In 2018, 2 friends and I ran the Vermont 10 Miler in Stowe, Vermont.
I crushed that race (at least in my mind). It was a great weekend away with good friends. We decided we would do the race again next year (2019), and also sign up for the New England 10 Miler Series of 3 races: Portland, Maine in April; Newport, RI in June and Stowe the first weekend in November.
The first 2 races went very well. I felt great! I had great form, and I beat my goal times. I was really looking forward to Stowe, and seeing if I could beat last year.
The day we were to drive up, a pretty strong storm pounded New England. We planned to drive the 4 hours to Stowe after work Friday night. As the rain continued to come down, we decided to drive up Saturday morning in the sunshine instead.
Later, we discovered just how bad the storm was. In Stowe, the wind and rain knocked out power, fell trees, and even washed out roads and part of the course. We didn't even know if we could get to the condo! We went up, hopeful that everything would be ok. It wasn't. The race was cancelled, and they requested folks stay home, so they could clean up the area without the extra 300 people and their vehicles driving around.
We arrived in Stowe, and went straight to the Trapp Family Lodge where packet pick up was. The race organizers kept that going, so racers who were already in Stowe, could pick up their "swag"--t-shirt, medals, free can of beer, and other goodies. Since we were completing the Series, we received extra goodies--a special finisher medal, and a cool hat.
We weren't racing, but we decided we still wanted to do something. We definitely were not going home. A weekend away from children and husbands for some lovely "adult girl time" is a rare commodity. We would do something!!!!
Stowe sits a short drive from the Long Trail (a 266 mile hiking trail through Vermont), and the base of Mount Mansfield--the tallest mountain in Vermont at almost 4400 feet above sea level. Why not hike part of the Long Trail south to the summit?
The mountain looks like the profile of a face, and therefore has been labeled as such. The high point, and where we would climb to is the Chin. We then would walk along the ridge south over the Lips, to the base of the Nose, and then hike down. Overall about a 7 mile hike.
We parked at the Stowe ski resort Gondola parking, crossed the street to the starting point (we would shortly recross the road as we began our hike upward), took a picture, and began walking. And the snow started to lightly fall.
My friends have hiked before. And by hiked, I mean climb mountains kind of hiking. They had the right kind of gear: backpacks with hydration bladders, hiking boots/shoes. Hiking pants that are lightweight, but rip resistant. Crampons for ice. First aid kits. I had none of that. I wore my trail running shoes, 2 pair of running tights, my thermal running top, my running wind jacket, and a borrowed backpack. Here we go.
The hike up was scary beautiful...that's all I can say. I was quickly out of breath, my heart pounding, and I huge smile on my face. My friends quickly out paced me, having to stop and wait. I climbed over rocks, following the trail which at times looked like a small creek. We saw other hikers, but not many. I think the weather may have scared them away.
It continued to snow.
I mean...look at the weather map. The only place there was any weather just happened to be right where we were.
Regardless, we continued our trek upwards. The snow got deeper. Just shy of the summit, we knew we wouldn't make it. Hikers coming down said that unless you had crampons, don't even try it. The last couple hundred feet was very icy and covered in several inches of snow.
We needed to turn around.
On our way down, we decided that we would return next year--2020--and take care of "unfinished business". And, we'd come a few weeks earlier, so the weather would be better.
We all know what happened in 2020...or do I need to remind you? Covid.
During the spring and summer, we continued to run together, maintaining "social distancing" and talked about if we would be able to head back to Stowe.
Luckily, the number of cases in our state continue to be very low compared to the rest of the world. On a Friday evening after work...we headed to Vermont.
I still didn't have the right equipment, but my running apparel was adequate (although I did buy some "trekking" pants from L.L. Bean). Of course, just like in 2019...a big rain storm decided to blow through. Luckily, it was only rain, and not too bad. Hopefully, it wasn't too bad on top of the mountain.
