Summiting Mount Mansfield, Part One

In all the time I’ve spent hiking, there haven’t been many mountains that have stumped me, that have sent me back down to the trailhead before making it to the summit.  Katahdin did that once.  Vermont’s Mount Mansfield did it four times.

My first attempt at Mansfield was in March 2013.  With a friend and his father, I strapped on snowshoes and waded through powder on Sunset Ridge, on the western side of the mountain.  That was just five months after I’d developed a stress fracture in my foot, and I learned that a weak foot plus heavy snowshoes plus steep inclines is not a fun combination.

Two months later, I tried again.  This time, I headed to the mountain with a friend from the Intervale’s planting crew and their partner.  At the base of the mountain in Underhill State Park, the weather was in spring mode, with all the trees leafed out and wildflowers approaching their peak season.  As we ascended the mountain, we walked backward into winter and soon realized we were hiking from mud and into rotten snow.  When my hiking companions and I were thoroughly soaked and had each slipped several times, we decided to call it a day.

I didn’t have a chance to attempt Mansfield again until two weekends ago, when I found myself back in Vermont and decided to approach it from the east.  Excited at the prospect of finally making it to the summit, I readied my pack, climbed into my wagon, and headed to Stowe.  I only made it partway down VT 108 before I found that recent wintry weather had closed the road.  Unless I wanted to have an exceedingly long hike, there would be no summiting Mansfield that weekend.

This past Saturday, I tried again.  The day was gorgeous–bitterly cold but with an unbelievably blue sky.  I drove to the western side of the mountain and set off around 9:15.  I felt fairly confident that I’d make it to the summit until I came to a rock slab a little over one mile from the peak.  The slab was dramatically sloped and covered in snow and ice; it took patience and courage to climb past it in my lightweight trail shoes.  The combination of that slab, several others like it, a few slips, and my being alone on the mountain left me a bit unnerved.  As a result, when I met another hiker (who had hiked up another trail and would take Sunset Ridge down to the parking lot) 15 minutes from the summit, I decided to walk (and slide) down with him, saving Mansfield’s summit for another day.

That day turned out to be the very next, the last day of my last weekend in Vermont.

Fifth time’s the charm, right?

To be continued in the morning, when I’m less tired…

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