Lost On Mount Mansfield – January 1940

In January of 1940 Larry Dean, who was probably the most active of the Burlington Section members and a dedicated scoutmaster, led a group of boy scouts on a winter hike to Taft Lodge.

They had been dropped off on a Friday evening at the Sunset Ridge trailhead on the west side of Mount Mansfield. Their plan was to ascend the Laura Cowles Trail and then descend the east side to Taft via the Profanity Trail. It was snowing hard with a strong west wind, but the boys made good time and it took less than two hours for them to reach the flat area at the Long Trail junction. The west wind had died down, so they stopped there to rest a bit and share a chocolate bar before negotiating the short but rough Profanity Trail.

The wind and snowfall had started up again while they were resting, so they did not stay very long. Visibility was very poor but Larry used the west wind at his back to guide him eastward off the ridge to the Profanity Trail. He soon found a trail that dropped steeply off the ridge, and the Scouts followed him into the relative shelter of the lee of the ridge.

Larry was puzzled when the expected Taft Lodge did not appear. He had
used this trail dozens of times and knew that it went directly to that cabin, with no side trails on which to stray off. Something was wrong, but there did not appear to be any alternative, so the group just kept on going down the trail.

Taft Lodge never did appear; that trail ended at the road at the trailhead to Sunset Ridge, right where the hike had started about four hours before.
With that orientation, Larry realized that the wind he had used as a guide had no longer come from the west. Instead of leading his troop east to the Profanity Trail, he had led them west, right back to the Laura Cowles Trail that they had just climbed up.

It was a tired and sleepy Scout troop that finally made it to Taft Lodge, well after midnight.

The Burlington Section did not let this event go unrecognized. At their annual meeting that spring, Roy Buchanan, in his capacity as Professor of Electrical Engineering at UVM, presented Larry with a large iron nail suspended from a string. His instruction to Larry was to bring that nail to Roy whenever he got lost, and Roy would magnetize the nail so Larry would have a compass to guide him, rather than having to depend on the fickle wind. Larry also received a bright plaid tam-o’shanter with a bell on the top, so he could be found more easily.

Postscript: I remember seeing Larry in the Adirondacks about thirty years later, and he was still wearing the hat with the bell on it. – Daan Zwick

In the note accompanying his story, Daan wrote, “My hiking is pretty limited now as the forces of gravity become greater and my muscles less responsive, but fortunately, my mind is holding up. I have been writing lots of stories. There are not many people around now who can challenge me on the truth of my memoirs, so I can be creative with them.”

There are many other Burlington Section members who have cut down on hiking because of the forces of gravity on muscles, tendons, knees and hips – but who remember countless backwoods adventures.
We’d love to hear from you!
Contact Maeve at 899-4327.

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