Friday, September 23, 2016

Moosalamoo's Leicester Hollow & Chandler Ridge Loop (August 2016)

Sun, bike, singeltrack and water: a winning combination.
"Just beware of the stinging nettles."  Those were the words of Chas, co-owner of Frog Hollow Bikes in Middlebury after recommending that I check out Leicester Hollow/Chandler Ridge loop in Moosalamoo National Recreation Area.

I'm no stranger to brambles, having stumbled through more than my fair share of bushes over the years.  I regularly fished for baseballs in rasberry bushes wearing only shorts and a t-shirt when knee high socks and parachute pants were all the rage.  Heck, you'll still find me waist high in thickets of prickers looking for hidden singletrack.  I've picked more thorns out of my body and cursed more burdock than I care to remember.   So a warning about "stinging nettles" didn't phase me, until he repeated with any hint of a smile now gone from his face: "Really, watch out for those stinging nettles."

I was up in Vermont to visit my mother in the Middlebury area and drop off my boy for his first long weekend at Grandma's.  This was a joyous occasion for us both. To him it meant an endless supply of blueberries, new toys and wide open spaces to explore while for me it offered a rare opportunity to go find some new (to me) mountain biking trails in my favorite corner of the world.

Frog Hollow Bikes in Middlebury.
Snake Mountain, which practically sits in my mother's backyard is my typical destination when visiting, but there isn't a lot of dedicated singletrack there and moreover I was looking to scratch the exploration itch.  I've also biked the Trail Around Middlebury, or "The TAM" as it is known locally, and even though it has some decent singletrack it was still old hat. Instead I decided to go check out the trails in Moosalamoo National Recreation Area as I had heard there was some recently built mountain biker designed singletrack.

My first order of business was to drop in on Frog Hollow Bikes, formerly known as the Bike Center in downtown Middlebury. My mother had bought me a gift certificate from the Bike Center for Christmas that was still floating around in my wallet.

Busily working behind the counter was one of the new co-owners, Chas, who greeted me warmly and didn't bat an eyelash when I whipped it out my gift certificate to ask if it was still good.  "No problem" he assured me.

After picking out a cool new Frog Hollow Jersey, I asked Chas what he thought of Moosalamoo and which part I should explore.  Without hesitation he directed me to the Minnie Baker parking lot at the south end of the Leicester Hollow/ Chandler Ridge loop.  He noted that it was less crowded than the Silver Lake lot next to Lake Dunmore.  He added that the best approach was to ride the loop counter-clockwise. Although there were plenty of other trails in Moosalamoo, he confirmed that the loop would be perfect for my three hour window.  And then he added his ominous warning about the stinging nettles.  But really, I thought to myself, "How bad can they really be?"

One of the many sculpted rock sections on the Leicester Hollow Trail.
I pulled into a dirt lot lined with pine trees just off of Route 53 near Goshen.  As I threw on my pack and maneuvered around a gate  on the Minnie Baker trail it was late morning on a humid summer day. I started my climb up the doubletrack and into an old hardwood stand.  The trail shot straight up the mountain, giving no quarter to my sputtering legs.  Although the trails are well known, this section was quiet enough for me to come up on a deer munching on some grass in the middle of the trail. Or maybe I was just hallucinating.  The trail rocketed up nearly four hundred feet in the first three quarters of a mile.  I pedaled hard and the sweat dripped off me down onto the bike as I lunged at the pedals trying to keep my forward momentum and stay on the bike.  Just as I was reaching my breaking point the trail mercifully dipped downward briefly where it intersected with the descent off of Chandler Ridge.  I continued on the doubletrack making another short climb and longer descent into Leicester Hollow and the start of the Leicester Hollow singletrack.

I braved stinging nettles to get this shot for you.
You're welcome.
After turning left on the Leicester Hollow Trail I followed it up into the gully with the hills rising steeply on each side. The trail was rocky and well-built, skirting along the left side of the narrow canyon with the assistance of sculpted rock ramps and buttresses.  The cool rocks were sweaty in the humid morning air which made for careful riding.  Luckily I was riding my Scott Genius "plus" sized bike.  The extra half inch of rubber on my 2.8" tires gave me just enough traction to keep moving over the slippery rocks. The trail made several quick dips and drops while still slowly ascending up the hollow toward Silver Lake.  After crossing to the right side of the gully on a long wooden bridge I rolled along a low grade climb for the three remaining miles up to Silver Lake.  In contrast to the first part of the Leicester Hollow Trail, this section was smooth and fast.  The climb is so gradual it feels flat in comparison to the first few miles of trail.

As I flew along, ankle high plants on the sides of the trail brushed against my exposed legs.  About the time I remembered Chas' warning I started to feel the sting on my legs. Like sweating on hay-scraped legs or a mild sunburn, my legs sizzled.  This was my first experience with stinging nettles.  I had always thought, until that moment, people were talking about briars or thorn bushes when they mentioned "stinging nettles".  Only after I looked them up online afterward did I realize I was dealing with their chemical warfare cousin that injects a histamine into your skin from small hairlike needles as you brush against it.

Having been expecting another steep climb, I was downright stunned when Silver Lake appeared between the trees ahead.  The trail around the lake is lined with campsites, and there's a large sandy beach where I waded into the cool water to extinguish the fire on my legs.

On the northern tip of the lake the Chandler Ridge Trail begins its ascent.  After crossing a dam, the first hundred yards wound between rocks hugging the side of the lake before climbing a series of switchbacks up onto the ridge above.  The trail is well designed and maintains a steady pace all the way to the top.  Upon reaching the crest of the ridge, the narrow singletrack snaked nearly two miles, occasionally dipping along the western edge of the ridge giving breathtaking views down into the valley and Lake Dunmore below.

Lake Dunmore in the distance.

The real fun began on the southern tip of the ridge where over the next two miles I descended on single track nearly six hundred feet back to the junction with the Minnie Baker trail.  Like the climb, the descent was shepherded by a series of bermed switchbacks which were easily navigable.  I sailed over small drops and rumbled through the occasional rock garden or bundle of roots on the dry, dusty trail.  Despite the drought, the trail was in excellent condition with no hint of washouts and only one blowdown near the bottom from a recent storm.

After reaching the junction with Minnie Baker I took my hands off the brakes and flew down the wide doubletrack, occasionally jumping off  large rocks and bumps in the trail.  Reaping the rewards of the hard earned vertical on that three quarters of a mile made the perfect ending to my adventure.  I rolled back around the gate into the parking area with a huge smile on my face.  And a new respect for stinging nettles.

I'll definitely be back for another ride, but next time I might dig out those knee high socks.

No comments:

Post a Comment