Chapter 1: Up from Hell (Brook)
Mt Mansfield provides one of the most scenic hikes in the eastern US. The tallest point in Vermont, it dominates the Green Mountains, and has views westward over Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks, eastward over the Connecticut River valley to the White Mountains, and northward into Canada. A long ridge, perched on cliffs above treeline, lets you take in the views at leisure as you make your way southward from the summit, known as the Chin, to another 4000-foot peak called the Nose. (Seen from east or west, the shape of the mountain somewhat resembles the face of a man lying on his back, with the top of his head to the south.)
This was my second trip to Mt Mansfield. On the previous trip I'd enjoyed the challenging Hell Brook trail, but found the summmit and the main ridge a little crowded for my taste. I'd also disliked the circuitous and unsightly route I'd taken up the Nose, via a maintenance road serving the TV antennas. This time we did things a little differently.
The group consisted of Smaranda, Zuzana, Reich, and myself. I knew Smaranda loved to scramble, and I expected Zuzana and Reich to be in great shape, so I had no trouble talking them into starting with the Hell Brook trail.
The trail required a bit of mental adjustment after a relaxing car ride, but we all rose to the challenge and came to relish the constant problem-solving required by this wet, steep trail.
typical Hell Brook trail
Chapter 2: Riding the Subway
With that challenge behind us we stopped for lunch, and to enjoy the views, on the Adam's Apple, just below the summit.
reaching the Adam's Apple view to the Chin
Then we joined throngs of boy scouts on the scramble to the summit itself.
queue on the trail
The ridge south of the summit delivered incredible views, but the trail was crowded.
summit ridge ridge crowd
When the opportunity arose, we dropped off the ridge and into the Subway.
Finding the subway subway gateway
The Subway was tremendous fun, though I'd hate to try it in winter.
We stopped to pick bilberries.
Chapter 3: Picking the (old trail on the) Nose
Progress on the Subway was slow, so we eventually rejoined the main ridge in the interest of time. This brought us quickly to the base of the Nose. I had no trouble finding the beginning of the old direct trail up the Nose, which was only perfunctorily brushed in, and quickly became yet another scramble. This one was easy, and the views were fantastic.
We went back down the Nose on the same trail.
View from the Nose old trail on the Nose
Chapter 4: Cliff Trail
Once back on the main trail, we had to choose our route back to the car. Zuzana and Reich had skied at Stowe, and remembered eating waffles at the top of the gondola. This was seriously tempting to our group (it had been a while since lunch), and a ranger we met opined that the gondola might keep running until 4:00. It was 3:45, and the gondola station about a mile away as the crow flies. We figured the gondola would probably keep running for an additional hour or so after closing time, until they were sure all their customers had gotten down. I thought riding the gondola wasn't very sporting, and nobody wanted to pay for a gondola ride, but Reich said his knees were hurting, so it was an option worth taking seriously. If we missed the gondola or decided not to take it, we (or some of us) could join the Long Trail from a point not far below the top of the ski trails. From the bottom of the Long Trail it would only be about a mile of road walking back to the car.
The direct route from the Nose to the gondola is called the Cliff Trail. Looked easy enough on the map...
cliff trail cliff trail
Some ladders, some ledges, even one more tunnel.
We arrived at the gondola station a little after 5:00 -- five minutes after it stopped running. The station was deserted.
We paused for a snack and some more photography.
flora at the gondola station
Chapter 5: Ski trails and road running
Our next step was to walk down the ski trails to the point where the Long Trail nearly touches the ski slopes. I'd been to that point on the Long Trail and I knew the ski slopes were obvious from the trail, but visibility in the opposite direction was not guaranteed. I had a decent idea of how far down the ski slopes to start looking, but of course my first few guesses were wrong, and not only were there a few tempting streambeds and other false trails, there were recent tracks from other folks who were just as
off-route as me.
At one point, even though I knew I wasn't on the right path, I decided to bushwhack a little further into the woods to see if the Long Trail might be close. I soon gave up on that and started following a mossy stream back toward the ski slopes. The stream provided a path with fewer trees, though it was rocky, mossy, and slippery. It soon developed into a gully and provided some fun (if wet) scrambling. To avoid a marshy spot right before the edge of the ski slope, I clambered out of the gully - and a tree ripped the glasses off my face. I was afraid my glasses had fallen down the bank and into the stream, but eventually I found them about four feet ahead and uphill of the tree branches that scratched my face. I still don't understand how they got there.
Reich reported that the ski slope was easier on his knees than the rocky trail had been, so even though we found the Long Trail (there was even a ribbon to mark the right spot) we decided to stay on the ski slopes. Reich reported that his knee felt better if he walked backwards, and the rest of us also took turns attempting this technique.
We meandered down through thigh-deep ferns, blackberries, and other flora.
Down at the ski area parking lot, we were about a mile and a half from the car. What could make the day even more interesting? I dropped my back and jogged uphill to fetch the car. I timed myself at 12:32 - not terribly speedy, but not bad for the end of a long day.