Riho (my second cousin – his grandfather on his mother’s side and my grandfather on my father’s side were brothers) and his wife Silja (yeah – more Estonians) own a ski/summer house - tucked into the maples and hemlocks, on a hillside, tiny pond out front, Swiss chalet looking, a fine retreat from the ordinary. It’s a wonderful place for Spanks to chase chipmunks, squirrels, and whatever other denizens of the deep woods he may ferret out.
The weekend we arrived ended up being a family affair. Riho and Silja’s daughter Liisa, her husband Carlos, and their 2 yr old son Carlitos had also come up from NY for a few days. Little Carlitos wasn’t sure about Spanky at first but before long they bonded – both about the same size – perfect playmates. We had just a really nice weekend. Several BBQ’s, me and Riho reviewing the family tree, Spanks getting petted and played with constantly. We are most grateful. Pics from the weekend can be viewed at: Riho ja Silja’s
I just must throw in a fond childhood memory. I was maybe 7 years old??? We were visiting Riho’s family in Long Island. He’s a cool teenager guy with a Chevy Impala convertible. Wow……I just can’t wait to grow up and get one of those! Wait a minute, he’s actual offering me, a little snot nosed kid, a ride. I have no idea where we went, what we did, all I remember is cruising around, top down, on a summer day – boy was I hot stuff! I knew then and there that someday I’d get a convertible (hmmm, I never did, did I?).
Vermont, the green mountain state (Vermont is green mountain in French – I didn’t know that until recently). The name is perfect. It is nothing but covered, north to south, east to west, with lush green mountains. Small towns, villages, consisting of a few houses, a church, a general store, maybe a city hall, are the rule. Cities, of which there are only a few, are the exception.
When I think of New England, I think of Vermont. It’s kind of a story book place. There are real, authentic, still in use, wooden covered bridges. Small farms are tucked away on humble expanses of what flat land there is in the shadows of the surrounding mountains. Streams and rivers abound, winding their way through the valleys to join the White River and the Connecticut River (VT NH border) to the east or into Lake Champlain to the west.
Vermont offers some of the best snow skiing in the northeast. Ski areas such as Killington, Sugarbush, Stratton, and Stowe (to name a few) are well known nation wide. And it is Stowe, VT where this particular episode takes place. Stowe, home of Mount Mansfield, the highest pinnacle in the Green Mountain State.
The canine boy wonder and I head to Mansfield through the town of Stowe. Stowe is a picture perfect Vermont/New England town. Too perfect perhaps and an excellent example of what I’ll call the cultural, socio economic dichotomy that exists in Vermont and many other, what used to be, off the beaten track, places in the US. Driving through Stowe one is confronted (just keep your eyes open) by non small town stuff like brokerage offices, fancy law offices, a UPS store, and far, far too many “authentic” arts, crafts, and gift emporiums. Stowe has been, too coin a phrase, yuppified (not in Webster’s – yet).
Yuppification has it’s plusses. It brings money to the local and state economy. It offers new job opportunities for some, but……….unless you’ve been around for a while, bought the house back when it was reasonably priced, and you are a local, you probably can’t afford to live there anymore. The result, a Norman Rockwell portrait of a New England town, inhabited mostly by transplants, full of second homes for the well heeled, attractive to tourists, and culturally no where near what it used to be.
I am not being critical, it’s just a fact. Stowe is a cool place to visit but…….if you want authentic Vermont, go to an out of the way place (like the Village of Brownsville, Town of Windsor where I’m staying now). This is where you’ll meet real Vermonters. No fancy stuff, just the real deal. A general store, usually just a couple of cars out front, a library built in 1900 – open 2 to 6 on Fridays, a church, a cemetery up on the hill, no traffic to speak of, couple of old brick homes, and a smattering of farms in the valley.
Mount Mansfield promised to be a little bit of a challenge (compared to anything we’ve done to this point). Based on extensive pre climb reconnaissance, data gathering, compilation of said data, and detailed analysis, me and Spanks picked the “Long Trail” to the summit (actually recommended by our Highpoints book). Long Trail offered up a 2,800 foot gain in elevation over 2.3 miles. So it was not exactly gonna be a walk in the park.
Spanks and I got started pretty early in the morning. The day promised to be hot (90 plus) and humid, chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. We wanted to avoid the heat and getting thunderbolts thrown at us by Zeus and his pals. I know I’ve talked about thick, lush, green forests ad nauseum, so I won’t go there (for now anyhow).
What’s unique about Mansfield (vs our experience to date) is that the summit is distinctly visible from multiple vantage points on the trail. The top of the mountain is comprised of granite cliffs rising well above the forest below. There is a discrete, highly visible ridge line, made up of rock formations called the nose, the chin, and the adams apple, with the chin being the actual summit.
As we get higher and higher, the trail gets pretty damn rocky, Spanks has to do a lot of jumping up, a couple of feet sometimes, he’s got his tongue out (needless to say, I’m sweating my ass off), Spanks takes full advantage of some cool mountain water from the streams we cross. I’m a little leery of stream water these days. Against all advice, I did partake in untreated mountain water in the Tetons of Wyoming – nothing happened. But this ain’t quite the Tetons and I don’t really feel like a case of Montezuma’s revenge. The boy, however, is unfazed – dogs have stronger immune systems, bacteria just doesn’t get em like it does us two legged creatures.
