About that back-packing trip…

It all started with Ellie. She wanted to go back packing. So did I and when I mentioned it (ever so casually) to my brother, before we knew it, we were planning a trip. After considering several options, we settled on a 3 day, 2 night trek with optional day hike from Camel’s Hump to Mount Mansfield in the Green Mountains of Vermont. It was a fairly ambitious undertaking, eight of us going, with 7 – 10 mile days planned between lodges for spending the nights. At the last minute we decided to hike from north to south – “down hill” – instead of the other way round (still a good idea, I think). This meant a steep 2.4 mile ascent first thing and then hopefully easier going the rest of the way. We had no idea.

rock scramble up the chin of Mt MansfieldWe arranged to leave a car at the hike out point and to have our friend Colleen take us to the trail head but this involved 3 vehicles because of logistics. The plan was that 2 vehicles would go to the hike out point in Jonesville, and one to the trail head in Smuggler’s Notch to wait. We agreed on a meeting point in Jonesville but somehow ended up waiting for each other at two different spots. After a significant delay, we found each other and all got to the trail head where we sent off the main group of 6 and my brother and I took the two trucks to Colleen’s. She graciously ferried us back to Smuggler’s Notch where we started up exactly one hour after the main group.

fog on the ridgeIt was steep and slow going and towards the top, lots of rock scramble. John and I met the rest of the group near the tree line. As we approached the “chin”, the clouds came in and we hiked the ridge in fog. If you’re not familiar with Mt Mansfield, it is portrayed as a man’s face, chin to the north, forehead to the south. The chin is the highest point and the entire face is barren and exposed, supporting a beautiful alpine biome. While Roger and James continued to make their way up the rock face, the rest of us posed for a picture at the top near the Geological survey marker. Group shot at the chinAs we made our way across the ridge, the clouds came and went, giving us little glimpses of the incredible views. After several miles in the fog, we headed down the far side of the forehead. The book never mentioned how very rough the terrain was going down, so difficult in places as to require ladders, but we were troopers all. The rocks and roots were slippery, especially with the mist. The scrub pines were our friends – strong and reliable hand holds.Ladders going down the forehead

The view south from the forehead

We finally reached our “hotel” for the night – Butler Lodge. Butler LodgeWood platforms for sleeping and plank tables and benches served us well. It was a full house – 1 caretaker plus the 8 of us, 3 brothers, a lady with a big black dog and the caretaker’s boyfriend. We were warm and dry, especially nice with the thunder and lightning storm that broke about midnight.

We set out early the next morning on relatively level terrain. I had rubbed 2 nasty blisters, one on each heel and was working on a third on the ball of my foot (thanks, I think, to the 38 pound pack I carried). The pace for day 2 was still slow and Roger and Linda were quite spent from the day before. We stopped at Taylor Lodge to eat and refill our water at the spring there. The choice was made to leave 3 of of us there for the night, since the most challenging part of the hike was still ahead and the day was fast speeding along. We abandoned our Camel’s Hump option which would have come at the end after hiking out to the car. We three would spend the night and hike out to the access road the next morning, waiting in the parking lot at the bottom to be picked up by the rest of the group when they hiked out to the car. The other 5 set off for Buchanan Lodge about 7 miles away.

While we waited for nightfall, we watched 2 chipmunks investigate our shelter for any little tidbit left behind by hikers, saw beautiful birds (rose-breasted grosbeak, wood thrush, robin, cedar waxwings) enjoying the bright red berries of a nearby shrub, watched red efts negotiate the rocky terrain, played “I’m thinking of something…” and watched a storm roll over the mountains. We made ourselves wait until 5 pm to start dinner and were in bed by 8.

Meanwhile, the rest of our group was struggling over the very rough terrain, hiking through the downpour and lightning, making their way into camp about 8pm. The next morning they were out early to hike out to the car. The terrain here was easier and they said they saw a very large bull moose. It rose out of the bushes in front of them as they rounded a corner and headed off into the woods. I’m posting one of the pictures they took – you decide. moose?!But they all swear it was really there and just camera shy.

After waiting at the parking lot for about 2 hours, the three of us got tired of sitting and began to walk out the road. It was the only way in so we had no way of missing our ride. We walked about 4 miles before they came along at 2 pm. They had been to Colleen’s to pick up the vehicles and we were all set to continue on home to Ludlow. It sure felt good to get cleaned up with showers and clean clothes and a nice spaghetti dinner.

It was very nice to spend the time together as a family, to enjoy the beautiful outdoors, to stretch ourselves physically and to pull together. I’m disappointed that I didn’t finish the planned 22.9 miles that we set out to do but I made a prudent choice for the sake of my feet and the speed of the rest of the group.

Looking north toward Mt MansfieldThis last photo was taken halfway through day 2, looking back towards Mt Mansfield. In the distance you can see the chin, high and exposed. The radio towers are on the forehead; there’s a weather station there also. And Butler Lodge is somewhere between the towers and the vantage point.

Photo credits to Ellie, our official chronicler – Thanks!


1 Response to “About that back-packing trip…”

  1. 1 stephanie July 9, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    WOW!!! I am truly impressed! What a great time you must have had. And how wonderful to do it with family. It makes me tired (and my feet hurt!) just thinking about such an undertaking. You guys really are amazing!

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