A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

First time to Russell Hill

March 17, 2022
Emilie Phillips

I needed a break one week day. I had no car and only a two hour gap in my schedule. Any hike needed to be close to home. I wanted was a mountain top view. That’s hard to find around here. The historic class VI roads all follow the valleys or saddles. The best I could think of was Ben Farnsworth Road. North of the airport, it gets near the top of a hill. Near the old farm, you can peek through the trees to a little sunlight. Most of the rest of the nearby trails are former logging roads. They wander aimlessly through the woods. While flying, Tyson has spotted some open glades to the south-east of the house, on Russell Hill. He keeps asking to got scout them out for skiing. I knew of a snowmobile trail which heads vaguely that way then veers off towards Lake Potanipo. Open Street maps shows the snowmobile trail and a smaller trail connecting to Russell Hill Road. If the connector existed, I could hike a loop. The route wouldn’t go to the very top of the hill, but maybe I could get some views from the logged side slopes. To do that loop, I needed to hoof it, especially since I might hit a dead end and have to turn back.

I opted to take Pigeon Hill Road and Ben Farnsworth to the Russell Hill snowmobile trail. It was longer, but it kept me off the dangerous parts of Mason Road. Once in the woods, I started looking for signs of the season’s progress. The air was above freezing that day. I couldn’t find any spring greenery growing yet. Where the sun poked through the trees, it was warm. The ice had all melted into mud puddles.

On the south side of Mason Rd, I discovered the snowmobile trail was more substantial than I had thought when commuting on Mason Rd. The trail followed a broad old drive. There were stone walls lining both sides. Telephone poles with drooping wires popped out here and there from the trees. The tree trunks on both sides of the trail were plastered with no trespassing signs. I took that to mean I was allowed on the trail, but I wasn’t to set one toe off the trail. Curiosity, I have to admit, got the better of me when I saw the cellar hole at the top of the rise. The cellar hole was surrounded with metal skeletons from the house: mattress springs in a rectangle, parts from a a cook stove, an old car. There was also more recent debris — a cloth and disposable mask dropped side by side. I had a schedule, so I returned to the path after a glancing survey.

Not long after that, I came to a sign that said no ORVs or Dirt Bikes. The no trespassing signs ceased. I must have crossed a property boundary. This property owner was good for glade skiing because they allowed off trail travel. The snowmobile trail picked its way between logging roads. I messed up one turn. After going a bit on a road, the grass seemed too long and I didn’t see a blaze facing me when I looked back. I retraced my steps and took the other right at the five way intersection. The land had been recently logged. The sun shone bright in the open spaces. Later this spring the area will be pink with laurel flowers. Scattered tall trees kept the area looking wild rather than ravaged by logging. The many open logging roads looked suitable for skiing. I mentally noted to tell Tyson. However, the roads were too low angle for Telemark, rather more suitable for cross country.

Not long after that I came to a signed junction

  • ← Lake Potanipo / Food & Gas
  • ← Brookline Rail Trail
  • ← Andres Institute of Art
  • Russell Hill Loop →

My GPS said I was at the junction for the smaller cross trail. Potanipo and the Andres Institute of Art unambiguously described the main trail that I didn’t want. (Tyson and Isaac had bicycled that way once.) So Russell Hill Loop was my trail. “Loop”, though had me concerned. I needed a through trail. Was this one going to turn back in the middle of the woods?

Russell Hill Loop soon entered an area with older trees. Instead of grass and laurel between the mature trees, the place was thick with ten foot tall birches. This area was steep. At the top, there was even a tumbled down band of cliffs. This must be where Tyson has wanted to come Telemark ski. Had I inadvertently sabotaged Tyson’s glade skiing plans by procrastinating? (I asked him later. He had first spotted the glades from the air five years ago. It was probably already too brushy then.) The up side of the new growth was it made habitat for a cacophony of birds. Three chickadees landed a yard to my left in the blackberry bushes. I watched them for a minute before continuing.

At first Russell Hill Loop followed a lightly rutted dirt road from a previous century. That road went due south along a stone wall. I am curious where it goes. Then the snowmobile trail turned right, uphill a bit. I followed both trails a little ways and checked my GPS to see which matched the trail on my map: snowmobile trail. After that, the trail meandered its way uphill. At the speed I was hiking, I had to strip down to just my t-shirt on top and remove my long underwear. Event then I still sweated from the climb. I saw faint paths leading off, and occasionally I passed snowmobile signs “Dead End” without much visible path. I started referencing my GPS and map more often. My turn around time was approaching and, if the Russell Hill Loop decided to arc back, it would be soon. After each side trail, I would cheek that I was still on my intended trail. When the map showed a wiggle left or right, I looked up ahead and verified my trail did the same. At a sign for

  • ← local traffic
  • Russell Hill Loop →

I stayed right and verified the map showed a right hand turn. Then I focused on making the uphill climb pass under my feet I paused when I got to an upland marshy meadow. The trees were thinner to the west. I could see hints of the far hills. When I checked my GPS, I found I was a tenth of a mile off my intended trail. I had been focused for too long. I should have taken the local traffic branch. Now I had a hard choice. If there were views, they would be at the summit. Russell Hill Loop, was headed straight for the top. On the other hand, the summit was completely out of the way for the connector and I was pressed for time. The worst case scenario would be if I hiked to the top, hiked back to the “local traffic” trail, followed that trail and found it ended, then had to retrace my tracks all the way back to Mason Road.

From the little I know about snowmobile trails, “local traffic” means it doesn’t connect to another trail or a business of interest. It could go to a road. Or it could dead end at several club members backyards. I decided to gamble and hope it connected all the way to Russell Hill Road. Or I might have to apologize to someone for traipsing through their backyard. Given that, I had time to hike up to the summit.

I am glad I did. I found the views I was looking for. The Brookline Ice Breakers Club maintains a slot view to the west and a larger meadow overlooking Lake Potanipo. I paused for long enough to really enjoy the views. A little sign said the hill has been in the Russell family for generations. The land is still owned by family members. Two turkey vultures circled past on an updraft.

The snowmobile trail continued down the other side of the hill. I was out of time for exploring, so I turned back the way I had come. I found the “local traffic” trail did fork into many smaller trails. I got barked at by a dog when I ended up on the wrong fork. Yet there was an official blazed route the whole way. It went through a bog. The final bit was overgrown and practically went through a backyard. But I didn’t feel the need to apologize because it was blazed and signed all the way to the road. Once on the road it didn’t take me long to walk home. I passed the original Russell Homestead on the way.

Six miles, two hours, and back right on time.

All Photos

GPS track