Saturday, March 09, 2013

If at First You Don't Succeed... - Mt Ellen and Abraham

Back in January we had taken our first shot at getting our last Vermont peaks for the NE67.  We had a fantastic day for Mt Mansfield, but the weather turned us back soon after starting our attempt at Abraham and Ellen (that post is HERE) and we opted out of Killington as well, knowing that we had to return again anyway.  We weren't really sorry - it was a good excuse to go back to Vermont again.  Last weekend was the plan, and this time it looked like the mountains were ready to welcome us back.  Maybe...

The weather forecast for the whole weekend was amazing - sunny skies and temps reaching the 40's (almost too warm).  There was still a bit of a weather issue though - the tail end of the winter nor'easter that had been dumping more late season snow on lots of southern New England.  We drove up Friday afternoon and took our best shot at avoiding the last of the storm by heading west to the Mass Pike rather than getting anywhere near Boston.  It was only partly effective though, and by the time we were on Rt 146 in MA we were in heavy snow with barely plowed and very slippery roads.  A major accident on 146 had it closed for at least one exit and had to take back roads the rest of the way to the Mass Pike, but once we'd gone just a few exits to the west we were on dry roads and the rest of the trip was smooth sailing.  By the time we got to Brattleboro the sun was out and it was 45 degrees.  What a difference a few miles makes!  Challenge #1 dealt with...

The biggest potential issue for us appeared to be access for hiking Abe and Ellen.  Last time we'd gone through a process with talking to the folks at Sugarbush to get access to hiking the ski trails up and back so that we could take advantage of the shuttle between the base areas.  This turns the hike into a very reasonable 9 mile day vs. a best case 13+ mile out and back from any of the western access points.  There was some confusion among the various people in guest services and the ski patrol that we talked to last time, but we ultimately got permission to hike up a ski trail on Mt Ellen (Lower F.I.S.) that was closed that day. We unfortunately wound up getting turned back less than half way up by winds that were already knocking us off our feet.  We were hoping to be able to use the same logistics this time, but had seen a new page on the Sugarbush website that basically indicated that all uphill travel was prohibited, with not even the mention of a hiker pass option.  We once again called and talked to guest services who this time directed us to the head of the ski patrol.  Nat talked to him on Friday morning and explained our plan and that we just wanted to follow the rules and not cause any issues for the skiers.  He was very nice and said that he appreciated our consideration.  They've apparently had problems recently with hikers bringing unleashed dogs on the ski trails  which has driven the stricter public policy.  He told us we were fine to hike without a pass and suggested that we get as early a start as possible to get near the top before the first skiers.  Perfect!  Challenge #2 down...

With the plan of an early start, we switched the shuttle plan this time - parking at Ellen base and getting the shuttle back from Lincoln base (which runs till 4:30).  We were at the trailhead and ready to go at 7am, two hours before the lifts open and plenty of time to enjoy having the trails to ourselves.  All the tough part was now over - all that was left was the hike. :)   Uh, almost...  As we were gearing up, Kim made a horrible discovery.  When we had unpacked the car the night before her snowshoes had been on top of the luggage, so she put them next to the driveway while we finished unpacking.  Somehow we all missed seeing them when we were done (and when we left on Saturday morning as well) and they were still there, along with her poles, when we got to the mountain.  Damn!!  It would have taken close to two hours to go back and get them.  Even worse, she hadn't brought her microspikes since she was planning to use the snowshoes all day.  Ellen and Abe had been trying to foil Kim's attempts to finish her W67 for several years and it looked like they were giving it one last shot.  She borrowed Nat's microspikes and said she was going to stick it out no matter what.  Not knowing the conditions on the ridge this had the potential to be a really tough day.  She was determined not to let anything get in the way this time though.  We're off...

Sugarbush Mt Ellen base area at the beginning of a beautiful day

Starting up Lower F.I.S.

Kim heading up the initial flat section

Looks like a country lane down here

The first mile went quickly and we enjoyed walking the wide, flat trail on this beautiful day.  Past this long run-out at the bottom this turns into a very steep ascent (it is a black diamond after all).  In what seemed like no time we were back at the crossing of the quad lift where we turned around last time.

