Mount Mansfield, Green Mountains, Smugglers Notch State Park, Vermont, USA
Long trail south to Chin: 7.4 kilometers round-trip, difficulty level DD
Elevation: 1339 meters
Elevation gain: 825 meters
Duration: 6 hours and 45 minutes (including a 15 minutes break at the Taft Lodge)
Date: February 1, 2014
Mount Mansfield is the highest mountain in Vermont. It is part of the Green mountain range and its highest peak is the Chin, at 1339 meters above sea level. The mountain offers many marked trails, with difficulty level ranging from M (moderate) to DDD (very difficult). However, I am not sure that they are all groomed during winter.
Before undertaking a climb of Mount Mansfield in winter, I would recommend doing some research first. Make sure you have the proper equipment, and that you are fit enough to go for several hours, carrying a backpack. Even though it was possible for us to climb with snowshoes, crampons would have been nice to have. To monitor the weather, Mountain Weather Forecast proved to be quite handy - in addition to giving you the temperature and precipitation at the bottom and the top of the mountain, it also provides the speed of the wind. Finally, if you are not sure if you should continue, it is probably time for you to turn around.
We climbed the Long Trail south to the Chin. We arrived at the beginning of the trail at 9:15 in the morning. Shortly after we began, the trail was covered in a thick layer of hard ice. We scattered around in the woods hoping to find the best way to go around it. We started at an enthusiastic speed, and after an hour had to reconsider and readjust to ensure we would make it to the summit. The trail was steeper than we expected so close to the bottom. We made regular stop to have a drink and eat a little. The trail is very well marked and other than a few random snowboarders or skiers riding off trail, very easy to follow. We made it to the Taft lodge faster than we thought. The Lodge is a wooden cabin with bunk beds (no sleeping mats) and without heat (including wood stove) or electricity. There are some tables inside. Surrounding the lodge, there is a source of water that probably requires some sort of treatment prior to consumption and an outhouse.
From the Taft lodge to the summit, it can be more challenging. The vegetation also change to give way to an alpine climate and the trail becomes less evident to follow. The trail goes through a stone passage that was covered in ice on the day we went. The passage is fairly narrow so with snowshoes equipped with good crampons and using your arms to lift you and help maintaining your balance it is still possible to maneuver without actual crampons.
As we were getting closer to the summit, the snow was harder and the trail was steeper. Less than a 50 meters from the summit, two of us decided not to continue. One of the last slope revealed to be very steep, and slipping and sliding would have resulted in falling down a cliff. The lack of crampons on one’s snowshoes was the reason to stop, and an acute fear of heights had the best of that other friend. The rest of us proceeded very carefully through the last part of the trail. The summit was extremely windy, as there is nothing around to stop the wind. We reached the summit and looked for the mark that indicates that we made it to the highest point - A medallion embedded in the rock of the mountain, left there by the US geological survey team in 1924. We took a few pictures, but my camera battery got so cold that it became unusable (tip: keep your battery close to your body to keep it warm). As we started climbing down, we remained very aware of the danger of the steep slope and gave enough space between us to avoid bringing someone down with you should you fall. We met our two friends a little down the path and continued our descent. It took us about 2 hours to climb down.
To finish, I would like to thank my friends, that keeps following me in my hikes despite a profound dislike of winter (Amanda - I promise I will follow you to a warm…-ish place!) or a fear of heights… and of course those who comes for the sheer fun of it.
Base layer - top and bottom
Mitts/gloves and Tuque
Softshells - top and bottom
Wool socks and liners
Snowshoes - with heel lift and Crampons
In your backpack
The 10 essentials, or at least the following 8:
Navigation - map, compass, gps;
Nutrition - high energy food such as energy bars or trail mix;
Hydration - lots of it.
Camera or phone. The view at the top is worth it :)