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End of the Summer on the Long Trail

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

On this, the last weekend before the start of my school year, I  was looking for a good long run to complete the summer running season.  August had been a disappointing month for running, due to back spasms which slowed me for most of the nicest days of the summer, but after a month of recovery, I felt up to a longer run than I had done in a while.  With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to revisit a route which I last ran (and blogged) three years ago under very different conditions, and entitled it  “Stick Season above the Snow Line”  This loop involves considerable time on the Long Trail along the Worth Mountain ridge, and when I last checked it out I was running through a bit of snow, and racing to get back to my car before darkness.  While snow at the higher altitudes may not be that far off, this was most definitely a late summer run – the leaves  are still all there, and mostly green, at least to this somewhat colorblind runner.  Cooler temperatures also made for pleasant conditions on a cloudy September afternoon.

This loop is also of a length, and on terrain which most people would call “a hike”.  While I love a long hike in the mountains, one of the great pleasures of trailrunning is that it can get you out in the woods covering a lot of terrain when you don’t have time for the more leisurely pacing of a day hike.  So, before this run, I mowed the lawn, played the piano for a bit, read a few papers, and enjoyed a leisurely late lunch before setting off, and still got back in plenty of time for dinner.  Live life to the fullest!

Setting off from my favorite running trailhead, the Brooks Road Trailhead (also known as the Chatfield Trailhead), located off of a short dirt road a mile or so below the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, I started up the comfortable climb on the dirt road.  While this road is open to car traffic, I rarely see any motor vehicles on it.  The road climbs steeply for the first mile and a half, rising about 400-500 feet rather abruptly, but climbs more gently most of the rest of the way to its end, 3.7 miles up into the mountains.  When you get to the end of the road, follow the well worn path over the obvious footbridge over Sucker Brook, until you reach the Long Trail Spur trail on your left.  Take this trail, which also climbs pretty gradually with a lot of easy running terrain for another mile or so, until you reach the Sucker Brook Shelter, found in a saddle in the Green Mountains known as “Romance Gap”.  I met a small group of hikers, one of whom was a Long Trail through-hiker, and after exchanging pleasantries for a few minutes, headed up the hillside, and joined the Long Trail itself in a few minutes, turned left, and headed north towards Middlebury Gap.

As expected, the running on the Long Trail was more technical than the rest of the run.  As mountain ridge trails go, this was more runnable than most, with long sections of gradually climbing and descending dirt or mud path to run on.  In the rockier sections, the running becomes more akin to skipping, with your feet doing all kinds of crazy things in order to maintain a decent speed!  In sections where the climbing or descending got steeper, or potentially more slippery, I slowed to a fast hiking speed.  This section of the Long Trail is not known for its sweeping vistas, although there were a few limited views through the trees in places.  What I do love about this section are the more subtle sights one comes across when traipsing through the forest at around 3000 ft elevation.  I have always been particularly fond of the shelf fungus growing out of the side of some of the older hardwoods, and one which I came across looked so sturdy that it was begging for something to display. So, I set up a small rock cairn on it, which will no doubt puzzle or amuse subsequent passersby if they have the presence of mind to look beyond their own boots or running shoes.

A Curious Cairn

A Curious Cairn

 

 

Not long after this, I reached the high point of the run, the summit of Worth Mountain (~3200 ft) and began the gradual undulating descent to the top of the Snow Bowl. I was amused to meet a hiker, who seemed so happy to get a signal on his cell phone that he couldn’t resist the temptation to check his facebook page. To each his own…. The wooden walkways signaled my approach to the Snow Bowl, and shortly thereafter, I broke out into the amazing view towards the east from the top of the Bailey Falls lift.

Bailey Falls Vista

Bailey Falls Vista

From here, I scrambled down the steeper upper sections of the Voter Trail at the Snow Bowl, named after Old Professor Perley Voter, one of my predecessors in the Chemistry Department at the college. He must have been great, as there is also a building named after him, Voter Hall! As I reached the bottom, I passed a fellow middle-aged trail runner on his way up the mountain, and after the mandatory exchange of complaints about our aging bodies, headed across the parking lot, and descended on Rt 125 to return to my car just as the drizzling rain started to get just a little bit heavier.

According to my GPS, this was a 10.5 mile run, with an 1800 foot ascent, probably closer to 2000 feet with the undulations along the way. Not a bad way to end the summer. Now, time to prepare for Monday classes……And bring on the Fall!

epic run

Google Earth of the Run

 

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

(not so bad) Romance Mountain

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

In one of my winter posts a few years ago, I described a great ski route at the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring Area in Goshen, on the trail traversing the high flanks of Romance Mountain.  It has been claimed that this trail is “the highest altitude groomed cross country ski trail in Vermont”, and on skis, it certainly made for a challenging climb, and a fun, fast, and yes, slightly out of control descent.  After a few longer runs in the previous weeks, I thought it would be fun to try and haul my early season body up Romance Mountain from the Ripton side.  So, on a very cloudy and threatening Saturday afternoon, I parked my car at my favorite trail head on Brooks Road,the dirt road between Breadloaf and the Snow Bowl (for new readers).  This trailhead never ceases to amuse me – there are two great directions to go – up Brooks Road past the Forest Service Gate, or out on the Widow’s Clearing Trail, and then a seemingly infinite number of “loop” or “out and back” runs to be tried as the two major trails branch out and interconnect.  On this run, I chose the former, opting for the pretty serious climbing to be had along Brooks Road and trails beyond.

The run up this dirt road, was relatively uneventful – I saw a few moose tracks in the mud alongside the road, but none of the actual critters.  Despite the general leafiness starting to spread across the valley, things were still pretty brown on the ground and grey in the sky, other than a few small streamlets, which supported some of the lush golden green of early spring, bringing to mind a favorite  short Robert Frost poem:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

As a curious aside, when googling this poem to get the words right, I discovered that it “embodies the ambiguous balance between paradisiac good and the paradoxically more fruitful human good“.  Oh…and I thought it was about leaves?

Golden Green

 

If you look carefully in this photo, you will also see some of the first springtime ephemerals, the flowers which appear and disappear as the season progresses. If I am reading the great posting on this topic by my fellow blogger Tim over at The Middlebury Landscape blog, the tiny flowers shown in this shot are known as “Spring Beauty”.

A little further up the dirt road, I also came across the following shelf fungus, which was so big it was almost scary.  With a little careful cropping (and some imagination), it kind of looks like a duck bill, don’t you think?

Duck Bill Fungus

Eventually, after about 3.5 miles, Brooks Road came to an end, and I entered the true trail running segment. The first trail to the left provides a connection with the Long Trail, and it is described in another earlier post, when I ran up and over Worth Mountain and through the Snow Bowl from this side.  Bypassing this turnoff, I came to a T, and a ski/mountain bike trail which forms part of the Blueberry Hill trail network.  Now, I took the left, and this trail took me to the high point of the trail over the next 2 miles, in a series of gradual and sharper ascents.  I briefly contemplated bushwacking to the true summit, but looking up, I realized it would involve getting my head stuck in the clouds, which were starting to envelope the highest altitudes.  I took a moment to enjoy the limited view from my perspective.

High Point Views

I also did a quick search up here for a small sign proclaiming it “Cindy’s Summit”, which used to grace the trail at this point, and was disappointed not to find it. Curious as to the story of the sign and its demise, I emailed Tony down at the Blueberry Hill Inn, who told me that he had placed the sign there after promising a frequent guest named (surprise!) Cindy that he would do so if she could ski all the way up there. Alas, new Forest Service regulations involving place names rendered this sign contraband, so he had to take it down. So much for poor Cindy’s immortality on Romance Mt!

My return trip went much easier, of course, being almost entirely descent.  The long promised colder weekend rains began just as I returned to my car, so I got lucky this time.  This ended up as the most challenging run of the young ski season, with an 11 mile round trip distance, and about 1200 ft of climbing up to about 2700 ft- not bad for April!

Altitude Profile

 

Google Earth projection of the run

Stick Season above the Snow Line

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Stick season can be a tough time of the year for outdoor enthusiasts.  As the last of the foliage is blown off the trees, the days get shorter and colder without the distraction offered by the ample snows of winter.  While the occasional day with bright blue sky and crisp late fall air can offer a reprieve, it seems that cold rain and grey skies are more abundant than other seasons of the year.  That said, a brief glimpse of acceptable weather over the weekend inspired me to seek out one last long mountain run to close out the trailrunning season, at least at higher elevations.  Autumn yard chores, questionable weather, and other assorted responsibilities kept me busy until late afternoon, but I finally hit the trail at 3:30 pm, confident that there would be ample time to squeeze in a run before darkness set in on the last day before the end of daylight savings time.

