Wednesday, August 28, 2013

1,000 metres up: A hike on Mt. Mansfield

By Scott Bury 

Vermont's Long Trail stretches from the Canadian border, over the top ridge of Mt. Mansfield, over several other Green Mountains, all the way to the Massachusetts border and connects with the Appalachian Trail system.

Our summer vacation in 2012 was to Stowe, Vermont, home of the nauseatingly famous Von Trapps, and nestled on the southern slopes of Mount Mansfield. From Stowe, the crest of this mountain looks like the elongated profile of a face, with a distinctive forehead, nose, chin (the summit) and Adam's apple, plus two other rises that could be lips.
I park at the bottom of the gondolas, and then Super Nicolas and I take the Haselton Trail, which is rated D for difficult. It's very pleasant, although quite steep as it parallels the ski runs. Most of the lower part is under trees, along hogs-back ridges or winding across the slope. At several places, it crosses little mountain streams, allowing pleasant places to rest. On that hot summer day, most of the morning is cool under the trees.

The top half of the trail becomes ski runs in the winter, so they're wide-open and exposed to the sun. However, because they’re around 3,000 feet above sea level, the conditions are breezy.
An inviting spot to cool your dogs.

The Haselton Trail ends at the top of the Toll Road. We still have to hike up to the Visitor's Center, which is at the base of the Nose. The Nose also has a number of antennae sticking up out of it.

Apparently, there used to be a luxury hotel here, and one of the guests’ favourite activities was to sit on the patio, sip coffee and watch crazy people scale the cliffs. But the hotel was torn down in the 50s. The Visitor's Center today has only a few brochures and posters of wildlife. There's no running water, and the only bathrooms are two por-to-lets.

From there, Super Nicolas and I take the Cliff Trail toward the summit. According to Wikipedia, the Cliff Trail is rated DDD. It must stand for "so Difficult, Don't even try this, Dummy."

The views as you ascend, especially from the ski runs, are spectacular. Here, we look east across the Green Mountains.
The Cliff Trail presents challenges for the inexperienced climber. There are places where you have to turn around and climb up or down using your hands as well as feet.
To get through some of the
tunnels, you have to take
off your backpacks.
There are caves or tunnels that require you to take off your backpack and crawl on your hands and knees to get through. And there are three or four study ladders placed by the Green Mountains hiking club.

Watch out for all the moose poop. Sometimes it seems like the Cliff Trail should be called the Mooses' Latrine.

The Cave of the Winds is near the northern end of the trail. It's actually not a cave, but more of a place where a sheet of rock has split off from the main cliff face. There are bottomless holes that you have to jump over. When I went through, behind me was a family that got onto the last part of the Cliff Trail after riding up the ski gondola. I turned and pulled a 12-year-old boy over the last hole.

Entrance to the Cave of the Winds.
The last part of the Cliff Trail is a steep climb up rocks; the state or the hiking club or whoever maintains the trail has actually put iron loops into the rocks to help you climb over them. 

When we finally get back to the Long Trail that winds more or less directly to the summit, I am panting and sweating. Thankfully, the Long Trail from here is easy: a slow, more or less steady climb up to the Chin.

Up this high, the trees are stunted. Signs advise you that the vegetation is delicate alpine/arctic tundra type, and urge visitors to "Take the Rock Walk" and stay off the plant life. The state has laid out string, looped around rocks, to guide your footsteps.

We walk up, and up, and up, toward what we both think is the peak. But when we get there, we realize it was an illusion: after a brief, shallow dip, the path rises again to the REAL summit.
Which one is the REAL summit? The farthest
one, of course.

I sit beside a woman in a pink hoodie. "Discouraging, isn't it? I thought this was the top, too. Then I saw that." she says, pointing to the trail that leads to the peak, a couple of hundred metres long.

I look at my watch. It is now 3:40, We had planned to ride the gondola down, but it closes at 4:30 "We've already come this far," says Nicolas.

"Already," I think. We started climbing the mountain before 11:00 a.m.

We make that last 200 metres or so fairly quickly and easily. Finally, we're looking at a brass disk set into the rock, marking the highest point in Vermont. The view is stunning. Lake Champlain to the west, the Camel's Hump to the south, green folds of Vermont to the east. Someone else at the top says that on a clear night, you can see the lights of Montreal in the north.

But we don't have much time to admire the view if we want to take the gondola. After taking it in, we hitch up our packs and begin the long walk down. 
Super Nicolas and I at the top of Vermont.

Scott Bury (right) is an author, editor and journalist based in Ottawa, Canada. His books include The Bones of the Earth and One Shade of Red. Visit his website, Written Words, and follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.
Super Nicolas is a geologist and outdoorsman.

1 comment:

  1. Your report and pictures are breathtaking! Sitting near a hill top of ca. 1800 feet in the Black Forest, Germany, I thought we were high up...:) We also loved Stowe, VT, never daring to venture anywhere near your hikes && still enjoyed it!