A blog for runners in and about Addison County, VT
June 5th, 2020 at 9:07 pm
Posted by Jeff Byers in Running

From time to time, I go for a trail run in the Mad River Valley, and over the years have blogged a few of my runs from this beautiful place on the other side of the mountains. A few cars parked alongside Rt 100, on the left, just a half mile or so north of the Sugarbush access road, caught my attention, and I decided to see if there were any fun runs emanating from that trailhead.

Pulling my car in, I was greeted with a kiosk telling me that the small group of trails nearby constituted the “Kingsbury Greenway” part of the non-contiguous Mad River Path. One short segment followed the Mad River for a short distance to the south, and a few more options branched to the north.

Kingsbury Trails map

I chose to begin my run on the short southern section, which dipped first under the Rt 100 steel bridge, and was not surprised to see some graffiti under the bridge. One particular message looked almost like it was aimed at one of the more contentious aspects of our current social distancing requirements, and I was glad to see that it was actually punctuated correctly on the contraction. A true rarity among those armed with a spray can and something they care to say.

Don’t cut hair?

Continuing on, the trail passed down a series of stairs closer to the edge of the river, and passed behind one of the many inns in the valley before ending in a meadow affording a nice view down the river. At this point, I retraced my steps and returned to my car, making for about a mile of running.

The Mad River

Stopping for a moment to look at the kiosk map, I noticed that the trails to the north had two sections – one section appeared to climb up the adjacent hillside to the left, continuing on past the end of the map, and the other better defined section circled around one of the Sugarbush snowmaking ponds. I first headed uphill, but soon found that the going was too steep for running. After about a half mile of climbing, I came to a nice little overlook with a decent view of this part of the valley. The trail continued its climb past this point, and I will have to return to find where it ends up!

The View

After snapping the required “view shot” I shuffled down the steep trail, and took the left down to the snowmaking pond shown on the map. This large pond, clearly filling several acres is separated from the Mad River by a thin strip of raised land, and is not far from Rt 100, but is curiously invisible from the highway and I never knew it was here despite having driven by hundreds of times.

Snowmaking Pond

As I rounded the north end of the pond, I saw a short path down to the river’s edge, so I went down to the water and noticed a well-kept swimming hole, replete with lawn chairs, and well made steps down to the water on the far side. I assumed it was some lucky landowner’s riverside private property, but there was nobody there to ask, so I continued my run around the pond. Only after the completion of the run, and noticing the access to this section of the river from Rt 100, did I realize that I had inadvertently stumbled into the Mad River clothing optional swimming area. Maybe that explains all the old men I noticed out walking their dogs around the pond? The return from the pond to my car was short and easy, although at this point the day was getting kind of hot, so I called it a day after a little more than 3 miles. This trail has some pleasant running close to the Mad River, and a climb worthy of future exploration.

Google Earth of the Kingsbury Greenway
Altitude Profile

May 17th, 2020 at 5:07 pm
Posted by Jeff Byers in Running

One of the most convenient, and relatively easy (pretty flat, and not terribly technical) places to run is our own Battell Woods, right at the western edge of town. One small segment of this trail network is officially part of our beloved TAM, but it is crisscrossed and circled by a myriad of other trails, some heavily used, and others somewhat more faint. Other than the TAM itself, I am not sure who cut these trails, although I know that some local mountain bikers have been heavily involved in creating trails on nearby Chipman Hill, so I suspect that we have them to thank! Some folks may find the generally meandering nature of these trails a little bit disorienting, but that is a lot of the fun! Just remember, no matter where you leave the woods, you will still be in Middlebury, so relax, and see where you end up.

I decided to go for a run on this trail network, with nothing in particular in mind, other than stretching my legs out on the trails on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Usually, when I describe runs, I try to give at least a modestly detailed description of my route, in addition to the GPS track on Google Earth, but in a compact running area like the Battell Woods, with its infinite options, that would kind of defeat the purpose. I also remember another run I took here a few days ago. I stopped to converse with a walker (at a safe distance of course for Covid safety), and she asked me if I had seen any red trilliums. My initial response was no, I hadn’t, but also mentioned that I would be unlikely to notice that particular flower, as to a person with red/green colorblindness (me), red trilliums would be pretty well camouflaged. But, on that run, I found myself looking around, admiring all of the early season wildflowers, so when I returned to run again today, I decided to photograph all the different wildflowers I found along the way.

Usually, when I am writing up a blog post, I do a little bit of research on whatever stream of consciousness I have decided to include. In this case however, I will confess that botany is NOT my strong suit, as I know almost nothing about the names of the flowers I photographed. So, if you are reading this, and know the names of any of the unidentified flowers whose pictures I have included, please leave a comment for other readers, as well as me.

And just so you know, I never did find any red trilliums. So, in no particular order, here are the flowers I found. If you want to make the pictures bigger, on a PC you can just right click/view image to have the picture fill the monitor screen,

Even I know Dandelions
Easy to find WHITE Trillium
These look like Buttercups to me…..
I have always called these “Wild Pansies” but I have no idea what their real name is
Unknown Flower 1
Unknown Flower 2
Unknown Flower 3
Unknown Flower 4
Unknown Flower 5
Unknown Flower 6 – standing above the Dandelions
Unknown Flower 7
Google Earth of the run

April 27th, 2020 at 5:50 pm
Posted by Jeff Byers in Running

As I have mentioned from time to time in this blog, I have extended family living in the Mad River Valley, and sometimes when I describe fun places to run, I leave the comfortable confines of Addison County to describe nearby places “over the mountains”. One of my favorite hiking/trail running locations over the years has been Scrag Mountain, the highest point on the ridge on the east side of the valley, with a summit altitude just below 3000 feet. Some details of my relationship with this mountain are described in a blog posting I made of a run/powerhike that stopped just short of the summit 8 years ago. I haven’t been on its slopes since, but long, long ago (OK in February before the current Covid challenges) I was having a beer at Two Brothers Tavern, and noticed that they had “Scrag Mountain Pils” on tap, and since I had climbed the mountain, I should try it. Lawson’s Finest Liquids, a microbrewery in Waitsfield did a fine job on this brew, and it got me thinking of reascending this fun little peak when I had the chance.

