Tag Archives: Camp Keewaydin

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

A Circuituous Solistice Sauntering

On Saturday, the longest day of the year, I set out to explore a “loose end” which I discovered about a year ago.  Last spring, right around Easter Sunday , I set out to explore Forest Service Rt. 92, and after a lengthy climb, found myself in too much snow to continue further, and vowed (to myself) to return.  During this previous run, I achieved the ridge line of the north shoulder of Mt Moosalamoo, and noted that the trail followed the ridge line to the south, towards the Moosalamoo summit.  At the time, I had concluded (incorrectly as we will see!) that this trail found its way to the actual summit, and I planned this new run around this assumption.  So, I set out for what I assumed would be an hour to hour and a half-long run, and made the mistake of not bringing any water, despite the fact that I was heading into an area where the key connection was not on any map, and, in retrospect, suspect.  You can’t die of thirst in the mountains of Vermont, right?

So, I drove to the trailhead for Forest Servine Road 92, found on the Ripton-Goshen Road about a mile in from Rt 125 just past Ripton on the way to the top of Middlebury Gap.  Look for a National Forest Service sign on your right, and if you pass Camp Silver Towers, you have gone too far.  I found a good place to park about a third of a mile up this narrow but passable dirt road.  At the start of the run, I followed my previous run, relentlessly, but runably uphill.  A few options occur for runners, and at the first trail split, I headed left, opting for what is labeled as 92 over 92A by the signs (although not by the Moosalamoo region map, which labels them oppositely!), and at the next trail split, I bore right, on the more uphill course, rather than taking the left on the more traveled pathway leading to the Wilkinson Trail network, which will be the object of a future posting.  Once again, I reached the first height of land, after about 2 miles and 700 ft of climbing, and this time, bore left (south) on this continuing double track abandoned road.  The climb to this point was pretty straightforward, other than the nasty stinging nettles which popped up from time to time, and seem all too common on the trails in the Moosalamoo Wilderness.  About half way up, I also crossed the Oak Ridge Trail, which I suspected would be part of my planned descent, once I made my connection to it near the summit.

At this point, the run got a little more……interesting.  As expected, the now totally unmarked trail veered south, taking a diagonal along the west face of Moosalamoo, and after what did not seem like that long a distance, and was probably not much more than a mile, headed to the left downhill.  At this point, I assumed that I had not yet come close to the summit of Moosalamoo, and the abandoned logging road was descending back down the east face of Moosalamoo towards the Oak Ridge Trail, or the Wilkinson Trail, very close to my parked car.  The first choice on the descent occured when my trail came to a T, and I chose the left branch, once again assuming that I was making a tight circle back in the direction of my car- note – all the high altitude turns have been left turns – this is supposed to make an easy circle, right?  Shortly after this left turn I came to another fork, the left one uphill, the right one downhill.  After briefly exploring the uphill fork, I did the obvious, and continued down.  I noticed shortly that the trail started to take on a more maintained look – trees across the trail had been cut back, and the waterbars arising from trail maintenance were observed.  Had I somehow found my way onto the Oak Ridge Trail for the fast return?  My hopes were dashed when I read the following sign alongside the trail:

Keewaydin Sign


Upon seeing this sign, I realized that all of my assumptions as to where the heck I was, were wrong! DAGNABBIT! The fact that I was in the Keewaydin network meant that I had found myself on the opposite side of the mountain from my car, on the west side over looking Lake Dunmore!  To complicate matters, I was not particularly knowledgeable of the Camp Keewaydin trail network, as it is separate from the Forest Service trails, privately maintained, and not shown on any publicly available trail maps.  Now, I knew I had two options – I could look for descending trails, find my way to the shores of Lake Dunmore, admit defeat, and find a telephone to call for a ride home (cell phones don’t work there, and I hadn’t brought mine anyways!), or find trail connections which would bring me to the summit, at which point I knew of several longer descents which would bring me home.  At first, I considered the short easy option- the descent into Camp Keewaydin on the shores of Lake Dunmore.  But, did I really want to emerge from the woods, covered in mud, and stumble into a kids’ campfire looking like Yeti?  Worse still, what if I stumbled into the archery range to meet up with the 10 year old sons of the most powerful and wealthy men and women in the country, when they were armed with bows, and aching to prove their manhood?  Nope – back up the mountain it was!  Of course, the question was how, other than just “go up”?  The trail names I came across, as part of the private system were unfamiliar to me – the Cub Trail?  the Cliff Trail?  Finally, I came to a trail name which I recognized – “The Keewaydin Trail”.  I knew this trail would bring me close to the summit of Moosalamoo, and offered a descent back to the east side of the mountain, admittedly at some distance from my car.  So – back up the mountain I went!  I eventually found myself at the trail’s end, about a half mile from the summit, and chose to find my way to the top, since I figured by this time that I had earned it.

The only structure at the summit was one that had never caught my attention in the past – there is white “pod” which looks about the size of a comfortable porta-potty here, and in the past, I had assumed that this is exactly what it was.  However, on this run, I decided to check it out, since it was connected to solar power panel.  Wow – some kind of deluxe backcountry outhouse?  Checking it out further, I noted that it had a locked door, which pretty much meant that it was either the most prestigious summit portapotty in the country, or perhaps it served some other purpose – anybody know purpose this structure serves?

Not a Portapotty

Not a Portapotty

I was, however, rewarded for my efforts with a stunning late afternoon view of the main ridge of the Green Mountains to the east. I would bet that the long flat summit to the left of this shot is of Breadloaf Mountain.

Moosalamoo Summit View

Moosalamoo Summit View

Retracing my steps back to the continuance of the Keewaydin Trail, which I knew would get me home, a minute or two off the summit I came across a young, fit, spirited, but obviously confused family who asked “Are we almost to Silver Lake”?  I pointed out to them, that they had climbed far beyond the Silver Lake trailhead, and were in the process of turning a 2.5 mile hike into an 8 miler, if they were coming up from Branbury State park, which of course, they were. I made sure that they knew their way back down, let them know that they could find their way home by retracing their hike, and assumed that they would be fine, although very tired upon their return. The descent on the Keewaydin trai was very slow, as I knew it would be based on my past experiences. This is not my favorite running trail, but it is usually easy to follow, and I knew it would get me home. This trail ended when it met the gravel road leading to the Voter Brook Overlook, and when I reached this, I took a left turn for the short descent, and longer climb up to the Ripton-Goshen Trail. By this point, I was getting very thirsty, having neglected to bring any water under the assumption that I was doing a much shorter run, and by this point, I had been out for the better part of two hours – fortunately it was a cool, comfortably evening!  I took a left on the main road, and had a pretty easy final few miles of higher tempo running on the dirt road, only interrupted by a great view back towards the Moosalamoo summit.  While I was wary of bears on this run, given the increasing frequency of bear encounters in this area, I could see that some hunters had been clearly frustrated by their inability to find any of these critters – the bear depicted on the sign at this clearing had clearly born the brunt of the shotgun blasts of a few rather frustrated woodsmen!

View of Moosalamoo from the Ripton-Goshen road

View of Moosalamoo from the Ripton-Goshen road

Returning to my car, this ended up being a 10.5 mile run. Normally, this would not be a big deal, if it was not for the fact that this run included over 2200 vertical feet of climb and descent, much of it on rough, slow trails, so this entire run required almost 2 and a half hours! Also, this would be a difficult run to describe in full detail for duplicating until I become more familiar with the trail network on the west side of Moosalamoo. I have got to lay my hands on a map depicting the Camp Keewaydin trails!

A note of explanation on the Google Earth projection of this run – I have turned it 90 degrees, so that top of the page is west, rather than north, to better depict the run.  I began the run in the lower right hand corner, and ran this loop in a counterclockwise fashion.

google earth of the run

google earth of the run

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile