After the last posted run, which featured running commentary on the Robert Frost Cabin and Robert Frost Trail, it only seemed fitting to continue on with the Frost theme with a run up to the summit of Robert Frost Mountain. While many Middlebury-ites know of, and have explored the former, relatively few know of his namesake summit. Where exactly is Robert Frost Mountain? When looking towards the mountains from town, Robert Frost Mountain is the rounded summit high point just a few miles north of the East Middlebury and Rt. 125. While it is not a particularly dramatic summit, it is a pleasant place to visit with good, albeit wooded views, and its paucity of hikers (or runners). I have no idea if Robert himself ever ascended to its heights, and I rather suspect not. There are several peaks in the US named Mt Washington, however, and I am quite confident that George (or Martha) never climbed any of them.
To get to my starting point for this run, head south of town on Rt. 7, east on Cady Rd. (the road bisecting Foster Motors), and then north on Rt 116 for 0.4 miles until you get to Munson Rd, where you take a right turn. Be careful not to exceed the speed limit here (25 mph) as it has been heavily patrolled as of late. Find yourself a suitable parking place anywhere alongside the road near the four-way stop sign a half mile later to begin the run. Hopefully you can park your car in one of the favorite hiding places of our well-intentioned and hard-working officers of the law, and save this author from another speeding warning!
The start for this run is on the snowmobile trail paralleling Burnham Dr., the road heading east towards the mountains from the aforementioned four-way stop sign. The first 3.4 miles of this run are also described in a previous post, The Toughest Nine Miles in Addison County. This older post has now lost its title. The first two miles of the run follows a VAST snowmobile trail heading north along the west face of the Green Mts, climbing more or less steadily, first through deciduous forest, then into a coniferous forest (which you can make out from the west pretty easily), before climbing back into deciduous again. This is a very pretty section, following a brook much of the way, with a few limited views through the trees. At about 1.5 miles, the trail forks into two equally strong trails, and both will work for this run. I chose the right trail on the way up, as it is a little shorter, but if you miss the trail split and take the left fork, it will connect with the same next trail.
The snowmobile trail tops off onto FS 237 (not marked at this point), an obvious but somewhat overgrown forest service road. Take a right turn here (an earlier missed turn will have you coming up to this point from the left) and follow this road until it ends in about a mile and a half, connecting with Dragon Road. Dragon Rd. is a maintained dirt road suitable for 2WD cars, but like many of the lesser known mountain roads in Ripton, rarely driven. The run I previously described went right from this point, ending the uphill section considerably earlier. Take a left uphill until the road ends after about eight tenths of a mile. There is a small parking lot here, and if you would prefer a much shorter run, or even an easy family hike, you can drive to this point and start here. To get to this parking area, drive into East Middlebury on Rt. 125, turn left on North Branch Road (the slight left at the Rt 125 bridge), and a few miles later, when North Branch Road makes a right, continue straight on Dragon Rd. until the road ends.
As you enter the parking lot, look carefully to the right to find the somewhat overgrown start to the trail leading to the summit of Robert Frost Mountain in 1.2 miles. This trail gets so little traffic in the summer that you have to walk through tall weeds for 20 or 30 feet before the trail becomes easy to find and follow. You will know you have gone the right way when you see a gate across the trail. From this point, the trail isn’t too bad, other than the fact that it is somewhat overgrown (hence good for resistance training for trailrunners!), and gets a little steeper as you approach the summit. Most of the traffic to this summit clearly is during the winter, when the snowmobilers apparently make it a frequent destination. The summit is wooded, but people have cleared a few nice views to make the climb worth the effort. This summit has another unexpected creature comfort – a privy at the summit, which actually appears to be in far better condition than most similarly situated sources of relief. I was somewhat amused, however, by the fact that there were a few empty liter cans of Bud Light strewn about its floor. Go figure.
The run back down mostly followed the uphill run, other than at the point where the lower shortcut from the snowmobile trail connected to FS 237. It is very difficult to see where the uphill trail connects with the Forest Service Road, so I just went to the end of the road, and followed the obvious left turn at its end where it also connected with the uphill route. As I descended, I did note the following somewhat amusing sign:
I briefly considered bringing the sign home, and posting it on the door of my teenage daughters’ bathroom, but instead decided to leave this amusing little non sequitor to be discovered by other runners and hikers.
When all was said and done, this was a long hard run, with 11.5 miles of running and 2000 vertical feet of climbing. I don’t usually post my time, but this adventurous run took a while – two and a half hours. Given the relentlessly pretty woods and decent views, this route would also make a fine day hike as well, either from East Middlebury, or from the higher trailhead.
One of the most famous characters to grace the hills of Addison County was America’s poet laureate, Robert Frost. In a earlier post, I joked about the ubiquity of signs alluding to Frost’s presence in the woods of Ripton, so I thought it would be fun to describe a run built on the Robert Frost theme. The Robert Frost roadside rest area on Rt. 125 a few miles below Breadloaf seemed like a logical place to begin the run, given the ample parking. I also couldn’t help but notice that the nearby “Robert Frost Trail” and trailhead was still closed to the public, but more on that later.
