This winter has been rather disappointing thus far, with snowfall totals below normal, and well below last year’s above average accumulation. Don’t just take my word for it, here’s a graph of my disappointment:
With that in mind, this weekend is really the first backcountry-type adventuring I’ve done, other than a few quick Bolton trips. Having a Stowe pass this year, I’ve intended to check out a lot of what Mount Mansfield has to offer for off-piste trails. That will have to wait, but this Saturday I made use of it to gain easy access to Spruce Peak’s back side.
Getting off the Sensation Quad and hiking up further to it’s left, we quickly made it to the entrance to the “Birthday Bowls.” After one of a couple tunnel like entrances through the woods, the trees quickly opened up to allow a wide choice of line options. Not many people had been through, I guess probably deterred by the lack of snow, but coverage was actually surprisingly good and obstacle-free. The back side of Spruce eventually runs down to Rt. 108 through the notch, which is closed in the winter. Once we hit the road, the skins went on and it was a fairly easy trek back to the resort for a couple more runs.
Today I finally checked the Teardrop Trail on Mt. Mansfield off my list. It’s been one I’ve wanted to do all winter since learning of it from a co-worker, and reading about it in David Goodman’s excellent book, “Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Vermont and New York.”
This weekend, after a week of spring-like weather, most snow in town had vanished, but we were in for a surprise spring storm Friday night, just in time for the weekend. Accumulation from the storm was ample, with Bolton claiming a 20″ snowfall total. I took off a bit early from work Friday, and head to Bolton as it began, in an attempt for a few laps before a late dinner, but the moment I turned onto the access road, I entered a line of parked cars. Enough people were apparently having trouble getting up the road in the heavy snow, that all traffic was completely stopped, right to the beginning of the road. After waiting 15 minutes or so without anyone moving, I gave up, turned back onto Rt. 2, and head home. Oh well.
After some attempts at lift-served riding on Saturday foiled by wind-holds, the plan for this weekend was to tackle Teardrop on Sunday. Andre, his co-worker, and I carpooled from Essex into Underhill to the end of Mountain Rd. heading towards Underhill State Park. It was a great day to be out, with temperatures in the mid to upper 30s, and very little wind, it felt quite comfortable out.
As we made the trip over, we got a good view of Mt. Mansfield, and could see pretty well where we were headed. Andre pointed out the ridge to the right side of Mt. Mansfield, Maple Ridge. (Opposite the Sunset Ridge on the left side on the mountain.) The Teardrop trail runs along the left side of this ridge. It looked pretty steep. Our GPS track shows a good view of where on the mountain it’s located.
From the filled parking area at the end of the plowed portion of Mountain Rd, we continued up the road on the well worn skin track. The three of us had never been here before, but after a quick check in with the GPS were were sure we were on the trail. The trail was pretty flat to start, but then again, we were only one the road at this point. After a ways, still on the road, but before the ranger station, the trail split off to the right. We removed some of our layers, and we started climbing the ascent.
The trail narrowed slightly as we made our way, and after not too long, became quite steep. Further up and it got even steeper still. We hit several tough climbs, and then the trail came to the intersection of the Maple Ridge Trail, and the CCC road.
From the GPS/map, we saw Teardrop took a left onto the CCC road here for a nice and mellow 100 ft section. After 100 ft, it takes a sharp right, and we’re back to continuing our very steep ascent. Were there not a lot of fresh deep snow today, it would have been pretty difficult to climb some sections, with our skins struggling to get grip on heavily packed or icy snow.
So far the trail was pretty wide the whole way up, a bit more like a trail at a ski resort than most other back country ski trails I’ve been on. This wasn’t really what I was expecting from reading about it.
Through the trees, we started to get some nice views of both “the nose” above, and Underhill with the lake behind us, as we made our way up closer to the summit. We eventually hit a clearing, our first real clear view in all directions. We were near the top.
From here the trail became extremely narrow, and it became difficult to make our way, having to duck under spruce bows and squeeze through tunnels of branches. It was going to be difficult to get back down this way, especially once we start getting speed. It was still fairly steep. We continued like this narrow section for about a quarter mile, before slowly making our way to the end of the trail. Since it’s so narrow, the trail doesn’t really have a clear ending, it just kind of stops climbing, and you’re at the top of the mountain. We actually had to turn around and head back a few hundred feet to find a good spot that was open enough and steep enough to transition.
