After the last posted run, which featured running commentary on the Robert Frost Cabin and Robert Frost Trail, it only seemed fitting to continue on with the Frost theme with a run up to the summit of Robert Frost Mountain. While many Middlebury-ites know of, and have explored the former, relatively few know of his namesake summit. Where exactly is Robert Frost Mountain? When looking towards the mountains from town, Robert Frost Mountain is the rounded summit high point just a few miles north of the East Middlebury and Rt. 125. While it is not a particularly dramatic summit, it is a pleasant place to visit with good, albeit wooded views, and its paucity of hikers (or runners). I have no idea if Robert himself ever ascended to its heights, and I rather suspect not. There are several peaks in the US named Mt Washington, however, and I am quite confident that George (or Martha) never climbed any of them.
To get to my starting point for this run, head south of town on Rt. 7, east on Cady Rd. (the road bisecting Foster Motors), and then north on Rt 116 for 0.4 miles until you get to Munson Rd, where you take a right turn. Be careful not to exceed the speed limit here (25 mph) as it has been heavily patrolled as of late. Find yourself a suitable parking place anywhere alongside the road near the four-way stop sign a half mile later to begin the run. Hopefully you can park your car in one of the favorite hiding places of our well-intentioned and hard-working officers of the law, and save this author from another speeding warning!
The start for this run is on the snowmobile trail paralleling Burnham Dr., the road heading east towards the mountains from the aforementioned four-way stop sign. The first 3.4 miles of this run are also described in a previous post, The Toughest Nine Miles in Addison County. This older post has now lost its title. The first two miles of the run follows a VAST snowmobile trail heading north along the west face of the Green Mts, climbing more or less steadily, first through deciduous forest, then into a coniferous forest (which you can make out from the west pretty easily), before climbing back into deciduous again. This is a very pretty section, following a brook much of the way, with a few limited views through the trees. At about 1.5 miles, the trail forks into two equally strong trails, and both will work for this run. I chose the right trail on the way up, as it is a little shorter, but if you miss the trail split and take the left fork, it will connect with the same next trail.
The snowmobile trail tops off onto FS 237 (not marked at this point), an obvious but somewhat overgrown forest service road. Take a right turn here (an earlier missed turn will have you coming up to this point from the left) and follow this road until it ends in about a mile and a half, connecting with Dragon Road. Dragon Rd. is a maintained dirt road suitable for 2WD cars, but like many of the lesser known mountain roads in Ripton, rarely driven. The run I previously described went right from this point, ending the uphill section considerably earlier. Take a left uphill until the road ends after about eight tenths of a mile. There is a small parking lot here, and if you would prefer a much shorter run, or even an easy family hike, you can drive to this point and start here. To get to this parking area, drive into East Middlebury on Rt. 125, turn left on North Branch Road (the slight left at the Rt 125 bridge), and a few miles later, when North Branch Road makes a right, continue straight on Dragon Rd. until the road ends.
As you enter the parking lot, look carefully to the right to find the somewhat overgrown start to the trail leading to the summit of Robert Frost Mountain in 1.2 miles. This trail gets so little traffic in the summer that you have to walk through tall weeds for 20 or 30 feet before the trail becomes easy to find and follow. You will know you have gone the right way when you see a gate across the trail. From this point, the trail isn’t too bad, other than the fact that it is somewhat overgrown (hence good for resistance training for trailrunners!), and gets a little steeper as you approach the summit. Most of the traffic to this summit clearly is during the winter, when the snowmobilers apparently make it a frequent destination. The summit is wooded, but people have cleared a few nice views to make the climb worth the effort. This summit has another unexpected creature comfort – a privy at the summit, which actually appears to be in far better condition than most similarly situated sources of relief. I was somewhat amused, however, by the fact that there were a few empty liter cans of Bud Light strewn about its floor. Go figure.
The run back down mostly followed the uphill run, other than at the point where the lower shortcut from the snowmobile trail connected to FS 237. It is very difficult to see where the uphill trail connects with the Forest Service Road, so I just went to the end of the road, and followed the obvious left turn at its end where it also connected with the uphill route. As I descended, I did note the following somewhat amusing sign:
I briefly considered bringing the sign home, and posting it on the door of my teenage daughters’ bathroom, but instead decided to leave this amusing little non sequitor to be discovered by other runners and hikers.
When all was said and done, this was a long hard run, with 11.5 miles of running and 2000 vertical feet of climbing. I don’t usually post my time, but this adventurous run took a while – two and a half hours. Given the relentlessly pretty woods and decent views, this route would also make a fine day hike as well, either from East Middlebury, or from the higher trailhead.
