Author Archives: Jeff Byers

About Jeff Byers

I am on the faculty here at Middlebury, and an avid runner

Middlebury International Airport Run

This is a tough time of the year to get out on the trails. For one, the “stick season” weather can be kind of grim, and most of the people out on the trails are carrying their guns, in search of the elusive slow buck. I don’t begrudge the hunters their time, or at least not much. We have the trails for the rest of the year, and they get them for a only a few weeks. I was thinking to myself…..”Where would people carrying guns, even for non-nefarious reasons, not be allowed, where I might want to run?” And then the answer came to me – what is the one place in the US where guns are never allowed? Airports of course! Now, I have no interest in doing laps on an airport concourse (although I have done that to kill time on long layovers), but thought that a run around the periphery of our own Middlebury International Airport might be the safest place around to run. I had also recently noticed that the fencing which was put up around the tiny airport (can’t have enough airport security!) also had a 6 foot wide apron around its periphery for maintenance. Sounds like a good place for a run.

Starting the run down by the corner of Munson Road and Schoolhouse Hill Road, I came face to face with the fence that would soon be my companion. The dire warnings sent a shiver up my spine. No way I was crossing that wall…Oops…I mean fence.

Stern Warnings!

I started my run to the right, alongside the fence which seemed to stretch on forever! The footing was perfect, and I even saw a few deer prints in the soft sandy soil. Perhaps they too had figured out that Homeland Security made this a safe zone for them? I also thought it was cool how the wire fence semi-shaded the path in front of me – it looked almost like it was meant to be lanes, but there was no sign of oncoming traffic.

Heading further south, I turned the corner at the end of the runway, running past the “back yards” of some of the auto repair and storage facilities on Schoolhouse Hill Road, before returning north, closer to the airport facilities. When I reached the paved road, the gates were open allowing me to peruse the airplanes, as after all, it was a quiet work day there. Some of the planes were lined up tidily, clearly ready to be flown.

Neatly lined up

On the other hand, there were also some real “beaters” – the remnants of older planes that were clearly being scavenged for parts, or a few that looked like fixer upper specials, that were a long way from being airworthy. One oldie was the following airplane, with the name “Comanche 250” inscribed on the side. Looking up the details on this plane, clearly missing some major parts, like a tail, I found that it was a model put into service in 1958.

Comanche 250

Running past the “control tower” – actually not a tower, but just one of the buildings, I realized, much to my dismay, that the official name isn’t “Middlebury International Airport” after all. “Middlebury State Airport” sounds so much less grandiose, and to think, I had been naming it incorrectly all these years. Finally, I sought out an old jet aircraft, that had been sitting alongside one of the runway sheds, partially covered in a tarp, for probably 20 years. It was no longer in its rusting place, but as I headed towards the main tie-down area, I saw it there, actually up on its wheels, and looking considerably healthier than I last saw it. Asking around, I found it was an aircraft called the “Fouga Magister” and was an old French training jet from the early 50’s – literally the dawn of jet aircraft. How on earth did someone every fly it in to such a short runway? How on earth was anybody ever going to fly it out of there? Finally, who on earth would ever fly a jet like this, which literally looked like not much more than a few seats strapped on an engine? In any case, this oldie is the blue plane in the back of the picture below.

Fouga Magister

Realizing that I was indeed on the wrong side of the fence, and liable for who knows what kind of federal offense, I headed out, and followed the fence further to the north. Quite a few paths joined in, although I expect that most of them were paths from people’s back yards, and at one point, literally was on someone’s back yard. They must have been bummed when the airport put up the wall, I mean fence, spoiling their view! Finally, returning to my starting point, I concluded an easy, and kind of cool 2.6 mile run. And no, I am not going to include the altitude profile for this one, because, you know, airports are kind of flat!

Route around the Airport

Old Dudes’ run to the Sugar Hill Reservoir

The Sugar Hill Reservoir, a man-made lake held in place by a large, earthen flood control dam, has been one of my favorite destinations since I began this blog 11 years ago. In fact, one of my earliest postings from 2009 had this lovely highcountry lake as its centerpiece, as well as numerous other postings over the years. There are two primary ways to get to this lake – the easy way, and the hard way. The hard way, of course, with about 500 ft of climbing, is the path of the trailrunner. The easy way is simply to drive there; access can be achieved by driving towards Goshen on the Ripton-Goshen Rd, and taking the left turn up a well-maintained forest service road heading to the left. This easy access has made the lake popular with fishermen and kayakers, as well as the hikers and runners who usually come at it from other directions.

