Stick season can be a tough time of the year for outdoor enthusiasts. As the last of the foliage is blown off the trees, the days get shorter and colder without the distraction offered by the ample snows of winter. While the occasional day with bright blue sky and crisp late fall air can offer a reprieve, it seems that cold rain and grey skies are more abundant than other seasons of the year. That said, a brief glimpse of acceptable weather over the weekend inspired me to seek out one last long mountain run to close out the trailrunning season, at least at higher elevations. Autumn yard chores, questionable weather, and other assorted responsibilities kept me busy until late afternoon, but I finally hit the trail at 3:30 pm, confident that there would be ample time to squeeze in a run before darkness set in on the last day before the end of daylight savings time.
Once again, I sought out a new running variation from my favorite trailhead entry into the Moosalamoo Region, the Brooks Road Parking lot. In the course of one of my runs last year, entitled “Almost Like Running up Worth Mountain“, I attempted to summit Worth Mountain, the peak just south of the Middlebury College Snow Bowl from the north, passing through the Snow Bowl. Much to my bemusement upon completion of the run, I only realized after completion of the run that the high point which I had assumed was the Worth Mountain summit, was actually a subsidiary summit, and the true summit was a mile or so further south. I knew I had to get back to the actual summit at some point, and knowing that the summit could also be reached from the south on the Long Trail, I put this run on the “I have to try this in 2010″ mental list. Well, 2010 is fading fast, so this was my last opportunity to attempt this run.
Once again, my entry to the mountains coincided with the climb of Brooks Rd. for the first segment of the run, but instead of veering to the west toward the Sugar Hill Reservoir, or the Sucker Brook Trail, I headed east at the dirt road’s terminus, taking the left spur trail leading to the Sucker Brook Shelter on the Long Trail. This connecting trail made for about a mile of pretty easy running until the last few hundred yards of ascent to the actual shelter. At this point, there was a healthy dusting of snow along the trail, but it was still easy to follow due to ample blue painted tree blazes, and the obvious indentation in the ground from the boots of countless hikers over the years. I am sure that this easily accessible shelter is heavily used during the summer months, but at this time of the year, there was no sign that it had seen any recent occupants.
Immdediately beyond the shelter, the Long Trail proper was attained, and I headed left, planning to pass to the north over Worth Mt. to the Snow Bowl before returning to my car. A short way up the ridge I was treated to a limited westerly view, and realized that I had to maintain a decent pace in order to complete the run before sunset, but also knew that I would be fine as long as I got as far as the Snow Bowl before darkness, as the trailfinding from that point on would be pretty easy.
Of course, the trail got pretty slippery with even the modest increases in altitude at this point, and the Long Trail is not exactly a runner’s superhighway. Routefinding in the fresh snow and diminishing light got a little tricky in a few places, but I was determined to keep this adventure from becoming a misadventure – the last thing I needed was a headline announcing “Local Trailrunner Found Frozen”, or worse still “Boneheaded Trailrunner Rescued”. These concerns aside, this was a gorgeous stretch of trail made even prettier by the inch or two of fresh wet snow which clung like lacework to the altitude-thinned trees. After a seemingly endless stretch of ups and downs I passed a lone backpacker heading south. I was comforted by the fact that he assured me that my guess that I had about a mile and a half to reach the top of the Snow Bowl was correct. I also knew he had further to go before sunset than I did, but he was probably smart enough to be carrying a headlamp. As expected, I hit the top of the Snow Bowl with just a few minutes to spare before darkness – definitely cutting it a little closer than I should have, though.
An easy run down the Voter Trail brought me to the Snow Bowl parking lot under suboptimal lighting, but not before one last treat – a young bull moose greeted me as I rounded a corner on the lower stretchs of the trail. I was a little too close for comfort to have that good a view of him in the rapidly diminishing light, but fortunately he was not interested in this odd spectre dashing down the slopes, and he loped away in the opposite direction before I could snap his portrait. A short jog up and out of the Snow Bowl parking lot, and a little longer, but fast descent on paved road back to Brooks Rd. and my car brought the run to a close. Given the lateness of the hour and near total darkness, I attempted to call home to the undoubtedly justifiably concerned Mrs. Trailrunner, but the lack of any cell signal this high up on the mountainside prohibited this courtesy, so I hopped in the car and coasted home. This run covered a little less than 11 miles, much of it on rugged trail with slow going, and an altitude difference of 1800 vertical feet between the lowest and highest altitude, but probably a lot more climbing than that given the nature of the terrain. This made for a great way to wind down the running season, so bring on the snow!
In case you find the maps in this blog difficult to view, or would just like to see the photography at a larger size, I recommend viewing the blog in the Mozilla Firefox browser, which allows you to right click (for PC’s at least, I am not lucky enough to have a Mac) on the illustration with the “Open Link in New Window” command for easy viewing.
On long solo runs, the oddest thoughts pass through one’s mind. For example, on my last run I suddenly realized that the vast majority of my loop runs proceed in a clockwise direction. I have no idea why this is the case, but set out to rectify the situation with at least an occasional counterclockwise loop! On this sunny October afternoon, I chose to take on a short section of the Trail Around Middlebury (aka “TAM”) in the counterclockwise direction, and given that I was recovering from a head cold, went for a shorter and slightly less adventurous run than those described on the last few blog entries. With this in mind, I headed out of town from the college athletic complex passing through the campus and exiting via Weybridge St. After heading into the surrounding farmland, I passed a small herd of Belted Galloways (or as I prefer to call them, “Cows with Racing Stripes”) which provided irrefutable evidence that standing cows always point north. OK, maybe I edited out a few recalcitrant data points with my photo editing software, but can I still publish?
