Author Archives: Jeff

A Shaggy Dog Story

A few days ago, I had a curious self-realization about this blog.  For all intents and purposes, each blog posting is my version of the classic “Shaggy Dog Story”.  For my readers who don’t know what exactly a Shaggy Dog Story is, here is the Wikipedia definition:

“In its original sense, a shaggy dog story or yarn is an extremely long-winded anecdote characterized by extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents and terminated by an anticlimax or a pointless punchline”

So, while off on a run today, a pretty routine run, which I hadn’t planned on blogging, a very minor punchline became apparent, so I thought I would do a short write-up on it.  I only have one photograph in this posting, as I wasn’t really looking to write it up, until something curious happened…..

I went into today’s run with one thing in mind.  It was a cool, pleasant Sunday afternoon, a week before the Vermont City Marathon, and I wanted to get outside, push myself over a modest distance, and enjoy the pleasures of mother nature.  As I mentioned in my last post, I like to benchmark myself on early season runs, to check into my training, and to establish times to beat as the summer and fall progress.   The run on Brooks Road (the right turn on a dirt road about a half mile past Breadloaf, before the final ascent to the Snow Bowl), from the Chatfield/Widow’s Clearing parking lot has long been one of my favorites for this purpose.  It is a forest service road, with easy footing, and climbs in a series of short, moderately steep ascents, with long flat sections in between, leading to a 3.5 mile, slightly less than 700 ft vertical ascent.

Setting off from the bottom, the run is flat for about a quarter mile, then starts climbing, shortly thereafter.   As I reached the end of the first mile, I suddenly saw two dogs bounding towards me off leash.   Hearing their owner behind them shouting “Don’t worry – they don’t bite….” I reminisced over incidents when the next dog move was to lunge at me.   Fortunately, these two where indeed only interested in having a good sniff of sweaty runner.  But that isn’t really the shaggy dog story.   What I did notice, was that I was running very well, so I began to wonder if I could match or improve upon my PR for the ascent.  Sure enough, as I reached the end of the dirt road, I looked down at my watch, and noticed that indeed had ascended faster than ever before.

I don’t make a habit of posting times and speeds in this blog – because frankly I am not that fast, and I don’t want this to turn into just another training blog.  That said, I also knew from past experience that I had never done this run, as a round trip, in less than an hour, and realized that with the downhill acceleration, I just might be able to accomplish this, so I turned, and headed back down the hill.  Are you bored yet?  Still waiting for the punchline?

The descent did indeed prove to put me on a pace to break the one hour barrier for this run, until about a half mile from the bottom, where I noticed a black blob in the distance.  Another untethered canine perhaps?  But no, it was my second bear sighting of the season.  Now, I have two favorite bear sayings, pertinent to my running interests.  The first adage goes “You don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun your slowest friend”.  But, since I was running by myself that wouldn’t do much good.  The second one is “If you stop and take a picture of a bear, you run the risk of having the last shot on your camera be of the bear’s tonsils”.  Hence, I have never had the chance to take a picture of one of these wonderful creatures while out running.   This time was different;  I was on a long broad straightaway, with a good line of sight, but still far enough away that I hadn’t startled the bear yet.  So, I pulled out my cell phone, and took a shot, using the digital zoom, not thinking about my running goals for this run, as I finally got a bear picture on the trails.   After convincing myself that I had a serviceable photo, I shouted kind words to to my ursine companion, a hundred yards or so away, and he calmly lumbered off into the woods, allowing me to complete my descent.  At this point, my adrenaline was flowing, but I suspected that my goal of finishing under an hour had been squandered.  Riding the adrenaline rush, however, I was indeed able to complete the run in 59:30, kicking it in.  Now – here is the shaggy dog.  My amazing bit of photography:

Yes, it is a bear

Feel free to click on the photo – if you expand it to full size, you will see that it is indeed a black, 4-legged creature.

Brooks Road on Google Earth

Altitude Profile for the ascent and descent of Brooks Road

Back to the Springtime Trails

This year’s never-ending winter seems to have loosened its grip – there are only a few stray patches of snow at the higher elevations, and my legs seem to be recovering from my first 26.2 in a year and a half, undertaken a week and a half ago.   A lot of my friends ran in the Middlebury Maple Run this Sunday, but my legs didn’t feel recovered enough yet for a decent half marathon, so I decided to head out to one of my favorite runs – the ascent from the Falls of Lana trailhead, past Silver Lake, to the Goshen trailhead and returning.   I know I have done this run countless times, and blogged it quite a few times as well.  But, I almost always do this run as one of my first trail runs of the warm season.  The long mornings in the treadmill in the depths of winter and a few months of all my outdoor running being on the roads is finally giving way to the best part of the running year.  This particular run is a great way to test out my legs on a trail which isn’t as muddy as most of the single track trails in May, and I get to see how things feel when I start to mix some more serious hills into my running.  Finally, it is fun to see how my times improve as the summer progresses, so this first trail run of the season will serve as a benchmark for later runs!

