One recent Sunday there was no sap, so Chops took a holiday. He writes:
The Addict (Camel’s Hump on Repeat)
The Camel’s Hump Challenge is a backcountry ski tour around the base of Camel’s Hump, Vermont’s third highest mountain and its highest undeveloped peak. It begins and ends at the Camel’s Hump Nordic Center in Huntington. It was created almost 30 years ago by Warren Beeken with the help of Wilbur Bull (two avid backcountry ski promoters whose identical initials are the name of another classic ski trail that skirts the western slope of Mt Mansfield). Refreshingly, this tour is not a race but an organized fundraising event for the Alzheimer’s Association. It gives skiers of mixed backcountry experience the chance to challenge themselves skiing this thirteen-mile goat path through some of the most pristine terrain Vermont has to offer.
3/8/15 It has been a cold winter ever since the last thaw in late December. The powder snow has been accumulating, and I am really looking forward to this tour. I leave a few minutes before the designated start time so I won’t have to navigate through crowds of skiers. The trail has been broken out recently, allowing the lead skiers to cruise over just a light layer of powder from the night before. Unlike some years, rocks, icy patches, or washed-out brook crossings won’t be found anywhere en route today.
I soon find myself alone as I climb out of the touring center trails, cross the Catamount Trail, and head east skiing clockwise around Camel’s Hump. I ascend onto the main spine north of the peak where my favorite section of this route begins. In this upper elevation, past where it’s worthwhile for loggers to venture, the forests are left untouched. I weave through pygmy groves of stunted birch trees, and later come to the twisted, intertwined evergreens of the krumholtz forests. These become denser as I cross Bamforth Ridge which offers sweeping views north over Bolton and Mansfield. The sun is only partially successful in breaking through the higher elevation mist, spreading an ethereal glow over the terrain before me, as I enter virgin stands of ancient birch trees. Their majestic presence both diminishes and inspires me.
Near the Monroe Trail a midway station has been set up where a few volunteers are serving bars and hot chocolate. I arrive before the water has boiled, and realizing this trek is becoming way too much fun to do only once, I tell them I will grab a cup the next time around.
Now on the south side of Camel’s Hump, I cross over a few beaver ponds and look west toward the massive rock walls that cascade down from the summit heights. Scooting through Wind Gap brings me onto the west side of the ridge, and I ski northwest through open hardwoods and cross Burrows Trail before climbing up to the ridge near Bald Hill. In previous years I have been breaking trail in this section, but this year that has already been done, and aided by the spring-forward clock change, I am amazed how early in the day it is as I reach this high point.
Without hesitation I break from the trail leading back to the touring center, to start a second lap. Cranking turns on untouched powder, I thread through well-spaced trees on the 600’ vertical descent back down to the trail on the north side of the mountain where I had skied a few hours before. This time around the track is well polished from all the skiers before me, and I have the surreal sensation of always coasting downhill. I pass only two older skiers on my way to hot chocolate. At the big beaver pond I meet up with Bruce Beeken, who with a dedicated crew of hardcore volunteers, keeps his father’s dream alive. The sun has finally broken through, revealing bluebird skies and a clear view of the Camel’s Hump Peak. In a pause from the rush of excitement, I conclude it must be time to eat.
I am thinking this is probably the finest CHC tour I have ever done as I get to the top of Bald Hill, still early in the afternoon. And then, it spontaneously happens: my skis head back down the north side Bald Hill Glades starting a third lap. I have sensibly never done a third lap before, and only briefly considered it on my second lap, quickly dismissing the idea as an act of lunacy. I begin to feel like a drug addict who keeps returning for another hit. The burnished track, fairyland terrain, and obliging weather are so compelling – seduction beyond reason.
I run into the sweep crew at Wind Gap whom I must have snuck in front of on the second lap. At that point I was so far ahead it looked like I was behind. One of them says, You are speedy, though oddly I have no sense of that. I am in a euphoric trance and feel only a sense of relaxed floating.
I can feel the urge coming on again as I climb up Bald Hill, but this time around I am better prepared to resist. My brain goes into battle with my soul the whole way up. Don’t be an idiot, you probably wouldn’t make it out before dark. I have a headlamp in that case. You’re totally unprepared for a tour that long and are going to get hungry (I still have some gorp left) and very dehydrated as that quart you drank at the beaver pond a lap and a half ago is all you brought (I can drink water out of a brook). The crew will get worried when you don’t show. The sweep knows I’m in a lap mode. For god’s sake you’ll probably start getting tired and that will take all the fun out of this stellar day. Am I to believe that is really possible?
Gaining the top, my will power prevails. I feel relief and satisfaction for having cast my addiction to the wind. The fervor is grand while it lasts but knowing when to turn it off is imperative. I return to the Nordic Center through a few heavy snow squalls interrupted by streams of filtered orange sunlight. The magical quality of this tour never ends.
I read an article in the New Yorker a number of years ago titled Feeding the Rat, describing a diehard mountaineer. When asked why he put himself through the punishment needed to summit peaks, he replied that there is a rat that lives in all of us, which if not fed with adventure at regular intervals will begin gnawing away at our souls, upsetting our equilibrium. Today I fed my rat a gourmet meal.
My father who was an avid fisherman used to say heaven was where everyone was in love, the flowers pick themselves, and the trout are always rising. Heaven for me would be a day like this one, gliding as many laps around Camel’s Hump as my heart desired, and with no worry of being considered whacked.