The run began with a easy jog up…you guessed it…Frost Road, until reaching the Robert Frost cabin where (guess who) summered for many years while teaching at the Breadloaf School of English. We can forgive him for the fact that for many of these years, he returned to teach at archrival Amherst College at the end of the summer. Even famous poets need a day job I guess! The view from his primitive cabin is beautiful in the late summer, with views of the nearby mountains and the Homer Noble Farm.
After soaking up the meadow view, I continued up into the woods on the well traveled trail behind his cabin. This route follows much of the route described in my cross country ski trip described in my post entitled “Robert Frost Cabin” but in the reverse direction. After a little more than a mile, the trail splits, and I chose the left fork knowing it would lead to a longer run. The gradual descent on this stretch of trail led eventually to a T in the trail with signage for cross country skiers, and I chose the left turn with a short downhill before joining up with a well-developed snowmobile trail. A rather disoriented hiking couple asked for my assistance in finding their way back to their vehicle at this point. This is understandable, as there is a complex network of ski trails, logging trails, and snowmobile trails in this section of forest. If you want to try this run out and are concerned about getting lost back here, a good rule of thumb is that left turns bring you further away from Breadloaf, while right turns will bring you closer.
After reorienting the slightly disoriented hikers – I haven’t heard of any recent hiker disappearances in the last few days, so I assume they made it out alive – I took a right turn on the now well-developed uphill trail which followed stream. After about a mile on this trail, I arrived at a new fork. Since the left fork had numerous KEEP OUT and NO TRESPASSING signs, my choice was clear – go right. This led to the trickiest routefinding section of this run Shortly after running by a small beaver pond (on my left) I expected to find a rough trail to my right which would connect me with the Brown Gate trail in the Rikert Ski Touring Center. I found a right turn which fit my memory of the terrain, but the trail got fainter and fainter, including a small stream crossing which didn’t fit my winter memories, but eventually connected with the well marked Brown Gate trail. A left turn here, and a moderate uphill led to the Brown Gate itself, and Steam Mill Rod/Forest service road 59. A right turn onto Steam Mill Rd led to about a mile of running on this well-graded dirt road. After all the rougher more technical running of the previous few miles, it felt good to stretch out the legs for a while in some higher tempo running. Staying on this road would take you to the Breadloaf Campus too soon, so I followed the well-marked snowmobile trail turning left shortly after passing Burnt Hill Rd. About 50 yards up this trail, I came to a small, moderately overgrown family burial plot. I knew of the existence of this mini-graveyard from past ski tours, but stopped to read the gravestones for the first time. The name on all of the stones was “Kirby” which made sense, as an older name for Steam Mill Road was apparently Kirby Road, as noted previously.
I stayed on this trail which is separated from the Rikert trails by a line of trees, and after another mile or so reached Rt. 125 just east of Breadloaf. The Brooks Rd. intersection was in sight, so I headed in that direction to continue the southern half of the run. Taking the Widows Clearing trail from the south end of the parking lot brought me up to the actual clearing, the subject of yet another post earlier in the summer. The fact that the clearing still exists despite not having been farmed for a hundred years implied that someone must mow the field every year or so, and on this run I could see that it had been mowed very recently. I can’t help but wonder who has taken on this task, as it can’t be that easy to haul the necessary equipment up there. From this point until the end of the run, you will finish the run as described by following my aforementioned “right turn rule”. The first right turn on the Widows clearing trail takes you to a trail called “The Crosswalk”, and after a mile on this rough trail, the next right connects to the furthest corners of (here we go again) The Robert Frost Trail. This well known trail passes through woods, meadows, streams, and swamps, and at many vantages along the way, appropriate Frost poems are displayed. I noted earlier in the summer that this trail has been closed all summer, and I presumed this was due to the nearby road construction. When I arrived to the stream crossing on this trail, I found that the footbridge which had provided a means across was missing, providing an alternative explanation for the trail closing. On the shore where the bridge once stood, the Frost poem posted seemed particularly ironic, in light of the fact that the trail was blocked. It is also my favorite Frost poem, and particularly germane to this blog.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
A short slog across the stream past the equipment in place for the replacement of the lost bridge, and a few hundred yards on Rt. 125 brought me back to my vehicle. As in prior runs, the Google Earth Projection, and altitude profile are posted, but I accidentally turned off my GPS for about a mile between the Kirby burial site and Rt. 125, so the distance on this run is probably a little more than 8 miles, and although there are no individual long climbs, there were very few truly flat sections on this run, and the total climb adds up to close to 1000 vertical feet.
The header for this blog describes it as “A blog for runners in and about Addison County, VT”. While all of my previous posts have been describing runs in Addison County, this posting chronicles a run not far from our fair county, in the “Vail of Vermont”, Stowe. Since a drive to Stowe isn’t that big a deal, and this run involves a well-known Vermont landmark, I figured I might as well include it. I was looking around for a more epic run to finish off the summer, and I learned of “The Race to the Top of Vermont”, a charity race in support of the Catamount Trail, in which a few hundred endorphin-crazed runners and mountain bikers compete up the Mount Mansfield Auto Road to the saddle between the two prominent summits (aka “The Nose” and “The Chin”) of our own Vermont high point, Mount Mansfield. While I enjoy running the hills, I had only attempted a run of this magnitude once before in my life, and it HAS been a few years since my run up Jay Peak….