Shortly thereafter, this run finally started hitting the trails, with a left turn onto the TAM. This short stretch of trail between Weybridge St. and Rt.125 is a very satisfying mix of partially open meadows, mowed fields and forest, and was previously featured (in the opposite direction, of course) on a run described in the post entitled “Muddy Meadows and Poison Parsnips“. A few minutes later, I passed through the Middlebury College Organic Garden, a quiet and contemplative tract on a knoll just west of campus……which I always just run by.
By now you must be wondering what the point of the title of this post is – what could an Egyptian possibly have to do with a late autumn run at the outskirts of town? Well, as I was heading back towards town on the dirt road connecting the organic garden with Rt. 125, my iPod, which was set on “shuffle” mode switched to the classic 80′s song by The Bangles entitled “Walk Like an Egyptian“. Taking this as an omen, I thought it would be fun to try and locate the burial site of Middlebury’s most ancient inhabitant, which had been pointed out to me on one occasion several years ago. Angling through the back of campus on the paved path passing through some dorms behind the tennis courts, I ran around the periphery of the St. Mary’s Cemetery for the last leg of the run. Passing through the gate into the West Cemetery, and shortly after passing the prominent Battell Family enclosure on the right, if you look carefully to the right you will find the ankh and cross-bearing gravestone of Amun-Her Khepesh-Ef. In the late 1800′s, Henry Sheldon of Sheldon Museum fame purchased the mummy of the infant Egyptian prince who passed away at the age of two, nearly 4000 years ago. The mummy was never in good enough condition to be displayed, however, and languished in the Sheldon Museum storage until 1945, when he was cremated and given a proper Christian burial.
After locating and recording the Mummy’s Marker, a short jog across the street brought me back to the college fitness center, making this an easy 4.25 mile run with only a few easily surmounted climbs.
In the late 1980′s a popular “out of bounds” ski tour from the Rikert Touring Center at Breadloaf included an abandoned homestead which people referred to as “The Blue Bed House”. Mind you, there was never a blue bed in this derelict, but still partially standing home in my memory, but some more experienced skiers claimed that at one point in the not too distant past, there actually was a blue bed in the house. Over the years, some trails were rerouted and extended in other directions, and while the turnoff from the Rikert trail system towards this formerly popular destination could still be seen, I gradually noted fewer and fewer ski tracks heading in its direction. The one time I set off to visit the site several years ago, the snow cover was not sufficient for good skiing on the partially grown in trail, so I reversed direction and found another route. It has been about 20 years since my last visit to the site of the Blue Bed House, and I thought that I might follow the trails to its site to see how it had weathered the elapsed time.
This run, like the run I described in “Circumnavigating Robert Frost Country“, begins at the Robert Frost roadside rest area, and follows Frost Rd., past the Robert Frost Cabin, and beyond to the well-trodden trail directly behind the cabin. A few minutes after passing the cabin, I came to a trail split, and while in the aforementioned run, I took the left branch, on this run I stayed right, entering a gully which was actually a stream bed after the previous days’ heavy rain. The trail was in bad shape at first, with quite a few downed trees which slowed my progress on the otherwise easy climb, but after the trail leveled out, its condition improved as I approached the area where I remembered the actual house to be.
The years have not been good to this long abandoned farmhouse. All that remained of the Blue Bed House was a pile of wood. This also probably explains its diminished interest to cross country ski tourers – when the snow is deep there probably isn’t much to see. Does anyone know anything about the former residents of this site, or how long it has been left to decay?
Some of my readers have mentioned that while they are interested in trying out the runs I describe, they are concerned that they will not be able to follow the actual route. My response is usually something along the lines of “do you think I really knew where I was going when I set out to do the run?” In fact, if you always know where you are going, you never discover anything new. What happened next is a great example of that. I only “sort of” knew where I was going, and decided to explore where I was not entirely confident I knew my way. I did know that the badly overgrown country lane heading downhill to the left of the blue bed house would take me to a lovely meadow, so while I briefly considered turning and heading back to my parked car, I chose instead to keep exploring. This lane, which I also remembered from ski excursions long ago, was also starting to to succumb to the encroachment of the forest. Interestingly, someone had placed blue blazes on many of the trees alongside the path, probably marking them for removal, but apparently the spray painters were not as ambitious with the chainsaw as they were with the spray paint can. After a few minutes of descent, I briefly joined the trail described in the Robert Frost run, but when it hit an obvious T, I turned right, rather than left, taking me to the base of the backcountry meadow. I presume this meadow was part of the farmland used by the former inhabitants of the Blue Bed house, and it is starting to get a little overgrown, indicating that it has probably been a few years since its last mowing. Nonetheless, the twisted old apple trees in plain sight gave evidence for its formerly domesticated use.