I first learned that something was up at this reservoir earlier this summer. I was driving home from another nearby run by Silver Lake, and noticed that a good chunk of the Ripton-Goshen Road was being torn up, and it looked like they were putting in buried cable at the edge of the road. Asking around, a “reputable source” (OK – one of the old guys I run with, who joined me on this run) told me that they were bringing electricity to the Goshen Dam holding back Silver Lake, so that in times of flood, the sluice gates could be opened and shut remotely. I am sure this brings comfort to the people who live downstream! A little later in the summer, while helping out at one of the feed stations for the Moosalamoo Ultra, I noticed that cars with roof kayaks were driving past us on their way to the reservoir, only to see them departing past us again on the way out a few minutes later. At this point, I learned that much of the water had been drained while they repairs. I am were performing some dam repairs, also glad I couldn’t see the disappointment on the no doubt surprised kayakers as they drove away. The same semi-reputable source told me later in the day that the water level had been dropped 17 feet!

Of course, my curiosity got the best of me, and I wanted to see what the place looked like missing most of its water. I know I could have driven to it, but that seemed like cheating! Also, my recovery from past medical challenges had proceeded to the point where the run up to the reservoir, or at least a run/walk, seemed like a reasonable goal. Sending out feelers to running friends, the only takers I found were two of my best running partners. What makes them among my best? They are among the few people I can find to run with who are my age or older! So, on a crisp fall day, we met up at the Brooks Road parking lot (Brooks Rd is the dirt road on your right, about a half mile past Breadloaf, and the parking lot is about a quarter mile in) for a run up to the reservoir. In addition to the opportunity to spend some time with old friends on a beautiful run, we also wondered if we might be able to walk out to the island in the middle of the lake, with the water so low.

Most of this run is on Brooks Road – it is a modestly maintained Forest Service road which slow moving non-4WD cars seem to do fine on, but car traffic is so rare that it might as well be a trail run. Starting up the long climb, one of my friends reminded me that the way to do this was “start slow, then taper” and we followed his sage advice. This also gave us a great opportunity to actually talk, rather than gasping for breath. And we did talk…..while conversation inevitably finds its way to 30-year old PR’s (runners’ slang for “I used to be fast”) most of our conversation revolved around recent running and outdoor adventures, and that is a good thing. After all, with two 60-somethings and one 70-something, there is still a lot of adventure to be had, and shared. Yeah – we had some good tales to tell.

After about 2.4 miles, and 500 ft of climbing, we reached the point where the snowmobile trail heading on a short rise to the right, followed by a half mile downhill, brought us to the shores of the reservoir.

View from the Goshen Dam

To be honest, the lake didn’t look half bad! It was plain to see that it would be disappointing to a paddler hoping to explore a larger lake, but it was still an attractive place. We continued around the shore on the far side, walking rather than running, given the sketchy footing – after all this part used to be under water! We eventually realized that our goal of walking to the island, while keeping our feet relatively dry, was not going to be achieved, at least from this side. A rather broad stream, probably a feeder to the lake, was cutting off our path, and since none of us came prepared for swimming, or at least slogging, we decided to forgo the “island expedition”.

View towards the island

We also took a quick look at the new modernized “remote control” sluice gate. We were underwhelmed – there seems to have been a ton of work going on for many months, and this was the only element of the dam that seemed changed!

Underwhelming repairs

We made note of the fact that the little piece of tree-covered land formerly known as “the island” might be more accessible from the other side of the lake, and commented that it might be fun to come back at some point before winter to test that premise. From this point, we retraced our steps, starting off with the short, steep climb away from the lake, and the long easy descent back to our cars, the conversation made all the easier by going downhill (that is, the terrain went downhill, not the conversation). We ended up spending a little over 7 miles on our feet, mostly running, but with a little walking. This constituted my longest run in over a year, so it felt really good!

