Tag Archives: Sucker Brook Reservoir

Trailrunning in the Covid Era

Gotta be careful!

We have been quite fortunate (as well as careful) in Vermont, doing our best to keep ourselves and each other healthy. Fortunately, we have the ability to stay appropriately distanced from each other to minimize spread by doing what we do best – enjoying the outdoors. I, and most of the other hikers, mountain bikers, and runners that I have met on the trails have been either wearing a face mask, or at least (as I do) wear it around their necks, for easy wearing should another outdoor enthusiast approach. By doing this, we show our respect for each others’ wish to remain healthy.

It has been interesting to see how the Moosalamoo region’s most popular trail running events, all of them headquartered at the Blueberry Hill Inn and Ski Touring Center have dealt with it. The early summer Infinitus family of races, which are best described as “see how far you can run in up to 8 days” didn’t happen. It was just too soon, and organizers were probably unsure as to how to run it safely. The challenging, but accessible to mere mortals “Goshen Gallop” did come to be, run over the course of an entire day with runners going out in much smaller waves, rather than a mass start. While this is usually one of my “must do” events, medical recovery kept me out of it this year, but I heard from friends that it was fun, well-run, and safe. The Moosalamoo Ultra (36 miles, and I staggered through it once, eight years ago) and mini-Moose (14 miles) were held. The race director, John Izzo, aka the “Head Moose” cut down the size of the field, and did took care with countless other details, to ensure the safety of competitors and volunteers helping staff the race. I assisted with one of the feed stations, wearing my mask of course, and I was impressed that almost all the competitors pulled their masks up to their faces as they entered the station. And of course, a race as challenging as this ultra spread the runners out quite safely over the course of a very long day!

As I mentioned, my body was not up to any of these events this year, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t enjoy a run in this beautiful region. Silver Lake, a popular local destination, is most commonly reached through a 1.5 mile climb up an old dirt road, from the Silver Lake trailhead just up the road from Branbury State Park. Not as many people know that it can be reached, somewhat more easily, from the trailhead at the end of an otherwise obscure dirt road up in Goshen. It has not escaped my attention, however, that this summer, trailheads and parking lots with access to outdoor activities have seen heavier use than I have ever seen before. This “less known” parking lot has, in the past, only had a few cars in it, but on several weekend occasions, It has been full, with cars parked up to a quarter mile up the dirt road! For readers who don’t know how to access this trailhead from Middlebury: Drive up Rt 125, and about a mile or so past Ripton, take a right turn on the forest service road heading towards Goshen. At about a mile past the Blueberry Hill Inn, you will come to a crossroads, where you take the right turn on the (surprise!) Silver Lake Road, and when you come to a fork in the road, take the right fork, following continuing signage to Silver Lake.

I started my run on the continuation of this forest service road, on just the other side of the gate blocking vehicular traffic. For those who don’t know the area, this is the same road that most hikers take up from the Branbury side. This road makes for an excellent ascent from the Branbury trailhead, and a run including this was actually part of the very first post I made on this blog, many years ago! Alas, my current conditioning is not up to a run quite as rigorous, and I began my run with an easy descent towards the lake. While remaining on this road is the shortest and easiest access to Silver Lake, when I came to a T in the trail, I took a right turn, rather than following the signage leading to the lake. And I wonder why friends accuse me of getting them lost?

Go right, not left

A very short way down this steep descent, which also doubles as a VAST snowmobile trail in the winter, brought me to another fork in the road. Once again, I took the counterintuitive direction – the arrow pointed right, so I went left.

Go Left, not right!

Another short distance brought me (as expected, I might add) to the earthen dam for the rarely visited Sucker Brook Reservoir. The Sucker Brook Reservoir is the second of four bodies of water, including (in descending altitude order Sugar Hill Reservoir, Sucker Brook Reservoir, Silver Lake, and Lake Dunmore, all part of an over 100-year old hydroelectric power project which is still used to create power at a power plant near to Lake Dunmore’s shores. This particular reservoir, however, tends to be very low on water by late summer, and in fact looked more like a fen than a pond or lake. As a result, it doesn’t appear to gather much recreational interest, except from curious trail runners!

