While kayaking on Lake Dunmore, I have often admired the rugged looking ridge to the east of the lake, starting from the tower in the north, and heading south towards Forestdale in an unbroken, but undulating ridge. Consulting my Moosalamoo Region National Recreation Area map, available for free at the forest service office just south of Middlebury on Rt. 7, I noticed that there was a trail which followed this ridge, named “Chandler Ridge Trail”. This looked like it could make up part of a potentially spectacular, albeit long run. I was a little bit apprehensive at first however, as access to this trail required some running along the less traveled west shore of Silver Lake, and my previous experience with this trail indicated that while it was scenic, it was very rough, rocky, and not really suitable for running. I could only imagine what the even less traveled Chandler Ridge trail was like. Nonetheless, on a cool, low humidity August afternoon, my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to explore it. This ended up being a very good decision.
The run started from the usual place – the Falls of Lana parking lot, just past Branbury State Park. The bad news was that this run started with about 15 minutes of unrelenting steepness on the forest service road heading up to Silver Lake. The good news was that this was by far the steepest climbing on the run. When I reached Silver Lake, I headed to the right over the dam, and followed the trail heading along the west shore of the lake, apprehensive about the trail conditions, but was in for a pleasant surprise. Unlike previous runs here, the trail had clearly seen some recent attention, and was now altogether enjoyable for running. Very early on, the source of this trail maintenance was quite clear – the VYCC (Vermont Youth Conservation Corps) had received some stimulus money to do some badly needed trail maintenance in this popular backcountry destination. Now that’s what I call putting tax dollars to good use!
After about a half mile on the Silver Lake trail, I came upon the well marked right turn up to the Chandler Ridge Trail. This trail had also seen some recent improvements, so over most of the next 4 miles, the footing was excellent, making for great, albeit slow running. The best thing about this trail from the runner’s perspective is that it is constructed with lots of gentle switchbacks to get up and down the steeper sections – a rarity in northeastern trails, but great for running! After only a few hundred yards of gentle climbing, I reached the top of the ridge, and over the next few miles I was treated to intermittent views through the thin hardwood forest to the west over Lake Dunmore, and to the east over Silver Lake – in one short section, I could even see both lakes simultaneously. This would make for an amazing late fall run as well – the views will certainly open up spectacularly after the leaves fall.
Eventually the trail started its descent while veering to the left, as expected from my map. There was one point of some confusion, where the recent trail renovations and lack of signs made my next move less than totally clear, but since I knew I had to stay left to find my way to the Leicester Hollow Trail, that strategy got me there. I found myself on the heavily used Minnie Baker Trail, down a short steep trail to get to the stream flowing through the hollow. At this point, I was about a mile east of the Lake Dunmore Road, and according to my memory, I had a long gradual ascent back up to the campground on the east shore of Silver Lake. It immediately became obvious that my memory of this section of trail was clearly out of date! I had remembered the old Leicester Hollow Trail, which was an abandoned road heading up from Forestdale to the site of the old hotel which used to grace Silver Lake, but what I had forgotten was that the flash floods of 2008 had decimated this trail, and the next mile or so reflected this. While the VYCC folks have partially repaired this stretch of trail, there were still plenty of sections which were essentially rock hopping in stream beds, making for pleasant walking, but the footing wasn’t good enough for much in the way of running. After about a mile of this, I got above the washed out stretch, and the trail reverted to that of my memory – long, straight, and gradually uphill through a tunnel of heavy forest. I did come across one sight which piqued my curiousity however – in one small area there was a partial clearing, with the obvious indicator of its former inhabitants – a small, ancient apple orchard. An 1871 map of Leicester, available online, showed that this homesite was owned by Mrs. F. Glynn. Does anyone know anything about her life at what must have been a very remote place to live? If you are interested in seeing the details of this map, you can download it and view it in Microsoft Office Picture Manager, which allows you to magnify it easily. Also, there is a treasure trove of old Vermont maps at its source, http://www.old-maps.com/.
