One of the challenges of running deep into the autumn is the dreaded clock resetting, away from daylight savings time, and back to “normal” time. The days are short enough to begin with this time of the year, and the loss of an additional hour of daylight at the end of the work day can complicate scheduling runs into my busy day. There is one solution to this problem however – the headlamp! Now, I have rarely run with a headlamp in the past, but when my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday a month or so ago, I responded that I wanted a headlamp so that I could continue to run after work, at least as long as the weather allowed. I, of course, had never shopped for a headlamp before, and the previous headlamp I owned was “pre-LED”, was dependent on heavy D cell batteries to run, and provided the light of a decent flashlight. This was fine for it’s purpose at the time – those hiking days which required a start before the sun rises, but was a lot of weight to be carried on a strap around my head while running. Now, I can see what my parents were thinking – “Our trailrunning son runs a lot, so he needs the brightest, safest light out there!” So, I was a little bit chagrined to see the superdeluxe ultra high power headlamp my parents had purchased for me. Let me tell you – this lamp could work for spelunking. Nevertheless, I put it on, and it really wasn’t that heavy. The first time I ran after dark with some friends in the Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts, I received a modest ration of grief for my rather elaborate headgear – but – when it got dark outside they were more than happy to run in my headlight! This thing is really bright – at the end of one evening run, I pointed it at the Middlebury Falls from the Marble works – it lit up the falls from quite a distance! Curiously, when I ran alongside the road wearing it, I would have cars flick their brights at me if I allowed my headlamp to stray into the eyes of oncoming drivers. So yes, this lamp is a keeper!
The recent spate of unseasonably warm weather, combined with a full moon, inspired me to go out and several nights in the last two weeks, so I thought I would describe an old favorite run on the TAM from a very different perspective. So, one evening after work I set out onto the Red Kelly Trail segment of the TAM, heading out the back door of the College Fitness Center to start this run circling the golf course. One of the first things I noticed was that I barely needed my ultraluminous headlamp at all out in the fields, but as the trail entered the woods, it provided extra security, helping me avoid roots and slippery rocks. Some people are scared of the dark, and while I don’t have any issues in that regard, this was kind of like leaving the TV on, or the door to the bathroom open, letting in just enough light for security.
As I progressed around the golf course, I wondered what sort of wildlife I might awaken – perhaps there were bears out and about? A random skunk sauntering in the trail? As it turns out the only animals I saw were numerous rabbits out for their evening nibbles, and I only saw them as their little white butts scampered away as I upset their dining. Approaching Rt 30 out in the open, many of the older trees took on far creepier shapes than they usually appear to have during the daylight, and I was kind of surprised to see that my point and shoot camera was actually able to catch their mood in the light of the full moon.
Continuing across Rt 30, I joined the segment of the trail where my headlamp was most needed – the narrow, twisting second of the Class of 97 trail which connects the road crossing with the open fields to the west of the college. This was somewhat slow going, as even with the headlamp, the trail was difficult to follow due to the fact that it was covered in fallen leaves. Just as I was wondering if anyone else in their right mind would be running here in the darkness, I saw the headlamp of another lone running heading towards me. After our extended greetings, we passed each other by and continued in our respective loops – mine, clockwise, hers, apparently counterclockwise. Once I reached the open fields, I actually no longer needed my headlamp at all, except for one short jog through a thin strip of forest land – the moon was that bright – bright enough to leave moon shadows behind every tree. Crossing Rt 125, I reached the top of the modest glacial drumlin which makes up the college organic garden. From this vantage I had a great view of my workplace, Bicentennial Hall, and its glowing windows against the night sky.
At this point, I left the TAM, and took the footpath back to campus, crossing over Rt 125 by the “Mods”, the small cluster of homes which were set up at the outskirts of campus for temporary housing 15 years ago, and up the service road which connects them with the rest of campus. Of course, given that it was only a few days after Halloween, I had to complete the course with a shortcut through the graveyard, and since this run was not a filming for a horror movie, I reckoned I was safe enough. The monuments do make for an eerie sight in the low light – I almost felt like I was running through some sort of ancient ruin.
Since this run precisely follows a route I have previously blogged, I am going to link to the Google Earth image, which currently resides elsewhere in this blog. Overall, this is about a 5 mile run, with numerous ups and downs, but no serious climbs or descents, and yes, it is fun to run in the daytime as well.
On a cool mid-October day, I realized that it had been a few weeks since my last blog posting, so I thought about some good possible runs, and went online to perform a little cleanup to this blog. Then I realized that this was going to be my 100th posting! Should I come up with something particularly epic, or maybe even a little bit dangerous? Nahhhhh…. Instead, I decided to retrace the steps of the same run that I did for my very first posting, way back in June 2009. So, here goes – my inaugural run for “The Middlebury Trailrunner”, the run from the Falls of Lana/Silver Lake trailhead, up past Silver Lake to the Goshen Trailhead on the hillside above the lake, and back. I have done more runs from this trailhead than from any other starting point, but had not written up a new posting on this identical route, although I have run it countless times. Whilethis is probably not a recommended for for running neophytes, it is an appropriate, adventurous run for folks for whom road 10K’s are “about right”, but want to start exploring more adventurous terrain. This particular route has some significant hill climbing, but is primarily on double track forest service roads (only open to maintenance vehicles), so it is a great place for decent runners to start exploring trails. Kind of like me, 5 years ago.
A lot has changed in the last 5 years, at least as far as my running goes. When I first blogged this run, I thought of this as a pretty adventurous route, between the significant climbing, and its backcountry feel in a very scenic part of Addison County. Regular readers will note that while I do continue to weave in runs of moderate length, my longer runs have gotten…well….longer! I have also become more adventurous in my choice of new routes, with my attitude to new routes evolving from “Gee, I would like to know where that trail goes, so I can give it a try”, to “I bet that trail goes somewhere new, let me check my map”, to “OK – there is a path I have never noticed before, here goes!”. Adventure follows! Trailrunning has also rejuvenated my running, as I have found that I can go out on longer runs with greatly diminished frequency of injuries. This is key for middle-aged athletes, as every ache and pain becomes an excuse to not run, and a gradual acquiescence to the inevitability of old age – prematurely. Trail running puts one in the situation where every footfall is unique, and that fact, combined with its slower pace, minimizes the repetitive use injuries so common in distance runners. The other wonderful discovery I have made is that a steady diet of trail running on challenging terrain, with a longer runs every few weeks, is great preparation for marathon running, an empowering aspect of running which I had given up on for close to 20 years due to frequent annoying injuries.
