The listed trip participants met at the Underhill Center commuter lot at 8:30, along with co-travelers Rich and Sheri Larsen (they insisted they were not officially part of the hike, so we shouldn’t wait for them). Rich, David, and Robynn drove up to the winter parking area on the State Park road and started hiking up at about 8:50 AM. Weather was cold but not frigid (low to mid 20’s F) and overcast.
The first part of the road and trail were packed, so we started with some folks wearing snowshoes and others just carrying them. After the faster folks at the head of the pack waited for the rest at the Sunset Ridge trailhead, the group stretched out quite a bit on the way to the summit, with Wes charging ahead, Christopher, Robynn and Jeff following, and David bringing up the rear. Rich and Sheri were last seen somewhere below Cantilever Rock and later let us know that, after hearing reports of wind and whiteout from others coming down, they had elected to turn back before reaching the summit. David, Robynn, Jeff, and Christopher regrouped near the beginning of the open ridge, but Wes was still quite far ahead. By this time we were all wearing our snowshoes.
On the ridge we met some other folks coming down, including David Warren who had earlier said he might join the hike. They said itwas pretty windy and low visibility at the top and they had decided not to try the ridge. We continued up, following Wes’s tracks where we could, but at the base of the West Chin his tracks showed he’d lost the trail and angled up too sharply. Since he was quite a ways ahead of us we decided to follow the trail and scan the slopes above us for signs of him.
Shortly after reaching the Long Trail junction and starting up toward the summit we were relieved to see Wes coming down. He had mistaken the West Chin for the summit in the low visibility, so we all proceeded up to the true summit, which we reached just a little after noon. While it was windy, the winds were less than we’d expected based on what we’d heard. And just as David was commenting on “the beautiful 360 degree panoramic view of the inside of a cloud” (credit Ben Rose, who gave the same description to David last summer when David was climbing Mt. Abe on the Long Trail and met Ben coming down), we started to catch a few glimpses through the clouds down to the Stowe valley below. We started back down, and at the Sunset Ridge trail junction decided that the winds were dying and the visibility improving enough that we would try the ridge. Jeff led the way, breaking trail along the ridge, and managed to stay on trail with amazingly few and short wrong turns, despite the lack of visible blazes on the ridge and frequently erroneous (but occasionally correct) advice from David about where he thought the trail went.
About halfway along the ridge we stopped for lunch in the surprisingly calm shelter of some trees. When we reached the service road that provides access to the various antennas on the Nose, we followed it to where the Long Trail diverges off toward the Forehead. About this time David started punching through with his MSR snowshoes, so he stopped to put on their detachable tails, which proved enough to keep him atop the snow. We were again very successful in following the trail, with only one brief wrong turn. From the Forehead we started down the Wampahoofus / Maple Ridge Trail. We met a couple folks who had gotten off trail to the right (south) on the last steep stretch up to the Forehead, and met another group just at the point where the first two had gotten off trail, so we were able to help them avoid the same mistake. All of these folks had come up the Wampahoofus Trail from Butler Lodge, so after that trail junction we were back to breaking (and finding) trail. We continued to have unusually good luck following the trail, with just a couple wrong turns, with most of the group sliding down many of the steeper sections, while David generally backed down using the more aggressive snow crampons on his snowshoes.
At the Rock Garden Trail junction we found the tree to which Maple Ridge trail sign was attached broken off, so we propped it back up in hopes of helping future travelers. The Rock Garden Trail sign, however was completely missing. We continued on past the Frost Trail junction down to the end of the CCC road, from which we followed the Lower Teardrop ski trail down to the State Park Road. We got back to the cars just before 4 PM.
Trip leader: David Hathaway with Wes Volk, Robynn Albert, Jeff Wehrwein, Christopher Morriss; thanks to Sheri Larsen for the photos