Despite being a few days into spring already, this was very much a winter hike, as the forecast called for highs in the low 30s at the base of the mountain, and in the teens at the top. Our destination: Mount Mansfield, the tallest mountain in the great state of Vermont. At a mere 4395 feet, its apex is, by New England standards, not that impressive, but given the fact that it is one of only six peaks in Vermont that eclipse 4000 feet, it is a hulking behemoth in its respective state—a concept which, for JS and I, was quite elusive, largely due to the dark gray clouds that encumbered the skies on our lengthy drive to Northern Vermont. Notwithstanding, there were scattered patches of the crispest, deepest shades of azure we'd ever seen in our lives in between the clouds once we arrived in Vermont. JS insisted that this was because Vermont, unlike our own state of Massachusetts, has nowhere near the same magnitude of pollution, and thus the skies and water bodies possessed a much cleaner image than we're used to. No matter the reason, we were awestruck by the sheer magnificence that a simple patch of blue could evoke, literally causing our jaws to drop for much of the time spent on I-89 that morning.
We arrived at Underhill State Park at roughly 11:30, the site of the trailhead for our desired path of ascension that afternoon, the Sunset Ridge Trail. Unfortunately for us, because there was still a quite thorough blanket of white on the road leading up to the park, we had to park our car about a mile short of our pre-planned spot, in a makeshift parking area where we were confronted by a handful of other vehicles. Shortly after parking, JS and I embarked upon our hike, fully decked out in winter gear—multiple layers, mountaineering boots, snowshoes, poles, and even an ice axe for kicks and giggles in the event of a catastrophic mishap on either of our parts.
And it didn't matter all that much in the end. We reached the ridge only an hour and a half after commencing the hike, a very good book time for a winter hike. The push to the summit, however, was quite the undertaking, what with the wind howling in our faces, the visibility close to nil, and JS falling into 50 inch holes of snow because he didn't have snowshoes on himself.
After having had a weekend of route finding on the Presidential Range just a month earlier, the prospect of finding our way to the summit wasn't quite as daunting as it would have been if we had no winter navigating experience. The trails are nearly impossible to navigate without using the aid of cairns once you reach ridgeline, and this notion became progressively apparent as we approached the pinnacle of the mountain. JS and I took a helter-skelter route to the top, which, we came to find out wasn't actually the top once the clouds started to sift and the true peak revealed itself for but a fleeting moment. But we pushed onward after stopping for a brief snack and freezing our hands off, and once we reached what we thought was the summit, we had to receive confirmation. We couldn't find a sign for the summit, and to this day still do not know whether or not there actually is one, but in lieu of this obstacle, I proceeded to download an altimeter on my phone, which surprisingly pointed to us being at exactly 4395 feet. Mission accomplished, and in a more efficient manner than I could have imagined. Let me tell you, I was not about to spend a half hour looking for a summit sign that may not even have existed.