Our very first guest submission on Livin’ Deliberately comes from one of my good friends, Matt Wojciak of New Hampshire. Matt has caught the hiking bug real bad and has spent most of his summer crushing the New Hampshire 4k footer list. Here, he describes his summer and his latest scheme which will take him into Vermont’s Green Mountains.
As I write this on Wednesday morning, there’s nothing but grey around me. Inside the accounting offices of BAE Systems, Inc – the company so politely hosting me as an intern this summer – the walls are grey, the cubicles are grey, and most of the people who work here are starting to look pretty grey, too. Fortunately for me, BAE operates on a 9/80 work schedule; in exchange for working nine hours a day instead of eight, the employees here get every second Friday off, giving us a three-day weekend every other week. Fortunately for me, this week is one of those short weeks, and that means I have just two more days of diligent accounting before I swap my grey environment for something markedly more – green. Not only will I be taking to the green woods this weekend, but I’ll literally be in the Green Mountains.
Normally, my hiking excursions remain inside the borders of the wonderful state of New Hampshire. But this weekend, I’m switching it up, and “taking my talents” (shout out to LeBron) to the Granite State’s upside-down neighbor, Vermont. This will be my first non-NH expedition since I was introduced to the beauty of hiking by none other than the founder of this blog, Tyler Neville, when he patiently and generously guided me up to the summit of Mt. Katahdin last August. Since then, I’ve come a long way in terms of my hiking ability and preparation; I’ve swapped in the beat-up Nike sneakers that somehow ascended Katahdin for some legitimate Columbia boots, traded my old Under Armour backpack for an Osprey bag much better suited for the rigors of climbing large mountains, and acquired all of the gear needed to at least keep me alive in the woods overnight. I’d like to think I’m in a bit better hiking shape as well, but you probably couldn’t tell just by looking.
Last weekend was a complete wash – the White Mountains received plenty of rain, and with two months of summer still remaining, I held off on tackling any more of the NH 48 (New Hampshire’s 48 official 4,000 foot peaks, for the uninitiated; I’ve done 17 now, dating back to May 19). My feet were likely thankful for the precipitation, as it meant they got a little longer to recover from my 43.3-mile Independence Day weekend, when I climbed:
Friday, July 1 – North Kinsman, South Kinsman, Cannon
Saturday, July 2 – Tom, Willey, Field
Monday, July 4 – South Hancock, Hancock, Carrigain
The crux of the weekend was Monday’s 20.4-mile, 7,000+ foot elevation gain day, which took me up and down NH’s Hancocks and Mt. Carrigain. The mountains are within mere miles of each other, but no trail connects the two summits – meaning I had to go up and then down the Hancocks in the morning, drive 40 minutes to the Signal Ridge trail-head, and then go up and down Carrigain in the afternoon. Overall, I put in just over nine hours on the trails, but the 360-degree views at the end of my 15th mile and the top of Carrigain were well worth the long hours.
Back to the present day: this weekend will be my first trip outside of New Hampshire since that glorious experience atop Katahdin, and I’ve decided to go in the opposite direct to Vermont’s Green Mountains (yes, they exist, it’s not just a coffee brand!). Initially, The Green Mountains aren’t as rugged as the Whites – the range boasts just five 4,000 foot peaks – but they’re nearly as vast, covering the majority of the state. In fact, Vermont’s official nickname is simply “the Green Mountain State”.
Initially, I had a wild fantasy about summiting all five of those 4,000 foot peaks in one weekend. It would certainly be possible, as I climbed nearly twice as many 4Kers two weekends ago, most of which were similar in height over even taller than Vermont’s highest peak. However, due to the distance between the five VT 4Kers, I would pretty much just climb each mountain separately (with the exception of Mt. Abraham and Mt. Ellen, which stand about three miles apart) over the three days. While the idea of conquering the entire state of Vermont in one weekend was thrilling, I wasn’t excited about the idea of spending most of my weekend in a car driving from trail-head to trail-head. I had just ordered some new backpacking gear, so I really wanted a chance to field-test it. That’s when I hatched my grand idea; instead of doing all five of the mountains, I’d do just two: Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield. In order to maximize my outdoors time, I’d hike from one mountain to the other – and back. With no contacts in Vermont and nobody at home I’d even consider asking to drive two and a half hours simply to bring me back to my car, I decided that making the traverse between the two mountains twice would be best. At least that way, I’ll know exactly where I’m going on the way back.
The entire distance between the two peaks is covered as part of Vermont’s “Long Trail”, which spans over 272 miles from Vermont’s northern border with Canada to its southern Border with Massachusetts. According to a “Long Trail Distance Calculator” I found online (which looked like it hadn’t been updated since I was born, but that’s how you know it’s legit – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”), the section of the Long Trail I would be walking came out to 29.1 miles, one way. Double that, and combine it with the route from Camel’s Hump’s summit to where my car will be spending the weekend, and you’re looking at about 65 miles of ground I’ll need to cover over three days. Luckily, the majority of that should be moderate terrain between the two mountains.
Camel’s Hump is widely considered Vermont’s most iconic peak, the bare-rock summit forming a pseudo-dome whose handsome profile is actually depicted on the VT state quarter.
To the north, Mt. Mansfield’s summit is the highest point in the state, at 4,393 feet. The two-plus mile ridge at the top of Mansfield resembles a (considerably elongated) sideways human face, which earned the mountain its name. The highest point of the ridge – the mountain’s true summit – lies on the “chin” at the northern tip of the ridge (at right in picture – while the “nose” at left appears taller in most photos, the chin is in fact the true summit), which makes me wonder how wicked this fellow’s under-bite is.
Despite the relatively low altitude of these two mountains, both summits are comfortably above treeline, due to an interesting characteristic of the landscape. The state of Vermont still retains three spots where a true alpine tundra biome exists; the summits of Mt. Abraham and Camel’s Hump retain a few acres of this rare habitat, but Mansfield’s summit is covered by over 200 acres of tundra. To experience surrounding like these in New Hampshire, you’d need to climb to around 4,700 feet on mountains like Moosilauke, Lafayette, or any of the larger Presidentials. Fortunately for people like me who appreciate the open air and rock-scrambling opportunities that come with a treeless environment like this, you don’t have to do too much climbing to see places like this in Vermont.
Despite the long mileage tag on a 3-day trip like this, I’m nothing but excited to experience some of the best hiking Vermont has to offer this weekend. The days will be long, as I’ll need to log over 20 miles a day to make sure I stay on pace and make it back to my car Sunday afternoon, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. While the forecast calls for potential showers on Friday (apparently rain is all but guaranteed when spending more than a couple days on the Long Trail), the rest of the weekend looks great. I’m thrilled to be able to have the opportunity to do a trip like this, and I can’t wait to share it with you here on Livin’ Deliberately when (if?) I make it back to the Granite State.
–Matt Wojciak, 7/13/2016
Be sure to also check out Matt’s work on BaseballEssential.com
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