A recent Saturday was brilliant and warm, and knowing I could easily remain 6+ feet away from other outdoor adventurers, I headed to the Scrag Mountain trailhead. Finding this trailhead is as follows. Just south of “The Dip” ( you will know it when you are there – it lives up to its name) on the East Warren road, take Sherman Road uphill and then take a left turn onto Bowen Road. After driving by a few mega-mansions, there is a small parking lot at the end of the road. Prior to this day, I had never seen another soul on Scrag Mountain, but I guess that cabin fever brought more than me outside, so there were probably another half dozen cars there. There was also a trail sign, describing the route through the Scrag Mountain municipal forest. Curiously, the sign only showed the trail continuing as high up as some beaver ponds, still almost a mile from the summit, but I knew that the trail continued further.

At the start of this ascent, the marked trail actually descended. There is also a continuation of the road, blocked off at this point, which I knew from my past experiences would get me to the trail as well, so I took this shortcut, which rejoined the main trail after a short traverse to the north. At this point, the trail was in pretty good shape – it had the feel of a popular, and reasonably well maintained hiking trail, and if I was in better shape, would have been runnable, or at least run/walkable. However, as the trail continued to climb, it got steeper, muddier, and less well maintained, albeit, still very well marked. In my previous midsummer excursion up here, I didn’t notice that this whole side of the mountain is crisscrossed by overgrown abandoned logging roads and ATV tracks. If it wasn’t for the ample trail markings, some sections might have sent less alert hikers off in incorrect directions. Finally, after about a mile and a half of ascending, I reached the beaver pond (s). This was a lovely place, worthy of the hike to this point on its own. As I approached it, the croaking frogs were so loud that I half expected to see a herd of geese on the pond, but no, it was just the frogs.

Scrag Beaver Pond

There was a lot more water in the pond than my last mid-summer visit to this location. Of course, there is more water in the early spring (there were still melting snow patches around the pond), but several other small nearby ponds hinted that the beavers themselves were far more active here than they were 8 years ago! One of the newer ponds was actually submerging the trail, forcing a little bit of easy bushwhacking to continue.

As the map at the trailhead hinted, the well marked trail concluded at this point, but with a careful eye, the much older trail continuing to the summit could be made out. Looking carefully, I could see occasional ancient blue blazes on the trees. Routefinding to the summit was also complicated by increasing snow and ice, further disguising the more trodden path. When I was unsure of myself, I started following a woman who looked like she knew where she was going, but when she stopped for a breather, I charged on, and probably spent a fair amount of time thrashing between tightly spaced pine trees. At least when ascending, you know that as long as you are going up, you will get to the right place. Curiously, the woman I passed caught up with me, and she confessed that she was actually following me now. The blind leading the blind.

All paths up do indeed lead to the summit, and we found ourselves up there in not long. The Scrag Mountain summit has some history. For many years, there was a fire tower on the summit, which was finally torn down in the late 1970’s. The concrete pylons where it once rose are still easily found. The old caretaker’s cabin, built in the 1930’s is also still standing, and in semi-usable condition, although there seemed to be more rotting floorboards than when I first entered it 25-30 years ago. There is still a small wood stove, and some bunk beds, with very questionable blankets strewn over them. There were even a few empty champagne bottles of relatively recent vintage!

Caretaker Cabin Luxury Interior

A very pleasant surprise upon achieving the summit was the view to the east! While the mountain was reknown for its views when the fire tower was still intact, the rocky summit was surrounded by mature pines, which obscured most of the views. At some point, in the not too distant past (as evidenced by freshly cut pine logs neatly stacked) someone has taken down enough of the taller trees to allow for great views to the east. If you look carefully in the center of the following picture, you can see the white triangle formed by still snowcapped Presidentials in NH! This little bit of tree removal will probably make this a more popular hike or run in the future.

The descent was pretty much the same as the climb, but in reverse – in fact, it was easier to keep on the narrow trail down from the summit, although I and my equally confused ad hoc hiking partner probably diverged from it in a few places. Returning to my car, this was about a 4.5 mile round trip, with about 1500 ft of climb and descent. I didn’t run any of this trip, although a few years ago, I was able to run about 50% of the distance. I know a lot of my stronger trail running friends could have fun on this one, especially after the snow finished melting. It is also a very pleasant afternoon hike, which is quite amenable to social distancing!

Google Earth of Scrag Mountain Trail, looking east
Altitude Profile Scrag Mountain

March 1st, 2020 at 7:32 pm
Posted by Jeff Byers in Snowshoeing

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I wanted to get off the track and treadmill, and into the mountains. So, I decided to go to one of my favorite places, the trails around the Blueberry Hill Inn for snowshoeing. I pulled my car into the ski touring area parking lot, across the street from the Inn, and was surprised at how quiet things looked. I have skied here countless times in the past, but it had been a few years since my last trip here in the winter. Over the last few years, the ski operation has scaled back its operations – in part due to some lost trail bridges which have proven costly to replace. So, what was once a “full service” ski touring area, with groomed trails is now aimed at people who are happy to break track, or follow the tracks set by the person in front of them. It’s OK – it is still beautiful. After paying the nominal trail donation, I crossed the street and followed the well skied trail behind the Inn.

The Blueberry Hill Inn in winter

My destination for the day, Hogback Mountain, is the hill just to the right of the inn’s roof line in the photo above. I set out on the trail paralleling the road, roughly following the path of the Goshen Gallop, a summer trail race which I run most years, which proceeds on the adjacent road. After about a half mile, I took a sharp left turn, now on a short climb, until I reached the next trail, where I took a right, and began the traverse on the lower slopes of Hogback Mt. In some sections of these trails, the snowshoes were rather unnecessary – the ground had been well enough packed by previous hikers, skiers, and showshoers, that I could have easily hiked it in normal boots. However, there were some softer sections, where I would have undoubtedly postholed, so I was glad that I had my snowshoes. On this brilliant sunny day, I looked up and admired the perfect azure blue sky overhead – more typical of the Rockies than northern New England.

