Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Vermont's Five 4000 Footers in Two Days

What an incredible weekend it was in Vermont as my brother and I took on and successfully climbed Vermont's five 4000 footers in two days. Since we had never hiked a single step in Vermont before, there was a great sense of uncertainty and unknown factors as we planned out the logistics for this undertaking. At the same time there was great excitement and of course NO doubt in our minds that this would be a mentally and physically tough challenge, Two separate hikes, two days in a row, on trails we knew only stats about.

In terms of the plans and routes, we considered a couple of different options for the 5 peaks, but everything leaned towards going North to South (Mansfield to Killington), doing the two short hikes first and the two longer hikes second. Each of the peaks had about an hour drive (one of them a little more) between them, and this seemed to be the most logical way, in terms of keeping driving time and distance to a minimum. One of the options we left for ourselves was that there might even be an opportunity to start the 3rd hike (Abe & Ellen) on the first day, and hammock camp or use Battell Shelter on the way up Abraham on the Long Trail. In planning, we banked on ourselves being able to meet the stated book times on each hike (the map we had and online research), but we did factor about 3 hours or so of leeway on each day in our planning. This was not much to leave ourselves, but then again hiking 5 mountains across an entire state in two days does not leave one with much time to begin with :)

We left MA on Friday night between nine and ten o'clock at night, and we arrived at the Long Trail South trail head for Mt. Mansfield on Route 108. It was so dark, and we were mesmerized by the coolness of the mountain road, that it took a few minutes to find the exact trail head. The signs are somewhat set back from the street, so we actually drove past it, but then checked out each one until we found the right one. This was good because we became acquainted with the map. The road climbs steeply near the trail heads, and huge boulders come within inches of the side mirrors. We parked, put the seats back, and got some rest/sleep.

By the time we got going, it was 6:15am. A little later than our intended start. I started the spot tracker and we were on this adventure, heading up the highest mountain in Vermont, Mt. Mansfield, for our first VT 4000 footer. The trail ascended moderately and consistently. It took us a little bit to get the juices flowing. The trail reminded us of some of those in the White Mountains. We passed the Taft Lodge and a nicely built outhouse. We ascended further, and we came to the junction for the Adam's Apple. Here, it was .3 more to the summit, and a nice .3 climb it was, up a cool chimney. We were loving it and the clouds were doing there thing around in and around the mountains. It doesn't have to be sunny to be enjoy a peak.
Looking up to above treeline 
Long Trail South approaching Taft Lodge 
Taft Lodge sign - no tent camping around shelter 
Lots of signs and roping to prevent damage
Bulging calf muscles all the way 
Adam's Apple from the chimney section on Mansfield
The summit was awesome and interesting. The clouds hovered around the eastern slopes, and the wind was blasting at us. I would guess around 40mph as predicted. We could see the towers on Stowe breaking through the cloud. We had fun leaning against the wind, and cooling off in it, as the air was quite humid for this hike. After a few minutes at the summit, we descended back to the car. We did well on the descent, but already, my knees were feeling it again.

Stowe from the summit of Mt. Mansfield 
Same as above, except closer 
View from a section below the summit
Now we were ready for our first hour drive to Camel's Hump. We took off the boots and off we went. Our ascent of Camel's Hump was via the Burrows Trail. This trail is a great one for a workout, as its very gradual. The trail was really pretty which helped, and there were many other hikers on this peak. We reached a somewhat crowded summit of Camel's Hump in 1hr and 40min. The wind was crisp, chilly, and the clouds were impressively passing by at quick pace.

Camel's Hump Long Trail Junction.  Burrows Trail enters from right
A steeper section approaching the summit 

Above treeline hiking (AKA doin' the Rock Walk) 
View from Camel's Hump summit
Descending off Camel's Hump
We flew on our first two peaks, finishing pretty early in the afternoon. But, as we made it back down to the car, we knew there would be no more hiking today. Man we were exhausted, but pleasantly surprised, pleased, and content with our experience so far. We got 2 of the 3 most difficult out of the way. This next drive was mine, and I drove us directly to Lincoln Gap to check out the area. We pulled in, and Bill was asleep in seconds. It was still mid afternoon, but after a quick look at the radar on my phone, we were about to be hit with a strong band of bad weather, which included a tornado watch. It was amazing how it came over the gap, pelted us as we sat in the car, and the wind swayed the trees all around. The heavy stuff passed by rather quickly, but it rained for a few hours. I even got an hour or so of sleep here. After it rained and we were somewhat awake again, we drove towards the Town of Warren for a convenience store stop and to gear up for the car camp. When we got back, we checked out the trail head sign and peeked up the trail. The soaking wet surroundings and the sunset peering over the hill was kind of cool. After all, Lincoln Gap is at 2,424 feet of elevation. Sure, I'll take in a Lincoln Gap sunset.
Sunset at Lincoln Gap, Vermont
We watched some videos, read articles, talked about hiking, and future plans. There was excellent cell phone coverage throughout the Vermont peaks, so the night was not boring. Sometime before midnight we were paid a visit by some authority in a white and green vehicle. I am not sure if it was fish and game or local police because we were blinded by their insanely bright lights. They approached the car very quickly with more lights blazing in our windows, so I immediately sat up and acknowledged them, and stated we were just car camping, planning to hike tomorrow. They said OK, and that they check it frequently because of partying and break-ins. So just as fast as they were on top of us, they were outta there after telling us that it looked like the weather would break for us tomorrow. A little bit of a startle, but no hassle, and we were fast asleep.

The next peaks on the agenda for Sunday morning were Abraham and Ellen, and without a car spot, our plan was to do the 12.6mi out-and-back on the Long Trail. We started at 5:25am, well before sunrise. Everything was wet and it was a little bit cooler as we went along first thing in the morning. The woods gave off a mysterious vibe, but we still knew it was going to be a good day.
Eerie section of the Long Trail in the morning 
The moon above the Long Trail en route to Mt. Abraham
We really liked the trail features on this hike. We liked that we'd get to come back through during the daylight.  We continued the ascent, and started to get occasional views over our backs. The clouds were filling in the little valleys here and there, and patches hovered over some of the crops and farms. To our right and east, the sun was just about up, but it was blocked by one mass of clouds. As soon as it crested that cloud, it would be an awesome sunrise summit of Mt. Abraham.
Looking back as we ascend Mt. Abraham
And that it was. We arrived to the summit of Mt. Abraham to an incredible sunrise. The feeling was awesome. There is nothing quite like arriving at the summit of a 4000 footer to a sunrise with no one there but yourselves to take it all in. We saw our destination (Ellen), we saw 360 degree views, and the best views so far on this trip. This was all we needed to keep us going for the day. Oh yeah, it was pretty cold. Winter's coming...
Sunrise from Mt. Abraham summit 

Mt. Abraham summit, 4,006' 
Looking towards Mt. Ellen from Mt. Abraham
This summit kept our attention for a little bit, but we re-focused and pulled ourselves away, and continued on the Long Trail into the trees. We knew we'd pass over some additional peaks, but we were pleasantly surprised to see signs and stuff and a lot more nice trail. We even found an observation tower on Mt. Lincoln (had no idea there would be one). We were surprised of these little peaks having features. That was a cool touch, and easily broke up the mileage for us. The coolest sign was on Nancy Hanks Peak. There is a new one, and then several steps away and into the trees is an older one in a patch of moss with moss growing all over it.
Sun effects on the Long Trail 
Easy hiking 
Little Abe - 3,900'
Nancy Hanks Peak - 3,950' 
The view from Nancy Hanks Peak at the summit sign 
Mt. Abraham from Mt. Lincoln 
Wind flag on Mt. Lincoln summit observation tower 
Mt. Lincoln observation tower
After crossing the top of the ski trails, we came to the summit cairn of our next 4000 footer, Mt. Ellen. There are no views from the highpoint, but just down the trail a few feet is the open top of Mt. Ellen and the Sugarbush Ski Resort, where there are very nice views. Here we sat and snacked on some snacks, including a stick of pepperoni which later seem to give us some good energy. We took a solid break here, but then got going. This summit was great, but now our attention was turned to getting down and to our next and final hike.
Mt. Ellen summit
View from the top of the ski area on Mt. Ellen  
Descending Mt. Abraham on our way to Killington for our final hike
We really would have liked to add Pico Mountain to this hike, but early in the day Sunday, it was decided that we would be taking the 7.2 mile Bucklin Route, and not another 12 mile route. The rides from north to south were also quite enjoyable as drove through the Vermont countryside. Little town halls, shops, unique names, and all that. In route to Killington, we saw the peak ahead in the distance, rising above the farmlands and among the blue sky and puffy clouds.
Killington Peak in the distance
It was 2:45pm when we set foot on the Bucklin Trail. Obviously a little bit later of a start than a typical Sunday hike, but this was no typical hike. It was still a beautiful afternoon, and we passed several groups descending. At 3.6 miles, this seemed, to us at the time, to be a long ascent. Killington is the second highest peak in Vermont, so we were back at it doing 2,800 of gain in order to complete the challenge. This was the first and only trail we saw to be severely damaged by tropical storm Irene. Not far from the trailhead, there is a diversion from the river that takes the trail to the left, and up and over the high hill to the left of the river. I don't know what the old section looked like, but the new section was nice, soft, and kept us going.
The Bucklin Trail 
Newer trail work on the Bucklin Trail 
After a while, a logging road intersected the trail, and the trail went right, immediately starting to ascend at a much steeper rate. From here, it remained that way, but even as it approached 5pm, we were still on our solid pace, headed straight for the top. The trail is all flat at the beginning, and then when it goes right and steepens, it doesn't stop until you reach the summit. There is no medium or ups and downs at all! At least that's what I thought of it.
Starting to get steeper 
At the Long Trail and Bucklin Trail junction 
The final push to the summit of Killington
We arrived at the summit of Killington Peak, our fifth and final Vermont 4000 footer. Again, it was just us on the summit, as if it had been reserved for us to enjoy this moment. The sky was a little overcast, but the views were still impressive. We brought a special treat with us to enjoy on the summit - A Wolaver's Pumpkin Ale, made right in Vermont.
Cheers Bill, on another great accomplishment, another great adventure 
Me and Bill on the summit of Killington 

