Glastenbury/West Ridge Loop FKT

Yesterday while Le Tour de France was conducting a crash-fest in Nice, Debbie and I held our own crash-fest in Vermont. We returned to Glastenbury Mountain for the fourth time since 2015. More specifically, we ran the Glastenbury/West Ridge Loop for the third time, but this time we really ran it hard. I’ll get to the events of the day, but first, I’ll cover some background.

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We “discovered” this underutilized loop in 2015. At the time, we were celebrating the 10th anniversary of our 2005 Long Trail (LT) end-to-end hike. We wanted to introduce our young kids to the LT with an overnight trip. We found that the seldom used West Ridge Trail connected to the LT just south of the Glastenbury summit. The trail splits from the LT behind the Goddard Shelter. It was overgrown and didn’t have much maintenance, but it was still very cool. While hiking it, we agreed that we would come back and run it.

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So, we returned in 2016 and ran it. We had been crafting do-it-yourself (DIY) adventures for a long time, but we were not active on the Fastest Known Time (FKT) discussion board, so this return trip was never documented beyond this blog. A year later in 2017, Dan Rosenthal finally uploaded the route to the FKT site and gave a nod to the fact that we may have been the first to run it fast FKT style, or at least the first to talk about it. Since we had designed the route as a training run, we hadn’t pushed it. We opted not to go to the summit, which requires a little out and back on the LT (about .3 mile each way). I can’t remember why we opted to skip other than we were running a loop and had just been to the summit with the kids the year before. The official FKT loop that Dan created includes the out and back to the summit, which makes sense.

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In 2017, we went back to the LT for one of our “duathlon” FKT adventures, but this time we made our trip to the northern half on the Monroe Skyline. Then in 2019, we returned to Glastenbury again for a “duathlon.” This time we kept going north on the LT rather than looping via the West Ridge. We continued on to Stratton Pond via the Stratton Pond Trail and then reconnected with the LT until we made it to Prospect Rock. From there we took Old Rootville Road to our bikes. We had thought about doing the Glastenbury/West Ridge Loop, but we were intent on running and riding.

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So, we had unfinished business on the loop. In the meantime, FKT’s have blown up. Even Debbie and I have gotten in on the action. We have had a busy year. With most races cancelled (including all of ours), we have turned our adventuring to these challenges and we are having a blast. It has kept us motivated and fit.

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Of course, you are only fit until you fall! Yesterday, I had three hard falls. They all came on the West Ridge Trail between the 13.5 miles and 17 miles and after my legs had been weakened. On Friday, I was able to take the afternoon off from work, so we drove to Vermont after lunch. We parked at the LT trailhead on Rt. 9 just to the east of Bennington. We arrived in the early evening, and made some dinner. We brought vegan cheese from Divine Treasures to go with crackers. We boiled water and ate a Good to-Go meal. After dinner, we readied our gear and then slept in the van. We had a funny episode after midnight when a critter (probably a squirrel or chipmunk) ended up on the roof of the van. This had never happened before and after lot of clattering and scratching, it took a few “knocks” too convince him/her to get off.

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The next sound we heard on the roof was the falling rain. After a very dry August, the last week has been wetter and we knew that more heavy rain was forecast for Saturday. It started as drizzle but by the time we awoke around 6:00 A.M., the rain had become steady with intermittent downpours. After a little breakfast, we got started. We planned to hammer the route. Since our first time hiking this loop in 2015, it’s definitely become a lot more popular. Appearing on the FKT site will boost the attraction of most routes. The West Ridge Trail is still lightly used, but we could tell that over the last five years, it has become more popular.

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This loop is a tale of two trails. The Long Trail (which overlaps with the Appalachian Trail on this section) is heavily used. The treadway is more rocky and the hardened soil doesn’t drain as well. The West Ridge Trail is much softer. It has fewer rocks, but it has many more roots. The water doesn’t collect as much, but the trail is more narrow and heavily overgrown. It is lined with ferns and other plants and they disguise the hidden obstacles.

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Our run was “all business.” We only took a handful of photos. Our “A goal” was to break 5 hours. We also wanted the FKT for a Mixed-gender team and if we met our goal, Debbie would likely get the fastest documented time for any woman. We made it to the summit in about 2 hours and 31 minutes. The LT was soaked and the deep puddles were punctuated by tons of rocks. Debbie was very strong and she led most of the way. She distanced me on the downhills, but I caught back on the climbs. I was definitely feeling fatigue in my legs from last weekend’s Shenipsit Trail Duathlon. She also had a big Saturday last week. While I was on the Shenipsit Trail, she ran the Pemi Loop in NH with Laura Becker.

