Day Hike Notes – Mount Mansfield, Vermont

On the "chin" of Mt Mansfield, highest point in Vermont.

On the “chin” of Mt Mansfield, highest point in Vermont.

On our way home from Quebec last month, as on the outward journey, youngest and I stopped in Vermont to climb a mountain. This time it was Mount Mansfield. Unlike Mount Pisgah, nobody had recommended it. In fact, everything I had heard suggested that Camel’s Hump – VT’s highest undeveloped peak – would be the better hike. We went to Mt Mansfield for the essentially dumb reason that it is the highest in the state. Hey, I’ve now been on top of seven state high-points. Whoop-de-doo!

We lucked out with our weather and accommodation. Torrential rain gave way to sun for our drive into Vermont, and the sun mostly stayed with us on the mountain. Underhill State Park was the real stroke of luck. We drove to it as a name on the map, without knowing if we could even pitch a tent there. At 15 miles off I-89, some of them on dirt, it would have been a long wild-goose chase. The park turned out to be a gem, a basic campground in cool woods hard against the mountain; and right at the start of the trails leading up to the alpine tundra.

DATE: Wednesday, July 30th.
START & FINISH: Underhill State Park campground, Underhill, VT.
ROUTE: CCC Road–Halfway House Trail-The Long Trail-Sunset Ridge Trail.
DISTANCE: 6.8 miles.
TIME: 5-6 hours, with lots of lingering.
TERRAIN: 2,550’ elevation gain to 4,395’ summit. Some clambering on slick rock higher up the Halfway House Trail. Easy going on ridge (Long Trail). A few downhill scrambles on the Sunset Ridge Trail.
MAPS: Simple trail map available from state park office, alternatively “Northern Vermont Hiking Trails” (4th edition) from Map Adventures.

WEATHER: Dry and mostly sunny.
WILDLIFE: Turkey vultures (?) circling the summit.

PHOTOS: Here, including some from our earlier Mount Pisgah hike.
BREAKFAST: Coffee, cereal, odds and ends at campground.
LUNCH: Cold quesadillas, assorted trail food on the way down.
UPS:
– The mountain’s undeveloped and picturesque west side.
– Views from the ridge to Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.
DOWNS:
– Hearing the sounds of Stowe resort (east side, 2,800’ below) from the summit.
– The busy ridge, made possible by the Toll Road from Stowe.
KIT: Be prepared to put poles away when the clambering starts.
COMPANY: Only my daughter until the ridge, thereafter throngs (well, not exactly Times Square, but thronged for a mountain top).

Sunset Ridge, along which runs the Sunset Ridge Trail.

Sunset Ridge, along which runs the Sunset Ridge Trail.

The Long Road to Natashquan

Natashquan, Quebec.

Stop in Innu and French in Pointe-Parent. We did, and headed for home.

Natashquan is a village in Quebec, on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence; in Quebec, but 800 miles northeast of Montreal. If you want to travel farther east along the shore, you can take a dirt road for another 28 miles, then you would need a boat to take you on to Labrador. Last month, my daughter and I spent two weeks driving to Natashquan and back from Connecticut. We stopped a lot along the way. I suppose, if you pushed it, you could do the trip in a week, but what would be the point of that?

Our journey actually ended a few miles beyond Natashquan, at the edge of the Innu community of Pointe-Parent. We parked the car on a bluff overlooking the Gulf of St Lawrence, and started to picnic out of the trunk. Two Innu men appeared, seemingly from nowhere, stereotypically carrying a case of beer. Hey, it was Friday! The younger of the two examined us suspiciously; the older, the one holding an open Bud, sat on my fender and started a conversation (in French, which the Innu here speak alongside their own Innu or Montagnais language). Were we from Quebec? The United States! We were, he said, bienvenue, and repeated his welcome in Innu – kwe kwe. Then they strode off through the dunes, the older man calling to his friends who were starting to fish for salmon.

Limestone monument, Ile Niapiskau, Mingan Archipelago.

Limestone monument, Ile Niapiskau, Mingan Archipelago.

We had crossed from the south shore of the St Lawrence to the north on a two-hour ferry trip from Matane to Godbout, 340 miles “upstream” from Natashquan. After that, the navigation was very easy – keep following Route 138. It wasn’t all remote and beautiful, at least not until the last 100 miles. Particularly as far as Sept-Îles, Quebec’s hydroelectric and mining industries were much in evidence. Sept-Îles is an ugly town on a beautiful bay. But the farther east we went, the more the taiga and muskeg took over from dams and transmission lines. We spent a day exploring the Mingan Archipelago by boat and on foot, enjoying shorelines that reminded me of the very best of the Great Lakes.

