The Mad River Valley is where some of my extended family lives, and while not quite part of Addison County,it is another great place for trail running. Even for those without lodging in the area, it is only an hour away, and a worthwhile place to go for a run for a nice change of pace. I was visiting “over the mountains” this weekend, and had the time and energy for a more challenging run, so considered some of the local options for true mountain running. I know from past experience that all ski areas have service roads leading to their summits, and if these roads proceed up novice, aka “green circle” trails, while they may be relentless, they are usually at a low enough incline for extended runs without breaking into a walk too often. If the service road proceeds up an intermediate, or “blue square” trail, you are probably going to be doing a fair amount of power hiking rather than running, no matter how easy the trail seems to be when descending in the winter. A few years ago, I described the relatively short run up the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, as well as the much more challenging ascent to just below the summit of Mt. Mansfield in “The Race to the Top of Vermont”.
Remembering how much fun I had a few years ago, in the locally run Race to the Top of Vermont, I was initially enthused to see that a new race, involving an ascent of Mt. Ellen, one of the highest peaks in the state, and the northernmost summit of the Sugarbush Ski Area, was happening this September. Reading the details of the race, however, my interest plummeted like an out of control runner on a steep downhill. Unlike most of the races in VT, this was part of a larger, national series of races, and is part of, what to me at least, is a disturbing trend in competitive athletics. Most races in VT are locally run, and a modest cost to competitors, and profits are usually turned over to charity. These national race series are almost always “for profit”, very expensive, and only turn over a tiny percentage of their profits to charities. Some of these series, like the Ragnar Relay running series have developed a reputation for rapaciously supplanting previously existing races. Others, like the now famous “Tough Mudder” races have arisen from the business plans of Harvard MBA’s rather than any innate love of sport or charity. In any case, this “O2X” race series, which includes a run up Mt Ellen in its race series wants 120 bucks to race! I don’t mind paying more for a race if I can see where the money has to go – marathons take a ton of support over the course of 7 hours or more, and often include the closure of many city streets. The obstacle course races of the Tough Mudder genre, while not my cup of tea, at least have a lot of setup to do before each race. This O2X series brags that mother nature is providing all the obstacles, which is of course a brilliant business plan, which combined with their commitment to give a whopping 1% to charity sounds like it will result in some happy young millionaire race organizers! To put this entry fee in perspective, the Race to the Top of Vermont, which raises funds for the Catamount Trail, charges $30-$70 for its entry fees, and another mountain ascent race just up the road at Mad River Glen charges $25! Even the Jay Peak 50K Ultramarathon, with two ascents of Jay Peak, and which has far more organizational challenges due to its length and terrain, charges only $85!
After reading of this attempt to charge an exorbitant fee to run up a mountain, which due to its status as national forest is actually free to access, I thought I would describe a fun running route up the mountain. I parked my car at the nearly empty Mt. Ellen parking lot and took a look up the mountain, and realized that I had a fair bit of challenge ahead of me. The service road under the Green Mountain Express chairlift, just to the left of the base lodge looking uphill was where I began my ascent. For the first half mile of so, the road follows what is the easiest ski trail on the mountain, making it a merely “tough” ascent, and after it reached the base of the North Ridge chair ascended more steeply to the right. I still found this section runnable, but at a very slow, stutter-step stride. While this section of running was labelled as novice terrain in the ski trail map, it was certainly much steeper than a typical bunny slope. Part way up this section, the service road split, half bearing left up comparably steep terrain which I suspected would blow out my quads pretty quickly, or a more gentle ascent to the right, which in the ski season would be thought of as a crossover trail. I took the path of least resistance, as I really did want to run. All along this section, I was accompanied by a retinue of lovely orange butterflies, and with a little patience I coaxed one into sitting still long enough to get her picture taken.
This segment brought me the the far north (uphill runner’s right) of the ski area at the top of the Inverness Chair, about 1000 vertical feet above the parking lot already, but with a long way still to go. Another crossover trail was found with a sharp left turn, crisscrossing me back under the “Exterminator” trail, the North Ridge Chair, and brought me to what is usually thought of by skiers as the point about halfway up the mountain, the small restaurant at the end of the Green Mountain Chair called “The Glen House”.
I felt pretty accomplished at this point, but looking straight up, I realized the biggest challenges were still ahead of me. Going into this run, I had hoped that the service road to the summit would follow the gentle “Rim Run” trail to my left, but instead followed the much steeper, truly intermediate trail directly under the Summit Chair. I guess it makes sense in retrospect that the service road would actually follow the chairlift it aims to service? This next segment, from here, to the top of the North Ridge Chair, was the steepest part of the ascent, and such, I was only able to maintain a running stride about half of the time. Upon reaching the top of the North Ridge chair, I turned to the left for the last ascent to the summit along the north ridge of Mt Ellen, and at first thought that I was in for a tough crawl up what looked like a too-steep-to-to run segment.
So, I did what I had to do, I took a break, and took some pictures of the wildflowers, mostly daisies and another yellow flower akin to dandelions. Resuming my run after this brief break, I found the running easier than expected, and only slowed down for a few short scrambles over ledgy rock sections. Reaching the summit, I chatted for a few minutes with a gentleman who had hiked up and had been following my progress from his perch at the top of the mountain.
After a few minutes of enjoying the summit scenery, I retraced my run back to my car waiting below, once again being careful to moderate my speed so that I would still have fully operational quads the next day, and I can say now, writing this up on Sunday, that I was successful in that! Also, the footing can be a little bit more difficult with loose rocks on the descent, so this gave me another good reason to check my speed.
Overall, this was some pretty cool terrain, and a good challenge for mountain runners – this route took about two hours round trip, and covered 7 miles, with 2500+ ft of climbing and descent. The lesson to today’s run? You would have to be crazy to pay all that money ($120) to access terrain and scenery which is free, and if you want to enjoy the challenges of a hill climb race, there are plenty of other options which are convenient, charitable, keep your money in VT, and leave you with plenty of money for beers – heck for a steak dinner – with your running friends.