Now – on to the run! When I first blogged this run 5 years ago, it was an early summer run in June of 2009, and the run reflected that season. This time? Mid-October, while still lovely, at least this year, is the very end of fall foliage, and the summer resort around Lake Dunmore is mostly shut down for the season. The Kampersville Squirrel? Still there, but she somehow looks a little creepier on a grey day. As I drove around the shoreline towards Branbury State Park, I also noticed a lot of “For Sale” signs in front of lakeside homes. I suppose their owners wanted one last summer on its shores before starting the process of turning over their summer haven to new owners? I also noticed that, at least on this blustery Sunday afternoon, that there were no cars or beachgoers along the shoreline of the state park. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Falls of Lana trailhead, just south of Branbury, was pretty close to full. I guess trailrunners and hikers are a hardier sort than beach folks? Apparently, although I suspect some Maine coast beachcombers would beg to differ, or even those who brave the Atlantic coasts further south in the off-season.
I am not going to spend a lot of time describing the details of the route – it is pretty easy to follow. Run up the forest service road departing from the Lake Road a hundred yards or so south of the parking lot, and follow its switchbacks all the way to Silver Lake, at about a mile and a half, and continue up the hill above Silver Lake on this road until you reach the Goshen trailhead , at which point you follow the trail descending back to Silver Lake, reaching the lakeside Leicester Hollow Trail, where you take a right turn. After slightly less than a half mile on this trail, take the left turn, following the campground sign pointing to the picnic area, which will bring you to the Silver Lake “beach” and then back to the original road on which you initially climbed, where you complete your descent back to your waiting car, for about a 5.6 mile run, with about 800 feet of climbing and descent.
That said, since I have run this trail countless times, but never at this specific time of the year (past-peak foliage, segueing into stick season), I made a point to look for things I had never noted before. So, for the rest of this posting, I will share these bits of minutiae. So – here goes!
1. A little over a mile into the run, if you look to your left through the trees, you will notice what looks like a small body of water to your left. I had always called this “Moose Pond” in my mind, but had never done the very short bushwack to actually stand at its shores. I associated it with moose, as I had envisioned it as a great place to see a moose someday. I finally took a few moments to actually step onto its shore, and while moose sightings continue to evade me when I am running, I realized that my name was a moosenomer: This is a rather substantial beaver pond! If you look at the picture carefully, you will see the beaver hut in the middle of the pond. There is also a rather substantial beaver dam, just to the right of the frame of this photo.
2. When you get to the shores of Silver Lake, you will notice a campsite for a campground host to your left. Over the last few years, there was an elderly gentleman who filled this role, and while I stopped to chat with him a few times, I never inquired as to his name. He was not there this summer, and for most of the summer, the campground host camp site was empty. I hope he is in good health? That said, I had always romanticized he notion of spending a summer in the forest, away from the comforts of home. On this run, I took the time to look around the empty site, and found its dirty little secret – it has electrical power. Set me up in the campground, and let me rock tunes on my portable electronic devices!
3. Much of the road ascent during the summer has a tunnel-like feel. The overhanging foliage blocks most views, and keeps the road more or less permanently in the shade. On this run, with most of the trees bereft of leaves at the higher elevations, rather expansive views opened up!
4. As I approached the Goshen parking lot at the end of my ascent, I noticed an old wooden sign, with the number 9 painted on it. Does anyone have any idea what this means? It was not one of the blue signs with yellow numbers, which the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring Center uses to mark its trails. Nor was it one of the far more polished numerical signs which grace the shores of Silver Lake, which I assume accompany a pamphlet which I have never seen, probably with a name like “Groovy Trees of Silver Lake”. Maybe the Number 9 was referring to one of my favorite summer microbrews? I doubt it!
5. There are a few well placed marble blocks on the shoreline of Silver Lake. I have never noticed these before, and I can only assume that these remain from the old Silver Lake Hotel. If you would like to learn more about this long gone hotel, you should purchase “Leicester Vermont’s Silver Lake — Beyond the Myths” By William Powers. You can find it on Amazon, or at the Sheldon Museum!
I am going to finish with a few observations I have made associated with management of this blog, as I have learned a few interesting things about how the internet really works through the use of WordPress (the software I use for this blog) analytics.
1. About 90% of the information transferred on the web is total spam. We are all familiar with the junk mail that fills our inboxes, but the amount that assaults this blog, in an attempt to post links leading to god knows where when clicked, blows my mind. I probably see 10,000 spam messages for every real reader response. Fortunately, the brilliant software which the WordPress programmers have added to the blogging software is ruthlessly efficient at blocking this, so it only takes me a few moments each week to delete, and it never clogs up the blog comments. For some reason, spam touting the wonders of Luis Vuitton handbags, and Adam and Eve sex toys seem to be the worst offenders. I have also noticed that every time I mention my Garmin GPS watch, I get inundated with Garmin spam for a week or two. Yes, the web is dominated by spam bots!
2. One of my very first posts, describing a run I did in Bristol entitled “Things to do in Bristol when you are bored” seems to get a lot of hits due to people Googling the terms “bored in Bristol”. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why almost every day, one or two people somewhere in the world google “bored in Bristol” and end up on my blog. I have googled these terms, and seen nothing of note. I wondered at one point if my mischievous teenage daughter was messing with me, but she claims innocence.
When I first posted this run, I also mentioned the ready availability of creemees and other frozen treats at the Kampersville Deli. Alas, this summer attraction is also closed for the season, but its whiteboard price list is still inviting. I wonder if the price list will still be there in the spring?
So now, I have to ask my readers (both of you?)- Do you know of any good treasure troves for trail traversing which I (we) might explore at some point? I have a few good ideas of new places in the vicinity to explore, but am always looking for some new suggestions. Feel free to respond with any of your inspirations!