This was where curiosity got the best of me. Noting the 4WD tracks heading into the meadow, I thought that I might follow them back uphill to rejoin my original trail after it passed the house. At the top of the meadow the double track in the high grass mysteriously turned into a single track more characteristic of an animal herd path. I wonder what sort of animal ate the vehicle whose trail I had been following? As the trail reentered the forest, a huge recently fallen fir tree blocked my path, and after jogging around it, followed what looked like an overgrown road. A few yards later, the putative road disappeared, leaving me standing in the woods. Knowing that there at least USED to be a trail just a little higher up the hill, I continued through, with a few zigs and zags following false herd paths, until I stumbled upon another interesting relic of the area’s past. Laying on the ground, in the middle of the forest, was a large ring of iron or steel, which looked like the rim of a wagon wheel. I was surprised by this, as I was clearly a least a 100 yards away from the house at this point. I picked the rim off the ground, and leaned it against the tree, in case I ever wanted to search for it again.
Eventually, sticking to an uphill bearing, I came to the obvious path. Presuming that a right turn here would take me back to the house in a few minutes, there was only one thing to do – go left! While the trail was easy to follow at first, it faded badly in sections, especially with all the leaves on the forest floor which made it hard to follow in places. When the trail became less obvious, there were usually a few plastic strips hanging off of branches, or colored plastic nailed to the trees, probably many years old. Eventually this rather vague trail rejoined one of the major Rikert trails, which is also part of the Catamount Trail connecting the Frost trail with the Brown gate trail. A ski tour passing by this section was described in a prior post entitled “Norske Trail to Brown Gate“. I finally knew exactly where I was, and that I was on well maintained trails. Looking forward to some easier uptempo running through Rikert trails I should have guessed there would be another hurdle in my path, and there was. The beavers who created the ponds alongside this stretch of trail have apparently been quite busy this summer, and one rather substantial section of the trail had a new purpose – beaver pond! I thought it couldn’t be too deep, but after a few steps into the pond which brought the water up to my knees, I thought better, and bushwacked to the right and managed to avoid most of the water.
Following any of the numerous obvious trails after this point will bring one to FS 59 (aka Steam Mill Rd) which runs behind the Breadloaf campus. A right turn on this road led to Rt. 125 a few minutes later, and an easy run on paved road to return to the parking lot. Not content to call it a day however, one last distraction delayed my return. Passing by the small, but maintained graveyard on the left side of the road, I thought I would stop and take a look, given that I had driven by it hundreds of times. There were a few prominent Addison County names in this small graveyard, known as the Galvin Cemetary, but the stone that caught my attention was this one:
I had stumbled across the final resting place of Lucina Chatfield nee Billings, the widow whose story made up one of my earlier posts this summer. I found it amusing that she was buried with her maiden name, rather than that of her bigamist husband! Returning to my vehicle, I was surprised to see that this run was only 5 miles long- a rather short run, but this one was long on discovery and adventure.
After the last posted run, which featured running commentary on the Robert Frost Cabin and Robert Frost Trail, it only seemed fitting to continue on with the Frost theme with a run up to the summit of Robert Frost Mountain. While many Middlebury-ites know of, and have explored the former, relatively few know of his namesake summit. Where exactly is Robert Frost Mountain? When looking towards the mountains from town, Robert Frost Mountain is the rounded summit high point just a few miles north of the East Middlebury and Rt. 125. While it is not a particularly dramatic summit, it is a pleasant place to visit with good, albeit wooded views, and its paucity of hikers (or runners). I have no idea if Robert himself ever ascended to its heights, and I rather suspect not. There are several peaks in the US named Mt Washington, however, and I am quite confident that George (or Martha) never climbed any of them.
To get to my starting point for this run, head south of town on Rt. 7, east on Cady Rd. (the road bisecting Foster Motors), and then north on Rt 116 for 0.4 miles until you get to Munson Rd, where you take a right turn. Be careful not to exceed the speed limit here (25 mph) as it has been heavily patrolled as of late. Find yourself a suitable parking place anywhere alongside the road near the four-way stop sign a half mile later to begin the run. Hopefully you can park your car in one of the favorite hiding places of our well-intentioned and hard-working officers of the law, and save this author from another speeding warning!
The start for this run is on the snowmobile trail paralleling Burnham Dr., the road heading east towards the mountains from the aforementioned four-way stop sign. The first 3.4 miles of this run are also described in a previous post, The Toughest Nine Miles in Addison County. This older post has now lost its title. The first two miles of the run follows a VAST snowmobile trail heading north along the west face of the Green Mts, climbing more or less steadily, first through deciduous forest, then into a coniferous forest (which you can make out from the west pretty easily), before climbing back into deciduous again. This is a very pretty section, following a brook much of the way, with a few limited views through the trees. At about 1.5 miles, the trail forks into two equally strong trails, and both will work for this run. I chose the right trail on the way up, as it is a little shorter, but if you miss the trail split and take the left fork, it will connect with the same next trail.
The snowmobile trail tops off onto FS 237 (not marked at this point), an obvious but somewhat overgrown forest service road. Take a right turn here (an earlier missed turn will have you coming up to this point from the left) and follow this road until it ends in about a mile and a half, connecting with Dragon Road. Dragon Rd. is a maintained dirt road suitable for 2WD cars, but like many of the lesser known mountain roads in Ripton, rarely driven. The run I previously described went right from this point, ending the uphill section considerably earlier. Take a left uphill until the road ends after about eight tenths of a mile. There is a small parking lot here, and if you would prefer a much shorter run, or even an easy family hike, you can drive to this point and start here. To get to this parking area, drive into East Middlebury on Rt. 125, turn left on North Branch Road (the slight left at the Rt 125 bridge), and a few miles later, when North Branch Road makes a right, continue straight on Dragon Rd. until the road ends.