The last Sunday in August was a perfect day for a race like sort – warm at the base of the mountain, cool, but not too cold at the top, with the perfectly cloudless azure skies of the sort that one expects in Colorado, not Vermont. I must confess, looking up at the summit from the start line did get my heart pounding, even before the starting gun went off.
I had never hiked on this side of the mountain during the summer prior to this race, preferring the trails up from Smugglers Notch or Underhill for my frequent hikes to the summit. Nonetheless, I had descended much of the route many times in the course of the Stowe Derby, a cross country ski race from the top of the Lookout Chairlift on Mansfield finishing in the village of Stowe. Even though it has been a few years since I last competed in this little bit of downhill mayhem, I was pleasantly surprised by how well my memory of the Auto Road served me, albeit from a very different perspective – it always looks steeper going uphill.
I chose a conservative pace at the start: Some of those who took off like a bat out of hell were passed by as they fell by the wayside, and some were never seen again until the finish line. I chose an initial strategy of running the straightaways, and “power-hiking” the steeper pitches around the countless hairpin turns. I must confess that as the run got closer and closer to the summit, my fast-walking sections became more numerous, and of longer duration – this was a very tough route! Fortunately, most of the other “middle of the pack” competitors had similar issues. While most of the dirt road course was shady, as it got higher up the mountain and crossed ski trails more frequently, every bend in the trail seemed to bring on an even more spectacular view.
The finish line, where there is a small parking lot for drivers, while a few hundred vertical feet and about a mile from the true summit (“The Chin”), sure felt like the top! Prior to the start of the race, I had delusions of maybe finishing the run with a jog across Mansfield’s spectacular above-timberline ridge and bagging the actual summit, but in recognition of the fact that I still had to get myself back down the mountain on increasingly wobbly legs, I decided to save the ridge run for another day.
The only disappointment of the day came when I thought that I might instead take the short walk to the summit of the “Nose” the secondary summit just above the top of the Auto Road where the prominent radio towers are located. The trail to this bump on the ridge had a barrier across it claiming it was closed due to new Federal safety rules on radio frequency exposure! Most people know that there have been increased concerns expressed about radio wave exposure due to publicity about possible health risks from cell phones. What most people don’t know is that the claim that radio waves can cause cancer actually flies against some of the most basic laws of physics, which Einstein figured out in 1905, and are well understood by beginning college chemistry students. There are many aspects of cancer which are not understood, but one thing is certain – to cause cancer, you need to break chemical bonds, and the energy generated by radio waves is only a tiny fraction of a percent of that necessary to do this. Saying that prolonged exposure to radio waves, or exposure to higher intensity radio waves can cause cancer is tantamount to claiming that if you stand on the Maine coast throwing baseballs for extended periods of time, one of the balls will eventually land in Europe. So….a scenic point in Vermont is taken away from us based on voodoo science.
Enough of the rant of the day…..Most trail runners know that the climb up is harder on the lungs, but the descent is actually tougher on the legs. I thought I had enough strength left in my legs to do the descent as an easy jog, but discovered about halfway down that this was not the case, making the last mile or two of descent more of a fast hike than a running descent. I tried to get down promptly however, given the barbecue lunch awaiting me at the post-race party. All in all, this run was 4.3 miles each way, or 8.6 round trip, with a 2500 vertical foot climb and descent. What a day!
My last last few blogged runs were on the long side, requiring a fairly high degree of organization and car shuttling to pull off, making them relatively rare treats for those with a little extra time on their hands. This run, however, requires much less choreography – just a short drive up the mountain from Middlebury to get to the trailhead, and thus can be done without a lot of extra driving. This is also a relatively straightforward “up and down” route, on easy to follow trails, requiring no map, and not a lot of knowledge of the topography. The catch? This route has a LOT of climbing!
To get to the starting point for this route, drive up Middlebury Gap on Rt 125. I was pleased to see, after my rant and rave about the pace of the road project in my last posting, that they are actually starting to lay some asphalt down. I would like to think that I somehow influenced the road crews to get their act together, but I suspect that this would be a little too delusional on my part. Take a left turn on Forest Service 59 (also labeled as the Steam Mill Road,(and sometimes called Kirby Road) a quarter of a mile or so before you get to the Breadloaf campus. Head up this well-graded dirt road for a few miles until you get to the Steam Mill Clearing trailhead, on your right. This clearing was the turnaround point for one of my ski touring posts from last summer, entitled The Skater’s Waltz, and is easy to notice due to several signs, as well as the fact that it is the first clearing that a driver comes to along this road. I have tried to find out more information on the history of this clearing, but thus far have not been able to find out much. There clearly must have been a steam mill here at some point, where raw logs were cut into lumber to facilitate transport to civilization, but I have not uncovered any information yet as to when it was operational, and by whom. The historical name for the road “Kirby Road” may offer some clues, but an old map of Ripton shows Kirby residences far down on the lower reaches of the road, and no indication of the steam mill ownership is apparent.
The run up to Skylight Pond follows a well-marked trail from this parking lot. This popular hiking trail climbs steadily, but never particularly steeply. There are frequent waterbars, dips, rocks, and mudholes to throw off one’s running rhythm, but never enough to turn it into a hike rather than a leisurely run. After a little less than two and a half miles, the ascending trail crosses the Long Trail, and continues on until it reaches the Skylight Pond shelter, quite possibly the Ritz Carleton of the numerous Long Trail shelters. The shelter porch overlooks the small high altitude pond, with very open views to the east. The Green Mt. National Forest attendant who makes this shelter his home for the summer informed me that the long hulking ridge on the eastern horizen was Mt. Moosilauke, in New Hampshire, another great trail running destination. Checking in on my GPS, I was surprised to see that I had done a lot of climbing to get here – the altitude at the shelter was 3500 ft, making its ascent a 1500 ft vertical climb from the parking lot below. The gradual nature of this rather substantial climb undoubtedly leads to its popularity as a hike and feasibility as a trail run!
On the descent, a few openings in the trees with only partially obstructed views to the west became apparent, but I must confess that while vistas like the above shot make for attractive blogs and effective running motivations, most the runs look more like this:
AND, when the footing gets tougher, it is hard to look at any scenery other than your own two feet. I guess that beats making sudden indentations in the mud with your face.
Nonetheless, the return to my car made for a pleasant round trip of just under 5 miles. I am also very interested to learn more about the history of the original steam mill, and invite readers to share what they may know about it.
Given the myriad of routes through the Moosalamoo region, and the great running weather, I thought it would be fun to try yet another long run bisecting this region and concluding at the Falls of Lana trailhead. My two lab assistants, Jack and Tyler, were also eager to explore some new terrain, so we decided to do another run involving a car shuttle. The original plan was to commence the run from the Robert Frost trailhead off of Route 125, but upon our arrival, we noted barriers across the trailhead announced that it was closed to the public due to the ongoing road construction. While signs of this type don’t necessarily dissuade me from exploration, the fact that the entrance was zealously guarded by Officer Obie of the elite “Hunter North” private law enforcement corp (complete with lights blazing on his vehicle in an example of comic overkill) provided enough inducement for me to change our plans. Is it just me, or does it seem that they are not really trying to fix Rt 125? This road project seems to be turning into an ever-widening exercise in dust generation on dry days, and mudpie baking on rainy days. I am beginning to suspect that at the end of the summer, they are going to announce that the whole thing is a big joke, and that there will be no new pavement, just the usual bumpy road.
The above rant aside, the unanticipated change in course led us back to the same trailhead as many of this summer’s runs – the Brooks Rd. Parking lot. The first few miles of this point-to-point run coincide with the first segments of the run described in the Widow’s Clearing run, described earlier this summer. In brief, we started up the Brooks Rd. (just past Breadloaf on Rt. 125) at an easy pace until we reached the right hand turn at about 2.5 miles heading to the Sugar Hill Reservoir in another half mile. The crest of this side trail got us over the high point of this run, after about 500 ft of ascent. While there were plenty of ups and downs after this point, the predominate direction was definitely down.
Taking the sharp right turn onto the Blueberry Hill ski trail, still following the Widow’s Clearing route through the forest led to the point where this route branched off from previous runs. About 1.25 miles after passing the shores of the reservoir, take the left split in the trail heading towards the gated road – a right turn here would continue the Widow’s Clearing run. This left turn leads promptly to the Ripton-Goshen road, where a left turn is quickly followed by a right turn onto the well-signed forest service road heading towards the Moosalamoo campground. The next segment of the run, while not challenging, is somewhat less pleasant than it could be due to the road construction of large crushed stone, which necessitated careful attention to ones feet to avoid loose stone, and the foot-bruising effect of an ill-placed footfall. In other words, it is fine for motor vehicles (which we saw none of), but not quite as good for runners. Nonetheless, this segment was worth the effort, as it led after a mile and a half to the glorious view at the Voter Brook Overlook. This viewpoint peeks through a break in the mountains out towards the Champlain Valley and the Adirondacks.
Backtracking from this point, we reversed our steps for about a mile until we came to the point where the North Branch Trail crossed the road, and turned right into the forest. Enroute to this trail, we also crossed paths with the Keewaydin Trail, but since our Moosalamoo Region Forest Service Map showed the trail in a totally different location, we were unwilling to take it. As it turned out, the Keewaydin Trail and North Branch trail met up along the route, so either is a fine choice. The North Branch Trail led gradually downhill, and was easy to follow. Some sections were fine for running, but a few short sections required careful foot placement to avoid falls on slippery rocks and stream crossings. Nonetheless, this was an aesthetically pleasing section of forest running.
