August 17, 2017
I am sitting just upstream of my humble home on the rocky bank of the Mill Brook. It was running at a pace when I returned from my drum corps tour on Tuesday night. I was following a fast moving storm. Now it is at its normal summer run, incessantly babbling. My sore feet are soaking in its cool waters. I returned home from my drum corps tour in time to unpack, catch up on emails, do laundry, and be ready for the Peak-a-week. Last night was my favorite hike and destination – Stark’s Nest. This is a structure at the top of Mad River Glen ski area. This rustic cabin has a large indoor lounge with fireplace and an adjoining deck with sprawling views east into the Mad River Valley. Most of the PAWers headed up the Long Trail south from the Appalachian Gap, where State Route 17 summits the Green Mountains. My friend Mike, his dog Kelsey and I headed up from the base area. It is approximately 2,000 feet of elevation gain. We followed the work road and then deviated up past the waterfall on a more natural forested trail. This is the headwaters of the Mill Brook. At the base of Slalom Hill is another cabin – the Kent Thomas Nature Center. Located in the old lift shack for the former T-bar is a naturalist center in memory of Kent, an avid MRG skier and legend. Inside are many specimens of the native wildlife, maps and other displays that tell the natural history of the area. This is a welcome refuge and place to sit and contemplate and write a thoughtful entry into the guestbook. It is not quite halfway to the summit of General Stark Mountain. Following Broadway (the work road), we reach the mid-station. This is where the iconic single chair has a platform to unload and avoid the very top trails. Looking straight up the lift line from here is Chute, a double black diamond trail with an honest fall line, stratified by modest cliff bands. This is where bump skiing can be at its best for skiers. Snowboarding is not allowed at this mountain.
As we ascended further up the mountain we chose to get off the work road and take the Antelope Trail. There are no antelopes but if you are lucky, you will see a moose. We were lucky to find the wild blueberries fully ripened and plentiful. There are patches where you reach in with your hand and come away with a handful of small, but ripe and tasty blueberries in one pull. It doesn’t get any better than this. After the final few turns and push up the work road, we arrived at Stark’s Nest. We had arrived before the others who were taking a more technical climb on the LT where there are some iron ladders and rocky scaling in places. The Long Trail runs from Massachusetts to Canada along the Green Mountain chain. The southern portion coincides with the Appalachian Trail, which turns east at Stratton Mountain toward New Hampshire. During the PAWs, our group often encounters end-to-enders who are hiking the entire Long Trail. Many have also done the AT. I delight in being a beer angel by carrying an extra cold one for the unexpecting LTer, much to their delight.
Today, it was time to hike with Abby, my daughter who will be 17 next month. I have bragged about her before in my posts. I am honored to be her hiking partner this summer. As a requirement for PE, she has agreed to do a summer series of hikes each week. Since she had another commitment with her boyfriend’s family, she missed the PAW. No worries, for lunch today we hiked up to the top of the Inverness Chair and Sugarbush, Mount Ellen, the peak just south of General Stark Mountain. The m.ellen, as I refer to it, is the best kept secret in skiing. At 4,083 feet it is the second highest lift service peak in Vermont, second to Killington. It is an institution of outdoor learning of the highest order. In skiing, the m.ellen is home to a very successful private secondary school and skiing academy – the Green Mountain Valley School. Also located at this humble ski area is the Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sport (VASS). In the winter, this organization, based on a huge volunteer network, provides access to skiing to all abilities. These two pillars of strength provide an excellent background for the program that I have had the privilege and honor to be part of – the Sugarbush Snow Blazers. This is a Sunday program for kids between 6 and 12 to learn all-mountain skiing in groups of around 8. What a blast to ski with a pack of 8 year olds. If only we could lock them in place at 8. This summer, Mount Ellen was host to the Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) annual mountain bike festival, and the Frendly Fest (intentionally without the i) a gathering for music, peace and social harmony.
Abby and I enjoyed a packed lunch on the unloading platform at the top. She is very insightful and we had a very meaningful conversation. She is on a good path and I am very happy to be traveling on it with her for now. We are very lucky to have these adjoining humble hills for recreation, fitness and restoring our spirit. I am very lucky to have such great friends and family to enjoy them with. Peace.