Mount Mansfield, Vermont
Mount Mansfield from a distance
Written by Patricia Kuhnen-Beaver
The woodland is alive with creatures especially mosquitoes and black flies as they bite uncovered areas of my body. Manipulating this uneven terrain with my new hiking boots is so frustrating. The moleskin is helping. Pressure on my back is intense. I love nature but this is extreme, backpacking the long trail in Vermont. Five days in the wilderness so far. Three more days to go up; steep jagged rocks, then down into lush green valleys and up more abundant hills, meandering gently across wet mossy surfaces. Caves and crevices pique my imagination, more slippery rocks and steep ascents, I reached the height of 870 feet. Everything is measured by miles here; one more to the rock ledges, looking over steep cliffs into the gorge, an energy bar eases the pangs of hunger. Trail blazes are difficult to spot at times through the overgrowth in some areas and cascading rocks make the trail hard to find. With my goal in mind, one foot in front of the other, I keep going upward. A brook, I’ll rest here what an excellent excuse for a good cool down.
Sliding the weighty pack off my back, I sit on a rock with a flat surface. Looking up, some patches of sunlight and blue skies. Peregrine Falcons cry out as they hunt for their babies in the nest on high cliffs and outcrops. I notice a marked decrease in temperature as well. Aware of Giardia, I take inventory of my precious water which was boiled and treated with an iodine-based chemical tablet. The cool brook water is refreshing on my sweat soaked skin—I have never sweat so much before or since.
Thump, the pack is on my back again, grateful for the padding; I secure the compression straps and clasp the sternum strap. With a deep breath, I’m on my way with a steady climb. The trail was getting easier at times and just rolled along in front of me. In time I reach the tree line, the smokey clouds obscured the top of the mountain. Seven miles so far today and the peak is still over a mile away. I continue to huff and puff up, up, and up.
A sign: Alpine tundra. The flora is characterized by dwarf shrubs close to the ground. The air pressure is low and I am continually hit by frigid blasts of wind and cold. What a stark and refreshing difference to the hot and humid air this morning when I started out with 4 other companions at 7 a.m.
Finally, I was ecstatic to be standing on the chin of Mount Mansfield with a summit at 4420ft or 8.5 miles. The appearance of my companions was a cause for celebration. I conquered the mountain – photos in jubilant poses, breathtaking views, a memory to cherish for ever.
My day was far from over. Another 3 miles or so to go before I could finally rest my weary bones in the log cabin shelter at the base of Profanity trail. Collecting my gear, I shuttle to the trailhead, hiking to the narrow rock route; I look straight down. Rock upon rock: down, down, down complaining all the way. Whoever named this trail sure got it right. Jagged rocks and several patches that warranted a good slide on the rear end ripping my fast dry shorts, I manipulated my hiking staff masterfully at times easing my pack in front sliding over the toothy steep terrain. My precious water is now gone, I hope I can make it to the shelter. After 1.7 miles and 1900' the Long Trail meets the Taft Lodge cutoff. At long last, I turned onto the spur of the trail which headed to my night’s destination.
Facing an inevitable journey down a very steep hill to the water source, I opt to first claim my bunk for the night and unpack. A clean night outfit neatly placed on top of my thermarest mattress and micra fleece “Icefield” sleeping bag. I take inventory of my remaining food. Gathering my pots, water bottles and a water bladder, I stuff my pockets with iodine tablet packets and venture to the stream. The return trip was more of the challenge as I was laden with my water supply for the evenings needs as well as for my next day 10 mile hike out to the next shelter. Ready to cook after a 12 hour hiking day and dying of thirst, I have to wait for my water to boil and cool before I can drink or eat. At last, I gulped 2 litres (half a gallon) of water and inhaled a dinner that was meant for two. Cookies, nuts, and chocolate quench my intake needs. Satiated, I clean up.
The shelter is overlooking a pond, a quick dip and into my clean night clothes, was a welcome treat before I head back. We all shared stories of the day with other hikers staying in the shelter. One lone hiker arrived late in the afternoon, exhausted after hiking over 12 miles, with very sparse food rations. I offered some cookies and others put forward what they could spare. He was grateful, especially for drinkable water.
I placed my remaining food rations in a bag, hung it in the designated area of the shelter to deter any marauding creatures intending on stealing them. Quiet overtook us rather early. My eyes were shut before sunset. One of my hiking companions nudged me out of a deep sleep to look at the large imposing full moon. The sky was perfect and unobstructed for star gazing, I found myself reaching up as if I could touch them. I set my watch to alarm at 5 a.m. where I witnessed a sunrise that was so spectacular that when I close my eyes, even after all these years, I can still see the brilliant deep red and whispering orange and yellow hues streaming from the horizon.
I have traversed slippery rocks and steep ascents since but this was the most memorable experience of my life. Even the inconvenience of squatting in nature could not dampen my reminiscence. Only one incident on the way down was a slide in the mud. It was a really good slide in some really gooey mud. Falling forward, the mud splashed everywhere. Hiking down into the valley, I found a clearing with rocks in the faint sun and began my journal of this experience.
Vermont Long-Trail – Summer 2005