The rest of the run was pretty straightforward – I stayed on the Leicester Hollow Trail until it came along the east side of Silver Lake, past the newly refurbished outhouses by the campground, and on down the dirt road where the adventure actually started. A few last comments on the name “Chandler Ridge”: While looking up information on the abandoned homesite, I also came across a lot of information on the old Silver Lake Hotel, which stood at the north end of the lake – it was built in the late 1800′s by a missionary from Montreal by the name of Frank Chandler, who also constructed the Leicester Hollow road. Also, according to some sources, including Google Earth, the Chandler Ridge is actually the ridge to the east of Silver Lake, not the ridge separating Silver Lake and Lake Dunmore where the Chandler Ridge Trail runs. Finally, I would like to express thanks to the kids in the VYCC for the the backbreaking work they have performed to rehabilitate some great old trails, and to our federal government for supporting their work – trails or tea party? Guess which I prefer!
Overall this was really an epic route to run – it covered 12 miles, and while the overall altitude difference between the low and high points was not that severe, there were very few truly flat sections on this run – much of the gentle up and down nature of this trail is kind of lost in the natural error from the GPS signal. This run took me about 2 and a half hours with just a few stops for picture taking and water along the way.
I had long heard of a fun trail up Snake Mountain‘s little brother, Buck Mountain. Buck Mountain consists of a low lying, N-S ridge a few miles north and east of Snake Mountain, in the bustling community of Waltham. Looking at it from the west, however, I could see that it had some west-facing cliffs leading me to assume that it should have views just as nice those from its big brother! Googling the route prior to the run, I came across a web entry indicating that there was, or at least had been a geocache at the summit. For those of you who are not familiar with geocaching, it is a sport in which a small waterproof container containing a logbook and perhaps some small inexpensive trinkets is stashed somewhere in the woods, with GPS coordinates as the primary clue to its location. So, prior to this run, I signed into the geocaching website and wrote down the coordinates for the Buck Mt cache. I will not share these coordinates here, since those who posted them did so on a site which required free registration, but the site where they are available can be found very easily through normal searching methods.
The Buck Mt. trailhead requires a short drive from Middlebury – head north on Rt. 7, and take the left to the west on Rt. 17 where the two routes cross at New Haven Junction. After about a mile and a half, take the right turn on Green St., and then after a longer mile and a half, take the left turn onto the unpaved road called (somewhat ostentatiously, given its modest size) “Route Sixty Six”. Head uphill until you reach the height of land, and there will be a small pullover on the left side of the road. The unmarked trail begins here, and a few other places as well it appears from the meandering nature of the first 50 yards or so of the trail. I was forewarned that there were quite a few paths intersecting the main Buck Mt. Trail, but the main trail would be obvious, and fortuneately correct. So, I strapped on my GPS, popped my camera in my pocket, and headed along the ridge for the summit overlook.
The path was pretty flat at first, and then did a series of short climbs, and one modest descent before the final climb to the summit. The trail was generally pretty dry, and did prove pretty obvious to follow, despite the lack of markings, and the presence of a few crosstrails leading to unknown destinations. When I reached the summit after what proved to be a very short run – a mile and a quarter, I was immediately impressed by the views. Like Snake Mountain, it did have a wonderful view of the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks to the west, for a fraction of the effort.
After soaking up the view in solitude for a few minutes, I set out to find the geocache. While my set of coordinates led me to a place on the summit which appeared to fit the search hints, as well as the exact coordinates, I could not find anything which fit my vision of what might be entailed in a summit cache. The only major sign of human habitation found in this vicinity was an empty Bud Light can (ugh) but my efforts did lead to a treat of sorts – a “cache” of wild blueberries, which I took a few minutes to enjoy. I am not sure what happened to the geocache – perhaps I was not thorough enough in my search, or perhaps the cache had been removed. The site where I learned of the webcache had listed its last known finding at over a year ago. On the outside chance that I had erred in my GPS use, I looked along the full length of the ridge, and while no cache ever appeared, I did get a nice view of Middlebury as I rounded the south end of the ridge. You can see the Middlebury “skyline” up against the south slopes of Chipman Hill, if you look carefully!
The return to my car made this a very easy, but very pleasant run, even if my goal of finding the geocache met with failure. The round trip on this run would be a mere 2.5 miles, which I stretched to 3 with my summit meanderings. Nonetheless, the short distance, and modest climb (about 400 vertical ft) makes this an excellent trail run for those new to the sport, and looking for a little bit of climbing. Does anyone know anything about this cache – was it removed, abandoned, vandalized, or do i just need to hone my searching skills?