Two summers ago, I had the pleasure of competing in the inaugural version of The Moosalamoo Ultra, and while I will not be running the full 36 mile version of it this year, I thought I would piece together a significantly shorter run which included at least a few segments from this far more grueling course. I also wanted to piece together bits of trails in such a way that I had never run that particular combination before, so I chose a route starting from the Falls of Lana trailhead, just south of Branbury State Park, ascending to the Goshen-Ripton Road on the North Branch Trail and the Voter Brook Overlook road, and descending on a mix of snowmobile trails and unmarked trails. It has not gone unnoticed by myself and others, that the frequency of bear sightings in the Moosalamoo area has been on the rise. Bear sightings on the trail are a true treat, as long as the bear chooses the appropriate response – that of running away. So, I have decided that the key to a good bear sighting is to run quietly, and wear garish clothing to scare the bear away once contact is made. With this in mind, I purchased a brand new Ben and Jerry’s tie dye t-shirt – do you think this will scare away a startled bear? And yes, I looked into this idea, and bears are not colorblind, although I would not have wanted to be the person holding picture books with hidden numbers in front of hungry bears….
I set up the now routine climb on the Silver Lake service road, but instead of taking the heavily traveled sharp right hairpin turn at the half mile point, I went straight as if I was planning on ascending to the Rattlesnake Cliffs. After a few hundred yards on this trail, I came to the open meadow where the North Branch Trail bears (pun intended) right. This small sunny oasis in what is mostly a pretty heavily forested section was full of mid-summer wildflowers. I was particularly fond of the small, daisy-like flowers which flanked the path on shoulder-height stalks. Does anyone know what this wildflower is called?
At this point, my run joined a section of the route from the Moosalamoo Ultra. This trail junction is where the first feed station, reached after the early-race ascent and descent of Mt. Moosalamoo, around mile 8, and is the lowest altitude point of the race. From here, over the next two miles or so, there is a steady climb along the banks of the North Branch of the Sucker Brook, a rather attractive little stream. Most of this single-track trail has good footing, although there are a few sections with wet rocks necessitating some care in one’s footing, and a few short steep scrambly sections.
This trail passes by a few opportunities to get onto easier terrain, as it more or less parallels the rough road connecting the Goshen-Ripton Road to the Voter Brook Overlook. As the weather went from dreary to drizzly to pouring rain, I chose to remain in the relative shelter of the forest rather than the easier travel of the road. This section of the North Branch trail eventually does cross the dirt road, and continue through the woods until it reaches the Moosalamoo Campground, where one must finally continue to climb on the road to get to the Goshen Ripton Road. At this point, the Ultra crosses the road, for a long series of loops up and around the Sugar Hill Reservoir, but on my much shorter run I turned right on the road, and continued for a little over a mile until I came to a well marked snowmobile trail veering to the right. At this point, I rejoined the Ultra route, and this road crossing is the site of another feed station, at around the 21 mile point. The next two miles are pure running pleasure – gradually downhill, double track running, with only a few muddy patches. In fact, when I ran this section of the Ultra two summers ago, this stretch got me in trouble – I felt so good that I neglected to take in fluids, and paid dearly for my dehydration a few miles later! No such problem on this run today however, and the falling rain kept me quite cool. There are a few trail junctions where one should follow the signs for the snowmobile trail system, although some of the other trails crisscrossing my course look like they are worthy of exploration someday. After about two miles on the snowmobile trail, and a short, steep climb, the trail came to the service road connecting the small Sucker Brook Reservoir to the Silver Lake access road. In keeping with my plan to duplicate the Ultra trails, I took the sharp right descent, leading me to the “shores” of the Sucker Brook Reservoir. I put the word “shores” in with quotes, as it seems that there isn’t much water this summer in the reservoir, which exists for flood control, and to control the waterflow heading through the penstock down the the hydroelectric plant at Lake Dunmore. So, I am afraid this small lake is nothing more than a mudpit this summer.
My run then followed the Ultra route, following the road below the earthen dam and joining the broad swath of clearing alongside the buried pipeline connecting the reservoir to Silver Lake. When I ran the Ultra, this section had been recently brush-hogged, making for easier running, but at this point, the grass here is very high, concealing some challenging footing below, on a steeply leaning embankment without an obvious path of least resistance to the runner. I have found that staying high, on the runner’s left makes for the easiest passage on a fairly challenging piece of running for the next mile or so. After a while, it flattens out, and while there seem to be a few different trails here, they all end up at the same place, connecting to the Silver Lake Access Road. When you reach the Silver Lake Beach, this is where another feed station is located at around mile 26 in the Ultra, and the race continues with the exhausting loop up over the Chandler Ridge and around Silver Lake before returning to the Blueberry Hill Inn and the finish line. At this point, I was very wet and had run enough, so simply descended on the service road to my car and the completion of the run.
Now, I’ll bet my readers were guessing that there would be a bear sighting in this run. Sorry to disappoint you – I guess my t-shirt worked too well! This ended up as a 9.5 mile run, with about a thousand feet of climbing. I also learned that my new t-shirt needed to be washed, as it had leached blue dye all over my torso!
On Saturday, the longest day of the year, I set out to explore a “loose end” which I discovered about a year ago. Last spring, right around Easter Sunday , I set out to explore Forest Service Rt. 92, and after a lengthy climb, found myself in too much snow to continue further, and vowed (to myself) to return. During this previous run, I achieved the ridge line of the north shoulder of Mt Moosalamoo, and noted that the trail followed the ridge line to the south, towards the Moosalamoo summit. At the time, I had concluded (incorrectly as we will see!) that this trail found its way to the actual summit, and I planned this new run around this assumption. So, I set out for what I assumed would be an hour to hour and a half-long run, and made the mistake of not bringing any water, despite the fact that I was heading into an area where the key connection was not on any map, and, in retrospect, suspect. You can’t die of thirst in the mountains of Vermont, right?
So, I drove to the trailhead for Forest Servine Road 92, found on the Ripton-Goshen Road about a mile in from Rt 125 just past Ripton on the way to the top of Middlebury Gap. Look for a National Forest Service sign on your right, and if you pass Camp Silver Towers, you have gone too far. I found a good place to park about a third of a mile up this narrow but passable dirt road. At the start of the run, I followed my previous run, relentlessly, but runably uphill. A few options occur for runners, and at the first trail split, I headed left, opting for what is labeled as 92 over 92A by the signs (although not by the Moosalamoo region map, which labels them oppositely!), and at the next trail split, I bore right, on the more uphill course, rather than taking the left on the more traveled pathway leading to the Wilkinson Trail network, which will be the object of a future posting. Once again, I reached the first height of land, after about 2 miles and 700 ft of climbing, and this time, bore left (south) on this continuing double track abandoned road. The climb to this point was pretty straightforward, other than the nasty stinging nettles which popped up from time to time, and seem all too common on the trails in the Moosalamoo Wilderness. About half way up, I also crossed the Oak Ridge Trail, which I suspected would be part of my planned descent, once I made my connection to it near the summit.