Blue Skies

After about a mile and a half, I reached my destination – the open slopes of Hogback Mountain, with one of the best views around. In the winter, you can’t really tell why these meadows are so open, affording such spectacular vistas. These are the same wild blueberry meadows that give the inn and ski touring area its name, and if you come at just the right time in mid-late July, you will have the company of many wild blueberry pickers.

Hogback Mountain Vista

After soaking up the afternoon sun for a few minutes, I retraced my steps back to the inn taking a slightly more direct route, making for a roughly 3 mile trip, with only modest climbs. I stepped into the touring center, and enjoyed a bowl of their delicious vegetable soup, made available on weekends for a modest fee, as I looked around the room. I noticed many signs which used to be out on the trail system. Apparently, after spending many years working to have the nearby forests protected as the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, Tony, the owner of the Inn, had to remove these signs as part of federal wilderness rules. A small price to pay, but someday, I will have to ask him about the stories behind each of them.

Retired Trail Signs

Finally – as I was leaving the touring center, I stopped to read some of the permanent posters talking about various aspects of the Moosalamoo Recreation Area, signs which I had passed by countless times over the years, and apparently had never stopped to read. One of them alluded to the presence of an abandoned downhill ski area in the Moosalamoo Region, something I had never known. So, I turned and asked the young man at the desk, and he wasn’t sure where it was, although he suspected that it might be the slopes of Hogback that I had just been on. When I returned home, I went to one of my favorite web sites, NELSAP.org, where NELSAP is an acronym for the New England Lost Ski Area Project, and found that there indeed had been a commercial ski area just a few miles away, which operated in the 1940’s and 50’s under the name Pine Mountain. Even more curiously, the owners apparently spent some funds reviving it in the early 2000’s for private use, complete with a 600 ft rope tow, lights for night skiing, a groomer, and snow making! I have no idea what its current status is, but I look forward to going back and checking it out.

Hogback Mountain Snowshoeing on Google Earth
Altitude Profile (not too bad!)

February 3rd, 2020 at 10:14 pm
Posted by Jeff Byers in Running

Due to the challenges of recovery from a recent surgery, running is, for the time being, off the menu. That said, my physical therapist has been recommending walking an hour each day. As my body has recuperated, most of my walking has been confined to the roads by my home, the treadmill at Middlebury Fitness, or the indoor track at the college. A recent streak of unseasonably warm weather, and my increasing stamina inspired me to get out on the trails for the first time in too long, so I was inspired to spend an hour or so on a late afternoon to get out and enjoy some of the trails from the Robert Frost trailhead. Given the relatively thin snow cover, and the heavy usage of these trails, I assumed that I would not need my snowshoes, so I slipped on my microspikes over my hiking boots, and found that this footware combination served me perfectly.

The first part of this walk was on the well-known Robert Frost trail, where a gentle walk in the woods is punctuated by signposts bearing Frost poems appropriate to the location. In a few minutes, I got to the stream crossing, which is now spanned by a handicap accessible bridge – a very nice addition. Years ago, when my daughters were young there was a much more rustic stone bridge at this crossing (which washed out a few years ago), from which we would play “Pooh Sticks” on lazy summer days.

The Pooh Sticks Stream


Continuing along the trail, I came to the right turn, where I turned away from the short Robert Frost trail, and headed deeper “into the wild”. I have run in the area many times during the warmer months, but I am always amazed at how different things look in the winter – it can almost be disorienting, even though one can see deep into the woods, given the bare trees. Good thing the trails here come well-signed, huh? I also found it curious that the trail sign gives 911 instructions (umm dial 911?) in an area with no cell coverage.



Trail Map

So, my memory of these trail refreshed by an actual map, I continued along Crosswalk, taking a sharp left turn on Sundown, climbing gradually until I saw the short steep incline of the trail named “Trepidation” in front of me. I must admit, the name is a bit overdone for what was basically a 0.1 mile climb, but I would imagine that novice cross country skiers looking down it might think otherwise. Getting up to the top of the hill called “Water Tower Hill, I paused for a moment, wondering if this was indeed the actual water tower at some point, since there is an entire trail network not far away on the Goshen-Ripton road also called the Water Tower trails. And they do not connect to this hill. Perhaps there were two water towers in comparably sparsely settled places, a few miles apart? I doubt it. To add to the confusion, one of the small hills behind the Rikert Ski Touring center is called Fire Tower Hill. Were the water towers there to help put out the fires found from the fire tower? I think that one of my first orders of business while running next summer will be to scout the summits (sans snow) to look for remnants of towers. While the snow was too deep to see any evidence of past towers, I did get a nice view of the Rattlesnake Cliffs on Mt Moosalomoo through the trees.

Moosalamoo through the trees

Descending from the “summit” I turned left on North Star, a trail which is seemingly always muddy with poor footing in the summer, but was quite pleasant with well trodden snow, until reaching the connecting trail to the Robert Frost loop, where I turned right and descended to the open blueberry meadow. While there were no blueberries this time of the year, I did enjoy the view of the lone pitch pine standing in the meadow, spreading its branches luxuriously wide in the absence of any competition for sunlight.

Lone Pine

From here, it was a short walk back to my car. This ended up as a 3 mile walk, with about 500 ft of climb and descent – perfect for a winter late afternoon. It feels great to be returning to activity, and to be back in something resembling “the wilds”.

