One of my all-time favorite short trail runs is the popular dash up to the summit of Snake Mountain, with its panoramic views to of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to the west. Each September, I also like to present an easily accessible run for the benefit of Middlebury College freshman who might be looking for nearby runs or hikes that can be reached quickly from campus. While this trailhead requires (for most people) a short drive, there are enough snazzy SUV’s on campus (and we aren’t talking 10-year old Dodge pickup trucks -go Lexus!) that opportunities for transportation are not hard to come by. I have blogged runs up this mountain a few times in the past. From the well known western route, I have described the run under both midsummer conditions, as well as during Mud Season. I have also described the lesser known trail ascending Snake Mountain from the east side. Nonetheless, there were still some trails on this well trammeled mountain which I have not described, or even explored, and so I thought it would be fun to make them part of a new entry.
Rather than describe in detail the driving route to the trailhead, I will refer my readers to a previous posting with detailed instructions on how to get there. Setting off from the parking lot, and shortly before heading up the mountain trail, I noticed that the old building across from the end of Wilmarth Road at the trailhead had been repainted a bright red, and with this new paint job, it looked a lot like an old one-room schoolhouse. I have never thought of this abandoned building in this regard, but now I wonder if it may be an old schoolhouse. Does anyone know of the original purpose of this building?
The first section of the run involves a straightforward run up the broad trail, which was dry on this run, but can be a pretty major quagmire in the spring. As this section of the trail ended, it reached a “T”in the trail. It is pretty obvious to that a left turn takes you up towards the summit, but I have always wondered where I would end up if I were to take the right fork? Maybe on the way down? Staying on the obvious trail, through a series of switchbacks gets you to the main summit after about 2 miles. Many visiters to this summit have been under the impression that the large concrete slab at the summit is left over from the former small summit hotel which operated around the turn of the 20th century. This slab is actually of more recent origin, although I don’t know the exact decade in which it was built. It apparently is the result of someone’s aborted attempt to build a home on the summit, and the real foundations of the hotel can be found not far from this viewpoint in the woods.
Most hikers and runners don’t come up here for the history, however. They come up here for the spectacular views. Even though the day of this run was pretty cloudy, the views were still excellent – I could easily make out the smoke from the Ticonderoga Paper Mill, about 15 miles away.
Unlike my previously blogged runs on this small summit, I decided to take a different route on the way down. So, on this run, I took the first obvious right turn on the descent, and in a few short minutes arrived at the other, less frequently visited vista. During some summers, this other viewpoint has been closed due to peregrine falcon nesting, but apparently there wasn’t a nesting pair there this last summer. This “South Summit” (OK – stretching the Everest analogy here a little bit too much?) also has another curious feature. Directly behind the rock where most hikers enjoy the view, there is what appears to be a small marshy pond. What most people don’t know is that this is actually a man-made pond which was created to provide swimming opportunities for the guests of the long gone summit hotel! It’s anthropogenic origins are more obvious if you notice the man-made earthen berm along the east side of the pond. I might also add that this pond, now rather shallow and mucky, shows no sign of whatever appeal it might once have had to summit visitors!
Continuing on, the descent from this summit takes you down a trail which is steeper and narrower than the ascending trail, and eventually returns you to the main trail. At this point, you can simply retrace your steps to complete a 4 mile run, but as alluded to earlier in the posting, I decided to explore the continuation of the summit trail which goes straight, where most hikers and runners turn right. Not having the slightest idea where I might turn up, I headed down this trail, which eventually brought me into a lovely meadow, and shortly thereafter, to the side of the road known as Mountain Street Extension, where I took a right turn, followed about a half mile later by another right turn which returned me to my car, adding an additional mile to the run. The five mile run, combined with nearly a thousand feet of ascent and descent makes for a fun, and pretty intense mountain run. But remember, like a lot of fun challenges, it is only hard the first time!
