Two summers ago, I had the pleasure of competing in the inaugural version of The Moosalamoo Ultra, and while I will not be running the full 36 mile version of it this year, I thought I would piece together a significantly shorter run which included at least a few segments from this far more grueling course. I also wanted to piece together bits of trails in such a way that I had never run that particular combination before, so I chose a route starting from the Falls of Lana trailhead, just south of Branbury State Park, ascending to the Goshen-Ripton Road on the North Branch Trail and the Voter Brook Overlook road, and descending on a mix of snowmobile trails and unmarked trails. It has not gone unnoticed by myself and others, that the frequency of bear sightings in the Moosalamoo area has been on the rise. Bear sightings on the trail are a true treat, as long as the bear chooses the appropriate response – that of running away. So, I have decided that the key to a good bear sighting is to run quietly, and wear garish clothing to scare the bear away once contact is made. With this in mind, I purchased a brand new Ben and Jerry’s tie dye t-shirt – do you think this will scare away a startled bear? And yes, I looked into this idea, and bears are not colorblind, although I would not have wanted to be the person holding picture books with hidden numbers in front of hungry bears….
I set up the now routine climb on the Silver Lake service road, but instead of taking the heavily traveled sharp right hairpin turn at the half mile point, I went straight as if I was planning on ascending to the Rattlesnake Cliffs. After a few hundred yards on this trail, I came to the open meadow where the North Branch Trail bears (pun intended) right. This small sunny oasis in what is mostly a pretty heavily forested section was full of mid-summer wildflowers. I was particularly fond of the small, daisy-like flowers which flanked the path on shoulder-height stalks. Does anyone know what this wildflower is called?
At this point, my run joined a section of the route from the Moosalamoo Ultra. This trail junction is where the first feed station, reached after the early-race ascent and descent of Mt. Moosalamoo, around mile 8, and is the lowest altitude point of the race. From here, over the next two miles or so, there is a steady climb along the banks of the North Branch of the Sucker Brook, a rather attractive little stream. Most of this single-track trail has good footing, although there are a few sections with wet rocks necessitating some care in one’s footing, and a few short steep scrambly sections.
This trail passes by a few opportunities to get onto easier terrain, as it more or less parallels the rough road connecting the Goshen-Ripton Road to the Voter Brook Overlook. As the weather went from dreary to drizzly to pouring rain, I chose to remain in the relative shelter of the forest rather than the easier travel of the road. This section of the North Branch trail eventually does cross the dirt road, and continue through the woods until it reaches the Moosalamoo Campground, where one must finally continue to climb on the road to get to the Goshen Ripton Road. At this point, the Ultra crosses the road, for a long series of loops up and around the Sugar Hill Reservoir, but on my much shorter run I turned right on the road, and continued for a little over a mile until I came to a well marked snowmobile trail veering to the right. At this point, I rejoined the Ultra route, and this road crossing is the site of another feed station, at around the 21 mile point. The next two miles are pure running pleasure – gradually downhill, double track running, with only a few muddy patches. In fact, when I ran this section of the Ultra two summers ago, this stretch got me in trouble – I felt so good that I neglected to take in fluids, and paid dearly for my dehydration a few miles later! No such problem on this run today however, and the falling rain kept me quite cool. There are a few trail junctions where one should follow the signs for the snowmobile trail system, although some of the other trails crisscrossing my course look like they are worthy of exploration someday. After about two miles on the snowmobile trail, and a short, steep climb, the trail came to the service road connecting the small Sucker Brook Reservoir to the Silver Lake access road. In keeping with my plan to duplicate the Ultra trails, I took the sharp right descent, leading me to the “shores” of the Sucker Brook Reservoir. I put the word “shores” in with quotes, as it seems that there isn’t much water this summer in the reservoir, which exists for flood control, and to control the waterflow heading through the penstock down the the hydroelectric plant at Lake Dunmore. So, I am afraid this small lake is nothing more than a mudpit this summer.
My run then followed the Ultra route, following the road below the earthen dam and joining the broad swath of clearing alongside the buried pipeline connecting the reservoir to Silver Lake. When I ran the Ultra, this section had been recently brush-hogged, making for easier running, but at this point, the grass here is very high, concealing some challenging footing below, on a steeply leaning embankment without an obvious path of least resistance to the runner. I have found that staying high, on the runner’s left makes for the easiest passage on a fairly challenging piece of running for the next mile or so. After a while, it flattens out, and while there seem to be a few different trails here, they all end up at the same place, connecting to the Silver Lake Access Road. When you reach the Silver Lake Beach, this is where another feed station is located at around mile 26 in the Ultra, and the race continues with the exhausting loop up over the Chandler Ridge and around Silver Lake before returning to the Blueberry Hill Inn and the finish line. At this point, I was very wet and had run enough, so simply descended on the service road to my car and the completion of the run.
Now, I’ll bet my readers were guessing that there would be a bear sighting in this run. Sorry to disappoint you – I guess my t-shirt worked too well! This ended up as a 9.5 mile run, with about a thousand feet of climbing. I also learned that my new t-shirt needed to be washed, as it had leached blue dye all over my torso!
On Saturday, the longest day of the year, I set out to explore a “loose end” which I discovered about a year ago. Last spring, right around Easter Sunday , I set out to explore Forest Service Rt. 92, and after a lengthy climb, found myself in too much snow to continue further, and vowed (to myself) to return. During this previous run, I achieved the ridge line of the north shoulder of Mt Moosalamoo, and noted that the trail followed the ridge line to the south, towards the Moosalamoo summit. At the time, I had concluded (incorrectly as we will see!) that this trail found its way to the actual summit, and I planned this new run around this assumption. So, I set out for what I assumed would be an hour to hour and a half-long run, and made the mistake of not bringing any water, despite the fact that I was heading into an area where the key connection was not on any map, and, in retrospect, suspect. You can’t die of thirst in the mountains of Vermont, right?