A few recent articles in Runners World have put Middlebury on the map as a great runners’ town, and for road runners, this is probably due to the popularity of the Maple Run, while the TAM gets a lot of good press for trail runners.  As relative newcomers start to look for more adventurous terrain than the TAM has to offer, the Moosalamoo region, which this run is part of, offers a fun step up.   There are trail races ranging from the challenging, but accessible (The Goshen Gallop, 6.6 miles) to the longer challenges (The Moosalamoo Ultra 14 or 36 miles) to the downright ridiculous (Infinitus – up to 888 miles over 8 days!)  The run I am blogging today  provides a nice introduction to trail runners interested in a little wilder than the TAM offerings!  When I started enjoying this run, 10-15 years ago, I never saw another trail runner on while I was runnin, but now, it is rare that I don’t cross paths with other runners enjoying it.

The run starts at the Falls of Lana parking lot, the large lot on the right, just south of Branbury State Park.   I just learned the origins of the name “Branbury” by the way.  It is not the name of some famous settler, politician or benefactor – it is simply an amalgamation of Brandon and Salisbury – the two nearest towns.  How creative……. I usually skip the short connector trail that heads diagonally up from the parking lot, instead heading north on the road towards Branbury for just a few yards, taking a right onto the gated forest service road which climbs steeply from the start, before leveling off and crossing under the penstock.  What the heck is a penstock?  I just happen to have the answer in a previous post.  After a series of hairpin turns, the trail climbs relentlessly towards Silver Lake.  I was concerned about how passable I would find the trail, as it is still early spring, and we had a few very windy days where a lot of trees got knocked down.  Fortunately, the trail crews had already made short work of the many down trees, with the only sign being their trailside debris.

Trail Maintenance

 

Continuing up, I reached the shores of Silver Lake after a mile and a half. For most casual hikers, this is the point of the trip up from Lake Dunmore, but looking for higher mileage, and more climbing, I stayed on the trail, which after another short, steep climb, veered to the right to reach the high point, a few hundred feet above Silver Lake, at the Goshen parking lot. This lot has a bit of a bad reputation for car break-ins, so I rarely use it. I was comforted, however, to see a Forest Service vehicle parked there, perhaps providing a little deterrent to window-smashing wannabees.

Forest Service Patrol Car

At the far side of the parking lot, the obvious trail down begins, and after about a quarter mile, the right turn at the trail junction begins the descent to Silver Lake, in earnest. Running down this one section of true single track trail, I heard some scampering sounds in the woods, and reminded myself of the usual adage – “If you can hear it, it is just a squirrel”. However, at one point, I turned around and saw my first bear of the season bolting up the hill, a few yards behind me, and getting away from me as quickly as it could. My guess was that it was running away from whatever I was running away from. That said, it is always a rush to see these magnificent animals, and I stopped to watch it amble away, made all the easier by the lack of foliage at this altitude, this easy in the season. Someday I will get a decent picture of one of my bear incidents!

As the bear disappeared into the forest, I resumed my run down the hill, reaching the Leicester Hollow trail, where I turned right, passing by a few groups of hikers, letting them know of what they had just missed. When the sign for the Silver Lake picnic area appeared on the left, I took it, coming to the bridge over the sluiceway bringing water down to Silver Lake from the Sucker Brook Reservoir, a mile or so away at higher altitude. Sometimes, this sluiceway is dry, as Green Mountain Power tries to collect the water in the higher reservoir to save it for high electricity demand in the summer months, I presume. The rush of the water told me that they had to let some out – I bet the reservoir is pretty full at the moment due to the sudden snow melt! I hope to run up there soon to see.

Roaring Sluiceway

From here, I ran along the shore of Silver Lake – a great place to take a dip during summer runs, and returned to the forest service road, for the high speed plunge back to my car. The footing was usually good enough to just let my legs cut loose, but some glute tightness the next day reminded me that this was the first serious downhill run of the season. Returning to my car, this ended up being about a 5.5 mile run, with about 900 feet of climbing and descent. Challenging, but not overly so, by Vermont standards at least. If you haven’t run up here – give it a try. It can also be a great place to put in a good workout in the heat of the summer – it is typically 5-10 degrees cooler there, between the shade and the swimming spots.