View from the summit of Killington 

A spooky tree reminded us Halloween is coming!
We arrived back at the trail head just as light faded. We met our set plans for the weekend successfully, and had a reasonably good ride home of two and half hours to near the MA/NH border. It was a tremendous weekend, and we thoroughly enjoyed Vermont's high peaks. With the NE 100 highest peaks to take on, we know we'll be back someday, but until then, we have this amazing hike to reminisce on as part of our NE 4000 footer journey. With this hike in the books, we now have just 11 peaks in Maine to climb. We'll be headed there soon, but not sure exactly when.

Hike 1 Stats: Mt. Mansfield (4,393')
Trails: Long Trail
Distance: 4.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,800 feet
Book Time: 2hrs 26min

Hike 2 Stats: Camel's Hump (4,081')
Trails: Burrows Trail
Distance: 4.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,300 feet
Book Time: 3hrs 6min

Hike 3 Stats: Mt. Abraham (4,006') & Mt. Ellen (4,083')
Trails: Long Trail
Distance: 12.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,500 feet
Book Time: 7hrs 12min

Hike 4 Stats: Killinton Peak (4,235')
Trails: Bucklin Trail, Long Trail
Distance: 7.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,800 feet
Book Time: 4hrs 50min

Cumulative Stats:
Distance: 29.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 11,021 feet
Book Time: 17hrs 34min (looks like next time, I'll try them in a day!)
Driving Distance: 455 miles (Home-to-Home near MA/NH border)



  1. Nice way to bag all the VT 4K's! Vermont is on our list for next summer, so seeing all the great photos was a total bonus and inspiration.

  2. Great stuff Dan. Many thanks to you and your brother for another post with great ideas.

    I'm going to feel lazy when I follow the itinerary you laid out for us!

    1. Jim - My pleasure for the trip ideas. No need to feel lazy, I'm sure they will be just as enjoyable to you as they were to us at which ever pace you shall choose. Have a blast!

  3. Nicely done Dan!

    Your followers looking to bag the VT peaks can hide up to date VT 4000 trip reports here:

    1. Kim, Thanks and thanks for sharing that info here. It seems, based on stats, that the VT 4000 Footers are a hot ticket lately!

  4. Enjoyed reading your account of these two days. Can you tell me how far up the Long Trail the actual summit of Ellen is from the ski area?

    1. Thank you! If you are hiking the access road up from the ski resort, I believe it is 1.6 miles to the chairlift once you get to the long trail. (actual summit is in the trees) We did out and back from Lincoln Gap, so we did not go any further North than Ellen that day. I wasn't sure off hand, but check this link, if this is the hike your looking to do