It’s been a while since I last posted to this blog – a very busy fall, and a nagging injury which kept me to shorter runs have diminished my ability to blog new runs. And of course, over the last few weeks, the woods have been full of hunters for deer rifle season. I have nothing against hunters – in fact, they are in most ways, the natural allies of trail runners and hikers, as they do a lot of lobbying to maintain public access to private lands. That said, I have had a few scary situations in the woods over hunting season, and as a result I am more than happy to let them have their few short weeks in the late autumn.
That said, as my leg injury recovered, I was eager to get out for a longer run. One of the great things about this time of the year in Vermont, is that there are no tourists around at all (and who can blame them – stick season is one of the low points of the year), and as a result, the roads serving summer tourism are pretty empty. So, country roads in pretty places, which might be busy during the summer, become good places to duplicate at least some of the pleasures of trail running. One of my favorite runs in the deep of winter, when many of the trails are difficult to access on foot, is the loop road around Lake Dunmore. This is a 10 mile loop on mostly paved road, but with the leaves long gone from the trees, it offers many more vistas of the lake itself than can be seen from the road during the summer.
I met up with a bunch of running friends on Sunday afternoon, meeting up at the Waterhouses Marina (with its ample parking) and we set off on a leisurely run around the lake during peak stick season. The marina, which always seems so busy during our far-too-short Vermont summers was empty, and most of the gear was stashed away for the soon to come snows.
We headed south, taking the left turn skirting the less developed southwest shore of the lake, before taking the next left turn onto Rogers Road, past the south shore of the much smaller Fern Lake, before turning back north along VT 53. As a rule, I avoid running on roads which are busy enough to warrant a double yellow line down the middle, but only a handful of cars passed us as our run continued. On our left a series of short access roads led to some of the summer homes that line the lake. Some of these names are descriptive, such as Isthmus Road, which crosses the narrow ridge between Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake. Some are generic, with names like “Indian Trail”. And then there are some, which are probably some sort of inside joke or Easter Egg, such as the private road shown in the picture above, which I snapped as my friends sped off into the distance.
As we got approached the Silver Lake Trail, we made the decision on the spot to add a few hilly miles to the run, with the 3 mile round trip to the shores of this higher altitude lake. While being respectful of hunters, I realized we hadn’t heard a shot all afternoon – not prime time for bagging a buck, so we decided to go for it. As we got higher and higher, we saw slowing increasing snow, but still nowhere nearly enough to impede our running. As expected, the lake level was low, due to the dry summer and the fall drawdown in preparation for spring thaws in a few months.
Descending back to Rt 53, we enjoyed the now brilliant sunshine, as the clouds from the start of the run had apparently melted away. I enjoyed a quiet moment, looking at some cottages reflecting in the still water from the Kampersville Beach, before completing my run with a left turn down the homestretch of the West Shore Road.
As I finished the run, I checked my old faithful Garmin GPS watch which registered at just over 13 miles for this Sunday afternoon jaunt. I usually post the GPS trace on Google Earth when I do these posts, but this time, as I got home to sync up my watch, it no longer turned on, and I realized that its 9 year life-span had come to an end. So – no more GPS traces until I get its replacement. Good thing it is the Christmas season!
Here it was, the last Sunday of my summer vacation, on a spectacular, cool, clear Sunday afternoon. I knew I had some class prep to get ready, but I also knew that if I didn’t get out for at least a short run, I would be kicking myself. So, I headed for one of my favorite trailheads, the Falls of Lana trail just south of Branbury State Park, and decided to try and run up to the prominent cliffs behind the state park, known as “Rattlesnake Point” or “Rattlesnake Cliffs“.
The name of this prominent landmark undoubtedly brings up rather scary connotations for some hikers – I mean who wants to climb a cliff named after a poisonous snake? Curious as to the presence or absence of these reputedly dangerous vipers, I contacted Jim Andrews of Salisbury, and herpetologist extraordinaire, and asked him “Are there really rattlesnakes up there?” His response was, as follows:
“…that is a definite historic site with solid documentation of collection of rattlesnakes for snake oil by local families. However, we have no proof that rattlesnakes continue to exist in that area. It has been many decades since anyone has provided solid evidence of rattlesnakes there. That said, there have been a few reports over the last few decades from people who believe they have seen rattlesnakes in that area, but none of them took photos, or even described the snake well enough to confirm the sighting.”
There you go – I think it is safe to say that you can hike or run on the Rattlesnake Cliffs without your snakebite kit!
Comforted by this information, I headed up the hill on the Silver Lake Trail, as I have done countless times on my runs up to equally well-visited Silver Lake, but at the switchback to the right after about a half mile, instead of following the main trail, keep going straight, taking the bridge across Sucker Brook, following the Rattlesnake Trail. This trail climbs pretty steadily, but fortunately, never particularly steeply. A lot of mountain trails, particularly on the Long Trail, or in the Adirondacks get either too rocky or too steep for running, but this trail was runable, at least to me, for about 90% of it’s length.
After climbing about 2 miles, a left turn to the actual cliffs comes up, and is easily recognizable by a warning sign, warning hikers and runners to stay away from the cliffs from April until the end of July while the peregrine falcons nest. But, since it is September, the coast is clear, and I finished my ascent heading straight on the trail to the west facing cliffs overlooking Lake Dunmore.
I hung out at this overlook for a few minutes, chatting with a couple from North Carolina, before following a weak herd path to the viewpoint facing south towards Silver Lake and the southern end of Lake Dunmore – another stunning late summer view. In the picture below, Silver Lake is the small body of water in the left center of the photo, while Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake are on the right. On the way back towards the Rattlesnake Trail, I met up with the North Carolina folks – apparently they had tried to follow me on the unmarked path I had followed, and had gotten a little bit lost before backtracking and reaching this place on more established trails!