Sucker Brook Puddle

From here, I followed the obvious trail winding its way down the back of the dam, and followed the obvious open path, much of which is on a sidehill, making for challenging footing for the next half mile or so. In later summer, an obvious path through here is beaten down by the runners in the Moosalamoo Ultra, which passes this way, but it can feel a bit bushwhacky prior to this event. Eventually the wide open trail widens, and flattens, making for a nice mile or so in the forest, before rejoining the dirt road descending from the parking lot.

Running through the forest alongside the penstock

Upon reaching the road, I went right for a few hundred yards, bringing me to the dam supporting Silver Lake, and following the left turn along the shore, I stopped for a photo at the picnic area alongside the lake. Typically on pleasant midsummer days, this picnic area has been claimed by groups and families hiking up here for a day of fun, but by this point in August, the “crowds” have thinned out, making for even easier social distancing!

Silver Lake Picnic Area

Again, has been the norm, as I passed other on the trail, either I or the other party would step off the trail, and everyone would put the other masks on, until we had passed each other. And yes, we made the point to exchange niceties! From the little beach area, I followed the well marked side path which brought me to the Leicester Hollow trail, and took a right. This trail, the remains of an old carriage road, was the means by which guests accessed the old Silver Lake Hotel, which burned down in the early 20th century. I went right on this for roughly a third of a mile, before I got to an obvious trail heading left, returning to the Goshen parking lot. Of course, the early part of the run had some easy descents, and alas, this is where I had to pay back the altitude with some climbing. In the past, running up this, albeit slowly, was feasible, but I was happy to do it as a mixed run/walk until I returned to my car. This run ended up being a little over 3 and a half miles, with a few hundred feet of climbing, on a mix of forest service roads, double track, single track, and a few legitimately rough sections. In other words it was fun!

google earth of the run
Altitude Profile

Up the North Branch Trail

Two summers ago, I had the pleasure of competing in the inaugural version of The Moosalamoo Ultra, and while I will not be running the full 36 mile version of it this year, I thought I would piece together a significantly shorter run which included at least a few segments from this far more grueling course. I also wanted to piece together bits of trails in such a way that I had never run that particular combination before, so I chose a route starting from the Falls of Lana trailhead, just south of Branbury State Park, ascending to the Goshen-Ripton Road on the North Branch Trail and the Voter Brook Overlook road, and descending on a mix of snowmobile trails and unmarked trails.  It has not gone unnoticed by myself and others, that the frequency of bear sightings in the Moosalamoo area has been on the rise.  Bear sightings on the trail are a true treat, as long as the bear chooses the appropriate response – that of running away.  So, I have decided that the key to a good bear sighting is to run quietly, and wear garish clothing to scare the bear away once contact is made.  With this in mind, I purchased a brand new Ben and Jerry’s tie dye t-shirt – do you think this will scare away a startled bear?  And yes, I looked into this idea, and bears are not colorblind,  although I would not have wanted to be the person holding picture books with hidden numbers in front of hungry bears….

bear-proof shirt


I set up the now routine climb on the Silver Lake service road, but instead of taking the heavily traveled sharp right hairpin turn at the half mile point, I went straight as if I was planning on ascending to the Rattlesnake Cliffs. After a few hundred yards on this trail, I came to the open meadow where the North Branch Trail bears (pun intended) right. This small sunny oasis in what is mostly a pretty heavily forested section was full of mid-summer wildflowers. I was particularly fond of the small, daisy-like flowers which flanked the path on shoulder-height stalks.  Does anyone know what this wildflower is called?

not quite daisies

Not Quite Daisies

At this point, my run joined a section of the route from the Moosalamoo Ultra. This trail junction is where the first feed station, reached after the early-race ascent and descent of Mt. Moosalamoo, around mile 8, and is the lowest altitude point of the race. From here, over the next two miles or so, there is a steady climb along the banks of the North Branch of the Sucker Brook, a rather attractive little stream. Most of this single-track trail has good footing, although there are a few sections with wet rocks necessitating some care in one’s footing, and a few short steep scrambly sections.

