Vermont is a thought-projection of my “perfect wilderness.”
As an end-of-summer jaunt, Jim and I planned a big trip out to Camel’s Hump State Park in Vermont. Camel’s Hump is a 4,083 foot peak in central Vermont, and is a pretty well-traveled mountain. On labor day weekend, over 700 people passed over the summit in just one day, making it the busiest hiking weekend on record.
We threw ourselves in with that lot, but on our summit day, the mountain was almost all ours. Bad weather and a threatening thunderstorm kept people off the ridge, giving us an unnaturally vacant hiking experience and a taste of what rainforests must feel like. With the thunderstorm far off, we decided summiting was paramount.
The weather on Saturday was fantastic. We drove about three and a half hours from North Adams up to Waterbury, and then on to the Winter parking lot. From Duxbury Road, it was about 2.5 miles to Bamforth Ridge Shelter. Jim and I had hiked this section previously, in January 2013, so we knew a lot about what we were in for, and the many thousands of crampon scratches on the rocks in the steepest sections spoke volumes about the difficulty of the climb in bad weather. For pictures from that adventure, check out the Flickr folder.
We camped Night One at Bamforth Ridge’s tent platforms. I slept a little weakly because I gave my sleeping pad to a lost hiker named Bob, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Bob was delighted to share camp with us. I hope when I’m in my 70’s, I greet sleeping in a hammock with a bunch of 20 year olds a “new adventure.” Thanks, Bob!
On Sunday, we packed up and headed for the summit. It was wet, rainy, and muggy, and the rocky trail was pretty treacherous. In this section, 4-inch wide cleavage in the largest rocks were big enough to swallow your leg… this is a five foot drop.
Two miniature summits before Camel’s Hump’s Crest (editor? Is that correct?) gave us something to look forward to, with beautiful views of the mist-shrouded peak and the foothills of the green mountains. Long Trail South is a well-traveled trail, so most of the hike was straightforward, but it was a constant scramble. We were climbing, slipping, and pulling our way up the mountain; adrenaline was pumping, concentration was a must, and our packs seemed to get a little heavier with each false break in the coniferous forest.
As we put more elevation behind us, the permanency of the cloud layer atop Camel’s Hump was pretty obvious; a vast amount of moss and vegetation grew on every surface, carpeting the ground. Tree trunks, beaten long ago by some thunderstorm, acted as miniature biomes of minuscule life. We saw mosses of every shape and every color you could possibly call ‘green.’ In this cloud forest, there was little to break the silence other than our breathing and the occasional slip of a loose rock.
Rain was intermittent. We’d run into other hikers who suggested branching onto the Alpine trail in case of a thunderstorm, but with no steady rain and no sound of an approaching storm, we stayed the course and aimed for the peak.
To me, it was hard to fully digest this plaque, since the natural history of the United States far predates the designation of political borders. This wilderness was unfettered by any laws or designations we placed on it; it existed as it always had, for uncountable days and likely just as many visitors, mankind and otherwise. The mountain’s history was guarded by impenetrable silence.
I’m waxing poetic. We’re at the summit!
Whatever zen-like atmosphere I had felt along the Long Trail was shattered by the ferocity of the summit. Gale-force winds and pelting rain stung our cheeks and threatened to send us tumbling down into the bucolic Vermont countryside. Kelley, in particular, was exhilarated by the sheer madness of the miniature storm blowing only at the peak. Jim redirected us from taking the wrong trail off the summit, thank God, and we headed back the way we came, slipping and sliding down the mountain towards the promise of a place to camp and finally get the backpacks off our back.
The trail remained completely green on the way down the Monroe trail towards Hump Brook. Every surface was covered in mosses, ferns, clovers, vines, and shrubs. We were all wearing out; 30 pound packs increase in weight as your endurance fades. Trudging along on weak ankles with Kelley in the lead, we all realized just how terrible we were at judging distances. Four miles felt like six, or two…
The forest was simply beautiful, even at close range.
Finally, after seemingly endless false turns and switchbacks, we reached the Hump Brook Tent Area. Our camp was very comfortable, and the caretakers appointed by Vermont are awesome outdoor experts, happy to teach while they keep the environment, and us, safe from harm.
Kelley and I had a yard sale! Jim’s camp was much more professional, with guylines and tarps and cooking platforms and packing areas and a whole host of amenities which we sacrificed in the name of laziness. Jim is truly an inspiration, but I cannot be bothered to follow him, apparently.
In total, we covered between eight and nine miles of the long trail, a respectable distance for novices such as ourselves. We’re super thrilled with how the trip turned out, and hope to bring more people with us next year.
I, for one, am just glad I didn’t get blown off the summit.