The morning was overcast, but not raining, so that was a good sign. The forecast was for the clouds to clear out around noon, so even better--no snow! Although when we looked up at the Chin, it was definitely white with snow.
We took our time, giving the clouds the opportunity to go away. We loaded up, got in the car, and headed to the Stowe Mountain Resort Gondola parking area. This is where we would start, and finish. We had to recreate the moment.
Just like last year, we began with the easy walk along the Long Trail, before crossing over the road, and beginning the climb. Even though I had the "Covid 15" (similar to the Freshman 15), I felt better. It seemed like we were really moving, and I was keeping up. We made quick work of the lower sections. Water was pouring off the mountain due to the previous day's rain but it wasn't cold and snowing like last year. We kept waiting for the sun to come out...it was teasing us.
After almost 2 hours, we were at the point where we turned around last year. And just like last year, there was snow on the ground. But, the sun was peaking through, it wasn't snowing, and the snow that was on the ground definitely wasn't as deep. Things were looking good. We still had about a half hour to go.
We looked up and could see the clouds racing by. It was going to be windy up there. We were entering an "alpine zone"; we were above the tree line. The last little bit was by far the most demanding. Here, I felt like an actual mountain climber. Squeezing through a rock crevice; trying to find a place for my feet and hands. It was so cool. The last 100 yards was up a ice crusted rock. This year we all brought crampons: well they did, and I brought the only thing I had...my ice running spikes, also known as "Yak Trax". We put our crampons on, and up we went. We probably didn't need them, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
And then we were there! On top of the tallest mountain in Vermont. Even though this wasn't the first time up this mountain for my friends, we all decided it was definitely a fun hike. We stayed at the Chin for several minutes, enjoying the views, getting pelted by ice when the wind picked up. We didn't stay long, because we had a ways to go, and the wind was brutal. We didn't need to get chilled at this point.
The plan was to continue to hike south on the Long Trail, basically walking along the ridge line to the "Nose". Then we'd take the Hazelton trail down the mountain and back to the car.
As we hiked south, the wind was painful. At times the wind would grab ice pellets and throw them in our faces. It was difficult at times to stand up. I couldn't believe some of the people we saw hiking towards us, in sneakers and some even in shorts! The sun was warm, and I had taken off a layer, but on that ridge, I was glad to have my running wind jacket.
The views from up there were awesome. We could easily see Lake Champlain just west of us. To the east and far in the distance, we could make out Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Camel's Hump was just south of us. Canada to the north. Just beautiful!
Eventually we made it to the Nose. We ate some lunch, relaxed for a few moments at the top of the "Toll Road" and then began our descent.
Seven miles and four and a half hours after we started, we sat in the car with big smiles on our faces and sore legs. We took care of business.
And we began to plan what mountain we would climb next...
(Actually we climbed the other side of the Notch the next day to Sterling Pond. It was not nearly as technical, but just as rewarding. Only 4 miles that day.)
Luckily, my friends know I'm racing my Ironman in August, so they took into consideration some "recovery time". But, we will be somewhere next fall. I think they are looking at the end of September. They talked of "backpacking" ??? I may have to get some hiking gear if I keep hanging out with these "running" friends.
I couldn't ask for better friends, and support team! They are and will be some of my biggest cheerleaders as I begin to ramp up the training for the Ironman.
Oh, and guess who else was at the summit of Mount Mansfield, and I didn't even know it? My coach!!! I guess hiking mountains isn't all the crazy. Must be good training for Ironmans?
I can't wait to see where they drag me next year!
I feel I must post a warning here. My friends are very experienced hikers. We didn't just decide to go off one day. Precautions must be taken into account. The Green Mountain Club, the Club that promotes and maintains The Long Trail, has a good guide to planning to hike the Long Trail. Other clubs, like the Appalachian Mountain Club, have excellent resources, and even reviews of equipment. The Hiking Project has a list of hiking clubs by state (and international), as well as routes.
Get outside...but be safe! Happy hiking!