Once again, on Saturday afternoon it was time for the popular local trailrunning race, The Goshen Gallop! The good news was that this year’s relatively dry conditions would make for good footing onwhat were more typically muddy trails. The bad news was that Saturday was HOT! The temperatures were probably hovering around 80 at the start of the race, but this, combined with a lot of climbing, didn’t bode well for any personal bests from this middle-aged runner. So, I donned one of my oldest t-shirts from this race, and drove up to the Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen. My Goshen Gallop t-shirts make up some of the oldest surviving t-shirts in my collection – I first ran this run race in 1989, when it was held in September, rather than its now customary mid-July running. My first Gallop was a memorable race – the remnants of Hurricane Hugo had just passed through the northeast, rendering the usual trail course impassably wet – given the typical mud on this race course, I can’t begin to imagine what the trail conditions must have been like! So, the race was forced to the dirt roads of Goshen. Since then, however, the race has been held on the same course on the Blueberry Hill ski trails on every year that I have run the race.
The race started off heading south on the Goshen-Ripton road for about a half mile, before making a sharp left turn into the trail system. As the trail switchbacked up the side of Hogback Mt., I had the opportunity to chat with another runner named Andy, who I recognized from previous races. As it turned out, he had actually taken a chemistry course from me in my first year or second year of teaching, roughly 25 years ago. I had no memory of his enrollment in any of my courses, but he was adamant, and I know from experience that when I meet up with former students, they ALWAYS remember how they did in chemistry. The race crested the hillside of Hogback Mountain as we ran past perplexed wild blueberry pickers ( the berries were wild, the pickers probably not), and pausing for a quick sip of water at the first water station, Andy pulled ahead never to be seen again until the finish line. After the short descent to the water station, climbing resumed as the trail angled back towards the inn. About a half mile before the 5 km mark where the race returned to the inn there was a very overheated dog lying there panting alongside the trail, looking like it was in trouble. Apparently, the dog had decided to try and run the race, and had overdone it by this point. Many of the runners alerted the workers at the half way point, so we all went on assuming that the dog would be tended to.
About half of the runners stopped at this point, planning on only running the 5 km race, making this an excellent introduction to the pleasures of trail racing for neophytes. The rest of us took the sharp right turn, temporarily bypassing the tempting swimming hole, and headed immediately up the steepest climb of the run. At this point, the heat was starting to get to me, so I had to do a few short sections walking, but I took comfort in the observation that I was not the only middle-the-pack runner in the same state. The trail climbed steadily to the 6 km point, where it did a series of gentle ups and downs for the next km or so, before a pleasant descent on the Steward trail until it joined a the forest service road connecting the Sugar Hill Reservoir with the Goshen-Ripton road. The race headed towards the latter destination, and finished with about a mile on this dirt road before ascending one last road climb up the the by now very welcome finish line in front of the inn. There was no personal best to be had on this day, but it was fun as always, especially after a lot of water, for drinking, as well as swimming – the aforementioned swimming hole behind the inn beckoned! I was also relieved to see that the running dog was being administered to, and was recovering.
While this race was originally advertised as a 10 km race, then as a 10.2 km race, my GPS measured it at 10.6 km. This was fine, as nobody in their right mind would expect to run anywhere near their normal 10 km pace on a trail race like this, with all of its climbing, descents, and summer heat. The excellent post-race picnic meal, prepared by the inn’s kitchen finished off a great afternoon.
PS: After I posted this race description, I found another racer had posted her insights on the race. These can be viewed at: http://www.dirtinyourskirt.com/2011/07/moosalamoo-goshen-gallop-post-race.html
As my body continues to recover from injury down time in the spring, I thought it was about time to take on a longer run. Since a few of my eager lab assistants were looking forward to some long trail runs, and the weather was perfect, it seemed like a good day to do a point-to-point run, with a car shuttle. With this in mind, Jack, Nat, and I dropped my car off at the Falls of Lana parking lot (near Branbury State Park in Salisbury) and headed back to Rt 125, and drove up to the Robert Frost Trailhead, located about a mile west of the Breadloaf Campus of Middlebury College. The Robert Frost Trail by itself does not make for much of a trail run – it is only about a mile long, and the poetry reading stations along the way don’t lend themselves to a rapid run through. At the start of our run, I wondered if the bridge over the nearby brook would be repaired – a run through this area last year ended with a surprise wade through the river after the removal of a lovely rustic footbridge. When my kids were young, we used to play “Pooh Sticks” on this bridge, so I lamented its loss, although wet feet and legs didn’t bother me after its demise. There was both good news and bad news at this point: The good news was that a new bridge had been built – the bad news was that this footbridge had a much more utilitarian feel to it. I can take some comfort that the PVC “fake wood” used for its base probably came from recycled soda bottles.
After crossing the bridge, follow the outer loop of the Robert Frost Trail, and where the trail bends to the left to begin its return, take the right onto the Crosswalk Trail, then take the second left turn on “Afternoon Delight” which angles up the side of Water Tower Hill. I have no idea how long ago this hill was shorn of its water tower – and I have lived in the area for 25 years. Any old-timers out there with memories? The descent of Water Tower Hill leads to a complex trail intersection where you basically go straight, leading to the Widows Clearing Trail. After about a mile or so on this trail (skied last winter in the “Widow Wears White” posting), pass by the first right turn (leading to the Widows Clearing parking lot on the Goshen-Ripton Road), and continue on to the next right turn, which descends quickly to the road, albeit through some prickly underbrush which did not feel good on these runners’ legs!
We had originally planned on following the trail beginning across the road, but the neck-high greenery made this a less appealing option. Instead, we turned left on the Goshen-Ripton Road and continued on this easy dirt road until we came to the entrance to the Moosalamoo Campground. The large sharp stones used on this road surface made for less comfortable running, so instead of following it all the way to the Voter Brook Overlook, we followed signs towards the Mt. Moosalamoo Trail. Somehow, we missed this right turn, and ended up doing a victory lap around the nearly empty campground, before noticing the trailhead on the left on our return. After about a quarter mile on this trail, we came to a well maintained double track trail, which we took a left on, and in eventually rejoined the same road to the Voter Brook Overlook. In other words – we added some distance to the run by running aimlessly in circles through the woods! A short run brought us to the Voter Brook Overlook, with its views to the west, peeking around the corner of Moosalamoo.
After pausing a few moments to enjoy the view and diminish the local deerfly population, we headed down a short steep trail, which is not marked on the official Moosalamoo region map available from the forest service offices in Middlebury. This trail connected us to the North Branch trail, which led to some of the sweetest trail running of the trip. This narrow but well-maintained trail leads gradually downhill for over a mile, until it joins the popular trail leading from the Falls of Lana trailhead to Silver Lake. We had originally planned on finishing the run with the short descent from here to our car, but since we were all feeling pretty peppy still, we decided to do the uphill mile run to Silver Lake. While my younger colleagues still had plenty of leg to spare, I discovered that my ambitions were not entirely reflected by my ability to carry them out, and found I had to walk a short section or two. Topping out at the earthen dam at the outlet of Silver Lake, we were treated to a great early evening view of the lake.
The last mile and a half back to the previously cached car was downhill all the way. According to my GPS, this one came in at exactly 10 miles – the longest run of the season to date! Fortunately, the run WAS mostly downhill, other than the ascent of Water Tower Hill, and the last hard climb up to Silver lake.
Sneaking out for runs while traveling is always a great way to shake out the lethargy of long airplane trips and too much junk food on the run. City running, on the other hand, can be almost as frustratingly “stop and go” as urban driving, with stoplights at every corner. As a result, I always look for a nearby city park to run in, to duplicate as well as I can my preferred trail running experience. This posting brings me to one of the great city parks of the world, the Tiergarten in Berlin, Germany. I guess this would also be my first international trail run in this blog!
I left my hotel on a quiet cul-de-sac in a residential section of old West Berlin, pulled out my map, and made my best attempt at following this old city’s meandering streets in the general direction of the Tiergarten, a little over a mile from my hotel. Many Berliners, as is the case in many European cities, bicycle to work in the early morning hours, and one of my first lessons running in this city was how to share sidewalks with these ecologically-minded commuters! If I had been watching my feet more carefully, I would have noticed that I was running in a sidewalk bike lane, and the frequent reminder of bicycle bells behind me was the result of courteous riders requesting that I step aside out of their designated path. I also discovered that jaywalking was not at all common – the orderly German pedestrians would almost always stop and wait for the light to indicate that it was their time to cross the street, even if there were no cars to be seen in any direction. After about a mile and a half of sidewalk running/cultural awareness lessons, I came to the wide boulevard which bisected the Tiergarten along its north-south axis. Heading north into the park, I had a great view of the golden monolith standing at the park’s center, celebrating 19th century Prussian military victories over the Danes, Austrians, and French.
Reaching the center of the park, it was time to leave the sidewalk and finally do a little true trail running. If I had turned right here, to the east, I would get to the famous Brandenberg Gate, site of John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, but realizing I had appointments to keep, chose the more direct return trip, heading back west in the general direction of my hotel. The meandering paths of this beautiful urban oasis provided a great escape from the nearby city streets. At one point, I even saw a fox cross my path – when I mentioned this to my German colleagues, they mentioned that there were even wild boar in this park! After a far too short section of these broad wooded trails, I crossed over a downtown canal, along the outskirts of the Berlin Zoo, and back onto the streets for my return to my hotel.
This ended up being about a 4.5 mile run, but lets face it, this one was more about the journey than it was the destination. It also made it so that I could indulge in Berliners’ favorite junk food – the ubiquitous “currywurst” without guilt for the rest of the day. The currywurst is basically a hot dog covered in a sauce made up of curry powder and ketchup, which is one of my guilty pleasures when traveling in Germany.
I have been looking forward to my next post for some time now – Since March, the inevitable aches, pains, and nuisance injuries of middle age have kept me off the trails and out of my running shoes. While I am not back to 100% (or what delusionally passes for 100% at this point in my life), I was at the point where continued rest and inactivity seemed to hurt more than help. Contemplating a relatively short, easy run I remembered learning of a much less traveled trail up Snake Mountain, ascending from the gentler east side of the mountain. Since this side of the mountain appeared much less imposing than the west facing cliff side where most hikers and runners begin, I assumed I was in for a relatively easy run. Sometimes visual impressions can be deceiving!
The east face trailhead is much less known than the far heavier traveled east side trail on Snake Mt. The easiest way to get to this trailhead is to head out of town to the west on Rt. 125 until you get to Lemon Fair Road. Turn right onto Lemon Fair Road at the yellow house at the top of the hill about a mile and a half out of town, and stay on this road until you get to Snake Mountain Rd, where you take a right turn. Head north on Snake Mt. Rd. for 2.5 miles, until you come to a small barely marked parking lot slightly up to your left.
The trail begins gently enough following a broad, well maintained path through a few hillside meadows before reaching at gate about a third of a mile up the trail. After this point, the trail soon becomes a narrow, single track trail, unlike the broad former coach road which makes up the west side trail. Nonetheless, the trail was obvious to follow, and went by several pretty, boggy areas where the trail got a little bit muddy. Along the muddiest section, the source of the flooding was soon obvious – a beaver pond had started raise the water level in one of the boggy sections to the point where the trail was beginning to get slightly flooded. There were also several clearly recently felled trees (one with green leaves still on it!) indicating that the beaver in residence had been characteristically busy in the previous day or two.
Continuing past this muddy section, the trail got significantly steeper before leveling off for a traverse to the south. I was beginning think that I must be getting nearer to the summit, but was puzzled where the trail would end up, as I had never noticed where this particular trail joined the main trail, let alone the summit. My questions were soon answered as the east side trail joined the west side trail – only about half way up the mountain – I had plenty of running yet to do! Upon reaching the summit view point, I was far more tired than usual – was this solely due to the expected loss of conditioning after 3 months off the trails? Or was the east side trail deceptively longer? I would have to wait until I got home and synced up my Garmin GPS watch to get most of the hard data.
I was pretty tired at the summit, and the circling vultures did little to comfort me! Another far more ornithologically informed hiker at the summit commented that since I was so sweaty, the vultures were probably smelling me as if I was carrion. Funny – Mrs. Trailrunner seems to think the same thing when I return from a good long trail run. The return to my car was relatively uneventful, with the caveat that less traveled trails are sometimes more difficult to find on the way down than they are on the way up – I unwittingly ended up following a dry stream bed rather than the trail for a few hundred yards, but fortunately rejoined the true trail at about the point when I was beginning to realize I had taken a wrong turn.
After checking the mileage on this run, which was harder than I hoped it would be, I found that my observations were verified – the east side trail is about a half mile longer (4.6 miles), about 100 vertical feet more to climb (1000 ft total), and significantly rougher than the west side. It was also a more interesting and prettier path in my opinion – in other words, a true trail run! I am looking forward to some new and more adventurous runs as my body continues to heal.