Finally, this is the beginning of the 10th year of this blog. I have some really fun “bucket list” runs in the planning, which I hope some of my friends can join me on. Hoping we all have a great summer!

Google Earth of the run

Altitude Profile

I should have brought my skis

Last Saturday, I was looking to go for a run out on the trails, but knew that an awful lot ice of my favorite terrain, and with a road marathon coming up in a few weeks, I didn’t want to risk injury. Compounding the challenge of where to run, I knew there had been some fresh snow at altitude the night before, as I discovered on particularly “white knuckle” drive over Rochester Gap and Middlebury Gap the night before.  Thinking about things, the logical choice was to find one of the many VAST snowmobile trails.  Past experience told me that these trails are almost always well-packed by recent snowmobile activities – and in some cases actually groomed, making for excellent “trail” running wearing my microspikes over my running shoes.  With this in mind, I headed into deepest darkest Ripton, up the Natural Turnpike to where the plowed section of the road ended, and there was a small parking lot used mostly by skiers during the winter.   This early in the spring, when there was still a veneer of snow on the upper reaches of the increasingly primitive dirt road, things were frozen enough for my low ground clearance VW Beetle to get up the road, but I suspect that very shortly, when we are in the depths of mud season, the road may require a higher clearance vehicle, or a 4WD.

There was an informational kiosk at the trail head, and the snowmobile trail itself was perhaps 20 yards away,  right under my nose, and I was surprised to see that no snowmobilers had been out, at least since the previous evening’s snow, which looked to only have accumulated about an inch.  Beginning my run to the right, in about a minute, it joined up with the much wider Steam Mill Road, also known as Forest Road 59, the road whose other terminus is near the Rikert Ski Touring Center, and in fact bisects the area.  This road, which is only open to traffic during the non-winter months showed plenty of signs of usage – by everyone but snowmobilers.  The thin snow cover, however made it easily runable – but who knows what the conditions are like now, a week later.  I also found it interesting how the different types of trail enthusiasts seemed to have chosen their respective lanes – foot travelers on the left, classic skiers in the middle, and a ski skater on the right!

Tracking Outdoor Enthusiasts

Continuing up the road, I came into the Steam Mill Clearing itself. The fact that this high in the mountains, there is still open meadow here I would suspect is the result of a once a year mowing, although I don’t know this for sure. There is also a big sign, indicating “Wildlife Viewing”, but I looked around and I seemed to be the only wild thing here – in fact, I was stunned by the near silence – a windless day, mid afternoon, and probably the only person for a mile or two. I also noted a sign indicating where the Catamount Trail joined in from the south. This section of the Catamount trail, connecting Rikert with the northern section was the result of a blog posting a few years ago.

Steam Mill Clearing

At this point, I also noted that the thin cover of snow was getting deeper, making the running a little bit more challenging, and the ski tracks I saw were looking more and more enticing. At this point I realized that I may have forsaken my last chance to ski this season in order to do this run. Oh well- it was a good season! As the trail slowly climbed, I finally reached the height of land, which while only a few hundred feet higher than the trailhead, had about 6 inches of fresh snow! Tough running, but it would have been great skiing. As challenging as the running was for this short section of deeper snow, I didn’t feel sorry for myself, thinking of some friends who were competing in the Runamuck 50K on snowy and muddy trails, near Woodstock VT that same day.

A short descent, brought me to the end of the snowy part of the road, reaching the point where Steam Mill Road is plowed, near the upper reaches of the Gilmore Trail at Rikert.   I could tell I was near to “civilization” at this point, as evidenced by the most ubiquitous bit of litter – the inevitable Bud Light can, in this case half buried in the fresh snow at the side of the trail. Bud Light – the beer of champion litterbugs!

 

I’ll have a Bud Light

 

 

Heading back, I climbed back up to the high point, and in the course of the long, gradual descent back to my waiting car, I came across a skiing couple, with a few enthusiastic dogs. Stopping for a moment, one of the couple said “I thought that might be you”. I was puzzled, as I didn’t think I knew these people, but not wearing my glasses, I sometimes am a little weak on recognizing people. Embrarrassed, I asked her for her name, which she offered, and as I still had a look of confusion, she followed it up with the fact that she read my blog. That made my day – thanks!

All said, this is a nice stretch for running, especially midwinter when it is well packed, and ended up being a 7 mile run with a few hundred feet of climbing and descent. I think I am ready for the spring thaw, and some truly muddy trails!

