting from climbers’ crampons.  After a second, I realized the source of these scratches – the snowmobiles which make use of this trail during the winter. They too, like the skiers, probably tried to have a little bit of fun in this snowless winter, and instead of damaging their skis on the rocky terrain, probably tried to drive their snowmobiles on the all-too-brown terrain, leaving their marks behind.

After a little over a mile of climbing, the views were temporarily  blocked as the trail entered a stretch of coniferous forest, and made a sharp turn to the right, heading more directly towards Robert Frost Mt.  A few hundred yards after the sharp turn, a small rock cairn appeared on the left, marking the turnoff to a wonderful, rarely visited, scenic vista which provides for great views to the west, even during the summer.  A few hundred yards on this easy-to follow trail brought me to a small rocky outcrop, the turn-around point for this run.  The famous OMYA pit, the world’s largest open-pit marble quarry, is one of the noteworthy sights from this point.

OMYA pit

At this point, my early season legs had climbed enough, so I reversed directions and headed down the hillside. I ran into a friend who had chosen to undertake the short walk up to the bridge, and we exchanged pleasantries concern our fortunes, living in such a beautiful locale. At this point, I diverged from the main trail, taking a short uphill trail which ran adjacent to the stream, following in to a modest viewpoint, where I could see the brook cascading down the mountainside.

Chasm Cascade

After this short side trail, I continued on to the point at which the VAST snowmobile trail rejoined the road.  While this run was only a little over 3.5 miles round trip, it did include a 900 vertical ft. climb, making for a challenging early season run, undertaken at a leisurely pace.

Google Earth Projection of the Run

Altitude Profile

A Vacation Run in the Mad River Valley

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Over the years I have had the pleasure of spending a considerable amount of time just over the mountains in the Mad River Valley.  While I was visiting family in Waitsfield over the holidays, I thought it would be fun describe a short run over there, especially since it is such a pleasant little community with a lot to offer the outdoor enthusiast, and is only about an hour from Middlebury by car.  My previous running in this area has been mostly on the far side of the valley, on the smaller range east of the main ridge of the Green Mts., so I thought I would share a route which begins up on the ridge just to the east of Rt. 100 on the valley floor.  The additional allure to running on this side of the valley is the great view it offers of the three major ski areas, Sugarbush, Mt. Ellen (technically part of Sugarbush) and Mad River Glen.  The rather arbitrary starting point for this run can be reached by turning off of Rt. 100, through the Waitsfield covered bridge, followed by a left turn onto Joslyn Hill Road, and a right turn onto the Cross Road.  There is ample room along the shoulder of the Cross Road near its intersection with the Common Road (the main N-S road on the hillside on this side of the valley) to park your car.

Heading north on The Common Road (the mountains should be on your right) brought me past the von Trapp farm and greenhouse.  Yes, this is owned by a member of THAT von Trapp family – think about how many kids Maria and the Captain had, and then envision how many kids their kids must have had……and you get the picture why the von Trapp name is so common in the Mad River Valley and Stowe!  That said, their farm has one of the best views in the state from accessible from a car or bike.

Mt. Ellen Views

http://www.madriverglen.com/

Shortly after passing the greenhouses, I arrived at the former site of the Waitsfield Common village, with its characteristic village green, older homes, and hillside graveyard. I refer to this as the “former” site of Waitsfield Common due to the fact that all of the commercial activity in the town has moved down to Waitsfield proper, a mile or so down the hill. Immediately after the common, I took a right turn towards the mountains on East Road, another easy-on-the-knees dirt road. A gradual climb of about a mile, past small hillside farm led to a point where the main road goes to the right, and a rarely travelled dirt road continues straight towards the mountains, albeit with a short steep dip in elevation. At the bottom of this dip is a pretty little valley which is another favorite mountain spot – its coniferous forest open meadow, and meandering stream normally looks more like a Colorado than Vermont, but a small herd of cows (heading north, of course) juxtaposed a little bit of New England on the pastoral scene.

Cows in the Mountain Meadow

Climbing back into the forest after crossing a small bridge, and taking the right fork in the now derelict road led me up a steeper incline, past a series of higher meadows, each with its own uniquely spectacular vistas, As the road bore left to the north, I could see the wreckage of a few derelict homes and cellar holes. After about a half mile along this segment, I chose to return, but past explorations following this trail further have led me to the top of the mountain ridge between Scrag Mt. and Mt. Waitsfield along what appears to be an abandoned stage road (which might be a VAST snowmobile trail at present) leading to Northfield. Perhaps I will have to come back to describe that continuation of this route next summer!

Returning by the same route brought me back to my car after a five mile run which was easier than expected due to the still thin Christmas Day snow cover. There were a few modest ups and downs, but not enough to really call this a hill climb route.

Happy New Year everyone, and THINK SNOW!

