Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mt Mansfield With Only a Few Profanities

MLK weekend started off with a grand plan.  Our friend Kim has been hoping to finish her winter NE67 list this year and needed all of the Vermont peaks except Camel's Hump.  Since finishing our NH48 last fall we'd decided to start working on the NE67 and coincidentally needed the same four VT peaks.  We figured that a three day weekend was perfect.  We could hit Mansfield one day, Abraham and Ellen another and then catch Killington before heading home the final day.  We were staying at a friend's house in Stockbridge which is perfectly positioned as a home base.  Now all we needed was for the weather to cooperate.

As always seems to happen, the forecast went back and forth about a dozen times over the week before the trip.  By the time we headed up on Friday night the weekend forecast was a mixed bag from well above freezing temps to near zero, combined with various combinations of clear skies, clouds, calm and gale force winds.  Overall though, the whole plan still looked doable.  Saturday initially looked like a less windy day, so the more exposed Mt Mansfield was the first target.  We'd play it by ear after that.

Saturday morning was warm - 20s when we got up and warmer by the time we got to Stowe at 10am.  We were surprised to find the parking lot by the winter gate on Rt 108 already full.  We pulled into the first lot at the ski area though and joined the few cars that were already there.  Timing was good, as they put cones up to block the entrance right after we pulled in.  The forecast for the day was for temps to remain pretty warm, but with winds of 40-50MPH with higher gusts on the summits.  The good news was that the winds were from the west, so we'd be on the lee side of the mountain until the summit ridge, with only 0.2 along the ridge to the top.  The summits were also predicted to be in the clouds, but when we started out everything was in the clear.  So far, so good.  We headed down the 0.4 mile road walk and turned onto the Long Trail.

Parking lot at Stowe...visibility is far better than we expected

Hiker lot is full - we parked in the ski lot

Starting the hike on the short road walk to the trailhead

At the summer trailhead - Long Trail South to Mansfield

The lower section of the LT was easy walking.  We wore snowshoes the whole day (actually Kim and Nat took them off on the way down), but we could easily have bare booted or used Microspikes down here.  There was surprisingly little snow based on what we'd heard from earlier in the month.  The recent rain and warm temps had to have knocked the base way down.  There were a few inches of new snow from the night before coating the packed trails below - just perfect.

Time to delayer already?  Warm today...

Heading up the LT

Nat on the Long Trail

Starting to get a bit steeper

The section of the LT to Taft Lodge is 1.7 miles and it went by quickly.  This is a short hike and we were really taking our time since we had no rush to be done.  After hitting some early views we emerged from the woods at the lodge and stopped for a break before the push to the summit.

Beautiful walk in the forest

Starting to get some views

Final steep section to Taft Lodge

Taft Lodge with the summit above

Snack break at Taft Lodge

From Taft Lodge to the summit the choices are to continue on the more exposed LT (which also has some reportedly difficult scrambles on the final approach) or the more protected Profanity Trail.  I wonder why they call it Profanity?  The winds had picked up a bit, but still weren't too bad.  We opted for the more sheltered option and headed up Profanity.

Ice sculpture

So beautiful up here!

Smiling for the picture and not uttering profanities

The Profanity Trail gets steep quickly and stays that way all the way to the summit ridge.  There was thankfully a solid base for the snowshoe crampons to bite into and the layer of new snow on top only caused back slides in a few places.  I don't mind going uphill in these conditions, but I was already dreading the way down.  I'm not exactly sure how many times I said it, but I think the phrase of the day for me was "this is really going to suck on the way down".  A few other profanities may have been uttered under my breath as well.

Nat making her way up

Me nearing the top of Profanity

Nat taking a break

Kim on the steeps of Profanity

Nat digging in.  This section was tough!

Profanity is steep, but short - just 0.5 to the ridge.  We pushed our way up the steeps and soon hit the beginning of the summit ledges.  This was the next thing that I'd been a bit worried about.  We had borrowed crampons in case the conditions were icy up top, but I was hoping not to need them.  It wasn't even close.  Snowshoes were more than adequate for the little ice (and most was exposed rock).  The wind had picked up some as we hit the ridge, but nowhere near the levels that had been predicted.  It probably was no more than 20mph.  We put on our goggles and balaclavas anyway as it still felt pretty cold up there.

Nat starting on the summit ledges.  Profanity dropping off behind

Gearing up for the exposed summit

Nat heading over the ridge.  Her sled is more like a kite up here!

Approaching the summit

Final steps

We hung out on top for a while, getting summit shots and enjoying the views that we weren't supposed to have.  The conditions had turned out to be just about ideal and we were really happy that we'd decided to go ahead as planned and not back out due to the forecast.

Me on the summit

Nat, Kim and Mark on Mansfield

Who is that masked man?

Mt Mansfield - #55 of 67

Mt Mansfield summit marker

Kim on Mansfield - #59 of the W67 for her

Nat and Kim

Kim getting a pano.  Views were awesome for a day that was supposed to be socked in

We finally decided that it was time to get out of the wind and head down.  I really wasn't looking forward to this.  We were quickly off of the summit ledges and at the top of Profanity again.  Now the fun begins...

Blazes still showing on the ridge.  A string (right) followed the blazes the whole way too. (???)

Starting down.  Snowshoes were fine on the ridge today.

Frosted cairn

Beautiful views and amazing light on the horizon

Sculpted trees

We sidestepped down the first steep section.  It really wasn't too bad.  Plant the bottom foot, slide a few feet until the snow ahead piles up and stops.  Reset and repeat.  This was going to be a long afternoon at this rate.  After a short break in the slope we were at the steepest section.  OK, forget it - time to sit down.  I didn't bother to get my sled off my pack and left my snowshoes on.  Even with the snowshoes digging in and leaning back on my pack the slide was pretty fast, but pretty well controlled too.  Actually, it was fun - a whole lot better than trying to walk down and killing my knees.  I waited at the bottom of that section while Nat and Kim took their snowshoes off and got their sleds out and they were soon zipping down to join me.

Trying to sidestep down the steeps - way to hard.  There has to be a better way.

Stowe ski trails and the Nose

Nat and Kim preparing to sled Profanity

Nat takes the first butt slide run

Kim zips down with the sled

I think she's having fun :)

This was not only not going to be bad, it was going to be fun!  We slid the rest of the way down Profanity in a few quick sections and were quickly back at Taft Lodge.

Nat's having fun with this!

Me too!!!

Do they allow sheep at Taft Lodge??

Ah, OK...

After another quick break we headed down the last mile and a half to the road.  I think we had to have sledded more than half of it.  I was amazed by how well you could steer using feet and poles.  Winter hiking has taken on a whole new dimension for me!  By the way, the sleds we used are TSL Quicky children's model.  EMS sells the full size version, but these are smaller and easier to carry and still work fine for adults (at least on the trail).  On the way down you clip them to your belt with a carabiner and when you get to a sliding section just flip it between your legs and sit down.  We got them at ORS Snowshoes Direct - $13.45 for a three pack.  What a deal!

Kim leaning into a corner at full speed...

...and she's gone...

Nat's going so fast she's a blur

Oops...we followed the ski tracks and missed the trail.  Getting back up was challenging

Kim showing the speed technique.  Get those feet up!

We were back to the car before we knew it.  What a great day!  It was followed up with a perfect ending - dinner at the Prohibition Pig in Waterbury (site of the old Alchemist Brew Pub).  The food (and beer, which includes Alchemist drafts) here is fantastic and we'll definitely return!

Walking the road out

End of a great day!

Thanks to Kim for sharing her pictures (all the ones with me in them and a few others) to use here.  I don't usually get to see myself on our hikes as I'm always behind the camera...

Day 2 - Abraham and Ellen (not exactly)

By the time we were back on Saturday night the forecast for Sunday had gone downhill.  It was supposed to be even warmer, but very windy - 50-60 on the summits - with on and off snow.  The ridge between Ellen and Abraham is pretty well protected, so we decided it was at least worth a shot.  We only had one vehicle, but had figured out some good logistics.  There is a free winter shuttle - the Mad Bus - that runs a number of routes in the Mad River Valley including between the Sugarbush Ski areas.  We left early and got to Sugarbush Lincoln Peak lodge at about 7:45 and got a second row parking spot by beating the ski crowd.  The first bus leaves at 8am (they run on the half hour all day) and had us at the Sugarbush Mt Ellen area at 8:15.  So far, so good.  We could now hike up Mt Ellen, head across the ridge to Abraham and then backtrack to Lincoln Peak and hike down the ski trails to the car.  No worries about timing and the possibility of missing the last shuttle at 4pm.  Glad Kim thought of this option.

I had called Sugarbush before we left on Friday to check on their policies for hiking the ski trails.  The person that I talked to seemed a bit confused about what we wanted to do.  First he said that we could hike up the skinning trails, but that we needed a full access pass (aka, lift ticket at $65 or so).  I explained that we didn't have skis and would be on snowshoes.  OK, that's different he says - there is a $10 pass that lets you ride the lift up on one side, hike across the ridge and then ride the lift down on the other.  No, we don't want to ride the lift, we need to hike up and down.  Oh, in that case you don't need a pass at all.  Talk to someone in guest services when you get there and they'll tell you what trails to use.  Hmmmm.  We'll see...

We went to guest services after getting off the shuttle and they were very nice.  They did say at first that Sugarbush really isn't very hiker friendly, but then proceeded to give us a perfect plan.  Hike up the Lower FIS trail which is currently closed (the picture below shows why) and then take Rim Run to the summit.  Just stay to the side of the trails that are open and give right of way to skiers at any crossings.  No problem (and no pass required).

We got our snowshoes on and headed out on Lower FIS.  It was very warm and the skies to the east were actually blue.  To the west (and over the summits we were headed for) it was pretty dark, the clouds were dropping down over the slopes and the wind was picking up and gusting.  The trail was down to the dirt in many spots and there were open stream crossings in half a dozen places.

Beautiful to the east, but clouds building in the west

Kim and Nat on Mt Ellen Lower FIS ski trail

Hmm, wonder why this isn't open for skiing

As we went on the winds picked up more and it started to snow.  When we were probably 1/3 of the way up Lower FIS and passing under the quad lift things got more interesting.  The snow started coming down really hard and was more like ice pellets.  The wind picked up and gusted so much that it actually knocked us off our feet.  When we were talking to guest services they had told us that the forecast for the summits was for winds at 70-80mph - much worse than the forecast we'd heard.  We hadn't paid much attention at the time and figured that they were exaggerating, but maybe they were right.  Even being in the woods in that kind of wind would be difficult (and perhaps dangerous with potential for blowdowns).  We were all a bit tired anyway and it somehow didn't seem like a good idea to keep going.  We looked at each other, turned around and headed down.

The rest of the day was crazy.  As we drove back to the house it went from dark clouds and snow to blue skies and sun with clouds blowing by at crazy speeds.  The wind would gust and then die down.  Who knows what it was like up there.  As it turned out there was another group doing the loop from the opposite direction (and from the west side) that Kim had been keeping in touch with.  They went ahead as planned and said that it was quite gusty up on the ridge, but fine.  I sort of wish that we'd kept going because of how interesting the conditions and views would have been with that crazy weather (not to mention bagging the two peaks), but I don't have any regrets about the way it turned out.  We stopped at Moss Glen Falls as we were driving back on Rt 100 and got some beautiful views, stopped at Old Hancock Hotel for brunch and then spent the rest of the day playing cards, watching movies and having a libation or two.  All in all, a pretty good day.  Best part is, we've got an excuse to come back to Vermont to try this hike again.

Why are we coming down?  Doesn't look like bad weather from here

Moss Glen Falls

Brief rays of sun on the falls

Breakfast buffet at the Vermont Home Bakery, Old Hancock Hotel
Good consolation for turning around on the hike

Day 3 - Killington?  Maybe Not...

On Sunday night the weather took another turn.  The wind died down and it got COLD.  Forecast for Monday morning was for temps around 0, but no wind.  The forecast for the summit of Killington later in the morning though was for single digits with winds gusting up to 50mph.  OK, we have to come back to Vermont again anyway, so let's just sleep in and do something small on the way home.  Another 4000 footer is not to be on this trip.

We got up to a cold and beautiful morning on Monday.  I went out for a walk in the cornfield across the street to get a better view of the sunrise over the mountains.  The temp was +1, but it really didn't feel cold.

We got packed up and hit the road.  Kim had suggested that we hike part of the Weathersfield Trail on Mt Ascutney.  There were several nice features on the first mile or so of this trail and we could just make it a relaxing walk in the woods before heading home.  When we got to the trailhead we had the place to ourselves, a surprise for a nice day on a holiday weekend.  It had actually warmed up to the mid teens and there was still no wind.  Guess we could have done Killington after all, but no matter - this was really nice.  For as little snow as there was further north, there was almost nothing down here.  We wore Microspikes for the icy portions of the trail (which there were plenty of), but much of the trail was bare.

Not much snow on the Weathersfield Trail

Trail turning into an ice climb (not as bad as it looks)

Icy gorge

Beautiful flows

At 1.2 miles up we got to the top of Crystal Cascade - an 85' high waterfall.  We took the very steep trail to the bottom of the falls and got treated to some really beautiful views.

Nice views from above the falls

Crystal Cascade

Watch where you step - there's water running under that ice

Ice on a stick.  How'd this form???

Underground (or under snow) river

Kim and the falls

We headed back up to the top of the falls and took a break in the sun on the rocks.  It really was a beautiful day, but we decided to head back at that point as we were ready for some lunch and hadn't really packed anything.

Steep climb back up

Beautiful views from the top of the falls

Nat and Kim enjoying the sun

Across the frozen stream

On the way out we used our reliable friend Yelp to look for a lunch spot and came up with Smokin' Bowls in  Rockingham.  It's a chili and soup "shack" right off the highway.  There was a half hour wait in line to get to the window and order our lunch, which we then had to eat in the car.  It was more than worth it!  The chili and soup were fantastic!!  Where else besides Vermont would you find Cheech and Chong chili at a place called Smokin' Bowls.  Classic!  Perfect end to a great weekend and another spot we'll definitely be visiting when we come back.