My last two trips to Vermont have been somewhat of failures. As far as great food, friends, and drink are concerned, they have been a huge success. But when it comes to hiking, I have kind of failed.
My last trip to Vermont was last January (2013). I set out to hike Camel’s Hump. My intent was to hike up the Monroe Trail to the Dean Trail and then the Long Trail. From the intersection of the Dean Trail and Long Trail, I would hike north on the Long Trail over the summit to reconnect with the Monroe Trail, on which I would hike down to return to my car (see map to right).
However, as I had never done it before, I didn’t realize how steep the approach is to Camel’s Hump summit from the south on the Long Trail. Being that I was all alone, and didn’t have any technical gear for climbing any steep pitches of snow and ice (all I had on my feet were YakTrax Pros), I decided I wasn’t going to take the risk by going up. Within a mile from the summit, I turned around and began to head down the way I came.
Fast forward to yesterday, March 2013, I once again failed when going out to hike in Vermont. I originally had plans to do something bigger, like Mt. Mansfield, but changed my mind. I decided I wanted to go out, do something short, fun, and easy, that I could just enjoy, and then head back into Burlington to hang out with my brother. I decided I was going to hike Stowe Pinnacle. Stowe Pinnacle is not very high in elevation, and requires only a 1.5 mile hike via the Stowe Pinnacle Trail, but rewards the hiker with views of Camel’s Hump, Mt. Mansfield, and Worcester Range.
I arrived at the Stowe Pinnacle trailhead ready to go. It was, in fact, raining, so that already put a damper on my day. With that being said, I don’t mind hiking in the rain. Actually, I enjoy experiencing hikes in a range of conditions, however, when you’re on break and have only one opportunity to hike, you definitely want a perfect day. So, I was going to hike anyway, despite the fact that it seemed rain and clouds were going to make for a view-less summit.
Then I noticed that the the hiker registry (book at the beginning of the trail), was not there. I think this was a sign that the trail was closed. I noticed something about closings of the Stowe Pinnacle Trail online, but was unsure of the dates. I think they close it during Vermont’s mud season so that the trail doesn’t get torn up in wet conditions, in order to preserve the integrity of the trail. So, as I wholeheartedly believe in following the management rules and decisions of the area (I mean, I want to go into Recreation Management for my profession), I went with my own selfish desire to hike and continued onward, even though I knew I shouldn’t have (if the trail was, in fact, closed).
Then here comes the fun part. As I’m hiking along, I notice some pretty fresh tracks in the snow. I think “cool, just a dog.” As I keep seeing them for many yards along the trail, I notice three things: 1. some seemingly fresh droppings, 2. if they were a dog’s, it would be a really big dog, and 3. there were no human footprints associated with the track’s path. I figured, if they stay along the trail the whole time, then yes, it’s just a dog. If they go off trail, I’d check them out and see what they do. Sure enough, they went off trail, following a fairly irregular pattern. I followed them up to the base of a tree, where they stopped. At the base of the tree, I noticed two things: 1. really fresh wood shavings (nothing covering them up), and 2. clear hind tracks. I looked up and noticed very harsh scratches in the tree bark above me. It was pretty clear to me that it was a bear (front black bear paws kind of look similar to a dog paw. Hind ones not so much. I think I was getting hung up on the front ones, when I thought it was a dog). I was surprised by this, because I didn’t think any bears would be out of hibernation yet this far north. Maybe I was wrong. Anyway, if it was a bear, I knew it would be a very hungry one, post-hibernation. Unfortunately for me, I probably had the largest quantity of delicious food in the entire patch of forest sitting right in my backpack.
(Sorry, I didn’t really consider taking pictures of the bear tracks and markings. I really wish I did. They were pretty cool, and I would have loved to share)
So, I figured, three strikes, and I’m done. The cold rain, a closed trail, and a potential hungry black bear in the area, made for a somewhat unfavorable hiking situation, especially being alone. I decided to cut my losses and head back to Burlington to hang out with my brother. Not a bad alternative.
It never feels good to have to cut a hike short. It never feels good to bail on a summit, or feel intimidated by the presence of a black bear (because we’d all love to be macho and brave). However, I think it’s important to dissociate one’s pride as a hiker with accomplishing feats (such as bagging a peak, or not letting conditions turn you back). I think it is more important to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. If something doesn’t feel right, it makes no sense to do it. Hiking should be enjoyable, not an area to beef up your list of accomplishments and ego. For that reason, I’ve let these last two hikes in Vermont go. For me and Vermont, the struggles continue. Until next time, Vermont.