So, I drove to the trailhead for Forest Servine Road 92, found on the Ripton-Goshen Road about a mile in from Rt 125 just past Ripton on the way to the top of Middlebury Gap. Look for a National Forest Service sign on your right, and if you pass Camp Silver Towers, you have gone too far. I found a good place to park about a third of a mile up this narrow but passable dirt road. At the start of the run, I followed my previous run, relentlessly, but runably uphill. A few options occur for runners, and at the first trail split, I headed left, opting for what is labeled as 92 over 92A by the signs (although not by the Moosalamoo region map, which labels them oppositely!), and at the next trail split, I bore right, on the more uphill course, rather than taking the left on the more traveled pathway leading to the Wilkinson Trail network, which will be the object of a future posting. Once again, I reached the first height of land, after about 2 miles and 700 ft of climbing, and this time, bore left (south) on this continuing double track abandoned road. The climb to this point was pretty straightforward, other than the nasty stinging nettles which popped up from time to time, and seem all too common on the trails in the Moosalamoo Wilderness. About half way up, I also crossed the Oak Ridge Trail, which I suspected would be part of my planned descent, once I made my connection to it near the summit.
At this point, the run got a little more……interesting. As expected, the now totally unmarked trail veered south, taking a diagonal along the west face of Moosalamoo, and after what did not seem like that long a distance, and was probably not much more than a mile, headed to the left downhill. At this point, I assumed that I had not yet come close to the summit of Moosalamoo, and the abandoned logging road was descending back down the east face of Moosalamoo towards the Oak Ridge Trail, or the Wilkinson Trail, very close to my parked car. The first choice on the descent occured when my trail came to a T, and I chose the left branch, once again assuming that I was making a tight circle back in the direction of my car- note – all the high altitude turns have been left turns – this is supposed to make an easy circle, right? Shortly after this left turn I came to another fork, the left one uphill, the right one downhill. After briefly exploring the uphill fork, I did the obvious, and continued down. I noticed shortly that the trail started to take on a more maintained look – trees across the trail had been cut back, and the waterbars arising from trail maintenance were observed. Had I somehow found my way onto the Oak Ridge Trail for the fast return? My hopes were dashed when I read the following sign alongside the trail:
Upon seeing this sign, I realized that all of my assumptions as to where the heck I was, were wrong! DAGNABBIT! The fact that I was in the Keewaydin network meant that I had found myself on the opposite side of the mountain from my car, on the west side over looking Lake Dunmore! To complicate matters, I was not particularly knowledgeable of the Camp Keewaydin trail network, as it is separate from the Forest Service trails, privately maintained, and not shown on any publicly available trail maps. Now, I knew I had two options – I could look for descending trails, find my way to the shores of Lake Dunmore, admit defeat, and find a telephone to call for a ride home (cell phones don’t work there, and I hadn’t brought mine anyways!), or find trail connections which would bring me to the summit, at which point I knew of several longer descents which would bring me home. At first, I considered the short easy option- the descent into Camp Keewaydin on the shores of Lake Dunmore. But, did I really want to emerge from the woods, covered in mud, and stumble into a kids’ campfire looking like Yeti? Worse still, what if I stumbled into the archery range to meet up with the 10 year old sons of the most powerful and wealthy men and women in the country, when they were armed with bows, and aching to prove their manhood? Nope – back up the mountain it was! Of course, the question was how, other than just “go up”? The trail names I came across, as part of the private system were unfamiliar to me – the Cub Trail? the Cliff Trail? Finally, I came to a trail name which I recognized – “The Keewaydin Trail”. I knew this trail would bring me close to the summit of Moosalamoo, and offered a descent back to the east side of the mountain, admittedly at some distance from my car. So – back up the mountain I went! I eventually found myself at the trail’s end, about a half mile from the summit, and chose to find my way to the top, since I figured by this time that I had earned it.
The only structure at the summit was one that had never caught my attention in the past – there is white “pod” which looks about the size of a comfortable porta-potty here, and in the past, I had assumed that this is exactly what it was. However, on this run, I decided to check it out, since it was connected to solar power panel. Wow – some kind of deluxe backcountry outhouse? Checking it out further, I noted that it had a locked door, which pretty much meant that it was either the most prestigious summit portapotty in the country, or perhaps it served some other purpose – anybody know purpose this structure serves?
I was, however, rewarded for my efforts with a stunning late afternoon view of the main ridge of the Green Mountains to the east. I would bet that the long flat summit to the left of this shot is of Breadloaf Mountain.
Retracing my steps back to the continuance of the Keewaydin Trail, which I knew would get me home, a minute or two off the summit I came across a young, fit, spirited, but obviously confused family who asked “Are we almost to Silver Lake”? I pointed out to them, that they had climbed far beyond the Silver Lake trailhead, and were in the process of turning a 2.5 mile hike into an 8 miler, if they were coming up from Branbury State park, which of course, they were. I made sure that they knew their way back down, let them know that they could find their way home by retracing their hike, and assumed that they would be fine, although very tired upon their return. The descent on the Keewaydin trail was very slow, as I knew it would be based on my past experiences. This is not my favorite running trail, but it is usually easy to follow, and I knew it would get me home. This trail ended when it met the gravel road leading to the Voter Brook Overlook, and when I reached this, I took a left turn for the short descent, and longer climb up to the Ripton-Goshen Trail. By this point, I was getting very thirsty, having neglected to bring any water under the assumption that I was doing a much shorter run, and by this point, I had been out for the better part of two hours – fortunately it was a cool, comfortably evening! I took a left on the main road, and had a pretty easy final few miles of higher tempo running on the dirt road, only interrupted by a great view back towards the Moosalamoo summit. While I was wary of bears on this run, given the increasing frequency of bear encounters in this area, I could see that some hunters had been clearly frustrated by their inability to find any of these critters – the bear depicted on the sign at this clearing had clearly born the brunt of the shotgun blasts of a few rather frustrated woodsmen!