At this point, the run got a little more……interesting. As expected, the now totally unmarked trail veered south, taking a diagonal along the west face of Moosalamoo, and after what did not seem like that long a distance, and was probably not much more than a mile, headed to the left downhill. At this point, I assumed that I had not yet come close to the summit of Moosalamoo, and the abandoned logging road was descending back down the east face of Moosalamoo towards the Oak Ridge Trail, or the Wilkinson Trail, very close to my parked car. The first choice on the descent occured when my trail came to a T, and I chose the left branch, once again assuming that I was making a tight circle back in the direction of my car- note – all the high altitude turns have been left turns – this is supposed to make an easy circle, right? Shortly after this left turn I came to another fork, the left one uphill, the right one downhill. After briefly exploring the uphill fork, I did the obvious, and continued down. I noticed shortly that the trail started to take on a more maintained look – trees across the trail had been cut back, and the waterbars arising from trail maintenance were observed. Had I somehow found my way onto the Oak Ridge Trail for the fast return? My hopes were dashed when I read the following sign alongside the trail:
Upon seeing this sign, I realized that all of my assumptions as to where the heck I was, were wrong! DAGNABBIT! The fact that I was in the Keewaydin network meant that I had found myself on the opposite side of the mountain from my car, on the west side over looking Lake Dunmore! To complicate matters, I was not particularly knowledgeable of the Camp Keewaydin trail network, as it is separate from the Forest Service trails, privately maintained, and not shown on any publicly available trail maps. Now, I knew I had two options – I could look for descending trails, find my way to the shores of Lake Dunmore, admit defeat, and find a telephone to call for a ride home (cell phones don’t work there, and I hadn’t brought mine anyways!), or find trail connections which would bring me to the summit, at which point I knew of several longer descents which would bring me home. At first, I considered the short easy option- the descent into Camp Keewaydin on the shores of Lake Dunmore. But, did I really want to emerge from the woods, covered in mud, and stumble into a kids’ campfire looking like Yeti? Worse still, what if I stumbled into the archery range to meet up with the 10 year old sons of the most powerful and wealthy men and women in the country, when they were armed with bows, and aching to prove their manhood? Nope – back up the mountain it was! Of course, the question was how, other than just “go up”? The trail names I came across, as part of the private system were unfamiliar to me – the Cub Trail? the Cliff Trail? Finally, I came to a trail name which I recognized – “The Keewaydin Trail”. I knew this trail would bring me close to the summit of Moosalamoo, and offered a descent back to the east side of the mountain, admittedly at some distance from my car. So – back up the mountain I went! I eventually found myself at the trail’s end, about a half mile from the summit, and chose to find my way to the top, since I figured by this time that I had earned it.
The only structure at the summit was one that had never caught my attention in the past – there is white “pod” which looks about the size of a comfortable porta-potty here, and in the past, I had assumed that this is exactly what it was. However, on this run, I decided to check it out, since it was connected to solar power panel. Wow – some kind of deluxe backcountry outhouse? Checking it out further, I noted that it had a locked door, which pretty much meant that it was either the most prestigious summit portapotty in the country, or perhaps it served some other purpose – anybody know purpose this structure serves?
I was, however, rewarded for my efforts with a stunning late afternoon view of the main ridge of the Green Mountains to the east. I would bet that the long flat summit to the left of this shot is of Breadloaf Mountain.
Retracing my steps back to the continuance of the Keewaydin Trail, which I knew would get me home, a minute or two off the summit I came across a young, fit, spirited, but obviously confused family who asked “Are we almost to Silver Lake”? I pointed out to them, that they had climbed far beyond the Silver Lake trailhead, and were in the process of turning a 2.5 mile hike into an 8 miler, if they were coming up from Branbury State park, which of course, they were. I made sure that they knew their way back down, let them know that they could find their way home by retracing their hike, and assumed that they would be fine, although very tired upon their return. The descent on the Keewaydin trail was very slow, as I knew it would be based on my past experiences. This is not my favorite running trail, but it is usually easy to follow, and I knew it would get me home. This trail ended when it met the gravel road leading to the Voter Brook Overlook, and when I reached this, I took a left turn for the short descent, and longer climb up to the Ripton-Goshen Trail. By this point, I was getting very thirsty, having neglected to bring any water under the assumption that I was doing a much shorter run, and by this point, I had been out for the better part of two hours – fortunately it was a cool, comfortably evening! I took a left on the main road, and had a pretty easy final few miles of higher tempo running on the dirt road, only interrupted by a great view back towards the Moosalamoo summit. While I was wary of bears on this run, given the increasing frequency of bear encounters in this area, I could see that some hunters had been clearly frustrated by their inability to find any of these critters – the bear depicted on the sign at this clearing had clearly born the brunt of the shotgun blasts of a few rather frustrated woodsmen!
Returning to my car, this ended up being a 10.5 mile run. Normally, this would not be a big deal, if it was not for the fact that this run included over 2200 vertical feet of climb and descent, much of it on rough, slow trails, so this entire run required almost 2 and a half hours! Also, this would be a difficult run to describe in full detail for duplicating until I become more familiar with the trail network on the west side of Moosalamoo. I have got to lay my hands on a map depicting the Camp Keewaydin trails!
A note of explanation on the Google Earth projection of this run – I have turned it 90 degrees, so that top of the page is west, rather than north, to better depict the run. I began the run in the lower right hand corner, and ran this loop in a counterclockwise fashion.
Still in recovery mode from a long race over Memorial Day weekend, I opted for a very short run on the much traveled “Red Kelly Trail”, the trail which circles the Middlebury College Championship Golf course, also known as “Augusta National‘s Little Brother”. Well, we aren’t exactly having Georgia weather of late, but you get the picture. I have talked about the sights on this trail on numerous occasions, most recently on a longer run incorporating the Red Kelly Trail about two years ago. Not a lot has changed since then, except for the fact that the section of the trail across the west ridge (or alongside the 10th fairway for those who know the course) has been rerouted away from the course and onto its own separate trail, where runners are more protected from errant tee shots. If even a small fraction of the golfers are as miserable with their drivers as I have been, this re-route will probably save lives!
