On yet another gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I decided to explore an area where I used to mountain bike regularly, but had not been to in a few years. While I used to be an avid mountain biker, a few summers in a row with crashes ending up with ribs which were “broken, sprained, strained, or tied up and twisted” (and it doesn’t make a difference which diagnosis you get, as the treatment is always “Ibuprofen, rest, and hurt for two months”) diminished my fervor for the sport, and actually led to my current focus on trail running. The area between Upper Plains Road and Lower Plains Road, which straddles the Middlebury-Salisbury town line is full of trails, which in the past seemed to be most heavily used by ATV’ers, but showed few signs of use on this run, at least not this early in the season.
I started the run at the parking lot at the East Middlebury playground, and headed past the Waybury Inn on Rt 125. Younger readers may not remember this, but a photograph of the Waybury Inn was used in the credits for the 1980′s Bob Newhart Show, where it was referred to as the “Stratford Inn“. After passing by the Inn, I headed over the bridge, and up the short steep hill known as Sand Hill, and took the right turn on a dirt road serving the highway department Quonset hut before reaching the top of the hill. Shortly after turning onto the Quonset hut dirt road, I took the broad grassy path veering to the left, and followed this to the first left turn. Another left turn brought me up a short steeper climb on a trail which appeared to have been built and actively maintained at some point, and left me wondering for what purpose it was built? It was too narrow to have been a logging road, and there were no signs indicating that it was or had been an active snowmobile trail. Reaching the height of this climb, I did a short bushwhack in the direction of Rt 125, and found a nice overlook at the top of the rock outcropping alongside the road at this point.
After this view, not entirely sure where I was going, I proceeded further uphill, until the path emerged from the woods, joining Upper Plains Rd near to the point where it empties into Rt 125. Not wanting to leave the trails just yet, I found a bear path (as in barely there) and went in a direction where I thought I might find some beaver ponds whose location was hinted at by Google Earth. Soon, the boggy terrain under my feet told me I was probably going to find what I was looking for, and sure enough, I came across an semi-open meadow with many fallen trees, and of course, a mound of sticks in the distance where the little engineers made their home.
As I turned around and backtracked my way through the mud, I caught site of the first wildflowers of the year. I will have to send a note to my botanical colleague at “The Middlebury Landscape” to ID this flower for me.
I also noted one of the more intact stone walls I have seen for some time. The woods in Addison County are full of these of course, but the mature state of the hardwood forest led me to guess that this is a rather old stone wall, and that the hill farm it probably served was long defunct, making the condition of the wall all the more remarkable.
Up to this point, a lot of what I have been referring to as trail running was really a mix of jogging, exploring, and even a little bushwhacking, and I sought a better defined trail to stretch out my legs a little more. Fortunately, at this point, I found a strong trail heading south, and spent a solid mile on it before it bore downhill to the right, and curved back to the start of the run. I was just beginning to wonder who actually owned this land, as there were no forest service or “Posted” signs, but as I neared the Quonset hut, I noted that the land to my left was suddenly heavily posted. Guess I won’t be going that way! Once I returned to the Quonset hut, I simply retraced my steps back into East Middlebury and my waiting car, for a 5.25 mile, and surprisingly, 400 vertical feet of climbing run.
Early spring trail running is a pleasure. Spring fever on the first semi-warm days always inspires me to get out and explore the nearby forest trails. Additionally, before the summer foliage sets in, one can see deeper into the woods, and get a much richer feel for the surrounding topology. Little scenic nuggets which would otherwise go unnoticed appear with a surprising clarity. On the other hand, one must also be sensitive to the need to stay off of heavily used trails during “mud season”. The Green Mountain National Forest recommends staying off of high elevation trails, especially the heavily used Long Trail, until after Memorial Day. They don’t do this out of misguided attention to our muddy boots and running shoes, but due to the excessive erosion and inadvertent trail widening which can happen from hikers and runner stepping around the large mud wallows. With these concerns in mind, I chose to go for a run which my previous experience told me was lightly trodden, and rather rocky rather than soft and muddy.
With these concerns in mind, I decided to go for a run from the Moosalamoo Campground parking lot. This Green Mountain National Forest campground, found on the Ripton-Goshen road is pretty well deserted even in the middle of the summer, but the road leading into it was open and driveable. Parking at the campground, I simply ran down the remainder of the dirt road in the direction of the Voter Brook Overlook. I was immediately impressed by the handiwork of quite a few eager beavers, whose numerous ponds and mounds of sticks, most of which I had never noticed before, were apparent due to the unobstructed views.
