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01 April 2012

Ending a Month by Starting a New Hike: Burke Mountain (Vermont)

It's always so refreshing for me when I do a hike to a new destination, or even take a new route to a place that I've previously visited.   My friend Marty and I ended the month of March 2012 by driving to the neighboring State of Vermont for a hike to Burke Mountain (3,267 ft elevation).  Neither of us had done this hike, and so the entire experience was new to us, and it was fun!

Sometimes it's difficult to get beyond a preconceived notion that one has about a place.  I've hiked to other mountains that are nearby to Burke, such as Mt. Pisgah and a number of peaks in the Groton State Forest.  However, I've bypassed Burke Mountain since I've thought of it as being primarily an alpine ski resort with an auto road leading to the top.  This lessened its appeal to me as a hiking destination.

However, as Marty and I discovered on our adventure, the hiking trails on Burke Mountain are surprisingly scenic and remote.  This is despite the fact that this very same mountain also includes an abundance of trails for mountain biking, alpine and XC-skiing, as well as the Toll Road for automobile travel to the top of the mountain.  Plus, there is the old CCC Road, and a number of ski area access roads.

We launched our hike from the trailhead for the Red Trail which is located off the Sherburne Base Lodge Road at the far end of the lower parking lot.  The photo below shows a portion of the trailhead where the trail begins on a woods road.

The next photo is a rendition of the trail map that is posted at the sign-in station for the hiking trail system.  Our route is lightly highlighted in pink.  We ascended via a combination of the Red Trail + the West Peak Trail; and descended via the Red Trail.  (Click on the map to enlarge it.)  Our hike was about 6-miles (round trip) with around 2,100 ft elevation gain.

On the map shown above,  I've hand-drawn a red arrow which might be helpful to others.  Marty and I made a rookie error at the outset of this hike.  As we were merrily walking along the woods road, we failed to notice the sign (0.6 mile from trailhead) which marks the point where the Red Trail diverges from the road and heads off into the woods.  Before we sensed something was wrong,  we had trudged onward along the road for about 15 minutes beyond the point marked by the red arrow.

In our defense, the sign is barely noticeable, and it sort of blends in with the tree trunk to which it is attached.  The next photo shows the trail sign. (To see the sign, you might need to click on the photo to enlarge it!)

Here is another item that might be helpful.  There are places throughout this trail system where there are hairpin turns, and the temptation is to go straight ahead, but in reality, the trail has completely reversed its direction!

Regarding trail condition, there was only patchy snow up to the point where the trail bisects the old CCC Road.  Shortly after crossing the CCC Road, the trail had some icy spots, as well as a light coating of snow (an inch or less) all the way to the top.  We were easily able to ascend without using any foot traction device.  However, for the descent we opted to put on some light traction (Microspikes for me, and Hillshound for Marty).

The next photo is fairly representative of the surroundings beyond the CCC Road.

As we approached the West Peak, we came to open ledges which provided our first distant vistas of the day.  One of the more prominent views was looking westward over Vermont's farmlands and toward the high peaks in central VT, and beyond to the high peaks in the Adirondack Range of NY State (next photo).

Also, seen from these ledges was the windmill farm at what I presume to be the Sheffield site.  (I don't think the windmills on Lowell Mountain have been built as yet.)  The pointy mountain seen in the distance in the next photo is what I presume to be Jay Peak (but I'm no expert in identifying VT peaks).

From West Peak we worked our way over to the Burke Mountain summit area where there are several man-made structures, such as ski lift apparatus, communication towers, etc. (next photo).

Among the many structures located here is an old fire tower which I started to climb to get some enhanced views.  However, I was quickly dissuaded from going very far since I was being pelted by melting icicles that were falling from the upper portions of this structure.  I did get one photo toward the Presidential Range in NH before making a hasty retreat!