babbling brook

Babbling Brook

This trail passes by a few opportunities to get onto easier terrain, as it more or less parallels the rough road connecting the Goshen-Ripton Road to the Voter Brook Overlook. As the weather went from dreary to drizzly to pouring rain, I chose to remain in the relative shelter of the forest rather than the easier travel of the road. This section of the North Branch trail eventually does cross the dirt road, and continue through the woods until it reaches the Moosalamoo Campground, where one must finally continue to climb on the road to get to the Goshen Ripton Road.  At this point, the Ultra crosses the road, for a long series of loops up and around the Sugar Hill Reservoir, but on my much shorter run I turned right on the road, and continued for a little over a mile until I came to a well marked snowmobile trail veering to the right.  At this point, I rejoined the Ultra route, and this road crossing is the site of another feed station, at around the 21 mile point.  The next two miles are pure running pleasure – gradually downhill, double track running, with only a few muddy patches.  In fact, when I ran this section of the Ultra two summers ago, this stretch got me in trouble – I felt so good that I neglected to take in fluids, and paid dearly for my dehydration a few miles later!  No such problem on this run today however, and the falling rain kept me quite cool.  There are a few trail junctions where one should follow the signs for the snowmobile trail system, although some of the other trails crisscrossing my course look like they are worthy of exploration someday.  After about two miles on the snowmobile trail, and a short, steep climb, the trail came to the service road connecting the small Sucker Brook Reservoir to the Silver Lake access road.  In keeping with my plan to duplicate the Ultra trails, I took the sharp right descent, leading me to the “shores” of the Sucker Brook Reservoir.  I put the word “shores” in with quotes, as it seems that there isn’t much water this summer in the reservoir, which exists for flood control, and to control the waterflow heading through the penstock down the the hydroelectric plant at Lake Dunmore.  So, I am afraid this small lake is nothing more than a mudpit this summer.

Sucker Brook Mudpit

Sucker Brook Mudpit

My run then followed the Ultra route, following the road below the earthen dam and joining the broad swath of clearing alongside the buried pipeline connecting the reservoir to Silver Lake. When I ran the Ultra, this section had been recently brush-hogged, making for easier running, but at this point, the grass here is very high, concealing some challenging footing below, on a steeply leaning embankment without an obvious path of least resistance to the runner. I have found that staying high, on the runner’s left makes for the easiest passage on a fairly challenging piece of running for the next mile or so. After a while, it flattens out, and while there seem to be a few different trails here, they all end up at the same place, connecting to the Silver Lake Access Road. When you reach the Silver Lake Beach, this is where another feed station is located at around mile 26 in the Ultra, and the race continues with the exhausting loop up over the Chandler Ridge and around Silver Lake before returning to the Blueberry Hill Inn and the finish line. At this point, I was very wet and had run enough, so simply descended on the service road to my car and the completion of the run.

Now, I’ll bet my readers were guessing that there would be a bear sighting in this run. Sorry to disappoint you – I guess my t-shirt worked too well! This ended up as a 9.5 mile run, with about a thousand feet of climbing. I also learned that my new t-shirt needed to be washed, as it had leached blue dye all over my torso!

google earth of the run

Clockwise, from trailhead at the lower left

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Penstocks to Power

For this run, I am returning to one of my favorite destinations, Silver Lake, the pristine pond perched on the hillside about a mile and a half above Lake Dunmore.  I have noticed, and blogged about some sections of the pipeline connecting Silver Lake to the small hydroelectric plant just south of Branbury State Park.  So, I thought it would be fun to follow this pipeline from start to finish, and this required that I start the run at the smaller unmarked parking lot just past the small bridge immediately south of Branbury Park, rather than the usual Falls of Lana parking lot.  Beginning in this lot, I immediately headed towards the clearing where the pipeline completes its journey down from Silver Lake, and scrambled, rather than ran on the unmarked but easy to follow footpath which ascends alongside the pipeline.  While the terrain really wasn’t good for true running, this ascent, rather than the more heavily traveled double track path most frequently used, had the advantage of an excellent view of the longest cascade in the tiered series of drops constituting the Falls of Lana. The area around the falls is a very cliffy, ledgy area with numerous opportunities for injury, so I found it interesting that of all the viewpoints, this was the only one with fencing to protect errant runners. 

