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14 August 2012

Short Day/Short Hike: Wheeler Mountain and Wheeler Pond, VT

Even with the best laid plans, sometimes "things" happen!  I had intended to do a longer hike on 13-August, but my morning was gone before I knew it!  Given the compressed time frame, it seemed like a good opportunity to drive to neighboring Vermont, and hike to Wheeler Mountain.  Not only would this be a mountain that I'd never hiked, but the short round-trip mileage would be a good fit for the time available to me.

As you'll discover when reading this report, I actually ended up having time to do two hikes, i.e. the short trek to Wheeler Mountain, plus another even shorter trek which included Gnome Stairs and Wheeler Pond.  Let me state from the outset that even with doing two hikes this was a very easygoing day.  The combined round-trip mileage for these hikes was only about 4.2 miles!

My two little treks are highlighted in pink on the snippet of map that is shown below. (PLEASE NOTE: Since the time this blog report was written, there have been changes to the trailhead parking and to the trail leading to Wheeler Mountain.  To view these changes, click/tap this LINK.)
 My two short hikes are highlighted in pink

From my home in Bethlehem, NH, it takes an hour or less to drive to the various trailheads in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.  This is only about 15 minutes longer than it takes me  to get to many of the trailheads in NH.  True to form, in just under an hour from leaving my home, I arrived at Wheeler Mountain Road (located on the north side of US Rt. 5 between Barton and West Burke, VT).  Trailhead parking for the Wheeler Mountain trek is quite limited.  There's  only enough space for about 5 cars.  The lot was completely full when I arrived in early afternoon on a Monday!  I was able to tuck my car into a shallow bump-out along the road about a tenth of a mile away.

After having hiked only the first tenth of mile of trail, you're faced with the decision of whether to take the White Trail or the Red Trail.  The Red Trail is basically a 0.3 mile shortcut which terminates at a point along the White Trail.  Although the Red Trail is short in length, it's long in character!  It provides a number of fun scrambles up steep pitches of bare granite.  Any moisture or ice would make this a dangerous route.  However, conditions were dry on the day of my hike, and so I opted to ascend via the Red Trail, and then use the White Trail for my descent.

In some ways, this hike reminded me of the Welch-Dickey loop in the Waterville Valley area of NH.  Of course, if you've not done the Welch-Dickey loop, then that statement doesn't mean too much!  Regardless, the next photo shows a scene that is fairly typical for the numerous segments of trail that traverse bare rock.
Segment of trail en route to Wheeler Mountain

Along the way to Wheeler Mountain, there are many places where you get very nice vistas of the surrounding mountains.  One such view is shown in the next photo.  Mt. Pisgah with its enormous cliff face is in the center of the snapshot.
Mt. Pisgah with its enormous cliff face is seen in the center of this snapshot

From the top of Wheeler Mountain (and from an adjacent viewpoint known as Eagle Cliff), there is a vista which includes a portion of Lake Willoughby, plus Mt. Pisgah and other nearby mountains, such as Bald Mountain and Haystack Mountain.  All three of the aforementioned mountains (Pisgah, Bald, Haystack) have hiking trails.  I've hiked to Mt. Pisgah on several occasions (click HERE for a report of one of those visits).  However, I've not been to either Bald Mountain or to Haystack.  Those will other adventures for another day!

The next photo was taken from the Eagle Cliff viewpoint on Wheeler Mountain.
Vista from the  Eagle Cliff viewpoint on Wheeler Mountain

As you might have noticed in the snapshots shown above, this hike isn't exactly a wilderness experience.  A few roads and houses are visible.  To my mind, this doesn't detract from the beauty of the surroundings, but others might disagree.  And to be totally upfront, besides a few houses and roads, there is an even bolder indication of mankind's presence.   Plainly visible at many points along the hike, there is a nearby windmill farm.
Nearby windmill farm that is visible at many points along the hike to Wheeler Mountain

Even though this hike isn't a true backwoods experience, there are some lovely spots along the way where the woods are gorgeous and almost "hobbit-like".  One example of this is shown in the next photo.
"Hobbit-like" woods along the route to Wheeler Mountain

As stated at the outset of this report, the hike to Wheeler Mountain is short.  And so, that concludes what I have to say about this miniature adventure!

With ample time to spare after hiking to Wheeler Mountain, I decided to do another tiny trek.  To orient yourself, you can refer to the map shown at the top of this report.  I left the trailhead at Wheeler Mountain and then drove a short distance to a small parking area which is located on Wheeler Mountain Road about midway between the trailhead for the Moose Mountain Trail and the Gnome Stairs Trail.  I then did a loop by first visiting the feature known as Gnome Stairs, followed by a hike around Wheeler Pond, and then back to my car.