On this, the last weekend before the start of my school year, I was looking for a good long run to complete the summer running season. August had been a disappointing month for running, due to back spasms which slowed me for most of the nicest days of the summer, but after a month of recovery, I felt up to a longer run than I had done in a while. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to revisit a route which I last ran (and blogged) three years ago under very different conditions, and entitled it “Stick Season above the Snow Line” This loop involves considerable time on the Long Trail along the Worth Mountain ridge, and when I last checked it out I was running through a bit of snow, and racing to get back to my car before darkness. While snow at the higher altitudes may not be that far off, this was most definitely a late summer run – the leaves are still all there, and mostly green, at least to this somewhat colorblind runner. Cooler temperatures also made for pleasant conditions on a cloudy September afternoon.
This loop is also of a length, and on terrain which most people would call “a hike”. While I love a long hike in the mountains, one of the great pleasures of trailrunning is that it can get you out in the woods covering a lot of terrain when you don’t have time for the more leisurely pacing of a day hike. So, before this run, I mowed the lawn, played the piano for a bit, read a few papers, and enjoyed a leisurely late lunch before setting off, and still got back in plenty of time for dinner. Live life to the fullest!
Setting off from my favorite running trailhead, the Brooks Road Trailhead (also known as the Chatfield Trailhead), located off of a short dirt road a mile or so below the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, I started up the comfortable climb on the dirt road. While this road is open to car traffic, I rarely see any motor vehicles on it. The road climbs steeply for the first mile and a half, rising about 400-500 feet rather abruptly, but climbs more gently most of the rest of the way to its end, 3.7 miles up into the mountains. When you get to the end of the road, follow the well worn path over the obvious footbridge over Sucker Brook, until you reach the Long Trail Spur trail on your left. Take this trail, which also climbs pretty gradually with a lot of easy running terrain for another mile or so, until you reach the Sucker Brook Shelter, found in a saddle in the Green Mountains known as “Romance Gap”. I met a small group of hikers, one of whom was a Long Trail through-hiker, and after exchanging pleasantries for a few minutes, headed up the hillside, and joined the Long Trail itself in a few minutes, turned left, and headed north towards Middlebury Gap.
As expected, the running on the Long Trail was more technical than the rest of the run. As mountain ridge trails go, this was more runnable than most, with long sections of gradually climbing and descending dirt or mud path to run on. In the rockier sections, the running becomes more akin to skipping, with your feet doing all kinds of crazy things in order to maintain a decent speed! In sections where the climbing or descending got steeper, or potentially more slippery, I slowed to a fast hiking speed. This section of the Long Trail is not known for its sweeping vistas, although there were a few limited views through the trees in places. What I do love about this section are the more subtle sights one comes across when traipsing through the forest at around 3000 ft elevation. I have always been particularly fond of the shelf fungus growing out of the side of some of the older hardwoods, and one which I came across looked so sturdy that it was begging for something to display. So, I set up a small rock cairn on it, which will no doubt puzzle or amuse subsequent passersby if they have the presence of mind to look beyond their own boots or running shoes.
Not long after this, I reached the high point of the run, the summit of Worth Mountain (~3200 ft) and began the gradual undulating descent to the top of the Snow Bowl. I was amused to meet a hiker, who seemed so happy to get a signal on his cell phone that he couldn’t resist the temptation to check his facebook page. To each his own…. The wooden walkways signaled my approach to the Snow Bowl, and shortly thereafter, I broke out into the amazing view towards the east from the top of the Bailey Falls lift.
From here, I scrambled down the steeper upper sections of the Voter Trail at the Snow Bowl, named after Old Professor Perley Voter, one of my predecessors in the Chemistry Department at the college. He must have been great, as there is also a building named after him, Voter Hall! As I reached the bottom, I passed a fellow middle-aged trail runner on his way up the mountain, and after the mandatory exchange of complaints about our aging bodies, headed across the parking lot, and descended on Rt 125 to return to my car just as the drizzling rain started to get just a little bit heavier.
According to my GPS, this was a 10.5 mile run, with an 1800 foot ascent, probably closer to 2000 feet with the undulations along the way. Not a bad way to end the summer. Now, time to prepare for Monday classes……And bring on the Fall!