Google Earth of the Run

Since this run was on a road, at least in the summer, I thought it would be useful to show where it is on Google Maps as well.

The Rikert Trail Name Game

Way back when, in the 80’s, when I began my career at the College and started skiing regularly at the College-owned Rikert Ski Touring center at Breadloaf, some “newer signs” were being mounted on the trees, indicating new trail names.  Apparently, until a few years previously, the trails had descriptive names, such as “Turkey Trot”, “Snow Snake” and “Figure 8”, and these, rather than their newfangled names were still commonly used, but the college trustees chose to rename these trails to honor famous Middlebury figures – some of which were truly connected to the Breadloaf campus, and some whose direct connection to the environs still seems a bit mysterious.  Nonetheless, most of the old names are now only vague memories of the old-timers, and the 30+ year old new names are used on the modern trail maps, as well as the signage out on the trails.  I thought it would be fun to ski all of the trails named after historical figures, and find out a little bit about each of them.

Battell

Leaving the open field, and entering the woods, the first trail most first-timers ski onto is the Battell Trail. It is only fitting that this well-loved trail is named after Joseph Battell, a scion of Middlebury who built the Breadloaf Campus as a mountain resort, and donated it to Middlebury College to create the Breadloaf Campus.  Full disclosure here – my endowed chair at the college is named after a few of his descendants, so I guess I too have benefited financially from his generosity!  I could write a whole post on Battell, but there are a lot more names coming.

Cook

After a short climb on the Battell Trail, I took the right turn onto the Cook Trail, a delightful little dipsy-doodle descent, complete with a mini-jump that has been part of the trail for as long as I have skied it. The Cook Trail is named after Reginald Cook, an English Professor at the college, and also director of the Breadloaf School of English, the summer Masters Degree program, in the mid-20th century.

Thomas

The next named trail, “Thomas” was one I had no idea on. Rebekah, a college archivist, did a little sleuthing for me, and suggested that the trail is named after John Thomas, the Middlebury College President from 1908-1921. He is also known for having founded the Breadloaf School in 1920, so it makes sense that he would be honored with a posthumous trail name!

After a short stretch rejoining the Battell trail, I finally got to a trail named after an actual skier! The Bower Trail, named after Middlebury Alum John Bower ’63, arguably the most famous Middlebury College Athlete. In addition to winning the NCAA Championship in cross-country skiing in 1961, he also was on the US Olympic Teams in 1964 (Innsbruck) and 1968 (Grenoble), and returned to coach the Middlebury Ski Team before leaving to direct the nordic program at the US ski team.

Freeman

My wandering path next brought me to the Freeman trail, named after Professor Stephen A Freeman, who passed away in 1999 at the age of 478 (OK maybe I stretched that a little, but he was over 100!).  Freeman is known for bringing the Middlebury language programs to international prominence, and establishing the schools abroad.  I don’t know of any special connection he may have had to the Breadloaf Campus, or the Rikert Ski area.  Does anyone else know?

Gilmore

I next did a short loop on the Gilmore trail, named for the adjacent Breadloaf Dormitory by the same name. I wasn’t able to connect this trail name to any Middlebury College name of prominence, but my college archivist connection Rebekah guesses that it was the name of a local landowner at some point. Looking on geneology confirmed that there were indeed Gilmores living in Ripton in the 19th century, but I couldn’t find much more, although I suspect that time spent looking over Ripton land records could confirm or deny this. I will also take a look around some of the local cemeteries this summer with my eyes open for the Gilmore name.   I did, however, find a blog post describing past alcohol-fueled literary debaucheries by some of the summer residents of Gilmore House!

Sheehan

 

The next named trail on my jaunt through the woods, is another one named after an actual skier, the Sheehan Trail, named after “Bobo” Sheehan, Middlebury Class of ’44, whose name is also attached to one of the chair lifts at the Snow Bowl. Sheehan, a born and bred Vermonter (from Newport), also the was the coach of the college ski team from 1947-1967, and was also the father to professional golfer Patty Sheehan. Although I suspect that he was more known for his prowess as an alpine skier, I think he deserves a nordic trail as well.

Frost

 

The next named trail, Frost, needs no introduction. He lived here, wrote here, and walked here. And yes, probably slept here as well.

Holland

Although I didn’t ski at all on the Holland Trail, I did pass by the sign for it. This was a tough one to figure out, but a friend who is a former Rikert Employee and Google Whiz (Thanks Nate!) came up with a likely candidate, Laurence Holland, a longtime Breadloaf professor and Chairman of the English Department at Johns Hopkins, who apparently met his demise while swimming unsuccessfully (That is a euphemism for “drowned”) in the Ripton Gorge in 1980.

Mandy

The next trail name as a little bit of a mystery as to its name, “Mandy”. I have heard two explanations as to its origin. The more reputable of the sources seems to think that the trail name is associated with a former Breadloaf employee whose last name was “Mann”, while another current employee thought she had heard it was named after someone’s dog. I am going to have to ask some old-timers about this one!

Craig’s Hill

After rejoining the Frost Trail, I took a sharp left turn, and came down from the upper reaches of the old racing trail, and descended the section known as “Craig’s Hill”. Chatting with a former Rikert employee, he seems to think that the Craig name was associated with a landowner in the area, past or present. Most people who ski at Rikert probably don’t give too much thought to land ownership, presuming that all the land is either Middlebury College property, or part of the national forest. Actually, the land is a patchwork of private, college and public property, and I know that expansion of the cross country skiing is limited by the needs of local property owners.

Upson

Still following the path of the old racing trail, I came to the Upson Trail, still commonly known by it’s old name “The Figure 8”. A few years ago, on this blog, I wrote a little bit about Mr. Upson, but self-plagiarizing:

W. H. Upson had been a prolific writer for the Saturday Evening Post, as well as other periodicals during the mid 20th century. Although he lived in quite a few parts of the country, including a stint at the Caterpillar Tractor Company in Illinois,when he eventually settled in the Middlebury area, he frequently attended the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, and taught creative writing on occasional at Middlebury College.

The house on RT 125 called “Earthworm Manor” is also his former home, and is still used as a Breadloaf School of English residence.

Tormondsen

The last descent down to the Breadloaf Barn, home of the Rikert Center, is down a trail now labelled as the Tormondsen Trail.  This trail, the current racing trail, is named after John Tormondsen ’82, a former All-American skier and generous donor to the college – and even younger than me!   I have presumed that he donated a lot of money to the college to support the Rikert area’s recent upgrades, as well as making the donations such that the common room of the building where I work, Bicentennial Hall, is also named after him.  Thanks!

On a more somber note, the trail maps for this final descent also still also bear the Cubeta name.  The now-deceased professor for whom this trail was named long ago, was a powerful English Literature professor, Provost of the College, and head of the Breadloaf School.  In the Middlebury College version of #metoo, about 30 years ago, enough men started talking to each other, and realized that they weren’t the only ones being sexually harassed by this professor.

Now, you might guess from the length of this posting, that this was an epic long ski tour.  Nothing could be further from the truth – I covered a lot of Middlebury College history in about 4 miles!

Google Earth of the ski tour

 

Sugar Hill Reservoir in Winter

Given the recent loss of snowpack, my plans to do some cross country skiing turned into a running day. I wanted to find a run where there was enough snow to feel wintry, but didn’t want to find myself scrambling, rather than running, on icy single track. So, I thought that the run up to the Sugar Hill Reservoir, using groomed snowmobile trails, would make for a fun run, especially since I would be wearing my slip-on Microspikes.  I had detailed this run many years ago, in my first year of blogging, albeit in the summer, so I thought it would be fun to rehash the run, with some winter photos.

Arriving in the parking lot, found at the end of the plowed portion of the Brooks Road (the road on your right, just past Breadloaf heading towards the Snow Bowl), I saw a few other cars parked there, showing that the warmer than usual weather had inspired others to get outside!  Parking my blue beetle, I started the run up Brooks Rd, where It had been recently groomed for snowmobile travelers by our friends at the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, aka VAST.  As an aside, VAST makes a detailed map of all the snowmobile trails in the state, which is an excellent source of trail running inspiration in the winter or summer.  I purchased a copy of this map at Rosie’s Restaurant in Middlebury, although I assume it is available in other places.  As I have noted in the past, the combination of groomed snowmobile trails and microspikes makes for excellent winter running.  I never felt like I was going to slip, ascending or descending, and the spikes didn’t seem to appreciably slow me down.  If was also fun seeing the mix of tracks – deer tracks, bird tracks, dog tracks, people tracks, and some skid marks that looked remarkably like sled tracks on the hard packed snow.