Google Earth of the Run
Sugar Hill Reservoir When Full
Altitude Profile

Keewaydin Caves Redux

I have made it a habit not to “redo” a post on a particular run, unless it has been a few years since I last blogged about the route. I am making an exception this time. In June of 2019, while trying to find a cave called “Speedy’s Cave” whose location I only had the vaguest memories of, I ended up not finding the cave in question, but had an adventurous and challenging “mostly hike”, as the terrain was too rough for running, along the midsection of the Rattlesnake Cliffs above Lake Dunmore. Most of this little adventure was on the trails maintained by Camp Keewaydin. A few of my readers mentioned that they would someday like to join me on this “run” someday, as it sounded interesting. So, on a pleasant Saturday morning, 5 of us set out. It wasn’t my intention, at the start of the journey, to write a blog posting on it, and as a result, I didn’t bring my camera, and didn’t even turn on my GPS watch until we were about 0.8 miles into things. Fortunately, my friend Josh, who joined us for the first part, had his camera with him, and all the new pictures here are his. For my first description of this route, with my photography, see my original posting:

The Wrong Way to the Keewaydin Caves

Yup! I thought I had gone the wrong way to find the “Speedy’s Cave” of my memory. I now know I was wrong about being wrong.

We set off from the Falls of Lana parking lot, taking the usual dirt road up, and when the trail made its first sharp hairpin to the right, we went straight, over the bridge, and up the easy section of trail until we saw the sign for the Aunt Jenny Trail, and we ascended this trail for a few minutes. The first tricky part of the routefinding in this trail is actually finding it. Many years ago, there was a sign here stating “Caves” to guide adventurous hikers, but as I discovered last year, that sign had been removed, and in fact, this year, several tree branches were laid across the faint trail to discourage errant hikers. That said, you will know that you are at the correct place if you see a small sign on one of the nearby trees saying “trail” and pointing along the far more apparent Aunt Jennie Trail. Some things about this cave trail haven’t changed – it is still a faint path, but with generally well marked blazes on trees. It also tortures hikers with countless dips and climbs for no apparent reason.

While I failed in re-finding Speedy’s Cave last summer, we quickly discovered that five pairs of eyes are better than one. Sure enough, in little more than a third of a mile along this trail, one of my party looked up above their feet (where one’s eyes usually are on rough terrain) and saw the sign for the cave! I think we had an advantage this year – a narrow sunbeam of light escaped the heavy foliage and illuminated the sign as if it was some sort of sacred shrine.

Found it!

At this point, we scrambled uphill 50 feet or so to the mouth of the cave. As I remembered, it was a fairly spacious cave, and in fact, I could notice the remnants of a small campfire inside it. Unlike the far more extensive, truly subterranean Weybridge Cave, which demands a rappel to enter, the Keewaydin Caves are simply spaces created by rockfall from the cliff bands over the eons, and are generally small and cozy. Curious as to the origin of the name of this cave, a search of the history of Camp Keewaydin indicated that it was probably named after the name of a mid-20th century owner “Speedy” Rush.

Speedy’s Cave Approach
Speedy’s Cave Opening

Scrambling back down to the trail, we continued, and not long later, Sandra, a member of our group, looked up to the right, and shouted out that she thought she saw another cave, this time without any sign indicating its provenance. We bushwhacked our way up towards it, and at first glance, there didn’t seem to be much too it. Then, its discoverer noticed that she could squeeze under an overhang, and she headed in until all we could see were her feet sticking out. The arrow in the photo is putting at her well-camouflaged sneaker.

One foot out in Sandra’s Cave

Knowing that we might be doing a little crawling around in caves, she was the only person who thought to bring a headlamp, and as she crawled in a little further, discovered that there was a large inner room that should prove accessible. No doubt this has been and will be a comfortable home for one or more wintering bears in a few months! None of us were really clothed to shimmy into it – so that will have to wait for another day, presuming we can find it again. Given that there was no sign affixed to this cave, naming it after some Keewaydin luminary, we decided that our party was the first there, and we named it after her discoverer – Sandra’s Cave it is!

The Inner Sanctum

After most of us did the short shimmy into the opening of the cave to glimpse the inner room, we returned once again to the trail, and commenced our zigzagging up and down the face of the Rattlesnake Cliffs, constantly on the lookout for the next white blaze. The next “named” location we came across was a viewpoint which I remembered (of course) from the previous year’s exploration – Jeff’s Lookout! I am not simply claiming as my own – there is an aging sign at the edge of the overlook claiming it for me.

Jeff’s Lookout

.From this point on, following the route from the previous year, we came across the Cave trail sign, which went pretty much straight up the side of the mountain, bringing us in a few strenuous minutes to the only cave I managed to bag in my previous outing, “Curly’s Cave”, which was much smaller than Speedy’s Cave, but standing inside it, you had the feeling you were looking out from the throat of a monster – check out the teeth! I was unable to determine the origins of the Cave’s name, but I will ask some people I know who have been associated with the camp to find out.

