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Middlebury Trailrunner: Abbey Pond

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I haven’t made any new posts, and gone on very few runs in a while due to a combination of mediocre weather (bring back September!) too many exams to administer and grade (although my students would prefer I went running, no doubt), and a nagging head cold which has slowed me even further. Enough excuses. I had the realization this morning that despite all the mountain biking, hiking and trailrunning I have done over the last 20+ years, I had never taken the time to explore the National Forest trail closest to town – the one leading up to Abbey Pond. I am not entirely sure why I had not checked this one out – perhaps it was because I first heard of the trail in a conversation with some elderly members of the community, and I got the impression that it was too easy, or perhaps it was due to the fact that driving by the trailhead on Rt. 116, I rarely saw any cars parked by the trailhead sign, so I apparently assumed that it wasn’t anything special. As you will see, I was wrong on both accounts, thinking I was in for a short easy run to get my legs working again.

To get to the trailhead from Middlebury, head east on Quarry Road until you get to Rt. 116 where you take a left, heading north for less than a mile, and look for a group of dirt roads on your right labeled by a forest service sign. When I got to the sign indicating the trailhead, and requesting that cars not block the roads, there was a small cluster of dirt roads fanning in different directions, and two other cars pulled off to the side. So I naturally assumed this was the primary parking lot for the trail, and began my run along the obvious dirt road through a maple forest interlaced with permanent plastic tubing facilitating the spring’s syrup harvest.

Trailhead Tree Tunnel

Trailhead Tree Tunnel

After running along this dirt road for about a third of a mile, I came to a much larger parking lot, with quite a few more cars, which was apparently the preferred parking area, explaining why I rarely saw many cars while I hurried by on Rt 116. After this, the proper trailrunning began, with a very rocky path gradually but relentlessly snaking its way up the side of the hill. After a few hundred yards, a bridge passed over the stream draining Abbey Pond, still far above, with a view of a small waterfall.

Waterfall

The climb continued, and I realized that either I wasn’t entirely over my cold, or this was a more serious climb than I had anticipated. Probably a bit of both! After about 3/4 of a mile of climbing, the trail leveled off for the remainder of the run to the pond. This last section was not without its challenges however – a stream crossing, lots of roots and rocks to step carefully around, and several rather substantial mud pits which rendered dry feet an exercise in futility. Finally, after about a mile of this challenging footwork, Abbey Pond appeared. It is a lovely, quiet and marshy spot in the mountains, and with the cold nights of the last week, covered in a thin veneer of ice!

Abbey Pond

Abbey Pond

The descent was just as slow as the ascent due to the frequent awkward footing. Thus, this route is tough to recommend as a pure trail run for all but those with the strongest ankles – it is tough to really stretch out your legs at any time in the run, and I doubt it will be a regular part of my running routines in the future. It is, however, a fun and convenient local hike leading to a attractive natural feature. I am curious as to how Abbey Pond got its name, and welcome any historical insights. Old USGS maps also show a trail connecting the far end of Abbey Pond with the trails described in my “The toughest 9 miles in Addison County” post. I did not have the time to explore this connection today, but hope to seek out this possible route at some point in the future.

Finally, when I got home, and downloaded the run from my GPS, I understood why I found the run so tiring early on. Long ago, I established my rule of thumb that hikes in which the uphill gradient exceeded 1000 vertical feet per mile were hikes which felt steep, and none of the runs in this blog thus far have exceeded that gradient for any substantial distance. I felt much better about my sense of poor performance today when I realized that this trail gained most of its 1200+ vertical feet in about 3/4 of a mile!

Abbey Pond in Google Earth looking east

Abbey Pond in Google Earth looking east

altitude profile

altitude profile

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 in the county, head to his Web site.

This entry was originally posted on October 17th, 2009.

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