So, I departed the Middlebury College athletic facilities on South Main St. and got onto the Kelly Trail directly behind the all-weather “Kohn” Athletic Field. Yes, everything on the campus is indeed named after someone! After completing most of the trail in the clockwise direction, as I neared the end of the trail, I crossed South Main St. (aka Rt 30) and did the short descent on the Class of 97 Trail. After about a half mile or so on this pleasant little stretch of single track trail, I came to the point where it emerged from the forest into the more open fields below. Rather than continue on at this point, I elected to return, originally planning to retrace my steps back to Rt. 30. However, a few minutes into my return, I noticed an unmarked herd path heading uphill to my left, unceremoniously marked by the presence of a large tractor tire seemingly abandoned in the woods. Ascending this trail, it became apparent almost immediately where I was – the backyard of the mansion known as “The Heights” or “The Thaddeus Chapman House”. Many years ago, a member of the family which owns this property showed me around the interior of this large old home, and while it has not been regularly inhabited due to the high cost of heating it in the winter, it’s interior has been well maintained as a sort of museum to life in the late 1800’s. Searching for more information about this grand old house, I contacted my colleague, architechtural historian, Prof. Glenn Andres. From him, I learned that the house was built in 1870 by the owner of the Starr Mill, one Caleb Ticknor. The house was acquired by Chapman in 1875, who subsequently had it renovated in 1887 by architect Clinton Smith (the reknowned architect of the better known Shard Villa) into its current elaborate (that is as close as I can come to the real architectural terms like “Queen Anne” and “Italianate”) form
Despite my one previous foray onto this palatial property, I had never actually explored the grounds. Not seeing any “No Trespassing” signs from my point of entry, I decided to explore the grounds a bit on foot. One of the first sights I noted was the bermed amphitheater built into the back yard. Oral tradition holds (that is my fancy way of saying Glenn heard it, but can’t confirm) that these terraces were once the basis of elaborate gardens, while other oral traditions (a few generations of Middlebury College students) confirm that these terraces hold a long tradition as a college student trysting site in warmer weather.
Further up the hill from this, on the East Side of the main house, is a small childrens’ play house. Peering in through the window, I could discern child-size furniture indicating its use in its heyday.
Finally, leaving the property through the front driveway gave a nice vantage point to enjoy a good look at the main house.
The driveway brought me back to Rt 30, pretty much just across the street from the College field house, making this a short (slightly less than 3 miles!) but interesting run. Since the last section of this run is on private property, should you choose to explore The Heights, please be respectful of this well-maintained gem. Although it is usually not inhabited, this registered historic site is in no way a derelict property! If any reader has anything more recent to add to my bare bones story of this property, I would love to hear it!
The title of this post, “Last Run Before Spring”, might have you scratching your head over chronology. While long delayed this year, the full foliage on the trees in the Middlebury area certainly indicate that the few short weeks we know of as spring are most assuredly here. So a confession here – I did this run a few weeks ago, in mid-May, while the trees were still quite bare, and it has just taken me a while to post it. Nonetheless, it is a good run, so I thought it quite worthy of posting – better late than never!
Regular readers by now know that the Silver Lake and its surroundings make up one of my favorite running destinations, and this post represents a new variation on that theme. At the core of this run, is the very first post I made to this blog, the ascent from the Sucker Brook Trailhead, past Silver Lake, to the Goshen Trailhead, and back. On this particular run, I chose to extend it beyond this central loop, in the name of checking out some new terrain, as well as visiting an old favorite location for great views.
This run, on a warm weekend late afternoon, was undertaken to be one of my last real runs before tapering my training prior to the Vermont City Marathon at the end of May (note – I actually completed the marathon by the time I got to this post – I am not going to write it up for the blog, but it went well!), so I wanted to stretch it out to the 8-9 mile range. So, I set off up the 4WD road (yes – it is closed to motor vehicles) from the Silver Lake/Sucker Brook Trailhead just south of Branbury State Park, and chugged my way up past Silver Lake up the the trailhead above the lake at the end of a rarely traveled dirt Silver Lake Road, which emanates from Goshen, as a right turn from the Goshen Ripton Road, a mile or so south of the Blueberry Hill Inn.
When I reached this road, I realized that it provided an opportunity to add some mileage, so I continued on past the hikers’ parking lot and trailhead, which I knew would descend me back to my parked car, 800+ vertical feet below. So, I continued on this road, which while open to vehicles, is so lightly traveled that it feels almost like a trail. At this time of the year, before any of the trees had leaves, there were great views towards the the main ridge of the Green Mountains, while views towards Silver Lake and the west were obscured by the modest ridge. At a few locations, I noted primitive roads heading up the eastern flanking ridge, but abandoned them when I realized they were driveways up to “off the grid” homes and camps, and I wanted to respect their owners’ privacy. After a little over a mile on this road, I could see Hogback Mountain, and Romance Mountain, the two peaks behind the Blueberry Hill Inn, and thought it would be fun to link to that trail system on this run, but due to the lateness of the afternoon and impending sunset, I decided to turn around at one particularly impressive glacial erratic on my right.
On my return, gazing into the forest for sights which would soon be hidden by the foliage, I noticed a series of PVC pipes stuck in the ground, 20-50 yards from the dirt road. I have come across pipes like this, even further from the road on past explorations. Does anyone know why these are here, or what their purpose is?
After contemplating the mystery of the pipes, I continued back to the Silver Lake trailhead, and descended the short trail down to the lakeside on the Leicester Hollow Trail, where I took the right turn back towards the campground and the small beach at the north end of this gem of a lake. Rather than simply follow the trail which I had previously ascended back to my car, I chose one last variation, and instead took the short trail down below the Silver Lake Dam, and followed the penstock (that is the fancy word for “big fat pipe”) back towards the power line, where I ascended its trail to catch the early evening views and impending sunset over Lake Dunmore. In a month or so, the lake will be busy with summer vacationers and boaters, but on this quiet spring evening, there was only one boat traversing what must be an otherwise silent lake. I had hoped that the lone raptor in the skies would land nearby to get his picture taken, or at least hover nearby, but my presence led it to seek out a quieter eyrie.
On my descent from this lookout, I took another obvious left turn which returned me to the main trail up from the lower parking lot, where I came across what must be a fairly recently placed sign, where the over look was referred to as “Lenny’s Lookout”. This is the first time that I have heard this name applied, so I am also curious as to the origins of this name. Who exactly is Lenny, and why is the lookout named after him? A google search shed no light on this question, although it did lead to some beautiful photography from another hiker who has posted their pictures of this location.
From this point, it was an easy skip down the trail to my car, making this a slightly less than 9 mile run, with about 1100 vertical feet of ascent and descent. Bring on the summer!
While it doesn’t seem that long ago that I made my last post, I was kind of surprised when I realized it had been a month and a half. This is always the hardest time of the year to come up with interesting runs, worthy of description on a trail running blog. The trails are usually a crusty, icy mess, and the snow has receded to the point where skiing is no longer an option. So, I was forced to the roads (or worse still, to the treadmill), and frankly, I don’t feel any need to bother writing about our intermittently muddy or icy roads in March. After last week’s “Late April Fool” snowstorm, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get back to the trails! However, a few slightly warmer days, and some Saturday afternoon sun on the day before Easter brought hope of a real spring, and set me out in search of a good long run. While significant mud was a given, I was more concerned that I might find ice and snow at higher altitudes, especially in shady hollows, so I headed to one of my favorite lower altitude starting points, the Falls of Lana trailhead just south of Branbury State Park on the Lake Dunmore Road (Rt 53). En route to the trailhead, I was amazed how fast the ice on Lake Dunmore had melted – six weeks ago, the ice was two feet thick, and trucks were driving on the ice, but now, there was not an ice floe to be seen.
I started up the steep climb to Silver Lake on the heavily used trail (really a 4WD road, although not open to motor vehicles) which starts on Rt 53, and even at the lower sections, there were a few icy patches remaining on the trail, but most of the route was open, and not even that muddy. As I neared Silver Lake, I met up with my colleagues Molly and AJ, along with Molly’s kids out for a Sunday afternoon hike, and after exchanging pleasantries, continued up to Silver Lake, reaching it after about a mile and a half. At first glance, Silver Lake also appeared to be free of ice. I headed right over the dam, and followed the lakeside trail for about a half mile, at which point the trail climbing to the Chandler Ridge, the scenic ridge separating Silver Lake from Lake Dunmore, diverged to the right. I did notice, however, that the last sheets of ice were clinging to the shady south shoreline of this higher elevation lake.
The Chandler Ridge Trail has been upgraded over the last few years to be rideable by mountain bikers, although it would probably too technical for my riding skills. On the other hand, this level of maintenance is perfect for runners who want to run true “single track” paths, without significant technical challenges to the runner. The climbs and descents are built into gently undulating switchbacks, and the trail designers did a great job of seeking the path of least resistance by weaving its way between the east and west side of the ridge. The leaves which had accumulated since last autumn did briefly obscure the trail in a few places, but every time I stopped and scratch my head, wondering whether or not I was still on the trail, a quick survey of the surroundings quickly made one of the blue blazes marking the trail apparent, and guided me on my way. Early spring is a great time to run this trail, which as hoped, was completely free of snow or ice, as the bare trees allow for views which are superior to those in the summer, when the leaves on the trees obscure most views. I stopped for a moment to take a shot of the southern end of Lake Dunmore, and as I took the shot, I noticed the remains of a charred tree, the which probably bore the brunt of a lightning strike at some time in the not-too-distant past.
A short while later along the ridge I had an even bigger treat – literally – a black bear sighting! As I came around one corner, I came face to face with a bear. OK this particular bear wasn’t showing me his face, as that was buried in a tree stump, probably rooting around for bugs or other such delectables, so “face to bearbutt” would be a more suitable description of the encounter. As soon as he saw me, he made the right decision and ran away, unlike what happened in my lucky bear sighting last summer, when the bear ran at me instead of away. Of course, this time, with my fortune, the bear ran down the trail, exactly where I was planning to go. So, I gave the bear a decent head start before continuing my route and then continued my run, sporadically breaking out into a very loud and raucous impromptu song which I will simply name “Here I come bear!”. Don’t bother looking for it on Itunes.
The rest of the run along the Chandler Ridge was a lovely, steady run through the hardwood forest. I also noticed a decent view to the southeast in the direction of Brandon Gap, a view which I had never noticed previously from this trail. Eventually, the trail ended at a “T” when it hit the much broader Minnie Baker trail, and here I took a right, descending down to Rt.53. Shortly before I reached the road, and when it was in sight, a snowmobile trail veered to the right, and I decided to follow it, in order to extend my time on the trails. Mistake! The run, which had not been too bad by Vermont Mud Season standards up to this point, turned into a total sneaker-sucking quagmire. Fortunately this was a short trail segment, and I quickly joined the road for the much easier last few miles back to my parked car. I did notice, however, that there was an unlooked-for talisman of Sunday’s holiday in the name of a road, which I had never noticed before. Happy Easter everyone!
At the completion of my run, my GPS watch showed that this was a slightly over 11 mile run – not bad for early spring! However, when I tried to download the complete track from the run, I was dismayed to find that I had some sort of malfunction, and thus I have no complete track to offer. I have blogged the first half of this run previously, so I can share that this route included a slightly less than 1000 vertical foot climb. Hopefully, at some point I will have the chance to repeat this route, and will have a GPS track to share.
Early March can be a tough season for trail running. The snow is at its deepest on the trails, and runners are getting antsy for the arrival of spring, which is still two months away. Chatting with a fellow runner a few days ago, however, he shared his recent epiphany for good clear running – running on the ice covering local lakes to very thick depths this time of year. He suggested Lake Dunmore, so I thought I would give it a try. One prerequisite for this sort of running is a shoe with spikes, or some sort of runner’s crampon to stay upright moving on a mix of ice and snow, and since I had the former, I figured I was all set.
I have not spent much time on open water ice since playing pond hockey as a child. I was a little nervous at first about a longer run on a pretty big lake, but figured that with this year’s very cold winter, good thick ice could be counted on, right? Sharing my running plans with my family, the less adventurous of them (i.e. all of them) double checked to make sure that my will was properly signed, and then acquiesced to my departure. While I spend a lot of time running near, and kayaking on Lake Dunmore over the warmer months, I can’t remember the last time I had journeyed to the lake in the dead of winter. Once, in my young adulthood, I learned the misery of crashing through the ice in water which was not over my head, and a few hundred yards from my lodging. So, my life was never in danger, but it sure was cold!
