Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Day 21: Mount Mansfield!

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This is called the Needle's Eye, and the trail runs right between and under these boulders! Which pretty much marks the start of the hard part of the trail up the Forehead.
September 24: Upon waking up in the morning, the very first thing I did was look out the windows. Please, I prayed to myself, let the weather be nice! I’d already lost an entire day of hiking by slowing down to wait for the bad weather to break, all so I could summit Mount Mansfield—the tallest mountain of Vermont!—on a nice, clear day! The weather was supposed to have cleared up two days ago now. It’s time for a nice day! And even the evening before, it looked like things were starting to improve.

So I looked out the window of the shelter and was immensely disappointed to see nothing but fog. It wasn’t raining, but I could barely see 10 feet out the window it was so foggy. Argh!

I briefly considered waiting for an hour or two to see if things might improve, but I was tired of waiting. I spent the last two days trying to wait out the weather with no success. I ate my last dinner the night before, and I was about to eat my last breakfast this morning, and I had a handful of snacks left in my pack to get me into town. I definitely had to get into town today, and I didn’t want to delay my arrival anymore than I already had.

So I quickly ate breakfast, bundled up, and decided to wear most of my camp clothes while hiking today. My camp clothes were warmer than my hiking clothes, and it looked very cold and exposed outside. And since I was going into town today, I didn’t have to worry about keeping my camp clothes dry.

I left the shelter and headed up Mount Mansfield in the cold, bitter wind.

Mount Mansfield, apparently, if you look at it from the right direction, looks like a face, which is why the individual summits on the mountain have names like the Chin, Forehead, and Nose. The Chin is the highest peak of them all, but apparently I was travelling along the face upside-down because before I got to the Chin, I had to conquer the Forehead.

The Forehead might not sound like much, but it strikes fear into everyone who’s familiar with it. There are more ladders on this section of trail than anywhere else on the Long Trail. It is steep, following alongside steep cliffs that, if one were to trip or fall, could mean instant death. In good weather, it’s been known to make grown men cry. In bad weather, some people would call it suicidal, which is why there’s a bad-weather bypass.

Dscn6512Stevie, the caretaker at Butler Lodge, suggested that we should not take the bad-weather bypass, which came somewhat as a surprise to us all. The wind was howling, probably pushing a steady 20 to 30 mph with gusts even higher, on often slick and wet rocks. If this wasn’t bad weather, what did it take before it could be considered bad?! But she told us that it’s actually easier than the bad-weather bypass and that the only good time to use the bypass was if there was thunder and lightning in the air. You wouldn’t want to expose yourself to lightning on the exposed trail up the Forehead. Wet, cold and windy were no reasons to use the trail, though, and we took her at her word. She was the only one of us familiar with all of these trails, after all.

I left the shelter about the same time as Purgy No More and his friends/family did, which, when I reached the Forehead, I was happy to have them around. If the worst should happen, I wanted people nearby who could help. I didn’t expect the worst to happen, but if something did happen, this would certainly be a likely place for it!

We climbed up the series of ladders, but it was a couple of exposed surfaces where we hugged the rocks for dear life and wiggled our way across that made up the scariest part of the Forehead. Full body contact because crawling across the rock on all fours just wasn’t safe!

Once we got past the Forehead, the trail leveled out significantly and things got easier. The trail was now largely above treeline so the weather got worse without many trees to break the wind, and on the few patches of trees that did survive at these elevations, thick layers of rime ice had formed.

Which was actually a new experience for me. I’d never seen rime ice up close and personal before. I had heard of it, and I’d seen photos of it, but I’d never been anywhere to actually see it for myself and I found it absolutely enchanting. At least it would be if it just weren’t so freakin’ cold out!

And while walking past one of these patches of trees covered with rime ice, I learned about a new danger that I had no idea existed: The strong winds that formed rime ice would also blow off large chunks that would pelt my face. Argh! I started protecting my eyes with my left hand as I quickly stepped through the patch of trees.

Dscn6513I didn’t dare rest for more than a few seconds at a time because the bitter wind would suck the heat right out of me if I did. I simply pushed onward, through the fog and wind. And kept my spirits up with the thought that at least it’s not raining. Thank God it’s not raining!

The Long Trail doesn’t actually go over the top of the Nose, but a short side trail leads to the top. That side trail, however, was closed to hikers at this time and signs warned that the radio frequency waves on the Nose exceeded federal limits or something to that effect. So I didn’t go that way. There wouldn’t have been a view anyhow.

I soon reached the Visitor Center on Mount Mansfield, a large building that seemed out of place all by itself. When I walked in, I found Stevie already there—she had left the shelter nearly an hour before the rest of us since the shelter was essentially her night job. During the day, she manned the visitor center.

But I was most surprised at how small the visitor center was. The building was substantial, but the visitor center only filled up the lobby, a very small portion of the building. Stevie told me that the rest of the building is used for other purposes including, once upon a time, as a radio station.

After a brief look around the visitor center, I headed back into the elements for the final climb to the top of Mount Mansfield.

I soon caught up with another hiker, which surprised the heck out of me. Who in the world would go out in weather like this except thru-hikers?! He explained to me that he was just out for a day hike. Originally, he wanted to do a hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire but because the weather was bad, he figured it would probably be safer and easier to stick to the Green Mountains instead. He offered to take some photos of me, though, which I gladly accepted since otherwise I wouldn’t have any decent photos of me at the top of Vermont’s tallest peak. =)

We didn’t really talk very much. Over the wind, you really had to shout to be heard, and shouting gets tiring very quickly, so we kept our conversation short.

We passed the trail junction for Profanity Trail, another bad-weather bypass around the highest peak of Vermont. I couldn’t imagine how bad that trail must have been if it was called Profanity Trail! I’d already used plenty of profanity, and I wasn’t even on the profanity trail! But I liked the name of that trail. Truth in advertising, no doubt! =)

When I reached the summit of the Chin—the highest peak on Mount Mansfield—I hadn’t even realized I had reached a summit because it came up so gradually until the day hiker actually told me this was the top. “It is?!” I replied, surprised.

Dscn6514He pointed down towards our feet. “That’s the geographical survey marker that marks the peak!” he yelled over the wind.

Two other hikers had been sitting down, back-to-back, just under the summit and protected by a boulder as a wind break, and I was once again astounded that there were other hikers up here. Even more surprising, they were staying up here in this miserable weather.

“What are you guys doing up here?” I yelled down to them.

They were the caretakers, though. They stayed in Taft Lodge over the night, on the far side of Mount Mansfield just like Stevie was the caretaker for Butler Lodge. And just like Stevie watched over the visitor center during the day, they watched over the mountain itself during the day. I was a more than a little impressed that despite weather like this, they were still out there to keep watch over the mountain.

I took some photos, but I didn’t linger. Still too cold and windy, although there was a strange lull in the wind at the very peak as if the wind was blowing around both sides of it rather than over the top.

Heading down from the Chin, the trail turned steep and treacherous again, and my progress slowed significantly. No ladders this time, although a few of the slopes certainly could have used them.

And a short time later, I re-entered below the treeline and finally got out of the wind.

I made a quick stop at Taft lodge—the largest shelter on the Long Trail with space for 24 people—ate a snack, then continued onwards.

The trail descended rapidly and I eventually got out of the fog. Even more remarkably, the sun started to come out! The first time in three days I had seen the sun! Above and behind me, I could still see the clouds and fog enveloping Mount Mansfield, but ahead, things were looking bright!

Eventually, I stopped to change into my usual hiking clothes since my camp clothes were now too warm. Without the wind and with the sun coming out, I was getting positively hot.

Dscn6515The trail comes down towards Smugglers Notch where it crosses Vt. 108—and the point where I’d get off the trail to resuppy in Stowe.

The trail follows the road west a short ways before re-entering the woods, and I could see parking on both sides of the road in that direction, so walked to the forward edge of the parking lot to hitch a ride. I figured that would give anyone who was willing to stop to give me a ride plenty of room to pull over in the parking lot.

As I walked by the parking area long the road, the bright sun was blinding. In the trees on the trail, it wasn’t a problem, but alongside the road, there wasn’t any shade and the sun was absolutely blinding. I needed to pull the sunglasses out of my pack! When I had packed up backpack early that morning, I did not imagine that I’d be needing sunglasses before the day was out!

I reached the point where I wanted to hitch a ride and was about to put down my pack when I spotted a car driving up the road. I stuck out my thumb on the off chance it would stop, but it drove on by. A second car just behind it pulled over, however, before I even had a chance to put my pack down.

“Where are you going?” a woman in the passenger seat asked me in a very thick, hard-to-understand accent.

“Stowe!” I told them, and they encouraged me to jump in the backseat. Wow! This was awesome! I literally hadn’t even had time to put down my pack before I nabbed myself a ride! That was a new record for me!

The couple that picked me up, I learned, were Canadians from Montreal out to do a little leaf peeping, but they were actually from Thailand before they moved to Quebec which would certainly explain their thick accents. They weren’t familiar with the Long Trail, so I told them a bit about it as they gave me a ride into Stowe.

Dscn6518They dropped me off at the post office where I had had Amanda mail me my laptop after she left Rutland. Then I walked a few blocks away to the library where I figured I could get online with it and let people know that I was still alive and well. =)

I emailed Amanda and my mom to let them know about my arrival in Stowe, as well as Cindy who lived in Stowe and had offered me a place to stay while I was in town. She soon emailed me back saying that she was working until 7:00 or so but that I was more than welcome to help myself into her place. I looked up the directions online and her place didn’t seem far, but since I was already comfortable and online, I decided to get a little work done on this blog and catching up on the more important emails I had gotten.

By 7:00, I was still at it and Cindy eventually came by to pick me up at the library. I was perfectly okay not walking to her place. =) Before we went back to her place, though, we walked over to the Malt Shop where we ate dinner. The burger was good, but they have absolutely amazing fries, let me tell you! =) And they played old 60s music through the diner which I liked as well. =)

Then we headed back to her place where I showered off 10 days of grime and dirt and settled in for the night.

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Rime ice formed on the patches of trees near the top of Mount Mansfield.

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But you had to be careful around it since the wind
would pelt you in the face with the ice!

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Remarkably, given the severe wind and cold, I found
these flowers thriving on the trail!

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The Nose is closed due to radioactivity!

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The visitor center on Mount Mansfield in is a pretty large
building, but only a tiny lobby in the front is actually
used for the visitor center. The rest of the building is
used for other purposes.

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Rime ice can also form on rock, but these weren’t
high enough for the wind to pelt me in the face with it!

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I’m nearing the summit! The thing to notice in this photo is
how puffed up I look. That because the wind is getting
in under my jacket and pants and puffing them up like balloons.
Also note that I’m using the shiny new buff I bought for the
trail as a balaclava to keep my face warm. =) Love the buff!

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Yeah, I can think of a few words right now…

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The day hiker who I summited Mount Mansfield with
is just up ahead of me in this photo wearing a blue
jacket—but he’s hard to see with all the fog!

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One last push to the summit…

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…and we’re here! The highest point in Vermont! =)

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It might be the highest point in Vermont, but the view SUCKED!

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The trail down from the summit was treacherous and steep!

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Taft Lodge—the largest shelter of the Long Trail with space
for 24 people!

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Not far below Taft Lodge, the sun started to come out
and I could even see patches of blue sky!

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Vt. 108 at Smugglers Notch. The trail leads about 1/10th of a mile
down this road before re-entering the woods on the right.

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Cindy and I ate dinner at the Malt Shop. Two thumbs up! =)

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I saw a bear! I saw a bear! And nobody cared…

1 comment:

lou p otter said...

Back in the 70's when I worked at Smuggs' there was a UVM student studying rime ice. He walked up the Madonna liftline every day.
A guest asked him what he was doing. Later that day they stopped in our top shack to as why he was studying "Rye Mice" and what the heck are rye mice.