The North Branch Trail eventually wound its way down to the Rattlesnake Cliffs Trail,where a left turn brought us shortly to the Sucker Brook stream crossing. A well constructed footbridge over the stream at this point was washed away in one of the massive storms which plagued Addison County during the summer of 2008, necessitating a little rock-hopping to get across the stream. This was followed by about a half mile on the Silver Lake trail, returning us to our cached car at the Falls of Lana trailhead, just outside of Branbury State Park. My GPS showed a run of 9.8 miles at this point, so a few hundred yards extra on the road brought this up to an even 10 miles. Overall, while this run was shorter than the route of the previous posting, it took about the same length of time due to the greater technical challenge of running on these trails. It is also a more scenically pleasing route, however, due to the great views of the Sugar Hill Reservoir and from the Voter Brook overlook.
The Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, the region which encompasses many of the runs on this blog, is one of the wonderfully underutilized outdoor resources in the northeast. This region, roughly delineated by Rt. 125 (the Middlebury Gap road) to the north, the main ridge of the Green Mountains to the east, Goshen and Brandon to the south, and Lake Dunmore to the west, provides a treasure trove of places to explore right at our doorstep in Addison County. While it lacks the alpine terrain and rugged mountain scenery of the Adirondacks or even the higher peaks along the Long Trail, its smaller rolling peaks, and numerous lakes and meadows, forests and streams could provide a lifetime of outdoor recreation for most people. In other words, with its less drastic, comfortably scenic terrain, it is an ideal place for trail running!
I have been eyeing my maps recently, looking for interesting “point-to-point” runs which might make for good runs with friends to share the driving at each end. A free, detailed, and USUALLY (note foreshadowing) accurate map of the Moosalamoo Region is available, free of charge, at the Middlebury office of the Green Mountain National Forest, just south of town on Rt. 7. I had some suckers, I mean fellow runners lined up to work out a car shuttle and accompany me on one of these runs, in the persons of a few of our summer research students at Bicentennial Hall. Actually, since these guys are on the varsity cross country running, I had my work cut out for me. Fortunately, I sort of knew the way, they did not, and I refused to part company with my map.
This run’s goal was to run a complete traverse of the Moosalamoo region, without actually climbing Mt. Moosalamoo itself, for obvious reasons. With this in mind, we started in the far Northeast corner of the region at the now familiar Brooks Road trailhead, right below the Snow Bowl, a short distance from Rt. 125. The first few miles of this run follow the route described a few months ago in the posting entitled “A Tale of Two Weekends.” As a result, almost all of the climbing was done in the first three and a half miles of the run, the ascent of Brooks Road. From the start, my two young trail running acolytes were chomping at the bit to dash up the first ascent, but I reminded them at I was more or less the same age as their fathers, so they relented. I also reminded them that it was my car awaiting us at Lake Dunmore, and I had the key. Smart Kids! The weather at the start was cool and partly cloudy, ideal for running, but as we proceeded up the dirt road, the rain began, and gradually increased in intensity. By the time we reached the terminus of the Brooks Road, it was an all-out downpour.
Heading back into the woods for true trailrunning, we turned right onto the Sucker Brook Trail for a few miles of gradual descent through the Blueberry Hill nordic ski trails. This run would be more or less running parallel with the Sucker Brook over its duration, and we would run closely alongside it again at the run’s completion. When the trail emerged from the woods onto the Sugar Hill Reservoir access road, instead of turning right to return to the start, we bore left downhill until we reached to Ripton-Goshen road.
At this point, we were heading into terrain where I had never traveled, so I was depending on my trusty Moosalamoo Region map for guidance. Despite the fact that it was now quite soggy, it was still legible. The map indicated that a trail leading towards our desired destination should be found immediately across the road, but we quickly realized that it was passable, but far more overgrown than we had anticipated. It appeared to be more or less unused, since the previous editing of my trusted map! Rather than loose face with my more fleet-footed young friends, I realized that a right turn on the Ripton-Goshen road should lead us to another VAST snowmobile trail, which in turn should get us to Lake Dunmore. This time, my directions fortunately proved more accurate, and the desired trail appeared on cue after about a quarter mile. A left turn on this well-marked VAST trail wound through some of the least traveled sections of the route, and after a few miles concluding with a very steep, but short climb, joined up with the dirt road connecting Silver Lake with Goshen, part of the first Silver Lake route described on this blog last summer.
While all of us were starting to tire a little at this point, the sun broke through for what promised to be a brilliant sunset, so rather than merely descend on this dirt road to our waiting car, we threw in one last short climb, taking a left turn until we reached to Goshen parking lot for Silver Lake, where we finally began the final descent. The trail down to the Leicester Hollow trail was a little bit slippery from the rain, but taking it easy made for a safe trip. A right turn on the Leicester Hollow trail, followed by a short stretch along the shores of Silver Lake and a final descent down to the Falls of Lana parking lot could have finished a great run. As we ran alongside the Sucker Brook once again, we noticed the setting sun shining through the trees over the top of the Falls lookout, so we had to stop and enjoy the view.
After soaking up the early evening sun, we finally completed the run. This ended up being one of the longest runs to date on this blog, measuring in at slightly more than 11 miles, with about a thousand feet of climbing, offset by an even greater amount of descent. Needless to say, I am eyeing my map (a new copy, after all, it is free!) for other good point-to-point runs to report on later this summer. The Google Earth/GPS track of this run really shows off the breadth of terrain covered, from the Snow Bowl in the Northeast corner, past several major bodies of water, to its conclusion near the shores of Lake Dunmore.