Me on the beginning steeps of Lower F.I.S.

This is where we turned around last time.  Sure is nicer today!

The quad lift that goes sideways between the two Sugarbush areas

From the crossing of the lift to the top of Mt Ellen the trails are unrelentingly steep.  The rest of Lower F.I.S. is a mogul-ed black diamond and Rim Run isn't much easier.  I'm not a skier, so it's probably not fair for me to assess, but it certainly seemed like it was more fun going up than it would be going down.  The good news was that we could just flip up the televators on the snowshoes and walk up the slope - except for Kim.  Nat and I both felt so guilty every time we put them on and then looked back at Kim plodding up in microspikes.

Starting to get some views

Undercast between the peaks in the distance

Beautiful birch lined trails

Nat and Kim heading up the moguls

Pretty steep ski trail - glad I'm not going down it

When we got to the top of Lower F.I.S. the views got really good.  Everything to the north opened up from Camel's Hump to Mansfield and beyond.  What a gorgeous day!  About this time we started meeting the first of the ski patrol crew taking their first runs down the mountain.  We ran into a total of four by the time we got to the top.  Each stopped and talked to us about our plans.  Only one asked us if we had a pass (and she seemed unsure of the question).  We told them each that we'd gotten permission and there was no hassle at all.  They each left telling us to enjoy the beautiful day and have a great hike.  Nice!

Nat and I at the top of Lower F.I.S.

Camel's Hump in the distance

Zoom to Camel's Hump

First lift crossing.  Still no skiers

Porcelain and azure

Shortly before the top we were caught up to by a couple of guys who were skinning up and then skiing across the ridge to Castlerock and down.  We stopped to talk to them several times and were lucky enough to have them lead the way across the ridge and break it out really well for us.  About 10 minutes before the top we started to pass the first skiers heading down from the lift.  Our timing was good.

Almost at the top of the ski area.  The two guys skinning up are just behind us

Beautiful views of the Long Trail to the north

What's not to smile about today?!!

Final ski trail to the summit

Getting windy - time to add a layer

At the top of the ski area there was no indication which way the Long Trail went into the trees.  The guys ahead of us were at the entrance though and pointed it out.  From here across the ridge it was pretty much a continuous winter wonderland.  One of the most beautiful winter hikes ever!

Nat and I heading into the Long Trail on Mt Ellen with one of the skiers that broke it out in front of us all morning

Snowy corridor

Winter wonderland on Mt Ellen!

The summit of Mt Ellen is just into the woods.  There's no marking, but the height of land is obvious.  We stopped for our summit pics.  Kim was so happy to have finally broken the curse that had stopped her on the last several attempts.  One down...

Kim on Mt Ellen for W67 #60

Nat and I on Mt Ellen for NE67 #56

Mark, Kim and Nat on the summit of Mt Ellen

We continued across the ridge enjoying the beautiful scenery.  There a a bunch of ups and downs over smaller peaks along here but the going was pretty easy - particularly with the freshly broken trail.

White blazes are hard to see today

Backlit frosting

LT south

Nice wide section

Cutts Peak

Nat and I on the Monroe Skyline

Kim on the LT

Nat in the frosted forest

This was the easiest way under.  Apparently it's permanent - it's even blazed!


Maybe not today...

We got to Castlerock Peak and lost our trailbreaking friends.  It wasn't a problem though, as there were a number of skiers hiking over in this direction from Lincoln Peak.  They were bare booting so it wasn't really helping the trail and it was easy to follow.  The entrance into the LT from Castlerock was again not obvious. There's a sign after you enter the woods (if you pick the right place) to tell you you're on track.  Very helpful

Castlerock Peak

Sign is 50' into the woods - just to make you guess

Glad we're not skiing (or alone)

LT is still easy to follow here

When we hit Lincoln Peak we found it predictably swarming with skiers.  Why not on such a perfect day!  We headed up to the viewing platform on the summit and hung out enjoying the warm sun.  We had lots of time and weren't in a hurry, but soon headed back onto the ridge to Abraham.