Cheers, and hope to see you at post #200
I was in the Upper Valley for a few days over last weekend, and had some time to run, so decided to come up with another “run on the road”. While this blog does focus on Addison County runs, the Upper Valley, roughly centered around the Hanover, NH, Lebanon, NH, and Norwich, VT is only an hour and a half away, so might provide opportunities for other locals on the road! Running in this area holds special meaning to me: Many years ago, as a graduate student at that moderately known institution of higher learning in Hanover, I got my first taste of trail running, running on the trails tucked into the forest between the Hanover Country Club and the Connecticut River. When I lived in the area, I was vaguely aware of some little-used trails in the undeveloped forest, just south of the Hanover Village, bounded by Rt. 10 alongside the Connecticut River to the west, Lebanon Rd, aka Rt 120 to the east, and I-89 to the south. But, at that point in my life, my trail time was focused on bagging the highest peaks in NH, so I rarely explored the trails in my own backyard! Although I don’t usually do this, I have included a map of this area courtesy of Google Maps. This most important thing to note is that there are no roads going into the interior of this accessible semi-wilderness. While it is not apparent at this scale, if you zoom in on this area in Google Maps, the trails are shown, many of them with their names! More on that later…….
Looking over the maps of the region a little more closely, I realized that I had been to one location in this region numerous times in the past. The small lake, about a half mile uphill from the Wilder Dam Parking lot, just south of Hanover, was the location of many weekend afternoons with grad school friends, swimming, cooking burgers, and yes, drinking beer. So, I chose this lake, known as Boston Lot Lake, as my destination from a trailhead along Lahaye Drive, the road which runs along the southern boundary of the Dartmouth Medical Center access road.
So, I set off on my run a little later than usual, planning on a 4-5 mile run to Boston Lot Lake from this trailhead. The first complication here was that my cell phone, which I was counting on for access to Google Maps for navigation in a area which I was not familiar with, was down to the end of its battery life. The second complication was that since it was rather late in the afternoon, I had to be concerned about darkness. Arriving at the trailhead, I spoke with a mountain biker who was loading up his car, who warned me that there were a lot of trails back there which were not actually on the map which I was using. OOOOOOKKKKKKKKKK…….
Setting off from the trailhead, I indeed found many of the aforementioned unmarked trails, and found myself constantly checking my phone for bearings. The trail network in this section was complex, but traveled through a lush, dark, hemlock forest with plenty of tree roots to keep the running “interesting”.
The trail at this point went by the not surprising name of “The Hemlock Loop”, and it eventually connected to the Northside trail, which in turn brought me to the shores of Boston Lot Lake, which I had not visited in more years than I care to admit. It was a very cloudy early evening, but for some reason the Lake didn’t look quite as big as I remembered it. Isn’t it funny how time does that? Running around the lake, the vegetation seemed to transition from hemlock to oak, with the associated danger – it seems that the oak forest was infested with super squirrels who were knocking down and collecting acorns left and right – I heard these rodent-sized projectiles crashing all around me, but fortunately none knocked my noggin!
After the mile or so jaunt around the lake, I realized that I had to get back to my parked car….soon. There wasn’t a lot of light left in the day, and frankly, the woods were pretty dark. Finally, my cell phone, which I was counting on for actually finding my way home, was warning me that it was down to the last gasps of its charge. So, consulting the map with the notion of finding the straightest possible route back to a real road, I picked a trail called “The Indian Ridge Trail”, which appeared to be more or less straight and easy to navigate on weak sunlight. The challenge to this trail was that it left me a little farther from my car than I would have preferred. The Indian Ridge was probably the prettiest part of the run – as the trail name implied, the route was along a ridge, and I suspect that after the leaves fall, it might actually offer a few limited views of the surroundings. I also passed by an intact stone wall from a hill farm which probably bad not been in existence for at least a hundred years, judging from the girth of the surrounding trees.
And of course, a few moments after I took this last picture, my cell phone went black with a dead battery, but fortunately my on-the-fly route planning proved correct, and I reconnected with the roads surrounding the medical center, and was able to follow this in the fading light to my returning car.
My four-five mile run ended up being more like a six and a half miler, and while there were no serious hill climbs in this route, it was hardly flat. Also, a perfunctory look at the maps of the region indicate that there are a myriad of trailheads which offer access to this extensively forested area. Good running!
As the summer draws to a close and the days get cooler, my runs tend to get longer and longer in anticipation of a few Fall marathons, or other longer races which depend on a full summer’s training. I have been wanting to knock off a big chunk of the Oak Ridge Trail for some time this summer, and I found some good running partners for this endeavor through a new Meetup, called “Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts“. For those of you are not familiar with this group of runners and trail seekers, it began just this summer. For the time being, most of the group runs have been in town, after work (5:45), leaving from the Marble Works on Tuesdays, and some Thursdays. While I have been a regular participant on these after work runs, which usually proceed at a pace amenable to conversation, this was the first time I had joined in one of the longer group runs. So, at 8 am on a beautiful Saturday morning, I joined up with Heather, the group founder, and John, the organizer of the local race, the “Moosalamoo Ultra” for a run up the ridge. We started at the parking lot on Rt 125, between East Middlebury and Ripton, and headed up the trail. One sign of good conversation is that you miss trail signs, so I guess we got off to a good start by missing a well marked right turn, where the Oak Ridge Trail veered off of the Old Town Road, an abandoned road which serves as the northern terminus of the nearly 20 mile long Oak Ridge Trail. After about a quarter of a mile of running in increasingly higher grass, we realized our error, and backtracked to the incredibly obvious correct turn, and from this point we had no further routefinding difficulties!
I had done this section of trail once before, as a point to point run, after being dropped off at a significantly higher altitude, the turnoff for the Voter Brook Overlook on the Goshen-Ripton Road. Running the same trail in the opposite direction added an additional 500 ft or so of climbing! The trail angles up the north side of Mount Moosalamoo, rarely becoming steep, over the course of over 6 miles. At one point, pretty high up, I grabbed a shot of my running partners as they attempted to escape me.
Shortly after this point, I parted company with my running friends, as they were looking for a longer run than I today – they continued along the ridge toward the now near Moosalamoo summit, and I chose to descend on the Moosalamoo Trail to the Moosalamoo Campground, and return to my car by country roads. The descent was much easier than the ascent to this point – the Moosalamoo Trail gets much heavier foot travel than the longer Oak Ridge Trail. Some recent local new articles had alluded to trail maintenance on this trails, to make them more accessible to mountain bikers as well, but other than a few cut up trees which had fallen over the trail, it looked like this plan was not fully underway yet!
