The Sugar Hill Reservoir, a man-made lake held in place by a large, earthen flood control dam, has been one of my favorite destinations since I began this blog 11 years ago. In fact, one of my earliest postings from 2009 had this lovely highcountry lake as its centerpiece, as well as numerous other postings over the years. There are two primary ways to get to this lake – the easy way, and the hard way. The hard way, of course, with about 500 ft of climbing, is the path of the trailrunner. The easy way is simply to drive there; access can be achieved by driving towards Goshen on the Ripton-Goshen Rd, and taking the left turn up a well-maintained forest service road heading to the left. This easy access has made the lake popular with fishermen and kayakers, as well as the hikers and runners who usually come at it from other directions.
I first learned that something was up at this reservoir earlier this summer. I was driving home from another nearby run by Silver Lake, and noticed that a good chunk of the Ripton-Goshen Road was being torn up, and it looked like they were putting in buried cable at the edge of the road. Asking around, a “reputable source” (OK – one of the old guys I run with, who joined me on this run) told me that they were bringing electricity to the Goshen Dam holding back Silver Lake, so that in times of flood, the sluice gates could be opened and shut remotely. I am sure this brings comfort to the people who live downstream! A little later in the summer, while helping out at one of the feed stations for the Moosalamoo Ultra, I noticed that cars with roof kayaks were driving past us on their way to the reservoir, only to see them departing past us again on the way out a few minutes later. At this point, I learned that much of the water had been drained while they repairs. I am were performing some dam repairs, also glad I couldn’t see the disappointment on the no doubt surprised kayakers as they drove away. The same semi-reputable source told me later in the day that the water level had been dropped 17 feet!
Of course, my curiosity got the best of me, and I wanted to see what the place looked like missing most of its water. I know I could have driven to it, but that seemed like cheating! Also, my recovery from past medical challenges had proceeded to the point where the run up to the reservoir, or at least a run/walk, seemed like a reasonable goal. Sending out feelers to running friends, the only takers I found were two of my best running partners. What makes them among my best? They are among the few people I can find to run with who are my age or older! So, on a crisp fall day, we met up at the Brooks Road parking lot (Brooks Rd is the dirt road on your right, about a half mile past Breadloaf, and the parking lot is about a quarter mile in) for a run up to the reservoir. In addition to the opportunity to spend some time with old friends on a beautiful run, we also wondered if we might be able to walk out to the island in the middle of the lake, with the water so low.
Most of this run is on Brooks Road – it is a modestly maintained Forest Service road which slow moving non-4WD cars seem to do fine on, but car traffic is so rare that it might as well be a trail run. Starting up the long climb, one of my friends reminded me that the way to do this was “start slow, then taper” and we followed his sage advice. This also gave us a great opportunity to actually talk, rather than gasping for breath. And we did talk…..while conversation inevitably finds its way to 30-year old PR’s (runners’ slang for “I used to be fast”) most of our conversation revolved around recent running and outdoor adventures, and that is a good thing. After all, with two 60-somethings and one 70-something, there is still a lot of adventure to be had, and shared. Yeah – we had some good tales to tell.
After about 2.4 miles, and 500 ft of climbing, we reached the point where the snowmobile trail heading on a short rise to the right, followed by a half mile downhill, brought us to the shores of the reservoir.
To be honest, the lake didn’t look half bad! It was plain to see that it would be disappointing to a paddler hoping to explore a larger lake, but it was still an attractive place. We continued around the shore on the far side, walking rather than running, given the sketchy footing – after all this part used to be under water! We eventually realized that our goal of walking to the island, while keeping our feet relatively dry, was not going to be achieved, at least from this side. A rather broad stream, probably a feeder to the lake, was cutting off our path, and since none of us came prepared for swimming, or at least slogging, we decided to forgo the “island expedition”.
We also took a quick look at the new modernized “remote control” sluice gate. We were underwhelmed – there seems to have been a ton of work going on for many months, and this was the only element of the dam that seemed changed!
We made note of the fact that the little piece of tree-covered land formerly known as “the island” might be more accessible from the other side of the lake, and commented that it might be fun to come back at some point before winter to test that premise. From this point, we retraced our steps, starting off with the short, steep climb away from the lake, and the long easy descent back to our cars, the conversation made all the easier by going downhill (that is, the terrain went downhill, not the conversation). We ended up spending a little over 7 miles on our feet, mostly running, but with a little walking. This constituted my longest run in over a year, so it felt really good!