Wednesday, June 29, 2011

One Challenge is Back on Track: Hell Brook Trail is One Helluva Hike!

If anyone ever asks me what's the hardest trail I've ever hiked, I've got the answer: Hell Brook.  It's not the longest, or the most famous, but it puts you through your paces.  My handy Guide to Vermont's Day Hikes (an excellent little book by Jared Gange) says that it is "perhaps the most continuously steep and rough trail in Vermont", and it's the most direct way to the Mount Mansfield summit.  It starts out hard, and then about halfway up, gets really hard, with mostly-rock face that requires you to use your hands and feet all the way.  Then you get to a point called Lake of the Clouds where you can see the "Chin" (which is the summit).  That ought to be encouraging but it's not, because it looks so daunting.

Oh, the optimism at the trail head.  No idea what lies in store for me.

Working up a sweat, but still don't know about the rock wall coming up...
The first night I ever met Chris he told me that he hikes Hell Brook Trail all the time as fast as he can, and he promised to take me on a hike there.  Yesterday, he made good on his promise, though, I'm grateful to say he did not hold me to doing it a fraction as fast he does.  That's good, because given the fact that his record to the top is 41 minutes 15 seconds (I think), and it took me an hour and 45 minutes to do the same thing, I probably would have burst a blood vessel if I'd tried to speed it up much more.
Not even winded, Chris hanging out at the summit.

Despite the fact that it's quite the challenge, it's actually a lot of fun (in a twisted kind of way).  Although it doesn't require ropes or anything like that, anyone who's done some rock climbing will really enjoy the second half, where, as in rock climbing, it's all about finding hand and foot holds and strategizing the way up some pretty steep rock faces. In deference to the ridiculous knee injury I incurred on Saint Patrick's Day, we decided to go down via the Long Trail, rather than directly back through Hell Brook, and then Chris, who was of course, hardly winded by the leisurely pace (for him) of the whole excursion, ran back to the car that was parked about a mile down the road at the Hell Brook Trail head.
Feeling celebratory (and chilly) up top.

On the way back, we were passing the Ben and Jerry's factory in Waterbury, and Chris announced he'd never been.  Muddy legs and all, we did the factory tour and devoured some free samples. Hell Brook Trail + Ben and Jerry's = Pure Vermont Summer.  Unlike Chris, I'm not likely to make the trail a weekly part of my exercise, but I'd certainly be up for doing it again before the summer's over.  Anyone who wants to give it a shot, let me know!
In case anyone was worried, here is visual proof that Ben and Jerry are hard at work creating NEW flavors that will be hitting scoop shops soon.

A hike up a really hard trail, some of the best ice cream in the world, and an obligatory tourist shot to wind it all up. Gotta love Vermont!

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