Then, on that sunny Friday, we drove the last stretch. Natashquan dines out on being the end of the road (a status it’s losing) and the birthplace of Gilles Vigneault, an iconic Quebec singer-songwriter (“My country is not a country, it is winter”). But it is also quirkily beautiful, at least in the July sun. I have posted pictures of the village, and the journey to it, here.

Taking a Hike – A Creek to a Peak in the Catskills

" ... just a narrow, winding line through nature ... "

” … just a narrow, winding line through nature … “

My “Taking a Hike” column for July was published while my youngest and I were road-tripping and hiking up in Quebec. It is about a very plain trail in the Catskills, though one that leads to superb scenery. I recall a few signs at the start of the trail, but then just a narrow, winding line through nature all the way to Panther Mountain. Quebec was a contrast. Though the scenery in the various national parks was stunning, the trails were mostly anything but plain. Signage was frequent; some trails offered benches and shelters; viewing platforms were common. Trails, of course, should be developed according to the number and needs of their users, but Quebec reminded me how much I like the very plain kind. You can read the column at The Hour and Hersam Acorn Arts & Leisure. More about the hikes and roads in Quebec later.

April’s “Taking a Hike” is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2014: “Apr – Bear Mountain, CT” – or by clicking here).

Day Hike Notes – Mount Pisgah, Vermont

Lake Willoughby from Mt Pisgah, Westmore, Vermont

Lake Willoughby from one of Mt Pisgah’s outlooks.

I started putting this post together two weeks ago, perched above the Saint Lawrence river near Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec. It was before 7 a.m. My youngest was still asleep in her tent behind me. The sun was up and there was a cool breeze. But before I make it sound too idyllic, I’ll add that a few mosquitos were up too – and breakfasting; and that my view of the Saint Lawrence was heavily screened by birch and pine. 

Still, summer roadtrip time had come round again, and that is always good. It was the fourth year in a row that D3 (daughter number 3) and I have hit the asphalt together. This year, we went to Quebec again, with bits of Vermont on the way up and back. After Rivière-du-Loup, I got carried away with the roadtrip, and forgot the post about our hike in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom the day before. So here it is now.

I have to thank Alex for the hike. He builds trails for Timber & Stone LLC, the VT company laying down the Norwalk River Valley Trail in Wilton. I asked him about his favorite hikes in VT as we walked down what was gradually becoming the NRVT last winter. Mount Pisgah was, if I remember correctly, at or near the top of the list.

DATE: Thursday, July 17th.
START & FINISH: Trailhead approx. 0.5 mi south ­of Lake Willoughby on VT Rte 5A.
ROUTE: Up Mt Pisgah south trail; down north trail; return to trailhead on Rte 5A.
DISTANCE: 7.0 miles total, of which 2.8 on Rte 5A.
TIME: 3.75 hour (8:00-11:45).
TERRAIN: 1,500-foot elevation gain to the 2,751-foot summit. The trail is steep in places (including some manmade steps), but well-maintained.
MAPS: Posted at trailhead kiosks.

WEATHER: Sunny and warm.
WILDLIFE: Red squirrels high up.

Mount Pisgah, Vermont

Looking south from Mount Pisgah.

PHOTOS: Just those in this post for now.
BREAKFAST: Half a cold quesadilla before setting out; the other half, plus granola bars, on the summit.
LUNCH: Dube’s Pittstop, Pittsburg NH, many hours and miles later.
UPS:
– Well, the views of and around Lake Willoughby.
– Resting on a rock beside the crystal-clear lake on the final leg.
DOWNS: If I must find one, maybe that the summit is thoroughly wooded, and the views are from a few small outlooks; or maybe the wind farms in those views.
KIT: We set off in t-shirts, but could have used an extra layer when up top.
COMPANY: D3, plus one hiking pair on the way up and another on the way down.

Day Hike Notes, Catskills – Panther Mountain

The Catskill Mountains from the northern approach to Panther Mountain

The Catskill Mountains from the northern approach to Panther Mountain

Height-of-summer hikes have their issues; sweat, of course, and bugs, and water that turns tepid in your reservoir. But the only summer special that really gives me the heebie jeebies is thunderstorms. I had planned this hike for five days earlier, but then the forecast turned to torrential, gusty, hail-and-lightning-laden storms, and I thought it wiser not to be 3,730 feet up. So I stayed at home, and even down here the storms were bad enough, and lasted long enough, to delay the Fourth of July fireworks. Then Saturday and Sunday brought magnificent hiking weather, but that was family time (and two soccer World Cup quarter-finals as well). By the time I was driving to the Catskills on Monday, thunder and lightning was in the forecast again – a reduced possibility which, to the great relief of my heebie jeebies, came to nothing on Panther Mountain.

