Tag Archives: headlamp

Trailrunners After Dark

Let’s face it – the days ARE getting shorter, so sometimes, it is tough to find the time to go for a run during the daytime.  The easy solution to this, of course, is the purchase of a headlamp and reflective clothing, and warm clothes.  I have also blogged from time to time about the pleasures of running on packed snowmobile trails while wearing my “microspikes”, the easy slip-on shoe device which gives just the right amount of grip for packed trails.  With both of these winter running tricks in mind, I had the inspiration to combine them both, on my beloved cross country ski trails at the Rikert Ski Touring area in Ripton.  I have been reticent about after dark running on roads, since my nasty fall on a patch of ice two years ago, but I realized that packed ski trails, especially with the tail end of the early season snows still on the trails, would make for a safe, fun run, and a new experience.  The one thing that would not be safe, however, is running in the woods alone at night, so I posted my hairbrained idea for some of my running friends on the Middlebury Running Group facebook page, and not surprisingly, some of them actually agreed with my suggestion!

So, we met up in the parking lot at Rikert at 5:30 on a mid-week evening, and other than a few lights on in and around the Touring Center lobby and a few spotlights from the barn, the parking lot was dark, as a group of us gathered to begin the run.  It was a little on the chilly side, in the low 20’s, but we knew that once we got running, we would warm up nicely.  So, we slipped on our microspikes, turned on our headlamps, and headed across the field to the Battell trail entrance.  I am including a trail map, so that those who are not as familiar with the area can see where we went!  The footing, as expected, was just fine, given our preparations, although I would recommend a slower than normal running pace, as even with the headlamps, we had to be careful about where we stepped – if for no other reason than that the wonderful early season snows hit before the small streams and wet spots crossing the trail had not yet frozen up.   The woods were beautiful under the faint glow of our headlamps, and were far more silent than they are during the day, when the scurry of small animals and birds makes for a little background ambience.  A picture almost caught the mood.

View from the trail



And of course, there is not much to see in this photo – it was dark! Continuing around the Battell loop ( a little over a mile long) we looped back to the field, and then took the right turn up the Tormondsen Racing Trail, covered by snowmaking, made for even better footing. The Rikert area does not have much in the way of altitude between the base and the hills, but they do an excellent job of snaking the compact trail system up and down the side of these hills, keeping the skiing appropriately challenging. So, looking to get a little more climbing in, I led the group up past the Myhre Cabin, which I recently learned is still privately owned, up towards the Frost Trail. Despite the fact that the Frost Trail is higher on the hillside, it needed more snow and/or more cold to cover the streams, so we had to be even more careful about our footing, until we arrived at the high point of the run, the Burgin Lodge, which was built to give members of the Middlebury College community a quiet place in the woods to spend the night – with access by reservation only.   There was nobody there, so the stone cairns, and then the cabin itself loomed spookily in the VERY dim light of our headlamps.

The Spooky Cairn

Yeah, I know, the picture is a little bit on the dark side – it was night, what did you expect? Stopping for a moment to enjoy the high point of our run, we began our descent, which had a few icy places, requiring careful footing, eventually joining the Figure 8, before our final descent on another section of a segment of trail, well-covered by the snowmaking system. In the past, I have bemoaned the name of this last section of trail – it had been named after the former English Professor and head of the Breadloaf School of English, who was the cause of Middlebury College’s big #MeToo situation in the late 1980s. I was glad to learn that our Trustees had renamed it the White Trail, naming after a local female literary character (of whom I know nothing – I will have to find out). Crossing Forest Service 59, we had one last short climb up towards the parking lot. It wasn’t bad for a leisurely run, but I know from experience that it can be an agonizing approach to the finish line during nordic races.

To the Finish Line in the dark

This ended up being about a 4.5 mile run, and due to the good graces of Google Earth, which had the foresight to do their aerial photography during the daytime, I do have a GPS trace of the run. I think we will be doing this again sometime this winter!

Google Earth NOT in the dark

Altitude Profile

The TAM in the dark.

