Starting around 15 years ago, I began exploring the Mad River Valley while visiting family members who have a home in the area. One of my first discoveries was Scrag Mountain, the modest peak which is nonetheless the most prominent geographical feature on the east side of the valley. At that time, the main trail accessing the summit was at the end of Palmer Hill Road, and the first few times I ascended this moderately challenging peak, it seemed that the trail, while still easy to follow, was falling into some disuse. For one, the landowners in the vicinity made it very clear, through numerous threatening signs, that they would not abide any cars parked in the vicinity of the trailhead, which apparently did not have any public parking spaces available for hikers. Also, the summit had a fire tower for many years, giving an otherwise tree-enshrouded summit spectacular views, and with removal of the tower, the appeal of this pleasant hike was diminished. I am not sure when the fire tower was removed, but a sign alluding to its presence (incorrectly) was still in place when I first ascended the peak. Some of the history of the summit and the fire tower can be found online.
Fast forward to a year ago, when I set off to explore the summit, admittedly scouting out a potential trail run/blog post, from the location of the original trailhead, which I had not ascended in at least 10 years. While the trail was far more overgrown than my memories of it, as I neared the summit, I could see why this was no longer a commonly used trail – blowdown in the ensuing years had taken a pleasant half day hike, and turned it into a nightmare of climbing over, under and around a seemingly infinite number of downed trees, rendering the passage impossible to all but the most intrepid of hikers…..me! After a seeming eternity of route finding, climbing, and badly scratched arms and legs, the blowdown subsided, and I found the original trail, which seemed oddly easy to find – and I was puzzled as to the use it was receiving given the ordeal I had to go through to achieve its higher reaches. Nonetheless, once past the blowdown, the summit was easily achieved. I was pleasantly surprised that the ancient fire tower warden hut at the summit was still standing, and from the look of the log book there, was a frequent overnight place for the young stoner crowd, who indicated the herb of their choice in the graffiti on the walls, and their ramblings in the log book. I also noted that there were still a few limited views to the Roxbury (east) side visible from summit ledges through the trees. On my descent, however, following the trail, I realized that the in my ten year absence, the original trail had been re-routed, so I followed its descent not really sure where it would deposit me. In fact, upon reaching the East Warren Road after descending Sherman Road, I was relieved to realize that I was indeed on the correct side of the range, and not in Northfield, which would have necessitated a long drive by family members to recover me.
So, with these slightly confused memories only a year old, I thought I would try out this new trail as a run, on the late afternoon of Father’s day 2012. It was a rather hot afternoon, so I delayed my departure until the late afternoon in the hope of catching some cooling temperatures. Nonetheless, it was still in the low 80’s when I set off on my run, at least with a decent supply of water. The described section of this run begins well above the valley floor at the intersection of the East Warren Rd. and the Common Rd., on the far eastern edge of the Mad River Valley. There is a good parking lot here, with room for a few cars, and many runners, bikers, and walkers park their cars here to begin and end outdoor activities from this vantage with excellent views of the main ridge of the Green Mts, and the three ski areas in the area.
Heading south, the very first challenge was “The Dip” a sudden drop and climb of about 200 vertical feet, which is a blast on a bicycle (or a car in neutral, if I must confess) but a bit of a drag for runners on their approach to an already significant climb. At the top of the hill, take the left into the high rent district of Vermont, aka Sherman Road. The beautiful , expansive gentleman farms are reputed to have been the ski homes of members of the Kennedy clan back in the 60’s, when Sugarbush had much poorer skiing, but a much more evolved après ski and night life, leading to its “Mascara Mountain” nickname. After about a half mile of increasingly steep uphill running, I took a left turn onto Bowen Road, which gave me a breather as I traversed the hillside, enjoying the early summer patches of that friendliest of flowers, the daisy. After about another half mile, noticing the little brown jelly beans, indicative of a healthy deer population, the semi-developed road turned into a wide double track trail and headed into the woods, angling up the hillside in a northerly direction. After the first half mile or so, it became apparent to me that this was not the best choice for a “run” – the trail got steeper and rougher, forcing me to turn most of the rest of the trip into a fast hike rather than a run. About half way up, I came across a clearing with a beaver pond, and could see from the vantage point that I still had a fair amount of climbing to do!
Resuming my labored ascent, made all the worse by the heat, I came to a section of trail where my passage was further complicated by the undergrowth and debris hiding sections of the trail, necessitating some route finding, further slowing my progress. I knew I was near to the summit, as a look to my right showed mostly blue sky through the trees rather than hillside, but at this point, my increasing dehydration, and time limitations (not wanting to miss the upcoming Fathers’ Day feast!) after a few more minutes of messing around making slow upward progress, I decided to forego the summit, and return for the pleasant evening in front of me. Turning the corner back on to Sherman Road, I took a short pause to enjoy the sun starting to approach the ridgeline over the ski areas in the distance. I also met the funny, inquisitive looking musk ox hanging out at one of the gentleman farms previously alluded to. I suppose he looked somewhat like me, when a haircut is overdue, at least if you ignore the horns.
