All along The Long Trail: Jay & Big Jay Peaks

What..? Come on Erik! Really.. another ski resort?

Yes! I mean, well.. not really just another ski resort – this mountain – which does feature a spider-web of ski slopes, lifts, gondolas, even topped with a restaurant adorning the highest summit boulders; yes – this is the Jay Peak that you have heard of. Year after year, season by season – commercials and radio ads try to convince you that your season will not be complete until you ski their lines, or mountain bike their glorious routes.

This is ski country, but you won’t find me strapping into ski or snowboard bindings for this excursion – for, I am here to taste.. The Long Trail!

Located just a mere twenty minutes (by car.. just a bit longer by foot!) from Journey’s End, home of the Long Trails northern terminus; this 274 mile foot trail cuts directly over the highest point of Jay Peak and continues southward through the state and reaches its endpoint upon entering the lovely little town of North Adams, Massachusetts.

A part of this hike was being used as recon mission for when Ciara and I take on the nearly month-long trek with our puppy-dogs, but seeing as today’s hike featured more blowing snow than mud and cool autumn sunsets.. landmarks were noted and the good times were commenced!

With realistically two options of where to initiate my hike, I chose the more popular trail head located on Route 242. Depending on which direction you are entering from – I came from the east and dropped down onto the main road, passing the official parking areas for the ski resort and within several windy miles finding the hiker lots located on the left bank of the road.

Finding two lots, I chose the second simply because it actually had what looked like trail head signage, a kiosk with maps and a fenced off area with gigantic solar panels. Both lots were plowed well for my 8am start time, and much to my surprise – my Subaru had completely free-range of the lot when I pulled in.

I was actually shocked to notice the parking lot filled with perhaps 25 to 30 cars when I arrived at the end of my day – but after talking with a few folks prepping their skis and split boards I found that most others out this windy morning were staying at lower altitudes, east of the main road on the Catamount Trail.

There were signs indicating that I had parked in the correct lot, but it took digging out my phone and firing up the AllTrails app to locate where the Long Trail actually crossed the road and re-entered the forest. Turns out I was very close to the trail, just out of view of any official markings or signage.

Gear choices could have been negotiable, but I chose the new Tubbs Flex Alp snowshoes for my traction source.

The trail cuts off Route 242 and instantly begins to ascend steeply up the side slopes of Jay and its surrounding mountainous nubs. Barely 20 feet into my climb and I already wanted to stop and make some photographs of the tiny hut just out of sight of the highway, remaining private enough for a 6-10 hikers to find refuge if needed. I did not see any nearby signs indicating whether overnight camping was permitted or not (but thought this may be a perfectly sheltered, wooden platform for our Long Trail journey, if allowed of course).

I absolutely cannot wait to re-hike this section of trail in the coming warmer months; I often times find my mind glancing around in the winter, trying to get an idea or create a rendering of what the surrounding topography might look like under these feet of snow! I bring this up because this section of the Long Trail appeared to be in a gully, the trail was very well packed (I probably could have gotten away just fine with spikes on my boots) with suggestions of multiple feet of snow off to either side.

All around was evidence of prior bushwhackers and backcountry skiers taking advantage of the freshly fallen powder as they created their own lines down to the base of Jay Peak.

Cutting through a beautiful forest dotted with old, gnarly white birch the trail ventures through several small open groves – making the mind wander off to a time in early spring with birds singing, buds budding and blue skies as far as the eye could see, certainly a place I may not leave when we revisit during our thru-hike!

When I say that the path began ascending the side of the mountain, it really did not stop until climbing nearly 1,500 feet and topping out about a mile and a half later, bisecting the ski trails.

I made the mistake of not remembering that my hiking trail actually crossed the ski paths and continued along the broad rocks, in my error I ended up simply continuing along the ski trails – I’ll let it be known though that this peak was actually not open to skiing (another pleasant surprise), the ski trails were littered with rocks and open patches with grass blowing in the high winds.

It was super eerie roaming around the summit (honestly, at this point in my trek – I did not step foot on the actual peak yet!), seeing the unoccupied restaurant with chairs neatly turned up and stacked on the tables – very reminiscent of the then closed Saddleback ski resort in Sandy River, Maine.

