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Mount Mansfield (VT)
Mount Mansfield, Vermont
Elevation: 4,393 ft
Date: 2 attempts: February 12th and 13th, 2005
Group Size: 4 first day, 3 second day
Miles Covered: About 3 during the climb
Difficulty: Way too much powder on Hell Brook, Long Trail wasn't too bad
Scenery: Amazing. Complete winter wonderland
I flew up to Hartford, CT on the 11th of February. Sarah was really nice and actually bought me the airplane ticket. That was really sweet! Well, after a short climbing school on a hill by her house, we headed to downtown Hartford for a happy hour with her many friends. That girl probably knows every single 20-30 year-old in the whole Hartford metro area...
We left the next morning around 7am and got to the trailhead around noon. On the way up we picked up Shannon at the intersection of I-89 and I-91. Sarah's friend Stephanie showed up at the Stowe ski area parking lot just as we were pulling in, which was quite amazing, since she did not have a cell phone. Stephanie lives in the nearby Burlington, and hence came to spend the day with us snowshoeing.
Shannon, the other rocket scientist
The road north of the ski area is not plowed and thus we had to walk a bit to the actual trailhead. Our plan was to go up the Hell Brook trail to the summit, and Profanity/Long Trail back down. Well, we kept hiking on the road looking for the trailhead. Somehow, we must have missed the Long Trail trailhead, because when we got to the Hell Brook trailhead, we thought we still had ways to go. And so on we went, for another 3 miles. At this point, we walked off the map and realized we needed to turn back. Crap!
Snowshoeing on Smuggler's Notch Road
I guess I was going a bit too fast, since Steph and Shannon decided to stay behind. So Sarah and I hurried back, and returned to the Hell Brook trail at around 2:30pm. Just a few hundred feet from the trailhead we encountered a steep block of snow and put on the crampons. It got really interesting from here...
...as the trail was covered in about 5 feet of powder. The slope was too steep for snowshoes, plus there were the ocassional blocks of ice. After sinking in down to my chest on a steep slope, I realized that there is no way we will be making it up to the summit. We found a really cool piece of ice, and climbed it for a while. It was a lot of fun.
My first time ice-climbing!
After eating a really horrible sandwich which I had bought at a gas station on the way, we decided to head back to the parking lot. At this point we realized that what we had been climbing was actually not the trail, but a snowboard track! No wonder it was so steep... For a while, I worried that Steph and Shannon might have gone up the real trail, without us seeing them. That would have been pretty bad, since they were fairly inexperienced. Luckily that wasn't the case and we all met in a pizza place called Pie in the Sky. Here we discussed the plan for tomorrow. Neither one of us was ready to give up just yet. We had two options: first, we could simply take the gondola, and then hike the short piece to summit. Or, we could take the Long Trail to the ridge. Either way, we decided that taking the gondala back down would work the best.
Sarah, Shannon and I headed to Burlington, where we had a reservation in the Midtown Motel. Since we got there pretty late, we found out that our reservation had been cancelled. This was actually great news because the Midtown motel should have been called The Dump instead. The front-desk lady also seemed to be on a caffeine high, and after suggesting to squeeze us in a room with "a guy coming from the airport", we simply walked away.
We parked close to Church street, and headed over the the Radio Bean, a coffee shop known for its great Thai tea. A guy, who was probably the inspiration for Jay from Jay & Silent Bob, was sitting in a booth next to ours. He was definitely out there, even by the Burlington standards. A Canadian band named Laurie Anderson was playing. They were pretty good, besides producing way too much feedback. I guess they were used to it, since it didn't seem to bother them. Oh well, I shouldn't be complaining about a free concert. We crashed at a Motel 6, which cost only half as much as The Dump, yet was much nicer.
We returned to the Stowe Parking lot around 9 am. This time we knew where the trail began, which seemed like half the battle. The trail was initially pretty easy to follow, since it was packed down by some snowshoers.
Heading up the Long Trail
Shannon realizing that 12pt crampons kick ass
Unfortunatelly, the snowshoers turned back around the 3000ft line. After a while of sinking in, we picked up a snowboard track and followed it to the ski slope. Going up the ski slope seemed like a very good idea, since it was so nicely packed down. So that's what we did. It was pretty windy on the slope, so we took a short re-warming break at the Gondola hut.
Going up the ski slope
The trail to the ridge was just amazing. Not only was everything covered in snow, the views of the surrounding mountains were spectacular. There was so much snow that we were actually walking on top of little trees. A group of snowboarders followed us to the top. I can barely turn on a snowboard, yet these guys were jumping off cliffs and navigating between trees on their way down.
Approaching the ridge line
The air temperature was about 5F. The moment we got to the ridge, we got engulfed by a wind blowing at least 50mph. The axe came in very handy here as a stake; without it I probably would have ended up getting blown down. The snow crystals were pelting my face. I zipped up the parka as much as I could, but it was not enough. Unfortunately, I somehow managed to lose my balaclava the day before.
Frozen trees on the final push to the summit
We pushed through the wind, and made it to the top. The trees up here were completely frozen. It really is amazing that anything can survive in such frigid conditions. We took few pictures with the snowboarders, and headed back down. Our footsteps had mostly dissapeared in the few minutes we stayed at the top. Walking down from the exposed ridge into the protection of trees felt like stepping into a sauna. The wind really has a huge effect on the temperature the body perceives.
We made it!
We took the gondola back down. We spent about 5 hours going up, but only about 5 minutes going down. Sarah had tickets to the Miss Saigon musical for that evening, but we got stuck in traffic (and Border Patrol nonsense by the Mass. border) and didn't get back in time. But both of us were really exhausted, so it probably didn't matter anyway. This was one hell of a trip. These high point adventures just keep getting better and better...
Mount Mansfield from the warmth of Sarah's SUV