Returning to my car, this ended up being a 10.5 mile run. Normally, this would not be a big deal, if it was not for the fact that this run included over 2200 vertical feet of climb and descent, much of it on rough, slow trails, so this entire run required almost 2 and a half hours! Also, this would be a difficult run to describe in full detail for duplicating until I become more familiar with the trail network on the west side of Moosalamoo. I have got to lay my hands on a map depicting the Camp Keewaydin trails!
A note of explanation on the Google Earth projection of this run – I have turned it 90 degrees, so that top of the page is west, rather than north, to better depict the run. I began the run in the lower right hand corner, and ran this loop in a counterclockwise fashion.
Still in recovery mode from a long race over Memorial Day weekend, I opted for a very short run on the much traveled “Red Kelly Trail”, the trail which circles the Middlebury College Championship Golf course, also known as “Augusta National‘s Little Brother”. Well, we aren’t exactly having Georgia weather of late, but you get the picture. I have talked about the sights on this trail on numerous occasions, most recently on a longer run incorporating the Red Kelly Trail about two years ago. Not a lot has changed since then, except for the fact that the section of the trail across the west ridge (or alongside the 10th fairway for those who know the course) has been rerouted away from the course and onto its own separate trail, where runners are more protected from errant tee shots. If even a small fraction of the golfers are as miserable with their drivers as I have been, this re-route will probably save lives!
So, I departed the Middlebury College athletic facilities on South Main St. and got onto the Kelly Trail directly behind the all-weather “Kohn” Athletic Field. Yes, everything on the campus is indeed named after someone! After completing most of the trail in the clockwise direction, as I neared the end of the trail, I crossed South Main St. (aka Rt 30) and did the short descent on the Class of 97 Trail. After about a half mile or so on this pleasant little stretch of single track trail, I came to the point where it emerged from the forest into the more open fields below. Rather than continue on at this point, I elected to return, originally planning to retrace my steps back to Rt. 30. However, a few minutes into my return, I noticed an unmarked herd path heading uphill to my left, unceremoniously marked by the presence of a large tractor tire seemingly abandoned in the woods. Ascending this trail, it became apparent almost immediately where I was – the backyard of the mansion known as “The Heights” or “The Thaddeus Chapman House”. Many years ago, a member of the family which owns this property showed me around the interior of this large old home, and while it has not been regularly inhabited due to the high cost of heating it in the winter, it’s interior has been well maintained as a sort of museum to life in the late 1800’s. Searching for more information about this grand old house, I contacted my colleague, architechtural historian, Prof. Glenn Andres. From him, I learned that the house was built in 1870 by the owner of the Starr Mill, one Caleb Ticknor. The house was acquired by Chapman in 1875, who subsequently had it renovated in 1887 by architect Clinton Smith (the reknowned architect of the better known Shard Villa) into its current elaborate (that is as close as I can come to the real architectural terms like “Queen Anne” and “Italianate”) form
Despite my one previous foray onto this palatial property, I had never actually explored the grounds. Not seeing any “No Trespassing” signs from my point of entry, I decided to explore the grounds a bit on foot. One of the first sights I noted was the bermed amphitheater built into the back yard. Oral tradition holds (that is my fancy way of saying Glenn heard it, but can’t confirm) that these terraces were once the basis of elaborate gardens, while other oral traditions (a few generations of Middlebury College students) confirm that these terraces hold a long tradition as a college student trysting site in warmer weather.
Further up the hill from this, on the East Side of the main house, is a small childrens’ play house. Peering in through the window, I could discern child-size furniture indicating its use in its heyday.
Finally, leaving the property through the front driveway gave a nice vantage point to enjoy a good look at the main house.
The driveway brought me back to Rt 30, pretty much just across the street from the College field house, making this a short (slightly less than 3 miles!) but interesting run. Since the last section of this run is on private property, should you choose to explore The Heights, please be respectful of this well-maintained gem. Although it is usually not inhabited, this registered historic site is in no way a derelict property! If any reader has anything more recent to add to my bare bones story of this property, I would love to hear it!
The title of this post, “Last Run Before Spring”, might have you scratching your head over chronology. While long delayed this year, the full foliage on the trees in the Middlebury area certainly indicate that the few short weeks we know of as spring are most assuredly here. So a confession here – I did this run a few weeks ago, in mid-May, while the trees were still quite bare, and it has just taken me a while to post it. Nonetheless, it is a good run, so I thought it quite worthy of posting – better late than never!
Regular readers by now know that the Silver Lake and its surroundings make up one of my favorite running destinations, and this post represents a new variation on that theme. At the core of this run, is the very first post I made to this blog, the ascent from the Sucker Brook Trailhead, past Silver Lake, to the Goshen Trailhead, and back. On this particular run, I chose to extend it beyond this central loop, in the name of checking out some new terrain, as well as visiting an old favorite location for great views.
This run, on a warm weekend late afternoon, was undertaken to be one of my last real runs before tapering my training prior to the Vermont City Marathon at the end of May (note – I actually completed the marathon by the time I got to this post – I am not going to write it up for the blog, but it went well!), so I wanted to stretch it out to the 8-9 mile range. So, I set off up the 4WD road (yes – it is closed to motor vehicles) from the Silver Lake/Sucker Brook Trailhead just south of Branbury State Park, and chugged my way up past Silver Lake up the the trailhead above the lake at the end of a rarely traveled dirt Silver Lake Road, which emanates from Goshen, as a right turn from the Goshen Ripton Road, a mile or so south of the Blueberry Hill Inn.
When I reached this road, I realized that it provided an opportunity to add some mileage, so I continued on past the hikers’ parking lot and trailhead, which I knew would descend me back to my parked car, 800+ vertical feet below. So, I continued on this road, which while open to vehicles, is so lightly traveled that it feels almost like a trail. At this time of the year, before any of the trees had leaves, there were great views towards the the main ridge of the Green Mountains, while views towards Silver Lake and the west were obscured by the modest ridge. At a few locations, I noted primitive roads heading up the eastern flanking ridge, but abandoned them when I realized they were driveways up to “off the grid” homes and camps, and I wanted to respect their owners’ privacy. After a little over a mile on this road, I could see Hogback Mountain, and Romance Mountain, the two peaks behind the Blueberry Hill Inn, and thought it would be fun to link to that trail system on this run, but due to the lateness of the afternoon and impending sunset, I decided to turn around at one particularly impressive glacial erratic on my right.
