A walk up Mt. Mansfield
Mount Mansfield is the location of the Stowe ski area. The mountain looks like a recumbent face in profile, with a Nose, Chin and Adam's Apple. Stowe's famous Nose Dive downhill run starts, guess where? The Chin is the highpoint and sits along Vermont's Long Trail.
My nephew Colin Schaefer and I ended up being the only members of our family team to attempt Mt. Mansfield over Labor Day weekend, 2006. Hurricane Ernesto was wreaking some minor havoc in Charleston when we set out and the TV was full of dire warnings that included northern Vermont on Saturday. As it turned out, NOAA had it right: sun on Friday, clouds on Saturday. The weather was perfect for us, and no bugs to speak of either.
We set out from Boston's Logan airport and four hours later we were standing on our campsite at the Smuggler's Notch State Park Campground, which is a lovely area on the left-hand side of VT Rt. 108 ("Mountain Road") just before the ski area as you drive up from Stowe (not really in the Notch, at all). $14 and we were setting up our tent and laying out our sleeping bags. Call ahead: we got lucky because a number of people had cancelled, fearing the impending hurricane. But the place was completely full by dinner time, with fires going, smoke in the air and kids playing. They have both tent sites and lean-tos, both with picnic tables and fire pits; plus toilets and showers in the center of the campground. The place is not large but each site is fairly private.
At 7AM the next morning we were standing at the trailhead to the Long Trail route that passes the Taft Lodge on the way to the summit. The alternate routes include driving up the ski area's Toll Road to the Nose and walking along the ridge to the Chin, and the trail to the Lake Of The Clouds, which runs along Hell Creek; the latter, we were warned, is too steep to use for the descent and we chose to miss it on the way up, too.
The trailhead is just before a little pull-off parking area on the left-hand side of VT Rt. 108, just past the ski area, which fills quickly. The trail is unmistakable all the way up, being very well maintained with white blazes on trees and rocks every few yards. As we stumped along, we were passed by several parties going at a fast trot; we were pretty winded by the climb and a bit embarrassed to be in such poor shape.
The last third of the trail requires some scrambling as the rocks get fairly steep, but it's nothing to compare to Katahdin. We got back to the trailhead at 11:45AM ... 5 hours round trip. We spent some moments at the top hoping for a clearing in the clouds that never came and then spent some time admiring the Taft Lodge: the largest of the hiker's cabins on the Long Trail, it was recently rebuilt and it can hold upwards of 20-30 people on wooden bunks, which take up most of the cabin, plus a long table and a fireplace. It was empty when we got there at around 10:30AM but later in the afternoon there's a caretaker who charges a nominal fee to spend the night on a first-come, first-served basis. A composting toilet and fresh water are available.
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