In keeping with my observation that things just look different when the trees are bare, but the weather isn’t too wintery, I decided to re-explore an area which has been the subject of two previous posts. In this case, I decided to go for a run in the terrain roughly delineated by Rt 125 to the north, and Upper Plains Rd. to the west. The small peak which emerges from this corner is known on topo maps as “Pine Hill”, a curious name for this modest bump, which seems to be entirely covered in deciduous forest. I described a run in this area as one of my first posts in this blog, entitled “Secret Meadow“, as well as in an early winter run entitled “Snowy Scenic Sauntering on a Sunny (Almost) Solstice Sunday“. The high point of both of these runs is a little-known hillside meadow with outstanding westerly views. The run described in this post was just a little bit more ambitious, covering some slightly rougher terrain with more climbing.
While there are a few appropriate places to park one’s vehicle closer to the trails, I chose to start the run on the Oak Ridge Trailhead, just above East Middlebury on Rt. 125, so that I could make it a longer workout. I headed towards East Middlebury for a few hundred yards before taking a left turn on to Upper Plains Road. This road used to have a “tree tunnel” feel to it, but recent “improvements” have involved removal of many of the trees which were encroaching on the road. Too bad! After about a mile, a Forest Service gate on the left marks the start of the trailed section. I couldn’t help but notice the rerouting of the path created by the incessant efforts of ATV-ers – earlier paths were blocked off, leading to generation of new paths. Be forwarned that the entry into this run off of Upper Plains Rd. is unposted private property, so please be particularly respectful of this, so that this lovely area can remain open to exploration. But…I didn’t need to tell you that, right?
After getting past the gate, the next section of climbing was on a dirt road, which switchbacked up the hillside until it broke into the aforementioned meadow by a small pond. As soon as you pass the birch grove on your left, take a sharp left turn, and veer back towards the forest to find the true trail heading north along the west side of Pine Hill, which now stands to your right. There are quite a few other trails in this vicinity, which can be a little bit confusing. In fact, if you look at my GPS track for this run, you will notice a short diversion to the right, which the result of mistakenly following a path which disappeared after about a hundred yards, forcing me to backtrack and choose another. Not long afterwards, I reached the saddle between Pine Hill (to my right) and a lower summit to my left. I also couldn’t help but notice one of the most spectacularly situated hunter’s blinds I have seen in my explorations. It undoubtedly provides great views, and let’s face it, what kid, young or old, doesn’t love a treehouse? Even the ladder had a whimsical, Dr. Seuss-like feel to it!
From the col, I decided to save the true summit for another day, instead taking a short bushwhack to the left to the minor northern summit. Despite the gray skies, the view here was excellent, and given the ledges and lack of foliage to the west from this vantage, I suspect that the view will not be badly hemmed in once the trees are in full leaf. This pretty little summit also had a lot of low lying bushes which I suspect will bear blueberries mid-summer, as well as many weather-twisted small trees which gave the summit a slightly haunted feel.
With the advent of a slight drizzle, I continued on the path, which got very muddy in places, before descending to an intersection with a more developed trail behind the hill. Here, I took a right turn to complete the loop, stopping to take a picture of the pretty waterfall found in the rather steep notch behind Pine Hill. I was always curious why the dirt road, meadow, and broad, well built trail reaching the waterfall were built in the first place, and while mountain biking last summer, I happened to meet the landowner who told me a little bit of the “back story” to this property. Apparently, at some point in the 60′s or 70′s (a seemingly generic way of saying “A long time ago, but not THAT long ago”) the man who owned the land had received federal funding to develop this waterfall as a rest area, as part of the National Forest. For reasons unknown, after the initial stages of the roadside development, involving roadbuilding and a few other modest improvements, the project was abandoned. Well, the waterfall and surroundings are still quite beautiful!
After pausing at the waterfall, the trail re-emerged from behind Pine Hill into the meadow, and by staying to the far left, I caught the short steep path returning me to the forest service gate, where it was an easy mile-long return to my car. The total length of this run was about 4.25 miles, with a climb of 500 ft – not bad for the beginning of April.
I also decided to have a little extra fun with this run – with the advent of routine access to portable GPS devices, a new pastime has emerged known as “geocaching“. Geocaching hobbyists leave hidden containers with logbooks, souvenirs, and sometimes even disposable cameras at locations of interest, and then post the GPS coordinates as well as other hints for others to find the site. If you take a look at www.geocaching.com, you will see that there are many geocache locations in Addison County. Since geocachers and trail runners both share an interest in discovering new places of interest, I thought it would be fun to set my first geocache on this run. My geocache, which contains a logbook and disposable camera for finders to share their experiences, as well as a small souvenir can be found without a lot of difficulty by someone completing this run. The actual GPS coordinates, which will also be posted soon on the aforementioned geocache website are N 43 degrees 57.934′, W 073 degrees 04.248′. Happy Hunting!
Note added 10/27/12 – I went up to check out the fate of my geocache, and found that it had been stolen. I guess the allure of a 10 buck fishing tackle box with a few toys in it was more than one of the visitors could resist. So – this is still a fun run, but not geocache, until I get around to replacing it.
Ok, what’s up with 70 degree weather in March? While the ski season was a bitter disappointment, the lack of snow on the trails translates into an early start on the trialrunning season! My running fitness is certainly not where it was last fall, but the running still feels good, and in many ways, this is an ideal season for running. Many vistas which are well hidden by the leafy canopy for most of the running season open up into glorious vistas prior to the emergence of the foliage. With this in mind, I chose my first true spring run to take advantage of the season. On a few previous posts, I have described a great entry into the Green Mountain National Forest starting behind East Middlebury International Airport, a snowmobile train beginning near the 4-way stop sign on Munson Road and Schoolhouse Hill Road, just to the northeast of the airport. Munson Road is a short road heading directly towards the base of the mountains to the east, and can be found about 2 miles south of the junction of Quarry Road and Rt. 116. There are a few small turnoffs on Munson Road where a car (or perhaps a vigilant police cruiser) can park for those driving out of town to begin this run.
The run began with a short stretch of trail running adjacent to Burnham Drive, a residential street, before turning to the north. The trail crosses a bridge over a small stream, before beginning the challenging climb in earnest. This first hill climb of the season is always difficult, and this was no exception, but my efforts were rewarded by the emerging views to the west. Half way up the day’s climb, I noticed scratch marks on the rocks, similar to what one would find in higher elevations resulting from climbers’ crampons. After a second, I realized the source of these scratches – the snowmobiles which make use of this trail during the winter. They too, like the skiers, probably tried to have a little bit of fun in this snowless winter, and instead of damaging their skis on the rocky terrain, probably tried to drive their snowmobiles on the all-too-brown terrain, leaving their marks behind.
After a little over a mile of climbing, the views were temporarily blocked as the trail entered a stretch of coniferous forest, and made a sharp turn to the right, heading more directly towards Robert Frost Mt. A few hundred yards after the sharp turn, a small rock cairn appeared on the left, marking the turnoff to a wonderful, rarely visited, scenic vista which provides for great views to the west, even during the summer. A few hundred yards on this easy-to follow trail brought me to a small rocky outcrop, the turn-around point for this run. The famous OMYA pit, the world’s largest open-pit marble quarry, is one of the noteworthy sights from this point.
At this point, my early season legs had climbed enough, so I reversed directions and headed down the hillside. I ran into a friend who had chosen to undertake the short walk up to the bridge, and we exchanged pleasantries concern our fortunes, living in such a beautiful locale. At this point, I diverged from the main trail, taking a short uphill trail which ran adjacent to the stream, following in to a modest viewpoint, where I could see the brook cascading down the mountainside.
After this short side trail, I continued on to the point at which the VAST snowmobile trail rejoined the road. While this run was only a little over 3.5 miles round trip, it did include a 900 vertical ft. climb, making for a challenging early season run, undertaken at a leisurely pace.