Only two weeks ago, one of the biggest snow storms ever to hit northern New England blasted us with about two feet of snow, but the relatively mild weather which followed made me wonder whether my weekend enjoying the mountains would be in the winter, the spring, or mud season? Or all of the above perhaps? After Friday’s wonderfully springy weather, I realized that if I was going to get in any last long ski outings, I had better do them soon, as I suspected that the snow cover would be melting away quickly. With that in mind, I set out along the Ripton-Goshen road on Saturday morning. The road was fine at first, but is shortly became a series of frozen muddy ruts which made the drive rather adventurous for my low clearance front wheel drive vehicle. By the time that I reached the Blueberry Hill ski touring area, I realized that I had been fortunate to arrive with my oil pan intact. The ample snow cover was tempting, but I also realized that I needed to get onto paved roads before the frozen ruts melted into a quagmire with a high potential to suck my poor old Ford Escort into the Vermont equivalent of quicksand. Thus, I decided to head back to civilization, through the better roads heading down towards the Goshen Village, and return to Middlebury via Forestdale – definitely the long way, but the right way back considering the road conditions.
Undaunted, I headed back up to the Rikert ski touring area, which was fully accessible by paved road. While the snow cover was starting to get a little on the thin side in the field, there was a ton of VERY HARD snow in the woods. On the limited trails where the Rikert staff had groomed, the skiing was actually pretty nice, especially for skating skis, but forays off the groomed trails led to very challenging and limited skiing. As I was skiing along, however, I realized that the rather unyielding snow might be good underfoot for ….the first trail run of the year! So after skiing around a variety of loops close in to the touring center, I vowed to return to the mountains on Sunday, in running shoes rather than skis.
Sunday, of course, ended up as a near perfect late winter/early spring/pre-mud season day, so I headed for the wide open and well packed terrain of Forest Service 59 ( also known as Steam Mill Road). I have mentioned previous runs and skis on this road which is closed to car and truck traffic in the winter, but maintained for snowmobile use. Rather than accessing it from the Rikert side, I thought I would try and reach it from the Ripton side, and looking at maps, realized it could be accessed from the Natural Turnpike. For those who don’t know this road, it departs from Rt 125 to the left just after passing the Ripton town buildings, and weaves its way up into the decreasingly populated higher elevations. While this road passes all the way to Lincoln in the summer, a forest service gate blocks vehicular passage at a convenient parking lot. I have never seen this parking lot before, but it seemed like a good place to head into the forest.
While the footing might have otherwise proven a little slippery, given the thin veneer of corn snow on a rock hard base, my recent acquisition of the perfect running shoe for the situation made for sure-footed running. Asics makes an amazing shoe called the “Arctic” which has small spikes in the sole for just these sorts of condition, which gave me confident footing throughout the run. Joining the snowmobile trail labeled by the trailhead signage as “7A South” I quickly joined the far north end of the closed off portions of Steam Mill road.
A steady climb on this wide snowy boulevard brought me to the Steam Mill clearing itself, the trailhead of the trail to Skylight Pond, and a wide open area with great views of Breadloaf Mountain to the left.
As I was running along, I realized that I was not the only person who saw the potential to enjoy this route on such a gorgeous sunny day. I saw numerous skiers, hikers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers out as well – the only thing missing was a few dogsledders! After a little over 3 miles, I reached the Forest Service gate at the Rikert end of the road, so simply retraced my path for a 6.6 mile round trip. I also noted a variety of other trails branching off from this newly discovered trailhead, and I am looking forward to exploring them this summer on foot!
I am not including my usual altitude profile for this run, as the run had only a few small climbs and descents, and my GPS actually gave some odd results, indicating a nonexistant 500 foot drop and climb in the first mile – no need to scare off other explorers with spurious data! The next question is – will there be more skiing? Is it really running season? Or will it be so much mud that attempts to take either off road will require a cleanup with the garden hose to rinse off before entering the house? We will see….
