home email
Prev Thursday, September 28 Next

Mt. Mansfield

  • Start: Butler Lodge
  • End: Madonna Peak
  • Approx Miles: 10.4

The dawn from Butler Lodge is almost more beautiful than the sunset.

Today’s the big day. Mt. Mansfield. As Mooch put it, it’s kind of the point of the whole trip! We’re blessed with a clear, windless day—couldn’t ask for more.

In addition to being the trail’s tallest peak, Mansfield is also very long—almost more like a small range than a single mountain. It has several sub-peaks that are said to resemble a human face when viewed in profile.

The Mansfield range. Photo credit @WeRmudfun on YouTube.

I can sort of see it. If you imagine an old man’s face in a 19th century political cartoon it feels a bit more plausible. As we approach from the south, we’ll cross over the forehead, past the nose, and then on to the chin, which is the peak of the mountain, the trail, and the state!

We make it up to the forehead after some fun and somewhat technical scrambling, ladders, etc.

The trail runs through a little cave here
Stiltz had to carry Ella up this ladder 💪

We arrive at the forehead, where the views are grand.

Photo credit Mooch

It feels cool to be up so high along the ridge as we start toward the nose. Easy, smooth rock/road walk, but all in the alpine zone.

Photo credit Mooch

We stop for a snack at the visitor center (closed, as it’s the middle of the week) near the nose, which you can’t hike on. Apparently it’s private property, I guess owned by the radio stations whose towers are up there.

A sudden need for solitude overtakes me. Maybe it’s because this is a significant point in the hike, and I want to be able to reflect a bit. Whatever the reason, I put on the gas and zoom ahead of everyone else.

The descent from the nose is amazing. Beautiful, stark terrain with views gradually opening up to the east and west.

The ski resort is actually Stowe

There’s even a sign up here that says “Subway” on it?!? My trail name was fated appointment clearly1.

I put on x2 for the final ascent to hype me up. It works, I’m hyped! The high-energy music and beautiful blue sky all around me combine to make me feel elated, a mood I’ll remain in for the rest of the day.

Before I know it, I’m at the peak! I was expecting a big sign proclaiming “Mt. Mansfield, highest point in the state of Vermont” or something like that. But there’s almost nothing here. If it weren’t for the USGS survey mark and, well, the fact that when you look around everything is below you, you’ve never know you’d made it.

I have a few minutes to myself up here before everyone else arrives. I look around and take it all, then try to get a panoramic photo. It doesn’t quite fit the entire 360° view though!

Not quite the entire view.

So I take a video too:

Mooch also gets a great shot of me celebrating on the peak as everyone else approaches:

They catch up with me, and we high-five each other and hang out on the peak for while, taking photos and basking in the accomplishment.

Overall I just feel lucky to be here. Bagging a big peak is a lot more special after hiking 200+ miles to get there.

The USGS survey mark for the summit of Mt. Mansfield
Just happy to be here
Ella's tuckered out
Fall colors starting to get going

The descent starts out with the craziest scrambles we’ve had so far. Totally doable by non-climbers like myself, but a little scary. Some pretty exposed sections where you really could fall right off a cliff if you misplaced a foot. Fun and exciting though.

We make it to Taft Lodge, which marks the end of the Mt. Mansfield protected arctic alpine zone. It’s as big and as nice as Butler, although with a very low door that the boys keep banging their heads on. We chat with the caretaker and some friendly day hikers with a tiny old dog.

Short doorway with Mooch for comparison

When we leave we separate a bit with everyone kind of going at their own pace. Mooch zooms ahead, Stiltz and Hang Ten fall back, and I get pretty well ahead of them. The trail from here is a pretty easy, cruisy downhill, so it goes quick.

Trees starting to get some amazing fall color. I also pass a rusted old machine part in the woods, looks like it’s from a concrete mixer maybe? Apparently there’s some cool stuff like this on the blue-blazed trails around Camel’s Hump and Mansfield, including the remains of a crashed B-52 bomber from WWII-era pilot training, the seemingly gravity-defying “cantilever rock”, and “The Gap”, a somewhat scary section of trail where you have to jump over a deep crevasse to continue.

I make it down to VT-108 and Smuggler’s Notch. The trail here goes through a cute little interpretive nature boardwalk past a beaver dam. The boardwalk ends at Barnes Camp, a visitor info center shared by the GMC and the state parks department. There’s a friendly parks employee in there who gives me some water and tells me some of the history. Cute place.

Stiltz and Hang Ten catch up as I’m about to leave. I still feel super energized and I’m almost bounding up the 2000 foot climb back up to Sterling Pond! Just beautiful and easy uphill trails on a sunny day 🙂. Feels great to hike with just myself for company again. The pond itself is tranquil and gorgeous. Man I love alpine ponds.

Big toad

Sterling Pond

Stiltz and Hang Ten pass me by while I sit and stare at the pond. Eventually I head over to the nearby shelter and meet up with everyone. I think about staying the night here, overlooking the spectacular pond, but decide to press on to Madonna Peak. The prospect of a peak sunrise + sunset and an evening alone overwhelms my alpine pond love. Sadly I think it might be cloudy tomorrow morning.

I’m still full of energy on the one mile climb to the peak. I don’t know what got into me today! I’m going to say it was eating Cliff and Kind bars for breakfast rather than Pop Tarts. Anyhow, I bound up the mountain in 30 minutes or so and set up camp in the Smuggler’s Notch ski patrol hut at the top.

I make dinner while watching the sun set over Mansfield in the distance.

Wowie zowie.

I get a sudden urge to listen to White Roses by Charli XCX, and some of the other slower, sappier songs from Number 1 Angel. Honestly they were underappreciated by me when it first came out. I don’t know how it jumped into my head but it just feels like the right mood for the moment—and it is. Everything just feels so brisk and clear and crystalline in a way that matches the song. Also had a chance to re-appreciate Lipgloss. Man what a great song. I bounce around outside the hut with my headphones in, still full of energy.

I’m taking a nearo tomorrow to meet up with Rachel and Joe a few miles from here, at which point the rest of the gang will pull ahead of me. I’m a bit nervous to be going solo through some of the more challenging bits of trail ahead, but also excited. I think I’m up for it by now. I haven’t really been thinking much about how the journey is almost at it’s end—only a few days left. I don’t want it to end! Wish I could keep hiking and not have to go back and think about real life. But a different part of me is excited to get back to my friends and have a cozy fall.

The moon rises bright and beautiful as I settle in for the night.

  1. Presumably this sign is labeling a blue-blazed trail? If anyone knows how it got that name, please let me know! ↩︎