I reached to Moosalamoo Campground, at around mile 9 in the run, and was surprised to see that, even on Labor Day weekend, this primitive campground only had two groups of campers staked out for the last holiday of summer. At this point, I knew my return would be by road, but the Goshen-Ripton Road is about as quiet as a road can get- in my 4 miles or so on this road, returning to 125, I saw only 3 cars. I also made mental notes of other trailheads to be explored in future postings, most notably the Wilkinson Trails across the road and to the west of the Widow’s Clearing parking lot. In one sunny section, I also noted some of the last daisies of summer, clinging to the side of the road.
Rejoining Rt 125, I passed through Ripton, and realized that while I had passed through the village countless times by car, and by bicycle, the only time I had actually been on foot in the village was racing in the Ripton Ridge Run back in the 80s when it started and finished at the old Ripton School! I also took a moment to enjoy the whimsy of the reproduction of the old sign for road tolls on this route, posted in the yard of the Chipman Inn. Do you think they accepted Easy Pass?
The last mile of the run was the most unnerving – the run through the twisty turny section of 125 below Ripton. The shoulders here were less than ample, and I took care not to run on the side of the road on the inside of the many blind corners where cars tended to cut it a little close! I did indeed survive this short section without a scratch, to return to my car in time to get home for lunch. Overall, this was a pretty long run for me, covering almost 16 miles, with about 1500 ft of climbing on the trail sections.
Finally – it would be great to see some new faces at Middlebury Trail Enthusiast events – check it out!
On a recent west coast swing for a few conferences, I had a few days in Orange County, just south of LA, followed by a few days in downtown San Francisco. While both of these are very urban areas, I looked for elements of trail running at each of the locales. How can one do true trail running in the cities? I always look for parks, or parkways alongside water, or hills. Even though this is not QUITE the same as a good Vermont Trail, as long as one can put up with the stop and go of frequent traffic signals at road crossings, this is a great way of shaking off the lethargy of long sedentary hours in conference lectures, on airplanes, or in airports.
My first stop, in Orange County, held less promise for a memorable run. While “The OC” is well known for its excellent beaches, I was stranded about 10 miles inland, in an area which seemed to be mostly made up of featureless modern office buildings, 6 lane wide city streets, manicured corporate lawns, and generous sidewalks which seemed curiously devoid of walkers or runners. Looking at the map more carefully, I noticed that I was only a mile and a half away from the “Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve“, which held promise as a site for finding actual trails in this otherwise concrete jungle. As expected, the early part of the run involved running on the sidewalks, while sucking in the exhaust of rush hour traffic, and stopping at numerous traffic lights. As I turned one corner, however, I saw the oasis which I sought, and realized I had found a runners’ gem. Apparently, as this area of California underwent rapid development in the 1970’s they had the wisdom to save this estuary from development, and while the pressure of encroaching homes, roads, and even a major airport (John Wayne Airport) was always evident, other than the roar of a jet every few minutes, it was a great place to run. I suspect that at times other than 5 pm, the hottest time of the day, I would have seen more wildlife, but on this run I had to be satisfied with a few skittish rabbits and iguanas.
There were many more miles of pleasant waterfront running to be explored, but I had to return to my sterile business hotel for a planned dinner, so I turned back to the open road for my return. This route brought me alongside the airport, and the wealth of Orange County was obvious from the extraordinarily high concentration of private jets moored there, and the Rolls Royce dealership I came across at exactly 4.78 miles into my run. Apparently, only 19 of the 50 states are prestigious enough to harbor one of these dealerships, and not surprisingly, Vermont is not one of them.
Completing this run after about 5.5 miles, I was offered a bottle of water by the kind bellmen who must have thought that the sweaty middle aged fellow coming in their front door was ready to die – apparently Californians don’t sweat?
The second half of my west coast swing brought me to San Francisco – one of the most glorious cities in the US. It too, has large parks, such as the Presidio, for the avid trail runner, but my location in a downtown hotel sandwiched between the Financial District and Chinatown put those locales out of reach with the limited time I had available for runs. So, I built my run around the aspect of trail running which downtown San Fran has in abundance – HILLS!
Setting off from my hotel and passing briefly through the bustle of Chinatown, I came to the first of my hill climbing challenges – a steep incline which necessitated steps on the sidewalks for pedestrians, “The Macchiarini Steps“. At first, I thought that it must be some sort of sick joke on the tourists, calling this paved wall a road, but when I noticed the garage doors flanking it, I realized that people really do drive up and down this precipitous incline!
Once past this challenge, I continued uphill to my first summit, the top of Telegraph Hill, which is occupied by the Coit Tower, and offers some of the best views of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island. My descent brought me back to the lower elevations of the city, and uphill to the base of what is arguably San Francisco’s most notorious climb, the twisting gardens of Lombard Street. Again, the steepness of this road demanded steps on the sidewalk, and my passage was slowed by countless other tourists doing more traditional vacation activities on this scenic climb.
The high point of Lombard Street is very close to the summit of Russian Hill, and I was pleasantly surprised to note that the top of this hill, which has to be some of the most valuable real estate in the US, was capped with a public playground with tennis courts and a basketball court! All directions from here were downhill, so I headed towards my final summit of the afternoon, that of Nob Hill. This hilltop was the high point of the run, and is crowned by a cathedral and several rather posh looking hotels and apartment houses. The long steep descent, entailing just as much “shuffling” as most trail descents brought me back to my hotel. While the distance of this run was not a big deal, only about 3.5 miles, it did entail over 1000 ft of climbing and descent. To put it in perspective, I can’t think of any trails I have done in Vermont which pack this much altitude change in this short a distance. So, while this run was entirely on concrete, it had the feeling of accomplishment comparable to a run up Snake Mountain, with the views just as good as mountain top views.
The Mad River Valley is where some of my extended family lives, and while not quite part of Addison County,it is another great place for trail running. Even for those without lodging in the area, it is only an hour away, and a worthwhile place to go for a run for a nice change of pace. I was visiting “over the mountains” this weekend, and had the time and energy for a more challenging run, so considered some of the local options for true mountain running. I know from past experience that all ski areas have service roads leading to their summits, and if these roads proceed up novice, aka “green circle” trails, while they may be relentless, they are usually at a low enough incline for extended runs without breaking into a walk too often. If the service road proceeds up an intermediate, or “blue square” trail, you are probably going to be doing a fair amount of power hiking rather than running, no matter how easy the trail seems to be when descending in the winter. A few years ago, I described the relatively short run up the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, as well as the much more challenging ascent to just below the summit of Mt. Mansfield in “The Race to the Top of Vermont”.