Tracks and Shadows

The run starts off easy enough, pretty flat for the first quarter mile, but the next mile after that is where the bulk of the climb takes place, ascending relentlessly up 400 vertical feet. I also have noted various side trails along the way, and once in a while make a mental note to explore them. A half mile up the hill, I noted an unmarked trail to the left, and decided to explore it during my descent. At about the 2.5 mile mark, the snowmobile trail makes a well marked right turn, with a short ascent, and a steep descent down to the Sugar Hill Reservoir – the body of water that is the highest altitude part of the water project funneling water down to the small hydroelectric plant on the shores of Lake Dunmore.  Reaching the shores of the reservoir at a little over 3 miles, I looked completely frozen over, and I briefly considered running on the ice, around the periphery, but common sense prevailed, and I realized that this little adventure needed to wait until I wasn’t running alone.  On a typical summer day, there are usually a few fishermen or kayakers playing in or by the water, made easily accessible via a dirt road from the Ripton-Goshen road, but today, I was the only person there enjoying the scenery.  The lake looked cold and windswept, but it was such a warm day, that just hanging out for a short while on the shores was rather pleasant.

Shoreline Spillway

This was a straightforward run, so my return simply involved retracing my steps, with the addition of a little bit of exploration on the side trail, near the bottom, on my right while descending. It looked like a well- beaten trail, so I figured it had to lead somewhere, right? Well, it went all of a tenth of a mile, ending at a small stream, leading me to the conclusion that this trail served the needs of fishermen, not runners and hikers. It was a pretty little place, however.

Babbling Brook

Returning to the Brooks Road, I completed the descent for a 6.5 mile run, with about 600 total feet of climb and descent – a very modest run for a laid back weekend day.

Google Earth of Sugar Hill Run

Altitude Rrofile

It’s like Riding a Bicycle

Long before I was an avid runner, my favorite endurance sport for many years was cross-country skiing. I picked up the sport as a grad student at Dartmouth in the early 1980’s and my first race was as the anchor leg (having only skied maybe 10 times in my life) on the DFL relay team at the old Hanover Relay race, that was won by a team anchored by ski legend Bill Koch.  Even though my cross-country ski racing abilities have waned over the last decade, I have always loved the sport, and looked forward to the opportunity to ski every winter, especially at the nearby Rikert Ski Touring area.  Nonetheless, the winter two years ago was so miserable, that I kept waiting for “the big storm” to hit, and it never did, so suddenly I realized that I had missed an entire season.  So, of course, I was even more ready and eager to ski last winter, and as my friends know, I injured my shoulder last December, which kept me away from the sport I loved for another year.  So, on Saturday, I pulled out my skate skis from the basement for the first time in close to 3 years, and headed up to the Rikert area to finally go for a ski.  I had never gone so long without skiing, and I wondered how easy it would be – in other words, I was going to test out if skiing, like bike riding, is something you never lose once you learn it.

After skiing the “Old Rikert” for many years, I still can’t get over the “New Rikert”, even though it has been upgraded for at least a half dozen years.  Of course, with better skiing, comes a higher price, but it is still a recreational bargain in my mind.  I was amused, however, to see that they now charge to get your “Pooch” a seasons pass!  Setting out for my first loops, through the open fields and into the old beginner area originally called “Turkey Trot”, but known to most as the Battell loops, I felt a little shaky at first, but soon got into an easy, albeit not entirely fluid rhythm.  I also wondered now my incompletely recovered shoulder would fare.  Fortunately, while it ached some, it didn’t seem to get worse or feel debilitating, especially since my ski racing aspirations are currently on hold.  This loop has one short, not particularly steep hill – a hill that I knew I used to be able to tuck down pretty easily, but the uneven early season conditions (although still pretty good!) combined with my concern over falling on my untested shoulder forced me to descend more conservatively, and with a little more wobble than I would have liked.

After some messing around in the beginner terrain, I headed up onto the hillier train in the rest of the area, I saw that one of my favorite outer loops, the Frost trail was open, so I headed up the hill, heading in that direction.  My curiosity was piqued by a series of small rectangular yellow squares on trees, with the words “Burgin Lodge” written on them.  I had no idea what they were referring to.

Mysterious Trail Markers

As I neared the higher elevations of this trail, I had the feeling that there might have been some re-routing of the trail, as the climb seemed a little longer, and with a few more twists and turns than I remembered.  I also noticed a large stone cairn, that hadn’t been there a few years ago, almost as if it was there to mark something.