The summit screamed for me, but I did not answer.

Wind, wind.. and occasionally even more wind! The wind this morning was absolutely nuts, blowing in circles from the instant I left the shelter of the forest canopy and stepped out onto the ski slopes. Needing an extra layer I ducked between building and what remained of the carved out summit cone, fighting through sideways blasting winds for my Gore-Tex shell, the moment the fleece layer was protected I instantly warmed up. Ready for more!

Glancing down the ridge, I spotted my next objective. But how to obtain this so-called bushwhack of northern Vermont? I had read the reports, checked the maps, now the 3,786 foot rock massif stood quietly before me – just a wall of gusting, screaming wind roaring between my snowshoed boots and the summit. Make that trek!

Unsure of how to locate the herd path over to Big Jay, I simply began trekking down the empty ski trails – I could remember reports of folks instructing to ‘look for the repaired fence‘.

I quickly put distance between myself and the high reaches of the 3,858 foot peak of Jay. The only direction that made sense to my mind was to trek down one of the ski slopes to where the grade of the ridge appeared gradual enough to hopefully contain a path.

Bushwhacking Big Jay

According to maps and tracks, I had descended southwest about three-tenths of a mile and located the famed fence. Perhaps this barrier had been broken in the past, it was in superb shape at my arrival – in fact there was even a fence.. fitting behind the fence allowing skiers and all-around adventurists to slip between and around – all the while I was looking for a literally busted up fence, with jagged planks to limbo under!

A quick glance at the French and English signage (so close to the Canadian border it makes sense!) and I was officially making footprints on a trail that I had anticipated for so very long!

Had there been an award for ‘biggest grin’, I would have taken home first place.

Herd path? More like hard-to-miss path!

I suppose had the skiers not come before me and packed down a six-foot wide path with their angled skis, it may have been slightly more tough to follow, and in Big Jay’s defense – there were plenty of areas where the fresh powder had blown and drifted clear over the ski tracks. Some idea of navigation came in handy today!

Within minutes of trekking through a most lovely forest, I could glance back and see just how far I had come – it looked like miles to get back to the pointy Jay Peak!

The terrain continued to roll but all the while, I could glance up and just slightly off-centered left there stood my peak, and naturally that too appeared to be miles away! All I could do was keep on laughing, continue my solo fun-fest and leave my snowshoes pointed at that big ol’ rock up ahead.

Reaching the col, it was back to climbing – which was gradual, some steep parts to really test out the traction on the new Tubbs snowshoes; I really enjoy the security that these snowshoes offer, they constantly felt stuck to whatever terrain I put under them – packed powder, loose fluffy powder, crusty ice, several feet of powder (as was the case when I reached Big Jay’s summit), the snowshoes aided me in crushing any place I wanted to venture!

Noticing several spur trails swinging off to the left (east), I continued straight toward the behemoth reaching skyward in front of me; but I recalled the articles I’d read earlier of several skiers who decided to actually slash their own ski trail down one of Big Jay’s faces – thinking I had found memories of these cuttings.

End of the line.

“This can’t be the end!” I pleaded with myself – I suppose one could argue that the path did continue onward southerly, but in all essence of the word, it terminated here.

Glancing around, I thought I saw where skiers had continued down the mountainside – I was certainly not here to follow their descent, however!

Assuming that I had reached the summit, I poked and prodded around.. looking for what bit of land might stand just a few inches taller than where I was, into the deep, fluffy snow I bounded.

Branches had been snapped, twigs all broken off.. to me, that meant that people had slammed their way through these trees – for one reason or another! I followed through the sharp, stabbing branches.

One glass jar hanging by a yellow cord, containing a yellowed pad of paper.

This is what I climbed for, this glass jar hanging from a green summit sign which eloquently read BIG JAY. This is why I drove hours north, this is why I strapped snowshoes and laughed my bum all the way up that hill.

In all honesty, I had no idea that this trail-less summit even contained a summit canister; I knew that there was at one time or another, a canister that had been stolen – but I was completely unaware that it had been replaced.