The last few months have constituted my longest hiatus from blogging since beginning The Middlebury Trailrunner. I ended taking off some time from running (and hence, blogging) due to the inevitable post- marathon letdown in training, followed by hunting season (the worst time of the year for trail runners!), followed by a particularly busy end of the semester, and some minor injuries. Finally, on a clear February Saturday afternoon, the time was right for my first trail run in far too long. At the time of my last posting, long ago in October, a dusting of early season snow began to get me thinking of what I hoped would be a great cross country ski season. Well, I am still waiting – this is the time of the year for cross-country skiing, and I have yet to ski. Since, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t any place in Addison County with enough snow for cross- country skiing, I thought I might take advantage of the thin snow cover with an “out of season” trail run.
The Robert Frost Trail on Rt.125 in Ripton is a well known and much loved footpath for easy family walks in the mountains. It is also very short, with a total length of about a mile, and by itself a little too short for a decent run. Far fewer people have ventured on to the trails beyond, over and around the hill sometimes referred to as “Water Tower Hill”. I have always found this name somewhat confusing, as the series of trails a few miles further to the west on the other side of the Ripton-Goshen Road are also called the Water Tower Trails. To the best of my knowledge, there is no water tower to be found at either of these locales – so if anyone knows the history of these names, and the saga of the lost water tower – I would love to hear about it! In any case, a run extended beyond the confines of the Robert Frost Trail, around the Water Tower Hill, seemed like a good route for this midwinter run. A great map of this area is available from the ranger station just south of Middlebury on Rt.7.
I expected the first sections of the run to be the easiest, given the flat, well trodden terrain. This ended up not being quite the case – the more heavily traveled sections were essentially blue ice hidden under a thin veneer of fresh snow. Fortunately, my winter running shoes, aka “studded snow tires for runners” did a good job of keeping me upright, but I had to chose my footing carefully. It had been a while since my last run here - two summers ago, I was surprised to find the bridge over the river weaving through this area had been washed out, necessitating a little bit of unexpected wading! I knew there had been some construction over the summer, and was curious to see the new bridge. The original bridge had been a pretty, rustic structure, where my children and I had enjoyed playing “Pooh Sticks” on some of their first walks in the woods. Looking around the web, I found a picture of this structure!
The new bridge, in contrast, while still wooden, has a much more utilitarian look about it. At first glance, it also looked almost ridiculously over built (it might double as a railroad trestle!), until I realized that it was constructed to be accessible to those confined to wheelchairs, who might otherwise have few opportunities for the quiet of the woods.
Immediately across the bridge, the combination of uneven footing, hillside trails, and blue ice led to a few moments of panic and emergency tree hugging to remain upright, but as the trail flattened out the footing improved, the rest of the run proved quite pleasant. Deeper in the woods, the main trail bears sharply to the left, and the connector to Water Tower Hill went straight up the hill. This trail also had no footprints in the snow, indicating I was the first person in some time to venture in this direction. Soon afterwards, this trail joined the Crosswalk Trail (all trails are very well signed here!) which I took to its conclusion before descending on Sundown. An easy descent eventually wound behind some of the buildings at Camp Silver Towers and crossed through a beaver meadow with great views of Breadloaf Mountain.
A few moments later, I reached the Ripton-Goshen Road, and reversed course, this time staying on Sundown and circling around the west side of Water Tower Hill. This section included a nice 500 ft climb, modest for a trail run, but my best climb in some time! A left turn onto Trepidation, followed by a short descent on Northstar brought me back to the Robert Frost Trail connector. The run was finished with a run through a blueberry meadow (a great place to be in July!) with more great views of the Green Mts.
Recrossing the new bridge, and a few hundred yards more on the trail brought me back to my car. The whole loop added up to about 4.6 miles with two climbs totally about 700 ft. Hopefully, the next post will be more seasonably appropriate – on skis!