Scrag Mountain from the Common Road

GPS track of the run

Altitude Profile

Robert Frost Mountain

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

After the last posted run, which featured running commentary on the Robert Frost Cabin and Robert Frost Trail, it only seemed fitting to continue on with the Frost theme with a run up to the summit of Robert Frost Mountain.  While many Middlebury-ites know of, and have explored the former, relatively few know of his namesake summit.  Where exactly is Robert Frost Mountain?  When looking towards the mountains from town, Robert Frost Mountain is the rounded summit high point just a few miles north of the East Middlebury and Rt. 125.  While it is not a particularly dramatic summit, it is a pleasant place to visit with good, albeit wooded views, and its paucity of hikers (or runners).   I have no idea if Robert himself ever ascended to its heights, and I rather suspect not.  There are several peaks in the US named Mt Washington, however, and I am quite confident that George (or Martha)  never climbed any of them.

To get to my starting point for this run, head south of town on Rt. 7, east on Cady Rd. (the road bisecting Foster Motors), and then north on Rt 116 for 0.4 miles until you get to Munson Rd, where you take a right turn.  Be careful not to exceed the speed limit here (25 mph) as it has been heavily patrolled as of late.  Find yourself a suitable parking place anywhere alongside the road near the four-way stop sign a half mile later to begin the run.  Hopefully you can park your car in one of the favorite hiding places of our well-intentioned and hard-working officers of the law, and save this author from another speeding warning!

The start for this run is on the snowmobile trail paralleling Burnham Dr., the road heading east towards the mountains from the aforementioned four-way stop sign.  The first 3.4 miles of this run are also described in a previous post, The Toughest Nine Miles in Addison County.  This older post has now lost its title.  The first two miles of the run follows a VAST snowmobile trail heading north along the west face of the Green Mts, climbing more or less steadily, first through deciduous forest, then into a coniferous forest (which you can make out from the west pretty easily), before climbing back into deciduous again.  This is a very pretty section, following a brook much of the way, with a few limited views through the trees.  At about 1.5 miles, the trail forks into two equally strong trails, and both will work for this run.  I chose the right trail on the way up, as it is a little shorter, but if you miss the trail split and take the left fork, it will connect with the same next trail.

The snowmobile trail tops off onto FS 237 (not marked at this point), an obvious but somewhat overgrown forest service road.  Take a right turn here (an earlier missed turn will have you coming up to this point from the left) and follow this road until it ends in about a mile and a half, connecting with Dragon Road.  Dragon Rd. is a maintained dirt road suitable for 2WD cars, but like many of the lesser known mountain roads in Ripton, rarely driven.  The run I previously described went right from this point, ending the uphill section considerably earlier.  Take a left uphill until the road ends after about eight tenths of a mile.  There is a small parking lot here, and if you would prefer a much shorter run, or even an easy family hike, you can drive to this point and start here.  To get to this parking area, drive into East Middlebury on Rt. 125, turn left on North Branch Road (the slight left at the Rt 125 bridge), and a few miles later, when North Branch Road makes a right, continue straight on Dragon Rd. until the road ends.

As you enter the parking lot, look carefully to the right to find the somewhat overgrown start to the trail leading to the summit of Robert Frost Mountain in 1.2 miles.  This trail gets so little traffic in the summer that you have to walk through tall weeds for 20 or 30 feet before the trail becomes easy to find and follow.  You will know you have gone the right way when you see a gate across the trail.  From this point, the trail isn’t too bad, other than the fact that it is somewhat overgrown (hence good for resistance training for trailrunners!), and gets a little steeper as you approach the summit.  Most of the traffic to this summit clearly is during the winter, when the snowmobilers apparently make it a frequent destination.  The summit is wooded, but people have cleared a few nice views to make the climb worth the effort.  This summit has another unexpected creature comfort – a privy at the summit, which actually appears to be in far better condition than most similarly situated sources of relief.  I was somewhat amused, however, by the fact that there were a few empty liter cans of Bud Light strewn about its floor.  Go figure.

Summit View

Other Summit View

The run back down mostly followed the uphill run, other than at the point where the lower shortcut from the snowmobile trail connected to FS 237. It is very difficult to see where the uphill trail connects with the Forest Service Road, so I just went to the end of the road, and followed the obvious left turn at its end where it also connected with the uphill route. As I descended, I did note the following somewhat amusing sign:

Non Sequitor Sign

I briefly considered bringing the sign home, and posting it on the door of my teenage daughters’ bathroom, but instead decided to leave this amusing little non sequitor to be discovered by other runners and hikers.
When all was said and done, this was a long hard run, with 11.5 miles of running and 2000 vertical feet of climbing. I don’t usually post my time, but this adventurous run took a while – two and a half hours. Given the relentlessly pretty woods and decent views, this route would also make a fine day hike as well, either from East Middlebury, or from the higher trailhead.

GPS track on Google Earth

Altitude Profile