As the earlier than usual Spring seems to have arrived, the warm weather has cleared the snow off of the paths around town and opened up opportunities for the first trail runs of the season. Mud will be a fact of life for the next few months, but some routes tend to dry out earlier than others. With this in mind, I chose Chipman Hill for my first trail run of the season. The primary trail over the summit was clearly open to vehicular traffic at some point in the not-too-distant past, but predates my arrival in Middlebury in 1986. The fractured remaining pavement of the remaining road does make for good, dry footing, however. I have enjoyed running and mountain biking on the hill for many years, and I have seen hunters (illegal, I am told) and evidence of picnic-ers, partiers, and yes, trysters on its many trails. While the hill is crisscrossed by numerous trails, marked and unmarked, I stuck to the main trail over the summit on this warm Spring day.
The run started on village streets, from my locker at the College athletic facilities, through downtown, and crossing the street at the Congregational church. A few yards north on Rt. 7, followed by a right turn onto Seminary Street, and a left on High St. brings one along the west flank of Chipman Hill, with great views across to the Adirondacks. Immediately before High St merges back into Rt. 7, the obvious route veers to the right, where the climbing portion of the run begins in earnest. After a minute or two of running uphill, the old ski jump hill is obvious on your left. The hill remains from the era when Chipman Hill served as the college’s “earn your turns” (no ski lifts) ski area, most notably during World War II when gasoline rationing made trips to the Snow Bowl impossible. It has also served the needs of more contemporary daredevil mountain bikers, including a former thesis student of mine who earned himself a trip to the emergency room as a result.
Shortly after this point, the trail passes another opening in the trees with great views to the north before switchbacking south back into the trees towards the hill’s twin summits. A few modest snow patches remained in higher shady sections, and a cleared viewpoint complete with a park bench offered yet more views, this time back towards the Green Mts, to the east.
Continued running to the first summit, a short descent to the dimple between the peaks, and over the second, slightly higher summit bearing communications towers finishes the serious climbing. After a fast descent, you pass a gate blocking the upper sections from motorized vehicles and join Springside Dr., the address of some very fortunate Middlebury landowners, who get to look out their windows at these exceptional views every day. After the steep descent, taking any of the roads heading towards downtown eventually led back to my locker, making for a good early season run. The route as described was 4.3 miles (back to the English system, since its not skiing any more!) with about 450 feet of climbing from the low point downtown to the summit.
Google Earth Projection of GPS track
While the snow cover is much improved from my last posting, the gorgeous spring-like weather could bring the ski season to an early close, so I had to get out over the weekend and enjoy the deep, but increasingly slushy snow. You will also notice something very different about this post. As a rule of thumb, I am usually a purist in that I earn my descents by putting out the effort to gain altitude first. But today, I felt that a lobster analogy was quite appropriate. Most of the time, the effort of cracking open the lobster, and prying the meat out of its exoskeleton is just the cost of enjoying its sweet flavor. But every now and then, as a treat, you just have to say “to heck with it” and order the Lobster Newburg. Today was my Newburg day. How so? I cheated and took the bus uphill, making it a tour with far more descent than ascent.
My primary destination today was The Norske Trail, a short wilderness run which begins just above the entrance to the Middlebury College Snowbowl on Rt. 125, and concludes at the Rikert Ski touring area. Instead of doing this route as an “up and back”, I made use of the ACTR bus which picks up passengers at Breadloaf and concludes at the Snowbowl. The trailhead for the Norske Trail is a 5 minute walk uphill on Rt. 125 from the turnoff to the Snowbowl.
The Norske Trail is much more of a wilderness trail than those in the ski touring areas, or snowmobile trails of earlier posts. It starts off with a series of modest climbs and descents, and despite the lack of grooming, is never particularly challenging. While the trail never seems to get heavy use, you can pretty much count on the trail being broken within a day or two after every good dumping of snow. Cruising along through the open hardwood forest, I eventually came to an overlook, with good views across the valley to Moosalamoo, and the meadows of the Breadloaf campus. I could see from the well-beaten snow where previous ski and snowshoe parties had also enjoyed the vistas since the last storm.
Continuing the gradual descent, one eventually gets to a section where there are several intersecting trails, including the Burnt Hill trail, an easy summer hiking trail which reaches the top of the Green Mt. Ridge. I chose to follow the ski trail marked with blue diamonds until it intersected with Forest Service 59. At this point, I had been descending at a leisurely pace, covering a little over 4 km in about 45 min. I knew that a right turn on FS 59, and a left turn onto the Gilman Trail would bring me to the Rikert Center in about 10 min, and I wasn’t ready to call it a day, so I instead stayed on FS 59 for another km or so until I got to the groomed descent on the Brown Gate Trail, extending my afternoon’s ski a little deeper into the touring center. The remainder of this route is made up of the same trails described in the opposite direction at the beginning of my post entitled “Robert Frost Cabin“. Immediately after crossing the bridge over the beaver pond outlet, I spied a notice affixed to a nearby tree. Curious as to its message, I stopped for a moment to read it. Needless to say, I am relieved to note that some of my fellow backwoods sojourners are concerned for my safe passage in the presence of fierce wildlife.
An easy cruise on Rikert Center trails brought me back to my car at the touring center. This was a relatively short tour, covering a little over 9 km, with an overall descent of about 600 ft, but with enough ups and downs, and less manicured trail to keep it scenic and challenging.
As a postscript, when I arrived at Rikert to catch the bus up to the start of the day’s ski, I was a little surprised to see an older gentleman skiing in a tux and stovepipe hat, as well as a much younger woman cruising on by attired in a jogbra and blue jeans. Unbeknownst to me, Sunday was the day for the rescheduled Breadloaf Citizen’s Race, a “Just for the Fun of It” race which I have participated in on many occasions in years past. While I was sad to have missed the race, I was glad to see the race go on in the same spirit of semi-competetive fun which has been its hallmark for decades.