Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Trekking to the Jays - 7-6-2013

Saturday, day 3 of a hiking weekend extravaganza in Vermont, was to have a different feel. My priority this year was to finish the New England 4000-Footers, which as of the time of this hike I was 3 peaks (and 2 hikes) away from completing. Sure, I could have finished on this weekend. Instead I opted to think a little ahead and knock off 2 peaks on the New England Hundred Highest which are way up North in Vermont. So far North, they are practically in Canada. Staying in the area for the weekend meant that it would be a far shorter drive (though still significant) that I could do on one of the "in-between" days where I wasn't driving to or from the mountains.

Jay Peak lies along the Long Trail and was said to be one of the finest high peaks of Vermont before the ski area blasted half the summit off to build a summit building on it. Regardless, it still has an open, rocky summit offering fine views in all directions, and is a pretty short hike of 1.7 miles and about 1650 feet of elevation gain (one-way). It's "little brother", Big Jay, lies less than a mile away, but is not officially trailed. However, there is a herd path from near the summit of Jay Peak that leads directly to the summit of Big Jay that once upon a time was cleared with chainsaws. Not signed or maintained in any way, the herd path was reputed to still be easily followed, though renown for its mud pits.

Our group of 3 (Theresa and myself, plus one) ended up being only Theresa and myself thanks to a mechanical failure on the third person's truck (which he got dealt with and made it home no problem). We also got a super-late start for us, hitting the trail around 10:30 despite a planned late start of 10. Good thing the day was supposed to be a short one and it was summer, with lots of daylight left!

The climb started under very overcast skies, but the trail was wonderful down low. Good footing, steady but not steep grades, and we ended up making quick work of the climb. We never even really noticed the elevation gain, and before long we were at an opening in a ski boundary fence which we had to go through. We met many hikers on their way down during our ascent, an added side benefit of our late start on a short trip. No one else had gone past the summit of Jay Peak to our knowledge.

We just came up the Long Trail though there, pretty well marked

View down the ski slope near the Jay Peak summit

View up the same ski trail
Here we made a minor goof that we wouldn't figure out until later. We turned and walked UP the ski slope (gentle slope here, and a short distance). It turns out the trail CROSSES the ski trail here, but in the mist we didn't see the blazes on the other side of the ski trail. Nevertheless, we were in short order at the summit building, with a staircase and a short scramble to the summit right in front of us. Views from the summit, sadly, were not due to the clouds.

Summit building on Jay Peak

Find yourself

Jay Peak summit reference marker

Memorial bench near the Jay Peak summit

Jay ski area below

A brief patch of blue sky, it went away quickly...

This was our first clue we made a goof coming up...we were supposed to be going North to get to Big Jay
So from the summit we continued what was in fact SOUTH on the Long Trail. Which in only a minute or two we realized wasn't right, so we turned around mere yards from the ski trail crossing we'd missed coming up. Back down the stairs, we headed down the other side of the mountain, following the white blazes down a ski slope for a short distance. A STEEP one. I'm not a fan of hiking on ski slopes, they by their very nature are steep and not terribly pleasant walking. But this was a short stretch, and there were some nice wildflowers on the ski slopes.

From the ski slope, the Long Trail turns through another boundary fence, and enters the woods. Very shortly on this stretch, an obvious herd path diverges left while the Long Trail goes straight. This herd path takes you to Big Jay.

However, said herd path is overgrown in spots (not a big deal, and a fact of life with herd paths, but the trees were soaked in dew/rain...) and quickly gets MUDDY. While we knew this path was supposed to be muddy, with all the rain of late, it was super muddy. We spent a long time tip-toeing around massive mud bogs (bushwhacking around the herd path...), which was basically over half the length of the herd path in the central section. Soon, though, we were at the summit of Big Jay.

Blowdown blocking the herd path to Big Jay

A hint of clearing over on Jay Peak from a clearing near Big Jay

First Aid sled in a tree at the summit of Big Jay
There was string and a bracket, but no canister or jar. It seems it has been removed a few times in recent years. With a few bugs hanging out, and skies appearing to clear some, we hung a quick u-turn, navigated back through the "swamps" and returned to the summit of Jay Peak to blue skies.

While we re-summitted (for the 3rd time on this hike...) we noticed what appeared to be a wedding party gathering. Soon, there was a ceremony going on where a Marine and his bride were married, overlooking Big Jay. They made out nicely with the clearing weather!

We hung out for well over an hour, enjoying cooler weather than we've been having of late, and a nice breeze which kept any bugs at bay. With this being a short hike, it was nice to just hang out on a summit for a while. Some hikers came and went, but overall it was pretty quiet aside from the wedding group playing music on a speaker set, but it was still pleasant. After a while, we decided it was time to go find some dinner. (Unfortunately, it took us over an hour once leaving the trailhead to find something along route 100 going South...we were nearly to Stowe before finding some places). Descent was uneventful, and now we were both 2 peaks closer to the New England 100 Highest!

Route: Long Trail, Herd Path
Peaks: Jay Peak (3858', NEHH), Big Jay (3786', NEHH)
Mileage: ~6 miles (herd path is roughly 1.25 miles each way)
Elevation Gain: 2600ft
Book Time: ~4hr 25min (allot a bit longer with the herd path)

Jay Peak from near Big Jay during the return to Jay Peak

Views from the herd path

Big Jay from near Jay Peak

Jay Peak ski resort

The loop below the summit of Jay Peak was a more moderate ski trail we took back to the summit instead of the steep ski trail the Long Trail follows


  1. May I have permission to use some of your photos from this page on my website:


    1. Steve, as long as you attribute any pictures used back to here, it's fine with me.

  2. May I have permission to use some of your photos from this page on my website: