Aug 1, 2006

Mt. Mansfield - July 29, 2006

A friend, who has a house in Ludlow VT, was having a party there and my family had been planning for months to go. As much time as I spend in the mountains of Vermont, I have never been to the highpoint, which is a mere ½ mile from the top of Stowe ski area's gondola. I have skied at Stowe, and have ridden the Gondola, but never bothered going to "The Chin" of Mt. Mansfield, which at 4393 feet, is the highest point in Vermont. Somewhere along the line, I got the bright idea that the party would be a good time to pick up a state highpoint. Paul, a skiing buddy, wanted to come with, and the plans were set.

because of a last-minute family emergency, Alexandria couldn't come to VT, so I hitched a ride up with Paulie, and we arrived Friday afternoon. By friday night, because the weather was so oppressive even in VT, we had almost decided to cancel the trip to Stowe, which is 2 hours from Ludlow. Figured the hike would be miserably hot. Going to bed, we decided to "play it by ear", and, thankfully, come Saturday morning the weather seemed comfortable and Paul wanted to hit the road before it got hot, which we did at 8am. We made a couple of stops and arrived at 10:20am.

Paulie at the trailhead

By the time we put on our hiking socks and were all geared up, it was 10:40, and I started one of the steepest hikes of my life. The trail gains 2700' in less than 2½ miles, and while it wasn't too hot, the humidity above about 3000' was 100% (the summit was socked in with clouds.) I decided to take it very slow - even though my running has reduced my resting heart rate to just 58, I still weigh well over 300 lbs and moving that much weight 3000 feet takes a lot of energy. Paulie weighs a lot less - about right for his height, but is not conditioned like I am - plus he smokes about a pack a day. So we chugged along at about 1 mile per hour, which for most people would be excruciatingly slow. For us it was just fine. The ground and rocks were wet, but there was no rain below 4000'.

Covered in sweat after climbing about 1800 feet

The route we took was the "Long to Profanity" trail. Here is Summitpost's description of the route. The Long Trail is one of America's classic hiking trails, extending a couple of hundred miles in Vermont north to south from the Canadian border to the Massachusettes border, following the Appalacian trail from Killington Peak south. The profanity trail is a ½-mile long spur trail that leaves the Long trail about 800' below the summit and rejoins the trail on the ridge on the other side. The total hiking length was about 2.4 miles. We chose to do the Profanity trail because it wasn't as technical, and I wasn't interested in climbing class 3 and 4 exposed rock in wet conditions after climbing 2600 feet. Summitpost describes the Profanity Trail as a "high-stepping, slight scramble for .5 miles and a gain of 850'. The route is narrow and can be slick, however never requires anything more than class 2 scrambling." I call it a "God-damned death march" because I'm gaining 850' in a ½ mile. Steps were as high as about 4½ feet. Oh, and it started raining.

It tops out right at treeline.

"Welcome to the Alpine Zone of Mt. Mansfield"

Happy, at the end of the death march.

Once we were on the ridge, it was relatively easy hiking to the summit of Mansfield, where we arrived at about 1pm.

Summit photo

My official highpointing web page Vermont thumbnail.

We had great views of everything within 100' of the summit

At the summit, there were a couple of people hanging out who worked for some agency or non-profit or something (I don't remember exactly), and apparently, it was their job to be on the Chin at the time. One of them was a woman who provided some extremely helpful information - the Stowe Gondola was running, and for a fee they would give us a ride down. The trail to the Gondi was sketchy, but not too long.

The helpful woman is on the right.

It took exactly 0 seconds of discussion to decide that we would rather save our knees from the steep hike back down, and since the "Cliff Trail" was further down the ridge, I was excited to spend that much more time above treeline.

We probably spent about 30 minutes on the summit before getting the hell of out dodge. Conditions on the summit were... refreshing. Temps were about 60ยบ, wind was about 50MPH, and there was light rain that the wind drove into you like bullets. In my infinite wisdom, I had no extra clothes, but I was really comfortable - it cooled me off after a tough hike.

Hunkering down behind a rock, drinking some water.

The Cliff Trail to the Stowe Gondola was difficult. It involed class 4 rock, and the wet conditions weren't helping. I did not take any photographs. I was too worried about falling into one of the 15-foot deep rock crevasses that would have swallowed me whole. Fortunately, it was short - 800 feet of elevation loss total (probably half of it was between the summit and the top of the Cliff Trail), and maybe ½ mile total. We took about 45 minutes to get to the gondi because it was so damned technical. WHere it wasn't technical, the sloping rock was slippery enough that we got on our butts and slid down. Stowe wanted $12 for a one-way trip down the gondi (nobody rides for free at Stowe) and it was a ¼-mile walk back to the car.

Relaxing after a hard hike. (compare to the trailhead photo)

We were back at the party at 5:30, and we showered and relaxed. The rest of the night was characterized by a fascinating combination of alchohol, fireworks and bonfires, but that's a story for another time.