The descent was fast and fun – since the trail makes a broad switchback on the south side of the mountain, it rarely gets too steep to run on the descent. Returning to my car, I saw that this was “only” a little over 4.5 miles, but with a 1200 ft vertical climb, and a great way to end the summer.
On the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend, seeing the weather report which called for perfect weather on Monday, I was trying to decide to do on Labor Day. Should I go hiking, or should I go for a run? Then I realized that a run in the Adirondacks would sate both wishes, and late Sunday night posted a message to the local runners’ Facebook group, seeing if anyone else was interested, and found out that my running friend Dean was also interested. Our goal? It was Labor Day, so I decided it was time to go big or go home – we decided to go for a run up Mt. Marcy, the tallest peak in NY, a 14-mile round trip with 3200+ feet of vertical climbing to its 5344′ summit on rugged Adirondack trails.
We left Vermont early in the morning, arriving at the Adirondack Loj (no, I did not misspell it) trailheads, just outside of Lake Placid (site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics) at around 8 am after about a 1:45 drive from Middlebury. We wanted an early start, fearful that the parking lot might fill early on a perfect Labor Day, but were pleasantly surprised to see that the lot had plenty of parking spaces.
I am not going to describe the details of “which trail and turn to take” – after all Mt Marcy is one of the most heavily hiked peaks in the northeast, and the trail is so well marked that only an idiot could take the wrong trail. Oh wait – the first time I attempted Marcy 30 years ago, I took a wrong trail and ended up on the summit of Algonquin. In any case…..the first 2 miles or so were pretty easy, barely climbing on trail which was really amenable to to running, before bringing us to the site formerly known as the Marcy Dam. I used the word “formerly” because there was a log dam there, which created a very scenic lake mirroring the local mountains, but it was badly damaged by Hurricane Irene. While it is still a lovely location, the lake is now more of a muddy fen.
It seems that most Adirondack runs have three phases – the approach, which is usually the best for pure running, then the transition, which is partially runnable, followed by fast hiking as the steeper rockier sections near the summit are covered. This run was no exception – not long after passing “Marcy Notdam” the trail started to get a little bit rougher as it got steeper and rockier. The running at this point, becomes more like a mix of parcour-like hopping, skipping and shuffling, which isn’t nearly as graceful-looking as it sounds, especially when practiced by two guys in the their 50’s. One of the more scenic spots in the “skipping section” was a clearing where a small stream goes over a cliff, called Indian Falls, which gives great views of Mt. Algongquin, the second highest peak of the ‘Dacks.
The last section of the run was the steeper terrain, approaching the bald, above timber line summit. It was pretty much impossible to run terrain of this sort, although there was one short section, high on the mountain, near the summit.graced by nice raised platforms. Excited by the possibility for a few decent yards of running, I made my best parcour leap onto the platform, snagged my toe and did a complete faceplant. After a few stunned moments, realizing that my suddenly aching jaw was NOT broken, I got up and made it to the summit. I have been to the summit of Marcy a few times, and this was the first time I haven’t found the need to put on some sort of jacket – once again, perfect weather, with seemingly infinite views in all directions.
After enjoying the summit for a few minutes and chatting with the few hikers who were actually at the summit this early in the morning, we turned and ran back for a tiring but uneventful return. I have found that on the most challenging terrain the descending time is comparable to the climbing time, and this was no exception – about 2 and 1/2 hours each way, or about half the time that most hikers take.
I have included the google earth projection of the run, as always. The route heads south from the Adirondack Loj, but I re-oriented the map to make it look cooler.
Over the years, many of my blog postings have described runs on, or including sections of the Trail Around Middlebury, aka, “The TAM”. And why not? The TAM is the most frequently traveled trail in Middlebury, and the blog is, after all, “The Middlebury Trailrunner”. If the TAM is the gold necklace around our town, Chipman Hill is its diamond pendant. This gem, right at the edge of town, offers a roughly 500 ft vertical climb – making it a convenient place for local endurance athletes to train.
When I first moved to Middlebury, in the mid-1980’s, Chipman Hill was only minimally developed as an outdoor resource. The old paved road over its twin summits, which was closed to vehicular traffic 30 years ago, a trail along its base on the east side, and a smattering of rarely used mountain bike trails constituted the “development” of this refuge. Over the years, many more, well constructed trails have appeared, many of them laid out by mountain bikers. The rise of the the Middlebury Land Trust has led to some further trail improvements, and somewhat heavier use than in the past. But that said, on a pleasant late August evening, I passed about 8-10 other people, enjoying the hill as runners, walkers, or mountain bikers, and there is plenty of solitude up there still.
Some Chipman Hill newcomers might find the maze of trails, some maintained, and some not, confusing and daunting. The old road over the top is easy enough, starting from High Street (the street running behind the Swift House Inn), and ending on Spring Street (the highest driveable point on the south side of Chipman Hill). The trails, on the other hand can be somewhat confusing in places, some of them even confusing me, even after three decades of exploration. There is no need to worry about getting lost however. My usual rule of thumb when I get disoriented, is to simply hike to the top of whatever mountain I am on, and get my bearings back – most mistakes in route finding happen on descents (as some of my hiking and running partners will attest). Fortunately with Chipman Hill, if you don’t know where you are, you can always run away from the hill, and surprise – you will be somewhere in Middlebury when you hit a road.