Remembering how much fun I had a few years ago, in the locally run Race to the Top of Vermont, I was initially enthused to see that a new race, involving an ascent of Mt. Ellen, one of the highest peaks in the state, and the northernmost summit of the Sugarbush Ski Area, was happening this September. Reading the details of the race, however, my interest plummeted like an out of control runner on a steep downhill. Unlike most of the races in VT, this was part of a larger, national series of races, and is part of, what to me at least, is a disturbing trend in competitive athletics. Most races in VT are locally run, and a modest cost to competitors, and profits are usually turned over to charity. These national race series are almost always “for profit”, very expensive, and only turn over a tiny percentage of their profits to charities. Some of these series, like the Ragnar Relay running series have developed a reputation for rapaciously supplanting previously existing races. Others, like the now famous “Tough Mudder” races have arisen from the business plans of Harvard MBA’s rather than any innate love of sport or charity. In any case, this “O2X” race series, which includes a run up Mt Ellen in its race series wants 120 bucks to race! I don’t mind paying more for a race if I can see where the money has to go – marathons take a ton of support over the course of 7 hours or more, and often include the closure of many city streets. The obstacle course races of the Tough Mudder genre, while not my cup of tea, at least have a lot of setup to do before each race. This O2X series brags that mother nature is providing all the obstacles, which is of course a brilliant business plan, which combined with their commitment to give a whopping 1% to charity sounds like it will result in some happy young millionaire race organizers! To put this entry fee in perspective, the Race to the Top of Vermont, which raises funds for the Catamount Trail, charges $30-$70 for its entry fees, and another mountain ascent race just up the road at Mad River Glen charges $25! Even the Jay Peak 50K Ultramarathon, with two ascents of Jay Peak, and which has far more organizational challenges due to its length and terrain, charges only $85!
After reading of this attempt to charge an exorbitant fee to run up a mountain, which due to its status as national forest is actually free to access, I thought I would describe a fun running route up the mountain. I parked my car at the nearly empty Mt. Ellen parking lot and took a look up the mountain, and realized that I had a fair bit of challenge ahead of me. The service road under the Green Mountain Express chairlift, just to the left of the base lodge looking uphill was where I began my ascent. For the first half mile of so, the road follows what is the easiest ski trail on the mountain, making it a merely “tough” ascent, and after it reached the base of the North Ridge chair ascended more steeply to the right. I still found this section runnable, but at a very slow, stutter-step stride. While this section of running was labelled as novice terrain in the ski trail map, it was certainly much steeper than a typical bunny slope. Part way up this section, the service road split, half bearing left up comparably steep terrain which I suspected would blow out my quads pretty quickly, or a more gentle ascent to the right, which in the ski season would be thought of as a crossover trail. I took the path of least resistance, as I really did want to run. All along this section, I was accompanied by a retinue of lovely orange butterflies, and with a little patience I coaxed one into sitting still long enough to get her picture taken.
This segment brought me the the far north (uphill runner’s right) of the ski area at the top of the Inverness Chair, about 1000 vertical feet above the parking lot already, but with a long way still to go. Another crossover trail was found with a sharp left turn, crisscrossing me back under the “Exterminator” trail, the North Ridge Chair, and brought me to what is usually thought of by skiers as the point about halfway up the mountain, the small restaurant at the end of the Green Mountain Chair called “The Glen House”.
I felt pretty accomplished at this point, but looking straight up, I realized the biggest challenges were still ahead of me. Going into this run, I had hoped that the service road to the summit would follow the gentle “Rim Run” trail to my left, but instead followed the much steeper, truly intermediate trail directly under the Summit Chair. I guess it makes sense in retrospect that the service road would actually follow the chairlift it aims to service? This next segment, from here, to the top of the North Ridge Chair, was the steepest part of the ascent, and such, I was only able to maintain a running stride about half of the time. Upon reaching the top of the North Ridge chair, I turned to the left for the last ascent to the summit along the north ridge of Mt Ellen, and at first thought that I was in for a tough crawl up what looked like a too-steep-to-to run segment.
So, I did what I had to do, I took a break, and took some pictures of the wildflowers, mostly daisies and another yellow flower akin to dandelions. Resuming my run after this brief break, I found the running easier than expected, and only slowed down for a few short scrambles over ledgy rock sections. Reaching the summit, I chatted for a few minutes with a gentleman who had hiked up and had been following my progress from his perch at the top of the mountain.
After a few minutes of enjoying the summit scenery, I retraced my run back to my car waiting below, once again being careful to moderate my speed so that I would still have fully operational quads the next day, and I can say now, writing this up on Sunday, that I was successful in that! Also, the footing can be a little bit more difficult with loose rocks on the descent, so this gave me another good reason to check my speed.
Overall, this was some pretty cool terrain, and a good challenge for mountain runners – this route took about two hours round trip, and covered 7 miles, with 2500+ ft of climbing and descent. The lesson to today’s run? You would have to be crazy to pay all that money ($120) to access terrain and scenery which is free, and if you want to enjoy the challenges of a hill climb race, there are plenty of other options which are convenient, charitable, keep your money in VT, and leave you with plenty of money for beers – heck for a steak dinner – with your running friends.
Two summers ago, I had the pleasure of competing in the inaugural version of The Moosalamoo Ultra, and while I will not be running the full 36 mile version of it this year, I thought I would piece together a significantly shorter run which included at least a few segments from this far more grueling course. I also wanted to piece together bits of trails in such a way that I had never run that particular combination before, so I chose a route starting from the Falls of Lana trailhead, just south of Branbury State Park, ascending to the Goshen-Ripton Road on the North Branch Trail and the Voter Brook Overlook road, and descending on a mix of snowmobile trails and unmarked trails. It has not gone unnoticed by myself and others, that the frequency of bear sightings in the Moosalamoo area has been on the rise. Bear sightings on the trail are a true treat, as long as the bear chooses the appropriate response – that of running away. So, I have decided that the key to a good bear sighting is to run quietly, and wear garish clothing to scare the bear away once contact is made. With this in mind, I purchased a brand new Ben and Jerry’s tie dye t-shirt – do you think this will scare away a startled bear? And yes, I looked into this idea, and bears are not colorblind, although I would not have wanted to be the person holding picture books with hidden numbers in front of hungry bears….
