Last Sunday finally gave me what I was looking for – blue skies, blue wax conditions (for those of you on waxable cross-country skis) and great snow cover – perfect for the first ski posting of the season. I decided to begin the day’s ski from my home area- the Rikert Ski Touring Center operated by Middlebury College, and make the route a mixture of well-groomed touring center trails and lightly traveled remote paths. The day’s route began by reversing the route described in one of my posts from last winter, entitled “The Robert Frost Cabin”. Heading up Craig’s Hill, the beauty of the fresh snow and groomed trail provided all I needed to justify stopping for a picture.
At the top of the first hill, I took a left on the “Figure 8″ trail, and then followed the signs leading to the Frost Cabin. The lack of any truly bitter cold subzero days this winter have made it so that many of the surface streams are still running, rather than iced over, and in a few spots, I had to chose my path carefully to avoid waterskiing. Around the periphery of the Frost Fields, the 2-3 inches of snow from the previous nights snow on packed trail made for pretty easy skiing, but the snow was up to my knees in the unpacked powder! Joining the trail heading into the woods behind the Frost cabin at the top of the meadow, which by this point in the season was pretty well packed by previous skiers, brought me to the site of the title of this entry – the Wagon Wheel Road.
The Wagon Wheel Road was so named due to the presence of dance hall by that name which operated at the end of the road, where the Rikert Trails meet the road, until about 60 years ago. I wanted to try and find a source of information on this former Ripton hot spot, but found the best information from an unlikely source. A friend told me that a well-done booklet on the history of Ripton was put together by the 5th and 6th grade classes of the Ripton Elementary School back in 1996, and that it might have some information on The Wagon Wheel. Fortunately, I learned that a copy of this book was available on the bookshelves of the Rikert Touring Center. According to this source, the dance hall operated from 1950-1952 with dancing every Saturday night in the summer, and was owned an operated by one Leonard Zeeman. Although the language used to describe this site is appropriately guarded, given the age of the authors, one gets the impression that it was a pretty wild place! They also report that the owner, who was also a contractor, collected enough beer bottles that he used them to build the cellar walls of a home he constructed in Middlebury. The dance hall stood derelict until 1962, when it was torn down, leaving behind just another cellar hole. With all the snow, there was no chance of finding this, but a small clearing at the end of the road appears to be a good place to begin searching for it in the spring.
My original plan was to follow the Wagon Wheel Rd as far as I could towards its source in the more civilized parts of Ripton, but was surprised by the fact that the upper reaches of the road were actually plowed. There was enough snow at first, but after about a km, the cover got too thin to ski, so I reversed my path, and headed back to the touring center. When I reached the Frost meadow, I took the upper trail back, which led to the well-groomed tracks on the outer Frost trail. From this high point on the terrain, I descended to the touring center to complete this 11.5 km route.
Once again, I am reverting to the common use of metric measurements when describing nordic ski routes, as is common. Curiously, the only time I have received any “troll comments” on my postings was last winter when one reader took offense at my use of this Unamerican system of measurement!
Over the years I have had the pleasure of spending a considerable amount of time just over the mountains in the Mad River Valley. While I was visiting family in Waitsfield over the holidays, I thought it would be fun describe a short run over there, especially since it is such a pleasant little community with a lot to offer the outdoor enthusiast, and is only about an hour from Middlebury by car. My previous running in this area has been mostly on the far side of the valley, on the smaller range east of the main ridge of the Green Mts., so I thought I would share a route which begins up on the ridge just to the east of Rt. 100 on the valley floor. The additional allure to running on this side of the valley is the great view it offers of the three major ski areas, Sugarbush, Mt. Ellen (technically part of Sugarbush) and Mad River Glen. The rather arbitrary starting point for this run can be reached by turning off of Rt. 100, through the Waitsfield covered bridge, followed by a left turn onto Joslyn Hill Road, and a right turn onto the Cross Road. There is ample room along the shoulder of the Cross Road near its intersection with the Common Road (the main N-S road on the hillside on this side of the valley) to park your car.
Heading north on The Common Road (the mountains should be on your right) brought me past the von Trapp farm and greenhouse. Yes, this is owned by a member of THAT von Trapp family – think about how many kids Maria and the Captain had, and then envision how many kids their kids must have had……and you get the picture why the von Trapp name is so common in the Mad River Valley and Stowe! That said, their farm has one of the best views in the state from accessible from a car or bike.
Shortly after passing the greenhouses, I arrived at the former site of the Waitsfield Common village, with its characteristic village green, older homes, and hillside graveyard. I refer to this as the “former” site of Waitsfield Common due to the fact that all of the commercial activity in the town has moved down to Waitsfield proper, a mile or so down the hill. Immediately after the common, I took a right turn towards the mountains on East Road, another easy-on-the-knees dirt road. A gradual climb of about a mile, past small hillside farm led to a point where the main road goes to the right, and a rarely travelled dirt road continues straight towards the mountains, albeit with a short steep dip in elevation. At the bottom of this dip is a pretty little valley which is another favorite mountain spot – its coniferous forest open meadow, and meandering stream normally looks more like a Colorado than Vermont, but a small herd of cows (heading north, of course) juxtaposed a little bit of New England on the pastoral scene.
Climbing back into the forest after crossing a small bridge, and taking the right fork in the now derelict road led me up a steeper incline, past a series of higher meadows, each with its own uniquely spectacular vistas, As the road bore left to the north, I could see the wreckage of a few derelict homes and cellar holes. After about a half mile along this segment, I chose to return, but past explorations following this trail further have led me to the top of the mountain ridge between Scrag Mt. and Mt. Waitsfield along what appears to be an abandoned stage road (which might be a VAST snowmobile trail at present) leading to Northfield. Perhaps I will have to come back to describe that continuation of this route next summer!
Returning by the same route brought me back to my car after a five mile run which was easier than expected due to the still thin Christmas Day snow cover. There were a few modest ups and downs, but not enough to really call this a hill climb route.
Happy New Year everyone, and THINK SNOW!