On my return, gazing into the forest for sights which would soon be hidden by the foliage, I noticed a series of PVC pipes stuck in the ground, 20-50 yards from the dirt road. I have come across pipes like this, even further from the road on past explorations. Does anyone know why these are here, or what their purpose is?
After contemplating the mystery of the pipes, I continued back to the Silver Lake trailhead, and descended the short trail down to the lakeside on the Leicester Hollow Trail, where I took the right turn back towards the campground and the small beach at the north end of this gem of a lake. Rather than simply follow the trail which I had previously ascended back to my car, I chose one last variation, and instead took the short trail down below the Silver Lake Dam, and followed the penstock (that is the fancy word for “big fat pipe”) back towards the power line, where I ascended its trail to catch the early evening views and impending sunset over Lake Dunmore. In a month or so, the lake will be busy with summer vacationers and boaters, but on this quiet spring evening, there was only one boat traversing what must be an otherwise silent lake. I had hoped that the lone raptor in the skies would land nearby to get his picture taken, or at least hover nearby, but my presence led it to seek out a quieter eyrie.
On my descent from this lookout, I took another obvious left turn which returned me to the main trail up from the lower parking lot, where I came across what must be a fairly recently placed sign, where the over look was referred to as “Lenny’s Lookout”. This is the first time that I have heard this name applied, so I am also curious as to the origins of this name. Who exactly is Lenny, and why is the lookout named after him? A google search shed no light on this question, although it did lead to some beautiful photography from another hiker who has posted their pictures of this location.
From this point, it was an easy skip down the trail to my car, making this a slightly less than 9 mile run, with about 1100 vertical feet of ascent and descent. Bring on the summer!
While it doesn’t seem that long ago that I made my last post, I was kind of surprised when I realized it had been a month and a half. This is always the hardest time of the year to come up with interesting runs, worthy of description on a trail running blog. The trails are usually a crusty, icy mess, and the snow has receded to the point where skiing is no longer an option. So, I was forced to the roads (or worse still, to the treadmill), and frankly, I don’t feel any need to bother writing about our intermittently muddy or icy roads in March. After last week’s “Late April Fool” snowstorm, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get back to the trails! However, a few slightly warmer days, and some Saturday afternoon sun on the day before Easter brought hope of a real spring, and set me out in search of a good long run. While significant mud was a given, I was more concerned that I might find ice and snow at higher altitudes, especially in shady hollows, so I headed to one of my favorite lower altitude starting points, the Falls of Lana trailhead just south of Branbury State Park on the Lake Dunmore Road (Rt 53). En route to the trailhead, I was amazed how fast the ice on Lake Dunmore had melted – six weeks ago, the ice was two feet thick, and trucks were driving on the ice, but now, there was not an ice floe to be seen.
I started up the steep climb to Silver Lake on the heavily used trail (really a 4WD road, although not open to motor vehicles) which starts on Rt 53, and even at the lower sections, there were a few icy patches remaining on the trail, but most of the route was open, and not even that muddy. As I neared Silver Lake, I met up with my colleagues Molly and AJ, along with Molly’s kids out for a Sunday afternoon hike, and after exchanging pleasantries, continued up to Silver Lake, reaching it after about a mile and a half. At first glance, Silver Lake also appeared to be free of ice. I headed right over the dam, and followed the lakeside trail for about a half mile, at which point the trail climbing to the Chandler Ridge, the scenic ridge separating Silver Lake from Lake Dunmore, diverged to the right. I did notice, however, that the last sheets of ice were clinging to the shady south shoreline of this higher elevation lake.
The Chandler Ridge Trail has been upgraded over the last few years to be rideable by mountain bikers, although it would probably too technical for my riding skills. On the other hand, this level of maintenance is perfect for runners who want to run true “single track” paths, without significant technical challenges to the runner. The climbs and descents are built into gently undulating switchbacks, and the trail designers did a great job of seeking the path of least resistance by weaving its way between the east and west side of the ridge. The leaves which had accumulated since last autumn did briefly obscure the trail in a few places, but every time I stopped and scratch my head, wondering whether or not I was still on the trail, a quick survey of the surroundings quickly made one of the blue blazes marking the trail apparent, and guided me on my way. Early spring is a great time to run this trail, which as hoped, was completely free of snow or ice, as the bare trees allow for views which are superior to those in the summer, when the leaves on the trees obscure most views. I stopped for a moment to take a shot of the southern end of Lake Dunmore, and as I took the shot, I noticed the remains of a charred tree, the which probably bore the brunt of a lightning strike at some time in the not-too-distant past.
A short while later along the ridge I had an even bigger treat – literally – a black bear sighting! As I came around one corner, I came face to face with a bear. OK this particular bear wasn’t showing me his face, as that was buried in a tree stump, probably rooting around for bugs or other such delectables, so “face to bearbutt” would be a more suitable description of the encounter. As soon as he saw me, he made the right decision and ran away, unlike what happened in my lucky bear sighting last summer, when the bear ran at me instead of away. Of course, this time, with my fortune, the bear ran down the trail, exactly where I was planning to go. So, I gave the bear a decent head start before continuing my route and then continued my run, sporadically breaking out into a very loud and raucous impromptu song which I will simply name “Here I come bear!”. Don’t bother looking for it on Itunes.
The rest of the run along the Chandler Ridge was a lovely, steady run through the hardwood forest. I also noticed a decent view to the southeast in the direction of Brandon Gap, a view which I had never noticed previously from this trail. Eventually, the trail ended at a “T” when it hit the much broader Minnie Baker trail, and here I took a right, descending down to Rt.53. Shortly before I reached the road, and when it was in sight, a snowmobile trail veered to the right, and I decided to follow it, in order to extend my time on the trails. Mistake! The run, which had not been too bad by Vermont Mud Season standards up to this point, turned into a total sneaker-sucking quagmire. Fortunately this was a short trail segment, and I quickly joined the road for the much easier last few miles back to my parked car. I did notice, however, that there was an unlooked-for talisman of Sunday’s holiday in the name of a road, which I had never noticed before. Happy Easter everyone!
At the completion of my run, my GPS watch showed that this was a slightly over 11 mile run – not bad for early spring! However, when I tried to download the complete track from the run, I was dismayed to find that I had some sort of malfunction, and thus I have no complete track to offer. I have blogged the first half of this run previously, so I can share that this route included a slightly less than 1000 vertical foot climb. Hopefully, at some point I will have the chance to repeat this route, and will have a GPS track to share.
Early March can be a tough season for trail running. The snow is at its deepest on the trails, and runners are getting antsy for the arrival of spring, which is still two months away. Chatting with a fellow runner a few days ago, however, he shared his recent epiphany for good clear running – running on the ice covering local lakes to very thick depths this time of year. He suggested Lake Dunmore, so I thought I would give it a try. One prerequisite for this sort of running is a shoe with spikes, or some sort of runner’s crampon to stay upright moving on a mix of ice and snow, and since I had the former, I figured I was all set.
I have not spent much time on open water ice since playing pond hockey as a child. I was a little nervous at first about a longer run on a pretty big lake, but figured that with this year’s very cold winter, good thick ice could be counted on, right? Sharing my running plans with my family, the less adventurous of them (i.e. all of them) double checked to make sure that my will was properly signed, and then acquiesced to my departure. While I spend a lot of time running near, and kayaking on Lake Dunmore over the warmer months, I can’t remember the last time I had journeyed to the lake in the dead of winter. Once, in my young adulthood, I learned the misery of crashing through the ice in water which was not over my head, and a few hundred yards from my lodging. So, my life was never in danger, but it sure was cold!
Approaching the parking lot and launch on the west side of the lake, alongside the docks and beach belonging to Waterhouses, I could see that the lake was busy with the activities of ice fishermen. As you might guess, the calm and patience of the avid fisherman are not common characteristics of somewhat hyperactive runners. While I have not fished since I was a boy (about the same time of life that I played pond hockey!), I can see some of the allure of standing in a Rocky Mountain stream, flyfishing for trout, or perhaps surfcasting from a Gulf Coast beach for – well for whatever kind of fish live in those warmer waters. For the life of me, I cannot begin to imagine the charm and excitement of sitting out in the open, or even a small shack, huddled over a small hole or two in the water on a cold mid-winter day, waiting for the nibble of a lethargic, already half frozen fish. Despite the fact that I have lived in Northern New England now for 33 years of my life, not only have I never undertaken this sort of activity, I really didn’t have a good feel for the popularity of this sport until I saw all of the people out there fishing on Saturday, on this one, rather modest-sized lake alone. To each his/her (mostly his though, from what I see) own. I did get some comfort however, by the presence of such numbers of people, shacks, ATV’s and automobiles out on the lake. If the ice could support someone’s SUV, it could certainly support a scrawny trail runner, right?
I set off towards the southern end of the lake to start my run. Since both of the public landings for kayak access on Lake Dunmore were on the northern end of the lake (the aforementioned state landing alongside Waterhouse’s, and Branbury State Park on the east side), I am not as familiar with the waterfront sights along the southern shores, which require longer paddling times to access in the summer. My first destination however, was the small island in the middle of the lake. I have paddled around this small island on countless occasions, but have never actually stepped foot on it prior to this run. In the late spring, this island is a loon nesting site, and two years ago I had the unexpected pleasure of paddling by the island which was surrounded by birdwatchers armed with binoculars. I had lucked out, and come across that year’s loon chick birthday according to one birdwatcher I pulled up alongside. While I stayed a respectful distance away as required by law, even without my binoculars I could see the loon chicks floating in the water alongside their mother. Returning to the island the next day, excited for another glimpse, I was told by another kayaker that the loons typically move from the island to a quieter corner almost as soon as the chicks are born, and I never saw this family again. There were no loons on the island in early March, of course, but I did use the easy access as an opportunity to traverse this small piece of land before heading back on the ice.
With my spiked running shoes, most of the footing was surprisingly good. In most of the southern part of the lake which has had little vehicle traffic, the ice was smooth and covered by a half inch to inch of coarse windblown snow, which made for good footing. The occasional wind-scoured bare ice patches required that I slow to a careful walk, and on the places where early season car traffic had created ruts in what have been much softer ice (YIKES when you stop and think about it), the footing was also uneven and unyielding.
Continuing south, scooting past mostly well- kept, frequently modern homes which serve as vacation homes for those with greater financial resources than I, I came to one particularly quirky site. A piece of old driftwood at the lake’s edge was adorned with a variety of funky little stone cairns, and when I stopped to examine them more closely, I could see that the property just set back behind them was an uncharacteristically ramshackle log cabin, which looked like something from my old summer camp, rather than as a lake summer home. At that point I realized where I was – the shoreline alongside the “Point Counterpoint” summer camp. This camp is a rather famous summer camp for talented and hard working young musicians.
I had hoped to completely circumnavigate Lake Dunmore on this run, but as I approached the southernmost inlet, I could see that too much of my path was ice, windblown bare, making for difficult footing. So, if you see a portion of the lake omitted from my run on the Google Earth projection down below, that was typically the case. The other major foray away from the shoreline on this run was when I had make a broad sweep away from the delta where the Sucker Brook empties into the lake. This, and the much smaller outlet not far from Waterhouse’s were the only sections of open water that I spied.
The lake, of course, was peppered with ice fishing holes, old and new. Most of the open holes in use were being watched by their owners, and I stayed away out of respect for their desire to actually catch fish. Would a runner plodding by create a racket to spook the fish? Somebody must know the answer to that question, but not I! I did come across a few recently abandoned holes, so my curiosity got the better of me and I peered inside. Peering down these holes, I was comforted to see how thick the ice was – well over a foot deep from what I could see. I briefly considered rolling up my sleeves and inserting my arm down a hole, to feel how deep I had to get before feeling the end of the ice, and then my common sense got the better of me. I also took comfort from the fact that these holes were quite narrow, indicating that there were no sharks to fish for in this lake.
Returning to my car, a few hundred yards from shore, in a section of the lake with no fisherman shacks, by the old Sunset Lodge, I heard what I had been dreading the whole run – the sound of cracking ice, seemingly directly beneath my feet! Was it time to swim? I quickly put on my garishly ugly yellow hat as I sped out of that corner of the lake, hoping that if I crashed through the ice, my would-be rescuers would see my yellow-hatted head bobbing above the otherwise seamless white of the frozen lake, and pull me to my safety. Needless to say, I made it back to shore, my heart pounding a little, and had the courage to ask a returning fisherman about the significance of my frightening experience a few moments before. “Nah – ice makes sounds like that all the time – it’s more than two feet thick now, you were safe I am sure”. Oh. Whew. Relieved and a bit embarrassed.
Overall, this was a 6.6 mile run. It might seem superfluous for me to post my altitude profile for this run, as it was on a lake, and should be….well…flat. I am posting this to illustrate what I already knew about using GPS for altitude. While GPS is incredibly precise for finding locations based on NSEW coordinates, due to the limitations of satellite triangulation, it is not nearly as precise for altitude, as evidenced by the variation of up to 100 feet which it recorded on this run.
For many years, I fancied myself a passable cross-country ski racer. Despite an inauspicious start, finishing dead last as the anchor leg of the 1981 Hanover Relays, a race in which the anchor leg of the winning team went by the name of “Bill Koch” (yup – THAT Bill Koch, and I was attired in a fuzzy blue sweater, blue jeans, and bamboo poles), I gradually improved over the years until the demands of parenthood and other interests diminished my ski training time to the point where racing was pretty futile. At my peak in the late 80’s, I, and a handful of my friends made it our goal to ski 1000 km in a season, and with the mileage from three ski marathons in a month on top of a shorter race almost every weekend, several of us managed to reach our goal. One of the symptoms of this particular version of OCD was an obsession with ski waxes. I would wax at least one pair of skis every night (and yes, I had several pairs, almost always the latest and best) based on the next day’s weather prediction. The bane of the ski-waxer’s existence was the particularly goopy wax for warm or icy weather known as “klister“. While the stuff really does work, putting it on one’s skis is a real pain, and part of the reason why for many years now I have almost always broken out my skating skis, which do not require kick wax, on warm springlike days.
So, on an unseasonably warm and sunny Sunday morning, I found myself with my classic skis at the Rikert Ski Touring Center, and of course, my plastic bags full of every wax under the sun. Realizing, to my dismay, that it would indeed be a “klister day” I dug into my bag and pulled out a tube of silver klister wax which was probably older than most of the skiers out on that particular day. The best way to apply this sticky gooey mess is to squeeze a thick line from the toothpaste tube it comes in onto the kick zone of my skis, and then spread the wax by running my thumbs across the base. Then the fun really starts – as all this wax on one’s thumbs can’t be washed off ( I had forgotten how insoluble it is in water!), so I ended up shmearing streaks of silver goop on the sinks of the Rikert men’s room. Of course, it would not do to leave this for their staff to clean up, so I eventually settled on wiping it up with a generous stack of paper towels. The scene was actually reminiscent of the challenges of cleaning up the “pink goo” from the Dr Seuss book “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back“.
Skis all prepared, I set off up the hill, not really dead set on where exactly I was going. Taking the freshly groomed tracks on Holland to Frost, I came to the end of the Brown Gate trail, and realized that the section connecting this point and the trail to Blue Bed House was one I had never been on before. This two or three year old section of trail seems to be replacing the old connector from Holland, which seemed to be badly flooded in recent years due to beaver activity. This narrow trail, which wove through the hardwood forest was made more challenging by the darn klister – the conditions were an odd mix of powder, ice, and frozen granular snow, so I found myself intermittently flying, and lurching to a near halt when my skis chose to grab. Nonetheless, I plowed on, connecting to the Blue Bed house trail, and bearing downhill, to Wagon Wheel Rd.
The last time I had passed this way, the Wagon Wheel Rd. had been plowed, making for less satisfying skiing, but to my pleasant surprise, no plows had been this way since the last generous snow storm. So, I took a right turn at the blue gate, planning on following the old Middle Branch trail, which I knew would eventually loop back to the touring center. A few hundred yards later, I came to a surprise which forced me to re-evaluate this plan. While the Middle Branch trail, to the right, looked neatly tracked, I noticed a new, less manicured section, labelled as a segment of the Catamount Trail, bearing left. To the right – the comfortable trail I knew well. To the left, a trail whose known destination was…..Canada. Once again, I chose the road less travelled, and that made all the difference.
This segment of trail was totally new to me, and from the geography, I knew it would eventually lead me to Steam Mill Road (aka FS 59) but I had no idea how long or far away this would be. So, I just glided through the woods, gradually climbing,the klister working well in the rapidly softening snow, and enjoying being the only person for a few miles. And at this point, it hit me – I was reconnecting with a sport that has been shortchanged for quite a few years. After all those years of skiing an enormous amount in my younger adulthood, finding time to keep up with the sport has proven elusive more recently. I found myself suddenly reminiscing and reconnecting with a sport which at one point in my life was my favorite sports activity. This introspection aside, this is a very pretty section of trail, mostly through hardwood forest. The trail is at its most scenic in one segment where it hugs the rim of a rather dramatic broad gorge, with the Middle Branch flowing a few hundred feet below.
After a while, however, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into, as I was somewhat directionally disoriented (albeit not “lost” – the trail was well marked) until I came upon a group of skiers coming down the trail from the opposite direction. One of this party was a friend I had not crossed paths with in a few years, Andy, and as we stopped and conversed, I learned that he was responsible for the layout of the trail we were on! Pressing him for information on his other trailblazing activities, he offered to share some of his favorites in exchange for some help with trail maintenance. Sounds like a good deal to me! I also learned that I was a short distance from Steam Mill Road, which is closed to vehicular traffic in the winter, and maintained for snowmobile use. I joined this road at the broad clearing which in the summer is near to the popular trailhead to Breadloaf Mountain. I found it curious that there was a large sign, standing in the middle of this field proclaiming “WILDLIFE CLEARING”. Since the only tracks I saw in the snow were of human origin, I guess the sign was right – the wildife was cleared!
At this point, I was still a few miles from the Rikert Center, but the return was easy, following the road in the tracks of numerous previous snowmobilers, and getting onto Upper Gilmore near the Brown Gate, and following the obvious downhills back to the touring center.
On the technical side, this ended up being a slightly more than 9 mile route, with about 700 feet of altitude difference between the low and high points. I am also looking forward to checking this out on foot this summer as well. The soul of this day however, was how invigorating it felt to just get lost in something that I really enjoyed. So, take the time to reconnect with something ( or someone I guess!) you love.
I spent much of the morning on Sunday, potentially the best ski day in years, at a family gathering in Massachusetts, but as this get-together wound down, I realized that I just might be able to squeeze in some skiing in at the end of the day, if I could get home early enough in the afternoon. Fortunately, the other members of my family accompanying me on this trip fell asleep shortly after departing Massachusetts, so I took this opportunity to drive a little faster than I might normally. While I missed the banter of my family on this several hour-long trip, they did manage to sleep through my driving back to Middlebury at a pace which might have made them a little bit nervous, and indeed, when they awoke a half hour from home, I was implored to continue at or around the speed limit. Nonetheless, I pulled into my driveway with just enough time to take advantage of the sunny day and spectacular conditions, and headed up to Breadloaf!
In my most critical views of the Rikert area, my only complaint over the years has been that while there is a lot of good skiing here, it seems that a lot of it is in small, tight loops, never getting far from the touring center itself. When snow is good, I frequently hit Forest Service 59 in order to get deeper into the forest. When I arrived at the touring center however, I noticed some new trails on the map, some of which were rarely groomed, and another which until this year never existed. In particular, I was intrigued by the new trail, labelled “Upper Gilmore”, which ran along the eastern periphery of touring area, paralleling, but never quite contacting FS 59, which serves as a snowmobile trail on the VAST network.
I started this particular ski, warming up on the loops on and around the Battell trail, before turning onto Freeman to access the old Gilmore trail. Previously, this trail has served primarily as a connector to the forest service road and the Norske Trail, but as I cruised by Gilmore House (one of the more out of the way dorms at the summer Wordloaf Conference) and neared the road above, I saw the anticipated new trail veering to my left, and headed up it. This is a great new addition to the trail network – it went on for close to a mile, and in sections had the feel of a bobsled run before connecting with the better known Brown Gate trail. Kudos to Mike and his work crew for putting in this great trail last summer!
After enjoying the easy downhill shuss on the Brown Gate Trail, I was treated to a second surprise. The primitive trail leading towards the pile of rubble known as “The Blue Bed House” was also groomed and maintained! Don’t expect much of a house, let alone a blue bed – the eponymous bed probably hasn’t been there for 30 years, and I think the last wall of the house fell 10-15 years ago! Jokes about the condition of the “house” aside, this is a pretty section of forest, which was skied somewhat in the past, but was not made part of the Breadloaf touring area due to property line issues with one of the private land owners. I am glad to see that this has been worked out! The trail then snaked its way into a beautiful open meadow, offering another easy descent and more great winter vistas. Like most abandoned meadows in Vermont, this one had a few ancient apple trees left behind long after all other farming here had ceased. I know of some local hard cider brewers who are interested in heritage apple varieties – perhaps they should explore here! I also couldn’t resist the temptation to make my initials in the otherwise virgin snow, and squared them for good luck – after all I AM a science nerd!
Following the signage to get back to Rikert in time for closing, I enjoyed another particularly pretty stretch of skiing through the tall narrow pine trees that line the trail for a short distance right above the Robert Frost Cabin, and after a loop through these fields, I headed back to the touring center more out of respect to the workers who undoubtedly bad put in a long day, and probably wanted to go home, rather than wait for the stragglers (like me) who didn’t want to quit!
All in all, this made for a slightly longer than 8 mile loop, and brought me much farther into the forest than most skiers at Rikert usually get. There will be no more “not enough long loops” complaints from me, at least as long as the great snow holds up.
Last winter, while recovering from injuries, I snowshoed a route along a VAST trail at the higher altitudes of Ripton. This route, which begins at the end of the plowed section of the Natural Turnpike in Ripton heads south along the snowmobile trail marked as “7A” towards Robert Frost Mountain. My trip along this route was limited by the slower pace of snowshoe travel, and I have been looking forward to returning to explore it a little further on ski or on foot. The limited amount of snow on the ground made a run the obvious choice for now. To get to the trailhead, I drove up to Ripton, then took a left turn on the road across from the Ripton Country Store. A short while later a right turn up the hill on Robins Cross Road and a left turn on the Natural Turnpike followed by a few minutes’ drive brought me to the trailhead parking lot near its confluence with FS 59. In every previous winter trip to this spot, the Natural Turnpike was blocked at this point by a forest service gate, but this year, with the meager snow, the gate beyond this point was open, and the road was freshly plowed.