Mysterious Snowy Cairn

At least some of my questions were answered shortly thereafter, as I came to a beautiful cabin in the woods, decorated with prayer flags, and identified as the Burgin Lodge! I noticed it, as I was skiing past, and trying to stop, I took my only fall of the day, and landed on my elbow, jarring my bad shoulder. I breathed a sigh of relief, when I realized that I hadn’t re-injured it – and this was comforting, in that it gave me the confidence to ski a little bit more aggressively. I did discover the one aspect of cross country skiing that I had seemed to have forgotten – how to get back on my feet! Glad that nobody was watching, I took a while to get upright again, with my humiliation only internal. Getting up, and dusting myself off, I tried to look inside, and found the windows covered and the doors locked, but I later learned that the lodge had been there for a little over a year, and was built in memory of a Middlebury alum who met an untimely death, and was a lover of the outdoors. So, his family had the lodge built in his memory, and is available for use by members of the college community.

Burgin Lodge

Just as I was getting ready to leave the Lodge, and begin the descent back to the touring center, I saw a relatively new sight on the trails – a fat tire cyclist! Although Rikert has been renting out fat tire bikes for a few years, I had never seen a rider this deep into the trail system. Although I noticed he had left some ruts which might catch a skier, I am more than happy to share the trails with enthusiasts using other means of propulsion. See? It is kind of like riding a bike.

Fat Tire (not Fat Tired) Cyclist

Continuing my ski, I did the immediate descent on the Frost Trail – the steepest sustained descent at Rikert, and a great chance to revisit my snowplowing, I returned to the touring center, for a 10Km “first ski” of the season. It may take a little while to get my rhythm back, but it sure felt good, especially as a light snow storm started, covering me with snow. Walking back to the car, I admired the icicles on the side of the building, and was reminded by the beauty of the place, although I would not stand underneath them! It’s good to be back.

Breadloaf Barn Icicles

Google Earth of the run

Altitude Profile

Getting Lost (sort of) on Snake Mountain

This  weekend provided some more unnaturally warm fall afternoons, and I was thinking about a good place to run.  While the leaves in the big mountains are falling quickly, there is still a lot of foliage left in the Champlain Valley, so the day called for a run up one of my favorites, Snake Mountain, the long ridge running north and south, just to the west of Middlebury.  A few years ago, a Middlebury student, “Greg K.”  who read of my interest in Snake Mt. from this blog, sent me a map including the major and minor trails on Snake.  This map, included below, can be enlarged by clicking on it in most browsers.  I was particularly interested in exploring a minor trail, which appeared to run along the south ridge of the mountain, and seemed to have at least one overlook.  All the better for a busy day, when the main summit could have hundreds of hikers over the course of the day.

Greg K’s Snake Mountain Map

Setting off from the popular West Side parking lot, I saw a young couple I could commiserate with – they had two young children, one in a backpack, and the other hiking, and both were crying. I joked with them how I used to bribe my daughters with Tootsie Pops at the summit, and they joked about their Gummi Bears, as I wished them good luck and started off the run. The first section of the run went through young hardwood forest with a lot of birches and their yellow leaves, with small amounts of sun filtering through the thinning canopy.

Birches in the Hardwood Forest

After about 10 minutes of gradual uphill running, I came to the first T in the trail, and took the obvious left turn for the steepest section of climbing until the trail bore right, arriving at the trail junction about halfway up the mountain. At this point, most of the hikers go left, following the old summit carriage road. Going straight would have brought me down to the lesser used parking lot on the east side of the mountain. The trail I was looking for, the weakest of the three was the right turn which I knew would bring me to the overlook on the southeastern flanks of the mountain.  I was a little bit wary about taking a less frequently used trail during the fall, when the trail would be covered with leaves.  I knew from experience, back in the days when I was working on my Adirondack 46’ers credentials (#5439!) that fainter herd paths, easy to follow during the summer months, are often obscured and more challenging after the leave fall.  The first short section was easy to follow however, as it was wide, and got enough traffic to keep the path partially cleared.   After about .3 miles, I got to the lookout, and had to to myself.  Here, a very curious thing happened – I stopped to take this picture for the blog:

Views from Snake Mountain, Southern Overlook

 

and as I was taking the picture, I felt what I assumed was a bug on my leg. I didn’t worry too much about it, assuming that I had just attracted a random cluster fly, and knew that there weren’t too many nasty biting insects out and about at this time of the year. As I was focusing the camera, I felt another little tickle, and then another…and starting to get concerned I snapped the picture and looked down – to see my shirt and legs crawling with ladybugs! I casually brushed them off, and as I did, more and more of them seemed to find me attractive – at one point I probably had 20 or 30 of them alighting on me! I have no idea what they found so attractive, and they weren’t bothersome, so I took a picture of a few of my visitors on my shin and decided to let them have their view to themselves!