10:18AM on January 25th, 2020 – I signed the summit register.

I sat there, kneeling in the snow, guarded from the gusting winds over head. I did it. Glancing through the register, I noticed it had been several weeks since anyone had located the canister and signed in, and there I was.. scribbling in granite to last all eternity.

I climbed my mountain; or at least that’s how I chose to remember it!

The trek down showed the strength of the wind around – my tracks had been blown clear over, but with a decent idea of direction I bounced down the hills, up and over rolling topography, back through the col and stopped short by the first friendly faces I’d ran into of the day!

Three skiers grunting their way up the bushwhack path, the first two said hi and inquired about the state of trails ahead, the final was (my best guess) a young teen – she exclaimed that this was her first day on skies! and they were all skinning their way over to Big Jay.. impressive to say the least!

Back to my hosting ski trails, I was still alone on Jay’s slopes so I weighed my options.. go directly up to the summit via a steeper path with open rocks and blowing grass – why not, I thought aloud and fired my breath off into ‘slow and steady’ mode.

Greeted by winds as I opened back up onto 3,800 feet, I could see weekend riders shredding it up and making passes on a minor peak within the resort – I was still alone on Jay, well.. except for the one guy hunkered down under a flight of wooden stairs trying to get a cell signal on his phone, he never saw me waving to him though.

The stairs leading to the actual summit were roped off.. so more bushwhacking is just what the doctor ordered! In all actuality, it was maybe a 25-foot light scramble up some boulders, some icy, primarily snowy though and in short time I found myself standing on the pinnacle.

There were elegant stone benches and signs scribed with the names of both hikers and locals, complete with varying tidbits regarding the Long Trail; I would have read them if it had not been for bursts of high winds – I needed to use trekking poles to stand upright, creating a sort of tripod with my body and trekking poles.

Finding the USGS survey marking disc atop this pile of rocks, I let out a few salty tears.. which may have been exacerbated by the blinding winds tugging to sandblast my corneas behind sunglasses.

Seconds seemed like minutes as I finally decided enough was indeed enough.

It was time to retreat, back down the ski slope and finding my path, ducking back into the canopy of forest protection: I was back on the Long Trail once more today.

The decent took what seemed like minutes, almost galloping down what took so much effort to climb, I let gravity guide my body in a ‘controlled fall’ down the mountainside until I began running (almost literally) into dog walkers and other friendly forest goers.

Those without snowshoes left a trail of evidence behind them as heels plunged into the packed snow, I hoped my wide footprint would help disguise their destruction – perhaps it would take another bout of snow.. it is still early winter, after all!

The sound of traffic grew louder and before long I saw the wooden structure once again.

 

My day was done, my mountain had been climbed.

 


Overall stats for the day

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 6.15 miles
  • 2hr 57 minutes
  • 2,890′ elevation gain

Interested in how the Tubbs Flex Alp snowshoes held up on my trek along The Long Trail in Vermont? I’ve put quite a few miles on these puppies over super varying terrain – don’t forget to check out my post about the Tubbs snowshoes.. right.. over.. here (click the link!)!!

As always, thanks for following and reading along! Let me know if you have any questions about the hike or my gear.. or anything! Have a great time in the mountains – and whenever you find yourself needing fresh gear.. don’t forget to use any of the REI.com banner ad links found here.. or on the right column of the home page.. it helps put gas in the Subaru and bring you more adventures, gear reviews, trail reports, races recaps.. whatever fun stuff happens.. you know it will be fueled by plants and brought straight to you – Cheers! Happy Climbing!

– Erik!

Snowday on Mount Greylock

As a hiker and trail runner who has stood atop the four thousand footers of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and now Maine also, I get asked all the time when I am going to start hiking the high peaks of Massachusetts. “But Erik.. what about the 4000 footers of Massachusetts and Connecticut??“, folks ask of me more often than not!

Earlier this week Ciara and I both had Tuesday off, so we decided to finally make that trek to Massachusetts! The adventure we had been talking about for years, or maybe just months.. either way, Greylock had been on our radar for quite some time!

