In one of my winter posts a few years ago, I described a great ski route at the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring Area in Goshen, on the trail traversing the high flanks of Romance Mountain. It has been claimed that this trail is “the highest altitude groomed cross country ski trail in Vermont”, and on skis, it certainly made for a challenging climb, and a fun, fast, and yes, slightly out of control descent. After a few longer runs in the previous weeks, I thought it would be fun to try and haul my early season body up Romance Mountain from the Ripton side. So, on a very cloudy and threatening Saturday afternoon, I parked my car at my favorite trail head on Brooks Road,the dirt road between Breadloaf and the Snow Bowl (for new readers). This trailhead never ceases to amuse me – there are two great directions to go – up Brooks Road past the Forest Service Gate, or out on the Widow’s Clearing Trail, and then a seemingly infinite number of “loop” or “out and back” runs to be tried as the two major trails branch out and interconnect. On this run, I chose the former, opting for the pretty serious climbing to be had along Brooks Road and trails beyond.
The run up this dirt road, was relatively uneventful – I saw a few moose tracks in the mud alongside the road, but none of the actual critters. Despite the general leafiness starting to spread across the valley, things were still pretty brown on the ground and grey in the sky, other than a few small streamlets, which supported some of the lush golden green of early spring, bringing to mind a favorite short Robert Frost poem:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
As a curious aside, when googling this poem to get the words right, I discovered that it “embodies the ambiguous balance between paradisiac good and the paradoxically more fruitful human good“. Oh…and I thought it was about leaves?
If you look carefully in this photo, you will also see some of the first springtime ephemerals, the flowers which appear and disappear as the season progresses. If I am reading the great posting on this topic by my fellow blogger Tim over at The Middlebury Landscape blog, the tiny flowers shown in this shot are known as “Spring Beauty”.
A little further up the dirt road, I also came across the following shelf fungus, which was so big it was almost scary. With a little careful cropping (and some imagination), it kind of looks like a duck bill, don’t you think?
Eventually, after about 3.5 miles, Brooks Road came to an end, and I entered the true trail running segment. The first trail to the left provides a connection with the Long Trail, and it is described in another earlier post, when I ran up and over Worth Mountain and through the Snow Bowl from this side. Bypassing this turnoff, I came to a T, and a ski/mountain bike trail which forms part of the Blueberry Hill trail network. Now, I took the left, and this trail took me to the high point of the trail over the next 2 miles, in a series of gradual and sharper ascents. I briefly contemplated bushwacking to the true summit, but looking up, I realized it would involve getting my head stuck in the clouds, which were starting to envelope the highest altitudes. I took a moment to enjoy the limited view from my perspective.
I also did a quick search up here for a small sign proclaiming it “Cindy’s Summit”, which used to grace the trail at this point, and was disappointed not to find it. Curious as to the story of the sign and its demise, I emailed Tony down at the Blueberry Hill Inn, who told me that he had placed the sign there after promising a frequent guest named (surprise!) Cindy that he would do so if she could ski all the way up there. Alas, new Forest Service regulations involving place names rendered this sign contraband, so he had to take it down. So much for poor Cindy’s immortality on Romance Mt!
My return trip went much easier, of course, being almost entirely descent. The long promised colder weekend rains began just as I returned to my car, so I got lucky this time. This ended up as the most challenging run of the young ski season, with an 11 mile round trip distance, and about 1200 ft of climbing up to about 2700 ft- not bad for April!
With more great weather this weekend it was time to take to the trails again. I had yet to visit one of my favorite locations, Silver Lake, this season, but I prefer not to blog the same runs too frequently, unless there is some unique perspective to be presented. Last summer, while exploring the Chandler Ridge Trail, the trail traversing along the ridge separating Silver Lake and Lake Dunmore, I noticed the high-quality recent trail maintenance, and speculated that the formerly very rough and unrunnable trail circumnavigating Silver Lake might also have seen similar sprucing. So, I set out on this run with my camera and GPS, planning on running around Silver Lake, hoping that the lack of leaves on the trees might provide a unique perspective on this popular locale.
