The land of local milk and organic honey.
When we planned this trip, we intended it to be a pilgrimage to Camel’s Hump, our winter-trip Mecca. And like all of our best-laid plans and carefully measured trips, things immediately diverted into chaos.
It all began two weeks ago in Tim’s cabin, where the seeds of an entry-level winter trip for some new backpackers first germinated. Casey and Brittany, our good friends from years past at the Mass. College of Liberal Arts, were just settling into the idea of becoming outdoors-people. So, Jimmy and I put our heads together to plan out a brief winter excursion to dip their feet in.
The first part of any good adventure is the preparation. We put gas in our collective tanks at the Mad Taco up in Waitsfield, VT, where craft beer and authentic Mexican cuisine draw in hundreds of winter sports enthusiasts a day. In fact, we may have been the only people in the place without snow pants. A soulful rendition of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated,” belted out with tear-jerking emotion by the cooking staff brought out our more sensitive side. It was either that, or the Slow Burn taco, that sent tears rolling down our cheeks.
I think Jimmy was crying with joy over his Heady Topper.
Our detours and distractions sent us on a craft beer quest through to Stowe, bearing fruit in the form of Star Brewing Company’s Tribute, Lost Nation’s Mosaic, and a few others, and we loaded our packs up with trail mix, dried mango, salmon jerky, snowshoes, and enough foam camp pads to insulate a house.
By the time we got underway, the sun had set on Mt. Mansfield, our new destination, and we headed up one of the steeper trails on the mountain with headlamps. By the twilight of the slope lights dotting the ridgeline, and under the hypnotic hum of groomers crawling up man-made slopes, our effort took us about a mile into the heart of the Green Mountains.
Unfortunately… that mile was nearly straight up. Our crew mostly had crampons and snowshoes, with the exception of Ryan and, eventually, Casey. The trail was a frozen streambed, all ice and drifted snow, and put us to the ultimate test when we were all still nursing post-holiday atrophy. Max, Jim, Ryan, and I carried an inordinate amount of gear, with some of our pack weights pushing 50lbs, loaded to the brim with extra clothing, sleeping bags, water, and food for the less-experienced in our crew. The division of labor helped, but about two hours into our pursuit of the first shelter, we made the decision to turn back.
Sometimes, group trips have a way of humbling you. It’s easy to plan a trip from the comfort of your living room couch, but when the chips fall, alternative decisions sometimes have to be made. Max, Jim, and I were feeling ambitious, having conquered a lot of Camel’s Hump in 2013, when the snow piled well over four feet in drifts. The balmy winter we’d had so far pushed our vision of the weekend even further, but ultimately, two hours up a Double-Black Diamond slope in the middle of the night will remind you just exactly how small you are in the face of the wilderness. We made the right call, and called the trip before we were facing down an injury, hypothermia, or just plain misery on the part of our newer recruits.
That didn’t mean we were done having a good time!
Like classic tourists, we hit up the Ben & Jerry’s factory for some good old-fashioned ice cream. The Ben & Jerry’s Factory is a super-sustainable enterprise in Vermont, getting its power from a field of solar panels and its milk from a herd of happy, well-cared for cows. The methods jack the price up on their ice cream, but for decades, consumers have always tasted the difference and the premium has proved sustainable. I love a success story!
Ryan and I detoured onto the frozen Deerfield river, where (we postulate) expansion from the warm temperatures had pushed up huge ice-volcanoes, turning the dwindling river into a moonscape.
These huge uplifts were several feet thick, and were a completely unique formation I hadn’t seen before. It seemed the entire state of Vermont was in some stage of thaw or freeze, as the strangest winter in recent memory continued to confuse local wildlife and local weathermen.
We found an old beaver dam, surrounded on all sides by fresh coyote tracks. This river was a battlefield, or could have been if the beavers were still around. It was hard to tell. Ryan and I soon got back underway and headed home to Amherst, a total of 7 hours of driving under our belts filled with Led Zeppelin and long, meandering talks.
The real highlight of the weekend was the nonchalant, uncommitted atmosphere of it all; We had proceeded with a loose plan, scrapped it immediately, detoured unsuccessfully, and recovered just as vaguely as we had began. No itinerary, no problem. In our winding journey across the state, from Bennington to Montpelier, we had sampled some of the best Vermont had to offer, but we’d saved the camping part for the next trip. This one is “To Be Continued…”
And speaking of next trips, 2016 just keeps on rolling. The Adirondacks are next!