Driving up into the mountains on Sunday, I was initially undecided whether to head into lesser used trails, or confine my late afternoon ski to more groomed terrain. Noting the piles of fresh snow everywhere, but untracked paths at all my favorite trailheads, I decided that the old racing skis I had brought would lead to a far more pleasurable ski on the well groomed trails of the Rikert Ski Touring Center at the Middlebury College Breadloaf Campus. As I approached the touring center, I was initially surprised by the huge number of cars parked there, until I remembered that there was a Bill Koch League (the youth nordic ski racing program) festival happening there. There has been a resurgence in nordic ski racing over the last few years, in part fueled by Rikert’s active Bill Koch League program and the leadership of the Frost Mountain Nordic Club, as well as the very popular Middlebury Union High School Nordic Ski Team. Inspired by these eager young athletes, it seemed a good day to travel the entire 10 km racing trail used by the college racers for their workouts, and yearly Winter Carnival races.
Family events precluded my witnessing this year’s winter carnival races, but on most years, the Saturday race is a great spectacle. The men ski the 10 km loop twice, and the women ski a slightly shorter 7.5 km loop twice. The high point of both of these events is the mass start involving all the racers in a mass start, looping around the field a few times in their amazing splash of color before heading into the woods. While the waxing tents set up by Sunday’s much younger racers and their coaches and parents were not as plentiful as those set up by the collegiate racers, they created much the same festive competetive atmosphere.
Leaving the fields festivities behind me, I headed into the first of the three loops which make up the race course. While this loop is officially named “the Battell Trail”, it has long been known by its nickname (and long ago official name) “the Turkey Trot”. This is a favorite first loop for many local children and neophyte adult cross country skiers due to its modest length, climb and descents. It also makes a for a good stretch of trail for the early stages of a mass start race, due its wide boulevard feel, making for relatively easy passing as the racers stretch out their legs. It also made for very pretty skiing for this long retired racer, with the previous day’s fresh snows clinging to the conifers.
After about 2 km in the woods of the Battell trail, this spectator friendly course loops back into the field before taking a right turn towards Myhre Cabin and the first substantial climb of the course. A short, but steep climb followed by a short descent and yet another climb up the hill behind the Myhre Cabin leads to the most technically challenging part of the course, the “S-turns” which can be easily seen in the Google Earth GPS projection of the route at the end of this posting. While this section is not particularly steep, racers can build up some decent speed while taking on some tricky hairpin turns. Shortly before one of the last descents in the S-turns I noticed a curious sign. Existential skiing anyone?
Looping back below the cabin brings one back to the field again before taking on the last major challenge of the loop, the long arduous ascent of Craig’s Hill. One of the best places to watch racers is on the short flat stretch about 2/3 of the way up this climb – as the skiers make their second loop, you can often see their exhaustion and guess which racers are going to have the energy needed for the upcoming sprint finish. A little more climbing after this point, followed by a short descent takes you to the section known as “The Figure Eight” although only half of the 8 can be skied without forcing racers to cross each others paths. The fast final descent down the section of trail still bearing the name of an exiled former professor brings you to the finish line behind the touring center. I realized at this point that I had not yet covered a full 10 km, so two loops of the ballfield brought my distance up before calling it a day.
While I have not entered any citizens races for quite a few years, I felt like I was skiing this loop at a fairly brisk pace, which took me about an hour to complete, with just a little time off along the way for photography. The top college racers can do this loop in less than a half hour – and then do a second loop to complete a 20 km race in about an hour. Many exercise physiologists consider nordic racing the most demanding sport in that it works every muscle in your body while pushing it to aerobic extremes. The top racers achieve levels of fitness most of us can only dream of. Most impressive!
Sitting in my living room on a snowy Saturday night, I have a hard time believing how warm and sunny it was just a few hours earlier, as I set off to ski The Widow’s Clearing Trail. Since the posting on the history of the Widow’s Clearing from one of last summer’s runs elicited a lot of interest, I thought it would be fun to return to this site on skis once winter hit. Well winter has definitely hit! The snow cover is outstanding for cross country skiers, with almost all hazards other than the larger streams completely buried.
This ski began, as did many of last summer’s runs, at the Brooks Road (aka Chatfield) parking lot off of Rt 125 just past Breadloaf. Usually, this lot if pretty empty, but on this gorgeous morning, there were numerous cars from which other outdoor enthusiasts had already departed. The goal for the day was to cross over the to Widow’s Clearing parking lot on the Ripton-Goshen Road. After about a half mile of easy climbing, I reached the clearing, which was not unexpectedly enveloped in a sheet of white, with only a few brushy trees poking through the uniformly smooth cover of the freshly fallen snow.