A totally unrelated Coda:

Forty years ago, to the day, in my first year of grad school at that Big Green college to the southeast in New Hampshire, I joined a friend on his 25th birthday celebration. We decided, on the evening before (over a beer or two, of course) to get up, and climb a mountain for sunrise. At first we joked about doing Mt Washington, but realized that would be pretty stupid on the 3rd of February. So, I suggested a a more modest peak nearby, Mt Cube, a lovely rocky-summited peak in central NH. So, a few hours later, we were trudging up, in the darkness and deep snow to help my friend celebrate his birthday. Upon reaching the summit, and fueling ourselves on cheap cherry brandy, and defacing the peak with snow angels, we descended, and vowed to make this a yearly tradition for the duration of grad school. Happy 65th Birthday Rudy!

Google Earth of the walk

June 9th, 2019 at 6:27 pm
Posted by Jeff Byers in Running

Due to a busier than usual spring, it has been a while since my last posting, and it feels good to be back on the trails. I also had the realization that this month constitutes the 10th anniversary of this blog, so I should really come up with a run that was suitably adventurous. I was not disappointed! Many years ago, while exploring the trails on the Lake Dunmore side of Moosalamoo, I stumbled across a minor trail leading to a small rock cave, with a sign labeling it as “Speedy’s Cave”, if my memory served me correctly. In the ensuing years, I have heard of the slopes below the Rattlesnake Cliffs harboring several well and not so well known caves. Unlike the technically challenging subterranean Weybridge Cave, the caves above Lake Dunmore, sometimes refered to as the “Keeywaydin Caves” due to their location on the private, but not posted property of Camp Keeywaydin, were made from rockfall from the cliffs above, and are small, with barely enough room for a few people to stand. Nonetheless, I hoped to retrace my steps from many years ago to find the cave of my memory, and see if there were any others along the trail.

I started off at one of my favorite trailheads, the Falls of Lana parking lot just south of Branbury State Park, and ran up to the point, at about a half mile, where the trail makes a sharp hairpin turn to the right to ascend to Silver Lake. Instead, I went straight, as if I was ascending the Rattlesnake Cliffs, and shortly afterwards took the branch to my left on the Aunt Jennie Trail. I had vague memories of a small sign pointing to a weak, left turning trail at some point on the ascent, which brought me pretty easily to the cave. Sure enough, about a mile into my run, I saw a weak left-turning trail, but the sign, instead of pointing to “caves” as in my remembrance, there was only a sign making sure that people stayed on the well-maintained forest service trail. Nonetheless, I assumed that this was the trail that I was looking for. Wrong.

About 50 yards into this trail, I began to question whether I was on a legitimate trail, or some sort of herd path, but as I ran around a corner, I found a forest service sign reminding me that I was on a privately maintained trail (Camp Keeywaydin‘s presumably), not one of their trails, and that, combined with relatively recently painted white blazes on occasional trees told me that I was on what had been, at least at one time, a trail.

Now Entering Terra Incognita

Pretty soon along this trail, the terrain got very rugged. It felt very reminiscent of the herd paths I experienced in the Adirondacks while working towards my 46’er membership 20+ years ago. It was narrow, rocky, obscured by leaves, and seemed to pay no attention whatsoever to any sense of contemporary trail design and maintenance. In other words, it made for wonderful adventurous exploring, but terrible running. To put the next two miles in perspective: I typically run 9-10 minute miles on most trails, maybe slowing down to 15 minute miles on challenging terrain. A typical hiking pace on maintained mountain trails is 2.5-3 miles per hour. It took me 80 minutes to cover the next two miles.

It took some basic routefinding skills to find my way through this section. It is very important to be constantly making note of your surroundings on terrain like this, so that in the frequent cases when backtracking was required, I found myself back to where I was last confident I was on the trail. Fortunately, there were enough white blazes so that in the very frequent sections where the trail disappeared, or was obscured by fallen trees, that I could always look around for a blaze. If I didn’t see one, I backtracked. Did I say I did a lot of this? Being constantly on the lookout at the terrain made it difficult to even run slowly, as the uneven terrain made it important to watch my feet, in turn missing blazes! I also realized that I was not on the trail of my memories, as I didn’t remember it being this rough, and there was no sign of “Speedy’s Cave”. I wasn’t worried about getting lost – the topography was simple enough, and I knew that buswhacking uphill would take me to the summit of Moosalamoo, although the little section called “the Rattlesnake Cliffs” might make that challenging, and I knew that there were cliff bands below me, albeit not as extensive. But, the fact that there were blazes told me that I had to be going somewhere. That said, I was about ready to turn around, when I received a sign from the gods that this was where I was meant to be: A sign on a lookout, with a lovely view of Lake Dunmore. What did the sign say? Jeff’s Lookout! So, of course I had to keep going. Curiously, on the next tree there was a much older sign, with the word “lookout” still legible, but with an otherwise unreadable name, but not Jeff, above it. Apparently Jeff usurped this cliff from someone else at some point in the past!

Jeff’s Lookout

From this point, the trail zigzagged up and down the side of the hill, for reasons that were not at all apparent from the terrain. This grousing aside, this was a very pretty section, with several more overlooks, some named with signs, some not. But running was very much out of the question. The least obscured overlook bore no name that I could discern, but it shows just how pretty the views of the lake could be.

Better than Jeff’s Lookout

A little further on, I finally found the first true trail marker – a sign saying that the trail I was joining was called “The Wildcat Trail”, which seemed to follow the hillside, continuing north, and another arrow pointing straight up the mountainside, indicating that it was the most direct way to the Rattlesnake Cliffs. Years ago, I had noticed a discretely marked and precipitous trail descending from the cliffs, and decided against ascending them this way, at this time. Not long after this, I saw a sign pointing up the hill……called..(drum roll please) THE CAVE TRAIL!

A Sign of Hope

The ascent at this point was very scrambly, and I may well have been the first person to ascend it this year. But, after not too long, I found myself at a small cave called “Curly’s Cave” and standing inside it, looking out, I felt like I was in the mouth of a monster, looking past the teeth. I can imagine that this must be a favorite for Keeywaydin and Songadeewin campers.

Curly’s Monster Teeth

After the cave, I kept going up the steep incline, hoping that the trail might veer to the south, perhaps even connecting with the now distant Speedy’s cave, but the trail instead took a turn to the south, so I decided to backtrack to the start of the Cave Trail, and continue on the increasingly strong trail heading towards the camp. One last adventurous section was where the trail descended a cliff band known as the “Deer Staircase”.

The Deer Staircase

This trail eventually joined a well worn, double track trail called “Steve’s Trail” where I arbitrarily chose to go left, finally running full stride for the first time in well over an hour, eventually joining “The Summit Road” – a dirt road, finally joining Rt 53 across the road from Camp Keeywaydin. All that was left now was a mile and a half of roadside running, dodging cars, to return to my vehicle. This was quite possibly the slowest 5 miles I have ever done in Vermont – the first mile, and the last two miles were real running, but one two mile section in the middle was some of the roughest terrain I have been on for a long time. Check out the altitude profile! All the ups and downs on this run/hike/scramble added up to about 1500 feet of climbing and descent, and this relatively short distance ended up taking me almost 2 hours. In other words, it was a fun little local adventure. I look forward to trying to find Speedy’s Cave later this summer, and if successful, I will post it to this blog.

Finally, I have been led to believe that the trails of Camp Keeywaydin are open to the public, but I would guess that they would rather we not use them, at least close in to the camp, while camp is in session. I will check in with a friend on their permanent staff to clarify this, and will make an addendum to this post when I know for sure.

Google Earth of the “Run”
Altitude Profile

December 16th, 2018 at 2:07 pm
Posted by Jeff Byers in Running

Let’s face it – the days ARE getting shorter, so sometimes, it is tough to find the time to go for a run during the daytime.  The easy solution to this, of course, is the purchase of a headlamp and reflective clothing, and warm clothes.  I have also blogged from time to time about the pleasures of running on packed snowmobile trails while wearing my “microspikes”, the easy slip-on shoe device which gives just the right amount of grip for packed trails.  With both of these winter running tricks in mind, I had the inspiration to combine them both, on my beloved cross country ski trails at the Rikert Ski Touring area in Ripton.  I have been reticent about after dark running on roads, since my nasty fall on a patch of ice two years ago, but I realized that packed ski trails, especially with the tail end of the early season snows still on the trails, would make for a safe, fun run, and a new experience.  The one thing that would not be safe, however, is running in the woods alone at night, so I posted my hairbrained idea for some of my running friends on the Middlebury Running Group facebook page, and not surprisingly, some of them actually agreed with my suggestion!

So, we met up in the parking lot at Rikert at 5:30 on a mid-week evening, and other than a few lights on in and around the Touring Center lobby and a few spotlights from the barn, the parking lot was dark, as a group of us gathered to begin the run.  It was a little on the chilly side, in the low 20’s, but we knew that once we got running, we would warm up nicely.  So, we slipped on our microspikes, turned on our headlamps, and headed across the field to the Battell trail entrance.  I am including a trail map, so that those who are not as familiar with the area can see where we went!  The footing, as expected, was just fine, given our preparations, although I would recommend a slower than normal running pace, as even with the headlamps, we had to be careful about where we stepped – if for no other reason than that the wonderful early season snows hit before the small streams and wet spots crossing the trail had not yet frozen up.   The woods were beautiful under the faint glow of our headlamps, and were far more silent than they are during the day, when the scurry of small animals and birds makes for a little background ambience.  A picture almost caught the mood.

View from the trail

 

 

And of course, there is not much to see in this photo – it was dark! Continuing around the Battell loop ( a little over a mile long) we looped back to the field, and then took the right turn up the Tormondsen Racing Trail, covered by snowmaking, made for even better footing. The Rikert area does not have much in the way of altitude between the base and the hills, but they do an excellent job of snaking the compact trail system up and down the side of these hills, keeping the skiing appropriately challenging. So, looking to get a little more climbing in, I led the group up past the Myhre Cabin, which I recently learned is still privately owned, up towards the Frost Trail. Despite the fact that the Frost Trail is higher on the hillside, it needed more snow and/or more cold to cover the streams, so we had to be even more careful about our footing, until we arrived at the high point of the run, the Burgin Lodge, which was built to give members of the Middlebury College community a quiet place in the woods to spend the night – with access by reservation only.   There was nobody there, so the stone cairns, and then the cabin itself loomed spookily in the VERY dim light of our headlamps.

The Spooky Cairn

Yeah, I know, the picture is a little bit on the dark side – it was night, what did you expect? Stopping for a moment to enjoy the high point of our run, we began our descent, which had a few icy places, requiring careful footing, eventually joining the Figure 8, before our final descent on another section of a segment of trail, well-covered by the snowmaking system. In the past, I have bemoaned the name of this last section of trail – it had been named after the former English Professor and head of the Breadloaf School of English, who was the cause of Middlebury College’s big #MeToo situation in the late 1980s. I was glad to learn that our Trustees had renamed it the White Trail, naming after a local female literary character (of whom I know nothing – I will have to find out). Crossing Forest Service 59, we had one last short climb up towards the parking lot. It wasn’t bad for a leisurely run, but I know from experience that it can be an agonizing approach to the finish line during nordic races.

To the Finish Line in the dark

This ended up being about a 4.5 mile run, and due to the good graces of Google Earth, which had the foresight to do their aerial photography during the daytime, I do have a GPS trace of the run. I think we will be doing this again sometime this winter!

Google Earth NOT in the dark

Altitude Profile


November 7th, 2018 at 9:43 pm
Posted by Jeff Byers in Running

A few months ago, the editor of the Middlebury College Alumni Magazine, knowing that I authored this blog as an avid trail runner, asked if I could write a short column on the pleasures of trail running.  Never one to shirk on my responsibilities as a member of the faculty (unless, of course, I just don’t’ feel like doing it), I suggested that I write a slightly longer article, involving a run near the campus, in the style of my blog, and he agreed that this would be good.  So….I took a previous Middlebury Trailrunner posting, and modified in so that it featured more of the campus features.  One of the great pleasures of a career in higher education, is observing, and laughing at (and with) the quirks of this particularly curious career, which I love, especially since I have always felt sincerely honored to have had this career opportunity at a school like Middlebury College, in a town as special as Middlebury Vermont.    So, in typical Middlebury Trailrunner style, I poked fun at things I saw along the way,  especially those which alums might find amusing, and maybe even part of their experience.