As you enter the parking lot, look carefully to the right to find the somewhat overgrown start to the trail leading to the summit of Robert Frost Mountain in 1.2 miles. This trail gets so little traffic in the summer that you have to walk through tall weeds for 20 or 30 feet before the trail becomes easy to find and follow. You will know you have gone the right way when you see a gate across the trail. From this point, the trail isn’t too bad, other than the fact that it is somewhat overgrown (hence good for resistance training for trailrunners!), and gets a little steeper as you approach the summit. Most of the traffic to this summit clearly is during the winter, when the snowmobilers apparently make it a frequent destination. The summit is wooded, but people have cleared a few nice views to make the climb worth the effort. This summit has another unexpected creature comfort – a privy at the summit, which actually appears to be in far better condition than most similarly situated sources of relief. I was somewhat amused, however, by the fact that there were a few empty liter cans of Bud Light strewn about its floor. Go figure.
The run back down mostly followed the uphill run, other than at the point where the lower shortcut from the snowmobile trail connected to FS 237. It is very difficult to see where the uphill trail connects with the Forest Service Road, so I just went to the end of the road, and followed the obvious left turn at its end where it also connected with the uphill route. As I descended, I did note the following somewhat amusing sign:
I briefly considered bringing the sign home, and posting it on the door of my teenage daughters’ bathroom, but instead decided to leave this amusing little non sequitor to be discovered by other runners and hikers.
When all was said and done, this was a long hard run, with 11.5 miles of running and 2000 vertical feet of climbing. I don’t usually post my time, but this adventurous run took a while – two and a half hours. Given the relentlessly pretty woods and decent views, this route would also make a fine day hike as well, either from East Middlebury, or from the higher trailhead.
One of the most famous characters to grace the hills of Addison County was America’s poet laureate, Robert Frost. In a earlier post, I joked about the ubiquity of signs alluding to Frost’s presence in the woods of Ripton, so I thought it would be fun to describe a run built on the Robert Frost theme. The Robert Frost roadside rest area on Rt. 125 a few miles below Breadloaf seemed like a logical place to begin the run, given the ample parking. I also couldn’t help but notice that the nearby “Robert Frost Trail” and trailhead was still closed to the public, but more on that later.
The run began with a easy jog up…you guessed it…Frost Road, until reaching the Robert Frost cabin where (guess who) summered for many years while teaching at the Breadloaf School of English. We can forgive him for the fact that for many of these years, he returned to teach at archrival Amherst College at the end of the summer. Even famous poets need a day job I guess! The view from his primitive cabin is beautiful in the late summer, with views of the nearby mountains and the Homer Noble Farm.
After soaking up the meadow view, I continued up into the woods on the well traveled trail behind his cabin. This route follows much of the route described in my cross country ski trip described in my post entitled “Robert Frost Cabin” but in the reverse direction. After a little more than a mile, the trail splits, and I chose the left fork knowing it would lead to a longer run. The gradual descent on this stretch of trail led eventually to a T in the trail with signage for cross country skiers, and I chose the left turn with a short downhill before joining up with a well-developed snowmobile trail. A rather disoriented hiking couple asked for my assistance in finding their way back to their vehicle at this point. This is understandable, as there is a complex network of ski trails, logging trails, and snowmobile trails in this section of forest. If you want to try this run out and are concerned about getting lost back here, a good rule of thumb is that left turns bring you further away from Breadloaf, while right turns will bring you closer.
After reorienting the slightly disoriented hikers – I haven’t heard of any recent hiker disappearances in the last few days, so I assume they made it out alive – I took a right turn on the now well-developed uphill trail which followed stream. After about a mile on this trail, I arrived at a new fork. Since the left fork had numerous KEEP OUT and NO TRESPASSING signs, my choice was clear – go right. This led to the trickiest routefinding section of this run Shortly after running by a small beaver pond (on my left) I expected to find a rough trail to my right which would connect me with the Brown Gate trail in the Rikert Ski Touring Center. I found a right turn which fit my memory of the terrain, but the trail got fainter and fainter, including a small stream crossing which didn’t fit my winter memories, but eventually connected with the well marked Brown Gate trail. A left turn here, and a moderate uphill led to the Brown Gate itself, and Steam Mill Rod/Forest service road 59. A right turn onto Steam Mill Rd led to about a mile of running on this well-graded dirt road. After all the rougher more technical running of the previous few miles, it felt good to stretch out the legs for a while in some higher tempo running. Staying on this road would take you to the Breadloaf Campus too soon, so I followed the well-marked snowmobile trail turning left shortly after passing Burnt Hill Rd. About 50 yards up this trail, I came to a small, moderately overgrown family burial plot. I knew of the existence of this mini-graveyard from past ski tours, but stopped to read the gravestones for the first time. The name on all of the stones was “Kirby” which made sense, as an older name for Steam Mill Road was apparently Kirby Road, as noted previously.