Arriving at the Silver Lake trailhead near Branbury State Park, I was surprised to see the parking lot almost full. Apparently, I was not the only person looking to get out in the woods on a warm early spring day! After about 1.6 miles of climbing this well worn trail (actually a dirt road, suitable for small 4-W-D vehicles, but closed to them) I arrived at the dam marking the outlet to Silver Lake, and took the trail leading over the dam to the west shore. The early going on this trail was fine as expected, but when I reached the point where the trail up to the Chandler Ridge diverged, and chose the lake shore trail as planned. It very quickly became obvious that this trail had not seen the tender loving care which I had hoped it had. In fact, as I was listening to that great old blues song, “Try a Little Tenderness” which happened to pop up on the day’s running mix, the song proved prophetic, as I stubbed my toe on an ill-placed rock. I don’t think that was the sort of “tenderness” that the songwriter had in mind – Ouch!
So, I decided that my planned route was not what I was looking for, but had my first inspiration, on my now improvised run. According to my memory of the Chandler Ridge from last summer, the views were limited by the deciduous forest cover. However, with the trees still totally bare, the views on both sides of the ridge should be spectacular, so I backtracked a few hundred yards, and took the trail leading up to the ridge, and was not disappointed by the views.
After enjoying the sights from this ridge for a while, I retraced my tracks back to the shore of the lake, where I came across a lone pine tree, sentinal-like, on a rock near the lake shore that I had never noticed before.
Returning back across the dam, I stayed along the shoreline until I reached the small beach, were I saw numerous families out fishing and enjoying the day. At this point, I had felt like I had explored enough, and was planning on heading down the trail back to my car. Shortly after beginning my descent, and still in sight of the lake, I saw a curious sight- I had been noticing the total absence of budding leaves on the trees at this higher elevation, but there was one small eager tree which was trying to get its leaves out in advance of its competitors.
A few moments later along the trail, my next inspiration formed. In my many previous runs up to and near the lake,I had noticed a wide trail heading to the north, but had never taken the time to explore it – since it was not on any maps, I presumed it went a short way into the woods, and disappeared. My legs felt like the had a lot of energy left in them, so I decided to finally explore this trail. Much to my surprise, the trail kept going, and was soon joined by a high berm to my right, which I presumed was a pipeline coming from some other source, emptying into the spillway feeding Silver Lake from the north. After a short distance, the trail forked, and I randomly chose the left fork, which ended shortly in an open hillside meadow, which looked like it had been some sort of landfill once. I suspect that this may have been what remained of the dump for the long gone Silver Lake Hotel – and thanks to Gary Spaulding for putting together the short history of the hotel which I have linked to. After hitting this dead end, I doubled back and decided to explore the right fork of the trail to see where it might lead. I had long suspected that the source of the water for the Silver Lake spillway was the much smaller, and very rarely visited Sucker Brook Reservoir, shown on maps a little further uphill. After following this broad, easily discerned trail for some time (much of it bordered by the berm covering an occasionally obvious pipeline), I finally started to tire, and when the opportunity came for a trail which looked like it might take me home, a sharp turn climbing to the right, I took it, leaving the final discover of the trail’s final destination for another day. However, upon loading up my GPS track after the run, I discovered that I was probably only a few minutes from the Sucker Brook Reservoir, confirming my guess as to its role. My return trail actually followed right alongside the previous trail, surprising me that I had not noticed it on the way out. In the course of my return, I surprised a small flock of deer, who started as I grew near, proving far too Shy, lest I got too close.
Doubling back like this, I returned to the more developed campground and picnic area around the lake, and completed my final descent to my waiting vehicle below. Upon completion of a far longer run (over 8 miles) than I had planned, I had one last moment of inspiration – I treated myself to a Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Peace Pop purchased at one of the several general stores between the trailhead and my home – a great way to end a great run!
In keeping with my observation that things just look different when the trees are bare, but the weather isn’t too wintery, I decided to re-explore an area which has been the subject of two previous posts. In this case, I decided to go for a run in the terrain roughly delineated by Rt 125 to the north, and Upper Plains Rd. to the west. The small peak which emerges from this corner is known on topo maps as “Pine Hill”, a curious name for this modest bump, which seems to be entirely covered in deciduous forest. I described a run in this area as one of my first posts in this blog, entitled “Secret Meadow“, as well as in an early winter run entitled “Snowy Scenic Sauntering on a Sunny (Almost) Solstice Sunday“. The high point of both of these runs is a little-known hillside meadow with outstanding westerly views. The run described in this post was just a little bit more ambitious, covering some slightly rougher terrain with more climbing.
While there are a few appropriate places to park one’s vehicle closer to the trails, I chose to start the run on the Oak Ridge Trailhead, just above East Middlebury on Rt. 125, so that I could make it a longer workout. I headed towards East Middlebury for a few hundred yards before taking a left turn on to Upper Plains Road. This road used to have a “tree tunnel” feel to it, but recent “improvements” have involved removal of many of the trees which were encroaching on the road. Too bad! After about a mile, a Forest Service gate on the left marks the start of the trailed section. I couldn’t help but notice the rerouting of the path created by the incessant efforts of ATV-ers – earlier paths were blocked off, leading to generation of new paths. Be forwarned that the entry into this run off of Upper Plains Rd. is unposted private property, so please be particularly respectful of this, so that this lovely area can remain open to exploration. But…I didn’t need to tell you that, right?
After getting past the gate, the next section of climbing was on a dirt road, which switchbacked up the hillside until it broke into the aforementioned meadow by a small pond. As soon as you pass the birch grove on your left, take a sharp left turn, and veer back towards the forest to find the true trail heading north along the west side of Pine Hill, which now stands to your right. There are quite a few other trails in this vicinity, which can be a little bit confusing. In fact, if you look at my GPS track for this run, you will notice a short diversion to the right, which the result of mistakenly following a path which disappeared after about a hundred yards, forcing me to backtrack and choose another. Not long afterwards, I reached the saddle between Pine Hill (to my right) and a lower summit to my left. I also couldn’t help but notice one of the most spectacularly situated hunter’s blinds I have seen in my explorations. It undoubtedly provides great views, and let’s face it, what kid, young or old, doesn’t love a treehouse? Even the ladder had a whimsical, Dr. Seuss-like feel to it!
From the col, I decided to save the true summit for another day, instead taking a short bushwhack to the left to the minor northern summit. Despite the gray skies, the view here was excellent, and given the ledges and lack of foliage to the west from this vantage, I suspect that the view will not be badly hemmed in once the trees are in full leaf. This pretty little summit also had a lot of low lying bushes which I suspect will bear blueberries mid-summer, as well as many weather-twisted small trees which gave the summit a slightly haunted feel.
With the advent of a slight drizzle, I continued on the path, which got very muddy in places, before descending to an intersection with a more developed trail behind the hill. Here, I took a right turn to complete the loop, stopping to take a picture of the pretty waterfall found in the rather steep notch behind Pine Hill. I was always curious why the dirt road, meadow, and broad, well built trail reaching the waterfall were built in the first place, and while mountain biking last summer, I happened to meet the landowner who told me a little bit of the “back story” to this property. Apparently, at some point in the 60′s or 70′s (a seemingly generic way of saying “A long time ago, but not THAT long ago”) the man who owned the land had received federal funding to develop this waterfall as a rest area, as part of the National Forest. For reasons unknown, after the initial stages of the roadside development, involving roadbuilding and a few other modest improvements, the project was abandoned. Well, the waterfall and surroundings are still quite beautiful!
After pausing at the waterfall, the trail re-emerged from behind Pine Hill into the meadow, and by staying to the far left, I caught the short steep path returning me to the forest service gate, where it was an easy mile-long return to my car. The total length of this run was about 4.25 miles, with a climb of 500 ft – not bad for the beginning of April.
I also decided to have a little extra fun with this run – with the advent of routine access to portable GPS devices, a new pastime has emerged known as “geocaching“. Geocaching hobbyists leave hidden containers with logbooks, souvenirs, and sometimes even disposable cameras at locations of interest, and then post the GPS coordinates as well as other hints for others to find the site. If you take a look at www.geocaching.com, you will see that there are many geocache locations in Addison County. Since geocachers and trail runners both share an interest in discovering new places of interest, I thought it would be fun to set my first geocache on this run. My geocache, which contains a logbook and disposable camera for finders to share their experiences, as well as a small souvenir can be found without a lot of difficulty by someone completing this run. The actual GPS coordinates, which will also be posted soon on the aforementioned geocache website are N 43 degrees 57.934′, W 073 degrees 04.248′. Happy Hunting!
Note added 10/27/12 – I went up to check out the fate of my geocache, and found that it had been stolen. I guess the allure of a 10 buck fishing tackle box with a few toys in it was more than one of the visitors could resist. So – this is still a fun run, but not geocache, until I get around to replacing it.