One of the most famous characters to grace the hills of Addison County was America’s poet laureate, Robert Frost. In a earlier post, I joked about the ubiquity of signs alluding to Frost’s presence in the woods of Ripton, so I thought it would be fun to describe a run built on the Robert Frost theme. The Robert Frost roadside rest area on Rt. 125 a few miles below Breadloaf seemed like a logical place to begin the run, given the ample parking. I also couldn’t help but notice that the nearby “Robert Frost Trail” and trailhead was still closed to the public, but more on that later.
The run began with a easy jog up…you guessed it…Frost Road, until reaching the Robert Frost cabin where (guess who) summered for many years while teaching at the Breadloaf School of English. We can forgive him for the fact that for many of these years, he returned to teach at archrival Amherst College at the end of the summer. Even famous poets need a day job I guess! The view from his primitive cabin is beautiful in the late summer, with views of the nearby mountains and the Homer Noble Farm.
After soaking up the meadow view, I continued up into the woods on the well traveled trail behind his cabin. This route follows much of the route described in my cross country ski trip described in my post entitled “Robert Frost Cabin” but in the reverse direction. After a little more than a mile, the trail splits, and I chose the left fork knowing it would lead to a longer run. The gradual descent on this stretch of trail led eventually to a T in the trail with signage for cross country skiers, and I chose the left turn with a short downhill before joining up with a well-developed snowmobile trail. A rather disoriented hiking couple asked for my assistance in finding their way back to their vehicle at this point. This is understandable, as there is a complex network of ski trails, logging trails, and snowmobile trails in this section of forest. If you want to try this run out and are concerned about getting lost back here, a good rule of thumb is that left turns bring you further away from Breadloaf, while right turns will bring you closer.
After reorienting the slightly disoriented hikers – I haven’t heard of any recent hiker disappearances in the last few days, so I assume they made it out alive – I took a right turn on the now well-developed uphill trail which followed stream. After about a mile on this trail, I arrived at a new fork. Since the left fork had numerous KEEP OUT and NO TRESPASSING signs, my choice was clear – go right. This led to the trickiest routefinding section of this run Shortly after running by a small beaver pond (on my left) I expected to find a rough trail to my right which would connect me with the Brown Gate trail in the Rikert Ski Touring Center. I found a right turn which fit my memory of the terrain, but the trail got fainter and fainter, including a small stream crossing which didn’t fit my winter memories, but eventually connected with the well marked Brown Gate trail. A left turn here, and a moderate uphill led to the Brown Gate itself, and Steam Mill Rod/Forest service road 59. A right turn onto Steam Mill Rd led to about a mile of running on this well-graded dirt road. After all the rougher more technical running of the previous few miles, it felt good to stretch out the legs for a while in some higher tempo running. Staying on this road would take you to the Breadloaf Campus too soon, so I followed the well-marked snowmobile trail turning left shortly after passing Burnt Hill Rd. About 50 yards up this trail, I came to a small, moderately overgrown family burial plot. I knew of the existence of this mini-graveyard from past ski tours, but stopped to read the gravestones for the first time. The name on all of the stones was “Kirby” which made sense, as an older name for Steam Mill Road was apparently Kirby Road, as noted previously.
I stayed on this trail which is separated from the Rikert trails by a line of trees, and after another mile or so reached Rt. 125 just east of Breadloaf. The Brooks Rd. intersection was in sight, so I headed in that direction to continue the southern half of the run. Taking the Widows Clearing trail from the south end of the parking lot brought me up to the actual clearing, the subject of yet another post earlier in the summer. The fact that the clearing still exists despite not having been farmed for a hundred years implied that someone must mow the field every year or so, and on this run I could see that it had been mowed very recently. I can’t help but wonder who has taken on this task, as it can’t be that easy to haul the necessary equipment up there. From this point until the end of the run, you will finish the run as described by following my aforementioned “right turn rule”. The first right turn on the Widows clearing trail takes you to a trail called “The Crosswalk”, and after a mile on this rough trail, the next right connects to the furthest corners of (here we go again) The Robert Frost Trail. This well known trail passes through woods, meadows, streams, and swamps, and at many vantages along the way, appropriate Frost poems are displayed. I noted earlier in the summer that this trail has been closed all summer, and I presumed this was due to the nearby road construction. When I arrived to the stream crossing on this trail, I found that the footbridge which had provided a means across was missing, providing an alternative explanation for the trail closing. On the shore where the bridge once stood, the Frost poem posted seemed particularly ironic, in light of the fact that the trail was blocked. It is also my favorite Frost poem, and particularly germane to this blog.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
A short slog across the stream past the equipment in place for the replacement of the lost bridge, and a few hundred yards on Rt. 125 brought me back to my vehicle. As in prior runs, the Google Earth Projection, and altitude profile are posted, but I accidentally turned off my GPS for about a mile between the Kirby burial site and Rt. 125, so the distance on this run is probably a little more than 8 miles, and although there are no individual long climbs, there were very few truly flat sections on this run, and the total climb adds up to close to 1000 vertical feet.
