Sunday, July 14, 2013

Starting off in Vermont on the Right Foot on Independence Day

A.K.A. Mendon Peak, Killington Peak, and Pico Peak on July 4, 2013.

With summer well underway and 5 peaks still remaining on my New England 4000-Footer list, it was high time to get out to Vermont and begin exploring that state; the Maine list was completed almost 3 weeks before. Realizing right about that same time that the 4th of July was on a Thursday, I made plans to head to Vermont for a 4-day hiking weekend. I also realized that the list that is starting to loom as a possible next one, the New England 100 Highest, had a number of peaks in Vermont, and only 1 didn't have a clear trail or herd path to it (Mendon Peak). Perhaps adding a few of those was in order?

Posting this hike as a Meetup hike, I initially left Mendon out of the plans, despite its proximity to Killington Peak (which is a 4000-footer). I have not had great experiences with the handful of bushwhacks I've done so far (most have landed me in stupidly thick spruce), and I'm still not sure I will actually complete the 100 Highest, which has a number of bushwhacks on it. But I did some research anyway, to see how difficult Mendon was reputed to be, and was pleasantly surprised by what I read. A logging road would take me from trailhead to within 1/2-mile of the summit. And from there I read little about thick woods, and plenty about fairly open woods, and decent herd paths in the thick stuff. And even better, I found that the same logging road used to approach the peak would take me all the way to the Long Trail right near the spur trail to Killington Peak. Navigationally, this sounded like a piece of cake.

So what the heck. I added Mendon to the plan, which had the added benefit of netting one victim--er, fellow adventurer, to join on this (it was looking like I'd be going solo, in which case I was probably only going to do Mendon and Killington, since a loop can be done there). Car spot taken care of, perhaps getting all 3 would be doable!

Meeting at 7:45AM at Shelburne Pass on Route 4 in Vermont meant an early rise and hitting the road shortly after 4AM (ugh!). It's been a few months since I've done that, lately I've been heading to the Whites late on Friday and camping, which makes for a short morning drive. Mysteriously falling asleep before 10PM meant this actually wasn't so bad this day, and the drive up went easily. I saw a bear alongside I-89 in New Hampshire near Lebanon, which was cool. Arriving a mere minute or two behind Theresa, we geared up, left my car, and drove about 20 minutes to the trailhead for the Bucklin Trail, one of the normal hiking routes to Killington.

A few yards from the parking lot is a gated logging road, which was to be our trailhead today. We merely had to follow this old logging road, ignoring any side roads, up to our launching point at the so-called 3rd cairn above the switchbacks at the head of the ravine it eventually climbs. The road is mild at first, passing a cabin a little ways in, and eventually crossing Eddy Brook a total of 4 times. The lower-most crossing was running pretty high, was extremely eroded (likely from Irene less than 2 years ago), and required us doing a tight-rope act on a wet log a ways upstream. The crossings did get progressively easier, and the last one we even were able to make right where the road crossed.

Near one of the Eddy Brook crossings

The "first cairn", right at the first hard switchback

A couple blowdowns were across the road in the switchback section
Over 3 miles from the start, the road began to climb hard on a series of switchbacks, meaning we were getting close to the start of our bushwhack. The first 2 cairns were easily spotted along the road, and right as the road suddenly leveled off, there was the 3rd cairn and a bunch of herd paths leaving the road towards Mendon. OK, so far right as expected!

Here we zipped on the legs onto our pants, despite the heat and super high humidity of the day. Bushwhacking in shorts usually results in lots of scars, which we wanted to avoid. It turns out we need not have worried about that too much. Taking a rough compass bearing from the map, we struck out on a herd path that was on our chosen bearing. This one ended after a hundred yards or so, but we kept at it, heading through very open fern-filled woods. We meandered on and off herd paths as we came across them, leaving them when they deviated too far off our bearing, and before long we were at the base of the summit cone. Heading directly uphill, we skirted some thicker areas and picked up a good herd path near the false summit of Mendon (the so-called "East Peak" of Mendon). This herd path took us all the way to the true summit, and just past the summit was the register. Hey, pretty easy as bushwhacks go!

The summit was still in the clouds, so views from the view points along the way were unimpressive. We signed into the register, and read the handful of other entries in there, and returned. The herd path took us within about 1/10 mile of the road before we lost it, so we just struck out straight towards the road, ending on it a few yards down from where we had started. Best part of all, no thick woods were hit on this bushwhack!

Owl Pellets? along the bushwhack

Some of the bushwhacking we did

This was one of the thicker spots on the bushwhack - with a nice herd path through it

Mendon Canister

We found a few old moose bones on the way back to the logging road

Herd path coming down from Mendon

From here, we followed the road uphill further, taking a right turn up what appears to be a streambed but is in fact the remainder of the road (straight ahead reportedly leads to a steep drop into a bog). This road eventually peters out, but turns into some sort of ski glade cut or something like that, which continues all the way up to the Long Trail. In here we had the hardest bushwhack of the day - navigating around a huge blowdown with limbs everywhere.

Now on maintained trails, we followed the Long Trail shortly, until we hit the 0.2-mile spur to Killington Peak. This spur is extremely steep, but the top had great views to the West (to the East all you can see is some of the ski area towers - presumably there is a nice view from the ski slopes but we didn't venture that way). New England 4000-Footer #63!

Pico Peak from Killington - we are going all the way over there next?!?!?!

Mendon Peak from Killington - wow, we've come a log way already!

Panorama from Killington Peak
After a nice break on the summit (why not, since the sun was out and the clouds mostly gone!), we headed back down to the Long Trail, at Cooper Lodge. Continuing on the Long Trail, after a short steepish descent, it was a gentle ridge walk all the way to the junction with the Shelburne Pass Trail (which used to be the Appalachian Trail in this section). We continued on down to Pico Camp, another of the numerous such cabins along sand near the Long Trail, from which a spur trail to Pico Peak departs. Shortly afterwards, we were on the summit of Pico Peak, searching for the high point (which we determined to be a painted rock alongside the ski trail/access road we came the last few hundred feet up).

At the Long Trail/Shelburne Pass Trail junction

Killington Peak from Pico Peak

Killington Peak, and the tip of Mendon Peak on the far right

The summit of Pico Peak

This sign marked the departure from the ski trail to the hiking trail down to Pico Camp...
Our hike down the Shelburne Pass Trail to the trailhead was uneventful, and before too long we were digging into the cooler in the back of the car. This was a long, but wonderful hike through some of the high peaks of Vermont, though we could have done without the super high humidity. But, the bright side is that the forecast thunderstorms waited to come until about 2 hours after we were down off the trails, and inside eating a good dinner. 3 New England 100-Highest Peaks in a day, not too many spots you can pull that one off! And thanks to Theresa, who only needed Mendon of these 3 peaks, for coming along for the fun!

Route: Eddy Brook Logging Road, bushwhack, Long Trail, Killington Spur, Shelburne Pass Trail, Pico Spur
Peaks: Mendon Peak (3850', NEHH), Killington Peak (4235', NE4K), Pico Peak (3957', NEHH)
Mileage: ~13.5 miles (estimated)
Elevation Gain: ~3600ft
Time: 9hr

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