This posting covers the last remaining section of the TAM (Trail Around Middlebury) which has not yet been described in this blog. Most of this run proceeds through the open meadows to the west of Middlebury College, with a short loop on the Ralph Myhre Golf Course thrown in as a warm-up. Since my locker is at the college Field House, this made for a good start and finish point for a lunch break run on a warm early summer day. The first two miles of this run were pretty easy, consisting of the well-trodden two miles around the golf course. Unlike my earlier description of this section, I chose the clockwise direction, which necessitated entering the trail by the soccer goals behind the artificial turf field on the athletic grounds. Following the trail around the periphery, carefully dodging errant drives, brought me to the Rt. 30 road crossing at the two mile mark. Entering the woods on the far side led me to the section of the trail labeled as the “Colin O’Neil Class of 97 Trail”, built by the classmates of a student who passed away in a tragic auto accident when driving while intoxicated during his senior year at Middlebury College. This heavily wooded segment weaves between the trees while angling downhill, until it reaches the open meadows below and to the west. Although this has been a drier year than usual, it also passes through the first of several deep muddy puddles, making this a bad run to take the shiny new sneakers on. Reaching the bottom of the field, I took a left turn and followed the trail which ran at the periphery of several adjoining meadows. While this section is easy to follow, it can be surprisingly challenging to run, since the light traffic it receives leads to fairly high grass, slowing the running considerably. I was also careful not to accidentally bump into any of the clusters of the now all-too common weed “Poison Parsnip”, also known as “Wild Parsnip”. This weed looks much like a slightly larger version of the well-known “Queen Anne’s Lace” but with yellow rather than white blooms.
If you aren’t familiar with this stuff, it is VERY nasty, and should be avoided at all costs – fortunately alert runners can do so on this stretch of trail! This invasive species came to North America with the first European settlers, and its presence was noted as early as 1630. It is not apparent why it seems to have become so prevalent along Vermont fields and highways in the last decade or so, but the northern midwest, especially Wisconsin, seems to have been similarly afflicted. Unlike other better known toxic plants, like poison ivy, which depend on our immune response to cause their discomfort, this plant is just plain corrosive! When the tissues of this plant are broken open, it releases a family of substances known as “psoralens” which are initially harmless, but quickly react with UV light to take on their corrosive character, causing skin burns and discoloration which can last from weeks to months on human skin.
This nasty weed, like most invasives, has no natural enemies among our local fauna. Its natural predator, the “Parsnip Webworm”, also native to Europe, has found its way to some wild parsnip-infested areas in the US, diminishing the numbers and health of the plant in those locales. Apparently, the psoralens are not part of the plant’s biochemistry solely to torture humans, but to keep its naturally coevolved predator, the webworm, at bay. When faced with large populations of webworms, the plants generate higher levels of psoralens, which in turn stunts the plant’s own growth to ensure its survival. I say bring those webworms to Vermont and let chemical ecology run its course!
Getting back to the run before I get too distracted: The route crosses over College Street and passes just to the west of the Organic Garden, with excellent views of the Green Mountains, and my place of work, Bicentennial Hall. The organic garden is worth a trip by itself, with a mix of flowers and vegetables on a quiet knoll in the middle of the field.
After about a half mile in the open, the trail heads back into some fairly open forest before eventually joining Weybridge Street for the 2 mile return to the locker room and showers at the Fitness Center. I chose to take the shortcut through campus, entering through the Weybridge St gate, and passing through the dorms. Even with the shortcut, the run ended up at 6.6 miles, plenty of distance for this runner on a hot day in the early afternoon sun.
This week’s post begins at what is by now, a fairly common trailhead for my runs, the Brooks Road parking lot. This trailhead, a mile or so downhill from the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, has been the starting point for several of my blogged runs over the last year, most recently a post entitled “A Tale of Two Weekends“. Nonetheless, there are many opportunities for unique runs emanating from this National Forest entry point, so I keep coming back to check out new variations. I have skied this route quite a few times over the years, but have only done limited exploring of most of this route during the summer months, so much of the scenery looked very different from the images in my memory.
The start of this run, however, treads on familiar turf. I suspected (correctly) that some of the terrain would be a little rougher later on in the run, so I chose to complete the lion’s share of the climbing on the easy running surface of Brooks Rd., including the entirety of the “up and back” route described last summer in the Sugar Hill Reservoir post. The straightforward start to this run involved running up Brooks Rd. for 2.5 miles until joining the righthand side trail leading to the reservoir at the three mile mark. Entering the clearing below the reservoir dam, I noted a sign which was clearly aimed at runners who were far more fleet footed than I!
