Thursday, February 13, 2014

Camel's Hump - Feb. 9, 2014

After a relaxing night in Stowe after hiking Mansfield the day before, I was all set to take on Camel's Hump. This time I knew there were not going to be any tricky scrambles, and with the forecast having changed from 50% chance of snow to partly cloudy skies until mid-afternoon, I was really excited to finally get some views off of Camel's Hump. My prior trip this past summer was under cloudy skies with only a few peeks from the summit, but what peeks I did get told me this would be a terrific peak on a clear day. My plan was a simple out-and-back on the Monroe Trail, which leaves from the East side of Camel's Hump. In winter the final 3/10-mile of the road is not plowed, but there is a winter lot off a side street 1/10-mile or so from the end of the plowed section.

I put the snowshoes on again right off the bat at the snowbank at the end of the road and started up the road. This part of the road climbs decently, and so I got warmed up really fast, and the legs were reminding me just how hard I worked them on Mansfield the day before in the deep snow. Here at least the snow was already packed out really well from various skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers, and in reality I would have been fine without them on this hike. It did appear that I was the first hiker up the trail on this day, and I definitely was the first to sign in at the trailhead register.

The Monroe Trail is a pretty moderate trail, never getting overly steep, and the footing, even in summer, is good, so I was anticipating a nice easy snowshoe hike. The weather, however, was not quite as advertised. It was mostly cloudy, and there were even some stray snowflakes falling early. But, as I climbed, there emerged more and more blue sky. About 2/3 of the way up the trail it swings to the left under a large cliff face, before slabbing back up to the top of it. Here I saw a lot of blue sky, and I think my pace quickened, as I could sense the views awaiting me.

Approaching the cliff

A view of the cliff from the trail

Up, up, up into the blue skies
In short order, and with no hiccups, I arrived at the so-called "hut clearing" that is a major trail junction 3/10-mile below the summit, and the last sheltered spot on this approach. Here, the Monroe Trail and Burrows Trail (which comes up from the West) end, and the Long Trail intersects along the ridge and leads up to the summit. I took only a brief breather here to throw on my shell, wanting to get up top to the clearing skies.

Winter Wonderland high on the Monroe Trail

The Burrows Trail ahead to the left leads down to the West side of the mountain

More of the hut clearing

This thermometer read 0 degrees, but my pack thermometer and the weather forecasts said +10F. With the sun here and there, it felt a lot warmer!
As I broke treeline, I kept stopping to look around. Yes, there were still lots of clouds, but there was plenty of blue too, and the views were great! I could barely see to Lake Champlain to the West, whereas the Adirondacks beyond it would be easily visible on a clear day as well as the White Mountains to the East, but the views I did have were great, and well worth the trip.

First views from below the summit

Mount Mansfield hiding in the clouds


Sugarbush Ski Area to the South - on the side of Mount Ellen, another 4000-Footer

Summit pano to the East

Summit pano to the West

Looking back at the summit from just below
There was only a light wind up top, and so I was able to actually hang out at the top for a little while, which I haven't gotten to do yet this winter. Still, I did eventually leave, and headed down to the clearing for a snack break. Here I saw the first people of the day, a couple on their way up the way I had just come. During my descent I would run into a total of 19 people and 7 dogs. None of them were wearing (or even carrying) snowshoes (as I mentioned, it wasn't an issue this day), so they had a lighter ascent than me. A couple of the last people I saw were actually skinning up on skis, and judging by all the ski tracks I saw during the climb up to the cliff, this appeared to be a very popular thing to do the day before as well.

The skies actually cleared up a bit more for a while during my descent, until they finally began to cloud up a bit around the time I reached the car. It might have been even nicer up there 30 minutes or so after I was there in fact, but that's OK. With a fast day on the trail, I actually got home just after dark, which was a nice treat too. I can't wait to do some more of these New England peaks in winter!

Open glades, and even bluer skies during my descent

Route: Monroe Trail out-and-back
Peaks: Camel's Hump (4083', NE4K)
Mileage: 7.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2950'
Book Time: 5hr 25min (actual 4hr 30min)

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