Curly’s Cave (from my previous posting)

Returning to the trail, we soon came to a sign for the Wildcat trail, which may have been the name for the trail we were on all along, As we got closer to the camp proper, the trails became better marked and easier to follow. One of the coolest parts of the descent to the camp was a cliffy area called The Deer Staircase. At some point in the last year and a half, someone had put in a few log ladders, making the descent far easier than it had been in the past. I am not going to go into the details of the rest of the descent – all downhill trails probably lead to the main grounds of the camp and the East Shore road. When we got to the dirt road called “The Summit Trail” we were able to resume running for the first time in about two hours, and eventually ran back to our cars alongside the main road.

This was a very fun little adventure that took up pretty much the whole morning. Running options were sparse, as the terrain was quite rough and the trail maintenance meager. Given the late start on my GPS watch, the journey was longer than shown, probably a little over 5 miles. My watch recorded 1400 vertical feet of climbing, but since the first easy sections weren’t included, it was probably closer to 1700 or 1800. That’s a lot of up and down – and to put it in perspective, the ascent of Mt Abraham, the nearest big mountain, is only 1500 ft.

Partial GPS track

Trailrunning in the Covid Era

Gotta be careful!

We have been quite fortunate (as well as careful) in Vermont, doing our best to keep ourselves and each other healthy. Fortunately, we have the ability to stay appropriately distanced from each other to minimize spread by doing what we do best – enjoying the outdoors. I, and most of the other hikers, mountain bikers, and runners that I have met on the trails have been either wearing a face mask, or at least (as I do) wear it around their necks, for easy wearing should another outdoor enthusiast approach. By doing this, we show our respect for each others’ wish to remain healthy.

It has been interesting to see how the Moosalamoo region’s most popular trail running events, all of them headquartered at the Blueberry Hill Inn and Ski Touring Center have dealt with it. The early summer Infinitus family of races, which are best described as “see how far you can run in up to 8 days” didn’t happen. It was just too soon, and organizers were probably unsure as to how to run it safely. The challenging, but accessible to mere mortals “Goshen Gallop” did come to be, run over the course of an entire day with runners going out in much smaller waves, rather than a mass start. While this is usually one of my “must do” events, medical recovery kept me out of it this year, but I heard from friends that it was fun, well-run, and safe. The Moosalamoo Ultra (36 miles, and I staggered through it once, eight years ago) and mini-Moose (14 miles) were held. The race director, John Izzo, aka the “Head Moose” cut down the size of the field, and did took care with countless other details, to ensure the safety of competitors and volunteers helping staff the race. I assisted with one of the feed stations, wearing my mask of course, and I was impressed that almost all the competitors pulled their masks up to their faces as they entered the station. And of course, a race as challenging as this ultra spread the runners out quite safely over the course of a very long day!

As I mentioned, my body was not up to any of these events this year, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t enjoy a run in this beautiful region. Silver Lake, a popular local destination, is most commonly reached through a 1.5 mile climb up an old dirt road, from the Silver Lake trailhead just up the road from Branbury State Park. Not as many people know that it can be reached, somewhat more easily, from the trailhead at the end of an otherwise obscure dirt road up in Goshen. It has not escaped my attention, however, that this summer, trailheads and parking lots with access to outdoor activities have seen heavier use than I have ever seen before. This “less known” parking lot has, in the past, only had a few cars in it, but on several weekend occasions, It has been full, with cars parked up to a quarter mile up the dirt road! For readers who don’t know how to access this trailhead from Middlebury: Drive up Rt 125, and about a mile or so past Ripton, take a right turn on the forest service road heading towards Goshen. At about a mile past the Blueberry Hill Inn, you will come to a crossroads, where you take the right turn on the (surprise!) Silver Lake Road, and when you come to a fork in the road, take the right fork, following continuing signage to Silver Lake.

I started my run on the continuation of this forest service road, on just the other side of the gate blocking vehicular traffic. For those who don’t know the area, this is the same road that most hikers take up from the Branbury side. This road makes for an excellent ascent from the Branbury trailhead, and a run including this was actually part of the very first post I made on this blog, many years ago! Alas, my current conditioning is not up to a run quite as rigorous, and I began my run with an easy descent towards the lake. While remaining on this road is the shortest and easiest access to Silver Lake, when I came to a T in the trail, I took a right turn, rather than following the signage leading to the lake. And I wonder why friends accuse me of getting them lost?

