October 3, 2007
Taft Lodge to Puffer Shelter
LT Miles – 10.2
Total LT Miles – 77.4
Extra Miles – 0
It’s a gray, dim morning at Taft Lodge. “On days like this, the clouds don’t blow off until at least 1 or 2pm,” the caretaker says.
He packs up and hikes to the summit anyway – it’s his job to be there every day to provide information for hikers. Mount Mansfield is the highest point in Vermont, and receives its fair share of tourist traffic.
Rover (The fellow southbounder I met last night) and I kill the entire morning at the shelter, hoping for the clouds to blow away. On a clear day, you’re supposed to be able to see as far as the Adirondacks in New York, Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, and Mt. Royal in Canada.
Today is not a clear day.
But it can only get clearer, right? Rover has been studying the side trails, and says something about a touristy restaurant down one them.
“I’ve been craving coffee,” he says, “And I’m not in any hurry on this trip.” He eventually hikes out, and I follow shortly thereafter, probably sometime close to noon. I’ll never see him again.
This path bypasses the open summit on The Chin, in case of the “profane” weather.
Mount Mansfield is said to resemble the face of a man, hence the names of its features – the chin, the Adam’s apple, the nose, the forehead… there’s even supposed to be a spring referred to as “the runny nose.” Heh.
Here I’m only a few steps below treeline. Note the day hiker on the right, coming down from the Adam’s Apple.
Climbing the chin involves an open rock scramble, instilling a sense of open height and exposure that I haven’t felt since hiking up Mount Katahdin, Maine.
Peter from Taft Lodge strikes his “caretaker pose” on the summit. I’ve now been to the highest points in Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine!
hiking above treeline
There’s a toll road that goes up the mountain, so Mansfield sees more crowds than any other place on The Long Trail. It seems to me that people are everywhere, and this is only on a cloudy Wednesday afternoon. Weekends with good weather must be like a zoo.
This “Summit Station” is located adjacent to the parking lot, and contains a small visitors center. I take a snack break here and meet another GMC caretaker, stationed to give information to hikers as they step out of their cars.
“Please stay on the rocks and don’t step on the fragile vegetation,” she gently reminds most folks.
This structure occupies the site of the old Mt. Mansfield Summit House, a large hotel that operated from 1870 to 1969.
On the far side of the nose I reach the forehead, and suddenly I’m alone in the mountains again. I suppose nobody ventures from their cars to the south end of the ridge.
The descent is steep among numerous rock ledges and crevices. The Green Mountain Club has placed ladders in some particularly difficult spots to assist hikers.
All of these obstacles have me feeling quite adventurous.
(…insert Indiana Jones theme music)
Butler Lodge lies at the base of the descent from the forehead. Here I stop to fill up my water, and rest my weary feet over the Champlain Valley to the west. The parking lot above feels like it’s a hundred miles away – I haven’t seen a soul since the south side of the nose.
As I’m taking pictures near a beaver pond, I see two backpackers going north. They’re an older couple, and we exchange a simple wave in greeting. They’re the only people I’ll see this afternoon.
I come to the vacant Taylor Lodge, tucked into a picturesque spot in Nebraska Notch.
I briefly consider stopping here for the night, but choose to press on for Puffer Shelter… even though it surely means I’ll be hiking through the twilight.
It’s well after dark by the time I reach Puffer Shelter. I have the place all to myself for the night.