Sunday, August 12, 2018

LT Smugglers Notch to Johnson

Smugglers Notch is a mountain pass that separates Mount Mansfield to the south from the Sterling Range to the north. The Long Trail crosses Smugglers Notch on its way from Massachusetts to Canada along the spine of Vermont's Green Mountains.

A hike of 7.5 miles south from Barnes Camp in Smugglers Notch will take you on the LT over Mount Mansfield to Butler Lodge and out a side trail to the Stevensville parking area in Underhill. Double that distance north on the LT from Barnes Camp will take you to a parking area where the LT crosses Vermont Route 15 in Johnson.

Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak at 4395', is a frequent hiking destination for our family, but today Nancy and I hiked north from Smugglers Notch. We positioned cars so that our hike wasn't the full 15 miles mentioned above, but "only" 11.1 miles. This section of the LT involves much up-and-down. There are four ascents (Sterling, Madonna, Morse-east slope, and Whiteface) with total elevation gain of 2500'.

When we reached Sterling Pond early in the hike, we encountered a couple who had been watching a bull moose swimming in the pond, but he was gone by the time we arrived and we did not see him. Shortly thereafter we encountered people setting up for a trail race sponsored by Smugglers Notch Resort and Ironwood Adventure Works – the 1st Annual Smuggs Mountain Race, a 25K running event on ski trails with 5000' elevation gain. That's a workout!

The photo below was a sign from the trail race, where the LT crosses the Drifter ski trail on Madonna Mountain, part of Smugglers Notch Resort:

We took Drifter instead of the LT to the summit of Madonna Mountain, because the view from Drifter looking south at Mount Mansfield is spectacular. That is the photo at the top of this post, taken from where Drifter turns a sharp corner high on Madonna Mountain.

From this viewpoint, one can normally see the entire ridgeline of Mount Mansfield, from the Chin to the Nose, but today it was in the clouds. Sterling Pond is visible in the photo above, and directly behind the pond are the thousand foot high cliffs of Smugglers Notch.

We saw the first runners in the trail race on top of Madonna Mountain, where we picked up the LT north again.

We hiked by three shelters on the LT today: Sterling Pond Shelter, Whiteface Shelter (below), and Bear Hollow Shelter.

The high point on our hike was Whiteface Mountain (photo below) but it is a wooded summit and there are limited views there:

Interestingly, the 2017 Long Trail Guide says we were on top of "Sterling Mtn. (also known as Whiteface Mtn.)." That's the first time I've heard it called Sterling Mountain. I've always heard it called Whiteface Mountain, as in the sign above, the highest mountain in the Sterling Range.

When we reached the top of Whiteface Mountain we were only 5.4 miles into our 11.1 mile hike, but the ascents were behind us. It was all downhill from there to our car.

Both Nancy and I have hiked parts of this section of the LT many times together, and the whole 11 miles with other people, but this was the first time the two of us hiked the entire 11 miles together. We reminisced about the many adventures that various members of our family, especially Laura, have had on this section of trail. My own adventures include outings as a Boy Scout in the 1960s and as a Boy Scout leader thirty years later. It's a wonderful, if rugged, section of the Long Trail.

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