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Oct. 22nd, 2016

Earlier this week, we took a walk down my road, in the valley along the Barton River. These pictures, which we taken the day after the walk down my road, couldn't be more different. Instead of the valley, this walk was along the ridgeline of Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest mountain. Instead of soft meadows, a gently coursing river, and a palette of colored trees in the distance, the landscape here is ragged rock and plants tough and strange enough to survive in such an unforgiving climate.

The only similarity was the weather: It was borderline unpleasant on both days. This was the weather on the drive down to Stowe. It was supposed to clear up but really didn't.

 photo 20161009_114211_zpshm5jc5z3.jpg

(As always, click for full-size!)

We ostensibly opted to do the Mansfield hike because of the views, but there weren't many views to be had: We were above the clouds for most of the walk, which only added to the strangeness of the scenery. The temperature on the ridgeline hovered right around freezing with wind chills dipping to the mid-20s F when the wind would kick up. Those were moments of ambivalence: They often swept away enough of the clouds to get a glimpse of the view, but they also tended to occur at moments when I was making crossings on rocks where I was not fully comfortable. I felt like the Fellowship on Caradhras, with the sense that the mountain was mocking me!

The ecosystem is alpine tundra, which exists in isolated pockets atop the highest peaks in New England. The linked Times article describes the alpine tundra as such:

Such is the weird world of alpine tundra, where life adapts to cold stone and thin soil, and snow, ice, wind, water and sunlight mix in rare and intense proportions to mimic conditions not widely seen since the end of the last ice age. Hike uphill high enough in parts of New England and you might as well be trekking in far northern Canada. Save for polar bears and permafrost, the look and feel of places like Mount Mansfield’s summit — a bald schist knob at 4,393 feet — mimic the arctic no-man’s land east of Hudson Bay.


We had originally planned to take the gondola from the resort and hike the Cliff Trail to the summit (called the Chin because the profile of Mansfield looks like a face in repose), but the poor weather made this unwise, so we took the Auto Toll Road to the end and hiked out from there instead. Take a walk above the clouds )

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