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The Assault of Mt. Mansfield

Hiking to the Highest Point in Vermont, The Trails, The Chin, The Enjoyment of Hiking

semi-overcast 75 °F

I began my assault of Mt. Mansfield on a Friday at 8:37 a.m. The apex of Mt. Mansfield coincidently is the highest elevation one can reach in the state of Vermont. It was a worthy venture and a worthy mountain to summit and conquer.
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You might be wondering why I’m in Vermont. I had boasted of grand adventures in Denali and Yosemite in past entries, but my path had a few unforeseen twists that changed my travels far to the east of where I had originally planned. Life is great that way; you never know what’s going to happen next.

I digress. I was in the Burlington area for five days, having convinced my injured travel friend that the green summer views of the north would do her some good, and speed up her convalescence. She agreed, and off we went east by north to Vermont. More on that later.

I parked my car in the parking lot of Underhill State Park, some thirty miles east or so of Burlington. I ran off to the loo, paid my daily fees ($3), and loaded up my trusty red backpack with the usual essentials: Clif bars, water, camera, binoculars, and peanuts. I briefly had a look at the map, decided route opting for what looked like the hardest path (the Sunset Trail up to the Chin) and started hiking.

Damn, it felt good to be hiking uphill again! I was designed to walk uphill, I don’t know what it is about it, but I thrive on pumping my leg muscles until I’m gasping for breath refusing to stop until I absolutely have to take a breather.

Since I was traveling light, I didn’t have my usual trusty Danner hiking boots, and had decided to make do with my hiking sandals. I didn’t know if they would hamper my hike, or if they could stand the rigors of the mountains, but they were the best footwear I had for the excursion. Besides, I figured they were probably better than the boots Mallory used to climb up Chomolungma or Humboldt’s footwear as he trekked around South America for five years. I also used a pair of these sandals all winter long hiking the rugged desert peaks of Baja California Sur. They are a good sandal, and I knew they could probably handle the terrain just fine.
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To avoid blisters, I put on a pair of socks. I also felt they gave me a good German look.

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My first distraction was a short spur trail to the “cantilevered rock” a thirty-foot phallus of rock that sticks out of the mountain like a monstrous triumphant wang in all its glory (I bet I could write harlequin romance novels). It was mildly interesting, but I didn’t stay long. I turned back to the Sunset Trail and continued my intensive uphill climb.
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As I hiked higher, I kept wondering if this trail was going to be challenging enough. I was making great time, and hadn’t taken any breaks yet. Having not hiked anywhere in Vermont, I didn’t know if I was getting close to the top yet or not. Then I topped out on the bottom of the long rock ledge that marked the change in elevation and vegetation. I left the hardwood forests of the lower and entered the scrubby pines of higher elevations. I saw before me a broad ridge of gray rock that reached far above me disappearing into the clouds. I had my answer. The mountains of Vermont are for real.
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I continued on scrambling up the endless rock covered in green lichens higher and higher passing the stacked stone cairns that marked the trail. The weather forecast for the day had called for scattered thunderstorms, and there were some dark heavy clouds rolling right over the tip of the chin. I wondered if I was going to get rain or worse, having to try to find protection from a thunderstorm on the exposed rock. I gave one heavy cloud some time to pass, and to see if it held any presents.
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I remained dry, and the unelectrified, so I continued my jaunt up into the clouds.