Falls of Lana behind safety fencing

Falls of Lana behind safety fencing

Shortly after this overprotective fencing, I joined the main trail, where I had the option of bushwacking up the steep hill, literally following the pipeline in what would be a steep scramble, or actually following the normal trail and rejoining the pipeline further up the hill where it ran a more runnable course. I chose the latter, and ran up the main Silver Lake trail for about a mile until I reached the point where a major trail broke off to the right, meeting up with the pipeline at the point where the tall venting tower easily seen from below juts out from the mountainside. Here, reading the signage, I learned a new word – “penstock” apparently what I had been calling a pipeline is also known by this noun as well! I also noted, the sign warning of dire consequences for walking on the penstock, right alongside a ladder used for…..climbing on the pentock!

Dire Penstock Warnings

Dire Penstock Warnings

From this point on, I had the opportunity to follow the penstock/pipeline across more level terrain, and in fact, the running was easiest right across the top of it, as long as I was careful not to trip over the bulges where segments of pipeline were jointed together. Much of this section was flanked by ferns, until I reached a point where the brush had been recently cleared. This portion of the run concluded at the base of the Silver Lake dam, Yes, Silver Lake, like Lake Dunmore, is a naturally occurring lake which has been enhanced in size and utility through the use of damming. Unlike Lake Dunmore, which was enlarged for recreational use, Silver Lake has more practical purposes – hydroelectric power and flood control!

Climbing to the top of the Silver Lake Dam, I followed the easy  lakeshore path, until reaching the small beach, before taking the spur trail heading to the hike-in campground alongside this very scenic lake.  At a small footbridge over a sluiceway, the second, less well known segment of this hydroelectric project becomes apparent.  I was also surprised to see that this sluiceway, for the first time in my memory, was devoid of water.  My suspicion was that with the incessant  rains of the last month, water was being withheld or diverted to keep water levels in Silver Lake and/or Lake Dunmore at safe levels.

Dry Sluiceway above Silver lake



I tried to follow the side of this sluiceway, but the footing at it’s edge was not quite secure enough, so I doubled back and found a small trail which brought me back to the main Silver Lake trail/dirt road, and followed it up the hill for a few yards, reaching the point where the sluiceway submerged beneath the road from my right, and at this point I noted a small building to my left whose function was undoubtedly connected to this segment of the pipeline. I turned back into the woods at this point, mostly running along the high berm covering the pipeline, although in some sections, it seemed to submerge, rendering the trail more level. The running through here was very nice for about a mile, but the trail disappeared into the semi-open hillside eventually. I followed the cleared section paralleling Sucker Brook, but for this short stretch it was once again more of a bushwhack than a trail run, but this rough section only went on for about a quarter of a mile, when it joined a maintained dirt road which climbed up the hill in front of me. This wound its way up the hill to the little known body of water known as the Sucker Brook reservoir, not to be confused with the much larger Sugar Hill reservoir, which confusingly, is the further upstream source of Sucker Brook – got that? The Sucker Brook reservoir, which feeds this highest section of pipeline, and in turn, Silver Lake, has been more of a stagnant swamp than a pond in all of my previous visits, but the recent rains have swollen this body of water to the point that it was actually a rather pleasant place! The light rain on its surface, and the early summer daisies (my favorite wildflower!) starting to wilt as the midsummer Black-Eyed Susans came into bloom made for an attractive shoreline.

Sucker Brook Reservoir

Sucker Brook Reservoir

Continuing across the earthen dam forming this reservoir, I came to a surprise – a sign, in the middle of nowhere, telling the history of this dinky little pond! A fun fact – this small body of water was created in 1917, and at the time was the highest altitude earthen dam east of the Mississippi. Who knew? Especially since most outdoorspeople don’t even know it exists!

The run continued up a steep incline for a few hundred yards, until it joined the Silver Lake trail, and at this time, I decided I’d had enough of pipeline traipsing, so I took the easy way back to my car by taking the path of least resistance down to the Falls of Lana parking lot, and from there a short quarter mile run to the minor parking lot where my car was stowed. Overall, this was indeed a rather pleasant run, with a few short bushwacking or scrambling sections, a healthy dose of mud, and about 700-800 feet of climbing and descent in its 5.75 miles.

Google Earth of the Run

Google Earth of the Run


Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile