Ascent of Mount Mansfield on 2010-09-09

Climber: Michael Wanberg

Others in Party:Matthew Snyder
Danielle Sandy
Date:Thursday, September 9, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Mansfield
    Elevation:4393 ft / 1338 m

Ascent Trip Report

This was the second of our legitimate peak pursuits on this trip. We'd climbed Katahdin two days prior, than allowed a rest and driving day to Burlington, arriving the previous night and strolling through the Church Street Marketplace in the old downtown. Dinner at Three Tomatoes Trattoria was wonderful; pasta is always good the day after or before a hike. In this case it was both, and particularly well done.

We headed out from Burlington in a downpour, driving through the ski village of Stowe and parking at a barely visible trailhead where the "Long Trail" took off to the southwest of Hwy 108 near Smuggler's Notch. The three of us got out of the car and huddled under the back lift-gate as we loaded up, attempting to stay dry. The ponchos went on immediately, we signed in to the trail registry and headed off up the trail.

At the outset the trail was broad and, though it was certainly uphill, somewhat gentle. It was pouring, and it seemed to only be intensifying. The trail seemed well built and drained reasonably though. Then we came to creek crossing. I had been able to hear the creek for a while, and there was a bend in the trail where it was plainly visible. I remember thinking, 'I hope there is a good way to cross that', hoping that would be a bridge.

The trail gradually increased its incline and distanced itself from the creek. The water was coming down in buckets, and it was difficult to hear much over the noise of the raindrops pelting the leaves. Matthew was taking point, and I saw him stop at a bend in the trail, then look back and say 'You're going to love this.' I thought I detected sarcasm, but between the noise of the rain and my poncho rubbing along my ears it was hard to be sure.

I reached him and looked up to see the trail ending at the side of a rushing torrent. It was surely the creek we'd seen earlier, but it seemed much larger and faster than a moment ago. That probably owes to the fact that it was now an obstacle rather than a scenic treasure. What is likely a single step-over afterthought on a normal day was going to be a major undertaking today. Danielle arrived as we split up to scout above and below for a better crossing point, but this was easily the best spot. The stretch below would have made a fun water-slide on a warm day, and the section above was constricted (but not enough to safely cross) and 3-4 feet deep.

My concern was primarily that this was Danielle's first real stream ford, and the combination of slick rock, rushing water, and the 'water-slide' just below us made me nervous. We discussed our options and decided to try to adjust/divert the stream bed into a few channels up to two feet wide. Matthew vaulted across and started work on the far side, and I busied myself on the near shore. We established our channels and carefully completed the crossing without any mishaps in about a half hour.

We proceeded up the increasingly steep trail and began to notice that the trail was becoming a stream. It would be difficult to overstate how hard it was raining, as this was easily the most rain I'd ever encountered without lightning, and would even top most thunderstorms. We passed by a cutoff for the Profanity Trail, which was labeled as the 'bad-weather alternate'. This was certainly bad weather, but I guessed (since this was Vermont) that it meant in case of icy conditions. It was cold (low 40s?), but not icy, and it was hard to tell if that trail would take us to the summit or just detour around it.

We continued on the Long Trail and kept climbing up an increasingly narrow route. The trail narrowed down to what might generously be described as a path, and the tree rapidly shrunk down to the point they were basically just shrubs. The winds began to increase, and I peered into the thick clouds and thought I was a a broken, rocky wall ahead of us. A sign informed us that we were now in an alpine climate zone, though the (short) tree around us screamed otherwise, clearly indicating sub-alpine.

The trail wound its way up to the rocky section I'd seen moments before, and once again I was incredulous that a so-called trail would contain such a feature. As with the AT on Katahdin, what I saw before me was not a trail, but rather a class 3 (minimum) scramble. It didn't appear to be overly challenging, but climbing up a rock face with ponchos and gusty winds in a downpour was not what I'd had in mind. I quickly conferred with Matthew, than Danielle when she arrived a few seconds later.

The rain had continued to intensify, if possible, and we were basically to the point that we just wanted to finish off this peak and get out of there. It was obvious that we wouldn't be able to safely down-climb this section on the return, so we proposed getting to the summit, then either returning via the Profanity Trail or, if necessary, booking it down the auto-road and then having one of us (likely me) trudge up to get the car from Smuggler's Notch and drive it down to pick up the other two. Had this not been 3000 miles from home, I probably would have suggested turning around and coming back another day.