I stayed on this trail which is separated from the Rikert trails by a line of trees, and after another mile or so reached Rt. 125 just east of Breadloaf. The Brooks Rd. intersection was in sight, so I headed in that direction to continue the southern half of the run. Taking the Widows Clearing trail from the south end of the parking lot brought me up to the actual clearing, the subject of yet another post earlier in the summer. The fact that the clearing still exists despite not having been farmed for a hundred years implied that someone must mow the field every year or so, and on this run I could see that it had been mowed very recently. I can’t help but wonder who has taken on this task, as it can’t be that easy to haul the necessary equipment up there. From this point until the end of the run, you will finish the run as described by following my aforementioned “right turn rule”. The first right turn on the Widows clearing trail takes you to a trail called “The Crosswalk”, and after a mile on this rough trail, the next right connects to the furthest corners of (here we go again) The Robert Frost Trail. This well known trail passes through woods, meadows, streams, and swamps, and at many vantages along the way, appropriate Frost poems are displayed. I noted earlier in the summer that this trail has been closed all summer, and I presumed this was due to the nearby road construction. When I arrived to the stream crossing on this trail, I found that the footbridge which had provided a means across was missing, providing an alternative explanation for the trail closing. On the shore where the bridge once stood, the Frost poem posted seemed particularly ironic, in light of the fact that the trail was blocked. It is also my favorite Frost poem, and particularly germane to this blog.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
A short slog across the stream past the equipment in place for the replacement of the lost bridge, and a few hundred yards on Rt. 125 brought me back to my vehicle. As in prior runs, the Google Earth Projection, and altitude profile are posted, but I accidentally turned off my GPS for about a mile between the Kirby burial site and Rt. 125, so the distance on this run is probably a little more than 8 miles, and although there are no individual long climbs, there were very few truly flat sections on this run, and the total climb adds up to close to 1000 vertical feet.
The header for this blog describes it as “A blog for runners in and about Addison County, VT”. While all of my previous posts have been describing runs in Addison County, this posting chronicles a run not far from our fair county, in the “Vail of Vermont”, Stowe. Since a drive to Stowe isn’t that big a deal, and this run involves a well-known Vermont landmark, I figured I might as well include it. I was looking around for a more epic run to finish off the summer, and I learned of “The Race to the Top of Vermont”, a charity race in support of the Catamount Trail, in which a few hundred endorphin-crazed runners and mountain bikers compete up the Mount Mansfield Auto Road to the saddle between the two prominent summits (aka “The Nose” and “The Chin”) of our own Vermont high point, Mount Mansfield. While I enjoy running the hills, I had only attempted a run of this magnitude once before in my life, and it HAS been a few years since my run up Jay Peak….
The last Sunday in August was a perfect day for a race like sort – warm at the base of the mountain, cool, but not too cold at the top, with the perfectly cloudless azure skies of the sort that one expects in Colorado, not Vermont. I must confess, looking up at the summit from the start line did get my heart pounding, even before the starting gun went off.
I had never hiked on this side of the mountain during the summer prior to this race, preferring the trails up from Smugglers Notch or Underhill for my frequent hikes to the summit. Nonetheless, I had descended much of the route many times in the course of the Stowe Derby, a cross country ski race from the top of the Lookout Chairlift on Mansfield finishing in the village of Stowe. Even though it has been a few years since I last competed in this little bit of downhill mayhem, I was pleasantly surprised by how well my memory of the Auto Road served me, albeit from a very different perspective – it always looks steeper going uphill.
I chose a conservative pace at the start: Some of those who took off like a bat out of hell were passed by as they fell by the wayside, and some were never seen again until the finish line. I chose an initial strategy of running the straightaways, and “power-hiking” the steeper pitches around the countless hairpin turns. I must confess that as the run got closer and closer to the summit, my fast-walking sections became more numerous, and of longer duration – this was a very tough route! Fortunately, most of the other “middle of the pack” competitors had similar issues. While most of the dirt road course was shady, as it got higher up the mountain and crossed ski trails more frequently, every bend in the trail seemed to bring on an even more spectacular view.
The finish line, where there is a small parking lot for drivers, while a few hundred vertical feet and about a mile from the true summit (“The Chin”), sure felt like the top! Prior to the start of the race, I had delusions of maybe finishing the run with a jog across Mansfield’s spectacular above-timberline ridge and bagging the actual summit, but in recognition of the fact that I still had to get myself back down the mountain on increasingly wobbly legs, I decided to save the ridge run for another day.
The only disappointment of the day came when I thought that I might instead take the short walk to the summit of the “Nose” the secondary summit just above the top of the Auto Road where the prominent radio towers are located. The trail to this bump on the ridge had a barrier across it claiming it was closed due to new Federal safety rules on radio frequency exposure! Most people know that there have been increased concerns expressed about radio wave exposure due to publicity about possible health risks from cell phones. What most people don’t know is that the claim that radio waves can cause cancer actually flies against some of the most basic laws of physics, which Einstein figured out in 1905, and are well understood by beginning college chemistry students. There are many aspects of cancer which are not understood, but one thing is certain – to cause cancer, you need to break chemical bonds, and the energy generated by radio waves is only a tiny fraction of a percent of that necessary to do this. Saying that prolonged exposure to radio waves, or exposure to higher intensity radio waves can cause cancer is tantamount to claiming that if you stand on the Maine coast throwing baseballs for extended periods of time, one of the balls will eventually land in Europe. So….a scenic point in Vermont is taken away from us based on voodoo science.
