Sunday of course, was the Y-chromosome version of the two “family holidays”, namely, Fathers’ Day. So, after enjoying a pile of blueberry pancakes in bed (lovingly prepared by my daughter), complete with maple syrup which dripped off my fork and onto my t-shirt, followed by a few chores, I chose to spend part of the day on my own adventure before a planned evening of activities back with the Trailrunner family. For this weekend’s run, I chose a loop over the top of Mount Moosalamoo, including one section of trail I had never previously explored. To get to the trailhead, I drove up Rt. 125 towards the Snow Bowl, but took the right turn onto the Ripton-Goshen Road a short distance past beautiful downtown Ripton. A few miles down this well maintained dirt road, I took the right turn onto the road leading to the Moosalamoo Forest Service Campground. A few short weeks ago, I did a run from this same parking lot, but instead of the first bits of Spring greenery, I was treated to full summer foliage, replete with the first glimpses of roadside daisies, my favorite flower.
Arriving in the parking lot immediately before the campground loop I could see that the weather was getting a little bit gloomier, but short of an immediate downpour, I saw no reason not to enjoy the run! The first third of a mile or so meandered through the woods behind the campground, and joined an old lumber road for a short (and well marked) turn to the right, followed almost immediately by a left turn with a short steep descent down to the North Branch stream crossing bridge, the low point of the run.
From this point on, it was a relentless, but rarely steep uphill run for the better part of the next two miles.This particular climb features prominently in The Moosalamoo Ultra, a MUCH longer trail run which I featured in this blog last year. The trail angled along the side of Mt. Moosalamoo for most of the way, and the low ground cover combined with the mature hardwood forest accentuated the sloped appearance.
At the two mile mark, the road splits, with the right turn constituting the long descent of the Oak Ridge Trail, and the left turn heading towards the Moosalamoo Summit. About a quarter mile from the summit, my head turned ever-so-slightly and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a large and rather bold creature who burst out of the trees and over the grass, edging its way towards me. Holy mother of god! What is it? No, the words that were being screamed inside the crowded confines of my busy mind were not ones I would chose to print. So much for peace and quiet, right? Anyway, I turned and strained my eyes (I leave my glasses behind on runs) to confirm the status and stature of the intruder. A squirrel? A stray dog? Nope! It was a fully grown bear, coming rapidly towards me. I have seen bears a handful of times in my life, but this one did not turn and run away as all the others had – it was coming right at me.
Anyway! I wanted to just watch her (I am guessing it was a she/sow guarding cubs), and even briefly reached for my camera until I realized she was coming at me, fast! I made a noise and waved my arms on purpose to see what would happen. Death wish? I don’t think so. She stopped maybe 10 yards away and probably not interested in eating me. Right? As she reared on her hind legs, I figured it was time to get out of there, so I backed off slowly, facing the bear, shouting and waving my arms, and when I disappeared over a ridge a minute later, I resumed my run, admittedly at a much faster pace.
Reaching the first of the twin peaks a few minutes later, I warned a family out for an afternoon hike to make plenty of noise on their descent. I offered an alternate route which bypassed the bear-infested trail, but they decided, probably correctly, that they would be more likely to come to harm getting lost in the woods than they would meeting up with a bear. I haven’t heard of any missing or eaten persons, so I presume they got out just fine. In addition to a few minutes of good conversation, I came across another treat – there, lying in the trail, was a live Luna Moth! I had never seen one of these graceful behemoths of the insect world before, and didn’t even know that they were native to Vermont! Entymologists claim that they are actually pretty common, so I wonder why they are so shy?
Moving from the first summit, to the second summit which actually has better views, and after a short steep descent, I came to the trail which would complete my loop, the left turn onto the Keewaydin Trail. This trail, appearing on most of the maps of the region, is one which I had never hiked or run on previously, but looked like a convenient means of returning to my car in a loop run, rather than a simple “out and back” on the same trail. While the Keewaydin trail was very well marked, it had the wear more characteristic of a herd path or hunter’s trail, rather than a maintained trail. In some places, the trail was covered in soft spongy moss – a sure sign that it is almost never traveled on! While it was fine for hiking, as long as you don’t mind wet feet, it was very slow going from my runner’s perspective. Nonetheless, it is always fun going through new terrain. After about 2 miles of descent, I came to the road connecting the Moosalamoo campground with the Voter Brook overlook, and took a left turn for the easy run down the dirt road, returning to my car in what was now a drizzly afternoon. A few soggy campers huddled around smoky fires, but the campground was mostly empty.