Go right, not left

A very short way down this steep descent, which also doubles as a VAST snowmobile trail in the winter, brought me to another fork in the road. Once again, I took the counterintuitive direction – the arrow pointed right, so I went left.

Go Left, not right!

Another short distance brought me (as expected, I might add) to the earthen dam for the rarely visited Sucker Brook Reservoir. The Sucker Brook Reservoir is the second of four bodies of water, including (in descending altitude order Sugar Hill Reservoir, Sucker Brook Reservoir, Silver Lake, and Lake Dunmore, all part of an over 100-year old hydroelectric power project which is still used to create power at a power plant near to Lake Dunmore’s shores. This particular reservoir, however, tends to be very low on water by late summer, and in fact looked more like a fen than a pond or lake. As a result, it doesn’t appear to gather much recreational interest, except from curious trail runners!

Sucker Brook Puddle

From here, I followed the obvious trail winding its way down the back of the dam, and followed the obvious open path, much of which is on a sidehill, making for challenging footing for the next half mile or so. In later summer, an obvious path through here is beaten down by the runners in the Moosalamoo Ultra, which passes this way, but it can feel a bit bushwhacky prior to this event. Eventually the wide open trail widens, and flattens, making for a nice mile or so in the forest, before rejoining the dirt road descending from the parking lot.

Running through the forest alongside the penstock

Upon reaching the road, I went right for a few hundred yards, bringing me to the dam supporting Silver Lake, and following the left turn along the shore, I stopped for a photo at the picnic area alongside the lake. Typically on pleasant midsummer days, this picnic area has been claimed by groups and families hiking up here for a day of fun, but by this point in August, the “crowds” have thinned out, making for even easier social distancing!

Silver Lake Picnic Area

Again, has been the norm, as I passed other on the trail, either I or the other party would step off the trail, and everyone would put the other masks on, until we had passed each other. And yes, we made the point to exchange niceties! From the little beach area, I followed the well marked side path which brought me to the Leicester Hollow trail, and took a right. This trail, the remains of an old carriage road, was the means by which guests accessed the old Silver Lake Hotel, which burned down in the early 20th century. I went right on this for roughly a third of a mile, before I got to an obvious trail heading left, returning to the Goshen parking lot. Of course, the early part of the run had some easy descents, and alas, this is where I had to pay back the altitude with some climbing. In the past, running up this, albeit slowly, was feasible, but I was happy to do it as a mixed run/walk until I returned to my car. This run ended up being a little over 3 and a half miles, with a few hundred feet of climbing, on a mix of forest service roads, double track, single track, and a few legitimately rough sections. In other words it was fun!

google earth of the run
Altitude Profile

The Kingsbury Greenway

From time to time, I go for a trail run in the Mad River Valley, and over the years have blogged a few of my runs from this beautiful place on the other side of the mountains. A few cars parked alongside Rt 100, on the left, just a half mile or so north of the Sugarbush access road, caught my attention, and I decided to see if there were any fun runs emanating from that trailhead.

Pulling my car in, I was greeted with a kiosk telling me that the small group of trails nearby constituted the “Kingsbury Greenway” part of the non-contiguous Mad River Path. One short segment followed the Mad River for a short distance to the south, and a few more options branched to the north.

Kingsbury Trails map

I chose to begin my run on the short southern section, which dipped first under the Rt 100 steel bridge, and was not surprised to see some graffiti under the bridge. One particular message looked almost like it was aimed at one of the more contentious aspects of our current social distancing requirements, and I was glad to see that it was actually punctuated correctly on the contraction. A true rarity among those armed with a spray can and something they care to say.

Don’t cut hair?

Continuing on, the trail passed down a series of stairs closer to the edge of the river, and passed behind one of the many inns in the valley before ending in a meadow affording a nice view down the river. At this point, I retraced my steps and returned to my car, making for about a mile of running.

The Mad River

Stopping for a moment to look at the kiosk map, I noticed that the trails to the north had two sections – one section appeared to climb up the adjacent hillside to the left, continuing on past the end of the map, and the other better defined section circled around one of the Sugarbush snowmaking ponds. I first headed uphill, but soon found that the going was too steep for running. After about a half mile of climbing, I came to a nice little overlook with a decent view of this part of the valley. The trail continued its climb past this point, and I will have to return to find where it ends up!