Mount Greylock is located in Northwestern Massachusetts along the borders of Adams and North Adams, Massachusetts. From a distance it (along with its commemorative tower perched atop) can be seen high above all other land masses and man-made structures; it is what is known as a Monadnock, or the geological term for an ‘isolated hill’.

Greylock stands tall at 3,487 feet above sea level, and is generally quite high when compared to its surroundings – nearly 2,600 feet above the nearest town at its base – Adams, Mass.

There are a plethora of trails one could take to ascend the mountain, for some Greylock also has a road for motor vehicles and parking lots dotting the upper reaches of the peak, which I am not crazy about when I want to hike to get away from all forms of traffic.. but I understand it is a wonderful opportunity for those who are not physically capable – to ascend, being able to stand at and visit the Veterans War memorial tower that adorns its summit.

A hiker could climb Mount Greylock from nearly any direction, finding beautiful trail systems to either hike, ski or snowshoe the mountain, but perhaps the most popular trail that bisects the peak is the 273 mile Long Trail that runs North to South (..or South to North!).

Ciara and I had been talking about hiking Mount Greylock for quite some time now, but had been holding off in anticipation of the coming winter months. We had a strong inclination that between the auto road, the Long Trail foot traffic, or simply a destination being the highest summit in the state of Massachusetts, that we would run into quite some crowds in the summer or autumn months.

We lucked out real hard on Tuesday!

Winter had arrived a bit early in the season this year, plenty of evidence of that all along the mountain – but what we did not find.. was one single person on the trails or summit until we arrived back at the base, near our parking lot!

We decided to shoot for hiking a loop, beginning at the Gould Trail parking lot. Happily the first and only car of the morning as we arrived just after sunrise on this weekday morning. The weather folks had been calling for a cloudy morning with moderate 35mph winds at the summit, we dressed ready for cold and wet conditions!

We had both brought our Hillsound spikes, each of which went along for the ride all day – while there were short sections that we may have benefited from some extra grip – my spiked Salomon Speedspikes and Ciara’s waterproof Salomon boots did the trick just fine!

The Gould Trail was absolutely such a blast!

Beginning in pine needles and packed dirt, we crossed Peeks Brook in the first several minutes and began a soft, gradual climb which more-or-less continued for the remaining miles to the summit.

Lots of fun things to see along the trail this morning! We had patches of snow – perhaps three inches in depth and minimal ice, the going sure was easy and we laughed together the entire journey!

Swatches of old growth trees adorned the trail on either side, turning back to glance at where we had come, we could not believe our eyes! An old hollowed out monster of a tree, wide enough to easily stand in! We had to grab some photos in that massive trunk! It was large enough for Ciara to coax the boys inside momentarily – they both glaced back to me as if to say “what is this wacky lady doing to us?!?!“, the cute-factor was completely off the charts!!

Once we climbed to about 2,500 feet, we began to see the glistening evidence of the freezing rain over prior 24 hours, we truly felt as if we had been dropped into a turn of the century painting of winter anywhere in the northeast, fluffy white snow complimented beautifully the sparkling tree branches – that is, until the sun broke through any bit of cloud and each tree began raining clumps of ice down upon us.. this did nothing to dampen our good times though!

Somewhere around mile 2.5 we had trekked through many lovely glens where, if I closed my eyes momentarily I could almost hear the deer munching away, picking fruit from the surrounding trees – quite picturesque indeed!

Climbing up and out of the forest, now walking along the roadway which (luckily for us..) was unplowed and gave evidence of other recent hikers passing through. We continued to follow the white emblazoned trees, signifying we were still on the Long Trail – the trail became super wet now, but we tip toed from log to log and rock to rock – happy to make use of our trekking poles for balance!

Reaching the summit around 10am, we were relieved to find still no other traffic – we had this popular summit all to ourselves, and for Boone and Crocketts sake – just what we had been hoping (and deferring until a winter weekday!) for!

Sadly, most of the photos that I had found while researching trails and the ‘what-to-expect’ features of Mount Greylock, I noticed that many of the photos other hikers had posted were in clouds (or worse.. rain!) or just taken a distance from the tower, almost as if the mountain top were so busy that they could not comfortably get any closer.. well this was definitely not the case with us – we had free roam of the summit!