In the end, this hike/run/climb ended up covering about 6.5 miles, with1500 feet of climbing, counting the extra descent and climb in The Dip. While the distance sounds modest, I actually covered a few more miles and climbed more vertical feet, having begun my run farther away, and further down the valley, but chose not to include this considerable extra mileage on the roads in a trail running post.
The warm weather of the Memorial Day weekend gave me a great excuse to explore some more new terrain in the vicinity of my favorite local backcountry destination, Silver Lake. Most of my trips into the Silver Lake backcountry have begun at the Falls of Lana trailhead, and have involved climbing, then finishing with a downhill. The reasons for this are pretty obvious – on a longer run, it is easier to finish on a downhill than on a climb. I had been considering starting a run into the Silver Lake environs from the uphill side, a popular trailhead in Goshen, which of course would require a significant uphill climb at the end of the run. It seemed like a good day to give it a try! To get to this trailhead, take 125 up to Ripton, but take the Ripton-Goshen road ( a right turn) shortly after passing through town. Stay on this road, passing the Blueberry Hill Inn, until you get to the right turn onto Silver Lake Road. Take a right turn here, and stay on Silver Lake Road until you get to the end of the road, where there is a pretty good sized parking lot. I decided to make my first ever run along the Ridge Trail, which follows the ridge just to the west of Silver Lake, and return by the more commonly traveled Leicester Hollow Trail, effectively mirroring a run I did last year along the Chandler Ridge, the ridge just to the east of the lake.
Reaching this parking lot in the early evening hours on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, I was fortunate to sneak my compact car into the last spot in the lot! I was greeted in the lot by the gentleman who was the host at the Silver Lake Campground a mile below, who was stationed at the trailhead to inform would be campers that the campground below was full. I smiled, and pointed to my small fanny pack, and I think he understood that I was not planning to spend the night on the shores of the lake, but who knows?
I began the run with a short downhill on the Goshen Trail, the shortest route to Silver Lake. within a few yards, I passed through the power line clearing – It is kind of funny that this wonderful semi-wilderness area is also a source of hydroelectric power, using the stored water in Silver Lake, and the power station below near the shores of Lake Dunmore.
Shortly after passing the power line, the Ridge Trail takes and obvious, well marked turn to the left, heading south along the ridge. Much of the first mile or two of this trail is slightly overgrown and muddy, a reflection of the relative rarity in which it is traveled. While it climbed some early on, and had a few small ups and downs along the way, it was generally a downhill trip in this section. I was hoping to find views comparable to those on its eastern twin, the Chandler Ridge Trail, but saw none – this was “just” a run through the woods. At about 3 and a half miles, I came across a complicated series of crossing paths, but staying on the well labeled trail, I managed to stay on course. A short, easy descent alongside a small stream brought me to a lovely quiet country lane, where I assumed (correctly) that a right turn would connect me with the Leicester Hollow trail for my return.
Taking the right turn, the country road quickly met a forest service gate, marking what is probably the official start to the Leicester Hollow Trail. The smooth running on this hardened trail, met a bridge coming in from the left (and based on previous experiences, where the crossover from Chandler Ridge joins) and stayed on the runner’s right side of the rocky stream. The easy running soon ends, as the trail gets much rougher – NOT due to Irene (the usual blame for washed out trails these days) but due to flash flooding from the summer of 2008. After about a mile of rough going, in, out and around stream beds, the trail became easier going, with only a slight uphill tilt. The trail eventually entered a clearing, where the presence of old apple trees indicated human habitation at some point in the past. Examination of an 1871 Leicester map shows this site as the former home of one Mrs F. Glynn, who I know nothing else about!
At about a mile past this homesite, as my mind was wandering with the sense of timelessness that often accompanies a long trail run, seeing the sunset over Silver Lake, I realized that I should conclude this run soon if I did not want to have to complete it after dark. I could also smell the campfires from the happy campers in the full backcountry campground.
Mindful of the time, I stayed on the trail along the east shore of Silver Lake, going a little faster now, until I joined the dirt road trail connecting the Falls of Lana parking lot below with the Goshen parkking lot above, aned took the right turn for one last climb to my awaiting car. This measured in at about 9.5 miles, with about a 900 foot descent and climb.