I was feeling lethargic, and was finally ready for my first real run about two weeks after the marathon alluded to in my previous post. I had been concentrating on recovery, with a few yoga classes to loosen up and some easy time on the elliptical trainer as my only workouts, but it was definitely time to hit the trails again! It was fun waking up on Sunday morning, seeing the thin cover of snow on my yard and on the trees around my home, so I thought it would be fun to do a run on the ski trails of the Rikert Ski Touring area at Breadloaf.
Arriving at Breadloaf on this cool sunny Sunday afternoon, I was surprised to see that there was really not much more snow up here than we had received in the valley. While the fields were pretty much bereft of snow cover, there was still plenty of the white stuff on the shadier trails, and the summit of Breadloaf Mt. in the background was truly snowcapped.
The first section of the run followed the track described on one of my previous ski postings, as I followed the collegiate racing trails. Entering the woods of the Battell Trail I noted the first signs of ongoing trail maintenance – a big pile of dirt blocking my path. I had suspected that there would be some damage to the trails as a result of Hurricane Irene. I stayed on this trail for most of the loop, but noticed more trail work at the bottom of the descent – a new bridge was being put in at the bottom of the descent. Other than this bridge and a few downed trees, however, which I suspect occur every summer, I saw no sign of any significant trail damage. After looping back into the field, I decided to head up the Myhre Hill dirt road, and saw something that surprised me – what looked like a new ski trail diverging off to the right! Even though it was roped off, I decided to see where it led, but it seemed to rejoin the racing trail after a short way. Heading further uphill, I passed by the Myhre Cabin, and decided to explore one of the more remote trails, Frost. I was struck by the beauty of the light snow cover, late afternoon sun, and last remnants of fall foliage. Not surprisingly, there were a few sets of human and canine foot prints – I was not the only person out enjoying this late fall aftennoon.
During my descent back to the Breadloaf campus, I quickened my pace when I heard the blasts of a “too close for comfort” hunter’s gun – I didn’t think it was deer season yet, but I wasn’t going to take chances, especially since I was dressed in green. Heading towards the lower reaches of what had been the racing trail, I came across another new section of trail, and noticed that some older trail segments had been broadened. Returning to my car in the Rikert parking lot, I noted that this run had been just shy of 5 miles – a good distance to get back on my feet again. While this loop didn’t have any true hill climbs, it did include 500-600 feet of climbing, with a few ups and downs along the way.
I look forward to finding out what is up with the new trail construction. Mike, the new director of the ski touring area, has commented in conversation his wishes to upgrade the trail system. I suspect that these new trail sections are being put in place to facilitate racing, especially for skating races where the narrowness of many of trails makes it difficult for skiers to pass each other. Now, all we need is some more snow……
Long ago, in a very different phase of life (ie, pre-kids), I fancied myself a semi-competitive endurance athlete. And of course, every semi-competitive endurance athlete has to try running the most famous of all footraces, the marathon. And yes, I ran a few of those (OK – well two). With the advent of a more fulfilling domestic life, and diminished training time, the training presumably prerequisite for running marathons became hard to come by. As I aged, I also found that my body no longer responded well to the demands of high mileage weeks. All the standard training routines for marathon training prescribe many months and many miles, typically crescendo-ing to a few weeks of 70, 80 or even 90 miles per week. Inevitably, long term marathon plans (and of course, you do have to really plan for a marathon for many months, right?) culminated with some form of injury a few weeks before the actual race, many months of recovery, and forfeiture of often steep entry fees. As a result, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my most recent marathon (1992!) would probably be my last.
Fast forward to the last few years, and my new found love of trailrunning…..Trail running and long distance running are really NOT the same thing – I can have a great time on a relatively short run through the woods, and many trail running afficionados regularly enjoy running distances which are quite amenable to the average athlete. That said, once I started getting a taste of the great trails in the area on a regular basis, I really wanted to get out there and discover increasingly lengthy trails and their inherently less accessible sights. Long term readers will note the increasingly long runs covered in this blog. I had not abandoned old favorites of course, but I didn’t see the point of doing a blog writeup on my 5th run up Snake Mountain, Silver Lake, or some other old favorite of more reasonable distance. I have also found that I am much less prone to injury when I spend most of my time on the trails. The combination of the slower pace that the trails demand, and the varied footing, diminishing repetitive use injuries, have allowed me to do the occasional long run, without sustaining anything but minor annoyance aches and pains. I also discovered, that if I go slow enough, I can pretty much run forever – or at least 2 or 3 hours – and feel pretty good the next day.