Matthew and Danielle decided to stow their ponchos so they wouldn't get in the way (Danielle's had gotten shredded on the last section of path and wasn't doing much anymore), and I strapped mine under the waist belt of my pack in front so it wouldn't create a hazard on the slick scramble. Then we went for it. We cleared the first stretch, went through a series of easier scrambles (class 2-3 instead of 3-4) before encountering another tough one. Thankfully there were a few boulders to shelter us from the now quite vicious wind, and we paused to confer once more.

I knew we were close to the summit, but I wasn't sure if it was just over this wall or if there were more. Danielle was getting shaky, and I don't blame her. The toughest part of the planning was that visibility was down to about 200' due to the dense clouds/rain, so it was impossible to tell how far we had left to go. I decided to scale this section and then scout to the summit to see what lay ahead, then return to confer once more. The wind was now driving the rain almost directly sideways, so the rock fold we were in would protect them quite nicely until I returned.

I clamored over the wall, but was almost blown over/back down when I broke over the top. From what I could gather this was the top of the ridge; the sudden change from sheltered to exposed was a bit unnerving. I slowly stood up, bracing myself against the howling wind, then proceeded quickly along a surprisingly excellent trail. There were strings along each side to designate the protected areas alongside, as on Katahdin. I strode along and thought I could make out the top through the clouds, and what appeared to be a person as well. As I approached it became clear that my eyes hadn't deceived me, there was indeed a man standing on top, seemingly oblivious to the terrible conditions. He greeted me as I came near, and congratulated me on making the summit. I was glad for the confirmation, then told him I'd be back in a moment with friends and returned the way I'd come.

I regained Matthew and Danielle, and told them the summit was only a few minutes ahead and that this was the last of the obstacles between them. After a brief caution about the wind, they scrambled up and over (they're awesome!) and followed my brisk pace to our destination. We had a brief chat with the man on top, an agent of the Green Mountain Club. he told us we were (not surprisingly) the only people he'd seen all day, and gave us some information for our descent.

We found the summit marker, tagged it (but didn't even stop for pictures it was so miserable), and continued 'south' along the Long Trail to the Profanity Trail junction. We turned off there, and discovered the trail exactly as it had been described - a steep (though sheltered) descent down what looked at the moment to be a stream running on a 45 degree decline. We picked and sloshed our way down without delay. Our shoes quickly became hopelessly soaked, but we were thankful that the footing was not unreasonably treacherous.

We eventually rejoined the Long Trail at the junction we'd seen on the way up, then turned and continued our descent as quickly as possible. It was so wet!

We eventually made it back across our torrent ford, then on to the vehicle. We changed as much of our soaked and muddy clothes as propriety would allow, hopped in the car, and cranked the heat as we headed for Saratoga!

Perhaps some day I'll return and take in the wonderful views I've heard raved about here, but I think this peak goes down as the most miserable experience I've had in my short peakbagging career. I'm thoroughly impressed by the tenacity that Matthew and Danielle showed throughout this journey. Danielle especially, who was new to peak hiking and had to fight down some very reasonable fear on the scrambles and wind-swept ridge, yet didn't complain or hold back when it was necessary to keep pushing through.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2990 ft / 910 m
    Total Elevation Loss:2990 ft / 910 m
    Round-Trip Distance:4.8 mi / 7.7 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:5 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Stream Ford, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Raining, Cold, Extremely Windy, Low Clouds
Utterly Despicable
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2790 ft / 850 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 2590 ft / 789 m; Extra: 200 ft / 60m
    Loss on way in:200 ft / 60 m
    Distance:2.5 mi / 4 km
    Route:Long Trail (from North)
    Start Trailhead:near Smuggler's Notch  1803 ft / 549 m
    Time:3 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:2790 ft / 850 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 2590 ft / 789 m; Extra: 200 ft / 60m
    Gain on way out:200 ft / 60 m
    Distance:2.3 mi / 3.7 km
    Route:Profanity Trail / Long Trail (to North)
    End Trailhead:near Smuggler's Notch  1803 ft / 549 m
    Time:2 Hours 

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