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Mt. Abraham and Mt. Ellen

  • Start: Battell Shelter
  • End: Stark’s Nest
  • Approx Miles: 6.9

I start out pretty late this morning; it’s hard to motivate yourself to get up without peer pressure!

After another mile or so of nice, easy climbing I arrive at the summit of Mt. Abraham, and wow! Easily the best view on trail so far. Almost 360° with a clear sky and wispy clouds. Spectacular.

I have the peak to myself for a while and stay up there for a long time just walking around, laughing out loud with joy, grinning, and taking pictures. I feel elated to be here.

How I was feeling.
Some of the rare lichens that grow in the 'alpine zone' atop the trail's high peaks.

From here the trail runs several miles along a high ridge to Mt. Ellen, also a 4000-footer. Some day hikers show up and I decide to mosey along.

Mt. Ellen up ahead.
Rock circle on top of Abraham with my pack taking a break.

Today is one of my favorite days of hiking yet. I take my sweet time going through Sugarbush ski resort, stopping to take photos and appreciate the view.

I always get a laugh out the over-top-top ski trail names.

Many of the high peaks in the northern part of the trail are designed as “arctic alpine zones.” Their height makes them cold enough to serve as a pseduo-arctic microbiome, hosting rare plants and fungi that aren’t otherwise found for thousands of miles further north. These peaks have signs warning hikers to protect these rare species (like the one shown above), and roped off areas to keep people on designated trails.

Around noon I arrive at Stark Mountain, which is owned and managed by Mad River Glen ski resort. The first thing I encounter is a volunteer group who are doing some kind of upkeep on the trees near the peak.

Ahead of them, the famous single-chair lift1 is running, ferrying leaf-peepers up and down the mountain for fall foliage rides. Behind it sits Stark’s Nest, formerly the MRG ski patrol hut, but now maintained only for historic appreciation. They let hikers sleep there and it has a bit of reputation as the Hilton of the Long Trail.

Stark's Nest and the single-chair.
Inside Stark's Nest

“Food!” I think immediately upon seeing the lift. I’m very hungry by this point, as my resupply strategy in Ripton was terrible. I bought only sugar-based breakfast, which gives no sustained energy. Next time I’ll get something besides Pop Tarts and Lucky Charms bars 😑.

The lift looks kind of scary, however. It’s high off the ground and chairs are very minimal and exposed. I decide to do it—it would be great to get a real lunch, and I didn’t come all the way out here not to have the quintessential LT experience of taking a ski lift down and back up. So I hop on and the attendant throws my pack in the next chair for me. Hooooly cow is it scary! I thought I had kind of gotten over my fear of heights since I was young but apparently not! I’m freaking out a little and have to keep doing things to keep myself calm. All the locals are just cool as a cucumber lounging in their seats. It’s a long ride too! Actually a pretty cool experience once I get over it a bit. I even manage to get a nice time-lapse of the ride. I’m not looking forward to going back up though!

The restaurant at the bottom is great though. I have a porter and cheesesteak while soaking in the MRG vibe. Mad River Glen is interesting to learn about. Many of the big ski resorts in Vermont are owned by conglomerates and are fancy, expensive, homogenized, and lots of people who ski there are from Boston and New York. Mad River Glen is owned by a co-op of local shareholders, the trails are narrow and rocky, it’s challenging, everything is a bit janky and old and charming. It has this kind of cantakerous reputation as a local’s mountain. You may have seen the bumper stickers—“Mad River Glen: ski it if you can!” I really like it; it seems like there’s real community around it and people care.

I head back to the top pretty quickly because the lift stops running at 2:30, and I’m worried about getting stuck at the bottom like Mockingbird and Rock ‘N Roll at Killington. Speaking of Mockingbird she’s had terrible luck on this trip. In addition to the gondola incident, she lost her phone and had to have a new one mailed to her, and I recently learned from one of her logbook entries that she’s missing a camp shoe now…

Anyway, I head back to the lift and apparently I need a ticket to ride back up. Fortunately the woman at the ticket window takes one look at me and says “Oh, you’re a hiker, here you go!” and hands me a ticket for free. It’s nice to feel like everyone’s rooting for you 🙂.

The ride up is only marginally less scary than on the way down. Arriving back at Stark’s Nest, who should I find but Stiltz and Mooch! Along with Stiltz’s friend Rebecca, who’s joining us for a long weekend until Camel’s Hump. Great to be reunited with the gang after a day of hiking alone. Both have their merits! I had been thinking of pushing further today, but decide to stay here and hang with everyone which turns out to be a great call. Such a fun, odd crew. Rebecca fits right in. She’s an accountant from outside Boston. Seems a little older than me and Stiltz. We jave a grand old time, eventually being joined by three women out on a weekend trip who mostly keep to themselves.

Stark’s Nest itself is a nice as advertised, they do a great job keeping it up for skiiers and hikers. I read all the old articles on the wall— local news about the building restoration and re-opening, obituaries for MRG skiing legends, etc. Really gives you a feel for the place and how much people care about it.

I’m looking forward to hiking with the group again tomorrow. We’re getting towards some of the tallest, most epic climbs of the trip: Camel’s Hump, and beyond that Mt. Mansfield, the tallest point in Vermont.

The nighttime view from Stark's Nest.

  1. The single chair is apparently a bit of skiing history and a point of MRG pride. It’s a very early style of lift and one of the last ones in operation. They had a big fundraiser to restore it in the 00s. ↩︎