Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Mount Mansfield in Winter - Feb. 8, 2014

This winter I've not had any specific list I've been working on, but it has been a goal of mine to do at least a few of the New England 4000-Footers outside of New Hampshire before the end of this winter. This past weekend I finally got around to doing just that, starting with the relatively easy high peaks of Vermont (relatively being compared to most of the Maine 4000-footers). First up was Mount Mansfield, the highest point in the state of Vermont, at just a shade under 4400 feet. This was also my first solo hike since mid-October, which felt strange. It also meant I wasn't particularly motivated to get up and going in the morning, but the drive went faster than expected and I got boots on trail around 9:20. Late for me, but this was to be a short hike, so I still expected to be down by mid-afternoon.

The plan was to take the Long Trail from Route 108 to Taft Lodge, and from there take the steep but not-ledgy Profanity Trail up to the summit, and retrace those steps on the way down. Having done the ledges on the Long Trail North of Mansfield this past summer, I was not looking to try those in winter, figuring they'd be tricky and likely icy. In winter Route 108 is closed from the Stowe ski area (on the side of Mansfield) through the notch, but there is ample parking at the end of the plowed road and it is about 4/10-mile from there to the summer trailhead for the Long Trail up Mansfield. I put snowshoes on at the car since the area received a nice snowfall mid-week.

Trailhead for the Long Trail

Nicely established snowshoe trench

This guy passed me early on, apparently to snowboard his way down part of the trail

I had heard that skiers tended to criss-cross the Long Trail in this area, and that was clearly the case from the start, with ski tracks everywhere crossing the trail. The trail is blazed with white blazes, which is normally a problem in winter (snow is white after all), but there were plenty of blazes visible and so determining which trench was the actual trail was not a problem. The ascent to Taft Lodge went smoothly, though I did notice that for the most part the sunny skies predicted for the day were not coming true. A little way below Taft Lodge I found myself out on the side of a ski trail, which I did not remember coming to this past summer when I was here. Still, it was a good spot for a short break, before I turned around and found the filled-in snowshoe trench that continued the actual trail.

Some blue skies here and there, but overall it was cloudy.

Lots of ski traffic here!

Ski trail (Chin Clip I believe)

Unbroken trail approaching Taft Lodge
The trail above the ski trial was not broken out since the last snowfall, but it was pretty easy going though about 6" of new powder up to Taft Lodge. At Taft Lodge I followed the sign pointing to the Profanity Trail and began heading up. Now the snow was deeper, at least a foot, so the breaking was harder, but still manageable. I was in no rush. But soon the trail popped into an open area and I realized I must still be on the Long Trail! This wasn't where I wanted to be! Still, I decided to give it a shot anyway, what the heck, right? I could always turn around and try to find the Profanity Trail again. Some tough trail breaking, but I was soon at the col between the Chin (the highest summit of Mansfield) and the Adam's Apple. The snow was about 3 feet deep here, maybe a little more, based on the sign in the col.

The summit of Mansfield. Um, I should be a lot further to the left if this was the Profanity Trail!

Note the amount of snow, compare to the below picture from this summer.
The same spot from above this past summer - I estimate close to 3 feet of snow depth was needed to cover the lower signs.
The scrambles North of the Chin in summer (July 2013)

The scrambles on this hike - note the trees are almost buried, which are 6+' tall!
Now I took a good snack break, and layered up too as I could hear the wind blowing around fairly strongly. Finding the trail initially took a lot of trial and error, and I found a few small spruce traps. Seeing the above comparison now, I realize just how deep the snow was in there, it must have been over 6' deep in spots! The first ledge, which is more of a crack, took some doing to get up as the deep powder left my snowshoes little to grab, but I did get up it after a few tries (thankfully there was no ice), and I continued on.

