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We've summited Mount Mansfield many times from many different angles. We always, however, avoided the Hell's Brook Trail due to its difficulty. But, dang it - September 11 seemed like the perfect date to do this trail - and the weather cooperated beautifully! About 68 degrees and perfectly sunny. Hell's Brook Trail can be found on Route 108 just about 2 miles past Stowe, VT ski area entrance. We parked across the street and began our adventure. Now, let me add that my husband and I are both in our early 60s, reasonably fit, experience hikers. Ya, we foolishly have done the Matterhorn up to Hornli Hut our lives, but we're not that good! Anyway, back to Stowe, VT.....First off, take the words at the trailhead register and flush them down the toilet!! It says it takes 3 hours roundtrip. For WHO?? Superman? No way! Even if you are super hikers, allow at least 4 hours. Also, there is much debate about the length of this trail - some spots say it is 1.8 to the top, some say 2.8, some say 2.1. Don't pay attention to that cause we just don't know the length. It took us oldsters 2.5 hours to get to the top in slippery conditions. Now, Hell's Brook trail is, for the most part, always wet and slippery, so if you don't like getting wet and muddy, forget it. There is a lot of hoisting yourself up over rocks, so expect that. And pay close attention to where the trail is going, especially in fall, as it takes many twists and turns and can be quite narrow in spots. There was only one time when I was pinned to two boulders and slipping down a 10 foot incline, that I felt a bit helpless. Most spots were fine if you just stayed low to the ground and picked out your hand holds carefully. We brought hiking poles with us, but forget those! We had two and one would have been fine as there is more hand hold climbing than straight out hiking. I got a bit nervous at the beginning as the trail starts out punishing and doesn't let up. But, overall, once I got to the top, I realized that there really were no "bad" parts and that any determined hiker could do this trail (would not recommend doing it on a bad weather day or if it is hot). We finally got near the summit and there was one steep climb up some boulders with a rather sharp drop to your right. I just didn't look down and kept going. The glorious summit made it worth it as the views were tremendous on this day. We had lunch and opted not to take Hell's Brook down. Another guy had come up behind us and we asked him if he was going to take Hell's Brook down - "Hell, no!" was his response and he was an experienced hiker from New Mexico. We headed down the Ridge Trail and took a left toward the Gondola Trail, onto the Cliff Trail (more boulders to climb down). It was a fun trail, but we were getting tired. Shot out at the Gondola where the nice gondola operator offered us a gondola ride to the parking lot of the ski area, but my hubby wanted the full circle experience, so we just hiked straight down under the gondola. All in all it took us about 6 hours, but we stayed at the top quite a bit. So, I can now cross Hell's Brook off my bucket list - but if the opportunity arose, I'd do it again! Oh, and one important fact - if you are not physically fit to do about a 3,000 foot elevation gain over about 2 miles, don't attempt this trail. I only wish I had taken some photos up the trail, but I was too busy concentrating on getting up the next boulder and the next and the next.......
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