Ladybugs on my Shin

Heading south beyond this viewpoint, the trail got fainter and more difficult to follow, as I suspected it would. I was not worried about finding my way back should the trail start to get erased by the leaves, as the topography of the mountain is pretty simple, and running along the southwest ridge, there were short intermittent views through the thin forest cover. But, to be honest, I have gotten myself in a little bit of trouble in the past in the mountains due to a simple fact – I don’t really like simply retracing my steps if there is another possible way back. Sometimes that other way back isn’t as easy to find as one might guess….

Thin Forest Cover on the South Rim.

Sure enough after a little more than a mile on this ridge trail, which only showed occasional signs of recent use, like the easy to read indentation on logs across the trail where mountain bikers’ chain rings have dug in, the now very faint trail turned left, away from the edge of the mountain, and headed inward. After a short distance, the inevitable happened….the trail disappeared! I could have retraced my steps, but instead started bushwhacking towards some clearings I saw in the distance…and sure enough, here was a trail….but wait, it started turning around in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go. Puzzled for a moment, I decided to bushwhack my way back north again, and in a few minutes, I found another faint trail, and briefly thought that I had found my original trail, and would soon be back along the west rim of the mountain – after all, trails always look different when you are running the other way, right? I knew I was heading north, or at least was pretty sure of this, but as I found myself getting deeper and deeper into the mountain top ridge, I realized I had an entirely different trail, which sure enough, after about a third of a mile, also disappeared. At this point, I could see that the ridge that I had initially followed was a few hundred yards off to my west, and much higher than I was, so I continued to bushwhack north, or what I thought was north and was beginning to wonder if anyone had ever been there before, when I saw an old steel cable laying on the forest floor, still, with no obvious trail in sight!

Old Steel Cable

Finally, surveying the woods around me, I spied something that looked like some switchbacks heading up the ridge to my left, which I followed – and this was clearly another little used trail, which brought me back to the original trail, a short distance from the viewpoint. Whew! Once again, one of my shortcuts ended up taking about 5 times as long as the original route. Some of my hiking friends will certainly appreciate that observation, as this was far from the first time that one of my shortcuts hasn’t worked out that well. Back at the original viewpoint, there was a young couple there – swatting away at the persistent ladybugs. After a few short comments, I headed on, until I finally got back to the main summit trail. A short way further, I passed the young family from the parking lot, presumably munching on Gummi Bears, until I got to the summit. As expected, the summit was very busy, and I heard some people talking about the concrete slab, and saying how it was the result of an old hotel. I resisted the temptation to correct them – I have been trying to find out about this slab, and it seems that the only printed source mentioning it – the 5th edition of “50 Hikes in Vermont” said it was the aborted home building project of a young man who died in a car crash in Europe at some point in the 20th Century, which matches the story I heard from a few other old-timers. One version of the story says that he was a race car driver, who died in a race in Europe. I knew, however, that the old summit hotel was actually back in the woods – a modest stone foundation all that remains. One of my old-timer friends told me that the hotel, while in ruins, was still standing in the early 1960’s until it’s wood was burned during the winters by snowmobilers seeking fuel for their bonfires.

Summit Hotel Foundation

At this point, I had covered more terrain on Snake Mountain than I had ever incorporated in one run or hike, so instead of descending the main trail, I took the right turn to the other viewpoint near the summit. This set of cliffs is less well known, as it is closed for much of the summer to allow nesting peregrine falcons to have their privacy. Right behind the overlook, there is a small, mucky pond full of cattails, called “Red Rock Pond” on some maps. Another piece of old-timer trivia – this pond was once the swimming hole for the guests at the summit hotel. If you look carefully, you can see that it has a man-made berm around it, now breached, which once held a far more appealing body of deeper water.

The descent from here is much steeper than the main trail, making it less appealing for running, although you can tell that it is really a trail, as opposed to the carriage road origins of the main trail. Finally, it rejoined the main trail, and I descended further until I got to the final right turn, which I decided not to take, instead opting to go straight, along what I suspect was the original course of the summit carriage road, following it first through a short stretch of forest, then wild meadows, and finally farmers fields before joining Mountain Rd. Extension, with its very limited parking, and ran the last mile or so on roads, enjoying the views of the hay rolls, with the Adirondacks in the distance.

Country Roads

This ended up as a nice 8 mile run, with some delays due to poor routefinding and bushwhacking! I will revisit some of this next summer, after the leaves are pushed off through use. I guess this is my way of warning you from following some of the GPS track for this one – I am sure I could not!

Google Earth Projection of trails on Snake Mountain

Altitude Profile