May 10, 2014

Vignettes of Mansfield

This post has been kicking around as draft for over two months.  Today has been the first real kick of summer; 80 degree temperatures, humidity, and a late-afternoon thunderstorm...perfect to reflect upon the recent cold months and one helluva ski adventure.  Plus, I don't think Marquis de Richmond would forgive me if I failed to publish this...

All the weeks of planning and anticipation smack us in the face as we step outside the warm cocoon of the truck, coffees drained, and the insistent cold instantly penetrates our clothing.  A creeping urgency overcomes us as we hustle to don ski boots and packs and make the first nervous uphill strides towards an icy, uncertain summit with the rising sun at our backs.  The first mile passes quickly and intensely as we struggle to build warmth against a stiff headwind; breath condensing and freezing on our beards until we resemble some sort of macabre ice beasts.

The urgency softens atop the first pitch as the grade mellows and the trail carries us into the relative shelter of the trees.  Grooving now, we progress in a steady rhythm of strides and contemplation, punctuated only by pleasant conversation and the occasional biting gust.  The aerobic furnace delights me, as I am only wearing a thin baselayer and a light fleece jacket in light of the minus single digit temperatures.  Only upon traversing an opening in the trees does the wind remind me of the relative human frailty in the teeth of a Vermont winter.  Nature, it has been said, is neither for you or against you, but entirely indifferent.  And intolerant of mistakes.
Marquis: illuminations in civil twilight.

We gain the summit of Mansfield and waste no time in seeking the refuge of the Octagon Lodge and a prime seat on a sunny south-facing bench.  After a rejuvenating hour of beard thawing, polypro drying, hot chocolate drinking, and snacking, we again suit up and venture into the maw.  We slink towards the summit of the Nose and are only momentarily baffled by an apparent discrepancy between the map and reality.  We gain the correct trail in short measure, weigh our options, and plunge into the Teardrop.  This short mile weighed on our minds during the ascent, for it is the test piece that can make or break our voyage.  The Teardrop, you see, plunges us down the west side of the mountain; two ridge lines and many miles from the truck, and guarantees us a rigorous ski home.  The descent, as it turns out, is but a brief Alpine interlude to a day of Nordic travel.  After a few quick bursts of adrenaline, "oh shit I'm not in my 20's anymore" moments, and hoots of exaltation, we come upon our next trail and the movie rolls into the next scene.

The Teardrop is familiar terrain, but new at the same time.  We visited these woods almost exactly eight years ago on a similar trip (different ascent), anchored by inadequate gear and meager skills but buoyed by boundless youthful enthusiasm.  The common denominator is timeless enthusiasm...for skiing, wilderness, and companionship.
Now...March 2014
And then...March 2006.  Same kid, same icicle, different perspective(s), plus Voltron.  Photo credit: Clarksie. 

Indulge me for a minute more as I wax nostalgic...because it's fun and I'm slowly aging and these things become really important.  Here are the protagonists, now and then, on Mt. Mansfield adventures...
Marquis and Woods Hippie, west flanks of Mansfield, 2006.

Woods Hippie and Marquis, en route to Mansfield, 2014.

Well that's enough reminiscing!  We survived the modern-era Mansfield adventure with 13+ miles under our belts that day.  After a celebratory pint and a well-deserved shower at our host's home (Mrs. Woods Hippie's aunt and uncle), we ventured even further north into the wilds of East Albany and proceeded to throw down the ski swagger with vengeance.  Not to brag (and by that I mean to totally brag), these old farts woke up before 5 AM, climbed and descended Vermont's highest peak, delighted in Vermont's finest brewery, and raged Vermont's finest IPA until the wee hours of the morning.  Then we woke up and raged a 14 kilometer Nordic ski while the Texan defiled himself in front of an obliging crowd (no protect the innocent...and by the way, these Woods Hippie posts are full of hidden meanings and inside jokes; you really must join me on these trips to get in on the action!). 

Mansfield from Morrisville.
The highlight of the East Albany adventure was Sunday morning, when we struck out from Jebediah's homestead in fresh powder on the light Nordic gear; true backcountry skiing in the sense that there are no set trails, no grooming, no snow-making; just pastureland and woods through which the intrepid explorer sets his own path.  There is no easy way to words to describe the experience of the blissful cross-country ski; where you simply close your eyes and traverse a field by feel and sound alone more than vision, navigating southward by the warmth of the sun on your cheek and the sensation of untrammeled snow beneath your skis.

These are the moments that carry us through what will undoubtedly be another long, hot summer.  But for now, we enjoy the lingering New England spring; our annual reward for surviving a winter for the records.  Spring, the eternal season of rejuvenation and redemption, but never far from our minds is the promise of unequaled adventure in the snowy north woods...

Be well,

Woods Hippie.

January 4, 2014

A poem about trees

Some images emerge with clarity from the fog of childhood
Stately hickory, maple, and ash casting shadows of reprieve
from the warm Connecticut summer

But, as the saying goes, these too shall pass
as the child kneels in a pile of woodchips
and vows to once again pierce the sky with the softening canopy
of bough and leaf

So, as the snows settle in and the soil freezes deep
the child, and the children of children
anticipate those warm Connecticut days
when three traveled apple trees will take root
and cast their first spindly shadows upon the world.