I set up the now routine climb on the Silver Lake service road, but instead of taking the heavily traveled sharp right hairpin turn at the half mile point, I went straight as if I was planning on ascending to the Rattlesnake Cliffs. After a few hundred yards on this trail, I came to the open meadow where the North Branch Trail bears (pun intended) right. This small sunny oasis in what is mostly a pretty heavily forested section was full of mid-summer wildflowers. I was particularly fond of the small, daisy-like flowers which flanked the path on shoulder-height stalks. Does anyone know what this wildflower is called?
At this point, my run joined a section of the route from the Moosalamoo Ultra. This trail junction is where the first feed station, reached after the early-race ascent and descent of Mt. Moosalamoo, around mile 8, and is the lowest altitude point of the race. From here, over the next two miles or so, there is a steady climb along the banks of the North Branch of the Sucker Brook, a rather attractive little stream. Most of this single-track trail has good footing, although there are a few sections with wet rocks necessitating some care in one’s footing, and a few short steep scrambly sections.
This trail passes by a few opportunities to get onto easier terrain, as it more or less parallels the rough road connecting the Goshen-Ripton Road to the Voter Brook Overlook. As the weather went from dreary to drizzly to pouring rain, I chose to remain in the relative shelter of the forest rather than the easier travel of the road. This section of the North Branch trail eventually does cross the dirt road, and continue through the woods until it reaches the Moosalamoo Campground, where one must finally continue to climb on the road to get to the Goshen Ripton Road. At this point, the Ultra crosses the road, for a long series of loops up and around the Sugar Hill Reservoir, but on my much shorter run I turned right on the road, and continued for a little over a mile until I came to a well marked snowmobile trail veering to the right. At this point, I rejoined the Ultra route, and this road crossing is the site of another feed station, at around the 21 mile point. The next two miles are pure running pleasure – gradually downhill, double track running, with only a few muddy patches. In fact, when I ran this section of the Ultra two summers ago, this stretch got me in trouble – I felt so good that I neglected to take in fluids, and paid dearly for my dehydration a few miles later! No such problem on this run today however, and the falling rain kept me quite cool. There are a few trail junctions where one should follow the signs for the snowmobile trail system, although some of the other trails crisscrossing my course look like they are worthy of exploration someday. After about two miles on the snowmobile trail, and a short, steep climb, the trail came to the service road connecting the small Sucker Brook Reservoir to the Silver Lake access road. In keeping with my plan to duplicate the Ultra trails, I took the sharp right descent, leading me to the “shores” of the Sucker Brook Reservoir. I put the word “shores” in with quotes, as it seems that there isn’t much water this summer in the reservoir, which exists for flood control, and to control the waterflow heading through the penstock down the the hydroelectric plant at Lake Dunmore. So, I am afraid this small lake is nothing more than a mudpit this summer.
My run then followed the Ultra route, following the road below the earthen dam and joining the broad swath of clearing alongside the buried pipeline connecting the reservoir to Silver Lake. When I ran the Ultra, this section had been recently brush-hogged, making for easier running, but at this point, the grass here is very high, concealing some challenging footing below, on a steeply leaning embankment without an obvious path of least resistance to the runner. I have found that staying high, on the runner’s left makes for the easiest passage on a fairly challenging piece of running for the next mile or so. After a while, it flattens out, and while there seem to be a few different trails here, they all end up at the same place, connecting to the Silver Lake Access Road. When you reach the Silver Lake Beach, this is where another feed station is located at around mile 26 in the Ultra, and the race continues with the exhausting loop up over the Chandler Ridge and around Silver Lake before returning to the Blueberry Hill Inn and the finish line. At this point, I was very wet and had run enough, so simply descended on the service road to my car and the completion of the run.
Now, I’ll bet my readers were guessing that there would be a bear sighting in this run. Sorry to disappoint you – I guess my t-shirt worked too well! This ended up as a 9.5 mile run, with about a thousand feet of climbing. I also learned that my new t-shirt needed to be washed, as it had leached blue dye all over my torso!
On Saturday, the longest day of the year, I set out to explore a “loose end” which I discovered about a year ago. Last spring, right around Easter Sunday , I set out to explore Forest Service Rt. 92, and after a lengthy climb, found myself in too much snow to continue further, and vowed (to myself) to return. During this previous run, I achieved the ridge line of the north shoulder of Mt Moosalamoo, and noted that the trail followed the ridge line to the south, towards the Moosalamoo summit. At the time, I had concluded (incorrectly as we will see!) that this trail found its way to the actual summit, and I planned this new run around this assumption. So, I set out for what I assumed would be an hour to hour and a half-long run, and made the mistake of not bringing any water, despite the fact that I was heading into an area where the key connection was not on any map, and, in retrospect, suspect. You can’t die of thirst in the mountains of Vermont, right?
So, I drove to the trailhead for Forest Servine Road 92, found on the Ripton-Goshen Road about a mile in from Rt 125 just past Ripton on the way to the top of Middlebury Gap. Look for a National Forest Service sign on your right, and if you pass Camp Silver Towers, you have gone too far. I found a good place to park about a third of a mile up this narrow but passable dirt road. At the start of the run, I followed my previous run, relentlessly, but runably uphill. A few options occur for runners, and at the first trail split, I headed left, opting for what is labeled as 92 over 92A by the signs (although not by the Moosalamoo region map, which labels them oppositely!), and at the next trail split, I bore right, on the more uphill course, rather than taking the left on the more traveled pathway leading to the Wilkinson Trail network, which will be the object of a future posting. Once again, I reached the first height of land, after about 2 miles and 700 ft of climbing, and this time, bore left (south) on this continuing double track abandoned road. The climb to this point was pretty straightforward, other than the nasty stinging nettles which popped up from time to time, and seem all too common on the trails in the Moosalamoo Wilderness. About half way up, I also crossed the Oak Ridge Trail, which I suspected would be part of my planned descent, once I made my connection to it near the summit.