Ducking branches and finding the holes in the trees with some speed was difficult and exciting. I fell a few times, a couple times from unexpected branches, and a couple more on purpose to prevent myself from heading into trees. The scary part is there wasn’t really a good way to tell if there were people coming up the trail. Luckily, there were spots every so often where the trail opened up enough to slow/stop and regroup. From there we could look ahead through the next section as much as possible. We didn’t really encounter too many people climbing, but when we did it went well and was uneventful.
Once we got out of the narrow summit section, the trail widened up into a ski trail and everything was wonderful. We didn’t get going too fast, the deep snow made sure of that. The snow was a dense powder that had been moved a bit by other skiers and riders. Definitely a bumpy and tiring ride down, but also a ton of fun. The views were also not terrible.
Eventually we got to a bit of a flat out, and I had walk a section which was pretty challenging in the deep snow. Another rider headed up mentioned that we could have cut down into the woods before this and skipped the flat spot. Oh well, I’ll have to remember that for next time.
Once we got back down near the bottom, the snow began to get a stickier as the day got warmer. Skiing off the tracks into powder was like hitting a patch of grass. It grabbed pretty hard and slowed you down pretty fast. Luckily I had just waxed my board which helped. Before long we were back to the car.
Total distance for this trip was 5.25 miles, taking 3 hrs 10 mins. We climbed 2604 feet, and my max speed was only 18.8 mph.
This weekend Andre and I decided to try out the Monroe trail on the Duxbury/Moretown side of Camel’s Hump. We had talked about doing it last weekend, so we already had a little bit of a plan in place. I had a bit of a late night Saturday, and with Daylight Savings Time now in effect, we were in for a late start today.
By the time we got up to the trailhead, it was already 2:30 in the afternoon. We pulled into the lower “Winter Parking” area. This was the end of the road. The summer lot at the base of the Monroe trail, another half a mile up the road, doesn’t get plowed out in the winter. From here we had to make our way up to the lower route. Obviously we could skin up the road, but from the upper parking area it looked like there may also be an XC trail that links up with the Monroe trail.
We head up the XC trail, (marked Ridley Crossing XC trail), and stayed on that for trail about a half hour before we started having doubts where it was headed. After a little over an hour, it was clear this trail wasn’t going to meet up with the Monroe, and we were going the wrong way. The Ridley XC trail came to an end, and met a snowmobile trail, which from Andre’s phone seemed to be VAST 100A. We continuing down the VAST trail for a half hour or so, without losing too much elevation. There were some older tracks here, from maybe a day or two before, but we didn’t see any skiers or snowmobilers. Looking at the map, it seemed we could head down the VAST trail and eventually get down to the Monroe parking area, so we head in that direction. After a while, I checked the map again. I was pretty sure up ahead, the woods would be thin, and we would be close enough to the Monroe trail, that we could cut through the woods to intersect it and save some time and elevation. Sure enough, we saw some other tracks into the woods further up, from people who must have had the same thought.
After almost a half hour, we finally arrived at the Monroe trail, and slowly made our way up Camel’s Hump. The wind became very strong as we passed the intersection with the Dean trail, but luckily it was a warm day, at about 30 degrees. With the extra couple miles added on at the start, we were getting a little tired, but we soon reached the cliffs. From here the Monroe trail continued to the left, gradually climbing the way along a well worn path ascending the cliffs. Looking at a topo map, I could see we had another option. Rather than climb the cliffs, we could traverse to the right, beneath the cliffs. This would give us a longer descent, should eventually rejoin the Monroe trail, and from my phone I could see if we cut over far enough, there was a trail someone had marked as “Backcountry Ski Trail.” This sounded convincing enough, and we made our way off in that direction.
As we cut through the woods, there wasn’t much indication that we were on a trail. This part of the mountain was extremely windblown, and even our tracks wouldn’t last long. There were noticeable indentations in the snow where tracks once were though, and despite the windblown surface, we could tell that we were mostly going the right way, as the snow was pretty packed underfoot. When we would venture too far off, you could definitely sink into the snow. It must have been several feet deep here. After a while, we decided we’ve traversed far enough across the fall line, and found a decent area to transition.
The beginning of the descent was slow, had a couple flat-outs, which was a little discouraging, but we quickly came up on a gentle cliff that got us started on our real decent. As we made our way down, we did our best to stick to the right. From the shape of the topography we could tell if we went too far to the left, we’d end up somewhere in Waterbury, and that wasn’t the plan. Checking in frequently with the GPS as we head down, we head in the direction of the Monroe trail. After not too long, we intersected with what was clearly the “Backcountry Ski Trail,” and took that the rest of the way down. It was very open compared to the surrounding area, some thinning of vegetation had definitely been done along the trail. The snow itself was was pretty untouched, and it was a great trip down, albeit very tiring on a snowboard, the entire trail kept me on my toe-side and the calves were a bit sore at the end. Eventually the ski trail we were on reconnected with the Monroe trail, which we rode out to the unplowed road below. Continuing skiing down the road,we eventually made our way back to the Winter parking area where we started. This time approaching from the Monroe parking area above.
Definitely a fun trip that will need to be repeated.
Since starting my new job last week Wednesday, I haven’t been out in the snow much. This weekend was my first trip since our last storm which brought about 15-20 inches. It would have been sooner, but…only 5 hours of accrued time-off so far. Yesterday was a downhill day at Bolton, all lifts were running, and every run was great. Lots of powder in the woods, and Andre showed me a “secret glade” between Hard Luck and VT 200, which was new to me.
Today, it was time for some back-country. Bolton’s snow report had mention of the possibility of avalanches this week with the existing icy snow covered in a thick layer of fresh powder, so we didn’t want to head anywhere too crazy. Dewey Mt. was a spot we had both been, was well forested, and not too steep.
Looking at Mt. Mansfield from Underhill, Dewey Mt. is to the right, closest to the Chin, with the Nebraska Notch to the other side, with Mt. Clark across the notch.
We took Stevensville Rd., a very narrow, fun road that’s minimally maintained “snow tires and 4×4 recommended” as the sign says, and left the car at the parking area at the end of the road. It was a full lot today, but there was one spot left. We got our gear on and from there, and we headed up the Overland XC trail. I noticed a group of people snowshoeing down, who looked like they had camped out for the night somewhere, carrying down a trash bag, some Catan games, water, and a box of Budweiser cans. Starting up from the trailhead, the Overland XC ski trail was marked with a sign, and was the trail on the left side. The trail on the right being the Nebraska Notch trail, which heads through the notch, gains some elevation, and eventually meeting up with the Long Trail at its Taylor Lodge, on a scenic lookout above Lake Mansfield.
The track up looked familiar, through a well-spaced, gently sloping hardwood forest with lots of birch and beech trees. The Overland XC trail was marked with red blazes. After about half a mile, the marked XC trail made a left, continuing gradually upwards, but there was another well worn skin track to the right, heading directly towards Dewey Mt., at a less gentle pitch. We went right here, and continued upwards for at least another half mile. Here there was great view of Mount Mansfield behind us as we climbed our way up Dewey Mt. across from it. After about a half mile of climbing, the track split again. At this junction there was an unusual amount of foot prints, boot prints, paw prints, and other tracks going every which way. It was obviously a high traffic area, not sure why. It looked a bit like a football game had taken place here. The path left seemed to go towards the summit of Dewey Mt., and the right option appeared to almost head along the ridge and down the other side. Here we chose the right option.
As we continued over the ridge line, but beneath the summit of Dewey to our left, the trail climbed up gradually and took a bit of a turn. The woods here were still very wide and open, and it was clear that this would be an excellent way to come back down. Apart from the cold, the weather today was incredible. The snow was perfect, dry powder, the sky was blue, and the sun was producing a constant sparkle as it hit lots of lingering snowflakes, making their way down from the tree tops in the light breeze to the ground below. The snow on the ground was also looking particularly attractive. Here in the sun, you could see the shapes of all the individual snow crystals glistening as they lay on the ground. Due to the cold, they hadn’t had a chance to melt at all yet.
As we headed up further, we passed a very large boulder which had trees growing up from its top. Looking to the right, it became apparent that we would need to come back the way we came here. The terrain to our right dropped of sharply, and while it could certainly be a fun way down, it would put us right at the bottom of Nebraska Notch, which would make for an awfully long trek back. That wasn’t an adventure we were looking to have today.
The ridge we were on went on for quite a ways, and the woods eventually tightened up quite a bit. The trail became very narrow, and looked almost accidental at times, as it went though unmarked terrain on some very thick forested areas, but looking to the bottoms of tree trunks, you could see a few scars where skis have rubbed by them in the past. As we continued onward, and elevation decreased slowly steadily, we decided to turn back. It seemed as though the trail we were on could have eventually linked up with the Skytop trail, but that’s not where we were headed today. As we came back to the summit, we had a quick lunch of cheese and salmon jerky, and then made our transition to head back down.
The trip down was amazing. Long, with varied terrain, and PLENTY of powder. Apart from the very start at the bottom, where everything rejoins the skin track, this area was not tracked out at all, and no matter what way you went, the woods were open and there was lots of fresh snow.
I’ll definitely be back here. I’ve been to Dewey Mt. before, in similar conditions, but this by far was my favorite route.