I also recently read the best selling book by Christopher McDougal entitled “Born to Run” in which the author, an aging athlete, wondered why he was hurt all the time by running. This question led to a variety of heretical conclusions on the way distance runners typically train. Reading this, I began to ponder my own heresy – If a runner can run comfortably for 3 hours, on challenging mountainous terrain like we have here in Addison County, why couldn’t they finish an marathon without the stress of a daily training regimen? In my own case, despite my best intentions, life usually limits me to 20-30 miles/week – in other words about 1/3 of the mileage recommended. Nonetheless, after running the entire TAM 3 weeks ago, covering 16 miles in 3 hours and feeling pretty good, I realized that the marathon distance might not be out of the question.
While most large, famous marathons require registration as much as a year in advance, we have a little-known low key small (a few hundred runners) marathon here in the Green Mountain State every fall. The Green Mountain Athletic Association has sponsored an October marathon for over 40 years just a little bit north of us on South Hero Island. There was still time to register three weeks ago, and the registration was a mere 30 bucks! So, I threw my hat in the ring, and decided to give it a try. I figured that there would be no dishonor in not finishing, but those who know me knew that I would finish, even if it was after dark and I was crawling. So, on a cool Sunday morning, I lined up with a modest flock of other runners to give it a try. I am not going to go heavily into the details of the race – let it suffice to say that a race course which which follows the shoreline of Lake Champlain during foliage season is going to be scenic, windy, and pretty flat. I really had no idea what sort of time my middle aged body might give me, so I started off pretty slowly, and gradually picked up the pace as my legs allowed, and felt pretty good about shuffling across the finish line in a little under 4 hours. What is the only way to train? Whatever works for you!
Unfortunately, I wasn’t willing to lug my camera along the entire out-and-back course, but lets face it – people like to go there on vacation for a good reason. So, the GPS data will have to suffice. And yes, my body is very sore.
Every trail runner in town knows the Trail around Middlebury, aka “The TAM” well – it is our town’s gem, and a popular place to enjoy trail runs of a variety of lengths and challenge. One of the major fundraisers for the TAM has been the TAM Team Trek, an annual fall event in which walkers, mountain bikers, and yes, a few runners cover all or part of the trail for a modest entry fee. Many of the participants also line up sponsors, adding to the fund raising for this great cause. So, this gorgeous Sunday morning seemed like a great day to join in….and go for a run.
Arriving at the event registration on a pleasant Sunday morning, there seemed to be a lot more participants than I had noted the last time I ran as part of this event, 3 years ago. The big question at the start was, should I proceed in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction? A counterclockwise run meant running some of the more technical terrain earlier in the run, with the challenging climb of Chipman Hill looming at the end of the long run, while a clockwise run would get the only tough climb out of the way first, but might leave me tripping over roots and sliding though mud at the end. I decided on the counterclockwise run, and got the best of both – the previous evening’s heavy rain had left quite a lot of mud on the trail, and I managed two face-plant muddy falls in the first few miles, on the northern loop of the TAM which looped over the Belden Dam footbridge, before turning south at the point where it crossed Morgan Horse Farm Road. The first leg of this run was described in greater detail in my “Belden Dam on the TAM” posting.
The second loop of this trail, from Weybridge Street to the college has also been covered before, albeit in the opposite direction, on a post entitled “Muddy Meadows and Poison Parsnips“. This posting, which I made over a year ago is actually the most heavily read posting in this blog by far. While this stretch of the trail is very nice, I suspect that the high number of hits on this posting is due to the high level of interest in the poison parsnip, a recent invader of our fields.
Despite the above comments about mud difficulties, running on muddy trails really is a lot of fun. There were three sections of the trail, where the trail split, with one direction designated as a drier route, and the other the “wet route” – guess which one I took, as a matter of principle? At his trail sign in the fields near the College organic garden, I went right of course.
