My last last few blogged runs were on the long side, requiring a fairly high degree of organization and car shuttling to pull off, making them relatively rare treats for those with a little extra time on their hands. This run, however, requires much less choreography – just a short drive up the mountain from Middlebury to get to the trailhead, and thus can be done without a lot of extra driving. This is also a relatively straightforward “up and down” route, on easy to follow trails, requiring no map, and not a lot of knowledge of the topography. The catch? This route has a LOT of climbing!
To get to the starting point for this route, drive up Middlebury Gap on Rt 125. I was pleased to see, after my rant and rave about the pace of the road project in my last posting, that they are actually starting to lay some asphalt down. I would like to think that I somehow influenced the road crews to get their act together, but I suspect that this would be a little too delusional on my part. Take a left turn on Forest Service 59 (also labeled as the Steam Mill Road,(and sometimes called Kirby Road) a quarter of a mile or so before you get to the Breadloaf campus. Head up this well-graded dirt road for a few miles until you get to the Steam Mill Clearing trailhead, on your right. This clearing was the turnaround point for one of my ski touring posts from last summer, entitled The Skater’s Waltz, and is easy to notice due to several signs, as well as the fact that it is the first clearing that a driver comes to along this road. I have tried to find out more information on the history of this clearing, but thus far have not been able to find out much. There clearly must have been a steam mill here at some point, where raw logs were cut into lumber to facilitate transport to civilization, but I have not uncovered any information yet as to when it was operational, and by whom. The historical name for the road “Kirby Road” may offer some clues, but an old map of Ripton shows Kirby residences far down on the lower reaches of the road, and no indication of the steam mill ownership is apparent.
The run up to Skylight Pond follows a well-marked trail from this parking lot. This popular hiking trail climbs steadily, but never particularly steeply. There are frequent waterbars, dips, rocks, and mudholes to throw off one’s running rhythm, but never enough to turn it into a hike rather than a leisurely run. After a little less than two and a half miles, the ascending trail crosses the Long Trail, and continues on until it reaches the Skylight Pond shelter, quite possibly the Ritz Carleton of the numerous Long Trail shelters. The shelter porch overlooks the small high altitude pond, with very open views to the east. The Green Mt. National Forest attendant who makes this shelter his home for the summer informed me that the long hulking ridge on the eastern horizen was Mt. Moosilauke, in New Hampshire, another great trail running destination. Checking in on my GPS, I was surprised to see that I had done a lot of climbing to get here – the altitude at the shelter was 3500 ft, making its ascent a 1500 ft vertical climb from the parking lot below. The gradual nature of this rather substantial climb undoubtedly leads to its popularity as a hike and feasibility as a trail run!
On the descent, a few openings in the trees with only partially obstructed views to the west became apparent, but I must confess that while vistas like the above shot make for attractive blogs and effective running motivations, most the runs look more like this:
AND, when the footing gets tougher, it is hard to look at any scenery other than your own two feet. I guess that beats making sudden indentations in the mud with your face.
Nonetheless, the return to my car made for a pleasant round trip of just under 5 miles. I am also very interested to learn more about the history of the original steam mill, and invite readers to share what they may know about it.
Jeff Byers is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Middlebury College. He also writes the Middlebury Trailrunner blog. We'll be periodically highlighting posts from his blog, but for more recommendations for trailrunning and cross country skiing in the county, head to his Web site.
This entry was originally posted on Aug. 17, 2010.