Setting off on the trail heading to the left (north in absolute coordinates) I could see that the snowmobilers had been faring about as well as the skiers this year, as the trail had been virtually stripped of its snow cover by previous snow travelers. I set off, as in my previous exploration, following the marked snowmobile trail, which crisscrossed a few Forest Service Roads over the course of the first mile. Between the thin snow cover, and my Asics Gel Arctic running shoes, equipped with short spikes making them the “studded snow tires of the running world”, I had very solid footing all the way, except for two easily traversed frozen-over waterbars. As I proceeded further into the woods, snow had covered over the most recent snowmobile tracks, and not much later, I could see where the trail had been bereft of human travelers all season, leaving the tracks of animals as the only sign of previous passage. One set of tracks were particularly interesting – I could see that what at first looked like one set of old tracks, soon diverged into two sets, which looked to be about the same age. Following them, I could see that the parallel sets of tracks stayed apart, as if the two animals which set them were going about their travels as partners, perhaps even mates? They seemed too big and deep for a squirrel, and squirrels never seem to travel as if they are actually going somewhere. I am going to guess that they were foxes, although they had faded enough that I could not have made out the fine print in them, even if I were a more knowledgeable animal tracker. I like to think that these two nocturnal animals had shared a long moment in the moonlight together on the way to whatever their final destination might have been. As I followed their tracks, I made sure not to step in them, leaving my record of passage between theirs.
Eventually, I reached a point where the animal tracks became more complex, and their unique trail became difficult to discern from other animals who had passed through. Not long after, I came to an open meadow which had been my turnaround last winter when I passed this way. Last winter, this quiet spot had the equipment of an active logging site, but this winter, the snow surface was unblemished, except for my footprints and a few tufts of grass poking up through the snow. It looked almost like I would envision beach grass poking out of the fine white sand of the Gulf Coast, although I have never been there.
At this point, continuing on, I was into new territory, and about a mile later my trail reached the Lincoln-Ripton road, a few miles north of the Ripton School. I could discern that the trail recommenced across the road, heading uphill along the eastern flanks of Robert Frost Mountain. I could see that I had found another short section of trail to connect a run on my bucket list – I had heard that is was possible to connect trails from the top of Middlebury Gap, to East Middlebury by a route which included the snowmobile trail up and over Robert Frost Mountain, which I have ascended from the west. The point at which my trail (which merged with a plowed road over the last few hundred yards) met up with the Lincoln- Ripton Road, was labelled as the “Norton Farm Road”.
Turning to return, my attention turned two the many crossing paths and abandoned logging roads I came across. One, which looked sort of interesting, and was labeled as “Rd 235A”. This one ended in about a hundred yards at a small clearing, so returning to the main snowmobile trail, I checked out another side trail about a mile further along. This right turn led to a huge clear cut in about a quarter mile, with outstanding views of Worth Mountain, and the rest of the nearby ridge of the Green Mts. I found it curious that a small stand of mature hardwoods had been left behind by the timber cutters, but they added to the beauty of the views.
Closing in on my parked car, I could hear that I was getting closer and closer to a “sportsman” who was blasting away at something with what sounded like a semiautomatic weapon. While I never actually saw this person, I felt like shouting something along the lines of “Is there ANYTHING left of that squirrel?”. Reaching my car, my GPS indicated that I had traveled 7 miles on this run, and had dropped about 500 vertical feet on the way out, and gained it on my return.
Saturday brought the long looked for break in the ski conditions thus far this year: It finally started to warm up to the mid-teens, and there was enough (I hoped!) snow to do my first backcountry skiing of the year. I knew the cover would be a little on the thin side (That always seems to be the case, somehow), so I headed to the higher elevations and a place where there was a high likelihood of being ample cover. Once again, I found myself drawn to my favorite trailhead, the parking lot off of Brooks road, found on the south side of Rt 125, midway between Breadloaf and the Snow Bowl. The Brooks Road itself, which climbs up the hillside to pretty high altitudes becomes part of the VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers) trail system during the winter. As such, it benefits from the regular grooming offered to regional snowmobilers, making the VAST trails also ideal for skiing deep into the mountains, even on skating skis, which demand a wide groomed path. This excellent grooming makes high altitude forest roads, like the Brooks Road, some of the best places to ski early in the season before the first dumpings of snow come our way.
Setting off from the parking lot up the hillside, the late afternoon sun filtered through the branches arched over the road created the sense of trees covered with diamonds. I was surprised by the degree to which some of these trees were still encrusted with ice from the storms of the previous week or two.
Continuing upward I also came to a section where a stand of beech trees s flanked the road, the the husks of beechnut shells littered the snow. Looking at them more carefully, they kind of looked like a bunch of bearded little Pac-men. What do you think?
I went into this ski with delusions of a long a glorious exploration of mountain trails, but my late start (It is scary how starting a ski tour at 2:30 in the afternoon is late this time of year!) and the realization that the trail coverage wasn’t quite as good as I hoped it was forced me to reconsider my plans when I reached a trail confluence about 2.5 miles up the mountainside. To the right, I saw the much narrower trail which I knew would bring me to the Sugar Hill Reservoir, but looked rather bereft of snow. Straight ahead, on the continuance of the Brooks Road, but on a section which is not regularly maintained for winter travel there was more snow, but since I was touring on skating skis, this section’s loose ungroomed snow felt like a bit of a slog when I very briefly considered continuing further. And it was getting colder, fast! So, at this point, I turned my heels and sped back down the mountainside to the warmth of my car. Of course, in this fast snow it provided an opportunity to use my Garmin GPS and see what sort of speed I could generate on the two relatively steep descents. On the first steeper drop-off I became so enamored of staring at my watch that I had my first crashandburn of the season! Only slightly less worse for the wear, and covered in white I brought myself back up to speed and held a tuck without distraction for the second, and longer fast section of the descent, and after finishing discovered that I had gotten my speed up to 25 mph! Not exactly olympic downhill speed, but not bad for inch-wide racing skis with detached heels!
All in all, while this was a shorter than planned ski outing, measuring in at slightly less than 5 miles and 500 ft of climb and descent, it was a great way to spend a small allotment of time on a cold but pleasant weekend day
Up to this point, the post has had little to do with the title of the post, so I guess it would be time to conclude with a resolution. These solo skis or runs in the mountains leave plenty of time for quiet, introspective thought. Readers of this blog can probably tell that I enjoy setting myself up for personal physical challenges, and then meeting those challenges, but this resolution is a little different. While the personal accomplishments will hopefully continue, what I really want this year is to make great new memories with those who I care most about.