This loop would make for a fun half day hike for most hikers, and took considerably less than that as a trail run, although the Keewaydin Trail section wasn’t great for runners. The run was only about 5 and a half miles, but did have close to 1200 vertical feet of climbing and descent. This was definitely one of the most exciting runs I have been on in a long time!
After what seemed like the better part of a week of cold, rainy weather, Sunday brought some gorgeous sun, so it seemed like a good day to blog a run. I knew going into things that the trails were going to be very muddy, so any desire for dry feet was going to be futile. In other words, what could be a better day for a low lying trail, alongside a river, which is muddy even in the driest spells of summer? In previous runs, I had described the run through Wright Park (just north of the newly renovated Pulp Mill Bridge on the east side of Otter Creek) in either a northern loop of the TAM (The Trail Around Middlebury), or incorporating this section of trail in the course of a complete circuit on the TAM. In both of these previous runs, upon reaching the Belden Dam, a few miles north of town, I continued straight towards the Morgan Horse Farm Road on the main loop of the TAM. I also knew, however, that there was a spur trail on the TAM that made a sharp turn after crossing the dam, and that the trail signage indicated that this trail headed into a gorge. Knowing nothing about what sights might be found, I decided to make this new stretch of trail the goal of this run.
I parked my car in the parking lot in front of the Freeman International Center (FIC) on the Middlebury College Campus. A bonus point to older readers who know the 3-letter acronym this building was previously known by – and yes, I have used this as a bonus question on college exams! I headed out on Weybridge St, took a right turn onto Pulp Mill Bridge Road, and ran through the covered bridge, before taking the immediate left turn past the old town dump towards Wright Park. On previous runs through Wright Park, I had taken the “high road” – namely, the section of trail which remained on higher ground in the meadows and forest. On this run, however, I decided to take the immediate left turn towards Otter Creek after entering the park, to enjoy the stretch of trail right alongside the river. Given recent rains, the Otter Creek appeared engorged with water, and some of this high water caused the trail footing to be muddy and slippery.
The roughness of this section of trail spoke to its lack of traffic, but in addition to the pleasures of running alongside the creek, it had a few other quirks, including a semi abandoned picnic table by the water, and a well-maintained wooden “zig-zag” bridge traversing a boggly inlet. After crossing this curious bridge, the trail entered some denser forest while remaining close to the waters’ edge. One warning to runners however – There are quite a few rocky slaps in the trail, which can be very slippery when wet – and they always seem to be wet! One skidding tumble leading to scratched and bruised shins early in the run forced me to watch my footing in subsequent sections. I reached the Belden Dam, a small hydroelectric plant, however, at about the 3 mile mark (measured from my parked car) and crossed the two small suspension bridges over the dam. Pausing for a moment, I enjoyed the sight of the swollen river being disgorged over the top of the dam to the narrow rocky chutes below. On the west side, I began to explore the section of trail that was new to me, taking the sharp right turn. I was not sure what I would see here – given that this section is referred to as the Otter Creek Gorge, I had hoped that the trail would bring me alongside some precipices, and was disappointed to find that this was really not the case – the gorge is indeed a wilder refuge than most of the land surrounding the generally gentrified Otter Creek, but staying on the trail did not manage any rocky gorge scenery. Nonetheless, I am planning on returning at some point to bushwack closer to the waters’ edge. Nonetheless, this was a muddy, but pleasant run through the woods, with a few brief streamside sections.
After following the creek for close to a mile to the north, the trail started to veer to the left, and eventually reversed its course on the higher, but no drier ground. As the trail emerged from the forest into a well-kept meadow, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that somebody had placed a bench and picnic table here!
Shortly after this meadow, I came to a split in the trail – the left fork would take me back to the Belden Dam, and the right fork emerged from the woods shortly onto the easier running of Morgan Horse farm road. While I hated to abandon the trail for the roads, I was running out of time, and needing to bring this run to a close, chose the more rapid return offered by finishing the day with a few miles on the road. It is not like I had suffer doing this, of course, as the Morgan Horse Farm road is one of the most scenic stretches of pavement in Addison County. I passed by the fine Georgian home which was once the home of former Middlebury College President (and the man who had the foolishness to allow for my hiring!), Olin Robison, before reaching yet another meadow vista, this one framing a view of Mt. Abraham in the distance.
At this point, it was starting to get pretty hot outside, and in due time, I was back to Pulp Mill Bridge Road, the Middlebury College Campus, and my waiting car. The entire loop covered about 7.8 miles, but took longer than expected due to slow going in many slipper sections. Nonetheless, it was indeed a gorge(ous) route, and I am looking forward to further exploring out here when things are a little drier!