We had help from high winds at the top of Mt Mansfield as we swept out the old year! Five of us met at 9 AM at the Underhill Center commuter lot, squeezed into one car, and headed up the state park road. The road was driveable with AWD all the way to the state park gate, where we parked. It was around 20 F and overcast with no wind as we started up at 9:30, reaching the Sunset Ridge trailhead around 10:10.

The plan was to hike the Mansfield Ridge, and since this can take a while we opted to head up to the chin and down from the forehead, so if we ended up finishing by headlamp we would be on the easier to travel CCC road. It didn’t quite work out that way, but more on that later. Because it’s more direct and because it would be more sheltered from the forecast 30 to 40 mph winds, we went up Laura Cowles rather than Sunset Ridge, retracing the hike two of us had done three weeks earlier.

Laura Cowles had a fairly thin layer of snow over a previously packed trail, so most of us stuck with microspikes until the snow got a little deeper and we all switched to snowshoes about halfway up. About this time the sun came out and we still hadn’t encountered any wind, so we were hoping that the forecast had been wrong, but as we approached the ridge the clouds closed in and the wind picked up.

The last bit of Laura Cowles and the climb from the Sunset Ridge junction to the Long Trail was very icy, and even the claws on our snowshoes had a hard time getting any grip. As always, the blowing and drifting snow had recontoured the stretch from the LT junction to the summit, so we wandered up near, but not necessarily always on the trail, reaching the summit around 12:45. It was perhaps 15F, and the wind on the ridge was fierce. We guessed it was more in the 40 to 50 mph range than the forecast 30 to 40 mph range. Going up wasn’t too bad, as we had the wind at out backs, but coming down was rough, even with facemasks and goggles.

Ted was playing with his new GoPro and captured some of the action near the summit in this video, but it doesn’t adequately convey the ferocity of the wind. The blowing snow also reduced the visibility significantly, and we opted to head back down Laura Cowles rather than doing the planned ridge traverse. On the way down we probably did as much sliding as walking, and reached the car around 2:40.

Participants: Jill George, Ted Albers, Susan McDowell, Itai Klein, David Hathaway (leader)