Two Octobers ago, our bike trip to Vermont with friends was canceled due to an impending pre-winter storm. A forecast of heavy snow and strong winds was on the horizon, weather that doesn’t often mix well with traditional mountain bikes.
As everyone from our bike group decided that they would stay hunkered in at home, preparing for the approaching ski season, Will and I decided that we would journey on over to Vermont anyway and see where the extended weekend took us.
Our first destination was a bucket list item for Will, a simple stop at one of his favorite Vermont breweries, Rock Art Brewing. Located in Morrisville, Rock Art Brewing has a quaint tap room with plenty of seating space, a wide variety of beers on tap and a small gift section where you may purchase goods made by local provisionaries and makers.
Another major perk to this brewery, aside from its selection of pours, is its dedication to lowering its own carbon footprint through their investment in renewable energy. In 2017, Rock Art Brewing officially went Solar Electric, meaning all of the breweries electrical needs are now fulfilled by its own solar sufficiency. A major step towards a more eco-conscious buisness.
After we finished up with our flights we headed over to Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury for some of their famous homemade donuts. If you haven’t been here yet, I highly recommend the stop!
From there we continued on to Burlington, where Will gave me a tour of the city that he once called home during his years of college at the University of Vermont. Our door concluded with a stop at the skinny pancake, a casual and hip crepe’ cafe that has been suggested to me by many, where I finally had the opportunity to indulge in a long awaited savory crepe’.
Just as sun began to set over lake Champlain and the accompanying mountains, we ventured down to the nearby waterfront to take in the views from one of the many swinging benches. From there we went on to meet up with our friend Ben and his friend Dionne, who were enjoying live music at Burlington’s very own Radio Bean. This hot spot has a representation for showcasing some of the regions most outstanding musical performers, poets and artists alike. As we sipped on cocktails at Duino Duende, ideas of how to further spend our time together began to evolve.
We began talking about the idea of backpacking a small section of the Long Trail, starting at the base of Stowe Mountain Resort, traversing across the ridgeline of Mount Mansfield and ending for the night at Taft Lodge. Taft Lodge, built in 1920, is the oldest and largest shelter built on the Long Trail, positioned at 3,605 feet in elevation. Though completely rebuilt in 1996, the lodge holds its rustic charm with primitive offerings to thru hikers and year round visitors alike.
That next morning, packed and mostly prepared for anything our adventure threw at us, we set out for the trail. We calculated that from the base of Stowe resort to Taft Lodge we would be hiking roughly five miles, a trip we decided was easily doable for our crew’s hiking abilities.
As we journeyed up to the ridgeline, we zigzagged between rocky hiking trails and steep ski slopes, exposing us to the high winds that were developing as we increased in elevation. Winter seemed to suddenly be upon us as the snow fell down heavily around us, often times making it difficult to navigate. As we began navigating the alpine zones, visibility was very low and our only source of guidance were the thin red strings identifying the walking allowance between trail and protected alpine growth. We followed these threads until sections of wind blown trail became visible, along with the occasional sign.
Our journey across the ridgeline felt like a never ending roller coaster, straight up steep and rocky summits and then back down again. At one point we hit a steep rock scramble on our way down that had each of us questioning our own ability to keep solid footing. Dionne has two standard poodles in tow, Ginger and Pepper, who are not unfamiliar to the rough and rocky hiking terrain of New England. The two of them journeyed on almost unphased by the strong winds and heavy snow, though occasionally seeking guidance from us with navigation down steep terrain and across windy outcroppings. These mountain-poodles are tough.
After a few hours of hiking, we arrived at taft lodge just as darkness began to set in. At this point we were all frozen solid with icicles hanging from our hair, beards and clothing. The lodge itself does not have any heat source and so after a slow and deliberate change into dry clothing, I retreated to my down sleeping bag where I stayed for the remainder of our time at the lodge.
The next morning we awoke to a winter wonderland, as the evergreens hung heavy and the trails coated in a thick blanket of untouched snow. Our traverse back down to the car was quick and steep, a rewarding respite from the previous day’s journey.
To this day, this hiking trip still stands as one of the hardest and most challenging adventures that I have ever embarked on.
Check out my short video below for a more cinematic approach on our adventure!