Author Archives: Jeff Byers

About Jeff Byers

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

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

Snowshoeing on Hogback Mountain

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I wanted to get off the track and treadmill, and into the mountains. So, I decided to go to one of my favorite places, the trails around the Blueberry Hill Inn for snowshoeing. I pulled my car into the ski touring area parking lot, across the street from the Inn, and was surprised at how quiet things looked. I have skied here countless times in the past, but it had been a few years since my last trip here in the winter. Over the last few years, the ski operation has scaled back its operations – in part due to some lost trail bridges which have proven costly to replace. So, what was once a “full service” ski touring area, with groomed trails is now aimed at people who are happy to break track, or follow the tracks set by the person in front of them. It’s OK – it is still beautiful. After paying the nominal trail donation, I crossed the street and followed the well skied trail behind the Inn.

The Blueberry Hill Inn in winter

My destination for the day, Hogback Mountain, is the hill just to the right of the inn’s roof line in the photo above. I set out on the trail paralleling the road, roughly following the path of the Goshen Gallop, a summer trail race which I run most years, which proceeds on the adjacent road. After about a half mile, I took a sharp left turn, now on a short climb, until I reached the next trail, where I took a right, and began the traverse on the lower slopes of Hogback Mt. In some sections of these trails, the snowshoes were rather unnecessary – the ground had been well enough packed by previous hikers, skiers, and showshoers, that I could have easily hiked it in normal boots. However, there were some softer sections, where I would have undoubtedly postholed, so I was glad that I had my snowshoes. On this brilliant sunny day, I looked up and admired the perfect azure blue sky overhead – more typical of the Rockies than northern New England.

Blue Skies

After about a mile and a half, I reached my destination – the open slopes of Hogback Mountain, with one of the best views around. In the winter, you can’t really tell why these meadows are so open, affording such spectacular vistas. These are the same wild blueberry meadows that give the inn and ski touring area its name, and if you come at just the right time in mid-late July, you will have the company of many wild blueberry pickers.

Hogback Mountain Vista

After soaking up the afternoon sun for a few minutes, I retraced my steps back to the inn taking a slightly more direct route, making for a roughly 3 mile trip, with only modest climbs. I stepped into the touring center, and enjoyed a bowl of their delicious vegetable soup, made available on weekends for a modest fee, as I looked around the room. I noticed many signs which used to be out on the trail system. Apparently, after spending many years working to have the nearby forests protected as the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, Tony, the owner of the Inn, had to remove these signs as part of federal wilderness rules. A small price to pay, but someday, I will have to ask him about the stories behind each of them.

Retired Trail Signs

Finally – as I was leaving the touring center, I stopped to read some of the permanent posters talking about various aspects of the Moosalamoo Recreation Area, signs which I had passed by countless times over the years, and apparently had never stopped to read. One of them alluded to the presence of an abandoned downhill ski area in the Moosalamoo Region, something I had never known. So, I turned and asked the young man at the desk, and he wasn’t sure where it was, although he suspected that it might be the slopes of Hogback that I had just been on. When I returned home, I went to one of my favorite web sites, NELSAP.org, where NELSAP is an acronym for the New England Lost Ski Area Project, and found that there indeed had been a commercial ski area just a few miles away, which operated in the 1940’s and 50’s under the name Pine Mountain. Even more curiously, the owners apparently spent some funds reviving it in the early 2000’s for private use, complete with a 600 ft rope tow, lights for night skiing, a groomer, and snow making! I have no idea what its current status is, but I look forward to going back and checking it out.

Hogback Mountain Snowshoeing on Google Earth
Altitude Profile (not too bad!)

A Winter Walk on the Wild Side

Due to the challenges of recovery from a recent surgery, running is, for the time being, off the menu. That said, my physical therapist has been recommending walking an hour each day. As my body has recuperated, most of my walking has been confined to the roads by my home, the treadmill at Middlebury Fitness, or the indoor track at the college. A recent streak of unseasonably warm weather, and my increasing stamina inspired me to get out on the trails for the first time in too long, so I was inspired to spend an hour or so on a late afternoon to get out and enjoy some of the trails from the Robert Frost trailhead. Given the relatively thin snow cover, and the heavy usage of these trails, I assumed that I would not need my snowshoes, so I slipped on my microspikes over my hiking boots, and found that this footware combination served me perfectly.

The first part of this walk was on the well-known Robert Frost trail, where a gentle walk in the woods is punctuated by signposts bearing Frost poems appropriate to the location. In a few minutes, I got to the stream crossing, which is now spanned by a handicap accessible bridge – a very nice addition. Years ago, when my daughters were young there was a much more rustic stone bridge at this crossing (which washed out a few years ago), from which we would play “Pooh Sticks” on lazy summer days.

The Pooh Sticks Stream


Continuing along the trail, I came to the right turn, where I turned away from the short Robert Frost trail, and headed deeper “into the wild”. I have run in the area many times during the warmer months, but I am always amazed at how different things look in the winter – it can almost be disorienting, even though one can see deep into the woods, given the bare trees. Good thing the trails here come well-signed, huh? I also found it curious that the trail sign gives 911 instructions (umm dial 911?) in an area with no cell coverage.



Trail Map

So, my memory of these trail refreshed by an actual map, I continued along Crosswalk, taking a sharp left turn on Sundown, climbing gradually until I saw the short steep incline of the trail named “Trepidation” in front of me. I must admit, the name is a bit overdone for what was basically a 0.1 mile climb, but I would imagine that novice cross country skiers looking down it might think otherwise. Getting up to the top of the hill called “Water Tower Hill, I paused for a moment, wondering if this was indeed the actual water tower at some point, since there is an entire trail network not far away on the Goshen-Ripton road also called the Water Tower trails. And they do not connect to this hill. Perhaps there were two water towers in comparably sparsely settled places, a few miles apart? I doubt it. To add to the confusion, one of the small hills behind the Rikert Ski Touring center is called Fire Tower Hill. Were the water towers there to help put out the fires found from the fire tower? I think that one of my first orders of business while running next summer will be to scout the summits (sans snow) to look for remnants of towers. While the snow was too deep to see any evidence of past towers, I did get a nice view of the Rattlesnake Cliffs on Mt Moosalomoo through the trees.

Moosalamoo through the trees

Descending from the “summit” I turned left on North Star, a trail which is seemingly always muddy with poor footing in the summer, but was quite pleasant with well trodden snow, until reaching the connecting trail to the Robert Frost loop, where I turned right and descended to the open blueberry meadow. While there were no blueberries this time of the year, I did enjoy the view of the lone pitch pine standing in the meadow, spreading its branches luxuriously wide in the absence of any competition for sunlight.

Lone Pine

From here, it was a short walk back to my car. This ended up as a 3 mile walk, with about 500 ft of climb and descent – perfect for a winter late afternoon. It feels great to be returning to activity, and to be back in something resembling “the wilds”.

A totally unrelated Coda:

Forty years ago, to the day, in my first year of grad school at that Big Green college to the southeast in New Hampshire, I joined a friend on his 25th birthday celebration. We decided, on the evening before (over a beer or two, of course) to get up, and climb a mountain for sunrise. At first we joked about doing Mt Washington, but realized that would be pretty stupid on the 3rd of February. So, I suggested a a more modest peak nearby, Mt Cube, a lovely rocky-summited peak in central NH. So, a few hours later, we were trudging up, in the darkness and deep snow to help my friend celebrate his birthday. Upon reaching the summit, and fueling ourselves on cheap cherry brandy, and defacing the peak with snow angels, we descended, and vowed to make this a yearly tradition for the duration of grad school. Happy 65th Birthday Rudy!

Google Earth of the walk