It is very easy to escape all this man-made hubbub by hiking a short distance on what I think is called the Profile Trail.  Regardless of what it's called, there are ledges along this trail that provide sweeping vistas looking eastward into NH.  The next photo provides just a partial overview of what can be seen.  This snapshot begins with the Pilot-Pliny Range on the far left and progresses over to the Franconia-Kinsman Range on the far right.

The next photo is a zoomed shot highlighting the Presidential Range.

The Franconia Range is highlighted in the zoomed snapshot shown below.

From various points along the route of this hike there are views of the Willoughby Gap.  This very distinctive feature of the Vermont landscape is shown in the next photo.  Mt. Pisgah is the mountain on the right (eastern) wall of the gap, and on the left (western) side is Mt. Hor.

And so, the foregoing text and photos presents the highlights of our trek to Burke Mountain. I'll just add one additional sidelight remark to say that the Spring Wildflower Season is just days away from bursting forth.  At various points, we spotted green shoots just beginning to emerge!

To sum it up, as always, it was exhilarating to experience a new hiking venue.  Also, I re-learned what I already knew, but had failed to heed, i.e. put aside preconceived notions about places.  Go forth and explore.  It often proves to be very rewarding!

23 comments:

  1. Beautiful! I've actually never been to the Northeast Kingdom, but pretty much every Vermonter I know holds it in high regard. That view of Willoughby Gap is pretty stunning. I've seen it from Belvidere and Jay Peak before, but that's a pretty amazing thing to see from this angle. Glad you chose to do something new, John!

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    1. Hey Ryan . . . thanks for your comments! And, a resounding YES to a couple of points you mentioned! Yes, Vermont’s NEK (NorthEast Kingdom) is indeed a special place and it’s easy to understand why folks hold it in such high regard. And yes . . . it’s not always possible, but at every opportunity, I try to do something new with my outdoor adventures!

      You mentioned that you’ve seen the Willoughby Gap from Belvidere and Jay Peak. I’ve never seen it from either of those locations, and so there is yet something else NEW to do!

      John

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  2. These are some really spectacular pictures, John! I'm hoping to do some hiking in VT this summer and this really adds to the excitement...such great views of the Whites, Greens and ADKs. Although I will be there in summer, I think winter is probably the best time since it's much easier to identify distant peaks if they're covered in snow.

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  3. Hi Owen,

    If possible, do try to fit in a hike in VT this summer!

    Trust me, I have no financial interest whatsoever in a book entitled "Northeast Kingdom Mountain Trail Guide". However, I do recommend it since it contains a detailed trail description + maps for the hike in this Blog (as well as many other hikes in this part of VT). Below is a link to a site where it can be purchased.
    http://www.northwoodscenter.org/publications.html

    Thanks for posting your comments!
    John

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  4. Nice report!! You let the cat out of the bag that the whole state is not closed for mud season.
    Dave

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    1. Thanks Dave! Glad you liked the Blog report!

      Hmmm! Regarding letting the 'cat out of the bag' . . . it takes a sturdy bag to contain a cat!

      But seriously, I'd read the notice about staying off the trails, as was recently published by the Green Mountain Club (GMC).
      http://www.greenmountainclub.org/news.php?id=1

      I don't know if the GMC would agree with my assessment, but on the day of our hike, it appeared to me that conditions were such that there would be negligible impact on the particular trails that we hiked. But, that's not to say that the same would hold true on a different day with different conditions. Springtime conditions can change as quickly as the movements of a cat escaping from a bag! :)

      John

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    2. Mud season postings generally run from 4/15 until the end of May. The weather forced the GMC to run their blanket post early. The main range of the Greens are what is posted so you were safe at Burke.

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    3. Hi Dave,

      Thanks for taking a moment to post that additional info about mud season postings in VT . . . much appreciated!

      John

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  5. Nice report John. Like you , I've drove past Burke hundreds of time and had the same feeling.
    That will be one of the hikes we will do this summer.(Shouldn't see too many skiers then either.)
    Sometimes we don't truly think of that which is right in front of us. Thanks!
    Jim S.