We did find some ice on the backside of the monument, but still realistically not enough to make us want to put our hefty steel spikes on our feet, we had 3-4 inches of packed, crusty powder to walk around in atop Greylock – with no indication of a grassy lawn until I had found photos at the various informative stations placed around the summit.

Greylock in winter was absolutely stunning, just where we wanted to find ourselves today!

The tower door was locked, which was okay in my opinion as the previous reviews that I had found were filled with complaints – folks mentioning that the extra climb was not worth their time as the tower windows were so filthy they could not see out; had the door been open, I would have gladly climbed or at least poked my head through the door – just for the experience!

The tower is much more incredible than photos portray, it is massive! The lettering work across its flanks are simply a beautiful work of art, and the granite tower itself standing at 92-feet tall – appeared as if a giant had strolled by and dropped off a super-sized Chess piece onto the open summit lawn of Greylock!

We always prefer to hike loops instead of out-and-backs, so when I had suggested that we continue to follow the Long Trail for a bit and then skirt off toward the east along a ski trail, we were both ready to experience more new trails!

The stairs which depart the summit area and lead next to a winter warming hut (which was also locked with a sign indicating “closed for the season”), continuing along and finally getting off the snow-covered highway and back into the trees.

The blue signs with yellow lettering now appeared in the trees – we had reached the downhill ski slopes.

Upon reading about, and researching the trails of Greylock, I had learned that there are trails for downhill skiing, and separate parallel trails were designated for skinning-up, or simply ascending. Which makes sense because what skier in their right minds would want to contend with post-holes or boot tracks that could sink a ski tip into the snow!

We did not have enough snow for this to really become an issue – it would take a very brave sole on skis to want to ski these black diamond trails with under six inches of snow, rocks poked through the snow everywhere we looked! But to be somewhat thoughtful and courteous – we followed the descent along the outer trees and fencing as to not destroy any ski slopes!

I had Boone and Ciara had Crockett, and together we took turns glissading down the steep face of the mountain. For anyone hiking this trail in the winter – I would recommend a sled, but try keep to the outside of the ski lines!

During the entire hike, ascending via the south side of the mountain, and now descending a more northeasterly route, we talked back and forth about how this lovely forest reminded us of roaming through the Catskill mountains back in New York, truly a very nice place to be – and the shining sun with near 60 degree temps certain helped to boost our spirits. We felt as if we were getting a very early taste of spring.. but deep down, we knew winter would be welcoming us home to New Hampshire in several hours..

After romping around and having loads of fun up on the Thunderbolt ski slopes, we continued down via the Bellows Pipe Trail which had mildly worn down (reminiscent of trail-less herd paths) off-shoots in either direction with maps indicating destinations such as waterfalls, picnic areas, gazebos and designated snowmobile trails – we continued en route to the Gould Trail, to loop us back to our parking lot.

While hiking is the main attraction to the Mount Greylock State Reservation, there so clearly is much, much more to do here than just climb to the states high point!

We chose a most perfect day for our adventure to Mount Greylock, running into one gentleman meandering along with his doggie – not dissimilar to what we had set out to do with our two puppy dogs!

I would love to return to the summit some day to actually climb the tower, or have lunch on the lawn with Ciara and the boys – but for our enjoyment, I think it would have to be a non-holiday, weekday for us to enjoy the mountain to its fullest!

Plan it right, and this can be one of the finest, most enjoyable days found in any forest – get about half a mile into the woods and the racket of sirens and garbage trucks banging through the narrow streets of a Massachusetts city just begin to drift away and the forest hills are calm once again!

Honestly, we were a bit hesitant to hike Mount Greylock because of it having a highway to the top, and it is such a popular destination for many, also simply because any hiker traversing the Long Trail will be atop Mount Greylock at some point along their journey – we held off for so long, just plan it right and this tourist destination can be one of the most enjoyable ghost towns!

We had the freedom to stand above the upper edge of the Indian Head Slide and take in the vastness of all points East, while on a clear day from the tower, the info signs indicate that Albany, NY can even be seen!