The landscape feature known by Gnome Stairs is mildly interesting.  Perhaps it's more appealing at those times of year when more water is flowing.  Regardless, the next photo shows Gnome Stairs as it appeared on the day of my visit.  I feel compelled to mention that the water/rock combination actually is sort of an inky-blue shade, and is not the result of some "photo trickery"! 
Gnome Stairs

By comparison, the Wheeler Pond portion of my loop was far more interesting.   For one thing, there is a nice view of Wheeler Mountain from the south end of the pond.  The next photo shows this vista.
View of Wheeler Mountain as seen from Wheeler Pond

Shown below is a zoomed photo of the same vista as seen in the previous snapshot.  (Could that be a little bit of autumn color showing up in mid-August?)
Zoomed photo of Wheeler Mountain as seen from Wheeler Pond

It should be noted that Wheeler Pond doesn't need to rely on Wheeler Mountain for its attractiveness.  It has its own intrinsic beauty.  From another point along the shoreline of the pond I took the following snapshot.  The lighting seemed to be nearly perfect to capture some of the brilliant colors.  And I should hasten to add that the green material on the surface of the water isn't some sort of pond scum.  Rather, it's a carpet of water lilies.  My little "point and shoot" camera simply is incapable of providing enough definition to distinctly show the lilies.
Wheeler Pond

To sum it up, well this certainly wasn't a BIG adventure in terms of miles that were hiked.  However, I felt that the combination of hikes to Wheeler Mountain and Wheeler Pond provided a decent-size "bang for the buck"!   Although it would've been nice to have done a longer trek, I have no regrets for having done these two small hikes.


Steve Smith said...

Nice report, John! Wheeler is a great little peak. I did it with Mike Dickerman a few years ago - it's one of Mike's "home" mountains, as he grew up in nearby Lyndonville. Love your Wheeler Pond photos.


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks Steve!

It’s good to read that you liked the Wheeler Pond photos. Glad there was some “left-over” time to explore this pond. It’s a very scenic spot, and it would’ve been unfortunate to have passed it by as being just another pond.

As I’m sure you know, the Moose Mountain Trail takes off from the northern end of Wheeler Pond, and that it eventually leads to the Willoughby Lookout Spur trail where there are some nice views overlooking Willoughby Lake, but only after taking a “leap of faith” over some boulders with wide and very deep cracks! Yikes!


One Day in America said...

Looks like you had another perfect summer afternoon for hiking, John.
I love walking over rock expanses, perhaps because there is so much of that type of hiking here in Utah. But the water views—Gnome stairs and Wheeler Pond—are lovely too.
How fortunate to have these two short hikes within an hour's drive of your house—each trail rewarding in its own way.
Another fine post!

1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for your comments, Rita!

From my perspective, even when combined, those two hikes were short, but very rewarding. However, I could understand how another person might have a different perception regarding these hikes. Further regarding Gnome Stairs, my perception is that the “jury is still out” on that one. I’m a bit uncertain what to make of that landscape feature. Mildly interesting, yes! Worthy of having a hiking trail leading to it, hmmm? :-)


Unknown said...


Wheeler Mountain was one of my favorites when I was living in Lyndonville back in the mid 1980s. I would visit frequently and enjoyed some particularly hair-raising winter ascents of the Red Trail. In one instance there was about two feet of unbroken snow which I had to battle through. Give me a call if you have a hankering to do the trail up Bald Mountain. The trek isn't all that interesting, but the view from the summit fire tower is wonderful, especially during foliage season.

1HappyHiker said...

Wow! Wheeler Mountain in winter! Given the steepness and open ledges along certain parts of that trail, it must be quite a winter adventure!

Thanks for your comments, and thank you for the offer to do a joint hike up to Bald Mountain located over on the east side of Lake Willoughby. I might just take you up on the offer! As indicated in my report, I’ve yet to hike to either Bald or Haystack.


Karl said...

Hi John,

Believe it or not, I've left a comment on here three times and it won't go through. I've been traveling and the hotel connection was awful (and aggravating!!!)...but I digress.

This type of trip looks like it is right up my alley! I like the short ones a lot. I think I would have taken the same route as you. Even though you chose it for the logical reasons (steeper trail up, gentle trail down), being able to loop both of them let's you cover more "different" ground and allows you to see more of a great place! It's always my choice to loop too.

From your picture, I would say you are dead on about about looking like Welch-Dickey trail. The ledgey portion you captured reminds me of one particular spot ascending Welch from a counterclockwise direction.

Your shot form Eagle Cliff is great and I completely agree with you. Just because there are man made structures in view doesn't make it any less picturesque or wilderness like to me. It's a snapshot in time, like any other. Think about all the images of the White's 100 years ago with man made structures in them (mines, fire towers, logging operations, old roads and rail beds) and look at the same view now. It's great to compare how things change and evolve, even the man made stuff. Perhaps you've captured a structure that will be studied one day as a significant point in history years from now...again, I'm digressing...but I love this aspect of the landscape!

I can understand why some believe the wind turbine farms are eyesores, because they are to a degree. But since there are few of them, I think the tradeoff of renewable energy is a good one. I'll certainly take a few of these over the NP project any day!

Your Panasonic did very well at the pond. I really love the shot with Wheeler Mountain in the background! As always, you've captured the contrast of blue skies and wonderful clouds beautifully. I wish I could jump in your photos and hangout there all day.

Oh, and "ssshhhhh"...about the signs and colors of autumn...we're not ready for that yet :) !


1HappyHiker said...

Hi Karl,

Oh trust me . . . I know only too well how horrid the Internet connections can be at hotels. To be kind, I guess it’s better than nothing, but now I’m the one doing the digressing! :-)

Anyway, thank you for taking time to post such an insightful response to my posting!
You bring up some interesting points about topics such as route selection, features on the landscape, wind turbines, as well as your sentiments about early signs of autumn!

Thanks again, Karl!


bodynsoil said...

I've hiked Wheeler multiple times and never ventured to the Gnome stairs, the trip around Wheeler pond, or the boiling springs trail. I now have new hikes to explore in the spring.

1HappyHiker said...

Glad my blog provided you with ideas for new explorations!