The family and I have been secluded in the Finger Lakes region of upstate NY since the pandemic took over. It’s been paradise. Our little vineyard cottage has been the escape that we have needed and with so much to do around the region, while still being able to social distance, we haven’t been bored. But, after 4 months we felt we needed a different scenery if only for a few days.
So we headed to Vermont, where there are plenty of places to explore nature. We started our first day a bit late, having decided to sleep in and take it slow. We found a trail head that promised to be no more than a 1.5 mile, moderate hike around some wetlands. Our greatest ambition for this trip was taking the Toll Road (by car) up Mount Mansfield, the tallest peak in Vermont, parking as far up as allowed and then hiking the last bit to the top. The cost however, for our group, was an estimated $60 and because it is a popular spot, we worried about the crowds we would encounter. So, we decided this casual, short hike – which we started around 1PM – would suffice while we mulled over the other option.
We were dressed for a simple hike; sneakers, some water, a few apples, and our small doggies in tow. Not too long into the hike we realized that our trail was not surrounded by wetlands at all and we wondered if we made a wrong turn. But the trail was wooded and beautiful and though a bit of an incline from the onset, we thought a workout wouldn’t be too bad for all us. We saw a hiker coming down and asked him if there were any interesting view points and he stated that 25 minutes more would lead us to an incredible viewing spot. “We can do anything for 25 minutes,” we said to each other, and kept going. We had been hiking for 30 minutes at that point.
As we continued to walk along, the hike got steeper and we started coming upon rocks, that turned into boulders, that became the trail.
Honestly, we should’ve stopped there…or when we ran out of snacks…or when we ran out of water. But, the few hikers coming down kept telling us it was worth it, and some even said we only had one more mile to go…what they didn’t tell us was that it was all a steep climb over boulders.
The Mansfield peak, also known as The Chin, is 4,393 feet in elevation. The next peak before it is Adam’s Apple, 4,060 feet in elevation. The Toll Road’s highest parking point is at 3,850 and from there people can hike to The Chin.
By the time we realized that we were hiking up Mansfield, and making our way to Adam’s Apple, we were 30 mins away. The hike is 5 miles round trip, which doesn’t sound too awful for our family. But, those 5 miles felt like an eternity with all the boulders (and the wrong shoes on). We stopped a few times wondering why we were still going, but also eager to get to the top.
It took us 3 hours to get to the top. We were all so tired, and so thirsty. Our feet hurt and our puppies were wiped out. But the views made up for it.
Our way down was a bit more treacherous. No water meant we dehydrated pretty quickly, which for me, led to my leg muscles weakening fast, making the climb down difficult and dangerous due to my wobbly legs and loss of balance. The forest got dark fast, and we didn’t have head lamps with us, so we relied on our iPhone flashlights to guide the way. After several slips, a fall, and endless tripping over rocks and roots, we made it out of the forest at 10PM – 4 hours after leaving the peak.
I have hiked 13,000 plus feet in Colorado, and even climbed the Sun Gate (8,924 ft) in Peru, and the family and I have hiked Old Rag in Shenandoah (3,268 feet), but this was by far one of the most challenging hikes I have ever done, that my family has ever done together. I am so incredibly proud of all of us – including my boys and the doggies!
We also learned two important lessons: 1) never go by the estimates of other hikers as different skill sets lead to different perspectives of what the experience will be like and, 2) no matter what hike, always, ALWAYS pack extra food, water, and gear because anything can happen on the trail. Always be over prepared.
Would I recommend it? Yes, but if you are a slow hiker, start early and prepare for a challenging climb. The trail we took was called the Long Trail South, off of Highway 108, not too far from Stowe Ski Resort.
We went through all the emotions as a family during this hike; excitement, frustration, sadness, fear, anger, and relief – so, just your typical family outing. But, now we also have this incredible, crazy, unexpected adventure to brag about…and we saved ourselves $60.