My friends in other corners of the college are probably used to the demands of their editors.  Scientific writing, (and blog authoring as well) is as a rule, very lightly edited, if at all.  As a result, I don’t know of any of my previous career publications being changed in any way between peer review modifications, and publication.   When my article appeared in the recent issue of our alumni magazine, I was a little bit surprised to see that a lot of my fun asides, poking fun of the college in what I thought was a good-natured way had been edited out of the article.  That said, the presentation in the final article is beautiful, and I can live with the editor’s judgement as to the audience for this article.  But, I thought it would be fun to include a link to the published article, and then show the article that I originally submitted, and let my readers decide which version is more fun.

The well-presented, but alas, homogenized version of my short article can be found in the recent issue of the Alumni Magazine.

My original version of the article is as follows.  I think it is more fun!

Dear First-Year Students:

As a member of the Middlebury College faculty, I would like to welcome you to campus.  Most Middlebury students know of me as a chemistry professor; in fact, a fair number of you will be taking General Chemistry from me this year  Fortunately, professors are allowed to have other interests, and one of my preferred avocations is distance running, and am particularly fond of running long distances on our local trails, in the village of Middlebury, as well as the nearby mountains.  I have been sharing my trail adventures on a blog called “The Middlebury Trailrunner” for 9 years, and the subject of many of my postings has been the beloved “TAM”, the Trail Around Middlebury, an 18-mile loop which can be run in small segments, or in its entirety for the more ambitious.  I thought I would welcome you to campus by sharing a short section at the periphery of the campus. Think if this as Trailrunning 101!

This run starts out the back door of the athletic complex – yup – that great place where you can work out on all the cool exercise contraptions your tuition dollars can buy (or our generous alums can buy for you – and a sincere THANKS).  My advice is to save the ellipticals and treadmills for the cold of deep winter, and enjoy the out of doors for now.  Head out the back door, and run just to the right of the high tech artificial turf Kohn Field, to the left of the Squash Center, and veer into the woods on the left – there are usually a few soccer goals stashed here, so the trail entry should be easy to find.  When I started teaching at Middlebury 32 years ago, this was just a big empty field.  How on earth did I find my way to the trail?  The first, and tamest part of this TAM segment is on the trail which runs around the outskirts of our very own golf course.  The golf course trail is pretty easy, with no major impediments to its many runners and walkers.  In fact, it is the course used by our national-caliber cross country running team at their home races, and was lit for nighttime cross-country skiing in the 1980s.

After about a mile, you pass the first noteworthy sight on this run.  You can’t help but notice it, as it smells…like rotting food scraps…which is what it is.  At the most odiferous point on the run, off to your left stands the mountain of compost, largely the result of your leftover Procter food.  No wonder our dining hall staff is always reminding you not to waste food, going so far as to eliminate dining trays so you can’t load up too easily!  Not long after this, a short, steep climb rises above you, and as you near the top, you will notice a lone gravestone off to your right, near the 11th tee.  A hint for those of you taking Gen Chem from me; I love to add fun Middlebury trivia questions at the end of my tests for extra credit, and every few years, I ask if anyone knows what the person interred there died from, a fact which is indicated on the gravestone. In a rather macabre turn of events, the poor gentleman commemorated there, William Douglas, survived both the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War, only to die when a tree fell on him soon after he returned to Middlebury.  I am sure that the trees were really big back then as well!

Continue across the ridgeline onto the new section of trail which enables runners to stay pretty well out of the range of some of the errant tee shots from golfers setting out on the back nine, before emerging into the open, passing by a large white house on your left called Hadley House, rumored to be the scene of some wild trustee parties.  This is also a great place to enjoy spectacular views of Vermont’s Green Mountains, to the east.  This view will never get old.  Trust me.  On your right, you will also see Youngman Field, the football stadium, taking a moment to be impressed by the massive panther statue on a rock behind the stadium.  Apparently some of our most generous alums went panther statue crazy 15-20 years ago, and now the campus is adorned with the outcomes of their generosity.  The stadium panther is rather dramatic, but another sculpture of a panther eviscerating a deer was strategically hidden in the gardens of the President’s house.  A short run along the old golf course entrance road brings you to Route 30, where you need to cross to continue the run.  If you are out of gas at this point, it is a short downhill trot to the athletic facilities for a nice two mile run.  However, if you cross the road, there is some more challenging trail running to be found.  At the far side of Rt. 30 you will find the entrance to the segment of the TAM known as the “Class of 97 Trail”, honoring a deceased member of that class.

The narrow, rooty, and usually muddy descent from the ridgeline will challenge you to watch your footwork, but two summers ago, there was an additional hazard;  a large, and overprotective mama owl was attacking passing runners, in my case drawing blood!  Such are the pleasures of true trail running.  After less than a mile in the woods, the trail emerges into an open field, where a left turn will lead to a long loop through the farm fields which make up some of the great views to the west of the campus. If you were running this section, a little more than a year ago, you would have noticed that the field was occupied by a cluster of small, prefab homes, known as “the mods.”  They were installed almost 20 years ago, to serve as temporary housing, but we have a tendency to get attached to our temporary buildings.  I am telling you this, so that when you come back for your 10th, or perhaps 25th reunion, and notice that the “temporary” home of the Computer Science Department, currently under construction behind Allen, is still there, you won’t be surprised.  The trail winds along the periphery of the farm fields, heading west, until it crosses College St. and follows a short dirt road to the serene quiet of the college organic garden, one of my favorite places on campus.