After a short climb up from the fields to the west of the college, I arrived at the Ralph Myhre Golf Course and its spectacular views of the Green Mountains. Fortunately the nice people running the snack shop there didn’t mind when a very muddy runner came in off the trail to refill his water bottles for the second half of his run.
Up to this point there were quite a few participants in the TAM trek over this first leg – it was early and the day, and a lot of hikers and runners were out enjoying themselves. However, from the golf course until the completion of the run, things were pretty quiet – apparently most of the participants were focusing on other sections of trail, or had done enough! The trail then looped around the golf course, crossed South St. and the southern suspension bridge over Otter Creek. Looping through the fields around Middlebury Union Middle School, led me back into the woods. This next section of trail was previously chronicled in one of my first postings, “TAM, Means, and Batelle Woods“.
The last leg of the day’s run was the long anticipated run up and over Chipman Hill to the finish line. By this point, I had been out for about two and a half hours, and there really wasn’t much left in my legs, so I ended up walking up some of the steeper portions of the trail. After cresting the summit, it was downhill all the way, however, to the Marble Works, where the Trek organizers were starting to put things away and call it a day. I, on the other hand, had one more task – a much anticipated chocolate milk shake from Sama’s!
The GPS track showed that this run was as long as it felt – 16.25 miles in total, making it my longest run since I began authoring this blog in 2009. Other than the final climb over Chipman Hill, however, the run was not particularly hilly by Vermont standards. Time to give the legs a few days to recover!
While Vermont runs are the focus of this blog, recent professional commitments have brought me to the little known and not particularly interesting city of……San Francisco! I couldn’t let an opportunity for running in a city which is pretty much new to me go to waste, so I thought it would be fun to do a run along the shoreline from my hotel across the street from Fisherman’s Wharf to that most famous San Francisco landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge. So, on my first morning in the city prior to my meetings, I set off from the hotel, heading west towards the bridge. My first curious observation was a group of people swimming in the nearby protected section of the harbor. What I found amazing was that some of these people were actually swimming laps in 42 degree water. To put it in perspective, part of the reason Alcatraz was so secure, was the fact that the water was so cold most escapees died of exposure in a matter of a few minutes! Do they make “people antifreeze”?
Much of the rest of the run was along land which long served military purposes, but has been spectacularly reclaimed for civilian enjoyment. The first former military site which the shoreline path (OK – it is an urban path, so most of it was paved!) passed through Fort Mason, the point from which most of the US troops departed for the Pacific theater in WWII. Angling from the fort heights back down to the waterfront level, the next section passed by a section of shoreline known as the Marina District, which not surprisingly, featured a marina! For those with longer memories, the Marina District made the news during the infamous Loma Prieta earthquake (aka the World Series quake) of 1989, when the early news flashes proclaimed that San Francisco was burning, and showed scenes of what appeared to be quite a conflagration in the Marina District. While this quake was certainly tragic, both in regards to human life and financial costs, when I asked about it, I found out that only a handful of homes actually burned down as a result of the quake! Ah, our news media, always looking for the big story. Running through this district, I also noted a few scenes which looked very typical California, at least to my northeast caricature of the culture – I saw a few men bodybuilding along the beach (I thought that was more an LA phenomenon?) and a young man walking his dog, while he rode a skateboard. A little further along, the oceanside (OK more specifically, San Francisco bayside) trail passed through the Crissy Field area, which had been the site of the city’s first military airfield until the 1930′s. This huge open space is now a wildlife refuge and park for the inhabitants.
Leaving Crissy Field brought on the only true climb of this run, the 2oo vertical ft ascent to the headlands of yet another former military base, the beautiful and legendary Presidio, now used for pricey housing in old barracks, and public parkland, where the bridge itself abuts. The contrast between the view towards the city in the above picture, and the bridge itself was amazing. While most of the city was having a glorious sunny California day, the bridge itself was wrapped in varying degrees of fog for my entire stay in the city. Nonetheless, as the fog cleared a little bit, I enjoyed a very dramatic view of at least part of the bridge – views of the Marin Highlands behind would have to wait for another day.
