STOWE PINNACLE TRAIL
Today was so full of goodness I have no idea how to sum it up. It started out with a big breakfast at McCarthy’s in town, then we headed to the Stowe Pinnacle Trail.
A friend had recommended this as an easy 3.3 mile out and back that takes you up to a spectacular view of the mountains and surrounding countryside. We thought, “Sure, 1551 ft of elevation gain, 3.3 miles…no problem!” Not being used to the severe elevation gain that happens on trails in the northeast, the hike kicked our asses. In the Smokies where we’re used to hiking, the ascents are gradual and slow, like many things in the South. Gaining 3,000 feet takes several miles of steady uphill walking. Here in Vermont, my body struggled to climb huge stone steps and grab onto nearby trees just to haul myself up the inclines that have no mercy on those who enjoy craft beer and VT cheddar fritters. Oh cruel calories, how you slow my ascents!! Sounding like a 76 year old smoker trying to gasp air through a straw, I continued upward…
We were welcomed to the trail by its two guardians. That day just happened to be the day we were chosen as their hiking companions. We later found out that they are the “trail dogs” who live nearby and know these woods like the back of their paws.
The floor of the forest was covered in lush green ferns and autumn’s earliest, candy apple red sugar maple leaves.
Everything was damp and slick from the rain so we used extreme caution with every step. My biggest fear on this trip has been getting an injury since this was the week before I went on the 131 mile EverWalk from Boston to Maine. As we struggled up for what seemed like miles, we came to a sign that said the summit was .65 miles away and the sad realization that we’d only done one measly mile sunk in. ONE MILE!!! One mile and about a thousand vertical feet.
It became even steeper near the top with pools of muddy water and tree roots growing over every exposed rock face. When we reached the summit, all the breathlessness of the previous exertion fell away as it was replaced with breathless wonder at the landscape below. Farm fields and forests dotted with rustic red barns, small homesteads, and mighty peaks lay in the cloud covered distance. The winds blew cold and the nip of autumn stung our cheeks and chilled our sweat soaked bodies. We broke out the puffy jackets we’d reluctantly brought with us.
Our trail companions went up the entire way with us and laid down to nap when we arrived. I was watching these dogs look out at the scenery with such contentment on their faces, and it made me realize that animals must appreciate beauty too. The big one sat staring off into the distance and I couldn’t help but wonder if his soul was also being refreshed by what he saw. What on earth would motivate these animals to hike this trail everyday? As we headed back down they fearlessly led the way and waited for our tired bodies to follow.
We met a local on her way up. She asked where we were from and asked how we’d liked the trail. We told her how tough it seemed, and our faces crumbled as she got a confused look on her face and told us that she usually runs it, but today she was walking because of the slippery conditions. Excuse me while I go drink another beer and eat some more cheese.
I would absolutely hike this trail again. The payoff is huge, and even though the trail is a challenge to those unused to northeastern terrain, it’s a great way to experience Stowe.
We drove down the road through Smugglers’ Notch, which is probably the most gorgeous state park I’ve ever seen. The resort there was smaller than the Stowe Mountain Resort, but still impressive. We stopped at the trailhead for Sterling Pond, a short 1.1 mile hike each way that gains 1000 feet in elevation…in 1.1 miles. I mean, shoot me. As much as I wanted to hike until my legs fell off, I knew I needed to save my body for Everwalk, so we opted not to do it. I really want to go back and explore this area a lot more. The Long Trail goes through here and the views and terrain are really epic.
Even though we didn’t get to hike as much as we usually do on this trip, we were able to get to know the area a bit and really get a feel for what we want to do on a return trip. Stowe is so much more than a skiing mecca, it’s an outdoor adventure land.