By now, if you are starting to feel a little tired, you are in the home stretch! Take the dirt road back through the fields towards campus, enjoying the views of “Hadley/Lang/Milliken/Ross/Laforce”, dorms which were known as “The New Dorms” for about 30 years (and used to be covered with what sure looked like oversized bathroom tiles, rather than the current, far more attractive stonework), and the hulking shape of Bicentennial Hall, which was christened “The Death Star” by students at its opening 19 years ago. The solar panels also seen here are a relatively new addition to the fields, and on sunny days, they look quite lovely, reflecting the blue sky.

Near the Bicentennial Hall driveway, cross back over College Street, and catch the sidewalk which climbs back up onto the main campus, through the wooded environs of the Ridgeline Woods dorms, originally built to allow our social houses to move away from the village to a location where their natural boisterousness  would not rouse the wrath of nearby residents.  Follow this sidewalk to the top of the hill, and cut through the graveyard before finishing the run back at the athletic center. The last cool sight to point out, if you have the time to look, is the gravestone of an Egyptian mummy buried in the otherwise Christian cemetery.  Henry Sheldon, the original proprietor of the downtown Sheldon Museum, purchased the mummy of a very young Egyptian prince, but realized that it was not in good enough condition to put on display, and instead had it buried, with a very curious gravestone, after many years in storage.

Crossing over Rt. 30 one last time – you come face to face with the original front entrance to the athletic complex, which you can only enter through if you sprout wings, due to their current configuration.  This run, about 5 miles long, and mixing great scenery with Middlebury college history and trivia is a great way to first experience the pleasures of trail running.  Feel free to check out my blog if you want to explore the local mountains and forest more extensively, and I hope you enjoy the next four years here!

Cordially,

The Middlebury Trailrunner

 


October 23rd, 2018 at 9:16 pm
Posted by Jeff Byers in Running

It seems like all of my posts this season have been describing runs in the Moosalamoo/Silver Lake region, and this posting will be no exception. On a cool, overcast Saturday morning, I joined up with a few running friends for another one of my favorite runs – the ascent up the North Branch Trail, beginning from the Falls of Lana parking lot, just south of Branbury State Park. So the three of us, accompanied by my friend’s labradoodle, Tizzy the Wonderdog, began our ascent on the service road. Just past the Falls of Lana, where the service road to Silver Lake makes a sharp switchback to the right, stay straight, taking the left turn over bridge, followed by a sharp right over the next few yards. This puts you on a trail, which if you remained on it, would bring you up to the Falls of Lana. At one point, you will have to vault over a fallen tree trunk, with a curious infinity sign painted on it, indicating that this segment of trail is also part of the course for Andy Weinberg’s legendary 888 km “Infinitus” event.  But since we were feeling like mere mortals, we knew that this would be our only loop past this today, and after a few minutes, we came to the grassy clearing, where the actual North Branch trail veers off to the right.

Shortly after turning onto the trail we saw a few other runners and friends coming our way – they had apparently gotten a head start on us, and were already descending from the summit of Mt Moosalamoo.  Nine years ago, when I started writing this blog, it was a rarity when I saw another runner on the trail, and now it is far more common, a testament to the increasing popularity of trail running in this part of Vermont, and the US as a whole.   Over the next half mile or so, the climbing gets to be a little steep, requiring a few short sections with more hiking than running, and in no time at all, the stream that we crossed at the start of the trail was a few hundred feet below us.  The trail in this section is well maintained, but narrow and rocky, and the brilliantly colored wet leaves on the ground covered some of the natural hazards make for slow going in sections, but as the leaves were thinning on the trees, at one point I noticed a substantial waterfall peeking out from behind the trunks, noting that I had only seen this before when it was early spring or late fall – the summer foliage always seems to obscure it!

One can remain on the North Branch trail all the way to the Moosalamoo Campground, but on this run, I decided to take the short exit trail to bring us up to the little known Voter Brook overlook, at the end of the campground road, hoping to catch the fall scenery from this quiet little viewpoint.  The combination of the cloudy weather, and the past peak foliage dimmed the splendor of the place, but only a little bit!

Voter Brook Overlook

From here we decided to stay on the road back to the Moosalamoo Campground, and eventually the Ripton-Goshen road. Looking down at the road, which is very lightly used, it looked more like it was unused, as it was covered thickly with fresh leaves, and a few small washouts indicated why the last few hundred yards were not used. But still, the road, which was actually very pleasant running, was still covered by undisturbed leaves. In not long, we came to what seemed to be the cause of the road’s disuse – a fallen tree which would block traffic.  This was still a little puzzling, as the Forest Service usually does a good job of taking care of fallen trees, even on little used roads, but after hopping over this modest impediment, I could see that the road was still unused.  Eventually, we reached the sharp descent and turn in the road, where it normally passes over a small stream with a culvert under the road, and we finally saw what the real problem was – apparently, at some point in the year or so since I last passed this way, the road had washed out entirely, leaving a little bigger project to reopen car travel to the overlook. It apparently has been washed out for a while, as the local beavers had already created a dam across the culvert.

Road Washout

From here we continued on the now gravel and dirt road, sans leaves, until we reached the Ripton-Goshen road, where we took a right, and after a somewhat surprisingly tough climb to the high point of the run, took the snowmobile trail to the right, where you see the forest service gate. This begins a long gradual ascent, a nice respite after all the climbing to get up here. The main snowmobile trail is usually easy to pick out, but some recent small scale lumbering activity had made a previously “minor” trail look more substantial, so we got off course for a short while until we realized that this side trail was getting faint. It was interesting to see a rusted out old plow in the middle of what appeared to be probably a 50 year old forest – it has clearly been a long time since this land was cleared for a farm!

