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!

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!

Mount Ascutney: An Icy Ascent On A Cold Winters Eve

“What the heck is that thing?!”

I remember those words very clearly as they left my mouth that morning as we drove from New York into new areas of We just entered the forest, Mountain Brook on our left - down the embankmentVermont – along the Connecticut River which cut a line to New Hampshire. We were new explorers of this part of Vermont and only several months fresh off our cross country road trip. Initially upon our return we took a trip to visit Acadia National Park in Maine, this destination was high up on our “must see” list that we unfortunately did not see during our long mileage outing. You may be scratching your head thinking “Erik, this is supposed to be about Vermont and Mount Ascutney, so get along with it already..!” Well, on our trip back from Maine we decided to stop and hike in the Whites Mountain National Forest – Moosilauke in fact. While driving there we fell in love with the quint little towns with so many folks standing in the village squares, chatting like they had all the time in the world. We decided to give New Hampshire a try before we actually committed to the West Coast!

We were on our way to visit four possible places to stay while living in New Hampshire,

two of those being right over the river – in Vermont, more or less in the shadow of this behemoth pile of rock, visible from just about anywhere in the area. I had no clue what I was looking at, but certainly it did not take long before I was on my Gaia GPS app (I was navigator during this trip so “mapping” was basically my job!) I rotated my phone until all the directions lined up: “uhh..Ascutney..I guess? Never heard of it!” I boldly stated. Aside from a funky name, the next thing that I noticed was that it had “A TOWER!! WE GOTTA DO IT!!” But unfortunately we were there to house hunt, not hike a mountain that we had just discovered 30 seconds ago.

Fast forward 3 months and there we were, living 18 miles from the base of this very mountain – close enough that I can catch beautiful views of it towering out of the landscape as I crest the hill on one of my 13 mile runs.

We have seen all four seasons up on Mount Ascutney by the time of me writing this –

we’ve bailed due to some nasty wintry gusts and ice balling up between the boys toes (our boys are two German Wirehaired Pointer bro’s who go everywhere with us and rarely can be found running out of energy!). I’ve since used the Not far up the trail the ice beginsAscutney trails to run and improve my agility and endurance in preparation for a summer of local trail races and finally my first ultra marathon. The very first trail race that I joined once we had settled in New Hampshire was a gift entry to the West Windsor ‘5 & Dime’, which took place on the north facing Ski Resort side of the large iconic mountain.

Our trip begins just around 3:00pm Sunday

as Ciara was working on this weekend and I had joined a local run fun club (The Blue Collar Runners) for a 14 miler – I suppose we logged one mile for each degree of temperature this morning. We loaded up on a huge salad with avocado for each of us and satisfied our desire for sweet things with several dates – better than candy! We decided since it was late in the day (we were shooting for sunset on the summit initially but quickly realized we may be a bit late still) to ascend from a trail we were familiar with – The Windsor Trail which departs from Route 44A to the east.

The trail exits the parking lot and traverses briefly over a field before entering a hardwood forest and continues gradually until at about 0.3mi in, the left side drops into what I have seen on several maps accurately named “Mountain Brook”. This is where the trail begins to climb somewhat steeply at what my GPS watch tracked to be ~20%. At about the 0.75 mile point is where we decided it would be incredibly silly to slip on the ice underfoot while carrying our Hillsound spikes,

..so on our feet they went, for about 500ft until we reached more bare rock.

At about the 0.9mi mark the trail cuts across a level area of the brook, with fine views of a very frozen Gerry Falls. There are many spots along the ice-bridge stream crossing that is clearly open to rushing ice water – some form of traction is highly 1.6mi into the hike - the junction for Blood Rockencouraged by this point! Conveniently, someone even strung up heavy paracord between several of the trees to aid with the crossing, which we used on the descent after the sun had set.

The trail cuts one more time across the very narrow, slowly trickling branch of the brook, then continues ascending, making several switch backs as it gradually reaches up the side of Ascutney North. The side spur trail which heads over to Blood Rock (on my list of places to visit – it has a very interesting history to its naming) can be found at the 1.6mi mark. Our daylight was dwindling at this point (we had headlamps of course) so we decided to press on for now.

Our next point of interest came after a few short and sweet leaps

up small boulders and a scoot through the forest as the trail narrows briefly was the famed “Log Shelter”. The description here is completely spot on, no room for guessing here, exactly as the name imply’s – off to the right of the trail, as the path bends slightly left toward the summit, the log shelter/cabin can be found. Every time that we have come up on this shelter the Log Shelter shortly prior to reaching the summit of Ascutney Northblue tarp has been down (I get it, to block the wind, but if I may be completely honest – its mildly creepy and makes me want to avoid the area altogether, not knowing what or who is lurking on the other side of the tarp), we did have a peek inside of the shelter last year when we were here and found all of the typical fire making tools with a cast iron (I think it was cast iron anyway) stove to heat the enclosure. No matter the weather we have always found a spring exiting the rocks just a few yards from the edge of the shelter – I would assume fresh water, but I would also assume any water these days aside from glacial melt water from the ice caps up north are contaminated – so I would recommend a quick filter or iodine tablet to sanitize!

Here is where the switchbacks toss the path back and forth in a full swing, I could count roughly 15 times the trail switches direction before reaching a flat area with access to the Slot Trail and Castle Rock to the (left) south, we continued along and mere moments later met the junction with the Brownsville trail, which merged with our path from the north at 2.4 miles into our journey.

Located around the 3094′ summit of North Ascutney Mountain

is the spur trail to visit Brownsville Rock (also a trail I have heard great things about but have yet to visit myself – adding that to the To-Do list also..!). From here the trail dips into several wet areas with rustic hand hewn log bridges throughout, these are super fun half logs to run across in dry weather, but today with the packed snow/ice trail, only the corners and supports were visible, sticking up out of the snow. The trail now leveled out, scurrying through the thick forest with only a handful of ice-covered boulders to shimmy up (no problem maintaining traction on slab ice with the Hillsounds – despite being several years old and dulled slightly from all of my abuse!).

There are multiple signs throughout the trek for the “Observation Tower” with mileages all along the way, but if a person were not glancing around I could totally see walking right past it and continuing to the high point of Mount Ascutney; which is what 3130' summit of Mount AscutneyI did, intentionally though as the daylight was seriously dwindling at this point and I wanted to see the “true” summit with whatever light remained. About one tenth of a mile past the base of the look out/observation tower, and down a small rock scramble and back up a bit of exposed rock (I remembered needing to use my hands more in the summertime to pass over this section) came the 3130′ summit.

This is a nice open area with somewhat limited views, enough rock to accompany several large parties of hikers spread out comfortably, however! The peak here has two main communication towers which work to rip you right back to civilization, remembering to enjoy nature now before you have to make the return trip back to the towns and villages with folks who do not know the pure joy of climbing mountains.

There are concrete block bases for towers that are long gone and if you look for a shiny disc of gold – there is also a USGS marker to be found. I never looked deeply into this marker – but my guess is someone stole the original and this is a gaudy replacement with an unfortunate blank spot for ‘registered elevation’ and ‘peak name’ – typically the survey markers are at least stamped with the known peak name – sometimes complete with overlapping, crooked lettering – giving it that real human touch.

Ciara and I have been up here on windy days and it is nice on those occasions to have a bit of tree cover to sit and grab a bite to eat, refueling prior to heading back down; we find it a welcoming spot to bathe in some sun while minimizing the wind exposure before heading to the actual lookout tower back down the trail.

Mount Ascutney Observation Tower views as the sun setThe tower itself is rumored to be the remnants of the old fire tower,

which has been dramatically shortened and topped with a wooden platform affording 360 degree views on a clear day – there are even small panoramic plaques located on each side of the tower, giving the distant mountains a name – very nice to know what peaks you are peering at!

Unfortunately I missed the sunset, but with the clouds coming in I would not have captured much – but given the right time and conditions – this would be a fantastic spot to capture the setting sun, we were able to see a sky glowing with orange and maroon sherbert and blue to pink cotton candy colors as we ascended the final mile earlier. I stayed long enough to capture a few photos of the surrounding landscape and booked it back down under the light of headlamps. Much of the same terrain in reverse, taking extra care while descending the ice-covered boulders. My pace hastened on the packed snow sections – being quick on my toes to avoid the frozen post-holes from previous days’ adventurers when the snow was much softer.

The most noticeable difference to the trail on the descent was the ice that we didn’t initially expect under the leaves.

The sun had dropped, and in that short amount of darkness the quarter inch of run-off had crystallized and made for a treacherousUSGS Marker on the summit of Ascutney descent, even with our spikes the ice was so solid that we really had to kick our heels in with each step.

Before long though the path began to level off and we could see Christmas lights on houses that surround the trail head – a welcome sight indeed! Overall a fantastic short hike for us to get the blood flowing and escape into nature for a few hours.

I hope this write-up helps plan a trip to Windsor, Vermont sometime soon – no matter the season Ascutney does not disappoint! There are ski trails on the Brownsville (Northern) slopes, two other trail heads dispersed around the base of the mountain, biking trails, even an auto-road that will allow you to gain most of the ascent, leaving a short trek to the look-out tower (perfect for a family picnic perhaps?).

Please reach out if you have any questions at all about Mount Ascutney – its trails, outdoor activities, or any ideas of where I should hike next? Let me know with a comment down below! Don’t forget to subscribe to receive email updates with new trail reports, plant-based nutritional goodness or any day-to-day epicness!

Cheers and Happy 2019 to all y’all!!

Erik


Overall stats for the day:Topographic map with GPS overlay - Windsor Trail

Recorded with my Coros Pace watch

  • 5.5mi
  • 3hr 5min (trail ran on packed snow last 2mi)
  • 2703′ total ascent