On most of my posts, I give a somewhat detailed trail description, but other than the simple run on the road over the top, which I actually did describe once a few years ago, the whole point of running on Chipman Hill is to try new trails, and see where they take you, and what points of curiosity you might see along the way. So, I am going to set up this route, by simply telling you where I started (In the Marble Works, and getting onto Chipman Hill from the end of High Street) and how I got back (the same way), publish the contorted and complicated route map on Google Earth (more for the sake of humor than actual direction) and show a few pictures from along the way.
Some of these pictures are of locations on the hill which are well known, and others, on more obscure trails, are a little harder to find. I am putting them up in the order in which I took them, making a bit of an easter egg hunt for friends who might want to explore the hill a little bit more than they may have in the past. I apologize for the general darkness of the pictures – a 6 pm run in late August can get that way, even on a clear day!
The first well known landmark I came to, was the old ski jump hill. It is easy to see, as the runout is still mowed a few times each summer. Chipman Hill was used as the site of the Middlebury College Winter Carnival races during World War II, and a small ski facility was built on Chipman Hill to accommodate the racers and jumpers. I suspect that the road over the top may have once been a ski race trail, but I have no proof of this.
A little later, I came to this curious sign, generated by the “Leave no Trace” organization, on a relatively obscure side trail. What was curious about it? Well this was the only sign of its type I saw, and it seems odd that the only “trace” on this part of the hill, was the actual sign.
On the western side of the hill, there is a park bench with views of the Adirondacks, carved out of a small clearing. Curiously, starting right behind this seat is a concrete pylon, and 8 more of these pylons extend up the side of the hill, in a straight line, more or less evenly spaced. I have always been curious of these pylons – at first I suspected that they might have been used as part of some sort of ski lift in ages past, but why would they need so many of them, for what could not have been more than a pulley for a rope tow? And besides, descriptions of the ski trails used during the war never make mention of any lifts, although one friend claims to have seen a photo or sketch of Chipman Hill with a rope tow in it, although I have never seen this. If anyone knows what these pylons are for, I would be intrigued to hear.
This is another easy find, as it can be seen from almost anywhere in town – the tall communications tower, on top of the highest point in town. I was also curious, on this run, to see if I could find any sign of the old, much shorter tower just to the east of the summit, but all the hardware associated with the older installation has apparently been removed.
There is a rather substantial abandoned gravel pit on the lower, eastern slopes of the hill. This was much more pronounced in the 80’s, but has become somewhat overgrown in the last 30 years. Then, as now, it appears to be used for campfires (and presumably illicit outdoor underage parties), much like it was 30 years ago, as evidenced by at least 3 different fire pits. The gravel pit can be easily made out in the Google Earth projection of Chipman Hill at the end of this posting.
Here was an unpleasant surprise near the gravel pit – For the first time in my life, I noticed a long abandoned refrigerator, which was surprising in light of the fact that most of the hill is completely litter free, and it must have been there for a long time, as it has been decades since the gravel pit had routine vehicular traffic needed to dump off an abandoned appliance.
This tree just looked cool, and was on a lesser used trail, so I guess this will be one of the more challenging Easter Eggs!
This fire hydrant, which I had never noticed before caught my attention, as it was on a closed, seemingly abandoned stretch of road. Who knows, maybe there were once plans to build homes on this part of the mountain? It also looks like it has unexpectedly grown since it was planted, as the hydrant itself was well above the ground line. I also noticed a bunch of bunny rabbits with their little white tails running around nearby – appropriate for a blog on Easter Egg hunting. They did not pose for pictures however.
This muddy, algae-infested pond is what I have heard referred to as the old village reservoir. I don’t know the full history, but I for one am glad that we aren’t currently drinking from it.
Just uphill from the old reservoir is – surprise – the new reservoir! I am comforted by the fact that it is actually enclosed.
Coming up from the Springside Rd. access point, this well-designed map was posted – I am glad that I saw it at this point, after running for roughly and hour – who knows, I might have been lost all along and not known it? A copy of this map, which has the road, and most, but not all of the heavily used trails marked out, can be found online at the excellent MALT website.
Finally, shortly after coming off the trails, and onto High St to conclude my run, I noticed this small cairn in a yard by the road – I have always rather enjoyed these little rock piles for some reason, and once again, in keeping with the Easter Egg theme, one can imagine a stack of chocolate eggs and jelly beans forming them?
Concluding the run, I returned to my car in the Marble Works, finishing a slightly more than 6 mile run, where I basically didn’t do anything other than run around in circles. Although the altitude gain between the Marble Works and the summit is “only” about 500 ft, with all the ups and downs, I estimate I climbed and descended close to 1200 ft in the course of this run, making for a rather substantial hill climb run, without having to leave the village. If you are a newcomer to running on the local trails, and want something a little more challenging, give this hill a try. If you are an experienced runner, see if you can explore the trails more thoroughly, to see if you can find any of the sights mentioned here that you are not familiar with. There are quite a few more trails, that I never even got to on this run, so perhaps in a year or two, I will include those to find some new Easter Eggs to share.
OK – the first thing you have to be wondering is “What the heck is Pie and Beer Day?” Having lived many years ago in Salt Lake City, Utah, I always found the celebration of “Pioneer Day” on July 24 a rather curious holiday which pushes the notion of separation of church and state almost as hard as Christmas. It is a state holiday in Utah, celebrating the arrival of Brigham Young and the rest of the Mormons into the Salt Lake Valley on that day in 1847, and as a result made for a curious day off for those of us who lived there and did not follow that faith. Apparently, a few years ago, a tradition arose among the heathens (also curiously known as “gentiles”) of Salt Lake, celebrating the parallel holiday of “Pie and Beer Day” , which is generally interpreted to involve drinking beer (3.2 beer of course, as it is Utah) and eating pizza, instead of sitting in the hot sun watching a parade and eating lots of green jello salads. It sounds like a good counter-culture holiday to me!
