An East Coast Pilgrimage: Climb Vermont’s Highest Peak, -193 Feet Under My Couch!
Lake of the Clouds below the Adam's apple.
My not so low-key business is keeping me just that, mucho busy and traveling. I now have to take my adventures where I can get them. I previously considered going to Manhattan and traveling the eastern seaboard as an act of tourism. Now it is more a form of commuting, but this time I turned it into a timely outdoor pilgrimage to the east coast…
From City to Cheese in no time flat
Luckily my friend and former Grand Junction inhabitant Ralph Swansen saved me from total sales burn out. I left New York’s famed Grand Central Station at four in the afternoon and headed by train then by car six hours north. It was an amazingly short trip going from the center of the financial universe to the highpoint of the green mountain state and its cheddar bounty.
An Upstanding Profile
It's a long way to the top...mold loaded trees along the icy lower trail.
We rested at the trailhead below Vermont’s highest peak, 4,393-foot high Mount Mansfield near Stowe, Vermont. The lurking mountain looks like a man’s face stoically gazing into the sky. His long sloping forehead trends upward to the brow, sharply points at the nose, past the stubby lips up the proudly protruding to the summit of the Chin. The lumpy skyline then drops down to the neck adorned by the Adam’s apple, then shoulders into the deep chasm of Smuggler’s Notch.
Frozen Over on the Hellbrook Trail
"Snotcycles prisms" along the trail.
We awoke early and headed steeply out of Smugglers Notch on the twisted and tricky Hellbrook Trail. The winding trail was made more intriguing by an icy coating covered by fresh snowfall. We called on deep-rooted skills to suffer up the steep flanks and tangled forest. We gripped and swung up via trunk, limb, and hardwood handrails to help cope with the ice armored grades. The effort took a physical toll similar to a steep scramble in Colorado’s thin air.
Occasional week spots in the snowy shield gave way and crumbled up to our thighs in crusty snow. er realms of hearty pines. The grind increased and snow deepened. We put our hoods and tunneled through increasingly tight boughs thickly rimed with plumes of icy powder. Struggling through the ice we pulled our way to the wind of the Adam’s apple. Here we were open views into the depths of Smugglers Notch, over frozen Lake of the Clouds to Jeffersonville farmland below. And then to our fate; the imposing “Chin Summit” thickly bearded with a cold white mist concealing the upper protrusion.
I was so distracted by the beauty of the green mountain state I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I slipped on the ice. I swirled and hit the ground several times like Jim Carey going off script…only more painful. My camera swung wildly around my neck as I fell. My sole focus was avoiding cracking the lens on the frozen boilerplate and took it on the shoulder so I could keep trying to capture the exhilarating scenery.
The frosty chin looked like a serious undertaking from below. Ralph brought an ice axe and crampons for the climb; I didn’t bring any such gear. Airport security might frown on such dangerous looking luggage.
The deeper snow on the ridge made for secure boot packing as long as we didn’t kick too hard and hit the slick bedrock underneath. We frolicked up the spiraling trail up the rock ledged class-two ridge with relative confidence. The scenery morphed into a rime-plastered winter wonderland slanted by strong winds.
These fierce heights earned my respect for harsh conditions. I could not visualize these alpine settings being 193 feet beneath the Grand Valley’s elevation!
Back to Civilzation
Rasgoat escaping the frosty doom atop Mt. Mansfield.
Wishing I had brought skis, we descended the snowy summit and turned to the steep and cranky Profanity Trail. The icy snow made it impossible to plunge step and walk down. Since we were not able to telemark, we opted for the seat sledding method of “skid marking”…ouch!
We briefly visited the spacious but primitive Taft Lodge just below the cliffy East Face of the Chin. The Taft Lodge is the crown jewel among the shelters and huts of Vermont’s Long Trail. This aptly named route predates the classic Appalachian Trail and traverses the heights of the Green Mountains along the entire length of Vermont. Lucky for us our section of the Long Trail was brief. Soon the snowy grip of the upper mountain abated giving glimpses of the “manly” heights above as we drove to Connecticut for a hearty Swansen family dinner!
Big thanks to the savvy guiding of my east coast friend Ralph! My busy tour was made happy by high some adventure and rugged beauty uplifted by the mighty Chin of Mount Mansfield…and it all happened 193 feet beneath my Couch! Go figure.
Lake of teh Clouds with Vermont farmland far below the tear catching lake.
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