On top of the ridge, I found I still had a nice view of the surrounding valleys. They stretched out in long forests broken by farmer’s fields in all directions. The cloud remained around me, and it diffused the light nicely as I studied the arctic plants that make this high peak their home. I climbed up to the top of the chin, the second highest point on the mountain and sat down to catch up on my journal, eat some energy, and drink some cool water. It was a good place to rest, and I found a nice rock to rest my weary bones against.
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I decided to hike the ridge south to the halfway house trail, which would lead back down to the trailhead. It wasn’t a far walk, and the going was easy now that I was on top. There were no more steep uphill pitches to climb, but instead manageable rocks to scramble over.
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I passed many families along the way. It was good to see people out and about, but part of me still would have welcomed the peace of a single hiker far above the hubbub of the lower elevations. Mt. Mansfield isn’t a wild mountain. You can practically drive up most of it, or you can also take the Gondola from the base at the Stowe Ski Area. On top of the high point of the mountain, a small farm of cell towers were nesting and that kind of took away from the hike for me. In fact, I decided not to reach the very high point, because of the towers. They were too much human interference for my tastes.
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Climbing “the chin” was mountain enough for me, and I considered the mountain conquered. I started back down the halfway house trail, which I found to be quite peaceful. I was the only hiker to take that route and it wound down back into the valley through a lush forest of hardwood and pine. It was quiet and still. When I stopped for a break, I didn’t hear a sound.
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I had to pick my way carefully down the slippery rock. I knew my sandals would betray me if I gave them a chance, and I didn’t want to try some self-chiropractology on my back using rocks, roots and boulders. I took my time and made it down to the old trail in one piece, and in one peace. It was a good hike. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve retraced my route back down the long open ridge of the Sunset Trail.
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I sat at the trailhead and signed the visitor’s log. I had neglected to do so on my way up, and I figured I ought to at least give them an autograph. I really enjoy signing logs and summit notebooks. They always ask for the same things. Name, where are you from, and Time. I happily penned in my info: “Thom Miller, Homeless (with a smiley face), and No thanks. Time is not necessary for this hike.” I used to sign famous people’s names, or some of my made up aliases. “Peter Pimple” is one of my favorite. I might also quote a piece of poetry for my audience.

Some Thurbur perhaps: “Behold the happy moron, he doesn’t give a damn.
I wish I were a moron, By God! Perhaps I am!”

Smiling to myself, I wandered back down to the parking lot and back to the car. I had traveled seven miles, (give or take) and thoroughly enjoyed my hike up Mt. Mansfield. Sitting in the car, enjoying a cold beverage, and munching some chips and salsa, I called my travel buddy, and inspiration struck. I gave her a “believable” long message explaining to her of how I ended up in New York City instead of climbing Mansfield. My fiction included having the car break down, abandoning it, hitchhiking, a train ride, dumb luck and the statue of liberty. She freaked out a bit, and it had the desired effect.
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It was all in a day’s enjoyment for this vagabond.

What’s next? More on Burlington, the Adirondacks, and that fantastic tourist trap called Niagara Falls.

So Long!

Posted by Rhombus 18:26 Archived in USA Tagged mountains hiking rocks plants vermont photography forests lichens Comments (4)

From Alaska to West Virginia: 5100 miles in 8 days

Decompressing, Santa Cruz, Nightmare Flights, West Virginia Weekend, New River Gorge Rendevous

sunny 65 °F

How does a sailor decompress after seven months aboard a ship? It’s a fair question. After all, it’s what I’ve known for a long time. I’ve been tied to the clock, to duty and workmates. I believe I’ve found a good solution to this problem, and it involves the following: Plan and execute a righteous first week filled with a two day decompression in California, and a solid weekend of rock climbing in West Virginia. I traveled over five thousand miles in eight days. This is how I relaxed, and unwound after seven months at sea.

First, find a stalwart friend of the highest order. Visit them.
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Spend the first day in the kitchen of a cool and comfortable quiet house, making cinnamon rolls, “fauxcassia bread”, and an award winning chicken dinner. During the downtimes, exchange music, and stare out at the green hills reminiscent of Ireland.

Go to sleep. Sleep deeply and peacefully, making sure to set no alarm.
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The next day, start it out right with a great cup of coffee, and the last of the cinnamon rolls. Drive west out of the grape vine covered hills, to the coast. Find a good downtown area, in my case Santa Cruz. Eat some slices of pizza from your favorite pizza place (Pizza my Heart). Go buy some new shoes. The shoes make the man, after all. Stop by the hip ice cream shop and get some smooth chocolate and coffee ice cream cones.

Buy some bottles for later and go chill out at a comfortable house awaiting more friends to arrive.

After a quiet afternoon listening to the rain tap on the roof, walk to a recommended burger joint and bring home dinner. Hang out and talk long into the night, go to sleep.
This was my decompression stage, and it was so very good for my body, and spirit. After decompression, it’s time to pick up the pace a little bit, by a little frenzied air travel.

I sprinted across the country by plane, pain, and automobile to get to West Virginia for three days of rock climbing at the New River Gorge Rendezvous. The sprint was entertaining to say the least. I flew into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at 11 pm, my bags didn’t. The airlines lost them along the way, including the one which had all of my adventure clothing and toiletries. I drove to my storage shed and spent an hour hunting through my boxes of stuff looking for my camping gear by the light of a dying flashlight. I finally slept for three hours, before waking up at five to fly out at 6 am. I flew to Chicago, then to Milwaukee. In Milwaukee I found out I missed my plane due to poor planning (I didn’t leave enough time to go in and out of security) (don‘t ask me why I had to exit security). All told, I spent about an hour in Milwaukee, enough time to admire their “recombobulation area.” Then I flew back to Chicago, then on to Pittsburgh, where I learned they lost my other bag along the way. Ha! All of this on three hours of sleep mind you. I kept half expecting to see “Del Griffith” show up along side of me. So, I spend two hours trying to find the second bag that the airlines lost in 24 hours. This one had all of my adventure gear in it. I met up with Luke, my climbing buddy, and we drove back to his dad’s house in a small, sleepy town in eastern Ohio to wait for my bag to arrive. I finally could relax, and I enjoyed the company of new friends, and the beautiful early summer evening of middle America. It was tranquil sitting outside in the evening sun, throwing a tennis ball to Jake, the golden retriever.

In the night, my bag arrived. Ahead of us lay a four hour drive through the rain to southern West Virginia’s New River Gorge. We had planned this trip a couple of months ahead of time, and we were both very excited to be on our way. Luke and I had never been to the gorge before, or to a rock climbing camp, and we were curious to see what we would find.

New River Gorge Rendezvous 2011
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We found the campground right across the road from the New River Gorge Bridge, the longest arch bridge in the world. The bridge stands 876 feet above the water, and is 3030 feet long. That height could hold five Statue of Liberties standing on one another. Once a year, on bridge day (October 15, 2011) they close down the bridge, and allow base jumpers and bungee jumpers to test their nerve by hopping off the side of this impressive span.
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The campground was a large grassy opening, and a large tent city had already taken root in the middle of it. I was happy to join the city, and set up my one-man expedition tent in the shade of a large tree. We started by getting oriented, and went off in search of some rock to climb. I was antsy to get on the rock, to burn out some bottled up energy I had stored after my long trip.

After talking with some climbers who gave us vague directions, we went in search of the Hawk’s Nest Boulders located somewhere near a dam north of the campground. Driving through the steep mountain roads of the Appalachian mountains was beautiful. There were lush green forests, with impressive rivers coursing through them. There were ample waterfalls, along the way, the air was full of butterflies and birds, and it was an ideal place to explore. I didn’t know West Virginia was so gorgeous, and I was impressed by its natural beauty. For many years, its unofficial slogan was “Almost Heaven.” After this past weekend, I’m starting to believe it.
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In the small town of Alstead, we couldn’t find the park. We were driving around looking for non-existent signs. Luke is good about asking locals for directions and we pulled up to an older gentleman who was happily sitting in a rocker on his porch. Luke yelled out, “Excuse me sir, can you tell us how to get to Hawk’s Nest State Park?” The first thing the guy did was spit a massive amount of chewing tobacco spew onto the ground, and then drawled out, “Well Hellllll son! Y’all er goin’ the wrong way! There ain’t nothin' up there but a dayd end! Yew gotta turn round and head back to the highway and make a right!”
We thanked him, and laughed all the way back to the highway. The people of West Virginia are good folks, and everyone we asked for directions helped us along our way.
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We found some rock, but not the boulders we were looking for. We climbed to get the juice flowing, and then went in search of the boulders again. We could see them, but the dam, the lake, a railroad, and a small fenced off power plant separated us from our quarry. We gave up, and enjoyed the hike, finding a swan that was evidently looking for some action, puffing itself up in full display of horniness. We found yet more waterfalls, and decided to go for a chilling swim in a rain-swollen stream before returning to the campground for the evening.

While we were away, they had set up a slack line. I hadn’t slack lined since last October, so I was excited to get back into it. Some very talented slackers took to the line. It was fun to watch and even better to try my balance once again.

That night, we made some friends with our neighbors, and I found out a local brewery was serving free craft beer. I filled up my Nalgene bottle and went and told Luke about it, who looked at me in disbelief. There’s nowhere else in the country that will they offer this kind of hospitality, and the climbers of West Virginia take care of their own.

For thirty dollars per person, we were given: a place to camp, a free breakfast (oatmeal, muesli, eggs, crepes, muffins, bagels, pancakes, fresh fruit and coffee, a burrito dinner, free drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties, free gear demos from affiliated sponsors, free tee shirts, two concerts, gear, climbing competitions and clinics. I couldn’t believe it. What a great deal.
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The next two days we focused on climbing. Neither of us had much gear. I only had rock shoes, and Luke had a bit more with a harness and chalk bag. So we went bouldering. Bouldering is a style of climbing where you basically climb routes very low to the ground. This allows you to try harder moves without the fear of falling a long distance. It’s been one of my major pastimes for the last 8 years. By the end of the weekend, my muscles were strained and my fingers cut up and scraped.
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I found inspiration in the dyno comp (etition). To dyno is to find a hold and launch yourself off the rock and catch another hold higher up the rock. At the competition, there were guys who could fly. Points are awarded for the height of the grab. “Socks” Johnson was there, the national champion, and he won the competition by catching the highest grabs the most consistently.
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On Sunday, we stopped off for one last climbing session at the Hawks Nest Boulders. We finally were given good directions, and we wanted to find them after missing them on Friday. We burned out the last of our strength here, and doggedly made our way back to the car. My hands were so fatigued; I couldn’t even open a candy bar wrapper. I improvised and ripped it opened it with my teeth. You just can’t keep me away from my chocolate.
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It was a great weekend. We had spent three days hiking around the woods of West Virginia, taking in its entire scenic splendor, and there is plenty to see. It was like summer camp for us “fringe” folks who enjoy spending time outside. Everyone who was at the camp were of a good disposition. The camp was filled with climbers, and everyone was healthy, and strong. Everyone behaved, despite an unlimited amount of beer. We were here to climb, not to party, and everyone helped one another out. It was a great place to spend a weekend exploring, climbing, and chilling out with good people, my kind of people.
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On our way back north to Ohio, we stopped and asked for directions again, this time to a local swimming spot. We swam, and it felt good to immerse our tired bodies in cold water. I reflected on how nice the weekend was, and how good it is to be healthy, young and strong and in my element. I turned thirty a couple of weeks ago, and I have to say, life is great! Long live summer and West Virginia!

We stopped for pizza and subs in Washington, Pennsylvania. Luke told me there are a lot of Polacks and Italians in the area, so I ordered a hot sausage sub, and damn if it wasn’t one of the best I’ve ever eaten. It was a great way to finish a fantastic weekend. If you ever find yourself in Washington, head on over to Osso’s for some great food.
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Posted by Rhombus 19:01 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls hiking travel rocks friends oceans camping tents climbing forests bouldering westvirginia Comments (0)

Landscapes and Seascapes of Baja Mexico

Spatial Experiences By Land and Sea

sunny 80 °F

There is a timeless quality to the landscapes of the southern Baja Peninsula. I feel as though if I visited these same vistas five hundred years ago to compare, nothing would have changed. They are timeless. The peninsula is perhaps one of world’s greatest interactive natural history museums.

These are peaceful views of incredible magnificence. They have grandeur.

From Land

Punta Friars on the East Cape
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I’m sitting high up on a rock far above the coastline and watching the quiet movements of the earth cycle and flow. The swells are deceptive. They are a lot bigger than they look from the sea. They roll in and stretch over the beach in a thinning white carpet of foam. The distant coastal mountains arc back, and form “points” out to the sea. The sun has warmed everything, the rocks, the earth, the sand, and me. There is always a wind here, and I’ve grown accustomed to its enveloping embrace around me. It’s like getting a soft hug from a swirling warm ghost all day long. The sun also provides the light, which make this whole gambit possible.

I don’t know it yet, but In a few minutes, I’ll be sprinting over two hundred yards of boulders to assist in helping a kayaker who flipped over in the big swell get back to shore. But I don’t know that yet, and so for these last few minutes, I’m at peace. It is kind of funny how life is; you just never know what’s going to happen next. One second I’m completely at ease, and the next I’m completely in motion in body and mind. Let this be a lesson to you Chuck: Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean.

Boojum Trees and Skylight
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I love bright, diffused light through thin clouds.

To Hike Punta Juanico
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It was an unexpected stop at an unknown location. It looked cool. When I say cool, it means it was gorgeous, and better yet, I could get on the beach and explore. I was ahead of the curve by two hours--I was alone and had a plan. I started south, hiking up the first trail I’ve used here in Baja. There just aren’t many trails down here. Hiking on a trail again was kind of a novelty, after four months of making my own. Stepping easy, and making good progress (I was designed for walking up steep hills), I was soon atop the first overlook and blown away by the view. I stopped to smell the roses, so to speak.
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The thin trail continued to stretch further south over and up a much higher ridge, and I was happy to oblige my sense of wonder and excitement as I climbed higher to an ever improving view.

At the apex of height, the trail descended to a perfect secluded beach. I had visions of meeting my one true love at the bottom, or at least some alluring senorita, but alas, it wasn’t to be. One day….
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I did find a beautiful cardon cactus standing tall at the edge of the beach. It had five stalks rising high like the fingers of a skinny hand. I liked its position in life. Not too close to the sea, but close enough for an excellent view.

Dry Wash

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I purposely angled to the shady side of the arroyo in hopes of finding highlighted cactus scenes. Instead I found myself on the cusp of shadow and light, perfect for black and white. This common scene of a dry wash gets much more interesting in low angled light.

Last Hike on Danzante

The climb was sketchy at best. Loose chunks of crumbling rock and gravel pieces lay on a steep hillside of scratchy desert brush and small cactus. To fall, meant pain. I was climbing my way up to the top of a high bluff that would overlook the entire north side of Isla Danzante. This would mark my last hike on this island for awhile, and I wanted to make it a good one. On my first hike on this island way back in December, I hiked up to a high point, that I could see not to far away. This would make bookends so to speak, with all kinds of memories in between.

With deliberate steps I made it up, and took in the view. It was satisfying, over looking the rugged landscape of rock bluffs, islands, the mountain ridges of the Sierra de la Giganta, and the sea. A single clump of cardon was placed perfectly, and I knew that was the picture I would take home with me. I took one photo, took in the view, and said farewell.
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From Sea

The Layered Ridges
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I love the layered shades of the coastal mountains and rocks. These landscapes are begging to be drawn; I want to sketch them out in shaded charcoal on my sketchpad. For now, a photograph will have to do.

Dolphins and Mountain Light
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Baja a remarkable experience because of the ocean wildlife melds so nicely with desert scenery and mountains. This photo has several names that come to mind: “Bottom’s Up”. “A Dolphin Mountain Gallery” or “Dolphins at Dawn.”


In looking at these photos, I wondered what goes into a good landscape? I decided one of the more important elements is space. With a strong subject and artfully arranged, they become appealing to the senses. That’s really all I am, an observer who arranges his own artwork to take home.

I hope you find time to get outside and see what it looks like beyond that next ridge.

Posted by Rhombus 10:11 Archived in Mexico Tagged landscapes beaches desert rocks seascapes oceans photography Comments (0)

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