The View

After snapping the required “view shot” I shuffled down the steep trail, and took the left down to the snowmaking pond shown on the map. This large pond, clearly filling several acres is separated from the Mad River by a thin strip of raised land, and is not far from Rt 100, but is curiously invisible from the highway and I never knew it was here despite having driven by hundreds of times.

Snowmaking Pond

As I rounded the north end of the pond, I saw a short path down to the river’s edge, so I went down to the water and noticed a well-kept swimming hole, replete with lawn chairs, and well made steps down to the water on the far side. I assumed it was some lucky landowner’s riverside private property, but there was nobody there to ask, so I continued my run around the pond. Only after the completion of the run, and noticing the access to this section of the river from Rt 100, did I realize that I had inadvertently stumbled into the Mad River clothing optional swimming area. Maybe that explains all the old men I noticed out walking their dogs around the pond? The return from the pond to my car was short and easy, although at this point the day was getting kind of hot, so I called it a day after a little more than 3 miles. This trail has some pleasant running close to the Mad River, and a climb worthy of future exploration.

Google Earth of the Kingsbury Greenway
Altitude Profile

Battell Woods Flower Power

One of the most convenient, and relatively easy (pretty flat, and not terribly technical) places to run is our own Battell Woods, right at the western edge of town. One small segment of this trail network is officially part of our beloved TAM, but it is crisscrossed and circled by a myriad of other trails, some heavily used, and others somewhat more faint. Other than the TAM itself, I am not sure who cut these trails, although I know that some local mountain bikers have been heavily involved in creating trails on nearby Chipman Hill, so I suspect that we have them to thank! Some folks may find the generally meandering nature of these trails a little bit disorienting, but that is a lot of the fun! Just remember, no matter where you leave the woods, you will still be in Middlebury, so relax, and see where you end up.

I decided to go for a run on this trail network, with nothing in particular in mind, other than stretching my legs out on the trails on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Usually, when I describe runs, I try to give at least a modestly detailed description of my route, in addition to the GPS track on Google Earth, but in a compact running area like the Battell Woods, with its infinite options, that would kind of defeat the purpose. I also remember another run I took here a few days ago. I stopped to converse with a walker (at a safe distance of course for Covid safety), and she asked me if I had seen any red trilliums. My initial response was no, I hadn’t, but also mentioned that I would be unlikely to notice that particular flower, as to a person with red/green colorblindness (me), red trilliums would be pretty well camouflaged. But, on that run, I found myself looking around, admiring all of the early season wildflowers, so when I returned to run again today, I decided to photograph all the different wildflowers I found along the way.

Usually, when I am writing up a blog post, I do a little bit of research on whatever stream of consciousness I have decided to include. In this case however, I will confess that botany is NOT my strong suit, as I know almost nothing about the names of the flowers I photographed. So, if you are reading this, and know the names of any of the unidentified flowers whose pictures I have included, please leave a comment for other readers, as well as me.

And just so you know, I never did find any red trilliums. So, in no particular order, here are the flowers I found. If you want to make the pictures bigger, on a PC you can just right click/view image to have the picture fill the monitor screen,

Even I know Dandelions
Easy to find WHITE Trillium
These look like Buttercups to me…..
I have always called these “Wild Pansies” but I have no idea what their real name is
Unknown Flower 1
Unknown Flower 2
Unknown Flower 3
Unknown Flower 4
Unknown Flower 5
Unknown Flower 6 – standing above the Dandelions
Unknown Flower 7
Google Earth of the run

Not a RUN up Scrag Mountain

As I have mentioned from time to time in this blog, I have extended family living in the Mad River Valley, and sometimes when I describe fun places to run, I leave the comfortable confines of Addison County to describe nearby places “over the mountains”. One of my favorite hiking/trail running locations over the years has been Scrag Mountain, the highest point on the ridge on the east side of the valley, with a summit altitude just below 3000 feet. Some details of my relationship with this mountain are described in a blog posting I made of a run/powerhike that stopped just short of the summit 8 years ago. I haven’t been on its slopes since, but long, long ago (OK in February before the current Covid challenges) I was having a beer at Two Brothers Tavern, and noticed that they had “Scrag Mountain Pils” on tap, and since I had climbed the mountain, I should try it. Lawson’s Finest Liquids, a microbrewery in Waitsfield did a fine job on this brew, and it got me thinking of reascending this fun little peak when I had the chance.

A recent Saturday was brilliant and warm, and knowing I could easily remain 6+ feet away from other outdoor adventurers, I headed to the Scrag Mountain trailhead. Finding this trailhead is as follows. Just south of “The Dip” ( you will know it when you are there – it lives up to its name) on the East Warren road, take Sherman Road uphill and then take a left turn onto Bowen Road. After driving by a few mega-mansions, there is a small parking lot at the end of the road. Prior to this day, I had never seen another soul on Scrag Mountain, but I guess that cabin fever brought more than me outside, so there were probably another half dozen cars there. There was also a trail sign, describing the route through the Scrag Mountain municipal forest. Curiously, the sign only showed the trail continuing as high up as some beaver ponds, still almost a mile from the summit, but I knew that the trail continued further.

At the start of this ascent, the marked trail actually descended. There is also a continuation of the road, blocked off at this point, which I knew from my past experiences would get me to the trail as well, so I took this shortcut, which rejoined the main trail after a short traverse to the north. At this point, the trail was in pretty good shape – it had the feel of a popular, and reasonably well maintained hiking trail, and if I was in better shape, would have been runnable, or at least run/walkable. However, as the trail continued to climb, it got steeper, muddier, and less well maintained, albeit, still very well marked. In my previous midsummer excursion up here, I didn’t notice that this whole side of the mountain is crisscrossed by overgrown abandoned logging roads and ATV tracks. If it wasn’t for the ample trail markings, some sections might have sent less alert hikers off in incorrect directions. Finally, after about a mile and a half of ascending, I reached the beaver pond (s). This was a lovely place, worthy of the hike to this point on its own. As I approached it, the croaking frogs were so loud that I half expected to see a herd of geese on the pond, but no, it was just the frogs.

Scrag Beaver Pond

There was a lot more water in the pond than my last mid-summer visit to this location. Of course, there is more water in the early spring (there were still melting snow patches around the pond), but several other small nearby ponds hinted that the beavers themselves were far more active here than they were 8 years ago! One of the newer ponds was actually submerging the trail, forcing a little bit of easy bushwhacking to continue.

As the map at the trailhead hinted, the well marked trail concluded at this point, but with a careful eye, the much older trail continuing to the summit could be made out. Looking carefully, I could see occasional ancient blue blazes on the trees. Routefinding to the summit was also complicated by increasing snow and ice, further disguising the more trodden path. When I was unsure of myself, I started following a woman who looked like she knew where she was going, but when she stopped for a breather, I charged on, and probably spent a fair amount of time thrashing between tightly spaced pine trees. At least when ascending, you know that as long as you are going up, you will get to the right place. Curiously, the woman I passed caught up with me, and she confessed that she was actually following me now. The blind leading the blind.

All paths up do indeed lead to the summit, and we found ourselves up there in not long. The Scrag Mountain summit has some history. For many years, there was a fire tower on the summit, which was finally torn down in the late 1970’s. The concrete pylons where it once rose are still easily found. The old caretaker’s cabin, built in the 1930’s is also still standing, and in semi-usable condition, although there seemed to be more rotting floorboards than when I first entered it 25-30 years ago. There is still a small wood stove, and some bunk beds, with very questionable blankets strewn over them. There were even a few empty champagne bottles of relatively recent vintage!

Caretaker Cabin Luxury Interior

A very pleasant surprise upon achieving the summit was the view to the east! While the mountain was reknown for its views when the fire tower was still intact, the rocky summit was surrounded by mature pines, which obscured most of the views. At some point, in the not too distant past (as evidenced by freshly cut pine logs neatly stacked) someone has taken down enough of the taller trees to allow for great views to the east. If you look carefully in the center of the following picture, you can see the white triangle formed by still snowcapped Presidentials in NH! This little bit of tree removal will probably make this a more popular hike or run in the future.

The descent was pretty much the same as the climb, but in reverse – in fact, it was easier to keep on the narrow trail down from the summit, although I and my equally confused ad hoc hiking partner probably diverged from it in a few places. Returning to my car, this was about a 4.5 mile round trip, with about 1500 ft of climb and descent. I didn’t run any of this trip, although a few years ago, I was able to run about 50% of the distance. I know a lot of my stronger trail running friends could have fun on this one, especially after the snow finished melting. It is also a very pleasant afternoon hike, which is quite amenable to social distancing!

Google Earth of Scrag Mountain Trail, looking east
Altitude Profile Scrag Mountain