Author Archives: Jeff Byers

About Jeff Byers

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

The Finite Infinitus

The Moosalamoo region is growing a reputation as a great place for hiking, and yes, trail running. A lot of this reputation has been the result of the increasing popularity of three trail races, all of which start and finish at the Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center in Goshen. Over 30 years ago, I started running the granddaddy of these races, the Goshen Gallop, run by Tony Clark and his staff and family, and for many years, this was the high point of my running season, both in terms of challenge (6.6 miles on mostly mountain trails) and scenic beauty. In more recent years, two more challenging trail running events have emerged. The Moosalamoo Ultra, expertly run by John Izzo and his extended family has both a “Big Moose” version (36 miles, but when I ran it I found a way to extend it to 37.5) and the “Little Moose”, “only” covering 14 miles – still plenty challenging, but accessible to mere mortals. The most recent event, the basis of this posting is Andy Weinberg’s Endurance Society Infinitus race. Andy has a long resume both competing in, and running extreme running events. I first became aware of Andy when I met him at the Jay Peak Ultra 13 years ago, and later learned of his then-signature event known as the Death Race. He then went on to become the co-creator of the popular Spartan Race series, and now concentrates on his own “Endurance Society” events, of which Infinitus is the biggest. Oh, and he also has a day job as a college professor at Castleton University.

The Infinitus event is a close to two week long suffer fest with a sense of humor, run on many of the Moosalamoo Region trails. Many of the races are designed with the number 8 in mind, which is, of course, the infinity symbol standing upright, and the race which best follows this theme, covering 888 km in 10 days, with many of the competitors running through the nights. A few people have been able to finish this, but it is way out of my league. I did notice some humorous comments on the race progress board when I was up there today, with some competitors unable to cross the border from Canada due to ongoing Covid rules, and a few others making >PG comments about the challenges forcing them to throw in the towel.

888 Km Progress

Some of the lesser events include competitors attempting to run 10 trail marathons in 10 days, 5 marathons in 5 days, 250 miles, 100 miles, and the events commencing at 8:08 Saturday morning, the 88 Km, marathon, and the race of my intent, the 8 miler, or as I thought of it, the “Finite Infinitus”. You can guess which race had the most participants! This race was also a special one for me – first of all, I know the Moosalamoo trails about as well as anyone, have run/skied/biked them for 35 years, and frequently describe these routes in this blog. Like a lot of people, this race is my first as we all start to emerge from Covid. Finally, I have been dealing with cancer for about 2 years, and this was my first attempt at a race as a cancer patient, after beginning the gauntlet of surgery, radiation, and chemo about a year and a half ago. Since my current treatment regimen isn’t as debilitating as what I underwent in 2019-2020, and my strength is returning, it was time to get back to what I love. I have been gradually building up my endurance, but still, on many of my runs, I do have to slow down to a walk, so a mountain race was perfect – almost nobody runs the uphills on terrain this crazy! This particular race, in which most of the climbing was in one long ascent of Romance Mountain, would do a good job of masking my current limitations.

Of course, in a May race, you never know what you are going to get for weather, and as I got up early in the morning to head up to Blueberry Hill, I looked on the thermometer, and saw that it registered 40 F! I also suspected, quite correctly that it might even be chillier up at the race, so had to dress accordingly. Arriving at the race site, the in, the outdoor center, and the surrounding fields were buzzing with activity. In addition to plenty of cars, there were RVs and tents set up in a little city of runners – which makes sense given the number of runners in multi-day events.

Runners’ Tent City

And yes, it was cold! The weather was just fine for running, but not so good for standing around waiting for a run to start. I had a brief conversation with a running friend who had been there the night before, keeping her daughter company as she ran through the night while competing in the 100 mile race. Apparently, there were snowflakes at the higher elevations last night, although nothing collected! As the race started, a few runners bolted like it was the beginning of a much shorter race, but most of us started off nice and easy, and we all soon funneled into the narrow trails, typically two, and later one runner wide. A lot of the runners attempting the longer races carried hiking poles, so in the crowded early miles people had to be careful to avoid getting accidentally poked, although this as certainly not as challenging as it can be in ski races. At just past the 1 mile mark, the prettiest part of the run was reached, the great views of the Green Mountains from the side of Hogback Mountain, where the greatest concentration of wild blueberries can be found in July.

Hogback Mountain Views

At about the 2 mile mark, the most intense climbing began, where the trail goes up over 1000 ft in about 3/4 of a mile, and as predicted, nobody was running here, at least mid-pack where I was. The lower level of pysical activity I have been trying to work my way out of was really apparent here; I didn’t have to stop to catch my breath, but the lack of leg and glute strength certainly slowed me down relative to many other runners. At one point, the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring center advertised this trail as the highest altitude groomed cross country skiing in the east, and I have enjoyed skiing up this many times in the past! Topping out at around 2700 ft, not quite at the summit of Romance Mt, the trail did a modest descent for a few minutes, before a short climb, and the long nearly unbroken descent to the finish line. Most of the trail from this point on was all well-trodden single track, running through the dense coniferous forest which characterizes most of the Moosalamoo region.

Trail Descent

The long descent from the 3 mile point was even easier than I thought it would be. There were a few muddy patches, and those competitors whose day was going to be a lot longer than mine due to the nature of their longer chosen events took care to avoid wet feet, but I just sloshed on through them, enjoying the playful mess I was making of my shoes and legs. After one last smaller climb up the Stewart trail, the gradual descent to the finish line brought me past a few beaver ponds, and I even mustered enough of a sprint at the finish line to burst past another guy who looked like me might be about my age. It really felt good crossing into the finish line corral – especially since a year and a half ago, I wasn’t sure I would ever get to do this again.

Finish Line Corral

While this race was listed as an 8 mile race (remember, the “8/infinity theme”) it was only 7.32 miles, and that was fine as I had plenty of fun. The total altitude gain was about 1200 ft, most of it in the crunch up Romance!

Google Earth of the Run
Altitude Profile

Old Snow to Voter Brook Overlook

We are getting into one of the more challenging times of the year for high quality trail time. On trails where the snow has subsided, mud has taken over. While mud on the hiking boots (or running shoes) is not something that bothers a lot of trail enthusiasts, we should refrain from hiking until Memorial Day, in order to limit trail erosion. Cross country skiing? That brings up other challenges, as the snow where it hasn’t been groomed is just plain crusty and nasty. However, there is a window of opportunity for trail running with microspikes, at least on trails which have been “well tromped” to make for better footing, at least as long as one dons their Microspikes on their running shoes. I was conversing with a friend yesterday, who was looking for good places to go hiking at this time of the year, and I suggested some of the forest service roads crossing the Ripton-Goshen Road, knowing of several that get steady winter use, either from hikers and skiers or snowmobilers. I also figured that the snow would be pretty hard early in the morning before being softened by the sun, making for easier traveling.

After this conversation, I decided it would be fun to get a taste of my own medicine, and try to do a trail run on one of these, and decided to try the road heading into the Moosalamoo Campground and Voter Brook Overlook. I also figured that Saturday morning would be a good time to run this, as the Ripton-Goshen Road can turn into a quagmire as the day warms up. By late morning, however, it was in pretty good shape. The dirt road heading to the Voter Brook Overlook is not terribly long (under 2 miles) and I often incorporate parts of it on longer loops in the Moosalamoo region. Arriving at the end of the road, gated for the winter, it was obvious that there was plenty of snow still on the road, although I could tell just by looking at it, that the footing would be less than idea for running.

At the Trailhead

After slipping on my microspikes, it soon became apparent to me that my concerns were well founded. While the snow was firm, it was badly pocked, making for awkward footing, even with good friction from my footwear. It was obvious that I was going to have to take it easy if I didn’t want to finish my run with twisted ankles and knees, turning this day’s activities into more of a run/walk. What was causing the bad footing? I didn’t see much indication of hikers “postholing” (crashing through crust making deep holes), but there were the remnants of people tracks (skis, ski poles, boots, and snowshoes), deer tracks, moose tracks, and dog tracks that had accumulated since the last snow. Also, it was interesting to note that wherever a leaf or branch had fallen, it made an inprint, often several inches deep, from the sun hitting the dark object, which in turn melted it into a hold. The patterns made in this way by dropped fir tree fragments made for interesting indentations, almost halos, in the surrounding crusty snow.

Fir Halo

Bad footing aside, it was a beautiful bluebird day, and despite the awkward footing, necessitating a more leisurely place, it was great to be outside. About halfway up the road, it drops to a stream crossing and makes a sharp turn, before climbing back up to the higher ground. The last time I had been here, in Oct 2018, the low point in the road was badly washed out, making summertime vehicular traffic impossible. I was glad to see that the road had been repaired at some time in the not too distant past.

Road Bend

At about 1.7 miles, I reached the end of the road, with the expected payout – the view from the Voter Brook Overlook. Very few people in Addison County know of this lovely little vista, even though it is fully accessible by car in the summer months, on slow, but 2WD roads. The lookout is even more dramatic in the winter, when there are no leaves on nearby trees to obscure views. On a typical summer weekend day, countless hikers make the trek up to the Rattlesnake Cliffs, just to the right of the frame of the view in the picture below, while this overlook only gets a trickle of attention despite far easier access.

Voter Brook Overlook in Early Spring

After pausing for a few minutes to enjoy the view on this perfect early Spring day, I retraced my route back to my car. The footing was starting to get even more challenging as the sun started softening the snow more, making for an even slower pace, much of it barely discernible as running. I also added in a short extra loop through the Moosalamoo Campground. This lovely little gem is very much off the beaten path, and I have never seen more than a handful of groups camping here at any point in time. It doesn’t have the obvious draw of a lake or river to swim in, but is surrounded by many trails, including the moderate ascent up adjacent Mr Moosalamoo. It always struck me as a place to go to just to hang out and relax in a quiet place. Amenities? Hah! It has a few outhouses, and drinking water. I also discovered an addition to the sites that I didn’t remember from previous visits – bear boxes to put food in! Does this count as my first bear sighting of the year?

Bear Sighting?

The entire run/walk was only slightly less than 4 miles, and had no climbing of any significance, but I think that this time of the year is when it is at its prettiest. Since it was over a dirt road, rather than a true trail, it would make for a nice place to have a long walk (or short hike – I am not sure when one ends and the other one begins) during mud season.

Waxless Wonders in Frost Country

Throughout my 20s, 30s and into my 40s, I fancied myself a passable nordic ski racer. I, and a group of friends calling ourselves “Team Ross” (named in honor of long-time Middlebury College ski team coach and former olympian, Patty Ross) made the rounds to many local races, including the Breadloaf Citizens Race, the Stowe Derby (my favorite for many years!), and the now defunct American Ski Marathon at Blueberry Hill, which was part of a National Ski Marathon Championship Series formerly known as “The Great American Ski Chase“. In addition to the usual technique and conditioning skills, this sport required a certain level of mastery in the art of ski waxing. The difference between a great race and a miserable frustrating day was often the choice of ski wax, and the care with which it was applied, especially in races where the “classic” technique was required. For many years, I found great pleasure in this art. On days when I chose to ski in the classic style, I would head up to the Rikert Ski Touring Center, bringing along my full kit of waxes, and once I checked out the temperature and snow conditions (wet, or dry? Fresh, old, or rock hard?) I would go into the waxing room at Rikert, spending anywhere from 5 min to a half hour waxing up before heading out. And, of course, I secretly scorned the beginners and their noisy, slow, waxless fishscale skis! As the years went by, and the time that I had to dedicate to careful waxing diminished (cough cough..kids) I found that my waxing time diminished to the point where I would “nail” the wax about 25% of the time, get it “good enough to have fun but not quite right” about 50% of the time, and totally “miss the wax” about 25% of the time, leading to either spinning my wheels, or slogging along with glue under my skis. Fast forward to the current covid era – while my passion for waxing has been fading for years, this year the social distancing requirements prohibit spending time indoors in the old Rikert waxing rooms, so I was forced to guess the wax from my home down in the valley. And, I kept guessing poorly. Add to this the fact that my decades old gear, once state of the art, was now badly worn out and ancient technology. So, I swallowed my pride, and drove up to Burlington to buy a pair of (shudder) cheap waxless fishscale skis! I had heard that all outdoor gear, including cross country ski gear was in short supply this year, due to a surge in outdoor activity and upset supply lines, and was fortunate to be able to purchase the last pair of skis and boots in my size in the store. I have to admit, skiing on them has been a pleasure! They are a little slow at times, but realistically, the aging version of me is as well. And, I will never ever ever have to wax my skis again! My new “waxless wonders” reside in my car for the winter, ever ready for a spur-of-the-moment opportunity to use them. My blog posting today describes one route I took on them.

Another covid era complication, has been the need to quarantine after travel out of state. My life required a trip to Boston earlier in the week, and although I eschewed all unnecessary human contact, I returned to Vermont willing to continue human isolation until I am cleared by time or a negative test. That said, I was not going to let all this great snow go to waste! The main entrance at Rikert was clearly off limits, as it is busy with people at the entrance, and in the vicinity of the lodge and inner trails. An alternative place to begin my skiing was up the short road from Rt 125 at the parking lot for the Robert Frost Cabin. While this parking lot, and the immediate vicinity is part of the Rikert trail network, a few hundred yards bring one onto national forest, and these outer trails are infrequently skied. For the duration of this ski, I only saw three other skiers who were easily avoided.

Heading straight up the hill past the old farmhouse and the Frost Cabin, I found myself immediately in a forest of Red Pines, their lower branches still heavy with snow.

Red Pine Forest

While the snow was still pretty fresh, it had been skied out just enough, and my waxless wonders were performing marvelously. At about 3/4 of a mile, the trail forked, and I took the right turn continuing uphill towards the Blue Bed House. I have written on this house in the past – when I first started skiing back here in the 80’s it was still a discernable, partially standing home, but the eponymous blue bed was nowhere to be seen. When I was last here, chronicled 11 years ago in the summer, the house was reduced to a pile of rubble, but still recognizable as a former structure. It’s current status? Frankly, if I hadn’t known it was once there, I probably couldn’t have discerned it’s location, especially with all the fresh snow. Nature is quickly reclaiming this spot!

Jumble Formerly Known as the Blue Bed House

Continuing on this trail, at the next trail junction, I took a sharp left on the trail whose sign indicated that it was heading towards the Blue Bed House meadow – probably the remnants of the old hill farm associated with the house. This open area is one of my favorite places in this part of the woods, and its former use as a farm site can also be identified by one of the surest signs of its former habitation – the old apple trees planted many generations ago.

Blue Bed House Meadow

Going straight at the bottom of this meadow (the left turn here is where I went on my return), and after a short steep descent, I came down to the terminus of the Wagon Wheel Road, one of the back roads in Ripton, where the road had been plowed, but not sanded, and was fine for skiing. This location was probably the site of what was probably a pretty rowdy dance hall from the early 1950s called – you guessed it – “The Wagon Wheel”. I did a little looking into the history of this former den of sin for the residents of Ripton in a previous post. Curiously, uphill, not far from here, I once found the rim of an old wagon wheel laying down on the ground, and I made the point of leaning it against a tree, but have never found it again since then.

At this point, I turned right up the plowed, but skiable dirt road beyond the locked gate. There is clearly someone who lives up this road during the winter months, but fortunately they leave this section open to foot, ski, and snowshoe travelers during the winter. After a short ascent on this section, the trail system takes a well- labeled right turn onto a true trail, with the continued road ascent at this point well-labeled with No Trespassing signs. I knew from past experiences that there were options to loop back to the Blue Bed House from this point, and that was my original plan. Passing by a beaver pond meadow, I came to the next trail junction. Most of the tracks continued straight, heading towards Forest Service 59, but I had had enough climbing for the day, so I chose to take the right turn onto the old trail called “Kiwi”.

Kiwi had long been one of the most primitive trails in the Rikert trail network, and is still marked on contemporary Rikert maps. Decades ago, while not maintained, it was easily followed, and skiing in the winter I could guess that it was braided with tiny streams which were easily covered by snow and ice in the winter. More recent runs back here were a little bit disorienting, and I soon realized that beaver activity, and erosion had created a real stream here, requiring wet feet. Since this trail was still shown on some Rikert maps, I was hoping that it could be crossed more readily in the winter, or that perhaps the Rikert staff had added a primitive bridge. However, as I followed the tracks to the edge of the stream, I looked across and saw nobody had passed this crossing since the last storm, for obvious reasons! So, I turned around, and retraced my tracks to the site of the old Wagon Wheel site.

U Can’t Cross This

On my return, I chose a shorter route, following the signs pointing towards the Frost Cabin, and soon found myself in the red pine forest, enjoying a gentle descent back to my car. The sun, low in the sky, made for a lovely view by the cabin!

Late Afternoon at the Robert Frost Cabin

The total length of this semi-loop ski was about 5 miles, with a modest 530 ft of climbing and descent. And the best part? I won’t have to scrape and clean the nasty old wax from my ski bases!

Google Earth of the Ski
Altitude Profile

Postscript: Heading out of another ski, on the next day, I noticed that road access to the Robert Frost Cabin has been closed by Middlebury College. This is understandable, as the possibility of accessing “in bounds” Rikert Trails by those not holding a seasons pass (I did purchase the pass) was possible here. Also, probably more importantly, current Covid rules require that the touring center maintain records of all daily visits, should contact tracing be required.

Trailhead Closure

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