May I recommend.. if you are also hesitant to get out and adventure somewhere, perhaps you feel what you find won’t live up to the hype, or maybe you feel inadequate for a certain trail albeit hiking or running.. just go out and do it, experience it, enjoy what you do and live in the moment! Not every moment can live up to what we expect going into a situation; and on the contrary – you will find that most instances, by simply tip-toeing outside of your comfort-zone, and by trying to do what you want to accomplish, you will find experiences you just never expected!

Experiences that become much more valuable than anything you could have imagined or drempt up!

We found this to be entirely true from the moment we stepped foot outside of the CR-V on Tuesday morning, all the way until we reached the cabin back in New Hampshire – we just did what we felt was right in the moment, and we were rewarded with memories up on that mountain that neither one of us could have been prepared for – moments of laughter that hearkened back to days of roaming the woods in three feet of fresh snow until one of us would step on the backs of our snowshoes and tumble face first into the white fluff!

Truly an incredible day was found up on Mount Greylock!

Happy climbing!!

– Erik & Ciara (Boone and Crockett too!)


 

Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 6.92 miles
  • 3hr 46 minutes
  • 2,635′ elevation gain
  • Mount Greylock – 3,487′

Favorite Food of the Day!

Ciara had recommended that we try out a place in Northampton for a quick post-hike bite to eat; seating about 28 folks, Bela has been serving up some of the areas finest all vegetarian (and a heck of a lot of vegan food too!) fare. The restaurant is cash only.. and you’ll surely want to be sure to pack enough in your wallet for a homemade slice of vegan coconut cream pie topped with lemon frosting, we were too stuffed from our homemade veggie burgers and bowls of soup – but it sounded like we were the only two who did not get a slice of the delectable pie to go!

Our soups were clearly made in house – I have never had a tomato soup nor a butternut squash soup that was less oily, the main drawback of most soups! The soups were incredible!

As for our veggie burgers? More of the same.. with no surprise there! Made in house with lentils, rolled oats, bulgar, sunflower seeds, onion, carrot, tofu, with garlic, salt and pepper, topped with green pea sprouts, on their homemade multi-grain bread – easily the best burger that I have ever had.. ever!

Oh.. and a side note to boot! I can honestly say that Bela has some of the finest brewed coffee that I may have ever gotten out at a restaurant, and I understand that Ciara’s iced latte was pretty bomb-tastic also!

Treat yourself whether you eat meat or not, you won’t find any served up at Bela.. only the freshest local produce, complimented with the finest rice, beans and grains! Truly works of culinary art.. on a plate (..or bowl!)

A Frosty Sunrise on Mt Abe

The mercury has officially dropped to sub-thirty degrees as I sit here next to the crackling woodstove with a fresh cup of locally roasted black coffee and reflect on the events that unraveled yesterday.

Ciara and I had been trying to once again watch the first glimmers of morning light while perched high atop a rocky crag before the swaths of weekend warriors pack to fill the mountain tops. We are not awfully picky – any summit with several degrees of an open easterly vista would suffice just fine for us!

We also wanted to make the most of our weekend travels, finishing the day with the first apple picking session of the season – which helped sway our decision even further, to consider venturing back to Vermont this time! As I write this, New York is in its prime for fall foliage; New Hampshire, where we currently reside is not far behind – we have loads of reds and oranges bursting from the hillsides of Smarts Mountain which is bisected by the Appalachian Trail, naturally we assumed Vermont would be looking quite alright, with being stuffed somewhere in the middle of these two states!

For the week leading up to our nighttime hiking adventure, Ciara and I tossed names and locations of hikes and trails back and forth via text message while at work. One stuck; we had both climbed this peak in the past several years, but never together, and I had never taken on the trek from the south.

Okay enough dragging you along – after checking the weather, consulting our maps and the bonus of knowing several excellent apple orchards in the area for afterward, we decided on hiking Mount Abraham (Mt Abe to the locals!) which is found smack-dab right on the Long Trail that runs North to South (..or South to North!) through the Green Mountains of Vermont.