Rather than returning to my car by the same route, I chose to lengthen the run by delving deeper into the National Forest and trying out a loop run. Immediately after entering the dam clearing, take the trail veering downhill sharply to the right. At this point, the run seemed much more committed than other runs in the area, leaving me with the impression that I was heading into remote wilderness, despite the fact that civilized roads are never far away. The next 4 miles or so are on trails which are well-skied upon in the winter, but rarely travelled in the summer months, so there are some sections which are (surprise surprise) very muddy and/or slightly overgrown, but never difficult to follow. In order to find your way back to the parking lot, the simplest instruction is ALWAYS STAY RIGHT at each obvious trail junction. Since much of this trail parallels the Ripton-Goshen Road a “wrong turn” to the left will probably deposit you pretty quickly on this obvious dirt road, but you can be back on route by reversing your course for a few minutes. Finally, this segment of the route also coincides with The Catamount Trail, the state-long ski trail, so the unique Catamount Trail markers can be followed as well. This stretch of the Catamount Trail eventually joins up with the Widow’s Clearing Trail at a well marked intersection.
From this point on until the end of the run, the trail through mature hardwood forest following the Widow’s Clearing Trail. There is one last tricky intersection, a sharp turn climbing to the right which I would have overlooked if it wasn’t pretty well marked. About a half mile from the end of this loop I passed by large hillside clearing, which was clearly the remnants of a former homestead, as indicated by the ancient apple orchard at its edge. A small sign referring to this site as the Widow’s Clearing was also nailed into a trailside tree. A descent on well traveled trail returned me to the parking lot to complete this 7.6 mile loop.
Between numerous signs labeling the Widows Clearing trail, the Widow’s Clearing trailhead, and the Widow’s Clearing itself, upon my return to my vehicle, I began to wonder, who was the eponymous widow? I was not able to find any information on my own, so I emailed my favorite expert on local history, Jan at the Sheldon Museum. She was not familiar with this mysterious widow, but she did some research, and eventually connected me with William J. Powers, Jr. of Lake Dunmore and Rutland. All of the following information comes from Bill and is the result of his unpublished research on the topic. This is just a brief synopsis of a much larger body of his work. Bill has also authored a history book on another of my favorite running destinations, Silver Lake, and those who are interested in learning more about the history of the lake and its surroundings can purchase his book at the Sheldon Museum.
As it turns out, the widow of interest was one Lucina (Billings) Chatfield, 1818-1897. While Lucina was born in Tunbridge, she married Alonzo Chatfield in Middlebury in 1838. They moved up to his home in Ripton, and in 1859 they started farming the plot of land which we now call the Widow’s Clearing. Local records indicate that their farm was rather poor, even by Ripton hill farm standards. When this site became known as “Widow’s Clearing” is not in the information which I have at my disposal, but it is clear that Lucina was not widowed immediately – she was abandoned by her husband! In 1855 Alonzo left her and their four children, and moved to Michigan where he lived the rest of his life with his second wife. Accounts from that time also indicated that Lucina was not openly distraught about this. Whether this was stoicism on her part, or a case of “good riddance”, we can only speculate. She owned and operated the farm until 1882, in later years with her son Parsons and his family, although it is not clear if she actually lived there all those years. It must have been a challenging hardscrabble existence for Lucina and her family, as an 1871 map of Ripton shows “Mrs. Chatfield’s farm” as the most remote, and probably highest altitude farm in Ripton. Nonetheless, local records also show that by this time, the farm was more successful than it had been during the years of her marriage. In 1882, Lucina, Parsons, and his family relocated to Middlebury, and there is no record of anyone living at the clearing after that time. The widow passed away in East Bethel, VT in 1897 at the age of 79, and was buried in the Galvin Cemetery in Ripton alongside her parents. Kind of an interesting little story of the challenges of mountain life in Vermont!
Finally, Bill’s research also uncovered a picture of the view from the Widow’s Clearing, circa 1870. The wide open land stands in sharp contrast to the fully recovered forest of modern times. This photo is included with his permission.
Authoring this blog has had the benefit of keeping me from getting in ruts (figuratively, not literally) on my runs – I can’t keep writing up the same routes, so I am constantly on the lookout for new places to run, or potentially interesting variations on old favorites. Today’s run is an example of the latter. My first run description early last summer described a route which skirted the north end of Silver Lake, a popular local outdoor destination and one of my favorite places for summertime runs. I couldn’t help but notice numerous side trails which looked runable without pondering what their destination would be. In particular, I have always wondered how to get to the curious structure visible part way up the ridge. This smokestack structure, which looks like the remnants of a postindustrial redoubt on the hillside when viewed from the beach on Branbury State Park, had always seemed somewhat mysterious and elusive, but I reckoned that some of these trails must lead in its direction.
With this destination in mind, I pulled into the Silver Lake parking lot near Branbury State Park. Descriptions how to find this parking lot can be found in the aforementioned Silver Lake post. After a few minutes of climbing, I passed under the first pipeline crossing, but a quick assessment of the its path indicated that following it this low on the hillside would be more a challenging scramble than a trail run, so I continued up the main trail. After completing most of the switchbacks and most of the climbing, I noticed a major side trail traversing the hillside to the right, so I made this turn rather than continue on the main trail as I had in runs past. After a few easy minutes on this level trail, I reached the destination of my curiosity.
I am still somewhat mystified as to the role of this tower. I first presumed it was some sort of pumping station to bring the water from Silver Lake to the precipice required for power generation, but there were no sounds emanating from the structure indicating that is was actively doing anything, and I certainly was going to respect the “Keep off” signs on the structure and the small adjacent building rather than explore it further. If any readers know the role of this structure, please post your insights.
A short jog up the grassy knoll behind this structure led to the pipeline itself stretching out into the distance. Looking down at my feet I noticed that a small patch of opportunistic flowers had made themselves at home in the first of the massive fittings holding this pipeline together. Perhaps my colleague at The Middlebury Landscape blog can inform us as to their identity? It is comforting, however, to see nature reclaiming the woods without damaging the functionality of our necessary structures. A little symbiosis is a good thing!
- I ran along the top of this broad pipeline for a few hundred yards. The footing along the pipeline was generally good, but in the few places where it was dicey, there was ample room alongside. The pipeline eventually crossed the powerline clearcut, and a short run on the obvious path up this hill led to a beautiful viewpoint overlooking Lake Dunmore. While this is not as airy a vista as the better known Rattlesnake Cliffs viewpoint, it does have the advantage of being open to hikers and runners during much of the summer when the Rattlesnake Cliffs are closed due to Peregrin Falcon nesting.
Completing the pipeline segment of this run, I came up to the base of Silver Lake Dam, looped around to its crest, and chose to circle the lake on this run. My distant memory of less traveled trail along the west side of the lake was that it was rarely used, and pretty rough. My distant memory proved correct! While the next mile or so would have made for a pleasant hike, the rough rocky trail on a sidehill proved pretty much impossible to call a run, even by trailrunning standards. Very slow going! Nonetheless, persevering over the next mile or so to the south end of the lake provided a wilder view of the lake than most visitors get.
The trail circumnavigating Silver Lake eventually joined the Leicester Hollow Trail, and a left turn here on a very well beaten path brings one back to the more civilized campsites, and a second left turn will take one back downhill to the parking lot and the end of the run. This run covered a little over 6 miles, but took a lot longer than usual due to more exploring than I usually do, and the very slow going on the far side of Silver Lake.
After a few good long runs last week, I succumbed to temptation and ignored common sense by registering for The Middlebury Maple Run, a half marathon (13.1 miles) which attracted about 200 runners in its inaugural running last year, and filled up with 500 runners this year. I don’t usually write up road runs for this column, but my hunch is that a lot of the runners who enjoy the trails would also enjoy this event, which draws upon the support of a wide variety of local businesses, and is planned and staffed by many of my friends who are among the town’s diehard runners.
Sunday morning was perfect for a long run – the low front which had threatened the day’s weather stalled to the west, giving us a cool and breezy bluebird day. I like to arrive at local races like this at least an hour before the start. This leaves plenty of time to stretch out and chat with running friends and acquaintances prior to the start. For example, I had the pleasure or meeting a member of the Long Trail Running Club Meetup group, a group of primarily Chittenden County trail runners with whom I have corresponded but never met. For many of the racers today, this race was the first time they had ever entered a race of this length, and the opportunity to do a run like this without traveling proved to be just enough inspiration. While I had not planned to run this race until Monday of this week, I was really looking forward to the opportunity to run on my home turf with 500+ other runners. While races of this size are common in some parts of the country, Vermont’s miniscule population and plethora of sporting activities usually makes for much smaller fields in most similar athletic events.
The race started at 9:00 am sharp at Porter Hospital, and headed down South St., passing cheering spectators on Main St. before cutting through the Marble Works, and heading out towards the Morgan Horse Farm in Weybridge. One of the great pleasures of this race was how it wound through the village and brought out healthy crowds of spectators, and all of the local runners enjoyed the motivation of their friends and/or family calling out their name as they ran by. The north winds kept my speed (a word very generously applied) in check until the race headed south back into the village along Sheep Farm Rd.
The course then wound through the Middlebury College Campus past another high concentration of cheering spectators at the half way point on Old Chapel Rd., before leaving campus back towards Porter Hospital. The last section of the course was made even more interesting due to the fact that while heading out past Porter on South St., the race leaders were doubling back in the opposite direction towards the finish line. It is always inspiring to see stronger runners, and as I approached the turnaround point, I could see the runners just ahead of me who might just be catchable. Reversing direction back into the final few miles to the finish, it became apparent why the the previous few miles had been relatively fast and easy – what was once a stiff tailwind became a much more challenging headwind. While this initially seemed a setback, the cool wind in my face actually was refreshing, and helped make the finish more attainable rather than less, just a little slower!
After surviving the last challenge of the race – Middlebury’s version of “heartbreak hill” at mile 12, it was time to put my head down and finish this event. Thinking it was easy sailing from this point on, I slowed my pace almost imperceptibly as I entered the home stretch into the Porter parking lot. As luck would have it, another gentleman in my age group (the full head of gray hair was a giveaway) caught me with my guard down and streaked by just a few yards from the finish line.
As I sit back writing this blog on Sunday night, rigor mortis is definitely creeping into my legs. Nonetheless, this proved to be a very well run and friendly race on a near-perfect day, and I look forward to running it again next year. I have a hunch that this race will soon become a regional favorite, especially if it proves feasible to further increase the size of the field. Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers – it is events like this which make Middlebury a special place to live!