Enough of the rant of the day…..Most trail runners know that the climb up is harder on the lungs, but the descent is actually tougher on the legs. I thought I had enough strength left in my legs to do the descent as an easy jog, but discovered about halfway down that this was not the case, making the last mile or two of descent more of a fast hike than a running descent. I tried to get down promptly however, given the barbecue lunch awaiting me at the post-race party. All in all, this run was 4.3 miles each way, or 8.6 round trip, with a 2500 vertical foot climb and descent. What a day!
My last last few blogged runs were on the long side, requiring a fairly high degree of organization and car shuttling to pull off, making them relatively rare treats for those with a little extra time on their hands. This run, however, requires much less choreography – just a short drive up the mountain from Middlebury to get to the trailhead, and thus can be done without a lot of extra driving. This is also a relatively straightforward “up and down” route, on easy to follow trails, requiring no map, and not a lot of knowledge of the topography. The catch? This route has a LOT of climbing!
To get to the starting point for this route, drive up Middlebury Gap on Rt 125. I was pleased to see, after my rant and rave about the pace of the road project in my last posting, that they are actually starting to lay some asphalt down. I would like to think that I somehow influenced the road crews to get their act together, but I suspect that this would be a little too delusional on my part. Take a left turn on Forest Service 59 (also labeled as the Steam Mill Road,(and sometimes called Kirby Road) a quarter of a mile or so before you get to the Breadloaf campus. Head up this well-graded dirt road for a few miles until you get to the Steam Mill Clearing trailhead, on your right. This clearing was the turnaround point for one of my ski touring posts from last summer, entitled The Skater’s Waltz, and is easy to notice due to several signs, as well as the fact that it is the first clearing that a driver comes to along this road. I have tried to find out more information on the history of this clearing, but thus far have not been able to find out much. There clearly must have been a steam mill here at some point, where raw logs were cut into lumber to facilitate transport to civilization, but I have not uncovered any information yet as to when it was operational, and by whom. The historical name for the road “Kirby Road” may offer some clues, but an old map of Ripton shows Kirby residences far down on the lower reaches of the road, and no indication of the steam mill ownership is apparent.
The run up to Skylight Pond follows a well-marked trail from this parking lot. This popular hiking trail climbs steadily, but never particularly steeply. There are frequent waterbars, dips, rocks, and mudholes to throw off one’s running rhythm, but never enough to turn it into a hike rather than a leisurely run. After a little less than two and a half miles, the ascending trail crosses the Long Trail, and continues on until it reaches the Skylight Pond shelter, quite possibly the Ritz Carleton of the numerous Long Trail shelters. The shelter porch overlooks the small high altitude pond, with very open views to the east. The Green Mt. National Forest attendant who makes this shelter his home for the summer informed me that the long hulking ridge on the eastern horizen was Mt. Moosilauke, in New Hampshire, another great trail running destination. Checking in on my GPS, I was surprised to see that I had done a lot of climbing to get here – the altitude at the shelter was 3500 ft, making its ascent a 1500 ft vertical climb from the parking lot below. The gradual nature of this rather substantial climb undoubtedly leads to its popularity as a hike and feasibility as a trail run!
On the descent, a few openings in the trees with only partially obstructed views to the west became apparent, but I must confess that while vistas like the above shot make for attractive blogs and effective running motivations, most the runs look more like this:
AND, when the footing gets tougher, it is hard to look at any scenery other than your own two feet. I guess that beats making sudden indentations in the mud with your face.
Nonetheless, the return to my car made for a pleasant round trip of just under 5 miles. I am also very interested to learn more about the history of the original steam mill, and invite readers to share what they may know about it.
Given the myriad of routes through the Moosalamoo region, and the great running weather, I thought it would be fun to try yet another long run bisecting this region and concluding at the Falls of Lana trailhead. My two lab assistants, Jack and Tyler, were also eager to explore some new terrain, so we decided to do another run involving a car shuttle. The original plan was to commence the run from the Robert Frost trailhead off of Route 125, but upon our arrival, we noted barriers across the trailhead announced that it was closed to the public due to the ongoing road construction. While signs of this type don’t necessarily dissuade me from exploration, the fact that the entrance was zealously guarded by Officer Obie of the elite “Hunter North” private law enforcement corp (complete with lights blazing on his vehicle in an example of comic overkill) provided enough inducement for me to change our plans. Is it just me, or does it seem that they are not really trying to fix Rt 125? This road project seems to be turning into an ever-widening exercise in dust generation on dry days, and mudpie baking on rainy days. I am beginning to suspect that at the end of the summer, they are going to announce that the whole thing is a big joke, and that there will be no new pavement, just the usual bumpy road.
The above rant aside, the unanticipated change in course led us back to the same trailhead as many of this summer’s runs – the Brooks Rd. Parking lot. The first few miles of this point-to-point run coincide with the first segments of the run described in the Widow’s Clearing run, described earlier this summer. In brief, we started up the Brooks Rd. (just past Breadloaf on Rt. 125) at an easy pace until we reached the right hand turn at about 2.5 miles heading to the Sugar Hill Reservoir in another half mile. The crest of this side trail got us over the high point of this run, after about 500 ft of ascent. While there were plenty of ups and downs after this point, the predominate direction was definitely down.