In the past, I had taken on Mt Abe via the Sugarbush ski trails that connect from the east and create a sort of loop to Mount Ellen at 4,083′ first, then running the ridge (Long Trail south) back over several other sub-peaks and past the ski slopes to Mount Abraham. This time Ciara would be showing me the section of Long Trail that departs out of Lincoln Gap and runs to the north!

With the weather reports unchanged and still completely clear for Saturday morning, we had our water flasks filled, jackets packed, rechargeable headlamp batteries topped off and all in the car heading west for a frosty 3am departure.

Arriving at the trail head for Lincoln Gap, we quickly found that we were not the only masterminds to conjure up the idea of watching what we hoped would be an incredible sunrise from the summit rocks of a Vermont four-thousand-footer! We could even see a string of LED lights with their soft glowing warmth in the back of another hikers’ car as they too probably questioned their twenty-seven degree start decision.

Our new solo hiking friend jostled by merely seconds before we set our watches to record as we exchanged our brief “good morning, good hiking!” greetings. For the next several minutes, I could track her headlamp zigging and zagging its way through the forest along the trail ahead of us, both Ciara and I worried that we would be leap-frogging and annoyingly on each others heels the entire 2.8 mile trek up to the summit, which thankfully did not happen!

It’s amazing how time seems to speed up to a blur when hiking up a rocky trail in the darkness; for years I’ve contemplated this topic; could it be that our mind simply chooses to focus on the circle of details which are illuminated by our headlamps, or that we are just not awake enough to be stricken with the burden of time passing, perhaps our minds race down the rabbit hole of internal concerns – the ‘what if’s, or ‘what is out here in the forest’, even the ‘what is watching me that I cannot see?’.

Whatever the case may be, I have simply noticed that miles and minutes always seem to coast by much quicker when the trail underfoot is cast aglow by our headlamp bulbs.

From start to finish though, the four words that tumbled haphazardly through my minds eye repeated over and over and over again: I Love This Trail.

What began as super-soft single track, meandering through the dense Vermont forest, quickly transformed into a rolling masterpiece of rock hopping literally up the shoulder of Abe. The trail continuously proved to us that the original builders did not have a fear of ascending too fast, over the course of the 2.8 miles required to ascent this peak, we climbed 2,270 feet, with barely a flat spot to rest our calves – which is great when all you want to do is beat the sunrise to the upper reaches of the alpine-zone!

Not long into our hike we passed the cut off for the Battell Shelter; continuing on our Long Trail trek, we were taken directly through the camp – unfortunately for the thru-hikers’ still bundled up in the lean-to, we were unaware of their silent presence until my headlamp shone directly onto their colorful sleeping bags – so sorry my friends!

Around the peripheral views around our narrow headlamp beams we could now see through the trees our first glimpse of blue sky – which could only mean one thing: daylight was growing near!

Minute by minute, what we initially perceived as dark blue hues transformed to lighter shades and hence giving way to the deepest reds my eyes have ever witnessed scorching the horizon.

Awww yeah, let’s gooo!!” Ciara belted out as we came to the first real rocky scramble up the shoulder of Mt Abe and knew that our private sunrise was only minutes from being at its peak color.

Our boys handled the open-rock faces with ease, to be expected though after all this time hiking together. Our Altras performed just fine, Ciara breaking in her new Lone Peaks on this early morning hike and having nothing but rave reviews all morning long!

Cresting up over the top, we had by then encountered several frozen pools of gathered rain water filling in cracks around the rocky summit, peering around with headlamps we could now see evidence of the previous days windstorms – low laying alpine scrub oak engulfed in directionalized hoarfrost, shimmering with rainbows at each hint of light.

What a sight!

We had reached the summit at 6:17am, just in time to find the sky alive with every shade of peach, tangerine, grapefruit, and the deepest hues of dark beet, surrounded by the yet-to-be-lit indigo blue around our 4,000 foot summit, casting a warming glow on the deep sea of rolling cloud cover to our west.

I could count on one hand the few times we had stood atop a mountain and witnessed such a breath-taking undercast; just last week in the White Mountains we had witnessed the foggy cloud cover blow free from the summit rocks of North and South Twin mountains, but this was something different altogether – today we stood high above the low-laying cloud cover, where it only remained on the west slopes of each ridgeline.