About half a mile to go and we are in a totally sub alpine environment, short, scrubby evergreens, mosses, a bog here and there on flat spots. We are getting close to the cliffs of the chin, I’ve had to actually lift Spanks two or three times to get up some sizeable boulders. And then…………a cliff face, hmmmmmm, how the hell does the trail go up that? Around it? Nope, behind it. To my, and Spanky’s no doubt, dismay, we’ve hit a section of trail that goes up a crevice in the granite that will require me to use both hands and feet. No way Spanks can do it – I’d have to carry him and…….most importantly, I don’t want to mess with the boy’s safety.
Seriously, I made up my mind (actually there was no thinking required) when we started this deal that no way, no how would I put Spanks in a dangerous situation. I will always follow that rule.
The good news is that there are other approaches to the summit, trails that follow the ridge line and do not require going up the steep and cliffy bottom section of the chin. The bad news is that we are 3/10ths of a mile and maybe 350 ft in elevation short of our goal. Oh well. We rest for a short while, drink some water, and take in the scenery. We meet a guy and his son, avid hikers, and chit chat a bit. They didn’t really know much about the other routes up but they did give us some insight on Mt Washington – coming up next week.
Without any real knowledge of how we might be able to make it around the cliffs, we head all the way back down the mountain (2 miles and about 2,500 ft up and back down again). Turns out there is a trail (actually named the “Profanity Trail”) that goes around – but we didn’t know it at the time. Going back down takes also uses a bunch of energy, stepping down off rocks, going down steep declines, you’ve got the brakes on at all times – works the quads pretty damned hard.
Me and Spanks are fairly pooped and it’s getting to be mid afternoon so probably not a good idea to go trying to make the top. But……..we needed a plan. The basic map that I had showed a trail going from the top of the toll road - 1.5 miles and 550 ft up to the summit. Eureka, that’s it! Net, net, we’ll make the whole climb, just in two separate hikes. I stop at the bottom of the toll road and talk to the dude workin there.
Luckily he’s a hiker. The gentleman confirms that we did the right thing. “Not a good idea to try taking a dog up that way. People take dogs up from the toll road all the time. Just make sure you keep him on a leash.” We thank him for the advice and vow to return tomorrow.
And…….as promised, the following morning, June 26th, 2007, Spanky and I start up the summit section of the “Long Trail” from the Stowe Toll Road. Within a couple of hundred yards we are in a totally alpine environment, above the tree line, it’s all rocks, mosses, alpine scrub and flowers, most spectacular! At this altitude in Vermont, winter brings blasts of arctic air to the mountains, keeping the vegetation at bay and creating an alpine environment that is only found at much higher elevations in other parts of the country.
The hike takes us up the ridge line of Mount Mansfield, there are big ass cliffs not to far from our path. I keep Spanks on his leash. He is very good at staying on trail but if he sees a bird or some other critter, there is always the chance that he may go into chase mode – right off a cliff.
Because of the heat and humidity, there is a haze over the valleys below, somewhat obscuring the view but it’s still pretty damned beautiful. It takes us about half an hour following the trail along the ridge, a cool west wind blowing across our faces, the sun shining in the clear blue sky over head………finally, on our second try, we arrive at the summit of Mount Mansfield, 4,393 ft (Stowe says it’s 4,395), the highest point in Vermont.
This is a real summit, just rocks, un obscured views (except the low haze in the valley) in all directions. We had to do a little work but it’s well worth it. Ahhhhhhh, we just sat on the rocks an took it all in.
Our solitude didn’t last long. A couple of women, much younger that me, got to the top about fifteen minutes after us. Spanky turned on his charm, we got them to help us with the photo op thing. A couple more of their friends and two dogs soon joined us. Before you know it, we had a little dog and hiker circus going on up there.
I did my sales pitch for the Adventures of Spanky and Rein – told em all about the summit thing. Everyone thought it was a great idea, one of the women actually exclaimed, “I want to die right now and come back as Spanky.” Perhaps a tad strong but….you get the idea.
We soon ventured back to the Toll Road, meeting numerous hikers on the way. A young couple from Maine gave us a recommendation on a mountain to hike in Maine – Saddleback Mountain – we’ll probably give it a try. Spanks happily greeted several more doggies on there way up. Everyone’s tails where wagging. Haven’t met an unhappy hiking dog yet.
Back at the parking area we shot the breeze with another couple and their two dogs. They were a little embarrassed that Spanky, still being a youngster, was quite a bit better behaved than their pooches – oh well.
I’ve got a bunch more stories to tell but it’s getting late and this is getting too long to keep anyone’s attention. So……….you’ll just have to buy the book when it hits the shelves.
Thanks, as always!
I Join Spanky On Top of Vermont
Gorgeous Mansfield View
A Different Angle
Haze Blankets The Valley Below
The Chin - As Viewed From The "Long Trail"
The Ridgeline That Spanks and I Followed to The Top of The Chin
Barren Alpine Environment (Chin In Background)