I woke early to drive over an hour to the trail head. The night before I had found there was a Renaissance Faire in the area which led me to swapping my plans from Mount Abraham, the smallest 4000 footer of Vermont, to Mount Mansfield the tallest! I didn’t really intend to go for the tallest first, but the 2.5 miles from trailhead to peak seemed reasonable.
I drove through Smuggler’s Notch, first time in my life, and that was really cool. It felt very short compared to other scenic routes, but the road went from two lanes to strange shared lane sometimes wide enough for two cars, and sometimes wide enough for just one. A few switchbacks with tight turns and a grand cliff looming above.
Upon arriving at the trailhead a fairly dark cloud was hovering above what I suspected was Mount Mansfield. My thoughts were on climbing that mountain today with no view at the top. It certainly wouldn’t be the first mountain without a view, nor the last! Perhaps I get lucky, perhaps the sun will erase the clouds by the time I summit.
The trail started on a bit of a boardwalk before crossing the road and rising slightly into a hardwood forest. I was walking along the Long Trail which stretches 273 miles from Massachusetts to Canada and it was well maintained. Not far into the hike and the trail started climbing a bit steeper. Many sections had actual steps where you couldn’t choose your stride, up and up it went.
I met a few hikers walking down. They must have started early I thought. Perhaps a few were hiking the Long Trail, but others seemed to be day hikers, maybe trying to get the sunrise from the peak? I continued up, and up. Step by step.
I got to Taft Lodge, a shelter along the way, and I stopped for a snack break. I knew there was only about .7 miles remaining to the summit at this point so I was getting pretty close. It felt like I should be around the corner given the elevation I had gained! After leaving the shelter though a view opened and despite having climbed an entire mountain, I still had another entire mountain to climb to reach the summit.
I began to worry, at least slightly, about the trek back down the mountain. In 2016 when I hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains a particularly long downhill day destroyed my knees, to the point I limped around for a bit after. That was 6 miles all downhill. This hike was only 2.5 miles back down from the top, so I figured it should be manageable and continued climbing.
The climb really began. It got technical and required much use of hands and careful planning and thought. The views opened slightly and closed quickly after, but the climbing did not stop. Eventually I reached the summit with about 10 other hikers sitting in the cloud. I sat up there, had a snack, waited 15 minutes or so, then with no more than a view of white, I turned to descend the mountain.
The rocks were damp and slippery and waiting to toss you over the mountain. The scramble was quite nice to descend and much easier than I imagined on my way up! However as I continued down the mountain path, step after step downwards my knees began to ache. I hadn’t even reached the shelter and my left knee was crying for mercy. I still had almost 2 miles downhill to go!
I stopped at the shelter again to rest my legs, eat my final snack and continue slowly down. I stopped over and over again. My knees were refusing to work properly. By the bottom I had a bit of a limp with my left leg being worse than my right. I did make it to the car, but had there been another half mile I’d have been crawling somewhere along that distance. This is among the furthest I’ve pushed my body, and need to slow it down a bit until my legs get stronger.
I reached the bottom a little later than expected, but still went to the Renaissance Faire looking for a post hike meal of a turkey leg. Oddly I didn’t find one there, but did watch a fun archery tournament and a blacksmithing performance before returning home. Peaked the first 4000-footer, only 66 more to go in New England!