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2001-05-03 Mansfield Spring Trek: Photos and story
2001-05-03 Mansfield Spring Trek: Photos and story

How to beat the heat: when it's 88 degrees in town, go skiing.

mrrogers and I arrived at the gondola parking lot a little before 5:00 PM. Something is clearly amiss when you drive to the ski resort with the AC on.

A visual examination of the mountain from this lowly vantage point seemed to indicate good as expected snow up high, but some difficult decisions for a return route to the car. My usual May assault route, the Nosedive trail, was looking surprisingly bare below 2000 feet. But Gondalier of all things had sufficient coverage to get us all the way to Midway Lodge.

My pre-trip expectations were to skin up Nosedive to the nose, and descend down through the Bypass Chutes into Slalom Glade and then on down Nosedive proper. May skiing expectations being what they are, mrrogers and I decided that an alternate route was in order.

At 5:00 PM, we headed straight on up Gondalier. Roger chose to immediately employ skins, I opted to boot it up with skis attached to my "miss kitty" backpack. After about a dozen whacks on the head from my skis, I, too, resorted to skins.

Funny what you can learn hiking up a mountain. For instance, I never knew that Gondalier was that steep. Images of Teardrop danced in my head -- exaggerated images, to be sure. I had no idea that some 60+ days of lift service would render my legs so ill conditioned for lift absence. Never occurred to me that the Waterfall trail would have such an impressive waterfall cascading over the rocks, nor that the Streambed would have such a raging river rushing down the hill.

The base of the waterfall seemed to be site of the Changing of the Guard. As we were admiring the view, two other enthusiasts skied on by, clearly enjoying the corn beneath their skis. We continued on up, taking Switchback Number 2 up around to the top of Chin Clip. As we neared the Cliff House, our eyes wandered up and above. Our feet followed our eyes, and suddenly the slog turned into an adventure.

We wandered up a snow filled couloir into the high alpine. Man made snow was replace by natures own. Cat tracks and lift towers gave way to rocks and stubby pines. Either we grew taller or the trees grew shorter. The chute went on and on -- just when it looked like we were running out of mountain, we would turn a corner and scramble through some trees just to find more delights above.

This really was Teardrop steep. I decided to abandon my plastic skins and risk further head injury by returning to boot treads. Finally snow, rocks, and trees all converged into a narrow throat and it was time to drop the packs. We continued a bit further just to see where we were -- the rocks on either side of us provided a confusing frame of reference. I discovered that Nordica randonee boots are nowhere near as confidence building as real hiking boots and called it quits. I had already taken quite a tumble today, suffering multiple abrasions checking out the wild flowers on the hill behind my house in the morning. Roger continued up far enough to see the setting sun and some trail blazes: it looked like our skis were just about a 100 feet of vertical shy of the Profanity Trail Canyon Trail intersection, elevation around 4100'.

Roger stumbled back on down to the packs. We switched into downhill mode. It was 7:30 PM, and we were frighteningly near the summit of Vermont's tallest peak in a narrow gully filled with 6 feet of snow, and we were wearing shorts and T shirts. Laughing out loud at the incongruity of it all.

The next 8 minutes and 567 vertical feet were a blur, a rush, an intense experience which shattered the mundane. The snow was good, very good. The mountain was primitive and powerful and all around us. We were drunk with power. And when it was over, it wasn't over at all: we were just at the tourist summit of the Stowe gondola, with another 1900 feet to go.

We skied and laughed and enjoyed ourselves immensely as we retraced our climbing route back down the mountain. We ruled the mountain, and it was all ours -- until we reached the base of the Waterfall, site of the Changing of the Guard. Two more nut cases were on their way up, with their eyes on the same prize as ours. I talked shop with the one -- old guy from Barre just into triple digit ski days and also riding Hagans.

Another 1500 feet to go. Corn snow, fading daylight, growing grins. Eventually, the snow ran out, and we had to walk the last 100 feet or so to the car. According to my watch, we had just skied 2484 feet of vertical, and it was 8:00 PM. No wonder we were grinning senselessly -- this made no sense, it defied all ski logic.

Defying logic is what this sport is all about. Summer sucks, winter rules, and it's still out there, waiting for you. Go ski, now!

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Last modified May 23 2002 08:04 PM

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