Once again, I sought out a new running variation from my favorite trailhead entry into the Moosalamoo Region, the Brooks Road Parking lot.  In the course of one of my runs last year, entitled “Almost Like Running up Worth Mountain“, I attempted to summit Worth Mountain, the peak just south of the Middlebury College Snow Bowl from the north, passing through the Snow Bowl.  Much to my bemusement upon completion of the run, I only realized after completion of the run that the high point which I had assumed was the Worth Mountain summit, was actually a subsidiary summit, and the true summit was a mile or so further south.  I knew I had to get back to the actual summit at some point, and knowing that the summit could also be reached from the south on the Long Trail, I put this run on the “I have to try this in 2010″ mental list.  Well, 2010 is fading fast, so this was my last opportunity to attempt this run.

Once again, my entry to the mountains coincided with the climb of Brooks Rd. for the first segment of the run, but instead of veering to the west toward the Sugar Hill Reservoir, or the Sucker Brook Trail, I headed east at the dirt road’s terminus, taking the left spur trail leading to the Sucker Brook Shelter on the Long Trail.  This connecting trail made for about a mile of pretty easy running until the last few hundred yards of ascent to the actual shelter.  At this point, there was a healthy dusting of snow along the trail, but it was still easy to follow due to ample blue painted tree blazes, and the obvious indentation in the ground from the boots of countless hikers over the years.  I am sure that this easily accessible shelter is heavily used during the summer months, but at this time of the year, there was no sign that it had seen any recent occupants.

Sucker Brook Shelter

Immdediately beyond the shelter, the Long Trail proper was attained, and I headed left, planning to pass to the north over Worth Mt. to the Snow Bowl before returning to my car. A short way up the ridge I was treated to a limited westerly view, and realized that I had to maintain a decent pace in order to complete the run before sunset, but also knew that I would be fine as long as I got as far as the Snow Bowl before darkness, as the trailfinding from that point on would be pretty easy.

Late Afternoon Skies

Of course, the trail got pretty slippery with even the modest increases in altitude at this point, and the Long Trail is not exactly a runner’s superhighway. Routefinding in the fresh snow and diminishing light got a little tricky in a few places, but I was determined to keep this adventure from becoming a misadventure – the last thing I needed was a headline announcing “Local Trailrunner Found Frozen”, or worse still “Boneheaded Trailrunner Rescued”. These concerns aside, this was a gorgeous stretch of trail made even prettier by the inch or two of fresh wet snow which clung like lacework to the altitude-thinned trees. After a seemingly endless stretch of ups and downs I passed a lone backpacker heading south. I was comforted by the fact that he assured me that my guess that I had about a mile and a half to reach the top of the Snow Bowl was correct. I also knew he had further to go before sunset than I did, but he was probably smart enough to be carrying a headlamp. As expected, I hit the top of the Snow Bowl with just a few minutes to spare before darkness – definitely cutting it a little closer than I should have, though.

Top of the Snow Bowl

An easy run down the Voter Trail brought me to the Snow Bowl parking lot under suboptimal lighting, but not before one last treat – a young bull moose greeted me as I rounded a corner on the lower stretchs of the trail. I was a little too close for comfort to have that good a view of him in the rapidly diminishing light, but fortunately he was not interested in this odd spectre dashing down the slopes, and he loped away in the opposite direction before I could snap his portrait. A short jog up and out of the Snow Bowl parking lot, and a little longer, but fast descent on paved road back to Brooks Rd. and my car brought the run to a close. Given the lateness of the hour and near total darkness, I attempted to call home to the undoubtedly justifiably concerned Mrs. Trailrunner, but the lack of any cell signal this high up on the mountainside prohibited this courtesy, so I hopped in the car and coasted home. This run covered a little less than 11 miles, much of it on rugged trail with slow going, and an altitude difference of 1800 vertical feet between the lowest and highest altitude, but probably a lot more climbing than that given the nature of the terrain. This made for a great way to wind down the running season, so bring on the snow!

Google Map of the run, looking roughly east

In case you find the maps in this blog difficult to view, or would just like to see the photography at a larger size, I recommend viewing the blog in the Mozilla Firefox browser, which allows you to right click (for PC’s at least, I am not lucky enough to have a Mac) on the illustration with the “Open Link in New Window” command for easy viewing.

Altitude Profile