DATE: Monday, July 7th.
START & FINISH: Fox Hollow trailhead, Shandaken NY.
ROUTE: Giant Ledge-Panther-Fox Hollow Trail to Panther Mtn and back.
DISTANCE: 8.8 miles total.
TIME: 6.5 unhurried hours (11:40-6:10).
TERRAIN: 2,400-foot elevation gain on trail often made up of rocks and roots, and encroached upon by brush and pricklers. A few minor scrambles.
MAPS: AMC Catskill Mountains.

WEATHER: Mostly sunny and hot; breezy in places; two short showers.
WILDLIFE: Of the bug variety.

PHOTOS: Album here.
BREAKFAST: At home.
LUNCH: Blue cheese baguette and nuts on the summit.
UPS:
– Smelling pines on reaching 3,000 feet.
– A siesta laid out on a slab of rock.
DOWNS: Bashing my knee on a misplaced boulder.
KIT: Poles used to whack pricklers as much as for balance.
COMPANY: None, except a Swedish hiker named Orjan who had climbed to the summit on the alternative (southern) route.

Taking a Hike – Coming out of Hibernation

Bird talk from Milan Bull, Newman-Poses Preserve, Westport

Bird talk from Milan Bull, Newman-Poses Preserve, Westport

It seems crazy when it’s 82 degrees outside and we are a week away from the Fourth to have just published a column which talks about hikers emerging from hibernation. In part, that is just the cycle of the column, publication trailing writing which trails the actual hiking. But it also reminds me how quickly we move from cold to hot around here. I grew up in a place where it seemed you could have a cool July day in January and a mild January day in July. The sudden transition here from fires to ceiling fans still impresses me. It was frosty at night until two months ago, and snowed on April 16th. Now yard work bathes me in sweat.

So, now that I have excused myself for even hinting at winter in my column, I can say that this month’s “Taking a Hike” is available from The Hour here, and on the Hersam Acorn Art & Leisure website here. It is about the hiking, learning and trail laboring opportunities that are suddenly plentiful when the leaves come out. As usual, I have made a three-month-old column available in full on this site. It is from March, about (oh dear) a very cold walk on the Aspetuck Valley Trail (see the Taking a Hike tab – 2014: “Mar – Aspetuck Valley” – or click here) .

Day Hike Notes, Smokies – Mount Le Conte

Mount Le Conte; LeConte Lodge; Alum Cave Trail

On the Alum Cave Trail to Mount Le Conte

The day was an object lesson in treating weather information with skepticism. We camped on the North Carolina side of the mountains. It rained overnight. When I poked my head out of my tent in the morning, it looked like it would rain some more. A campground host said, with noticeable glee, that the forecast was for rain, period. Katie and I wondered over breakfast if we wanted to climb Mount Le Conte in rain.

When I read the Cherokee forecast for myself, it looked less bleak. There might be breaks in the rain; it might even not arrive. Then, as we drove towards the Tennessee side, the clouds seemed to rise and brighten. By the time we reached the trailhead, it didn’t look like rain at all; and, as far as I remember, not a drop fell all day.

What a pity it would have been if we had believed that schadenfreude-ish campground host and skipped Mount Le Conte. At 6,593 feet, it is the third highest peak in the national park, and just 100 feet short of the highest point east of the Mississippi. Its summit turned out to be misted in today, but atmospheric even so; and the views on the way up were stunning.

DATE: Sunday, May 18th.
START & FINISH: Alum Cave trailhead on Newfound Gap Road.
ROUTE: Alum Cave Trail, up and down; plus some summit wandering.
DISTANCE: Something more than 10 miles.
TIME: 6.5 hrs, including lingering at LeConte Lodge.
TERRAIN: 2,750-foot elevation gain on mostly good trail.
MAPS: Not essential, but Trails Illustrated #229.
 
WEATHER: Mostly overcast; misty above 6,400 ft.
WILDLIFE: Nothing charismatic.
 
PHOTOS: Album here.
BREAKFAST: Leftover beans & rice at Smokemont campground; oatmeal at trailhead.
LUNCH: Trail food on a table at LeConte Lodge.
UPS:
– Stunning views down to cloud and mountain.
– Lunch with the LeConte Lodge llamas nearby.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: Layers essential again; wooly hat and gloves at 6,593 feet!
COMPANY: Plenty, without being too much.