It was on my recent hike to Brousseau Mountain (click HERE) that I first heard about East Mountain. I met a hiker at the top of Brousseau who pointed out the faint outlines of structures atop a mountain way off in the distance. He explained that these buildings were part of an abandoned U.S. Air Force Base on East Mountain in Essex County, VT. He further indicated that this site is accessible via public land which is administered by Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources (ANR).
Since I'm always on the lookout for new and different places for hiking, this tidbit of information piqued my curiosity. I consulted several maps to determine the location of East Mountain. It was surprising to learn that it would only be about an hour's drive from my home in Bethlehem, NH to reach the starting point for a hike to this mountaintop.
Okay, that was it! I was hooked, and immediately started planning a hike!
(Depending on your Internet browser, clicking on the image below might enlarge it.)
MAP COMPOSITE: Topographic map, plus VT ANR map showing East Mountain
With some Internet research, I discovered that this now abandoned radar station was commissioned in 1952 by the US Air Force, and it was operational by 1955. It was originally known as the North Concord Air Force Station, but later changed in 1962 to Lyndonville Air Force Station. This facility saw most of its use during the Cold War era. It was one of many ground-based radar stations that were scattered around the U.S. at the time, and was used to seek out Russian planes or missiles entering U.S air space. The site was abandoned in 1963, and the lonely, rundown buildings now serve as a reminder of the Cold War.
This station gained some notoriety in 1961 when supposedly it reported a UFO sighting which lasted roughly eighteen minutes, and occurred just a few hours before the alleged abduction of Barney and Betty Hill near North Woodstock, NH. Books have been written about this UFO incident, and there was a TV movie starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons.
My Internet research about East Mountain (3,438 ft elevation) also revealed that it ranks as the highest point in Essex County, VT, and that it ranks as 46th on the list of Vermont's 50 highest peaks. Also, this mountain is 29th on the list known as New England Fifty Finest Peaks. It's not my thing, but for those readers who are list-oriented and are unfamiliar with the "50 Finest" criteria, click HERE for more information.
Therefore, with having done my "homework" about East Mountain, on 07-Sep-2012 I eagerly launched my adventure! There are several ways to reach the locked gate on Radar Road, which is the starting point for the 8-mile round-trip hike. The route I chose from Bethlehem was to travel to US Rt. 2 in Lancaster, NH to hook up with VT Rt. 102, and then turn off onto Granby Road which leads to Radar Road.
Upon parking my car near the gate, I noticed a guy in a pickup truck parked right at the gate. As it turned out, he's an employee of the State who was replacing the lock which had been damaged by vandalism. I confirmed with him that it was permissible to hike the abandoned road to East Mountain. His only admonition was that it's considered unsafe to try getting a view by climbing the abandoned military buildings at the top of the mountain.
I had read several trip reports on the Internet about folks who had hiked this mountain, and some said they had climbed the stairways on the old buildings and got some fabulous views. Whereas others said there was "no way" they would ever attempt to climb on those rusted structures. From the outset, I rather suspected that I would be among those opting NOT to do any climbing! If I were to ever suffer the misfortune of being injured while hiking, my preference would be to do something such as slipping on a wet rock, rather than falling from a rusty set of stairs on an abandoned building!
The deserted road leading up the abandoned military installation is a well preserved corridor in the middle of the woods. It appears that it is still lightly-used by those who administer this land. There are long stretches of this roadway where the asphalt is still very much intact, even after being laid down nearly 50 years ago! It was actually a very pleasant walk with nothing to be seen but trees in any direction. And while climbing higher and higher, it was interesting to see the trees gradually changing from hardwoods to spruce and fir.
The next photo composite shows snapshots of the roadway taken at various points along the way.
Snapshots of roadway taken at various points along the way to top of mountain
About halfway up the mountain, there are the remains of the buildings which were used to feed and house the staff that worked at the radar facility at the top of the mountain. Shown below is a composite photo of the exterior and interior of the dining hall.
Exterior and interior of the Dining Hall
Shortly after leaving the abandoned dining hall and barracks area, there is an opening where you look across a meadow and see some of the buildings associated with the main radar facility at the top of the mountain.
Distant view of buildings associated with main radar facility at top of mountain
From various points near the upper end of the roadway, there are "eye-of-the-needle" views of distant mountains. The next photo shows one of those views. I'm uncertain, but this particular vista might show Mts. Garfield and Lafayette in NH. I was looking southward when this photo was taken.
Possibly Mts. Garfield and Lafayette in NH
Upon arrival at the decaying radar station at the top of the mountain, it sort of felt like a scene from one of those disaster movies where you emerge into a world that has been devastated by a horrific catastrophe, like a nuclear war, or something of that magnitude. This feeling is magnified by having just walked up a 4-mile long paved road without any vehicular traffic at any point along the way.
The next 3 photos show some of the many buildings at the abandoned Air Force facility atop East Mountain in Vermont.
Time was taken to explore all of the buildings, but mostly from the outside. They have been pretty well boarded up to keep people out. However, there were a few doors that have been pried open to gain access to the stairwells that lead to the top of the structure.
I poked my head inside of these opened doorways and saw enough to quickly dispel any thoughts of climbing the stairs to seek out a view. First of all, the interior of these buildings are dank and as dark as sin. Through the dim lighting, I could see holes in the flooring, as well as pieces of every imaginable type of debris. Also, there were disconcerting sounds of loose pieces of metal flapping in the wind. And to top it off, there were signs posted on the buildings regarding asbestos danger (see photo below).
Asbestos warning signs
Some readers are probably asking why I ever undertook an 8-mile round-trip hike to such an unattractive place. In response, I'd offer that the mileage went by very quickly since the "trail" was generally a paved surface from start to finish. Of course, the decrepit buildings are definitely an eyesore. Nonetheless, the surrounding landscape is attractive, and the setting is quite remote.
But the most compelling reason for undertaking this adventure was because of it being something new to me, which always has a huge appeal. Also, by engaging in something new, it jolted me from my routine routes of travel, and thereby provided the opportunity to drive through some picturesque Vermont countryside and villages that I'd never visited. Particularly quaint was the village was Granby, VT with a total population of 88 as of the 2010 Census, thereby making it the least populated incorporated town in the State.
Post Office in Granby, VT
Granby, VT Central School
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ADDENDUM (added 10-Sep2012):
Shown below are some photos which were generously provided to me by a reader. They show some of the views that can be had by climbing around on the old buildings. I'm very grateful for the photos, especially since they allow me to see views that I'll likely never experience first-hand! :-) I just cannot see myself ever climbing the rusted stairwells inside those buildings.
Also included in this addendum is a composite which shows a photo that I took while visiting this abandoned site in 2012, and compares it to a photo taken in 1962. I think both snapshots show the same building, but from different vantage points. You'll undoubtedly note in the 1962 photo that there was a "protective bubble" on top of the structure. As I understand it, this was used to shield the sensitive radar equipment from the weather.
And lastly, with some additional Internet research, I came up with the image that is shown below. Apparently this abandoned site was written up in a Rutland, VT newspaper back in the year 2000.