Approaching the parking lot and launch on the west side of the lake, alongside the docks and beach belonging to Waterhouses, I could see that the lake was busy with the activities of ice fishermen. As you might guess, the calm and patience of the avid fisherman are not common characteristics of somewhat hyperactive runners. While I have not fished since I was a boy (about the same time of life that I played pond hockey!), I can see some of the allure of standing in a Rocky Mountain stream, flyfishing for trout, or perhaps surfcasting from a Gulf Coast beach for – well for whatever kind of fish live in those warmer waters. For the life of me, I cannot begin to imagine the charm and excitement of sitting out in the open, or even a small shack, huddled over a small hole or two in the water on a cold mid-winter day, waiting for the nibble of a lethargic, already half frozen fish. Despite the fact that I have lived in Northern New England now for 33 years of my life, not only have I never undertaken this sort of activity, I really didn’t have a good feel for the popularity of this sport until I saw all of the people out there fishing on Saturday, on this one, rather modest-sized lake alone. To each his/her (mostly his though, from what I see) own. I did get some comfort however, by the presence of such numbers of people, shacks, ATV’s and automobiles out on the lake. If the ice could support someone’s SUV, it could certainly support a scrawny trail runner, right?
I set off towards the southern end of the lake to start my run. Since both of the public landings for kayak access on Lake Dunmore were on the northern end of the lake (the aforementioned state landing alongside Waterhouse’s, and Branbury State Park on the east side), I am not as familiar with the waterfront sights along the southern shores, which require longer paddling times to access in the summer. My first destination however, was the small island in the middle of the lake. I have paddled around this small island on countless occasions, but have never actually stepped foot on it prior to this run. In the late spring, this island is a loon nesting site, and two years ago I had the unexpected pleasure of paddling by the island which was surrounded by birdwatchers armed with binoculars. I had lucked out, and come across that year’s loon chick birthday according to one birdwatcher I pulled up alongside. While I stayed a respectful distance away as required by law, even without my binoculars I could see the loon chicks floating in the water alongside their mother. Returning to the island the next day, excited for another glimpse, I was told by another kayaker that the loons typically move from the island to a quieter corner almost as soon as the chicks are born, and I never saw this family again. There were no loons on the island in early March, of course, but I did use the easy access as an opportunity to traverse this small piece of land before heading back on the ice.
With my spiked running shoes, most of the footing was surprisingly good. In most of the southern part of the lake which has had little vehicle traffic, the ice was smooth and covered by a half inch to inch of coarse windblown snow, which made for good footing. The occasional wind-scoured bare ice patches required that I slow to a careful walk, and on the places where early season car traffic had created ruts in what have been much softer ice (YIKES when you stop and think about it), the footing was also uneven and unyielding.
Continuing south, scooting past mostly well- kept, frequently modern homes which serve as vacation homes for those with greater financial resources than I, I came to one particularly quirky site. A piece of old driftwood at the lake’s edge was adorned with a variety of funky little stone cairns, and when I stopped to examine them more closely, I could see that the property just set back behind them was an uncharacteristically ramshackle log cabin, which looked like something from my old summer camp, rather than as a lake summer home. At that point I realized where I was – the shoreline alongside the “Point Counterpoint” summer camp. This camp is a rather famous summer camp for talented and hard working young musicians.
I had hoped to completely circumnavigate Lake Dunmore on this run, but as I approached the southernmost inlet, I could see that too much of my path was ice, windblown bare, making for difficult footing. So, if you see a portion of the lake omitted from my run on the Google Earth projection down below, that was typically the case. The other major foray away from the shoreline on this run was when I had make a broad sweep away from the delta where the Sucker Brook empties into the lake. This, and the much smaller outlet not far from Waterhouse’s were the only sections of open water that I spied.
The lake, of course, was peppered with ice fishing holes, old and new. Most of the open holes in use were being watched by their owners, and I stayed away out of respect for their desire to actually catch fish. Would a runner plodding by create a racket to spook the fish? Somebody must know the answer to that question, but not I! I did come across a few recently abandoned holes, so my curiosity got the better of me and I peered inside. Peering down these holes, I was comforted to see how thick the ice was – well over a foot deep from what I could see. I briefly considered rolling up my sleeves and inserting my arm down a hole, to feel how deep I had to get before feeling the end of the ice, and then my common sense got the better of me. I also took comfort from the fact that these holes were quite narrow, indicating that there were no sharks to fish for in this lake.
Returning to my car, a few hundred yards from shore, in a section of the lake with no fisherman shacks, by the old Sunset Lodge, I heard what I had been dreading the whole run – the sound of cracking ice, seemingly directly beneath my feet! Was it time to swim? I quickly put on my garishly ugly yellow hat as I sped out of that corner of the lake, hoping that if I crashed through the ice, my would-be rescuers would see my yellow-hatted head bobbing above the otherwise seamless white of the frozen lake, and pull me to my safety. Needless to say, I made it back to shore, my heart pounding a little, and had the courage to ask a returning fisherman about the significance of my frightening experience a few moments before. “Nah – ice makes sounds like that all the time – it’s more than two feet thick now, you were safe I am sure”. Oh. Whew. Relieved and a bit embarrassed.
Overall, this was a 6.6 mile run. It might seem superfluous for me to post my altitude profile for this run, as it was on a lake, and should be….well…flat. I am posting this to illustrate what I already knew about using GPS for altitude. While GPS is incredibly precise for finding locations based on NSEW coordinates, due to the limitations of satellite triangulation, it is not nearly as precise for altitude, as evidenced by the variation of up to 100 feet which it recorded on this run.
Last winter, while recovering from injuries, I snowshoed a route along a VAST trail at the higher altitudes of Ripton. This route, which begins at the end of the plowed section of the Natural Turnpike in Ripton heads south along the snowmobile trail marked as “7A” towards Robert Frost Mountain. My trip along this route was limited by the slower pace of snowshoe travel, and I have been looking forward to returning to explore it a little further on ski or on foot. The limited amount of snow on the ground made a run the obvious choice for now. To get to the trailhead, I drove up to Ripton, then took a left turn on the road across from the Ripton Country Store. A short while later a right turn up the hill on Robins Cross Road and a left turn on the Natural Turnpike followed by a few minutes’ drive brought me to the trailhead parking lot near its confluence with FS 59. In every previous winter trip to this spot, the Natural Turnpike was blocked at this point by a forest service gate, but this year, with the meager snow, the gate beyond this point was open, and the road was freshly plowed.
Setting off on the trail heading to the left (north in absolute coordinates) I could see that the snowmobilers had been faring about as well as the skiers this year, as the trail had been virtually stripped of its snow cover by previous snow travelers. I set off, as in my previous exploration, following the marked snowmobile trail, which crisscrossed a few Forest Service Roads over the course of the first mile. Between the thin snow cover, and my Asics Gel Arctic running shoes, equipped with short spikes making them the “studded snow tires of the running world”, I had very solid footing all the way, except for two easily traversed frozen-over waterbars. As I proceeded further into the woods, snow had covered over the most recent snowmobile tracks, and not much later, I could see where the trail had been bereft of human travelers all season, leaving the tracks of animals as the only sign of previous passage. One set of tracks were particularly interesting – I could see that what at first looked like one set of old tracks, soon diverged into two sets, which looked to be about the same age. Following them, I could see that the parallel sets of tracks stayed apart, as if the two animals which set them were going about their travels as partners, perhaps even mates? They seemed too big and deep for a squirrel, and squirrels never seem to travel as if they are actually going somewhere. I am going to guess that they were foxes, although they had faded enough that I could not have made out the fine print in them, even if I were a more knowledgeable animal tracker. I like to think that these two nocturnal animals had shared a long moment in the moonlight together on the way to whatever their final destination might have been. As I followed their tracks, I made sure not to step in them, leaving my record of passage between theirs.
Eventually, I reached a point where the animal tracks became more complex, and their unique trail became difficult to discern from other animals who had passed through. Not long after, I came to an open meadow which had been my turnaround last winter when I passed this way. Last winter, this quiet spot had the equipment of an active logging site, but this winter, the snow surface was unblemished, except for my footprints and a few tufts of grass poking up through the snow. It looked almost like I would envision beach grass poking out of the fine white sand of the Gulf Coast, although I have never been there.
At this point, continuing on, I was into new territory, and about a mile later my trail reached the Lincoln-Ripton road, a few miles north of the Ripton School. I could discern that the trail recommenced across the road, heading uphill along the eastern flanks of Robert Frost Mountain. I could see that I had found another short section of trail to connect a run on my bucket list – I had heard that is was possible to connect trails from the top of Middlebury Gap, to East Middlebury by a route which included the snowmobile trail up and over Robert Frost Mountain, which I have ascended from the west. The point at which my trail (which merged with a plowed road over the last few hundred yards) met up with the Lincoln- Ripton Road, was labelled as the “Norton Farm Road”.
Turning to return, my attention turned two the many crossing paths and abandoned logging roads I came across. One, which looked sort of interesting, and was labeled as “Rd 235A”. This one ended in about a hundred yards at a small clearing, so returning to the main snowmobile trail, I checked out another side trail about a mile further along. This right turn led to a huge clear cut in about a quarter mile, with outstanding views of Worth Mountain, and the rest of the nearby ridge of the Green Mts. I found it curious that a small stand of mature hardwoods had been left behind by the timber cutters, but they added to the beauty of the views.
Closing in on my parked car, I could hear that I was getting closer and closer to a “sportsman” who was blasting away at something with what sounded like a semiautomatic weapon. While I never actually saw this person, I felt like shouting something along the lines of “Is there ANYTHING left of that squirrel?”. Reaching my car, my GPS indicated that I had traveled 7 miles on this run, and had dropped about 500 vertical feet on the way out, and gained it on my return.
While running on the trails of Addison County still makes up the bulk of my posts, readers will notice that I also enjoy sharing my discoveries when I get the opportunity to run in other locales, sometimes on the trails, sometimes not. Trailrunning is indeed among my favorite ways to set myself up for adventure, but experiencing new places or new running events, and sharing them here, is also something I find quite rewarding. With this in mind, I am going to share a personal first – a short trip, including a commercial airline flight, for the sole purpose of going running. I guess this is the conclusion to the saying “You know when you are getting hardcore when….”
So, last Sunday, very early in the morning , I was milling around with 30,000 of my newest closest friends, awaiting the start of the Philadelphia Marathon. As this was my second marathon this fall, I was in new territory regarding distance events – never before had I done two such road races in such a short period of time. This particular race was of interest to me due to the easy access and inexpensive nature of flights to Philadelphia, combined with a sister who lived in the area, who for some unexplained reason was eager for my company and eager to transport me where I needed to be! Also, there was this little idea I had, about a year ago, when I first learned of the “50 States Marathon Club“, a club which requires that members do at least one marathon in each of the 50 states in order to gain admission. The fine print, however, says that you can get the T-shirt for it after only 10 states, and after all, that is the important part, right? I was further intrigued to hear that there is a local runner (who to the best of my memory I have never met) named John Lent who has actually completed all 50! So – off to Philly I went, working on state number……4. Yeah….a long way to go still for this trailrunner.
In any case, the race information made it quite clear that, in the aftermath of last year’s Boston Marathon incident, there would be an extensive series of security checkpoints before the start of the race, and runners needed to be at the start area by 5 am in order to ensure that they had enough time to clear the inevitable long security lines. Well – there I was in front of the famous Philadelphia Art Museum on the banks of the Schuykill (pronounced “Skookill”, derided as “Sure-kill” on the adjacent expressway) River, with about 20 other runners, who walked into the start area without so much as a check over from the bleary-eyed security forces standing around. Comforting. Having two hours to blow before the race start was actually kind of fun however, as it gave ample time to walk around, and strike up short impromptu conversations with other racers. I could offer my sage advice to those running their first ever marathon, as well as comment and learn from those runners who were clearly far more experienced than I.
The race went off without any real hitches, however! The last time I ran in such a large race was the NY Marathon, in 1992, and during that race it seemed as if there was no room to run until the race was more than halfway done due to the crowds. At that time, when the gun went off – the race started for everyone – if you were a few hundred yards behind the start line, it was more or less tough luck. As a result, all the runners crowded the startline as much as they could, and were more than happy to trample each other to get underway, with resulting crowding that took many miles to disperse. The advent of chip technology, where a microchip embedded in your race number ensured that your own clock didn’t start ticking until you crossed the start line led to a much more genteel start to the race, and people were far more willing to let things spread out. So, while the first few miles were pretty dense with runners, I never felt like my pace was dictated by the pace of nearby runners.
