At 4081 feet in elevation, Camel’s Hump is not the extreme challenge of climbing Everest or Denali. In elevation it does not even compare with most mountains in the western states. However, a winter’s ascent of the third highest mountain in Vermont is a worthy test of endurance and strength. Today’s climb was no exception.
A slight drizzle and misty skies graced the lower winter parklot. The crunchy snowpack offered a slight possibility of using boot mini-chains rather than the heavier snow shoes. Warily cautious that conditions at the bottom of mountains are decieving, I put on the metal snow shoes. A great decision as just up the trail, a snow shoe-less person left numerous post holes, sinking deeply beneath the snow with each step. The post holes continued only for a mile, so likely this person became discouraged, turned around and returned to the parking lot. Up the trail, the grade quickly steepened and it became quite apparent that I had also made a mistake. I ignored my nephew’s advice, “Be bold, go cold”. So off came the puffy vest, even as the rain had turned to a light snow. This arrangement sufficed for another mile or so and then off came the outer shell. Climbing in only a long sleeve tee shirt became comfortable as the ascent quickened. Next time go bold!
Wintertime in the woodlands of Vermont are a priceless experience. Without the leaves, views expand, yielding vistas not found in the warmer months. Further, a calming quiet envelops, even as my breathing considerably deepens. It’s a funny thing, after looking at the surrounding beauty, one forgets the heavy toil, the mind calms down and the snow shoes go up and up.
The rapt stillness is interupted with a foreign, swishing sound. It is a backcountry skier! I shout out a warning as to alert my position. He swooshed by, clearly an expert! Briefly I was jealous of his easy descent, but quickly became glad that I am on snow shoes as this mountain would be a knarly skin.
High on the mountain the trail converges at a four way junction and a clearing. This spot once hosted a rustic tourist hotel. All vestiges of this 19th century inn are long gone. It is a good place to rest before the assault on the final five hundred vertical feet. The most dangerous portions of the climb begin here. The trail is straight up with periodic steep exposures. The nice weather of the lower elevations quickly fades. Wind and fog increase. Greeted by a huge blast of artic air, I emerge from the forrest onto rock and ice. Howling winds blow the recently fallen snow and visibility drops. Continuing only in a tee shirt is a poor idea. Finding a low grove of trees, I put on my vest and shell to withstand the elements.
The snow packed trail turns to windblown ice. Footing became uncertain, maybe treacherous, so I slowed my pace to a couple inches a step. Fortunately there was no further to go up, just a howling wind eminating from a white cloud. To keep a balance on the summit I had to turn my back to the wind. I wanted to snap a photo to prove that I was there. But the wind was too strong, I was afraid the camera would blow away. So I retraced my steps to a ledge 100 yards down the hill and snapped a picture to document my first winter ascent. I can verify that this picture looks the same as my view from the 4081 foot summit.
Not lingering long, the old adage ran through my mind. “It is not summiting that is most important but safely returning”. The blown ice and rock proved a trickly descent. It was a relief to find shelter of the trees and soft, comforting snow.
On a descent, there are more opportunities for observing nature and its wonders. For example, I noted an old snag that woodpeckers instensely gouged seeking wintertime nourishment.
As the elevation decreased the snow pack softened providing a nice cushion for the overworked knees. The floating sensation eases the last miles of an arduous mountain adventure.
Although without a 360 degree view and bountiful vistas, winertime summiting on this zero visibility day was an awesome experience. It was well worth the 7.6 miles and over 2600 foot of elevation gain. All days in the mountains are special and this one did not disappoint!