Mt. Mansfield and Camel's Hump, completing the VT 4Ks

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Feb 28, 2012
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New Boston, NH
Mt. Mansfield
  • Underhill State Park, Eagles Cut Trail to Sunset Ridge, to Laura Cowles Trail (15 minutes)
  • Laura Cowles Trail to Sunset Ridge Trail (1 hour, 15 minutes)
  • Sunset Ridge Trail to summit (10 minutes)
  • Sunset Ridge Trail to Eagles Cut Trail, back to Underhill State Park (about 1 hour)

Camel's Hump
  • Monroe Trail to junction with Alpine Trail, the bad weather summit cutoff (1 hour, 10 minutes)
  • junction to summit (45 minutes)
  • summit back down to trailhead (1 hour, 40 minutes)

A conflagration of circumstances provided me a unique opportunity to spend a couple days in the northern Green Mountains to finish out the last two (of five) Vermont 4000-footers. Having dropped my daughter off with a friend and her parents for a trip to Italy (!) via Montreal, I was in the Burlington area with views of the final two: Mt. Mansfield (4393'), and Camel's Hump (4083'). They'd been calling for some time.

Got a relatively later start the first day, getting to the Underhill State Park camping/trailhead area at about 3:30 to hike Mansfield first. No real concern, though, as the weather was perfect, with temps in the 70's and bright sunshine, with a few clouds here and there, and the hike itself had a book time of just 4 or so hours. I was ready with headlamps, map, compass, etc in any case.

I paid the $3 fee and was on my way up. (This fee covers any use of the park, which could even include a campground site stay. I would be car camping, instead.)

The 0.6-mile Eagles Cut Trail connects the upper parking area to the Sunset Ridge trailhead proper, mostly along an extended campground road that leads up to a group camping area.

A bright, sunny day with few clouds, and conditions were relatively dry. It wasn't long before I reached the Laura Cowles trail junction, and took it for the ascent. It's a great trail, firmly moderate nearly all the way, with occasional steeper sections.

There are some very interesting features on the trail, including a boulder area that showed the brittle quality of rock under pressure; you could see how the rock was "bent" and "squeezed" over many years. Quite a sight. And you could tell, the trail does get quite wet under those conditions.

Laura Cowles brings you just above treeline before it merges back in with the Sunset Ridge Trail, which brings you to the summit. The Green Mountain Club puts a good deal of effort into preserving the fragile vegetation up on the summit. They've tied string between small boulders to mark the trail boundaries, and they usually have a couple "caretakers" on the summit to educate and monitor. It wasn't quite full-bloom season, but there were real signs of progress.

After a good hour on the summit enjoying the views and sun, I headed back down, staying on the Sunset Ridge Trail. I had planned this route to coincide with dusk and nightfall, my favorite time of day. It's a longer trail than Laura Cowles, adding 0.6 miles, but the more gradual descent was helpful and generally preferred. (The opposite loop direction would have been most unwelcome!) You obviously face west when descending on Sunset Ridge, and it stays above treeline for much longer, too, making it ideal for a late-day descent.

Back at the campground, I set up "camp" inside my car, which turned out to be an added blessing of sorts since persistent overnight rains would drench the area. The Subaru Outback station wagon is uniquely made for car camping, allowing the rear seats to fold down flat to accommodate sleeping bag or two.

The rain continued steady and relatively heavy into the morning. Dozing off and on until about 9:00, I prepared a few things and headed out by 9:30 or so to the base of Camel's Hump, about 45 minutes away.

Important navigation note! I had planned to take the Burrows Trail from Huntington (west) side of the mountain, but the mobile version of Google Maps took me instead to the east side. I entered "Camel's Hump Road, Huntington, VT" but there is another Camel's Hump Road on the east side, coming up from the town of Duxbury. The "full" version on my laptop brought up the correct side on that same search, but something is definitely screwy.

In any case, I wasn't going to drive all the way around the mountain, so I started up the only trail on this side, Monroe Trail. The rain had let up, though I was ready for rain and even thunderstorms that had been forecast for the day.

Monroe was consistently moderate nearly the whole way, though not quite as tough as Laura Cowles. But with the overnight rains and 100% humidity, as I ascended I felt as drenched as I would have been, had it been raining! It was another great workout; I made sure to replenish water as I went along, and felt invigorated from the experience. The trail was very wet, with streams of water flowing down good portions of it. There were no particularly difficult patches, though I did slip into shallow water and mud here and there. My advice: step only on rocks, roots, and sand, as most anything else that looks like good ground might be mud!

Just before the summit, I came upon a wild rabbit -- the first I've seen such a thing in all my hiking experience! I had seen a rabbit crossing the road earlier, and also saw wild rabbits at a friend's house in nearby South Hero, VT. Probably not an uncommon thing for the locals, but it certainly was so for me. I thought I'd see bear before I saw rabbit; who knew.

Though I did come across several people on the way up, I saw only two others on the summit: one was a Green Mountain Club caretaker, and one other man with a dog. Spoke with the caretaker about his work, learned some about the vegetation up on top, including mountain sandwort, which was just beginning to bloom. While it was cloudy most of the way up, the clouds gave way to mostly sun while I was up there, and the views opened up a good amount. With this, came bugs of many kinds; they got pretty annoying at times. After about 45 minutes, a snack and some photo-taking, I thanked the caretaker for his efforts and headed back down.

There's a special quality to the trails and mountains in Vermont, different than the vibe that the Whites in NH give off. I'm drawn to Vermont more and more, each time I visit. I'll always love the Whites, too, but I clearly have much to explore in Vermont!

Photo library:

Video of summit approach and summit:
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Excellent TR(s). I like the 'look and feel' of VT as well!

It's funny, if you put in Hunter Mountain, it takes you to the end of Spruceton Road. This is great if you want to hike the mountain, but not if you want to ski it! :D I've met more people there in Winter with ski racks on their cars, with confused looks on their faces, wondering where the lifts are! Answer, about 1 mile as the crow flies but about 20 miles as the car drives! :eek:
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