At the 3.75 mile mark, the real goal of this run began – the run across the slightly longer than a mile Golden Gate Bridge itself. I wish I could tell you of the great views on this run, but as the above picture shows, they were rather limited. There were countless tourists on the pedestrian walkway, and yes a few other runners and bikers enjoying it. I also noted the scaffolding for the bridge painters -apparently the sea spray is so corrosive, that the bridge in a state of “perpetual paint job” which takes 3 years per cycle, only to be immediately restarted upon completion. Unfortunately, a short way across the bridge, my GPS ran out of power – despite what the GPS track shows, I really did make it all the way across……and back to Fisherman’s Wharf for a round trip run of about 10 miles, and some great California culture and scenery.
Completing the run, I had another opportunity to savor the flavors of California – my west coast friends have been regaling me with stories of their favorite burger joint, the institute known as “In-N-Out Burger“. I certainly felt like I had deserved this treat after a long run! I had also been informed that there is a poorly kept secret (not on the public menu!) that if you ask for your burger and fries “animal style” they would put all kinds of extra stuff on them for you. While the animal style burger looked good, and I enjoyed it immensely, the animal style fries looked way too much like the Quebecois treat, poutine. I knew I could afford a few more calories than usual for lunch, but didn’t want to have to go to a cardiologist after lunch.
I, like pretty much everyone else, has been hearing of all the damage inflicted by the recent visit of Tropical Storm Irene. Eager to get back up to the mountains, but unsure of the current condition of the roads, I drove up Rt 125 on Saturday to take a look at my favorite trailheads. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the road was fully passable at least all the way to the top of Middlebury Gap. I could also see a caravan of large dump trucks heading over the gap to patch up the connection to our isolated neighbors in Hancock and chose not to explore beyond the summit so that I didn’t hinder the road repair efforts. Not knowing what to expect on this run, I decided that my first few runs post-Irene should probably be on more straightforward terrain – I also decided to stick to “out and back” runs in case one of my circular routes had some new impediments courtesy of the storm.
With these stipulations in mind, I started this run from my favorite local trailhead on Brooks Road, just below the Snow Bowl on Rt.125. Reading the trailhead kiosk, I noted the following bulletin – nobody should have been surprised by the arrival of this storm!
I also noted that the Forest Service gate across the road was shut, prohibiting cars on this primitive road, indicating that it had seen some damage. I started up the road, wondering what I would find. Despite the road closing, I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the road – there was only one significant washout, which a motor vehicle could get around in a pinch, and a modest number of fallen trees, many of which had already been cleared already! It may well take a few months for this road to be fully repaired, but lets face it, the road crews have a lot more important things to do for a long, long time.
After climbing up hill for about 2.4 miles, I took the side trail to the right towards the Sugar Hill Reservoir, wondering how this lake with its large earthen dam had fared. I was relieved to see that it appeared untouched, at least from the side of my approach. There was no sign of any water having flowed over its spillway, and more importantly, no apparent evidence of any weakening to my untrained eye.
In fact, there was even one particularly promising sight – there were more Monarch butterflies in the meadows alongside the reservoir than I have seen in one place at one time in many years. Although the Monarch population is still officially in decline, their numbers appear to be increasing in Addison County this summer – I hadn’t seen a Monarch in years, and there were at least a dozen up in this meadow!
At this point, I doubled back to the Brooks Road, and continued my run to its terminus, where it joins in with the Blueberry Hill ski trails. My next concern was the bridge over the Sucker Brook, which had just been put in place after the August 2008 floods. Fortunately, this new bridge seemed to make it through Irene with no difficulties at all! Relieved by what I saw on this run, I reversed my car, and ran the 3.5 mile descent to my waiting car, making this an 8.5 mile run with about 800 accumulated feet of climbing- I will hopefully be checking out some rougher trails for my next posting.
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?