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    1. Hi Jim,

      Your comments, as always, are much appreciated!
      If you pick the right day, as I’m sure you will, I’ll venture to say that you won’t be disappointed. Besides having great views, it’s an interesting mountain. I just recently learned that it is one of two monadnocks in northern VT. The other peak is the one located in Lemington and is actually named Monadnock Mountain!

      Thanks again!
      John

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    2. I didn't realize Burke was a monadnock. But if there are only two monadnocks in VT, what is Ascutney? When looking at Mt Ascutney from NH's Monadnock, or from many mountains in VT, Ascutney stands alone in a big way, so I'd always thought it was a monadnock (and a nice place to visit, if you're looking for more day hikes to check out in VT!)

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    3. Hey Ryan . . . sorry for the delayed response. Been out hiking most of the day.

      I’m no geologist, but I think you’re absolutely correct about Ascutney being classified as a monadnock.

      The key word in my reply to Jim was “NORTHERN”. The book I was quoting from was talking specifically about the NorthEast Kingdom area of NORTHERN VT. According to the “Northeast Kingdom Mountain Trail Guide”, Burke Mountain and Mt. Monadnock (Lemington) are the only two mountains classified as monadnocks in NORTHERN VT.

      My apologies for the confusion! And, thank you for posting your response! It provided the opportunity to clarify something that should have been made more clear from the outset! :)

      John

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    4. Oops. Missed the "northern" part. I must have gotten distracted by the pretty pictures ;)

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  6. Fun - I like going new places, too. Once summer gets here, I'll be exploring new stuff, too (best to stick with what I know in winter). I agree, that one, small, brown sign is very hard to pick out, it is one of those that once you know it is there, you know what to look for. Yay for those wildflowers - spring is here!

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    1. Best wishes to you for some "fun-tastic" summer explorations, Summerset!

      Thank you for your comments . . . greatly appreciated!

      John

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  7. Hi John,

    It was fun to read about a Vermont hike. The pictures are spectacular, as always. I especially liked the photo of Willoughby Gap—it's pretty easy to see how it got its name!
    Ah... those green shoots sure get me in the mood for spring wildflower photography!
    Rita

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    1. Thanks Rita for your reply.
      Speaking of wildflowers, I’m eagerly awaiting a posting from you which highlights the wildflowers in your part of the country in the western U.S.! :)

      John

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  8. I spent much of the first half of my life living in the Kingdom. It's a very special place. Our house was quit near Willoughby Lake. I've hiked Burke many times, but I've always loved Bald Mt. It's not quit as high, but it's a bit more remote. I haven't bee up it in years, so I have no way of knowing if the trails are maintained or not. It would be just out of view to the right in you shot of the Willoughby gap.

    Nice report. It brought back a lot of memories. Yes, that is Jay Peak.

    Vic

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    1. Rotten auto-complete. I know how to spell "quite". Sigh.

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    2. Hi Vic . . . my apologies for the delayed response. I'm travelling down south this week visiting relatives, and haven't been checking my e-mail, etc as frequently as I normally do. Anyway, thank you for posting your response. And thank you for your comments about Bald Mountain. I have not been there as yet, but I've moved it several notches higher on my "to do" list.

      Oh! Also thanks for confirming that the peak I identified as Jay Peak is in fact Jay Peak . . . much appreciated!

      John

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  9. John -

    Those are in fact the wind turbines in Sheffield. As already noted - the mountain with the ski area is Jay Peak. Pretty sure the wooded hump to the left (west) of Jay Peak is Big Jay (which is the Franklin County high point).

    Having lived in Caledonia County for the last 10 years, I thought it appropriate to summit Burke Mountain, which I accomplished for the first time last summer. I plan to get up there again very soon as it was surprisingly nice.

    Regards - Dave

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    1. Thanks Dave for your comments, and for the added information about “Big Jay”!

      I wholeheartedly agree with you about Burke being a “surprisingly nice” nice spot to visit. And, like you, I also plan to get up there again sometime soon!

      John

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