Mt. Mansfield, Vt.
Two of my books are specifically about mountains and mountaineering, so needless to say, I’m always looking for something to scramble to the top of. This dates back to when I was a toddler and, apparently, could not resist climbing up the stepladders that were present when mom and dad were building our house in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.
I only know this because at some point (considering it a hopeless cause, I suppose) they stopped grabbing me down from the top rung in terror and started taking pictures instead—those “cute but potentially deadly” shots you would see in the ‘60s that got strangled and snuffed out by the restrictive straps of child car seats and entombing floatation devises in the 6-inch-deep kiddie pool.
Anyway, Mt. Mansfield is an expansive, broad-shouldered peak that bear-hugs the lovely Lake Champlain on the Vermont-New York border. To the west of the mountain is the Champlain Valley, and on the eastern flanks is the Stowe ski resort.
For years, Mansfield had been under the noses of myself and brother and climbing partner Bruce. Bruce’s Lake Champlain home has a commanding view of Mansfield, but since he lives on the New York side, our climbs have always gravitated toward the Adirondacks.
In late 2013 we finally figured it was time to branch out and head east.
Mansfield isn’t particularly high: At 4,400 feet (I wish I could be like real mountaineers and express elevation in meters, but I just can’t) it is, roughly speaking, 1,000 feet lower than Marcy in New York and 2,000 feet lower than Washington in New Hampshire. It “plays big,” though, because it blossoms out of the low Champlain Valley and because much of the half-day hike is on a ridge above the treeline, giving it quite an alpine feel.
I should qualify this to say that I am talking about the trail from Underhill State Park on the west side of the peak—there are many routes to the top, including one that is accessible largely by car.
These trails bring you to one or more of Mansfield’s supposed “features,” to wit, a nose, forehead, chin, adams apple & c. of a human head. For the record, I don’t see it, but then I never do. I always suspect that geological features with creative sobriquets such as “Devil’s Crescent Wrench” are probably named around the campfire after multiple pulls off of the deerskin flask.
Our trail was not nuanced: Straight up through the forest to a lengthy, exposed ridgeline then forthwith up a steep, rocky spine to the top. The only slight of hand was a dodge around the apparent summit to a higher prominence reached just past the junction with the celebrated Long Trail that bisects the state south to north. As East Coast mountains go, I would rate it 4 huff/puffs on a scale of five — not as brutal as the White Mountains, but on par with some of the more strenuous climbs in the ‘daks. I might have given it a 3.5, save for a truly icy and unsportsmanlike wind that tore at our faces like a month-old razor.
For views, I’ll award 4 ooh/aahs out of five, although I’ll listen to the arguments of those who think me parsimonious. In my defense, the clouds, while dramatic, were compromising. There were spotty views to the east at best, and the lake to the west, while visible, was in a bit of a haze. On a crystal day things could be different. I also confess to a bit of a bias against peaks that are so high that they lose a degree of perspective, but don’t hold that against Mansfield.
The name, incidentally, comes from the old town of Mansfield Vt., which got the name from Mansfield, Conn., home to Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics (for anyone who was paying to the Punk scene circa 1979-84; You can still buy “The Doom Song” on iTunes, if you care).