The first half of the race went through a series of neighborhoods in downtown Philly. We passed by the art museums, into the downtown business district, through Philly’s Chinatown, alongside the Delaware and Schuykill River, and through numerous residential districts. Other than brief slowdowns to grab water or Gatorade, the only stops I made were to take a picture of Independence Hall as all the other runners sped by, and find relief in a porta-potty. I had grown accustomed to long races in far more rural settings, and there weren’t exactly a lot of discretely wooded sections along the way in the course of this race! Frustratingly, this particular pit stop was complicated by the fact that the occupancy of each individual porta-potty was indicated by a small red or green sign by the door handle, and my red-green colorblindness forced me to try doors until I found an empty one, as other runners zoomed in on the correct choices much more readily.
The second half of the race was a long “out and back” along a city parkway road adjacent to the river. Just as I was leaving town, I saw the fastest athlete – a wheelchair para-athlete wheeling his way back into the finish area, and not long after that, I saw the first of several fleet-footed men of African, presumably Kenyan descent sprinting towards the finish line at a pace I could not match for one mile, let alone 26.2. The race course turned around in the formerly gritty factory town of Manyunk, which now is apparently quite gentrified. Curiously, despite the fact that I was wearing a Middlebury track singlet for the race, it gathered no recognition from the crowds of onlookers who lined the course until I hit Manyunk, where it garnered me many “shout-outs”. Must be a lot of former Midd-kids who are now yuppies living there!
I usually don’t care to talk explicitly about my running pace when authoring this blog, as it is primarily about sharing the joys of running and the out of doors, rather than as an online training log. And besides, my times are not that impressive, as befitting my age and modest training relative to most people who run longer distances. That said, I was very pleased with my performance in this race, in that I started off appropriately slowly, and accelerated throughout the race, finishing my final 10 Km at a pace which was pretty close to the pace at which I usually run a normal 10 Km race! Finishing a long race like this strongly is also one of the most empowering feelings in running. I might even call this my best marathon ever, with the aster-isk that it was the best I had ever performed relative to my age group, and frankly only a few minutes slower than a few marathons I did as a much younger man in my early 30’s. Yup- it felt good!
Finally – one of my goals for this race was to have someone get a picture of me running up the famous “Rocky Steps” of the Philly Art Museum, to post in this blog. Before the race, well it was just too dark! When I passed by these steps at the half way point, I realized that I was putting in a good time, and didn’t want to stop and mess around with a picture. By the finish, well the best I could muster was to stand in the foreground of the steps, raise my arms in victory, and let them frame this famous building, maybe with a little hop in my tired, sore legs. Of course, with the finish, my day was not yet complete – after a few hours of recovery, including a shower, nap, and a good meal at my sister’s house in the suburbs, I had to complete the short flight back from Philly and seemingly endless ride home from the Burlington airport before fluffing my pillows and collapsing to get a little sleep in before classes the next day.
While most residents of northern New England mention mud season as the most challenging time of the year to live here, the almost equally bleak month of November, less well-known as “stick season” also has it’s challenges. It has the same bare trees and overcast sky, but never quite brings out the worst in us like mud season. Perhaps we are all still feeling good after a great fall foliage season, and are anticipating the excitement of the first snows of the season? Perhaps it is because…well…it just isn’t as muddy, and the trails are arguably at their best for running, with soft leaves underfoot, and great views through the surrounding forest? In any case, I got together with two other local runners, Josh and Ben, early on a Saturday morning to do the grand loop around Middlebury, our own beloved TAM. Bits and pieces of this convenient and scenic gem have been the frequent subject of blog posts, but it has been a few years since I last described a complete circumnavigation of the village, and that was much earlier in the fall, prior to the peak of foliage season. We met up shortly before sunrise at the parking lot by Batelle/Means Woods on Quarry Road (at about 3 o’clock on the loop shown in the Google Earth projection included below), just east of town, and I convinced my running partners that we should take the loop counterclockwise to put the most challenging part of the run, the 300+ foot ascent of Chipman Hill, early in the run. We also had the additional benefit of catching a great sunrise over the mountains from the east side of Middlebury’s downtown summit! While most of the leaves were long gone from the limbs of the deciduous trees on the flanks of the hill, I was touched by the stubbornness with which a few trees clung to their leaves and to life when other sources of warmth and the ephemeral beauty of autumn was fading.
Continuing on down the west side of Chipman Hill, we wove through the village streets for a few minutes before heading north through Wright Park, and the longest contiguous section of trail not intercepted by roads. When we reached the northern suspension bridge crossing over Otter Creek, instead of taking the section of the TAM heading due west, we decided instead to take the last short loop to the north, heading into the gorge, and adding a mile or two of extra running to our proposed loop. The thick green moss alongside one particular section of trail led for Josh to christen this short passage “The Shire”. After a short section along the creek, the trail started its gradual loop back to the west, and then the south, emerging back into a meadow just to the west of Morgan Horse Farm Rd, where I managed to grab a quick photo of my fellow runners before they disappeared in the distance, forcing me to pick the pace after grabbing a photo, if I wanted to stay with them. That, and they also waited for me!
Crossing over Morgan Horse Farm Road, and veering south through another meadow and pond, we briefly considered leaving the TAM to seek out the entrance to the nearby Weybridge Cave on Cave Road, but decided against it on this day, as all of us confessed to having seeked out the cave’s entrance in the past, and all had failed. Someday we have to invite a runner who knows where exactly it is to show us. Any takers? Eventually, our counterclockwise circumnavigation brought us to the most civilized section of trail, the part circling the Middlebury College Championship Golf Course, where the TAM also serves as the running course for the college cross country races. The morning was getting a little later at this point, and we started to see other runners and walkers out for their Saturday morning strolls. The last few miles brought us back to the Batelle Woods, where I let my partners for almost 3 hours pull ahead, and I took a shot which I think exemplifies November running – grey skies, the trail softened by falling leaves, and of course, muddy sneakers.
As we returned to the parking lot where my car was, we high fived on a good long (almost 18 miles!) training run, we commented on how fast the time flew by. This almost 3 hour run seemed rather timeless due to the good company, and fun terrain. As my fellow (much younger) runners headed home, on foot, I sat my tired butt down in my car, and made a beeline to Middlebury Bagel where I treated myself to a cup of coffee…..and the most sugar- encrusted donut left on their shelves.