That said, the official reason for my arrival in Salt Lake was to run the Deseret News Classic Marathon, a road marathon through the mountains following the course of Brigham Young’s arrival into Salt Lake. So, while this was a road race for most of its length, it was on lightly-traveled roads in some very scenic mountains, and as such, it was a road race attractive to a Vermont runner accustomed to mountain trails. This Pioneer Day race is usually held on July 24, but since that fell on a Sunday this year, the holiday celebration was postponed to Monday, July 25 so as not to conflict with traditional Sunday activities.
Since I probably wasn’t going to be taking many pictures during the course of the actual race, I scouted out the course on the day before in order to get a few shots for this blog, as well as to visit some roads I had not seen since the mid-1980’s when I used to bicycle up and down these passes after work. The start of the race is at Big Mountain Pass, the point where the Mormon Pioneers got their first glimpse of the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Of course, the view is equally intimidating to a runner, who can see how far away he or she has to go!
While standing at the summit of the pass, I spied a historic marker I had never seen before. As it turns out, the Mormons were not the first to use this pass. That “honor” fell on the ill-fated 1846 Donner Party, attempting to follow the poorly described “Hastings Cutoff” on their way to California. The Donner Party took two weeks to cover the terrain from the top of Big Mountain Pass to the Salt Lake valley, constructing a makeshift road as they went, and this delay added to their delay in reaching the Sierras in time to beat the winter snows, and the rest, as they say, is history.
On the actual morning of the race, the view was quite different from the above picture, for obvious reasons when one considers the big challenges to the marathon – heat, height, and humidity (as in lack of). While the race started high in the cool mountains at around 7400′, it finished in the searing mid-summer valley heat. In fact, on the day of the race, the weather report called for 102 degree afternoon temperatures – clearly unfit for running. So, the race started at 5:30 am, ensuring that the temperature at the finish line would “only” be in the 80’s for all but the slowest runners. The view was considerably different when we arrived at the start line at 4:30 am – dark, except for a well-lit area for the runners, and the glow of the city in the distance. And like almost every race I have ever attended, there were not enough portapotties at the start. So, it was dark, and being ever-chivalrous, allowing the female competitors to have first dibs at the limited resources, I headed for the dark woods to relieve my pre-race hydration issues. As I was quietly doing my business in the shelter of a few aspens, I suddenly found myself in a spotlight, and heard over a bullhorn “Please use the porta-potties”. Ok – I got busted by the Salt Lake City water authority police, who were so concerned about the urination of a mere 300 hundred runners shivering atop a mountain pass 26.2 miles out of town, that they actually sent an officer on urine patrol! I laughed it off….and shouted back “Busted – too late” and stepped back into the crowds, hearing laughter and mild applause from the few runners who caught my little drama. But, I didn’t hear another bullhorn, so either the crowd was cowed enough to follow the rules, or perhaps the watershed authorities decided they had better things to do than to monitor the bladders of well-hydrated runners.
By the time that the starting gun went off, it was barely bright enough to see, but I saw no sign that any of the 300+ runners fell off any cliffs on the tight, steep switchbacks at the top of the pass. I have done long races with long descents before, but this one was particularly hard on the legs, dropping 1500 ft in the first 4 miles, with no opportunity to warm up. I knew I would be paying for this later in the race no matter how fast I ran it, and I was correct. Within a few minutes, the glow of the sun illuminated the road, and the next challenge of the day presented itself, the only climb on the course, a short ascent to the top of Emigration Canyon, which then led directly into the city. This climb was only 350 ft, between miles 6 and 8, but the altitude was high enough to get me a little more winded than I usually would be on a modest climb like this. However, reaching the top of this second pass, I knew it would be all downhill from there until the last few miles on the valley floor a few hours later. The next 8 miles descending Emigration Canyon went very quickly, as well they should – the middle third of any marathon is usually the fastest part, and the long gradual descent made the miles go by even faster. I could start feeling my legs tightening at around mile 10, however, paying the price for the early steep descent, and I knew that this would be an issue as I approached the finish line.
At about mile 16, the race entered the benches on the hillsides of Salt Lake City proper, and the sun started to arise above the mountainsides. I also started looking at my watch more seriously, as the race organizers had mentioned that all runners who reached mile 24 at 9 am would be allowed to run along the downtown Pioneer Day parade route, and those who arrived later would be routed down an alternative route. Pushing as hard as I could as my legs got tighter and tighter, I passed the cutoff point with 4 minutes to spare, and had the pleasure of running past tens of thousands of folks out there for the holiday festivities, before finishing in Liberty Park – a location only a few blocks away from where I lived when I worked at the U. of Utah! My legs definitely felt the agony of the long descent in these last two miles however, as I was forced to walk much of it.
All in all, this was a fun mountain race. While the marathon was modest in scope, I was impressed by the fact that the organizers managed to pull off a marathon, half marathon, 10K and 5K race simultaneously, making this a much bigger event than just a mere marathon, with thousands of runners participating more or less concurrently. And as I limped back to my hotel room, after a shower and nap, I feasted on pie and beer!
The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe has long been among my favorite places to cross country ski – with lots of challenging climbs and breathtaking descents. It is also in a stunningly beautiful location – one can understand why Maria and the captain chose it as their home when they escaped to the US. I had often thought that it would be a great place for trail running as well, so when I learned of the Catamount Ultra a race with a 50 Km and 25 Km option, I immediately registered for the challenging, but hopefully not injurious shorter distance event. So, on a sunny Saturday that promised to get blisteringly hot before the day was though, I arrived at the starting line for what promised to be a fun event.