Luckily, we did not have ample wind at the summit, which was absolute perfection for walking around gloveless to get a time-lapse sunrise on our GoPro, several panoramas and hundreds of iPhone shots of all angles from the open rock summit of Mount Abe. By the time we had our fill of sunrise and watched our burning orb rise into the sky, my fingertips were beyond ready to dive back into my gloves. Being 29 degrees at our early morning departure – it most certainly was no warmer from where we stood above four thousand feet!

Naturally, our trek back down now seemed completely new, with views far into our periphery and into the surrounding forest scapes! For the first mile or so back to the Battell shelter and camp, our senses were absolutely beaming to life with the aromas of evergreen, spruce, dotted with notes of cotton candy and sweet fruits – oh, how I would love to bottle up this scent.. or better yet – just never leave this forest that I love so dearly!

As we descended the slippery slopes, we could hear the party train coming around the corner. Ten, maybe twelve people made up this group – and I would believe that each and every one of them had asked Ciara what kind of puppy dogs we had (German wire-haired pointers), were they related (yes, they are brothers), do they like hiking (they do better on steep slopes than we bipedals do, plus if they were off leash they would cover 45 miles while we cover 5, in other words: they love the mountains also!), will this tire them out (we could walk one mile and they would sleep all day, or they could wear their full packs and cover 30 miles with us, never showing signs of tiring! They are rockstars!).

I love the reactions we get from folks we pass as we descend, inquiring as to when we began, how long it took, was it cold up top – and my favorite which typically comes judgmentally from the ‘dudes’: did you actually make the summit??

Today, my response was: Yes! We had the luxury of being alive to see the sunrise, and we just happen to find ourselves standing atop the summit of Mount Abe.. and it was pretty darn epic! The most incredible part of being able to watch this glowing orb of sun rise high and begin a new day for us is to see the smiles that shine bright on Ciara’s face, I’m sure I had a grin just as big – but hers is much nicer to look at!

Sending our new friends wishes of a good climb together, we proceeded south down the Long Trail and continued our amazing morning of cheerful laughter and light conversation. Like a light switch being flipped on, out of the dense evergreen forest we plunged deeper into a picturesque fall foliage postcard, now twisting and turning more gradually backtracking toward our parked car.

Looking at each other, we knew what each other thought: we never regret beginning a hike in the dark when we realize how many other hikers’ the morning glow will bring onto our trails, we must have passed nearly thirty other hikers’ by the time we could hear the road and found ourselves back at the Lincoln Gap trail head.

What were two parking lots dotted with four vehicles at 5am was now a full used-car parking lot on either side of Lincoln Gap Road, alive with cars and trucks traveling in either direction, waiting for their chance to jump on a parking spot!

Now with no regrets of frosty fingertips only forty-five minutes ago atop the summit, we were completely thrilled to have just had witnessed what we may call – the finest sunrise from atop any mountain of our lives!

At just shy of a six-mile round trip – Mount Abe proved to be a splendid mountain top to breathe in life while letting all of the unnecessary daily thoughts that clog our gray matter just slip away and be in the moment together.

I feel this will be a tough hike to top moving forward, but that is really okay – as each hike is unique in its own way, we might not know just for what exactly at the time of planning an excursion, but while en route we are sure to find just what we are meant to learn whether we ‘make the summit‘ or not!

Happy trails and good climbing!

– Erik

 


Overall stats for Mount Abraham:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 5.69 miles
  • 3hr 46 minutes
  • 2,270′ elevation gain

 


Favorite Gear of the Day!

What is more important for a sunrise hike than simply being able to see your way up to the summit rocks? Not too much really.. that’s why my vote goes out to our headlamps!

Black Diamond makes a little bit of everything, which is usually a downfall for most companies.. but I have yet to see where Black Diamond has cut corners in any of the alpine gear that they make – everything is manufactured to perform for the long-term and get you through the darkest, coldest, hardest days out in the back country.

Just pair some rechargeable batteries and keep them topped off for hours of bright LED power for your next sunrise hike or nighttime trail run!