The header for this blog describes it as “A blog for runners in and about Addison County, VT”. While all of my previous posts have been describing runs in Addison County, this posting chronicles a run not far from our fair county, in the “Vail of Vermont”, Stowe. Since a drive to Stowe isn’t that big a deal, and this run involves a well-known Vermont landmark, I figured I might as well include it. I was looking around for a more epic run to finish off the summer, and I learned of “The Race to the Top of Vermont”, a charity race in support of the Catamount Trail, in which a few hundred endorphin-crazed runners and mountain bikers compete up the Mount Mansfield Auto Road to the saddle between the two prominent summits (aka “The Nose” and “The Chin”) of our own Vermont high point, Mount Mansfield. While I enjoy running the hills, I had only attempted a run of this magnitude once before in my life, and it HAS been a few years since my run up Jay Peak….
The last Sunday in August was a perfect day for a race like sort – warm at the base of the mountain, cool, but not too cold at the top, with the perfectly cloudless azure skies of the sort that one expects in Colorado, not Vermont. I must confess, looking up at the summit from the start line did get my heart pounding, even before the starting gun went off.
I had never hiked on this side of the mountain during the summer prior to this race, preferring the trails up from Smugglers Notch or Underhill for my frequent hikes to the summit. Nonetheless, I had descended much of the route many times in the course of the Stowe Derby, a cross country ski race from the top of the Lookout Chairlift on Mansfield finishing in the village of Stowe. Even though it has been a few years since I last competed in this little bit of downhill mayhem, I was pleasantly surprised by how well my memory of the Auto Road served me, albeit from a very different perspective – it always looks steeper going uphill.
I chose a conservative pace at the start: Some of those who took off like a bat out of hell were passed by as they fell by the wayside, and some were never seen again until the finish line. I chose an initial strategy of running the straightaways, and “power-hiking” the steeper pitches around the countless hairpin turns. I must confess that as the run got closer and closer to the summit, my fast-walking sections became more numerous, and of longer duration – this was a very tough route! Fortunately, most of the other “middle of the pack” competitors had similar issues. While most of the dirt road course was shady, as it got higher up the mountain and crossed ski trails more frequently, every bend in the trail seemed to bring on an even more spectacular view.
The finish line, where there is a small parking lot for drivers, while a few hundred vertical feet and about a mile from the true summit (“The Chin”), sure felt like the top! Prior to the start of the race, I had delusions of maybe finishing the run with a jog across Mansfield’s spectacular above-timberline ridge and bagging the actual summit, but in recognition of the fact that I still had to get myself back down the mountain on increasingly wobbly legs, I decided to save the ridge run for another day.
The only disappointment of the day came when I thought that I might instead take the short walk to the summit of the “Nose” the secondary summit just above the top of the Auto Road where the prominent radio towers are located. The trail to this bump on the ridge had a barrier across it claiming it was closed due to new Federal safety rules on radio frequency exposure! Most people know that there have been increased concerns expressed about radio wave exposure due to publicity about possible health risks from cell phones. What most people don’t know is that the claim that radio waves can cause cancer actually flies against some of the most basic laws of physics, which Einstein figured out in 1905, and are well understood by beginning college chemistry students. There are many aspects of cancer which are not understood, but one thing is certain – to cause cancer, you need to break chemical bonds, and the energy generated by radio waves is only a tiny fraction of a percent of that necessary to do this. Saying that prolonged exposure to radio waves, or exposure to higher intensity radio waves can cause cancer is tantamount to claiming that if you stand on the Maine coast throwing baseballs for extended periods of time, one of the balls will eventually land in Europe. So….a scenic point in Vermont is taken away from us based on voodoo science.
Enough of the rant of the day…..Most trail runners know that the climb up is harder on the lungs, but the descent is actually tougher on the legs. I thought I had enough strength left in my legs to do the descent as an easy jog, but discovered about halfway down that this was not the case, making the last mile or two of descent more of a fast hike than a running descent. I tried to get down promptly however, given the barbecue lunch awaiting me at the post-race party. All in all, this run was 4.3 miles each way, or 8.6 round trip, with a 2500 vertical foot climb and descent. What a day!