Taking the sharp right turn onto the Blueberry Hill ski trail, still following the Widow’s Clearing route through the forest led to the point where this route branched off from previous runs. About 1.25 miles after passing the shores of the reservoir, take the left split in the trail heading towards the gated road – a right turn here would continue the Widow’s Clearing run. This left turn leads promptly to the Ripton-Goshen road, where a left turn is quickly followed by a right turn onto the well-signed forest service road heading towards the Moosalamoo campground. The next segment of the run, while not challenging, is somewhat less pleasant than it could be due to the road construction of large crushed stone, which necessitated careful attention to ones feet to avoid loose stone, and the foot-bruising effect of an ill-placed footfall. In other words, it is fine for motor vehicles (which we saw none of), but not quite as good for runners. Nonetheless, this segment was worth the effort, as it led after a mile and a half to the glorious view at the Voter Brook Overlook. This viewpoint peeks through a break in the mountains out towards the Champlain Valley and the Adirondacks.
Backtracking from this point, we reversed our steps for about a mile until we came to the point where the North Branch Trail crossed the road, and turned right into the forest. Enroute to this trail, we also crossed paths with the Keewaydin Trail, but since our Moosalamoo Region Forest Service Map showed the trail in a totally different location, we were unwilling to take it. As it turned out, the Keewaydin Trail and North Branch trail met up along the route, so either is a fine choice. The North Branch Trail led gradually downhill, and was easy to follow. Some sections were fine for running, but a few short sections required careful foot placement to avoid falls on slippery rocks and stream crossings. Nonetheless, this was an aesthetically pleasing section of forest running.
The North Branch Trail eventually wound its way down to the Rattlesnake Cliffs Trail,where a left turn brought us shortly to the Sucker Brook stream crossing. A well constructed footbridge over the stream at this point was washed away in one of the massive storms which plagued Addison County during the summer of 2008, necessitating a little rock-hopping to get across the stream. This was followed by about a half mile on the Silver Lake trail, returning us to our cached car at the Falls of Lana trailhead, just outside of Branbury State Park. My GPS showed a run of 9.8 miles at this point, so a few hundred yards extra on the road brought this up to an even 10 miles. Overall, while this run was shorter than the route of the previous posting, it took about the same length of time due to the greater technical challenge of running on these trails. It is also a more scenically pleasing route, however, due to the great views of the Sugar Hill Reservoir and from the Voter Brook overlook.
The Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, the region which encompasses many of the runs on this blog, is one of the wonderfully underutilized outdoor resources in the northeast. This region, roughly delineated by Rt. 125 (the Middlebury Gap road) to the north, the main ridge of the Green Mountains to the east, Goshen and Brandon to the south, and Lake Dunmore to the west, provides a treasure trove of places to explore right at our doorstep in Addison County. While it lacks the alpine terrain and rugged mountain scenery of the Adirondacks or even the higher peaks along the Long Trail, its smaller rolling peaks, and numerous lakes and meadows, forests and streams could provide a lifetime of outdoor recreation for most people. In other words, with its less drastic, comfortably scenic terrain, it is an ideal place for trail running!
I have been eyeing my maps recently, looking for interesting “point-to-point” runs which might make for good runs with friends to share the driving at each end. A free, detailed, and USUALLY (note foreshadowing) accurate map of the Moosalamoo Region is available, free of charge, at the Middlebury office of the Green Mountain National Forest, just south of town on Rt. 7. I had some suckers, I mean fellow runners lined up to work out a car shuttle and accompany me on one of these runs, in the persons of a few of our summer research students at Bicentennial Hall. Actually, since these guys are on the varsity cross country running, I had my work cut out for me. Fortunately, I sort of knew the way, they did not, and I refused to part company with my map.
This run’s goal was to run a complete traverse of the Moosalamoo region, without actually climbing Mt. Moosalamoo itself, for obvious reasons. With this in mind, we started in the far Northeast corner of the region at the now familiar Brooks Road trailhead, right below the Snow Bowl, a short distance from Rt. 125. The first few miles of this run follow the route described a few months ago in the posting entitled “A Tale of Two Weekends.” As a result, almost all of the climbing was done in the first three and a half miles of the run, the ascent of Brooks Road. From the start, my two young trail running acolytes were chomping at the bit to dash up the first ascent, but I reminded them at I was more or less the same age as their fathers, so they relented. I also reminded them that it was my car awaiting us at Lake Dunmore, and I had the key. Smart Kids! The weather at the start was cool and partly cloudy, ideal for running, but as we proceeded up the dirt road, the rain began, and gradually increased in intensity. By the time we reached the terminus of the Brooks Road, it was an all-out downpour.
Heading back into the woods for true trailrunning, we turned right onto the Sucker Brook Trail for a few miles of gradual descent through the Blueberry Hill nordic ski trails. This run would be more or less running parallel with the Sucker Brook over its duration, and we would run closely alongside it again at the run’s completion. When the trail emerged from the woods onto the Sugar Hill Reservoir access road, instead of turning right to return to the start, we bore left downhill until we reached to Ripton-Goshen road.
At this point, we were heading into terrain where I had never traveled, so I was depending on my trusty Moosalamoo Region map for guidance. Despite the fact that it was now quite soggy, it was still legible. The map indicated that a trail leading towards our desired destination should be found immediately across the road, but we quickly realized that it was passable, but far more overgrown than we had anticipated. It appeared to be more or less unused, since the previous editing of my trusted map! Rather than loose face with my more fleet-footed young friends, I realized that a right turn on the Ripton-Goshen road should lead us to another VAST snowmobile trail, which in turn should get us to Lake Dunmore. This time, my directions fortunately proved more accurate, and the desired trail appeared on cue after about a quarter mile. A left turn on this well-marked VAST trail wound through some of the least traveled sections of the route, and after a few miles concluding with a very steep, but short climb, joined up with the dirt road connecting Silver Lake with Goshen, part of the first Silver Lake route described on this blog last summer.
While all of us were starting to tire a little at this point, the sun broke through for what promised to be a brilliant sunset, so rather than merely descend on this dirt road to our waiting car, we threw in one last short climb, taking a left turn until we reached to Goshen parking lot for Silver Lake, where we finally began the final descent. The trail down to the Leicester Hollow trail was a little bit slippery from the rain, but taking it easy made for a safe trip. A right turn on the Leicester Hollow trail, followed by a short stretch along the shores of Silver Lake and a final descent down to the Falls of Lana parking lot could have finished a great run. As we ran alongside the Sucker Brook once again, we noticed the setting sun shining through the trees over the top of the Falls lookout, so we had to stop and enjoy the view.
After soaking up the early evening sun, we finally completed the run. This ended up being one of the longest runs to date on this blog, measuring in at slightly more than 11 miles, with about a thousand feet of climbing, offset by an even greater amount of descent. Needless to say, I am eyeing my map (a new copy, after all, it is free!) for other good point-to-point runs to report on later this summer. The Google Earth/GPS track of this run really shows off the breadth of terrain covered, from the Snow Bowl in the Northeast corner, past several major bodies of water, to its conclusion near the shores of Lake Dunmore.
This posting covers the last remaining section of the TAM (Trail Around Middlebury) which has not yet been described in this blog. Most of this run proceeds through the open meadows to the west of Middlebury College, with a short loop on the Ralph Myhre Golf Course thrown in as a warm-up. Since my locker is at the college Field House, this made for a good start and finish point for a lunch break run on a warm early summer day. The first two miles of this run were pretty easy, consisting of the well-trodden two miles around the golf course. Unlike my earlier description of this section, I chose the clockwise direction, which necessitated entering the trail by the soccer goals behind the artificial turf field on the athletic grounds. Following the trail around the periphery, carefully dodging errant drives, brought me to the Rt. 30 road crossing at the two mile mark. Entering the woods on the far side led me to the section of the trail labeled as the “Colin O’Neil Class of 97 Trail”, built by the classmates of a student who passed away in a tragic auto accident when driving while intoxicated during his senior year at Middlebury College. This heavily wooded segment weaves between the trees while angling downhill, until it reaches the open meadows below and to the west. Although this has been a drier year than usual, it also passes through the first of several deep muddy puddles, making this a bad run to take the shiny new sneakers on. Reaching the bottom of the field, I took a left turn and followed the trail which ran at the periphery of several adjoining meadows. While this section is easy to follow, it can be surprisingly challenging to run, since the light traffic it receives leads to fairly high grass, slowing the running considerably. I was also careful not to accidentally bump into any of the clusters of the now all-too common weed “Poison Parsnip”, also known as “Wild Parsnip”. This weed looks much like a slightly larger version of the well-known “Queen Anne’s Lace” but with yellow rather than white blooms.
If you aren’t familiar with this stuff, it is VERY nasty, and should be avoided at all costs – fortunately alert runners can do so on this stretch of trail! This invasive species came to North America with the first European settlers, and its presence was noted as early as 1630. It is not apparent why it seems to have become so prevalent along Vermont fields and highways in the last decade or so, but the northern midwest, especially Wisconsin, seems to have been similarly afflicted. Unlike other better known toxic plants, like poison ivy, which depend on our immune response to cause their discomfort, this plant is just plain corrosive! When the tissues of this plant are broken open, it releases a family of substances known as “psoralens” which are initially harmless, but quickly react with UV light to take on their corrosive character, causing skin burns and discoloration which can last from weeks to months on human skin.
This nasty weed, like most invasives, has no natural enemies among our local fauna. Its natural predator, the “Parsnip Webworm”, also native to Europe, has found its way to some wild parsnip-infested areas in the US, diminishing the numbers and health of the plant in those locales. Apparently, the psoralens are not part of the plant’s biochemistry solely to torture humans, but to keep its naturally coevolved predator, the webworm, at bay. When faced with large populations of webworms, the plants generate higher levels of psoralens, which in turn stunts the plant’s own growth to ensure its survival. I say bring those webworms to Vermont and let chemical ecology run its course!
Getting back to the run before I get too distracted: The route crosses over College Street and passes just to the west of the Organic Garden, with excellent views of the Green Mountains, and my place of work, Bicentennial Hall. The organic garden is worth a trip by itself, with a mix of flowers and vegetables on a quiet knoll in the middle of the field.
After about a half mile in the open, the trail heads back into some fairly open forest before eventually joining Weybridge Street for the 2 mile return to the locker room and showers at the Fitness Center. I chose to take the shortcut through campus, entering through the Weybridge St gate, and passing through the dorms. Even with the shortcut, the run ended up at 6.6 miles, plenty of distance for this runner on a hot day in the early afternoon sun.