One of the challenges of running deep into the autumn is the dreaded clock resetting, away from daylight savings time, and back to “normal” time.  The days are short enough to begin with this time of the year, and the loss of an additional hour of daylight at the end of the work day can complicate scheduling runs into my busy day.  There is one solution to this problem however – the headlamp!  Now, I have rarely run with a headlamp in the past, but when my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday a month or so ago, I responded that I wanted a headlamp so that I could continue to run after work, at least as long as the weather allowed.   I, of course, had never shopped for a headlamp before, and the previous headlamp I owned was “pre-LED”, was dependent on heavy D cell batteries to run, and provided the light of a decent flashlight.  This was fine for it’s purpose at the time – those hiking days which required a start before the sun rises, but was a lot of weight to be carried on a strap around my head while running.   Now, I can see what my parents were thinking – “Our trailrunning son runs a lot, so he needs the brightest, safest light out there!”  So, I was a little bit chagrined to see the superdeluxe ultra high power headlamp my parents had purchased for me.  Let me tell you – this lamp could work for spelunking.  Nevertheless, I put it on, and it really wasn’t that heavy.  The first time I ran after dark with some friends in the Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts, I received a modest ration of grief for my rather elaborate headgear – but – when it got dark outside they were more than happy to run in my headlight!  This thing is really bright – at the end of one evening run, I pointed it at the Middlebury Falls from the Marble works – it lit up the falls from quite a distance! Curiously, when I ran alongside the road wearing it, I would have cars flick their brights at me if I allowed my headlamp to stray into the eyes of oncoming drivers.  So yes, this lamp is a keeper!

The recent spate of unseasonably warm weather, combined with a full moon, inspired me to go out and several nights in the last two weeks, so I thought I would describe an old favorite run on the TAM from a very different perspective.  So, one evening after work I set out onto the Red Kelly Trail segment of the TAM, heading out the back door of the College Fitness Center to start this run circling the golf course.  One of the first things I noticed was that I barely needed my ultraluminous headlamp at all out in the fields, but as the trail entered the woods, it provided extra security, helping me avoid roots and slippery rocks.  Some people are scared of the dark, and while I don’t have any issues in that regard, this was kind of like leaving the TV on, or the door to the bathroom open, letting in just enough light for security.

As I progressed around the golf course, I wondered what sort of wildlife I might awaken – perhaps there were bears out and about?  A random skunk sauntering in the trail?  As it turns out the only animals I saw were numerous rabbits out for their evening nibbles, and I only saw them as their little white butts scampered away as I upset their dining.  Approaching Rt 30 out in the open, many of the older trees took on far creepier shapes than they usually appear to have during the daylight, and I was kind of surprised to see that my point and shoot camera was actually able to catch their mood in the light of the full moon.

Spooky Tree on the Golf Course

Spooky Tree on the Golf Course

Continuing across Rt 30, I joined the segment of the trail where my headlamp was most needed – the narrow, twisting second of the Class of 97 trail which connects the road crossing with the open fields to the west of the college. This was somewhat slow going, as even with the headlamp, the trail was difficult to follow due to the fact that it was covered in fallen leaves. Just as I was wondering if anyone else in their right mind would be running here in the darkness, I saw the headlamp of another lone running heading towards me. After our extended greetings, we passed each other by and continued in our respective loops – mine, clockwise, hers, apparently counterclockwise.  Once I reached the open fields, I actually no longer needed my headlamp at all, except for one short jog through a thin strip of forest land – the moon was that bright – bright enough to leave moon shadows behind every tree.  Crossing Rt 125, I reached the top of the modest glacial drumlin which makes up the college organic garden.   From this vantage I had a great view of my workplace, Bicentennial Hall, and its glowing windows against the night sky.


Bicentennial Hall

At this point, I left the TAM, and took the footpath back to campus, crossing over Rt 125 by the “Mods”, the small cluster of homes which were set up at the outskirts of campus for temporary housing 15 years ago, and up the service road which connects them with the rest of campus. Of course, given that it was only a few days after Halloween, I had to complete the course with a shortcut through the graveyard, and since this run was not a filming for a horror movie, I reckoned I was safe enough. The monuments do make for an eerie sight in the low light – I almost felt like I was running through some sort of ancient ruin.

graveyard obelisk

graveyard obelisk

Since this run precisely follows a route I have previously blogged, I am going to link to the Google Earth image, which currently resides elsewhere in this blog.  Overall, this is about a 5 mile run, with numerous ups and downs, but no serious climbs or descents, and yes, it is fun to run in the daytime as well.