Well, I finally finished the 67th and final New England 4000 footer on Mt Mansfield on Saturday, August 5! Our hiking party consisted of group of 11 fantastic people, one energetic dog (Roxy) and a VFTT pal and his group of 9 whom we met on the summit. Here is a link for some photos: Mansfield photos . Click on View Slideshow button.
In an email correspondence to our hiking party, I asked them to pray for 70 degrees, clear skies and low humidity. My dear wife Lauren and I started out about 5:45 am to clear skies and the weather was EXACTLY what we prayed for. Yeah, baby!
While driving on I-89, we saw a vehicle with a couple of guys who looked like hikers with an AT sticker on the window. Right in front of them was a full Subaru with a VFTT sticker in the back. As I coincidentally happened to have a VFTT polypro shirt in the back seat, I asked my wife to drive along side them. I then pressed my VFTT shirt against the drivers side window, to their apparent amusement. Hope you all had a nice hike, folks!!
Despite some tricky directions, everyone arrived at Underhill State Park between 9 and 10:00 and we hit the trail at about 10:25 am, on the Eagle Cut Trail. The trail starts out with easy footing and grades and crosses or runs together with a CCC road. After a bit, it then intersects with several trails, including Sunset Ridge. The Sunset Ridge Trail is very well maintained in the lower sections with nice steps and bridges to really make things quite easy. After gaining some elevation, we waited at the intersection of the Cantilever Trail, for Joanne and Terry, who were alternatively carrying their 1 year old daughter Lucy. We took that trail and enjoyed seeing the interesting overhanging rock and great views to the west. Above this trail junction, Sunset Ridge gets narrower and it was hard to pass others, which really slowed everyone down a bit, but on a gorgeous day like today, it bothered us very little. We eventually came to a spot where we had to climb a couple of boulders. As soon as we got over them, we hit an open ledge with tremendous views. We stopped there for a snack for about 10 minutes and soon were above treeline. This part is absolutely spectacular all the way to the summit. Views to the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain and the valley were breathtaking. Walking on the rocks was sometimes slippery, but was easily negotiated with proper caution. Mansfield has a very extensive alpine zone, apparently because everything to the west is flat (Lake Champlain and the valley), so the winds arrive unabated.
Lauren and I met up with Steve, Ken, Patrick, Dale and Shaun at the junction with the Long Trail. Winds got quite gusty here and we put on wind layers for the final summit push. Winds got stronger as we approached, but we got to the summit quickly. There we were rewarded with lighter winds and a hardy congratulation from Tom, who was able to get out front of the pack above Cantilever Rock and summited earlier. Tom had secured a great spot just east of the summit where the winds were light and the views incredible. We could easily see from Montreal to Monadnock and beyond. The Presidentials and Adirondacks were stunning and I believe that I saw all the way to the Bigelows in Maine!! These were clearly some of the best views that I have ever seen. According to a summit custodian, 230 hikers had summited this day, as of 2:00. It was crowded on the summit, but there was still plenty of room for all. My friends asked me where the champagne was. I said in the car. Hikes dont count when you get to the top, but rather when you get to the bottom. More about this later. We also saw a person with an ironing board on his pack who was extreme ironing on the summit, as part of a work promotion. This was indeed a first! See above for link for 3 photos of the Iron Man.
After hanging out on the summit for an hour, I was delighted to run into my friend and VFTT member Roadtripper, Jen and 7 more in their party. We had a nice chat and took some photos. We then headed back down on Sunset Ridge.
The hike down went easy, especially below treeline. With .3 miles to go, I asked if we wanted to take the slightly longer road walk, or stay on Eagle Cut. The group opted for the latter. As we were walking along an easy stretch, I felt a slight pull in my calf muscle, which forced me to stumble forward. Normally I would have regained balance, but because I was walking right next a ditch, my foot slipped, I slid downward and did a full swan dive right into it. There I stood, .25 miles from the end of conquering my 3+ year quest, face planted into a drainage ditch, while everyone stood around in shock. I then started to laugh, shook off leaves and brush, evaluated my cuts and scrapes (nothing major) and hobbled to the parking lot (I would have crawled if I had to). This is the first time I ever fell face first (except for snowshoeing) while hiking. I like to think that I did this because I had so much fun doing the 67, that I subconsciously did not want it to end. I suspect that the real reason is that I am a total klutz, however.
We then broke out the champagne, cheese, crackers and grapes and celebrated. After seeing Roadtripper and Jen again just as we were leaving, most of our group went to the Alchemist Microbrew Pub in Waterbury for excellent food and drink and fond farewells.
Thanks to everyone for joining me and making this such a special hike! You will always have a fond place in my heart. Special thanks to Tom, who did 10 of the 67 with me and to Lauren, whose love and support allowed me to chase a dream.
At this point, I have no plans for doing additional lists. That may change, but for now my hiking priorities will be purely hiking for the joy of hiking and helping some VFTT friends finish their lists.