Abandoned Plow in the Forest

Finding our way back to the main trail, it eventually bottomed out over a well-built snowmobile bridge, before a short steep climb up to the Silver Lake forest service road, well above the lake. Going straight here would have been the shortest way back to our cars, but instead we took the left turn, leading to an undulating climb up to the Goshen Silver Lake trailhead, which was nearly empty. Getting back on true single track, we followed the descent to the Leicester Hollow trail, and followed it back to the “beach”, which not surprisingly, was empty, although we did see some people kayaking out on the always quiet lake. Finishing the run with the last mile and a half descent to the parking lot, passing quite a few hikers out for what will probably be their last hike of the season,  brought the run to its conclusion. This ended up being a 10.5 mile run, with a solid 1500 foot climb and descent, although a lot of it was more undulating than grinding.

The North Branch Trail run

Altitude Profile North Branch


September 2nd, 2018 at 7:23 pm
Posted by Jeff Byers in Running

One of the most popular “hikes to a view” in Addison County, is the hike up to the Rattlesnake Cliffs on the lower slopes of Mt Moosalamoo, where there are spectacular views of Lake Dunmore to the east, Silver Lake to the north, and the main ridge of the Green Mountains to the west. Over the last decade or so, this viewpoint has become a little bit more challenging to access, as the return of nesting peregrine falcons has necessitated closure of this popular viewpoint from early spring to the beginning of August, limiting this lovely overlook to late summer and fall (except for the hardy winter hikers and skiers) so that the falcons can have their babies in peace.

Hiking up to the Rattlesnake Cliffs from the popular Falls of Lana/Silver Lake trailhead, just south of Branbury State Park leads to two possible ascending trails. The longer, but gentler Rattlesnake Cliff Trail, described in an earlier blog, and the more direct, steeper Aunt Jennie Trail. Based on a few conversations with old-timers in the area, I became interested in who the eponymous Aunt Jennie was, and what her connection to the trail or area was. And I am not an old-timer yet – not quite. A little bit of easy googling came up with the answer – Aunt Jennie was a woman who ran a popular eatery on flat lot, formerly the site of the old Falls of Lana trailhead, a quarter mile closer to the falls than the current location. A short writeup mentioning Aunt Jennie, as well as her teahouse (the picture of the teahouse provided by Bill Powers, a local historian) can be found on the Lake Dunmore Association blog, from a few years ago.

The run up to the Aunt Jennie Trail begins much like many of my other runs in the region, from aforementioned Falls of Lana trailhead. After the first short climb, the trail up to Silver Lake takes a sharp hairpin turn to the right, but to head up to the Rattlesnake Cliffs, one goes straight, taking a turn to the left over a footbridge put in place after the 2008 flooding which took out an older bridge. After crossing the Sucker Brook, turn right, and after a short run, the well-labeled Aunt Jennie trailhead appears to the left. I hadn’t hiked up this trail in many years, but as expected, it was significantly steeper than the longer Rattlesnake Cliffs trail. While the longer trail is gradual enough to be good uphill running over much of its length, I would have to say that, at least at my current climbing ability, less than a quarter of the Aunt Jennie trail is actually runnable, so most of this rapid ascent is more a power hike, with a few faster footsteps when it levels off in a few places. After about ¾ of a mile, the Aunt Jennie Trail ends, and a left turn, joining the Rattlesnake Cliff Trail will take one to the left turn, well signed, leading to the Rattlesnake Cliffs for the great views.

Heading towards the cliffs, I noticed something was different. In the past, there were two separate cutoffs to cliff overlooks. The first cutoff led to the prominent ledges on the East face, and somewhat to the north. When I found myself on the south facing cliffs, I wondered how I missed the first turnoff. Further exploration, led to another short trail that I didn’t think had been there in the past, leading to the great views of Lake Dunmore to the east.

At this overlook, I was treated to a dozen or so huge birds sailing around me, often very close, and landing on nearby ledges.  Were these peregrine falcons?  Were these some other proud raptor, like red tail hawks?  Nope – they were plain old turkey vultures, but watching them, I developed an appreciation for some birds that would be considered lovely, if not for their tiny heads, and carrion-eating habits.  Who knew we had so much food for them here?  If they are attracted by the scent of rotting carcasses, what does that say about the scent of a very sweaty trail runner?

Turkey Vultures

Looking down at the lake, getting increasingly empty as the summer season winds down, I saw a lone speedboat, tugging a lucky waterskier, leaving patterns in the water that reminded me of old Spirograph artistry.

Spirograph wake

On my return, I stopped for a few moments at the overlook, facing to the south, including Silver Lake, Lake Dunmore, and in the distance, Fern Lake.  Is it my imagination or colorblindness, or are the first little bits of orange starting to creep into the foliage?

South Views from Rattlesnake Cliffs

 

Looking more carefully on my return, I did manage to see the trail to the “old” Lake Dunmore overlook. It no longer had any signage, and it looked as if trail maintenance crews had tried to obscure its presence. My suspicion is that this overlook is being discouraged to keep hikers away from the main falcon-roosting area, but I don’t know the full story here – anyone with something to add to this, please feel free to post your comments!

For the descent, after realizing that the Aunt Jennie Trail was fine for fast hiking, but not running, I chose to descend the longer Rattlesnake Cliffs trail, which, while longer, made for a faster descent due to its runnability over most of its length.  When I reached the bottom of the trail, I added in one last short section, in order to include some other “Aunt Jennie” history.  Instead of turning left at the bottom of the trail to return to my parked car, I turned right for about a quarter of a mile, to explore the site of Aunt Jennie’s teahouse.   I had recently learned of an inscription in the rock facing this flat section, honoring Jennie.  It was easy to find – when you hit the rock ring, continue to the nearby rock face, and if you look carefully, you can see where the moss was recently removed, leading to the professional inscription.  It is a little bit hard to read in my picture, but it states:

In Memory of

Jennie Dutton Rickert

Aunt Jennie

1866-1932

All that I am and all

 I ever hope to be I owe to my mother

A little bit of further research shows that this is nearly identical to a quote made by Abraham Lincoln about his own mother!

Aunt Jennie Epitaph

A short trot back to my car made this run/climb a little bit more than 5 miles long, with a challenging 1500 ft of climb and descent!

 

Altitude Profile


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