Sun Sept 27th, 2020, 0600-1800
Taft Lodge to Gleason Brook, SOBO LT mile 89.4
6350 gain, 9300 loss (highest & lowest points on the trail, in the same day!)
Sun Sept 27th, 2020, 0600-1800
I sleep surprisingly well in the lodge, despite the comings and goings of my fellow occupants throughout the night. The door latch gives everyone a fit, making a lot of unnecessary noise. We should set an alarm for everyone to go pee at once. Several get up at 5 am, including myself, all hopeful to see a sunrise from the highest point in Vermont. I set off in the dark up the steep, rocky flanks of Mt. Mansfield. My headlamp beam is distorted by mist and I struggle to find handholds and footholds on the slippery rock ledges. I feel like a mountaineer, hauling myself and pack up the side of a Himalayan peak, except that I’m stripped down to my shirt and skirt already. It’s unseasonably warm still, even at 4,000′.
A gray dawn is just breaking when I reach the ‘chin’ highpoint at 4,324′. This feature is so named because the profile of the mountain is said to resemble a face…apparently with an underbite. I’m surprised to find about 15 people huddled at the top, expectantly peering towards the east. The wind and mist make for an uncomfortable waiting room, so I’m inclined to keep moving. The views from the top are spectacular…but not today. This is the kind of fog that’s going to stick around for awhile, I can just tell. I put on my alpaca fleece to cut the chill and continue on.
It was so sunny and beautiful the day before! Today we strike out…oh well!
Only a few months ago I was standing on mountain tops that are 10,000′ higher…that’s an incredible change in scale.
The trail skirts along the ridge, mostly over ridged rock and past stunted spruce and tundra. Numerous signs warn of disturbing the fragile sub-arctic alpine ecosystem. It’s a really neat area, too bad the weather’s not more conducive to enjoying it. I pass the toll road and visitors center. No one’s around…either I’m too early or it’s closed due to COVID.
With our Mansfield tour nearly concluded, the mountain throws a series of ladders and boulder scrambles our way, for one last hurrah! This is one of the most technical sections of the LT, making it difficult to bring along a companion dog. Get ready to carry Fido if you go this route.
As we drop in elevation, the fog clears and we can see across to the valleys below. The sun even peaks through at times. We set off across a ridge, which leads us to more smaller peaks and ridges. Hours later, I look back at Mansfield from Puffer Shelter. The forehead and nose are finally below the clouds but the chin is still encased. Good thing we didn’t wait for the fog to burn off.
Though we didn’t have perfect conditions for our summit of Mt Mansfield, the fall colors more than make up for it. I’m over a second climb, Bolton Mountain, before noon and descending for the rest of the day. Unfortunately I neglected to pick up water miles beforehand and now see that there’s nothing for a long time. I pass on a shelter source that’s off trail 0.3 miles. The next stream is 5 miles. It’s hot and I’m down to just a few sips. But I know I’ll be ok. The walking’s pretty easy. In fact, it’s incredibly pleasant. The trail’s on a ridge covered in deciduous trees. I glide over a bed of soft leaves, with such a mix of colors. I think of various analogies: confetti, sugar sprinkles, cornflakes, fruity pebbles. Stellar catches my thoughts perfectly in his photos…I should probably mention that all the good photos are his. I’ve posted too many to remember or credit every time…
Isn’t this the best? Stellar has such a great eye for this little frog taking a breather.
I finally come to the creek. It’s down to just a dribble but it will do. The water takes forever to collect and I guzzle it as it passes through my filter. It’s 3 pm and we’re nearing 20 miles. We’ve come to a big gap (lowest point on the trail) and road walk. I’ve been looking forward to this easy finish all day, especially since much of the morning was so rugged.
Ah, there’s nothing better than finishing a long, hard day with a nice, easy country road walk. I call these “free miles.”
At the Winooski River pedestrian bridge, there’s a perfect beach and swimming hole. The sun’s out…it’s time for a dunk! Once again, I ponder the late season conditions and also how the day started. From the highest to lowest points on the trail and chilly fog to blazing sun. The water’s cold but pleasant. I go in fully dressed, since my hiking clothes need a rinse too. All the sweat washes away and man do I feel refreshed. It’s 3 more miles to our planned campsite, just the right amount to let our clothes dry as we walk. It’s like we planned these perfect conditions and their timing.
But then…my feet hurt after just a couple hundred feet on the pavement of Rt 2. Luckily the trail is re-routed through privately owned fields along the river. Notes say to skip this longer, less direct route and just walk the road. But I say let’s do this, Te Araroa style! It’s been awhile since all the farm walking in New Zealand. Passing through the fields and over the styles brings back so many good memories. We even pass some mobile chicken and turkey coops. Seeing the birds range about makes me so happy. I’m tempted to give chase but the pens are closely guarded by big white Pyrenees dogs. They watch me particularly closely, as if they know what a threat I am to domestic fowl…smart dogs.
We leave the fields and river, heading up a trailhead at Camels Hump State Park…the largest park in Vermont the sign informs us. After some brief but painful uphill, we come to a creek and the perfect tent sites. I settle in quickly for a much-deserved dinner and sleep. What a long and diverse day it’s been!
The LT has some of the most elaborate signs! The only ones I’ve seen that rival it are on the Arizona Trail.