Looking down Paradise trail

Heading for Lincoln Peak

Kim heading up Lincoln Peak with Ellen and the Monroe Skyline beyond

Starting to meet some skiers

Kim, Nat and I on Lincoln Peak

Looking back to Ellen from Lincoln Peak platform

Summit transmission towers

The last 0.6 to Abraham was a little bit trickier than the rest of the ridge.  There hadn't been any recent traffic and there was just a faint snowshoe track that was mostly covered.  There were a couple of spots where we had to scratch our heads for a minute, but we wound up staying on the trail just fine.  It was probably a good idea too.  Past accounts of the ridge, and this section in particular, had pretty scary accounts of many deep spruce traps and it was easy to see that this could be the case if you just missed the trail a bit.  Kim generally made out OK across the ridge without snowshoes (which we'd all been worried about), but she did go in up to almost her waist on a few occasions - and that was staying on the trail.  I've got to give her a lot of credit for sticking this one out.

Nat and I heading off of Lincoln Peak

Trail finding gets a little more interesting in here

Signs, signs, everywhere are signs...

We got to Abraham and found one other group on top that had come up the Battell trail.  We chatted for a while and one of them took our summit pics for us.  They then headed down and we had the summit to ourselves for a while.  We took full advantage of soaking in the amazing views and doing a bit more sunbathing.  What a day.

On Abraham with the Dacks on the horizon.  NE67 #57 for Nat and I, W67 #61 for Kim

Looking back to Ellen from Abe

Kim enjoying the summit

Looking south down the LT

Nat and Kim loving the day

Kim contemplating the W67 peaks ahead?

Me on Abraham

The Presis and Franconia Ridge on the horizon

Great day for a cat nap in the sun

While we were hanging out we were greeted by a lone canine hiker.  She introduced herself and hung out with us until her people showed up about 5 minutes later.  Maddy and her people were all very nice and we chatted with them for a bit before finally tearing ourselves away and heading down.

Our new friend Maddy.  She came to greet us about 5 minutes before her people

Our new little summit friends

Nat and I on Abraham

Nat, Kim and Mark on Abraham

The hike back across the ridge to Lincoln Peak was easier now that we were following our tracks.  There were a few more minor sprucies to deal with but nothing too major (easy for me to say).  We took Jester (the blue trail that's also the summer hiking trail) all the way down.  There were a few steep corners to descend that would have been much more fun as a butt slide, but we didn't want to have any trouble from the ski patrol.  We crossed the trail a couple of times to get the flatter side, but dodging the skiers was not an easy proposition.  I almost got run over once (and got a couple of dirty looks).  For the most part we just got a bunch of glances and smiles from passing skiers and several ski patrol members stopped to chat and ask how our hike was.  Not a single one hassled us at all.

Starting to head back

Lots of interesting sculpture

Kim and Nat still enjoying the day

Starting down Lincoln Peak on Jester

Ridge views from Jester

Nice walk down here

This would be a really nice trail to ski

Looking for a way to cross the ski trail without getting run over

I got across but Kim and Nat are stuck on the other side

Snowboarder stopped to ask me about our hike.  He through hiked the LT a few years ago

Had lots of skiers giving us the bewildered looks on the way down

Thought about stopping here (midway down) for a beer.  Not a good motivator

The end is in sight

Looks like a party going on down there

We were back at the base a bit before 3.  We tried to stop for a beer, but the lodge was so packed it wasn't worth trying to get in.  We grabbed the next shuttle back over to Ellen and just headed back to the house to hang out and make our plans for Killington the next day...

I think we felt a bit like this too :)

Love the Vermont architecture at Sugarbush

Congratulations to Kim on W67 #60 and 61.  You definitely earned these!  I knew you wouldn't let them get the best of you this time though.  The finish line is definitely in sight.  One more to go tomorrow to get Vermont completely in the books!

Here's the interactive GPS track on  There's now an option to do a Google Earth flyover of the route which is very cool.


  1. Very nice pictures of a beautiful area. Happy for you that it worked out this time.

  2. I wonder when the sign on Ellen went missing. It was there in 2009:

    1. Good question Dennis. I found several other pictures of it online but we certainly didn't notice it if it was there. Is it right on the trail or set back in the woods at all? There was a lot of snow, but it shouldn't have been deep enough to bury the sign

    2. As I remember, it was right on the trail. On the left, as I was headed north.