Monday, July 24, 2017

Pine Cobble run

Returning to another old favorite route, Jen and I scooted out to the far northwestern corner of Massachusetts to run at Pine Cobble (site #2 in my guidebook Trail Running Western Massachusetts). We were both feeling a bit fatigued, so it was more of a hike than a run, though to be fair the climbing portions there are just steep enough that they are always a bit more of a hike than a run ,at least for us.

We parked at the small lot off Pine Cobble Rd and followed the route described in the book pretty much to the letter, so I won't go into detail about the geography. The one deviation was that we did tack on the mile or so out-and-back on the AT north to the Vermont state line, which was an enjoyable roller coaster ride along the forested crest of the ridgeline. At the trail junction on the summit of Pine Cobble we ran into and chatted briefly with a young thru-hiker who was "slackpacking" for the day; she was from the Northampton area and seemed in good spirits. Other than her, we saw very few other people out there.

After the summit we dropped down the shatterfield of cool white quartz(?) rocks to the actual exposed sub-peak that I think is Pine Cobble proper. We had the views out across Williamstown to ourselves, but there were a couple of really annoying flies that eventually forced us off the peak. The descent is initially a bit rough as you drop down the rocky section of Pine Cobble Trail, but it soon smooths out some and becomes quite runnable, especially once you pass the triple-boled tree trunk that always seems to have a small pool of water in it. I really love the final mile or so of descent along this run.

We capped the day off with a dip in the "pool" at Mohawk Trail State Forest (where the parking situation was a bit silly), and dinner and drinks out on the patio at the Cold River Cafe in Charlemont. 

 The Cold River along Rte. 2

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Windmill Ridge Run (Vermont)

My girlfriend Jen works for Vermont Land Trust. Based out of their Brattleboro office, she monitors conserved properties in the southern third of the state. About two years ago, early in her tenure there, she texted me a photo of a sweet section of trail along a forested ridgeline in western Westminster. She said it was all really nice, and we agreed that we’d need to make an adventurous trail running trip there sometime. 

On July 4, we decided to finally try out a long-overdue mid-distance (~10 miles) run up on the ridge. We got so lucky with conditions: the temperatures were very nice, clouds were occasional, and we only saw a few mosquitoes the whole time. We also got lucky with crowds; there was only one other car when we arrived, and a handful of people up on top of the Pinnacle. Otherwise the only other person we saw all day was a trail maintainer along the ridge just north of Holden Knob.

After grabbing some sandwiches to go at the Putney Co-op, we navigated up the pretty, winding back roads of Putney and Westminster to the base of a long north-south mountain called Windmill Ridge. We parked at the trailhead for the Holden Trail and got ourselves ready (acquired GPS signals, re-checked hydration packs, put on sunscreen, and determined that bug spray thankfully seemed unnecessary). We each wore regular running clothes and shoes, and carried water and snacks for the afternoon. Then we set out up the trail from the artistic gate.

kiosk and gate at the Holden Trail trailhead

The initial ascent is fairly easy, along a wide path at first and then along recently relocated singletrack that clearly was laid out by people who love trails as much as we do. In about 1.2 miles we reached the Pinnacle Trail along the crest of the ridge. Heading north from there, we jogged the mile or so up to the summit of The Pinnacle where there is a cabin and a fantastic westward view. Along the way the trail gently rises and falls, and generally contours organically over the landscape. Very nice for running. It was about 80 degrees, but the humidity was low and there was a light breeze. A few scattered clouds hung out on the horizon and occasionally passed overhead. And it was blissfully bug-free for a warm July day.

beautiful running

the sweetest spot

From the Pinnacle we continued north for a few miles to the network of trails below Paul's Ledges. We managed to hit most of them, including the surprisingly challenging Hemlock Trail. Staying on the right path required a little bit of attention to the map. Little did Jen know I had something else on my mind at that point, but we didn't get lost. Then climbed to the clearing at Paul's Ledges, where we found ourselves alone on a gorgeous afternoon. Not being able to ask for a finer overall moment to (finally) do it, I proposed to Jen on the spot. To my significant relief, she said yes =)

After sharing a celebratory Snickers bar (hey, if it works at the time..), we set off from our engagement spot and headed back south along the ridge. This time, just before reaching the Pinnacle we turned left and headed down the Holden Trail. It's clearly one of the older, and thus more eroded, trails there, but parts of it are still really fun to run.

Overall it was a great introduction to running the trails of the ridge, and we can't wait to go back and link up with other parts of it including Putney Mountain, and the Athens Dome area.

Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association map of this section of the ridge. 

the ridgecrest just south of The Pinnacle

final push up The Pinnacle

westward view out into southern Vermont

a key junction near the Pinnacle

along the ridge

Jen of VLT

why not here

I got her to smile

coming down

me on the runout, looking stiff as usual but feeling good

Jen in the last mile

a day of many signs

the full route

post-run swim spot

along the West River

and lastly, this little guy was waiting for us at home

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Monroe Dunbar loop run

Returning to an old favorite, Jen and I headed out to Monroe State Forest in northwestern MA to run a slightly modified version of the trail race route there. The weather was ideal for running, if maybe a bit warm (but it was summer, so who's complaining), and best of all, there were hardly any bugs at all, of any kind (which is kind of a minor miracle at Monroe). And the crowds were amazingly minimal considering it was the start of the July 4 weekend.

Two notes about the route there. First the trail on the east side of the road that leads from the parking lot beneath the powerlines down to the picnic area has been more or less obliterated by a recent logging operation there. I'm glad I chose to put parking where I did for the suggested route in the guidebook. Second, there was a blowdown along the trail either last winter or spring about a quarter-mile west of the parking area. A big one. And it still hadn't been cut yet. You either had to go up and around it or try to pass through it. We did the former on the way out and the latter on the way back. Neither was easy.

Several miles along, just before we reached the second shelter, I stopped us short when I spotted a black bear in the trail just downhill from us. It moved off pretty quick and we never saw it again, but as always there's those dew moments where you wonder whether there were others around.

Jen at Raycroft Lookout

Before heading up to the summit, we took the spur trail over and down to Raycroft Lookout, which was totally worth it. The view was incredible, and makes you wish the CCC was still around doing stuff like that.

at the summit

The rest of the run was just... fun. Took our time getting to the top and lingering for a quick snack. Enjoyed our descent tremendously and we were happy to note that there were few blowdowns along the way, the intersection with the snowmobile trail seems better maintained now, and the sometimes-flooded section was mostly dry. The final mile before you reach Raycroft Road again is so runnable as you drop down a series of alternating benches and steeper pitches. 

 Descending along Dunbar Brook

The upper stream crossing was super easy and I cooled off there a bit. The descent of Dunbar Brook Trail was a spectacularly great as ever, and the final stream crossing was much easier than we anticipated given what several hikers have said (they must have tried to keep their feet dry or something). 

See my 2015 Monroe Dunbar Brook trail race report and links to past photo galleries here.

And here is a link to my guidebook, Trail Running Western Massachusetts (this is site #6 in the book).

The Latest Sugarloaf Sun

As mentioned in a previous post, I've been serving as the newsletter editor for my local running club, the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club. The publication is called The Sugarloaf Sun. When I started the gig about a year and a half ago, it was supposed to be a 16-page journal every two months. But now, eleven exhausting issues later, there hasn't been a single one under 20 pages, and a few have approached 40. Basically, we put out a mini-magazine about running in western Massachusetts every two months. At 38 pages, this new issue is the longest one yet.

Take a look, especially if you live anywhere in the area, and let me know what you think. Here is a link to the latest issue.

2017 Sugarloaf Sun issue #4 cover snip

And here is a list of back issues.