In one of my winter posts a few years ago, I described a great ski route at the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring Area in Goshen, on the trail traversing the high flanks of Romance Mountain. It has been claimed that this trail is “the highest altitude groomed cross country ski trail in Vermont”, and on skis, it certainly made for a challenging climb, and a fun, fast, and yes, slightly out of control descent. After a few longer runs in the previous weeks, I thought it would be fun to try and haul my early season body up Romance Mountain from the Ripton side. So, on a very cloudy and threatening Saturday afternoon, I parked my car at my favorite trail head on Brooks Road,the dirt road between Breadloaf and the Snow Bowl (for new readers). This trailhead never ceases to amuse me – there are two great directions to go – up Brooks Road past the Forest Service Gate, or out on the Widow’s Clearing Trail, and then a seemingly infinite number of “loop” or “out and back” runs to be tried as the two major trails branch out and interconnect. On this run, I chose the former, opting for the pretty serious climbing to be had along Brooks Road and trails beyond.
The run up this dirt road, was relatively uneventful – I saw a few moose tracks in the mud alongside the road, but none of the actual critters. Despite the general leafiness starting to spread across the valley, things were still pretty brown on the ground and grey in the sky, other than a few small streamlets, which supported some of the lush golden green of early spring, bringing to mind a favorite short Robert Frost poem:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
As a curious aside, when googling this poem to get the words right, I discovered that it “embodies the ambiguous balance between paradisiac good and the paradoxically more fruitful human good“. Oh…and I thought it was about leaves?
If you look carefully in this photo, you will also see some of the first springtime ephemerals, the flowers which appear and disappear as the season progresses. If I am reading the great posting on this topic by my fellow blogger Tim over at The Middlebury Landscape blog, the tiny flowers shown in this shot are known as “Spring Beauty”.
A little further up the dirt road, I also came across the following shelf fungus, which was so big it was almost scary. With a little careful cropping (and some imagination), it kind of looks like a duck bill, don’t you think?
Eventually, after about 3.5 miles, Brooks Road came to an end, and I entered the true trail running segment. The first trail to the left provides a connection with the Long Trail, and it is described in another earlier post, when I ran up and over Worth Mountain and through the Snow Bowl from this side. Bypassing this turnoff, I came to a T, and a ski/mountain bike trail which forms part of the Blueberry Hill trail network. Now, I took the left, and this trail took me to the high point of the trail over the next 2 miles, in a series of gradual and sharper ascents. I briefly contemplated bushwacking to the true summit, but looking up, I realized it would involve getting my head stuck in the clouds, which were starting to envelope the highest altitudes. I took a moment to enjoy the limited view from my perspective.
I also did a quick search up here for a small sign proclaiming it “Cindy’s Summit”, which used to grace the trail at this point, and was disappointed not to find it. Curious as to the story of the sign and its demise, I emailed Tony down at the Blueberry Hill Inn, who told me that he had placed the sign there after promising a frequent guest named (surprise!) Cindy that he would do so if she could ski all the way up there. Alas, new Forest Service regulations involving place names rendered this sign contraband, so he had to take it down. So much for poor Cindy’s immortality on Romance Mt!
My return trip went much easier, of course, being almost entirely descent. The long promised colder weekend rains began just as I returned to my car, so I got lucky this time. This ended up as the most challenging run of the young ski season, with an 11 mile round trip distance, and about 1200 ft of climbing up to about 2700 ft- not bad for April!
With more great weather this weekend it was time to take to the trails again. I had yet to visit one of my favorite locations, Silver Lake, this season, but I prefer not to blog the same runs too frequently, unless there is some unique perspective to be presented. Last summer, while exploring the Chandler Ridge Trail, the trail traversing along the ridge separating Silver Lake and Lake Dunmore, I noticed the high-quality recent trail maintenance, and speculated that the formerly very rough and unrunnable trail circumnavigating Silver Lake might also have seen similar sprucing. So, I set out on this run with my camera and GPS, planning on running around Silver Lake, hoping that the lack of leaves on the trees might provide a unique perspective on this popular locale.
Arriving at the Silver Lake trailhead near Branbury State Park, I was surprised to see the parking lot almost full. Apparently, I was not the only person looking to get out in the woods on a warm early spring day! After about 1.6 miles of climbing this well worn trail (actually a dirt road, suitable for small 4-W-D vehicles, but closed to them) I arrived at the dam marking the outlet to Silver Lake, and took the trail leading over the dam to the west shore. The early going on this trail was fine as expected, but when I reached the point where the trail up to the Chandler Ridge diverged, and chose the lake shore trail as planned. It very quickly became obvious that this trail had not seen the tender loving care which I had hoped it had. In fact, as I was listening to that great old blues song, “Try a Little Tenderness” which happened to pop up on the day’s running mix, the song proved prophetic, as I stubbed my toe on an ill-placed rock. I don’t think that was the sort of “tenderness” that the songwriter had in mind – Ouch!
So, I decided that my planned route was not what I was looking for, but had my first inspiration, on my now improvised run. According to my memory of the Chandler Ridge from last summer, the views were limited by the deciduous forest cover. However, with the trees still totally bare, the views on both sides of the ridge should be spectacular, so I backtracked a few hundred yards, and took the trail leading up to the ridge, and was not disappointed by the views.
After enjoying the sights from this ridge for a while, I retraced my tracks back to the shore of the lake, where I came across a lone pine tree, sentinal-like, on a rock near the lake shore that I had never noticed before.
Returning back across the dam, I stayed along the shoreline until I reached the small beach, were I saw numerous families out fishing and enjoying the day. At this point, I had felt like I had explored enough, and was planning on heading down the trail back to my car. Shortly after beginning my descent, and still in sight of the lake, I saw a curious sight- I had been noticing the total absence of budding leaves on the trees at this higher elevation, but there was one small eager tree which was trying to get its leaves out in advance of its competitors.
A few moments later along the trail, my next inspiration formed. In my many previous runs up to and near the lake,I had noticed a wide trail heading to the north, but had never taken the time to explore it – since it was not on any maps, I presumed it went a short way into the woods, and disappeared. My legs felt like the had a lot of energy left in them, so I decided to finally explore this trail. Much to my surprise, the trail kept going, and was soon joined by a high berm to my right, which I presumed was a pipeline coming from some other source, emptying into the spillway feeding Silver Lake from the north. After a short distance, the trail forked, and I randomly chose the left fork, which ended shortly in an open hillside meadow, which looked like it had been some sort of landfill once. I suspect that this may have been what remained of the dump for the long gone Silver Lake Hotel – and thanks to Gary Spaulding for putting together the short history of the hotel which I have linked to. After hitting this dead end, I doubled back and decided to explore the right fork of the trail to see where it might lead. I had long suspected that the source of the water for the Silver Lake spillway was the much smaller, and very rarely visited Sucker Brook Reservoir, shown on maps a little further uphill. After following this broad, easily discerned trail for some time (much of it bordered by the berm covering an occasionally obvious pipeline), I finally started to tire, and when the opportunity came for a trail which looked like it might take me home, a sharp turn climbing to the right, I took it, leaving the final discover of the trail’s final destination for another day. However, upon loading up my GPS track after the run, I discovered that I was probably only a few minutes from the Sucker Brook Reservoir, confirming my guess as to its role. My return trail actually followed right alongside the previous trail, surprising me that I had not noticed it on the way out. In the course of my return, I surprised a small flock of deer, who started as I grew near, proving far too Shy, lest I got too close.
Doubling back like this, I returned to the more developed campground and picnic area around the lake, and completed my final descent to my waiting vehicle below. Upon completion of a far longer run (over 8 miles) than I had planned, I had one last moment of inspiration – I treated myself to a Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Peace Pop purchased at one of the several general stores between the trailhead and my home – a great way to end a great run!
In keeping with my observation that things just look different when the trees are bare, but the weather isn’t too wintery, I decided to re-explore an area which has been the subject of two previous posts. In this case, I decided to go for a run in the terrain roughly delineated by Rt 125 to the north, and Upper Plains Rd. to the west. The small peak which emerges from this corner is known on topo maps as “Pine Hill”, a curious name for this modest bump, which seems to be entirely covered in deciduous forest. I described a run in this area as one of my first posts in this blog, entitled “Secret Meadow“, as well as in an early winter run entitled “Snowy Scenic Sauntering on a Sunny (Almost) Solstice Sunday“. The high point of both of these runs is a little-known hillside meadow with outstanding westerly views. The run described in this post was just a little bit more ambitious, covering some slightly rougher terrain with more climbing.
While there are a few appropriate places to park one’s vehicle closer to the trails, I chose to start the run on the Oak Ridge Trailhead, just above East Middlebury on Rt. 125, so that I could make it a longer workout. I headed towards East Middlebury for a few hundred yards before taking a left turn on to Upper Plains Road. This road used to have a “tree tunnel” feel to it, but recent “improvements” have involved removal of many of the trees which were encroaching on the road. Too bad! After about a mile, a Forest Service gate on the left marks the start of the trailed section. I couldn’t help but notice the rerouting of the path created by the incessant efforts of ATV-ers – earlier paths were blocked off, leading to generation of new paths. Be forwarned that the entry into this run off of Upper Plains Rd. is unposted private property, so please be particularly respectful of this, so that this lovely area can remain open to exploration. But…I didn’t need to tell you that, right?
After getting past the gate, the next section of climbing was on a dirt road, which switchbacked up the hillside until it broke into the aforementioned meadow by a small pond. As soon as you pass the birch grove on your left, take a sharp left turn, and veer back towards the forest to find the true trail heading north along the west side of Pine Hill, which now stands to your right. There are quite a few other trails in this vicinity, which can be a little bit confusing. In fact, if you look at my GPS track for this run, you will notice a short diversion to the right, which the result of mistakenly following a path which disappeared after about a hundred yards, forcing me to backtrack and choose another. Not long afterwards, I reached the saddle between Pine Hill (to my right) and a lower summit to my left. I also couldn’t help but notice one of the most spectacularly situated hunter’s blinds I have seen in my explorations. It undoubtedly provides great views, and let’s face it, what kid, young or old, doesn’t love a treehouse? Even the ladder had a whimsical, Dr. Seuss-like feel to it!
From the col, I decided to save the true summit for another day, instead taking a short bushwhack to the left to the minor northern summit. Despite the gray skies, the view here was excellent, and given the ledges and lack of foliage to the west from this vantage, I suspect that the view will not be badly hemmed in once the trees are in full leaf. This pretty little summit also had a lot of low lying bushes which I suspect will bear blueberries mid-summer, as well as many weather-twisted small trees which gave the summit a slightly haunted feel.
With the advent of a slight drizzle, I continued on the path, which got very muddy in places, before descending to an intersection with a more developed trail behind the hill. Here, I took a right turn to complete the loop, stopping to take a picture of the pretty waterfall found in the rather steep notch behind Pine Hill. I was always curious why the dirt road, meadow, and broad, well built trail reaching the waterfall were built in the first place, and while mountain biking last summer, I happened to meet the landowner who told me a little bit of the “back story” to this property. Apparently, at some point in the 60′s or 70′s (a seemingly generic way of saying “A long time ago, but not THAT long ago”) the man who owned the land had received federal funding to develop this waterfall as a rest area, as part of the National Forest. For reasons unknown, after the initial stages of the roadside development, involving roadbuilding and a few other modest improvements, the project was abandoned. Well, the waterfall and surroundings are still quite beautiful!
After pausing at the waterfall, the trail re-emerged from behind Pine Hill into the meadow, and by staying to the far left, I caught the short steep path returning me to the forest service gate, where it was an easy mile-long return to my car. The total length of this run was about 4.25 miles, with a climb of 500 ft – not bad for the beginning of April.
I also decided to have a little extra fun with this run – with the advent of routine access to portable GPS devices, a new pastime has emerged known as “geocaching“. Geocaching hobbyists leave hidden containers with logbooks, souvenirs, and sometimes even disposable cameras at locations of interest, and then post the GPS coordinates as well as other hints for others to find the site. If you take a look at www.geocaching.com, you will see that there are many geocache locations in Addison County. Since geocachers and trail runners both share an interest in discovering new places of interest, I thought it would be fun to set my first geocache on this run. My geocache, which contains a logbook and disposable camera for finders to share their experiences, as well as a small souvenir can be found without a lot of difficulty by someone completing this run. The actual GPS coordinates, which will also be posted soon on the aforementioned geocache website are N 43 degrees 57.934′, W 073 degrees 04.248′. Happy Hunting!
Note added 10/27/12 – I went up to check out the fate of my geocache, and found that it had been stolen. I guess the allure of a 10 buck fishing tackle box with a few toys in it was more than one of the visitors could resist. So – this is still a fun run, but not geocache, until I get around to replacing it.
Ok, what’s up with 70 degree weather in March? While the ski season was a bitter disappointment, the lack of snow on the trails translates into an early start on the trialrunning season! My running fitness is certainly not where it was last fall, but the running still feels good, and in many ways, this is an ideal season for running. Many vistas which are well hidden by the leafy canopy for most of the running season open up into glorious vistas prior to the emergence of the foliage. With this in mind, I chose my first true spring run to take advantage of the season. On a few previous posts, I have described a great entry into the Green Mountain National Forest starting behind East Middlebury International Airport, a snowmobile train beginning near the 4-way stop sign on Munson Road and Schoolhouse Hill Road, just to the northeast of the airport. Munson Road is a short road heading directly towards the base of the mountains to the east, and can be found about 2 miles south of the junction of Quarry Road and Rt. 116. There are a few small turnoffs on Munson Road where a car (or perhaps a vigilant police cruiser) can park for those driving out of town to begin this run.
The run began with a short stretch of trail running adjacent to Burnham Drive, a residential street, before turning to the north. The trail crosses a bridge over a small stream, before beginning the challenging climb in earnest. This first hill climb of the season is always difficult, and this was no exception, but my efforts were rewarded by the emerging views to the west. Half way up the day’s climb, I noticed scratch marks on the rocks, similar to what one would find in higher elevations resulting from climbers’ crampons. After a second, I realized the source of these scratches – the snowmobiles which make use of this trail during the winter. They too, like the skiers, probably tried to have a little bit of fun in this snowless winter, and instead of damaging their skis on the rocky terrain, probably tried to drive their snowmobiles on the all-too-brown terrain, leaving their marks behind.
After a little over a mile of climbing, the views were temporarily blocked as the trail entered a stretch of coniferous forest, and made a sharp turn to the right, heading more directly towards Robert Frost Mt. A few hundred yards after the sharp turn, a small rock cairn appeared on the left, marking the turnoff to a wonderful, rarely visited, scenic vista which provides for great views to the west, even during the summer. A few hundred yards on this easy-to follow trail brought me to a small rocky outcrop, the turn-around point for this run. The famous OMYA pit, the world’s largest open-pit marble quarry, is one of the noteworthy sights from this point.
At this point, my early season legs had climbed enough, so I reversed directions and headed down the hillside. I ran into a friend who had chosen to undertake the short walk up to the bridge, and we exchanged pleasantries concern our fortunes, living in such a beautiful locale. At this point, I diverged from the main trail, taking a short uphill trail which ran adjacent to the stream, following in to a modest viewpoint, where I could see the brook cascading down the mountainside.
After this short side trail, I continued on to the point at which the VAST snowmobile trail rejoined the road. While this run was only a little over 3.5 miles round trip, it did include a 900 vertical ft. climb, making for a challenging early season run, undertaken at a leisurely pace.
The last few months have constituted my longest hiatus from blogging since beginning The Middlebury Trailrunner. I ended taking off some time from running (and hence, blogging) due to the inevitable post- marathon letdown in training, followed by hunting season (the worst time of the year for trail runners!), followed by a particularly busy end of the semester, and some minor injuries. Finally, on a clear February Saturday afternoon, the time was right for my first trail run in far too long. At the time of my last posting, long ago in October, a dusting of early season snow began to get me thinking of what I hoped would be a great cross country ski season. Well, I am still waiting – this is the time of the year for cross-country skiing, and I have yet to ski. Since, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t any place in Addison County with enough snow for cross- country skiing, I thought I might take advantage of the thin snow cover with an “out of season” trail run.
The Robert Frost Trail on Rt.125 in Ripton is a well known and much loved footpath for easy family walks in the mountains. It is also very short, with a total length of about a mile, and by itself a little too short for a decent run. Far fewer people have ventured on to the trails beyond, over and around the hill sometimes referred to as “Water Tower Hill”. I have always found this name somewhat confusing, as the series of trails a few miles further to the west on the other side of the Ripton-Goshen Road are also called the Water Tower Trails. To the best of my knowledge, there is no water tower to be found at either of these locales – so if anyone knows the history of these names, and the saga of the lost water tower – I would love to hear about it! In any case, a run extended beyond the confines of the Robert Frost Trail, around the Water Tower Hill, seemed like a good route for this midwinter run. A great map of this area is available from the ranger station just south of Middlebury on Rt.7.
I expected the first sections of the run to be the easiest, given the flat, well trodden terrain. This ended up not being quite the case – the more heavily traveled sections were essentially blue ice hidden under a thin veneer of fresh snow. Fortunately, my winter running shoes, aka “studded snow tires for runners” did a good job of keeping me upright, but I had to chose my footing carefully. It had been a while since my last run here - two summers ago, I was surprised to find the bridge over the river weaving through this area had been washed out, necessitating a little bit of unexpected wading! I knew there had been some construction over the summer, and was curious to see the new bridge. The original bridge had been a pretty, rustic structure, where my children and I had enjoyed playing “Pooh Sticks” on some of their first walks in the woods. Looking around the web, I found a picture of this structure!
The new bridge, in contrast, while still wooden, has a much more utilitarian look about it. At first glance, it also looked almost ridiculously over built (it might double as a railroad trestle!), until I realized that it was constructed to be accessible to those confined to wheelchairs, who might otherwise have few opportunities for the quiet of the woods.
Immediately across the bridge, the combination of uneven footing, hillside trails, and blue ice led to a few moments of panic and emergency tree hugging to remain upright, but as the trail flattened out the footing improved, the rest of the run proved quite pleasant. Deeper in the woods, the main trail bears sharply to the left, and the connector to Water Tower Hill went straight up the hill. This trail also had no footprints in the snow, indicating I was the first person in some time to venture in this direction. Soon afterwards, this trail joined the Crosswalk Trail (all trails are very well signed here!) which I took to its conclusion before descending on Sundown. An easy descent eventually wound behind some of the buildings at Camp Silver Towers and crossed through a beaver meadow with great views of Breadloaf Mountain.
A few moments later, I reached the Ripton-Goshen Road, and reversed course, this time staying on Sundown and circling around the west side of Water Tower Hill. This section included a nice 500 ft climb, modest for a trail run, but my best climb in some time! A left turn onto Trepidation, followed by a short descent on Northstar brought me back to the Robert Frost Trail connector. The run was finished with a run through a blueberry meadow (a great place to be in July!) with more great views of the Green Mts.
Recrossing the new bridge, and a few hundred yards more on the trail brought me back to my car. The whole loop added up to about 4.6 miles with two climbs totally about 700 ft. Hopefully, the next post will be more seasonably appropriate – on skis!
I was feeling lethargic, and was finally ready for my first real run about two weeks after the marathon alluded to in my previous post. I had been concentrating on recovery, with a few yoga classes to loosen up and some easy time on the elliptical trainer as my only workouts, but it was definitely time to hit the trails again! It was fun waking up on Sunday morning, seeing the thin cover of snow on my yard and on the trees around my home, so I thought it would be fun to do a run on the ski trails of the Rikert Ski Touring area at Breadloaf.
Arriving at Breadloaf on this cool sunny Sunday afternoon, I was surprised to see that there was really not much more snow up here than we had received in the valley. While the fields were pretty much bereft of snow cover, there was still plenty of the white stuff on the shadier trails, and the summit of Breadloaf Mt. in the background was truly snowcapped.
The first section of the run followed the track described on one of my previous ski postings, as I followed the collegiate racing trails. Entering the woods of the Battell Trail I noted the first signs of ongoing trail maintenance – a big pile of dirt blocking my path. I had suspected that there would be some damage to the trails as a result of Hurricane Irene. I stayed on this trail for most of the loop, but noticed more trail work at the bottom of the descent – a new bridge was being put in at the bottom of the descent. Other than this bridge and a few downed trees, however, which I suspect occur every summer, I saw no sign of any significant trail damage. After looping back into the field, I decided to head up the Myhre Hill dirt road, and saw something that surprised me – what looked like a new ski trail diverging off to the right! Even though it was roped off, I decided to see where it led, but it seemed to rejoin the racing trail after a short way. Heading further uphill, I passed by the Myhre Cabin, and decided to explore one of the more remote trails, Frost. I was struck by the beauty of the light snow cover, late afternoon sun, and last remnants of fall foliage. Not surprisingly, there were a few sets of human and canine foot prints – I was not the only person out enjoying this late fall aftennoon.
During my descent back to the Breadloaf campus, I quickened my pace when I heard the blasts of a “too close for comfort” hunter’s gun – I didn’t think it was deer season yet, but I wasn’t going to take chances, especially since I was dressed in green. Heading towards the lower reaches of what had been the racing trail, I came across another new section of trail, and noticed that some older trail segments had been broadened. Returning to my car in the Rikert parking lot, I noted that this run had been just shy of 5 miles – a good distance to get back on my feet again. While this loop didn’t have any true hill climbs, it did include 500-600 feet of climbing, with a few ups and downs along the way.
I look forward to finding out what is up with the new trail construction. Mike, the new director of the ski touring area, has commented in conversation his wishes to upgrade the trail system. I suspect that these new trail sections are being put in place to facilitate racing, especially for skating races where the narrowness of many of trails makes it difficult for skiers to pass each other. Now, all we need is some more snow……
Long ago, in a very different phase of life (ie, pre-kids), I fancied myself a semi-competitive endurance athlete. And of course, every semi-competitive endurance athlete has to try running the most famous of all footraces, the marathon. And yes, I ran a few of those (OK – well two). With the advent of a more fulfilling domestic life, and diminished training time, the training presumably prerequisite for running marathons became hard to come by. As I aged, I also found that my body no longer responded well to the demands of high mileage weeks. All the standard training routines for marathon training prescribe many months and many miles, typically crescendo-ing to a few weeks of 70, 80 or even 90 miles per week. Inevitably, long term marathon plans (and of course, you do have to really plan for a marathon for many months, right?) culminated with some form of injury a few weeks before the actual race, many months of recovery, and forfeiture of often steep entry fees. As a result, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my most recent marathon (1992!) would probably be my last.
Fast forward to the last few years, and my new found love of trailrunning…..Trail running and long distance running are really NOT the same thing – I can have a great time on a relatively short run through the woods, and many trail running afficionados regularly enjoy running distances which are quite amenable to the average athlete. That said, once I started getting a taste of the great trails in the area on a regular basis, I really wanted to get out there and discover increasingly lengthy trails and their inherently less accessible sights. Long term readers will note the increasingly long runs covered in this blog. I had not abandoned old favorites of course, but I didn’t see the point of doing a blog writeup on my 5th run up Snake Mountain, Silver Lake, or some other old favorite of more reasonable distance. I have also found that I am much less prone to injury when I spend most of my time on the trails. The combination of the slower pace that the trails demand, and the varied footing, diminishing repetitive use injuries, have allowed me to do the occasional long run, without sustaining anything but minor annoyance aches and pains. I also discovered, that if I go slow enough, I can pretty much run forever – or at least 2 or 3 hours – and feel pretty good the next day.
I also recently read the best selling book by Christopher McDougal entitled “Born to Run” in which the author, an aging athlete, wondered why he was hurt all the time by running. This question led to a variety of heretical conclusions on the way distance runners typically train. Reading this, I began to ponder my own heresy – If a runner can run comfortably for 3 hours, on challenging mountainous terrain like we have here in Addison County, why couldn’t they finish an marathon without the stress of a daily training regimen? In my own case, despite my best intentions, life usually limits me to 20-30 miles/week – in other words about 1/3 of the mileage recommended. Nonetheless, after running the entire TAM 3 weeks ago, covering 16 miles in 3 hours and feeling pretty good, I realized that the marathon distance might not be out of the question.
While most large, famous marathons require registration as much as a year in advance, we have a little-known low key small (a few hundred runners) marathon here in the Green Mountain State every fall. The Green Mountain Athletic Association has sponsored an October marathon for over 40 years just a little bit north of us on South Hero Island. There was still time to register three weeks ago, and the registration was a mere 30 bucks! So, I threw my hat in the ring, and decided to give it a try. I figured that there would be no dishonor in not finishing, but those who know me knew that I would finish, even if it was after dark and I was crawling. So, on a cool Sunday morning, I lined up with a modest flock of other runners to give it a try. I am not going to go heavily into the details of the race – let it suffice to say that a race course which which follows the shoreline of Lake Champlain during foliage season is going to be scenic, windy, and pretty flat. I really had no idea what sort of time my middle aged body might give me, so I started off pretty slowly, and gradually picked up the pace as my legs allowed, and felt pretty good about shuffling across the finish line in a little under 4 hours. What is the only way to train? Whatever works for you!
Unfortunately, I wasn’t willing to lug my camera along the entire out-and-back course, but lets face it – people like to go there on vacation for a good reason. So, the GPS data will have to suffice. And yes, my body is very sore.
Every trail runner in town knows the Trail around Middlebury, aka “The TAM” well – it is our town’s gem, and a popular place to enjoy trail runs of a variety of lengths and challenge. One of the major fundraisers for the TAM has been the TAM Team Trek, an annual fall event in which walkers, mountain bikers, and yes, a few runners cover all or part of the trail for a modest entry fee. Many of the participants also line up sponsors, adding to the fund raising for this great cause. So, this gorgeous Sunday morning seemed like a great day to join in….and go for a run.
Arriving at the event registration on a pleasant Sunday morning, there seemed to be a lot more participants than I had noted the last time I ran as part of this event, 3 years ago. The big question at the start was, should I proceed in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction? A counterclockwise run meant running some of the more technical terrain earlier in the run, with the challenging climb of Chipman Hill looming at the end of the long run, while a clockwise run would get the only tough climb out of the way first, but might leave me tripping over roots and sliding though mud at the end. I decided on the counterclockwise run, and got the best of both – the previous evening’s heavy rain had left quite a lot of mud on the trail, and I managed two face-plant muddy falls in the first few miles, on the northern loop of the TAM which looped over the Belden Dam footbridge, before turning south at the point where it crossed Morgan Horse Farm Road. The first leg of this run was described in greater detail in my “Belden Dam on the TAM” posting.
The second loop of this trail, from Weybridge Street to the college has also been covered before, albeit in the opposite direction, on a post entitled “Muddy Meadows and Poison Parsnips“. This posting, which I made over a year ago is actually the most heavily read posting in this blog by far. While this stretch of the trail is very nice, I suspect that the high number of hits on this posting is due to the high level of interest in the poison parsnip, a recent invader of our fields.
Despite the above comments about mud difficulties, running on muddy trails really is a lot of fun. There were three sections of the trail, where the trail split, with one direction designated as a drier route, and the other the “wet route” – guess which one I took, as a matter of principle? At his trail sign in the fields near the College organic garden, I went right of course.
After a short climb up from the fields to the west of the college, I arrived at the Ralph Myhre Golf Course and its spectacular views of the Green Mountains. Fortunately the nice people running the snack shop there didn’t mind when a very muddy runner came in off the trail to refill his water bottles for the second half of his run.
Up to this point there were quite a few participants in the TAM trek over this first leg – it was early and the day, and a lot of hikers and runners were out enjoying themselves. However, from the golf course until the completion of the run, things were pretty quiet – apparently most of the participants were focusing on other sections of trail, or had done enough! The trail then looped around the golf course, crossed South St. and the southern suspension bridge over Otter Creek. Looping through the fields around Middlebury Union Middle School, led me back into the woods. This next section of trail was previously chronicled in one of my first postings, “TAM, Means, and Batelle Woods“.
The last leg of the day’s run was the long anticipated run up and over Chipman Hill to the finish line. By this point, I had been out for about two and a half hours, and there really wasn’t much left in my legs, so I ended up walking up some of the steeper portions of the trail. After cresting the summit, it was downhill all the way, however, to the Marble Works, where the Trek organizers were starting to put things away and call it a day. I, on the other hand, had one more task – a much anticipated chocolate milk shake from Sama’s!
The GPS track showed that this run was as long as it felt – 16.25 miles in total, making it my longest run since I began authoring this blog in 2009. Other than the final climb over Chipman Hill, however, the run was not particularly hilly by Vermont standards. Time to give the legs a few days to recover!