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There were no views at the top of Glastenbury, so we tagged the tower, took a few photos, and quickly turned back. There was a group of hikers holed up at the Goddard Shelter, and they didn’t look excited to venture out into the rain. We wished them a good day and then left the white-blazed LT for the blue-blazed West Ridge Trail. The rain continued, but as noted, the trail soaked in more of the moisture. The challenge was that it was hard to see the roots. This part of the loop has more descending so we were able to run even faster. The entire loop is gnarly and technical, which is a real advantage for Debbie, and a real disadvantage for me or any normal human. She is skilled at navigating trail obstacles and she is a fearless descender.

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I was doing my best to keep up, and ironically, my first fall (and the hardest) occurred when I was running in front of her. I caught my toe on a hidden root and did a “superman.” I jammed my left wrist, banged the heel of my right hand, and smashed my left knee into a rock. The impact cut my knee, but oddly, it didn’t bleed much. The laceration was across the bone. The real pain came from the impact. I sat there for a minute assessing my injuries. After a few more moments, I got up and started walking to test out my leg. Eventually, I was able to start running slowly again and then picked up the pace. A crash like that can end a run in an instant, so I was thankful to be able to keep moving.

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About 1.5 miles later, I was still running in front of Debbie (I think she was monitoring  me from behind!) and I caught my toe on a rock. Once again, I didn’t see it below the ferns. This time, I ended up off the trail in the wet brush, and I smacked the same knee. It wasn’t as bad as the first fall, but it was still discouraging. We made our way over Bald Mountain without further incident, but I was wisely fearful of the steep and rocky descent. That section of the West Ridge Trail is more trafficked and it exhibits some of the characteristics of the LT. It’s more eroded, and therefore more rocky. I’ve had trouble on it before.

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The lichen-coated rocks were slick as ice with the rain and within a minute of cresting the summit, I had a wicked fall. I planted my left foot on a rock and it just slid off. That resulted in another hard fall on my left knee. I hit a different spot a little higher up, and it was quite painful. There was no blood, but this time, it immediately puffed up. Debbie and I had agreed that she would run down at her own pace and that I would hang back before closing the gap on the flatter bottom section and then meet up with her on the dirt Harbour Road. She knew I fell because I yelped. I yelled for her to continue on as I shook off the pain. I think she backed off a bit to make sure I was OK.

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I got going again and just focused on the finish. When the trail started to flatten out, I could see her about 30 seconds ahead. When I finally got past the worst of the rocks and dumped out on the dirt road, I could see her up ahead. I slowly pulled her back and as we got to Rt. 9, we were together again. The final asphalt section is not pretty, but it is the price you pay for completing the loop. It’s safest to run on the left side facing traffic, but the shoulder is narrow, and periodically, you are pinned up against a guardrail. The vehicles come towards you at a high rate of speed as they are descending into Bennington. The road had just been paved, so the speeds seemed even higher. There are a few spots where you can run just off of the edge of the road on the gravel shoulder, but it is still unnerving. It’s not a nice stretch of road. You definitely want to be visible to the oncoming traffic. The road winds uphill for a mile or so until you get back to the LT trailhead.

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We pushed it hard all the way to the parking lot. We finished in 4 hours 53 minutes and 2 seconds. Even though speedsters including Josh Ferenc, Dan Grip, Neil Clauson, and Ben Nephew have lowered Dan Rosenthal’s original time to an incredibly fast 3 hours and 19 minutes, we were happy with our time with more than a few miles on our legs.

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Other than a few LT backpackers, including those at Goddard, we had the loop to ourselves. We didn’t see anyone on the West Ridge Trail until we got to the dirt road where a few day hikers were headed towards Bald Mountain. We were back at the van by noon, and after a quick rinse in City Stream, we drove back to Debbie’s parents’ in Prospect. We stopped twice to stretch our legs and we were reunited with our family by 3:00 P.M. I like it when I can get my weekly running goal (20 miles) in one run. I’ll be stiff and sore for a few days, but after a good night of sleep, my body is already making the necessary repairs so that we can keep on running.

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