Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Vermont 4000-Footers in Winter - January 2014

Originally, I had planned to climb the five VT 4000-footers in a day starting at the minute of the winter solstice, but rainy weather changed that plan, immediately throwing my winter hiking plans a curve ball.  Instead, the Vermont peaks waited until after the New Year.  They would be my first five 4000-footers in 2014, and they were all exciting for one reason or another.

Killington - January 2
After a few days at home for the New Year, I had two more vacation days at the end of a week, so it was a Thursday and I was headed to Vermont.  If you remember January 2nd this year, it was Blizzard Hercules arriving to the Northeast.  Well I arrived at the Bucklin trail head pretty late and I was dealing with some work matters - someones major water leak, for about a half hour before I could settle and prepare to head out into the snowstorm.  The parking lot was untouched, but for a good portion of the lower trail there were some very very faint steps on the trail, but I broke trail for the entire hike.  It got dark quickly, and from then on it became a pretty difficult hike, but I focused on the goal, and getting it done as quickly as possible.  I thought in advance of my descent, and I decided to clear many of the blazes in the opposite direction because the snow was blasted to all sides of the trunks, and who knows how quickly my tracks might fill in when its snowing multiple inches an hour.  With the wind through the trees I had to listen at all times.  When I got to the top, I unintentionally did a little loop around the actual trail, and I came out towards the ski side of the summit.  This wasn't a big deal, though, because I knew where I was.  I couldn't see much up there.  The snowflakes were enormous, and the wind seemed to be blowing in many directions, and I couldn't see anything beyond a few feet in front of my headlamp.  All I know is I stood in the same spot when I finished the VT 4Ks all-season, sipping a beer.  This time it was a raging blizzard at night. #54 will be one to remember!
Bucklin Trail head
A blurry lower part of the Bucklin Trail
Near the summit, the blizzard raged
And there I was for #54 in winter!
Hike Stats
Trails: Bucklin Trail
Distance: 7.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,700 ft.
Actual Book Time: 3:39
GPS Track: Garmin Adventures

Mt. Mansfield - January 3
After my late start blizzard adventure to Killington, I was basically winging my VT plan at this point as I decided my next move, which was driving north in the blizzard, about 30 mph or less the whole way to Stowe, where I'd hit Mansfield in the morning.  Trust me, I feel much safer hiking in a raging blizzard than I do driving in one.  Sprawled out in my sleeping bag in the jeep, I braced myself for record-setting lows overnight and for the next day.  I fared perfectly fine overnight and was plenty comfortable, but it was -11 outside when awoke.  It took me a good long while after waking up before I did anything.  Finally, and finally, I mustered up motivation that I had to get at least one more.  There was no way I was going to get another hike in after this one with it -11 outside, but I had to get one.
Long Trail just up the road from the closed gate at the entrance to Stowe
It was beautiful outside, except arctic-ly frigid.  I walked up the road to the trail head, and I saw some fresh snow over a few foot prints from yesterday.  Up went the televators (heel lift) on the MSRs, and I motored up the mountain, trying to keep my body warm constantly.  It was hard, and there was no question I had to add another layer before going any higher.  I stopped near the outhouse and trail junction and did just that, but when I did, I remember it being so strikingly cold, it almost hurt as I did it.  I got my thermal fleece on, my 3rd layer under my shell, and had to get going fast in order to get back to normal.  I opted for the main route on the Long Trail instead of the Profanity Trail (aka "Badweather Bypass") and continued on.  Either way, it didn't look like it was going to be easy after what Hercules did to Mansfield's alpine zone.

Welcome to the Alpine Zone
Looking up to the summit of Mt. Mansfield
It sure was pretty, but then I came to the steep chimney area, which was filled with powder and ice. I was able to shimmy my way up using opposing force and keeping my snow shoes on.  After that, there was a lot of powder on the ledges above, but it was very loose and there was ice underneath so I remember every step on this section was very calculated, and I had to smoothly double check the footing of each one, almost slow motion.  It was either that or I had my arms in front extended into the snow, crawling, maintaining weight on 4 points in the powder.  It was pretty intense looking over my left shoulder a couple of times, and I thought, please don't slip...  After those tense moments, I finally made it to solid ground, and continued on up the summit.  I could feel the snow frozen onto my eyelashes and face, and the wind was wicked.  It was -11 degrees or colder, and on the very top the wind was definitely over 20 mph, making it at least 30 below, if not closer to 40.  All I know is that I that the view I got was all the view I needed from my VT 4Ks in winter.  I stared at the massive Adirondacks as I approached the summit, and when I got there, I could see mountain ranges all over the northeast, including the Presidential's in NH.  The view was amazing...I had only a few very very short minutes to look around.