At this point, the run got a little more……interesting. As expected, the now totally unmarked trail veered south, taking a diagonal along the west face of Moosalamoo, and after what did not seem like that long a distance, and was probably not much more than a mile, headed to the left downhill. At this point, I assumed that I had not yet come close to the summit of Moosalamoo, and the abandoned logging road was descending back down the east face of Moosalamoo towards the Oak Ridge Trail, or the Wilkinson Trail, very close to my parked car. The first choice on the descent occured when my trail came to a T, and I chose the left branch, once again assuming that I was making a tight circle back in the direction of my car- note – all the high altitude turns have been left turns – this is supposed to make an easy circle, right? Shortly after this left turn I came to another fork, the left one uphill, the right one downhill. After briefly exploring the uphill fork, I did the obvious, and continued down. I noticed shortly that the trail started to take on a more maintained look – trees across the trail had been cut back, and the waterbars arising from trail maintenance were observed. Had I somehow found my way onto the Oak Ridge Trail for the fast return? My hopes were dashed when I read the following sign alongside the trail:
Upon seeing this sign, I realized that all of my assumptions as to where the heck I was, were wrong! DAGNABBIT! The fact that I was in the Keewaydin network meant that I had found myself on the opposite side of the mountain from my car, on the west side over looking Lake Dunmore! To complicate matters, I was not particularly knowledgeable of the Camp Keewaydin trail network, as it is separate from the Forest Service trails, privately maintained, and not shown on any publicly available trail maps. Now, I knew I had two options – I could look for descending trails, find my way to the shores of Lake Dunmore, admit defeat, and find a telephone to call for a ride home (cell phones don’t work there, and I hadn’t brought mine anyways!), or find trail connections which would bring me to the summit, at which point I knew of several longer descents which would bring me home. At first, I considered the short easy option- the descent into Camp Keewaydin on the shores of Lake Dunmore. But, did I really want to emerge from the woods, covered in mud, and stumble into a kids’ campfire looking like Yeti? Worse still, what if I stumbled into the archery range to meet up with the 10 year old sons of the most powerful and wealthy men and women in the country, when they were armed with bows, and aching to prove their manhood? Nope – back up the mountain it was! Of course, the question was how, other than just “go up”? The trail names I came across, as part of the private system were unfamiliar to me – the Cub Trail? the Cliff Trail? Finally, I came to a trail name which I recognized – “The Keewaydin Trail”. I knew this trail would bring me close to the summit of Moosalamoo, and offered a descent back to the east side of the mountain, admittedly at some distance from my car. So – back up the mountain I went! I eventually found myself at the trail’s end, about a half mile from the summit, and chose to find my way to the top, since I figured by this time that I had earned it.
The only structure at the summit was one that had never caught my attention in the past – there is white “pod” which looks about the size of a comfortable porta-potty here, and in the past, I had assumed that this is exactly what it was. However, on this run, I decided to check it out, since it was connected to solar power panel. Wow – some kind of deluxe backcountry outhouse? Checking it out further, I noted that it had a locked door, which pretty much meant that it was either the most prestigious summit portapotty in the country, or perhaps it served some other purpose – anybody know purpose this structure serves?
I was, however, rewarded for my efforts with a stunning late afternoon view of the main ridge of the Green Mountains to the east. I would bet that the long flat summit to the left of this shot is of Breadloaf Mountain.
Retracing my steps back to the continuance of the Keewaydin Trail, which I knew would get me home, a minute or two off the summit I came across a young, fit, spirited, but obviously confused family who asked “Are we almost to Silver Lake”? I pointed out to them, that they had climbed far beyond the Silver Lake trailhead, and were in the process of turning a 2.5 mile hike into an 8 miler, if they were coming up from Branbury State park, which of course, they were. I made sure that they knew their way back down, let them know that they could find their way home by retracing their hike, and assumed that they would be fine, although very tired upon their return. The descent on the Keewaydin trail was very slow, as I knew it would be based on my past experiences. This is not my favorite running trail, but it is usually easy to follow, and I knew it would get me home. This trail ended when it met the gravel road leading to the Voter Brook Overlook, and when I reached this, I took a left turn for the short descent, and longer climb up to the Ripton-Goshen Trail. By this point, I was getting very thirsty, having neglected to bring any water under the assumption that I was doing a much shorter run, and by this point, I had been out for the better part of two hours – fortunately it was a cool, comfortably evening! I took a left on the main road, and had a pretty easy final few miles of higher tempo running on the dirt road, only interrupted by a great view back towards the Moosalamoo summit. While I was wary of bears on this run, given the increasing frequency of bear encounters in this area, I could see that some hunters had been clearly frustrated by their inability to find any of these critters – the bear depicted on the sign at this clearing had clearly born the brunt of the shotgun blasts of a few rather frustrated woodsmen!
Returning to my car, this ended up being a 10.5 mile run. Normally, this would not be a big deal, if it was not for the fact that this run included over 2200 vertical feet of climb and descent, much of it on rough, slow trails, so this entire run required almost 2 and a half hours! Also, this would be a difficult run to describe in full detail for duplicating until I become more familiar with the trail network on the west side of Moosalamoo. I have got to lay my hands on a map depicting the Camp Keewaydin trails!
A note of explanation on the Google Earth projection of this run – I have turned it 90 degrees, so that top of the page is west, rather than north, to better depict the run. I began the run in the lower right hand corner, and ran this loop in a counterclockwise fashion.
Still in recovery mode from a long race over Memorial Day weekend, I opted for a very short run on the much traveled “Red Kelly Trail”, the trail which circles the Middlebury College Championship Golf course, also known as “Augusta National‘s Little Brother”. Well, we aren’t exactly having Georgia weather of late, but you get the picture. I have talked about the sights on this trail on numerous occasions, most recently on a longer run incorporating the Red Kelly Trail about two years ago. Not a lot has changed since then, except for the fact that the section of the trail across the west ridge (or alongside the 10th fairway for those who know the course) has been rerouted away from the course and onto its own separate trail, where runners are more protected from errant tee shots. If even a small fraction of the golfers are as miserable with their drivers as I have been, this re-route will probably save lives!