The Adam's Apple from partway up The Chin

There were a few more short tricky spots, but the crux came a little further up where I got to a long, steeply-angled section that I had to get up to reach the summit ridge. At this point I was thinking of aborting, but looking down at some of the very steep sections I had already come up, getting back down wasn't going to be easy either (though I still could if I was careful). I determined based on how the snow had behaved so far that I would be OK to continue on this section, which had a bit of a drop off down the slope should I slip too far. The snow had been compacting down well with multiple stomps before shifting my weight, and there had not been any hidden ice thus far, so I continued along, making sure each step was secure before transferring my weight onto it. The snow was very deep; even after compacting it the snow was usually over my knee. But slowly and surely (3-4 steps at a time!) I made it up to where the grade eases shortly before the summit, and reach the summit I did. It took me roughly 50 minutes to go the 3/10-mile from the col to the summit! It is hard to convey just how tough and tricky this ascent was, but take my word for it when I say it was probably the toughest 3/10-mile of trail I have ever done in winter! That's not something I want to do again, not in such conditions at least!

The sunny skies predicted for the day still weren't coming true, but there were still some near-by views and the clouds were mostly above me, so I enjoyed those views until the wind became too much to hang around comfortably. I made my way South to the upper junction of the Profanity Trail, but had to spend a few minutes figuring out where it descended off the ridge. There was one blaze I stumbled across that gave me a clue, but a few cairns would have made it much easier. It basically heads down a gulley below the summit proper, a bit North of a cut-over to the ski trails that several skiers were hiking up in order to reach the summit themselves.

Summit! New England 4000-Footer #49 in winter!

The Stowe Ski Area

The Nose

The Mansfield Ridge, leading to The Nose (which has all the antennas)

Faintly in the distance I could see the pointed peak of Camel's Hump, my goal for the next day.
The Profanity Trail was a steep descent, but it was hard-packed above treeline, and not terribly deep below treeline, and so was a fairly easy (as they go) descent to Taft Lodge. And from there, I was back on familiar territory, and the descent went really smoothly. I made another break stop at the ski slope, then just continued down, making it back to the road in good order (and as a few clouds started to leave...of course). The roadwalk was easy, but I was disgusted to see the large amount of dog poo all over the road from the various folks walking their dogs. I love dogs, and am thrilled that folks are out with their dogs, but come on, clean up after them on the roads and trails please, no one wants to walk or ski through that!

Getting back to my car, I headed into Stowe to where I had a room reserved, took a shower, and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon (a nice change, usually I'm out all day and I had originally thought about doing Camel's Hump the same day as this before deciding several days before to take it easy instead, why rush?). This was a tough climb on what was supposed to be a pretty easy hike. Just goes to show you, you never know what might happen on a hike!

A peek to The Nose from the Long Trail

Now there is more blue sky...always my luck

Route: Long Trail (to summit), Profanity Trail
Peaks: Mansfield (4393', NE4K)
Mileage: 5.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2850'
Book Time: 4hr 10min (actual time: 4hr 40min)

The lower half of the loop is the Profanity Trail, the less-exposed route to the summit ridge from Taft Lodge


  1. Great report - planning to do the Long Trail from 108 in late Jan and I expect conditions may be similar - this is very helpful - thank you!

    1. Matt, ironically I just got back from hiking in Vermont, and Mansfield was one of the peaks we did (though from Underhill State Park this time around). The snow depth right now isn't terribly deep in that part of Vermont (maybe 1' with deeper drifts at 4000ft), though that of course can change by the end of the month! The Profanity Trail up by Taft Lodge will be a better option up that side, though the upper bit of the Long Trail may still be doable, best of luck either way!

  2. Thank you for the thorough report, Matt. I'm planning to climb Mansfield this Monday (16-Jan) with my wife and son (11, though he's climbed all 48 4K's in NH including two in winter), and both your original report from last February, and you're recent update, are very helpful to our planning. Would you recommend the East approach (LT-Profaniyty-Profanity-LT) or the West approach (Sunset Ridge)? If West, were the roads open all the way to the Sunset trail head when you climbed?

    1. If the weather is calling for low winds and sunny skies, 100% go up the Sunset Ridge Trail. It is a really nice approach. But if it is going to be really windy, that ridge is very exposed to Western winds and wouldn't be a good plan. The Long Trail/Profanity approach is protected almost all the way to the summit. Check out New England Trail Conditions for Vermont (, my trail conditions report from the 2nd and someone else's from this week are on there.

      The road was clear enough to a closed gate within 1/4-mile of the campground at the Sunset Ridge Trailhead that we and many other people were able to park there. I would guess with the warm weather this past week that the road will be icy, but probably passable up to that same spot now.

      Enjoy your hike!