The starting line was set up right by the touring center building, and after getting my bib and race swag, I had some time to look around, and I was amazed at how the Trapp Lodge complex had grown over the years to become a rather extensive resort on the side of the mountains. It even has its own Von Trapp microbrewery now, which I knew I would be looking forward to at the end of the race. I was also amused by the oversized inflatable mammoth (perhaps a shark would have been better, since the race did indeed occur during the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week”), clearly related to one of the race sponsors, and briefly considered means of tying it to the roof of my VW Beetle to take it home, but then came to my senses and left it for others to enjoy.
The participants in the longer, 50 Km race had apparently started their two lap trek at 7:00, and start time for those of us who had chosen to only take one time around the daunting looking course lined up at around 8:30 for our start. Looking around at those lining up, I thought to myself that this bunch did not look at all like the “B-team” – they were as ectomorphic a bunch of distance runners as one would expect at a race like this, which promised 2500 vertical feet of climb and descent over the 25 Km distance. In the moments before the race started, the opening guitar riff of “Sweet Child of Mine” started blasting over the PA system, which seemed a good omen, as it has always been one of my favorite “get psyched” songs.
When the gun went off I stayed comfortably in the middle of the pack, as the group of runners, 150+ strong headed up the backside of the first hill “Telemark”. It was interesting comparing running styles with other competitors. I have always been gravity prone, climbing at a steady but slowish pace, but able to cut loose on downhills. I had fun chatting with another runner who joked that she was just the opposite – and as a result she passed me on every climb, as I roared off into the distance on the descents, only to be caught again on the next short climb. After coming down off of Telemark, there was a short flat section before the major climb of the race. The next few miles, with most of the climb coming on the Lower Parizo Trail and Chris’s Run (for those who know the ski area) followed by a short mild climb up to the high point of the race, the cabin. While the cabin has wintery snacks and hot chocolate during ski season, the water station, after the early challenging climb was just what the doctor ordered. Most, albeit, not all of the next six miles were descending, and this is where I made up most of my time – I found myself passing a fair number of competitors, some of whom caught me later and some didn’t.
By this point, the heat of the day was starting to kick in – while most of the run was in the thick forest, the second half, at lower altitude, had several large open meadows which had great views, but were starting to get pretty hot. I also found myself walking more and more of the climbs, the closer I got to the finish line. Many of these uphill sections were of the pitch that would not phase me had I been running at a normal workout pace, but in the later stages of an actual race, I had to get through them at a slower pace. Alas, I saw several men with grey hair pass me by at this point, which ended up costing me a few places in my age group place at the finish line. Finally, I came to a flat section which I recognized as the home stretch, and I picked it up a little until I ran under the banner signifying the finish, meeting up with a few friends who had finished before me, and waited, cheering on those who finished after me.
I don’t make a habit of talking about how well I actually did in races – I mostly want readers to learn about the pleasures of running trails in new places. But as I approached the finish line, knowing that while my race was less than perfect, it felt darn good to be out there and running well, I realized that I needed to think about the competitive component of these races with my own set of arbitrary age groups. So, I have decided from this point on, I will compare myself against the “Jeff age group” which only consists of runners my age, or older. Measured against this group, I did quite well, thank you!
Most races of this sort, have a post-race feed, and the Catamount Ultra was no exception. Besides finish line snack, the sponsoring microbrewery had a freebie for everyone (YES!), but the main course was pizza, which I am sure was delicious, but I passed on, as it wasn’t what I wanted at the moment. As I sat down in my car to drive home – I knew exactly what I wanted: Since my trip home passed through Waterbury, I knew that I would pass by Ben and Jerry’s old headquarters, so I stopped by there and treated myself to a generous (and frankly, pricey) cone of my favorite flavor, Cherry Garcia, and that energized me for the ride home!
All in all, this was a seamlessly run, fun race. The trails at Trapps are generally broad and fast, with good footing, and the scenery is spectacular. I would run it again in a minute…..or at least a lot of minutes.
One of the more popular “mini-hikes” in the area is the short jaunt from the top of Middlebury Gap (Rt. 125) to the viewpoint known as Silent Cliffs, which provides a great view of the College Snow Bowl, and on clear days, broader vistas to the south and east. Since I know from past experience that a lot of the hits on this blog are by people looking for hiking trails, if you want to see the short “normal way” to get to this nice little vista, I will describe it in a short paragraph at the end of this posting. Needless to say, I didn’t go that way on this run.
It was a gloomy looking Saturday morning and I was looking for my first truly “mountainy” run of the season. I had recently heard from a friend that the Burnt Hill Trail, which I had not hiked in over 20 years, made for a good means of ascending to the Long Trail, with a pitch and footing generally amenable to trail running. While the usual trailhead for this is a small turnout off of FS 59, the road which passes through the Breadloaf campus, I decided to park at the campus itself to add a little more mileage to my run. This also ensured that if I made a “loop run” out of this route, I would not have the climb back up to my car at the finish line.
Despite a few passing showers earlier in the morning, I drove up to Breadloaf and parked in the nearly-empty parking lot to being my run. I was surprised by how deserted the place was, as I knew the mountain campus had been used in the past for housing alums returning for reunions, but I guess they are now all crammed into dorm, just like in the good old days! I was amused, however, by the remnants of a fire ring set up in the parking lot. I can only guess that the lawyers must have warned the college about the dangers of mixing intoxicated 50-somethings and fire, as the fire pit was ringed by barriers to keep these happy kids from getting hurt!
I started my actual run on some of the trails in the “Battell Loop” section of the Rikert Ski Touring Area, the section of woods just east across the field, and wound my way up the Freeman Trail until I reached FS 59 by Gilmore House, where I crossed over and followed the Gilmore Trail until I got to FS 59 again, this time higher up and by the area where most people park for the Burnt Hill Trail. There is a detailed map of the Rikert Trails on one of the links to the right of this blog ( ——> thataway for the directionaly challenged) for those who don’t know the trails. Reaching the road, and short few yards to the right brought me to the beginnings of the combined Burnt Hill Trail and Norske Trail, which run together in their current incarnation (they were once totally separate trails) for the next .7 miles. Once the trails diverge, the Burnt Hill Trail brings hikers all the way to the top of the Green Mt Ridge, while the Norske Trail, which is designed for skiing (and was featured in this blog a few years ago) brings one up to the tight corner on Rt 125 just past the Snow Bowl. The climbing here is pretty gentle, and the trail is well-traveled making for a pretty easy ascent at this point. A little deeper into the forest, I came to a sign post announcing the boundary line between mere national forest, and the Breadloaf Wilderness. I stood on one side of the line, then the other, and didn’t notice a difference! I guess it is kind of comforting that I live in an area where, even with a well-trained eye, I couldn’t tell the difference between mere forest, and official wilderness. I also saw the trail log in, and dutifully inscribed my name and destination, using my blogging pseudonym of course. This was your standard trail use kiosk, lacking the “you’ve got mail” vibe of the sign-in I saw a few weeks ago on another run.
The trail at this point mostly wound its way through mixed forest, and the canopy kept me relatively dry despite the steady drizzle which had developed. Finally, after about a mile and a half on the Burnt Hill Trail (or 2.5 miles from the start of the run) the trail got a little too steep and rocky for consistent uphill running, so the next half mile or so was mostly just fast hiking. At about the 3 mile mark, I noticed that the sky was in front of me, instead of just overhead, signifying that I was near the top of the ridge, and sure enough, in a few moments I was at the Long Trail. A lot of the Long Trail is very rocky and rooty, as befitting a heavily used ridge line trail, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this section, going right (south) all the rest of the way to the top of 125 was actually very nice for running, at least by challenging Long Trail standards.
There were a few noteworthy sights along this heavily wooded stretch of ridgeline hovering at around the 3000 ft elevation line. One of these sights was an omission – it has been so long that I have been on this section that I was unaware of the removal of the Boyce Mt Shelter, but when I came to a small clearing and did a little googling, I realized this was the case.
I also discovered another, more puzzling mystery. I came across another patch along the ridge where there was an opening in the generally dense leaf canopy, and I saw the surprise – there was a small grove of apple trees! It was not surprising that apple trees could grow up there, as they are an exceptionally hardy tree in northern climates, but apple trees almost always serve as an excellent marker of past human habitation, as they don’t really exist in the wild, only where deliberately planted. Now the mystery is, who planted them up there? I can’t believe that someone actually lived and farmed at this altitude, and in fact have seen maps of olde Ripton, and can’t remember seeing any mention of a homestead on the ridge. But somebody took the time to clear land, and plant a few of these trees, now ancient, but why?
Passing this by, I skipped and hopped along the trail for a few miles until I came to a T in the road, and realized I had finally come to the trail spur to the primary destination for this run. A right turn would take me to the top of Rt 125 in about a third of a mile, while a left turn would bring me to the Silent Cliffs, so I took the left, and after winding through the forest for about a third of a mile, came to the outcropping with its views. One of the first things I noticed was that the Silent Cliffs was by far the noisiest place I had been on the run. The traffic below on Rt 125, compounded by the loose rock from the construction made it very obvious that civilization was not far away. The view, dominated by Worth Mt. and the Snow Bowl was as nice as I remembered, however, although a little limited by the clouds and increasingly heavy rain.
I returned to the “T” in the trail, this time going straight, and in a few short minutes I reached the top of Middlebury Gap. At this point, I could have elected to simply take the road back to my car at Breadloaf, but electing to maximize my time on the trails, I crossed over the short stretch of the Long Trail, continuing south until I reached the top of the Sheehan Chair, and ran down the service road on the Voter trail to the Snow Bowl parking lot, and rejoined Rt 125 for about a mile. Finally, I hopped into the woods on the Rikert Trails when I came to the Catamount Trail marker on the right, and came out into the Rikert field, finishing off a 9 mile run at my car, as the rain continued to soak me as I ran in the open.
While the distance in this run wasn’t that long, the nature of the running was a lot more challenging than most of my runs. The total climb from Breadloaf to the top of the ridge was 1600 ft, and the trails are considerably rougher than the much tamer TAM around town. This run took me over 2 hours, so my per mile pace was much slower than it is on the trails nearer to town. It is very hard for even seasoned trail runners to average much faster than 15 min/mile on this sort of mountainous terrain, even with some easier road sections averaged in.
INSTRUCTIONS TO GET TO SILENT CLIFFS THE NORMAL WAY: Drive to the top of the Middlebury Gap. Park your car or bicycle, and head north on the Long Trail. This is the trail on the opposite side of the road from the parking lot. After about 1/3 of a mile of steady ascent (a few hundred feet altitude gain), you will get to the fork on the trail. Take the right (actually straight ahead) trail. This is very well marked by trail signs at this point. After about another 1/3 of a mile of gently descending and climbing trail taking you to the cliff overlook. Sit down, enjoy, and return as needed!
The usual chaotic end to the academic year has limited my local trail running, but a short work-related trip to Chicago gave me the opportunity to explore a city that I have never been to before. Well, I guess I was there once – in my teens my family did our version of the Chevy Chase road trip, and piled into our trusty Wagon Queen Family Truckster and road tripped from coast to coast and back in 3 weeks. We didn’t have the funds to spend the night in Chicago, so we drove through, got out of the car for 5 minutes along Lake Michigan, and continued on to visit a cheese factory in Wisconsin. I am not making this up. And I digress.
One of the best ways to see a new city, and get the lay of the land, is to go for a run. So, on my first morning I stepped out of my high-rise hotel, just a few blocks from Lake Michigan and a little north of the Chicago River, and attempted to sync up my Garmin GPS watch. After a good 10 min of waiting for it to grab the satellite signals, I realized that the towering skyscrapers in this part of the city were having the same effect as walking under a canopy of maple trees – the signal filtering between the tall buildings was apparently too weak for the watch to sync. So, I ran a few blocks east to Michigan Avenue – Chicago’s version of 5th Avenue, and south to the broad bridge over the Chicago River where there was finally enough open sky to sync up my watch. This vantage also offered great views up “The Magnificent Mile“, the heart of downtown Chicago’s shopping, which to me appeared to be a lot of luxury mall stores in really pretty older high-rise buildings.
After crossing the bridge, I took the walkway down to the waterfront for a great view up at the famous Wrigley building, the iconic Chicago landmark, and a great view of some of the other classic buildings of Chicago’s skyline.
Adjacent to the Wrigley Building, and conveniently out of the above picture was a modern steel and glass monstrosity built by “he who must no be named”, the verbally flatulent presidential candidate known for emblazoning his architecture with the 5-letter serif font “TRUMP Stamp“.
After pausing to take this picture, I went a short distance alongside the riverfront, which was quiet now, but would be bustling with late morning tourists upon my return an hour later. In a few minutes however, I was alongside Lake Michigan on a crystalline blue sky morning, and enjoyed the bulk of my run on the the recreational path which runs along the lake for a few miles. Heading south, I enjoyed the lake on a windless morning, running by a mix of luxury yacht clubs and public parks until I reached the peninsula leading out to the domed planetarium. Turning around here, I caught a view of full skyline, including a nice angle on the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower.
I made my turnaround point a small park in front of the home of “Da Bears” Soldier Field, and its partner building, the famous natural history museum “The Field Museum”. And yes, the museum was built before the stadium. From here, I returned to my hotel room, for a 7.5 mile run which was as flat as you might expect a run in Chicago might be, except for the stairs down and up from the river to Michigan Avenue. It was a fun run, but I am looking forward to get back to the trails, and describing them here.
In this blog, I have often sung the praises of the trail runs accessible from the Brooks Road trailhead, reached after a few hundred yards on the forest service road on the right between the Rikert ski touring area and the Snow Bowl. The easiest run from here, terrain-wise is a roughly 9 mile run which I have described in the past, albeit six years ago. A good chunk of this run actually takes place on Brooks Road itself, a forest service road which is open to cars during the summer months, although rarely driven, and is used by snowmobilers and cross-country skiers in the winter. In late March? Since it has no snow anymore, and probably never had much this winter, it is closed to snowmobiles, but has not yet been opened to other motor vehicles, making it even better for running.
The run starts off with the most challenging climbing of the route in the first mile and a half on the dirt surface, until it levels off for another mile, reaching the point where the snowmobile trail up from the Sugar Hill Reservoir joins from the right. Those looking for a shorter run or hike can just take a right turn here, for a 6 mile out and back! On this run, however, I will be returning by this side trail.
Another mile on the dirt road, and another climb, not as long and steep as the climb at the start of the road, brought me to the high point of the run, with the total vertical climb a modest 700 ft. One of the big hurdles for road runners transitioning to the trails, especially competitively in Vermont, is the challenge of getting used to long, sometimes relentless climbs. I have found that this section of dirt road makes for a good place to time trial to measure one’s progress in the hills. Since it is on a dirt road, the footing is consistent, eliminating the variable of trail condition, so I will run this quite a few times each season, making a mental note of my time on the ascent, watching how my times get faster as the season progresses.
After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the upper reaches of the Sucker Brook, I headed on the trail into the woods, taking a right turn onto a ski and mountain bike trail which is part of the Blueberry Hill network. This particular trail used to be a regularly groomed part of the Inn’s system, but has not been groomed in the last few years due to the destruction of several small, but critical bridges along the trail by Hurricane Irene. The Moosalamoo Association, a non-profit, is currently raising funds for their repair, but fortunately the bridge washouts do not affect the use of these trails for running once the snow is gone.
Staying on this trail for a little over a mile, and veering gradually to the right, this route took me to the dirt road access connecting the Goshen-Ripton road to the reservoir, and I took the right turn towards the reservoir. This road provides easy access for boaters and fishermen who need the convenience of driving to haul their gear to the lakeside. I have enjoyed noticing quirky rock cairns, built and left alongside trails and streams, and commented on them in past blog entries. On this run, I noticed a few rounded rocks, far too large to have been placed there by humans, neatly stacked alongside the road. Perhaps the glaciers didn’t want us to get lost?
A few minutes on the dirt road finally took me to the shores of the Sugar Hill Reservoir. This body of water was created exactly 100 years ago as the highest altitude component of the Silver Lake hydroelectric project, which culminates far below on the shores of Lake Dunmore. While this scenic lake is open to recreational use, it’s primary function is to store water for the hydroelectric project downstream, as well as flood control, and as a result its depth fluctuates tremendously, season to season and year to year. This spring, with our weak snowfall, the water level is particularly low, although it was interesting to see that it was still almost entirely frozen over still despite our warm late winter.