So, I departed the Middlebury College athletic facilities on South Main St. and got onto the Kelly Trail directly behind the all-weather “Kohn” Athletic Field. Yes, everything on the campus is indeed named after someone! After completing most of the trail in the clockwise direction, as I neared the end of the trail, I crossed South Main St. (aka Rt 30) and did the short descent on the Class of 97 Trail. After about a half mile or so on this pleasant little stretch of single track trail, I came to the point where it emerged from the forest into the more open fields below. Rather than continue on at this point, I elected to return, originally planning to retrace my steps back to Rt. 30. However, a few minutes into my return, I noticed an unmarked herd path heading uphill to my left, unceremoniously marked by the presence of a large tractor tire seemingly abandoned in the woods. Ascending this trail, it became apparent almost immediately where I was – the backyard of the mansion known as “The Heights” or “The Thaddeus Chapman House”. Many years ago, a member of the family which owns this property showed me around the interior of this large old home, and while it has not been regularly inhabited due to the high cost of heating it in the winter, it’s interior has been well maintained as a sort of museum to life in the late 1800’s. Searching for more information about this grand old house, I contacted my colleague, architechtural historian, Prof. Glenn Andres. From him, I learned that the house was built in 1870 by the owner of the Starr Mill, one Caleb Ticknor. The house was acquired by Chapman in 1875, who subsequently had it renovated in 1887 by architect Clinton Smith (the reknowned architect of the better known Shard Villa) into its current elaborate (that is as close as I can come to the real architectural terms like “Queen Anne” and “Italianate”) form
Despite my one previous foray onto this palatial property, I had never actually explored the grounds. Not seeing any “No Trespassing” signs from my point of entry, I decided to explore the grounds a bit on foot. One of the first sights I noted was the bermed amphitheater built into the back yard. Oral tradition holds (that is my fancy way of saying Glenn heard it, but can’t confirm) that these terraces were once the basis of elaborate gardens, while other oral traditions (a few generations of Middlebury College students) confirm that these terraces hold a long tradition as a college student trysting site in warmer weather.
Further up the hill from this, on the East Side of the main house, is a small childrens’ play house. Peering in through the window, I could discern child-size furniture indicating its use in its heyday.
Finally, leaving the property through the front driveway gave a nice vantage point to enjoy a good look at the main house.
The driveway brought me back to Rt 30, pretty much just across the street from the College field house, making this a short (slightly less than 3 miles!) but interesting run. Since the last section of this run is on private property, should you choose to explore The Heights, please be respectful of this well-maintained gem. Although it is usually not inhabited, this registered historic site is in no way a derelict property! If any reader has anything more recent to add to my bare bones story of this property, I would love to hear it!
The title of this post, “Last Run Before Spring”, might have you scratching your head over chronology. While long delayed this year, the full foliage on the trees in the Middlebury area certainly indicate that the few short weeks we know of as spring are most assuredly here. So a confession here – I did this run a few weeks ago, in mid-May, while the trees were still quite bare, and it has just taken me a while to post it. Nonetheless, it is a good run, so I thought it quite worthy of posting – better late than never!
Regular readers by now know that the Silver Lake and its surroundings make up one of my favorite running destinations, and this post represents a new variation on that theme. At the core of this run, is the very first post I made to this blog, the ascent from the Sucker Brook Trailhead, past Silver Lake, to the Goshen Trailhead, and back. On this particular run, I chose to extend it beyond this central loop, in the name of checking out some new terrain, as well as visiting an old favorite location for great views.
This run, on a warm weekend late afternoon, was undertaken to be one of my last real runs before tapering my training prior to the Vermont City Marathon at the end of May (note – I actually completed the marathon by the time I got to this post – I am not going to write it up for the blog, but it went well!), so I wanted to stretch it out to the 8-9 mile range. So, I set off up the 4WD road (yes – it is closed to motor vehicles) from the Silver Lake/Sucker Brook Trailhead just south of Branbury State Park, and chugged my way up past Silver Lake up the the trailhead above the lake at the end of a rarely traveled dirt Silver Lake Road, which emanates from Goshen, as a right turn from the Goshen Ripton Road, a mile or so south of the Blueberry Hill Inn.
When I reached this road, I realized that it provided an opportunity to add some mileage, so I continued on past the hikers’ parking lot and trailhead, which I knew would descend me back to my parked car, 800+ vertical feet below. So, I continued on this road, which while open to vehicles, is so lightly traveled that it feels almost like a trail. At this time of the year, before any of the trees had leaves, there were great views towards the the main ridge of the Green Mountains, while views towards Silver Lake and the west were obscured by the modest ridge. At a few locations, I noted primitive roads heading up the eastern flanking ridge, but abandoned them when I realized they were driveways up to “off the grid” homes and camps, and I wanted to respect their owners’ privacy. After a little over a mile on this road, I could see Hogback Mountain, and Romance Mountain, the two peaks behind the Blueberry Hill Inn, and thought it would be fun to link to that trail system on this run, but due to the lateness of the afternoon and impending sunset, I decided to turn around at one particularly impressive glacial erratic on my right.
On my return, gazing into the forest for sights which would soon be hidden by the foliage, I noticed a series of PVC pipes stuck in the ground, 20-50 yards from the dirt road. I have come across pipes like this, even further from the road on past explorations. Does anyone know why these are here, or what their purpose is?
After contemplating the mystery of the pipes, I continued back to the Silver Lake trailhead, and descended the short trail down to the lakeside on the Leicester Hollow Trail, where I took the right turn back towards the campground and the small beach at the north end of this gem of a lake. Rather than simply follow the trail which I had previously ascended back to my car, I chose one last variation, and instead took the short trail down below the Silver Lake Dam, and followed the penstock (that is the fancy word for “big fat pipe”) back towards the power line, where I ascended its trail to catch the early evening views and impending sunset over Lake Dunmore. In a month or so, the lake will be busy with summer vacationers and boaters, but on this quiet spring evening, there was only one boat traversing what must be an otherwise silent lake. I had hoped that the lone raptor in the skies would land nearby to get his picture taken, or at least hover nearby, but my presence led it to seek out a quieter eyrie.
On my descent from this lookout, I took another obvious left turn which returned me to the main trail up from the lower parking lot, where I came across what must be a fairly recently placed sign, where the over look was referred to as “Lenny’s Lookout”. This is the first time that I have heard this name applied, so I am also curious as to the origins of this name. Who exactly is Lenny, and why is the lookout named after him? A google search shed no light on this question, although it did lead to some beautiful photography from another hiker who has posted their pictures of this location.
From this point, it was an easy skip down the trail to my car, making this a slightly less than 9 mile run, with about 1100 vertical feet of ascent and descent. Bring on the summer!