The Adirondacks from Mt. Mansfield,, highest point in VT

Mt. Mansfield in winter (#55)
Hike Stats
Trails: Long Trail
Distance: 5.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,003 ft.
Actual Book Time: 3:34
GPS Track: Garmin Adventures

Mt. Abraham & Ellen - January 12
I think Jan 11th was a complete bad weather day, but the following Sunday, January 12th, my goal was to bag Ellen and Abraham, and then Camel's Hump to finish VT in winter.  I had wrestled with deciding on using Battell and Jerusalem Trails and setting up a car spot or taxi or going out and back by the ski trails. Ultimately, after reading some old trip reports, I decided to park at Sugarbush North and ascend by the Lower F.I.S. ski trail.

Good morning Vermont
A bare and lower part of the Lower F.I.S. ski trail
Although it was the middle of winter, a recent warm spell that week meant a lack of snow, believe it or not.  From the lot, I easily found the trail to the left.  After about 20 minutes it became icy enough for microspikes. After it being a rather nice walk up a gradual road, it got pretty darn steep for a grassy ski trail and was sort of half-frozen and still mushy.  Nearing the top of that trail, I merged onto a usable ski trail (not yet open for the day), and then the lift strip for the last haul to the top. At the top, the summit of Ellen is just to the left on the Long Trail in the trees.  For a 4000-footer in New England, Ellen has to be one of the most boring, but the view on a clear day is very good.

Mt. Ellen summit in winter (#56)
Now on the Long Trail, the snow cover was minimal - almost late spring-like minus the monorail, which made for fast travel over the ridge.  It felt even faster because of the cool summits in between that break up the hike.  Little Abe was definitely way cooler then Ellen, especially with that nice rime on its summit sign.  I remember it being colder up on the ridge, with the wind blowing just over the tops of the trees.  I arrived at the summit of Mt. Abraham.  The summit sign was missing from my last visit, so that was sort of strange, and the view was nil, also much different than my summer hike here.  I snapped my summit photo, for my 57th New England 4000-footer in winter, and then booked it back to my car as quick as possible, the same way I had come, completing the 11.2 mile hike in just over 5 hours.

Thin snow cover on the Long Trail
Sugarbush South from the Long Trail
Nancy Hanks Peak
Lincoln Peak
Little Abe Summit
Mt. Abraham in winter (#57)
Hike Stats
Trails: Lower F.I.S. Ski Trail, Long Trail
Distance: 11.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,541 ft.
Actual Book Time: 5:18
GPS Track: Will upload later

Camel's Hump - January 12
After my hike to Ellen & Abraham, I drove about 45 minutes north to Camel's Hump to head up by way of the Burrows Trail.  The start of the hike didn't feel like winter at all.  Somewhere along the way I eventually put on the microspikes.  It was a nice hike up, and I passed several people coming down on the way up. Near the top, a woman was questioning heading up the final stretch which rounds the summit cone and approaches the top over a half-exposed section.  Rightfully so, the tricky section was filled with solid ice and no snow to aid in traction.  She asked if she could join me to the summit, and I said absolutely.  It was pretty gusty up there too, and there was a unique sun and clouds view. It wasn't very spectacular, but the feeling of finishing the Vermont peaks in winter, a milestone on this winter's journey, was a good feeling, and that's what I remember Camel's Hump for.  I got the true sense of winter at 4000-feet in VT from Mt. Mansfield with its toughness and spectacular views and holy moly does Killington get the pow!

Hike Stats
Trails: Burrows Trail
Distance: 4.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,300 ft.
Actual Book Time: 3:00
GPS Track: Will upload later

1 comment:

  1. Awesome write-up! Been reading your blog for a while - nice work!