The skier-packed trail continued through the forest, passing several minor trail crossings, but staying on the Widows Clearing Trail, which also coincided with the Vermont’s end-to-end ski trail, the Catamount Trail, with its characteristic blue blazes, for much of its path. Deeper into the woods, I came across a pleasant surprise – the groomer from the Blueberry Hill nordic ski area had set tracks beyond the normal confines of their more heavily used trail system offering the unexpected pleasures of smooth kick-and-glide skiing. Eventually the Widows Clearing Trail and the Catamount Trail parted ways, and I bore right down the short descent to the end of the trail at the Widow’s Clearing parking lot on the Goshen-Ripton Road.
I had originally planned on doubling back on the same route, but when I rejoined the Catamount Trail, the day was too nice to end prematurely, so I headed right, taking further advantage of the groomed terrain. A second short descent to the Goshen-Ripton Road provided a brief roller-coaster descent staying in the deep set tracks.
The return trip passed too quickly, but was made even better by a chance meetings with a few friends and acquaintances along the trail, and several energetic but well-behaved golden retrievers. This route covered a little less than seven miles….I mean 11 km…..with almost all the climb in the first half mile. If this snow keeps up, I hope to blog skiing, rather than running into April this year!
Last Sunday finally gave me what I was looking for – blue skies, blue wax conditions (for those of you on waxable cross-country skis) and great snow cover – perfect for the first ski posting of the season. I decided to begin the day’s ski from my home area- the Rikert Ski Touring Center operated by Middlebury College, and make the route a mixture of well-groomed touring center trails and lightly traveled remote paths. The day’s route began by reversing the route described in one of my posts from last winter, entitled “The Robert Frost Cabin”. Heading up Craig’s Hill, the beauty of the fresh snow and groomed trail provided all I needed to justify stopping for a picture.
At the top of the first hill, I took a left on the “Figure 8″ trail, and then followed the signs leading to the Frost Cabin. The lack of any truly bitter cold subzero days this winter have made it so that many of the surface streams are still running, rather than iced over, and in a few spots, I had to chose my path carefully to avoid waterskiing. Around the periphery of the Frost Fields, the 2-3 inches of snow from the previous nights snow on packed trail made for pretty easy skiing, but the snow was up to my knees in the unpacked powder! Joining the trail heading into the woods behind the Frost cabin at the top of the meadow, which by this point in the season was pretty well packed by previous skiers, brought me to the site of the title of this entry – the Wagon Wheel Road.
The Wagon Wheel Road was so named due to the presence of dance hall by that name which operated at the end of the road, where the Rikert Trails meet the road, until about 60 years ago. I wanted to try and find a source of information on this former Ripton hot spot, but found the best information from an unlikely source. A friend told me that a well-done booklet on the history of Ripton was put together by the 5th and 6th grade classes of the Ripton Elementary School back in 1996, and that it might have some information on The Wagon Wheel. Fortunately, I learned that a copy of this book was available on the bookshelves of the Rikert Touring Center. According to this source, the dance hall operated from 1950-1952 with dancing every Saturday night in the summer, and was owned an operated by one Leonard Zeeman. Although the language used to describe this site is appropriately guarded, given the age of the authors, one gets the impression that it was a pretty wild place! They also report that the owner, who was also a contractor, collected enough beer bottles that he used them to build the cellar walls of a home he constructed in Middlebury. The dance hall stood derelict until 1962, when it was torn down, leaving behind just another cellar hole. With all the snow, there was no chance of finding this, but a small clearing at the end of the road appears to be a good place to begin searching for it in the spring.
My original plan was to follow the Wagon Wheel Rd as far as I could towards its source in the more civilized parts of Ripton, but was surprised by the fact that the upper reaches of the road were actually plowed. There was enough snow at first, but after about a km, the cover got too thin to ski, so I reversed my path, and headed back to the touring center. When I reached the Frost meadow, I took the upper trail back, which led to the well-groomed tracks on the outer Frost trail. From this high point on the terrain, I descended to the touring center to complete this 11.5 km route.
Once again, I am reverting to the common use of metric measurements when describing nordic ski routes, as is common. Curiously, the only time I have received any “troll comments” on my postings was last winter when one reader took offense at my use of this Unamerican system of measurement!