I also noticed a fair number of “improvements” since my last description of a run here. There used to be a quirky looking gate across the section of trail heading over the reservoir dam, clearly built to as not to behead errant mountain bikers, but this has been replaced by a more decorative forest service gate, and to my surprise, a mailbox. You’ve got mail? Out of curiosity, I opened the mailbox and saw that it held a logbook to be filled out by those passing through, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to sign it with my blog moniker. A little later down the trail, I realized that I should have added some sort of comment along the lines of “Happy Easter Egg Hunting”, since it was the day before Easter.
The next short section involved crossing the reservoir dam, and locating the trail on the far side, offering a snowmobile connection between the water and Brooks Road, and this involves a short climb of a little over a half mile, with one final view of the reservoir through the trees, which will soon be obscured as the season leafs out.
Returning to the Brooks Road in this way, I took the left turn for the easy descent back to my car, and the conclusion of this scenic, and despite the mileage, not terribly challenging run.
Sunday was a cool, sunny day, and instead of heading out for my usual longer weekend run, I decided to exercise my curiosity more than my legs. I have long wondered what I would find on some of the dirt roads and trails veering off of Quarry Rd. as the road heads east of the well used TAM trails which pass through Means and Battell Woods. Two trails in particular had caught my attention, having driven by them countless times over the last 30 years, so I parked my car at the TAM trailhead on Quarry Rd, put my ear buds in, setting up my “JBR” (Jeff B Running) running mix, and headed east to explore them.
After a short jog alongside the road I came to the first of my points of curiosity, a snowmobile trail heading north (left) a few hundred yards from where I had parked my car. I have long been a big fan of running snowmobile trails; Even though I don’t participate in that pastime, the snowmobile enthusiasts share a common love of the outdoors, and do a great job maintaining their network of trails. So, I turned onto the trail, marked with a bright yellow sign stating “Sensitive Area – Stay on Trail.” Hopeful, as always, for a good run, I quickly found that this particular trail was a mess of muddy ruts, and piles of trash. I enjoy a good relaxing sit on a couch, but in the middle of a field? It probably took more effort to dump it there, than it would have been to simply take it to the transfer station?
Despite the eyesore, I pressed on a short distance further, until the trail became a mess of ruts and mud, and from the sight of a barely street legal Subaru parked in the mud, I realized that I had stumbled upon a location where 4WD enthusiasts went to have a good time with their vehicles in the mud.
While I found it funny, in light of the signs about this being a “sensitive area, and I assume they are enjoying their recreation with the permission of the landowner, I realized that this would not be a great place for my chosen form of recreation, so I turned around and headed back to Quarry Rd. with a few pounds of Addison County clay stuck to my shoes, giving me the opportunity to run with cement on my shoes. Returning to the road, I continued to the east for the next, more promising entry into the woods, the left turn heading to what I have relatively recently learned is the reason why we call this street “Quarry Road”.
Pretty much everyone in Middlebury knows the Marble Works , and knows that this downtown commercial hub was the former site of the much of the activity based on the local marble industry for many years. However, other than the spectacular OMYA pit just south of town, few people know of some of the original quarry sites. I had remembered reading a history of the local Marble Industry written by local historian Jan Albers, and published in the Addison Independent a few years ago, and with a few moments of googling was able to find it. It is an interesting article, and worth a read! I knew that the dirt road heading towards the old quarry was the road reached after the descent just east of Happy Valley Orchards, so I headed left down this road. In Jan’s article, she referred to a still standing building that was used for storing marble chips, and I suspect that the dilapidated wood structure on a poured concrete foundation easily seen from the road is this structure. If you use your imagination, it kind of looks like the turret from a ruined castle.
After a very short run, I came to an obvious quarry site to my left. The vertical rock walls and a few blocks of quarried rock left behind were the giveaway, and I was also amused to see a slide set up for it’s use as a swimming hole, although the murky brown water did not look particularly appetizing.
Shortly after this, I followed the farm road into a large field out of sight from the traffic on Quarry Rd., and came across an old RV trailer set back up against the woods. While it didn’t appear to be occupied at this time, I can’t help but wonder if it once may have housed immigrant farm workers, as I have come across similar “out of sight, out of mind” lodging for farm workers in other well-hidden locations in the course of my trail running. Whether or not this ever was the case at this particular trailer, our state doesn’t currently seem to have any great urge to deport hard working people who do the milking jobs that most of us would not consider taking. I also came across a very well-built hunting stand, painted in camouflage to remain well hidden (said with a note of sarcasm) standing at the edge of the field. Curiously, none of the land described in this run was posted, but there was a small “NO HUNTING” sign on the door into this tree fort hunting stand.
Winding through these farm fields, I came to a second, much larger pond, which didn’t look as “quarry-like” but didn’t seem to have a natural outlet, so it could also be a former quarry. A few migratory ducks and Canada Geese seemed to have found this to be a quiet place to take a mid-day break.
I tried to make a loop around the bigger pond, but had to retrace my steps as I realized that the terrain and barbed wire fence would make this difficult, returning to Quarry Rd, and eventually, my car. As I got closer to my car, I noticed a home with a few goats hanging out on the front deck, and they seemed mildly amused by my presence, and they did not seem as aggressive as the “attack goat” on Foote St., which a few years back seemed to enjoy accosting walkers and runners. I returned to my car, having stretched this into a 4.5 mile run. As long as the farm road to the old quarries remains unposted, it would make for a fun diversion by runners heading out on longer runs in the area.