Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Trail Runners Chapter 2: Camel's Hump

Clear skies, low humidity, bright sun—the perfect day to run up Camel’s Hump.  Jay, Steve, Matt and I headed out after work from our various locations last Thursday and convened at the bridge on Winooski Street in Waterbury to car pool up to the Monroe Trailhead a few miles away. We hit the trail at about 6:00pm.

As you can tell from my attendance list in the previous paragraph, Matt is now officially part of our state park trail running group.  At first he tagged along incognito, taking photos and running in the back as a training method for his big 100 mile trail race next month.  However, Matt quickly became hooked on the adventure of exploring new places and trails in state parks with the rest of us. Plus how could anyone say no to running up Camels Hump? I mean, just look at the photos accompanying this blog. It was amazing up there.

Camels Hump State Park is one of the few undeveloped state parks in Vermont; there is no developed camping area typical of most state park facilities. We passed one tenting area—the Hump Brook Tenting Area where you can set up your tent and sleep at the base of one of Vermont’s highest peaks.

We ran up the Dean Trail to the Long Trail and passed close to the Montclair Glen Lodge in Wind Gap, which would also be a very nice place to spend the night if you wanted to do a two day running adventure instead of an evening climb as we did.

We planned a nice loop taking the Dean Trail to the Long Trail and then back down via the Monroe Trail. It worked out really well because the Dean Trail is a more gradual approach, and you get to enjoy some beautiful views of the rocky summit from a beaver meadow part way up. 

The woods were beautiful with bunchberries and Canada mayflowers blooming. Hermit Thrushes were singing all around us and it was nice and cool under the canopy of leaves.  All the trails we ran on this trip were immaculately maintained and in really fantastic shape. Since this is a mountain, you end up power walking some of the steep sections, but it is all easy to navigate, even the rocky portions.

We stopped for a snack at the Long Trail intersection. Jay shared his sugar snap peas and Matt had his classic English muffin with Nutella. We admired the steep slope in front of us and then started back out.  The Long Trail section of this climb was the steepest part; there is something so special about being on the Long Trail. You feel connected to every peak and valley the entire length of Vermont, and connected to all the people who have walked on Vermont’s “footpath in the wilderness.” It feels like it carries more meaning than a hike on a side trail.

Hiking through the fragrant spruce/fir forest reminds you of the elevation where you stand. The soil in this section is soft and bouncy, composed of very slowly decomposing tree needles. This soft soil is interspersed with rocks, with rocks becoming more and more frequent until you arrive at a wall of rock and you know you are just below the summit.  It is pretty incredible to be running through the trees and suddenly pop up and gain a clear view of the ridge line of the Green Mountains all the way south and all the way north of where you stand.  We had fun running up the rocks with our grippy shoes, taking photos of each other in the beautiful late day sun.

There were a handful of college-aged folks loitering on the summit, where it was really windy and quite cool. I packed a long sleeve shirt which I was really grateful to have at that point.  We all ate a snack and enlisted some folks to take photos and videos of us on the summit.

It was beautiful up there, looking out at shining Lake Champlain and rows of blue Adirondack Mountains on the Western horizon, and the distinctive shadow of Camel’s Hump darkening the green forest below to the East. Everywhere around us, the Green Mountains spread out in every green color you can imagine. It would have been a beautiful night to stay and watch the sunset, but we did not have time to do that, and it turns out it’s a good thing we did not.



We crossed over the summit and followed the Monroe Trail over rock and down into the tree line. We briefly stopped at an intersection to determine whether we wanted to adjust our route and go a little farther. We decided that we did not have time to go the extra distance this time, so we started the descent over rock, roots and solid ground on the well maintained trail.

Twenty minutes bounding down the rocky trail, we came upon Mike, a hiker on his cell phone, calling for help and feeling afraid about spending a night in the woods. I don’t think anyone has ever been more grateful to see four trail runners hopping down a mountain before. Steve and Jay jumped into action, giving Mike food and water and slowly helping him make his way down the trail.  Help was on the way, but we helped Mike get to the emergency first responders by encouraging him to make his way down the technical trail. Our last two miles were slower than expected, and we ended up hiking down in the dark. Getting to know Mike, walking slowly through the dark, and sharing stories about other nighttime adventures in the woods filled the forest with our laughter.

Later we caught up with the emergency first responders, so we ran the last bit with shared headlights, and then waited in the parking lot drinking beer, sharing a calzone and waiting for Mike to make his way down to us. We watched fireflies in the treetops and talked about the incredible run we just shared. Mike made it down safely and we all rolled out of there around 11:00pm, perfectly content and ready for some sleep.

View Camel's Hump Trail Run Page 

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