Mt. Mansfield

Another New England classic, Tripp and I decided to hike Mansfield last weekend. The weather turned out to be excellent with almost no clouds at all and temps in the mid 60s. We got up at the crack of dawn, drove up via I93 to I89 and hit the trail at 11 AM. There are numerous parking areas in Smugglers Notch, providing easy access to the trails.

Conceptually, this hike can be split into three really distinct parts: the ascent (red), the traverse (green), and the descent (orange). Now this statement may appear less than profound, but when broken down and examined it becomes clear.  In my opinion, it’s this feature of Mansfield that makes it such an interesting hike.  There is great variety during the course of the day, leaving you with a distinct sense of having accomplished quite a few different things.  Here’s a quick overview of the route (Note: this map has a lot of detail which is best viewed by following the link below each inset):

View Mt. Mansfield in a larger map

We ascended via the Hell Brook Trail, one of the steepest hiking trails in New England (at least that I’m aware of). Just for reference, it took us about 3 hours to summit and it’s only about 1.5 miles from the parking area to the summit.  I was somewhat under the weather, which only compounded the problem.  Here’s a closer look:

View Mt. Mansfield in a larger map

The first leg is really the hardest part of the hike, which if fortunate because after the first excruciating hour, things only get better.  You basically ascend up a steep watershed hallmarked by step like boulders and well worn tree branches and stumps giving evidence to the numerous hikers who’ve hauled themselves up practically and over hand in the past.

Nearly half way are two points of interest (the blue push-pins).  The lower one denotes a spot that looked good for an emergency bivy, although you’re so closed to the road that it may not really be of much worth.  The second (uphill) pin is extremely confusing.  I’ve done this hike twice and each time we loose the trail in that very spot!  There are numerous tributary water sheds that run across and parallel to the actual trail.  In this case I think what happened, is that the trail hooked to the left, while a small water runoff ran straight down hill and into the trail.  In our beleaguered state, we waltzed right off the trail into increasingly dubious terrain before realizing that this arduous slog over fallen trees and ill marked trail is actually not the trail.  Actually we were only off of the trail for like 30 or 40 yards, but since it’s happened twice now, I thought I’d make a note of it.

The second leg of the ascent mellows out by quite a bit.  Around this time, you begin to get some previews of the views to come.  Eventually you come to Lake of the Clouds, which is more of a pond, and on this particular day there were no clouds…  In any event it’s nice.  Here the trail splits giving you the option of heading over Adams Apple or circumventing it and heading straight for The Chin.  Both routes are equidistant while Adams Apple gives you a gain of several hundred feet.  The view is worth it: you get a good look at the final real ascent of the day:

The Chin – the squirrelly notch up the middle is the trail!

This ascent is up there with other great (non-technical yet precipitous) New England climbs such as Flume Slide Trail or Huntington Ravine Trail.  The route up is less than obvious for much of the way simply because it’s so steep that you can’t see  very far from your present position in either direction.  For example:

About half way up the Chin ascent.
We’re standing about half way up the Chin ascent; the trail descends more or less over that cliff.  It’s basically the same story in the uphill direction!  Shortly you arrive at the summit of Mansfield, reminiscent of other high peaks in New England: bare and rocky punctuated by swirling winds, and also loads of people.  It’s incredibly beautiful, on par with the likes of Franconia Ridge.
Looking south from Mansfield.
There are several ways to traverse the ridge.  Last time we did this, we opted for the Cliff Trail on the eastern side of the ridge.  Cliff Trail basically cuts across the cliff which is the eastern face of Mt. Mansfield.  There’s almost no elevation change but it falls away sharply to one side making it a precarious and exciting stretch.  One section of the trail actually has a steel cable anchored into the rock which climbers can use as a hand hold as they cross the steepest portion.  Last time we were there one end of it had torn out and it was unusable.  The Long Trail runs along the top of the Ridge, however the Stowe gondola generates an incredible amount of foot traffic along this stretch.

View Mt. Mansfield in a larger map

In order to avoid the beltway-esque congestion we descended to the southwest and picked up the Subway trail and Canyon Trail.  This forms what amounts to the western analog to the Cliff Trail: an exposed traverse along a rocky face.  On the eastern flank you get views of Smugglers Notch, the ski areas and the White Mountains in the distance.  On the western flank you get the Vermont country side, Burlington, Lake Champlain and Adirondacks.  A few shots from the Canyon Trail:
Canyon Trail – Champlain and Adirondacks in the distance.
Southwest facing.
Canyon Trail.  Facing south looking
over the Green Mountains.
Burlington, Champlain and the
Adirondacks.  Facing east from
Canyon Trail.
Upon exiting the Canyon Trail, you find yourself back on the ridge proper, and at the foot of The Nose, the last feature that you encounter before descending.  By now it was late in the day, so we decided to omit the Nose and head down the mountain.

View Mt. Mansfield in a larger map

The easiest descent is by way of the Toll Road.  The Toll Road is dirt road which winds it’s way down from the ridge, past the ski area and finally back to Mountain Road, which provides access to the skiing and hiking.  As far as roads go, the Toll Road is a pleasant hike.  There is not really any traffic and it offers several great views of the valley.  It’s also pretty easy hiking.  At several points the road intersects with parts of the ski area.  At our first opportunity we dodged off the road and went straight down the ski area.  There is a hiking trail which descends through the ski area (which would allow you to avoid the ski trails) but it was getting late so we went straight down a trail called Nose Dive.  As you might expect this dumps you out, only about a mile from the where we left the car.
A look back at where we’ve just come from.  The gondola station is seen just underneath the cliffs (of Cliff Trail infamy).
Anyhow, the reason this tends to be satisfying hike, is because of the hugely diverse terrain.  You start by parking in tiny lot in the middle of Smugglers notch after a lengthy car ride, crawl up a lush deciduous forest and suddenly emerge onto a craggy ridge.  Shortly after, you find yourself in a precipitous pine forest followed next by the dirt road and capped off by the meadowy slopes of the ski area.  Now I’ve gotta see about doing this in the winter!

One thought on “Mt. Mansfield

  1. Justin Serpico

    Nice to see other people doing a good job blogging their adventures. A few years ago blogging and personal websites with all this info (photos and trip reports) was common, these days it seems everyone just post to Facebook.

    Good read on the Mansfield trip. I’ve never hiked anything their in the summer, though I’ve done most of the trails and a little off trail in winter. I was hoping for more subway photos, I guess I’ll have to take some tomorrow!


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