After a mile and a quarter of easy going on the road, I reached the Voter Brook Overlook. This little known gem provides excellent views to the Champlain Valley to the west, and towards the popular hiking destination, the Rattlesnake Cliffs above and to the right.
After this point, I headed deeper into the woods for some more adventurous running. A short descending trail heads down from the overlook, and meets up with the North Branch trail shortly. I had run this trail previously, under very different circumstances in mid August last year in the course of a very different running experience, but I could see that this spring there was still significant winter blowdown in the trail which slowed my progress in a few places, and made me appreciate the trail crews who maintain the Moosalamoo region trails during the summer months. After about a mile on this trail, I took a left turn onto the Keewaydin Trail, which led to the only truly muddy section of the run before climbing back up to the road. After a short section on the road, I took a left turn onto a trail lacking a forest service sign, only labeled by a small Blueberry Hill Ski Area trail sign bearing the number “43″. This trail eventually looped back to the Moosalamoo campground, and a short run around this brought me almost back to my car. A few yards from my car, I came to a the even smaller loop in the campground, which was set up as a small nature loop for the families staying there in the summer months when it is officially open. I got a little bit of a kick out of the signs pretty much labeling every tree along the way!
Returning to my car at this point, my GPS recorded this as a 4.25 mile run with some modest ups and downs, but no serious climbs, at least by Vermont standards. This general vicinity has a lot of nice hiking and running trails, but the forest service map of this little corner of the Moosalamoo Wilderness is pretty out of date and inaccurate as to where trails come and go. That said, it is all great, so just go explore!
The advent of early spring and the diminution in the aches and pains of various “old man” injuries inspired me to hit the trails up in the mountains. Last fall, I parked my car at the Spirit in Nature trailhead on the Goshen-Ripton Road, and after turning right onto Hale Brook Road, explored Forest Service Road 92A which split off to the right and wandered up into the mountainside before fading into a rarely used track. Near the start of this road was another road, bearing left where 92A bore right, heading in a similar direction, known by the unique and original name “Forest Service 92″. So, on a cool (high 30′s) but marvelously sunny Saturday afternoon, I decided to explore this track.
The lower reaches of the route, which was really a dirt road, were rather icy due to compaction by the occasional vehicle over the winter, but I was able to get good footing in the corn snow at the periphery of the road. I took a left at the junction of 92 and 92A, with rapid fire blasts of a too close for comfort gun enthusiast as my only concern. A paint can was probably having a very bad day! There was another trail junction a little further up, with the left turn leading to the Wilkinson Trails, and my planned right turn continuing its climb. Once I was past the short section of dirt road and onto the grassy forest service road, the footing improved, alternating between soft granular snow and bare grass. A short way up this, I was treated to the site of the Goshen Brook as it babbled its way down the mountainside.
Soon after passing this trail junction, I met one of my readers, Lynn from East Middlebury, and her 3 hiking partners (one human, two canine) as they were on the way down the mountain. After sharing our amazement at the underutilization of many of the trails in the area, we parted company as we continued in opposite directions. Given that Easter Sunday was last weekend, I thought it would be fun to place a plastic Easter Egg somewhere in semi-plain site on the outside chance that runners esploring this run might have fun keeping their eyes open for it. So, if you are interested, there is a plastic Easter Egg, placed a week late, in the crook of a very curious looking tree right alongside the trail. If you ever find the egg on a hike or run up there, please leave a comment on the blog! The “tree” where I placed it was actually two trees, one birch, and the other (oh heck – all these years in Vermont and I am terrible at naming tree species!) is a different species, but these two trees clearly found their futures interwoven many decades ago. The photograph of the hidden egg is not up to my usual standards, but I only had time to click off one picture before the demise of my camera batteries. Happy Hunting!
As I got higher and higher up the hillside, the trail became more consistently snow covered, but never impassably so. I suspect that in a week’s time, concerns over snow will be moot, however. At about the two mile mark, the trail crested in a saddle, with the trail turning south, and partially obscured views to the west towards the Champlain Valley. I could see through the trees that the trail was getting ready for some more serious climbing into deeper snow, so it seemed like a good point to turn around and trot back to my car. Consultation with my Moosalamoo Region map when I returned home reinforced what I had assumed – that I was about two miles north of the Moosalamoo summit. What I did not realize prior to this run was that the trail I was running on would lead directly to the summit! I am planning on returning to the ridge in the summer, as I suspect that it will be a gorgeous stretch of trail along the Moosalamoo Ridge.
Returning to my car by the same route, this ended up as a 4.25 mile round trip run, with 800 ft of climbing.