Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mansfield Traverse - July 7, 2013

One last hike before heading home after a great 4-day hiking weekend in Vermont. And this time to one of the remaining 3 4000-footers on my New England 4000-Footer list, and the highest point in Vermont. While I knew Mansfield was supposed to be a great summit, this turned out to be easily the best hike of the weekend, despite a less-than optimal weather day.

Mount Mansfield has a number of named points on its ridge, all named based on the profile of a face on its side, since the ridge roughly resembles such a profile when viewed from the East (and possibly from the West). The most important is The Chin, the high point on the ridge, though The Nose has a fair amount of prominence and may actually have enough prominence to count as a 4000-footer (but it is officially closed to the public right now).

It started off with the final drive from New Discovery State Campground, yet another more than 1-hour drive. The price you pay for reserving a campsite barely 2 weeks before a big holiday weekend. I was slightly alarmed by seeing darkening skies, and upon reaching Stowe I was contacted by one of those coming on this hike who had been watching the radar since he got up at 5AM. There was a line of storms coming across Lake Champlain that was expected to blow through the area by 10AM. But when I got to look at the radar, the storm cells were all in far Southern Vermont, with only a few small pop-up rain cells that might hit us. All right, game on!

Driving through Stowe I recognized several places from a short stay in the area over 10 years ago for a wedding, the only previous time I had spent time in Vermont. The town seems to be built up a fair bit now. But never mind that, we had a hike to do!

The plan was to meet at the gondola parking lot at the base of the Mansfield Ski Slopes, and take a car a short distance up the road to the Long Trail crossing of Route 108. We would take the Long Trail up to The Chin, the high point of Mount Mansfield, and hike along the ridge to near The Nose, where we would hike a short stretch down the Toll Road to the Haselton Trail, which would lead back to the gondola parking lot.

We met up, the three of us (Theresa again, myself, and a gentleman named Richard), and set off down the road under overcast skies, though the ridge was below the cloud deck. The Long Trail crosses the road 100 feet or so down from the roadside parking lot, which took us a minute to figure out. It climbs steadily, and fairly steeply, all the way to Taft Lodge. From there, we continued on the Long Trail up to the ridge, where we hung a left (South) towards The Chin. Looming ahead we could see a series of fun scrambles awaiting us. (To avoid these scrambles which are likely quite difficult when wet, the Profanity Trail runs between Taft Lodge and the ridge just South of the summit).

One can only imagine the reasoning behind this is supposed to be excessively steep

In the col between The Chin and The Adam's Apple

Scrambles ahead

The Adam's Apple
The scrambles were steep, but short-lived and pretty fun. Despite the heavy humidity of the day, we had made good time to the summit, where we now took a well-earned long snack break. While here we soon pulled out the raincoats as it decided to start raining lightly, and was a bit breezy. The rain soon ended though, and aside from a few light drops a couple times throughout the rest of the day, we stayed dry. The clouds did provide some dramatic views despite the short distances we could see.

Theresa and Richard scrambling up to The Chin

Topping out near the summit of The Chin

Views from The Chin

Antennas on The Nose way down the ridge

Smuggler's Notch ski area below

See Taft Lodge below?

Across Smuggler's Notch

The clouds were spilling over the ridge ahead, sadly the camera didn't capture it so well

Looking ahead to what is next - looks cool!
The ridge traverse was great, as most are. The footing was nice, and somewhat reminiscent of Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire, with some narrow sections and great views throughout. Who cares if we couldn't see far away, it was still very cool. In fact, the furthest we could see was just barely to Camel's Hump to the South.

Looking back to The Chin from along Mount Mansfield's ridge

The Sunset Ridge Trail ascends that ridge to The Chin - next time perhaps?

Getting closer to The Nose (antennas on top of it)

The cloud deck has re-captured The Chin

The Chin from the top of the Toll Road
Now at the Visitor's Center atop Mount Mansfield, it was decision time. Head down now, or head out to The Nose and The Forehead, and then take a few trails down from there to the Haselton Trail. We opted to continue, as we were greatly enjoying the hike thus far.

Now, there is no official trail to the summit of The Nose. The Long Trail skirts it along a work road and then heads into the woods towards The Forehead, while the road continues to The Nose. This road however was posted with several signs here warning of radiation hazards and that it was closed to the public. Deciding to obey the signs, we just continued out to The Forehead, which was a terrific and quiet spot out at the end of the alpine ridge. Well worth the extra trip.

The Nose from along the Long Trail

Survey marker on The Forehead

Looking South from The Forehead

More views from The Forehead
From here we continued over the Forehead a short way before backtracking to the Nose/Forehead col, where we took the Forehead Bypass a couple of tenths of a mile down to the South Link, which took us to the start of the Haselton Trail along the Toll Road. These 2 short trail segments were obviously very lightly-travelled, with lots of moss on the rocks, which made for tricky footing as it was all damp. But making it out without incident, we were greeted with an awesome view of the Mansfield ridge from the road.

Exiting the woods from the South Link

Mount Mansfield from the Toll Road

Smuggler's Notch from a ski slope the Haselton Trail follows

The Chin above the top of the ski slopes
From here, the Haselton Trail follows a ski trail downhill for a while (STEEP!) before eventually entering the woods. Steep and rocky at first, this trail eventually eases, crosses a few minor streams, and eventually ends out right near where our cars were parked.

Hiking down the ski trail that the Haselton Trail follows for a little while

Views from the ski slope just before entering the woods on the Haselton Trail
This was an awesome hike! Easily my favorite of the weekend. Traversing the entire ridge instead of the normal up-and-back that most people do was a great idea, and the great company made it all the more fun. Without question, this is a loop that I would gladly do again, and Theresa and Richard agreed. Thanks for joining guys!

All that was left now was to grab some dinner and drive the long trip back home (roughly 4 hours). Only 1 hike left to finish the New England 4000-Footers!

Route: Long Trail, Forehead Bypass, South Link, Haselton Trail
Peaks: Mansfield - The Chin (4393', NE4K)
Mileage: 7.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3450'
Book Time: 5.5hr

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